“I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day,
And when it’s cold outside I’ve got the month of May -- oh, baby!
Well, I guess you’d say ‘what can make me feel that way?’
My girl...Talkin’ ‘bout my girl -- My girl.”
Tom danced around the floor with Miral and she giggled happily every time he sang the words ‘my girl.’ He supposed that they were close enough to her name to make her think he was singing just to her -which he usually was. The only other person on Voyager who would tolerate his old rock and roll songs had been too tired to listen lately. Too tired or too preoccupied.
B’Elanna had been holding her emotions in check for the past few weeks, putting on a brave front for their daughter, but Tom knew she was still worried. She’d made him promise to help her stay upbeat, to keep her more volatile side hidden -- which was a hard promise to keep. B’Elanna was who she was, and Tom loved her fiery, passionate personality. He didn’t think she needed to stop being herself for any reason, especially not for their baby’s sake.
Yes, the changes in Miral and Harry were unnerving. But Tom refused let himself imagine the worst possible outcome. If there was a way to help her, the Doc would find it. They would just face whatever came day by day and trust that things would turn out all right in the end.
Of course, blind optimism had never been B’Elanna’s strong suit. She was an engineer. She needed proof. Which reminded him...
Tom spun around and checked the chronometer. It was getting late. Where the heck was she?
He stopped singing and looked down at the warm bundle in his arms. She was still smiling, but her eyes had started blinking. Perfect. Time to change the tempo. He traded The Temptations for The Platters.
“I saw the harbor lights
They only told me we were parting.
Those same old harbor lights
That once brought you to me...”
It was working. He could feel her sag against him. Two verses, three tops, and she’d be out for the night.
Tom wondered if he should replicate something before B’Elanna got home, but decided against it. Seeing that their dinner had gotten cold without her only made her feel bad about her long hours. He just hoped the loud growling he felt in his stomach didn’t undo all of his hard work in singing the baby to sleep.
He knew he shouldn’t have skipped lunch. He’d wanted to drop off a present he’d made for Harry, though, and to see how his friend was feeling. For some reason, seeing Miral levitate her toys was easier to take than seeing his best friend so drained, so changed.
This whole new alliance they’d joined wasn’t making things any easier. Tom could never tolerate the Devore -- their smug arrogance, the way they’d bullied the entire crew when they’d first met. And their leader, Kashyk, had wormed his way into their confidence only to double-cross them later. In Tom’s mind, it didn’t matter that they’d beaten him at his own game. The man was a snake and couldn’t be trusted.
Just thinking back on that time -- the summer and fall of 2375 -- had brought back some painful memories. Tom’s begging the captain to let a Cardassian hologram save B’Elanna’s life, his decision soon afterward to defy the Janeway’s orders and try to save the Monean ocean, his thirty days in the brig without seeing or talking to B’Elanna.
When they found themselves crossing the Devore Imperium a few months later, they’d had to live at a constant state of yellow alert, knowing they could be boarded at any time, wondering if they’d be able to protect Tuvok and Vorik and the other telepaths onboard. Tom remembered being grateful for the first time that Kes wasn’t with them. He’d hated to think of her having to hide in transporter stasis while those creeps searched for...
The thought made him stop singing and look down at the sleepy baby in his arms. The Devore had been paranoid about people with strong psychic abilities -- telepaths had been rounded up and placed in detention camps. Was that still happening? Tom knew that each of the races in the Alliance had been forced to accept working with people they found repugnant in order to have a prayer of defeating the Sernaix. Still, how would the Devore react if they knew that Harry and Miral had developed such strong psionic powers?
He bent down and kissed Miral’s forehead and was glad she couldn’t read his mind. The thought reassured him: with all the changes in his daughter and best friend, they didn’t actually seem to be telepathic. Maybe that would protect them. If not, then *he* would -- somehow.
Tom felt her wriggle in his arms, Miral’s way of saying he’d done his job of tiring her out, and he walked into the bedroom to put her in her crib. Watching the stuffed panda fly from the floor to her fist had be come a routine part of their nighttime ritual, and he tucked it under her arm before pulling up the soft blanket to keep her warm. She was almost asleep before he could bend over to kiss her goodnight.
He tapped the wall panel to dim the lights, then headed back into the living room. He’d just turned on the television -- a black and white program called “The Dick Van Dyke Show” -- when the doors opened. B’Elanna looked tired, but she smiled when she saw him.
Tom decided her expression was an invitation to distract her. “Hi, honey. Tough day at the office?” he asked as he watched her kick off her boots. She took off her uniform jacket and threw it at him, but didn’t stop smiling.
“Nothing some dinner and a little backrub won’t cure,” she answered before looking around. “Is she sleeping?”
Tom remembered a time when that wasn’t such a loaded question. “I just put her down. She’s wearing her monitor, and her overprotective godfather is keeping an eye on her from sickbay.” He didn’t say, ‘So you don’t have to worry,’ because he knew B’Elanna couldn’t help herself. But he did pat the couch next to him, inviting her to sit down and get her mind off of things.
She collapsed in a heap alongside him, and he kissed the top of her head. “Here,” he said, tucking his knee up under him and turning B’Elanna so he could reach her neck. He pushed her hair to one side and started kneading the tensed muscles from her shoulders to her scalp.
“Uhhh-huh. A little higher... Oh, right there...” As he worked out the kinks, she started groaning in a way that told him he was hitting the right spots. This particular side-effect of relaxing her always had the opposite effect on him, though, and he leaned in to kiss the places his hands had finished with.
He could feel her skin turn to gooseflesh everywhere his lips touched, and he knew in a minute she would lean around to kiss him. This was one of the routines of their life together Tom knew he would never get tired of.
Right on cue, she turned to face him. The look in her eyes would tell him everything he needed to know about how they’d spend the rest of their evening: he was happy to see her expression turning feral. B’Elanna had been on guard for so long, terrified of letting her temper or even exuberant play startle or scare their daughter. Whether it was her Klingon side or her natural passion, Tom knew there was only so long she could hold everything in before she’d need a release. Besides, part of him missed the more vigorous side of their love life.
He prepared himself for the shove he knew would be coming. In one fluid motion, she pushed him back onto the couch, grabbed his wrists in hers and pinned them over his head. Then she leaned over and kissed him deeply, tugging his lower lip between her teeth as she backed off. “I’ve missed this,” she said hungrily.
“Me, too,” he grunted, running his teeth over her jaw. “Whatta ya say we break a little furniture tonight?”
B’Elanna grinned widely -- an expression he only saw when she had him pinned in this position. “What if she wakes up?” she asked, nodding toward the bedroom, for once not looking like she really cared.
“We’ll break it quietly,” he teased, rolling them both over onto the floor. They landed with grunts and a loud thud, and he looked up and listened. “See? Not a peep.” Then he returned the favor and pinned B’Elanna to the carpet. “So, dinner first? Or do you want to work up an appetite?” he growled into her ear. “Of course, we could always...”
“Senior officers report to the mess hall.”
Tom closed his eyes and let his head rest on B’Elanna’s chest. He could feel her go limp beneath him. It was a conspiracy. Some giant cosmic conspiracy.
“Rain check?” he whispered, once his body accepted the idea that its fun was over.
She freed her hands and pulled his face toward hers, giving him one final, long kiss. “Rain check,” she whispered back. Then he stood up and helped her off the floor.
They waited for the babysitter to arrive, then walked together to the mess hall. The dining area had become their de facto meeting room for any large Alliance gathering, and Tom knew right away that this was no ordinary staff meeting. He could see that B’Elanna was a ball of pent-up energy, and he wished --more for her sake than his -- that they’d gotten a chance to finish what they’d started in their quarters. He wasn’t sure how much longer she could go on like this, reigning in her anger, keeping her emotions bottled up. She needed to vent her frustration -- physically -- and he was more than willing to help her do it.
As they walked the final few steps to the mess hall, he took her hand and squeezed it. “The captain better make it fast,” he whispered. “I plan to pick up where we left off.” Then he let her fingers slip from his as the door opened.
It was still jarring to see Kashyk standing next to Captain Janeway, surrounded by his thugs. And the other men -- the Krenim? Tom didn’t know much about them beyond Voyager’s one brief encounter -- and a strange warning from Kes a few months before that -- but any friends of the Devore were no friends of his. Alliance or no, this whole thing just rubbed him the wrong way.
As they took their seats, a short man in a familiar uniform brushed against B’Elanna’s arm. Tom saw her flinch and realized instantly that he was Vidiian -- only with no trace of the phage. Paris would never forget the torture these monsters had subjected B’Elanna to -- extracting her Klingon DNA, trying to use it to cure themselves. It wasn’t that long ago that the Vidiians would have gladly killed them all to prolong their own lives and Tom had to force himself to stay in the room. He was only glad that Neelix wasn’t around to see this. He couldn’t imagine how B’Elanna could even look at them.
“Are you okay?” he asked protectively.
He could see she was rattled, but she nodded. “I’m fine,” she lied. What choice did she have?
Every instinct, every memory told him that an alliance with this mob of criminals and murderers was wrong. When he saw Chakotay maneuver himself between B’Elanna and another Vidiian ‘ambassador,’ Tom realized that Voyager’s first officer felt the same way, too.
“Remind me again why this is a good idea?” Paris said softly.
Chakotay looked equally skeptical. “Something about saving the galaxy,” the commander answered, glibly. “Though I’m still not entirely convinced there isn’t a better way.”
Tom nodded, glad he wasn’t the only one who wondered if the captain had lost her mind.
“If this ends the war and gets us home safely, I don’t care who we have to join forces with,” B’Elanna scolded them. “Why don’t you ask Harry what he thinks about the Alliance? At least the captain is doing something to try to end this nightmare.”
Tom knew his wife was only trying to protect their baby and their best friend -- as well as their future. But he wondered where the woman went who fought for the lives of oppressed colonists she didn’t even know in the Maquis. Weren’t there any inviolate principles at play here?
He was distracted from his thought when he saw the Doctor arrive with Seven. “How’s Harry doing?” Tom asked. He was worried about his best friend. Kim hadn’t been feeling well the past few days and the captain had temporarily relieved him of duty so he could try to get his strength back.
“The Doctor is monitoring his condition and he is...coping as well as can be expected,” Seven said stiffly. Tom suspected there was more to it than that, but he didn’t want to pry. “He told me to thank you for the ‘get well’ present, and to tell you...” she searched her memory for the exact language, “...‘the comic book is inferior to the holodeck program,’ but ‘it is the thought that counts.’”
Tom smiled and mouthed the words ‘Captain Proton,’ to answer B’Elanna’s questioning look. She rolled her eyes, of course.
When the entire senior staff had gathered -- minus Harry -- the captain began their meeting, pacing the floor as she spoke. “Sorry to interrupt your evening, but a situation has developed that requires our immediate attention. As some of you know, the Alliance has been developing what they believe will be our first truly effective weapon in fighting off the Sernaix. The device is currently being tested on a Devore colony not far from here. Which brings us to the reason for this meeting.”
Janeway stepped aside and let Kashyk take the floor. Tom could see Chakotay’s shoulders stiffen.
“When we brought the Vidiians into the Alliance, they agreed to use their advanced medical knowledge to help us construct a weapon that would be lethal to the Sernaix yet nontoxic to our own people.” Kashyk’s voice was smooth and thick like syrup, and he seemed to feel the need to hyper-pronounce every word he said. He was as slick as any confidence man Tom had ever met; just listening to him speak made Paris’s stomach turn. “When perfected, the device will allow us to cripple Sernaix soldiers on a cellular level without the need for conventional weaponry.”
“Biological warfare; how charming,” Tom heard the EMH mutter under his breath. The comment didn’t slip past Captain Janeway.
“That was my initial reaction, Doctor. But as I understand it, the effects will be swift and contained to the weapon’s targets. The Vidiian scientist who helped develop the device assures me that, when they’re finished testing the agent, there will be no lingering contamination of the surrounding environment, and no effect on non-combatants.”
Seven didn’t seemed concerned about the long term health of their enemies, however. “How soon before the device is perfected?” she asked.
“Well,” the captain answered, shooting a look at Kashyk. “There’s a bit of a problem.” She took a drink of coffee before she continued, and Tom wondered how many hours she’d gone without sleep. “A Krenim ship in orbit around the planet was ambushed and destroyed a little over three hours ago. Their distress signal indicated that the Vidiian scientists and Devore colonists on the surface were under heavy attack -- but that, so far, they’d been able to keep the weapon from falling into Sernaix hands.”
She stopped pacing and looked straight at them; Tom knew this meant bad news. “Inspect -- forgive me -- ‘Captain’ Kashyk has asked that we participate in a joint mission to evacuate the colony and retrieve the weapon, and I have agreed.”
Tom could hear Chakotay exhale loudly, but neither man was really surprised. If there was a weapon that could tip the odds in their favor, they had to try and secure it. Not that Janeway would wait for their approval before handing out duty assignments.
“Commander Tuvok, work with the Krenim commandant to review the colony’s layout. I want to see a comprehensive tactical plan within the hour. Tom, I want you to coordinate the search and rescue operation; I need someone with your medical training in case there are casualties. Chakotay, you’ll be leading the mission to retrieve the weapon.” She hesitated just a split second before continuing. “Each of you will be assigned crewmen from other Alliance ships. They will be under your command, and I expect you to treat them with professionalism and respect. Does anyone have any questions?”
There was an uncomfortable silence before Chakotay spoke up. “How long before we reach the colony?”
“Four hours at maximum warp,” Janeway answered. “I need to see you, Tom, and Tuvok in my ready room as soon as we’re done here.”
She looked at Kashyk, then the Krenim officer, then the Vidiians before turning back to face her crew. Tom could see her hesitation side by side with her determination. And he knew what she knew: they didn’t have a choice. Janeway took a deep breath and pulled herself to her full height. “Dismissed.”
Tom let the room empty before he stood up. B’Elanna seemed to understand and waited along with him, pacing the floor behind his chair. “I guess I’ll need a rain check on our rain check,” he finally said, trying to sound upbeat.
“Guess so,” she answered, a sad smile crossing her face. She was trying to put on a strong front for him, he realized. He also could see that she was disappointed -- and a little worried. This mission was risky and they both knew it.
“I’ll stop back by our quarters on the way to the shuttlebay,” he said matter-of-factly. “Wait up for me?”
She nodded. “Sure.” They walked together to the door before going their separate ways.
As he headed for the turbolift, Tom’s mind flashed back almost eight years to a prison barracks beneath a rock fortress. To a terrified human woman who was and wasn’t the woman he would marry. In less than four hours, he’d be leading a mission to rescue the people who had tortured her. One day someone would have to explain to him how any of this made sense.
So much for Tom’s relaxing evening at home.
The tactical briefing lasted over two hours -- though it almost ended before it began. Three of the Devore officers refused to participate if a telepath, Tuvok, was leading the mission. After a few minutes of posturing on both sides, the captain had agreed to have her security chief coordinate the tactical assault from aboard Voyager, and named Seven to replace him in the field. The atmosphere was as charged as a Class 2 ion storm, but at least they could get on with the meeting.
The plan was pretty straightforward: Chakotay and Seven were to concentrate on securing the weapon while Tom coordinated the evacuation of the colonists. After another rather heated debate -- with Kashyk insisting that the scientists and intelligence officers take priority -- Janeway had convinced the leaders of the Alliance that, if she and her officers were going to head up this mission, civilians and the injured would be evacuated first. They would be transported in groups to a convoy of Devore and Krenim vessels, with Voyager taking any overflow. Speed was of the essence, Tom knew. Long-range scans showed only one Sernaix vessel in orbit; it wouldn’t stay outnumbered for long.
There was a danger, of course, that a huge show of force would tip their hand about the importance of the colony -- drawing other Sernaix ships into the fight. So, their hope was to leave the bulk of the counterattack to the smaller Krenim runabouts. Voyager and the other Alliance starships would take up positions behind three barren planets at the far edge of the system. On Tuvok’s orders, the two Krenim vessels would begin their counterattack, creating a diversion designed to allow the more maneuverable Federation shuttles and Devore raiders to drop the recon teams onto the surface. Then Ayala, piloting the Delta Flyer, and the other shuttle pilots would align themselves at predetermined intercept points less likely to draw Sernaix fire, and would begin a transporter ‘relay race’ of sorts, passing the colonists through a series of pattern buffers-from shuttle to shuttle -- until they were safely aboard one of the hidden Alliance starships. Tom’s job: beam to the surface, sort out the casualties and triage their injuries-then make sure the evac process was fair and impartial. In a way, he had the easy job-civilians and the injured probably wouldn’t be a primary target. Securing the weapon would be the real challenge.
Paris usually felt a big adrenaline rush at the start of a dangerous mission, but tonight he was unnaturally calm. Just as he’d promised, he stopped home on his way to the shuttlebay to say goodnight to B’Elanna. As he punched in the access code to their quarters, he buried the last hints of apprehension deep enough that she wouldn’t be able to see. B’Elanna had enough on her mind without worrying about him.
The television was on -- he could see a young couple remodeling an old wooden house -- and a half-eaten chicken salad was still on the coffee table. B’Elanna, however, was nowhere in sight. He peeked into the bedroom, not at all surprised to find her snuggled on their bed with Miral. The baby was lying in the middle of the comforter, her mother curled protectively around her.
He considered waking B’Elanna to keep him company as he got ready, but decided against it. Tom knew she was exhausted and needed the sleep. Instead, he tossed his dirty uniform onto a chair and grabbed a quick sonic shower. He dressed in a hurry-then realized he wasn’t due in the shuttle bay for another ten minutes, time he decided to take full advantage of.
Moving gently so as not to wake her, Tom sat down on the edge of the bed then let his arm slide out until he was laying behind B’Elanna. He bent his knees to match hers and curled up behind her, close enough that he could breathe in her scent, but being careful not to wake her. His head propped up on his hand, he lay there for a while just watching them sleep: his girls.
He almost laughed at the thought: B’Elanna probably wouldn’t approve of him calling her ‘his girl.’ Yet he enjoyed thinking of her that way. She was his friend and his girlfriend and his wife and the mother of his child. She and Miral were his entire world. Maybe that’s why he’d been able to stay upbeat during these awful last months: as long as the three of them were together, he refused to imagine that anyone or anything could really hurt them.
He stayed there, curled up on their bed, watching his entire world breathe in and out, until the last possible second. When he knew he had to go, he blew the baby a kiss and softly touched his lips to B’Elanna’s shoulder. Then he rolled off the bed as gently as he could and left without looking back.
The shuttlebay was buzzing when Tom walked in, as Chakotay teamed up the Alliance troops with their Voyager commanders.
“Lieutenant Paris,” he heard, turning around at the sound of the deep, booming voice.
“Hey, Mike,” he answered as Ayala approached. “You’re with me tonight?”
Ayala nodded and handed Paris a PADD. “Me and Vorik. I’m supposed to take the stick once we drop you off. I told Commander Chakotay I wasn’t sure you’d let me behind the controls of the Flyer, but he gave me permission to forcibly remove you if it came down to that. Which I’m sure it won’t.”
The former Maquis had a wicked sense of humor, Tom knew, but his delivery was as dry as a bone -- the man never smiled. He was half right, though. It pained Paris to let another pilot fly ‘his’ ship -- even a friend he’d trained himself. Ayala’s move from Security to Command in their final weeks in the Delta Quadrant had come after a few long talks over dinner in the mess hall and a few dozen flight simulations in the holodeck. It was obvious as soon as they’d started that the man had a knack for piloting. Still, the Delta Flyer was practically Tom’s first born.
“You just bring her back in one piece to pick me up and I promise I’ll go without a fight,” Paris teased. “Where’s the rest of our team?”
Ayala nodded toward five aliens -- and Ensign Vorik -- standing stiffly in the corner. “I took a look at the manifest,” he said, indicating the datapad in Tom’s hand. “Three Vidiian doctors, a Krenim flight engineer, and a Devore ‘junior inspector’ -- who is supposed to be heading up our security detail, but who I think is here to spy on us for that creep who’s running this show.”
Tom snorted, but couldn’t play along. He was leading part of this mission and had to tow the company line. “Captain Janeway is running *this* show; that’s all that matters. You and Vorik get our...crew...on board. I want to check in with Commander Chakotay before we hit the road.”
Ayala nodded and headed off toward the Flyer. Tom walked over to join the first officer, who was reviewing the mission plan with Seven. “Am I interrupting anything?” he asked as he joined them. The two suddenly looked a little uncomfortable, and Tom realized there was probably a better way to have phrased that question. “Your discussion about the mission,” he clarified awkwardly. “I just wanted to see if you had any updates before I head out.”
Chakotay nodded. “The Krenim ships are ready to open fire on the Sernaix just as we get into sensor range. Let’s hope that distracts them long enough to get us onto the surface. Just remember, we need to get in and out as quickly as possible. We’ll save as many of the colonists as we can, but if you start taking fire, get out of there no matter what. No unnecessary risks; that’s an order.”
Tom nodded. “Yes, sir.” He looked at Seven then back to the commander. “Good luck getting that weapon.” Seven nodded confidently, but Paris could see a hint of fear as she turned away. Chakotay, on the other hand, had that look of steely determination Tom always saw in his eyes when the man was ordered to do something he wasn’t sure he believed in.
As Tom walked to his ship, he realized that this wasn’t the first time Voyager’s crew had followed Kathryn Janeway into an unconventional and questionable alliance. She’d almost always been right, when all was said and done. Still, Paris could see every time he looked at Chakotay that going against his gut instincts hadn’t gotten any easier for the man. It was a feeling Tom knew well. Yet, there they both stood, about to risk everything to prove her right one more time.
The scene inside the Delta Flyer made it harder for Tom to keep his resolve. Vorik and the Devore ‘inspector’ -- whose name was Plaxt, according to the PADD in Paris’s hand -- were in the middle of a heated disagreement. Well, as ‘heated’ as an argument with a Vulcan was likely to get.
Plaxt was sitting at the aft engineering station, Vorik standing right behind him, their voices raised. For any other Vulcan, the young engineer’s behavior might have seemed hysterical, but Vorik had spent almost eight years working for B’Elanna and Sue Nicoletti. Learning to raise his volume to make his point had become a survival skill a long time ago. Still, his tone was flat and emotionless.
“Sir, as I have attempted to explain...”
“I’m not interested in anything you have to say, telepath. Now get away from me!”
“My duties require that I...”
Tom wondered what the hell was going on. “Whoa!” he shouted loud enough to put an immediate stop to the bickering. “Vorik, what’s this about?”
The young man’s eyebrows raised and lowered before he answered. “Well, Lieutenant, I was attempting to -- ”
“This, this...*mind-reader* of yours,” Plaxt interrupted, “needs to learn a thing or two about -- ”
“Is your name Vorik?” Tom cut him off before he could finish. “I didn’t think so, so zip it until you’re given permission to speak. That’s an order.” Then he took a deep breath and turned back to the Vulcan. “What happened?”
Vorik stood up straight, immediately regaining his composure. “This man is in my seat.”
Tom wasn’t sure whether to laugh or groan, and he immediately had visions of a long family vacation with five kids in the back of the car and himself at the wheel. ‘*Dad, he’s touching me!*’ echoed inside his head. It would have been funny if there weren’t so much at stake.
Paris looked down at the snarling Devore. “Mister Plaxt, unless you’re a better engineer than it says in your record, you need to get out of that chair and let Ensign Vorik do his job.”
The man was firing visual phasers right into Tom’s eyes, but he was outnumbered and foolishly trying to intimidate the husband of a temperamental Klingon. After a moment, Plaxt ended the showdown and stood up. Tom pointed to the starboard jump seat. “One more outburst like that and I’ll have you restrained.”
Paris headed to the helm, passing Ayala at tactical as he went. “Why didn’t you break that up?” he asked his burly friend -- the former security officer -- under his breath.
“Vorik’s a big boy,” Mike answered quietly. “And Plaxt was turning a really nice shade of purple, didn’t you think?”
Tom shook his head, then noticed the man at the forward engineering station. He was Krenim, a species they knew next to nothing about -- and which rubbed Paris the wrong way from the get-go. They were articulate and serious, like the Devore, and Voyager’s only encounter before now had been a stern warning to stay out of their space a little over four years into their trip home.
Tom could still remember that day at the helm, and some instinctual reaction that these people couldn’t be trusted. Yet the man sitting before him now...Tom had a strange feeling they’d met before. He was young-maybe a little older than Harry -- with chiseled features and dark hair. The skin at his temples was marked with a mottling pattern that reminded Paris vaguely of a Trill with a skin condition. Maybe that was why he looked so familiar. Still, there was something else he couldn’t put his finger on.
“You must be...Prelate Obrist,” Tom said, looking down at his datapad. “I’m Lieutenant Tom Paris.”
The young man nodded evenly. He looked a little nervous. “Yes, Lieutenant. Good to know you. I’m almost up to speed on the specifications for this station.”
Paris nodded. “Lieutenant Ayala here can help you in a pinch. Just make sure you don’t touch anything until you’re sure what it does.”
Obrist nodded, and once again Tom wondered why he instinctively liked this man he had never met. It was a déjà vu moment, but there was no time to figure out how or why.
Tom turned back to his relief pilot. “The Vidiians?” he said, trying not to let his expression betray his disgust at having them aboard.
Ayala sighed. “They’re in the aft compartment taking stock of the medical supplies. Keep an eye on your organs,” he joked, stoically.
Tom just shook his head and sat down. Surreal. That was the only word for the way this evening was unfolding. It was too damn surreal.
Chakotay checked the aft thrusters on the Resnick and settled back into his seat. The specs for these new shuttles were slightly different than for Voyager’s old standbys, and he had to concentrate to remember what was next on the preflight. He’d be piloting the first leg of their mission before turning the helm over to Kirkendall, and it was everything he could do to stay focused on the checklist.
His team -- Seven, Molina, two Krenim intelligence officers, and two Devore marksmen -- would be heading into the underground laboratory, coordinating the recovery of the weapon while the ground troops and Krenim warships held off the Sernaix. At least that was the plan. According to Kashyk, the Alliance included hundreds of mercenaries from a handful of Delta Quadrant races including some the Starfleet crew had never encountered. They would serve as decoys, drawing fire away from the rescue and recovery mission. These ‘soldiers of fortune’ had been hired to protect the colony, yet there had been no contact with them in hours. Things were looking grim.
Seven, sitting in the copilot’s seat, was busy reviewing the tactical plan for their mission. She was edgy, he could tell -- which wasn’t like her. Normally, the woman was the model of calm precision in a crisis. Tonight, she seemed distracted and he wondered if there was something he could say or do to put her at ease.
“It’s been a long while since I’ve gone on a weapons raid,” he said evenly. “It almost feels like I’m a Maquis again.”
She was ignoring him -- or pretending to. Chakotay decided to try and find out. “I just hope we don’t come back to find Kashyk commanding Voyager. When we get back, I think I’ll tap into the internal sensors so I can keep an eye on him in the Captain’s ready room,” he deadpanned, “since he seems to have decided that it’s his office instead of hers.”
Seven didn’t react, and he wondered if she was even listening to him. “Either that or I can stage a mutiny and end this Alliance once and for all.”
“Yes, Commander,” she said flatly, clearly not paying attention to their conversation. This didn’t bode well for their success; he needed his mission partner to be at the top of her game, and Chakotay wondered for a moment if he shouldn’t call for Tuvok to replace her no matter what Kashyk said.
He stopped his work, reached over, and put his hand on her shoulder. She flinched -- from being startled, he hoped, wondering for a moment if she misunderstood the gesture. Just in case, he immediately pulled his arm away. “Seven, if there’s something on your mind, I need you to work through it and quickly. None of us has the luxury of losing focus, not even for a second.”
She looked embarrassed. “Yes, sir. Understood,” she said, formally. Now she seemed nervous for a completely different reason, and Chakotay wondered if he shouldn’t just leave well enough alone. He couldn’t, though. He needed to make sure Seven got past whatever was preying on her mind.
“I’m not reprimanding you,” he said calmly. “But if there’s something you’re not sure of, something about this mission that has you concerned...”
She shook her head. “No. I was just...I was wondering, if something were to happen to us, if we were to be captured or...” She didn’t say ‘killed,’ but Chakotay knew that was what she was thinking. They’d been on missions that were much more dangerous, and it was unlike Seven to be afraid for her own safety. As quickly as he thought it, he realized what was really bothering her.
“Nothing is going to happen,” he reassured her. “Harry’s in good hands, and I’m sure that the last thing he would want is for you to be worried about him right now. If he were here, he’d tell you to concentrate on getting back to Voyager alive and in one piece. Anything else is only going to make you careless, and if ever there was a time for Borg precision...”
She sat up straight, and Chakotay mentally kicked himself. He didn’t mean anything by that comment. He just needed her to bring her love for perfection to bear on this increasingly dangerous task. “Listen,” he said as he turned back to his console, “you focus on getting that weapon and getting us out of there safely, and when we come back aboard, I’ll help you think of a ‘welcome home’ present for Harry.”
Seven cocked her head to the side. “I don’t understand,” she said. “Isn’t a ‘welcome home’ present usually a gift for the person who returns?”
Chakotay smiled. “I think we can make an exception in this case,” he answered, smiling. “And if you find your mind starting to wander, remember that you have someone to come home to who would much rather you concentrate on your mission than worry about him. Consider that an order -- from both of us.”
She nodded and took a deep breath. Chakotay could see her fingers pick up their pace as she scanned the tactical readouts at a much faster clip, and he relaxed a bit as he went back to his checklist.
“Commander,” she said once he’d looked away. “I wouldn’t recommend mutiny as a means to end the Alliance. Considering the questionable ethics of our allies, the brig may become crowded rather quickly.” Her eyes twinkled as she turned back to face him. “You may be forced to form your own Alliance to stage a prison break,” she teased.
Chakotay smiled at her, confident now that she knew what she had to do. Which, he realized, was to get this godawful job done and get home to the people who loved them. The thought brought him back to where he’d started just a few minutes earlier, and his mind began reviewing the design specs for the ready room’s internal sensors...
The colony was straight ahead -- or what was left of it. They were reading weapons signatures, fires, and very few life signs as they completed their approach. Chakotay swung the ship over a crevice at the intersection of three large mountains, and confirmed the medical evac coordinates they’d been given. He could see from his sensor readings that the Delta Flyer was hovering below them. “Paris to Team One,” he heard over the com. “We’re going in.”
Seven acknowledged Tom’s signal as she monitored her tactical display. “Our beam down point is ten kilometers due east, Commander, at the base of a large rock formation. I’m not reading any weapons fire in that area.”
Chakotay nodded. Maybe they’d catch a break on this mission after all. On the other hand, maybe the Sernaix had discovered the laboratory early and had already destroyed it and moved on. “Acknowledged,” he said evenly, refusing to speculate any more. He engaged autonavigation and called for Kirkendall to replace him at the helm.
When he and Seven were armed and in position, he cleared his mind and brought his weapon up in front of him. They would beam down in a standard Decker Diamond, covering each other’s backs. He only hoped the Krenim and Devore were decent shots.
Just as the transporter began to hum around them, Chakotay caught Seven’s eyes. She swallowed visibly and nodded her head. She was ready. She wouldn’t let herself get distracted. At least he hoped that was what she was trying to say.
Five seconds later, they were standing back to back, prepared to fire. Yet it was quiet. No weapons discharging, no rustling in the bushes or along the rock face -- not even the sounds of birds or wildlife. Chakotay traded his weapon for a tricorder and scanned the area; Seven did the same.
“This way,” they heard one of the Krenim men -- Malorax -- say, and they followed him along the base of a steep cliff. In seconds they were standing at a solid rock wall. Chakotay couldn’t figure out why they’d stopped.
He scanned the wall and detected a high level of chronotons-strange for a natural environment. Before he could comment, the commander watched the Krenim soldier remove a device from his pocket and wave it in front of the wall. Instantly, a passageway appeared before them.
“How...?” Chakotay was dumbfounded. “How did you...?”
The man’s expression was part arrogance, part indifference. “It’s a temporal field generator,” he said dispassionately. “It allows us to selectively bend time, in this case to a point before this opening was created. When the Sernaix scanned this area, all they found was a solid rock wall. Which it was...three months ago.”
“Interesting,” Seven said. “A temporal cloaking device.”
“Of a sort,” Malorax agreed. “It’s still experimental, but we think it has promise.”
That may have been the understatement of the year, Chakotay realized. The ability to use time defensively implied its potential for use as a weapon, too. He wondered how far along the Krenim were in their experiments; surely they would have realized its offensive capabilities, too.
He made a mental note to inform the captain as soon as they got back. For now, though, he led his team through the opening and into the subterranean laboratory.
Paris scanned a pile of rubble with his tricorder and held his breath. The stench of death was all around him, and he tried to remember what it was like to smell anything else -- B’Elanna’s shampoo, the salt air of the beach, his daughter’s freshly powdered skin. Hell, burned pleeka casserole would have smelled like roses in comparison.
The colony was practically razed by the time the Alliance troops got there, and Tom was sorry to see how few colonists were left for them to rescue. Even some of those who had made it as far as the evacuation point had been killed in what looked like a random attack on the hospital. The Sernaix were efficient, merciless killers -- when they chose to kill -- and Paris was instantly reminded why a deal with the devil Devore seemed like a small price to pay to end carnage like this.
While Chakotay had been joking in the mess hall earlier that night, in a way this *was* a battle to save the galaxy, and Tom tried not to let the stakes overwhelm him. But as he stood in what was left of a Devore medical tent, he began to feel the fear he had been suppressing for months.
He tried to focus on his tricorder readings; he thought he’d seen faint lifesigns on his last scan, but they were gone now. He pulled back a charred piece of canvas, just to make sure. What he saw almost made him vomit.
“Lieutenant Paris!” he heard someone call from behind him. It was Obrist, the Krenim engineer.
Tom stepped away from the remains of a Devore woman who’d been killed before they’d arrived. She’d been pregnant -- very pregnant -- Paris could see, and it was everything he could do to push the image out of his mind. “What is it?” he forced himself to ask.
“A message from someone named Seven of Nine,” Obrist said, trying to catch his breath. “She’s been calling you, but apparently your communications device is malfunctioning. She contacted the transport site instead and told the Vidiians to prepare for military casualties. Apparently, a barracks near here took Sernaix weapons fire a few hours ago. The medics are bringing in some wounded mercenaries that have been working for the Alliance. Seven says to prepare for ‘Species 329.’ I assumed you’d know what that meant.”
Paris searched his memory for the meaning of the Borg designation. 329...329. His mind was drawing a big fat blank. “You assumed wrong. Did she say if they’d gotten the weapon?”
The man nodded. “Yes, sir. We’ve been ordered to give these soldiers ten minutes to arrive then return to Voyager-with or without them.”
Tom exhaled in relief. At least they’d retrieved the weapon. “Let’s get back to the triage site and prepare to evacuate.”
Obrist lead the way, as Tom took one last look back at the carnage around him. At civilians who never had a chance. At a family that would never be.
He turned around and walked away, wondering how long it would be before he could get the image of the dead mother’s face out of his mind.
Getting the weapon had been easier than anyone would have predicted, and Chakotay felt relief overtake him as he climbed back into the pilot’s seat. The Krenim’s temporal cloak had hidden the bunker very effectively. If they ever adapted the technology to protect their vessels, their Imperium would be virtually unstoppable.
“Any word from Tom?” he asked Seven, a little unsettled at his realization.
“No, Commander,” she answered, checking her sensors. “Ensign Vorik sent someone on foot to retrieve him. His combadge seems to be malfunctioning.”
Great timing, Chakotay thought. Still, if they were going to have an officer out of touch in hostile territory, he was glad it was someone who could think on his feet. Unlike their early days in the Delta Quadrant, the first officer never worried anymore about Paris doing something reckless or foolhardy. Voyager’s daredevil pilot had matured into a responsible husband and father. Once he had a life he wanted to come back to, Tom had left his grandstanding to Captain Proton.
Nevertheless, Chakotay wasn’t thrilled at the final order he’d had to relay to Paris and his team. For very personal reasons, the rescue of these particular wounded mercenaries seemed like an invitation for disaster. Part of him wanted to leave the soldiers behind on this lifeless rock...it seemed more than fitting, all things considered. But he’d made a commitment to the captain -- and she to the Alliance. It wasn’t his place to pick and choose his allies now, no matter how distasteful he found them.
Species 329, Seven had called them. He remembered the conversation where he’d heard that designation for the first time. It wasn’t the first thing he would have called the Kazon. Brutal, stupid, reckless, inhumane. “Unworthy of assimilation,” his Borg crewmate had once said. Unworthy of rescue, he let himself think.
Yet today they would rescue them, against his better judgment. Besides, this was one group of thugs Tom Paris had more than his fair share of experience outwitting. Wounded, as they were reported to be, they wouldn’t be a threat to anyone. Still, he’d feel better when they could hand the men off to their Devore employers once and for all.
Chakotay wished they’d been able to tell Tom first-hand instead of relying on a messenger. He let himself enjoy imagining the look on Paris’s face when he saw who he was being asked to rescue. How totally the tables had turned.
Unfortunately, he didn’t have the luxury. His first duty was to get the weapon back to Voyager before they were detected. He exhaled loudly and turned back to Seven.
“We can’t wait any longer,” he said to her. “Tell Vorik to transport as many of the injured Kazon as the pattern buffer will hold to the nearest Devore runabout, then get the hell out of there as soon as Paris gets back.”
Seven was already opening the channel as he finished giving his orders. “Acknowledged,” she said, as she sent the encoded message.
Chakotay let out a sigh, relieved that they were heading home. So far, the Krenim ships had done a decent job in distracting the Sernaix. Was it possible that they’d make it back without even being fired upon? It seemed too much to hope for, yet there they were, heading home with the weapon safely in their cargo hold.
They were overdue to catch a break he knew. Kazon or no Kazon, maybe this would be their lucky day.
Tom followed Obrist back to the transport site, suddenly feeling incredibly anxious to get going. He hoped they wouldn’t have to wait too long for their final patients to arrive. ‘Mercenaries,’ Seven had said. The word made Tom uncomfortable.
It wasn’t that long ago that he’d been a mercenary himself, a hired gun pilot recruited by the Maquis. What a difference a decade made, he thought to himself. And how like an Alliance led by two “imperiums” to go out and hire foot soldiers. He wondered how desperate the other species had been to agree to such an arrangement. As desperate as he had once been to fly again, to pay off his bar bills-or to get as far away from his father as he could? Or was their motivation more noble -- were they from planets threatened by the Sernaix, too?
He didn’t want to think about it anymore. He didn’t want to *be* there anymore. Tom had just begun a little mental grammatical debate-“imperiums” vs. “imperia”-to distract himself, when he saw Vorik and one of the Vidiian doctors standing in the clearing just ahead.
“Lieutenant,” the Vulcan called to him. “We’ve been ordered to evacuate.”
Music to his ears, Paris thought. “What about the mercenaries?” he asked, forcing himself to say the word.
Vorik nodded to the far edge of the clearing. “We have transported most of them to the Delta Flyer; Lieutenant Ayala has passed their patterns to a Devore transport vessel. They were badly wounded, but the doctors believe they will survive. We are awaiting one more arrival -- a wounded man who was left for dead by his comrades. The Vidiians picked up his biosigns twenty meters west of here. They should be returning with him at any moment.”
“Great,” Paris said as he searched the darkness for a hint of movement. “As soon as they get back, I want you to -- ”
“Weapons signatures! Hit the deck!”
Tom turned in time to see Plaxt, the Devore inspector, take a flying leap toward the cover of the underbrush. Unfortunately, he’d miscalculated the trajectory of the blast and Paris watched as his body was incinerated before it hit the ground.
“Paris to Ayala,” he said, ducking and hitting his combadge simultaneously. Nothing. He remembered, then, how Seven had trouble contacting him. It was a hell of a time for the stupid thing to have gone on the fritz.
“Vorik!” he called out instead. “Tell Mike to get us the hell out of here!”
Tom watched the ensign bring his hand to his chest, just as he caught a glimpse of the Vidiian doctors dragging a large figure out of the darkness. As soon as he saw the injured man’s filthy, sponge-like red hair, the tumblers in Paris’s brain unlocked the mystery he’d been debating in the recesses of his memory. Species 329. Of course.
He turned to the young Krenim engineer behind him. “Obrist, give me a hand!” he shouted before taking off toward the injured soldier and his rescuers. Tom saw a blur in his peripheral vision and knew his order had been followed.
Just as he and Obrist reached the physicians, Tom felt a blast of heat and energy from behind them. Then the ground gave way from under his feet and he was falling straight down, as if the planet had been ripped out from under them like a table cloth magic trick at a dinner party.
His mind flashed on two thoughts simultaneously: how was it possible that he would die helping two Vidiians rescue a Kazon? And how would B’Elanna ever forgive him for not coming home?
Seven was relieved to see Voyager’s shuttlebay envelope their ship as they finished their almost uneventful mission. They’d done as they were ordered and successfully retrieved the weapon from the Devore colony. She only hoped it would hold the key to finally defeating the Sernaix -- and unlocking the mystery of Harry’s strange mental abilities. She let her imagination make its way to his quarters, and pictured his face as he saw her again. After a quick debriefing, she would --
Chakotay had just sat them down on the deck when the call came in. “Delta Flyer to Resnick!”
Seven jumped to attention and opened the commlink. She started to answer the hail, but Chakotay cut her off. “Ayala, report! What’s your status?”
When the channel reopened, they could hear electrical explosions behind the pilot’s words. “We’re under attack! A Sernaix vessel opened fire on the evac station. I had to lower my shields to engage the transporters, and it just took a pot-shot at me.”
Seven was relaying the transmission to Voyager’s bridge, and she wasn’t surprised to hear the captain interject. “This is Janeway. Did you get our people out of there?” she asked sternly.
There was a loud crackling sound before they heard Ayala’s answer. “I got Vorik and one of the Vidiians. But Lieutenant Paris and the others...are gone.”
Seven felt her throat hitch and she exchanged glances with her first officer. “What do you mean, ‘gone?'” Chakotay asked.
Ayala was out of breath and grunting-his answer was unintelligible. After a second, they heard another voice over the channel. “This is Ensign Vorik.” For a Vulcan, the engineer sounded almost, well, emotional, Seven thought. “The shockwave from the Sernaix weapon collapsed a series of subterranean chambers under the evacuation site,” he panted. “Lieutenant Paris, Prelate Obrist and the others were pulled into a large chasm just as I was transported.”
Janeway asked the next obvious question -- one Seven wasn’t sure she wanted answered. “Vorik, are they alive? Did they survive the collapse?”
There was an interminable pause before his answer. “I’m not certain,” he said with undeniable trepidation before Ayala interjected.
“If we don’t shake these Sernaix, we might never find out,” the pilot shouted. “We need reinforcements --now!”
Seven was already anticipating Chakotay’s next order and had locked the shuttle’s transporters on the Vidiian weapon. “Energizing,” she said before he could even open his mouth. In two simultaneous transports, she’d deposited their Krenim and Devore away team members on the shuttlebay deck and beamed the weapon and Lieutenant Kirkendall to Cargo Bay 2. “The weapon is secure and shuttle sensors are at maximum,” she told the commander as soon as she was through.
Chakotay nodded and powered the ship back up. “Hang on,” he said to her unnecessarily, as the inertial dampers were at full power as well. “We’re going back for them.”
She nodded and watched the shuttlebay’s forcefield blink as they passed through it.
The two officers sat in silence as they flew at maximum impulse back toward the colony. Seven found her thoughts drifting again-this time to Voyager’s chief engineer. Was she on the bridge listening as her husband was declared missing? Or would someone have the unimaginable duty of telling her that she might have just become a widow?
Seven knew, instantly, who would make that visit, if it were required. And she sent him thoughts of strength and love across the cold void between them.
She hated the sensation of weightlessness. Floating in space made her nauseous-ever since the Academy-and she found herself saying a silent prayer that Voyager heard their distress call. Maybe it was the ion turbulence, or her rumbling stomachs, or the subtle effects of slowly suffocating, but B’Elanna’s body was tingling, electric, and she was suddenly afraid of being alone.
She looked around to try and find him. Tom was tethered to her-wasn’t he? She pulled the slack cord at her waist, and was grateful for the resistance she felt. Momentum spun her around until she was facing her tie-line, and she sighed at the sight of his spacesuit.
He’d drifted off to sleep, she realized, as she pulled him against her. It occurred to her, then, that he might have lost consciousness, and she felt an irresistible urge to wake him, to see his eyes open, to talk to him one more time. To finally tell him that she loved him before they died.
“Tom,” she said as she shook his shoulders. The force almost pushed him away from her, and she had to grab onto his arms to keep from floating off. “Tom. Wake up.”
The look on his face was peaceful, but it suddenly made her very afraid. She was desperate now, shaking him as hard as she could, cursing her weightlessness as she felt him slipping further and further away.
“Tom! Wake up! Wake up, dammit! Wake up...”
“B’Elanna, I need you to wake up.”
Torres sat up with a start, gasping for air, her hands slapping down on the bed beside her. It took her a moment to get her bearings: where the hell was she? Voyager. Home. Her bed. Their bed.
She closed her eyes and flopped back down against the pillows. The dream was disorienting, and she was exhausted and out of breath.
“Hey,” she heard a familiar voice. She forced herself to open her eyes again. The room was dark and she could barely see the outline of the man standing in her doorway. Still, she would have recognized him anywhere.
“Harry,” she said, taking slow deep breaths. “What are you doing here? Isn’t it the middle of the night?” B’Elanna reached up and slid her hand along the panel above her nightstand. The lights slowly grew brighter -- enough for her to see her friend’s face without risking waking the baby.
When she turned back to look at him, she knew everything she needed to know. Almost everything. “Where is he? What happened?”
Harry sat down on the edge of the bed, just as B’Elanna tried to get up. He was blocking her way now --the only way out was to crawl over Miral. Miral...why wasn’t she in her crib?
B’Elanna tried to force her thoughts back into a recognizable order. She’d put the baby on the bed while she waited...while she waited for Tom to come back from his meeting. She was only going to lie there for a second...she must have drifted off. She turned and checked the chronometer on the nightstand: 03:15. She’d been asleep for hours. Why hadn’t he come back to say goodbye? Why hadn’t he...?
She caught a glimpse of the chair out of the corner of her eye. His dirty uniform. He had come home. Why hadn’t he woken her up?
In the split seconds it had taken B’Elanna to remember what had happened, Harry had reached for her hand. She pulled it away sharply. “Don’t touch me,” she said coldly, though her voice stayed flat. “What happened to him? What went wrong?”
Kim looked exhausted and for a moment, she wondered if he could even bring himself to speak. “There was a cave-in at the evacuation site. The Flyer was attacked just afterward and Mike couldn’t get him out in time. We don’t know anything yet. He might be fine. He might be...hurt, we just don’t know yet.”
“He’s not fine,” she said, suddenly unsure of why she knew this to be true. “But he’s alive. We have to go back for him.” She was wrestling her way past her friend-who she knew was too weak to fight her.
“We are,” Harry reassured her as he stood up to let her pass. “Chakotay and Seven are on their way now and the captain has ordered the other Alliance vessels to create a diversion to keep the Sernaix busy. We won’t leave without him.”
B’Elanna fumbled to her wardrobe and pulled out a clean uniform. “You’re damn right we won’t. Now go see if Samantha Wildman can babysit. I can’t stay here.”
Kim looked hesitant. “I could stay with her,” he blurted out.
B’Elanna stopped for a moment and stared at him. “Harry...” was all she could bring herself to say.
“I’ll call Sam,” he offered, changing his mind at the sight of her discomfort. “But I’m staying here, too. If Miral wakes up, I don’t want her to be afraid. If she can sense something...” He didn’t finish the sentence. He didn’t need to.
He smiled at B’Elanna, then let the bedroom doors close behind him.
She pulled off her t-shirt and reached for a clean one from the dresser. As she turned, she spotted Tom’s uniform draped over the chair-and was relieved, for the first time, that he never remembered to toss it into the refresher. She walked over and pulled the fabric to her face. It still smelled like baby powder and peanut butter and soap. More than that. It smelled like Tom: his sweat, his totally unique scent. B’Elanna closed her eyes and drunk him in before draping his jacket over their still-sleeping daughter.
She finished getting dressed, then carefully moved the baby -- uniform ‘blanket’ and all -- to her crib. B’Elanna allowed herself one more long look at the peaceful face of her daughter before she headed to the bridge to help find her husband.
His head was pounding a syncopated rhythm just slightly out of time with his heartbeat. It was cold and dark -- and the smell of rot was overwhelming. A thin shaft of light was trickling in from high above him, but not enough to do more than cast a series of spooky shadows. Tom had seen enough horror movies to be a little afraid of the dark, and at the moment he would have given his entire model car collection for one wristlight. He patted the floor around him, trying to remember: was he wearing a pack? Was he alone on this mission? More importantly, where the hell was he?
As his hands touched the ground around him, they were met with a thin layer of slime. Suddenly, something crawled over his finger -- a worm, maybe? -- and he decided that he could live without his pack, if he even had one. In fact, maybe he could make himself stand up. He wiped his hands on his uniform pants and pushed his way off the floor.
The moment he stood, he realized why his memory was so fuzzy. He was hit with a wave of dizziness and nausea, and he was instantly grateful that he couldn’t see the walls spinning around him. His right temple was throbbing and he was sure, then, that he must have a concussion. Suddenly a medkit seemed more important than a wristlight. Not that it mattered: he didn’t seem to have either.
Leaning on the wall, he took a few steps toward the narrow beam of light. His eyes were adjusting-or maybe his vision was clearing-and he could see the outline of a boulder just under it. Good: a place to sit that was off the dirt. He picked up his pace and stumbled toward it. Two steps before reaching his target, he tripped over something in the darkness. Something that groaned. He caught himself just before falling face-first into the boulder, and turned to lean against the large rock. He could hear soft moans from whatever-whoever-he’d kicked. And he took some comfort in knowing he wasn’t alone.
After a second, he caught his breath and the dizziness waned. He squinted into the darkness trying to see who was with him. He thought he could make out the faint shadow of someone laying on the ground at his feet, but he couldn’t really see more than a dark outline. “Hey,” he croaked after catching his breath. “Are you okay?”
Nothing. Just an occasional moan -- deep, bass -- definitely male. And not many crewmen on Voyager were taller than Tom, but he could see even in the darkness that this figure lying prone on the floor was at least his height-maybe more. Maybe it was someone from his away team. Tuvok? Ayala?
Why couldn’t he remember?
The air was thick -- cold, yet humid -- and he was having a little trouble catching his breath. He tried breathing in through his nose; big mistake. The smell was enough to make his head swim. He knew there was a danger that he might pass out. If he could focus his mind, maybe talk to the man lying at his feet, he might be able to stay conscious.
He held onto the wall and knelt down gently. Feeling around in the darkness, he touched the man’s sleeve and lifted his wrist into his hand. A weak pulse-thready and erratic. Before Tom knew what was happening, the man sprang to life and grabbed him around the neck.
“Who are you?” The voice was familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it. “Answer me! Who are you, Federation?!”
A series of long-buried memories fired in sequence, one after the next, and for a moment Tom wondered if he’d traveled back in time and across thousands of light years. Was it possible? Was this man Kazon?
The pieces continued to fall into place. They’d gotten home, but were back again in the Delta Quadrant. The Sernaix...they were fighting the Sernaix. And the Alliance -- Kashyk -- there were Kazon mercenaries in the Alliance they’d joined. This must be one of them. But where were they? What the hell had happened?
In what seemed to be the pilot’s only lucky break of the evening, the normally formidable man at his throat seemed to be hurt even worse than he was. His grip was as weak as his pulse, and it didn’t take much effort for Tom to pull himself free. “You can call me Paris,” he said cautiously. “And your name is?”
“I am Culluh,” the man grunted. “Maje of the Kazon-Nistrim.”