Author's notes: My thanks to Rocky and jemima for the betaing this story. Set before "Caretaker".
Disclaimer: Characters and places belong to Paramount
Even in solitary, I can't get away from the smell.
I noticed the miasma of sweat and mildew from the minute I walked into the penal colony and the stink combined with the gray brick walls reminded me of the locker room at Starfleet Academy. I shouldn't complain though. In theory, I have special status, though I use the word 'special' very loosely, so I get the courtyard to myself during the exercise period. I also have my own cell, a 3 meter by 5 meter space, furnished with a cot, a desk and a chair. Being Admiral Paris' son didn't earn me any bonus points during my court martial or my subsequent trial for treason, but boy, here in prison, it's certainly paying off.
Today is Wednesday. I've been in solitary for four days. My special status, didn't prevent me from being dragged out of the mess hall and down here after the fight with Ahab. I insisted he threw the first punch, but the guards didn't seem to listen or care, for that matter. They stood on either side of me, each of them gripping my forearm and one of them even had the nerve to keep his hand on the butt of his phaser the entire trip down to the solitary wing.
"After a few days down here you'll think twice before starting a fight, Paris," the phaser-gripping guard said as he shut the door. Oh, yeah, that's the main difference between the main cell block I call home and here: doors. Other than that, solitary cells look very much like the regular ones. The one window is small and narrow, about three meters off the ground, making it impossible for me to see out. The walls are thick, and with the exception of the guard who brought my meals three times a day, I see and talk to no one.
I didn't mind the silence at first, but on the second day, Singer -- the lieutenant who processed my paperwork when I first got here -- stopped by with some of my personal effects, including this journal. Considering the coldness with which she's treated me with since day one, I was surprised to see Singer down here.
"Commander MacKenzie thought it would be a good idea if you kept a journal while you were down here," she said, putting the PADD and some other items on the desk. There was a noticeable chill in here voice, but I didn't care.
"Thanks," I said. "Did she say anything else?" Considering I'd walked out on MacKenzie in our last session, I wasn't too invested in what she had to say, but I wanted to hear Singer's answer.
But true to form, Singer displayed her usual disconnect with reality. "Dinner is at 01800." The door clanged loudly behind her. I sat down on the bed and stared at the PADD. I had never been the type to keep a journal, and even at the Academy, I'd been lax about maintaining the required logs. But in solitary, there's nothing to do and no one to talk to.
"Okay, Commander," I said out-loud, and my voice bounced eerily off the walls. "You win. This time."
I arrived in New Zealand on a Tuesday. Funny the details you remember when you have all the time in the world to think about the history you've written. In reality, it was a beautiful day, clear blue skies, light breeze, no clouds, but I prefer to think of it as gray, dismal and rainy. I kind of like the idea of shuffling into prison soaking wet, bedraggled -- the stuff of a 20th century movie. In fact, all the way over to New Zealand, I kept imagining a primitive prison cell, with chains on the stone walls, bars on the windows, and the plaintive cries of prisons echoing through the air.
But the New Zealand Penal Colony is nothing if not first class. My lawyer, who had been worthless in nearly every respect, had described New Zealand as 'the country club of Federation prisons'. Nothing but the best for Tom Paris, even in prison. Even so, I still got shackled as I was led off the shuttle into the main processing building. The two guards escorting me sat me down in a chair with uneven legs. As they filled out my paperwork, I rocked back and forth, concentrating more on the dull thud sound the chair legs made against the linoleum floor than Lieutenant Singer's monotone voice. I fully expected her to offer me congratulations on becoming inmate number 3724 at the Auckland Penal Colony and I was strangely disappointed when she didn't.
"Name?" she asked, not looking at me. Her fingers were capped with neatly trimmed and manicured nails. When she typed into her PADD, she did so with a delicate, fleeting touch.
"Paris. Thomas. Eugene."
"You're kidding, right?"
Singer glanced up from her PADD. Her eyes were blue, clear and bright, and her lips were a bright slash of red. In this room that smelled like gym socks and with the harsh lights giving everything a slightly washed-out look, Singer seemed colorfully out of place.
"How does someone like you end up in a place like this?" I asked. I smiled my very best smile -- the one Susie Crabtree had called the 'heartbreaker' -- at her.
Singer pressed her lips together. "Address?"
They took me, still shackled, through the gates at the far end of the check-in room. I glanced over my shoulder at Singer, but she was already handing off the PADD with my information and turning her attention to inmate number 3725. I recognized him as Ahab, one of the Maquis from Chakotay's cell.
"Nice to see you again," I called out. He didn't respond, but then he -- like most in Chakotay's cell -- had never liked me.
The guards shuffled me into my new cell and activated the force field.
"You'll meet with the counselor this afternoon," the security officer said and then he walked away before I could ask him more questions. I sat down on the extra long, twin-sized bed. When I moved, the metallic springs beneath the mattress creaked. I walked to the sole window in the cell. It was just above eye-level and when I put my hand up, the force field sent ripples through my arm, shoulder, and straight into my heart. I jerked back and stared at my reddened palm.
I walked to the other end of the cell. The floor was cracked linoleum, worn by God knows how many feet. I stared at the row of cells to my right, and then to the left. Nearly all were occupied. Who knew the Federation had so many bad guys in it?
The counselor's name is MacKenzie. There are two full pips and a hollow one on her collar. When the guards ushered me into her office, she stood up and extended her hand to me. Her grip was sure and warm, and I didn't want to let go. She tipped her head towards the empty chair in front of the desk.
"Would you like a seat?" she asked, as if I had any authority at all to make any kind of decision.
The chair was comfortable, leather-backed and with arms. MacKenzie perched on the side of her desk.
"What would you like me to call you?" she asked.
"Tom is fine."
"Okay," she said.
"What should I call you?"
"What do you feel comfortable with?"
I shrugged. "Commander." And then I added, "I don't have a problem acknowledging authority. Just so you know."
MacKenzie smiled. "So noted." She got up from the desk, running her fingers along the edge as she made her way to the other side. "How was the trip here?"
"It was fine." There was a plant in the right hand corner of her office. It was tall, with green leaves that seemed to be coated with wax. "I thought it would take longer to get here than it did."
MacKenzie pressed her lips into a pensive line. "Everyone thinks that," she said quietly. "Maquis, right?" Her tone was purely conversational, as if we were in a bar, talking. I could almost smell the smoke, the musky scent of many people crammed in a small space, and without thinking, I leaned forward. MacKenzie smiled at me. I wished she'd stop doing that.
"And Starfleet before that."
"Yes," I said. When I was a kid, I couldn't imagine any life other than that of being a Starfleet officer. My father encouraged me back then, pushed me towards my goals, and he was the one who arranged my first flying lesson. There wasn't enough springwine in the Alpha Quadrant to take away the sting of what I'd lost. "But Starfleet was a long time ago."
"A couple years, if I remember correctly, from your file." MacKenzie regarded me with some interest. "Still, it's a long way from the 'fleet to Maquis."
"After Starfleet kicked me out, I felt I had no other options." I glanced down at my hands, which I've never liked. They are Paris through and through, large with stubby fingers, and cracked nails. Never good for much, except for when I'm sitting at the helm. "The Maquis gave me a chance to do what I'm good at: flying. No politics, no nothing. Just flying."
"How did that work out?"
"I'm here, right? Guess I'm not such a hot shot pilot after all."
"Starfleet could have had better intelligence and you could have been out-maneuvered."
"Maybe. I doubt it though. The Maquis run a tight operation. I find it hard to believe anyone could have leaked our plans."
"You'd be surprised." The way she looked at me, her brown eyes large and luminous, made me nervous. I shifted in my seat.
"Are you really a counselor?" I asked.
"Yes, of course," she said. "You can tell me anything, Tom." That's when she came around the desk, and stood very close to me, so close I could catch a whiff of her perfume. Her hand on my shoulder was light and warm, the first human touch I'd felt in years that actually could mean something more than sex.
Messages and rations from the outside world are doled out on Fridays. Visiting hours are Tuesday, Thursdays and Sunday, which also happen to be shower days. It didn't surprise me when Tuesday and Thursday came and went and I had no visitors. Friday, in the large mess where we eat what passes for food, no message or rations waited for me.
"Are you sure?" I asked Singer. "Thomas. Eugene. Paris."
"There is no package for someone of that name." Maddeningly, she refused to acknowledge me. "Next."
I was pushed out of the way, and I stumbled, nearly tripping into Ahab, who was standing next to the wall, his arms folded flat against his chest.
"Paris," he said. He grabbed my shoulder. There was nothing friendly about the contact. He got close to my face. His breath smelled like some animal had crawled into his mouth and died there. His teeth were uneven, and a jagged scar ran down the puckered skin of his left cheek. His left eye was swollen shut, his dark hair flopped down over his forehead, past his ears, and just above his collar. Apparently, he hadn't been in for the mandatory hair cut yet. He pushed his palm flat against my chest. I fell backwards, stumbling against the chair.
"What the hell did you do that for?" I scrambled to my feet.
"You know why." He jabbed a finger in my direction and took a step forward. In the background, Singer handing out packages seemed to take little to no notice.
"No, really, I don't." I inched backwards, and bumped into a table. The sunlight streaming in from the windows mixed with the harsh fluorescent glow of the humming lights above me. I sucked in shallowly, because I hate the smell of this place. I realized Ahab was possibly a good three or four centimeters taller than me, and probably at least fifteen kilos heavier.
"You want to tell me something?"
"You betrayed me. Us."
"I don't know what you're talking about." Besides, I thought with a sneer, the only thing I'd ever paid attention to was myself, forget thinking long enough to betray someone else.
"You sold us out to Starfleet. You think we wouldn't have figured it out?"
"Whoa, whoa," I said. "If you notice, I'm stuck in this hell hole too, though it is an improvement over that cave--" Ahab's lips pressed into a thin frown. I hurriedly added, "If I betrayed the Maquis out, I certainly wouldn't be here."
Ahab didn't seem to hear me. "I don't care who your father is," he said. "He can't help you in here."
"Or out there either," I said. I spread my hands out in a gesture of mock surrender. "Go ahead." I noticed everyone watching. Ahab balled up his fists. Singer continued handing out packages. "What are you waiting for? Take your shot." Ahab hesitated. "Come on, are you scared?" I reached out and caught Ahab by the wrist. Inadvertently, I pushed up the sleeve of his prison uniform and spotted the tattoo on his forearm. I stared at the fading blue image of a starship. There could be only one explanation. "Were you Starfleet too?" I asked softly.
"This isn't over," Ahab said, visibly shaken. Then he turned on his heel and stalked away.
"Nice to meet you too," I said because even in prison, it's good to keep a sense of perspective. Your enemy one day might be your friend the next.
Moments after my sentencing, my lawyer leaned towards me, his arm around my shoulders, as if we were buddies, and he said,
"It could be worse. The Auckland Penal Colony is the country club of Federation prisons." The silky tone of his voice made it sound like he wanted to come to New Zealand with me. "Don't worry, you'll be fine there. Time will fly and before you know it, you'll be free to get on with your life. This is just a minor setback."
The whole time my lawyer
was talking at me, I'd been looking over my shoulder at the door. Even when
my guilt was pronounced, I was convinced my father would enter the courtroom
and take control of the situation. Taking control, that's what my father did,
and I knew he'd hate having a son in prison. Getting myself kicked out of Starfleet
in the aftermath of Caldik Prime had been embarrassing, to say the least, but
prison -- well, there was another first for the Paris family. But in the end,
I shuffled aboard the shuttle to New Zealand alone. My lawyer was already consulting
his PADD for his next
The first time Ahab initiated conversation, I was lying on my bed, my hands folded on my chest, and going through the familiar routine of counting ceiling tiles. The suspense of the exercise was long gone; now I just did it to pass time. I was on the fourth row, third tile over, when Ahab called my name. Annoyed, because I lost count, I sat up.
"What?" I asked.
Up and down the cell block, I could hear chatter, a lot of the back and forth,
with an occasional yell.
It's amazing how uncivilized language and behavior gets in prison, especially when you consider many of us inmates were once Starfleet.
"I want talk to you," he said.
I put my hands down on the cot and twisted my body so I was looking directly at him. "Didn't you say you didn't have much use for Starfleet or traitors?"
I got to my feet and walked to the edge of my cell. "I don't have any use for them either, so we've got that in common."
"I didn't betray people who were counting on me." He practically spit the words out.
"Neither did I," I said, even though that's exactly what I'd done at Caldik Prime. I had filed a flight plan and convinced my friends Starfleet was making a big fuss about nothing when it came to the starburst formation. But Ahab was talking about the Maquis, and I certainly hadn't betrayed our position to Starfleet. For once, I was telling the truth. I held out my hands in a gesture of openness. "I just wanted to fly, nothing more, nothing less," I said. Even to my ears, the words sounded lame. "I guess that makes it easier for you to claim the moral upper hand, which is why you think you're better than me."
"I don't think I'm better than you, Paris. I *know* I am." He narrowed his eyes and stepped closer to his force field. I could see the energy crackle where it made contact with his skin. Ahab didn't seem to notice; in fact, he seemed to revel in the tiny pricks of electricity jolting through his body. "I know what's going on. I'm not stupid."
I didn't have the heart to argue with him. "I didn't sell the Maquis out to the Federation. You have my word on that."
"Your word means nothing to me," Ahab said. He paused for a moment, looking pensive for a moment. "The other day, Starfleet sent a security officer to see me. They're offering me a deal, to tell them where Chakotay is and they'll reduce my sentence. Out in a year."
I stared at him with interest. "What did you say?"
"I could never do that," he said. "They are my friends and I believe in what they're doing." The right corner of his mouth turned up. "The moral upper hand, as you might say." Ahab paused and then continued, "They moved me here so we'd be friends and then you'd turn around and tell the authorities everything I told you." He crossed his arms against his chest. "I'm not telling you anything."
"Fine," I said. "Stop wasting my time." And then, without a trace of irony, as I flopped back onto my bed, I said, "I'm busy."
Ahab scoffed. I resumed counting ceiling tiles. On the sixth row, seventh tile in, Ahab called my name again.
"I don't like you, Paris."
This time, I didn't bother getting up. "Anything else?"
"You're a dead man."
I had to hand it to him. Ahab was a man who knew what he wanted. My father would have been impressed.
I'd been in New Zealand for nearly two weeks before I talked about my father to MacKenzie. It started, like so many other things, in the mess hall. I was third in line for the messages/rations line. Behind me, the others were elbowing and jostling each other. I stood quietly. I already knew the drill. When I stood in front of Singer, she didn't look up. She traced her finger down the list of names in front of her.
"Quinn, Pablino, Parker--" she glanced at me briefly. "Next."
In retrospect, I shouldn't have been disappointed. I hadn't seen or heard from my family since my court martial. It was now very obvious that my current stint at Auckland was the final nail in my coffin. When I told MacKenzie this, she leaned forward, her hands folded primly in front of her on the desk.
"How does that make you feel?" she asked.
What an incredibly stupid
question, I thought. Wasn't it obvious? But I cut back the sharpness in my tone
when I answered.
"I'd like to see my mother and sisters. My father never came for my trial. My lawyer didn't even meet me until the day the trial started, but I always assumed my father hired him, so I thought he'd eventually show. I only learned later he was the public defender, too harried to give my case more than a quick look-over. I didn't stand a chance." The picture window directly behind MacKenzie looked out over the cement courtyard. Two guys were playing basketball at the far end, and another was walking aimlessly in circles. "I don't suppose there's a statute of limitations on forgiveness, is there?"
"Not in theory. It's a question of being ready," MacKenzie said. She tipped her head to the side. "Are you ready?"
I stared at her, gap-mouthed. "I meant my father, not me."
"I read through your court martial transcript, Tom." I loved the way she said my name, exhaling the single syllable and elongating the 'om' sound. I realized, in this place, she was the only one who called me 'Tom'. In this room, I could be my own person, free of anything Paris. I liked that. "You've racked up a list of impressive charges." She said 'impressive' with a touch of irony. "Reckless endangerment, dereliction of duty, wanton destruction of Starfleet property, lying to a senior officer --" she paused. "Want me to go on?"
"No," I said. "I was there, remember?" And then, without thinking, I added, "I'm not the guy everyone thinks I am."
MacKenzie pressed her lips together. "On paper, you certainly are, and in person, you don't make any attempt to dissuade others from their preconceived notions." She settled back in her chair. "Just telling you how I see it."
"If I'm wrong, how are you going to prove it?" The challenge in her voice came through loud and clear. I knew she was baiting me. I crossed my arms against my chest. "It's up to you to fix things. You can if you want to, Tom."
I glanced towards the door. "I'm done," I said, getting up. "I have nothing to say."
MacKenzie shrugged. "Have it your way." She turned her attention to her PADD, seemingly having forgotten about me. I stared at her and then slowly headed for the door. I expected her to call out to me, but she didn't. As I walked back to my cell, flanked by guards on either side of me, I felt profoundly lonely.
A simple question started the fight that sent me into solitary.
After my aborted session with MacKenzie, I went to the mess hall. It was still relatively early for lunch, and most prisoners hadn't yet been escorted here. Ahab, though, was already sitting at one of the tables. I walked to the other end of the hall with my food and sat down at an empty table. Two minutes later, Ahab joined me. I glared at him, but he didn't seem to care. He pushed his own tray aside and eyed me intensely.
"Have you made a deal yet to get out of here, Paris?" Ahab asked.
"No," I said. "I'm not going to. I don't owe Starfleet a damn thing."
"You probably said the same thing about the Maquis."
I eyed Ahab. "There's no deal. I'm here, same as you."
"It's only a matter of time." His eyes narrowed. "If they offered you a deal, would you take it?"
"I haven't thought about it."
I stopped in my tracks. "You have?"
He shrugged. "I've got no regrets." Ahab paused for a moment and then said, "Why the Maquis?"
"I want to fly and I wanted to be of use to someone," I said. "I had valuable skills the Maquis could use. The Maquis had something I needed. It seemed equitable enough to me."
"I wonder if Chakotay felt that way." Ahab touched the tips of his fingers together and for a moment, he appeared contemplative. His posture, along with the casual mention of Chakotay was disconcerting. Ahab's eyes hardened as he gazed across the corridor at me. "He gave you what you wanted and look how you repaid him."
"I don't owe Chakotay or anyone else for that matter, anything."
"That's the problem with you, Paris. You don't belong to anything because you don't believe in anything." Ahab shook his head. "You're more pathetic than I thought."
That's when I stood up, and shoved my tray back so that it hit him squarely in the chest. Ahab leaped to his feet, amazingly nimble for such a big guy, but I had the element of surprise and before he could react, my fist had made contact with his nose. He screamed, and put his hands to his face. Blood streamed down his upper lip, staining his teeth, and leaving track marks on his chin.
The guards hauled me out of the mess and I remember passing Singer and she lifted her head briefly from her checklist to look at me. I smiled at her, but she didn't react.
Solitary has this way of screwing with a guy's head. I don't care how well-balanced someone is before they come down here, but seven days of not talking and barely seeing anyone will make even the sanest of individuals hallucinate.
I saw Chakotay on my last night in solitary and for those few minutes, I actually thought we were sitting around a camp fire, and the smell of smoke obscured the otherwise damp odor in the air.
In my hallucination, Chakotay's face was illuminated by the flames, half in light, half in dark. Even so, I could clearly see the detail of his tattoo, I could see the way his shoulders slumped, his clothes hanging loosely off his frame, and then he touched the tips of his fingers together as he stared into the fire.
"Paris," he said. "What are you doing here?"
"You're the one who offered me the chance to fly again."
"There's got to be something more." Chakotay lifted his head and stared across at me, his dark eyes hard and set.
"How about revenge? Flying for the Maquis, it's the last thing my father would want for me,"
"Not good enough," Chakotay said.
"What's good enough then?" I asked.
"Doing the right thing for the right reasons."
"Please," I said, remembering immediately why I hadn't been terribly fond of Chakotay in the first place. "What does it matter why I'm here?"
But Chakotay didn't answer.
He just brooded until he and the fire both melted away, leaving me once again
in the dark.
When the guards hauled me out of the cell, I blinked against the light, and held my hands up over my face. To my surprise, they didn't take me to back to the main barracks, but out into the courtyard. I tilted my face to the sun, held my arms out, as if grabbing the day to my chest. I took deep, greedy breaths, and I slowly spun around. I felt giddy, and strangely free, even though I knew if I tried to make a run for it, the force fields would push me back and I'd have another week or so in solitary as a reward for my efforts. I sank to my knees in the green grass, put my face down against the ground, and then flopped on to my back. I folded my hands on top of my stomach, stared up at the blue sky above, and then closed my eyes.
Later, they took me to see MacKenzie, and the session was longer than usual because of my time in solitary.
"How are you doing?" MacKenzie asked. Today she was wearing little diamond studs at her ears. Her hair was pulled back, tied in a knot at the base of her neck just above her collar. Her third pip was now filled in.
"Congratulations on your promotion," I said.
"Thanks," she said. "How are you?"
"Hanging in there."
"You spent seven days in solitary. That's not an easy haul."
"Have you ever tried it?" I always have hated people making pronouncements of things they know nothing about.
MacKenzie shook her head. "No, but I do debrief everyone who comes out. Everyone's got a lot to say." She came around her desk, trailing her fingers along the edge. "How about you?"
I shrugged. "It wasn't so bad."
"You think you could last two weeks? A month?"
"Sure," I said.
"Did you keep the journal?" she asked.
I hated to admit it. "Yes." And then I added, "Still am. Happy?"
MacKenzie didn't flinch at the acidity in my voice. "It was your choice. I thought a journal would make you feel less alone," she said. "In my experience, it helps for people to keep a record of what they're thinking, what they're feeling. Maybe we should have started that at the very beginning."
"I had plenty of time to start from day one," I said. "That's the beauty of solitary: no distractions."
"I'm glad it helped."
"I didn't say that," I said.
"Ah, okay," MacKenzie said. She furrowed her brow, as if confused by my answers and I took a fiendish glee in sensing her desire to switch direction. Finally, MacKenzie took a deep breath. "Let's talk about the fight. From eye witness accounts, it appears you attacked Ahab with no provocation."
"He's been provoking me from day one. Accusing me of things I didn't do--"
"That's no reason to break a man's nose."
"He accused me of collaborating with Starfleet," I said. I could still feel that moment of blind fury, when I'd lashed forward, reaching for anything soft and fleshy. I wanted to make contact, with anyone, with anything. "I'd never do that. I'm done with Starfleet."
"You feel very strongly about that." MacKenzie crossed her legs, and her left boot knocked the edge of the desk. "Is it because of how Starfleet treated you after Caldik Prime?" She passed a PADD towards me. "The people who died, they were your closest friends. You must have felt so alone, Tom." The way she said my name, it was almost a caress, but I shivered.
We stared at each other. I could hear the whir of the generators just outside her window. The sky was overcast, gloomy, likely to rain. I imagined standing out there, turning my face to the clouds, and just letting the rain wash over me. I hadn't splashed in puddles since I was a boy.
"Tell me about your friends, Tom."
I shook my head. "No."
MacKenzie took a deep breath. I sensed she was disappointed with me, but I didn't particularly care.
"Did you have friends in the Maquis?" MacKenzie asked.
Chakotay was always the one I remembered when I thought back to the Maquis. His face was burned into my memory, half in light, half in shadow. He tolerated me because he liked what I had to offer as a pilot, but the others in the cell weren't subjected to those same norms.
"I wasn't there long enough to make friends."
"Do you regret that?" MacKenzie asked.
"Maybe." I got up from my chair, and prowled the office restlessly. "But it's probably better this way." I clenched and unclenched my hands. "I like to keep moving. Attachments just get in the way."
"You don't really believe that."
"That's where you're wrong." I clenched the back of my chair. I stared at the plant in the corner of her office. Mindlessly, I reached for it, ripped off a leaf. MacKenzie said nothing. I did it again. She didn't react and her silence unnerved me. I stared at the remnants of the leaves in my hands.
"What if you had the chance to start all over again?" MacKenzie asked. "What would you do?"
"I don't know."
"Think about it." Her lips parted slightly. "I'm offering you a chance for freedom, a chance to get on with your life. And I'm not asking much at all."
I considered. "I won't talk to Starfleet about the Maquis."
"Okay," she said. And she smiled again in that infuriating way of hers. "But promise me you'll think about it."
"Sure," I answered glibly, but MacKenzie didn't know just how many promises I'd broken in the past.
On the first Friday after I got out of solitary, I stood with everyone else in the message line. I wasn't expecting to receive anything; I heard the displeasure from San Francisco loud and clear. Still, I gritted my teeth as I approached Singer.
"Paris," I said.
"I know who you are," Singer said, the faintest trace of irritation in her voice. She glanced at her PADD and then shook her head. "Sorry," she said. "Nothing." She checked another PADD. "Nothing last week either." For the first time, Singer looked at me directly. "Maybe next Friday," she said, and there was nothing unkind about her tone.
I dropped out of line and walked to the edge of the mess hall. The windows were covered with force fields and when I put my hand out, the electrons crackled against my palm. I didn't pull away.
I turned to see Ahab. "Look," I said. "I'm sorry for breaking your nose. I overreacted."
"Damn straight." He came to stand next to me, his shoulder brushing briefly against mine. "People like you make me crazy."
"I could say the same about you." I glanced towards him. "Why the rush to judgment? You never asked me about what happened when I was captured. Why do you think I was the one who betrayed the mission?"
"You were the newest member in the cell," Ahab said. "That along with your Starfleet background makes you the prime suspect for the ambush." Ahab crossed his arms against his chest. "You were right when you guessed I was Starfleet earlier." His upper lip curled in disgust. "When I joined Starfleet ten years ago, I thought I was fighting for something and when the Federation turned over the DMZ colonies to the Cardassians, I realized I'd been deceived."
"You were a colonist."
Ahab nodded. "Like Chakotay's family."
Outside, the sun dappled the rolling stretches of green. The shadows from the trees rippled across the lawn, creating an intriguing patchwork of shadow and light.
"I don't want to be the person you think I am," I said finally.
"Then you know what to do," Ahab said tensely. "You're a real piece of work, Paris. Starfleet doesn't want you, and the Maquis, who admittedly have much lower standards, don't want you either. You're just one of people who doesn't fit." He curled his lip up and then walked away from me.
When I mentioned Ahab's challenge to MacKenzie, she eyed me with that clear gaze of hers and said, "Do you feel you need to keep quiet about what you know about the Maquis in order to earn Ahab's respect? Is that why you're fighting against talking to Starfleet so much, because you believe your silence will earn you the loyalty and friendship you want?"
"I don't owe Starfleet anything, and I owe Chakotay even less," I said. I paused, feeling off kilter for having mentioned Chakotay's name out loud. "Don't write that down."
"I can't tell anyone what you've said to me," MacKenzie said. "Our sessions are privileged. You can trust me." She smiled, her lips parting slightly to reveal teeth. I definitely didn't trust her. "Did you think you could be a part of the Maquis, that eventually, you'd be more than just their hired pilot?"
"I didn't exactly stay up at night, thinking about who was going to ask me to play at recess or sit with them in the cafeteria." I leveled my gaze at MacKenzie. "Honestly, I don't know *what* I wanted out of the experience, but making friends certainly wasn't at the top of the list." I shrugged. "It seemed like an equitable trade at the time, that's all, a business transaction."
"Maybe that's what it seems like right now," MacKenzie said. "You're putting yourself on the defensive as a survival mechanism and you use your sarcasm as a way to put people off, especially those who want to help you." She leaned forward. "You want people to think you don't care, but I believe the opposite is true. You do care. You just don't want anyone to know that."
"You think you have all the answers, don't you?" I asked harshly. "You think you've got me all figured out, that you're better than me, because you're on the other side of that desk and you're the one who gets to ask all the questions and make grand statements about what I think and who I am."
For a moment, I expected her to ask, "And how does that make you feel?" but MacKenzie surprised me and didn't say anything at all. I gripped the arms of my chair while I waited for her to speak. In the background, I could hear the distant whir of the generators, the click clack of boots in the corridor, the faint hum of the console on her desk. Finally, I couldn't stand it any more.
"How does what I've said make you feel?" I asked and I felt good about turning the question around on her.
MacKenzie smiled faintly. "I think you're can be the person you want to be if you stopped fighting yourself every step of the way." And then she glanced at her chronometer. "Our time is up for today. I'll see you next time."
I got up then, feeling vaguely ashamed, and the security guard took me back to my cell. I sat on the bed, my elbows on my knees, bent over, feeling light-headed. It hurt even to breathe. When I lifted my head, I looked across the corridor and there was Ahab, staring back at me. His words echoed in my head, 'You're just one of those types who doesn't fit'.
And then I did what I'd never expected to do: I cried.
I'm out of here. Just a few months into my sentence, and I've been offered a way out by Starfleet and damned if I didn't take it. Captain Kathryn Janeway came to visit me during my activity period. She came striding down the green, a small woman with piercing eyes and hair pulled back severely from her face. I had to blink when she stood in front of me. Her voice was gravely, but with an undercurrent of warmth to it. When I saw her, I thought my father had sent her; they'd served together in the past.
It turned out Janeway was offering me early parole. She wanted my help in locating Chakotay's cell and she'd offer me a temporary reinstatement in Starfleet if I helped her. I'd just be an informant aboard her ship, Voyager, but it was a chance to do something that mattered. Sure, it meant betraying Chakotay and his cell, but then again, didn't everyone already think I'd done that? Now I was just making good on what everyone already believed. Chakotay would flinch, probably, at that reason, but I'd run out of options long ago and I was tired of running away from things. Even if I wasn't helping Janeway for the right reasons, at least I'd have a chance to get my life back on track in a couple of weeks. The ends justify the means, right?
Leaving Auckland was more bittersweet than I anticipated it would be. I took one look around at the cell I called home for the last few months. Funny to say, but I'm going to miss that creaky bed, that moldy smell in the air, the rickety chair, and most of all, Ahab's ugly face, Singer's coldness and MacKenzie's questions.
My personal belongings fit into one sack. I didn't bother folding or wrapping anything. I'm going to chuck this stuff the minute I get on Voyager. I want every last bit of New Zealand gone from me. Even if there are things and people I've gotten used to, I still never want to smell this place again.
When the security officer led me out of the cell, I passed Ahab. He tipped his head towards me. His expression wasn't unkind. I stopped. The security guard's grip on my forearm tightened.
"I'm sorry," I said to Ahab. "Doing the honorable thing means staying in here for years. I'm taking my second chance."
"It was never your fight and you were never one of us," he said and then he turned away from me, his arms on his hips, his head slightly bowed.
Then the guard yanked me down the corridor and into the sun. Janeway stood against the bright light, and for a moment, I thought I could make out the dark shadow of my father next to her. It felt good to be walking towards her.
~ the end
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