Title: Come of Age
Author: Annette Welsh-Shinya 01/99
Series: VOY
Part: 10/?
Rating: R
Codes: P/T, K/7, EMH Doc, Neelix, Vorik, Naomi Wildman
Summary: Spoilers for Night and 30 Days. After an encounter with a hostile species, most of the crew of Voyager is scattered throughout a region of space as prisoners. Tom Paris leads what's left of the crew in an attempt to recover their missing members.
Disclaimer: Paramount's property, my story, who wants to go a round with the Bat'leths?
Feedback: Encouragement/criticism gladly responded to. Flames will be consigned to the nearest airlock where proper venting procedures per Starfleet Engineering regulations will be followed.
Posting: OK to ASC, ASCEM, BLTS, & PT Fever. Please notify me if you post anywhere else...I love to see my name in lights!


They had all managed to get to the messhall by 1800, except for the Doctor, who was occupied with the injured Security Crewmen. It had been touch and go for Tom getting off the Bridge, but all the busywork had gotten done. He walked in and saw that he was not the last person there. B'Elanna was probably still tied up in Engineering, working with Ship's Systems trying to get that junction relay re-routed. It was a never-ending cycle of work and re-work of systems that were crying out for downtime and some for total replacement. Just as he was sitting down, B'Elanna came in. He nodded to her and the meeting was ready to begin.

Bowls of goulash were passed around. Tom surrupticiously sniffed his as he received it. It actually smelled great. He wondered what was in it, then decided to not ask. He glanced over to the kitchen, where Naomi was handing out the food with the help of Ensign Dell. How he'd got co-opted into it would probably be a story in itself. It was a known fact that Naomi could get anyone on the ship to do her bidding; her exploits had become a sort of legend. Tom never minded her little plans and projects, she was a great source of entertainment and comfort to a group of people who had very little. It was the fact that he had noticed that she seemed to be always doing something for someone that made him realize that it probably would be a good idea if she had some structure in her life from an authority figure, thus the Captain's Assistant 'promotion'. This in loco parentis stuff was pretty hard. He began the meeting.

"Let's get started," he said as everyone picked up their various padds or forks. "B'Elanna, what's the situation in Engineering?"

"We have finished the last of the long-term projections on the warpdrive shielding. So far it seems to be very effective and the encoding sequences are holding up," B'Elanna said. She picked up a padd, "The power relay junction on Deck 5 has been completely re-routed and Ship's Systems are working on it as we speak, trying to fix what they can. I believe we might be able to salvage at least part of the junction. I put Sue Nicoletti in charge of the operation."

"She's back to work already?" said Neelix with approval.

"She said that she didn't want to sit around any more than she absolutely had to. It seems that's what she did most in her captivity. And, when she wasn't sitting around, there were worse things that could happen," B'Elanna said with some disgust at one of her people being treated this way. "The Doctor cleared her to go back with the understanding that she wouldn't be lifting anything heavier than a padd for a few days." This last was directed at Tom a bit, and he visually acknowledged it.

"Anything else?" asked Tom, knowing that she wanted to present Vorik's plan.

"Yes," replied B'Elanna. "I have a plan submitted by Vorik. It's possibly a way for us to start detecting those self-replicating seeker program devices prior to them going off."

"That would be great," said Neelix with a sincere tone. "I wouldn't mind being put out of a job."

"Oh, but that's just one of your jobs, Neelix," said Tom wryly. "But you would have more time for other more pressing issues. What's the plan?"

"It involves us realigning the internal sensor networks to key in on a energy signature that is unique to their replication technology. It's slightly different than our own, as well as the shielding they use." B'Elanna thought for a moment, "You know, they don't have the ability to create this technology. Now that we have the ability to decode their programs and have had some time to really study them, I don't think that they made them. I mean, their ships are pathetic, their weapons are really not that great. The only thing they really have going for them is their shielding and those damn seeker programs."

"You think that they got the technology from someone else?" asked Tom.

"It would be logical to assume that, if they did not have the ability to perform their style of attack and destroy efficiently, that they attempt to obtain the better weapons and shielding from another, weaker species," said Seven.

"In other words, they stole it from some species, then probably killed them off," said Neelix with disgust.

"Exactly," replied Seven, picking up her fork and eating a bite.

B'Elanna paged down her padd. "It's pretty complicated, and I won't go into it here, but I think this might work. It's take some time to realign all the internal sensors, though."

"Then you'd better get on it right away," said Tom, making a note of it on his padd. "Pull all the personal you can from wherever you can get them. Keep Seven informed of who goes where; she's working up the rosters for the week." B'Elanna nodded and Seven acknowledged the assignment.

"Seven, I'm pretty sure that Ensign Baytart will be returning to the Conn in a short time. He's a good pilot, but he'll have to be caught up to speed on the little modifications we've been working with. You'll be in charge of training him," said Tom.

"Yes, sir," replied Seven. "Ensign McNaughton and I have designed a program that works well. I will use the same one for Mr. Baytart."

"Neelix," said Tom. "What's the news on Bernard and Dali? Have you been able to determine what happened during their sweeper patrol?"

"I went down to Sickbay for a few minutes before the meeting, sir," said Neelix. "I was able to talk with Bernard, but Dali was asleep. The Doctor says that they'll be all right, relatively minor injuries." Here Neelix looked uncomfortable, but continued, "Crewman Bernard reported that he and Dali had almost finished the scans of that section, when they got an anomolous reading on one of the tricorders. Dali tried to compensate for it, but apparently could not fix the malfunction. Bernard stated that he decided to ask for help from Engineering to see if they could fix the tricorder without having to go down there, or go back for another tricorder. He just hit his commbadge without thinking, sir," Neelix finished shaking his head.

"That doesn't explain what he was doing with a commbadge on in an unsecure area of the ship, Neelix," said Tom, his voice not unkind but very firm.

"He states that he simply forgot he had it on, sir," said Neelix with a hollow acceptence. "And that he just had an automatic reflex to use it when he wanted to talk to Engineering. I've placed him on report, and he will face disciplinary action when he gets out of Sickbay."

"Understood, Mr. Neelix," said Tom looking at Neelix. "You may send him to me when he's released. I will discuss the matter with him."

Neelix, looking extremely relieved to be let off the hook, replied, "Yes, sir."

"All right," said Tom looking around at the gathered members of the Senior Staff. "Ensign Tompkins, anything to report from Ops?"

"Nothing, sir, but the usual activities," here Tompkins looked at his own padd. "I got this information from Ensign Powers this morning, sir. She has finished the weekly logs on the ship's sensors and the structual integrity report. Repairs on the shuttlebay door have been pushed back to next week, right after we finish with the damage to the Engineering Room and Deck 5." Tompkins handed the padd to Tom, who looked at it briefly and nodded.

"You will report to Lt. Torres as she begins the sensor realignment project. Coordinate the assignment of the personnel and with Ensign Powers. We need to make this a priority," Tom finished decisively. "We're not going into the Barnok system until we've cleared ourselves once and for all of these seeker programs. It takes too much of our very limited resources to keep up with them." Here Tom looked out over the group. "Find the way to shut them down, get them off this ship, people. That's all, dismissed."

Tom sat back and started to eat his now very luke-warm goulash. It was great. The others, though dismissed, had elected to stay at the table and were now discussing this and that. There were limited opportunities for the command staff to sit and talk, so they were taking advantage of it.

"Great goulash, Seven," said Tom as he picked up his drink.

"Yes," said Neelix with enthusiasm. "Do you think you could give me the receipe? I'm always on the look out for a new dish that has a nice piquant flavour."

"I will make up a copy of the receipe, Mr. Neelix," replied Seven. "It is not difficult to make, but our supply of the necessary ingredients is limited."

"That is unfortunate," said Neelix, turning to talk with Seven. "But, you know, that's the beauty of cooking. You can improvise and substitute ingredients, and you can come up with some wonderful dishes. What do you think about..."

Tom tuned out the rest of the conversation, as cooking had never really excited him that much. Eating, now that was another story. He smiled a bit at Seven and Neelix chatting about receipes and cooking while Ensign Tompkins, feeling strange at attending a command staff event just was looking at them and quietly finishing his dinner. He looked like he would like to leave as soon as he could, but didn't want to leave his meal unfinished. Tom mentally chuckled at his discomfort. He had felt the same way when he had first started to come to Captain Janeway's staff meetings. One of the things he had tried to do when he had set up these 'dinner' meetings, was to put people who were really not used to making the 'big decisions' at ease. At any given time, there were different officers coming to these meetings. Of course, Neelix and Seven had attended the command staff meetings before, but never in an 'official' capacity. He also admitted to himself that he had tried to establish his own style of administration, rather than try to compete with how Janeway had done things. He knew that he tried to emulate her in most things, but trying to become a shadow of her would do no one any good, least of all him.

He caught B'Elanna's eye and she nodded slightly. It was almost 1900, and they were both done with their dinner. He rose and said, "Well, I'm done for the night. Ensign Seven, you're on-call tonight. Keep me informed if anything major happens. Goodnight."

The others chorused goodnights, not wondering why Mr. Paris was calling it a night so early. They all knew that he maintained a killer schedule, and the relative quietness of the day made it possible for him to actually go off shift with less than a eighteen hours day, a real rarity.

B'Elanna left the table with Tom, walking with him as they took their trays up to the kitchen. She stopped to talk to Naomi.

"Great dinner, Naomi," she smiled at the girl, who was wearing one of Neelix's old chef's hats. It was too big, but it had been pinned in the back so it sat perched on top of her head.

"Thanks, Lt. Torres," replied Naomi beaming. "Ensign Seven said she couldn't have done it without me. She let me serve, 'cause she had the staff meeting, and J.D. didn't have to help all that much. He just handed me the stuff I couldn't reach, mostly."

"J.D.?" said Tom with amusement. Ensign Dell, who was standing to one side, blushed furiously.

"John Dell," said Naomi with patience. "Ensign Dell," she tried again with a slow pronunciation as if dealing with a very small child or an officer who was mercilously teasing a young Ensign without opening his mouth.

"Ah, that J.D." nodded Tom with a faux final comprehension. He looked over at Dell, who looked like he would like to crawl under the food counter. "I think that it was very nice of J.D. to help you out Naomi. He had a very busy day on the Bridge. He had to deal with a crisis that was not very easy and help people who he knows that got hurt." Tom looked at Dell with a serious expression now. "He did a good job, Naomi. I think you should thank him for helping you."

"OK, Mr. Paris," said Naomi, not totally oblivious to what was going on, but not completely understanding it either. She smiled at Dell who had a look on his face that could be described as proud, embarassed, and grateful at the same time.

B'Elanna had an appraising look on her face as she looked at Tom and Dell. "Don't stay up too late," she said with an absent air, and the girl reached over to hug her. B'Elanna looked a little surprised, then hugged her back with a fierceness that had Tom discovering a lump in his throat.

"I won't, B'Elanna," said Naomi looking up from her hug. "I just need to help J.D. clean up the dishes, then he's going to make sure I get to bed tonight. Seven says she has the Bridge tonight for a while, and that J.D. agreed to help me that he is my observer for the evening. Naomi shrugged, "She still talks kind of funny sometimes, doesnt' she?"

"Well, only sometimes now," said B'Elanna. "She's still learning things, like most of us." The gentleness of her comments on Seven's integration were indicative of how the two womens' relationship had changed.

Tom and B'Elanna said final goodnights and passed out into the corridor and headed for the turbolift. It was 1916, not bad, considering they'd had a disaster less than four hours before and a staff meeting on top of it. They entered the turbolift and made for his quarters, keeping their fingers crossed that the events of the sector, Voyager's repairs or lack of, and the crew's needs would not interfere with the first private time that they would have had in two weeks. It was pretty much a given that one of those things, or even something else, would conspire to interrupt them at least once during their evening. At this point though, they didn't care. It would be enough to be alone, together. Everything else would just have to get along without them for as long as possible.

End Part 10 1