Title: Come of Age
Author: Annette Welsh-Shinya 01/99
Series: VOY
Part: 28/?
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, Harry, and Vorik climbed up to where Tom had made his earlier journey to view the tunnel. Fixing a piton to the rock, Tom looked back to where the other two men were adjusting their climbing harnesses. "You all set?" he asked. They nodded. Tom took a the launcher out of his pack, and fitted the modified piton into the open end. He eyed the wall on the other side of the tunnel, then took aim and fired. The piton struck the rock and bit in deep. Tugging on the line, Tom was sure that it had seated correctly. He attached the rope to the lighter line and began pulling the line through the carabiner. When the rope was looped through, he tied it off and attached the other carabiner to the piton he'd struck next to him. He took his pulley attachment out of his backpack and clipped it onto his belt. Looking at the others, who had just finished attaching their pulleys, he gestured to the rope, "I'm going to test it out. Wait until I've made it to the other side before you try it. It's a lot easier if someone steadies the rope for you on the other end."

Tom moved to the edge of the rocks, glancing down one last time at the activity below, hoping that a guard wouldn't feel the inspiration to look up. He sat on the edge, reached for the rope and then hung from it. Lifting his feet up, he crossed them over the rope and with one hand clipped on the pulley to the rope. He patted the side of his harness and found the safety loop, and ran it around the rope. He was ready to go.

Noiselessly, he slid across the tunnel, hand over hand, pausing once as they rope started swaying too much. When it had stopped, he began again, a little slower. Finally, he achieved the other side, and heaved himself up to the lip of stone that he had figured would be the best place to cross over at. He signaled the others, took hold of the rope to steady it, and Harry began crossing. He was very strong, and it didn't take him long. Vorik followed, and the little ledge became very crowded. They divested themselves of their pulleys. Tom quickly untied the rope and struck another piton to allow descent from the ledge. Harry kept watch, and Vorik belayed Tom down to about five meters above the tunnel floor, then began swinging him gently. As the arc of his swing widened, he watched the edge of the small access tunnel he was aiming for. On an out swing, he reached over and grabbed the edge of the tunnel. Stopping short, he hit the painfully sharp edge of the tunnel, and the wind was knocked out of him with a small "whoof". He hung there for a moment, then began hand over handing himself into the tunnel, attempting to find purchase for his feet on the walls of the tunnel. Vorik strained to hold Tom's rope steady, and Harry steadied Vorik. A moment later, the pressure on the rope went slack. Tom was in.

Tom shrugged out of his backpack and pulled the small explosive charges out, planting one on the wall next to what appeared to be a circulation system unit. A moment later, he had all five charges planted. He grabbed his backpack and put it back on, clipped the rope into his harness, and pulled it sharply twice. Vorik and Harry began hauling on the rope, and Tom scrambled on the wall of the cave pulling himself up. As he approach the mouth of the tunnel, he poked his head out a little, no one was particularly looking his direction, so he pushed himself out and began climbing. A few minutes later, he was back on the ledge. Harry produced his tricorder as Vorik coiled the ropes out of the way. Tom signaled Seven to get ready, and said, "Blow them, Harry."

Harry made the necessary commands on his tricorder and a loud explosion rocked the tunnel. A cloud of debris and smoke puffed out of the mouth of the access tunnel. A loud alarm sounded and guards and prisoners ran everywhere. No one paid attention to Seven and O'Connell moving quietly to the tunnel with the computer panel. Tom, Harry, and Vorik waited as the crowd died down and things returned to normal. From the noises down below, the shift supervisor had decided it was a short in the circulation system that had ignited a gas buildup and caused the explosion. Apparently, this was an all too common problem, and good fortune for the rescuers. Tom kept his phaser trained on the area in front of the entrance of the tunnel that Seven and O'Connell had gone into, Harry and Tuvok kept continuous watch over the rest of the tunnel. They were hampered by the fact that they couldn't see directly into the tunnel. Tom's commbadge crackled to life, "Seven to Paris."

"Paris here," Tom replied softly.

"I have completed the modifications," Seven said in an equally low voice. "You may activate them with your tricorder at any time. I have also downloaded information from the system and transmitted it to your tricorder."

"Are you able to remain undetected?" Tom asked.

"There is a small compartment adjacent to the computer terminal," Seven explained. "We should be able to remain there undetected for some time."

"Good, stay there and wait for my signal," Tom ordered. "Paris out." Tom turned to Harry and Vorik. "We've got to wait for the evening meal to make sure that the bulk of the prisoners are together."

"That shouldn't be that much longer," Harry said, consulting the tricorder. "It looks like they usually knock off work about this time. That's probably in order to do the searches and get everybody fed. They did the same thing on Barnok. It's lights out by 2100, because they get them all up again at 0300 to start the first shifts." He read further. "Apparently, they can't run round the clock shifts because the equipment can't handle it. Probably due to operating in these cold conditions, it needs downtime and maintenance regularly."

"All the better for us," Tom replied sitting with his back to the wall of the tunnel. "Sit back and relax," he continued. Vorik and Harry both sat back, but none of the three looked particularly relaxed. In fact, they were quite the opposite. Tom sighed, this was taking a lot longer than he had hoped. They weren't going to get the prisoners out before dark, and it was feeling pretty damn cold in this tunnel right now. He didn't want to think how cold it was going to be on the surface.

The crowds of prisoners were herded to their group cells after being searched. Dinner, as usual, was awful, but eaten quickly and with as much relish as the finest cuisine. Utterly fatigued, they stumbled to their pallets, knowing all too well that tomorrow would come hideously early for them. Tuvok lay on his pallet in a semi-reclining position. Tuvok could no longer wait in line with the others, so they had been sharing their meals with him for some time. Ayala held the bowl of broth that constituted one-half of that night's meal to his mouth, helping him to balance the bowl as he drank. He drank slowly, then lay back, too exhausted to thank the man who had helped him endlessly during the time they had been incarcerated on Abraad. Chell appeared at his side and offered him half of the piece of bread that had accompanied the soup. Tuvok shook his head at the bread, but Chell pushed it into his hand with insistence. He took it and ate it, knowing that he needed to maintain his strength.

Tuvok had been caught in a cave-in two days after being brought to Abraad, causing him severe injuries. Ayala had nursed him to the best of his abilities, and the others in his cell had helped, but Tuvok had never fully recovered. They had hid the extent of his injuries on the advice of the other prisoners. Upon learning that Tuvok was an officer, the Ibesians decided to segregate him from the rest of the prisoners. In order to have another person included in their group to help assist Tuvok, they told the guards that Chell was as much an officer as Ayala and Tabor, and they were taken with Tuvok to a separate cell. No one else had spoken up, and any pips and bars that had remained on collars had disappeared quickly.

Assigned to work in the technical end of the operation, Tuvok and the others fared little better in their physical treatment, but the work was less arduous. However, little by little, Tuvok felt that the harsh environment and lack of medical treatment was eating away at his reserves. Even a Vulcan could not keep on indefinitely in such a situation. The others looked positively haggard. He calculated that he had no more than a week left before the Ibesians discovered that he was actually too weak and injured to function, quite possibly less. Moving even the leg that retained some feeling was becoming more difficult with each passing day. He had lost coordination of his hands for any fine motor skill, and the blinding pain was coming through even his most intense meditation. He tried healing trances, but he lacked the sufficient strength of mind to make them more than a fifteen to twenty minutes at a time, and they were not deep enough to do much good. He came to the logical conclusion that it was time for him to brief Mr. Ayala on the goals that he felt the Voyager crew members should attempt to achieve, namely, freedom and to ascertain if other of Voyager's crew still existed, or if they were truly on their own. Tuvok calculated that the odds against any of the other crew, having evaded capture, to be in any position to assist them were very high indeed. He did not bother to calculate whether or not Voyager had survived the attack. He closed his eyes to rest. He would be expected to be up and about the next morning, finishing the recalibration. A moment later, he sunk into a deep fatigued sleep. Even the pain and the cold couldn't reach him there.

The main tunnel was clear, the lights were down, probably to save power, except for the guard station near the current vein they were mining that day. Tom, Harry, and Vorik came down the rope and stood in the dim light of the main tunnel. A moment later, Seven and O'Connell appeared from the tunnel where the computer station was. They all moved down the tunnel to pick up Neelix and Sawra, making their way to the workers' quarters. Coming around a bend, the darkness became intense. Still, they continued without their lamps, until they were sure they wouldn't be detected. Tom finally gave a low order and they switched on their lamps. A few minutes later, they came to a gate.

"Activate the program, Seven," Tom ordered.

Seven worked with her tricorder for a moment, then punched the controls on the gate. It opened without protest, silently swinging on well lubricated hinges. The group proceeded. They encountered five different gates on their way to the cells. A nasty, suspicious lot, thought Tom as they trudged uphill through the dim light. It was cold in the tunnel, and they shivered, despite the heavy-duty tunics they were wearing. Tom was scanning very carefully with his tricorder, so were Seven and Harry. Suddenly, the three of them stood stock still and Tom motioned to the others to do the same. They had arrived.

The time for finesse was gone. Tom directed Vorik and Seven to one guard, Harry and him would take the other. With a wave of his hand, they attacked the guards swiftly and silently, subduing them with little but a scrape of a boot on gravel and some light panting. Dragging the guards to one side, Neelix produced some bindings and gags and proceeded to tie them securely. It had taken less than four minutes start to finish. The door to the cells was controlled by the same locking mechanism, so Seven got to work with her tricorder and it was open in short order. They entered with caution. Tom, an old hand at blind entries by now, was as paranoid about them as he ever was. He wanted to everyone to live through this. Proceeding through the corridors to the cells, he noted how similar this layout was to the prison on Barnok. I guess the Ibesians stick with what works, he thought. Maybe it saves on design costs. There were a couple more guards that they had to take out, but they were so surprised and unsuspecting, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. Finally, they were at the gates to holding cells. After Seven got the doors open, they headed for the main guard station.

Harry murmured to Tom, "The main guard station is around the corner. There're usually two guards on it at all times, one's the supervisor. A third guard rotates through to relieve them periodically. It's run on a random schedule, and I never really establish the pattern because they would see me watching them and come kick me around."

Tom nodded, and Vorik and Seven prepared to cover him. Harry stood back a little, very ready to cover them if things got ugly. Neelix and his team had the rear. Tom signaled, and the last corner was rounded. Phasers fired and their were shouts. When it all was clear, the two guards were down and Seven was already working the console. Harry saw some movement behind her and shouted,wantven, get down!" Tom saw what was happening and jumped between Seven and the guard, firing his phaser as he fell to the floor. The guard's shot went wild and grazed Seven in the shoulder, but the wound was not serious. Tom got up slowly, very stiff, and walked over to the guard. Vorik was checking him, and he looked up at Tom and shook his head. The guard had fallen wrong; his neck was twisted at an unnatural angle for any humanoid with nerves in a spinal column. Tom took a deep breath, then shook off the lingering sorrow of taking a life, even the life of an Ibesian, and walked over to where Harry was talking with Seven.

"How're you doing?" Tom asked as he gently took her arm in his hands and began to examine it.

"I am injured, but able to function," Seven replied, she was speaking more to Harry that Tom. Harry just looked like he wanted to be ill.

Tom quickly scanned her arm and got out a hypo and dermal regen from his medikit. He gave her an injection and healed the burn rapidly. "Good as new, Seven. Harry, can you finish getting the cells open?" Harry studied the controls, nodded affirmatively, and got to work, Seven advising him.

Tom, Vorik, and Sawra moved down the corridors between the cells, looking for the Voyager crew members. There was a loud click as the locks on the gates opened. Mutters and moans came from the occupants of the cells, but no one made a move. It was too early, that meant nothing good to their way of thinking, best to lay low and hope you didn't get picked.

Tom called out in a low voice, "It's Tom Paris, from Voyager. Any crew members, please step forward." There hadn't been any detailed manifests, just notations of how many humans, how many Bajorans, etc. They were reduced to a cell-by-cell search to find the crew.

The door to one of the cells swung open, and there stood Crewman Qing, his face a study in disbelief. "Mr. Paris?" he choked out finally, and took several staggering steps toward Tom. Tom caught him and eased him down onto the floor.

"It's all right, Qing," he said in soft, encouraging voice. "We're here to take you home. Just relax, OK?"

Qing's eyes opened and he looked at Paris with gratitude and thanks, "Thank you, sir," he said simply.

Tom had heard the thanks before, but it never failed to make his throat threaten to close when one of the captives he freed thanked him. He gripped Qing's shoulder a moment, then said, "I have to go look for the others. Can you get the people in your cell ready to go?"

"Yes, sir," Qing got up with Tom and Vorik's help, straightened, then walked a step away from them, and perceptibly got stronger with each movement toward the cell. Hope, Tom supposed, was almost as powerful a drug as any he had in his medikit.

They moved down the cells, calling out, sometimes there would be a response, but mostly there was silence. They got out their tricorders and scanned for Humans and others. Tom noted that there was a cell apart from the others which contained Human, Bolian, and Vulcan life signs. His breath caught and his heart raced a little, and he concentrated on not letting this show as he directed Vorik's attention to his tricorder. "It's Tuvok," Tom said simply, the relief and hope in his voice the proper degree for a command officer, he hoped. They moved to the cell with all speed.

Coming up on the entrance to the cell, Tom reached over and opened the door, calling out, "Tuvok, you in there? It's Tom Paris." He moved into the cell with caution, peering into the gloom. There were four crew members there, three of them grinning broadly at their visitor, calling out greetings.

There was a moment of silence, then, "Mr. Paris, you coming to our aid is admirable, but less than timely."

"Sorry, I've been a little busy, ah..." Tom coughed a bit here to clear his throat. "I'm just damn glad to see you, Tuvok." He looked up, "All of you."

"It is good to see you too, Mr. Paris," Tuvok replied, his voice failing a little.

Tom looked concerned and immediately knelt down next to Tuvok and got out his medical tricorder. His face became grave, "Tuvok, we've got to get you back to the ship, immediately." With alarm, Tom realized that Tuvok had lost consciousness. To the others he said, "How long has he been like this?"

"Since almost the first day we got here," Ayala answered, his grin fading as he looked down at Tuvok.

"Oh, damn," Tom cursed softly. He got out his medikit and ran a more detailed scan, chose some medication and administered it. Looking up at Vorik, "Get O'Connell and Sawra in here, and find some materials we can use for a stretcher. Get Neelix's backpack from him, his spine needs to be immobilized. I can use some of his restraints. Move."

"Aye, sir," replied Vorik and left the cell on the double.

"Sir, we can carry Mr. Tuvok," Ayala offered, unconsciously using 'sir' for an officer that was lower in rank than him, at least the last time he saw him. Tom didn't even notice; he was too busy with Tuvok.

"No, all of you are in a weakened state. I don't need my tricorder to see that," Tom shook his head. "You just concentrate on getting out of here. I'll make sure Tuvok gets to the surface in one piece." His voice dropped and he murmured to Tuvok, "You stay in one piece, Tuvok. That's an order."

Tom was startled by a response from Tuvok, "Apparently, you have become accustomed to giving a great many orders, Mr. Paris."

Putting his hand on one of Tuvok's shoulders, he replied, "You just live long enough to get better and chew me out, OK?"

Tuvok's only response was to nod weakly, but Tom noted a little spark in his eyes, almost a ghost of the very dry sense of humor that he knew Tuvok possessed. It made him feel a little better. That is, until he looked at the tricorder readings. His chest tightened again after that.

O'Connell and Sawra arrived, bearing a flat metal panel that they had used a phaser on to make handles. Tom wrapped the handles with some burn coverings, and Vorik appeared with Neelix's backpack. With their help, Tom strapped Tuvok down so he couldn't be jarred on the trip up to the surface. Looking down, Tom noticed that Tuvok had lost consciousness again. It was probably for the best. It was going to be hell, even for a Vulcan, on the trip upward.

"Let's get started," Tom called. "Harry, Seven, are the rest of the crew ready to go?"

"Yes, sir," replied Harry from the hallway.

"Move out," Tom ordered, pulling out his phaser and leading the way back to the main tunnel. He wondered if it was insane to think that they could take this many prisoners out with anyone noticing. The other prisoners had just begun to wander outside of their cells. Tom didn't want to restrain them, in fact, he thought that their movements would confuse the issue if the Ibesians got wind of things. They reached the gate to the main tunnel, and he let through the Voyager crew members only, closing the gate behind them. It was hard to not try to free them all, but he knew that he had to choose between saving his crew, or saving no one at all. There was no way that he could get the hundreds of prisoners being held underground up top before the Ibesians figured things out. It was questionable that he was going to succeed with this group. The weight of the lives he left in misery pressed down upon him, piling up with the other worries he had, mostly of how he was going to ensure the safety of the people he'd rescued and how badly Tuvok was injured. They trudged up the tunnel, the darkness closing in on them again, hurrying.

End Part 28 1