Hearing that familiar creak of Sandrine's door, Tom felt his pulse accelerate to near warp speed, and his mouth suddenly felt as if it were stuffed with cotton. Glancing into the mirror where he had been attempting to straighten his tie, he watched her approach. She looked even more beautiful than he had imagined, and for probably the first time in his life, Tom Paris was speechless.
Willing himself to turn around and face her, he found that his legs would not move. He could only stare into the mirror as the glow of her chocolate brown eyes mesmerized him. As she slowly walked toward him, Tom could hear the soft rustle of the red silk she was wearing, and his fingertips tingled with the desire to touch the soft material. Glancing from her whisper-thin elbow-length gloves to the smooth skin of her bare arms and the graceful curve of her neck, he knew her skin would be even softer than the silk.
Breaking his gaze away from hers, Tom closed his eyes, sure that he had to be dreaming. Hearing the continuing click of her high heels as she came closer to him, he sucked in his breath as he suddenly felt the warmth of her body against his back. Forcing himself to turn around, Tom found himself transfixed by her dark eyes once again.
"Been waiting long?" B'Elanna Torres asked as her eyes roamed appreciatively over Tom. The intensity of those eyes reminded Tom of a sleek black panther he had seen once back on Earth, so beautiful to the human eye yet so untouchable to the human hand. In the past, Tom would have called B'Elanna untouchable. Seeing the elation and the acceptance intermingled with that intensity, he relaxed and reached out to gently touch a silky tendril of her hair.
"It was worth the wait."
"Janeway to Lieutenant Paris."
"What the--?" The loud intrusion of the captain's voice woke Tom so abruptly that he jumped and found himself suddenly flailing in mid-air. Putting out his hands to catch himself, he briefly felt his fingers graze a soft surface, then he hit the floor with an abrupt thud. Dazed for a moment, his mind did not even register the reason he had been awakened.
"Janeway to Paris. Lieutenant, are you all right?" A note of concern could now be heard in Captain Janeway's authoritative voice.
Tom quickly answered. "Yes, Captain, I'm fine." Except for being awakened from the best dream of my life and a few new bruises in unmentionable places, I'm just wonderful, Tom added silently. Hauling himself to his feet, Tom sat on the edge of his bed and put his face in his hands trying shake off the last vestiges of sleep.
"I know that you're off duty, Mr. Paris, but I could use your assistance on the bridge."
"I'm on my way, Captain," Tom told her and quickly began to dress. As he put on his uniform, Tom wondered why he had to be one of those individuals who could remember his dreams for hours after waking. Many people forgot their dreams from the moment that they awoke. Instead, Tom's dreams followed him for hours, days, and even years in some cases. He could put them aside while working, but whenever he had a moment to think, they always came rushing back.
This dream had, at least, been just that -- a dream. For weeks he had been plagued by unknown images and memories. He presumed they were all a result of the shared quasi-assimilation he and B'Elanna had participated in for Kynn and the other former Borg. The assimilation had been real, and Tom had a feeling that the memories associated with it were also real -- not figments of his imagination.
But B'Elanna, wearing the red dress he had given her, was nothing more than fantasy. B'Elanna's note had left him in no doubt that she did not want to pursue their attraction, but Tom still had hope. She still had the real red dress tucked away somewhere, just waiting to be worn.
As he left his quarters, Tom wondered if, despite her refusal to wear the dress, B'Elanna also dreamed about it and him. Knowing B'Elanna, she probably dreams about her engines, Tom thought and he could not help smiling at the thought of Voyager's chief engineer snuggled up with visions of warp cores and tachyon beams dancing in her head.
Tom was still smiling when he reached the bridge. Noticing the smile, Janeway looked at the lieutenant curiously but decided to say nothing. Genuine smiles from Tom Paris were something she wished occurred more often.
It was early and no one was in the mess hall yet except B'Elanna and her padd. She had been having trouble with the magnetic constrictors again due to the magnetic field incident. Just about every system in the ship had been affected. Since everything had gone haywire, repairs were being made around the clock and finding suitable parts and pieces was getting harder and harder. Neelix had made a report to the captain about an M-class planet not too far from their present location that just might have some of the raw materials Voyager needed, and after some deliberation, she had decided to investigate the possibility. Neelix also said the planet was a beautiful world with many oceans, and if all checked out with Tuvok, maybe the crew could get some R & R.
Captain Janeway had made the away team assignments the previous night, and even though they made sense, they bothered B'Elanna. She was to be paired with Harry Kim, Tuvok, and another science officer, Jack Garvic, a specialist in geology.
B'Elanna sat staring at her padd and wondering why she objected to the away team assignment. Why is that man affecting my judgment? she thought bitterly. I am actually mentally questioning Captain Janeway's orders. Not good.
Her stomach began to rumble, and she tried to ignore it; however, in her agitated state of mind, she found she could not. She just sat there thinking of food and this assignment. Harry? Why Harry? Sure, he is a friend and a great guy. But he is just so much like . . . vanilla ice cream.
"Vanilla ice cream?" B'Elanna said out loud. "Now why would I say that?" But he is, she thought. Everyone likes vanilla ice cream. It's just not too terribly exciting. Silly idea, she said to herself. Ice cream, that cold human sweet food. She was not too fond of it on a regular basis; however, it had its place.
Tom Paris popped into her thoughts. Oh, what flavor could he be? she mused. Just as she began to get lost in these thoughts, the red alert Klaxon began to wail. B'Elanna jumped to her feet and flew to her engine room. Magnetic constrictors? An attack? What could possibly be going wrong now?
As she got to Engineering, she saw absolute chaos. No one knew what was going on, but everyone was ready for action. Suddenly, the Klaxon fell silent. A drill! she thought, exasperated. Great! It's not even 0630, and we just had a drill! I suppose Janeway can't sleep either. Hmm, now what flavors do Janeway and Chakotay remind me of?
An hour later, B'Elanna wished that she had spent less time thinking about food and more time eating it. She had not even thought to replicate a muffin before she had rushed to Engineering. She had just recovered from the sudden drill when Captain Janeway called her to the bridge. Expecting the usual skeleton crew who ran the ship at night, B'Elanna was surprised to see Chakotay, Tuvok, Harry Kim, and Tom Paris all at their usual stations. Tuvok looked as expressionless and sober as usual; no surprise for a Vulcan. The others, however, were not handling their lack of sleep as well.
Chakotay snapped at Ensign Kim for being five minutes late then immediately apologized when he realized he had asked Harry to do a diagnostic on all systems in Transporter Room 1 before reporting to the bridge. After that Chakotay said little; he merely stared at the tactical report Tuvok had given him. Chakotay had never been one who was very cheerful when functioning on little sleep, so his mood was no surprise to B'Elanna.
Glancing over at Harry, B'Elanna noticed that he looked very pale, and his eyes appeared glassy. He was doggedly working at the Operations console, but every minute or so, he would put a hand to his stomach and wince. Evidently Captain Janeway had noticed also, because she walked over to Harry's station and appraised his condition.
"Mr. Kim, I've been monitoring your behavior, and I think that a visit to sickbay is in order here." Nodding to Ensign Romanov to take Harry's place, she turned back to see Harry's frustrated expression. "I know that you are frantically searching your mind for excuses to get out of a visit to the doctor, but I can assure you, none of them will work." Nodding to the turbolift doors, the captain smiled a quick smile of reassurance at Harry, then she turned to Paris.
The lieutenant turned to look at the captain, and B'Elanna expected him to click his heels and start whistling. Something or someone has sure put him in a good mood this morning. B'Elanna scowled at the thought, and hearing the captain's next words made her scowl deepen.
"Mr. Paris, since Mr. Kim will be unable to go with the away team, I would like you to take his place." Janeway's mouth quirked with amusement at the big grin that crossed his face.
"I'd be honored, Captain," Tom said quickly, as he looked momentarily past Janeway to B'Elanna's disgusted face. Seeing his amusement at her expense, B'Elanna quickly lowered her head to her console and silently wished herself knee-deep in problems in her engine room. Anything to get her mind off the upcoming mission.
Without another look in Paris' direction, Torres turned around and headed for the turbolift with Tuvok close on her heels. Paris spared a final look at the conn to see who was going to man it in during his absence and then joined the others in the waiting turbolift.
"Deck 3," ordered Tuvok.
As always, Tom felt a slight vibration as the lift moved. There was an old saying that only good captains, engineers, and pilots could sense any slight movements of their ships. Paris looked at Torres again to see if she too sensed the movement of the lift, but he couldn't tell. Torres stood beside him quietly with a not-too-happy look on her face. Tom was tempted to make a comment just to see how she would react, but the doors opened too soon and out she went before he could say a word. He smiled slightly and shook his head wondering what he had done recently to deserve the angry looks she had been giving him. As far as he knew the only thing he had done was to send her an invitation to a private birthday party which she had refused to attend. I wonder what she did with the dress? he thought.
They were met in the shuttle bay by the other two members of the away team, some lieutenant from the science department as well as Ensign Hudson. Just seeing that Hudson was to go with them made Tom feel a lot better. Not that there was anything to worry about, this was just your ordinary run-of-the-mill away mission. Funny thing is, ever since I joined the Voyager crew, there is no such thing as a 'run-of-the-mill' away mission.
Everyone boarded the shuttle and took his respective place. Paris, as usual, would fly them with Lieutenant Tuvok in the copilot's seat. Torres sat at the flight engineer's station, and Lieutenant What's-his-name and Hudson claimed the passenger seats. Paris started the pre-flight checklist to make sure all systems were in the green, then with a final glance around the cabin to make sure everyone was buckled in he contacted the flight deck to request permission to take off. The bay doors opened and the shuttle commenced to back out into the blackness of space with the help of Voyager's tractor beam.
Once cleared of Voyager, Paris turned the shuttle around and headed for the planet below. He glanced at the control panel to make sure everything was functioning properly, which couldn't be said of Voyager at the moment. The whole Engineering team along with selected Ops personnel were trying to fix all the glitches that had developed in the computer and were affecting systems all over the ship. There was still a problem with the transporters, hence the reason for using the shuttle on this mission. Tom didn't mind the transporters not working since it gave him a reason to fly the shuttle. To fly any type of craft was what he lived for.
The shuttle hit some turbulence as it entered the planet's atmosphere. Tom's fingers danced over the control panel smoothing out the ride down. He looked at the monitors to find a good place to set down, and found a clearing near the beach that looked promising, so he headed for it. Ever so smoothly, which was a testament to his skills, he landed the shuttle.
As soon as the shuttle's engines shut down everyone was out of his seat and grabbing his gear. Tuvok opened the hatch and exited the craft with the others following.
Once outside the shuttle, Tom glanced around. It always felt good to put down on terra firma again, since they spent so much time on a ship. A white expanse of sandy beach spread out before them, meeting an ocean that was the color of deep blue sapphires -- all in all, a very refreshing scene. Looking behind them to the other side of the clearing, Tom noted that the beach melded into a jungle, towards which Tuvok aimed a tricorder.
"I am reading a small settlement several meters from here," advised Tuvok. "I suggest we head away from the settlement. Please remember that the natives of this planet are not advanced enough for direct contact with us and must be avoided at all costs."
Everyone nodded in agreement, remembering Janeway's admonitions in the briefing with regards to the Prime Directive and the natives of this world. Hoisting his backpack onto his shoulders, Paris followed the others as they entered the jungle.
As they made their way through the jungle, Tuvok in the lead, B'Elanna and Lieutenant Garvic next, with Tom and Ensign Hudson bringing up the rear, Tom watched B'Elanna. She and Garvic were both keeping an eye on their respective tricorders, scanning for the materials they needed. She had yet to make actual eye contact with Tom since they had boarded the shuttle. Paris watched in some amusement as Lieutenant Garvic's eyes kept shifting from his tricorder to the lieutenant at his side. Tom hadn't had any direct contact with Garvic since coming aboard Voyager, but he had heard things. He had heard that Garvic was quite the lady's man. In some respects, his reputation exceeded that of Tom Paris'. Tom recognized the signs in Garvic. The man was sizing B'Elanna up, trying to decide on the best approach to use with her. Paris' mouth quirked up at the corners. Boy, was he in for a surprise. B'Elanna would stand him down before he knew what had happened.
Hudson, glancing at Lieutenant Paris, wondered at the odd smile on his face as he watched Lieutenant Torres. That's nothing new, thought Hudson. Paris' eyes were always on Torres; even so, Hudson sensed a tension between the two lieutenants that hadn't been there before, and wondered at it.
Jack Garvic leaned in close as if to check the readings on B'Elanna's tricorder and asked, "I'm getting an anomalous reading on mine. Can I double check it against yours?"
B'Elanna held her tricorder out so he could get a glimpse at the readout. She took the opportunity to grab a quick glance at Garvic. She had never worked with him before and didn't really know much about him. Looking at him, she realized why he seemed so familiar to her. He actually reminded her of a younger Chakotay. He had the same dark eyes and coloring and his features were remarkably similar to Chakotay's. Distracted by her thoughts for a moment, B'Elanna didn't watch where she was going and tripped over an exposed root. Jack Garvic's hand shot out and grabbed her arm, keeping her from falling. He let the touch linger for just a moment longer than was necessary. B'Elanna said, "Thank you, Lieutenant," but her tone wasn't encouraging. Garvic released his hold on her.
Tom smiled as he watched Garvic steady Torres. The man was smooth, but B'Elanna wasn't buying it. Paris decided he would sit back and enjoy the show.
Hudson shook his head. Lieutenant Paris was smiling again, and meanwhile Lieutenants Torres and Garvic seemed to be getting chummy. What was Paris thinking, letting Garvic make moves on Torres? The man is smooth, Hudson thought, unconsciously reflecting Paris' own musings. Hudson had seen Garvic in action before. Despite Torres' seeming aloofness, reflected the ensign, if Paris isn't careful, he might lose her to Garvic.
B'Elanna, about to tell Garvic to keep his distance, turned just enough to catch Paris watching them and caught the knowing grin on his face. Miffed at his attitude, she decided she'd let Garvic play his games a bit longer and maybe lead him along a bit herself, just to see Paris' reaction.
Up ahead, Tuvok stopped suddenly. "I am reading structures of some sort up ahead. I suggest we check it out."
They followed Tuvok to another small clearing. At the far edge were a row of stone statues, overgrown with moss and vines. As they approached them, Garvic adjusted his tricorder. "These are old," he commented. "Several hundred years, in fact."
Tuvok cleared away some of the vines on one of the statues. A strange, rather gargoyle-like face looked out at them. Somehow, thought Tom, it looks vaguely familiar. He was still puzzling over that when Ensign Hudson, at his side, let out a sudden moan and collapsed to his knees. Paris was beside him in an instant.
The others gathered around also. Hudson's face had turned a sickly shade of white and he was trembling. Tuvok joined Paris at his side. "Ensign Hudson, you appear to be experiencing some difficulty," he said.
Tom barely restrained himself from rolling his eyes. Instead, he placed a steadying hand on the ensign's shoulder. "Hudson?" he repeated.
Mikel shuddered as memories from his near assimilation with the Borg washed over him. Terrifying images of what he now knew were the Vyarri and their ruthlessness. At Lieutenant Paris' touch, Hudson shoved the images back to where he could control them and opened his eyes. Shaken, he looked into the concerned eyes of Lieutenant Paris, but his gaze was drawn back to the statues. He couldn't stop the shudder that once again ran through his body.
Keeping a grip on Hudson's shoulder, Tom followed his haunted gaze to the statues. There was something about them. Something . . . he couldn't quite put a finger on it.
Tuvok helped Hudson to his feet. "Are you all right, Ensign?" he asked. "Shall we return you to the ship?"
"I'm fine now, sir," replied Hudson, "just give me a moment." He stood rubbing his temples with his fingertips, still staring at the stone statues.
Tom, seeing that Hudson was all right, more or less, also turned his attention back to the stone icons. B'Elanna stood warily studying them too. As Tom watched, she reached out to touch one, but just at the moment of contact, she jerked her hand back and retreated a step or two. Tom, concerned, wondered if now was the time to compare memories. Obviously Hudson was more affected by the statues than either he or B'Elanna was, but Garvic interrupted.
"Lieutenant," said Garvic to Tuvok. "Stone with a significant heavy metal content lies in this direction," he said, gesturing to the east. "Unfortunately, the closer we get to it, the more it will interfere with our scanners. We will have to be very careful to avoid the local inhabitants."
"Understood, Lieutenant. Lieutenant Paris, I want you to constantly scan for life-forms, as will I. Lieutenants Torres and Garvic will lead us toward the stone deposits. Mr. Hudson , return to the shuttlecraft and guard it. Take the opportunity to rest."
Garvic and Torres moved off away from the carved stones and the beach. Tom fell in behind them and watched as Garvic grandly moved vegetation out of B'Elanna's way. He was surprised to see her graciously acknowledge it each time. That guy is getting annoying, he rather ungraciously thought to himself.
The air was filled with what sounded to Tom like bird calls and insect noises. He fervently hoped there were no snakes indigenous to this world, and closely monitored the surrounding jungle for any and all animal life signs. The air was thick with heavy scents and humidity as well. The lovely breeze present at the beach was non-existent here off the water. Within a few minutes Tom felt damp and uncomfortable, almost stifled. The glare from the sun was intense, and for the first time since he came to the Delta quadrant, Tom wished for his expensive sunglasses lost somewhere back home. Too much of this and a good sunburn was inevitable.
Garvic was right. After a few minutes, all their tricorders started giving them bizarre readings, fading in and out, and once Tom's quit completely. The sandy soil became rocky; it was obvious they were getting closer to what they were looking for. Before many more minutes, they pulled up at the side of a wide ravine strewn with boulders.
"Lieutenant Tuvok, these rocks are rich with the metals we need for the mechanical replicators. We should begin to salvage them right away."
"It is not that easy, Lieutenant. We simply cannot barge into a world and take what we need. We must study the effects on the environment, including the inhabitants, first. And we must do so undetected. We need to separate. Lieutenant Paris, accompany Lieutenant Torres towards the head of the ravine. Lieutenant Garvic and I will explore the lower end. See if you can find a suitable place for a science team to set up a research station. Meet back here in 0.5 of an hour."
B'Elanna turned without another word and headed off in the direction Tuvok had indicated. Frowning slightly, Paris followed her. She set a quick pace and only his longer legs allowed him to catch up to her without breaking into a jog. She didn't look up from her tricorder as he reached her side. Deciding two could play this game, Tom monitored the readouts on his tricorder as well.
Nearly twenty minutes passed, during which neither of them said a word. That is fine, Paris thought. He was used to dealing with silences, having dealt with them all his life, beginning in childhood with his father. He tried to tell himself that B'Elanna's refusal to communicate with him didn't bother him, but deep down he knew that wasn't true.
B'Elanna silently fumed. She didn't know whom she was angrier with -- herself or Tom Paris. Or maybe she should blame Tuvok for pairing them. Paris' silence confused her. She had expected him to start right in, demanding an explanation, but he remained quiet, intent on his tricorder. Maybe he wasn't as hurt by her refusal of his dinner party as she had originally perceived him to be. If that were the case, then B'Elanna decided she had made the right decision. Obviously, she meant no more to him than a passing attraction. Although as she remembered the disturbed look that had crossed his face at Garvic's attentiveness toward her, Torres had to grin. She was startled out of her reverie when Paris broke the silence.
"What do you find so amusing?" he demanded, slapping his tricorder. "This damn thing isn't working again. Something here is interfering with it."
Looking at her own tricorder, B'Elanna saw that it also was not working at the moment. Shrugging, she looked at the place where they had come to a halt. A freshwater stream flowed nearby, and the walls of the ravine here appeared to contain several of the metals they needed to extract for use on the ship. There was a large expanse of flat ground that would be perfect for setting up their equipment.
"This looks like the perfect spot for a research station," Paris commented, echoing her thoughts. Nodding, Torres tapped her comm badge, surprised to find that it worked since the tricorders didn't. She hoped this meant that the equipment they brought down to extract the metals would work also.
"Torres to Tuvok."
"We've found a spot that looks to be perfect for the research station. Would you--" She stopped speaking as she felt something sharp poke her in the back. She knew that her startled expression matched Paris'. Very carefully, she looked over her shoulder.
"Please tell me the you-know-who aren't back there," Paris said quietly.
B'Elanna shook her head. "Sorry."
"Lieutenant," came Tuvok's voice, "is there a problem?"
"I'm afraid we have company, Tuvok," replied B'Elanna quietly.
"The local inhabitants?"
"Yes, and they don't appear to be friendly."
"We are on our way. Please do not do anything rash."
Paris rolled his eyes. "Of course not. I'll just stand here calmly and let them run me through with a spear." He tried to squirm away from the spear, but the native on the other end doggedly kept it in the middle of his back.
Three natives suddenly appeared in front of them, and Paris got his first good look at them. They were dark-eyed with dark hair and skin that had been bronzed by the sun. They were also all a bit shorter than average human height. They reminded Tom of pictures he had seen of Central American Indians from the 19th and 20th centuries.
They softly murmured in what amounted to gibberish to Paris and Torres as the universal translator in their comm badges hadn't had a chance to interpret their language yet. One of the natives pointed at B'Elanna, or rather, at her forehead and made a motion with his hands as if warding off evil. When he took a threatening step toward B'Elanna, Paris, ignoring the spear in his back, stepped forward. As he did, the sunlight broke through the clouds above sending a beam down on Tom like a spotlight. The sunbeam highlighted the gold color of his hair and made his ivory skin seem almost luminous. This drew their eyes to him for the first time.
Their reaction startled Tom. All three of the natives' eyes widened, they started talking excitedly, and before Tom knew what was happening, they were bowed down on the ground before him. The pressure of the spear on his back disappeared and Tom slowly turned to look behind him. About a dozen of the locals were lined up behind them, and every single one of them was also prostrated on the ground as if . . . No, Tom shook his head. That is a ridiculous thought.
"What's going on?" B'Elanna whispered.
Tom shrugged. "I don't even want to hypothesize. Hopefully, the translator will kick in soon, and we'll get to the bottom of this."
"You know, I'm no wimp or anything, but I wouldn't mind a 'don't worry, B'Elanna, everything will be just fine' right now," B'Elanna whispered as she struggled to concentrate. She had felt peculiar since the shuttle had landed, but now she felt as though tiny hammers danced along her skull. Maybe Hudson was not the only one having problems with this mission.
"'Don't worry, B'Elanna, everything will be just fine'," Paris teased, then noticing B'Elanna's genuine distress, his tone softened. "Relax, Lieutenant. What's the worst that they can do to us?"
"The worst? I'd say skewer us," B'Elanna said as she glanced pointedly at the spears the natives still held.
"They seem to be subdued for now at least," Paris pointed out. "Though I do wish they'd get off of their hands and knees." Glancing again at their prostrate figures, Tom laughed harshly. "You know, seeing a group of people so humbled and worshipful, reminds me of dinner guests at the Paris household. All that's missing is my father lording over them like they're lowly ensigns, or even worse, civilians."
Tom's attempt at humor fell flat. There were times when he could joke about his father and the life he led before Voyager, but at other times, like the present, those memories just felt like a lead weight upon his shoulders, rearing their ugly heads at the worst possible times.
Seeing the memory of pain on Tom's face, B'Elanna had the urge to comfort him. She of all people knew what it was like to have that kind of pain creep up on oneself, just when one least expected it. Reaching out a hand to touch Tom's shoulder, she heard collective gasps from the natives. One suddenly jumped up and before Tom or B'Elanna could react, the native grabbed her arm and pulled her toward him. Tom moved to draw her away from the shorter humanoid, but B'Elanna gestured for him to step back. She had a feeling that the native was not going to hurt her -- at least not yet.
As he led her a meter or two away from Tom, B'Elanna noticed the native seemed disgusted at having to make physical contact with her. My forehead must really scare the guy. Well, he certainly is not the first to feel that way, B'Elanna thought wearily.
Halting abruptly, the native pointed to the ground. Confused, B'Elanna looked at the ground, then back at him. He waved his hands to encompass all the other prone figures, then gestured to the ground again.
As comprehension dawned on her, B'Elanna's eyes widened. "Oh no, I'm not going to--"
Feeling a spear at her back again, she grimaced. "Well, maybe I am."
Having surmised that only B'Elanna's dignity was in jeopardy, Tom grinned as he watched her lower herself to her hands and knees. "Now this is a sight that I could grow very fond of."
"Lieutenant, have I told you lately that you're a pig?" The words were muffled behind B'Elanna's gritted teeth.
"That may be so, but it looks like I'm not the one on all fours at this point, Lieutenant." Tom's grin widened as B'Elanna's face flushed. "Oh, yeah. I could definitely get used to this."
At that, B'Elanna started to jump to her feet, but the native who had pulled her away from Paris again jabbered excitedly and gesticulated at Paris. Deciding it was best to humor them for the time being, B'Elanna remained on the ground, but she sent a glower in Tom's direction, expecting to see him grinning at her predicament. Instead, he now had an almost painful look on his face. Unsure, she asked, "Tom?"
At the sound of B'Elanna's voice, Paris tore his thoughts away from the light-years they had traveled -- way back to his childhood where his father stood over him sternly, and the little boy cowered beneath that stern visage. Being on the other side and seeing the fear he instilled in these people suddenly did not sit well with Paris.
Smiling wanly at Torres, he said, "I don't get it. What is it about me that they find so intimidating?"
B'Elanna looked him up and down and Tom prepared himself for her comeback, which was sure to be stinging, but then her expression softened unexpectedly. "I don't know," she replied. "But at least they're not coming after us with their weapons for the moment. Maybe if you speak to them," she suggested. "At least give the translator a chance at their language."
Paris looked at the natives sprawled on the ground before him, their heads bowed. "Um, right," he agreed. Then he looked so completely at a loss for words that it was all B'Elanna could do to contain her mirth. Clearing his throat, Tom said, "Okay, how about we begin with introductions?" Pointing to himself, he said, "Tom Paris."
As he spoke, several of the natives' eyes rose to watch him. When his introduction solicited no response, Tom decided he needed to address one of them directly. Choosing an older male, one of the original three that had confronted them, Tom approached him and cautiously placed his hands on the native's upper arms, pulling him to his feet.
Eyes wide, the native spoke to his fellow tribesmen, then turned back to Paris, speaking rapidly. The translator was beginning to pick up more words, but still not enough to be understandable. Tom's gaze shifted to B'Elanna, who still knelt on the ground. He shrugged helplessly. "I have no idea what he's going on about."
"They seem rather fascinated by you, Mr. Paris."
Startled by the familiar voice behind him, Paris released the native and whirled to face Tuvok and Garvic, who were emerging from behind a large boulder. Then before they knew what was happening, chaos broke out. The natives all jumped to their feet as one and charged toward Tuvok and Garvic. They surrounded the two men, spears and knives drawn.
"Mr. Paris--" Tuvok was cut off as a spear poked his midsection menacingly. This time when the natives spoke, many of their words were understandable.
"You . . . not talk . . . not allowed . . . ."
Tuvok gave Paris a meaningful look. Sighing, Tom stepped forward, interposing himself between the two men and the natives. He shook his head and held out a hand to B'Elanna, who had climbed to her feet when the natives charged. Understanding his intent, she took his hand and stood by his side.
"These are my friends," Paris told the natives. "You mustn't hurt them." Apparently the translator was working much better now, as the natives' eyes widened in comprehension.
The older male whom Tom had addressed stepped forward. "They serve you?" he asked. "They serve Palis?"
"Palis?" Tom shook his head and holding his hand to his chest said, "Paris. Tom Paris."
The native nodded enthusiastically. "Yes. Palis."
Paris mentally groaned. Tuvok, speaking quietly, said, "Perhaps if you inquired about Palis?"
Nodding, Tom looked back at the native. "Tell me about Palis."
"Tell you?" The native looked puzzled for a moment, then his eyes lit in comprehension and he smiled. "Ah, you test Jormal. To see if we remember Palis." He shared a delighted smile with the rest of his fellow tribesmen before beginning his oration.
"Palis is the God of Sun. The God of All Things Good. It was said that one day Palis would return to our people and we would recognize him by his golden hair like sunlight and his clear eyes like the ocean, and that with his coming, all would be good again and our people would prosper."
"Most intriguing," commented Tuvok. "Mr. Paris, it would seem that these people believe you are the god Palis, returned to them."
Expecting a sarcastic reply from Paris and hearing nothing but silence, B'Elanna looked at him. He stood there with his eyes closed, shaking his head, a pinched look about his face.
When the name Palis had been mentioned, images had started appearing in Paris' head. Strange eerie images that Tom knew weren't his own. He had a sudden premonition that a calamity was about to fall upon them and that it tied in with these natives somehow. Is it merely my instincts acting up? wondered Tom. Or is this more fallout from the assimilation with Kynn's people?
"Tom?" B'Elanna's concerned voice shook him out of his disturbing thoughts. Opening his eyes, he spared a glance in B'Elanna's direction as he tried to sort out the jumble of images in his mind. He rubbed tiredly at his head, feeling a headache coming on. Knowing it would sound odd if he were to voice his premonition of trouble, he instead turned back to the elder native.
B'Elanna watched as Tom turned back to the native, his expression open and welcoming, but she had seen something disturbing in his eyes; all the more disturbing because she recognized what she had seen as an expression she had seen in her own eyes all too often. He was troubled but hiding it. Sighing, she turned her attention back to the natives as the elder native spoke. Would she never understand this man? Tom Paris continued to be an enigma to her.
Hudson was still recovering from his incident at the stone statues they had encountered. His head ached something fierce, but other than that he suffered no ailments except a little embarrassment, which seemed to be a symptom becoming more and more commonplace for him. As he sat in the shuttlecraft, he thought about the hideous icons that had caused him this most recent embarrassment. He knew he hadn't seen them in his lifetime, it had to be a memory from the assimilation with the Borg. He was somehow feeling something they had felt. That thought alone sent chills down his spine.
Mikel wished he could remember more from the assimilation. It all came in little pieces, and trying to sort out his own thoughts from the flashbacks was becoming increasingly difficult. He felt as if he were putting together a puzzle, fragment by fragment, only not knowing what the final picture was supposed to look like. It just didn't make a lot of sense. Although his dreams and flashbacks were becoming less frequent with the passing of time, they still bothered him. And this event had really shaken him up. Back there in the clearing, it was as if he could feel the energy emanating from the creatures he had seen. Hot, weird, powerful energy that almost shocked him. Then, he had jumped to the only conclusion that popped up in his mind: that it was some sort of supernatural force and he should be terrified of it, and he should obey it. It had lorded itself over him and made him cower like a frightened animal before it, unable to think or move or speak. But now, now that he was back in his sane mind and thinking calmly and logically about the whole thing, he realized how out of character this reaction had been for him. He was not an overly superstitious person and his response had been highly irrational. Again the only explanation for this that he could think of was that it was a residual effect of the assimilation. Kynn and his people must have known about this place, he thought, or else I wouldn't know about it. I wonder what could be there that caused my reaction? It wasn't just a memory, there was really something there. Maybe if I had cooperated with the Borg like the Lieutenants did, Kynn could have protected me from this. Just then, his communicator sounded and he heard a voice.
"Tuvok to Hudson."
The Vulcan's voice sounded very faint, and Mikel could hear some commotion in the background.
"Hudson here, sir."
"I do not have sufficient time to discuss our circumstances with you in depth," Tuvok said in a hushed voice, "but I wish to inform you that we have encountered the people indigenous to this planet. They at first appeared to be hostile, but they seem to think that Lieutenant Paris is a type of god and thus have not caused us harm. Right now Mr. Paris is distracting them from me, as I do not wish to display any of our technology to them. It would only strengthen their belief that Lieutenant Paris is some sort of supreme being."
These last words almost made Hudson laugh out loud, but he kept his composure. "Do you want me to contact Voyager, sir?" he asked, nervous at the thought being discovered by the natives, but grinning at the thought of Tom Paris being considered a god.
"Those are your orders," Tuvok stated.
"Is there anything else you want me to report?"
"Tell them we found the raw materials we need."
Leave it to Tuvok to think of that at a time like this. "Yes, sir. I'll contact them immediately."
"Thank you, Ensign. Tuvok out."
Hudson bit his lip. He did not enjoy being the one who had to tell the captain that they had, in part, failed in their mission.
As much as she loved her command chair, today Captain Kathryn Janeway found it difficult to stay seated. Needing the materials available on this planet made this mission all the more important. They could ill afford mistakes. Having to replace Harry with Tom Paris didn't help this situation either. She kept telling herself that despite this "thing" that was going on between Tom and her chief engineer, they were professionals and would not let their personal feelings interfere with the mission. But she also knew that this "thing" between them was going to have to come to a resolution sometime and she was sincerely hoping it wouldn't be today.
"Hudson to Voyager."
"Janeway here," said the captain, startled out of her thoughts. "How is the mission going, Ensign?"
"Not so great, Captain."
Janeway groaned internally.
"The materials we need are all here, but Tuvok and the others have just met the locals."
On the other end of the communication, Janeway sighed. Her tone grew more serious. "Go on."
"Tuvok said the natives appeared to be hostile at first, but that they now seem to think Lieutenant Paris is some sort of god so they have not hurt anyone."
Janeway's mind fought to accept this revelation. A god? TOM PARIS?! She was aware that everyone was watching her and fought to keep her thoughts from showing on her face. A god. Realization sank in. She shook her head. This can't be good, she thought.
"Understood. Tell the rest of the team to try to get away from the natives and bring the shuttle back up as soon as possible. We'll meet here to discuss what to do next."
"Acknowledged, Captain." He could sense her anxiety.
"We'll put a priority on repairing the transporters, just in case. Keep me updated, Ensign. Janeway out." She terminated the connection.
In the long and glorious history of the Vyarri, no commander had ever been as utterly and completely humiliated as Gar of Trenar 5. Not only had he lost the fine warship Voyager, which he had had at his mercy, he had allowed them to somehow deluge his command center with mud. The Voyager had then escaped in the resulting chaos.
This had lost him the command he had murdered to achieve. Only the intervention of his grandsire had kept Gar from being dismissed from the military in disgrace. "The wars have decimated our ranks," his grandsire had told the elders. "We simply cannot risk our ships with unseasoned officers! We are the Vyarri! We must rule again!" Now Gar found himself the "Acting Captain" of an ancient -- by his standards -- cargo ship.
The Vyarri had only one commodity in abundance enough to trade -- lives. Most particularly, the lives of the savages of the island world of Kyrros IV, whom they would periodically steal from their planet. Not enough to destroy the islanders' cultures, that would never do. But enough to make the natives fear them as gods and erect idols in their image. So easy to install sensors in these primitive structures to monitor the islanders populations. So easy.
Now Gar had the distasteful task of communicating with a Vidiian captain. Their sometimes enemies, sometimes allies, made Gar cringe with revulsion. Humanoids are disgusting, Gar scowled to himself, nearly nauseated. And they call US ugly.
His first attendant broke his line of thought. "Gar, we are being hailed by the Vidiian vessel."
"Make him wait."
"Gar, we have not the weapons of a warship. We cannot risk an encounter."
Gar slowly turned his leathery body to look at his attendant. Krislak was a good soldier who had willingly accepted the censure of the elders and joined Gar on his new assignment. "I will not speak with him," replied Gar. "Tell him we have seven humanoids for his use."
"He is expecting eight."
"Tell him the truth. We got hungry and we ate one." There was a pause.
"They say that they'll take the seven humanoids we have, but they expect a delivery of four more as compensation for the inconvenience."
Gar gnashed his teeth in annoyance. Damned unnatural body snatchers, he thought. He hated having to deal with them, but the Vyarri were nothing if not mercenary. "Fine," he told his first officer. "Fine. Shuttle these over and tell them we'll rendezvous again in 72 hours. Then set a course for Kyrros IV, Krislak. It's about time we visited those pathetic primitives on the East side again."
Tom Paris sighed inwardly, wondering how he always seemed to get himself into these odd situations. He and the rest of the away team were being herded by the natives to what was, presumably, their settlement. From what the universal translator had been able to decipher so far, these natives had decided that he, Thomas Eugene Paris, was the fulfillment of some legend concerning a sun god named "Palis". Great, Tom thought. Now I'm a god. I am NEVER going to hear the end of this when Harry finds out!
The elder whom Tom had spoken to earlier walked alongside him, obviously proud to be in the company of this incarnation of deity. Tom decided to give the universal translator a little more to work with. Turning to his companion, he commented, "A very nice place you've got here. Your people seem to be healthy and prospering." The elder seemed pleased with the praise, so Tom grew a little bolder. "Palis is pleased and would know more about such fine people."
Behind him, Tom heard B'Elanna make a strange sound, something between snorting and chuckling, quickly stifled. He wanted to look back, but didn't think he could maintain his own composure if he did.
The elder ignored Tom's companions as if they didn't exist. "This one is called Jormal, first elder of the Kyrrosi of--" and here the universal translator failed for a moment "--water where sun is born." Feeling emboldened by Tom's encouraging smile, the elder continued. "We have faithfully kept to your promise, O Bright One, even when the Others came. This has been a hard test, but we knew you would come back again, and so we have endured. Now your--" the universal translator failed again "--will renew our people and drive away the Harvesters forever! It is a time to celebrate!"
Puzzled, Tom was about to ask him to explain what he meant, but at that point, the path opened into a large cleared area. Around the edges of the clearing were many dwellings made of clay and plant fibers. Though the materials were simple, there was nothing crude about the design or construction. These people, the Kyrrosi, were obviously a people of great resourcefulness and creativity. All but one of the houses were straight and finely built, with intricate designs and glyphs decorating the walls. Tom wished he'd paid more attention at the Academy in that xenoanthropology class; it would have given him a better idea about how to deal with these people. But then, there were a lot of things he wished he'd done differently -- no use worrying about it now.
Jormal called out to his people, the excitement and speed of his speech making it difficult for the translator to keep up. "My people," he cried. "Here is Palis returned to us, here to . . . against the Others, to make us . . . and to give . . . We will be free again!"
With great excitement, the people of the village came forward and prostrated themselves before a very embarrassed and bewildered Lieutenant Tom Paris.
Tuvok took this moment to lean over and comment, "Well done, Lieutenant. We have inadvertently violated the Prime Directive, and your tactics have served only to compound the problem; however, it appears that we must perpetuate this case of mistaken identity if we are to placate these people and learn what the true situation is here."
Looking over the bowed heads of the villagers, Garvic leaned over to B'Elanna. "Looks like Paris has landed us in it again, don't you agree?"
B'Elanna stared at him in surprise, wondering at his smirk and the real animosity in his voice. What does Garvic have against Tom? she wondered. Out loud she said only, "We'll see," and decided then that she didn't like Garvic. She stepped away from him and closer to Tuvok, murmuring to the Vulcan, "Any word back yet from Hudson about Voyager's transporters?"
Lieutenant Tuvok shook his head, clearly concerned. "Negative. Ensign Hudson relayed that Engineering is stymied, but they are doing what they can. The captain does not yet have a time estimate on when we can expect rescue or support."
Growling with frustration, B'Elanna muttered, "I should be there!" Tuvok raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. He turned his attention instead to the village elder, Jormal, who was talking to Paris.
"We have little, O Bright One, but what we have is yours," Jormal said. "Tonight, we will hold a feast in your honor, and anything you might desire will be made available. Anything."
Tom felt himself blushing at the odd emphasis. He carefully avoided looking at B'Elanna, though he felt sure that he could feel her glare burning a hole in the back of his neck.
Jormal continued. "Yes, tonight, all will be as you desire it, as befits the God of the Sun incarnate. We will show you how the Kyrrosi appreciate your . . ." Once again, the universal translator struggled with an alien concept.
Tom sighed again. Oh, well, he thought. At least they plan to feed us.
On board Voyager, Captain Janeway contacted Engineering. "Lieutenant Hogan, how long until we have the transporters back on line?"
"Can't say for sure, Captain," Hogan responded apologetically. "Lieutenant Carey is in Jeffries Tube 21-alpha, but there's too much electromagnetic interference for him to go very fast with his repairs. He told me that it might take as long as 15 hours."
"All right, Ensign, but tell Carey to take as many people as he needs to get the job done quickly. I'm sending Ensign Simms down to assist. Janeway out."
Beside her on the bridge, Commander Chakotay watched Janeway's lips tighten into a thin line, thinking it was an all too familiar expression during their trip through the hostile Delta Quadrant. "Captain," he suggested, "perhaps it might be expedient at this point to send a rescue party. Adhering to the Prime Directive has become moot, in this instance."
His captain regarded him thoughtfully and, he thought, somewhat sadly. The look lasted for only an instant, then was gone. She stood briskly. "We'll discuss this in my ready room. Ensign Romanov, you have the conn," she threw over her shoulder as she and her first officer left the bridge.
In Janeway's ready room, Chakotay wasted no time in making his point. "Captain, the longer the away team is down there, interacting with the indigenous population, the more we risk affecting the natural development of their culture."
Janeway shook her head. "Chakotay, two wrongs don't make a right." She paced in front of her desk, arms crossed. "I am not prepared to compound the problems of our presence on this planet by sending down more crew members."
"I understand your reluctance, Captain," Chakotay nodded, "and under more normal circumstances, I would agree." He paused, obviously searching for words, then said carefully, "These aren't normal circumstances. The natives believe that Lieutenant Paris is one of their gods! Our presence on the planet--" he stopped, realizing suddenly that his captain seemed to be having difficulty breathing. Her lips twitched suspiciously. "Kathryn, are you all right?"
Captain Kathryn Janeway felt her face becoming red as she tried to maintain her professional demeanor. She quickly turned away from Chakotay, ostensibly to consider the starscape outside her window, but a sound escaped her lips.
Chakotay thought it sounded an awful lot like a chuckle. "Captain?"
She shook her head, still refusing to look at him, not trusting herself to speak. He approached her slowly, suddenly unsure where she would draw the line between commanding officer and friend. "Is something wrong, Kathryn?"
Unable to maintain her composure, Kathryn Janeway started to laugh uncontrollably. She fell into her chair and leaned against the desk, gasping between giggles. "I'm all right, Commander. Give me a moment--" She paused as another fit of giggles overcame her.
Her laughter was infectious; Chakotay found himself grinning in response. "Would you mind sharing the joke?" he asked mildly.
Janeway struggled to sit up and wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. "I apologize for my lapse, Chakotay, I know it isn't terribly professional, but I've been trying to contain the urge to laugh ever since Hudson told us about Paris' predicament." At that, she started laughing again.
"Oh, you mean the part about being a god?" Commander Chakotay smiled. Then he chuckled. Soon, he was collapsed in the chair across from his captain, laughing as hard as she was. One or the other would regain control for a moment, but the instant their eyes met, they would start laughing again. Finally, Captain Janeway sat back, wiping her eyes with the back of her hands and smoothing a stray lock of hair back into her customary knot.
"Well," she began. "I'm just glad this didn't happen in front of everyone on the bridge! We aren't setting a very good example, are we?"
"No, Captain, we are not!" Chakotay agreed, wiping his own eyes and still chuckling. "Thank the gods for ready rooms, right?"
Her eyes dancing mischievously, Janeway responded, "Or thank Tom Paris!" Unfortunately, that set them off again.
On the surface of the planet, shadows lengthened across the Kyrrosi village as afternoon slipped into evening. The away team sat on comfortable cushions at one end of a large, oblong hearth in the village's central gathering area. Everywhere the Kyrrosi bustled with platters of food, jugs of drink, musical instruments, mats and torches -- in short, all the accoutrements of a festival.
"This is really something," Tom Paris said to no one in particular. "I can't believe they're doing all this for me!"
At his side, Tuvok responded, "It is a pity that our tricorders are inoperative due to the interference from the stone of this region. I would very much like to record and possibly decipher the glyphs on these dwellings. It would give us invaluable information about their culture."
B'Elanna Torres sat on Tom's other side, though she had been careful to keep any part of their bodies from touching. Tom wondered how long the cold shoulder treatment would last. Knowing B'Elanna, he thought to himself, we'll be back in the Alpha Quadrant before she gives over. He stared into the twilight and sighed.
B'Elanna heard Tom sigh, and wondered what caused the wistful look in his eyes. She had the urge to smooth the frown away from his brow. In fact, her hand was halfway to his face when she suddenly realized what she was doing and quickly drew it back. Whoa, B'Elanna! she told herself sternly. What could you be thinking of? This is Tom Paris, remember? Playboy of Starfleet and not to be trusted! Hoping no one had noticed, she turned to Lieutenant Garvic on her other side and commented conversationally, "The natives sure seem to be friendly."
Garvic had noticed Torres' aborted gesture, but said nothing and filed the information away for possible future use. He responded, a bit sarcastically, "Yes, they do seem to be friendly. Lucky for us they think Paris is their sun god. Maybe he can work this to our benefit and find out about those metal ore deposits. Hey, Paris," he continued, leaning across B'Elanna's lap to tap Tom's shoulder. Torres automatically leaned back to minimize any physical contact, but Garvic seemed undeterred. "Lieutenant, why don't you make nice with these folks and find out about those metals?"
Garvic's challenging tone wasn't lost on Tom, but he remained outwardly calm. His tone deceptively mild, he answered, "I'm just waiting for an opportunity, Garvic. I don't want to rock the boat with these people until we know more about the situation. It's plain that they expect me -- or rather, Palis -- to do something for them, but I'm not sure what it is yet."
"Indeed, Lieutenants," Tuvok added, addressing them all. "Mr. Paris is correct. This is now a first contact situation. Any other considerations must take second place until we have established a relationship that minimizes our impact on these people."
Garvic looked like he was about to say something, but Torres parked her knee in his ribs meaningfully. He quickly withdrew to his own seat again, discreetly rubbing his side.
Seeing this, Tom smiled and looked at B'Elanna, but she avoided his gaze. He was comforted nonetheless that she didn't seem to be attracted to Garvic, after all.
Jormal, the first elder of the Kyrrosi, approached the seated away team. He bowed low before Tom, saying, "O Bright One, we have prepared a feast for you. We humbly ask that you partake with us. It is the best that our village has to offer."
Hoping that he sounded properly god-like, Paris nodded solemnly. "I'm sure all will be pleasing to Palis. You have done well." He didn't dare look at his comrades.
Appearing satisfied, Jormal clapped his hands authoritatively. A group of villagers holding some exotically carved instruments began to play a simple, lively tune. Villagers appeared out of their dwellings, dressed in brightly colored clothing decorated with feathers and bright stones. Platters of food were presented to the away team, as well as cups of some unknown beverage.
"Without functioning tricorders, I would advise caution," Tuvok told the others. "I do not believe these people mean to harm us, but we do not know if our alimentary systems are compatible with theirs."
Tom sniffed appreciatively at the aromas wafting from his plate. "Well, it smells pretty good, Tuvok. If Neelix's cooking hasn't killed us yet, I don't see why this should! I don't think there's anything to worry about." Nevertheless, B'Elanna noticed that the first small bite he took was with his fingers crossed.
Seeing Palis eat was the sign for everyone to begin. The villagers feasted with enthusiasm and joy, many stopping now and then to gaze at Lieutenant Paris with awe and some other less definable emotion.
Lieutenant Garvic lifted his cup and smelled the contents suspiciously. He took a tiny taste and immediately began coughing, but then his eyes lit up and he grinned. "Hey, this stuff's not half bad! You could probably strip paint with it, but it beats synthehol all to hell."
In spite of Paris' and Garvic's endorsements, Tuvok and Torres ate slowly, allowing time for each new food to react with their systems before proceeding to the next. Tuvok didn't touch the fermented beverage, and Torres sipped only a little, preferring to keep her wits about her.
Tom Paris, feeling the stress of the day lift from his shoulders now that he was getting some food in him, slowly grew more relaxed. This isn't going so badly, he thought. Even though we've kind of trashed the Prime Directive, it's not the first time Starfleet has done so, and with much better results! He turned to B'Elanna, hoping now that she'd had some dinner, she might be in a friendlier mood. He was about to say something when he saw her jaw drop as she stared across the hearth. Turning to see what had caught her attention, Tom felt his jaw take a similar plunge downward.
A small procession approached the away team. Jormal was at the head, looking very solemn and proud. He was followed by three young women, each quite pretty and each dressed in a way that left few of her charms to the imagination. Jormal stopped in front of Paris and bowed low again. "O Palis, the Bright One whose coming was foretold by the Ancients, Master of the Sun that gives us life, Vanquisher of the Harvesters, Lord of the Shadow Water where Sun is Born . . ."
Paris thought -- uncomfortably -- that at least the universal translator seemed to have gotten a handle on the language problem.
". . . these are the daughters of the three elders of the Kyrrosi of the Shadow Water where Sun is Born." He pulled the first one forward. "This is my own daughter, Lijora, but you may choose any or all of these three for yourself this night. No matter whom you choose, you will honor our village."
Tom Paris, in spite of his reputation, found himself at a complete loss for words. He could feel his neck, and then his ears, and then his face, turn the same red of his uniform. He could fairly feel the waves of incredulity emanating from his shipmates -- especially B'Elanna Torres -- and he thought to himself, not for the first time, I am NEVER, EVER going to hear the end of this! Wondering how to respond without offending his hosts, Tom was unutterably relieved when Tuvok spoke up. "Sir, you do a great honor to Palis. Your generosity is so great, even a god has no words to express his admiration." Tuvok looked at Tom, who smiled weakly. What Tuvok said next nearly caused him to faint.
"We have noticed," Tuvok began carefully, "that the Kyrrosi follow the precepts of monogamy set down by the Ancients." At Jormal's puzzled nod, he continued, "As befits a god of the Kyrrosi, Palis also honors the ancient laws by taking only one consort. "Behold B'Elanna, consort of Palis, God of the Sun," Tuvok announced, gesturing at Lieutenant Torres.
B'Elanna Torres felt like someone had just punched her in the stomach, and the fine dinner she'd consumed now threatened to revisit her plate. She glanced at Tom, who had an odd, strangled look on his face. She would have laughed, if she hadn't been painfully aware that her own expression must have looked very much the same. She could only hope that Tuvok knew what he was doing.
As if echoing her thoughts, Tom leaned over to Tuvok and muttered out of the corner of his mouth, "What do you think you're doing? Have you lost your mind? What happened to the Prime Directive?"
Tuvok only raised an eyebrow and murmured, "You must trust me in this, Lieutenant. I am trying to keep you from influencing the future development of this people, as it were, any more than you already have!"
Aloud to Jormal, he said, "As you can see, while you do Palis great honor, and he blesses your people for it, he cannot, in honor, accept your gift."
Jormal looked surprised, to say the least, and a little suspicious. He looked long and searchingly at B'Elanna. She felt the old man was looking for something, something by which to prove or disprove Tuvok's claim. Knowing what was at stake, she let her guard down and held his gaze steadily. Then Jormal looked at Tom Paris, the one he thought of as Palis incarnate. Tom thought he knew what the elder was searching for. At least in this one thing, Tom thought, I don't have to lie. His eyes told Jormal all he needed to know.
The old man nodded, apparently satisfied. "It is truth, what the stranger says. This companion of Palis must indeed be his consort." He bowed low to Paris. "Forgive our presumption, O Bright One. We didn't know you had taken a mate."
Paris fought the urge to squirm. He knew he was blushing -- had he ever stopped? -- as he said, "No harm done, Jormal. I'm honored by your offer, as my companion has said. You have done well."
Jormal smiled. "The Ancients said that the Bright One who would rescue us would come with the Shadow One, his partner, and help. Until now, we did not know what that meant. Come!" he continued. "We have prepared the place where you and your consort will rest tonight." He led Paris and Torres, with Tuvok and Garvic following, to the end of the village where a lone dwelling stood. Paris saw that it was the plain one he had noticed earlier. It was even more finely crafted than the other houses, but Tom noticed that it had only one door, and no windows that he could see.
Jormal waved a small metal object in front of the door. Tom thought that he might have heard a faint hum from it, but he couldn't be sure. The door slid open, revealing a luxuriously appointed sleeping chamber, with several oil lamps already lit and a tiny fire on a hearth in the corner. As he stepped in, he saw that a single, large bed dominated the room's furnishings. He heard B'Elanna let out a faint, "Oh!" Tom sighed. He knew he was blushing again.
"Enjoy your rest, O Bright One," Jormal said. "Do not worry about your two other companions. We will make sure that they are well-housed on this night. Good night." And with that, the door slid shut behind Tom and B'Elanna.
All of a sudden Chakotay had a nasty thought about the situation Tom was in. He tried to tell himself it was not worthy to think this way, but there it was. He couldn't get it out of his mind. He decided to ask the captain; after all, Tom was her protégé, she would know if his concern were needless. "Kathryn, about Paris . . ." he ventured.
Kathryn Janeway looked up at Chakotay in inquiry, still chuckling, but sobered quickly when she saw the worried look on his face. "Go ahead, Chakotay, tell me what's bothering you."
Chakotay swallowed hard, then asked, "How do you think Paris will react to this godhood thing? I mean, will he let it go to his head? I'm concerned that he might take advantage of the situation and hurt B'Elanna. Something's been happening between them ever since they were assimilated by the Borg and then later stuck on the holodeck. B'Elanna was hurt badly in the past. She hurt for a very long time and has just started breaking out of her shell here on Voyager. She doesn't trust easily and I think it would destroy her if she opened up for Paris and then he dumped her like Ja-- like she got dumped before. I've spoken to both of them, trying to find out if there is anything to be worried about, but both acted very cagey and defensive about the subject and then, well, both ran away. Could you talk to them?"
Janeway thought for a moment about the friction she'd seen between Chakotay and Tom, and also about the relationship she'd seen developing between Tom and B'Elanna. Remembering the light in Tom's eyes and the smiles that brightened his face whenever B'Elanna was nearby, she believed that Tom was a long way past a light flirtation, but didn't want to disparage Chakotay's worries. After all, he knew B'Elanna in a way no one else on Voyager did.
But there was the little detail of Tom's reputation as a lady's man too, although she didn't think he'd really done all that gossip said he had. For quite a while, she and Harry had been the only Starfleet people who would even talk to him voluntarily. I wonder if ANY of the stories are true? she thought to herself.
Realizing she'd let the silence go on too long she said, "Chakotay, I understand that you are very concerned and want to protect B'Elanna from a very serious situation. But don't you think that perhaps you might be trying to do too much?"
"Too much?" Chakotay asked. "I don't understand."
"Yes, too much. They are adults and you've already showed them that you are a concerned friend by trying to talk to them about this situation." Janeway knew that Chakotay had probably not sounded like a concerned "friend" when he spoke to Tom, but she didn't want to cause Chakotay to feel defensive about the way he'd handled it so far. That wouldn't help Tom or B'Elanna at all. "Perhaps it would be best to leave it alone unless one of them asks for your or my help. They must both know by now that you're willing to help resolve the issue. Plus, I cannot believe that Tom would endanger the away mission by that kind of conduct. Even if all the stories about him are true, and I don't think they are, he has always acted in a proper fashion while on duty." As she spoke, Captain Janeway saw Chakotay's face change as he realized that not only was she saying she was not going to interfere, but she was suggesting that he not interfere either.
"Captain, I don't know if that is the right way to handle it." Chakotay struggled to make her understand why this was so important. "I'm concerned that if this thing between them blows up in their faces, we'll have a major mess to clean up. Both of them may experience difficulty working, especially since they have to work together."
Janeway held up her hand to stop him. "Chakotay, I understand, but I also understand that there comes a time when even the best of friends have to stand back and let people make their own mistakes. Even if the consequences are really bad."
She thought for a moment, then smiled and said, "All we can do is be there if the worst happens and help them grow past it. We are not gods and we can't read minds, so we don't know what will happen. Maybe B'Elanna will dump Tom! We just can't know. I for one do not intend to babysit every single crew member through his or her romances for the next 70 years. I would prefer that you not do so. We are their superior officers, not their mothers, fathers or Cupid."
"But Captain--" Chakotay tried to get out.
Realizing that she would have to say this in a stronger manner, Janeway interrupted him again before he could finish. "Chakotay, let them deal with this situation in their own way. Please do not force me to make this an order. I believe if you think about this further, you'll decide I'm right. Now we'd better get back to the bridge before anything else happens."
After the door slid shut behind them, B'Elanna walked around the room, inspecting it carefully and avoiding Paris' gaze. Tom, for his part, had examined the door, but could find no apparent mechanism for opening it from the inside. Deciding they were stuck in here for the night, he sighed softly and turned back to the room, finding B'Elanna standing, arms crossed, staring at him. She was not smiling.
"Don't blame me," Paris retorted. "This was Tuvok's bright idea. Speaking of which . . ." He tapped his comm badge. Nothing.
Frowning, Torres tried hers with no result. Looking around, she commented, "This dwelling appears much older than the others here in the village, and yet much more sophisticated."
"You think there's something that's blocking our badges?"
B'Elanna shrugged. "It wouldn't surprise me." She looked around for somewhere to sit; unfortunately, the bed was the only likely place. Giving in to her fatigue, she sat down on it. "So, Palis, what's next?"
Paris frowned. "Don't call me that," he snapped.
Taken aback by his curt tone, B'Elanna looked closely at him. "You're really not enjoying this sudden godhood, are you?"
Softening his tone in apology, Tom said, "Would you? I mean, these people are expecting me to perform some miracles for them. What happens when I can't come through with them?"
"You surprise me," she admitted. "I figured you for the sort who would really lap this up and bask in the glory."
"I guess you don't know me as well as you think, then," he retorted, the curtness back in his tone. He rubbed tiredly at the back of his neck he sat on the bed, his back to her. The silence stretched uncomfortably between them.
Tom was startled when he felt a pair of strong hands on his shoulders. He groaned in pleasure when they began kneading at the knots there.
"I'm sorry," B'Elanna apologized. "I can see you're upset about this."
"Keep up what you're doing, and I'll forgive you anything, Torres."
Smiling behind his back, B'Elanna continued to knead his shoulders and back. "Just returning the favor. I seem to remember you giving me a backrub." Her light tone served its intended purpose as she felt him relax.
"I remember that," he commented. "Almost miss all that mud. . . ."
"Paris!" She slapped him lightly on the back before continuing the backrub. He chuckled softly and they enjoyed a nice silent rapport for several minutes. When Paris next spoke, however, his question took B'Elanna totally off guard.
"So what happened to the red dress? You shred it or something?" His tone was light but she felt him stiffening a bit under her hands.
Deciding to be honest, she said, "It's in the bottom drawer of my dresser."
"Oh. Saving it for a special occasion, are you?"
"You never know. Tom, I'm sorry. I hope you weren't too disappointed."
Tom opened his mouth to glibly reply that it was no big deal, but it was, he realized. He wanted to know why she had declined his invitation. The answer to that question was suddenly overwhelmingly important. Pushing his normal bantering retort aside, he instead said, "Actually, I was. And I'd really like to know why you weren't interested. Is it me?" He felt B'Elanna's hands become still on his shoulders, then, much to his disappointment, he felt her retreating. However, it turned out she was retreating only from the backrub, not him, as she moved to sit next to him.
"If I answer that," she told him, "I'm going to be brutally honest. Are you ready for that?"
"I'm not going to like this, am I?" he sighed. "Okay, go ahead. I can take it."
Trying to soften it a bit so as not to sound cruel, B'Elanna said, "I guess it all comes down to trust."
"You don't trust me?" Tom's tone was hurt.
"I trust you with my life. I trust you with the ship. I trust you to do the right thing. But I don't trust you to remain committed in a relationship."
Tom was silent for a long drawn-out moment before replying, "What brings you to that conclusion?"
"Your reputation precedes you, Lieutenant." B'Elanna strove for a light tone as she hadn't been prepared for the serious turn this discussion was taking, but her humor fell flat.
"My reputation?" Paris laughed, but it sounded harsh. "Which one would that be? The murderer from Caldik Prime? The Starfleet admiral's son who couldn't hack it in Starfleet? The ex-Maquis? The jailbird? Oh no, that's right, you're talking about the womanizer. Well, let me tell you something, Lieutenant Torres, for a so-called playboy, my social life has consisted mainly of hanging out with Harry since I came aboard Voyager. Sure, there have been a couple of dates, but until recently, nobody was really very interested in an ex-Starfleet officer/ex-Maquis. Neither side wants to touch me. I finally find someone I genuinely want to spend time with, whom I enjoy talking to and just being with, and thought maybe she returned some of those feelings. Well, excuse me, I guess I thought wrong!"
Shocked at his outburst, B'Elanna said, "Tom--"
"Don't bother. I'm tired and I'm going to bed. And don't worry, should you decide to share the bed with me, I'll be on my best behavior, Lieutenant."
He lay down, his back to her. B'Elanna sat there a long time staring at his back. Her thoughts all colliding with one another until she couldn't think straight. Sighing, she lay on the other side of the bed, a discreet distance from Paris and tried to sleep.
"Ah, yes," sighed Gar. "If you say your prayers, the gods do hear you. Krislak, do they sense us yet?"
"Negative, Gar. We have not been scanned. They are simply sitting there, unsuspecting. Perhaps they do not understand cloaking technology."
"Fools. Decloak and deploy the shuttles. We must keep our bargain with the Vidiians. But this time," he growled, "we will not lose our prey. The Voyager will be ours."
"Captain, please turn to your Emergency Medical Channel," intoned the voice of the doctor via the comm link in the captain's ready room.
"Yes, Doctor," replied Janeway, putting the finishing touches on her hair. "What can I do for you?"
"I am returning Mr. Kim to active duty, Captain. He's feeling much better this morning."
"Good work, Doctor."
"I had nothing to do with it. When he heard of the deification of our pilot, he laughed until he was sick. Literally. Whatever it was that disagreed with his system is no more within his system. He is on his way to the bridge to resume his duties as we speak."
"Thank you, Doctor. Janeway out." The captain entered the bridge from her ready room just as Harry came in through the turbolift. His eyes twinkled and he looked ready to burst out laughing. Janeway avoided eye contact with him.
Chakotay was already in place. He looks tired, she commented to herself. I'll bet he's been worrying about it all night. Aloud, she only said, "Good morning, Commander. All stations, report."
The words were barely out of her mouth when Harry announced, "Captain! We have a perimeter alert! A ship!"
"Onscreen," snapped Janeway. Well, this day is starting early.
"It's a cargo type ship of some sort, Captain," reported Harry. "Warp engines capable of warp factor 4 at most, limited shields, phaser weapons, no torpedoes, it's -- Captain, the ship is deploying two shuttlecraft! And Captain, it's got--" The mother ship and both shuttles shimmered out of sight. "--a cloaking device."
Hudson, having spent the night in the shuttle per Lieutenant Tuvok's orders, waiting to provide emergency support if necessary, restlessly prowled around the landing site that morning. He was just debating what to do with himself when a distant sound grabbed his attention. Scanning the skies, Hudson spotted first one then another unidentifiable ship in the near distance. They weren't of a type he ever recalled seeing before, but something about them nudged at a deeply buried memory. Noting that they were headed in the direction of the village, he tapped his comm badge. "Hudson to Lieutenant Tuvok."
"Lieutenant, there are two ships heading in your direction. I don't recognize their make."
"Thank you, Ensign. I shall--" A sudden piercing scream interrupted Tuvok's reply. "Stand by, Ensign," Tuvok said, and the link went dead.
A frustrated Hudson stood there, unable to take any action until Tuvok requested it.
Tom awoke the next morning not feeling nearly as refreshed as he ought to. Shifting slightly, he opened his eyes and was rather startled to find B'Elanna nestled in his arms. He frowned slightly, remembering his outburst the night before. Losing control like that was not something he normally did. As he was mulling this over, B'Elanna woke. She sat up with a start, nearly knocking him out of bed. Tom sat up, wrapping his arms about his knees. Neither spoke for a moment. Neither quite knew what to say.
They both grinned self-consciously. Paris spoke again. "Let's just forget last night, hmmm? Write it off to nerves about this Palis thing."
B'Elanna shook her head. "No. I don't want to forget it. You said some pretty revealing things, Tom. I--"
Whatever she had been about to say was lost as the door suddenly opened and a smiling Jormal stood there.
Good morning, O Bright One." He bowed to B'Elanna as well.
Not moving from the bed, they both watched as the daughters who had been offered to Palis the night before entered carrying breakfast and clothing.
"Forgive my impudence, O Bright One," said Jormal, "but the sun rises early and the heat is upon us. I thought perhaps you would find our clothing preferable."
"Thank you, Jormal," Paris replied in his Palis voice. "We shall enjoy the food you have brought us and the clothing."
Bowing once again, Jormal backed out of the hut, this time leaving the door slightly ajar.
Paris turned back to B'Elanna, wanting to hear what she had been about to say, but once again they were interrupted, this time by several panicky screams from outside. Startled, Paris and Torres ran for the door.
Jormal stood arms akimbo glaring down at the pair of terrified teenagers at his feet. The girl was crying and holding on to the boy as if she were too scared to ever let go. "Begin where the story begins," Jormal commanded. "And remember, Palis is listening."
Tom felt sorry for the pair. They were just a couple of kids. What could they possibly have done? "Stand," he said to them, ignoring Tuvok's glare of warning. "Tell us what has frightened you."
They quickly climbed to their feet. The girl buried her face in the boy's chest as young man spoke. "Malia and I were returning from the breaking water. We saw the eyes of the Watchers glowing. They . . . they SAW us."
Suddenly, the girl whirled and flung herself into B'Elanna's unsuspecting arms. Confused, B'Elanna froze up like a statue herself, and stood there stiffly.
"Please, consort of Palis," wailed the girl. "Please help me. I only wanted to be with Teanu. The day of our joining is not far off. We have done nothing. Do not let the Harvesters take us! Please!"
Stunned, B'Elanna folded her arms in and gently patted the frantic girl on her hair. She looked to Tuvok for help. As always, Tuvok was ready.
"Jormal, we wish to know of the Harvesters. Take us--" He was cut off as another young boy came racing up.
"Jormal," he said gasping, "the flying canoe of Palis. The Others have taken it, and its guard, too."
"Lieutenant," said Tuvok to Torres. "Take this girl into your hut and calm her down. Find out what she knows," he added softly. Gently, B'Elanna led the girl away.
"Jormal, we must go to our 'canoe'. Please lead the way."
Hudson woke to find a pain so great in his head he almost allowed unconsciousness to claim him again. A Starfleet officer, Mikel. Get up, kid. Oh, God, Ethan. I'm in it deep now. Should've gone into trading like my brother. Or joined the Maquis like your brother.
One look at the grotesque beings had brought vivid flashes of memory flooding back. The greenish scaly skins, the vertical pupils of their eyes, the claws at the ends of their fingers, their total lack of ears, their mouths full of curved, pointed fangs. One minute he was standing there, admiring the sun rising up over the water, the next he was on the ground getting trounced. Personal cloaking devices. The only explanation.
"You are under arrest," Hudson said groggily, to the back of the seat so recently occupied by Lieutenant Paris, "for the theft of a Starfleet shuttlecraft."
"Shut up, humanoid," said his captor. "Or we'll just eat you now instead of selling you to the Vidiians for parts."
B'Elanna dried Malia's tears and held her hand. Full of impatience to get back out to the action, she could barely keep herself from hurrying the girl's story along. How she had known Teanu all her life. How much she trusted him. How brave he was, how handsome, how strong. She hadn't wanted to sneak out of her father's house. She just couldn't help it. Then she shocked B'Elanna's attention back in line.
"But you know all this. You are the beloved of Palis. You know what it means to want, to feel your good sense flying away from you. To feel what you feel if he looks at another."
"I, uh . . . yes," stammered B'Elanna.
"My friend Alina was not at all afraid to be brought to him, you know. We all saw the way he looked at you. We could see he had chosen. I hope Teanu always loves me the way Palis loves you."
"Captain, I've run some correlations through the computer," reported Ensign Kim. "That ship was almost certainly built by the same people who built the warship that attacked us in the electromagnetic field."
Janeway was quick with her decision. "Shields up. All stations, Red Alert. Mr. Kim, zero in on that ship's warp signature. I don't like sitting here blind."
"Janeway to Carey."
"Carey here, Captain."
"Status report, Lieutenant."
"The transporters will be back on line in about two minutes."
Kathryn Janeway had never been so tempted to ignore the Prime Directive. But the rules of a first contact situation were iron-clad. She could not transport her crew off the planet. She could not even contact her crew on the planet. She felt frustration such as she had seldom felt before.
"Captain, our shuttle is being activated."
Hallelujah, she thought.
"Captain, I'm reading three life signs on the shuttle. One is Ensign Hudson. His life signs are fluctuating. The others . . ." His voice trailed off. "Well, they're not human. And they weren't there at all until just before the shuttle's engines fired. I don't understand it."
Chakotay interjected. "Alien beings with advanced technology, surely. Mr. Kim, lock a tractor beam on that shuttle."
"Captain, we are being hailed from the shuttle. Audio only."
"Let's hear it."
A hissing growl assaulted their ears. Janeway was instantly reminded of an alligator she had stumbled across on a camping trip in Mississippi. It did not bring back pleasant memories.
"We are the Vyarri. Release your hold, or this humanoid will die by my claws and we will feast on his body."
Chakotay watched from his seat as the captain's lips thinned into a frown and she rose to her feet, pacing the bridge. "This is Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager. Vyarri, you are in possession of our shuttle and one of our crew. I demand that you return both to us at once."
There was a an unrecognizable hiss over the link, then the gravelly voice spoke once again. "We do not accede to your demands. You are an inferior race to be used for whatever purposes we deem necessary. Do not attempt to contact us again."
Before Janeway could speak further, the link was terminated on the other end. Janeway looked at Kim inquiringly. Shaking his head, Harry Kim said, "I'm sorry, Captain. They are refusing to acknowledge our hails."
"Captain," Chakotay said quietly, "your orders?"
Janeway turned to her first officer. The question was clear in Chakotay's dark eyes: Release the tractor beam, or consign Hudson to an immediate horrible death. Captain Janeway returned his look for a long moment, then nodded reluctantly. "Ensign Kim," she commanded grimly, "release the shuttle."
Mikel Hudson was scared. Bound by the Vyarri and tossed to the floor of the shuttle, Hudson had heard his captors' exchange with Captain Janeway and felt Voyager's tractor beam grab, then release, the shuttlecraft.
The young officer understood Janeway's actions. She was attempting to buy him time rather than risk having the Vyarri kill him outright. But he knew his chances of rescue were slim. The Borg memories of the Vyarri were brutally clear now. Few of their prisoners ever escaped. "Great," he muttered under his breath. "Either I'm going to be eaten by the Vyarri or end up an involuntary organ donor for the Vidiians. A brilliant Starfleet career cut short by big lizards--"
An ugly hiss assaulted his ears. "We told you to shut up, human!" the biggest of his reptilian captors said. "One more awful sound from you and I'll eat you myself!" Scowling fiercely, the Vyarri turned back to his console.
Hudson closed his mouth, surprised that the creature had heard his whispered comment at all, what with the noise of the other Vyarri hissing and muttering in communication with their ship.
For creatures with no visible ears, he thought, they sure have sensitive hearing. Idly, he wondered how their auditory senses worked, his brain stubbornly refusing to think about his imminent fate.
The hijacked shuttle swung around to the far side of the planet, taking Hudson farther away from Voyager and safety. Through the front port, he could see that they were headed directly for a faint shimmer in the starfield. As the shuttle approached, the shimmer materialized into a huge Vyarri mother ship. Mikel's heart quailed at the sight, his memory once again struggling against the visions placed there by the Borg. Huge bay doors slid open in the belly of the ship, and the shuttle slid slowly inside. As the docking bay closed behind him, Hudson wondered if he would ever see Voyager again.
B'Elanna was saved from having to reply to Malia's observations about her supposed relationship with Palis by more screams from outside. There was a different tone to these screams though. These screams expressed some deep-seated, long-lived fear. B'Elanna rushed to the door, only to find Malia blocking her exit.
"No!" exclaimed the girl. "You mustn't go out there."
B'Elanna studied the girl consideringly. Malia was clearly frightened, but she was also determined to keep B'Elanna inside. "You know what's happening out there, don't you?" B'Elanna asked. The girl nodded mutely. "Tell me, Malia, please."
Her voice soft and trembling, the girl said, "It's the Harvesters. They have returned." Some of the fear receded from her eyes as she uttered her next words. "But Palis is among us now. He will save us."
Frowning, B'Elanna asked, "Harvesters? Who are these Harvesters? What is happening out there, Malia?" Torres' voice became more demanding as the screams outside escalated. Not waiting for Malia to answer, B'Elanna pushed past her and stopped dead in the doorway as she got her first view of the courtyard beyond. There were several reptilian creatures out there rounding up the local villagers. Some were being taken away and others . . . B'Elanna's stomach turned as her gaze came to rest on a group of the creatures, the Harvesters, whom she now knew to be the Vyarri. They were gathered around a young male native and they were . . . She swallowed convulsively. They were eating.
B'Elanna stumbled back into the room as images began assaulting her mind, images of the Vyarri that Kynn and his Borg had left there. Cringing, she retreated to a far corner trying to escape the images in her mind and the atrocity taking place in the courtyard. With no weapon, she was helpless to stop it.
By the time Tuvok, Garvic, and Paris reached the landing site, both the shuttle and Hudson were gone. As they had made their way back to the village, Tuvok contacted the captain. Paris had been dismayed to learn that Hudson had been taken by the Vyarri; he hoped the ensign was all right. Janeway had wanted them to beam up immediately but when Tuvok had explained that Torres was still in the village, she concurred with their decision to return there.
Now, as they raced into the village, a cry went up from the natives.
"Palis! Palis! Palis!"
Tom looked around and realized that something was terribly wrong in the village. As they approached Jormal, Paris asked, "What happened?"
"The Harvesters," replied Jormal sadly. "Was this a test, Palis? A test of our faith? Why did you not protect us from the Harvesters?"
"Harvesters?" muttered Garvic. "Who--?" Garvic's voice cut off abruptly as his gaze moved beyond Jormal to where Paris and Tuvok were now looking. The body of a young native lay there, looking as if wild animals had attacked it.
Jormal moved aside so they could get a better view. "The Harvesters were hungry," he said softly.
Paris, getting the picture suddenly, closed his eyes briefly against the horror that washed through him. B'Elanna! he thought. Where's B'Elanna? He moved past Jormal and rushed to his and B'Elanna's hut.
Malia looked up as Palis entered, but he hardly noticed her. He had eyes only for his consort. Malia quietly left, passing Tuvok and Garvic on her way out.
Tom stood there, unsure of what to do for a moment. B'Elanna was crouched in a corner, a look of horror on her face. She didn't seem to be aware that he was in the room. Kneeling next to her, Tom was careful not to touch B'Elanna. He didn't want to startle her.
"B'Elanna?" he called softly. "B'Elanna, it's Tom." She didn't appear to hear him. He started to reach out toward her, but Garvic's voice stopped him.
"Let her be, Paris. Don't you think you've done enough damage? Trust you to bollix up a simple away team mission."
Paris felt a wave of anger sweep through him. Garvic obviously didn't like him and seemed to have some point to prove with him. Standing, he turned slowly, his blue eyes icy. "Look, Garvic--" Before he could complete his thoughts, Tuvok interrupted, his voice stern.
"Lieutenant Garvic, that remark was uncalled for." Turning to Paris, he said, "Please assist Lieutenant Torres, Mr. Paris. Lieutenant Garvic and I will talk to the natives in an attempt to determine what took place here."
Paris nodded briefly and waited until the Vulcan and Garvic had exited the room before kneeling down beside B'Elanna once again. This time he did reach out. He took her right hand in his. "B'Elanna, it's Tom. Can you tell me what happened?"
As if from a great distance, B'Elanna heard a voice. Something about it was familiar and it sparked a warmth deep inside her. She tried to ignore the voice, but it persisted. Finally, unable to ignore it any longer, she attempted to focus on it.
Tom was elated to see B'Elanna's eyes lose their unfocused look and try to focus on him. Finally, their gazes locked. "Tom?" she asked uncertainly.
He squeezed her hand reassuringly. "I'm here. Can you tell me what happened?"
"They . . . they ate that boy. . . ." The horror was still in her eyes. Tom nodded. He could understand her horror, what he didn't understand was the near catatonic state he had found her in. B'Elanna was made of sterner stuff than this. Something else had happened, he surmised.
"You saw the Harvesters?" he asked.
B'Elanna's eyes widened as if she had just made a connection. "The Harvesters. Tom, the Harvesters are Kynn's Vyarri."
At B'Elanna's words, Tom simply stared at her as he felt a surge of incredulity then panic rush through him. Faint images of blood-soaked bodies merged with the sickening sight of the young lifeless native whose body Tom had just been forced to view. The kid could not have been more than seventeen in human years, and that life had been cut short, for what? To assuage the hunger of a bunch of butchers.
The panic in Tom receded somewhat as his anger set in. The Vyarri, a war-like race with no regard for lives, and the Harvesters, or Others, that the God Palis was supposed to vanquish were one and the same. Why had B'Elanna connected the three when he had not been able to do so? Of course, B'Elanna's awareness of her memories from the assimilation process had been stronger than his from the beginning. Tom had no idea why the images were so distant in his mind.
How or why is not important at the moment, Tom told himself silently. Squeezing B'Elanna's hand reassuringly once again, his blue eyes darkened as he studied her ashen face. The young slain Kyrrosi could just as easily have been Tuvok, Garvic, Tom himself, or the unthinkable, B'Elanna. Tom's eyes closed briefly as he fought off that terrifying image. He would do whatever it took to ensure her safety and the safety of the people who had placed their lives into his undeserving hands.
Looking at B'Elanna's pale features, he swallowed convulsively then spoke gently. "B'Elanna, you said that you trusted me with your life. Did you really mean that?"
Despite her fear, B'Elanna's voice was firm as she said, "I meant every word."
"That's exactly what I needed to hear. Right now, I need your help. You've got to push those horrible images as far into the back of your mind as possible and draw on the colossal strength I know you have. These people are expecting a god to protect them, and all they've got is plain old Tom Paris. I'm going to do everything I can to help them and get us back to the ship, but I can't do it without you. B'Elanna, I need you." Even as he said the last words, they sounded strange on his lips. He had never admitted that to anyone before, but Tom knew it was the truth. He did need her, and unlike the need for his father's approval or the need to prove himself to Chakotay and the rest of the crew, his need for B'Elanna's strength made him feel stronger instead of weaker.
Tom's words must have had some effect on her, for the color began to return to her face. "I'll be okay. It was just the shock." B'Elanna then attempted to stand. Tom stood then himself, pulled her to her feet, and putting his hands on her slender shoulders, he said, "Maybe you should rest. I can go see what Tuvok and Garvic have managed to find out about what happened."
"No, I don't need to rest. I'm coming with you," B'Elanna asserted.
Tom dropped his hands from her shoulders, though he could not keep a small smile at bay. That was typical B'Elanna Torres. Her spirit was insurmountable. Only B'Elanna could bounce back so quickly from such a horrifying experience. As he followed B'Elanna to the doorway of the shelter, Tom suddenly stopped. "B'Elanna . . ."
B'Elanna halted mid-stride, then turned and looked back to where Tom stood. "What were you going to . . .?" Her question went unfinished as she gazed into blue eyes that rendered her speechless with their intensity.
"This is definitely not the time nor the place, and you're probably going to hit me for it later, but right now I don't care about that. I refuse to go out there wondering if I'll ever have the opportunity to do this again." Reaching out, Tom pulled B'Elanna close to him.
Before B'Elanna could say anything, Tom brought his lips to hers and kissed her. For a few moments, all the horrible images of the Vyarri flew out of her mind. The now familiar feeling of being enveloped with warmth intermingled with the nerve-tingling excitement of his mouth exploring hers. When he finally broke off the kiss, B'Elanna could not suppress a moan of protest. As her eyelids fluttered open, she noticed Tom's intense scrutiny. "Why are you looking at me like that?" she asked, then her eyes narrowed slightly as Tom relaxed and let go of her with a slight smile on his face.
"Oh, I was just observing what a terrible liar you are, B'Elanna Torres." Tom's smile turned into an outright grin at the shocked, then outraged, expression on B'Elanna's face.
"A liar? When have I ever lied to you?" B'Elanna demanded as struggled with puzzlement and anger. Tom's grin faded as he continued to stare at her.
"I can think of one lie in particular right now. You can say what you want, B'Elanna, but you lied to me and to yourself, when you said that you didn't want to be anything other than friends. These feelings aren't just going to go away if you attempt to ignore them, and if we get out of this place alive, I fully intend to remind you of that at every available opportunity."
"What?" B'Elanna retorted. "You can't--"
Garvic rushed in through the doorway looking furious. "O Mighty Paris, would you mind getting out here right now? These useless cretins are demanding to see their Palis, blubbering on about their god's displeasure with them. Tuvok is trying to calm them, but I, for one, think that you should be the one to dig us out of this mess. You were the one who got us into it in the first place."
Ignoring Garvic's snide tone, Paris brushed past him and strode outside. The scene that awaited him was grim. Many of the villagers sat or knelt by fallen loved ones, wailing and crying. Others went about the gruesome task of cleaning up. Tom saw Tuvok speaking to Jormal. He approached them slowly, wondering what on earth he, Tom Paris, could possibly do to stop this "harvest".
Tuvok saw Tom approaching, and briefed him on what he had learned. "I have been speaking to Jormal about these "Harvesters." It seems these reptilian creatures attack villages at random, killing and eating some of the people, and taking others prisoner. No one knows what happens to these unfortunates once they leave the planet."
"Any indication when they'll be back?" Tom asked. He turned to the Kyrrosi elder. "Jormal, do you know if the Harvesters will attack again soon?"
The old man shook his head sadly. "They will not return to this village today, O Bright One, if they follow their custom. They are careful not to deplete a single village too often, or there would be no Kyrrosi left. But they will attack other villages, until no settlement is left untouched by their bloodthirsty cruelty, and then they will return here."
"That gives us a little time," Tom nodded grimly. "We'll come up with a way to protect you from the Harvesters."
Tuvok raised an eyebrow. "Mr. Paris, may I speak with you?" he said quietly. "Privately?"
Expecting what was to come, Tom nodded at Jormal, and the two Starfleet officers stepped away toward one of the houses. Tuvok wasted no time.
"Mr. Paris, I shouldn't have to remind you of Starfleet's Prime Directive. We cannot influence the order of things among these people. From what I have gathered, the Harvesters have come among the Kyrrosi for more generations than Jormal can remember. They have built up a life and culture that include legends and customs that deal with the Harvesters and allow the Kyrrosi to exist in spite of them. To upset this balance might have a negative impact on the natural development of this people."
Even though he'd expected a lecture like this, Tom Paris exploded. "And you think those butchering Vyarri don't have a negative impact on these people? Come on, Tuvok, get down off your Starfleet rules and regs pedestal and open your eyes! These people are dying because an alien race is harvesting them for food and God knows what else." He snorted, "Any so-called Prime Directive was compromised a long time ago!"
Tuvok seemed about to respond, but instead looked silently at Paris for a long moment. Tom steadily returned his gaze. Finally, and rather surprisingly, Tuvok sighed. "Your argument is sophistic at best, Lieutenant. As I believe I've pointed out before, just because the Prime Directive has been violated once does not justify compounding the error. However," he added, holding up a hand as Tom looked about to protest again. "I find that I must reluctantly agree with you, but not for the reasons you assume."
At Tom's puzzled look, Tuvok explained. "We must help them, Lieutenant, because we have already done so."
B'Elanna watched Tom exit their hut, then turned to Lieutenant Garvic, saying angrily, "What's with the attitude, Garvic? Tom Paris didn't ask for this sun god situation, you know."
"Oh, of course not!" the geologist responded sarcastically. "He hasn't done anything to get out of it, though, either. And why should he?" Garvic looked Torres up and down, indicating by his expression exactly what he thought had transpired last night between the "sun god" and his "consort".
B'Elanna felt soiled by that look, which only made her angrier. "Care to explain what you mean by that, Lieutenant?" she growled, her tone making his rank an epithet. She advanced on him menacingly, forcing him to take a step back. All the fear and stress of the last several hours was bubbling to the surface inside B'Elanna, and her Klingon side was looking for a way to lash out.
Seeing the real rage in her eyes, Garvic attempted a weak laugh. "Oh, nothing, of course, Torres. I just meant that he's probably enjoying the attention from the natives."
B'Elanna snorted. "Nice try, Garvic, but it won't wash." She pushed him back against the wall of the chamber, pinning him. He struggled ineffectually against her superior strength. "Look, Garvic," she snarled. "I don't know what your beef is with Tom Paris, and right now, I don't care. So far, you've contributed nothing to this away mission except a smart-ass mouth. If you want to keep the use of that mouth, then I suggest you shut up and start pulling your weight." She leaned in close to him, and her voice took on a dangerous purr. "Now, Lieutenant Garvic. Do we understand each other?"
Garvic looked into her dark eyes, hard and merciless. He gulped and nodded.
Tom Paris stared at Lieutenant Tuvok in bewilderment. "Tuvok, what are you talking about?"
Tuvok pulled out his tricorder. "Last night, while you and Lieutenant Torres were otherwise occupied . . ." -- for an instant, it seemed to Tom that the Vulcan might have actually smiled -- "I took the opportunity to work on the tricorders. In trying to negate the interference we've been experiencing, I discovered that the interference is being caused by chroniton particles."
Tom started. "Chroniton particles? Variations in the flow of time?"
"Precisely, Lieutenant. When we tried to scan this area, the tricorders attempted to compensate for the fluctuation in chroniton levels; in essence, our instruments were attempting to scan several phases of time at once."
Tom was about to respond when B'Elanna joined them. He thought she looked rather upset, but her expression didn't invite questions. Instead, he said to Tuvok, "So you've found a way to compensate for the chroniton interference?"
Torres' eyebrows shot up. "Chronitons? That's what's been causing the trouble with the tricorders?"
"Yes, Lieutenant. As I was just explaining to Lieutenant Paris, I've managed to adjust my tricorder to temporarily disregard chronimetric functions. By doing so, I have been able to get readings on most other aspects of our surroundings. You may recall," he continued, "that I expressed interest earlier in the pictograms on the Kyrrosi buildings. During the night, I cross-correlated these images with xenoanthropological records in Voyager's data banks. Working with the many commonalties in the ideographic glyphs of pre-technological humanoid cultures, and with the universal translator's record of the manner in which abstract concepts are communicated in Kyrrosi spoken language--"
Paris felt his eyes start to glaze over. Torres shifted impatiently, finally interrupting, "Cut to the chase, Tuvok. What did you find out?"
Tuvok gave her a look. "What I found out, Lieutenant Torres, is that, contrary to what might be indicated by the Prime Directive, we must find a way to protect the Kyrrosi from the incursions of the Harvesters. According to their pictographic records, we have traveled in time to accomplish this. Lieutenant Paris is, in fact, the one they call 'Palis'."
Hudson was marched down a dank, dimly lit corridor on the Vyarri mother ship, the energy rifles of his captors pointed at his back. After what seemed to him like miles of hallway, the group approached a door at the end of the corridor. Two giant heavily-armed Vyarri stood guard in front of the door.
The aliens who'd captured him said something to the guards in the Vyarri's hissing, almost sub-audible language. One guard palmed a nearby switch, and the door slid open silently. The raiding party, Hudson in tow, stepped inside.
They were clearly on the command bridge of the Vyarri mother ship. In spite of his fear, Hudson looked around curiously. He thought he could guess the functions of several of the stations; after all, most warp-driven ships weren't too terribly different . . . Conn, Ops, Tactical--
A guttural, reptilian voice forced him back to the reality of his situation. He forced himself to look around at the speaker. Hudson's eyes were greeted by the sight of the biggest, ugliest, nastiest Vyarri he'd seen yet. Must be their leader, he thought. It figures.
Gar of the Vyarri looked over the puny humanoid in disgust. Not enough fat to make a really good meal, he thought, the Vidiians can have him. Out loud, he addressed the captive, "You, human. What and how many are your kind? Where did your vessel come from? We do not recognize it."
The young officer's eyes betrayed fear and anger for a moment, but then he stood up straighter in his bonds, squared his shoulders, and focused his eyes on a point somewhere over Gar's left shoulder. "Ensign Mikel Hudson, Starship Voyager, United Federation of Planets, serial number alpha 3476 delta," he stated expressionlessly.
Gar growled, "I don't care who you are! Human designations mean nothing to us. Tell me what I want to know or it will go worse for you!"
Mikel hoped he wasn't shaking visibly. Remember who you are and where you come from! he thought resolutely as he repeated, "Ensign Mikel Hudson, Starship Voyager, United Federation of--"
Snarling with impatience, Gar backhanded Hudson, sending the captured human flying across the bridge and knocking him unconscious. "Take him to the holding pens!" Gar yelled. "Let the Vidiians deal with him!"
Janeway looked at the faces of those congregated around the briefing room table. Not quite an hour ago, the away team had beamed back aboard Voyager. It had taken Tom Paris alias "Palis" some explaining to convince the local natives that he wasn't deserting them and would return in a short time to guide them.
Tuvok had just finished explaining his theory that Tom Paris was indeed Palis and if he were not permitted to travel back and set things right, that in itself could constitute a breach of the Prime Directive. Looking at her senior staff to judge their reactions to this bit of news did not provide the captain with many surprises. Ensign Kim was intent on trying to figure out the logistics of this, but he kept throwing little amused glances in Tom Paris' direction. Kes and Neelix both wore bemused expressions that were nearly identical, except that Kes' expression carried undertones of concern, whereas Neelix's was ready for whatever plan of action the captain deemed necessary. The doctor, via the viewscreen, had said nothing thus far, but his disbelieving snorts were clearly heard. Lieutenant Garvic didn't look pleased. Tuvok, who had delivered his report expressionlessly, watched the captain closely, his eyes conveying his belief that this was the right thing to do. B'Elanna Torres looked a bit concerned, but her engineering instincts were busily mulling over chroniton particles, distracting her. Tom Paris, for the most part, had remained quiet throughout most of the discussion, seeming content to let things progress as they were, but from what Tuvok had told her in private, Janeway knew Paris was not nearly so blasé about the Kyrrosi as he pretended. Lastly, Janeway looked to her first officer. Chakotay sat staring at Paris and Torres, but feeling her gaze on him, he turned to look at her. She addressed him. "Commander, you haven't said much."
Chakotay, clearing his face of all expression, said, "I've reviewed Tuvok's report, and I've examined the pictographs he found. I hate to say it, Captain, but I think he's right. Paris is going to have to go into the past and fulfill the Kyrrosian prophecy."
"Wait a minute." B'Elanna Torres was suddenly leaning forward, her expression intent. "I didn't have much time to look over Tuvok's report, but didn't this prophecy say something about Palis sacrificing himself to save his people?"
Paris remained in his relaxed pose, almost as if this had nothing whatsoever to do with him, but at B'Elanna's inquiry, he glanced at Harry.
"Tom and I discussed this," Kim said to the captain. "We think we can rig it so we can beam him out before the sacrifice, but from the Kyrrosi's point of view, it will appear that he has been sacrificed."
"Just what form is this sacrifice to take?" asked Chakotay.
"We are not certain, Commander," replied Tuvok. "The records are not clear on that account. Also, I believe everyone present may be operating under the misconception that Lieutenant Paris will be going alone. He will not.
Janeway had a feeling she already knew what was coming. "Yes, Mr. Tuvok?"
"It is recorded in Kyrrosian history that Palis' consort was present at the sacrifice. In fact, as Kyrrosi legend has it, the consort disappeared shortly after the sacrifice; however, later a mysterious child was found near the place where Palis disappeared. A brown-haired child with brilliant blue eyes and fair skin. Legend says this was the child of Palis and his consort, given to the people of Kyrros as a sign of the beginnings of a new life. This child later became one of their greatest leaders."
There was a stunned silence for a moment, before Paris wryly commented, "I don't think there's much chance of that happening, Tuvok." He threw an amused glance in B'Elanna's direction. "Good thing it's just a legend."
B'Elanna was studiously examining the tabletop, refusing to rise to the bait. Chakotay watched her carefully. His culture placed a great deal of faith in dreams and legends. Despite Paris' lighthearted comment, this was not something to be taken lightly. It was a sign of things to come, but of what, Chakotay couldn't possibly forecast.
Janeway smiled slightly. Trust Paris to keep this from getting too bogged down in logistics, she thought. After one more glance around the table, she said, "So, we're agreed. Lieutenants Paris and Torres will travel back under the guise of Palis and," there was a nearly imperceptible pause, "his consort, do as history dictates they must before we recover them and continue on our way, leaving the Kyrrosians with their legend and history intact."
She makes it sound so simple, thought B'Elanna, looking up to find both Tom and Chakotay watching her intently. Frowning, she focused on the captain and ignored the two men.
"B'Elanna, tell us what you've learned about this cloaking technology the Vyarri are using," said Janeway.
"Well, it appears to be some sort of phase shift device, Captain. It moves whatever is in its field to a slightly different time phase so that it appears hidden. Similar to how the other Voyager was hidden from us when we were duplicated coming out of that plasma field. My guess would be the Vyarri developed this technology based on the chronitons found in the heavy metal deposits of the rock on this planet."
"How can we combat its effects?"
"I wish I knew, Captain."
"Think, people. We can't fight an enemy we can't see."
Garvic leaned forward. "Too bad you're not really a god, Paris. You could snap your fingers, whistle for your celestial minions, stand on your head, just do something god-like."
"Excuse me, Lieutenant Garvic. What did you just say about whistling?" Tuvok asked.
"Huh? What Tuvok?" Garvic asked. "Whistling?"
"Lieutenant, I think you are on to something with whistling. It was right here all along and we didn't see it," replied Tuvok, calm as ever.
"Sorry, Tuvok, I'm not sure I'm following," said B'Elanna. Garvic, Paris, Kim and the others looked blank as well. "Are you saying we should modify our sensors to resonate the thrum of the chronitons in the rocks? Wouldn't that just burst their eardrums? That is, if they have eardrums."
"Not quite, Lieutenant" Tuvok said.
"Wouldn't that affect our crew members and the Kyrrosi as well?" asked Chakotay.
The doc, silent all this time, calmly said, "No."
All eyes turned to him. "They're lizards after all. Evolved yes, but lizards none the less," he replied. "They do not hear sound as we do. They feel it."
B'Elanna exclaimed, "We could beam the whistle to the shuttle and get Hudson back. That is, if the shuttle hasn't returned to the mother ship."
"Even if it has, we can redirect it towards the mother ship," added Harry.
Janeway shook her head no. "I just can't destroy an entire ship. Not if we can work out our differences and get our crew man back."
"It will not destroy the ship by any means, Captain," explained Tuvok. "But they will be forced to decloak if they wish it stopped. And I believe," he said, raising an eyebrow, "we could make it a very annoying whistle."
"Captain," Paris leaned forward now, his gaze intent on Janeway, "what about Hudson? We can't just leave him to the Vyarri. If we can get them to decloak we have to be ready to go get him."
Janeway nodded. "While you and B'Elanna are on your mission, Commander Chakotay, with security's assistance, will be attempting to reclaim Ensign Hudson and our shuttle. Lieutenant Tuvok and Lieutenant Garvic will return to the surface with you, since the Kyrrosians are already acquainted with them, and monitor your progress from there. Learn everything you can about the beginnings of Palis, how he served his people in ancient times, this sacrifice that he made. B'Elanna, I think it is pertinent that you also find out more about Palis' consort. Why she seems to have no name. Why you seem to have come as a surprise to them. That sort of thing."
"Do you think that's really necessary, Captain?" asked B'Elanna uncomfortably.
"Yes, I do." Standing, Janeway asked, "Any other questions?"
As they remained silent, she nodded, appreciative of her senior staff and their ability to work well together despite their many differences. "Very well. Let's proceed."
They all followed the captain out of the briefing room, everyone going in separate directions to prepare for the roles they were about to play.
When Mikel Hudson opened his eyes, he found himself in a cell so dark he wasn't sure if he'd actually awakened. However, the pounding pain in his head gave proof to the fact that this was not a dream after all. He was a prisoner of the Vyarri, and he was going to be killed.
Fear threatened to overwhelm him, but he gave himself a fierce mental shake. Snap out of it, Ensign! he thought to himself sternly. Okay, Hudson, you're scared -- scared spitless -- that's fair, given the circumstances. Admit it; get over it. Fear isn't going to do you a lick of good unless you can turn it into action. He struggled to sit up. Ouch! How many times am I going to get pounded today? He groaned.
"Hello? You're awake?"
Hudson nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound of another voice in the room. "Who's there?" he exclaimed, automatically reaching for his phaser. His hand came up empty, of course, reminding him of the helplessness of his situation. His eyes strained to see in the intense gloom of his prison, the only light being the diffuse glow of a dim control panel on one wall.
"Don't eat me, please!!" The unidentified voice quavered, and Mikel realized that it sounded very young and frightened. A child! A child? Here?
Fighting against the stiffness and pain from all the abuse his body had recently taken, Hudson forced himself upright and took a few, slow steps in the near-darkness. "My name is Mikel. I'm not Vyarri; I won't hurt you. What's your name?" he asked the voice gently.
After a moment's hesitation, the voice said shyly, "My name is Kaya." A little girl, dirty and covered with scratches and bruises, stepped out where he could see her.
She must be one of this planet's natives, captured by these monsters like I was, Mikel thought. Aloud, he said, "It's nice to meet you, Kaya." He approached her slowly, and awkwardly hunkered down next to her so that she could look him in the eyes.
He attempted a grin. "Looks like we're in a bit of trouble, huh?" She nodded uncertainly and tried to smile back, so he decided to venture another question. "Can you tell me if there are any others here?"
Kaya shook her head. "I . . . don't know. . . . I don't think so. The Harvesters--" She choked on a sob, then quickly stifled it. "They took me and some others, I think. But when we got here, they were -- they were hungry," she stopped, obviously trying not to cry.
Mikel took her hand gently in his. "It's okay, Kaya. I understand." He was struck by the fear and despair in her young face. She looks like my little sister, he thought. He instinctively opened his arms, and she climbed into his lap. Tears filled her eyes, and she wept into his shoulder.
For the first time since he'd been captured, Mikel Hudson felt deep rage begin to replace fear inside him. That the brutish Vyarri victimized children angered Mikel more than anything that had happened, or could yet happen to him personally. He didn't know how, but he would get Kaya out of this place, and he would make the Vyarri pay for what they'd done.
B'Elanna Torres marched toward the transporter room, deep in thought, her pace easily matching Harry Kim's, who was taller by nearly a head.
"Well, aren't we walking with a purpose to our step," ventured Harry.
B'Elanna, without looking at him, slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow and, without warning, yanked him into the alcove by the cargo bay's doors.
"Harry, three things. You have to do three things for me."
"Yes. Ow. Anything. Let go. What?"
"First, you've got to get this time maneuver project figured out. Do you remember not long before the Enterprise was destroyed the crew used tachyon beams to open a time/anti-time subspace field in the Devron system?"
"Of course. Everybody at the Academy was talking about it. Well, not everybody. Pretty much just engineers. But B'Elanna, they nearly destroyed the quadrant doing that."
"I've got a copy of Captain Picard's report in my quarters. I thought it might be useful to the Maquis. Harry, find that report. See if you can modify the transporter beam with a tachyon pulse. If you redirect the patterns through a buffer exposed to the chronitons you might be able to temporarily move us in time. But set up some parameters. I don't want to get stuck back there."
"I'll whip up some of my famous phase shift discriminators."
"Good. Two: Keep an eye on Engineering for me. Carey, Hogan, Browning. . . . They're all fine engineers, but they don't always work together as a team. They need leadership."
"Three." She paused. "No, never mind. Forget it. There is no third thing."
Harry Kim was no fool. "Three: You want me to keep a close monitor on Tom Paris. You're afraid for him."
B'Elanna studied Harry carefully, then said softly, "I didn't say that."
"You didn't have to."
"He's crazy, Harry. He'll get himself killed trying to help these people."
"He's not crazy, B'Elanna. He's not a lot of things people say about him. He's one of my two best friends. And I think--" Harry broke off as voices approached.
"Think what?" demanded B'Elanna, dropping her voice. "Damn it, Harry," she hissed. "Think what?"
"I think you're in love with him."
B'Elanna dropped her gaze. "Three things, Starfleet. I'm counting on you."
"I don't let my friends down, B'Elanna. Now come on, you've got a transporter to catch."
Jack Garvic took a long look around the hut Torres and Paris had shared the previous night, and allowed his gaze to settle on the single bed. "Well," he said, "that looks quite comfy. Better than my straw mat by a meter. And I didn't rate an evening companion, either."
"You forget, Lieutenant," interjected Tuvok. "You shared your accommodations with me."
"Oh, right," stammered Garvic. "I didn't mean . . ."
"Keep your casual comments to yourself, Lieutenant," ordered Tuvok. "Remember your purpose here. You are to organize a clandestine beam-out of the chronitonic stone. Find the richest sample you can. I arranged for it to be stored in a containment field, so as not to interrupt with the ship's functions. And try not to let any of the natives see you communicating with Ensign Kim."
"Lieutenant Paris, I will speak with Jormal and the elders, since they seem rather awestruck with you. I want you to speak with the young men. It has been my experience that young people will discuss anything with anyone at anytime. Find out everything you can about your legend. We need specifics."
Tuvok turned to B'Elanna, who stood rubbing her temples. "Are you all right, Lieutenant?"
Damn that transporter, she thought to herself. "I'm fine. I suppose you want me to take on the girls."
"Precisely. Also," he said, eyeing the things Jormal had brought them that morning, "I think we should adopt native dress. The more comfortable they are with us, the more we will learn from them. We'll reconvene here in two hours."
Oh, there's no way, thought B'Elanna to herself. Hudson and Simms seem to have been entirely discreet about what they saw of me on the holodeck, I've heard nothing. But Garvic? Great. Just great.
It had taken B'Elanna several precious minutes to figure out how to wrap the brightly dyed cloth around her body like she had seen the native girls do. Twice around her waist, crossed over her front, and tied off at the neck, it was backless and surprisingly cool and comfortable. Short, she added to herself. TOO short. For the first time in years, B'Elanna considered her legs. Well, one good thing. This will end Tom Paris' interest in me forever. I cannot see him interested in chicken legs unless he's hungry. It's not fair, she fumed. They got khaki shorts. They look like old-time big game hunters, and I look like . . . what? A beach bimbo from Risa? A surfer girl from Molokai? A--
"Lieutenant Torres, I am waiting," called Tuvok, from outside.
B'Elanna turned and faced the door. Now or never, she gulped, and came out.
"It is about time. Lieutenant, need I ask you to handle your time efficiently? The situation is serious."
"I understand, Tuvok. Where is T--" She stopped herself and started again. "Where are the others?"
"They are about their duties. What caused the delay?"
"Oh, nothing. Tuvok, does this . . .? Do I look okay?"
"Your apparel is adequate. What does the state of your appearance have to do with the mission?"
"Well," B'Elanna snapped, "I'm supposed to be a god's lover. It's a stretch, as it is."
"I do not think Mr. Paris thinks so, Lieutenant. Now kindly take up your duties and think less about your physical attributes."
Or lack thereof, added B'Elanna to herself, watching Tuvok go across the sand toward the meeting house. Shyness overtook her and she stood for a moment huddled in the doorway, with her hand on the door frame. This is odd, she thought. If I didn't know better, I'd say this is some kind of fabricated polyonic styrene. Looks like it's seen better days. And how does this door work? Jormal opened it with some sort of device. This hut has no windows, yet we were cool last night, almost too cool. She blushed as she remembered waking in the night and snuggling up to Tom's warm form. Why are men always so hot? You just get near one and you can feel the--
"Hey!" she shouted at a small child running past. "Where is Malia or Alina?"
"They are stringing flowers with Lijora for the grieving ceremony of Teanu's brother. They are by the lagoon."
"Take me there," B'Elanna said, snatching up the straw bag into which she had tossed her things: A tricorder, her comm badge, a field scope, a tube of UV blocking agent. B'Elanna you idiot. Who were you thinking of when you got that from Kes? Jack Garvic? I don't THINK so.
Harry's voice came back to haunt her. I think you're in love with him.
"Shut up, Harry," she said aloud.
Her young guide whirled about, startled. "No, it's all right," said B'Elanna reassuringly. The warm sand felt odd to her bare feet, and the sun on her shoulders felt wonderful. She wished for a moment with all her heart that this world could be at peace. These people were living in a paradise, but at what a cost!
In the Vyarri ship's holding cell, Mikel Hudson prowled around, searching for a way to escape. Now that he'd made up his mind to get himself and Kaya out, the Starfleet security officer was taking control from the frightened young man on his first deep space assignment.
The only features in the dark cell were a commode in one corner and the dim light panel on one wall. The cell door had opened only once since Hudson had been captured, when a hissing Vyarri guard had brought the prisoners something that Mikel supposed was food. It had looked and smelled so disgusting that neither he nor Kaya had attempted to eat it, and Mikel had found himself thinking longingly of Neelix's leola root casserole. That thought had shocked him so much that he'd begun prowling the cell, wracking his brain for a plan to escape.
The little Kyrrosi girl watched him from a corner, her expression hopeful. "What can we do, Mikel?" she asked.
He smiled encouragingly. "Well, Kaya, the best weapon is information, as a certain Vulcan I know likes to say. Can you tell me what your people know about the Harvesters?"
"I don't know very much," she said shyly. "But this year I began studying with our village's Weaver."
At Hudson's puzzled look, she explained, "The keeper of our history and traditions." She paused, then continued proudly, "The Weaver chose me to train, out of all the children. He said I had the gift to be the Legend Weaver after him, but now it looks like he'll have to choose someone else," she finished sadly. She looked like she might start to cry again.
"You'll get your chance, Kaya, believe me!" Hudson stated quickly. He gently tipped her chin up so that she had to look him in the eyes. "And your gift is going to help us get out of here. Now, Weaver," he said firmly. "Tell me about the Harvesters."
Immediately, Kaya's face became calm. She sat up, her posture relaxed yet straight, and closed her eyes. Her voice became curiously older and took on a trance-like quality as she retold the legend.
"For twenty generations, the Harvesters have come among the Kyrrosi. They come in great skyships and they bring weapons of cold light and fire. The Harvesters hunt my people to satisfy their craving for death, because they are unloved by the gods. We have survived and waited all these long years for an end to the terror, for the gods have told us we must wait. Twenty generations in the making is the revenge of Palis against the Harvesters."
Unaware that her companion started at the mention of "Palis", Kaya continued, "The waiting is over. Soon now, the gods will have justice. After twenty generations, Palis walks among us again, and his sacrifice will protect our planet from the Harvesters forever."
Mikel was concerned about just what this "sacrifice" might be, but right now, he needed an idea to deal with their immediate problem. "Weaver," he asked carefully. "Can you tell me HOW Palis takes his revenge on the Harvesters?"
To his relief, Kaya nodded. "The story comes down to us from the child Palis and his consort left to teach the Kyrrosi. The Harvesters do not hear as we do. They feel sounds in their minds as we feel ocean waves breaking against our bodies, and they sense many more sounds than we do. Just as a wave that is too strong may drown us, so a sound that is too strong may hurt the Harvesters."
Hudson jumped up and smacked his palm against his forehead. "Of course!" he cried. "That's it! Mikel, why didn't you see it sooner?" He began pacing quickly again. "Think, Ensign, think!!"
Kaya's eyes snapped open at Hudson's exclamation. The other-worldly look was gone from her face, replaced by a child's puzzlement. "What is it, Mikel?"
"I know how to get us out of here, Kaya," he said, grinning at her. "Palis has just inspired me!"
When the weird keening began, every Vyarri on the mother ship grabbed his head in pain. On the bridge, Gar let out an enraged hiss. "It must be the human's ship, trying to disable us!" Desperately trying to remain conscious in face of the blinding pain splitting his skull, he contacted the guard on the cell block. "Kill the prisoners immediately!" he croaked, then passed out.
When the cell door slid open, Mikel Hudson was ready. The big Vyarri guard stumbled in, weapon drawn, but the ultrasonic whistle coming from the Starfleet officer's comm badge fast overcame his senses. Hudson dispatched him quickly with a few well-placed blows, then picked up the fallen weapon.
"C'mon!" he yelled, grabbing Kaya's hand. "Let's get out of here!" The two humanoids raced down the corridor to the cell block's main control panel. Hudson pushed Kaya behind him so that his body blocked her from any attack and kept one eye on the corridor as he accessed the computer for a diagram of the ship. He scanned the route to the shuttle bay, then nodded grimly and hefted his weapon. This is what the Academy had trained him for!
Once again taking the little girl's hand, Mikel instructed her, "Stick close to me, little one, and if we see Harvesters, hide behind me. I don't know how many Vyarri my little trick has affected, and we're going to have to run the gauntlet to get to my shuttle, but we'll make it!" He smiled at her.
Seeing the excited, determined look in his eyes, Kaya had to smile back. They took off running.
Harry Kim was sitting in his place at Voyager's Operations station, working on chroniton particle theory, when the ship's sensors started beeping. He made himself look twice at the readout, then let out a whoop. "Shuttle approaching, Captain!" he exclaimed. "It's Hudson! The alien ship is decloaking, Captain! They're firing on him!"
Kathryn Janeway quickly rose to her feet. "Onscreen!"
The shuttlecraft, under heavy fire from the Vyarri mother ship, appeared on the main viewscreen. It wove an erratic, evasive course toward Voyager. Ensign Hudson was a decent pilot, but no Tom Paris, and the fleeing shuttle's shields were taking a dangerous beating. "Cover him!" Janeway commanded.
Voyager's powerful phaser banks thrummed into life, deadly concentrated energy arcing past the shuttle and slamming through the alien ship's inferior shields. The Vyarri vessel exploded into a million glowing fragments.
"Direct hit, Captain," Harry said unnecessarily, trying unsuccessfully to hide his grin of triumph. "They couldn't even return our fire."
Captain Janeway looked at her young Ops officer and raised an eyebrow. "Indeed, Mr. Kim. I wonder why. From all we've learned from the Borg, the Vyarri are usually more formidable in combat." She looked thoughtfully at the expanding debris of the erstwhile ship.
"The shuttle is aboard, Captain," Harry reported. "Ensign Hudson and a Kyrrosi child have been beamed directly to sickbay."
This time, Janeway raised both eyebrows. She turned to her first officer and said, "Well, I'm sure our young ensign has quite an adventure to relate. Join me for the debriefing, Commander?"
Chakotay nodded and smiled, as relieved as his captain to have the problem of Hudson's rescue resolved. "Ensign Kim, you have the conn," he ordered as he followed Captain Janeway to the turbolift.
Tom, dressed in the local native garb of khaki shorts and sleeveless vest, looked at his white legs in dismay. Chicken legs, he thought with disgust. Even if he had spent the past six months on a sunny planet, they would still be the pale wonders that they were. In his entire life, he had never managed to achieve a tan, having always managed to achieve rather spectacular sunburns instead. He was grateful for the UV blocking agent that Kes had provided. The last thing he needed right now, on top of everything else, was a sunburn. Now where had he put the stuff?
"Palis! You have more questions for us?"
Tom tore his attention away from his distracting internal thoughts and refocused on the group of young men that sat before him. They looked at him with wide wondering eyes, eager to please. Paris remembered a time, which now seemed like eons ago, when he had been eager to please others, one man in particular. However, it seemed that no matter how well he did, his father was never pleased. You can do better, Thomas, he heard his voice say. You're not trying hard enough. You have to be the best.
Paris looked out on the idealistic faces, hoping they wouldn't be disappointed in him and wondering what their futures held for them. They looked upon him as a mentor, and Tom wasn't used to anyone looking up to him in that manner. It made him feel extremely uncomfortable and strangely vulnerable.
Smiling in approval at the young men, Paris replied, "No, Akito, I have no further questions. You've all been very helpful. However, you could direct me to B'El-- my consort."
A young boy, whom Paris surmised to be no more than five or six, piped up. "She's at the lagoon with the others. She's helping Lijora prepare for Teanu's grieving ceremony for his brother."
Paris frowned, remembering the boy who had been eaten by the Harvesters. How did these people live with that constant threat hanging over them, and could he, as Palis, do anything to help these people, as it seemed he was destined to do? Tom didn't want to fail again, especially with something this important.
Feeling a tug at his shorts, he looked down, realizing his attention had wandered again. The young boy who had volunteered the information about B'Elanna's whereabouts stood there. "I can show you where she is, Palis."
Tom smiled at the boy's hopeful expression. He was grateful that he had convinced the younger people to call him Palis and not the extravagant titles of "O Bright One", "God of the Sun", "Master of the Sun", "Vanquisher of the Harvesters", or "Lord of the Shadow Water Where Sun is Born", that the elders insisted on using. Squatting down near the boy, Tom asked, "What's your name?"
"I'm called Tolon, but most here just refer to me as . . . The word came out garbled, the translator not picking up on it.
Frowning, Tom said, "I'm afraid I didn't quite get that. What does it mean?"
The other young men in the vicinity laughed and Akito said, "It means 'nosy one'. He likes to stick his nose into everything."
"Ahhh." Tom smiled in understanding. "Ask lots of questions, do you?"
Tolon nodded seriously. "It's the only way I find out anything."
Tom tousled his head of dark hair affectionately. "Well, you just keep asking away, Tolon. And I would be most grateful if you could take me to B'Elanna."
Tolon's head cocked quizzically. "B'Elanna?"
"My consort," explained Paris. "That's her name and what she prefers to be called." The last bit was addressed to the group as a whole. Standing, Tom picked Tolon up and placed him on his shoulders. "Lead on, McDuff," he said.
"McDuff? But my name is Tolon." Then Tolon's attention was distracted by the sights he could see from his perch atop Tom's shoulders. "Wow," was all he said as Tom started walking. The other young men watched as Palis left them, young Tolon perched atop him happily perusing the village.
At the lagoon, Tom stood, unseen, watching the young women. B'Elanna sat with them, weaving flowers into a garland. She was dressed in a bright dress, the purples and reds fairly leaping off the cloth. Tom watched her, and as she turned, he saw that the garment was backless. Her spine protruded a bit, but not as much as a full-blooded Klingon's would. Tom was overcome by a sudden desire to run his hand down that spine, wanting to feel her skin under his hand. One of the native girls leaned forward and placed a red flower in B'Elanna's hair above her ear. Tom watched as B'Elanna smiled at the girl and he found himself holding his breath. It was not her usual controlled smile, but one that contained genuine joy. My God, she's beautiful, thought Tom, mesmerized by the sight of her.
Just then, Tolon ran forward, inserting himself amidst the young women, who laughed and teased the young boy. B'Elanna looked up, suddenly becoming aware of Tom standing there. Their eyes met and B'Elanna saw a naked desire she had never before seen in his eyes. Totally unaware of what she was doing, B'Elanna ran an appreciative eye over Paris, as he stood there in his khaki shorts and vest, which hung open, as was the custom of the native men. He had a wonderfully lean and firm body that was beginning to show the effects of too much sun.
Tom watched as B'Elanna rose to her feet and walked toward him. The dress fell to mid thigh, so he had an excellent view of her legs. He was jarred back to the present as she stopped in front of him and said, "You're turning pink."
Frowning, Tom looked down at himself. She was right.
"Didn't you put your UV block on?"
"Of course I did," he retorted, too embarrassed to tell her he'd forgotten.
"Well, you must not have done it right. Did you bring your blocking agent with you?"
Tom shook his head. "I left it at the hut."
B'Elanna gave him an exasperated look that said very clearly, Men! "Come on, let's get some more on you before you start looking like a broiled lobster."
Tom followed her to the edge of the lagoon, sitting on the ground and running his hand through the water. He started in surprise when he felt B'Elanna's strong fingers on his leg. He watched as she rubbed in the UV block. He had been expecting her to hand it to him to do, so this was a pleasant surprise. He lay back, barely suppressing a gratified sigh. Letting his eyes close, Tom drifted, events of the past day catching up to him as he enjoyed the feel of B'Elanna's hands rubbing the UV block in. He knew it was probably too late, but he would not trade this treatment for anything.
Drowsing, his eyes snapped open when he felt hands on his chest. B'Elanna had pushed his open vest aside and was rubbing more of the UV block in. Looking up into her face, Tom saw that her mind was elsewhere and most likely she wasn't even aware of what she was doing.
"You look very lovely, B'Elanna."
Tom's words snapped her back to the here and now. Her hands tightened on his shoulders in response to his compliment.
Flushing, B'Elanna released him and watched as Tom sat up, rubbing a shoulder. Handing him the UV block, she said, "I think you can manage the rest yourself."
Sighing, Paris took the block from her, asking, "Did you learn anything from them?" He nodded in the direction of the young women.
"Not much," admitted B'Elanna. "They were more interested in hearing about our plans."
B'Elanna shrugged. "You know. 'When are you going to start a family?' 'What's Palis like?' 'Is he a good kisser?' The usual girl talk."
"Is Palis a good kisser?" Tom gave her his best innocent expression.
She surprised him by laughing; however, she chose not to reply and instead rejoined Lijora and the others.
Keeping his eyes on her as he finished applying the sunblock, Tom didn't see Tolon sidle up to him. Looking wise beyond his years, Tolon casually patted Paris consolingly on the shoulder. "Don't worry," said the boy. "Girls like to tease boys, but she likes you. I can tell."
Quaking inside with laughter but attempting to return the boy's solemn look with one of his own, Paris said, "Thank you for the advice, Tolon. I'll keep that in mind."
Aboard Voyager, Kaya looked around sickbay in wonder. She had never seen such things. As the doctor checked over Hudson, Kes ran a scan over Kaya. Luckily, other than a few bruises and scratches, the young girl was in good physical health.
Kaya looked at the beautiful woman before her. She had the most wondrous light-colored hair. It was bright like sunlight and her eyes . . . "You have eyes like mine," Kaya said shyly.
Smiling, Kes looked into Kaya's similar blue eyes. "Yes, we do have similar eyes, don't we?"
Feeling emboldened by Kes' friendly smile, Kaya remarked, "Nobody has eyes like mine where I come from. They said I was marked by the gods. And now Palis is with my people once more."
Kes smiled at the girl.
The doctor, in the midst of healing Hudson's various abrasions, bruises, and the slight concussion he had sustained, spared a moment to look up as the sickbay door opened and Ethan Simms rushed in.
Simms' terse expression relaxed a great deal when he caught sight of Hudson sitting upright, whole, and for the most part, unharmed. Rushing over to him, he clapped him on the shoulder and said warmly, "You had me worried, buddy." Then, embarrassed by his display of affection, he stepped back and looked around, catching sight of the young girl with Kes. "I heard you brought a passenger back with you."
Under his breath, Hudson said, "They ate all her companions, Ethe."
Horrified, Ethan looked at the young girl, feeling very sorry for her.
Frowning, the doctor said, "Well, you can be certain that will not happen to her here."
"But she's going to have to go back to her people on the planet," inserted Simms. "What then?" Hudson looked stricken at the thought that he had rescued this girl from the Vyarri just to have to place her back in danger again.
"I believe the away team is working on a possible solution to that problem," the doctor volunteered. Before he could say more, the sickbay doors once again slid open, and Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay strode in.
Janeway smiled at her returned crew man. "Well done, Ensign, very well done! How are you feeling?"
Mikel Hudson, not used to his captain's direct attention, found himself blushing. "I'm fine, Captain. I got a bit pounded by the Vyarri, but the doctor's fixed me up again."
"Yes," the doctor commented dryly. "Until the next time, anyway."
Janeway gave him a look.
"Well," he said quickly. "I declare you fit to return to duty, Ensign." He paused, then said, "Try not to get captured again." With that parting shot, the doctor signaled to Kes and the two of them headed back to his office.
Shaking her head wryly, Janeway turned back to the others. "Are you up to a debriefing, Ensign?" she asked.
At Hudson's nod, Simms smiled at his friend. "So much for down time, huh, Mikel? I'll take myself off then. Catch up with you soon, my friend." He squeezed Mikel's shoulder. "It's good to have you back." With a nod to his senior officers, Ethan started to leave.
Captain Janeway stopped him. "A moment, Ensign. You were very helpful in getting the transporters back on line earlier, and I know that Engineering and Ensign Kim could use a hand in their temporal modifications. Would you please assist them?"
Looking happy to do more than wait for a security detail, Ethan responded, "Aye aye, Captain!" He grinned at Hudson and exited, leaving Hudson and Kaya alone with the Janeway and Chakotay.
"Would you introduce me to your young friend, Mikel?" Kathryn Janeway smiled.
Kaya, who had tried to squeeze herself behind Mikel when the two senior officers entered sickbay, peeked around him shyly. Mikel gently pulled her around to the front, but kept a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "This is Kaya," he said. "She was the only survivor I found of the captured Kyrrosi. She helped me escape."
"Really?" Janeway said interestedly. She smiled encouragingly at the little girl. "My name is Kathryn, Kaya, and this is Chakotay. We're pleased to meet you."
Kaya had immediately sensed the air of authority in these two, but now saw the kindness in the woman's eyes, and in the man's standing next to her. "Are you the elders of Mikel's village?" she asked.
Janeway, grinning at her first officer, said, "Yes, I suppose you could call us that."
With a timid gesture, Kaya indicated Chakotay's tattoo. "And you're the Legend Weaver?" she asked him hopefully.
"Legend Weaver? Well, I--" Chakotay started, feeling the amusement fairly oozing from his commanding officer. He could just imagine what she was thinking about that! Looking a little nonplused, he raised an eyebrow at Hudson. "Legend Weaver, Ensign?" he prompted meaningfully.
"Their shaman, sir," Hudson replied quickly. "Or close to that. The Legend Weaver is the keeper of their oral history, as far as I can tell. Kaya is in training to become her village's next Weaver someday." He grinned down at her. "In fact, it was Kaya's knowledge of the legend of Palis that showed me how to disable the Vyarri crew long enough for us to escape."
Janeway nodded for him to continue, and Hudson related how he'd rigged his comm badge to emit an a squeal beyond the range of human hearing that would affect the more sensitive Vyarri. "They FEEL sound, Captain," he explained.
"Yes, we were working on an ultrasonic theory ourselves," Janeway nodded. "We were going to attempt a similar whistle in order to rescue you, but you beat us to it. No wonder the Vyarri didn't put up much of a fight when we fired on them." She pensively crossed her arms and tapped a fist against her lip. "By destroying that mother ship -- intentionally or not -- we've taken care of the immediate Vyarri threat. Now the question is," she continued, "can we exploit this Vyarri weakness to protect the whole planet from future attacks?"
"Perhaps this little one can help us there, Captain," Chakotay suggested. He turned to Kaya, who, in spite of her awe, had been listening carefully to the conversation. Coming from a people with similar oral traditions, Chakotay recognized the almost trance-like look of concentration on the girl's face. "You are doing well to record this experience for your people, Kaya," he said approvingly.
At the sound of her name, Kaya's eyes refocused and she looked directly at Chakotay. He was struck by how blue her eyes were. I wonder if Kathryn has noticed? he thought.
"Thank you, Weaver," Kaya said, her serious expression belying her age. "I'm trying hard. I'm not finished learning yet, but since our Legend Weaver is not here, I must carry this responsibility for my people. I hope I don't disappoint them."
Chakotay nodded solemnly, understanding her commitment, and also all too aware of the honor she conferred on him by naming him her equal. He thought of the years when he'd tried to run from his heritage by joining Starfleet, the burden of guilt he'd carried as a result, and his subsequent search for absolution as a Maquis. He hadn't been able to accept his responsibility, as this Kyrrosi child had; the knowledge that she regarded him as a shaman made him rather uncomfortable.
He shook off the feeling, forcing himself back to the here and now. "Kaya," he said. "How does Palis vanquish the Harvesters? Can you tell us the legend?"
"Yes, Weaver," the young Kyrrosi nodded, her face taking on the calm, otherworldly look with which Mikel Hudson had become familiar. Her eyes closed, and her voice was no longer the voice of a child as she said:
"Hear the tale of Palis, the Bright One, and his consort, the Shadow One. This is the tale given to the Kyrrosi by the Sun Child they left behind them.
"Twenty generations ago, Palis began a great song to fill the whole planet, one only the Harvesters will be able to hear. The great song will hurt the Harvesters, but not the Kyrrosi, nor any other creatures beloved of the gods.
"The consort of Palis, She Who Bears No Name, created the seed of the song and placed it in the heart of the planet. By his sacrifice, Palis caused the seed to take life and grow in the stones of the earth, so that it would fill all the world.
"So great is this magic created by the Bright One and his consort, that 400 turns of the seasons have passed in its making. It has been passed down from the Sun Child that when Palis walks again among the Kyrrosi, the great song will be complete, and the Harvesters will come no more to Kyrros."
Kaya opened her eyes and looked solemnly at the adults standing around her. "Palis has returned; the time of fulfillment draws near."
"Ensign Kim to Captain Janeway."
Janeway tapped her comm badge. "Go ahead, Ensign."
"It'll take some doing, Captain, but I believe that we've found a way to transport an away team up to 400 years into the past!" The young officer's voice sounded tired and excited at the same time.
Captain Janeway looked at the others and smiled grimly. "400 years will do just fine, Ensign," she said. "How will you do it?"
"Using some of the heavy mineral ore from the planet, we can inject a controlled burst of chroniton particles into the transporter beam sequence. Carey and Hogan have begun modifying Transporter 3. They've got Browning and Simms helping them out."
"Good work," Janeway said. "The away team can collect the material you need. With any luck, they've learned what it is Paris needs to do once he's there. I'll let you know. Janeway out." She faced Chakotay and Hudson. "Commander, contact the away team. Tell them to collect the ore samples and find out what they've learned. Kaya's story might also give them some clues to work with."
"Aye, Captain," Chakotay replied. He nodded to Hudson, smiled briefly at Kaya, then left.
Turning to Mikel, Janeway said, "Ensign, ordinarily I'd suggest that you take some time off to recover from your ordeal." She paused, smiling at the child whose hand he still held. "Right now, though, I'm entrusting you to find Kaya's family so that we can return her to them as soon as possible."
Kaya moved closer to Hudson, who instinctively put an arm around her shoulders. In that moment, she was no longer a shaman-in-training, but a very lost and frightened child. Her preternatural composure left her, and her eyes filled with tears. "Elder, please let me stay with Mikel," she pleaded. "I have no family now. The Legend Weaver chose me after my parents and brother were taken by the Harvesters a year ago. When the Harvesters captured me, they--" she choked and took a deep breath. "Now the Weaver is gone as well. I -- I have no one else." Mikel hugged her close as she wept.
Captain Janeway frowned, but her eyes were compassionate. She looked at Hudson. He remained silent, but the look on his face spoke volumes. Janeway hesitated a moment, then sighed and said, "You may stay with Kaya here in sickbay, Mikel, for the time being. We can decide what to do about this later."
"Thank you, Captain," he smiled in relief. "She's become like a little sister to me."
Kathryn Janeway smiled back in understanding, a fleeting sadness in her eyes. Then her manner turned business-like again. "If you need assistance, I'm sure Kes would be happy to help. I'll be on the bridge," she said, and strode quickly out of sickbay.
Janeway and Chakotay sat in the captain's ready room, Janeway behind her desk, Chakotay on the other side. They had just concluded a rather lengthy discussion via comm link with the away team. "What do you think?" Janeway asked her first in command.
Chakotay, thinking over the items they had discussed and the away teams recommendations, said, "I think we're ready to move forward with this. Kim is putting together a package of the items B'Elanna will need in the past to construct this mechanism to help get Kyrros' evolution back on the right track. The minerals that Tuvok and Garvic beamed up have been incorporated into Transporter 3's modifications, and Carey and Kim report that things are running smoothly there."
"What about Tuvok's suggestion?" quizzed Janeway.
"About making a big display of Palis' transport to the past for the natives?" Looking thoughtful, Chakotay said, "I think he's right, Captain. They won't just accept us telling them that Palis has gone away. They need to see it for themselves."
"Recommendations as to who should travel back with Lieutenants Paris and Torres?"
"I think we should keep it to a minimum," replied Chakotay. "I had considered Tuvok, but I would feel more comfortable with him in the present monitoring the situation. Ensign Hudson is going to have to return Kaya to her home and he has expressed interest in helping out. I think he would make a good choice, and his appearance in the past won't generate as many comments as Tuvok's might."
"You don't feel we should send a more senior member of the crew into the past to oversee things?" asked Janeway with a probing look.
Chakotay smiled slightly. "Captain, despite B'Elanna's known temper and Paris' penchant for finding trouble, they've both done well on this mission and I think they've managed to take care of both what needs to be done and each other so far without our help."
Janeway studied her first officer for a long moment. His gaze didn't waver from hers. "Does this mean you're no longer worried about a possible relationship developing between B'Elanna and Tom?"
Smiling, Chakotay said, "I wouldn't go that far, but B'Elanna has basically told me to butt out and, between you and me, Captain, I've been impressed with how well Paris has kept things in perspective on this mission, and not allowed this sudden godhood to go to his head."
"All right then," agreed Janeway. "We'll send Hudson back with Palis and his 'consort'." Her lips twitched slightly, and Chakotay fought to hold his grin in.
After a moment, Chakotay said, "Captain, I would feel more comfortable if one of us were down on the planet with Tuvok and Garvic, monitoring things."
"Chakotay," the captain scrutinized him, "tell the truth. Kaya has peaked your interest in these people and you just want to get a look at them for yourself."
Chakotay smiled in reply.
"Very well," agreed the captain. "Beam down with Ensign Hudson and Kaya, and you can explain to the Kyrrosians why and where Palis is going, Legend Weaver."
Chakotay smiled. "Whatever you say, elder of my village."
Janeway favored him with a smile, wondering how she had ever been lucky enough to secure Chakotay as her first officer.
In the village, Tuvok motioned for the others to join him. "Captain Janeway has advised me of our immediate plans. Commander Chakotay and Ensign Hudson will beam down shortly with our needed supplies. The items you requested, Lieutenant Torres, will be among those supplies. We will then prepare for Lieutenants Paris and Torres to beam back to the past. Ensign Hudson will be accompanying you. Commander Chakotay, Lieutenant Garvic, and I will stay in the village in the present and monitor your progress. I am sure I need not lecture you on doing no more than is required to fulfill the prophecy, as we are attempting to reset the time line to its correct sequence only."
Paris, surprised but pleased to discover that Janeway had decided to allow B'Elanna and him to oversee this step into the past, said, "Don't worry, Tuvok. Growing up, I certainly had the Prime Directive drilled into my head enough times by my father that I'm not likely to forget it. We'll be careful."
Lieutenant Garvic opened his mouth to speak, but a stern look from Tuvok quelled the derogatory comment aimed at Paris they had all felt was about to erupt. Tuvok mentally made a note to speak to Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay regarding Lieutenant Garvic's attitude once this mission was over.
About to ask a question of her own, B'Elanna was distracted by a sudden commotion at the edge of the village. As they turned to look, the group of villagers gathered there parted and the away team caught sight of Commander Chakotay and Ensign Hudson. As they approached the away team, Paris realized that the young Kyrrosian girl was not simply walking next to Hudson, but was holding his hand.
"You have summoned more of your servants, Palis, God of the Sun?"
Paris turned to look at Jormal, who had quietly come to stand next to him. "Yes, Jormal. Come, I'll introduce you."
As the two parties approached each other, Chakotay was careful to let Paris make the first move. Knowing these people viewed Paris as a god, they would not take kindly if he should inadvertently address Palis in an inappropriate manner.
"Commander," greeted Paris, "I'd like you to meet Jormal, one of the elders of this village. Jormal, this is Commander Chakotay and Ensign Hudson."
Jormal made a slight bow. After all, these were mere servants. They did not merit even the attentions that Palis' consort did.
"I'm pleased to meet you, Jormal," greeted Chakotay. "Kaya has told us much of your people."
As his eyes were drawn to the young girl standing close to Mikel Hudson, Jormal's eyes widened first in surprise then delight. "Kaya!"
The girl happily ran into Jormal's welcoming embrace. Jormal, tears in his eyes, looked up at Paris. "You have returned our future to us, O Bright One."
Having no idea what was going on or how to respond, Paris looked to Chakotay for guidance.
Seeing Paris' inquiring gaze directed at him, Chakotay began to have doubts whether Paris was capable of handling things in the past or not. Addressing Jormal, Chakotay said, "We regret we were unable to save the others from the Harvesters, but Ensign Hudson was able to rescue Kaya. We are pleased to return one of your Legend Weavers to you."
Paris began to get the picture of what had taken place. Apparently, Hudson had brought the girl back with him from the Vyarri ship. Turning to Jormal, he said, "I hope you're pleased, Jormal. Your people have done well and I wished to reward you." Paris' words soothed Chakotay's worries, as well as generating smiles on several of the native faces.
"We are honored, O Bright One," beamed Jormal. "We had thought young Kaya lost to us forever." At a sign from Jormal, the natives prostrated themselves on the ground before Paris.
Chakotay felt his mouth start to drop open and quickly snapped it shut. He decided to let Paris handle this as he was curious to observe the other man's reaction to being treated like a god. Looking at the lieutenant, Chakotay was appeased by Paris' apparent discomfort at the situation.
Concentrating on controlling the blush he felt creeping up his face, Tom nearly jumped out of his skin when B'Elanna nudged him. "Say something," she whispered.
Swallowing his uneasiness, Paris said, "I am pleased by the joy Kaya's return has brought you." Sensing Chakotay was wanting to hurry things along, he added, "I must now speak with my servants in private."
Chakotay saw the sudden glint of humor in Paris' eyes at being able to call his superiors and crew mates his 'servants' and thought to himself, Well, he's not completely uncomfortable with the situation then. I should have known better.
Jormal rose to his feet, the other villagers following his lead. "I will see that you remain undisturbed, O Bright One. Will you require refreshment?"
"Not at this time, Jormal," replied Paris.
As Chakotay and the others followed Paris to his and B'Elanna's hut, Chakotay shot a glance at B'Elanna out of the corner of his eye. "Nice outfit," he said softly.
Throwing him a fierce look, she said, "Don't even go there, Chakotay." She moved ahead of him to walk at Paris' side.
Once inside, Commander Chakotay was back in evidence. "You handled that very well, Paris," he commended Paris.
Tom, unsure whether he had just been complimented or insulted, was not nearly so dubious about Garvic's unsolicited comment. "Probably the first time in your life you've had people actually groveling at your feet, huh, Paris?"
"Lieutenant, I believe I asked you to refrain from such personal comments," reprimanded Tuvok.
Chakotay, sensing this had been an ongoing problem, darted a look at Tuvok, but the Vulcan merely shook his head, saying nothing more. Chakotay's instincts were confirmed, however, when he saw B'Elanna start to move toward Garvic. Paris reached out, grabbing her wrist to arrest her movement towards him. B'Elanna could have easily broken Tom's hold, but she allowed him to restrain her.
That simple gesture spoke volumes to Chakotay and he was impressed by Paris' restraint toward the other man. Deciding to follow Tuvok's and Paris' leads, Chakotay ignored Garvic's comment. Turning to Paris and Torres, he said, "The transporter has been modified to take the three of you," he included Hudson in his gaze, "back to the past approximately 400 years. Hudson has the items you requested, B'Elanna. You might want to check them to make sure we included everything. Tuvok, Garvic and I will remain here in the village to keep Voyager apprised of your progress. Voyager, through the modified transporter, will be able to monitor your life signs. If at any time we feel you are in mortal danger, we will bring you back immediately."
Looking directly at Paris, Chakotay said, "Captain Janeway has suggested you introduce me to the locals as your Legend Weaver. I'll take care of providing an explanation as to why you are leaving." Paris nodded his understanding.
"We're going to transport out in full view of the natives?" asked B'Elanna, fishing through the duffel bag of gear.
"Yes," confirmed Chakotay. "We agreed with Tuvok's assessment that a little magic for the natives couldn't hurt and would mollify any doubts the villagers may have about Paris, excuse me, Palis, leaving. Any questions?"
B'Elanna finished and Hudson once again slung the bag over one shoulder. Everyone remained silent.
"I suggest we move forward then with getting you three to the past," said Chakotay, striding for the door. They stepped once again out into the sunlight, hoping they were indeed ready to face the past that would mean a future for the natives of this planet.
As the away team approached the central meeting area in the village, Paris was startled to see the size of the containers they were to take with them. "Wow, Torres," he muttered to his consort. "I thought your plan involved nanotechnology." He indicated the large pile of supplies. "What have you got in there, the kitchen sink?"
Lieutenant Torres only smiled. "You'll find out," she replied mysteriously. Nodding her head toward Jormal, who was walking nearby, she added. "I'll explain later."
"What are all these objects, Bright One?" Jormal asked.
"These will protect you from the Harvesters, Jormal," Tom replied. He was about to say more, when he noticed that the other Voyager crew members were waiting for his signal. It was now or never for their 400-year transport. Taking a deep breath, and feeling as uncomfortable as ever with the role thrust upon him, Lieutenant Tom Paris turned to address the Kyrrosi for the last time.
"People of Kyrros, we must leave you now. When our work is done, no Harvester will ever again be able to harm you." Clearing his throat awkwardly, Tom waved a hand at Tuvok, Chakotay and Garvic. "These three of my companions will stay here for a while to ensure that the protections we place on this planet will endure. Two of them are known to you already." Now he grinned at Voyager's first officer, saying, "This third one is Chakotay, our Legend Weaver. I ask you to show him the same deference you have accorded me."
Jormal bowed to Chakotay with new respect. "It will be as you wish, O Bright One," he said.
Paris, Torres and Hudson slipped on the phase shift armbands and took their positions near the containers. Watching from his place next to Jormal, Chakotay felt a small hand slip into his. Glancing down, he saw Kaya staring back anxiously. "What's happening, Weaver? Where are they going?" she asked.
Smiling gently, Chakotay responded, "Palis goes to what was, Kaya. He goes to the beginning of the legend."
The little girl looked puzzled for a moment, then understanding slowly grew in her eyes, followed by panic. "Mikel too? No, Weaver, I don't want--"
Tom Paris tapped his comm badge. "Paris to Voyager. We're ready to transport."
A murmur of awe rippled through the watching villagers as the transporter beam began to glow around Paris, Torres, and Hudson. Suddenly, Kaya darted away from the crowd and into the shimmering blue light, throwing herself at Mikel Hudson. Too surprised to do more than react, Hudson reflexively wrapped his arms around her as the transporter caught them and winked them out of sight.
"Kaya! No!" Chakotay yelled. He took a step forward, but the group was gone. He tapped his comm badge urgently. "Chakotay to Voyager. We have to bring them back. Kaya accidentally beamed out with them."
Harry Kim's voice responded. "I'm sorry, sir, but we can't. There was a power fluctuation right at the end of the transport; I guess that's what caused it." There was a pause, then Harry continued grimly. "The chroniton calibration has been compromised, Commander. We're working on a fix, but at this point, we can't beam any of them back."
Chakotay looked quickly at Tuvok, who frowned. They both looked toward the empty spot where the away team had so recently been standing, each one reluctant to give voice to the concern they both felt for the lost away team.
"Weaver?" Jormal asked hesitantly. Chakotay turned, trying to keep the loss he felt from showing on his face. He knew he was failing.
Jormal looked at him carefully, his old eyes missing nothing. "It is done then," he murmured solemnly. "The sacrifice of Palis has been long foretold." He paused then, and his eyes misted with sad tears. "Poor Kaya. The clan did not know that this day would come at such a cost."
Chakotay looked away. "Neither did we," he answered softly.
Tom Paris looked around, feeling rather disoriented. As far as he could tell, he was in the same clearing in the same place on the same planet, but the village was gone. The away team was alone.
"Where are we?" he asked no one in particular. "Or should I say, when are we?"
Looking slightly dazed as well, B'Elanna Torres reached for her tricorder. "It looks like transport was successful," she said after a moment. "We're in the same place, four hundred years in this planet's past." She stepped forward. "Well, let's get to work!"
"Uh . . . Lieutenants?" Mikel Hudson said from behind them. "We have a small complication." Torres and Paris whirled around. Both of their jaws dropped at the sight of Hudson holding a quietly sobbing Kaya. Hudson managed to look helpless, protective and apologetic all at once. "She just jumped into the beam," he explained. "There was nothing I could do!"
The other two looked at a loss for words, then Paris shrugged and shook his head. "Well," he said, "it can't be helped right now. We'll just take her back when we leave." He patted Hudson on the back. "Don't worry about it, Mikel."
"Maybe we should worry about it," Torres put in slowly, still looking at her tricorder. "It looks like the chroniton beam became unbalanced during our transport; I'd guess it was because of the sudden mass shift when Kaya jumped in. Harry was going to keep a tight channel open so that we could maintain communication with Voyager, but the link's been broken." She looked worriedly at her two crew mates. "We're stuck here, gentlemen."
"Any chance this can be fixed?" Tom asked, frowning.
B'Elanna shrugged. "It depends on if Voyager can recalibrate the chroniton beam. Without our signals to work from, they'll have to do some blind guessing." She took a deep breath, not wanting to think about the consequences if Voyager wasn't successful. "In any case, it'll take them awhile. I suggest we concentrate on accomplishing the task at hand."
The others nodded, all too willing to let work keep them from thinking about their predicament. While Hudson comforted Kaya, Tom went to help B'Elanna unpack the huge containers.
"Okay, B'Elanna" he commented. "What have you got here that's so big?"
"See for yourself!" she grinned. She released the seal on one of the largest objects, revealing that the crate was, in fact, not a crate at all. It was a group of hinged panels that fit together to form a shelter. A suspiciously familiar shelter, given the changes of 400 years.
"Hey!" Tom exclaimed. "This looks just like our shelter in the Kyrrosi village, only newer!"
Torres nodded. "Correct, O Bright One!" She grinned at his pained look. "A lot of energy is going to be released when we activate the chronimetric phase variance wave. I needed a way to protect the surrounding area, and to shield the source of the wave until it permanently establishes itself in the planet's evolutionary process."
Paris whistled softly. "Neat trick. What made you think of it, B'Elanna?"
"I noticed that the shelter we stayed in was made of polyonic styrene, a substance far beyond the natives' ability to produce. Once Tuvok fixed the tricorders, I ran a scan on the structure and found that the material's design originated in the Federation!"
Stunned by the implications that they'd been sheltering in a structure they'd built themselves four centuries before, Tom shook his head. "Lieutenant Torres, sometimes you frighten me," he chuckled. "I never know what you're going to come up with next!"
B'Elanna tried, and failed, to keep a smug smile off her face. "Good! I like it that way," she answered lightly. Before he could respond, she handed him a tool kit. "Shall we begin, O Bright One?"
Still chuckling, Tom complied.
Mikel Hudson smoothed back the hair of the sleeping child, his brow furrowed with concern. Kaya was confused and frightened by her unplanned trip into the past, but she was even more afraid of once again losing the person she felt closest to in the world -- him. She'd acted instinctively when she had thrown herself into the transporter beam, and Mikel couldn't bring himself to blame her for it. He'd comforted her until she'd cried herself into exhaustion. Now he worried about how they'd get home, and what would happen to Kaya when he finally did have to leave her for good. He made sure that she slept snugly under a tree, then went to assist Paris and Torres.
As he approached, Tom looked at him and asked, "How is she?"
Hudson sighed. "She's fallen asleep for now. The poor kid's worn out. I hope she'll be all right after we get her home, if we get home," he added seriously.
"We will, Mikel, we will," Tom responded, trying to inject more confidence than he felt into his voice. He handed the younger man the tool kit. "Here's a servowrench. Let's just finish this before Torres comes asking why we're not done yet." He tilted his head in the direction of the bay. "Our tricorders picked up signs of a Kyrrosi village not far from here. It would be better if we got this done before they discovered us."
On board Voyager, Ensign Harry Kim was under the gun. After they'd lost the away team's signals, he and the Engineering staff had been working like the possessed to get the modified transporter recalibrated. Lieutenants Carey and Hogan had taken up what seemed like permanent residence in various Jeffries Tubes, while all that could be seen of Ensign Simms were his booted feet sticking out from under the transporter control panel. They'd been at it for several hours when Kim's station beeped and Captain Janeway's face appeared on the monitor.
"Captain," he acknowledged tiredly, pushing away the lock of hair that insisted on falling back into his eyes.
"How goes it, Ensign?" Captain Janeway asked gently, her tone acknowledging his weariness.
Harry sighed. "Slowly, Captain. Without the away team's signals, we're having to estimate some of the variables. We've tried several test runs already to re-establish contact, but no luck so far. It's like searching for a needle in a haystack." He couldn't keep the frustration out of his voice.
"I understand, Harry," Janeway responded kindly. "I know you're doing your best." She paused thoughtfully. "Have you tried re-routing the chroniton beam directly through the temporal buffer on the transporter? Perhaps there's still enough of a signal echo to triangulate the beam to the same space-time coordinates."
Reminded that his captain had been in ship's sciences before switching to command, Harry admitted, "We haven't tried that yet, Captain. It'll take some time, but it's worth a shot." He felt his fatigue start to give way to excitement as his brain worked through this new idea.
Kathryn Janeway smiled. "Let me know how it goes," she said. "Janeway out."
B'Elanna Torres massaged her neck, attempting to undo the stiffness caused by several hours hunched over tricorder, padd, and one of Voyager's precious neural gelpacks.
Only the organic DNA in a gelpack had the memory capacity necessary for what she had in mind. As Paris and Hudson finished constructing the shelter that would protect her device, Torres carefully ran tests on the most complex program she'd ever designed -- a program that would slowly change the geological composition of an entire planet over four hundred years.
"Next to this," she muttered to herself, "programming Dreadnought was a piece of cake." She finally straightened up and stretched, hearing several vertebrae crack in protest. Sighing, she turned around and was brought up short by the Kyrrosi girl who'd inadvertently transported with them.
The girl pointed to B'Elanna's equipment. "What is that?" she asked.
B'Elanna paused before answering, wondering how to best explain this kind of planetary engineering. "It's the beginning of a process that will eventually keep the Harvesters away from this planet, but it will take a long time to grow strong enough," she said. She thought of the slain Kyrrosi she'd seen after the last attack, her jaw hardening with a Klingon's desire for revenge. "Generations from now, the planet will make a sound that will HURT the Harvesters," she explained. "But it will not hurt the Kyrrosi or any of the living things of your planet."
Kaya saw the feral gleam of satisfaction in B'Elanna's dark eyes. "Shadow One," the girl whispered faintly, understanding. "The seed of the song."
"What did you say?" Puzzled, Torres was just about to ask her to explain, but they were interrupted by Paris and Hudson.
"The shelter's done," Tom said. "Whew! It gets hot around here." As he wiped his forehead, he noticed that his skin had become quite sensitive to the touch. In fact, all his exposed skin was turning red, and Tom realized with dismay that he'd left the UV blocking agent in the future. Well, it's not like it was helping anyway, he thought to himself. Looking at the concern on the faces of his tanned companions, he said, "Oh, I'm going to be hating life tomorrow, aren't I?"
Kaya regarded him seriously. "There is a plant that grows in the forest here, Bright One. It is very soothing on burns. Shall I bring you some?"
Tom smiled at the little girl's eagerness to be useful. He thought that it might do her some good to have an errand to take her mind off things. "That would be very helpful, thank you," he said, nodding. Grinning, Kaya ran off.
"Be careful!" Hudson called after her. He turned to the others. "Maybe I should go with her," he suggested.
"She'll be all right," Paris replied. "She's not going far. Let's just get this thing up and running so we can get out of here."
Chakotay grimly turned to his two companions, who were waiting nearby. Tuvok's acute Vulcan hearing had picked up most of the commander's conversation via comm link with Janeway, but it was Garvic to whom Chakotay turned. "Lieutenant, they're experiencing some difficulties working with the chroniton particles. The captain has requested that you beam back aboard since, with Lieutenant Torres gone, you're our resident expert on chronitons. See what you can do to give Ensign Kim a hand."
"Yes, sir," replied Garvic. He tapped his badge. "Voyager, one to beam up."
Chakotay turned to Tuvok, but before either man could say anything, Jormal entered their hut. The elder held a rolled up piece of cloth in his hands. "You will be leaving us soon," he said to Chakotay.
It was not a question, but Chakotay answered anyway. "Yes. Our time here is nearly over."
"I wish to make a gift of this to you," Jormal indicated the rolled cloth in his hands, "to pay homage to Palis. It is an image of the Sun Child."
Despite the seriousness of their situation and his worry over the away team, Chakotay found his interest drawn to the cloth as Jormal unrolled it. Tuvok, too, moved closer to observe.
Chakotay's eyes widened as he gazed at the image woven into the cloth. It was a young girl with brilliant blue eyes. Chakotay's gaze met Jormal's. "You knew?" he asked softly.
Jormal, his eyes intent, nodded. "It was preordained. Please take it. This should go with Palis' Legend Weaver."
Chakotay took the cloth, staring at the girl's image. It was undeniably an image of Kaya. Chakotay glanced at Tuvok as he carefully rerolled the cloth. They both now understood. Kaya belonged in the past. This was her destiny: Kaya was the Sun Child.
"Thank you, Jormal," Chakotay said graciously. "I will treasure this always."
After looking over Harry's readouts, Garvic offered a couple of suggestions, which were immediately implemented into the programming. After a few more minor adjustments were made, Harry, his voice excited, called the bridge. "Captain, we've got their signals back. All three of them."
"Good work, Ensign," commended Janeway. "What about transport capabilities?"
"We're not quite there yet, Captain," reported Kim, "but we're close."
"Keep on it, Ensign." Janeway closed the connection and sat back in the command chair, her eyes held by the planet on the viewscreen. Tom Paris, B'Elanna Torres, and Mikel Hudson were on that planet 400 years in the past. Kaya too, although from what Chakotay had just informed her, it appeared that Kaya was meant to be there in the past. Kathryn Janeway stared fiercely at the planet. Her people weren't meant to remain there though, and she would get them back.
Paris and Hudson exchanged concerned looks as another expletive issued forth from where B'Elanna had her head buried in the innards of the device that would allow them to release the chronimetric phase variance wave.
"Duck!" Tom warned Hudson just before another tool went flying past their heads. This was the fourth time in the past half hour that B'Elanna had angrily flung a tool. They were almost becoming used to it. Finally deciding that perhaps something needed to be said, Tom spoke up. "Uh, B'Elanna, is there something we can do to help?"
B'Elanna abruptly removed herself from the chronimetric device, gelpack in hand, and promptly tossed it disgustedly to the ground. Both Paris and Hudson stared at her in shock, knowing that the gelpacks were essential to the operation of the mechanism.
Torres turned her angry gaze on them, spearing them like phasers. Hudson looked elsewhere, trying to pretend that he wasn't witnessing a senior officer lose control right before his eyes, but Tom met her gaze head on, not backing down an inch.
"It's not working, is it?" he asked quietly.
Her shoulders slumped in defeat, all the angry energy seeming to drain out of her. "No," she finally admitted. "The gelpacks can't handle it. The system keeps overloading them."
As that penetrating blue gaze drilled into her, B'Elanna heard Tom say firmly, "Then tell me what will work." She wearily shook her head. "Come on, B'Elanna," cajoled Tom, "you can't tell me you don't have a backup plan."
She gave him a long look before glancing back at the device. "We've only got one type of processor available to us to use that's capable of replacing the gelpacks. It's a lot more powerful than a gelpack, so I think it'll work. But I can't guarantee that the processor won't be thoroughly fried by the time the chronimetric phase variance firmly establishes itself in this planet."
"And where do we find this processor?" asked Paris, suspecting he already knew the answer.
B'Elanna's unwavering gaze came back to meet his, her eyes unreadable. "It's us," she said uncomfortably, then continued quickly, spitting it all out. "I could hook myself up to it. Once--"
"No." Tom's flat tone cut her off.
Paris watched as she focused all her attention on him. He could also feel Hudson's absolute attention on the two of them as the ensign began to comprehend what they were planning.
"Tom, it may be the Kyrrosians' only chance. We--"
"No," Tom repeated, watching B'Elanna closely.
B'Elanna stood, hands on hips, her expression angry. She spoke, her fatigue making her tone all the sharper. "Listen, Paris, you can't--"
"You don't understand," Tom interrupted her gently. "I'm not saying 'no' to using one of us. I'm saying 'no' to using you. I'll do it. We need you alert to monitor the device. Hudson can keep track of my vitals." He watched as she opened her mouth to protest then closed it without uttering a sound. Tom saw the recognition in her eyes that this was the soundest plan they had.
Sighing, B'Elanna indicated the little workbench next to the chronimetric device. "Have a seat, Lieutenant."
Removing some insulated data cable from the duffel, she proceeded to connect Tom Paris to the device with painstaking care. He flinched a bit when she affixed the cable to him.
"Sorry," he muttered, feeling foolish. "I should have known I would end up with a sunburn. Some things never change."
B'Elanna smiled grimly as she finished attaching the wires, Tom looking very much like a twentieth-century patient hooked up to an EKG monitor.
Paris, noticing Hudson's nervous gaze alternating between them and the doorway, said, "Don't worry, Hudson. I'm sure Kaya will be back soon. Right now, we need you here." Looking at B'Elanna, Tom gave her a wry grin. "No time like the present, as they say. Let's get this over with."
B'Elanna surprised him by leaning in close, so that their faces were mere inches apart. "Damn you, Tom Paris," she hissed softly, "don't you dare not come back to us once it's done."
A slow, genuine smile lit Paris' face. "Gee, Torres, I think that's the nicest thing anybody has said to me in a long time."
She hovered close to him for a moment longer and for just a brief moment in time, Tom thought she might lean in and kiss him. But no, she pulled back, all business once more.
"What can I expect?" asked Paris, knowing there was no way she could prepare him for this.
Her concerned eyes met his. "I really don't know. I suspect it won't be very pleasant though." She broke away from his gaze and turned to face Hudson, thrusting a tricorder into his hands. "Ensign, keep a close eye on his readings. If they start fluctuating too much, I want to know. Right away."
"Yes, ma'am." Hudson looked at Paris. "Good luck, sir."
Paris acknowledged the ensign with a glance before returning his attention to B'Elanna. Taking a deep breath, he said, "Let's get on with it." Nodding, she activated the device, her gaze alternating between him and the mechanism. When Tom's body gave a sudden jerk, her gaze flew to him. Paris' eyes were wide but he didn't seem to be in pain.
"What?" she quizzed.
He shook his head slightly. "I don't know. Just a sensation that--" His voice abruptly cut off as another stronger sensation coursed through him. "Damn," he gasped.
"Tom?" B'Elanna looked at Hudson, who shook his head.
"His readings are a little erratic," the ensign said, "but nothing off the scale yet."
"It's okay," said Tom, his voice breathless. "Just burns a little."
"Where does it burn?" questioned B'Elanna.
"Head. Chest. Everywhere. It--" Tom's hands gripped the bench tightly, as he tried to cope with the quickly escalating sensations that were overwhelming him.
"Lieutenant," spoke up Hudson, his voice tense, "some of his readings are reaching dangerous levels."
Frowning, B'Elanna looked at Tom, whose eyes were now scrunched shut, his face a twisted mass of pain. "Tom? Tom, talk to me."
Getting no response, B'Elanna started to reach for his shoulder, but thought better of it. His sunburn had steadily reddened throughout the day until it was now a bright painful looking red. Instead, she reached out and laid a gentle hand on his face. At her touch, his eyes popped open, staring forward sightlessly.
"Lieutenant," Hudson said warningly.
"Tom!" B'Elanna said loudly. Still no reaction from him. Looking at Hudson, she saw the ensign shake his head once again, his worried gaze resting on Paris.
"I'm disconnecting him now," B'Elanna decided aloud and was startled when a hand gripped her wrist in a deathgrip. Her startled gaze flew upward to find Tom's gaze now focused on her.
"No," he ground out.
B'Elanna nearly flinched at the agony she saw in his eyes. Her own eyes pleaded with him not to continue.
"Please," whispered Paris painfully. "Let me do this. I have to do this." He swallowed back a cry as the pain became nearly unbearable.
"It's going to kill you," said B'Elanna, her voice oddly flat and unemotional, but if Paris hadn't been so distracted by the devastating pain ripping through his body at that moment and could have looked into her eyes, he would have seen how afraid for him she was.
"It's . . . almost . . . done," gasped out Paris. "Just a little . . . longer."
B'Elanna checked her readouts on the device. She swore under her breath. He was right. The cycle was nearly complete, but could he hold out for the remainder of that time, and if he could, how much of the damage done to him would be irreversible? "Tom. . . ."
"My choice, B'Elanna . . . something important . . . with my life. . . . " His whole body suddenly stiffened.
"Lieutenant, we've got to get him out of it now!" exclaimed Hudson. "He's flatlining!"
B'Elanna, eyes on the countdown timer on the device, followed the countdown: 10 . . . 9 . . .
"Lieutenant Torres!" yelled a frantic Hudson. "Please!"
8 . . . 7 . . . 6 . . .
B'Elanna shut out the image of Tom Paris and his agony. She ignored Mikel Hudson's pleadings.
5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . .
Tom would never forgive her if she disconnected him now. She had to let him see this through, even if it killed him.
. . . 1 . . .
he moment the timer hit "0" B'Elanna ripped the connections from Tom and caught him as he fell limply forward into her arms. His eyes were wide open, staring sightlessly. He wasn't breathing.
Oh, Gods, B'Elanna's mind cried out, what have I done?
The moment Tom Paris' readings had started fluctuating, Kathryn Janeway had headed for Transporter 3, where Harry Kim, Jack Garvic and Ethan Simms labored over the transporter, trying to re-establish the connection with the away team. Carey and Hogan were coordinating with them from Engineering. Just as Janeway entered the transporter room, she heard Harry exclaim, "We've got to get them back here now! We're losing Paris!"
Stepping up to the console, Janeway looked over the readings. Kim was right. Lieutenant Paris' readings had flatlined. Whatever was happening four hundred years in the past, it was killing Tom Paris. "Mr. Kim?"
"We can try transporting them now, Captain, but I can't guarantee that we'll be able to pull them back." Kim's eyes were distressed, but his voice was calm, level.
"Do it, Ensign," instructed Janeway. "Beam them directly to sickbay." She watched, ready to lend a hand, as Kim, with Ensign Simms and Lieutenant Garvic's assistance, began the process of trying to get the away team back to Voyager.
Appalled at what was taking place and his own inability to do anything about it, Hudson started when a small voice behind him called his name.
Whirling around, he saw Kaya standing in the doorway. A man, who looked to be quite ancient and definitely Kyrrosian, was standing at her side. The man's eyes were on Paris, but Kaya's were on Hudson.
"Mikel. It has happened. Palis has sacrificed himself for my people." Her gaze moved past him to Lieutenant Paris, who lay lifelessly in B'Elanna Torres' arms. "The seed has been planted. Life will begin anew."
"Kaya," began Mikel; however, he was never allowed to finish his thought aloud as a transporter beam took him away. His last thought as Kaya disappeared from his view was that the transporter beam had not tagged her also.
Kim studied the readings on the console intently.
"Mr. Kim?" questioned Janeway.
But it was the doctor, his voice coming over her comm badge, that replied. "Captain, I have Lieutenants Torres and Paris, along with Ensign Hudson, in sickbay. I would not advise wasting any time in getting here." The doctor's voice, free of its usual sarcasm, was very somber.
"On my way, Doctor."
Janeway left Transporter Room 3 without a backward glance, only belatedly realizing that she should have commended Harry Kim's team on a job well done. The turbolift door swished open just as she reached it, ejecting Chakotay and Tuvok, who had just returned from the planet.
"Captain?" Chakotay's eyes were full of questions.
"Commander," greeted Janeway hurriedly, "I'm headed for sickbay. You might wish to accompany me. Lieutenant Tuvok, if you would head for the bridge and oversee tying up any loose ends?"
"Of course, Captain," agreed Tuvok.
The three of them stepped into the turbolift.
B'Elanna looked up in shock. She was on the floor in sickbay, Tom Paris cradled in her arms. The doctor and Kes were there, as well as Hudson.
B'Elanna helped the doctor place Paris on a biobed, then she slowly backed away from it, coming to an abrupt stop as she bumped into Mikel Hudson. She felt Hudson place a comforting hand on her shoulder and was grateful for it.
The doctor and Kes worked over Tom, but for all appearances he was dead.
"What happened to him?" asked the doctor at the same moment as the captain and Commander Chakotay strode into sickbay.
B'Elanna, her eyes a bit wild, took a deep breath and focused her gaze on Paris' still form, but a quick glance in Chakotay's and Janeway's direction helped steady her.
"The gelpacks didn't work," she told them. We hooked Tom up to the device."
Janeway could understand that they had been working with limited resources and had felt the need to do something, but she was appalled at the chance they had taken. She was about to speak, but the doctor's firm orders to Kes caught all their attention.
"Kes," instructed the doctor, "get the cordrazine."
Kes understood the necessity of using the powerful drug, but at Janeway's questioning look, the doctor said, "Mr. Paris is, for all intents and purposes, dead; however, I am still detecting minute traces of brain activity."
Kes handed him a hypospray loaded with cordrazine. The doctor promptly injected it into Paris, who remained still, his eyes wide open staring upward sightlessly. Everyone in the room held their breath, waiting.
"He's not responding!" exclaimed B'Elanna.
The doctor couldn't argue with that. Paris was not responding as he had hoped. "Prepare another dose of cordrazine," he told Kes. Even Kes' eyes widened at that, and Janeway protested, "Isn't there something else you can do, Doctor?"
The doctor took a moment to gaze at the group gathered in his sickbay. "Mr. Paris is near death," he told them evenly. "If this doesn't work, there is nothing else I can do."
Suddenly, B'Elanna was back at the bedside. Before anyone could comprehend what she intended, she had bent over the inert Paris, grasping him by the shoulders, angrily shaking him.
"Damn you, Tom Paris!" she said fiercely. "You can't leave now. Not now. We -- we haven't settled things yet!" Her voice broke.
Chakotay started forward, but Janeway stopped him with a touch.
B'Elanna, her head bowed over Tom's, felt tears come to her eyes. She couldn't remember the last time she had cried. A tear fell on Paris' sunburned face. She tenderly wiped it away. Her anger once more under control, she said quietly, "You can't go yet. There's too much to do, too much to see, too much . . . too much . . . damn it, you'll do anything to get me to wear that red dress of yours, won't you? All right! Fine! I'll wear the dress. But you're going to have to tell me yourself that you want to see me in it, Thomas Paris."
Unnoticed by B'Elanna, the doctor administered the second dose of cordrazine. B'Elanna's eyes widened as Tom's body jerked suddenly. He gasped loudly for air for several long moments then his eyes slowly closed and reopened.
He looked up blankly at the face above his for a moment before recognition kicked in. "Always thought you'd look good in red, 'Lanna," he said hoarsely before lapsing into unconsciousness.
While B'Elanna stared in shock at Tom's unconscious form, the Doctor studied Tom's scans intently then said, "There appears to be no neurological damage. I'd say you have your transporter room team to thank for that, Captain. A couple of moments of delay, and Lieutenant Torres would be wearing her dress to Mr. Paris' funeral."
Kes winced at the doctor's last words. B'Elanna's emotional words were not something that he should have listened to, better yet repeated. Evidently her work with the doctor on his bedside manner was going to have to be renewed. Putting that thought away for future use, Kes' eyes returned to B'Elanna.
B'Elanna looked dazed as she stared intently at the rise and fall of Tom's chest, as if afraid to let herself believe that he was alive and breathing. Kes called her name softly, but B'Elanna did not even hear her.
Chakotay watched B'Elanna standing over Paris with a mixture of relief and confusion. Glancing at Janeway, he whispered, "This might not be the time to mention this, but did B'Elanna just say that she would wear Paris' dress?"
Janeway allowed herself to relax for the first time in days. "I believe that's what she said, Commander."
"Paris owns a dress?" Chakotay asked, not sure whether to be shocked or amused. There was no doubt about his confusion, however.
Remembering the comical transporter flub that forced Harry Kim to wear one of Kes' dresses, Janeway could not contain a smile. "Don't worry, Commander. I'm sure Mr. Paris has the legs for it." Smiling, Janeway moved forward to talk to the doctor about Tom's recuperation.
Amused by the captain's comment, Chakotay's face suddenly clouded as his gaze returned to B'Elanna's frozen form. B'Elanna had not moved nor spoken since Paris had lapsed into unconsciousness. Glancing at Kes, he noticed that she was also watching B'Elanna worriedly. Moving forward, he placed a hand on Janeway's arm to get her attention. Looking away from the doctor, she followed Chakotay's gaze to B'Elanna.
Unmindful of the concerned eyes watching her, B'Elanna closed her eyes then reached out with trembling fingers and placed her hand on Tom's chest. Within moments her eyes opened, and she snatched her hand away from Tom as though burned. Without a word, she turned and left sickbay.
Chakotay started to follow her, but Janeway stepped forward first. "I'll go. You debrief Mr. Hudson," she told him. Chakotay nodded then glanced over at a pale and silent Mikel Hudson.
B'Elanna walked without destination, blind to the curious glances elicited by her exotic clothing. As the images of Tom's sightless eyes followed her, she felt like running, but her feet felt as if lead weights were attached to them. People spoke to her, but her mind did not register their voices. The only voices that B'Elanna could hear were Tom's, Hudson's, and her own. She heard her own voice as she mentally counted down the seconds of the timer. She heard Hudson's voice as he repeatedly warned her to disconnect Tom from the device. The voice that echoed throughout her mind and ripped right through her was Tom's voice as he begged her not to disconnect him.
Entering her quarters without thought for where she was, B'Elanna sank to the floor and leaned her head against the wall, trying to block out the sounds and images. She ignored the repeated chime of her door. Moments later, she registered the sound of the captain's voice.
"B'Elanna, is there anything I can do to help?"
B'Elanna wanted to ignore the voice, but the officer in her could not ignore her captain.
"I apologize for entering your quarters without your permission, but I had to make sure that you were all right."
After a moment of silence, B'Elanna spoke. "Am I all right? I almost killed him." Her eyes closed as she remembered Tom's beautiful blue eyes staring sightlessly at her.
Lowering herself to the floor next to B'Elanna, Janeway said, "I wasn't with you nor was I in your position, B'Elanna. You did what was necessary to help the Kyrrosi, and knowing Lieutenant Paris, he probably insisted that he be the one to place his life in danger. His sacrifice did, after all, fulfill the Kyrrosian prophecy."
"Hudson kept telling me to disconnect him, but I wouldn't do it. Tom would never have forgiven me for that," B'Elanna said hollowly. She opened her eyes, and Janeway could see the torment in them.
"I don't envy you that position. It must have been terrible for you to have to make that decision," Janeway said sympathetically, unsure what to say to help assuage B'Elanna's obvious guilt.
B'Elanna stared at her hands as she said, "When he stopped breathing, I actually wanted to hit him. Part of me was scared to death, but another part of me was so angry with him for leaving me behind to live with what I had done. Then when he started breathing again, I was ashamed of my anger, but that didn't stop me from feeling like I had just been handed the greatest gift of my life."
"B'Elanna, it was Tom's decision, not yours, and you have no reason to feel guilty. Your anger was understandable."
"Part of me is still angry with him. Prophecy or not, he should never have taken that kind of risk," B'Elanna said as she felt a little of her anger resurfacing. She preferred the anger inside her to the overwhelming fear that had enveloped her only moments ago. "That man and his damned honor. He should have been a Klingon."
"Wouldn't you have done the same thing in his place? Besides, something tells me that you like Tom Paris exactly the way that he is," Janeway said as she rose to her feet. "Now that I'm sure you are going to be okay, I'm going to give you some privacy. When you feel ready to talk about your experiences, I believe Commander Chakotay and Ensign Hudson will be in the briefing room. Take your time. I'm sure you'll want to change clothes."
"Thank you, Captain," B'Elanna told her as she rose to her own feet. B'Elanna felt slightly embarrassed that she had revealed so much of her thoughts, but now the burden of them did feel much lighter.
"You're welcome. My door is open to you any time you need to talk." Janeway walked to the door then paused for a moment as if to say something else. Shaking her head, she left without another word.
B'Elanna, once again lost in her thoughts, moved to stand at her window. Part of her still felt numb, and part of her was still very angry with both Tom and herself. She could still hear the voices of pain and horror, but they seemed more muted now. Tom was alive, and for now, that was all that mattered.
Kaya stood in the doorway of the unnatural hut. The old Weaver, Terevon, stood beside her, silent. She had tried to tell him what was happening, but she wasn't sure he'd believed it. She didn't know what he thought now, and she wasn't looking at him -- instead, she memorized the scene before her, witnessing with a Weaver's calm, frozen clarity and knowing that the images would stay with her all her life.
Bright Palis -- all his light gone now, his body ashen and lifeless. His still form was slumped into the strong arms of his grieving shadow-consort -- Kaya couldn't see her face, but the woman's hurt was clear in every line of her body. Kaya knew what it was like to hurt that much. The Weaver in her stifled the thought. This had to happen. Had to, she thought to herself. And Mikel, looking at her, weary and horrified and confused at once -- didn't he understand what was happening, what she had explained? That this death was necessary, that it would save all her people? Perhaps they hadn't told him all of it, as they hadn't told her.
"Kaya," he had said, almost desperately. She had opened her mouth, wanting to tell him, wanting to say goodbye, as the blue fire of the gods shimmered into being, and there was no time to say anything; in a moment Mikel was gone, along with Palis and his lover and the thing she had said would drive off the Vyarri, and Kaya and Terevon were alone in the empty hut.
Terevon gasped beside her, shocked, but Kaya barely heard him, her eyes still fixed on the empty space where the others had been. Her eyes blurred with sudden hot tears, and she looked at the ground, shivering hard, uncontrollably, at the knowledge that she was abandoned among strangers. She had known it was coming. The truth of things had crystallized in the woods when Terevon had found her by accident, called her "blue eyes" and finally caused the threads to weave themselves into a picture. Her task was to be the Sun Child, the herald of Palis and the teller of his story. A child without kin, marked by Palis and with the training of a Weaver, brought to the beginning of legend -- yes, the signs were there to be read. There had been no time to think, only to lead Terevon back to the gods' camp, trying to explain.
But now the realization hit her, with the force of the Harvesters' claws: she was here forever. She could never go back. She would never see her family again, or her tribe, or Mikel. She wanted to wail like a baby; she wanted to go home. She wanted things to be the way they had been two days ago -- but they weren't. And never would be.
Kaya tried to think, to summon the control her teacher had tried to instill in her. I'm supposed to tell him about Palis, she thought.
Be strong, Kaya. Be brave. She could almost hear Mikel's voice, comforting and sure, and it eased the ache a little. It's not easy, I know, but you'll manage. Just keep going, and don't give up -- people are counting on you.
Oh, Mikel . . . She wished desperately that he were here, instead of being only a phantom voice in her head. But the phantom voice was right. Someone had to tell her people. Yes, these were still her people, even if they were really her ancestors. Someone had to tell them about Palis, so that they would be prepared to receive him when he came back. Someone had to make them believe and remember.
She took a deep, calming breath. Palis sacrificed all for my people. This service is what he asks of me in return. It wasn't much at all, compared to the price Palis had paid, freely. So for Palis, I will do this freely, too.
The pain wasn't gone, just pushed aside, and later she would remember it; remember her murdered kin, and her clan, lost in time; remember bright, brave Palis and his dark, fierce beloved; remember Mikel, who had comforted her, protected her, brought her out of darkness and death, and then vanished forever. She would remember, and cry.
But she couldn't give in to the pain. Not now. She had to be strong and brave, and do what was needed. What only she could do. The past was important, her teacher had told her; keep it alive. But, he'd said, you also had to think about the present, and the future, or else your knowledge was dead and useless. And now that was truer than she'd ever thought it could be.
She raised her head to meet Terevon's gaze. He had managed to overcome most of his surprise by now; instead his eyes held burning curiosity -- tell me, tell me, they urged. But he had not pressed her, waiting silently until she felt ready to speak. Kindness? She thought so, and was grateful for it.
"There is much I must tell you, Weaver. Much that I must tell all of your tribe." He nodded slowly, his eyes locked measuringly on hers -- and she knew, with pride, that he was responding not to the little girl, but to the training and certainty and knowledge that reflected in her voice. He will listen to me. And if he believes me, then his tribe will listen to what he says. . . . This is going to work, she thought, holding back a smile.
"Life will begin anew," she'd told Mikel. And it would. For her people, and for her. The legends said that the Sun Child became a great leader. . . . She buried that interesting thought for future consideration. For the present, she had other tasks to fulfill.
She took a deep breath, and began to speak unhesitatingly, in the calm, even tones of a true Legend Weaver: "I am the Child of the Sun God, and I am come to tell you of his sacrifice that we may be free of the Harvesters forever. . . ."
Just moments after B'Elanna left sickbay, with Captain Janeway on her heels, Tom regained consciousness. Groggy and nauseous, he asked, "Where's B'Elanna?"
The doctor started to reply, but Chakotay stepped forward before he could say anything. "With the captain. How do you feel?"
"Like someone put a lead weight on my chest. Is B'Elanna okay?"
"B'Elanna's fine, I'm sure," Chakotay said, then once again changed the subject. Paris did not look strong enough to handle B'Elanna's distress. Truth be known, he looked terrible.
"Did it work?"
"We don't know yet."
Glancing over at Hudson, Tom asked, "Where's Kaya?"
Hudson stared at his feet as Tom's eyes turned to him. Chakotay answered instead. "Kaya remained in the past, as the legend foretold." Glancing down at the scrolled fabric that Jormal had given him, he said, "I've been too afraid to put this down for fear that something would happen to it. Jormal gave this to me as the Legend Weaver, but I think you should be the one to have it."
With shaky hands, Tom unrolled the weaving. Running his fingers across the brilliant blue eyes staring back at him, he said, "Thank you, Commander, but Mikel deserves this more than I do." He looked again at Hudson. Tom held the fabric out to him, and Mikel stepped forward and took it hesitantly.
Opening it, he studied the child's image for a moment, then he rerolled it carefully. "Thank you, Lieutenant."
For a moment, Hudson raised his head and allowed Tom to see the loss in his eyes. The Kyrrosi were not the only lives in which Kaya had made a huge impact. Mikel Hudson was grieving for the little girl who had come to mean so much to him. His eyes lowered again, and he moved toward the sickbay doors.
Mikel stopped at the doors, and without turning asked, "Permission to wait for you in the briefing room, sir?"
"Permission granted, Ensign." Chakotay's eyes followed Hudson as he left the room. Turning back to Paris, Chakotay said, "I suggest that you get some rest, Mr. Paris."
The doctor, who had remained surprisingly silent, agreed. "I suggest the same thing, Lieutenant, unless you would like to prolong your stay in sickbay. I can assure you that is the last thing that I wish."
Kes looked warningly at the doctor, but he had already gone back to studying Tom's vital signs.
Chakotay turned to leave, but before he could, Tom grabbed his arm. Looking curiously at him, Chakotay asked, "What is it, Lieutenant?"
"B'Elanna," Tom said. "Promise me that you'll make sure she is okay."
Chakotay wanted to say something more, but the memory of the captain's words stopped him. As much as he cared about B'Elanna, it was not his place to interfere. "I promise. Now rest."
Tom obediently shut his eyes, and Chakotay left sickbay, hoping that the captain had been able to help B'Elanna. He certainly would not have known how to comfort her. B'Elanna's relationship with Tom Paris puzzled him as much as it worried him.
Tom awoke much later to the sound of Harry Kim's voice. Opening his eyes, he noted first that the nausea and dizziness were almost gone. His head and chest had definitely felt better, though, not to mention the fact that his entire body was stinging. "Harry?"
Harry stepped forward and smiled. "I was hoping that you'd wake up."
"I feel like I've slept for days," Tom told him wryly, as he struggled to sit up.
"You've been asleep for about eight hours, according to the doctor. I just got off duty, so I thought I'd stop in and see how you were doing."
"I don't suppose that the doc mentioned when I could get out of this place?" Tom asked hopefully.
"Why not ask him for yourself?" the doctor said as he ran a medical tricorder over Tom. As Tom looked at him expectantly, he said, "I'd like you to stay here until morning, at least."
"Morning? No way, Doc. That means sleeping on a biobed, and no offense, but these things are uncomfortable. Speaking of uncomfortable, why haven't you done something about this sunburn? It really stings."
"If you had correctly used the UV-blocking agent that I gave you, then you would not have gotten burned. I injected two very large doses of cordrazine, a very dangerous medication, into your body. It is not safe to use the dermal regenerator while the cordrazine is in your system. I could explain why I cannot do so, but it would take hours. Also I'm not sure that you have the mental capacity to grasp the ideas either." The doctor looked sincere as he said the last words, however, insulting as they sounded.
Tom gave him an offended look, and sensing the beginning of a battle that could go on for hours, Harry interceded. "Don't you have the capability of monitoring Tom from his quarters?"
"Yes, but I would have to transport him back to sickbay if there were any problems." The holodoctor did not look pleased with the idea, but the idea of a basically healthy whining Tom Paris in his sickbay did not hold much appeal either. "Because I know that you will likely distract me from other patients who need my care, I will release you to your quarters, on two conditions. Ensign Kim will have to make sure that you get there safely, and I want you to report back here for more tests tomorrow morning."
"Agreed." Standing a little shakily, Tom struggled with his balance. "Geez, I give my legs a rest for just a few hours, and they stop working completely."
"For a guy who died, you're sure expecting a lot out of your body," Harry reminded him. Glancing at the native attire that Tom still wore, Harry said, "I'm not so sure I want to walk around the ship with you dressed like that."
Grinning at his friend, Tom asked, "Harry, my friend, do I detect a note of jealousy in your voice?"
"Friend? What makes you think I'm your friend?" Harry grinned, recognizing his words from long ago.
"Enough, enough. Get me out of here, before the doc changes his mind," Tom said.
While Harry continued to make jokes about Tom's outfit, the doctor walked over to the replicator. As Tom walked toward the sickbay doors, the doctor said, "Lieutenant, I took the liberty of replicating a salve that should be applied to your skin. It should alleviate the pain, if you can actually remember to apply it, that is." The doctor seemed to have his doubts about that.
Rolling his eyes at Harry, Tom turned back toward the doctor. "Thanks, Doc. I'll see you first thing in the morning."
Surprisingly, the doctor had nothing derisive or sarcastic to say. "Have a good night's rest, Mr. Paris."
Smiling, Paris walked out of the sickbay with Harry at his heels. Happy to be alive and out of sickbay, Tom still felt tired and very weak. Entering the turbolift, Harry quickly called out, "Deck 4." Within moments, they were out of the turbolift.
As he walked beside his friend, Tom told him, "You know, Harry, I'm surprised that you haven't made a 'Palis, the sun god' joke yet."
"Paris, do you really think I am that insensitive?" Harry asked, looking offended.
"No, but I'd say that you owe me a few after the dress incident," Tom reminded him.
"I had completely forgotten about that one. You never even saw me wearing the thing," Harry accused.
As they rounded the corner, Tom stopped abruptly at the sight that greeted him. Nearly a dozen Voyager crew members were prostrated in front of his door. Speechless for a moment, Tom stared at them, noting absently that they were all female. Then, remembering B'Elanna's reluctance to kneel and pay homage, a huge grin came across his face.
As Harry stood looking proud of himself, Tom could also see past the practical joke to Harry's true intention. In his own way, Harry was trying to help him get past the horror of the Vyarri. Then again, Harry did, after all, owe him one, too. "Point taken, Harry."
The laughing crew women got off of their knees then quickly wished Tom well. Harry hovered by his side the entire time, and when they finally entered his quarters, Tom told him, "You know you can leave now, Harry. You haven't even eaten dinner, and I promise not to drop to the floor as soon as you leave. I'm still exhausted, so I think I'll go to bed."
"If you're sure you don't need anything, then I'll go. You know where to find me, though."
Harry walked toward the door, but before he could leave, Tom asked, "Harry, have you seen B'Elanna since we transported back?" Tom forced out the question, afraid of just how much vulnerability Harry would see.
"I saw her come out of her quarters with Commander Chakotay about an hour ago."
Frowning, Tom silently hoped that Chakotay had simply been fulfilling his promise to Tom. He had to admit, if only to himself, that he felt pretty stupid for worrying otherwise. He reminded himself for perhaps the hundredth time that Chakotay and B'Elanna were only friends. Smiling at Tom's expression, Harry left Tom's quarters.
Tom barely noticed his friend's departure. His mind had drifted to B'Elanna and to the events of the day, the enormity of which began to sink into his tired mind and battered body.
He stood before the mirror in his quarters and stared at his exhausted reflection. God, you look awful, Paris, he thought. Then, as the absurdity of his unintentional play on words struck him, he burst out laughing. Okay, calm down. A shower. Yes, definitely. A hot shower, then a nice nap.
"Doctor to Paris," came the voice of the doc over the comm link.
"I'm kinda tired, Doc. What can I do for you?"
The doctor snorted. "You can get some more sleep. I will be monitoring you from sickbay. No alcoholic beverages. And stay out of the shower. In your condition, it is contra-indicated."
"I mean it," warned the doctor.
"Yeah, yeah. Paris out."
Five minutes later Tom grasped the truth of doctor's advice. Hot water on a new sunburn does not compute, he thought. He gingerly toweled off and crawled into bed. "Computer, reduce the lighting to 15%."
"Tuvok to Paris."
Tom sighed. "Yes, Lieutenant?"
"I am glad to hear you are present again among the mortals, Lieutenant. Congratulations on a job well done."
"Thanks, Tuvok. Paris out."
Tom settled in, lying flat on his back. "Computer, decrease the temperature in here by 25%."
"Kim to Paris."
Tom groaned. "Yeah, Harry?"
"Tom, the resonance wave is working perfectly. No Vyarri vessel is ever going to come near here again. And Tom, I've found this great archipelago on the planet at least 300 kilometers from any Kyrrosian settlements. The captain has approved my suggestion to send away teams for R & R after we get our ore samples loaded into the mechanical replicators. We can go swimming and fishing; we can--"
"Fine, fine. Anything. I'm there. Now I want to sleep."
"Oh, sure. Go right ahead. You've been relieved of duty for 24 hours, but B'Elanna and I have to be back on at 0630 so we can--"
"Harry, can this wait?"
"Sure, Tom. Have a good sleep. Kim out."
As if, thought Tom.
The door chime tinkled. "Kindly go away," he snapped.
"Tom, it's B'Elanna."
"Kindly come in."
B'Elanna slid in almost sideways, glancing down the corridor. She looked around nervously. This was only the second time she had ever been in Tom's quarters. Hmm, new plant, she noted to herself. And it looks like it needs a little help.
"Hi. Nice pajamas. Are we having a sleepover?"
"I came to water the plant," B'Elanna snorted, annoyed. "It's been a long day. These are what I relax in. They are not pajamas. Ready for a debriefing?"
"Too late," said Tom, waving a tired hand over his half-covered self.
"Oh, ha ha," she said, browsing around the room. "How sophomoric. I came to tell you what's going on."
"I heard the news already. Big victory beach party, thrown by Katie Janeway and Chakotay. Volleyball, rock and roll, surfer girls, bring your own sunblock."
"I've heard cordrazine can drive you insane. Now I know it's true." B'Elanna stood by the bed and put a cool hand on his chest. "Tom, you're on fire. I could roast a marshmallow in the heat coming off you. Can't the doctor do anything?"
"Our holodoc and the relief of suffering are contra-indicated. Actually, he gave me some stuff. It's over there."
"Want me to rub it in for you?"
"I would like nothing better in the whole Delta quadrant."
B'Elanna sat down beside him on the bed, and very tenderly began to administer the clear green gel to Tom's arms, his shoulders, his face, even the tops of his ears. Tom closed his eyes and lay perfectly still under her tender ministrations, wincing now again, but reveling in her touch on his bare skin.
"Does it really hurt, or are you doing that for my benefit?" she asked.
Tom opened his eyes. "It hurts."
"Then I'll stop," she said, and made a move to rise. Before she could, he put an arm on her shoulder and held her still. "Please don't stop."
B'Elanna was getting quite adept at reading the unspoken thoughts in those blue eyes. I knew this would happen, she thought to herself, and I came anyway. I must be certifiable.
Very deliberately, B'Elanna set aside the gel. Tom put his other arm around her and pulled her close. "Palis' consort. We're immortal, in a weird kind of way."
B'Elanna shook her head. "That little girl didn't even know my name."
"But she will remember. And she'll tell everyone that the god Palis had a flying canoe, lots of servants, and a beautiful lover to whom he was true to the end. To whom he will be true forever."
B'Elanna couldn't meet those eyes. Looking away, she said, "I almost killed you, Tom. You are not a god. Dead is dead, even for you."
"You did what had to be done. We did a good thing together today, you and I." He held her still, but waited to see what she wanted to do.
B'Elanna gave herself over to the feelings welling up inside her and threatening to sweep her away. She closed her eyes and leaned in to him, kissing him softly. Tom slid his hands off her shoulders and down her arms to her waist, kissing her back with a passion that, in his present condition, surprised even himself. She was hardly even aware when he found the gap between her shirt and her shorts and ran his fingers up her bare spine.
"Doctor to Paris."
"WHAT IS IT?!?"
"Mr. Paris, your blood pressure is up and your heart rate is considerably higher than I would like it to be. Report to sickbay at once."
"No. No, no, no."
"But Mr. Paris, I--"
"It was . . . a spider. A big ugly spider. I'm all right now. Leave me alone. Paris OUT." He turned back to B'Elanna. "Now, where were we?"
"I was just leaving," she replied
"Tom, you are seriously demented," she said, pulling away. "And sunburned. And you need rest." She paused, "And I need to think."
Tom reluctantly let go. "All right. I won't rush you. I'll wait. But I need a date to the beach party, you know."
"Demented," repeated B'Elanna, again starting to rise.
"Wait, 'Lanna. . . . Will you stay with me? Just to talk? Trust me, I won't do anything. I'm actually . . . pretty tired."
B'Elanna sat still, torn between some very powerful conflicting feelings. She had trusted, once. Was she ready to give her trust again? To him?
"Just to talk? You promise?"
Tom nodded eagerly, looking for all the world like a man she should not trust. Still, she relented, and settled down beside him. Silence, however, not communication, reigned for a few minutes.
"Yeah," he murmured. "A big one. Ugly, too."
She poked him.
"Ahh! Don't DO that. Don't poke me. I hate that."
"It was . . . not a good day to die."
Tom gave her shoulders a squeeze. "A good day to fry, though."
B'Elanna's eyes snapped open. She had been dreaming that odd exhilarating flying dream again, and her heart was pounding. She was curled up next to Tom, who was sound asleep in exactly the same position as before. Disoriented only for a second, she very quietly asked the computer for the time.
"The time is 0612," it responded.
"SHHHHH! Not so loud!"
But Tom hadn't moved. B'Elanna looked him over carefully and concluded a symphony orchestra could not have wakened him. She reached out to touch him, tracing one finger over his chest, then pulled away. Very gently she rose, wondering if she had made a mistake by staying with him. Would he have expectations of her now? What if the doctor hadn't called? Was she glad he had? Or sorry? Had her life just gotten complicated?
Stop it, Torres. You've got 18 minutes to make it look like the chief engineer didn't just spend the night in the pilot's quarters. Without looking back, she walked out into the corridor.
Lieutenant Jack Garvic was coming down the hall, on his way to morning duty. He spared a sidelong glance at B'Elanna exiting Lieutenant Paris' quarters, and smirked in her direction.
B'Elanna squared her shoulders and strode past him before he could offer comment. Life had just gotten complicated.
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