Disclaimer: Star Trek Voyager and all its characters are the sole property of Paramount Pictures. I am merely borrowing them for this story, and nothing more.
Author's Thanks: Thank you to all of my beta-readers, Sandy, Slider2002, Theresa, and my cybersis mercedesblanca, without whom this would never have been possible. Thank you all of you for putting up with this monster of a project and for the continued support!
Escaping Paradise: Fall From Grace
Before B’Elanna Torres opened her eyes, she was aware of pain. There was a dull ache through her limbs, a faintly tingling sensation across her cheek, and definitely a sharp tugging at her hair. She struggled to swat away whatever hand was pulling harshly at her hair, but something was holding her hand back. "What the…?" she muttered thickly, trying to remember where she was. This was definitely not Voyager, nor was it Frensia, the planet that the crew was taking shore leave on. A harsh laugh greeted her ears at her pathetic attempt to communicate and B’Elanna’s eyes flew open to reveal the individual who was tugging at her hair.
"Weak female," the owner of the laugh, the same alien who’d slapped her into unconsciousness, growled, "We have arrived at the Confederacy’s compound. Get up." B’Elanna tried to struggle out of her half-sitting position on the narrow bench, but realized her hands had been restrained with some type of sophisticated manacles. Annoyed at her slow progress, the alien roughly grabbed her arm and forced her to a standing position, prodding her none too gently towards the open door.
B’Elanna squinted as she stepped out of the small ship. She was on a planet, or maybe a large moon, Class L, most likely. "Where am I?" she asked as her dark eyes swept over the area. Directly in front of her, there was a seemingly endless expanse of open ground populated by exhausted looking aliens and to her left there was a cluster of old, battered olive green barracks and to her right there rose a new building of green glassy material. In response to her question, the alien who was accompanying her pushed her roughly forward.
"No questions," he commanded curtly as he led her towards the glassy green building. B’Elanna walked dutifully while her mind worked at absorbing every detail of the place. If her ruse worked, Voyager would not come looking for her, but she might be able to find a way to escape and find her way back to the ship.
They had not gone more than 20 meters when another alien came to meet them. This alien was about 2 and a half meters tall, muscularly built with an overall greenish tint and a long braid of orange hair. "Welcome, B’Elanna Torres," he greeted her amiably, "We’ve been waiting eagerly for your arrival." He twisted his thick green lips into a smile, revealing a row of orange teeth. Taking a closer look at her condition, he turned to her captor. "Shi’Flr, she is not our prisoner. There was no need to use force on B’Elanna," he admonished.
"This female was uncooperative," the alien, Shi’Flr, answered, "We had to make sure she would not escape, Commodore Hreq."
The green alien, Hreq, made a cooing noise that sounded strangely disapproving. "I’m sorry for your condition, B’Elanna, but you are too important to our cause for us to risk losing your cooperation. We’ll take you to Doctor Dvesqe right away to see what she can do about those injuries of yours, alright?" He smiled as he placed a hand on her shoulder.
B’Elanna flinched from his touch and struggled against her bonds. "How do you know my name?" she snarled, ignoring the pain in her jaw. "Where am I?" She continued wrestling against the manacles restraining her hands, attempting to break through them with sheer force. Before she could get very far, however, Shi’Flr grabbed her arms and restrained her.
"I told you she was uncooperative," he told the commodore smugly as he began to push her towards the green building again. To his credit, the commodore made no reply except the strangely disapproving cooing noise.
B’Elanna fought down a growl of frustration and allowed herself to be led by Shi’Flr towards the glassy green building. She was starting to remember what had happened after she’d left Voyager: beaming down, the scuffle with the aliens, and some sort of drug used to subdue her and left her in this weakened condition. As they walked, she fought against her uncooperative limbs and did her best to stay a step or two ahead of the eternally pushy Shi’Flr. Beads of sweat were already starting to form on B’Elanna’s brow, and she had to blink constantly to keep the drops out of her eyes. Because of her constant blinking, she couldn’t take much notice of where they were walking. All she knew was that they were walking in the direction of the green building.
Suddenly, the others stopped, forcing B’Elanna to stumble into Hreq. He waited until she regained her balance then turned some type of knob on a panel. There was a faint mechanical click, then the panel slid upward, revealing the interior of the building. Shi’Flr marched her inside, and B’Elanna was suddenly assaulted by a blast of frigid air. She gasped at the sudden temperature change as another pair of arms dismissed Shi’Flr’s and led her to a raised bench.
Quickly, methodically, the alien who’d dismissed Shi’Flr guided her to the bench and made a move for her to sit down. Her mind too full of information, B’Elanna felt the only logical course of action was to comply, and sat on the cool bench. She looked around, and spoke to the alien nearest her. "What am I doing here?" she asked, the drugs lingering in her system causing her to slur her words a bit.
The alien looked a bit like Commodore Hreq, but with short orange hair instead of Hreq’s long braid. "I am Doctor Dvesqe, and I’m sorry for the ordeal you have been subjected to. Our friend Shi’Flr is often too ‘enthusiastic’ in his work. We were sure you would not have resisted coming here; the sedatives were unnecessary," the alien apologized, "We are merely going to introduce the anti-toxin to your system and perform a simple medical procedure to fit your physiology to this environment."
The doctor’s words did little to reassure B’Elanna as another alien appeared carrying an apparatus that certainly did not look like equipment for a simple medical procedure. This alien, wearing a silvery robe, paused to whisper something to the doctor, then turned away to fiddle with the apparatus. Silver Robe soon turned around, giving B’Elanna a chance to examine the piece of equipment. It looked like a larger, clumsier version of a Starfleet issue hypospray with the middle hollowed out and replaced by a series of small tubes or vials. The vials each contained a different colored liquid that B’Elanna soon realized were medicinal compounds. Her temporary relief at recognizing something in this alien environment was soon cut short by the sight of the rest of the instrument. Instead of the painless application point of the hypospray, a silvery needle, about five centimeters long, was attached to the end of the device.
Before she could dwell too much on the thought of such a needle plunging into her jugular, Silver Robes advanced, the device ready. Struggling against Silver Robe’s hand that was holding her in place, she ignored his murmured reassurances. She would have broken free in a few seconds if the manacles, which sent shocks through her system every time she fought against them, had not restrained her hands. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw one of the aliens slip behind her, and when she turned, trying to fend off both aliens, she felt the needle plunge into her upper arm. She turned, watching in shock as the vials of brightly colored liquids drained into her bloodstream, then felt a burning sensation sear her skin. B’Elanna pressed her lips together to prevent herself from crying out and fought to stay conscious, but within a few minutes, she slumped on the bench as several aliens repositioned her and prepared various surgical tools.
Tom Paris could barely keep his temper under control as he made his way through Voyager’s corridors towards the bridge. He couldn’t believe that Chakotay could be content letting B’Elanna leave, especially since he had no idea where she was. For all they knew, she could be lying in some dark deserted alley in one of the seedier parts of Wyls. Tom stepped into the nearest available turbolift and sighed as the doors closed, leaving him alone.
True, he had no proof that she was in trouble; as a matter of fact, everything seemed to point to the fact that she had left willingly. The computer had said that she’d left officially. So there really was nothing that said she was kidnapped or coerced into leaving. Nothing, except that last conversation he had with her. He had seen so much in her eyes. Anger, pain, reluctance, love.
Thinking back to that conversation made Tom wince inwardly. Their last memory of each other was a fight. It was ironically fitting, in a way. They’d spent a lot of time fighting during the years they’d spent as a couple. Serious fights, petty fights, fights over him leaving day old pizza in her quarters, and fights about her spending too much time in Engineering. But they’d always made up afterwards. What if there wasn’t a chance to make up this time? Tom looked down in disgust at the thought; he couldn’t think like that. He had to believe that he could find her and convince her to come back. And if not that, the least he could do was make sure their last memory of each other was something to be treasured, and not of a fight, especially not one that had no resolution.
Before he could continue much longer on his train of thought, the turbolift stopped and Tom realized he was on the nearly empty bridge. No need to have a full shift manning the bridge when they were just orbiting a planet. He nodded towards James Culhane, who was keeping an eye on the helm, after the man glanced up to see who had come onto the bridge. As Culhane returned his attention to the helm data, Tom made his way towards Captain Janeway’s ready room.
"Enter," Kathryn Janeway called to her visitor. She had a pretty good idea who it was, judging from Chakotay’s earlier message. As the doors slid open, she put down her cup of coffee and stood to greet the young man who’d entered the room. "Tom," she welcomed him, "Have a seat."
"Thank you, Captain," the pilot acknowledged as he took a seat on the couch the Captain indicated.
As Tom sat down, Janeway took the opportunity to scrutinize him. As much as she hated to admit it, the pilot looked terrible. His eyes were bloodshot and tired-looking, and he looked like he hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in ages. Of course, she remembered he didn’t look like this two days ago when she’d bumped into him having lunch in a little café down in Wyls with B’Elanna. Actually, he had looked all right several hours ago when they’d met in the turbolift. She couldn’t believe that such a radical change had occurred in the pilot in such a small amount of time. And all because of one woman.
Janeway shook herself mentally and stepped over to Tom. "You don’t look too well, Tom," she commented softly, "Do you want something to drink?"
Tom shook his head as he looked at the last padd in his hand. "No thank you, Captain. I’m fine," he answered, "But I have something I’d like to talk to you about."
"Just give me one minute," she told him, picking up her own cup of coffee and walking over to the replicator. She knew exactly what he’d come to talk about, and although she didn’t relish having to defend why she allowed B’Elanna to leave, she knew she owned him an explanation. "Computer, one cup of coffee, black, and a cup of French roast, milk and two sugars." When the two cups had materialized on the replicator surface, Janeway carried them back to her couch and pressed the cup of fragrant French roast into the young man’s hands.
Surprised, Tom looked up at her. "Thank you, Captain," he muttered as he took a sip.
Janeway gave him a kind smile as she sipped her own coffee. "You want to know about B’Elanna, don’t you, Tom?" she asked. He looked at her face, then nodded. "What do you want to know, Tom?"
He put aside the steaming cup of coffee and stared at her. "Why?" he asked simply, his bright blue eyes searching her face.
Faced with this scrutiny, Janeway couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable. She looked down into the black depths of her coffee mug and marveled again at the impact B’Elanna’s departure had on Tom. For a minute she wondered if she had ever had that much influence over Mark. Wondered if he had been as devastated when he got the news that Voyager was lost. Somehow she doubted that, and that thought depressed her, reminding her that she’d never had the type of relationship her helmsman and her ex-chief engineer shared. Then a memory surfaced from the depths of her brain. When she’d encountered the alien who’d tried to convince her that she was dead, she’d seen her own death over and over again. And in each instance, the man who had been by her side had been out of his mind with worry that she would die…
Kathryn Janeway shook herself, mentally rebuking her mind for wandering. Her chief concern was Tom, not some half buried memory that teased at tantalizing possibilities and brought up unmistakable longing. "I had no reason not to let her go, Tom," she explained. "B’Elanna was adamant about staying on Frensia, and I knew that she’d leave whether I gave her official permission or not." At this, she paused; was there anyway she could articulate the deeper rationale behind her act? She wasn’t sure, but she had to try. She owed Tom that much. "Tom, I’ve seen how much B’Elanna’s changed since we were thrown into the Delta Quadrant. I’m very proud of her. But I know she’s still stubborn. If I didn’t let her go, she would’ve just left and I would have been forced to note that she was a deserter. I don’t want her to leave behind that kind of legacy, to be remembered by Starfleet as a deserter. I felt like—," At this point, Janeway paused, taking a sip of her hot, bitter coffee that had a hard time navigating past the lump in her throat. "—I felt that if I couldn’t make her stay with us, making sure she would be remembered for all the good things was the least I could do."
Tom stared at Captain Janeway for a long minute as he allowed what she was saying to sink in. "But this came out of nowhere!" he exclaimed, "Why did she suddenly want to leave? What was the point? Did someone do something to her here that made her think she couldn’t stay? Did I do something wrong? Did I chase her away because I kept becoming obsessed by every new holodeck program and shuttle that came along?" Janeway felt her own heart constrict as she watched Tom ask his questions. Questions without answers. With each exclamation, she could see him becoming more anguished and frustrated. He seemed tortured by the unanswered questions, a man possessed, almost. She sat by silently, unable to offer him any answers, only able to pat him on the shoulder in an attempt to console him. It was many minutes before Tom regained his composure and raised his head again.
"I have to find her, Captain," he declared.
"Please, Tom, she’s obviously said her goodbyes. Trying to force her to come back would just make it much harder on you, and on her too," Janeway pleaded with him.
Tom turned to her and Janeway could see the determination in his eyes. She knew he wasn’t about to give up, not until he’d accomplished what he set out to do. From the look in his eyes, she grew apprehensive; there was nothing in his face but hard determination. Whether he was going to just find her and try to have her answer his questions or if he was going to haul her back to Voyager kicking and screaming, she didn’t know. "Do you know where she’s gone, Captain?"
"She didn’t tell me," Janeway replied. ‘Perhaps to keep something like this from happening,’ she added to herself.
Before Tom could continue asking questions though, Chakotay made his unannounced entrance. "Captain, you can’t tell To—," he began as he looked up and realized that Tom was still sitting there with Janeway. "I’m sorry, I hadn’t expected—."
But Tom had already jumped up from where he had been sitting with the Captain. "Expected what, Chakotay?" he asked angrily, "That I’d still be here? Just because you felt that it was acceptable to leave B’Elanna behind without a word of explanation doesn’t mean I do." He paused for a moment, then realizing what the commander had come to do. "You don’t want me to find her, do you?" he asked rhetorically, "So you’re trying to get the Captain to withhold information about her whereabouts from me?" His eyes flashing, Tom stalked out of the room, leaving behind a distressed Janeway and a chagrined Chakotay.
"I shouldn’t have barged in like that." Chakotay finally broke the silence and approached Janeway. "I think I might have just exacerbated an already sensitive situation."
Janeway nodded her agreement. "He’s really taking this hard, Chakotay. I’m starting to wonder if I shouldn’t have insisted she talk to you and Tom before I let her leave." She sighed and brought her gaze back to her coffee table, where she saw the padd Tom had left when he had stormed out. "What is this?" she wondered out loud as she picked it up.
"Probably B’Elanna’s last goodbye," Chakotay informed her. "He’s been delivering them to everyone. I tried to get him to take a break, but he felt obligated to do it all himself. Like you said, he’s taking this hard. Maybe we should keep him in Sickbay for a while?"
Kathryn Janeway’s eyes widened at his statement. "Don’t tell me you think he’s suicidal?" she gasped.
Chakotay shook his head violently. "Not at all, but it’s obvious he’s under some extraordinary stress right now. And people under that kind of stress are notorious for taking extreme action. I’m just saying that maybe having the Doctor monitor his vitals for a while might be wise."
"I would think so too, but we can’t do it." At this declaration, the commander stared at Janeway. He’d never doubt her abilities to command, but could she be more concerned with how this would appear to the crew than she was about her pilot’s well being?
"Captain, you can’t let this go just because you think the crew might get the wrong ideas—," Chakotay began.
Janeway held up a hand to stall her first officer’s comments. "I think you’re getting the wrong ideas, Chakotay. I don’t think locking Tom up in Sickbay would be good for his mental health. You didn’t see him, Chakotay! He almost seemed possessed by this. I think we need to give him time to find out why she’s doing this. I don’t have any answers for him, but he needs answers if he’s going to make it through this."
Chakotay shook his head; he didn’t like this one bit. "You’re going to let him find her? That might do more damage to both of them. B’Elanna obviously wanted a clean break. And if you let Tom find her, he won’t be able to let go."
Voyager’s captain sighed deeply at her first officer’s statement. "We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. But he has to have some answers, and neither of us seem to be able to give them to him." She stared down at the padd still in her hand, wondering at what would have possessed the author of the letter to do such a thing.
"Maybe your letter will answer the questions we’re all asking?" Chakotay speculated as he stood up.
Janeway tore her eyes away from the padd and looked at the man before her. "Do you really think it would?" she answered, doubt in her voice.
He shrugged helplessly. "I don’t know, Kathryn. She didn’t tell me anything in my letter, and I suspect no one else got much of an explanation either. But I have to hope she’ll tell someone." Turning around to leave, he added, "I’ve done too much today as it is. I’ll leave you to read your letter."
"Chakotay," she called, "please stay. You’re her oldest friend, and I trust you more than anyone else here… Maybe you can read something in her letter that I missed." She gave him a bittersweet smile, reminding him that although they’d allowed B’Elanna to leave, all of them wanted a reason why.
Tom made his way to Astrometrics as he muttered darkly to himself. First Chakotay, now probably Captain Janeway. Didn’t they want to know why she’d do something so crazy, so irrational, so insane? Didn’t they care? He felt like he was fighting an uphill battle, full of people who were stopping him simply because they didn’t care. As he stormed through the corridors, he vaguely noticed that passing crewmen were giving him odd looks and a part of him laughed at what a sight he must be, eyes bloodshot, hair disarrayed, and his entire body tensed and ready to pounce. It might have been amusing, if only the person with whom he could share this hadn’t left. Before his mood could nosedive further down its manic sine wave, he halted in front of the doors to the Astrometrics Lab.
Tom had expected to see Seven of Nine calmly working among the fifty different projects she usually had going simultaneously when the doors opened, but what he saw was the ex-Borg standing behind a console, staring blankly at the padd in front of her. "Seven?" he asked softly when she did not immediately look up. "Seven?" he tried again. It took several more tries before he was able to elicit a response from her.
"Lieutenant," she finally spoke, sounding somewhat surprised at the intrusion, as if he’d just entered and hadn’t been standing there calling her name for almost a full minute. "Do you require assistance?"
Tom peered closely at Seven’s face before speaking. "Are you alright, Seven? I had to call your name for almost a minute before getting a response. Do you need the Doctor to check on your implants or something?"
Seven’s wide blue eyes blinked, momentarily confused, before she answered. "That is not necessary. I was merely, distracted." She pronounced the word ‘distracted’ as most people would say ‘Cardassians’ or ‘blood-letting’, and Tom gave her a weak smile.
"Lost in thought, maybe?" he offered. She gave him a curt bob of the head instead of the expected puzzlement over figures of speech, then moved to another console.
As she tapped out a complex sequence on the console’s display, Seven turned her head back to Tom. "Do you require assistance, Lieutenant?"
He nodded and moved to an empty console, beckoning Seven to follow. "As you know, B’Elanna beamed off Voyager earlier. But I can’t seem to locate her exact beam-down location. She’s encrypted the sequence and none of my usual decryption algorithms have been useful in cracking her code—"
"You require my assistance in determining her exact transport coordinates?" she speculated. He nodded affirmatively, but Seven’s brow crinkled in confusion. "Yet Lieutenant Torres has expressed desire to leave this ship. Why would you require her transport coordinates?"
Tom exhaled slowly at this question. "I know it’s not very scientific, Seven, but I just need to talk to her. Maybe find out why she left."
The blond woman raised her eyebrow, skeptical, but did not ask any questions as she turned to the information Tom had brought up on the display. "The algorithm Lieutenant Torres used is quite complex. There seem to be modulating, randomizing factors at work. It will take some time to decode the character string that she has designated as the decryption key." At Tom’s look of irritation, she added, "But I believe I can decipher the character string. However, it will take at least one hour."
Tom rolled his eyes at her news. "B’Elanna has to be difficult," he muttered, the affection clear in his voice, "But if it’ll take that long, then I guess that’s the price I have to pay. I’ll be back in an hour."
"There is no need for you to return in an hour, Lieutenant," she replied, "I will contact you as soon as I have decrypted her code."
Tom stopped on his way out of Astrometrics and turned to her. "Thank you, Seven."
"You are welcome," she answered slowly, watching the pilot turn and exit the lab. Seven’s eyes strayed to the padd that was resting on the console. She had been musing over the letter Lieutenant Torres had left when Lieutenant Paris came in. She probably would have continued musing over the letter until someone else ventured into the lab, but now she put the padd away where it would not interfere. She had work to complete.
"You were one of the first people to believe in me when we first got stranded here in the Delta Quadrant, Captain. And for what you’ve done for me, not only giving me the job as Chief Engineer, but also for giving me back faith in myself, I can never pay you back. I know you must be disappointed that I chose to leave Voyager, but please know that this is something I believe I have to do. You have done so much for me, Captain, that I hesitate to ask you for anything more, but I have to. Please keep Tom safe. I can only leave with a clear conscience knowing that he is safe. Please continue to keep him safe, for his sake as well as for the rest of the crew. He is the best there is. Goodbye, B’Elanna"
Captain Janeway sighed as she came to the end of the short letter. Chakotay looked up questioningly at her sigh, but she shook her head. "Nothing," she informed him, "nothing that she didn’t say before. Except…" She trailed off, wondering if she should share what was obviously a highly personal request with Chakotay. "Except she asked me to keep Tom safe."
Chakotay’s eyebrows shot up at the mention of this. "She asked me the same thing too. She was worried he would try to find her. She didn’t want him to find her. That’s why I tried to dissuade Tom earlier."
Janeway shook her head at this information. "If I had known earlier, I would never have let him try to find her. I feel like we’re going against her wishes somehow," she told him.
"I’m starting to think that maybe letting him find her was the right thing to do," the first officer admitted sheepishly, "We can’t let her go with a clear conscience until we find out what made her leave. Since she didn’t leave us any, maybe having Tom find her isn’t such a bad idea…" He paused awkwardly, contemplating how to say what he wanted to say without sounding selfish. "Maybe that’s the only way any of us can accept her decision."
Janeway nodded in agreement. "I can’t believe she’d want to leave," she admitted, "She seemed so happy sometimes, especially when she’s with Tom. I can’t understand why she’d want to leave."
Chakotay’s quiet laugh caused her to turn to him in puzzlement and he quickly explained, "It’s your maternal instincts, Kathryn." She glared at him half-heartedly for that comment, then turned her pensive gaze back to the padd on her coffee table.
Once Tom was out of Astrometrics, he paused and frowned. Now what? He had nothing to keep his mind occupied until Seven contacted him with news. Usually if something was bothering him, he’d put in a few hours at the helm and give whoever was on duty a break, but considering how they were still in orbit, there was nothing to do at the helm. He turned restlessly and contemplated going down to Sickbay and volunteering with the Doctor for a while. But from what he’d seen earlier, Sickbay was quiet as well. And if he went down there when there was nothing to do, he was liable to be serenaded by the Doc’s forays into opera or become the focus of his impromptu psychological observations. Tom rubbed at his forehead tiredly. Usually he’d be pretty happy that he wasn’t needed anywhere, meaning he could have some free time to indulge in Captain Proton or just to sit in his quarters and read a good book. But this time…
Tom started as the floor beneath him began to move slightly. It took him a minute to realize that he had mechanically entered the turbolift and called out a destination, although what that destination was, he couldn’t recall. He waited patiently for the lift to stop, and when it did and he realized where he was, he groaned out loud. Deck 9, Section 12. No matter what, he always seemed to return to this place. Giving up, he stepped out of the turbolift and almost ran over a diminutive To’Kara female.
"Oh, I’m sorry," he apologized to the alien, "I didn’t see you there."
The To’Kara shook off her wings and gave Tom a smile. "It’s quite alright. I should have been watching where I was walking. This ship of yours is a wonder."
Tom managed a weak smile at the awestruck alien. "It’s home," he replied modestly, sensing that he might have found the distraction he was looking for, "By the way, I’m Lieutenant Tom Paris. May I help you?"
"Second Ra’an Riana," she introduced herself in a breathless voice with a sheepish smile. "Actually, I think I’m somewhat lost. Captain Janeway had asked Ambassador Neelix to show me around. But he said he had to cut our tour short in order to begin preparations for your evening meal, and I asked him to allow me to take a walk around your Voyager alone before I left. I guess I’m not as skilled at navigation as I had hoped. If its not too much trouble, could you please point me in the direction of your transporter room?"
Tom couldn’t help but smile at the polite Ra’an. "How about I complete that tour of Voyager you were so entranced by, Second Ra’an? Perhaps you would be interested in seeing our hydroponics bay or our Sickbay?"
Riana shook her head. "No, I could not impose on your generosity any longer, Lieutenant," she objected, "It was already quite an imposition for your captain to allow me access to your ship. I cannot coerce a ranking officer to show me around."
"It’s no imposition, Second Ra’an, I assure you. We enjoy showing species we encounter our ship," he insisted.
Riana fluttered her wings indecisively until she smiled. "Well, I have been very curious about your Main Engineering, I have to confess," she admitted, "I wanted to see how it compared to the centers of our To’Kara gliders. But I did not feel it appropriate to ask Ambassador Neelix to escort me when he was obviously needed to prepare nourishment for your crew."
"Well then, Engineering it is," Tom decided as he led the slight woman towards the turbolift again.
Riana stepped over the threshold of the turbolift lightly and turned to Tom with her left hand touching her right shoulder in the To’Kara gratitude gesture. "You are most kind, Lieutenant Tom Paris," she intoned quietly.
He looked uneasy at being addressed by his full title. "Please, just call me Tom. I am rarely addressed by my full title; it’s too formal for my liking."
She looked at him with violet and green eyes, then bobbed her antennae in amused understanding. "I will observe your wish, but only if you do not call me Second Ra’an Riana. That is too lengthy a title, do you not think? I will call you Tom if you will address me as Riana."
Tom nodded, amused, and asked, "So what parts of Voyager have you already seen?"
"Your Ambassador Neelix was kind enough to show me your hydroponics bay and your holodecks, where a strange program he referred to as ‘The Resort’ was running." At this statement, she pursed her lips in confusion, "I find it odd that you would frolic under a false sun when Frensia is here for you to enjoy." She turned to him, waiting patiently for an explanation.
"Well," Tom began slowly, "The Resort is a program we use when we do not have the opportunity to rest on a world such as yours. On our journey, not every planet we encounter is as friendly and as receptive as yours has been."
Riana turned her bi-colored eyes to him once more. "I am sorry for that. A crew as courageous as yours is to brave crossing the entire galaxy, should not be turned away by so many." Tom looked at her, touched by her genuine regret, then turned away to wait for the lift to stop.
After a few moments of silence, Riana spoke up again. "I’m sorry if I am being too presumptuous, Tom, but have you lost someone very dear to you recently?"
Tom’s head whipped towards the To’Kara. "What do you mean?" he asked, shock and surprise giving his voice an edge. "How did you know?"
She blanched slightly. "You see, empathy is a very common trait among our people. While we are not what you would call a telepathic race, we are able to sense the emotions others around us are feeling. Perhaps we are just very apt at reading facial expressions. However, some of our people, about 0.3% of the population, have empathic abilities that would be considered telepathic. I am one of those people. I can feel your sadness, and it is quite disconcerting." She peered up at him through her eyelashes, waiting for his reaction.
Tom sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Actually, yes. Someone very close to me left Voyager very recently. I’m still trying to understand the motive behind her actions."
She waited for a minute, then asked, "She was very close to you, was she not? A good friend? A sister? A lover?" She paused, then her expression changed into one of sadness. "No, not merely a lover. She was your mate." Tom’s silence confirmed her suspicion and she reached for him. "I am sorry, Tom. But do you not trust her to do what is right?"
"I do," he answered, "But it just doesn’t feel right to me. She didn’t even say goodbye."
"Perhaps she felt the goodbye might have been too painful for her and for yourself?" she suggested, "I sense the love you feel for her, Tom. But as her mate, you must trust her to make her own decisions."
Tom gave her an unconvinced look. The feeling that he was fighting an uphill battle returned and he fought to squelch the hopelessness from rising to the forefront of his conscious mind. "Perhaps," he allowed, then lapsed back into silence as the turbolift carried them to Engineering.
Joe Carey went about his work with a heavy feeling of loss in his heart. Although he had dreamed of becoming the Chief Engineer of a starship since he was at the Academy, he had never thought that when the day would finally come, he would give anything for it not to be. Although he had fought B’Elanna for the spot as chief of Engineering when Voyager had first entered the Delta Quadrant, he had never dreamed that when the day came that he would become the Chief Engineer, his heart would be full of such sadness.
The change in Engineering since his announcement of Lieutenant Torres’ departure was palpable. The news had been greeted by stunned silence, then the few comments that they would never again suffer under her volatile temper emerged and fell flat. The individuals who had voiced the comments had been immediately greeted by dirty looks and chastised. A few stunned-looking crewmen had approached him and asked to go return to their quarters and he’d given permission quickly. Hell, he wished he could go back to his quarters and digest this information in peace, but he was in charge now.
As Joe looked though the litany of status reports on Voyager’s main systems, he noticed a small fluctuation in Jefferies Tube 54 Beta. Pulling out a tool kit from underneath his console, Joe set off to correct the fluctuation. Normally, such a minor problem would be fixed by one of the available crewmen, but Joe desperately needed something to occupy his mind. When he reached Jefferies Tube 54 Beta, he was surprised to see a figure already there. "Sue?" he asked in surprise. When the figure turned at the sound of his voice, Joe realized it was Sue Nicoletti, and that she had been crying. "I was just coming to fix the power fluctuation," he explained, flustered, "Is something wrong, Sue?"
Sue Nicoletti turned to her superior and sniffled, trying to get her tears under control. "No, nothing’s wrong," she choked out. "I was coming to fix the fluctuation, then I remembered B’Elanna. When she first became the chief engineer, she was driven crazy by everyone who came to her with every little problem. Then finally she just stood in the middle of Main Engineering and yelled at everyone that she didn’t have time to assign a specific person to every minor malfunction. She told us that if we ever find a minor malfunction to just fix it and enter a very detailed account into the log." She turned to Joe with teary eyes, "Remember how we all thought she was insane? How she was making a mockery of everything we thought Starfleet stood for?" Joe nodded, then Sue continued, "But damn, I miss her now that she’s gone! I’d gladly work twenty of those insane 3 shift days she allowed no one else but herself to work if only it would bring her back."
"I would too," Joe admitted, "But come on, Sue, you’re obviously taking this hard. Why don’t you go back to your quarters or something and take a break?" Joe remembered how B’Elanna had always taken care of her engineers and hoped that he would be able to continue taking care of them as she’d instructed.
Sue shook her head and wiped away the last of her tears. "No, I can’t. If I go back to my quarters now, I’ll go insane. I need to work. B’Elanna would never want us to go to pieces just because she left. She’d kill us." She smiled weakly and opened up her tool kit. "I’ll repair this fluctuation, Joe. Why don’t you go back to Engineering?" Joe nodded reluctantly, then made his way out of the Jefferies Tubes.
As Joe was returning to Engineering, he came upon Tom and his To’Kara guest. "Hey, Joe, we were just on our way to find you," Tom greeted the engineer with forced cheerfulness.
Joe’s eyes went wide as he saw Tom escorting the female To’Kara. "Oh really?" he asked, his voice cool as he greeted what he perceived to be Tom and his new ‘woman of the moment’. "Can I help you with something?"
Tom winced as he realized how his situation might look like to Joe. "Joe, it’s not like that, I’ll explain in a minute. But one of our To’Kara visitors wishes to see Engineering. I was hoping you could give her a quick tour?" Tom pleaded Joe with his eyes and Joe was shocked by how much pain was in their blue depths.
"Alright," he agreed as he led them towards Engineering. "This way, miss."
Riana gave Joe a smile and touched her right shoulder. "Thank you, sir. My name is Riana."
"Please, it’s just Joe. Joe Carey." As he spoke, Joe gave Tom a look of his own. ‘Whatever your explanation is, Tom, it better be good. If you’ve forgotten B’Elanna already, I’m going to kill you.’ Tom understood his thinly veiled threat and nodded in compliance.
When they entered Main Engineering, Riana gasped at the sight of the warp core, a towering column of swirling blue plasma. "What is this marvel?" she asked.
Joe grinned in spite of himself; unlike B’Elanna, who saw ever visitor in Engineering as a type of hostile intruder, showing others around Engineering and watching their reactions was a job Joe enjoyed. "This is our warp core," he explained to their visitor, "Energy from it powers our entire ship."
"Astounding!" Riana exclaimed, "Our warp pylons are exceedingly sensitive to contamination. We cannot enter the pylon room without special suits and equipment. And even then there are dozens of protocols concerning operations inside the pylon room. We would never dream of leaving them out in the middle of our glider centers."
Joe was just about to launch into an explanation of the fundamentals of the warp core when he caught sight of Sue Nicoletti returning to Engineering. No doubt Sue could jump to conclusions if he didn’t have his talk with Tom and set her straight before she went around with accusations against the pilot. "Well, I would love to give you a detailed explanation of the warp core, but I just remembered that we have a diagnostic of the helm scheduled today," he explained, "but I’ll ask Sue to give you an explanation. I’ll be right back to show you around some more, but I really have to do this. I’m quite sorry." Joe quickly waved Sue over and asked her to explain the warp core to Riana. Sue nodded in compliance and immediately launched into an explanation.
As Riana became absorbed by her temporary guide, Joe waved Tom over to a nearby console and began to tap in commands to pull up the results of the latest internal sensor sweep. "You better have a damn good explanation Tom," Joe hissed tightly as he worked, "or, regardless of B’Elanna’s feelings for you, I’m going to break your nose like she taught me how to."
Tom couldn’t help but smirk slightly at the statement as he remembered that particular incident. "My feelings for B’Elanna Torres are as they have always been and always will be. Just because I’m not weeping in front of you doesn’t mean I don’t--," he choked on his words, then continued, "I haven’t forgotten her, Joe, far from it. This isn’t what you might think. I’m just showing a guest around Voyager. Nothing more." Tom looked back towards where Sue was ending her explanation of the warp core to Riana and returned to their guest. He looked back at Joe for a moment, then added, "I thought after all this, you would know me better than that." Embarrassed, Joe followed Tom and continued Riana’s tour.
After about an hour, Tom was becoming agitated, preoccupied by only one thought. ‘Why hadn’t Seven contacted him yet?’ He paid very little attention to Joe and Riana’s dialogue and answered curtly only when asked a question. He knew Seven said she would contact him, and if she hadn’t, it was only because she had not broken the code yet. However, the unexpected wait still agitated him greatly.
Finally, his commbadge chirped and Seven’s cool, unemotional voice summoned him. "Seven of Nine to Lieutenant Paris. Please report to the Astrometrics Lab immediately."
A tentative smile spread over Tom’s face at the ‘order’. "I’ll be right there, Seven," he answered immediately before turning back to Joe and Riana. "I’m sorry, but duty calls," he apologized with a grin, "I have to go to the Astrometrics Lab."
A slightly panicked look crossed Riana’s face. "The Astrometrics Lab?" she echoed, "If it is not an intrusion, may I ask someone to take me to see that particular place at a later date? We have heard very much about how you have managed to incorporate Borg technology into your systems and we are quite curious about this development."
Tom nodded and turned to Joe. "If you’re all done here, I’ll escort Riana to Astrometrics right now." Joe nodded compliance and Tom turned to Riana with an apologetic smile. "I haven’t been a very good guide for you during this time. The least I can do is to take you to the Astrometrics Lab as well."
"You have been a most extraordinary host, today, Tom, as have you, Joe," Riana told them as she made the now familiar To’Kara gratitude gesture. "I only hope I did not inconvenience you in any way." Joe shook his head as he bid her good-bye and she left Engineering with Tom.
B’Elanna walked down one of Voyager’s corridors, feeling strangely out of place as she wandered the deserted corridors. That was something strange in itself; she never wandered the corridors, but always went she was needed without frivolous pitstops. Another odd thing was that the corridors were deserted. There was always someone in the corridors, trying to go somewhere, to fix something or another. Suddenly, one of the doors opened and smoky white fog poured out. And at that moment, she remembered when she had tried to rescue her mother from Gre’thor and had returned to a Voyager from Hell. Could it be…? ‘No!’ she thought, ‘I can’t be dead. I don’t remember dying. And I redeemed myself! Why am I here?’ As she thought, she became distinctly aware of the sensation in the pit her stomach. A sensation she had not experienced since being split into two by the Viidians. A sensation she had experienced only once before in her life, when she had been completely human. Fear.
As footsteps could be heard coming towards the still smoking doorway, B’Elanna ran in terror. She didn’t know why she was running; she had always faced all obstacles head on. She tried to command her body to stop, but it seemed like a demon had possessed her body. She could only watch helplessly as she streaked by doors that began to open and spill forth the ominous smoke that surrounded her. Somewhere in her mind, she knew there was a safe place on board this ship, whether it was Voyager or not. She knew there was someone who would keep her safe, but as she ran faster and faster, she could not remember who this individual was, nor where to find him. As she neared the end of the corridor, a door appeared in the bulkhead and slid open slowly. She thought for a minute that whatever demons were torturing her had finally trapped her and would consume her soul, or whatever it was demons did to their unlucky victims. However, instead of the forbidding white smoke spilling forth and the hollow sounding footprints, this door merely opened, it’s empty darkness seeming a welcome reassurance after the hall of smoking doors. Without another thought, B’Elanna ran in.
Inside the room, it was dark and cool. She slowed and tried to see through the jet-black space. "Hello?" she called out tentatively. Her voice seemed to be swallowed up by the dark silence. "Is anyone here?" she tried again, this time louder. "Is anybody here? Where am I?" She screamed her last sentence, but when the words came into contact with the air, they were absorbed into the eternal night. "WHERE AM I?!?!" she cried again, desperate and terrified.
"Where am I?" B’Elanna’s voice was weak as the question spilled from her parched throat. She opened her eyes and was almost blinded by the bright light that flooded her cornea. She shut her eyes tightly against the light, feeling dizzy and weak. Nonetheless, she struggled to sit up, but a pair of gentle hands stalled her progress.
"Be careful, B’Elanna," a soft voice warned her, "You’re not fully recovered yet." As she slowly reopened her eyes, readjusting to the light, she saw an alien with green-tinged lips and short orange hair leaning over her. The alien reached to touch her arm, but the emotions from her dream were still fresh in her mind and she flinched away in fear.
Taking in her reaction, Doctor Dvesque turned away to face her colleagues with a smile. "The procedure was successful. Commander Hreq, will you please escort Ms. Torres to the camp?" she requested to the man standing behind her. She turned back to watch as B’Elanna’s eyes widened in fear as Hreq approached. She watched until Hreq and B’Elanna had left the building before she allowed a full-fledged smile to spread slowly across her face. "Dvesque to Confederacy Headquarters," she instructed as she tapped the small communications device mounted on the wall. She waited until a gravelly, ill-tempered voice came through.
"What is it?" came the irritated reply.
The smile on Dvesque’s face deepened as her eyes lit up at the sound of the voice. "Our work is complete. The mission was successful."
"It is too soon to judge if our mission was successful, dear Doctor," the mystery voice admonished, "Keep me informed of your progress. Only then can we determine if we were successful." Before Dvesque could reply, the communication line went silent.
Tom burst into the Astrometrics Lab impatiently, his eyes darting from Seven to the immense viewscreen that displayed thousands of gigaquads of data per second. "Did you find her, Seven?" he asked quickly, forgetting the To’Kara who slipped in quietly in his wake.
Seven turned towards him and spared him a cool glare. "I would not have requested your presence otherwise, Lieutenant," she replied as she tapped in a series of commands into a console. The viewscreen turned black for a second then displayed a projection of Frensia. "While I have not been able to pinpoint Lieutenant Torres’ exact location, I have narrowed your search to the two most plausible locations for her beam-down site." As she spoke, two bright red dots appeared on the projection and began to blink.
"Why haven’t you been able to find her exact location?" Tom demanded, still not noticing Riana, who had moved closer to him in an effort to get a better view.
Seven tapped in another series of commands and a portion of the viewscreen became a looping clip of the condensed version of her efforts the past hour. "Lieutenant Torres’ encryption key was extremely difficult to decode. There were several remodulating sequences as well as Borg algorithms involved. Without her exact encryption key and a password given in her voice, I cannot do anymore. I apologize for my inability to fulfill my agreement."
His eyes already focused on studying the projection, Tom nodded. "It’s alright, Seven. You’ve done the best you could do. I couldn’t have asked for more."
"The first probable beam-down site is on the southern continent, twenty-seven kilometers away from the coastal city of Pr’Nes," Seven explained.
Tom studied the information scrolling onscreen then shook his head. "I don’t think so," he dismissed quickly.
His quick comment earned Tom a puzzled look from Seven. "The second possibility is on the northern continent. It is only three kilometers from the city of Wyls," she continued.
Tom’s eyes scanned the data rapidly. "That’s where I’m going," he announced firmly, "That’s where B’Elanna beamed down."
"May I remind you that you have no evidence to support your opinion," she reminded him. "Lieutenant Torres could have beamed down at either of the locations. There is not a greater chance of finding her at either one."
Tom ignored Seven’s reply and turned to leave the lab. "I don’t care about probability, Seven. This is instinct. I can feel it." He had not taken more than two steps before Riana stepped up to him, her eyes cold and hard. "I’m sorry, Riana, I didn’t realize… I mean I forgot."
Riana fixed him with a blank look. "It’s quite alright, Tom. I’m just sorry you did not listen to me and continued looking for Lieutenant Torres." A movement from behind her back drew Tom’s attention and he saw her draw a long, silvery-black object from her robes. Tom did not have time to wonder what the object was before he saw a bright flash of white shoot from the object and a searing heat on his face. As the pain enveloped him, Tom sank into oblivion…
To be Continued…