A/N: I have no excuses. Sorry it took so long.
"Doctor…it'll be easier just to let the moron go. He'll drive you insane, otherwise." He hated that she was right.
The Doctor rolled his eyes as B'Elanna and Harry stood in the sickbay, arms crossed, Tom in his medical pajamas, and pouting at the doctor.
This visit had gone from great to worst in about three lines flat.
"Pweese?" Tom whined in the most babyish voice possible, the one he knew would drive the Doctor insane.
"Oh, fine!" he said.
Pumping his fist triumphantly with a hissed, "Yes!", Tom practically ran over to the replicator, calling for a new uniform. As soon as he conjured up a holographic divider to change behind, the Doctor turned to Harry and B'Elanna.
"Keep an eye out for him, especially for when these memory engrams might start. If he becomes disorientated or extremely dizzy, or anything like that, bring him up immediately."
"Got it, Doc," Harry said. B'Elanna just nodded her agreement, Tom popping up a moment later.
"C'mon, replicator rations are a wastin'! I've got tons stored up – so let the feast begin!"
The Doctor rolled his eyes as Tom practically ran out the sickbay doors, B'Elanna and Harry sharing an amused look as they followed Tom out.
Sighing in relief, the Doctor turned back to his console, only to have his comm. badge beep a moment later.
"Seven of Nine to the Doctor."
"Doctor here, Seven – go ahead."
"I have a partial analysis of the 'virus' entered into Paris's inlay."
He smiled. Ah, a beacon of hope, at last. "Bring it up!"
"Captain Janeway and I will be reporting to Sickbay in five minutes."
"See you then."
A disconnecting beep, and the doctor sighed as he looked down at the screen before him. It had been recording Tom's wounds during the engram. And it was obviously painful.
Cleaning up his tools from treating Tom, he was just putting the last of it away as the Sickbay doors slid open, and Janeway and Seven strode in.
"Seven, Captain," he greeted.
"Before Seven starts on her analysis," the captain said immediately. "Brief me on how the inlay even works? I wanted to hear it from you."
The Doctor nodded, turning back to his console, and opening up the blue prints for the inlay.
It looked like a metallic series of veins, really. There was one long, thicker, vertical 'wire', and quite possibly hundreds, maybe even thousands, of wires in varying sizes, branching out from it. Vaguely, it resembled the shape of a human body – arms, legs, head, torso, all of that. Two of the wires in the head area were also connected to some sort of small, spherical node, both of which also branched out to other wires.
"The inlay. These wires," the doctor said, pointing to the 'wires'. "Each control a small part of the body, and the part of the system within it – muscular, endocrine, skeletal, nervous, everything."
He flicked the schematics to the two nodes near the top. "There is a hippocampus on each side of a human brain – the center for long term memory. One of these nodes goes into one hippocampus on each side. This is where the memories are pulled from, as far as I can tell."
He zoomed in on the thickest, longest wire. "This part runs along the spine. It also deploying something, but I'm not entire sure what. It's not organic, viral, or bacterial, and I didn't have enough time to truly scan it. But I think it's a form of nanotechnology, namely because after the inlay, it went back inside the housing of the mainline."
"What do they do?" The captain asked, peering closely at the blueprints, Seven entering in some data on the console in the office.
"They are the ones that take care of doing the actual damage. The wires only make the systems, besides the nervous system, more responsive to what this nanotechnology does. The nanobots, I assume, slice through and break the bones, cause the bleeding for the bruises, rip up the organs, even causing bleeding in the brain. The wires simply match the pain to what Ensign Paris originally felt way back when, in the time of the memory, and trigger the appropriate hormonal reactions, neurotransmitters – in short, the appropriate emotions to match the memory. The nanotechnology is, however, reabsorbed into the main link after the engram has ended, so I don't think they're unlimited. I do not yet know if they are produced inside the link."
Janeway winced a little, but nodded.
"So…" she turned to Seven, now walking out of the office. "This 'computer virus'?"
Seven nodded, holding up a PADD, transferring data to the main comm. station.
A series of complex programming sequences appeared on screen, all horribly confusing to the Doctor, but obviously making perfect sense to Seven, and a little bit of vague sense to the captain.
"It is a virus which was specifically made for the neural inlay," Seven said, with all her usual grace and charm. "Possibly originally intended for interrogation uses, if their initial purpose would match the initial reason for the virus. I believe it does."
"So…what does it do?" Janeway asked. "And how will…whatever it is…affect Tom?"
"I am not sure, yet," Seven said. "However, there are familiar subroutines within it – similar to that of a holoprogram."
"A hologram?" The Doctor asked, frowning.
"Not quite – but similar patterns," Seven said, tapping through a few more screens and sections to show them. "They are also connected to the visual cortex interaction system. Whatever the subroutines may be, Ensign Paris will be able to experience inside his neural functions. The activation sequences suggest that it is designed to coincide with his memory engrams."
"So…let me get this straight," Janeway said, reiterating what the Doctor had already figured out rather quickly. "This virus is actually program…that projects some sort of hologram into his memories that he's experiencing with this inlay?"
"Yes," She said, standing back from the screen to let Janeway and the Doctor browse through it, clasping her hands behind her back like her usual self.
"What is the holoprogram?" The Doctor asked, looking at the programming. "I can't make heads or tails of this."
"The Chinaii use a triadic matrix in their programming. It will take a while, but I can translate it into our quadratic systems," Seven said simply, that slight undertone of confidence heard only to the people who knew her well.
The Doctor nodded, being one of those people. "But this program, in the memory…does that mean Paris can see it?"
"I'll have to ask him to keep an eye out for it," The Doctor said. "Seven, do you know anything else about the inlay, or the viral program?"
"No, I do not. I will continue to analyze the viral programming, and the inlay itself. Is there anything else?"
"Yes," she said. "It is designed to work on a schedule."
"A schedule?" Janeway asked, with a frown.
"Yes. It is designed by the Chinaii to be adjustable, but it takes equipment that we do not have, so it is, for now, permanently set. The set system of cycles allows the Chinaii…convenience, to plan their interrogations. Unfortunately, the Chinaii days are shorter than ours, and the cycles match accordingly."
"What the hell does that mean?" Janeway asked.
"There will be an engram every eight hours."
The Doctor's eyes widened, while Janeway sucked in a sharp breath and stared at the screen.
"This would have been a little less than twice a day for the Chinaii, but it is three times a day for us."
Looking at the programming, despite not being able to read it, the Doctor shook his head. "That's…tortured three times a day?"
They were silent for a moment, before Janeway said, "You know what this reminds of me?"
"What?" The Doctor asked, thinking of multiple things that could resemble Tom being tortured by his own mind…which, considering he's only known Tom for a few years, was incredibly worrying in and of itself.
"The Baneans," she said. "When Tom was on that relive-a-murder inlay ever fourteen hours."
"I assume this was before I joined Voyager?" Seven said.
"Yes," Janeway said. "It was in the first year we were in the Delta Quadrant. On the Banean homeworld, Tom was falsely convicted of murder, and by their judicial system, his punishment was to relive the murder, from the victim's perspective, every fourteen hours…and it was supposed to be for the rest of his life."
The Doctor swallowed. "This reminded me of Alice – she got, quite literally, into his head."
Janeway nodded. "Tom certainly seems to have a propensity for getting into these situations."
"He also has the same propensity of getting out of these aforementioned 'situations'."
There were no additionally accompanying words, considering it was Seven who'd just said them, but their optimistic intent was clear enough.
"Anything else?" Janeway asked, looking somewhat afraid to ask.
"As I am sure you are glad to hear, no. Do you need me here any longer?"
"No, Seven, thank you," the captain said. "Dismissed."
Seven left, and when she did, the Captain turned to the Doctor.
"How was Tom? Before, I mean – I know he's fine, right now."
"Oh?" He asked, looking at the little bits and pieces of programming he could understand.
"I just saw him dragging Harry and B'Elanna to the Mess Hall, driving them insane with some chatter on a 21st century epic he was in the middle of reading. Harry Potter, I believe."
"Good," The Doctor said. "It's about time he invested his time in reading so true literature."
"You do remember that Harry Potter was intended for young children, right?" she asked, amused.
"That doesn't degrade it's literary value in the slightest."
She smiled as he said that, before her face fell. "But…how was he beforehand?"
The Doctor sighed. "Well…I'm not entirely sure. When he woke up out of the memory, he was…panicked. He was yelling at me not to touch him, and he actually…whimpered. Which just goes to show how much pain he must've been in, Tom not being the kind to let show his pain…then he snapped back and became defensive…"
"Why do I sense there's more?" the Captain asked as she walked over to the alcove Tom had been in.
"I asked him what the memory was, to cause all this. Not medically relevant, really, but just out of curiosity. First he dodged, then just said it was a fight. But…there was something off about the way he said it was a fight, and…"
"And what?" she asked, turning to look at him.
The Doctor brought up the detailed reports of Tom's injuries and crossed his arms, looking at them, and blew his lips with his virtual breath, his eyes inviting the captain to take a look.
"He said it was a fight. And he avoided my questions about the details, which is odd in itself. Whether he wins or loses, he doesn't mind bragging about fights. And, look at those wounds…there's nothing to suggest defensive wounds. It doesn't look so much like a fight as just taking a beating of some kind."
"Maybe that was it," she said. "Someone else got the drop on him, made him defenseless, and beat him to hell and back."
"Yes, but…then why dodge?"
"Embarrassment?" she offered, still looking over the report, wincing in sympathy. "I mean, he does pride himself on his fighting skills…"
The Doctor nodded rather doubtfully. "Still…I know he didn't give me the full details, but I just feel as if he left something out."
The captain took a deep breath and turned around to look at the Doctor. "This is Tom. He doesn't exactly have an ideal past, but he's smart enough to tell you anything you need to know. Anything else…he still has the right to privacy."
The Doctor sighed and nodded, slowly. "We have to get this inlay out of him. His own worst memories? I don't know how long he can last from the wounds themselves. And I think that will be the least of his worries."
"Well…he's already endured quite a bit of psychological stress. And it shows, too. He's prone to nightmares, isn't he? And his coping methods are…well, to say the least, I'm not sure he'll survive from the psychological stress, let alone the physical."
Janeway sighed, shutting her eyes and leaning her head back. "Maybe, but…this is Tom. He's got a knack for surviving through tough odds, don't you think? He can work his way through most any situation."
"Must be his great piloting skills," the Doctor said wryly.
She nodded, opening her eyes as her comm. beeped.
"Chakotay to the Captain – Tuvok and I have completed a full status report on damages to the ship."
"Is any of is critical?" she asked.
"No. All the damage can be repaired in two days or less."
"Oh, thank god…" she said.
"Thank the pilot."
"I'll be sure to do that," she said with a slight laugh. "Janeway out."
The Doctor smiled as she turned to him.
"So," she said. "I don't suppose I can book you for another massage after you analyze the inlay and virus…?"
"Consider it done. I'll alert you as soon as I finish and let you pick the time."
"It's a date," she said, before exiting the sickbay.
The Doctor looked down at the blueprints for the inlay.
Maybe he'd just pencil her in for three days from now, regardless of where he was in the analysis. Something told him it would be a long, long while before he'd be anywhere near finished…
Several hours later, Tom shifted off B'Elanna, covered in sweat and panting, landing beside her on the bed, laying there for a few moments.
"That…was…amazing…" Tom mumbled. "Where did you learn that?"
"Same place I always get new moves," B'Elanna said, amused. "Gay porn programs."
Tom blinked, before looking at her. "You're kidding, right?"
"Nope," B'Elanna said, apparently fighting off a laugh. "But it's not surprising. Who else can give the best hand-job than someone who's actually got a penis?"
Tom shook his head. "Well, so long as it's you doing said moves, I won't complain."
She laughed again as she slowly propped herself up. "I'm going to go take a shower."
"Want some company?"
She rolled her eyes, but nodded, both of them on unsteady legs for a moment, before quickly walking yet again. Tom would happily admit his eyes were glued to the mirror when B'Elanna walked into the bathroom.
One very pleasant sonic shower and dressing up later, and they were both sitting around his table, eating gourmet sandwiches, as they chatted.
"…so, we finally figured it was a neutron screwdriver lodged into the propulsion relay."
"You're kidding, right?" Tom said, nearly coughing on his sandwich as he laughed.
"How'd it get there?"
"Well…I'm not exactly into gossiping, but…" she got a mischievous smile on her face. "Rumor is John and Josh are an item."
His eyebrows went up. "John and Josh? I didn't even know John was bi, or gay."
"But you knew about Josh?"
"Considering he once sent Harry a Valentine on said holiday, it was rather hard to miss."
She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, well…" she paused. "Do you know them well?"
"Yeah," Tom said, taking another bite. "Reasonable friends."
"Really? I thought you guys got into a few fights when you first got on here. I know they're ex-Maquis."
Ton fought the urge to snort. Yeah, right – fight. Except a fight would imply he had a chance to fight back.
"Yeah, well, did we start off on best terms? And yet, look at us now."
"I'll give you that…"
Tom watched her carefully out of the corner of his eye as they finished their sandwiches in silence.
He would've thought it comfortable, except that he could see her fidgeting and clearly wanting to say something.
"Okay, B'Elanna," he said, finally. "Spit it out – and I don't mean the sandwich."
She frowned. "What-"
"Whatever it is you're trying to say."
Now the engineer sighed. "I just…I want to ask how you are – really are – after the inlay and all that, but I just thought…you don't really like being asked that at all."
"You're right," Tom said. "I'm fine."
She rolled her eyes, but just went back to eating.
"So, are the repairs getting along fine?" he said, before the silence could become stifling.
"Fairly," she said, looking somewhat relieved. "Most of the stuff is superficial, now. Just need more hands to get things done fast. I actually have to go down in about half an hour."
"We can go now – work until the shift…fix stuff in some quiet, reclusive little corner…"
"Would we actually get anything done though?" she asked, raising an eyebrow, already standing, anyway.
"Oh, I think we can get a lot done," Tom said, with a matching smirk, as he stood up, himself.
She rolled her eyes. "Let's go – and see how much willpower and self-discipline you actually have."
"Aw, B'Elanna, have a little faith in me…" Completed with a pout.
They both laghed.
And bizarrely enough for Tom, they ran into John and Josh even as they came down the corridor.
The men were walking side-by-side, and greeted them amiably as they passed Tom, but she said, anyway, "See?" after they were in the turbolift.
"They were very, very close to each other for just friends, they were practically holding hands. They probably were until they heard us."
"…I think you've been spending too much time with the gossips in your command."
She rolled her eyes, and Tom tried to match, but suddenly got a headache after he tried. Funny, he didn't remember drinking, yet he felt like it was a hangover headache. Fairly distinctive.
"Tom? You all right?"
"Yeah, fine," he said immediately. "Just a headache – nothing to worry about."
"You've got an alien neural inlay in your brain that's intent on torturing and a headache that just popped up out of nowhere you're telling me not to worry?"
Tom glared at her as the lift opened to Engineering, and she sighed. "Fine, fine, I won't watch your back…"
He nodded, then frowned as his world tilted with it.
Reminded him, oddly enough, of when he crashed a shuttle in training. God, that was horrible.
"Tom? Can you hear me?"
All the teasing and razz he took for it. Not to mention the injuries, himself and the co-pilot. Hurt like a bitch. Was stuck in sickbay for a week…
Wait, why was he remembering that? He hated that memory. And why was B'Elanna hovering over him? Wasn't he taller than her?
"Tom, I'm taking you to sickbay."
He hated sickbay. He liked where he was just fine, thanks, whatever it was pressing into his back and cheek, nice and soft.
"Oh, god, Tom, I think another cycle is starting!"
Cycle? Cycle of what?