It happened because I was not paying attention. One misstep and I am on the ground, clutching my ankle. I curse, loudly and in Klingon, as Jessup stands over me.
"Was lost in thought," I gasp. "Wasn't paying attention. Thinking about that raid, the one on Nerok Tor."
Jessup kneels and opens up the medkit. The tricorder, rudimentary as it is, shows I am now the proud owner of a broken ankle. The cause of the fall? A shallow hole, obscured by soggy leaves.
"How are we from the generator?" I gasp as Jessup presses a hypospray against my neck.
"Not far. Five hundred meters."
"I can do it."
"You'll cause more damage. Let me go back and get the osteo-regengerator."
"There isn't one in there?" I ask.
"We took it out, remember? So you could put other tools you needed in there?"
I look up at the sky, a small patch of it visible through the leafy canopy. The ground is wet, moisture seeping through my clothing.
"B'Elanna, let me get help," Jessup says.
"Get me to the generator and then you can go."
"I'm serious," I tell him. "Help me up."
Jessup puts his arms beneath my armpits and I lean on him, putting most of my weight on my good right leg. For a moment, I steady myself against Jessup, and then I loop my arm around his shoulder.
"How do you feel?" he asks.
"Much better now that you gave me that painkiller," I answer. "Let's move."
We hobble slowly through the forest and at point, Jessup chuckles.
"You haven't changed, B'Elanna, not a bit," he says.
"What are you talking about?" I gasp.
"I never knew anyone so contrary."
I tighten my grip on his shoulder as he helps me over a fallen log.
"We're almost there," Jessup says. "Yes, you have always been contrary, always doing those things that put you most in danger, even when better sense and experience would tell you otherwise."
"Give me an example," I challenge.
"There are so many, I don't know where to start."
"That's because you can't remember."
that's what you are," Jessup laughs again. "But that's what so wonderful
B'Elanna. You don't ever give up."
"jeghbe' tlhInganpu'," I say with feeling.
"What?" Jessup asks.
"Something my grandmother would say."
"Ah, your grandmother. A wise woman she was," Jessup says. "Honorary mascot of the Maquis, wasn't she? Always one of her proverbs on the tip of your tongue. What does that one mean?"
"'Klingons don't surrender'," I answer.
"Don't I know it," Jessup offers me his first grin of our rather strenuous outing.
We see the small facility that the Federation has set up in front of us. It consists of a low, pre-fabricated structure and several small round cylinders.
"Force field?" I ask.
"Trusting, aren't they?"
"You could put it that way."
The door to the building is locked but I immediately remedy the problem by taking a laser scalpel to the control panel and severing the control mechanism. I reroute a couple wires and the doors slides open.
"Nice trick," Jessup says.
"Tom taught me."
Jessup says nothing, but helps me into the building.
"I'm going to head back," he says. "I'll get the regenerator and get someone else to help me bring you back. You should be fine here."
"I'll be back in two hours."
I'm secretly relieved that Jessup is gone. He seems friendly enough, unambitious for anything more than friendship, but it is always awkward to be reunited with someone you may have had feelings for once. I use "may" as a disclaimer because I did not necessarily feel a strong emotion for Jessup. I saw him mostly as a quick fix, someone I could toss onto the bed and in five minutes, feel satisfied. Heartless, yes, but believe me, when I saw Chakotay touch Seska's cheek, my heartlessness towards Jessup was better than the despair and anger I felt over Chakotay's relationship with Seska.
Call me jealous but that was how it was.
I haul myself over to the field generator, very glad that it is a standard Starfleet design, uncomplicated and unburdened by various modifications. It hums loudly, generating a rather annoying "zzz" sound, but it makes no fuss as I pry open the front and start examining the circuitry inside.
Initially, I had planned to use my communicator to send a voice message, but now I feel that it will be too risky to do so; background noise will be less noticeable.
It takes no time at all to disrupt the field and send the modulated pulse. It's a quick burst, a Morse code signal that I know both Tom and Harry - from their endless hours playing Captain Proton - will recognize. Thirty seconds is all I allow before I remodulate dampening field and bring it back online. And I fervently hope that the powers that be, those almighty Federation authorities with their booming voices and puffed-out chests, were not aiming their sensors in our direction during those thirty seconds.
More importantly, I hope Voyager is out there, looking for us.
My arm throbs from the insect bite I had received earlier. I pull up my sleeve and note the swelling with disinterest. I haul over the medkit and put some more of the cream on the inflamed area in a futile attempt to stop the allergic reaction.
I lean back against the wall, taking a quick survey of my surroundings. There are two field generators in the room, all that are necessary to power the Maquis colony and keep the dampening field active. There are no communications panels, which makes me wonder how the Federation authorities keep in touch with the Maquis.
Already my head spins and I feel hot, incredibly hot.
"Come on, B'Elanna," I say out-loud, trying to shake the overwhelming sense of drowsiness that threatens to take over. I pack up the medkit in an attempt to do anything.
I am tired, exhausted from the trek up here and feeling drowsy from the painkillers Jessup injected into my system. I lay down on the floor, resting my cheek on folded hands, and drift to sleep.
I wake, it's dark. I shiver and drag myself to the open door. The stars, in
all of their pin-prick glory, are visible, and I can see the crescent glow of
Alonius' only moon. My eyes are heavy with sleep, and exhaustion seems to be
holding all of my muscles hostage. I close my eyes,
take a deep breath.
"Come on, B'Elanna," I say out-loud. "You can do it."
My ankle is throbbing but I haul myself up anyway, leaning on the wall for support, and then I hop outside. It is sprinkling. I take a couple tentative steps before I fall down, nearly landing on my face.
I roll onto my back and stare up at the sky, wondering where Jessup is. He wouldn't leave me here, I'm sure of it, but his absence is telling and I wonder, fearfully, if something happened while I was sleeping.
There are all sorts of noises emitting from the forests, all sorts of strange and wild creatures, all of them hungry, all of them passionate for something.
Waiting is not something I'm good at. In fact, I chafe at sitting around, and so I crawl back to the shelter and retrieve the medkit. There is still some painkiller, so I inject myself, and then pull myself to my feet.
The ankle hurts.
But it is nothing compared to the injuries I received when I would throw myself out of a shuttlecraft or when I would fight endless battle lines of Klingon heroes, legendary and epic both. I would bleed then, and I would collapse, on the floor of the holodeck, reveling in pain and wanting pain to stay with me, so that I could feel the very life draining out of me.
I kept Tom out of the picture purposely because I knew he would try to stop me and when he would plan dates, I would somehow have a Level Five diagnostic already planned down in Engineering.
When he stopped by my quarters, I would pretend to sleep, and when he booked holodeck time, I was recalibrating long-range scanners or improving helm efficiency.
Once or twice, I went to Tom for help in healing the wounds I gave myself and he would fix me up, his lips pressed into a tight line, and always, he would admonish me to be careful the next time.
I can only guess at the direction of the settlement, so I plug a relative direction into the tricorder, and follow its chirping directions. Occasionally, it squeals loudly to prevent me from going the wrong way.
But it's dark, raining, and the shadows are everywhere; the noises get louder and my mind jumps to conclusions.
Here in the wilderness, I have nothing, not even a stick to hit a curious animal over the head with.
I am truly alone.
And for the first time in years, I feel an emotion unsettlingly similar to fear.
Part X ****
I can't remember a time when I didn't find B'Elanna utterly and completely fascinating; I say that with the benefit of hindsight, memories clouded by emotion.
Despite her threat to keep an eye on me, B'Elanna rarely spoke to me during my short time in the Maquis, but that didn't mean I wasn't watching her with something close to desperation.
She was a firebrand then, willful and fiery, and sparks seemed to fly in her wake. She didn't make an attempt to spare feelings and her orders were barked out efficiently and without regard to tone or context.
I would watch B'Elanna, secretly envious of her relationship with Chakotay, and at the same time, longing for her to even cast one look in my direction. Don't think it was lust or romantic feeling back then, because it wasn't; simply put, B'Elanna wasn't my type.
The women I'd been involved with in the past had all been tall, leggy, blond, bubbling with charm, soft-spoken and overflowing with womanly mystique; B'Elanna was petite, muscular, her wavy black hair chopped haphazardly in an upside-down bowl shape, making those Klingon ridges more prominent on her forehead.
But I wanted B'Elanna's attention for the pure reason that in her eyes, I did not exist, and that... startled me. I'd never known a woman who could walk past me and not look.
In a phrase, I was wounded, my manly pride devastated by a Maquis engineer who seemed to lust more over mechanical parts than flesh and blood.
And that's not to say the silent treatment I received was from B'Elanna and B'Elanna only; the other Maquis seemed to place me on the same level as the ubiquitous cockroach, occasionally talking to me, but often in a snide tone.
I had only been with the Maquis three days before I started regretting my decision to join up. I had hoped they would find my piloting skills useful and that they would welcome me with open arms. Damn, reality hurt.
There would be meetings, short huddles, invariably with Chakotay leading in his calm, quiet voice with B'Elanna occasionally interjecting a Klingon epithet or two. Seska was never quiet, especially when B'Elanna had anything other than "yes" o "no" to say; the fireworks between the two of them fascinated me and I often wondered if B'Elanna's feelings for Chakotay extended to something beyond friendship.
And of course, this was all speculation; the Maquis didn't, as a rule, have much fun. I think they were too cold, too tired, too stressed - I say that in retrospect - but at the time, I thought they were all sanctimonious little prigs.
Chakotay seemed to be the only one with the patience to deal with me and even then, he was wary, not really sharing much information with me or asking my opinion. Once, he asked me to accompany him to the surface.
"I hear some Starfleet officers are here on shoreleave," he said. "I know where they go and I'd like you to come."
"What do you plan to do? Set a bomb?"
"We don't work like that, Mr. Paris. We're not assassins."
"That would be a matter of perspective, of course."
Chakotay looked at me thoughtfully, his dark eyes narrowing.
who you ask," I continued, not necessarily caring about Chakotay's darkening
you might guess, I didn't go much for self-preservation in those days. Women, drink, flying - those were my priorities and at this particular moment in time, I was getting none of those.
"You're taking him?" B'Elanna's voice was shrill in my ear. I turned to see an angry half-Klingon - though, in those days, B'Elanna was always angry - arms akimbo.
"If his father's an admiral, it gives him a certain advantage," Chakotay explained. "He can make contact in a way that we cannot."
"How do you know he won't betray us?"
said yourself you'd make sure of it," Chakotay was smiling now, but there
was no warmth
"You could take Chell, Gerron, Mariah," B'Elanna said. "You don't need him."
"If he's going to be any good to us, this is the time."
stared at me, and I could read her body language immediately; mess this one
up, she seemed to be saying, and you'll be wearing my bat'leth as a belt - permanently.
So I gave B'Elanna my best, my most seductive and charming smile, the one I
perfected at Sandrine's when I was plying some gorgeous woman with alcohol.
Maybe I expected B'Elanna to melt in a pile of goo
at my feet - that would have been nice - but instead, she turned and marched away.
"Angry one, isn't she?" I asked a bit later when Chakotay and I emerged into bright sunlight. I blinked a few times, trying to clear the spots from my vision and adjust to the fresh air. It smelled wonderful out here in the open, away from the musty gym-socks smell of the Maquis cave.
"Angry is a relative state of being," Chakotay said with equanimity. "Without anger, I doubt any of us would be here."
He then pointed me in the direction of the local hangout.
"You're sending me alone?" I asked.
"You want to be one of us, prove it," Chakotay said. He then turned and left me there.
I walked into town, feeling very conspicuous. I wondered if this was an elaborate set-up, one designed to leave me behind. In a way, it would not have been unwelcome for the Maquis to simply turn their backs on me.
In addition, Chakotay had not made clear what he wanted from me. But I couldn't complain; he, at least, was talking to me, which was more than I could say for the other members of the Maquis, including B'Elanna.
The hangout was lousy with Starfleet; apparently, a transport with medical supplies was in orbit, and the Captain had been kind enough to give his space-sick claustrophobic minions a short vacation.
A group of crewmen were gathered around a table, playing a variation of pool.
"Mind if I join in?" I asked one red-suited Bolian.
"You got the cash?" he asked. "We're playing for money."
"I've got some," I lied.
"Cue up then," the Bolian said. "I'm Reike."
"Tom Paris." Reike handed me a stick. "Caldik Prime?"
"That would be me."
"What are you doing here?" Reike shuffled the balls on the table and arranged them in a circle formation. "Seems a little far out of the way, isn't it?"
"You land where you land," I answered carelessly.
We played in silence for the next ten minutes, each of us landing our respective balls into the appropriate pockets. Reike was good, and for a moment, I wondered if he too had taken advantage of lessons from the proprietor of Sandrine's.
"What brings you to these parts?" I asked casually.
"Couple things," Reike said, never taking his eyes off of the ball. "Medical supplies to a settlement. They've got an outbreak of the ghasa virus."
"Terrible way to go. You bleed to death, literally. Your organs disintegrate."
"So which outpost?"
"You ask a lot of questions."
"It's not often I get to talk to someone from home," I told him. "Forgive my curiosity."
"Ah," I said.
We finished the game, with Reike the winner. I slapped him on the back heartily and then indicated the bar. When I dug into my pockets for money that I did not have, he shook his head.
worry about it, Paris," he said. "You've got more to worry about than
a gambling debt."
In a way, that left-handed way of letting me off the hook was probably the nicest thing anyone had done for me in a really long time.
"Let me buy you a drink then," I said. "The real stuff. None of this Starfleet synthesized stuff."
"I could like you, Tom Paris," he said.
I ordered two drinks and passed the glass, filled with amber colored liquid, to Reike.
"You said you were here for something else too," I said. "Shoreleave?"
"No, the Maquis."
"The Maquis?" I feigned ignorance.
"We think they're here. Have you heard anything?"
I shook my head. "Sorry, no. I just got here myself and believe me, no one wants to give me the time of day. I introduce myself and they turn away. It's amazing how one's reputation gets around. And frankly, not all of it is true."
"But Caldik Prime, that is true?"
"Yes," I stared into beverage. "It is."
Reike looked sympathetic, caring, and I was amazed at how much I appreciated that. I hadn't talked about Caldik Prime with anyone really, except for at the hearing, and even then it had been just the facts, straight and unemotional. No one, including my father, had looked me in the eye and asked, "How do you feel, Tom?"
Because they portrayed me in all of the news accounts as a carefree daredevil pilot with absolutely no concerns, I did my best to live up to that image; hell, that charming shiny veneer the press claimed I had, well, it was a lot better than the tangle of nerves and stomach acid I had become.
"That's tough," Reike said.
We finished our drinks and I ordered more. I didn't think about how I was going to pay for all of these drinks, only cared that I was finally washing some warmth down my throat and the tension was easing from muscles. It felt good to get that slightly fuzzy feeling, that sense of distortion. I don't remember what Reike and I talked about, only that I had forgotten why I had come in the first place.
are you doing out here?" Reike's words were slightly slurred, his voice
necessary. "You never said."
"Taking odd jobs," I answered. "Pilot, you know. Always work available. Hauling freight, running supplies to the border colonies - there's always something."
"Must be fun. Beats Starfleet. I bet your father is upset."
"Yeah," I said, and suddenly this conversation wasn't fun anymore. When I stared at the bottom of my glass, I saw my father's face - his thinning white hair on a round, red-cheeked face with the blue eyes so like my own. "Upset would be an understatement."
"Tough," Reike said, slamming his glass down for emphasis. "Glad I'm not you."
I don't think he knew what he said and he certainly didn't know how close I had been to crashing my own shuttle into the side of a mountain in an attempt to find something in life that didn't revolve around alcohol or women.
See? I wasn't so shallow. I knew I was washed up, knew I was squandering my life away, knew all of that. Hell, everyone was hitting me over the head with Caldik Prime and the millions of other mistakes I had made during the quarter century I'd been alive; I might as well validate their disappointment in me by ending my life as irresponsibly as I had lived it.
And I might have actually done it that day if fate hadn't conspired against me, if Chakotay hadn't shown up then.
pulled me off of my chair, disgust very evident on his normally calm face.
Chakotay said nothing, but I had a feeling he paid off the bar tab, and then, he took me by the arm and led me back outside.
We did not talk all the way back to the cave and I sensed that my Maquis days were coming to an end. We descended into the darkness and when we came into the main cavern, I noticed that everyone with the exception of B'Elanna and Seska, were gone. Supplies, everything, packed and efficiently hauled away during my absence.
There was one chair remaining and Chakotay pushed me down into it. My head was spinning and I didn't particularly care; I supposed they were going to leave me here and because I felt so sorry for myself, I would just die here, rotting in my own sweat and vomit.
"He's drunk," B'Elanna's voice dripped with disgust.
"Get him some water," Chakotay ordered. Seska crouched in front of me, cupping my chin in her cold hand.
"What did you tell them?" she whispered.
"Nothing, I swear."
"Alcohol loosens tongues. Tell me. Believe me, I will be kinder to you than Chakotay or B'Elanna will be."
"I said nothing."
"Then what did you find out?"
"The ghasa virus is on Alonius Prime," I said. "Starfleet knows the Maquis are here."
"You were right," Seska turned to face Chakotay. "We did overstay our welcome."
"If Mr. Paris could find us so easily..." B'Elanna said. She handed me a glass of water, and I was amazed that she didn't simply throw it in my face; I knew by her expression that she certainly wanted to.
"Let's get out of here," Seska said. "We've waited too long."
"Right," B'Elanna concurred. It was a rare moment of agreement for those two, and they both looked at Chakotay for confirmation. He nodded.
"Go ahead," he said. "Give me a minute with Mr. Paris."
The two women slung packs over their shoulders - heavy, I could tell - and disappeared into the darkness. Chakotay put his hand on my shoulder as he stared down at me; there was something curiously fatherly about his expression, but the parallels stopped there. He was not happy with me, that much I could tell, and for the life of me, I couldn't tell why.
do that again, Mr. Paris, and I will personally hand you over to Starfleet,"
he said in a low voice. "There is no room for error. You do not get drunk.
The risks are too great. Do you
"Anything you say." My words were slurred. Chakotay glared at me and then hauled me to my feet.
"Let's go," he said. "B'Elanna was right. I shouldn't have trusted you."
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