Romancing the Stone: Stage III


Darrel W. Beach

Looking for story notes?  You'll find them in Chapter 1.


     "Congratulations, Captain!  It's a boy."
     "A son…."
     "You finally got what you've been hoping for."
     "What are you talking about, Cynthia?  You know I would have been just as happy to have another daughter."
     "Relax, Owen.  I know you love the girls more than anything else in the world, but I know you've always wanted to have a son to continue the family line.  I'm glad I could finally give that to you."
     "I love you, too.  And I love you, Thomas Eugene Paris."

     "Sir, I'm picking up a distress call from Sector 17.  Originator identified as U.S.S. Laurier.  They're under attack by three Klingon battle cruisers."
     "Tell them we're coming to even the odds up a little, and be sure to get their co-ordinates.  Helm, set course into Sector 17, maximum speed.  We'll make those Klingon bastards wish they hadn't got Nathan Paris and the Columbus involved."

     "Today is truly a day for celebration.  On this day in 2161 an ideal was given form and structure: a vision of all worlds united, working in harmony to preserve peace throughout the known universe.  It was an ideal sparked by the ancient and well-known Vulcan credo of IDIC: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.  It was the hope of the many founders to draw upon the abilities and knowledge of all worlds and cultures to create an organization that could embody the meaning of community.
     "One thousand years later, the United Federation of Planets continues to serve that ideal with as much commitment and dedication as those first days.  As the boundaries of the known universe have expanded over the centuries, so has the influence of the United Federation of Planets, striving in its own way to expand knowledge and understanding of all its peoples."

     Awareness came back to him slowly.  It was almost a laborious effort recently, as the mutations continued to reorganize his mental faculties.  He could still identify himself as Tom Paris, though it was increasingly difficult to maintain focus on that identity.  His perceptions changed so frequently and randomly that at times he couldn't tell if he was dreaming or hallucinating or actually experiencing reality.
     This time was different, though.  As his mind emerged from the ether and centred itself back into the familiar surroundings of Sickbay, the mutating forces conspired to activate all of his brain's cognitive centres.  In that short time Tom experienced an epiphany of what was happening to him.  For the safety of everyone on board, he had to get off the ship.  "Dochtor!"
     "What is it now, Mr. Paris?" came the Doctor's exasperated response.
     "I nneed to tock."  Tom found it an effort to articulate speech without a tongue, and for the first time he wished he still had one.
     "So I've noticed.  Is it urgent?  I'm rather busy right now."
     "Urgent...."  The Doctor's irritation confused Tom.  His memory was fuzzy.  The Doctor was trying to find a cure for something, wasn't he?  Whatever the reason, Tom knew that what he had to say was far more important.  "Yes, urgent."  After what seemed like forever, the Doctor and Kes came into view.  "Let mmme out of here."
     The Doctor looked chagrined.  "I'm afraid that's not possible."
     "Please," Tom pleaded.  "I can't stay here.  I have to get off the ship."
     "Leave Voyager?  Why?"
     Dear, sweet Kes, so distressed by his request.  His heart would break a million times over if she ever came to harm.  Tom struggled to his feet.  "I understand.  It'sh all so clear now."
     "What do you understand?" the Doctor asked.
     "The present, the past.  They're both in the future.  The future is in the past."
     "I beg your pardon?"
     It seemed so simple an explanation, yet neither Kes nor the Doctor seemed to follow it.  It frustrated Tom; why couldn't they comprehend what he was telling them?  "I am more.  I'm everything.  Let me go."
     "Go where, Tom?" Kes asked him.
     She still didn't understand, neither of them did.  His head began to ache; his clarity of thought was fading back into a muddled mass of confusion.  "I can't....  Please," he begged.  He could not quite remember what was so important, only that it was critically important to get off the ship.  An overwhelming fatigue gripped him again and he sunk back to the floor, his legs uselessly weak again.  "Please."

     He was awake.  The light above him was bright and hurt his eyes.  He tried to turn away but he could not move.  Something was holding him, something cold and hard and big enough to nearly envelop him.  He was frightened; he wanted to be free.  He writhed and squirmed to break free of his captor, but it would not let him go.  It was strong.
     Another thing, a person, appeared.  With weakened eyes he could not discriminate exact features of the person's face, but the general characteristics looked familiar.  "Try to remain calm, Mr. Paris.  In a few moments we'll be taking you down to Engineering.  You should be back to your normal self in no time."
     The sound of the person's voice triggered fragments of memory.  Doctor.  Voyager.  Slowly his baser instincts receded in deference to rational thought.  The Doctor meant to perform some kind of operation on him, remove something he didn't want taken away.  He had been put in some restraining device so he would be forced to cooperate.  That wasn't right.  They were trying to keep him from leaving the ship.  He knew for sure that that was what he had to do.  But several people in yellow-clad uniforms suddenly arrived, flanking him.  He would have to wait until there weren't so many around him to effect an escape.
     "It's about time you showed up," Doctor said acerbically.  "We may only have twenty minutes left to save Mr. Paris from this mutation."
     "Lieutenant Torres sent us to get Mr. Paris," said a nervous voice.  "Is he, uh, secure for transport?"
     "Relax, crewman.  He's not going to jump up and bite you, if that's what you're thinking.  Please inform Lieutenant Torres that I will be standing by on the emergency medical channel to supervise the procedure when you get to Engineering."
     Now he was moving, but not under his own power.  He felt fear rise within him, but he had to wait.  They would stop him if he tried to get away now.
     "Get him set up over there," said a new but also familiar voice.  "Hogan, get the interface hooked up.  Jonas, come over here and work the warp core controls."
     His escorts moved on, and a third person appeared and started attaching cables to his enclosure.  He began to worry, wondering if he'd ever be left alone.  He looked about and sniffed the air, waiting as bodies moved hither and yon until at last the bustle and chatter around him faded.  Satisfied that they were far enough away, he began to strain against the bindings again.  His limbs and chest suddenly tingled, and for a brief second he tensed with fear: it had begun!  He redoubled his efforts.  The metal rattled and groaned and finally flew apart with a loud shriek.  Freedom!
     "Hey!  Stop!"
     He did not turn his head to look at the person who had shouted; he knew he would be noticed as soon as he had broken free.  There was another problem, however; at every exit there were people nearby to block his escape, and thanks to the shout of warning everyone was now looking at him.  He needed pursuit to create an opening.  He broke right, darting behind a row of support beams, and the room suddenly exploded with a chorus of shouting.
     "Watch it, he's loose!"
     "Call security!"
     "There he is!  Get him!"
     "Look out!"
     He could feel his panic rising each time someone came close to apprehending him.  His instincts took over, adopting a pure fight-or flight mode of reaction.  More than once a body was sent flying, his attackers' faces locked in expressions of surprise and fear as they were sent crashing into one another.  There soon wouldn't be anyone left standing to get in his way.
     Seeing a clear path he sprinted ahead, but about half way to the exit a beam of energy streaked across the room and hit him squarely on the shoulder.  It threw off his balance and sent him sprawling to the floor.
     Lights danced and popped in front of his eyes as he stared up at the ceiling.  Numbness spread down his arm from his shoulder and tried to sweep across the rest of his body, but his adrenaline fought it off.  He wouldn't be stopped this easily.  The sound of boots pounded against the floor, getting closer.  "I got him!  I got him!" someone shouted. The foot falls stopped and a figure suddenly loomed over him.  He caught a glimpse of the phaser in the person's hand and reacted immediately.
     His attacker was caught totally off guard and fired the weapon again in a panic, but too late: he was already on his feet and out of the line of fire.  With his one good hand he clamped onto the other man's wrist and squeezed.  The man howled in pain as the bones cracked under the intense pressure, and the phaser clattered to the floor.  He quickly shoved the man aside and scooped up the weapon.  Without preamble he began firing the weapon at random.  People that were once scrambling about to catch him were now scrambling about to avoid being hit by the energy beam.  He strafed the walls, which began to spit fire.  The lights flickered and the room dissolved into chaos.  People were shouting at each other and running around, no longer paying him any attention.  The exit was clear behind him.  He tossed the weapon aside and left his former pursuers to fend for themselves.

     Leena straightened the rack of Type II phasers stored in the third utility cabinet again, much to Julie annoyance.  "Leena, relax.  A microcalliper couldn't line those up any straighter."
     "I can't relax," she said, nudging the phasers bit by bit.  "I'm worried about him."
     Julie checked off the last item on her inventory list, and closed the storage locker.  "You're worrying over nothing.  Tom's going to be fine.  The Doctor will make sure of that."
     "The Doctor won't even be there to perform the procedure.  What if something goes wrong?"
     "Nothing is going to happen, Leena."
     No sooner had Julie spoken the words than the weapons locker was cast into darkness.  As the emergency lights struggled to life Leena shot her a dirty look.  "Nothing, huh?"
     Lt. Tuvok's voice suddenly boomed over the intercom.  "This is a level three security alert.  All hands report to duty stations."
     In short work the neat row of phasers was turned into a cluttered pile.  Leena tossed one to Julie and followed her quickly out of the weapons locker.  "Why do I always have to be right?"

     He slid out of the small tunnel into a larger one, large enough that he could stand up and run on his legs again.  Not that there was much difference from crawling on all fours through the smaller one, but it just seemed more natural this way.
     He loped through the passage, constantly on alert for anyone who might appear from behind or around a corner.  After the trouble he'd caused earlier they were sure to be carrying more of those phasers, and this time they'd make sure he couldn't get his hands on one of them again.  He certainly didn't want to meet up with any of them; his shoulder still hurt a little from the last time.
     He slowed down for a moment to glance at the markings on the wall and find his bearings: 06-1721, 06-1723, 06-1727....  He would have to turn right at the next junction, then left and straight on to a turbolift access port.  His mind held an image of a large, sleek vessel waiting for him in a huge enclosure.  He knew where it was and how to find it, and wondered if his pursuers knew where he'd go.  That was the whole reason for climbing up and down through the many tunnels; maybe he'd throw them off the trail to his true destination.
     One final turn, and his goal was now in sight only metres away.  He wanted to run as hard as he could to reach it, but he had to control the urge.  They could be lying in wait for him in the connecting tunnels; he had to observe the utmost caution.
     The restraint paid off.  As he crept up to the final passage, a pair of voices approached from one of the adjoining tunnels.  He would have been caught had he been careless.  Instead he retreated into a nearby niche to hide and wait for the strangers to pass.  As they got closer he overheard their conversation.
     "Where is he now?" the one voice asked.
     "We're having trouble tracking him," the other said.  The voice sounded unnatural, mechanical in some way.  "We can't get power to internal sensors.  Tuvok has security teams searching deck by deck."      The owner of the first voice finally appeared from the connecting tunnel, continuing the conversation.  "I'm on my way to the bridge," the person said to no one and stopped in front of the turbolift.
     He nearly cried out in frustration.  He was less than four metres away and this stranger was about to ruin his escape.  It was too late to find another escape route; he could feel the others closing in on him already.  When the turbolift door opened he realized that, person or no person, he had to be on that turbolift.  He emerged from his hiding spot and snuck up behind the person as quickly and quietly as possible.
     The person, unfortunately, seemed to sense his approach; he saw its posture tense.  Now he would have to be especially careful.  If this person was anything like the others it would likely turn and confront him.
     He didn't have long to wait.  The moment he saw the weapon appear he charged forward.  He let loose a feral cry, smacking the weapon out of the person's hand before a shot could be fired and following through his momentum to knock the person off its feet.  His would-be attacker looked quite helpless as it fell backward into the turbolift.  As it hit the floor its head impacted with a solid thump, and with a single groan it fell motionless.
     There was no harm in leaving the body lying there as he followed it into the turbolift; he did not want to waste time by dragging it out first.  Quickly he programmed his destination into the control panel and they started to move.  He went back to examine the figure lying on the floor, concerned that he might have killed it.  It was still breathing, which was good; he had only knocked it out.  Now that he had a chance to get a good look, its markings and colouring looked familiar.  He sniffed at the person and picked up an unmistakable perfume of pheromones.  It was female.  His mind clouded over for a moment, and when it cleared an idea had formed.

On to Chapter 12...

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