AUTHOR'S NOTE: This was written for Delwin, as part of the 2013 VAMB Secret Santa exchange. She asked for a "Starfleet and Maquis crews blending (more or less successfully as the author chooses) story featuring Paris, Torres or both. Banter and/or technobabble a plus," and was there ever a more perfect prompt? The story takes place early in Season #1, shortly after "The Phage." As it happens, Delwin – soul sister! - drew my prompt in the same exchange (neither of us knew we were writing for the other…) and wrote the absolutely wonderful "Blind Draw", for which this could almost be a companion piece. Please check it out once it's posted!
I'm not sure my recipient expected her gift to be quite so Tom-centric, but that's how it came out – part of the arc in my personal Voyager 'verse that starts with "Downfall" and "Grace," and continues with "Questions" and "Choices" all the way to "Responsibilities" and beyond. (And before y'all ask, yes, "Proof of Life" will be pulled out of stasis at some point soon(ish) … lots of writer-friendly plane travel in my future.)
Huge thanks are due to my bellwether, Runawaymetaphor, whose faithful administration of the does-it-suck? test has become vital to my mental health. I own nothing of Star Trek except two Tom Paris action figures, a couple of Borg mugs and two plush Andorians.
By Alpha Flyer
Whoever put together this away team either has a very sick sense of humour, or Voyager's Sorting Hat has suffered a major malfunction.
Given that Chakotay, in his capacity as XO, is in charge of mission assignment though, Tom Paris is inclined to believe the former. The man might have told the Captain that he would guarantee Tom's safety, but that sure leaves room for a little gratuitous chicanery, doesn't it.
Tom keeps his eyes glued to the forward screen - let professionalism be your shield, Lesson #1 in the Owen Paris School Of Life - and waits for the inevitable knife, real or figurative, to wedge itself between his shoulder blades. And all that for the sake of a few kilograms of dicosilium compound, that B'Elanna Torres had decided was absolutely necessary to rebuild the reflective coils of the Krieger wave converters (whatever the hell those are).
But seriously. Dalby, Ayala and Torres? In a tiny, pressurized metal container alone with Tom Paris, no adult supervision, and the only 'Fleeter being Ensign William Platt - whose only acknowledgement of Tom's existence so far has been to spit on the floor when they passed each other in the corridor? And to top it all off, as senior bridge officer, Tom is notionally in charge – something that isn't so much a solution as it is extra provocation, and no surprise there. Hell, he wouldn't follow himself into an amusement park, let alone into a potential battlefield. So yeah, good work there, Commander.
While they may not be actively out to kill him, working with these people is surely not in the realm of the possible, at least not for Tom Paris, sole human to hold the distinction of flunking out of both Starfleet and the Maquis.
Story of his life: just as there's the hint of a possible opening, some dangling, dancing light to follow - like getting out of Auckland, and that field commission of Janeway's - someone or something slams the door in his face. (It briefly crosses Tom's mind that he's done a good deal of the slamming himself over the years, but he'd hoped that was one corner he has turned for good.)
Anyway, as expected, it had been fun and games for the entire trip, starting with Dalby running into him accidentally-on-purpose with his shoulder on their way into the shuttle bay. Next, there was the stone cold silence on the trip to Parrak IV - and then Torres, coming back on board the Cochrane after her shopping spree, remarking to her Maquis buddies in a nicely pitched stage-whisper that, "At least he didn't leave without us this time."
Eighteen months of hell in Auckland, reduced to a fine point by the sharpest of tongues. At least he didn't leave without us this time.
And now they're under attack. Even by Delta Quadrant standards, this day has gone to hell in a hand basket quite comprehensively, and their prospects should the Vidiians succeed in disabling their systems are … grim.
The alien ship fires again, and Tom has to wring what nimbleness he can from the mediocre helm control on the Cochrane to evade the hypothermic charge – a weapon designed to paralyze a ship's engines, so it can be boarded without excess damage to the living, breathing organ banks within.
The first and only hit the Vidiians have managed to score so far knocked the warp field matrix for six, and until Torres can get the warp coils back on line, the Cochrane is down to impulse.
The shuttle does a sideways loop-de-loop that the inertial dampeners can't quite keep up with; Platt hisses a curse as he fails to hang on to the ops console. Another voice joins the chorus.
"Hey - watch what you're doing there, Paris – you almost caused an inversion in the warp matrix with that stupid circus trick of yours! How the hell am I supposed to create a stable field here?"
Torres' tone is somewhere between seething irritation and outright hostility, which seems to be her personal comfort zone. Maybe the away team was put together by the Captain after all, based on a calculation who would be least missed? Despite Torres' unarguable skills as an engineer, the thought of carrying that charming personality around for seventy years must be pretty daunting from an HR management perspective.
"You know what would have happened to your darling engines, Torres, if I'd let those bastards hit us?" he spits back, taking the shuttle through another barrel roll to pre-empt the next shot. (At least these guys shoot by the book, which is useful – battle strategists they're not.) "You'd need to spin that dicosilium of yours into microfilament threads, so you can knit new ones. Without hands, 'cause the Vidiians will probably take those."
He puts the shuttle through another roll to evade the Vidiians' tracking markers.
Fucking ghouls. Tom isn't exactly one of Neelix' fans, but the sight of the poor guy without lungs … No. Nobody deserves that.
"Distance to Voyager?" he asks without turning around, hoping someone is still upright and willing to talk to him.
"One point two billion klicks, straight ahead at the rendezvous point."
Hearing Ayala's voice is a surprise, not so much because he's supposed to be at Tactical rather than working Ops, but more because Tom has never actually heard it. (Guy must have taken an oath of silence with the vedeks when he joined the Maquis, to be broken only in case of emergency.) "Ten minutes to docking if we get warp back, fifteen hours if we don't."
"I'll alert Voyager, make sure they're ready for us." Platt is back on his feet, and reaches for the comm.
Tom frowns. Shit. Of all the times … Unbidden, the thought of Harry Kim flashes into his mind, limp, like a rag doll with buttons for eyes and his mouth sewn shut, wheezing for air that will not come …
He shudders. Anything but that.
And suddenly, what he must do becomes very clear. As clear as the fact that he can't tell his reluctant … well, they're not his crew, exactly, are they? Not like they'd follow him where he plans to go. No, he'll just have to drag them along for the ride.
"Ayala. Any other Vidiian ships besides the one currently shooting at us?"
Good. This might actually work, then.
Tom flips the Cochrane into a one-eighty. The more cumbersome Vidiian ship changes course follows, firing another charge - wide.
"Do not hail Voyager."
"What the hell?" Platt practically splutters, points at the massive ship on the screen, and the discharges blooming from its weapons arrays. "We'll need help, Paris. A Class Two shuttle is no match for that thing."
"That's an order, Platt," he says flatly, surprising himself with his Father's voice. "Don't make me make my point with a phaser."
"Distance to Voyager now one point twenty-four billion klicks and increasing."
"What the hell do you think you're doing, Paris? Running away from the Vidiians by taking us away from Voyager?" Torres sounds incredulous; Tom ignores her.
"Running away is what Paris is good at," Dalby sneers, albeit with an overlay of genuine panic. "But no one ever said he had a sense of direction. But may I remind you, he's even better at getting caught. Lucky us."
Tm grinds his jaw. Fucking Maquis can hold on to a grudge more tightly than a Nausicaan to a ham sandwich. Of course, none of them know what really happened back in the Badlands – and fuck if he'll tell them. He may not have a lot left, but he does have his pride. (Besides, who'd believe Tom-the-traitor Paris?)
"Someone working long-range sensors back there?"
Platt stays silent; Ayala grunts something vague that sounds like Maquis for affirmative.
"Can you find us a hiding place? Like an asteroid belt or a nebula or something? Anything to give off secondary sensor readings?"
The Vidiians fire another round, and Tom is actually momentarily grateful to be in the shuttle – it's small, harder to hit, far more maneuverable than even Voyager, and it helps not having someone twittering 'Evasive maneuvers, Mister Paris!' over his shoulder.
"We can't outrun them. Not even a man with Paris' supposed talents."
Dalby, again. He can't just restate the obvious; he has to keep making it personal. High ground, Thomas. High ground.
"Then we just have to outsmart them, don't we?"
Platt's own brand of skepticism practically drips onto his console. "And just how do you plan on doing that, Lieutenant, sir? Voyager is our only chance."
Tom hasn't gotten to that part yet, but there's no point admitting that. Nor that Platt sounds like he himself does with Chakotay – and that that's pissing him off.
At least Ayala is doing his job.
"Small cloud of particle debris at ten degrees starboard, twenty million miles. Transmitting coordinates to helm now."
Tom resists the impulse to say thank you, as he adjusts the shuttle's course.
"Hey! You're taking us even farther away from Voyager? Are you nuts, Paris?" Dalby chimes in, finding the perfect moment for a historic first agreement with a 'Fleeter. "Platt's right. The ship's our only chance."
Platt looks around for confirmation of the lunacy of it all, possibly trying to identify another ally for mutiny, to improve the odds. (They'll need Ayala, the only other semi-decent pilot aboard.)
Tom looks back for a second to see Ayala frown darkly for a second, but the man says nothing; Torres seems to resent Platt's existence almost more than she does Tom's and just glares at the guy. No groundswell for a revolution then, at least not for the moment. In the meantime, every million miles away from Voyager is a million small victories.
An idea has begun to form in his head. It's not quite plan-shaped yet - that would be asking too much at this stage - but it's better than Class Two shuttle as a species is basically a lost cause, as far as Tom is concerned - Starfleet should really come up with something new, instead of saddling increasingly more sophisticated ships with the same old piece of shit - but it does have some rudimentary tech on board…
Ah. Plan. There is it. Maybe Torres can prove that her engineering skills are as sharp as her tongue?
"Apart from the fact that the correct answer is 'Yes, sir!'" - shit, he really should learn to keep his own mouth in check, speaking of the need to find allies - "can you give us something to simulate an explosion when we hit that particle field? And then light the whole thing up, so their sensors can't find us afterwards?"
Torres goes uncharacteristically quiet. Maybe, it occurs to Tom, to defuse her all you need is to give her a problem she'll find more fascinating than whatever it is that pisses her off? (In this case, that shouldn't be so hard, since hating Tom Paris isn't exactly taxing and the Delta Quadrant is full of challenges.)
"If we purge the auxiliary plasma vents just as we enter the particle field, the hypothermic charge from the Vidiian ship might trigger a chain reaction, that to their sensors could look like an explosion."
She stills for a moment, even as Dalby mouths, Might? Could?
"The only problem is …"
"… we'd have to make sure that their charge hits the plasma cloud sufficiently close to the shuttle to make the hit plausible," Tom nods as he completes her sentence. "That can be done."
Dalby sputters indignantly, no longer able to keep his mouth shut.
"In other words, you need to be real close to one of those charges? I get that you fancy yourself a flying ace, Paris, but that's my hide you're planning on risking here. Nobody is that good. I still say we head back to Voyager."
Tom takes Ayala's ongoing silence and Torres' thoughtful frown as sufficient license to ignore Dalby. Besides, this isn't a democracy, is it? Luckily, Platt, when it comes down to a power struggle onboard the shuttle, won't be a relevant factor vis à vis the two Maquis officers – also, the guy has been surprisingly quiet for the last couple of minutes.
"What about afterwards?" Tom asks, as he dodges another of the Vidiians' shots.
They're getting closer. Clearly whoever is running tactical on the Phage ship has wised up to the shuttle's maneuvers. Time to shake things up a bit – for now. Predicting the Vidiians' anticipation of his patterns will come in useful for the simulated explosion. Second intention feint-disengage – chess, at light speed. This could almost qualify as fun, and he welcomes the surge of adrenaline like an old friend.
"Eight minutes to the particle cloud," Ayala announces, unasked. Good man in a fight, Ayala. Eye on the prize. (Shit, where did that come from?)
"Yeah, what about after?" Platt asks. "How do we fool their sensors, once we've simulated that hit? Anything in those particles that could help?"
Tom almost turns around in surprise. The guy is actually thinking now, instead of whining and plotting mutiny?
"We'll need to light up the cloud," Torres says slowly, and Tom can almost see ideas evolve, even as her mouth forms the words. Fascinating – he's never thought of Klingons as prone to complex thought processes. "If we scatter a transporter beam into the cloud, we could use the phase inducers to repolarize the hydrogen molecules, which …"
"… should trigger a chain reaction that will turn the entire cloud into a giant blob on their sensors," Tom finishes her sentence again. Does twice make something a disturbing trend?
"Well," she actually almost grins at him, "apart from the shoddy characterization, yes, that's the idea."
"How long will that last? Long enough for us to get out on the other side without them picking us up?" Dalby. Well, well.
Torres suddenly looks uncertain. "I have no idea. Depends on how dense the particle field is. We won't have time to do a detailed analysis of its composition."
"Guess we'll find out," Tom grinds out as he dodges another shot. "Ayala. You notice the dispersal pattern in their weapons discharge? Port A, Port B, Starboard B, Starboard A, repeat?"
"Like clockwork," the big Maquis grunts from Tactical. "Two minutes to particle cloud."
"I'm thinking the earlier we fake our death the longer we can sustain the light show," Tom says to no one in particular, although on second thought, he probably means Torres.
"Ready to vent plasma," she says. "Platt, stand by on secondary release channel, on my mark."
Ah. She's going to create the effect of the shuttle breaking into two. Good thinking.
Ayala starts what amounts to a count down.
"Incoming Port A." Tom runs the shuttle into a sideways loop.
"Incoming Port B." Twist and shout. Maybe the old Class Two has a few things up her sleeve yet …
"Ready on phase inducers." Dalby can actually play for the team. Who knew?
"Incoming Starboard B. Entering particle field."
Wait for it.
"Incoming Starboard A."
Tom finds himself shouting as he pulls the not-quite-rust bucket into an Immelman turn, into and then back out of the path of the Vidiian charge. The Cochrane's reaction to the plasma venting threatens to throw off the helm, but he manages to compensate and then it's just a matter of everyone hanging on to their seats, as the hypothermic charge from the Vidiians' weapon hits the first plasma stream.
"Mark!" Torres. Tom barely registers Platt's voice as he comes in nearly simultaneously, "Secondary venting complete."
The second, smaller stream feeds into the fireball created by the first and ignites in turn; the jolt to the shuttle is less this time, but should be just as convincing to the Vidiians' sensors.
"Transporter beam initiated, phase inducers on line." Dalby.
"Light 'em up, Dalby!"
The Cochrane starts shaking as Tom heads straight into the particle cloud which is suddenly becoming a visible … thing as Ayala switches the forward viewing screen from optical to spectrum analysis readings.
"It's working!" Platt says, unable to keep the awe out of his voice.
"We're not out of the woods yet." Tom hisses in pain as the helm responds to the serial provocation with a spray of sparks that hit his hands like a meteor shower. "Torres?"
"Rerouting power back to engines," she confirms. "We should have enough to get us out the other end on impulse, before their sensors can start distinguishing things again. Hopefully they'll have stopped looking by then."
Right – there's no Vidiian market for fried meat, so if they bought that simulation …
"Will we be able to go to warp after that?"
"One thing at a time, Paris," Torres growls back, although Tom has the feeling that it's not him she's mad at this time; the woman seems to regard technical failures as personal insults. "I need a hand here. Dalby?"
As it turns out, it takes eighteen minutes to cross the particle field, and Tom needs all the focus he can muster not to lose control over the helm as he steers through what amounts to a live and interactive version of an aurora borealis. When they emerge into silent, empty space once more, the Vidiian ship is far off to starboard, and … accelerating to warp.
"It worked," Platt says, not bothering to conceal the relief and amazement in his voice. "They've given up on us."
Tom taps in a few commands, and there it is, the confirmation he's been looking for. "And they're heading away from Voyager, at a hundred and forty degrees," he says out loud.
Yes. It worked.
"Can we comm the ship now, Paris?"
"Let's get the warp engines on line first, and get close enough so we won't have to use subspace frequencies," Torres answers for him. "We don't want to risk the Vidiians picking up our transmission."
He should be pissed off, but she's actually made the very suggestion that he was afraid to have to turn into another unpopular order, so Tom is perfectly happy to let it go.
"Agreed," he says instead, surprised at how easy that has suddenly become. "Whenever you're ready, Torres – get us the hell back to our ship."
Janeway is waiting for them in the shuttle bay; she must have entered as soon as the atmosphere stabilized.
"You engaged a Vidiian cruiser with a shuttlecraft, Mr. Paris," the Captain greets Tom unceremoniously. "Explain why you did not call Voyager for help."
Platt and the three Maquis come to a full stop behind him, obviously keen to hear how he'll get out of this one. Janeway's eyes are steel, but there's no hint as to what she might be thinking and so Tom decides to go for the straight answer.
"Because you would have come," he says simply. "And I couldn't risk that."
Janeway holds his eyes for a few moments longer than necessary.
"Next time," she says, "find a way to tell us what you're planning to do, Lieutenant." But then, just as he thinks he's being reprimanded, she adds, "Unless communication itself is prejudicial to the ship, of course."
Her eyes soften then, and he knows that she knows why he did what he did. Phew.
"Good job, people." The Captain nods at each one of them and turns on her heels to head back to the bridge.
"What was that all about?" Torres is puzzled. "Do Starfleet away missions always get a personal welcome from senior management?"
"Nope," Platt says slowly. "They don't."
The ensign scrunches his forehead, and Tom can practically see the pain his current thought processes are causing the man. But then he looks straight up at Tom, as if he's made up his mind.
"Guess you're a 'Fleeter after all, Paris," he says, obviously physically unable to add a sir or a Lieutenant, but at least he's not spitting, so that's something. "The few for the many. Who'd have thought it."
And with that, he's off to greet his lover, a crewman from maintenance who's been loitering by the shuttle bay door and now shoots Tom a suspicious look. The two men depart side by side, with Platt talking as animatedly as Tom has ever seen him.
By now Tom is eager to get either into the quiet of his quarters or outside a synthale; it doesn't really matter which, as far as he is concerned. All he knows is that while adrenaline highs are his thing, he does need to find an off switch afterwards, or suffer the consequences.
But right now Ayala is blocking his way, and given the man's size, going around him is not really an option.
"They teach that in Starfleet, do they?" he asks bluntly.
Tom doesn't have to play dumb; he genuinely has no idea what the guy is talking about. He looks around to check whether Dalby and Torres are hanging back to watch, whatever fun Ayala might have in mind for his own wind-down.
"What exactly do you mean?" he asks, enunciating each syllable very clearly so that the security cameras will pick up enough to show that he didn't start it – whatever it may turn out to be.
"Using yourself as bait," Ayala says, "to draw off an attack."
Oh. That. Well, maybe Starfleet doesn't exactly in those terms, but …
"Yeah, I guess they do. When circumstances require."
Ayala grunts in a way that could be loosely interpreted as surprised respect.
"Thought only the Maquis did that sort of thing."
There are all sorts of things Tom could say in response to that – like you guys don't have the market on common decency cornered, you know? But he keeps his mouth shut and just shrugs. (Maybe there's hope that he may yet internalize the concept of restraint? Owen Paris would be proud.)
But then Ayala says another thing, and in an entirely different tone, one that Tom finds hard to interpret.
"And that wasn't the first time you've done this, either," he adds, and it's not so much a question as it is a statement of fact. Tom's mouth goes momentarily dry.
Badlands. The Starfleet destroyer, about to locate the Valjean. Tom Paris, drunken derelict, in charge of a decrepit old scout ship. Lighting up that crappy little barge like a firefly, practically spelling out "me, me, me!" on the 'Fleet ship's sensors.
Chase. Arrest. Trial. Verdict.
"No, it wasn't," he manages.
"Thought so," Ayala nods to himself and walks away. Turns out Dalby and Torres didn't stick around after all, and so Tom finds himself alone in the shuttle bay, wondering what the hell just happened.
Sandrine's is pretty packed these days, so Tom is rather surprised when Harry waves eagerly to him across the smoky room. Shouldn't he be sitting with some of the other young officers, or trying to put the make on one of the Delaney sisters?
Well, there's nothing for it; Harry seems to be rather intent on seeing him, and so Tom wanders over to his table after stopping by the bar to pick up a glass of synthale.
"What's up, Har?" he asks. "Don't tell me you missed my stellar company on the bridge today. People will talk, you know."
Harry rolls his eyes as expected, but immediately gets excited again.
"Platt says you pulled an Immelman in the Cochrane today, right through alien weapons fire. Is that true?"
Shit. Tom hadn't really expected their little adventure to remain a secret, but he also hadn't given any thought as to how word would get out, or who would spread it. Not to mention what they might say. The Immelman? He'd never figured Platt for a connoisseur of dogfight techniques.
Harry's not exactly whispered question casts a silencing spell over the two adjoining tables, both occupied by Starfleet personnel. Several pairs of eyes are now laser-focused on Tom, and so he chooses his answer very carefully.
"Yeah, well, desperate times call for desperate measures. But don't worry – I won't pull that one when flying Voyager. Wouldn't be a dry seat in the house, including the Captain's chair."
Harry stares at him for a moment, then laughs and shakes his head; someone cackles at the next table and the susurrations of bar chatter resume.
"You're such a cliché, Paris," he says. "Really. Do you practice this stuff in front of the mirror?"
Harry isn't actually that far off, all things considered, but there's no way Tom will ever admit that. He is spared an answer when Torres walks over to their table. Despite her diminutive size she manages to loom over the two men, arms crossed in front of her chest like a bank of phasers.
This time, it's the Maquis table that stills.
"Why didn't you tell us why you turned away from Voyager, Paris?"
Not what he expected, but then again, this seems a day for surprises. The best defence is always a good offence, and so Tom leans back and gives her a lazy smirk.
"Would you have gone along if I had?"
Torres' silence tells Tom everything he needs to know, and the smirk threatens to curl into a bitter smile. All systems normal, then – more fool he, for thinking that things could possibly change.
But then she surprises him again. She holds his gaze with her smoldering dark eyes, and says – quite clearly, so there's no mistake:
"Maybe not. But … I would now."
And with that she turns away, heading back to the table where her friend Seska is holding court with Ayala, Michael Jonas and Tabor, one of those Bajorans with a perma-scowl. Tom follows her with his eyes until Harry reminds him of his presence by clearing his throat.
"Want to explain to me what that was all about, Paris?" he asks.
Tom shakes his head and picks up his glass.
"Nope," he says. "I don't think I can. With someone like Torres, the possibilities really are endless."
He looks around the bar where people are relaxing after another day in the Delta Quadrant; some are looking over to their table with open curiosity – a refreshing change from the overt hostility he'd become used to during the early days. Ayala actually raises a glass – to him? – before talking in a low voice to his companions.
And suddenly it hits him, and it's only fitting that Harry, the guy who won't let people choose his friends for him, is there when it does.
Possibilities. They're here, and they're real.
Tom raises his glass in a toast.
"To Voyager," he says. "Where anything's possible."