Lines in the Sand: The Darkest Hour, part VI

by Seema

Seven has the energy of a warp core matrix; at least, that's the only analogy I can come up with. Her fingers move briskly, but her mind moves faster, at warp speed at the very least. She punches in algorithms without taking a second to ruminate over them. Lack of sleep does not bother her - she is just as quick without as I am with. I am truly, in a word, amazed.
She also does not have the need to think out loud, like I do.

"Lieutenant," she says crisply. "I need silence."

"Sorry," I tell her for the umpteenth time. "I'm trying to see how everything fits together. Why would you cause a starbase to explode? Even a crippled starbase is worth something."

"There is no purpose in trying to understand an illogical action," Seven says.

I turn back to my PADD, trying to understand - in a bleary-eyed sort of way - why a dead man would issue an order to release the Maquis prisoners. The only thing I find remotely interesting is that at one time, Lieutenant Eric Sullivan served briefly on Deep Space Nine while Michael Eddington served as Chief of Security.

"Look," Seven points at the screen. She has finished the painstaking work of plotting every possible course every ship leaving Starbase 87 could have possibly taken. "I have overlaid these with the known routes."

"The ships that have returned?" I ask.

"Yes," she nods, giving me that "here's a gold star for you" look. I think sometimes Seven thinks I have the intelligence of an Andorian flea. Give her credit though, she has been trying lately to be more understanding, more human. "Only two ships are unaccounted for: the Atalanta and the Travis."

"Hmm," I look up at the screen. The green lines denote the proposed courses of the Atalanta and the red ones mark the Travis. "So how do we pick one? How do we even know either survived the explosion?"

"Good question," Janeway says from behind us. I turn. Janeway is not smiling and she has brought Harry along, whether for moral support or for immoral purposes, I have no idea. "I talked to McArthur and told him that our warp drive is offline. He was rather offended by the very notion that anything could be wrong with Voyager."

"He took our chief engineer," I point out. "We wouldn't have this issue if he hadn't taken B'Elanna."

"That is irrelevant," Seven says perfunctorily. "We can fix the warp core problem without Lieutenant Torres."

This is true; Harry and I are responsible for the warp core problem, so we obviously have the capability of fixing it too.

"McArthur wants me to report to Deep Space Nine immediately," Janeway goes on as if Seven never opened her mouth; this is amazing to me. In the past, Janeway would hang onto Seven's every word; in some instances, it would have been appropriate to build a temple to the collected sayings of Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct to Unimatrix One, so that we all might worship at her altar. "The Campbell is going to rendezvous with us."

Janeway's expression is pensive; I've never seen her like this. Either she is violently protective, staring down aliens with that acutely focused glare of hers, or she is smiling, almost coquettishly, her voice syrupy as she loads on the platitudes.

"We have a change in plans," Janeway says. "There's no point in trying to figure out what shuttle Chakotay and Torres might have been and where it may have gone; there is no time for that now."

"What do you propose?" Harry asks.

"We take the Delta Flyer and go find the Maquis," Janeway says. "McArthur told me back on Starbase 87 that all of the surviving Maquis had been resettled on Alonius Prime."

I brighten immediately. "I launched my last raid from there."

"Your only raid," Harry puts in. I glare at him. No need to relive past ignominies, but Harry is especially good at putting salt in long festering wounds.

"Tom, you and Tuvok will be with me," Janeway says.

"What about the Campbell?" Harry asks.

"You'll think of something," Janeway answers. "I'm leaving you in command, Harry."

Harry blanches; being on gamma shift when the Captain is just a comm signal away is one thing, but now, he'll be alone on Voyager with merely the Borg drone to back him up. It's the opportunity - and the anxiety attack - of his career. At this point, Harry is probably the highest-ranking ensign in all of Starfleet.

"Why are you looking for the Maquis?" Seven asks. Janeway looks up at her with that indulgent grin that is usually reserved for Seven and Seven alone.

"Something Admiral Paris said to me," Janeway says. "I want to find out if it's true. If there is indeed some kind of cover-up and that's the reason why the Federation and Starfleet are both so eager to prosecute the Maquis, then I need to know."

"You saw the records. The Maquis are guilty of many crimes," Seven points out. We all stare at her in disbelief. She offers me a small, rare smile. "I am merely pointing out the facts. The Commander and Lieutenant Torres are guilty of many crimes. They should be subjected to the same laws as everyone else. Reformation of character cannot be a valid defense."

"Remind me not to bring you into the court room with us," Janeway responds.

"Captain," Harry says. "What if...?"

"What?" she is impatient, ready to get going. Once adrenaline starts pumping through Kathryn Janeway's body, it's impossible to slow her down. She'll roll right over you if you don't jump out of the way quickly enough. Poor Harry. Even after seven years, this is one lesson he has yet to absorb.

"What if there is no cover up?" Harry asks.

"I don't think that is the case," Janeway says.

Translation: Janeway refuses to believe that our current situation could be anything but legitimate. I don't blame her. If the odd sequence of events since our return were, in fact, reasonable and lawful, then I think I'd prefer the Delta Quadrant in a heartbeat.

"Tom, get the Flyer ready. I'll meet you and Tuvok in one hour."

She leaves, and Seven, Harry and I exchange uneasy looks.

"Have fun," Harry says weakly.

"This is just what I'm looking forward to," I say. The last time I saw the Maquis, they were ready to sink their teeth into me; hell, some of them would have shot at me without a second thought. In their minds, I ranked just above Cardassians but below the Federation on the totem pole of hatred. "Making friends with the Maquis. Terrific."

"I will continue our work," Seven says, as if there was any doubt at all to her steadfastness and eagerness. I bet she'd go weeks without regenerating, if need be.

I admire her dedication. A couple years ago, we'd have lynched her right out of an airlock for her annoying detachment and cool demeanor. Now, we think differently and even she thinks of us as more than an annoying collective of individuals bent on thwarting her every move.

"Great," I say. "Good luck."

Harry and I exit Astrometrics. Out in the corridor, Harry keeps looking at me furtively, but I don't call him on it. He has something to say, I know, but I'm not sure that I want to hear it. We stop by my quarters and I throw a few things into an overnight pack and then look at Harry.
He offers me a baleful look.

"Be careful out there," he says. "Don't do anything stupid."

"I don't plan on it," I answer. "But circumstances, you never know."

"You never know," Harry agrees. "Especially when someone blows up a starbase on purpose."

I stare at him; the thought has been in the back of my mind from the beginning and I'm sure everyone else has the same suspicion, but has yet to voice it. I swallow hard.

"It could be murder," Harry continues, his voice soft. "Something to do with Chakotay and B'Elanna, you know - murder them before they have the chance to speak and do it so spectacularly that there are no questions."

I clear my throat.

"They're not dead, Harry."

"I'm just telling you how I see it."

"I hope you're wrong."

"You know I'm not."

We walk in silence to the shuttlebay. Once there, Harry punches my shoulder good ol' boy fashioned in a gesture of support.

"Good luck," he says blandly. He offers me a weak smile, but it does little to ease the tension already manifesting in my muscles. The prior mention of murder makes me uneasy and I'm wondering if Harry's right, that if inadvertently, the pieces are already there. A scheme from years ago, the key players either dead or missing, and an elaborate murder plot masked as a reactor core meltdown. I bite my lip.

There is hope though; someone knew what was happening, someone had asked that the Maquis be evacuated - someone who did not want to be identified because...

I look at Harry.

"It's in the order," I tell him urgently. "Tell Seven to forget about possible routes of shuttlecraft, it's not important. Whoever ordered the release of the Maquis knew that the station was going to explode, knew that they wouldn't be evacuated..."

Harry's eyes are wide with comprehension and I know he's thinking about those white-suited workers who lost their lives in the explosion. My thoughts drift to my father and I wonder if anyone had taken the time to notify him or whether he decided to play the hero to the very last moment, staying until the station had been evacuated to his satisfaction.

"I'll tell Seven," Harry promises. By now Janeway and Tuvok have joined us. Janeway gives Harry the once over, her lips quirking up in a mixture of sadness and pride; it is doubtful she will return to Voyager after this trip. Hell, after this, it's doubtful any of us will still have careers in Starfleet.

There's sure to be a court martial waiting for us with open arms in San Francisco.

At the risk of sinking deeper into cynicism, what's another court martial? Really, once you've got one under your belt, the novelty wears off.

Of course, I can't say the same for Harry or the others, but it's no matter – I'll help them through it, if it ever comes to that. I'm a pro at handling trouble.

"I'll take care of Voyager," Harry tells the Captain in his most sincere and earnest tone. She nods.

"I know you will," she clutches at his shoulder briefly and then looks at Tuvok and me. "Let's go, gentlemen. We don't have a lot of time."


We're halfway up the hill when I realize Jessup is breathing heavily. I turn to look at him directly, noting that he is quite red in the face.

"You're tired," I observe.

"I can keep up," he pants. "You're not even winded."

"I tried to keep in shape. Klingon exercise programs."

"That's surprising. Didn't think you liked that stuff."

"I don't, but somehow, no matter what I did, it'd come back to haunt me."

"Yeah?" Jessup pauses and leans against a tree. "Want some water?"

"No thanks."

It is almost midday. The sun is a distant, fuzzy halo in the gray-white sky and there is the barest hint of a breeze. It's not unpleasant weather if you keep moving, I realize, and the peacefulness of the scenery, the cleanness of the air - in some ways, I can understand what
Chakotay was saying earlier.

"How did you get used to being here?" I ask as Jessup takes a swig of his water bottle.

"I guess each day you wake up and go to sleep, it grows on you."

"Chakotay was talking about wanting to stay here forever."

"Yeah, we were talking about that at breakfast." Jessup puts the bottle back into his pack and nods, indicating we can keep going. Instead of powering up ahead of him, I drift by his side.

"What specifically?" I ask.

"I think it was all of us," Jessup shrugs. "Nostalgia has a way of acting on people sometimes. You know, B'Elanna, we all went through some tough times as Maquis and there are things that happened that no one else could possibly understand except for another Maquis. When you find that instant understanding, it's hard to let go."

I nod. "I know what you mean."

Jessup says, "We're a family."

Ah, the familiar refrain - the one where we all sit around and moan about how no one wants us. It gets tiring after a while.

I slap my arm as a bug sinks its teeth, or whatever they are called, into my sink.

"Your insects are the size of small shuttles," I observe.

"Lovely, aren't they?" Jessup says. "Some of them are infectious."


Jessup looks at my forearm; already a red welt is forming on the skin. It's a beauty, if I say so myself.

"Let me put something on that," he says. He opens up the medkit and quickly applies a salve to my skin. "This should help with the itch."


"You're welcome."

I push some branches aside and wait for Jessup to pass me.

"It's nice for the Federation to make a path for us," I note sardonically.

"Actually, it's a stream bed," Jessup says. "There's nothing nice about it. B'Elanna, tell me about the Borg."

I stiffen, and he notices.

"Of course you don't have to if you don't want to," he says hastily. "I was just curious."

"I assimilated people," I wait for him to react but he simply nods.

"I don't suppose that's any worse then pointing a phaser at someone and shooting," he says. "We did that a lot in the Maquis and I don't think either of us lost any sleep over it."

"That was different."


"They weren't innocent."

"How do you know?" Jessup puts his hand on my forearm. "B'Elanna, we hit military outposts, but we also hit quite a few settlements. Innocent people died. You know that as well as I do."

"You're wrong," I say stubbornly, shaking my arm free of his grip. "You don't know what you're saying."

"It's true," Jessup says. "I remember the B'Elanna Torres of seven years ago. You could walk into any Cardassian outpost and take on five soldiers without even blinking. That's the kind of person you were, B'Elanna. I saw you; you would step over the bodies and not even notice what you were doing. And when we analyzed the raids, we always did it in terms of body count and that didn't seem to bother you."

"Maybe it should have," I say.

"Why?" Jessup is now two steps ahead of me, so he twists around slightly to aim the question back at me. "You had a cause, believed what you were doing. How was that any different when you were assimilated? I assume you believed in something when you volunteered to go along."

"We had to release a virus," I say. "It would mean ending the Borg dominance in the Delta Quadrant as we knew it; perhaps, eradicate the threat all together."

"How is that any more or less honorable than what we did as Maquis?"

He has a point, much as I hate to concede it. And he is right; during some of our raids, we did go hand to hand with Cardassians and on one occasion, with Starfleet personnel. These memories are rose-tinged in my mind, merely triumphs to be remembered with no cause to recall my bloody hands or the muscles spasms that came when a phaser rifle fired.

"Remember the Malinche?" Jessup's voice is low. "I do."

Distorted images come immediately to mind; smoke everywhere, faces blurred, lips moving, but the sounds coming from somewhere else. And then I recall turning a corner and seeing an ensign, young, a fresh graduate, dressed in blue. Science. He looked at me, his eyes wide with fear, his hands up, palms facing me. And he said my name, softly, "B'Elanna Torres?"

And because it was not a time to stop and reminiscence, not a time to think who he might be or where we might have met, I raised my rifle and fired. He fell to the ground, his eyes still open, fixated on me. I stopped only to close his eyelids and then stepped over his body, not even contemplating what I had just done. I had only one thought and that was to get to Engineering, sabotage the warp core, and get the hell out of there.

"Yes," I whisper. "I remember."

"How about Nerok Tor?"

Nerok Tor, that Cardassian hell hole; a thickly walled compound, surrounded by the very latest in Cardassian death technology. Damn those reptiles were good at killing, maiming; their singular methods of dispatchment were sterile, relatively painless and entirely too tidy, leaving no blood or cellular residue behind.

Yet, here we were in the middle of the night, lying on our stomachs as rain pounded down on our backs. We were hungry, hadn't eaten in over twenty-six hours, and we were cold. Yet, we lay there, waiting for the inevitable change of guard, for those thirty seconds when Cardassian backs were turned and we could make our move.

Chakotay gave the order to move out and slowly, we emerged from the shadows, crawling forward. The first guard we took out with a quick and quiet knife to the throat; I did not feel anything when red first stained the Cardassian's dull gray skin. We entered the compound, phaser rifles fully charged, sharpened knives in our boots, and an additional hand phaser attached to our belts. We took each guard quietly, using the knife when possible and occasionally, the phaser, if need be.

According to the plans Chakotay had lifted from an inebriated Cardassian guard, the medical supplies were in the building furthest from the main gate. We donned our gas masks and Chakotay released the biogenic bomb. We flattened ourselves against the wall, watching as thick-bodied Cardassians fell, their eyes bleeding and all of them screaming. We waited patiently until the courtyard filled with corpses and then we moved. I led the way, leaving Chakotay and Chell to cover for Ayala, McKenzie and myself.

"This way," I pointed, and we ran. Ayala and McKenzie entered the storage room and began to stock their bags. I did not have to tell them to hurry; it would only be a few minutes before Cardassian troops caught wind of what was going on and then we would be as dead as those Cardassians in the courtyard. It was then I saw the boy. He was small for a Cardassian, but his eyes were enormous, intelligent, and he was standing in the doorway, pointing a disrupter at me.

"B'Elanna," McKenzie said quietly, her hand on my shoulder. "He's just a boy."

"He's one of them," my voice was shaking.

"Please," Ayala held up a hand. "Put your weapon down."

"We won't hurt you," I added.

The boy's hand trembled, but he aimed and fired. We ducked as debris rained down from us. And without really thinking, I pointed my own weapon. The boy fell, the disrupter falling from his lifeless hand.

"He would have killed us," I told Mariah.

"I know," McKenzie replied. "Let's go."

I suppose it was easy back then to become so jaded, to not care about anything at all. We Maquis were so good at not feeling a thing, at numbing our senses. We wore our disenchantment close to our skin, flaunting our bitterness and reveling in our anger. We talked about our families detachedly, alternating between sadness and smoldering rage. We mourned our friends with passion and each time we moved into position, aiming for that soft spot between a Cardassian's eye ridges, we immortalized the sacrifices of our dead.

Jessup is right; there is no difference between what I did seven years ago to what I did only five months ago.

More importantly, he is bringing me to an inevitable conclusion: you can't choose to have a conscience after the fact.

Part IX ****

The thing I hate most about away missions is that eventually, you run out of things to say. In fact, sometimes, you never had anything to say in the first place, and then there is the awkward silence, as if everyone's jaw is paralyzed into silence - afraid of saying the wrong or stupid thing just to fill up the quiet so that it's not so obvious.

I've never had much to say to Tuvok; he's known for many things, but his conversational skills are not among his career highlights. As for Janeway, we are still in that fandango mode, triple time rhythmic dancing around what needs to be said and what must be avoided at all costs.

Tuvok doesn't mind the silence. He is uncommonly devoted to his PADD, scrolling through the obscurities of Federation law; I imagine he will get his day in court soon.

Janeway is sitting behind me, acting as co-pilot. I can imagine her expression - thin-lipped, narrowed eyes, tight jawbone.

And because there is nothing in front of me but endless space with nary a meteorite shower to spice things up, I put on the autopilot and lean back in my chair. I close my eyes, a deliberate move to ward off any conversation Janeway and Tuvok may start.

And in stillness, my thoughts drift, invariably, to B'Elanna.

The first time I met B'Elanna, she had this expression... as if she had just eaten something very bad. Her lips curled up and her eyes narrowed as she took my stock, and believe me, she raked me over the coals with that look. We were in a cave, apparently, one of the nicer ones available to the Maquis, I learned later, but at the time, I thought it dismal: damp walls, musty smelling and chilly even for me.

"And you are?" she asked coolly as she circled around me.

"Tom Paris, at your service," I said, offering her my most pleasant, most charming smile. "And you are?"

I learned then that B'Elanna didn't answer question; she asked them.

"And you came from where?" she asked.

"Depends on how literal you want to get."

"I'll settle for something close to the real story."

"Got drummed out of Starfleet," I said. "I had an incident."

"An incident?" she said the word as if it were four-lettered. "How did you find us?"

"You Maquis aren't exactly the most subtle people in the galaxy, you know," I said. "You might as well wear a klaxon on your back."

B'Elanna didn't like that answer; she slapped me. I rubbed my cheek thoughtfully.

"Try again," she said. She curled her upper lip back, revealing the sharpest row of teeth I'd ever seen before.

"I asked around," I shrugged. "Someone, I didn't get his name, said if I waited out here, someone would be by shortly. I guess that's you?"

B'Elanna glared at me and for a moment I was afraid that she would reduce me to a pile of ashes; at the very least, the fire in her eyes had the potential to turn me into a soprano.

"What do you do?" she barked.

"Is this an interrogation?"

"You think we just let people walk right in? How do I know you're not a spy?"

"Do I look like a spy?"

"You certainly don't look like much."

I looked at B'Elanna then, evaluating the half-Klingon for the first time. She was tiny, but somehow her presence seemed to fill the cave, her voice echoing through the caverns. I had no doubt that she could easily kick me across the floor, leave me bruised and bloodied, and not break a sweat.

"I could say the same about you," I said easily. I turned my brightest smile on, just for her, but B'Elanna was singularly unappreciative.

"What do you do?" B'Elanna repeated.

"I'm a pilot. I fly."

"Are you any good?"

"I'm the best."

"Will there be room at the helm for both you and your ego?"

"I don't need this," I held up my hand. "Look, I know you guys have a tough battle on your hands. I'm offering my help but I don't need this. I can walk out of here and you lose a good pilot. Your choice."

B'Elanna crossed her arms across her chest.

"Is that so?" she asked. "That's your last word?"


"Fine," she shrugged. "Nice meeting you."

She turned on her heel and took a few steps forward into the darkness. For a moment, I was tempted to run after her, grab her arm, because I was truly amazed that she would not stop me.

"You're going?" I asked, trying to preserve at least a modicum of dignity.

"You said yourself you didn't need this," B'Elanna replied smoothly. "We're not in the business of attitudes, Mr. Paris. We need dedicated fighters. We're not a charity for when you get kicked out of Starfleet."

Later on, when we were on Voyager, I would call B'Elanna on this statement of hers, asking if she hadn't done the same thing as me - running away to the Maquis, but she protested, saying that because Chakotay recruited her, it wasn't the same thing.

At least her motives had been semi-pure; I simply didn't have the money to pay my bar tab and I wanted to fly.

And I was watching my last opportunity to resolve both situations walk away from me.

"Fine," I said. "I don't have anywhere to go and I want to fly."

"At least now you're being honest," she walked back to me. "Come with me."

She led me into the bowels of the cave, picking her way through the darkness easily. I kept one hand on her shoulder the entire time, wondering if we would get lost down here. I had nightmarish visions of wandering beneath the surface of the planet forever and maybe one day, someone would find our skeletons scattered among the smooth-faced rocks.

"How do you know where we're going?" I asked.

"We have our ways," B'Elanna said.

"I get it. You don't trust me yet."

"I just met you thirty minutes ago. Give me a few years and then we'll talk."

I noticed then that B'Elanna kept her hand on the walls and I assumed that she was finding the correct path. After walking for what seemed like an interminable time, I noted a faint golden glow.

"Don't speak," B'Elanna instructed. "If you want to live, you'll keep your mouth shut."


"Shut up."

We entered a large cavern, crowded with people, and the air thick with sweat and other smells that were not so pleasant. Voices immediately quieted as we entered and Chakotay, followed by Seska, was the first to greet us.

"Who is this?" Chakotay asked.

"Tom Paris," B'Elanna said with a snort. "He's a pilot."

"Where did you find him?"

"On the surface. He was waiting by the cave entrance."


"I thought so."

I quirked a smile at Seska but she shot daggers in my direction.

"You Starfleet?" Chakotay asked me.

"You're talking to me now?" I queried.

"You can always find your own way now, can't you?" B'Elanna asked silkily.

"Yes," I said to Chakotay, pointedly ignoring the petite woman at my elbow. "Formerly Starfleet. I ran into a little problem."

"You said incident earlier. If you're going to stay, you better get your story straight,"
B'Elanna said.

"Incident, problem, same thing," I told her. "It was a shuttle accident."

"You just said you were the best pilot we could find."

"I am. It was a stupid accident, shouldn't have happened, but there you have it. It did and I got cashiered out. Any questions?"

Chakotay looked at Seska and she shrugged. Even then, I noticed her proprietary hand on Chakotay's forearm and the way she seemed to sneer at B'Elanna; B'Elanna, for her part, barely looked at Seska.

"Where?" Chakotay asked in a low voice.

"Caldik Prime."

"Come with me," Seska said. She let go of Chakotay's arm to take mine. "If you're lying, we'll do exactly what B'Elanna said earlier. You'll find your own way out."

"You're not exactly the sympathetic kind, are you?" I asked. "You or... B'Elanna?"

Seska stared at me, her expression one of utter disbelief.

"There aren't many who are sympathetic to us. Forgive us if you don't find us reciprocating a sentiment that we don't necessarily get," she said.

"Where are we going?"

"Back here," Seska nodded towards a quiet corner. "I'll get you a blanket and then you can see Ayala for food. It gets cold down here so we try to keep the fires going all night, but sometime they go out; deal with it. We don't necessarily sleep regular hours and we move fast. We've been here for two months, but the Federation is good at sniffing us out. You dawdle, you get left behind. You don't help out, you get left behind. Is that clear?"

"You don't mince words," I observed. "And neither does she."

I looked at B'Elanna and Chakotay, their heads tipped close together. Once, B'Elanna motioned towards in our direction, so I knew they were talking about me.

"So do I get to stay?" I asked.

"Depends on him," Seska said. "Chakotay. He leads this cell."

"They're close, aren't they?"

"Who?" Seska's tone was sharp as she pushed a blanket into my arms. "Don't lose the blanket. It's the only one you're going to get. This isn't Starfleet where irresponsibility is acceptable."

"So I'm learning."

Seska then brought me to Ayala who looked up at me with an expression of lightly veiled disgust.

"I know you," he said in a low voice. "Tom Paris. You were at the Academy when I was there. Surprised they let you stay after you got expelled. Did your father get you back in?"

"Who is your father?" Seska asked, her voice taut with dangerous undertones.

"He's an admiral," Ayala said. "You'd better watch this one, Seska. Wouldn't trust him a bit."

"Why do you say that?" Chakotay asked from behind us.

Ayala shrugged, not giving any weight to the accusation he had just made. I offered him a scowl in return for his troubles. B'Elanna circled behind Ayala so that we were looking directly at each other.

"Don't worry, Michael," B'Elanna said evenly. "This one is mine."

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