Author's Note: Another one written mostly because I wanted to read it. It ended up surprising me with where it went – or actually where it started.
Attempts to keep this story in continuity with the rest of the Star Trek universe proved difficult; the events surrounding the creation of the DMZ and the formation of the Maquis were not as consistent as I would have liked and, at times, seemed almost contradictory. In reconstructing the history presented here, preference was given to dates and events mentioned in Voyager episodes (particularly "Caretaker", "Non Sequitur", "Dreadnought", and "In the Flesh") over other series since this is, after all, a Voyager story.
Both thanks and apologies are owed to Jeri Taylor for the bits of plot points borrowed from her novel Pathways and for the large chunks ignored or overwritten. It was simply too tempting of a moment in time for my two favorite Voyager characters not to try my own hand at it...
Also, thanks is due to several long time P/T writers, particularly the amazing dalaire, for my fascination with the character of Kurt Bendera. I couldn't resist bringing him along for the ride here.
Finally, a huge, huge thank you to Photogirl1890 for hand-holding this from start to finish. It wouldn't exist without her encouragement and would exist is a much messier form without her sharp eye.
And, of course, I own nothing.
"How's the weather out there, Velik?"
He slips in behind the helm, relaxing as always into its familiarity. It has never mattered whether it is the first or the hundredth time he has folded his long frame into a particular seat, whether it's his maiden flight with a given vessel or they have a long acquaintance. The helm, any helm, is home to Tom Paris.
The small sigh issues from the co-pilot's seat; evidently, exasperation doesn't count as an emotional reaction. "As you are well aware, Lieutenant, 'weather' is an inaccurate term to be applied to extra-atmospheric conditions." Yes, the Lieutenant is aware. They have had this same conversation a dozen times. Tom has come to enjoy the ritual; the Vulcan not so much. "But the incidence of solar flares is particularly frequent today."
"That's why they sent us Tom," comes a third voice and the pilot turns to smile a welcome at the dark-haired woman just entering the shuttle through the rear hatch. She throws a grin and a wink back at him. "Lieutenant Paris here is a master at playing with fire."
Tom chuckles and turns back to the flight prep. He and Liz Perkins, Lieutenant junior-grade with about two weeks of seniority over him, have kept up a steady stream of banter since she came aboard the Exeter a month or two before. It hasn't lead anywhere – and won't as long as they are in the same direct chain of command. Despite a rather well-tended reputation to the contrary, there are certain lines that Paris will not cross.
Well, actually, there are a lot of lines he won't cross, but that reputation which suggests otherwise amuses him. All part of the game. And Tom Paris, son of an Admiral and ace pilot, is an expert at playing the game.
With Liz, he is content, for now, with the flirtation. The Exeter is a big ship, and officers move between departments – and command chains – often.
"Is Wilkerson on her way?"
"Doctor Wilkerson commed that replication of the final batch of hyronalin was taking longer than expected and that she would arrive approximately five minutes behind our scheduled departure," the Vulcan offers in response.
Tom frowns, looking down at the readings in front of him.
Perkins leans forward from the auxiliary console where she has taken her seat. "Is that cutting it too close, Tom?"
The pilot's fingers dance over his board, making some new calculations. "Close, but not too close," he replies, still working.
Velik raises an eyebrow. "By my readings, we can expect another flare within the hour."
"If the Doc makes it down here within that five minute window, we can still make it," Tom assures them. He turns back to Liz. "And they can't wait on that hyronalin."
The other lieutenant eyes him steadily. She's been coordinating these runs for the last two weeks and indeed knows the importance of delivering the radiation medication on time. "It's your call, Tom."
The pilot nods and then turns back to his console, taking care of a little extra business.
Nine minutes later, Doctor Wilkerson arrives, and the pilot comms the deck officer for permission to depart. The quick response in the affirmative elicits another expression of impassive interest from Velik. "I would have expected Ensign Barnes to comment on our late departure."
Comment and raise a fuss. Barnes is a stickler for protocol. "Maybe he misread the flight plan?" Tom suggests with practiced innocence, eyes fixed on the panels in front of him as he guides the shuttle off the deck and out into open space. He can feel Liz's glare on the back of his head. Evidently, she doesn't buy his act. She'll be pissed at him for a while, but he knows she understands: the need to get that hyronalin to the medical facility easily outweighs nit-picky details of protocol.
Velik seems to accept his suggested explanation at face value and gives a small, "Hmm," no doubt contemplating the inherent fallibility of his non-Vulcan shipmates. Wilkerson, engrossed with securing the medical supplies, hasn't even noticed the exchange.
"Ladies and gentleman, get yourselves a good seat," Tom announces as they clear the Exeter and head towards the planet. "Velik tells me the weather is stormy today, and it is liable to be a bumpy ride into Caldik Prime."
Funny that everything she owns fits so easily into one bag.
Or really not funny at all.
A week's worth of clothing and undergarments, toiletries, a couple of PADDs onto which she's downloaded what course material has actually been of use. Surely in nineteen years of life she should have accumulated more. Some mementos, holo-images, something...personal.
She glances at the small mirror over the sink of her shared bunk room. She's already changed out of her cadet uniform, throwing it into the recycler. Without the tight collar, she feels freer, more able to breath.
Still, it takes her a moment to recognize the reflection staring back at her.
Her roommates are in class; she planned it that way. Given the trouble it takes to get into Starfleet Academy, it is almost absurdly easy to leave. Using her cadet PIN, she logs into the desk terminal and submits her resignation.
Ten minutes later, she walks off the idyllic campus where she once thought she would find answers and purpose. Without a backward glance, she heads for the civilian transportation center, ready to get as far away as her small store of credits will take her.