Disclaimer:Voyager and all her crew belong to Paramount/Viacom. No copyright infringement is intended. No profit will be made, as this story is just for fun.
Kathryn looked around in astonishment. This city was amazing. She didn’t have time for sightseeing, however. She had to find Paris and the others and get them out of here. The pulsed signals from the Array had grown in both power and speed. The sounds hammered down on them almost constantly. She wasn’t sure what it meant, but felt it wasn’t a good sign.
She turned to the young Ocampan standing next to her. "Where do you think they would be, Kes?"
"They’re probably at the medical facility," Kes answered. "Follow me." She took off almost at a run, with Neelix scurrying along beside her. Kathryn nodded to Chakotay and Tuvok to follow and they hurried after them.
She still felt mad at the Talaxian - Neelix - for tricking them. He had had no intention of helping them find the others. It had all been a ruse to rescue Kes. All right, the girl had needed rescuing, that was for sure, but he should have told them the truth, right from the start. The Kazon were a rough, cruel people, and Janeway hoped that they wouldn’t have to have any more dealings with them.
She was extremely grateful that Kes had wanted to repay them for rescuing her and had insisted on helping them. Without her help they would never have been able to find the breaches in the barrier protecting the city, in order to beam in.
Moving quickly through the city they were soon at the medical center and Kes hurried inside. "Kes said to wait here for her," Neelix explained. "She’ll find out whether they are here or not and be right back."
Janeway nodded crisply and then looked up in surprise. Not that looking up was going to help. She wouldn’t see anything. The pulses had stopped. Silence surrounded them.
She slapped her commbadge. "Away team to Voyager."
"Yes Captain?" Rollins answered.
"What’s going on with the Array?"
Tom stumbled blindly along, determined to follow Harry, who was in front of him. He would keep up, no matter what, he told himself sternly. The tunnels seemed endless and Tom wondered how B’Elanna, who was leading them, knew which way to go. It felt like they were going around in circles although they did seem to be steadily going upwards.
All of a sudden Harry stopped, and Tom bumped into him. "Sorry," he mumbled. Looking around he saw that they were in a huge cavern, and there were some stairs spiraling upwards. Looking up, you couldn’t see the top of them, and Tom sighed. It appeared they were in for a long climb.
B’Elanna hurried over to the first step and gingerly put her foot on it. "It seems sturdy enough," she mused. "Come on. Let’s go."
Tom took a deep breath. He was pretty sure if he rested for a while he would be able to climb them, but it didn’t look like the Leader-from-hell believed in rest stops. He gritted his teeth. He’d promised he wouldn’t hold them back, so he wasn’t going to complain. He felt guilty enough as it was. B’Elanna carried the flashlight and some sort of digging tool, while Harry carried the other one. He felt like he should be carrying something too, but with his hands bandaged the way they were, he couldn’t carry anything.
They had had to crawl in quite a few places to get through the tunnels, and that had been agony on his hands as it was. He couldn’t help worrying about all the pain his hands were still giving him. He wondered just how badly damaged they were. There could be permanent muscle damage for all he knew. Pushing the thought aside, he started up the steps behind Harry.
They hadn’t gone far however, when Harry sank to his knees with a groan. "I’m sorry," he panted as Tom managed somehow to help him sit on a step. "I don’t think I can go on."
"Don’t let it beat you Starfleet," B’Elanna growled, coming back down the steps towards them.
"He needs to rest," Tom said sinking down next to him. "So do I," he admitted.
B’Elanna looked back up the steps and then down at them again. She seemed to be torn.
"You go on if you want to," Tom told her. "We’ll rest for a bit and catch you up."
B’Elanna sighed and shook her head. "I guess it wouldn’t hurt to rest for a while." She sat down too and as the flashlight played across her features Tom could see the exhaustion there.
"Maybe I’d do better if I had a little Klingon blood in me," Harry suggested.
B’Elanna snorted. "Trust me. It’s more trouble than it’s worth."
Harry shook his head, as if he didn’t believe her. He gave a small choking sound. "I spent my whole life getting ready for Starfleet, and on my very first mission - I’m going to die."
"You’re not going to die, Harry," Tom said quickly. "I won’t let you."
B’Elanna nodded. "We’re not finished yet. I know a few things that old Sneezy didn’t teach in his survival course."
"Sneezy?" Both Tom and Harry said at the same time.
"Commander Zakarian," she explained. "Remember? He must have been allergic to everything."
Harry looked at her in amazement, while Tom still felt confused.
"You went to the academy?" Harry questioned.
"Actually made it to the second year before we ‘mutually agreed’ it wasn’t the place for me." Although she tried to sound careless about it all there was pain in her voice. "I fit in a lot better with the Maquis."
"You know, I never really liked Zakarian," Harry said suddenly. B’Elanna chuckled. They sat in silence for a while.
"I was in my father’s survival course," Tom said, wondering why he was telling them this. "I was in quite a few of his classes actually. No matter how hard I tried, it was never good enough. I had to be better than every one else, and he still wouldn’t give me anything higher than a B. He didn’t want any one to think he was playing favorites."
"I’m sorry," Harry said squeezing his arm a little.
Tom shrugged. "It doesn’t matter. Long time ago now."
"I was in two of your father’s classes," B’Elanna said suddenly. "We didn’t get along."
Tom snorted. "I’d say that’s a point in your favor."
"He had very high expectations and was quite brutal to any one who didn’t measure up."
"Try being his son," Tom said bitterly and then flushed with embarrassment. What was he doing? They didn’t want to hear any of this. "Sorry," he said gruffly and stood up abruptly. "We’d better get moving again."
He hooked his arm under Harry’s and helped him to his feet. "We’ll keep resting every so often. Conserve our strength."
To his surprise B’Elanna let him help her up as well and then they started climbing again. Slowly and steadily.
"They’re not here," Kes announced as she came out of the medical center. "They were here, but no one’s seen them for hours. The doctor’s given me a full report on their medical conditions, if you’d like to read it." She handed Janeway a folder. "They’re not in very good condition," she added.
Kathryn quickly skimmed through the folder, with both Chakotay and Tuvok reading over her shoulder.
"This doesn’t look good," Chakotay murmured. He turned to Kes. "Does any one know where they might be now?"
Kes shook her head. "They apparently went for a walk, as soon as they woke up this morning, against the Doctor’s wishes. They were most insistent."
"I would surmise that they are trying to get to the surface," Tuvok stated.
Janeway nodded, just as a woman came hurrying out of the center. "Oh," she said breathlessly. "I was hoping you would still be here. The Doctor just told me you were asking about the strangers. I know where they went."
"You do?" Neelix said excitedly.
"Yes. They are in the tunnels. Please, come with me. I’ll show you which ones."
They quickly followed just as the ground shook beneath them. They stumbled and just managed to stop themselves from falling.
"Voyager to Captain Janeway," Rollins voice came over her commbadge.
"Captain, the Array is firing some kind of weapon at the surface. It seems to be trying to seal the energy conduits."
The explosions continued to rain around them as they hurried behind the Ocampan woman. People were panicking everywhere. It was absolute chaos. Finally they reached the entrance to the tunnels and the nurse pointed to the tunnel Tom and the others had taken. "They entered here," she told them. "Now I must get back to the clinic. There may be people hurt."
"Thank you for your help," Janeway said. She was worried. Tuvok had put forward his theory that the Caretaker was dying and was sealing up the conduits to protect the Ocampa from their enemies. Rollins had also reported that the transporters could no longer get a lock on them. The breaches in the security barrier could no longer be found. How the hell were they going to get out of there?
"They’ve gone the same way I did," Kes announced. "We can get out this way. There’s a breach in the barrier." She pushed her way forward. Janeway hoped it was still there, as the weapons fire from the Array seemed to be doing a lot of damage.
"Lead the way," she ordered.
As the first explosion echoed around them, Tom cursed and hooked his arm around the stair rail for support. The stairs seemed to rock and sway for long minutes before everything calmed down. Dirt fell from above them.
"What was that?" Harry’s knuckles were white as he clutched the rail for dear life.
B’Elanna cursed in Klingon above them. "Keep moving," she said hoarsely.
"I don’t think I can," Harry said in despair.
"Grab hold of me," Tom ordered. "That’s not quite what I had in mind," he choked as Harry’s arms came around his neck. "Hold onto my arm, and concentrate. One step at a time."
Harry did as he was told and they were soon level with B’Elanna. They slowly started upwards again, only to be rocked by another blast. B’Elanna grabbed hold of Tom as he swayed, almost toppling backwards and taking Harry with him.
"Thanks," he gasped. "That was close."
"What the hell is going on up there?" she growled as more dirt fell around them.
"Let’s get up there and find out," Tom said grimly. The stairs groaned and shook as more blasts came, but each one seemed to be a little further away than the one before. Tom found it hard to keep his balance, with one arm hooked through the railing and Harry clutching his other one. They made slow progress up the stairs and Tom became more and more worried as B’Elanna started to stumble at every step.
Finally she sank down in front of him. "I can’t do it. I can’t make it."
"What are you talking about?" he hissed. "Of course you can."
"No, I can’t," she said miserably. Tom looked around in agitation. Harry looked like he was about to pass out, so there was no way he could continue on his own.
Tom squinted upwards again. "I think I can see the top of the stairs. Come on Torres. I thought you said you weren’t going to let this thing beat you."
"I can’t," she said again.
Harry sank down next to her. "You go Tom. Maybe you can get help."
Tom shook his head. He wasn’t going to leave them there. He really didn’t trust these stairs. They were becoming more unstable with each passing minute. Helping Harry to stand once more, he looked down at Torres. "I’ll be back soon, B’Elanna. Rest while you can, cause I’m going to need your help for the second trip."
She gave a small nod, but didn’t answer and Tom wrapped one arm around Harry’s waist and the other around the stair railing. "Come on Harry," he said brightly. "Last one to the top is a rotten egg." With that he practically hauled Harry up the next step, hoping he’d made the right decision.
Climbing as fast as he could and almost dragging Harry with him, Tom managed to make it to the top of the stairs. Another tunnel lay in front of them and Tom couldn’t help groaning. He pulled Harry over to the sides of the tunnel and sat him back against the wall.
"Stay here," he told him. "I’ll be right back."
Harry gave a small laugh. "Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere."
Tom managed a small smile before crawling back over to the stairs. They were creaking alarmingly now and his stomach churned at the thought of going back down there again. The thought of B’Elanna waiting down there in the dark encouraged him to go on.
"Tom, don’t forget the flashlight," Harry called out weakly. Tom grimaced, wondering how he was going to carry it down. Harry had held it on the way up. The bandages on his hands were unraveling and spots of blood appeared on them both. But climbing up the rickety stairs in the dark was not an option.
"Put it in my mouth," he said, crawling back over to Harry. Clenching the long handle between his teeth, he went back to the top of the stairs and started down them slowly. Their creaking grew louder and his stomach clenched almost as hard as his teeth were. Forcing himself to continue, he headed slowly downward hoping and praying that B’Elanna wasn’t as far down as he thought she was.
Finally he stumbled across her huddled body further up than he remembered, and he realized that she must have forced herself to continue. Kneeling down to her he touched her shoulder with one bandaged hand. The blood seeping through the ruined bandage was alarming, but he pushed the worry aside. He had enough to think about as it was.
B’Elanna looked up at him in astonishment. "I didn’t think you’d come back," she whispered. Realizing he couldn’t speak with the light in his mouth she reached up and gently took it from him.
"I never stand up a date," he said with a smile. Helping her to stand, the light fell across his ruined bandages and B’Elanna gasped in horror.
"Your hands," she said.
"Yeah, they’re a bit of a mess I know. We’ve got more to worry about though. At the top of the stairs is another tunnel, and it looks like we’ll have to crawl through it. I just hope that at the end of it is a door we can open or something, because we’ve lost the digging tools."
B’Elanna nodded. She’d dropped one of them herself. The stairs groaned loudly and she shuddered.
"Let’s go," Tom said, wrapping his arm around her waist and once again hooking the other one through the railing. "These stairs are going to collapse sooner or later, and I don’t fancy being on them when they do."
His words spurred her on and he found to his surprise that she was practically dragging him up the stairs instead of the other way around. He smiled in relief. He really didn’t have the energy left to hurl her up the way he had had to with Harry.
Her strength soon left her however and the climb became more and more difficult. He wondered if they’d ever reach the top.
"They’re in here," Chakotay said triumphantly. He studied the beeping tricorder in his hand. "They went up these stairs."
Janeway looked at the stairs in question. They really didn’t look safe. They creaked and groaned loudly and looked as if they were about to collapse. She wondered how the missing crewmembers had even managed to make it this far. The twisting turning tunnels that they had just made their way through had sapped most of her energy.
"This is the only way out," Kes explained. "The stairs are very old and the blasts from the Array have damaged them. I don’t know if they’ll support us now."
"We’ll have to take the chance," Janeway decided. "We have to reach the others." She led the way up the stairs as fast as she could. The blasts seemed to be getting closer again and the stairs swayed dangerously. After climbing steadily for quite some time, Kathryn thought she saw a light flashing up ahead. "I think I see them," she called back to the others.
Hurrying forward, her wrist light caught the shape of two figures struggling to reach the top. They both seemed very unsteady on their feet as they tried to support each other up the stairs. She realized she was looking at Tom and the Maquis woman - Torres, and wondered where Harry was.
"Tom!" she called out, but the sound of the blasts drowned out her voice. She increased her speed, although the swaying made it hard to keep her balance. Kathryn was finally only a few steps away, and she could now see that Tom was pulling the Maquis woman up each step. "Tom," she called again. This time he heard her and swung around in surprise.
"Captain," he breathed in relief. "Am I glad to see you."
Chakotay pushed past her and took B’Elanna from Tom. Indicating to Neelix to give him a hand, he started up the steps with Kes leading the way.
Tom seemed to lose his balance and Kathryn caught him as he pitched forward. "I’m glad to see you too, Lieutenant," she said softly as Tuvok helped to steady him.
"Where’s Harry?" she asked.
"He’s waiting at the top for us," Tom panted. "I couldn’t manage them both at once, so I took him first then came back for B’Elanna."
"I see," she said, grimacing as she noticed the state of Tom’s bandaged hands.
"Lieutenant Paris," Tuvok addressed Tom formally. "Please let me assist you, or if you prefer, I can carry you."
"Oh! Well, Lieutenant - um."
"Tuvok," Tuvok introduced himself. "I am Vulcan and can easily manage."
"I’m sure you can," Tom said solemnly. "I wouldn’t say no to a piggy back, though."
"A piggy back?" Tuvok looked towards Janeway. "I believe the Lieutenant is delirious," he stated.
Kathryn couldn’t help smiling, even though the urge to get off these stairs was becoming insistent. She quickly explained what Tom meant, and then followed Tuvok as he started up the stairs with Tom on his back. The weight didn’t seem to slow him down at all and Kathryn hurried to keep up with him. She looked up to see the top of the stairs coming into view and sighed in relief.
A blast hit - too close for comfort - and the stairs tilted dangerously. They were all thrown off balance and grabbed at whatever they could, to stop themselves from falling.
Janeway fell backwards and held the stair railing in a death grip, as the steps lurched sickeningly. Her leg twisted beneath her at an unnatural angle and she realized as the pain shot through her, that it was broken.
Gazing up, she saw that Chakotay and the others had managed to reach the top before the blast had hit. Tuvok was lying at an awkward angle further up the stairs and there were great chunks of missing steps between them. She frantically looked around for Tom. Her heart missed a beat when she saw him.
Tom screamed in agony as his hands clutched the railings instinctively. He managed to hook his arms through them instead, just as the stairs beneath his feet gave way completely and he found himself dangling in mid air.
Determined not to look down he looked to the side instead and saw Tuvok lying unconscious on the stairs above him. Twisting around he saw the Captain below him, one of her legs at an unnatural angle, clinging to the railings. Damn it! It didn’t look like either of them would be able to help him.
Realizing that the reason he could see was because some one was shining a light down at them from above, he turned back around again. The Maquis Captain and the strange alien were making their way carefully down the stairs to Tuvok, and Tom wondered whether he could hold on long enough for them to save him.
"Don’t worry," the strange little alien called out. "We’re coming."
Tuvok had started to come round and he sat up groggily. "Neelix, get him to the top of the stairs," the Captain ordered throwing himself down on his stomach and trying to reach across the gap in the stairs to grab hold of Tom. "Try and swing your body over towards me," he urged.
Tom summoned up his strength to try it, when he remembered Janeway. If the Maquis Captain couldn’t reach him, how was he going to reach her? "What about the Captain?" he heard himself asking.
"Don’t worry about me," he heard her hiss from beneath him. "Do as Chakotay says."
Tom swung his legs out and felt his feet touch the stairs below. "Lieutenant, you’re going the wrong way," Chakotay said urgently.
"I’ll be right there," he answered as he planted his feet firmly and stepped down to Janeway.
"What the hell do you think you’re doing?" she said angrily.
"It’s your turn for a piggy back."
"Are you crazy? There’s no way you’ll be able to manage with me as well. You can’t reach Chakotay from here."
"I can if I hang onto the railings with my hands and swing over. You’ll have to grab us," he told Chakotay.
Chakotay shook his head. "You are crazy."
"Probably," Tom agreed. "Now Captain, you’ll have to hang onto me. Preferably not too tight around the neck. I think I might need to breathe to accomplish this."
"There is no way that you’ll be able to hang onto the railings with your hands in the condition they’re in."
"I’ll only have to for a few seconds and this time I’ll be prepared for it." Tom’s heart was racing and his stomach churned at the thought of the pain he was about to endure. There was no way he was going to let her know that though.
"This is ridiculous. You’ll go without me Lieutenant. That’s an order."
"You’ll have to put me on report when we get back to the ship, Captain."
"Don’t think I won’t Mister," she answered through gritted teeth as he pulled her up. She knew that the stairs they were on would collapse at any moment, so she was about to plummet down to her death no matter what.
It just seemed a pity to take him with her. If it was the only way to get him back up there she would try it.
Chakotay watched in astonishment as the young Lieutenant took a deep breath and with Janeway’s arms wrapped around his neck, reached up and grabbed the railing as far above his head as he could. He was tall, and that was a point in his favor, as he managed to grasp it a fair way up.
The shock and pain on the young man’s face was excruciating, as his feet lifted off the staircase and he swung his body towards him. They were almost within his reach and Chakotay leaned as far forward as he dared. He managed to grab hold of one of Tom’s legs and hold him steady as Neelix who had just returned, reached out and pulled Janeway across the yawning chasm.
"I’ve got her," Neelix said triumphantly as she fell down beside him.
"All right now Lieutenant. Reach out for my hand." Chakotay still held his leg, but now needed Tom to slowly let go of the railing.
"I can’t," Tom said shakily.
"Yes, you can. Just one hand. Let go with one hand and grab mine. I’ll be able to pull you in then."
"I can’t," Tom repeated. "My hands are stuck."
Neelix shone the light on Tom’s hands and Chakotay went white. The bandages on his hands had unraveled completely and the torn and bleeding remains of the pilot’s hands did indeed appear to be stuck to the railings surface.
The staircase started to crumble behind them and with a scream, Tom wrenched his hand from the rail and into Chakotay’s. He continued to scream as Chakotay with a final wrench, pulled Tom to him and dragged him up the stairs. They had only just made it to the top when the whole staircase collapsed, and he just managed to stop them both from going with it.
Sitting Tom against the wall next to Harry, he took stock of their situation. The only way forward seemed to be a small tunnel that they would have to crawl through. He wondered how the hell he was going to get everyone through it. Both Torres and Kim were too weak to be of much help and the Captain’s leg was definitely broken. Paris was rocking back and forward, cradling his ruined hands to his chest and Tuvok still seemed to be a little woozy.
He turned to Kes. "How much further to the surface?"
"Not far," she answered. "We have to go through that tunnel, but it’s only a few feet deep and then the barrier is just behind it. We have to be very careful getting past the barrier," she warned. "If it touches you, it will burn your skin off."
Chakotay ran his hands through his hair. "Wonderful," he murmured.
"We can do it," she assured him. "The gap in the barrier is quite big. We can easily crawl through."
Chakotay sighed and looked around at everyone. This was not going to be easy. "How are you feeling?" he asked Tuvok.
"I am a little disorientated, but should be able to continue without assistance," Tuvok told him. Good, one down - four to go.
"I think you should do what Tom did earlier," Janeway said, her teeth clenched as she tried to ward off the pain in her leg. "Leave some of us and come back once you’ve got the others to the surface. I can wait. After all, it’s only my leg."
"I can wait too," Tom said, his voice still shaky.
"You're both in a lot of pain," Chakotay started to argue.
"And Harry and B’Elanna are dying," Tom interrupted. "They’re more important."
"Tom’s right," Janeway said, her command voice back at full strength. "You’re wasting time."
Chakotay nodded and helped B’Elanna to her knees as Neelix and Kes did the same with Harry. Somehow, sometimes pushing other times pulling, they managed to get them through the tunnel and under the barrier.
Once on the other side of the barrier they could stand up again and Tuvok felt strong enough to help Chakotay with B’Elanna. They moved slowly along the passageway, until suddenly coming to a dead stop. A wall of dirt and rubble blocked their way.
"The blasts must have caved in the passageway," Kes told them. "The surface is just above our heads."
Chakotay took out his phaser and indicated to Tuvok and Neelix to do the same. They pointed at the same spot on the roof above their heads and blasted a hole, big enough to climb through. Soon, using the dirt and rubble to help climb up, they were on the surface of the planet.
"Chakotay to Voyager."
"Four to beam directly to sickbay. Lock onto Lieutenant Tuvok’s commbadge and energize."
He and Neelix stepped back out of the way as the transporter beam shimmered.
"We have them," Rollins voice announced.
"Good. Neelix and I are going back in for Janeway and Paris. We’ll let you know when we have them."
Chakotay smiled. It had been quite a few years since anyone had called him ‘Sir’. The Maquis were a lot less formal.
He tapped Neelix’s arm. "Let’s go."
"How are your hands?" Janeway asked quietly. They had listened to the sounds of the others making their way out until they could hear them no longer. She had turned around to look at Tom and realized that he had stopped rocking.
"Numb, actually. I can hardly feel them. I’m not sure if that’s a good sign or not."
"Probably not," Janeway remarked.
Tom nodded. "Well there’s not much I can do about it."
"Lieutenant, I want to thank you for what you did."
"All part of the service, Ma’am," Tom said flippantly, but Kathryn reached out and held his arm.
"I mean it Tom. If it wasn’t for you I’d be down the bottom of that shaft now, and you in the process damaged your hands even more than they were already. I can’t dismiss that. I’ll be putting a formal commendation in your file."
Tom flushed a little. "Thank you Captain. Actually, now that my hands don’t hurt anymore I think I could crawl out of here. Do you want to get on my back?"
Despite the pain in her leg, she smiled. "I think I’ll wait for Chakotay."
"Oh, well don’t say I didn’t offer."
They remained in silence for a while until Tom suddenly sighed. "I doubt this is quite what Dad had in mind when he volunteered me for this mission."
"I wouldn’t have thought so - no."
"Well, I’ll say one thing for you Captain, you certainly know how to put on an interesting mission. I’ve had more adventure in the past few days than I’ve ever had in the past three years on the Enterprise."
"I would think that one mission of this kind would be enough in any one’s life time. Wouldn’t it?"
"I suppose," Tom answered with a grin. His smile faded. "Do you think we can get back to the Alpha Quadrant?"
Janeway didn’t hesitate. "The answer is on the Array and we’ll find it. We might not get back there today, but we will talk the Caretaker into sending us home. I know we will. He’ll send us back, just so that he can get rid of me. He told me I was persistent, and it didn’t sound like a compliment."
Tom gave a small chuckle. "I can see why my Dad thinks so highly of you."
"You can? I thought I crawled my way into his admiration?"
Tom groaned. "Don’t remind me. I am so sorry about that."
It was Janeway’s turn to chuckle. "I admit I was furious at the time, but I did see the humor in the situation afterwards."
"You did? Well maybe you can show it to me."
Kathryn chuckled again, amazed at how much she really liked this young man. "I thought you were a spoilt brat," she said suddenly. "When we first met at your graduation party, I disliked you intensely. I didn’t give you much of a chance when you came on board Voyager and I’m sorry for that."
"Well, I wasn’t very nice to you when we first met. I don’t blame you. I was hoping you might have forgotten though."
"I never forget anything," Janeway replied. "My fiancé, Mark, told me to give you a chance. I should have listened." She gritted her teeth as her leg began to throb in earnest.
"Tell me about your fiancé, if it’s not too personal," Tom said and she realized he was trying to keep her mind off the pain she was in. She obliged him and soon she had told him a very condensed story of her life.
A light flashing through the tunnel made her sit up straighter. "They’re back," she said in relief as Chakotay and Neelix crawled out.
"Never fear, we’ll have you out of here in no time," Neelix called out cheerfully.
Tom leaned towards her. "This should be interesting," he murmured. "I wonder how they’re going to manage it?"
Tom wished fervently that he hadn’t asked that last question as Neelix pushed, tugged, pulled and dragged him through the tunnel towards the barrier. To make matters worse the little man kept up a stream of chatter that Tom found hard to follow and continued to apologize every few seconds until Tom thought he would scream.
"You really have to try some Jaballian mud cake when we get back Lieutenant - sorry about that - you didn’t hit your head did you? As I was saying, the cake is absolutely delicious, it’s - whoops sorry, you know, it would be easier if you just let me pull you along. It’s moist and light as a feather. Kes loves anything I cook of course, but - oh dear, I’m terribly sorry." He panted a little as he stopped to rest. "I remember I once found - OH! My apologies, I’ve torn your dress thingy - robe? Well whatever it is, I’m sure we can replimat another one. You can replimat, (oh dear- is that the right word?)- Any thing you want on Voyager. It’s the most wonderful machine I’ve ever seen---"
"Neelix! Is everything all right back there?" Chakotay called out anxiously from the other side of the barrier.
"Why yes, we’ll be under in just a moment." He lowered his voice a little. "You know the Captain of the - um - what do you call it? Mackwick vessel is very nice. Don’t you think? Nothing like I would have expected. I mean after all he is an outlaw isn’t he? Obviously your Alpha Quadrant has very nice criminals."
Tom burst out into loud laughter. Even though he hurt all over and could hardly move, this little man made him feel better somehow. Neelix somehow managed to maneuver him under the barrier, without scorching any more of his skin off and helped him to stand up in the passageway on the other side. He was still laughing, rather uncontrollably by now, and he noticed both Janeway and Chakotay giving him concerned looks.
"It’s all right. I haven’t lost my mind," he managed to chortle.
"Of course not," Chakotay said as he hoisted the Captain up and started down the passageway. Tom sobered, and leaning on Neelix for support, followed.
His vision was starting to become a little blurry now and there was a darkness pervading around the edges. He shook his head to clear it, but everything was fuzzy and unclear. He could hear Neelix still chattering away to him, but couldn’t make out what he was saying. It almost sounded like he was talking from a great distance.
He stumbled and Neelix staggered a little. By the time they reached the hole to the surface, Tom was barely conscious. As he looked up into the bright sunshine everything darkened around him and he decided to let the darkness comfort him this time.
End Part Four