Title: Come of Age
Author: Annette Welsh-Shinya 01/99
Series: VOY
Part: 15/?
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!


Tom walked back to the couch centered in the main room of the suite. He sat down and said, "Seven, I believe that the Ibesians are not quite finished testing us, despite what they say."

Seven walked over to where Tom sat and took a seat in a chair across from him. "I concur," she replied. "How are we to discern what their next move is, sir?"

"That's a very good questions, Seven," said Tom with a sigh. "I just wish I had the answer." He sat back and rolled his shoulders, which were as stiff as his neck from the tension he was feeling. "The truth is, I have no idea what their next move is, just that it will probably be a much more subtle one that the last few."

"You appear to be in some discomfort," observed Seven as she looked at him.

"Just a few stiff muscles," replied Tom sitting back with a little wince. "I'll live."

Seven looked at him for a moment, the she said, "I have observed over the past several months that you tend to internalize all of your stress from your position as Acting Captain of Voyager. I have used this to deduce that you have been doing this all along, and that though you appear to be relatively carefree, you are actually very troubled by your responsibilities. You have a high expectation of yourself and are concerned about your ability to live up to your responsibilities at the level you wish to achieve. Therefore, you suffer from tension induced headaches and fatigue."

Tom stared at Seven for quite a while. She was relatively impassive, but he had learned to read her expressions over the past months. She was concerned. "You seem to notice a great deal about me, Seven," he finally said.

"I have been using you as a model for human interaction," noted Seven.

"Oh, ouch, Seven," said Tom with the ghost of a smile. "Don't let that get around, or you'll never hear the end of it."

"Why not?" asked Seven. "You are well liked by the crew, you have friends that are very loyal to you, you are intelligent and talented in multiple areas, and you are a good leader. In my research on human behavior, I have found that such a combination is much desired and considered favorable."

Tom closed his eyes for a moment, his never-far fatigue sliding around the edges of his brain. It was a defense mechanism, he knew. He didn't want to deal with this. "I guess you believe what you said, Seven. But, I find it a little hard to believe that you'd want to emulate me in any way," he said.

"You are extremely modest," replied Seven. "Even though you purport to be egotistical in the extreme. It is merely a front to hide your low self-esteem." Seven then paused here and looked embarrassed. "I am sorry, sir," she added. "I am speaking out of turn."

"No, don't worry about that, Seven," said Tom looking at her. "It's not out of turn; it's what you really think. I asked you why and you answered me. You're right, you know. About the low self-esteem. It's a leftover from my childhood." Tom sighed, "Some things you have a hard time outgrowing."

"I understand," said Seven. "I have yet to 'outgrow' some of the residual effects of being a part of the Collective."

Tom smiled tiredly at her. "You're doing fine, Seven. I certainly would not have been able to succeed in the past months without you. You've become an intergral part of the command staff and a good friend to me."

Seven looked struck by this, then replied, "Thank you, sir. I am pleased that you consider my work satisfactory." Here she faltered a bit, "I...I would like...I consider you..."

"It's OK, Seven," said Tom with understanding. "You don't have to say it."

"I need to," replied Seven with frowning concentration. "I need to learn to express my feelings in a more clear manner. I cannot expect people to read my mind." She looked up at Tom, an earnest and confused look on her face.

"This is about Harry, isn't it?" Tom spoke gently. Seven nodded, unable to speak more. "You know," continued Tom. "He's a really fair and patient kind of guy. He'll listen to you. He'll probably be hopping mad when he first gets back, but he'll listen to you...eventually."

"I hope that you are correct," said Seven ruefully. "However, I feel that he will respond much like Lt. Torres when she is displeased with someone, and hit first and ask questions later."

"That's not fair, Seven," said Tom with a little laugh. "B'Elanna hasn't hit anyone in months. Threatened maybe," he said nodding his head. "But not hit anyone..."

Seven smiled the little smile that she had taken to using when something struck her fancy as amusing and she felt a little weight lifted off of her shoulders. She felt confident about teasing Tom regarding B'Elanna due to the change in her relationship with the Engineer. It struck her that if she could improve her relationship with B'Elanna, as bad as it had been, she could certainly better the one she had with Harry. She hoped.

"It'll be all right, Seven," said Tom. "Just tell him how you really feel. It's about time you did, anyway."

Seven looked at Tom, and realized that he *knew*. "How long have you known?" she asked.

"For a while," said Tom, still speaking very gently, realizing that this was a very sensitive topic for Seven. "I guess I first really realized it when you came to me and requested to be assigned to Ops after we got away from Devinar. You wanted to be a part of the team and were willing to comply with all of Starfleet rules and regulations. I wondered why, then it just hit me. You were doing it for him as much as yourself and the rest of the crew."

Seven nodded. "You are correct in your assumption. Why have you never questioned me on this matter? It is an emotional involvement that could cloud my judgment and impair my ability to function at maximum efficiency."

"You're not a drone anymore," explained Tom. "You don't have to 'function at maximum efficiency' at all times, just do your best. And, if we ruled out everyone who has an emotional commitment from serving in Starfleet, we wouldn't have anybody to run the ships, especially on Voyager. We're all in this together, and we depend heavily on one another because we have no other support. Your desire to help because you want to find Harry is just part of your wish to be part of the team. You wanted to join in and this gave you the opportunity."

"You are correct," Seven replied slowly. "You have an ability to perceive people's motives and the emotions driving them, Mr. Paris."

"Might as well call me Tom, Seven," said Tom with a smile. "At least when we're not in a command protocol situation. And, thanks."

"Very well, Tom," said Seven, slightly awkward in speaking his given name. Designations were still somewhat confusing to her. Why would anyone want more than one?

The silence in the room grew, but it was not uncomfortable, more companionable. They sat and thought about things that had been, what might happen in the future. It was a rare quiet time for the both of them. Tom thought that this was the quietest time he'd had in a long while, and he felt himself unwinding just a little bit. He knew that they would be expected to *perform* again soon. He figured he should rest now while he got the chance. Seven just sat and thought, completely motionless.

The door chime rang and Tom looked up, then gestured to Seven, who got up and sat down next to Tom. She draped herself over him and said, "Ready." Tom called out, "Come in." The door opened and it was Vorik. Seven extricated herself from Tom's arms with alacrity.

"Hey, Vorik," said Tom pleasantly. "We wondered where you had gone off to." He got up from the couch and came up to the Vulcan. "Did you get what we came for?" he said.

"Yes, sir," said Vorik. "I was able to achieve a mind meld with Controller Nara fairly easily. She is a mid-level supervisor of the arena games. She has access to the location of the prisoners being held and also knows where the location of the rest of the Voyager crew members that were taken. She likes Humans as fighting creatures, so she made a point of looking up where she could obtain further supply of them. She has begun negotiation with the Controllers at the Abraad mining colony for the custody of the Voyager prisoners."

"Does she know where Captain Janeway is?" asked Tom with suppressed excitement.

"No, sir, not specifically," said Vorik. "But I did get her command codes for access to the Ibesian's computer system. I may be able to access their database and obtain the location of the Captain from there."

"Do it, Vorik," said Tom with snap in his voice. He pointed to the desk, "Use that terminal. Is Nara occupied at this time, so we won't be setting off any alarms?"

"She is currently sleeping," replied Vorik as he moved to the desk. "She will continue to do so for approximately forty-five more minutes, then will awaken. I have supplied a suitable memory for the interlude." He began accessing the Ibesian data base.

Tom moved behind Vorik, and then clapped him on the shoulder, "Good job, Vorik. I knew you could do it."

Vorik looked back over his shoulder and replied, "Thank you, Mr. Paris. It was an interesting experience."

Tom grinned at Vorik and said, "I just bet it was."

Vorik applied himself to his work and a few minutes later said, "I have the information that we need, sir." He looked up at Tom, who had moved over to where Seven was standing. "The Captain and Commander Chakotay are being held on Ibesia Prime, the home system of the Syndicate."

"Ibesia Prime?" wondered Tom. "Why single them out? Access all the information you can, Vorik, and find out why they are being held apart from the rest of the crew."

"Yes, sir," said Vorik. He consulted the information displayed. "They are apparently being held for ransom, per the usual operating mode of the Ibesians when the obtain custody of important personages."

"But they have been held for several months and no one has responded," Seven offered. "They must know that have been unable to rescue them, and apparently now will not ransom them. What will they do with them?"

"It is not available from this data what becomes of hostages that are not redeemed by their people," replied Vorik.

"Well, we know that they don't waste their 'raw materials', so they probably have been sent somewhere to either work or to be used in an arena," said Tom. None of them said what they were also thinking - they could be dead. It simply would not do.

"Mr. Paris," Vorik called, after reading further. "I have the names of the prisoners being held here on Barnok IV, sir." He looked up at Tom. "They include Lt. Carey, and Ensigns Kim and Wildman." At this, Seven looked up at Vorik quickly, and Tom could hear her quick intake of breath. He felt the same last.

The door chime sounded, Vorik quickly logged out of the system, and they all assumed their positions. Seven draped herself over Tom, who reclined lazily on the couch, and Vorik stood in the far corner, his hand on his phaser. Tom called, "Come."

The door opened and Administrator Yelm appeared, flanked by two guards. He said, "The meeting is about to commence, Captain Paris. If you will accompany me," and he made a gesture with his hand.

Tom removed Seven's arm from his and stood up slowly. He remarked, "I hope you mean business this time, Yelm. I'm getting tired of cooling my heels in your nicely decorated cells."

Yelm looked at the evident damage to the suite and replied, "I see that you wasted no time in changing the decor yourself, Captain. What can I do to convince you to not destroy our property?"

"Nothing," responded Tom flatly. "Take me to your council, Yelm. I'll decide if I want to waste any more of my time on this."

"I assure you, Captain Paris," said Yelm in an oily voice. "We are proceeding as fast as we can. Certain protocols must be followed, security procedures, I'm sure you understand."

"I don't hold with protocol," Tom said. "I've spent too many years dancing to the tune of my superior's need to hold with protocol and safety measures. I find it gets in the way of me getting what I want." He walked over to Yelm and looked directly at him, his voice taking on an even flatter, more menacing tone. "And I always get what I want."

Yelm appeared to be unmoved by Tom's advance, but Tom saw him flinch slightly and his eyes took on a more calculating expression. He was thinking about it, by God. Tom sensed that this next confrontation would sew up his credibility with the Ibesians; it would be the icing on the cake.

"I'm sure you do," Yelm finally responded. "Your companions will have to wait for you here, Captain. I'm sure that they will be comfortable."

Tom nodded to Seven and Vorik and left with Yelm and the guards. They proceeded down another passage as blank as the others. Tom decided that there must be a coding system that was just not evident to the naked eye and examined the guards' clothing a little more closely. They both wore tunics and trousers tucked into boots in the garish colors of yellow, orange, and red. They must be the Praetorian Guard, mused Tom. They had belts, but there appeared to be nothing on them, as if their use was strictly aesthetic. He decided that this would bear close examination should the opportunity arise. In the meantime, Seven's backup plan was still in place if he could just find the rooms where they were currently being held. They arrived at another set of doors and one guard knocked, then opened the door on Yelm's nod. They walked into a chamber and the guards pulled the doors shut, remaining outside.

Tom saw a table with chairs and noticed that the Ibesians sitting at the table were all robed in blue like Yelm, so he deduced this must be the Administrative Council. There was one Ibesian sitting at the head of the oblong table who was dressed in a blue and purple robe, apparently the leader of the group.

Tom strode briskly across the room and walked right up to the Ibesian in the purple and blue robe. "Just what the hell do you think you've been doing?" he inquired. He put his hands on the back of the chair of the Ibesian sitting to the right of the leader. He said to the occupant, "You don't mind, do you?" and proceeded to oust him from the chair and sat down. The Ibesian just backed off and stared at Tom. "I've been treated better in a Starfleet prison than here. I'm pretty sure that you'll want to do business with me, and I know you won't like the consequences should I decide that you're not worth doing business with. So, really fast...tell me how you're going to make me happy."

The leader, an older female with a face like a hatchet, said, "I have been advised of your arrogance, Captain Paris. It is merely that there appears to be some credence to your tale of many ships at your disposal that are poised to do grave destruction to us that has kept you from being summarily executed." She sighed heavily, "I am Ruling Administrator Cline. I will decide whether or not to make you *happy*. What is needed now, Captain, is a little more proof than your flamboyant actions and colorful speech." She inclined her head slightly to one side and added, "You supposedly have some cargo to show me. If it is as attractive as claimed, we may be able to do business with one another."

"Lady, it and I am the best," boasted Tom sitting back with a cocky grin. He reached over and tapped the panel in front of Cline. "Paris to Voyager." Cline looked at him steadily, but there was little expression on her face.

"Voyager, Torres here," B'Elanna's voice had a snap of barely leashed patience in it.

"Lt. Torres, is the link all set up to show our friends the quality of our cargo?" inquired Tom with a relaxed tone.

"Yes, sir," said B'Elanna, her voice acquiring a more even tone tinged with nastiness. "Ready to transmit to the coordinates you supply."

"If you would be so kind," gestured Tom to Cline. She complied by entering the coordinates, still not saying a word. Tom internally was slightly worried. This one would be a lot harder sell than the others. She appeared to be a lot shrewder and quite unwilling to swallow the bait without chewing it a little first. He hoped that B'Elanna's little presentation was as flawless as her other work.

"Transmitting now," called B'Elanna after a few moments delay.

"Acknowledged," said Tom.

At the other end of the table, a square projection of light appeared and it focused. It was a view of cargo bay 1 on Voyager. There appeared to be many occupants in it of various Delta Quadrant species, and even a few Humans. They were held in sections by slightly visible force fields that shimmered occasionally. Security guards were posted at the entrance to the cargo bay. Lt. Torres was standing by the doors and she walked up to the security field of one cell and called out for its deactivation. She stepped into the cell and pulled one of the 'captives' up from his pallet on the floor. The view zoomed in closer to her and she said, "This is one of the Ulitha we picked up from the last Vandal ship we took. They're pretty good fighters, but you may need to feed him a little better before he's in any shape to give you a good show." Torres gave a feral grin and shoved the alien back down on its pallet and stepped back out of the cell. The force field was reactivated and she stood looking at the camera.

Administrator Cline finally spoke. "I want to see the other prisoners, a closer view," she demanded with a bark.

B'Elanna replied with a tight little smile, "Sure." She gestured off camera and the view went to panning the various prisoners. B'Elanna's voice came over the commlink, "As you can see, we have quite a variety."

"Why do have Humans as your prisoners?" asked Cline with a sharp tone.

Tom leaned back in his chair and responded, "They weren't working out under the new administration. They serve as a reminder to the crew that things have changed and that I am in charge."

"Indeed," was all Cline said to this, but Tom could see that she was thinking as they viewed the rest of the prisoners. When the tour was finished, the camera came back to B'Elanna, who waited by the doors of the cargo bay. "You have more than this?" asked Cline.

"Two more cargo bays with just as many," said Tom. "And the ability to obtain further supplies as needed." Tom reached over to the comm panel as he said, "That'll be all, Lt. Torres," and he severed the connection.

"Your proposal to Controller Nara stated that you were willing to accept a substantially lower fee for your services than what we now pay the Masaalia," spoke Cline.

Tom mentally gave a 'yes!', although his face remained impassive. The haggling had begun in earnest. "Yes, we're willing to take half of what the Masaalia normally receive per head, but I want you to know up front that this deal will only last a finite amount of time. I want to get fitted up for our return journey in style, not spend the rest of my life shuffling pitiful specimens of humanoids to their death." Tom smiled maliciously, "It's so profitable, but boring. The deal I offered stands. I'll sell you my fleet after we have acquired enough supplies, materials, and wealth to make our return something special." Cline appeared to consider this carefully, but Tom sensed that she liked what she saw on screen and was practically salivating at acquiring top merchandise at such a bargain rate.

"How many ships?" she asked after a few moments.

"Currently?" said Tom cagily. "Let's just say, more than three, shall we?" He stood up and stretched, then turned back to look down at Cline. "They all have the capability of totally destroying the Masaalian ships, so you'd have nothing to fear from them." He paused here a moment for effect, then went on, "I realize you'll have to talk it over with the Council here, Administrator Cline. You have my proposal, and you know I have the capability to fulfill my promises." He leaned over and put both palms on the table and looked directly at Cline, "And you really don't want to make an enemy of me, so...what do you say?" He turned to walk over to the doorway. "Somebody said something about some entertainment. When does it start? And, where can a guy get something eat around here? I'm starved."

Administrator Cline smiled, a truly frightening sight, and said, "The guards will take you back to your rooms, Captain. Controller Nara will escort you and your party to dinner and then to the arena for the event of the evening. We will meet you at the arena. By that time, we should have an answer to your proposal."

Tom inclined his head and said, "I look forward to both events, Administrator Cline." He then opened the doors and walked out of the room. He turned to the guard on his right and said, "You're to take me back to my rooms, James." The guard looked blankly at him, then stood at attention as Controller Yelm supplemented Tom's comments with specific instructions. Tom noticed that when Yelm spoke to the guards that the Ibesians translation system was apparently programmed not to translate the commands. He filed this away for future use. They proceeded back down the corridors to the suite of rooms where Seven and Vorik waited. They were going to dinner and a show, he mused. It sounded just awful.

End Part 15 1