Title: Come of Age
Author: Annette Welsh-Shinya 01/99
Series: VOY
Part: 27/?
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 crouched behind the immense boulder and leaned out just far enough to glimpse the three guards at the entrance to the mines. Mentally, he swore. It was just as Harry had promised, they left nothing to chance. Not just two, but three guards in critical areas. Areas that were protected by their shielding, in effect a double layer of security. All for a entrance that, their scans had shown, wasn't even regularly used. They had the ability to introduce a seeker program to 'put a hole' in the machine portion of the security, thanks to the Vandals. If it weren't for the three very large, ugly looking guards, they wouldn't have been noticed. Time for some finesse.

Tom pulled back and motioned to Seven and Vorik. "I need a diversion, Vorik," he said smiling grimly. "Rack that exquisitely logical Vulcan brain of yours and come up with something. Be ready to go in five minutes. I'll signal you." His voice was a harsh whisper.

Vorik's eyebrow rose as he responded, "Yes, sir." Internally, he wondered at the supreme confidence that Tom had in his ability to do what Paris had once termed 'make it up as he went along'. Still, he moved back and began circling around to approach the guards from the other side, thinking hard.

"Seven, be ready to go in hard if Vorik's little improvisation doesn't come off," Tom ordered. Seven pulled up her phaser rifle and held herself in position to offer cover to the Vulcan. Tom slid over to Harry and Neelix. "Neelix, you and Harry take cover behind the boulder. I want you in reserve. Those scans showing those random security patrols make me very uncomfortable. Keep an eye out for surprises. O'Connell, Sawra, you're with me." Each responded with a curt "Yes, sir," or "Aye, Mr. Paris," in low voices.

Tom watched as Vorik moved closer into position, then disappeared behind another large rock. A minute and fifteen agonizingly slow seconds later, he reappeared and looked over toward Tom and the rest of the away team. He nodded that he was ready, and Tom nodded back and made a short motion with his hand. Vorik disappeared again. Tom looked back at O'Connell and Sawra and said, "Be ready to move out." Sawra had a intense expression on her face, but cradled her phaser rifle with practiced ease. O'Connell's relaxed posture belied the coiled tightness of his muscles. Like a jungle cat he was ready to spring at the slightest provocation.

Then Vorik appeared in the field of vision of the guards. He was carrying a large sack over his shoulders. The sack was full, but he appeared to not be bothered by his burden. Tom shook his head, the guy was actually just going walk right up to the guards. You had to hand it to Vorik, you give him an order, and he does his best to follow it to the letter. He'd suspected it before, but after Barnok and now this, he knew that Vorik was a man after his own heart. He hid it well beneath his impassive Vulcan exterior, but his actions spoke loudly. If he lived, Tom decided that he was going to have a talk about this tendency to emulate a certain pilot in his brave, but often less than logical tendencies to take risks in order to accomplish a mission.

Vorik walked as if at ease, but his eyes never left the guards as he approached them. He'd decided that an open approach was the best, given that he did not have much time to devise an effective and more stealthy plan.

"Excuse me," he said politely. "I wonder if you could direct me to the nearest lodgings? I have recently arrived on your planet and am in need of a hostelry." He looked inquiringly at first one, then another, then the last guard. They all seemed to be at a loss for words.

Finally, the center guard spoke, "You came to this planet voluntarily?" His voice was incredulous and suspicious at the same time. Their weapons had been trained on him from the first, but they weren't really paying any attention to them. Vorik was.

"It was not voluntary," Vorik replied, carefully shifting the sack he still held on one shoulder. "My ship suffered damage in an ion storm, and I was able to land it about a kilometer from here, but it will need extensive repairs before being able to to fly again." While he was speaking, he slowly turned his body away from the guards, while keeping his face forward to them.

"Sawra, you've got the guard on the left, I'll take the one on the right. Nate, you take out the one in the center," Tom instructed.

"I'm going to call my supervisor," the guard continued. "You," he directed to the other two guards. "Watch him," and he turned away and pulled out a personal communication device from inside his jacket.

Tom called out, "Go!" and lunged forward, bringing his phaser to bear on the guard on the right. Sawra's phaser hit the guard on the left, and they both fell down. O'Connell's shot went just wide of the mark as the guard in the center moved suddenly. Vorik moved as fast as lighting, his rapidly turning body like a swinging whip. The bag on his shoulder came around, striking the guard with great force. He immediately dropped the bag and rendered the guard unconscious with a sharp blow to the chin.

Running up to assist him, Tom noted, "Glass jaw, huh?" to Vorik, and he nodded gravely. Tom glanced down at the contents of the bag that had spilled when Vorik had swung it. Very large rocks. "Where'd you get the bag?" he asked curiously.

"I discovered a supply of them in a storage shed near the area where I took cover," Vorik explained, easily picking up the bag and emptying the contents back on the ground. The bag he folded and stored in the small shelter next to the entrance of the mine.

Tom slapped Vorik on the shoulder and said, "Good job, Vorik. But, next time, just yell or something, OK?"

"Yes, sir,' Vorik replied, slightly nonplused.

"The prisoners are all secured, sir," Neelix came up and stood next to Tom and Vorik.

"Is this storage shed able to be locked?" Tom asked Vorik.

"The structure appeared stable and the door had a hasp on the outside," Vorik replied.

"Neelix," Tom ordered. "Get those prisoners to the shed and tie them very securely and secure the door. Strip all belts and ornaments from them and scan them closely. Bring me any communications devices you find."

"Aye, sir,' Neelix replied, gesturing for Sawra and O'Connell to assist him.

Walking over to the panel by the mine entrance, Tom called softly to Harry and Seven, "Any luck?"

Harry answered without turning around, "It's similar to other systems I've seen. This guard post probably checks in every hour in response to an automated roll call. If they don't check in, they'll be called again, twice, in ten-minute intervals. If there's still no response, all hell will break loose."

Tom wondered how Harry had obtained this knowledge, but judging by his grim tone, it was probably at a pretty high cost to someone. "Can you disable it and put in our program to bypass the security?"

"If I can isolate their response frequency," Seven said very carefully scanning the panel. "I should be able to introduce the seeker program, and Mr. Kim can configure the response so it will appear that this station has not been disturbed."

"Can you determine how long it's been since their last check-in?" Tom was concerned that they may not have enough time to complete these alterations.

"That cannot be determined from the current data," Seven replied, reverting to 'Borg' mode in a moment of stress. It marked the level of tension throughout the group that the others made no notice this.

"Make it work, Harry," Tom said firmly. "That's an order."

"Aye, sir," Harry replied, not a shred of amusement in his tone. He and Seven worked for a few more minutes, conferring in hushed tones, their movements and ideas meshing with their usual precision.

Tom noted that they probably didn't need any help from him, so he stepped back and began another perimeter scan. There were movements of large vehicles and humanoids about three kilometers to the east, where the main mine entrance was, but nothing closer than that. Neelix and the others returned, and they all gathered in front of the entrance door, standing on the rocky soil. He handed Tom the three obvious communications devices and three belts. Deciding he might have need for one of the comm devices and a belt, Tom put the comm in his tunic and hung the belt from his harness. He ordered Neelix to destroy the others.

The wind had picked up, flinging grit into the air and their eyes. It was getting colder. The average temperature of the planet during the day did not top 5.5 degrees Celcius, and fell to a chilly -6 at night. A class L planet, the atmosphere was not ideal to Humans, but livable. It was the temperatures that were not. They needed to get in and get out before night fell. Otherwise, the team would not be able to escape from the tunnels into an area clear enough to beam them up to Voyager without having to endure extreme conditions. Considering the probable physical state of the prisoners, it would be circumstances best avoided. As always, timing was everything.

"The alterations are complete," Seven announced standing back.

"I'm inputting the automatic reply sequence now," Harry added. "Just cross your fingers that it works and that nobody decides to take a look in person on how the boys are doing." He keyed in a few more sequences, then made some alterations on his tricorder, then with a last push of a button, stood back also. The doors to the mine opened, creaking a little. A dust devil of grit and sand swirled as the air from the mine flowed to the outside.

"Let's go," said Tom, and they moved into the cave, turning on their wrist lamps. Tom took the lead, his tricorder with the deep scans of the mines programmed into it. Neelix shut the doors and took up the rear position. They all moved silently down the slightly inclined path, headed for the main tunnel and their missing crew members.

"Guard approaching," hissed Chell, moving from his position next to the door to stand by the system regulators.

Ayala crossed immediately to the chair where Tuvok sat and helped him to his feet. "Sir, you've got to wake up now. You're recalibrating the lubrication flow process of the continuous borers, sir." Ayala shook Tuvok briskly, "Sir, did you hear me?"

"Yes, Mr. Ayala," Tuvok's voice was blurred. He rose heavily, aided by Ayala and Tabor, to stand near a panel.

Ayala thrust the Ibesian equivalent of a padd into his hand and checked him to make sure he was standing in a stable position. It would not do for him to fall now. One of Tuvok's legs was braced next to the wall, and he swayed just a little.

"Ten seconds," warned Chell, turning to face his panel. Ayala and Tabor moved to their positions.

Tuvok reached deep within himself yet again, and by sheer force of his will, controlled the pain enough to stand up straight. Careful not to try to balance on the leg that he could not feel, he concentrated on using it for balance. He looked down at the padd in his hand and read the first few lines. Mr. Ayala had finished the recalibration yesterday, but they were drawing the task out as long as possible. This area enabled him to camouflage his affliction. He knew, as did Mr. Ayala and the others that should the Ibesians discover that he was unable to function at peak efficiency, they would not hesitate to send him to a more lethal portion of the mines, where he would not last more than a few weeks at best. The Ibesians did not concern themselves with safety equipment for their workers, they considered it a waste of resources, since labor was cheap and plentiful.

The guards appeared in the room, doing their usual hourly patrol. The head guard, Erskine, moved to Tuvok and barked, "Report."

"The recalibration of the lubricant flow process in the continuous borers is progressing as projected. It should be completed by tomorrow afternoon," no hesitation marked Tuvok's voice, which was clear and precise in its diction.

"You are too slow," growled Erskine impatiently.

"I proceeding with the usual speed, Mr. Erskine," Tuvok replied impassively. "If I endeavor to increase our speed, it may result in inaccuracies."

"You make a mistake, and I'll see you down below," menaced Erskine, speaking of the very dangerous section of the mine.

"I'll keep that in mind, sir," Tuvok answered. The edges of his vision were starting to go dark.

Erskine walked around, noting information on various panels, shoving Chell then Ayala away. Finally, he made a sound that could have been satisfaction, then walked out of the room, his two minions following silently behind him.

Immediately, Tuvok slumped toward the floor. Tabor and Chell were ready and caught him before he fell down. Easing him back into the chair, they let Ayala come forward to examine him.

"He looks like he's gone into another healing trance," said Ayala finally. "Just let him sit there. Chell, back on watch. Tabor, you and I had better do a little more *work* on this recalibration."

"Yes, sir," the two answered Ayala, and turned to their tasks.

They had reached the junction of the branch and main tunnel. Scans had revealed that traffic was highest in this area. Spotting a good locations for viewing the main tunnel, Tom motioned for the others to wait where they were. He climbed up the jagged rocks to the narrow slit that opened onto the main tunnel. Peering out carefully, he was greeted with a view of workers and machinery, guards posted at strategic intervals. Over all, there was the incredible noise of the borers digging into the ground. Large vehicles for moving the raw ore ran back and forth from access tunnels, and periodically a borer would be pulled back and the bits changed. Tom watched for fifteen minutes, memorizing the patterns. The guards were methodical and unchanging in their movements. He noticed that the prisoners wore belts that were similar to the ones the low-level guards on Barnok had worn. That was how they kept them compliant, thought Tom. They were probably rigged to sound an alarm if they were removed. He eased back down the rocky climb to where the others waited.

Tom moved his team back from the junction a few meters, then said, "We're in the right place. There's a ton of activity, just around that corner, including a lot of guards."

"What do we do now?" asked Harry, impatience showing in his eyes, but his voice was calm.

"We wait for right moment," Tom replied, scanning with his tricorder, then moving back up to the corner.

Harry moved behind him, "Wait, wait for what?" He knew what the Ibesians were capable of, with little or no provocation. He again felt the urge to strike out at them, and he suppressed it with difficulty.

"Patience, Harry," Tom advised. "Sometimes, when you're hunting, you have to wait for your prey to come to you."

"All right," the other man agreed, then pulled back a little. Tom certainly had acquired a lot more patience than he used to have, he noted to himself.

Tom actually didn't have long to wait before a prisoner, off to one end of a group being moved, approached the intersection. He was glad. Despite what he had said to Harry, he was quite anxious to do something, anything. Waiting had always been hard to him. He realized that this was the case, and so Tom projected a calm that others could pick up on. When the prisoner approached, he was very glad to see it was a member of the Voyager crew. Torn and bedraggled, the Starfleet uniforms still managed to hold up pretty well. He could see the blue top beneath the grime. The crewman's hair was matted and fell in her face, but he recognized Renaldi from Astrophysics. He waited for the line to pass, then reached out and snagged her back around the corner. The group proceeded to the entrance of a branch tunnel and stopped.

Clamping one hand on her mouth, he whispered fiercely, "Renaldi, it's Tom Paris."

Renaldi had stiffened, but didn't struggle. Her eyes wide, she looked at Tom, then nodded her head. He removed his hand, and she took a gasping breath.

"Mr. Paris!" she said in a husky, low voice. "How...?"

"Don't worry about 'how'," Tom said with a slight grin. "We're here to get you out. I need some information, and I need it fast so you can get back with your group."

"Yes, sir," Renaldi replied, understanding immediately.

"How many crew are here on this planet?" Tom asked.

"I'm not completely sure how many are left, sir," she said with a slight grimace. "But we started with thirty-two."

"Are they all in this area?" Tom continued.

"Yes, sir, all that I know of, except Crewman Geron," Renaldi said sadly. "He was sent down below yesterday."

"Where's 'down below'?" he said urgently.

"It's the four levels down, in the dangerous part of the mine. The bad gasses are bled off and forced below, where they have workers now. are sick or have broken the rules, vent them to the surface. They're very volatile gasses, and there are explosions and poisonings all the time. Most people don't last down there very long, sir," she finished hollowly.

"Do you have your meal in the evening?" he asked, gazing at the straggling group as it waited at the entrance of an access tunnel. They looked like they were getting ready to move out.

"Yes, sir. We're divided into groups and put into cells. There at the first branch of the main tunnel near the main entrance. Mostly, the groups don't see each other. They separated the officers out and have them work in the maintenance and technical areas. I haven't seen Cmdr. Tuvok since right after we got here," she said looking uneasily to her group. "I should get back, sir, or they'll know that I've been gone."

"All right, we're going to get you all out, just wait for our signal. In the meantime, don't tell anyone we're here," Tom ordered.

"Yes, sir," replied Renaldi, and smiled tremulously. "Although, it will be hard. There hasn't been any good news for us in a very long time."

Tom just squeezed her by her shoulders and nodded encouragingly at her. Renaldi nodded back and turned to return to her group. Checking the tunnel, Tom gave her a slight push and she flitted across and slid back into the ragged line of prisoners.

Tom turned to the away team and said, "We're going to have to introduce that scrambling seeker program. Seven, how long to get it into their system?"

"I will need access to a computer port for approximately 14 minutes," she replied.

"I saw an panel just inside the second branching tunnel to the left as you go around this corner," Tom informed Seven. "There wasn't much traffic around it. We'll arrange a little distraction for the guards, and you be ready to head for the corridor. O'Connell, go with Ensign Seven."

"Aye, sir," replied Seven.

"Yes, sir," said O'Connell, sidling up next to her.

"Vorik, Harry, you're with me. Neelix, hold down the fort and be ready to come in like gangbusters if anything goes wrong," Tom ordered. "Remember, we want to keep our presence hidden as long as possible. It's a long way back to the surface, especially if there are unfriendlies blocking the way."

End Part 27 1