Title: Come of Age
Author: Annette Welsh-Shinya 01/99
Series: VOY
Part: 2/?
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!


The Doctor turned back to B'Elanna, working carefully with the jury-rigged regen. A weak voice from another bio-bed said, "Doctor, I'm doing much better now. Don't you think I could get up? I'm sure they could find me something to do down in Engineering."

The Doctor looked over to where Sue Nicoletti lay propped up on one elbow. She was thin and pale, with bruises visible all over the unexposed parts of her body. She was suffering, among other things, from malnutrition and dehydration. She looked as if a slight wind would bowl her over. The Doctor knew to tread lightly here, as she was still in a very delicate mental state, having gone from abused captive slave to freedom less than an hour ago. "You need to rest, Ensign," he said in a gentle voice. "Ensign Vorik has things well in hand. He's co-opted several crew members into an Engineering on-the-job-training group. He has been fairly successful. Lt. Torres has even warmed up to the idea."

Nicoletti gave a wan smile and lay back down. She was so tired. She still couldn't believe that they had found her. Burns and she had given up all hope that anyone was even looking. She decided that she would like to sleep. It was good to feel safe.

The Doctor saw that Nicoletti had gone back to sleep and resumed his treatment to B'Elanna. He was almost done. She was much improved. Now, she needed her rest also. He walked over to check on Burns. He was sleeping, his readings fine. He sighed. Walking back to the drug cabinet, he started cataloging what he needed to put on his new requisition for replication. He hoped that Vorik had a rabbit to pull out of his hat so the energy would be available and he could get some more replication time. There was a critical need for so many drugs. He checked levels and made notations in the quiet of the Sickbay.

Tom strode into the Security office off the Brig and said, "Report, Mr. Neelix."

"The other occupant of the cell is not saying anything, sir," said Neelix handing Tom a padd. "These are the antecedents for the recently departed."

Tom perused the padd and nodded. "We're going to use that script. We don't have much time, and anyone who'd assist someone in tearing out their own throat has to be a pretty tough customer."

"I agree. We're down to," Neelix looked at the chronometer. "eight minutes. I've activated the sound barrier around the cell already. No one else will hear our conversation, and when we trigger the barrier, it will go opaque. Shall we go?"

Tom didn't respond, just turned to the connecting door to the Brig and keyed in the codes to open it. The door opened, and they walked into the Brig to the holding cells. There were two to three occupants in all the cells, except for the second cell. There, a lone occupant stood in the center of the cell, looking through the forcefield at the body that was on a stretcher that had been set directly in front of the holding cell. The alien was not large, but densly built, with great strength in well-devloped muscles. It had light blond hair that fell to its shoulders and there was a bony ridge of spike-like points across its forehead. It wore a tunic of a grey material that fell to its knees, which had been formerly belted, but experience had taught them to remove anything that could possibly be used by the aliens to kill themselves. They had proved remarkably ingenious in finding ways to die by their own hand. Now, one had literally died by its own hand. The alien's tunic was splattered with dark stains, which also were on the floor of the holding cell. A lot of blood Neelix had said; it had been an understatement. They crossed the barrier, and the electonically induced walls came up.

"Mr. Neelix," said Tom in a steely tone.

"Yes, sir?" replied Neelix.

"Please have this body taken to Reclamations Systems to be processed, immediately." The alien did not move or acknowledge their existence.

"Sir, I dismissed the stretcher party for their break. Shall I call them back?" asked Neelix, following the dialogue that they had scripted for such a purpose as this.

"Do it, Mr. Neelix. In the meantime," Tom continued, pulling out a knife from his tunic. "I'll just get started on the dismemberment of the corpse." He moved over to the stretcher where the dead alien, a gaping hole in its throat, lay awaiting removal.

"Do you really want to perform the ritual without sanctifying the knife?" asked Neelix. "It's such an insult to the spirit of the body."

"It's a suicide, Neelix," said Tom in a contemptuous voice. "He'll never achieve Valhalla, or whatever he's trying for. You know the rules, and so do I," Tom spoke the last of the words directly to the alien in the cell. "You've got to wait a full hour before the dismemberment, so the spirit of the dead can find its way out of the body." He bent over the dead Vandal and put his knife to the edge of the ragged wound in its throat. He actually began cutting the flesh before the alien in the cell cried out in rage and protest.

"Stop," cried the alien via the Universal Translator. "You must leave the body alone for another five minutes! Otherwise, he shall never return as a warrior to fight again!"

"That's right," said Tom with a truly malicious smile. "He won't, will he?" He bent to his task and cut further into the neck.

Groans of protest continued to come from the alien. "Please, stop! He is a great warrior, he must be allowed to return."

Tom halted for an moment, got up and turned to the alien. He held the knife that had the dark blood on it. He examined the knife for effect and then said, "You know what I want. You've got ten seconds to tell me, or I go back to carving Olaf here into alienburgers."

The Universal Translator struggled to give meaning to the last of Tom's sentence, but the alien got the idea. It looked utterly defeated. "I don't know much, I'm just a low level officer."

"I don't care if you're third mate on the weekly garbage pick-up run," said Tom, his voice harsh. "Tell me now!" He walked over to the forcefield, the knife still held up in his hand. "WHERE THE HELL ARE MY PEOPLE?" he yelled.

"I was on Dolos Prime when I saw a load go out to the mining colony on Abraad. Maybe ten or fifteen humans. We got the ones you took from us there. We were going to sell them to the Ibesian Gambling Syndicate," the alien was babbling, looking desperate. "What is the time?" he begged.

"Oh, there's about three minutes left," replied Neelix calmly, looking up from where he was examining his fingernails.

Tom looked even more furious. "What would the Ibesians do with them once you sold them my crewmembers?" He spat out.

The alien glanced one more time at the corpse, and hesitated. Tom then turned and began beheading the corpse in earnest. He was past caring about the rights of the dead. The alien screamed again, then shrunk a little more and said, "They put them in as bait for the animals in their maze. They take bets on how long the various contenders can last going through the maze. It's never very long, and that's why they need constant replenishment of their stock."

"Where is this maze?" said Tom, his voice very flat and even, he hadn't moved from where he still held the head up by its hair with his knife halfway through the remaining flesh of its neck.

"Barnok System, fourth planet," replied the alien, utterly broken. "I think that, maybe, there might be a few of your crew there already." The alien looked at him, "I heard that the Syndicate was looking for a new breed of alien to see if it could up their profits by surviving longer."

Tom flung down the head of the alien corpse and got up. Handing the knife to Neelix, he said, "Get that corpse down to Reclamations Systems now, Neelix. Observe the dismemberment and assure our good friend here that its been done according to protocol regarding the declaration of its antecedents."

"Yes, sir," replied Neelix, taking the knife with distaste. "I'll behead him myself, sir."

Tom walked onto the bridge from the turbolift, trying to keep his pace energetic and purposeful. It was important to look like you were in command, that you knew what you were doing. He now understood why Captain Janeway always had that air about her. The crew needed to know that their leader was leading them, at all times. It relieved some of their fears, and gave them someone to believe in, to lay down their lives for. It was so much harder than he ever thought it would be. Oh, Hell. He never thought he'd be in command of a ship for real. He didn't think of himself as Captain material. Also, since the Delta Quadrant didn't offer too many Starfleet posts, he had figured he was safe as the Ensign at Conn for the next forty to fifty years. That is, unless Janeway decided he'd been punished enough and reinstated his rank, or he did something so terrific, she'd have to promote him. That had been a pretty far-fetched idea, but not as far-fetched as what had acutally happened.

"Status report, Ensign?" Tom inquired of Seven, sitting down next to her in the Captain's seat.

Seven looked up from the padd where she was making calculations and said, "Unchanged, sir. We are still in pursuit of the target. I was just estimating our position based on the last readings brought up from Astrometrics by Naomi Wildman."

Tom noticed that Naomi was over at the Engineering Bridge station, taking some readings and noting them into her own padd. He nodded to her and she smiled back. "How far away are we now?"

"We have reduced the distance to 2.2 hours," replied Seven. "If we could regain the use of the port impulse engine, we could overtake them quickly. Naomi Wildman tells me that Ensign Vorik estimates he will be finished installing the new resonators in approximately fifteen more minutes. If the initial testing is satisfactory, we will have full impulse within the hour."

"Very good, Ensign," said Tom. The Vandals ships were tough, but most of them were damn slow, which was fortunate for them he thought. If they all had warp capability, Voyager would be in a lot of trouble. He got up and walked over to where Naomi was working.

"Did you get a chance to review those new star charts I brought up, Mr. Paris?" inquired Naomi, busily inputing data. "I really need to go back down to Astrometrics and let Ms. Delaney know which section she needs to be concentrating on next." Naomi looked up at Tom. "Seven, I mean, Ensign Seven says that, unless there's a red alert, I have to go to bed on time tonight." She sounded apologetic.

"Just finish the Engineering log notes, OK?" said Tom in a kind voice. She was so young to be doing this. "I'll let Ms. Delaney know what charting needs to be done next. Seven is right; you need to get your rest."

"It's just, well, I don't like sleeping alone," said Naomi a little diffidently. "I mean, I slept alone, but my Mom was in the next room, or at least on the ship somewhere. Now I don't even know what system she's in," the girl finished sadly.

Tom placed a hand on Naomi's shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. He said in a low voice, "If you like, I'll stop by later and check on you."

Naomi gave him a grateful look, then her face clouded over. "Ensign Vorik almost has the full impulse engines back on line. We'll be catching up to the next target soon. You'll be hunting again," she said in hollow voice.

Tom hunched down so he was face to face with Naomi. "Yes, we'll be hunting again," he wouldn't lie to her. He reached out and turned her by her shoulders so she faced him, keeping his hands on her shoulders. "I know you know its dangerous. All I can tell you is, we have to keep looking if we're ever going to find all of the crew. I want to find your mother for you, Naomi. I will find her. You just have to trust me that I won't be taking any more chances that I have to. OK?"

"Yes, Tom," said Naomi huskily. "I mean, Mr. Paris," she added hastily.

Tom gave a soft laugh and held out his arms to Naomi, who immediately hugged him. He spoke into her hair, "It's all right to call me Tom when we're alone, Naomi. Command protocol allows it."

Naomi giggled a little, then straightened back up. "I'll be finished with these updates in a few minutes, sir. I'm just adding the new information for the estimates on the probability of the new shielding being able to be incorportated into use of the warpdrive," her voice sounding important.

Tom nodded knowingly, inwardly wondering just how much she really understood about it. Probably a lot more than he thought. "Carry on, Ms. Wildman," was all he said, and walked back over to the command chair and sat down.

"Seven," he said presently. "How far behind are you on your current crop of calculations?"

"I have seventeen additional padds to review for today's calculations, including four for course corrections and five for engineering statistical probabilities regarding the shielding of the warpdrive," replied Seven, her voice very tired.

"Well, get down to your regeneration alcove for the next thirty minutes. I'm going to need you fresh and ready for when we hit that next target. I've cleared the energy alotment and it's being routed right now," said Paris holding his hands out for the padds she was holding. "Give."

"You are not sufficiently equipped to make the necessary calculations as rapidly as needed, Mr. Paris," replied Seven, with a moderatly respectful tone. "It is illogical to send me away when I am needed here."

Tom experienced a pang of longing for another person who liked pointing out the illogic of human actions. He said to Seven, "I know. I'm very slow, but I can do the Navigation calculations almost as fast as you. The others can wait until you get back." Seven didn't move, and Tom looked directly at her. "I need you to be in command of Voyager when I take the team over to the target. I need to be able to count on you, and quite frankly, you look dead on your feet. So, get your Borg ass down to your regeration alcove, Ensign, and that's an order," Tom's voice had steel in it.

Seven handed a stack of padds to Tom and stood up. She straightened the uniform that she couldn't get used to and turned to go. Then, she turned back and said, "Aye, sir," and left the Bridge.

Tom inclined his head, acknowledging that she had affirmed her previous promise to comply with authority, namely him, during this extended crisis. He had talked with her in the beginning, stating flatly that, although he felt that she was the best qualified for the job as Acting Second Officer, challenges to his authority, like her's to Captain Janeway's, were not going to be tolerated by him. There just wasn't enough time or personnel to indulge her growth of humanity. Strangely enough, it had actually stimulated it. She had been forced to, in her own words, comply. Tom thought that she had the makings of a great officer. He had put it in his log. He'd also recorded the "promotion" of Seven and Neelix to Ensign. He hoped he'd done it right. He couldn't access the command protocol database at the time, so he'd just thought back to all the times his father had promoted someone and used that as a template, making up the rest as he went along. The ceremony had been important, though, so he had given it all the flourishes of Senior Cadets being inducted formally into Starfleet. The crew had needed to know that these were their new Senior Officers.

End Part 2 1