TITLE: "Guilty Until Proven Innocent"
CODE: Paris, Torres, Kim, Seska, J/C (implied) & P/T
FEEDBACK: Please feel free to send a little feedback. Please, no flames.
SUMMARY: Voyager's crew react to Tom Paris' murder conviction by the Baneans in Season 1's "Ex Post Facto".
DISCLAIMER: Sigh! All characters and etc. pertaining to Star Trek Voyager belongs to Paramount, Viacom and . . . well, you know who.
NOTE: I realize that "Ex Post Facto" was never a favorite with VOYAGER fans, but I have always wondered how many of them reacted to Tom's murder conviction - especially a certain Chief Engineer.
PROVEN INNOCENT" by RFK
B'Elanna burst into Sickbay and nearly blanched at the sight of her friend stretched out on a biobed. "Harry!" she cried and rushed to the ensign's side.
Poor Starfleet! His face looked ashen and tightly drawn. Dark circles formed beneath his eyes. B'Elanna's heart thumped rapidly at the frightening sight. "Kahless! Harry, what in the hell happened down there?"
"Ensign Kim is dehydrated," Voyager's holographic doctor replied in his usual dry tone. "Now, if you don't mind, I would like to finish treating him. Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Tuvok have caused enough delays." He gave B'Elanna a slight shove and leaned over his patient.
Angered by the EMH's rudeness, B'Elanna raised her arm in a threatening manner. "B'Elanna!" The Doctor's medical assistant placed a gentle hand on the half-Klingon's shoulder. "Don't mind the Doctor," Kes continued. "He's just as concerned as the rest of us." B'Elanna found that hard to believe. "It's just that he hasn't developed a bedside manner, yet."
And probably never will, B'Elanna silently added. She took a deep breath. Calm down, B'Elanna. This is no time to have a Klingon tantrum. "Do you know what happened, Kes?" she asked the Ocampan woman in a shaky voice. "Last I heard Harry and Paris were on the Banean home world, to receive information on how to repair our collimator."
"I . . ." Kes glanced uneasily at the two figures around the biobed. She gave a slight cough. "There was a little trouble with the Baneans, B'Elanna. Tom Paris was arrested four murder and the authorities held Ensign Kim for questioning."
Shock nearly rendered B'Elanna speechless - until she managed to squeak out a "What?" How in the hell did a friendly first contact develop into such a disaster? Naturally, she should have known that pig Paris was somehow responsible!
The Doctor pressed contents of a hypospray into Harry's neck. "Your hearing must be suffering, Lieutenant. Kes has just informed you that Lieutenant Paris was arrested for murder. Apparently, he had an affair with a married woman and killed her husband, who was working with Ensign Kim on your collimator."
"Doctor!" Kes protested.
Unfortunately for the Ocampan nurse, her protests failed to cease the EMH's runaway tongue. "And the reason Ensign Kim is suffering from dehydration," he continued, "is that the Banean authorities had questioned him for two days following Mister Paris' arrest. However, as of this moment, he is no longer in danger." He added with a smirk. "Thanks to me."
B'Elanna rolled her eyes. Someone needs to do something about the hologram's personality subroutines. B'Elanna had a good mind to see to that task, herself. In a patient voice, she asked, "Is Harry conscious? I would like to speak with him."
"I just gave the ensign a sedative. He needs at least a few hours of rest before I can release him from Sickbay. You can see him later." The Doctor sniffed before turning his back on B'Elanna.
A growl threatened to rise from the Chief Engineer's throat, but she held it back. Instead, she fixed the EHM's back with a Klingon version of Janeway's death glare and stalked out Sickbay.
* * * *
Harry Kim took a deep breath and stepped outside the turbolift. Upon releasing him from Sickbay, the Doctor had ordered Harry to eat a meal before retiring to his quarters for more rest. The young ensign had every intention of getting a bite. After two days of interrogation by the Baneans without a meal, his stomach literally cried for food. However, eating was not the only thing occupying Harry's mind at the moment. He worried about the fate of his friend, still held in custody by the Baneans.
His stomach rumbled. Gods, he really needs to eat something! Even Neelix's Talaxian cusine would suit him. Harry picked up his pace, rushing toward the Mess Hall. Until he collided with another figure coming from the opposite direction.
"What's the rush, Ensign?" Harry immediately recognized the soft, deep voice that belonged to Voyager's new First Officer. Nor could he help feel a little intimidated by the older man's presence. Although he had agreed with the Captain's decision to integrate the Maquis with the ship's crew, a small part of him could not help but wonder if Voyager might find itself facing a Maquis uprising. To be honest, B'Elanna Torres was the only former Maquis he completely trusted.
Chakotay stared at Harry. "Ensign? Is there a problem? I asked what was the rush."
"Oh." Harry flushed again. "Sorry, Commander. I . . . I'm really hungry right now. I haven't had a bite to eat in two days."
The First Officer nodded. "I understand. It must be a relief to finally be back on Voyager."
"Yes sir, it is." Harry frowned as a sobering thought hit him. "I only hope that we get Tom back in time. Who knows what else the Baneans are doing to him."
It happened in a flash. Harry noticed a slight stiffening of Commander Chakotay's shoulders at the mention of the Chief Pilot's name. Then . . . a smile tugged the corners of Chakotay's mouth. "Don't worry, Ensign. I'm sure the Captain won't leave him behind." His sincerity failed to reach his dark eyes, much to Harry's dismay.
The Mess Hall loomed ahead. Both men entered and walked straight for the new galley's counter. Lunch had drawn a heavy crowd. Harry took one look at the buffet displayed on the counter and headed for the nearest replicator. So did Chakotay.
Once Harry replicated a plate of angel hair pasta (Earth style) and shrimp, he glanced around the Mess Hall for a seat. Even after three-and-a-half months in the Delta Quadrant, the crew continued to segregate into Starfleet and Maquis cliques. Harry noticed that very few tables were filled with crewmen from both factions. His first instinct was to join a Starfleet table - until he saw B'Elanna signal him to join both her and Seska.
The half-Klingon smiled with relief at the sight of the newcomer. "Starfleet! I see that you've finally recovered. How are you feeling?"
Harry returned B'Elanna's smile with a wan one of his own. "Okay, I guess. I'm starving. Haven't had a bite in two days."
No sooner had he began to dig into his pasta, Chakotay joined them at the table. Seska glanced at the First Officer's food. "Goodness, Chakotay!" she exclaimed, laughing. "I've forgotten about your austere taste in food. Don't tell me. Mushroom soup and a salad?" Chakotay responded with a slight grimace.
Seska turned her attention to Harry and asked about his experiences with the Baneans. "I hear that Paris got arrested. What in the Prophets made them arrest in the first place?" The smirk on her face told Harry that she already knew the answer to her question.
Several pairs of eyes, including the three around his table, focused upon Harry. He found himself very reluctant to answer Seska's question. "I uh, . . . a misunderstanding on the Baneans' part," he lamely replied. Harry glanced at Chakotay, wondering if the latter had learned the truth from Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Tuvok.
"C'mon Starfleet," B'Elanna urged. "What actually happened down there? All I know is Paris had some affair with the wife of a Banean scientist. Is that true?"
Harry sighed. He might as well tell the truth. At least correct a few rumors that had obviously reached B'Elanna's ears. So he told them. About Tom's flirtation with the very attractive Lidell Ren, Dr. Ren's murder, Tom's and his arrest, his interrogation and Tom's conviction. The moment Harry saw the disgust in his companions' eyes, he regretted opening his mouth.
"The Doctor was right!" B'Elanna declared. "I can't believe that you nearly died of dehydration because Paris got an itch in his pants!" Her dark eyes glowered with rage. For a moment, Harry imagined her in full Klingon battle dress, brandishing a bat'leth.
Harry sighed. "It's not what you think, B'Elanna. I don't even know if Tom had . . . uh, well, had any relations with Mrs. Ren."
"You mean sex, Harry," B'Elanna retorted bluntly. "An affair. In other words, he screwed her."
"Nothing happened, as far as I know." The expressions on both B'Elanna and Seska's faces told Harry that they did not believe him. Commander Chakotay's face remained stoic as usual. Yet, Harry suspected that he shared the two women's opinions.
Seska leaned forward, her blue eyes gleaming with spite. "C'mon Ensign Kim. This is Tom Paris we're talking about. He'll go after anyone with breasts. I realize he's your friend, but something must have happened between him and that scientist's wife. Why else would he have committed murder?"
"Tom never killed anyone!" Harry angrily protested. He blushed with embarrassment over his outburst.
The smile on the Bajoran's lips stated otherwise. She added softly, "How do you know, Ensign? Were you there at the time of the murder?"
Harry opened his mouth to reply and found himself unable to speak. What could he do? Admit that he never witnessed Tom's dalliance with Mrs. Ren? Or the actual murder? To do so would play right into Seska's hands.
Seska's smile curled into a smirk. "Did you say something, Ensign?"
"No," Harry replied shortly. He glanced at his companions' faces. The smirk remained fixed on Seska's lips. Doubt had crept into Commander Chakotay's dark eyes. And as for B'Elanna, anger toward Tom still brimmed in her eyes - along with a touch of pity toward him. To hell with them! If they were so determined to condemn Tom without any evidence . . . He rose from his chair. "Excuse me," he growled.
B'Elanna frowned. "Where are you going, Starfleet? You haven't finished eating."
"Back to my quarters." Harry picked up his plate. "I've just lost my appetite." He marched toward the nearest recycler, dumped his plate and resumed his march out of the Mess Hall.
* * * *
The entire scene played inside Tom Paris's mind, over and over again. The image of him and the beautiful Lidell Ren, locked in a passionate embrace. The confrontation of the two lovers. The scuffle. The small blade that suddenly appeared in his hand. And him, shoving the blade forward.
Inside one of Voyager's turbolifts, Tom heaved a sigh of relief. For once, he did not have to relive those horrible moments with the use of the implanted Banean engrams. He had his own guilty thoughts to thank. But it seemed a hell of a lot better than listening to his inner thoughts consistently berate himself.
The turbolift doors slid open on Deck 2. Tom stepped out into the corridor. How could he have been so stupid? Getting involved with a married woman? And now, he found himself facing justice, Banean style. Reliving the murder through the victim's eyes every fourteen hours. Gods! Not only was such punishment psychological torture; but according to Voyager's holographic doctor, the engrams were causing a degenerative neural damage to his brain. The only alternate punishment seemed to be death by lethal injection.
When Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Tuvok had arrived on the Banea homeworld, Tom felt sure the Captain would wash her hands of him. Hell, just about everyone in his life had. And Tom suspected that everyone else aboard Voyager would gladly do the same, except for Harry. As it turned out, neither would Janeway. She insisted that the Banean First Minister release Tom to her custody. And she also ordered the Vulcan Security Chief to investigate the murder.
Since his return to Voyager, Tom had experienced another memory cycle, thanks to those damn engrams. The Doctor also treated his mild case of dehydration and ordered the Pilot to the Mess Hall for a much needed meal. Tom approached his destination, filled with trepidation. He had only encountered a handful of crewmen since his return. Judging from their reactions, the story of his arrest had not circulated throughout the ship. At least, not yet. However, it was only a matter of time.
Tom stepped inside the Mess Hall and all conversation stopped. Eyes that reflected smugness, suspicion and pure dislike stared at him. It seemed that time had arrived. Maybe not the entire crew knew what happened, but the occupants inside the Mess Hall obviously knew. The Paris assumed its position. Ignoring the stares, Tom strode toward the galley's counter.
"Afternoon Neelix," Tom greeted the Talaxian. "What's for lunch?"
The usually gregarious cook returned Tom's greeting in a manner one would not describe as friendly. "There it is," Neelix curtly replied, pointing out the buffet spread across the counter. "Take your pick."
Tom found himself on the verge of buckling under the suspicious stares and Neelix's coldness. But he was a Paris. He refused to give the others the pleasure of his public humiliation. Unless Tuvok discover the truth, he seemed doomed to have his brains fried by the engrams or his life cut short by a lethal injection. With his reputation further blackened.
After giving the Talaxian a cool stare of his own, Tom pointed to what looked like stew and some bread. Neelix picked up a tray and began to serve the food. Meanwhile, Tom helped himself to a glass of juice. Then he took his tray from the cook and murmured a quiet "thanks". The Talaxian responded with a derogative sniff. So much for politeness.
A quick scan of the dining room revealed an empty table next to one of the viewports. Unfortunately, Chakotay and Seska occupied the table next to it. Great! Tom sighed and headed for the empty table. The moment he sat down, conversation recommenced. Tom dug into his food. Hell, it was a lot better than meeting the contemptuous stares pointed at him. A few minutes later, his efforts to maintain a sense of privacy was dashed by Seska's mouth.
"I never thought I'd live to see this day, Chakotay," Tom heard the Bajoran ooze with spite.
Chakotay responded with a weary sigh. "What are you getting at, Seska?"
"Haven't you seen who is sitting at the table behind you?"
Tom kept his eyes glued to his food.
The First Officer coolly replied, "I know who's there."
A soft chuckle followed. "I'm sure you do, Chakotay. But don't you find it odd? That Captain Janeway would allow a convicted criminal to roam free aboard a Federation starship?"
"Seska . . ."
"Oh, I know what you're going to say. The Federation already considers the Maquis criminals. But at least none of us have served time in a prison." Seska paused dramatically. "Or committed adultery and murder. But then, none of the Maquis is the Captain's personal reclamation project. Isn't that what you once called the young Lieutenant, Chakotay?"
The Mess Hall fell silent for a second time. Tom's eyes focused on something other than his food - namely the First Officer's stiff back. "Cut it out, Seska!" the older man finally grumbled. "No one wants to deal with your crap!"
Seska's mouth formed a pout. Tom chuckled. Bajoran eyes narrowed dangerously glared at him. "You find something amusing, Lieutenant Paris?"
Tom smirked. "Well, there is you."
"What the hell is that suppose to mean?" Seska rose from her chair like an angry, red-haired goddess. Chakotay ordered her to sit down, but she ignored him. "What did you mean by that little comment?"
Tom continued, "For a woman who prides herself on being coy and subtle, you're not very good at it. If you want to insult me, Seska, do so. You don't need a third party."
Rage reflecting in her eyes, Seska stalked toward Tom's table. "In that case, Mister Paris," she hissed, looming over him, "I think you're contemptible. You're a liar, a traitor and definitely capable of murdering that Banean scientist. In fact, I don't see why Janeway would even bother trying to get you exonerated. I would have left you on that planet to rot!"
Ignoring the murmurs of approval from other diners, Tom allowed a slow smile to stretch across his face. "Gee Seska, I didn't realize you were going to take my situation so personal. Did I hit a nerve?"
"You hit nothing, Mr. Son-of-a-Starfleet Admiral!" Seska snapped back.
"What the hell? What's that suppose to mean?"
Tom shot back, "Take a wild guess."
Seska's trim body trembled in rage. "Listen, you piece of scum! If you think I'm a person of no morality, may I remind you that I joined the Maquis . . ."
"Yeah, I know, for a cause. You joined the Maquis out of protest against the Cardassian occupation of the DMZ. At least . . ." Tom gave his own version of a dramatic pause. "At least, that's what you say. Of course, I have my own opinion on that subject." Seska's face paled at his words.
Then Chakotay finally acted and rose from his chair. "That's enough, Paris!" he barked, glaring at the younger man.
"What?" Tom stared at the First Officer with innocent eyes. "I wasn't the one who started this conversation."
Anger mingled with embarrassment in Chakotay's dark eyes. He let out a gust of breath and stood next to the Bajoran. "Let's go, Seska. This conversation is over. Now."
"But Chakotay . . ."
"Now, Seska!" he insisted. "Let's go!" He grabbed the woman's arm. "Or do I have to drag you out of here?"
Dark eyes stared hard at Seska. She glared back. To Tom's amusement, she wilted under Chakotay's authoritive manner. "Fine!" she snapped. "I'll leave!" Seska's eyes bored into Tom's. "I'll see you later, Paris. Then again, maybe not, if the Baneans have their way!" She stalked out of the Mess Hall with Chakotay close at her heels.
Tom allowed himself a quiet chuckle. It was a rare moment when someone managed to get under Seska's skin. And he felt proud to be that person. However . . . her reaction to his comments about her time in the Maquis had surprised him. Had stumbled upon a secret of hers? Interesting.
A pair of eyes belonging to a crewman, glaring at him from another table attracted Tom's attention. Judging from the pips on the man's collar, an ensign. Tom stared back. "May I help you, Ensign?" he asked. The ensign looked away.
Another smile touched Tom's lips. He may be a doomed man, but at least he managed to have some fun before those engrams fried his brains for good. His combadge chirped. "Tuvok to Paris," the Vulcan's voice said. "Please report to Sickbay as soon as possible."
"I'll be there in a few minutes," Tom responded. "Paris out." So much for lunch. Tom tossed his spoon onto the tray. Oh well. This stew was not doing much for his appetite, anyway.
* * * *
A disturbing image from that last hour on the Bridge replayed in B'Elanna's mind, while she headed for Engineering. Had she just witnessed the impossible? At least what her mind and emotions considered the impossible. The idea of those two as a couple . . . Impossible! He was Maquis and she was Starfleet. There was no way that two people of such disparate backgrounds could form a successful relationship. At least B'Elanna hoped.
"Hey B'Elanna!" Ensign Hogan greeted the half-Klingon after she entered Engineering. Like her, Hogan was a former member of Chakotay's Maquis cell. His intense face lit up with excitement. "Did you hear?"
She growled back, "Hear what?"
Hogan followed B'Elanna to her office. "About Seska and Paris. They had a fight in the Mess Hall."
"What?" B'Elanna stared at her subordinate. "Kahless! How in the hell . . . what happened?" Before Hogan could respond, B'Elanna spotted her close friend walking toward one of the consoles near the warp core. "Seska!" She rushed out of her office with Hogan right behind her. Both caught up with the Bajoran engineer. "Seska! What's this I hear about you and Paris?"
Anger illuminated Seska's blue eyes. "It's nothing. We had a little spat in the Mess Hall." By now, two other crewmen had joined the small group - another former Maquis named Mike Jonas and an attractive dark-haired Fleeter named Sue Nicoletti.
"About what?" B'Elanna demanded. If Paris had insulted any former Maquis . . .
Seska heaved a large sigh. B'Elanna almost rolled her eyes. The former could be overdramatic at times. "It's nothing," the Bajoran insisted. "Just . . . well, Paris had made some comment about my time in the Maquis and I lost my temper."
"Why would he do that?" Nicoletti asked, earning a glare from Seska.
B'Elanna, who was very familiar with her friend's traits, added, "C'mon Seska. Give. I may detest Paris, but I also know you. You must have said something to piss him off."
"All right," Seska admitted. She punched a few sequences into the console. "I may have said something about what happened to him on the Banean homeworld." B'Elanna responded with a shake of the head. "What? Don't tell me that you sympathize with that scum?"
"I don't," B'Elanna replied shortly. "But you did start the fight, didn't you?"
Seska opened her mouth to reply, but remained silent. Jonas added, "If you ask me, I don't see why Janeway allows that murderer to roam free on the ship." A scowl appeared on his usually placid face.
"He's Starfleet," Hogan brutally explained. "What else is there to say?"
Hogan's remark spurred a spirited response from Nicoletti. Her pretty face twisted with distaste. "Tom Paris is not Starfleet," she said with great emphasis. "Not as far as we're concerned."
"What about his father?"
Sue shot back, "What about him? He washed his hands of Paris a long time ago."
"Then how do you explain Janeway giving him the Conn? And letting him roam the ship, despite being convicted of murder? I even hear that Tuvok was ordered to exonerate him."
It was B'Elanna
who answered Hogan's question. "
A low whistle emitted from Hogan's lips. "I guess Paris is getting a little payback, after all."
"Huh!" Jonas grunted. "I still think he needs his ass kicked. Maybe some of us should do it, ourselves."
"Hear, hear!" Seska cried. A smile curled her lips. "Maybe a little Maquis operation is in order." She glanced at Nicoletti. The latter squirmed with discomfort. "Something wrong, Nicoletti? I would think you Fleeters wouldn't mind getting into the action, considering how much you dislike Paris."
Nicoletti looked away and returned to her duties. Seska sniffed. B'Elanna, as head of Engineering, decided it was time to nip Jonas' idea in the bud. Even if she liked it. "There isn't going to be any Maquis or Starfleet operation against Paris. So why don't we all end this conversation now? I'm not ready to find myself in Chakatoy or Janeway's bad graces. And I think neither are you."
"What's the matter, Lieutenant?" A smirk formed on Seska's lips. "Afraid of losing your precious position as Chief Engineer?" Both Hogan and Jonas chuckled.
B'Elanna coolly replied, "Let me put it this way. Do any of you want to serve under Carey or another Fleeter?"
The idea seemed to have cooled the other ex-Maquis' ideas of any "operations" against Tom Paris. Hogan and Jonas returned to their duties. Seska turned away from her task to face B'Elanna. "What was going on while you were gone? I thought I felt Voyager encounter phaser fire."
B'Elanna told the Bajoran about Voyager's encounter with several Numeri ships. "They tried to board us. I guess they didn't care for any of us visiting the Banean homeworld. Chakotay . . . he had suggested we use an old Maquis trick to drive them off." Her lips quirked into a small smile. "You know, the one we used against the Cardies near ________ Prime."
Seska returned her attention to the console. "I'll bet Janeway snipped that idea in the bud."
"Actually, she didn't. She told . . ." B'Elanna paused, recalling the conversation between the red-haired captain and the First Officer. And the electricity that seemed to flow between the two. And electricity that hinted a future B'Elanna personally found unappealing.
"What did Janeway say?" Seska insisted.
The half-Klingon snapped out of her reverie, aware of a pair of narrowed eyes staring at her. She let out a gust of breath. "Nothing. Just . . . Janeway said that the trick was very old."
Seska grunted. "I'll bet that pissed off Chakotay."
"Not really," B'Elanna replied in a soft voice, recalling Chakotay's expression. "In fact, he seemed . . . amused."
The look on Seska's face told B'Elanna that the former did not care for that description anymore than she did. "Hmmmph," the Bajoran commented before turning away from B'Elanna. "Does that mean we'll be encountering the Numeri again?"
Thankful for the change of subject, B'Elanna replied, "I suppose so. Especially if Lieutenant Tuvok and Janeway have to return to the Banea to clear up this matter with Paris."
"Personally, I think Tuvok's investigation is a waste of time," Seska added in a sardonic voice. "Even if he wanted to, there is nothing he can find that will exonerate Paris. The man is a liar and a murderer. I say Janeway should wash her hands of him and toss him back to the Baneans."
B'Elanna remained silent. How could she argue with the truth?
* * * *
Tuvok came to the conclusion that he had finally arrived at the truth. Lieutenant Paris did not murder Dr. Ren. In fact, the volatile pilot was nothing more than a scapegoat of a more insidious plot.
Inside his quarters, the Security Chief sat on the floor with his eyes closed. Only he was not deep in another meditation session. Instead, his mind raced over the details and revelations he had unearthed during his investigation of Dr. Ren's murder.
The widow of the murder victim entered his thoughts. Lidell Ren. One would say she was a very attractive woman, fully aware of her charms and ability to seduce. Lieutenant Paris seemed the obvious type who would find her attractive and act upon his feelings. However, Tuvok could not see the volatile pilot kill for her. Even Mister Paris was intelligent enough not to take such a woman like Mrs. Ren seriously.
A mind meld Tuvok had conducted with the pilot had revealed the latter's belief in his innocence. Despite the engrams. And although the meld clearly painted Mister Paris as the perpetrator, Tuvok found a few details questionable. First, the pilot had allegedly plunged the knife into Dr. Ren's heart, which was located in the same spot as the Human stomach. Tuvok found it illogical that an offworlder like Mister Paris know the exact location of the Banean heart. He also noticed that both the pilot and the widow seemed to be the exact height in the memory engrams. Yet, after meeting Mrs. Ren, Tuvok noticed that he was taller than the Banean widow and Lieutenant Paris was taller than both of them. And there was the matter of the mysterious inscriptions included in the ex-convict's memories. What did they mean and why were they included?
One last detail concerned Tuvok. To prove a theory, he had asked Captain Janeway to send Lieutenant Paris and Ensign Kim to the Banean homeworld in one of Voyager's shuttles. The Numeri ships, to everyone's surprise, went after the shuttle, instead of Voyager. Their actions not only confirmed Mister Paris' innocence, but the identity and motive of the true murderer.
Tuvok's eyes flew open. He tapped his combadge and suggested to the Captain that they make another trip to the Banean homeworld. And that Lieutenant Paris and Ensign Kim should join them.
* * * *
"What was that you said to Tuvok in the Mess Hall?" Harry asked Tom. The two friends sat inside Sandrine's, each enjoying an after-duty drink.
Tom took a sip of his bourbon and grimaced. Synthehol. Someday, he would have to find a way to replicate genuine alcohol. "I merely thanked him for helping me and told him he had a friend."
"A friend?" Harry snorted. "Lieutenant Tuvok was just doing his job, Tom. I doubt he really believed you were innocent."
"Maybe. But he didn't naturally assume I was guilty, either." Tom forced himself to take another sip. "Unlike many others on this ship. You know, when we first went to Banea, I had no idea I would end up as a courier for spies."
Harry shook his head and swallowed a mouthful of brandy. Unlike Tom, he seemed to enjoy his drink. "Or have a dog exonerate you for murder. You were very lucky, buddy! Very lucky. Maybe this will teach you to be a little more circumspect about the fair sex."
Tom gave his friend a hard stare. "Is this your way of getting back at me for that remark I made inside the shuttle, Harry?"
Dark eyes shined with innocence. Not very convincingly, as far as Tom was concerned. "What remark?" the younger man asked.
"You know. The one about you never finding romance with the wrong woman." Tom's eyes narrowed. "I was serious, Harry. It could happen to you. You're only human and I wouldn't dismiss the possibility if I were you."
Harry responded with a knowing smile. "Knowing you, Paris, you just might set me up with a woman like Lidell Ren. Just to make your point."
Poor Harry. Tom shook his head. He valued the young ensign as a good friend and decent guy. But the latter also possessed an unshakable arrogance regarding his sense of morality. Just like any good little Starfleet officer. Tom also realized that many of the Maquis shared a similar sense of self-righteousness. How long would this morality last under decades in the Delta Quadrant?
Two crewmen passed their table. Starfleet, judging by the pips on their collars. They gave Harry a polite nod. And ignored Tom. "I can't believe this!" Harry protested. "Tuvok had cleared you of murder and they still treat you like a pariah!"
Tom shrugged in an attempt to mask the slight hurt. "Forget it, Harry. The crew has other reasons to dislike me. Like my prison sentence and getting cashiered out of Starfleet."
"How long are they going to hold that against you?"
A bitter smile touched Tom's lips. "Forever? Hell, the Maquis practically hate my guts! I'm sure everyone is disappointed that I haven't been executed. Or had my brains fried by now."
The tavern's wooden doors swung open, revealing B'Elanna Torres. "Oh great!" Tom muttered. "Look who's here!"
The two friends watched the half-Klingon sauntered toward their table. She took one look at Tom and hesitated. Hostility filled her eyes.
"B'Elanna!" Harry cried, waving at the Chief Engineer to join them. "Over here!" Tom suppressed his disappointment, as B'Elanna walked over to the table and slid into the booth, next to Harry.
She flashed a quick smile at the young ensign. "Hey Starfleet." A frown creased her ridged brow as she faced Tom. "Paris." After ordering a glass of scotch from Sandrine, she asked, "You didn't show up in the Mess Hall for dinner. Where were you?"
"Here," Harry replied. "We decided to replicate dinner here at Sandrines. It was pleeka rind casserole night. What can you say?"
Tom added in a low voice, "I can think of a few choice words. But I don't think they will make Neelix happy."
His comment was met with an amused grin from Harry and a stony glare from Torres. Tom wondered if the half-Klingon had a sense of humor. Or maybe she had been under Chakotay's influence too long. "Something bothering you, Torres?" he asked.
Her eyes glittering, the engineer shot back, "Yeah, the company."
"That's funny. As I recall, I was here first." Tom gave B'Elanna an acid smile.
A wall of silence surrounded the trio. Then B'Elanna slid out of the booth, signaling her departure. Harry stopped her before she could leave. "Wait a minute!" he cried. "Where are you going, Maquis?"
"To find better company," she growled, glaring at Tom.
"C'mon! Stay with us. This is supposed to be a celebration for Tom. For his exoneration."
B'Elanna sniffed. "That's not a reason for me to celebrate."
Tom added in a curt voice, "Let her go, Harry. The last thing I need is to spend my free time with another one of Chakotay's noble warriors. Especially one who still thinks I'm guilty."
"I never said you were guilty!" B'Elanna shot back.
"Of course you did," Tom retorted. "You just never said it to my face. I'll bet you even told Harry." The two engineers exchanged uneasy glances. Tom noticed. "Oh. I see you have."
Harry turned to the pilot. "Look Tom, I'm sorry about that. I was talking with B'Elanna and Seska and it just came . . ."
"What are you apologizing for, Starfleet?" B'Elanna growled. She slid back into the booth. "At least you didn't screw some married woman! Or get your best friend behind bars for two days!"
Tom added, "You forgot to mention it was for accessory to murder."
Fierce brown eyes turned on the Chief Helmsman. "Everything's a joke to you, isn't it Paris? Someone always has to pay for your irresponsibility! Harry almost died after the Baneans interrogated him and yet, you laugh over the entire matter!"
"Hey! B'Elanna!" Harry protested. "Tom has already apo . . ."
However, the Chief Engineer's tongue seemed to be on a roll. Tom noticed that Sandrine's other inhabitants seemed interested in what she had to say. "Tell me Paris, did you laugh after you crashed that shuttle at Caldik Prime? Or when you sold the Maquis to the Federation?"
Caldik Prime. Torres' comment brought up guilty memories of that infamous moment in his life. It also sparked a growing anger within Tom. Anger and resentment over her assumption that he had felt no remorse toward the deaths of his late friends. Like nearly every person he has encountered in his life, Torres made assumptions about his character without bothering to learn anything about him.
His body grew tense. A low, deep anger resonated in Tom's voice. "As far as I'm concerned, Torres," he growled, "the topic of Caldik Prime is off limits." The half-Klingon's face paled suddenly. Harry stared at Tom, his mouth gaped open. "And as for your precious Maquis," Tom continued heatedly, "I joined because I needed money."
"Mercenary!" B'Elanna spat out in disgust.
Coldly, Tom replied, "If you say so. However, that didn't stop the good Commander from recruiting me. And yet, from the moment I joined his cell, Chakotay and the others made it quite clear that I was nothing more than a mercenary and treated me like one. They never gave me a chance to prove otherwise."
"What did you expect?" B'Elanna shot back.
"What's the matter, Torres?" Tom snarled. "You don't believe in giving someone a second chance? Isn't that what the Captain and Chakotay did for you? Hey, I may not be the straight arrow type around Harry, Kes or the Captain. Yet, at least they gave me a chance to prove I was more than some good-for-nothing, not worth their time. I can't say the same for your precious Maquis. And if you expect me to feel guilty for how I came aboard Voyager, you'll be holding your breath." Tom slid out of the booth. "For a long time. Now if you'll excuse me, this place has gotten a little too crowded for me." Tom glared at B'Elanna before he marched out of the holodeck.
* * * *
The chatter inside Sandrine's ceased to exist following Tom's departure. Barely a soul made a sound, aside from one crewman who coughed. Too embarrassed to speak himself, Harry finished his brandy in two gulps. Then the chatter returned, much to his relief.
A familiar figure, Sue Nicoletti, approached Harry and B'Elanna's table, carrying a glass of wine. "What was that about?" she asked, nodding toward the tavern's doors.
"Nothing," Harry replied. "Nothing at all." He signaled Sandrine. The tavern owner appeared and Harry ordered another glass of brandy.
A trembling B'Elanna finally recovered from her bout of silence. "Just Paris deluding himself that he has something to be righteous about." Her response produced a chuckle from Sue.
Harry remained silent, staring at the table's wooden surface. "Maybe he does," he mumbled darkly. The two women stared at him. "Let's face it, Tom has made mistakes in his life, but he's no murderer." He glanced up. "And he's not cold-blooded, despite what others may think."
Nicoletti quickly returned to her other companions. A deep flush colored B'Elanna's olive-skinned face. "Okay, maybe I was a little out of hand about him being cold-blooded. But you can't deny that he had no business messing around with that Banean woman."
"He apologized about that, B'Elanna," Harry retorted.
B'Elanna added, "And the Maquis? Can you blame us for hating him, after he sold us to Janeway?"
"What are you talking about? Tom had been in prison for nearly a year before the Captain recruited him! How would he have known your last position?"
Persistent to the end, B'Elanna retorted, "That didn't stop him from accepting Janeway's offer to help her find us!"
Harry immediately replied, "B'Elanna, in a way, Tom had no choice. The Captain had insisted on bringing him along; even after he told her that using him to track you down would be useless."
"Yeah, right," B'Elanna mumbled. "I suppose Paris told you this."
Harry stared at his friend through narrowed eyes. "It was the Captain who told me, B'Elanna. We were talking about how a Starfleet officer can utilize any resource. She realized that bringing Tom aboard may have been a shot in the dark, but she did it anyway. And that it all worked out in the end, with Voyager being stuck in the Delta Quadrant with a top-notch pilot like Tom."
The half-Klingon opened her mouth to respond, but as before, was rendered speechless. Sandrine returned with Harry's second brandy. He took a sip. "Look Maquis, Tom may not be the easiest person to deal with, but who is? You certainly aren't. And I know I can be very irritating sometimes. Yet, look at us. We managed to become friends. So when are you going to give Tom a chance to become your friend?"
Dark brown eyes belonging to the chief engineer blinked. Harry looked away and returned his attention to his drink. For once, B'Elanna had no ready answer on the tip of her tongue. Perhaps his words had finally penetrated her stubborn brain. Make her realize that Tom Paris might be a worthy friend to have. Harry hoped so. Because he had no idea how long he can endure being torn between his two best friends.
* * * *
B'Elanna sat on the sofa inside the Mess Hall, staring the stars beyond the viewport. She allowed herself a heartfelt sigh and rested her hand upon her slightly protruding belly.
"Is everything fine, B'Elanna?" an anxious voice behind her, asked.
The Chief Engineer
glanced up and found herself looking into the
"Oh?" Neelix joined B'Elanna on the sofa. "Remembering what?"
B'Elanna's gaze returned to the viewport. "Do you know what today is, Neelix?" When the Talaxian shook his head, she continued, "Six years ago today, Tuvok had exonerated Tom for murder."
Bushy eyebrows flew upward. "Murder? When was Tom . . .?" Realization dawned in his orange-yellow eyes. "Oh! The Baneans!"
A wry smile touched B'Elanna's lips. "I wondered if you would remember."
"Well, you did mention Tom and murder in the same breath. It didn't take me long to figure out that you meant that Banean scientist and his wife. I'm only surprised that you remembered."
B'Elanna replied in an arch tone, "Believe me, Neelix. That is one memory I will never forget. I learned an important lesson that day, thanks to Harry."
Neelix gave B'Elanna a shrewd look. "I think a lot of us learned the same lesson. Only it took me nearly six months later to finally learn it." He paused. "Did you really believe that Tom was guilty of murder?"
"I had believed that Tom was guilty of a lot of things, back then," B'Elanna said softly. "Murder was just one of them. I wasn't exactly a big fan of his. It's amazing how quick we were to judge him without any real evidence."
"You have to admit that Tom didn't make it easy for us back in those days."
B'Elanna's smile faded. "Maybe not. But that was no excuse. Whatever bad attitude Tom had in those days, it didn't stop him from making friends with Harry or Kes. Or the Captain from trusting him. They gave him a chance. We didn't."
Silence fell between the two friends. They were so deep in their memories that they failed to hear the Mess Hall's doors slide open. The next thing B'Elanna knew, a large pair of warm hands had covered her eyes. "Guess who," a familiar voice whispered.
B'Elanna inhaled. Every nerve in her body tingled with delight. She would recognized those pheromones anywhere. "Hmmmm," she murmured in a playful manner. "Freddie Barstow?"
"Hey!" Tom removed his hands, as B'Elanna began to giggle. A wide grin spread across Neelix's face. "Excuse me, Neelix." Tom frowned, although B'Elanna could see that it had failed to reach his eyes. "I need to discuss something with my wife. Namely, her misplaced sense of humor."
Still grinning, Neelix stood up and returned to the galley. Tom immediately occupied the empty seat. "Freddie Barstow, huh?" he growled with mock menace. Then his frown disappeared and Tom planted a warm kiss at the edge of B'Elanna's mouth. "You're lucky I'm in a good mood tonight, or I would have made you pay for that little remark."
Again, B'Elanna giggled. "Oh? Exactly how would you make me pay?" she purred, leaning toward her husband.
"Like this." Tom lowered his mouth upon B'Elanna's. The playful mood vanished and the air between them was soon filled with desire. The kiss became a passionate exploration of each other's mouth. B'Elanna would have happily continued, but sounds of rattling pots and pans reminded her of a third presence inside the Mess Hall.
"Uh Tom?" B'Elanna said in a husky voice. It was hard to ignore the warm tongue that flickered back and forth behind her ear. With great reluctance, she broke away from her husband's embrace. "Sorry to do this, but . . ." B'Elanna nodded toward the direction of the galley. "Neelix."
A sigh left Tom's mouth. "Oh yeah, Neelix." He gave his wife one last nip on the chin, before leaning back on the sofa. "So what were you two talking about?" he asked.
B'Elanna replied, "Nothing." She paused. "I just remembered an anniversary, that's all."
After a brief hesitation, B'Elanna continued, "Well, today is the sixth anniversary of the date Tuvok had cleared you of the murder of that Banean scientist. Remember Dr. Ren?"
"How could I forget him?" Tom said with a groan. "And his lovely wife, Lidell Ren. Gods, what was I thinking?"
Another giggle escaped B'Elanna's mouth. "That's a good question, Flyboy. I thought you were a better judge of character than that." A small part of her felt amazed that she could tease Tom about his past interest in another woman. Something she could have never done, three years ago. Or maybe even last year.
Tom shook his head. "What can I say? I was young, stupid and horny. Don't forget, I had only been out of prison for over three months. My libido was a little out of control, at the time. I could see that Lidell's marriage was already dead and she was no longer interested in her husband. Besides, I never thought she was an angel. Just bored and horny. I never realized she wanted me as a scapegoat for her little scheme."
"You call murder and espionage, a little scheme? Hmmph!" B'Elanna held out her hand. "Help me up, Hotshot."
Tom rose from the sofa and helped his wife to her feet. Then husband and wife started toward the exit. "You can close up now, Neelix," Tom said to the Talaxian. "We're leaving."
"Oh?" Neelix's head popped up from behind the counter. "You two are leaving already?"
"It's getting late." Tom's lips formed a slight smirk. "And the missus over here, needs her beauty sleep." His joke produced a playful punch from 'the missus'.
Disappointment creased Neelix's countenance, as he stood up. "That's too bad. I was in the mood for a little talk. I wanted to ask you something."
The Talaxian continued, "All this talk about the Baneans reminded me of that little spat you had with Seska in the Mess Hall." Mention of Voyager's former adversary drew groans from both B'Elanna and Tom. "Do you remember that day? You made some questionable remark about Seska' time in the Maquis."
A sly grin appeared on Tom's face. "Oh yeah. I remember."
"I'm curious. How did you know she was a Cardassian?"
B'Elanna replied, "He didn't."
Confusion whirled in Neelix's eyes. "I don't understand."
"I never suspected that Seska was a Cardassian," Tom added. "I thought she was one of those Bajorans who had collaborated with the Cardies during their occupation. During the few weeks I was with the Maquis, there were too many close calls that made me wonder if there was a spy in Chakotay's cell."
Neelix turned to B'Elanna. "Did you feel the same?"
"I never met Tom, while he was in the Maquis," B'Elanna replied. "I did join before he did, but I was involved in the construction of a new starship around the same time."
Tom continued, "And there was always something about Seska's eyes that I didn't like."
"Too Cardassian?" Neelix asked.
"No. Her being Cardassian had nothing to do with it. She just had the eyes of someone you couldn't trust. Like B'Elanna's old buddy, Max Burke," added.
The mention of her former Academy boyfriend and his betrayal drew a slight wince from B'Elanna. Thanks a lot, Tom, she thought. But she quickly shot back with her own reminder. "You may also want to include your old buddy, Lidell Ren," she added sweetly.
"Ouch!" This time, it was Tom's turn to wince. "Thanks for reminding me."
Neelix sighed. "You know, with us remembering the old days like this, I might want to write my memoirs. Something like 'A Talaxian's Journey Through the Delta Quadrant'. I'll be sure to add both of you."
The idea did not exactly sit well with B'Elanna. She could only guess what Neelix might write about her. The Chief Engineer could barely stand the idea of Starfleet Academy possessing a complete file on her life. "That's nice, Neelix," she said with little enthusiasm. One glance at her husband told Tom that he shared her feelings. "Well, it's time to go." She tugged at Tom's arm. "See you later, Neelix."
Tom added, "Good night."
"Good night you two," the Talaxian responded.
Once the couple stood outside the Mess Hall, B'Elanna turned to Tom. "We're going to be mentioned in his memoirs?"
"It's just an idea," Tom said in a placating voice.
B'Elanna growled, "It had better be. For his sake." She and Tom continued toward the turbolift, while she contemplated on ways to sabotage the Talaxian's computer logs without anyone finding out.