Down Deep, Part 2

Written by  on July 26, 2002 


Tom faces the truth about old enemies and new friends as he fights for his principles…and his life.

Written by Barbara Watson
Edited by SaRa
Produced by SaRa, MaquisKat and Coral

Stardate Unknown
Released 26 Jul 2002

B’Elanna’s heart was racing as she stepped into the turbolift. "Bridge," she barked impatiently.

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 damn time.

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 unpredictable.

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 Chakotay, report."

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 disappeared."

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 to rescue?

"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 at it."

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 kill you?"

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 ground.

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 never express.

"You’re hurt," she finally said.

He seemed embarrassed at her concern. "The navigation console overloaded," the pilot muttered.

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 approached her.

"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-in?"

Vorik shook his head. "No, sir. My view was blocked by the debris from the blast."

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 said softly.

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 alone.

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 Baron 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…"

"Lieutenant Paris."

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 fractured…

"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-Klingon."

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 homeworld?"

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 keep talking?

"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 astrophysicist."

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 life-threatening.

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 nowhere.

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 day."

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 ringing.

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 hurt you?"

"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 blissful sleep.

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 can you—"

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 alive?"

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 considered asking.

"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 strangely comforting.

"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 job."

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 asked.

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 torture devices."

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-destructed.

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 it off.

"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 was deactivated.

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 voice.

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 softened.

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 life.

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 too late."

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 believe that."

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 right away."

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 fingers.

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 the colony."

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 answer.

"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 hours."

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 Sernaix."

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 more…fruitful."

"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 build another."

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 dinner?"

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 through.

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 inspection."

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 first officer.

"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 her hint.

"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 privately.

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 at that.

"Commander?" Seven asked as they stepped away from their friends. "Is something wrong?"

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 said awkwardly.

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 their direction.

"If it’s a bad idea—" Chakotay said, now worried about what was actually on the chip.

"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 to know…

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 bat’leth."

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 cavern."

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 lovely wife."

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 some rest."

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 turn next."

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 him.

"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.

Category : VoyagerVVSP

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