Phase Shift
By TíPam
 

Standard disclaimer: All of Voyager and its crew, Star Trek and all itís incarnations - probably space itself - belongs to Paramount. No copyright infringement is intended. No money will be made from this story. It is just for fun.
 

Part Five

BíElanna went over the readings with Seven one more time. "I donít see that we have any choice. We canít contact them."

Seven nodded her agreement. "I have set the transponder. We must leave. Immediately!" They had had only minutes to react. Everything on the planet was about to shift, Voyager flying in the upper atmosphere as well, and they had to get away until it was over. Seven had set up a transponder to emit a set signal that their sensors could pick up when they returned.

BíElanna tapped her commbadge. "Rawlins, weíre ready. Beam us directly to the bridge."

"Not a moment too soon. Vorik, energize."

As soon as they materialized Lieutenant Rawlins ordered, "Bateheart, get us out of here."

"Aye sir."

"Torres, let me know as soon as the atmosphere settles down again. Letís all just hope that the Captain doesnít decide to shift back while weíre gone. She will not be amused."

"Yes sir," BíElanna said smartly. "We could have an even bigger problem than that though, if the transponder doesnít work."

Rawlins just shook his head. "Itíll work. Seven set it up, remember?"

The former Borg gave him her most condescending look. "You are correct Lieutenant Rawlins. I am incapable of performing a task inaccurately. I do not make mistakes." She merely smiled, as all eyes turned to her.
 

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
 

Tom stopped his headlong dash for a moment. He could have sworn heíd heard Harry, calling to him. Wishful thinking Tommy boy. The sound of the fathersí voice spurred him on again. I canít let them catch me. Iíve got to get back to the beach and find Voyager. He stopped again, panting hard. Practically dragging himself behind a tree, he noted his injuries. His shoulder was sore, from falling out of the window, but he was pretty sure it was just badly bruised. His arms and legs were covered in welts and bruises and there was a weird buzzing in his ear. He noticed his face felt swollen and numb, but by far, his worse problem was his stomach. It was burning and his medical training told him he was bleeding internally.

Okay hot shot, what now? As an escape plan that left a lot to be desired. I donít even know where the beach is from here. It looks like itís going to rain too. He sank back against the tree dejectedly. A slight rustling in the leaves above, made him look up. Four pairs of beady eyes were watching him. Uh-oh, this could get ugly. A low growl started, followed by three more. Yes this was definitely going to be ugly. He stood up slowly, never taking his eyes from the ones above him.

A strange feline creature could soon be seen, gradually descending towards him. It had a long tail resembling a monkey, and used it to go from branch to branch. To the people here, it was probably no bigger than a large tomcat, but to him it was the size of a mountain lion. He swallowed nervously and backed away. Three more of the creatures could now be seen. They dropped to the ground in front of him, snarling.

A crashing sound from behind him alerted him to more danger. He looked frantically around for a stick or something to defend himself with. He wouldnít go down without a fight.
 

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
 

Branwe couldnít believe his eyes. Four Meeanders had the Little One backed up against a tree. He was brandishing a stick at them trying to scare them away. Meeanders were very dangerous when they were in a group. Young children were not allowed in the forest without an adult, because they were known to attack and kill anything smaller and weaker. They were scared of people though and usually stayed away.

He picked up some pebbles and threw them, yelling at the same time. The Meeanders slunk away snarling as Branwe hurried over. A loud thunderclap peeled and the air grew colder. The Little One had collapsed against the tree trunk, trembling violently. He knelt down next to him, talking softly while he stroked his head. "Itís all right now. Youíre safe. You shouldnít have run away. Anything could have happened. A storm is coming, you need to be under shelter."

He studied Tom closer, noticing the marks and bruises all over his arms and legs. "By the stars, did they do this to you?" The Little Onesí face looked swollen and there were bruises on the side of his face. Branwe narrowed his eyes suspiciously. His mouth set in a grim line. "I donít believe they did do this, did they Little One?"

He was shocked that his small daughter could do something like this. Horrified that she could be so viscous. He needed to get the Little One home immediately and check his injuries. Quilla would be kept well away from him. He wondered if the poor thing would be able to trust them again after this. Holding out his arms, he waited to see what reaction he would receive. Breathing a sigh of relief, when after hesitating only slightly, the Little One crawled into his arms, he stood up carefully and hurried home.
 

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
 

Commander Tuvok led the way through the forest, to where he believed the sounds were coming from. They reached the clearing just in time to see the giant pick up Tom and carry him away. Chakotay gritted his teeth. "This is becoming ridiculous."

"Well, at least we know heís all right," Janeway smiled. "I assume theyíre going back to the house again. We just have to wait for our chance to go in and get him."

"I hope he is all right," Harry worried. "We didnít get to see him properly, and Iíve just got a bad feeling about the way the giant was holding him."

"He was very gentle Harry. He seems to care a great deal about him."

"I know Captain. Itís just that I got the feeling that Tom was hurt. Thatís why he was being so gentle. Donít forget what they were saying about the young girl hurting him."

Tuvok held up his hand. "Something is coming. I suggest we leave."

"Youíre right. We need to find some shelter from the storm anyway," Janeway said. "Letís go."

They followed the path the giant had taken a few moments before, only to find their path blocked by a menacing looking animal about half their size. It growled a warning at them. A sudden snarl made them turn around quickly. Another one was standing behind them. "No one make any sudden moves," Chakotay warned.

"Any one got any ideas?" Janeway asked. "Itís not as if we can stun them. Our weapons wonít work here."

More growls from both sides alerted them to the fact that they were surrounded. "It appears we have discovered what the Meeanders are Ensign."

"Thanks Tuvok, but I wish Iíd never found out."

"I think a retreat might be in order," Janeway said lightly. "On my mark every one phase shift. Two, one, mark."
 

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
 

Tom clung to the father as they hurried along. Dignity be damned! He just didnít care anymore. He felt too tired, battered and bruised to worry about it. It had started raining. Huge drops that stung as they hit him. There were strange patterns in the sky that seemed to swirl around in circles and the thunder was deafening.

"Thanks, you saved my life - again," he told the man huskily, knowing he wouldnít understand him, but feeling like he had to say it anyway.

The man patted his back gently and held him tighter. Tom could hear growls coming from behind them and shivered. He hoped those things werenít coming back. Soon they were back at the edge of the forest and he found himself sighing with relief.

Entering the house, Tom could hear the sound of Quillaís voice. He stiffened. The fatherís tone of voice became stern and angry. Although he couldnít understand the words he could tell that the child was crying and pleading as the man reprimanded her. Good, serves her right. The thought did nothing to lighten his mood however. He was pretty close to tears himself.

As Branwe lay the Little One gently back, he checked him over for broken bones. There didnít seem to be any, although his shoulder was badly bruised. He was definitely bleeding internally, so Branwe searched through his medical bag to find the right medication. Quilla returned at that moment with the clean towels heíd sent her for and he took them from the girl without a word.

He had no idea what to do with the child. If only her Mother was still alive, he thought sadly. She would have known what to do. He smiled at that. She would be just as confused as I am. He quickly prepared the syringe and injected it into the Little One's arm. "Iíve given him a slight sedative as well, so he can rest easier. You, young lady can come and help me tend to these bruises."

They were still treating the many marks on Tomís body when Mallee returned. Unfortunately, she was not alone.
 

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
 

As the Meeanders disappeared from around them, Janeway touched her commbadge. "Janeway to Torres. Weíve had to shift back for a little while." There was no answer. "BíElanna, come in." Silence.

Chakotay slapped his commbadge as well. "Chakotay to Torres. Come in please. Seven, respond." He looked around at the others. "Okay, where have they gone?"

Janeway tried again. "Janeway to Voyager. Is any one there?" Silence was the only answer.

"Whatís happened now?" Chakotay said in exasperation.

Tuvok, who had been examining his tricorder, replied. "Our tricorders are still not working. It would seem we are not in the right variance."

"What?" Harry cried twisting his armband around. "Thatís not possible. Theyíre still set at the right frequency."

"Maybe Voyager had to leave orbit for some reason," Janeway suggested. "That still doesnít explain BíElanna and Sevensí absence however." She sighed. Was nothing ever going to go right? She held up her hand. "I know Tuvok. It doesnít explain the tricorders either. It was just wishful thinking on my part."

Harry, who had been reading the data on the armbands, suddenly went pale. "Oh My God! According to this we shifted again."

"What do you mean?" Chakotay asked, wondering if he should grab hold of him. It looked like the young Ensign was about to faint.

"We had to go exactly," Harry consulted his armband. "1.3249876453209987645453212758539------" he gasped for breath. "54377659988770204742437363987655 seconds," Harry gasped again, "backward in time to reach Tom. When we phase shifted just then, thatís not the co-ordinates we started from."

"Where were we then? You donít have to go into such vivid detail this time Ensign," Chakotay said, his eyes twinkling.

"I donít know exactly. Thereís no way to tell. BíElanna probably recorded the whole thing, so I should be able to work it out if I had the readings, but since we canít contact her, I donít know."

"What exactly does this mean?"

"Commander, we reversed the set co-ordinates we had, to shift back, so we came forward the exact same amount of time. Unfortunately we started at the wrong point so we ended up here. Voyager is at another phase, and without the recordings of what happened we canít get back to them, and since the recordings are there with them----"

"Weíre stuck," Chakotay concluded.

"We canít even go back to where Tom is, as we donít know his new co-ordinates." Harry was starting to panic. As much as he respected his senior officers, he didnít relish the idea of having only them for companionship for the rest of his life. And who knew what was happening to Tom? The storm was getting worse every second. They had to get back and help him.

Janeway patted his arm reassuringly. "Tom seems to be safe for the moment. At least he will be under shelter in a minute. Weíre not going to be so lucky it seems. Letís just hope that BíElanna and Seven realize whatís happened, and are working right now on getting us back." She flinched as thunder crashed around them and the rain started to pelt down. "This rain has quite a bite to it."

"Ow!" Harry agreed. "It hurts like hail," he snickered.

Tuvok raised his eyebrows. "It would seem Mr. Kim that you find it necessary to, in Mr. Parisís absence, carry the gauntlet so to speak."

"Iím sorry Commander, I donít understand."

"It is I, who does not understand. It would appear that I can no longer go on a mission without a companion who feels that it is necessary to make feeble attempts at humor in times of stress. Mr. Paris could always be counted on for this and now it seems you Ensign, have Ďpicked upí this habit."

"Oh," Harry answered quietly, a sudden clap of thunder making them all jump. Then, just as suddenly as it had started, the rain stopped. The sky began to clear and the sun came back out.

"Well thatís something at least," Janeway said relieved. "Oh and by the way Tuvok. I like a little gallows humor. It helps. So lighten up."
 

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
 

Branwe looked up in concern as Mallee entered the kitchen, followed by three of her friends. "Mallee, now is not the time for visitors," he scolded.

"Itís all right, Father. They just want to have a quick look at him and then theyíll leave."

"I thought we agreed to keep this to ourselves for a while?"

"You can trust them Father. They wonít tell anybody." She smiled happily. "I told you they would believe me."

"Dr. Branwe, please let us see. We promise we wonít get in the way, we just want to see him." The three pushed their way forward and peered down at Tom.

"Wow, heís got hair," one of the young men gasped.

"Why is he so small?" the other one asked.

"Demok, I told you all what to expect. Donít ask silly questions."

"Mallee, thereís no need to be uppitty. Weíre all a little overawed at the moment. Do you realize just how important this creature is?"

"Of course," Mallee answered smugly. "Heís our proof. The teachers will have to listen to us now. Father can they stay for dinner? We have a lot to talk about."

"We have already eaten, as we didnít know how late you were going to be. Thereís plenty still left in the pot. Help yourselves. I donít think itís a good idea for your friends to stay too late though. The Little One needs his rest."

"Heís still sleeping by the look of it. Can we hold him when he wakes up? Is he a baby?"

"No. Heís fully-grown. Heís just different thatís all," Mallee told them.

"Dr Branwe, Mallee told us that he is different from us internally as well. You know more about him than anybody. Would you come with Mallee tomorrow and talk about him?"

"Tomorrow, Roanna? What is happening tomorrow?" Branwe asked bewildered.

"Mallee is going to bring the creature into the learning center to show the teachers that our theories are correct."

Branwe shook his head. "Even if I agreed with this idea, it is far too soon. The Little One is still sick and needs his rest. Mallee, what are you thinking?"

"Please Father. This is important."

"No Mallee, I forbid it."

"Dr Branwe, I donít think you understand. Iíve already told Teacher Farndah about the creature, and heís expecting to see him. We have to take him."

"Demok, how could you? You promised me you wouldnít tell anybody"

"Iím sorry Mallee, but this is too important. Surely you understand? Anyway Iím not the only one. Truska told Teacher Gamdel and at least three others from our group and Roannaís told even more."

"How could you all? I trusted you. We agreed not to say anything yet."

"Weíre sorry Mallee. We couldnít help it. Itís just such exciting news."

Branwe looked angrily at them. "I think youíd better leave. The Little One will not be going anywhere tomorrow. Doctorís orders. He has had a traumatic afternoon and I have had to sedate him. It will upset him, if he wakes up and sees you all here."

As her friendsí left, grumbling and complaining all the way out, Mallee turned quickly to her father. "What happened?"

"Itís all my fault Mallee," Quilla quickly answered. "Please donít be mad at me too."

Mallee looked at her father for an explanation. "I left them alone for a few minutes to check on the animals in the surgery and when I came back, the Little One was gone. I found him in the forest, four Meeanders were about to attack him."

"Why would he leave? He isnít well enough yet." She inspected Tom closely. "Thereís bruises all over him and whatís wrong with his face?" She turned to her sister her voice shaking with anger. "What did you do to him Quilla? Tell me."

Quilla shrank back from the furious look on her sisterís face. "I was very bad. I hurt him."

"How? Why?"

"He wouldnít play with me properly, and I lost my temper. I pushed him over and I smacked him and I tripped him up and I hit him over and over again and I think I pulled his hair too," the little girl confessed in a rush. "I did that to his face too. I donít remember very well, but I know I did it. It was just like when I fight with Reenwa."

"Reenwa is seven rotations, and a lot bigger than you," her father scolded, while Mallee looked at her in horror. "Remember when you had the Peefa sickness last quarter rotation and you felt so weak and ill? How would you have felt if Reenwa had come along and did all that to you?"

"I wouldnít have been able to stop him, I know. I was thinking about that when I was helping you fix him father and I feel so bad about it. I am so, so sorry. He hates me now."

"Well I should think so," Mallee said angrily. "I donít blame him. I guess we should thank the stars you didnít rip his head off." She gently picked Tom up and cradled him to her, ignoring her sistersí loud wail.

"Mallee, thatís enough. Quilla has some problems with her temper that we have to help her with, but remarks like that will not help."

"I donít care," Mallee said crossly. "Did his wound reopen?"

"Yes, but Iíve stopped the bleeding. Heíll be fine. By morning all the bruises will be gone, except perhaps the one on his shoulder. That will take a few days to heal, as it is very bad."

Mallee glared over at her little sister as she went and sat down at the table, laying Tom on her lap. "I think Quilla should stay away from him, Father."

"I have already told her that."

"Good. Who knows what sheíll do to him next?" Quillaís sobs intensified. "Stop it. Youíll wake him up. Iím sure the last thing he needs to see when he does, is you again."

At her sistersí harsh words, Quilla ran from the room. "Mallee, youíre not helping matters. I am going to go and have a long talk to your sister, the stars only know what I am going to say, but you and I need to have a talk too. You shouldnít have told your friends about the Little One, who knows how many people know by now?"

"Donít worry Father, now I know whatís happened, I wonít be taking him to the learning center tomorrow. He needs a few days to get over the attack. Demok and Truska shouldnít have told any of the teachers about him. I certainly didnít want that."

A sudden knock at the door startled them. "You stay in here Mallee, Iíll see who it is."

A few moments later Branwe returned, both teachers, Farndah and Gamdel behind him.
 

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
 

"Torres to bridge."

"Go ahead."

"The disturbance in the atmosphere has settled down. Itís safe to return."

"Okay, thanks Torres. How long will it take to locate the transponder signal?"

BíElanna sighed, before replying. "Anything up to twelve hours."

"Twelve hours? I hope the Captain and the others are prepared to spend the night." Rawlins shook his head. Things were not looking good. He just hoped that the away team had managed to get Paris, so at least theyíd all be together.

He tried to imagine the reaction when they phase shifted back, only to find they still werenít in the right reality. And if Tom was sick------, well, all they could do was try to get them back as quick as possible. He didnít really relish the idea of being in the Captainsí chair during these types of emergency situations. "Torres, you and Seven get some rest, or regenerate or whatever, while weíre waiting for the scanners to come up with something. Who knows when youíll get another chance."
 

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
 

"Mallee, we have some visitors. They are here to see the Little One."

"Oh my! This is the creature?"

"Teacher Farndah, please keep back. Heís asleep and you shouldnít disturb him," Mallee said alarmed. She didnít like the look on either of the teachersí faces.

"Is it dangerous?"

"No, of course not."

"Well then child, let me see it properly." Farndah stepped closer and peered down at Tom. "It looks rather strange. Are you sure itís from the stars? What makes you believe this anyway? It looks like some sort of mutant."

"He told us so. Didnít he Father?"

Branwe merely shrugged. "The Little One drew some pictures that Mallee interpreted as meaning this."

"You do not sound convinced," Gamdel stated.

"Iím not. I think if you want to believe something, youíll always be able to find reasons to back up your theories. You were right Farndah. The creature is a genetic mutant, which I believe escaped from the mountain people. We all know how cruel they can be. The poor thing is obviously some sort of experiment, gone wrong. I should know. After all, I am the animal doctor around here."

"Father," Mallee started to protest.

"Weíve already debated this child," he interrupted. "Youíll have to forgive my daughter gentlemen. Youíve come here on a foolís errand. Mallee tends to get rather excited and doesnít always stop to think."

"Father,"

"Enough. Youíve wasted these teachers time enough for one day. They are important men and are very busy." Branwe started to usher them out.

"Do you have these drawings you were talking about?" Farndah asked in confusion as he was propelled out the kitchen door.

"No, Iím sorry, we donít. They were thrown out."

"Well, perhaps we can sort through your rubbish," Gamdel offered. "We may be able to retrieve them."

"Iím afraid theyíre unsalvageable. I wrapped the kitchen scraps in them. They would be ruined," Branwe said desperately.

"What are you talking about Father? The drawings are right here. I kept them safe." Mallee pointed to the pile of papers on the end of the table. "See?"

The two teachers, who were in the process of being thrust into the hallway, stopped dead.

"Oh! Well that was lucky then." Branwe glared at his daughter.

"Yes, wasnít it?" She smiled sweetly, holding the drawings out to the men. "I think youíll have to take me seriously, now."

Branwe watched in consternation as Mallee explained about each picture and what they meant. He shook his head at her. She had no idea what she was setting in motion. He had already thought of all the implications earlier that day. He just wished Mallee had sat down and thought about it too.
 

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
 

"Well I give up." Harry threw the armband he had been working on, down in disgust. "Iím sorry Captain, but I canít get us back to Tom. If one of these tricorders worked I might have been able to rig something up, but as it is---" He shook his head.

"It was worth a try. Iíve been thinking. We may be stuck here for a while and since night is falling, it might be a good idea to set up camp here in this clearing. Chakotay and Tuvok should be back soon with some food and water, so how about helping me set up? Thank god, we each brought along our survival kits."

"Aye Captain," Harry said eagerly. They worked quietly together for a while until Harry broke the silence. "You know, BíElanna is absolutely certain that the three of you were hiding something from the rest of us. You wouldnít believe her reasoning behind it." He chuckled. "Sheís got some network going up there, let me tell you."

Janeway smiled. "What made her think that?"

"Apparently the three of you had a meeting all by yourselves in your ready room and somebody heard something and someone else saw something. I canít remember the details now, but one of the big things was that Chakotay was drinking coffee at night." Harry grinned. "Sheís got people reporting back to her from all over the ship and she put it all together and came up with this huge conspiracy theory."

The Captain laughed. "Remind me never to try to keep a secret."

"You mean you were? There was?"

Janeway nodded. "Oh, itís not what you think. Anyway, itís all been proven wrong, thank goodness."

"Captain?"

She sighed. "I guess it wouldnít hurt to tell you now. After Chakotayís visit to Tom through his spirit guide was so successful, he decided to try again. Only this time he got more detail, and at the time things didnít seem very good for Tom."

"BíElanna was right. Thatís exactly what she guessed."

"The Commander was very upset Harry, because you see, he thought Tom was being tortured."

"What?"

"He misinterpreted what he had seen. Tuvok performed a mind meld to see the vision also and although weíre not really sure what was happening it became pretty clear that these people were trying to help him, they certainly werenít torturing him."

"Well thatís a relief. Why did Commander Chakotay think that?"

Janeway hesitated. "Apparently Tom was very upset. He was begging and pleading with these people to stop whatever they were doing to him. It must have been quite traumatic to watch, as even Tuvok needed a few moments to compose himself, and Chakotay was deeply disturbed. Tom was curled up in a little ball sobbing when the vision ended."

"Oh God," Harry said. "He never cries. Well, never in front of other people anyway. What the hell were they doing to him?"

"We thought that it might have something to do with their medical treatment to him. We guessed all sorts of things, it got quite out of hand actually."

"You should have told us Captain."

"Why? It wouldnít have made us find him any quicker and you would have all begun imagining all sorts of things, just as Chakotay and I did."

Harry shook his head stubbornly. "Maybe, but we had a right to know. Heís our friend. If heís been traumatized or something we need to understand, so that we can help him."

"Harry," the Captain said gently. "Youíre jumping to conclusions. Just like we did. We donít know that anything has happened to him."

"But what about what the giant was saying, while we were hiding? He spoke as if that girl had hurt him and he wasnít in very good condition."

"That could have been about his appendix operation. An operation like that to these people would be a serious thing. It probably takes days to recover."

"Youíre just guessing Captain."

"Yes. And so are you. The point is, we donít know anything. Except that Tom is alive and being cared for by these people. Everything else is conjecture."

Harry sighed. "Youíre right, Captain. Iím sorry. Itís just that I keep seeing Tom, the way you described him, and I feel so helpless. Itís probably a good thing that BíElanna didnít come with us. If she knew about this, sheíd be devastated."

"I know. Thatís one of the reasons I made her stay behind. And donít worry. If anyone can get us back, she can."
 

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
 

Tom felt warm and secure. He snuggled down further in the soft mattress. There were voices intruding in his sleep. They sounded angry. He opened one eye slowly and focused on a strange face gazing down at him. He sat up with a jolt. Who was this? And there was another one too. Two strange men peering at him.

He realized he was sitting on some ones knee and looked up into Malleeís face. "Hi!" he said. "Arenít you going to introduce us?"

Mallee smiled down at him and rubbed his back. Uh Oh! He was wearing that stupid gown with the open back again. He sighed. How he wished these people would stop undressing and dressing him. He looked at the two unknown men again. They had taken a step back. "How do you do?" he said holding out his hand, as if to shake. The two men looked startled and started talking.

The fatherís voice behind him, made him scrunch around. He wasnít sure what was going on, but the father looked worried and Mallee looked upset. It seemed to Tom that the two men were officials of some sort, and a feeling of foreboding came over him. This didnít look good.

"I didnít keep any records," Branwe was saying.

"Father, why are you being like this?" Mallee was almost in tears. "Teacher Gamdel, please hold the Little One for me, Iíll get you the records. I know where they are." She held Tom out to the teacher, glaring at her father at the same time.

Gamdel took another step back. "Havenít you got a cage for him?"

"A cage," Mallee said in horror. "Heís not an animal. He wonít hurt you, you know." By this time Tom, who had realized that Mallee was trying to hand him over to one of the men, had started to struggle to be put down. Okay, that wasnít very dignified, Tom thought as she put him on the floor. Every time I move, the damn gown comes open at the back. He stood up stiffly, crossing his arms over his chest, looking up defiantly at the two men.

Mallee left the room and Tom walked carefully, holding the gown closed with one hand, over to the father. He felt safe with him, although judging by the manís face something pretty awful was happening. The man smiled down at him and then picked him up.

"You seem to have become quite attached to him Branwe," Gamdel observed. "Perhaps that is why you are being so unhelpful."

"He is a poor innocent creature that has done no-one any harm. He certainly doesnít deserve what you are planning to do to him."

"Weíre going to run a few tests, thatís all. If your daughter can be impartial, then you should be able to too," Farndah remarked.

"Mallee unfortunately, is an innocent. She is yet to learn how cruel life can be. How adults can deceive and exploit others for their own ends."

"Come now Branwe. This Little One, as you call him, is very important to us. We need to prove to the population that these fantasies of star people are just that. We canít have people questioning the first teacher. It could upset our whole way of life," Farndah told him.

"We have to prove that these claims are false," Gamdel added. "We need to know everything that there is to know about him."

"Exactly how can you do this?" Branwe asked with dread. Heíd suspected this all along.

"Weíll run every test thatís ever been invented on him, and if thatís not enough, we dissect him."
 

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
 

Mallee gasped loudly when she heard this. Her legs felt weak and she rested against the wall for support. She couldnít believe what she had heard. Sheíd thought the teachers were here to help her in her quest. How naive sheíd been. How stupid! The Little One is in deadly danger and itís all my fault. Tears fell from her eyes. Why didnít I listen to Father? He knew that this would happen.

A small hand wormed its way into hers. "I heard everything that they said," Quilla said softly. "What does dissect mean?"

"Cut up into small pieces." Mallee quickly put her hand over her sisterís mouth to stop her from screaming. She thought she might scream herself. What am I going to do?

She heard her father tell the men he wouldnít help them and then they threatened to go and get the rule enforcers. "Mallee, what are we going to do?" Quilla whispered. "We canít let the rule enforcers take him away. And what about Father? Will he be in trouble too?"

"Quilla, I need your help. I have a plan. I just hope that Father realizes what Iím doing. Itís time we showed the adults that theyíre not the only ones who can be deceitful. "
 

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
 

When Mallee entered the kitchen, she saw that both teachers were trying to pull the Little One away from her father. She gritted her teeth and smiled brightly. "Iím sorry. I was wrong," she announced. "There are no records any- where. Iíve searched all Fatherís files."

The two teachers turned to look at her. "Are you sure?" Farndah asked. "Those records are very important."

"Yes, Iím sure. Father is very lazy and doesnít always make records. Unfortunately, this must have been one of those times. Are the records that important? Couldnít Father just cut him open again so that you could see it all for yourselves? Surely that would be better anyway?"

"Mallee," her father said shocked.

Farndah looked at her, a curious gleam in his eyes. "You would be happy to see him do that?"

"I donít know if happy is the right word, but I know how much it could help. I plan to be a teacher you know, so I understand how important it is to find out everything you can, so there can be no mistakes."

"Why, thatís very sensible of you, young Mallee."

Mallee smiled. "Thank you." Her father was looking at her, as if sheíd grown two heads. "We need to prove that Iím right. Iím willing to do whatever it takes, to prove my theories."

"Anything?" Gamdel asked. "What if the creature dies?"

"Well, we donít want that to happen until weíve learnt as much as we can. But if he does, we can still learn a lot from him dead, you know. Or am I mistaken?"

Her father, who had grown paler and paler at her words, pulled Tom closer. Tom felt like he was being suffocated, but didnít protest. Something very, very, very bad was happening. He could feel it. He clung to the father and prayed for rescue.

Farndah shook his head in amazement. "No, youíre not mistaken. There is a lot we can learn from dead creatures, as Iím sure youíve been taught in lessons. However, I am surprised that you can be so clinical about this. You seemed to be very fond of the creature, when we first arrived."

"I am fond of him," Mallee quickly asserted. "Heís a sweet, cuddly little thing. I really hope nothing happens to him for a long time, but proving my theories is the most important thing in my life."

"Perhaps you could be in charge of him at the learning center?" Gamdel suggested.

"Mallee---" Branwe started to say, and then stopped. What in the name of the stars was going on? Had his daughter completely lost her mind? "Can we talk in private please?"

"Thatís not necessary Father. I know what Iím doing. I would love to have charge of him at the center, thank you. Perhaps I could even have an assistant or two?"

Gamdel laughed. "Weíll see."

"Did you want to take him to the center now?"

"That was the idea, but your Father here wouldnít hand him over."

Mallee laughed. "As you can see, theyíve formed an attachment. Actually, the little one is closest to him. Perhaps it would be better if you took him to the center Father and settled him in. He behaves the best with you, and youíll be on hand in case he starts vomiting again."

"Vomiting?" Gamdel asked, looking at Tom with narrowed eyes. Farndah took a step back. "Nothing catchy I hope?"

"Oh no," Mallee laughed. "Just something to do with the medication Father gave him. He hasnít vomited for about an hour now, so he probably wonít. It can be awfully messy though, if he does. I just thought I should warn you. You wouldnít want to get any on you."

"Of course not," both teachers said faintly.

Branwe looked at his daughter suspiciously. What was she up to? What was all this about? The little one hadnít vomited since yesterday morning. "I donít think I-----"

"Father, please. If you care anything at all for the Little One, youíll take him to the learning center. Iíll pack some things that weíll need for him, and meet you there. Please Father."

Branwe gazed into his daughterís eyes. She was trying to tell him something. "All right. Iíll do it."

"Oh thank you Father." Mallee hugged him tightly, squashing Tom all the more. He let out a little yelp. "Come here Little One," she said, taking him from her father. "We need to dress you up warmly. The night air can be quite chilly. Iíll be right back," she told the two teachers racing out of the room.

She quickly ran down the hallway to Quillaís bedroom, shutting the door behind her and sitting Tom down on the bed. "All right Quilla, itís your turn now. Do you think you can do it?" The little girl nodded solemnly. "Donít be scared, Father will be with you the whole time. He doesnít know whatís going on, but he wonít let them hurt you. As soon as they realize about the switch theyíll let you go."

"Will Father get into trouble?"

"I donít see how. They wonít be able to prove he knew anything about it. Iíve made sure heís stayed in the kitchen with them the whole time, so there was no chance for him to be part of the plan."

Quilla sighed with relief. "Good. Iím ready."

Mallee hugged her tightly. "I donít know when Iíll see you again, it might be many days and nights, so be a brave little girl for me, wonít you?"

"Yes Mallee."

"And donít worry, you wonít get into any trouble. Father wonít be cross with you and the rule enforcers wonít blame you for our little trick."

"I donít care if I do. Iím just scared for you. I donít want the rule enforcers to catch you and punish you."

"They wonít. Iím not worried about that. Even if they do catch me, I wonít be punished that badly. Iím only sixteen rotations remember? Iím still classed as a child. You have to be over eighteen for the really bad punishments. We need to get a good head start so you have to be really convincing."

"I will be."

"Good girl. Iím so proud of you." Mallee hugged her again and then turned to Tom. Please understand me little one. "Stay here. Stay." She put her fingers to her lips. She pointed to his clothes and then put her fingers to her lips again. Checking that the window was securely shut, she put a blanket around her small sister, who was wearing a padded all in one suit with a hood, picked her up and hurried out of the room.
 

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
 

Tom sat on the bed after the two girls had left, watching the door. What the hell is going on? Those two official looking men were trying to take me away and the father stopped them. Then, Mallee came back in and they were talking, but the father was shaking with anger the whole time. I could tell. Malleeís put me in here for a reason. But now, where have the girls gone? Iíve just got a bad feeling about this. I think she was trying to tell me to stay here and be quiet. Well, I can do that, no problems.

Tom looked at the pile of clothes on the end of the bed. They were his shorts and tee shirt; well Harryís to be exact, and an all in one type of thing, the same as Quilla had been wearing. Tom quickly grabbed the clothes and changed. He kept trying to puzzle out what was happening while he dressed. The way Mallee had held Quilla all wrapped in the blanket; none of the little girl had been visible.

He jumped off the bed and ran to the window. There were voices coming from outside and in the moonlight, he could see the father carrying what must be Quilla. The two officials were with them, one on each side. Sudden realization hit him. Gods! I hope they know what theyíre doing and the kidís all right. I know she was pretty awful, but Iíd hate to think of something happening to her because of me.

The door opened behind him and Mallee hurried back into the room. She beckoned to him to follow her and then raced back to the kitchen. Grabbing a canvas bag, that looked very similar to the survival kits on Voyager, she started to haphazardly throw things in. She was talking to him the whole time, and seemed scared.

He wished he could reassure her in some way, tell her theyíd be fine, but since he didnít even know where they were going or what they were doing, he didnít feel very reassured himself. Mallee put a sling like contraption over her chest and then a thick wraparound coat on. Throwing the bag over her shoulders, she picked him up again and put him in the sling. She then hurried out into the night.

End Part Five