Shuttle Down V
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 12 and 13: More Tom angst as he begins to confront the past and move beyond it. Chapter 12 is probably the darkest chapter yet. More hankies! By Chapter 13 Tom finishes his work with Tuvok and Sam and resumes life on Voyager, making amends to those he had hurt. One hanky at the most.
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 12 :RecoveryThe weight of the crystal had grown to the point where Haylene removed it from around her neck when she assumed a corporeal form. The size of a grapefruit, its facets gleamed and sparkled in the shifting light of the wormhole, belying their origin in human emotion. Concerned for the planet she began to think of as hers, she sent companions to monitor events in Mendarin's village.
Feeling restless, Tom got to his feet and began to pace the room. For the time being, Sam seemed willing to drop the matter of confronting his father. Good. It was one thing to witness a re-enactment of a past event. It was quite another to consider interacting with his father in the here and now, even if the interaction would only take place with a hologram of the man.
But that didn't mean he was done yet either. He spoke his thoughts aloud, trying to work through the paradox of his fear of what lay ahead and the need to unburden himself. "What good is all this? Why are you making me do this? Okay, okay. You're not. You said I could leave. You said I could stop and I guess I keep coming back. Why haven't I left?"
Tuvok took Tom's question seriously. "Because you want to face your past. And that includes not only what was done to you, but also what you've done. You can be forgiven, Tom, but first, you must face it and forgive yourself."
Tom thought he understood, but it didn't ease his restlessness. He was breathing in shallow pants and his eyes searched the floor for clues as his pacing intensified. Tom felt Sam's relaxing energy flow toward him, but it helped only fractionally. "A lot of memories are coming back. Most are from my childhood. But . . . " his voice faltered, ". . . but I remembered something from, you know, from when I was held down on earth." He stopped in his tracks and looked directly at Tuvok, "I let you down, I let Voyager down."
When Tom mentioned earth, Sam knew that the pilot was remembering the interrogation by Warrington. Sam telepathically communicated the event to Tuvok, letting him see Sam's memories of the events as well as Sam's conversations with Al after it was over. Sam moved closer and tried to help Tom let himself off the hook, "Tom you were seriously injured and heavily medicated when the Colonel came. On top of that, they gave you more drugs to make you talk. You were fighting just to stay alive and you didn't have any reserves left. Even if you'd have fought them, they just would have used more drugs. You couldn't help what happened next."
"I told her everything," Tom spat out. "Everything!"
Tuvok rose to face Tom. "Lt., what you said under those circumstances cannot be held against you."
Sam sensed relief coupled with fear as Tom stood fast against Tuvok's exoneration. Tom tried to argue, "But . . . "
"Any counter argument would be futile. You did not willingly betray the Captain or the crew and, to date, there is no evidence that what you told Colonel has had any significant repercussions. The Captain made arrangements with Colonel Warrington to keep our encounter confidential and the fact that Voyager continues to exist suggests that the Colonel kept her word and the timeline has not been substantially disturbed. Given these conditions, it would be unreasonable to hold you responsible for what you said."
"I don't understand," Tom said to Tuvok. "I thought you'd . . . I don't know . . . never mind."
"What did you think my reaction would be?"
At Sam's urging, Tom allowed himself to be led back to his seat. For a moment, Tom let his tongue poke around the inside of his mouth as he tried to think through his confusion. "Oh, I guess a lecture on how much I disappointed you." Tom's words turned bitter. "I expected that icy way of speaking you have when you're pissed, only you're too Vulcan to let it show."
Sam had to hide his smile. After being in Tuvok's body and hearing himself speak in Tuvok's voice he knew exactly what Tom was talking about.
"I believe that you are projecting your experiences with your father on to me," Tuvok interpreted. "I am not he." After Tuvok paused for a moment to let his words sink in, he added, "I reiterate: You were not responsible for answering her questions."
He'd barely experienced relief over Tuvok's refusal to pass judgment when his own reactions to being questioned by Warrington began to surface. Sam noted the change from guilt to anger, the self-protective way Tom sat with his arms crossed across his chest. "You weren't able to do anything, Tom. You were helpless, but if you feel angry about it, I'm with you all the way. Harry and I were there and we couldn't stop them from drugging you. Your friend even took a swing at one of the MPs."
"He did that for me? Harry, Harry," Tom replied sharing a fleeting smile. Then he leaned forward, worry crossing his face. "They didn't hurt Harry for that, did they? Was he okay?"
Sam smiled reassuringly. "He was fine, a couple of cuts and bruises. They didn't really retaliate."
At first, Tom sat back and sighed in relief. Then as realization sank in, he scowled at Sam. "You were there?"
Sam had expected this, but Tom's hostility still made him uncomfortable. "Yes, Tom. I was there. At that time, I occupied Tuvok's body, but my consciousness was there."
Tom leaped forward and tried to tower over Sam. Seething, Tom spat, "You were there! You and Harry were there and this still happened! How could you let that happen to me! Harry fought back, but what did you do?"
Tuvok started to intervene, but Sam signaled him to stay back for now. Sam felt it was okay for Tom to express his anger; there were several times that he'd asked himself the same questions that Tom was asking now. Quietly, Sam replied, "What happened to you was wrong and if I could have stopped it, I would have. But Harry and I were as helpless as you were in that situation. I'm sorry it happened, Tom, but the best I could do was to make sure that you were not alone when we had to leave the room."
Tom was confused. 'Is this another lie?' he wondered. Suspiciously, he asked, "What do you mean you made sure I wasn't alone? You just said that you left the room."
"That's true," Sam conceded. "I did leave, but I asked a friend to stay. Think Tom. Close your eyes and remember. There was Dr. Smith and Colonel Warrington and you and . . . "
Warily, Tom closed his eyes and felt hazy memories creeping at the edge of his consciousness. With Tuvok's help, he was able to enhance the images. A holoimage of the room on earth emerged and he saw himself lying in the bed, surrounded by three people. On one side, a man was injecting drugs into his IV while a woman talked to him. On the other side, another military officer sat next to him, holding his hand. Tom gritted his teeth and stepped forward, as if he was going to attack them, but he stopped in his tracks when he saw his own mangled body. He'd seen holoimages of himself before, but never like this. Sam stepped up to the young man and gently pulled him back so that he couldn't see his own battered holoimage. Sam had seen plenty of people go into shock at less disturbing sights and didn't know how much Tom could handle.
In part to distract him, Sam began identifying the other members of the memory. "The man that's injecting you is Dr. Smith. It was his job to keep drugging you until they got the information they needed. I'm not sure that he liked doing it, but he was under orders from that woman. Her name was Colonel Warrington. She did the interrogation."
Tom's fury began to build when he saw that they were taking something from him without his consent, something that left him feeling helpless. He wondered how many different ways were there of being raped, because that's what it felt like again. Enraged, Tom punched out at the air near his chest. Before he could do it again, Tuvok was by his side. He was careful not to touch Tom or to restrain him, but his presence startled the young lieutenant. "What?!"
Tuvok said, "I am concerned that you do not hurt yourself."
Tom took a step back, still angry. "I'm not going to hurt myself," he told them. "I'm not. I'm . . . She just did what she wanted to with me. And I did nothing to stop her."
"Tom, nobody in your condition could have stopped it," Sam replied. Tom looked at the body again and flinched. Sam continued quickly, "The other man is . . ."
"Al," Tom interjected. "His name is Al."
"What do you remember about Al?" Sam prompted.
"He told me that he would stay with me and that I'd be all right. That . . ." Tom turned to Sam, "that he was a friend of yours and you sent him to watch out for me. Is that what you meant when you said that you didn't leave me alone?"
Sam nodded and placed a hand on Tom's shoulder. Tom looked back at the holoimage, still a little wary. "Why is he there with them? Is he working with them?"
"No," Sam replied. "It's a little complicated, but Al is in the early 21st Century and he can transmit a holographic image of himself wherever I am. It's a little different than your holographic doctor. They couldn't see or hear him because this was just a holoimage of Al, and, unfortunately, he couldn't stop them either. Even though he's military, I can promise you that Al wasn't helping them."
Tom looked a little doubtful, but Tuvok interjected, "I have met Admiral Calavicci, examined his facility, and can attest to the veracity of Sam's statements."
"Then how come I heard him?" Tom asked.
"Sometimes, when people are in an altered state of consciousness, they can see and hear Al."
Tom laughed a little. "Well, I was certainly in an altered state." He turned more serious, "Al really stayed with me?"
Sam nodded and asked Tom if he would like to remember the interrogation. Turning unexpectedly shy, Tom's agreement was almost fearful. Tuvok helped to extract the sequence from the walled off part of Tom's memory. They all watched in silence and Sam carefully monitored Tom's reactions. Curiously, Tom was paying little attention to Warrington and Smith, but he didn't take his eyes off the Al image for a second. Sam mused that it was the kind of thousand yard stare that Al used when he wanted to make sure that he wasn't being deceived. When the interrogation was completed, Tuvok froze the image of Al and Tom alone.
Sam leaned towards Tom and asked, "Does this help? Is there anything else you need to see?"
"No. I don't want to see anymore of this right now. You can make it go away." At Tom's request, Tuvok erased the image.
"Tom, can you tell me how you're doing?" Sam asked.
"I won't lie to you, it was hard to see. But it wasn't as bad as I guessed. I didn't talk very much about Voyager and like Tuvok said, we're still here. But I'm still pissed and I'd like to strangle both Smith and Warrington if I ever saw them again." He gulped for air when the wave of anger hit him again.
Sam began to send out an answering wave of comfort, but Tom deflected it. Sam could feel Tom pull away from them, but eventually the young man began to calm down. 'Good,' Sam thought, 'he's learning how to care for himself.'
Tuvok and Sam waited for Tom to continue. Sighing, Tom said, "I'm sorry I was so tough on you before. I thought you just left me there to rot. And I thought that Al was just a distracting illusion my mind created when I hurt so bad. Every time Al and I talked, it just seemed so unreal . . ."
Sam was taken aback. "What do you mean every time?"
"Well, I guess to say we talked is an overstatement. He talked and I listened as best I could. Yeah, there were a couple of times that he said you and Harry were sleeping and he was gonna keep me company for a while. Al talked about lots of things - - flying, women, poker, pool halls, cigars, cars. He said when I was well enough, he'd show me the new 2005 Mustang he just bought. It sounded like a beauty."
Sam smiled. It was typical of Al to do something like that and never tell him. "It appears that the two of you have a lot in common. Did he tell you anything else?"
"Yes," Tom muttered. "That what they did wasn't my fault. He told me about some of the bad stuff that happened to him and that predators always get to you because they have all the power. He said it was shitty when they break you, but you just have to put the pieces back together as best you can and move on. Don't look back and just keeping moving."
"I agree with the first part about putting the pieces back together, but I can't agree with that last piece of Al's advice about not looking back," Sam replied. "All I can tell you is that Al really has been through that, and if he thought you were at fault, he wouldn't mince words. He'd have chewed you out royally. So if you can't believe me or Tuvok, maybe you can believe him."
"Maybe," Tom conceded. "Sam, I know that you care, but there's just a lot of stuff that you and Tuvok can't understand because you haven't been through it. Some things are too hard to explain to an outsider. But if what I remember is true and Al is real, then guys like us would understand each other. If he's been through it too, and he thinks I did okay, then maybe it's not so bad."
Harry approached Seven in astrometrics quietly. Whatever she was doing, she seemed pretty intense. Of course, she always seemed pretty intense. He wondered if that trait was something that he found attractive or disturbing. There were so many things about this relationship, or lack of it, that he didn't understand yet. Harry liked to think of himself as a pretty easygoing guy. Sure he took his work seriously, but he didn't take himself too seriously. He knew how to kick back and relax as well as anyone. Well, except for Tom, who had honed relaxation to a fine art.
''So if I'm so easygoing, why do I always stammer or lose my train of thought around her?' Harry thought. Before he could answer his own question, Seven turned on him. "Ensign, you've been standing in silence for three minutes. Is there a purpose to your presence? Are you observing my work or testing my social skills?"
"Your social skills?" Harry asked. He didn't mean to say the question out loud or sound so incredulous, but it was too late to take it back now.
"The doctor has been instructing me in what he terms 'the fine art of social interactions'. We recently reviewed a lesson on how to initiate meaningless and irrelevant conversation with others. Would you like me to demonstrate?"
"No," Harry smiled. "That won't be necessary. In fact, I came by to check on your progress in retrieving the messages from Starfleet. I'm not monitoring you, I just thought I might be able to help. How's it going?"
Seven made room for Harry next to the console and showed him the decoding systems she'd created. "It is a slow and arduous task. Transmissions are becoming more and more difficult to decode because they've become increasingly multiply interlaced. And some of the messages are so long and redundant that they take up valuable space that could have been dedicated to tactical data. It was wasteful of Starfleet to place such a high priority on these personal messages."
"I don't think that most of the crew would consider it wasteful. We needed to know that our families and friends still care and want to help us come home. We also needed the news about how their lives have changed in the last few years. It helps us feel connected to them. It may even make us more efficient." Harry replied.
"Explain," Seven said, raising an eyebrow at him. Harry wondered if she picked up that little gesture from Tuvok.
"Seven, when you were part of the Borg, you believed that you benefitted from being part of the collective. You shared information with other Borg and accomplished tasks together. But you also felt that you were part of something important, something bigger than yourself, true?"
"That is correct. I was Borg."
"Right," Harry continued. "So even though there were other members of the collective that you may never meet or that you may not see for long periods of time, you could still feel that connection to them. And when we broke that connection, you were initially less efficient, less able to function. It was only after you began to make new connections to our crew that you had a purpose again."
"That is also correct," she conceded.
"Well, that's the way it is for us. We have family 60,000 light years away. We are connected to the people on this ship, but we are driven to be part of our larger family, our larger community. When we receive these personal messages, it increases our motivation to return to the Alpha Quadrant. That motivation may inspire one of us to find a better or faster way home. So in that way, we may become more efficient. That's why those personal messages are so effective."
Seven stared at him for a moment in silence. "I did not think that you could comprehend what it was like to lose the collective. Perhaps I was mistaken. If these messages are so important, I will continue my efforts to retrieve them. You may assist me in this task."
"I'll stay on one condition. Please call me Harry. Not Ensign. Not 2 of 10. Harry."
Seven recognized that this informality was related to one of the social skill lessons. She spoke his name a few times, trying to find the right vocal tone to imply casualness. Seven then moved very close to him and studied his face for a moment. She was confused that he did not appear to be in a casual mode. In fact, he was breathing much more quickly. Confused, she asked, "Harry, your skin temperature is increasing precipitously. Why are you doing that?"
Tom had been very pleasant the rest of the day. In fact, he'd been downright gregarious at moments, telling a couple of jokes. He didn't avoid any therapy issues that Sam raised; in fact, Tom more easily admitted that he hadn't been at fault for the drugged interrogation and yes, he could let himself off the hook for that. Tom even talked warmly about his inner child and maybe going back to the beach again tomorrow. Sam could feel a lot of warmth coming from the young man, but it didn't seem quite right. It was more charm than happiness and he was a little worried that Tom was tapdancing around something important. Tuvok concurred with Sam's assessment. Based on his observations during the past few years, Tuvok had identified a pattern of empty chattiness on the pilot's part. Sam decided he wanted to watch Tom a little more closely, so he signaled Tuvok to start the next session.
"Tom, describe the experience of being drugged," Tuvok began.
"What? I thought we already covered this. You said it wasn't my fault and now I see that it isn't." Tom smiled broadly at Tuvok, and Sam felt its falseness. "Thanks for helping me see the truth."
'Something's not right here,' Sam signaled to Tuvok. 'Even though this is accelerated therapy, Tom's never been able to integrate a new way of looking at things this quickly. He's smiling, but I don't sense any pleasure. I sense fear. Press him a little more, but do so carefully.'
"Tom, you have accurately identified the limits of your responsibility in the interrogation. However, there may be other sensations that you associate with being drugged that we've not explored. It is these other experiences which we should discuss now."
Tuvok sat back in silence. Tom looked to Sam for a way out, but he could see that Sam was studying him and was not likely to be distracted right now. He ran a hand through his hair and groaned, "I knew this was a bad idea. I knew it. I told you that a lot of memories were coming back." He looked at them accusingly, "Why didn't either of you warn me that it was going to be like this?"
"Like what?" Sam asked quietly.
"That I wouldn't be able to turn them off. That I'd remember everything. Maybe there are some things that I don't want to know, did you ever think of that? Maybe some things are too hard to face and should just stay buried." Tom walked over to the replicator and ordered a glass of water. Tuvok noticed that Tom's hands were shaking when he raised the glass.
Sam broached the topic carefully. "Tom, I know the memories are hitting you hard and fast. Maybe we've expected too much from you. But if you'd let us help you sort them out and understand what happened to you, then it'll get easier. It's like your inner child; the memories need some attention before they can fade to the background again. Now if you're having memories of the times that you were getting drunk . . .?"
"Drinking?" Tom spat at him. "Hell, that was nothing. Those days were a cakewalk compared to. . . to. . ." Tom jolted as if he'd been struck and began panting again. He was angry and fearful that it could still get to him so quickly and so badly.
"Take your time," Sam urged. "Maybe you can give us a sense of where and when it was so bad."
"It was prison, of course. There were drugs there. I knew it was bad news and at first I avoided them. I didn't take anything, no matter how much pain there was. I just toughed it out, honest." Sam noticed the pattern of rhythmic pacing began again. Tuvok observed that Tom would take four steps forward, turn, and take four steps in the opposite direction, the number of steps that would be allowed in the confines of a small cell. "But after a while, when I knew that nobody was going to help me and the guards didn't care what happened, I figured there was no reason not to do it. I was gonna die in prison, so a few hours of relief wouldn't make any difference. And if I died from bad stuff or an overdose, so what? But sometimes it wasn't my choice." Tom took a few quick breaths and closed his eyes. He didn't know if he could get through this. It was all coming back to him. Feeling a little dizzy, he finally sat down and hung his head down toward his knees.
If Sam thought he'd identified shame in Tom before, it was nothing compared to what he was picking up now. It was as if Tom vibrated with it inside and out. "What is it, Tom?"
'Give them something and then you won't have to tell them the rest,' Tom thought desperately. He looked up, his expression one of complete misery. The words came out slowly, reluctantly. After all, this wasn't something he'd ever wanted to talk about either. "You know what I told you about the predators in prison? About what they did to some of the prisoners?"
Neither Sam nor Tuvok spoke, each realizing that Tom had to find his own way to unload this terrible burden. Wringing his hands together, Tom said, "I told you it wasn't me, that I wasn't one of their victims." He finally looked up at them, eyes brimming with tears. Almost inaudibly he told them, "I lied. And the worst ones drugged you if you weren't . . . cooperative. Then they'd just take what they wanted from you."
Softly, so as not to spook the frightened boy before him, Sam said, "God, Tom , I'm sorry. I'm so sorry that they did that to you." He paused briefly and carefully prodded him to further disclosure. "But there's more to this than that, isn't there?"
Tom nodded and wiped his eyes. He fingered the almost forgotten headband. The rush of memories that had flooded back brought with them the guilt and shame that defined his life. He stared up at the ceiling, searching for the control he'd need to get through this. Damn. Damn. He was going to have to talk about it. He took more than one deep breath, and made his decision. Not looking at either of them, he reminded them, "I told you there were groups? More. . . more like gangs."
"Did you have a group you were a part of?"
Tom was startled. "What? No. I would never do that to somebody else. No . . . " his voice trailed off. Deflecting, he said bitterly, "Besides, no one wanted me."
He jumped up and began to pace again, staring at the floor. If he could keep some distance maybe he could get through this. Trying out a flat, expressionless tone he told them, "Here's what happened. I had gone through the cafeteria line and picked up a tray with my meal. I took it to a table where, as usual, I ate by myself. Afterwards, it was time to go back to my quarters. I got close to my building door and they came around the corner. I popped one of them but they pulled me around the corner and started to beat the shit out of me. Then I felt a hypospray and when I woke up again, I was in my cell. I couldn't speak, couldn't move, but I was awake and I knew what was happening. I knew . . . I knew I was being raped."
Tom had to stop speaking as choking tears filled his throat. His hands curled into tight fists, the nails digging into skin. Once able to swallow again, he continued, "When they were done, they moved into another cell nearby. I had heard there was a new inmate in our sector, but I hadn't seen him yet. Well, I heard them and I knew what they were doing to him. But I couldn't stop them! I wanted to, I swear I would have done something if I could, but . . ."
"But you were helpless," Sam added.
"Yes, that night I was." They let him pace a few more minutes in silence. "Anyway, when they were done, they tossed the new guy into my cell. One of them said we were two peas in a pod and might want to have our own little slumber party. Then they walked away. Their laughter echoed off the walls as they went down the hall." Tom looked as if he were literally choking on bitterness and started to dry heave. Sam got him another glass of water and when Tom was able to stop gagging, he downed it in two swallows.
"Do you want to go on?" Sam asked gently.
"No, yes. I don't want to, but I can't stop it anymore, you know?"
Sam wanted to wince when he saw the depth of pain on the young man's face, but he simply nodded. Tuvok prompted Tom, "You said they had left another prisoner in your cell."
"Yeah. Gods, he was just a kid, you know? He looked so hurt, so destroyed. And it was the first time that I realized what I must have looked like when they used me." Tom swallowed hard, shaking his head. "It was like before - - in here - - when I saw the holoimage of myself with Warrington. I mean I knew I was hurt, but you think, 'Well it's probably not as bad as it feels.' But when you see a mirror image in somebody else, you know and you can't lie to yourself anymore."
In a shaky voice, he told them the rest, the part that he really feared, in fits and starts. He started with the good news. "Well, when the drug they'd given me wore off, I took care of him as best I could. I'd snuck a dermal regenerator out of the infirmary not long before and I knew how to use it. I'd made some bandages in the past for myself and I treated his injuries with what I had. Then I gave him some of my stash for the pain. He was so damned grateful that out of that, Jeff, his name was Jeff, and I became friends. We watched out for each other and that helped us avoid some of the smaller gangs, and we did drugs together when we needed it. We started to dream of freedom from that place.
"Of course, there was no way out. Not with monitors around our ankles. And we were on a fucking island. There was no place to swim to. But Auckland wasn't all of New Zealand. I had the idea that if we could jury rig a transporter we could get ourselves out of Auckland at least and then worry about the rest later." Tom took a deep breath. "One of my sisters called it my 'Huck Finn mode'. I'd get all worked up about some idea and then get some friend to work out the details." Tom said in a harsh aside, "I've done it to Harry ever since I've known him. You'd think I'd learn."
Tuvok began to query about the Huck Finn reference, but Sam dissuaded him. He was concerned that if Tom got off topic now, he would never finish this revelation. If necessary, they could come back to Harry later.
"You were talking about constructing a transporter to get you out of Auckland. Were you successful?" Tuvok asked, knowing the likelihood of success was lower than the probability of getting the shuttle through the wormhole. And yet, Tom had piloted the shuttle successfully. Possibly the lieutenant was capable of beating the odds.
"No," Tom snorted, "of course not." He hesitated, having reached the truly demoralizing part of his story. In order to continue, he put as much distance in his voice as he could muster and warned, "Don't project this as a hologram." He took a deep breath. "We needed some parts. Jeff and I figured out who to approach and Jeff made the deal. He promised the other prisoner he would include him in our plans. We forgot that we were dealing with a loyal member of the Federation," Tom's sarcasm was heavy. "He was a thief on the outside, but apparently he was also a patriot. Or maybe he was looking for special privileges. Hell, I don't know why he did it, but he snitched and the guards were on the lookout for Jeff."
His voice cracked and he had to swallow a few times before he could continue. "I was supposed to be on lookout. But I was high, so I thought I was doing a great job, but I was pathetic. The guards walked right past me and it didn't even register on me that they might be going after Jeff. The guards caught him. The same guys that couldn't catch a rapist if it happened in front of them caught Jeff. It was my fault. The drugs I'd been taking made me high and stupid."
Tom choked up again. He looked away from them. "Jeff . . . Jeff, " he paused and got himself under some semblance of control, "killed himself. He made sure that he could never tell them about me." "What happened?" Sam asked as gently as he could.
Tears streaming down his face, Tom said, "He . . . he turned on the guards . . . grabbed a phaser . . . I was watching." Tom cried out once and then continued. "He shot one of the guards, but missed the second. When the second called for backup, Jeff must have known he wouldn't get out. Jeff turned the phaser on himself and vaporized himself . . . gods."
Sam was almost paralyzed by the agony he felt when Tom's defenses finally crumbled. Tom was unable to stop the sobs that tried to break out of his chest with heartrending force. Despising himself, Tom's pain came pouring out in a torrent of blows falling against the couch almost faster than the eye could see. Both Tuvok and Sam had forgotten about the glass in Tom's hand until it shattered. Tom seemed oblivious to the fact that he was grinding the shards into his hand every time he struck the couch, but Tuvok moved quickly to open the fist and remove the larger pieces. He then wrapped a cloth around the hand and went to get a medkit.
When Sam reached over to Tom, he flinched away. He forgot Sam and Tuvok were there and blocked out any warmth or comfort from them. He needed to be apart from them in his misery, needed to cry out his pain in convulsing sobs. Finally, when the grief and hatred were purged, he collapsed against the couch, spent and shattered, hiccoughing as he tried to regain some semblance of control. Tom felt drained, hollow, and almost as low as the night it happened. He didn't have the energy to say anything else right then and watched silently while Tuvok treated his hand wounds and Sam put tissues in his other hand to use on his face. Tom brought the handful of tissues up to his eyes and pressed them there as if their presence against his eyelids could blot out the horrifying memory of Jeff's final act.
Sam couldn't understand how a boy this young could have survived so many tragedies. It was amazing that he didn't stay a drug addict or go insane or kill himself. Not only that, but Tom actually found the compassion to try to watch out for another, weaker victim. True, Tom had made a serious mistake this time, but he was trying to get both of them out of prison. Sam had mixed feelings about this series of events, but, more than anything, he felt compassion. So he reached out to Tom, hoping the younger man could now accept the offered hand on his shoulder. "Talk to me, Tom. It's okay."
Through lingering sniffles, Tom tried to verbalize the misery that consumed him. "He was my friend, you know? Fuck it, I loved the guy. I didn't know it was going to end like that. He might have been better off if he never met me. I keep making mistakes and other people pay for them with their lives. With their lives, Sam."
Sam's waves of comfort finally breached the fort of Tom's loneliness. He let Sam sit beside him and hold his shoulders, turning him so he faced Sam. "Tom, listen to me. You don't really know why Jeff took his life. Maybe it was to protect you, but maybe it was to protect himself. You said he was young and it's possible that he just couldn't face the prospect of staying in that prison. What he did is horrible, but what he might have had to endure could have been worse for him. He might have run out of strength, but you didn't. You continued to live. By the way, how did you get away from the guards?"
Tom blinked and thought back to that night. He'd fallen to the ground when he saw what Jeff had done but the guards and their reinforcements didn't pay attention to a stoned prisoner lying on the ground 20 meters away. They didn't register his cries, muffled by the arm he'd put in front of his mouth. "No one saw me. When they left, I finally got up and made my way back to my quarters. I don't even remember walking there, I just felt so numb. I couldn't sleep even with the drug making me so stupid. I thought about getting some serious drugs and just going out like Jeff did."
"What stopped you?"
"I don't know," Tom said puzzlement in his voice. "I really don't know. It wasn't a conscious decision. It was . . . after that . . . I found I had no desire for drugs. From that day until Captain Janeway freed me, I faced prison without any *mind altering substances*. But like I said, I felt so numb I'm not sure I noticed the difference. Maybe I did go a little crazy then because some of the prisoners were different around me and started to avoid me. They say the only thing that scares predators is true insanity. Or maybe it was just less fun to hit me if I didn't seem afraid anymore." Tom picked at the worn couch fabric. "I don't know, maybe it was a good thing I stopped using 'cause I had a clear head when the Captain came to check me out."
Tuvok nodded and added, "You have made mistakes. It seems that mistakes are an integral part of the sentient experience. However, maturation results from gleaning wisdom from one's mistakes and continued improvement in future endeavors. You chose to stop making the same mistake repeatedly. Although it might have been easier to endure prison in an altered cognitive state, you had the courage to continue to be sober under adverse conditions." Sam wondered if Tuvok's didactic approach might be too much, but Tom seemed to be following the commander's words. "The Captain frequently makes decisions based on what she calls her 'gut instincts' about people. It is possible that on this instinctual level, she recognized and responded to your courage. Your performance on Voyager indicates that you continue to possess courage and maturity, to some extent."
Tom still had trouble accepting the commander's sentiments. The 'to some extent' qualifier almost made him smile. "I don't know, Tuvok, I'll have to think about this. You make me sound so innocent."
"You are not innocent," Tuvok said, "but you are not as guilty as you think. It is true that you made some inappropriate decisions in prison. You chose to do drugs. And you were an ineffectual lookout. But you did not alert the guards. You did not tell the other man in the transaction to betray Jeff. You did not tell Jeff to kill himself. In fact, had you known what he planned to do, I have no doubt that you would have tried to stop Jeff."
"I would have, I really would. There are still days now that if I could trade my life for his, I would do it."
"You don't have to die for the mistakes you made then," Sam added. "There are ways, much more valuable ways to honor Jeff's memory."
"What do you mean?" Tom asked.
"Do you really think that Jeff would want you to continue to suffer like this, to punish yourself? From everything you said about him, he sounded like someone who cared about you, too. And I don't think he'd want his legacy in your life to be guilt and self-hatred."
"Well, we'll never know what he really wanted since he's not here."
"No, Jeff's not here, but you're still alive and you can bring some closure to your grief, which will make it easier to remember the good things about your friendship with him," Sam replied.
"What do you have in mind?" Tuvok queried curiously.
"In the 20th century, we hold memorial services and funerals for loved ones that have died. Maybe you don't have them anymore, but they can be an effective part of the healing process."
"We still do that in this century," Tom replied. "But since I was in prison, there was no way to do anything there. And it seemed a little weird to do it years after the fact."
"So you've never said good-bye to him?" Sam took a deep breath and added, "Or to your friends at Caldik Prime?"
Suddenly, Tom's mouth went dry and he couldn't speak. Mutely, he shook his head.
He finally found his voice. Licking his lips, he said, "I don't know how to say goodbye."
"Perhaps the holodeck can help," Tuvok offered. With Sam's consent, he projected the image of a simple white cemetery with headstones. There were four on a green hillside. The sky was overcast and grey, the temperature chilly and raw.
Sam almost smiled to himself. Tuvok had certainly figured the scene correctly. There could be no sunny skies for this occasion. As he felt Tom floundering at the unexpected sight, Sam realized he needed to send some emotional energy in Tom's direction. The boy looked flummoxed.
"What do I do?" Tom whispered.
Sam pressed the young man's shoulders and lifted him to his feet. When he sensed no resistance, he walked Tom to the foot of the graves. "Tom, all you have to do is go to them and tell them how you feel. Talk to them as if they were really here, as if they can hear you. Don't worry about how it sounds, just be honest with them."
Sam stepped back and Tuvok joined him. They watched as Tom approached Jeff's grave. He stopped in front of it and gazed at the stone intently. The gravestone was a powerful reminder of his short-lived and only friendship in prison. He closed his eyes and tried to call up words that would be fitting. He began, "Good-bye, Jeff. I'm really sorry that my scheme got you killed. I had no idea you would do that." He knew his lip was trembling as if he were on the verge of tears, but for once he was able to hold them back. "You were a good friend. I like to think we would have stayed friends if we had gotten out of prison. I never told you . . . I . . . loved you. I missed you so much . . . " He choked up and had to stop again. "Jeff, I'm so sorry."
He felt Sam embrace him with comfort and he welcomed it this time. He continued to talk to Jeff for a while longer and allowed himself to recall the best of their moments together. Tom noticed that Sam and Tuvok didn't rush him or interfere, they just stood as silent witnesses to this purging. A streak of blue across the sky caught his eye and he looked up to see a vision of Jeff in front of him, smiling. Against this patch of blue sky, Jeff's face shone under a familiar shock of brown hair, the green eyes crinkling with light. Tom never expected this, tried to dismiss the vision as a drug flashback. Still, he didn't know why or how, but it didn't seem as bad just now. Jeff's smile signified friendship . . . and forgiveness.
When he was ready, Tom walked the few steps to the other gravestones. As he looked at the three white stones, the crash from the day they were killed flashed in his mind's eye. His legs could no longer support him and he sank to the grass in front of the graves. Overwhelmed, he covered his head with his hands and took in great gulps of the raw air. "I'm sorry," he gasped, his thoughts echoing those he'd had with Jeff. "I'm sorry. I let you down. It was all my fault. Over and over I've wanted to go back and do it right, do it so you wouldn't die. But I can't." He had to gain control over himself. He had to get through this. He had to. "I wish it had been me."
In his mind, Tom could picture each of the friends as they had been when they were cadets together. He began to apologize to them as he had to Jeff and the same thing happened. He looked up in awe as images of his friends emerged They wore their flight suits and were just as he remembered them in life. Most remarkable of all, they were smiling at him as if they were still friends.
Dazed, Tom struggled to his feet and stood before them, wiping the tears from his face. It was eerie how much they appeared alive. When one of them spoke, he almost fell back down. "Tom. It's all right. We know it was pilot error. Hey, sometimes you really were a cocky flyboy who took stupid chances. But this wasn't one of those times and any one of us could have made that mistake. But we didn't die in vain. You've redeemed yourself, you've shown us that you can make the right decisions. In a way, we're still part of you and the things that you accomplish now become part of us." She smiled at him. "Hell, buddy, you've shown that you can fly rings around anyone. Warp 10. Whew!"
"How . . . how did you know that? Warp 10 happened only three years ago. You were dead!"
They grinned at each other and at him. The speaker said, "Figure it out, Tommy, boy. You always were the smart one."
Tom stood speechless and checked back with Tuvok and Sam. Sam shrugged, unsure of what would happen next. Tom shook his head in bewilderment. When he turned back to the gravestones, they were gone. Stunned, he almost tripped in making it back to the couch as the hillside reverted to the holodeck suite. He looked at Sam and Tuvok. Once again his mouth was dry. "Did . . . did you see that?"
Tuvok nodded gravely and Sam indicated, "Yes. And I heard what your friends said."
"How can that be possible? How can they know what's happening to me now?" Tom asked.
"The noncorporeal beings that occupy this wormhole have stated that corporeal emotional experiences are permanent and are not limited to a linear existence," Tuvok began. "It is possible that not only the emotional energy, but a coherent essence continues to survive beyond the human perception of death. In some ways, it is not dissimilar from the Vulcan katra, which we pass on to others when our bodies expire so that we can continue to be part of our culture. If this premise is correct, then it appears that your friends may still exist in some form and have some awareness of your activities."
"If that's true, then why didn't I see them before now?"
"Maybe you did," Sam replied, "but you didn't recognize it. A lot of people have dreams about deceased friends, hear a familiar voice or feel a presence, but they often dismiss it as wishful thinking. Your friends may have been trying to forgive you for a long time. You just might not have been in a time and place where you could hear it. The important thing is to understand what they are telling you now. What does this mean for you?"
"I guess they want me to be happy. And that they're okay."
"So the question becomes: can you let yourself be happy?" Sam asked.
Tom's smile was a welcome sight to Sam."I guess I better try. I mean if they're still aware of me somehow, then they might come back and kick my butt if I stay unhappy or start self-destructing again."
B'Elanna paced her quarters like a caged animal. She'd had enough opera, Parises Squares, and blood pie in the last few days to last her a lifetime. But most of all, she'd had enough of Neelix. He'd taken the doctors' instructions to heart and cajoled, pleaded, guilted, and irritated her into almost constant activity. He was interminably cheerful no matter how she reacted, which made her even more angry. And that constant chatter! It was amusing when the doctor was the recipient of Neelix's diatribes, but it quickly lost its charms when it was directed at her. In fact, she'd only gotten a little relief when Harry came by for a visit last night. Still, Harry refused to interfere with the doctor's orders and even laughed at her dilemma. Well, fine, she just added Harry to the growing list of people that she was going to pay back somehow.
She could feel her anger growing as she reviewed the list and felt herself instantly infuriated when she heard Neelix's voice outside her quarters. After signaling, he entered without even waiting for a response! If it was possible, he was even more enthusiastic than usual. "Good morning, Lieutenant! How nice to see you again. I trust that you had a nice visit with Harry. I expect all the details over lunch, but first it's time for your morning workout . . ."
Growling, B'Elanna charged across the room and pushed Neelix against the wall. She moved her face within an inch of his own and placed one hand around his neck. "Shut up! Just shut up! I could crush your throat! Why do you talk so much? Why are you so nice? Don't you know that you're . . .?
"Irritating?" Neelix eked out.
"Annoying?" he added.
"So cheerful that you want to rip the smile off my face?"
"Excellent!" Neelix replied.
The last word took a minute to register in B'Elanna's brain. She loosened her grip on him slightly and asked warily, "What do you mean, 'excellent'?"
"Lieutenant, B'Elanna, if you'd give me a little more breathing room, I'd be glad to explain."
With a guttural roll in her throat, she ordered "Explain from here. And if I were you, I'd do it quickly."
Neelix licked his lips. He could feel the perspiration rolling down his forehead, but decided he shouldn't raise his hands to wipe it away. 'Better not to make any sudden moves' he thought to himself. He looked at B'Elanna and realized that this was a stronger reaction than even he expected. Still, it was too late to turn back now.
"Very well," he said and smiled weakly. "If you recall, we talked awhile ago about your preparation for the Day of Honor and your Klingon heritage. I mentioned that it's hard for you to control your Klingon half and tension builds up until you explode at people." There was no change in B'Elanna's expression, but he felt her grip tighten. He hurried forward. "That's not a criticism, mind you, it's just an observation. There are many fine qualities of the Klingon race and you are one of your species' finest specimens. I've learned so much about your culture that I admire. . . "
"Neelix," she crunched the name between her teeth, "I've one nerve left and you're pressing it. Focus."
"Yes, of course," he stammered and took a deep breath. "Okay, what I'm trying to say is that I've noticed that you've faced lots of frustrating events lately. I knew that you needed to explode, but you wouldn't ask for help. So I've tried to put myself in the line of fire the last few days. That way, I could serve as a release valve for you now and you wouldn't have all of these emotional distractions when you saw Tom again. So go ahead, vent your frustrations on me."
B'Elanna could see Neelix steel himself for a physical attack. She could smell his fear and her Klingon half was somewhat enticed. But the human part of her was overwhelmed by this act of kindness. Somehow, as he talked she could feel some of her anger and frustration dissipating. She relaxed a little, and still a bit perplexed, asked, "You mean all of this was just an act to make me get mad at you and help me feel better?"
"Well, I wouldn't call it an act. I did genuinely enjoy your company most of the time. Let's just say I noticed what irritated you and kept doing it. And yes, my hope was that it would ease the strain on you." Carefully, he added, "Did it work?"
B'Elanna sighed and took a step back. It was then that she realized that she still had Neelix pressed against the wall and at some point she must have pushed him upward, because his feet were dangling six inches above the floor. She gently put him down and took her hands off him. She scowled at him a little, and said, "I don't like feeling that I'm being manipulated, even if it is for my own good. But," she sighed, "I guess I do feel a little better now. I suppose I should thank you for doing this for me, and for Tom."
Neelix smiled back at her. He straightened his tunic and brushed his whiskers. "You're welcome. Now would you like to go get some breakfast? It's not part of the doctor's regimen, just a friendly chat."
"Okay, but no more talk of earth soaps or Klingon opera."
As they walked down the hall, B'Elanna pondered Neelix's gesture once again. "You know," she said. "You took a pretty big chance back there. If I'd really exploded, you'd be in pretty bad shape now."
Neelix unconsciously rubbed the bruising on his neck as he looked at her. "I believe you. Maybe we can negotiate the terms of venting in the future."
They were all exhausted by Tom's grief and each man sought solace in his own space. When Tuvok finished his meditations he joined Sam in the living room where Sam sat alone at the table, the remains of tea and cookies near his elbow. Sam seemed to be lost in thought himself. But his link to the Vulcan told him when the man entered the room. Telepathically, he sent a message, 'Tom's asleep.'
Tuvok took a seat at the table. 'I hope he is resting comfortably.'
'So far so good. He was exhausted. Tom complained that all that crying made him feel as if he'd undone all the good work we'd been doing. He compared himself to the crashed shuttle, that he was just broken pieces that couldn't be put back together again.'
'He cannot expect to proceed in only a forward direction,' Tuvok commented.
'Tom doesn't see what happened as a breakthrough but I do. I gave him an expression from my time: one step forward, two steps back.'
Tuvok considered the saying, 'It does seem to apply.'
'How are you doing?' Sam asked curiously.
'I have meditated.'
'When Tom was upset, pounding on that couch, I could feel that you wanted to jump up and stop him.'
'I did want to restrain him. And when you let him continue . . . I felt disturbed.'
'I thought you were. This work is hard on everyone, but Tom took a big step today.'
'When he acted out his rage and grief on safe targets, he felt less like a victim.'
'Still it takes its toll on a body. His muscles were so tight and sore I suggested he project a masseur and have a massage.'
Sam laughed, 'Yes, and she was lovely. Then I think he remembered B'Elanna and *she* became a rather ugly *he*. We then had some tea and cookies. He went to bed and went out like a light.'
Satisfied with Sam's assessment of Tom's status, Tuvok moved on to another topic. 'Several times you have suggested that Tom should confront his father. He seems quite reluctant to do so. What is the importance of his doing this?'
Sam answered, 'He still feels like a victim. He's still afraid of his father. Once he confronts the man, he'll begin to feel some sense of his own power.'
'Suppose he does not get what he wants from the Admiral? I believe the odds are not in his favor.'
Sam sighed, 'You're right. He probably won't get the love and respect he needs.'
'Then is it not pointless?'
'I don't think so, Tuvok. Not if he confronts his own fears.'
Tuvok mulled over Sam's take on the situation. He would trust his colleague's judgment.
Surrounding them was the holodeck setting created by Haylene. As his eyes registered the details, Tuvok questioned, 'I wonder how much time we have before Haylene returns.'
'I don't know. Tom has made great progress, but it has also been at a great cost. He's pretty vulnerable right now. I know that this wouldn't have been possible without her help, but I still don't know exactly what she wants. Or if and when I'll be able to return to my own time.'
Tuvok replied thoughtfully, 'All my understanding tells me that her presence is constant. She is aware of what we have done and Tom's current level of functioning. In fact, I've felt an increase in her energy during the past several hours. I do not yet know her intentions, but perhaps they will be revealed soon.'
'I feel as if she still wants to help.'
'There is no evidence to the contrary,' Tuvok replied.
Sam leaned back in his chair, musing wistfully, 'Can you imagine what it would be like to have unlimited abilities to help other people? If you had that kind of power, you could change hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of lives. And if you were noncorporeal, you wouldn't die, so you could do it for eternity. God, you'd never get lonely or tired or lost.'
Despite their connection, Tuvok had some difficulty thinking about intervention in such a grand way. 'Fascinating. Sam, I'm curious. What are the limits to helpfulness?'
'For me? I honestly don't know.'
Colonel Warrington had been working very hard to keep her promise of secrecy to Janeway, but it had been a more difficult task than she thought. Since the pilots had originally been taken to civilian facilities, there were people who knew about this fiasco that weren't under her direct control. It was tough enough to make all of the physical evidence and written records disappear, but what about all of the medical staff? Was there any way to determine if they saw an admiral that flicked in and out of existence, or a patient suffused with blue light? There were too many loose ends, so she decided that the best option was to create jobs in other cities that eventually would break up the civilian teams, figuring they'd be less likely to talk if they were working with strangers. Warrington's behind the scenes work did result in a promotion for Nurse Duran, a woman who had absolutely no intention of breaking patient confidentiality, no matter what. Still, all of this had to be done in a way that didn't draw any further attention to this case, her staff, or a 'closed' army base on the edge of town. The Colonel had traded in a lot of favors for secrecy and she hoped that it was going to be worthwhile.
She'd been working for twenty hours with little relief and was finally enjoying a few minutes of silence in the conference room. Alicia Warrington thought she was the only person awake on this floor until she heard Smith's familiar footsteps approaching. It took a second longer for her to realize that he was actually whistling to himself. 'Why is he still up?' she thought to herself. 'We've both been up all day, and I'm exhausted. But the longer he's awake, the better his mood gets. I hate that!'
She enjoyed another minute of quiet before he found her and bounded into the conference room. He was all smiles when he greeted her. "Hey, there you are! I've been looking all over for you. I've got some stuff that you'll want to see. It's great."
"Ham," she began, "I don't want to see anything. I just want to sit here in silence. You may stay if you can be absolutely still. If not, I'm calling security and having you removed from my sanctuary."
He leaned over and kissed her on top of her head. Giving her his best smile, he said, "You're just mad because I'm in a good mood and I'm not tired. You've also had too much coffee and that always gives you a headache. But if you were feeling better you'd want to hear my news. And if I wait to tell you in the morning, you're going to ask why I waited so long to fill you in. So I'm going to tell you now, because I know you're really dying to know. You just have too much pride to ask me now that you've been playing Colonel."
She glared at him. With great dignity, she told him, "I am a Colonel. Now, if you do it quickly and promise to go away, I won't have you drawn and quartered."
"You see? I knew your curiosity would get the better of you. Okay, I've been busy with our new friends in Washington. Their contacts have verified our results: that vial of green blood was absolutely alien. It is definitely blood and has some DNA, but there are components that do not exist in Nature on this planet in any form. Whatever else our guests told us, this was real."
Warrington straightened up a little bit. "Ham, if this is a joke, I am not amused."
"Alicia, I needle you about a lot of things, but I know better than to kid you about this." He slid a folder across the table to her. "Here's a copy of the reports from both labs. And I can tell you that I've had my own contacts check out these FBI agents. Both of them have legitimate and impressive credentials; so far, everything that Admiral Calavicci said about them has checked out. Not only that, but their supervisor is now an Assistant Director, but we served in Vietnam at about the same time, so I made some phone calls and I have the history of all of his activities for the last three decades. As best I can tell, the three of them are on the up and up. In fact, I think they want the truth as much as you do."
"Let's not be too hasty about this. I still don't want to jump conclusions."
"Agreed. So what I'd like to do is go up to Washington and compare notes with them. From what I hear, they have some extraordinary field reports about similar phenomenon that I want to see in more detail. Let's see if they'll grant access to some of their files - - I suspect that I'll be able to spot any fakes if they're playing a scientific version of three card Monty. That way I get to find out what they know without tipping our hand any further at this point. What do you think?"
Warrington pondered this in silence for a minute. "Okay. Go for a week, no longer, and I want daily reports on your progress. I want to keep close tabs on this situation until we have more verification. And if they really are a gold mine of genuine evidence, I don't want to blow it by rushing things."
Smith smiled at her. "I'm touched that you'll miss me so much."
She tried to give him a military look, but she was too tired to carry it off. "I have an obligation to protect the government's investment. They've spent a lot of money on your training over the years."
Hammond kissed her again. "I love you, too." He stood and started to exit when she called out to him. "Ham, one more thing."
"I know that you're fond of Rain and that somehow you can work with her. But ever since our visitors left, she's been moping around here like a lovesick hound dog and her depression is starting to spread to other members of the team. Plus, I'm tired of hearing her sing that song everytime I pass her in the hall. So if you can't get her to buck up tomorrow by breakfast, she's going with you. She's your project - - you deal with her for a while."
"I'll take care of it. I promise."
Hammond began whistling again as he started back down the hall. It was only then that Alicia Warrington realized it was the same tune that Rain sang incessantly. She prayed that the song was not like a virus that would continue to be passed from person to person and that she wouldn't have to hear it continuously until it had run its course. This was one of the few times that she regretted being stationed in a small enclosed, underground facility.
After a massage, a nap, and the purging of so much of his guilt, Tom was feeling a lot better. "So. What are we doing this time?" Tom asked the question easily as he took his place on the couch.
Sam looked directly at Tom. "Feel up to confronting the Admiral?"
All the confidence imploded. "Hell, no!" Tom thought that Sam sure knew how to spoil a good day. Here he'd felt so good and in the first sentence it had all been shattered. He darted a quick glance at Tuvok, but as usual, the dispassionate Vulcan displayed no outward sign of what he might be thinking. Sam merely sat back and sent those waves of support at him. "Sam . . . I need more time. Look. I'm scared to death to go through with this."
"What's the worst thing that could happen?"
Tom let a number of scenarios play out in his mind. The words came slowly as Tom puzzled it out aloud. "It's . . . I'm so angry with him . . .suppose I start tearing things up? Take a swing at him? Or . . . this is what I guess I'm really scared of . . . suppose I just go nuts and I can't get back? You know, I just stay crazy."
"We're here for you, Tom. If that happens, and I don't really think it will, but if it does, Tuvok and I will bring you back."
Tom looked uncertainly from one to the other. Sam's confidence was a safety net of the strongest tritanium. And Tuvok's mind was so stable that Tom realized that they would indeed rescue him if he went off the deep end and couldn't swim. He hadn't realized he'd been holding his breath until he let it exhale. "What do I need to do?"
"Prepare," Sam said. "Make an outline of what you want to tell him. Focus on these points: what he did to you; how he manipulated you; what the effect was on you when you were a child and a young adult; what you did; what you want now."
"Wow, all that," Tom shuddered. "Look, I don't have to . . . you know . . . forgive him, do I?"
Neither Sam nor Tuvok needed to consult on that question. Simultaneously Tom heard them say, "No."
Sam asked, "Do you want us to stay while you work on it or leave you alone?"
Tom nodded. "I'd like to be alone. But, when I do this thing with the Admiral, you both had better be here."
"Understood," Tuvok agreed.
Quietly the two men left Tom to his PADD. Even concentrating fully it took Tom several hours to finish his assignment. He wasn't really satisfied with it but recognized that more time on his statement wouldn't improve it much. He thought of going to his room and taking a nap but he knew he wouldn't get any rest. Beside, he'd just had a nap and there was too much he had to say.
When Sam and Tuvok returned, they found the younger man pacing the office, PADD in hand. "There you are," he greeted. With a false tone of confidence, he told them, "Bring on the Admiral."
Admiral Owen Paris, silver haired, wearing his Starfleet uniform, entered the office and confronted the three men. Tom almost lost his nerve at the sight of the commanding presence. For a moment, he was unable to say anything. Fortunately, Tuvok began by saying, "Good day, Admiral. Thank you for appearing. This is very important to your son, Tom. Won't you take a seat?"
The Admiral's eyes narrowed as he looked at the three men, all of whom had some sort of headbands on. He recognized Tuvok as the Vulcan who had been under Captain Janeway's command when Voyager disappeared. The other man was unknown to him, but the Admiral sensed a steely interior under a deceptively disarming appearance. Next, he took in his son's appearance, wearing a non- Starfleet loose white tunic, a nervous flicking in his boy's eyes. All four men took seats, Tom and the stranger on opposite ends of the couch, Tuvok in a chair set across from the Admiral's and the couch.
"I'm Dr. Sam Beckett. This is Commander Tuvok," the stranger introduced himself. "And you know Tom."
At the mention of his son's name the Admiral's eyes narrowed and his expression toughened. "I'm not sure I do know Thomas. He's . . . "
"I'm right here, Admiral," Tom said softly. "You can talk to me."
"Fine. Why am I here? I have important duties. . . "
"You always have things that are more important than me," Tom muttered sarcastically. Sam shot him a warning glance and signaled, 'Don't blow this chance on cheap shots. You can say what you need more effectively than that.'
Tuvok addressed the Admiral. "Tom has some things he needs to tell you. While he is doing so it is important that you say nothing, simply listen. When he has completely finished, then it will be your turn. Do you understand?"
The Admiral nodded in a condescending manner. How dare these people dictate to him? He didn't like this arrangement, but he was a clever man and knew better than to take off on Tom in front of others, especially another Starfleet officer.
Tom reached for a glass of water from the nearby table. He couldn't help but stare over the glass at his nemesis. Even though he understood that this was a simulation of his father, the hologram was so accurate that he began to feel unnerved. He shot a desperate plea to Sam to end this, he wasn't ready, he couldn't go through with it. But Sam looked back at him with a smile and a nod. 'Don't let your fear make your decisions for you. You can do this.' Sam's support propped him up and allowed him to get started.
"Okay," Tom began, an involuntary crack in his voice betraying his nervousness. For reassurance, he consulted his PADD, then put it aside. "I have a lot to tell you, Admiral. And let's start with that. I call you Admiral, not Dad, not Father, but Admiral, your rank in Starfleet. That's what you told me you wanted: a Starfleet family and I was your little cadet, not your son. But the way you treated me was not even as good as the most raw recruit. You held up impossible standards for me to meet and when I failed you punished me. Not punishment appropriate to what I did, but prolonged beatings and spankings and verbal abuse. You even denied access to medkits . . ."
The Admiral rose up and bellowed, "Now you see here . . . "
Tuvok put up a hand, but Tom took over as his anger strengthened his resolve. "Admiral, this is my turn to talk. You can say whatever you want when I'm finished."
Taking a deep breath, Tom continued. "You held a reign of terror over me and made me so afraid of you that I couldn't even tell my mother what was going on. You used your rank to prevent anyone from helping me. I was your prisoner long before I was a prisoner in New Zealand."
Tom tried to stifle the shakes as he lifted the glass of water to his lips. He felt the admiral's eyes on his hands and put the glass back on the table. "Yeah. My hands are shaking. This is the scariest thing I've ever done. But I need to tell you what your actions did to me. You need to know and I need to tell you."
The Admiral's face showed surprise at Tom's words. This was a different young man than the one he had last seen in shackles on his way to prison. "Say your piece, Thomas."
The older man's words were spoken with an edge, as if the man were merely humoring him until he had a chance to strike back. Steady support continued to flow from Sam and Tom embraced each wave of it. "I grew up afraid of you, of disappointing you, of not being what you wanted me to be. But now I understand that no matter what I did, you would find a way to be disappointed or angry or threatened by what I did. I think you wanted me to succeed only enough to make you look good, but not enough to make anyone think that the kid was going to outdo his father. As long as I looked good you could pretend that you were a good father, that nothing was wrong in our family.
"But I grew up both afraid to succeed and afraid to fail. Either way, you found a reason to beat me or berate me or humiliate me. There was no way out and I felt paralyzed. I felt like nothing, like I didn't have a right to exist. Yeah, I managed to go to the Academy, but look what I did: I crashed on Caldik Prime and killed three people, and then I lied about it. I spent some time drifting around the Alpha Quadrant looking for a painless release and a chance to fly. I found it, Admiral."
Tom took a deep breath. The Admiral looked angry and Tom shot back. "You're pissed, huh? Well, so am I! I wasted a lot of my life trying to get over the way you treated me. I'm still trying to get over it. Thank all the gods that I'm away from your influence now so I could do this. But I'm not sure a few weeks can really undo all the damage in the twenty odd years you had to hurt me."
Feeling agitated, Tom got to his feet and paced the room. He knew all eyes, including the Admiral's were on him. "That brings me to prison. It was supposed to be for rehab. I understand you thought I deserved being judged a traitor for my one week in the Maquis."
Tom stood in the Admiral's face. "You know what *rehab* did for me? You want to know how many times I was beaten? Or raped? How often I ended up in the infirmary? Great rehab."
He had to look away so the Admiral didn't see his tears. He felt Sam nudge him to continue, that it was all right if the Admiral saw him cry. "Well, Admiral," Tom began bitterly, the tears streaming down his face, "was I finally punished enough for you?"
Before the Admiral could speak, Sam suggested, "Tell him what you want now, Tom."
Wiping at his face, Tom realized he was no longer crying, shaking a little, but not crying. Was this progress? 'I can do this,' Tom told himself. 'I can do this.' "Sam's telling me I should let you know what I want. It's simple really. I want your acceptance as your son. I know you disowned me. I know you told me you wished I'd never been born. Well, sometimes I've wished the same thing. But you know what? I'm not going away. I'm a damn fine pilot and most of the time I try to be a decent person. When I'm not? I think that's when I'm fighting you or what you did to me." He paused to catch his breath and to let himself calm down a little. Quietly, he told his father, "I want you to say you're sorry for what you did to me. Looking at you, I figure that's not going to happen. I guess I'll settle for your respect."
He felt Sam urging him to keep going, to say what he really wanted. But he knew if he did, he would lay himself open to more rejection, rejection he wasn't sure he could surmount after all he'd finally been able to tell his father. Tom sat down again on the couch. "I think you know what I really want to hear."
With his throat dry Tom didn't try to disguise the tremble in his hand as he reached again for the glass of water. He took a long drink, drained the water, and replaced the glass on the counter. His hand shook so much that the glass tipped.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw the Admiral's cruel smile. And in that moment he knew. "You'll never say it, will you? Because you're incapable of feeling it." There was wonder in Tom's voice as the full implications of his insight reached him. "You don't know how to love. I'm your son, but you never told me you loved me. And you never will."
The Admiral's dark look had reduced cadets to babbling idiots, but Tom straightened himself in his seat. He raked a hand through his hair and looked his father full in the face. He didn't actually feel sorry for the man, but he felt the power his father had over him fall away as a starfield did in warp flight. Although he hadn't seen this as a contest, Tom realized that in his own mind, he had won. He had said what he had to say and he had hung onto himself in the process. The Admiral was clearly gearing himself up for a long harangue, but Tom told him, "Save it, Admiral. Just say what you have to say and get out of my life."
Sam noticed that the Admiral's words were taking on the same sarcastic tone that Tom had used at the beginning of the confrontation. "You . . . have overstepped your bounds, Thomas. You have been a disappointment to me all of your life, especially in the years since you lied at Caldik Prime. These few years on Voyager where I've been given to understand that you're a valued member of the crew? What's a few years? You'll never succeed in fooling these people for long. Your true nature will come out. And when it does, you'll end up in the brig, or abandoned on some planet. I've known you all your life: I know you. And it isn't because of me you've done all the terrible things you've done, *suffered* so much. When you've been captured and tortured by Cardassians, then you can talk to me about suffering. You're a total fuck up in spite of all I did to point you in the right direction. You made your own mess, Thomas. Not me."
Tom mentally counted to ten. It wouldn't do to get mad. Just tell him he's wrong and end this. "You have it wrong, Admiral. I'm succeeding in spite of all your best efforts to see that I failed. And you know what? When I started this session with you, I wanted more than anything to hear you tell me you loved me. I wanted to hear that you were sorry for all the beatings, all the rejection." He paused, trying hard not to choke up. "But now I realize I don't need to hear that from you. I don't need to give you that much power over me. You don't deserve it. And I don't need anything you might have to offer."
The Admiral's face flushed with anger as he pushed to his feet. He advanced toward Tom, forgetting himself in the familiarity of his rage. He also forgot the other two men in the room as his hands fisted up. But before he could get close to his son, Tuvok and Sam blocked his path, startling him.
Sam objected, "You heard Tom. He doesn't need anything you have to offer. Including your fists."
"Admiral, I suggest you resume a seated position," Tuvok intoned with a penetrating look at the Admiral.
"You forget who you're talking to!" the Admiral blustered.
Tom got up and pushed through the two protectors to confront his father. "It's okay. I can handle this."
Sam and Tuvok remained by his side, but no longer blocked the Admiral in his path toward Tom.
Softly, Tom said to his father, "Is this what it comes down to? You want to belt me one? Go ahead. I'll survive it just like I survived everything else you threw my way."
Almost spitting his fury at Tom, the older Paris barked, "You're not worth it!"
He disappeared from the office. Both Sam and Tuvok turned to Tom who laughed. Sam was starting to grow concerned when the laughter took on a more hysterical, somewhat desperate tone. Tom tried to catch his breath and tell them that it was all right. Finally, he was able to say, "I'm not upset. I'm just so relieved."
Tom's adrenaline levels began to plummet and he was shivering from exhaustion as Sam wrapped him in a blanket and helped him to sit down. Tom continued to shiver, his teeth chattering, his words unspoken until the shock gradually eased. Sam remained at his side, watching for signs that his system was rebalancing itself. Sam patted his shoulder and let waves of compassion warm the pilot much as the blanket did. As his shivering abated, joy filled blue eyes looked at each man in turn. "You saw what he's like. And I told him. Oh, gods, I finally told him."
"You did, Tom. You did great," Sam told him sincerely.
Tuvok added, "I saw what he was like. And I understand how hard that must have been for you. I regret that he chose not to give you what you had hoped for."
"It's okay, Tuvok. Once I saw him, really saw him, it didn't matter. What mattered wasn't what he said or did. What mattered was what I said. I didn't back down, I didn't beg. I didn't lose my temper. I said what I planned to say. Don't you see? I did it!"
In his joy, Tom reached out to hug Sam and Sam hugged him back. Grateful that Tom hadn't tried to hug him, Tuvok nonetheless understood the human need for touch and comfort. Tuvok realized that Sam had been correct. Tom's victory wasn't in getting an admission of regret or a statement of love from the Admiral. His victory was in being able to stand up to his greatest fears. Tom's worries that he would lose control or fall apart hadn't materialized. The glow on the young man's face told him all he needed to know about the importance of Tom's confrontation with the man he feared the most. Tuvok perceived that it was an impressive victory indeed for Voyager's pilot.
Al turned over and pulled Beth closer to him. She nuzzled his neck and then leaned up to kiss him. Al sighed contentedly and she laughed, "Well you seem to be in a pretty good mood."
He smiled back appreciatively, "I am and you're wonderful."
Drily, she said, "I'm glad you approve." She looked at him more closely. "But something else is going on. What is it?"
Al started to dismiss her, but she caught him and had to coax him a little to tell her what was happening to him. He sighed and said, "Maybe it's just the exhaustion, but I had another dream about that kid last night."
"Which one? Harry or Tom?"
"Tom. You know, the one who was so banged up," Al looked at her. "The one Warrington tranked."
Beth stroked his arm. It stung her to see how easily this sort of thing could upset him. "Were you remembering what happened to him or what happened to you?" she asked.
"Both. But it was more than that. For the first time since this whole thing started, I had a good dream. A good feeling about this kid. I don't know if this makes any sense, but I felt that somehow he and Sam were together in this really peaceful place. Some of it didn't feel very good at all, but there were moments that it was so nice. And the sky was a shade of blue that I've never seen before. It was just so. . . blue." Al looked away, a little embarrassed. "I told you it was just a dream."
Beth turned his face back to her and kissed him again. "There's nothing wrong with having a nice dream like that. After all, my dreams came true."
Al stroked her hair and hugged her closer. "So did mine, Beth."
Before the next session could get underway, Haylene appeared, her colors swirling. Tom gaped at her openly. She seemed familiar, and yet he was sure he'd never seen her before. Haylene was a deep blue gray and her silver eyes reflected the images of the three men before her. Sam sensed her intensity and noticed that she cradled a large glinting crystal in her arms. A trail of sparkling light followed her fingers down the sides of the crystal as she stroked it. 'She's caring for it like a child,' he thought to himself. Sam noted that Tom seemed mesmerized by the crystal and even Tuvok stared at it intensely.
Haylene moved directly to Tom. "I am Haylene. You are Tom."
"Do I know you?" Tom asked.
"Not exactly," she replied. "I'm part of a sentient existence that occupies this wormhole. When you passed through us, we became aware of your existence and were unsettled by your pain. We wanted to help, so we intervened through Sam and Tuvok. I did not approach you sooner because you seemed too fragile, and in fact, you were even more unstable for a while. Now you seem calmer. Are you well?"
"To be honest, I've been through hell. I guess unstable is a good word for how I felt." Tom pulled inward and Haylene's colors brightened as she studied him. When Tom spoke again, he felt the same warmth from her that he'd felt from Sam and smiled. "But you're right, I feel better. I don't exactly understand your existence, but if you've helped me, then I owe you. Thanks."
"I accept your debt of gratitude. Come with me." Haylene replied.
Sam was stunned by her sudden and unexpected demand of Tom and stepped forward to interject himself between them. "No, he can't go anywhere. Tuvok says you've been monitoring us, so you know what Tom's been through. Trust me - - he's still too vulnerable. He couldn't assimilate what Tuvok or I experienced. You can't take him." Sam surprised himself at the intensity of his reaction, but he wanted to protect Tom.
Tom's jaw dropped in shock. He wanted to believe that Sam, and maybe others, would protect him, but he hadn't been sure of that until this moment. Still, he couldn't let Sam risk his own future. "Sam, it's all right. If I have to go to protect Voyager, that's what I'll do. You deserve to go home and the crew deserves to move on. It's a small sacrifice."
Sam and Tom began to disagree and Haylene's colors began to take on a purplish hue. Tuvok decided it was time to intervene. "Gentleman, you're responding to dramatic suppositions which have not been confirmed. Perhaps we could allow Haylene to detail her intentions before we make any decisions." He turned to Haylene, "Would you explain your plans for Tom more fully?"
Haylene's eyes sparkled at Tuvok. "As I showed you, there are many worlds in which we have taken an interest. We located a people with customs that institutionalize the kind of abuse suffered by Tom. We are deeply disturbed by this and decided to stop the violence and set these people on a more harmonious course. Tom will serve as a conduit, to help us relay information in a way that these people can understand. Together, we will help a culture in danger."
"Why does Tom have to be a part of that?" Sam wondered.
"We do not believe they will understand our message if a corporeal being does not explain it to them."
Tuvok stated, "We have a policy of noninterference in other cultures. Tom is an officer in Starfleet and has to follow that policy."
"Sam has no such policy; he can transfer his values to Tom."
"It doesn't work that way," Sam explained. "Tom is a part of his culture, not mine. I can't make Tom be something different than who he is. If I did that, I'd only be victimizing him again. Besides, he has the right to choose his own future."
Haylene's colors swirled a dark navy blue. "You didn't object to my helping you with him. That was interference."
"True," Sam conceded, "but Tom gave his consent. He needs to have a choice in whether he participates in your excursion."
Watching them talk about him long enough, Tom protested. "Hey. I'm right here. Sam's right - - I can make this choice for myself. Haylene, why is it important that I go with you?"
Haylene tried to articulate all that she knew of Mendarin's world, but there was too much information. So she entered Tom's mind and infused him with the experiences of these people. Tom was overwhelmed and felt as if he were being dragged under the weight of a raging flood. He attempted to lift a hand as if trying to ward off the images, but his strength failed. Catching Tom's slumping body, Sam shouted at her, "Haylene, you must stop! It's too much for him and you could kill him! Back off!" Sam knew his words were harsh, but he was desperate to get through to her.
Unfazed, Haylene became curious. "Some of your phrases are still difficult to interpret. What does it mean, 'back off'?"
Sam began to shout again, but Tuvok interrupted. "You've exceeded Tom's information processing capacities. It is imperative that you end the contact or his corporeal body will stop functioning. Tom will cease to exist."
Her eyes shuttered as recognition occurred and she immediately broke the connection. Tuvok ran a medical tricorder over Tom as Sam searched for a pulse. When Tuvok identified damage to Tom's cerebral cortex, he began to call for the holodoctor. "That will not be necessary," Haylene interrupted. She re-entered Tom's mind and repaired the damage she had caused. Haylene suffused Tom with healing energy. When he was conscious and oriented, she withdrew completely.
"I am sorry to have caused you harm. We are not familiar with all the limitations of corporeal beings and it is easy to forget how fragile your species can be. I promise that you will experience no more pain."
"I'm okay," he told her and straightened up as Sam released him. The rush of images that assaulted him were only a vague memory. Now that the pressure was gone, he could still feel Haylene's healing energy. He felt almost as good as he did before this mission began. With surprise, he told them, "I'm really okay."
Sam asked gently, "Tom, can you tell us what you experienced?"
"I remember some of it," he replied, shuddering. "It's a violent place. I know what it's like for them and I want to help somehow. There was a boy -- Mendarin -- it was like looking at myself in a mirror. Maybe I should go."
"Tom, is that what you want to do or is it something you feel obligated to do?" Sam asked.
"I want to stay here. This crew is the closest thing to a real family I've ever known. But how can I turn my back on what I've seen, Sam? Can you turn away from people you see who are in pain?"
"No, I can't," Sam replied. "But I don't want to believe that all we've done is just so you can go off to another world with Haylene." With a crack in his voice, Sam continued, "Tom, you've worked so hard to free yourself from your past. You deserve a chance to live a present and a future with the people who love you."
Tuvok stepped toward Haylene. "Evidence is mounting that suggests that Tom is psychologically unwilling and physically unable to fulfill your request. However, you have created a secondary conduit for Mendarin's people. It appears that you will need to use that conduit in Tom's absence."
"What do you mean?" Tom asked, torn by all he had seen and heard.
"Haylene, you have allowed me to see the crystal's development during my meditations. Now, I believe the others should know," Tuvok continued.
Haylene's colors swirled to pale blue as she looked down upon the crystal and stroked it again. "The emotional signatures of the species that pass through us are permanent. Despite your obvious limitations, you experience so many layers of sentience -- memories and imaginings, joys and fears, loves and loneliness. We've collected the emotional emanations from the Voyager corporeal beings and assimilated them in this crystal. Through this crystal, we can show Mendarin's people how to love, nurture, and support each other. It is not as effective as a corporeal's presence, but it can be done."
"It can be very effective," Tuvok confirmed. "There are many examples in which cultures have been inspired to make dramatic changes through messages sent by noncorporeals. I still object to your intentions to interfere, but if you cannot be dissuaded, then I suggest you do so gently. This crystal may be the most nonintrusive way to interfere. Additionally, you have the capacity to protect the crystal from damage for eternity, whereas Tom's corporeal being is too easily damaged. Thus, the crystal may serve you better."
Tom stared at the crystal. He moved towards it and Sam started to pull him back, unsure if Tom's body could take another jolt. But Haylene signaled Sam that she would protect Tom from any overwhelming images. He placed his hand on the crystal and gasped at how alive it felt under his fingertips. He could hear the voices of his crewmates and see images from their lives. Tom felt warm and cherished as he touched it. But he wasn't sure how it might seem to others. Perhaps Haylene was right and Mendarin needed him to explain it. 'On the other hand, if the feeling from the crystal was half as strong for Mendarin and the others,' he thought, 'then they really might be all right.' Still, he could feel a pull towards the people he'd seen, especially Mendarin. How many times did he wish that someone would just appear out of the blue and take care of him? If he had the chance to do that for somebody else, shouldn't he take it? The more he thought about it, the more ambivalent Tom became.
After watching Tom's conflicted reaction for a few moments, Haylene made her decision. "Very well," she replied. "I am disappointed that you choose not to accompany me now. I will give you more time to consider the choices before you and I will respect your final decision. If necessary, I will go alone."
Tom looked into her silver eyes. "I want to thank you again. Just because I haven't agreed to go with you right now doesn't mean I don't appreciate all that you've done for me."
Haylene placed a hand on Tom's cheek and a blue light glowed throughout his being. "Care for yourself and others who share existence with you. We have invested much positive energy in you. We will be watching that energy's dissemination. Tom, I will return."
Engrossed in her engineering readouts, B'Elanna frowned at the interruption. However, she tapped her comm badge. "Yes, Harry."
"Take a look at the holodeck readings."
She moved over to a display console, and quickly pulled up the data. When she saw what Harry saw up at ops, she pursed her lips. "What is that?"
"An energy matrix," Harry told her. "Do you think this means anything?"
"Like Tom coming out of the holodeck?" Harry asked for her. "I don't think so. Not yet, anyway. The energy matrix is already gone - it disappeared as unexpectedly as it arrived. But the locking system is still in place, so I guess they'll be there until it disappears permanently."
"What could do that? We haven't been able to get any readings at all out of the holodeck other than the three life signs."
"Maybe it's from the wormhole. It's hard to tell at this point."
B'Elanna said, "Can you track its path?"
"No. Since we don't really have any coordinates in stasis, there's no way to track a path. It's everywhere and nowhere at the same time."
"This is one of those theoretical problems that they loved to put on Starfleet finals," she muttered. "Okay, let's at least identify what we do know. It looks as if there were some fluctuations in its frequency and amplitude while it was there, but it's unclear whether it did any harm. At least the three life signs are still there."
"Too bad we can't read them through the force field," Harry bemoaned, unhappy with the paucity of information available to them.
B'Elanna allowed herself a familiar complaint over the comm link, "They better be all right in there."
"I'm sure they are, but still we'll keep a close eye on them. This is the longest energy signature we've seen there. Now that we have a record, we can prime the computer to search for it and give us quicker notification the next time it occurs. I'll contact you the minute I have anything new."
Harry cut off the link and went back to studying the record of the energy matrix. He wasn't able to discover much more on his own and decided to ask Seven to join him at his station.
When she arrived, he began to describe the readings, but Seven interrupted. With reserved sarcasm, she asked, "Is this more of Lt. Torres' 'alien assimilation' theory?"
"Uh, no," Harry responded once he remembered the story B'Elanna concocted to get Seven's assistance in the first attempted holodeck break-in. "You knew it wasn't true?"
"That there was no alien assimilation?" She gave him a 'what do you take me for?' look and told him bluntly, "Of course."
"Then why did you help her? You could have been in a lot of trouble if the Captain found out what you tried to do."
"The doctor has helped me to identify many traits of being human - - among them is pride, arrogance, and stubbornness. These are traits that Lt. Torres possesses. So it is difficult for her to admit that she lacks knowledge and that she is inferior to me. In order to request my assistance, she would lie. The most effective lie would reflect my own emergent memories of assimilation as a child."
"So you knew all that and you still helped her."
Seven moved closer to Harry and whispered, "I noticed that there is enhanced comradery among crew members who violate rules in secrecy together. I was . . . pleased . . . to be approached for such a task. I found that under clandestine conditions, Lt. Torres was less irritating than usual."
"Seven, you're becoming more human everyday," Harry assured her.
Seven studied him closely for a moment. Harry felt as if he was being dissected, but he didn't move. "Your presence is sometimes pleasing as well. Perhaps if you and I shared clandestine activities, you would not engage in so much irrelevant conversation. Given your nature, do you think that is possible?"
"Gods, I hope so," he sputtered. Harry took a step back and tried to find a single coherent thought. "I, uh, I mean, if the opportunity were to present itself, or we could create an opportunity. It's like they say, 'opportunity knocks'. They also say 'knock on wood' but I have to admit that I've never understood that one myself. Anyway, we could do something together. Nothing illegal. I wouldn't want to get you into any trouble. But fun. We could find something fun . . ."
"Ensign Kim," she interrupted. "This is an example of the meaningless conversation that the doctor described."
Harry forced himself to take a breath. "I, uh, yeah, I guess so. Sorry."
"This rate of speech is unacceptable. We must find an activity in which you will not speak so frequently."
The blood drained from Harry's face as he pondered the possibilities. Seven appeared to be considering some options intently herself. Finally, she nodded at him. "You will play music for me."
"Yes. Chakotay mentioned that you play music. He said music is based on mathematics, a concept that intrigues me. I have observed that the crew frequently shares music as a form of communication. In fact, Neelix has been humming a song that he learned from earth transmissions for several days. Yes, it is time for me to learn about music. So I will come by your quarters at 2100 hours tonight, you will play music, you will not speak, and I will learn. If at the end of the music we have attained sufficient comradery, then we will select another intimate activity. And, Harry, you will keep our encounter a secret."
As the plans were settled in Seven's mind, she returned to Harry's original call for assistance. Looking at his ops panel, she asked, "Why did you request my presence?"
It took Harry a couple of minutes to remember the answer to her question.
Sam noticed some changes in Tom after the infusion of Haylene's energy. Tom tried to describe the experience, but couldn't find the right words. So he opened his mind and shared the experience with Sam and Tuvok. It was only then that Sam understood the wave of comfort that had washed away Tom's fears and insecurities. Sam found his time between leaps to be peaceful, but they paled in comparison to this sensation. It had a similar effect on Tuvok because the Vulcan was almost smiling. The hint of a smile disappeared when Tuvok opened his eyes, but Sam was glad he saw it.
Still, Sam expressed concern that Haylene's intervention with Tom might not be permanent; so he felt it wise to hold several more sessions with Tom. Tuvok suggested to Sam that he himself should spend little time in these sessions because humans were uncomfortable after a mindmeld and needed to retreat temporarily before they could continue a working relationship. Since he and Tom had shared very personal information, Tuvok thought it best to allow Tom to begin the separation process now.
Sam agreed. After Tuvok departed he and Tom reviewed the experiences that had occurred on earth as well as the events in Tom's past. Tom decided to go back to the graves again. Although he still missed his friends, he felt more peace than he expected and somehow couldn't dredge up the self-hatred that had accompanied these memories earlier. Tom also visited his inner child and was pleasantly surprised that the boy was glad to see him. Promising to come back to the beach again, Tom reluctantly left the child.
Assessing these events, Sam realized that they took a lot of courage on Tom's part and that Tom had faced them honestly. Sam searched the pilot's mind more intensely and found a quieter young man than he'd first met. The cockiness was replaced by confidence, and the superficial charm was buttressed by more genuine happiness. Musing that this kid would always be a charmer and a little reckless, Sam recognized that at least now the charm wasn't some protective mask designed to keep others at arms' length.
He was most worried about what would happen when they talked about the Admiral since this seemed to be the linchpin to Tom's agony, but he was surprised at what happened. Tom remained calm and actually expressed a new sense of freedom that he hadn't known before. When Tom compared this freedom to the adrenaline rush and joy of flying, Sam saw a holoimage of Tom piloting a starship open behind the young man. Although Tom was unaware of the scene he'd created, Sam was awed as every maneuver that Tom described was played out in the image. Both the holoTom and real Tom seemed excited about flying again. Sam didn't tell Tom about the holoimage, but he shared it with Tuvok who confirmed that Tom was that good a pilot. After some discussion, Tuvok and Sam agreed that Tom was probably ready for his last session and a return to the ship.
The next morning, the three met together and Sam summarized their assessment of Tom's status as Tuvok listened intently. Tom sat very still and concentrated carefully on Sam's words. "Tom, you've done a lot of good work here. It would have been easy to quit, lie, or deny what happened, but instead you faced a lot of pain and accepted your share of the responsibility. At the same time, you've learned to give up guilt and self-destruction over things that weren't your fault. How do you feel about all this?"
"I think I feel good," he replied. "Before this, I sort of went through my life, carrying things around, and when shit happened, I told myself 'Well, that's one more bad thing, just add it to the pile and forget about it'. So after a while, I didn't even know when I was hurting. It just seemed normal, you know?"
Sam nodded. "Given your circumstances, it was normal. In fact, it was a functional response to dysfunctional circumstances, and saved your life on several occasions. But since you're in a safer environment, you may not need to do that again. Can you tell me more about feeling good now?"
"Well, I've seen other people who seemed happy, but always felt that they were different. It's like there were two species - - happy people and the rest of us. I liked being around them, but never thought I'd be a part of their world. Now, maybe I can." Tom paused and confided, "It's a little scary, feeling good, but I like the upside of this and want to try it for a while. I really believe I deserve a chance to be happy."
Sam could sense in Tom an energetic restlessness that he'd seen in people who had recovered from a serious illness or injury. Still, he knew it was common to feel an approach-avoidance conflict to life after recovery and he could feel that conflict building in Tom. Gently, Sam asked, "So I guess the next question is: do you feel ready to return to the ship?"
Tom leaned back in his seat and was pensive for a moment. "Yes, I want my life back. And I expect that everybody wants to get out of stasis and move on, even if it is back to the Delta Quadrant. But, there is something that's bothering me. Now I feel like I'm going to have go through this same kind of process again with everybody on the ship"
Sam asked, "What do you mean?"
"I treated them all so badly and I'm gonna have to see each of them. The Captain, the doctor, Chakotay, Harry, B'Elanna. Oh boy, B'Elanna."
"It's true, you're going to have deal with them," Sam replied, "but it may not be as bad as you think. From everything I know about your friends, they're a compassionate group. Trust me, they're going to want to welcome you back and will help you make amends, if necessary." Sam leaned forward, underscoring his words, "But they know you were in a lot of pain and that you couldn't always control how you reacted. People can be pretty forgiving if you let them. The trick is, don't go back defensive, expecting an attack. Take the risk of letting them be kind to you."
When Tom looked puzzled, Tuvok interjected, "Sam is correct. The crew made several efforts to assist you upon your return from earth and would likely do so again. But remember that the Captain gave an executive order that you were to remain on ship, regardless of your piloting capacity. The crew also have demonstrated the depth of their commitment to you. Remember, as well, what you have shared with us will be kept confidential. The crew will only know what you choose to tell them. And I will keep commitments that I made to you here. Should you be in danger in the future, I will utilize my resources to secure your safety."
Tom was taken aback by Tuvok's words. "You really mean that. I told you once that you'd earned my friendship, but I thought you gave me the cold shoulder. I guess I was wrong. You really are my friend. Thank you."
Sam could sense that Tuvok was still uncomfortable with the gesture of friendship and hoped he wouldn't appear to reject it again. To his relief, Tuvok responded, "You are welcome. I must remind you that I still hold a superior rank and will serve as a commanding officer when we return to duty. However, the Captain and Chakotay are able to balance personal and professional encounters in a way that does not diminish efficiency. We will create such a balance."
"Okay, so that's one less thing to worry about," Sam interjected. "What else would prevent you from going back?"
"Well, what if my friends treat me right, but I strike out at them? What if I can't stop myself from hurting them?" Tom whispered. He was truly afraid of that dark side of himself that had unfairly dumped on his friends as he was helpless to stop himself.
"Tom, it's okay to be scared. I know it's still hard for you to trust them and trust yourself. That's going to take time. It's possible, but unlikely that you'll strike at them. In the past, you'd lash out at anyone because you didn't understand where your pain was coming from. Now you know, and you'll be able to separate old pain from new stress. You're also going back with more gifts than you realize," Sam replied.
"What do you mean?"
"It's like when we talked about flying. In a lot of ways, you're a free man for the first time. It took a lot of effort to keep those secrets buried, but now that you've faced them, it's going to release emotional energy that you can put into relationships, flying, or whatever you want. The key is now it's a choice. Also, you were never just the totality of pain and flaws, you just couldn't see the good stuff then. But now you can tap into the independence, bravery, kindness, compassion and warmth that were always part of you. These are all things you take forward in your life."
"Wow, you make me sound great!" Tom laughed.
Sam laughed too and thought he detected a slight smirk on Tuvok's face. "You're no saint, but yeah, you're a great guy. I like to think we'd be friends if we lived in your world or mine."
Tom grew serious. "Sam, does this mean you're leaving now?"
It was now Sam's turn to be pensive. "I honestly don't know. Haylene seems to understand my leaping, but I don't know if she's controlling it. She's been pretty cryptic about the whole thing. If I leave, I want you to know that I'll try to never forget you, either of you. If I stay, I would miss my home, but over time this crew could be a family to me if they'd accept me."
Tom walked over to Sam and hugged him. "Well, if that's the way it works out, let me be the first one to welcome you to our family."
Sam hugged him back. "Thanks, that means a lot to me. Now what do you say we get out of here?"
"Okay," Tom replied and led the way towards the door.
Tuvok discretely stepped ahead of them and was the first one out of the door, lest the pilot hug him as well.
Harry and B'Elanna were evaluating changes in the energy signature from the holodeck when the Captain signaled them. "Janeway to Torres."
"B'Elanna, I wanted to let you and Harry know that the doctor reported that Tom, Sam and Tuvok have arrived in the sick . . ."
"Captain," Harry interrupted, "B'Elanna just transported herself to the sickbay. I don't think she's listening anymore." Harry thought he heard a chuckle from the Captain and could imagine the facial expression that accompanied it.
"I should have expected that," she mused. "Well, perhaps you can fill in the details for her later. Tuvok tells me that Tom's isolation is probably over. For the time being I want to keep that holodeck off limits to everyone but the senior staff. I don't want to disturb any programs they might have created, but you and B'Elanna should do a sweep to make sure there are no alterations that could harm our computers."
"Also, when the doctor releases Tuvok, I want you and Seven to do a complete systems check with him. If Haylene is finished with us, the protections she's given us may disappear at anytime. As soon as we drop out of stasis, the wormhole's currents may be active and I want us prepared to move out of here on a moments' notice."
"Aye, Captain. I'm heading to the sickbay myself and I'll coordinate the work with Tuvok and B'Elanna from there," Harry replied.
"Delay that, Harry," she ordered. Her voice softened when she continued. "I know you're anxious to see Tom. We all are. But the doctor wants some time to examine all three of them and since Tom was so easily overwhelmed before he went to the holodeck, I want to be careful that we don't make the same mistakes with him again. Stay in engineering for now and as soon as the doctor approves visitors, I'll send someone to relieve you from duty."
"What about B'Elanna?" Harry asked. He knew there was a little whine in his voice, but he couldn't completely hide his disappointment. Just because he was disciplined enough to wait more patiently than she was didn't mean he was less anxious to see Tom now. Besides, Harry had spent more time with Sam than anyone and he wanted to see him again, too.
"I'm sure the doctor will kick her out in a few minutes. If she doesn't comply, I'm prepared to have her removed if the doctor thinks it's necessary to protect his patients. She has a . . . special . . . relationship with Tom, but I can't let her violate limits all over the ship. It sets a bad example for the junior officers, don't you agree?"
'So she learned about the attempted holodeck break-ins,' Harry thought to himself. 'How does she know about everything that happens? Well, thank gods, I wasn't in on that.' Harry straightened a little and replied, "Yes, Captain. And thank you for the update. Please keep me posted."
"You'll be the first to hear. Janeway out."
B'Elanna didn't hear the Captains' last words or the doctor's first words. As soon as she materialized, she saw Tom and started to run up to him. He looked alarmed and put his arms up, yelling "Stop!"
At first, she thought he was still in miserable shape and was pushing her away. Well, she had enough of this and was not going to put up with his behavior any longer. When B'Elanna moved towards him with greater determination she was knocked off her feet when she hit the level 10 force field the doctor had erected. With a casual smugness, the doctor smiled down at her. "Let that be a lesson to you, Lieutenant. The next time you enter my sickbay, it might be wise to actually listen to me before you start running around. If you people weren't in the habit of ignoring me when I talk, the shock you just experienced might have been avoided. Fortunately, it was a mild shock and you should feel well enough to stand in another minute. Just take a few deep breaths and sit up slowly."
"Is she all right?" Tom asked anxiously.
"She'll be fine. No harm done." the doctor replied.
Tom walked as close to the force field as he dared. "B'Elanna, are you okay? I'm sorry, I tried to warn you." When she didn't answer, he asked anxiously once again, "Are you okay?"
"As I said, she'll be fine," the doctor interrupted. Helping her to her feet, he whispered, "You have five minutes, no more. They don't appear to be in any immediate danger, but they will remain quarantined until I've completed my examinations. I'll brook no arguments. Now you may whisper sweet nothings to him, but don't get him too excited -- he's not leaving with you today."
Back on her feet, B'Elanna scowled at the doctor, a gesture which he thought was undeserved. When she turned back to Tom, though, the scowl was replaced with a look of ebullience. Sam, Tuvok, and the doctor all saw the look and found a way to busy themselves to give the couple as much privacy as the quarantine allowed.
Now that she studied him closely, he looked so much better. Tom seemed more relaxed than she'd ever seen and there was sort of a happy glow to his face. "Tom, I'm fine. Don't worry about me. How are you? Are you all right? Are you back for good? What happened to you? When are you getting out of here?"
Tom's eyes danced as he smiled at her. "That's a lot of questions. I guess you really missed me, huh? B'Elanna, I'm really okay. More than okay. Tuvok, Sam and Haylene helped me take care of a lot of unfinished business in my life and now I've got a chance for a fresh start." He moved a little closer and whispered to her, "I'd like you, I mean us, together, to be part of that fresh start. I know that I hurt you and I'm so sorry. I didn't mean it, I swear. And I want to make it up to you, if you'll let me. You don't have to answer me right now, but will you at least think about it?"
'This is Tom?' she thought. 'My Tom? An honest, vulnerable, opening his heart to me with no flippancy Tom?' For an instant, she wondered if the man in front of her was a clone or a mutation of the Tom she knew. Still, this was the softer side of him that she always wished he'd share. Wasn't she getting exactly what she wanted? Then why was it so hard to accept?
She looked away shyly, a gesture that Tom didn't expect. When she gazed at him again, he saw a vulnerability that warmed his heart. B'Elanna's next words were challenging to the hope he had earlier. "You're right, you did hurt me. And we have a lot of unfinished business. There are things that we have to talk about and I need some ground rules for this relationship or whatever it is between us. But, yes I will think about it."
Tom didn't realize he'd been holding his breath, waiting for an answer. Although she'd hinted at some serious talking ahead, something he'd normally look forward to with as much enthusiasm as piloting Voyager without warp drive, she'd also acknowledged that they still had a relationship. He was so happy and relieved, that he almost stepped into the force field himself as he went to hug her.
"Tom, please!" the doctor interjected. "Isn't this how we started? Really, doesn't anybody listen to me?" He sighed and looked at B'Elanna. The doctor noticed her look of openness and was affected by it himself. He found B'Elanna to be particularly attractive when she allowed her feelings to show. He had no romantic intentions, just liked her more in these moments. So he felt a little regret that he had to ask her to leave. "B'Elanna, we must get back to work, so I'm afraid that you'll have to go now. I'll advise you when the next opportunity for a visit presents itself."
B'Elanna began to object, but the doctor pulled her aside. "Please don't make me call security. We don't need to take the risk of upsetting Tom with a dramatic exit. I'll give you one more minute here. You can waste that minute arguing with me or talking to Tom. It's your choice."
It didn't take long to make the decision. She and Tom whispered intimately for a few more seconds. B'Elanna headed towards the door and suddenly turned back. With a soft smile, she said, "Doctor, thank you. Take good care of him."
The doctor was surprised by this gesture and smiled in return. "You can rest assured that I'll do my best for them. And you're welcome."
". . . we are far from the sacred places of our grandfathers. We are far from the bones of our people. But perhaps there is one powerful being who will embrace us and give us the answers we seek."
As Chakotay murmured the opening lines to his prayer, he opened his mind to his spirit guide and felt himself drawn to a familiar place. As had happened so often lately, he also felt a second presence. He could sense Haylene at the edge of his consciousness and waited for her to coalesce into her humanoid form.
"It is good to be with you again, Chakotay. We find your presence most pleasing."
"Thank you. I'm also pleased."
"Yes, you understand in a way that the others do not. You have the proper view of existence."
"What do you mean, the proper view?" he asked.
Haylene become a pale blue as she enveloped Chakotay in warmth. "Corporeal beings often fail to comprehend us and we find them . . . difficult. Like Tom, they feel desire and fear for the same things. Tuvok has shown us a constant internal battle between emotion and control. And your Neelix wants to believe in an 'afterlife' and yet avoids 'death' at every opportunity. There are many others like them that we have seen over the millennia, so tumultuous, so unsettled.
"You have the same limitations of many corporeals, and yet you are different. There is a peacefulness that we do not often see. Your mind is open to new experiences and you are not afraid to see that we and others co-exist simultaneously. We've seen your compassion, even to those that threaten your safety. You are a most enlightened being."
Chakotay smiled. "Your words honor my tribe. I was raised among a very spiritual people. They believed there are many forms of life and that the spirits are always among us, waiting to communicate if we listen for them. I've listened here and know that you have protected us. But I also felt a change in the winds and that's why I was contacting my spirit guide. Can you tell me what's happening?"
Haylene's colors darkened slightly. "We have finished our work with Tom. He has been given the choice to stay among your group or travel with me to another corporeal existence. Now is the waiting. We shall see."
"If Tom doesn't want to go with you, will he be free to stay with us?" Chakotay asked, concerned.
"Sam and Tuvok taught us the concepts of choice and freedom. Tom will be free. We will not force him. We give Tom the right to choose his future."
"So Sam and Tuvok know about Tom's choice?"
"They share awareness, yes," Haylene replied.
Chakotay thought for a moment. "Tom has been through a lot lately. He's a valued member of our crew and I'd like to see him stay with his family here. We can watch out for him, if he'll let us. Haylene, if one of us must go to this other world or existence, I'm willing to go in Tom's place."
"Self-sacrifice," she said, labeling his offer and swirling her colors in a rich blue green. "This is one of the reasons we continue to observe corporal beings. You still have the capacity to surprise us. And yet this is the second gesture of self-sacrifice. You must value Tom to trade your freedoms for his. It is tempting to keep this Tom for further study," Chakotay began to object, but she dispelled his fears. "Tempting, but we will not do so. We will respect his freedom."
"So if Tom chooses to stay with us, will we be free to go? Will we be allowed to leave the wormhole?" he asked.
"We will respect the freedom for all. And yet . . . Chakotay, would you like to explore? We can show you much, worlds you cannot yet imagine," she offered enticingly.
"Thank you, but no, Haylene. These people are my family now and my place is with them. I must stay here."
"Even though they are so unsettled and different? Is this not difficult for you?" she queried.
Chakotay could feel sympathy emanating from her and appreciated the kindness. "I admit that it's sometimes difficult to be with them, but they'd probably say the same thing about me. That's part of the experience of being corporeal - - we are all separate and somewhat unique. We don't share a single consciousness as you do. But our differentness is also a source of strength because we learn tolerance, experience diversity, and appreciate our individual gifts. In many ways, I prefer this existence."
Haylene's colors swirled as she tried to absorb these concepts. "Yes, this explains much about Kes' disorientation when she joined the consciousness."
Chakotay was shocked. "You know Kes? Is she with you? Can we communicate with her?"
"No, even you cannot communicate with Kes. She is not part of us, but all noncorporeals share awareness of each other. We felt Kes enter the mutiverses and were intrigued because she seemed so . . . attached to the corporeal. In fact, we had a vague awareness of your existence through her."
Haylene could sense Chakotay's longing for Kes as his hopes were dashed. "So you were looking for us when we came by? Is that why the wormhole opened so close to the shuttle craft and pulled it in?" he asked.
Haylene searched for a means to express her thoughts. "Not looking, just curious. When we felt your presence, you seemed familiar in a way we did not understand. We watched further, but did not interfere until the second passing through the wormhole. Up to that point, it was, what would you call it? A coincidence?"
Chakotay wasn't sure he entirely believed her, but there were more important issues. "Well, if we can't communicate Kes, can you somehow relay a message to her for us? Can you express that we still love her and care about what happens to her?"
Haylene's silver eyes closed and Chakotay thought she was going to leave. A few moments later, her colors brightened and she spoke to him again. "It has been decided that we have gained sufficiently from your species that you may make such a request. There are complexities which you could not understand, but we will attempt to make contact with Kes."
"Thank you, Haylene. This will mean a lot to our crew." Chakotay smiled.
"You feel better. We are pleased." Haylene began to dissipate, but then reformed herself. "Chakotay, there is one more concept we do not understand, but we hear throughout the ship. You will explain. What is 'light-years'?"
When Tom awoke in sickbay, he noticed that Tuvok and Sam were gone from their biobeds. He felt a little panic until he saw Sam and the holodoc in the doctor's office. 'So I guess the force field's down, at least for them,' he thought. Gingerly, he walked to the edge of the biobed and reached out to test the field.
"It's down," Harry smiled. "C'mon over. I've been waiting for you."
Tom hadn't seen Harry when he first got up. He'd been quietly sitting on a biobed in a corner, letting Tom get his bearings. Tom smiled. "It's good to see you again."
Harry was a little surprised. Sam told him that Tom might seem different, but he still expected Tom to make some kind of smart-ass greeting. Tom was so genuine and open that Harry didn't quite know how to respond. "It's good to see you too," was all he could say.
Sam and the holodoctor noticed their movements and joined them. "Hi, " Sam said. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine," Tom answered honestly. "What's our status?"
The doctor replied, "Since I don't have a medical history on Sam, there's no way to judge any changes in his condition. But you and Tuvok have a clean bill of health. In fact, you've maintained some of the enhancements that Sam described."
Tom opened his mind to Sam, and felt a familiar warmth. It wasn't as strong as what he experienced on the holodeck, but it was still palpable. He felt a vague awareness of Tuvok and he even sensed some of Harry's compassion. The doctor was right -- he definitely felt different from the last time he was in sickbay when he was recovering from the injuries he'd gotten on earth.
"I know, the connection's not the same," Sam commented. "In a way, I miss that. But all of us seem to have maintained some kind of a connection, even if it's just weaker."
"Your biochemistry is still altered," the holodoc added approvingly. "You have elevated endorphin levels and your adrenaline levels have decreased."
"Why is the adrenaline drop good news?" Tom asked. "Is that why I was the last one to wake up?"
"Tom, people with your type of history tend to have chronically elevated adrenaline levels. It's as if they are constantly in a fight-or-flight mode. This is probably not a bad thing when you're piloting, but it can do long-term cellular damage if it is constant. Your adrenaline has dropped out of that mode to normal levels. Don't worry -- your body retains the ability to elevate your levels temporarily when needed. It's probably going to feel a little sluggish for a few days, but you'll quickly adjust. And be better for it."
"Okay," Tom nodded. "Anything else I need to know for now?"
"You and Sam are free to go about your business," the doctor replied.
"Great," Tom replied, bouncing on his feet a little. "Harry, let's go get something to eat. Sam, do you want to come along?"
"No, you guys go ahead. I thought I'd talk a little medicine with the doctor for a while. There's so much here that fascinates me. I'll catch up with you."
Sam waved them off as he and the holodoc headed back to the office.
"Right, see you later," Tom responded and slapped Harry on the back. "Let's go, Harry."
Harry was starting to get a little worried that Tom was going into that flight mode the doctor mentioned. Maybe things weren't right yet. "Tom," he asked carefully, "are you sure you feel okay?"
"Yeah, fine. I just wanted to get out of there," he replied, looking over his shoulder at the sickbay doors. "It's just two guys talking science. Did you see how excited Sam was? Gods, that's boring. I just wanted to get out of here."
Harry smiled. This was the Tom he knew. His friend was back. He couldn't resist a little gentle teasing, "Seems like a great opportunity to brush up on your medical knowledge."
Tom's answer was a snort and a head shake. Definitely the Tom he knew.
A few people approached Tom and Harry in the galley to welcome Tom back, but they didn't stay very long. Most of them picked up that Tom wasn't ready for company and Neelix shooed away the rest after a few minutes. Harry was a little worried that Neelix was planning to join them, but fortunately that didn't happen. To Tom's delight and Harry's relief, Neelix delivered a pizza and then disappeared to the back of the kitchen.
Harry let Tom eat in peace and tried not study his friend too closely, figuring the last thing Tom wanted was to feel that he was under a microscope. Still, he couldn't help noticing little changes. When he was able to, Tom used to sit with his back to the wall and scan the room surreptitiously every few minutes. Now, he sat in the middle of the room and didn't seem to worry about his surroundings at all. Whatever happened in the holodeck, Harry felt a new calmness in Tom.
When they settled back with fresh coffee, Harry finally offered, "I don't know if you want to talk about what happened on the holodeck and I won't press you for details. I just want you to know that I'm here for you."
Tom stared at his cup for a minute before he spoke up. Harry could see some clouds pass through Tom's eyes and bit his tongue, thinking he'd pushed Tom too fast again. But the clouds cleared as Tom began to speak. "Thanks. If you'd made that offer to me a while ago, I'd have blown you off. Not because of anything you did, but because I didn't know how to talk about hard things."
"Like when we were rescued from the Akriterian prison," Harry interjected.
"Exactly, but I don't want to brush you off again. I'm trying to learn to be more open with friends. There are some things that I need to tell you. I probably won't do it right at first and I have to do it in my own way. Are you okay with that?"
"Yeah," Harry smiled, "I'm okay with that."
"Good," Tom replied. "Before I tell you stuff, though, I have to ask you a couple of questions. First, I still feel a little shaky about what happened to me when I returned to the ship. I remember doing some things that I don't feel good about, but parts of it are still a little hazy. Can you help me fill in the pieces?"
Harry was a little worried. He was glad to see that Tom wanted to take some responsibility for his life, but maybe this was too much too soon. Leaning forward, Harry said, "Tom, I'm willing to tell you what I know, but are you sure you want to do this right now? A lot was happening then and you've only been back with us for one day. This can wait, you know. People will understand."
"Harry, I need to know now. If I run into somebody, I have to know what happened between us to understand their reactions. Besides, if there are apologies to be made, I want to get it over with. I don't want this hanging over me."
Harry had seen glimpses of the stand-up kind of guy that Tom could be and respected the effort he was making now. So he told Tom as much as he knew about what happened with all of the senior staff. Tom was visibly shaken by some of it, but he wasn't making excuses or walking away from the table, reactions that Harry would have seen in the past. When he was done, Harry sat back and let Tom absorb it for a few moments. Finally, Harry added, "Tom, there's something I want you to keep in mind. You were badly injured and badly treated on the planet and we all knew that. Maybe you said some things that you shouldn't have, but we know you were in a lot of pain. And frankly, your behavior is partly our fault."
"Your fault? How?"
"You kept giving us signals that you needed space and time alone. Even though we had good intentions, we ignored the signals and violated your space repeatedly. We kept pushing you to tell us how you felt or to be sociable when you weren't ready. So, we sort of provoked you to lash out at us. I can't speak for anybody else, but I'm sorry for my part in that process," Harry explained.
Tom smiled a little. "You sure you're not just letting me off easy?"
Harry smiled back. "You once told me that I was your conscience and I was responsible for letting you know when you're screwing up. Well, as your conscience, you have a clean slate with me and I don't think you owe anybody else more than a simple apology. Even then, I don't think they'll hold you to it." He wasn't sure he could bring up B'Elanna, but Tom spared him the trouble.
"You're thinking that there's still B'Elanna," Tom mused.
"I know. I really hurt her. And I plan to make it up to her if I can."
"I think she'll let you," Harry volunteered.
"Gods, I hope so," Tom told him with something approaching bleakness in both his voice and demeanor. But before he got to her, he had some unfinished business with Harry.
Tom took a couple of deep breaths and continued, "There's one more thing. On the holodeck, I had to face that I often get excited about ideas and expect other people to share my excitement. Not only that, but I get them to do all the drudge work or take risks to carry out my plans. When that happens, I can be pretty selfish and reckless and other people end up paying for my carelessness." Harry saw the Tom's eyes redden a little bit, but he continued, "Harry, I know I've done that to you and I need to know something. Have . . . have I ever hurt you with you one of my schemes?"
"No," he responded firmly. "I'll admit that it's been close a couple of times, but somehow you've always brought us out of it and we landed on our feet."
"Yeah, but when I coax you into doing things, do you ever want to tell me no, but you don't?" Tom continued.
"What do you mean?"
"Well," Tom tried to think of a recent example. "Okay. Remember when I asked you to create a replacement holodoc when the original one was on an away mission?" At Harry's nod, Tom continued, "Well, I know I came up with some good reasons for you to do it, but I really wanted one because I was scared that I'd be stuck in sickbay forever. So, if you didn't want to do it, would you have told me?"
"Of course. Tom, it's like I've told you - I'm not a green cadet anymore. I don't just follow you around blindly and do whatever you say. I've got a brain of my own and make my own choices."
The sureness in Harry's voice took Tom a little off guard. "So why do you do some of the things I ask? Don't they seem a little reckless or short-sighted?"
Harry laughed. "They may seem that way to you, but that's why we're a good team. I sometimes go along because I can see the big picture. You wanted Sandrine's to play pool; I saw it as a way to pull Maquis and Starfleet crew members together by having one place that was neutral territory. You wanted a new doctor so you wouldn't miss the action on the bridge; I wanted one because Voyager would have benefitted from it. Besides, it sounded like a pretty good challenge."
Harry turned a little more serious. "Tom, the other side of this is that your recklessness has saved my life more than once. If you weren't such a courageous pilot, we never would have made it through the wormhole in the first place. And if you'd thought things through, you wouldn't have taken that knife for me in prison and I'd be dead. The first time we met, you told me you were dangerous and that I better stay away from you. Well, I'm telling you now what I told you then -- I pick my own friends and you're still my best friend."
Tom laughed. "Well, I guess instead of me apologizing to you, you ought to be thanking me!"
Harry laughed even harder and needed a few minutes to catch his breath. "Gods, Tom you have no idea how dull it's been around here without you."
"Pretty quiet, huh? Well, maybe I can think of some way to shake things up!"
In mock horror, Harry protested, "Please, no, don't get any ideas!. It's been enough work keeping B'Elanna out of trouble. I don't think I can take care of both of you right now. Besides, I've got my hands full with . . . "
"With what?" Tom asked, with great interest.
"Oh, nothing. Forget about it." Harry replied.
They spent a few more hours alone together in the galley. Tom needled Harry good-naturedly a few more times, but Harry didn't tell him about the secret rendezvous with Seven. When they finally retired, each of them was exhausted and elated to have his friend back.
Chakotay approached Tom's quarters cautiously. Their last encounter had not been very pleasant and he wanted to do this right. When Tom let him enter, the young man looked better than he expected, or even hoped. More than that, Chakotay didn't feel that casual defensiveness that Tom often projected around him. They both knew that Tom didn't like taking orders from him and there was an uneasy truce between them. Somehow, the truce seemed much easier today.
Smiling, Chakotay said, "I'd ask you how you're doing, but I would guess you're pretty sick of that by now."
Tom smiled in return. "Yeah, sort of. I know people care, and it's nice of them, but have you ever had to answer the same question over and over again?"
He thought of the many times he'd had that very same sensation with Tom. "Yes, I do. So I'll try to make my question a little different. Have you thought about what you want to do now?"
"What do you mean?" Tom asked a little cautiously.
Chakotay gestured to a couple of chairs and continued as he sat down. "Relax, this isn't a test. I simply wondered if you want to return to piloting the ship, or maybe you're not sure and want to take a little more time between duties." Referring obliquely to Haylene, he added, "Or maybe you see your life heading in a whole different direction. Whatever you need, I'll work with you as best I can. I just thought now might be a good time to talk about it."
Tom leaned back thoughtfully. Looking down, he asked, "Did Sam or Tuvok tell you about what happened on the holodeck?"
"No. To the best of my knowledge, they've respected your privacy. And I'm trying to do the same. But I think you should know that while I was meditating, Haylene contacted me and told me a little about the choice facing you."
Tom didn't say anything, but he was studying Chakotay carefully. "Tom, I'm not trying to violate your privacy and I haven't told anyone about this, including the Captain. Frankly, I don't know exactly why Haylene let me know about this. If you want to talk it through, I'll listen. If you want to make this choice alone, I won't interfere. But one thing I'd like you to consider is that you're an important part of this crew and part of our family. If you decide to stay, you'd be welcome here."
Chakotay could feel a little of Tom's old defensiveness coming back. "You know, even though I've been changed in some ways, I'm still me. I don't like being kept on a tight schedule and you'll probably think I'm going off half- cocked some of the time. And I'm still going to say my piece if I think you're wrong."
"I know. To be honest, sometimes you're a real pain in the ass to have around," Chakotay smiled and Tom couldn't help returning the smile. More seriously, he continued. "I've recently been reminded that our differences are a source of strength. In the end, I wouldn't have it any other way."
Tom thought about this carefully. "I haven't made any final decision yet, but if I stay, I want to return to piloting. I can still do it - - I can feel it inside of me. I *want* to fly. Hell, I need to fly."
"Okay," Chakotay nodded. "I've been running some simulations of a wormhole departure that I'd like you to see, to get your feedback. Join me on holodeck 2 at 1600 hours and we'll go through them together. Let's see how you do then and, from there, we'll go to the senior staff meeting and talk to the Captain if you're ready. Does that work for you?"
Tom could feel some of his defensiveness slipping away again. He thought about it and finally agreed. "Sounds fair enough. Is there anything I need to be looking at this morning?"
Chakotay stood and began to leave. "No. Why don't you take a little more personal time? I expect that you have some catching up to do."
"Yeah. Thanks." Tom stopped Chakotay before he could go much further. "There's one more thing. You offered to help me before Haylene came along and I treated you pretty shabbily when you were just being a decent guy. I'm sorry."
Chakotay was taken aback by the genuiness of Tom's demeanor. 'So this is part of the change,' he thought approvingly. He faced Tom squarely and placed a hand on his shoulder. "It means a lot that you would say that to me. You're right -- I was trying to help, but I also said some pretty harsh things. Those were words I regretted, and I wanted to apologize to you, too. Can we just go forward from here?"
"Works for me," Tom replied as he walked Chakotay to the door. When he was alone again, Tom heaved a great sigh of relief. 'Maybe Sam and Harry were right. Maybe this relationship stuff isn't so tough after all,' he thought to himself. His relief dissipated when he thought about seeing B'Elanna again.
"A picnic?" B'Elanna asked with disbelief. "The captain wants engineering updates every hour, Seven's pestering me about a list of modifications she wants to make while we're still in stasis, and Sam's asking me a million questions about biogenic computers, and you want me to wander off for a picnic?" It seemed as if she'd had this conversation before with Tom, or rather, with a shifty alien named Steth. For a second, she wondered if part of Steth still existed in Tom and was subsuming him.
Tom took her hand with a gentleness she didn't expect. "Please," he asked. "I know this is lousy timing and I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important. But if we leave stasis without doing this, I don't know if we'll have the chance again." He leaned a little more closely. "In the past, you've accused me of shutting you out and you were right. This time, I'm trying to let you in."
Part of her wanted to leap into his arms and hug him for this, but she still meant what she'd said yesterday. She looked him straight in the eye, and said, "A picnic is not going to solve our problems. We still have to talk about this relationship. There are some things that have to be worked out before I'll open my heart to you again."
Tom nodded, "You're right. And we will talk. There are a lot of things I need to share with you, so you'll understand. Look, I know that I have no right to ask you to trust me or do something for me right now, but please come on this picnic. I want you to meet someone. It's important to me. Please."
B'Elanna searched his face and saw only an earnest, beseeching expression there. She couldn't find any signs of the dazzle that she hated to admit could get to her. She knew she was being charmed, but there was an honesty about his request that was disarming. Still, she had her pride. "And if I traipse off for a picnic, who will keep engineering running smoothly?"
Tom smiled, encouraged. "I bet if we asked Harry to help, he and Vorik could take care of things for a couple of hours. And I have reason to think that Chakotay would give you the personal time."
She finally relented. "Okay. *If* Harry and Vorik can come down now and *if* they can keep Seven from tearing up all my systems, I'll go with you for one hour."
Tom knew not to press his luck any further. He kissed her and said, "Thank you. I'll meet you outside holodeck 1 in ten minutes."
B'Elanna allowed Tom to hold her hand as they entered the seaside holodeck re-creation. Somehow, he seemed more at ease here and she felt drawn to him. Both of them wore shorts and loose shirts and walked barefoot through the sand. Tom carried a picnic basket in one hand. The sun was low over the water and softly pink. The sky was very blue.
She looked at him quizzically. "Is this it?"
"Wait. There's more."
They walked up the beach with the waves of the ocean to their left, hilly dunes to their right. When a wave with a long reach slid up and over her feet, B'Elanna squealed and danced on the wet sand. "Hey! That's cold! Why didn't you warn me?"
"It's the Pacific Ocean, it's supposed to be cold," he teased good-naturedly and pulled her closer. Still, she could feel that he was distracted, looking up and down the beach. She stood quietly next to him, waiting. Finally, he smiled and started moving again, almost as if there was some urgency. "He's still here! This way."
"Who?" B'Elanna asked, but he didn't answer. Tom pulled her along by her hand and she ran a little to keep up. She was starting to lose patience with him, but decided to give him one more minute to explain. B'Elanna stopped when Tom let go of her, put down the basket, and approached a tow-headed boy playing in the sand. The child had built an irrigation ditch between the ocean and a small tidal pool, and a toy boat spun lazily in the golden sunlight.
"Hi, Tommy," the man at her side greeted the boy. Tom squatted down to the boy's level. "How 'ya doing?"
The child smiled momentarily at Tom. "You came back. I'm okay. I've got a fishing boat, see?" Little Tommy held up the boat for inspection. Tom took it carefully, turned it over and whistled. "It's a beauty. Did you make it yourself?"
Little Tommy nodded. A smile of pride passed over his face, but it faded as he caught B'Elanna's eye. He turned away from her and looked at his feet. Scrunching sand between his toes and pointing a finger at her, he asked the adult Tom, "Who's she?"
Tom could hear the accusation in the younger boy's voice and winced internally. He wanted so badly for this to go right. 'Patience,' he reminded himself, 'he's just a little boy. Don't make the kinds of demands on him that the Admiral does.'
He carefully reached out to the boy and tentatively pulled him to his lap. When he got no resistance, he hugged him closer and said, "She's a friend of mine. Her name is B'Elanna. She can be very nice and I thought you might like her too."
Tommy didn't look at her yet, but he leaned up to whisper in Tom's ear. "She's a girl, you know. Girls are . . ." The boy made a face as if he'd bit into something sour.
Tom worked hard to suppress the laugh that almost escaped his lips. He had completely forgotten that there was a time in his life when he wasn't enthralled with women. Still, he was a little boy once. Tousling, the boy's hair, he replied. "Some girls are a little hard to take, but this one isn't. And B'Elanna knows some pretty cool stuff. She's an engineer on a starship. I bet she'd like your boat too, if you showed it to her."
As she watched this exchange, the resemblance between the man and the child began to sink in. B'Elanna looked from one to another and her mouth gaped open when she realized that they were the same person. Of all the possible holodeck encounters with Tom, this was as far from her expectations as imagination would allow. And she'd never seen a holographic child that was so interactive. She gazed at them intently and soon stopped thinking of Little Tommy as a hologram at all.
A catch in the child's voice caught her attention and she was pulled back to the present conversation. She wasn't sure if he was crying or not because he still wouldn't look at her. "What happens to me now?" the little boy whimpered. "Are you sending me away again 'cause you got her?"
Tom looked stricken and B'Elanna wanted to hug them both, but she restrained herself and let Tom respond on his own. She felt her eyes brimmed with hot tears as she saw Tom's love emanate from every murmur, every touch as he tried to comfort the child in his lap. For a moment, B'Elanna felt how deeply she wished that the little girl in her could have had a father to dote on her and cherish her like that.
When the boy seemed calmer, Tom answered his question. "Tommy, I will never leave you. I'll always love you and watch out for you. Even if I love somebody else, that doesn't mean that I'll stop loving you. There's room enough for both of you in my life."
Sniffling and pulling at his lower lip, the child asked him, "So, you love her?"
Tom looked up at B'Elanna as he spoke to both of them. "Yes, I love her."
"And you love me?" Little Tommy checked.
"Yes, I still love you." The man and child hugged each other again, then Tom juggled the boy long enough to make him laugh. "So, are we okay?" Tom asked him.
"We're okay," the boy sputtered between giggles as he squeezed Tom tightly around the neck.
"Are you ready to meet her?"
The boy nodded and took Tom's hand. They walked the few steps to B'Elanna and she slowly bent down to the child. Little Tommy ran behind the man's legs and looked upward for reassurance. Tom stroked the child's hair and smiled, but didn't push him forward. B'Elanna let Little Tommy find his own pace - - she knew it was important to get this right.
B'Elanna looked past the child at his ditch again. "I like your boat. It looks pretty sturdy. And somebody did a pretty good job digging that ditch. Who helped you do all that work?"
"N'body," the boy muttered. "Did m'self."
With mock surprise, B'Elanna replied, "No! You did that all by yourself?" She saw a slight nod and continued, "Well you must be very strong to do that all by yourself."
A moment later Little Tommy stepped forward. "I'm a boy. Boys are strong. I can do lots of big things. See?"
B'Elanna smiled as he flexed a muscle in his thin arm and let her squeeze it. "Yes, you are very strong!"
"Are you really a 'gineer?" Tommy asked. "On a starship?"
"Yeah, on a big starship," she replied, smiling.
"As big as the Enterprise?" Tommy persisted.
"No. It's smaller than that, but big enough for us."
"But not the Enterprise," the child sounded puzzled and a little disappointed. "I'm gonna be Captain of the Enterprise someday, you know. If you're a good 'gineer, you can come work for me."
B'Elanna laughed, and fortunately the child laughed in return. She looked up at the adult Tom and noticed that he seemed embarrassed at his own bravado. But when the boy looked up, Tom responded with a kindness that touched her deeply. "Tommy," he said, "What do you say we take B'Elanna over and show her your boat?"
The boy looked at them intently and finally nodded, "Okay." He raced ahead and motioned them to follow.
Tom reached out for B'Elanna and she took his hand. She briefly hugged him and kissed him. "Thank you for sharing this with me," she said. "I'm glad you wanted me to be here."
Tom hugged her to him. He didn't know what to say, but the look on his face was all she needed at the moment.
"Hey!" Little Tommy called, "C'mon. Don't you wanna see?"
They walked over and the boy pulled B'Elanna down to him, tentatively climbing into her lap. She gently nuzzled his head with hers and inhaled a small cloud of sandy dust. She started to wipe the sand very carefully off his face and arms and out of his hair. The child looked up at her and gave her a look that she swore was a Tom Paris smirk. She turned to the adult next to them. "Hey. Tom, what are you teaching this kid?"
"What?" he asked innocently.
"You little rascal," she said to Tommy, then to both of them, "You're smirking at me!"
Both of them laughed and shrugged their shoulders at her. When she looked at the boy's face again, the smirk had transformed into a huge grin, the look of a simple child, happy and content. B'Elanna hugged Tommy around the waist with her left hand and listened intently to the detailed explanation of his work. She leaned back on her right hand for balance and after a moment, felt Tom's fingers intertwine with her own. She found herself looking forward to the picnic with all three of them. B'Elanna closed her eyes and allowed herself to feel the connection to the child and the man she loved. It was the most peaceful sensation she had ever known.