Title: Come of Age
Author: Annette Welsh-Shinya 01/99
Series: VOY
Part: 12/?
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!


"We're going down to the planet for reconnaissance," announced Tom to the assembled staff. "We've got to get a first-hand look at what we're up against."

The others looked at Tom, concern in their faces; they knew this would be very tricky. This was yet another new species that they were encountering, and from all reports, they would not be able to use proper first-contact protocols with them. They would be lucky if they didn't get themselves killed in the process of trying to find their missing crew mates.

"You have a plan," stated B'Elanna matter-of-factly. Tom always had a plan.

"Yes, I do," said Tom with a wry enjoyment. B'Elanna was playing 'straight man' very well these days.

"You are looking at Tom Paris, Captain of Voyager and sole proprietor of the souls of all the crew. I'm going to negotiate a trade of personnel for supplies with the Ibesians to ensure our safe passage home to the Delta Quadrant," Tom looked out pleasantly to the staff members who were looking a trifle horrified by this statement, although they *knew* that something was up.

Seven then spoke, "You wish to appear to the Ibesians as competition for the Vandals in the supply of 'bait'."

Tom beamed at Seven, "You got it, Seven. I'm going to make the Ibesians an offer they can't refuse. Low, low prices and the promise of more where that came from. It will be so good, those guys won't be able to pass it up."

"They'll be suspicious," said Neelix thoughtfully. "They'll want to know where we're going to get the other beings from. We only have a limited number on board to use as 'bait'. The Vandals have a history with are we going to convince them?"

"With a very nice display of all our captives in our cargo bays, Neelix," said Tom. The blank, but willing looks from the others almost amused him. Now, this is how Captain Janeway felt when she was telling everyone of her latest plan to save Voyager or whatever. This was actually fun.

Finally, the Doctor spoke up, "You're going to use holotechnology, aren't you?"

Tom turned to the Doctor and nodded, "We know that they don't have nearly the ability we have in the holotechnology area. We can represent people so realistically that they will not know the difference. They never will actually get to interact with them, so it will be simply a matter of programming a great deal of variety of appearances and physical activity."

"The holograms to the rescue again," said the Doctor sotto voice.

"They won't have to talk, so the programming will be relatively simple," said B'Elanna. "It won't take much time, and the computer can do most of the work now."

"How're the power levels coming?" asked Tom of B'Elanna.

"They're approaching almost pre-Vandal levels," she replied. "The extra emitters from the Hirogen modifications to Voyager are still in storage. I'll get them out and start retro-fitting them to the cargo bays as soon as the sensors are realigned."

"How much longer?" asked Tom, wanting to be finally rid of those damn seeker programs.

B'Elanna looked at Seven, who said, "I believe that the last crew is working on Deck 5, in the area damaged by the last booby-trap explosion. They have had to completely re-install new sensors in the area due to blast damage. After that, we should be ready to begin the scans."

"Great," said Tom. "B'Elanna, how long should it take the scans to be completed? Providing that they work," he added dryly.

B'Elanna gave him what amounted to a very covert dirty look that none of the other crew missed, but very earnestly pretended to not see. "It'll work," she said. "Or, I'll just have to kill Vorik."

Tom shook his head at B'Elanna, but there was amusement in his eyes. They all knew that Vorik had come up with the only plan that had a chance. They'd been working on it for months, but had been completely stumped until he had had inspiration strike.

"It will take about four hours," said B'Elanna answering the first part of Tom's question. "We will want to be very thorough in our scanning."

"Have you run simulations of the scanning?" asked Neelix.

"Yes, limited ones," replied B'Elanna. "The power drain from the shielding is just too high to use that much energy. The projections are sound and we've really no other options."

"Then it will just have to work," said Tom with calm confidence. "We don't have time for failure. How is the power project coming along?"

"We've decided we need an output plant to supplement what we can generate with the impulse engines and warp drive," explained B'Elanna. "I've put Nicoletti on it. She has some good ideas and is working up a sim now."

"How long will it take before we can expect some results?" asked Tom.

"It will take a few hours to run the sim and digest the data, but I think we could see some power output by tonight or tomorrow," replied B'Elanna, mentally crossing her fingers that Sue had managed to get the bugs she had been griping about out of the system.

"All right," said Tom. "That's the next thing on our priority list after the sensor scans."

Tom looked over at Mike Baytart, who had not spoken a word in the meeting. He had been paying attention, but Tom knew that he was still feeling the effects of his captivity as well as the changes that had occurred in the running of Voyager. He still looked tired and worn about the edges, but had insisted that he wanted to return to duty.

"Mr. Baytart, anything to report from the Conn?" said Tom very business-like.

"No, sir," said Baytart looking up at Tom. "The navigational array is working well, and the return of computer functions has made my job a lot easier. We are currently keeping the moon of the fifth planet between us and the fourth planet. I have scheduled some diagnostics to fine tune the array now that we are stationary."

"Very good, Ensign," said Tom. "I look forward to your report. Neelix?"

"Things are just fine, sir. With the completion of the internal sensor scan, I plan to put my EDUs on finding and eliminating the last of the seeker program devices. The remaining Vandal prisoners are not making any trouble, although they do make periodic requests that we kill them. However, they are mostly well behaved. Any idea of how we are going to get rid of them, sir? Without calling down the wrath of the entire Vandal Empire, that is," asked Neelix.

"One thing at a time, Neelix," replied Tom wryly. "I'm not sure we can get rid of them without angering the whole group. Better to hold onto them until we're able to leave this area of space. Give them what they want, within reason, and we'll just hope they can hang on."

"Yes, sir," said Neelix. "Ship's security is at the highest level we've been able to maintain for some time, sir. The new shielding and anti-seeker programming have proven very effective. We have encountered two itinerant seeker mines and their introductory programs have been rebuffed and we were able to totally neutralize them."

"Good work, Neelix," said Tom, finally feeling like they were getting a handle on the difficulties that they had been presented with in the attack on Voyager. "Seven, what's the word from Ops?"

"All systems are functioning within normal parameters, sir," replied Seven. "Ops has been coordinating with Security in the identification and destruction of the mines. The internal sensor re-alignment, as mentioned previously, is almost complete. Repairs of the damaged decks and systems continue, and are on schedule as noted in my report. There has been a request from several members of the crew to reinstate holodeck privileges when the power levels permit it. I have also included these in my report." Seven's voice at the end sounded somewhat amazed that people could be thinking of holodecks at a time like this, but Tom knew why. They needed a safety valve. Tom made a mental note to explain it to Seven when they had the time. She still didn't see the *relevance* of the holodeck, although before, she had been known to participate in a program from time to time.

"Well, when we get the power plant on-line and are through this next little exercise in diplomacy, I think we might concentrate some time on getting a group holodeck program up and running. Something like the Resort or Sandrines," said Tom. "Put it on the back burner, Ensign, but don't forget about it."

"Yes, sir," said Seven with preciseness that had B'Elanna smiling a bit. The two women's eyes met and they shared a little amusement. Seven had finally learned to laugh at herself a bit.

"Doctor," said Tom. "Do you have anything to report?"

"Just that I'm still waiting for someone to come and adjust the environmental controls in Sickbay," he looked at B'Elanna here. "I'm not affected by it, naturally, but my patients alternately freeze or boil, depending on where they are in the room. It is not conducive to a healing atmosphere to have an uneven temperature."

"I'll put someone on it, Doc," said B'Elanna with a firm voice that cried out that she was just in control of her temper.

The Doctor sniffed, "Thank you, Lieutenant. As for the medical supplies I needed replicated, Ensign Vorik has finally authorized the replicator power usage and they are being replicated as we speak. The recent casualties have all been released from Sickbay, and apart from the wounds that I expect to have to treat Mr. Paris for upon his return from his away mission, all is calm in Sickbay."

"Thank you, Doctor," said Tom looking at the EMH. The Doc just smiled back perfunctorily. What can you do with him, thought Tom. He's as incorrigible as almost all Starfleet doctors are. Was it his programming or the environment that made him? He decided to ponder that one later.

"We are coming down to it," continued Tom. "I have outlined some modifications I would like done to the Delta Flyer," he handed the padd to B'Elanna. "I put together some 'credentials' to input into its onboard computers. Murphy in Ship's Systems is going to work on this for me. B'Elanna, I want you to take a look at it when she's done. It has to be almost perfect, if it's going to fool them." B'Elanna nodded at this. "I don't need to remind you that, should they decide to go after us, we won't be any match for the fleet of ships that they are reported to have, regardless of their speed. We need to be stealthy and quick if we're going to work this con on them. Let's finish the cleanup of the ship, and get moving on this. We've got people who are counting on us to the rescue them. Dismissed." Tom got up and they all moved to leave the room.

All was going better than expected. The repairs were actually ahead of schedule, and the sensors had picked up every last rotten seeker program device on the ship. They had actually found the last ones just before they had begun another self replication sequence that would have made their lives a living hell again. Tom felt that control of their destiny had finally been regained. The power plant was up and running, supplementing their energy resources. The shields were holding. B'Elanna had even said a kind word about Vorik's plan when they had pulled it off. They were still invisible from behind the moon of the fifth planet. All that remained was the rescue of the crew members on the fourth planet. If there were any crew down there. He felt that it was highly unlikely that the Massaalians would have bypassed the planet. He'd been back to re-interrogate the prisoner that had given him the original information. The prisoner had been very reluctant at first, but Neelix and he had double-teamed him again, and had broken him down in a relatively short amount of time. He had nothing much more to offer, but stuck to his story that he had heard of Federation prisoners being sent there. Tom had then questioned every other prisoner they had. The remaining ones were even lower in rank than the first, but he got the rumors and the filtered information that he could. Piecing it together, he theorized that in the possession of the Ibesian Syndicate was probably where the majority of Voyager's kidnapped crew had ended up. It was going to be tricky, getting information out of a people that were so powerful without alerting their suspicions. This was going to take some time, too. Time was the one luxury that they didn't have. They were going to be running a con, which relied on split second timing and a good front. Closer examination would reveal that they were not 'legitimate' in their offerings, so he would have to come in fast, heavy, and looking really good. He would have to bowl them over and hope for the best. They would be impressed with a big display, if their information was correct. He did not want to contemplate what would happen if their information was inaccurate.

"Delta Flyer to Voyager, we are ready to exit the shuttle bay," called Tom over the commsystem.

"Voyager to Delta Flyer, you are cleared for takeoff. Shields have been modified for your exit, good luck," said B'Elanna Torres from the command chair on the Bridge.

"Thanks," said Tom with the confidence he felt the situation called for. "We'll need it," he finished under his breath. He checked his heading and shielding as they made for Barnok IV and the performance of a lifetime...well, the crew members' lives anyway.

The final modifications to the Delta Flyer had been finished yesterday. They'd decided on the clothing they were going to wear and the general script of what Tom was going to present the leader of the Ibesians. Last night, Tom had talked with B'Elanna regarding the back-up plan, should he fail in his attempt to gain information on the crew's whereabouts.

"I think that you should try to intercept a ship leaving the planet and get intelligence from them," said Tom as they reclined on his couch. "They'll be on the lookout for any direct approaches after I go down there."

"You'll just have to succeed," said B'Elanna firmly. "I'm not good at interrogating prisoners and my plan-making ability is far behind yours."

"You'll be just fine, B'Elanna," said Tom seriously. "You'd be a great Captain. You have the respect of the crew because of your talents and abilities. And, in the last few months, the crew has really gotten to know you. I *know* you'll be fine, whatever happens." Tom smiled tiredly, "Just don't get too comfortable in the command chair, Lieutenant. I intend to return."

B'Elanna turned to slide into his arms, "Just make sure you do, Helmboy. I have plans for you."

Tom tucked her head into his shoulder and hugged her hard, "And you say you don't have plan-making abilities."

"It's a relative ability, Paris," she growled back, then kissed him.

"MMMnnnmmghh," said Tom happily around her mouth. The meeting was over.

Seven calling out some sensor readings jolted Tom back to the present from his very pleasant memory of B'Elanna's send off. It had been all the more pleasurable and poignant due to the fact that it really could be the last time she saw him. Going in blind was not a good way to play it safe, but they were way past playing it safe. They were at a crossroads. If dispersion of the crew continued, they would be separated or killed. Thus their trails would be colder than ever, and the longer it would take him and the rest of the crew to find them. The sense of urgency that never really left him burned hotter now. The trail was very warm here, and he could sense that they would find more of the crew. His instincts were honed very sharp from the last months, and they were screaming now.

"All set, Seven?" asked Tom as he prepared the Flyer to enter orbit.

"I am prepared, Mr. Paris," said Seven impassively. "I have memorized the details of the scenario you outlined to me. I will attempt to 'play my part' to the best of my abilities."

"You'll be fine, Seven," said Tom with a smile. "You were born to play the femme fatale role, trust me on this one."

"Yes, but I believe Lt. Torres will commit grievous bodily harm to me if I succeed in my part," said Seven with an even voice, but there was a sparkle in her eyes. Tom laughed at that, because B'Elanna had written Seven's role herself. She had taken great pains to explain that it required 'acting' to pull it off. She and Seven had been closeted for quite a while discussing the ramifications of the part. Tom had no illusions that B'Elanna had thoroughly indoctrinated Seven with what was acceptable and not acceptable in her actions. She'd donned her old silver suit for the role of the woman behind the man, and the real brains of the outfit. Cliched, but so suitable for their purposes. He turned to the other member of his party.

"Well, Vorik. All set to play bad boy?" Tom teased. He looked over to where Vorik sat at the Engineering position of the Flyer. He was dressed in black and was wearing a very nasty looking weapons belt complete with a large selection of phasers, force knives, and even a sap. A large dagger in the top of his over the knee black knee boots completed the picture nicely. The Doctor had provided a wicked looking scar that traveled from his left temple to the top of his cheek. He was the enforcer.

"I'm ready," Vorik replied laconically. He managed to exude a surly toughness without expression. Tom was impressed. He must have been working on this for quite some time. Vorik then broke character and said, "Tom, are you sure that I am the correct person for this assignment?"

"Vorik," said Tom with decisiveness. "You are the only Vulcan we have left. I need you to work your telepathic magic when we get a lead. We won't have much time, and we have to be sure of our information." He turned to look at Vorik. "You're perfect for the job, anyway. That Vulcan impassiveness can be really intimidating, you know. That's what we're trying impress the Ibesians enough so they'll be afraid of us that they'll trade with us rather than risk alienating an unknown force."

Vorik said, "Yes, sir," and slipped back into his tough persona with surprising ease. Internally, Vorik was conflicted. He knew that he had to play the part, and that Tom was depending upon him, but he was not a proficient telepath. In fact, he was barely trained at all. He knew that he was the only chance they had in that area, so he had to perform, but that still made him somewhat uncomfortable. He might even be described as being in despair of succeeding when so many depended on him to complete this important task. He did not want to let Tom and the crew down. Vorik resolved to do his best and to represent Vulcans in a manner which they would, if not approve of, at least understand why he did what he did. The rules of logic, unfortunately, just did not apply as well as they should in the Delta Quadrant. It was most disconcerting. He thought of Jan and decided that it was not all bad after all.

Tom watched Vorik for another moment, then returned his attention tove,s flying. They were making final approach to the fourth planet. Their shields were still intact and sensors showed that the Ibesians had no idea that they were even there. So far, so good. He glanced down at his costume, all stark white except for black boots and a black weapons belt. He had a knee-length white coat over a shirt, vest, and trousers. There were weapons and devices concealed throughout his clothing and the others. B'Elanna had outdone herself. They all looked exactly like what they were trying to appear to be - tough, mercenary outlaws. Now, they had to play the part to the hilt.

"Seven, keep those shields intact," said Tom as he intently scanned his board and the view screen. "We want to make this a really big surprise for them."

"Yes, sir," replied Seven as she carefully made a correction in the modulation of the shields. "I am reading no appreciable fluctuation in our shielding and our facade is being maintained. We will remain undetectable until we make our presence know to them."

"Perfect," said Tom mostly to himself. "Let's give them a good show for their money," he finished in a louder voice. And they went into the stratosphere of the planet. They descended past their watchdog sensors and slipped past all their seeker programs without a hitch. It was almost too good to be true. When they had reached 1,000 meters above the largest settlement, Tom said, "Let's take off the mask and show them what we've got, Seven. Ready on weapons, Vorik. On my mark," he ordered as he leveled off the craft dramatically close to the city. "Mark!" They appeared on the Ibesian's sensors and the action began.

End Part 12 1