Author's Notes: Certain graphic themes or depictions in this story may be disturbing to some readers. This story may be considered part of Annie's "Inner Landscape" time line. Set in season six, between "Memorial" and "Tsunkatse." Annie's spell checker takes precedence over Patti's, so British spellings honoured throughout. Thanks again to our betas, named elsewhere.
Disclaimer: Star Trek:Voyager and its characters belong to Paramount. No infringement intended. © February 19, 2001Annie M and P. L. Heyes.
Foreword from Annie M: I can't tell you how big the grin on my face was when Patti consented to help me write this story. I'd been toying with the idea for a little while, but my plot was all over the place. So, I said to Patti one day, "Wanna have a look at something?" She was immediately enthusiastic, pestering me for more and more details, so much so, I asked Patti if she wanted to help me finish it. ;-) This was to be my second collaboration with another author, and I admit I was a little nervous, after all this is DangerMom we're talking about here. Fortunately, Patti and I seemed to click, even before working on this particular story, and it's been a great honour for me to have her as my co-author. I've learned from herdetails, details! And I think she's learned a little from meit's good to be evil sometimes. :-) We've had a lot of fun writing this, as we plotted and schemed our way through one draft to the next. And no doubt, the main reason my "little idea" became this story, was due to Patti's flexibility and generosity as a writing partner. All in all, a wonderful experience I wouldn't mind repeating. ;-) Thank you Patti!
Forward from P. L. Heyes: Thank you, Annie. It was quite the thrill, being invited to play in your back garden. I enjoyed the venture into new territory, and haven't had so much fun in IMs since my days of collaboration with Captain Chris. From idea sharing, to brainstorming, to getting it all down and revising like mad, right up to the last minuteit's been great. What's next?
Acknowledgements: Thanks go out from both of us to our beta readers and test audience: Diane Bellomo, Captain Chris, Katie Redshoes, Monica and JanD. Thank you all, your help was invaluable. The thanks wouldn't be complete without a huge thank you to Jim Wright for supplying transcripts and such wonderfully detailed reviews at the Delta Blue's site. Annie says thanks also to Nigel, for being so sweet.
A Question of Conduct
It had been almost a day since Voyager had warped away from the planet Tarakis, leaving their warning buoy in orbit so that those who came after them might be spared the pain of distorted, fragmented memory. But that was the only mercy a passing ship would be granted.
If travellers and explorers instead chose to journey through this region they wouldn't be saved from reliving the experience of the Nakan massacre. They would learn, as the builders of the memorial had intended, of horrors and atrocities committed by soldiers impaired by fatigue; their own panic heightened by their distrust of the colonists and fuelled into a deadly conflagration by the firing of a single energy weapon.
The Tarakis memorial had affected thirty-nine crewmembers aboard Voyager. All of them, including Captain Janeway, had believed they were directly responsible for the slaughter; that they had volunteered willingly to participate in the evacuation of the colonists... and had murdered them.
The images of the raw carnage and chaos that most of the crew had experienced while in this sector were finally at an end. Voyager's distance from the planet now had made that possible, but memory and the act of recall can be powerful tools, and the past, whether it be hundreds of years ago or ten, can resurface without warning, to burn like salt in a fresh laceration.
Mistakes are made in life, some by action, others by inaction, and wisdom in hindsight is as common as the errors themselves. Regret may come easily, but forgiveness is often a much harder lesson to learn, or to acceptespecially of oneself.
Tom Paris waited patiently for the turbolift to arrive, closing his eyes in pain as the remembered voices and cries of the Nakan and his fallen comrades in arms assaulted his memory again.
He'd just visited the quarters of Harry Kim, another of the many "victims" of the forced memorial at Tarakis. Harry still looked like he needed another sedative, his eyes glassy and hollow, his face contorted in pain and agitation. Tom knew his own expression probably mirrored Harry's in that respect, but Harry had tried to be positive, attempting to play his clarinet to lighten the mood.
Harry had played with trembling fingers, the notes out of tune on more than one occasion, the rhythm stilted and forced. But he couldn't make himself continue and stopped before the end of the first movement of the pavane, bowing his head low against his chest and sniffling back the tiny sobs that were working against his throat.
Tom touched his friend's shoulder in support, not trusting his own voice to try and speak. Harry looked up at Tom; eyes shining with unshed tears, giving Tom an acknowledging nod before slumping back against his couch. Tom left soon after.
The lift arrived and Tom stepped in, requesting Deck 9 before realising he wasn't alone.
Noah Lessing and Angelo Tassoni, both former crew on the Equinox, greeted him sombrely.
"Hey, Noah, Crewman," he replied quietly.
They rode the lift in silence for a few moments before Noah asked sympathetically, "How are you doing, Tom?"
Paris breathed in a deep sigh. "Okay, I guess." He took another breath and looked up to face the two men. "Were either of you affected... you know, by the memorial?"
Angelo nodded, then looked down to the floor of the lift, obviously still feeling the affects of his own trauma.
"I wasn't affected," answered Noah. "But Angelo... I'm just picking him up from Sickbay."
"As if living a nightmare on the Equinox wasn't enough..." Tassoni stated bitterly.
"They weren't your memories, Angelo," Tom tried to console.
"It sure as hell felt like it."
The lift came to a stop, its doors opening on Deck 9. Tom moved towards the exit, but before stepping off he turned to face the distraught crewman.
"I know it's hard," Tom said slowly. "Believe me, I know, but you don't have to be bad to do bad things. We all thought we were capable of murdering those people... maybe..." he paused, "maybe because of the mistakes we'd already made in the past."
Angelo's eyes met Tom's and they all stood in silence for a while longer, but Tom had nothing further to say so he turned away from them and headed down the corridor.
He could feel his heart thudding against his chest, as he wiped sweaty palms down the sides of his thighs. Hesitantly he pressed the intercom button and waited.
He stepped over the threshold nervously, trying to gauge the mood he would find within from the simple entreaty.
She came into view dressed for bed, wearing her maroon pyjamas, her battle jammies, as he'd affectionately called them in the past.
B'Elanna didn't look surprised to see him standing there, but she didn't look angry either. She frowned at him though, appraising him from head to toe.
"No gift of apology?" she asked.
"I thought about replicating some flowers and chocolates," he answered; grateful she was making this easier for him with her sharp wit. "But I was afraid you'd want to beat me to death with them."
"I never waste good chocolates, Tom, you should know that by now," she smirked.
Tom took another step toward B'Elanna and stopped. They faced each other across the small distance still between them, B'Elanna continuing to watch him cautiously.
"I'm sorry," Tom began, his tone at once contrite and guilty. "I shouldn't have yelled at you."
B'Elanna's response was almost a whisper. "I only wanted to help."
"I know. But I couldn't... I didn't want to... I didn't want you to touch me," he stammered out, trembling slightly with the weight of his emotions. "I didn't deserve your comfort, not then. Not when I thought...." Tom shook his head, unable to complete his confession; he'd had enough of fighting these memories and feelings of self-revulsion.
"Just hold me, B'Elanna," he whispered desperately.
"All you had to do was ask," she said, reaching out to him.
B'Elanna held Tom to her, his face against her neck as her hands rubbed soothing patterns of warmth against his back. Tom shuddered in her embrace and she rocked with him, kissed away the tears that he wouldn't have shared with anyone else. She whispered to him that it was okay and that everything would be fine.
Tom took comfort in her softly spoken words and willed himself to believe in them.
Several days later, somewhere among the lower decks of Voyager, Angelo Tassoni laboured away doing very little. Since his experience of the Nakan massacrewhich had reopened his equally bitter involvement on the Equinoxhe'd found it difficult to concentrate on his duties.
He continued to monitor systems, and kept records, as he was assigned. He sorted and catalogued the various articles that were sent down to Recycling: unwanted clutter, personal effects of deceased crew members, ship's parts that had outlived their usefulness in one way or another, and the like. But he was restless and bored.
His immediate superior, the round and jovial Chell, was off taking inventory or having a lunch break somewhere and Angelo was alone with his thoughts. He, along with several other crewmembers, had been receiving regular counselling from Commander Chakotay and that had helped him to deal with his role on board the Equinox. Now he was trying to come to terms with Tarakis.
The occurrence of these two traumas might have crippled other men, but Angelo had always been a resilient and resourceful individual. He'd long ago accepted that "shit happens."
Encouraged by Commander Chakotay's counselling Angelo tried to concentrate on the positives in his life, now that he'd found himself in some sort of regular routine aboard Voyager. As part of his "affirmation program" many of his thoughts turned to home.
In the back of his mind he knew that if they ever got back to Earthand since their brief contact with the Midas Array it was a distinct if remote possibilityhe might end up serving time in a stockade for manslaughter at the very least. But often Angelo's mind would drift to the things from home he really missed: his mother's traditional Italian cooking, soccer, and sex. Sex, it had to be said, or rather erotica, was number one on his list, the entertainment he longed for the most.
Angelo Tassoni missed his vids.
He missed looking at naked males and femaleshuman or alienin various stages of intimacy. Angelo loved to look, although he didn't consider himself a voyeur, but he'd always enjoyed studying the naked form... any naked form. The power and grace of two or more beings enjoined in passionsex. The sweat. Fluids flowing. Grunts and wails. The involuntary spasms a body could make when stimulated. Twosomes, threesomes, orgies, females on females, males on maleshe loved it all, and the feel of himself while he enjoyed the pleasures of graphically entertaining images.
He wanted his vids.
When he had first boarded the Equinox, he had brought with him a number of illicit, explicit vids. "Erotica" in the general sense was easily and freely available in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants; however, Starfleet protocols didn't allow such unrestrained graphic depictions into their ships' databases. It was a hold-over rule from the days before holodeck technology was standard on all ships of the line. Typically, protocol and guidelines had never truly caught up with such advances, so the issue remained a "grey area."
Therefore Command didn't seem to have a problem with their personnel using the holodecks as a place to slake their lustful and otherwise unfulfilled urges, but in characteristically bureaucratic military fashion, still drew the line at the suggestion of privately hoarded material. The unspoken but accepted consensus was that Starfleet didn't need their "best and brightest" hiding out in their cabins, downloading and salivating over naked sweaty bodies, while who knew what hostile force could be mobilising against them from another sector.
Within the first year of the Equinox's arrival in the Delta Quadrant, Angelo's private hoard had been destroyed in an attack, and he'd had to make do with using the old-fashioned technique to relieve his pent-up energies.
But there was only so much his right hand could manage without additional stimulation!
Now that he was settled again, his mind couldn't help wandering back to those images he loved so much. He wondered if anyone on board also enjoyed his particular hobby, and if they'd be willing to share it with him.
His current roommate, Dieter Brockenhiem, seemed like a nice enough guy. But they'd never discussed personal needs, well, only so much as Dieter had mentioned he had his eye on a particular female from time to timethough the man hardly dated at all. Angelo knew Jimmy Morrow, his buddy and fellow survivor from the Equinox, would certainly share any booty he had, but he'd lost his own stash to "friendly" alien fire as well.
There had to be someone on Voyager who had something! Still images, early holo-vids, ancient 2D films, anything, somethingdamn, right now he'd get excited by watching rutting animals!
He thought about that. Hmm, maybe not farm animals... all that dung....
Angelo breathed a deep sigh of frustration and tried to concentrate on his read-outs. Chell would be back soon, and at least that would take his mind off things. The Bolian was a laugh riot and talked so much it was hard to think about anything except where the hell he got his information. The man was the undisputed king of gossip on this ship, a fact that Chell seemed to revel in.
But Angelo Tassoni did miss his vids.
"How are things in Recycling?" James Morrow asked conversationally, as he and Angelo Tassoni shared a lunch of leola root casserole in the Mess Hall.
"To be honest, I'm bored, Jimmy," Angelo replied, forking his food around his plate.
"I figured they'd be plenty for you to do down there, Ange," Morrow said with a concerned frown.
"Oh, the work's okay... really, it is. It's just that..." Angelo looked around before continuing, giving his shoulders a shrug before resuming eye contact with his friend.
"What?" Morrow pressed.
Angelo indicated their fellow diners again with his head before leaning in a little and whispering, "Do you think any of these guys would have..." He shifted again and tapped his fork on his plate. "You know... any vids?"
James Morrow's eyes widened briefly. "Vids?"
"C'mon, Jimmy," Angelo whispered urgently, "you know what I mean."
Morrow sat back in his chair and gave out a short laugh before sitting forward to resume his meal with vigour. "You tell me," he managed around a forkful of casserole.
Angelo returned to feeding himself dejectedly and shook his head. "Thanks a bunch, pal."
"I'm serious," Morrow complained as he chewed.
Angelo reached for his drink. "What do you mean?"
"Well, you do work in Recycling, Ange," Jimmy went on. "And that does mean you take inventory of crew effects, right?"
"So?" Angelo shrugged.
"Geez, getting your mind whacked by that alien memorial really affected your brain cells, didn't it, Ange?" Jimmy teased before continuing. "What I meant, mastermind, was doesn't that mean you can see what kind of stash some of the crew might have?"
Tassoni took another bite of food and chewed. "Yeah, but," he said, after a moment's thought, "I only get the stuff people don't want anymore or that's broken. Or that belonged to dead crewmenhey, wait a minute," he said excitedly.
"Oooh, the latinum finally drops," Morrow sarcastically responded.
"Shut up a sec, would ya." Angelo took a gulp of his fruit juice, then rubbed at his cheeks. "I could check out if any dead crewman left something like... you know, after they'd croaked," he whispered.
"Exactly," Morrow confirmed.
Angelo grinned back at his friend. "I've got to go. I think I'm overdue to run an inventory on our historical files," he smirked.
"Fine, but, hey, don't forget Neelix is throwing a party on Holodeck One tomorrow night, and you, my friend, definitely need to be cheered up."
"Yeah. Me and all the other poor saps affected by those damn memories. How come you weren't affected anyway?" Angelo groused.
Morrow shrugged. "I guess it was a random thing, with the power being so low on that transmitter at the time. Who knows?"
Tassoni huffed in response, then stood to leave.
"Hey, Ange, if you do find anything in the database," Morrow said, grabbing Tassoni's arm as he moved away, "don't forget who your friends are."
"Don't worry, Jimmy. I'll keep you in the loop."
"Sir...?" A hesitant quiver of a voice. "Umm, Chell?"
"Yes, my good man. What can I do to assist you?" came a gregarious reply.
"I was wondering... since I've been working down here a while now, wouldn't it be a good idea to familiarise myself with some of the historical data we store? You know, so that I can get a better feel of every aspect of our department?"
"Excellent idea, Mr. Tassoni. Yes, yes."
They looked at each other, both grinning in expectation. Their broad smiles continued until Angelo's jaw got tired. But he had to play this just right to get the information he needed.
"Well, sir... ah, could you show me how to access those files? I'm not very familiar with the crew manifest and personal retrieval programs."
"Of course! Silly me," the Bolian agreed with enthusiasm. "This way," he said, leading them to an upright console in an adjoining bay. "It will take some time, of course, before you're up to my level of knowledge and expertise," he went on.
"Oh, I know, sir."
"Mr. Tassoni, call me Chell. All my friends do," he offered with all the grace of a man in love with his limited authority.
"Thank you, sir. I mean... Chell."
"Now here and here," Chell pointed out as they stood by the console, "are where you can access crew deposits, departmental losses, broken equipment, spare parts, storage and the like." He indicated another panel. "This shows the read-outs by section or crew order. See there, engineering deposits for the last month.
"This panel... yes, that's right, can access storage from those of our present crew, and crewmen no longer with us...." Chell paused briefly and breathed a dramatic sigh. "May the moons of Bolarus shine on their poor departed souls," he offered reverently, before resuming. "Again, this can be brought up by either departmental or individual records."
"Chell," Tassoni interrupted. "I haven't been here that long. How would I recognise a, umm... a dead crewman from a live one?"
"Good question! And one easily answered," Chell said brightly. "This key, yes the green one, can flag all deceased crew members and then you can cross-reference them like this"he tapped a few controls"to see what department they were inEngineering has the highest death count, you know," he offered casually.
"So, if Starfleet were to contact us again, via the Midas Array, and someone's family wanted an inventory of their loved one's possessions, I could use this method?"
"Yes, yes. Very good!" Chell then added conspiratorially, "I hear that Seven of Nine is working on a way to re-establish contact. I suppose with all of her Borg algorithms anything's possible."
"Chell, crewman! Oh, you'd also need to enter your clearance code to actually decrypt a full listing of possessions," the Bolian added, getting back to the subject.
"My clearance code would work on any member of the crew?"
"Any, apart from the senior staff, yes. Or certain files deemed tactically sensitive, then you'd need to have a security clearance authorisation, but that's something you wouldn't have to worry about."
:::Ensign Wildman to Chell:::
:::I really hate to bother you again, but facilities in our bathroom are still acting up. Are you sure your team fixed the problem?:::
"Hmm, just a second, Sam, I'll check for you." Chell crossed back into another bay to run a quick scan. "Oh, dear me. There's still some low water pressure on your section of the Deck, Sam. I'll get a team to you right away. But best advice: use the lavatories on Deck 7 and up for now. I'll contact you again when the pressure's back to normal."
:::That's what you said yesterday, Chell. I have a child to think about, you know!:::
"Sorry, Chell out."
"Need some help with that, Chell?"
"No, no. You stay here and get acquainted with the retrieval system. I'll round up some of our other team members for this particular trip," Chell answered, backing away to gather a tricorder and a tool-kit.
"Ship's plumbing can be fascinating, mind you, but the real trick is recycling all of the waste products to various sections for energy conservation. Did you know that more than eight tonnes of waste were used to power the Mess Hall alone last year?"
Tassoni felt his stomach lurch.
"Fascinating, I tell you," Chell continued, as he hurried off to organise repairs.
Three hours after his shift had officially ended, Angelo Tassoni still sat at a console reading, scanning, and re-reading through deceased records. Who knew a starship this small could have so many dead crew? He'd thought that kind of crew devastation had only happened on the Equinox.
He scrutinised files alphabetically, departmentally, and by rank. He was getting nowhere.
Ballard, Bandera, Bennet....
Darwin, Durst, Fitzgerald....
Seska, Stadi, Suder....
Engineering really had been taking the brunt of crew losses, Tassoni realised as he continued to probe. A few of the files he viewed were tagged with a security code and were immediately dismissed from his perusal.
No point in spending the rest of the journey home in the Brig, not over a few images.
He searched on but still nothing.
Later that evening Angelo returned to his cabin to brood. He had to find a way to refine his search parameters, that was the key. Somebody had to have something!
Angelo tossed and turned, sleep eluding him and only the sounds of his roommate's boundless snoring for company. He closed his eyes tightly and wrapped his pillow over his head in an attempt to muffle Dieter's wheezing, and that's when it hit him.
If any of Voyager's former crew shared his passion for eroticism, they may have filed their cache as he had on the Equinox. Only true connoisseurs of the art would be able to recognise what a particular reference meant: the studio name, a director, the actors used. Angelo also knew there were particular encryptions and ciphers used by certain "art" houses, to protect themselves and their clientele from detection by various authorities and less tolerant species within the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, who frowned on such material.
There would be something, and considering how long Voyager had already been in the Delta Quadrant, this connoisseur should be able to identify them all. He was ready to test his wits and take on a legacy of naughty delights. Whatever was waiting had to be worth it.
After returning to his station for his next shift, Angelo waited for the right opportunity to test out his theories and search patterns. Chell, as usual, needed little excuse to be called away from his stationpreferring to "mix in" with the grunts, as he liked to call his staff affectionately. Knowing the large framed Bolian would be gone for some time, Angelo took his opportunity and set to work.
Some hours later Angelo completed his shift and headed back to his quarters, with several isolinear optical chips concealed under his uniform. He didn't leave his cabin for the rest of the day.
"... Jimmy, where are you?"
:::Holodeck One, like everyone else, man. Did you forget about the party? How come you're not here yet? The food's getting cold:::
"Can you get away?"
:::Are you kidding? There are some seriously gorgeous people on this ship! A Delaney sister just smiled at me and Lieutenant Ayala:::
"This is important, Jimmy. Really important."
:::Can't it wait?:::
"Listen, I can't say too much... what we talked about, remember? I found something."
"Jimmy, for the last time, just come down to my quarters, would you!"
:::Take it easy, I don't need you screaming over the comm at me. People are starting to stare at this end.:::
"Sorry. Look, it's important, okay? I'm sure all of those gloriously good-looking people will still be on board tomorrow."
:::I said, seriously gorgeous. Jeezus.... All right already, I'm coming. Morrow out.:::
The Latin salsa rhythm Neelix had chosen for the party was a success. The majority of the crew instantly taken to the beat, getting onto the dance floor, shimmying and gyrating their troubles away.
There was no doubt that the crew needed a lift after their most recent Delta Quadrant encounter, B'Elanna thought as she danced between Tom Paris and Michael Ayala. Looking between her dance partners, she saw Harry Kim standing a little away from them, trying and failing to coax Seven of Nine away from one of the tables, where she stood stiffly rooted by the EMH's side.
B'Elanna rolled her eyes, wondering for about the thousandth time why Harry even bothered. Suddenly she was caught in a spin, twirled around and under Ayala's arm and was handed off to a waiting Tom Paris, whose hands landed low on her hips and helped to steady her before they moved together sensuously and began to sway to the pulsating cadence as one.
Ayala winked at B'Elanna from over Tom's shoulder and she couldn't help but offer him a small grin of remembrance. She and Ayala had actually won a couple of Maquis dance competitions, way back when; she still couldn't recollect how he'd talked her into entering them in the first place but she'd grudgingly admitted later on that she'd had fun.
And she was having fun now. Tom was as equally talented a dancer as Michael Ayala ever was, but Tom had better hands. He always knew how to squeeze her just right; or to lessen the pressure when necessary, and she never had to worry about him stepping on her toes, unless he'd had too much synthahol.
B'Elanna looked up and watched Tom's eyes sparkle with the thrill of the dance. His blue eyes had seemed almost grey to her recently, their luminescence diminished by the hard and painful memories she knew he was still susceptible to.
Her man was a sensitive one, she contemplated, even though he could still act like a "guy" with the best of them, and more so on occasion. Nevertheless B'Elanna found it satisfying and stimulating that he trusted her enough to let down those macho tendencies when they were alone or the other was hurting in some way. Maybe she hadn't always succeeded in reciprocating such levels of sensitivity to her lover, but she'd do anything in her power to keep him from harm, and had no doubt Tom would do the same for her.
As the doors to Tassoni's shared quarters hissed closed Morrow greeted his friend with a stream of verbal abuse.
"What's the big deal, Ange? That was a really good party you pulled me from! Noah's suspicious too, you know, he gave me this really creepy look and asked what we were up to. What was I supposed to say? And I don't see why this couldn't have waited"
"I found some holo-vids."
"I figured that!" Morrow said, flopping into a vacant seat. "But what the hell, man, what's with the big rush? And is there something wrong with my trying to get a little action from an interactive participant?"
"Here, have a beer and shut up."
"Hmm, thanks. Where's Dieter?"
"He's got a double shift until 0530."
Morrow took a sip of his of beer, noticing for the first time a small pile of coloured chips sitting next to a desk monitor that had been set up in the middle of the room.
"So?" he prompted, noticing the agitated way Tassoni was pacing in front of his replicator.
Tassoni stopped pacing and sat in the chair next to Morrow. Picking up a data chip from the table he asked, "What do you know about the works of Acrophilana?"
Morrow grimaced in disgust. "You called me down here for a quiz?"
Tassoni sighed in frustration. "Just answer the question, Jimmy. What do you know?"
Morrow took a minute to think, watching his friend as he did so, wondering what was on the chips, especially the one in Tassoni's hand.
"She's a Gorn, a sentient reptilian, from Cestus Prime," Morrow answered slowly. "She's also an erotic holo-vid maker whose work is prohibited across five sectors because of its frank depictions of interspecies sex," he went on smugly. "Supposedly, she caused quite a stir on her home world when a vid was released of herself and her lover, a Hupyrian, both being fucked by some sort of 'artificial devices.' But a lot of the stuff about her can't be proved, so who knows? I even heard she belonged to one of the Orion cartels," he said, shrugging. "Whatever the truth about her is, I do know the Gorn government exiled her and condemned her to death if she ever entered any part of their space again."
Tassoni nodded in approval. "Have you actually seen any of her work?"
"Nope, never have. Only heard about it through friends and a comm group I was in. Her stuff is strictly 'underground' and I was never so fortunate to know anybody who had connections in that arena, until I met you," Morrow smiled sweetly. "But by then we were about to be stuck out here and it was too late."
Tassoni nodded again, still clutching the chip and rubbing it between finger and thumb.
"Did I pass the test?" Morrow asked sarcastically.
"I'd only seen a couple of them myself," Tassoni said, ignoring Morrow's remark. "Only a limited number of her works were sold to Alpha Quadrant pleasure merchants. I did shake her clawed hand briefly though, at a smut convention a long time ago... what a tongue."
"Please tell me there's a point to all this reminiscing, Ange?"
Tassoni turned to face his friend, a look of excitement on his face. "These chips, Jimmy," he nodded towards the pile on the table, "are the holy grail of erotica, and they've been locked up among a dead crewman's possessions for the last five years... until today."
"That good, huh?"
"It gets better."
Tassoni merely nodded again, barely able to contain the tight grin that was pulling at his mouth. "Watch."
He finally slid the chip he had been holding into place on the monitor's housing and activated the screen.
James Morrow withdrew his hands from inside his Fleet issue trousers and shorts over three hours later. His fingers were sticky and sweat beaded his forehead. His eyes were open wide in disbelief, and not only at the astoundingly erotically charged viewing he'd just witnessed. He glanced over at Tassoni who was grinning broadly back at him.
"Wow!" Morrow was still having trouble getting his mind around some of those images. "Are you sure it's...?" he uttered, his tone equal parts veneration and shock.
"It has to be."
There was no mistaking the confident tone of Angelo Tassoni's voice, it had dropped an octave in its delivery and his brown eyes glittered with his discovery. "It's hard to tell, at first, with all the shadows and weird lighting, but it has to be."
"Oh my God, man." Morrow was almost hysterical in his excitement as he tried to fight down the urge to laugh, cry and run through the corridors of the ship, announcing their find to all who would hear them. "This is incredible!"
Tassoni nodded back wildly. "Yeah."
"Talk about a dream job!" Morrow declared. "And did you see what that Caitian was doing?"
"I'd love to have that kind of a tongue bath, I can tell you!"
"Wow. And what about what she was doing with her tail... while she was being taken from behind"
"I've never seen a felinoid in that position with a humanoid before... she was really getting it but good."
"I wonder if all that scratching during foreplay hurt?"
"You could tell that they both liked it. Damn, all that purring nearly had me coming all over."
"Yeah, it looked like they were both having a pretty wild time. And what about the other vid, with the felinoid, that Zaldan male and?"
Practically reading his friend's thoughts, Tassoni interrupted excitedly. "That was amazing!"
"No kidding. I can't believe we're on a starship with a bona fide 'porn star'!"
B'Elanna Torres was becoming increasingly impatient with the unwanted attention. She'd noticed the stares of the two crewmen, one of whom she recognised immediately as Angelo Tassoni from Recycling. The two men had been sending furtive glances her way throughout breakfast and she was getting fed up with it.
"Tom, have you been trying to make more friends among the Equinox crew?"
Tom Paris lifted his eyebrows momentarily as he looked at B'Elanna. They were sharing a table and breakfast in a semi-crowded Mess Hall with Harry Kim, Michael Ayala and Commander Chakotay.
"No more than you have," Tom replied, sounding a little unsure.
It was certainly common knowledge that the chief helmsman had befriended Noah Lessing in recent months and that B'Elanna Torres had been acting as mentor as well as friend to Marla Gilmore.
B'Elanna rolled her eyes in a dismissive fashion and shook her head.
"What?" Tom prodded.
B'Elanna lifted her chin in a direction somewhere behind Tom's right shoulder.
He turned slowly to see what she was alluding to, then turned back after a brief moment. "What?" he asked again.
B'Elanna cast her eyes cautiously around the table. Paris, Kim and Ayala were watching her expectantly while Chakotay had his head down, pretending not to notice the scene as he ate quietly.
"Nothing," B'Elanna said, not wishing to draw further attention to herself. Maybe she was imagining things.
Ayala grinned in her direction before returning to his meal.
Tom and Harry, their interest now ignited, turned as one in their seats, giving the patrons of the Mess Hall another scan. As Harry turned back towards B'Elanna two dark male heads, just off to his right, quickly dipped down. Tom saw it and kept his position for a moment, trying to make out who the figures were. A head came up and turned their way, making eye contact. Tom and Harry exchanged a quick glance, then looked up again, offering a tentative smile and a nod, which were met with a startled look of discomfort from Crewman Tassoni, followed by a sheepish grin before he ducked his head once more.
B'Elanna watched the two crewmen carefully as Tom and Harry turned to face them. Something in Tassoni's demeanour made her feel very uncomfortable.
Tom and Harry resumed their positions and B'Elanna twisted her lips in silent disapproval before making a show of attacking her toast.
"They must have seen you on the dance floor, last night. I think Tom has competition for you," Harry smirked.
B'Elanna gave Harry a startled look before quickly covering it with a sarcastic curl of her lip. She hadn't noticed Tassoni or his friend at the party on the holodeck, but she was certain of one thing: those men had been eyeing everyone at the table, and she didn't like it.
Chakotay sat back at his desk and rubbed a large brown hand across his tired eyes. Departmental efficiency reports always had a way of putting him to sleep, even more so than sitting on the Bridge while Janeway barked out orders and ignored his presence and influence completely. True or not, it felt that way to him a good deal of the time.
After five years, plus all the time he'd logged as a commander during his initial service with Starfleet, reading departmental efficiency reports could best be described as a necessary chore. He'd certainly never missed this aspect of his job when he traded in his pips for the Maquis.
The ancient Earth jazz music filtering through the speakers of his office only served to heighten Chakotay's lethargic mood. He stood up, stretched, then walked towards his view port. Looking out, he watched the stars streak by at warp, their tendrils resembling so many fiery tailed comets.
He was sick of looking at them.
Chakotay suddenly wished for the sight of rain, dark clouds full and ominous and bursting with life-giving moisture. He was frustrated with having to put up with the same view day in and day out; nothing but stars, gas giants and nebulae. What he wouldn't give for a nice planet with a tropical rainstorm and the clap of thunder in the air; for the sight of mountains, valleys, streams, forests and trees.
Maybe it was the events of the past few weeks catching up with him. The Tarakis memorial had opened many old wounds in Chakotay. Assuming the role of a battle weary soldier had been much too close to home; too much like his time in the Maquis and frighteningly similar to his "brainwashing" at the hands of the Vori. Chakotay had crash-landed on the planet they shared with the Kradin, unaware of their mutual hostility and the interminable war they fought. He'd come to believe that the Vori were simply victims of the hostile Krady beastsit was still difficult for Chakotay to accept them as anything else. At the time he'd believed so desperately that he was again fighting for the right causefor emancipationand before he was returned to Voyager, he didn't care how many Krady he had to kill to achieve it.
Meditation helped to keep such powerful memories at bay, but they always resurfaced at odd moments, and Chakotay knew he'd have the stench of those dead bodiesreal, imagined or implantedin his nostrils for days at a time. He shuddered and tried to turn his reflections elsewhere.
Only another forty-odd years to go, travelling through endless space with a multitude of stops between Voyager's crew and the Alpha Quadrant. Spirits, I hope not, he thought.
Their brief contact with Starfleet, through the Midas Array several weeks ago had only heightened the crew's feelings of isolation and homesickness in his opinion. As much as he was wary of the reception he, and the rest of the Maquis would receive upon their returnif it happened any time soonChakotay couldn't help thinking about how good it would feel to finally plant his feet on familiar ground.
Rubbing another tired hand across the back of his neck, he sat heavily on his couch. He kicked out his legs and lay back, toeing off his boots as he did so. He wiggled his toes and stretched himself across the couch, recalling from his day the only high-spot he could remember; breakfast, and B'Elanna's not so gracious acceptance of a couple of guys staring at her like they were her biggest fans.
Chakotay smiled at the memory, then remembered, as he'd left the Mess Hall a few minutes later to return to the Bridge, that crewmen Tassoni and Morrow were still throwing furtive glances in his breakfast companions general direction. If he didn't know any better, he would have admitted that not all of those looks had been directed at the chief engineer, and a few years ago that possibility wouldn't have surprised him at all.
Naturally he, Ayala and the other Maquis, including B'Elanna, had undergone months of distrust and suspicion themselves, but they'd had each other in those times and under his example of quiet strength and dignity they had won over the crew's trust eventually. Tom Paris, on the other hand, had been at the centre of some of the most malicious gossip for many more months before the majority of the crew was ready to offer him any slack; and Harry Kim, as Tom's only acknowledged friend at the time, had suffered a few slings himself.
Chakotay allowed himself an evil grin as he recalled his own opinion of Tom Paris in those early days aboard Voyager, and the way he'd bought into and perpetuated some of that scuttlebutt himself.
Still smiling, he swung his legs to the floor and went back to the tiresome task of reading through more efficiency reports.
"That's odd," Chakotay said aloud, some two hours later. He'd come across what had to be a discrepancy on the items downloaded from Recycling for retrieval.
At first it had looked liked a minor systems error had occurred, but the same glitch appeared again, less than twenty-four hours later, containing the same unique prefix.
Chakotay double checked the data on his PADD, then began to look for an addendum to Chell's report that might explain what he'd found. There were none.
Perhaps it was an oversight, but it seemed unlikely. Chell would surely have noted any systems malfunctions during the shifts in question.
Chakotay considered the Bolian; for all of his faults Chell was as meticulous in his reporting as he was in dispensing gossip; all this left Chakotay with an unsettling question:
Why would anyone request access to, remove and then replace data chips stored among the personal possessions of a crewman who'd been dead for over four years?
Angelo Tassoni rode the turbolift back to Deck 15 with a sense of relief. He'd been terrified that the delivery of several constrictor coils to Lieutenant Torres from storage was about to become his final act as a living, breathing and fully functional human being.
It wasn't the first time he'd been asked to deliver equipment to the fiery chief, but with his recently acquired knowledgeand the fact that she'd already caught him staring openly at her, her lover and her friends the day beforefacing her this time had been a considerable challenge. Angelo had heard rumours about Torres' temper but had yet to experience it up close and personal, and that's the way he wanted to it to remain.
During their brief exchange he had managed to maintain an air of professional detachment, and had only flinched slightly when she'd given him a long hard stare before dismissing him with a curt nod and a grunt. As he'd left Main Engineering Angelo had never felt so relieved, though he did half expect the chief's hand to drop onto his shoulder, even as he scurried back to the turbolift.
Exiting the lift and walking slowly back to his post Angelo considered how his and Jimmy's discovery could have remained a secret for so long. Surely if others were as aware of those holo-vids as he was, "word" would have spread like wildfire around the ship, wouldn't it?
News like that would never be old in his opinion, and certainly someone like Chell would have been the first to inform them of it. After all, they'd already heard stories about Torres breaking Carey's nose during the first weeks of the journey home; Commander Chakotay's former lover being some sort of Cardassian spy; the engineer who had the misfortune to be eaten by a cave-dwelling monster while the crew had been abandoned on a primitive planet; a murder aboard the ship by a psychotic Betazoid; the brief imprisonment of Paris and Kim; Tuvok and Neelix being merged into one being, as well as the endless bed-hopping that some of the crew had evidently indulged in.
A member of the Senior Staff appearing in a series of erotic holo-vids, engaged in acts of mind-blowing interspecies sex, should have earned some sort of mention in the history of Voyager's journey, at the very least! Was it possible that Lieutenant Peter Durst, deceased, and the legitimate owner of those holo-vids, had kept this secret to himself?
Durst had died sometime between star dates 48782.5 and 48784.2. According to his file, he'd been the victim of a race of organ-harvesting aliens called the Vidiians. From what Angelo knew of how Voyager had been pulled into the Delta Quadrant, that would mean Durst had died almost six months after the Caretaker had brought them here. More than enough time for Durst to make the connection from his vids to a certain fellow crewmember.
Was Durst using blackmail? Did Durst really die at the hands of the Vidiians, or was there another to blame?
With his mind turning to the possibility of foul play and worse, Angelo hoped that he had sufficiently covered his tracks when he'd returned the vid chips to Durst's small cache of personal effects. It had been impossible to copy them, which was his original plan, but when Angelo had realised that what he'd discovered was the work of the Gorn, Acrophilana, he knew the only way he could view the vids was to remove them briefly, covering the loss with blank chips from storage, and replacing them later. No one was going to miss them for two days, anyway.
Acrophilana was not only famous for producing some of the most stimulating and venerated works in erotic art ever viewed, she was also hailed for her ability to maintain the privacy of her "specialised" clientele. She wasn't your average pleasure merchant by any means. It was rumoured that Acrophilana carefully vetted not only every client she sold on her works to, but also the actors she hired to perform in her visions.
Due to her caution every chip she sold was imbedded with a specially formulated encryption sequence, which made copying and viewing of the chips impossible unless you had the correct decryption sequence... or, in Angelo's case, a personal decryption unit he'd purchased while still in the AQ. It had cost him dearly in credits at the timehe'd bought it from a middle-aged Vulcan he'd known through his connections within the "skin trade." So he'd believed in it's authenticity and it had proven itself very useful to him over the years and not just with finding himself more erotica to watch. The device had saved lives on more than one occasion while on the Equinox.
Returning to his station, Angelo sat and stared at his console for a few minutes, his fingers paused above the controls before finally resuming his duties. Caught up in his own thoughts and barely concentrating on his work, Angelo failed to notice Commander Chakotay's presence across the bay. He didn't see the commander exchanging whispered words with Chell, or the slight twist of the commander's lips and the shake of his head as he gazed in Tassoni's direction.
Angelo remained oblivious to Chell's crestfallen expression as Chakotay gave the Bolian a final, warning stare before exiting the department.
He didn't think he'd be found out so soon, he really hadn't expected to be discovered at all.
Angelo was standing at attention in Commander Chakotay's office, acutely aware of his superior officer's anger and disappointment.
"Isn't it enough for you that you've already been stripped of rank, Crewman?"
But the look on Chell's face; his eyes hooded and downcast, appearing almost sunken within their normally cheery corpulence, had been enough to warn Angelo of his own imminent change in fortune. "Commander Chakotay wants you to report to his office, now," had been Chell's grimly issued instruction as Angelo had completed his shift.
Two faces of stark disappointment were burning their way into Angelo's memory, first Chell's and now Commander Chakotay's. Angelo could feel his nerves shredding under the executive officer's lecture.
"You and your other colleagues from the Equinox have all been under close scrutiny since you've been aboard, Mr. Tassoni. You were made fully aware that your trust had to be earned while you served as part of Captain Janeway's crew!"
How could I have been so naive?
The reality crashing down around Angelo was gradually but inexorably permeating his brain. While Chakotay berated him with words his own mind was picking up a cudgel, rebuking himself for thinking that downloading a few obvious encryption codes onto the replacement chips would work. Or that replacing the originals two days later wouldn't be noticed. It should have worked, but Angelo had failed to consider one obvious point in all of this: he and the rest of former Equinox crew were still considered "hostile" components aboard Voyager, hence they were always being watched, monitored, evaluated, re-evaluated and constantly being checked-up on.
"I know it's been difficult for you recently, Angelo, but this infraction is...." Out of the corner of his eye, Tassoni could see Chakotay staring at him sternly.
God, Angelo... you are one giant, fuc
"This is serious, Tassoni! Not only did you obtain, by illegal means, the property of a dead crewmember; said property is of a highly controversial nature. Prohibited on Starfleet vessels, in fact."
Angelo's attentive stance wilted slightly under the commander's last remark and his attention became immediately focused on the meaning behind those words. Had Commander Chakotay actually watched the vidsall the way through? Did he have any idea who was performing in them?
Even as Angelo felt white-hot needles of fear pricking away at his skin he couldn't help but be impressed that the commander had managed to gain access to the chips as well. Angelo wondered how long it had taken Chakotay to get into them.
Chakotay noticed Tassoni blanche and offered a silent prayer to his dead ancestors that he hadn't felt compelled to view more than a few short minutes of the offending articles under discussioneven if it had taken him several hours to decrypt them using a mixture of Maquis cunning and Starfleet ingenuity they didn't teach at the Academy.
"Who else has seen these... vids, apart from you, Tassoni?"
"You had the chips for two days, Tassoni, so don't even think about lying to me, or I'll have you in the Brig so fast you won't know what hit you!"
"Only Crewman James Morrow, sir."
"I'll expect all copies, and any other materials you have regarding this offence on my desk by 2000 hours. Is that understood, Crewman?"
"Yes, sir, but I didn't make any copies," Angelo offered.
"I hope not for your sake, but I want you and Crewman Morrow to report back here at 2000, understood?"
"I'm entering the charge of breaking and entering against your permanent record, Crewman, as well as charging you with possession of, and intent to supply prohibited material among the crew."
Chakotay paused and watched Tassoni's face change as he let the charges sink in. He was reminded of how broken and weary Tassoni had looked when Captain Janeway had removed his rank several months ago, after the Equinox debacle.
Crimes had to be punished, especially on a lone starship. Otherwise, you could be seen to be sending out the wrong message to the crew; that it was okay to ignore the rules, and it was okay to take advantage of their isolation and distance from anything Starfleet and thus Federation law. Even if such laws seemed contrary and outdated.
Well, not on this ship, Chakotay vowed, no matter his own feelings about that particular ruling, although it rankled with him that this crewman was having so many problems realising just that.
"Considering your actions, Crewman Tassoni, as punishment, I'm withdrawing half of your allocated replicator rations for the next two months; your off duty activities will be restricted; all of your holodeck privileges are suspended for thirty days; your current duty roster remains, but you will be supervised during all work details until further notice."
"I hope you realise, Crewman, that if Lieutenant Durst had been found in possession of these... vids when he was alive, he would have been in serious trouble too."
Pete Durst. He was a good officer, Chakotay recalled, and his memory of the dead lieutenant had given no insight into this side of him at all.
What little we know about the people we serve with, he thought, people we live and gladly sacrifice ourselves for; die for, in Durst's case.
"I didn't get to know Durst that well, but I'm surprised he owned such material. He didn't seem the type," Chakotay confessed.
"Uh, sir..." Tassoni began hesitantly. "Durst died on an away mission, didn't he?"
Chakotay was getting ready to dismiss the crewman but paused to consider his question. This was more than Tassoni had managed to express since he'd arrived at the commander's office nearly an hour ago.
"That's right," Chakotay responded. "He was killed by a race called the Vidiians."
"Yes, sir, I heard about them from Chell. Kind ofcreepy, weren't they? I meanthey stole organs from other races, right?"
"Yes." Chakotay immediately recalled his own close encounter with that race. Having to pass himself off as a Vidiian to try and locate their missing crewmen had been a chilling experience.
"The away team Durst was part of was capturedwe didn't know the Vidiians had a hidden base on that planet. Durst and Paris were forced into hard labour and Lieutenant Torres was subjected to medical experiments. Later on, so was Durst. They killed him for organ transplants. We got Paris and Torres back in time though."
"Yeah," Angelo said slowly, "I guess Paris and Torres werelucky to survive, sir."
Chakotay didn't appreciate the tone he detected in Tassoni's voice. "All of us who survive out here are lucky, Crewman!"
"Yes, sir," Tassoni snapped back, his voice immediately penitent.
No, Chakotay hadn't appreciated that tone at all. "Dismissed."
It was 2135 and Chakotay was feeling the strain.
He'd had to go through the entire tirade he'd issued earlier on Tassoni upon a less than happy looking James Morrow. It had been tempting to slap the crewman with the same reprimands and charges but Chakotay had resisted, granting Morrow slightly more lenience. After all, Morrow hadn't been directly involved in the theft of Durst's holo-vidshe'd only been the recipient, albeit a willing one. Hopefully the punishment Chakotay had meted out was sufficient and the luckless crewmen would think twice before involving themselves in anything like this again.
Chakotay studied the offending items laying across his desk. His tense fingers brushed over the multicoloured data chips and Chakotay was drawn once more into considering Pete Durst, and Tassoni's apparent interest, not only in Durst's hidden reserve but also in the dead man himself.
Did that former model of Starfleet excellence really enjoy watching such lewd performances? Were the vids as "lewd" as Chakotay was assuming? Why was Tassoni so curious about how Durst had died? And why that niggling little comment about Paris and Torres escaping the Vidiians?
He needed to report and brief his recent findings to the captain and Commander Tuvok; make them aware of the reprimands and punishments he'd issued.
Tassoni didn't question the charges made against him or flinch at the castigation, so I guess these vids are just as depraved as I'd imagined, but are they?
Something else is going on here, something to do with what's on these holo-vids and Durst, and maybe....
Chakotay tried to shake the brief, horrible, thought from his mind, but he couldn't.
... Paris and Torres? But that doesn't make sense.
Chakotay heaved and sighed in frustration. He didn't like where his thoughts were taking him or where they might lead, but nagging curiosity was quickly turning into an unmitigated need to know.
He called up the mission logs and his own personal reports, and Paris and Torres' surrounding that fatal assignment to "investigate" magnacite formations, but had led instead to B'Elanna being split into two and Durst's untimely demise.
Chakotay read for hours, scanning and re-reading, trying to find fault or discrepancies in the surviving lieutenants version of events. However, everything appeared to be in order.
It was time for him to look further, Chakotay knew, but he was loath to do it; licentious portrayals of erotica didn't appeal to his sensibilities, he preferred the subtlety of classical, still artwork.
How else can I be sure?
Chakotay's fingers curled tightly around one of the data chips.
Spirits, this is tuning into a long, long night.
Tom Paris manipulated the conn controls with his usual deftness and ease, manoeuvring Voyager through the rings of a gas giant while Seven, in Astrometrics, collected whatever relevant data she needed from it.
The Bridge was quiet this morning, Tom noted. Harry wasn't due on the Bridge until Beta rotation, and Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay had been in the Ready Room for what seemed like hours. Tuvok was manning tactical with his familiar stoicism while Lieutenant Ayala worked Operations, remaining impenetrably silent as always, seeming to prefer to communicate with imperceptible nods and shifts in his body weight.
No wonder Tuvok thought so highly of him, Tom smirked appreciably. Their lack of words probably balanced out against Neelix's constant fussing and solicitousness whenever Tuvok was near.
A light flashing on his board drew Tom's attention back to his piloting. The course he'd plotted in wasn't much of a challenge but even a minor deviation could cause undue stress on the ships energy systems. One thing he didn't need was his angry lover taking her temper out on him over dinner because of itof course, dinner would become a moot point under those circumstances.
The Ready Room doors hissed open and Tom turned to watch the commander and captain take their respective seats. Janeway was looking annoyed and irritated. Chakotay sat quickly, his face appearing to Tom impassive yet tense. Tom frowned and turned back to his console.
Whatever was eating them would hit the grapevine soon enough, Tom thought, it always did.
"Hey, Harry," B'Elanna greeted the ensign warmly, as she looked up from the warp console in Engineering. "What brings you down here, I thought you had the morning off?"
Harry Kim grinned at his friend and rested his longer frame against diagnostic ledge. "I do, but as I recall you wanted me to look over a few conduit manifolds. You said you were having some trouble..."
"Right. The ODN junctions are wearing out the relays in some of the Jefferies tubes on Decks 12 and 13. I thought maybe you might have an insight into what's going on and how we can slow the degradation, but I didn't expect you to look at it in your downtime, Harry. It could have waited."
"I don't mind."
B'Elanna looked at Harry carefully, and keeping her voice low she asked, "Are you still having trouble sleeping?"
Harry's head turned sharply, and he grimaced.
"Sorry," B'Elanna said kindly. "Tom told me you were still having a hard time, since that memorial."
"Yeah, I guess," he admitted with a shrug. "Keeping busy helps." The mischievous grin returned to Harry's face. "Does Tom tell you everything about me?"
B'Elanna punched his arm lightly. "Only the things I can use as blackmail, Starfleet," she teased.
Harry shook his head in mock horror. "You spend way too much time with Paris, B'Elanna."
She laughed cheerfully, then motioned for Harry to accompany her. "Well, if you're so keen to get to work, follow me."
They moved into the alcove designated as the chief's office, and B'Elanna collected a series of PADDs and an engineering kit. While she was rummaging, Harry divulged some idle gossip he'd picked up earlier that morning.
"What?" B'Elanna asked, not quite catching everything he'd said.
"I was talking to Chell on the way over here and he tells me that one of his crew got busted by Chakotay last night."
"Who? For what?" she asked.
"One of the Equinox crew who works for him, ahh, what his name again...? Anyway, he was apparently caught breaking into someone's personal files and removing some of them."
"You're kidding, right?"
"No, Chell swears it's true. I mean it was one of his own staff."
"Why would anyone want to do that?" B'Elanna asked as she checked her equipment. "Who was it?"
"I don't recall the name, I know Chell mentioned it."
"Tassoni?" The name popped out of B'Elanna's mouth before she had a chance to think.
"Yeah, I think so. You know him?"
B'Elanna snapped her kit shut and handed it to Harry. "He's delivered enough equipment to me over the last few months. I don't really 'know' him."
"Yeah, well, according to Chell the commander couldn't bust him down in rank any further so he's had some privileges reduced or something."
B'Elanna nodded distractedly.
"Hey, B'Elanna? You okay?"
Wherever her mind had wandered off to for those few seconds B'Elanna quickly snapped back to the present. "I'm fine. Come on, Starfleet, let's go."
B'Elanna and Harry had always shared an excellent working relationship; where B'Elanna was inspired Harry was practical and yet imaginative enough to follow many of his friend's complex theories. And unlike so many of her co-workers in Engineering, and to a degree Tom Paris, she didn't always have to stop and explain herself with Harry. He might pause to consider her ideas, but he always seemed to understand what she was trying to accomplish in her work, and that was something B'Elanna appreciated deeply.
Not that she considered her lover in any way intellectually inferior, but Tom had other talents, amazing talents, that she sometimes found herself envious of.
B'Elanna could fly a starship, but for hours on end? Without crashing or falling out of an orbit? Sure, she could handle looking at broken bones and blood gushing from open wounds, but she didn't have more than a basic knowledge of first aid and triage. B'Elanna could also program a holodeck that suited her needs or desires, but with Tom's fertile imagination? Or his eye for detail or technical subtleties? Nope, nada.
As B'Elanna worked side by side with Harry in the cramped confines of the Jefferies tubes, ribbing and teasing each other, and prodding and poking at each others theories with good humour she paused to smile to herself. If Harry noticed her self satisfied grin he didn't say anything, not that it would have made a difference to B'Elanna's mood just then.
She wasn't only smiling at the easy relationship she shared with Harry, she was also thinking of Tom, and how their particular friendship had needed much careful cultivation to reach the point they were currently at.
More importantly, and perhaps not surprisingly, when B'Elanna thought of Tom and his many "technical" abilities, other, more sensuous thoughts started to take precedence.
Too bad I'll be too busy to meet him for lunch today, she thought. Didn't matter, they'd get together this evening and he could amaze her all over again.
True to form, he did.
"God, Tom," B'Elanna sighed breathlessly. "Where did you learn to do things like this?"
"What?" Tom mumbled from between the crack in B'Elanna's buttocks.
She gave another contented sigh and turned over to face her lover. "How do you always find ways to make me come six ways from Sunday?"
Tom laughed and leaned back on an elbow to admire the fine sheen of perspiration he'd helped to coax from B'Elanna's coffee-coloured complexion. "Your body's the only inspiration I need," he drawled.
B'Elanna pulled a pillow from under her body and hit him with it. "Yeah, right, Paris."
"It's true," he said, leaning in to embrace her and plant soft kisses along her brow ridges. "So many curves and valleys," he whispered against her. "How could a man not be inspired by such beauty?" he went on, punctuating each word with a light kiss.
B'Elanna giggled against his throat, adoring that he would say such things about her, but still not quite believing it. Tom was still kissing her and she moved against him to meet his lips with her own, sharing kisses that were warm and deep and spoke of mutual satisfaction.
"I don't care where you learned it from, Tom, so long as you keep practising on me," B'Elanna murmured against his cheek.
"Deal," Tom chuckled as he covered a breast with his palm and rotated it slowly against her nipple. "Besides, it works both ways, B'Elanna."
"Hmm?" she purred.
"You're not exactly a slouch when it comes to knowing what I like in bed."
B'Elanna smiled, moving her face into Tom's torso, nuzzling the rust-coloured curls adorning his chest. She nipped at his skin and sucked a pink nipple to hardness, her actions were greeted with a loud groan of delectation.
"You're easy to please," B'Elanna murmured, stroking at the raised nipple with her fingers. "One bite and you're anyone's," she joked.
"I'm not that easy," Tom pouted.
"Oh, really?" She brushed her short nails against his nipple and smiled as he bit back another groan. B'Elanna leaned over Tom and bit into his shoulder, leaving tooth marks on his skin, while her hand remained on his nipple, pulling and twisting the peak in a way she knew he couldn't resist.
"More," he panted, arching up against her.
"Not easy, huh?"
The two men stepped uneasily inside Commander Chakotay's quarters and were motioned to sit on the couch. Chakotay couldn't bring himself to offer them refreshment, although he understood their nervousnessit was as palpable as his own.
Chakotay moved around his living room awkwardly, pacing back and forth, stopping to eye the two men seated before him and then moving off again. In all his time as a Starfleet officer, both now and during his first tour of duty, he'd never felt so ill at ease as he was in the presence of these two crewmen.
"I want you to know," he started suddenly, turning to face them with his hands on his hips. "I've destroyed the chips that were in Lieutenant Durst's possessions."
The two men on the couch nodded wordlessly.
"I also want you to know," Chakotay continued, "that I've watched enough of them to know who's performing on them."
Chakotay paused to watch as Tassoni and Morrow exchanged quick, anxious glances.
"I don't suppose I need to ask, but can I assume you're both aware of whom I'm talking about?"
Morrow turned away and began rubbing at his temples, Tassoni only nodded, but like his friend, was unable to meet Chakotay's penetrating glare.
"I didn't hear you, gentlemen!"
They whispered together in one quivering voice. "Yes, sir."
"Have you discussed this with anyone else?" Chakotay demanded.
"Just with each other," Morrow clarified.
"Are you sure? Have you talked about this with your friends, roommates, other members of the crew... Chell?"
"No, sir," Tassoni confirmed. "When we realised who was on the vids... Well, sir, we didn't know what to think. I mean, we weren't even positive it was who we thought it was until laterand then finding out about how Lieutenant Durst died...."
It all came tumbling out of him and Chakotay realised finally what sort of anxiety these men had been going through. Tassoni giving voice to his fears was like watching a heavy rain wash away mud from a soggy riverbank as he gave free rein to his suspicions.
"Do you think Durst was murdered, sir?" Tassoni finally asked, his eyes beseeching of the commander's.
"Yes, Crewman, he was," Chakotay confirmed. "But not by any member of this crew!" he stated emphatically. "Durst died at the hands of the Vidiians. I was there, and I saw how badly our people were treated and what mental and physical state they were in when we got them back. I can assure you, there were no extenuating circumstances to Lieutenant Durst's death."
Tassoni frowned, not looking completely convinced. "But, Commander..." he stammered.
"Listen to me, Tassoni," Chakotay ordered. "As someone who's only been on this ship for a matter of months, I can understand your scepticismhell, I understand it completely! But it's paranoid and it's dangerous," he warned. "I don't know if Durst ever discussed what he knew with anyone on this ship, and considering the material involved, it doesn't look like he ever did."
"But what about...?" Morrow interjected, stopping short when Chakotay turned an icy scowl his way.
"Pete Durst and Tom Paris were friends!"
Chakotay's words shook the room to silence and both men gawked in shock at the commander's outburst.
"It's possible that Durst confessed what he knew to Paris, but from what I knew of them both back then, there were never any feelings of animosity between them."
"Jesus," Tassoni breathed. "Paris knew he knew?"
"I don't know," Chakotay admitted. "But it's quite clear that Durst never intended to share his secret with anyone."
Another long silence filled the commander's cabin while the two crewmen contemplated this latest development. Chakotay just felt weary.
"Everything we've discussed here tonight," Chakotay instructed. "And everything regarding this incident, Durst's possessions, and Paris' involvement stays between these fours walls, crewmen. That's an order!"
"Yes, sir," Tassoni and Morrow answered, getting up to stand at attention.
"This sort of... information," Chakotay went on, "could destroy a man's reputation, and I don't have to emphasise too strongly how small a ship this is."
"Right," said Tassoni, who nodded in understanding.
"I'm warning you both," Chakotay said darkly. "If I ever so much as hear a whiff of what we've discussed here tonight; on this ship, from a crew member or anywhere in the Delta Quadrant, you'll think your time aboard the Equinox was a pleasure cruise in comparison to what I'll do to you!"
"Sir...?" Tassoni uttered in disbelief.
"This isn't a threat, gentlemen," Chakotay whispered, his voice hoarse with the effort of so much invective. "Return to your duties and keep yourselves out of trouble," he said, effectively ending any further discussion. "Dismissed."
Moments after Tassoni and Morrow had left his quarters Chakotay finally allowed himself a huge sigh of relief. This had taken more out of him than he'd expected, not that he'd ever thought it was going to be easy. He'd laid it on pretty thickly at the end, he thought, but he didn't want to take the chance of them talking about thisto anyone.
Upper most in his mind was that this didn't get back to the captain. Kathryn would be devastated to learn that her "reclamation" project had ever fallen so far down life's food chain.
When he'd informed Janeway and Tuvok earlier of the situation, he hadn't gone into any detail about the contents of the vids. Noting that the charges against the two crewmen included prohibited erotica was explanation enough.
Chakotay walked to his replicator and ordered a large glass of fruit juice, downing it in several long gulps to ease the tightness that had formed in his throat.
Paris, Chakotay thought. Shit! What do I say to him?
He punched in another code on his replicator unit and knocked back a large tumbler of brandy. It burned on the way down, but he didn't care. He needed that short burst of alcohol to settle his nerves as much as he'd needed the juice to soothe his ravaged vocal chords.
Images swam up before the commander's tired eyes, of a younger, leaner Tom Paris, apparently enjoying himself as he was filmed in various degrees of sexual intimacy with humanoids and aliens of diverse description.
Chakotay had examined the vids amid feelings of distaste and shock, from his initial recognition of Pariswho he later discovered was credited as Alan Smitheeand through what little he had allowed himself to glimpse of the remaining vids.
He was well aware that there were people who enjoyed such viewings for whatever reasonsthe sexual frisson or an even deeper need for the visual and aural stimulation. Parts of the vids had given him a few uncomfortable, unwanted moments of reaction. But it just wasn't in his nature to find this level of unrestrained explicitness appealing or entertaining. It was even harder for him to understand the actual participation in such things.
The entire experience had left Chakotay feeling like he'd taken a series of sharp kicks to his privates. And having these images in his head for almost a day now left him feeling an involuntary but sustained revulsion towards Paris. He knew he couldn't face the man anytime soon.
He'd had a hard enough life himself, he knew the indignities that sentient beings were capable of; whether it be to themselves or others. Perhaps, Chakotay realised, he thought Tom would be stronger than that somehow; that his family background and breeding in Starfleet would infuse him with the ability to rise above such things.
Spirits, Tom, did you have to fall so far?
Chakotay couldn't help but see a more recent image and memory Tom Paris; dancing with B'Elanna at Neelix's recent party, their heads close together, and whispering to each othersharing themselves...
Tom Paris flipped on the controls of the Delta Flyer and started the pre-flight checks. He and Commander Chakotay were due to take the Flyer out on recognisance of a nearby planetoid, at 0600 that morning, which had shown deposits of dilithium ore.
B'Elanna had spent the night in his cabin but had left in a fit of annoyance as Tom was easing his weary body into the shower. They hadn't fought exactly...
Manoeuvring thrusters: check.
But B'Elanna had been pissed-off when it became apparent that Tom's 0445 alarm call was having more of an effect on her than it was on him.
Sensor relays: optimal.
It wasn't as if B'Elanna didn't know that he had a mission to prepare for this morning, and it had been her choice to stay the night.
Warp core on line and engines at standby.
Knowing B'Elanna enjoyed any and every opportunity to sleep in, Tom had no doubt that she'd returned to her own cabin, where she could remain undisturbed until it was time for her own duty shift at 0800. Still, Tom thought, suppressing a grin, we'll make up later tonight, after she's through whipping Chakotay's ass again at hoverball.
Tom turned when he heard the Flyer's hatch start to open, and he was about to welcome Commander Chakotay aboard when he realised the man wasn't alone.
"Morning, Commander," Tom said brightly. "Are we taking on extra crew for a particular reason?"
Chakotay hesitated in his approach to the pilot's seat, Lieutenant Walter Baxter, behind him, looked slightly embarrassed.
"What's up?" Tom asked casually.
"What are you doing here, Paris?" Chakotay responded, sounding irked.
Tom, mildly surprised, answered, "Reporting for duty. What do you think I'm doing?"
"I sent new orders to your database last night, Paris. Baxter and I are going on this mission, and you're to report to Sickbay and work with the Doctor."
"You're going to pilot the Delta Flyer?" Tom asked incredulously.
"You got a problem with that... Ensign?"
Tom knew Chakotay's emphasis on the word "ensign" was meant to hurtand it did.
"With your shuttlecraft reputation... Commander, you bet I have a problem!" Tom began, his anger rising. "It's my ship, Chakotay, and I don't want it coming back in a million tiny fragments."
"We'll manage," Chakotay said shortly. "And the Flyer isn't your personal property, Paris, as much as you like to believe it is."
"I should be on this mission, Chakotay," Tom argued. "You know you're not that familiar with the conn layout or the controls, and I can pilot this ship better than anyone."
"Then I guess it's time the Flyer and I became better acquainted. You have your orders, Paris. Report to Sickbay."
Tom was devastated. He hadn't been booted from duty in this fashion since his earliest days on board Voyager. Possibly he could have saved himself this embarrassment if he'd bothered checking his database before leaving for the Shuttle Bay, but he'd been in a hurry to get the Flyer ready and had only grabbed his mission briefing PADD.
"Fine." Tom got up slowly and moved aside as Chakotay and Baxter took their seats. "Most of the pre-flight's been completed," he said to Chakotay's back.
It was unusual for Chakotay to make last minute changes to a mission unless it was extremely important, or a member of an away team was injured prior to the assignment.
"Uh-huh," the commander acknowledged. "Baxter, lets start the pre-flight sequence from the top."
Tom shook his head and backed away, moving toward the sleek shuttle's exit. He and Chakotay had never shared the warmest of friendships but he thought that they had been making progress, if only for B'Elanna's sake and the close bond she shared with her former captain.
He was getting the feeling that this change in assignment was something personal, and had nothing to do with the objective requirements of the mission in any way.
"Communications?" Chakotay barked out in the growing distance.
Tom's mind kept drawing a blank as to how he might have upset Chakotay recently.
I could have stayed in bed with B'Elanna this morning, Tom thought dismally, and saved myself from this heap of shit.
Tom checked the computer's time and groaned in disgust. It was only 0830 and already it felt like he'd been up for an entire day.
What am I even doing here?
The EMH had greeted Tom warmly enoughif you could describe typical disdain from the Doctor as warmand they'd set to work on cataloguing a number of viruses and toxins that the crew had either contracted or been exposed to in the last several months.
Microbiology wasn't Tom's strongest subject and the Doctor let him know it at every opportunity.
Deep down Tom knew that Chakotay could handle the Flyer, this was a simple mission after all, but being removed from the away team at the last minute still bugged the hell out of him.
Tom had returned to his own quarters before reporting to Sickbay and had checked his database. Sure enough, Chakotay had changed the mission assignment, citing as his reason: "The need for more crew rotation on routine missions."
The fact that the commander hadn't sent the message until 0215 wasn't helping to dissuade Tom from his earlier suspicions; that this was somehow personal.
But I haven't done anything! Well, not recently.
"Mr. Paris, are you having a problem?" the EMH asked, approaching Tom from his office.
"No, Doc, I'm fine," Tom replied in a tired voice.
"Then why haven't you finished recording the cell mitosis I asked for?"
"I'm working on it, Doc, keep your hair on."
"In an emergency we won't have the luxury of you taking all day. You should have finished it ten minutes ago," the hologram scolded.
"Look, I'm doing the best I can."
"Then do better!"
Tom rolled his eyes. "You sound like my father."
"I assure you, Mr. Paris," the doctor replied drolly. "I sound nothing like Admiral Paris. I'm a doctor not an impersonator."
Before Tom could throw back a retort of his own the unmistakable shimmering energy of a transporter beam deposited two male figures in front of the doctor's office. It was Chell and another crewman, who appeared to be limping badly.
"What happened?" Doc asked as Paris moved quickly to the two men and helped the injured crewman to a biobed.
"Turbolift 4 suffered a power failure," Chell answered. "We were heading up to Deck 6, to modify some repairs on Sam Wildman's cabin. She's been having some terrible difficulties with her water pressurewaste backing up and the likewhen... BOOM! There we were, plummeting down, faster than a sled ride on Darias Prime!"
"I see you suffered no ill-effects," the Doctor commented sardonically.
"You should know, Doctor, that we Bolians are extremely flexible..."
"Ah, yes, 'the elastic band syndrome.' I am familiar with the Bolian genome, Chell."
"Of course, Doctor, of course."
While the two men continued to trade superfluous banter Tom scanned the injured crewman with his tricorder.
"Looks like you managed to sprain your ankle pretty badly there, Tassoni," Tom offered considerately. He noticed that Angelo Tassoni wouldn't meet his gaze, even though he was biting back the pain he was obviously in.
"There's nothing to be embarrassed about, Angelo," he said in assurance. "Turbolifts going haywire aren't that unusual on this ship. I dislocated my elbow one time."
"What's the diagnosis, Mr. Paris?" the Doctor asked, snatching the tricorder from Tom's hands.
"A few bruises," Tom reported testily. "The worst of it is a badly sprained ankle."
"Hmm, so I see," the EMH replied, closing the tricorder and making his way to the instrument tray. "Think you can handle a little tissue regeneration, Mr. Paris?"
Tom speared the doctor with a dirty look, and plucked the instrument from his fingers once he was within reach.
"Hmmp, no need to be rude!"
Tom ignored the EMH and turned back to Tassoni, who still looked troubled.
"Hey, don't worry about us, Angelo, my bedside manner's a lot better than 'Doctor Frankenstein's,' " he joked, motioning to the EMH. "Let me get you something for the pain," he added, hurrying away to get a hypo spray.
Tom returned a moment later an injected a pain-reliever into Tassoni's neck. He frowned soon after, since the crewman still looked distressed. Tom turned to make sure Chell and the Doctor were out of earshot before asking, "Is something else bothering you, Angelo? You shouldn't be in any pain now."
"I guess... sickbays... always make me nervous," Tassoni said in a faltering voice.
"Me too, believe it or not, but don't worry, you should be back on your feet in no-time." Tom activated the tissue regenerator and set to work on the injured ankle.
After a few minutes he noticed Chell still hovering around in the background, the EMH had returned to a workbench to concentrate on the cell mitosis experiments Tom had begun.
"You don't need to stay, Chell," Tom called out. "This won't take long, and Angelo will be as good as new."
"Orders are orders," Chell answered. "I have to stay."
"Yes, Commander Chakotay ordered me to"
"You know, my ankle feels fine now," Tassoni said loudly, interrupting Chell and swinging his legs over the side of the bed.
"Hey, wait a minute, let me check"
"No, it feels... good," the crewman insisted, standing up and taking a few tentative steps.
"Are you sure?" Tom asked, his eyes flicking between Tassoni and Chell.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Thanks again... Ensign Paris."
Tassoni hurried out of Sickbay with Chell close on his heels, leaving Tom to ponder the odd exchange and hasty exit. He noticed the regenerator was still on in his hand and switched it off.
"Mr. Paris, this experiment is ruined!" the EMH called. "You let the cells divide without noting the volume of replication!"
Tom shrugged. "Sorry, Doc."
"We'll have to do it again, and this time I'll be standing over your shoulder."
Lunch-time couldn't have come too soon for Tom Paris. He all but ran from Sickbay to get away from the Doctor and his irritating complaints and incessant whining.
Tom quickly grabbed a lunch tray from Neelix, who was back to his perky self after the recent ordeal, and spotted Harry Kim taking a seat at an otherwise deserted table for two. Relieved to see a real friend, Tom made his way over to join him.
"Got time for a sob story?" Tom asked as he pulled out a chair.
"Hey," Harry greeted him. "How's Sickbay?"
"You don't want to know, Har'. Ever have one of those days, where you should have stayed in bed?"
"That bad, huh?"
"The Doc thinks I'm an imbecile and Chakotay..." Tom shrugged, pushing his tray away from him. "I don't even want to know what he thinks."
"Chakotay?" Harry inquired.
"I was supposed to be on that survey mission with him this morning, but he bumped me from the away team at the last minute."
"Oh yeah? I thought that was because he and the captain felt not enough crew were being rotated to field assignments or something."
"God, Harry! Do you believe everything they tell you?"
Harry glared across the table at his friend. "Do you always have to be so cynical?"
"Sorry, Harry," Tom apologised. "I've just been having a really bad day."
Harry stared across the table at his friend, giving him an appraising look. "You have a lot of those, don't you?"
Harry dropped his fork onto his tray and shook his head impatiently. "Every time you're having a 'bad day,' Tom, you end up opening that mouth of yours and something nasty pops out. Normally at me."
Harry continued earnestly, "So I admit I miss my folks and I look forward to hearing from them again someday. Hey, you know what else? I don't even mind admitting that I want to get home, or have faith in Starfleet finding some way to speed up our journey."
Tom twisted in his seat uncomfortably, trying to think of ways to appease the normally placid operations officer. "I know that Harry, and I don't think that's a bad thing, but you can set yourself up to be disappointed like that."
"You just don't get it, do you?" Harry said, allowing himself a hollow laugh. "I know I'm not as experienced as you are, Tom, when it comes to 'the University of Life,' and lessons on how to be miserable, but I'm not completely naive. I just live in hope. Don't you?"
Tom looked from his friend down to the table, for a moment at a complete loss for words. "Sometimes..." he admitted with a shrug.
"Look, Tom, you're like a brother to me, but you can be so..." Harry shook his head.
"Cynical?" Tom added with a wry grin, which disappeared quickly as he added, "You should have said something, Harry. You know how my mouth gets..."
"I did, or I tried to, but you weren't listening to me, or you were too distracted to think, or you'd had an argument with B'Elannathere was always an excuse," Harry said quietly.
"Tom, look," Harry went on. "I don't mean to infer that you're a completely selfish bastard."
It was like a one-two punch to the gutthe sardonic tone, and the calculating look in Harry's brown eyes. Even worse was Harry's sly smile when he saw Tom's startled reaction.
Once Harry knew his subtle message was received he picked up his fork. "Not all of the time, anyway."
Tom found his voice. "Thanks, buddy."
"See what I mean about that cynicism?"
"I'm teasing," he said smugly.
Tom remained silent and watched as Harry returned to his meal. This wasn't the kind of conversation Tom had envisioned when he'd brought his tray of still untouched food over. Whatever raw nerve he'd touched in Harry, his friend seemed calmer now for getting it off his chest at last.
He, on the other hand, felt like a cynical, unhappy, selfish bastard. Who knew Harry Kim could give such great lessons in guilt?
"I'm heading back to the Bridge," Harry announced when he'd finished eating. "See you around, Tom."
"Sure." Harry had moved a few meters away when Tom called him back. "I am sorry, Harry. Really."
Harry gave Tom a genuine beam of a smile. "Good. See you later."
Tom watched his friend leave, still feeling a mixture of guilt and self-loathing. How many times in the past had he all but called Harry Kim a fool? It was always said in jest, playing on Harry's openly trusting nature, but thinking about it nowputting the shoe on the other foothe could understand why his friend had finally had enough.
Damn, but he was having a really bad day, and he just wanted it to end. Start again tomorrow and forget this day had ever happened.
What he wanted most was to crawl into his bed and let B'Elanna hold him; erase this day from his mind with her touch and her voice. Let her love soothe him and rejuvenate him and make him feel whole again.
Tom tapped his comm badge. "Paris to Torres."
:::Torres here. What's up, Tom?:::
"B'Elanna, have you got a few minutes for lunch in the Mess?"
:::Sorry, Tom, we're swamped down here today. We've got turbolifts malfunctioning all over the ship, plus I need to run some scans on the samples you and Chakotay brought back from your mission this morning.:::
Tom shook his head, silently cursing. Obviously the "new" directive on away team protocol hadn't been given to Engineering yet, but he wasn't up to correcting the oversight, and it would take too long to explain his non-involvement in that trip over the comm.
"You need to eat, B'Elanna," was all he said.
:::Ashmore brought down some snacks from Neelix a little while ago. Listen, Tom, I have to go. I'll see you later, and we can talk then, okay?:::
"Yeah... yeah, okay. Paris out."
Before tomorrow could come, Tom realised, he'd still have to make it through the rest of todayon his own.
The promise of "later" was the only thing that kept him going through the long, tedious afternoon in Sickbay. He pushed aside all uncomfortable thoughts of Chakotay, Harry, and the odd encounter with Chell and Tassoni, and focused his concentration on getting through the tests Doc deemed so important. Doing them right this time would keep the EMH off his back, at least, and if he could please one person today, it would make his time later with B'Elanna more worthwhile.
One mystery got solved in the course of the afternoon. As he ran a final toxicity test on blood samples in the corner of the lab, Tom caught part of a conversation between Samantha Wildman and Ensign Murphy, just outside in the main bay.
"saw him in the Mess Hall early before the away mission," he heard Murphy saying. "And you can always tell when the commander is ticked off about something, when his face goes all stone-like and his voice is real quiet."
With that nasty, cold edge to it, Tom added in his mind, immediately recognising it was Chakotay being discussed. He was still smarting from feeling that knife-sharpness earlier.
"He's been like that a lot lately, Paul," Samantha chided. "There's been so much going on the past few weeks."
Like we all haven't been through hell of one kind or another lately, Tom thought.
"Yeah, but I heard he had to come down real hard on that guy Tassoni, and his buddy Morrow. Chakotay caught them with contraband or something, and gave them hell for it."
Sam's voice grew sharp. "Then they probably deserved it. You better go finish that inventory, Paul," she added, dismissing the ensign and his story. She wasn't one for gossip, compared to some people on board.
Tom heard them move off, and couldn't help but smirk. Well, well. That explained Chakotay's foul mood. He'd taken the Equinox survivors under his wing, making them his responsibility. If two of them had screwed up big time, Chakotay would take it very personally. And despite his many virtues, the commander was human enough to let some feelings spill over in his dealings with others.
Namely, me, Tom thought, his smile growing bitter. It made him feel marginally better, though, to know he'd been the victim of fallout, rather than guilty of any genuine transgression.
It also explained why Chell had accompanied Tassoni to Sickbay that morning, and why he had stuck so close to the injured crewman. As his immediate supervisor, Chell would be held responsible by the executive officer to keep a sharp eye on Tassoni as part of the initial discipline process.
Poor Angelo. No wonder he'd been a nervous wreck in Tom's presence. Every step dogged by the garrulous Chell, feeling guilty as hell and worried that everyone on board knew how badly he had screwed up. It was a state Tom could easily sympathise with.
But it also made him curious. What kind of contraband would make Chakotay that angry, and where had Tassoni and Morrow gotten hold of it?
"Mr. Paris! I'm waiting for those results!"
Tom quickly diverted his attention back to the task at hand, just in time to save the last sample from ruination, and avoid the Doctor's wrath.
When 1600 finally rolled around, it was all Tom could do not to bolt out of Sickbay again at a dead run. Yet he took his time putting away equipment and filing test resultsnot that he was ever sloppy about wrapping up a day's work, but he took a perverse pleasure in being so completely meticulous that Doc got tired of waiting for him to finish.
"That will do, Mr. Paris," the EMH snorted as Tom wiped down the lab bench for the second time. "You may go."
Tom cheerfully crumpled the cloth in his hand and tossed it into the disposal chute with a perfect shot. "Thanks, Doc. See you Friday."
He strolled out casually, stepping up the pace once he was safely out in the corridor. If there was ever a day he wanted to start all overno, he wasn't even going to think about it. He was going to splurge some rations and treat himself to a nice, hot shower, then let B'Elanna have her way with him. Several times.
His comm badge chirped just after he entered the turbolift and called for his deck. :::Torres to Paris.:::
"Hey, I was just thinking about you," he responded, smiling as the lift began to move.
:::That's... nice. I was thinking about you, too.:::
Amazing how much better that made him feel. "Good. Were you thinking about coming to my quarters to have dinner, share the highlights of your day, and then"
:::Tom, I can't.:::
He almost missed the regret in her abrupt words as his heart sank. "What?"
:::I can't join you for dinner, Tom, not right away. We've still got one more thing to take care of down here, and then...well, it's Tuesday, Tom.:::
Tuesday? What the hell difference did that make? He leaned back against the lift wall, pounding the railing in disappointment. Then he rememberedit was her evening out with Chakotay. Hoverball on the holodeck.
Chakotay. Ruining his night as well now. Damn.
:::Tom?::: her voice came hesitantly through the comm. :::I'm really sorry. I forgot about it myself until a little while ago.:::
He pounded the rail one more time, not caring that it was starting to hurt. "No, that's okay, B'Elanna," he managed to say. "Go on, and have fun." Like she would, if the commander was still in a rotten mood. "I'll see you later."
:::Okay,::: B'Elanna said in relief. :::I'll see you as soon as I can.:::
"Sure thing," he murmured, and heard her cut the signal.
Damn. Thanks a lot, Commander.
Chakotay didn't need a spirit guide to tell him that ignoring Tom Paris for the next forty years or so wasn't going to work; removing him from the conn all day and the away mission had caused enough problems for him already.
Convincing Captain Janeway of the merits of crew rotation had been easy enough, as she let him take the lead in that sort of thing anyway, but he couldn't remove Paris from the Bridge permanently. Not that he really wanted to, but those damn vids kept replaying in his head. Having to look at the pilot on the Bridge or during that survey mission this morning might have been disastrous.
Rationally, Chakotay knew he shouldn't hold the past against Tom, or judge him against his own sense of morality and ethics, but it was incredibly difficult right now to separate that past from the present, and not see Paris as some sleazy lowlife, despite the many heroics he'd performed since.
And then there was B'Elanna.
Facing her, with the knowledge he now had, knowing how deeply she cared about the chief conn officer....
Chakotay didn't for a second believe that during their sometimes difficult relationship, Tom had ever mentioned this part of his past to B'Elanna. Even though B'Elanna had always indicated to Chakotay that she was aware of her lover's chequered pasttruth be told, it seemed everyone on the ship was well aware of itthe details were sketchy and that included the circumstances of Tom's most celebrated misdeed, Caldik Prime.
Knowing what he did now Chakotay wondered if he'd care so much about all this if B'Elanna weren't involved. Should he have warned her against the pilot when he saw how close they were becoming? Would she have listened to him?
What kind of friend was he not to tell her everything now?
B'Elanna, for all of her bravado and tough talking attitude, had one of the warmest and kindest heart's of anyone he knew. He wouldn't be responsible for stomping all over it with the example of Tom's graphic history.
But what kind of friend was he if he did tell her?
Should he confront Tom? What would that accomplish? Could he force Tom to tell her? Even if he could, what would that do to B'Elanna, and add to that she'd then know he knew and hadn't said a word to her. She'd never forgive him that.
Maybe he should work on evading B'Elanna for a while too, and let this mess sort it self out somehow, an option Chakotay acknowledged as tempting, but a fallacy all the same.
Avoiding B'Elanna would mean cancelling their hoverball game tonight, something they always tried to maintain on a semi-regular basis. Chakotay checked the ship's time and groaned aloud in misery. Cancelling now wasn't really an option, as B'Elanna was probably on her way to the holodeck.
He thought hard and fast. As the ship's executive officer it wasn't beyond him to simply be too busy to join her. Or he could just wait until she called him over the comm, claiming he'd forgotten all about their match and had planned to do something elseanything else.
What kind of a person was he becoming?
Tom's thoughts were dark and twisted as he left the lift and walked to his quarters. He didn't begrudge B'Elanna the time she spent in other people's company, with other friends, although he had for some time harboured an almost irrational envy of her special friendship with Chakotay. They'd finally worked their way through that, as they had with other issues and complications in their relationship. B'Elanna had certainly given him enough slack about time he spent away from her with his own favourite pastimesalthough there had been a lot of misunderstanding there too.
But he couldn't feel generous or understanding today. It was just too fucking unfair. As far as he knew, he'd done nothing do deserve a day from hell, and now he had to wait for any chance to forget about it with B'Elanna's help.
Damn. He could only hope Chakotay was in a better mood, and didn't take it out on B'Elanna with a vicious game of hoverball. Because if he did, Tom didn't know if he'd be able to forgive and forget that.
Once in his quarters, he slammed around in frustration getting undressed. He skipped the hot water shower, enduring the sonics just long enough to get rid of the lingering odours of Sickbay, then pulled on the first comfortable thing he could drag out of the closet. In lieu of dinner, he choked down a sandwich, sitting on the couch and staring at the TV, impatiently flicking the buttons of the remote, unable to find anything in the new programming B'Elanna had recently installed that could hold his interest.
Finally he clicked it off, tossing the remote aside as he stared at the blank screen. He couldn't stop thinking about B'Elanna, which led his thoughts right back to Chakotay. What the hell could Tassoni and Morrow have done to rile him up so badly? From what Tom had heard Murphy say, it must have happened a few days agowhich tied in with when Tom had seen the commander so tense and miserable on the bridge. But if that was true, then why hadn't the story spread faster through the ship's usually efficient grapevine?
And they hadn't made planet fall in weeks, not since Tarakis. Where would those two have gotten hold of "contraband?" Could they have been discovered harbouring something dreadful from the Equinox? Had they been running a still down in airponics under Noah Lessing's nose? The vital details of the incident were missing.
Frustration and curiosity were a bad combination in Tom Paris. He reached a point where he couldn't tolerate just sitting around waiting for B'Elanna, wondering how Chakotay was treating her, pondering a possible mystery.
He sat down at his terminal, dredging up some calmness, marshalling his thoughts. After only a moment's guilty hesitation, Tom carefully hacked his way into the security logs of the past few days. He used Angelo Tassoni's name as the key word in his shielded search.
The chain of responses that came up nearly stopped his heart.
Lieutenant Peter Durst, deceased.
He didn't see the rest as his vision blurred and he broke out in an icy sweat.
Violated encryption codes.
Unauthorised removal of private material. Contents prohibited by Starfleet protocols.
He didn't have to see the rest. The mystery was solved. Tassoni and Morrow had broken into Pete Durst's personal effects. They had removed and viewed the holo-vids.
And Chakotay knew.
Tom shut off the terminal and pushed away from the desk, burying his head in his hands, fighting off the sick dizziness that was closing in on him. He'd forgottenmade himself forget about that particular chapter of his uneven past. It was buried along with other painful memories, all the things he'd tried to leave behind when his life had taken a new, unexpected turn, and he'd been given a second chance.
Shit. Now Chakotay knew. Knew everything, based on the way he had acted today. Angry, hostile, thoroughly disgusted with Tom Paris.
And right now he was with B'Elanna.
"Command pressure finally getting to you, Chakotay?" B'Elanna inquired.
She and Chakotay were deep into the second set of their hoverball game, and for the second time in twenty minutes B'Elanna had to call a halt to the match in order to replace the anti-grav ball they'd been using.
"What's that?" Chakotay asked, running a towel over his sweat stained face.
"We've been playing for about thirty minutes, and first you're so tense you can't even hit the ball and now you're so worked up you're thumping it into the middle of next week. You've broken the anti-grav unit again."
"Must be another of your malfunctions," he complained.
"That's not funny, Chakotay. My team spent the better part of today crawling through the Jefferies tubes trying to sort out the turbolifts."
"I hope they're all functioning now. The captain wasn't so amused to be stuck between decks for a couple of hours this afternoon."
"I'll bet." B'Elanna turned back to the new unit she'd ordered and fiddled with the device. "Not to change the subject or anything, Chakotay, but why are you so tense?"
He took a swig of water from a plastic bottle. "What makes you say that?"
B'Elanna turned towards the commander, finished with her tinkering. The ball hovered in mid-air waiting for an order to resume the game. "You haven't been able to stand still since you got here, you're not concentrating on the matchwhich I'm about to win by the wayand you've barely said two words to me throughout. It's like you don't even want to be here."
Chakotay gave B'Elanna a half smile. "I think you're reading too much into one man having a hard day. I'm tired, B'Elanna, that's all."
"So it is command pressure," she went on triumphantly. "I heard you had to come down pretty hard on Tassoni the other day. Did he really break into someone's possessions?"
Chakotay choked on the water he was still sipping and coughed. B'Elanna quickly moved towards him, picking up the towel and mopping at his face. He pushed it away.
"Where the hell did you hear that?" he spluttered.
"Oh, come on, Chakotay, you know how news travels on this ship."
"You know I can't discuss crew discipline with you, B'Elanna."
"Yeah, when it suits you," she remarked, hanging the towel she was still holding over Chakotay's head.
"What's that supposed to mean?" he called, pulling the towel down and draping it over his shoulders.
B'Elanna rolled her eyes. "Let's see... who told me about Larson receiving a warning for being found asleep at his post and Dalby spending two days in the Brig for insubordination? Or Harren receiving a lecture from Tuvok when he refused to switch rooms, so Suder could be transferred to a secured location?" She paused briefly, hands on hips. "Hmm, what else, oh yes, Harry Kim"
"All that was told to you in confidence, B'Elanna, and for the most part involved crew who interact with Engineering!"
"Tassoni comes to Engineering all the time," she countered. "I'd like to know if my department's being compromised in any way, so shouldn't you be informing me of his crimes?"
"Damn it, B'Elanna, what he did had nothing to do with your department so stop pushing it!"
B'Elanna raised her hands, palms up. "All right, I'll back off," she said. She studied him briefly, "I'm sorry. I was curious and I thought you might want to talk about it. Something's obviously bothering you, Chakotay, and you know I don't mind listening."
"I never realised you were listening quite so well," he muttered, moving to sit heavily on the artificial court. B'Elanna sat down next to him and reached over to grab Chakotay's water bottle.
"Seriously, Chakotay," she said, after taking a long swallow. "Do you want to talk?"
Bracing his weight on his hands, the commander sat back sighing heavily.
"You and Tom didn't get into an argument this morning, did you?"
Chakotay turned to face her, his expression blank. B'Elanna read it as concurrence. "What happened?" she asked in resignation.
"Tom wasn't on the mission this morning, B'Elanna."
"What? Why not?"
He took a moment to explain the recent change in crew rotation, focusing all the while on the still-floating hoverball some meters distant.
"So you changed his duty shift, knowing he probably wouldn't even get a chance to see it until it was too late, because you thought Baxter needed more field experience?"
Chakotay kept looking at the hoverball.
"That's bullshit, Chakotay! How could you pull something like that?" B'Elanna exploded, bolting to her feet. "And then you stuck him with the Doctor, all day? What the hell's going on?" she demanded.
"I told you," he said, still not meeting her stare. "I thought it was in the crew's best interest to rotate field assignments."
B'Elanna was pacing now, prowling across the court in quick but graceful steps. "How can you sit there and say thatto me! Do you really expect me to swallow this crap?"
Chakotay moved to sit on his knees, gathering up his towel and his water bottle.
"I don't know where the hell you think you're going," B'Elanna spat. "Chakotay, talk to me. Why would you do that to Tom?"
Towel and bottle in hand Chakotay stood up and faced his angry friend. "How well do you know Tom Paris?" he questioned.
B'Elanna stopped her pacing and pulled a face in confusion. "What?"
"How much do you know about his past, B'Elanna; after he was cut loose from Starfleet and before he joined the Maquis, how much?"
"What's that got to do with anything?"
"How much?" he demanded in his quiet command voice.
B'Elanna looked away briefly. "Enough."
Chakotay noted the hesitation. "Are you sure?"
She stepped closer to the him and whispered, "What are you trying to say, Chakotay?"
He closed his eyes briefly, then looked to his feet. Raising his head, he could see B'Elanna staring at him, her eyes filling rapidly with apprehension.
"Computer," he called. "Initiate privacy lock Chakotay-Two-Zero-Nine-Gamma."
:::Privacy lock engaged.:::
B'Elanna's entire body became stiff with tension, but she tried to control herself by curling her fists into tight balls and pressing them against her thighs.
"You asked about Tassoni," Chakotay began. B'Elanna nodded. "He did break into someone's files, B'Elanna." She nodded again, and he could see the pulse beating wildly in her throat as he continued with his revelation. "He broke into the repository of Pete Durst."
"Durst?" B'Elanna shook her head in confusion.
Chakotay pressed on. "Durst had in his possession some holo-vids, which Tassoni removed and viewed with another crewmanthat's been dealt with now. But there were certain images in those vids." Chakotay paused and took a breath. "Images of Tom Paris, B'Elanna."
He saw B'Elanna bite her lip hard. The colour drained from her face, and he was filled with self-loathing for having to do this to her.
"What kind of images?" she whispered thickly.
Chakotay reached out to place a comforting hand on B'Elanna's shoulder, but she shrugged it off, recoiling from his touch and stepping back to cross her arms over her chest.
"What kind?" she repeated.
"I think you need to ask Tom that question, B'Elanna. I can't tell you anymore."
"Let me out of here, Chakotay."
Her words were a desperate plea and without hesitation he responded to her request, cancelling his privacy lockout. The pain in her voice broke like waves over Chakotay, filling him with despair and helplessness, so much so he couldn't even watch her leave. As the holodeck doors hissed shut after her, Chakotay walked up to the suspended ball, long since forgotten and crushed it within his sizeable fist.
continued in part two...
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