Author's Note: Because every author needs an ongoing piece...
With thanks to Photogirl1890, as always, for her consultation, research and beta skills and with the usual apologies to CBS/Paramount and whatever other Star Trek overlords exist for borrowing their things without permission.
I. Valor's better part
Once more unto the breach...
Deep breath, Thomas. Think neutral, boring, non-smartass thoughts. And, with that, into the lion's den.
Or, less poetically, the recently designated offices of the now Commander Chakotay. First Officer of the USS Voyager. And, thus, Tom's immediate superior.
"You asked to see me, sir?" That 'sir' took some forethought: it's not entirely clear to Tom – or to the rest of Voyager's suddenly very motley crew – whether the commander's new rank is a promotion, demotion or lateral move. Better to steer clear of that particular rabbit's hole altogether.
"Lieutenant," Chakotay acknowledges, with less of an edge than he habitually gives to 'Paris' so perhaps that's progress? He's standing and neither sits nor indicates that the pilot should, so Tom takes up a parade rest position, hoping that means that this conversation will be brief. "The Captain has informed me of your commission and your assignment."
Is there an emphasis on that 'informed'? Tom can't decide; and, really, the fledgling relationship between this accidental command team is none of his business anyway. "Yes, sir," he answers non-committally. Perhaps, if he can get through this meeting with only enough words to count on his fingers (maybe his fingers and toes?), he can also come through it unscathed and – and this would be the true miracle – with those two pips which have somehow found their way onto his collar still attached.
It isn't so much that he has anything against Chakotay as a person – or as a captain...commander...whatever... He will even admit, though not aloud, that he has a healthy amount of respect for the man and for the leadership and tactical training he brought to the Maquis. However, for reasons of his own (and good ones, the pilot will readily concede), Chakotay has held a particularly low opinion and set of expectations of Tom since their first meeting, and Tom, being Tom, finds himself inexorably drawn to playing down to those expectations.
Besides, the man is just so damn easy to bait.
But, today, "Yes, sir," it is. And, "No, sir." Any other editorializing is likely inadvisable.
Chakotay, for his part, seems all too willing to accept his pilot's new laconic turn and passes over the PADD in his hands. "Here is a list of the crewmen who are assigned to the helm and will be working under you. You'll be responsible for drawing up a duty schedule as well as conn reports and helm control evaluations."
Tom takes the PADD and scans the list. Baytart, Culhane, Jenkins – members of Voyager's original Starfleet crew. No doubt they will be less than thrilled to learn that the Admiral's-son-turned-convict has been promoted over them, but he's counting on Starfleet professionalism and training to mean something. Next are listed members of the former Maquis crew: Hamilton and Henley.
Henley. Oh fuck.
A memory of a particularly ill-advised evening of innuendo and some other cruder forms of flirtation surfaces.
Long practice ensures that Tom is able to keep his expression masked and neutral. However, his fair-skinned complexion makes the sudden rush of blood to his face all too noticeable.
"Is there a problem, Lieutenant?" Chakotay asks testily.
"No, sir." The commander looks unconvinced. Must be getting close to the end of that finger count...
Chakotay seems to decide to let it go – for now. "Your conn reports will be delivered to Lieutenant Rollins; weekly helm control evaluations will go to the chief engineer."
Chakotay's eyes snap up.
Yep, should have stuck to the script.
"Lieutenant Carey, for the moment."
Stupid, Tom knows, and he watches Chakotay's face turn hard as he growls out, "The Captain will make that decision."
Right, definitely out of fingers and quickly working on those toes. Time to get back on script and out of here, sooner rather than later.
"Yes, sir. Anything else, sir?"
It's possible that two 'sirs' in one address is overkill, and Chakotay's expression darkens further. "Just watch yourself, Paris. The Captain has seen fit to make you a senior officer of this vessel. A Starfleet vessel. I expect you to conduct yourself accordingly."
Drawing upon untapped depths of heroic self-restraint, Tom manages to limit his response to a respectful nod.
Turning smartly, Tom exits the room, resisting the urge to slump against the corridor wall when the door hisses shut behind him. He does, however – unobtrusively, he hopes – pull a bit on his collar, ensuring that, yes, two pips are still attached.
So perhaps there is still some room in the Universe – or at least in the Delta Quadrant – for miracles after all.
II. Through a glass darkly
Damn Tom Paris anyway...
Chakotay's palms press into the edge of his newly acquired desk, the thoughtfully rounded Starfleet corners refusing to leave a mark. He shakes his head to clear it, not in the least amused by the fact that Paris has been able to rattle him while speaking less than two dozen words.
Nothing new in that, though. Damn that arrogant, self-satisfied, egotistical...
However, while all of those descriptors may well be applied to the pilot, Chakotay admits that isn't what truly bothers him. The real issue is, always has been, that the pilot is a living, breathing testament to his own compromise: a mercenary hired – by Chakotay – to aid a cause which had been built on its moral high ground.
The first in a long series of compromises.
Sighing, he turns to the viewport, catching sight of his latest, and largest, capitulation to necessity. The transparent surface with the darkened starscape behind reflects Starfleet command red – a shade that Chakotay disowned forever three years before.
Or thought he had.
Just a week ago, finding Paris on the bridge of a Starfleet ship wearing that same uniform was enough for Chakotay to brand the younger man a traitor. What then to make of the partial reflection staring back at him?
Chakotay reaches a hand up to the bar on his collar, an – adding insult to injury – provisional reinstatement of the commission that he had resigned that day in Namimby's office. Accepting the bar had been his final act as a captain, a personal sacrifice for the sake of his crew.
Or maybe just the last compromise of a man who had become too used to making them.
:Ensign Kim to...er...Commander Chakotay:
His comm badge (he really hasn't missed those at all in the last couple of years) chirps to life, and he draws upon every shred of patience not to bark back at the hesitant tone of the young ops officer – who, no doubt, would go skittering back into the bushes at the evidence of his new CO's foul mood.
"Chakotay here," he responds in a strained monotone that he fears will become habitual all too soon. "What can I do for you, Ensign?"
Again hesitation and Chakotay bites back another heavy sigh.
:I'm sorry to bother you, sir. We're working on recalibrating the subspace amplifiers in the shuttles' communications arrays and there is an...a situation that could use your attention:
Somewhere behind his right temple, a steady throb begins. He's already framed a less than civil reply redirecting Kim to Carey in engineering along with a succinct lecture on the use of proper channels when a flash of intuition stops him and has him calling up the current duty assignments on the computer.
The engineering crew assigned to Kim's operations repair team: Chapman, Chell and Seska.
Rubbing fingers against his temples, he makes a mental note to give the spring green ensign a touch more credit in the future – and to speak to Carey about giving some more thought to possible personality conflicts in his duty assignments. At least for the next couple of months until the two crews...merge? Integrate? Assimilate?
Kim is still waiting for an answer; Chakotay responds that he will be down in a few minutes and signs off. Then, as an afterthought, he opens another comm line: "Chakotay to Torres."
There is a longer than usual delay. Knowing that she is off-duty – it had seemed wise to arrange the duty schedule to give her at least a day to...adjust – and therefore almost definitely not wearing either her uniform or her comm badge, he is unsurprised. When the answer does come through, Chakotay flinches at the sheer amount of sardonic venom that the half-Klingon can infuse into two words.
Ignoring the barely masked insult and fully evident disgruntlement simmering in Torres's reply, he throws out his gambit. "Ensign Kim is in need of some help in the shuttle bay. I know you aren't scheduled for duty today, but I was hoping you might be willing to lend a hand."
There is another, briefer pause, and then, in a far more neutral tone :Give me a minute to change, and I'll be right down. Torres out:
Despite everything, Chakotay almost smiles: apparently the Maquis engineer and young Starfleet officer had indeed established some rapport while on the Ocampa homeworld.
With one more glance towards the viewport, Chakotay straightens his uniform and heads for the shuttle bay, resolving once more to salvage whatever might be possible of this day and of the general clusterfuck that this mission has become.
III. A tangled web we weave
Railing upon the baby-faced Ensign Harry Kim might be a sport roughly equivalent to throwing stones at an orphaned gettle pup, but it sure as hell fits Seska's mood for the day.
Taking on the part of a lowly Bajoran in service of her people was one thing; taking on a despised enemy's uniform in the service of a mission that might not see its end until decades after its usefulness has passed is another thing entirely.
Taking orders from a fresh-from-the-Academy, wet-behind-the-ears whelp of a Starfleet ensign? Not a possibility. Not today.
Seated on the ship's deck, leaning casually against a shuttle with his arms crossed, Chell is grinning from ear to ear, clearly enjoying the entertainment that she is providing at Kim's expense; Chapman stands uncertainly to the side, looking distinctly uncomfortable and out of his element as this unranked "crew member" continues to berate a ship's officer.
"...and if you think for one minute, that just because of that one little gold pip on your collar..."
Her tirade is interrupted by the swish of the shuttle bay doors behind her. With practiced speed, she collects her expression and adjusts her posture, turning on cue to greet the approaching 'Commander' Chakotay with that familiar smile she reserves just for him, while noting that he has brought Torres along.
Taking in the scene before him as Chell scrambles hastily to his feet, Chakotay turns to Kim, "What seems to be the problem, Ensign?"
With a glance in her direction, Kim, with what Seska has to admit is impressive professionalism, summarizes the technical aspect of their argument: "We were about to begin recalibrating the shuttle's subspace amplifiers to account for the lack of any Federation relay stations. I asked, um, Crewman Seska to start by adjusting the frequency of the EPS pulses to the amplifiers in the class 2 shuttles; she suggested that it would be more effective to modify the plasma regulators." Some annoyance manages to creep into Kim's recitation. "I explained that the shuttles' systems would not allow for those modifications, but..." Kim hesitates, then finishes, "...she was insistent."
Chakotay raises an eyebrow in her direction, and Seska puts on an apologetic, almost pleading expression. "I was only trying to share some Maquis tricks that might not have been covered at the Academy in order to help out the ship."
Seeming to consider that, Chakotay turns to Torres for a judgement call and all eyes are suddenly on the half-Klingon – Chakotay with confidence; Chell with rarely given deference; Kim and Chapman with a level of curiosity.
Seska schools her own expression to match Chell's: Torres's trust has been hard won over the last year and is worth keeping. Anyone who actually wants to make it back to the Alpha Quadrant sooner rather than later would be a fool to alienate the engineer – and Seska has no intention of wearing this uniform (or this face) for the next seven decades. The fact that that moron Carey has been given charge of engineering even for a day is simply more proof of Captain Janeway's hidebound incompetence.
But what else could one expect from a captain who managed to strand her crew seventy thousand light-years from home?
Torres, for her part, meets Seska's eyes apologetically. "It's a good idea and would work in most cases, but, unfortunately, Starfleet shuttle technology won't allow for it. The shuttle systems tend to be particularly closely integrated, and it's nearly impossible to modify one system to that extent without affecting the others." She glances over to Kim. "Harry is right that working on the frequency of the pulses is the best way to recalibrate the amplifiers – at least without basically reconstructing the shuttle from scratch." Then, Torres turns back to Chakotay. "However, Seska's idea could be used to boost Voyager's communication array; more fail safes are built in between the main ship's systems than are in the shuttles."
Playing her part to perfection, Seska smiles gratefully at the obvious attempt of her 'friend' to validate her idea. Chapman's expression has morphed from curiosity to appreciation and he is nodding along as Torres speaks, as is Chell; Kim looks pleased – and relieved – and ready to interject some further suggestion of his own. Chakotay is wearing the disgusting expression of a professor whose prize student has done well for herself – as if he could lay any claim to Torres's talents.
Torres is clearly oblivious to all of those nuances, her attention now fully on the technical problem at hand and the suggestion for further modifications that Kim is already making A mechanical match made in Klu'haa, those two. Seska barely holds back a derisive snort.
No, it won't do to alienate Torres. And Kim might be worth working on as well. Tom Paris is another who would be worth having on one's side: the man may have the personality of a particularly ill-mannered vole, but even she is willing to admit that his piloting skills are unmatched. And having the right people lined up when opportunity presents itself could make all the difference.
And an opportunity will present itself. Seska will make sure of that.
Meanwhile, Chakotay has suggested that Torres stay to help Kim, Chell and Chapman finish the modifications while Seska accompanies him to speak with Carey about her suggestion.
She immediately throws on a delighted smile, making clear to all present her pleasure at having a few minutes alone with the Commander. However, before trotting off after him, she quickly touches Torres on the arm. "Dinner later?" At the engineer's distracted but pleased nod, she adds, "And bring Harry along if you like. I'd like the chance to apologize for letting a bad day get the best of me this morning."
And then she is off after Chakotay, ready to simper and smile and bide her time until the moment for action arrives.