Title: Come of Age
Author: Annette Welsh-Shinya 01/99
Series: VOY
Part: 18/?
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!


As the Flyer approached Voyager, B'Elanna called Neelix on the comm system. "Torres to Neelix."

"Neelix here, Lt. Torres."

"Is everything ready?" asked B'Elanna in terse voice.

"Yes, sir," replied the Talaxian. "The team is assembled and the ordnance has been replicated. Your program devices have just arrived and they've been placed in the cases. We're just standing by for Mr. Paris' final orders.

"Acknowledged, Mr. Neelix," B'Elanna said as she got up from her chair. "I'm on my way to the shuttle bay now. The Flyer's ETA is ten minutes. I want to make a final inspection of the team. Torres out." Carrying a padd, she made her way to the turbolift, calling out, "Ensign Powers, you have the Bridge."

"Aye, sir," Powers responded as B'Elanna disappeared behind the turbolift doors. Jan eyed Mike Baytart's back, which had stiffened, but he didn't say anything. She resumed her intense concentration on her board, making endless sensor sweeps, checking and rechecking their shielding.

B'Elanna exited the turbolift near the shuttlebay entrance and walked rapidly toward the assembled group there. Neelix met her at the head of the line. He was dressed in his entry team gear and carried a compression phaser rifle and various types of grenades on his person, a grim expression resided on his face.

B'Elanna got right to the point. "Let me see the replicated ordnance."

Neelix led her to the cases that were piled next to the shuttlebay doors. Opening the first case, she handed her padd to Neelix, borrowed his tricorder, and took careful readings of the contents. Following a similar course, she examined every case with just as much care.

Looking up, she motioned to the first crew member, Lisa Sawra, and said, "Crewman Sawra, show me your weapon." Sawra handed Torres her phaser rifle and B'Elanna checked the settings. Moving down the line, she examined each weapon of the six crew there. Then she held her hand out for Neelix's weapon. Neelix looked slightly offended, but handed it to her anyway. "Relax, Neelix," B'Elanna said dryly. "I'm just double-checking everything. I don't want any screw-ups on this mission because of equipment failure. You'll be taking enough risks as it is."

"Understood, Lieutenant," Neelix nodded. "We're going to get them out, and we're going to live to tell about it," the Security officer said with satisfaction.

"See that you do, Neelix," said B'Elanna with a snap as she handed him back his rifle and retrieved her padd from him. She prowled down the corridor, waiting for the arrival of the Flyer, visually inspecting the team. A few minutes later, Tom's voice came over the comm system announcing their final approach. Moving to the doors, B'Elanna inwardly cursed a string of Klingon and Human oaths, but had externally stilled and appeared to be waiting patiently for the doors to open. The team shifted restlessly behind her, and she could hear Neelix murmuring some instructions. Finally, the doors opened and the group walked through. Tom met them at the Flyer's hatch.

"Do you have the ordnance ready to go?" he asked as he took his entry team gear from Neelix.

"Yes, it's in the companionway," B'Elanna explained as she handed him her padd. "This is the data from the deep scans you wanted of the arena complex. I have marked the appropriate places for the charges to ensure complete loss of structural integrity." Reaching over his shoulder, she pointed to the padd's screen. "I have highlighted the prisoner holding areas. They are concentrated in this area, directly behind the west wall of the arena area. Security appears to be tightest near the entrances of the holding area, but the entire north and west sides of the holding cells are unguarded as they have no doors or windows. That's where you'll need to take them out. The shielding is pretty heavy. We won't be able to monitor you very well."

"Do you have the security by-pass programs ready to go?" Tom said, not looking up from the padd.

"I put the finishing touches on them myself," said B'Elanna. "They're packed with the bombs. Put them in at a computer datagate and they'll chew through anything. Their underlying program base is the Vandal's seeker program sequences with some added Starfleet and Borg twists. They'll be months trying to figure out what happened to their system," she finished with satisfaction.

Tom looked up at smiled at B'Elanna and realized the strain that she had been under. So had they all, but his heart tugged at him to see his love worn so thin. "Good work, B'Elanna. Let's get the ordnance loaded." B'Elanna detailed the crew to load the cases on the Flyer, then walked over to where Tom was talking with Neelix.

"Is the team completely briefed on the plan, Neelix?" Tom had shrugged out of his coat, was getting into his harness and attaching various weapons and grenades. There was no time for him to change; the timing of the strike had to be during the spectacle, so the Ibesians and their guests were taken totally by surprise and they could proceed with as much stealth as possible.

"Yes, sir," replied Neelix crisply. "They are briefed and ready to go."

Seven and Vorik appeared from the flyer, Seven had taken a few moments to get back in her uniform, and came up and took their weapons from Neelix and attached them to their persons. The crew was finished loading the ordnance and there was nothing left but to get moving. Tom turned to B'Elanna as Neelix, Seven, and Vorik made their way to the Flyer. "It's time."

B'Elanna stared at Tom for a moment, her expression giving nothing away. She spoke. "Live," was all she said, her tone quiet and intense. The one word held a multitude of meanings and Tom understood them all.

"I will," came back an equally quiet but forceful reply. They had said it all before, now just relived it in the short moments they had before parting. It was if the force of their wills was trying to bend the path of destiny more in their favor. Their stubbornness was almost legendary, their depth of caring even stronger. They looked at one another and Tom's hand reached out and he slid fingers from her ridged brow to her chin and up to her lips. He smiled a ghost of a smile and she returned it, her eyes bright with the tears she wouldn't permit to fall. Then it was over, and they broke apart without further words, each making their way to their appointed tasks. It seemed that they spent a lot of time saying goodbye these days, thought B'Elanna as headed back to the Bridge. Too damn much time. And Tom, he looked like someone had beaten his soul to shreds. She wondered what exactly took place down on the planet to put that shell-shocked looked of horror that lay behind his command facade.

Tom examined the team as they prepared for takeoff. It was comprised of Neelix, Dell, Sawra, Blake, and, O'Connell . Together with Seven, Vorik, and himself, they were going to take on the Ibesians and free his crew. They would be successful; there was no room for failure. Calling out the pre-flight sequences, they took off from the flight deck. They swung around Voyager, making an approach to the planet to slide through their security nets again. Voyager took up an orbit around the planet, at high alert, ready to intervene at any time. There was a taut silence in the shuttle as they descended into the atmosphere. The faces of the team were set in determined expressions. Each had made peace with the fact that they had a good chance of not returning from this mission, but this had not stopped them from volunteering for it. Neelix had had to turn away twice as many personnel as he needed. The crew felt very strongly about retrieving their own. To a one, the team members glanced up periodically at Tom as he piloted the shuttle. His demeanor was relaxed and confident, yet he gave the impression that he was ready to spring in response to any threat or challenge. They were all looking to him. If he could do it, so could they.

The shuttle landed on the same pad as before, but Tom kept the shielding in place until the flyer was stationary. Prior to exiting the shuttle, he had Vorik check the Ibesian's systems for any alarms they might have set off. Thanks to Nara's codes, they were able to get into the system relatively easily and found that their presence was undetected. They proceeded to the west end of the arena hall, four members of the team carrying the black ordnance cases.

"Neelix," Tom called in a low voice. "Have them get ready to start on that exterior wall. Seven and I are going to set up the dampening field and the portable shields."

"Aye, sir," came Neelix's soft voice through the darkness as he directed Blake, Dell, and O'Connell to the wall, Vorik and Sawra to stand guard.

Barnok IV had no moon, but the arena had bright lighting all around it, even on the sides with high, blank walls. Tom and Seven set up the dampening field projectors and portable shielding devices at intervals along the west side of the wall. Returning to the group, Tom nodded to Seven, who activated the devices with her tricorder. The lights went out and, presumably, they would remain undetected by the Ibesian security forces. Tom signalled Neelix and he acknowledged it. Tom, Seven, Vorik and Ensign Dell split off from the group and made their way back to the main entrance of the arena. Neelix's team continued to work on making ready the entry point in the wall.

The guards outside the arena entrance were phasered into unconsciousness and Tom's team moved inside quickly, pulling the unconscious guards just inside the entry doors. Proceeding through the main hall, Vorik and Seven scanned continuously with their tricorders, while Tom and Dell maintained cover with their phaser rifles. They encountered a couple more of the 'Praetorian Guard' and took them out of the action. Tom stripped off the belt of one of the guards and hung it over one shoulder. Seven lookeded at Tom inquiringly, but he just made a motion that said, 'I'll explain later', and they moved on. The markings that Seven had made earlier were still there, and the team moved swiftly through the maze of corridors. They made a final turn, and then were at the doors of the suite they previously occupied. They entered the room and rescanned it for monitoring devices. The room was still clean.

Tom took the belt off of his arm and began scanning it carefully. Dell took up a position by the door. Vorik went to the computer panel on the desk and began installing the seeker program that B'Elanna had devised. Seven came over and observed the results on Tom's tricorder.

"It's a guiding device for the corridors," she finally commented.

Tom looked up at her and said, "That's was my thought, but then I realized that it's more like an inhibitor." He picked up the belt and put it on. He immediately felt nauseated and in pain, and hurriedly took it off. "I think they use it as a 'governor' of their guards behavior. They stay in their appointed areas and don't wander off. Dammit," Tom swore and slung the belt down. "I was hoping to use it to get us through the rest of this maze of corridors. Now I guess we'll have to do it the old-fashioned way."

"The scans of the building that Voyager did were unable to penetrate far enough into the building to give us a schematic?" asked Seven as she took the tricorder from Tom and began fiddling with it.

"Yes," replied Tom as he began to pace the room. "They have shielding in place over the whole building. I had B'Elanna concentrate on breaking through it in the prisoner holding area and the actual arena itself first. There wasn't time to deep scan this area of the complex."

Seven examined the belt more and then spoke, "I believe I can modify this device to read the grid network that supplies the curbing impulses to the guard and project the schematic on my tricorder."

Tom looked hopeful, "Can you use the data that we have already and integrate it to make a complete schematic of the complex?"

"I will try," said Seven with a fierce look. Tom nodded at her and she got to work.

Tom moved over to where Dell was on guard. "Dell, you'll be with Seven. Vorik's going with me." Vorik looked up from the desk and acknowledged Tom. "We'll plant the compression explosives, then meet at the entrance to the prisoners' quarters." He checked his chronometer, "Estimates on the time left to tonight's event put it between thirty and forty-five more minutes. I want to be ready at the prisoners' quarters in twenty-five minutes. Take chances if you have to, but don't get caught." Tom looked closely at both men. "That's an order, Ensigns."

"Yes, sir," both Vorik and Dell responded, looking intently back at Tom.

"I am ready, sir," said Seven picking up the belt and slinging it over her shoulders. She walked over to Tom and requested his tricorder. "I am uploading the overall schematic to your tricorder. I will retain possession of this device until I can be sure of the accuracy of my data." Gazing at Tom, she said, "Without first testing it, I am unsure if it will work."

Tom smiled slightly at Seven and said, "It'll work, Seven. Vorik, are you finished?"

"Yes, Mr. Paris," said Vorik.

"Come on, let's get going then," replied Tom.

They moved to the doorway and readied themselves to go back out to the corridor. Tom gave the signal to Vorik and he opened the door. Following the map on his tricorder, Tom and Vorik made their way to the left. Seven and Dell to the right. Each group burdened with the compression grenades and the worry over whether or not they would be able to complete their tasks.

In the prisoners' quarters, Harry Kim limped over to the communal water trough and dipped some out into his hands and splashed in on his face. The cuts stung like hell, but his face showed not a flicker of reaction. Drinking a little of the water, he coughed and rubbed his chest. Must have broken a couple a ribs, he thought to himself. He moved over to where Sam Wildman was sitting next to a wall where Joe Carey lay under a ragged blanket. She was looking very tired, having been up most of the night with Joe, who was running a high fever. It didn't look good for him.

"How's he doing?" said Harry as he sat down next to Sam.

Sam shook her head and replied in a hoarse voice, "Not good, Harry. He hasn't regained consciousness for the whole day and has a very high fever. I think that last group of prisoners from the Besswall cluster brought in some kind of new disease. Six other people are ill, and one of the Yamils died while you were fighting."

Harry felt the familiar return of anger followed closely by hopelessness, then the return of anger, white hot. There was nothing he could do for the crew that was trapped with him. They had only themselves to count on, no supplies, no equipment. It had been that way for months. The only thing that had kecionim going was his anger. He had passed it on in one form or another to the rest of the crew imprisoned here to keep them going, but the fighting, the diseases, the grinding lack of hope was taking its toll. He mentally cursed Seven of Nine, also a familiar pattern. Focusing his hatred on her, he honed it, polishing his resolve to survive long enough to confront her with her perfidy. Whatever else he was, he was still the ranking officer here, so it was his job to keep everyone together. There just wasn't anything else to use but his determination to not yield an iota to their captives.

"Keep him as comfortable as you can," he said shortly to Sam. "If he lives, he lives. There's nothing you and I can do for him now." He moved off to another section of the wall and sat down, his back resting up against it. Closing his eyes, he rested.

Sam, who would have been outraged at such a response a few months ago, took this with resigned calm. "Yes, sir," she had answered almost listlessly. She was just praying that the Ibesians didn't choose her for a maze run tonight. Yesterday in training, she had unfortunately caught the eye of one of the trainers and had heard her talking to the scheduler about fitting Sam in. The scheduler had replied that they were already full up and that she would have to wait until the next event, two days from now. The trainer had been disappointed, but Sam hadn't. However, there were always cases where substitutions would have to take place. Several suicides and one death by disease had taken place today, so there would be a shortage of entertainment. Thinking of Naomi, she dipped a rag into the small bowl of water she had and wiped Joe's forehead. She whispered soft words of love and encouragement to the unconscious man, and started singing a low lullaby in memory of her daughter.

End Part 18