DISCLAIMER: Tom Paris and the rest of Voyager‘s crew are Paramount‘s, but the story, the Amnesty, and unrelated characters are Synbou‘s. This is a P/T story rated PG-13. Set after 30 Days.
SERIES WARNING: READ THE PRIOR STORIES!
Prior stories in the Neoplasm Universe.
2) In The Dark
4) Corridor: The Secret Pain.
5) Corridor: The Secret Past
SYNOPSIS: Knowing that his cancer is taking a turn for the worst, Tom leads an away team into the Corridor, earlier than expected, in order to get help.
Corridor: The Secret Path
by Synbou- email@example.com
Tom drew in a harsh breath.
He was piloting the Delta Flyer at warp two, distancing the small craft from Voyager, and having second thoughts about the wisdom of this whole mission. It was not too late to change his mind, Chakotay‘s words echoed in his mind. However, he was not ready to turn around just yet. Still, at that very moment, Tom could not help but wonder if he would be doing this in better circumstances.
The answer was simple: No.
Sure, he was worried about the Amnesty‘s crew. Yes, the fact that they had no constant communication with them bothered him. But, he could live with the little Voyager was receiving. Still, if things had went as planned—in ordered words, if his damn leukemia had not returned prematurely—Tom Paris would not be considering entering a Starfleet vessel in the Corridor without the support of an experienced crew.
Hell, Tom Paris had not even considered entering a Starfleet ship in the Corridor ever again!
Amber could bring Voyager in the Corridor! Or Semack, Baythart or Chakotay, but not him. Not after Caldik Prime... Not even if he knew that the accident was not entirely his fault.
Not entirely... But still responsible.
Caldik Prime had changed Tom‘s life in so many ways. It had changed it for the worst. It had tinted his Starfleet career with lies. It had destroyed his reputation. But, that had been nothing compared to the grief he had felt for the loss of his friends, to the nightmares, to the fears, to the insecurities, and to the self-doubts that were still plaguing him after all those years.
Caldik Prime had also changed Tom‘s life for the better. Tom had found redemption, friendship and love on Kimira. People who were willing to hear what he had to say. They had accepted him for who he was. Being forced to resign from Starfleet had even turned out to be a blessing. It had made him realized that there was more to life than Starfleet‘s little reality. Away from the family pressure—from his father and his expectations—Tom had found his own. Never would he have thought of himself as a family man. Never had he imagined that he could have found so much joy in being a father.
Fate had cruelly ripped him away from him his family and his dreams. But there again, life had took an unexpected turned by catapulting Voyager into the Delta Quadrant. Through good times and harsh ones, Tom and the rest of the crew had rebuilt their life. Now, with the prospect of meeting with the Amnesty and of returning home, they were at the dawn of another new beginning.
If only he could make it there...
"We will be reaching our coordinates in 15 seconds," Seven of Nine informed them. "Ready to initiate the Dedion beam on your mark, Tom."
After the fifth correction, Seven had finally taken into the habit of just calling him Tom and not Mister Paris as he had requested.
"Aye, Seven. Stand ready for my mark," the pilot told them. The small crew of the Delta Flyer sat straighter in their seats. "Five... four..."
Hell, he hated those countdowns...
He could still change his mind...
There was no turning back.
The instant Seven initiated the beam, a tiny blue wave started to form in front of the shuttlecraft. It was so pretty. Quickly, the wave got bigger and bigger, threatening to sweep everything in its path as it started to ride through space.
The Delta Flyer had just a few crucial seconds during which it could make its entrance into the Corridor before the wave totally faded away. The heading had to be right—not too close to the center—the velocity proportional to the one of the wave, the shields at the right frequency...
Tom was suddenly amazed at how easy it felt to make his entry— as if he had never ceased doing it. His senses tuned to every movement of the shuttlecraft, he could tell the distance between them and the wave. Putting all his calculations aside, Tom let his instincts guide his path.
With a jolt, the Delta Flyer reached the far right side of the wave and quickly disappeared into a vast blue sea. As quickly as it had appeared, the wave dissipated leaving behind a few tinsels in the darkness of space.
This particular alpha shift appeared to be one of the longest of B‘Elanna‘s life. On many occasions, she had stopped and told herself that each second past was a second closer to seeing Tom again. However, most of those seconds seemed more like minutes, even hours.
Tom, Chakotay, the Doctor, and Seven had left over two hours ago. They had successfully entered into the Corridor. However, Voyager had lost contact with them less than 20 minutes later. Now, the only thing they could do on this side of space, was to wait for their return.
So, B‘Elanna waited.
Had her stomach not screamed for food, she would still be in engineering exercising her mind with more productive things than worrying. But there she was, in the Mess Hall, an untouched plate sitting in front her, cursing for the umpteenth time the cancer that was threatening to take Tom away from her. This curse that kept coming back to hurt Tom, to haunt them. This despised leukemia, that not only was killing Tom, but that had forced him into a mission that he was in no condition to do.
They could end up losing him sooner. Even if the Doctor was with him, Tom might even not come back alive from this mission. It was a very small possibility, but she could not help fearing the worst.
"B‘Elanna." Torres met her Captain‘s gray eyes. She was standing a few feet away from the table with a cup of coffee in her hand. She was looking a little lost herself. "May I sit with you?"
From behind the counter, Neelix saw Janeway join B‘Elanna. The two women shared their fear in silence, both taking comfort into their favorite food. Comfort food, Tom had called it once. Neelix could only hope that it would help them ease their pain, like it did so many times before.
The Talaxian drew in a breath. He too, was very concerned about the pilot. However, wallowing in worry would not help him clean his kitchen. It actually felt good to have something to do to occupy his mind.
"Doctor, you should regain your seat," Seven advised, keeping a critical eye on the EHM.
"Something wrong?" Chakotay asked as he looked up from his console.
"The Doctor obviously cannot keep his balance and his imaging system is showing signs of distress," Seven replied.
"You did not tell me that even an EHM could get motion sickness in the Corridor, Mr. Paris," the Doctor said.
"Doc, if you call me Mr. Paris again, I won‘t help you," Tom warned as he got up from his seat and made his way toward the back of the Delta Flyer. "As far as I know, you‘re the first EMH to come into the Corridor. How could I know how it would affect you?"
"Is it serious?" inquired the Commander.
"I don‘t know," Tom told them as he examined the emitter. "I can‘t say what would interfere with the Doc‘s system. What do you think it could be Seven?"
Seven came closer. "I do not know, either. Maybe Lieutenant Torres could be of assistance."
"Lieutenant Torres...!" the Doctor repeated not believing his ears. "She‘s light-years away! What until then?"
"I‘m afraid that you‘ll have to suffer like the rest of us," Tom said with a sympathetic smile.
"What if she can‘t find a solution?" asked an even more alarmed EMH. "What will we do once Voyager enters in the Corridor?"
"Your program will have to be shut down, Doctor," Seven said.
"That‘s not acceptable! I‘m the Doctor. You can‘t do that," he insisted. "*You* need me. Who will take care of you?" he asked more desperately meeting Tom‘s gaze.
"Doc...Doc... Don‘t panic," Tom said, unable to take his joke further. He put a hand on the Doctor‘s shoulder. "It‘s nothing serious. We just have to shield your holo-emitter. Seven can do it. We were kidding."
"Ha-ha," replied the Doctor dryly. "You‘ve been hanging around Mr. Paris too long," he told Seven.
Tom and Chakotay chuckled. The two men could have sworn that they saw a glimpse of a soft evil smile appear on Seven‘s lips.
With the assurance of an experience commanding officer, Starfleet Liaison officer Audrey Larsen walked onto the Flying Deck of the S.S.F. Amnesty. She joined the younger woman tending the OPS station—a redhead who just by her aristocratic features showed strength of character associated with the her hair color.
"Gwanna, what‘s the emergency?"
The redhead smiled, her eyes shining with anticipation. "We‘re about to have Asa on audio."
"Audio?" Audrey asked startled. "For that to be possible, he has to be in the Elsha."
"He is. It‘s about time. I was expecting him a lot sooner," said Gwanna. "He sent us a code-silver priority message from a small craft called the Delta Flyer."
"Code-silver? All right, things could be worst," she pointed out.
"Any idea what‘s the problem he is facing?"
Gwanna tightened her lips together. "None."
"Seven, try the 368th frequency," Tom advised as he looked over the young woman‘s shoulder.
*Amnesty to Delta Flyer... Delta Flyer, this is the Amnesty responding to the Code-Silver. Please respond,* could finally be heard clearly through the Delta Flyer.
"Is this better?" Seven asked a bit sarcastically.
"Much better, Seven. Thank you," Tom replied with a smile.
The apparent teasing between Tom and Seven stole another chuckle from Chakotay. The former Borg was making amazing progress regarding her social interactions with the rest of the crew. Kathryn would be glad to see her so relaxed and playful, Chakotay told himself.
He gave a sideways glance in Tom‘s direction and his heart felt heavy. The Commander knew very well that Tom had a lot to do with Seven‘s integration into the crew, as he had been there for Kes and Neelix. Tom could be so good with people when one was giving him the chance—that he knew from personal experience. Chakotay did not want to imagine what his loss would feel like, the prospect of losing him to his cancer was already chilling enough. They could only hope that with the help of Tom‘s friends, they would be able to find a cure.
If Tom could live long enough to meet them in person...
One step at the time, Chakotay reminded himself.
"Amnesty, this is the Delta Flyer," he heard Tom reply. "It‘s good to hear your voice Gwanna," Tom exchanged a smile with his crew.
"Welcome home, Asa," she replied enthusiastically. "Boy! Is it good to hear your voice!"
Chakotay tried very hard to mask his facial expression as he remembered the woman‘s voice, its soft pitch and its lovely accent. It still had an affect on him. So, Loreena‘s sister was the Gwanna he knew. He had been afraid of that.
"I missed you, too. It‘s actually good to be back," Tom confessed. "Who else is with you?"
*The entire senior staff: Audrey, Paul, Margo, Amber, Semack, Sanya, Brian, and Dominick,* Gwanna informed him. You?
"Commander Chakotay, our EMH, and Seven of Nine," Tom replied.
*Doctor, Seven of Nine, it‘s nice to meet you," Gwanna said Cheerfully. *Chakotay, it‘s good to know that you are all right. Asa can you give us your position?*
"Standing," came the immediate reply.
Oh, that‘s really funny, Thomas, another woman commented.
Laughter could be heard over the link. Tom chuckled while Chakotay exchanged a questioning look with Seven. What did Asa stand for. The name sounded familiar somehow.
"He should sit down, by the way," the Doctor put in dryly.
"I‘m glad that you came, Audrey," Tom said ignoring the EMH. "I know that you don‘t particularly like the Elsha."
Not particularly, no, the older woman said.
"The Tower-of-Pisa syndrome again?" Tom asked with an evil grin.
More laughter could be heard.
*Thomas, how about you give us your position? We can‘t pinpoint your origin,* Audrey said changing the subject.
Tom chuckled. "That‘s because we‘re too small. We‘re about 89250.78 Eldared away from you."
Seven looked up to the pilot. "How can you tell? We cannot read them, either," she asked taken aback and bit frustrated by it.
"Err... Experience..." Tom ventured as he was at lost for words. Hi, Tom, it‘s Paul. I see you still have your little ability?
"Quite frankly, I was worried sick. I didn‘t know if I still had it," Tom confessed.
Unless someone played with your head, the man added. *I doubt that you could lose it.*
"That‘s what I mean, Paul," Tom replied. "I didn‘t know if I still had it."
"What little ability?" Commander Chakotay inquired. He could well imagine that there would be more little surprises concerning Tom as they went further.
"You know that I scored very high on spatial orientation tests." The Commander nodded. "I score even higher when I‘m in the Corridor. It doesn‘t only give sides effects."
But, it does to most of us, Audrey pointed out. *Thomas, you sent a code-silver priority message. Is there a problem?"
Chakotay saw Tom pale on the spot. He had been dreading that moment since he had learned about the return of his leukemia and there it was. Tom had to tell them. It was after all the purpose of their premature trip into the Corridor.
The Commander stood up as best he could—feeling already the motion sickness—and invited Tom to sit in his chair. He gave his friend an encouraging nod.
"Sides effects of another nature brought us in the Elsha," Tom began. He bit his lower lip. "I have bad news. Six weeks ago, my leukemia decided to come back for a visit."
A heavy silence followed.
The Delta Flyer touched down in Voyager‘s cargo bay. Tom sighed.
They were back safe and sound, their little mission accomplished. He felt better than he had in the last two months. Help was really on its way. Now, he could believe it! In about two weeks, an away team, dispatched by the Amnesty would meet with Voyager. Someone else would take over his heavy task. He would also finally have news of his not so little girls, among other things.
Tom gave a look around as the other members of the away team busied themselves downloading the shuttlecraft‘s computer and gathering the equipment. Tom‘s gaze rested on Chakotay. Something had been bothering Chakotay since their conversation with the Amnesty. Chakotay had been too quiet on their way back, and the numerous looks he had sent in his direction had been annoying the pilot like hell! Tom had a good idea of what it might be. Still, he would have to be sure. If Chakotay would not speak his mind soon, he certainly would prompt the issue.
With a common accord, the away team walked out of the Delta Flyer together. An evil smile crept on Tom‘s lips as he noticed Seven and Chakotay limping a bit, as if one of their legs had been shorter than the other. The Tower-of-Pisa Syndrome, he remembered it well.
The Captain, Harry, and B‘Elanna had been waiting for them. The moment Torres caught a sight of Tom, she came up to him almost running and hugged him for dear life.
"B‘Elanna, you‘re knocking the air out of me..." he managed.
"Oh...I‘m sorry," she apologized, detaching herself a little too awkwardly.
Tom could not help but feel sad each time B‘Elanna was afraid that she would break him in little pieces just by touching him.
"How was the trip?" Janeway asked as she came closer, Harry on her heels. "Did you made contact with the Amnesty?"
"The ride was bumpy for awhile, but I‘ve had worse," Tom said.
"We didn‘t have any serious problems. We did contact the Amnesty. The crew sends its regards. I‘m happy to say that help is on its way." Tom paused. His smile disappeared. "We also have some bad news."
Subtlety, Janeway stood up straighter.
"The Amnesty experienced a few problems along the way," Tom went on. "They might make things a little more difficult for us on the way back, but it shouldn‘t compromise the mission".
"How do you feel?" B‘Elanna asked anxiously.
"Fine! I feel better than I have in weeks. I got all this energy inside. I could go and run my Captain Proton program for the rest of the day. Anyone interested?"
Janeway and Harry exchanged a looked and chuckled.
"I am glad to hear that you are feeling so well, Tom," began the Doctor. "But I still want to see you in Sickbay as soon as possible for a checkup. This Corridor is very unsettling."
"What‘s up with him?" B‘Elanna asked as she watched the hologram leaving the cargo bay.
"He got case of motion sickness in the Corridor," Tom said.
"He what?" quipped the Chief Engineer.
"The Doctor experienced difficulty processing sensory information while in the Corridor," Seven explained in her neutral tone. "His holo-matrix will have to be adjusted when we enter the Corridor again."
"Seven and Tom pulled his leg about it a little," Chakotay added with a smile. "He didn‘t appreciate it too much."
Janeway could not hide the grin that was playing on her lips. "I wish I would have seen that."
"It was somewhat entertaining," Seven confirmed just before she left the cargo bay as well.
"I believe it was, if Seven says so," Janeway grinned.
"Captain," Tom began. "Chakotay and I have to discuss a few things before giving you our full report." He did not miss the curious look the Commander sent him, nor did Janeway. "Could we meet in about fifteen minutes over lunch?"
"Are you actually hungry?" Harry asked incredulously.
"Well yeah, it does happen from time to time when the food is not a greenish jelly, made of leola root, or standard Starfleet ration bars."
"Tom, if you‘re hungry, by all means, we shall serve you an edible meal!" Janeway declared. Everyone chuckled. "See you in fifteen minutes in the conference lounge, then."
Tom waited to be alone with the Commander to face him.
"Something‘s been bothering you since we contacted the Amnesty, he stated promptly. "Would it have to do with a certain redhead?"
The Commander was taken aback for a moment. Tom could not recall seeing him looking so sheepish before.
"So Loreena‘s sister is the Gwanna I knew. I suppose you‘re aware that we had a relationship," the older man said.
"I do. It‘s a small universe, Chakotay," Tom pointed out. "Hell, with what she used to tell me, it almost made me question my heterosexuality," he joked.
Chakotay seemed even more embarrassed now. Tom regretted his smart-ass remarked.
"Listen, Chakotay," he continued more seriously. "I know that she really loved you in her own way. Do I have to remind you that you‘re the one who left?"
Chakotay sighed. "Our ways were too different. There wouldn‘t have been anything permanent between us. I‘m just sorry that we broke up under such bitter terms."
"The two of you will be working closely together, will it be a problem?" Tom asked holding Chakotay‘s gaze.
"Of course not," Chakotay hastily replied. Quite frankly, he was not sure if it would be or not, and he was not ready to admit it. "Say, are you petitioning for my job?"
"Something else has been bothering me," Chakotay confessed. "During our conversation with the Amnesty, Gwanna kept on calling you Asa?"
"A bad habit she never could get rid of," Tom replied. Now, he was the feeling uncomfortable.
"Asa as...?" the Commander trailed off.
"Asa as the boy Dr. Lea Spencer wrote about in the preface of my dissertation on kidnapping," Tom confirmed.
"And the Asa I heard about in the DMZ?" Chakotay asked.
"Having an alter-ego can be helpful," Tom pointed out.
"I suppose it can be especially when there is hardly anything linking one to the other. Tom, after I read your dissertation, I did make some research about your kidnaping. I found close to nothing. There was a reference in the records about the abduction of the son of a Starfleet Captain by a woman name Lahuma during a visit on Kimira. Besides that... I couldn‘t even find anything about this Lahuma."
"Most of it is either classified or not mentioned at all. It was a way to protect my identity," Tom explained.
"I should of at least made the connection between you and Gwanna one way or the other. The Foundation really made a difference for a lot of people back in the DMZ." Chakotay sighed. "I can be such a jerk!"
"Nah! Just a bad judge of character at times," Tom grinned. "Com‘on, I got this huge stack of replicator rations that are begging to be turned into a grilled T-bone drenching in gravy with baked potatoes!"
"Tom, you said that the Amnesty encountered a few problems along the way," Janeway said, sitting back in her seat with a cup of coffee for desert. "Are they serious?"
Tom for his part stood up and went to the wall console. He called up a diagram of the Amnesty.
"Well to beginning with," he said. "These are the schematics of the Amnesty-C, the latest and improved model that has been designed for long flight in the Corridor. Apparently, they lost the last one during the Federation/Dominion war, which is not over by the way—we‘ll hear all about it when we‘ll meet the crew.
"The Amnesty-C is composed of three triangular crafts which can be independent from one another. The front part is the Mist, the port one is the Prophecy, and the starboard part is the See-Seas. Join the three together and you have the Amnesty. Most of the designs you‘ll find in the Corridor are based not on crew complement capacities, but on manoeuverability.
"Now, to come back to the captain‘s question: the See-Seas received heavy damages during an attack with the Irsians—which is not too surprising. The two other parts were also damaged, but not too seriously. The Amnesty‘s integrity has not been compromised, but they are going at a slower pace than expected. The Amnesty subsequently encountered an area of space filled with Quantum Singularities and type IV special anomalies. There‘s also some wear and tear due to the changes of inter-layers and over-rails over-rails. The last thing, but not the least," he paused for an instant. "They lost two crew members during the attack."
Janeway gave Tom a sympathetic smile, as she knew how badly his last statement was affecting him.
"That‘s really sad," she told him.
Tom took back his seat in a respectful moment of silence.
"You said that our trip in the Corridor has not been compromised, but that it could be a bit more difficult than expected. How so?" the Captain asked when she felt that they could go on.
"It‘ll depend in which shape the See-Seas will come out," Tom answered. "It‘s hard to say what will be the impact of losing the Mist for the rest of the voyage."
"Wasn‘t the Mist the name of your old ship?" Harry asked.
"Not was," Tom corrected. "The Mist is my old ship. There‘s a few features found on it that haven‘t been added to other models. It‘s smaller compared to the See-Seas and the Prophecy. It‘s edges are sharper. It travels at a higher speed in more centered inter-layers—which will allow it to meet with Voyager in about two weeks instead of three months. Also the likelihood that they would encounter something in that kind of inter-layer is almost none. By putting themselves in stasis, Audrey, Gwanna, Paul, and Semack won‘t suffer from the sides effects of the Corridor. The ship‘s computer will operate its basic functions."
"Wouldn‘t it be nice if everyone could be placed in stasis and that we could travel at high inter-layers," said Harry. "We would be home a lot sooner."
"Assuming we could find a ship that would hold together that long and not rip apart under the pressure," added B‘Elanna.
"In stasis for months? ... In the Corridor?..." Tom trailed off.
"Err... I don‘t think so. I‘m certainly NOT trying that again."
Some of them knew that being put in stasis reminded Tom of the five days of hell he had passed in the Decytologenesis tube. Among them, Chakotay wondered if Tom‘s claustrophobia was not also related to other factors, such as his kidnaping.
"Tom," the Commander began, wishing to change the subject. "You asked Audrey if she was having the Tower-of-Pisa syndrome again. What was that all about?"
"Don‘t you have a clue?" Tom replied with teasing smile. The older man gave him a blank look. "The Tower-of-Pisa syndrome is an imbalance in the inner ear. It gives the impression that you have one leg shorter than the other and that you are sinking on one side."
"That‘s what it was?!" retorted Chakotay. "Does it last long?"
"Depends on how long one is in the Corridor as well as on the individual," Tom explained. "But don‘t worry, Paul Wagner is an excellent neurologist and neuropsychologist. He‘ll be able to help you—or at least explained to you what he can‘t fix."
"Oh! That‘s very reassuring," quipped Harry not too convinced.
That path, he knew it well. Composed and serene, Chakotay let the wind guide him toward the pond. It saddened him to find the Winter Garden more cold and lifeless each time. It was turning into the dark and frigid night of his first visit.
He heard ruffles in the crisp snow over the wind. He looked behind him. There was nothing there. He turned back around to find the wolf in his path.
"I can always count on you sharpening my senses," he told her with a smile.
*You might think that you know this path well, Chakotay. But, you are wrong,* the wolf began. *You are just at its beginning. It is a long and dangerous one. It is filled with many evils: hatred, fear, bloodshed, pain, and sorrow.*
"I know that I am walking the path of a dying man," Chakotay assured her solemnly. "I know that Tom did not have an easy life: his cancer, the lost of wife, his rocky relationship with his father, prison,..."
It‘s not just about Tom. It‘s never been just about Tom, said the wolf. *If he dies at this time, the cat and child will die with him.*
"The child?" echoed Chakotay. "By the child, do you mean Asa?"
Is he not the one you have been seeking? she demanded.
"How can I find him?" he asked.
By walking the path, the wolf replied as she pointed her head toward the cat who was sitting on the pond. *You have to know Chakotay, that if you undertake this journey you will have to see it to the end.*
Chakotay drew in a breath, then slowly walked to the icy pond.
"I promised Tom that I would be there for him. That I would help him through this difficult moment," he reminded the wolf.
By helping your friend, you help the child.
"What his so special about Asa?" he asked.
The child is at the center, replied the wolf.
"The center of what?" wondered Chakotay.
Of what surrounds him, she answered.
Now that was not really helpful! Chakotay gave his animal guide a sideways look. Clearly, it was up to him to find the answers.
Carefully, Chakotay made his way on the ice and joined the cat. The big Himalayan eyed him for a brief instant, then looked back through the ice. Chakotay knelt down and took a look for himself.
There was the child.
The day before, they had returned from the corridor. The Doctor had examined Tom at length and had made sure that the pilot ate a good meal. Tom, on what he called the corridor high, had eaten with appetite at the following meals—like he had not in weeks. Life almost felt normal. Everyone was amazed at his sudden recovery. They were praying that it would last. Tom was only hopping that it would last long enough for his friends from the Corridor to get to him. However, he knew better than anyone that his recovery would be very short.
He was sitting at the helm when he felt an awkward feeling crawl into his body. At that second he was not in any pain, but he knew that if he twitched only one muscle, just a millimeter, the pain would start shouting through his body like bright fireworks. So he did not move and tried not to panic.
But as always, when his lungs cried for air he had to fill them. The movement of his rib cage sent hot fire to the rest of his body. The pain was very intense. Tom bit his lip not to cry out, but a small whimper escaped his lips. His nerves protested this overload of sensation and pushed his body into seizures. He fell to the floor.
Tom could hear everything that was going on around him. He could hear the captain‘s concerned voice. He could hear Harry‘s worried tone. He heard Chakotay as calm as ever calling sickbay.
Tom could also see, but nothing was in focus. His brain could not process the visual stimuli, so it gave all kinds of weird images.
Then, to protect Tom‘s nervous system, his conscious mind shut down. He slipped into blissfully quiet darkness. There, there was no pain. There, he could rest.
Main engineering had always been for Torres a place of solace. A place where she could find both interesting mental challenges that pleased her calmer human half and the thrills her Klingon half craved for. It was obviously the first place to look if one was seeking her.
The Chief Engineer looked up from her console. The commander was standing in front her. She never had been good at reading facial expressions right—which had put her in trouble more than once—however, she could read Chakotay‘s like a book this time. In an instant, the fear that something had happened to her mate transformed itself in a conviction. But, as she wanted to ask what, her voice cracked.
"Tom? ..." was the only word she managed to say.
"We just transported him to sickbay," the man said just above a whisper. "He had a seizure on the bridge a moment ago."
As soon as Chakotay and B‘Elanna stepped into Sickbay, the Doctor ushered them to his office where the Captain was already waiting in silence, a solemn expression on her face.
"What‘s wrong?" B‘Elanna asked, fearing the answer.
"Tom had a seizure," the EMH replied calmly.
"I know that!" she retorted angrily. "Why?"
"The cancer has metastasized. I suspect the effects of the Corridor are to blame. The disease has spread to every system in his body at an incredible pace. There are unusual growths in almost every organ, including his brain. The later is what caused the seizure."
The doctor was too calm and objective as he was delivering his bad news, B‘Elanna thought—as if he did not care, which she knew was not true.
"What are you going to do about it?" B‘Elanna inquired, refusing the inevitable.
"I will keep Tom as comfortable as I can. When he wakes up we will discuss possible pain management plans."
"Pain management plans," echoed the Commander. "What about the cancer? Can‘t you operate? Remove the tumors? Destroy the cancerous cells?"
"I could remove some of the cancerous growths, but not all of them. It would be like one person fighting a brush fire. As soon as you put one part out another would go up in flame. A lot of healthy tissue would be damaged in the process making it worst. The best course to take is to respect his wishes and simply keep him comfortable."
"You mean: let him die!" B‘Elanna paraphrased with disbelief.
She could not be hearing this. Tears were running down her face. She was angry. She wanted to throw the EMH out the closest airlock.
Chakotay put a hand on her shoulder.
B‘Elanna took a deep breath to calm her self down. Throwing the doctor off the ship would not help Tom.
"If there was anything else I could do, I would. However, at this point, all I can do is respect Tom‘s living will."
"We can‘t be there yet, can we?" croaked B‘Elanna.
"Tom‘s living will?" the Captain asked looking up at them.
"It‘s in his medical file, Captain," Chakotay replied. "He asked that when the time came, that no extraordinary measures be taken to save his life, unless the outcome ensured him a level of living he had before his illness."
"As I just said," the Doctor added. "The tumors are making it quite impossible to do so. I might be able to do something if the cancer was gone. At this time, I got nothing else to throw at it. My ammunition‘s locker is empty."
"How long?" asked B‘Elanna looking down at her hands, she was twisting in her lap.
"Two, maybe three weeks."
"He might get to see his friends from the Corridor," Chakotay said with a hint of hope in his voice.
"I‘m hopping he will," The Doctor said.
"Can I sit with him?" B‘Elanna asked.
"I‘m sure he will be happy to see you when he wakes up," replied the Doctor.
Chakotay escorted her to Tom‘s bedside. They exchanged a few comforting words, then he left her alone with Tom.
As they left sickbay, Kathryn and Chakotay departed in different directions. They were both in need of something, anything, that would bring some comfort. He knew Kathryn well enough to know that she would retire to the privacy of her ready room to replicate herself a strong and bitter black coffee. As for him, coffee was the last thing he needed.
He wondered around Voyager‘s hallways for awhile. He passed by his quarters—he certainly did not want to be alone with himself in there—so he kept on his way, doing some small talk with the few crew members he encountered. He eventually ended up in front of holodeck one.
"Computer, activate Chakotay training program 15-beta," he said.
The doors of the holodeck opened and Chakotay walked in the boxing gym. Throwing a few punches would help get rid off all the nasty energy that was building inside him, at least he hoped.
Gloves on hands, he stepped into the ring and threw the first punch at his holographic adversary. He fought as if it was the fight of his life. He gave it all that he had until he ran out of strength. He crashed to the floor, exhausted.
Why had he done this? he wondered. His strangling feeling of helplessness was still haunting him. He shivered at the thought. He felt so cold. The crisp air was hard to breath. The wet icy surface of the pond was freezing his fingers.
Chakotay swallowed a lump.
Closing his eyes, he sat back on his heels, taking in what was happening to him. Never before had he had vision quests without his akoona. It felt strange.
Do not be scared, Chakotay, the wolf told him. *You are still in control.*
He opened his eyes and smiled at the wolf and the cat who had been his companions in this place for months now. He cleaned the ice with his hand in order to see through it more clearly. Asa‘s baby blue eyes were looking back at him. Suddenly, a renewed strength filled him up as every instincts in body compelled him to reach for the child. With determination, Chakotay used the only tools he had and hammered the ice with his fists. He finally let out a cry of frustrations and surrender as realized that the only thing he would break would be his hands.
"I will never be able to get him out," he said with resignation.
You have to keep trying, Chakotay, the wolf insisted. *It is not too late yet.*
"Is he even still alive?" Chakotay voiced his doubts.
You know he is, the wolf assured him. *Others are helping Tom as well. Look for the breaches their warmth will live behind.*
Despite the numbness of his body, Tom slowly became aware of his consciousness. He was so tired. He was also scared. Afraid of this feeling of dread that he could not repress. Oh God, how he wanted to go back to sleep. But there was nothing to it, he kept being pulled to the surface by a force stronger that his will. It occurred to him that he had traveled that path many times before. That particular force he recognized as well.
B‘Elanna was near him.
B‘Elanna‘s voice he could hear.
"Bee," he croaked.
"Hey there," she greeted softly, her hand caressing for his forehead.
"Water," he whispered harshly.
B‘Elanna quicky fetched a glass of cool water, calling for the Doctor at the same time. She slipped an arm under Tom‘s back and helped him into a half sitting position to take a few sips of water.
"Thanks," he said a little less hoarse.
"How do you feel?" asked B‘Elanna anxiously.
"Like... Like my head and mouth were stuffed with cotton," he said weakly. His attention drew to the Doctor who was joining them. He took in a short breath. "Doc... How bad is it?"
"It‘s bad," the EMH replied with all the sympathy he had learned to master over the year. "The cancer has metastasized. It‘s in every organ now. There is not much I can do other than keep you as comfortable as possible."
"That bad, eh?" Tom whispered looking away. Anywhere. Nowhere...
He felt confused all the sudden as fuzzy images filled his mind. This was deja vu. This whole situation seemed like a bad film he had been forced to watch time and again.
How many times could a man be given a death sentence?
"How long do you give me?" he finally asked somewhat detached from his words.
"Two, maybe three weeks," the EMH answered him.
"Well, at least I‘ll be there when the Mist arrives,", he said, voicing the only thing that was coming to everyone‘s mind. It was a small consolation, but what else could he do than hold on to it? He felt so helpless.
This was so unreal.
Tom looked away. This gave B‘Elanna an instant during which she could compose herself. This was so hard. How long would her anger be able to keep her tears at bay? How long would her companion prevent her from tearing down the place? She was conflicted as always. But Tom needed her to be strong and strong she would remain. She had made a promise to him.
"How long do you give me?" Tom had asked. He seemed detached from his words and it scared B‘Elanna.
"Two, maybe three weeks," the EMH had answered him.
"Well, at least I‘ll be there when the Mist arrives," Tom had responded too calmly.
B‘Elanna could not take it any more. Tom was accepting his death as if it was simply the ship next change of course.
"How dare you give up so easily?" she almost screamed at him.
"How dare you give up and die on me! You got to fight this." Tears were running down her face. Her hands were tight fists at her sides.
"Oh, Bee..." Tom‘s calm weak voice was laced with sadness. "I‘m not giving up. I‘m accepting that my life is going to end sooner than most." He drew in a breath. "I understand that it‘s hard for you. It‘s hard for me too, even though I had too many occasions to prepare for this moment."
Tom took her hand and pulled his beloved to him with the little strength he had. He wrapped his arms around her. They cried together for what they were going to lose and what they would never have. The Doctor retreated to his office to offer them some privacy.
Two days had passed during which Tom had found little relief. Forty-eight hours of sheer hell during which his friends had took turns by his side, helplessly watching him suffer.
B‘Elanna could not imagine a worst torture in the universe. This had to stop. She could not take it anymore. Tom could not take it anymore! They had to let him go if it was the only thing they could do for him. She told Harry and the Doctor so.
"How can you say things like that?!" Harry asked outraged.
"Lieutenant, Ensign, if the two of you don‘t calm down, I‘ll have to call security," the doctor warned her.
"You‘re not listening to me!" she cried out. "Tom will not pass the last hours of his life agonizing. I won‘t allow it!"
"We won‘t allow it either," Harry told her calmly. "But, Tom‘s trip into the Corridor is still affecting his brain. It won‘t last forever. The Doctor and Seven will find something soon."
"*When?*" she challenged. "Today? tomorrow? In a month?"
"B‘Elanna, please calm down," the doctor repeated. "Don‘t make me sedate you."
"You!" she retorted angrily, pointing the Doctor. "You stay away from me!"
"Sickbay to Security," the EMH called. "We need help."
Harry took a step forward.
"B‘Elanna, Tom is still fighting. He‘s not giving up," he said.
"You don‘t understand, Harry! Tom already gave up. He knows that there‘s nothing we can do for him."
"You don‘t believe that," the younger man said. He did not want to believe that.
"Admit it, Doc," she told the physician. "You lost and they won."
"*They?* B‘Elanna want are you talking about?" the Doctor asked.
The half-Klingon started to pace furiously. Moments later, Tuvok and two of his security officers walked in sickbay.
"B‘Elanna..." Harry began, attempting another step forward.
She sprang around and hit the ensign in the chest, sending him sliding on the floor. Before she knew it, Tuvok and the Doctor were restraining her.
"B‘Elanna, stop fighting. This will be a lot easier," the Doctor said pressing a hypospray against the woman‘s neck.
She sank to the floor as tears rolled freely down her cheeks.
"We lost him..." she sobbed. "... and so much pain..."
"Are you all right, Mr. Kim?" the Doctor asked the young man.
"Nothing is broken, if that what you mean," Harry replied sourly.
"What about Lieutenant Torres?" Tuvok inquired.
"She will sleep at least for the next six hours," said the EMH.
"I wonder what she meant by they won? who won?"
"I‘ve got absolutely no idea, Doc. There‘s still so much we don‘t know about Tom. Things that we will probably never know." Harry sighed heavily. "Part of me agrees with B‘Elanna," he admitted. "Tom shouldn‘t be living like this." His gaze flew on his friend who was resting at the far end of the room. "He didn‘t even wake up through all of this."
"That might not be such a bad thing, Mr. Kim," the Doctor said.
"I doubt that this scene would have pleased Tom."
"You‘re right," Harry granted. "But, he wouldn‘t have needed a security team and a hypospray to calm B‘Elanna down."
On that, Harry left the Doctor and Tuvok to go sit back beside his best friend.
"What prompted this scene,Doctor?" asked the Chief of security.
"Exhaustion, hurt, compassion," replied the Doctor, eyeing the Vulcan. "There is an imbalance of the neurotransmitters in Tom‘s brain that inhibits the effects of the painkillers. He suffers from the pain even in his sleep."
The Vulcan simply nodded his understanding, then he joined Harry.
"Mr. Kim, you should go get some rest yourself. I will stay with Tom," the Vulcan told him.
Harry first looked at him, a bit taken aback. Considering that this might be for the better, he hesitantly walked away. Tuvok took his place in silence. Maybe once Tom was awake, the Vulcan would be able to help him.
Chakotay looked up from his report, stood up, and glance around the bridge. Everyone were attending to their respective stations. Obviously, no one had spoke to him. Yet, he was sure that he had heard something. At least, he thought he had. He was not so sure anymore.
"Commander, is something wrong?" Ayala asked from the tactical station.
"No," he assured the security officer. "For a minute there, I thought I had heard something."
"No one said anything," Ayala confirmed.
Chakotay nodded and sat back in the captain‘s chair. Beta shift could be a drag at times. It was not as bad as Gamma shift, but it was still lacking the lively wakefulness of Alpha shift.
Chakotay had not read more than three words when it heard the sound again. It was more distinctive this time. It was a familiar soft and plaintiff one that carried a lot of meaning.
"Ayala, you have the bridge," he instructed as he made his way to the turbolift.
He let the sound guide him on his way to his quarters, hoping that he would not end-up in an embarrassing position in the middle of a hallway. As long as he could remember, Chakotay had been the seeker and not the pursuer. He felt contentment at the tell-tale signs of what was coming his way. Being visited by a vision was an honor, a great accomplishment among his people. It meant that he was instrumental to the future ahead. He hoped.
The doors of his quarters hissed shut behind him. In the darkness, Chakotay fully welcomed Mr. Blue‘s soft meow and lowered himself the floor. He sat comfortably and began to take deep steady breathes as he walked the path toward the pond. He was in control, he was prepared.
There was an estranged difference about the Winter Garden this time. The weather was milder. Some sun-rays were even trying to pierced through the thick clouds. Chakotay let the warmth soothe him. Calmly, he stepped onto the pond. The ice seemed to be ready to break anytime. Chakotay smiled.
"Hold on Kitten," he told Asa. "I‘ll get you out of here."
Careful, Chakotay, you must not fall into the water, the wolf warned him.
On his hand and knees, Chakotay hammered the ice with his fists as he had done before. He did once, and twice... He felt the uneasy sensation that the ice was threatening to give in from under him. His fight was really beginning as he was running out of time. He drew in a deep breath, gathering his strength, and gave one last giant blow.
The ice cracked ready to swallow everything in its reach.
Tom awoke to the sound of the Captain and the Doctor talking.
As soon as they realized that he was awake, Kathryn came closer and sat by his beside. He was still groggy and disoriented. She gently took one of his hand and caressed his forehead with the other.
"How do you feel?" she asked with a welcoming smile.
"Err... Confused... Relax, no pain... I... I was..." his raw voice trailed off as he tried to look around.
"You were what, Tom?" Kathryn encouraged softly
"Tu-Tuvok, I could of swore he was here," he told her.
"He was for awhile," Janeway confirmed. "He mind-melded with you to help you get rid of the pain."
"The bubble... right," he remembered. "It took the pain away," he explained. "Remind me to thank him."
"You already did," she assured him with a smile.
The Doctor handed a glass of cold water to Janeway so that she could help Tom drink some of it. Tom gladly took a few sips then dismissed the glass. His gaze wondered around again as he was still trying to get his bearings backs. A still form on the next biobed caught his eyes.
"B‘Elanna?" he inquired worriedly.
"She‘s fine, Tom," the Doctor assured him. "The last few days has been hard on both of you. She needed some rest, so I gave her a mild sedative. She should wake up in 3 hours."
"What am I doing to her?" he said as tears came running down his pale cheeks.
"Sshh," Kathryn whispered as she dried his tears away. "It‘s not your fault, Tom."
He swallowed a sob and sniffs a few times, slowly composing himself.
"I do feel better," he finally said. "I‘d like to go back to my quarters."
"I thought you might," the Doctor said. He sighed before going on. "I‘m afraid that the effects of the mind-meld won‘t last forever. Before I discharge you, we have to discuss a proper pain management plan."
"Yeah, we do," Tom considered for a moment. "All I want is to see the most of the little time I have left. I don‘t want anymore drugs that will make me feel groggy or sleepy all the time."
Kathryn gave a sideways look to the physician. She was not sure how to respond to Tom. He sensed it and quickly said: "I‘m sorry, Captain. I didn‘t mean to put you ill at ease. I keep forgetting that all off you have not had the time to prepare for this as I have."
"You seem so calm at the prospect of dying," she stated gently.
"I‘ve accepted that I‘m going to die, so that I can enjoy the little time that I have left," he calmly told them. "But... But I don‘t want to die. Hell! With everything that happened to me over the years, I almost came to imagine that I would never die," he grinned. "Then again, I‘m reminded of my inevitable mortality ever so often. So, I figured that the only thing I could do is to take one day at the time."
He sighed. Kathryn squeezed his hand as a warm sign of comfort.
"I can‘t stand the very idea that B‘Elanna and I won‘t have a future together... I won‘t get to see my little girls all grown up... I won‘t be able to see Earth nor Kimira again. I‘ll never be able to see my father and show him who I have become." Tom stopped for a moment, then hold Kathryn‘s gaze. "But, I realized a long time ago that if I focus on those things I won‘t get to enjoy your company and share your friendship. If I focus on the negative, I won‘t make it past this week, and I‘ll get to do even less. So, I‘m sorry if it bothers you and the others, but I‘m going to do my best to stay in a good mood and focus on what I have and not on what I don‘t."
He laid back and tried to relax in order to catch up his breath.
The Captain sat beside him for several minutes before saying anything.
"Thank you," she finally told him.
"For what?" Tom asked curious.
"For making me feel better," she replied with a small smile.
"Your welcome," he said with a genuine smile of his own. He looked away reflectively, then his blue gaze flew back on her. A sad puppy face was creeping on his face. "Would it be a good time to ask for a favor?"
She snorted. "I suppose so. What can I do for you, Mister?"
"How‘s your cooking abilities?" he replied.
She sat straighter definitely not liking were this conversation was heading.
"Why do you asked?" she inquired on the defensive.
"Well, the arrival of the Mist deserves a celebration, don‘t you think?" he began.
"It certainly does," she agreed.
"You see, it is custom in the Corridor for the Captain of the receiving ship—in this case you, Captain—to prepare a meal for the incoming visitors. It‘s a gesture of friendship, respect, and gratitude."
"You want me to cook an entire meal?" she asked with true disbelief "Tom, I like to think that I‘m respectful of order‘s cultures. But an entire meal?!"
"And it has to be representative of what our lives has been here," Tom added.
"You‘re not asking me to serve them leola roots dishes and other colorful creations Neelix has been cooking on top of everything else? You can‘t be serious?"
"I am very serious," Tom stressed. "Hell! If we could stomach it, so will they! Now, I know that you don‘t like cooking," he said feeling guilty under her disconcerted look. "You don‘t have to do it alone. You can work with Neelix on this. Between the two of you, I‘m confident in the results."
Kathryn chuckled. "Me and Neelix cooking together... That‘s going to be something! A dream come true," she added sarcastically.
The ice cracked ready to swallow everything in its reach.
Chakotay lowered himself flat on the icy surface and dove his hand into the freezing water. He fought his reflex of pulling it back as quickly by trying to ignore the pain. He could see Asa, the water was so clear. NO child could ever survive in this cold, his mind rationalized. Chakotay pulled back his hand and quickly rolled over. He sat on his heels. His gaze caught the Wolf eye.
"No child can live under water," he said angrily.
*You are being fooled, Chakotay, as you have been many times before in this place,* the Wolf said.
Chakotay had to bitterly admit that he been tricked by Tom‘s numerous defense mechanisms many times before. Fortunately, he had learned to recognize them more and more since his first visit into the Winter Garden. He would not be tricked again. Not today. With assurance and determination, he dove his hand into the hole in the ice once more and grabbed a limb. He pulled as hard as he could—fighting the water pressure—until the small body surfaced. Chakotay reach for Asa with both hands and rapidity brought the two of them to safety.
Asa instinctively put his arms around Chakotay‘s neck, but otherwise remained unresponsive.
"It‘s over Kitten," Chakotay told the little one, hugging him for the dear life. "You are going to be all right."
The commander sat the child on the bench. He took off his jacket, and wrapped it around him. He finally could have a look at the pale face. He felt a lump in his throat as he realized what was giving Asa‘s face its whiteness: a thin mask made mainly of white wax, decorate with tiny blue, green and red lines. As Chakotay traced the patterns with his finger, Asa stayed unresponsive, his clear blue eyes remained unfocused.
"What have they done to you, Kitten?" he whispered sadly. He looked back at the wolf. "What do we, now?"
Now, we wait, she replied.
The next few days went by quickly for some and slower for others. Tom was transferred to his quarters, where friends took turns watching over him. He was getting weaker, but did his best to maintain his good mood.
"Tom, what are you doing?" B‘Elanna asked softly as she walked in his bedroom.
"Unless I have amnesia, this is how you dress, right?" he replied drawing a smile on B‘Elanna‘s face. He struggled to put on his shirt on. Then, he rested for a second. It was aggravating to be exhausted by such frivolous things as dressing up. Putting the thought aside, he looked up at B‘Elanna with a smile. "She‘s here, Bee."
"Tom, the Mist isn‘t going to here for another two days," she told him sadly, knowing intuitively to what he was referring to.
"She is here B‘Elanna. Trust me, I know," he assured her.
"Give me a hand, will you?"
They left his quarters for the bridge, where they were happily greeted by Harry Kim.
"Tom! Hi, it‘s good to see you around," the younger man said.
"What brings you here?"
"Good news, Harry. Good news," Tom told his friend. From the corner of his eye, he saw Janeway and Chakotay rise from their command chairs. "Captain, the Mist is almost here. She‘s ready to drop into normal space."
"Already? This is great news Tom!" the captain exclaimed.
An alarm at the OPS station drew their attention on Harry.
"Confirmed, Captain," Harry told her. "We‘re receiving the Mist‘s drop-out zone coordinates right at this moment."
Tom came closer to the consol and took a look at the read-outs. He instructed Harry to re-align the sensors to a specific frequency.
"She coming awfully fast!" Tom said. "She will pass right by us if we don‘t match course and speed."
Janeway exchanged a quick look with the Commander. "The bridge is yours, Tom," she told him with a smile. "Bring that ship to us."
"Yes, Ma‘am!" he enthusiastically replied as he nodded his appreciation. "Harry, initiate an intermittent Dedion particles beam, they‘ll be able to use it as a landmark," he said as he made his way down to the helm.
Hamilton relinquished her chair. Tom had barely seated, when his fingers were already flying over the helm panel entering speed specifications, coordinates, and course extrapolations. He was back in the pilot chair once again—probably for the last time -- and still feeling great! It was amazing how alive flying made him feel. He had to admit that adrenaline had a lot to do with it, especially in that very moment, but was it not what had drove him all his life, at least most of it? He turned the ship around so that the Mist would come out from behind them, and gradually increased speed to warp four.
"The rift his opening," Harry announced.
"On screen!" ordered Janeway.
Tom spared a few seconds to gaze up at the screen. A bright blue beam was cutting through the darkness of space. In the middle of it—in the middle?! -- a tiny dark spot was coming their way very fast. In that instant, Tom recognized that particular manoeuver and he increased Voyager‘s speed to warp six. Despite the ship internal dampers, he could feel Voyager quiver by the enormous energy wave that was pushing at their back, threatening to break them apart.
The Mist cleared the opening of rift like a blue ball of fire, coming to Voyager‘s port side. The two ships raced through space at warp six for a few minutes before the smaller ship‘s velocity started to decrease until it finally stopped.
Janeway covered the distance between Tom and herself. He looked up at her. She had the most beautiful smile on her face. Her grey eyes were sparkling with pure delight. She suddenly seemed so serene...
They were not alone anymore -- she was not alone anymore—he could not say how much it meant to him to see that smile of hers, that angelic look. Something told him, however, that his own expression was not as graceful, he could not shake away his astonishment of what had just transpired.
Janeway looked back at the front screen and her eyes widen as her gaze tried to fix the smaller ship, which was about four decks tall.
"Oh, my God!" she breathed. "Part of it is missing!"
Tom snapped to attention, his blood suddenly running cold.
"Where?" he asked failing to see what was wrong in the picture in front of him.
"The front," Janeway pointed out. "The front part is missing."
"She‘s starting to fade away," Chakotay added as he joined them at the helm.
Tom chuckled as he finally realized what they meant.
"Oh, no. She‘s fine. She‘s just perfect!" he reassured them.
"That‘s why we call her the Mist."
"Is she cloaked?" asked the Commander.
"No, she‘s made of a Rudivian alloy that reflects certain wavelengths of light on it‘s black hull."
"She seems more like a ghost to me," Harry commented.
Tom cast a grin in his best friend direction. "Ghost ships have bad connotations attached to them. We tried to be imaginative."
Harry snorted. "We‘re being hailed," he told them.
Tom smile back at Janeway before telling Harry to open a channel.
The Mist Flying Deck came into view, revealing a grey-haired male Vulcan standing behind the front consol and a human red-haired woman who was coming from behind to join the man.
"The CORE maneuver?" was all Tom could say. "I‘m impressed!"
"You should be," Gwanna quipped. She reached for the chair and sat. "It‘s good to see you too, Asa. And wipe that smirk of your face!" she said.
Tom chuckled "You do look a little green around the edges," he teased her.
"Yeah well, now I understand why you said you‘d never do that manoeuver again..." Gwanna took a deep breath. "Captain Janeway, I‘m Gwanna Lancaster. My companion is Professor Semack. It‘s good to finally meet you."
"You don‘t know just how happy we are to see you," Janeway said enthusiastically. "Welcome in the Delta Quadrant Ms Lancaster. Professor."
"Thank you, Captain," the Vulcan told her. "But please, just call me Semack."
"It would be my honor," Janeway replied. She looked at the younger woman. "And just Gwanna?"
"Always," Gwanna replied with a smile. "Asa, do you want to be there when Audrey and Paul wake up?"
"I‘d like that," he replied more softly. "See you two in a minute." He stood up and tended his hand forward, inviting the captain to lead the way.
She slid her arm around his, supporting him as they walked to the turbolift.
"Don‘t you want to do this reunion in private?" she asked him.
"Part of it," he replied. "Come‘on, I‘m dying to show you my ship!"
Janeway grinned at boyish expression. "What about the dinner?"
"Considering the circumstances, they can‘t hardly blame us for not having dinner ready yet," he replied. "It would be rather rude, don‘t you think? Chakotay, you‘re coming?" he asked pressing the commander along as well.
The instant transporters released Janeway, Chakotay, Harry, Tom, and B‘Elanna of their grip, Kathryn had to remind herself to inhale, her breath stolen away by the sight in front of her.
The Mist had by far the most majestic bridge—correction: Flying Deck—she had ever seen. At first glance, it looked more like a lounge than a command center. In the front portion, the floor included, was made of a transparent solid alloy that gave the impression that they were standing right into space. The window allowed the crew to have a peripheral view of what was coming their way. At that very moment, Voyager was proudly overprotecting them under her belly like a big sister.
The Flying Deck might have seemed welcoming and comfortable at first, however one look at the upper level behind them clearly showed that the Mist had been designed for battle, and fast fancy flying. Efficiency was the word that was coming to mind. Inside and out, that little ship had Tom Paris‘ signature all over her!
Kathryn smiled. She caught her pilot‘s eye as he was casting an amused glace from above his 6‘4", with a I-told-you-so expression on his face.
"Welcome on board The Mist," Tom told them with contentment.
"And welcome home, Asa," Gwanna said as she was coming down from the upper level.
"You don‘t look so good," Tom teased her attempting to diffuse the intense emotional atmosphere.
"Neither do you, Asa," she murmured to him, her voice threatening to break into a sob. She looked up into his eyes, her hand gently caressing his cheek. "Ma‘hen stovein t‘Sha," she continued in a foreign language, her tone filled with sadness.
"Ishta revon," he replied, his words brought a smile to her pale face. He kissed her forehead and gave her a last hug before stepping back. "Mack, thank you for coming," he said addressing the Vulcan. "Thank you for still standing by our side."
"Your absence left a great void among us, my young friend," the older man told him taking a hold of Tom‘s shoulders in a fatherly manner. A gesture that dissolved into a hug.
There was a level of understanding and respect between this century old Vulcan and thirty-four year old human that both warmed the heart and lead to wonder. Obviously, they had been important parts of each other‘s lives for a long time.
Tom took a deep breath, composing himself—mostly for Voyager‘s crew than for Gwanna and Semack‘s sake. Somehow, it bothered Kathryn.
"You already have been introduced to Captain Janeway, the best captain I ever served with," Tom said with a smile. "Meet my good friend Commander Chakotay, my favorite sidekick Ensign Harry Kim, and the woman who stole my heart, Lieutenant B‘Elanna Torres."
"Chakotay, it is very good to see you again," Gwanna told the commander has they politely shook hands.
One did not had to be a telepath to feel tension between the two of them. Something told Janeway that the two executive officers were more than mere acquaintances...
Gwanna cleared her troat. She exchanged a nod with Semack. "The Admiral will have my head if I keep her in stasis a minute too long," she said more lightly. "How about if Semack gives you a tour of the Mist, while Tom and I go awake our sleepers?"
"That would be nice," Janeway graciously agreed.
"It‘s true..." Audrey croaked seizing up Tom‘s appearance.
His illness was all too obvious. One leukemia reoccurrence had been one too many. Why could they not cure him for good?! Her tears of joy transformed themselves in heartbreaking sobs. She knew she had to be strong. The last thing Tom needed was to keep her together on top of everything else. She just could not stop her sorrow, her pain, and her anger from overwhelming her. It was defeating her logic. Truth be told, she had not always made the most rational decisions when it came to the one who had been her reason for living. They had both paid heavy prices for those misguided decisions...
"Sshh," Tom whispered as he brushed away her tears. "This is suppose to count among the best days of my life," he told her as he swallowed his own tears. "I‘m so happy that you here, Lahuma."
"I had this beautiful dream..." Audrey said hugging him for dear life. "You and I, the girls, your B‘Elanna together for years to come." Her voice cracked. "You being sick wasn‘t part of it. Oh Asa, I‘m so sorry."
When Semack returned to the Flying Deck enchanted companions, Tom, Audrey, Paul, and Gwanna were siting on the upper level step, gazing through space and sharing old memories, as they had done many time before.
"Sorry, we‘re late," Chakotay apologized. "We had to drag B‘Elanna out of engineering. She did not want to leave."
Torres gave him a threatening look to the commander which changed into a smile as everyone laughed.
"Neat little ship, isn‘t she?" Tom said proudly.
"Are you kidding? She‘s incredible!" Harry exclaimed himself.
"Personally," Chakotay began. "I can‘t wait to put my hands on the helm."
"All in good time, Chakotay," Tom teased him.
Audrey stood up and faced Kathryn Janeway.
"Admiral Larsen," Janeway acknowledged. Her soft smile was graciously reflecting how honored and relieved she felt at that moment.
Janeway‘s apparent serenity captured Tom‘s heart again. It made him feel at peace himself.
"We like our friends to call us by our first names," Audrey told her taking Kathryn‘s hands and giving them a warm squeeze.
"By all mean, you shall call me Kathryn, Audrey," Janeway said returning the older woman‘s smile. She made contact with every one of their new friends. "How can we ever thank you for taking such a risk?"
"After we had news that you were still alive in the Delta Quadrant, we assured you that you weren‘t alone any more, and that we would do whatever we could to help you come home. It seems it was the best thing we could come up with," she added with a grin.
"We probably did crazier things," Gwanna put in.
"The thing is," Audrey went on. "Every single one of you deserve to come home. You have love ones waiting for you back there. We had the chance to meet with a lot of them. I won‘t hide from you that they have moved on with their lives -- as you have—but let me tell you that none of them is ready to give up on you."
Kathryn could only nod her acknowledgment.
"I‘m sure Auckland will be thrill to have me back," Tom joked.
"They‘re actually waiting for you with a brick and a lantern," Gwanna joked back.
They shared a mischievous grin.
Audrey, Paul, and Voyager‘s senior staff formally introduced themselves, while Tom, sitting in the pilot‘s chair to the side contemplated Chakotay and Gwanna. Awkward sideways looks kept passing between the two. Tom might have been looking for them, but he was quite sure they were not by-products of his rather vivid imagination. Something had to be done about this situation, the sooner the better. There could not be any animosity between the two ships‘ executives officers, especially if Gwanna was to take his place, which unfortunately could too soon. The dull ache that had started to creep through his body was confirming it.
He gave himself a mental kick, so to speak. There was no point in dwelling about his eminent mortality right now. Although, with most of his family present, it was hard not to. He forced his mind to come back to the matter at hand. The distance Gwanna and Chakotay were respectfully keeping between one another just confirmed that his plan would be worth the risk after all.
"Tom, are you all right?" asked B‘Elanna, which drew a few concerned look from everyone else. "You seemed light-years away for a moment."
"I guess I was. I‘m sorry," he apologized. Addressing himself to the Mist crew, he went on. "I‘m just glad that you‘re all here. And... To keep on with the tradition, Captain Janeway agreed to prepare a Heshvan Dinner."
"So, you conned the good Captain into cooking, haven‘t you?"
Paul said giving a sympathetic smile to Janeway.
"It‘s her ship!" Tom defended himself. If they only knew how many times they had been reminded of that . "And who the hell I am to break traditions?"
His friends snorted and chuckled.
"Try another one, Helmboy," B‘Elanna told him.
"Helmboy, eh?" Gwanna said teasingly. "I like that."
"Now careful, Ginger," Tom warned her. "What time is it anyway?"
"It‘s passed 1400 hours," Chakotay replied.
"How about we have dinner at 1900 hours," Tom suggested. "It would give you guys time to settle down. You could have light breakfast meanwhile."
"Sounds good," Janeway approved.
"I could use a coffee," Paul said.
"I could use a bath," Gwanna put in. "A real bath, with real water, with real candles... You can spare the candles, can‘t you Helmboy?" she finally asked Tom with a gorgeous smile that was running from ear to ear.
"I have a huge stack of candles waiting just for you. I‘m sure I can even find you some very special bubble bath if you stop calling me Helmboy," he said matching her grin. "But first—"
"But first, we need to talk," she finished for him. "I know. Business always comes first."
"It shouldn‘t be long," Tom assured Audrey.
"Take your time. Meanwhile, B‘Elanna and I will get properly acquainted," Audrey told him, acknowledging what they had previously agreed upon.
Gwanna brought the warm cup of coffee to her lips. It tasted so good, even for a replicated one. Tom came out from his bedroom with his promised stack of candles and a golden box.
"I was joking about the candles," she told him as she looked up from the padd she had been reading. "Almost, I‘ll admit."
"So, what do you think?" Tom asked, clearly referring to her reading material.
She looked at him placing candles sticks all around the living room and the bathroom. She smiled. He had not forgotten about her guilty pleasure. A personal treat that she had been sharing with her sister, Loreena. Tom had surely seen both of them take a lot of candle-lit baths over the years. He was barely listening to her comments about Voyager‘s state of readiness for the upcoming mission. He was so engrossed in what he was doing. It lead her to wondered if the friendly gesture was bringing him some kind of closure.
"Sorry," he apologized. "You were saying?"
"I said: you and the rest of the crew—mainly the Commander, as I can see—did an amazing job," she told him.
"Chakotay caught on pretty quickly," he said. "You and him...?" he purposefully trailed off.
"Chakotay and I are both professionals," Gwanna replied more defensively than she intended. "We can work past our conflicts."
"I‘m sure that you can," he said. "I just had to make certain." He gave an embarrassed smile before coming to sit beside her on the couch. He gave her the box.
"Go ahead, open it."
She delicately unwrapped the golden paper and pulled out a S-like made of carved crystal, and filled with a purple thick liquid.
"Oh, Asa! It was Loreena‘s favorite!"
"And your second. Didn‘t I promise a very special kind of bubble bath?"
"Yes you did," she said hugging him lovingly. "Thank you."
She could not help but notice, that it felt as if she could feel all his ribs.
"It‘s not much," he said. "I..." he drew in a breath, fighting his overwhelming emotion. "I just missed you so much, sister."
"I know. I feel the same," Gwanna said kissing his forehead. God, she could not bear the thought of losing him again.
"Well, you better get the water running if you ever want to take that bath before dinner. You have a little more than an hour and a half left."
"I guess you‘re right," she agreed pulling herself away.
"I‘ll finish lighting the candles and leave you in peace," Tom comment as he got up. "Audrey and B‘Elanna are waiting for me."
Chakotay made his way down Voyager‘s Corridor, nervously playing with a padd in his hands. This was ridiculous, he reprimanded himself. He was acting like a teenager. At least, his body was acting as if he was one. So, there was some unresolved issues— or frustrations...—between him and Gwanna. But, life had moved on. The past was behind them. They were both professionals. Their past involvement could not possibly interfere with their work. He could not let that happen. Tom was particularly counting on the both of them to see to the success of their mission. He would have to make things clear with her that nobody had to know about the two of them. But, before he could do that, he would have to overcome his bitterness, his anger, his feeling of betrayal... He felt himself go hard. And, overcome especially that!
He took a few calming breaths, then ran the door chime.
"It‘s safe to enter," he heard her called.
The door opened and made his way in the candle lit living room.
"You forgot something?" she asked from the bathroom.
Candles-lit bubble baths, he remembered those. He cleared his throat. This was awkward enough.
"Err... It‘s Chakotay, Gwanna," he announced himself."We‘re suppose to meet," he added.
"I‘m afraid Tom isn‘t here yet." she said. "Well, I‘m the bathtub. As I said, it‘s safe to come in."
He was not too sure about that one. Still, he walked to the bathroom door frame. He caught the glow of her skin from the corner of his eye.
"Now, Chakotay," Gwanna chided. "Don‘t be a prude. It‘s not like you never saw a woman take a bath before. It‘s not like you never saw me naked before."
Oh Spirit. Calm down, Chakotay, he told himself. *You‘re a grown man, which is an important part of the problem.*
"Well," he began embarrassed, purposefully not looking at her. "Tom called me and asked that I gave him fifteen minutes, then that I meet with him in his quarters..."
Tom, eh? This situation was starting to make sense. Now, what did Tom know about them?.
Gwanna laughed. The sweetest sound in the universe. "It seems that we been set-up by the master."
"It seems that way, doesn‘t it," he agreed.
He could not avoid glancing at her anymore. She was so beautiful.
Her auburn hair pulled up enhancing the smooth curve of her neck. Her skin had taken on a glowing honey color. Her eyes were twinkling with mischief as she sedulously looked back at him.
"Well, we‘ll have to do something about this," she said before graciously standing up.
He quickly took the towel left on the counter and extended it before her, ready to roll it around her sensual body. She stepped out of the bath. Turning her back to him, she tied the towel around her, then faced him again.
"Thank you," she said, holding his gaze.
She had this angelic smile on her face, an inviting looking in her green eyes. He knew he was caught in her web, in the entanglement of his own desire.
Their lips met, first tenderly, then more and more passionately.
The towel dropped to the floor.
"What is it?" she asked, her fingers playing with his chest hair.
Chakotay looked around, then met her gaze. The bright embers of sex had died down and they were thinking beings again.
"Just that... well. We just made love in Tom‘s bed," he said.
Gwanna kissed him at the base of his neck. "I think that we did. Isn‘t he the greatest friend you ever had?!" She laughed at his perplex expression. "So Chakotay, you‘re a typical man after all, aren‘t you? Have sex and think later."
"Now, that‘s not fair, Eve," he defended himself.
"Chakotay, do you really think that Tom Paris would mind that his soul-sister made love with his former nemesis in his own bed?"
"I suppose that he could not think of a better place," he said thinking back at Tom‘s former womanizer reputation. He caught her eye. "Soul-sister?"
"It‘s a long story," she replied.
She kissed him before he could say more. She rolled back, her head on his shoulder, as they enjoyed the comfort of their two bodies embraced in one another.
"What‘s that?" he asked moment later. A small envelop had been left leaning on a candle stick on the bedside the table. "It‘s addressed to you," he told Gwanna.
She delicately unfolded the envelop and retrieve a small card.
She smiled as she read it.
"What does it say?" asked Chakotay.
She handed him the card.
They chuckled together.
The door of the Mess Hall hissed opened, Audrey, Tom, and B‘Elanna walked in drawing a round of applause from the crowd. Audrey and Tom acknowledged the honor graciously, then they made their way toward the kitchen where they found Kathryn and Neelix.
The decorations that the Talaxian had placed here and there had made the Mess Hall warm and welcoming. It promised to be a wonderful evening. All around Voyager, the atmosphere was one of celebration and joy. The arrival of the Mist was for many the best thing that had happened to Voyager since their being in the Delta Quadrant. The crew could hope once again of returning home to their love ones. It could not get any better than this.
"Audrey, meet Neelix: cook, self-appointed moral officer, pilot, trader, ambassador, you name it! Best of all, good friend."
The little alien came from behind the counter and took Audrey‘s hand. "Admiral, it is a pleasure to finally meet you," he said as happily as ever. "Would you care for some fruit punch and hors-d‘oeuvres."
"Careful, that green stuff over there is very spicy" warned Tom, shifting the little package he was holding into his other hand.
"One thing is sure, it smells terrific!" Audrey told the two cooks.
"Captain Janeway found hidden talents," Neelix was happy to report. "She has quite a flare for someone who rarely cooks."
"Would you believe that it‘s been almost six years and that Mr. Neelix still thinks that he can get his way with flattery," said Kathryn giving the Talaxian a teasing smile.
"Oh Captain, don‘t undermine your abilities," Neelix retorted.
Tom‘s gaze flew over the room until he found the one he was looking for.
"Will you all please excuse me, there‘s someone I need to talk to." He walked across the room. "Doc, can I talk to you for a minute?"
"Of course, Tom," the EMH said. "Is something wrong?"
"Everything is fine," Tom assure him. "This is for you," he said presenting a green wrapped box.
"A gift? For me?" he asked happily surprised.
They sat at the nearby table. The Doctor carefully unwrapped box as if it was the most fragile thing he had ever dealt with. With delight, he took out a twentieth century 35mm professional camera.
"I found this going through my stuff on the Mist. It used to belong to Loreena," Tom explained. "I can‘t think of a better person to hold on to it."
"Tom... I don‘t know what say... Thank you."
"My pleasure, Doc," Tom replied. "There‘s black and white and color rolls in the box. Have fun, just don‘t over do it."
As Tom made is way back toward the kitchen, where Audrey and Kathryn were talking, Gwanna and Chakotay walked in together.
"Now, look at what the cat brought in," he said. "Will we be all right?" he asked Gwanna.
"We certainly will. Although, your methods were rather unconventional," she told him with a smile.
"*Eccentric* is my middle name," he stated.
"I know. Trouble being your first name," she retorted.
They had sat down to a wonderful meal. Neelix and Kathryn had really outdone themselves. To Voyager‘s crew, Delta Quadrant cooking had never tasted better. Tom had even nibbled on a few morsels throughout the evening. For their friends, it was an interesting experience, as Semack had put it.
Conversations were joyous. The visitors were telling tales of the Alpha Quadrant. They brought them up to date about the war with the Dominion. They also had news about a lot of the love ones the Voyager‘s crew had left behind. The trip had taken months to prepare and all the bases had been covered.
"With all this good news, I feel like Mother Santa," Audrey had said as she had distributed letters around.
Voyager‘s crew told their visitors about many of their adventures in the Delta Quadrant. Towards the end, Tom had started to doze at the table. The day had been a long one for him. It would have been emotionally draining for anyone, but for him who had started the day weak, all his energy had been depleted.
"Tom, how about we go to your quarters and retire for the night?" B‘Elanna asked him gently.
He nodded weakly and pushed his chair back. B‘Elanna helped him up, she could fell his now soft muscles quivered under the strain it took for him to maintain a standing position.
"It‘s seems that it‘s past my bedtime," he told them, the strength of his voice trying to mask his state of frailty. "Good night everybody."
"Rest well, Asa," Gwanna said to him. "I‘ll come and check on you later, okay?"
"I‘d like that. Just like old times," he added with a smile.
"Yes, like old times," she watched him leave the room, laying heavily on B‘Elanna‘s arm. Her heart quenched. She had to take a few deep breaths as not to cry.
"It‘s so hard to see him like this," Janeway said in a low voice.
"I‘ve seen him like this twice before," Audrey said. "It has not gotten any easier. How long does he have, Doctor?"
"According to my last scans, not much more than a week. However, knowing him, he could hang on longer."
"He is a survivor," Semack pointed out. "But, he has accepted that his time has come. He will not delay the unavoidable." His voice was the embodiment of Vulcan logic.
Everyone was silent for a while. At first it was awkward. Then it became something else. It was the knowledge that everyone in the room was sharing the same pain. They were all losing a dear friend. At that moment, they knew how each other felt, because everyone‘s emotion was their own. It was the step they all needed in order to fully accept what was happening to Tom. They were sad -- mainly for each other—for Tom, they would all move on and do the best they could with their lives.
The moment was shattered with a sharp intake of breath on Gwanna‘s part. The glass that was in her hand, had fallen to the table.
Chakotay abruptly turned towards her.
"Chakotay, you‘re sure nobody had his way with the punch?" Gwanna asked. "I don‘t feel so good." She had barely got out these last words before hitting the floor.
Chakotay was the first at her side, moving the chair away and making room. Then, he knelt beside her, his ear close to her face.
"She‘s not breathing!" he exclaimed alarmed.
In the instant a few seconds, the doctor was at their side.
"Looks like anaphylactic shock. Her airways have swollen shut. Medical emergency. Two to transport to sickbay."
A half a second later, their forms shimmered out of the existence.
"Neelix, we need to compile everything that Gwanna might have eaten and see if we can figure out what could have made her sick," Paul said already on top of things.
"Of course," Neelix said leading the way to the kitchen.
"I‘m sure, she‘ll be fine," Kathryn whispered to Audrey as reassuringly as she could.
"She has to be," Audrey breathed. "I couldn‘t bear losing both of them."
Hours later, the doctor had restored Gwanna to health. Immediate life support, and a dose of antihistamines had reversed the severe allergic reaction.
"Can I go now, Doctor?" she impatiently asked. "I‘m feeling fine. I promise to only eat what I know."
"You do realize that you have just experienced a very life threatening reaction," the EMH emphasized.
"Yes, Doctor. I fully understand what anaphylactic shock is. But, I‘m fine, now. It‘s been hours, the stuff is out of my system by now. I‘ll even go back to my room and rest for a while," she added as a concession.
"What is wrong with my sickbay?" The Doctor asked. "Everybody always wants to leave. Is it me?"
"No, of course not, Doctor," Gwanna, answered shaking her head. "I like your opera singing and all, it‘s just... well there nothing more comfortable than your own bed."
"I‘ll keep an eye on her," said Chakotay, who had been near her side through the whole ordeal.
"All right then," The Doctor said caving in. "But come by in six hours, so that I can check to see if everything is fine."
Gwanna was on her feet and on her way to the door, as soon as the Doctor had spoken.
She did not have time to finish saying ‚Thank you‘ when the words caught in her throat. She had fallen to the floor gasping for air.
With in seconds, Chakotay had returned her to the biobed.
"Always in so much hurry to leave me," he physician was muttering to himself as he worked to stabilize his patient. "And look where it leads them."
"What‘s wrong with her, Doctor?" Chakotay was asking, worried sick.
"She‘s gone back into shock," the physician stated the obvious.
He placed her on life support and administered an other dose of antihistamines. "Whatever she is allergic to is still in her system."
The same thing occurred again, as soon as the antihistamines had left Gwanna‘s system. The Doctor had to keep re-administering the drugs as soon as they started to wear out. These periods were getting shorted and shorter. It was as if her body was getting use to the artificial hormone and not responding it as well.
Chakotay had not left her one moment since the supper, almost twelve hours before.
"You should go and get some rest," the Doctor told him.
"No, I want to stay with her," he argued hastily.
"Some can‘t stay, while others can‘t leave," the physician mumbled to himself. "Take it as an order, Commander. Go and rest."
"Fine," Chakotay consented. "Call me if there is any change."
Chakotay walked out of sickbay. He was not ready to go to bed. How could he ever sleep anyway. He stopped at the Mess Hall, to see if Paul and Neelix had been successful in determining what was had affected Gwenna.
"Any luck?" Chakotay asked them.
"It‘s been hours and I still can‘t pinpoint anything that could make her react like this. It could be a number of things," Paul replied gazing had the readings of this tricorder. "I have a few ideas, but I‘ll have to concur with the Doctor."
Chakotay was tempted to go back to sickbay with Paul, but decided to move on. He went to see Tom. B‘Elanna had dozed off on the couch. He took care not to make any noise and went into his friend‘s bedroom. The young man‘s condition had deteriorated in the few hours since he had last seen him. He was pale. His skin as thin as paper, like that of an old man. It looked as if he had lost even more weight in that short period of time. There was a new bruise on the back of his hand that was resting on his chest.
Tom opened his eyes, and smiled weakly in greeting.
"How are you doing?" Chakotay asked.
"I‘ve been better. But, I‘ve been worse." His answer were almost a whisper.
"Can I get you anything?" the commander asked softly.
"No." Tom was distracted for a few moments. He was staring at something beyond Chakotay‘s head. Finally, he said:" Gwanna didn‘t come to see me last night."
Chakotay was not sure how to break the news to his fragile friend.
Tom did it for him. "Something has happened," He said knowingly.
"She is having a severe allergic reaction to something she ate last night."
"She‘ll be all right," Tom stated.
Chakotay could detect the certainty behind Tom‘s weak words. It was as if he knew something no one else knew. Maybe death was giving him insight none of the living possessed, but Chakotay never had a chance to ask as Tom quickly fell back to sleep. He reach for Tom‘s hand in order to put it under the cover and a draft a cold air slapped him in the face.
He wondered if he would ever get used to his vision striking him like that without warning. He looked around. Asa was lying on the bench cuddled in the Wolf‘s fur, Mr. Blue at his feet. Chakotay approached slowly and knelt in front of them. Asa‘s gaze was still unfocussed. With the thin mask of wax covering his face, it was hard to see his true condition. But, Chakotay knew something was not right. A lot of things were not right, as he thought about it.
"He is sick, isn‘t he," he said.
"The poison is running its course," the wolf explained sadly.
"What poison?" Chakotay insisted. "You mean the cancer?"
"What came before the cancer," his animal guide said. "Your friends are traveling the same path in the different ways."
As he started to understand what the wolf was implying, Chakotay reverted into the reality. He squeezed Tom‘s hand, told him to hang in there a little bit longer, and then left purposely for sickbay, without waking B‘Elanna.
B‘Elanna exchanged one last apprehensive look with Audrey and the Doctor before siting beside her mate on the edge of the his bed.
"Tom," she called softly. "Tom, you have to wake up."
He had gotten so weak in such a short time. She hated seeing him in that condition, yet she could not tear herself away from him. His skin was pale and clammy. He was way too thin. He had not left his bed since the day the Mist had arrived almost three days earlier. He had not been able to eat real food either, partially because he did not feel like it, and partially because he could not hold anything down. He was surviving on intravenous nourishment, he had nicknamed the Doc‘s brew.
Tom opened his eyes and attempted feebly to stretch.
"Umm.... Bee, you‘re still here."
"Where would I go?" she said on a teasing tone. "Audrey and the Doctor are here as well. He has something important to tell you."
"What‘s up, Doc? Gwanna‘s okay?" Tom asked.
With a silent common accord, B‘Elanna gave up her place by Tom‘s side to the Doctor. Audrey came behind her and took a gentle hold B‘Elanna‘s shoulder in a mutually supportive gesture.
"She is doing fine. I released her to her quarters last night," the Doctor said. "I have even better news."
"Better news!" B‘Elanna repeated looking back at Audrey with hopeful eyes. "What is it Doctor?" she asked hardly restraining her excitement.
The Doctor put a hand on Tom‘s shoulder.
"I have found the source of your cancer, my friend," the EMH proudly stated.
At those words, Tom struggled to sit up. The Doctor helped him.
He had disbelief written all over his face.
"You did?" Tom managed to say."How?"
"Don‘t keep us in suspense," B‘Elanna implored the Doctor.
"After we found out that Gwenna had a reaction to the Leola root, I discovered it was a fatty acid in the vegetable that had caused it. I also found that it was an intolerance aim specifically at her species. So, I wondered what it was doing to you, since you are part Kimerian."
"*Leola root* is making Tom sick," B‘Elanna jumped in hardly believing what she was hearing. "I don‘t understand, he has been eating this stuff for five years. He is not allergic to it."
"That‘s because it only works indirectly," the Doctor rapidly explained.
"I knew that stuff was hard to stomach," Tom quipped.
"I followed the path of the fatty acid though your system and found that it is interacting with a foreign amino acid that is in your system," the EHM went on.
"An amino acid?" B‘Elanna asked as if it was poison that someone had given to Tom. And in a way she was right.
"Yes, it is not human nor Kimirian. Actually, I have no record of it in my data banks."
"Could they have given it to Tom?" B‘Elanna asked Audrey.
"I don‘t know, maybe," the older woman replied. "One thing is certain, it‘s not coming from the Morning Mist, you never were exposed to it," she told Tom.
"But, how is it giving me cancer?" Tom asked, calling the matter back to hand.
"The amino acid links up with the fatty acid, and it is stored in your bone marrow. There, it interferes with the normal production of white blood cells..."
"Causing the cancer." Tom concluded.
"So what are you going to do about it?" B‘Elanna prompted, eager to see things fixed.
"First, I will remove the foreign amino acid using the transporters."
"No, decytologenesis," Tom voiced, a trace of fear in his eyes.
"No, nothing that radical. I‘ll simply program the computer to transport all of you at once except the foreign agent. Then, you‘ll undergo chemotherapy to kill the cancerous cells. A bone marrow transplant will be required. Finally, you‘ll undergo a series of surgeries to remove the tumors."
"Then, he will be cured. No more cancer?" Audrey asked, afraid to believe it.
"Not this one any ways," the Doctor said with some underlying reserves.
"So I underwent all of it for nothing?" Tom said softly, almost plaintive.
"All of it?" the Doctor wondered.
"The decytologenesis, the chemo, the surgeries..." Tom enumerated.
"Yes and no. They did not have the desired effects, but they pushed the cancer back into remission. I theorize that when placed under extreme the fatty and amino acid mix where taken from the bone marrow to the liver to be processed. They were broken apart. The fatty acid was excreted, while the amino acid was stored. The latter then awaited for more fatty acids, like the one found in leola root. Eventually, it got transferred back to the bone marrow, where the process started over again."
"How long before Tom is cured?" B‘Elanna asked, only interested in the final results.
"It will not be an easy process," the Doctor replied, addressing himself to Tom. "But you should be fully recovered in three to four weeks, if everything goes according to plan."
"When will you start?" Tom inquired, still dazed.
"As soon as you are ready," the EMH stated.
"I am now." Tom said, seeking support in order to get up.
He had accepted death, but he had not given up on life.
End of part 3.
It took us quite some time, but we finally managed to get this monster out of the way! It was when we realized that we would need a fourth part to this story that things really got started for us.
Look out for the fourth part: Corridor: "The Secret Pawn".
BIG THANKS to Amanda B. and to PJ in NH for Beta reading this story.
Thank you for reading.
We need feed back at Synbou@hotmail.com.Don‘t be shy.
Isabelle S. and Louise B. (A.k.A Synbou)
Copyrights @ November 1999