Title: Come of Age
Author: Annette Welsh-Shinya 01/99
Series: VOY
Part: 16/?
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!


When Tom returned to the suite, both Seven and Vorik looked at him, but didn't say anything until the guards left again. A quick scan revealed that they were still stationed outside their door, but that the surveillance devices had not been repaired. They were still relatively secure within the room.

"We're invited to dinner and the evening's event," said Tom as he made his way to the couch and sat down. "Controller Nara is to be our guide and should be appearing very shortly. Vorik, what exactly was in that memory your put in her, anyway?" asked Tom with a frown.

"I placed a memory of conversation, sexual foreplay, coitus, and Controller Nara escorting me back to our rooms then returning to hers to rest before the evening's events," responded Vorik. Tom raised his eyebrows at this, but didn't say anything. Seven was impassive, but her eyebrow implant went up a bit also. Vorik continued, "I took a particular personal fantasy of hers and exploited it. It involved a knife, so to make the memory's impression stronger, I left the knife that I had in my boot as a reminder of the event. In her memory, I *gave* it to her as a souvenir of our encounter. I also gave her the inclination to assist us in any manner that we request of her."

Tom looked impressed. He got up and walked to where Vorik was standing. "Vorik, I think you are ready for the big time." He grinned at the Vulcan who looked at Tom with curiosity.

"You believe that this was the most effective course of action I could take under the circumstances, sir?" Vorik inquired.

Tom clasped an arm around Vorik's shoulders and led him to the couch to sit down. "Vorik, old buddy, you are an operator. I always suspected it, but now I have proof."

"Indeed?" was Vorik's response, though internally he was most pleased. He *had* done the right thing, regardless of how illogical and uncomfortable it had been. They continued to talk about the encounter, going over the details again.

Seven stood to one side of the couch, taking in the conversation. It was interesting, yet somewhat irritating to listen to. They seemed to be making light of the Controller Nara's inability to control herself and thus leaving herself open to exploitation. It bothered Seven on a level of understanding that she was just beginning to delve into, so she was unsure of her feelings on the subject. It seemed to her that, although Nara had proved useful to them completing their quest, it was a course of action that was distasteful to her personally. She resolved to talk to B'Elanna about this issue when they returned to the ship.

Controller Nara arrived a few minutes later. She was wearing the same outfit as before, but displayed prominently on her belt was the dagger that had formally occupied a place on Ensign Vorik's person. She had a satisfied expression on her face and looked at Vorik several times as she told Tom where they would be going to dinner. They left the room, escorted by their guards, and made their way to a restaurant on yet another floor of the immense building. As they entered the restaurant, Tom noticed that there were no other patrons. They had closed an entire business to entertain them in style, not to mention keep better control of them. The Ibesians were still being fairly cagey, but he was not worried, not too much anyway. Administrator Cline had chewed on it, but had eventually swallowed the lovely bait he had dangled in front of her so enticingly. She and Yelm would convince the rest to accept his offer. It was just too good to pass up. A bargain on merchandise for a time, then the ability to control their own supply and eliminate their only real rivals in the territory, the Vandals. All without having to stir themselves very much. It appealed to their bargaining instincts as well as their greed.

They sat down to eat, and Nara didn't even seem very surprised when they scanned each dish with their tricorders to ensure that it didn't have any unwanted additives. She sat next to Vorik and would periodically rub herself against him when she reached for an item or dropped her napkin. Vorik bore it stoically, but would look at her occasionally with the dark, smoldering look he had perfected. At these times, Nara would look like she was melting and would audibly sigh. Tom looked at Vorik then at Seven, who appeared to be amazed by this. Tom had a thought that Ensign Powers was probably going to be a very happy woman and then proceeded to finish his meal. It was not bad and it took his mind off what he was going to have to witness later.

B'Elanna sat up and pushed away her command screen. She was tired of reading reports and very worried about what was happening on the surface of the planet. She looked over to where Jan Powers was on duty at Ops. She looks worried also, B'Elanna thought. Join the club.

Jan had a look of supreme concentration as she ran another scan of the sensors. They had slipped out from behind the moon during their little demonstration, but had returned behind it afterward. They had launched a communications buoy to bounce their signals off of should Tom or the others require contact with them, but the telemetry they received from it was limited. They could not monitor them in any detail, and that made Jan very uncomfortable. Mr. Paris, Ensign Seven, and Vorik were down there, in roles that weren't anywhere near their real selves. They were playing a dangerous game. She couldn't help but worry, and that bothered her, too. It was imperative that she perform her duties without the added distraction of emotional involvement with any of the parties in the away team. The lecture was one she had been giving herself for the past couple of hours, and it seemed to have as little effect as ever. Jan still was worried sick about Vorik and the others, but mostly Vorik. Looking over at Lt. Torres, she noted that B'Elanna also looked worried. Somehow, this made her feel a little better. Turning back to her board, she began a complicated series of diagnostics to ensure that the sensors and the shielding were operating at optimum capabilities and started the lecture in her head all over again.

The turbolift doors opened and Naomi Wildman stepped out onto the Bridge. She made her way to the command chair and said, "Lt. Torres, I have the last report from Astrometrics on the Abraad system and the best course to get there." The child handed a padd with the data on it to B'Elanna.

B'Elanna smiled at Naomi and scanned the information briefly. She looked up and said, "I'll look this over and then route it to the Conn for the course corrections. Thank you, Ms. Wildman."

"Yes, sir," said Naomi happily, her enjoyment of her duties as Captain's Assistant evident. "Do you have any other duties for me, sir?" she asked hopefully.

B'Elanna thought for a moment, then replied, "Ensign Neelix is going over the duty rosters for the weekly assignments. The recovered crew members have to be worked into the duty rotations. Please assist him the evaluations of the crew members for assignments."

"Yes, sir," Naomi proudly spoke, standing up straight. "I'll get right on it." She then bounded over to where Neelix was standing at the Security station.

Neelix beamed at her and said, "I've got a couple people I need to do interviews with, Naomi. Let me finish up here, and then we'll get right on it." Naomi nodded her agreement and stood to one side of the Security station, shifting from one foot to the other in her excitement.

B'Elanna watched the interaction and was happy for Naomi, somewhat envious of the child's ability to lose herself in her duties. Earlier that day, Naomi had approached her with her concern about Tom and Seven's attempt to find out the fate of the crew members reportedly in the Ibesian's custody. She had done her best to assure the child that they would be all right and would be returning unless something really catastrophic happened. It had really struck her how Naomi had replied, "I know Tom's really good and Seven and Vorik are very smart, but a lot of bad things have happened to Voyager's people before." Although they had been on the Bridge, B'Elanna had taken the girl into her embrace and told her, "I'm worried too, but we just have to have confidence in their abilities, and believe in them." Naomi had hugged her back fiercely then had gone back to work. B'Elanna gazed at the child again, hoping against great odds that her mother was down on Barnok IV and would be restored to Naomi unharmed. She went back to observing the reports of the scans and the status of the ship. And waiting. And worrying.

Their meal finished, Controller Nara led Tom and the others to the arena. As they approached the entrance, they could hear the sounds of the crowd. When the doors opened, the noise crashed around them. Nara led them to the seats that she had shown Vorik previously. Administrator Cline and the other members of the Council were seated in the front row of the box. A seat next to Cline was empty, and Tom was gestured to take it. As he sat down, he noted that Nara sat behind and to the left of him, pulling Vorik down next to her. Seven took a seat next to Vorik, behind and to his right. He turned his head and looked at Cline who was gazing down at the center of the arena.

Cline glanced at Tom and said, "Good evening, Captain Paris. I trust you enjoyed your dinner?"

"It was great," replied Tom. "Has the Council come to a decision?"

Cline barked a laugh and said, "You don't waste any time, Captain. And, yes, they have accepted your offer. We can talk about it later," she added as her gaze went back to the arena.

"Any tips on what to watch for, Administrator Cline?" asked Tom pleasantly as he internally shivered at the spectacle before him. The stains on the walls of the maze were undoubtedly blood of some kind. The crowd had taken to chanting, and the general gist of what they were saying was, 'Bring on the victims'.

Cline gestured to the far wall which had a gate in it, "The contestant will appear out of that gate. The course runs around the maze, past several cages where very savage and hungry beasts await to give them a challenge. At various points along the maze, there are weapons available. To make it interesting, some of the weapons work, and some of them don't."

"That would make it interesting, all right," replied Tom blandly.

"The object, of course, is to reach the end of the maze alive. At that point, they have to face the challenge of our resident gladiator," Cline said with satisfaction. "Our current champion hasn't lost a fight with a challenger in almost a year. The final battle is incredibly violent and bloody." Her voice had taken on a cadence that did ring quite true to Tom. He looked at her and noted her eyes were glazed and the pupils were dilated, her breathing coming in short pants. Oh, God, she's turned on at the prospect of all this thought Tom with horror. It's not just about profit, it's foreplay, too.

"I'm sure it is," Tom agreed. "How does the betting work?" he asked to bring her back to the matter at hand.

Cline seemed to founder for a moment, the responded, "Down on the side there. Do you see the booths? Betting takes place all the way to the final kill. You can bet to see if the contestant makes it past the first beast, how long it takes them to die, how far along the maze they get, even if they scream before dying." She looked at Tom, "We offer the full experience and the chance of financial reward as well as personal pleasure."

Tom felt his dinner lurch in his stomach, but he rallied himself and managed to present a insouciant demeanor. "It sounds absolutely terrific, Administrator...and profitable," he added smiling a pirana-like smile. Cline's face split into her horrible grin and they, on the surface, were in grim accord. Tom felt the need to go bathe. He shifted in his seat to observe the crowd. They were comprised of many different species, some he had encountered, others he had no idea of. There were even some in environmental suits, so the appeal of the Ibesian's spectacles knew no bounds. Then, a gong sounded. It was the beginning.

There was no announcer, but the crowd knew what to expect. A great roar went up, then it became quiet. The far gate opened and there appeared a very short, squat alien of a race that Tom was unfamiliar with. He looked over at Cline with inquiry.

Cline yelled over the crowd's returned fervent cries, "It's a Yamil. Not very good sport, but it gets the crowd warmed up."

Tom nodded and made himself turn and watch. He felt slightly light-headed as the Yamil made his way cautiously through the first turn of the maze and faced a large dragon-like beast. The alien picked up a lance that was laying on the ground that made to defend itself. The beast attacked, and the Yamil tried to plunge the lance into its chest, but the lance splintered and was ineffective. The Yamil screamed as the dragon slashed its body with its immense jaws. Bluish fluid sprayed out of its mouth, the lifeblood of the Yamil that was now limp. The dragon worked its jaws twice, and there was nothing left of the alien except some new stains on one wall of the maze.

"See, I told you," said Cline, sounding disgusted. "Absolutely no staying power." She nudged Tom with one arm, "Just wait though, you have a real treat tonight. A couple more contestants in, you're going to see one of your former crew mates perform. Their training sessions have proven them very favorable as contestants. We'll see how they work out."

"I'm sure they'll give you a great show, Administrator," Tom managed to get out. It was a good thing that the noise of the crowd practically drowned out the tone of his voice, because Tom couldn't keep some of the horror he felt creeping into it. He sat straight in his chair, looking forward, but unseeing. He was vaguely aware that another unfortunate alien came and was slaughtered, but he could not concentrate. Cline was too wrapped up in watching the spectacle to notice Tom's inability to focus, he was very glad to notice after a while. He had shook off his fugue and now was feeling a great sorrow. He was too late. One or more of Voyager's crew was going to be slaughtered before his very eyes, and he would be expected to approve, even cheer. He'd been acting almost all of his life, concealing his true self in one way or another, but he didn't think he could pull this off. For the first time in a long time, he felt the absolute longing for the oblivion of a bottle of scotch.

He forced himself to look down to the gate where the next victim would be appearing very soon. He noted that the activity at the betting booths was intense. He sucked in a breath when the gate opened again. Standing there, wearing a stained and tattered but still a recognizable gold and black tunic, was Harry Kim. Tom felt his gorge rise and he suppressed it, somehow.

Seven raised partially in her seat, her face the mirror of the abhorrence that Tom felt. Vorik moved to restrain her, and she sat back down. Nara didn't even notice. Vorik kept his one hand on her upper arm and placed the other in hers. Seven didn't look down, but gripped his hand very tightly. They both could not look away from what was happening down below.

End Part 16 1