There is a discontinuity in the established star dates given in the episodes Lifesigns (49504) and Investigations (49485), although the former episode clearly precedes the latter chronologically. I have attempted to make suitable albeit arbitrary adjustments in the passage of time for the events portrayed in this story.
The following presentation is rated PG-13 for adult language, violence and implied sexual content. Parental guidance is suggested.
The reedy chords of a French accordion drifted through the slightly smoky air of Sandrine's bistro. Tom didn't know the name of the melody. He honestly didn't care at the moment, either. All of his attention was fixed upon his date, sitting at the other end of the table. The candlelight flickered gently, setting a soft glow to her pale skin. A tendril of dark, shoulder-length hair fell into her face. She brushed it back into place and then looked up. Her sea green eyes, clear and intelligent, hypnotized him. He could easily see himself spending a lifetime staring into those eyes, exploring their secrets.
"Hm?" Tom shook himself free of his daydream, seeing Leena for what seemed like the first time that evening. He chewed and swallowed the food in his mouth. "Did you say something?"
"You're staring at me."
"Oh. Yeah, I guess I am." Tom set down his fork. "Have I told you how beautiful you look tonight?"
"Only for the third time," she said, a hint of a smile appearing on her face. "I'm beginning to think you've missed me."
Her lips looked so inviting. Tom fought back the sudden urge to sweep her into an embrace for a never-ending kiss. "You have no idea how much."
Leena chuckled and reached for her wine. The same petulant wisp of hair fell into her eyes again as she put the glass to her lips. The image of her face burned into Tom's memory when her eyes met his, a picture of demure eroticism. A breath caught in his throat.
Leena arched one eyebrow in fine mimicry of her mentor. That impish smile returned while she set the glass down. "You're staring again," she said, blindly trying to push the hair back into place.
Tom reached over and smoothed the hair back behind her ear. "I am so in love with you, Leena. I want us to be together, tonight. That is, if you still want to."
The candle's flame glittered in her eyes. "Y-yes. I still want to, yes."
Their faces inched closer together. Tom felt her cheek grow warmer with excitement. "I don't know why I waited so long to tell you that." Closer and closer they moved, until their lips met.
Tuvok to Lieutenant Paris, Tuvok's voice suddenly boomed around them. Leena jolted free of the kiss with a gasp. Lieutenant Paris, please respond.
Tom watched his panic-stricken date look around the room for the chief of security. He caught her attention by tapping his communicator. She blushed furiously. "Paris here. I'm kind of in the middle of something right now, Tuvok. Can I get back to you, say in an hour or two?"
If I am interrupting a private engagement, Lieutenant, I apologize. However, there is a matter of ship's security that requires your attention immediately.
Tom looked askance at Leena, but she shrugged. Whatever the matter was, she knew nothing of it. "What kind of matter?"
You will be debriefed once you are here, Lieutenant. Tuvok out.
Tom slumped back in his seat, exasperated. "Well, this is just great."
"You'd better go, Tom; that sounded rather important."
He shook his head as he stood up. "I'm sorry, Leena. This night isn't turning out at all like I planned."
"Don't be, Tom. Dinner was wonderful and I had a lovely time. Besides, the night's not over yet," she said. "Maybe after you're done talking to Lieutenant Tuvok, you can come over to my quarters and we can pick up where we left off. That is, if you're interested in desert."
Slowly, Tom grinned. "Maybe I will."
Tom had worked himself up by the time the turbolift stopped. Given the chance to think about it, Tuvok's sudden interruption seemed less than accidental. Although he would never admit to feeling dislike for the pilot, Tom felt certain that Tuvok did not approve of his romantic advances toward Leena. If Tuvok believed that his protege needed protection from a bad element, then the notion that Tuvok would try to split them apart didn't seem all that far fetched. Tom wasn't about to let that stand.
When he entered the security chief's office Tom found Tuvok behind his desk working on a PADD and making audible notes about crew efficiency ratings. "All right, what's so important that you had to bust up --" Tom choked as he discovered that Tuvok was not talking to himself. Captain Janeway sat at the other side of the room.
"That's not the usual proper greeting for a superior officer, Mr. Paris," she said, raising a teacup to her lips. She looked faintly amused.
Tom completely forgot what he was mad about. "Captain! I didn't know you'd be here."
"Actually, I was the one who called this meeting together, but I thought that having Mr. Tuvok call you in for a security-related matter would raise less suspicion. Judging by your reaction I'd say it worked." She cocked her head slightly. "Did we interrupt something important, Mr. Paris?"
Tom felt self-conscious, now uncomfortable broaching the subject of intimate encounters with the captain. "Oh, uh, yeah. I was...in the middle of having dinner with Leena Calloway."
"Calloway," the captain rolled the name over her tongue. "The young woman I saw with you in Sickbay, right? My, my, Mr. Paris, it seems like you've developed a taste for strong women."
Tom could feel the blush reach his hairline. He cleared his throat. "So why all the secrecy over this meeting, Captain?" he asked, hoping to change the subject. "What's this all about?"
She put her cup aside and sat up straighter, shifting from a mode of banter to business. "Have a seat, Lieutenant."
Tom felt uneasy about the abrupt change in the captain's manner. He took the chair closest to Tuvok's desk and sat down.
"I'm glad to hear about your dinner plans with Ms. Calloway. You've been rather sullen since your return to active duty."
"I've had a few things on my mind to work out," he answered carefully, "but I'm fine now. No need for concern, Captain." Tom watched Tuvok move to the door and manually enter a security access code. His anxiety jumped; he was now fielding questions from two of his superiors in a locked room. "What's going on here?"
The captain attempted to reassure him with a soft smile, but he still felt uneasy. "Just making sure there are no interruptions. I want this meeting to stay inside these walls. But first I'd like to clear up a few things that have been bothering me, if that's all right with you." At his nod she continued. "You made quite a number of inflammatory statements during our little confrontation in Sickbay a couple of weeks ago."
Tom frowned. "I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage, Captain. What confrontation?"
She nodded. "Of course, your memory lapse. My apologies. The Doctor explained that the mutations occurring to your synaptic pathways caused to you experience rapid shifts between periods of lucidity and delusion. Now that you've had a chance to recuperate, I want to sort out which things were said with a clear mind."
Tom snorted incredulously. "I can't believe you'd take any of that seriously. I wasn't myself."
"I realize that you were under severe physical and mental stress at the time, but I still have to wonder how much of what you said was a reflection of what you truly believe." She hesitated, for a moment looking uncertain about where to start. "Do you feel that you've become an accepted and valued member of this crew?"
The question surprised Tom. "Yeah, I'd have to say so. There may still be a few people who resent my presence, but not enough to make me feel like an outcast."
The captain nodded again, but in a manner that suggested she was digesting his response for tactical assessment rather than approval or agreement. Tom's unease grew.
"But you still think there are some," she said. She leaned back. "Does that include me? In Sickbay you accused me of barely tolerating your presence on the bridge."
Tom glanced up at Tuvok, but the Vulcan's unreadable expression did not change. "I still remember the day you gave me my field commission, Captain. You wouldn't have made me your chief conn officer if you didn't think I was deserving of the post." He felt tension mounting in his back and shoulders. "I don't know what you're driving at with these questions, but if it has anything to do with my commitment to you, to this ship, then you have nothing to worry about."
"At ease, Lieutenant. I've never doubted your loyalty or commitment to Voyager since we started our mission to return home. And to be honest, I didn't really believe you meant any of those remarks in Sickbay. I was hoping your reactions tonight would confirm that. I'm glad I was right."
"Then I have to ask again, what is this about, Captain?"
"I want you to take part in a mission I'm preparing." She picked up her cup again and sipped. She grimaced slightly and scowled at the cup before putting it back down. "Tuvok has brought to my attention a very serious problem. Right now we are the only people who know about it, and I want to keep it that way until it's resolved."
Tom leaned forward. "A secret mission? Sounds intriguing."
"I can't risk too many people finding out about the nature of this mission. If you choose to accept, I'll need your assurance that you won't discuss this meeting with anyone. No exceptions."
Tom dropped his stare into his lap, shaking his head briefly. The captain's request to keep quiet didn't come as much of a surprise. All classified missions required a strict vow of silence. Knowing that didn't make him feel any more at ease with the decision in front of him, though. He and Leena had just gone through the issue of not hiding secrets from each other. The captain's offer would certainly undermine that arrangement. It could be too soon to test his relationship in such a manner. He had spent considerable effort getting to this point with Leena already.
Would Leena not understand, though? The captain wanted him to take part in a classified mission. He, the guy who started out on the bottom of the 'trustworthy officers' list, was the only person she counted on to pull it off. The significance of this could not be ignored. A vote of confidence from the captain usually rippled through the rest of the crew. If he rose to the captain's challenge and succeeded, the remaining individuals who resented his presence on Voyager might finally come around. He would be unanimously accepted. Sure, perhaps Leena might be a little put out at first, but he hoped she would see reason. There were bigger consequences at stake here. "You can trust me, Captain. My lips are sealed."
"Wonderful." She looked over at Tuvok. "Mr. Tuvok, if you please?"
Silent until now, Tuvok took a step forward. "On the day of your experiment aboard the Cochrane the internal sensors detected an unusual signal emission from Voyager's EPS conduits. Upon closer examination I was able to determine the cause of the emission. Someone on board this vessel has been using the EPS network to send covert transmissions."
It took a second for Tom to realize that his mouth was agape. "You mean there's a spy on the ship?"
"Indeed. It seems that Voyager's crew is quite adept at espionage," Tuvok candidly observed.
"Wait a minute," Tom said, finally absorbing the impact of Tuvok's revelation. "You think this has happened before?"
"Precisely. This person is extremely clever and intelligent: he or she knew how to utilize the ship's own waste energy to encode the transmissions, making it appear as random galactic background noise. Unfortunately I was unable to trace the source point of the transmission, so I do not know who's responsible. Our spy may have been sending out message for months without detection."
"Tuvok and I have made a few speculations," the captain cut in. "We have reason to suspect that Seska is involved. It would certainly explain the recent increase in attacks by Kazon ships; our spy could be relaying our location and flight course to her."
"We believe that one of the former Maquis crew is responsible," Tuvok added. "It is no secret that some of them are still having trouble accepting Starfleet procedures and protocols. Our spy may be trying to gain favour with Seska by providing tactical information."
Tom wasn't sure how to respond. "So where exactly do I fit in all of this, Captain? What can I offer you that Tuvok or some other security officer can't already handle?"
She didn't respond immediately. Picking up her obviously cold cup of tea, the captain walked casually to the replicator and set the cup in the dispenser slot. "I've given this considerable thought, Mr. Paris. I wish I didn't have to make my decision based on this, but given your turbulent past with Starfleet you are in the best position to complete this mission successfully." The hum of the replicator ceased, the teacup dissolved in a swirl of energy. "You've earned a reputation as a man with a jaded opinion of Starfleet, an ex-con concerned more with satisfying his own personal interests than with serving the common good. I want to take advantage of that reputation to set a trap for our spy, force him into revealing his identity." She sat down once more. "Tuvok and I have already made several attempts to discover the spy's identity without success. I didn't want to resort to this unless there was no alternative, but now there's no choice. You may not like what I'm about to propose, but you're going to resign your commission and leave Voyager."
Tom frowned. "You're right, I don't like it."
"Don't worry, it'll just be for show. The only people who will know what's really going on are you, Tuvok and myself. Everyone else has to be convinced that you are truly dissatisfied being on Voyager, only that way will the spy take the bait."
Tom relaxed slightly, but remained sombre. "Makes sense, I guess."
"In order to pull off our little charade, we'll have to build up to it gradually over several weeks. Become a disruptive influence. Be creative, but try not to do anything that would seriously harm the ship or the crew. Then, when the time is right, you pack up your bags and bid us farewell."
"And you assume the spy will pass that information on to Seska."
"With your experience and amount of knowledge about Voyager, I suspect she'll try recruiting you. You're going to allow yourself to be captured. Once you're on board Maj Cullah's ship, your mission will be to discover the spy's identity and get that information back to us by any means possible."
Tom's initial enthusiasm about this mission waned. It sounded more and more like a suicide mission the more the captain described it. He told her exactly that.
"I know it won't be an easy task earning Seska's trust. However, she knows as much about your reputation as everyone else here. If you can convince her that you no longer saw an advantage in serving under my command, Seska may accept you more readily. If you can't get close to her, though, we'll supply you with components to tap into their communications system."
"When all else fails, eavesdrop. That's quite a plan." He sighed. "I know it's too late to change my mind, but I have to tell you I'm not too crazy about playing the part of 'bad seed'. I've worked my butt off for a year and a half already to get everyone on my side. This mission is going to undo that in a hurry."
"I won't lie to you, Mr. Paris. Your ties on Voyager will suffer during the course of your operative. Psychologically this will be the most difficult part of the mission for you, but it is important to remember that it will only be for a short time. When this mission is over I'll be able to debrief the entire crew. Once they are informed of the mission, everyone should be more accepting of your behaviour. I'm fairly certain that there isn't a single person on this ship who doesn't understand the demands of a stealth mission."
"I hope you're right." Tom stood, sensing a conclusion to the meeting. "Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to try and salvage what's left of my date."
Janeway stood up as well. "Remember, Mr. Paris. You can't divulge anything about this meeting to her."
He rubbed his chin in thought. "Yeah, you're right. She'll probably want to know why Tuvok asked to see me, too. I'll need a cover story that she won't bother checking into." He looked at Tuvok, and he remembered his earlier suspicions. "And I think I have one that'll work perfectly."
Tuvok raised a single eyebrow in question.
The lights in Leena's cabin were dimmed almost to the point of being off. Tom hesitated, allowing his eyes to adjust to the subdued lighting. The soothing strains of soft jazz music permeated the room. He silently cursed the fates that conspired to make his life miserable. After the admission he'd made at dinner, how could he tell her that they couldn't get involved now without raising her suspicions?
"So, you decided to show up after all," he heard her say. She appeared, seemingly from nowhere, from an oversized easy chair. "I was beginning to think that you'd changed your mind."
"Nothing could have stopped me from coming here. I've fantasized about this night since the first day I saw you."
"Now why am I not surprised to hear that?" Leena snaked her arms around Tom's waist and kissed him. She slid her hands up his torso, her hips gently swaying in time with the slow tempo of the music. Tom put his arms around her waist and Leena moved closer. She rested her chin on his shoulder and they began a lazy circuit about the room.
The fabric of her crushed velvet top enticingly brushed against his fingers. Tom remembered the first time he'd seen Leena wear it, the night when she came to Sandrine's and told him that he could date her. The garment added an additional softness to her already ample voluptuousness; it completely stripped away her professional identity to reveal the embodiment of femininity. It had quickly become his most favourite piece of her wardrobe. Tom nearly lost himself in the moment, drinking in the feel of her body pressed against his, the slight scent of perfume in her hair, the steady rhythm of her breathing. Everything just felt right.
Only now it was exactly the wrong time. He couldn't help but laugh at the irony.
"What's so funny?" Leena lifted her head and looked at him.
Tom knew that this was the perfect opportunity to cover his tracks. "Tuvok, that's what."
She grinned. "Why? What did he do at your meeting?"
"That matter of ship's security he mentioned? It's me, dating you."
The expression of disbelief on her face was priceless. She laughed incredulously. "What?"
"For the most part he grilled me about my efficiency ratings and shift reports and stuff. I thought he was just being his usual anal-retentive Vulcan self, but near the end he started asking me questions about you. How much time we've been spending together lately, what things we've been doing." He shook his head. "I finally realized that he was scouting me out, trying to find things that might be putting you at risk."
"Oh, come on. What reason would Lieutenant Tuvok have to meddle in other people's private relationships, let alone ours?"
"Isn't it obvious? He still doesn't trust me, or at least he doesn't trust me around you. You're one of his top security officers. He probably feels responsible for protecting his personnel from potential threats."
Leena set her hands squarely on her hips and struck a defiant pose. "I'm quite capable of protecting myself, thank you very much, and Lieutenant Tuvok knows that better than anyone."
Tom smirked. "I'm sure he does, but maybe he thinks you won't be able to stand up against my charm."
"Is that so?" she smirked back. "Well then, he obviously isn't aware that I'm in perfect control of the situation."
Tom felt a tingle of excitement when Leena leaned forward and kissed him, her full bosom pressed up against his chest. He explored her body with his hands, desiring to experience as much of her as possible. His eyes fluttered closed, allowing his other senses to absorb her.
The exchange intensified; their breathing got harder, their groping more insistent. Tom's pulse pounded in his ears and he thought he could feel his blood churning into froth. It seemed that Leena's control of the situation was quickly disintegrating, but Tom didn't think much about it. As it was he could hardly concentrate on anything except prolonging the moment.
It was therefore a rude shock when Leena pulled away. Tom desperately tried to reattach but she held him back. He opened his eyes. Her face was flushed.
"See," she said, panting slightly. "Perfect control."
Still light-headed, Tom looked at her blankly. He then blinked as though just awakening. "I'm sorry, were we talking about something?"
"Never mind," she said, laughing softly. She stepped backward, tugging him in the direction of her bedroom. "Besides, I know of something I'd rather do that doesn't require quite as much articulation. If you're up for the challenge, that is."
Tom tried to swallow down the dry lump in his throat. "Oh, trust me, I'm up."
On to Chapter 2...
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