|DISCLAIMER: Paramount Pictures own all the characters in Star Trek Voyager. I‘m just borrowing them to tell a tale or two. This story is used only for entertainment I didn‘t get a cent.
NOTES: I would like to thank Sian for the countless ICQ hours and the precious exam time she sacrificed for the writing of this particular chapter - quite a difficult one to write. "<" and "" means that a character is thinking. "[" and "]" signals a personal log entry.
I would appreciate criticism (as long as they are constructive) - please email me at email@example.com
By Lanna and Sian
Harry Kim had a big smile on his face - the kind of smile he reserved for his exploits on the holodeck as Buster Kincaid, heroic sidekick. But his smile faded when he saw the program running on Holodeck Three.
"Damn," Harry swore. Program Arch1 was currently running, not Chapter 5 of ‚Chaotica‘s Bastion of Doom‘. "Computer, state the name of the person in Holodeck Three."
"Lieutenant Thomas E. Paris."
<Strange. Don‘t tell me Tom has come up with a new idea for a holodeck program.
Curious, he stepped into the Holodeck.
A blast of spring air, ripe with the pollen of blooming flowers attacked his senses. Blinking at the artificial sunshine, he took in the sight of the flower-covered meadow and his lips slowly curved into a smile as he took in the sight of a flower-covered hill, gently rolling to rest at the shore of a modest lake. Harry wasn‘t sure what a Gothic castle was doing in the middle of all this nature though. Not exactly an expert on ancient Earth architecture, Harry couldn‘t pinpoint where or when he was.
17th century Europe? 18th?
Harry heard the whoosh of something heading his way and instinctively ducked. Just nanoseconds later, an arrow whizzed a centimeter from where his scalp had been. He heard a solid thunk behind him. Someone laughed and walked towards him.
When Harry looked up, he could see Tom‘s silhouetted frame over his.
"Tally ho?" he asked incredulously.
"Do you like it?" Tom‘s blue eyes twinkled, his hand gesturing towards the countryside.
Now that the sun was away from his eyes, Harry could see what Tom was wearing. He wore the luxurious clothes of a refined gentleman of the early 19th century, complete with cravat, breeches and a resplendent great coat of black. He remembered wearing just this set of clothes when he was forced to play Darcy from Pride and Prejudice in the Annual Theatre Festival at the Academy.
"Not exactly Chaotica‘s ‚Bastion of Doom‘ is it?"
Tom grinned at his remark as he stripped off his shooting glove. "No, my good fellow. It‘s early 19th century England, and the good King George heads merry ol‘ England still. And you, my dear friend, are going to be my partner in crime," he said in an astonishingly convincing English accent.
"I am?" Harry remarked incredulously.
Tom pointed his bow at him. "Sure. You‘re going to be my target. It‘s easy, all you have to do is wear this big bullseye-"
"Ha-ha," Harry replied dryly, wiping grass stains from his pants as he got to his feet. "I take it the ‚Adventures of Captain Proton‘ will have to wait another day." He felt disappointed at the thought, but it was overshadowed by his gladness to see Tom rambling on about his latest pet project. This was the first ‚ project‘ he had after returning, and it had been a long time.
"Harry, you‘re a philistine. This is culture. Better, it‘s history."
"*Ancient* history," Harry smirked.
Tom‘s eyes twinkled and he gave a wry laugh. "I have a date with B‘Elanna tomorrow. Maybe I can convince her to be my damsel in distress."
Harry gave a rueful laugh. "Whatever your plans for that episode, please exclude me. I don‘t want an enraged half-Klingon shooting an arrow at my butt for being an accomplice. Or something worse."
Tom laughed, and handed him his bow.
"Well, then you need protection. Give the bow a try. Hone your killer instincts."
"Sure, Tom," Harry managed weakly. Then he realised that Tom was walking towards the exit as he pulled on black kid gloves.
"That‘s it? How about our time together? ‚Arachnia‘s Web of the Damned‘?"
Tom turned back, giving Harry an apologetic smile. "She will have to wait. And so must you. The Doc has insisted on giving me an extra shift."
Harry sighed as he watched Tom exit. Well, so much for ‚fun.‘ When the doors disappeared from his view, Harry looked around the countryside and then at the bow in his hands. He pulled the bowstring, then shrugged.
Well, he wasn‘t great at archery. <Actually, he didn‘t know Tom was great at it either, but you discovered something new everyday, apparently His dad had tried to get him interested once, but after nearly shooting himself in the foot on the first try, he pleaded clemency.
Harry walked over to the target Tom had been using and yanked an out arrow. Curious, he fingered the tip.
"Ow-" Harry dropped the arrow, studying the cut on his finger.
That thought stopped him in his tracks.
<Wait. That wasn‘t supposed to happen. The holodeck safeties are on. Aren‘t they?
"Computer. Are the safeties off-line?"
He let the word sink in.
And Tom had aimed the arrow at him, knowing full well that there was a possibility that Harry couldn‘t have ducked in time.
Harry laughed ruefully. "Harry, you‘re getting paranoid. He just forgot."
Throwing the bow aside, he ordered the computer to end the program.
But at the back of his mind he knew full well that the computer would never begin a holodeck program with safeties off line. But thinking about an alternative reason was simply incomprehensible.
* * *
Tom Paris elicited some curious glances as he walked to his quarters. He greeted each amused glance with a smirk of his own. As he neared his quarters, he saw Tuvok walking towards him, his eyes on a PADD. In a peripheral way, Tom noted the sudden absence of crewmembers in the halls.
Tuvok‘s attention was disturbed when Tom neared him. For a while, Tuvok merely stared at him, his expression blank. Tom studied him as well, a small smile on his face. "You appear hard at work," Tom remarked.
"Yes," Tuvok answered, strangely hesitant.
The smile disappeared from Tom‘s face slowly. "I sense that you are uncertain. Feeling a bit nervous, Tuvok?"
Tuvok did not reply immediately, but his brow tightened, the only sign of any reaction from the Vulcan. "You are mistaken. I do not-"
"‘Feel‘ uncertain. I know. Spare me your Vulcan philosophies!" Tom snapped suddenly. His right hand shot out, forming the touch points on the Vulcan‘s face necessary for a mind meld.
"I‘m sorry, Tuvok," Tom apologized, sounding not the least bit sorry. "I‘m not usually a harsh person, but you have forced my hand."
Tuvok‘s eyes slid shut in pain and he gave a tortured groan. <Now, do what I have told you to do. And do it well. Do you understand? Tuvok‘s eyes slid open, and he gazed at Tom with pain-filled eyes.
Tom let Tuvok go and gave him a warm smile; but the smile faded into surprise, then confusion. He looked at Tuvok, then at the clothes he was wearing. His eyes widened as he took in the cravat, greatcoat and breeches.
"Are you alright, Lieutenant?" Tuvok asked.
Tom blinked, noticing Tuvok before him. It took him a moment to realise that Tuvok had asked him a question.
"Yes... I‘m alright," he gave a shaky smile. "But you...you don‘t look so well."
Tom had noticed that sweat beaded Tuvok‘s brow...and that he was shaking. Shivering? But Tuvok merely nodded brusquely. "I have a...headache. It is nothing to be concerned about."
"This...this has nothing to do with our mind meld the other day, does it?"
"No, it does not." The Commander replied quickly.
Maybe too quickly.
Tom cleared his throat when he saw Tuvok turning to leave. Tuvok turned slowly to look at him, an arched eyebrow his only response.
"Are you sure -this is going to sound annoying, but- are you sure that you did not sense another presence within me?" he lowered his voice to a whisper.
An odd look settled on Tuvok‘s face. His jaw clenched, his brow furrowed into a heavy frown.
"I am sure, Lieutenant," Tuvok finally answered. "You have nothing to worry about." Tuvok turned.
"That‘s it?" Tom hurried to Tuvok‘s side, walking beside him. "No ‚suppressed emotions boiling to the surface‘? No compartmentalized fears manifesting? Are you telling me my dreams don‘t mean anything? They have to mean something!"
Tuvok gave him a look he usually reserved to errant ensigns who were late in handing in their reports. "Perhaps they are the product of an overactive imagination. Excuse me, Lieutenant, but I am needed in the Ready Room."
Tom let Tuvok leave reluctantly. Or rather, he was too shocked to stop the Vulcan.
<A product of an overactive imagination?
Tuvok‘s over-analysation of his mental ‚capabilities‘ used to drive Tom up the wall, so this easy dismissal of his problems not only caught him by surprise, but also stank of a lie. But Tuvok could not lie. Vulcans cannot lie.
But that wasn‘t strictly true, was it? Vulcans would lie if it was a logical step to take. But what was so logical about keeping information about Tom‘s mental health from him? And Tuvok was placed in charge of his mental health!
"And what‘s this?!" he said out loud, fingering the great coat he wore. <These blackouts cannot continue. The Doc is going to put a stop to this. Once and for all. I‘m going to sickbay. He turned.
"Well, are you going to talk to the Captain?"
Tom blinked. There, sitting before him was B‘Elanna Torres, looking decidedly impatient.
"Are you going to ask the Captain, or not?"
For a moment, he wanted to ask why she had performed a site to site transport when she could‘ve just contacted him, until he realised that he was no longer in the corridor, walking towards sickbay. He was in the messhall, and B‘Elanna sat beside him, nursing a cup of raktajino. He paled.
"Tom? Are you alright?"
Tom gave B‘Elanna a blank look. "I‘m fine," he answered mechanically.
She looked unconvinced.
Tom took a quick look at what he was wearing. It was his uniform. His ridiculously outdated costume was gone.
<But I was going to sickbay.
Tom managed a shrug, trying to hide the swell of panic blossoming in him.
"Maybe," he said shakily.
"Tom, if you want a look at Vahne‘s Map you could just ask. You know the Captain wouldn‘t mind suggestions on a new route."
Tom took a moment to process what she told him. He wanted a look at the map? Suggestions for a new route?
"I‘m...I‘m sure she won‘t mind," he answered as normally as he could. "Um, excuse me, B‘Elanna." He got up.
"I-" he gave B‘Elanna a weak smile. "I feel tired. I‘ll see you tomorrow morning."
Another odd look from B‘Elanna. "Tom, it‘s 0800 hours."
This time, Tom couldn‘t hide his look of dismay. Before he could mask it, B‘Elanna caught it.
"That‘s it Tom. Something is wrong, and you‘re telling me."
"Nothing," he answered too quickly. "You‘re being paranoid," he assured her, giving her a smile.
"Did you sleep well last night?"
"What are you, my sleep therapist? I got used to sleeping alone in a cave, not in my quarters!" he snapped.
She frowned, but not with annoyance like he expected, but with hurt.
"A joke. I‘m sorry. I‘m just tired," he turned on his heel and walked as quickly as he could to Sickbay. He would apologize properly the next time. Maybe with a bunch of flowers or a nice dinner in the holodeck. But now, the Doctor.
His hand reached to tap his commbadge.
:: DO NOT DO THAT TOM ::
The voice caught him by surprise. He froze for a moment, his decision to contact the Doctor momentarily forgotten.
<Who are you?
Suddenly, his world reeled around him. Legs buckling, he tried vainly to hold onto the wall. His heart began racing. A band of fire spread upward from his chest and coiled around his throat. Tom clawed at his throat, vainly trying to breathe-
"Paris to-" he gasped.
:: DESIST. AND I WILL MAKE IT STOP. ::
"No!" he gasped. His eyes looked around wildly, but there was no one in the corridor!
The fire continued to spread, coiling now inside his head- Terror overwhelmed him, so much so that he fell to the floor on his knees,
trembling violently. The world spun crazily around him. Then he felt it- Emotions seeped into his mind. So many. Hundreds!
He grabbed vainly at his head in an effort to physically hold onto the mental shields Tuvok had helped him erect, but they slipped from his grasp like formless vapour.
:: DESIST. AND I WILL MAKE IT STOP. ::
He wanted to refuse, but the press of emotions on him was too much. The fire in his brain...
<Alright! Alright! I‘ll do what you say! Just make it stop! His mental shields snapped back into place.
:: TELL THEM ABOUT ME, AND IT WILL BE YOUR FRIENDS THAT PAY NEXT. ::
The vertigo disappeared. The corridor refocused. The jabbering emotions faded. He gasped desperately for breath, but his body shook so hard it was difficult to control. Sweat soaked his uniform and ran down his face. He felt as if he had run a marathon, but he had not shifted from his position at all.
When it was all over, and all he heard was the sound of his harsh breathing and the hum of the warp engines, Tom allowed himself to close his eyes and shudder.
* * *
[Lieutenant Paris‘ Personal Log, Stardate 53114.5 It‘s definitely not a product of my overactive imagination.
My blackouts, my ‚Zoning Periods‘ are back. I thought the blackouts a by- product of my damaged brain, but today, I discovered that it is something more malignant than I thought.
Another presence? A life form, perhaps?
Tuvok was lying.
But if he‘s lying, what‘s his purpose?
So far, it has prevented me from going to sickbay. I do not dare try again...yesterday‘s incident was...disturbing.
Oh don‘t kid yourself, Tom! You were terrified!
I have survived the Kazon, Species 8472, the Hirogen, damn it- the Mylkrie and the Binoms! I‘m not going to let this ‚phantom‘ get the best of me! I‘m trying to figure this out myself - but I come to no conclusion. I try to remember when these blackouts started, and of course I know the answer - Bahne and Iolo, looking down at me...they did something to me. Bahne, what did you do?]
Muttering under his breath, he shifted restlessly in his sleep, trying to get comfortable. Giving up, he opened his eyes.
The darkness of his quarters greeted him together with the soft hum of the Warp Core. Tom settled back on his pillows, gathering his covers around his face as if he was icy cold. He was, deep inside.
He sat up slowly, pushing away his bedcovers.
"I‘m not going to let you defeat me, you hear?" he said out loud, looking around his room. His room didn‘t bother to respond.
"I don‘t know what you are, but you‘re going to get it - like the Mylkrie!"
Again, it remained silent.
He stared at the grey walls of his room for a while before calling out to the computer for lights.
"Computer, what‘s the time?" he asked next.
"The time is 1200 hours."
"Please restate your request."
"Never mind!" he snapped, pushing himself off the bed. "I‘m late for my shift!"
* * *
Tom exited the Turbolift in time to see Chakotay hailing him.
"Here, Commander," he answered, his cheeks flushing with embarrassment.
"I‘m sorry I‘m late."
Chakotay did not exactly looked pleased. Neither did he look mad either.
"Mind explaining why you‘re thirty minutes late, Lieutenant?"
"I... overslept." And that was the honest truth.
Chakotay nodded sternly. But there was a twinkle in his eye that he could not suppress. "You could thank Baytart for doing thirty minutes of your shift."
"Right," Tom answered, eager to get to the Conn to hide his face. Thankfully, the Captain was off-duty or he wasn‘t sure how he would live it down.
Baytart gave him a grin as he approached the Conn.
"I think you owe me some replicator rations," he said.
"Two points - and that‘s my final offer," Tom replied, giving Baytart a smile he didn‘t feel. It‘s amazing what the infamous Tom Paris humour-defence mechanism could hide.
Baytart chuckled. "You‘re in no position to bargain, Paris, but let‘s say we quibble about this over a game of pool."
"Sure. But you‘ll lose," he shot back.
"That‘s what you always say," Baytart laughed, giving him a pat on the shoulder before he turned to leave.
Tom watched Baytart leave and turned back to the Conn-"And you plan to get around that problem, how?" The Conn was gone. So was the bridge.
Harry gave an exasperated sigh. "Well? If that‘s your answer, we‘re in trouble. Tom, this was your idea. I can‘t begin to understand it. I don‘t even know what half of this stuff is. We only have a couple of days to get it done. What will we tell the Captain?"
"Captain?" Tom stared at Harry in total bewilderment.
"Yeah, the Captain. I recall that you were the one who came up with this brilliant scheme. And who was it that volunteered ‚good old Harry?‘ I think that was you as well." Harry looked thoughtful and tapped his chin with the padd he held. "Yep, I do believe that was your voice." He stabbed Tom with brown eyes. "And if WE don‘t get this finished soon, WE are going to be in the dog house, as you like to say."
Tom shifted his eyes to the PADD Harry held in his hands. "I‘ll take a look at that."
Harry handed the padd to Tom.
The series of navigation codes and calculations that met his eyes as he scrolled down amazed him. If he was reading it right, it was a series of calculations needed for a new navigation route - a navigation route that would supposedly cut the trip short by 25 days. It was ingenuous. And it‘s definitely not from him.
"Find anything illuminating?"
Tom looked at Harry uncertainly - he itched to ask Harry what ‚he‘ had been doing - just what did ‚he‘ suggest to the Captain? <‘Tell them about me and it will be your friends that pay next‘. That was the warning he had received. And he wasn‘t about to risk anyone‘s life to find out. "I‘ll need to sleep on it."
Harry frowned. "Look, Tom. I know readjusting has been tough on you. I don‘t want to push you or anything, but I think it would do you a world of good if you‘d do something after shift some time. Instead of hanging around in your quarters, you know? We could do a novel or jump off cliffs. Any of that stuff you like to do. I‘ll play a concert for you if you want. What do you say?"
"I don‘t have the time," he answered stiffly.
"Okay. No holodecks. How about a game of cards? B‘Elanna‘s getting worried about you, you know. She‘s right. It‘s not like you not to run around doing SOMETHING. In fact, when‘s the last time you stirred up trouble?" Harry gave him a mischievous grin. It looked rather forced to Tom.
"I haven‘t been up to trouble lately, Harry. And I want to keep it that way," he turned to walk away.
"Yeah. I noticed," Harry followed him, stubborn as always. "Going to your quarters straight after shifts? Missing out on Neelix‘s Luau? It doesn‘t sound like you."
"What do you expect me to be? Mr. Popular?" Tom growled.
"You were Mr. Popular," Harry insisted.
"Well I‘m not that anymore, okay? I have changed! Six months alone and half-starved on a planet can do that to you!" he snapped. Tom felt guilty about his outburst immediately. First B‘Elanna, then Harry... Harry, with his months of worrying over him did not deserve this kind of treatment. "Look Harry...," he began feebly. "I‘m sorry. I‘ve been under a lot of-" he paused, thinking. "-stress," he concluded.
Harry shrugged. "I‘m just concerned."
Tom grinned wryly. "You can be so annoying when you‘re concerned."
Harry gave him a short laugh. "I‘m being kind by not saying anything about you when you are ‚concerned‘."
Tom smiled. He remembered how he often showed his ‚brotherly love‘ by taunting Harry mercilessly about his problems - especially the time when Harry revealed that he had a crush on Seven.
"You know, we both need a break - maybe somewhere at the waterfronts of Marseilles?"
"I couldn‘t have said it better myself," Harry replied, his eyes twinkling. The boisterous gigolo‘s antics made it difficult to concentrate.
"Hey Phillipe! Take it easy on the lady. She‘s not one of your regular customers!"
Phillipe merely gave Tom a wink and spun his lady partner faster on the dance floor.
"I swear he‘s gotten more annoying since the last time I saw him," Harry said wryly.
"That was four years ago, Harry." Tom chuckled.
"Yeah, B‘Elanna erased him from the program. I think I appreciated what she did. Until someone undid her work," Harry gave Tom the evil eye.
"Phillipe there is a colourful part of Sandrines. He is essential," he emphasized in a low voice.
"You weren‘t so enthusiastic when Mr. Charming there made a pass at the Captain."
Tom grinned. "*That‘s* what I mean by colour."
"Now," said Harry abruptly, "About this idea of yours."
"Harry, Harry, Harry. You don‘t come to Sandrine‘s to talk shop. You play pool. What do you say to a game?"
Harry was about to protest until he saw that mischievous twinkle in Tom‘s blue eyes - something he had not seen in a very long time. Harry could add two plus two. Tom was getting out of work for the evening. And he was determined to stay ‚out‘ of work until he was ready to say ‚in‘. Harry sighed.
"Ok. But just one. We do have work." Harry was determined not to lose control of the situation.
It wasn‘t the first time he failed where Tom was concerned.
Tom grinned. "That‘s the spirit. You know what they say. All work and no play makes Harry a dull boy." Tom chalked his cue as he eyed the table.
"Ha. Ha." Harry laughed in spite of himself.
The walk to Tom‘s quarters seemed to take and indeterminable amount of time. Harry supported Tom all the way, which was amazing since Harry was about as sauced as Tom was. Harry knew he would have to face the consequences of allowing Tom to talk him into replicating real vodka. But right now, his main concern was to put one foot ahead of the other while balancing Tom at his side and holding the two wine bottles in his right hand. Tom laughed suddenly and nearly tumbled both of them. Once inside his quarters, Tom collapsed onto his bed, giggling from a private joke.
"Hey, Tom - you going to be okay?"
Tom‘s voice seemed to come from a great distance. "Yeah. I just need to sleep. You‘re a real pal Harry, you know that?"
"I know." Harry patted Tom on the shoulder and threw a blanket over him.
"Do you have enough bottles here?" Harry picked up various wine and liquor bottles and put them through the replicator. He shook his head. Which was a bad idea since he listed to the left and nearly fell. He stopped his ignoble fall by grabbing a chair near the table.
Wrong move. The chair toppled along with Harry. They crashed onto the floor with a loud thud.
"Harry?!" Tom suddenly bolted upright in his bed.
"Whuh?" Harry untangled himself from the chair. "I‘m still here, Tom.
Sorry about the chair. I think it‘s broken. Or is it? Can‘t be sure-" he muttered.
"How long was I out?"
Harry quickly crossed the room to Tom‘s bedside. His path veered dangerously off course.
"Out?" Harry echoed, puzzled. "You were only asleep for a few minutes. Maybe ten." Or was it twenty? Darn, couldn‘t be sure - everything was sure hazy after ten shots of vodka. Or was it twenty? He stopped a giggle from erupting just in time.
"Ten? That‘s all? Are you sure?" Tom‘s eyes were wide pools in the orange glow of the lights that were suspended over his bed.
"Yeah. Tom, what‘s wrong?"
He saw Tom draw in a shaky breath. "Nothing. Let‘s work on this...project."
Tom snatched up the PADD from where Harry had left it on Tom‘s bedside table. Tom‘s brow beetled as he tried to make sense of the information that shone brightly in the near darkness.
"What is this?" he whispered.
"It‘s your project. If you don‘t know what it is, then I sure don‘t."
Harry laughed at his own witticism.
Tom shook his head. "You‘re drunk, Harry. I‘ll have to think on this. Tell you what. I‘ll work on it tonight and get back with you in the morning."
Harry took the PADD from him and put it down on the table. Or tried to. The PADD hit the carpet with a dull thud. Harry stared at it for several moments until he sensed Tom staring at him in amusement. Harry thought about it and finally remembered where he was. The last thread of conversation slowly wound its way back into his brain. "No. You get some sleep. I‘ll leave it right here and you can work on it when you wake up. But, you sleep first. Understand?"
Tom gave up as Harry pushed him back down to his pillow. "Ok. Whatever you say. Mom." He smirked.
"That‘s more like it. Now get some sleep."
Harry made his way to the door by the longest route Tom had ever seen.
"Harry, do you need me to walk you to your quarters?"
"No. I‘m fine. You just sleep. I‘ll see you for breakfast. Or whatever it is where we eat. Messhall. Yeah. That‘s it. Messhall."
"Fine. See you there."
"Not if I see you first!" Harry guffawed and fell through the wall that unexpectedly opened up to reveal the hallway.
He threw off the covers and reached for the padd, thumbing the power on and scanned what was there. They had not touched it since he had last worked on it. Now, he could finish it and get the greenhorn off his case for a little while.
Wait...there had been some alterations.
He scrolled down and smiled at what he saw.
I WILL STOP YOU.
He laughed. "You can try, Tom. You can try."
* * *
Lt. Paris‘ Quarters
The first thing he realised was that his head hurt.
Groaning, he clutched feebly at his skull, cracking open an eye.
The luminescence sent shards of lightning into his brain. Harry must have forgotten the lights when he left.
"Computer," he snapped. "The time."
"The Time is 0600 hours."
It made him groan again. His next shift was at 0800 hours. The pounding headache made him almost regret the ten shots of vodka he drank last night.
He remembered Harry supporting him to his room and laying him on the bed.
Boy were they going to get heck from the Captain when she finds out about the vodka...
Scanning his room for damage, he spotted the fallen chair - one leg lay across the room - and the PADD on the table.
His musings faded when memory returned. His lips thinned into a bitter line. No amount of vodka could blow his troubles away - it only made him forget for a while. And it did- that brief respite with Harry was worth it. But now, he had to return to work.
His hangover forgotten, Tom got out of bed and walked towards the table. The PADD lay there innocently. He stared at it for a while, then took it in his hands, activating it. He closed his eyes when he registered the readings. He should‘ve known.
The calculations he saw yesterday were not completed.
Now they were.
Opening his eyes again, he forced himself to study the chart. His hands
itched to erase the information on the PADD. But he couldn‘t do it. He had to know why it was there.
* * *
The Captain‘s Ready Room
"The course Lieutenant Paris plotted will shorten our journey by 25 days. It requires a different route - through Gates 17alpha and 24beta instead of 12 and 1alpha. The chart is...impressive," Seven remarked.
Janeway studied the holographic representation of the route.
"I should say so. Good work, Lieutenant."
Tom barely gave her a glance. "You‘re welcome," he said without much enthusiasm. Below the table, his hands twitched uncomfortably.
"Alright, if that‘s all - You are dismissed."
Harry came over to him. "Well - it looks like you didn‘t need me after all. Not that I mind - I have a slight headache." At that, Harry grimaced, clutching his head.
Tom hid the disquiet in him and managed to grin at his best friend. "You should let me look at that."
"You bet," Harry grinned and walked - rather stiffly - out with the other senior officers.
Tom watched them file out. Uncharacteristically, Janeway was the first to leave. This was most probably due to the news she had received today. Apparently the Collaborate had finally approved their travel through the gate - no mean feat with the levels of bureaucracy involved. Coupled with ‚Tom‘s‘ improvements on their route, Janeway could not have been in a happier mood.
"I heard about your little escapade yesterday."
Tom blinked and shifted his chair to face the speaker. He had been so distracted that he didn‘t notice that there was still someone in the room.
B‘Elanna grinned. "Replicating vodka?"
Tom managed a small smile. "If you‘re trying to make me feel bad, I do feel bad already. I have a hangover the size of the Delta Quadrant. Or more." B‘Elanna took the seat next to his.
"I‘m not trying to make you feel bad. I want to find out what‘s wrong."
Tom frowned and turned away. "I appreciate your concern. But just because I drank some vodka doesn‘t mean I‘m on the verge of a nervous breakdown."
"I agree," B‘Elanna said forcefully. "But that doesn‘t change the fact that you‘re hiding something from me."
Tom froze, clutching the arms of his seat. ‚Tell them about me and it will be your friends that pay next‘ He turned to face B‘Elanna.
<And I can‘t allow him to hurt you, of all people. "I‘m not hiding anything from you."
"Tom-" she began.
And he did something he swore never to do to her. It was easy. Much easier than Neelix had been. Because now he did it for a good reason - to protect her.
"Believe me," he said. He felt B‘Elanna‘s mind struggling against his will for a few moments, but then it relented, bending to him.
B‘Elanna looked as if she wanted to say more, then blinked. "Alright, I believe you."
It hurt him to do that to her. But he had no choice. To protect her, he had to do that. He took her hand in his, hoping that she would somehow understand. Looking into her eyes, he smiled reassuringly.
"Everything is fine, B‘Elanna. Nothing is wrong with me." He touched her cheek and smiled sadly. "Now you can go, and stop worrying, right?"
B‘Elanna stared at him uncertainly then smiled. "Right," she said. "What was I thinking? I‘ve got to go now, Tom. Voyager has to be ready for the journey tomorrow."
Tom settled into his chair slowly. "Sure."
He watched her leave him, alone in the room.
* * *
[Lieutenant Paris‘ Personal Log, Stardate 53111.6
2300 hours yesterday, I snuck up to Astrometrics to try figure out the ‚new route‘. It appeared completely benign. No pulsars or blackholes impede our journey. Nothing. Only ‚he‘ would know what he has in store for Voyager.
The only other option is to sabotage Voyager‘s journey through the wormhole - something a one-man operation like me could not do. I do not have
sufficient skill or knowledge about Engineering - and since I can‘t tell anyone- Damn it! I can‘t do anything! Nothing at all!]
"This is a historic moment. The peoples of the Collaborate Nations of Intersolar Planets and of the United Federation of Planets will now embark on a journey that has long been a dream of our ancestors"
Tom shifted his eyes as scrupulously as he could from Counsellor Shomira who smiled brightly on the viewscreen. They had been told that the Councillor‘s speech would be broadcasted to almost all the planets of the Collaborate. Tom studied everyone on the bridge. Attired in dress uniforms as the rest of the bridge crew, Chakotay and Janeway studied Shomira with rapt attention, their faces serious, yet tinged with hope. Harry stood at his console, a small smile curving his lips. B‘Elanna was next to him, but her whole posture seemed to say "I‘m uncomfortable." Unlike the rest of the bridge crew, Shomira did not have her undivided attention. She shifted her gaze to Tom, and they both stared at each other for a few seconds before Tom quickly shifted his gaze back to Shomira.
Tom sighed. It didn‘t take a genius to figure out that B‘Elanna discovered what he had done to her. He knew B‘Elanna would never forgive him for that.
"The peoples of the Federation and the Collaborate will begin this journey in exploring the newly discovered ring paths together. Captain Janeway of Voyager will represent the Federation, and the Collaborate‘s ship, Meerkat, will be captained by Subjuvanal Taramenalaras. Meerkat will travel to Gate 0089 while Voyager will travel to Gate 0003 in the Omegan Sector"
Tom sighed inwardly. Although well known for his kindness and generosity, Shomira was a lousy speaker. He could see some of the bridge crew restraining themselves from yawning. He caught Chakotay shifting his feet a few times. Harry had long lost that smile and was busy fidgeting with his hands. Janeway, who had perfected the art of being attentive when not feeling attentive at all, had a slight smile on her face. Shomira‘s speech could be one from Ambassador Spock for all she cared.
The Collaborate‘s ship, Meerkat, a sleek white beauty, was shown on the left-hand side of the view screen. Tom allowed his gaze to rest there, and for a moment, he was interested again.
They were about to travel through the Gates following ‚his‘ new ‚route‘, and if Seven was right, they would be back in the Alpha Quadrant in two months instead of three.
What was the ‚entity‘ up to? What did it want with the new route? Some sort of trap! But what? He must tell someone, but at the risk of harming someone else?
Shomira snapped back into focus, and he found the entire bridge crew looking at him. Clearing his throat self-consciously, he tried to remember what Janeway had asked of him. Studying her face for a clue, he found it. Janeway had shifted her gaze to the helm.
He reddened, feeling stupid. Chakotay was not going to cut him slack for daydreaming on the job.
"Course heading 2.1 light years, Gate 0003, the Omegan Sector," he pronounced crisply, hoping he didn‘t sound too embarrassed. Shomira was apparently quite pleased, because he smiled and nodded at someone, presumably the Subjuvanal off screen.
"Captain Kathryn Janeway," came the Tremalian Captain. Her face appeared onscreen. "It has been a pleasure working with you. We shall meet at Gate 1012 as planned to exchange our experiences."
"Likewise, Subjuvanal. Safe journey."
The Tremalian nodded and disappeared.
As the viewscreen went blank and the stars came into focus, someone remarked: "Now that‘s a relief. I don‘t think I can take any more speeches for the day."
The bridge laughed.
"Harry, remind me not to recommend you for diplomatic missions," Chakotay replied, a wide grin on his face. Janeway merely chuckled.
The wave of dizziness that hit him was sudden and unexpected. The controls wavered before him and he closed his eyes.
He felt his stomach clench with nausea.
"I‘m alright," he tried to say. But nothing came out. His heart began to race as he studied the helm controls before him.
They didn‘t make any sense to him.
He began to panic.
:: DO NOT FIGHT ME, TOM. ::
His mouth went dry.
<Go away! Go away!
The world shifted once more. The helm controls blurred entirely, and Tom was dragged into sudden, inky blackness.
"Very good, Lieutenant," he heard someone say.
He was on the bridge.
The helm controls refocused. His eyes caught the time display at the helm.
1556 hours?. Tom‘s stomach clenched in panic. Did anyone notice his blackout? He dared to look around, shifting his eyes sideways. Chakotay spoke to Janeway. Both didn‘t seem to notice.
"Course heading steady," he said stiffly, still looking at Janeway, not knowing if what he said made sense at that moment or not. How long was he out this time?
"Lieutenant?" came a puzzled voice. He looked up and saw Baytart at his side.
He got up rigidly, giving his seat to the Ensign. His shift had ended.
Three hours. What did he do the whole time?
He stumbled when another wave of dizziness engulfed him. The faces before him began to swim, and this time someone noticed. Janeway said something, but he couldn‘t hear her.
"Tom, are you alright?" Janeway repeated.
"I..." his eyes caught B‘Elanna‘s. She frowned. Her eyes, always demanding something. He shifted his gaze away nervously. "I‘m fine. I just stumbled."
Janeway did not reply, but she exchanged a look with Chakotay. Tom decided this was the best time for a quick exit. Somehow he made it to the turbolift without appearing like a drunk about to collapse - despite the rubbery feeling in his legs.
At the Engineering Console, B‘Elanna closed her eyes, her fingers digging bloody crescents into her palms.
* * *
Lt. Paris‘ Quarters
Bree Bop -
Tom gazed at the door absently. Frankly, he felt too drained to answer it.
He sent as much resentment as he could to the person on the other side.
It didn‘t work.
"Tom. I know you‘re in there. And you know I can override the security locks."
Tom ignored her.
The doors came open, and Tom squinted against the sudden light of the hallway. She stood there, just looking at him.
"I think we should talk," she finally said.
Tom looked straight at her. "I remember having this conversation nine months ago."
He could feel a surge of guilt in B‘Elanna. She had said those same words months ago when she had broken up with him. Her back stiffened. "It‘s not what you think," she said with forced gentleness. She stepped in, and door slid shut once more, plunging them both in darkness.
Tom‘s jaw clenched, and he looked away. He had never done that before. He was a man who confronted challenges straight on. He had pursued her when she pushed him away; he had fought back when she challenged him.
"Damn it, B‘Elanna. Leave me alone. I told you I am fine!"
"You‘re a bad liar, Tom."
"You know I lie better than the next person," he muttered sarcastically.
"Not if the next person is me," she said firmly.
Tom paused for a moment, then shook his head and sighed. "I‘m not in the mood, B‘Elanna."
B‘Elanna clenched her fist, trying to reign in her Klingon temper, which wanted to shout, scream and shake him. "You weren‘t in the mood yesterday, either. Don‘t even think your mind trick is going to work on me again." Tom looked away. Ashamed?
When he had returned to duty last week, everything seemed to be returning to normal at last. But then abruptly things began to go downhill.
He had begun to avoid people, retiring to his quarters early. His eyes were no longer bright with the excitement she had seen at the party held in his honour. They were now distant, and worse - anxious. His sudden change in behaviour troubled her, but his refusal to tell her what was wrong drove her crazy.
But it enraged her that he had manipulated her mind in order to avoid this very topic.
"Why are you pushing me away Tom? Why don‘t you tell me what‘s wrong instead of manipulating me like some puppet?!" her voice rose with sharp anger.
Tom flinched when he heard something crash. He turned and saw the shattered remains of the replicated Ming vase Harry had given him on his birthday last year.
"If you‘re going to break something, I advise you to do it in the holodeck. I could tell the computer to replicate you a hundred Ming vases."
He regretted it the moment he said it. An apology was on the tip of his tongue, but B‘Elanna didn‘t give him a chance. His head snapped back with the force of her punch.
He expected another, but it did not come. Cautiously, he opened his eyes. B‘Elanna stood before him, her slight frame shaking with suppressed rage, or shock, or maybe both.
"I‘m not going to move, until you tell me what the hell is going on with you!" she hissed.
"Then you‘ll have to wait for a long time, because there is nothing wrong with me." He said stubbornly.
B‘Elanna looked away, as if gaining strength from whatever she was looking at. "I love you, Tom. I just want things to be the way they were before," she whispered, her dark eyes gleaming.
"I can‘t give you that. You know that. I‘m not the same person I was, remember?" he gave her a weak smile. How would the old Tom react? He would rise to the challenge or storm out after saying his good-byes.
B‘Elanna shook her head. "No. You are the same Tom Paris. The essence of Tom Paris is still there, and that‘s who I love."
Giving him one last look, she left him alone for the second time in a day.
He knew what she would do now. She would go straight to the Captain. He prayed that the creature in him would leave her alone.
DAY 2 of Gate Travel
When Ebran was six, his father had told him about a dream he once had.
"I‘m staring at the horizon, my son. The desert surrounds me, not a tree in sight. But then, a door appears out of nowhere - and it seems to lead nowhere as well. I found myself walking towards it. But I did not want to go, Tonay. You were asking me to wait for you. I tried to stop myself, but I only ended up being dragged to the door."
At that point Ebran Lehor fixed his gaze on his young son, his blue eyes pensive. After a long while, he tousled Tonay‘s hair and gave him a tired smile.
"You have the same gift, Tonay. Do not be afraid of it. The Prophets speak to us in our dreams and they tell us things. I‘m going through the door soon, Tonay. But I‘ll still be watching you."
The next day, Ebran Lehor was killed by the Cardassian camp guards. As he remembered his father‘s prophetic words, the boy stared at him pensively, his blue eyes huge.
They were in a field, and there was nothing around them except green grass, and more green grass. The sky above was a deep shade of red. Ebran must have seen this before. Wasn‘t it on Mars? Near the Europa Planatias?
He knelt down beside the boy, and the boy gave him such a smile he was forced to smile himself. The smile was infectious. Familiar.
"Now are you going to tell me what‘s going on?"
The boy paused then looked behind his shoulder as if looking out for someone, although there was no one in sight.
"Who are you looking for?"
The boy returned his gaze to Tonay. "The bad man," he whispered.
The boy could not have been more than four years of age. But what was he doing in his dreams?
"To warn you," the boy said in a flustered tone. It made Ebran smile because it reminded him of his sister.
"My name is not ‚boy!‘" the child protested, crossing his arms.
"So what is it?" Ebran challenged.
"You already know what it is."
Ebran frowned and sat back in confusion. He hated his dreams. Most of them made no sense, especially if his subconscious was trying to tell him something. Counselor Troi had called it a unique talent. But Ebran Lehor understood his dreams. Tonay had no idea what his dreams meant.
"Alright, so I do know." It was usually futile to argue with the characters in his dreams. They just threw back riddles. "Now, tell me what the black box means." Ebran opened his fist and displayed the small, shiny, black box, which sat on his palm.
The boy looked at it with pursed lips. He edged away from it slowly.
"You‘re not going to tell me are you?"
The boy looked up. "You have to stop him."
Ebran sighed. "Stop who?"
The boy pursed his lips. "Open the box."
"Ebran, you don‘t have to be afraid of losing control like on Betazed. I‘m here," the boy pleaded.
Ebran paled. "You don‘t have to bring that up."
He remembered how he had lost control, his chaotic dreams dragging him down with them, promising seductive favours that reality could not deliver. And the gentle coaxing of a young, half-Betazoid woman who persuaded him out of that Abyss. He nearly fell into it again after Rya. He could not use this cursed talent of his! His father was wrong. The Prophets were not speaking to him. They were driving him insane!
"Don‘t be scared."
The boy‘s voice intruded into his fears and he swallowed the bile that surged up his throat. He gave his dream creature a weak smirk. "You‘re pretty smart for a four year old, aren‘t you? Alright," he took a deep breath. "What has that incident got to do with me...not opening the box?"
"You ask too many questions! Just open the box!" the boy snapped in a surprising fit of temper.
Ebran glowered. Dream character or not, he didn‘t like being snapped at.
"I have to know what I‘m getting into."
"Just trust me! Please, we don‘t‘ have much time," the boy ended with a desperate plea.
Ebran hesitated, his hand hovering above the box. Then he sighed and opened it.
The box burst into flames in his grasp.
Ebran gasped, instinctively yanking his hand away.
"It‘s alright, just watch!"
And watch he did. In the flames he saw a sillhoute.
"What is it?" he squinted. "It‘s a map," he said out loud. He turned to the boy for confirmation. The boy merely returned his questioning look with a blank stare.
"Alright, I can see that you‘re not going to be much help. I can see a star map. And...it‘s changing-"
The star map faded, to be replaced with what looked to be a structure. An array? A space station? It was massive. It looked strangely familiar. He had seen the design before. "What does this mean?" he demanded.
The boy suddenly stiffened. "You have to go."
"What? No, wait-"
"Go!" and the boy pushed him.
"Well, Ensign Ebran, you‘re as fit as a fiddle!"
Ebran‘s eyes snapped open. He was in sickbay.
"Don‘t worry. You fell asleep on the biobed while I examined you. Nothing to worry about. I must commend you on your work ethics, Ensign. However, I wouldn‘t recommend working triple shifts more than once a week."
Ebran hoisted himself up and pushed away the Doctor‘s interfering tricorder brusquely.
"Well, at least you could say thanks," said someone on his left.
Ebran immediately bristled. He did not know why he resented Tom so much.
Perhaps it all began on Rya when Tom had probed his mind like a clumsy gurmak. But whatever his feelings for Paris, there was one thing Ebran was pretty sure about the helmsman: He was not right.
He had tried to tell B‘Elanna that once, hoping she would understand, but she had brushed him off defensively. He had decided to drop it. Who was he kidding anyway? But the feeling had persisted. Each time he looked at Paris, he was reminded of a Cardassian in Bajoran disguise. Like Seska. He shivered at that thought. There wasn‘t any proof to his suspicions. Tom was certainly very human, but Ebran had long given up on being ‚nice‘ to everyone. If he didn‘t like someone, he didn‘t like him. Period.
"Thanks." he shot the Doctor a barely concealed look of annoyance.
The Doctor merely shrugged instead of throwing his usual barbs back. He was obviously very occupied with something as he studied his PADD. It was Ebran‘s lucky day after all.
"Ebran-" Tom called.
He had ‚spoken‘ too soon. Ebran sighed inwardly and turned to face Tom, hoping that his expression was blank.
It was obvious that the chief helmsman was controlling his emotions. Ebran could sense a variety of emotions coming from him: anger, annoyance...desperation?
A strange look crossed Tom‘s features suddenly, and their eyes met. They probed each other silently for a while, each testing the mental barriers of the other. In the end, Ebran got annoyed and gave Paris the mental equivalent of a slap.
Tom barely flinched. Instead he looked curious.
"I never really thanked you for saving me from the Killarite," he said as if the strange standoff had never happened.
"You‘re welcome." Ebran turned, but Tom caught his arm with an iron grip.
This time, Ebran did not hide his scowl.
"What do you want, Tom?" he snapped.
Tom fixed his blue eyes on Tonay‘s. They were strangely cold. "You know what I mean. How did you do it? Last time I checked, Betazoids didn‘t just know someone was being kidnapped."
Ebran wanted to give him an appropriately sarcastic remark, but he couldn‘t find a lie suitable enough.
"You know what I‘m talking about, Ebran," Tom spoke in hushed tones, occasionally throwing a glance at the Doctor, busily working in his office. "That time in the messhall, I looked at you and, suddenly, I felt a link with you, and the next thing I know you‘re calling me an abomination. I want to know why you called me that."
<Why? Ebran thought, feeling himself grin sardonically. <Because I know you‘re evil? I don‘t think you‘ll like that answer, Tom.
Ebran shook Tom‘s grip off. "I wasn‘t very stable then. You know that, Paris."
"No," Tom insisted heatedly. "I know it‘s more than that! You sensed something! Was it another presence?"
Ebran flinched. And the image of the boy came back to him. "You‘re crazy Paris. I advise you to leave me alone," he growled.
Tom looked as if he was going to protest. But he shook his head. "Fine. If you won‘t tell me, I‘ll find out myself."
"How did the checkup go?" Delaine asked him when the sickbay doors opened.
"What did you do, follow me?"
Delaine smirked. "Don‘t give yourself too much credit, Tonay. And by the way, that wasn‘t polite what you did to Tom."
Ebran bristled. "You were following me."
"And how did I manage that?" she remarked innocently. "I merely spotted Paris‘ expression when you left. He wasn‘t happy. Logically, you must have said something to rile him up."
"He was being nosy."
"Tonay," Delaine said in a strangely gentle voice. "He didn‘t kill Yvette, you know."
Ebran froze in his tracks. He gave Delaine an icy stare. "What the hell are you talking about?"
Delaine didn‘t look the least bit intimidated. "I‘m talking about you blaming Paris for Yvette‘s death."
"What, you‘re telepathic now?"
"No, just human."
"In case you‘ve forgotten. I‘m not."
"You‘re Bajoran, and that makes it worse."
Ebran flushed in anger. "I suggest you reign that tongue of yours before it gets you in trouble with me."
"You of all people know that I‘ll never be intimidated by you, Tonay, so stop the act. I‘m telling you the truth, and I‘m telling you the truth because I‘m a friend."
"And I am telling you that I don‘t feel that way about Tom," he said heatedly.
Delaine gave him a sardonic smile. "Ebran Tonay. You deny everything like you deny that kiss we shared in the jefferies tube," she muttered, walking away.
Ebran sighed, watching her. "Sarah," he called.
Delaine turned, faint surprise on her features. He rarely used her first name. If she counted right - this was the third time he used it since he met her seven years ago.
"Maybe you‘re right," he said.
An unreadable expression crossed her features and she gave him a sad smile. "I know. That comes with my genes."
"And I need the help of your genes now."
"I need to explore a theory I have...about Paris."
Tom threw the medical tricorder on the biobed. It veered off its intended mark and landed on the medical tray with a loud clutter.
"Is everything alright, Tom?"
It was the Doctor. The EMH stood at the doorway to his office, his normally irritable expression replaced with a frown of concern.
"Oh, peachy," he lied.
"I must warn you, Mr. Paris. I‘m very familiar with sarcasm. I myself, am a connoisseur."
Tom really was not in the mood to exchange insults with the Doctor.
"My shift is over. I‘ll be back tomorrow," he turned to leave.
The Doctor‘s tone made him pause.
"I‘m your Doctor, Tom. But most of all, I‘m your friend. Obviously, something is bothering you." A pause. "I want to help."
Tom sighed, giving the Doctor a weary glance. Everyone wanted to help him. B‘Elanna, Harry... Frankly, Tom wondered why they weren‘t tired of their Samaritan acts yet.
"I‘m fine." But it came out weak, defeated.
"I see," said the Doctor, looking totally unconvinced. "But my ‚eyes‘, or rather, my subroutines, say otherwise. You look exhausted. Pale," the Doctor frowned. "Have you been sleeping well?"
Tom tried to put on a brave smile. "Doc, you have to understand. I‘m a popular guy. I get invited to parties..." he trailed off appropriately.
The Doc didn‘t seem suitably impressed with that explanation either. "Yes, I heard about your ‚little party‘ with Ensign Kim. Frankly, I‘m surprised the Captain let it go. But that‘s no excuse for poor health, Lieutenant. If you‘re not better by tomorrow, I‘ll have you in for a check-up. Understood?"
"Aye, aye, Captain."
The Doctor hmphed and returned to his office.
* * *
[Lieutenant Paris‘ Personal Log. Stardate 53112.5
There has been no progress with my investigation. Ebran Tonay refused to answer any of my questions. My further ‚talk‘ with Tuvok after Ebran (if we could call it that) came up with nothing. Tuvok seemed mysteriously evasive, and, I‘m starting to get paranoid here, but I think he knows something I don‘t. I‘m alone, and I don‘t know what to do.]
DAY 8 OF GATE TRAVEL
LT. PARIS‘ QUARTERS
Tom glanced at the door. No one, of course, was trying to enter. He had taken special precautions and programmed his doors to open only with a special security command that HE could give. He was tired of giving answers to everyone. Everyone wanted to know how he was doing. It was exhausting. So, he sat alone, drinking pots of coffee in the hope, that by staying awake the ‚entity‘ would not overcome him again.
Tom idled away the hours by plotting and replotting the Gate Route over and over again. He had turned the chart in a few hundred directions trying to get a clue to the secrets it held. To no avail.
He shifted his gaze from the bed to the dining table. The dishes from last night‘s dinner was still there. He hadn‘t had the energy to put them in the replicator to be recycled. He might as well do it now, since he had around ten more hours till his next shift.
As he cleared away the dishes, his PADD fell down on the floor. He picked it up and gazed at it for long, thoughtful moments.
Finally, his mind made up, Tom thumbed a few commands and sat on his sofa. Tom cleared his throat, then smiled wryly down at the PADD, as if he could see the face of the one to whom he was writing staring back at him.
"Hey, Dad, it‘s been a long time since I wrote..."
* * *
Tom stared at his finished letter, not feeling an ounce better. If possible, he felt worse. His head throbbed dully, his bones were screaming for sleep, and his vision was blurring.
He told his father everything: from the moment the Mylkrie abducted him, to his nightmare experiences with the Binoms and his current dillemma. He wished his father could respond somehow. Although he knew what the Admiral‘s response would be: "Get a grip on yourself, son," Owen Paris would say gruffly. He wanted that. He needed the assurance that his fears were unfounded, stupid. Better, he wanted to believe what Tuvok had said: that it was a figment of his overactive imagination.
The doors to the messhall slid open. Chakotay studied the lone figure in the messhall.
"Talk to him, Chakotay," B‘Elanna had begged him earlier that day. "I can‘t reach him. He keeps pushing me away!"
He had studied the Chief Engineer, confused at her sudden request. He had believed that all was well between the two. And he said so.
"I thought so, too," B‘Elanna sighed, then ran her hand through her hair in frustration. "But then he began to change. He looks tired. He avoids company. Harry told me that Tom has been retreating to his quarters immediately after his shifts. Does that sound like Tom to you? Tom barely talks to him anymore. In fact, have you seen him talking to anyone lately?"
Chakotay frowned. He had noticed that, but he had thought Tom just needed time to readjust to being back on duty.
"What makes you think he‘ll talk to me?"
B‘Elanna had scowled. "Because I know people open up to you. Even Tom. I- my anger just gets in the way.
"He‘s hiding something from us," B‘Elanna continued. "I have nothing concrete to tell you, but I know he‘s anxious about something. Damn it, if only I knew what it was! You don‘t know how painful it is for me to watch his eyes, Chakotay! I see fear in them all the time!"
B‘Elanna‘s words rang in his mind as he walked to the replicator and ordered a bowl of chicken soup. Then, steeling himself, he walked towards Tom.
Tom froze for a moment, then turned cautiously towards him. Chakotay caught something in his face for a split second. Was it fear?
"Couldn‘t sleep?" he asked casually.
"Drank too much of Neelix‘s coffee," Tom answered. He gave Chakotay a weak grin. Tom‘s face was haggard, his usually bright eyes were dull, and the way he slumped in his chair told Chakotay that the helmsman was exhausted.
"May I join you?"
Tom shrugged. Chakotay decided that that was a yes.
"May I be frank?" Chakotay asked when he seated himself.
Tom shrugged again.
"You look like hell."
"You don‘t have to tell me that, Chakotay." Tom muttered, tossing the PADD away on the table.
"So you‘re aware that people are worried about you? The Captain. Harry. B‘Elanna?"
Tom looked up. Chakotay couldn‘t read his expression.
It was the lamest lie Chakotay had ever heard coming out of the silver- tongued Tom Paris. It was as if Tom could not find the energy to put up a convincing front for his lies anymore.
"You‘re not, Tom. I hate to make this an order, but unless you tell me what is wrong, I may have to relieve you of duty."
<Very good, Chakotay. You‘ll win the Counselor of the Year Award for sure, he thought sardonically.
Tom looked down abruptly. "You can‘t help," Tom whispered.
"I could try."
"I feel...I feel like I‘m trapped in...in-I cannot..." he faltered and then grew silent, studying his clenched fists on the table.
Chakotay watched Tom in silence. Tom‘s eyes had slid shut, as if he was contemplating an answer. After a while, he looked up, his eyes glittering in the darkness. He leaned forward. "You have to listen to me. You must believe what I‘m going to say!" he whispered desperately.
Chakotay frowned. "You know I always do."
Startled, Tom jumped.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
A young girl smiled at him, bouncing a black ball on the deck. She giggled when he saw her. With a start, he realised that he was looking at his sister - what she looked like when she was nine.
"You want to play?"
Moira threw the ball.
It landed with a wet thud beside Chakotay‘s wrist.
Only it wasn‘t a ball.
It was B‘Elanna‘s head.
Tom gasped, feeling the blood drain from his face.
"Tom?" Chakotay asked, frowning. "Are you alright?"
Specks of dark blood dotted Chakotay‘s uniform. Tom stared at them distractedly.
Chakotay couldn‘t see the head. Of course not.
"Tom?" Chakotay frowned. Tom had turned white and was strangely focusing on an area near his wrist. Chakotay followed Tom‘s gaze but he saw nothing. Tom noticed his glance and looked up abrubtly.
"Voyager is...in need of repairs. I-I‘m worried that she wonn‘t get through the...rings," he said faintly.
He dared to look at the head again - but it was gone.
It was a strange statement for Tom to make. Tom knew full well that the Collaborate‘s repairs on Voyager had made the Starship more than able to withstand the rigors of Gate travel - not that it was stressful to begin with.
"Tom, I know you‘re not telling me the whole-"
Tom stiffened and threw Chakotay a furious glare. But that flicker of hostility was quickly replaced by a smile. It took Chakotay aback, that smile. It was cold, and the blue eyes that stared at him were flat and calculating. "Do you really care?"
Chakotay frowned. "You know I do."
Tom leaned forward. "I‘ll make a promise to you, Chakotay," he whispered.
"You‘ll be the first to know."
Chakotay frowned, but he didn‘t have the words to reply to Tom‘s cynical answer. He watched the smile fade from Tom‘s face, and it was as if another man replaced the cynical mask Chakotay had seen. Tom blinked and looked at the bowl on Chakotay‘s tray. "Are you going to drink that? Your soup is getting cold."
"Yeah, thanks for reminding me." Chakotay replied uncertainly. He wanted to pursue the matter further, but he knew he would not get anywhere with the man.
Tom nodded and reached for his PADD.
Tom Paris was a great actor. But his acting abilities couldn‘t hide the
fear in his eyes or the shaking of his hands as he studied his PADD silently.
<B‘Elanna was right. Something is definitely wrong.