The doors to sickbay burst open, startling the Doctor out of his current preoccupation, setting the bones of Lieutenant Baxter after his fall from the shuttlebay docks. His eyes widened when he saw the procession of bodies.
"Tom!" he found himself saying when Tuvok deposited the body gently onto one of the biobeds.
The momentary shock was immediately overridden by the medical protocols built into his program. Grabbing a medical tricorder, he scanned the four bodies, his eyes widening as he moved from patient to patient.
<They‘re dead. he thought, noting the readouts from the tricorder. <But there is still some neural activity in the cerebral cortex. Not all is lost. But B‘Elanna...
"Triox compound." He ordered. When he noticed the ensigns looking at him uncertainly, he realised with dawning horror that his nurses - Ebran, Paris and Wildman were all ‚out-of-action‘!
"Never mind." He gritted, getting the compound himself. What mattered now was to save these four lives - all at once. "Call Seven!" he barked.
"Seven?" It was Lieutenant Baxter. He sounded as if the Doctor ordered him to take a dip in a pool of Neelix‘s Leola Root Stew.
The Doctor was not sure who he was more annoyed with now. The disabled communications systems or the ensign that stood rooted like a tree to the ground as precious seconds passed. "She‘s a quick learner! Now move!"
Lieutenant Baxter blinked for a moment and rushed out of sickbay.
<And she doesn‘t question my actions. he added mentally.
As he scanned B‘Elanna Torres, his eyes widened. Her heart was...partially missing. What was left of it was feebly trying to move, but succeeded only to jerk spasmodically - the aorta was nearly cut off, preserved by a strand of tissue. The chambers of the heart had been completely breached.
"Ensign Kim, place Lieutenant Torres‘ body in stasis." The Doctor ordered. The stasis unit would keep her alive for now - he could replicate another heart for her using the Genetronic replicator later.
The Ensign nodded. Aided by another crewmember, he hoisted B‘Elanna‘s body into one of the stasis chambers.
Seven entered then, a puzzled frown on her face.
The Doctor pointed to Seven. "Good. You‘re my nurse. Now give me 20ccs of cortolin." The Doctor demanded as he walked to Tom‘s biobed.
He was right. Seven, long initiated in the cooperative ways of the Borg obeyed instantly, handing him the right hypospray.
"Good. Looks like my casual lessons to you during that accident on Shamari four months ago paid off. You still remember." He said gratefully, albeit gruffly.
"Of course," she responded, as if anything otherwise was ridiculous.
He administered the cortolin to Tom. His body jerked spasmodically, then stilled.
"20ccs of cortolin." Seven obeyed mutely where a normal nurse would have been shocked at his suggestion. An overdose of cortolin could cause irreparable brain damage. After he administered the cortolin, the monitor beeped slightly.
"Brain activity detected." He informed no one in particular. "Status of Ensign Parr and Ensign Ebran remains grave. Administer 50ccs of inaprovaline to both of them."
Seven nodded and did as she was told as the Doctor did the same to Tom Paris. Ineprizine, if administered in large doses could stabilize a patient and speed up cell regeneration. Of course it could very well kill them.
Massive internal bleeding, The Doctor read from his medical tricorder. Tom’s lungs were flooded with blood and other fluids, the heart had been compromised by tiny holes. And his brain…there were incredibly odd readings from that organ, but he pushed those aside to concentrate more on the massive hemorrhage to the brain’s frontal lobe area.
Neural signs were fading. Tom‘s body was in severe shock, and that shock was killing him as his body began to shut down. Tense seconds passed before Tom‘s heart suddenly started beating. The rhythm was slow and irregular, but it was beating. His lungs were not moving though, but that was not much of a problem, the Doctor concluded. He placed Tom on life support and heaved a sigh of relief. Of course Tom Paris was hardly out the woods. In fact, he was probably stuck quite well in it and would probably need a host of surgeries for the next few days, but with his excellent skills- "Doctor! I have managed to stabilize Ensign Ebran, but Ensign Parr-" The monitor began to beep in alarm.
The Doctor quickly grabbed the neural stimulator on a tray beside the Ensign‘s biobed and placed the two pedals at the sides of her skull. Her lips were blue, he noted. Not a good sign.
"Now." He told Seven. Seven dutifully activated the stimulator.
The pedals let out a mild electric field. Under normal circumstances, it would revive brain activity.
"Again." He commanded, his voice strained.
The body jerked.
But the monitors detected no brain activity.
The Doctor looked mutely at the monitors, waiting for a miracle.
The miracle did not come.
Starfleet Medical Center simulation
"That was three weeks ago," The Doctor said.
"Have their conditions improved?"
The Doctor turned to look at the simulated holagram of Dr. Savek, one of Starfleet’s most esteemed physicians. He paused in his inspection of the alien’s frontal lobe for a moment and sighed.
"Both Lieutenant Tom Paris and Ensign Ebran Tonay have stabilised since the incident. Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres is expected to make a full recovery after waking from her coma two weeks ago. But further analysis on Lieutenant Tom Paris and Ensign Ebran Tonay raises some concern, especially Lieutenant Paris." The Doctor paused, looking uncertain about what he was going to say next.
"I’m personally worried about Mr. Paris, Dr. Savek," The Doctor said, his usually acerbic tone softened by worry. "I consider him a good friend and collegue, and wonder if he could make a full recovery – I have no doubts about his physical health, thanks to my excellent medical skills, but I have worries about his mental health. Watching Ensign Ebran for the past few days has been disturbing, if not frightening."
"Worrying about a patient is illogical," said the Vulcan physician as he opened the chest cavity of another alien. "It hinders a physician’s efforts to logically diagnose a medical condition."
The Doctor hurrumphed. "Leave it to a Vulcan to point out the obvious."
The Vulcan hologram only lifted an eyebrow in response to that. The bodies of the Ryans had long since been disposed of after they decayed to such an extent that preserving them served no purpose. An active agent was speeding up the decaying process, and the Doctor had quickly transferred the biological data of the bodies to a holographic matrix. But he had no time to conduct the autopsy immediately. The past two weeks was a blur of surgeries, emergencies and research as he tried to pull Paris, Ebran and Torres out of death’s door. And although he had succeeded with both Ebran and Torres by the second week, they still required intensive physiotherapy and care. And then there was Lieutenant Tom Paris – perhaps by far the most badly injured, still in a coma.
But Lieutenant Paris had stabilised this morning and the Doctor was free to be thankfully here, next to the most brilliant neurosurgeon in Starfleet Medical.
"There was massive haemorrhaging in the frontal lobe, possibly caused by the forced entry of the subject 23Alpha into the cranial area; the same as the other four corpses." Savek turned the head of a corpse to indicate several strange puncture marks around the skull – marks similar to those on Ebran and Tom.
Subject 23Alpha – defied medical explanation. Possessing an alien biological code so unlike any that Starfleet had found, the Doctor had loosely called it ‘a plant’, but was quickly overridden by Dr. Savek who insisted that it was a new species altogether, and called it Subject 23Alpha. The Doctor hadn’t had time to fully explore the biological qualities of Subject 23Alpha. All he knew was that it had the ability to secrete neuro-stimulants. The serenity of the Medical Center was suddenly disrupted by the sound of doors sliding open.
The Doctor turned from his cadaver to face the blonde woman standing at the entrance to the holodeck.
"Ensign Wildman?" He exclaimed, placing aside his exoscalpel.
Ensign Wildman gave the Doctor a nervous smile, and it was then that he noticed the PADD in her hands. – Lieutenant Paris’ neurological tests. He had a hunch he wanted to confirm, and since he was busy with the autopsy, he had told Ensign Wildman to do it.
"I’ve finished the neuroscans, Doctor," she said as she handed the Doctor the PADD.
The Doctor took it reluctantly. Gazing at the results written on the PADD, his heart – figuratively speaking of course - sank.
"I’ve done the scans a few times," Ensign Wildman answered his thoughts.
"There is no mistake."
The Doctor nodded. "Of course, Ensign. I have always trusted your skills." The Doctor hoped that came out right, for he was still rather taken aback from the readings. The news was not good.
She felt the First Officer following her, but she tried her best to ignore his steady presence, choosing to concentrate on the task at hand - getting the ship to a port or a supply center.
<In the middle of a supposedly abandoned sector of space? Kathryn, sometimes your optimism astounds even yourself!
Rya‘s explosion had sent shock waves so intense that Voyager had suffered severe damage to its hull almost two million kilometers away. They were in terrible need of repairs.
It did not help that the area of space around them was devoid of civilisations capable of supporting a spaceport. It had been almost three weeks since the almost...fatal ‚incident‘ on Rya. Janeway steeled herself as memories assailed her. She could still smell the acrid stench of smoke mingled with decay. She remembered Harry clutching at B‘Elanna‘s body, paralyzed of movement when he realised that B‘Elanna was dead...the stricken look Joe Carey wore when he announced that B‘Elanna, Ebran and Yvette were dead. ...and Tom... Janeway shook her head. Tom, his body shattered from internal bleeding, gasping his last breath. But the Doctor had somehow succeeded in bringing them back. All except Ensign Yvette Parr, whom he said ‚was beyond hope‘. But Ebran and Tom, both bearing strange wounds, had not recovered as quickly as B‘Elanna. B‘Elanna recovered from her coma about ten days ago, alive because of a new heart the Doctor had cloned for her. She was now in her quarters, hopefully asleep. Ebran woke up just yesterday, but his condition was still ‚delicate‘. She had caught herself looking at Ebran. The ensign was staring at the ceiling, eyes empty of either recognition or awareness. Catatonic.
Just what happened on Rya?
Janeway pushed those memories aside for the moment.
"Penny for your thoughts?" came the expected voice from behind.
Janeway sighed to herself and gave Chakotay a smile as she turned. "An old Earth expression, Chakotay? You‘ve been reading the book of proverbs I gave you for your birthday haven‘t you?"
Chakotay smiled, "Guilty, Captain. I find the proverbs interesting...and quaint." He grinned.
Janeway gave the First Officer a short laugh and motioned him to walk beside her.
Strolling side by side, they were silent for a moment until Janeway spoke.
"I‘m almost afraid to have Tom wake up." She admitted.
Chakotay nodded. "They have been traumatised by an incident so severe Ebran and B’Elanna don’t seem to remember it. You‘re worried about the possible psychological damage Tom might face."
"And our lack of counselors to help him recuperate," added Janeway quietly.
"I would like to offer my services as counselor to Lieutenant Paris, Captain."
She took her eyes off the carpet for a moment and nodded. "Thank you, Chakotay." Janeway knew that the First Officer‘s spiritual faith would be a great asset in his counseling. "But it will be a tough road ahead," she thought of both Ebran and Tom. "Have you been making progress with Ebran?"
At that, Chakotay shook his head, his eyes grim. "He has not responded at all to me or to anyone else. The Doctor fears that it is permanent. Tuvok even suggested a mind-meld."
Janeway shivered. She remembered Tuvok‘s previous attempt to meld with a Betazoid. Crewman Suder left more than an impression on Tuvok‘s well trained mind. "I wouldn‘t want him to risk it, no." she concluded reluctantly. She needed the Lieutenant Commander now in her direst of moments.
"It is at this moment that I feel the frustration of being stranded in the Delta Quadrant the most." Janeway admitted softly, stopping in her tracks. She sighed and realized that they were at the hydroponics bay.
They both entered the plant filled bay quietly, almost reverently. Flowers of all species adorned this former cargo bay. Purples, blues, yellows - a riot of colours that filled the room from floor to ceiling. A legacy of one of their crew members, now sorely missed.
"Who would have thought the journey would bring us here." She looked around, feeling Kes‘ presence there.
"Yes." Chakotay agreed, stepping forward to study an orchid taken from a world they had visited almost a year ago. It was now in full bloom, its yellow flowers fast converting into fruit. He painfully remembered Yvette Parr laughing as Ebran threw soil at her while she planted the seed that would become this flower.
Just then, the Captain’s commbadge chirped.
"Yes, Doctor, what is it?" she answered briskly. An automatic frown appeared – for the past few weeks, the only reason the Doctor called was to inform her about the progress of her three officers. Most of the time, the information was not good.
"I have something to show you Captain. Could you please come to sickbay?"
Janeway exchanged a glance with Chakotay. From the Doctor’s tone, she guessed she was right.
A mass of tissue stood out like a tumour from the front lobe of the brain. And like a cancer, it stretched out tendrils of web-like tissue across the pathways of the brain, grasping them like a parasite intent on wrenching as much life from the brain as possible.
Despite having seen this image twice already, Chakotay visibly flinched at the sight of it.
"It has not changed, if that is what you’re thinking, Commander," the Doctor said, noting his reaction.
Janeway stared at the unnatural formation, wondering what secrets it hid. The Doctor had shown them this anomaly two days after Tom was rescued, and back then, he was too busy keeping Tom alive to delve further into the matter. But he had told them that the extra tissue appeared benign, and amazingly enough, it was made up of neurons.
"The cells, the formation and the DNA sequence – appears to be human. Now, if I didn’t know my human physiology well, I would’ve thought that it was a normal extension of the brain – but it isn’t, obviously. If this was engineered, Captain, the physician who did this has medical knowledge a thousand years more advanced than ours," the Doctor said.
"Captain?" It was Commander Chakotay.
Janeway immediately brought herself out of her preoccupation. She had been
doing that too much these days – thinking about home, thinking about ways to get to the next port, thinking about ways to escape this empty wasteland. Mytis reminded her too much of the desolate and starless sector they were in just a year ago - the sector that was polluted by theta radiation.
"Sorry Doctor," She snapped back to attention, keeping her eyes on the Doctor. "Is this…’extension’ doing harm to Lieutenant Paris?" It was best to cut to the quick, even though she might hate the answer. The Doctor’s expression told her all that she needed to know. She swallowed, turned to Chakotay for a brief moment as if for reassurance and said briskly. "In what way will it affect Tom?"
The Doctor paused before answering, looking at the holographic brain as if he didn’t want to believe what he was seeing, but knew it was foolish to think so. "This ‘extra lobe’, as my esteemed holographic colleague, Dr. Savek, called it, functions like the Betazoid paracortex, which enables higher mental functions such as telepathy and empathy. But the problem is – the human brain was never designed for such a purpose," he paused again, turning his eyes away from the holographic brain. "This ‘extra lobe’ is like a useless third arm, a burden more than a benefit. But it’s more than that, Captain," he turned back to the Captain. "These additional ‘senses’ will overload his brain; like I said, the human brain was never designed for this ‘additional input’. Until now, all this was merely my hypothesis, until I ‘stumbled’ upon a strange reading when I scanned him a few days ago. Uncertain of my diagnosis…I asked Ensign Wildman to do the neural scan again, thinking that I was malfunctioning."
The Doctor looked vaguely uncomfortable at that thought, remembering how his overloaded pathways had caused him to slowly lose his medical knowledge a few years back. To think of the possibility of it happening again-The Doctor cleared his throat and continued briskly, his worried eyes snapping back to his normal professional stance. Dr. Savek would not approve, that’s for sure, he chided himself.
"When Ensign Wildman gave me the results the next day, I knew I was right, and what I’ve feared all along is coming true. Captain…I don’t know how to say this-" he faltered.
Janeway steeled herself, knowing that the coming blow would not be soft. Seeing the Doctor speechless, she was about to say something when Chakotay interrupted her.
With distressed eyes he regarded both of them. "Lieutenant Paris is dying."
He watched a flicker of pain cross Captain Janeway’s face; sorrow in Chakotay’s eyes and the tightening of the lines near his mouth. "Explain," the Captain ordered, her voice taut. "Simply, his brain is overloading, Captain. The neural scanners had registered neural energy levels 60% above normal human readings, and it is rising. Just a moment ago I registered a 10% increase in neural energy in his brain, but although I managed to stabilise the fluctuations, but I cannot do it all the time. I still do not know why he has such neural readings, but I think it has to do with the ‘makeshift’ paracortext. Once he awakens, this imbalance will cause him to suffer from sudden blackouts, seizures…until one day he will just drop dead."
* * *
It was as if time stood still.
He floated in his personal abyss without form or thought, happy in his
ignorance until the peaceful tide started to change and his safe boat began to rock.
For a moment he chose to ignore it, thinking it safe to hide in his boat while the waves crashed higher...and higher. But soon it became clear that the disturbance was not content for him to remain in his boat.
But still he fought vehemently, clutching at his imaginary boat as the seas began to roil. He screamed profanities at it, even begged the invisible being to let him go, but it didn‘t.
<We will become one came the shadowy voice, but he recognised it! Oh God, how he recognised it! Terror overcame him almost at once and he swam valiantly against it, but it was winning...winning!
And suddenly he found form, and he found voice.
The being did not hear him. His scream died, lost in the fury of the
"He‘s coming around."
<I‘ll believe it when I see it. Janeway added in her mind, not willing to trust the Doctor this time around. How many times had they heard the same assurance? The Doctor was fast becoming worried at his skills, although Chakotay did his best to convince him otherwise.
She looked at the still form on the bed, at the limp hair that clung in sweaty tendrils on his forehead and cheeks. Janeway hesitantly brought a hand to brush away a damp lock, hoping somehow that contact would awaken him.
"Tom." She whispered. "Please wake up." She almost begged.
She caught Chakotay‘s worried look and felt him reassuring her with a gentle touch to her shoulder. After the verdict the Doctor had passed to them…
Tom‘s eyes flew open suddenly, startling them all. The blue irises stared at them for a moment. Then, in a swift motion, he sat up.
"Try to relax, Lieutenant." The Doctor said, somehow relieved that his patient had responded.
Tom jerked convulsively when he heard the Doctor‘s voice. He edged away for a moment, his eyes darting wildly around, never once on the doctor.
"I‘ve restored your hearing," the Doctor assured, trying to push Tom back onto the biobed. Tom shoved the Doctor‘s hand away as he made futile motions with his own, eventually, clawing at his neck. He made strange gasping noises - almost as if he was trying hard to speak.
"Try to relax, Lieutenant. Your speech will return in time, but it will take time." The Doctor said, reaching for Tom‘s hand. Tom shook his head in denial and tried to get up from the bed. "Stop him-" the Doctor began and both Janeway and Chakotay complied, each taking an arm.
Tom froze at the touch and for the first time made eye contact with the captain, his eyes wide.
"Yes, it,s me," Janeway assured, trying to sound as gentle as possible. Tom did not make a move, and, somehow, Janeway was relieved that Chakotay chose to remain silent because she had a bad feeling Tom would bolt or do something drastic.
Tom visibly relaxed, his eyes beginning to shut.
"Doctor?" Chakotay began, worry lacing his words.
Tom went limp in their hands, his eyes finally closing all the way.
Janeway and Chakotay strengthened their grip, trying to prevent Tom from falling back too suddenly. When Tom was finally flat on his back Janeway looked questioningly at the Doctor.
"He is sleeping." The Doctor said simply, moving his medical tricorder above the inert form. He appeared glad and heaved a huge sigh of relief. "A normal, restful sleep." He looked at both the captain and first officer. "He is stable, and I think he‘s on the mend, but he needs his rest." He hinted.
"I won’t accept it!" Janeway snapped suddenly.
The Doctor blinked. And blinked again. "Captain?" he finally voiced, his eyes round.
Janeway walked away from Paris’ biobed, gesturing for both Chakotay and the Doctor to follow her into the Doctor’s office.
When they were in the office, she finally said heatedly, "How many times have we almost died and given up?"
"More times than we can count," the Doctor responded, wondering where this was going.
"We have faced the Kazon, the Borg, Species 8472 and the Hirogen – and you’re telling me we shall give up on Lieutenant Paris? I find that illogical." Her cheeks were flushed with anger, and her eyes livid with emotion.
"Captain," Chakotay began hesitantly. Quite frankly, he had not seen the captain so…reactive before. "What is wrong?"
Janeway took a deep breath, as if to calm herself down. Then quietly she said, "I’m not going to loose another crewmember."
The Doctor sighed.
"We have been through too much. We are a family, and families stick together. I will not accept Death as the ultimate enemy. We have faced him time and time again and we have made Death stand down, so I will see him stand down again. Is that understood?"
The Doctor stared into her furious eyes. Then surprisingly, he felt angry. Or was this emotion merely a counteractant in his program?
"Captain, I have tried for the past two days after the diagnostic to come up with ways I can save Lieutenant Paris. I will not give up until I find the cure, I’d rather delete myself than give up. It will be an injustice to my program…and to my duty as Lieutenant Paris’ friend." His voice lowered at the last few words.
"Doctor," Janeway pursed her lips then nodded. It was a while before she answered. "I’m sorry, that was uncalled for. I-" she sighed. "Keep me posted," she said shortly, walking briskly to the exit.
"Kathryn!" Chakotay called – but she was gone.
The Doctor stepped beside Chakotay, looking at the closing doors.
* * *
The Doctor’s Office
6 hours later
The Doctor was in his office, the only lit place in the medical area. To an outsider, he appeared to be the epitome of the best medical officer in Starfleet. Eyes studiously gazing at medical readings on a PADD, eyes narrowed in concentration, brow furrowed, fingers tapping on the table in slow rhythm.
The EMH was everything described, but tonight his thoughts were troubled. His programming had long compensated for experiences of love, friendship...and distress.
<Was it true? Was he giving up? the Captain’s words, though spoken in haste and out of frustration, rang in his ears.
The neural readings on the PADD mocked him. Up 2%. Neural energy levels erratic. If energy levels continued to rise at the calculated rate of 0.9% per day, patient would die of neural shock in 20.6 days.
What was causing this energy imbalance? Logic said that it was the make- shift ‘paracortex’ which was collecting information and energy at levels the human brain could not possibly process. But if this was so, why did he ‘feel’ that it wasn’t that at all?
The Doctor spun around and met with the soft, brown eyes of the chief engineering officer.
"And I suppose you‘re not going to obey my instructions of staying in your quarters for the next 48 hours?" surprise clouded his concern, rendering his usual stern verdict to a gentle plea.
B‘Elanna Torres managed a grin. "I heard that Tom woke up." Her voice was still gritty and hoarse from her long inactivity. Already back in her engineering uniform, her face was nevertheless still pale, and her hair was longer than usual.
"Well, yes." He set the PADD aside. He had been staring at the medical information on the PADD for what seemed to be hours. "He is sleeping now, finally out of his coma."
"Can I see him?" she asked anxiously.
The Doctor hesitated and nodded. "But don‘t wake him. I want him to get as much rest as possible."
Tom was on his biobed, curled up on his side. He looked almost at peace except for the sweat that ran down his forehead to dampen his matted hair. The Doctor noted with despair that his temperature had gone up to 103. "What‘s wrong?"
"It‘s his fever." The Doctor said. "I gave him a wide-spectrum antibiotic, but it does not seem to be working." He took a medical tricorder from a tray and scanned Paris. If at all, he looked more worried.
"Doctor?" B‘Elanna asked.
"I encountered the same problem with Ebran, and have expected this. But not to this degree." He sighed when he read the tricorder readings.
"His lungs are filling with fluid. It seems that pneumonia is settling in. But it‘s nothing I can‘t handle." He assured B‘Elanna. "In his weakened condition, I dare not flood him with a host of medicines. It will take time for him to recover."
Just then, Tom stirred, awakened by their voices. He blinked fevered eyes trying to focus on them.
"Tom," B‘Elanna whispered, brushing his sweat matted hair aside. "I‘m here."
His blue eyes opened, and closed again, as if the act had exhausted him.
B‘Elanna grasped his hand and squeezed. She felt a feeble pressure in return.
It was a frail attempt, but an attempt anyway, the Doctor thought to himself. He decided to leave the two alone while he prepared the medications necessary for the lieutenant‘s treatment.
"I‘m staying here for the night, Doctor," B‘Elanna said, her eyes still on Tom‘s closed lids.
B‘Elanna looked up to meet his eyes. "Please."
That one word crumbled the Doctor‘s resolve. He sighed. "Alright, but remember, you need rest too."
B‘Elanna nodded absently, taking Tom’s hand in hers.
The Doctor sighed.
The psychological scars suffered by the Away Team were beyond his conception. It was something he could not see, therefore, could not treat. And Tom Paris – dying. And not knowing what he could do to help him.
He had never felt so helpless in his life.
The lights were off. The Doctor had deactivated himself, but B’Elanna was still there beside Tom, watching his sleeping face. His fever had finally broken, thanks to the Doctor. The Doctor had not specified what he did, but said that it ‘should work’. She left the details to him.
She brushed a hand on Tom’s forehead, moving unruly strands of hair from his face.
<You’re finally home, Tom.
B’Elanna smiled at that, and took his hand in hers again. She barely remembered what happened to them back on Rya, and didn’t want to. Whatever it was…it wasn’t important. Tom was here now, and that’s what mattered most.
She closed her eyes and lay her head near his shoulder. Clutching his hand, she fell asleep.
* * *
"You’ve forgotten us," the voice accused.
"No," he protested feebly. "I…I-" he didn’t know what to say. He turned away from the silver eyes, not wanting him to see the guilt in his eyes.
"I agree." said another voice, fiercer, more menacing. "Let’s kill him." A laugh echoed as it faded away. Blue eyes swam before him before it faded to nothingness.
"Leave him alone," said yet another, this time it was kinder, more understanding. A cold hand brushed his cheek. He flinched.
Blue eyes, as cold as the ice on the polar caps of Minerva gazed at him – but it was softened with a smile. A smile that never reached the eyes. "He has been through so much."
"And this gives him a license to forget us?" said silver eyes.
"Kill him, kill him, kill him-" chanted the fierce one.
"Be kind. Be understanding," said the kind one, a bright smile on his face, a face so familiar, yet so alien.
"After all," he laughed. "He is US."
And he finally woke up.
The gray ceiling swam into focus, but it swam for quite some time before it steadied along with his racing heart. His hand twitched, and he found himself trying to lift it from his chest, amazed at how difficult it was. He gazed at his hand for a moment, amazed at its thinness. The Dream. It was bad.
It was then that he felt something soft at his right side. He turned his head – that sent shards of pain up his neck. Something told him that he had not moved his neck for some time, but he persisted, curioustity winning out.
There was a person beside his bed, and she had dark hair…ridges stood out on her forehead, but instead of looking offensive, it was comforting to him. Out of impulse, he reached out to touch her forehead.
The moment his hand touched her ridges, the woman flinched and raised her head.
<B’Elanna. The name came like a whisper from within, and he felt his heart hurt like never before. It took him a moment to recognize it as fear.
Was it a dream? If it was a dream, would he wake up from it and find her gone? He couldn’t live with that. He couldn’t .
He found himself crying, tears sliding down his cheeks at the thought.
Alarm crossed B’Elanna’s features and she reached out to brush his tears aside.
"Tom." B’Elanna whispered, forcing back tears. However, her efforts were futile. A tear escaped and rolled down her cheek. She raised a hand to brush it away, but Tom touched her face with a shaking hand.
Tom flinched in surprise at the sound of her voice. Surprise turned to wonderment. Their eyes met then, and they could only stare at each other. Then Tom’s eyes began to turn away, ashamed of his weakness, closing.
"No," she whispered. "Don’t push it away, you don’t have to hide anything from me." She reached out and wrapped her arms around him, hoping she could absorb his grief that way. She felt him tremble with unshed grief, but he slowly reached around her and clung to her, sobbing softly. After a few quiet moments, Tom whispered one word.
* * *
8 hours later
The English accented voice came from somewhere behind a console, muffled by distance. Finally, a blonde woman with sharp blue eyes edged her way from under the console.
Ensign Delaine sighed to herself as she looked at Ensign Kim as he absently did a diagnostics scan on the communications system for the third time.
"You have calibrated the communications system to an efficiency rate of 99.95% already. Don’t you think you’ve done enough?"
Harry gave Delaine an annoyed sideways glance. "Perfection is always best, don’t you think?"
"Well, say that everyday and you’ll be a perfect ‘companion’ for Seven of Nine," Delaine shot back sarcastically as she got to her feet. Delaine felt her heart thrum with satisfaction when she saw him blush.
"Yeah, well," he said after a moment. "Maybe I’m overdoing it." With a final tap to the console, he terminated his fourth diagnostics. He still didn’t move away from the console, but stared absently at it.
"Cat got your tongue?"
"Huh?" he turned.
Delaine rolled her eyes, "It’s an ancient Earth expression. You say it when you want to get something out of a distracted person?" she said sardonically.
"But why a cat?" Harry made a face.
"You always want explanations for everything," Delaine smiled though, amused at his expression. "What’s up? You’ve been looking distracted all day." Delaine asked gently in what she hoped was an understanding tone. Being Maquis, Delaine hadn’t really needed much courteousness or understanding.
<And why the sudden burst of caring, Delaine? she chided herself. <It’s not as if you two have been best of friends for centuries. Besides, he’s Starfleet.
Somehow, that ‘excuse’ sentence rang shallow. Especially since the Maquis was no more, and their cause against Cardassia and Starfleet had evaporated against a more powerful concern – the Dominion. And besides, she had stopped thinking of the crew in terms of Maquis and Starfleet – they had too much at stake for that nonsense.
Harry looked uncertainly at Delaine. She did not blame him. They had gone out a few times before, just after-work drinks and such. He had learnt to see beyond her gruff Maquis exterior, and she his soft, pampered Starfleet history.
"It’s Tom," Harry said with a sigh, collecting a few PADDs that were lying about on the console. "He finally woke up from his coma."
"Isn’t that good news? I thought you were chums."
"It’s not that," Harry answered defensively. He played with the PADDs for a while, arranging and then rearranging them in his hand again and again. "The
Doctor said that…after what’s he’s gone through-"
"You think he’s going to be really screwed up, right?"
Harry blushed again. "Well, I wouldn’t put it in those particular terms, but yes." Harry cleared his throat. "I’m not sure if I can help him, and the Doctor said there was brain damage that will take some time to heal."
"Harry, you’re his friend. Period. Just be there for him. Hey, if there were people like you around when I was in that Cardassian prison, do you think I’d be this screwed up? When Tom wakes up, remind me to tell him what a great pal you are, okay?"
Harry actually laughed at that one. "Shoe shiner."
"Baby cheeks," Delaine shot back. "Tom is lucky. Ebran is such a mess – people say he’s crazy, talking to himself and such."
"Don’t believe everything you hear."
"Well, sure." Delaine answered uncertainly. "Yeah, but I saw him. He’s a mess, Harry, I assure you. I’m just worried for him and everything. Maquis stick together you know."
Harry didn’t know how to respond to that. "Oh."
"Now you take care," Delaine said suddenly, throwing her tools into her engineering kit. "I’ve got to be in astrometrics to be with our local Borg."
Harry waved to Delaine as she marched out in her usual choleric style and muttered to himself, "Baby cheeks?"
Although he felt slightly better after his talk with Delaine, Harry was still nervous as he stood before the Sickbay doors, clutching a basket of flowers. He didn’t really know why he was nervous. Could it be because the colours of the flowers didn’t match? Neelix chose the flowers himself from the cargo bay they had converted to a mini-abattoir. And true to his tastes, there were purple, blue and pink flowers painfully mixed in the basket.
<No, of course it isn’t the flowers. It is-
He had been there when Tom was sick a few days ago. It shook him to see his friend so unlike himself, so close to death, though the Doctor said that the pneumonia was within his powers to heal. Tom had lain on the bed like a pale statue, unmoving except for the rapid and shallow movements of his chest that signaled breathing. Harry felt himself transported back home when he saw Tom – back to when he was ten, when his grandmother was dying. He had been defenseless against Death, so Death had taken her away.
The doors slid open.
He came face to face with Ensign Wildman who had taken over Ebran’s duties after he became ill.
"Harry! You came to visit Tom?"
Harry cleared his throat, fidgeting with his basket of flowers as if it was his first date and his flowers didn’t look right. "Yeah," he smiled nervously. "Is he awake?"
"No," Ensign Wildman answered, but she had a smile on her face, so Harry took it as a good sign. "But he is finally out of the woods. His fever broke just a while ago. In no time, he’ll be as good as new."
Harry sighed in relief. "That’s great."
The private room in Sickbay was rarely used, as it was only meant for seriously ill patients who required privacy. But Tom Paris was in it now, with the Doctor beside him.
For a moment, Harry stood uncertainly outside, looking into the clear glass doors, wondering if he should even interrupt.
<Tom looks better now Harry thought, studying the pilot’s face. He was still pale, but he no longer lay stiff and motionless on the bed. He was now in a more relaxed position, his head turned slightly to one side, his right hand on his chest, his hair, longer since his time away from Voyager, no longer lay in limp and lifeless tangles. His breathing was easier now, too, his chest rising and falling in a normal, steady tempo.
The Doctor looked up. Replacing his instruments in the room’s medical tray, he stepped out of the cubicle, the force field shimmering behind him as he stepped through it.
"Ah, Ensign Kim. I see you came to visit Mr. Paris."
"I can return later," Harry gave the Doctor his bouquet of flowers awkwardly. "Just place this in his room-"
"Why don’t you do it yourself, Ensign?"
Harry looked at the Doctor in puzzlement – until he saw the Doctor motioning towards Tom. Tom’s blue eyes were now open, and they looked at him curiously. As Harry watched, Tom started to smile weakly.
"Are you sure-"
"I’m pretty sure, Ensign. Besides, he has been asking for you."
Harry hesitated a moment before saying, "He has?"
The Doctor nodded. "Well, not in so many words. Until the damaged portion of his brain fully recovers, speech will be very difficult for him. But through enough therapy, he will be able to speak normally again."
Harry sneaked another look at Tom.
"Well," the Doctor said. "What are you waiting for?" He made an ushering motion. Harry nodded and stepped through the doors after some hesitation.
The room was cool and had a slightly antiseptic smell to it. Tom’s eyes followed him as he came to the pilot’s side.
"Er, pardon the flowers, but Neelix wanted you to see the new batch of Ryousian blossoms he acquired from the Heronik station two months ago." He pointed to the bright purple flowers.
Tom merely smiled and motioned him to come closer.
Harry placed the flowers on a stand next to Tom’s bed and sat on a nearby chair. As he did so, Tom reached out and clasped Harry’s hand, which Harry found cool to the touch.
With a look of concentration on his face, Tom said slowly, "Hel-lo." He smiled after saying the word, as if he had managed an incredible feat.
Tom’s smile was contagious, and Harry smiled a glad smile in return, his heart overflowing with sudden joy. "Hello yourself, hotshot. God, it’s good to have you back," he said seriously.
A small laugh escaped Tom, but he lay back against the pillows as if suddenly tired. He managed to sign something to Harry.
[I am happy to be back as well. You have no idea.]
Harry only nodded, wondering whether Tom remembered Rya. B’Elanna and Ebran didn’t, so, perhaps mercifully, Tom didn’t either.
A concerned look crossed Tom’s faced suddenly.
[Why are you worried?]
<He is still empathic?! Harry wondered at that. Absently, he considered how the crew would react to him now. Would they be more careful around him, forcing their minds to be more discrete in his presence? But soon the vague worry disappeared under a greater concern. Tom was coughing, clutching his chest as if in pain.
"Tom?" Harry exchanged a look with the Doctor.
The Doctor ran a scan on Tom, but his face did not register anything more serious than a slight frown.
"Well, I’m afraid you have to leave, Ensign. Lieutenant Paris is getting tired," the Doctor announced, flipping his medical tricorder shut and busily preparing a hypospray.
"No." Tom protested, the word coming out surprisingly clear.
The Doctor sighed. "It’s a wonder I get anyone treated around here. They keep doing the opposite of what I tell them. You need to rest, Mr. Paris." The Doctor said, gently this time.
Tom could only sigh, lying back on his pillows in resignation.
"The Doctor is right, Tom. You’ll see more of me in the coming days, I guarantee you."
Tom managed to nod. Losing his battle with exhaustion, he slept peacefully, breathing easily.
* * *
"Here he is again."
"Now boys, be nice." The one with the uniform moved before him, blocking away the hostile gazes of the other two.
"You must forgive both of them. They’re childish and immature." A smile.
Cold, flat eyes stared behind that false smile.
Tom moved away, knowing it was futile to try avoid the gaze. The one with the uniform merely smiled at him, gazing with his dead eyes.
"You cannot escape us," he assured.
"He is an abomination," says silver eyes. White hair flickered across his pale face.
"That is why we must kill him. Kill him!" Growled the one with the wild hair. He pointed a spear at him and bared his teeth. "Die!"
The one with the uniform stood between the two and held out a placating hand.
"Do you know what’s wrong with this picture Tom?" he asked, the smile ever persistant.
Tom found his mouth too dry to reply. He merely shrugged.
"I’ll show you," he grinned.
"No, stop it-" Tom prostested, knowing he wouldn’t like it.
It tore away it’s face.
"STOP!" Then his throat clamped down viciously on him and he choked, coughing violently.
He sat up then, perhaps too fast because his vision swam viciously. He clutched his aching head. It took him a moment to realise that he was being supported by an arm around his back.
"Tom, take deep breaths," came the voice.
He obeyed, gulping lungfuls of air. He finally opened his eyes.
"It’ll take you some time and therapy to speak normally again," said the Doctor. "Until then, you can only speak a few words. Your motor functions need to return. Don’t be surprised if your body does not work hand in hand with your brain."
Tom nodded, hoping to shake away the remnants of the horrible dream. "B-" he frowned and tried again. "B…?" He growled in frustration but stopped it immediately. It sounded too much like the wild man in the dream.
"B’Elanna?" the Doctor prompted.
Tom nodded in resignation.
"Asleep if she knows better," the Doctor responded gruffly, pushing him back to the bed. Tom didn’t fight him. "She exhausted herself last night by staying up with you. I’ve asked for her to leave her duties for the next 24 hours."
It was then that IT hit him.
Tom gasped, his eyes wide.
The Doctor’s worried face disappeared. So did the room. Everything was gone. Except for…
Emotions. Anger, frustration. Sadness. Joy. Exultation. Images danced before his eyes. A ballet in St. Petersburg. Diagnostic problems. Joy at discovering a dilithium source.
He lost himself then, and felt himself dislocated. He was outside his body. No, he was in Alaska with mother. No, I don’t have a mother. She’s- Bajoran. She died when the Cardies took her. No, it was- Starfleet. If I was in Federation space I would’ve been a Lieutenant by now. Resentment. Regret.
<Stop it! I’m Lieutenant Tom Paris-
The woman was screaming. Save me! Save me! But he couldn’t – the pirates, by Edekiel, they were strong!
<Doctor – help me! the remnants of his consciousness screamed frantically, clawing to hold on. Hold on before he was swept away- HELP ME!
He snarled. But he would stop them! He would!
"He is too strong – like a madman!" A scream of agony.
Was it him? Or was it someone else?
"Lieutenant Tuvok! Don’t-"
A cold hand on his forehead. The world shifted abruptly, and her face was gone, to be replaced by the stoic face of a Vulcan. His mind instantly latched onto this creature’s, and he detected surprise, and then faint discomfort as it tried to wrest his mind from the Vulcan’s grasp. Then it was gone. It with everything else.
And his world went black.
"Oh no," the Doctor moaned when Tom collapsed, his eyes rolled up into their sockets. He quickly grabbed his neural scanner from the medical tray and rushed back to scan him.
"Neural levels – up 50%!" He exclaimed, quickly getting up to grab the neural stabiliser from the rack and placing it on Tom’s forehead. The flashing lights blinked erratically for a few moments before settling into a rhythm. The Doctor sighed when Tom’s body visibly relaxed. Not sparing a moment, he lifted the Lieutenant in his arms and gently placed him on one of the biobeds.
All this while, he had forgotten about Lieutenant Tuvok and the hapless security officer that had tried to stop Tom. Tom had just taken one look at the security officer, growled, grabbed his arm and promptly broken it like a twig. He now lay on the floor, groaning – the wiser, the Doctor hoped.
Then he remembered Tuvok.
He whirled to face the Vulcan.
"And what was that brilliant idea of mind melding with him? Have you forgotten Suder?" He nearly yelled.
The Vulcan had the intelligence to look chastened. "It was…careless of me."
The Doctor blinked. "I see. Well," he hurrumphed as he scanned the Vulcan. "It seems all is well, but try that stunt again and don’t expect me to patch you up."
Tuvok merely lifted an eyebrow then cast a strange look at the unconscious Lieutenant.
"Is Lieutenant Paris stable?"
"So far," the Doctor mumbled. He gave Tuvok a guilty look and sighed. "I should have realised about his abilities and given him some psilosynine, but I wasn’t sure how he would react to the drug."
"You are speaking of his apparent empathic abilities."
The Doctor nodded.
"You are right, you would not have known how the drug would affect him."
The Doctor looked grateful for the simple assurance, although it was a purely logical conclusion. As he helped Ensign Midland to a biobed, his mind, or rather, his diagnostic pathways, worked furiously, finally stumbling on an idea. Perhaps he could help heal Lieutenant Paris after all.