Disclaimer: Paramount owns all rights to the Star Trek Universe. But they can't blame me for what I have been inspired to write! As usual, I hope you like it. Also, as usual, be kind, but please send all comments and criticism (constructive, please) to AnnitaS@aol.com.
Author's Note: Just a couple of words about the story you are about to read. Yes, it contains PT! I don't think I'm capable these days of writing anything that doesn't. But it's only a little. This story came about as a result of my visits to the Joe Carey board on AOL and a little challenge I couldn't ignore. This one is for you, Josh.
It was a beautiful day: the sun was bright and warm, there was a soft breeze and the whole valley was covered with exotic flowers of all shapes and sizes, their scent filling their air with a intoxicating aroma. Brightly feathered birds floated above their heads, or sat in the tops of the trees and sang melodiously, and according to the scanning reports, there were no dangerous animals in the area, just a few small mammals that resembled rabbits. It was, in fact, the most wonderful day on the most beautiful planet the crew of the USS Voyager had seen in the almost four years since they had been stranded in the Delta Quadrant. Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres were together on shore leave and there wasn't another crew member within kilometers. Tom remembered thinking it was just perfect... right before everything went wrong.
Tom and B'Elanna were walking through the tall grass, hand in hand, talking and laughing, then suddenly she stopped, put her hand to her forehead, swayed, then collapsed into his arms. Immediately, Tom called for transport to sickbay.
"Hmmm," was the Emergency Medical Hologram's only comment as he ran his preliminary scans.
"What is it?" asked a frantic Paris as he held on tightly to B'Elanna's hand.
"It seems Lieutenant Torres has had an adverse reaction to the pollen on the planet."
"What do you mean 'adverse reaction'? She's going to be all right, isn't she?"
"Of course, she'll be fine. I've administered the indicated medication and with a little rest, the effects should wear off completely with no damage done."
"Then why is she still unconscious?"
The doctor sighed impatiently. "It's only temporary, I assure you. In fact, she should awaken any time now. Of course, I will insist she get a few hours of sleep before attempting anything strenuous. But I suspect, as usual, my orders will be completely ignored."
Tom allowed himself to relax just a bit. "This pollen, if it's dangerous, maybe we should tell the captain to cancel shoreleave for the rest of the crew."
The doctor shook his head. "I don't think that will be necessary. The reaction would appear to be due to the lieutenant's Klingon physiology. Since there are no other members of the crew with Klingon DNA, I anticipate no other problems."
Tom nodded. "Just rotten luck, then."
"Yes, I suppose."
"Janeway to Paris."
Tom smiled as he tapped his commbadge. "Paris here."
"How is B'Elanna?"
"The doctor says she's going to be fine. She just needs to sleep off a bad reaction to the local pollen. The doctor doesn't think it will affect anyone who isn't Klingon."
"I'm very glad to hear it. In that case, Mr. Paris, could you beam back down to the planet? I want to have a short meeting with all senior officers about our upcoming visit to the Kralcians and I see no reason to recall everyone to the ship."
"Be right there," he replied. He paused for a moment, rested his hand on B'Elanna's hair and leaned down to kiss her gently on her forehead. "Take care of her for me, Doc," he told the EMH.
"Of course," he responded with a tone of practiced irritation. Tom smiled as he left. As soon as the doors closed, the doctor's expression dissolved into a look of amusement. Running one more quick scan over his patient to be sure, he turned and headed into his office.
Moments later, B'Elanna Torres opened her eyes. She stared at the ceiling for several seconds, then quickly sat up, looking around her. When her gaze fell on the tray of medical instruments sitting near her, she grinned. She reached out and grabbed the medical tricorder, and immediately began to take it apart.
Emersed in his research, the doctor hadn't noticed how much time had passed until a noise from outside his office drew his attention. He rose to investigate, only to find his patient sitting crosslegged in the middle of the floor next to her bed, a pile of disassembled medical equipment in front of her.
"Lt. Torres! What are you doing?"
"Playing," she replied.
The doctor stared at her. "Playing? PLAYING!? Those are delicate medical instruments, or at least they were. What could have possessed you to..."
"Stop yelling at me!" B'Elanna shouted, pounding the floor beside her with her fists. "I don't like it when people yell at me!" She stuck out her lower lip as she stared at him.
The doctor was so amazed, he was momentarily speechless. "Lieutenant, I think you should get back to bed. It looks like I need to run a few more tests and..."
"No!" she replied. "I don't like tests."
"It seems there are a lot of things you don't like," he murmured. "I'm afraid I must insist."
"No!" She folded her arms in front of her and lifted her head defiantly. "I don't like you either." There was something unnatural about her tone of voice. She almost sounded... younger.
"Well, there's nothing we can do about that."
"Yes, there is," she replied with a smile. "Computer, end Emergency Medical Hologram."
The doctor didn't have time to respond before winking out of existence. "Computer, override the EMH self-activation subroutine."
"Override confirmed," the computer responded.
B'Elanna giggled with delight, grabbed and handful of the disassembled parts from the floor and ran out the sickbay doors.
"I bet it's a beautiful day on the planet," Joe Carey remarked to Sue Nicoletti as he sat leaned back in his chair at the main control console in engineering, his feet propped on the edge of the counter. "Figures we'd get to babysit the warp engines while everyone else is having a wonderful time."
"Don't worry," Sue replied from her seat next to him as she punched in some figures from her padd. "The captain promised we could go on the next rotation."
"That was before Lt. Torres was taken to sickbay. Now I'll probably never get to leave."
Sue smiled. "Feeling awfully sorry for yourself, aren't you?"
"Why shouldn't I?" he countered. "I'm never around for anything! Anytime anything exciting happens with the ship, I'm off duty. And for all the fun stuff, like parties or shoreleave, I'm always stuck *on* duty. It seems I'm never around for anything! I might as well have spent the last three years locked away in my quarters. In fact, I could disappear and no one would even notice!"
"That's not true, Joe, and you know it!" Nicoletti replied. "You're very important to this ship."
"Yeah, sure. Once, just *once*, I'd like to be around in a crisis or get to go to a party on the holodeck. Just once I'd..."
He was interrupted by the whoosh of the doors opening and was astonished to see his superior striding toward him, a smile on her face.
"Lieutenant Torres!" he cried, jumping to his feet. "I thought you were in sickbay."
"Nope," she replied, grabbing his hand and putting something in it. "I didn't like it there. I wanted to come play with stuff in here."
"Play?" Carey asked, gazing down at the assortment of parts in his hands.
"Yep!" she replied, then put her fingers to her mouth to hide a giggle before turning away from them with a wave and heading for one of the stations across the room.
Both Carey and Nicoletti were so dumbfounded all they could do was stare after her.
"Am I hallucinating?" Joe finally asked.
"If you are, then so am I," Sue replied. They looked at each other for a moment, then Carey tapped his commbadge.
"Engineering to sickbay." There was no response. He turned to the console behind him. With a few quickly entered commands, the monitor came to life with a view of the empty sickbay. "Computer, activate emergency medical hologram." The doctor shimmered into existence in the middle of the viewscreen.
"Thank goodness!" he sighed immediately. "Somebody reactivated me at last!" Then he looked around him in confusion, "but... who?"
"It's me, Doc, Lt. Carey in engineering."
The doctor focussed on the monitor. "Oh, there you are!"
"Doctor, did you release Lt. Torres from sickbay? She's here, but she seems a little...."
"I most certainly did not!" the doctor interrupted him. "She's demented!" Then he stopped. "No, actually, I believe it's an effect of the pollen exposure. Does she still seem to be, uh, somewhat, shall we say, childlike?"
Carey nodded. "Yes, that's it exactly!"
"I thought so. You'll need to get her back to sickbay at once."
"Right away, Doc," Carey replied, reaching out to break the connection, but before his hand touched the control, the screen went blank.
"Joe!" Nicoletti cried. "The transporter and communications grids just went offline!"
"What?!" he cried, rushing to the console where she stood. Pressing a few buttons, he called up another display. "They were *taken* offline, from..." as the location came on the display, his eyes went wide and he turned quickly to look across the room. "Lieutenant, stop!" He ran to Torres, grabbing hold of her arm to pull her away from the controls. She reacted immediately, spinning around as she wrenched free of his hold, then shoving him back with enough force to send him sprawling to the floor.
"You hurt me!" she complained.
Breathlessly, he levered himself up to a sitting position. "I didn't mean to hurt you, Lieutenant, but you have to stop what you're doing. You could hurt a lot of other people."
She seemed to think about it for a moment. "I don't want to hurt anyone," she admitted. "I just wanted to play."
"Well, you can't play with these controls. It's very dangerous. You could get hurt, too."
She frowned and looked down toward the floor. "Nobody ever wants to play with me. All they do is tell me I'm bad."
"I'll play with you," Sue said as she slowly walked closer.
B'Elanna looked up at her suspiciously. "You're just saying that so I'll stop playing with this stuff!"
"No, I'm not," Sue smiled. "We could play a game. Wouldn't you like that?"
B'Elanna narrowed her eyes as she considered the offer. "No one ever let's me play with them."
Sue's looked at her sadly. "I'm sorry. Other kids can be mean sometimes, can't they?" B'Elanna nodded. "But I'd really like to play with you. Wouldn't you like to play with me?"
While Nicoletti was talking, Carey managed to get to his feet and ease his way to the console behind Torres. He was quickly running through the program files, trying to find a way to undo the damage. After a moment, he looked up and caught Sue's eye and shook his head. This wasn't good. B'Elanna may be reacting like a six-year-old, but she still had the skill of the chief engineer if the extent of the damage he found was any indication. Figuring out exactly how she'd disabled the control systems was going to take time.
"What would we play?" B'Elanna asked.
"I don't know, what would you like to play?"
B'Elanna considered, then broke into a grin. "I know! Hide and seek!"
"No!" Carey cried, but he was too late. Torres had already started running. By the time either he or Sue could react, she had disappeared around a wall and by the time they turned the corner, she was nowhere in sight.
"Where'd she go?" Sue asked.
"In here? She could be anywhere, there are a million places to hide!"
"What are we going to do?" she asked.
"Go get help," he told her. "She's rerouted controls through a dozen different subsystems. We're going to need it to track down what she did and correct it. Over half the crew, including the entire senior staff, is down on that planet and at the moment we have no way to get them back or even let them know what's going on. And we have to find Torres before she does any more damage."
He moved quickly back to the panel. "Internal sensors are still functioning. I'll find her. You get going and get back here fast!"
She nodded and ran toward the doors. After a few minutes at the console, Carey smiled. "Got you!" Grabbing a tricorder, he headed after his errant chief. A few minutes later, his readings had led him to the opening of one of the Jeffries tubes. "Great!" he sighed as he climbed inside. It took him several minutes of crawling before the tricorder told him he had found her. She was crouched in the small work space just behind a service panel. When Carey removed the cover, she looked at him in surprise, then frowned. "What are *you* doing here?" she asked.
"Looking for you," he answered with a sigh. "We were playing hide and seek, weren't we?"
"Not with you," she replied. "Where's the other one?"
"Sue? Why, she's still looking. She couldn't find you, but I did."
B'Elanna looked at the tricorder in his hand. "You cheated."
He smiled. "I guess I've learned with you I need all the advantages I can get."
"She isn't really playing with me, is she? She was just playing a trick on me."
"Why would she do that?"
She shrugged. "I don't know, but they all do. Everyone just wants me to go away."
"I don't want you to go away."
"Yes, you do!" she accused. "You don't want to play with me. You just wanted to stop me from messing with your stuff."
This wasn't working, Carey thought. Sue had had the right idea, but the wrong approach. She was too distrustful of anyone to believe they weren't just pretending to like her. B'Elanna had always tended to react in terms of strong emotions. He still remembered the broken nose she had given him at the beginning of their Delta Quadrant sojourn and, at the moment, her thought processes were far too childlike to react to reason. The only way to reach her was to accept her as the child she seemed to be at the moment, a child who felt lost and alone. What would a child like that really need? His mind wandered back to a time with his son Joshua.
The then four-year-old boy had managed to destroy one of his father's favorite vids and, in fear of being punished, had started to run away from home. He had only gotten as far as the hall closet. Suddenly, Joe had an idea.
"B'Elanna, you have to stop this right now. You're old enough to understand that some things can be dangerous. I don't want to hurt you, I only want to help you. You have to behave yourself. What would your parents think?"
She looked away. "My mother would be really mad," she replied, then looked at him with fear in her eyes. "You aren't going to tell her, are you?"
"No," he replied. "As long as you behave and come with me, I don't think we have to tell your parents."
"Not parents, just my mother. My father isn't here anymore," she told him, tears filling her eyes. "He was ashamed of us... of me."
Carey cursed himself for not remembering Torres' unhappy history. "If that's true, then he was very wrong. You're bright and intelligent," he paused. Some people just aren't smart enough to realize it. Some are even afraid of people who are different, but that's not your fault."
"I'm ugly," she said so softly he almost didn't hear it as she put her hand over her forehead.
"No, you most certainly are not!" he replied. "My Great Aunt Hattie was ugly! Trust me, I know what ugly is and you aren't it!"
She smiled hesitantly. He took it as a good sign.
"Now, come with me. We have to get out of here."
"You can't tell me what to do!" she cried, her mood changing on a dime. "You're not my father!"
"No," Carey replied calmly in direct counterpoint to her anger. "But if I were, I wouldn't be ashamed of you."
Her eyes flew to his face. "You wouldn't?"
He shook his head. "I don't have a daughter," he told her. "I have two little boys that I haven't seen in a very long time, though, and I miss them a lot. I hope if they ever feel lost somebody will be there to help them like I want to help you. I'm not your father, but I think it might be nice for both of us if you could think of me, oh, maybe like an uncle?"
"I don't have an uncle."
He sighed. "Well, you do now! And Uncle Joe here isn't going to let anyone hurt you. Now, come with me, young lady before you hurt yourself."
He held his breath as he waited to see how she would react.
She looked at him for a long time before nodding. "Okay."
He backed out far enough for her to crawl out of the recess. "Now, I'm trusting you not to run away and hide again, B'Elanna," he told her. "It's important that you do what I say. All right?"
"I won't run away," she agreed.
"That's my girl!" He smiled at her and was gratified to see the smile returned. "Let's go."
By the time they emerged from the Jeffries tube, main engineering was bustling with frenzied activity.
Joe reached out and took B'Elanna's hand, a little surprised when she allowed him to, and headed toward Nicoletti.
"What's our status?" he asked.
"Not good," she replied. "We're still trying to track down the rerouted subroutines, but we have a new problem. Other systems are dropping offline all over the ship. If we don't get a handle on the problem, we're looking at a cascade failure."
"What? Let me have a look." Still holding B'Elanna's hand, he ran a quick eye over the readouts before him.
"This is going to get away from us fast if we can't track down the problem."
"Uncle Joe? I-I really did do something bad, didn't I?" B'Elanna asked in a very small voice.
Nicoletti looked wide-eyed from Torres to Carey and back again. "Uncle Joe?" she asked.
Carey ignored her as he turned to look at B'Elanna, placing his hands on her shoulders. "Yes, B'Elanna, you did, but I know you didn't mean to. Now, you need to help us fix it. This is very important. Can you remember exactly what you did?"
"I think so," she nodded.
He took her hand again and led her to the console. "Show me."
Nicoletti placed her hand on Carey's arm. "Joe, are you sure you should..."
"She may be reacting like a child, but there's still an engineer inside her head," he told her. "And I trust her."
B'Elanna looked up at him and smiled, then turned back to the panel. "I went in through the backup command processors. The data links there are a more interconnected than the main systems controls. It took fewer commands to shut down multiple functions, then I reroute the main control functions group to the backup subprocessors."
Carey smiled. "Now, that's the B'Elanna Torres we all know!" He reached across her to punch up another display. "So, if we reroute back to the main control circuits, the systems should come back up?"
"Only if they haven't been degraded already," she replied. "If we do a simultaneous linkup, we should be able to jump back into main control, but we'll have to tap out each system's feedback loop as they come up."
"Got it! Nicoletti, I need you on communications. Ensign Jordan, take care of transporter controls and environmental. I'll keep an eye on the plasma conduits and monitor the warp core. Stay sharp. As soon as each system switches back, cut off those feedback loops. Everybody ready?" They all nodded as he took a seat next to Torres. "Okay, B'Elanna, go!"
Her fingers began flying across the panel. "Cross- circuiting at grid 34906."
"Communication's up and locked."
"I've got transporter control," Nicoletti cried. "Lock down... now!"
"Cross-circuiting at grid 47047."
"I'm getting feedback!" Jordan cried.
"Get ahead of it!" B'Elanna commanded.
"Jump to grid 54692!" Carey shouted.
"Got it!" the ensign whooped.
"Stay on it," Carey warned. "We're almost there."
"Final circuits are coming online... now!" As she spoke, B'Elanna's fingers keyed in the final lock-down sequence.
"We've got fire in the level four junction on the back-up grids."
"Damage control to level four!" Carey shouted to the other crewmen in the room who moved immediately to deal with the situation.
"Main control is back in charge!" Carey smiled. "Good work, people." He turned to look at B'Elanna. "You did just fine, B'Elanna."
She tilted her head back and looked at him appraisingly. "That's Lieutenant Torres, to you, Mr. Carey," she said, without an ounce of childlike quality in her tone.
"I take it we have our chief engineer back?"
"Well," Carey sighed, "it was fun while it lasted."
"Fun?! You call this fun?" she erupted. "We've got a lot to do here, people. Nicoletti, run a complete diagnostic on main control. Keep an eye out for circuit degradation. Run a test on the transporters *before* we try to beam anyone up from the planet. I'm going to have to let the captain know what's happened and..."
"No," Carey said, stepping in front of her as she started to cross toward the door.
"What do you mean, 'no'?" she asked, her tone of voice filled with warning.
"I mean, you aren't going anywhere but sickbay. Those are the doctor's orders and in medical matters he outranks you."
"Then he'll certify you as such and you'll be free to resume your duties. Until then..."
"Once you're officially back, you can hand me my head on a circuit board, or break my nose in *four* places this time, but until then, Lieutenant, you'll follow orders."
She glared at him and was about to tell him just what he could do with his orders when he added softly, so only she could hear. "I told you I wouldn't let anyone hurt you, not even you."
They stood for several minutes, staring at each other, neither of them willing to back down, until finally, without taking her eyes off Carey's face, B'Elanna called over her shoulder. "I'll be in sickbay. Lieutenant Carey will notify the captain and... explain what happened. I'll be back shortly." With that, she walked past Carey and out the door without a backward glance.
"You thought you had it bad before?" Nicoletti whispered as she passed him. "She's going to eat you for breakfast, spit you out and stomp on you!" Shaking her head, she moved on to her console.
Carey sighed. "Situation back to normal."
A day had passed and everything *was* back to normal. The damaged junction was well on its way to being repaired as were the backup command functions. Carey had ended up working a double shift along with most of the engineering crew putting things back as they were before "play time."
His interaction with the chief engineer had been minimal. She had returned from sickbay an hour after she'd left and assigned him to supervising the repairs caused by the fire. When they had spoken, it was all business, but surprisingly, she hadn't been as hostile as he had expected.
Now they were on their way to Kralc III, a planet where Neelix had suggested they might be able to arrange for some much needed supplies. Their visit to the beautiful, unnamed planet had to be cut short and, as predicted, Carey hadn't got to take his turn at shoreleave.
It was late and he was sitting at a table alone in Sandrine's nursing his sythaholic beer. After everything that happened, and even though he was exhausted, he wasn't quite ready to sleep.
"Shouldn't you be in bed?"
He turned at the sound of the voice to find Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres standing behind him. He started to get up, but Paris motioned him to keep his seat.
"Just taking a little time to wind down," he replied to Paris' question.
"Busy day for everybody," the pilot said, casting a sidelong glance at his companion. B'Elanna looked more than a bit uncomfortable and said nothing. "Mind if we join you?" Paris asked, then ignoring the surprised looks he got from both engineers, he continued. "I'll just go get us a couple of drinks."
As Paris headed for the bar, the silence dragged on until Carey indicated one of the chairs. "Have a seat, Lieutenant."
"Thanks," she replied and sat down, grasping her hands together in front of her.
"I guess the doctor has pronounced you fit?" Carey asked.
"Oh! Yes," she replied "two seconds after I walked into sickbay, but he wouldn't let me leave until I'd put his equipment back together!"
Carey laughed, but then the awkward silence returned.
Finally, B'Elanna took a deep breath and spoke again. "I read your report. It's a little sketchy on some details."
"I'm sorry," he replied, "if you think I should go into more detail about the recovery procedure or..."
"No," she interrupted. "That's not what I mean. About... about what happened in the Jeffries tube..."
"You were disoriented. I just found you and got you back in time to save the ship... again!" The corner of his lips turned up slightly.
"For what? Writing a sketchy report?"
"No," she replied. "For the things that weren't in the report. Thank you for... helping me through... an uncomfortable time."
"I've recommended you to the captain for a commendation."
He looked at her in surprise. "Why?"
"You're the one who saved the ship, you saved everyone's lives."
Carey shrugged. "Well, I helped."
"No. If it hadn't been for you..."
"Lieutenant, I know it's difficult for you to talk about what happened, and you don't have to. But to tell the truth,... I didn't mind feeling a little like a father again. But I think you're a little old for me to adopt!"
She smiled and seemed to relax. "Then you'll just have to be my uncle."
"Ah, but will you remember that the next time you feel like ripping my head off!"
"See that you do, or Uncle Joe may have to send you to your room without your dinner!"
"Don't even try it!"
"Uncle Joe?" Paris asked as he sat down at the table and passed one of the two beers he was carrying to B'Elanna.
"Inside joke," Carey told him. "Non-engineers wouldn't understand."
"It took you look enough to get these drinks," B'Elanna complained, ignoring the remark.
"I was talking to Sandrine," he defended himself. "And it looks like there was a little talking going on over here, too."
"Yes," she smiled at him with knowing expression that wasn't lost on Carey. "You were right... this time."
"Had to happen sometime," the pilot replied with a grin as he took a sip of his beer. "So, Joe, you were right in the middle of some real excitement while we were all stuck on the planet and had no idea what was going on."
Carey laughed. "Just before things got crazy, I was telling Nicoletti how I wished just once I could be there when something exciting happened."
"Looks like you got your wish," B'Elanna chuckled, but Paris burst out into loud laughter.
"What's so funny?" she wanted to know.
"Yeah!" Carey echoed.
"Oh, just something I remembered. I don't think it would be healthy for me to elaborate, but trust me, Joe, on this subject, I speak from experience. When it has anything to do with B'Elanna, you'd better be careful what you wish for! Ouch!"
As Paris reached down to rub his shin, B'Elanna winked at Carey.
All the engineer could do was shake his head and laugh.
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