DISCLAIMER: Paramount owns every character on Star Trek Voyager. I‘m just borrowing it for my story. This fanfic does not intend to get profit of any kind.

NOTE: Hi, this is a new thing - this chapter is entirely from Tom‘s perspective. It‘s about time we hear his side of the story! Anyway, just to remind you folks, by the time you read this I‘ll be in Perth, Australia, so I have (yet) another email address: liztai@hotmail.com. Do direct your emails there! Yes, emails please! Keep it going people! ;)

Chapter 3: Strange Looks
by Lanna

I approached the door hesitantly. Was I ready for this? I looked back at the infirmary, and at the private room that served my quarters for the past few weeks. Then I looked back at the door before me and stepped through it.

They were all there - people that I thought were my enemies before or people I couldn‘t trust, but were now the closest thing to family I ever had.

The Captain and Chakotay said ‚Welcome back, glad to have you‘ or something similar. I didn‘t notice their words, only their faces. I smiled at them gratefully, basking in their feelings of joy and gladness the doctor‘s drugs couldn‘t bury. Neelix, in his usual exuberant style spread his arms and embraced me. Thankfully, I have prepared myself for his physical reception. If I had been caught unawares, I would have instinctively pushed him aside hard enough for him to crack a bone or two. Physical contact still unnerved me, and I did not translate that tendency to the doctor well enough for him to warn anyone about it. And Harry - he gave me one of his rare best-friend hugs, patting me on the back.

Tom Paris, the man so unused to displays of emotions such as this one struggled not to step back and make a joke or two. The new Tom Paris though, the one that went through half a year of isolation, took it all in like a thirsty plant in a dessert. It had been a long time.

My gaze shifted to B‘Elanna, standing almost forlornly at the corner of the group. I could feel the eyes of the others on me as I walked to her. She was nervous - I could sense that. I noticed the slight tremble on her lips, and the fidgeting of her hands.

I smiled at her, and ignoring the eyes behind us, I took her in my arms, reveling in her realness, her warmth. She froze for a moment, surprised. Then she gradually relaxed in my arms. We were in our little world then, and no one outside it mattered.
I realised I missed her, missed her more than life itself.
* * *

The flowers in the garden were like little jewels in a sea of green. Six months ago, this place was a bare nursery. Now it had evolved into a mini garden. Green grass carpeted the once cold, metal floor. Flowers shoot up from the ground, yellow, pink, white, purple. Plants crept up the walls; some sending shoots of white, tiny flowers dangling from the stalks.

I walked with B‘Elanna, holding her hand in mine. Unused to the regulation jumpsuits on the ship, I had replicated a long, dark coat, a simple shirt with matching pants. The only regulation thing I wore were the boots. I looked really outdated in my outfit, but I found the jumpsuits strangely confining and suffocating. It was odd how six months in the loose flowing dress of the Binoms have spoiled my appreciation of modern, 25th century clothing.

My hair was still unabashedly shoulder length, while faint stubble was evident on my face. I was a cutout straight from the 20th century.

I felt B‘Elanna‘s silence as if it was a loud clap of thunder. I squeezed her hand, managing to get her attention.
"What? Is something wrong?" she asked.
I stopped, and she gazed at me tentatively. I found myself looking back at her, astonished at her sudden show of timidity. Have I done this to her? Did I cause this? I lifted her chin up with a finger, wanting to look at her closer.

"I‘m sorry, Tom," she said after a moment. "I had to say yes to the implant because you would have died if I said no." Her voice was small, almost broken. I wanted to comfort her, and said that I was past all that, but I found myself drawn further into her brown eyes instead, and I traced her jaw with a finger, relearning the contours of her face. After an eternity, it seems, our lips met, and we were kissing in that make shift garden of Eden in the former cargo bay.

I communicated at that moment what words could not have done very well. And I think we both understood each other very well.

* * *

The keyboards were very comforting. I placed my hands on them, feeling the smooth ebony beneath my fingers. I closed my eyes, shivering a little from delight. My fingers moved and I found myself playing a simple tune. Gradually the simple tune became a gentle, poignant melody. It was funny - I could have sworn that I don‘t play the piano, but here I was playing it like an expert. The name of the composer came to me instantly - Horace Whitewater, 22nd century prodigy killed in the line of duty. Starfleet officer. ‚Earth‘s Promise‘ was the name of the song, and it was dedicated to a human colony his ship had encountered. The colony had lost all their technological know-how, but led simple lives as farmers and traders for almost two centuries.
I felt a presence behind my back.


I opened my eyes.

I guess it was a dream, but the haunting melody of ‚Earth‘s Promise‘ was still ringing in my ears.

Frowning at the unfamiliar feel of cool sheets on my bare skin, I sat up quickly in the darkness looking around carefully. I was in a room.

B‘Elanna‘s room.
I noticed the flowers on the table and a PADD laid next to it. Scenarios of planets were captured on the wall, while a holographic capture of a couple stood by the bed. I recognised the picture. It was us - taken in one of our more pleasant off shore destinations. I couldn‘t remember the name of the planet, but I remembered it as being one of the happiest moments of my life. Fresh from the first sting of love, we had exhausted ourselves with each other on that planet, and in this capture, I had just given B‘Elanna a kiss and she was blushing from it.

I picked it up and gazed long and hard at the holagraphic capture.
It seemed so long ago.
I put on a robe - she still kept some of my clothes in her room and walked to the table, picking up the PADD.


Simple, as her ways are often simple. I put down the PADD, and walked to the replicator.
For a moment, I could only stare at the myriad of buttons on the machine. It‘s not as if I didn‘t know how to use it, but seeing the replicator was like seeing sudden proof that I‘m back on Voyager. On Rya, replicators were dreams I dreamt of during hungry nights.
I pressed a button.

"Please state your order." Came the female voice.
I frowned. My mind was saying, ‚hot soup‘ but my mouth refused to say anything. I tried to exercise one of the Doctor‘s drills, but I found the effort annoying. After a moment, I sighed.
"Please restate order."

I made a resigned motion with my hand - not that the computer would understand.
At that moment, I realised what a handicap it was to be mute. On a ship that ran mostly on voice-operated controls, I was a stranger in a strange land.
I wasn‘t that hungry anyway.
I took a sonic shower - it felt odd and put on my coat, shirt and pants. I would have done anything to get the Binom garments back - they were like old buddies. They stuck with me through my tough times. It‘s a shame the Doctor had to get rid of it.
I stepped out of the room and blinked at the sudden brightness.
I was here. On Voyager. Back with the ‚family‘. I frowned. And I didn‘t know what the hell I was supposed to do.

I would have had ‚company‘ if it wasn‘t for my insistence to be left alone. Chakotay and Harry had volunteered to be with me on my first few days out of sick bay, but I found the notion odd and unsettling. I‘ve been alone for so long that the thought of people constantly hovering around me disconcerting. The Doctor only allowed me my decision on the condition that I stayed in sick bay until I was strong enough for his standards. And his standards were high indeed. I endured it anyway, for if I had insisted on an earlier release, he would have insisted on the babysitters.

So I walked down the corridor. A few crew members actually started at my presence. Perhaps of the fact that I was walking around dressed like a holodeck character out of the 20th century simulation, or the fact that I was walking at all. I offered them only vague smiles, while pushing away their feelings that tried to buffet my psiloynine numbed brain.
I finally braved myself to the hub of Voyager - the messhall.

I remembered watching ancient film clips from the 20th century about cowboys. The cowboys, bad or evil, would make their grand entrances by pushing the door open loudly and entering the saloon with heavy clumps of their boots, their faces grim, their lips thin with annoyance. And the saloon inhabitants would turn their heads slowly, fear and uncertainty flickering in their eyes. Some would back away, some would stare back at their cups with feigned disinterest.
I felt like the cowboy of old now.

The door swished open - too loudly - I thought, and I was confronted with most of Voyager‘s crew, gathered for lunch. Conversation died down slowly. Some blinked and settled their eyes on me. Some quietly averted their gaze, staring being rude in their cultures. Others smiled and nodded at me while many just looked to each other and whispered among themselves.
I frowned. Perhaps I should have taken up the doctor‘s offer for companionship.


I jumped at the sound of Neelix‘s voice. I looked down uncertainly at the Talaxian as he took my hand and guided me to an empty table.
"I‘m so glad to see you!" he said as he seated me at the table. "What would you like? I have fixed something special for you. Wait, let me get it for you-" he rushed off before I could do anything.
He returned with something in his hands. I looked down uncertainly at it.

"Bajoran Hessik pie!" he announced proudly.
I feigned a smile and poked at it.

"Do you like it?" he asked.

[Thank you,] I signed automatically. After I did it, I realized that Neelix probably didn‘t understand me. I looked at him apologetically.

"Don‘t worry, Tom. I understood you - I took up sign language, but I‘m afraid I‘m not very good at it," he smiled.

I took a mouthful of the pie. It actually tasted quite good. I gave Neelix my best smile and he beamed.

"I‘m glad you liked it Tom. Call me if there‘s anything you need."
I watched him go to his kitchen, suddenly wishing I had asked him to stay. It would have been great to hear him talk - about anything. From the corner of my eye, I watched the crew members around me. They had long ceased to stare at me. Now they just give me occasional curious glances.

The pie was finished quickly. As I cleared my plate, I found my mind playing the melody from my dream again. I had this strange urge to play the piano and reminded myself to book the holosuite and run one of my old programmes -a concert hall filled with history‘s greatest composers manning an ochestra. I found myself smiling at the thought, a thrill running down my spine. Then I frowned, confused. Wait, I don‘t know how to play the piano.

I am certain of it. Mom wanted me to, but I decided to pour my all into flight training. Music did not interest me. I frowned again.

It was Neelix again, this time with a glass of something in his hand. He settled it before me. It felt cold and I tasted it tentatively - orange juice. The taste of me actually helped me forget my temporary puzzlement.

"Sit," I slurred, pointing at the empty chair at my side. Neelix nodded, giving me a big grin.

"At your service, Tom! So, do you like it? It‘s Tomerian Sunrise - a supposed Merana specialty."

"Like...o-range juice," I said, surprised it came out all at once. Perhaps speaking was getting easier after all. I realised that if I spoke under great stress, it usually didn‘t work - but if I didn‘t think about the effort behind speaking, it came naturally. It was something like riding a bike, I suppose. You‘ve got to find the balance.
I tapped Neelix on the hand.


"You want me to tell you about it?"

I nodded.

Neelix settled back into his chair.
"One word I could use to describe the port - beautiful. A lot of crew members said that it resembled a space port back home, so it brought a lot of comfort to them. It‘s a bustling market in there, Tom! I‘ve never seen so many species together in my life! It‘s named after the alliance they call Merana Collaborate - a federation of hundreds of planets and civilisations. It‘s something like your Federation."

I listened to Neelix with a sense of awe. He went on to tell me that they were celebrating some kind of festival down there and it would be a great time to visit. "Visit," I demanded, pointing to me.
Neelix shook his head. "Well, I‘m afraid you‘ve got to clear that with the Doctor. The Doctor said you need about another week before you could go off the ship."

I struggled to protest, but my mouth has decided to clamp shut. Frustrated, I signed, fast and furious.

[One week?! I feel fine! The Doctor treats me like porcelain, I tell you, I‘m well enough! I want to go. Now!]

Neelix held out a placating hand. "Hey, slow down, you‘re going too fast Tom," he grinned at my exasperated expression. "Sign language is still a new thing to me. Do you know how long it took me to master the 26 alphabets?"
I grinned sheepishly.

[I am getting off the ship.] I insisted, signing slower this time.

"Now, Tom. You know the Doctor has to say ‚yes‘ first."

I hmphed. Neelix beamed, delighted to hear such a ‚Tom-like‘ sound from me.
It was at that moment that the doors slid open. I turned curiously and stiffened when I saw Ebran Tonay standing there with an ensign. Delaine - that was her name. Engineering.

Our eyes met then, and I could feel a strange connection between us. It crackled like electricity and felt as taut as a string. I didn‘t know why I should feel this way, but I detected emotions of menace and grief enamating from him so strongly that I instinctively shrunk away.

Delaine must have noticed our staring match because she suddenly steered him away from my view.

I blinked. And at that moment, I felt as if the cord that held us together snapped like a piece of rotten string.
"Tom, are you alright?"

I returned my gaze to Neelix, feeling a little puzzled at what had just happened and a little apprehensive as well.

[Ebran? Is he-]
Neelix shook his head, sighing heavily. "The Doctor said that he‘s suffering from severe clinical depression. His Betazoid empathy is also going out of control. Recovery has been very tough for him, but Chakotay said that he was improving - even if it was a small improvement." Neelix shrugged. "Ensign Delaine had been by his side non-stop. I guess it helped. This is the first time he has appeared in public, in such a crowded room. I supposed Tuvok has gotten his mental shields up after all."

While Neelix talked, I threw furtive glances at Delaine and Ebran. They talked quietly, with Delaine doing most of the talking. He looked normal, if a little pale and haggard.
Suddenly, he looked at me.
I jumped a little, but found myself unable to look back at Neelix. The cord was there again, and I found myself tied to his gaze helplessly. My hands trembled and bunched into fists. I couldn‘t turn away!

I flinched at the sharp whisper. I couldn‘t be sure if it was Ebran who said these words- <You were supposed to die!

Dimly, I realised that Neelix was talking to me, still unaware that I was trapped in some kind of mental prison.


The cord snapped and I blinked hard. I was shocked to see Ebran right before me, his face furious.

"You were supposed to die!"
The next thing I knew, his fist met with my jaw, and I flew out of my seat, too shocked to defend myself. Once I was on the ground however, I scrambled to my feet, my senses alert.

"Security!" I heard Neelix yell, but I was too busy avoiding a fist coming towards my stomach.

I somehow deflected the blow with a hand and brought my other hand to connect with his jaw. His head snapped aside, but he quickly recovered to throw another punch.

My extra senses kicked in then. I sensed his every move before he made them and I easily avoided them. The whole world seemed to blur then, and it was only me and Ebran.
"Tom, stop it!"

Why were they telling me to stop? Ebran wanted to kill me! The world came back then, and I found myself staring into Ebran‘s face. I was holding him off the ground with a viselike grip around his neck, and he was fast turning purple. Startled, I let go, watching him drop to the ground in a heap.


It was Tuvok. I watched the security teams drag Ebran away with Delaine protesting at his side. She gave me a strange look - neither angry nor apolagetic and left with the group.
"Are you alright?" he came again.

I looked back at him and nodded.
But I could sense something - beneath the veneer of calm, I could sense one emotion - suspicion.

I frowned at him, and instantly I knew that he knew I just scanned him. Tuvok looked at me disapprovingly.

"Lieutenant, perhaps we should discuss about your new abilities when you have the time."

I remained silent for a while, giving him a steely glare and then shrugged.

He gave me a quiet nod and followed the rest of the Away Team out the door.


I turned around. Neelix stood awkwardly beside me, his face worried. He grabbed my hand. "Come on, let me take you to your room."

Annoyed, I jerked my hand away. <I am no longer an invalid! I signed, fury in my face. Neelix blanched, and I felt a pang of guilt.

<I‘m sorry, Neelix. But it is difficult.

"I understand Tom. I know how it is like. Remember when my lung got stolen by the Vidians?"
I smiled, remembering. He got it worse off, I thought. It would have driven me crazy to be strapped to a biobed, unable to even move an inch. Suddenly, an idea occurred to me.

<Let‘s go to the space port!

Neelix smiled at my delight, but it was restrained.

"Sorry Tom, Doctor‘s orders. You are to remain on Voyager until you‘re cleared by the doctor, remember?"

I fumed - yeah, I remembered. <It doesn‘t matter. I know I‘m fine.

"Sorry Tom."

It didn‘t take much concentration to nudge his will to suit mine. I saw uncertainty settle into his eyes - it was enough.

<It wouldn‘t hurt much, Neelix. I just want a look

He considered that for a moment. "Well, I suppose.."

Another nudge.

I gave him my best trademarked Tom Paris grin.
"Oh, alright. I suppose it wouldn‘t hurt," he grinned, patting me on the back. It didn‘t occur to him at all that he was breaking a direct order from the Doctor - and the Doctor overrides the Captain‘s orders when it came to medical matters. Of course not. I was the one giving him the orders this time.

Perhaps if I had sat down and thought about it I would realise that I‘ve broken an unspoken rule between telepaths (or empaths) and non-telepathic creatures: Never to use to their mental abilities against others who do not possess them.
I shook the guilt away. After all, I am not going to do this all the time.
* * *

I opened my eyes when the transporter stopped tingling. What I first noticed about this place was brightness - it was all so white it hurt my eyes for a moment. When my eyes adjusted, I took in the multitude of aliens walking around me, some ambling by casually, others almost at a run on an important errand. My eyes followed one alien in fascination - the particular creature did not appear bipedal. It didn‘t even have a head, just what appeared to be a torso with arms and legs.

"What do you think?" Neelix asked, a tinge of pride in his tone. He sounded like a proud master surveying his property.

"Pretty." I laughed. And it was. Among the all-consuming whiteness, pink, purple and yellow flowers hung from anti-grav pots that floated perhaps a hundred feet above us. The plants trailed down like multi-coloured ropes, and the air was filled with the scent of flowers.

What had Neelix said before? That this place reminded us about a spaceport back home? He must be mistaken, because nothing back home was like this.

The ensign at the transporter room did not question our departure. I suppose the Doctor did not make his order known to everyone.

So here I am. Spaceport Merana. Perhaps one of the most beautiful destinations in the Delta Quadrant. I could sink all my troubles away here. I could forget what had happened to me.
"Tom, are you okay?"
Neelix. I turned and gave him a weak smile. The sadness, I know, was still in my eyes. There‘s something that the Mylkrie and the Mylar had stolen from me that I could not retrieve. It was pure joy.
I suppose I could settle with tainted joy.

[Why don‘t you go get something to eat, Neelix?]

"Oh, I‘m not hungry. I have to confess I ate too much Jarellian mud cake during lunch but-"
<You‘re hungry I emphasized, sending the thought to him. <Infact, you‘re starving. You can‘t think straight. All you want is food. The spaceport blurred from my vision as I settled my gaze on Neelix.

Neelix blinked. His stomach growled. "Well, you‘re right Tom. I should get something to eat. I mean, Jarellian cakes aren‘t that filling. Ooh. I am hungry. Do you want to join me-"
I shook my head.

"I don‘t know about leaving you here alone like this."

I raised an eyebrow and crossed my arms.
Neelix laughed shortly and threw up his hands as his mind was bent again. "I don‘t know what‘s gotten into me! I mean, it‘s not as if you were Naomi. You‘re a full grown adult. Though, I don‘t understand why I‘m worried..." he trailed off, scratching his head.

<I‘m fine I sent. Neelix shrugged. "Oh well. See you back on the ship!" he patted me on the shoulder and nearly ran off to the nearest restaurant.

I felt sad as I watched him run off. What has become of me that I‘ve become so aversive to company? Even Neelix‘s. Or B‘Elanna‘s?

I closed my eyes for a moment, picturing how I was just half a year ago. We would reserve the holodeck every Saturday, B‘Elanna and I. Usually it was around 0200 hours and our favourite programme was the one of San Fransico Bay, where we would sit on the hill that loomed over the Academy and watch the stars.

"Hey, move would you!"
I blinked. An alien stared at me, his snout snuffling in annoyance. "Or should I move since this station belongs to you, Your Highness?" he piped sarcastically.

I frowned. I was used to rough talk like this, but the alien‘s emotions were buffeting my shields (or lack thereof). If it wasn‘t for the Doctor‘s psilonyne...

"What, are you deaf? I‘m amazed your mother let you live."
I felt my anger flare up with surprising intensity. My hand shot out before I thought of it consciously and grabbed the creature‘s coat. Without much of an effort, I lifted the alien off his feet.
"Hey! Put me down!" He swung his short, stork-like legs frantically. "Guards!" he yelled.

That broke the spell. Startled, I dropped him.

The alien scrambled to his feet, snuffling in aggravation. "I‘ll report you, you know! Don‘t think I won‘t. I‘m a citizen of the Collaborate!"

I watched him march off, casting me vehement looks.
As I walked away, I thought to myself: It never ceased to amaze me on how the races I met throughout our journey were not without their own brand of jerks.

* * *

I wandered around the station for almost half an hour. And I‘ve got to admit - I was very, very tired. I guess I was still weak.

I‘m surprised that the Doctor hadn‘t discovered that I was missing. Then again, perhaps he was enjoying himself on Merana as well.

Good for him.

In many ways Merana was something like Deep Space Nine. On the Promenade there was actually a bar which eerily resembled the one where Harry nearly got conned by the Ferengi. There were small stores littered around the area. All in all, the station took an appearance of a busy bazaar. People milled about stores, bargaining loudly. A more refined class haggled in a softer voice, but gave up faster, thinking the bargains beneath what they would be willing to pay for the item.

"Tell me Sub-Juvanal, what exactly is this?"
I froze, then took cover beneath a pillar. The voice of course, belonged to Captain Janeway. She was talking to a strange looking woman with blue skin and black eyes. Her bright yellow hair trailed in an elaborate braid down her back. Harry and B‘Elanna were at her side.

"A representation of the Armada, Captain," said the woman in an expressionless voice.

"The Armada?" said Janeway, her voice bright with curiosity.
"The Xyron Armada. Seemingly to hold great treasures and secrets. It‘s a local ‚folktale‘," she scoffs.

Xyron. The word sent shivers down my spine. I saw B‘Elanna look away uncomfortably, yet her face did not seem to register recognition at the word, only vague discomfort.

"You don‘t seem to think much about the local ‚folktale‘," Janeway observed, returning the painting to the store owner.

"The Tremaliens have no time for fairy tales and fancy stories of treasures and secret technologies. It is beneath us." She lifts her nose up, her hands at her hips, her lips curled in a near snarl. She looked almost Klingon.
"You remind me of a race back home. In the Alpha Quadrant that is. Klingons," Harry chuckled.

B‘Elanna and the Sub-Javanal gave him glares.

"Er, what I meant to say was-"
"That the races we encounter in Delta Quadrant, particularly here at Merana, continue to fascinate us every day," Janeway said in the nick of time, saving Harry just in time. She gave him a pat on the back. He gave her a sheepish grin.
The Sub-Juvanal softened. Just a bit.

"That is good," she said shortly. If she was their guide, she wasn‘t exactly a good one. She carried herself almost stiffly. It was as if she expected an attack, verbally or physically.

"Tell us more about your people, Sub-Juvanal, if it doesn‘t offend you." Janeway asked as they started walking. I followed cautiously, hiding behind shops or pillars.

"My people? No, it doesn‘t offend me." She seemed to carry herself more stiffly, if that was possible. "We are a race of proud people. Brave warriors, both male and female, whose main role in the Collaborate were to be its soldiers and generals. But some call us barbaric. Perhaps a legacy from our days where we boiled our enemies alive." She gave Harry a pointed look.
I got to give him credit. Harry didn‘t even flinch. "How long ago was that?"

B‘Elanna hid a smile while Janeway swallowed a chuckle.

Steel was back in the Sub-Juvanal‘s ebony eyes. "Fifty years ago."

"Fifty...I see." Harry floundered.
"Nevertheless, the Collaborate were worthy enemies. We sent many of their warriors to the Boiling Pits, but they defeated us, and gave us honourable positions in the Collaborate as their slaves.
Janeway stopped. "Slaves?" her tone was more curious than offended.

"I assume your culture finds that...abhorrent?"

"I wouldn‘t put it in such strong words," Janeway answered smoothly.
"It isn‘t to us," the Sub-Juvanal stressed, albeit a little defensively. She must have explained this a thousand times. "It is what we would have done to our enemies. We are honourable people," she said, annoyance creeping into her tone.

"And I could see that," Janeway nods pleasantly. "Sub-Juvanal"

"You may call me Tara," interjected the Sub-Juvanal. Though I saw her lips curl a little in distaste.
"Tara." Janeway smiled. "Alright I will."
Tara‘s eyes shifted suddenly, and I sensed suspicion in her. I ducked behind a stall, eyeing her catiously. She looked around with narrowed eyes, hand on her blaster.
"Is something wrong?" B‘Elanna asked.

"I sense someone following us."

Janeway, B‘Elanna and Harry looked around immediately.

"Whoever it is, he will regret it," Tara stressed, perhaps to me.
B‘Elanna‘s gaze somehow met mine. We held gazes for a time and I grinned at her mischievously. A slow smile curved her lips. She knew about the doctor‘s order of course, but she knew I wouldn‘t stick to it.

I quickly ducked when Tara followed B‘Elanna‘s gaze. She must have seen me, because she shot B‘Elanna an odd glance. B‘Elanna averted her eyes as if she hadn‘t seen anything important, but she was still smiling to herself.
Just then, the Doctor‘s voice piped out from the communicators.


Janeway cleared her throat before answering. "Yes, Doctor? What can I do for you?"
"Lieutenant Paris is missing! I gave specific orders for him not to leave the ship, but he got off about an hour ago - with Neelix!"
Janeway tried to hide her amusement - despite the Doctor not being with them.

"I‘ll see what I could do. Janeway out."

Well, time to get away.
* * *

I managed to sneak away from the group quickly, but Janeway hailed me when I got about a few meters from them. I told her, in not so many words, that I was fine, and I do not need - quote unquote - ‚a babysitter‘. The Captain reminded me that the Doctor would look forward to keeping me in my quarters for the rest of the trip. I said that he could try.

I walked across the station for the next half an hour, drinking in the sights and sounds. There was an interesting stall that sold holographic art and another that sold odd musical instruments that I knew Harry would be interested in. Eventually, I must have walked out of the promenade, because the corridors grew more and more deserted. Finally, it looked as if I have reached the end of my journey, for the lovely white walls of the stations slowly grew grey with dust, and the only decoration this part of the station had were a few drunks littering its wide corridors.

<Fascinating I thought to myself. I looked up into the artificial sun that hovered somewhere above us. A small craft blocked its light for a moment, then ambled noisily away.

<This must be ‚the slums‘. Never thought one would exist in a place as beautiful as Merana - I guess there are consistencies in the universe after all.

The only outlet here was a run down bar who made its business known with a garish red sign. I couldn‘t read the alien runes, but a barfly could sniff this place a mile away. A few customers walked out, gazing suspiciously around before marching off towards the docking area towards the north.

I took a few steps towards the place, my curiosity peeking. I suppose I loved visiting bars throughout the galaxy - no matter where you were, they were always the same.

"Druxza, you idiot!" howled a voice to my right. Raising my eyebrows, I saw two black clad aliens coming out from an alley.

"We could have lost him!" continued the indignant one. He was perhaps two inches taller than the other guy and appeared the same race. They look relatively humanoid, with a mane of black hair that bristled down their backs.
"But we didn‘t, did we? I got the cuff on him fast enough!" the other protested.

"Don‘t let that happen again, or I‘ll make sure you pay," the alien growled.
Shrugging, I decided to ignore the two fellows and headed for the bar. As I made my way to the place, I accidentally kicked an object in my path. It made a rude noise in the quiet alley.
Their gaze swiveled to me immediately.

They stared at me for a while as if perplexed, then Druxza grabbed something on his jacket. "Kinar you idiot! He got out!"

He got out? They didn‘t mean me, did they?
I stepped back warily when I saw their hands moving to their sides. A quick glance told me all I needed to know - they were reaching for their blasters.
A hand clamped my shoulder.
Startled, I acted instinctively. Grabbing the hand, I hauled the man over my shoulder. He landed with a loud ‚oof!‘ on the floor. It was then I noticed his brown spots and mane of yellow hair on his head.
"Neelix!" I cried out, stunned.

Neelix scrambled to his feet to face the two aliens, wearing a brave front.

"Let‘s get moving Lieutenant. The Captain is expecting us."

I saw the two move their hands away from the blasters, trying to look inconspicuous.
Neelix hurried me away from the slums silently. His silence disturbed me, but I didn‘t say anything. I knew he was angry at me - most probably because I manipulated his mind.
I winced.

How many times on Rya have I done the same to animals? And the Mylkrie - I had to. It hasn‘t changed. I did it out of necessity, and I will still do so if the situation demanded it.

"How could you, Tom?"

I stopped to look at him. There was hurt in his eyes and I cringed inwardly. It was stupid to play dumb, so I didn‘t answer him.
"I know you went through a tough period, Tom," he said, his voice growing shaky with anger. "But that doesn‘t give you the right to control my mind! Like a puppet on strings!"

An apology was on my lips, but even as I formed the words in my mind, I felt the mask of indifference on my face. He grew angrier at that.

"One moment I was eating three meals that could have lasted me two days, the next moment I snapped out of it realizing - where were you, why did I let you come with me and why was I eating so much when I felt as if I was going to explode? What gave you the right?!" he sputtered.

I felt myself distancing away from him. I couldn‘t bear it anymore. I walked away, my face a steel mask.

"Tom, Tom!" I heard him call me after a moment. He caught up with me soon, panting. "I‘m sorry. It‘s just that - I don‘t know," he fumbled.

I sighed and faced him. "No. I‘m sorry."

The sharp pain in my head caught me by surprise. If not for Neelix, I would have fallen to my knees. My head felt as if it weighed a thousand tonnes.

"Let‘s get you to the Doctor."

"No," I protested, shaking my head - sending stars swimming in my vision.

"This time, I‘m not listening," Neelix ordered. "Voyager, two to beam to sickbay."

I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach when the transporter beam took me.

* * *

"Fortunately for you, it‘s a simple headache," the Doctor snapped the medical tricorder shut with such strength that I doubt that he did it by accident.

"I don‘t understand why I am the ship‘s Doctor. Nobody, particularly you, Mr. Paris, listens to me!" he readied a hypospray a administered it into my neck. The headache disappeared almost immediately.

"I have every mind to confine you to your quarters, Mr. Paris, but somehow I know that won‘t work, so if you want to go adventuring the next time, try bothering to tell me about it, hmm?" I nodded, trying to put on my best guilt-stricken face.

The Doctor sighed audibly and marched into his office.
Just then, the doors slid open and Tuvok walked in. He had on his face - a grave expression. Frankly, his face was always grave, but the one he wore now was worse.

Ordinarily, I would have asked with much bravado: "Anything I could do for you, Tuvok?" But now I could only watch him silently.
"May I speak with you, Lieutenant?"

I considered after a moment. "Yes," I said, motioning him towards one of the empty biobeds.

"Neelix has brought to me a matter I am concerned with."

I frowned. The incident at Merana.

"Do not concern yourself, Lieutenant. It was I who pried the information out from him. Neelix knew the Doctor‘s orders too well to unwittingly disobey them. Therefore, I concluded that you had something to do with it."

I did not answer him, but instead stared at him with unwavering eyes.

"You have an extraordinary ability to manipulate the will of sentient beings. It is an ability that needs to be used with responsibility, not with the carelessness that you have demonstrated with Neelix."

I sighed. [I have used this ‚ability‘ for months on Rya. It was my survival ...it is difficult to let go.]

"But you are no longer on Rya. You are back on Voyager, and on Voyager we are your friends, not your enemies."
Friends. It was a strange word coming from a Vulcan.

"If you continue this behavior, I would have to consider you a security risk," he said in his calm, level voice.

I got off the bed. [Understood] I signed. I gaze at the stars outside and at the gate that came to life each time a ship passes through it.

"There is also the matter of your mental shields."

I turned. [Mental shields?]
"As a Betazoid, Ensign Ebran has a natural ability in constructing his mental shields. But you are a human, and do not possess such an ability. Up till now, you have relied solely on psiloynine, and both the Doctor and I agreed to have you weaned off from it."

Something inside me quivered with fear. I tried not to show it, but I felt my hands tremble. I drew a shuddering breath.

"I can‘t," I protested. I have spent six months on Rya trying my best to shield the emotions from the creatures around me. Most of the time, it was a futile effort. But then Xiri came, and everything was bearable. He was my shield, I understood that now. But Xiri is dead - he can‘t help me anymore.

"You can. With my help."

I made an angry gesture. "I tried. And failed. No!"

"You must learn, Lieutenant. That is the only way."

I closed my eyes. "When?" I murmured.

"Our first session would be two days from now."

"I‘m not ready," I interjected - with more force than I intended.

Tuvok raised an eyebrow.
I turned away brusquely. They were too many words to describe my uncertainty and fear, and I fumbled for the correct words to say but I couldn‘t find any. "Not ready." I merely said.

After a moment, I realised that I was alone. Sighing, I wondered what mess I have gotten myself into this time.

* * *

Tuvok‘s threat did not come true two days from that day. I later found out that the Doctor considered it too drastic and too soon. After all, I had been through a traumatic ordeal and I don‘t need another so fast.
But I had to add Tuvok on my list of people ‚I need to see‘.

"Are you still having the nightmares?"
My eyes refocused on the man sitting opposite me. I don‘t know why he puts up with me. Our first session was a tense, staring battle. The second one was a little livelier - I threw a vase at him. It narrowly missed him.
This was our third, and I told myself to behave.



I pursed my lips. Then I leaned forward. [Look Chakotay, I thank you for your help, but I don‘t need it] I leaned back, my eyes flashing.

"Oh?" said the Commander, still managing to look calm with humour in his eyes. It annoyed the hell out of me.

"Yes!" I snapped. "I don‘t like b-being psy-psy-psy!" I gave up, flinging my hands into the air.


[YES!] I signed. It was a furious motion.

"Alright then. But I‘m not psychoanalyzing you. I‘m concerned about you as a friend, and I want to help."

I pushed myself off the seat, pacing up and down the room. Chakotay watched me intently, not saying a word.

[I suppose you‘re here to see if I‘m fit for duty?]

Chakotay sighed. "Yes, and that too. But I‘m more concerned about your welfare."
I shrugged and rolled my eyes. [Everyone expects me to shatter into a million pieces like Ensign Ebran - but I‘m not him. I‘m alright. I‘ll quote you my father‘s famous three words: ‚Get over it‘. And that‘s what the Paris family does best - my father was tortured by the Cardassians but he got over it like this!] I snapped my fingers.

Chakotay took his time answering. "And you also do something the Paris family does best. Keep your troubles inside."

I was furious. [Don‘t you dare make assumptions of my family!] Then I realised where this session was going to again.

"I‘m sorry," I muttered, continuing my pacing. [I made myself swear that I won‘t throw another vase at you. B‘Elanna would kill me - it took a week of replicator rations for her to make a new one for me.]

I was using humour as my shield again. I wanted to laugh all my troubles away and say that everything was okay. But I knew everything was not fine. Nightmares threatened me every night. My headaches were getting worse, and I kept hearing music in my mind - I hate knowing how vulnerable I was.

I just wish Chakotay will go away so I could sort out my problems alone. That‘s what I have done since I don‘t know when. I tried every ploy - I refused to talk to him, I threw things at him, I yelled at him - but he wouldn‘t budge. After the incident with Neelix, I hesitate to use my mental abilities against him.

"And I‘m sorry for making assumptions about your family," he said after my apology. "You can‘t keep your problems inside you forever Tom. It has to come out, or it‘ll eat you from the inside like a kiril parasite," he insisted. Chakotay and his parables.

I snorted and returned to my seat, and as I did that, I felt a wall in me crumble a bit. But I didn‘t want to let it fall - why should I recount the horrors of Rya? Of the days I spent hiding in my cave, half starved. Or the time where I ran through the swamps, pursued by animals two times my size? And what happened to me with the Binoms...
I felt my mind freeze up at the thought.

I barely remembered what happened to me on that asteroid. All I remembered were Iolo and Bahne, looking down at me intently, and the Mylar‘s voice: "Let him die slowly." And they did. The let me die slowly.
"Tom," Chakotay said gently.

I blinked and looked up. My cheeks were wet. Shocked, I wiped the tears from my eyes quickly. I cursed.

I hate this session. I hate being vulnerable. I hate everything that has happened to me!
I clenched my fists in fury, feeling so out of control. My first instinct was to tell Chakotay to get out, but what I saw in his eyes stopped me.

"Do you remember the first time I punched you?"

"Sure," I answered uncertainly. The question surprised me so much I actually answered.
"I remember you just getting up and staring me straight into my eyes. The next thing I knew, I was on the floor with a shiner of my own."

Despite myself, I grinned. "It cemented our ‚friendship‘."
" Then, I thought you were a cocky bastard who joined the Maquis to pay your bar bills. But I know it‘s not true now. You hide your good qualities the way you hide your problems, Tom. But I know despite the odds, you will make it out of this, because you are strong. You‘ve always made it out alone, but this time I...we - B‘Elanna, Harry and the Captain...we want you to make it out. With our help."

I was a little dumbstruck at his admission. Who would‘ve thought that the Maquis leader and the Maquis traitor would be friends. Confidantes even? I took a deep breath.

"There are three of them."

Chakotay blinked.

"My dreams," I gestured, trying to keep my voice light despite it shaking a little. "They wore my faces." I made the sign for faces.

Chakotay waited for me to continue.
My eyes stare vacantly into space as I remembered. "They represented three things I feared most. The Mylar. The animal I would‘ve become if I had succumbed to the animals on Rya...and me." My voice caught at the last word. Me. The confident, deceptively kind doppelganger with a cruel smile.
"Me?" Chakotay echoed. I knew he didn‘t understand, I don‘t think I do either.
[He‘s the leader. I know I don‘t make much sense. But I feel as if he is ... alive. He wants me to do something, I could feel it! But I don‘t want to listen to him, because when he tells me what it is he wants me to do, I know I won‘t have the strength to turn him down.]

Raw pain was on my face. I tried to mask it with a feeble smile, but it was a grotesque attempt at best.

"And emotions." I shook my head, feeling numb. "So many, crowding..."I trailed off. "Hard, very hard." I lay back on the sofa, feeling spent suddenly.
"Tom, I know you do not want to see Tuvok - but he could help you."

I shook my head. "I don‘t need...another sh-shrink."

"He‘s not a ‚shrink‘, he‘s a friend," he emphasized, vaguely wondering what ‚shrink‘ meant.
I frowned. It was an incredibly difficult decision to make. After the Mylar, I held in disdain anyone that could probe my mind. Mind melds...I shuddered.
"Think about it," he said.

I nodded. "I will."
* * *

Tuvok‘s Quarters
0200 hours

Lt. Commander Tuvok studied the security reports before him with an air of calm any seasoned admiral would admire. He was dressed in his usual purple night robe, stlyed more for the hot dessert climate of the Vulcan homeworld than for Voyager‘s more temperate conditions.

In the background was Selok‘s rendition of his famous ‚Twenty Scales‘. It was a tune composed for meditation and contemplation. Tuvok found it...acceptable.
"Paris to Tuvok."

Tuvok put aside the PADD to tap on his commbadge.

"Yes, Lieutenant Paris?"

A pause. "Tell the Doctor...that we can begin."