"I don't understand, Tom." Ensign Harry Kim said as he escorted his recently freed friend towards the Mess Hall. "Why can't you just turn away when someone says something stupid?"
Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris grinned cheekily at his younger friend before exhibiting a puzzled look. "What good would turning away do?" He inquired airily. Kim had to take a deep breath, glaring at the older man with his usual mixed frustration and confusion. Paris's three-day confinement to quarters had just ended that morning after he and three others were found brawling in the fitness rooms.
"You wouldn't get in a fight and get in trouble!" Kim blurted out. Tom's eyes danced with amusement as he attempted a Vulcan eyebrow raise. The dark haired ensign sighed, wondering why he was trying to reveal Tom's predilection for trouble to the owner of this curse. Tom enjoyed causing trouble, or at least he refused to run from trouble.
This should not have been a problem aboard ship, but Voyager's situation was unique. Tom Paris's position about the sleek Intrepid- class ship was even stranger. Neither Starfleet nor Maquis, Paris had worked for both groups, one as an, apparently, spoiled brat who ruined his chances, the other as a mercenary pilot who, again apparently, had sold the freedom fighters out. Not even two years and many heroics could alleviate all doubters and grudges. The fact that Tom courted neither faction had helped blur the lines between the two, but had done nothing for the pilot's own place on the ship.
Tom grinned at his friend and entered the Mess Hall with the cool mask of mockery in place on his handsome face. Harry was still far too green. He had no idea of the truth of the trouble of which he was trying to warn his experienced friend. Whether or not Tom had thrown a punch or three in the last brawl, which he freely admitted to, the pilot would have ended up with the same punishment. Security had only walked in after Tom was on the floor under the three men and since it was his word against theirs, there being no witnesses, Tom had omitted explaining that his own blows had been in self-defense, with the object to escape the punches and kicks of the others. Turning his back to trouble would only have resulted in more bodily damage and still sharing his attackers' punishment.
The pilot only laughed to himself about the injustice of his multiple punishments for similar incidents. He had courted his reputation and found his dues for his bad boy persona amusing more than distressing. After all, not a soul aboard Voyager knew the truth about him at his own choice. They saw only the public history that damned him, and did not know anything about the true events behind that past.
All eyes in the Mess Hall glanced curiously at him, wondering if the fourth time would be the charm that broke the mocking, brazen pilot. He saluted them all with a cocky twist of his head and accepted Neelix's latest, questionable concoction from the Talaxian with a wry grin and a wink that the little cook did not understand.
B'lanna Torres had saved the usual breakfast table for her friends. She was more aware of the physical sides to Tom's unpopularity and had made it clear among her own staff that he was to be left alone. Perhaps she suspected there was more than she knew, but was satisfied that Paris never seemed hurt, nor inclined to make an issue out of the small annoyances that dogged his every step. Her own distaste and distrust for the pilot had changed after his actions during their shared imprisonment and enslavement at the hands of the Viddians.
Captain Kathryn Janeway cast a roguish look at her First Officer as she stood up from her seat and prepared to follow him into the briefing room. He merely gave his customary small smirk and led the way into the room as Tuvok took his seat within and the other three officers entered with smiles on their faces. The Captain glanced over each of their faces curiously, wondering how Tom was after his three-day confinement to quarters while off duty. He looked no different from usual, sardonic smirk on his face as he took his seat, ice-cold blue eyes filled with his usual look of easy awareness.
"Good Morning everyone. I trust you have completed filing your reports. Let's get started. Commander Chakotay will you start us?"
The big officer smiled at her and glanced down the table as he lifted the first of his several PADDS. He caught the mocking blue eyes of the Helmsman and frowned. Janeway followed suite. She respected her First Officer but where Tom Paris was concerned, the Commander was less than objective.
As her bridge officers gave their reports Tuvok brought forth the incident that had caused Tom's incarceration to his quarters. The Helmsman's lips twisted in a mirthless grin when Tuvok broached the subject. His eyes grew cooler, if possible, and for a moment it was difficult to believe the man in front of her seemed to find humor even in his deprecation.
Then the moment passed and she found knowing amusement twinkling in his face.
Since no one was sure why the four men had decided to fight it out, rumors ran rife. Most consisted of Tom Paris getting drunk and attacking the other three, though a good portion also suggested the other three were the tipsy ones and that Paris had actually mouthed off about their social skills, prior to the brawl. Who threw the first punch was also widely discussed, a high percentage, including the command team, was inclined to believe it was Paris.
This was discussed ship wide until another crewmember found the perils of the Delta Quadrant too much to bear and caused trouble. As Paris was on the bridge, flying the ship at the time, his indiscretions were forgotten.
"Whoa!" Paris cried his voice both surprised and delighted as the ship gave a sort of hop and all of their stomachs dropped.
"Report." Janeway cried.
For the space of two seconds, she heard the rapid beeping of her officers' consoles as they scrambled to discover the cause of the jolt. Then Paris laughed. "We've found our way into a subspace current!" He glanced over his shoulder, eyes alight with excitement.
He leaned back for a moment, hands to his sides. "We're flying along without any propulsion."
"Where does the current lead?" Janeway glared at her carefree pilot and turned to demand of the Ops station.
"It's heading straight for about 80 light years before it veers to the port. Time to current's bend about 8 minutes." Kim announced.
"Eight minutes!" Janeway's eyes lit up. "Ride it for all it's worth, Mr. Paris."
"Aye Ma'am." His eyes were still twinkling as his hands danced across the con station and the sway of this ship stilled.
"I've cut the engines; prepare to jump to warp five." Tom called.
"Warp five?" Kim's young voice was surprised.
"If we leap out of the current too slowly we'll be swept along for a bit longer than we want." Janeway explained as Tom leaned forward with his delight.
A few minutes later Janeway leaned over the display between her and Chakatoy, her forehead nearly touching her First Officers as he also inclined to one side to see the ship's course. The countdown to the plunge out of the current was down to ten seconds before they both leaned back to brace themselves. In front of them, Tom still needed to brace himself, his hands stilled across the final controls he would need. No one spoke, prepared for a terrific jolt as they stormed the current's walls.
The countdown reached zero and there was a slight sway to the ship. Janeway glanced at the display in alarm, but they had escaped the current and had cut about a month off their journey. A whoop of delight went up from all but Tuvok and the grinning pilot, who rolled his eyes roguishly and winked broadly at an excited little crewwoman manning the bridge engineering station. She laughed, for despite her petite stature, she was well accustomed to all the pilots' ways and was one of the few former Maquis who could accept Paris' overt flirting without resentment.
Once out of the current they had paused for several hours to allow Lt Torres to make sure the jump out of the current, no matter how smooth it felt, had not damaged the ship and to allow the Ship's sensors to do several long-range scans to map their position. The conn stood empty while Tom hovered near Ensign Kim's station, chatting inanely as he assisted his friend in correlating the massive amounts of incoming data. Two years had taught Janeway that Tom's chatter concealed his actual work and she let the chatter go on. His friend always bolstered Kim's confidence.
"There's an M-class planet with indications of vegetation and no signs of sentient life, such as we can tell, of course, about a parsec away." Paris announced after the scans finished and the feisty Chief Engineer had allowed that he had done no damage to her ship in his fancy flying.
"Followed by a rather unique expanse of nebula and at least four rogue planets as far as we can tell, all small and dead." Kim scowled at the odd readings. Rogue planets were very rare and to find four in so close an area, relatively speaking, was unheard of.
"We shall have to do a full sweep as we pass through this area. See what might be drawing the rogues." Janeway said, her scientific curiosity pricked.
The Alpha shift was ending and she glanced to where Ensign Baytart was taking the conn from Paris, the two pilots discussing the conn in their unique lingo. It had taken Tom Paris only two weeks to gain the professional respect of his department, though with only ten crewmembers it was the smallest department on board, excluding the badly staffed Sick Bay. It had taken him months to gain their friendship, but he had eventually won over even the two Maquis who served under his capable lead.
"Keep an eye on the gravitational pull. Something has to be pulling those rogue planets to this area. There is nothing like a dark spot and Voyager seems unencumbered by any pull now, but it's an odd part of space." Tom's voice was low, but as he had the longest shift change report it fell into the sudden silence that followed the departure of all but Janeway and himself.
"Aye Lt. I'll do that." Baytart glanced over the logs. "What about this pull? It reads more like a current."
"I know. It's tied to Ops, so they can help keep an eye on it. It could be a smaller current. If you hit one, cut warp at once! You can navigate with impulse just fine."
"You sure you don't want a second shift?" Baytart chuckled.
"Oh, you'll be fine." Tom slapped his second on the shoulder and both men shared a knowing look. Janeway smiled, aware that Tom's flying had once again astounded them. Currents as quick and long as the one they had flown that day were as rare as Rogue planets, though there were many smaller ones. The Captain knew enough of piloting to be aware that riding one so big was like sailing through a white rapid in a river. Tom had loved every minute of his flying that day.
"Well done, Tom." She told him as they entered the turbo lift together. "I think that might be another one for the record books."
"Nope. I'd done it before in tandem with Land… I mean a friend of mine." He grinned widely. As she let his curious desire not to name his friend go, she was struck with how happy he looked. It was rare to see unadulterated joy in his face. Something she did not understand usually tempered his pleasure.
She wished she could see his joy more often. Without his sardonic, secretive mask in place, he could have been thought as young as his good friend, Harry Kim. It was hard to remember he was only a few years older than Kim. Sometimes Paris looked world weary enough to match her age.