Written for Major Ryan, as part of the 2012 VAMB Secret Santa Exchange. Her prompt was for "a story in Tom's POV, of his first Christmas at the Federation Penal Colony." This randomly perfect (for me) prompt allowed me to simultaneously address a missing piece in my own interpretation of Tom's development, and to respond to requests from a number of readers over the last year or so.
It's established canon ("Caretaker") that Tom Paris was serving a sentence at the Federal Penal Colony in Auckland, NZ, for assisting the Maquis; Kathryn Janeway secured his cooperation in finding the Chakotay's ship in exchange for a promise to put in a good word at his parole hearing ("outmate review"). What is not canon is the length of the sentence he was serving. I've seen - and used - 18 months, which is consistent with the sentence given to Kasidy Yates on DS9. In most civilized justice systems, convicts become eligible for parole at half time; with Voyager leaving in mid-to-late 2371, Tom would thus have spent only one holiday in prison. This, then, is it.
Those of you who have read my other Tom Paris stories - especially "Choices," "The Andorian Incident" and "The Neutral Zone" - know that my head canon in respect of Auckland is pretty dark. So this one's a bit angsty … although I kept the story PG-13 (for language and implied violence), in keeping with both the request and my comfort zone on these matters.
I own nothing but the story and ancillary characters. The idea that Tom was marked in prison is something I saw in a story a long time ago; unfortunately I recall neither author nor title, or I would credit the source.
By Alpha Flyer
I do not at all understand the mystery of grace -
only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.
"Remember the rules."
Tom gave a bitter, twisted smile that didn't even bother trying to touch his eyes; even so, the effort made his swollen lip sting. He stroked the old-fashioned paper note and its equally old-fashioned, well-meant word of advice with his thumb, before folding it carefully and sticking it into the back of his book. Next, he placed the book back in its box in turn, concealing the small parcel the note had come in underneath, and slid everything under his cot.
"Remember the rules."
Whoever claimed, in word or song, that Christmas was about peace, love and harmony, dashing through the snow or the weather outside being frightful, had obviously never been to the Federation Penal Settlement in Auckland, New Zealand. Not only is Auckland in the Southern Hemisphere, putting December smack into the middle of summer, but that bit about peace, harmony and love? You gotta be fucking kidding.
Careful not to take too deep a breath – the cracked rib still hurt - Tom wiped the sweat off his forehead, leaving a grey streak of caked dust behind, and took a look at the corridor clock through the transparent aluminum window.
Six-oh-five. Almost time.
"Remember the rules."
Why'd that keep sticking in his head?
They'd be filing into the dining hall by now, the queue going down the hall, inmates jostling and shoving in anticipation of the supreme treat of a 'special' meal. Non-replicated turkey tonight - in keeping with the situation, as it were. Well, tank-grown, electrically stimulated musculature with a DNA structure loosely based on some kind of bird, anyway, lovingly tended by inmates not suited for anything other than pushing buttons. Next best thing to free-range poultry, for sure.
Tom suppressed a snort of contempt and sat down on the cot in his cell. No, not cell - room. His room. They didn't call it a cell here in sunny Auckland; that might give the impression that this was a prison, rather than a Rehabilitation Facility.
Who was it who'd said that "All things are subject to interpretation; whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power, not truth"? Ah yes, Nietzsche. (A man could get downright philosophical in prison, especially the prodigal Admiral's son whose own memory banks tended to spew out unexpected insights pretty much at random, and usually at the most inopportune time.)
"Remember the rules."
Sure, he did. So here was an insight, courtesy of the Starfleet Protocol for Officers in Captivity, Rule #8: Speak your Captors' language to the extent possible, to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings. Three cheers, then, for rehabilitation facilities, rooms and the joys of communal inmate living.
And didn't that insight just sum up Thomas Eugene Paris? Philosophical, practical and cynical, all in one nice and tidy package. He could even cite – if not always exactly apply - the rules. Some day, somebody might appreciate all that. Probably not today, though.
Another look at the clock. Six-oh-eight. Time to go.
First course would be served now, some kind of soup and nutritionally enhanced white bread rolls, no doubt. And whatever happened to the grand tradition of adding saltpeter to the soup to curb the inmates' baser instincts? Fucking humanitarian impulses.) Time to move. With any luck he'd be done by dessert – hallelujah and pass the pudding - and could scrounge some leftovers before service shut down.
Starfleet Protocol for Officers in Captivity, Rule #9: Do not unnecessarily refuse nutrition; endeavour to keep up your strength.
Right. Fact was, Tom wanted – no, needed - this shower rather more than he did food, craving the feeling of water on his skin, the chance to cleanse his body of the dust and grime of the day as much as of its many and varied humiliations.
He opened his cell door – hell with it, a spade is a spade and a fucking cell door it was, preferred nomenclature and rules of communication be damned – and poked his head out slowly. Nothing; not a sound. Good. Everybody was at the trough, as anticipated. Carrying a fresh jumpsuit over his arms, Tom walked down the corridor on soft feet.
He refrained from looking directly into any of the other windows in case someone was there, even though his peripheral vision disclosed no movement.
Starfleet Protocol for Officers in Captivity, Rule #5: Avoid unnecessary or incidental eye contact.
"Christmas dinner not good enough for you, Paris?"
The guard at the entrance to the hygiene pod gave Tom a suspicious look as he passed. Macintosh his name was, clearly visible on the badge attached to his uniform lest there was any doubt. Young guy, didn't usually hang out in this part; he was more of an outdoor type, frequently supervising shuttle repairs. Probably had traded shifts for the holidays with guards who had families.
"Mess hall's that way. This way's the laundry. Case you forgot." When Tom didn't reply, he added, "Looks like you could use some food; gettin' kinda scrawny, I noticed. And what you do to your face, anyway?"
Macintosh gave a smirk; whether it was in satisfaction at his own wit or out of embarrassment that he might be seen to care about an inmate's welfare (or to take note of his physical appearance), Tom wouldn't hazard to guess. Probably the first.
"Mind you, you smell like you could use a good wash, Paris. How long's it been, huh? A week?"
Definitely the first.
"Remember the rules."
Starfleet Protocol for Officers in Captivity, Rule #6: Never respond to taunts.
Macintosh wasn't the worst of the guards by a long shot, though, and there was noting to be gained with a smartass retort, so Tom just kept moving, avoiding all eye contact with the man. He could feel his eyes on his retreating back.
Six thirteen. Tic, toc.
The communal shower area was deserted, as Tom had expected, although the wet floor and overflowing towel bins were a good indication that it had only very recently been used, by a number of inmates. Now doubt getting ready for their yummy 'special meal.'
Tom stilled, and listened. Nothing.
He let out the breath he hadn't realized he was holding, and peeled off his filthy, stinking jump suit with practiced speed. The inability to take regular showers wasn't the worst thing about Auckland by a long shot, but it was up there. Tom was fastidious by both upbringing and inclination; missing the occasional dinner was a small price to pay. He planned to make the most of the time he had.
Starfleet Protocol for Officers in Captivity, Rule #10: Personal hygiene is important to physical and mental health; seize opportunities when offered.
Tom padded over to the shower array and cocked his head once more, listening one last time for any voices, snide laughter, or the vibration of heavy footfalls. None came, and he allowed his shoulders relaxed a fraction. He lifted the tap – no computer command would respond to the voiceprint of a wannabe saboteur - and stood for a moment with his eyes closed, his face turned into the stream.
Given the length of time Tom had spent that day welding third-rate space junk back into shape in the relentless sun, he should probably be craving a cold shower, not a hot one, but he wanted to feel the burn on his skin - wanted nothing more than to turn its treacherous, too-pretty golden sheen to red. Command red; now there's a joke. And if the world momentarily disappeared behind a white vapour cloud, then that was a bonus.
Almost as if to spite his spiraling, fragmenting thoughts, he forced himself to turn around slowly, deliberately, before activating the soap dispenser. And slowly, deliberately he lathered up, going lightly over old and new bruises, the cracked rib, and avoiding the spot where Chegweth's brand still burned.
Would always burn.
Tom took a deep breath as his eyes started to sting unexpectedly and turned his face and chest back to the shower. Water to water … to dream, to sleep, perchance to drown …
But as much as he wanted to follow his thoughts down those drain slots in the floor, reality would not for long be replaced by pounding drops and there was no time to linger.
Six twenty-seven. Tic toc.
He toweled off, pulled on his clean clothes and tossed the soiled ones into the refresher.
Main course would be nearly done; he was still alone. In a place where the deadly sins hold sway, greed and gluttony combined beat lust any day, and wasn't that an argument for a classical education. Thanks for that, Dad, Admiral, sir. If his mouth had not been so tight for so long, Tom might almost have permitted himself a small, bitterly triumphant smile.
He headed back out into the near-deserted corridor where Macintosh was the only presence. The guard cast a sharp-eyed look at Tom's still damp hair.
"Guess you really did have a shower, Paris."
Starfleet Protocol for Officers in Captivity, Rule #4: Avoid provoking your captors.
"Well, yes. What did you think I was doing in there? Reciting the Vulcan Dictates of Poetry?"
So much for remembering the rules. Good one, Tommy Boy. Piss off the one guard in this hellhole who doesn't seem to hate your guts. (Yet.)
"Watch yer mouth, mate. Just making sure you wasn't up to something, all on your lonesome in there."
Tom hesitated, not believing the opportunity he'd just been handed. An opening you could drive a shuttle through - almost like a gift.
"Remember the rules." The voice inside his head was getting more insistent.
Starfleet Protocol for Officers in Captivity, Rule #3: Engage personnel not displaying overt hostility; build potential support.
"Maybe you should have the security cams in there fixed, then, Sir. Haven't been working since I got here."
Macintosh's initial questioning frown resolved into a defensive glare.
"Don't flatter yourself, Paris. I don't wanna see your naked booty that badly."
Shit. So much for that golden opportunity …
"You'd be surprised just what you might see when you look into unlit corners. Sir."
Tom held the guy's eyes for a moment – valid exception to Rule #5, was necessity - and headed down the corridor. Macintosh watched him pass in silence, a new frown creasing his forehead. Maybe the unexpected honorific would make him think; he looked capable of it.
Yeah, sure, Macintosh would think. Right after he'd put on a red jacket, a white beard and went off to deliver good will to all men. Tom turned briefly to see the young guard scratching his chin and staring at the blank monitor.
The mess hall was noisy as usual, men's voices trying to out-shout each other over the clanking of cheap tableware and the scraping of metal chairs on the floor. No attempt had been made to muffle the general racket through the use of textiles or other sound-absorbent surfaces, and Tom decided, for the umpteenth time, that whatever sick fuck had designed FPS Auckland had watched too many shitty twentieth-century prison movies for inspiration. The grounds might look like a bit of a park to the untrained eye, but the accommodations and communal buildings ensured that the inmates wouldn't relish their Club Fed experience.
Six thirty-five. Repent, Harlequin, Said The Tic Toc Man. Dinner entertainment for the prison population of Auckland had been half an hour's worth of disrupted. Shame.
"Ooh, there comes Golden Boy," one of the voices sneered as Tom headed for the queue of people now lined up for dessert. Chegweth himself, what an honour. "Late for Christmas dinner, Paris? Food here not good enough for Starfleet Royalty? Guess what's for dessert? Or should I say, guess who?"
The Bolian made an obscene slurping sound that had his easily amused posse in stitches.
"Remember the rules."
Ignore. Ignore. Ignore.
The trusty on dispensing duty gave Tom an indifferent scowl. Indifference was good. Indifference was worth a prize above rubies.
"Pudding or fruit?"
Rule #9: Keep up your strength …
"Any chance of some main course left?"
The trusty raised his unibrow in disbelief at the concept of anyone preferring Brussels sprouts to pud.
"Suit yerself, Paris. No more meat though. Just potatoes and veg."
"Good enough, thanks."
Tom watched with barely concealed disgust as a scoop of mashed potatoes and some squishy-looking green stuff glopped onto his plate. If he ever got out of here, as God was his witness, he'd never go without a replicator again. (First thing he'd order would be some decent tomato soup.) He scanned the room for an available seat. Far corner, exit nearby, back to the wall. Perfect.
He headed across the room, back ramrod straight, eyes forward, mouth a tight line as Chegweth reminded him, to raucous laughter from some of the other ex-Maquis, that dessert came in many forms.
Tom resisted the urge to comment that jokes that weren't funny to begin with sure as hell shouldn't be repeated. Personally, he found that Rule #6 – best paraphrased for this occasion as keep your fucking big mouth shut and keep walking - was quite possibly the hardest. But he'd had a decent shower, alone, and that should count as a win. Maybe there was something to be said for the rules after all …
He looked up briefly from his plate to scan the assembly around him; he'd been here almost six months and immediately spotted the new face. Young, Bajoran. Just a little older than that kid who had hung around the Valjean, Dalby's protégé - what was his name? Ah yes, Gerron. Someone he hoped never to see here; he wouldn't last five minutes.
His silent expectation that the new guy would come to Chegweth's attention was as repugnant as it was nauseating, and what little appetite he had was gone. Tom finished chewing and pushed his half-eaten plate away, then drained his glass of water to wash down the bile of his own thoughts. He half-listened to someone's comment about Cam Shaughnessy, that lucky son-of-a-bitch whose early parole apparently had come through just in time for the holidays, and just whose ass did he kiss for that sweet arrangement?
"Remember the rules."
Starfleet Protocol for Officers in Captivity, Rule #2: Keep track of your captors' movements, in the event the opportunity for escape arises.
A quick look around confirmed that most inmates were still eating dessert, or queuing for seconds; one of the guards was fiddling with the holographic projector. Oh goody, an inspirational speech - probably the President of the Federation, who liked to preach to his uninterested flock at certain times of the rolling year. Well, he sure as hell had no claim on the attention of a former Starfleet Lieutenant (junior grade).
Tom got up quickly and disposed of his tray, sliding a small spoon in his pocket. With any luck he'd get to his cell before one of Chegweth's guys got the chance to jimmy the lock. Inmates could lock themselves in for privacy, but obviously guards would need to have access; the result was a mechanism that anyone with a few minutes, a spoon and a basic mastery of mechanics could crack. By the same token, the mechanism should be susceptible to blocking from the inside.
Six fifty-seven. Move, move, move.
Tom checked the locking mechanism on his door, briefly reflecting why he'd never thought of doing that before. Maybe it had been because whatever would come through it in the night was no more and no less than he deserved …?
"You deserve better." (Where'd that come from?)
Sure enough, the jimmy marks were there. Someone had come back while he'd been in the shower, and thought to have been at dinner. In Auckland, timing was everything… Just as easily as he'd found it, he undid the fix. He closed the door, giving a deep breath as the lock engaged with an audible click, and stuck the spoon inside to prevent outside access.
He'd read in one of his books on the history of the Twentieth Century that during World War I, the opposing sides in the trenches held impromptu armistices on Christmas Day - even soccer matches – before resuming their killing in the morning. Of course none of the goons here in Auckland had ever picked up a history book. Another few minutes now ... Right on time.
"Hey Goldilocks," the grating voice came through the door. One of Chegweth's goons, a thug who'd joined the Maquis largely because it gave him an excuse to blow things up. Bit like that guy Suder, but with a lot less on the ball.
Tom closed his eyes, hoping he'd been right about the lock. A fist banged against the door.
"Boss found himself a new toy. Jealous?"
Hardly. The unknown young Bajoran's face flashed before Tom's mind and he ground his teeth as he let a flood of relief and guilt and impotent rage wash over him and turn into shame. He should be there, defending the kid, not matter the cost …
"But don't worry, princeling. He said I could play with you now. Jes' so you won't be lonely."
The man started to twist the opening mechanism, stuck something inside. The spoon held, and Tom let out his breath with a hiss.
"Hey. What the fuck you done?"
"Remember the rules …"
Tom bit his lower lip to keep himself from spitting out the three or so dozen smartass responses that were boiling to the surface – functioning lock or not. Rule #6 …
Ten minutes or so later, with none of his insults answered and his hands undoubtedly sore from slamming into an unyielding door, the man moved on, cursing loudly, giving Tom's door one last kick for good measure.
Tom sucked off the drops of blood from his lip where he'd bitten too hard and pulled out the box under his cot that contained the personal possessions each inmate was permitted. He'd long since learned to limit his own pretty much to books from the library; reading was not exactly high on the list of his fellow inmates' favourite diversions to begin with, and the FPS Auckland stamp tended to discourage gratuitous destruction.
Top of the box was a new delivery from the library yesterday. The woman in charge – either a kind soul or someone with a twisted sense of humour, Tom hadn't quite figured that out yet - had noticed that #0766 not only read, but actually liked 19th and 20th century novels. And so she had taken to sending him regular, unsolicited selections of books that probably no one had touched in decades. Maybe personal favourites? Who knew.
This week's offering had been Steinbeck's "Sweet Thursday." Also known as the day between Lousy Wednesday and Waiting Friday, and arguably, a study on the rehabilitation of whores. (Twisted sense of humour, clearly.) But it didn't take long for Cannery Row to weave its timeless spell, and secure behind his locked door, Tom gradually lost himself in the glow of that long lost Monterey sun.
He was brought back by a heavy footfall coming down the hall and – wait for it – yep, there it was, the gratuitous kick against his door. (Thanks to the spoon, it was only the door.) The kick was followed by receding steps and an exchange about how "fucking Macintosh fixed the camera in the shower room, fucking busybody."
Tom permitted himself a surprised frown that should, all things considered, probably have been a smile. Well, whaddya know. Santa had come to Auckland after all, and a few hours early at that - let's hear it for Rule #3. He'd have to remember to give Macintosh a little nod next time the guy oversaw shuttle repairs.
Nine o'clock and the lights dimmed. They were never really out in the halls, and so-called nighttime sure as hell didn't mean that all the members of the wonderful healing community that was FPS Auckland would stay in their cells. But it did make it harder to look inside, and with a five a.m. reveille many of the inmates actually did go to sleep.
Time to play the odds, and take out the parcel that should never have gotten to him. Not that it contained contraband - no doubt its contents had been vigorously checked for nail files or site-to-site transporters. But one of the earliest instructions Tom had given to admin (there weren't many options for inmates, but this was one of them) had been to refuse delivery of any and all incoming communications from his family. The last thing he needed was reminders of his many failures from the Admiral, or loving expressions of concern – or pity - from his mother and sisters. The first desperate note he had received from his mother had almost broken him, and Tom Paris would not break. Could not break.
But obviously, he had forgotten someone. Tom looked again at his name and transport coordinates on the front, meticulously written in a hand he had recognized right away.
His father's secretary and Paris family factotum, who at some point during Tom's early teens had given up any pretense that notes and gifts sent to the Admiral's children for birthdays and holidays had actually come from the Great Man himself. Instead, she had made it her personal mission to prove to young Tommy and his sisters that yes, Starfleet did care about its young, if only by proxy, and that the Admiralty did have a human face, if only in the people who served on its periphery. Notes, smiles, comms; congratulations for small achievements; acknowledgements of family milestones; reminders of important occasions - Nicole provided them all.
And gummy bears. Whenever one of the Paris children, for whatever reason, had been summoned to their father's office, there would be gummy bears in the anteroom – kept in a jar in Nicole's drawer to sweeten the inevitable wait; to soothe any fears; and to let them know they were welcome.
Of course, Tom should have thought about her when he had issued his orders to the administration, but it was in Nicole's nature to be overlooked. After all, it was a universal truth that songs are made about the towers, not about the mortar that binds their bricks. Tom had been fifteen before he first realized Nicole had a last name: LaFontaine. Nicole LaFontaine.
He'd known what was in the parcel before he'd opened it: Gummy bears. He popped a handful in his mouth now. They tasted the same as they always had, and wasn't that just the oddest thing?
And then there'd been the note. He took it out of the book, held it into the residual light to look at it again.
Tommy – I am so very sorry. You deserve better. But remember the rules, especially Rule #1. The stars are still there for you.
All my love, Nicole.
Of course he'd known exactly what rules the note had been referring to; like the Paris clan, the LaFontaines were Starfleet born and bred. Nicole could cite every single Starfleet protocol and directive by heart (including some of her own creation); it had been her plush-on-duranium voice that had recited them to him all evening.
Tom lay down on his side, chewing methodically, the unaccustomed bursts of flavour in his mouth seeming to expand the small world that was his cell. His eyes wandered over to the window, where the sun had set some thirty minutes earlier, the stars of the Southern Cross just becoming visible.
He'd actually been to two of its systems, Gacrux and Mimosa, while serving on the Exeter. Mimosa, or Beta Crucis, was a blue giant with an asteroid belt whose mining potential they'd been tasked to assess. From here, Beta Crucis was but a shining point of light; as a full disc set against the black velvet of space, it had been a shimmering aquamarine that had taken a young ensign's breath away.
"The stars are still there for you."
What would be the chance that a disgraced and washed-up former Starfleet pilot with a criminal record would ever fly a starship again? Tom picked up a single red bear and bit off its head, before tossing the remainder in his mouth and worrying the pieces with his tongue.
The lesser freight lines were always desperate for unattached pilots to fly the months-long routes to the outer rims, or the risky time-is-money runs through the war-torn Cardassian territory or the plasma storms of the Badlands. Many weren't too fussy about details on a CV, in exchange for the right skill set. Piloting a freighter wouldn't be the same as flying one of the latest Intrepid class beauty to come off the docks at Utopia Planitia, but … He popped another candy in his mouth and frowned at the intrusion of possible futures in his mind.
Early parole. The Shaughnessy route. From what Tom remembered of the guy, he'd kept his head down, his mouth shut, worked diligently at whatever task he'd been given. Played by the rules, he had.
"Remember the Rules."
Tom resisted the temptation to touch his chest, where he could feel the Bolian's brand through the rough fabric of his jumpsuit, and came to a decision.
He would remember the Rules.
Starting with Rule #1: Survive. There's always hope.