Author's Note: No consideration of the character of Tom Paris is complete without being informed in some way by Caldik Prime. Onscreen, we first meet him in the Rehab Colony in Auckland/NZ, but it's Caldik Prime that set him on his path to Chakotay, Auckland, Janeway and finally, the Delta Quadrant.

I'm a Tom Paris writer, and "my" Tom is very definitely one who went through the crucible of Caldik Prime. And yet, apart from a little blip in "Ten Random Things", I had never directly tackled the accident and its aftermath. This story is the result of the perfect prompt, given to me by CrlkSeasons in the VAMB Secret Summer Exchange. She asked, seemingly simply, for A Tom Paris story set at any point before the series opens. Thank you, my friend, for prompting me into remedying that omission - and thanks to the very perceptive moderators, for ensuring that I would be the one to receive it.

On substance, I don't consider Jeri Taylor's Pathways canon, and firmly believe that Tom's reference to "those three dead officers" in Caretaker doesn't really jive with the victims of the accident being his two best friends and his fiancée. So if you expect the fanfic staples of Charlie, Bruno and Odile, you won't find them here. My Chakotay is the angry one you catch a glimpse of on Voyager's bridge, when he first claps eyes on Tom. (The series might have been better off if they'd kept that one, IMHO.)

This is a companion piece/prequel to Grace. Warning: There Be Angst, and blood, and swearing. I own the angst and the story, but not much else.


Downfall

By Alpha Flyer


The screeching of the hull as it hurtles through the pea-soup atmosphere of Caldik Prime is like a knife in his skull, as sharp as the pain in his shattered ribs where they have pierced his lungs.

But Tom Paris knows beyond any doubt that nothing, nothing will ever be as agonizing as the silence that falls after he brings the shuttle down, and the last of the groaning stops.

Morrison? Varma? Wang?

…..

The bar is like any bar these days, hazy and foggy and he's really stopped giving a shit about the smells and the stuff that practically cements your feet to the floor. All he wants is oblivion in a glass.

The K'tarian server (what all she's serving isn't clear, but it's pretty obvious that she doesn't stop at drinks) gives him the once-over as he walks up to the bar: Customer or competition?

Her demeanour changes towards the frosty when she takes in his height and slender built, the blond hair, and those damn eyes that aren't quite dull and red enough to turn people off the way they should. Competition, she's obviously concluded.

Not today, not yet - but honestly, Tom hasn't ruled out the idea. Can't afford to rule it out, not with the prospects of paid employment being as thoroughly fucked as they are in these parts, now that the Maquis raiders are discouraging virtually all legitimate trade in the Belt.

"Drink?" the woman asks, and Tom musters a grin that tries hard to be cocky, but he suspects is more on the desperate side. He really, really needs a drink.

"You know it," he manages. "Saurian brandy. Double."

Her eyes narrow. The stuff isn't cheap, and Tom doesn't look well heeled, exactly. But he's made the calculation, cost versus effect, and Saurian brandy comes out at one-point-eight oblivions per glass ahead of anything else he's tried (plus there are no Cardassian sunrises for sale in the Tarikoff Belt). You get what you pay for.

"Payment up front," the K'tarian drawls, running her eyes up and down his long body, taking in the stains on the front of his shirt. Tom snarls a curse at her and scrabbles through his pocket, feeling for the latinum slivers. Sliver.

"On second thought, make it a single. For now."

Fuck.

He takes receipt of his drink and turns around, back to the bar to avoid the woman's scrutiny as much as to scan the clientele. It's a typical frontier dive, hammered together out of bits and bobs from derelict shuttles and the bark of some local tree. Lucky it isn't the rainy season yet.

The heat is something else, though, and the owner, in a moment of extravagance, has put in a ceiling fan. An honest to goodness ceiling fan. Straight out of 'Night of the Iguana', not that anyone here would get the reference.

Tom can feel his clothes sticking to his body, and he's pretty sure that the smell he caught a whiff of when he turned around just now isn't the Tellarite beside him. Well, that means the whole idea of using his body for cash will have to wait; at his current rancidity rate, he'd pull in less than two drinks' worth per lay, not that there's anyone in this joint that looks desperate enough for 'human companionship' to say yes anyway.

For some reason Tom finds the thought amusing, and he chuckles to himself.

"What's so funny, human? You think I'm funny? Pig's ass," the Tellarite grunts., his pink snout wiggling in anger. Given where Tom's mind has just been, this particular invective strikes him as utterly hilarious and he can't help himself: he cackles.

Now Tom knows bloody well that Tellarites love nothing so much as starting an argument - especially with humans, whose historic relationship with porcine species is a sensitive subject on Tellar. (Always has been, Federation allies or not.)

Hell, a fight might not be a bad thing … Get a few things out of his system. But truth be told, Tom isn't in the greatest of shapes right now and so he tries to say something vaguely exculpatory, but he just can't stop giggling and ends up shooting brandy up his nose. His response comes out as … a snort.

The Tellarite had obviously been at the bar for some time looking for offence, and decides to take it. Big time. Without warning, his fist pounds into Tom's gut, followed by a badly swung but effective punch to the chin as he doubles over. Tom comes out swinging, but it's been a while and he hasn't eaten since … well, in a long time, and nothing useful comes of the attempt.

A ham-fisted (hey, now that's funny!) blow hits him in the side of the head, and finds himself sliding down the side of the bar. Oh, okay then….

He welcomes the pain, and the red silence as it descends.

Until it begins to whisper:

Morrison. Varma. Wang.

…..

The silence is broken by the hiss of a cutter, the clanking of metal, a curse.

"Jesús y María, tanta sangre!"

"I still can't get a life sign reading from the tricorder. Do you get anything from the inside? Manuel? Do you read? Talk to me!"

"Shit, man, it's like a slaughterhouse in here. There's body parts and - Padre nuestro que estás en los cielos, santificado sea tu Nombre … Dios mío! I think I hear something, Alex. … Alex? … I'm going in. Keep the transporter trained on me in case she blows, 'kay?"

"We don't know how long the plasma's been leaking, Manny. This thing can go at any time. You sure someone's still alive? Nobody survives a crash like this."

"Shut up for a sec. Just … Yes. Yes, there's movement! I think it's the pilot. Jammed under the console."

More clanging, and scraping. Why is it so damn hard to breathe?

"Lieutenant, Lieutenant. Can you hear me? We'll get you out of there. Hang in there, you hear me? Fuck, that thing is heavy. Alex, I need a hand here, like, five minutes ago. This guy's drowning in his own blood. Get your ass down here, NOW!"

"Coming."

"Don't you quit on me now, Lieutenant, you hear me? We'll get you out of this. Don't you dare quit on me…"

..

When he comes to, he's lying on the street outside the bar, his already filthy shirt covered in blood (check nose - not broken, just dripping…) and vomit. Great. Now the lover boy option is really out, at least until he can afford to put that stinking thing in a public 'fresher.

He pulls himself up until he's leaning against the wall, testing his lungs. Working. Legs? Not so much. Brain? Still there. Shit. Saurian brandy should be drunk, not snorted up one's nose. Much less effective, otherwise.

At least that unrelenting sun's gone down and it's a bit cooler. He doesn't have anywhere to go or be, and since no one's charging rent for sitting on the sidewalk Tom decides to stay put until … Well, doesn't really matter, does it.

He watches the two figures coming towards him, a man and a woman. Purposeful, confident. Tom tries to remember when was the last time he walked like that, and comes up short. Their voices echo off the corrugated metal walls of the settlement.

"Tarkalian flu, the medic says."

"You're kidding me. Isn't that contagious?"

"Like hell. Chakotay is having every last bit of the Valjean disinfected as we speak. As if we have the latinum for that. It'll have to come out of our provisions, because we sure can't afford to reduce ordnance."

"Fuck the bug hunt, Seska, what about Johnson? Tell me he's not a goner. With Artleth dead, he was our last pilot. No way we'll find another one in this dump."

The two are look like they're headed for the bar. Tom's slightly blurry vision resolves their silhouettes slowly: human male and Bajoran female, dressed in rough frontier clothing – leather pants and vests, loose shirts.

And talking about ordnance. In the Tarikoff Belt.

Maquis. Here?

Stands to reason: Even terrorists have to take on provisions somewhere, and there's loads of sympathizers here. Place is crawling with refugees from the colonies.

"Chakotay is an excellent pilot," the woman (Seska?) says sharply. She stops in her tracks, turns to the guy like she's pissed off about something. Judging by her facial features, Tom figures it's a chronic condition.

The man barks a laugh.

"Chakotay. Pilot? Don't make me laugh. Where were you when he almost crashed us into that Cardassian destroyer? Or when he made that three-point landing on Berek IV? Torres almost killed him for what he did to the struts that time. Man's a great captain, and that's what he should stick to. Like it or not, if Johnson's out, we need a new pilot."

The word echoes in Tom's skull like a clarion bell. Pilot. Are they talking to him?

They must be.

"Hey," he croaks from his seat on the floor. "You looking for a pilot? This may just be your lucky day."

…..

The voices penetrate his consciousness slowly, as if they're swaddled in a layer of cotton baton.

"He made Captain of Nova Squadron in his first year at the Academy. Finest pilot of his generation, the newsvids said when the team took the Alderaan Cup. A natural."

"Had to be, too, to survive that crash. By rights, that shuttle should have been nothing but a smear on the landscape. His old man will be proud."

"Relieved first, I should think. Then proud. There. Chest is closed."

"Wonder what went wrong up there? That gravimetric shear was a doozy by what I heard, but totally survivable. The Exeter herself made it to port without a scratch."

"Guess someone in nav screwed up. Zigged when they should have zagged, or something. The Board will figure it out, once our hero here can talk again."

His eyes close, if anything more tightly; he knows what he knows. Do they?

"Well, we know it can't have been Paris. Guy's not human when it comes to flying. Hand me the osteo-regenerator, will you?"

Human. Who's human?

Morrison. Varma. Wang.

..

Tom squints at the piece of paper with the address. Another bar – the Belt is full of them; plenty to forget for everyone. Yep, this is the place. Too bad he won't be able to afford a drink; cleaning his shirt cleaned him out, too, but it's generally considered bad form to wear vomit to a job interview.

He pushes at the swing door (someone, at least, has respect for the classics) and steps through.

The man in the corner may be wearing leathers and a three-day stubble, but the way he holds himself, he's got Starfleet written all over him. Tom hasn't spent his life around 'Fleeters without being able to sniff them out from a mile away. One of the deserters, probably; there's supposed to be several dozen of them, including a couple of senior officers and at least one Academy prof.

He hasn't seen Tom yet; his voice carries across the bar. Tom stops in the shadows. Observe and assess before moving in; old instincts (and training) die hard.

"Tom Paris, you say is name is?"

Mallory nods.

"So he said."

"Owen Paris' son?"

Oh, fuck. Here we go. So much for that job, then.

"I didn't ask, and he didn't tell me."

"I bet he didn't, if you found him in this shit hole. You say he volunteered to join?"

"Not exactly. But he talked the right language, seems to know the craft. We ain't got many options, Chakotay."

"Thomas fucking Paris. Son of a bitch. One of the best pilots of his generation, they used to say. So let me tell you just why he's here, Mallory."

Fuck, fuck, fuck. Starfleet. Most definitely Starfleet.

…..

"Lieutenant Paris, you understand that giving false testimony to a Board of Inquiry is a disciplinary offence resulting in a mandatory discharge from Starfleet."

"I do."

"And you wish to stand by your declaration today, that the report you filed with the Board of Inquiry following the shuttle accident on Caldik Prime contained a number of inaccurate statements."

"I do."

"You confirm, then, that the accident in question did not, as you originally indicated, come as the result of a navigational miscalculation by Ensign Varma?"

"I do."

"You further confirm that the shuttle was unable to withstand the gravimetric shear you encountered in the ionosphere of Caldik Prime, as a direct result of your decision to engage the magneto-hydrodynamic thruster instead of the magneto-plasmadynamic thruster?"

"I did not decide to engage the wrong thruster, sir. I got them mixed up on the board, sir, due to fatigue and inattentiveness. Other than that, yes, I confirm that my mistake was the true cause of the accident."

"Correction noted for the record. And you are making today's declaration out of your own free will?"

"I am."

"Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris, I hereby strip you of your commission of Lieutenant in Starfleet. However, because of your decision to come forward voluntarily, I am authorized to offer you the opportunity to resign from Starfleet, rather than be discharged dishonourably. Do you accept this offer, and tender your resignation forthwith?"

"I do."

No price he could pay will ever be high enough.

…..

"Why?"

"Why what?"

"Cut the attitude, Paris. Why do you want to join the Maquis? No one else will have you? Or trying to show your father? And if so, what exactly?"

For the briefest of moments, Tom wants to spit in the man's face and walk out. He doesn't.

"My father isn't here. I am. So leave him the fuck out of the conversation, Chakotay."

Chakotay stares at him, eyes full of disdain.

"I may be out of Starfleet, but I hear things. I know where you've been, and what you've done. Mallory and Seska found you in the gutter, Paris, covered in your own drool. So don't tell me that a career with the Maquis is what you always dreamed of, because I won't believe you. I'm asking again. Why are you here? Money?"

Something in Chakotay brings the fire. Guy wants him to be a shit? Tom can be that.

Is that.

"Yeah, money. That's it, Chakotay. Man's got to eat. You pay, I fly. No questions asked. You need, I want. One bar of latinum per sortie. Take it or leave it."

And if the deal means shoving the occasional photon torpedo up a Cardie's ass, so much the better. It'll feel good. It will.

Of course, Chakotay's a haggler.

"Three sorties per two bars, room and board comes off that. No booze while on the ship, and don't expect anyone to kiss you goodnight."

Tom swallows the answer he really wants to give – that he'd fly just for a place on the ship - with the bile that rises in his throat at the other man's contempt.

It doesn't matter. He'll be flying.

He holds out his hand; Chakotay looks at it as if it is covered in slime, but takes it after a goodly long period of consideration.

"I'll see you at the spaceport. She's a raider; her name is Valjean. Oh-five hundred. Be sober. And don't be late, Paris."

Tom practically skips out of the bar.

Things are most definitely looking up.