The usual disclaimer--this is written just for personal enjoyment. The characters and all rights belong to Paramount and they should ask some of us fans what to do with them.
Constructive criticism or intelligent arguments are welcome.
This occurs just after the episode "Investigations".
Tom Paris was relieved that he could give up his 'bad boy' routine or as Tuvok had expressed it his 'behaving as a malcontent'. Though Tom enjoyed teasing people and having a good time, he didn't particularly enjoy lying to people or misleading them--especially those he cared for--or those who cared for him--however few might belong in the latter category. Paris was just starting to chafe under the lack of privacy on the ship.
There was a party in his honor the night he had returned from his Kazon spy mission. The whole crew had managed to get there during the course of the six hour event in Sandrine's, each one wanting to shake Tom's hand, slap him on the back, or just say welcome home. Paris was not fooled into thinking they had all become his ardent admirers or fast friends. He knew this was a short-term feeling and did not cancel out their opinions about his past or about him personally.
Those in attendance didn't seem to notice that though Tom was laughing and smiling and being his usual charming self, his heart wasn't really in it. He was used to being the center of attention--that had been ongoing for one reason or another since he was old enough to remember. He just wasn't comfortable being treated as if he were a hero. He just felt he had done what he could do to protect Voyager. In doing so, he also protected his friends. If his life had been at risk, it had been his choice--and it would have been small loss in his opinion. But the celebration was as much for the relief of having escaped the Kazon trap and eliminated the threat from the leaking of information as it was for him.
Or at least that's how he chose to see it. So Tom would play congenial life of the party for all he was worth, and try not to see the people who still had doubts, criticisms, and reservations about him lurking in the backs of their eyes.
Neelix and Kes had been staying close at hand, but they had disappeared a few minutes ago on a mysterious errand after receiving a call from Harry who had reported to the bridge to relieve someone else to come to the party. Torres hadn't had much to say. That surprised Tom a little. She had given him a serious look as she shook his hand. "Welcome back. Don't do that again!" she'd ordered brusquely, then marched away with her head held high. Tom puzzled over her behavior and decided that she was mad at him for not telling her the truth--either that or upset that the traitor had been a Maquis and a member of her engineering staff and she hadn't caught on. Paris figured she would simmer down in a few hours--or get distracted by repairs that were needed.
Tom took another sip of his raktajino with cream and eyed the new arrivals. Every crew member had been relieved at some point so they could come to the party. Chakotay! Tom had been looking for him. He had apologized for his behavior in giving the First Officer a hard time on Neelix's vid program, but he wanted to speak to him in person as well. He wasn't really looking forward to it, but---
Chakotay nodded at him and extended a hand. If he felt any awkwardness, he didn't show it. But then it was always hard to read him clearly. "Mr. Paris, congratulations! You did a fine job. And now we know you can pilot a Kazon shuttle as well as our own."
It was more than Paris had really expected from the man. He shook hands and for once didn't wear his trademark smile. "Commander, I want you to know you didn't make my --my act very easy. I don't know if I need to tell you this, but when we talked in the mess hall--I had to make up some reasons for being angry with you. I think you are a fine First Officer. All that stuff about your not giving me any slack---"
Chakotay raised his eyebrows. "Are you saying none of it was true?"
A hint of the scapegrace smile peeked out. "Let's just say I wildly exaggerated," Tom drawled. "You're not an easy man to pick a fight with, Chakotay."
"Being easy to rile is not a quality I believe the captain would appreciate in her first officer." Chakotay had deliberately approached Paris, knowing there were Maquis crewmembers watching who had been angry at the way Paris had treated the First Officer. By his actions he was conveying there were no hard feelings. "However, Mr. Paris, the next time you have a problem with me--"
Paris shook his head with an attitude of total disbelief. "Never happen!" he protested. He met Chakotay's eyes and grinned.
Chakotay's expression lightened as he returned the smile. "Of course, not. Now, where's the food? I hear Neelix has outdone himself for the occasion."
"You could say that. We're offering a reward for the first person who correctly identifies the edible items and a bonus if you can find the one dish that doesn't contain leola root," stated Paris and pointed him towards the refreshments that had been set up on a long table in the far corner of the room.
Neelix came bustling up with a large knapsack dragging on the floor behind him. "Tom! My friend sent your things on a shuttle from the convoy!"
Tom was touched by the Talaxian's thoughtfulness. He didn't have a lot of personal possessions with him in the Delta Quadrant and he'd thought them lost after the Kazon kidnapped him from the Talaxian ship. "Thanks, Neelix. You just boosted my morale considerably!" He clapped a hand on the shorter man's shoulder. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go unpack!" He took the bag from Neelix.
"But, Tom!" Neelix protested. "The party isn't over!"
Tom hesitated. "I'm kind of tired. I think I've seen everyone any way. Make my excuses if anyone asks, okay?" He left Sandrine's as inconspicuously as possible. It was true. The party was in full swing. No one seemed to miss him.
Living on Voyager was a lot like living in a small town--a very small town with a population of less than 150. There were three duty shifts, eight hour periods. Only a skeleton crew was on duty during what was termed the 'night watch', mostly stationed on the bridge or in engineering, with a few other posts manned in security and sciences. Since things had calmed down and almost settled into a normal Starfleet routine, the crewmembers had started to get to know each other--not without a certain amount of friction at times. Normal, routine things seemed almost weird after the period of trauma, shock, and loss experienced on finding themselves in the Delta Quadrant. Some people found it harder than others did to settle in. And some people were too busy to worry about it.
Janeway and Torres were in conference yet again concerning the needs for replacement parts for the ship's engineering section. "If we could find some metal that could be refined, we could produce spare parts without being dependent on the replicator," the chief engineer burst out with her usual lack of patience.
The captain had learned to read Torres better now and knew when the anger was inner directed. "Neelix tells me there is a mining colony on Crasus which is about two days travel from here at our present speed. He says they are friendly and probably willing to cooperate in identifying the materials we could use. The problem is that Voyager is still functioning below par. I really don't want to risk more than warp 1 while we're making repairs. If we sent a shuttle ahead, we could start negotiations right away and possibly have the materials ready to be picked up by the time the ship got there."
"The shuttle can do warp 4. We could be there in hours," B'Elanna said eagerly. Any prospect of a problem solved made her happier.
"Are you volunteering?" Janeway asked wryly.
"Of course!" Torres turned her intense gaze on Janeway. "Hogan and Carey can handle the repairs. They're basically routine. I want to make sure the refining process would work with the materials mined and check on the properties--"
The captain held up a hand. "No argument, B'Elanna. It was my intention to ask if you could be spared from Main Engineering. Now as to the rest of the away team, I thought we'd take Tom Paris as pilot and Ensign Medor as your assistant. Medor used to work on a mining colony and the experience might be useful in deciding on refinement techniques."
Torres nodded her agreement. "I'll get my equipment kit ready and notify the flight deck to prepare the long range shuttle."
Janeway nodded. "How much time do you need to get ready?"
"Half an hour should do it."
"Very well. I'll meet you in shuttlebay 2 in 30 minutes." Torres left, as always she seemed to be rushing impatiently. The captain tapped her commbadge. "Janeway to Ensign Medor."
"Aye, captain?" came the almost instant response.
"Please get ready for an away mission. You will need to bring your metallurgical equipment. You can coordinate that with Lt. Torres. We will be off the ship for approximately 2 days. We're meeting in Shuttlebay 2 at 1400."
"Aye, captain!" The reply was eager.
"Janeway out." She understood Medor's enthusiasm. It was a break from routine. "Janeway to Paris." She waited a moment. There was no reply. Computer, why isn't Lt. Paris answering his communicator?"
The bland voice of the computer replied, "Lt. Paris is not wearing his communicator."
Sometimes Janeway thought the computer was deliberately--evasive in its answers. "Computer, where is Lt. Paris?"
"Lt. Paris is in Holodeck 1. There is a privacy seal in place." The computer voice almost sounded smug.
Janeway stifled her sense of irritation. Lord only knew what kind of private program Tom was running. He was off duty. That was his business. She'd just have to be discreet when she went to get him. That would almost certainly be less embarrassing for him than sending someone else.
Kathryn stood outside of Holodeck 1 and said, "Computer, override privacy lock. Authorization Janeway Delta Pi." The door to the holodeck slid open. She took a deep breath to prepare herself mentally for whatever orgy she might be entering and stepped inside. The doors slid closed behind her before she had recovered enough from her surprise to advance further into the setting. She had expected a club or brothel along the lines of Sandrine's but with more socially unacceptable behavior going on. That wouldn't have surprised her.
It surprised her to find herself standing instead on a well-manicured lawn that bordered on a woodland area. It was a warm sunny day and the cool breeze that filled the air with the sweet scent of the tall pine trees mingled with that of the flowers was refreshing . Beyond the lawn, there was a two-story house. Janeway looked around, enjoying the view, and feeling just a little homesick for Earth as she tried to spot Tom Paris. There he was! He was lying on the ground under the shade of a tall pecan tree.
As she got nearer, Janeway cleared her throat, hoping to give him time to prepare for the interruption. There was no reaction. When she was within ten yards, she knew why. Paris was sound asleep. He was lying on his back in the thick carpet grass, his head pillowed on his left forearm. There was a stack of three books next to him. Another was lying open across his chest as if he had drowsed off while reading. Janeway couldn't contain her curiosity so she peered at the title. It was "The Three Musketeers" by Alexandre Dumas. The captain suppressed a smile. Paris looked about twelve years old, his hair rumpled, his face innocent of expression. He was wearing civilian clothes--a pair of cutoff shorts and a royal blue tee-shirt.
She suddenly realized how it would look if he woke up before she woke him. She cleared her throat again. "Mr. Paris?" No reaction except a slight frown. He was really deeply asleep. "Tom?" She knelt beside him and touched his shoulder gently as she said a little louder, "Tom, can you hear me?"
Still sleeping, she got a reaction this time. "I can take care of myself! Just get Voyager to safety!" His own shout awakened him. She knew what he'd been dreaming. She recognized his words. He blinked his confusion as he tried to wake up and clear his head. "Captain? Is the ship--" He broke off as he sat up, throwing the book to the ground near his legs, and propped his hands on the ground behind him to be sure he could stay upright. He turned his head and identified his location then gazed at her. The blue shirt accented the blue of his eyes as he tried to focus. "Sorry, captain, that was some dream!"
"I'm sorry to wake you, Mr. Paris," Janeway said. She sat down next to him on the ground. "I know you're off duty. And normally I wouldn't intrude--"
"That's okay. Did you need something?" Janeway could almost see Paris' mask of cool, friendly charm drop into place. She had never noticed how mask-like his expression of openness could be.
"I want you to be my pilot on the shuttle. We're taking an away team to open negotiations with the people of Crasus to obtain metal and other materials needed to repair Voyager's engines. Mr. Neelix says there is an asteroid field that might present some navigational problems in a shuttle. Otherwise it's just a routine mission. Can you be ready to leave in--Computer, what is the time?"
"Ship's time is 1340 hours."
Janeway continued, "We're leaving in 20 minutes."
"Yes, ma'am." Paris unfolded his lanky body and surged to his feet. He extended his hand to Janeway. "My motto is prompt service, no waiting!"
She took his hand and he pulled her to her feet. She smiled and with a glance at the book now on the ground replied, "I thought your motto would be--one for all and all for one."
He followed her gaze and bent to pick up the leather bound volume and dust it off without meeting her eyes. "Oh, this. It's an old favorite."
She picked up the other books and checked the titles--Don Quixote by Cervantes, The Sackett Brand by Louis L'Amour, Principles of Logic by Surak of Vulcan, and the Book of Wisdom of the Klingon Empire by Kahless (Earth Basic translation). "And this place? It's beautiful."
"This was our house in Texas, on the outskirts of the DFW Metro Zone. My parents lived here when I was ten. It was while my dad was on starship duty. Before he began teaching at the Academy." Paris seemed to be reluctant to answer any questions.
Janeway hadn't meant to make him uncomfortable. "I think it's lovely. I'm sorry I had to interrupt your time here."
"I only had the holodeck until 1400 anyway. Computer, discontinue Paris Holodeck Program number one." The scenery faded away leaving only the black and yellow grid.
The captain thought it was interesting that this was the first program Paris had created. She would have thought it would have been the Sandrine's program since he spent so much time there. "I thought you might be on Holodeck 3, but you haven't been there lately," Janeway commented casually as they walked toward the exit.
"I created Sandrine's as a hangout, but it's gotten so popular that it's always crowded. I'd feel kind of selfish if I put a privacy lock on that holodeck. Chakotay decided to leave it running most of the time just to have a lounge for the crew." Tom smiled, but the smile didn't quite reach his eyes. "If you'll excuse me, I'll get into uniform."
Janeway nodded. He turned and began started towards his quarters, his long legs covering lots of ground quickly. She hadn't thought of Tom as a loner.
The trip so far had been uneventful. Until they reached the asteroid belt that surrounded the Crasus system, there was really nothing for Janeway, Torres or Medor to do. Torres and Medor had exhausted the topic of what to look for from the Crasus mines were stretched out on the bunks in the aft section of the shuttle taking naps. Paris was flying the shuttle with his customary skill and needed no help with sensors or other equipment. He had been rather quiet. Janeway attributed that to his being awakened so suddenly. He did look a little tired. Without a conscious decision, she decided to take advantage of the quiet time and get to know Lt. Thomas Eugene Paris a little better.
"Tom, I know you like to read--" Janeway began. Tom threw a polite, inquiring glance her way. She continued, "Would you tell me why a book? Most people read from datapadds."
Tom gave a half shrug as he adjusted the altitude control. "I just like the feel of the book in my hand. It makes it more real. Of course," he added, "the weight allowance for personal goods limits how many real books you can replicate or carry around with you. So I do some reading by datapadd. But a book---there's just no substitute for it. I like the weight of it--the feel of it in my hands."
Kathryn smiled. "What kind of books --literature do you read?" She half expected him to say--she didn't know what she expected. The selection of books on the holodeck had certainly been diverse. Before she'd met him, she'd read his records from the Academy and Starfleet and been prepared to dislike him since he was such a disappointment to his father, a man she admired. She'd already discovered that some evaluations in his record had been in error due to an apparent misreading of his motivations. She was beginning to realize she didn't know him well at all.
"Oh, you could say I have an eclectic appetite. I got hooked on reading when I was a kid and never really stopped. Mysteries, biographies, history, westerns, science fiction, historical fiction--but no gothic romances!" With this, he sent her a sly smile.
The whole ship had learned about the holonovel gothic romance that the captain had been playing with when its characters had begun to appear elsewhere. She gave him a rueful smile. "I've sort of been turned off to those myself lately. That's curious. I would have thought you would have been more into athletics as a child." She was watching him closely and saw for the first time what others had described to her. His whole body and expression, without really changing much, hardened as if turned to ice. The polite smile was still in place, but reading his body language she could tell his defenses had just snapped into place. She didn't understand what she had said to provoke such a reaction. She cast a glance into the aft section. Medor and Torres seemed to be asleep. She and Tom did have some privacy for this talk.
Carelessly, Tom tossed off his answer. "I did my share of playing baseball, hoverball, those kinds of things at school. But reading is something you can do in your spare time that doesn't require other people to participate."
Kathryn was saddened by the image that conjured in her mind. "You didn't have friends to play with?"
"Oh, I had friends at school. They just weren't welcome at my home. And I didn't get to visit theirs much either. Remember, captain, I was Starfleet." The way he said it made it sound like it was all in capitals. "We moved often and unexpectedly. That didn't allow for lasting friendships. And my father didn't--" he seemed to search for an inoffensive word, "encourage me to spend time socializing. He planned for me to break all the records at Starfleet. I had to get ready for that. By studying. Or training. All the time. When I was reading, he was happy. He thought it would help my test scores."
Janeway leaned forward and put a hand on his forearm. "I'm sorry, Tom. I didn't mean to bring up unhappy memories."
He laughed without humor. "Sorry, captain. Bringing up my father---there are no other types of memories available. I know your experience with him was positive. I'm glad for you. But as I said before, my father only accepts the brightest and best. I had to be both--and more. I was his only son. I had a legacy to carry on. And I let him down." His jaw clenched and he suddenly busied himself with controls that didn't especially need attention.
Kathryn was disturbed by the possibility that she had completely misjudged both Tom Paris and his father. The conversation had taken far too serious a turn and this was neither the time or the place for a deep discussion. "So tell me, in your voracious readings, did you ever read the Chronicles of Jack Ransom? It was my favorite series of science fiction stories."
On her bunk, B'Elanna Torres closed her eyes and tried not to think that the loneliness of Tom's childhood almost matched her own. She remembered when they had been prisoners of the Vidiians. She was solely human then and she had confided in Paris how it felt to grow up the only Klingon child in a colony of humans. She had avoided him for days after they had returned to the ship, half afraid that the experiences they had shared would have lessened his respect for her and half afraid that he would have told others about her reactions of fear and weakness in the barracks. She was relieved to find not one hint of criticism or aspersion came her way from the other crewmembers. Evidently, he hadn't told anyone. Not even Chakotay.
When they had met, Paris had treated her no differently than before. He was friendly and polite, but even her most careful scrutiny of his expression couldn't detect any hint of contempt or dislike. He seemed puzzled by her intensity, but had set out to charm her into relaxing. He was very good at that.
It was strange, but somehow she had gotten the impression from the ship gossip that Paris had been a golden boy--born to Starfleet royalty and destined for greatness---until he was responsible for the deaths of three crewmen in an accident at Caldik Prime. She had heard that he had thrown away his brilliant career and all that went with it and she had envied him his opportunities and thought him insane for having let his one failure ruin everything.
She also wondered about that accident. She had seen his skill and ability as a pilot. She found it hard to believe any accident could have been totally his responsibility.
Perhaps there was more to this man than she'd thought. He was more than a shallow playboy. He had shown her that in the mines when he tried his best to encourage her to be brave and hold on--when it was suicide to antagonize their captors, yet he had intervened to try to save Durst. When he had protected her and tried to shield her from the Vidiian guards. Maybe she owed him something. Maybe ship gossips didn't know what they were talking about.
They were two hours into their journey and preparing to enter the asteroid belt that lay between the shuttle and its destination when they received a message from Voyager. Chakotay and Neelix were evidently in the captain's ready room. The fact that Chakotay thought the message required privacy immediately warned Janeway that whatever they had to say, she probably wouldn't like it. "Yes, Commander?"
"Mr. Neelix says he didn't finish briefing you on dealing with the Crasus miners."
Janeway tried to hide her reluctance to ask. Her literary discussion with Tom, the give and take and exchange of ideas concerning stories they'd both read had relaxed her as well as entertained her. He was very well read and had tried to convert her to reading novels about the 19th century American West by an author named Louis L'Amour. She didn't want to deal with another issue right now. "Is there a problem?"
Neelix looked nervously at her image on the viewscreen. "Well, that is to say—not a problem—more of a dilemma—or possibly you could say--"
"What is it, Mr. Neelix?" The captain said with great restraint.
"Captain, I didn't know you were going to rush off so quickly—I went to check on the dinner menu –--didn't finish telling you--"
"Tell her, Neelix!" Chakotay said firmly.
"Commander Chakotay thinks this is serious, but really it's just a matter of being careful—it's not likely—at least Tom—Lt. Paris, that is –or possibly--"
"Get to the point!" Janeway snapped. "We're at the edge of the asteroid field and holding position for this message. That means we're less than an hour from our destination. If there's a problem, I want to have time to address it."
Torres and Medor were seated behind Paris and Janeway, listening attentively. Paris glanced from the captain to Neelix's worried image and hoped whatever it was could be dealt with. He was not optimistic based on Chakotay's expression.
"The Crasus miners are—the best way to describe them is—that is to say--" Neelix couldn't seem to bring himself to come out with it. Paris felt sorry for the little guy.
Chakotay's patience was exhausted. "What Mr. Neelix is trying to say is that the Crasus mining settlement is a frontier colony. There is very little if any local government for you to negotiate with—and in addition to that slight obstacle—the Crasun culture includes the use of slaves."
Slavery? One of the main issues that would keep a species from joining the Federation, it was considered an absolute barrier to trade of any sort with Federation Member Planets—officially that is. "Are you trying to tell me they will attempt to enslave us?" Janeway inquired.
"Oh, no!" Neelix protested. " That's not it at all! Actually, it's not exactly slavery--it's more like indentured servitude. And that's usually a problem when negotiations—It's just that the negotiations will need to be—you will need to make sure that the negotiations are handled—Captain, remember, this is their policy--"
"Tom will have to do the negotiating or at least be responsible for making sure the terms of the agreement are carried out," Neelix blurted. "I'm sorry, captain, but there it is."
"There what is? What do you mean?"
Chakotay intervened since it was obvious Neelix didn't know how to reply. "Captain, Mr. Neelix is trying to tell you that on Crasus, women are not—most women do not have rights to property or to conduct business. Those who do must have a—a man or group of men to act for them. This frontier society of theirs is based on a dueling system. Men have a code of honor that allows them to function in business."
"What do you mean a dueling system?" Paris inquired. "Swords or pistols?"
Janeway knew he was thinking of the book he'd been reading. "At ease, D'Artagnan. Commander, could you be a little more specific?"
Now that the bad news was out, Neelix had regained his composure. "Since they have no legal system as such, the contracts are negotiated on a—what you might call a 'word of honor' system. If there is a conflict, there is a duel. Using energy weapons like your phasers or—or more commonly, knives."
"That's barbaric!" exploded Medor, who immediately looked an apology to the captain for the outburst.
"Well, yes," Neelix agreed. "They might agree to negotiate with you, captain. But according to their customs, a knife is a weapon of honor. Using an energy weapon is admitting to weakness. It would be easier to let Tom handle the business—failing that you should make it clear that he is your—protector."
"Why do I need a protector?" Janeway demanded.
"They don't fight duels with women." Chakotay was wearing his most impenetrable expression. "That means they can't make deals with women. If a woman failed to keep her part of the bargain, they would have no recourse to settle the issue. The women evidently don't share the code of honor or resort to violence."
"They've evidently never met Klingon women," Torres muttered. Paris smothered a laugh and covered it with a cough.
"If you like, I can download the protocols for dueling on Crasus," Neelix offered.
"Please do," the captain said shortly. She monitored the reception of the data with half her attention. "Now what is this about indentured servitude?"
"Since women are considered property, they are confiscated if there is dishonest dealing in a bargain. Captain, if you would like to abort the mission, I could--" Chakotay began.
Janeway thought for a moment. "No. I don't want to waste the time. I don't foresee any need to fight a duel. We will be dealing with these people honestly. What do you think, Mr. Paris?"
"Yes, ma'am, I'm willing to try it." His face showed no more than polite agreement. He hadn't planned on taking responsibility for the landing party, but he appreciated her asking his opinion. He would do his best not to disappoint her.
Neelix couldn't conceal his concern for his friend. "Tom, have you ever fought with a knife? That's the preferred weapon."
Tom's expression was almost as unreadable as Chakotay's. "Yes. It's not my favorite sport—but I have a passing acquaintance with the technique." His tone was casually confident.
Medor and Torres exchanged glances. They were both surprised to hear it. Tom didn't seem the sort of man to fight with a brutal weapon such as a knife. He was always so friendly and easy-going it was hard to remember that his life had not always been so smooth.
Neelix nodded. Since he and Tom had become friends, he seemed to take it for granted that Paris could do anything. "Oh, one more thing--" he added. "Your uniforms—while certainly attractive—are not really appropriate. I included dressing customs in the computer download."
"Can the replicator on the shuttle handle creating costumes?" Medor asked.
Torres nodded. "If it's not too complicated. This is a long-range shuttle. That's why there are bathing and dressing facilities."
"Good luck, Captain—Mr. Paris," Chakotay concluded.
"Janeway out." Janeway turned to look at Torres. "B'Elanna, would you upload the information on costumes and start programming the replicator?" As Torres moved, the captain spoke to Paris. "Tom, when we're through the asteroid belt, put us in a parking orbit out of reach of planetary sensors and we'll take some time to study the information Mr. Neelix has sent us."
"Yes, ma'am. Ready to enter the asteroid belt. Shields at full intensity." As always, when faced with a piloting challenge, all of Tom's energy and concentration seemed on his task. His face lit up as he started weaving a course through the treacherous obstacles.
Medor, having nothing else to do, watched the viewscreen and tried to hold her breath so she wouldn't let out distracting moans or squeals as the shuttle squeaked through what seemed to be the tiniest spaces between the asteroids, both large and small.
Janeway watched with an appreciative eye as Paris found the most inconspicuous openings and dodged the constantly moving obstructions. Gifted pilots had a good sense of the shape and size of their craft and could judge distances to a millimeter. Tom was a very proficient pilot. She had never had the time to sit back and watch him work--usually when he was doing his best work, she was too busy with other problems to pay attention. She was a competent pilot. She could have flown the shuttle and avoided damage--perhaps--but she couldn't match the speed and intuitiveness with which Paris reacted. It was almost as if he were seeing the shuttle and the path it needed to take from an exterior view and reacting as if the shuttle was an extension of his body.
Tom was exhilarated. This was the kind of challenge he liked best. He wasn't worried or tense because he knew he was good. Piloting was the one thing he was absolutely sure he was born to do. In the back of his mind, he could hear Medor's gasps and it amused him. He knew Torres wasn't concerned. She wasn't even paying attention, except to growl under her breath if a swerve was too sudden for the inertial dampers to completely handle and threw her off balance. Admit it, Tom, he told himself, you're showing off for Captain Janeway--and for Torres. He grinned at the thought. They were an appreciative audience.
Janeway noticed, "Something funny, Tom?"
"Just enjoying life, Captain," he responded, flashing a broad, genuine smile in her direction. "Just enjoying being alive!"
Janeway smiled back at him. It was irresistible.
Tom set the shuttle down about one hundred yards from the nearest building in a large clearing surrounded by large boulders which provided a degree of protection from the prevailing wind that stirred the dust. The settlement was not particularly attractive. It was colorless, worn, and weather-beaten. The buildings were sparse and scattered with a basic, utilitarian look that omitted all consideration of aesthetics. They had spent some time surveying the minerals in the area and deciding what they needed to purchase. The costumes had also been replicated.
Lt. Torres was making a last minute adjustment to her apparel. "Are these people crazy? No one dresses like this!" She tugged at the strap that was wrapped around her throat. She noticed Paris grinning at her and snarled, "What are you gawking at?"
He stepped toward her and gently inserted his finger between the wide silky scarf and her neck and tugged on it till the ends fell down forming a sort of necktie. "Like this. It's supposed to drape down between—down on your chest." He bit his lip to stop the smile, but Torres noticed and slapped his arm away.
She was never sure whether he was inviting her to laugh with him or laughing at her. All she knew was that this blouse was awfully low-cut for such a windy climate. 'And if you have a revealing neckline, why have a scarf conceal it?' She wasn't aware she'd muttered her thoughts aloud. Until Paris answered her.
"It's the mystery---you know, the tease?" Paris' comment was met with a blank stare. "I guess you don't know. Too bad. You'd be uncommonly good at it. And by the way, you look great in red!" He waggled his eyebrows at her. She wondered if he had lost his mind.
Janeway emerged from the dressing room, tugging at the waistline of the long green skirt. She seemed to have had no trouble with the blouse or scarf. She eyed B'Elanna, gave a nod of approval then turned her attention to Paris. She raised her eyebrows. "You look right at home in that—outfit, Lieutenant." Janeway adjusted her belt so the knife was on her right side. She hoped she wouldn't need it.
"Till I was eight years old, I wanted to be a cowboy when I grew up, ma'am," Paris drawled. "Too bad they don't have horses." He was dressed in tight-fitting trousers made of a sturdy black material and a long-sleeved light blue shirt with dark blue vertical stripes on the sleeves. There was a belt around his hips that held a holster and a very large, wicked-looking knife with a curved blade about eight inches long. "Captain, do you think I should go scout around first? Just to see what's where and who's who?
"I don't think that's necessary, Tom."
"What's a horse?" Torres asked Medor suspiciously.
"A quadruped used for transportation purposes," Medor replied, absent-mindedly. She was primping and fussing with her white blouse and skirt. She hadn't even been able to tie her scarf properly. "Lieutenant? How do you do this?" She opened her gray eyes wide and shot a silent plea for help in Paris' direction. He stepped in front of her, took the ends of the scarf and began to tie a proper knot. "This is my first away team mission you know," she confided in him, trying to catch his eyes with her own.
As he adjusted Medor's bandanna, Paris commented, "My mother would have loved this. She was an historian, you know. This is like stepping back in time." He picked up the small pouch of Crasun money that Neelix had provided and slid it into his shirt pocket.
Torres looked at the pair. Medor was a tall human female with long blonde hair and gray eyes. Most people—make that most men—seemed to think she was beautiful. The costumes of this world with the floor-length skirts and low-cut blouses seemed to make Medor seem taller and even more attractive. B'Elanna wondered why Medor felt so comfortable with Tom touching her and getting close to her. Maybe they were interested in each other. They were almost the same height and coloring. Torres had never felt so short, so dark, or so unlovely.
"Are we ready to go introduce ourselves?" Janeway asked, as Paris put the finishing touches on Medor's apparel, not perceiving the Ensign's flirtatious manner--or ignoring it.
"We might as well. Then we can get back into uniform." Torres scowled fiercely.
"B'Elanna, this could be fun! You wear your uniform all the time," Paris said, trying to get a smile from the chief engineer. "It's an adventure. Besides, how often do I get to escort three gorgeous ladies?"
Medor pretended to blush, stifled a giggle, and ran her hands down her white skirt to flatten it against her shapely body. Janeway nodded graciously in acknowledgment of the compliment. Torres just looked at him skeptically. "Right."
Paris gave up on her and offered his arm to the captain. "Any further instructions?"
"We'll keep our phasers in our skirt pockets. But we don't want to use them if we can avoid it. If we need to look threatening, use the knives." Kathryn gathered the three of them with a look. "Keep your eyes open. Stay together. I'll do the talking. Tom, try to look menacing."
Tom scowled exaggeratedly, sticking his lower teeth out over his upper lip, trying his best to twist his boyish features into a grimace suitable for a Nausicaan bodyguard.
"Don't over do it," Janeway remarked dryly. "You might hurt yourself."
The only place that showed signs of activity was the large dilapidated two-story building on the far side of the clearing. There were sounds of music—of a sort—and conversation.
"That looks like a good place to start," Janeway said. Medor and Torres were behind Paris and Janeway, unobtrusively scanning with their tricorders which they planned to quickly slip into the pockets of their skirts.
Torres almost tripped over her long red skirt, but caught herself. She kicked the skirt aside. "How do they walk in these things?"
Medor looked down at least five inches at the chief engineer. "Yours must not fit properly. I'm not having any trouble." She widened her eyes and smiled at Paris as he turned his head to check on them in response to Torres' comment.
Torres stifled her immediate response to that remark, then choked out, "Some people don't have legs like a Tarellian giraffe!" Her hand went to the knife at her waist reflexively.
Medor started to get huffy but changed her mind as the captain turned. "Ladies, if you don't mind--" Janeway said quellingly and waited till the pair subsided. She and Tom faced the front and they stepped up onto the wooden porch. The doors were standing open so they moved into the building. The moment they set foot inside every noise and motion ceased. All eyes turned to inspect the newcomers.
The Crasun miners were a rough looking lot. They were big and burly humanoids similar in appearance to humans except that their ears were much smaller and set further back on their heads. Their coloring was much lighter than most humans--almost albino. For once, Paris wasn't the fairest person in the room. There were at least twenty males in the room---and only four females--three of whom had come in with Tom. The other female was a haggard-looking, skinny barmaid who was fending off the embraces of the men at the bar as she served the drinks. From the way the miners were inspecting the crewmen from Voyager, it had been a while since they had seen attractive females of any species.
'Uh-oh,' Tom thought silently. 'This could get nasty real fast.' He had been in places like this before and had an idea of what to expect. He slid a quick look at Janeway.
The captain didn't look intimidated but she didn't look thrilled with the situation either. She met his glance and with a glance nonverbally gave him the go-ahead to make the first move to break the silence. Her good judgment moved her up another notch in Paris' estimation.
Tom put on his brightest, friendliest smile, slid a large denomination coin out of his pocket and tossed it to the barmaid. "Evening, friends. Can I buy you all a drink?"
The concept of free drinks was evidently universal. Several of the more inebriated miners let go with what Tom took to be a cheer. The three men at the center table just kept looking the group over. Paris could tell by the reaction of the crowd that these three were the ones to be wary of. Though the others were dressed more or less like Tom, these three were dressed in dark green coveralls of some kind, like a uniform and were all armed with knives and hand weapons. Paris saw a signal pass between two of them. The heavyset man with greasy gray-green hair came to stand three feet in front of the group, licking his lips as he eyed the newcomers. "You know, it don't seem fair."
"What's that, friend?" Paris' smile was still there, but it no longer looked as amiable. Janeway felt the muscles in his arm tighten under her hand and unobtrusively released her hold on his forearm. She took a half step away from the lieutenant to give him room in case he needed it and slipped her hand into the pocket of her skirt to reassure herself her phaser was still there and ready. She turned slightly so that she could watch the men on Paris' right. She was counting on Torres and Medor to watch the left.
The greasy man gestured widely, including the whole room, "That you get three women--and we don't have none!" He stared at Tom, waiting for his response.
Medor was holding her breath and made a move as if to get closer to Paris for protection. Torres grabbed her wrist and restrained her. "Watch out for someone coming up behind us," she whispered. Medor paled, but nodded and turned her head slightly so she could see the entrance.
Tom looked the man straight in the eye. "That's my luck, friend. Sorry yours is so bad. Feel free to look—they like to be admired—but don't touch."
"And if I do?" the man stretched out an arm toward the woman closest to him—Torres—never taking his eyes off Paris.
Paris gave a careless shrug. "If I don't kill you—one of my ladies will do it for me." His hands had casually dropped onto the weapons on his belt. "I'll be kind to strangers and give you a warning, friend. They're pretty—but they're mean! And they don't bother to fight by any rules. No rules at all."
No one moved or spoke for at least five seconds. The greasy man suddenly roared with laughter, doubling over and slapping his knees. Everyone in the room joined in the merriment except Tom and his group. Medor sighed with relief and looked with a smile at Torres, glad the situation wasn't going to turn violent. She lost her smile very quickly when she saw the chief engineer's expression. She was still watching the by-play between the greasy man and Tom Paris as if nothing had changed. The Maquis had been in places like this before as well.
As the man straightened from laughing, he abruptly threw a punch that should have made a considerable dent in Lt. Paris' skull—except he wasn't there. Paris sidestepped and ducked, grabbed a chair and brought it crashing down on his opponent's back. The greasy man fell to the floor and stayed there. Janeway and Torres had their knives out and faced in opposite directions to cover both sides of the room. They were holding them as if they knew how to use them. Paris coolly placed one boot on the man's posterior and surveyed the room as he drew his own blade. "Anyone else want trouble? Or can we talk about a purchase?"
The other two men from the center table stood up. The bigger one spoke, "I'm Hadean. I run things here. Take a seat and state your business." His companion followed him as he came toward the group. They stepped over the man on the floor without a glance.
Paris replaced his dagger in its sheath and gestured the captain toward a table in the corner of the room. She nodded as she met his eyes. She was going to let him handle this. With Medor in the corner and Janeway and Torres on either side, Paris turned the chair to face out toward the room confident that his back was protected. He didn't want to lose concentration for a moment. It could be dangerous.
Hadean drew up a chair facing Paris. His companion stood slightly to his rear and beside him. It was the position a bodyguard would take.
The barmaid came over and brought a tray of drinks and set them on the table in front of Torres. Without waiting for instructions, the chief engineer slipped a hand over Tom's shoulder, reached in his shirt pocket for another coin of local currency, and handed it to the barmaid. B'Elanna picked up a glass and slipped it into Tom's left hand, leaving his right hand free to stay on the handle of his knife.
Paris didn't take his eyes off Hadean. "It's an interesting place you have here."
Hadean had been watching Torres' actions. "You're careful. And you have 'em well trained."
Paris smiled insincerely. "A man lives longer that way." He held the drink but didn't taste it. He didn't want to get distracted yet. 'Damn,' he thought, 'Torres is good at this!'
Hadean took a sip from his drink. "What can we do for you?"
Paris looked at Janeway nonchalantly. "Tell the man what we need, Cap--Kathryn." The slip was almost unnoticeable.
She looked at Hadean calmly. "We want to purchase some of your palakin ore. About five hundred kilos."
"That could be arranged. Our fee is eight bars of claudium. Per hundred."
"That's too much." Janeway stated flatly.
Hadean sneered. "That's too bad. I guess you don't really want it."
"Of course, we really want it!" Torres exclaimed impatiently. She was immediately sorry she had drawn their attention back to herself.
Hadean and his bodyguard stared at her, eyeing her forehead and her body. "She has a big mouth on her, don't she, boy? What's the matter with her head? Somebody been trying to pound sense into it?"
Paris felt his jaw tighten as he struggled not to lose his temper. "Nothing is wrong with her. Get back to the subject. We'll give you five bars of claudium per hundred." That was what Neelix had considered a generous offer.
Hadean hadn't take his eyes off Torres. "Tell you what, we'll make it five—if you throw this one into the deal."
"No." Paris said it flatly, leaving no room for argument.
"C'mon. Jogurl was right. You have three. We don't have any—none like these any how," Hadean said, his expression was easily read as he eyed the women. "It don't have to be that one—if she's your pet. I'll take the blonde or this one--" He grabbed Janeway's left wrist in a tight grip and tried to pull her toward him. "Be friendly."
She resisted. Her other hand was ready to fire her phaser if absolutely necessary, but she wasn't sure what chain reaction of violence that might set off—and they were outnumbered.
Tom's left hand locked onto Hadean's forearm. "Let her go," he snarled, "and I might let you keep this arm."
Hadean stiffened but didn't move. He sneered, "You've forgotten Wakar." His head jerked back to indicate the bodyguard.
Tom's smile had never looked more feral. His blue eyes held a hard glitter. "I haven't forgotten anyone." He glanced down between their bodies.
Hadean followed his eyes. Tom's knife was poised about two inches from his abdomen. He was fast. Hadean had never even seem him get it out. He slid a look at Wakar. The little brunette was standing on tiptoe and had a knife under Wakar's chin. She looked like she would use it—and enjoy doing it.
Hadean slowly and carefully released Janeway's arm and leaned back in his chair, careful to make no move that could be interpreted as a threat. "Boy, to look at you I thought you was just a kid—but you're mean! I like that. I really do. Maybe we can do business."
"There's a saying where I come from—looks can be deceiving." Tom held the knife in his hand and hefted it. He wasn't ready to put it away. "B'Elanna!" He didn't take his eyes off Hadean, but he extended his free hand toward her.
Torres understood the dynamics of the situation. Eyes fixed on the bodyguard, she slid the knife back into the sheath on the waist band of her skirt, took Tom's hand and allowed him to guide her back to her seat.
"Are we through playing games?" Janeway asked, her voice cool and controlled. "Now can we talk business?"
"Damn, mister. They all belong to you?" Wakar growled. He sounded envious.
"They think I belong to them," the lieutenant said. He was beginning to enjoy this.
"You're a rich man," Hadean said.
Paris nodded slowly, a genuine smile creeping back into his eyes.
Two hours and several drinks later, the away team concluded the negotiations and made their way back to the shuttle. The instant the door sealed shut behind them, all four took a deep breath of relief. Medor leaned on the back of the copilot's seat. "I think I'm exhausted. That was the most –I've never in my life seen--"
"You've led a sheltered life," Paris stated smoothly. "How's your arm, Captain? Are you hurt? I'm sorry I didn't prevent his grabbing you. I had to put down my drink to have my hand free. That slowed my reaction time."
"I may have a bruise or two in the morning, but I'm fine." Janeway leant against the wall next to the door to the aft compartment. "You did an excellent job, Mr. Paris."
"Except for 'Cap--Kathryn'!" Torres said, doing a fine impression of Paris.
Janeway smiled. "I thought he covered it very well. They can think my name is CapKathryn for all I care. Tomorrow, we can pick up the ore and rendezvous with Voyager as planned. I am sorry, Mr. Paris. Next time I'll be more thorough in questioning Neelix before undertaking a routine away mission. I hadn't realized I was putting you at risk--putting us all at risk. And Neelix will understand the importance of telling us everything we need to know—even if dinner burns."
Tom stretched his arms high and wide above his head then rolled his shoulders as he tried to get the kinks out. "I'm just glad we didn't actually have to fight them. A show of strength was enough. They were testing the limits. But still, I don't think it would be a good idea to test them too far. We don't know how long they've been without—uh, female companionship—and that tends to make men—uh—unmanageable. So it might be better if we all stuck close to the shuttle tomorrow till the delivery is made. Any chance you three could try to look a little less attractive tomorrow? I'm afraid of a stampede."
Janeway was almost as amused at Tom's self-censorship as she was the idea of him playing the role of protective father considering his own reputation as a ladies' man. "We can certainly make an effort, Mr. Paris. Well, we might as well get a good night's sleep. There is one slight problem. There are only two bunks--" She paused to let that sink in. It didn't take long.
Tom's instant response was, "I'll sleep in the pilot's chair, Captain. I can sleep almost anywhere after--" He let the rest of that thought die unspoken.
Lt. Torres cut in and pulled rank before the ensign could volunteer to give up the bunk or say something stupid about not understanding what Paris meant. "Captain, you and Medor take the bunks. I can sleep in a chair. I've slept in worse places."
"Really?" Medor drawled, upset that she wouldn't have the chance to share the front cabin with Paris. She'd planned to get to know him better. A lot better.
Torres spun to confront Medor, but Janeway had already interceded, taking the ensign's arm and pushing her gently toward the aft cabin. "I hope you sleep well," the captain said. "Good night."
The perimeter alarm was set. No one could approach the shuttle without a warning being heard. The door locks were engaged. No one could get in. There was no reason for Torres to be awake and nervous. Except that she was locked into a small space. And she could hear Tom Paris breathing. She fidgeted again trying to find a comfortable position in the reclining chair.
"B'Elanna?" Tom's voice came softly out of the dark.
"Can't you sleep?" Tom sounded as if he were half asleep already.
"No. If I could sleep, I wouldn't be having this conversation with you," she snapped. She immediately felt remorseful for taking her restlessness out on Tom. He hadn't done anything to annoy her---at least not lately--not in the last half hour. She almost had an apology ready when she heard him laughing quietly. If she had snapped like that at Harry, he would have been apologizing to her for upsetting her. Tom just laughed or smiled or changed the subject when she was rude to him. He was laughing at her? "What are you laughing at, Paris?"
"You." Tom continued to chuckle. "You're quick with a quip."
She thought he was being sarcastic. "Yeah, right."
That surprised him. "No, I mean it, Torres. You are so witty sometimes. I enjoy being with someone who can play with words and have a snappy comeback."
"You like me to argue with you?" B'Elanna wasn't sure she understood what he meant.
"It's better than getting a blank stare when I make a joke or tease someone. Some people just don't have a sense of humor." Tom yawned. He enjoyed B'Elanna's company but he'd never spent the night with her before. Obviously. And with the captain in the next room.
"I don't have a sense of humor," Torres stated flatly.
Maybe it was because they were in the dark, but Tom was sensitive to the hint of hurt that beneath her words. "Don't be silly. Of course, you do. Your sense of humor just isn't like everyone else's. Neither is mine. For that matter no one else's is like anyone else's either. It couldn't be. Or it would." He paused. "Did that make sense?"
Torres could feel a smile trying to appear. "No. It doesn't make sense. I think you're too tired to make sense. Go to sleep."
"By the way, thanks for taking care of the bodyguard."
"What did you think I would do?" Torres growled. "Just sit there?"
Tom smiled sleepily in her direction, but she didn't see it. "No. I thought you would take care of him. That's why I didn't bother. It's nice to have someone you can count on. You know, predictable? Dependable? Reliable? Trustworthy?" He was trying to get a rise out of her, but she knew it and refused to bite.
"Go to sleep, Paris!" she ordered, but she was pleased she had lived up to his expectations.
Tom yawned again. "I will if you will."
"Will you or won't you?"
"Fire at will!" Torres caroled in a whisper.
"Which one's Will?" Paris rejoined, enjoying the silliness.
Torres had to put her fist in her mouth to stifle her sudden fit of laughter.
They were awakened by an incoming signal. "Voyager to away team." Only half-awake, Paris slapped at the console to activate the viewscreen as a reflex. He found himself looking at Chakotay, who was looking at---Paris and Torres, obviously sleeping side by side in the pilot and copilot seats.
Torres was just getting her eyes open. "Good morning, Chakotay." She seemed drowsy and relaxed.
"Good morning. May I speak to the captain?" The First Officer looked concerned.
Paris drew his fingers through his hair in a combing motion. "I think she's still asleep." He noticed Chakotay's look. "There are only two bunks," he reminded the First Officer innocently.
Torres tossed him a frown at the apparent non sequitur and stood up. "I'll get the captain."
As soon as she was out of earshot, Paris leaned toward the viewscreen and in a quiet, urgent voice said, "Listen, Commander, this is more of a problem than we knew. Neelix' information was out of date. They don't have women in this settlement—or if they do we haven't seen them. Let me tell you, these guys are not real happy that I'm so selfish and won't share, if you know what I mean." Chakotay nodded grimly. He cast a look over Tom's shoulder. Paris got the hint and quickly changed the subject and let his voice rise to normal tones, "So we should be ready to rendezvous with Voyager at 1400 hours today—if all goes as planned."
Janeway eased herself into the seat B'Elanna had vacated. "Commander, has Mr. Paris given you a full report?"
"More of a summary, Captain," Chakotay said calmly. "But I would like to hear a full report."
Janeway threw a sideways glance at Paris, who was endeavoring to look both virtuous and alert. He was having luck with one, but not the other. "Yes, I'm sure." She reached up to tuck a stray sprig of hair back into place. As she did, her forearm crossed the viewer and caught Tom's attention at the same time. There was a large bruise encircling her wrist, already a bluish purple shade shockingly colorful on her fair skin.
"Captain!" Tom exclaimed, grasping her hand and pulling her arm toward him gently so he could scrutinize it over. "I knew I should have looked at this last night. Medor! Torres!" he called over his shoulder, "one of you bring me the medikit."
"Captain?" Chakotay could ask more questions with one word than some people could with a thesaurus.
Janeway was patiently submitting to Tom's concerned appraisal, but smiled in Chakotay's direction. "I'm fine. It's just a bruise. If Tom hadn't acted quickly, it might have been worse. This is a rather dangerous situation, Chakotay. I gather Mr. Paris informed you."
Medor handed the medikit to Tom. He opened it with one hand and pulled out the diagnostic tricorder. He activated it and scanned Janeway's arm. "It is just a bruise. No serious damage," Tom concluded with a sigh of relief. He started ministering to it right away.
Chakotay nodded. "We can be there in three hours if we increase speed, Captain."
Janeway considered the relative merits of the situation, then nodded. "If you can do it safely, Commander. I would appreciate getting out of here. I don't particularly enjoy being drooled over as if I were a t-boned steak—or a real cup of coffee," she ruefully threw in a reference to her own fantasy treat.
Paris was finishing the treatment on her arm and couldn't resist the opening. "Now I would have said these guys thought you were prime rib."
Janeway stared at him.
"You know—like Adam's rib."
Without cracking a smile, Janeway told him, "I got the joke, Mr. Paris. I just think it's awful." She turned back to finish her discussion with Commander Chakotay.
Paris shrugged, leaned back and closed his eyes. Maybe he could catch a little nap.
There were things to be done before delivery was made. The ore was to be brought to the shuttle in wheeled carts. This necessitated clearing a path wide enough for them to gain access to their location. Tom Paris was working on removing several large heavy rocks using a lever, since the captain had nixed his half-joking idea about blasting the stones into dust with the phasers. The morning sun was partially obscured behind the clouds, but that didn't lessen the heat or the humidity as he worked so he had taken off his shirt and thrown it over one of the larger boulders near the path he was creating.
B'Elanna came down the path he had created so far and went to lend a hand. She grabbed hold of the lever behind Tom and pushed down in concert with him. Tom, unprepared for the added strength and the resultant sudden success, stumbled as the rock he was working on unexpectedly loosened and rolled down the slope. He lurched back, dropping the lever, and hastily caught Torres around the waist as she lost her balance and pulled her upright again. "Whoa! Sorry." He couldn't help noticing she was a nice armful. He wasn't in a rush to let her go.
B'Elanna put her hands on his bare chest to push him away. "Stay on your own feet, not mine, Paris." She backed away self-consciously as he bent to pick up the lever and moved to the next obstacle.
He tossed a smile in her direction. "Thanks for the help. I forget sometimes how strong you are."
"Why? You know I'm half Klingon." She sounded irritable.
He shrugged carelessly. "I don't know. Maybe because you're---Never mind."
Tom shook his head. "No. Just this once I'm going to keep my mouth shut and not make you mad at me."
"Too late," Torres muttered.
Tom looked at her and raised his eyebrows. "Really?"
Torres, slightly embarrassed by her reaction, shook her head. "No. But finish what you were going to say. Why do you forget I'm strong?"
"Oh," Paris began laconically, "probably because you don't look it." Torres was frowning again. "You're small and--and shapely. Not muscle-bound. You're just not my idea of a --strong, muscular--you know what I mean," he finished lamely.
He thought she was shapely? That was nice to know. Paris had the reputation of being a connoisseur of female pulchritude. There were several compliments in that little speech, but Torres wasn't sure if or how she should respond. She wasn't good at flirtation. That was Paris' specialty.
"Do you need my help?" she asked. She was watching the ripple of the muscles in his back and shoulders as he moved the lever into position under the next rock. He was stronger than his long slim build would suggest.
The lieutenant surveyed his handiwork. "Naw. This is the last one. I think—I've got—it!" He heaved once more and watched the last rock tumble down the slope and stop with a thud against a tree.
"You'd better put your shirt back on," Torres mumbled, "you're turning pink." Not that she really thought he needed to wear a shirt. 'He's more muscular and defined than he looks with his clothes on--with his shirt on!' she corrected herself mentally. 'Captain, I'd like to suggest a new policy to help crew morale. All crewmen should refrain from wearing shirts. It would certainly help my morale.' Torres gave herself a little slap on the cheek and dragged her eyes away from Tom's body to gaze down the newly cleared path pretending she was looking for something.
Paris raised his eyebrows at her actions, but didn't comment. He picked up the blue shirt and shook the dust out then wiped his forehead with the back of his wrist. His skin was starting to have a slight tinge of a rosy glow. "I think I'll wait till I get a shower. And clean these clothes. That will help with the sunburn--and the sweat." He started back the now cleared path to the shuttle about 20 yards away. Torres followed him appreciatively eyeing the fit of his tight trousers.
Medor came running down the path to meet them. She had been investigating the rock formations around the clearing. "Lieutenant! Something bit me!" She sounded frantic.
Torres was positive she was not being addressed. She was right.
Medor rushed straight up to Paris and extended her arm for his inspection. He took her arm and looked at the reddish spot evident just above her elbow with concern. "Did you see what it was?"
"Some kind of arthropod," Medor whimpered. "It stings." She seemed to be weak. She was leaning on Paris as if seeking support for her faltering steps, her uninjured arm going around his waist, the other hand resting on the red gold dusting of hair on his chest.
As she crumpled toward him, he put his other arm around her and started walking again. "Come on, let's get back to the shuttle. We'll need the medikit." As she leaned on him, he seemed to be half-carrying her, keeping her injured arm elevated in front of them.
Torres clamped her jaws shut to prevent any possibility of words escaping. Her thoughts however were roiling and red-hot. 'She has a minor injury to her arm—and now she can't walk! And why the devil didn't she go to the shuttle in the first place! Captain Janeway knows how to use a medikit! Paris, how can you be so gullible! Men!' She couldn't believe she was so furious over something so laughable. Medor was so transparent. She was running her hands all over Paris' body—and loving every minute of it. And Paris wasn't objecting either!
It didn't occur to Torres that Tom really wasn't paying much attention to Medor's actions because he was focused on the injury and its possible effects if it were poisonous.
The captain heard them coming and left her work testing mineral samples in the cargo hold to meet them at the door. Both eyebrows went up and she began to look concerned as she saw Ensign Medor and Lieutenant Paris. "What's happened?"
"A bite of some kind," Paris replied, as he deposited Medor in the aft seat and grabbed the medikit.
Medor was biting her lip and gazing worshipfully at the lieutenant as he got the needed equipment and began to diagnose and treat her arm. He was totally centered on his patient and the injury. Janeway and Torres exchanged looks over Tom's head.
The captain seemed entertained by, but dismayed at the lengths the ensign would go to in order to get Tom's attention. Torres was not amused. That fact amused Janeway even more and what really topped off her desire to laugh was Tom's apparent obliviousness to Medor's interest in him. Whether that obliviousness was a deliberate choice or out of a genuine lack of awareness or interest, Janeway couldn't be sure. She could be sure, however, that B'Elanna Torres was not going to be able to contain her contempt and dislike of the ensign's methods for more than a minute or two. "Tom, I'll take care of that. You go shower and change. It's almost time for the delivery."
As Tom stood, Janeway moved into his position, kneeling next to Medor's chair and took over. She had to bite her lip furiously to keep from laughing at the disappointed expression on Medor's face. The ensign must have hoped that the captain and Torres would find something to do elsewhere while Tom played doctor for her.
"Right, captain." Tom entered the aft cabin.
"B'Elanna, could you keep watch for the Crasus miners? We wouldn't want them to come up on us unexpectedly." Janeway didn't dare meet the engineer's gaze or she would burst out laughing and precipitate the scene she was trying to avoid.
Torres didn't mention that the perimeter alert sensors were still in place. She just went outside and paced furiously, trying to get her temper back under control.
Having gotten control of her sense of humor, Janeway decided to give the ensign a gentle hint. "Ensign Medor?"
"Yes, captain?" It was amazing how much stronger her voice and whole manner had become the moment Paris was out of sight and earshot.
Janeway looked into her green eyes. "There is a time and place for everything. If I were you---" She had to pause to get the laughter out of her voice-- "If I were you, I would choose a better time and a better place."
Medor dropped her eyes to her lap. "Yes, captain. I'll keep that in mind."
"Voyager to Away Team," Chakotay's voice came over the comm badges.
Janeway slapped the badge she had pinned under the collar of her costume. "Janeway here."
"We're in orbit, Captain, and ready to receive the ore on your order."
"Thank you, Commander. I'm glad we won't have to wait for your arrival. The Crasuns are just approaching. We'll notify you when the transaction is completed. Janeway out." She went out to stand near the top of the path and watch the miners' progress in hauling the carts up the steep path.
Ten minutes later Paris came out of the shuttle, clean and dressed in his freshly cleansed costume. He tossed a mock salute at the captain, then located Medor sitting on a rock near the path and went to check on his erstwhile patient. "Are you feeling better?"
"Yes, thank you, lieutenant." She seemed discomfited by his approach and refused to look at him.
Tom gave a mental shrug. Now what could he have done that made her mad at him? Some days it didn't seem like he had to try very hard to get people ticked off at him.
Speaking of ticked off—where was B'Elanna? He spotted her pacing the perimeter of the clearing, removing the sensors that had served as their alarm system. Maybe she needed help. He went to offer.
Though busy, B'Elanna had noticed that Paris had come out and gone directly to that—that ensign. He actually found that –that kittenish behavior attractive? She sniffed, offended by his lack of good taste and concentrated on her task.
"Something wrong with the sensors?" Paris inquired, feeling she was troubled by something.
He tried again. "Do you need some help?"
"Gosh, Torres, don't talk my ears off!" Paris pleaded dramatically.
She didn't crack a smile, but at least she looked at him. "This is the last sensor, but thank you for your offer of help, Lieutenant Paris." Her tone was an almost perfect mockery of Academy etiquette, her face expressionless—or as close to it as the volatile woman ever got.
"They're almost here!" Medor called.
"Well, excuse me, Lieutenant Torres, this has been fun, but I must take a moment to get my grim demeanor in place," Paris joked as he got back into character for the final confrontation with the miners.
Torres had great difficulty in hiding her feelings which seemed to play out across her face as if projected on a viewscreen. She was intrigued with the easy way Tom Paris could change his countenance with so little effort to reflect a different persona. If he was so talented at dissembling, it would be hard to discern when he was being genuine. For some reason that thought annoyed her all over again.
With a slight adjustment to his attitude and expression, Paris suddenly seemed older, taller, sterner, and definitely more menacing. He strode over to the head of the trail, beckoning to Torres and Medor to join him. Kathryn was already there holding the case containing the payment. They took up the same positions as the night before. Janeway on his right, Torres to his left, and Medor bringing up the rear. "Let's keep our backs to the shuttle," Tom suggested. They all backed up to leave room for the carts.
"Why?" the ensign asked.
"Just in case. If things get sticky, we may need a quick getaway." Tom dropped his hands onto his weapons. No harm in being prepared for anything.
"Are you expecting trouble?" Janeway asked, watching the carts roll into the clearing.
"Didn't I tell you, captain? My motto is hope for the best, expect the worst."
Torres snickered. "That's similar to an old Klingon saying."
"On Earth, we made a song of it. Remind me to sing it for you sometime."
Hadean was approaching with his bodyguard, cutting off the rest of the chitchat. Hadean gestured to the carts full of ore. "It's all here. Would you like to weigh it?"
Widening his eyes as if surprised, Paris answered, "Of course not. I'm sure you're a man of your word." The carts were abandoned in the center of the clearing, every man staring at the ladies intently as if memorizing the appearance of each.
Hadean showed his teeth. Paris decided he would take it as a smile. "Our deal was for delivery. How do you plan to load? Your ladies? They don't look that strong."
"You might be surprised," Tom advised. "Don't worry about it. I'll get it loaded. We'll leave the carts here. You can pick them up later. Kathryn?" He had mentally reminded himself at least twenty times not to call her captain again.
Janeway took a step forward and handed the case to Wakar. She felt his eyes on her body as distinctly as if he were stroking her with his hand. She stepped back into position, trying not to shudder with distaste. She didn't like this. She was getting a bad feeling that this was not going to be a peaceful exchange. She could tell that both Paris and Torres shared her hunch. Medor just looked nervous.
"Do you want to count it?" Tom asked sardonically as Wakar opened the case to check its contents.
Hadean peered at him through narrow eyes. "Naw. I'm sure you're a man of your word." He was quoting Tom with a hint of mockery.
"Then I guess our business is concluded." Tom pretended he was going to turn to leave. In fact, he didn't move or take his eyes off Hadean and Wakar.
"Naw." Hadean moved a little closer. Wakar moved closer to Janeway. "Now we talk about fringe benefits."
Tom hoped he could bluff his way out of this. "There aren't any. I thought we settled this last night."
"Naw. We didn't settle it. We just postponed it. Now, the boys were talking about it and decided we could maybe let you keep two of the females—your choice!" Hadean stated.
"How generous of you!" Tom declared. He pretended to be considering it. He knew they probably had no intention of letting him live at all—or keep any of the women. They were just entertaining themselves. "Truly generous. Now which two should I keep? Wakar, if you had to give up one, which one would it be?" He reached up with his left hand as if scratching his chest and hit the commbadge beneath his collar. He spoke loudly enough to cover the chirping sound. "Come on, Wakar. Help me out here. If I've got to give one up, which one should it be? Medor? The tall blonde? She's the youngest and attractive. Kathryn? Beautiful and smart. B'Elanna— the little brunette—gorgeous and tough. They're all special to me. Difficult choice, guys. Just look at them. Could you choose which one? Maybe I should ask the ladies?"
Wakar and Hadean had accepted Tom's invitation and were ogling the women with who knew what fantasies running through their minds. Hadean let out a whistle. There were suddenly five more miners coming out from behind the rocks.
The Away Team was surrounded on three sides.
They tightened their semicircle, facing out with their backs toward each other to avoid sneak attacks. Hadean growled, "Don't worry. You don't have to decide. We'll choose for you. If you're still alive." He pulled out his knife.
Though outnumbered, Paris with knife in hand got set. He was prepared to go down fighting if necessary. Torres, Janeway, and Medor had their knives out and ready.
"Is there a problem?" A new voice was heard. It was Chakotay.
The miners gawked. From behind the shuttle, Chakotay, Tuvok and a squad of security men were approaching. They were carrying phaser rifles. The miners may not have known exactly what the rifles were, but they could recognized them as weapons—intimidating-looking weapons. Now the miners were outnumbered.
At a signal from Hadean, the miners threw down their knives. The security team began to round up the weapons and herded the miners back down the path toward the settlement. "Our business is finished, Hadean," Paris stated firmly. "Take your claudium and get out."
Hadean was relieved he going to be allowed to keep the payment in light of his treachery. He couldn't resist asking a question. "All you fellows came in that little ship?"
"That's our problem, not yours."
"You sure you don't want to sell or trade one of them females? You'd get a good price."
Paris almost had to admire Hadean's persistence. "I really can't," he confided. "See they don't belong just to me--we've sort of got a group thing going!" His gesture included the whole landing party.
Hadean's eyes widened as he took in the varied gathering. He left still shaking his head. Chakotay joined the away team and watched the departure of their opponents.
Paris felt a hard elbow connect with his ribs. "Ow!" He looked down into Torres' angry brown eyes.
"A group thing?" she echoed.
"Hey, I'm just giving him an explanation he can understand!" Paris protested.
Tom winced and turned to face the music. He should have known she wouldn't let it slide. "Yes, captain?" He couldn't read her expression. He hoped she wasn't ticked off at him too. That would make three strikes against him in less than an hour. It must be a natural talent.
"Would you like to explain how Commander Chakotay knew to bring a rescue party?" She had her hands on her hips. Not a good sign. Paris called that her 'captain stance'.
"Maybe you should ask Commander--"
Chakotay shook his head. A warning or a refusal? No help there.
"I'm asking you, Mr. Paris."
Tom sighed and decided to get it over with. "Before I came out of the shuttle, captain. I had a hunch they wouldn't let it—I mean let you—all of you—ladies I mean--"
"Get on with it, Mr. Paris." Janeway was tapping her foot on the ground.
"I had a hunch they wouldn't just let us leave. I thought it best to alert Commander Chakotay to have a team standing by to act if they became aggressive. I suggested he monitor my commbadge and said I would signal if we needed help. And I did. When we did—when they did. And he did. And that was that." Tom's explanation stumbled to a conclusion. He quickly added, "I'm sorry if I overstepped my authority, captain. But after all, you did appoint me your protector and like I said, better safe than sorry. Hope for the best, expect the worst. That kind of thing."
"You're just full of epigrams today, Mr. Paris." It didn't sound like a compliment. Janeway frowned at him thoughtfully. "You didn't feel a need to discuss this with me?"
Tom decided to be honest, though he was sure to get himself in hot water—more hot water. "No, ma'am. I was responsible for your safety. I acted to protect you and the landing party. I think it was the right decision."
"You didn't think I would agree?"
"I didn't want to take the chance of your disagreeing," Tom admitted. "Captain, I'm sorry. I know you and B'Elanna can take care of yourselves---"
"You were protecting Ensign Medor?" Janeway maintained her neutral tone though she was surprised.
Tom looked perplexed. "No. I don't know if she can take care of herself or not. That's why I didn't include her." He didn't understand why Janeway had mentioned the ensign or why she would think he would be especially protective of her—he hardly knew her.
"Go ahead. I shouldn't have interrupted. What was your point?"
Tom paused for a second to regain his train of thought. "Oh, yeah, I know you and Lt. Torres can take care of yourselves. So can I, but the odds--" he lifted his hands and dropped them. "I like to play the odds."
Janeway nodded. "I understand. But next time--" she wagged a finger at him threateningly.
He threw his hands up in the air in a gesture of surrender. "Of course, Captain. Never happen again." He tried the charming smile that hadn't been working too well for him lately. It actually worked this time.
Chakotay and Janeway exchanged smiles as they watched him enter the shuttle to prepare to launch. Janeway murmured, "Actually, he was right. I should have thought of that. And before you ask, my pride wouldn't have gotten in the way. I know when to ask for help."
Chakotay's eyes twinkled at her. "I never doubted that, Captain. You're a wise woman."
The cargo had been beamed up and stored. Everyone except Torres and Paris had returned to the ship via transporter. Since Voyager was in orbit, there was really no need for anyone except Paris to use the shuttle, but Torres had volunteered to fly back with him. She wanted to check out the navigational controls. She'd had an idea to improve the efficiency by seventeen percent. She had also taken the first opportunity to change back into uniform.
Paris, still wearing his costume, had just lifted off and was approaching the shuttlebay before the chief engineer spoke. "So," she said, then stopped, not sure exactly what she wanted to say or if she should say anything.
Paris gave her an inquiring look. When she didn't continue, he prompted, "So?"
"Just idle curiosity--" She started and stopped again.
Paris grinned. "You want to know which one of you I would have given to them if I had really had to choose?" For once Torres was acting typically female. She wanted to know, but she wanted him to volunteer the information.
She glowered at him fiercely. "Forget it. You don't have to tell me--"
He wasn't going to let his chance go that easily. "Ensign Medor in a split millisecond." He ostentatiously went back to overseeing the controls, though it was so routine he could have done it in his sleep. He waited, his face expressionless.
Torres was caught with her mouth open. She noticed and closed it. She had been sure he would have let them have her. Her interest in understanding his reasoning got the better of her. "Why?"
Paris' quick mind came up with at least four different responses--three of them joking. The fourth—he wasn't sure if he was ready to give her a serious answer. She would think it was out of character for him—and she might not respond favorably. He wasn't ready to risk their tentative friendship. Paris landed the ship in the shuttlebay before he answered. The delay had only served to provoke Torres. She'd decided he wasn't going to answer. As the shuttle door opened, Tom caught her arm lightly. "B'Elanna."
She paused in the doorway and looked up at him, trying to school her features into indifference. She didn't speak.
"The reason I'd give up Medor---there's only one you." If he'd left it there, he would have been better off. But his sense of humor dragged the rest out of his mouth. "And there's only one captain----but we have lots of Ensigns. We could lose a few and barely miss 'em."
Torres smacked his arm with her fist and charged out into the ship.
"Ow!" Paris groaned, half-kidding. He knew she had pulled that punch. She just hadn't pulled it enough. "B'Elanna! Hey, Torres!" He called, following her into the corridor and rubbing his upper arm. "Torres, isn't that assaulting a fellow officer? Officer of the deck! Arrest that woman!"
He started to laugh. He could almost see the steam coming out of her ears as she pushed past several gawking crewmembers into the turbolift. The other crewmembers stared speculatively at Paris, who had slid to the deck and now was rolling on the floor laughing.
The Officer of the Deck eyed him disapprovingly, shaking his head.