The Joke War

by Michelle Paquette

Part One

Tom Paris sighed. He had just finished his shift on the bridge and he was ravenous! Making his way toward the mess hall, Tom whistled softly to himself and waved a greeting or two to some friends he passed in the corridors. He arrived at the doors and was dismayed to see that a line had formed which wound its way from the serving area around the counter, and almost to where he was standing. He was about to use one of the few replicator rations in his possesion, which he had been saving for his and B'Elanna's upcoming anniversary, but he grinned and changed his mind when he spied his best friend, Harry Kim, nearing the front of the line. Quickening his pace, he grabbed a plate and some silverware and trotted over to where Harry was standing. "Hey, Harry! So how's my best pal doing?" he called out as he inobtrusively sidled into line alongside him. Kim turned around and gave Tom a mildly confused look, but then realized what he wanted. Aiding and abetting his friend, he scuttled forward to make room for Tom in line behind him. "Thanks, Harry," Tom said in an undertone and proceeded to take his place not behind, but in front of him. Harry started to protest, but then just sighed resignedly.

"So, what is this stuff?" Tom pondered aloud, while staring at the serving pots filled with lumpy brown matter.

"Well, it looks like someone regurgitated whatever it was we were forced to eat yesterday," Harry answered the rhetorical question and they both laughed. Neelix, who had on a frilly white apron over his clothing and was busy boiling more of the disgusting foodstuff to keep up with the demand, shot them a dirty look.

Tom took another peek at the entrée and cringed. The lumps were actually jiggling in the serving canisters, as if they were alive. "Someone ought to tell Neelix his food is about to get up and walk away," Tom countered, and Harry snickered.

That was the last straw for Neelix. He dropped the utensil he was using and strode up to the counter. "Do I need to send you boys to the back of the line?" he asked threateningly.

"No, sir," Harry answered for both of them, casting a sidelong glance at the smirking Tom Paris. Neelix switched his glare from Harry to Tom. "We'll be as good as gold," the latter said. "Hmph," Neelix grunted in reply and returned to his cooking. Harry let out the breath he had been holding. "Thanks a lot!" he whispered furiously. "You almost made me lose my place in line!"

"Me?" Tom asked incredulously. "You started it."

Regardless of the comments they had made, when Tom and Harry reached the front of the line, each of them scooped a generous heap of the whatever-it-was onto their empty plates. Then Harry went over to a replicator for some tomato juice while Tom poured himself a steaming cup of coffee.

Harry returned and he and Tom looked around the room for an empty table, but there were none to be had. It seemed as if every individual on Voyager was crammed into the mess hall. Then their eyes fell upon B'Elanna and Seven of Nine seated at a table by themselves. There were several PADDs scattered on the table and the two women appeared to be working on an engineering problem.

Tom and Harry walked up to their table. "May we join you?" Tom asked as he sat down beside B'Elanna.

"Sure, go ahead," she replied. "Seven and I were just discussing that pesky set of EPS conduits we've been having problems with." Harry moved a few PADDs away as he placed his tray on the table and slid in beside Seven.

They sat discussing the troublesome conduits for a few moments longer when suddenly Tom smacked his forehead with a loud SLAP. His companions looked toward him for an explanation. "Darn!" he said. "I forgot that I have a shift in Sickbay later today."

"So? What's wrong with that?" Harry asked.

"You don't spend much time with The Doctor, do you?" Tom replied with a wry grin. "He's unbearable! I know he's a hologram, but come on now! He prattles on and on about things I don't even care about, and he always has a sarcastic response for everything."

At this point in Tom's enigmatic speech, Harry just happened to glance over at Seven. He was surprised to see that she looked a bit uncomfortable, as if she was feeling offended by what Tom was saying. "Um, Tom," he started to interrupt and change the subject, but Paris had already launched into additional complaints regarding The Doctor's shortcomings.

Abrupty Seven stood up and opened her mouth to speak. Tom stopped what he was saying in mid-sentence. "I must go now," she said in a monotone. "I... I need to regenerate." Then she spun around and strode smoothly out of the room.

Tom let out a low whistle under his breath. "Boy, what's her problem?" he muttered.

Harry came to Seven's rescue. "She's friends with The Doctor, you know. Probably his best friend. You shouldn't of been talking about him like that."

"You were a little hard on him," B'Elanna agreed.

Tom threw up his hands defensively. "Okay, okay!" he contended. B'Elanna changed the subject.

A little while later Harry rose from his seat. "I'm going up for another drink," he announced, and then headed off toward a replicator whose line had thinned a bit.

As soon as Harry was out of earshot, Tom exclaimed, "Yes! Now's when the fun begins."

"What are you talking about?" B'Elanna asked.

Tom pulled out a small plastic-wrapped package from his pocket and began to unwrap it. "I replicated some bubble gum this morning, he explained. "I chewed most of it, but there's just enough left for what I have planned." he popped the pink wad into his mouth.

"You're not going to--" B'Elanna started.

"Sh!" he cut her off. "Here he comes." As discreetly as possible, he pulled the gum out of his mouth, reached with one hand beneath the table, and stuck it to Harry's seat.

"That's downright mean!" B'Elanna hissed. Tom shushed her again and grinned at the fast approaching Harry.

Just as Tom planned, Harry sat down right on the sticky gum without so much as glancing at it. Tom and B'Elanna looked at each other and burst out laughing. "What?" Harry asked defensively. "Is there something on my face?"

"Worse!" B'Elanna managed to gasp out between laughs. "Better take a look at the back of your pants," she advised.

Harry shot up with such a look of alarm on his face that Tom began to laugh even harder. He was now laughing so hard that a spurt of coffee shot straight out of his nose. By now, people seated at nearby tables had turned to stare at them. Harry turned beet red. He managed to contort his body in such a way that he could clearly see the condition of his backside. There, in distinct contrast to the blackness of his uniform, clung the sticky, rubbery mass. "Very mature," he mumbled sarcastically, and then sat back down. "There's no point in trying to get it off now," he muttered. "It will only make a bigger mess."

B'Elanna turned to Tom. "You'd better not try anything like that on me, or you'll be in Sickbay for good," she warned.

Tom, who was still being entertained by Harry's antics, sobered up his face with a look of mock horror. "Well, I'd better be a good boy then. You know how I feel about The Doctor."

Harry had more or less recovered from his embarrassment by this time. "Why don't you play one of your jokes on him instead of your best friend?" he asked sourly.

"You know," Tom said thoughtfully, "you may have a point there, Harry. I bet I could get him good, too."

"I know who could use a lightening up," a cheerful voice broke into their conversation. Tom, Harry, and B'Elanna turned their heads in unison toward the source of the voice. It was Neelix. He had been making the rounds with a pot of coffee and had just happened to hear the last part of their conversation. "Mr. Tuvok," he continued. "I can't even get that Vulcan to crack a smile."

"Hey," Tom said with a smile. "I can sense this catching on." A few nearby crewmembers were still turned toward their table with interested looks on their faces, and were obviously eavesdropping. "I never knew I'd start a craze with one little practical joke. Listen, Neelix. I'm going to think of some interesting joke items and then design schematics for the replicators. I'll tell you when I'm done so you can pick out the perfect item to use on Tuvok. Oh, and I'll take some more of that coffee."

"Thank you, Mr. Paris!" Neelix said eagerly, and refilled Tom's cup. Then he moved on to the next table.

"Shouldn't you ask the captain before you make changes to the replicators and get the whole crew involved in your schemes?" B'Elanna suggested.

"I agree with B'Elanna," Harry put in. "I'm sure Captain Janeway wouldn't approve."

Tom let out a long sigh. "There you two go again, ganging up on me."

"We just don't want to see you thrown in the brig," Harry replied with a grin. "Thirty days is a long time."

Tom rolled his eyes. "Don't remind me."

Their conversation was interrupted when B'Elanna was called over the comm. It was Seven. "I may have found a solution to our EPS conduit problem," she announced. "But I require your assistance. Meet me in Engineering."

"I thought she went to regenerate," Tom pointed out.

B'Elanna shrugged and rose from the table. "I'll see you boys later. Don't get into too much trouble, Tom." Then she left the mess hall.

"I guess I'd better be going now as well," Tom said. "My shift in Sickbay starts in a few hours but I'll need a while to prepare first."

"Prepare for what?" Harry asked. "You're not actually going to pull a prank on The Doctor, are you?"

"Of course I am!" Tom replied as if there were no other alternative. "I can't wait to see the look on his face when he sees what I have planned." He smiled with glee at the mere thought of it.

Harry shook his head. "If you're leaving now, I guess I'll go too." He wasn't quite done his meal, but didn't mind leaving the remainder.

The two of them stood up and then walked together as far as the mess hall doors, where they each turned their separate ways.

"See you later," Tom told his friend. "I'll give you a complete account of what happens."

"I can imagine. Bye!" Harry waved and then headed off toward his quarters.