Ex-Mercenary On Loan
By Daniela Signor
Captain Janeway looked up as her chief engineer dropped down into a seat along the table.
" So good of you to join us. " Janeway stated at this late arrival.
" Sorry Captain, problem in engineering and it is are only going to get worse, we need a new source of kintaria ore - quickly and high grade and at least 2 cubic meters. " Lt. B'Elanna Torres ended.
" Anything you want to add to that list? " Commander Chakotay questioned, grinning slightly at Torres' delivery.
" Tied up with a pink ribbon? " asked Lt. Tom Paris, unable to resist adding to the conversation.
Janeway quickly interrupted before Torres could snap back at Paris.
" Gentlemen, this is not a matter to make light. Exactly how serious is it B'Elanna? "
" Very Captain, I estimate three to four weeks before our current supply is exhausted. "
" Well people, any suggestion? "
" No planets we have passed recently showed any high levels of minerals and no likely possibilities on long range scanners. " Ensign Harry Kim reported.
" Captain, if I may " began Neelix as he leaned over Harry's datapad, " we are approaching one area where we will definitely be able to locate some kintaria ore. Ah here it is. " Neelix transferred the star chart to the main display, " this planet, fourth in the system. "
" It does not appear very habitable. " observed Tuvok.
" It isn't, the air is breathable barely, but only the southern continent has temperatures suitable for life, the continent is also permanently in a state of night, no sun light reaches it. "
" This planet has a large mineral deposit on it then? " Janeway asked in disbelief.
" No, the planet is generally considered to have nothing of value. " Neelix corrected.
" Then where is the ore? " demanded Torres
" The planet has one city call Mos Tanna, in this city one can be guarantee the ability to buy anything if one has enough money. " Neelix explained.
" A smuggler's den, " deduced Tom, a small smile growing on his face.
" This matter with the ore could become very serious, very quickly Captain. A little side trip to this city should only take us .. ", Tom did a quick calculation, " 2 days off our present course, very minor and nothing in the way. Should be a nice smooth ride. "
" Mr Paris, I get the feeling you would like us to visit this town Mos Tanna? " Janeway asked, smiling slightly at Tom's observations.
" Yes Captain, it may cost us some replicator rations but I am sure we can get some very high grade kintaria ore for Torres .. though I'm doubtful about the pink ribbon. "
" Shut up Tom! " was all Torres added.
" Neelix, is Mr Paris correct, is this a smuggler's den? " Janeway asked.
" Um yes Captain, dealings are mainly made with stolen goods .. but I have a few contacts down there, I'm sure I can get us a reasonable deal. "
" Very well, Mr Paris alter our course to take us to Mos Tanna. "
" Aye Captain. "
" Dismissed. "
All exited the conference room.
Four hours from Mos Tanna, Janeway again called her senior staff to a meeting.
" I'm keeping Voyager hidden from any planet sensors so the away team will have to take Neelix's ship, if that is agreeable with you Neelix. " Neelix nodded his permission. " I would also like you to go with the away team and arrange the purchase, Tom I want you to fly the ship and Chakotay , you will be in command. I want you all to go in as traders, any questions? " Janeway asked.
" No Captain, " came the response from the crew.
" Very well dismissed, I'd like the away team to be ready to depart at 1400. "
Most of the crew departed leaving only Janeway and Chakotay in the room.
" Am I too assume my duties on this away mission include keeping an eye on Paris. " Chakotay asked.
" Yes Chakotay, Tom seems excited over going to this town. " Janeway stated, bemused.
" I think I know why and to some extent I feel the same way. "
" Really, why? "
" Voyager is a federation starship even on the other side of the galaxy from the federation starfleet headquarters. There is a certain . freedom missing on this ship, the kind of no rules, anything goes kind of freedom. I experienced this kind of freedom to a certain degree with the marquis. I would say when Paris was no longer with starfleet and before he met up with the marquis, he experienced this freedom fully. " explained Chakotay.
" Tom never talks about that time, I'd assumed there was nothing he wanted to remember. "
" I would agree with you but I think that that time in his life has some good moments for Paris, otherwise I don't think he would be here with us today. " Chakotay concluded in a serious tone.
After a small pause he continued in a lighter tone, " One of my first experiences with Tom was in a small bar on the wrong side of town on a backwater planet. I came in during a bar fight, a normal event and in the middle of it all, grinning widely was Tom Paris. He was fighting anyone who came near him, holding his ground, yelling something about ' long life to all montocks ' and so drunk he could barely stand. " Chakotay smiled at the memory.
" What happened? " Janeway asked, fascinated by this glimpse into Tom's past.
" A kaletaran got under Paris' guard and manage to head butt him in the chest, Paris was horned in the left shoulder. He stood there, left arm now useless, bleeding from his shoulder and began to laugh, his laugh was full and booming. It surprised all the other fighters so much they all stop to find out what was so funny. Paris then threw his good arm around the kaletaran and stopped laughing long enough to congratulate him on his manoeuvre and to demand he buy Paris a drink before Paris sobered enough to feel the pain. " Chakotay shook his head in disbelief, even after all these years what happen next never ceased to amaze him. " and the kaletaran did, he bought Paris a drink! "
" I dont believe it. " Janeway stated, klingons were considered a very friendly race when compared to the kaletarans.
" If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. " Chakotay agreed.
" Well, " Janeway sat back in her seat, " I'm surprised Tom hasn't shared that story. "
" I'm not sure Paris remembers, that horn must of hurt but he didn't react, it was one of the reasons I left the bar. If Paris was now injured and in such a state of intoxication, he was no use to the marquis. "
" But if you don't believe he remembers then why do you think he misses it. " Janeway asked, puzzled.
" I've never seen anyone laugh so freely and I've never seen Paris laugh like that again. Something like that, an emotion filling you so completely. I don't believe you can ever really forget. "
" Let's hope, Commander, that you do not find yourself in a similar situation at Mos Tanna. "
" Captain? "
" With a fighting, drunk, injured, laughing pilot. "
" Yes Captain I will meditate with my spirit guide on this. " concluded Chakotay, fighting a grin as he made to leave.
" One moment Chakotay, what is a montock? "
" A montock is the creature that produces the very fine ale Paris was getting drunk on that night. "
Both began to laugh.
Chakotay, Paris and Neelix made the trip down to Mos Tanna without incident, landing Neelix's ship at the main space port just outside the city. Here Neelix quickly communicated with his contacts, the result being a meeting with two smugglers known to be reasonably trustworthy at a local tavern for later that night.
Paris couldn't help smiling at his companions as they entered the rowdy tavern, the crowd was talking, arguing, gambling and drinking. In a way it felt like coming home to Tom.
" Well Neelix, how are we going to find these smugglers of yours? " Paris asked.
" I'm sure the barman will be able to point them out for us. Excuse me while I go asked. " Neelix moved off. In no time they were seated at a quiet table in the back, with the two smugglers and as Neelix and Chakotay got down to bargaining for the kinteria ore, Paris sat back and observed the goings on in the tavern. His attention was soon focused on a gambling table set up next to a wall opposite them. At first it seemed like a child's game, the players having to keep afloat a small kite like item enclosed in a glass box, then Paris noted the weights on the kite, pulling it down and the four triggers surrounding the glass box, placed at each bottom corner. These triggers, he realised released a jet of air that the player used to force the kite aloft and keep it there. To make things more difficult, the weights on the kite would shift if the kite did not remain level. It was a fascinating game for a pilot and Tom was no exemption. Tom watched carefully and soon noted the strange actions of one of the spectators.
The business transaction was nearly completed when Paris stood up from the table, Chakotay looked up sharply realising he should have been suspicious of Paris' patience.
" Where are you going Paris? " He demanded.
" Don't worry Chakotay. I just want a closer look at that game. " Paris answered, nodding towards the gaming table. One of the smugglers looked over and commented,
" Fliron, it's not as easy as it looks. "
" I'm sure it's not, anyway I'm just looking. " Tom moved off towards the gaming table.
When Paris, Chakotay and Neelix had entered the tavern, they had drawn the attention of most of the patrons, for even though they were dressed the same, there was something about their presence that was different, a kind of secure confidence in themselves that had been noted. When they had moved off to a back table, they had been dismissed but now that Paris moved back into the center of the tavern, this initial impression was remembered and reinforced and nearly all eyes fell on him. One table off to the side held three men who had missed the starfleet personnel entering, now they watched carefully the blond man at the fliron table.
A game had just ended and the champion looked up at the stranger.
" Care to play? " he asked.
Tom smiled innocently, " Oh I'd be no challenge, never seen a game like this before, I'd be a fool to wager on it without even having played it once. "
" Oh but we like new blood, come on, try a game free, no bets. "
" Oh well thanks, " Tom gasped, " that's very good of you, " he added.
He sat down and tested the controls, then began. Once he got the kite aloft and level, it held perfectly still but before anyone could get suspicious, the kite tilted sharply and dropped like a rock, for a second it looked like Paris would recover it but it fell, touching the ground and the game was over.
" Well, that's a lot of fun and I'm sure I almost had it. " Tom stated, smiling hugely, " Could I have another go, I'll place a bet this time oh I don't have any money on me, the others don't like me carrying any, don't understand it myself, " he explained bemused, " but I'm sure I can get some. I'll be right back. "
Paris hurried back to the table and whispered to Neelix.
" You guys finished? "
" Yes Tom we "
" Paying now? " Tom interrupted.
" No, on del.. "
" Give me the purse, Neelix. " Tom interrupted again.
" What! " exclaimed Neelix, loud enough to draw Chakotay's attention.
" Trust me Neelix! " implored Paris.
" Of course Tom, here. "
Paris moved off before Chakotay could stop him and made his way back to the fliron table.
" Are there any odds or whatever? " Tom asked, acting as if he was repeating the question word for word from memory.
" Just a friendly one, four to one. " The champion replied.
" Four to one, " Tom appeared to be trying to calculate it but gave up and lay the purse on the table.
" Okay, all of this, no no, " he muttered, " too much. "
He fumbled with the contents of the purse, grabbing a large handful of currency and spilling it onto the table. The champion and other patrons quickly agreed to the bet, giving all the money to a nearby spectator's, a small man, safekeeping. He seemed to be acting as a banker from his seat, back from the table near a closed window.
The tavern grew quiet, for the bet had been large and they all waited to see this fool lose all. Paris sat again at the table and began, the kite lifted up and held completely steady, the others watched in amazement as the clock clicked by. Only seconds remained when suddenly the kite took a dive, the weights all falling to one corner as it plunged but before it could touch the ground, Paris recovered it, shooting it back up to the top of the glass box. The timer went off, Paris had won.
In the stunned silence, Paris stood and commented,
" Not a bad game, but that sudden draft when you open that window back there was tricky. I thought the glass was sealed. Such a surprise. " He ended innocently.
As the patrons began to realise exactly what Paris had said and what this meant, all hell broke loose. Other players who had lost began shouting about cheats and wanting their money back. While the champion and his partner, the small man by the window, tried to make off with the money.
" Oh no you don't. " whispered Paris as he watched them making off with his winnings. As a brawl broke out he made his way towards the small man. Paris ducked and weaved through the flying fists and flying chairs, and manage to seize the small man's collar. The man swung round with a dagger ready to gut Tom but Tom seized his wrist, squeezing till his fingers released the handle. As the knife dropped, Paris released the man's wrist and caught the knife, bringing it up to the man's throat.
" Now, you little cheat, I WON that money and I want it NOW. "
The little man quickly handed over his purse, Paris let him go and he disappeared in the brawling crowd.
Paris looked around for his companions and found that Chakotay and Neelix had been dragged into the fight from their little corner. Paris laughed aloud at the picture of them ducking and weaving in the crowd, trying to avoid the fighters and drunks. Chakotay sent a quick glance towards the sound of laughter and wasn't surprised to see Paris as the source, for it had reminded him of another place and time. Suddenly the laughing stopped and Chakotay heard Paris call out.
" Down Chakotay! "
Chakotay dropped quickly to his knees as a knife flew over just above him, impaling the attacker, who had been just about to cave in Chakotay's skull, in the shoulder. Paris shook his head, this fight had turned ugly quickly. He suddenly began shouting above the noisy fight.
" They're getting away! They're getting away .. with all the money! " This drew the attention of the closest fighters.
" There they go! " added Tom pointing to the door. As quickly as the fight began, it was over as the combatants piled out of the tavern in search of those who had cheated them. Neelix and Chakotay joined Paris, Neelix sporting a darkening eye while Chakotay's lip was cut and bleeding. Chakotay looked at Paris in disgust,
" How can you start something like this and end up looking like an innocent bystander. "
" Practice, " Tom answered grinning, " Come on let's get you back to the ship and I'll clean you both up. "
They left, Paris still smiling, unaware that all his actions had been carefully watched. The three men still sat at their table, one of the few areas not dragged into the fight.
" He's perfect, " exclaimed one of them, the youngest.
" Yes, blond, blue-eyed and he appears harmless, Mic-Lue is right, " stated Lit-Cou the oldest of the three.
" Appears being the important word, he fooled every person in the tavern, no one expected him to win and no one expected him to find out how that fliron table had been rigged. Can we trust him to do what we want? " asked Rig-Tre, the leader.
" You saw how he went after that purse, all we have to do is pay him well, let's hope we have enough. " concluded Lit-Cou.
" Okay, we'll give it a try but we are running out of time. One way or another I think we just found our man. Mic-Lue, follow them, find out what you can. " ordered Rig-Tre. The three men left the tavern, two returning to their quarters, the other moving down the path taken by the Voyager crew.
The three starfleet members ran into trouble as soon as they entered Neelix's ship. Before they could get cleaned up, they received a communicae from Voyager.
" Please Commander, " pleaded Paris, grinning, " Let me answer it. "
" Shut up Paris, " growled Chakotay as he pushed Paris to the viewscreen.
" Paris here, Voyager. "
" Hello Mr Paris, " began Janeway, " Voyager is going to be out of range for a short time while we hide from an incoming convoy, at the most 20 hours. When will your business be concluded? "
" Well Captain, we met the traders this evening and have concluded a deal, payment on delivery, " began Paris, while signalling the others that he needed an answer.
" That does not answer my question Mr Paris. "
" No Captain, we will be finished by . "
" Tomorrow at 16:00 " Chakotay hissed from the back.
" tomorrow at 16:00. " concluded Paris, almost without a break, unfortunately Janeway noticed his slight hesitation.
" Where are Commander Chakotay and Neelix? " she asked.
" They are .. preparing the hull for storage, " invented Paris.
" I believe that was done before you left Voyager, " stated a suspicious Janeway.
" Yes well . a few things came loose on landing. "
" Mr Paris, if anyone else had been flying I would almost believe that. Now I would like to speak to Chakotay and Neelix. "
" Um yes Captain, " answered Paris, slightly distracted by the offhand compliment. He got up and moved to the back of the ship. Though nothing was seen on Voyager's viewscreen, their muffled voices and items being knocked over could be heard. Finally Chakotay appeared hastily before the viewscreen, quickly sitting down, his elbow resting on armrest and his chin resting in his hand. A hand which casually covered half of his mouth.
" Yes Captain, you wanted to see me. " Chakotay stated.
Janeway looked startled at the very casual picture before her.
" Yes Commander, you seem very relaxed. I take it things are going well. "
" Yes Captain, I suppose being out of uniform can be .. relaxing. "
A muffled sound could be heard in the background, Chakotay began to sit up in annoyance when he suddenly remembered and quickly relaxed. Paris came and joined Chakotay with Neelix following, Neelix perched sideways to the viewscreen, turning his face so only a profile could be seen.
" Hello Captain, as you can see everything is fine. " He commented glancing at her out of the corner of his eye.
Janeway paused and looked carefully at the trio before her, Chakotay looked tense even with his relaxed posture, Neelix seemed to be avoiding looking directly at her and Paris looked as if he was on the edge of hysterical laughter. Something was going on but she didn't think it was something she had to know, still it looked like a very good story.
" I'm glad everything is going well, we'll see you all late tomorrow and Commander, I expect a full report. "
" Yes Captain, " agreed Chakotay in defeat.
As the viewscreen went black Paris burst out laughing, tears coming to his eyes and he held his sides as Chakotay glared at him and Neelix looked on, puzzled.
" Great Paris, a full report. I should never have listened to you. "
" Come on Chakotay, this way she had no idea what happened. You can decide what to tell her. "
" I will not lie to the Captain, " protested Chakotay.
" Of course not, " answered Paris, " I wouldn't expect you to, but if say you decide to leave out the part about Neelix's black eye and your bruised lip .. well I'm willing to rearrange a few things in my report too. Just small details, Commander, we don't want to bore the Captain. "
" Yes . well . in that case, " Chakotay gently touched his face, suddenly imaging how he and Neelix would have appeared to Voyager. A huge grin split his face as he turned back to Paris, " Tom, fix up our little details and I'll take you up on your offer. "
" Me too, " suddenly added Neelix, " I'd prefer not to have to explain to every crew member who enters the mess hall what exactly happened to my eye. Thank you Tom. It is very thoughtful of you. "
" Oh dont thank me Neelix. It is entirely my pleasure. " Tom added.
" I'm afraid of that, " muttered Chakotay as they moved back into the ship.
Paris potted around the shuttle, finishing off a few reports as he waited for the Commander and Neelix to return with the kinteria ore. He smiled softly, shaking his head again at Chakotay's earlier decision to leave him with the ship, having decided Paris had gained enough local colour at the tavern the night before. Though why a planet in the constant state of darkness bother calling any time, night time, Paris could not figure out. Paris was working on one of his holoprograms when Voyager called.
" Paris here. "
" Mr Paris, " began Janeway, " the convoy changed course so we have returned to our position earlier, when you have loaded the ore and are ready to depart, we will be ready for you. "
" That's good news, Captain. I wasn't looking forward to floating in space for hours waiting. "
" Patience has never been something I'd accuse you of. " Janeway added smiling, " Where are Commander Chakotay and Neelix, not still clearing up the storage hull? "
" No Captain, they returned to the tavern to meet up with the traders, then payment and delivery would be made. The Commander left me with the ship . this isn't a very secure port. "
" Very well, " the Captain continued speaking but Paris was distracted by a clanking noise on the ship's hull. He turned his head, trying to identify the noise.
" Mr Paris Tom, " sharply called Janeway, noticing she had lost her crewman's attention. Paris snapped back to the viewscreen.
" I'm sorry Captain, I think something may have broken on Neelix's ship, there's a clanking noise on the hull. I'd like to check it out and do repairs if needed before the Commander returns. "
" Okay Tom, I'd finished anyway but I'd like to hear from Chakotay as soon as he returns. "
" Understood Captain. "
The viewscreen went blank.
Paris set up the computer to run a ship-wide diagnostics then collected up tricorder, phaser, torch and exited the ship. He looked around carefully but no one seemed to be paying any attention to him. He activated the tricorder and began to circle the ship, when he rounded the ship, bringing himself to stand on the side facing away from the town and lights, he found the source of the disturbance. A man held a large piece of metal and was lifting and then dropping it back on Neelix's ship.
Paris quickly brought up the phaser, catching the man also in his torch beam,
" Hello, do you mind telling me what you are doing? " he politely asked, watching the man carefully.
" Just wanted to get your attention, " the young man answered, carefully laying down the metal sheet. " We would like to talk to you. "
" We? " queried Paris, turning slightly so his back was to the ship.
" Yes, I am Mic-Lue and this is Rig-Tre, " the young man nodded behind himself where an older man appeared from around the ship.
" Okay you got my attention, what do you want to talk about? " Paris asked.
" We saw you last night in the tavern, you know how to handle yourself and you're not stupid. " Rig-Tre stated.
" Gee thanks. "
" The point is, we were impressed and so we want to hire you for a little job. "
" Hire me? " queried Paris
" Yes, a little rescue job, simple in and out. We'll pay you well. "
Paris didn't like the direction the conversation was going in, it reminded him too much of the past, when he would have been interested in such an offer.
" Sorry, " Paris began, " I'm tied up for the next few years. "
" Nothing we can offer will change your mind. " Rig-Tre stated, noting the resolve in the man before him.
" My current employer's very possessive, sorry. " Paris replied as he began to ease his way back around the ship, trying to reach the more well lit area of the space port.
" I'm sorry too. " Rig-Tre echoed as their companion, Lit-Cou came up behind Paris and knocked him out. Paris collapsed unconscious on the ground. He was picked up and hauled off in minutes with no one noticing anything strange.
Chakotay looked up as they approached the ship, pushing the load of kinteria ore before him and noted the closed door and no sign of Paris. He tapped his communicator once again but still no response from Paris, at first he thought in the relative safety of the ship Paris hadn't bothered with his combadge but now, when Paris would be keeping an eye out for them he was beginning to worry.
" Neelix, I'll be fine from here. Why don't you go ahead and get Paris to help us load up. "
" Yes Commander, " Neelix's speed in obeying the suggestion was ample evidence of his own worry. Neelix quickly returned.
" Commander, there is no sign of Tom anywhere. "
" I can't believe he would go off somewhere, " Chakotay commented.
" Oh I'm sure he hasn't. Tom's too responsible to do something like that, " protested Neelix.
" I hope you're right. Let's get this ore loaded and then we can go find Paris. "
They quickly entered the ship and after loading the ore, moved forward to the main console, Neelix noted the completed diagnostics.
" That's strange. Tom ran a full diagnostic, he wouldn't have done that unless something went wrong. "
" I'll check the log, " Chakotay answered, " looks like he spoke to Voyager, then ran the diagnostic and no other activity since then . "
" Perhaps Voyager knows what happen to Tom, " concluded Neelix.
" Let's ask them. " Chakotay decided, quickly establishing a communication link.
" Hello Commander, I take it everything has been completed satisfactory. " Janeway began.
" We have the kintaria ore, " answered Chakotay, " but we seem to have lost our pilot. "
" What do you mean? "
" When we returned to the ship, Mr Paris wasn't here. We can't find any sign of him. "
" While we were speaking we were interrupted by a noise Mr Paris heard outside the ship, he believed something may have come loose and wanted to go do repairs if that was the case. "
" I assure you Captain, " began Neelix, " there is nothing wrong with my ship. "
" I'm just reporting what Mr Paris said Neelix, " replied Janeway. Before Neelix could continue, Chakotay spoke,
" We will check out the ship anyway. I'll contact you when I have something. "
Neelix and Chakotay examined the ship's hull, finding the discarded metal piece and some marks on the hull, the ground was disturbed around the area but it wasn't possible to tell what had happened, only that there had been more than one person.
" Do you think Tom made some new friends and has gone off for a drink? " suggested Neelix.
" I don't think so, Paris was lured out of the ship, I don't think he would have gone off without leaving a message. " Chakotay glanced around again, this time seeing something glitter on the ground, bending down and reaching into the darker shadow under the ship he picked up two objects, turning into the light both he and Neelix readily identified the objects, a tricorder and phaser. Chakotay grimly continued,
" Check with the spaceport staff, see if anyone saw anything and find out what ships have left. I have to report to the Captain. Paris has been abducted. "
Tom woke slowly, aware firstly of the pain in his head and secondly that he was in a ship flying somewhere and thirdly, it wasn't Voyager. He eased open his eyes to find himself in a dark room, slowly his eyes adjusted enough for him to make out the bunk he was laying on, a table, chair and door. He pushed himself upright, groaning at the pain it caused him and pulled himself up till he was beside the bunk. He reached out to steady himself against the wall and waited till the dizziness passed. He looked carefully around, spotting his combadge and wrist torch in pieces on the table, he reached out, picking up all the segments of his combadge and put them in his pocket. Talking to Voyager that way was out, which meant he had to get out of this room and find a communicator.
He shuffled forward one step and then stopped. The door had opened to reveal one of the men who had approached him outside Neelix's ship. Summoning up all his will, Tom threw himself forward, crashing into the man and knocking him to the ground. Tom rolled over on the ground, trying to get up and away but found himself looking up at two other men. He lay back with a groan, he couldn't fight two men. As he relaxed, the blackness that had been waiting, surged forward and he slipped back into unconsciousness.
" Rig-Tre, are you all right? " asked Mic-Lue as he helped his friend stand up.
" I'm fine, just winded. How is our guest? " he asked.
Lit-Cou who had knelt down beside Tom answered,
" Unconscious again but still breathing strong. I believe you cushioned his fall so there was no damage done. "
" Good, get him back to the bunk and this time tie him up, he recovers quicker than I expected. We are still four days from base, enough time to brief him on his part then. "
Neelix's ship had left Mos Tanna and rendezvoused with Voyager. Now the senior staff had assembled in the conference room.
" We could find no trace of Mr Paris in Mos Tanna but Neelix was able to hear something that might help, Neelix, " Chakotay prompted.
" Yes, I got a list of ships that had left during the time Tom was alone and I also had an interesting little chat with the owner of the tavern we had been frequenting. It seems some rebels had arrived on planet searching for a light coloured hair mercenary and well, after the events on our first night, every one had noticed Tom. "
" Events? " queried the Captain.
" Just a little .. dispute, " Chakotay hastily answered .
" Anyway, " continued Neelix, " these rebels were on one of the ships that had left. "
Janeway paused thoughtfully, then nodded,
" That's our best lead. Let's go find this rebel ship. "
Tom awoke again in the same location except this time he found he could not move, he was secured to the bunk he rested on. His head felt better, only a dull ache lingered from the blow he had taken. Looking around he found that he was not alone, the young man who had first spoken to him outside Neelix's ship was watching him. Seeing Tom awake, the man left returning a few minutes later with two others, one was the other man he had met outside the ship and who he had knocked down later, the other man was a stranger.
Tom observed them silently, waiting to see what they wanted and watching for a chance to escape.
" Let's begin with introductions, " stated one man, " As was stated at our first meeting, I am Rig-Tre and this is Mic-Lue. My other companion is Lit-Cou, he ah met you earlier. "
He paused expectantly but the man tied before him remained silent, he finally asked,
" And you are? "
Again no response, Rig-Tre continued,
" It does not really matter, we have you and you will do what we need from you. "
" I believe a job was mentioned, " Paris finally spoke, " and a payment. "
Rig-Tre looked at the man sharply,
" You didn't seem very interested in our offer earlier. "
" I wasn't, " Tom harshly stated, " I'm still not, but it seems what I want doesn't count. So if I'm going to be forced into something then personally I'd prefer to get something out of it. "
" Then you agree to help us? " asked Mic-Lue
" Depends on what you want and what you have to offer, my services have never come cheap. "
" So you are a mercenary, " stated Rig-Tre.
Tom's face hardened, " I have been. "
" That Talexian had hired you? " Rig-Tre persisted.
" He is a friend, " was all Paris said.
" A friend, " echoed Mic-Lue in surprise.
Tom gave him an unfriendly stare as he stated bitterly,
" Even mercenaries, on occasion, can have friends. "
Mic-Lue looked away embarrassed, he had not meant to sound so naive. Rig-Tre come to his friend's rescue,
" I suppose not, but for your kind it is unusual. "
" Yeah right, my kind, " Tom muttered, " look, I assume you all gathered here to tell me what I have to do to be freed, and as you can see I'm not going anywhere, so let's hear it. "
Rig-Tre nodded, there was something not right about the man before them, but as he had said, what he wanted did not matter, only the task they needed him to perform.
" Two of our people are being held in a prison, we want you to get them out. "
" Just like that! You kidnap a complete stranger and then expect him to be an expert in prison breakouts. " sarcastically stated Paris, " In that case I have a poker game I'd like to play with you. "
" Poker? " queried Lit-Cou.
Paris ignored him.
" So since it's so easy a complete stranger can walk in and get your people, why haven't you? "
" We have tried! " burst out Mic-Lue, " we have made four attempts, none have come back. "
" It seems there's a few things you haven't mentioned. " Tom stated harshly, staring at the man who seemed in charge, Rig-Tre.
" The Herat are natural fair while we are natural dark, we disguised our people but all were discovered, almost immediately. The Herat have unusual eyes, they see more than we do, and natural fair hair .. glows for them. Our people's hair did not. "
" So if I'm not a natural blond, I have no chance. " Tom began.
" We tested your hair, it will look like the Herats. " Lit-Cou added.
" I've been wondering why I was so lucky as to be invited to this party, " Tom finally continued, " it is nothing I did, you simply kidnapped me and plan to send me to my death because of my hair colour. " Tom suddenly started laughing.
" All the reasons I've thought I would die for, this is a new one. " Tom quieted abruptly, " Ah .. my head hurts. "
" We are not sending you to your death, " protested Mic-Lue, " the Herat imprisoned those of us they captured. "
Tom had closed his eyes, hoping to ease the lingering headache, they snapped open at these words,
" Oh that's just great, life-imprisonment, of course, what am I worried about, it will be like a holiday, " he looked sharply at the young man, " are you really that innocent? "
" Leave him alone, " demanded Lit-Cou, Tom just shook his head in disbelief, resting it again on the cot and closing his eyes.
" You seem to know something about prison life, " Rig-Tre stated.
" A common hazard of mercenary life, " muttered Tom, than continued forcefully, " You haven't told me yet what's in it for me? "
Rig-Tre nodded to Lit-Cou, who reached into his pocket and withdrew a small kit, opening it Tom saw a collection of needles and vials.
" Let me guess, I agree to do what you want and you don't hurt me. "
Mic-Lue looked away, he did not like this part of the plan but he knew Rig-Tre was right, it had to be done.
" This is not to hurt you, " explained Rig-Tre, " we are giving you a tattoo, known to the Herat, they use it to brand traitors and cowards. If you do not help us, we will simply hand you over to the Herat, once they see the brand nothing you say will be believed by them, they will sentence you to life imprisonment. We will be your only hope to get back to your friends. "
" The brand of a traitor and coward. Well, I guess it's appropriate at least. " Tom looked at the faces of the three men, noting their determination. Nothing he said would deter them from their course of action.
" Fine, let's get this over with. " He closed his eyes.
Lit-Cou looked to Rig-Tre who nodded, so Lit-Cou reached down and cut away the sleeve on Tom's left arm, baring the shoulder. He swabbed the skin with an anaesthetic, then got to work. Tom made no move at first, then after five minutes he uttered through clench teeth,
" How much longer? "
For the first time, the three men looked closely at his face, he was pale and sweating.
" The anaesthetic should still be working, " protested Lit-Cou.
" Well, it isn't! How much longer? " demanded Tom.
" I'm nearly finished, I'm sorry but I can't add more anaesthetic over the tattoo. "
" Fine, get on with it. "
" Does it hurt much? " asked Mic-Lue
Tom's eyes opened in disbelief, " You are such a kid, " he muttered, " reminds me of Harry. " His voice faded away, he had passed out.
" Good, " whispered Lit-Cou, himself sweating as he hurried with the tattoo, it had to be done, the kidnapping, imprisonment and now blackmail. But it was not what any of the three wished, circumstances had forced them to it, force them to be as savage in method as those they fought.
" It's done, " Lit-Cou stated, sitting back to reveal the brand of a traitor and coward on Tom's shoulder. Rig-Tre nodded sadly, once again feeling at odds with what he believed about the mercenary and what he felt about the young man.
" Mic-Lue, stay, call us when he wakes. "
All the senior staff were assembled in the ready room, Neelix was continuing with what they had learnt.
" These people who took an interest in Lt. Paris were passengers on an Alenian transport, they are traders who offer cargo space and passenger cabins to anyone who can afford them. They have an unusual practice that can cause us a lot of trouble. They select a site in empty space to rendezvous with other ships, to exchange cargo and passengers to similar destinations. If the people we are after change ships, we can have between 6 to 10 ships that we will need to chase. Tom could end up on any of the Alenian trader ships.
" Well, Ensign Kim has detected the most likely ion trail for the ship we are after. Let's hope we meet up with them before they have a chance to meet up with anyone else. "
" What are we planning to do when we meet them? " Torres asked, " if they took such a liking to Paris then I doubt they will want to give him up so easily. "
" Simplest solution will be to transport him off whatever ship, the commander and Neelix will stay away from the viewscreen so there will be no reason for Tom's kidnappers to believe we are connected. If we have too, we can arrange passage on the ship for an away mission, who can arrange Mr Paris' retrieval. We will get him back. " Janeway insisted.
Three hours later Ensign Kim made his announcement, sensors have detected a number of ion trails converging at a spot ahead of Voyager. It seemed the Alenian traders had made their rendezvous. A feeling of despair briefly fell on those on the bridge.
" Make a note of the other ion trails and the directions they left in, can you find the original ion trail? " Janeway asked.
" They are very similar but I believe I can isolate the one we have been following. " Kim reported.
" We will have to proceed with the belief that Mr Paris and those that took him have remained on the same ship. " Janeway stated.
" I have it Captain, proceeding on course 3.12.14 "
" Good. "
Voyager turned and warped away.
Lit-Cou settled their unknown mercenary into the new quarters, they had only two days on this stage of their trip. He checked the tattoo, noting that it was healing but that the skin was still red and angry looking. His gaze travelled up to the man's face, it seemed very pale. He reached up, resting his hand on the man's chest, feeling the steady movements as he breathed. Lit-Cou had given him an extra dose of sedative, making sure he remained unconscious during the transfer, normally it would keep some one out for 10 hours but given this man's resistance to the pain-killer, he did not know when he would awake.
He sighed, hating again where his life had led him. He once again checked the tattoo then looked up, directly into the young man's eyes.
" So, " the man muttered, " the goods still in working order? "
" You'll be fine, " Lit-Cou abruptly stated.
" Fine enough to enjoy a nice long life imprisonment, gee thanks. " Tom bitterly replied, moving slightly in his bunk, thankful that his headache had gone as he tested his bonds, suddenly he stilled.
" We're on a different ship! " He exclaimed. Lit-Cou looked startled then said,
" How do you know? "
" Different bed. " Paris finally explained.
" I don't think so, the type of ships are exactly the same and for all you know, we could have simply moved you to another cabin. What was it? " Lit-Cou demanded.
" And I should answer you because .. " Paris' eyebrow quirked in typical vulcan style.
" You are one very stubborn individual, " exclaimed Lit-Cou as he stood up and stormed out of the cabin.
" Sounds like something Chakotay would say, " muttered Tom as he closed his eyes, still feeling some effects from the sedative in his system. Another ship, the thought rocketed into his mind, how will Voyager find him now. What a mess he was in. He had cursed his looks on several occasions during his life and now he had another situation to add to that list. All he had wanted was a bit of freedom, to enjoy a drink at a bar but now he found himself on a ship going who knows where and a impossible mission to follow. His thought drifted to Voyager, to the communication with the captain after the bar fight. A smile grew on his face as he recalled Chakotay's and Neelix's attempt to hide their injuries. Paris drifted off into sleep where his smile turned to a frown as the nightmares began.
Paris' eyes snapped open, he gasped in a huge breath as his hands formed into fists.
" Are you okay? " Mic-Lue asked, startled at the man's actions. Paris ignored him as he forced his hands to relax and himself to breath steadily, waiting for the effects of the nightmare to dissipate.
" Are you allowing the prisoner to refresh himself? How about giving the prisoner some more bread and water, even the Cardassians are known to fed their prisoners regularly. " Paris queried.
" Why do you call yourself 'the prisoner', you have a name, why do you not tell us? "
" I'm sorry, I forgot you're the innocent one, fine, your 'guest' would like to clean up, get some food and something to drink. Shall I give you my order, because if you have anything other than bread and water, I'd love some tomato soup, plain and hot. "
" I'm sorry, " said the confused lad, " I don't know what this 'tomato soup' is. "
" Oh well, guess I can't recommend this hotel to my friends, the service just isn't up to my standards. "
" You're talking nonsense, " protested Mic-Lue.
" Oh well then let me apologise, I'm sorry. What topics of discussion would you like to speak about? Now let's see, you want to have a little chat with a mercenary, so we can talk about the people I've killed, people who have tried to kill me, jobs I've done, prisons I've visited. Come on kid, pick a topic, any topic? "
Mic-Lue dragged in a breath, trying to calm himself, he was new to the rebellion, untried in conflict, still uneasy at the talk of death and killing, he seized on the one question that had not yet been answered.
" You still have not told us your name? "
" You're sure you want to know? Don't you think it will be easier to send a stranger to his death oh sorry life imprisonment. "
" Your name? " insisted Mic-Lue, ignoring all else.
" Fine kid, call me Paris. "
" Paris, that's an odd name. "
" So glad it meets with your approval, " muttered Paris, shaking his head at the youth and innocence of this captor. Paris shifted again on his bunk,
" Well any chance to stretch my legs and get some food, starving me before your mission is not what I'd call a smart idea. "
" I'll get Lit-Cou, " Mic-Lue hurried out, returning soon with the other man. Then Paris was allowed to freshen up and have some food and drink.
" Captain, I have the Alenian transport on short range sensors. " Ensign Kim reported.
Janeway sat up straight in her command chair.
" Finally, " she uttered, they had lost the ion trail when the trader has passed through an asteroid belt and it had taken them half a day to find the decaying ion trail again. Now they had them and Janeway had used up all her patience.
" Commander, " she addressed Chakotay, " I've decided to be direct, you can remain in view. Ensign, bring us out of warp, right in front of the trader. I want their complete attention. "
" Yes Maam, " responded the ensign as Chakotay fought a grin, beginning to feel sorry for the Alenian captain. Voyager moved out of warp, appearing to the Alenians suddenly and overshadowing the smaller vessel. Sensors showed the Alenians braking quickly, both ships slowed to a stop.
" Sensors show no humans on board, " reported a dispirited Kim.
" Open a communication channel, " ordered Janeway.
" Channel open, " reported Tuvok.
" Alenian transport, you collected some passengers at Mos Tanna. I have a few questions? " Janeway began.
" We honour the privacy of those who choose to travel with us, " the Alenian captain huffed.
" One of the passenger did not 'chose' to travel with you, a member of my crew was taken. Now I want to know where he is! Do I make myself clear? " Janeway demanded.
" The privacy, " began the Alenian captain.
" I have not had fun tracking your ship across space from Mos Tanna and I have also used up all my patience. Alenian transport, give me all the information you have on my kidnapped crew member or I will disable your engines and leave you floating in space. Tuvok, lock weapons on their engines. " ordered Janeway to make sure there was no doubt of her intentions.
" I must protest, " began the Alenian captain.
" You prefer to protect kidnappers and criminals? " Janeway asked in disbelief.
Tuvok added, " Captain, weapons are locked and ready to fire. "
" No, no . Of course not Captain, the Alenians are honest traders. I believe I know the party you are speaking of though I had no idea that anything illegal was occurring. We picked up four passengers on Mos Tanna, one of their party was ill, he was unconscious when they boarded and later during the transfer to a sister ship. They were headed for the Ligotsci system. There are two inhabited planets in this system, I do not know their final destination. That Captain, is all I know. "
Janeway gave him a long considering look then answered, " Thank you Captain for all you help. I'm sure we will retrieve our crew member soon. "
" I'm sure you will, " the Alenian captain stated fervently, " I'm sure you will. "
The ships parted, Voyager heading for the Ligotsci system.
Paris was once again rendered unconscious for his last transfer from the Alenian transport to his captors' home world of Bre-Van. He awoke to find himself in a small cave, the entrance sealed with bars and beyond them a larger cave which held storage boxes and scattered tables but no other person. Tom was glad to find himself unbound, he rose from his cot and stretched. He still felt some dizziness from the sedative but it was by now a familiar feeling, he made his way to the bars and began to examine the lock. It was a coded electronic lock, with some luck and patience he should be able to open it, but not yet. He would have to learn the set-up of his new prison and plan where to go once he was free. He returned to his cot, waiting to see what developed. Eventually he had company. Rig-Tre and Lit-Cou entered from a side passage and approached his cell. Tom made no move.
" He is still unconscious. " Rig-Tre stated.
" He will most likely be waking soon considering the duration of the sedative effects last time, " Lit-Cou responded, " his reactions to our drugs is different, but at least they seem to still do what they are meant too. "
" Good, we'll get started as soon as possible, our people have been prisoners of the Herat nearly four months, I fear for both their health and sanity. I want the mercenary on his way within two days. "
" We covered all the information we had on the Herat prison on the Alenian ship, all that is left is the geography of the Herat planet and training on the ship to be used to get to the planet. "
" Good, let's " Rig-Tre began but he was interrupted by the appearance of three people in the cavern. Paris opened his eyes to watch the latest developments. One was a man he was familiar with, Mic-Lue, the other two were women.
" Wan-Que, Gui-Fra, I told you not to come down here, " angrily stated Rig-Tre.
" You're our brother not our father, Rig-Tre. Don't start ordering us around. " The older woman replied sharply.
" Besides, we wanted to see the mercenary you hired, " the younger woman quickly added.
" Ah Gui-Fra, I don't think that's a good idea, " began Lit-Cou. He was interrupted by a voice behind, bringing all eyes to the rising man. Paris pushed himself up until he was sitting, his back against the wall, a foot resting on the cot, one arm lying on his upraised knee.
" No no Lit-Cou, considering this new setting, I think it only proper to have some strangers come and gawk at me. Who knows, perhaps they'll toss me some food or some coloured string, you know something to play with. " Paris bitterly stated, angered by the attitude of the people who held him captive.
" Shut up! " erupted Rig-Tre as he watched the colour drain from his sisters' faces.
" What have you done? " Wan-Que demanded.
" What had to be done! " Rig-Tre insisted.
" Wasn't the money enough? " demanded Gui-Fra, " Did he want more than we have? "
" Oh of course, I'm the hired mercenary, out to get what I can. I'm beginning to think we have different meanings for the word 'hired' because I haven't heard of any payment being offered other than being allowed to live. "
" Shut up! " shouted Rig-Tre, " or I will come in there and make you. "
The anger left Paris' face, an emotionless mask descended,
" Sure, just as long as I can still go on your suicide mission in two days, " he stated.
He stood up, stumbling slightly from dizziness, still affected by the drugs. He moved to the table, poured himself a drink, emptied his glass and moved back to his cot.
As he lay down, he added, " One thing Rig-Tre, in the mood I'm in, you'd better bring all your friends if you intend to teach me any lesson. "
He turned his back towards the others who had watched him in silence.
" Let him rest, " stated Lit-Cou tiredly, " Come on Wan-Que, Gui-Fra, we will tell you what had to be done and why. "
They left the cavern. Paris turned onto his back, staring blindly up at the cave roof, his thoughts far far away.
" We have to go around, " announced Chakotay in frustration, " It will add 10 hours to our travel time but we just can't risk taking Voyager through the asteroid belt. "
" I agree Commander, plot the course. " Janeway ordered.
She sighed as her first officer left her ready room, aware that both had had the same thought. Tom Paris could have done it, he could have safely flown Voyager through the asteroid belt, but he was not on the ship, he was the one they were racing to save.
Paris sat at the table, maps, plans spread out before him as Lit-Cou told him all he knew about the Herat. The prison sat on top of a steep cliff. The surrounding land was heavily guarded but there was a public airport nearby to the west, it was here that they had successfully landed the other parties who had attempted a rescue.
" What about to the east? " asked Paris.
" Marsh land, impossible to travel on foot and any vehicle would be picked up on the prison sensors. "
" South? "
" The main road for the prison, monitored but we believe you will be able to hop on one of the supply carriers into the prison. "
" Ah yes, your brilliant plan again. The more I hear of it, the more I resign myself to a long prison stay, " muttered Tom, he stood up and angrily paced besides the table, aware of Mic-Lue in the corner, resting his hands on the weapon he held.
" You are sending me to my death or life-imprisonment, a complete stranger. Damn, my life was finally beginning to make some sense, I was putting my past behind me, then this . "
" You had made mistakes? " queried Lit-Cou.
Paris halted abruptly in his pacing, turning to face his captor, seeing the question on his face and the desire in his eyes.
" Dont worry Lit-Cou. I deserve the brand you've given me. At least you did that right, of the three men you saw in Mos Tanna tavern, I only had earned the tattoo. You took the right man feeling better? " he mockingly asked.
Lit-Cou could not say a word, aware that he had desired this outcome. This assurance that the man before him in some way deserved the path they were sending him on. He was shocked that Paris had realised this and was now too ashamed to speak.
Paris moved back to the table, sitting down as if nothing was wrong.
" What is the distance between the prison and the cliffs to the north, what is the terrain like? "
Lit-Cou was saved from having to find his voice by the arrival of Wan-Que with the evening meal.
" The signal for me to retire, " Paris mockingly bowed to the woman, gathering a few maps as he returned to his cell. Mic-Lue gave him his plate and then locked him up. Rig-Tre entered and approached the bars,
" Get a good nights sleep, you leave tomorrow morning. "
He turned and left, following the others out of the cavern.
Paris waited until several hours had passed than moving silently through the darkness made his way to the locked door, working quickly he disabled the lock and eased himself out of the cell. He moved along the wall towards one of the cavern exits. One exit led to the surface, the other to a communications room deeper underground. It was for this room he made his way. He found the room 10 minutes after entering the passage, having seen no one moving around. Glancing quickly into the room, he found it deserted except for one man, a stranger monitoring their radio. He lifted the tool he held in his hand, he didn't know what it did, only that it was large and heavy. He crept up behind the man, knocked him on his head and the man slid to the ground unconscious. Paris quickly grabbed the man, hiding him behind some boxes. Then he hurried to the communication device, examining it quickly he hoped for the best as he began touching buttons, dials and speaking.
Twenty minutes later the room was still, seemingly deserted as Paris again moved through the caverns, searching for a way out.
It had taken Voyager four hours to clear the asteroid belt and set a direct course for the Ligotsci system. An hour later they received a communicae.
" Captain, " exclaimed Harry as his hands moved over his control panel, " I'm receiving a message on the federation emergency band. It is very faint, too distorted to make out anything. "
" Where's it coming from? " asked Janeway.
" It originates in . the Ligotsci system. Captain, it has to be Tom! " exclaimed Harry with a grin, his friend was alive.
" Let's hope so, Mr Kim. Inform me immediately when you get the message cleared up. "
" Yes Captain. "
Forty minutes later the senior staff were assembled in the conference room to hear the message.
" Okay, here it is, " announced Harry. The recording began, hazy and disjointed in parts, the words spoken in a soft voice, but the message was understandable and all recognised the voice of Tom Paris.
' Paris to Voyager, code alpha 231269, encoded message follows '
" Tom used standard starfleet encoding, the computer had no trouble decoding it. " Harry informed those at the table, the message continued.
' I'm on a planet called Bre-Van, another planet in this system is called Herat. I'm being held in an underground cavern. I've seen nothing above ground so I can't help you locate it. I've managed to hold onto the pieces of my combadge. I'll leave a section of the casing in my cell, hopefully sensors will be able to locate it. The three men who brought me here are called Rig-Tre, Lit-Cou and Mic-Lue. I've met two others, women called Wan-Que and Gui-Fra. I'm to be sent to the planet Herat in about 6 hours and I really don't like what they have planned so I'm going to try and stay out of the way till you get here .. Captain, I really hope you get here soon because I don't think I'm going to be very successful in blending in on this planet. I've set this message to repeat and broadcast in all directions .. I'm sure you will pick it up . ' Paris ended softly.
" The message is still repeating and it is getting stronger as we approach the Ligotsci system. The first message we received would have been sent at least 2 hours ago and I have no way to determine how long before we received the first message that it had been broadcasting. " Kim reported.
" We have located the planet Paris' message is coming from, we will be in orbit in three hours. " Chakotay added.
" That gives us a minimum of five hours and Tom had a deadline of six. Let's hope we picked up that message the first time it was sent. Mr Kim, I want you working on the sensors, get them ready to locate Tom's combadge casing. Neelix, can you tell us anything about these planets, Bre-Van and Herat? "
" No Captain, but I have a friend who.. "
" Good, " interrupted Janeway, " contact him and start getting us some answers. Commander, I would like you and Tuvok to get plans ready for an away team, one ready to take back our pilot by any means. "
" Yes Captain. " They answered.
" You have your duties, dismissed. "
Paris' escape was discovered only two hours after he had left his cage, Lit-Cou, unable to sleep had wandered down to see how Paris was doing. The alarm was sounded and the search was on. Tom had moved into the passage that he believed led to the surface, he found however that the passage twisted and turned, with many off shoots. He was in a warren of caves, getting more and more disoriented as he hurried quietly further and further into the maze. Soon after hearing the alarm sounding, Paris found himself ducking search parties, he doubted very much that he would remain free for long, as he had not even found any good hiding spots.
Tom did manage to elude his captors till after his deadline by an hour, however when ducking out of the way of one search party, he stumbled before another party. He was quickly seized and taken back to the cavern where he had been held. Rig-Tre and Lit-Cou were waiting for him, before they could speak Mic-Lue hurried in from the other passage.
" Ind-Nan is recovering, he just has a headache. " Mic-Lue glared at Tom, " He checked our communication equipment, it seems a message has been broadcasting for the last seven hours. It's on a very high frequency that is not used or even monitored by us or the Herats. It begins with a few words in an unknown language and the rest of the message is coded. Ind-Nan could not decipher it. The first word is familiar though, it is Paris and the voice matches. "
" Who were you trying to contact? " demanded Rig-Tre.
Paris just sat down, silent.
" You will answer me. " insisted Rig-Tre.
" Sounds familiar. " muttered Paris.
Lit-Cou interrupted before Rig-Tre could make any more demands.
" It does not matter! If we leave now, we will still reach the planet on schedule using the ship's highest speed. It took two weeks to set up this flight plan, we should not waste it. "
Rig-Tre took a few calming breaths then nodded to Lit-Cou.
" Fine, Mic-Lue get him ready and Lit-Cou, you get ready. You both have 15 minutes. "
Paris, seeing that there was no way to delay matters further came to a decision.
" The message was for my employer, when we first met I believe I mentioned she was the possessive type. When she gets here I suggest you be honest with her, it would not be wise to anger her further. "
Paris stood and made his way over to his cell, before entering he looked back at Rig-Tre.
" You can give her a message from me, tell her I waited as long as I could. "
Fifteen minutes later Paris was dressed as a Herat soldier, seated in the small spaceship beside Lit-Cou on his way to Herat.
Thirty minutes later Voyager entered orbit around Bre-Van. Paris' message had been broadcasting for almost three hours before they had first received it.
Bre-Van was a largely agricultural planet and when hailed from the surface on arriving, Captain Janeway began talks on buying food supplies. Two people normally involved in these discussions were missing from the bridge, Commander Chakotay and Neelix were nowhere to be seen. Janeway had decided that if the government of Bre-Van was involved in Paris' abduction, she wanted no hints given to them of Voyager's involvement. While the trade talks were underway, Chakotay and Harry worked on scanning the planet and local space for any sign of Paris or his combadge. Janeway joined them an hour later in the astrometrics bay.
" Well, if nothing else we are going to leave here with a full larder, " grumbled Janeway as she approached the pair huddled over the control panel, oblivious to her entry.
" Report, " she stated loudly, gaining the attention of the two men.
" Some good news and some bad, " replied Chakotay.
" Give me the good news first, I need it, " ordered Janeway.
" Only a few areas on the planet contain caves and caverns of any large size, we can penetrate the surface to scan their interiors and we also believe we have found the caverns where Tom was held. " concluded Harry.
" Was? " Janeway asked, selecting the most relevant word.
" Yes, " answered Chakotay, " that's the bad news. There is an ion trail leaving the planet and heading straight to Herat, we estimate it is about two hours old. "
" Can we intercept the ship before it reaches Herat? "
" Normally yes, however B'Elanna has informed me that the kintaria ore is failing. We haven't been able to replace it with the new supply. She advises against going to warp. "
" Damn . so you believe Tom to be on board that ship? "
" Yes. "
" Damn, " muttered Janeway as she began to pace the confines of the room, " this whole rescue, all we have been is too late. "
She paced some more.
" This is what I want done. I have spoken to Neelix, he has been able to find out some information on the Herats from his friend. They have some warp capabilities but their only real commerce is with this planet which pays them a high tribute every harvest. They are a very strict society and are unfriendly to outsiders. I do not want to contact them until I know exactly what Tom's gotten involved in. So I need to find the people who took him so they can answer some questions for me. "
" It will take 5 hours to do a full details scan on the most likely caverns. We have to use a narrow band so as not to miss anything. If we do not get results we will work out way outwards from this central point. We will find Tom's combadge," replied Harry.
" I'm sure you will, Harry. Just as we will find Tom. " Janeway left the two men to their work.
Three hours later, Janeway was summoned. As soon as she walked through the door, Harry announced.
" We found it Captain. "
" Life signs? " she queried.
" Scattered in the caverns, none matching a human. "
" Commander, your team is ready? "
" Yes Captain, Tuvok has them assembled in the transporter room. "
" Good, go down to that planet and find me some answers. "
" Yes Maam, " Chakotay snapped as he quickly exited.
" Crunch time Captain, " Harry asked with a grin, relaxing for the first time in what felt like days, now that some progress was being made.
" Not quite Ensign. I believe the Commander was . carried away. "
Both shared a grin as they headed to the bridge.
Rig-Tre and Mic-Lue sat at the table in the main room, maps still resting on its surface, though neither of them were examining them, Mic-Lue spoke,
" I should of gone! "
" No Mic-Lue, I explained to you. You're a good man, a great aid in our rebellion but you are still inexperienced. "
" I'm still a better pilot then Lit-Cou. "
" That may be true, however Lit-Cou is better suited to handle Paris, that you cannot deny. "
Mic-Lue paused, remembering his encounters with the mercenary,
" Um .. yes . Paris, " he muttered, then hurriedly changed the subject.
" Where are they now? "
Rig-Tre looked at the clock, " They will be entering Herat space soon. "
" Do you think Paris will betray Lit-Cou? "
" No, we explained how the Herat treat those who have been branded, he has no choice but to follow the plan. "
" I hate this waiting, " muttered Mic-Lue. Before Rig-Tre could answer, a strange sound was heard, looking around the pair watched in disbelief as six figures appeared from thin air before them. One quickly approached them, aiming a hand-held weapon at them.
" Dont move or make a sound, " he quietly ordered.
The rest of the group spread out, searching the immediate area and then guarding the two exits. Rig-Tre thought the man before him looked familiar as did Mic-Lue. It was Mic-Lue who remembered first,
" You . You were on Mos Tanna with Paris. "
Chakotay stepped forward angrily,
" Yes I was and right now I want to know exactly what has happened to him. "
Tuvok approached adding, " Do not deny he was here. I have found the combadge casing he left in what appears to be a cell. "
Rig-Tre tried to quickly decide what to do, he had expected an appearance from Paris' employer but not this soon or in such force. These people's technology was amazing, just what had he gotten his people involved in. Then he remembered Paris and his attitude, also what Lit-Cou had told him of one of their conversations, that Paris had alone deserved the brand they had given him. Rig-Tre began to bluff,
" Whats going on? What has this to do with the mercenary? "
" Mercenary? " asked Chakotay in surprise.
" Yes, we hired a mercenary in Mos Tanna. It took all we had, he said his name was Paris. "
" Paris sent a message that he had been kidnapped, not what you expect some one you hired to do? " argued Chakotay.
" Paris had stated he was in a previous employment, but that he had a plan to get out of it while we needed him. " Rig-Tre answered casually.
Chakotay froze for a moment, remembering how he had first met Paris but he realised the man who had been Paris then and the man today were no longer alike. Tom was his friend, a respected member of the crew, not a mercenary.
" I dont believe you. " stated Chakotay forcefully.
" I also believe your statement to be false, " added Tuvok. " Lt. Paris would not use deception to leave Voyager if that was his true desire. I believe he would be truthful with Captain Janeway. "
Chakotay grinned tightly at the thought of Janeway,
" Let's see what the Captain thinks of your explanation. "
He tapped his combadge, " Chakotay to Voyager. "
" Janeway here, " was the immediate response.
" Captain, we found two of the men that took Lt. Paris. They state that they hired him. "
An angry muttering could be heard from Voyager.
" Commander, I want to talk to these .. men myself. Bring them on board. "
" Yes Captain. " Chakotay looked around at the away team,
" You heard the Captain, we're going to have guests. "
The away team quickly gathered and eight figures transported away.
Fifteen minutes before they reached their destination, Lit-Cou got out of the pilot seat and allowed Paris to sit there.
" Now remember, you're an officer in the Herat defence forces, arrogant and uncaring to others. You believe you are the elite, superior to all. I am your servant, only speak to me in orders and rarely glance at me, as a Bre-Van you believe I am the lowest life form. "
" Considering you are sending me to a life of imprisonment, that should not be too hard to believe, " sarcastically replied Paris.
" We are landing at the nearest airport to the prison. You are returning from a week's inspection of the troops on Bre-Van. Your flight plan to and from Bre-Van are all confirmed. "
" What about the landing destination, is that approved or am I telling them when we enter orbit. "
" You inform them when we enter orbit. The airport is classified Hera Eight. "
" Okay, are all airports numbered like that. What about that airport to the north, past the cliff and all those ravines. "
" That is Hera Five, and yes all airports are numbered. "
Their discussion was interrupted by flight control on the Herat planet. Tom looked for the first time on an Herat, he was small and squat, an ugly little man in Paris' opinion but the colour of the eyes and hair were very similar to his own.
" State your destination. " the Herat ordered.
" Hera Five, " Paris replied, ignoring the gasp and frantic movements of Lit-Cou from his hidden position.
" Reason, " the Herat continued.
" Official defence force business, " was all Paris stated.
" Details required. "
Paris' whole face and body seemed to change, though there was no movement,
" You expect an officer of the Herat defence force to satisfy the curiosity of a civilian. You have my reason, it is official defence force business, that is all you need to know. "
" Ah yes officer, of course officer, " muttered the Herat official, " you are cleared to Hera Five. "
The viewscreen went blank.
Lit-Cou had watched stunned, first at the error in destination and then at the change in Paris. He had become a Herat officer, disdainful, impatient, superior and Paris had seemed to do it so easily, so naturally. Finally he found his voice.
" That's the wrong destination, it was Hera Eight we wanted not Hera Five. We've failed before we even began. "
" You wanted Hera Eight, " answered Paris, " I wanted Hera Five and since I'm flying, we go to Hera Five. "
" But why, why go to Hera Five. You can't expect the Herat to save you, we explained about the tattoo. "
" Don't worry Lit-Cou, we are still going through with this mission of yours, just that now we are following my plan. We've almost reached Hera Five, I suggest you get strapped into your seat, here is where things get bumpy. "
" Bumpy, " echoed Lit-Cou unable to comprehend events. Suddenly the ship dove to the south, heading straight for the ravine. Finally Lit-Cou understood.
" You want to fly from here to the prison THROUGH THE RAVINES! You're insane, it can't be done, the cliffs, the currents, it is impossible. You will have to fly above them, the prison sensors will pick us up. Were finished. "
" No, we are not. I'll fly us through the ravines hiding from the prison scans, land north of the prison and simply walk from there. The area immediately north of the prison is fenced in, considered part of the prison. I won't have to pass through any check points to get in. I saw the maps, this is the easiest way in. "
" Easiest, easiest! " shouted Lit-Cou as the ship began to be buffeted by currents.
" It is impossible to fly these ravines. The Herats have tried, no one, not one of them has survived the attempt. "
All Paris did was pilot the ship deeper into the ravine, closer to the nearest cliff.
" Have you ever played that game called Fliron, there was a game at the inn in Mos Tanna. "
" I saw you play, you are an expert. " Lit-Cou muttered.
" I told the truth that night, I had never played that game before. I'm a pilot, a very good one. So sit back and enjoy the ride, I'll get us to the prison alive, don't worry I'm not suicidal. "
Lit-Cou collapsed back in his seat, there was nothing he could do, they were committed to the ravines. As the minutes passed, Lit-Cou's fear receded as he watched Paris fly. The man's skill was unbelievable, his hands glided over the control, always sure and composed, no sudden moves or commands. The ship's flight was erratic, pushed around by the strong currents, up, down, left, right. No matter where the winds sent the ship, Paris was in control, the ship travelled through the ravines without a scratch and landed on the north prison grounds, resting in a natural ditch, they were safe from scans and the ship could only be seen when one was nearly on top of it.
Lit-Cou released his clenched grip on his chair,
" I don't believe it, you did it . you did it. We are in the prison. " He looked with awe at the man beside him, at his skill in piloting.
" Yes, we are in the prison and here we will stay unless I have a few guarantees from you. "
" What! " exclaimed Lit-Cou, for in their battle against the elements, they had been on the same side, allies. Now he remembered, the man beside him was being blackmailed, forced to take actions against his will.
" Guarantees or we just sit here. "
" What sort of guarantees? "
" If I come back with your people, you release me. "
" Of course, Rig-Tre promised this. " Lit-Cou answered in surprise.
" No, YOU release me. Once we are in space, you find a friendly trader to take me before we return to Bre-Van. "
" But the Herats may be after us. "
" So, travelling away from Bre-Van will confuse and help in eluding them. "
Lit-Cou looked thoughtfully at the man before him, it was a small price to pay.
" Agreed. "
" If I come back without them and tell you that there was no chance and that we have to go, you believe it and we leave without delay. "
" Agreed. " Lit-Cou stated after a pause.
" Finally, if I don't come back, you find my companions and tell them everything, you tell them the truth about what happen to me. "
" Agreed. " Lit-Cou answered softly.
" Fine, I'm going. Don't wait forever. "
With that Paris slipped out of his seat, straightened his uniform and exited the ship. Lit-Cou watched as he disappeared over the grassy incline.
Rig-Tre and Mic-Lue were escorted into the conference room where Captain Janeway, Lt. Torres, Ensign Kim, Seven, Neelix and Doc waited. Chakotay and Tuvok joined those at the table, while two security guards stood behind the two men. Janeway took her time looking over each man.
" So, I understand you told the Commander that you 'hired' my lieutenant. Tell me, how much? " Janeway demanded.
" How much? " echoed Rig-Tre, still unbalanced by recent events.
" Yes, how much did Tom Paris cost? " she again demanded.
" Well . we gave him all we had. " Rig-Tre answered half-heartedly as he watched the woman before him and remember Paris' words.
" I have not been in the best mood recently, having to track down those that took one of my crew members and now that I have found you. "
She stood up and leaned forward, both hands flat on the table,
" I will not tolerate lies. Lt. Paris is a valued member of my crew, I want him back. What did you do to him and what plans for him do you have on Herat? Answer me! " She demanded.
Rig-Tre seemed to shrink into his seat, he had always been uneasy over the choice of seizing Paris, over his demeanour while their prisoner and over the fact that he had escaped and managed to send a message. Looking around now at the ship he was on and at the woman Paris had called his employer, Rig-Tre realised all his doubts had been justified.
" We took Paris, we had been on Mos Tanna for two weeks and had not been able to find any mercenary who fit our requirements and who would do the job for as little money as we had. Paris was our last chance to save our leader. "
" Leader? " interrupted Janeway.
" Yes, we are a small force, trying to severe our allegiance to the Herats who treat Bre-Vans as slaves. Our leader and his daughter were captured over four months ago. We have tried to rescue them and failed. We hope Paris will succeed. That is why we sent him to Herat, to rescue our leader and his daughter from a Herat prison. "
Silence fell in the conference room, finally Chakotay spoke,
" What did you do to Paris? What hold do you have on him? "
Rig-Tre's gaze fell to the table top, his hands nervously grasped together. He knew he had to tell them, he began to explain,
" The Herat are a very structured race, highly ordered. They have only one punishment for any serious crimes, it is called Tarush. The criminal is tattooed with a brand to show that he is a traitor and coward, then imprisoned. To the Herats this person no longer exists, they will not touch him directly, look at him directly, speak to him directly. He becomes a ghost to his people. Nothing he says will be heard .. we gave this brand to Paris. "
" No! " exclaimed Harry, horrified, " You tattooed Tom, as a traitor and coward, how could you? " Harry shook his head in disbelief, " Why, out of all the people around, did you have to chose Tom. "
Mic-Lue looked at the young man's anguish, seeing some one who was his own age. He felt he had to speak.
" Paris stated, that of his party, he alone deserved the brand. "
Harry looked at the stranger in shock,
" No, Tom may have made mistakes in his past but he never deserved this. He has never been a coward or a traitor to others, only himself. He is the most loyal and brave man I know. He is my friend. He does not deserve anything you did to him. Don't try to justify your action, what you did was wrong. " Harry looked away in disgust.
Tuvok broke the strained silence,
" So Mr Paris will not be able to get any assistance from the Herats. "
" No, Lit-Cou, our companion who went with Paris, is his only chance to get out of Herat. " Rig-Tre stated.
" I want details, gentlemen. How exactly is Mr Paris to rescue your leader? "
" We arranged a flight to the nearest airport, from there Paris will make his way into the prison. We have maps of where our people are being held and he will go and get them out. "
Chakotay looked at the man before him is disbelief,
" That is your plan! That's everything. "
" Yes, " muttered Rig-Tre.
" Paris does not have a chance, " concluded Chakotay.
" I will not rule out Tom yet, he has surprised us before. If he does succeed, then what? " asked Janeway.
" They will return to Bre-Van, we would hide them from the Herat and when it is safe, arrange for Paris to leave Bre-Van. " ended Rig-Tre.
" How long would that have been? How long would you have kept Tom a prisoner and then exactly how did you plan to return him to us or would you have just dropped him off on some planet? " Janeway demanded.
She looked away in disgust, fighting to regain her calm, angered by these men disregard for her pilot's welfare.
" I don't want the Herat to get suspicious of our presence in case things go wrong. We have to give Tom the chance to succeed. We will wait here till we hear what has happened to your 'rescue mission'. You two, " she glared at the Bre-Vans, " will be our guests till then. "
She glanced around the table, at the concerned expression of her crew.
" All we can do now is wait. "
Paris marched towards the prison with a confident stride, still feeling a thrill from his recent flying experience. It had been a hard and tricky flight, but the excitement he got from succeeding in navigating those ravines was still with him, even as he stood in the shadow of the prison's wall. He began to walk along it, looking for sensors, openings, anything he could use for an entrance. A few minutes later he halted in shock, it could not be that easy, though he definitely was due for some good luck, a vent cover stood before him. The size of a jeffries tube, he was sure he could use it to enter the prison. Taking one of the tools he had borrowed from the ship, he quickly loosened the cover after checking for any sensors. He squeezed in, leaving the vent cover closed, giving the appearance that nothing had been touched.
Within minutes, he stood in a prison corridor, undiscovered. Quickly orienteering himself from the maps he had memorised of the prison interior, he started to walk along at a determined pace, getting closer and closer to the maximum security cells. He passed other Herats a few times, they exchanged salutes, then moved on. Finally he reached the cells the Bre-Vans believed their leader and his daughter were held. A Herat officer approached him, looking at his uniform rank and designation.
" You are not cleared for this area, " the officer announced.
" I'm bringing a message from command. "
" You're a messenger, " the Herat officer sneered.
" Command stated the message could not be trusted to any but a Herat officer, which from your uniform, I'm assuming you are. " Paris sneered back.
" How dare you, " sputtered the officer. Before the man could continue to rave, Paris swung a punch, knocking the man out.
" Snob, " he muttered as he switched jackets and retrieved the keys the officer had. Pulling the body into a closet, which he locked, he left the office and began to move along the cells. Glancing into each cell until he found the faces that matched the images he had seen. He opened two cells and motioned the occupants out.
Things would probably move quicker if Paris wasn't forced into a long explanation, so he simply said,
" Prisoner transfer, move. "
He pushed the two people who clung to each other, having been denied each others presence during their imprisonment. As they began to walk along, Paris took the time to look them over. They were changed from the images he had seen, he recognised the prison effect, the stamp of captivity on their faces and bodies, the change within their eyes. In the daughter especially, Paris saw this. She was so young and she was an innocent in any crimes against the Herats.
Paris kept them walking steadingly through the corridors, ordering them not to talk when they tried, finally they were entering the last corridor and Paris began to relax. Just then the alarm sounded throughout the prison.
" Damn! " exclaimed Paris, as he had a quick look back the way they had come.
" Damn, Damn, Damn, " he muttered as he saw guards begin to run around. He looked back at the two Bre-Vans, his gaze drawn to the young girl and he made a decision.
" Come on, " he ordered as he ran to the interior vent cover.
" Follow this to the wall, then head directly to the cliffs. There is a ship there with a pilot, Lit-Cou. "
" Who ..What, " sputtered the Bre-Van leader.
" There is no time, " hissed Paris as he pulled the vent cover off. " Get in and go to the cliff, find Lit-Cou. Tell him to wait 15 minutes, if I'm not there by then, leave! Tell him to remember our agreement. " Paris pushed the leader into the vent and began to help the girl in.
" What about you? " she whispered fearfully.
" I need to provide a distraction or you will never make the ship, don't worry I'll be fine . Now go! "
Paris closed the vent cover carefully, then ran to the end of the corridor. Here he allowed himself to be seen by some Herat soldiers, the chase was on. Dodging search patrols, slipping through corridors, Paris began to wonder if his life was getting routine. He checked his watch again, the two Bre-Vans should have made it to the ship, now it was his turn. He began to make his way back to the vent, as he entered the final corridor he was caught. It seemed his spell of good luck was over.
Harry reported as soon as the ship's sensors detected it.
" I have a small ship heading for Bre-Van, it matches the description Rig-Tre supplied. "
" Good, " stated the Captain, " Commander, escort out guests to the bridge, I want them here when I contact the vessel. I don't want anything to happen to Tom at this late stage. Ensign, " the Captain addressed the woman at helm control, " take us out of orbit and rendezvous with that ship. "
" Yes Captain. "
Within half an hour, both ships met.
" Captain, sensors show only three life forms and none are human. " Kim reported.
" Hail them Mr Kim. " Janeway ordered as initial communications began.
" Yes Captain, I'm getting a response. On the view screen now. "
An older man, dressed in the manner of the Bre-Van, appeared.
" I am Lit-Cou of the Bre-Van. "
" Captain Janeway of the starship Voyager. Lit-Cou, you have something I want returned, where is Lt. Paris? "
" You are his employer? " Lit-Cou asked in amazement, looking at the immense ship that hung before him.
" Yes, now answer my question. "
" I'm sorry Captain Janeway, Paris did not return to the ship, he must have been captured by the Herats. "
Janeway stared at the view screen, at the man who had left Paris on Herat, then she glared at the two Bre-Van who stood off to the side of her bridge, at the two that had helped get Mr Paris into this situation.
" Harry, end communication. Tuvok, tractor beam that ship into cargo bay 3, secure all on board and bring them to the conference room. It's time we took some positive action. "
Tuvok left the bridge as Janeway looked around at her crew,
" Senior staff, assemble in the conference room. Ensign, plot a course to Herat but do not let us appear on any of their sensors. Stay out of orbit for now. "
" Yes Captain, " answered the tired ensign. She had been working extra shifts with the senior pilot gone. Now as she plotted the course she hoped it would be the last one she made without her boss on board.
All the senior crew and the two Bre-Vans were seated when Tuvok returned with the ship's occupants. Rig-Tre and Mic-Lue jumped from their seats in joy at seeing their leader and his daughter, greetings and hugs were exchanged until Janeway slammed her fist down on the table, grabbing their attention.
" Sorry to interrupt your reunion, " she hissed, " but WE have business. I want to know what happened to my crew member. You remember him, the one you abducted, held prisoner and then forced this rescue mission on. "
" Abducted, prisoner, " echoed the Bre-Van rebel leader, " What is she talking about? " He demanded of his country men.
" Ano-Ent, we had no choice. It had to be done it you were to be freed, " answered Rig-Tre.
" We have already heard all the reasons, " insisted Chakotay. " What we want now is for Lit-Cou to tell us exactly what happened during the mission, from the beginning, " he ordered.
Lit-Cou told of the uneventful trip to Herat, then of the sudden change in destination and of the following course change.
" He entered the ravines, " exclaimed Rig-Tre, " at Hera Five. How did you get to the prison? " He asked, confused.
" Paris flew through the ravines, he stayed beneath the Herat sensors, he navigated the ravine all the way to the prison cliff. Rig-Tre, " exclaimed Lit-Cou, " he landed us inside the prison grounds! Undetected! Beside the cliff! I will never forget that flight, not just for the danger of the ravines but from watching Paris at the controls. I have never seen such mastery, he made it look easy. " Lit-Cou slumped back in his seat, shaking his head in disbelief. He had been there, he had seen and experienced that flight, but still he thought of a flight through the ravines as an impossibility.
" Paris is the best pilot I have ever seen, " Janeway stated, amused at the man's eloquence. She wondered whether these ravines were as unflyable as the Bre-Vans believed. As if hearing her thoughts, Chakotay leaned over and whispered,
" I'll have Harry download the ship's flight recorder, make a holodeck simulation of the flight. This is something I would like to experience myself. "
" When it's ready inform me Chakotay, I'll join you. "
" Yes Captain, " Chakotay answered with a small grin.
The Bre-Vans were still looking at Lit-Cou in disbelief, it was time to continue, Janeway prodded Lit-Cou to go on.
" Paris left me with the ship and made his way to the prison. It was about 30 minutes later that I saw Ano-Ent and his daughter come over the rise. We waited as long as we could for Paris, 20 minutes, but by then there were foot patrols approaching and I had to take off or risk all of us being captured. We evaded the Herat space patrols and nothing else occurred till we met here. " Lit-Cou finished.
" What happened in the prison? " asked Chakotay of the two rescued.
" A Herat officer come to our cells, released us and then made us march through the corridors. It seemed like any other transfer. Suddenly the alarms sounded, this man Paris rushed us to a vent in the wall, pushed us through it telling us how to find Lit-Cou, asking that Lit-Cou wait for 15 minutes, asking that Lit-Cou remember their agreement. Then he was gone, back into the prison. "
The young girl added to the discussion, " The man said he had to create a disturbance. "
" A diversion, " concluded Chakotay, " to give you both time to reach the ship. "
" Yes, " the girl replied.
" You mentioned an agreement? " queried Janeway.
" Before Paris left the ship after we had landed, we reached an agreement. If he did not return, I would find his companions and tell them what had happened to him. " Lit-Cou explained.
" Very well, we must assume that the Herat have captured Tom. They will find the tattoo you gave him and then what? Where will they send Paris? I want to know all about their prison system, it seems that there is still a lot more needed to be done before Mr Paris is returned to us. " Janeway stated.
Those gathered began to discuss the Herat prison system and the most likely events to occur to Paris now that he was captured by the Herat.
The soldiers that had captured Paris did not speak to him, only drag him along the corridors until they pushed him into a small room that held three chairs only. Two of the chairs were occupied by high ranking Herat officers, the other chair stood empty. The soldiers forced Paris into the chair, securing him to it at his ankles and wrists. The soldiers left. One of the high ranking officers spoke,
" You helped the Bre-Van rebels escape, you betrayed your people, you dishonoured your uniform. You have earned yourself the Tarush. "
Well, that was a quick trial, Tom thought as one of the Herats approached him, removing his sleeve in preparation of administering the Tarush tattoo. The Herat hissed in shock, pulling away his hands as if Paris burned him, turning his eyes away he spoke to his companion.
" It is Tarush! " he announced, the other Herat paled in shock.
" We must be cleansed, all those who came into contact with it must be cleansed. Judgment has been rendered. Have it removed. " The Herat ordered as both abruptly left the room.
Paris watched in shock at the sudden events, Rig-Tre and Lit-Cou had explained what the tattoo and Tarush meant but he was still shocked to see it in action. He had been preparing himself for some unpleasant questions but now it seemed what he knew was no longer important. He did not believe the Herats even knew how he has entered the prison, but it seemed that information was not as important as following the rules of Tarush. He looked down at his restraints, straining to see if there was any way out of them, but they were too tight. He had no hope of getting loose. He looked around hoping for something, anything in the room that could be of use. The room was empty. He slumped in his seat, wondering at his situation, he had been captured and imprisoned by the Bre-Vans, making him their prisoner, then captured and imprisoned by the Herats, making him their prisoner while he was still a Bre-Van's prisoner. So he was a prisonered prisoner, a imprisoned prisoner, a prisoner twice. He wondered if even Tuvok could supply a relevant term for this development. He turned his mind to other matters as thoughts of Tuvok led to thoughts of his friends and Voyager. He had no reason to believe his message had been received by Voyager, only hope. Hope that they had received the message, that it had been complete and decipherable and that they would be able to find this system he was imprisoned in. He wondered if this happened often, being imprisoned on every planet within a system, or if he had created another strange record.
He shook his head, then sat back, relaxing as much as he could as he began to wonder what this 'cleansing' everyone who had contact with him actually involved, something painful and unpleasant hopefully. Hours passed before four soldiers entered the room, Paris was hungry, thirsty, wanting to use the facilities and wanting to stretch his arms and legs, if they could still support him. The soldiers made no attempt to speak to him and did not even seem to be aware he was in the room. They still managed to undo the clasps on his arms and legs, then he was prodded out of the chair, his legs seized up as soon as he stood, causing him to collapse to his knees. None of the soldiers made any attempt to help him, only prodding him harder. Using the chair he managed to stand, ignoring the jabs of the soldiers weapons, he waited till he believed his legs could hold him, then he walked out of the room. The soldiers directed him along until he was pushed into a large room, half of the room was caged off. The cage held a number of prisoners, all Bre-Vans, some who watched the new arrival with curiosity or indifference, others who did not stir. The soldiers forced the uniform off Paris, letting him keep his boots and undergarments, throwing a prisoner uniform on the ground before him. When Paris had retrieved it, the cage was open and he was pushed in. The only supposedly Herat surrounded by Bre-Vans, the outsider even in a shared prison cell. Paris got dressed and made his way to some empty wall space, were he slumped down exhausted by the day's events. This situation was not new to him, he would deal with anything that developed.
Harry looked up as another round of cursing could be heard, he watched as B'Elanna pulled herself out from under the console.
" What's wrong now? " He asked wearily.
" We finally get the kintaria ore refined and I spent ever moment while we were orbiting Bre-Van getting the engines ready for the exchanged, but here we are still forced to travel at impulse as the Captain insists that all the safety procedures be followed to the letter. We should go to warp! " She demanded.
" B'Elanna, " began Harry, " I know you want to rescue Tom this very moment, I do too, but if you did anything to risk his ship, he would never forgive you. " He ended with a smile.
B'Elanna found herself grinning reluctantly as she moved back under the console.
" This is my ship. " She muttered.
Like the Herats, the Bre-Vans ignored the latest addition to their ranks, unsure how to deal with the Herat in their mists, even one sentenced to Tarush, as all had seen his tattoo. Food and water were supplied in the evening, a civilised affair for a prison, even Paris managed to grab some. He returned to his space and soon fell asleep.
Tom woke in the morning as the guards entered the cell and soon had all the Bre-Vans chained together. When the guards reached Tom he found he had to place the chains on himself, as none would touch him. He placed them on carefully, making them appear close even though the lock had not activated. He wondered how far this Tarush treatment extended. One guard, a huge ugly man who had been busy with the Bre-Vans approached Tom and with his staff, swung quickly at Tom's chains, knocking them off. He quickly swung his staff again, laying it across Tom's back, making him cry out in pain. The guards waited as Tom placed his chains on again, making sure they locked this time. The ugly guard swung again, knocking the chains, this time they stayed on. Tom was prodded into position at the end of the line.
The ugly guard started at the beginning of the line, hitting, poking and slapping each Bre-Van as they stood chained and helpless, no matter what they did. All ages were represented, the young teenager to the old woman, none were spared by this guard on his little inspection. Tom watched the back of the Bre-Van before him, a big strong man, older than Tom, the tension in this man got greater and greater as the guard got closer to the end of the line. But the Bre-Van held himself in check over his growing anger at how his people were treated, both he and Tom knew violence was not the answer. As Tom watched the man before him being beaten, he decided to test a little theory he had developed. The guard had finished, treating Tom as if he was not even there and had turned away. Tom moved suddenly, tangling his leg chains and began to trip over. He instinctively reached out for the nearest thing which was the Herat guard, Paris seized onto his legs, enough to slow his fall so that he only suffered some light bruising from his connection with the floor.
The ugly guard turned around in shock, to find the Tarush prisoner attempting to untangle his feet so he could stand. Tom released the guard and pushed himself back up, muttering " Sorry, not used to chains. "
The other guards had watched in horror at the events and now one rushed forward, grabbing the prisoners chain key from the ugly guard as he stated,
" You can't be escort now, you must go immediately to be cleansed. "
The ugly guard glared at the ground just before Paris, then turned abruptly and left. Paris looked around at the other guards, trying to appear innocent and clumsy, however none were looking at him. His eyes connected with the Bre-Van before him, the Bre-Van gave a slow small nod of his head, acknowledging what Paris had done before turning to face the front of the line.
The prisoners were marched out, loaded onto a transport that left the maximum security prison. As Tom watched the prison recede he shook his head in despair. If Voyager was trying to find him, they must keep going to places he had just left because it seemed he just couldn't find a place to simply wait for them, he was always on the move. Now he was being transferred to some unknown prison and this time there was no way to leave any hint of where he was going. The prison disappeared from view, how would the Captain find him now.
Janeway looked around at her senior crew, all who were showing signs of exhaustion. Since Tom's abduction, they had either been trying to catch up with him or worrying over all the new developments that seemed to pop up.
" Very well, the Bre-Vans had supplied as much information as they could. At this time I'm willing to give them a small measure of trust, Lit-Cou and Ano-Ent seem genuine in the debt they owe Mr Paris. What are your suggestions? "
" I believe we have only one option, Captain. " Tuvok began. " We must retrieve Mr Paris through action. I suggest an away team to, how would Mr Paris phrase it, ah yes, to go in, get him and get the hell out of there. "
Grins broke out at Tuvok's statement.
" You see no way to resolve this diplomatically? " Janeway asked.
" No, as a Tarush prisoner, the Herat authorities would not be able to even acknowledge Mr Paris' existence. I can not see a discussion occurring over Mr Paris' release when one party is hindered in this manner. "
" I agree with Tuvok, Captain, " Chakotay stated , " the Bre-Vans have supplied us with the location of the three nearest prisons Paris could have been sent to. I suggest three two-person teams be sent down in reconnaissance to find which one holds Paris and then we plan a prison break. "
" The Herat sensors would detect a transporter beam down to the surface but they are not sophisticated enough to determine the destination of the beam. We can camouflage the away teams beam down with a legitimate one to their capital. " Harry reported.
" To the capital, I take it Mr Kim that you want me to be the diversion once again? " Janeway queried.
" Yes Maam, " answered Harry definitely.
" So I will. Seven, Neelix, you two are with me, hopefully Seven's appearance will reassure the Herats that we are civilised people. Chakotay, Tuvok, you and one member of security each will select one prison site to check . Harry and B'Elanna, you two take the last one. "
At their looks of relief, Janeway added,
" I know you have been feeling that you haven't done enough for Tom himself, you have but maybe this away mission will make you feel better. "
" It will, thank you Captain, " answered Harry for both of them.
" Let's begin. " stated Janeway as she stood up and entered the bridge, she addressed the ensign at the con station,
" Ensign, move us into Herat orbit. "
Prisons throughout the many regions of space all seem to have the same routines, get up, work, eat and sleep. Some varied on the basic theme slightly, but Paris decided he had visited enough prisons to be an expert. Of course, each prison generally had one routine that made it unique, this Herat prison's unique routine was the treatment of Tarush prisoners. No guards watched him or gave orders to him, he was not officially included in meals distribution or work parties and if he could find a guard without a staff, he doubted that guard would even beat him. There were a few other Tarush prisoners in the prison but they treated other Herats in the proper Herat manner, in the Tarush manner. Tom got some entertainment at watching two Tarush prisoners meet, they performed a strange dance in their mutual avoidance of touch and sight. These Herats also viewed the Bre-Vans as an inferior race and would have nothing to do with them either. It was a lonely life these Herats lived.
Tom had no such restrictions on his manner, he felt no need to live up to the Tarush style or with the Herats bigotry. He managed to make a friend of the large Bre-Van who had been transported to this prison with him. His name was Pem-Dar, a Bre-Van rebel who had been caught trying to sabotage the Herat's security database. Due to his association with the Bre-Van rebels, Paris stated that he was a Herat who had been imprisoned for traitorous behaviour. Lit-Cou had informed him that this was a typical crime for those sentenced to the Tarush, a Herat could be accused and found guilty simply by offending a Herat officer.
The work they did was back-breaking from sun up till sun down and the guards unfriendly. Paris had no trouble with the guards that ignored the prisoners or even those who occasionally used their staffs. Paris however had trouble with the guards who like using their staffs a little too much, he discovered a simple solution to this problem. Tom Paris, the expert flyer whose eye and hand coordination was far above average, became clumsy. He began to find that he tripped a lot, generally when he was near these abusive guards and nearly always he fell into these guards. He still did not know what the cleansing ceremony was but it took the guards away for two days. The Bre-Vans he worked with soon noticed the pattern in his falls, this helped to reduce their natural animosity to him, as a supposed Herat. Pem-Dar in particular enjoyed this activity and often aided in bringing about the situation Paris needed to cause a guard to have to be cleansed.
As the days passed Paris found it more and more difficult to believe Voyager would find him, all the events that had occurred to him seemed random and unrelated, how would Voyager have followed such a slim trail.
Tuvok and the ensign who formed the first away mission beamed down to the ground in a forested area, following the tricorder readings they approached the prison. In a forest clearing, there stood a number of buildings, passing beside them was a heavily travelled road. As Tuvok watched another convoy of trucks passed through. He watched through binoculars the movement within the prison grounds.
" It appears to be a factory of some kind, I can see a few prisoners walking between the buildings, guards patrolling and posted at strategic locations. It would be reasonable to assume that most prisoners are at work within the two largest buildings, it will be unlikely that we will spot Lieutenant Paris on the grounds until the work day is over and all prisoners are escorted to their cells. "
" So all we can do is wait. " The ensign stated.
" No, we will observe all we can on the operations of this prison and also all those who pass between the buildings. There is always the possibility that it may be Mr Paris. "
The two men settled themselves undercover and began to watch and note the happenings in the factory prison.
The second away team found themselves crouching down behind some scrubs, a high security fence stretching along the field before them. Chakotay looked around carefully,
" There's not much cover around but see that group of small trees to our right. I think we can set up there. "
The security ensign nodded her agreement.
" How will we find Lt. Paris? " she asked as they moved carefully to the trees.
" These fields appear to be worked by the prisoners, we'll see just how lucky we get, if Paris is put to work here we should easily spot him. "
" And if he isn't? "
" We will work our way around until we can see the cells better, " Chakotay answered as he nodded to the buildings they could see across the fields.
" It is still early morning, the Herats will have their prisoners working, the fields are our best chance for the moment. "
They reached the trees and settled in, quiet spread over them, finally the ensign spoke.
" I can see movement at the end of the field, it looks like the prisoners have arrived. "
Both of them turned their binoculars to the end of the field and began to search among the working prisoners for their crew mate.
Torres and Kim worked their way along the cliff top, looking down on occasion at the prison below them. This was the last prison an away team had been sent too. Finally they reached their destination, an outcrop that allowed them easy viewing down onto the prison and the opening in the cliffs below them.
" A mine! " exclaimed B'Elanna in disgust as she looked down.
" Tom has to be here, only he would have the rotten luck to end up in another mine prison, " she added thinking of the Vidian prison they both had once been held in.
" Well if he is, " Harry stated, " we don't have much of a chance of spotting him until the end of the work day. Tuvok was right in arranging for the away teams to be gone a full day. "
B'Elanna shifted around, trying to get more comfortable.
" Tuvok is always right, " she muttered. Harry grinned at her, generally Vulcans and Klingons were not a good mix.
" I'll take first watch, " he offered as he too settled in for a long day.
Janeway, Seven and Neelix beamed down to the Herat's capital city and were welcomed by the trade minister. They began with a tour, Seven looked superior and remote as she silently followed the party, Janeway was authoritative and commanding as she walked beside the minister while Neelix chattered away, asking about anything and everything, reminiscing and generally slowing the tour down considerably. It was two hours later that Janeway and her team returned to Voyager, the tour unfinished. Janeway had made arrangements to continue the tour the next day at the same time. Things were going along as planned.
Tom looked around carefully before he stopped, he was tired and thirsty and hungry and he would prefer to be flying Voyager then working for the Herats. He stood straight for a moment, trying to stretch sore muscles, glancing around again he saw a guard approaching and quickly bent down and began to work again. The guard came and tapped him on his back, the signal Tom had deduced that meant he was to follow. It looked like he was being moved to a new location. He stood again, picking up his tools and fell in behind the other prisoners, enjoying the break from work even if it was marching. He had been working hard all morning and the bright sunlight caused him to squint his eyes as he moved quickly forward so that he stood beside his friend. Pem-Dar threw him a grin as they began to move.
" Nothing , the only movement all morning has been the Herat guards, we have not seen one prisoner, " uttered B'Elanna angrily.
" Come on Torres, you know it is unlikely we will see much before the work shift is over. " Harry tried to reason.
" I know, I know but we are so close. I want to find Tom now. We have been chasing him for over a week and this time we are close. "
" I know B'Elanna, I'm worried too. " Harry responded.
Before he could continue, B'Elanna suddenly reached out and grabbed his arm.
" Look, a group of prisoners are coming out! " she announced.
Harry quickly joined her and both stared down intently as each prisoner exited the mine. As the line marched out B'Elanna and Harry were disappointed, each person revealed was a Bre-Van. There was no sign of Tom, finally Harry exclaimed.
" Look there, just coming out. "
Both looked intently at the tall blond prisoner who had just exited the mine.
" It's Tom. Its got to be, " whispered B'Elanna, a grin breaking on both their faces.
Tuvok made another entry on his datapad, noting another passing of a truck convoy. The ensign beside him stiffened and began to focus his binoculars.
" Have you seen something Ensign, " Tuvok asked.
" Yes sir, a large party of prisoners are exiting one of the buildings. They all seem to be Bre-Vans .. " the ensign halted, " Wait , there's one who could be Lt. Paris, tall and blond. "
Tuvok lifted up his binoculars and focused on the figure the ensign mentioned. The man's back was to them.
" You are correct, Ensign. His general appearance does match Lt. Paris, however we would need to see his face for final confirmation. " Tuvok advised as they both waited for the prisoner to turn around.
The ensign lowered her binoculars in disappointment as she turned to the first officer.
" They are all Bre-Vans. " She stated.
Chakotay lowered his binoculars also and turned to the ensign,
" It would have been unlikely to find Lt. Paris in the first group of prisoners we examined Ensign. Don't worry, we have all day and I am certain either we or the other away teams will locate Lt. Paris. "
" Is it true, Commander, that the lieutenant was taken just because of his looks? " the ensign asked.
" I see Voyager's rumour mill is working well. Yes Ensign, the Bre-Vans needed someone who looked like the Herat. "
" Doesn't seem fair, " the ensign muttered, going back to examining the fields before her.
' No, it isn't, ' agreed Chakotay in his thoughts.
The morning passed slowly, the pair on away team two grateful for the shade provided by the trees they hid in. A few more parties had been moved about the field but none contained anyone who could have been Paris. Finally in the late morning, another group appeared. Chakotay watched as the figures come closer to his location, their figures and faces becoming clearer. Finally behind a large Bre-Van he noted blond hair.
" There is a blond prisoner in the new party, " he stated to the ensign, who immediately seized up her binoculars.
" I see him, I can just make out his hair. "
" Yes, he's the right height, now if only he would move out from behind that Bre-Van. "
Both watched carefully, waiting to see the blond prisoner's face, waiting to see if it was Paris.
Paris moved along, crossing his new work area and noted that this one was something new. He turned to Pem-Dar and whispered,
" What are these? "
" Erkon, be careful and watch your hands, " was all Pem-Dar could say without the guards noticing.
Paris looked down at his hands and then at the erkon, he could guess what the problem was. He began to examine his tools and what he had on him. He needed something to protect his hands as the Herats certainly did not offer any medical assistance to a Tarush. He could find nothing, he would just have to be careful. He moved forward again, stepping to his right slightly so he could have a quick look around, he hoped to find a flaw in the prison security so he could escape. As he looked carefully around, he felt he was being watched. Quickly checking the guards, he found that none were paying him any attention, then who he wondered was watching him. Paris shrugged his shoulders and bent down to begin work on the erkon.
B'Elanna sat back against the cliff top and was joined by Harry.
" It's not him. " She muttered in disappointment.
" I know, but for a moment . " began Harry.
" For a moment it was Tom, " ended B'Elanna.
They sat still for a moment, then Harry moved back to the cliff edge.
" Come on, at least we know Tarush prisoners are not kept separated. He may be in another party. "
B'Elanna joined him as they continued to watch the mine prison.
" It is not Lt. Paris, " stated Tuvok as the prisoner they had been watching finally turned around.
" No, that's not the lieutenant, " agreed the ensign.
" I suggest we continue with our observations. " Tuvok commanded as he again noted another truck convoy.
" It's Paris, " exclaimed Chakotay.
" It's the lieutenant, " cried the ensign.
The blond prisoner they had been watching had stepped out from behind the Bre-Van, they had immediately recognised Tom as he glanced around, then bent down to work in the field.
" We will watch him for now then follow him to the cells. I don't think we can attempt a rescue while he works the fields, the Herats seem to move the prisoners around often. The cells at night will be our best hope, " stated Chakotay.
" Yes Commander, " answered the ensign smiling. She was from a long line of starfleet members, not as distinguished as the Paris family, but still her family had been in starfleet for generations. She had been uncomfortable working with the Marquis and especially Paris in the beginning but over the years they had all proven themselves. It was good to know that she had helped to find their taken crew member, that she would help bring him home. For Voyager was home to them all now, a home where the members would do all that they could for each other. This rescue mission was an example of that. Voyager would never abandon one of its own. They watched Tom carefully, they had finally found him, they would not lose him again.
Paris' hands quickly became cut and bleeding from trying to harvest the erkon fruit, the leaves of the plant were thin and razor sharp, slicing into his hands easily as he was forced to reach in to grab the fruit. Tom knew he could cause serious damage to his hands if he was not careful. He looked around, noting a few of the experienced Bre-Vans had coverings on their hands. There was only one thing Paris could use, he stopped working and stood up, pulling off the prison uniform top. He used one of his tools to break off the sleeves, then after putting his butchered uniform top back on, he began to use the sleeves to wrap his hands.
He felt he was being watched again, a feeling that had persisted since he started work in the erkon field. Looking around he noted the approach of a Herat guard, he was not surprised as to stop working was not appreciated by the Herat. Tom bound his hands faster, trying to finish before the guard reached him. He ran out of time. The staff cracked down painfully on his back, causing him to drop to his knees in pain, using the hand he had finished binding, Paris quickly began to work again. A few more whacks with the staff satisfied the guard until he realised that the Tarush tattoo was openly revealed. He jabbed Paris a number of times just above the brand but Paris pretended ignorance. The guard was unable to tell him to cover the tattoo so eventually he moved off. Paris kept working, thankful that he could do the work on his knees, he very much doubted he could of stood after the guard had left him. He managed to finish binding his other hand, the cloth protecting most of his hands from the sharp leaves as he plucked out the erkon fruit. As the initial pain faded, Paris again felt he was being watched, afraid that another guard was about to discipline him, he got ready to send a guard to be cleansed as he looked carefully around. None of the guards seemed to be paying him any attention. Tom wondered what was worse, his skin crawling because he felt he was constantly being watched or the pain in his back. As he shuffled forward he got his answer. The pain in his back was definitely the worst.
Ensign Galoway watched as Paris stood up.
" Commander, " she warned wondering what the lieutenant was up to.
They both watched as Paris removed his top, tore the sleeves off, replaced his top and began to wrap his hands. Both felt anger over the marks that had been revealed on Tom's torso, that anger quickly turned to uneasiness at the approach of the Herat guard. They could only watch as their crew mate was beaten. At Paris' acquiescence at his treatment, Galoway asked,
" Why doesn't he do something? "
" There is nothing he can do Ensign, he's a prisoner and Paris knows how to survive as a prisoner. "
" So he just takes the abuse? " She asked in disbelief.
" Is that not what he did in the early days on Voyager? " Chakotay asked.
" We never .. I mean he was never beaten like this on Voyager, sir. "
" There are many different types of abuse, Ensign. Don't worry, Paris survived it then and he will survive this prison now, till we get him out. "
" Yes sir, " answered Galoway softly, thinking about events from the past and certain people's actions.
Chakotay and Galoway watched Paris through the rest of the afternoon till the end of the work shift, Paris turned out to be an unpopular prisoner. He worked steadily, harvesting the erkon fruit but the Herats constantly approached him, hitting him once or twice with their staffs as if to make him work faster. Paris ignored them all, just continued on as he was. Both observers sighed in relief as the work day ended, it had not been pleasant watching a friend and fellow crew member being tormented. They followed the work party back to the cells, noting carefully which one held Paris. One member of the away team watched all night, noting all the guards movements, if all went to plan then the next night they would get Paris. In the morning when Janeway beamed down to the planet, all the away teams returned to Voyager except for one member.
Paris knew why he was so popular that day, the display of his Tarush brand made the guards angry and their inability to actually order him to cover it up, infuriated them. Paris ignored them, he was a pilot and his hands were important, more important than satisfying the guards anger. He could tolerate the extra hits from the staffs to protect his hands. He was not however completely stupid, as soon as the work day finished and he could stand up, he removed the bound sleeves on his hands, now rags and wrapped them around his forearm, covering the Tarush tattoo. The guards backed off then, going back to ignoring him. Pem-Dar managed to be beside him as they marched back to the cells.
" How are you? " he whispered.
" Had better days. "
" Why? " Pem-Dar asked, nodding to the rags on his arm.
" They had an extra excuse today but the treatment was the same, if I had ignored the damage to my hands I could have permanently damaged them. That was what was important in the field today. "
" All that because of your hands, " muttered Pem-Dar in disbelief, " the worse that has happened to others is some restriction or loss of movement in the digits. "
" I'm a flyer Pem-Dar, I need my hands working. "
" Well, it is your choice. "
They marched on in silence, returning to the cells for some food and then to sleep, morning comes quickly in prison.
Tuvok and the ensign materialised on the transporter pad, tired from the long day and night surveillance on the factory prison, that had revealed three Tarush prisoners, none who were Paris. The second team materialised, Commander Chakotay stood alone on the pad.
" You located Lt. Paris? " Tuvok asked.
" Yes, we found Tom. "
He stepped away as the third party returned to Voyager, B'Elanna and Harry quickly glanced at the others, immediately determining that one of the away team members was missing and therefore Tom had been found.
" Where is he? " B'Elanna demanded.
" Prison 2, a farm prison. " Chakotay answered.
" How is he? " Harry asked.
" Good, they have him working the fields during the day and locked up at night. I have all the information my team gathered on a tricorder. Let's begin examining the data in the conference room while we wait for the Captain to return, " Chakotay decided.
Janeway returned an hour later, bringing Neelix and Seven to the conference room, where a three dimensional plan had been created of the prison Paris was held in.
" Report, " she ordered.
" We located Mr Paris at Prison 2, this is a representation of it. Ensign Galoway remained on the planet to monitor him today and Tuvok had come up with a plan to retrieve him tonight. " Chakotay summarised.
" Tuvok? " queried Janeway.
" This Captain is my plan, " Tuvok began and all listened carefully as the details emerged. Finally at the end Janeway spoke,
" Do it! "
Quickly her crew separated, each going to complete their preparations for that night's rescue.
Galoway moved slightly, keeping herself in the shadows, to stay hidden and also to be shaded from the sun. She looked again at where Paris was working, at least this field did not seem to need him to protect his hands, but she could see the redness of his arms and face as he suffered from sunburn. It did not seem to bother him as he steadily moved along the field, but then neither had the beatings he had endured yesterday. Today it seemed as if the guards did not even know he existed, they did not approach him or watch him. She watched as one of the Bre-Vans approached Paris, who stopped work to greedily accept the drink he was offered. The Bre-Van was tall, matching Paris in height, something he said caused Paris to quickly look over his shoulder. Galoway followed their glance to find a Herat guard approaching the field, casually prodding all the prisoners he past sharply in the back. He did not seem a nice character and he was headed directly for Paris. It was the first time Galoway had seen a guard look directly towards Paris, she did not think this was a good omen.
" Look who's back, " muttered Pem-Dar, nodding behind Paris. Paris turned and looked behind to see a Herat guard approaching.
" If it isn't our old friend, the admiral, " announced Paris, using the nickname he had given the sadistic torturer who approached them.
" He does not seem happy, he must not have enjoyed his last ' cleansing' " added Pem-Dar with a grin, " shall you wait one day again before you send him to be cleansed? "
" No, I don't think so. He was suspicious the last time I tripped and I'm in no mood to wait. " Paris looked back at his friend with a grin,
" What do you think Pem-Dar, shall I trip as soon as the admiral is close? "
Pem-Dar's smile grew, " Yes Paris, I think you should and I know exactly what to do. Face me and have another drink, I think we will both be very thirsty before this is over. "
Paris nodded his agreement as he followed Pem-Dar's instructions. He heard the Herat guard get closer and closer, finally the admiral snapped an order at Pem-Dar. Pem-Dar rushed to obey, slamming into Paris who fell backwards, straight into the arms of the guard. The admiral had automatically raised his arms to protect himself and in doing so had grasped Paris' shoulders as he fell back. The admiral had in fact placed his hand directly over the concealed Tarush brand. He released Paris as soon as he became aware of this. Paris and Pem-Dar, now both on the ground, watched in amusement as the admiral began to scream in horror and the other Herat guards began to race towards them. The admiral was escorted away to be 'cleansed' again, the fourth time since Paris had arrived in the prison. Pem-Dar was seized and Paris prodded back to the cells where they were locked into boxes, separate from the main cell block. These boxes were small and each man had to bend and twist himself to get in. They were left there for punishment.
Galoway had watched fearfully the Herat guard's determined approach but then events had taken a comical turn. When the Herat guard was just behind Paris, the Bre-Van had moved forward, pushing Paris into the Herat. The Herat had grabbed Paris for a moment then both prisoners ended up on the ground. Then the strangest thing happened, the Herat had began to scream, a terror filled scream that had frozen everyone in the field. The stillness had been broken by the movement of every Herat guard to Paris' location. Then the first Herat guard was escorted away and Paris and the Bre-Van led back to the cells. Galoway followed carefully and watched them both being forced into the little boxes. When she and Chakotay had spotted the boxes yesterday, they had believed they were a type of kennel for a local small animal, now she found that they were punishment cells. As she watched Paris bend himself to enter, she knew he was going to get very sore, very soon. All she could do was wait.
Janeway had informed the Herat government of a slight problem on Voyager that they were in the process of repairing. A side effect of this problem was the projection of energy into space, harmless but detectable by the Herat sensors. Random beams had been directed out to space and towards the planet for 30 minutes before one containing the away team was directed to the planet, towards the combadge of a starfleet ensign. It was early evening as Galoway waited eagerly for the away team to appear. She immediately approached the Commander to report.
" Lt. Paris has not been returned to the same cell as last night Commander, he got into some kind of trouble this afternoon and he and a Bre-Van were locked into small boxes. "
" Can you show us on this map Ensign, " Tuvok requested.
She quickly marked the relevant position.
" The kennels? " queried Chakotay.
" Yes sir, we were wrong about their function, they're punishment cells. " Galoway answered.
" This is beneficial to our plan, " stated Tuvok, " one of our main concerns was getting Mr Paris out of the barrack cells without disturbing the other prisoners. His actions today have resolved this issue. "
" What did he do? " Chakotay asked, curious.
" Well Commander, as far as I can tell, he fell backwards into a guard. " She stated, still confused.
" That's it, " muttered Chakotay.
" Yes sir, that's all he did. It wasn't even his fault, he was knocked over by the Bre-Van. They were both placed in the punishment boxes. "
" Very well, any other developments we should be aware of? "
" No sir, the routine is the same as last night. "
" Good, the plan goes ahead, we just have an easier destination to reach this time. Tuvok. " Chakotay let the Vulcan handle his security team.
Soon they were moving through the night approaching the prison fence. It was a simple matter to bypass the sensors and cut open an entrance. They moved quickly through the prison, eluding patrolling guards and any other security measures. Soon they were by the boxes, Galoway nodded silently to the one that contained Paris. Tuvok worked quickly on the lock and soon had it open. Nothing could be seen in the darkness of the box's interior.
" Paris, " whispered Chakotay, " Tom, it's Chakotay. "
Finally a sound was heard as a voice, rough with exhaustion answered,
" About time. "
Chakotay sensed movement, then a hand appeared, dirty and grimy, covered in cuts.
" Help me out. "
Chakotay eagerly reached forward and grasped Paris' forearm, pulling him out as Paris tried to stifle his groans. Finally Paris lay out on the ground,
" Give me a moment, " he said as his muscles protested from the last few hours strain, now finally being able to stretch out and relax. Paris looked carefully around at the shadows of faces, of those who had came for him. He noticed someone missing.
" Pem-Dar, he's in the next box. "
" Tom, we can't interfere, " began Chakotay.
" Don't give me that, " Paris hissed, " I've already gotten two Bre-Vans out of prison, what's one more Chakotay, he's a friend. "
Chakotay noticed the determined expression on the face of the man below him,
" Alright Tom. "
He nodded his permission to Tuvok, who suprisingly without complaint, released the other prisoner.
Pem-Dar had heard the movement in the next cell and had feared that under the cover of darkness the Herats were inflicting punishment onto his friend Paris. His fears soon turned to curiosity when he only heard a whispered conversation. When his box opened and a hand reached in, he carefully grasped it and kept his groans quiet as possible as he was helped out. He found himself lying on the ground, shadow outline of people over him, glancing around he noted the body beside him.
" Paris, " he whispered, the body answered immediately.
" We're getting out of here Pem-Dar. "
Paris forced himself to move, pushing himself up until finally he was standing. Two people stood on either side steadying him. One he immediately recognised as Chakotay, the other was a woman but it was too dark to see her clearly.
" Don't worry Lieutenant, we won't let you fall. "
Paris recognised the voice, a security ensign. She had always kept her distance from him. He was surprised and thankful for her words.
" I'm not worried, Ensign Galoway, " he replied.
Paris looked around, noting the outline of three more people joined together, he assumed this was Pem-Dar and his assistants.
" Commander, I'm ready to return to Voyager now. I still have a report to file. "
Chakotay had to stifle his laughter at this reference to the earlier away mission and the bar fight.
" Don't give me an excuse to leave you here Lieutenant, " he answered severely.
" I'll be good, " muttered Paris, " anything to get off this planet and out of this system. "
" Okay then, let's go. "
Helping the two weakened prisoners along they returned to the fence, sealing the gap and removing all signs that they had been there.
Finally Tom heard the words he had long been waiting for.
" Voyager, away team plus two ready to beam back. "
A grin burst Tom's face at the familiar feel of the transporter beam, turning to a full fledged smile as he looked into the faces of the Captain and his friends, Harry and B'Elanna.
" Tom, welcome home, " stated Janeway as she moved forward, giving Paris a gentle hug.
" You look like you could do with a trip to the sickbay. "
" I could do with something for this sunburn, " Paris replied. " Oh Captain, I'd like you to meet a friend. "
Paris reached back and pulled his friend forward,
" This is Pem-Dar, he helped keep me sane in prison. "
" Hello Pem-Dar, you are Bre-Van? "
" Yes Captain. "
" I think you could do with the doctor's attention also. Harry, B'Elanna, make sure these two get to sickbay. "
" Yes Captain. "
The two hurried forward, reaching out to touch their friend. No words were needed.
" Tom, you know the way. Pem-Dar follow us. "
All four walked slowly out of the transporter room, Harry and B'Elanna matching their steps to the shuffle of the two ex-prisoners.
" Well, he's not in the worst condition I've seen him in after a prison rescue. " Janeway commented after the doors had closed behind the small party.
" No, and hopefully the main reason for his painful movements will be simple muscle strain. " Chakotay suggested.
" Explain. "
" Paris and Pem-Dar had been placed in punishment boxes, very small, very tight and very uncomfortable. It did however make rescuing them easier. "
" Yes them, what made you bring Pem-Dar? "
" I got the feeling Tom would not leave without him and since he had already rescued two Bre-Vans, it seemed unfair to deny him one more, especially as this one was by his own choice."
" Fair enough, let's go to sickbay. I think I'll have our Bre-Van guests join us. "
Paris has insisted the doctor treat Pem-Dar first, he sat on a nearby biobed simply enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of being back on Voyager. The doors opened and he watched as the Captain and Commander entered. It was the people who followed that caused Paris to quickly control what emotions his face and body revealed.
" Well well, look who's shown up, if it isn't my old captors, the noble rebels. " Paris sarcastically announced, watching three of the men carefully.
" Please, stand where I can see you. I'm in no mood to wake up with a sore head again. "
" For someone you supposedly hired, Mr Paris does not seem happy to see you, " commented Janeway.
" Hired! " burst out Paris, jumping off the biobed in anger, but before he could take a step though, his body was seized with a powerful muscle cramp. He cried out and began to fall. Harry was quickly beside him and held him up. After a few painful moments the cramp subsided, Tom looked up at his friend, " Thanks Harry. "
" Anytime Tom, let's just get you back on the biobed. "
The doctor moved forward.
" I have finished with your friend Mr Paris, so if you will just lie down, I'll begin with you. "
" First things first, " replied Paris. He threw an angry glance at the three Bre-Vans, then reached up and ripped his arm band away, revealing the Tarush tattoo.
" Remove this! " Paris demanded.
" Of course, it will be a simple matter. " The doctor stated, aware of what the tattoo meant and why Tom had been given it. The doctor gently passed one of his medical tools over the tattoo, it completely removed the brand, leaving Tom's arm bare of any tattoo. The Bre-Vans has watched this in disbelief, finally Mic-Lue spoke,
" You can remove it! " He exclaimed in disbelief.
Paris' gaze suddenly sharpened and then focused on Lit-Cou, the man who had given him the tattoo in the first place.
" You can't? " he demanded.
Lit-Cou broke his gaze guiltily then looked back at Paris as he answered,
" No, not completely. The most I could of done was alter it, change the tattoo's meaning. "
" That's just great, you people continue to amaze me. You proclaim that you fight for the innocent, that you try to defend your people against the Herat tyrants, all these noble duties, but you can still justify subjecting a total stranger, who had no involvement in your fight, to disfigurement, to torture, to life-imprisonment. "
" You are free, " injected Rig-Tre, trying to defend himself and his companions.
" Yes, I'm free because my friends and crew mates rescued me. Don't think for a moment that you can take any credit. You three put me into that situation, that is all you can take credit for. "
Paris lay back, exhausted by his outburst and allowed the doctor to treat him. Pem-Dar took this moment to speak to his fellow Bre-Vans.
" You did this to Paris? " He demanded. " You are as bad as the Herat. "
" We had to rescue our leader, Ano-Ent, " Lit-Cou quietly stated.
" I have heard of him, " Pem-Dar said. He turned to look at the other man, " You are he? "
" I am, " Ano-Ent answered, " I cannot say I am happy with the methods they used, but I am glad my daughter and I are free. "
" Happy? " queried Paris from the biobed, " I'm so sorry you aren't happy, but you are their leader and they follow the example you set. You can be as unhappy as you want to be but you share the responsibility. "
" Then why did you sacrifice yourself so that we could escape? " Ano-Ent asked.
" Not for you, I did it for the child, only for her. "
" And you would not do as we did, if it was your captain? " asked Lit-Cou.
Paris fell silent as all waited for his answer,
" No, I would not use an innocent, not as you did, not even for my captain. "
He paused a moment then continued,
" I used the innocent once before, used them for my own purpose. I've learnt from that mistake, I will never repeat it. "
The doctor broke the silence.
" Both Lt. Paris and Pem-Dar will recover fully, I will need to keep them both overnight for observation. Mr Paris will be able to return to duty within a few days. "
" Very well Doctor, we will leave them both in your care, " Janeway answered.
" I am so glad, " muttered the doctor as he fussed about the sickbay.
The others all left, the Voyager people pausing to nod or smile at their returned crew mate. Paris and Pem-Dar quickly succumbed to the comfort of the biobeds and the freedom from hunger and pain and slept.
In the time it took to return to Bre-Van, Paris avoided his former captors, spending the time recovering and enjoying his freedom with Pem-Dar. He entered the transporter room with Pem-Dar, the other Bre-Vans has already beamed down to the planet.
" You have been a true friend Pem-Dar, I will miss you. "
" And I you, my friend. I know the chances of us meeting again are slim, but know you are always welcome in my home. "
" Thank you. "
They exchanged a fierce hug, then Pem-Dar moved onto the transporter pad.
" If you're ever in the alpha quadrant .. " began Tom.
" I'll go to Sandrines, we will play that game you wished to teach me, " ended Pem-Dar.
The transporter activated and Pem-Dar was gone.
" It's a promise, " whispered Tom.
On the bridge, Tuvok reported.
" All Bre-Vans have returned to their planet. "
" As arranged? " queried Janeway.
" Yes Captain. "
Chakotay looked at Janeway, curiosity made him question,
" Arranged? "
For a moment Janeway looked disconcerted, then she leaned closer and whispered,
" I'm not happy that I had to just let the Bre-Vans that kidnapped Tom go, but if I had brought it to the notice of their government then the Herats would have become involved, even Tom did not wish that on them. So I simply changed their destination on the planet. "
" Where did you send them? " asked Chakotay, hiding a grin.
" Well, Eno-Ant and his daughter were returned to their underground base, but the three rebels were sent to a nearby mountain top. "
" A mountain top! " exclaimed Chakotay, drawing the gaze of everyone on the bridge. He continued quickly, " sounds like an interesting holoprogram Captain ."
He asked quietly, " Can they get down? "
" Of course, " hissed Janeway.
" Too bad, " replied Chakotay.
" It will take them about two weeks though, " Janeway explained.
" Captain, you never cease to amaze me. I would never have expected this type of action from a starfleet captain. "
" Captains are human too .. and never forget, to a captain the most important thing is the crew. "
" Yes Maam. " Chakotay stated as he relaxed back into his seat. For the rest of the shift, the Captain and Commander occasionally found themselves simply grinning at everything and everyone.
After his first shift back on duty, Paris met Captain Janeway, Commander Chakotay and Ensign Kim in front of holodeck two.
" You wanted to see me Captain? " he asked.
" Yes, Mr Kim has been working on a little holoprogram for us. I thought you might like to view it also. "
" Something about a mountain top? " asked Paris.
" Ah no, " answered Janeway smiling, " Harry? "
Harry stepped forward and ordered the computer to load Ravine One, then the four of them stepped into the new program.
" It's the ravine from Herat! " exclaimed Paris.
" Yes, the Bre-Van were so impressed by your flight skill that I had Harry create a holoprogram from the ship's flight logs, so I could experience the flight myself. "
" You are okay with this Tom? " Harry asked in concern, afraid that it would bring back unpleasant memories.
" Yes Harry, thanks. "
Paris moved forward and opened the ship's hatch, standing beside it he began his carnival showman act,
" Come one, come all! Board the Paris Express for the ride of your life through the deadly and dangerous Herat ravine. You will face the cliffs of doom and the currents of peril. Do you have the courage? " he demanded with a smile at his three waiting friends.
" Well gentlemen, it appears we have been challenged, " stated the Captain as she moved forward and entered the ship, closely followed by the other two. Paris came last, closing the hatch behind him.
He found the pilot seat taken.
" Who's this Harry? "
" This is our holopilot, he will repeat the commands you made that were recorded by the ship. This way we can all sit back and watch your brilliant flying. "
" Very funny, " muttered Tom as he moved into the empty seat.
" I suggest everyone makes sure that their safety harness is secure, " was all Paris advised as he sat back.
" Commence program, " ordered Harry, as he checked his harness.
The ship moved off and entered the ravines.
Later, Paris sat back, watching the others with a grin as the ship landed. They stood up as the holoprogram ended and faded to the familiar hologrid.
" Mr Paris, I knew you were the best pilot I had ever seen, but that ." words failed the Captain.
" I know now why the Bre-Vans were so astonished, you navigated that, using the Bre-Van sensors! " ended Chakotay in shock.
" Tom, if I hadn't downloaded the data myself, I would never believe it, " added Harry.
Paris looked at the three stunned people before him, feeling a thrill from the re-enactment of his flight and burst out laughing. A full booming laugh that echoed in the holodeck. He continued to laugh as Harry joined him. Janeway and Chakotay exchanged a look of recognition, then began to laugh also. For Tom's laughter was contagious, they exited the holodeck still laughing.
Copyright @ 1999 February Daniela Signor