By Terri Zavaleta
"I'm beginning to think I should never leave the ship," said Lieutenant Tom Paris, regarding his surroundings with one slightly opened cynical blue eye. "On Banea, I was charged with murder and imprisoned before having my brain scrambled. On Akritiria, I was caught in an explosion and then thrown down a chute into a prison from hell with a brain-scrambling clamp. Now, here we are on lovely, scenic Jaknar and where am I? I'm in a jail cell. I suppose I should count my blessings they haven't tried to scramble my brain this time?" He closed his eye and subsided against the wall with a sigh, trying in vain to find a really comfortable position.
"They probably figure it's too late. There's nothing left to scramble," Torres growled, briefly pausing in her pacing of the perimeter of their cell. She peered at the heavy stone door, looking for a weakness in the lock mechanism or hinges. Finding none, she resumed striding around the room, staring at the walls as if she could create an opening by force of will.
"Please don't throw yourself a pity party, Lieutenant Paris," Captain Janeway said dryly. "No one wants to attend and if anyone did, no one would have a good time." She was looking out the window, testing the strength of the thick bars by pulling on them. The bars were at least three centimeters thick and made of some metal that was distinctly unpliable.
Paris, slouching carelessly against the wall, sat on a bench which was the only furniture in the cell other than a bucket in the corner and a bottle of drinking water. He watched B'Elanna's restless movements for a few moments, then said calmly, "The walls are made of stone and a meter thick. The door requires a large metal key to open it. The bars are set too close together to squeeze between and they're too sturdy to bend. An old-fashioned, low tech prison. No circuits to short out, no force fields to disrupt, and no tools to work with anyway. We aren't getting out of here any time soon. Why don't you both sit down and relax?"
"Tom's right, B'Elanna. You might as well save your energy," Janeway commented, joining Paris on the bench.
"I don't like feeling caged!" the Chief Engineer snarled. "What do they want with us?"
Hearing the telltale creak of the outside door to the prison chamber and footsteps approaching the cell door, Paris got to his feet, saying, "I think we're about to have visitors." Janeway moved to the center of the room where she was flanked by Paris and Torres, presenting a united front.
A key was thrust into the heavy door and twisted. The door opened outward and two guards preceded the Prefect of Jaknar into the room. He was a little man with a head that seemed too large for his body and who dressed ornately and took great pride in his appearance, as repulsive as it might be to the Human eye. These people bore an unfortunate resemblance to Denebian slime devils, only more rigid and with larger cranial space.
The Prefect's manner and sneering attitude strongly reminded Paris of the Ferengi barkeeper from whom he'd rescued Harry Kim on DS9. This petty dictator could afford to sneer when he was backed by his two guards, huge hulking figures that dwarfed even Tom Paris' tall form. They were both carrying some kind of energy weapon rifles with heavy wooden stocks on one end and six-centimeter bayonets on the other.
The Prefect flashed his square teeth in an oily smile, his hands toying with the heavy golden chain draped around his neck while he looked them over as if estimating their worth. He dropped the large metallic key to their cell into the right pocket of his baggy, gold-encrusted vest.
"I demand to be allowed to contact my ship," Janeway stated calmly. Her cool, expressionless gaze gave away nothing of her feelings.
The Prefect sniggered. "I don't think so. Not until we reach an agreement." He reached into his left pocket and drew out a commbadge. "My metallurgist tells me this is gold."
Torres fought the urge to snatch the commbadge from his hand. She might have taken the chance if she hadn't noticed the guards watching her for just such a move and caressing their weapons with an almost lover-like passion.
"It is gold," Janeway replied. "We want our commbadges back to contact our ship. We came here to engage in peaceful, mutually beneficial trade. If you do not release us, my ship will be forced to take action to secure our release."
Paris couldn't believe how calm and self-assured she seemed. If she was running a bluff, she was doing a magnificent job of it. He'd run so many bluffs himself in his lifetime, he considered himself an expert. Paris kept his eyes on the guards. Their size alone was enough to intimidate, but their expressions gave him the impression that they ardently enjoyed their work. Overpowering them physically seemed to be completely out of the question. He wondered idly if they would be susceptible to a bribe. Then it occurred to him he didn't have anything to bribe them with--yet. Maybe they liked to gamble? Or play games of chance? Now there was a possibility.
The Prefect seemed to feel he was totally in control of the situation and could afford to be amused by Janeway's effrontery in making demands when she and her away team were being held in a very secure cell. "Captain, we are engaging in trade. I plan to trade you and your friends here for a great deal of gold. I've heard rumors about your ship and its technology. I hear that you have the ability to make things out of thin air. Things such as gold? Such as these baubles?" He juggled the commbadge in his hand before dropping it back in his pocket.
"You've obviously been talking to the Kazon with their imperfect understanding of our technology. They evidently didn't bother to tell you that we won't trade in technology and we will not negotiate while being held hostage," Janeway reiterated forcefully.
The oily smile faded from the Prefect's face, leaving an ugly scowl in its place. "I don't expect you to. I've already contacted your ship with a list of demands. Your first officer seems to concur with your position. Therefore, I believe we need to demonstrate the sincerity of our position. You three will not be returned intact unless your ship provides the gold we desire. The technology itself is a negotiable point."
"Commander Chakotay will not pay a ransom for our release."
"How unfortunate for all of you!" He turned to leave, signaling one of the guards with an uplifted finger as he did so. The guard stepped forward, his over-sized fist reaching to take Janeway's arm, but Tom was suddenly between them.
"No!" he shouted, blocking the guard's hand with his forearm and shoving it away from his captain.
The other guard reacted by slamming the butt of his rifle down on Tom's shoulder. Paris fell to the floor but rolled quickly and came to his feet in time to avoid the follow-through kick launched at him by the first guard. The young man positioned himself between Janeway and the guards once more, ignoring her attempts to claim his attention and thrusting her behind him with his good arm. "Prefect, don't be an idiot!"
The Prefect paused in the doorway and held up his palm in a gesture that seemed to freeze the guards in position. He studied the young man who was wincing in pain as he held his shoulder. The Human had surprised him. "What are you talking about?"
Paris ignored the guards and Janeway's efforts to intervene, focusing completely on the Prefect as he tried to read the man. "These two are your most valuable hostages. She's the captain and the other is the chief engineer. You can't get a good ransom for them if you damage the merchandise," Tom commented, being deliberately insulting. His tone implied that only an imbecile wouldn't have thought of that.
Torres grabbed at his uninjured arm, trying to get his attention and pull him away from the guards. He shrugged off her hold and pushed her behind him and into Janeway, causing both of them to stumble as they tried to keep their balance.
"Mr. Paris!" Janeway warned, seeing where this was leading and not liking it one bit.
"And what would you suggest, boy?" The Prefect seemed intrigued by the young man's sudden collaboration.
"Let me talk to Chakotay. I may be able to talk him into negotiating. He'll listen to me," Tom lied boldly. "He's not real happy with the Captain right now, but I'm one of his favorite people. His best friend. He trusts me."
The Prefect scanned the females briefly then inspected the male carefully. His smile was nasty, giving Paris a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that he worked to ignore as he tried to maintain an impassive expression.
"You may be right," the Prefect said after a slight pause. He turned to the guards. "Bring him."
"I'm the captain," Janeway protested, trying to push past the guards to get in front of Paris. "The senior officer. I take full responsibility for my crew. If you want to take someone, it should--"
The guards pushed her aside roughly, each seizing one of Tom's arms as they marched him out of the cell. He winced as they jostled his damaged shoulder then threw an apologetic look over his shoulder to the Captain before directing a careless smile at B'Elanna before he disappeared from sight, his blue eyes trying to send her a message of reassurance. The heavy door slammed and the key turned in the lock.
Torres ran to the door and tried to peek through the barred window in the door, but even on tiptoe, the window was just out of her reach. "That idiot!" she fumed, trying to hide her sudden fear for him. "Why did he have to open his big mouth?"
"Gallantry, I suspect," Janeway said worriedly. "I hope he isn't in for more than just a chance to talk to Chakotay."
"What do you mean?" B'Elanna asked, her concern for Tom's safety overriding her desire to hide her feelings. "They won't kill him? They have nothing to gain. There's no reason!"
"These kind of people don't need a reason," Janeway said with a tinge of bitterness. "How could I be so gullible?! I should never have blindly brought an away team down here. When I heard about the thoron particles in the atmosphere, I knew we wouldn't be able to use the sensors. Without our commbadges to tell them where to look, *Voyager* can't locate us much less beam us up."
Torres found herself in the unfamiliar role of comforter. "Captain, we couldn't know the Prefect would take us hostage. Every indication from Neelix's sources was that Jaknar was a peaceful trading post."
Janeway sat on the bench, leaning her head back against the wall. "I should have been more suspicious. Especially after Tom found the drinks we were served would have a powerful soporific effect on us."
"I thought that was sneaky of him, running a tricorder check on the refreshments," B'Elanna said admiringly. "He almost got away with it without being seen."
The Captain thought for a moment. "Tom must have suspected something. Too bad we didn't have a chance to compare notes before we sat down with the Prefect."
# # #
Tom had been uncomfortable with the Prefect's manner from the moment they'd been introduced. He'd rationalized it as a distaste for the Prefect's attitude and appearance but still couldn't persuade himself that there was nothing to worry about. Tom almost managed to write it off as his own paranoia following the incident at Akritiria but couldn't quite let it go. There was just something about the Prefect's smile, as if he knew something they didn't.
So when refreshments were brought out, Paris ran a scan with his tricorder as they were being served. Unfortunately, the tricorder was too bulky to be perfectly concealed and the Prefect noticed what Paris was doing and asked for an explanation.
Janeway smiled politely. "Just a routine precaution, Prefect. Occasionally, something that is perfectly harmless to one species may prove harmful to another. Is there a problem, Mr. Paris?"
Paris nodded. "This drink would act as a sedative in our systems, Captain. Sort of a Mickey Finn." He trusted she would remember the rather obscure and antiquated reference. It had come up at Sandrine's in a discussion of unsavory practices in certain bars in the Alpha Quadrant which specialized in *recruiting* crews for smugglers.
Smiling blandly, the Prefect said, "Why, Captain, jakelberry wine doesn't have that effect on my people. It must be a difference in body chemistry."
Janeway pretended to believe him but became suspicious and the away team refused all offers of other food or drink as she tried to think of a graceful, diplomatic excuse to withdraw from the meeting without causing distrust or offense.
Sitting rather uncomfortably in high-backed, straight-armed chairs designed so that the only comfortable position for the occupant's arms was lying along the top of the chair arms, they had gone on with the negotiations. At the touch of a button on the table in front of the Prefect, cuffs had abruptly sprung up, securing their arms to the chairs.
The three were caught completely by surprise.
Tom had never seen anything like this outside of a museum or an ancient horror film. They couldn't reach their commbadges to signal the ship. While they struggled to free their arms, the Prefect's guards removed the commbadges from their uniforms.
With mock sympathy, the Prefect said, "It's a pity you didn't just drink the wine. It would have been less trouble."
Using small handheld containers, the guards sprayed a burst of gas into the faces of Paris, Janeway, and Torres. There was no way to avoid breathing in the mist that seared their lungs and they lost consciousness rapidly.
When the trio awoke, they were lying in a heap on the floor of the cell as if they were dolls tossed there carelessly by a giant hand. Judging by the degree of stiffness each felt when they started moving around, they didn't think they'd been out for more than thirty minutes,
# # #
That must have been at least four hours ago. B'Elanna had given up trying to look through the door and was now testing the bars on the window for herself. It gave her something to do other than sitting. And waiting.
"What do you think Chakotay will do?" Janeway asked, wanting another opinion from someone who knew the First Officer well.
"He's probably having Harry look for us using vidcams since the sensors won't work. It would be hard to spot us though. There's a limit to the amount of magnification he can get with atmospheric interference. Too bad we can't signal him somehow. Could we hang something out this window? Maybe my jacket?" Torres suggested.
The Captain shook her head reluctantly. "It would be too small and it would just lie flat against the window. We need something that would stand out from the window at an angle."
Torres flung herself away from the window and resumed pacing back and forth near the entrance, her arms wrapped around her waist. B'Elanna's frenetic activity finally got to Janeway and she started pacing too, heading in the opposite direction of Torres' pacing.
"There are always alternatives," the Captain said. "That's what Tuvok says. We just haven't thought of all the alternatives."
"We don't have anything to work with!" B'Elanna seethed. "This is like being locked in a cave! We don't even have rocks to throw! And where's Tom? What are they doing to him? He's been gone for at least thirty minutes! It doesn't take that long to contact the ship!"
Janeway stopped beside her, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. "B'Elanna, we will get out of this. Tom is a hostage; he has value to them. Chakotay may be stalling for time. They'll probably get him to send a message to the ship then bring him back. If they kill him, they lessen their bargaining power. You know we can trust Chakotay to do his best. It's a pity we've become so used to high tech solutions we can't think beyond them. And that we didn't anticipate a low-tech trap! I'm not giving up on thinking about our options either. We will find a way to get out of this. With or without tricorders or other tools. We still have our brains. So let's try using them."
Torres searched the Captain's gray eyes and found that she was sincere. She wasn't just trying to make her fellow captive feel better. "Okay. I'll keep thinking."
Both resumed their pacing.
They guessed it was almost an hour since Paris had been taken away when they heard the creaking of the outer door that warned them someone was approaching. Both stepped to the center of the cell, standing side by side.
One guard opened the door. The other had an arm around the waist of the limp body of Tom Paris, carrying him under his arm like a sack of trade goods. He dropped Paris face down on the floor at their feet. "Weaklings," the guard snorted contemptuously. The guards slammed out of the cell without a backwards glance. Evidently they didn't fear retaliation from the Human females.
Torres and Janeway rushed to kneel on either side of Paris. He hadn't moved, just stayed where he'd been placed as if it took too much effort to move. Gently, and taking great care, they turned him onto his back. Janeway gasped as she got a good look at the damage inflicted but was thankful he was still alive. Torres hissed under her breath in a manner that promised retribution for her friend's injuries if any opportunity arose. And she fervently hoped that it would!
The left side of Tom's face was swollen and already bruising vividly in a multicolored rainbow along his cheekbone and jaw. A large lump was forming on the left side of his forehead and blood had dripped from his nose and mouth, liberally sprinkling his uniform with every blow he had taken. His breathing seemed ragged. One blue eye, his right, squinted open to blearily peer up at them. His left eye was rapidly swelling closed. "Are they gone?" There was a wheeze beneath the words that robbed his voice of volume but, in the silence of the cell, hearing and understanding was not a problem.
"Yes," Torres replied. "How bad is it?" She extended a hand toward his cheek but hesitated. Her rage made it difficult for her to judge her own control of her actions. She was afraid to touch him for fear of hurting him.
"Not as bad as they think," Paris said, trying to smile reassurance and his satisfaction but wincing when the movement pulled at his bruises. He tried to sit up, gasped, and decided he was better off lying down for now. He lay quietly, trying to get back the breath stolen by the sharp pain in his side. "They didn't want to kill me. Just mess me up. To impress Chakotay. I let them think they hurt me a lot worse than they did so they'd stop. Old trick. Remember this for future occasions. When getting knocked around by overgrown, under-brained musclemen, make a lot of noise and go limp so they use up their energy instead of yours. Like hitting a pillow."
The Captain didn't want to think about how or when Paris had learned that particular trick. Janeway ran her fingers along his ribs assessingly. "I think you have three cracked ribs, or they might be broken. Where else does it hurt?"
"Shoulder," he muttered. "Head. Everywhere." He closed his eyes momentarily, trying to breathe shallowly. He was glad they'd stopped when they had. He wasn't sure how many more blows he could have taken from those massive hands and remained even semi-conscious.
"I think his shoulder's dislocated," Torres reported, gingerly feeling the joint. That was probably from the rifle butt.
"My--whole---body is---dislocated. Let me know if you find it. I want to trade it in," Paris joked weakly, trying to make them believe his injuries weren't all that serious. From their expressions, he didn't think he was successfully selling the idea.
"Tom, what happened?" Janeway asked. She took off her jacket and used it as a pillow for his head, trying not to jar him too much. "Did you contact the ship?"
Paris made an effort to open both eyes at once so he could look at Janeway as he gave his report. "Yes, ma'am. They did this before they let me talk to him. Took their time. They didn't want to go too far, too fast. Not sure of human limits. They wanted to impress on Chakotay that they're serious in their desire for gold and replicator technology. This was to give him an idea--" Tom broke off as his brain caught up with his mouth. He pretended he just needed to catch his breath.
Janeway knew what he didn't want to say. "They wanted him to know that B'Elanna and I would be treated this way if we don't cooperate. What did he say?"
"You should have seen his face when the Prefect told him that his favorite officer wanted a word with him and then they dragged me into viewer range. I guess he was expecting B'Elanna." He tried to laugh but it caught in his chest and he grimaced silently, waiting to speak until he thought he could keep the pain from strangling his voice.
"You're starting to worry me, Paris," Torres complained mildly. She looked across him at Janeway. "He gets a splinter in his finger and he whines nonstop like he's dying. When he's in serious pain, he isn't making a fuss. Explain men to me."
The Captain frowned at Torres before returning her attention to Paris. "Report, Lieutenant." She wanted to focus his attention, take his mind off his injuries.
"Yes, ma'am. I told the Commander what the Prefect wanted and let him know you two were okay. Chakotay told the Prefect that he would have to reconfigure the replicators to produce gold and it would take at least six hours. Could you help me up?" Paris panted. "The floor's getting cold and I think I'd breathe better sitting up."
It took the combined efforts of both women, who were careful to avoid jarring his shoulder and ribs, to get him to his feet. He held his breath for a moment to prevent putting any additional pressure on his damaged ribs. With a great effort, he avoided crying out but all color had drained from his face by the time they got him seated on the bench.
B'Elanna took off her jacket and tucked it around him carefully, using it as a blanket. Studying his face and posture, she carefully placed her fingertips on his stomach and pushed.
"Argh! Get away from me, Torres!" he groaned. He closed his eyes and rested his head against the wall.
She turned worried eyes on the Captain. "He may have internal bleeding. It seems rigid."
Tom took her hand in his and held it next to him on the bench. "You'll do anything to get your hands on my body, won't you, B'Elanna? Any excuse?"
"Tom, stop joking! This is serious!" Her hand tightened on his. No problem. His hands were among the few undamaged areas on his body.
He opened his unswollen eye. "And if I stop joking, how will that help? We can't do anything about it right now anyway. No medkit. Never mind." He cut off her reply. "Captain, Chakotay is stalling. He gave the Prefect some double-talk about the replicators that included a reference to the vidcam assembly. He wanted us to know he's looking for us visually since the sensors are useless. Maybe he hopes we can signal him somehow."
"I knew he would try that," Torres said with satisfaction. "The problem is how does he know where to look? This is a large city. And we can't signal him."
Janeway sighed. "It could take days to search the city visually and it would be useless since we're totally removed from sight in this building. We have to get out of this building."
"Actually, I have a plan," Paris announced, then was forced to stop and wrap his arms around his aching sides as a fit of coughing took him. Janeway and Torres were dismayed to see that he was coughing up small quantities of blood. He was seriously hurt and needed medical attention. Feeling helpless, they both looked for anything they could do to help.
"B'Elanna, there's a water bottle in that corner," Janeway pointed out. "Tom, don't talk. Save your breath." She retrieved her rolled up jacket and placed it behind his head once more.
Torres brought the water and held it to his lips, allowing him to take small sips. "You have a plan, huh?" she asked. "Let me guess, you're going to hit them with your body again? Until they surrender?"
"Ow! Ow! Torres, don't make me laugh; it hurts!" Paris whined even as he fought a smile. "Let's just say, all I need for this plan to work is five minutes with the Prefect."
"I know what I would do with five minutes with their precious Prefect," B'Elanna growled. "But I don't think you're in shape for tearing him to pieces." She tore a strip off the bottom of her shirt, soaked it with water and started cleaning the blood from Paris' face. It might not really help him but it made her feel better.
Janeway's sympathy was with her engineer. She was furious at the treatment Paris had received and felt guilt-ridden that he'd taken her place as the chosen victim. "Next time, Mr. Paris, you *don't* volunteer to go with them."
"C'mon, Captain," Tom muttered, "I figured my head, among other things, is harder than yours."
"They might not have treated me as roughly," Janeway stated, not really believing it herself but feeling responsible since he had taken the punishment intended for her.
"Just say, 'Thank you, Tom'," Paris instructed woozily. His eyelids drooped as he became drowsier and less inhibited. He turned his head so B'Elanna could reach the other side of his face with her makeshift washcloth and leaned into her touch as if it comforted him.
After a momentary pause to get control of her voice, Janeway obediently repeated, "Thank you, Tom----but don't ever do that again! I'm the captain. I'm responsible for the safety of my crew."
Tom's one open eye examined her skeptically. "Uh-huh. Well, I'm a junior officer and I'm not the only pilot so I'm the least valuable and therefore most expendable member of the landing party. Even I remember that much from the Academy. And I have no intention of going back to *Voyager* without you--- or with *you* in this condition. I have enough to live down without throwing more fuel on the fire."
"I'm not going to debate this with you right now, Lieutenant," the Captain said gently, brushing his hair away from the lump on his forehead. "You have a head injury. Maybe a concussion so I don't think you should sleep. Try to stay awake."
"I feel sleepy," he murmured, struggling to keep his eyes open. "If I have to stay awake, you have to keep talking."
"What do you want to talk about?" Janeway asked, slightly amused. He sounded like a five-year-old making a deal for a story at bedtime.
"I don't know." His words were slurred.
"Maybe it's a better idea if you do the talking," the Captain suggested. "Why don't you tell me about the real Sandrine? I meant to ask you about her. The holodeck version seems an interesting character. Is she an accurate recreation of Sandrine?"
Paris made a visible effort to concentrate. "Yeah. I programmed the holocharacter just like the original. She's a romantic. She likes to watch the customers and play matchmaker when she gets a chance. I met her when I was at the Academy. Her place was my hangout for every leave I got." He couldn't quite suppress a moan as he shifted on the bench, trying to find a more comfortable position. His eyes drifted shut and his head lolled back against the makeshift pillow.
Janeway brought up a subject that she knew would get a reaction. "I don't imagine your father approved of your hanging around a bar in your off time."
One eye was now a swollen slit but the other flew open and stabbed at the Captain. "Of course not. But he was busy and I was out of his immediate sphere of influence. You know," he sighed, "I fell in love with Sandrine."
Torres and Janeway exchanged surprised glances. "Wasn't she a little old for a Starfleet cadet?" Torres muttered, tenderly pressing the wet rag to the bruises on his face to act as a cold compress.
"Not that way," Tom grumbled impatiently. "Well, maybe I sort of had a crush on her. Or maybe I just wished she was my mom." He appeared to have forgotten his audience and was more or less talking aloud to himself, not realizing just how much he was revealing of his relationships with his father and Sandrine. "It was just--she was so accepting. She didn't try to change me. She didn't have an opinion about every decision I made. My father and I never agreed on a single decision in my whole life. Don't get me wrong; he never pressured me or anything. He wanted the best for me."
He sighed softly, then continued, "It was just that no matter what I decided, it was never the decision he would have made. I never measured up to his standards. On the other hand, Sandrine told me I was a good person with a good brain and should make my own decisions. That was nice to hear for a change, even if it wasn't true. She told me it was my life and my career and I should try out for the test pilot program if that was what I wanted to do. I was tempted. But Dad thought I should go to command school. He said being a test pilot was dangerous and would be a waste of my ability. He always said I'd screw everything up if I didn't listen to him."
With a snort of laughter that resulted in a wince, he said, "Boy, I bet he's sorry now. If I'd been a test pilot, I'd probably have managed to kill myself long ago. Instead of being a Starfleet reject, ex-con, Maquis traitor, his only son could have had an early, honorable death." He didn't sound bitter, just immeasurably tired. In a way, that made it worse.
Torres was torn between wanting to comfort Paris and wanting to punch a hole through the wall and tear someone apart. The Prefect or maybe Admiral Owen Paris. She'd like to have a shot at confronting the man who'd either deliberately or unwittingly convinced Tom that he could do nothing right. The Tom Paris she'd come to know did quite a few things right. She watched him with concern. There was nothing she could do right now. There was nothing any of them could do.
B'Elanna never dealt well with frustration. She began to pace the cell again, looking more than ever like a wild animal in a cage. She was near the door when she heard the telltale creak. "Someone's coming!" she announced.
"Help me up," Paris demanded. "I've got to stand up."
"Tom, you need to rest," Janeway retorted. "Stay where you are."
"No! My plan won't work unless I'm standing up," he pleaded.
Fearing for his health but respecting his insistence, the women got him upright. By sheer bullheadedness, he stayed on his feet. B'Elanna put her arm around his waist to steady him. Janeway stood next to him, prepared to offer her assistance if needed, but she concentrated on the door. It swung open with a creak and the Prefect and two guards entered.
The Prefect didn't waste his smiles on them this time. "Your first officer says he can't reconfigure the replicators without your authorization code, Captain. I want that code now!" He glanced fleetingly with some satisfaction at Lieutenant Tom Paris, who was swaying on his feet and apparently being held upright by B'Elanna Torres.
Janeway realized that this was another of Chakotay's stalling tactics. He knew any command codes he might need and the replicators didn't require them anyway. "All right, Prefect. The code is Janeway Delta Pi."
He eyed her suspiciously. "I don't have time for tricks. That is the correct code?"
"No," Paris contradicted. He pulled away from B'Elanna's supporting arm and staggered toward the Prefect unsteadily. The guards exchanged a sneer. They didn't consider him a threat to the Prefect or anyone else in his condition. "She's lying. The correct code is Janeway Delta Pi Lambda."
"I see your lieutenant learned his lesson well," the Prefect said to Janeway derisively.
"Oh, yeah," Paris said. "I want to get out of here. She can play games if she wants, but if cooperating with you will get this done, that's fine by me!" As he finished the last sentence, he threw his good arm out in a wide gesture. This seemed to tip him off balance and he stumbled against the Prefect, both hands grabbing at the man as if for assistance in staying upright.
The Prefect scowled at him and stepped away, letting Paris fall to the floor on his knees. "Fool! Don't get your blood on my new robes! Thank you for the code, Captain. I'm glad your officers are more amenable to reason than you are."
Janeway ignored him and, with B'Elanna, went to her knees to help Tom.
The Prefect exited, but before the door closed he was back again. With an angry, scornful expression he marched back to stand in front of Paris. "Where is it? Give it back! Do you take me for an imbecile?" He put his hand out, palm up.
Torres and Janeway exchanged blank looks. Squinting up at the man, Paris held out his left hand and dropped the key to the cell into the Prefect's palm. The Prefect looked at him contemptuously, raising his arm as if to strike. B'Elanna was suddenly on her feet and between them, daring the Prefect to try it. Looking slightly intimidated by the ferocity of her expression, the Prefect spun and strode out of the room.
One of the guards looked back through the window in the newly locked door at Paris. "Nice try for a weakling!" His tone held a hint of respect. He disappeared.
"It was a good try, Tom," the Captain said as she and B'Elanna helped the pilot to his feet.
"You stole the key from his pocket?" Torres said incredulously. "Where did you learn to do that?"
"Hanging around the Marseilles piers at the real Sandrine's. Like I told Harry, picking pockets is something they still do for the tourists. And they give your wallet back---most of the time," Paris wheezed. "But that's not the whole trick. Picking the pocket is the easy part. The hard part to do well is misdirection."
Paris held up his right hand. "If the mark misses his wallet right away, you get caught. So you have to distract him. You get the mark to look at your left hand while you're up to something with your right hand. I knew he'd miss the key right away. He had to have it to lock the door. I wanted him to think that was why I stumbled against him." He gave them a proud, lop-sided smile that was painful to see. "I picked BOTH his pockets." He opened his hand. On his palm lay a commbadge. He handed it to Janeway then his eyes rolled back in his head as his body finally gave up the fight for consciousness. He would have hit the floor hard if they hadn't caught him and gently lowered him to the floor between them.
The Captain put the badge in place and slapped it, hearing with satisfaction the customary chirp. "Janeway to *Voyager*."
"Captain?" Chakotay's voice resonated with surprise and relief.
"Three to beam up directly to Sickbay." The familiar tingle of the transporter took the away team out of the cell and home again.
# # #
Janeway, Torres, and the Doctor got Tom on the biobed as soon as the transporter released them. The Doctor scanned the pilot with a medical tricorder, shaking his head and frowning as he read the results. He located a hypospray and injected it into Tom's neck.
Chakotay, Tuvok, and Kim entered Sickbay, joining the Captain and Chief Engineer in hovering near the Doctor's office. "Are you all right, Captain?" Chakotay asked, scanning both women for signs of trauma or wounds before turning his attention towards Paris.
"We're fine," Janeway said somewhat impatiently. "Tom was the only casualty. Doctor? His injuries?"
"A concussion. A hairline skull fracture," the Doctor announced as he continued his scan. "Three broken ribs, five cracked ribs, dislocated left shoulder, damage to the spleen, kidneys, and liver, which caused internal bleeding, not to mention assorted contusions and abrasions. Tell me, how did he manage this? A sledge hammer?"
"I think they used their fists," Torres explained, angered by the Doctor's lack of sympathy for Paris' condition. "Those guards were huge. Their fists were as large as your head. Will he be all right?"
"That is what I'm trying to ascertain. If you will be patient, I should have the results in a few moments. At this moment, I am stabilizing him," the Doctor replied.
Tuvok regarded Janeway dispassionately. "Captain, I fail to understand how you were able to contact the ship. The Prefect took your commbadges. At what point did you recover one?"
"For that we have to thank Chakotay's stalling tactics and Tom's ingenuity and dexterity," the Captain said, a smile tugging at her lips.
"Captain?" Chakotay said, not understanding how he'd been involved.
"You told the Prefect you needed an authorization code. That sent him back to our cell again and allowed Tom the opportunity to pick the Prefect's pocket. Excuse me, BOTH pockets," she corrected, her eyes twinkling as she remembered Tom's deservedly smug expression when he'd shown them the commbadge. The others looked back at her with varying degrees of confusion and disbelief.
"I am not familiar with that term," Tuvok said.
"He stole it out of the Prefect's pocket," Torres explained impatiently. "He was so groggy he couldn't stand without help. So he used that as an excuse to fall against the Prefect and stole the commbadge with his right hand and the key to the cell with his left. He said stealing the key was misdirection. The Prefect would think the key was what he was after."
Harry Kim beamed an admiring smile at his unconscious friend. "That was fast thinking. And in the condition he's in that's incredible!"
"Which brings up another question," the First Officer said. "Captain, if the Prefect's object was gold, why not just demand that as his price for the goods he wanted?"
"Why hold hostages at all? Why did they do that to Tom?" Harry Kim added, unhappily studying his brutally beaten friend and wincing for his pain as the Doctor poked and prodded him.
"Greed. Have you ever heard the story of the goose that laid the golden eggs? The Prefect's greed was enormous." Janeway closed her eyes momentarily, trying to rid her mind of the mental image of Lieutenant Paris being delivered back to the cell. "And as for what they did to Tom--actually, Harry," she replied, "they intended to use *me* as an example. Tom talked the Prefect into taking him in my place."
Chakotay didn't want to think about the damage that might have been done to Kathryn's frailer body by the massive hands that had administered Tom's beating. It looked like he not only owed his own life to Paris but the Captain owed him for hers as well. "How did he manage that? The Prefect didn't seem to be the type who would take kindly to suggestions."
Janeway tried to think of a diplomatic way to explain.
Torres, as usual, cut right to the heart of the matter. "Tom called him an idiot, insulted his thinking processes, and told him we were of more value to the ship and would fetch a higher price if we were undamaged."
"He also told the Prefect you were angry with me. He said you would be more likely to listen to him," Janeway added. "Tom manipulated the Prefect quite cleverly."
"I wondered what the Prefect meant when he called Tom 'my favorite officer'. He got out a few sentences of explanation then one of the guards hit him again. I guess they thought he was trying to send me a message. We couldn't tell how badly he was hurt. The image was distorted. I wasn't even sure he was conscious when I replied, but I tried to let him know we were searching for you," Chakotay said.
"He was conscious," Janeway said somewhat bitterly. "He got the message and relayed it to us when they returned him to the cell."
# # #
Tom woke up and the first sight that met his dazed vision was the Doctor's unsmiling visage hovering right in front of him. He seemed to be running a diagnostic tricorder back and forth and up and down over Tom's face and body. "What, again?" Tom grumbled. "How many times do I have to wake up to you?"
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. "The feeling is mutual, Mr. Paris. If you don't want to see me, the solution is in your own hands. Stop getting injured," he instructed snippily.
Tom heard the Captain's voice and tried to turn his head to see her, but the Doctor grabbed his chin, holding him firmly in place. "Mr. Paris, I cannot assess the damage if you do not stay still. You will aggravate your injuries."
Noticing that he was conscious, Janeway and Torres came to Tom's bedside. "Relax, Mr. Paris. Thanks to you, we're all safely on *Voyager*," the Captain said.
"Will he be all right?" Torres asked, touching Tom's hand then releasing it as if surprised at her own action.
"Of course," the Doctor said matter-of-factly. "I am an excellent surgeon and a highly trained physician. Kes is cloning the organ tissue for his surgery. That will take some time and the surgery will take several hours. Then he should rest and give his body time to recover from the trauma of the injuries. He should be able to leave Sickbay in two weeks."
"Two weeks?" Paris protested automatically. This was not his favorite place to be.
"Would you like to make it three?" the Doctor asked sarcastically. Tom Paris was not his favorite patient. He glanced at the senior staff members. "Could you take this meeting elsewhere? I have work to do and Sickbay is no place for large crowds of spectators, though I must say the operation will no doubt be worthy of--"
"Never mind, Doctor," Janeway interrupted. "We're leaving. Tom, rest and follow the Doctor's orders." She signaled the others nonverbally and they started for the exit. "Now, what are we going to do about the Prefect?"
"I vote for dropping a photon torpedo on his pointed head," Ensign Kim muttered under his breath. He was embarrassed when the Captain responded to his spontaneous remark.
"A tempting idea, Ensign. Very tempting, in fact. Too bad the Prime Directive won't allow it," Janeway said just as the Sickbay doors slid closed.
Paris fought a grin as he thought of Harry's probable reaction to the Captain's response. Torres had lingered a moment at his side. She cupped his chin gently in her palm and gazed down into his blue eyes, studying his face for a moment with an expression of amused incredulity. "You picked his pocket! I don't believe you sometimes, Tom Paris!"
He smiled at her muzzily. "Sometimes, B'Elanna, I don't believe myself!" He never was sure if he imagined it or if she really did lean down and kiss him on the cheek. It could have been the medication.
He was absolutely sure that he didn't imagine her leaning over him, almost nose to nose, scowling fiercely as she said, "Tom Paris, if you ever scare me like this again, I may have to kill you myself. I'll be back later to check on you and you better be cooperating with the Doctor. Now get well! And I mean now!" She marched out the door, leaving a befuddled and bemused Tom Paris in her wake.