A curious thing occurred to me just the other day. I recieved a feedback e-mail from a friend and associate (a regular contributor to Alt.StarTrek.Creative) concerning this very story. Now, let me tell you, it's flattering enough when someone tells you how much they liked a story you wrote four years ago. It's another thing when they make comments about how much more impact some passages have after watching fifth season episodes! While admittedly this isn't the best material I've produced in the short time I've been writing (and maybe I'll never be able to produce truly readable fiction in my life), reading that one feedback really hit home for me. Is it not the goal of every writer, professional or otherwise, to put pen to paper and create a message that speaks to the reader, now matter how distant into the future? Thank you, dear friend, for giving me a moment to feel like I can do that.
Though the time has passed, I still can not forget to give thanks to the one who gave me enough of a spark of creativeness to begin my foray into media fiction. Melissa, from the depths of my soul I send my gratitude to you.
The following presentation is rated PG. Parents may want to decide whether younger children should be allowed to read this.
"Eight ball, triple bump off the rag, corner pocket."
Lt. Tom Paris coolly lined up his shot, then looking up from the table, flashed his opponent a cocky grin, wound up and struck the cue ball, which immediately impacted the eight. The black ball rolled smoothly across the table, hitting the bumper once, twice, then a third time, heading back towards the shooter. It inched its way up to the lip of the pocket and stopped.
Now it was Ensign Kim's turn for a smug grin of his own as he crossed his arms over his chest. "Looks like you lose, Tom." He walked around to the side of the table and made a motion to grab the ball rack when Tom interrupted him with a gesture of his hand.
"Ah-ah -- not so fast, Harry!" he chided. "Take a look."
Kim's expression of annoyance turned to one of utter shock as the eight ball teetered slightly, then dropped silently into the pocket. There was a sudden eruption of cheers, the total sum of patrons at Sandrine's applauding Tom's shot.
"Thank you, thank you," Tom acknowledged with great embellishment. He didn't even notice how much he was perspiring.
B'Elanna and Kes emerged from the crowd and worked their way to Tom's side. Tom seemed unfazed when they both embraced him affectionately.
"Oh, Tom," B'Elanna purred, "you're so incredible. What would we ever do without you?"
"Oh, I think you'd survive. Just barely, mind you, but -- ugh!" Tom clutched his stomach the instant he felt the knot forming. "What's ha -- argh!"
Pain ripped through his body, forcing him to pitch overtop the pool table. The only things he was aware of were the shrill screams of the young Ocampa and the sounds of tearing flesh.
Once the pain had ebbed away and his breath returned, Tom unsteadily lifted himself off the table. Everyone in Sandrine's had either left or retreated to the far side of the barroom, stricken with looks of terror and fear.
"What's going on?" he asked -- or at least that's what he meant to say. All that came out was "Grrraack."
Sweeping his gaze about the room, he fixed his stare onto a mirror. In a flash he crossed the room, sending people skittering away, and stood paralyzed when he saw his reflection, lizard head and all. In a sudden wave of panic, Tom began screeching.
Tom bolted upright from his bed in Sickbay drenched in sweat, his lungs grasping for oxygen.
The frightfully gruesome image of a Kazon appeared on the small
monitor. "What is it this time, Jonas?" he asked impatiently.
Jonas allowed a nervous glance at the flashing indicator on his communications device. "I haven't much time, Rettik, but I thought Seska might be interested in the events following the Warp 10 shuttle flight." With the push of a few buttons, copies of the medical and mission logs were dispatched to the Nistrom ship.
"Exactly what happened?" Rettik inquired.
"Let's just say Lieutenant Paris and Captain Janeway had a radical change in life styles. It's all in the logs. Rettik," he added before the Kazon could sever the link, "I was really hoping that next time I could talk to Seska --"
"Seska is very busy assisting the Maj," was the curt response, "but I assure you, she has been well informed of your assistance. Nistrom out." The monitor suddenly went dead.
Jonas clenched his fists so tight his knuckles paled. He was getting fed up with having to deal with the uncooperative Rettik. After all of the important information he had given them, he still felt like he wasn't being taken seriously. That's all going to change, he told himself as he quickly bundled up his equipment.
It was turning out to be another unassuming duty shift for Voyager's
chief security officer, and while the Vulcan would not admit if it pleased him,
he was satisfied that the performance of his security detail was at its usual
efficiency. He was currently plotting the schedule for yet another "surprise"
readiness drill when his console alerted him to an anomalous power
fluctuation in the EPS network. He attempted to localize the source of the
fluctuation, but it vanished before the electrical impulse from his brain
reached his hand. Arching an eyebrow, he instead decided to initiate a
diagnostic on the EPS sensor log, hoping to shed some light on this peculiar
What he discovered sent all of his senses into full security mode. Several possible scenarios played through his mind while he ran additional tests. Slowly, as each subsequent search bore no new information, theories were logically discarded until there remained one very disturbing conclusion. Tuvok checked his chronometer: the captain was not due to be released from Sickbay for another three hours, although it was logical to assume that she would convince the Doctor to release her early. He would visit her quarters when his shift ended; if his hypothesis was correct, he would have to approach this with the utmost discretion.
Captain Janeway breathed a sigh of relief the moment the doors to her
quarters slid shut, pleased that she managed to talk her way out of spending
the final three hours in Sickbay. The Doctor was clearly agitated by her
request, but it had its vindication by ordering her directly to her quarters.
It wasn't like she disliked the EMH -- it had a unique charm to its personality
-- but its over-professionalism had a way of grating on your patience. How
long does it take for an adaptive program to adapt, anyway? The thought
reminded her of the Doctor's insensitive method of waking Lt. Paris last week
by yelling into his ear. A sympathetic smile crossed her lips. Poor Tom; he's
endured so much. At least the crew should show him some more respect after
what's happened this last week. Just thinking of Tom's unnatural evolution
made her shudder: after all, she underwent the same transformation, she knew
how he felt. Fortunately for her (if you could call it fortunate), she had
quickly suffocated and had been unconscious for most of it, but the experience
still made her skin crawl.
She paused in front of the replicator, pondering whether or not to expend one of her rations for a cup of Vulcan spice tea, but ultimately decided against it. Despite her stomach's protests, she would wait for dinner at the mess hall. She plopped down on the sofa, and inclining her feet, closed her eyes and took a few deep relaxing breaths. However, her thoughts kept returning to Tom, wondering how long it would take him to recover from the trauma of being trapped in Sickbay like a caged animal while his body fell apart before his eyes. She was aware of the difficulty he was having getting to sleep; hopefully it wouldn't take him long to overcome the nightmares and not need any sedatives to put him under.
Janeway sighed in frustration. Just sitting here wasn't helping; she needed to be on the bridge, where her only concerns would be running her ship, her troubles easily forgotten. As if on cue, the door chimed.
"Come." The doors parted to reveal her long time friend and counsel. As usual, the Vulcan stood ramrod straight, hands clasped firmly behind his back, making no attempt to enter the room. "Tuvok! This is a pleasant surprise!" Janeway reflexively straightened her position on the sofa. "What can I do for you?"
"Captain," he replied, striding into the room, "I apologize for intruding upon your convalescent time, but I feel it necessary to inform you of a potentially dire threat to the ship."
Considering that Tuvok never brought security issues to her when she was off duty, Janeway suddenly tensed up. "You've got my attention, Lieutenant. What is it?"
"Approximately 141 minutes ago the ship's internal sensors picked up an unusual signal being emitted from one of the EPS conduits. Unfortunately, its duration was not sufficient to pinpoint the exact nature of the signal. However, after performing several diagnostics, I have come to the conclusion that someone aboard Voyager has been sending transmissions without our knowledge."
"What?" Janeway literally jumped out of her seat. "How is that possible?"
"Quite remarkably, actually," the Vulcan stated. "It appears that the culprit has been encoding his transmissions in the propulsion system's waste energy. If not for a signal modulation analysis, it would be impossible to discern from normal galactic background noise. I regret to say, however, that I have been unable to trace the source. Our perpetrator is quite as skilled in removing his actions as he is in camouflaging them."
Janeway made no reply for several moments, digesting the new information. "Do you suppose this person is communicating with the Kazon?"
"Given that the most probable recipients would be either the Kazon or the Vidiians, that would be a logical assumption," was the deadpan response. "To further the point, I would surmise that the individual is communicating with the Nistrom sect, as he has a convenient point of contact."
"Seska." Janeway's brows furrowed deeply. Voyager already had enough trouble in dealing with their oldest nemesis in the Delta Quadrant, they didn't need someone on the ship giving the Kazon a trail of bread crumbs to follow.
"All right. Notify Commander Chakotay that we'll be conducting a meeting in my ready room at 1750 hours. This spy has to be apprehended, and we have to find a way to do that as fast as we possibly can."
"Captain," Tuvok interjected, "I feel it would be ill advised to include the Commander in such a discussion."
Janeway regarded her security officer with impatience. "Would you mind explaining why you feel my first officer should be kept in the dark about this?"
Tuvok made no hesitation in giving his reply. "I believe that the spy is one of the Maquis crew members."
"But you have no proof of that. For all we know, it could be one of our own crewmen." She herself couldn't really believe that, but the captain had no choice but to play devil's advocate
"It is true, Captain, that without substantial evidence, almost every person on this ship could be considered a suspect. However, I find it difficult to believe that any Starfleet officer aboard this vessel would have any motivation to commit such insubordination. In addition, both Neelix and Kes can be discounted given their past relations with the Kazon. Therefore, the only logical choice left is one of the Maquis, excluding Commander Chakotay and Ensign Ayala, who were both on the bridge at the time of my investigation, and Lieutenant Paris, who is still under the Doctor's care in Sickbay."
His analysis was nothing if but thorough. "Okay, let's suppose it is one of the Maquis. Don't you think that's all the more reason to include the commander? This will seem like a sign of mistrust on our part."
Tuvok arched an eyebrow: the Vulcan equivalent of a sigh of frustration. "I am well aware of the consequences, Captain. However, the commander may have a hard time assisting in a plan to capture a person who once served under him. I would suggest that we devise a plan, and then brief the commander only if we feel it necessary to include him."
Janeway felt uncomfortable about leaving her executive officer out of this discussion; no doubt he could come up with some valuable input to resolve the crisis. But she had to admit, Tuvok's arguments were...well, logical.
"Very well, Lieutenant; we'll do it your way. Come back to my quarters in two hours and we'll go over our options. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to see if Neelix is preparing anything edible tonight."
Tom would have run down the corridor if he thought he could have gotten away with it. His discharge from Sickbay couldn't have come soon enough in his opinion. He didn't know what was worse: the night terrors or the Doctor's flippant bedside manner. At least he had the comfort of Kes' presence. Kes could probably make Cardassian interrogation sessions a pleasant experience, he mused as he arrived at his quarters. He made a beeline for his bed chambers and crashed down hard onto the mattress. He was exhausted -- probably still had in his blood stream traces of the drugs used to force him to sleep. The unsettling dreams were becoming fewer and further between, but no less emotionally jarring. In the last episode his head was affixed to the body of a toad, trapped in a small metal cage while the entire Voyager staff paraded past and ogled him like a zoo exhibit. Nonetheless, he was confident that he could resume his piloting duties on his next duty shift. Turning back the bed covers, Tom didn't even notice that the computer hadn't acknowledged his request to turn the lights off as sleep overcame him.
Tom was only vaguely aware of the alarm as he shook off the last remnants of sleep Not one single bad dream the whole night, and he felt a rejuvenation not known to him in ages. Clambering into the shower, he welcomed the sensation of the heated water beating against his skin, and this time he allowed himself a few extra minutes, as if to wash off all the bad memories encountered in the last nine days. Finally, he turned the shower off and hopped over to the moisture-ridden mirror. Grabbing a towel, he wiped the mirror clear and grinned back at his handsome reflection, then wrapped the towel around his head and vigorously scrubbed his hair dry. Straightening up, Tom pulled the towel off and nearly had a heart attack, staring straight into a pair of tortured blue eyes set amidst a heap of melting flesh.
Tom tried to catch his breath and tame the rapid pounding of his heart. Next he checked the chronometer -- 0517. Perhaps a little early, but he had slept for nearly nine hours. In his opinion, that was remarkable progress. And despite the startling wake-up call, he was feeling quite refreshed. Well, may as well get ready for duty.
He did, however, use the sonic shower.
Harry didn't realize B'Elanna had stopped in the doorway of the mess
hall until he rammed into her backside.
"Hey, what's the big idea?" he asked irritably, picking himself up off the floor.
"I don't believe it." was the only thing she could mutter. Harry nudged her out of the doorway and gaped in silence when he targeted the object of B'Elanna's utter amazement. Tom Paris was sitting at a table, calmly and contentedly munching on what resembled green eggs and ham. As if sensing their scrutiny, Paris glanced sideways, then motioned the two to join him.
"Good morning, you two!" he chirped as the two young officers sat down. "Anyone for a cup of 'Paris Delight'? It's actually not that bad when you're not allergic to water."
Torres was the first to regain her voice. "Tom, what are you doing here?"
"Oh, gosh, I believe it's called 'eating'. Ever try it?" B'Elanna huffed impatiently and rolled her eyes in response to his sarcasm.
Harry spoke up in her defense, in spite of the fact that he couldn't remove the smile on his face. "It's just that...well, we're not accustomed to seeing you eat at normal speeds this early in the day, Tom. In fact, I can't remember the last time you sat down for breakfast for more than five minutes."
"Ooh, good one, Harry! You've been practising." Tom shot back before consuming another portion of `ham' and a slurp of Paris Delight. "Seriously, though, I woke up before my alarm went off, so I decided to enjoy a leisurely morning meal for a change."
The ensign was immediately concerned, fully aware of his friend's sleeping troubles. "Tom, are you feeling okay?"
"Harry, Harry, Harry," he admonished. "Everything's fine; it was just a bad dream, that's all. Besides, they've almost completely stopped, so there's nothing to worry about."
Harry looked unconvinced, but said nothing. Tom was about to take another bite of his green eggs when his commbadge interrupted.
"Lieutenant Paris, please report to the captain's ready room," Tuvok's steely voice announced.
He tapped the badge on his chest. "Acknowledged." Then draping the napkin across his half-eaten meal, he unseated himself. "Later, guys."
"Tom, it's good to see you back on your feet." Janeway smiled warmly
at him as the doors hissed shut behind him. "How are you feeling?"
"Just glad to get out of Sickbay, Captain," he remarked jovially.
A twitch at the corner of her mouth told him that she understood completely, but just as quick a veil of concern dropped into place. "And the nightmares?"
He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "Ah, well, I won't deny that they haven't stopped yet, but it's gotten a lot better. Didn't even need any drugs to help me sleep last night."
Again that comforting smile, one that reminded him of his mother's when he was just a boy. He smiled back in spite of himself.
Tuvok's insistent glare snapped the captain's attention back to the matter at hand.
"Lieutenant, you weren't asked here just to exchange pleasantries, I'm afraid." The captain paused for a sip of coffee. "But before we begin, you must assure me that this conversation stays in this room."
Tom sat there wide-eyed and motionless, too surprised to utter a sound. He was being asked to participate in a confidential mission? After a few moments his faculties returned; he blinked hard once, as if to finally process her request. "Um, uh, sure. Captain," he added hastily.
With that, Tuvok stood up and crossed the room, positioning himself directly behind Janeway's right shoulder.
"Lieutenant Paris, we have reason to suspect that there is a spy aboard Voyager, engaging in covert communication with the Kazon. Unfortunately, so far we have been unsuccessful in determining the identity of this individual, although it is likely to be one of the former Maquis crewmen. The captain and I have devised a plan to reveal the spy's identity, but we will require your assistance if it is to be effective."
"The plan is this:" the captain picked up before Tom could respond. "We want to arrange to have you dismissed from the ship. It is very likely that our spy will inform the Kazon of your departure, which would make you an easy target for kidnapping. Once that happens, it will be your job to infiltrate their communications systems, uncover the spy's identity and relay it back to us."
"Why me?" was the only question on Tom's mind. His head was still spinning from all he had just heard: espionage, subterfuge, suicide missions...it was a bit too much to grasp this early in the morning.
This time it was Tuvok's turn to cut in. "Given your past history with both Starfleet and the Maquis, you were the most logical choice for this assignment, in that any ill behavior you display will be more plausibly perceived by the rest of the crew."
"In other words," Tom replied indignantly, "you want me to act like the jerk everyone thinks I am. Forgive me if I don't jump at the opportunity."
"Nobody thinks of you like that, Tom," the captain reproved. "To put it more accurately, you're regarded as a free spirit, someone who doesn't set roots down in one place for too long. And that's exactly the angle we want to play on: make it appear you're getting restless, dissatisfied with your routine."
Anger still simmered beneath his eyes, but Tom regained an unassuming composure. He mentally kicked himself for losing his cool. He knew Tuvok's explanation was not meant as a personal attack; however, his reputation among the crew was a hotly contested issue for him -- a long, arduous battle that bore little return for his effort, even after ten months of working with them.
"Captain, I'm going to need some time to think about this. Right now there are too many things to focus on to make an immediate decision."
"Of course, Lieutenant, I understand; take as much time as you need. But," Janeway leaned forward in her chair, "think very carefully about this. This will probably be our best chance of catching the spy."
Tom nodded slightly and stood up at attention, waiting to be dismissed.
"Very, well, Lieutenant, assume your post. Dismissed."
Janeway sipped her coffee as she watched Lt. Paris stride back out onto the bridge. When the doors closed, she turned to face her chief security officer. Tuvok merely arched an eyebrow, but she knew the exact content of the unspoken question. She gave him a look of concern in response and shrugged her shoulders.
With the silent conversation concluded, Tuvok made his departure to assume his place on the bridge. Only when the doors closed again did Janeway let a sigh escape her, and took another sip of her now-lukewarm coffee.
Tom was startled to find an unusually crowded Sandrine's later that
evening. Glancing about the tavern, he noted the attendance of a few officers
who had never before visited his holodeck program. He knew rather well from
previous encounters on the ship, during which they quite clearly expressed
their opinions toward "the Starfleet traitor," but right now they were afforded
no more than a second thought. Instead Tom turned his attention toward the
pool table, where Harry was busy showing off his abilities to an unimpressed
B'Elanna Torres. In the background, Gaunt Gary carefully studied the action on
the table -- or the half-Klingon chief engineer, it was impossible to tell --
waiting to make his move.
Tom worked his way over to the bar and asked Sandrine for a glass of his Santa Mignon. While waiting for the flirtatious bartender to return with his drink, Lt. Calwell, one of the new patrons, sidled up to him.
"Lieutenant, I must say that this is a marvelous piece of holo-programming," the man said. "You really captured the essence of France...oh, Miss, another Saurian brandy, please."
"I'm glad you like it," Tom replied, testing the aroma of the white wine before taking a sip. "You know, I've never seen you in here before. Any reason why it took you so long to join the party?"
Calwell checked the shine on his boots. "To be honest, up until a while ago I didn't want to anything to do with you, so I made it a point not to associate myself with anything that had your name on it. But now I realize you're just as committed to finding a way home as the rest of us, and I - I want to apologize." He checked his boots once more. "I wasn't willing to look beyond what used to be instead of what is now."
Tom returned a glib smile. "Well, Lieutenant, everybody deserves to be wrong at least once in their life, myself included. Apology accepted."
Downing the last of his wine, he walked back to the pool table, just in time to watch Harry defeat B'Elanna for the second straight game. Torres looked as though she was about to snap her cue stick in two, over Harry's head most likely.
"Lucky shot, Starfleet," she growled, although she knew it wasn't a difficult shot.
Gaunt Gary appeared at her side almost instantly. "Say, doll, if you're interested, I could give you a few lessons."
Torres shuddered at Gary's offer; the sleazy character delivered it with such a quality of innuendo that it felt like it had nothing to do with pool whatsoever. She glared back at Tom menacingly.
"Paris, hero or no hero, you're still a pig."
Harry choked back a laugh, Tom merely grinned and grabbed a cue stick. "So, Harry, ready to be humbled?"
Tom left the holodeck in very high spirits. He did a very thorough job
of humbling his friend, winning five of six games, including a four game run,
and Jenny Delaney was even considering flying solo on a date with the pilot.
But what surprised him most was the new-found respect from Lt. Calwell and his
friends. What is it about life-threatening missions and personal tragedy that
people finally let go of their preconceptions of you? Yes, he decided, things
were definitely looking good.
His reverie was cut short, however, when the turbolift doors parted and he found himself looking directly at Captain Janeway.
"Captain! It's awfully late to be just going off duty, isn't it?" he queried, stepping into the lift.
"Just finishing up some business down in Engineering. How was Sandrine's this evening?"
Tom smirked at Janeway's question: he hadn't told her what his plans were for the evening, but any time he was seen on Deck 6 it was assumed he was making use of that program, as it was almost continuously running in the holodeck. After so many months, Sandrine's was considered as much a part of Voyager as the bridge or the mess hall.
"Quite the hub of activity, actually...and I seemed to be the man of the hour. Made for a rather interesting night."
Janeway regarded him with an expression of amusement. "I'll bet it did."
An awkward silence suddenly pervaded the turbolift. In its midst, Tom recalled his meeting with the captain that morning, robbing him of his earlier good mood. After the events that presented themselves in the holodeck, his decision about the mission was getting more difficult. He almost didn't notice that the turbolift stopped and Janeway bid him good night.
"Pleasant dreams, Captain," he replied distractedly. So preoccupied with his pending decision was he that he just stood in the motionless turbolift until the computer impassionately asked him to specify a destination. The thoughts pervaded still as he walked down the corridors of Deck 4.
Was it so hard a decision to make? Sure, there was personal risk involved, but was there any mission that didn't have some element of risk in it? 'Risk is all part of the game if you want to sit in that chair' he reflected, remembering Admiral Kirk's quote from one his Starfleet Academy courses. Could the guy be more cliche? he mused. Besides, he was the best person for the assignment, and the obligation of loyalty to Captain Janeway and the modicum of Starfleet weighed heavily on his conscience.
Yet Voyager was in a unique situation, far beyond the Starfleet realm with no reasonable means of enforcement. Of course, it was decided that everyone aboard would adhere to Starfleet guidelines, but on more than one occasion someone -- including Janeway herself -- would take the liberty of bending the rules slightly without fear of reprieve. After all, it wasn't as if anyone was going to be severely reprimanded: right now Voyager was in need of every single person on board to make it back to the Alpha Quadrant. And above all else, he was finally receiving respect from the other officers. It was a selfish reason, certainly not sufficient enough to refuse the assignment, but, dammit, this was different! He spent years enduring the disdainful and disapproving looks of every Starfleet officer he ever knew or met, including his father, shamed and disgraced by his own folly. And now that he finally managed to redeem himself in the eyes of his peers, made to feel human again, they wanted to take it all away from him again.
Tom stopped before the door to his quarters, weighing his options. Maybe he was being irrational, but he felt unwilling to throw away all he aspired to obtain. If what occurred in Sandrine's was an indication of what he could look forward to on this castaway voyage, then the captain would just have to find another volunteer for her suicide mission. Turning on his heel, Tom headed back to the turbolift. It was unlikely the captain was asleep yet.
Kathryn Janeway pulled out the last of the pins from her hair and
tossed the auburn tresses a few times to untangle the bun. She delighted in
the soft caress against her neck. If it weren't for Starfleet regulations and
her own desire to exude an authoritative persona, she'd wear her hair down on
duty -- there were occasions when the tension of her pulled-back hair
contributed to stress headaches. She grabbed a hairbrush and gently stroked
her tensions away for the night.
The door chime abruptly intruded upon her thoughts. She jumped slightly at the sound, not expecting a visitation at this time of night. Setting her brush down on her nightstand, she got up and walked toward the lounge.
Tom wondered if the captain had already fallen asleep and was turning
to leave when the doors retracted. He allowed himself a moment of surprise at
the sight of a decidedly feminine-looking Captain Janeway. She'd definitely
be more of a distraction on the bridge looking like that, he thought.
Having seen him in the turbolift no more than ten minutes ago, Janeway was also some what disconcerted.
"Lieutenant Paris! This is most unexpected. What can I do for you?" She motioned him to take a seat on the sofa. He did so, and she followed suit.
"Captain, I -" The words caught in his throat. Her appearance was much too distracting, in his opinion. "I've been thinking about our conversation from this morning -- just like you said -- and I don't think it's in my best interests to accept this mission."
Janeway's expression was a mixture of worry and disappointment. "I'm sorry to hear that, Lieutenant. But I suppose if you feel you need more time to recover, we'll just have to try something else."
"It's not that, Captain." Tom looked into his hands, as though it would be easier to say if he wasn't looking directly at her. "Uh, ever since the Doctor restored us to normal, everyone on the ship has been treating me like a real person. All the hate and resentment is gone. But I'm afraid that if I take part in your plan, it's all going to come back. I just got my life back; I don't want to see it get destroyed like that again."
The disappointment in her features remained, but her worry transformed into anger.
"Lieutenant, I am appalled that the basis of your decision is something so shallow and short-sighted."
She felt compelled to stand up and pace the floor, as a mother would do when lecturing a disobedient child.
"When I first came to you at the New Zealand penal settlement, I knew that some of the crew would harbor animosity toward your presence on Voyager...frankly, I'd have been surprised if they didn't. But as it was only a three-week mission, I assumed you could simply take it in stride -- the only obstacle would have been trying to start a new life once your job with us was done.
"Getting stranded in the Delta Quadrant was like a mixed blessing for you: the opportunity to begin life anew was immediate, yet you've had to deal with the adversity and dissension far longer than expected. Undoubtedly that's been a strain on your self-esteem. But I believe it's clouding your judgement right now, in both a personal capacity and as a Starfleet officer."
Her anger dissipated, Janeway returned to her seat on the couch and placed a supportive hand on Tom's shoulder. In response to the contact he turned his head up to face her, saying nothing.
"Lieutenant...Tom, I don't want you to think I don't understand what you're going through, but a bruised ego certainly isn't reason enough to be overlooked, for any kind of mission. And I think you've lost sight of what this assignment could mean to you. It is true that, for the time you spend here on the ship, your behavior must cause people to question your character. But think of the long term consequences for a moment. How do you suppose the crew will react when they discover that you were willing to sacrifice your life for the sake of the ship? Your defamation will just be a means to an end, a necessary evil. Whether this mission succeeds or fails, they're not going to remember you as a misguided man who lost his self-respect; they'll remember Thomas Eugene Paris, Starfleet officer and trustworthy friend."
"Very pretty speech, Captain, -" stated the brash young pilot. Indeed, her meticulous use of words was so well phrased that, delivered with a much greater dose of energy and enthusiasm, Ensign Kim would dive onto a live phaser grenade if she asked him. But her gentle, soft spoken delivery told him that she was talking to him in earnest. And he had to admit, her arguments were right on the mark.
He was awash with a myriad of emotions: guilt, anger, confusion, relief, trepidation, anxiety, contentment, shame. Why hadn't he seen what she so obviously pointed out? That's easy, he chided himself, I was too wrapped up in myself to look past the quick fix. It was so easy to jump at the first peace offering, who could blame him for turning a blind eye?
He was sick with himself; from the first day he set foot on Voyager he was committed to proving himself to Captain Janeway, but when it came to crunch time, he had let her down, and himself as well. How would he ever be satisfied with his life, knowing he could make a real difference serving aboard this magnificent ship? Would it be worth living the life of a coward, just for the possibility of sharing it with Jenny Delaney? And what's to say he'd never get another chance with either of the Delaney sisters after the mission? Hell, he'd have his pick of nearly every woman on this vessel, for that matter!
"- but you're absolutely right. All this time I've been trying to earn respect from everyone else, but I never stopped to consider that what I needed was respect for myself." Tom could feel a psychological burden lift off his shoulders. Suddenly it was no longer a chore to look Janeway in the eyes. "I really want to apologize to you, Captain. You gave me a chance when no one else gave a damn about me, and I let you down. I don't know if I'll ever be able to make it up to you."
Janeway returned a reassuring smile. "If there's one thing that I've learned, Lieutenant, is that people make mistakes; it's a part of human nature to do so. As a society, we can only grow by learning from them. I don't want you to feel obligated to me for helping you recognize that. Just being the best Starfleet officer you can be is all the compensation I need."
The two sat facing each other in a few moments of silence, but even so, the exchange briefly continued. She looked at him with understanding, acceptance and pride; he revered her with a sincere expression of gratitude.
"So, he said at last, "I'll get to do anything I please to get myself into trouble, huh?"
"Hopefully as long as it doesn't put your or someone else's life at risk. And I doubt you'd want to destroy Voyager, either," she teased. "But, yes, you basically have free reign over your actions. And remember, only you, Tuvok and I will know what you're really doing, so the more people you convince, the better."
Tom was already drumming up entertaining diversions for his assignment: maybe some pool-sharking, perhaps an incident or two in the mess hall (although people would probably be glad to not have to eat Neelix's concoctions), and almost assuredly he'd take the opportunity to get a few shots in on a particular first officer....
Janeway could easily observe the glint of mischief in the clear blue eyes of her conn officer as he flashed her a trademark grin.
"Oh, I think I'm going to enjoy this assignment after all," he remarked before standing up. "Good night, Captain."
With that, Lt. Tom Paris turned and exited her quarters, plan after devious plan popping into his head. Yes, I am definitely going to enjoy this, he chuckled to himself.
As she watched him depart, Janeway couldn't stop a broad smile from spreading across her face. She shook her head in amused resignation, wondering if she had just unleashed the most terrifying, unstoppable force ever subjected to the Voyager crew.
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