Letters Never Sent
By Janice Liedl-Myatt
Synopsis: Admiral Paris struggles with the shocking news of Voyager's Delta Quadrant existence and how to write a letter to his estranged son, Tom. Set between "Message in a Bottle" and "Hunters."
Disclaimer: The toys belong to Viacom/Paramount. I just play with them (and nicely, I hope)! The title and the brief extracts come from Carly Simon's album of the same name (copyrighted to C'est Music, 1994).
How peculiar these remain
Salvaged from the fire
For some I crumpled some I burned
Some I tore to shreds
Lifetimes later, here they are
The ones I saved instead
Letters never sent to you
Letters never sent
"Damn! Computer, end recording," the occupant of the dim starbase stateroom barked angrily. It was 0200 hours, and Admiral Owen Paris was still awake. That in itself was not unusual. The driven, dogmatic command officer was not above driving himself to his physical limits in pursuit of Starfleet's objectives and his own ambitions. What was different tonight was that Owen Paris wasn't pursuing official business. Instead, he was trying to do the most difficult thing he could imagine: write a letter to his son, Tom.
Owen let loose a disbelieving laugh as he raked a hand through white hair, already disordered from previous passes. He leaned back wearily in the highbacked command chair and rotated it so that he stared out the viewport at the slowly rotating starfield. Mentally calculating from the stars he recognized, the admiral realized that he was staring in the direction of the Delta Quadrant. His mouth twisted in a wry grimace.
Until twelve hours ago, Admiral Paris's only interest in the Delta Quadrant had been purely theoretical. In his mind, it was a far distant region of space, well beyond the most ambitious of Starfleet expeditions. With Cardassia and its Gamma Quadrant allies, the Dominion, the erratic Romulans and the Borg, the Federation no longer enjoyed the leisure to map purely exploratory missions to such farflung areas. But then the call had come in the early afternoon, as he worked at Starbase 12, supervising the refitting of damaged Fleet vessels and the construction of new ships, destined to replace those lost in recent battles against the Dominion. His aide had patched through a priority call from Admiral Jackman. Owen had braced himself for a new problem, perhaps with the new prototype ship, the Prometheus, Jackman's people had taken for testing.
The familiar dusky face of Rachel Jackman replaced the blue Starfleet screen. She sat, formally composed, at her desk. "Owen," she greeted, "it's good to see you."
"You too, Rachel," Owen Paris acknowledged. "What can I help you with?"
"It's been a crazy day here, Owen," she began with a weak laugh. "You won't believe what's been happening in our neck of the woods."
He leaned forward, concern etched on his face. "Is it the Prometheus?"
"No, Owen, well, maybe. Don't worry, your precious new ship is unharmed, but we had a close call with the Romulans."
Owen Paris breathed deeply and tried to tell his racing heart to slow down. "Romulans, Rache? I think you'd better tell me more."
Admiral Jackman looked down at the smooth, Starfleet- issue desk in front of her. "Romulans ambushed and took over the Prometheus when she was on her deep space shakedown. We . . . lost the entire crew, Owen." Regret and sorrow coloured her voice as she continued to evade his eyes.
The entire ship's crew? Admiral Owen Paris could hardly believe it. Seventy two good people, some of the best, in fact, to be given the task of testing and evaluating Starfleet's newest ship design. The Prometheus, with her multi-vector attack mode was intended to give the Federation an edge against the Jem Hadar and the Cardassians. How had the crew fallen victim? How had the ship survived?
These questions must have appeared clear on his face, or maybe he'd voiced them aloud, for he snapped out of his dazed reverie to hear Rachel's exhausted voice in mid- explanation. "We still don't know how the Romulans managed to take over the Prometheus, but we were incredibly lucky in its recovery. It turns out that there were two Starfleet members still on board the ship who managed to retake the ship and drive off the other Romulans."
"But you just said that the entire crew died!"
"That's right, in one sense of the word. There was one part of the ship's contingent that the Romulan's hadn't considered: Prometheus's EMH."
Flabbergasted, Owen Paris couldn't manage to speak for a moment. An EMH, a holographic medical programme? That was what, who, had taken the ship back when it had been captured. But wait, Rachel had said there were two involved. "An EMH, Rachel! That's hard to accept. Their programming parameters just aren't sufficiently advanced for them to act outside the needs of Sickbay. Who else was it?"
He saw her eyes flicker upwards and to the side. "If you had a hard time accepting that the Prometheus's EMH was part of this, you will not believe who the second figure is."
An obscenely cheerful, familiar visage joined Rachel Jackman's on the screen. "Hello, Admiral."
"Dr. Zimmerman?" was all that the stunned Admiral Paris could manage.
A disapproving frown clouded the man's features. He glanced down fastidiously at his Starfleet medical blue and black. Owen Paris's eyes followed and widened. The other man wore an old-style uniform, and furthermore, not one that Dr. Zimmerman had ever affected. The EMH on the Prometheus, he remembered from the construction specifications that he'd overseen himself, had been Zimmerman's Mark Two. Blond and slightly shorter, it at least had the benefit of not being modelled after the acerbic computer genius. This figure in front of him was obviously neither Prometheus's EMH nor Dr. Zimmerman.
Rachel Jackman looked at Owen Paris in sympathy. Obviously, the man didn't, couldn't, have an idea about what he was about to hear.
The fignure next to her ended Owen Paris's confusion. "Admiral, allow me to introduce myself. I am the holographic ship's doctor of the U.S.S. Voyager." Never reached their destination
Mostly born of pain
Resurfaced with the purpose of
A trip down memory lane
Across the lightyears, in his office, Owen Paris lost all ability to respond. His mind struggled to cope with the conundrum. Voyager, the ship he'd sent off years ago to bring in a Maquis traitor. Captained by his former student, Kathryn Janeway. And on that ship, had been one young man. One young man who had once been the centre of Owen Paris's secret dreams and ambitions. A fair-haired wonder boy, who'd wowed his instructors at the Academy with his ability to pilot anything with warp engines. One young man, forced into a corner after the terrible accident at Caldik Prime. *Forced into that corner as much by my pride as by himself,* Owen bitterly acknowledged to himself. One young man who'd run away to join the Maquis after Starfleet had cashiered him. One young man who'd been caught and sentenced. *Omigod,* thought Owen Paris, *Tom, my boy, what I did to you.* The look of anguish that had briefly flashed in his boy's blue eyes when Admiral Owen Paris, stern, tall and furious, had turned upon the convict who had brought such infamy to the Paris name.
"No son of mine," Owen whispered again, reliving that moment when he'd so cruelly cut Tom out of his life. Remembering the weeping woman he'd restrained as Tom was escorted out of the Federation courtroom to his New Zealand. Remembering Gwynned's growing alienation, a wife that had withdrawn from the husband who'd hurt her so deeply by disowning their son. It had taken a long while before Owen Paris had been able to accept even a modicum of guilt or responsibility for Tom's fate. Even after Tom'd been in prison for more than a year, when Kathryn Janeway had assembled her crew to chase down that elusive Maquis ship, Zola, Owen had been unable to do more than nod dismissively at her request to take Tom along as an "observer" to aid in the mission. The admiral had still been consumed by anger and shame at Tom's fate.
Voyager's loss in the Badlands had almost come as a relief. No longer did Owen Paris have to face a future where his son might embarrass him again. A future where he always feared that others at receptions and meetings might be gossiping about the "Admiral's disappointment" when he excused himself from the room. Shame was an emotion that Owen Paris despised, and its deep roots in his soul had cankered his spirit.
Just over a year ago, Starfleet had closed the books on Voyager's fate. The ship's crew and passengers were declared "officially dead." But the feeling of relief that Owen Paris had expected never emerged. Instead, the Admiral had found a profound sense of emptiness and failure in himself. Here he was, at the peak of his life and what did he have to show for it? A wife whose only words to him were formal, distant messages conveyed in prerecorded letters dispatched from Earth on an increasingly infrequent schedule? Daughters who were almost as remote? Whose formal family greetings at holidays only reminded their father of how little of a father he'd truly been? And a son; a son in whom Owen'd invested such weighty hopes and dreams that in retrospect, it was little wonder that Tom had been unable to cope. *And when he had revealed himself as imperfect,* Owen wryly acknowledged, *I threw him out of my family, only to find myself alone.*
His heart still racing, his voice shaky, Owen Paris pulled himself out of his reverie by sheer force of personality. "Tom," he managed. "My son?"
Voyager's EMH permitted a sly smirk to decorate his face. "Your son, _Lieutenant_ Tom Paris, is currently serving as Voyager's chief pilot and my medical assistant."
Admiral Jackman broke in at this point. "As you can understand, Owen, I though you needed to hear this directly. We're keeping the EMH here only for another hour, for debriefing, but then he has to return to Voyager."
Owen Paris shook his head in confusion. "Return to Voyager? Rachel, what do you mean?"
"Owen," she explained haltingly, "Voyager and her crew, well, most of her original crew, are alive and well, but they're in the Delta Quadrant. They're sixty thousand lightyears from home. We've established contact with them only through the holographic doctor's being sent by Voyager through an alien sensor net that extends from their vicinity to the edges of our quadrant, near where the Prometheus was detached for testing."
The heart that had leapt so high in his chest now felt as if was ready to collapse. Owen Paris struggled for words. "Rachel, um, Doctor, thank you, but. . . ." His voice trailed off as he struggled to cope with the joy and shock that warred inside him.
"No thanks needed, Owen," Rachel Jackman replied. "Starfleet will be informing the families of all the crews, dead and alive. Voyager's staffed both by `Fleet and Maquis now, and there's a lot of confusion here as the Doctor is filling us in about the crew and the ship's journey. I'll forward some details to you a bit later, once we've cleared the material with Security. I'm going to have to cut this call short, now, but I wanted to tell you, Starfleet is inviting all family members to send letters that will be part of a message dump forwarded to Voyager in the next few days. We'll need the data soon, to maximize our chance of success given the distance and the unknown technology."
Owen Paris blankly nodded agreement. "Understood. Paris, out." The images on his viewscreen disappeared. How long he sat there, dazed and unmoving, wasn't clear. It wasn't until his aide paged him with a set of figures on engine efficiency ratings on their latest refit, that Admiral Paris shook off his blue funk. He had to admit, however, that his work suffered that day as his mind constantly returned to thoughts of Tom.
*I wonder if they've contacted Gwynedd and the girls,* he mused. *Or, maybe, if I'm supposed to tell them?* That thought was terrifying. *No,* Owen reassured himself, *Rachel knows the score as well as anyone. She'll have one of her officers contact them.* A part of him was disappointed, but only a small part. While his wife and daughters would have ecstatically greeted such happy news, Owen feared that the messenger, if himself, would receive no such welcome.
After the Alpha shift came to an end, Admiral Paris caught himself lingering over datapadds and schematics. He wasn't really working, just avoiding. Avoiding that dizzying challenge Rachel Jackman had unwittingly laid before him. Write a letter to Tom? How?
Brokenhearted, breaking hearts
All the ways it went
Evidence of what I saw
Now, some six hours later, Owen Paris found himself cursing and empty handed. He'd tried at first to use a padd, and compose a letter. But how to begin? "Dear Tom, Gee, it's been a while?" "How's life in the Delta Quadrant?" "I haven't seen your Mom in three years. I say it's been the job, but the truth is she's never forgiven me for turning my back on you." After several futile attempts, Owen had turned to the familiar form of dictation, a skill that he'd perfected during his captaincy. But he'd forgotten, the cadence and words used for official logs didn't seem right when trying to connect to a son he'd lost and then, miraculously, rediscovered. And Owen Paris had recorded damned few personal logs during his Starfleet years. The words to express feelings, hopes and regrets didn't come easy as he struggled throughout the evening.
As he cursed again, the composed voice of the computer intruded on his turmoil. "Incoming personal message for Admiral Paris."
He raised his weary head and addressed the computer. "Route the message to my office."
"Routing," the computer affirmed.
The UFP symbols dissolved to reveal the face of Anne, his eldest daughter. She stood stiffly at an antiseptic desk in an unfamiliar setting. Out of sight, muted voices murmured and unfamiliar instruments quietly beeped and chirped. "Dad, I know it's pretty late for you, so I'm just sending a quick message. Hopefully, you'll read this in the morning before you go back to working on your damned starships." Anne paused for breath, and to ease the bitter edge that had crept into her voice.
"It's Mom. She got the news this morning about Tom. It hit her pretty hard. I guess that she had a seizure sometime shortly after noon. The medical monitors in the house kicked in, but it still took emergency crews a bit of time to find her and bring her to the medical centre."
Owen's eyes filled with tears. *Gwynedd? Sick? Dying? Dead?* He couldn't cope with the sudden shock.
Anne, too, looked stricken. "We think she's going to live, but the doctors aren't sure. There was some complications and a possibility of brain damage and memory loss, due to her seizure. We'll know more in the next twenty four hours."
She sighed tiredly. "Dad, I know that you and mother haven't spoken much since the trial. God knows it's your fault, mostly, although Mom can be as stubborn as anyone, too. I guess that's how we all turned out the way we did." She essayed a tired grin and continued. "Please, come home, Dad. We need you. Mom needs you. I know you probably won't, but, damn it, Dad, you owe it to us!" The message came to an abrupt end.
Owen blinked away the tears that came to his eyes. *Too many shocks in one day,* he thought, *at least for such an old man.* "Computer," he ordered, "priority one channel to Starfleet. Get me Admiral Odinaywa's office."
As he waited for call to go through, Owen Paris paced the stateroom. "Computer," he directed, "replay current dictation."
The blandly female voice began, "Admiral Owen Paris to Lieutenant Tom Paris. Today, I was informed by Starfleet that you are alive. Your mother and your sisters have also been informed. . . damn, that's no good . . . ."
Owen grimaced. "Computer, delete dictation." The acknowledgment of his order was cut short as his call to Starfleet Headquarters was put through.
"Owen, whyever are you calling me at this hour?" the genial Admiral questioned. "According to my information, it's the middle of the night at Starbase Twelve. There hasn't been an accident, has there?"
"No, but there's been another problem, Jiri. You know about Voyager, don't you?" The other man nodded, then comprehension lit his features.
"Oh, that's right, your son Tom was on that ship, wasn't he?"
Owen nodded grimly. "My wife's been taken ill with shock, I suspect. I'm asking for leave to return to Earth. I need to be there, Jiri."
His counterpart at Starfleet headquarters consulted some datapadds on his desk. "I think that Starfleet can be compassionate considering the circumstances, Owen. I'll direct Captain Bevok to rendezvous with you in, say, three hours? His ship is heading to earth, anyway, to bring delegates for a bioengineering conference." Jiri Odinaywa somberly closed the connection after Owen thanked him for the arrangements.
Admiral Paris sat down and started making arrangements to temporarily transfer command of the Starbase and its operations to his second-in-command. Files, logs and orders were tagged and annotated to ensure continued success in vital construction and repair work. A brief conference with Captain Den Haas assured both officers that important matters had been covered. Owen took a few minutes to freshen up, don a new uniform and eat a small meal.
As the 0530 arrival of the Toscanelli drew near, Owen realized he'd neglected Tom's letter. He cursed again, under his breath. What in the hell was he going to write? A part of him wondered if Tom would even read what his father wrote. *Considering the terms on which we last parted,* Owen mused, *I'd be surprised if he did. But that's no excuse for me not to write something.*
The computer chimed. "The Toscanelli is within transporter range. Captain Bevok is ready to welcome you aboard," came the voice of the Gamma shift commander. Owen acknowledged the summons. "I'll be in Transporter Room One in three minutes. Paris, out."
Hurriedly, he typed out a few words on the terminal at his desk and marked them for forwarding to Jackman's communications officer. The Admiral turned decisively and left the room, for Earth and a home he hoped he still could find.
Letters never sent to you
Letters never sent
Incongruous, and overdue
Letters never sent
An ordered string of energy streamed from the Starfleet ship to the heart of the alien relay station. The long pulse contained letters from over a hundred family members of Voyager's current crew, as well as important information from Starfleet Command. As she looked out her flagship's viewport, Rachel Jackman crossed her fingers behind her back. *Good fortune, Voyager,* she thought, then resolutely turned her back on the sight of so many hopes, dreams and heartbreaks being transmitted across the galaxy.
At her desk were the last of the messages they'd received. A sense of privacy forbade her to read them, although she couldn't help but glance across the string of names that were represented there. A familiar title stepped out, and she caught herself, all unwilling, pausing to read Admiral Owen Paris's message. It was so brief, that she'd done that without even knowing. Just ten short words comprised the Admiral's entire letters. Admiral Owen Paris to Lieutenant Tom Paris: Son, forgive me?
She sighed, sadly. The sorry history of the Paris family was common knowledge among her cohort. From the stories she'd heard during the EMH's briefing, and others of the material he'd downloaded from his matrix during his brief Alpha Quadrant stay, she'd begun to appreciate that the young Paris had, against all odds, become an outstanding officer. But whether or not he could do as his father asked, well, that was another story entirely. Rachel Jackman turned off the display with a tired sigh and leaned back, rubbing her eyes sleepily. There was nothing more she could do here today.
Life's a riddle, life's a dream,
Life's an accident
Now I'm gonna set them free
Letters never sent
On board Voyager, B'Elanna Torres worked frantically to download and save as much of the message stream as possible. Letters from loved ones, family and home as well as vital Starfleet directives were being lost to the vagaries of the relay system and the interference of the damned Hirogen. She ground her teeth and punched in another set of commands. A dozen words and message tags appeared on her screen. *Download and go back for more,* she mentally chanted as she sought to capture yet more of the degrading message pulse.
As explosions rocked the ship, Voyager's Chief Engineer clung grimly to her console. Half of her knew that she should abandon Astrometrics for Main Engineering. *Kahless, let Joe and Susan keep the engines running,* she prayed as she attempted to restore the link between her console and the relay station without success. She slammed her fist and tried again. Still nothing. Slapping her combadge, she hailed the bridge only to hear the catastrophic news. The station had been destroyed. Worse yet, the entire relay system appeared to have gone offline.
B'Elanna hung her head for a moment, until Klingon determination reasserted itself. Diagnostics and subroutines began to piece the last message fragments retrieved into the rest. There were still some isolated elements that didn't clearly belong with any one letter. B'Elanna eyed the few fragments longingly. None of the letters that had come through were for her, she knew. Not that she'd expected a letter from her mother, or her long absent father. But Tom's letter that she'd been determined to bring through despite his brave assertion that he didn't need it, that B'Elanna desperately wanted to have found.
As she scanned the results, her spirits sagged. The computer reported that ninety three percent of the incoming messages had been logged in part or whole. The letter from Admiral Owen Paris, however, was one of the most seriously degraded from the transfer. Only the salutation was intact. Angrily, B'Elanna wondered if that wasn't for the best. From what little Tom had let drop, she expected that the letter was probably nothing more than a coldly formal dismissal. *Better that he never get that at all, if that's the case,* she thought.
Warily, she eyed the last fragments that the computer had been unable to place. Nonsensical fragments of words, single letters and occasional phrases betrayed no clear sense of sender or recipient. *Who knew whose son was being asked to forgive the writer?* B'Elanna fretted. *What a can of worms that were opened if that went to, say, Harry, instead of Gerron?" She punched the commands that would lock these fragments into protected memory, then transferred the remaining messages to Neelix's terminal. Let the Talaxian distribute these notes. She had a ship to put back together!
Later that night, or early the next morning, B'Elanna slumped in exhaustion on the couch in her quarters. Beside her, almost as begrimed and certainly as tired, stretched Tom Paris. Amazingly, both had finally come off shift about a half an hour ago. By mutual, if unspoken decision, they bypassed the party Neelix was hosting on the Holodeck.
"Tom," B'Elanna managed finally.
"Hmm?," came his sleepy answer.
"I wasn't able to download your father's message. All we got was the opening. I'm sorry."
Silence stretched on for a minute. B'Elanna felt Tom shift closer to her, slipping an arm behind her back, feathering her spinal ridge to finally wrap around her waist. "Thas all right," he slurred. "I didn't expect anything, so I wasn't disappointed."
B'Elanna secured her arm around his shoulder, pulling Tom closer into her embrace. She looked down at the red- gold hair nestled against the black and gold of her engineering smock and dropped a kiss on his head. Somehow, she suppressed the fierce growl that rose inside her. *Someday, somehow, Admiral Paris, you and I are going to have a showdown over what you've done to the man I love,* B'Elanna vowed to herself, then hugged Tom close as the pair drifted off to sleep.