B'Elanna's heart was racing as she stepped into the turbolift. "Bridge," she
It was disorienting enough to be woken up in the middle of a disturbing dream,
but to then hear from Harry that Tom was missing--maybe injured or dead...well,
the entire situation was surreal. Overwhelming.
She searched her heart for some sense of either reassurance or impending doom.
The romance novels she used to read--before her own real-life romance had made
them redundant--would often hint that an injured lover could be sensed
telepathically in a time of crisis. Yet, as hard as she searched her mind and
heart for some message from her missing husband, all she felt was numb.
During their first trek across the Delta Quadrant, Voyager's crew had stared
death in the face on a daily basis. It was an occupational hazard, a way of
life. And B'Elanna had seen too many close friends die: Kurt Bendara, Michael
Hogan, Joe Carey. She and Tom also had their fair share of close calls. Still,
she'd never allowed herself to think the worst, to imagine a day when he
wouldn't come home from a mission. She wasn't about to start now.
The lift doors opened and she headed for Tactical. Tuvok's brow was furrowed,
but there was no way to read his expression. "What's happening?" she asked.
"Have they found him?"
Before he could answer, B'Elanna heard the incoming com signal. It was
Chakotay's voice. "Resnick to Voyager. Where the hell are those Devore raiders?"
he was asking. "We need reinforcements."
Torres looked up to see the dispassionate face of Inspector Kashyk as he stood
next to Captain Janeway on the middeck. "Patience, Commander," he said evenly.
"All in good time."
B'Elanna wondered if he knew that patience wasn't her forte; especially not
where the safety of her family was concerned. She also wanted answers to a dozen
different questions no one had time to listen to, and she quickly realized that
the best way to get them was to find them herself.
She took Lieutenant Malay's place at the starboard engineering station and
called up Voyager's tactical sensors on her display. The Delta Flyer was limping
back toward home at half impulse as the Resnick, Scobe, and Cochrane IV flew
cover around it. They were dodging weapons fire as they flew, barely holding
their own against the lone Sernaix ship.
Suddenly she saw seven Devore raiders appear from beneath the planet's southern
pole, coming up from behind the Sernaix, trying to draw their fire. It was about
While the battle raged in space above the colony, B'Elanna ran scans of what was
once the evacuation site, searching for human lifesigns. There were none. Still,
Harry had said there'd been a cave-in. If Tom were trapped deep under the metal
mantle in some underground pocket or cavern, he'd be undetectable with
conventional scans--especially from so far away. She made a conscious decision
not to assume the worst. Still, the knot in her stomachs tightened.
She turned back to the tactical readout and watched as the fighting continued.
There was something strange about the Sernaix attack pattern, she noticed.
B'Elanna was an engineer, not a tactician, but even *she* could see that their
adversaries weren't fighting strategically. Instead, they took random potshots,
toying with the Alliance ships, doing damage as it suited them then turning to a
new target. It reminded her of the bullies she'd known as a child--ill-mannered
little boys, mostly, who'd pluck the wings off grass flies or torment the
smaller, weaker children on the playground. There seemed to be no method to
their madness; for better or worse, this made the Sernaix infuriatingly
Suddenly, as if reading her mind, the attacking ship--which was by all
appearances winning the battle--stopped firing and disappeared, leaving only a
warp trail and a few battered Starfleet shuttles behind.
"They are retreating, Captain," she heard Tuvok say, sounding as surprised as
his Vulcan nature would allow.
The captain was shaking her head as she opened the commlink. "Janeway to
B'Elanna could hear the confusion mixing with relief in his voice. "They're
gone, Captain. All of the sudden, they just broke off their attack and
Janeway looked at Kashyk before turning toward Tuvok. As she turned, she saw
B'Elanna sitting at the engineering station and their eyes locked. The captain's
expression was instantly tinged with pain before turning steely, determined.
"Mister Tuvok, shields to maximum," she said, still holding her chief engineer's
gaze as she gave her next order to Ensign Stewart at the helm. "Lay in a course
for the colony. Full impulse."
Kashyk seemed stunned. "What do you think you're doing? You'll reveal our
position and endanger the entire mission. If that ship comes back--"
"That's a chance we're going to have to take," Janeway cut him off. "Voyager to
Resnick. Head to the evacuation site and begin search and rescue procedures.
We'll rendezvous with the Flyer then meet you there. We've got to find Tom and
the others before the Sernaix change their mind."
"Acknowledged," Chakotay answered before closing the channel.
The captain looked at B'Elanna one more time, and forced a sad smile onto her
face. "We'll find him," she said mouthed silently.
Torres nodded, then forced herself to take a deep breath. 'We're on our way,
Tom,' she thought as she started another scan of the planet. 'Hang on.'
"I am Culluh," the injured man grunted. "Maje of the Kazon-Nistrim."
It took Tom Paris a moment to process the flood of feelings and thoughts that
came rushing into his mind. There he was: injured, trapped, disoriented, and now
this. Hell, it was bad enough that he'd been sent on a mission to rescue the
Devore and their Vidiian friends, people who'd once been Voyager's tormentors
and mortal enemies. What were the odds that, even as a part of the hodgepodge of
aliens making up this unholy Alliance, he'd find himself trapped in some fetid
sinkhole with Seska's old boyfriend? A man who had once kidnapped him, who had
shot two shuttles right out from under him, and who had left B'Elanna and Harry
and the rest of Voyager's crew to die on that barren dustbowl of a planet so
many years before. *This* was the man he'd almost gotten himself killed trying
"I don't believe it," he muttered under his breath.
"Answer me," Culluh groaned before doubling up in a coughing fit. It took
another moment before he caught his breath. "Are you Federation?"
Considering the man's weakened condition, Tom decided there wasn't much risk in
telling the truth. "Yes."
"Then I will kill you with my bare hands," the Kazon spat.
Not a lot of danger of that happening. Culluh was weakening, Tom could tell, and
the raspy nature of his breath suggested a buildup of fluid in his lungs. Maybe
a tension pneumothorax--a broken rib could have punctured his lung. Maybe a
pulmonary embolism. Hell, he could have caught a bad cold before the cave-in
even happened. Without medical equipment, there was no way to tell which it was.
Still, even though it had been a while since Paris's last shift in sickbay,
slipping into diagnostic mode had become second nature to him.
"Why does he want to kill you?"
Tom jumped at the sound of the voice from behind him and felt the pounding in
his head pick up its tempo. "Obrist?" he asked, squinting to see in the
darkness. "Are you all right?"
The young Krenim man stepped into the narrow shaft of light, and Paris could see
that his face was scratched and swollen, and that he was cradling his right arm.
"I think it's broken," he said.
Tom pulled himself off the dirt and stumbled to him. "Here, let me take a look
He didn't need a medical tricorder to verify Obrist's self-diagnosis; the man's
hand was tilted at an unnatural angle, and when Paris palpitated the forearm he
could feel a separation he assumed wasn't a part of the normal Krenim ulna. The
radius appeared to be intact, though.
"Yep," he said, ripping a length of fabric from his already tattered pant leg,
"but it looks like a clean break. Let's immobilize that arm." Tom tied the
fabric into a crude sling. "I wish there was something I could use to make a
splint." His 'patient' was clearly in a lot of pain, and for the second time in
ten minutes, Paris wished he had a medkit.
His own headache was getting worse, and Tom had a momentary fear that his
concussion might be something more serious. He was distracted from that thought
when Obrist repeated his question. "Is that the mercenary? Why does he want to
Tom looked over at the imposing figure lying on the ground. Paris's eyes were
beginning to adjust to the darkness, and he could make out the Maje's face now,
twisted in pain. For reasons he couldn't understand, Tom didn't want to answer
the question. "I don't know," he lied. "The Kazon never seemed to need a reason
to hate humans."
Culluh was staring at him now, and Tom wondered if the man had recognized his
face. They'd had more than one confrontation over the years; the last time he'd
seen the Nistrim leader, Paris was being thrown into locked quarters on the
man's ship after being pirated from a Talaxian convoy. Of course, that was their
last *face-to-face* meeting. As for their last *encounter*...well, they hadn't
actually seen each other that day. He wondered if the Maje knew that he was now
trapped with the man who had defeated him. The man who was responsible for...
These thoughts made Paris uncomfortable, and he stepped back into the shadows
where he hoped he'd be a little less recognizable. Just then, the room started
to spin, and Tom stumbled back against the wall.
"Are you all right?" It was Obrist's turn to ask.
Tom wondered how he could see so many colorful sparkles in a totally dark
cavern. He let his feet slide out from under him as he walked his hands down the
wall. "I just have to sit down for a minute," he said. When he felt the cold,
damp floor beneath him, he let his head rest against the rocks and closed his
eyes just as a wave a nausea overtook him.
He was getting worried. The throbbing headache, his temporary memory loss right
after he'd woken up, and now the dizziness and queasiness--what if his
concussion was something worse? He couldn't stop the medical library from
playing through his mind: linear skull fracture...intracerebral hemorrhage,
subdural hematoma...a diffuse axonal injury... Any of these things could be
causing his symptoms. And any one of them would be nothing to worry about if he
were onboard Voyager. But here, in this pit...
"Obrist," he said as he tried to think the nausea away, "I'm going to rest here
for a second. But if I fall asleep, you have to promise you'll wake me up. I
don't care what it takes."
Tom could make out the look of concern on the young man's face. "Yes,
Lieutenant," he thought he heard him say as he drifted off into unconsciousness.
Chakotay brought the Resnick in low over the evac site and hovered carefully in
the nexus of the three mountains that surrounded them. "What do your scans say?"
he asked Seven, not once taking his eyes off of the navigational readouts. This
was a tricky approach in a shuttle he hadn't been fully rated on.
"I'm reading what were once multiple subterranean layers," she answered. "They
seem to have compacted in the collapse." Her voice was even, but Chakotay knew
her well enough to hear the concern she tried to conceal.
He hesitated to ask his next question. "Any sign of Tom or the others?"
He heard her run one more sweep before she answered him. "No," she finally said.
"However, the crust of this planetoid seems to be dense in some kind of magnetic
ore. It could be masking any life signs below it." She let out a loud sigh.
"There is no way to know for sure."
The commander exhaled loudly and engaged the maneuvering thrusters. "Where are
we going?" Seven asked.
Chakotay slid his fingers over the navigation console. "To land this thing. I
don't want to risk putting it down on top of the collapsed tunnels. We could
compact the ground beneath us and cause another cave in." He saw Seven nod in
his peripheral vision.
"Dammit!" he said as their port side dipped a little too close to a protruding
rock ledge. "Don't ever tell Tom this, but I'm starting to miss the vintage
flight instruments from the Delta Flyer. He was right; you have a greater level
of control when you can feel the ship responding to the stick." They finally
cleared the mountaintops and he turned to face her. "On the other hand, maybe I
should just order him to retrofit the rest of the shuttle fleet with his
'Captain Proton' touches."
Despite his joke, Seven's expression stayed somber as she looked up from her
scanners. "Let's hope you get the chance to give that order," she said quietly.
Chakotay nodded. They both knew the situation was looking grim. Even if Tom had
survived the collapse itself, chances were he was entombed by the dirt that fell
with him. He could have been buried alive in those tunnels. He'd been missing
for more than an hour. Unless he'd gotten lucky enough to land in an air pocket,
he was probably dead by now. And, with his commbadge broken, they might never
find his body.
He swung the shuttle in a wide arc and Chakotay could see a clearing that was
still within transporter range of the evac site. As he began working out the
landing vectors, he thought about B'Elanna and wondered how she was holding up.
She'd be a rock, he knew, as long as there was hope--and he was sure she'd
insist on helping in the rescue. Good thing, too, he realized: the cave-in would
probably leave them with some tricky engineering problems to solve.
But if the news was as bad as he feared, he wasn't sure how his friend would get
through it. Tom was more than just her husband and lover. He was her stability
in a life that had seen too much turmoil. And, despite Chakotay's initial fears
when the two had first gotten involved, Tom was the one thing B'Elanna knew she
could count on.
Well, except her friends, himself included. But also Harry, Kathryn, Tuvok, and
the Doctor. They'd be there for her, if and when the time came...
He forced himself to shake off the thought. Tom Paris had more lives that a cat.
He'd come through this. Somehow.
"Prepare for landing," he said to Seven. In a minute, they were safely on the
The Delta Flyer had been badly damaged in the Sernaix attack--to the point that
the captain ordered it beamed to the shuttlebay as soon as it was within
transporter range. For some strange reason, B'Elanna felt the need to be there
to meet it, to see the damage with her own eyes, and to talk to Tom's team.
Maybe they knew something that could help her prepare for what she'd find when
they got to the colony.
Or maybe she just felt closer to Tom when she was near the Flyer, the site of
his impromptu deathbed proposal and their extended honeymoon.
The memories weren't helping at the moment. In fact, they only made things
harder. She forced herself to focus on the access hatch as she waited for it to
open. Maybe if she kept picturing Tom walking out that door in her mind, she
could somehow make it real.
When the hatch finally opened, she recognized the tall, burly man in the red
collared uniform. But it wasn't Tom.
Mike Ayala was cradling his wrist and she could see the burns on his hand as he
walked toward her. They'd been friends on the Liberty long before they'd ever
heard of Voyager, and she had trusted him with her life on more than one
occasion. Still, he'd been Tom's second in command on this mission--and he'd
left her husband behind. She didn't blame him...she was pretty sure. She knew
Ayala well enough to know, though, that he probably blamed himself. He could
barely look at her as he approached.
"B'Elanna..." Her name hung in the air as he clearly tried to think of something
to say. What *could* he say, though? There was an awkward silence as they stood
there, not able to communicate all the things they both knew their words could
"You're hurt," she finally said.
He seemed embarrassed at her concern. "The navigation console overloaded," the
She could see that the burns were deep; he must have been in incredible pain,
yet he didn't seem to notice. "You'd better get to sickbay," she said, worried
about her friend but also needing him to leave her alone.
Their eyes locked for a moment: his pleading for her forgiveness, hers
struggling to give it. She couldn't though. She had to reserve all of her
emotional energy for what was to come.
Ayala nodded and left her standing there, still watching the open hatch.
After a moment, another man stepped off the Flyer--and was met immediately by a
security detail. It was one of the Vidiian doctors, and B'Elanna felt a wave of
fury and disgust overwhelm her. The unfairness that this man--this butcher--
would make it back alive, while Tom...
Once again, she pulled herself back from the brink. But she shot the Vidiian a
deadly glare as he passed her.
The last person off the shuttle was Vorik. The ensign's uniform was tattered and
singed, and she could see a green trickle leaking from a gash above his left
eye. His face was a dispassionate mask, but when he looked up and saw her
standing there, B'Elanna was sure she saw his brows furrow slightly. Vulcan or
no, Vorik was young and less adept at hiding his emotions than Tuvok. He was
worried about her, she could see.
She watched him hesitate for a moment before he took a deep breath and
"Lieutenant," he said calmly. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
She started to shake her head, then stopped. "Yes. You can tell me what
happened. What you saw."
He seemed uncomfortable, but she knew he would do as she asked. "We were waiting
for two of the Vidiian doctors to return with an injured mercenary when the
Sernaix attacked. Lieutenant Paris and the Krenim engineer went to assist the
injured man just as another blast stuck the clearing between us. The shockwave
caused a collapse of the subterranean tunnels. I'm afraid the Lieutenant was
pulled into the chasm that formed."
B'Elanna could feel her blood begin to boil before it instantly turned to ice.
Still, she needed to know more. "Could you see if Tom was hurt before the cave-
Vorik shook his head. "No, sir. My view was blocked by the debris from the
The young engineer looked incredibly uncomfortable, and B'Elanna considered
letting him leave to get his head wound attended to. But first... "Vorik, how
was Ayala able to beam *you* out but not Tom?"
He blinked rapidly for a moment, and Torres realized that it might have sounded
like she was wishing *Vorik* had been left behind instead of her husband. Before
she could explain, he began to answer. "Lieutenant Paris's communications badge
was malfunctioning, even before the explosion. I believe, once the tunnels began
to collapse, it was difficult for Lieutenant Ayala to get a lock on him by
biosigns alone, especially considering the attack he was trying to ward off at
the time." Vorik paused for a moment, then looked into her eyes. "I'm sorry," he
There was a time, many years earlier, when she could barely look at the young
man now standing in front of her. His misdirected, pon farr-induced affections
had earned him a dislocated jaw and a bloody beating at her own hand. Ever since
that time, though, he'd been the model officer, her engineering protege--and a
friend to her and Tom both. To see him, now, looking so worried about a man he'd
once threatened to duel to the death in a contest for her affections...
"Thank you, Vorik," she said, forcing herself to stay composed, "but don't worry
about me. Or Tom. He'll be fine. I know he'll be just fine."
The young Vulcan nodded, then regarded her for a moment before leaving her
B'Elanna looked around the deserted shuttlebay, then walked up to the Flyer. She
put out her hand and let her fingers touch the still-cold skin. She took a slow
trip around the ship and catalogued the visible damage. There were blast burns
along the port impulse engine, and a long gash in the hull plating just above
the Bussard collector. After noting twenty-five separate repairs to be made, she
stopped bothering to count them.
When she'd made her way all the way around the ship, she paused for a moment at
the aft hatch, and thought about going inside. Instead, she rubbed her palm
against the smooth tetraburnium plating and thought about Tom. She knew, deep
inside her, that he was alive somewhere down on that planet. Once again, she
searched her mind and heart for some sign that it was true; but if he was
sending her some telepathic message, she just wasn't hearing him.
That thought gave her an idea, though, and she bolted out of the shuttlebay at
what was almost a full-out run.
Captain Proton, protector of the galaxy, scourge of intergalactic evil, strapped
on his trusty rocket pack before turning to face Lana L'Amour. She was his
favorite of all the space mechanics, and the most beautiful rocketeer in the
entire Patrol Fleet.
"I have to hit the road, now," he said before pulling her into a tight clinch.
"See you soon, fair maiden."
"Sorry, neither," she said before kissing him. "Keep your ray gun clean, Proton.
And don't forget to bring me a souvenir from Planet X."
"Sure thing, toots," he said. He saluted her before engaging his trusty
thrusters, and in a flash, he was streaking off across the stars.
His mission was clear: help Arachnia, Queen of the Spider People, form an
Alliance with the demonic Barron of Devora to free the galaxy once and for all
from the clutches of the evil Doctor Chaotica. Simple. All Proton had to do was
avoid the Death Ray and rescue the Citizens of Devora from his dastardly
nemesis--all the while his trusty sidekick, Buster Kincaid, and his secretary,
Constance Goodheart, stole the new weapon that would seal Chaotica's doom.
Everything else was Arachnia's problem.
He could see his rocketship off in the distance. "Captain Proton to Buster
Kincaid," he called into the Teleradio at his wrist. "Is the weapon ready?"
"Yes, Proton. Everything is all set." It was strange: Buster's voice sounded
different somehow. Tired, drawn...
"I'm coming aboard," the Captain replied, suddenly aware of a deep sense of
foreboding and impending danger. Nevertheless, he was still the protector of the
galaxy, and he had a job to do. "Prepare the new and improved Destructo Beam for
test firing!" he called out to Kincaid.
Only moments later, Proton was climbing though the hatch of his space ship.
"Captain Proton to the rescue!" he shouted.
But the ship was silent. "Buster? Miss Goodheart?"
He looked around, but didn't see anyone. Proton pulled out his ray gun,
convinced more than ever that there were dastardly doings afoot. Just then, he
heard a noise and whipped around, only to see his sidekick and best friend
appear out of nowhere, sitting with his back to him at the ships controls. He
let out a sigh of relief and holstered his weapon.
"There you are," he said as he walked up behind the intrepid reporter and
intergalactic crime fighter. "Why didn't you answer me?"
Still no reply. Proton grabbed Buster by the shoulder, spinning him around on
the stool. When he saw the man's face, he jumped back in surprise. Kincaid's
skin was mottled and warped, as if it were melting off his skull. "Harry! What
the hell happened?" But he knew already. He recognized the symptoms: the phage.
Just then he heard a noise behind him.
"Welcome home, Proton," he knew that voice.
He spun around to see his comely secretary standing there smiling. The blond
hair, the cleavage, the perfectly manicured nails: they all belonged to
Constance Goodheart. But that face...the high forehead, the cobra-like bumps
around her eyes, the oval protrusion above her nose. "Seska?" he blurted out.
Where the hell had *she* come from?
Before he could ask that very question, Arachnia stepped out from behind the
Imagizer, her weapon pointed squarely at Proton's chest--and Chaotica by her
side. What the hell was going on?
"Stand down, Lieutenant," she ordered him.
He didn't understand. "But, Captain, these people..."
"Are our allies," she said tersely. "And I expect you to treat them with
professionalism and respect."
Just then, he heard another familiar voice over his Teleradio. It was Lana
L'Amour, the hiss of her own rocketpack filling the background with static.
"L'Amore to Proton! Come in, Proton!"
He was relieved to hear her voice, but he couldn't risk making a move to answer
her. Still, he wondered for a moment who she would side with. Was she another
Defender of the Galaxy or a Minion of Mayhem? He looked around his rocketship at
the faces he'd once thought he'd known. Were they good guys or bad guys? It was
all so confusing now.
Lana's voice helped him fight off the gnawing fear. "Hang on, Proton!" she
continued to encourage him. "I'm coming to rescue you..."
Tom's head was pounding and he wished whoever was calling him would just go away
and leave him alone. He wasn't on duty this shift, he was sure of it. He closed
his eyes tighter and tried to go back to sleep.
"Lieutenant Paris!" he heard again. This time he felt a sharp kick to his ankle
which startled his eyes open.
"Owww," he groaned, as much from his head as from his now throbbing foot.
"Whatja do that for?"
He looked around in the shadowy darkness and knew the answer to that question.
Still, the young man on the dirt across from him looked a little worried. "I'm
sorry. You told me not to let you sleep more than a few seconds, but I've been
trying to wake you up for over an hour. I didn't know what else to do."
Tom brought his hands to his face and held up his head. It felt like it weighed
thirty kilos. "It's all right, Obrist," he said as he tried to get his bearings,
"you did the right thing."
Still, all he wanted to do was to sleep. Well, to sleep and to throw up. He felt
his stomach begin to rumble as he swallowed down the impulse to vomit. Not that
there was anything in his body to bring up: he hadn't eaten in almost a day. The
thought only made him more nauseous. He'd been drunk enough times to know that
the dry heaves were the worst.
"Is there anything I can do for you, Lieutenant?" Obrist asked. Considering that
they were trapped at the bottom of a slimy sinkhole, and the man's arm was
"Yep," Paris answered haltingly. "You can call me Tom." He sucked in a breath
and tried to hold back the dizziness. "And you can keep talking to me, keep me
awake." He knew if he fell asleep again, he risked slipping into a coma he might
never wake up from.
"All right...Tom," the young man said. "Your people," he asked, clearly
improvising a conversation, "are called Humans?"
Paris smiled. "Not exactly. I mean, yes, I'm a human and most of the crew on my
ship are, too. We're from a planet called Earth, a long way from here in the
Alpha Quadrant." Tom hissed as a twinge ran down his left arm. He tried to shake
it off, but the muscle seemed weak. He could barely lift it.
He kept talking to distract himself. "But we're part of a Federation, a group of
peaceful civilizations that have learned to work together. It's made up of
hundreds of difference races. Vulcans, Bolians, Bajorans...my wife is half-
Tom's voice drifted off as he thought of B'Elanna. She'd be worried about him,
he knew. Like she needed something else to worry about.
Obrist seemed to sense Paris's attention was waning and pulled him back into the
conversation. "Your wife? Is she with you on your ship or back on your
B'Elanna's face flashed before Tom in a stream of memories; he didn't even want
to try to imagine if she were all the way back on Earth. "She's our chief
engineer. And she's probably raising hell right now that I haven't come home to
her and our daughter."
He saw Obrist's eyes perk up. "You have a child?"
Tom smiled. "A little girl named Miral. She's about a year and a half, and is
already charming the socks off of every man she meets. I don't think I'm going
to let her out of the house until she turns thirty," he joked. "If we ever have
a house, that is."
There was a heavy silence as both men seemed to realize that any long-range
plans were probably wishful thinking at best. Still they were both injured and
there didn't seem to be any obvious way out of their predicament. They had to
wait for Voyager and the others to rescue them. What else was there to do except
"How about you?" Tom asked. "Are you married?"
The cavern was dark, but he could sense that Obrist was blushing. "No. But I've
been courting the same young woman for two years. She's a temporal
That was a term Paris had never heard before. "A what?"
The young Krenim man got quiet and Tom wondered what he was holding back. Then
he exhaled loudly and started answering Paris's question. "I'm named after my
alauron--my grandfather's grandfather. Two hundred years ago, he was part of a
group of temporal scientists who theorized that time could be harnessed,
reshaped, and used as a tool." He paused for a moment. "Or as a weapon. He and
his colleagues were only a few months away from testing their theories when the
primary scientist, a man named Annorax, decided to retire from research and
abandoned the experiment. He destroyed all of his findings, then wouldn't
explain why. Without him and the calculations he'd spent so many years
perfecting, the project fell apart."
Obrist's arm shifted and he hissed in pain. Tom realized it was his turn to
create a distraction. "Wow. So then, what does a temporal astrophysicist do?"
Paris could see the young man fighting to concentrate. "We've continued to study
temporal mechanics, and have made a few minor innovations. But some of the
leaders of our Imperium are pressing for us to try to recreate Annorax's
research, especially with the threat from the Sernaix. Cordinga--the woman I
mentioned--tracks astronomical phenomena over time and catalogues the changes
she sees, then speculates on how the timeline would be impacted if those events
were never to have occurred. If we ever do develop this ability--to alter the
course of history--the data she's helping to collect will be invaluable."
Tom got quiet for a moment as the impact of the Krenim's research sank in. "You
know, Obrist, my people have laws about that kind of thing. We realized a long
time ago that, what can seem like a good idea in one century might have
devastating effects on later generations. Our Temporal Prime Directive..."
As soon as the words came out of his mouth, Tom's mind flashed on the memory a
white-haired Admiral who looked remarkably like his Captain. In her own way,
hadn't Admiral Janeway done what Obrist's people were contemplating? Surely her
decision to help Voyager get home early had saved millions--maybe billions--of
lives that would now never be assimilated by the Borg. But what about the
others, people who would never be born or whose destinies would be altered
because of her actions? Hell, if Voyager had never left the Delta Quadrant the
first time, the Sernaix might still be trapped in their own layer of space and
this whole war might never have happened.
A situation that was very black and white only a few seconds earlier suddenly
seemed very gray.
"Lieutenant?" Obrist said, pulling Tom back into the conversation. "You were
saying something about a temporal directive?"
Paris swallowed hard. "Let's just say I understand how tempting it can be, to
find a quick fix to a problem by changing the past. And this weapon you describe
would be hard to walk away from. I just hope your people are wise enough to know
how dangerous it could be--and all the reasons *not* to use it."
There was an awkward silence. Tom knew he would have to remember to tell Captain
Janeway about the Krenim's plans for a temporal weapon. As much as he hated to
admit it to himself, there might be some way to adapt their technology to help
in the Alliance's fight against the Sernaix.
So much for inviolate principles, he thought to himself.
Obrist was shifting uncomfortably, and while Tom knew all too well how the cold,
damp cave floor was no fun to sit on, he wished the man would stay still. One
wrong move and his already broken arm could snap. A compound fracture would be
excruciatingly painful and in their filthy surroundings, could quickly turn
Paris wondered, then, how long it would be before they were rescued. Obrist said
he'd been asleep for over an hour--and there was no way of knowing how long he'd
been unconscious after the initial collapse. He hoped help would come soon; the
pain in his left arm was turning to numbness and he wondered if he was having
microseizures, or even a small stroke. If he did have a brain injury, there was
a narrow window of time to repair it before the damage might become permanent.
He remembered, then, the blast that had collapsed the evac site and caused their
cave-in in the first place. What if the Sernaix had discovered the Alliance
fleet and had staged an all-out attack? Maybe Voyager had to flee the area to
survive. Or what if they hadn't been able to get away? What if they'd been
destroyed? What if there was no one left to rescue them? Thoughts of B'Elanna
and Miral and Harry started playing through Tom's mind, like an old video
recorder on fast forward. He was working up to a full-fledged panic.
"So tell me more about your life. Are you a physician?" Obrist said out of
The absurdity of the question shook Tom out of himself and made him laugh. "Me?
No, I'm a pilot."
Obrist looked confused. "Back at the evacuation site, you were diagnosing the
injured. And my arm--"
"I was cross-trained as a medic," Tom interjected. "Actually, I spent a few
years as our Doctor's primary assistant. I guess I learned a thing or two about
medicine during that time. But if he heard you call me a physician, his
holomatrix would overload! You know, he and I made a pretty good team in our
All of the sudden, there was a loud grunting wail from the darkness to Tom's
left and a figure came sailing at him from nowhere. Before he could react, two
meaty hands clamped around his neck.
"I knew you were the one! You and that hologram!" It was Culluh, who Tom had
almost forgotten was there. The burly Kazon had heaved himself from his spot in
the shadows and was once again trying to choke Paris. This time, the man had
gravity, the element of surprise, and an hour's worth of rest on his side.
It wasn't a long trip to unconsciousness for Tom and he could tell he was
seconds away from blacking out when his attacker was flung backward and away
from him. He heard the man land with a grunt somewhere in the darkness. He
assumed that, once again, Obrist had come to his rescue.
"Are you okay, Tom?" he heard as a whisper through the din of high-pitched
Paris tried to sit very still and take inventory of his body. His left arm and
shoulder were now completely numb and his left leg was tingling as if it were
falling asleep. He could actually hear his blood pulsing in his ears, and he
didn't risk opening his eyes for fear that the spinning room would bring back
his queasiness. "I'll be fine," he told Obrist. "Just keep him off me."
Tom found himself hoping that his initial diagnosis of Culluh was right. One
more attack like that and the embolism in the Maje's lungs would probably
explode, killing him so that he or Obrist wouldn't have to. At the moment, that
was just fine with Paris. He hadn't survived so many close calls just to die at
the hands of that Kazon lunatic. He wouldn't give Seska the satisfaction.
"That's the second time he attacked you," Obrist said as he stood between Tom
and Culluh, cradling his fractured arm. "What reason would he have to want to
"He murdered my woman!" the Maje bellowed, before dissolving into a coughing
fit. "He and his hologram accomplice. They killed her, tore her away from the
infant son she nursed at her breast and left her to die like an animal."
"Is this true?" Obrist asked, clearly stunned by the accusation.
Tom struggled to stay conscious long enough to answer the charges against him.
"That's not the way it happened," he said, forcing himself to look at Culluh's
face. The man was leeching venom from his beady little eyes.
"Do you deny it?" the Maje grunted. "That she died at your hand?"
"Seska died trying to kill everyone I--"
"Answer me! Do you deny it, Federation?"
Tom wondered how he could possibly be losing a battle of wits with an unarmed
man. He also tried to figure out how much more pressure his head would take
before it exploded. "No," he finally admitted. "No, I don't."
Paris was slipping away again, and as he drifted off, the last thing he saw was
the look of shock and confusion on Obrist's face.
B'Elanna slowed down as she approached her quarters. She knew Miral should still
be sleeping, but--just in case--she didn't want her own agitation to upset the
baby. She punched in her access code and took a deep breath as the door opened.
The living room was quiet except for the sound of a soulful saxophone playing at
a low volume. Harry was asleep on the couch and B'Elanna peeked into the bedroom
to find Sam Wildman curled up on top of the comforter. She walked over to the
crib and touched Miral's cheek with the back of her hand. The baby was warm and
safe and sleeping soundly, her father's uniform jacket still tucked around her.
Sometime during the night, Miral had pulled the end of its sleeve into her fist
and was clutching it tightly as she slept. She was laying on her side, the wispy
curls at the back of her neck all damp and sweet and begging to be touched. But
B'Elanna didn't want to risk waking her. The coming day was likely to be
stressful enough on everyone. Let their daughter enjoy a few more hours of
She walked softly back to the living quarters and over to the couch. She reached
out her hand and touched Harry's shoulder, grateful that there was no sign of
his protective body shield. Her friend opened his eyes and blinked the sleep
away. "B'Elanna...what? What time is it?" She could watch his memory of where he
was--and why--come back to him. "Is there any news about Tom?"
Harry swung his feet to the floor and she sat down at his side. "No. It's almost
05:00. We're entering orbit over the colony, so I have to go soon, but I just
wanted to..." Her heart was racing once again and she wasn't sure how to ask
what she needed to know. "Harry, these powers of yours...do they let you, I mean
He cut her off, "B'Elanna, I'm not telepathic, if that's what you're asking. I
mean, I don't think I am."
"So," she said awkwardly, "you can't...sense Tom. If he's...if he's still
She could see the look of anguish come over her friend's face. "No." They sat
there quietly for a moment, before a look of determination came into Harry's
eyes. "But I know Tom Paris, and if anyone could survive this, it's him."
Torres nodded, willing herself to believe it. "I just wish I could sense him,
tell if he's okay, tell him to hang on and that we're coming for him."
Harry nodded. "B'Elanna, you don't have to worry about Tom giving up. He's the
most stubborn person I've ever met--except maybe you."
They both smiled at the undeniable truth. Then Kim looked directly into her
eyes. "Trust me: he loves his life now. And he'll do whatever it takes to come
back to it."
Even though she hadn't gotten the answers she was hoping for, B'Elanna felt
better. Harry surprised her, then, with the answer to a question she hadn't even
"Miral is dreaming," he said, plugging into the connection he had with their
daughter, "about Tom. And about you."
As uncomfortable as B'Elanna was with the changes in her baby and her friend, at
this moment, she found the idea that Harry could see into her daughter's dreams
"What are we all doing?" she asked.
Harry smiled. "It's a baby dream, so it's disjointed and doesn't make a lot of
sense. But you're smiling at her, feeding her breakfast, and Tom is...he's
dancing with her, singing something, some song I've never heard before. She's
happy. And she feels safe."
The words almost cracked B'Elanna's impenetrable resolve not to cry until this
crisis was over. "I hope that's true. And I hope her daddy is home in time to
sing her to sleep again tonight."
Harry smiled and stood up. "Then let's go bring him home so he can," he said,
holding out his hand.
"Are you sure you're feeling up to this?" B'Elanna worried.
He nodded, though she could tell he was still feeling weak. "My best friend is
down there somewhere. Try and stop me from helping to find him."
B'Elanna reached up and touched Harry's face, then pulled him into a tight hug.
Just then, they heard the com sound, "Senior officers to the bridge."
"That's our cue," she said, pulling away from him. "Let's go find my husband. So
I can kill him for scaring us all like this!"
The bridge was bustling with activity--all of which seemed to pause for a
microsecond when Harry Kim stepped off the lift. Kathryn was glad to see him up
and about, but didn't want to embarrass the young man by mentioning the
difficult time he'd been having. Instead, she spoke to the determined-looking
woman standing next to him. "B'Elanna, Chakotay and Seven have landed about 200
meters from the site of the collapse and are requesting that an engineering team
beam down to their command center."
"My team and I can be ready in ten minutes," Torres said, daring her captain to
pull her off this mission.
"Make it five," Janeway threw back at her. "We've used the astrometric sensors
to take some deep level readings of the planet's substrata. The magnetic ore is
blocking any lifesigns, but they have detected what could be voids in the rock
layers. There might be underground caverns still intact under the surface, but
we're going to need some way of scanning inside them."
"I'm on it," B'Elanna said as she walked to the stellar cartography station to
download the data.
"Harry," Kathryn said as another idea struck her. "I'd like you to report to the
science lab. I want you and the Doctor to take a look at that weapon we
retrieved from the colony. I'd like to see what makes it tick--and if the
Sernaix come back, we might need to be prepared to use it."
He seemed hesitant, and Janeway watched as a look passed between her ops officer
and her chief engineer. B'Elanna nodded her head, and it became clear to Kathryn
that Kim had hoped to help recover his friend. "Aye, Captain," he said as he
headed for the lift.
Kathryn was grateful that Kashyk had decided to go back to his own ship. He
didn't approve of her taking Voyager into orbit around the colony, and she
wondered if his commitment to help protect her and her crew would wane at some
point. Still, for the moment she had the Vidiian weapon--a fact the Devore
'captain' didn't know. Kathryn silently thanked Seven for her quick thinking in
transporting it off the Resnick before the shuttle went back into battle. She
only hoped the price they'd paid to retrieve it wouldn't be too painfully high.
Even stopping to change into her climbing uniform, B'Elanna had met her
captain's five-minute challenge with ten seconds to spare, and she paced the
floor of the transporter room waiting for the last two members of her team to
arrive. It seemed to take forever before the doors finally opened, and the two
men walked in, one behind the other.
"Vorik," she said, tossing the young Vulcan a fully loaded pack. "The rumor is
that you're an experienced rock climber."
He nodded. "Yes, sir. I spent several summers exploring--"
She cut him off. "So I hear. If we locate lifesigns beneath the surface, we may
need to lower someone down to set up transport enhancers. That will be your
B'Elanna turned to the very confused man standing beside Vorik. The question was
apparent on his face before it came out of his mouth. "So what am I doing here?
I'm not an engineer or a rock climber."
She met Mike Ayala's confusion with a confident gaze. "For a console jockey,
you're the strongest man I know. Someone's going to have to hold Vorik's rope."
She tossed the pilot his own pack and marched onto the transporter pad. The two
lieutenants joined her, Nicoletti, and a geologist named Johnson and prepared to
beam out. "Energize," she said.
They materialized at the edge of a clearing, with a huge chasm almost twenty
meters across just in front of their position. Chakotay and Seven were already
scanning the site with tricorders. B'Elanna dropped her gear and walked over to
them. "Anything?" she asked.
Seven shook her head, but kept scanning. Chakotay looked up at her and B'Elanna
saw concern flash quickly into and out of his eyes. He knew better than to
distract her with personal questions. She was an engineer on a mission. The most
important mission she'd ever lead.
He was all business as he answered her. "There are residual energy signatures
from the Sernaix blast, but I'm not seeing any evidence of the campsite."
B'Elanna turned and called toward her team. "Vorik!" He was at her side on the
double. "Do you recognize any landmarks? Any trees or foliage that might help
you figure out where Tom was standing the last time you saw him?"
The Vulcan scanned the treeline surrounding the impact crater. "I believe the
triage tent was near the far side of the chasm. Lieutenant Paris and Prelate
Obrist were running toward two Vidiian doctors who had just emerged from behind
this underbrush," he said, pointing to a charred shrub to B'Elanna's right.
"They were ahead of the blast impact point, I believe, which would put them
about five meters in this direction." He indicated a spot just in front of the
bush. A spot that was now three meters below them.
B'Elanna grabbed her tricorder and walked to the edge of the crater. She
compared the location to the astrometric scans and was relieved to see that it
aligned with several of the underground voids. It was the first good news she'd
had in a very long and difficult night.
She leaned over the edge of the hole and looked down. There were several
openings that reminded her of ant tunnels, and she wondered if they might let
air and light filter down into any caverns still intact below them. "Johnson,"
she called her geology expert to join her. "What do you make of that?" she
The woman peered over the edge and nodded. "It's a colander effect. When the
ground beneath a collapse has irregularly shaped caverns, the dirt can sift down
like flour in a colander. When the loose dirt above the opening has fallen
through, gaps like this are formed. But they're often very unstable. It doesn't
take much for the sides to cave in and clog the hole completely."
This changed B'Elanna's plan of attack. They couldn't risk digging down and
plugging up what might be Tom's only source of air. They needed a way to thread
something through the gaps without putting any weight on the surrounding soil.
She stood there for a moment wondering what to do next. Suddenly an idea
occurred to her. "Ayala!" she called over her shoulder. She kept talking as he
walked toward her. "Do you remember the Briar Bath?"
He looked confused, then a strange smile snuck across his face. "The water hole
on the Mandelis Colony? Sure. It took forever for those scratches to heal. Why?"
B'Elanna was still formulating her plan as she answered. "How would you like to
go fishing with me again?"
He looked over the edge and seemed to follow her train of thought. "Any time.
But what do we use as bait?"
Bait! The word knocked the final pieces of the puzzle into place. "Leave that to
me," she said. "Torres to Voyager..."
Harry was having trouble concentrating. Whether it was the overall weakness he'd
been feeling lately or his preoccupation with the mission to rescue Tom, he was
struggling to concentrate on the data in front of him.
The Doctor, however, was busy analyzing the computer's scans of the Vidiian
weapon. "By all outward appearances, this is a variation on a standard torpedo,
yet the delivery mechanism is most unusual. I'm reading a fluctuating chronoton
field and some kind of biomatter storage chamber."
Harry tried to focus. "That's not unexpected," he said. "We knew the Vidiians
were using their advancements in medicine to develop a biological agent. Though,
if you ask me, I can't believe we'd consider helping them make one of their
The EMH bristled at the comment. "I think it would benefit this crew to remember
that not every Vidiian we encountered was a monster bent on stealing their
organs. It's unfair to judge an entire race of people based on the actions of
their desperate, misguided government."
Harry knew why this was such a sensitive topic for the Doctor. The EMH had
gotten to know a Vidiian woman, a doctor named Denara Pel, who had actually
seemed like a kind, compassionate person. She'd helped Voyager's crew save the
lives of Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay--and Tom had told him that the
Doc had some kind of romantic crush on her.
Still, Harry had his own memories of the Vidiians, including clutching a tiny
baby in his arms as he dodged the lifeless bodies of his crewmates. He would
never forget the terror he felt as he made his way to the spatial rift and to
safety aboard a duplicate version of Voyager--just before his own ship self-
He'd never told anyone, but as he ran that day, he'd almost tripped over a dead
crewman in the corridor just outside of sickbay. He would never forget the
feeling of seeing Tom Paris's lifeless body lying there at his feet.
At the moment, it was an especially chilling memory, and Harry fought to shake
"Forgive me, Doc, but some of us have trouble forgiving and forgetting that
easily." Kim was running his hands along the underside of the torpedo casing as
he spoke, and he quickly found what he was looking for. A small access panel
slid back and a vial of some kind of liquid lifted up from inside. "There's your
biomatter," he said, changing the subject back to the mission at hand. "But it's
protected by some kind of dampening agent. I guess they didn't want the Sernaix
scanning it and learning what they were up to."
Kim took two steps back from the table. "Computer," the Doctor called out,
"erect a Level 9 containment field over workstation 2-Alpha." Harry heard the
*plink* of the forcefield as it engaged, protecting him and the rest of the lab
from any biological agents inside the vial.
The Doctor broke the seal and extracted a few grams of the liquid on a tiny
pipette. He sealed the entire rod into an analysis tube and closed both
containers. "Decontaminate workstation 2-Alpha," he instructed the computer. In
a moment the area was cleaned of any biological contaminants and the forcefield
Harry retracted the vial back into the torpedo as the EMH began a microcellular
scan. "Unbelievable," the Doctor muttered under his breath. "If this does what I
think it does, I think perhaps you might have been right about our Vidiian
'allies.' Perhaps some of these leopards cannot 'change their spots' so easily."
Harry was just about to look at the findings when he heard the com channel open.
"Bridge to the Doctor," Captain Janeway called.
The physician's eyebrows jumped. "Doctor here. You must have been reading my
mind, Captain. I was just about to call you. I believe I have discovered the
secret of this weapon, and I think you should--"
"Later, Doctor," Janeway interrupted. "Right now, I need you to go on an away
mission. Get your mobile emitter and transport down to the surface."
The two men looked at each other. Did this mean they'd found Tom--alive, but
injured? "Should I bring my trauma kit?" the Doctor asked, a hint of hope in his
The captain's answer didn't end the mystery. "I don't know if you'll need it,
but you should probably take it just in case. Janeway out."
The EMH turned to Harry. "This will be faster if I transfer myself to sickbay.
Contact Commander Tuvok on a secure channel and have him post a security detail
outside that door. And whatever you do, don't let anyone from the Alliance
discover my findings."
Harry nodded as the doctor tapped the holographic projector controls and winked
out of sight. Before Kim called Tuvok, though, he walked over to see the test
results that had the EMH so concerned.
Harry was no cellular biologist, but even he could grasp the implications of
what he was reading. "Damn, them," he said under his breath, before beginning an
encoded message marked 'Security Chief Eyes Only.'
"I'm a doctor, not a fishing lure!" The EMH was huffing like a blowfish, but
B'Elanna didn't want to hear it.
"You're the only one who can do this, Doctor, and if there's a chance Tom and
the others are alive down there, we need to get them out now."
He didn't seem convinced. "There has to be some other way. If my mobile emitter
is damaged while my program is downloaded into it, I'll be killed!"
Torres wondered if he knew how close she was to killing him herself at the
moment. "We won't let that happen. But, if you have another brilliant plan,
now's the time."
The EMH blew out a holographic breath. "I don't," he admitted reluctantly. "And
*your* brilliant plan would be...?"
B'Elanna had already begun adjusting the controls on his sleeve as she spoke.
"We've used your emitter as a kind of tricorder before. A few quick
modifications, then we deactivate you and lower it into the opening. We should
be able to get some rudimentary readings, at least enough to know if there's
anyone alive down there."
"And if you do find them? What then?"
She didn't want to tell him that she hadn't thought it through that far. "Let's
hope we have to cross that bridge eventually. Are you ready?"
The Doctor inhaled--for effect she assumed--and nodded. Two quick presses of his
emitter and he winked out of sight.
'Hang on just a little longer, Tom,' she thought as she affixed the emitter to
the end of a length of polarized cable. Then she turned to Ayala. "Time to cast
off," she said.
Tom was losing the battle with consciousness. But if he blacked out again, he
knew that would end of his chance to make it home alive. To see B'Elanna and
Miral again. He forced his eyes open and saw Obrist sitting along the far wall
staring at him.
"I thought you were going to help me stay awake," Paris mumbled.
His Krenim friend was changed, somehow. Distant, reserved. "I tried," Obrist
answered evenly. "You wouldn't respond."
Tom wondered how long he'd been out this time. Not that it mattered anymore.
"I'm dying," he said flatly. There was a truth to be accepted and now was the
time. "A blood vessel in my brain is leaking and it's going to kill me before
too long. The next time I drift off, I won't wake up again. So do what you can
to keep me here." There was a look of hesitation in the young man's eyes.
"Please," Tom asked.
"I'll do whatever I can to help you," Obrist finally answered as his expression
Paris took a chance and looked at the figure lying silently in the shadows.
"Culluh?" he asked.
Obrist shook his head. "I think he's dead. His breathing got very labored after
you passed out. He was gasping for air, then he suddenly stopped. He hasn't
moved in quite a while."
It was strange how little comfort Tom took from that thought. Here this man had
expended his last breath trying to kill him, and yet none of it meant anything.
All those years of hating 'Federations' had cost him everything--including his
Tom could feel Obrist staring at him, watching for some reaction. "I'm sorry,"
he said, wondering if he really meant it--or if he was just too embarrassed to
let his new Krenim friend see him take comfort in someone else's death.
"Are you?" Obrist asked, not accusing Tom of anything, but sounding genuinely
curious. "He told me some things before he died."
'This should be interesting,' Paris thought. "What did he say?"
"He said that your people had technology that would have saved Kazon lives, yet
you refused to share it with them."
Tom wondered if he had enough time or energy to explain. "It's true," he said.
"We would have given them humanitarian aid: food, water, medicine. But our laws
prohibit us from sharing technology with less advanced races. It could have
changed the balance of power in the entire region. Not to mention that the Kazon
were ruthless murderers."
Obrist blanched at the comment. "It's strange. That's the way he described you."
No doubt, Tom thought. "Is it true that your captain lured the leaders of every
Kazon sect into an ambush under the guise of creating a peaceful alliance?"
'What?' Then Paris thought back to their brief encounter with the Trabe. "We
were tricked into believing that would be a real peace conference. As soon as
Captain Janeway figured out what was going on, she warned the Kazon. But it was
Tom took a deep breath. The conversation was upsetting him--the very thought
that someone could paint the Kazon as the innocent victims of Federation
aggression was almost too much to endure. "Listen, Obrist, we've known each
other for less than a day, and I know you don't know anything about me or my
people. But from the moment we met, I had this strange feeling that I could
trust you. And I'm asking you to trust me."
Paris hissed as a wave of pain shot down his left leg, just before it went
completely numb. Obrist started to reach for him, but Tom waved him off. "Look,
if there was some deathbed confession to be made, now would be the time. But my
conscience is clear."
Still, Tom hated that he was spending his last moments having to relive some of
his worst days in the Delta Quadrant. "The 'woman' Culluh told you about--she
was once a member of Voyager's crew. But she wasn't who we thought she was, and
she ended up helping the Kazon lure us into a series of traps. She and Culluh
and their goons beat a friend of mine almost to death, then a few weeks later
ambushed Voyager and left our entire crew to die with no food or water. I was
able to get away, though, and our Doctor and I finally took back the ship.
Seska--Culluh's girlfriend--was killed in an explosion during the battle. I
didn't kill her. Not the way he implied, anyway."
Was he equivocating, splitting hairs about his responsibility for Seska's death?
Tom didn't care anymore. All he cared about was clearing his name before he
died. "Any casualties the Kazon took at the hands of my shipmates were in self-
defense. We were never the aggressors. It's not who we are. I hope you'll
He saw Obrist wrestling with his feelings before nodding in agreement. "I
believe you," the young man said. "And I suppose who's the villain and who's the
victim depends on which chair you're seated in at the time."
Tom thought about that for a minute. And he realized that some situations which
had once seemed so cut-and-dried to him now seemed muddy. The Kazon *had*
suffered at the hands of the Trabe. Yes, they were thugs and bullies, but their
children often *did* go without food or medicine. And he wondered about Seska's
and Culluh's son. He'd be about seven now, with both his parents dead. That boy
hadn't asked for the life he was born into.
The thought led him to his own child, and then to B'Elanna. A strange thought
struck him then: there was a time when the Federation considered *Klingons*
monsters, "ruthless murderers." Now, all he could think of was the face of his
half-Klingon wife. He wished he could see her one more time...
Maybe it was a mistake to make blanket judgments about the ethics of an entire
race--maybe living a principled life was more complicated than he sometimes
liked to think. And maybe Obrist was right about it all being relative.
It wouldn't be long now, Tom realized. He was having trouble keeping his eyes
open and knew he'd have to decide soon, whether to keep fighting or embrace the
inevitable. And he felt sorry for Obrist who might have to sit in their hellhole
for days, surrounded by death, waiting to --
Just then the light from the shaft above them flickered and a shower of dirt
rained down on their heads. Tom shielded his eyes, but didn't have the strength
to move away.
Obrist, however, was standing up and reaching for something above his head. "I
think they've found us!" he was saying as he jumped up to grab at the ceiling
with his good arm.
Tom could hear him hissing in pain, but couldn't see what was happening. "What
is it?" he asked.
"Got it!" was Obrist's answer. In a moment, the Krenim engineer was kneeling
next to him. "It's some kind of a device," he said as he lifted Tom's right palm
and placed his treasure inside.
As soon as it hit Tom's hand, he recognized the unique shape and hardness of the
emitter. A few now-instinctual taps of his thumb and Paris heard a distinctive
shimmering sound, like music to his ears.
Obrist, on the other hand, jumped up and almost fell over at the sight of the
man now kneeling on the ground at Paris's side.
"What took ya so long, Doc?" Tom said, trying not to let the adrenaline rush of
his impending rescue throw him into cardiac arrest.
He forced his eyes open a crack and could see the look of concern in his old
friend's eyes. Even without a medical tricorder, Paris's friendly family doctor
could see that his former assistant was in pretty bad shape. "What is it with
you and caves, Lieutenant?" the EMH teased before hitting his commbadge.
"Doctor to Away Team. I need you to have my trauma kit beamed to this location
Tom could feel himself losing consciousness as he heard the whir of a
transporter beam. It would be his luck to die just as the cavalry arrived.
He smelled something sweet and familiar. "Hey," he heard a familiar voice that
was very clearly not the Doctor's. Then he felt someone take his hand. "Open
your eyes." He forced them open again and saw B'Elanna kneeling next to him in a
variation of a climbing uniform that reminded him of Sakari. He wondered for a
second if he was hallucinating; she looked too good to be real.
"It's nice to know you still follow orders," she teased him as she squeezed his
He used his last ounce of strength to squeeze back. "Yes, ma'am," he whispered.
"You're going to be just fine, Mister Paris," he heard the Doctor say he felt as
a hypo press into his neck. "Just relax and go to sleep."
Sleep. Finally. But after wanting nothing more than to close his eyes for hours,
all he wanted to do now was keep them open. Tom made himself focus on B'Elanna's
face until the drug finally knocked him out.
"How were they able to transport from under that magnetic ore?" Kathryn asked
Chakotay as they debriefed in her ready room.
He was about to answer, but was cut off by a beaming EMH. "An ingenious use of
my mobile emitter, if I do say so. Lieutenant Torres hooked it to a length of
deuotronic circuitry cable and used it to lower me into the void. I was able to
relay my com signal through the cable to the surface, and, subsequently, a
transporter beam in and out of the cavern."
"Thank you, Doctor," the captain said, marveling at her holographic friend's
ability to take credit for anything that involved him. "I understand you also
located the bodies of the Vidiian physicians and...Maje Culluh." She could
barely make herself say the name.
Chakotay's face immediately turned grim. "I suppose he's keeping Seska company
in hell right about now," he said, not able to conceal his pain at being
reminded of the woman who had betrayed him--betrayed them all.
"I'm afraid that's not all I was able to locate," the Doctor said, handing the
captain a PADD. "I have completed my analysis of the weapon we recovered from
Kathryn scanned the data, then looked up at Chakotay and shook her head. It was
as bad as they'd feared--worse even. She was livid as she paced her office
floor, smacking the PADD against her palm as she walked. "Are you certain,
Doctor?" she asked, even though, as a scientist herself, she already knew the
"Yes, Captain," the EMH answered. "The biological agent in the weapon is a
Sernaix blood factor that controls cell regeneration. When used with the
Krenim's chronoton trigger, it causes the normal Sernaix aging process to
accelerate at a geometric rate. Once it's perfected, the process will cause
rapid cell necrosis. In essence, the victim will 'age to death' in a matter of
Janeway thought back to an ill-considered alien research project for which her
crew had been the guinea pigs. Something similar had happened to Chakotay--he'd
begun to age overnight--only not nearly as quickly. She realized the
implications of this news. "And in those hours, the person who is infected
suffers an agonizing and torturous death?"
The physician nodded. "I'm afraid so. Imagine the sensation of feeling your body
die around you, one system at a time. Even if they were to increase the rate of
necrosis--reduce the process to a few minutes instead of a few hours--it would
still qualify as torture under Federation guidelines."
Kathryn shook her head. "Federation guidelines or no, I won't be a party to this
kind of barbarism. We're fighting for our principles as surely as we're fighting
for our lives."
The Doctor nodded his agreement. "Apparently the more cynical members of the
crew were right about some of our Vidiian allies. Personally, I can't understand
how physicians can be party to this sort of experimentation. It seems that
Hippocrates never made it to this part of the Delta Quadrant."
Chakotay seemed to agree. "I'm also concerned about the temporal experiments the
Krenim have been conducting. So far, they've proven themselves the lesser of our
Alliance evils, but based on what I saw and the things Tom reported, I don't
think we can afford to let our guard down."
Tuvok, as always, was concerned with more practical matters. "The Devore and
Krenim commanders are requesting a meeting, Captain. They are no doubt wondering
if we were able to secure the weapon."
Kathryn turned to face him. "Who else knows about these findings?"
The Vulcan's flawless memory began reciting the names. "Commander Chakotay and
Seven of Nine. Lieutenant Kim. The Doctor. You. Myself."
Chakotay seemed to sense what she was thinking. "If I'm right about what you're
planning and Kashyk finds out--"
"You leave 'Captain' Kashyk to me," she said, knowing that was easier said than
done where her first officer was concerned. "Besides, who knows how long it will
take the Vidiians to amass enough Sernaix biomatter to recreate their device. At
the very least, this will buy us some time to come up with another way." As if
on cue, the door chime sounded. "Tuvok, you know what to do?"
The commander nodded. "The data on their research as well, I assume?"
"Everything," she said, nodding. "Now, gentlemen, if you'll excuse me...I have a
performance to give."
The three officers headed out onto the bridge, Chakotay shooting her an
uncomfortable glance as he passed. As they left, Kashyk stepped inside her
office followed by a security 'honor guard.'
"Captain, I hear your crewman and the Krenim man were rescued. Congratulations."
His voice had long ago begun to grate on her nerves, but today Kathryn returned
his syrupy inflections with her own.
"And my condolences on the loss of Mister Plaxt," she said. "I hear from
Lieutenant Paris that he was a model Devore officer."
The expression on Kashyk's face flashed a hint of curiosity at her comment, but
he seemed to dismiss it just as quickly. "A tragic loss, of course," he said.
"I'm afraid we've suffered another 'tragic loss,'" Janeway said, feeling for a
moment like her arachnid alter ego. "My officers have just informed me that the
weapon we worked so hard to salvage was lost during our battle with the
She could see Kashyk's eyes pinch at the news. "Lost? I was under the impression
that it was recovered without incident."
Janeway nodded. "It was. But when we went back to rescue the Delta Flyer, the
shuttle Commander Chakotay was piloting was struck by a Sernaix disruptor. The
cargo bay depressurized, and I'm afraid your device was sucked out into space."
She watched the plastered-on grin slide off Kashyk's face. "I know what a
disappointment this will be to you and to the others."
He stared at her for a moment, and she wondered if he would dispute her claim.
After a second, though, he smiled that snake-like grin she'd grown to despise.
"Yes...well, it was a valiant effort. And, at least we have 'lived to fight
another day,' I suppose. Perhaps our future collaborations will be
"Perhaps," she said, before deciding to make her boundaries perfectly clear--and
turning the screws ever so slightly. "Now if you will excuse me, I have a
private dinner engagement I need to attend to."
Kashyk stood there for a moment studying her eyes, and then turned to leave. As
he reached the door to the ready room, he turned back to face her. "You know,
thanks to your crew, we were able to rescue the scientists who created that
prototype. It won't be long before they're able to duplicate their research and
Message received. "Well, then," she said, wondering what she'd do if that day
ever came, "I trust that, when that comes to pass, I'll finally get the chance
to see your impressive handiwork. But until then, perhaps we should look for
other ways to defeat our common enemy." Then she stared him down, determined not
to give the man a moment's doubt about her resolve. He eventually 'blinked
first,' before being escorted back to the transporter room.
Kathryn was immediately reminded of the phrase 'honor among thieves.' She'd
violated the trust of her Alliance partners to preserve her own principles--and
didn't have one iota of regret about doing so. They would win this battle, she
had no doubt about it. But they would do it on her terms.
She walked out onto the bridge and took her seat next to Chakotay. "So?" he
asked, clearly curious about the encounter.
"So," she mimicked back to him, deciding the details could wait until later when
they could speak privately, "how about if we make a little detour on our way to
He sighed and smiled at the same time. "All right. But one day you're going to
have to tell me how you're able to charm your way out of these situations."
She tried not to laugh at his insinuation as they walked together to the
turbolift. "And give away all of my secrets? A woman needs an air of mystery,
you know." She didn't look back at him, but she knew Chakotay was smiling.
The door chime hadn't stopped sounding all night. Tom felt a little awkward
holding court on his sofa in a robe and pajamas, but the Doctor had insisted he
stay off his feet for at least three days. There didn't really seem to be a
point to getting dressed.
At least that's what he thought before the parade of company started passing
First it was Mike Ayala, who brought him a scale model of the Delta Flyer--
complete with burns and scrapes and hull ruptures commemorating its current
condition--along with a promise that it would be shipshape before Paris was back
on duty. Tom was glad to see his friend hadn't lost his sick sense of humor.
Sam Wildman had reminded him of their own time trapped underground, and
suggested that maybe he start carrying a spare oxygen canister and a long rope
with him on away missions. And Baytart reassured him that he'd keep his seat at
the helm warm as long as necessary. Tom was pretty sure Pablo wouldn't mind if
he decided to extend his medical leave for a few months or so--it was a poorly
guarded secret that the man had ambitions to be chief helmsman one day.
Finally, B'Elanna was able to kick out everyone except Harry and Seven, and--as
much as Tom enjoyed his friends' company--he was anxious for them to leave, too.
He needed some time alone with his family. So he couldn't help but shoot his
wife a visual distress signal when their 'doorbell' rang one more time.
He started to stand up as the captain and Chakotay entered, but Kathryn waved
him back down. "At ease, Mister Paris. This is a social call, not an
Janeway walked over and sat on the arm of the couch, putting a hand on Tom's
shoulder. "How are you feeling?" she asked in that maternal way she had when one
of her crew was injured.
"Fine," he said, overstating things a bit. "I still have a little tingling in my
left arm and leg, but the Doc says that will clear up as soon as the nerves are
done regenerating. I should be good as new in a few days."
He could see that look in Kathryn's eyes--the look his mother used to give him
when he'd get patched up after falling out of a tree or seeing if he could fly
by jumping off the porch roof using his bed sheets as a parachute. He was
grateful, though, that she didn't scold him for being careless. They both knew
those days were long over.
"What about the weapon?" Tom asked, hoping their mission at least accomplished
something worthwhile. He could see a strange look pass between the captain and
"It wasn't what we hoped it would be," she answered cryptically. "It won't help
us, I'm afraid."
Her comments dampened the mood for a moment, and she seemed to want to change
the subject. Tom wondered if there was something more to the story, but knew
better than to ask.
"Well, can I get you something to drink, Captain?" He heard B'Elanna ask, trying
to be a good hostess. He held his breath, waiting for Janeway's answer. When
would his well-intentioned houseguests take the hint...?
Kathryn was just about to ask for a cup of coffee, when she saw the Klingon
version of the 'evil eye' being shot in her direction. It didn't take a phaser
to hit her before she got the subliminal message her chief engineer was sending.
"No, thank you," she said as stood up. "We can only stay for a minute."
She walked over to Chakotay and nodded her head toward the door. "Ready,
Commander?" she asked pointedly. She was surprised that he didn't seem to take
"In just a moment," he said before walking over to where Seven was sitting.
Kathryn saw him tap the young woman on her shoulder, then pull her away to speak
This was an interesting development, she thought. There was a time when seeing
Chakotay having a quiet conversation with Seven would have brought up some
feelings best left buried. Maybe it was a sign of how far they had come that all
she felt now was a vague sense of curiosity. Kathryn moved to sit with Harry,
and knew that Chakotay would tell her about his conversation if she asked. She
also knew that she trusted him--trusted their relationship--enough to leave it
"Commander?" Seven asked as they stepped away from their friends. "Is something
Chakotay smiled and pulled out an isolinear chip from his sleeve. "No, nothing's
wrong. But I promised I'd help you think of a 'welcome home present' for Harry."
Seven blinked in surprise. "With everything that happened, I'd almost
forgotten." She seemed less nervous than she had a moment earlier, but was
obviously still a little confused. "You didn't have to go to any effort," she
He smiled. "It was no effort. Just a gesture--between two friends."
She seemed to relax a little more. "Thank you." Then in typically blunt Seven
fashion, "What is it?"
Chakotay shrugged. "Actually, I'm not sure. When I was helping Tom home from
sickbay this afternoon, I asked him if he could think of something that would
cheer Harry up. He smiled and said he knew just the thing. He told me to tell
you that it was something for Constance, umm..."
"Constance Goodheart," she filled in the blank. "The secretary in the 'Captain
Proton' holonovel? I played that role once several years ago in an attempt to
improve my social skills. I don't understand the connection."
Chakotay suddenly wondered if he should have trusted the suggestion of a man
pumped full of heavy medication. "Tom said for me to tell you that, should you
ever decide to reenact the role, this time you'll be dressed for the part."
He watched Seven blush from her neck up, and she turned to look in Paris's
direction. Chakotay saw Tom smile and raise his water glass as a silent toast in
"If it's a bad idea--" Chakotay said, now worried about what was actually on the
"No," Seven cut him off. "I think it will make the perfect gift for Harry." She
exhaled and smiled awkwardly. "Thank you."
As she walked away, Chakotay wondered exactly what it was he'd just given her.
He saw Tom grinning from ear to ear, and decided he probably didn't really want
It only took ten more minutes before his friends caught on to B'Elanna's less
than subtle hints and headed home. Finally, Tom watched the doors to their
quarters close behind Harry and Seven, and he let out a huge sigh of relief.
"Thank god," B'Elanna said as she picked up the dirty glasses and cups that now
littered their quarters. "I thought I was going to have to get down the
Tom grinned. "Now, you won't let *me* play with it, so don't *you*..." He was
interrupted by the chirp of their door announcer. "I changed my mind. Just don't
cut yourself taking it off the wall."
B'Elanna grinned at him as she went to see who could have the unmitigated gall
to show up on their doorstep so late. Tom saw a look of confusion on her face as
she greeted the person in the corridor. "Can I help you?"
Paris looked past her to see Obrist--who seemed to be on the verge of changing
his mind about his decision to drop by. Before the man could leave, Tom pulled
himself to his feet. "It's okay, B'Elanna," he said as he leaned on the end of
the couch. "He's a friend."
She looked over at Tom and seemed to bite back an impulse to tell him to sit
down. "Won't you come in?" she said to their guest instead.
Just then Tom heard Miral start crying softly. B'Elanna waited for Obrist to
step inside before she excused herself.
"She's probably wondering what all the commotion is," she said, nodding toward
the bedroom. "Maybe I can sing her back to sleep before she wakes up all the
way." Tom watched his wife take a long, questioning look at their houseguest
before she left them alone.
There was an awkward silence between the two men before Tom took the initiative
and spoke up. "How's that arm doing?"
Since there was no sling or bandage in sight, it was a pretty rhetorical
question, yet it served its ice-breaking purpose. "Good as new," Obrist
answered. "Your Doctor told me how lucky I was that you immobilized it as
quickly as you did. Thank you."
Tom smiled awkwardly. "It was nothing. Really."
They stood there for another minute, neither man saying anything--then they both
spoke at the same time.
They chuckled at the uncomfortableness of it all. Instead of finishing his
thought, Tom hobbled over to his desk and picked up a datapad. "Here," he said
to his guest, "I want you to have this."
Obrist looked confused. "I don't understand," he said.
Tom took a deep breath and looked into the Krenim man's eyes. "It's my log
entries and the official Federation record of every one of our encounters with
the Kazon. I know it's still just my word against Culluh's, but I wanted you to
know that I wasn't lying about what I said. I didn't murder Seska. I did what I
thought I had to back then, and I'd do it again if the situation were the same."
The young engineer took the PADD and nodded. "Thank you. But I don't need this,"
he said. "I came here to apologize for doubting you. You were nothing but kind
to me, and I can't stop thinking about something you told me down in that
Tom cocked his head to the side. "What was that?" he asked.
Obrist looked embarrassed. "You told me that you knew you could trust me from
the moment we first met," he answered, blushing a pale shade of green. "But you
should know that my commandant sent me on that mission to spy on you and your
crewmates. He didn't trust you. I didn't trust you."
Tom was blown away by his confession--which didn't seem to be over. "We Krenim
have fought our share of wars and battles with aliens who lied and cheated to
get what they wanted. And I was against our alliance at first. I wanted you to
know...that I was wrong."
Tom could hardly believe what he was hearing. But he had his own confession to
make. "Thank you for being honest with me. The truth is, this Alliance didn't
exactly sit well with me either. And I'll tell you that your ideas about
temporal technology scare the hell out of me."
Obrist nodded. "Sometimes they 'scare the hell' out of me, too," he said
candidly. "But there are times when you have to do whatever it takes to protect
your family, your way of life."
It was a feeling Tom knew all too well.
"In case our paths don't cross again," Obrist continued, "I want to thank you
and your people for saving my life. And for, well, for your friendship. It's
been my privilege to get to know you."
Just then, B'Elanna appeared from their bedroom door, a sleeping baby in her
arms. "Are we interrupting anything?" she asked as she looked at Tom. He
realized he'd have to remember to tell her about his time in the caves, and
about the young Krenim engineer who had kept him awake and talking--and alive.
His new friend's face lit up as he looked at Tom's two favorite 'girls.' "This
is your daughter Miral?" he asked. "She's as beautiful as you said. As is your
B'Elanna shot Tom a look that was equal parts embarrassment and thanks. Paris
smiled back at her as he spoke. "I'm just glad you got the chance to meet them.
And I hope you'll give my best to Cordinga the next time you're together."
They stood there for another awkward moment before Obrist handed back the PADD
Tom had offered. "Well, I should be going," he said before turning toward
B'Elanna and Miral. "Nice to have met you both."
When he left, Tom sank back onto the couch and felt his exhaustion catch up with
him. B'Elanna walked over to sit with him, and he reached out a hand to stroke
Miral's sleeping face. It occurred to him then that B'Elanna did seem as
uncomfortable as she had lately when holding their daughter.
"I'm gone one day and you're already taking over my job singing her to sleep,"
he said, smiling.
B'Elanna shook her head, but smiled back at him. "No, she wants you to do that.
But I'll be feeding her breakfast more often. Now that I know she likes me to."
Tom wondered what the heck she was talking about. "B'Elanna, if you're about to
tell me *you've* developed some strange mental powers, I'm checking back into
sickbay and having the Doc check my head again."
She laughed at a joke that would have made her uncomfortable only a few days
earlier. "No danger there," she said. "And I won't pretend that I like what's
happening to Miral and to Harry. But at least I know now that our baby feels
happy and safe and loved." She snuggled into the arm he'd wrapped tightly around
her shoulder. "And right now, so do I."
It was ironic, Tom realized. His experience in the caves had made him acutely
aware of how precarious their happiness was. He'd started to feel incredibly
protective of B'Elanna and Miral, almost afraid to let them out of his sight.
Yet it seemed to have had the opposite effect on B'Elanna. She seemed ready,
finally, to draw strength from their just being together as a family. And she
seemed to have found some measure of peace about their daughter's unusual
abilities, even if it was only for this night.
Tom felt himself starting to drift off to sleep, and he yawned loudly in
B'Elanna's ear. She pulled away from his arm and smiled. "Looks like I have to
put my daughter to bed so I can put my husband to bed. You really need to get
He smiled. "You can put me to bed any time, any day, any place." She just rolled
her eyes as she stood up.
"Come on, sweetie," she whispered in Miral's ear. "Don't go anywhere," she said
over her shoulder to Tom as she carried the baby back to the bedroom. "It's your
As he waited for her to come back, Tom took a long look around their quarters.
There was a time the night before when he didn't think he'd see his home or his
family again. Even in the middle of this crazy war, he couldn't think of any
place else in the universe he'd rather be.
And he thought about the mission that had almost ended his life. Even though the
weapon had been a bust, they'd saved a lot of innocent lives, and he'd come away
from his experience grateful that the captain was doing everything she could to
win the war--even if they had to trust strangers and old adversaries to do it.
She'd proven that it didn't mean they'd have to sacrifice their principles and
values. They wouldn't have to become what they despised.
It seemed to take B'Elanna forever to come back for him, and Tom considered
hobbling to bed without her help. After a moment, though, she appeared at their
bedroom doorway--wearing her climbing uniform...unzipped to the navel and with
no shirt underneath.
He smiled like an idiot, but shook his head. "B'Elanna, it's not that I'm not
grateful as all hell to see you dressed like that, but--"
She smiled back at him as she slinked over to help him stand up. "I know: you
need a rain check until your strength comes back. I just wanted you to give you
something else to dream about besides that cave."
Tom laughed and shook his head. And he made a note to tell the Doc about his
wife's experimental new treatment for post-traumatic stress.
When he got to his feet, he pulled her against him and kissed her deeply. He
could see a single tear forming in the corner of her eye as she pulled away from
"Thanks for living," she said softly.
He could feel a lump forming in his throat, and he let his thumb caress her
cheek as he dried her tear. "Thanks for giving me a reason to," he whispered
back to her. Then he let her help him to their bed, where he knew--without a
doubt--what he'd be dreaming of.