The following presentation is rated G.
"Harry! Just the man I've been looking for," called out the
irreverent Lieutenant Paris from across the corridor, spotting the raw
ensign emerging from the mess hall.
Harry Kim returned a cordial smile. Coming straight out of the Academy to man Voyager's operations center, his relationship with the cocky, yet dedicated navigator wasn't colored by Tom's dark and troubled past. If anything, Harry respected the man for having the courage and temerity to stand up for people's freedom, and for having the strength of character to turn himself in for incarceration after that accident. To many of the Starfleet crew Tom was a traitor, but Harry saw a man who cared enough about other people to do something he thought would make a difference. "Hi, Tom, what's up? Been to dinner yet?"
"Not a chance," he replied disdainfully, although his tone of voice was made much lighter by the puckish grin plastered on his face. "I've had enough of Neelix's cooking to last me for the next seventy years. Actually, I've been saving up on my replicator rations, and I thought I'd spend them at Sandrine's. And since I was already on my way, I wondered if you were interested in shooting some stick...if you're not doing anything tonight, that is."
Harry didn't take long to consider the offer; it seemed like ages since he played a game of pool. "Sounds like a good idea. I was going to practice T'Kohr's Symphony this evening, but I guess I can put it off for a few hours."
"Then what are we standing around for? Let's go!" Tom gleefully escorted the ensign down the corridor to the turbolift.
Tom always enjoyed coming back to the holographic simulation of
Chez Sandrine's, a busy little French bistro nestled in the Marseilles
waterfront. He had taken great pains to program in the most articulate and
subtle characteristics of the place: the old hardwood floor, now made
seamless with the polylaminate finish; the replicas of the historically
authentic 19th Century French bar stools with leather upholstery; the air
moderately polluted by tobacco smoke and old liquor; and of course, the
classic Brunswick billiard table tucked away in the corner of the lounge.
Officially, Tom had said he created the program to help the crew cope with the stress of being suddenly stranded in the Delta Quadrant, by providing "a taste of home." However, Sandrine's had actually been a personal means of escape: for Tom, the bistro was a source of great comfort, a place he frequently visited to forget about his problems. As a castaway among castaways, he hoped he could make the re-creation so realistic that, by some chance, when leaving the tavern he would find himself back in Marseilles, with Voyager being just another figment of his imagination. That fantasy was a long time ago, and thankfully short- lived. As he watched Harry set up the table, he reflected at how much improved his life had become now: a clean slate, a new commission, a few new friends, and a rediscovered self-respect.
Harry scrutinized the big plate of food being served to the pilot, chalking the cue of his stick while doing so. "Tom, you can't seriously tell me that what you're eating is nutritious."
Tom looked down at the platter, a big club sandwich cradling a pile of beer-battered shrimp, then back at Harry. "What? Geez, Harry, you're starting to sound like my mother. Life's short enough as it is; live a little." he retorted, taking a big bite out of the sandwich.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Fine, whatever. It's your arteries. Are we going to play pool or not?"
"Go ahead and break, I'll catch up with you," he responded between a couple of shrimp.
The ensign walked back to the fine oak game table, smoothing his hand over the soft green felt covering the surface. He bounced the cue ball off the bumper a couple of times off the bumper to test its reaction. Satisfied, he set the ball up on the break line, lined up the angle, and snapped off a hard shot. The cue struck the lead ball just across its face, sending balls careening in a myriad of directions. The Eleven rattled around in one of the wells before dropping into the corner pocket. When the action on the table had settled, the Ten was easily lined up to the side.
"Looks like I'll take stripes, Tom," he commented while moving around to take the shot. Tom glanced up briefly to look at the layout, then returned his attention to the club sandwich.
The first few shots were easy enough: first the Ten, then Fourteen, then Fifteen. Unfortunately, Harry used too much front English when he hit the Fifteen, and the cue bounced too hard off the bumper, leaving a very difficult angle on the Twelve. With no other shot to play, he attempted to play the Twelve off the bank in to the corner, but hit the angle too fat. The lie wasn't easy, but he'd seen Tom make even harder shots before. Biting back a curse, he nodded to the lieutenant. "You're up, Tom."
Paris licked his greasy fingers and wiped them off with a napkin as his made his way over too the table. He looked over the table carefully, chalking up his stick, and grimaced. "Not much to work with," he said to no one, and bent over the table to make his run. He started with a quiet thin angle on the Three in the corner, rolling the cue back out to the middle of the table. It lined up straight with the Seven to the side, and he pulled it down hard with a little back English, sucking the cue over to the rail. Another soft shot down the table pocketed the One into the corner, followed quickly by the Two into the adjacent corner. Harry was ready to grab the rack for the next game, but Tom missed slightly on the angle for the Five; it bounced in the well a couple of times, but wouldn't go. Tom shook his head in disbelief, but backed away from the table gracefully. The ensign took the game from there, potting the Nine, Thirteen, Twelve and Eight ball with ease.
"Lucky break, Harry," Paris grumbled, pulling balls out of the pockets for the next game. "But next time you won't be so fortunate."
"We'll just see about that," the ensign returned.
The next four games varied little in their script. Tom would
always fail to sink anything off the break, while giving Harry a relatively
good lie each time. Whenever Harry missed a shot, Tom would come back on a
good roll, but always ended up with either a bad lie or just missing the
right angle on a shot, and Harry would finish the game.
Harry couldn't suppress his confident grin during the fourth game. "Looks like you're losing your finesse, Tom," he taunted playfully, playing a quiet angle off the rail to push the Two into the corner.
The pilot glared back. "I'm sure it's just temporary." Watching him punch the Four into the adjacent corner, Tom decided to change the subject. "Maybe it's just because I'm getting anxious about not having found a real relationship yet."
Harry had to pause to avoid muffing his shot and looked at his friend with unmasked surprise. "You? A man who's had as many casual relationships as he's had physical check-ups? I must be hallucinating."
"Ha-ha, very funny, Harry. I'm trying to be serious here. People on the ship are really starting to sort each other out, and I'm afraid I'll get left out." He watched glumly as Harry punched the Eight into the side pocket for yet another win. "You're killing me, you know that?"
The ensign smiled cheerfully and began setting up the table again. "Tom, I really don't think you have much to worry about. Okay, so maybe you've got a bit of an image problem right now, but you're a really good person, and maybe the best looking guy on the whole ship; the women will come around eventually."
"I sure hope so -- come on, get down there!" he snapped suddenly at the Six, which was rolling across the table towards one of the corner pockets. It decided to take a rest and hugged up against the rail two inches away. Tom swore under his breath...again. "Well, what about you, Harry? Got anyone lined up yet?"
Harry returned a stern look, as usual. "You already know how I feel about that, Tom. I plan on seeing Libby again."
A pained look crossed the lieutenant's face. "Aw, you're not still hung up on her, are you? Harry, when are you going to face up to reality like the rest of us? Everyone in the Alpha Quadrant believes we're all dead and have moved on. We have to move on, too...all of us." Harry drilled the shot a little harder than necessary; the Fourteen slammed into the corner pocket, but the cue rolled too far past the Nine to get a good shot. "Do you know how many women on this ship are interested in you, Harry?"
"I don't want to talk about it, Tom," warned the ensign.
He pressed on anyway. "There's Jenny Delaney. I know she still wants to apologize after tipping the gondola on that last date."
Harry pocketed the Eleven, but again the cue rolled into a bad position. "I thought the Delaney sisters were involved now."
"Yeah, I think Jenny has been going out with Ensign Parsons, and Megan's been seeing Lt. Carey, but I don't think anything's been cast in stone yet. Then there's Ensign Nicoletti, she's definitely interested in you, Har. And by the way she's been looking at you, I'd say B'Elanna wants to get to know you, too."
"Oh, yeah, right, like I'll believe that," Harry replied, perhaps a bit too quickly. He just barely nicked the Nine and nearly scratched the cue. "B'Elanna wouldn't give me the time of day if I asked her."
Tom tapped the Five into the side smoothly. "Care to make a bet on that?"
"I'd rather take my chances with Jenny Delaney again."
The corner of Tom's mouth crooked upward. "You got a deal." He hit the Six too thin, setting up the Ten in the process.
"Huh, what?" Harry wasn't sure what had just occurred.
"I'll bet you the next game. If I win, you go out on another date with Jenny Delaney. I'm sure I could swing another double date."
Harry frowned. "Hey, wait a minute, I didn't mean that...."
"Too late, Harry. You already suggested the bet. I would've liked to see you on a date with Torres, but beggars can't be choosers.
Harry knew he'd never get out of it now. Then again, Tom hadn't been playing well all evening. "Well, what happens if I win? What are you going to do?"
Paris smiled coyly. "I don't suppose I could go out with Jenny, and you with Megan?"
"Nice try. No, the punishment must be as equally severe." Harry contemplated for a couple of minutes, taking the time to finish the fifth game. "I've got it," he said as he knocked down the Eight ball. "If I win, you have to eat each and every one of Neelix's meals for two weeks...and tell him you like every one of them."
Tom gave the ensign a hurt look. "What are trying to do, Harry, kill me by food poisoning or by wrath of God for lying?"
"That's the terms, or it's no bet."
"All right, fine, if it'll get you to play," he acceded, lining up the break. The spheres flew across the table. This time both the Three and Nine balls dropped. Tom studied the table for a minute. "Solids," he announced, leaning up on the rail to hit the One.
Harry watched with a slow sinking feeling as Tom ran the table with his usual style. He realized he'd been sharked again as the lieutenant chipped the Two into the side pocket with a bank shot, then the Five into the corner with a double bank shot. When the Eight ball slid into the side, Tom looked up at him with his trademark smile. "So, what time's good for you, Harry?"
"One of these days, Tom, I'm going to make you regret hustling me like this," he growled in frustration.
"Possibly," Tom acquiesced, grinning even harder. "But I wouldn't count on it."
Harry still couldn't believe Tom had manipulated him like that as
he checked the chronometer. Even more surprising was how quickly he'd
managed to set up the dates. He must have been planning it already, he
mused, or he wouldn't have gone through the trouble of hustling me.
They were going to pick up the Delaney sisters together and escort them to the holodeck. Tom didn't say too much about the program they were going to use, but it wouldn't be Venice like last time, much to Harry's relief. He did, however, ask Harry to bring a picnic basket. Neelix had only been too accommodating to assist in its preparation that afternoon while Harry attended his station at Ops. The aroma of spices emanating from the basket were pleasant enough when he picked it up after his shift ended, so Harry hoped the Talaxian cook hadn't included any unexpected surprises. He'd carefully explained what and who the picnic basket was for.
At 1951 Tom came calling, a bottle of red wine tucked under his arm. Harry wondered how he also managed that as he grabbed the basket on the way out. A few short minutes later they were standing outside the Delaney quarters on Deck Eight...side by side, as expected. Harry relaxed a little bit: On their previous date Jenny had remarked how close she and Megan were and how they liked to do things together. Obviously -- and thankfully -- they didn't share quarters as well; any suitors would feel uncomfortable with that situation.
Tom and Harry signaled their arrival, and almost in unison the sisters greeted them. Harry could admit in silence that Tom was correct about one thing: Jenny and Megan could possibly be the two most sought after women on the ship. Both were extremely attractive, possessing toned and voluptuous figures, and thick lustrous hair. In fact, you could hardly tell them apart from the way they wore their hair in the same fashion.
"Hi, Harry!" bubbled the stellar cartographer, unable to hide her enthusiasm. "I'm so glad you finally changed your mind about going out again. I didn't think I'd ever get the chance to make it up to you for behaving so badly last time. Tom didn't tell me you were still hung up on your old girlfriend when he said you needed cheering up."
"Yeah, Tom has a tendency to leave out little details like that," he answered a bit distractedly, glancing over to spot Tom already getting close with his date. He raised his voice to make sure the other couple would hear. "Well, shall we go then?"
The other couple disentangled from each other, both looking a little flushed from embarrassment. Harry hooked Jenny's arm around his and the two pairs made their way to Deck Six.
The selected program was very impressive, and perhaps quite appropriate for a second date. The Canadian Rockies stretched across the landscape with majestic presence in front of them, a small blue ribbon of water framed by green pines twisting its way along the base of the mountains. They were situated on a dusty path leading up to a cozy chalet some fifty meters away, a few hundred feet up the side of another mountain. "Wow, what is this place, Tom?" Megan asked, eyes as wide as saucers.
"It's a section of the Rockies known as the Kootenays," he explained. "I remember coming here once on a family vacation when I was just a kid. Found it kind of boring, though. My dad insisted on a real nature trip -- roughing it and the whole bit. One of the worst summers I ever experienced. Still, you've got to admire the scenery."
"I think it's just gorgeous," gushed Jenny, involuntarily wrapping herself more tightly around Harry's arm. Harry tensed to signal his discomfort. She suddenly realized what she was doing and relaxed her grip, abashed.
"I think we should eat this food before it gets too cold," Megan commented bluntly. "Should we go to the chalet or find a place to sit down out here?"
"Mm, an outdoor picnic would be nice," her sister offered. "I hoped you remembered to pack a tablecloth."
Harry hadn't expected that, but Tom remained cool. "No problem, we can just ask the computer to create one. There should be a clearing about fifteen meters this way," he said, pointing down the road to the chalet.
Just as he said, after a five minute walk the Douglas firs parted to reveal a small grassy clearing overlooking the river valley. Harry had never been up this far north back on Earth, but he remembered from his family photo album that some of his ancestors used to live in Colorado near the Northern Rockies. From the scenery around him, they must have enjoyed it very much.
"Computer, place a tablecloth in the middle of the clearing, eight feet by twelve feet, checkerboard pattern," Tom spoke to the air. A moment later a red-and-white checked tablecloth appeared.
"How Norman Rockwell, Tom," Megan grinned at him.
The foursome sat down on the cloth, the coolness of the earth seeping through from underneath. Harry unpacked the meal from the basket, while Tom programmed a bucket of ice with which to chill the bottle of wine. It looked like Neelix had done a good job on the picnic dinner. Not only did the entrees smell good, they looked appetizing as well. Harry recognized most of the dishes without looking at the little labels Neelix attached to the food containers, but there were a couple he hadn't seen before. Let's hope they taste as good as they look, though, he thought to himself.
The evening actually passed by pleasantly. Jenny behaved herself well, although perhaps due to the presence of the other couple, who didn't feel quite as inhibited in expressing their attraction to each other. The sun, now beginning it's descent behind the mountains, bathed the sky with a rich copper hue. And the picnic was outstanding, even Neelix's new recipes. That one -- the glommich, Harry believed it was -- was especially tasty. He even surprised Jenny -- and himself -- by offering her a taste. He hadn't shared a meal like that since Libby. The reminiscence instantly put Harry back into a more dour mood; Jenny, on the other hand, looked more hopeful of the night's prospects, though she remained quiet.
"Would you like to go for an after-dinner walk, Harry?" she asked, straightening the collar of her sweater. "I think my legs could use a stretch."
"Sure." He looked over to Tom and Megan. "You guys want to join us?"
Tom looked at his friend for a brief moment, while Megan rubbed her hand across his chest. "Um, you two go on without us. I think we'll go check out the chalet instead."
"Okay then." Harry turned back to his date, offering her a hand up. "I guess we're all set."
Jenny extended her hand, clasping it in Harry's as he pulled up from her seated position. He thought her hand felt a bit clammy, but when he saw the ashen color of her face, he immediately grew concerned. "Jenny, are you all right?"
"I'm not sure," she replied shakily. "I just feel a little short of breath right now." She tried to suck in some air, but it sounded more like a wheeze.
"Something's not right; I'd better get you to Sickbay." He laced his arm around her to lend support and began escorting her to the holodeck exit.
The other couple finally noticed what was occurring as Jenny's wheezing grew more pronounced. "My god, what's happening? Jenny?" cried Megan, struggling to get to her feet.
"Don't worry, Megan, I'm taking her to Sickbay," Harry tried to console her. "I'm sure it's nothing serious." At that moment Jenny's legs gave out, nearly pulling him over. Recovering his balance, Harry cradled her up against his chest and scurried out of the holodeck, a worried Megan looking on.
"I'll walk you back to your quarters if you want, Meg, and we can wait for them there," Tom spoke up dejectedly, knowing that his evening was now dead. For reassurance, he added, "Harry's probably right; she'll be just fine."
Megan gave him an appreciative hug. "Thanks for understanding, Tom."
His smile was meant to comfort, but he couldn't help but feel disappointed how things had turned out as he packed up the picnic basket.
"It appears Ensign Delaney is suffering from an allergic reaction
to something she ingested," the doctor stated as he ran a few scans on his
latest patient. "Any idea what that might be, Mr. Kim?"
"I can't be too sure. Neelix made up quite a variety of entrees." Harry's brow furrowed with effort as he tried to recall what Jenny had eaten. "Let's see, we had the Alfarean hair pasta...the wood-fraak...." It really seemed pointless: they'd all eaten the stuff before, and Jenny would have avoided any dishes she knew she was allergic to any of them. "Wait a sec...there were a few new things Neelix included in the basket. But I'm not sure what she had."
"Well, this ought to relieve the reaction and allow her breathe clearly again, so she should be able to tell us herself," the hologram remarked, depressing the hypo against her carotid artery. Within seconds Jenny's breathing cleared up, the color returning to her face. "Ensign Delaney, can you remember any of the unfamiliar foods you've eaten this evening?"
Her voice was rough, but Jenny was looking a lot healthier. "Um, yeah. I'm not sure I remember what they were called, though. There was that orangey-colored stuff...."
"That would be the kumja," Harry clarified.
"Right," she continued. "And that stuff you told me to try, too."
"The glommich, yeah."
"Anything else?" the doctor prodded.
His patient considered for a moment. "No, that's it."
"Very well. I'll have to contact Mr. Neelix to obtain those food samples for analysis," he stated flatly. "I'll also have to request that you come back in 36 hours so I can get a clean sample of your blood to isolate your allergy. In the mean time, avoid both of those foods. You're free to go, Ensign."
Jenny started to get up from the biobed, but Harry stopped her. "Hold on a second, I think I have an idea to get back at Tom for all the tricks he's pulled in the past. I'm going to need your help, though, Jenny. Yours too, Doctor, if you'll do it."
The doctor looked at Harry quizzically. "I'm not sure I follow you, ensign. What exactly are you proposing?"
"Call it a practical joke, Doctor. It's about time Tom had a taste of his own medicine."
Jenny smiled conspiratorially. "Hustling the hustler? Sounds interesting, Harry."
"A deliberate act of deception meant to embarrass or humble its victim," the doctor pondered. A smirk appeared on the hologram's face -- Harry almost believed the doctor was amused by the suggestion of putting Tom Paris in his place. "What did you have in mind, Mr. Kim?"
Harry grinned malevolently. Tom would rue the day he messed with him.
Tom had given up trying to curtail Megan's incessant pacing of her
quarters, choosing instead to simply watch her from his place in an easy
chair. It had been twenty minutes since Harry had carried her sister off
to the infirmary, so obviously the situation was more serious than any of
them had first guessed. Certainly Harry would have come back to update
them on her condition, or at least used the ship's communications to call
Tom nearly jumped out of his chair when the beep of the comm channel finally came. "Lieutenant Paris, please report to Sickbay immediately."
It felt like his heart had sunk into the pit of his stomach as raced to Sickbay. Already he felt responsible for whatever was going on, since it was his idea to have a picnic date. If it was indeed food poisoning he'd have to have a serious talk with Neelix, "Maquis style".
The first thing he saw entering Sickbay was Jenny and Harry both laid out on biobeds, not looking at all well. In fact, Harry looked even worse than Jenny. "Doctor? What is it? What's going on?"
"Ah, Lieutenant Paris, I'm glad you're here," the hologram answered solemnly. "I'm afraid I don't have good news. It appears that Ensigns Kim and Delaney are suffering from an unusual type of food poisoning."
"God, I knew it!" Tom muttered. "When I get my hands on Neelix, I'm going to...."
The doctor interrupted before he could finish. "Normally I would agree with you, Mr. Paris, but before you exact your frustrations on Mr. Neelix, you should understand that it's not just a simple case of food poisoning." He handed Tom a data padd. "When Mr. Kim first brought in Ensign Delaney, my initial scans showed that some of the food she ingested was interacting with the alcohol in her stomach to produce a toxin."
"The wine," the pilot mumbled, his face paling.
"Oh, is that what is was? That could help in preparing a more stable anti-toxin," the doctor noted. "Anyway, shortly afterwards Mr. Kim showed symptoms similar to those he described...respiratory difficulty, dizziness, and loss of blood circulation. I found the same thing occurring to Mr. Kim, except the concentration of the toxin in his bloodstream is much higher. I've been able to stabilize them both for now, but it's only temporary until I find that anti-toxin. The toxin causes a gradual shutdown of the circulatory system, and then slowly works its way into the central nervous system."
"Wait a minute, Doc," Tom side-tracked. "If there's more of this stuff in Harry's blood, why was Jenny affected first?"
The doctor returned an frustrated look. "I don't know for sure. It could be general body chemistry, or possibly metabolism, maybe even differences in hormone ratios."
Tom walked over to Harry's bedside, clutching his forehead with anxiety. "God, Harry, I'm sorry. You've got to believe me when I tell you that this was all just an accident. I never meant for any of this to happen. I just wanted to score some brownie points with Megan, but I knew I'd never get another chance with her unless I set you up with Jenny again."
Harry's prone form stirred slightly. "Tom, is that you?" he groaned. The sound he produced made Tom wilt on the inside.
He squeezed Harry's arm. "I'm here for you, Harry."
The ensign turned his head slightly to face him, although with great strain. "I don't think I'm going to make it, Tom."
"Don't say that, Harry. The Doc says he'll come up with an anti-toxin, no problem."
Harry labored for a bit of air. "Tom, will you do a favor for me?"
The navigator leaned further over the bed. "You name it, Harry...anything you want."
"I know this may sound strange, but..." he paused, a cough rattling in his lungs. "You remember that bet we made the other night? I know you must feel like it's your fault we're here, but if you honor your part of that bet, I won't hold this against you."
It was definitely a strange request, but after nearly killing his best friend, he deserved to suffer through two weeks of being Neelix's personal taste tester. Heck, he deserved at least a month for this. "You got yourself a deal, pal."
Harry managed a weak smile. "You really mean it?"
Tom patted him on the arm. "You bet. Tom Paris is a man of his word."
A sudden fit of giggling startled Tom. Turning around, he saw Jenny lying on the other table, enjoying herself immensely despite being deathly ill. Harry suddenly propped himself on his elbows, a wide grin on his pasty face, startling Tom even more. He stumbled backward, nearly falling over his feet.
"I'm going to hold you to that, Tom," he said, still grinning fiercely. The doctor came to his side and injected him with something. The color momentarily returned to his cheeks.
Tom suddenly realized he'd been duped. "There's no toxin, is there? This was all just a hoax to get me to accept that bet."
"Had you going there for a while there, though, didn't we?" Harry confirmed.
"And don't think you can get out of it either, Tom," Jenny piped in. "Harry's got two witnesses; besides, 'Tom Paris is a man of his word', isn't he?"
"I swear, I'm going to make you pay for this, Kim," the lieutenant
threatened as he stared down two large plates piled with Neelix's latest
dinner menu. He wrinkled his nose at the pungent aroma that the food
produced. Leola root, he commiserated, why does it have to be leola root?
"Possibly," remarked a chipper ensign, sharing an amused glance with Lieutenant Torres. "But I wouldn't count on it."
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