Paris Delta Three
By Daniela Signor
The shuttle cruised slowly through the cosmic dust cloud as its wake left a thin glowing trail. The cloud's particles swirled with the shuttle's passing, creating a kaleidoscope with the shades of purple present. This view was watched with appreciation by the shuttle's only inhabitant. Tom Paris was tired but satisfied, the shuttle's storage bins were full and his little trip into the dust cloud had been successful. He had collected enough essential gas components to bring a smile to any chief engineer's face, and since Voyager's chief engineer was B'Elanna Torres, he was always happy when he could make her smile.
It was time to return to Voyager, to his friends, to his family and to his home. The shuttle exited the cloud, sensors returning online as Tom looked through the portal to see Voyager floating before him. It was such a beautiful ship. His communication system beeped as the voice of his best friend greeted him.
" Voyager to Shuttle, " Harry Kim called.
" Tom here, Harry. Glad to see you've kept things together while I've been gone. " Tom responded, grinning as the view screen showed him Voyager's bridge. He watched his captain fight a smile as she glanced at her officer at the science station.
" Mr Kim, have you been promoted without my knowledge? Are you the captain now? " she teased.
" Captain, I feel I must report Lieutenant Paris appears to be delusional, " Harry answered formally.
" Well, " interrupted Tom, " that would explain why the commander is wearing a pink tutu, " he stated thoughtfully.
All eyes turned to Commander Chakotay as he straightens an imaginary ruffle, " I've always liked myself in pink. "
Laughter broke out on the bridge. It was healthy on occasions to simply have a good time, especially when the ship was not threatened by aliens or unknown forces.
" Report Lieutenant, " Janeway finally managed.
" Yes Captain, the converter collectors worked almost perfectly. I have managed to fill all the bins, which should at least get me a smile from the chief engineer. "
" I'm sure it will. You stated almost perfectly? " the Captain queried.
" Yes, the automatic phase function kept misaligning. In the end, I had to run it on manual. "
" In that case, a very good job Lieutenant. Now return to Voyager and get some rest, running the collectors on manual must have been tiring. "
" It was. I'll rendezvous in five minutes. "
Tom watched as the captain nodded her head in agreement, she started to reply when suddenly an alarm sounded on Voyager. All eyes turned to Harry but before he could inform anyone of the emergency, there was an explosion, a massive explosion that rocked Voyager. Tom watched in horror as the upper decks exploded, quickly followed by the lower decks until finally the engines were destroyed. Voyager had detonated in space. The shock waves slammed into the shuttle, causing it to tumble in space as Tom fought for control, his mind numb at the horror he had just witnessed. He could not regain control of the shuttle as it plummeted through space, then through a planet's atmosphere until it crashed on the planet's surface. Tom had been conscious the entire flight but on impact, he was thrown violently across the shuttle interior, smashing into a console. He slumped unconscious on the shuttle's floor as sparks, smoke and flames filled the interior of the shuttle.
Emergency systems were still operating, enough to suppress the fire and vent the shuttle. But Tom remained unconscious as the electric sparks slowly faded as power was lost. He remained unaware that above him in space, the pieces of Voyager stopped moving, caught in the gravity of the dust cloud he had mined, to hang scattered in space.
Tom slowly stirred, groaning as consciousness returned and he began to feel pain. His headache rivaled the hangover he had after the six day party on Hexion IV, his arm was broken, the left one this time, at least that was a blessing and his knee was throbbing but Tom didn't think it was broken. All things taken into consideration, he felt terrible and it all hurt too much so he decided to just lie quietly where he was and wait for the Doc. Wait for the away team from Voyager to come and rescue him again.
This wonderful thought filled Tom for about 30 seconds before he remembered, before he realized it would not happen. A cry of such pain filled the shuttle, Voyager was gone, his friends and family were gone. His home was gone. The sound of weeping filled the shuttle. Finally the physical pain and emotional shock drained Tom to the point of exhaustion and he fell into a deep sleep.
When Tom next woke, there were no pleasant thoughts as he remembered immediately. He glanced around the shuttle without interest, noting the medical kit resting just out of reach and casually wondered if he should get it. If he should heal his injuries, if it was worth it now or if he should just rest here and wait, wait until he joined his crewmates.
As he lay there, again and again the destruction of Voyager played over and over in his mind. He slowly found himself trying to estimate the time it took from the first explosion to the last. It had seemed like seconds, but Tom knew that in times of action, time seemed to pass differently. He decided in the end that it could have been three or four minutes. His mind latched onto that number, in three or four minutes a lot of actions could have be taken, especially by those in engineering, the last place to explode. Time enough, Tom realized with a shock, time enough to get to a lifepod. There could be survivors he decided with such a jolt of hope, he thought his heart would stop. Someone else could have survived, maybe even B'Elanna. Tom dragged himself to the medkit because now, he had to get better, he had to repair the shuttle and he had to get back to Voyager. There could be crewmates who needed him and he would not let them down.
None of his injuries were very serious and were quickly fixed though he continued to ache for a week. He first started to fix the communication equipment and had it up and running in that time. He got no responses from any of his hails, but he was more hopeful that there had been survivors. He had carefully studied the sensor records from the shuttle of the explosion and after the first two explosions, sensors had detected large objects detaching from Voyager. Sensors could not confirm that they were lifepods but they could not confirm that they weren't either. Tom chose to believe they were and that someone had survived.
Tom spent the next month working on the engines, living off the rations in the shuttle, uncaring of his environment, focused only on his shuttle and on his repairs. He fantasized sometimes as he worked that Harry handed him the next tool he needed or that B'Elanna watched over his shoulder giving orders on what to fix next. As the time passed most of the crew made an appearance, some more helpful than others. Tom just worked on, pushing himself to work and work without break, using the thoughts of possible survivors to urge him on.
Until the 57th day.
The shuttle interior was unrecognizable, panels lay open, equipment and parts spread out on the floor, a makeshift cot jammed in at one corner, supplies stacked haphazardly, cables leading to the solar panels outside slowly giving the shuttle power, and Tom, only his feet showing as he disappeared through the engine hatch. Slowly the feet moved edging back as the body followed, lifting itself from the hatch as the arms gently cradled an item. Tom moved back into the shuttle, slumping on his cot as he stared down at the item he carefully held. Softly his fingers traced the object, running along its smooth edges until the edge became jagged. His eyes again looked in disbelief at the state of this essential engine part, made of a material so hard it was considered by the federation as 99% unbreakable. Which was why there were no spare parts for this item, why it could not be replicated and why Tom was now stranded on the planet.
He cradled the Empstein-Parell manifold gently, its two halves resting in perfect alignment, making it appear whole. This part he could not fix or jury-rig a substitute and without the EP manifold the shuttle would not fly, and without a shuttle he could not look for survivors. He was failing his crewmates, he was letting them lose their only hope to continue on their trip home and he was betraying their trust. Tom eased back on his cot, careful of the precious cargo he held in his arms and let his exhaustion take him. He let sleep take him away for a short time from his living nightmare.
When Tom awoke, he glanced around at all the work he had done and all the repairs. If he had been thinking clearly he would have been amazed at all he had accomplished, at the ability he had shown to integrate or alter the various ship systems so as to get the engine working. But he was not thinking clearly, he was thinking only of his failure, only of the impossible task of fixing the EP manifold he still clutched. It was over, he stood and dropping the EP manifold stepped out of the shuttle and walked away.
It was the first time he had stepped away from his shuttle, but still he was unaware of the environment he found himself in. He was not studying the area he traversed, he was not keeping a watchful eye on the sky as the daylight faded, he simply did not care. He would walk until he collapsed, then lay on the ground and wait until his last breath left him. He had failed his crewmates, he deserved nothing else.
The trail left by Tom's travels was remarkably straight, with the land offering little difficulty in his journey. The hours passed until finally Tom stumbled and he instinctively jerked up, trying to retain his balance, but he was too slow, too tired and too uncaring. His descent continued until he lay face down on the ground, he moved his head slightly letting his right cheek rest on the ground and closing his eyes, he waited.
Some time later, after darkness had settled around him, there was a brief rainstorm. The rain was acidic. It burned his uniform and then his back, legs and the left side of his face, but he did not stir. Later still he heard a scream break the silence and he jerked in response, but as the cry continued, sounding closer and closer, he waited. The sound stopped as abruptly as it had started.
Then Captain Janeway was calling him. She walked out of the darkness to stand before him. He looked up and remembered the first time he had ever seen her, standing proudly above him as she did now. She ordered him to get up. Chakotay, Tuvok and Neelix, they all come and spoke to him. Finally Harry and B'Elanna, Harry crouched down before him, reminding him of all they had survived together, telling him he had to survive this and B'Elanna sat down by his head. He could feel her fingers in his hair as she softly told him that he had to live, that what they were beginning to feel for each other could not die. Tom lay unmoving, his eyes staring out into the darkness that now fell as he was eventually left alone. He must be close to death, Tom believed, to have all these ghosts visit him. All he had to do was wait a little longer.
Slowly all Tom's thoughts focused on his breathing, the feel of it as he took air in and then released it. The taste of the air and its smell, then more and more he concentrated on the rhythm of his breathing, the rhythm he so much wanted to stop. Then he noticed it, the beat was slowing, that was the key to his punishment and peace, to slow the rhythm. And so he did. He slowed the rhythm, he softened the rhythm, he waited for the rhythm to end.
The wind that suddenly erupted and swept down upon him felt like an electric shock throughout his body, forcing back into life the beat he had tried so hard to kill. The wind carried splinters of wood, rock and ice. It ripped into his exposed skin and tore at his uniform. The strength of it picked him up and tossed him along as he felt his left arm snap. He reached out with his right arm, wanting only to stop his motion and his fingers touched a rock and seized it. His body was tossed around until he fell in the rock’s shadow. The rock, he found was as large as the pilot’s seat in the shuttle. He curled tight within its protection as the wind roared around him. The sound of it suddenly struck his senses and caused him to cry out in pain. His cry seemed to reach out and echo in the wind, growing louder and louder until it drowned out the terrible howling of the wind.
Then there was silence. The wind had stopped. Tom lay as he was, curled up behind the stone, one hand clutching it with all his might, too frighten to move in case the nightmare began again. Slowly his tension eased and his grasping hand relaxed. His fingers began moving over the rock, learning its feel and enjoying its smoothness. His hand stretched around the rock, reaching for the side that had been facing the wind, waiting to feel the rock’s surface roughened and marred by the attack of sand, ice and rock that had been pitted against it by the wind. But all he felt was continual smoothness. His hand remembered this feeling of smoothness, it had felt a similar item the last time Tom had slept. His hand knew this rock and slowly his mind did also. Tom finally opened his eyes to see it was daytime. Before him stood a large rock, its surface gleaming in the sunlight. The rock was made of a very hard material and Tom had to find out how hard.
He pulled himself up, swaying in pain and exhaustion and looked around for the first time. The sky was white with just a hint of yellow, the land around him was flat for as far as he could see, barren and covered in a light snow. Tom felt now the shivers that racked his body and how incredibly cold he was. He forced his body to move as he noticed the trail he had left and in the distance the shuttle. He stumbled forward, dropping to his knees every few meters but each time forcing himself up. Tom reached the shuttle quickly, the distance seeming to shrink the more he moved. He entered the shuttle and collapsed on the cot, too cold and tired to care now about the rock as he had reached his goal. In too much pain to think of anything except his escape into unconsciousness.
Tom stirred in his sleep, rolling slightly then suddenly crying out in pain. He had knocked his arm, his broken left arm. Forcing himself up he moved to where he had the essential equipment stored and selected the medical tricorder. He diagnosed his physical condition and began to implement the remedies. His arm was fixed, a cream applied to his acid burns and the numerous cuts and bruises healed. He ate some food then returned to his cot, this time falling into a more restful sleep.
When next he woke, he had no idea how much time had passed, he simply stood, gathered some equipment and left the shuttle. This time as he walked along he studied his environment, noting possible sources of food which were very slim given that the planet seemed to be entering its winter season. He soon arrived back at the rock he had hidden behind. He looked back at the shuttle and again, it seemed closer then he expected. Though considering his overall state on the occasion he made this trip last time, it was not so surprising to find the actual distance smaller.
He stood beside the rock, hesitating to scan it with the scientific tricorder as all his expectations now rested on the material of this rock. He forced himself to act, to find out whether he still had any hope. Slowly he lifted the tricorder and analysed the rock and the results were quickly displayed. The only statistic that was important at that moment was its strength factor. It was not as strong as the original material but it was strong enough. He could use this rock to replace the broken EP manifold. He could still repair the shuttle.
Tom again got to work. The very strength of the rock that he so desperately needed, now worked against him. How was he to shape it to the very precise measurements that the EP manifold required. The original material reacted to certain chemicals, making it slightly malleable so that starfleet engineers could manufacture the EP manifold. Tom began testing with every chemical he had available, none marred the rock’s surface. Tom then used the shuttle's replicators to create more complex chemicals compounds and quickly exhausted the power supply. All with no success.
While Tom waited for the power supply to increase to a usable level, he continued work on the shuttle. Halting each time the replicators could produce a different chemical to try it out on his rock. Time passed and he was now forced to spend the occasional day forging for food as the slow progress depleted his few supplies. He fashioned extra clothes from the material of the co-pilot's seat and began to map and explore the surrounding area. Strangely Tom never again experienced the acid rain or sudden hurricane strength winds or heard a cry from another creature. He saw no other signs of any living creatures. He lived off whatever vegetation he could find.
It was the seventh chemical attempt and about three months had passed. He placed a drop of liquid on the rock and monitored the reaction, nothing just like all the other attempts. Tom went to place the liquid down when he slipped and his hand reached out to grab the rock, landing directly on the drop of chemical and rubbing it against the stone. He snatched his hand away as it burned. Bringing up his hand he noticed the red burn from the chemical but also some darker rock fragments. His hand forgotten, he snatched up the tricorder and analysed the rock. The chemical had made a small segment malleable after a slow reaction and his action had caused some of the rock to break off. He had it. He had finally found a way to fashion the EP manifold he needed.
It was incredibly slow painstaking work. Tom would wait for the solar panel to charge the replicator enough so he could get a small amount of the elixir as he now thought of the chemical that had given life back to him and any other survivors. Then using a grinding tool and a tiny applicator, he would slowly wear away the parts of the rock he did not want. As time past, he invented new and varied tools to shape his rock.
Tom worked on and on, slowly giving a shape to his rock. Once the elixir was finished and while he waited for the replicator to gain enough power, his work on the shuttle continued. Eventually he had all essential systems repaired to minimal operating levels. He then began work on the secondary systems, those that could be repaired. Others beyond hope were scavenged for all useable parts. After that he worked again on the broken solar panels. He had very early on realised they were beyond repair but now with the spare parts he had collected, he tried to invent and create a new panel so as to increase his power collection rate. Time had little meaning as the planet remained in its winter season though the days seemed to grow longer. The cold had become a normal state for Tom, warmth and heat almost forgotten sensations. All his food supplies were exhausted bar those stored away for when he returned to space. There was enough stored food for one person for two months. If he has not found any survivors by then, it did not matter to him what happened afterwards.
Only a few events shattered his routine. Once while scavenging for food, there had been a sudden earthquake. The ground shaking so severely he was tossed violently to the ground, knocking his head hard against a rock and the world faded around him. He had a strange dream about the Doctor. It was night when he regain consciousness, and slowly made his way back to the shuttle, frighten at what damage the earthquake could have done, but to his relief the shuttle was undisturbed. Tom treated his head injury as best he could but the dizziness and pain lasted a couple of weeks.
The next disaster occurred a month later, Tom found a new berry and the tricorder stated it was fine to eat but he had a violent reaction to it. Vomiting and nausea were the only things he was aware of in the five days that followed. Slowly the melted snow he drank cleared his system and he collapsed on the cot, bone tired, shivering from the cold and shock, and finally he slept. Over the next few weeks he built up his strength again, doing little except working on his rock which he had finally been able to bring back with him to the shuttle, having slowly cut the top off the large piece he had found.
One of Tom’s experimental solar panels actually worked, increasing his power collection rate and Tom found he could spend most of his time on his rock. Slowly his right arm and hand become covered in burns from accidents with his elixir. Many nights found tears of pain squeezed from his tightly closed eyes as he tried to rest and relax the overstrained muscles in his shoulder and arm. His right hand fingers began to assume a clawed aspect from constantly holding his grinding tools.
When not working on his rock, he took to wearing his arm in a sling to rest it as much as possible as his pain was constant now. He was further burden by his discovery that his reaction to those berries was ongoing, as some days he still became nauseous and vomited the context of his stomach, but these events were very mild compared to his first reaction. He found also his dreams becoming stranger, as always they were filled with Voyager and his family there but instead of finding himself at the conn or in Sandrines, he often dreamed he was in the sickbay.
Tom stopped measuring time in days or months, instead it was in micrometers, as slowly he fashioned his rock to the exact specifications needed. Time was spent now sitting hunched over his rock, using his elixir and most delicate tools and monitoring constantly with the tricorder the progress he made. Slowly the shape of the EP manifold was emerging. This work time was interrupted briefly by periods of rest and food collection.
Tom lay down the elixir and gently moved the tools away. He closed the tricorder and used an old cloth to wipe his hand, laying this also carefully beside his tools. Then painfully reaching out he gathered the rock into his arms, scooted back into his cot, lay down and closed his eyes. Sobs broke from his chest, deep wrenching cries that shattered the long silence in the shuttle, tears fell slowly as his exhaustion once again caught up to him, mixing with his incredible relief. He had finished the EP manifold, his rock was ready and soon he would fly off this planet and find the survivors. Of that he had no doubt, as he would not allow himself that thought.
He slept unmoving for two days, waking finally as a new day approached. He stood slowly, carefully taking his rock he opened the access hatch panel and lowered himself into the tight engine space. The Empstein-Parell manifold fit perfectly into place. Finally he dragged himself out and secured the panel. Approaching the control panel he checked the power levels as he ran his final diagnostic program, typing in the commands slowly as he now had no movement in his right hand's fingers. The diagnostic ran and the results were displayed before him, all essential system running. The shuttle's power limit was at a minimum though and since Tom had no idea what condition the other survivors would be in, he decided it would be better to wait till the shuttle’s power limit was fully charged. As he waited he began to work on his hand, trying to regain some movement. By massage and hot soaks he managed to loosen his hand enough to give him some movement in his fingers, though the clawed shape remained. He set about neatening the shuttle interior, storing as best he could all his equipment. He rearranged his bed into the empty co-pilot's position, having long ago scavenged and reused the seat material. Then one day the solar panel ceased working, all power storage was full.
Tom sat in the pilot’s seat and for the first time since the crash brought all computer systems online and for the first time in months he spoke,
" Comp… " He started to say, halting at the rough disused tone he heard. Wetting his mouth he tried again, " Computer report. "
It came as a shock to hear another voice, even the synthesized tone of the computer as it stated which systems were ready. Slowly Tom began to voice the commands that would begin his flight. He would be relying heavily on voice commands due to the restriction of movement in his right hand. The shuttle lifted off and Tom watched as the planet fell beneath him, his prison for so long. As soon as he exited the atmosphere he set scanners to maximum. Quickly picking up the dust cloud from that long ago away mission, he set his course.
Twelve hours later at impulse engines as he decided not to risk warp, he brought the shuttle to a halt, staring in disbelief at the wreckage before him. Voyager was spread as far as he could see, completely destroyed. He had seen Voyager explode, had viewed over and over the shuttle sensor recordings of Voyager's destruction but it was not until this moment, with the evidence before him, that he realised what a tiny slender hope it was that he so strongly clung too. How could anyone have survived this awesome tragedy.
Someone had survived, Tom stated determinedly at the picture before him. After all his work, all the repairs and hardships, someone had survived. It had not all been for nothing. He set the scanners to running the program he had written and canvassed the destruction in a basic search grid as the sensors detected and recorded every combadge and body. He cruised slowly, not wanting to risk missing any area and eventually reached the end of his last grid. The sensor check was complete. Tom sat in his chair for an hour, not moving, until he found the courage to ask,
" Computer report. "
" All Voyager crew members have been detected and identified. No life signs present. "
Tom made no movement, chilled to his core by this disastrous report. Robot-like he cleared the sensors and automatically retraced his search grids, going even slower as he had the computer immediately report any discoveries so that they could be visually checked. Some crew members he recognised, some he did not and some were just parts. Tears had begun falling since the first body was displayed on the second run, but sobs broke from Tom as the computer reported,
" Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres - no life signs. "
Even the Doctor's memory core was detected, damaged beyond repair. His vision was blurred, as the Captain, Harry and the rest of the bridge crew were reported, thankfully he could not clearly see their bodies.
The sensor scan was completed and the results were the same. Tom carefully shut down all the main computer systems, lay back in his seat and watched the pieces of Voyager drift around as he waited for the oxygen to run out so he could join his crew mates. He felt another attack of nausea hit him, harder then the others, causing him to vomit abruptly. He lent over the side of his chair but made no attempt to clean up. He was racked by dry heaves and thought for a moment he heard the Doctor calling, but the voice faded and he drifted along as it got colder and colder. His eyes fluttered closed, unable to stand looking at the destruction before him any longer. His nausea passed, all he had to do now was wait, soon it would all be over.
" Captain, " the EMH called over the comm system, interrupting her on the bridge of Voyager.
" Yes Doctor, " she replied hesitantly.
" I'm afraid the situation with Mr Paris has become critical. "
" I'll be right there, " she stated harshly, angry that the fear she had felt at hearing the Doctor's voice had been justified. She quickly made her way to the sickbay. On entering she sent a hateful glance at the machine that now occupied half the sickbay.
" What now Doctor? "
" He is dying Captain. I've slowed his time but at most he now has only ten hours left. "
" You told me that this machine was keeping him alive, " she protested.
" It is, but it is his mind that is dying. Well actually, it is his mind that is committing suicide. "
" Suicide, but I thought he was determine to live. He had finally repaired the shuttle, he could return to space and find Voyager. "
" He did find Voyager, " the doctor stated, " completely destroyed and with no survivors. "
" Oh my god! " exclaimed Janeway in shock.
" He was scanning debris when I came online this morning, then the shuttle stated all Voyager crew members identified and dead. Mr Paris then shut down all systems on the shuttle. He is waiting to die Captain. "
" Damn, I want a full report in 30 minutes. I'll have all the senior staff assembled and we will go over our options then. "
The Captain turned away and slowly approached the alien machine. She looked inside through the small clear window at the face of her captured pilot. His body and mind was hooked up and connected to and controlled by the machine that surrounded him. She glanced at the main display that they had finally gotten to work, seeing an almost unrecognisable Tom Paris collapsed in a ripped apart shuttle floating in space. He seemed so close but even now after all their fighting, they may still lose him.
Tom had taken a shuttle into a dust cloud to collect some gas components and never exited. They had lost communication immediately on Tom’s shuttle entering the dust cloud as expected so no call for help was heard, if one was given. Only after an intense scan of the dust cloud's borders had they detected that another ship had entered and then exited the dust cloud. The slim trail had led them on a pursuit that lasted two weeks. Finally they had rendezvous with an alien ship, a ship that according to their scans contained their pilot and his shuttle. The aliens had readily returned the shuttle, having learnt all they wanted from it but when it came to Tom Paris they had turned unfriendly. There were still things to learn from the human so they would not give him back. A battle was fought until the aliens ejected an object containing Tom’s life signs and quickly retreated. The transporter could not lock onto Tom alone, so the whole contraption was beamed into the shuttle bay.
It was then they had discovered Tom alive but unreachable. Any attempt to open the machine resulted in a plunge of Tom's life signs, finally the whole thing was transported to sickbay so that the Doctor could examine Tom. Through one of the small openings appearing on the machine's surface the doctor had managed to attach a small biosensor to Tom and using a small mobile camera examine Tom’s condition. It was found that numerous probes had been implanted into Tom with connectors that reached back into the machine. The Doctor tried to remove one of the probes from Tom's body, but the strain to his system was severe. All efforts were then directed to understanding what the machine was and what exactly was happening to Tom. Seven of Nine and B'Elanna had managed to work together day after day until some understanding could be achieved. Tom was encased in a holoscenario, unable to realise which events were real or false. A holoprogram was running, implemented by the aliens, which they had been unable to decipher. The achievement of getting one of the displays online had been major. The images had flashed by so fast that snap shots had to be taken and viewed later as photos. The first photo they had seen was of Tom working industrially on what appeared to be a rock sculpture in a destroyed shuttle. Tom himself had looked as if he had been to hell. That was when they first realised time was moving differently for Tom. A week passed on the viewscreen as one of their days did. Eventually they had managed to slow Tom's time till it matched their own and the Doctor devised a method to remove the probes from Tom's body with a less severe reaction. Slowly they had been freeing Tom but now it seemed as if time had ran out.
The senior crew were all waiting when the Doctor entered. Janeway nodded her permission for him to begin his report,
" As you know last night Mr Paris completed his repairs and returned to space. We all believed that he would find Voyager and in this holoscenario we could safely retrieve him. However it appears Voyager has been destroyed and there are no survivors. This situation has taken away Mr Paris' desire to live. He is willing himself to die. "
A shocked silence descended in the room.
" Pull him out then," demanded B'Elanna, " get Tom out of that infernal machine. "
" As I have stated since the beginning, Mr Paris' body would not survive the 'pulling out' of all the probes. There are still 124 attached. "
" Do you have any suggestions then Doctor? " Chakotay asked.
" Yes, Tom has, on very rare occasions, shown he has the spirit of a healer and his main problem now is that he is alone. I suggest sending him an injured person to get him out of his suicidal depression. "
" Create a holocharacter? " queried Janeway.
" No, a holocharacter would not have the necessary depth, Mr Paris would not believe it. I am suggesting another person be attached to the machine. "
" No, " harshly replied Janeway, " I am fighting to save one crew member from its effects. I will not submit another person to it. "
" I have analysed this alien machine, " calmly stated Seven, " it has been designed to allow other minds to participate in the holoscenario in an observer fashion. I believe these minds retain the knowledge that the situation is false and have the ability to leave whenever they choose. "
" Due to the supposed scientific purpose of the aliens, the ability to enter and interact with the subject would have been advantageous, " the Doctor added.
Janeway thought carefully on her people's reports.
" Very well, I'll go. "
" Captain, " protested Chakotay, " this is all theory. We don't know what will happen. "
" All the more reason for me not to risk another of my crew. "
" But … "
" Excuse me, " interrupted the Doctor, " I'm sorry Captain but you cannot enter the holoscenario. None in this room can. "
" Why? " demanded Janeway.
" I've reviewed the recordings from last night and there can be no doubt you all died in the explosion. The person we send will have to be acceptable to Tom. If he does not believe it, he will simply ignore you as a hallucination. "
" Do you have a list of candidates? " asked Tuvok.
" Yes, there are four crew who I believe can be imputed into Mr Paris' reality. They are all non-humans. The machine has been carefully adapted to control a human mind, this would be an added risk if a human entered the machine. "
" None of these people have had much contact with Mr Paris, " Tuvok stated after reviewing the list.
" Yes, the more important and well-known to Mr Paris, the more identifiable the body was. These four were identified by small body parts, they will have to enter into Mr Paris' holoscenario with matching injuries. I need to run further tests on the four candidates to find the one who will be most compatible with the machine and with Mr Paris. The sooner this person enters the situation the quicker we can get Mr Paris back to a stable condition and I can continue to free him from the machine. It in fact will help resolve another problem that would have occurred. "
" What was that? " Janeway asked.
" As the probes are removed, Mr Paris will become more aware of the situation he is in, a stable element such as another person should help him with the confusion he would face. "
" I'm still not happy with this solution. How are the transporters now? Can they lock onto Tom and beam him out? "
" We can calculate his exact location…" began Harry.
" At this stage I would not advise it, " the Doctor stated, " if the shock to his body does not kill him, with the state his mind is in, I doubt he would believe any of us were real. He has verified we are all dead, twice. He is convinced of it. We have to ease him out slowly, both his mind and his body. "
" Very well, it seems adding another person is our only chance to give Tom the time he needs till we free him. I want you, B'Elanna with Seven to go over very carefully the equipment that will be used to introduce another person. Harry, keep trying to access the machine's logs. I would like to know how Voyager was destroyed and Doctor, run your tests and select your most likely candidate. You all have four hours. "
Everyone hurried from the room.
Chakotay stood with Janeway on the bridge, looking at the ensign at the conn station.
" I feel as if I am living one half of reality and Tom the other, and that nothing will be real until both of us are living the same, " Chakotay mused.
" I know, watching Tom's life these last few days has given it a truth that wasn't there before, and now this, all our worst nightmare. Alone and stranded in the delta quadrant, the sole survivor of Voyager, " Janeway stated.
Both sat at their seats, impatient for the four hours to pass, till they could do something for their crewmate.
Harry was still unable to access the machine log records, B'Elanna and Seven were as satisfied as they could be with the alien interface and the Doctor has selected the most likely candidate.
" It is Crewman Gerron, " stated the Doctor.
" Gerron, " echoed Chakotay, " he is just a boy and well, not very sociable with anyone. I don't see how he can pull Tom out of his despair when he is so often in one himself. "
" I am aware that he has drawbacks but his bajoran physiological makeup is suitable for the machine and as to the shuttle's records, Mr Gerron will only have to lose his left arm, " the Doctor reported.
" Lose his arm? " Janeway queried.
" Yes, a left arm was floating in the debris and used to identify Mr Gerron. In the holoscenario Mr Gerron will have to also have lost one arm. "
Janeway paused, thinking carefully about Crewman Gerron and the little she knew about him, but no matter what her doubts were, there was little choice. Also this rescue attempt was voluntary, Gerron could always decline.
" The Commander and I will speak to Gerron immediately. Begin preparations. Dismissed. "
Crewman Gerron sat at his work station, scanning and cataloging the mineral contents of the stars and planets they passed. The work was routine and allowed his mind to wander, he had been summoned to Sickbay and gone through an examination, nothing routine about it though the Doctor was unforthcoming as to the reason why. It had been the first time he had been to sickbay since they had rescued the lieutenant. Seeing him encased in that alien machine was frightening, he couldn't wait till the exam was over and he could get out. The machine reminded him of stories about a cardassian torture machine. Gerron expected to have nightmares this night. Still he wondered what that medical exam was about. He has asked around and only found Chell had also been examined. Suddenly his thoughts were interrupted by his combadge.
" Chakotay to Gerron. "
He answered automatically.
" Gerron here. "
" Report to the Captain's ready room. "
" Yes sir, " he answered in shock. The Captain's ready room, what was going on. He looked around to see his fellow work mates watching him with curiosity. He shrugged his shoulders in answer to their unasked question. No, he had no idea what this was about. He made his way to the bridge, the only thing that made sense was that the Doctor had found something in the medical exam, something serious. He stepped onto the bridge and found himself under instant observation from the senior crew present. He halted in surprise but moved on at Tuvok's command.
He found Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay both waiting for him in the ready room. The Captain took the time to look at him thoughtfully before she nodded to a seat and began,
" Crewman Gerron, what do you know about Lieutenant Paris's situation?"
At this unexpected topic, Gerron took a moment to collect his thoughts.
" The alien machine is keeping him alive but unconscious. The doctor is working on a way to get him out without killing him. "
" You are almost correct, the machine is keeping Mr Paris alive but not unconscious, it is giving him another reality to live. It is another form of a holodeck. The Doctor had found a way to bring Tom out of the machine but due to the stress it causes Tom's body it is slow going and now we are running out of time. "
" Is the machine failing? " asked Gerron, fascinated by the machine he had previously been frighten of. Holodeck technology had always intrigued him.
" No, the machine is running perfectly… it is Tom who is… failing. "
" I don't understand? " Gerron asked, confused.
" The reality Tom is living has become… too much for him. He has lost his will to live. " Janeway stated.
" He is committing suicide, " deduced Gerron. " Will the machine let him? "
“ We believe so, the program has made no effort to change or alter events. We however have found a way to prolong Tom's life, " Janeway explained, " the machine has the ability to allow other minds to enter the holoscenario, the Doctor believes if we introduce another person Tom will have a reason to live. The Doctor believes you are the best person for that job. "
Gerron looked at the Captain in shock, he was the best person to rescue the lieutenant. Gerron did not believe he had even ever spoken to Paris.
" Me, " he stated shocked, " but Paris and I don't even know each other. "
" That is one of the reasons you are suitable, " Chakotay explained. " We have been able in the last week to see what Tom's mind is living through. He had crashed on a planet and was repairing his shuttle. Repairs were completed and he returned to space. We believed he would met up with Voyager. He did find Voyager, though it had been completely destroyed. He scanned the debris and verified all the crew members dead. After that Tom powered down the shuttle and is now drifting in space. "
" By the prophets! " exclaimed Gerron, horrified by the picture presented to him.
" Tom verified your death by finding your left arm, when you … if you enter the holoscenario you will lose the arm. You will enter as yourself and we believe the program will automatically adjust and write you in as realistically as possible. Tom has to believe you are real, " Janeway advised.
" Will his world become real to me also? " queried Gerron.
" The environment yes, the history of it no. That is one of the reasons the Doctor has excluded humans. Your bajoran makeup will help keep you apart from the full program. Also your link to the alien machine is not permanently attached as it is to Tom. You will have the ability to leave and you will be aware that you are in a holoscenario, " Chakotay answered.
" Be advised Crewman Gerron, if at any time it appears the machine is pulling you in or you are having difficulties with the interface, we will remove you immediately, " Janeway informed him.
" What about the lieutenant? " Gerron asked.
" In this situation, you have priority. I will not lose another crewman to that machine. If the situation was not so desperate than I would not be asking you to consider this. Understand this Mr Gerron, this in not an order and if you choose not to enter the machine, we understand and no reference to this matter will appear in your record, " Janeway stated.
So starfleet, Gerron found himself thinking involuntarily, but then that is what he had been the last few years. He found himself thinking of Tom Paris. He had gone along with the Marquis in the early days, ignoring or glaring at the traitor, but as he had little opportunity to do either his animosity had quickly faded. Paris' crimes against the Marquis were nothing compared to the Cardassians, who Gerron hated with all his soul. Then the Marquis who were supposedly his family, had turned out to harbour a Cardassian and Paris had helped destroy that bitch, Seska. Gerron had always been a watcher, he had watched those around him and made his own decisions. Paris was a good man who had risked his life to save the crew. Now Gerron could do something to help repay that debt.
" That's all right Captain. I'll help Lieutenant Paris. "
" Consider carefully Gerron, " Chakotay advised, " we have very little understanding of the alien machine. There could be developments we have no way of anticipating. "
" I understand Commander, but you are also saying that this is Paris' only chance. "
" The Doctor has given Tom only hours to live. We have slowed the passage of time in the machine but it is running out. You are sure Gerron? " Janeway asked.
" Yes Captain, he is a crewmate, he deserves all our help. "
" Very well, go to sickbay, the Doctor has matters he needs to inform you on. We will join you there later. "
Gerron stepped out of the ready room and was once again subjected to observation. He understood this time the reason. He looked across to Ensign Kim, Lieutenant Paris' best friend and saw the concern and fear the man felt. He nodded once to the Ensign, he would do his best to save his friend. Harry gave him a relieved grin.
Final preparations were completed and the Doctor was getting ready to connect Gerron to the alien machine. A five point connector was attached to the back of his neck, at the moment the fifth connector was left out. This was the one that activated the interface. The Captain came to stand beside the biobed he lay on.
" You're sure Gerron. "
Gerron thought on all the Doctor had told him about Paris' state of mind and what his own actions should be, on how each probe removed made Paris sick and how real life would start to break into the fake reality, how he himself would suddenly become one armed, all this he thought about before he answered his captain.
" I'm sure Captain. "
" Thank you Gerron, keep safe and bring Tom back to us. "
The Doctor attached the fifth connector and Gerron felt his mind slip away.
" Will it work? " the Captain asked.
" I believe so Captain, " was the Doctor's ready answer.
" And Gerron? " she queried.
" Yes Captain, " this time Chakotay answered, " I think he will work also. "
They turned to watch the monitor.
It was annoying, Tom thought, all he wanted was to sit quietly and died when suddenly this noise sounded in the distance and it was annoying. The more Tom thought about it the louder and closer it sounded. Finally he opened his eyes to look at the control panel before him. There was a greyness to his sight but slowly his blurred vision focused on the flashing light. Realisation came gradually, an alarm was sounding. The emergency system was still running and it had detected a homing beacon, a federation lifepod homing beacon. Quickly Tom sat up, grasping the panel before him as he fought the dizziness he felt. He bought all the shuttle's systems back online and began to scan the area. He soon found the lifepod, it was drifting out of the dust cloud, which explained why he had not detected it before. The scan also revealed one life form, from the readings he was getting he deduced the person was in stasis. Tom powered up engines and moved closer to the lifepod. He would have to use the transporter to retrieve the person. That would use a lot of his stored power but it could not be helped. Tom decided to transport the entire stasis pod, not willing to risk bringing the person out of stasis until he had checked the person's medical condition. He would also tether the lifepod to the shuttle for now.
He activated the transporter and behind him appeared the stasis pod. He sat for a moment, staring at the pod as realisation dawned, there was another survivor. He was not alone. He would save this person, he would do his duty and repay another part of his debt. Tom stood up, shaking as he still suffered from oxygen deprivation and made his way to the stasis pod. He looked down for the first time at the only other member of his crew to survive. For a moment he could not place the face then he realised, it was Gerron, the bajoran once a Marquis. His eyes drifted over the boy and noticed the missing arm. Tom shook himself from his lethargy and quickly got to work. Scanning with the tricorder revealed the arm had been severed and the stump cauterized cleanly. Gerron had some other bumps and bruised but nothing serious. He could be removed from the stasis pod.
Tom lay clean sheets on his cot, then carefully deactivated the status pod and monitored Gerron as he left the stasis state, entered unconsciousness and then sleep. Gently Tom moved Gerron to his cot, letting him sleep as his body adjusted after so many months in stasis. Tom quietly moved around, neatening up the shuttle, setting his solar panels to collect and checking sensor logs till he found the reason the computer has reported Gerron dead, a left arm. He set course for the alpha quadrant and watched as the scattered pieces of Voyager faded from sight. Then he sat back and watched Gerron as he slept, waiting for him to wake.
Gerron felt tired and sore as he slowly woke. He also felt warm and comfortable and that something horrible would happen if he opened his eyes, so he lay quietly. He heard only silence at first, then the sounds of him breathing and then the sounds of someone else breathing. He was not alone, it was time to face his fears. Gerron allowed his eyes to open.
The shuttle he found himself in looked gutted, panels were missing and there were wires everywhere. He could not understand it, where was he, he thought woozily. His eyes slowly drifted up from the floor he lay on and noted the pilot's chair beside him and further up, a gaunt haggard face looking down on him. He sat up abruptly, bringing his hands forward and froze in shock, only one hand was before him. Looking at his left shoulder, Gerron discovered his missing arm and his breath began to hiss in and out quickly in shock. All Gerron could think of was his arm was gone.
Suddenly Gerron felt arms around him and a small bag was placed over his mouth as a calming deep voice began to speak words of comfort. He could not make them out, his mind too frantic but he understood the tone and slowly calmed down. Slowly the vagueness in his mind faded and his memory returned, Lieutenant Paris' abduction, rescue and now Gerron's attempt to save his life. All that was around him was a holoscenario, he had not lost his arm and he was not injured. These thoughts comforted him as he drifted back to sleep. He was also comforted by the arms around him and the soothing tone of a voice.
Tom sensed immediately when Gerron returned to sleep but he waited, enjoying after so long the touch of another living being. Soon however his clawed hand began to protest so he eased Gerron back down in the cot and resumed his vigil from the pilot’s seat. Gerron was now suffering from emotional shock, from the loss of his arm and the destruction of Voyager. Sleep was the closest he would come to peace. When Gerron again began to stir, Tom got up to begin a meal as his patient should eat something, some comfort food. Tom made chicken soup.
The enticing smell of food brought Gerron fully awake. This time when he opened his eyes there was no confusion, he remembered fully. Looking around at the shuttle that would be his home over the next weeks, Gerron was amazed it could fly. Connections had been made between unrelated systems and some systems seemed to be completely missing. As he looked around he also realised the interior setup had also been rearranged as the cot he lay on rested beside the pilot’s chair and the co-pilot’s chair was nowhere to be seen. Then there was the lieutenant, who was approaching him now with some food. Gerron found himself staring as the lieutenant silently gave him the food. He quickly ate the food, wondering at how tasteful and filling this non existent soup was. He handed the bowl back to the lieutenant and waited, the Doctor had advised him to let Tom initiate the conversations as they had no way of knowing what had occurred in his fake reality.
" How are you feeling now Gerron? " Tom quietly asked, his voice husky from disuse.
" Better… the soup was good. "
" An old family recipe. "
Conversation lapsed, Tom having lost the habit and Gerron, waiting for Tom to speak.
" You seem calmer this time. I take it you remember what happened. " Tom finally spoke again.
" Yes I think so, some things are jumbled still, " hedged Gerron.
" Not surprising but I'm sure you'll find things will sort themselves out in time. Are you in any pain? "
" No I'm fine Lieutenant. "
Tom smiled at that,
" We are going to be together awhile Gerron, call me Tom or Paris if you want. As the only two starfleet people in the delta quadrant, rank seems unimportant. "
" Okay… Paris. "
" I've set course for the alpha quadrant, habit I guess. When we reach a habitable planet or a friendly advance civilisation we can discuss what we want to do. For now rest Gerron, you're still in shock. Give yourself time. "
Gerron lay back down, realising Tom was right as he soon drifted back to sleep. He dreamed of the doctor in sickbay and realised he was glimpsing the true reality.
Tom was attempting to repair the long range scanners, it had not been a priority before but now they were traveling through unknown space, it was. Gerron was still sleeping and dreaming by the looks of it. Tom wondered if he too would dream of Voyager as Tom did. Suddenly Tom was hit with stomach cramps and nausea. He stumbled to the bathroom and threw up in the sink, collapsing against the wall. He was startled when an arm come around him, helping him up and guiding him to the cot. He sunk onto the bed and looked up into Gerron's concerned gaze.
" Don't worry… it will pass in a few hours… a sickness I picked up from the planet I was stranded on… I'll be fine, just need rest. " Tom drifted off for a moment, then forced his eyes open, " Thank you Gerron… it has been a long time since someone cared for me."
Tom fell asleep.
Gerron found himself pulled from the holoscenario to find the Doctor before him.
" I will try and give you some time here in the real world Mr Gerron, so you can stretch, exercise, use both arms and eat. You can move around as much as you please but remain connected to the machine with the interface, otherwise the program will write you out and Mr Paris will not accept anyone else now that he has left Voyager behind. When it appears Mr Paris is waking, you can return, “ the Doctor advised, then asked, “ Mr Gerron, is there anyone you would like to call to keep you company? "
" No, thank you Doctor. I'm fine. "
Gerron walked slowly around the sickbay, fascinated by his returned arm.
Tom was not that surprised to find himself dreaming of Gerron, but still the location of his dream was the sickbay. Tom awaken to find the shuttle empty and for a moment he feared that finding Gerron had been a dream, till sounds from the bathroom reached him and Gerron exited. Tom lifted himself stiffly from the cot, he was finding his sleep more disturbed as constant dreams of the sickbay were leaving him more tired than before he slept. Gerron approached him, watching him carefully,
" Lieu… Paris, how are you feeling? "
" I thought that was my line, " Tom answered with a grin, " I'm fine, thanks Gerron. "
Tom moved to a low work bench, " I'm trying to fix the long range scanners, it will make travelling safer. "
" Can I help? " Gerron asked, " I didn't want to touch anything while you were sleeping. I'm not sure what everything does anymore. "
Tom looked around the shuttle, imagining how Gerron saw it.
" Yes, I have done some rewiring. "
" Some! " exclaimed Gerron, " was there any part you didn't alter? "
Tom considered Gerron's question seriously,
" No, I don’t think so, the shuttle was severely damaged when I crashed on the planet. At times I did not think I would manage to repair all the damage, but I did and here we are. Still, I think a grand tour is deserved. "
Tom led Gerron around the shuttle, explaining in detail all the modifications and alterations he had made. The hours passed as Tom seemed tireless when he set his mind to a task. Gerron finally interrupted, pleading for mercy as his stomach rumbled and his thoughts overflowed with engineering terms. Tom smiled depreciably, made dinner and gave Gerron the cot as he sat at the table to continue his work on the long range sensors. The next few days passed in a similar vein as Tom explained the work that had taken him months.
Another bout of sickness gave Gerron his next chance to exit the holoscenerio. He found B'Elanna waiting for him.
" Hello Gerron, how's it going? "
" I don't ever want to be an engineer, " he answered seriously, grinning slowly at his old Marquis crewmate. He had always liked B'Elanna, she was direct in her manner and also left him alone.
" I've watched when I could over the last few days, Tom has surprised even me with some of his modifications. I shouldn't be though, anything to do with flying, " B'Elanna ended with a grin. " How does he seem otherwise? "
" He hasn't spoken about Voyager. He has mentioned a planet he spent time on, but we have not spoken about anything personal, just the shuttle. He has been working on the long range sensors every chance, scavenging extra parts from the lifepod. He doesn’t sleep much but is eating better. I think that is more to make sure I eat than any hunger on his part. "
" Doc's removed another 30 probes, does he seem at all aware that the situation he is in is false? "
" No, the only reaction is he gets sick, not every time, the Doctor believes some probes are more strongly connected than others. "
" Yes I know, Harry's studying them, seeing if we can identify them before removal, " B’Elanna stated.
" That's right he was here the other day, wasn't he? " Gerron asked thoughtfully.
" Yes, " answered the Doctor, suddenly entering the conversation, " how did you know? "
" When I sleep I dream of this place, but I think it is more than that, I become aware of what is really going on around me, " Gerron explained.
" What about Tom? " B'Elanna asked, " does he dream? "
" I don't know, " Gerron replied," he has not mentioned it."
B'Elanna looked at the alien machine’s view screen, which showed a sleeping man. She moved closer, looking at his trapped body within the alien machine.
" Ah Tom, just hang on, please. We are getting you out. We are all here, working to get you back. Just hang on Tom… for me, " she whispered.
The Doctor looked at his patient's sensor readings,
" It looks like he is waking Gerron, you should return. "
" Right Doc. "
Gerron hopped back on the biobed and re-attached the fifth connector. As he sunk back into the false reality he heard B'Elanna speak,
" Keep safe Gerron and keep Tom safe. "
Tom didn't want to wake up, he was having the most wonderful dream, B'Elanna was there, whispering to him, trying to reach him and to be with him. They had been getting closer, spending more time together and he had began to hope that they could find some happiness together. Finally Tom opened his eyes and he found himself in the shuttle, Gerron moving around, one arm gone and he remembered the last time he had seen B'Elanna, dead, floating in space. He knew he was on the edge of tears and if he started, it would be a long time before he stopped and he could not indulge himself this time, he had Gerron to think of. Without pause, he lifted his clawed hand and slammed it into the wall, pain erupted.
He sat up in shock, cradling his hand as tears of pain fell, these tears he could control, this pain was more bearable. Gerron had hurried towards Tom at his cry and now sat beside him, trying to get his hand, to examine it for damage.
" Tom, " Gerron called, " what happened? "
" I just knocked my hand. I'll be all right. "
" Let me look, " Gerron finally managed to view the hand to find one side was becoming red and swollen. He carefully felt the hand for broken bones, it was okay.
" Tom, I thought your hand had been damaged in the shuttle crash, but I don't feel any breaks. "
" No, it happen afterwards and it was gradual, it was muscle strain. "
" Permanent? "
" No, I've already done some therapy, hot soaks, massages. I've increased the movement of my fingers, " informed Tom.
" I'll help, " Gerron replied, " I'm famous for my one handed massages. " He quipped, sensing the emotional turmoil hiding under the physical pain.
Tom relaxed back into the cot, smiling.
" Thank you Gerron, " he accepted simply.
Days passed. Gerron massaged Tom's hand ever few hours and slowly the claw shape flattened and extended, giving Tom back the use of his hand. They spoke of other things, sometimes home, rarely about Voyager, mostly about holodeck technology. Gerron wanted this topic to be readily in Tom's mind for when the fake reality began to show cracks.
Tom stirred slowly and awoke groaning, he forced his eyes open and pulled himself into a sitting position, leaning back against the shuttle wall. Gerron turned to watch him from the small table he was working at.
" Tom, you still look exhausted, why don't you get more sleep," he suggested.
" No, sleeping is more tiring than being awake, " complained Tom.
" What do you mean? "
" I've… been dreaming, ever since the planet, about Voyager, the sick bay, but lately… ghosts have been coming to talk to me, on and on and on… at first it was comforting, to see and hear the people I had … loved again, but now, I just want to sleep in peace. Now I feel like they are haunting me. "
" I'm sorry Tom, maybe now that you have spoken about this, your dreams will become more restful. Lie back down Tom, give it a chance. "
Tom was so exhausted that he easily followed Gerron's suggestion and slumped back into the cot, soon sleeping again. Gerron exited the holoscenario.
" You heard him Doc? " Gerron asked.
" Yes, his friends have been here while he is sleeping, talking to him, trying to reach him. It seems they were more successful than they realised. "
The Doctor turned to the other occupant of the sickbay,
" Mr Kim, I suggest you inform the others of developments and let them know I will be restricting access to Mr Paris while he is sleeping, to give him a chance to actually rest. "
" Okay Doctor. "
Harry went to leave sickbay but stopped for a moment and approached Tom,
" Rest Tom, I'm sorry we ended up hurting you, you know none of us would ever want that. So rest now Tom, we will give you some peace. "
Harry exited the sickbay.
Gerron managed to spend a few hours in the real sickbay and a few acquaintances came to visit him. They chatted quietly in a corner. As the time passed, the Doctor watched Gerron and began to notice an oddity in his behaviour. Gerron would hesitate when using his left arm but before the Doctor could run any tests, Tom began to stir and Gerron returned to the holoscenario.
Tom found sleep more peaceful now that his ghosts were quieter. He also found that if he just sat quietly with his eyes closed, he could almost hear the sounds of Voyager's sickbay and when he opened his eyes, he could almost glimpse that place. He was becoming sick more often and he noticed that even after weeks of travelling, the space they passed through was so average, with no strange events or any encounters with other races. He began to feel as if there was something wrong with his world.
Gerron sat on the biobed speaking to the Captain as the Doctor fussed around his left arm.
" He is becoming more and more aware Captain, of the sickbay and even of the falsehood of the shuttle. The Doctor has only 37 probes left, I think the machine is loosing its control over Lieutenant Paris. "
" How much longer before all the probes are removed Doctor? " Janeway asked.
" The remaining probes are all of the alpha type as identified by Mr Kim as being of greater strength. Mr Paris will become very ill as each one is removed. Giving him one day to recover, we are looking at two more months. "
" Another two months, " echoed Janeway in shock. " What if all are removed and we bring him out to recover? "
" Still inadvisable, his mind is still in that shuttle and the shock to his system would be life threatening. "
" Then we just have to take it slowly, " Janeway stated, trying to regain her patience.
" There is another problem, " the Doctor announced.
Janeway looked at him in despair. ' What now', she thought as she nodded to the Doctor to continue.
" Mr Gerron's neural pathways in his left arm are degrading and already he is hesitating to use his arm. The longer he stays in the holoscenerio the more his body becomes convinced that he has indeed lost his left arm. If Mr Gerron remains with Mr Paris the full two months I am convinced permanent damage to his left arm will result. "
" But if you disconnect me, " protested Gerron, " the program will write me out. Tom would have to view my death and he will be alone again. Captain, I don't think Tom is ready for that. "
Janeway thrust a hand through her hair in frustration,
" How much time does Gerron have? " she asked.
" Two weeks, " the Doctor abruptly answered.
Janeway paced the sickbay in thought then halted before the machine, watching Tom. His eyes fluttered open for a few seconds and for a moment Janeway believed he actually saw her, but the Doctor had informed her of this development, an unconscious reaction to light changes. She turned back to her two crew members.
" Gerron, you will have to prepare Tom for your exit. As I stated when all this started, I will not endanger another crew member with this alien device. "
She looked back at Tom, saddened by this new development. Would Tom survive Gerron's departure, after all he had been though, she wasn't sure he would. She moved away, exiting sickbay.
Tom was moody, abrupt and distracted over the next few days, impatient with his sickness and wary of Gerron's presence. Almost as if he knew, Gerron thought, wondering what Tom's dreams were telling him.
Gerron was softly talking to B'Elanna and Harry, he had gotten to know them well as they came often to ask about Tom. Suddenly a scream erupted from the monitor and he quickly re-entered the holoscenario.
Gerron found Tom thrashing around in the cot, crying out in pain and fear. Gerron hurried forward, reaching out to shake Tom's shoulder.
" Tom, Tom, wake up! "
Tom suddenly seized his hand, his eyes snapping open.
" What do you want? " he hissed.
Gerron answered in shock, " for you to wake up. "
Tom's gaze slowly focused on Gerron then looked around the shuttle, slowly remembering where he was. He collapsed back onto the bed, shaking in shock. Gerron quickly tucked in the blankets.
" What was it Tom? What did you dream of? "
Tom shook his head no then closed his eyes, ignoring Gerron's questions. Later that day, as Tom toyed with some tools, he turned to Gerron and asked,
" What do you remember? "
" About what? "
" The destruction of Voyager. "
" Oh, " muttered Gerron, looking around, hoping for a way out of this conversation.
" Everything is jumbled, nothing is very clear, " he hedged.
" Then what is the last thing you remember clearly? " Tom insisted.
Gerron now wished that Seven had succeeded in accessing the stored data from the holoscenario, but the encryption had been too detailed and the risk to Tom's mind, still connected, unknown. Gerron selected a safe memory , from weeks before Tom's capture.
" I remember the concert where Ayala gave a performance of Uterion. "
Tom's eyes narrowed in suspicion, he went straight to his last good memory.
" What about the cosmic dust cloud? "
" Yes I remember, we were going to mine it. The mineral samples were quite good. "
" Were going to mine it, " mused Tom, " why didn't you? "
Gerron felt as if he was on very unstable ground, the topic had become dangerous.
" I… uh… don’t remember exactly why we didn't mine the cloud. "
Tom nodded as if he understood.
" It was only a week later that we entered that system with the three yellow suns, the gravity pull was unbelievable. Voyager didn't have a chance. "
" I don't remember, " Gerron muttered.
" What, when Voyager was destroyed or the system with three yellow suns, " Tom demanded.
" Both, I don't remember either of them. "
" Okay, I'll go back a week, back to the dust cloud. With your duties you must have been aware of the original sample and what was found in it. "
" Yes I looked at the samples from the cloud. "
" Samples, " pounced Tom, " how many samples? "
" Well, there were a few, taken at random from the dust cloud, " Gerron answered as vaguely as he could.
" Now why would you take more than one sample from the same section, " mused Tom.
" You wouldn't, " he deduced, " you would take samples from different areas, from the borders around the dust cloud. Which means Voyager navigated the edges of the dust cloud, why? "
Gerron looked at Tom in surprise, he had deduced so much from so little. Tom didn't seem interested in an answer as he gazed out of the viewscreen, watching the same empty space go past.
It was an hour later that he began to watch Gerron, his every move and action. Finally Gerron could not take it any more.
" What! " he demanded.
Tom roused himself at this shout and calmly replied,
" Your shoulder seems to be giving you some trouble. I used to be very good at massage, come over here and I'll see if I can work out the knots. "
Gerron moved towards Tom in stunned surprise, what was going on in Tom's mind. He sat before him on the cot, his back to Tom who sat in the pilot's chair. Tom began to work on his shoulder and Gerron let his tension ease away and his thoughts drift.
Tom felt as if his mind was exploding, reality and dreams were merging, clashing and destroying each other. He realised now that some of his memories were false, his invention of a system of three yellow suns and Gerron's response had confirmed this. He was almost sure now that Voyager had not been destroyed but he was also terrified that this was all wishful thinking on his part. So now was the test, he was convinced Gerron was real as he had not known the young man well enough before to have his imagination create such a detailed and complex representation. The test now was to feel Gerron’s left arm. Tom continued to massage the shoulders, letting his hands drift down the arms, over and over his left hand gasped nothing, but he persisted. Letting his mind drift until he could almost feel the sickbay around him, until he almost felt his hands resting unmoving beside him. Then slowly he would make himself aware again of Gerron. Moving his hands along the shoulders and down, feeling the shape of the forearms, both of them and continuing down to both elbows, then back to the shoulders.
He opened his eyes to see Gerron resting before him with both arms visible, one in a mattered uniform sleeve and the other clad in a fresh crisp uniform sleeve. He reached down and grasped the left hand, noting the clean uncallous feel of it. Gerron had opened his eyes, staring in shock at his left hand.
" Now you can stay, " Tom stated as he returned the hand gently, then he turned away and curled into a tight ball in the pilot's seat. His mind fighting to sort out the truth and lies of his jumbled memories.
Gerron reached out and touched Tom, calling his name softly but Tom only flinched away, curling more and more tightly into himself, shutting out everyone and everything. Gerron looked down at both hands and slowly eased away. He would not push Tom, not now that he had time to stay. He sat back against the wall watching his companion.
The Doctor watched the events occurring as he was now constantly monitoring occurrences in the holoscenario as Tom was growing closer and closer to reality. He thoughtfully turned away from the two still figures on the screen and contacted the bridge.
" Captain I have some good news. "
Janeway looked at all the interested faces around her at this announcement.
" Go ahead Doctor, " she prompted.
" Mr Gerron will no longer have to leave the holoscenerio at the end of the week. "
" You solved the problem with his arm? " she asked.
" No Mr Paris did, it seems he is more aware of us then we realised. He returned Mr Gerron's arm to him so that Mr Gerron would not be forced to leave him. "
" Gave his arm back, " Janeway echoed, " how? "
" I assume Mr Paris changed his perception of Mr Gerron, it is his mind that is connected to the machine after all. "
" That is good news Doctor, thank you. Tom must know we are here, that Voyager is here and that we are slowly getting him out of that machine. "
" Yes Captain, I doubt he can deny it now, " the Doctor ended his report.
Janeway looked around at the smiling faces as it was the first positive sign they had from Tom and all she could do was grin back.
Tom had refused to speak about what had happen, he treated the reappearance of Gerron's arm as if Gerron had simply changed his clothes. The clean appearance of the arm had quickly disappeared and it now matched the rest of Gerron. Tom had also refused to answer any of Gerron's questions about his dreams, about his views of the sickbay or even talk about what he remembered. Tom also refused to speak about the true reality and the people back on Voyager. Gerron had run into a brick wall. Tom spoke only of the holodecks and then only about programs he had written or was planning to write or other programs he had visited. On the occasions when Gerron returned to the sickbay and Tom noticed, no comment was passed.
Things seemed to be going smoothly until the sixth last probe was removed. Tom's reaction was so severe that his heart stopped. Gerron was thrown from the machine as it reacted automatically to the sensor readings from its subject. Before the Doctor could take any action, a large electrical surge pulsed into Tom, and once more, until his heart began beating again.
Gerron and the Doctor watched in horror as a larger new probe suddenly appeared and was plunged into Tom's left shoulder. Tom's vital signs became stable but the viewscreen remained blank, finally it flickered into life to show Tom struggle to his feet to put out an electrical fire that had erupted from the science console. Gerron re-entered the holoscenerio, thankful to find he had remained connected to the alien machine. Once the fire was out, Tom collapsed onto the cot, falling instantly asleep.
The Captain was informed of this new development and Harry quickly arrived to examine the latest probe in an attempt to find out how and if it differed from the alpha probes. The Doctor examined his records trying to determine why this latest probe removal had caused such a fatal reaction. During all this, Tom slept and dreamed.
He dreamed of Voyager's sickbay and his friends fussing around a machine that held him prisoner. Then his dreams turned to nightmares, to what he now believed were true memories of his past, nightmares of pain and torture and terror. He awoke screaming with Gerron sitting beside him, talking to him and holding him. Tom paused to hear him. Gerron, the young bajoran, a Marquis with no love for the traitor Paris, was holding him gently and telling him over and over again, that he was safe, that he was not alone. Tom wept.
" Report," Janeway ordered.
" As far as I can tell, " Harry began, " this new probe that has connected to Tom is made of the same material as the others, it is larger but the shape is the same. I believe it does the same function but is capable of doing the same job as four of the alpha probes. "
" Thank you Mr Kim. Doctor? "
" Yes Captain. It was always Mr Paris' mind that made him sick in reaction to a probe removal. I believe now that Tom is aware of us, that in a way the machine is also. The greater response to the probe removal is linked to this knowledge. "
" You're saying Tom is doing this to himself? " Chakotay asked in disbelief.
" Not exactly, I believe the machine has a sub-routine that fights any attempt to remove the subject incorrectly. I believe now that Mr Paris is aware of us, this sub-routine has been activated, " the Doctor answered.
" Seven, how are you going with the alien computer? " Janeway queried.
" I still cannot use my borg technology as the alien computer reacts with a type of turbulence in the holoscenerio. I have analysed this latest probe and believe I can disable the system that creates them. It may halt any new probes being implanted in Mr Paris in the short time remaining, " she ended emotionlessly.
" Short time remaining? " queried B'Elanna, angry over the idea of information being withheld from her regarding Tom.
" Yes, I believe now that Mr Paris is aware of his true situation, he will quickly find a way out. "
" Why do you say that? " asked Janeway, bemused.
" As Mr Paris has shown during our passage through the nebula that required everyone placed in stasis, he does not like small enclosed areas. The alien machine is such an area, he will find a way out. The events from that trip prove this. "
" She's right, " Harry exclaimed, " Tom couldn't stand the stasis chamber. He will find a way out. "
" Yes but Harry, " Janeway warned gently, " leaving the stasis chamber did not kill him. If he leaves before the Doctor has removed all the probes, this alien machine might. "
" I need to know Gerron. "
Tom finally awoke and spoke softly to the other occupant in the shuttle. Gerron turned towards Tom and asked quietly, " know what? "
" Your truth, your memories. What really happened. "
It was time, Gerron realised and so he began to speak. He told of the shuttle's disappearance in the dust cloud, of the chase involving the alien ship, of the battle and of the retrieval of Tom. Lastly Gerron told of the alien machine.
" I came out of the dust cloud and watched Voyager explode before me, " Tom stated after Gerron had finished. Tom continued telling briefly of the planet, the repairs and the return to what was left of Voyager.
" It ended with the dust cloud, our reality and our truth. It all ended with that dust cloud. Everything I went through on that planet, all for nothing, it was all lies. " Tom stared down at his hands, remembering the hours, days and weeks he spent trying to create a EP manifold and it was all a holoscenario. He turned to Gerron.
" I'm still tired, " his hand reached up to rub his left shoulder, " my shoulder is killing me. I think I'll rest some more. "
Tom closed his eyes for a moment then opened them to stare at Gerron,
" Find out from the Doc how much longer? " he asked. He muttered something else as his eyes closed. Gerron had been close enough to hear the soft words.
" I want to go home. "
Gerron exited the holoscenerio to find a crowd gathered in sickbay, the Captain, Chakotay, Harry, B'Elanna and the Doctor had all assembled to hear Tom's recollection. Now they knew what their crewmate had lived through.
" Doctor how much longer? " Gerron asked Tom's question.
" This latest probe removal caused Tom's heart to stop. Until I determine how we can prevent that from happening again, we cannot proceed, " the Doctor reluctantly answered, " my access to Tom is limited by the small openings, if for some reason the machine failed to revive him, I don't think I could. "
" Transporters are no longer an option, " added Harry, " this latest probe is much deeper then the others. We cannot transport Tom out with it or without it. Either would most likely result in serious injury or death. "
" Captain, " Gerron turned to her in desperation, " Tom knows now, we have to get him out as quickly as possible. "
" I thought knowing the truth and having you there would calm him until we could get him out, " Janeway stated.
" Probably with any other person, but not Tom. Knowing he is surrounded by lies, by a machine, he hates it and then there are the nightmares. "
" Nightmares? " Chakotay asked.
" Yes, he has never told me what they are about but they are getting worse. I don't know if the machine is causing them or making them seem realer but they are tearing Tom apart. Getting Tom out of that machine can only help him cope with whatever these nightmares are about. "
" I have to agree with Mr Gerron, " the Doctor concurred, " the machine does record Tom's dreams. If it can record them than it can easily be affecting his dreams also. "
" So time is of the essence once again, " the Captain stated. " Damn it! "
She paced the sickbay, thinking how best to resolve this latest dilemma.
" Very well, everyone now has the first priority of Tom Paris. Find out about these new probes, stop them, remove them, disable them, whatever is needed to get Tom out quickly. Tuvok has found a planet nearby that has some food and minerals we require. I'll put Voyager in orbit to reduce the chances of us encountering an emergency and we won't leave until Tom is out. "
The next days passed quickly with work continuing at all hours until Seven believed she had disabled the new probe creation. The Doctor was now ready to pull out another probe.
" Tom, " Gerron called as he entered from the bathroom, which was his doorway between the two realities. Tom looked up from the part he was working on. It was a small hovering device he had began to make to keep himself occupied as the shuttle now drifted in space.
" The Doctor is ready to remove another probe. "
" Okay, " Tom stated as he stood up and assembled his safety equipment beside the cot. Finally he sat on the cot, his back against the bulkhead and lifted into his hands a strange piece of rock, the EP manifold that he had removed from the engines.
" I'm ready. You need to go, and tell the Doc I think he should try the probe in my left hip. "
Gerron nodded in surprise at Tom’s knowledge and exited the holoscenerio. Tom began to move his hands over the rock, letting his mind drift to another time and place, letting the motion become the most important thing and letting his mind once again block out the signals from his body as he remember doing this action for weeks on end. Nothing else existed.
The Doctor removed the probe selected by Tom and carefully watched Tom's reaction.
Tom was violently sick but his heart did not stop and the machine did not introduce or attempt to introduce any new probe. Gerron returned to the holoscenerio and cared for Tom. This process was repeated four times, each time Tom forced his mind to concentrate only on the rock he had shaped, blocking the signals from his body and attempting to reduce the shock of the probe removal on his system. Finally only one probe remained.
" So Tom, " Gerron began, " one left. "
" Yes, " murmured Tom from where he lay on the cot. The bouts of illness had drained him deeply and his exhaustion was not helped by the terrifying nightmares that plagued his sleep.
" The Doctor suggests we wait until you're feeling better before removing this one. "
" No, " Tom muttered, " I'll only be getting worse. We are too far along for the program to give me relief and the final sub-routine has been activated. I have two maybe three days left. "
" Program, sub-routine. What do you mean Tom? "
" I've been looking around inside the machine and I'm understanding more and more as time passes. I'm remembering more. I'm close to something. Tell the Doctor to wait, I'll let him know when something is going to happen. " Tom drifted away, appearing to sleep but Gerron knew better this time, over the last two weeks Tom has spent all his time either suffering from the effects of the probe removal or sleeping. But as Gerron had just discovered Tom wasn't sleeping, he was sending his mind deeper into the machine that imprisoned him, learning more about its purpose and operations.
Tom stirred the next morning. Gerron knew Tom had drifted off into true sleep by the nightmares he had witnessed. Tom forced himself up and went into the bathroom, Gerron listened in surprise at the sounds of cleaning. Tom had had little energy the last month for a proper clean up. He had taken to quick sponge baths. He had not had to worry about a beard, a hair growth retardant was still active but his hair had grown longer, past his shoulders. Tom had taken to wearing it in a ponytail, but when he exited the bathroom Gerron noticed he had taken the time to plait it neatly. Tom sat down and selected the most edible food from the supplies and had a meal. Gerron watched silently, knowing Tom well enough by now to know he would speak when he was ready. Tom finally sat back, clean and full.
" Gerron, I want to thank you for what you did. Volunteering to enter this alien machine to keep me from committing suicide, a man you barely knew and had no reason to believe deserved to live. "
" Tom…" Gerron interrupted.
" No, let me finish. I know that's changed. I know we are friends now, good friends. But in the beginning, it took a man with a good soul to do what you did. I want you to know I truly appreciated that. I also want you to thank the Captain for me, she gave me a chance when no one else would, she believed in me when no one else would. Tell Harry he is the best friend I ever had. Say goodbye to Tuvok, Seven, Neelix and the Doc. Tell Chakotay that his debt has been repaid and tell B'Elanna, " Tom's voice catched, he had been stating all his goodbyes so calmly until he reached this person, this last person, " tell her I would have liked to have gotten to know her better. Tell her she will always be in my dreams. "
Tom fell silent, staring out of the viewscreen, but stirred after a few minutes.
" An impressive holoprogram, " Tom murmured before turning to look again at Gerron.
" Time for you to leave Gerron. I want you to exit the shuttle and disconnect. Tell the Doctor I have found the command needed to end the program. Once you are free of the machine, I will give the command. My imprisonment ends today. "
Gerron nodded, knowing that this day had to come but still feeling strangely unprepared. He forced his mind to work, asking the questions he believed the Doctor would.
" What will happen when you end the program? "
" The probe will be removed and the machine will open. The life sustaining equipment will remain attached and working, those are separate to the machine. The Doctor should have no problem removing it later. "
" Are you strong enough for this? "
" I have to be Gerron, time is running out. Now leave, this has to be done soon. "
Gerron stood and moved to the bathroom. Tom spoke once more,
" I'll see you back on Voyager. "
Gerron answered with a small smile. " A game of pool at Sandrines, " he promised.
Then Gerron exited the holoscenerio and at a nod from the Doctor, disconnected himself from the alien machine.
Both watched the viewscreen as suddenly an explosion rocked the shuttle and the bathroom was destroyed. They watched as Tom stumbled forward and used the fire suppresser to extinguish the small fires burning.
Finally the shuttle's systems cleared the air enough for Tom to view the damage. The bathroom had been destroyed but little damage had occurred in the main shuttle cabin. Tom also found the charred remains of a body, Gerron's body. Though he knew it was an illusion, the look and especially the smell were all too real for Tom in the machine. He stumbled from the room to be violently sick then he collapsed on his cot, exhausted.
He stirred after a few hours.
" Well, that was fun, " he muttered as he pulled himself into the pilot's chair.
" Okay Doc, I'm ready. " He spoke into the empty air. Closing his eyes, he let himself drift into the machine, searching for the command center. Once there he spoke one word, the end command,
" Surrhill. "
Lights flashed on the alien machine, an alarm sounded and then there was movement in the sickbay. The last alpha major probe was retracted and the wound cauterized. Then an opening appeared down the center of the machine. As the sides of the opening retracted, making it larger, Tom was revealed. Finally the platform Tom lay on moved forward, releasing him from the machine. The platform separated fully with the like support systems built into it and so, after months of imprisonment Tom was finally freed.
For the first time the Doctor could see completely the physical condition Tom was in. The alien machine was set to keep Tom alive but not necessarily healthy. Tom's weight was drastically reduced and his vitals unstable as his body reacted to the trauma of being removed from the machine. He was not yet recovered from everything else he had been put through. The strain on his body just kept getting greater. The Doctor began his work, he had some long hours before him. The Doctor had requested privacy so only he and Gerron worked on Tom in the following hours. The Captain and crew knew only that Tom was free and alive as they waited impatiently to see him.
When they were finally allowed into sickbay, they found Tom on one of the biobeds, being kept alive by starfleet equipment as the Doctor began the slow process of making Tom healthy.
" Doctor report, " ordered Janeway.
" Mr Paris will make a full recovery physically. It will take time, his body had been strained too severely as it is, my treatment will be the least invasive I can find. I have placed Mr Paris in a coma, he will remain so for three weeks. His mind needs the rest, the constant stimulation from the alien machine has fortunately not caused permanent damage, but it was close. All he needs now is rest, and of course my expert medical treatment. "
" Thank you Doctor, " replied Janeway, amused by his smug assertion. " I'll let the crew know. I'm sure you will have some visitors soon. One more thing, do you need the alien machine for any reason? "
" No Captain. "
" Good, I'll have it removed to one of the storage bays. I want Seven to begin working on the records immediately. "
" Yes, the records. If I may point out Captain, I can repair Mr Paris physically but emotionally, mentally, he may need more help than I can give. "
" I have considered that Doctor, which is why Commander Chakotay will be the only one to view the records completely. He then will try to help Tom any way he can. "
The Doctor nodded his head in agreement, the Commander had counseling experience, he was the best choice in this situation.
Three weeks passed quickly and it was time to wake Tom from his coma. His body was back to a healthy state. Seven had easily broken the encryption on the alien's database now that she was no longer restricted by Tom's connection. Chakotay had watched most of the records, often speeding past the days, weeks where Tom worked constantly on repairs. He had watched surprised as Tom shaped the EP manifold, the patience and perseverance stunned him. Two days before Tom was to wake the Doctor requested a meeting with Chakotay.
" I understand from the Captain that you have been watching the records of Mr Paris' imprisonment, " the Doctor queried.
" Yes, " Chakotay answered hesitantly.
" I do not want you to break any confidence you feel you've given Mr Paris but I need to know, do they show any injuries? A large number of injuries occurring within a short period? "
Chakotay thought back, " Tom was injured once or twice but not too severely and there were, well for him, weeks in between these accidents. "
The Doctor was silent, he turned to look out of his office at the man resting on the biobed.
" Then I need to inform you of some additional information my treatments has revealed, " the Doctor halted.
" Yes Doctor, " Chakotay prompted after a minute of silence.
" Scans reveal that within the first four days Mr Paris had been captured, he suffered… torture. "
" What! " exclaimed Chakotay in shock, unable to believe after all he had viewed of the records of Tom's imprisonment that things had gotten worse.
" My scans have shown numerous breaks, abrasions on his bones, damage to his subdermal skin from burns, bruises and cuts. All these lead me to the conclusion that Mr Paris was physically tortured before being placed into the machine. "
" Do you think Tom remembers? " softly queried Chakotay.
" Mr Paris had been having nightmares, they were becoming more severe as the probes were removed. I believe it was the memory of his torture that caused the nightmares. Yes I do believe he remembers, how well I could not tell you. "
Chakotay stood up and began to pace within the Doctor's small office.
" What the records reveal is trauma enough to make me doubt I could help Tom but to have this added as well. I've respected his dreams and his right to some privacy and have not viewed those records. I still won't… I've never been properly trained as a counselor, I don't know if I can help Tom or if he will let me. Our relationship has not exactly been of the confiding type. "
Chakotay paced some more in frustration and fear.
" Are you sure you…" he began.
" Yes, " the Doctor interrupted, " I am programmed for emergencies, to save a patient's physical life. I, of course, have access to all the records regarding counseling but lack an essential qualification. I cannot share the experience, I cannot tell the patient that I feel. That is important to the patient, which is something you can do for Tom. He will need more than a friend to be his counselor, you are the best qualified Commander. "
Chakotay nodded his head, understanding and accepting the Doctor's view, he turned to leave, halting briefly to add,
" Thank you Doctor. "
Now it was time for Tom Paris to wake up.
Tom slowly opened his eyes to find the Doctor looking down at him,
" Welcome back Mr Paris, " the Doctor simply stated before stepping back to be replaced by the Captain.
" Tom, it's good to finally have you back with us. How are you feeling? " Janeway asked.
Tom took his time answering, looking around at all the people in the sickbay, at his friends standing around him. There was Harry, B'Elanna, Chakotay, Neelix, Seven, Tuvok and Gerron, as well as Janeway and the Doctor. He closed his eyes briefly remembering the events that had lead him here, reaching out he tried to sense the machine as he had been able to the last weeks. He could not. He opened his eyes and looked up at his Captain and finally spoke,
" I feel free Captain. "
His voice was rusty from disuse and B'Elanna quickly moved forward, collecting some water and offered it to Tom. He took a few sips, easing his throat and looked at all the concerned faces around him, ending on B'Elanna.
" If Torres is waiting on me hand and foot, I must be dying, " Tom broke the quiet.
The Doctor hastily assured his patient of his good health, while B'Elanna muttered curses under her breath as she stood next to him, still holding his glass of water.
The atmosphere had been lighten by Tom's words and the others moved forward to welcome Tom back and to confirm for themselves, that he was whole and back with them. After 20 minutes the Doctor ushered everyone out, stating his patient needed to rest and Tom quickly found himself drifting off to sleep. His first real sleep since being released from the alien machine was peaceful and undisturbed.
The Captain had been ready to make it an order that Tom go to counseling sessions with Chakotay but Tom had calmly accepted the appointment made for him two days after he had been released from sickbay. He had spent most of those two days socialising with the crew, accepting their well wishes and resting in the mess hall when he wasn't in his cabin. Stating his reason as that he enjoyed being near all the food, even the leola root.
Chakotay had rearranged his cabin a few times, trying to get the best environment for the first counselling session. He has used some of his replicator rations to create some soothing objects that could easily be handled as he had noticed Tom’s use of the rock in the holoscenario. He had spent a few evenings researching different types of music before selecting one to be playing quietly in the background. He also had a datapad containing a copy of all the information they had retrieved from the alien machine, should Tom want it. Finally exactly at the appointed time, his door chimed and Tom entered.
" Sit down Tom, can I get you anything to drink? " began Chakotay.
" Thanks, I'll have some tarkelian tea. "
…and so the weeks passed.
" I could not accept it, I could not accept that everyone was dead and gone. Someone had to have survived, it was this thought that kept me going, " explained Tom.
" Your repairs on the shuttle were amazing. "
" But not real, all of it never happened. "
" It happen to you Tom, " Chakotay argued, " that is as real as it needs to be. "
He paused, watching Tom's reaction.
" As to the shuttle, those aliens had examine thoroughly the shuttle you were captured in so all your repairs were done to a standard shuttle. All your repairs could be used on one of our shuttles now to fix similar damage. Your alteration to the damage solar panel was impressive. I've wanted to show it to B'Elanna. "
Tom began shaking his head no, " I don't want anyone to see more of my experience than they already have. "
Chakotay agreed for the moment, they would take things slowly.
Tom finished his shift at the conn and allowed his hands to rest on the console, letting his senses be filled by the fact that Voyager was surrounding him and that the crew was moving behind him. That it was all real because sometimes he had doubts and wondered if he was in another holoprogram.
" My hand has cramped a few times during the night. I wake up with it stiffened into the clawed shape. "
" Not surprising considering the months of strain it suffered. "
" But it wasn't months and it wasn't this hand that suffered. "
" I understand that you need to realise all that happen to you was in a holoscenario but Tom, you still have to accept that it did happen to you. Now that you are freed from the alien machine, your body and mind are adjusting to each other. Your mind remembers your time on the planet and now your body is learning about it. I think you should have the Doctor check out your hand or maybe you can get some more therapy from Gerron. "
Neelix bustled up to Tom as he sat enjoying his meal, a reasonable version of parlian stew.
" Another helping Tom? "
" No thanks Neelix, I don't think I could get anymore in me. My compliments to the chef though. "
" Thank you Tom. " Neelix moved back to the kitchen, asking as he went, " see you later at the resort? "
" I have some reports I have to finish, I'll have to see how long they will take me. "
" Okay Tom, " casually answered Neelix, unaware of the forced note in Tom's voice or the tension in his body.
" You stopped fighting three times, " Chakotay stated.
" Tried to kill myself you mean, " corrected Tom.
" That's one way to look at it, " Chakotay explained with a grin.
" I wouldn't worry too much about suicide Chakotay. It has always been one of my choices. With the way I've messed up my life, its been one of the few choices I've had left. But it has never been the only one. In the end, there has always been another choice I've made. Something in the universe seems to want me alive. " Tom ended.
Though Chakotay wasn't happy with Tom's casual attitude to suicide he knew it would take a more experienced counselor to heal Tom on this issue. Chakotay moved on to an issue he had more experience with.
Harry stood beside Tom looking out of the porthole at the universe going by.
" People are beginning to notice, " he softly stated, sensing Tom stiffen beside him.
" Notice what Harry? " Tom asked, a hard edge tone entering his voice.
" You know what, " insisted Harry.
" No I don't, if I did I wouldn't be asking you. "
" Okay Tom, I'll spell it out for you. Since you've been freed from the alien machine you have not stepped into a holodeck. "
" So, I just haven't felt the need to go to the resort or Sandrines, maybe I'm just enjoying having real people around me. You're making more of this than it is worth. "
" I don't think so Tom and soon I won't be the only one. "
" The holodeck, " Chakotay carefully broke the silence that had fallen between them.
" I've been tortured before, " Tom replied, selecting a topic he knew would change Chakotay's focus, " but it was always for a reason, for answers, for punishment, for revenge or even for fun. But with them, while it was happening there was no reason. They didn't seem curious or satisfied. They didn't ask me any questions or use it as punishment. It was just something they were doing, a task they had to perform but it didn't matter how or when, just as long as it was done. I had no hope, no hope that it would end because they had gotten their answers or that they were repaid or that I finally died. I had no hope that the torture would end. "
" You believe they had a reason now. "
" Yes, it was a series of routine test they run on the things they collected. Apply pressure as this point until reaction, then note the pressure reached and what bones they snapped, that kind of thing. They did that physically and then mentally. "
" Mentally? " queried Chakotay.
" That whole holoscenerio, destroy a person's entire life and see what reaction you get. All that so I could be properly labeled and catalogued. That's all they were after in the end, a nice definition for a human. "
Gerron grabbed his tray and joined Tom, who was sitting alone at one of the tables in the mess hall.
" Ready for next week? " Gerron asked.
" Next week, " echoed Tom, his mind on other matters.
" Yes, B'Elanna, birthday, party. Do I need to go on? "
" No thank you Gerron. I have gotten the idea and no, I'm still thinking about B'Elanna present. I want to get her the perfect gift. "
" What about the holoprogram of the Mendarkan water tunnels you told me about, I think B'Elanna would love that. "
Tom shook his head, " It will take too much work to get it ready by next week. "
" So, give it to her when you're ready. She is having her party here Tom, she'll understand the delay. "
" Here, " echoed Tom, " but…"
" She changed her mind, she said she was tired of the resort so wants the party here instead. "
Tom looked into Gerron's eyes, realising he knew and by B'Elanna's action, she knew as well. They knew that he was too terrified to go into the holodeck.
" I had no doubts, no doubts that everything I was going through, everything that had happened was completely real. "
" Tom, they cut you off from everything that was familiar. They left you nothing to gage your reality against. No one would have had any doubts. Even Seven had been impressed with the alien holosimulation technology. "
" Then it must be good, " quipped Tom.
" Yes it is. " Chakotay forcefully agreed.
Tom jumped up and paced the cabin.
" I just can't put myself into that situation again, into a fake reality, into a holodeck. "
" I wish I could tell you Tom that it is a fear you don't need to face and conquer, but it is. Holodecks are a major part of our life especially here on Voyager. We use them for entertaining, for training, for exercise. Our use of them is not as bad as the philosopher Deltran predicted but they are important in our lives. "
" I know that Chakotay, I know. I've found myself so many times walking towards the holodecks or about to suggest meetings my friends there but I can't do it, I just can't. "
" There's another reason to face your fear Tom, you love the holodecks, the holoprograms you create. Don't let the aliens take this away from you. "
Tom sat in his cabin staring at the datapad before him. Taking a deep breath he reached out and pick up the datapad. Slowly he began to enter commands, sometimes they came in burst, other times he simply sat staring at the datapad, his thoughts on other things. As the time passed, Tom lost himself in the program he was writing, feeling deep within him an old familiar joy stir. He continued working late into the night.
" Chakotay do you mind if we make this a very short session, " Tom began.
" Busy? " casually asked Chakotay.
" I've been working on a project with a fast approaching deadline. "
" Is it this project that kept you occupied this last week? " Chakotay tried to ask casually again, unsuccessfully this time. Tom looked sharply at Chakotay, hearing in his tone worry and concern. For the first time since he entered the cabin he focused fully on his companion.
" Some one's come to you, about me, " he stated.
" Yes. "
" Who? " asked Tom, curious about who he had worried over the last week. Chakotay noting that Tom did not seem angry answered,
" Let's see, there was Harry first, then Gerron and then the Captain ask if things were going well. Neelix wondered if there was anything extra that I could suggest to him to help cheer you up. Seven informed me that you have been distracted for the last week. The Doctor and Tuvok have both felt a need to ask if our sessions were progressing well. "
Chakotay halted for a moment, enjoying the growing stunned look on Tom's face.
" Finally B'Elanna challenged me to a holoracket game and then used it to ground me into the dirt. Finally stating she hoped I was a better counselor than holoracket player. "
Tom laughed aloud at that, amused by the round about way B'Elanna had shown her concern.
" I'm sorry Chakotay, it seems taking on the job of putting the pieces of Tom Paris back together again had more risks than you realised. "
" Risks I willing to take, " Chakotay stated, then added seriously, " how are things Tom? "
" Things are going well Chakotay. I'm sorry to have worried everyone, " he shook his head in bemusement, " I had no idea. "
He looked at Chakotay and said, " I'm working on B'Elanna's present. "
Chakotay nodded in understanding.
" In that case, get out. "
B'Elanna's birthday arrived and everyone had gathered in the mess room to celebrate. There was food, presents and laughter. Tom made his way through the crowd to reach the birthday girl. He found her surrounded by their friends.
" Happy birthday B'Elanna, " Tom immediately began. " I'm sorry I'm late, I just had a few last details I had to take care of. "
B'Elanna had looked up as Tom had started to speak, enjoying the sparkle in Tom's eyes and the tension free way he stood. He seemed happier than she had seen him for a while, more at peace than since before his capture. Finally she looked at all of him, startled for a moment from the simple beauty he possessed. He wore black pants with a sapphire blue shirt of a material that shimmered as he moved. B'Elanna realised Tom was looking at her expectantly and she had no idea what he had said.
Chakotay had watched amused at the expressions on B'Elanna's face and as he looked around, on many of the faces of other crew members. Tom Paris had certainly made an entrance. Noticing the silence develop and having a good idea why, he answered Tom's question for B'Elanna.
" I'm sure she will forgive you for being late Tom, if you promise to be her slave for the evening. "
Tom threw a grin at Chakotay, amused and appreciative of Chakotay's suggestion. He quickly knelt before B'Elanna to pay her homage.
" Your wish is my command, " he stated, enjoying the stunned look growing on B'Elanna's face.
B'Elanna looked at Tom kneeling before her in submission and felt her klingon blood heat up as a series of images flashed in her mind.
" Get up Tom, " she ordered abruptly before she could drag him from the room.
" You don't need to be my slave for the night, " she stated with a grin, " though the idea is very appealing. I have some routine jobs in engineering that need to be done. "
Tom got to his feet in a hurry.
" No, no, that's fine. I'm late, you've forgiven me and I brought a gift. "
B'Elanna looked Tom up and down then muttered, " you in that blue shirt is gift enough. "
She looked away from Tom to met Tuvok's quirked eyebrow, his Vulcan hearing making him the only one to hear her comment. She felt herself redden in embarrassment. Tom held out a datapad to her, tied in a blue ribbon that was made of the same material as his shirt. B'Elanna undid the bow carefully, tucking the ribbon safely away in one of her pockets and then read the datapad contents. She looked up in shock at Tom,
" Paris Delta Three… a holoprogram. "
Tom was aware that all eyes had focused on him.
" Yes, a holoprogram… you'll love it B'Elanna. Just remember to take your swimsuit. I … ah… ran it earlier, there should be no problems with it but let me know if you find something wrong. It has been a bit of a rush job. "
" You ran it, " echoed B'Elanna.
" Yes I did, " stated Tom, beginning to be amused by the surprised looks on his friends' faces.
" It is something that you should do when you write a holoprogram, run it, test it, try it out. I have a new 'understanding' of holoscenerios. I think this program shows it. Anyway I hope you enjoy it B'Elanna. "
" I'm sure I will Tom." B'Elanna answered, looking down at the datapad she held, aware of the courage it had taken to create it for her. She looked back at Tom smiling.
" Thank you Tom, " she softly said.
A big grin broke out on Tom's face, he had gotten the chief engineer to smile.
Their friends found themselves suddenly in an awkward situation. The Captain abruptly stated,
" Look, some fresh coffee. "
Everyone quickly moved to the refreshment table, giving the two smiling people some privacy and solitude.
The party continued on, celebrating B'Elanna's birthday and the fact that all the crew was happy and healthy.
Copyright @ 1999 February Daniela Signor