DISCLAIMER: Paramount owns all rights to the Star Trek Universe. This isn't meant to infringe on anyone's rights. But since TPTB haven't done much with my favorite character, I will. Please feel free to read and share this, but give me the credit. It's my first fanfic and was written between the first and second seasons. Be merciful, but send feedback!
Lt. Thomas Eugene Paris knew that he was dreaming. That was unusual in itself. Normally he was never aware he was dreaming until he woke up. This time he could tell he was dreaming. He knew because he had almost the same dream the night before and he wasn't happy about having it again. He was on a planet that was Earth, but it wasn't. It seemed somehow familiar as if ---that was it ! It reminded him of a visit to a semi-tropical region in Texas that he had visited as a child. Except the sky was orange. How strange! The heat, humidity, and lush green plants all seemed familiar. It was just warm enough to be uncomfortable.
He looked around expecting to see his parents or---or someone. He was alone. He looked down at himself. He was not a child in this dream. He was wearing his Starfleet uniform and holding a tricorder. Casually he studied the readings, but couldn't seem to make the tricorder work properly. All the display showed was the time: 09:30:45.
Suddenly, he got the feeling he was no longer alone. He lifted his eyes from the tricorder readings and looked around. There was a young woman---make that a beautiful young woman, sitting on a large tree limb about 100 feet above him, watching him. Her long dark brown hair fell in waves around her face and almost to her waist, making it hard to see her features. She was as still as a statue and as silent. He started to check the tricorder to see if she was registering. No matter how he tried to recalibrate, it still read 09:30:45. He moved his free hand toward his phaser just in case she was hostile. The tricorder crumbled into shattered bits as if it were made of sand.
"What the hell?" Tom grumbled as he pulled the phaser free. The phaser fell apart, each piece dropping from his hand to hit the ground. His hands now empty, Tom knelt to pick up the pieces, as if somehow he could repair the equipment. "Chakotay is going to have something to say about carelessness---"
"What should I say about it, Mr. Paris? " Chakotay's voice came from behind Paris.
Paris turned to look at him. Chakotay was lying on the ground, propped up on one elbow, idly using a stick to draw shapes in the soft earth.
"What's going on?" Paris asked with a bewildered frown.
"How would I know, Paris? It's your dream, isn't it?" Chakotay replied.
"I think I want to wake up now, " Paris said, and pinched his own arm. "Ow!" He flinched.
Chakotay shook his head disapprovingly. "Paris, can't you tell whether or not you're asleep without hurting yourself?"
The ground shook. Paris stumbled, trying to keep on his feet. There was a loud rustling in the trees above them as large boulders came crashing down around them. Paris shouted, "This doesn't make sense! There aren't any mountains here! Where are the rocks coming from?"
A large stone struck Paris's left shoulder and knocked him to the ground. The pain seemed very real. All the noise and shaking ceased as suddenly as it had begun. He slowly regained his feet. "Chakotay?" There was no answer. It was so quiet he became aware of his own breathing, which seemed to be getting louder. He could feel his heart beating thunderously in his chest.
He walked closer to Chakotay's last location. As he looked down, the huge rocks disappeared, leaving behind the bodies of the Voyager crew, their uniforms and their bodies ripped and torn and smashed. Multi-colored bloodstains were sinking into the ground. He identified those closest to him, a knot of pain forming in his chest. There was Harry...and Kes... Janeway... Neelix... Tuvok... Chakotay... There were bodies strewn across the ground as far as his eyes could see. Tom was the only survivor...
..."NO!" Tom sat straight up as his dreamed shout woke him.
He was sweating profusely. The dream began to fade as he made a conscious effort to slow his breathing, his right hand over his pounding heart as if to keep it from escaping.
"Tom, that's the last time you try Neelix's redtri soup before bedtime," he told himself, trying to find a little humor to lighten the sense of horror that had followed him into wakefulness.
He forced himself to take another deep breath then lay back and closed his eyes. It was no use. He couldn't stop thinking about the dream.
He reached to the bedside table and found his commbadge. "Paris to Kim." There was no answer. "Paris to the bridge." There was no answer. "Somebody answer me!"...
...Tom fell off the bed and woke up again.
This time he really woke up. He was sweating profusely. He held his head and groaned. "That's enough of that." He got to his feet and staggered toward the shower.
"Captain, sensors are picking up a space buoy. It's broadcasting a message. Audio only."
"Thank you, Mr. Kim. Put it on," Janeway replied.
The style of the message was instantly recognizable as that of a salesman or pitchman. "Come one, come all! Entertainment! Trade! Barter! Games of Chance! Visit our museum of modern oddities ! Leisure time activities! All species welcome! We will send coordinates to any ship that signals this buoy ! The first 500 customers receive a discount! Visit the Luteria Circus!"
Janeway glanced at Chakotay. He gave her a half smile. "It sounds interesting, Captain. We could always do some trading or bartering."
Paris turned to add his two cents. "And isn't Starfleet's mission to explore strange new worlds and civilizations?" He tried widening his blue eyes innocently. It didn't always work on the captain.
Janeway raised an eyebrow at Paris with a hint of humor. "Why do I get the impression that the words 'game of chance' caught your attention?" She slapped her commbadge. "Janeway to Neelix."
Paris shrugged lightly and turned back to the conn with his customary scapegrace grin.
"Yes, Captain?" Neelix sounded slightly out of breath.
"We just received a message from a space buoy concerning the Luterian Circus. Have you ever heard of this?"
"Heard of them? Well, you could say--uh--" Neelix was interrupted by a loud clatter of dishes hitting the floor. "Ow!"
"Mr. Neelix, what is going on?" Janeway rapped out.
"Well, Captain, let's just say I am rather busy at the moment. The Saperian Soufflé is at a particularly delicate stage right now. If the follicles are not folded in properly---"
"Come to the bridge at your convenience, Mr. Neelix. It's not an emergency. We wouldn't want to interfere with your---culinary creativity. Janeway out." Janeway slid a glance at Chakotay. "I don't know about you, but the less I know the happier I am."
Chakotay gave a half smile. "I have tried to convey that idea to him, Captain, but Mr. Neelix hasn't quite caught on to human preferences in cuisine."
Paris nodded agreement as he turned his position over to the relief pilot. "For example, our dislike of extremely hot spices in every single dish served?" He added as he stretched to relieve an achy muscle in his back.
"Are you feeling all right, Mr. Paris?" Janeway inquired. "You look a little tired."
Tom was about to deny it, but a huge yawn caught him unawares before he could stifle it. "Sorry, Captain. I'm fine. If you'll excuse me, my shift has ended and I can now do something about my state of utter---exhaustion," he replied somewhat sardonically. He turned control of the conn over to his relief and moved quickly to join Ensign Harry Kim on the turbolift.
"I noticed that Mr. Paris seemed tired and distracted," Chakotay commented. "I attributed it to too many late nights playing pool at Sandrine's."
"I don't think so. He hasn't been there lately. One of the Delaney sisters asked why Tom was pulling double shifts." Janeway raised one eyebrow at Chakotay.
" I didn't assign him to a double shift. As far as I know, he's been in his quarters or the mess hall when he hasn't been on the bridge," Chakotay added. "If he's been working overtime, it's his own idea. And today he actually reported for duty an hour early."
"Maybe there's something on his mind?"
Chakotay shrugged. "I'm hardly the one he would choose as a confidant."
Janeway looked at Chakotay searchingly. "I had hoped your relationship had improved since-- since Tom has stopped behaving in such a provoking manner. It was part of his assignment to create a credible reason for leaving Voyager in order to convince Seska."
"Captain, we are not exactly on bad terms. It's just hard for me to deal with him on a personal level. His attitude...his betrayal first of Starfleet ideals, then of the Maquis..."
"I understand. But you are the executive officer of this ship. If there is a problem, perhaps you could address it on a professional level." Janeway smiled gently. "On the other hand, maybe I'm seeing a problem where it doesn't exist. I suppose time will tell."
"Harry! Wait up!" Paris called as his friend walked away from the turbolift toward his quarters. "Where are you going?"
Kim stretched and yawned. "Where do you think? I'm going to my quarters to get some sleep. I stayed up too late last night. I could use a few extra hours."
Paris gave his most charming smile. "C'mon, Harry! You can sleep when you're old! Let's go to Sandrine's and I'll show you my patented 'Paris Promenade' pool shot! It's gotten me a few dollars on side bets, and you could probably pick it up in an hour or two!"
Harry looked puzzled. "What is it with you? Don't you want to sleep any more? You've been keeping me up late playing backgammon all week! And don't tell me you aren't tired! I saw you on the bridge today. You must have had three cups of that stuff Neelix calls coffee trying to stay awake!"
Paris shifted uncomfortably, refusing to meet Kim's eyes. "Can we talk?"
Kim nodded as he gave a resigned sigh. "If we're going to talk, let's go to Sandrine's and have a nightcap. Just one! Then I'm going to bed!"
Paris nodded eagerly. "Sure. Just one drink!" He clapped a brotherly hand to Harry's shoulder.
Harry was convinced Tom had a problem. He wasn't drinking the synthehol. He'd practically snubbed Jenny Delaney. He wouldn't even play pool when offered the opportunity to show off for the Engineering staff.
Two hours later, Paris still hadn't gotten to the point. Kim was half asleep, his elbow on the table, leaning his face on his hand as Tom expounded on his new system for winning at some game called roulette.
Kim interrupted abruptly. "Tom!"
"If this is what you meant, when you said 'Let's talk' , you might as well talk to Sandrine. I'm going to bed!" Harry tried to find the energy to get his feet under him and push himself upright.
Tom put a hand on his arm. "Wait, Harry. You're right I'm stalling. I'm not comfortable talking about this."
Harry frowned at him. "If you can't talk to me, why don't you talk to the Doctor?"
Paris scowled ferociously. "He's a hologram! And his bedside manner leaves a lot to be desired. Besides, it isn't a medical problem."
"What kind of problem is it?"
"Who said I have a problem?" Paris said carelessly. "Maybe I just didn't want to drink alone."
Kim stood and looked down at his tall friend. "Tom, if you need to talk, you must have something you want to talk about. I can't help you if you don't tell me the problem."
Paris shrugged. "Never mind, Harry. It's nothing. There's nothing anyone can do any way. It's nothing." The repetition didn't convince Kim or Paris.
Kim sat down again. "Well, give me an idea. What is it about? Are you feeling homesick? Bored?"
"It's such a little thing that I feel silly even mentioning it," Paris sighed.
"If it's a little thing, then tell me," Harry retorted.
"I've been having----dreams," Paris blurted out.
"Dreams? What kind of dreams?"
Kim thought that over. "Tom, if you mean dreams about getting home---"
"Not those kind of dreams."
"Dreams about people you miss?" Kim guessed.
"No, who would I miss? My father? Not those kind of dreams."
Kim let out a low growl of frustration. "Tom, I'm too tired to play twenty questions. Are you going to tell me what you're talking about?"
"I've been having scary dreams, okay? I don't want to go to sleep because I keep having the same kinds of scary dreams."
"You mean nightmares?"
Paris shook his head. "Not exactly. It's more like---like I'm dreaming in chapters. Every night I dream the same thing, or the same kind of thing, but then sometimes something new is added. And they aren't nice dreams." He took a gulp from his glass then slammed the glass down on the table. "And I don't want to see what's going to happen next. Sometimes I can't tell if I'm awake or still asleep."
Harry considered his words for a moment before he spoke. "Maybe you should talk to Commander Chakotay."
"What?! Why?" Paris exploded. "Why would you suggest such a thing?"
"Well, I've heard him talking to B'Elanna and it seems that in his culture, dreams have meanings and maybe he could help you figure out--"
"Dreams don't mean anything! It's just a manifestation of anxiety!"
Kim eyed him suspiciously. "That sounds like you're quoting."
Paris nodded. "I did some research. Aw, forget it, Harry!" Paris stood and slapped his friend's shoulder. "It's nothing. I'll just think positive thoughts before I go to sleep. And stop eating midnight snacks! That's probably all that it will take."
Kim eyed him dubiously but nodded. "Okay, Tom. But if this keeps up, the doctor may get a crack at you when you start manifesting symptoms of sleep deprivation."
It was the same planet. The same clearing. The same trees. The same orange sky. Not a mountain or a boulder in sight. It was different though. The young woman was not in the tree. He looked for her right away now that he knew where to look.
Another difference: This time Paris was not alone. It was an away team assignment. They were in the triangular Alpha formation with everyone armed with phaser and tricorder as they assessed the environment and looked for lifesigns. The team consisted of Paris, Chakotay, Neelix, Tuvok, and Kim. The team moved forward in the same direction. The ground began to shake and the men stumbled, trying to keep their balance. Just as in the previous dream, the shaking stopped as suddenly as it had begun, but this time there were no boulders from the sky.
Tuvok studied his tricorder. "This is most unusual. I do not read seismic activity."
"What's that?" Kim asked, pointing to his left at a large cluster of flowering plants. He started toward them, followed by Neelix.
There was a large mass of some gaseous orange material floating down from above the trees and toward the landing party. Paris looked at his tricorder. He had set the tricorder to scan for the composition of the cloud. The only reading was 09:30:45 and that didn't make sense.
"Tuvok, what is that cloud?" Tom asked. "My tricorder isn't working."
Tuvok frowned in his direction. "What cloud are you talking about, Mr. Paris?"
"Which way should we go, Mr. Paris?" Chakotay asked.
Paris was confused. He didn't understand why the first officer was asking him what to do. "I don't know. Where are we? What's going on?"
Chakotay looked displeased. "Don't you know?"
Paris looked around, trying to get his bearings. There was the young woman! This time she was sitting on the ground behind them, watching the away team as it moved farther away from her position. As Tom looked at her, she gestured him towards her. Beckoning with one arm and reaching out to him with the other. He still couldn't see her face clearly, but urgency was conveyed in her gestures.
The cloud abruptly moved forward to engulf the team. Lightning suddenly struck out at each team member, throwing them to the ground---everyone except Paris. He stood by, unable to move or speak, and watched as the lightning strikes repeated. Each team member suffered the pain silently, their features distorted as the electrical current rushed through their bodies. In less than five seconds, the lightning and the cloud disappeared. Everyone but Paris lay dead on the ground.
His paralysis broken, Tom moved toward the others then stopped close to Kim's body. "Harry, I'm sorry. I couldn't do anything. There was nothing I could do."
Kim's eyes flew open. "Did you really try, Tom?"
Suddenly Kim's face morphed into that of Tom's father. "Did you really try, Tom? Or was it one of your half-hearted efforts to please someone else? When are you going to start taking responsibility?"
"Leave me alone!" Paris shouted.
This time when he awoke, Thomas Paris was not sweating. He was trembling. He raised the light level in his room and found something to read.
"Mr. Kim," Janeway said as she approached the table in the mess hall. "May I join you?"
Harry Kim who had been trying to convince himself he was really hungry, with only moderate success, nodded. "Of course, Captain. Can I get you ---something?" He gestured vaguely at the round brown---pastries?--on the plate.
Kathryn followed his glance and swallowed hard. "No, thank you. I wanted to ask you something. Without violating any confidences, can you tell me what is wrong with Mr. Paris?"
Trying to buy time to think, Kim repeated, "What's wrong with Mr. Paris?" He tried not to glance toward the corner where Paris was sitting alone, half-awake and drinking coffee.
"That's what I said, Ensign," Janeway said patiently. "I know you're friends and he may have said something to you. The last few days he has been---inattentive. He seems tired. He is not as fast as is his custom. You can stop me any time, Ensign."
"I know he's been a little---tired---but---Captain, have you asked Tom about this?" Kim pulled at the collar of his uniform as if it had suddenly tightened.
Janeway smiled slightly. "Yes, and I get evasions and excuses and jokes---but no real answer. If you can't help me, Harry, I'm going to order him to report to Sickbay for a physical." She studied his expression and waited for his reaction.
Harry Kim tried to balance his responsibilities as friend and as a Starfleet Officer. Finally he said, "That might be a good idea, Captain. I do know Tom has not been---sleeping well?"
Janeway eyed him shrewdly. "Yes, I think I see, Ensign." She reached up and touched her commbadge. "Janeway to Sickbay."
"Yes, Captain?" came the immediate response of the holographic doctor.
"Doctor, I'm sending Lt. Paris down for a physical."
"His routine physical was three weeks ago, Captain. He was functioning within acceptable parameters at that time. Is this really necessary?" As always the doctor got right to the point.
"I believe it is. Janeway out." Janeway smiled at Kim. "Thank you , Mr. Kim. I'll see you on the bridge." She stood and walked out of the mess hall.
Harry Kim wished he didn't feel guilty.
B'Elanna Torres was working on a datapadd as she drank her juice and picked at the fruit on her plate. Kes came toward her with a small tray. "May I join you, B'Elanna?" she asked.
Torres was a little surprised. She didn't often find herself in the company of the Ocampan woman. "Sure. What can I do for you?"
Kes smiled shyly. "I don't want to interrupt your work, but I did want to ask you something."
Torres nodded slowly, eyes wary since she didn't know what to expect.
"I just wondered if you know what's wrong with Tom?"
Torres tossed a quick glance at Paris, then looked back at Kes. "What's wrong with him? What do you mean? He's been tired and slow lately, but I just thought he might be partying a little too much with the Delaneys." Anyone who heard her would have known instantly what Torres thought of the Delaneys. Well, at least any woman would.
"No, that's not it. Jenny Delaney asked me if I knew what was wrong. Tom hasn't been socializing the way he usually does. Neelix is concerned because Tom doesn't seem to be eating very much." Kes worried gaze still rested on Paris so she missed Torres' effort to censor her own words before answering.
B'Elanna reined in her first response concerning Neelix's cooking. She didn't want to hurt Kes' feelings. "I hadn't noticed. He does look tired, though. Maybe he just needs some sleep."
But now that it had been brought to her attention, she began to worry about him. He didn't look right. He was always fair, but now he looked---pale and there were dark circles beginning to appear under his eyes. Torres considered whether she should say anything. No, she decided. He was a grown man and could take care of himself. At least as well as any man could. Maybe.
"This is ridiculous!" Paris said emphatically. "I just had a checkup!" He moved as if turning back to his duty station.
"Mr. Paris, the fact that you think this is a matter for debate proves that you are not in full command of your faculties," Tuvok stated dryly. "The captain gave you an order, not a request."
Paris opened his mouth to protest further and saw Chakotay and Janeway watching him. He caught himself before he could give vent to another outburst. He thought he would choke on the words that he stuffed back down his own throat. His head hurt. "Aye, Captain. I will now report to Sickbay." He unfolded himself from his chair and moved toward the turbolift, trying not to catch Harry Kim's eye as he passed the Operations Station. He tried to pretend he was humoring the captain. He wouldn't want to ruin his cool image.
Captain Janeway sat at the head of the table as usual. Tuvok sat on her left and Chakotay on her right. Kim and Torres were in their usual positions at the other end of the table. The only people missing from the staff meeting were Lt. Tom Paris and Neelix.
Neelix came bustling in, carrying a tray with small square---things---on it. They seemed to be meant for snack items as each was bite-sized. "Captain Janeway, I thought you should be the first to try these. I'm thinking about calling them Voyager Varieties. They're a perfect nutritionally balanced combination---"
"Please, Mr. Neelix. Have a seat. We want to discuss the space buoy," Janeway said, taking the tray and putting it down on the table, taking care that it would be out of her line of sight.
Neelix nodded and smiled affably as he seated himself next to Chakotay. "Ah, yes. The Limberians? Wasn't it?"
"Actually it was the Luterians, " corrected Tuvok. "Perhaps it would be helpful to replay the message." He waited for Janeway's nod of approval, then replayed the taped message.
Neelix was almost bouncing in his seat before the message reached its conclusion. "As morale officer, I must say I approve of taking an opportunity for some rest and recreation on a planet!"
"Everyone seems to be in favor of it, Mr. Neelix, " commented the first officer. "But do you know anything about this race? What is their level of technology?"
"Why does that matter?" Neelix blurted. "It would be a wonderful opportunity---"
Janeway interrupted. "Mr. Neelix, we would like to know if making the Luterians aware of our ship would cause any conflict with the Prime Directive."
"Oh, that again." Neelix sounded mildly disgusted with that bit of human irrationality.
"Captain, wouldn't the fact that they have provided a space buoy and broadcast the message indicate their level of technology approximates our own?" Harry Kim asked.
B'Elanna shook her head impatiently. "Not necessarily. Communications is almost always the first field to benefit from advanced technology. They may not be prepared for other species or for species from outside their immediate system. They might not be aware of the range of their message."
"In any event," Chakotay added, "our present course takes us within hailing distance of the planet. We can wait until we are within sensor range before making a final decision."
Neelix threw his hands up in the air. "I do not understand why you are so reluctant to have a good time. They mentioned trading. We can trade for food supplies, seeds---all manner of materials!"
Janeway considered him. "Mr. Neelix, when you have time, use our literary database to locate and define the expression 'wolf in sheep's clothing'."
Kim looked at Torres and added, "My favorite was always 'Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly'."
Torres scowled at him. "What's a parlor?"
"This won't hurt at all, Tom," Kes soothed as she brought the doctor yet another instrument.
"That's what you said last time, " Paris grumbled. "How much longer is this going to go on?"
The doctor snorted as he aimed the medical tricorder at Tom's head. "It would go a lot faster, Lieutenant, if you would refrain from moving and making noise during the examinations."
"Why don't you lie back on the table and relax, Tom?" Kes asked. She put one hand on his shoulder and pushed him gently down to a prone position.
Paris had a hard time saying no to Kes at any time. Right now he was so tired. So tired. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to lie down for a minute. His eyelids felt as if someone had dropped sand behind them. That was a funny thought. His mother had told him about someone named The Sandman who was supposed---
...The away team was composed of Paris, Kim, Chakotay, Kes, and Neelix. The tricorder in Tom's hand still registered nothing but 09:30:45. "Something wrong, Lt. Paris?" inquired Chakotay casually.
"Something weird is going on here!" Tom exclaimed anxiously. "Does anyone get any readings on the tricorders? Mine isn't working."
The others seemed to be ignoring him. "Isn't the sky a pretty color of orange?" Kes marveled.
"I wonder if these plants are edible," Neelix muttered, grabbing a handful of vegetation and running the tricorder over it.
'Where was she?' Paris thought. The woman had always been somewhere around---there she was! She was sitting under one of the tallest trees with her legs curled under her. She was watching Tom exclusively---as if the others did not exist. She beckoned to him urgently.
"Chakotay! Look! Do you see her? Harry?"
"See who?" Kim answered, baffled by his friend's distress.
As suddenly as ever, disaster struck! A huge orange lightning bolt came out of the clear sky and struck the ground in the center of the clearing. The ground split apart, forming a huge fissure. The away team began to fall down into the fissure as Tom watched in horror.
He ran forward to the edge of the crevasse. Neelix and Chakotay had disappeared into its depths. Kes and Kim were clinging precariously to the edge as they tried to find a hand or foot hold that would allow them to climb out. The ground shook beneath them.
Tom threw himself to the ground and extended his arms as far down the crevasse as he could reach. "Grab my arms!"
The young woman behind him called out, "No! They'll pull you in! Come back this way! Back away from the edge before you fall in!"
Tom ignored her. "Harry! Kes! Come on! Stretch your hands up!"
Kim strained to reach. He couldn't. His fingertips brushed the air six inches from Tom's. It was just six inches too far. "I can't, Tom." He met Paris' eyes. "Save Kes." Harry let go, toppling backwards into the abyss.
Paris fought the urge to scream Harry's name and forced himself to concentrate on saving Kes. He threw himself sideways to get closer to her position.
"Tom, I'm slipping!" she shouted.
"No!" Paris yelled. "Don't let go!!" He lunged further into the fissure, feeling himself slip as he seized her wrists...
He came awake with a start and was shocked to find he had somehow latched onto Kes's forearms with both his hands. She continued the soothing litany she had evidently been repeating for some time. "It's all right, Tom, it's just a dream."
He took a deep, shaky breath.
"I would appreciate it if you would refrain from bruising my assistant," the doctor snapped, shaking Paris' shoulder.
Tom looked at his hands and with great effort forced them to let go of Kes's solid reality. "I'm sorry, Kes. Did I hurt you?"
"It's all right, Tom. You fell asleep. It must have been an awful dream." As he released her, she took a step back, her blue eyes showing her concern.
"Did I say something?" Tom asked nervously. He looked Kes over with a quick glance to be sure she really was all right.
"Nothing understandable," the doctor replied. "Do you want to discuss it?"
The doctor frowned. "In some cases, it is therapeutic to discuss your dreams."
"I said NO! Are you finished?" Kes had never seen the lieutenant act so jumpy. He had completely lost his casual, sardonic attitude. Paris jumped off the med table and strode toward the door.
"We have finished the tests, yes, " the EMH replied, "but the captain----"
"She told me to report for a physical. I did. Now since I've been relieved of duty for the day, I'm going back to my quarters." Paris left almost at a run.
"Sleep deprivation?" Janeway inquired.
"Certainly some of the symptoms are there. But the primary cause seems to be a fear of dreaming. He did not wish to discuss the dream he had here in Sickbay, but the brain scan we ran showed that while he was in REM sleep, his adrenaline and other stress factors were high. It is unfortunate we do not have psychologist or specialist in sleep disorders aboard," the doctor asserted. "This is out of my area of expertise, though I have been programmed..."
"Thank you, Doctor. Janeway out." Janeway looked across the ready room. "Well, Commander? What would you recommend?"
"Giving him sedatives will make him sleep, but it won't make his sleep peaceful." Chakotay thought for a moment. "Has he told anyone about his dreams?"
"No, I don't think so. Ensign Kim seemed to know he was having trouble sleeping but there was no indication he knew anything beyond that basic fact. The dreams must be stressful. I would assume they may be very personal in content. I agree with the doctor. I wish we had a ship's counselor. Failing that, who else could Tom talk to about these nightmares of his?" Janeway leaned back in her seat and rested her eyes on the ceiling, carefully avoiding Chakotay's eyes.
Chakotay frowned. "Captain, Mr. Paris is extremely defensive -- "
Janeway countered, "If he knows we will not restore him to active duty till this matter is resolved, it may make him willing to discuss treatment. Do you have any expertise with sleep disorders?"
"Not exactly. Many of my people have beliefs and traditions concerning dreams and their meanings. They're sometimes contradictory. Some tribes believe talking about good dreams prevents them from coming true while talking about bad dreams makes them happen. Some tribes believe the opposite." Chakotay lifted his hands, palms up in surrender. "I suppose I can ask Paris to talk to me. Until he talks to someone, there's nothing we can do."
"I understand, Commander. Mr. Paris is in his quarters now. Judging from what the doctor said, I don't believe he will be resting. Please, do your best." Janeway smiled encouragingly.
It took three signals before Paris responded, "Come." As soon as the door opened and he saw Chakotay, he added, "Oh, no! I should have known." He threw a handful of playing cards down on the table. He'd been playing solitaire.
Chakotay waited at the door, silently studying Paris.
"You might as well come in, Commander, " Tom said exasperatedly. "Have a seat! Make yourself at home. Would you care for refreshments? Or would you rather just send for the straitjacket now?"
Chakotay walked in and seated himself on the couch, still without saying a word. He remembered the last time he had tried to talk to Paris about his personal problems. At the time, he hadn't known that Paris was deliberately making a scene to make sure gossip about his discontent on Voyager would be spread to the Kazon spy. Chakotay had met with his spirit guide and meditated to get centered and ready for this little talk.
"Well, aren't you going to say anything?" Paris demanded.
Chakotay craned his neck to look up at the lieutenant looming over him. "You seem to be talking enough for both of us."
Tom Paris sighed deeply, and with an air of resignation flopped onto the chair on a diagonal with Chakotay's position. He quickly sat up and perched on the edge of the seat as if afraid to relax. "Let's start over." He forced a smile. "Hello, Commander Chakotay. How nice of you to drop by. What can I do for you?"
"Tell me about your dreams."
"Boy, you aren't much for social chitchat," commented Paris wryly.
"I didn't know you wanted to socialize with me, Paris. Tell me about your dreams," he repeated.
"It's really nothing. I'll get a handle on it!"
"It's not really nothing if it interferes with your ability to do your job. And if it were really nothing, why would you be so reluctant to talk about it?" Chakotay stated reasonably.
"Because it's nothing! I'll deal with it!" Paris crossed his arms on his chest defensively, his features a blank mask.
Chakotay frowned down at his hands for moment in silence, then met Tom's eyes directly. "Your efforts to date don't seem to have worked. Whoever told you that Starfleet personnel or other members of this crew have to handle their problems alone? Did the whole concept of teamwork escape you at the Academy?"
"Teamwork? As in working together to achieve---"
"I didn't ask for the Academy definition. Paris, teamwork includes taking care of the members of your team and helping them over the rough spots. Consider this a rough spot. Tell me about your dreams," Chakotay said for the third time.
Tom sprang to his feet as if he were afraid of staying still. He walked behind the chair and leaned his forearms on its back. "Do you believe dreams are---prophetic?"
Chakotay could tell he expected laughter or a sneer. "I believe they can be."
Tom shuddered as he remembered. "God forbid! I hope not!"
Paris rubbed his eyes with his fingertips. " What do you want to know? I've been having dreams----it's always the same place---on a planet, but the dream isn't always exactly the same. Some things are the same. Some parts are different. "
"Let's have some details. What do the dreams have in common?"
Paris frowned in thought. "In all the dreams, I was on a planet. It was semi-tropical, lots of plants, hot climate---and the sky was a bright orange, not blue."
"What were you doing in these dreams?" Chakotay probed patiently.
"Not much. I had a tricorder, but it was malfunctioning. I think it was an away team assignment---but in the first two dreams I was alone. The away team showed up in the third and fourth dreams---I think." Once he got started, the words began to bubble out of Paris as if he had forgotten Chakotay's presence and was talking to himself. "Anyway, the weird thing is there was this young woman---watching me. At first, she only watches. In the second dream, she waves at me. She didn't speak to me till about the fourth dream!" He darted a quick glance at Chakotay to gauge his reaction.
There was none. Chakotay was impassively waiting for him to continue.
Paris hated not being able to read people and Chakotay was always so inscrutable. "I know this sounds weird!" he exclaimed defensively. "I can't be held responsible for my dreams, can I?"
Chakotay met Tom's eyes. "Many people believe that dreams are telling you things you need to know. But dreams are not holographic novels that play out from beginning to end. Many dreams contain symbols---your mind understands the meaning. You just have to figure it out. For example, why would you be on an away team mission alone?"
Paris considered that for a moment. "Normally, I wouldn't be. Unless there was an emergency of some kind. And I was only alone the first two times. So what does that mean?"
"It could mean that you were feeling lonely---isolated from the rest of the crew," Chakotay suggested.
"Oh, now why would I ever feel like that?" Paris responded with heavy sarcasm.
Chakotay did not take offense. "Everyone feels that way at times, Paris. You said your tricorder malfunctioned. In what way?"
"It wouldn't calibrate. I changed the settings and nothing changed. I kept getting the same reading. Then it fell apart. And you were there!" Tom exclaimed as he suddenly recalled that part of the dream. "And you said something about carelessness---or I did---then---then---"
Chakotay gave him an encouraging look. "Then?"
Tom fidgeted for a moment. "Then huge boulders started raining out of the clear orange sky! Everyone was killed!" he blurted. He tried not to let the image creep back into his mind.
"Everyone? I thought you were alone."
"I was. That's what doesn't make sense. I was alone---no, you were there! You showed up when I said your name. Then the rocks fell. After they fell, the rocks disappeared. Then the whole crew was dead and lying on the ground!" Tom fell silent and sank back into his chair, his head between his hands.
"I can see this dream is not one you would want to have more than once," Chakotay remarked calmly. "Is the ending the same in every dream?"
Paris shook his head. "The second time, I knew I was dreaming and I tried to wake myself up. And I thought I did wake up, but I wasn't really awake. Because then I woke up again, for real." He shook himself and tried to break the mood with his usual defense, humor. "How's that for strange behavior? Gee, Tom, you can't tell when you're sleeping and when you're awake?"
Chakotay refused to smile. "That kind of experience is called a lucid dream. It's not uncommon. Is that the same in every dream?"
"No," Tom admitted reluctantly. "The only thing that's the same is---everybody dies---except me. The third time it wasn't rocks that killed everyone. It was lightning from an orange cloud---that no one else could see! I asked Tuvok to use his tricorder since mine wasn't working and he says 'What cloud?' That beautiful woman was there and---"
"What was she doing? Watching?"
"No, this time she waved at me, you know?" Tom demonstrated the beckoning gesture.
"Where did she want you to go? Did she say anything?"
Tom thought about it. "She seemed to want me to come toward her."
"Could you tell why? What was toward her?"
"There was nothing around her." He paused as he tried to visualize the scene once more. "Wait a second! As I moved toward her, I was moving away from the cloud! She was trying to warn me! Yeah! That's it! But who is she? Why would she warn me?" Paris was beginning to detach himself from the emotional content of the dream and view it as a mystery to be solved, just as Chakotay had hoped he would.
"Think about her. Get an image of her in your mind. Do you know her?" the first officer prompted. "Does she look familiar?"
"No. I don't recognize her. But she's beautiful," Paris replied.
"I would expect no less from a dream of yours," Chakotay remarked with a half smile. "But does she remind you of anyone?"
"I don't know."
"Her hair is long, almost to her waist. It's dark brown, with reddish highlights and very wavy. It was hard to see her face at first because she sort of hides her face behind her hair. She's young---probably in her early twenties. Her skin is very white with a blue tint. Sort of like a pale version of the Andorians. She has brown eyes, almost black, and they seem---" Paris hesitated as if embarrassed. "Her eyes seem---innocent. In that way she reminded me a little of Kes."
"She tried to warn you? Is that all she does in your dreams?"
"Yes." Paris tried to remember the details. "She warned me. She wanted me to just---to just let the away team go. Let them die. She didn't want me to risk helping them."
Chakotay nodded. "The woman still doesn't seem familiar?"
"No. Does that mean something?" Paris frowned at him.
Chakotay shrugged. "I would have expected her to remind you of your mother or another important woman in your life who was concerned for your well-being. That seems to be the role she fulfills in your dream."
"But why do I dream of---why does everyone except me die?" Paris fumbled.
Chakotay stood. "Paris, I am not going to pretend to understand everything, but I do state as my opinion that it probably means you have some anxiety about abandonment. With your past history, it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect it."
Paris surged to his feet. "You mean in light of my abandonment of Starfleet? In light of my abandonment of the Maquis?" His mouth twisted in a bitter smile. "I knew I should keep my dreams to myself. I expected this kind of reaction. I've never bothered to explain or excuse myself before and I don't plan to start now. I've never been analyzed yet---that it wasn't a total waste of time."
"I didn't mean it as a criticism, Paris. You've been through a stressful time. Perhaps the dreams are your mind's way of working through your unresolved feelings---"
"Thank you , Commander," Tom interrupted. His body language informed Chakotay that Paris was not ready to listen to anything else. "I appreciate your concern. Have a good night's sleep. I won't."
Chakotay approached the door. "Just one thing, Paris. Write down everything you dream. It will help you remember. It may help you understand."
Tom didn't know why. Maybe the talk with Chakotay had helped after all. But that night, he didn't dream---or at least, if he did, he didn't remember it.
Torres noticed that Tom was in the mess hall early again today. She laid aside her datapadd as he neared her table with his tray and gestured him toward the empty seat across from her. "Hi, Tom. I haven't talked to you in a while." She was a little surprised and hurt when he seemed reluctant to join her.
"Hello, B'Elanna. What's up in Engineering?" He sat down and picked aimlessly at the fruit and bread on his plate. "No major crisis, I hope?"
"No. Tom, are you okay?" The question burst out of her, her eyes showing a concern she didn't really feel comfortable expressing.
Tom sighed. "I should be used to that question. Everyone keeps asking it."
B'Elanna frowned at him impatiently. "And what are you answering?"
"I'm okay," Tom stated flatly. He massaged the base of his neck with one hand. "Thank you for asking. I hadn't noticed that I was acting particularly weird, but since you're about the fifth one to ask---"
"Jenny Delaney being the fourth---" Torres interjected rather snippily.
Tom raised an eyebrow at that comment. He didn't understand Torres sudden enmity for Jenny Delaney. "Actually, I believe Jenny was third. Neelix was fourth. Has Jenny done something I haven't heard about?" His curiosity was piqued. Under normal circumstances Tom got all the good gossip on the ship very quickly and he hadn't heard of any run-in between the two women.
Torres was embarrassed. Her concern for Tom Paris had led her to sound jealous. No, that was ridiculous. Why in the world would she be jealous of Tom? "Not that I know of. But then she isn't a friend of mine! I don't think she likes women as friends."
Tom marveled. "Why are we talking about her? How did we get on this subject?" Maybe he was more out of it than he thought if he couldn't follow a conversation.
"She's worried about you, remember? She and the rest of your harem!" Torres jumped up from the table, gathered her materials together, and stormed out of the mess hall. She hated to think Paris would take her concern as something personal. She refused to become one his---one of his throng of lovesick admirers.
"What harem? What did I do? What did I say?" Paris muttered bewilderedly to himself.
Everyone in the mess hall watched Torres' exit. The men stared at Tom, wondering exactly the same thing. The women exchanged glances and smiled.
Paris ran his hand through his hair in total bemusement. He needed more coffee before could begin to analyze Torres' unusual behavior. He wondered what the heck Jenny Delaney had done to aggravate B'Elanna and what it had to do with him any way.
After his third cup of coffee, Lt. Thomas Paris looked a little more rested when he reported for duty that morning. He slid into his chair and followed his routine of checking all his instruments and their readings.
Ensign Kim reported, "Captain, we're approaching a large gaseous nebula. There seems to be some material that is interfering with proper sensor readings."
"Put it onscreen," Janeway ordered. The screen was filled with the gaseous nebula that obscured the stars beyond it. It was reddish-orange in color, extremely dense in some areas and almost wispy in others. "What is its composition?"
Harry frowned at the instruments as if he could make them more responsive. "I'm getting anomalous readings, Captain. There 's some interference. I can't tell if it's a natural or artificial source."
Janeway and Chakotay exchanged looks. Hers asked, 'What do you think?' His replied, 'I don't know.'
Janeway spoke aloud. "There's no reason to change course. We can take further readings for analysis as we go through it. Stay on this heading, Mr. Paris."
"Aye, Captain," Paris replied almost automatically as he checked his heading. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of the chronometer to his left. It was reading 09:29:30 . His hands froze on the controls. He stared at the chronometer.
"Mr. Paris?" Janeway asked, noticing the fixity of his gaze.
Her voice broke his trance and Paris spun in his chair and got to his feet to face her, standing at attention. "Captain, I'd like to recommend we raise our shields, " he said urgently.
She raised her eyebrows. "To go through a nebula? Mr. Kim?"
Harry shrugged, eyeing Tom skeptically. "Sensors don't indicate any danger, Captain."
Paris could feel a blush coming up his neck and mentally cursed his fair complexion for about the hundredth time. "I can't explain, but it's important!" He looked at Chakotay. "I think it might be vital to the ship's safety."
Janeway looked at Chakotay, hoping he would have a clue. Chakotay slowly nodded, then spoke over his shoulder. "Raise shields, Mr. Tuvok."
Paris gave a deep, relieved sigh and resumed his seat at the controls. At exactly 09:30:45 Voyager entered the nebula---the orange-colored nebula---and was hit by bolts of energy that rocked the ship. Paris held onto his control panel as the ship bucked and bounced.
Kim lurched to one side and almost lost his balance, clutching at the Ops station in an effort to stay upright.
"Our shields are holding, Captain!" Tuvok noted. "Minor injuries reported."
"Where are those bursts of energy coming from?" Chakotay asked.
Kim frantically recalibrated the sensors. "It seems to be chemical energy derived from the cloud itself. It's creating bursts of energy similar to lightning bolts."
Voyager's emergence on the other side of the nebula brought a sudden and noticeable silence. Kim spoke again, "Captain, if our shields had not been in place, we would have suffered extreme damage. The sensors are now reporting that the chemical energy would have disrupted the cohesion of the hull. The shields prevented the chemical energy from touching the ship itself."
Paris felt self-consciously that everyone was looking at him. He looked around. He was right. They were.
Janeway looked puzzled. "Mr. Paris, why did you suggest raising the shields? Why at that particular moment?"
Paris looked at the captain and the first officer with a hint of a smile. "Because I dreamed it?" he replied dubiously.
The senior staff had adjourned to the conference room. As Janeway seated herself at the head of the table, she said, "There were no indications of anything abnormal about that nebula, yet you recommended that we raise the shields. Explanation, Mr. Paris?"
Paris grinned. "I think I finally figured it out." He looked somewhat scornfully at Chakotay. "The dreams weren't about 'unresolved feelings', Commander. They were a warning."
Chakotay shrugged off the implied criticism. "I said I wasn't an expert on dreams and their meanings. Have you ever had a precognitive dream before?"
Paris frowned. "No. As a matter of fact, I scored barely above normal on the test for ESP ability at the Academy. I've never had premonitions before."
"But what was in the dream that told you we should raise our shields?" Kim asked.
"It was the chronometer reading. In the dreams I kept trying to use a tricorder, but the only reading I could get was 09:30:45. Don't you get it? That was the chronometer reading when we entered the nebula," Paris explained.
Tuvok raised both eyebrows. "Mr. Paris, the chronometer gives that reading daily. How did you know that your dream had meaning today?"
"Because in all the dreams, the sky was orange," Paris replied. His answer met with a few blank stares. "The nebula was orange in appearance. And in the dreams, the orange sky was always the source of danger."
Torres tossed her head back and snorted. "That's ridiculous! How could that tell you that raising the shields would work?"
"I don't know." Tom became a little more subdued. "I can't account for suddenly getting precognitive warnings out of the clear orange sky either."
"Is it possible the dreams did not originate with Mr. Paris?" suggested Chakotay. "Perhaps there could be some form of telepathy involved."
"Telepathy from whom?" Janeway objected. "Kes and Tuvok are the strongest telepaths aboard and they haven't reported having any impressions of danger or sharing Tom's dreams. Tuvok?"
"No, Captain," the Vulcan replied. "I have not experienced any sense of warning but that would not be grounds to dismiss the idea of telepathy. Many studies have suggested that telepaths frequently communicate on different frequencies. What one telepath perceives, another might miss if he or she is on a different frequency."
"That still leaves the question of from whom Tom would have received the telepathic impression." The captain looked around the table. "Any suggestions?"
Kim hesitated. "Maybe it came from someone who had been killed by the nebula's energy field. There are many legends of---spirits who haunt the site of a disaster---" His voice faltered as he looked at the skeptical expressions of his crewmates. "It was just an idea."
"Did you dream last night?" Janeway asked.
Paris frowned thoughtfully. "No, now that you mention it. Or if I did, I don't remember it. Maybe the dreams were just to warn me about the nebula."
"Perhaps you're right. This may be the end of it," the captain said.
...This time Tom Paris was standing in a room. It was a large room, probably 1000 feet. Three walls of the room were made of stone. In the center of the room was a large round fountain of some kind with running water bubbling up from a tall stone pipe in the middle. The fourth wall was a long line of identical wooden doors with brass doorknobs and knockers.
"What am I doing here?" Tom wondered aloud. He heard a gurgle that sounded like the water was laughing. He moved toward the fountain. It was very deep. The water was a deep blue green and not transparent. He couldn't see the bottom or judge its depth. He saw some movement in the water and leaned forward to peer down into the water.
A few drops of water splashed up and hit his face. He took a step back and wiped his face with his sleeve. On the other side of the fountain, the young woman he'd seen in every dream was sitting on its edge. No, not a woman---a mermaid!
Her long brown hair waved down past her shoulders and provided a modest covering for her bosom. Her tail was a glistening silver rainbow shimmer of scales.
Tom could feel his mouth hanging open. He had heard stories of mermaids---seen pictures---but had never seen one before. If she'd had a tail before, why hadn't he noticed it? No matter how tired he was, he was sure he would have noticed something like that.
The mermaid lifted her tail slightly out of the water and playfully splashed the water in Tom's direction. "Hello, Tom," she whispered with a shy and delighted smile. "I've been waiting for you." Her brown eyes danced with mischievous glee.
"Who are you?" Tom asked.
"A friend," she replied. "Would you like to swim with me?"
Tom took a deep breath. "Is this real?"
"Do you want it to be?" She leaned toward him. He drew closer as if pulled by strings. His hand reached out to gently cup her cheek. It was very soft and much cooler than human skin would be. Her skin had a slight blue undertone beneath the ivory color of her complexion.
"Tom!" It was Harry's voice. He sounded scared.
Paris spun on his heel and turned toward the wall of doors where the voice had seemed to originate. "Harry?"
"Tom! Help me, Tom!" This time it was Torres' frantic voice coming from behind one of the doors. As Paris drew closer to the doors, it became impossible to pinpoint the source or sources.
"B'Elanna! Harry! Keep calling!" Paris reached toward the closest door.
"No! Tom, don't open that door!" the mermaid called urgently, reaching toward him as if to hold him back.
"Tom, help me !" It was Harry and Torres and now Janeway---all shouting simultaneously and from different areas of the wall of doors.
"What happens if I open the door?" Tom demanded.
The mermaid refused to meet his eyes. "You'll be hurt!"
"Where are my friends? What's happening? Why do they need my help?" Paris was getting angry.
"Tom! Help! Tom, you have to help me! I don't have much time!" The three panicky voices overlapped and seemed to echo behind the wall of doors, making it impossible for Paris to decide on a direction.
"Where are you?" Tom shouted. "What's wrong?"
"Tom, don't go in there! I want you to be safe!" the mermaid cried. "Please! Stay with me! I'll keep you safe!"
Tom whirled. "Safe from what? What's going on?"
The mermaid shook her head sadly. "Tom, I can't---NO!!!" Her voice suddenly turned to a scream as she suddenly disappeared into the fountain as if seized by something beneath the water.
Paris dashed forward to try to help her, to grab her arms, but he was-too late. She was gone. The voices of Torres, Kim, and Janeway shouted again from behind the door. "Tom! Tom! Help me!"
"I have to do something." Paris moved back to the wall of doors, chose one at random and pulled the door open. It was pitch black beyond the door, but he could sense something moving. The voices had fallen silent. He started into the place beyond the door, but there was no solid ground there---Tom felt himself falling!
He flailed his arms wildly trying to find anything to hold onto...
...and felt himself falling with a thump onto his bed.
"Oh, no," Paris moaned. "I hate dreams like that!" He threw his legs over the side of the bed and reached for his blue robe. "I wonder if Harry is awake?"
It was one of the most difficult things Lt. Thomas Paris had attempted in years. He had to steel himself to make the effort. Trying to seem as casual as possible, as if he did it every day instead of for the first time, he approached the corner table where Chakotay was reading reports on a padd and drinking his morning coffee.
Chakotay glanced up at Paris with his usual calm as he neared. "Would you like to join me, Lieutenant?" he asked, beating Tom to the punch with just the right air of offhand politeness that kept Paris from retreating.
Tom smiled crookedly and sat down opposite him, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the table and clasp his hands in front of him. "I 'd like to apologize for my reaction in my quarters the other day, Commander. You were trying to help and I just made it harder."
Chakotay raised an eyebrow, a gesture he seemed to have picked up from Janeway who had picked it up from Tuvok. "The dreams haven't stopped?"
Paris threw his hands up in the air in a gesture of surrender. He leaned back in his chair. "How did you know?"
"I assume it would take something fairly drastic for you to come to me for help," said Chakotay, simply stating it as a fact.
Paris folded his hands on the table in front of him to keep them still. "Commander, I know we've had our differences---" He seemed to suddenly lose patience with himself." Okay, let's be truthful. I know you don't like me much---or
trust me---or forgive me for what you see as my betrayal of the Maquis---"
"That's not quite right, Lt. Paris," Chakotay interrupted. "I don't particularly like your attitude. You are very good at your job. You tend to be arrogant. As for your betrayal of the Maquis, I object to your reasons. If you, like Tuvok, betrayed the Maquis for a matter of principle, I could understand and accept it."
"I never intended to betray the Maquis, Commander," Paris interjected. "If you want the truth, the only reason I accepted Capt. Janeway's offer to come on this mission was to get out of that sanitized prison. Starfleet and Capt. Janeway assumed I could lead them to Maquis hideouts. I never claimed I could. If you'll remember, I had only been with the Maquis a couple of weeks and I was captured while on my first assignment for the Maquis. I didn't know much and I was honest about it. I told Captain Janeway I didn't know where most of the Maquis hiding places were. I also assumed the Maquis would relocate their bases and change any codes I had access to as soon as I was captured. I took the mission to get out of the rehab colony and figured I could wander around in the badlands with Voyager for a few weeks. I didn't have a long-term plan. There was no betrayal involved. Now, if you'll excuse me---" Paris started to his feet only to subside back into the chair at a gesture from Chakotay.
"All of that is in the past. It's irrelevant. Let's get back to the point. Tell me your dream. Was it the same?"
Tom took a breath and let it out slowly. "No. It had nothing to do with the nebula. This time I was in a room." He described the dream to Chakotay with all the details he could recall.
Chakotay thought it over for a few moments. "Why a mermaid?" he puzzled aloud. "Perhaps your dream is working in symbols."
"What do mermaids symbolize?" Paris asked.
"It's your dream. The symbols would be ones you would recognize. What does a mermaid mean to you?"
Paris thought that over. "Mermaids---beautiful to look at, but you can't catch them---or if you catch them, you can't keep them. It isn't practical." He seemed a little disappointed and wistful at that thought.
"An unobtainable woman?" Chakotay postulated.
"But if the dream is telepathic in nature or precognitive like the other dreams, why wouldn't it be really a woman who's trying to help me, not a symbol?" Paris objected.
"Didn't you say she was only a mermaid in this dream, not the others?" Chakotay asked. Paris nodded. Chakotay continued, "Maybe we're being too analytical in looking for symbols. If it is telepathy, why doesn't whoever is sending it just tell you what they want to say? Why not send it clearly?"
"Does telepathy work that way?" Paris asked. "Can you just send a sentence? Or is it images? And if it is images, maybe they have to work with images from my frame of reference but they really don't understand them. Like a language barrier?"
Chakotay shook his head regretfully and drained the last of his coffee. "I think we're in over our heads. I'm not telepathic. I think we need to talk to someone with some experience."
Tom groaned. "Do I have to keep talking about this stuff? How about if I just make notes on the dreams? Then everyone on the ship can read about it and I won't have to keep talking about it."
Chakotay made a gesture toward the door. "If this dream was a warning like the other, wouldn't you like to know its meaning before we find ourselves in danger?"
"Why me?" Paris moaned as he reluctantly dragged himself to his feet.
Chakotay nodded thoughtfully. "That may be a better question than you know, Mr. Paris."
Tuvok studied both of them intently while he considered his answer.
Paris was fidgeting, his eyes wandering around the room, his fingers drumming on the table, one foot bouncing off the floor.
Chakotay was patiently contemplating his laced fingers on the table.
Tuvok cleared his throat to get their attention focused on him again. "Telepathy is often symbolic. Mr. Paris may be correct in saying there is a communication problem. If this is telepathy and its source is unfamiliar with the human symbols--"
"That would be any race in the Delta Quadrant!" Paris exploded.
Tuvok quelled him with a stern expression. "As I was saying, there could be a lack of communication. The person responsible for sending the message may believe they are communicating clearly. Mr. Paris is simply not interpreting the data correctly."
Chakotay shook his head. "You've heard him describe the dream. How would you interpret it?"
"My interpretation would be meaningless, " Tuvok replied. "It is Mr. Paris's dream. His mind must supply the interpretation."
"That's what Chakotay said. How is this supposed to be helpful?" Paris exclaimed with some degree of exasperation.
"Perhaps, Lieutenant, what you need to do is to take control of your dream," Tuvok suggested.
"If it is a telepathic communication, it must be assumed that it is a two-way communication. If you take control and assert your own will on events, it will be a way to convey your own message. Ask questions. Demand answers." Tuvok stood up. "That may help in clearing up the misunderstandings or force the source to be more clear in communication."
Chakotay agreed with Tuvok. "That might be an idea, Paris. It is your dream. Your mind is setting the stage. Take control and assert yourself. Don't be a passive participant."
Paris eyed them sourly. "That's easy advice to give, gentlemen. You aren't being clobbered by boulders, falling off cliffs, or watching your friends die. And you've had a good night's sleep!"
Chakotay gave him a smile of patently false sympathy. "Do your best,
...The room was not the same. The wall of doors had been replaced with one large door and three large windows that looked out on a flower garden filled with exotic looking flowers of every color and description. Tom could tell by looking out the windows that he was on the planet from his other dreams. Along the wall to the right of the fountain there was a long bookshelf filled with important looking volumes. Along the wall to the right there was a rectangular lab table that contained different types of tools and equipment that were unfamiliar to Paris.
The fountain was still in the center of the room but now there were four couches on each side of it. The woman was on one of the couches. She seemed to be asleep. She was turned away from him and lying half on her stomach. Her long hair draped over her back and down over her face.
Somehow Tom got the impression she was hurt or sad, but he didn't understand why he thought so. One arm was cradling her head, the other trailing onto the floor limply. Something else was different? What was it?
Tom drew closer, taking his time and studying her as he approached. He stopped abruptly. She wasn't a mermaid, after all. In this dream, she has legs again, he thought. She was wearing a long tunic with short sleeves. It was the same orange color as the sky had been in his previous dreams. He was standing next to the couch now.
"Hello?" he said tentatively.
She gasped as if startled and shrank away from him, throwing up her arm as if to defend herself. In the moment that she recognized him, her expression of alarm gave way to one of pleasure and relief, and she smiled shyly at him.
Paris frowned in consternation as he got a good look at her face. There was a large blue bruise covering one high cheekbone! "Are you all right? What happened?" He put out a hand to brush her hair back, but she flinched away from his touch.
Still without speaking, she sat up and moved to one end of the couch. She patted the seat next to her as if inviting him to sit down. There was another large bruise on each of her wrists as if someone had grabbed her and held her. Someone with much larger hands than her own. She noticed him looking at the bruises and folded her arms to try to hide them.
"What is your name?" Paris asked.
Her large expressive brown eyes asked a question he could read without words.
"In my culture, we exchange names as a first step to friendship. It makes it easier to become friends than calling each other 'Hey, you!'. And we have been seeing a lot of each other." Paris tried for a light touch. He wasn't going to mention the bruises again right away since it seemed to make her feel uncomfortable.
The mischievous twinkle returned to her eyes. She shrugged regretfully but still did not speak.
Tom decided to get to the point. "Who are you? What's going on here?" Something occurred to Paris. "Can't you talk? You talked in my other dream."
She looked up into his eyes earnestly and laid her index finger over her lips, then shook her head.
Tom thought that over and decided to take a different approach. "Last time I saw you, you were pulled down into the fountain. What happened? Is that how you were hurt?"
She looked away from him, toward the fountain, and shuddered slightly. "You may call me Melisande. I'm not supposed to communicate with you. I am an observer," she blurted rapidly, as if the words were pulled out of her or as if she was afraid someone would interrupt. "I'm supposed to observe. Not interact."
"Because you warned me? That's why you were hurt?" Paris exclaimed indignantly.
Aloud she said, "I'm not allowed to give you information." As she spoke, she held his eyes and nodded slowly.
Paris's eyes narrowed. "Is someone listening?"
Melisande nodded again.
"Can they hear both sides of this conversation?"
She shook her head no. "I can't give you any information."
Paris summed it up. "So they can hear you if you speak aloud, but they can't hear me?"
She nodded, and gave him an encouraging smile.
He felt as if she had given him a gold star. "This is some kind of test, isn't it?" Paris asked.
"What are they testing me for? What's the purpose? To find out how I react to lack of sleep?" he asked impatiently.
Melisande looked confused, as if she couldn't figure out how to answer, then she spoke quickly as if impulsively. "You are being tested as a representative of your species. We have never encountered humans before." She looked around nervously as if anticipating a reaction of some kind.
"Tested for what? And why me? Of all the people on the ship, I'm hardly the best subject!" Tom jumped to his feet and began to pace.
His abrupt action startled Melisande and she flinched away as if she expected him to---to hit her.
"Who hurt you?" he demanded. "Why did they hurt you? Were you being punished?"
"I wasn't supposed to say anything or let you see me. I was supposed to observe. I lied to the others about what I was doing here. I wasn't supposed to warn you about the nebula. I'm can continue---only if I follow the rules. I cannot give you information. I am only to observe." She spoke as if quoting someone else's words. Her eyes expressed her mixed feelings.
"Will they hurt you again?"
She studied the bruises on her arms dispassionately and shrugged.
"It's important to me. I don't like the idea. What kind of test am I taking now?" Tom demanded. "Are you trying to find out what human weakness is? Is that why you chose me?"
She looked bewildered.
He shrugged. "Maybe you don't understand. What do you need to know for your test? I'd like to get this over with. I never did well on psych exams at the Academy. They said I had a problem with authority figures." He smiled derisively.
She gestured toward the other two walls, pointing first at the table, then at the bookshelf.
He walked toward the table. "Am I supposed to figure out what these devices do? Is that it?"
Her head jerked and for a moment it looked as if she were listening to someone else that he couldn't hear.
Paris walked back towards her. "What is it?"
She was beginning to look upset, frightened and angry at the same time. She looked with dread toward the door, stood and backed away from it.
The door burst open. Standing framed in the doorway was a humanoid at least two and a half meters tall. He was dressed or covered with some kind of black furry material. His face was covered with dirty, matted hair, and the thick muscles of his body put his weight at approximately 250 kilos. He did not look happy. His anger seemed directed at the woman. He moved toward her, ignoring Tom as if he was invisible.
Paris moved quickly and got between the two, shielding Melisande with his body.
The giant lumbered to a halt, as if confused by Tom's action.
Paris kept his eyes on the giant and spoke over his shoulder to the woman, "Melisande, I'm going to distract our friend here and when I have his attention--- I want you to run!"
"Tom, he won't hurt you if you get out of the way. He wants me," the young woman protested, though she was standing right behind him, the hand she placed on his shoulder trembling.
Tom wasn't sure what she meant by 'wants', but he wasn't about to stand around and find out.
The giant started forward again. He reached out one long arm to brush Paris aside. Paris chose not to cooperate.
The lieutenant knew he should stay out of the grasp of those massive hands. Paris sidestepped, grabbed the arm pushing at him and twisted, hoping leverage would help as he swept the giant's legs with his right leg.
The giant, caught offguard, lost his balance and hit the floor with a jarring thud. It didn't seem to be hurt, however. He just looked angrier. And uglier.
Tom backed up, throwing a quick glance over his shoulder he saw that Melisande had barely moved and was staring at him and the giant as if unsure what she should do.
"Run!" Tom commanded. "I'll keep him busy!"
The words were barely out of his mouth when the giant fumbled to his feet, shaking his head. He glared at Paris and started toward him in a rush. Melisande started around the couch, maneuvering to pass the giant as it charged directly at Tom.
The giant suddenly stopped. He was now on a direct line between his two targets and seemed uncertain which one he should go after.
Tom didn't wait for him to decide. Bar fights with various species had taught him that joints were always good targets. He landed a kick to the giant's kneecap with a quick thrust of his right leg, then dodged back and feinted left. The giant let out a howl of pain. He swung a huge paw at Paris who danced just out of reach, determined to keep his opponent's attention focused on him. The giant moved forward arms outstretched.
Paris did not want to find himself trapped in a corner so he darted a look to orient himself and check for hazards to his easy movement. Spotting an opening as the giant moved forward, Paris dove under the giant's arms, caught a glancing blow on his left shoulder, rolled and came up behind the giant.
Paris was now close to the table that held the equipment. Maybe there was something he could use as a weapon. There was a phaser!
Had that been there before? Paris didn't remember seeing it but he really hadn't paid much attention. He snatched up the phaser as the giant turned and lumbered toward him. It was set on "Kill". Paris quickly adjusted the phaser setting to "Stun", aimed at the giant, and fired in one smooth motion.
The giant crumpled to the floor.
Melisande came running toward Paris. "Tom, are you all right?"
Paris gave her a lopsided grin as he tried to catch his breath. "I'm in better shape than he is." His shoulder felt like it might be dislocated or at least badly bruised. He rotated it assessingly, gingerly rubbing the joint.
She hung her head as she came to Paris's side and took his hand. "I'm sorry I didn't try to help. I could have hit him or something."
Tom squeezed her hand. "I'm glad you didn't take the chance. He's a lot bigger than you."
Melisande gaped at him incredulously. "He's much bigger than you, too, Tom!"
"My culture has a saying that goes 'Pick on someone your own size'. It means you don't fight someone much smaller or more helpless. It doesn't say anything about picking on someone larger." Paris laughed self-consciously. "Though I will admit to feeling I was out of my league with this guy. He's huge!" He mentally measured his unconscious opponent again and shook his head.
"Tom, why didn't you kill him?"
Paris frowned at her disapprovingly. "It wasn't necessary. Who is this guy anyway?"
Melisande looked puzzled. "I don't understand, Tom. Humans have such a violent history. Your own databanks say so. Why would you hesitate to kill?"
"I think you're testing the wrong person," Paris declared. "Humans don't kill unless there is a good reason. It's not a sport."
"What is a good reason?" Melisande asked quietly. Her eyes fell to the bruises on her arms.
Paris jaw clenched as he followed her gaze. "That's a good question. I don't have an answer right now. Can't we stop this testing in dreams? If you have questions about us, why don't you contact us directly? Capt. Janeway would be interested in exchanging information with a new race of humanoids. We are friendly," Tom said trying to sound like a diplomat, though he felt uncomfortable in the role.
Melisande smiled faintly. "I will communicate that to my people. Good-bye, Tom. Thank you."
"Now you wake up."
"What?" he mumbled.
"Wake up! Tom, wake up!"
The voice was insistent but did not belong to Melisande. It was Harry Kim and he was standing next to Paris's bed, shaking Tom's shoulder.
Paris blinked at him then yawned. "Hi, Harry. What's up?"
"Not you that's for sure," Kim retorted. "You didn't answer your door signal. The computer said you didn't respond to your wake-up call. So I decided to check on you. It's a good thing you gave me your door code. Are you all right? Did you have another of those dreams?"
Paris nodded. "You could say that. What time is it?" He glanced at the chronometer. "Yikes! I've only got ten minutes till I'm on duty!"
Kim agreed. "I'll see you on the bridge."
The senior staff was back at the conference table. Kathryn Janeway looked concerned as she studied the lieutenant. "The fact that you were difficult to awaken worries me, Mr. Paris. These occurrences seem to be increasing in intensity."
"Getting more violent, too," Tom added, absent-mindedly rubbing his left shoulder. "It seemed so real."
"Have the doctor take a look at your shoulder," Janeway ordered.
"It was hurt in a dream," Paris protested. "It didn't happen."
"Then why are you rubbing it now?"
Paris didn't have a good answer for that---so he changed the subject. "Have we picked up any transmissions that would indicate someone is trying to communicate with us?"
Torres studied the padd in her hand. "There's nothing being broadcast except another beacon for the Luterian Circus. We found another one on this side of the nebula. But does telepathy require a mechanical source?"
"There have been instances of telepathic or telekinetic powers being enhanced by some form of equipment," Tuvok stated. "You are presuming that we are dealing with telepathy as opposed to some other form of communications?"
"What else could it be?" Kim asked. "If it was a communication, wouldn't it be aimed at the ship, not just at one specific crew member? Or if you were going to communicate with one person, wouldn't you choose the captain?"
Chakotay interlocked his fingers on the desk. "That's a good point, Mr. Kim. Were you able to find out more about the purpose of these dreams, Mr. Paris?"
Paris looked uncomfortable and kept his eyes on the table or Capt. Janeway. He liked being the center of attention sometimes, but this was a little unnerving. "This time I asked more questions. Melisande said I was being tested as a---this is what she said---as a representative of my race. I asked why they chose me---but she never answered that."
"Melisande?" Tuvok repeated.
"The young woman that's been in the dreams. She said I could call her that."
"For right now, let's concentrate on this testing. Did you get any feeling about what they were looking for?" Janeway probed, the intensity of her blue eyes trying to draw the words out of him.
Paris frowned as he tried to remember, then spoke hesitantly. "I got the feeling that there was more than one level of test. You know at the Academy how they tell you they're testing for one thing---but they're really looking for something else. And Melisande told me she was supposed to be the observer. I don't know why, but I got the impression there were two different groups running the testing---and they didn't agree on how to do it. Melisande said she'd been punished because she warned me about the nebula."
"So whoever is doing this, you think the nebula was part of the test? To see if we would sense the danger? Does that mean the energy bursts in the nebula were artificially produced?" Harry looked around the table, seeking confirmation.
"Not necessarily," Tuvok replied dryly. "It could mean these beings were aware of a natural danger, but chose not to warn us as a way of testing our intelligence."
"A test we would have failed if Melisande hadn't warned us," Tom stated. "She said she wasn't supposed to talk to me or warn me. She also indicated that the others were listening in on her part of the conversation. And she said something about our databanks showing that humans are violent."
Everyone thought about the implications of that remark for a moment.
Janeway broke the silence. "If they can hear her, but not you, that would seem to indicate that the communication is working on a telepathic level. She may be the only one of her race that can link telepathically with a human."
"You said in this dream the test seemed to involve equipment. You believe they wanted you to demonstrate an understanding of its functions?" Tuvok inquired.
"I was concentrating on the girl---" Paris came to an abrupt halt as he watched the others exchange looks of amusement.
Torres snorted rudely.
"She was hurt!" he protested. "Then that big fellow came crashing in and tried to dismember me."
Chakotay disagreed. "I thought you said the woman was his target. You intervened. Was that it?"
"Yes. I couldn't just stand there and let him --"
"Of course, not, Tom," Janeway agreed soothingly. She knew him well enough to know that Tom Paris could no more stand on the sidelines in such a situation---than he could fly without a ship!
"How did you defeat this giant?" Torres interjected with a hint of sarcasm. "You said he was huge! Or were you exaggerating?" She was still aggravated that even in his dreams Paris was surrounded by beautiful women---well, at least there was one! She was infuriated at herself for feeling angry about it and that made her furious at Tom for causing her to lose her temper. It didn't occur to her that she was being unfair or that Tom actually hadn't done anything to incur her wrath.
"Actually, there was a phaser on the table. I stunned him."
"Was the phaser always on the table? What kinds of equipment were there? Weapons?" Kim inquired.
Paris closed his eyes and tried to recapture the image of the table and the materials on it. "That's the strange thing. I don't think the phaser was there at first. All the equipment seemed to be more like the stuff you would find in a lab---analytical tools, measuring instruments, that sort of thing. The phaser was just there when I---it was just there when I needed it."
Tuvok raised one eyebrow. "It is possible the phaser was not there originally. Perhaps you created the phaser."
"As Commander Chakotay and I told you, it is your dream. What you seem to lose sight of, Lieutenant, is that this testing is taking place on a mental level within your own mind. You are unfamiliar with mind melds or telepathy and unaccustomed to the idea of imposing your will upon another using only your mental energy. They are using your mind to create the environment and conditions. You could do the same with appropriate thinking," Tuvok stated in his usual dry manner. "Those trying to communicate with you, or test you, if you prefer that term, are imposing their will on your mind. You should try to take control of the dream yourself."
"Fight back?" he asked quizzically.
Tuvok tilted his head to one side as he considered his next words. "In a sense. It is rather like playing a game with rules that are made up as the game is played. If they create a threat, such as the giant, your mind can create assistance, such as the phaser which appeared."
"How dangerous is this?" Janeway asked. "Vulcans and other telepathic races have a set of rules or ethics that govern how this power is used. How do we know these people do? You are talking about a battle raging in someone's mind. Can this be dangerous? Perhaps even fatal?"
"Definitely," Tuvok said.
"Oh, that makes me feel so much better," Paris said sarcastically. "If they aren't using transmissions we can detect, that means we can't block it. Does anyone have any bright ideas on how to stop this?"
"Just one," Chakotay said. "Don't fail the test."
Torres decided she had it under control. She wasn't really jealous of Jenny Delaney or Tom's dream woman. She was just concerned for her friend. That was it. That was all that it was. Right.
'But no matter,' Torres told herself, 'you owe Paris an apology.' Yelling at him in the mess hall without provocation didn't make B'Elanna feel good about herself. So she was going to do something about it. She was going to apologize.
And that lunkhead Paris had better accept her apology in the gracious manner in which it was intended---or else. "Computer, location of Lt. Paris?"
The computer's reply was blandly indifferent. "Lt. Paris is in the mess hall."
'What? Oh, it is his lunch time,' B'Elanna thought. She looked around Engineering for her chief assistant, Lt. Carey, and caught his eye. "Carey, I'm going to lunch. Call if you need me." She was halfway out the door before he could reply.
When she reached the mess hall, she looked around for Paris. Typically, the gregarious lieutenant would be entertaining a whole group of the crew with jokes, gossip, or just small talk. That would be typical.
He still wasn't behaving typically. He was sitting at a corner table, his back towards the entry as if to discourage company. Torres had never been easy to discourage. She lightly tapped on his shoulder---the uninjured one, of course---then jumped back into a defensive posture as he whirled, prepared to lunge at her.
The instant recognition clicked in, Paris screeched to a halt and dropped his hands to his sides. He looked horrified at his own behavior and immediately began to babble an apology. "B'Elanna, I'm sorry! I don't know where my mind was---I shouldn't have---" He couldn't believe he had almost pasted one of his few friends! And a woman at that! And worst of all, THIS particular woman!
Torres relaxed her own defenses as his crumbled. She had, in fact, been impressed by Tom's ferocity. She hadn't realized he could be that---that fierce---that aggressive ---that attractive! Her Klingon half loved seeing this side of Tom.
"It's all right," she reassured him. "I should know better than to come up behind someone. I thought I only needed to worry about that with the Maquis crew. I didn't know your reflexes were that---" She bit off the word well-tuned.
"Overblown?" Tom finished the sentence for her. "I guess I am stressed out from lack of sleep. I kept denying it. But it must be true. I hope you know that otherwise I would never---threaten you!"
"Are you thinking of that girl in your dream?" Torres snapped. "If you are, let me tell you, Paris, that anyone who ever hits me is going to be carrying my mark on his body as well! As for your tendency to violence, I know you wouldn't hurt me. You'd try to protect me, just the way you did that girl. But, remember, I can take care of myself and I don't want you or anyone else getting hurt to take care of me!"
Paris looked at her disbelievingly. "I made you mad again, didn't I? What did I do? What did I say? Would you rather I had hit you?"
"Of course not," Torres scoffed. "In fact, if and when I hit you, I'll expect you to hit me back."
"What? I don't know if I could do that," Paris protested. "And why would you hit me?" He leaned forward and lowered his voice. "Is that some kind of weird Klingon mating ritual or something?" He was smiling now and kidding---sort of. He seated himself and gestured her toward the chair next to his.
Torres could feel a blush creeping up her neck "No! You egotistical---" She remained standing and it took an effort of will not to stamp her foot.
"Then what did you want? Did you come over here just to pick another fight?" Paris was genuinely puzzled by Torres' behavior, but that didn't mean he wouldn't have fun with her anyway.
B'Elanna grabbed the reins of her fraying temper and hauled it in with a great effort. When she could trust herself to speak, she looked at the floor and muttered, "I came to apologize for this morning."
"What?" Tom affected deafness. "I didn't hear that."
B'Elanna's eyes flashed up to meet his. He was smiling, that smug little smirk that aggravated her so thoroughly. "You heard me. I'm sorry about this morning." She wasn't about to let him feel that he got in the last shot. She leaned in close to him, till their noses were almost touching. "And Tom, you've got it wrong. Klingons don't hit as foreplay---they bite!" She snapped her teeth at him, stifling a smile as he involuntarily flinched back. She spun on her heel and marched out the door, completely forgetting she was supposed to be eating lunch.
Paris stared after her torn between admiration and laughter. She was good. And as cliché as it was, she was beautiful when she was angry. He wondered what it would be like if she did bite him. Hmmmm. He wondered what she tasted like. He would bet on spicy.
The other occupants of the mess hall stared at him wondering how he had managed to infuriate the Chief Engineer twice in one day and stay in one piece. These two and their relationship might be entertaining to watch.
Sickbay was not idea of Lt. Thomas Paris's idea of a restful getaway. Lying on the bed with various pieces of monitoring equipment attached to his head and body did not make him relax. "Am I supposed to fall asleep like this?" he protested. "With people watching me?"
Kes and Chakotay exchanged looks while the holographic doctor looked displeased. "Tom," Kes said in her warm voice, "we won't be standing here staring. We just want to monitor you while you're dreaming."
The doctor sniffed impatiently. "If you'll cooperate, this will go more smoothly. I don't understand why you object to being part of an experiment----"
"I don't like feeling like a white rat in a maze!" Tom exclaimed, tugging at his medical gown and gesturing to the diagnostic pads.
"Don't be ridiculous!" the doctor snorted. "White rats haven't been used in the last century!"
"That isn't the point, Doctor," Kes interrupted before he could launch into a lecture on research techniques. "Tom, just try to relax. We want to be able to monitor you and wake you up if the dreams become too intense."
"Could you give him a sedative?" Chakotay asked.
"I could. But I will not," the doctor stated emphatically. "Artificially inducing sleep may prove counterproductive. He needs a clear mind to communicate and we don't know what effect a sedative might produce on the telepathic contact."
"Would you like to have some music?" Kes asked.
Tom bit off his first impatient response. He wasn't angry at Kes and he wouldn't hurt her feelings for the world. "I think it might be better if you dimmed the lights and just leave me alone," he said in carefully measured tones. "If everyone leaves me alone!" he reiterated, looking at Chakotay and the doctor.
Chakotay spoke to the doctor. "Please keep us advised. I'll be on the bridge."
"I told you this wouldn't work," Paris complained as Kes came over to check on the readouts for the third time. "I never take naps and I can't go to sleep unless I'm relaxed."
"Maybe some hot tea?" Kes suggested.
"How about Saurian Brandy?" Paris countered with a hopeful smile that disappeared as Kes shook her head disapprovingly.
"Sometimes you can relax if you stop trying."
"Maybe a good-night kiss?" Tom teased. "I promise not to tell Neelix."
"Tom! Go to sleep! Try not to think about the test."
"I can't think of anything else! This is why I never volunteered for First Contact assignments. I don't know what they're testing or why they picked me, but I just know I'll find a way to screw it up!" Tom had raised up on his elbows as he spoke, but Kes gently pushed him back down onto the bed.
"You'll do fine, Tom," Kes reassured him. "I know you're a good person and they'll find that out, too. You helped save my life on Ocampa. You've saved the ship several times and you will do the right thing this time."
Tom stifled a yawn. "How can you believe that?" He took Kes's hand in his, rubbing his thumb across the backs of her fingers.
Kes's big blue eyes looked straight into his so he couldn't doubt her sincerity. "Because if my life was in danger, you are the one man on this ship, other than Neelix, that I would count on to save me if it were possible. You don't give up until you have to."
"Promise me you'll tell my father that, huh?" Tom's eyelids were starting to droop.
Kes smiled and covered him with a blanket. "I promise. But I wouldn't be surprised if he already knew the kind of man you really are."
"I don't think so," Tom muttered as his eyes closed.
...Lieutenant Thomas Paris was surprised to find himself standing to one side watching ---Tom Paris, the Tom Paris of several years ago. Tom was in his element---or what had been his element. It was a dive. A low-class hangout for crewmen and pilots near the spaceport on Darius IV called The Docking Zone. He remembered this time and place well. It was six months before he had joined the Maquis when he was trying to make a living hiring himself out as a pilot.
The bar was full. Every table was packed. The personal aromas of four or five different humanoid species in various conditions of cleanliness mixed with smoke from the grill and the heavy perfumed scents of the three bar girls to form a cloud of odor in the room. The lighting was low and everyone present was trying to pretend they were invisible to the others.
Paris was seated on a barstool, nursing a beer---the real thing not synthehol. He didn't like to drink real alcohol, but he didn't want to stand out in this crowd. That kind of thing could get you hurt or killed in a place like this.
There was a card game going on at the table near Tom. Two Nausicaans were playing poker with two humans and an Andorian. Paris casually turned to observe the play, wondering if he should risk his last thirty credits and try to run it up. His contract job with the Tellarites was over and now he was a pilot without a ship.
One of the Nausicaans surged to his feet with a roar. "You cheat!" He threw his cards into the face of the smallest adult human male Paris had ever seen.
The bar's occupants began to vanish as if someone had waved a magic wand. The bartender disappeared behind the bar. Paris took another sip of beer and watched developments. In less than five seconds, the Nausicaans had started a full-fledged bar brawl as the fight that began at the card table spread outward like water rippling in a pond.
Paris jumped behind the bar and ducked as furniture, bottles, and glasses began to be thrown. Considering the amount of alcohol consumed, the participants' aim was pretty good. Paris decided the wise course of action would be to sidestep this one. He tried to unobtrusively work his way closer to the door. Then he made the mistake of looking for the small man, curious to see how he was faring.
He wasn't doing too well. The little man was down on the floor and the enraged Nausicaan had pulled a knife. Paris had taken a half step toward the pair when the little man planted a foot firmly in an extremely sensitive part of the Nausicaan anatomy. The man jumped to his feet, still facing his opponent, who was clutching and growling but not incapacitated. What the small human did not see, was the other Nausicaan coming up behind him with another dagger.
Paris saw it, however, and threw himself at the Nausicaan with the intention of pinning his arm. He quickly found he had underestimated the Nausicaan's determination and found himself struggling to keep the knife away from his own body. Recalling his Starfleet training, he got a good hold on the Nausicaan's wrist and heaved, throwing him through the air. Coincidentally, the direction he flew was right over the little man's head and toward his own partner. The two Nausicaan's collided with a satisfying crunch.
Paris felt a warm trickle on his hand. Looking at his arm, he discovered he hadn't totally avoided the dagger. There was a deep cut along his right forearm. He ducked as a chair flew by. With the Nausicaans out of it, the brawl quickly subsided as everyone still conscious started tending to their own injuries.
"You're too big a target!" the little man said, looking up almost three feet to Tom's face. "Let's get out of here and get that arm tended to!"
"Thanks," Tom said, holding his arm. It was starting to hurt. He walked out the door of the bar with his new friend.
The observing Thomas Paris started to follow them out....
"Doctor, these readings are confusing," Kes complained. "They went up almost fifteen percent then slowly subsided. Is that normal?"
The doctor looked over her shoulder at the readouts. "Since we aren't aware of the nature of the experience, we can't be sure what effect it will have on him physically. As long as it doesn't become severe, he should be able to handle it. Physically, Mr. Paris is in excellent condition. Monitor the readouts every ten minutes or so and keep me advised."
...Tom immediately recognized this place. He was on the bridge of the Voyager, but it was a wreck. This was right after the Caretaker's displacement wave had brought them to the Delta Quadrant. Steam and other fumes from the broken conduits were smoking the atmosphere. Paris was standing near the turbolift doors watching as the other Tom Paris reacted to the emergency.
He had his priorities straight, first he checked those who were down to see if he could render first aid. Captain Janeway, her hair tumbling down the left side of her face and a trickle of blood in the right corner of her mouth, turned to look at him. Her pilot was dead. Paris took the conn position, started putting out fires, and waited for orders....
...He was on the bridge of Voyager again silently observing as Chakotay, Tuvok, and another Maquis beamed aboard. Chakotay was outraged to see Paris there. As Tom approached, he said, "It's good to see you too, Chakotay."
Chakotay snapped back, "At least the Vulcan was doing his duty as a Starfleet officer. But you! You betrayed us for what? Freedom from prison? Latinum? What was your price this time?" He stepped toward Tom threateningly, only to be body-blocked by Janeway.
Almost under her breath, she told Chakotay, "You are speaking to a member of my crew. I expect you to treat him with the same respect you would have me treat one of yours."
The Thomas Paris who was observing smiled. She was a pistol, his captain was. He hadn't expected her to stand up for him. He hadn't given her a reason to....
...Thomas Paris, the observer, was standing at the top of the stairs. Tom and Chakotay were on the broken staircase in the Ocampa tunnel. Trying to ignore the pain of his broken leg, Chakotay ordered, "Get out of here, Paris! Before the whole thing comes down!"
With assumed calm, Paris replied, "I intend to---as soon as I get you up."
Chakotay grimaced as he assessed the staircase. "You get on those stairs, they'll collapse! We'll both die!"
Tom was so scared he could scarcely breathe as he continued to make his way toward the Maquis leader. "Oh, yeah? But on the other hand if I save your butt, your life belongs to me. Isn't that some kind of Indian custom?" Paris could think of a smart remark as long as there was breath in his body. It was part of his image.
Chakotay shook his head slightly. "Wrong tribe."...
...He was back in that room again. Melisande was sitting on the couch waiting for him as if she'd never left. He joined her on the couch.
"Well, here we are again!" he said. "Not that I haven't enjoyed strolling down memory lane, but what's going on? Did you ask your friends to communicate directly?"
Melisande looked disappointed. "Yes, I asked. They don't want to risk it. They're afraid."
"Afraid of what? Of us? Of Voyager? I thought you said you had access to our databanks. Those should have told you everything you ever wanted to know about humans but were afraid to ask," Tom smiled at her.
He noticed her bruises were gone. She looked---different---different again! She seemed to be stronger. Older. More sure of herself. And her hair was tied back. He could see her whole lovely face. The bruises were gone.
"Tom, what do you know about the Vidiians?"
The very name made Tom feel a little nauseated. He closed his eyes, trying not to picture their decaying faces and bodies, trying not to let his revulsion show.
...He opened his eyes and found himself gazing at the underside of a bunk bed above his own. He turned his head and suddenly knew where he was. He was in the Vidiians prisoners' barracks.
He looked around to locate Pete Durst or B'Elanna Torres, the human half any way. B'Elanna, the human, was cowering on the lower bunk across the aisle from him. He wanted to reach out to her and help her. Paris swung his feet over the side of the bunk, followed her glance, and saw---himself, Tom Paris confronting the Vidiians, trying to intercede as the Vidiians came to take Durst away.
His other self was saying, "I'm the senior officer here. If your superiors want to talk to one of us, it should be me!" The Vidiians waved the gun in his face and Tom pushed it away. The Vidiian put the weapon under Tom's chin. "He's not going anywhere without me!" Tom insisted vehemently.
Durst intervened and quoted Paris's earlier words back to him. "It's okay, Tom. They're the ones with the guns, remember?" Durst went with the two Vidiians. Tom turned back to see if he could help Torres, who was cowering on a bunk. Everything suddenly came to a standstill.
The Thomas Paris sitting on the bunk didn't know what to do. In the blink of an eye, he found himself back in the room sitting on the couch. He jumped as someone touched his arm.
Melisande was sitting next to him. "Why did you risk it, Tom? They wanted to take him. They didn't want you."
"I was the senior officer. I was responsible for his safety. I was responsible for both of them. We never saw Pete alive again---just his face on that---that---" Tom's voice choked off.
"You couldn't stop them," Melisande protested. "They outnumbered you and were armed. Would it have helped Durst for you to be killed too?"
Tom clenched both hands into fists and pounded his thighs. "It might have made his death more meaningful. It might have been easier to die---than to live with being responsible for someone else's death. I already had three lives on my conscience. I didn't need Pete's too."
"What is conscience?" inquired Melisande.
Tom closed his eyes and rubbed the back of his neck. "It's that still, small voice inside your head that lets you know when you've screwed up---again! What is this? A test? Or a trial? What the hell is this all about, Melisande?"
"My people want to understand yours. We want to know what you value."
"And you couldn't just ask?" Tom shouted. "Starfleet has contacted hundreds of new species and races in a peaceful manner without resorting to this kind of---this kind of torture!"
"Torture?" Melisande was horrified. "Tom, are we hurting you? With this testing?"
"Mentally---yes!" Tom forced himself to calm down and as a reminder to himself began to chant, "This is only a dream. This is my mind. This is my dream. I can control what happens."
Melisande grasped his hand and held it tightly. "Tom, we knew there would be some discomfort. We did not understand that there might be damage. Why is it painful to relive moments from your life?"
"Look at the moment you chose!" Tom yelped. "I lost a friend. Pete was my friend. I was responsible for him and his safety! I was helpless! I felt scared---and guilty---and ashamed---and relieved they didn't choose me! How would that make you feel? Would you want to relive it?"
"I'm sorry. Would you like to choose the next memory to relive? We would like to understand what motivates humans."
"What motivates this human at this time is getting this over with. What do you need explained? Our mission? Why we're in the Delta Quadrant? All of that is in the databanks."
"Databanks can be altered. False records can be implanted. Please, Tom, be patient. There's something I want to show you." Melisande stood and walked to a table at the far end of the room. She came back toward him carrying a device that resembled a tricorder but with far fewer controls. In its center was large red button. "I want you to have this."
Tom took it, looking it over curiously. "What is it?"
"It's a weapon. If you push that red button, the Vidiians will die," Melisande stated calmly.
Tom's eyes narrowed with suspicion. "What Vidiians?"
"All of them. They will all die."
"How is that possible?"
Melisande shook her head. "Just believe me. It will work. Just press the red button and all the Vidiians will die."
"I'm not going to do that. I wouldn't even if I believed it would work!" Tom tried to give the weapon back to her. She wouldn't take it. "Melisande, I'm not going to commit genocide!"
She did not understand. "But you hate them! Your own memories tell us you hate them! Isn't that enough of a reason to kill?"
Tom swallowed hard. Yes, he hated the Vidiians ---for what they had done to Neelix, to Durst, and especially to B'Elanna. He was repulsed by them. He found their total disregard for the value of the lives of others to be despicable and loathsome.
But he also felt sorry for them. "In a war, yes, they have given us reason to kill-in self-defense. We don't choose to hunt them down and kill them. That would put us on their level. They have no regard for any other race's right to live."
"Then kill them!" Melisande urged.
"No!" Tom didn't want to admit---to himself or to Melisande---how tempting the idea was. Especially after what the Vidiians had done to the alternate Voyager. Harry Kim had shared his experiences on that ship with Paris. "If you have this weapon, you could do it yourself! Why do you want me to kill them?" he demanded.
"That is a good question, Mr. Paris."
Paris' head swiveled to identify the speaker. It was Tuvok! Tuvok was standing near the fountain. "Where did you come from?"
Tuvok cocked a superior Vulcan eyebrow in his direction. "I believe I told you that this is your dream. Evidently, you felt a need for my presence."
"Yeah," Paris said, smiling with a sense of relief. "Melisande, meet Tuvok. Tuvok, can you explain to her why humans don't kill everyone we hate?"
"To do so would be uncivilized."
Paris rolled his eyes. "That was succinct but hardly enlightening, Tuvok."
Melisande tugged on Paris' hand. "Who is he? Why is he different from you?"
Paris looked down at her. "He's a Vulcan---that accounts for the pointed ears. He's also Security Officer on Voyager and a friend of mine."
"He is your friend? But you are so different." Melisande looked at Tuvok. "Tom is your friend, Mr. Tuvok?"
Tuvok inclined his head. "To put our relationship in human terms, I believe you would say so. We do not dislike each other. We work together with a degree of amity."
"Don't get all choked up on me, Tuvok!" Paris protested with a grin. He felt a lot better just for seeing a friendly face. "You saved my life once. Anyone who does that is automatically included on my list of friends."
Melisande seemed to be listening to other voices for a moment. She looked back at Paris. "Tom, introduce me to your other friends."
He looked into her dark eyes for a moment. They were darker than B'Elanna's. "Who?"
Melisande made a gesture that included the whole room. "All of them."
Tom followed her hand with his eyes. The room was suddenly packed with people. They all seemed to be frozen in position like mannequins. Including Tuvok. He knew them all. In fact, at first glance, Tom thought the room now contained every person he ever knew. There were so many. It was hard to sort them out. Oh, no! Right in front, there was his father in full dress uniform....
"The readings show he's experiencing some kind of distress," Kes reported to the doctor.
"Moderate," Kes replied. "Do you think we should wake him?"
"No, he's only been under for about thirty minutes. Keep monitoring his vital signs. If there is a sharp increase, inform me," the doctor replied.
...."Tom, who are all these people?" Melisande asked, getting up and wandering from person to person inspecting each one's appearance.
Tom was standing in front of his father, gently waving a hand before his father's eyes to see if there would be a reaction. There wasn't.
"What?" he inquired distractedly in a delayed response to hearing her voice. "Don't you know? You brought them here."
"Yes," Melisande agreed, "but we took their images from your mind. Tell me who they are and why they are important to you."
Paris flashed her a twisted smile. "This fine specimen," he said, gesturing to his father, "is my Dad. Admiral Paris. If you were in Starfleet, you would know him well. He taught at the Academy for some time before being promoted."
"You don't seem happy to see him," the woman noted.
"Not exactly. You see, he was a better officer than he was a father. I never quite---measured up to his expectations. I was a great disappointment to him." Tom struggled to keep the hurt and bitterness out of his tone.
"You love him?"
"Yes. I love him. But I couldn't be what he wanted. I don't know if anyone could have been---except maybe Captain James T. Kirk. My father wanted me to best Kirk's record for being the youngest person promoted to Captain. And a lot of his other records. My father was one of Kirk's biggest fans. "
"And you didn't make captain?"
"I couldn't even stay in Starfleet. I got court-martialed as a lieutenant. Being the son of an admiral can cause a lot of extra problems---either because people respect your father, or because they don't like him at all. Dad's kind of demanding---of everyone, not just me. He made quite a few enemies---and while they wouldn't take him on, they weren't afraid to take it out on me. See, I got it from both directions. And I made a lot of mistakes all on my own." Tom looked at his father. "Gee, Dad, this is probably the first time in my life I ever said anything you didn't immediately edit, embellish, or explain away."
"Who's this?" Melisande was staring curiously at B'Elanna Torres in her mannequin state. Melisande didn't seem to approve of Torres.
Paris could almost see the claws come out. "Our chief engineer, B'Elanna Torres."
"Why does she have---" Melisande finished the thought by gesturing to Torres' forehead.
"She's half human and half Klingon," Paris explained. "That's another humanoid race from the Alpha Quadrant." He came over to study Torres. She looked beautiful. He reached out to stroke the line of her cheekbone with his index finger, something the real B'Elanna wouldn't have stood still for. Her skin was soft and warm. He wondered again what it would be like to---
"Who is this one? He's been in your dreams before." Melisande quickly moved over to Harry Kim, trying to distract Paris from Torres.
"He's my best friend---sort of like a younger brother," Paris amended. "We've been friends since I was assigned to Voyager. Are you learning what you need to know?"
Melisande frowned. "I wish you would forget this is a test, Paris." Her voice sounded harsher than it ever had before. "You're making this more difficult."
Tom's patience was almost exhausted. "Tough. I didn't ask for this, you know. If you don't like it, stop testing me!"
Melisande looked unhappy with him. She waved her arm and the mannequin-like people disappeared. "Tom, you must cooperate. My---" she groped for the appropriate word, "my associates are becoming impatient. They want to make the tests more---difficult."
"Is that a threat?" Paris bridled. He didn't respond well to threats. They made him defiant and worse if he lost his temper.
Melisande looked alarmed as he began to show his irritation. "I'll be back, Tom. Wait here." She disappeared, as if she winked out of existence.
"As if I had a choice," Tom growled. He could no longer sit still. He began to wonder what might be coming. His mind began to conjure up all kinds of horrors, but he quickly reminded himself of Tuvok's words---that this was his dream and his mind and he could use his own willpower to control things. Besides, there was no use giving them ideas about tests they might not think of.
"Well, if I'm in control of this place, it's time for a tour," Tom told himself. He walked toward the door and stepped out into the garden. "It's my dream," Tom said to himself again. "So if I'm going for a walk in a peaceful flower garden, who would I want for a companion?"
The thought was barely out of his mouth when he felt someone touch his arm and looked down to see B'Elanna Torres looping her arm through his. "Nice place, Tom," she said, smiling up at him with no hint of her earlier anger.
He smiled back at her. "Let's look around."
The twosome began to stroll along the stone pathway that led in a winding pattern among the flower beds. Some of the flowers were familiar, others were not. Tom reminded himself this was a fantasy. This really wasn't B'Elanna, which is probably why he wasn't nervous as he made conversation.
With people who didn't matter, he could use a smooth line of patter and charm without feeling self-conscious. It was only when dealing with people whose respect and liking he craved that he sometimes felt awkward or tongue-tied and fell back on humor to keep things light....
"Tom's readings have stabilized, Doctor," Kes reported.
The holographic doctor came over to take a look at Tom and the readings himself. "Well, whatever is going on in there, he must be happy," he commented.
Tom was smiling gently. He looked at peace. It didn't last long.
....Tom was sucking on his bleeding finger as he gingerly held out the flower in his other hand to B'Elanna. "Why is it," he questioned, "that beautiful flowers so often have thorns?"
Torres took the flower and inhaled its delicate scent that reminded Tom of peppermint. "Possibly because nothing in life is as helpless as it seems. Everyone and everything has to have protection, Paris. I'm surprised you aren't well aware of thorns with as many chances as you take."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Tom stared down into those dark, dark eyes.
"I was just thinking about the Delaney Sisters---and who knows how many other women!" Torres was getting impassioned.
"Is that what you meant when you said something about my harem this morning?" Tom asked quizzically. "Let me tell you, B'Elanna, my reputation greatly exceeds my deeds."
"Sure," Torres practically snorted in her ladylike way.
"C'mon, B'Elanna, if I was as busy as the ship's gossips have me, I'd never get any work done!" Tom followed her as she started moving away from him. "I don't get serious with anyone. I just flirt!"
"That's your business. I'm not interested in joining your harem. Klingons tend to be possessive. We expect fidelity in relationships." Torres sniffed at the flower to avoid meeting his eyes.
"That's why I flirt. It makes me feel good, it makes her---whoever she is---feel good and no expectations are raised. It's like a game. It's fun. No one gets hurt. And if I ever do have a serious relationship---Well, you wouldn't believe how serious I could get. That's probably why I don't. Besides if you don't take it seriously, you don't mind rejection. And rejection always seems to come sooner or later." Tom couldn't believe he was actually saying this to Torres.
Then he remembered. It was a dream. None of this was real. The real B'Elanna probably wasn't interested in him or his explanations for his behavior. This image was saying what he wished she would say. Maybe he should have a talk with the real B'Elanna. He remembered their conversation in Engineering when she was so worried about Dreadnought and what it might do.
He had been pulling his bad boy routine. It was necessary to start rumors about his discontent on the ship so his asking to leave would be believed.
But as he tried to carry on with his act, he had looked into her eyes and seen the concern and sincere friendship, and he hadn't been able to keep it up. So he had changed the subject abruptly and stopped talking to her.
Torres looked up at him. "What are you thinking about?"
"This isn't real. None of this real." Tom spun on his heels, looking up in the general direction of the sky and shouted to his unseen observers, "What are you testing now? My friendships with women? Why stop with Torres? Don't you want to include---"
He hadn't finished before Janeway and Kes stood there looking at him and Torres. "Tom, how are you feeling?" Kes asked, walking towards him and putting a hand to his forehead as if to check for a fever.
"Report, Lieutenant," Janeway said. "Have you learned anything about this test?" She was looking around the garden curiously, just as the real Janeway would.
"None of this is real." Tom replied. "You shouldn't be here. This test might be dangerous! I don't want you here! Any of you!"
Janeway, Torres, and Kes vanished.
"Well, that was a quick visit," Tom said. "If this keeps up, I'll wind up talking to myself---Oh, great! I already am!" He kept walking the path through the garden. As he neared a stand of trees at one corner of the garden, he thought he heard a groan. He stopped and concentrated on listening.
There it was again! A low moaning sound like someone was in pain. His curiosity got the better of him and he followed the sound into the trees.
Lying on the ground was the giant he had defeated in his last dream. There was a knife sticking out between his ribs on his left side and he lay on the ground as if too weak to move.
"Hey, big fellow," Tom called out as he cautiously approached, making sure the creature could see he was unarmed and friendly. "Did you run into someone you couldn't handle?"
The giant looked up at him with a piteous expression but didn't speak or move. Tom drew nearer and knelt beside him to study the wound. "If I only had a medkit," he muttered. "Stay still!" he said with gentle authority as the giant tried to sit up. "You'll make things worse!"
Paris sat back on his heels to think of what he should do next and was astonished to see a regulation Starfleet medkit lying on the ground next to him.
"Oh, is this what you meant about taking control, Tuvok? Thanks for the idea." Tom patted the big fellow on the shoulder, took hold of the knife with his other hand and drew it out. He opened the kit and took out a bandage and placed it over the wound, applying pressure to slow the bleeding.
Tom took the giant's huge hand and placed it over the bandage, showing him how to hold it. "You need to do this while I look for the regenerator. Let's see it's got to be here somewhere."
Tom used both hands to look through the kit. When he turned his attention back to the giant---he was gone! "Damn!" he yelled skyward, "what kind of games are you people playing here?! Is he going to be all right?"
Melisande reappeared. She looked upset. "Tom, you aren't cooperating! Just let yourself react! If you keep fighting it, they'll do something awful!"
"They will? Who is 'they', Melisande?" Paris demanded. "What do 'they' want? I want some answers and I want them now!" ....
"Stress levels have started climbing again." Kes was becoming concerned. Tom had stopped smiling. He was frowning and flushed.
The doctor left his office and went to check on Paris. "They seem to be rising sharply. He's been under for forty-seven minutes. Let's wake him up. Call the Captain. She wanted to be present."
....A tall thin man suddenly appeared behind Melisande. He looked familiar to Tom, but he couldn't think why. He had black hair, a black pointed mustache-and was dressed in a long black robe. He looked---sinister. "Enough of this, Melisande!"
Melisande whirled to confront him and positioned herself between the man and Paris. "No! You said you would give me more time!"
"Your methods are not working! Get out of the way!" the man snarled, reaching out and grabbed her shoulder to shove her roughly out of his way.
She refused to give ground. "I won't let you hurt him!"
"You can't stop me!"
"I can." Paris had never felt more self-assured. He was remembering Tuvok's advice to take control. He was beginning to think he had learned how.
"Don't be ridiculous, boy!" the older man sneered. "You don't know who you're dealing with!"
"Neither do you!" Tom took a step forward so that he was standing next to Melisande and almost toe to toe with the stranger. "I've about reached my limit, mister. Humans are a tolerant bunch. But there are lines you can't cross and you've just found one of mine!" He grabbed the man's hand and flung it away from the woman's shoulder. "Keep your hands off of Melisande! Pick on someone your own size!"
"I do not fight inferior species," the stranger sneered. He made a broad gesture with his hand. Three hulking brutes appeared behind him. "They do."
The three started toward Tom and Melisande.....
"What is the problem, Doctor?" the captain snapped.
Kes looked distressed. "Stress levels are peaking!"
The doctor looked at the captain. "Mr. Paris appears to be in a coma. We can't awaken him. He is unresponsive to external stimuli."
"Is it an illness of some kind?" Chakotay asked.
Kes shook her head. "His temperature is rising slightly. Other vital signs show stress factors. But we've checked for viruses and bacteria---there aren't any."
"Whatever is happening in this dream---or telepathy---is causing a physical reaction," the doctor explained. "Evidently whatever it is, it needs his total attention. That's why we can't wake him. He is tuned out of this reality."
"Can dreams be fatal?" Janeway asked as she stepped forward and placed her hand over Tom's tightly clenched fist.
"There are folktales that suggest that if you die in your dream, you really die," the doctor reported prosaically. "However, there is no research to substantiate this theory."
Chakotay frowned. "We already found out that fear can kill in virtual reality. This may be a similar situation."
"Is there anything we can do?" Kes asked, almost in tears. "Perhaps Tuvok could mind meld---"
"We do not know what effect that would have," Tuvok interjected. "It might prove a distraction at the wrong time. Since we can't know what is going on, it would seem logical to await the outcome."
No one liked the idea. But no one had a better one.
.... Paris frowned in concentration as he backed himself and Melisande away from the trio. On his right, Chakotay, Kim, Tuvok, Neelix, and Ensign Natwick, the largest man in the Security section suddenly appeared.
"Time to party!" Tom crowed. "Hey, guys! Nice of you to come!"
"What's going on, Mr. Paris?" Chakotay asked, sizing up the situation.
"These three want to take me apart. Now, one I could handle, but three?"
Without hesitation, the Starfleet crewmembers moved into position to meet the rush of the three giants. Chakotay paired up with Paris, Tuvok with Kim, and Neelix with Natwick, then they all moved slightly apart to give themselves more room to fight.
"Paris, you go high, I'll go low?" the first officer murmured.
Paris nodded his agreement. The three brutes closed in, but when they were close enough for Tom to smell their pungent aroma, they suddenly froze in position.
Paris looked around. The Starfleet men were frozen, too. The only ones moving were himself, Melisande, and the sinister-looking man.
Except right now, he didn't look so sinister. His whole expression had lightened up somehow and he was walking toward Melisande smiling as if they were the best of friends. "Melisande was right, Tom," he said almost with a chuckle. "You are a most interesting subject."
Tom looked at the two of them skeptically. "Does this mean the test is over?"
Melisande beamed a smile at him. "Yes. And you did wonderfully."
"Tell me," the man demanded, "why did you choose these to help you? You have a large number of crew members to choose from. Why these five?"
To Tom it was bizarre---talking about his shipmates to these strangers while his friends were frozen like mannequins, but he would honor a sincere question. "This one is Commander Chakotay. He is an experienced fighter. And even if he doesn't care for me personally, he feels responsible for me as a member of his crew. This one is Harry Kim. I told Melisande about him. He's like a brother to me. One of his duties is to keep me out of trouble. He has more skill at that than I do."
He was walking around each member of the crew and placing a hand on a shoulder as he introduced them. "This is Lt. Tuvok. Melisande met him earlier. Vulcans don't like to fight but they are good fighters when they need to be. This is Neelix, one of my newer friends. He doesn't look like much of a fighter, but I'm his friend. He wouldn't let someone hurt me if he could do anything about it. He's also had some experience at self-defense. This big guy is Ensign Natwick. He really enjoys a fight, but most of the time he's so big he can't find a good one."
Melisande and the man looked puzzled by that explanation.
Tom elucidated. "It goes back to what I said about picking on someone your own size. He's so big, he can't find a worthy opponent. Now, can you tell me what this was all about?"
"In time," Melisande said with a smile. "In time, you will know."
Tom frowned. Then he yawned. Then he woke up....
"What's going on?" Janeway demanded as all the readings suddenly began to drop.
"The stress is---he doesn't seem distressed any more." Kes explained, watching the readings carefully to be sure they didn't drop too far.
A glance at Lieutenant Paris' face showed the frown easing. He suddenly yawned. Then he opened his eyes. He looked up and blinked. He felt surrounded.
Janeway, Chakotay, Tuvok, Kes, and the doctor were all standing within a foot of his bed. A few yards behind them were Kim, Torres, and Neelix. "Hi. Don't you people have more important things to do than watch me sleep?" he asked with an impudent grin.
Kathryn Janeway rolled her eyes. "Well, I would say he's back to normal."
"We were---what?!" Torres exclaimed indignantly.
"Mannequins," Paris repeated. "Life-size, unmoving replications, perfect to the last detail. It was very weird. It reminded me a wax museum I visited on Earth. And by the way, B'Elanna, Melisande didn't seem to like you very much." He couldn't resist provoking her even in a staff meeting.
Torres sniffed and refused to answer. She let her eyes speak for her. Tom was surprised he wasn't singed by the heat.
"Get on with it, Mr. Paris," Chakotay said impatiently.
"I introduced her to a few of you. Then I got a little test-y---" He paused to let Kim's groan at the pun subside. "I demanded to know what kind of test it was and what was going on. Melisande said the others were not happy that I wasn't cooperating and she disappeared---I guess to confer with them. So while I waited, I went for a walk in the garden with---" he broke off. He wasn't sure he was ready to admit to the whole senior staff that the companion he chose for his ramble had been Torres. He continued smoothly "---with the intention of getting the lay of the land. Then I heard a groan and found the giant---the one I fought before---he'd been stabbed. I dressed his wound then he disappeared."
"It sounds very confusing," Janeway commented, "with people coming and going so quickly and randomly."
"It wasn't as random as it seemed. I followed Tuvok's advice and took control. When I needed a medkit, I verbalized the need and it appeared. So I was sort of experimenting with using my own mind to help me. People appeared when I wanted them to. Anyway then Melisande showed up again with a mean-looking---Mephistopheles!" Tom snapped his fingers as the name finally came back to him.
"I beg your pardon?"
"That's who he looked like! I couldn't remember before. He looked like a picture of Mephistopheles in a copy of Dante's Inferno that I read." Tom was relieved to have finally remembered.
"Wasn't Mephistopheles a demon?" Kim said.
"Yeah. Not a pleasant-looking gentleman. So he started to threaten me for not cooperating with the test, then when Melisande tried to argue, he grabbed her. That's about when I decided I had been a good boy long enough. In so many words, I threatened to kick his---to object strenuously and in a physical manner to his mistreatment of Melisande." Tom edited his own version of the story.
"Not exactly textbook Starfleet diplomacy," Chakotay said with the beginnings of a smile. "But understandable under the circumstances."
That earned him a sidelong glance from Janeway. "And then?"
"Then he called in his troops---three big, ugly guys! As big as the other one."
Torres was eyeing him. "Then I suppose you wished for a phaser and blasted them all."
Tom tilted his head and shot her a quizzical smile. "No, actually this time I called in---my troops."
"Your troops?" Kim asked.
Tom nodded and looked at each one as he named them. "You, for one. The others were Chakotay, Tuvok, Neelix, and Natwick. I figured two of us were a match for any one of them."
Neelix and Kim looked pleased at having been included. Tuvok looked indifferent. Chakotay looked slightly puzzled. "How did you choose your---troops? If I may ask?"
"Funny, that's what Melisande and Mephistopheles wanted to know," Paris marveled. He was starting to really enjoy this. "Let's just put it this way, when I knew I was in for a fight, you are the people I thought of as being able and willing to help." He met Chakotay's eyes squarely. "Something to do with---teamwork."
Chakotay nodded slowly. "You apparently have better judgment than I gave you credit for, Mr. Paris."
"So what happened? Did we win?" Neelix asked eagerly.
"Actually, we never had to fight! We were just getting set when the---the testers intervened and everyone froze again. Then Melisande and Mephistopheles asked a few more questions, then told me to wake up." Tom shrugged as if disappointed his story didn't have a stronger conclusion.
"They didn't explain or identify themselves?" Janeway seemed dismayed.
"She said that I would know 'in time'."
"I hate cryptic answers!" Torres exclaimed. "Why can't they just say what they mean?"
Tom stifled a yawn. "I agree. I hope all this loss of sleep hasn't been for nothing."
"Well," Janeway said, getting to her feet to indicate the meeting was over, "I hope they're prompt. I must admit I'm curious to know the results of the test. And the purpose."
"Melisande did say that I---performed wonderfully---on the test, I mean," Paris added in far too innocent a tone. Kim and Janeway each sighed and gave him a disapproving look.
The last two to exit were Torres and Paris. She grabbed his sleeve and kept him from following the others. "Paris, you didn't tell us the whole story, did you?"
He widened his blue eyes innocently. "Me? Would I hold back part of the story?"
"Yes, you! You changed something about your walk in the garden! What was it?" Torres eyed him suspiciously, her face only a foot from his own.
Tom looked from side to side as if making sure no one else was present and whispered, "Can you keep a secret?" He looked so earnest, B'Elanna fell into his trap. She nodded and leaned closer so he could whisper in her ear. "I didn't want to embarrass you in front of the staff, B'Elanna. The truth is---you were in the garden with me---and you were pretty aggressive---and I don't mean we were fighting," Tom said in his most sincere voice.
Torres shoved him away, furious that she had let him fool her into thinking he was going to convey something serious. "In your dreams, Paris! In your dreams!" She flounced away from him, but not before he got in a parting shot.
"Exactly, B'Elanna. It was my dream."
She spun, looking furious. "Whatever your perverted mind conjured up---you just better keep it to yourself!"
Paris tried to look wounded. "A gentleman never kisses and tells!"
"Yes, but we are talking about you, after all!" Torres snapped and flounced away from him in a state of anger for the third time.
With a grin, Paris strolled out onto the bridge and took his seat, ignoring the speculative glances that followed his and Torres' progress.
Kim looked up from the Ops station. "Captain, we have an incoming message from the Luterians."
"Another space buoy?"
"No!" Kim couldn't keep the excitement from his voice. "This one is a live transmission."
"But we're nowhere near the coordinates they specified," Paris protested, checking his readings.
"Put it onscreen." Janeway ordered. She stood and assumed her 'Captain' stance slightly behind the conn position.
"Starship Voyager! Welcome to the Luterian Circus!"
At the sound of the voice, Paris's eyes snapped to the screen. The speaker was---Mephistopheles---as Paris had begun to think of him. His expression was warm and welcoming. He met Tom's eye and nodded at him. "Mr. Paris, Captain Janeway, the people of Luteria bid you welcome."
Janeway had recognized the man from Paris' description almost immediately. "I'm Captain Kathryn Janeway. It seems you've already met Mr. Paris---in a manner of speaking."
He nodded. "Mr. Paris informed us that in your culture you exchange names as a sign of friendship. My name is Morjac. I am First Counselor of Luteria."
"First Counselor, your space buoys gave other coordinates for your location. We thought we would be traveling another two days to reach your planet. Now our sensors show your message is originating from within this system. Was there a mistake in our translation of your recorded message?" Janeway was looking over Paris' shoulder at his console.
"There was no mistake," Morjac stated. "We purposely gave incorrect information. Contrary to what our message would lead you to believe, we do not welcome just any visitors. Not any more. You will understand if I tell you that one of our colony worlds fell victim to the Vidiians."
Everyone on the bridge reacted with various intensity to that statement. Janeway paused before answering. "Yes, we understand. But why the misdirection?"
"To borrow a phrase from Mr. Paris' memory, you could call it 'flypaper'."
In answer to the quizzical looks he received from Tuvok and Kim, Paris explained, "An old-fashioned method for dealing with insect pests. A sticky paper that would entrap them when they landed on it. I read about it in a book."
Janeway nodded as comprehension dawned. "So you laid out a false trail for ships to follow in order to lead them away from your planet?"
"And it controlled their route so that we would have time to test their intentions before they were close enough to become a threat," First Counselor Morjac added. "It is a matter of self-defense. At this time I would like to apologize to Mr. Paris for any pain or discomfort caused him by our testing. We have never encountered humans before. You are a most interesting people."
"Thanks, I think," Paris muttered. "Would it be out of line for me to ask why you picked me? I mean out of a crew this size---"
Morjac nodded and smiled. "Of course, I can understand your curiosity. We are a curious people ourselves. Before choosing a candidate for testing, we perform a light, surface level telepathic scan of the ship. The candidate chosen is the subject most in the thoughts of the others on the ship. For good or ill, the person most often in the thoughts of his shipmates is invariably a person of influence."
Paris looked very uncomfortable with that idea. He didn't know whether to feel flattered or paranoid at the thought that most of the crew had been thinking about him.
Janeway put her hand on the lieutenant's shoulder. "Mr. Paris has been very influential. He is a valuable asset to my crew."
Morjac looked offscreen for a moment as if conferring with someone. "Ah, yes. My assistant tells me that I should share our test results with you. Mr. Paris was a most interesting subject. We found him to be compassionate, loyal, and brave. Do all humans share and value the characteristics he displayed?"
Not for the first time, Paris wished he wasn't so fair. He could feel the red tide climbing his color and tingeing his cheeks as he blushed and almost squirmed with discomfort.
Kathryn's hand tightened on his shoulder and seemed to have a calming effect. "All humans and humanoids share those characteristics in varying degrees. They are ideas that are valued by the Federation of Planets and Starfleet. We look forward to meeting with you and discussing the differences and similarities between our cultures."
"That will be wonderful!" Morjac was almost bubbling with enthusiasm. "We would love to meet in reality those that Tom introduced to us in his mind. We look forward to your time with us. Please feel free to grant your crew shore leave here."
Janeway sounded a cautionary note. "We would ask that there be no more telepathy without the consent of the individual. We believe to enter someone's mind in that manner is a violation of privacy."
"Oh, of course." Morjac waved his hand in dismissal of the very idea. "It is an ancient art here used only for the defense of our planet from intruders. Thanks to Mr. Paris, you are no longer intruders, but welcome guests. We will transmit the coordinates for our meeting hall so that you may use your transportation device."
The sky was not orange. It was bluish-green. Other than that, Paris felt very familiar with his surroundings as the transporter beam released the away team. Another difference was that on the other side of the clearing, brightly colored tents had been erected. They reminded Janeway of a circus she had attended as a child with the many tents of the games and display booths surrounding the much larger tent in the center.
There were crowds of Luterians watching curiously. They all seemed to be friendly, but they also seemed focused on Lt. Paris, smiling at him with approval. The attention made him feel self-conscious. He was getting used to feeling that way by now so he stood his ground and let Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay step forward to greet their host as he approached.
Morjac was not wearing black. His long tunic was orange. A half step behind him was Melisande. Except now, as Paris studied her in the bright, warm sunlight of the planet's surface, she seemed older, perhaps in her late thirties. Her smile seemed to be exclusively for him. He noticed she was holding Morjac's arm as they walked.
Morjac spoke, extending his hand to shake Janeway's hand, "Welcome, Captain. Is this the proper human greeting?"
Janeway shook his hand as she spoke. "Yes, First Counselor. Thank you for
your kind welcome. May I introduce my away team?"
"There really is no need," Morjac commented. "We know your names and faces. They were communicated to us by Mr. Paris. Greetings to you also, Commander Chakotay, Lt. Torres, Ensign Kim, and Mr. Tuvok. I'm afraid we have the advantage of you in this case. But I forget my manners. Allow me to introduce my assistant, who is also my wife---this is Melsar."
The woman Tom thought of as Melisande seemed to still be tuned to his thoughts. Before he could organize his words, she spoke. "Tom liked the name Melisande so that was what I used in my contacts with him. Are you feeling better, Tom?" She smiled in his direction.
Paris couldn't decide why he thought there was something wrong until he looked closely at her eyes. They were unfocussed. She was blind! "Melisande, you can't see?" Tom asked, feeling pity and disbelief simultaneously. "How could---"
Melisande/Melsar's smile faded a little. "Tom, we were communicating telepathically. I can see in my mind. I was not born blind."
Morjac looked suddenly grim. "My wife's eyes were damaged in the Vidiian attack on our colony planet ten years ago."
"I'm sorry," Paris fumbled. He was shocked. He tried to regain the friendly mood using his favorite tool of humor. "Well, it's good to see you're as beautiful as I dreamed you. But you didn't tell me you were married. All my hopes for this shore leave are dashed!"
Torres elbowed his ribs.
Melisande laughed delightedly and held more tightly to her husband's arm. "I told you he was charming, Morjac !"
"Yes. Mr. Paris, I can tell you that Melsar has enjoyed the contact with your mind more than any other we have tested. I thank you for giving my wife an enjoyable memory. Now would you all like to join us for refreshments? We will discuss how you wish to handle shore leave for your crew and what you would like to trade." Morjac gestured to one of the smaller tents.
Every crewmember was enjoying this shore leave. The multi-colored tents contained all kinds of games of skill, games of chance, and other forms of entertainment. Best of all, the Luterians loved music and the Voyager crew traded copies of all their music tapes for copies of Luterian music. There had also been an exchange of literature, history, edible plant seeds, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Neelix was in seventh heaven as he planned the next week's menus.
Melsar and Morjac invited Tom Paris and Captain Janeway to join them for dinner in their private tent. As they were sipping a cup of something that could almost pass for coffee, Melsar surprised Tom by bringing up the subject of the testing.
"Kathryn, I understand you had some curiosity about the test. I know Tom has many questions so Morjac and I would like to take this opportunity to answer you in a more private setting. From Tom's reactions, I understand your people value privacy a great deal and some of our tests were---painful. We did not intend that."
Kathryn found herself touching Tom's arm to offer comfort. "Yes, Mr. Paris did have some bad moments. We were curious to know what you learned."
Melsar turned her blind eyes toward Tom. "I could give you a gift, Tom, with your permission?"
"I'm sorry, I don't---"
She extended a hand toward him. "If you will take my hand, Tom, I will show you how I came to see you in my mind. This is the image of you all my people have as I have shared it with them."
Paris wasn't sure he really wanted to know, but he couldn't walk away without knowing. He took her hand. "Now what?"
Melsar laughed. "Just close your eyes and relax. Telepathy is much easier when you aren't separated by light years."
Paris was suddenly in the garden. Melisande---no, Melsar was standing in front of him. Her eyes could see him here. "Tom, turn around and look in the mirror."
With some trepidation, Tom turned. His jaw dropped. He had seen pictures of this kind of costume before. It was a knight in shining armor! With his face! Somehow he looked more handsome, taller, stronger---more everything! He looked at Melisande to protest. This couldn't really be the way she saw him. She had been in his mind. She had seen his fear, his indecision--
She read his mind again. "I saw your bravery. Your care and protection of others weaker or smaller than yourself. I saw your loyalty to your friends. I saw your affection for them. You did the right things, Tom! Look closely at your image! It really is you!"
He silently turned and stepped a little closer to the mirror. As he neared, he could detect scars and scratches on the shining silver armor and on the shield. Now that he could believe! "Melisande, I'm sorry but I just---that can't be me!"
"It is how I see you. Don't worry about it, Tom. You won't have to live up to my expectations, remember? You're leaving. And I wish you all the happiness and joy in your world." She smiled at him, her eyes filled with kindness and affection.
Tom opened his eyes. Janeway was studying him with a look of concern. "Are you all right, Tom?"
He was blushing furiously. Paris took a deep breath and exhaled noisily. "Yes, but if you'll all excuse me, I promised to---to meet someone in a few minutes. Captain, I'll see you aboard the ship. Morjac, Melisan---Melsar, thank you for your hospitality." He rushed out before anyone could react.
Janeway looked inquiringly toward Morjac. "What was that all about?"
Melsar replied, "I'm sorry, Kathryn. I'm afraid I embarrassed him."
"Now that he's gone, could you give me some details about the tests? I wouldn't want you to violate any confidences, but I must admit that hearing Mr. Paris describe it---I got the feeling he was leaving out some details." Janeway's scientific curiosity was still as active as when she had been a Science Officer.
Melsar smiled. "I can do better than that. If you would like to try it?"
In answer, Janeway took her hand and closed her eyes.
When she opened them, she found herself in the garden Tom had described. Melsar and Morjac were with her and gestured toward some long benches along one side of the wall. Looking around, Janeway sighed, "This is remarkable. It's so real!"
"Kathryn, I wanted to share something with you." Melsar smiled. "Tom gave me the name Melisande. Do you know it?"
"No. It's a lovely name, but I don't believe I've heard it before."
"He didn't remember it consciously either. It came from a play that Tom saw when he was only twenty. The play is called The Rainmaker. The name Melisande is a name for a fantasy woman. A woman unobtainable by the man who gave her that name. I thought it was interesting."
"You're right," Janeway said with a smile, "it is interesting. I think it indicates that while he was attracted to you, he knew the relationship was impossible."
"Captain, I mentioned that we found Tom to be compassionate and brave. This is only a beginning on the praise I would like to heap on him! The memories he showed us---the many times that he risked his life---or severe injury for someone else---sometimes a friend, sometimes a stranger. On one occasion in our testing, he risked injury to help someone that had attacked him. Our people do not share this degree of compassion." Melsar seemed on the verge of tears. "We have never encountered such---he is very protective of others. Yet we noticed that he did not seem to expect others to care for him. Can you explain this to us, please?"
Janeway found herself at a loss for words. She thought of the first time she had seen him in the Rehabilitation Colony in New Zealand and had almost written him off as a smart-mouthed, rebellious brat. Then she thought of the many times Tom had acted on his own initiative to save lives or the ship---many times risking his own life.
"Melsar, Tom has made some mistakes---mistakes that affected other people and he feels he must make it up to them. He doesn't feel he deserves their regard or respect. He is working to overcome that. But I believe you're right. He has all the best human characteristics. He just needs a chance to prove himself---mostly to himself. He lost faith in his own judgment. He had help in losing that faith from other people who should have been there to support him. He will find himself. I expect great things from him." The captain sounded absolutely sure.
"I hope you value him, Kathryn. If you don't, you may leave him here. We would love to have him stay," Morjac said. "He would be an asset to any community."
"I don't think he would last long on a planet," Janeway said with a smile. "His greatest source of pride is what a hotshot pilot he is! And just when you think he's being arrogant, he proves he's right! He is a great pilot!"
Melsar had a wistful smile. "One thing, Kathryn, as we scanned his mind, I became familiar with some of the stories he has read. There was one in particular that I believe describes Tom. Do you know the story of The Ugly Duckling?"
Janeway was a little shocked. "Yes, I know that story. What does it have to do with Mr. Paris?"
Melsar's voice was very quiet and thoughtful. "He is very much like the swan that couldn't see his potential. He has become a beautiful swan, no matter how ugly his beginning. But the sad thing is, I don't think he recognizes his reflection as a swan. He pretends to be a swan, but when he looks in the mirror, he still sees the ugly little duck that nobody wanted. This is what I showed him---how I see him."
The mirror with the image of Tom as a knight reappeared before them.
"He couldn't accept that the image was true," Melsar added. "He is terribly hard on himself. He may need help in evaluating his strengths and weaknesses more realistically."
"I'll keep that in mind," the captain replied thoughtfully.
When the transporter beam released them, Paris stuck out his arm and grabbed his friend's arm again to hold him upright. The transporter chief took in their bedraggled appearance and sighed. He activated his communicator. "Captain, the last of the shore leave parties has returned. We're ready to get under way." He refrained from mentioning the identities of the party or their condition.
Ensign Kim could barely walk. Paris had to guide his stumbling feet down the stairs and steer him toward the door to the corridor. "This way!" he said firmly as Kim showed a tendency to wander in a circle.
"That was the best shore leave I've ever had!" Harry announced loudly, peering somewhat fuzzily up at his best friend's blurry face as he staggered along.
"Yeah, yeah, sure," Paris agreed perfunctorily, moving his arm to Kim's waist for more leverage and trying to guide his steps.
"What was that drink called? I can't remember."
Paris rolled his eyes and tried to hold his breath when Harry peered up at him to speak. Bearing the brunt of Kim's weight, he hauled his friend from the transporter room into the corridor with Harry staggering and making it harder for Paris to keep his own balance. "I think it was called Johswee. And I also think you should have stopped at one!"
Kim began to look offended and tried to pull away from the lieutenant as if about to say something. A blank look came over his face. Paris knew that look and was ready for it. As Kim collapsed toward the floor, Tom dove under him and caught the ensign on his shoulder.
"I thought this was more in my line!" Tom huffed as he shifted Harry's weight so he could balance and walk at the same time.
"So did I," Torres commented. She was leaning against the corridor wall, watching with some amusement. "What happened?" She joined Paris as he carried Kim to his quarters.
"Harry discovered a new drink," Tom stated. "It was called Johswee---or something like that. He said it was delicious. You know, I'm not sure he knew it wasn't the same as drinking synthehol. Anyway, after one, he began to talk about Libby. After two, he decided he wanted to try fighting Ensign Natwick. And after three, he wanted to take on the whole bar."
"You're kidding? Harry?" Torres exclaimed, laughter making her eyes sparkle.
"Hey, he's a mean drunk!" Paris warned mockingly. They arrived at Kim's quarters. Paris deposited Kim on his bed. Torres threw a blanket over him.
As the door closed behind them, Torres asked, "Are you sure he'll be all right?"
"I told the holodoc to monitor him. If he needs anything, he'll be beamed directly to Sickbay." Paris and Torres started walking again.
"You're a good friend, Tom," Torres commented.
Paris frowned. "Do I take that to mean you aren't mad at me any more?"
"I had a little talk with Melsar---Melisande---whatever."
"Really?" Paris asked cautiously, not sure where this was going.
"Yes. And she told me that all we did in that dream was go for a walk in a garden." Torres smiled at him smugly. "So much for your innuendo!"
"She said that?" Paris said, looking surprised. Then he nodded slowly, "Oh! Oh. That's what she said." He nodded again.
"Yes, that's what she said. Why? Would she lie?" Torres demanded.
Paris shook his head, trying and deliberately failing to look innocent. "Nah, you're right. She wouldn't lie---" He waited till the tension in B'Elanna's neck had started to loosen then added, "---unless, of course---"
"Unless what?" she spat, spinning to face him.
Paris shrugged carelessly. "She may not have wanted to embarrass you. She really is a nice lady, isn't she?"
"What is that supposed to mean?!"
Paris had reached his quarters. He stepped inside the door and held the control to keep it open. "Nothing, B'Elanna! What on earth could I possibly mean?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Thomas Eugene Paris! What really happened in that garden?"
He winked one blue eye at her. "It's okay, B'Elanna. That will stay just between the two of us!" He closed the door and locked it.
She stared at the door for a second then hit it with her fist. "But I don't know what happened!" She heard a muffled giggle and turned to see Ensign Hogan and Jenny Delaney studying her appraisingly. She spun on her heel and marched toward her own quarters, muttering under her breath, "I'm going to have to kill him! Or something!"
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