Part One: Caretaker



Three men from the Maquis ship appeared on the bridge of Voyager. The officers at the tactical and operations stations immediately drew their weapons in response to the perceived threat. Even the young woman at the helm stood and twisted around, phaser in hand and pointed at the invited intruders.

"Lower your weapons," ordered the Captain, indicating the command applied to both crews with a wave of her hand and intense look. Those in Starfleet uniform complied instantly, as did one of the leather clad terrorists. "You won't need those here," the woman's grey eyes narrowed on the Maquis Commander. Only when Chakotay indicated his companions should follow her order did the Captain's orbs flick to the man she hadn't seen in almost six months. A slight smirk curled up the corners of her lips as she greeted her long-time colleague. "It's good to have you back, Mr. Paris."

"It's good to be back, Captain," the blue eyed blond smirked, unable to hide his irrepressible nature, even under the current circumstances. Turning to the Maquis Commander, his shoulders shrugged carelessly as Tom offered "sorry, Chakotay."

"Were you going to deliver us into their waiting hands, Loc…Paris?" spat the incensed man, his expression one of betrayal.

"My mission," Tom Paris's blue eyes narrowed to become a stormy grey, "was to accumulate information on Cardassian activities, and infractions against the Federation-Cardassian treaty. The best way to achieve that was infiltrating your organisation. Serving on Val Jean, and with you in particular, was just chance."

"We have a lot to accomplish," the Captain interrupted the glacial glares between the two men on her bridge. "I suggest we all concentrate on finding our people and getting ourselves back home. Mr. Paris, you can use my ready room to change into an appropriate uniform."

"Yes, Ma'am," he responded easily. In a lightning fast change of attitude, a cheeky grin accompanied the twinkle in Tom's orbs before he confidently moved towards the doors beside the Vulcan's tactical station.

Unwilling to show any emotion in the charged atmosphere, the Captain's lips curled further at the corners with the provocation. It was obvious Mr. Paris's natural wit managed to improve the mood and the Captain's attitude in even the most trying situations. Instead of allowing her gaze to follow the childish man, Kathryn called to her tactical officer, "report, Mr. Tuvok."

"Based on my initial reconnaissance, Captain, I am convinced we are dealing with a single entity in the array," the Vulcan stated in an emotionless tone. "I would suggest he scanned our computers in order to select a comfortable holographic environment in which to linger, in effect, a waiting room to pacify us prior to biometric assessment."

"An examination?" the Captain exclaimed. Yet it made sense to her scientific mind.

"It is the most logical explanation. Why else would he have released us unharmed?" Tuvok questioned.

"Not all of us were," Tom Paris reappeared on the bridge in a black uniform with command red piping across the chest and at the cuff. No rank appeared at his collar, nor did he wear a com badge. Everyone understood he wasn't under the Captain's chain of command in the Intelligence uniform. "May I lead an away team to the array, Captain?" He asked politely, although he seemed to ooze authority.

Logically, sending an intelligence operative made sense. Yet the Captain hesitated just a moment too long. "Do I have a choice, Commander?" The Captain allowed her eyebrow to rise in a very Vulcan gesture.

"No," the irrepressible man returned, "but I thought it was polite to ask as this is your ship."

"Break out the compression phaser rifles, Mr. Tuvok," Kathryn agreed with a decisive nod of her head. Turning to Mr. Paris she stated, "I'll meet you in Transporter Room two, Commander."

Grinning like a six-year old, Tom stated, "I think I can handle this one on my own, Captain."

"I'm sure you can," she responded, finally unable to keep a full smile off her face. "It's your decided lack of diplomacy in this situation that worries me."

"I thought that was your reason for sending Tuvok," Paris's expression changed once again, just as suddenly as before. Beside him the Maquis Commander and security escort stood seething and dumbfounded respectively. It didn't stop Tom addressing them as if their superior officer. "Chakotay, Ayala, you're with me. You need to get B'Elanna back," Tom indicated the Maquis follow him to the turbolift. Mounting the two stairs, he didn't look back but continued to issue orders. "We'll divide into teams. While Chakotay and I are looking for Torres and Kim, your job, Tuvok," the Commander waited for the Vulcan to join them, "is to find out as much about this array as you can. It brought us here. We have to assume it can send us home."

"Orders, Captain?" Mr. Rollin's requested before the turbolift closed out on the away team.

"Keep them on constant transporter lock, Mr. Rollins," Kathryn stated, a wistful expression in her eyes as she watched the four men leave, before returning to sit in her chair, "and maintain Red alert."

"Aye, Captain," the response echoed slightly as the door finally hissed closed.

It was only then, Chakotay noticed the gold band encircling the third finger of Paris's left hand. He'd never worn the archaic symbol of marriage on Val Jean. Remembering the easy banter between Paris and Voyager's Captain, they'd obviously known and served with each other. Then Chakotay recalled a similar ring on the Captain's digit, flashing in the harsh light as she stood, watching them exit her bridge.

"Captain Paris will not be impressed with you upsurging her authority, Commander," Tuvok stated.

Even Chakotay could read the concern in the Vulcan's tone. It explained much of the subtle emotion saturating the atmosphere on the bridge. Shuddering, he knew what was coming, even before Loc…Paris opened his mouth.

"My wife rarely is, Tuvok," Paris grinned easily. "At least her ire will be aimed at me."