By Niels van Eekelen
An Alternate Universe adventure in four parts.
Tom awoke with a start. He sat up in bed and rubbed his fingers over his eyes. Damn, he thought. that's the third time this week, and it's only the second night of the week! Beside him, B'Elanna stirred. The pilot looked at her beautiful face and saw that she had opened her eyes. "Sorry I woke you," he apologised.
"'S all right," she replied sleepily. "Were you dreaming about her again?" There was no doubt who B'Elanna meant. Seska. The traitor. Her rival, in a way. Tom nodded. He had discovered early on in their relation that it was little use trying to hide the truth about anything from her. That insight had saved his ego on more than one occasion. "You shouldn't let her bother you," she admonished him, but they both knew those words were empty. It had been almost four months since Voyager had last heard from Seska and her Kazon allies, and nearly nine since Seska had revealed her true heritage, that of a Cardassian, and since she had left Voyager. Almost enough time for their -- Tom's and Seska's -- child be ready to be born.
It was rather obvious that that was what had precipitated Tom's dreams, though the babies and little children running around in them were a good hint, too. The pilot hardly saw himself as a father -- he wouldn't wish himself onto any child -- but somehow he doubted Seska and the Kazon would be anything better of an option.
B'Elanna sat up beside him and put her arms around him. "C'mon," she urged him, "think of something else and try to get some more sleep, or you'll fall asleep at the Conn tomorrow."
Tom smiled at the mental image, and sighed. "I suppose you're right."
"Of course I am," his love said in a fair approximation of the EMH's snottiness. Smiling, Tom snuggled up close to her and swiftly returned to sleep. Perhaps it was because of her presence, and perhaps not, but he rested peacefully for the rest of the night.
"Are you awake, Mr Paris?" Chakotay asked in that mocking tone he had reserved just for Tom.
"Barely. After all, I'm having to listen to you giving orders." Tom spoke softly, because if the commander overheard what he said, the pilot would sure as hell go on report. Nevertheless, Chakotay must have heard that he said something, and guessed that it wasn't very complimentary, because he looked a bit annoyed when Tom peeked over his shoulder.
"Is there a problem, lieutenant?" the Indian asked. Why did he always have to be so irritating? Tom knew, or at least suspected, that he was the one at fault today, but that didn't make him feel any better about Chakotay.
"Should there be, commander?" he countered. It was exactly the kind of reply that would get on Chakotay's nerves. Suddenly the slight tension that always accompanied even the quietest of Bridge shifts increased, and Tom knew he shouldn't have said those last few words.
"Give me a straight answer, Paris, or don't give me one at all."
"If you don't mind then, I'll just be quiet." The words had left Tom's mouth before he could stop them. There was a sudden sharp intake of breath around the Bridge, and Tom could almost feel his friend Harry wince at the Operations station. Unfortunately, seated in the front at the Helm, Tom could see none of it, not even Chakotay's face.
Then, before the inevitable could happen, the door to the captain's ready room slid open and Janeway half stepped out. "Cmdr Chakotay, can you come to my ready room for a moment?" she asked. She seemed to be preoccupied, and didn't appear to notice what was going on on the Bridge.
"Of course," Chakotay replied almost automatically, and with one final glare at the pilot, he followed the captain. Janeway to the rescue! Tom thought, smiling wryly. He was reminded of more than one occasion where the captain had come to save him and others. Never before was it from her own first officer, though.
Tom could still feel the eyes on his back, but he pretended they weren't there and started a routine diagnostic.
"What's the matter, captain?" Chakotay asked, sitting down. Kathryn had motioned him to the couch instead of the chairs at her desk, which told him that this would most likely be good news rather than bad. He could use some of it just to calm his nerves. What had got into Paris? Chakotay was tempted to think that nothing had, that this was simply how the younger man was: annoying as hell. Still, Chakotay was trying not to make such quick judgements, and he had made a promise to B'Elanna Torres to at least try to get along peacefully with the pilot, so he would think about it before drawing any conclusions
"I was reviewing the update Neelix wrote on his report on this part of the quadrant after his visit to that space station we passed two weeks back. We will want to build up some supplies, because we have a decidedly barren sector coming up ahead of us." She finally looked up from the datapadd she was holding. "There is a world, called Pelltag, only a few days away at maximum Warp, which Neelix heard has had some economic success in the past few years, and we can get what we want there." The captain smiled at her first officer. "It also appears to be ideal for shore leave."
That evoked a returning smile from Chakotay. "That we could certainly use. The Holodecks are starting to get boring. When I manage to reserve some time on them, that is."
Kathryn nodded. "I agree completely. I'll give you and Tuvok the information so you can take a look at it."
"Thank you," Chakotay replied.
Then the captain looked at him sternly. "Good," she said. "Now, what was going on on the Bridge when I came out there a minute ago?"
Chakotay was surprised, though he probably shouldn't have been -- he hadn't thought Kathryn had caught the tension. But he had decided to keep an eye on Paris by himself for a while first. He knew himself well enough to realise that if he spoke to Kathryn about the matter, he would sound hateful. "It was nothing, really," he told the captain. She raised a doubtful eyebrow, but apparently she was going to let him get away with it this time.
A plate clattered down on the table in front of Tom. The food on it didn't budge: it trembled a little, but it stuck tight to the plate. "What the targ happened on the Bridge?" B'Elanna demanded to know angrily.
Tom grimaced. "Harry told you about it, didn't he?"
"Harry?" she exclaimed incredulously. "Tom, everyone who was on the Bridge when it happened is talking about it to whomever they can find!"
The tall man shrugged. "At least people might be able to figure out what really happened when they get multiple versions."
B'Elanna sighed and sat down opposite to him. She put her hand on his. "Tom, will you please be serious? What happened? I thought the two of you had made some degree of peace." The tone of her voice told Tom that she was honestly worried, and it gave him enough pause not to reply with another bad joke.
"I'm agitated about Seska and... you know." His child. For some reason, Tom was afraid to say those two simple words out loud. "I took it out on Chakotay. And I can't even promise you it won't happen again."
The half-Klingon engineer sighed, almost regretting the fact that she'd taught Tom not to lie to her, but she smiled nonetheless. "Life with you is never boring, is it?"
He returned the smile. "That's why you love me."
Seska had known Tormah was coming long before he knocked on her door, but she kept him waiting for half a minute anyway. With this particular young Kazon, the Cardassian had discovered, it was important to provide a sense of danger -- if she let him get bored, Tormah might desert her. Of course, there was no real danger of discovery, since Seska as good as owned the Security officer watching this part of the ship, but the pretence was enough.
When she decided she had waited long enough, Seska deactivated the console showing an image from the security camera outside her door and went to answer the knocking. "Who's there?" she called.
"It's Tormah," a whisper came back. Seska quickly opened her door and closed it again the moment the Kazon had entered the room. Then she smiled at him conspiratorially.
"I take it that you have news?" the woman asked.
Tormah nodded enthusiastically. He was still very young, and Seska's schemes held no limit of excitement for him. "Wuman of the Kazon Oglamar has sent a reply to our proposal on the secure channel. He accepts." Now Seska showed a genuine smile. Only half aware of what she was doing, she put a hand on her bulging stomach, feeling for her now nearly full-grown baby. With Wuman and the Oglamar in her hand, the Cardassian now had people working for her in six of the mightiest Kazon sects, including Kullah's Nistrim. She controlled them all through different agents, like Tormah -- each of whom of course thought they were Seska's sole partner in a unique tactical alliance. Except for her husband, Seska hadn't approached any of the sects' majes. Instead she had chosen for key officers on their flagships. Those people she could deal with in a much less conspicuous way, and in most cases offered her more complete control.
"That's good," she said. "Very good." Abruptly the Cardassian's euphoria was reigned in when she realised something else. Not a dull moment, that was the key to Tormah. Seska hadn't expected Wuman to agree to her offer quite so soon, and hadn't prepared new work for Tormah. Her mind raced. "I want you to contact Wuman again when you can do it safely, Tormah. Speak to him and work with him to make an exact map of the strength and location of all Oglamar ships and colonies." That would probably keep the young Kazon occupied until Seska required anything further of him: Wuman would have to be further convinced to reveal so much of his sect's strengths and weaknesses, the plan would have to be updated constantly, and the times Tormah had free access to the communications array were limited.
"You can count on me," the young Kazon said, nodding eagerly.
Once Tormah had left, Seska breathed a sigh of relief that the man was gone. Working with Kazon, naive in the primitive way that they were, was tiresome, even as it offered opportunities enough to satisfy even her lust for power. Seska noticed a light flashing on her desk console, indicating that there was a message waiting for her. Walking over to the desk, she flipped a switch, and the message began playing.
"Lady Seska," a low voice started. It was Gerkil, a Nistrim technician from below on the planet. The Cardassian had simply told him that she carried secret orders from maje Kullah, and he'd not questioned her further. "Your guest has arrived, and is awaiting your presence impatiently," Gerkil continued, stressing the last word.
Seska smiled. After all these months of careful scheming, her plans were finally reaching their final stages. Oh, all the power she had gathered -- she was arguably the most powerful person for several thousands of lightyears in any direction -- was pleasurable, no doubt, but all she had gathered, Seska had for one sole purpose: she wanted to bring the father of her child to her to witness the birth of their child, or if he missed the birth, at least the child itself. And she wanted that sight to be the last thing he ever saw.
Tapping some buttons, Seska cleared a shuttlecraft to ferry her down to the planet immediately.
"Well, it's about time someone showed up," the bounty hunter complained. The woman looked almost human, but Seska noted that the bones of her bare, crossed arms stuck out of her skin, forming a ridge. Seska had only once before encountered a Dismalian, and it had cost nearly a dozen Kazon considerable effort to kill him. "You kept me waiting. I don't like waiting. When I'm unhappy, my prices go up."
The Cardassian woman smiled pleasantly. She didn't care overly much about material wealth anymore, and Kullah had enough to squander anyway. "My apologies," she said smoothly, "but certain people needn't be aware of your new job, if you understand what I'm saying." The bounty hunter nodded. Secrecy was not exactly unusual in her line of work.
"Now," Seska said, "Ms Wystria, I've heard that you are the best there is at what you do."
"That's right," the Dismalian agreed with calm confidence. "Actually, you are lucky that I happened to be in this sector. Usually I operate in the sectors surrounding Jeekar alone."
Seska nodded. "I am aware of that, and grateful that you could come. Believe me when I say that the reward will be well worth your effort."
"There is a man," Seska said, her eyes gleaming with hatred and desire. "I want him. Alive. It won't be easy. He travels in a large starship called Voyager. You've probably heard the tales and the rumours, and the worst -- for us anyway -- are likely to be true. Their security is tight, you won't get in unnoticed." She grimaced, remembering Tuvok. Suddenly, a thought occurred to her. Has that Vulcan continued working on that holoprogram of his yet? Then perhaps security isn't as tight as it was in his hands anymore. It didn't really matter, because boarding Voyager secretly would still be impossible, or close enough to it. "But," she continued, "Janeway often sends out people on away missions or shore leave, and he is among those as often as not."
Wystria waved a hand in dismissal. "You leave all that to me. All I need to know is how much I'm getting paid. And one more thing, maybe," she added grudgingly. "Do you know the approximate location of this Voyager? It would spare me some time searching."
Seska smiled. In the business of information, she was queen and empress. "I know their every change in course and speed minutes after they engage it."
Deep in thought, Kullah watched as the shuttle carried his wife and unborn child back up to his flagship Kariph II from the surface. The maje had found out that she had been meeting with someone, even if he didn't know who.
Yes, Kullah knew all about Seska's scheming. Or at least the fact that she was doing it.
But the Kazon was confident that Seska wouldn't do anything to harm him or the sect. And even if she tried, he would stop her. Nevertheless, doubts gnawed at him. On a level beneath his conscious mind, the maje suspected that if his spouse would do such a thing, she would be very successful in her attempt to leave him clueless.
B'Elanna was humming a song while she searched her wardrobe for something to wear on shore leave. She wondered for a moment what song it was, and decided that it was one of Tom's twentieth century things. That thought brought a smile to the half-Klingon's face. The pilot was certainly having a strong influence on her and her life. Then she frowned. If Tom hadn't insisted, at least she wouldn't be having this trouble finding a dress now. She probably would simply have worn her uniform.
But B'Elanna had to admit it would do her good to shed her uniform -- and with it her responsibilities as Chief engineer -- while they were taking shore leave on Pelltag. She didn't exactly have a broad choice of dresses, and ultimately decided on the red one. Tom adored it, and she had to admit that she looked awfully nice in it.
Just when she'd put on the dress, her doorbell chimed. "Come on in," she called. When she turned, she could see Tom and Harry walking in.
"Hi there," Tom said, making no effort to hide how his eyes were roving over her. As much as the half-Klingon enjoyed the sensation, it annoyed her as well. "Hi yourself," she told the pilot. "Tom, why do you want me to dress like this? I can't run. I can barely even walk in it!"
A lopsided grin appeared suddenly on Tom's face. "That's the whole point," he claimed. "I'm not letting you escape this time, Ms Torres."
Harry shook his head amusedly. "Whatever," he said. "I'm just here to see you guys off."
"Actually," the taller man admitted, "I asked him to help me. The two of us ought to be able to get you to the Transporter Room without 'just one more check on Engineering'."
"Come on, let's go," Harry urged. "It's time you get some R&R. The both of you, you workaholics."
Captain Janeway noticed the signal that her first officer was trying to give her, and stepped out of the mass of people at the reception with him. It was a planetary holiday that day, but while her crewmembers were spread out across the capital city and seemingly countless parties, the captain and her highest ranking officers were required to stay at the more formal gathering in the presidential residence. Raising her crystal glass, she said to Chakotay: "So far, we're being received fairly well, wouldn't you say?"
"Call me paranoid," the Indian replied, "but I think we're being received a little too well."
The captain raised an eyebrow. "Oh? What makes you say that?"
The tattooed man leaned a little closer. "I've talked about it with Tuvok, and he agrees with me. Captain, the culture, architecture, everything we've seen here seems to indicate that the Pelltags are a very direct people, but so far, they have refused to let us think about anything but the welcoming party. Mention 'business', and you're fobbed off."
"Do you think they are trying to distract us?" Janeway asked. "It is a holiday, after all. That could simply be all."
Chakotay sighed. "I hope that I am wrong," he said, "but based on all our previous experiences in the Delta quadrant, I don't know if we can risk it."
Janeway frowned. "We can't not risk it, either," she replied after a moment. "We need those supplies, and besides, the Delta quadrant is probably making us paranoid. Just in case, have Tuvok's B-plan stand by. If the Pelltags are up to something, they'll undoubtedly do it tonight."
Quickly taking advantage of Harry's distraction, Tom and B'Elanna took a firm hold of each other and kissed furiously. For a minute or so, Harry was fascinated by the parade marching through the street they were in and the loud music accompanying it, but then he turned back to his friends. The small part of Tom Paris that was still paying attention to his surroundings noticed and he tried to pull back from the embrace. B'Elanna would have none of that. Whoa! Tom thought. Someone is certainly over her fear of being caught in the middle of a public display of affection! When they both finally ran out of breath, Harry was watching them with his arms crossed over his chest. He looked amused, and more than a little exasperated.
"I really thought I heard you two say you were going to stay decent when you convinced me to come down here," the ensign remonstrated his two best friends. He shook his head softly. "I mean, you had hours to do this before I could join you. Have you no shame?"
Tom smiled back at the smile forming on Harry's lips despite his words. B'Elanna blushed a little at the words, but did not move away from her boyfriend.
"Harry," Tom interrupted him calmly, "it's all right, buddy. Follow the orchestra, if you want to. We don't mind."
Grinning like a child on Christmas Eve, Voyager's chief of Operations hurried off.
"Clever," B'Elanna said admiringly. "Something in that music did sound a bit like a clarinet."
The pilot shrugged. "I wouldn't know," he admitted. "Something about Harry's music always seems to put me to sleep fairly quickly." B'Elanna mock-punched him in the side, but, he ignored her and looked around carefully. The official parade had gone past them, but there was still a crowd out on the street following it, including more than a few Voyager crewmembers.
"Alone at last," Tom declared dramatically.
B'Elanna sighed. "You wish," she said wistfully. "And so do I, by the way."
"We will be, once we're in that dark and empty park over there."
The engineer smiled. "I love it when you're being resourceful."
Harry Kim was fascinated by the similarities between the Pelltag ullisom and his own Earth clarinet. The instruments had developed galaxies apart, but the slight aesthetic differences aside, they were practically the same. So intrigued was the ensign that he never noticed the fioral player discard his instrument behind Harry and replacing it in his hands with repulsor rifle.
During the course of the evening, Lt Cmdr Tuvok had been questioned seven times about whether or not he was enjoying himself. His answer, the same each time, had been simple, yet the Vulcan did not believe he had been understood correctly once. He had been asked if he was having fun. He had replied that his presence at the reception could not evoke any emotional response in him, because he did not experience emotions. He had been told by each of the seven questioners that they were sorry he was not enjoying himself and been encouraged to try out one of the available alcoholic beverages. The Pelltags' apparent inability to grasp Tuvok's very nature was frustrating. Had there been an emotional response connected to what he was experiencing, the chief of Security might have said that he was annoyed.
Tuvok had, naturally, declined all offers to indulge himself in the alcoholic beverages.
Instead of muddling his senses, the Vulcan had put them to good use. For four hours after the reception had begun the assembled Pelltags had shown behaviour that fitted almost perfectly with what Tuvok knew of their culture and comparable ceremonies in similar cultures. Tuvok decided the chance of foul play was lower than he had anticipated.
After that, however, the natives began to behave more suspiciously. There was many a whispered conversation that even a Vulcan's sensitive hearing could not pick up, and many people threw glances at the Starfleet officers which he could only call suspicious. Some of the highest ranking officials left the room in quick succession, and all doors but one were closed.
Despite the fact that everything was rapidly becoming clear to Tuvok, the Security chief doubted if the captain or the others had noticed. Different from himself, the other officers were enjoying themselves, at the cost of their attentiveness.
So when the waiters suddenly gathered together around a newly arrived cart of food, one of them kneeled down beside it and started to hand out repulsor rifles to the other waiters, Tuvok was prepared. Immediately, the Vulcan's hand was on his commbadge.
"Tuvok to Voyager. Initiate 'Plan B'," he ordered in a businesslike manner.
The voice which replied sounded startled, but spoke as efficiently as her commanding officer had. "Acknowledged, sir."
All over the city night-dark streets and well-lit avenues suddenly became illuminated with a light unfamiliar to the world of Pelltag. In groups of two, Security officers beamed down from the starship Voyager, well-armed with phaser rifles. The Pelltag natives, similarly well-armed and all over the city, had expected the aliens from the Alpha quadrant to be easy pickings, and they were totally unprepared for these well-trained adversaries. The occasional Pelltag fired his rifle before surrendering, but those were the exceptions to the rule.
In the middle of a shadowy copse of trees in the park on the east side of town, Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres were unpleasantly distracted from what they were doing by the commotion nearby. The shouting the couple was hearing was clearly not a planned part of the partying. At least, not as the Voyagers had planned it.
"Tom?" B'Elanna asked, breaking the pleasant silence, aside from the background noise, that had gone on for several minutes.
"Mm hmm?" came the reply.
"We really should go see what's going on."
"Nah," Tom said, grimacing at the idea. B'Elanna smiled at the look on his face. "I'm sure it's nothing." Just then, they heard the sound of a phaser rifle firing. "Why am I always wrong?" the pilot asked.
"Not always," the engineer said, getting up and pulling Tom up with her. "Only when you disagree with me."
The two quickly and silently walked to the edge of the park, but were already too late to witness the end of the firefight. Two of Tuvok's Security officers were in the process of taking three disarmed Pelltags into custody when they walked up. When B'Elanna asked, Hudson and Simms gave a brief report of the situation. Fortunately, the Pelltags weren't giving much trouble- -aside from spoiling shore leave, as Tom observed.
When the two ensigns took off with their prisoners, the chief helmsman tapped on his commbadge. "Paris to Tuvok."
"Tuvok here. What is it, lieutenant?" the Vulcan's voice replied immediately.
"B'Elanna and I just noticed the situation and were wondering if there's anything we can do."
"I see," said the Security chief. "What is your location?"
"We're on the east side of town, by the park."
"There is no more trouble in that neighbourhood. Please patrol the streets to see if anyone was injured in the press of the crowd, and if so, accompany them to a medical facility."
"We're on it, Tuvok." Tom broke the connection and looked questioningly at the woman standing next to him. "Split up?" he asked. "The sooner we finish, the sooner we can get back to the privacy of the park... or your quarters." He added a lecherous smile, and B'Elanna laughed.
"All right," she agreed. "Um... Let's check the broad avenue and the intersecting smaller streets. It goes all the way around the park, so we can meet on the other side. I'll go this way, you that way."
"Deal," Tom said. Then he grinned. "And I'll bet you I can go faster than you can." The half- Klingon just sighed amusedly and walked away.
The blond pilot looked after her for a few moments, and then began his own patrol. The streets were mostly empty, though some of the Pelltags who apparently hadn't been in on their government's plans were starting to dare venturing outside again. The only person Tom found who was in any trouble was crewman Hiller. His stomach hadn't agreed with the local drinks, and Tayl was puking his guts out in the gutter. Tom sent the ex-Maquis back up to Voyager. The streets were still to dangerous to be walking around in in a state like that.
Practically from the moment he had left B'Elanna, Tom had had the feeling that someone was following him. It was nothing concrete, just that feeling of eyes directed on his back. Whenever he looked around, however, there was no one there to see.
Or so the former Maquis thought, until he entered one particularly isolated street. There were few street lights to begin with, and some of those had been broken. If it'd happened just now, in the fighting, or earlier, in a party that had got out of hand, Tom didn't know. "Ooh, scary!" Tom quipped softly.
"Thomas Paris!" a female voice called to him from somewhere behind him. Tom turned around with his best charming smile on his lips, ready to tell the woman that he preferred 'Tom' over 'Thomas', but when he saw her, the words froze in his mouth. She was very pretty, there was no disputing that, but what grabbed Tom's attention the most was the fact that she clearly was neither a crewmember from Voyager, nor a native of the planet. She looked mostly like a Human, except for some interesting bone growth on her arms.
"I'm sorry, have we met?" he asked instead of what he had been going to say.
"We have now," the woman said. As the darkness closed around him, Tom wondered idly how he could have failed to notice the weapon in her hand.
Captain Kathryn Janeway could not help but feel, besides her annoyance at being attacked in such a typical Delta quadrant fashion, a little smug. These people had never stood a chance against her well-trained officers.
"Now, Prime Minister," she spoke, not bothering to hide the threat in her voice. "Why did you attack us? Unprovoked, I might add." She, Chakotay and Tuvok were questioning the man, while some of her officers were guarding the rest of the Pelltags on the other side of the room.
"For your technology, captain," the Prime Minister said quickly. His eyes shifted scaredly from Janeway to her two senior officers and back.
The captain sighed. Of course. Their technology. What else would it be? "We were told that you are foolish and naive!" The Prime Minister winced when he realised what he'd just said, but the Starfleeters weren't interested in that part.
"Told?" Chakotay asked. "By whom?"
"The Kazon! They said it, not me!"
"The Nistrim," Janeway thought out loud. "I wonder if Seska will ever give up her grudge against us."
"It wasn't the Nistrim," the Prime Minister said, eager to be able to give the Starfleeters something they wanted. "It was the Oglamar." Kathryn frowned. This was something to think about.
Then, suddenly, her commbadge chirped. "Torres to Janeway." The captain wanted to tell the engineer to wait, that she was busy, but she heard that the woman sounded upset.
"What is it, B'Elanna?" she asked.
"It's Tom," was the reply, "he's gone!"
No matter how often he got knocked unconscious, Tom never seemed to recall how much it hurt when he woke up afterwards until it happened to him again. Phasers and that sort of energy weapons were the worst. He always felt stiff all over after he was shot, and there was this burning sensation at the actual point where he'd been hit. And that was when the weapon was set on stun, like it had been now, fortunately. He groaned. Relatively fortunately.
Slowly the pilot regained his senses. He remembered being shot on Pelltag, but he could feel the slight vibration of starship engines now. Was he back on Voyager? No, it felt different.
Taking a deep breath, Tom opened his eyes. Definitively not Voyager. He was in a ship of small size, probably no bigger than a Starfleet runabout-class shuttle. Through the front window, he could see stars streaking by at Warp five or six. The pilot had a good view of the various system controls from where he was sitting, tied to his chair hands and feet. The controls were cluttered in a way they would never be on a Starfleet vessel, but not clumsy way--the ship was clearly designed to be operated by a single person.
"So, you're awake," the person sitting at the controls said. She had not turned around, and aside from maybe a soft groan or two, Tom didn't think he had made a sound. The woman looked back at him then, and he instantly relived the moment he had first seen that face, and had been shot.
"Like I said before, have we met?" He tried to smile with his words, but it came out more as a grimace when he noticed how tight his bonds were.
The woman looked surprised for a moment, but then she grinned broadly. "How about I don't shoot you in response this time?" she said.
"How about you untie me and let me out go instead?" Tom asked merrily.
The woman's face darkened as she came to stand over the blond Human, and Tom once again noticed the ridges of bare bone running from her wrists all the way up to the lines of her shirt at the shoulders. He did not fancy being hit with those arms. "Don't go too far, Paris," she warned. "I've been told I have a short temper."
Tom smiled again. He knew he had to find some way to work this woman, because it didn't seem likely that he would get a chance to physically overwhelm her anytime soon. Even now that he was as harmless as a baby, she was armed and looked over his bonds to see if they were still secure. And the pilot had no intention whatsoever to go where he was being taken. Though he couldn't be certain where that was, he was starting to have a sneaking suspicion, and it involved that baby he mentioned.
"Sorry," he said, and made it sound like a mixture of sincerity and joking. "Anyway, milady, I appreciate it that you're not going to shoot me."
This time, the woman laughed out loud. That was good, Tom thought. "You're more than welcome, Paris," she told him. "Disruptor energy cell cost money, and you gotta work efficiently to make a decent living in these parts. And my name is Wystria, by the way."
"Pleased to make your acquaintance, Wystria," Tom said cheerfully. "You know, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship." Wystria eyed him very sceptically at that, but that didn't matter. The helmsman knew his wit had got her interested -- who could not be fascinated by a man who was being abducted and carried on like nothing was out of the ordinary? As B'Elanna and Harry loved to point out, once Tom started talking, no one knew where or how it was going to end.
"Where is my crewman, admiral?" captain Janeway demanded again. She was staring daggers at the head of Pelltag's military forces, and the man looked as if he was feeling each and every one of them. Chakotay almost pitied him. But not quite. They were sitting in the Conference Room aboard Voyager, with Tuvok and two muscled Security officers standing behind the admiral. Even if the room missed the Cardassian tools of interrogation Chakotay had once seen in a holonovel, it could not have been more intimidating than it was at that moment.
The captain was understandably upset by Paris's disappearance, and the Indian was forced to agree with the sentiment. Damn the man! There was always some kind trouble going on with him at the center of it. Extensive scans of the planet showed no signs of Human life other than those accounted for, and search parties on the surface had found only Paris's deactivated commbadge out in a street somewhere. It hadn't been long before Kathryn had realised that the Prime minister honestly didn't know where Paris could be, and she hadn't hesitated before questioning the rest of the government. Now they were running out of officials.
"I don't know," the admiral said with a false calm. "I swear it, I do not know."
"Captain," Chakotay spoke up, "perhaps we should accept the possibility that the lieutenant was taken by an outside force, a third party."
She looked up, irritated--not with her first officer or even the Pelltag in front of her, but with the situation and with the galaxy in general. "But what are the chances that someone attacked us while we were already engaged in another fight?" she asked rhetorically. Pretty good, Chakotay thought, with the rate at which Voyager was being attacked. He didn't say it out loud.
"I must concur with the commander," Tuvok joined in, motioning his guards to take the prisoner away. The admiral would be beamed back to his planet, where he would remain confined to the government district until Voyager left orbit. "We have questioned all suspects," the Security chief continued, "and have determined beyond reasonable doubt that they are unaware of the whereabouts of Lt Paris. When one has eliminated every other option, what remains -- however unlikely -- must be the truth."
Tom shifted his wrist slightly. Wystria had finally agreed to retie his bonds so they wouldn't cut into his flesh so much. Unfortunately she was too good, too professional to give him any chance at escape while doing so. Still, the pilot thought that things were progressing better than he'd hoped for. He had managed to keep his conversation with the bounty hunter going almost constantly since he had woken up, and he got the impression that Wystria really liked blond hair and blue eyes.
Not enough to set him free, of course, but the more she fell for him, the greater the chance was that he would find an opening to trick her with.
"So, Wystria," Tom asked, "you never told me who you are working for."
The woman shook her head chidingly. "And I'm not going to tell you, Paris. I never discuss my clients, not even with my prey. Professional ethics."
"First," Tom replied, "call me Tom. Second, I know it's Seska anyway, her and her pet Kazon. I was just wondering if we couldn't make a better deal between the two of us."
Even from the back of Wystria's head the pilot could see that she was smiling as she opened the can of food she had just heated. "I was wondering when you'd get to that," she said.
Tom shrugged. "Can you blame me? I don't look forward to Seska doing horrible things to me for no good reason."
"No good reason?" Wystria asked, looking over her shoulder. "Then why is she paying so much for your capture?"
"Bad reasons," Tom quipped. He still didn't know what motives Seska had given the bounty hunter, and if he should tell her the truth or a fabrication. "Still, there must be something you want which I could get for you."
Wystria looked annoyed at this line of conversation -- she'd probably talked it over many times before with as many of her victims. Carefully, she untied one of his hands and thrust a bowl of food under his nose. The helmsman sniffed as he took it in his freed hand and grimaced. "Man!" he said. "This stuff would do Neelix proud."
"The Talaxian?" Wystria asked, her tone suddenly sharp.
Tom looked up in surprise. "Yeah," he answered. "Do you know him?"
"And a bit more than that," the bounty hunter said acidly. "If I had never met that rat, I'd have had enough money to buy a moon and retire years ago. He cost me."
Voyager's chief helmsman smiled as a plan began to take shape in his mind. "Perhaps, then, it is not so much something you want that I can get, but someone."
The vase crashed against the wall, its hard, ceramic surface shattering, and spraying water halfway across the room. B'Elanna sighed, breathing hard. That felt unbelievably much better. Almost as unbelievable as the fact that there were still breakable object to find around her quarters.
Calmed down considerably, the half-Klingon looked down at her hand. She was still holding the flowers she had taken from the vase before throwing it, and drops of water were running over her hand and falling to the floor. Tom had given her those flowers, of course. She didn't think of such things herself.
And now Tom had disappeared. Again. A small part of her was angry with him for it, but she was convinced that he couldn't help it. He'd promised her he would never leave her alone again.
The worst part was not being able to do anything. The Warp engines were in peak condition. Now they just had to find out where to go.
All three Kazon in the corridor at that moment looked over at Seska wildly, startled by her sudden loud cursing. The Cardassian woman was nearly bent double, and she had to support herself with one hand against the wall. Her other hand was cradling her swollen stomach out of some maternal instinct.
It couldn't be coming already, could it? It hadn't even been nine months since she had impregnated herself with Tom's semen. Then again, the foetus was half-Human, and Seska was hardly an expert on more of Human physiology than could be explored with her hands, and the butcher the Kazon called a doctor hadn't been able to tell her anything about the baby either. Who knew what was a normal period of pregnancy for Humans?
The former spy gasped again loudly as another contraction followed the first. It was coming, all right. Her face suddenly moist with sweat, Seska looked up to find the three Kazon still looking at her hesitantly.
"You!" she roared, glaring at one of them. "Get the doctor! Now!"
"So. Is it a deal?" Tom asked.
Wystria eyed him suspiciously. Despite her own sarcastic view of the universe, she was sceptical about finding someone who seemed as sarcastic about it and things like friendship and trust as she was. Her prisoner could understand her feelings. After all he was only doing an act. An act, however, which came painfully close to the truth. At one point in his life, he had been worse than the bounty hunter.
Finally, she nodded. "I'll open the commlink," she said. "You just give me the frequency and say what you've got to say. If I decide you say anything suspicious, the deal's off, and we fly on to the rendezvous point where I'll hand you over to Seska."
"Sure, sure," Tom said absentmindedly. In his head, he went over the exact words he was going to say in a few moments. It would have to be perfect, or his entire plan could fall apart. At Wystria's sign, he entered the frequency and codes. Then he took a deep breath and activated the speaker.
"Chakotay, old pal," he began, "I'm in trouble. Yes, I know. Again." He shrugged nonchalantly. "All things considered, I've been in worse scrapes, but I'm still gonna need your help to get out of this one, like usual. You know I'll repay you, so no nagging, please. Bring our magnificent cook, Mr Neelix, to these co-ordinates. Just think of some excuse to tell the captain. She'll believe you, no doubt. One more thing, and I'm going to stress this--bring Neelix, but no one else. Cheers!"
He cut the commlink.
Seska thought that she might finally know what her interrogation sessions had felt like for the interrogees. Nine hours of labour. She told herself that it all would have been much easier if the child hadn't been half-Human. Then Kullah leaned over her, his face an almost childish expression of excitement. If the child had been half-Kazon, as the maje believed, the birth would probably have been much harder.
"It is a girl," the doctor told her, handing the Cardassian a bundle of cloth which seemed to swallow the tiny being whole. He sounded somewhat disappointed. Among the Kazon, it was still important for the maje to produce a strong, male heir. It was in situations where that hadn't been the case that the different sects had come into being.
Seska, however, could have cared less. The baby in her arms displayed the delicate facial pattern that proved its Cardassian heritage, but the lines were softened by its Human half. It was a good thing that the Kazon knew virtually nothing about Cardassians, or crossbreeds. As it was, Kullah would suspect nothing of who the girl's father truly was.
The former spy thought she would have hated this creature. It was part of Tom--really the only reason she had impregnated herself with his genetic material was to torture the man. Instead, she found herself fascinated with every breath the child took. It was part of Tom, yes, but it was clean, uncorrupted by other people. By her. Seska could mould the girl as she saw fit. As her father should have been.
As Seska looked around the room, her anger rose again. She had wanted that father to be at the birth, to see his face when he realised that this child was his and he would have died a painful death long before it was old enough to remember him. That was why she had sent the bounty hunter after Tom. The woman was supposed to be one of the best, but even she couldn't deliver this fast. The child had been early. Her baby hadn't been able to wait any longer. Suddenly, neither could she.
Donning a proud smile, she turned to Kullah. "Our child has been born, my maje," she said. "Don't you think we should celebrate?"
Chakotay sighed. "I'm still not sure about this, B'Elanna," he said.
"Oh, come on!" the half-Klingon engineer exclaimed angrily. "Tom sends you a message, speaking like you've been best buddies all your lives--I know how he thinks--and you know enough of it too for that matter. Of course he meant the opposite of what he was saying!" she calmed herself, reminding herself that she was talking to a superior. It was just that she'd felt so relieved after she'd heard the mysterious message Chakotay had received was from Tom. "The important thing is, is that whoever has taken Tom, he has a plan and needs back-up. So we go."
Voyager's first officer looked at her with a smile that was somewhere between amused and irritated. "I know all that," he stated calmly. "I was talking about you coming with us"--he looked at the small crew of ex-Maquis and seasoned Security officers that were loading a shuttle and readying it for departure--"or Neelix, for that matter," the Indian added.
B'Elanna followed Chakotay's look to the wildly bustling Talaxian, and shifted on her feet. She felt a bit embarrassed, as she usually did after one of her outbursts. Still, the Chief engineer was confident that this time, there wasn't a man or woman present to hear her who wouldn't understand. "Neelix knows the risks and is willing to take them for Tom," she said. There had been some argument about whether the cook could come, because it was obvious from Tom's cryptic message that he was central to the pilot's plan as well as in great danger because of it. "It's his choice."
"I suppose," Chakotay admitted. He didn't want anyone put at risk for Paris, there was no way to tell if the danger was really that great. Paris undoubtedly believed his plan could be pulled off without casualties, but what that man believed and what was reality had often little to do with each other. "There's still you," Chakotay insisted. "You're too involved."
"Like I said before," B'Elanna replied, her voice suddenly low and dangerous, "you're welcome to try to stop me. Just don't expect to be in any state to come with us afterward."
Chakotay shook his head in disapproval, but let the matter drop as he noticed Captain Janeway approach them.
"Commander, lieutenant," Janeway greeted. "How are things going?"
"We're about ready to leave," Chakotay reported. While he had been talking to B'Elanna, the bustle by the shuttlecraft had rather quickly finished, and the crewmembers who had been loading it were now standing near it in a group, talking quietly. "I was just taking care of some last details."
The captain smiled wryly. "As in convincing B'Elanna not to go along?" The Indian didn't need to answer. "It's bad enough that you and Tuvok got me to stay behind. It makes me sympathise with B'Elanna, so I insist that she goes. Remember, time's a wasting, so you'd better hop to."
"Yes, ma'am," came the reply. Did Chakotay even notice, Kathryn wondered, that he sounded almost exactly like his nemesis, the way he said those two words? Once more she wondered what the relationship between the two men had been before they had met again on her ship, and what had made them hate each other so. She vowed that when Tom and Chakotay returned, she'd renew her efforts to find out.
In Sickbay, the EMH programme stood perfectly still. He had connected his optical receivers to Voyager's external sensors to watch the shuttle carrying Chakotay's team leave. The Doctor sighed. It wasn't that he felt worried about Mr Paris--of course not, the man was obnoxious!--it was just that judging by the away missions in the past six months, there was a chance of 93.8 percent that one or more of the shuttle's occupants would end up needing medical care. He would have to call Kes to let her help prepare Sickbay.
The shuttle was soon gone from sight, but the Doctor kept watching in the direction it had went for minutes afterward, lost in digital thought. Had he been paying more attention to the data he was receiving from the starships sensors, he would not have been surprised when the red alert claxons started blaring.
"Red alert," Tuvok's voice noted the obvious over the comm system. "All hands to battle stations. We are under attack by Kazon vessels."
Apparently, the thought crossed the EMH's mind, he would be getting patients even sooner than he had expected.
Captain Janeway scowled as she stepped out of the turbolift and started stalking the corridor towards Main Engineering. This hit-and-run tactic was something new for the Kazon, and it just didn't seem like them. When the first Kazon battleship that had attacked them, just after Chakotay's shuttle had left, fled as soon as Voyager had began returning fire, the captain had been relieved. But two attacks in a span of barely four hours? The Kazon had to be up to something--especially considering the fact that the two battleships had been from different sects. Kathryn sighed, and wished that she could ask her first officer for his opinion.
She entered Engineering and quickly found the OIC. Since the death of Joe Carey, B'Elanna usually chose Lt Vorik for that position when she was away. For some reason the half-Klingon had taken on a dislike of the young Vulcan recently, but he was still a competent engineer.
"Vorik!" captain Janeway called, and the lieutenant came down a ladder from Engineering's upper level. "How's the damage from the second attack?" she asked.
"As it was with the first attack," the Vulcan reported, "the damage Voyager suffered does not appear to affect any essential systems. However, it will take us some time to complete repairs."
Janeway frowned. She had to assume that the Kazon knew what they were doing. God knew that they had always had an eye for hits that caused a lot of damage. But what were they trying to accomplish? If she had just a little time, the captain knew she could figure it out. But Tuvok's voice once again called for battle stations, she sighed. There was little chance the Kazon would wait for her to catch up.
"So you see," Seska concluded as she looked around the table, "our strategic hits to Voyager have damaged her so, that her primary energy net will overload at the merest touch of a disruptor beam to the shields." Three majes sat around the table. After the last disastrous attempt the Kazon had made at uniting, it had taken Seska considerable effort to convince them to give it another try. Kullah of the Nistrim, of course, was in it for the power. He was certain that it spoke for itself that he alone would command Voyager's power once they'd taken her. Olan of the Oglamar was even more stupid than the stereotypical Kazon, and he was oblivious to the fact that the last Kazon alliance had fallen apart because Kullah had had his counterparts of the Ogla and the Relorah killed. Of course, in actuality Seska had done that, but even the other Nistrim believed Kullah had ordered the assassination. Djirbran of the Relorah was all too aware of he believed Kullah had done. His father and predecessor had been one of the ones killed, after all. There was little Seska could not do with a young mind bent on revenge.
"My plan," Kullah said, and paused a few seconds to let his supposed superiority sink in, "will hand us Voyager. All we have to do is keep up the strikes until Voyager is weak enough."
"The ship is weak enough," Djirbran claimed boldly, trying to assert some power for himself. "I say we attack now and take her. With or without you, Kullah."
Seska glanced at the maje of the Nistrim and gave him a brief shake of her head. Attacking now would be foolish. The Cardassian was certain that Kullah saw her sign, but in his pathetic wisdom he chose not to act on it.
"And so we shall," he spoke, as if it was his own idea not to wait any longer.
After the three had left the room, Seska sighed. Voyager would still be able to put up a fight, now. She wished the Ogla, or any of the remaining sects she had been in contact with were near enough to help. Well, ultimately it didn't really matter how many ships the Kazon lost--as long as the vessel she and the baby were on wasn't among them.
Tom shifted his weight from one foot to another and back. Chakotay should have been there by now. The commander's tardiness, combined with Wystria's excessive--from his point of view, at least--suspicion of him, while so far he had delivered everything that he had promised, was doing a fair job of bleakening the pilot's spirits. Standing on Prairie Planet with his hands tied behind him and a disruptor aimed at his back wasn't helping much, either. The scene reminded him far too much of an execution from a bad holonovel.
Nervously, Tom glanced around for any sign of Chakotay. Maybe, he pondered, the Indian thought it would be good riddance if he died here, but the former Maquis's rational mind knew that Chakotay's sense of fairness wouldn't let him do such a thing.
"If he doesn't show," Wystria threatened boredly, "I think I'll just deliver Seska your corpse. The pay'll be less, but, hey, she's paying more than you're worth anyway." The bounty hunter sounded as if she wasn't at all surprised that Chakotay and Neelix weren't there, but Tom knew how badly she wanted to have the Talaxian, and he figured he could convince her to wait for at least a few more hours.
But perhaps that wouldn't be necessary. Tom saw the sunlight reflect off something on the rise a quarter mile to the left of them, and in that instant, he recognised it as a Starfleet phaser rifle. Unfortunately, it seemed that Wystria had noticed something, too, and she was squinting to try and make out what was on the sandy hill.
"Look," he said quickly, to distract her, "I told you he'd be here." He nodded his head to where two figures were materialising in a transporter beam. Chakotay was carrying a phaser on his belt, but Neelix was not carrying any weapons. None visible, anyway. "Ah, Chakotay, how good to see you," the pilot started quickly before Chakotay could demand to know what was going on. "And you, Neelix. I have someone here who wants to get reacquainted with you. She really missed you, you know?"
Neelix's eyes widened when he took a closer look at the stranger, and suddenly, his eyes widened. "Wystria!" he identified her in a whisper. The bounty hunter's disruptor was suddenly aimed at the Talaxian, startling them all. Chakotay tensed, but fortunately he didn't draw his own weapon yet.
"What is this?" demanded the commander coldly of Tom.
Tom shrugged. "Well, Ms Wystria here was being paid to deliver me to a certain someone, but she was willing to be satisfied with Mr Neelix in stead. So who am I to argue? And don't give me that look, Chakotay. I know you never liked him either. Do you prefer a terrible cook or your partner?" The blond human was getting a trifle nervous. He could easily read in Neelix's face that the Talaxian trusted that Tom would pull a trick out of his sleeve and they would be going back to Voyager any time now. That was, in fact, the planned result of Tom's plan, but that depended heavily on the fact that Chakotay would recognise what to do and when.
He turned to Wystria. "Don't you think it's about time you untied me now?" he asked her. "I mean, it's been fun and all, but I have a Helm to get back to."
"First I want the Talaxian," Wystria demanded. "Then your friend can untie you while I get out of here."
"And here I was hoping you would stick around to be with me for a while longer," Tom replied playfully."
"In your dreams, Paris," the bounty hunter said, but she sounded as if she regretted the fact that she didn't trust Tom enough to do so. Tom nodded to Chakotay to send Neelix forward. The Starfleet officer hesitated, obviously wondering if he could trust Tom, to have a plan to get Neelix back. Come on, Chakotay, the pilot pleaded silently, for once, trust me. The Talaxian cook, who would be the one at the greatest risk, seemed to have complete faith, as usual. Tom wondered how the little man had ever survived in the universe of trading, trusting as he was.
Finally, Chakotay gave Neelix a shove forward, and Tom breathed a sigh of relief. He walked forward, to Chakotay, and winked to Neelix when he passed him. The Talaxian didn't exactly look surprised and terrified as he was supposed to, but Wystria seemed to be to excited to finally have him to notice anything.
B'Elanna watched the exchange nervously from a hilltop at such a distance from the scene that she just needed a pair of macrobinoculars to make out the details of what was happening. A weight seemed to be lifted of her shoulders when Tom walked over to Chakotay, but at the same time, she felt worried for Neelix as the bounty hunter woman took him in the direction of her ship. Chakotay, meanwhile, was untying Tom. B'Elanna would have given up her second stomach to find out what the two were saying.
Next to her, Tayl Hiller followed Neelix and the bounty hunter's progress through the macrobinocular on his rifle. The two would pass relatively close by the hill where Tayl and B'Elanna were sitting between a trio of large rock formations.
Then B'Elanna saw Tom tap on Chakotay's commbadge, and suddenly Tayl's chirped. "Paris to Hiller."
"Tom!" B'Elanna exclaimed before Tayl could reply.
"Hi, B," the pilot returned the greeting. "Would love to chat, but we have to get Neelix back quick." The engineer grunted, disappointed, but agreeing. "Tayl, have you got that old pulse rifle with you?"
The Kimalean grinned broadly. "Yes, sir!"
"Good. Great. Wystria has modified a comm-scrambler to scramble our transporter beam. Chakotay tells me it only works for about a dozen feet, but she won't let Neelix stray that far. Shouldn't be a problem, though. Wystria's paranoid as a Ferengi. She checks if her scrambler's still functioning properly every other minute."
"... And you want me to blast it to the scrambler afterlife," Tayl supplied.
"Correctemundo. It's small, but I figure you'll be able to hit it. Then we have to have our chef beamed out that same instance, or she'll shoot him. She won't hesitate."
"I can do it," Tayl assured Tom. "One question, though."
Tom couldn't resist. "Shoot," he said.
"Why not just shoot the woman? She makes a bigger target."
"Because I think her species is pretty tough, and I'm not certain if her clothing doesn't include body armour. She could do any number of nasty things to Neelix before she went down."
"I got it." he shifted his rifle, squinting to aim. "Target coming into best position," Tayl reported."
"Count down from three so Bristow can time the transport," Chakotay suddenly joined in. B'Elanna thought the Indian sounded strangely out of place--this manoeuvre had Maquis written all over it.
"Roger that." B'Elanna watched along with Tayl as he waited until the bounty hunter got out the device. Then he counted down as Chakotay had said and fired. The shot was right on target. The transport was timed perfectly. It might have been a typically Maquis Op, B'Elanna thought, but there was something to be said for Starfleet equipment. It worked right a lot more often than Maquis equipment did. For a moment the half-Klingon wished that she had been at the transporter controls, but it had been at her own insistence that she'd been allowed to come down to the surface.
The bounty hunter, clutching the injured hand that had held her scrambler, wasted no time and came running back, screaming and firing angrily, but her weapon didn't have nearly the range Tayl's rifle had, so she posed no real threat. After a moment, the half-Klingon and the Kimalean were hailed again. "Great shooting. Stand by for transport."
Soon the two were beamed up to the shuttle. Tom and Chakotay were already there, and B'Elanna wasted no time flying into the pilot's arms. And Chakotay could grumble about PDAs all he wanted.
Half an hour later, B'Elanna was getting awfully tired of Tom again. He and Chakotay had been arguing ever since they had left the desert planet and the bounty hunter behind. B'Elanna would be glad when they could all get out of the cramped confines of the shuttle. Hiller, Bristow and Neelix all looked as if they agreed with her wholeheartedly, but they were all afraid to interrupt the argument between the two senior officers on board.
"You had no right to put Neelix's life at such risk!" Chakotay told Tom angrily.
"Well, excuse me for not lying down and dying," Tom countered. "I didn't have a whole lot of time, and this was the best plan I could come up with! It worked, didn't it?"
"I swear, Paris, this is the last time I'll let you toy with other people's lives to clean up your messes!"
B'Elanna sighed. Tom and Chakotay argued on. She really hoped they wouldn't ask her to choose sides.
"Em... Sirs?" ensign Bristow interjected carefully.
"What?" Tom and Chakotay demanded at the same time.
"I'm having trouble reaching Voyager. She's not responding to the regular commfrequencies."
"It's probably just some stellar interference," Chakotay dismissed it.
"And you call me negligent," Tom spat at him. "There's more, isn't there, Freddy?"
"Yes, Sir," the ensign replied. "I am reading Voyager's transponder signal."
B'Elanna frowned. "I'll make a more detailed scan," she said, already giving the computer the appropriate orders. When the results came in, she got worried. Very. "Take a look at this," she said. Tom and Chakotay immediately leaned over her shoulders and watched. Unfortunately, the two rivals saw the same thing the engineer had. Voyager, scarred with battle damage, was flying away from the Alpha quadrant. Escorted by six Kazon vessels.
"I suppose, Tom wondered idly, "that it's too much to hope they're just coming over for a cup of coffee?"
Tiredly, Seska rested her head in her hands. For someone who had had a victory like she had just had, she was feeling strangely lousy, she thought. Then again, for such a victory, it came with an awful lot of problems. For one thing, her Tom was nowhere to be found, and the capture of Voyager, despite all the ship's technology, meant little if she couldn't have him. The Cardassian had to assume that the bounty hunter she had hired had been successful after all, so Tom would be delivered to her eventually. All she had to do was be patient.
And then there were the majes. Why she'd ever thought the Kazon's primitive--no, imbecilic--and easily manipulated minds were a positive point, she didn't know. What she wouldn't give for one ally with a complete brain. Or at least one who didn't yell at the other imbeciles so much. It was giving her a headache.
"I demand Relorah's part of the new technology now!" maje Djirbran shouted. "I don't like the amount of Nistrim who are stationed on Voyager."
"What are you insinuating, boy?" Kullah replied much to loudly to Seska's ears. She groaned. "The Nistrim are predominant on Voyager because we are already familiar with the technology the ship represents," the Nistrim maje reiterated what Seska had told him. Maybe dumping Janeway and her people on that rock of a planet had been a mistake after all, because it had removed the common enemy that had held the Kazon together.
"But shouldn't that just mean that the Oglamar, and the Relorah, have more need to be on board?" Olan joined in. If even he was able to form a solid argument in what passed for his brain, the situation was looking grim.
Behind the bulkhead, Seska heard a baby crying, and sure indeed, a moment later a young Kazon warrior appeared in the doorway with a look of utter panic and terror on his face. "Lady Seska!" he called for help. The former Cardassian spy sighed loudly, not caring who heard her, and got to her feet to go hush her child.
Maybe she should have drowned the creature at birth.
The shuttlecraft Cochrane III followed the starship Voyager at a respectable distance, in what just happened to be the blind spot of the larger vessel's sensors. Tension aboard the little ship had long before risen beyond the point where the shuttle would have exploded had the tension been a kinetic force.
"There are no human lifesigns aboard," Chakotay said, "but I don't buy that everyone beside us is dead. It just doesn't seem plausible. The Kazon must have dumped the crew somewhere, either on an uninhabited planet or at a prison facility."
"Ain't that a shame," Tom said sarcastically. "Now you can't blame me for killing them all."
Voyager's first officer was already opening his mouth for an undoubtebly biting reply, but B'Elanna had had all she could take. "Shut up, the both of you!" she shouted, making the two men jump around to look at her in utter shock. "In case you two hadn't noticed, we're in serious trouble here! If you're going to keep this up, people are going to die. Just get some Holodeck time when this is all over and fight it out, or do whatever's necessary, but do it later!"
Tom and Chakotay had never been more eager to agree with her.
"Good," the engineer said. "Now make a plan."
There were a few seconds of silence as the two thought. "We'll have to retake Voyager before getting the rest of the crew back," Chakotay said. "Even if we found them, we'd have no way of transporting them otherwise."
"The Doctor," Tom said. "He's gained a lot of freedom since Seska left the ship. She can't know that, and she can't take away what she doesn't know of."
"If we can contact him, he can use my command codes to deactivate Voyager's shields."
"Still, we can't do to much damage to Voyager either. We can't afford to, and besides, we only have this one shuttle."
"I may be able to persuade my fellow Talaxians to give us some help," Neelix helped. "The Kazon would become far too dangerous with control of Voyager's technology."
"That'd be very helpful, Neelix," Chakotay thanked him. "Still, there's those six Kazon vessels to deal with as well. They'd be trouble for Voyager even if we were in top condition."
Tom guffawed. "Six Kazon ships? It's only a matter of time before they start fighting each other. I'm sure we can help them with that, too."
B'Elanna smiled as she got up to get something to drink. "I wouldn't dare tell them if my life depended on it," a voice suddenly sounded from behind the half-Klingon as she stood by the replicator, and she turned around quickly. It was Tayl. "But," he continued, "They make a pretty good team, don't they?"
B'Elanna looked at Tom and Chakotay again and was forced to agree. "Uh-huh. It's almost as if they've done this before. Since before Voyager, I mean."
When the computer beeped to indicate an incoming message, the Doctor had been pacing around Sickbay for what felt like hours. The Kazon had taken over--he was all alone on Voyager, with no allies--and Seska, of all people, had come to see him. What was he supposed to do, he'd wondered. He was a doctor, not a commando!
Quickly, the hologram strode over to the console with his emergency holographic channel and activated it. "Mr Chakotay! Mr Paris! I must say, I have never been so relieved to see the two of you alive. Wait! Don't come back here. Voyager has been--"
"We know, Doctor," Chakotay interrupted him. "The Kazon."
"Oh," the doctor replied, almost disappointed that his news didn't have the impact he'd thought it would. "Well, then you know you have to save the captain and the others. I don't know exactly where they are, but--"
Again he was interrupted, This time by a smirking Tom Paris. "Don't sweat it, Doc," the pilot told the hologram. "We've got everything under control. But we're coming to retake Voyager first."
The Doctor's eyes widened in a very good imitation--even if he did think so himself--of how an organic person would have reacted to such news. "What! Just you with your away team? There are sixty-one Kazon on board, and more on the Kazon vessels with us."
"Sixty-one, huh? That's one of the things we wanted to ask. Still, no time for small talk. We can't risk the Kazon detecting our transmission. This is what we want you to do..."
"You will cede us our demands, Kullah!" Djirbran shouted across the Bridge. His anger was reaching the boiling point. Now that arrogant Nistrim was seating himself in Voyager's captain's chair. He was challenging the other majes, it was that simple. And by ignoring Djirbran's threats, Kullah was succeeding in making him look ridiculous. No more.
Djirbran spoke into his communicator, to the two ships of his sect that were accompanying Voyager. From the corner of his eye, the Kazon saw Olan of the Oglamar follow his lead, as the lad had done for the past hour.
"Maje Kullah!" the Nistrim manning the Tactical station exclaimed. "The Relorah vessels are charging weapons, and they're aiming them at our ships! The Oglamar, too!"
Kullah's head swung around to look at Djirbran. The maje of the Relorah noted with glee that Kullah was certainly paying attention to him now. "You wouldn't dare," the Nistrim claimed.
"I'm not taking any chances, Kullah," Djirbran replied. "I'm no fool. I know what you did to Abdar and Terbran, and I'm not going to end up frozen in the vacuum."
"He did what?" Olan exclaimed, and Djirbran cursed his temper. He shouldn't have said that. "Oglamar!" the younger maje spat into his communicator. "Open fire!"
Voyager shook, and the Doctor started. "Sure, start fighting without me," he muttered. Had something happened with the communications system? Had he missed the signal? Quickly, the hologram told the computer to check if the communications grid was functioning properly, but even before the computer could tell him that the system was in prime condition, the console in the Doctor's office beeped with an incoming message.
"Yes! This is the Doctor!"
Tom Paris's face appeared on the screen. "Doc!" the pilot said. Obviously working instruments, he only gave the Emergency Medical Holographic channel only the occasional glance, and a small part of his concentration. "The Kazon are firing on Voyager!" The EMH frowned. That had certainly not been in the plan... but it opened possibilities.
"That changes everything," the Doctor replied. "If the Kazon alliance is really falling apart --"
He was interrupted brusquely by the annoying pilot. "Right," Paris said. "We're postponing the entire plan to retake Voyager. Don't do anything until we call you back with a new plan." And the subspace link was abruptly disconnected, leaving the hologram to stare at a Starfleet logo.
The Doctor harumphed insultedly. They didn't want to have his input? Hmpf. He had a valuable opinion, too. He was a doctor, not a drone! And not any doctor, but an Emergency Medical Holographic one, the finest kind. He'd show them. ('Them' being in particular that ghastly Maquis pilot, naturally.)
The holographic Doctor had a plan he doubted anyone would top. He accessed the computer and carefully typed in the priority access codes Chakotay had supplied him with. "Computer, access Main Engineering control grid and transfer to Sickbay console delta three." The standard medical settings on the console blinked out and were replaced by graphs showing the status of the Warp core and related machinery. The EMH hummed pleasedly. It seemed everything was as he'd thought. "Computer, shut down Warp core cooling valve one, three, five and six. Increase power on the remaining valves to 130%." There, now let anyone complain about his wish to cross-train with other departments.
"Warning," the female computer voice complained, "current settings will burn out all activated Warp core cooling valves in 6.3 minutes."
"Acknowledged, computer. Continue as instructed. Oh, computer? Activate the appropriate alarms." Immediately the lights dimmed and a dreadful noise began blaring out of speakers all over the ship.
"Alert!" the computer voice said, "Warp core cooling failure! Warp core breach in eighteen minutes!"
All that was needed now was a Doctor to reactivate the remaining cooling valves, and a good dose of Kazon ignorance.
"Alert!" the computer voice said, "Warp core cooling failure! Warp core breach in eighteen minutes!"
"What!?" Djirbran exclaimed. The maje was barely holding himself erect with the help of a console as the ship shook under the impact of stray phaser blasts. Still, because members of all three sides were on board Voyager, the ship was left mostly out of the battle.
"What is happening?" Kullah demanded. He looked around wildly and pointed an accusing finger at a seemingly random member of the crew. "You! Tormah! You're an engineer, tell me what is happening!"
The young Nistrim froze in fear, and when he replied, his voice quivered with the emotion. "I... I'm in communications, maje. But everybody knows the no one understands this ship's Warp core -- we have to get away! We have to --" The boy was cut off abruptly when Djirbran's disruptor cut him in half.
"Enough!" cried the Relorah maje. "I've had enough of your lies! Your Nistrim don't know one end of this Voyager from the other! Now the Relorah will take all!" Exploding with rage at the disaster this whole alliance was turning into, and at the Nistrim treachery that he should have seen coming from lightyears away. Quickly, Djirbran brought around his disruptor to put an end to Kullah's mad schemes forever.
Then a blast shook Voyager. For a mad moment, Djirbran thought that the Warp core had breached, that this was it. But a second later, the Bridge was still there, and Djirbran had not lost his life, only his footing. When he regained his balance, he hurriedly snapped off a shot at Kullah. He saw it strike home on the Nistrim maje, just as he saw -- an instant before he felt it -- the deadly bolt of hellfire leap from Kullah's weapon, coming directly towards his face.
Manouvering delicately through the wreckage of the destroyed Kazon vessel, the Cochrane III weaved its way closer to Voyager, and the remaining Kazon ships still had no idea that the shuttle was there. The Cochrane III was hidden fairly well between the debris, but most of the credit for their unnoticed approach had to go to the blind panic in which the Kazon were turning to get away from Voyager. A couple of the ships were staying around to pick up the escape pods that were being jettisoned from Voyager, but they were in no mood to take in their surroundings either.
"I sure hope you're right that we can fix whatever's wrong with the Warp core, Chakotay," Tom commented. "The Kazon don't seem to be to optimistic."
"The Doctor said it was only a trick, Paris. You should try trusting your crewmates sometime."
"Hey!" Tom objected to the commander. "I trust the Doc with my health more often than anyone here. I'm just saying -- how will the Warp core react to that bedside manner of his? It's not as if the Doc has a whole lot of experience with this sort of thing."
"It should be all right, Tom," B'Elanna assured him. "The Doctor convinced captain Janeway to let him do some cross-training, so I showed him around engineering."
"Right," Chakotay said. "Let's get to business. Neelix, did you contact your Talaxian friends?"
"Yes, sir," the cook responded, "they are on their way to the planets where the Kazon might have dropped of the crew, like you said."
"Good," Chakotay said. "I'd rather have had them here, but there simply is not enough time. We board Voyager now. We'll go in teams. B'Elanna, ensign Bristow -- you take Engineering. Stabilise the Warp core and keep the area secured. Hiller, Paris -- you're going to Sickbay. Confer with the Doctor and clear out what Kazon are left on the middle decks. Neelix, we're taking the Bridge. Any questions?" There was a chorus of 'no's. "To the transporter."
The child in her arms, Seska stormed onto the Bridge. She was not happy. Things were falling apart, and judging from the panic she'd found everywhere she went, she was the only one to consider that it was all a trick. Tom, of course. He thought he could play her for a fool! But no one could out-scheme Seska -- no one! Her Tom would pay for everything.
"Kullah!" the Cardassian bawled. "Where are you?"
The slaughter she found on the Bridge did nothing to improve her mood. It looked like all of the Relorah had been killed in a firefight, and a fair number of Nistrim with them.
Kullah was just getting to his feet, nursing a nasty-looking wound on his left shoulder. "Woman!" he whined. "Don't take that tone with me! We have to leave. This precious starship of yours is about to kill us all!"
Seska cursedunder her breath. Damn Kullah! She had to waste so much time staying on his good side... "My maje, that is why I spoke in so urgent a tone. Voyager is not lost, all this is merely a trick to make us give up our victory. I can still restore this minor bit of damage."
Kullah frowned, and Seska nearly sighed at his reluctance. "But how can that possible be?" the maje wondered. "We got rid of the Voyagers on that nameless planet."
"Tom Paris wasn't among them, my maje. He mustn't be underestimated."
"Paris," Kullah growled, "always this Paris. He will not live to the end of the day. You, you, you!" He indicated some of his soldiers. "With us to Engineering!"
No, the Cardassian woman thought, Tom won't live much longer, Kullah, but he won't die by your hand -- and you'd better not get in my way.
When B'Elanna and Freddie Bristow materialised in Main Engineering, the place was completely deserted. That wasn't really unexpected, however. The breach that was forming in the antimatter containment unit was clearer here than anywhere else. The Warp core pulsed brightly several times a second. The Kazon stationed in Engineering, without the faintest idea of what was wrong, let alone of how to fix it, had probably run to the nearest shuttle bay as fast as their legs could carry them.
"Bristow," B'Elanna called, her eyes still checking the upper level for movement, "take the secundary station. Looks like the reaction has gone too far. We'll have to do this manually. You focus on cooling valves five and six, I'll do one and three from the primary station."
"Yes, sir," Bristow responded the kid was at the work station already. B'Elanna gave her surroundings one more check, and then even her Maquis-honed paranoia had to admit that everyrhing was safe. Nice going, Doctor, the half-Klingon complimented mentally. Who eould ever have thought taking over a starship could be so easy?
A disruptor blast flew by Chakotay's head practically before he had finished materialising on Voyager's Bridge. The commander snapped off a trio of shots at the Kazon firing on him while diving for cover, and he saw the last one hit. The Kazon went down.
Meanwhile, Neelix was spraying phaser fire all over the group of Kazon standing at the back of the Bridge. He wasn't hitting any of them, but they were forced to take cover, where they couldn't take a good aim at the two attackers.
Aside from those three, there was only one other Kazon left on the Bridge. He wasn't armed, but he managed to jump on top of Chakotay before the Indian could bring his phaser rifle around. The momentum and weight of the Kazon threw Chakotay down onto the deck, but the commander rolled further, flipping the Kazon soldier off of him. Then he bashed the other's face in with the butt of his rifle. The Kazon went limp.
Now it was only a matter of picking off the remaining Kazon one at a time.
The starship shuddered. Maje Kullah cursed.
"This is madness, Seska!"
He was really grating on her nerves by now. The baby was crying, the ship was exploding, and Kullah was complaining. Taking care of the child, running the entire divided Kazon empire from the shadows, dealing with Tom... It was too much for one person. Seska couldn't think.
When Kullah began to whine about the dangers 'his' child was in, something snapped. She had to lighten her load.
"Fine!" Seska yelled, pushing the bawling bundle of cloth and child into the maje's arms. "Fine! If you can't take a little pressure, take your precious daughter and go to your shuttle. Just send me someone with a little backbone to help me!" Seska ran on in the direction of Engineering without looking back, leaving behind her a bewildered Kazon with a retort only half-formed on his lips.
She would have to fix this later, Seska knew. Thanks to the Kazon's foolish patriarchal power structure, she still needed Kullah. But she could deal with that when the time came. For now, she could focus on the important things -- her Tom, and everything he loved and stood for, was going down.
"Hey, Doc! Got any sedatives left?" Tom called out to the hologram. The Maquis prodded his two Kazon captives forward into Sickbay with the business end of his phaser rifle. Tayl Hiller and his trusty pulse rifle followed him in, guarding their backs.
The EMH harumphed unhappily, but he did put a hypo to each Kazon's neck and put them out cold. Since the Brig was in the part of the ship that the small strike team hadn't been able to secure yet, Tom had decided to put the half-dozen or so Kazon they had taken alive so far in a very deep sleep in Sickbay. As was in his nature -- or perhaps his programming -- the Doctor wasn't particularly pleased with that decision, but he followed orders.
With a grunt, Tom hoisted the limp body of one of the Kazon onto one of the biobeds. "Any news from the others?"
"Cmdr Chakotay reported in a few minutes ago," the hologram replied, lifting up the Kazon's feet. "He says that he and Mr Neelix are restoring command functions right now. In ten minutes or less, they will be able to flood any part of the ship that is still in Kazon hands with gas."
"Doc, you know that when I say 'the others' I mean B'Elanna."
"Yes, I do, Mr Paris. I spoke with Lt Torres too, right before you got here. She says that she and Mr Bristow are still working on the Warp core." He looked abashed for a moment. "It seems that my tampering caused more damage than anticipated -- but we're out of danger now. They are only working to get the Warp drive functional and keeping the alarms running to keep the Kazon on their toes."
Tom sighed. "Then I guess we just sit back and wait this one out."
"Almost done, chief," Freddie reported. B'Elanna wiped some sweat from her forehead before she replied. Working with antimatter was always tricky enough, but now she kept looking over her shoulder for Kazon as well. The half-Klingon herself was as good as done too, thank Kahless. Voyager still had only very limited Warp capabilities, but with a two-man Engineering crew, this was the best she could do.
Suddenly, Freddie screamed.
B'Elanna spun around, but it was already too late. The young engineer's body sank to the floor like a bag of self-sealing stembolts, revealing the figure that had sneaked up behind him. Seska.
"Well, well, well," the Cardassian said with a sly smile, "what have we here?"
"Seska..." B'Elanna's voice was a low growl, and instinctively, she had adapted a combat stance.
"And to think I came all this way to Engineering to try and keep my hands on Voyager," the former spy gloated. "And Voyager would be ever so useful -- but having you in my hands? That's even better. That's just plain fun." With a triumphant smile on her face, Seska pointed her disruptor at the half-Klingon engineer. "It's been nice, B'Elanna," she said. "Really."
B'Elanna never knew she was so fast. Before either she or Seska knew what was going on, she was on top of the Cardassian. The disruptor clattered to the deck halfway across Engineering. B'Elanna saw red. Seska was black and blue, blows and kicks raining down all over her body. The Cardassian spy wasn't exactly defenceless either, though. Bucking at just the right moment, Seska managed to flip over until she was sitting on top of B'Elanna. With a sadistic smile, her hands closed around Tom's lover's neck. She squeezed.
Then B'Elanna's fist landed hard in her stomach. "Ugh!" said Seska, and then fell over.
B'Elanna rolled away, and a second later she was back on her feet. It took Seska a moment longer to get up, and she stood a little more unsteadily. But nevertheless, the two rivals stood face to face again.
"I'm going to --" Seska began to threaten.
B'Elanna had really had it with all Seska's bull, especially with her empty threats. She split open her knuckles then, but the Cardassian lost at least one of her teeth. Standing over the bruised form of Seska, bleeding on the floor, B'Elanna didn't think she had ever felt so good, so triumphant. That, of course, was a mistake.
At first, when Seska looked up and her eyes lit up at the sight of something behind B'Elanna's back, the engineer thought that she wasn't going to fall for a lame trick like that. When Seska shouted, "Well, shout her, for Cardassia's sake! We're taking her!" however, B'Elanna tried to spin around and duck aside to safety at the same time.
It turned out that the disruptor blast from the Kazon who had just walked into Main Engineering knocked her out before she managed to do either.
Voyager shot through the emptiness of space like an arrow shot from a bow. Fast -- faster than the naked eye could follow, certainly. And yet so agonisingly slow. The ugly hump of the Kazon battleship that was fleeing before the Federation starship was gaining distance ever so slowly, and with the damage to the Warp core, Voyager had no chance of catching up. As for repairs -- well, Voyager didn't even have a single qualified engineer left alive on board.
The pilot cursed. "Damnit! We can't let them get away!"
"Stay calm, Paris, for god's sake," Chakotay urged.
"You stay calm, if you like it so much," Tom retorted. "I'll actually worry about B'Elanna, if you don't mind too much."
"Shut your face, Paris. Shouting isn't going to save B'Elanna."
"Um, sirs?" crewman Hiller interjected. Both officers turned to glare in his direction, so he quickly continued. "The Kazon vessel will be out of range in half a minute..." that, fortunately, was enough to turn the Humans' focus back to solving their mission. Tayl breathed a sigh of relief. The air between those two was a bit too heavy with tension for his taste. Nothing good could come of that.
"Paris," Chakotay ordered, "keep the ship steady, dead ahead."
Tom clicked his tongue irritatedly. "What do you think I have been doing for the past three hours? What are you up to, Chakotay?" The pilot turned in his chair to look at where Chakotay was standing at the Tactical station. The first officer ignored him.
The pilot was about to repeat his question when a pair of photon torpedoes suddenly tore their way through space ahead of Voyager.
"What the... !" Tom exclaimed, astonished. "Chakotay, you idiot! B'Elanna's on that ship!"
"And if we don't stop the Kazon now, we probably won't ever see her again!" Chakotay retorted. "Besides, I doubt they are keeping B'Elanna in the drive section."
But Tom was too busy to listen to Chakotay's explanations. "Direct hit on the Kazon vessel," the Maquis pilot reported, more, to himself than to anyone else. "First torpedo penetrated the shields. Second torpedo..." The light from a bright explosion lit up the viewscreen. "... direct hit," Tom finished needlessly. "They've lost Warp drive! Spinning out of control. I'm compensating to follow." Voyager's inertial compensators strained as Tom swung the starship into a hard turn, following the Kazon.
"The Kazon have regained control on impulse," Tayl Hiller took over reporting. "They're heading towards the nearest planetary system. Four planets, one M-Class."
"A Kazon outpost?" Chakotay asked.
Tom turned Voyager on a straight line to the planet. They wouldn't beat the Kazon ship there, but now that the Kazon had lost speed, they would be close behind. Hold on B'Elanna, he thought, I'm coming.
"I'm not reading any life signs," Tayl said, "but from this distance, we can't be certain of anything."
Minutes passed tensely, as Voyager gained the distance she had lost on her prey ever so slowly.
Then, suddenly, "What the!?" Tom exclaimed. "They're going down!" The Kazon ship had reached orbit around the M-Class planet, but she wasn't stopping. The ship's hull turned an angry red as friction with the planet's atmosphere heated it up.
"Tell me," Tom said, watching wide-eyed, "did I miss something somewhere, or are Kazon ships not designed for planetary re-entry?"
Carefully, Seska got back to her feet. She was half-surprised to find herself curled protectively around the baby. Well, she supposed she really didn't want to see it get hurt when there was no reason it should.
The Cardassian looked about her. The Kariph II's Bridge was a mess, but it being a Kazon ship, it did not actually look much worse than it had before the forced landing. Sparks flew from the consoles, though, as the crew tried to work them. Systems were out.
"Communications?" Seska asked urgently.
"They are out," one of the Kazon told her, "but rescue ships are already underway. They should be here in a few hours."
"Intra-ship communications!" Seska snapped.
The Kazon looked surprised. "Also out," he said, "but I'm working on them."
"Forget it," the former spy told him. "Take some men and go secure the prisoner. The containment systems may be out as well. And bring her to the port hatch!" Thankfully, the man obeyed. Seska turned to Kullah, and she saw dark blood running in a steady stream from under the man's scalp -- his hair, or whatever in the galaxy the Kazon had on their heads instead. The look in his eyes was confused, unfocused. Seska had never understood why starship chairs -- especially captain's chairs, which didn't have consoles in front of them -- never came with seatbelts. Kullah stumbled, almost fell. A concussion, probably.
So much the better. Now Seska could take command without argument.
"Everyone!" she called. "Evacuate the ship. Take every weapon you can find and rendezvous outside. We're going into the mines." The planet where, on Seska's insistence, the ship had made its attempt at a landing, was in fact an old Kazon mining colony. The place had long been deserted, so there weren't any defence mechanisms that they could use against Voyager, but the mines were nothing less than perfect. Dilithium mines meant that her Tom and the others wouldn't be able to beam in -- not very far into the mines, anyway. When Tom's people abandoned the safety of Voyager, and they would, to save B'Elanna, Seska and her Kazon would have by far the advantage of numbers.
Chakotay tapped his commbadge. "Chakotay to Bridge," he opened the channel. "Any improvement?"
"No, sir," crewman Hiller said back over the commlink. "The sensors are still only getting blurred lifesigns. There's no way to tell what species they are, let alone beam them out. The transporters could pick up those lifeforms, but they wouldn't know how to begin putting them back together on Voyager."
Stepping onto the transporter padd, Tom replied irritably, "We knew that when we left the Bridge, Starfleet. Let's get going."
The Indian glared at Tom's back. "It's called 'making sure,' Paris. You should try it sometime. Might keep you out of trouble." He tried to shake it off -- this was no situation to go into angry. It didn't work. Chakotay simply finished programming the transporter and joined the others on the padd.
"Are you certain we really should do this? Neelix wondered aloud. "The three of us against a ship's worth of Kazon? Those aren't attractive odds."
"What are you suggesting," Tom countered, "that we let her keep B'Elanna?" Chakotay didn't overlook the fact that to Tom the real threat weren't the Kazon, but only Seska. He had to admit that the Maquis could very well be correct.
Chakotay sighed. They might as well get this suicide mission underway. All the arguing in the world wasn't getting them anywhere. He removed the safety from his rifle. "Lock and load, people." A fraction of a second before Paris could fire off his scathing reply, the transporters activated, and the three men dematerialised.
Seska paused to see if the rear guard of the large column of Kazon that was now under her command was keeping up, but she didn't dare wait long enough to actually see if they were. Though there had been some casualties when the aft section of the Kariph II had collapsed under the strain of its damaged engines, but well over a hundred Kazon still followed Seska. Over one hundred soldiers -- that should suffice to hold off a mere handful of Voyagers. She would believe it when it was over and done with.
The Cardassian woman ran forward at a trot until she was back at the head of the column, where two Kazon Seska had deemed to have some degree of intelligence were dragging along the Torres woman. Thank the three moons of Cardassia Secundus that the crash had left the engineer too groggy too keep up her endless nagging, or to put up a fight. Another Kazon was carrying the child, and from the look on his face, the man still hadn't decided whether that was an honour or a punishment. Seska was determined to stick as closely as possible to the two hybrids. She didn't particularly care about either of their health, but if Tom had another card up his sleeve, this was where he'd play it.
Scenarios were playing out in Seska's head, and one by one she found ways to turn each of them to her advantage. Much depended on her keeping direct command over the cannon fodder.
Almost as if in response to that last thought, Kullah twitched on the litter he was being carried on and then groaned, starting to come awake. "What..." he began weakly.
Seska cursed under her breath. She had given the maje enough sedatives for his 'concussion' that he should have been out of it for hours more. "Hush, my maje. All is well. I am executing your orders as you commanded me."
"Huh? Orders?" the Kazon drawled, half-conscious. "What ohhh..." He trailed off as the hypospray Seska held unobtrusively to his neck knocked him out once more.
"Tarjin!" Seska bellowed. "You heard your maje! Go check to see how the rear of the column is holding up!" Tarjin, who was as close to an elder as Kazon got and was nearly deaf, wasn't about to admit that he hadn't heard an order his maje had given, so he rushed off to do as Seska said.
Seska paused for a minute, letting the head of the Kazon column move ahead of her once more. She was overextended and exhausted. Every separate Kazon demanded his own decision on how far he could be trusted to follow a female's orders, even if he believed they came from Kullah indirectly. And the Kazon were the least of the Cardassian's worries. She stepped into a side-tunnel and leaned against the walls to get a moment's peace and quiet to think. Seska was sure she was missing some scheme Tom was concocting right now to retrieve the Torres-woman. She closed her eyes, going over the possibilities. Tom would never attack on their rear -- he only had a few men, and there was an army of Kazon to take on. The Human would need to ambush them, and, for that, the Voyagers needed to get ahead of her.
Then Seska froze. She was in a side-tunnel. According to the Kazon records, the mine consisted of just one, miles-long tunnel. If those records were wrong, Voyager's sensor could have picked up on it.
Suddenly desperate, the Cardassian started to run, pushing aside the surprised Kazon in her way. Too late. Weaponsfire and the of sound crumbling rock sounded from up ahead. Seska increased her pace.
She could see the light of phasers and disruptors up ahead, she was almost there and--BAM! A phaser-blast slammed into Seska's shoulder like a sledgehammer, sending the woman spinning backwards, right into the wall. Groaning, Seska managed to get back to her feet, but her left arm was completely numb.
The Cardassian looked up to see her worst fears come through. A triumphant smile on her Tom's face grinned down at her as the man held the dazed half-Klingon to him.
The fact that the pilot had to dive for cover a nanosecond later, as return fire from the Kazon tried to vaporise him on the spot, did nothing to dam in Seska's sudden despair.
Quickly, the Cardassian assessed the situation. The Kazon were all ducked down behind hasty cover--at least, those who hadn't been shot in the surprise attack. Gartin and Kerrih had simply dropped Kullah where they'd stood. Neelix and Chakotay were firing their phasers from ambush positions directly ahead of the Kazon. Typical Maquis positions--Seska recognised Tom's hand. Tom himself was crawling from rock to rock back into cover with the Torres-woman, half dragging her along. Seska's eyes flashed past her Kazon. The child! She still had the child. All was not lost yet!
Then Kullah got up. The maje wobbled to his feet, all of the disruptor and phaser fire miraculously going right by him. He looked around him, taking in the situation as his head seemed to be clearing. Then, "Hold your fire!" he roared. Kullah had never been troubled with too much grey matter, Seska knew, but his presence was still impressive as ever. The cave fell silent.
Kullah glared at where the Voyagers were hiding. Seska knew that the maje couldn't possibly have any idea what was going on, as long as she'd kept him unconscious. And to her horror, the Cardassian didn't have a clue as to how he would respond. "This has gone far enough," Kullah commanded. "You have nothing to gain from following us, Humans. You are few, and we are many. You could never kill us all before we kill you all."
At that point, her Tom half stepped out from his cover. Seska heard Chakotay's sharp intake of breath, but the tattooed man stayed silent.
"I have no beef with you, Kazon," Tom spoke. "All I want I now is my child, and we'll be out of your hair... or your... whatever."
There was a moment of confused silence.
"Your child?" Kullah roared then.
There was another moment of confused silence.
"Um, yeah," the pilot said, nodding. "Seska impregnated herself with my genetic material... You, um, didn't know that?"
Kullah turned to Seska, and she was so shocked at this disastrous turn of events that she completely forgot to hide the truth from her face. The Kazon maje looked outraged enough to explode.
"Take the child!" Kullah spat. "And take the wench, too, if you want her! Then we both leave here, and if I ever find your ship in my space again, I will see you all dead."
"Agreed," Chakotay spoke quickly, cutting Tom off before he could speak. Kullah gestured for the warrior holding her baby to step forward, to give the child up.
"NOOO!!!" Everyone, including Seska herself, was stunned to hear the cry emerge from her throat. The Cardassian wasn't thinking anymore. All was lost. But somehow, she couldn't stand there and let them take her baby. She lurched forward at the Kazon, and tore her child from his arms. The infant instantly began to wail loudly, but Seska didn't waste a second. She kept on running, past the Voyagers, into the depths of the mine.
For a moment after Seska had vanished, everyone stood frozen. Then Paris turned on his heels and took off after her. Chakotay was only just in time to grab him and pull him to a stop.
The lieutenant glared at him. "I'm going after her," he stated. It was not a request for permission.
"We are," Chakotay acknowledged. "In a second. She can only go so deep into the mine before it ends, Paris." Then he turned to the others. "Maje Kullah, our deal still stands. Your rescue ships should be arriving any minute now. If they won't fire on Voyager, Voyager won't fire on them. Neelix, you take B'Elanna up to Voyager and pass along my orders. Then you go and get the crew, if Kullah will tell you where he put them." As he was speaking, Chakotay had turned to the Kazon. The maje nodded grudgingly. "After that, you come back to pick us up and we leave Kazon territory together." Which was on the same course as Voyager had been heading for the past two years, but Kullah was still too upset to realise that. "And the two of us," the commander continued, to Paris, "We are going to retrieve your child."
"And capture a traitor," the Maquis finished.
It took some time for Tom to realise that he shouldn't be able to see anything. Fair's fair, the Maquis had a lot on his mind. His child, which he had never caught more than a flash off--heck, he hadn't even been present at the conception!--and of which he didn't even know if it was a boy or a girl, had been kidnapped by its mother, a woman whom Tom currently hated most of anyone in the galaxy, but with whom he'd had a relationship prior to the conception of their child, while she was still a different species. To top it all of, the guy who was jogging along beside Tom, helping him get his child back (well, not back exactly, since he'd never had the baby before) was one of Tom's other nominees for 'most hated person in the galaxy'.
Still, it was rather remarkable that the pilot could see in an underground mine, and he should have noticed it sooner. The tunnel wasn't brightly lit, but enough that Tom didn't have to strain his eyes to see where to put his feet down. Looking around, Tom noticed that this deep down, there was still some phosphorescent dilithium ore embedded in the walls.
Tom glanced at the commander. "C'mon, Chakotay. Keep moving," he complained. It wasn't the first time he'd said those words in the past half hour. Nor the second.
The Indian made an annoyed sound and glared at Tom. "You know, Paris," he said impatiently, "this is exactly why I can stand you. You never stop to think. Everything you do, you do on impulse, and you don't care what you screw up in the process."
Tom almost stopped walking, but despite Chakotay, his mind was still on Seska and the baby. "Oh, yeah," he replied almost absentmindedly, "and you're all 'Mr Face-The-Consequences', aren't you, Chakotay. Because I remember this once--"
Chakotay's face was red as if it was going to explode. "Keep that out of it, Paris!" the commander barked. "You know as well as I do--"
"Do you know what your problem is?" Tom continued as if Chakotay hadn't spoken, finally stopping. "Oh, we have plenty of old reasons to hate each other, but that's not even it--this is newer. You're jealous."
"What!?" Chakotay exclaimed incredulously.
"Jealous that I had the guts to join the Maquis, while you were too indoctrinated with Starfleet rules to move a muscle even though the Cardassians were bulldozing your home."
"That's a load of crap, Paris! Don't pretend that you even had a clue of what morals are when you joined the Maquis!"
"Hey, I didn't say anything like that, Chakotay. This is your twisted ego we're talking about." He shook his head, and muttered, "I don't have time for this!" And he trotted away further into the tunnel.
It was only a few seconds before Chakotay cursed, and ran after the other Human.
Paris must have sped up once he'd got out of sight, because it took the commander at least another ten full minutes to catch up with the man. By then, the mine had started looking more and more like a natural cavern, and Paris was climbing over a mount of rubble that blocked most of the narrow tunnel.
"Took you so long?" Paris grumbled, shooting a nasty glare at the commander as he saw him approach. Then he ducked his head down and vanished through the hole.
Chakotay cursed under his breath before crawling after Paris. "Shut your mouth, Paris," he ordered. "I'm still your superior officer--and I'd like to remind you that we're only here as a favour to you. It's not Starfleet policy to take away babies from their mothers, no matter who those mothers might be."
Tom didn't respond, and Chakotay looked up to see why. He didn't get to see much, though, because the lieutenant was standing right in front of the exit of the narrow passage, his back completely blocking Chakotay's view. Irritatedly, the commander gave the man a push, and Tom moved aside woodenly.
The next moment, Chakotay saw why. Beyond the narrow passageway, the tunnel opened up into an enormous underground chamber, split in two in the middle by an abyss. The commander didn't see anything indicating a bottom. Enough dilithium ore lit up the chamber from the walls that Chakotay doubted the miners had ever gone this far down.
Seska was standing at the edge of the chasm. The baby was in her arms.
For a moment, Chakotay felt an uncomfortable sympathy for Paris. Surely, if it had been his baby, he would have done anything, disobeyed orders from the captain if necessary, to get her back. Pretty soon, the bitterness won, though. Baby or not, consequences or not, the Maquis would do whatever he pleased.
The commander was still crawling out of the hole in the wall when Paris suddenly stormed forward. Seska, not all that far away, looked around desperately, but there was no easy escape this time. Playing for time, the Cardassian held out the child towards Tom as if it were a weapon. Confused, the man skidded to a halt, a mere few feet out of reach.
For a few seconds, the two just stood there, neither of them even blinking. Both of them jumped when the child gurgled, almost its first sign of life since Seska had snagged it away from the Kazon.
Seska almost took a step backward, but realised just in time that she was already standing at the edge of the abyss. Unusual for her, it was clear from the Cardassian's face that she was at the end of her rope. It was quite a jump, and she could not get far enough back from the edge to take a run-up without closing on Tom. All seemed lost.
But, abruptly, Seska looked Tom straight in the eye again, and what was in Seska's eyes made a shiver run down Tom's back. "Stop right there," she said. "Or I'm sending this girl all the way to the bottom."
The pilot almost laughed. This couldn't be true. (A girl! the thought ran inappropriately across his mind. My child is a daughter!)
"You can't throw her down," Tom spoke in a daze. He sounded almost as if he were stating a fact. "She's your daughter."
"Just don't get any closer." Seska sounded more certain than she looked, though.
The two stood facing each other, their eyes locked.
Neither of them was willing to make the first move.
Neither of them knew what the other's move would entail, exactly, if they were to make one.
Tom didn't step forward. But he twitched.
It was enough. With a jerk, the Cardassian swung the babe out over the abyss and let go. For an instant, she stood there looking after it in surprise, but then Seska's natural persona reasserted itself, and she relaxed. Once done, the act seemed logical, a necessary measure.
Everything around the pilot fell away as his eyes focused on the baby and the baby alone. She'd done it. Seska'd actually done it. Tom's eyes seemed to zoom in on the little girl's soft face. The baby was so beautiful!
It was only when he felt the cold winds from deep in the abyss batter his skin that the pilot realised that he had raced after the baby and was now hurtling across the void in an attempt to catch the little one. Through luck as much as through skill, Tom's arms closed around the baby. Of course, the Human had realised by now that he was going to fall just as dead as the child, so he didn't feel too relieved.
Hitting the far wall of the abyss, Tom cushioned the baby from the impact as much as possible, and at the same time, he swung out his right arm in a desperate attempt to find a handhold. Stretching his arm as far as it would go, Tom found that he could just curl his fingers over the top of the cliff wall. He rebounded off the wall, and then fell back, all the while only barely holding on. Then, for a moment, he simply hung there, catching his breath, the edge biting painfully into his hand.
As Tom hung from the edge of the abyss, bloodying his fingers on the sharp rock, Seska sneered at him from the other side. "You have to be willing to do whatever's necessary, Tom. That's something you were never able to see." The Cardassian paused for half a second, and then added, almost grudgingly, "It's not that I don't care for the child, you know. I just like myself better."
Then Seska took a two-step run-up and leapt across the abyss--or so she thought.
When the Cardassian woman's foot touched down on the far side of the abyss only a foot away from Tom, the rock crumbled under her. With a shriek, Seska fell down. One flailing arm hit Tom's side, and he had to try frantically to brace himself further with his one free arm, so that he wouldn't fall.
When he looked down a moment later, his heart in his throat, the pilot saw that his old lover hung from bloodied hands at the height of his knees.
"Tom!" She shouted desperately. "Save me!"
"I can't," Tom replied, surprised to find himself saddened at the words. "I would if I could, but I've got the baby..."
"Tom, save me," Seska repeated.
But Tom shook his head. "I told you, I--"
"We can make new babies, you and I. I promise! As many as you want! It doesn't matter!"
The Cardassian looked up hopefully at her former lover, and saw something in his face change.
"I said I'd save you if I could, right?" he said, his voice calm and cold. Seska smiled suddenly, about to agree that yes, yes he had said that, but Tom continued. "I take it back." And all of a sudden, a foot slammed into the side of Seska's head. She had been so focused on convincing Tom to save her that she hadn't even seen it coming, and now she was scrambling to keep at least one hand on the tiny ledge that was all that was between her and the abyss.
After a second, Seska managed to stabilise herself. She turned her head to watch Tom--right on time to get a sturdy Starfleet boot right in the middle of her forehead. A sickening crack sounded from somewhere inside her head, but a moment later, it didn't matter, because she was falling... falling... And just like that, Seska knew with certainty that finally, ultimately, all was lost.
Despite everything Tom screwed his eyes shut at Seska's last, terrified shriek, wishing he could shut his ears as well.
Time seemed to stand still for a while, there, but ultimately, it resumed. Tom hung his head, confused by the regret he felt. He loved B'Elanna. Seska was the impersonation of everything that was wrong with the universe. But half of the genes that had made the life of the tiny bundle he held in one arm were still hers.
The Maquis did not get much time for his reflections, though, because that was when the rock under his hand decided to give. He swung wide, now only holding on by a few fingers. Tom screamed in frustration--there no way he could escape death, certainly not with just one arm to climb.
It wasn't until yet another body hit the far side of the abyss that Tom even remembered that Chakotay was in the cavern as well. "Gap's a lot wider than it looks," Chakotay breathed as he crawled the rest of the way onto the edge. The Starfleet commander had landed with up to his stomach on the ground, and his legs dangling in the abyss. Tom had to blink to keep the gravel that came loose as Chakotay kicked his way up out of his eyes.
Chakotay vanished out of sight, and for a moment the cavern was very still. "Starfleet?"
Tom craned his neck to look up, only to start at seeing the cracks in the rock beneath his hand. Those hadn't been there before. Insanely, the Maquis tried to move his grip on the cold stone, and that was exactly the wrong thing to do.
The rock crumbled.
Tom voiced his despair in an undignified wail as he began to fall--but as abruptly as the fall began, Tom jerked to a stop again, two strong hands clasped around his wrist.
When he managed to breath again, Tom looked up a second time, and this time he saw that Chakotay was now sprawled on the ground on his stomach. The commander was hanging over the edge up to his shoulders, his arms reaching out to grab Tom.
The Starfleet officer was clenching his teeth, and it was obvious to Tom that the man would never be able to drag him back up. That was OK, though. Carefully, the pilot brought his other arm up, carefully lifting the baby. "Chakotay, take her. Please. Let me fall and save her."
Chakotay's only response was a strained grunt. With a shock, Tom felt himself jerk a few inches higher.
"Chakotay?" Tom didn't dare look up again, and only covered the baby as well as he could as he scraped past the rock on his way up. An awful lot of rock was coming loose, from the commander's weight as well as the lieutenant's movement.
All of a sudden, an avalanche of stone crashed down. The edge of the abyss hadn't been able to hold the weight of three persons, no matter if one of them was tiny, and Tom fell right back down the way he had come. But, surprisingly, no further. One of Chakotay's hands was still holding on to Tom's. The other, the pilot could see, was fiercely clutching a small stalagmite and was the only thing that was keeping Chakotay himself from an endless fall as he lay at an angle, his feet above his head..
"Chakotay!" Tom called once more.
Impossibly, the Maquis started to rise in small jerks as the Indian replied. "Paris... for once..." Tom was rising, he was almost at the edge! "... in your life... shut... your face!" And with that, the pilot suddenly found himself on firm ground once more. Well, firm ground... Though the fragile part of the rock all seemed to have broken off by now, the two men exhaustedly dragged themselves to their feet and stumbled to a part of the rocky floor that appeared to be somewhat sturdier.
Mentally and physically drained, Tom sat down on the edge of the abyss that had claimed Seska's life, letting his legs dangle over the edge. He looked lovingly at the little child he was still holding carefully in his arms. In one of the most extraordinary twists of a weird day, Tom's daughter was on the verge of sleep. When she yawned, her father almost followed her example.
Tom heard rather than saw Chakotay plop down beside him. "We'd better wait for the rest of the crew before trying to go back up the cave," the commander spoke after a moment. Tom grunted, agreeing.
"I don't really fancy jumping back across without help either."
For a while after that, they sat in silence, resting. Tom was absorbed by the study of his daughter's sweet face. Still, it was the Maquis who finally broke the silence. "You could have let me fall," he said evenly.
"I could have," Chakotay agreed, just as calmly. "But I guess I felt that I still owed you an underground rescue." He smiled despite himself.
Tom chuckled. "Yeah, I guess you did... You still hate me, though, don't you?"
"Hate's too strong a word," the commander replied. "I try not to hate anyone. Not the Cardassians who destroyed my world, and not even you. But I do violently dislike you."
"Good," the lieutenant replied, mock relieved, "it would just have been way too creepy if you hadn't at least violently disliked me. If it makes you feel any better, I violently dislike you, too."
There was a pause.
"So," Tom continued hesitantly, "you don't think that B'Elanna's right about letting the past lie and all that?"
"She said that to you, too?"
"On a regular basis."
"I don't honestly think that applies to us. I mean, some things..."
"Yeah, me too." At exactly the same moment, the two men turned to look at each other. When their eyes met, they quickly looked away again, both of them had an amused smile on their face.
For a time the cavern was silent again--it felt like hours this time--and it wasn't even an altogether uncomfortable silence. When, after a time, Chakotay looked at Paris again, he noticed the man looking down on his sleeping child with a worried frown on his face.
"She's beautiful," Chakotay began.
"She is, isn't she?" The pilot's voice sounded strangely pleading.
And though, frankly, to him the baby looked indistinguishable from most other humanoid babies Chakotay had seen, the commander replied, "Off course. Why do you sound so doubtful, Paris?"
Once again, Tom frowned. "It's just..." He didn't know if he could do it. Him unburdening his chest to the Indian was simply too absorb. Oh, well--stranger things had happened there in the Delta quadrant. Though not recently. "I'm just worried. I'm going to raise this baby, Chakotay. There's no doubt about that. But... how will B'Elanna take that? I mean, I love that woman and I... I want to marry her--but I don't know how she will take this, and my child comes first. She has to." Tom fell silent. To his astonishment, Chakotay began to laugh. Tom felt a flash of anger, but Chakotay spoke up almost immediately.
"You're supposed to be the one that never considers the consequences, Paris! Apparently, you just do it when there's absolutely no need!"
"What do you--?"
"B'Elanna will love the baby as much as she loves you, Tom," Chakotay continued, "you should know that. No matter how tough she makes herself out to be, I don't doubt that she would--she will--make a great mother."
"Do you really mean that?" Tom asked.
"Would I lie to make you feel better, Paris?"
Chakotay looked up. "You don't have to take my word for it, though," he said. "Look over there." Tom did, and he saw lights approaching from out of the tunnel. Nervously, he scrambled up to his feet, and Chakotay followed. What sounded like a phaser blasted the narrow opening into the cavern wide open, and a second later, Starfleet officers came pouring through.
Predictably, B'Elanna was right up front. The half-Klingon saw him and Chakotay, and they shouted each others' names happily. Then Tom saw B'Elanna's eyes trail down to the bundle he was holding, and realised that he would only ever have to worry about one thing: if he let B'Elanna hold the girl, he wouldn't ever get her back.
Captain's log, supplemental
In my log of a few months ago, I stated a concern about my crew's ability to provide for a new-born child on the ship. Just to reiterate, my crew, especially Mr Paris and Ms Torres, the parents, are capable and caring people, but the circumstances are just extremely difficult out here in the Delta quadrant.
I am now pleased to state that my concerns have proven wholly unjustified. My goddaughter couldn't have got a more caring and secure environment. In fact, our desire to give the child a real home to grow up in has made us pull closer together, giving the entire crew a feeling of belonging that we never knew we missed so dearly, before. The crew has been pairing off incredibly, lately, and though there haven't been any more children announced than the Paris and Wildman babies, I am beginning to believe that I'll have my crew to finish this seventy-year journey.
The Engineering crew has just finished constructing larger quarters to fit Tom, B'Elanna and their daughter last week. Normally, this would have been a job for maintenance, but Sue Nicoletti and the other engineers were so insistent in their demands to be allowed to do it that I just couldn't refuse.
I called my goddaughter Tom and B'Elanna's daughter. B'Elanna has now officially adopted her as her daughter, judging from the baby's reaction at the ceremony, I believe she couldn't have been more happy if she'd hand-picked her new mother. Actually, the girl already has a temper that makes you wonder if her Cardassian genes aren't really Klingon... Hm...
Well, I could go on for hours talking about my wonderful goddaughter, but to wrap this log entry up:
The Delta quadrant has been calm, lately. The Kazon have ceased to bother us, and Voyager has been making good time on her voyage home to the Alpha quadrant. Things have been quiet enough that we have finally managed to complete all priority issues still waiting to be attended to, giving us the time to indulge in personal interests.
And I swear, if it takes seventy years--if it takes twice that--I will find out what the feud between my first officer and my chief pilot is all about. If it is the last thing I do...
Oh, end log.
Story written by Niels van Eekelen. © Copyright 2004 Telltale Productions.
Since I claim that Paramount owns Star Trek, Voyager and everything in and on it, I also disclaim any claims I might have on that ship which is way out of this world (and quadrant). But I do claim my right to claim all claims on this story, and I disclaim all claims Paramount might claim on it. By the way, this story is just for fun, not profit etcetera etcetera. I borrowed ensigns Simms and Hudson from the P/T Collective (thank you) and disclaim any rights there are to claim on them.