The Game
By Morticia

Part 15/16

Tom's vague self-pitying desire to die was swept away abruptly within
two hours of arriving on the planet. He spent the first hour battling
through a sand storm that whipped up almost simultaneously with his
arrival, as though the gods themselves were laughing at his expense.

He was too busy trying to keep the swirling red sand out of his
stinging eyes without completely losing his sense of direction to
even consider what was going on aboard Voyager in his absence.

Then, no sooner had he arrived at the heavy gate in the settlement
wall than his next nightmare began.

Tuvok had explained that the natives were likely to strip search him,
and he had experienced that before in Auckland, so although the idea
made him cringe, he had known what to expect. At least he had thought

But this wasn't the Federation, where even a prisoner was treated
with respect and decorum. Oh no. These barbarians thought that strip
searches should be done in public in the middle of a fucking sand
storm. By the time they had finished he had as much sand up his ass
as in his eyes. Even his cock was stinging from the abrasive sand by
the time they allowed him to get dressed again.

Fortunately they hadn't given a second glance to his comm badge which
was cunningly disguised as a cheap medallion hung around his neck.

Although he had brought several bags of brightly coloured trinkets to
sell, all beautifully crafted into fine-looking jewellery, his
own "adornment" was plain and deliberately looked valueless. As Tuvok
had pointed out, there was no guarantee that the natives wouldn't
simply rob him rather than trade and although Voyager could pin-point
his physical characteristics to beam him up, he didn't want to lose
his only form of communication.

As soon as he walked through the heavy gates, his sand-filled
trousers rubbing painfully against his inner thighs and his ass
abraded by the guard's rough fingers, Tom's nostrils were assaulted
by the worst stench he could imagine.

The streets of the settlement ran with open sewers, he realised, as
he choked back the urge to vomit. The natives inside the walls were
all as filthy as he was in his sand-scored clothing.

No. Filthier, he soon realised. The dirt on their skin wasn't the
result of a couple of hours in a sand-storm. It was the accumulation
of a lifetime without washing.

His skin crawled as he remembered the Guard's filthy digit inspecting
his ass. Shit, he hoped the Doctor had a shot to cure terminal filth.

The streets were so crowded that he was jostled by people moving
about their business and when he was accidentally pushed against a
woman's back he actually saw lice running up her bedraggled hair.
Immediately his own scalp began to itch in sympathy and he hurriedly
detached himself from her.

Fuck the original idea of staying the night, he decided. He wasn't
going anywhere near whatever these people used for beds, let alone
drinking or eating anything that they had touched. The sooner he
traded and left, the better, he decided.

Not that he could imagine why the hell Tuvok had sent him down here
with jewellery. Soap would have been a hell of a more marketable
commodity, in his opinion.

It was only as he moved deeper into the densely populated settlement
that he began to see inhabitants who were better dressed and clearly
more affluent. They were still filthy, but their clothes were finer
and the women wore their hair piled up on their heads, fashioned into
ornate styles threaded with gaudy jewels.

Feeling a little more confident about his mission, he proceeded to
the market square where people thronged around laden stalls and sole
traders like himself. The air was ripe with the smell of rotting
fruit, a large proportion of it not under the stalls, but actually on
top of them for sale.

Tom swallowed dryly and decided that Neelix's cooking wasn't so bad
after all. He couldn't believe that people lived like this.

He spent a little time watching the other traders until he had an
idea of the way that the native currency worked. Rather than coins,
they had a complicated system that seemed to be based on sticks of
carved wood and it took him a couple of hours to understand the
difference between what on the surface seemed identical sticks to
him. When he finally felt confident enough to offer his own jewellery
for sale, it was mid-afternoon.

His offerings were met with enthusiasm, fortunately, and he soon got
into a rhythm of bartering with the natives. It seemed the society
wasn't as chauvinistic as they had believed. Although the buying and
selling was all done by men, the women were definitely the ones who
decided what they wanted and put their feet down until their menfolk
dug into their pockets.

He almost enjoyed the experience except for the fact that the light
was beginning to dim and he still had to travel to the mining
settlement several kilometres further away before he could buy the
dilithium they needed. He was loath to return to the sand storms at
all, let alone traverse the desert by night. It was better than the
alternative though, he decided, as a flea hopped off a customer's
shoulder and began to chew merrily on his arm.

By now he had what he at least *hoped* was a small fortune in sticks,
and he only had a couple of strands of beads left. So he fastened his
knap-sack and asked someone to direct him the fastest way back to the

The native gave him laboriously detailed instructions, then ended by
saying, "But you can't leave tonight."

"What do you mean?" Tom demanded.

"Gate's locked dusk `til dawn," the man replied with a grin full of
blackened, rotted teeth.

Tom shuddered and contemplated his chances of convincing Tuvok to
allow him a site to site transport to the mine on humanitarian
grounds. Slim to none, he concluded miserably. He was just going to
have to find somewhere to stay for the night and pray that Voyager's
transporters could deal with his inevitable "passengers".

"Do you know somewhere *clean* where I could stay tonight?" he asked

The native smirked and proceeded to give him another laborious set of
directions. Tom thanked him and set off miserably, not noticing the
way that the man immediately approached another trader and began to
converse with him, both sending frequent speculative glances after
Tom's retreating back.


"There's an incoming message from Lieutenant Paris," Ensign Forbes

"Put it through to my terminal," Chakotay ordered tersely.

"Tuvok?" came Tom's furtive whisper.

"It is 2330, Lieutenant," Chakotay replied coldly. "He is in bed, as
should you be."

On the surface Tom shuddered. He *had* tried to go to bed, but had
decided eventually that the only way he was going to be able to sleep
with all his new and eager "bed-buddies" was if he was 1) completely
exhausted, and 2) pissed as a fart.

So he had returned downstairs into the bar of the tiny inn, only to
discover to his complete horror that the natives might *look*
relatively human, but they evidently weren't since what they
considered alcohol was weaker than gnat's piss and twice as vile.

Nursing a filthy mug of the disgusting brew, Tom had slowly become
aware of the gathering jackals. It was an instinct he had, well honed
in prison, to know when danger was lurking. It didn't matter that
every time he looked up and met someone's eyes they just gave him a
friendly nod. He *knew* something was up. Suddenly it didn't seem a
smart idea to be alone in a tavern with a small fortune in his bag.

He had hurriedly left the bar and returned to his tiny room, locking
the decidedly thin door and moving the bed until it formed a barrier
across the doorframe. Twice already he had heard someone furtively
trying his door handle.

"I've traded the jewels," he whispered into his comm badge. "I've got
the local currency. So I thought maybe I could beam back on board and
return to the surface tomorrow. It would save the time it'll take to
walk to the mining settlement."

On the bridge, Chakotay considered Paris's request.

"Are you alone?" he asked.

"Of course I am," Tom hissed.

"And will anyone realise you have `vanished?'" Chakotay asked

Tom regarded his own barricade and sighed. Of course they'd damn well

"Yes, but-"

"No buts, Lieutenant. Or do you think the Prime Directive doesn't
apply to you?" Chakotay snapped.

Tom swallowed nervously as he heard his door handle tried again,
louder this time, as though whoever wanted to break in no longer
cared whether he heard their attempt.

"I don't think I'm safe, Commander," he whispered. "People saw me
getting all that money. I really think I should return to Voyager
now," Tom hissed urgently.

For a moment, the tinge of panic in Paris's voice nearly swayed the
Commander. Then he realised that it was Paris talking.

"Are you actually in danger, Lieutenant?" Chakotay demanded.

As Tom shuddered at the unmistakeable distain in Chakotay's voice, he
heard the would-be intruder curse and then the sound of footsteps
retreating down the corridor.

"I'm not sure," Tom replied quietly. "Maybe not."

"Then I suggest you stop wasting my time, Lieutenant. We BOTH have
jobs to do."

Tom never heard his answer though, since for some inexplicable
reason, his comm badge suddenly gave a high-pitched whine and ceased
to function.


"Life signs still poor but stabilising," Ensign Johnson confirmed
weakly, turning her head away from the body in the bio-bed. She'd
been the Doctor's full time assistant for six months now, but she'd
never seen so much blood.
She'd never even imagined that the human body could hold that much

The Doctor was currently ignoring the majority of the multiple stab
wounds, more concerned with the blade that had punctured Tom's lungs.

"His blood pressure is dropping again," Ensign Johnson squeaked.

"I told you to start suturing, Ensign," the Doctor practically

Johnson picked up the regenerator, stepped towards Tom's ripped
stomach, took one look at the exposed entrails, turned green and
slumped to the floor, the regenerator slipping from her unconscious

A large hand swept out and caught the falling instrument before it
hit the floor.

The Doctor paused only long enough to check that the Commander knew
what he was doing, then left him to start repairing Tom's abdomen
while he worked on his lungs and heart. He decided to refrain from
commenting on Chakotay's decision to save the regenerator from
hitting the floor, rather than the Ensign.

Although the Commander looked pale and shaken, his hands were moving
with assurance over Tom's battered body and his help would hopefully
be the difference between whether Tom survived or not.


"At 2330 you received a communication from Lieutenant Paris," Tuvok

Ensign Forbes gulped noisily but nodded, her eyes flinching from the
Vulcan's gaze.

"What was the nature of that communication?" Tuvok asked.

Ensign Forbes twisted her hands nervously on her lap.

"Tom, I mean the Lieutenant, asked to speak with you, Sir. Since you
had left the bridge, the Commander spoke to him instead."

"Was the Lieutenant agitated in your opinion?" Tuvok asked.

She bit her lip thoughtfully.

"He sounded a *little* strange, but no more than I would expect since
he was whispering."

"Did the Lieutenant request transportation from the surface?" Tuvok

Ensign Forbes straightened in her seat. She wasn't stupid. She had a
fair idea where *this* line of questioning was heading.

"I don't know, Sir. Once I transferred the call it would have been a
severe breach of protocol to have listened in. My console will
confirm that I did not."

"You did, however overhear the Commander's side of the conversation,"
Tuvok replied firmly.

Ensign Forbes had no choice except to agree.

"And in your opinion, from what you heard of the Commander's side of
the conversation, did the Lieutenant request a transport off the
surface?" Tuvok demanded.

"Yes, I believe so," she confirmed reluctantly

"And the Commander refused?"

"I heard him mention the Prime Directive. It appeared that the
Lieutenant was not in a secure location for transport," she said

"Well he wouldn't be with two dozen people sticking knives in him,
would he?" Harry Kim snarled from the corner.

"If you interrupt again, I shall ask for you to be removed from this
room," Tuvok stated.

"He won't interrupt again, will you Ensign?" the Captain warned.

"No, Captain. I'm sorry," Harry replied with barely concealed

"So," Tuvok continued. "Lieutenant Paris *did* ask to be rescued?"

"No," Ensign Forbes replied firmly.

"Explain," Tuvok demanded.

"I heard the Commander ask `Are you actually in danger, Lieutenant?'
and then he said, `Then I suggest you stop wasting my time,
Lieutenant'. It seemed clear to me that the Lieutenant had replied
in the negative about whether he was in danger," Ensign Forbes said
staunchly. "Despite what happened some hours later, I believe that at
the point that Tom contacted the ship neither he nor the Commander
knew what danger he was truly in."

Tuvok nodded at her reasoning, then steepled his fingers thoughtfully.

"If I were to tell you that the ship to surface transmission was
interrupted, and that the last transmission from this ship was the
Commander asking "Are you actually in danger?" would you still feel
as assured about your interpretation of the incident?" he asked.

The color drained from Ensign Forbes face as she contemplated his
words. Because she had heard Chakotay tell Tom to stop wasting his
time, she had naturally assumed that Tom must have said he *wasn't*
actually in danger. If Chakotay had spoken *after* the transmission
had ended, then Tom's answer could have been anything.

"Well?" Tuvok demanded.

Ensign Forbes raised her head proudly and looked Tuvok straight in
the face.

"Since it was Commander Chakotay speaking, I have absolutely no doubt
in my mind that my original interpretation was correct," she stated

"Very well, Ensign. That is all. You are dismissed," Tuvok replied.

He waited until she had left the room before he addressed the Captain
and Harry Kim.

"Although Ensign Forbes opinion is obviously influenced by her
respect for the Commander, and despite the fact that Mr Paris was
attacked shortly after his transmission was terminated, I see no
reason to suspect that the Commander *was* aware that Tom was truly
in danger. Let alone any reason to suppose that he would wish Mr.
Paris to be harmed," he told them.

"Perhaps you would now enlighten me as to the additional evidence
that apparently exists."


"He is out of danger," the Doctor pronounced finally. "He is
extremely fortunate that I have the experience of twenty surgeons to
draw on, although I doubt that a human Doctor could have performed
such a procedure."

Chakotay refused to rise to the bait. Hell, if the Doctor wanted a
medal he'd give him one.

He had told Kathryn that his Tom was dead, that "Paris" was nothing
to do with the man he had fallen in love with, and maybe at some
level that was true.

But this was the body he had caressed, this was the flesh that he had
touched and worshipped, this was the frail vessel that held the
strange personality that was Tom Paris.

That was the reality of the situation, he had realised, as he had sat
in his command chair, idly flicking through reports and had seen the
brief warning that a comm badge had malfunctioned.

His eyes had skipped over the detail at first, buried as it was in a
list of minor systems malfunctions. Then, with a feeling of sudden
inexplicable dread, he had queried exactly *which* comm badge had
registered as faulty on the computer.

He hadn't hesitated, hadn't worried whether Tom Paris's disappearance
would be the start of a new religion on the surface below, he had
located Tom Paris's bio-signal and had transported him directly into
sickbay, just in case.

And in so doing, he had finally realised that it *was* Tom Paris. Not
Tom. Not Paris. But a combination of the two. Somewhere, in Paris's
body, the person he knew as "Tom", *did* exist, and even if he could
never bring himself to forgive the pilot for his deception, it was
time that he let go of the hate at least.

His musing was interrupted by the opening of the sick bay doors.

"He's going to make it," he murmured thankfully to Tuvok.

Tuvok turned to the Doctor.

"Is he?" he demanded.

"Thanks to my expert surgery I can confidently confirm that Mr. Paris
will survive," the Doctor confirmed smugly.

Tuvok entered a correction into the data padd he was carrying.

"In that case, Commander. You are under arrest for the *attempted*
murder of Lieutenant Paris," he stated.