PS: I write in British English – for those who are new.
When she opened her eyes, she did not expect to see Naomi Wildman
"Naomi?" she managed to croak. Her head pounded mercilessly, and the
raw feeling she had on her wrist indicated that they were bound.
Noami merely nodded and cast an anxious glance to her right. For a
spunky and outspoken girl, this was too subdued for her. Something had
frightened her badly – frightened her enough to reduce her to silence.
Janeway managed to turn her head to see the figures slumped on the
floor – probably the senior officers – beside her on the right. It was dark
and only the emergency lights were on. From the silhouettes and lights from
the control panels, she realised they were on the bridge.
She struggled vainly to sit up, but it was difficult with both her feet
and hands bound. Small footsteps shuffled to her and Janeway felt small hands
lifting her up.
"Captain, I'm scared. Tuvok and Tom are acting weird. Scary," Naomi
said in a small voice. Frightened or not, she was keeping to her role as the
'Captain's Assistant' by helping her up. Despite circumstances, Kathryn had
to smile. But what could she say to the frightened half-Ktarian child?
"Captain?" a soft voice to her right. She managed to turn her aching
head. It was Chakotay.
"Are you alright?" she croaked.
Chakotay shook his head. He looked green. "The anesthesia packed a
punch," he grunted.
"Chakotay. Who else-"
"Harry, Seven, Neelix, B'Elanna, Samantha and Carey. That's excluding
our honour guard."
Kathryn peered through the darkness to see Tuvok and Vorik standing
guard at one corner.
"Why? Why did you do this Tuvok?" she whispered to herself.
The senior officers – with the exception of Naomi and Samantha, were
all here. Just what Tom wanted with them was a mystery.
Tom – heading the mutiny? But in her fuzzy mind she remembered him
telling her that he wasn't Tom. Not anymore. Possibilities ran through her
mind. An imposter? An alien – like Stef? The last possibility filled her with
despair. Had they consorted with an alien all this while?
<No Captain, he is here. Somewhere
She looked up – seeing `Tom' standing beside the command chair. He no
longer wore his Starfleet uniform. Instead, he wore loose, flowing robes
reminiscent of the Binoms, only his was decorated with strange symbols.
"What are you saying?" croaked another voice. It was B'Elanna.
<Explanations are a waste of my time.
Janeway noticed that her crew was waking up. Samantha shook her head
blearily and looked up as Naomi ran to her. Harry groaned when he pushed
himself to a sitting position. Seven merely glared balefully at Tom. They
were all bound – hands and feet. For some reason, Tom had left Naomi unbound.
"You have been allowed to live, for no other reason than because you're
useful," 'Tom' said out loud. "You will obey me from now on and without
Janeway saw first confusion, then anger in her crew. Whatever had
happened to Tom, she knew they would not take this sitting down.
"Then you've underestimated us," she growled.
"And you underestimate the seriousness of my threat," he responded
glibly. He pointed to Janeway. Immediately, Tuvok stepped forward and
released her from her bonds. She jerked away from Tuvok's touch as if it was
fire. Then her eyes met his. What she saw there made her pause.
His eyes, normally cool and detached were wracked with torment. Sweat
beaded on his forehead and a grimace marred his features. Whatever Tuvok had
to do, he didn't do it willingly.
"Walk to me," Tom said.
Janeway shot him a furious glare. "Who are you? What have you done to
Tom?" she demanded instead.
`Tom' frowned, his blue eyes narrowing to slits.
To her horror, she suddenly felt herself rising to her feet and walk
jerkily towards him. She gritted her teeth and spat out. "Think again if you
think you can control me like a puppet!"
But she knew they were just brave words. Even now, she found herself
struggling for the control of her left hand as it lifted from her side.
`Tom' merely nodded towards Vorik. Vorik took out a phaser at his side
and walked towards the Captain.
"Don't hurt her!" Naomi cried out.
Tom turned to regard Naomi and smiled slowly. It looked so much like
the Tom that Naomi began to hope that Tom finally came back from some hidden
place and the bad man was gone, but when she saw the cold glint in his
normally warm eyes, Naomi froze. This wasn't Tom. Tom wasn't a bad man – this
was an imposter. An alien. A monster! The real Tom…the real Tom is not here!
She shoved the thoughts of Tom dying somewhere alone and yelled:
"You let her go!" she demanded.
"Naomi!" Samantha hissed, but she couldn't do anything as she was
Tom returned his gaze to Kathryn. "Kill her," he said casually.
There was a horrified silence as they watch Vorik place the phaser in
the Captain's hand. Kathryn gritted her teeth, fighting an inner battle none
of them could understand. Her hand wavered, the phaser pointing at Naomi.
"No…" Samantha pleaded in a soft voice.
Janeway grunted when her thumb began to increase the settings. Stun. To
kill. Settings on maximum.
"Captain! Fight it!" Samantha pleaded. She struggled to get to Naomi,
but she could only wriggle on the spot. "Run Naomi! Run!"
"Mommy! I can't move!" Naomi cried. She struggled vainly, but she was
stuck, like someone poured glue on her and stuck her to the floor.
"You will stop this!" Seven ordered, her voice quavering. "Stop this!"
she demanded again.
"Tom! Please stop it!" B'Elanna pleaded.
Samantha screamed when the first shot was fired. It grazed an inch from
Naomi. Naomi trembled, her blue eyes staring at the mouth of the phaser.
<I've got to fight it! Janeway thought desperately. She managed to
deflect the first shot, but she cannot hold out any longer…
"Do you give up, Captain?" Tom's voice haunted her.
<Never! she thought. Suddenly, her hand whipped back to Naomi once
Naomi's eyes widened, her lower lip trembled. It was obvious she was
trying very hard to be brave – she tried to look defiant, but a tear slid
down her cheek.
Her thumb was pressing the trigger.
"NO!" Samantha screamed in anguish. "Please Captain! Don't kill my
A shot fired once more, and it grazed Naomi's arm.
Naomi and Samantha screamed. Red blood poured from her wound on her
left arm. It trailed down her arm and dripped on the grey carpet. Janeway was
not aware of Seven's threats in the background, nor Harry's pleas…nor
Samantha's screams. She could only see Naomi's frightened blue eyes as she
looked at her.
They showed trust.
Naomi had lost the battle with her pride. She had begun to sob in
earnest, trembling violently as she stood rooted to the ground.
<That will be the last image you'll have of Naomi Wildman. She, staring
at you in complete trust. Not knowing that you'll vaporize her arm off soon.
`Tom' whispered in her mind.
The phaser began to move again.
"Stop it," Janeway whispered. "Stop it!" she cried out.
The phaser wavered, but she was pressing the trigger once more.
Naomi turned away-
"I give up! Just don't harm her!" Janeway begged.
Her hand released the phaser. It clattered to the ground. As if on cue,
Naomi was released from her invisible prison. She ran to Samantha, flinging
her arms around her mother, sobbing loudly.
Vorik picked up the phaser.
Janeway still couldn't move. She stared at the fallen phaser, aware of
the magnitude of her actions. She had given control of Voyager to this
"I was known as Xi'an," `Tom' said, interrupting her chain of thought.
"You will do well not to insult me." He walked to the pilot's controls,
entering a few commands. The ship hummed to life suddenly as the warp engines
"Course set," the computer said suddenly.
Janeway eyed Xi'an from the corner of her eye. He met her stare
"I believe I have your full cooperation?" he asked.
"Yes," she hissed.
And she fell bonelessly to the ground, a shivering mass of anger…and
* * *
The Captain's Ready Room
It was dark, but she adjusted her `eyes' to it easily and she saw *him*
in the command chair, staring at the endless streak of stars on the
They have been `ordered' to usher the senior officers into the brig.
Meanwhile, the rest of the crew was given another dosage of anesthesia.
Xi'an, or whatever the alien wanted to call himself did not do things
with half measure.
"It's done," she said, hating her subservient tone. A lip curled.
"I know." Xian rose walking towards the viewscreen, his eyes still
intent on the streaking stars. "I sense you have more to say, shape shifter.
Say it now."
A command. Of course.
She swallowed but managed to tilt her chin in defiance.
"Where are we going?" she managed to snap.
He turned. "It is not necessary for you to know."
"I *want* to know!" she hissed.
Xi'an turned fully, facing her with a look of mild puzzlement. "You
*would not* want to know."
She swallowed and turned abruptly away, hating herself for it.
"You're not used to obeying. But you will get used to it quickly."
She clenched her fists.
A momentary silence, then his voice, soft and silky like a Morek cat's
purr from behind.
"The Founders have always been a proud race."
Rowena stiffened. The Founders…it held no meaning for her, yet the way
he said it…?
"The Founders?" she asked softly, daring to give him a glance.
"Your people, of course." He settled back into the chair, watching her.
A little trembling in her `limbs'. She lost control for a moment, and
Ensign Elaine Dibbs' green eyes became colourless. It was a bait, and they
both knew it. The elusive goal she had searched for in her two-hundred-year
"How do you…what?" she asked hesitantly.
"The Gamma Quadrant Shapeshifters were persecuted for aeons because
they were different. But we admire their spirit. Like us, before we took our
form – we were ruthlessly persecuted. And like your people, civilisations
watched while we suffered. The Merkapilatioan. The Ryans." A pause and a
sneer. "The Binoms. We are kindred spirit, you and I."
"Kindred spirit?" she echoed stupidly.
"The Founders are our brothers, because we suffered the same
injustice," he swiveled the chair away from her. But if she saw his eyes, she
would be shocked to see tears. "Billions of my kind died before we realised
that to help ourselves, we must be cruel. And we have to change."
Xi'an abrubtly shot up from the chair, his blue eyes icy.
He studied her a long time, his blue eyes probing hers.
"Leave. And prepare the ship for the first destination. This time, no
* * *
"Everyone are in their quarters. Security locks in place." Tuvok said.
X'ian stood at the helm, where Tom Paris…his `host' usually sat. He
touched the control pads almost lovingly, looking down at it absently. On the
viewscreen, a Gate hovered – Gate 234, the last two gates before their
destination. As far as Rowena could see, it was a destination in the middle
"Anesthezine has been pumped in as well," Tuvok continued.
Rowena glanced his way. The Vulcan sounded pained.
Xi'an merely nodded. He took his hands from the control panel and
looked at the view screen. The Gate came to life, its diameter flashed with
lights and Voyager lurched forward to another wormhole.
"Tuvok. You may bring her here now. And Vorik – bring me the things you
have built," Xi'an said, sparing them a glance.
They obeyed his commands instantly, both turning to their destinations.
When they were gone, Rowena walked to his side.
"The ship can't run on a skeleton crew for long. We may need to use
some of the crew," she said.
"Of course," he merely said.
"How are you going to make sure they don't plan a way to escape? These
Voyagers are notorious for getting out of fixes."
Xi'an merely shrugged. "I have my ways." He brushed a lock of blonde
hair and twirled it around a finger. For a reason she could not comprehend,
Xi'an had accelerated the growth of his hair till it cascaded just above his
shoulders. And he had rid himself of regulation Starfleet wear and wore a
long flowing black robe.
"It was the way my people were." He turned, smiling at her.
Rowena jerked in surprise – she always forgot that he could read her
"We were…a beautiful race," he said quietly before turning back to the
screen. "Rowena. Bring him to me now."
Just then, Vorik returned, carrying the equipment they had so carefully
concealed these past few weeks. With a deft movements, Vorik unsealed the box
and removed the devices; devices which the Vulcan had worked tirelessly to
build. Tireless to the point of exhaustion, as if driven by the sharp prod of
a master's whip.
Rowena brought him the man he wanted and tossed him unceremoniously on
the ground. Ebran Tonay shot her a baleful look before fixing his strange
eyes on Xi'an.
"I'm not giving in," he hissed.
The doors opened, and Tuvok came in with Sarah Delaine. She gasped when
she saw Ebran but put on a brave front when she was brought to Xi'an.
"Why are you doing this, Paris?" Delaine snapped, struggling in Tuvok's
grip. "Should've known the traitor's blood is in you; that you'll bite the
hand that feeds you!"
<Sit her there his voice echoed in her mind. And as directed, Tuvok
forcibly sat her on the Captain's chair.
Vorik walked to Xi'an, handing him what looked like a headband. Xi'an
wore it, and the jewel in the middle glowed. Then he wore a device around his
wrist, much like the ones they saw on Surelis. Once done Xi'an circled the
half-Bajoran, studying him, the jewel pulsating in an eerie glow.
"You have some of him in you. You will tell me how I will find him," he
Ebran did not hide his confusion. "I don't know what the hell you're
"You know what I am talking about," Xi'an hissed. He went quiet, his
eyes studying him for a long time. Ebran looked uncomfortable. Then pained.
Ebran trembled, sweat poured from his forehead to flow down his cheeks
like tears. His dilated eyes enlarged further, till the irises disappeared.
It went on for a long time. Too long. Minutes stretched and then
suddenly, Xi'an lashed out in a roar, smashing his fist to the side of
Ebran's face. Ebran gasped and fell heavily to his side, his lips torn and
"He resists me," Xi'an said, fascinated. "Could I have underestimated
him?" he asked Tuvok. Tuvok merely looked at him defiantly.
"You joined me reluctantly as well, Tuvok. Your code of honour and
logic bound you to this man…Tom Paris. Your mind was strong, stronger than
Ebran Tonay, but you fell to me, nevertheless," he turned back to Ebran.
"Do you want to know how, Bajoran? Unlike Tuvok and Vorik, your *trial*
will be of a different sort. For while the Vulcan's fortress is the mind.
Your fortress-" he shot Sarah Delaine a look.
"-is your heart."
* * *
Even the brig was bereft of light. B'Elanna stared dumbly at the grey
walls, wondering how things have come to this past. She condemned herself
with should haves; It was obvious that there was something wrong with Tom.
And she was deaf and blind to his desperate signals for help. Until the last
desperate plea before he was taken, she was blind…and now Tom is lost?
A burst of light blinded her and she felt a solid form crash into her.
She took a defensive position, throwing out her fist blindly until it struck
A cry and a whimper made her stop.
Delaine wriggled from her grasp. "Torres?"
"Why did they take you out?" B'Elanna asked, squinting in the darkness
to make out her face.
"I don't know," Delaine said, her breath coming in short, anxious
bursts. "They tortured him, B'Elanna."
She bit her lip. "Ebran?"
B'Elanna could faintly see Delaine nodding.
"I don't know why I was…allowed to see it. I think Tom wanted Ebran to
know that he could easily torture me as well. He wanted Tonay to know that I
was next," she bit back a sob. "They tortured him. For hours."
"Sarah," B'Elanna breathed. "*That* was not Tom."
Delaine hissed. "He has traitor's blood in him! Don't tell me it is a
convenient alien that took him over, B'Elanna because Paris is evil – even
Tonay sensed it!"
B'Elanna bit back a retort.
"I don't care what you think," she managed to say. "We have to get out
of here. Xi'an plans something. We have to stop him."
Delaine let out a mocking laugh. "With what? Phasers? When he could
force you to put it down? Don't you know what we're up against?"
"Would you rather see Tonay tortured to death?!" she snapped.
Delaine hissed. "No," she said softly. "No. But he reads our minds.
He'll catch us before we could do anything."
"We don't know that."
Delaine was quiet. Puzzled, perhaps.
"He can't read everyone's mind," B'Elanna said.
"What you have are assumptions, Torres. We don't have-"
"The Doctor!" B'Elanna whispered.
"What makes you think he's not taken off line?" Delaine said as
"Because I know the Doctor. He was with me when Xi'an took over. He
would've crawled into some subroutine where they can't find him. As powerful
as Xi'an is – he is no engineer."
"They have Vorik."
"He isn't as half as good as me. Or you."
Delaine turned away. "What do you suggest we do?"
"To think fast. Act faster. If we let Xi'an catch us thinking this.
We're all done for."
* * *
Cargo Bay 7
If his people had not embraced logic, Tuvok would've thought that he
had died and gone to their version of Hell, the name long banished from the
dictates of Vulcan. But as he stared at the bleeding naked form hanging from
chains, he knew he was very much alive. And the pain that he saw in the blue
dilated eyes was very real…
And inflicted by his hand.
He felt his hand raise again, and the whip cracked on bare flesh.
Ebran had stopped crying out. Instead, he had the energy to only gasp
when the whip scoured his flesh. There was no more energy for anything else.
And as his blood stained the cargo bay floors, he lost more strength.
It was…blasphemous, Tuvok thought from the corner of his mind. To use
his body to inflict such violence, when violence was hated by his race…Only
pure logic kept him from blaming himself and cracking into emotion, but he
knew his control sometimes slipped. Like know, when Ebran suddenly cried out.
"You will tell me where he is now," came Tom Paris' voice.
Ironically, his mental abilities were not blinded, merely restrained.
So he could stretch them out like tentative fingers to feel Paris. And while
he knew that the alien was aware of his actions, he knew that it didn't
As if he was a tiny Marliq bug, incapable of doing any damage.
He could not sense Paris in that body. Perhaps the alien being had
taken control such complete control of Paris' body that his existence was
stamped out. But he doubted it.
The essence…the katra that was Paris had fled. And now this being…this
Xi'an wants to know where.
His arm moved again and more blood was added to the floor.
Ebran knew where. Somehow he knew.
"I don't know," Ebran moaned. All pretense of strength and bravery had
gone. He only knew pain now.
Tuvok could see Paris' features, turned alien by the long, flowing hair
and the cold hardness of cruelty.
"You have learnt that I can break you, Tonay. And a thousand Cardassian
tortures are not as excruciating as this, isn't it, Tonay?"
Ebran shivered. "Please, Yvette. I'm sorry…"
Tuvok understood now. Xi'an was using the image of Ebran's dead lover
to taunt him. And he could sense Xi'an affecting Ebran's body in such a way
that each touch felt like a stab wound, each brand of the whip like a trail
of plasma on bare skin. Tuvok felt…pity.
He could feel Xi'an gathering himself again.
Tenderly, Xi'an brought Paris' fingers around Ebran's bleeding
forehead, caressing it gently like a lover.
"Tonay…give in. Sleep…let me in," Xi'an whispered. The jewel on his
forehead glowed brightly. "Let me in…darling," his teeth bared in a cruel
And Tuvok could feel the being slide into Ebran's mind – like how it
did when he had carelessly mind-melded with Paris. It was like a foul oil
that corrupted anything it touched, paralyzing as it left. He did not envy
But he fought well.
Xi'an suddenly hissed and drew back, his blue eyes blazing.
"HOW COULD YOU RESIST ME?!" he roared, hitting Ebran at the side of his
face. A sharp crack of bone.
How indeed? Tuvok wondered, curious.
Blood flew from his torn lip and Ebran sagged once more to
Xi'an drew his hand to hit the half-Bajoran once more, but the ship
suddenly shuddered. He looked up.
"Exiting Gate 234. 1.2 hours to destination. All crew prepare for entry
to Sector 235," the Computer said.
He turned his back to the limp form and walked to Tuvok, once more a
cool façade on his features. He stopped by his side and turned.
"I have run out of time. Break his legs," he said.
"Yes," Tuvok found himself saying.
He felt himself picking up a steel rod lying carelessly on the floor.
As he swung the rod he saw that the Bajoran stirred and one blue eye opened.
<Forgive me, Ebran he whispered bleakly in his trapped mind.
* * *
He screamed when the rod came down on his legs. He *heard* his legs
The pain tore into his mind and-
Ebran opened his eyes in shock, expecting to find Xi'an staring back at
him, but he saw only-
"My house, do you like?" came the piping voice.
He looked down and saw he was standing on grass. In a beautiful garden.
In a distance he saw the Golden Gate bridge, and very near – a house. He was
Something wet nudged his hand.
Ebran took a few steps back. A mass of golden fur with two bright,
brown eyes regarded him playfully. It offered him a paw and wagged its furry
"That's Buster. He's a Golden Retriever, my dog," said the boy, leaning
down to give the dog a bear hug. Buster gave him an enthusiastic lick.
"Where am I?" he asked stupidly.
"Somewhere safe," the boy said. "Somewhere where he won't hurt you
anymore," he sounded subdued. Blue eyes regarded him pensively.
And it all came back to him then. Regret. Guilt. He knelt down
gingerly, expecting to find the familiar blazing pain down his back that had
plagued him for the past four hours, but he felt nothing. Not even when he
touched the boy on the shoulder.
"Tom," he said.
The boy smiled.
"I'm sorry I didn't listen to you. I-"
"It s'okay," Tom shrugged, playing with the grass.
Ebran took a shuddering breath. "He is looking for you," he whispered.
"I know, but he won't find me. I'm good at hiding. When my dad went
away for long trips I used to hide from him when he came home. I wanted to
show how angry I was at him, but he never came looking for me. He was an
Admiral, you know."
"Yeah, I know." Everybody knew who Paris' dad was. Ebran found himself
staring at the boy in fascination. Tom was now preoccupied with a worm. He
gave it to Buster who sniffed at it suspiciously.
<Innocence. Ebran thought. <A side of Tom Paris that I never expected
"And you won't see it when I wake up, that's for sure!" Tom piped,
gently placing the worm back into the grown. Buster wagged his tail, looking
at the worm as it wiggled back into the ground.
"In fact, you won't see much of me when I wake up, I think," Tom said
sadly. He rocked on his heels.
"What do you mean?"
The boy looked away, his shoulders hunced. "He ate me away. The bad guy
ate me. And there's nothing left."
Ebran knelt down and took the boy by the shoulders, looking at him
square in the eyes. "That's not true. You're here, standing with me. You're
not gone. Not yet!"
Tom sniffed. "You promise?"
Ebran swallowed. "I promise."
"You don't know what it's like, wondering when is the last time I'll
wake up as myself," Tom said, the grown-up words strange on his young voice.
"I know, I know what you mean," he whsipered.
He felt a sudden shift, and the garden and house disappeared.
"Ebran, calm down!"
"Counselor Troi! We have to tie him down now!"
He froze. The smell of antiseptic, the white, blinding walls.
He felt a small hand in his, and his fear seeped out.
And like an observer, he watched as the hospital attendants struggled
with the half-crazed Bajoran, and at the beautiful half-Betazoid woman at his
side, saying that everything is alright and that to-
"Anchor yourself, Tonay! Don't slip out!"
"I CAN'T STOP IT! I CAN'T HOLD ON!" It was a desperate cry, a frantic
"Take me away from here, Tom," he pleaded.
"I can't. You took us here," the boy said.
"What do you mean?"
"In this world, if you wish it, you can go places. It's as simple as
He wished it all away, but it still stayed.
"It's not going away!"
"I think a part of you wants to see this," Tom said. He removed his
hand and walked towards the trashing man – him.
"You were in a hospital?" Tom asked.
"A hospital for the mad, to be precise," Ebran smiled. "I lost control.
After…after what the Cardassians did to me-"
He forced his mind not to think on that.
"-I kept wandering into people's heads. I lost myself…and woke up a
stranger. A mad stranger."
A shrill cry, more animal than sentient ripped the air.
"Alright, alright! Sedate him!" Troi admitted in defeat. She took a few
steps back, eyes narrowed in defeat.
"Who is she?" Tom asked.
Ebran found himself watching the woman and smiled, remembering the
peaceful days in the Betazoid gardens as she cajoled him out of his shell.
"Deanna Troi. Counselor Troi, my therapist. She helped me."
Everything faded suddenly, and they were in a different place. A lark
burst from the skies and swooped on them. Lots of people. Laughter,
voices…And the buildings-
Tom shrugged. "I was happy here. Sorta. Especially when my dad wasn't
around," he gave Ebran a mischievous grin.
They walked aimlessly for a while. Tom pointed out people he once knew
– Boothby, the gardener of wisdom, Admiral Carson, the Astrometrics lecturer
everyone feared, Dr. Shavak, the terror of Astrophysics. He even led Ebran to
the dorm he shared with his annoying Ktarian roommate. The Ktarian had hated
the mess Tom lived with and had pleaded to move out. So Tom had the room to
himself for a whole semester before an equally sloppy human from Mars moved
"Tom, how is this possible?" he asked when they stopped to rest by the
bank of a river.
The boy was silent for a while then said, "Remember what happened on
"A little," he said reluctantly. Actually, he remembered too much.
"When the Ryans used the plants to…join us, it hurt, remember?"
"Of course," he said tightly.
"But it also did one thing," Tom looked at him with earnest blue eyes.
"It gave us a part of each other. We became a part of each other, no matter
how much we hated the idea, because I hated the idea of having Y'vette in
If he could have paled, he would've. "Her memories?"
"More. Her spirit…or katra. I think," Tom buried his face in his arms.
"I had her for awhile, then I felt her *going*. She was dead. So she had to
go. It made me sad. But she had to go."
Ebran looked away, blinking away tears that felt real.
"So I have you inside me? Is that what you are? Just a piece of Tom
Tom shrugged. "I don't know. I think I ran away when the bad man came,
but I lost my way. And now I'm here."
"You're in my mind?" he had to know.
"I don't know," Tom said in a tiny voice. "I don't know where I am
except that I'm safe."
"If you're in my mind," Ebran persisted. "You're in danger. Xi'an will
find you eventually, you do know that?"
Tom tried to look brave, but a tear slid down his cheek. He hastily
wiped it away. "I'm scared, Tonay. You won't let him find me, would you?"
"No," he answered automatically. "I won't."
They were quiet for a while. Ebran watched while Tom fed the ducks by
the river, but he could see that the boy was preoccupied.
"You have a special ability Tonay," Tom said suddenly after throwing a
piece of bread into the river.
"As I've been told often enough."
"By your dad and Counselor Troi," Tom said, back at his side. "Deanna
said that you should not be afraid of it. It's a gift."
"Sliding into people's minds is not a gift," Ebran said in a tight
"It is. You can enter people's dreams…it's a gift. Especially now."
"What do you mean?"
Again things shifted. Ebran looked at his new surroundings, and he saw
duplicates of Tom walk by in a crystaline palace. He was in Surelis.
"I mean that your gift could be the only thing that could destroy
The deep, adult voice jarred Ebran from his gazing. He turned. Instead
of the four-year-old boy, Tom was now as he was, an adult. He felt a tinge of
Tom the adult was the man he had exchanged fists with, the man he had
disliked immensely. Tom the child was a different thing altogether – the boy
that needed protection, the boy that had looked up to him like a big brother.
Tom smiled. "Don't worry. It's still me."
Ebran returned the smile tentatively. "How could I destroy such a
creature like Xi'an? You, of all people know how powerful he is."
Tom looked pensive for a moment.
"At least, free me enough so that I can retake control of my body –
even for a while." Tom said softly. "But I'm lost and I need your help to
find my way home," he said in a small voice.
Tom suddenly disappeared and small hands clutched his legs from behind.
Four-years-old once more, Tom hid behind his legs, peering at a distant scene
with wide, blue eyes.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
A flash of light.
<I can kill you with a thought
The guttural voice sent shards of fear into his heart. Ebran froze and
instinctively clutched at Tom to protect him.
A cry of pain.
A man lay sprawled on the ground and he was crawling towards him,
hoisting himself halfway up with bloody hands. Bleeding heavily from
invisible wounds, he looked up imploringly with eyes that trickled small
trails of blood.
It was Tom.
"You will die slowly, Tom Paris. And you will never be able to utter a
single scream," came the voice again.
Tom – the one on the floor looked behind, and tried to scream but
nothing came out.
[A flash of light]
"It is an abomination!"
"But we must save him."
They were clones. Tom Paris' clones, and they stared at the body - the
one Ebran recognised as Bahne – held.
<He is dying. Bahne said. <And yet the Mylar wants him exiled to Rya.
He will die a slow death, preyed upon by wild beasts.
<We have to do it, sibling. It is the only way.
Bahne looked up, his silver eyes wet with tears. Iolo reached out and
touched them, fascinated.
<We have to, Bahne agreed. <If the evil ones are still alive, may I
die, Iolo – if they take him. For he is not ready for them!
<Then we will kill him then. But now, he must have a chance
Bahne nodded and touched the dying human's face-
[A flash of light]
And he was back in San Francisco. It made him dizzy for a while, but he
focused his eyes on the Golden Gate Bridge to steady himself.
He heard sobbing.
Buster whined anxiously from the cradle of Tom's legs as the boy sobbed
into his fur, his hand clutching at his golden fur spasmodically. Buster's
brown eyes rolled anxiously, and as much as he wanted to give his master a
comforting lick, he couldn't abandon his post.
Ebran reached out tentatively to touch his shoulder. "Tom," he called.
Tom looked up, his tear-filled eyes red and puffy. He was the
frightened four-year-old again, and he looked every inch the terrified child
afraid of the bogeyman.
Tom wiped his nose with the sleeve of his shirt and gave Buster a
scratch behind his ear.
"I never want to remember what they did to me. They left me on Rya to
die. That's where Xi'an found me." Tom's face scrunched up as if he wanted to
cry once more, but he regained his composure and sniffed instead.
"It was at the Mirrors, at the scary stairs," Tom said.
Ebran remembered how he had tried to force Paris up the stairs, only to
end up in a fistfight with him.
"It came to me like a ghost," Tom said in a trembly voice. "And Xi'an
was a ghost…he came to me and went inside me. I tried to tell myself what had
happened, but I can't remember. Xi'an won't let me. Xi'an won't let me!" Tom
flung his little arms around Ebran, sobbing into his shoulder. "Don't let me
die here, Tonay. I'm scared, I'm so scared!" he cried.
Ebran found himself clutching the boy. "No, I won't let you die. We're
going to kick some butt instead. I promise."