Title: Come of Age
Author: Annette Welsh-Shinya 01/99
Series: VOY
Part: 17/?
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!


Harry was very thin, but looked lean and strong. His hair was longer than he usually kept it, it fell to his shoulders, giving him a slightly pagan look. He canvassed the area around the entry gate and came up with a short pike type of weapon. He moved restlessly, not staying in one place for long. The sound of the maze being opened up caused him to move toward the first turn, but he did not approach it openly. Sidling up one side of the maze wall, he took a quick look around the corner and saw the dragon. Rather than approaching it slowly, he threw himself around the corner, gave a loud cry, and hurled his body at the dragon. He grabbed onto the neck of the beast and proceed to claw at its chest with the hooked end of the pike. The dragon reared back and roared, actual flames appeared from its nostrils and mouth, but Harry did not let go. The upper arms of the beast were too short to reach him, so the dragon began swinging its head back and forth in an effort to dislodge its attacker. It seemed to have no effect on Harry's grip, and the wounds from his savage thrust of the pike grew in the dragon's chest. With a final heave of its body, the dragon screamed as it fell down, writhing in its death throes. Harry pushed himself off quickly to get out of reach of the claws of the beast. He did not pause to reflect on his victory, but moved off in his search pattern of before. He located a small pistol-like weapon which he immediately tested and found to be useless. Discarding the pistol, he then found a whip and length of wire. He tied the whip around his waist and wound the wire around the pike. Moving stealthily onward through the maze, he approached the second corner.

Tom did not know what to expect here. The first victims had not made it past the dragon. He felt both proud of Harry to have defeated the beast under such unfavorable conditions, and alternately dismayed that his friend had apparently had descended into a feral-like creature in order to survive. Even from this distance, he could see the wildness in Harry. He exuded savagery, coiled to spring at any sign of danger. It was not long before he was confronted with the second beast. This one was a cat-like creature, with long fangs and powerful haunches. Its six feet had curved talons and the tail that whipped about had a stinger like a scorpion. Harry circled about the area, facing the cat at all times. He undid the whip from his waist and held it in one hand, the pike in the other. The cat growled and hissed. Finally, the animal sprang. It was incredibly fast, but Harry seemed to know which way it was going to go, because he turned himself sideways and the whip snaked out and curled about the tail of the beast. He tugged the cat backward, using its own momentum to tangle the dangerous tail up with its own feet with the whip. Then, Harry grabbed the cat by the nape of its neck and plunged the sharp edge of the pike through its throat and slashed it open. The beast struggled only briefly before collapsing. Harry then carefully retrieved the whip, taking considerable pains to avoid the end of the tail of the cat, even though it was dead. He retied the whip around his waist and again searched the area of the maze for more weapons. He did not find any and moved on.

Seven could not breath properly. She watched Harry as he defeated seemingly invincible beasts with relative ease. She felt a tightness in her throat as he fought for his life. The guilt that had almost overwhelmed her in the months since he had been taken had returned full force. Harry was here because of her. If he lived, he certainly would never forgive her. Not after this, she knew. Her grip on Vorik's hand became even harsher, but he did not say a word. Somehow he knew. She managed to look at him briefly, but his attention was fixed on Harry in the arena. Seven returned her gaze to the man that she had discovered she loved far too late. A tear slid down her cheek. With the exception of Vorik, the patrons around her didn't notice.

Vorik didn't say anything, but his expression was one of concern. The difficulty of the situation was not lost on him, nor could he fail to discern that Tom's back was rigid and that he was holding himself together with difficulty. Vorik knew that he could do nothing for Harry, and Tom had to keep up the front that he had built with the Ibesians. He sat there and held Seven's hand, which wasn't much, but from the pressure of her grip, he knew that she needed it. Vorik willed strength and even luck to Harry Kim.

Harry approached the last turn of the maze with even more caution. The last beast was always the biggest. He knew that they had changed it at the last moment, so the one that he had studied was gone. It would be an unknown quantity, and certainly would be a tougher opponent than the first two. The methods never varied, always harder, always more, increase the spectacle. It made the patrons happy and the hosts more money. The frenzy of the crowd made the noise level unbearable, but he barely registered it. His full concentration was on the turn in the maze. This was where the next cage was. He scanned the floor and walls of the maze for weapons, there were none. He would have to make do with what he had. Considering his meager weapons, he pulled the whip from his waist and prepared to use it. The pike was transferred to his left hand and he approached the turn. Girding himself for the battle to come he slid partially around the corner.

There was nothing there, then a great roar came from the open cage door. The beast appeared. It was a huge bi-pedal creature, covered with brown and white fur. It had hands with fingers, but the fingers ended in claws. There was a snout on its face and it looked like a Mugato. It stood a good half meter taller than Harry and he was momentarily at a loss as how to approach it. Making the decision for him, the creature sprang at him, taking him in its grasp. Crushing Harry with its strength, the ape-like monster attempted to bite him in the neck. Harry responded by hooking the pike that he still held into its back. The ape screamed but did not let him go. Harry pulled hard on the pike and struggled in its grip. The creature finally let go of him, but the pike remained hooked into its back. Harry backed off and picked up the whip that he had dropped. Circling around the creature, he searched for a weakness that he could exploit.

He knew that every one of these creatures that the Ibesians used in their spectacles could be defeated. He had seen it done countless times in the weeks that he had been there. The problem was not in defeating an individual creature; it was killing all three of them and still having enough energy to fight the gladiator. Harry had seen the strongest of contenders actually get through the maze of monsters and falter at the last fight, victim of an incredibly strong and clever fighter known as Zlen. He was not going to suffer that fate. He had worked out furiously in the gym provided. Each day he had driven himself and the other Voyager crew members to train relentlessly in order for them to survive. A couple of them had not, victims of training exercises early in their captivity. He had resolved to keep the rest of them as safe from harm as he could, thus the ruthless schedule he had devised for them. Harry had berated them, threatened them, even beat Joe Carey up once, in order to save them. He hardly recognized himself any more. Even gentle Sam Wildman had become positively bloodthirsty in her desire to live.

The ape continued to circle him, and Harry could sense that it had more intelligence that the other beasts he had faced. The whip he held didn't seem to offer him any advantage, but he did not discard it. Having learned the hard way, he knew to not discard any weapon, not to lose any advantage he had. He had to figure out how to turn the situation to his advantage. The ape was injured - that was it. Harry circled around the creature, and readied his whip. Darting around behind the ape, he slung the whip toward the pike still stuck in its back. The tip of the whip curled around the handle of the pike and Harry pulled for his life. The pike tore free, leaving a gaping hole in the beast's back that gushed fluids. The ape screamed with fury and came at Harry. He back away and flicked the whip up and grabbed the pike in his hand again. The beast came at him again and he met it full force. Harry swung the pike down and it embedded itself in the head of the beast with a sickly crunch. The ape staggered but kept on, pulling Harry into its grip once more. Harry pulled the stiff wire off the handle of the pike and plunged it into the eyes of the ape. Blinded it still did not loosen its grip on Harry, who had taken hold of the pike and was attempting to force it into the head of the beast more. They circled around, a grim picture of the ape trying to crush Harry, while Harry attempted to bury the wire and the pike deeper into its head. Finally, the beast fell down, and they rolled around twice, ending up with Harry on top. The ape ceased to move, and Harry extricated himself from its grasp. Staggering, Harry got up, rubbing the blood from a cut on his forehead out of his eyes.

The roaring of the crow was surreal. Tom could not take his eyes off of Harry. It was incredible, watching him take on these beasts that Tom would have sworn could kill him in seconds. He realized that Harry had changed, much as he had changed, in order to survive. Tom wondered at the price Harry had had to pay in order to change this much from the nice, easy-going, friendly guy he had been. Tom thought of what he had gone through himself and decided that it would be hard to say who had experienced more, Harry or him. He tasted copper in his mouth, and his tongue felt the inside of his cheeks. While watching the spectacle, he had bit his cheeks so hard that blood was still flowing inside his mouth. He had not moved his body or facial expression an iota. Like a statue of marble and just about as cold, he watched his best friend fight for his life, unable to help him in any way.

Harry focused his attention on the ape creature. It appeared dead, but he didn't want to take any chances. He looked around the floor of the maze and spied another weapon. It was a knife, a dagger with a long blade. He picked it up and took it over to the ape and plunged it into the area where its heart should be. The knife slid in easily. He wiggled it around to test the strength of the blade, knowing that the Ibesians loved to play tricks with defective weapons. It appeared to be sound. Now convinced that the ape was dead, Harry tucked the knife into his jacket and retrieved his other weapons, prepared to go on. Now was the hard part; he had to fight Zlen.

Breathing in and out, building up oxygen in his lungs, Harry made the last turn around the corner. The fight now would be fairly straight forward. He would face Zlen in armed combat. The rules were that there were no rules. You killed or were killed. Harry knew that he was ready and as strong as he ever would be. Standing at the edge of the small square that was the fighting area he called, "Zlen! I'm here. Come fight me, if you dare!"

Zlen appeared from the darkened gate at one side of the square. The crowd roared and the noise level climbed higher than ever. The gladiator was clothed in a loincloth and weapons belt, boots on his feet. His head was shaved and he had a beard. Spikes ran across his forehead and more were on his back in the spine area. Zlen was a Masaalian. He raised his arms and gave a battle cry; the crowd reacted insanely, screaming encouragement to the warrior. Harry gave back a battle cry of his own and his face held a snarling expression.

The warriors circled each other, watching and waiting for an opening. Harry had studied Zlen over and over again. The Masaalian had no apparent weaknesses that he had been able to discern. The only way that Harry could defeat him was with a great deal of luck, or by fighting incredibly dirty. He reached into his tunic and palmed the ampoule of drug he had traded food for. The person he had obtained it for had assumed that he would use it to take himself to oblivion, a common practice among captives of the Ibesians. Harry had another use for it. He just needed to get close enough to Zlen to inject him with it. It would put him under for a long time in a pleasurable fog, or so he had been told. He knew that the other prisoners that he had seen take this were utterly useless for hours afterward. Getting close enough to administer the dose was going to very tricky though.

With a growl, Zlen made the choice for him, and sprang at him, wielding his weapon, a long broadsword. Harry used his whip to tangle up Zlen's hand with the sword and came up close to him. Dropping his hold on t

hip, he used both hands to grab onto Zlen, and plunged the hypo into his neck. Screaming, the Masaalian struck Harry in the head, and he fell like a stone to the ground. Zlen tugged at the hype stuck in his neck, but was already staggering from the effects of the drug. Harry shook his head in an attempt to clear it; the pain from the blow was incredible. He could hardly focus his eyes. Managing to get up, he pulled the dagger from inside his tunic and unsteadily made his way over to where Zlen had fallen to his knees. Harry wasted no time nor mercy, and he plunged the dagger into Zlen's chest over and over again, utterly unaware that he was screaming incoherently while he did so. Finally, the huge Masaalian fell over, blood gushing from his wounds. Harry fell over with him, still thrusting with the dagger. When all movement had ceased, Harry stood up, the dripping knife in his hand. The crowd had gone absolutely silent.

Moving to the center of the fighting area, Harry held up the dagger above his head and gave his battle cry. Blood flowed down from the knife on his head and mingled with his own that seeped from the gash on his forehead and the various small wounds over his body. His tattered uniform was almost completely discolored from the various bloods of his victims. The audience was stunned by the spectacle, but then began screaming again. The action down by the betting booths was furious. Harry just stood in the arena, his arms falling down to his sides, but he retained his grip on the knife. He didn't trust that there weren't more battles that he would have to fight, even after he had won. His eyes kept scanning the arena, looking for more assailants. Finally, the gate at the end of the arena opened and a guard came out to escort him back to his holding cell. He was the victor, for now.

Tom finally remembered to breathe. Harry was alive. He focused on that. Gathering himself together, he turned to look at Cline. She had an amazed expression on her face. Turning to Tom, she said, "Do all Humans fight that well?"

"Some do, some don't," replied Tom in a disinterested tone. "I suppose it was a pretty good show, but then, I've seen some great fights, so I'm a little bit tougher of a critic," he added nonchalantly.

"You didn't find that utterly fascinating?" queried Cline in an unbelieving voice.

"Like I said, it was OK, and apparently and more importantly, the crowd really liked it," Tom said. "It's fine for an evening or two, but I like to get into more important things, like making some money. Shall we set up the schedule for delivery of the first set of cargo?"

Cline laughed and said, "You're a man after my own heart, Captain Paris. But, let's not talk business now, tonight is for pleasure. There is more to come, although our best gladiator has been defeated, his back-up is a good fighter, also."

Tom stood up and stretched, "Thanks, but it's been a long day. I think that I'll take my people and return to my ship. I can come back tomorrow and we'll make the final arrangements."

Administrator Cline looked back down at the arena where another alien was getting ready to face a new set of beasts. She was distracted when she said, "Oh, very well, Captain Paris. If you so desire, you may return to your ship. I will see you tomorrow." She gestured to Controller Nara, then called her sharply to get her attention and ordered her to take them back to their ship. Nara appeared put out that she would miss the rest of the show, but followed orders anyway.

Tom, Seven, and Vorik made there way back to the hallway behind Nara. The doors shut, and the noise of the crowd diminished. Tom felt like he had been beaten up and was sick to his very soul. There would be more deaths tonight, and he was powerless to stop the carnage. What they had witnessed was depravity at its worst, and the Ibesians and their guests craved it like a drug. Even more than the money involved was the spectacle, the violent death and carnage. He had descended into hell and the Ibesians were his merry hosts.

Nara led them out to the main hall and to the doorway to the outside. The night was cool and soothing after the heat and pressure of the arena. Tom felt a slight relief from his nausea. Nara paused at the foot of the steps and said, "You can find your own way to your ship, I am sure. I will notify the guards to expect you." She appeared very agitated and kept looking toward the arena. "I will see you tomorrow at the negotiations, then," and she turned to Vorik. "I still think that you would be stunning in the arena," she breathed to the Vulcan. Vorik merely quirked an eyebrow at her. Nara stroked the dagger in her belt and was gone.

The group quickly and silently made their way to the Flyer. The guards watched them impassively as Tom turned away from them and pulled out his commbadge. He activated it and ordered the computer to open up the Flyer. They entered the ship and secured the hatch. Pre-flight was quick and silent, each one knowing their duties and performing them rapidly. They could not leave fast enough.

As the Flyer climbed into the sky, Tom keyed the comm system and alerted Voyager that they were on their way back and to finish the preparations. The silence in the shuttle continued all the way back to Voyager. They had started this, now they had to finish it. It would be very satisfactory to do something, rather than watch the horror that had unfolded before them. The best revenge would be to take from the Ibesians what they treasured most - their spectacle. Tom felt absolutely no compunction, nor any loyalty to the Prime Directive in this. They were holding *his* people, literally butchering them for sport. He would retrieve them, at all costs, and be damned to the bloodthirsty animals that held them. They would get what they deserved.

End Part 17 1