Title: Come of Age
Author: Annette Welsh-Shinya 01/99
Series: VOY
Part: 29/?
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 and the others hurried up the tunnel's incline. Tom consulted with Neelix about how to keep them in line and moving as fast as possible. He put Seven on point and O'Connell in the rear. Standing to one side as the line of former prisoners passed slowly by them, he said to Neelix, "They're going too slow, Neelix. We're not going to get to the surface before the start of the next shift."

"I agree, sir," Neelix replied with a sigh. He brightened a little, "What about another diversion...a little bit bigger one this time?"

"We're out of bombs," Tom shook his head. "But, maybe," he paused as he thought. "Maybe we can use the natural volatility of the byproduct gasses to help us out." Tom idly noticed that Renaldi was passing by him, and she gave him a little smile as she trudged. Something teased at Tom's brain, but he was so tired that it refused to surface. Then he stood up straight, "Oh my God," he said softly. "Geron." He left a perplexed Neelix and strode quickly to catch up with Renaldi. "Renaldi!"

"Yes, sir?" she replied, grateful to pause for even a short time.

"Just where in the complex is Geron being held?" Tom asked.

Consternation flew across her face as she remembered the young crewman. "Oh, sir. I don't know exactly. The work site is four levels down, but I don't know where they keep them."

"How can I access this area?" he questioned.

"You have to use the main elevators," Renaldi replied. "I'm not sure after that." Tom thanked her and she started to walk again. She knew that Mr. Paris was going to go after Geron. Regardless of the risk, he wouldn't leave anyone behind without at least trying to rescue them. She was supremely grateful for this as she wearily put one foot in front of the other.

Tom gestured to Neelix to come over, "Neelix, I'm going to have to go down to the place they call 'down below'. The Ibesians are holding Crewman Geron down there."

"I'll go with you, sir," Neelix replied immediately.

Tom smiled with appreciation at this, his expression visible even in the dim light. "No, Neelix, you stay with the group. They'll need all the help they can get to make it to the surface in time. Remember, it's damn cold up there, and these people will have no resistance to it. They'll need to be transported immediately upon reaching the transporter site on the surface." Tom tapped his commbadge, "Paris to Seven."

"Seven here."

"Seven, I'm leaving the group to retrieve another prisoner that's being held four levels below here. If things work out, I'll be able to provide a nice distraction for you in order to take the crew out of the tunnels to the transporter site. Keep the line moving and I'll get back to you," Tom instructed.

"Aye, sir." Seven said slowly. "Sir," she began almost diffidently, "do you require any assistance in your endeavor?"

"Negative, Seven, Tom shook his head. "Just keep the line moving. It's a one-person job. I'll be fine. Paris out."

"Good luck, Tom," Neelix said firmly, his eyes were bleak.

"Thanks, Neelix," he replied. "Tuvok's stable for now. Just make sure he's in the first group up to the ship and beamed straight to Sickbay. You get going, OK?"

"Yes, sir," the Talaxian said softly as Tom turned and disappeared back into the darkness of the tunnel. "I'll do that."

Tom raced as fast as he could in the darkness back down the tunnel. At the first gate, he paused, having heard a sound. Another sound came through the darkness, then, "Tom?"

He heaved a big sigh and said, "Harry, I'm gonna kill you."

Harry appeared at the gate, his lamp gleaming on the metal. "No, you're not. You need my help."

"I specifically remember telling Seven that I didn't need any help with this," Tom muttered as he opened the gate.

"Yeah, but you didn't tell me, now did you?" Harry rejoined with a slightly amused tone. "You're in charge, Tom. I'm the best expert on Ibesian prison systems that Voyager has. Use your resources wisely." His voice was serious now.

Tom glanced at Harry as they proceeded down the tunnel. He was right, irritatingly right. "OK, Harry. But if you get hurt, you get to face the wrath of Seven on your own, buddy." He checked his tricorder. "Adjust your sensor frequency down 0.45. Sometimes those seeker programs that are random detectors float in that area. I'll keep mine to the normal parameters."

"Adjustments completed, sir," Harry replied. They proceeded down the tunnel as fast as they could.

Seven paused as they approached the junction with the tunnel that led to the surface. Taking readings, it appeared that all was well, but it had been her experience that appearances could be deceiving. Neelix approached her.

"Are we going to take them up this tunnel now, or wait for the diversion?" he asked.

"We shall take them to the halfway point between here and the mine entrance. Then, we will await instructions from Mr. Paris," ordered Seven.

"Aye, sir," replied Neelix. "But I think they could use a short break, just five minutes or so. They're all pretty tired."

"Very well," Seven considered. "Five minutes." She walked over to where Tuvok's stretcher was. She asked Ayala, "What is his condition?"

"He's still unconscious," Ayala said. "Mr. Paris gave him a sedative, so he should sleep through the whole trip."

"Alert me if his condition changes," she replied, turning back to Neelix. "Please run another scan of the area, Mr. Neelix. Report any anomalies to me immediately."

"Yes, sir," he nodded and got out his tricorder and began another careful scan of the area. It was negative, but that didn't necessarily mean they were in the clear.

"The five minutes are up," Seven announced a little while later. "Resume walking...please," she added with a thought. Neelix hid his grin of appreciation at Ayala's expression of amazement. Boy, were they all in for a surprise, he chuckled to himself as he took up the rearguard position once again.

"What do you think, Har?" Tom whispered as they crouched low and peered around the corner to the main elevator. There were guards by it and their attention did not waiver.

"I think that you're going to have to come up with something really brilliant to get us in there," Harry replied.

"Your confidence in my abilities is astounding, my friend," Tom said wryly. "I'm thinking we just need a good old fashioned direct approach to this one." They backed away to consider the situation.

"You mean, just walk right up there and ask them to let us into the elevator so we can rescue our crewman?" Harry said incredulously.

"What if we said 'pretty please'?" Tom dead-panned, easily falling into his too long absent banter with Harry. "No, I mean make a distraction, then clobber them when they aren't looking." In the meantime, he was fiddling with his tricorder and the belt that Neelix had taken off the guard at the entrance to the mine.

Harry made a face, then said, "Can you configure that?"

"Now come on, I may not be as good as Seven," Tom paused as he made a few adjustments. "But," he held up the belt triumphantly. "I can muddle through. It's not exactly the same type as on Barnok. I couldn't 'tell' them to move to a particular place, just send them a confused signal. Hopefully, it's enough to get them to leave their posts."

They looked back around the corner and Tom activated the signal. The guards both got strange looks on the faces, and they began to shift uneasily. They moved in ever widening circles. Finally, they moved in Tom and Harry's direction. Harry took the one on the left, Tom the one on the right. The guards, utterly confused by the signals they were receiving, were no match for the two. They left them where they lay. There was no time to waste securing them. Tom figured an alarm was going to sound at any time, so he wanted to be away from this area as fast as possible.

Arriving at the elevator, Harry punched a few buttons on the panel then muttered, "It's locked out. Give me a minute," and began studying it with his tricorder. A few minutes later, after a little judicious swearing and questioning the ancestry of the Ibesian design engineers, the doors slid open. Getting in, Harry selected what he hoped was the fourth level below their current one. The elevator dropped suddenly with a rush of speed, then came to an abrupt halt.

The doors opened and there was another set of guards standing in front of them. Tom and Harry didn't hesitate, but phasered them where they stood. Stepping over the slumped guards, the two made their way down a corridor that ended in a very large, secure looking door. The seal around the edge of this door was very tight, and the locking mechanism was more complex than the others they had encountered so far. Tom motioned to Harry to get working on it and took up guard, watching the corridor carefully.

Harry pushed and configured, but he couldn't get the damn thing open. "It's based on another sequence, and I don't have Seven's expertise in breaking these codes," he told Tom in a frustrated but low voice. "If I had more time..." he shook his head with disgust.

"What's the metallurgic content of the door?" Tom asked, thinking hard to find another option. "Can we phaser it open?"

"No way. It looks like it's made to keep whatever's on the other side of it in. It's composed of a tritanium-tungston carbide alloy," Harry replied.

Tom banged his fist on the door and leaned on it, his head down. A moment later, he looked up at Harry. "Scramble their computer system," he ordered.

"The whole thing?" Harry confirmed. "They'll know we're here."

"Yes, but it will make a hell of a distraction," Tom explained. "And, it will open that door." He hit his commbadge, "Paris to Seven."

"Seven here."

"We're going to activate the seeker program in their computer system. Get those people up to the surface now. Don't wait for us," Tom ordered. "We'll be along as quickly as we can."

"Understood, sir," Seven's voice held an inflection of that 'don't get killed you idiots' tone she'd learned to use. "Seven out."

"Do it, Harry," Tom directed, making another visual sweep of the corridor. "I'm not too comfortable standing around out here."

"You may not like it any better once we get inside," Harry retorted, sending the final activation sequence that would start the program eating away at the central computer core. "This'll take about five minutes," he estimated. Tom nodded and got out his tricorder to run another scan. All quiet on the tunnel front.

A few minutes later, Harry scanned the door lock with his tricorder. "We're in luck, it's ahead of schedule," and he pushed the entry sequence again. The door opened with a hiss of air and a slight damp feeling. They carefully entered the tunnel, aware of the blind corners and clearing them before proceeding. The alarm sounded just as they came upon the holding cells of the prisoners. There were so many of them, all with solid doors and no windows. There were no rosters or even a computer station to look up the cell assignments on.

"Harry, can you get a lock on any Bajoran readings?" Tom yelled over the sound of the alarm.

"No, but the walls of these cells are of the same compound as the door. The tricorder's signal can't get through them without a signal booster," Harry yelled back.

"Here," Tom handed his tricorder to Harry. "Can you reconfigure the sensor band output from my tricorder to boost your signal?"

"I'll try," and he got to work. A few minutes of eardrum shattering noise later, he nodded and began scanning. "Got him, he's about thirty meters down that corridor," Harry pointed to his right.

Tom rushed down the corridor and opened the door to the cell. Geron was slumped in the corner of the cell. The young Bajoran looked up at the sudden intrusion. At the sight of Tom, his face was suffused with joy and he murmured a thank you to the Prophets.

"Time to go, Geron," Tom said smiling as he offered him a hand up.

"I don't know how you found me, but I'm going to light a candle every day in memory of the Prophets sending you to save me," Geron spoke in a husky voice as Tom and Harry assisted him into the corridor toward the elevator.

"We haven't got you out yet," Tom said grimly as Harry punched a few buttons, then swore very colorfully.

"The computer system's totally out. The elevator won't function," Harry's voice was terse.

"Is there an emergency staircase?" Tom asked of Geron.

"Yes, sir. It's down at the other end of the tunnel. I was put to work clearing it out after the explosion earlier today caused some structural damage to it," he replied.

"Can we access the main tunnel from it?" Tom continued.

"I believe so, sir," Geron said. "The entire complex is connected with the staircases and auxiliary passages. Except for this area, that is,"ve acontinued a little bitterly. "They only have the one entrance because they don't care if any of the prisoners down here survive a disaster or not."

"What did you do to get put down here?" Harry queried as they made their way to the auxiliary staircase.

"They caught me praying during the work shift," Geron replied with disgust. "They don't allow any personal time during work hours, and they enforce it swiftly and with no appeal."

"Yes," Harry agreed. "I know. They're going to have to evacuate the mine, the air circulation system will be going down any minute," he added, busy at the door.

Tom turned to look back at the cells from which they had freed Geron. He wanted to go back and free the others. Geron noticed his look, and said, "Don't worry, Mr. Paris. They were just waiting until we left. They'll be getting out soon. You have to understand, being in there means not trusting anyone, not even the other prisoners." Tom nodded, and as if to confirm Geron's statement, a group of prisoners appeared at the door leading to the cells.

"Let's get that door open, Harry," Tom said with an urgent voice. "We're about to have the neighbors come over and we don't have a thing to offer them."

"Got it," Harry replied and the door opened. Swiftly, they moved inside and up the staircase. Four levels up, the staircase reached a landing, where several corridors branched off of it. The staircase continued up.

"Which way?" Harry asked Tom.

"Damned if I know," Tom muttered to himself, then said, "Let's put some distance between our friends and us. This way," he motioned with his hand after he'd consulted his tricorder. "This will put us in the general direction of the tunnel where Seven and Neelix are taking out the other prisoners."

They had to help Geron, and the corridor was low and cramped, so their progress was not as swift as Tom had hoped. The lights in the corridor flickered from time to time, another legacy from the destroyed computer system, he supposed. He eyed the walls of the corridor, but decided to try raising Seven on his commbadge anyway.

"Paris to Seven."

"Sev..go ahead.." the interference from the metal clad corridor making it almost impossible to make out what she was saying.

Tom took off his commbadge and made a few alterations and tried again. "Paris to Seven, do you read me?"

"Seven here," she answered. "You are faint and broken, but understandable."

"Have you got everyone out of the tunnel?" Tom asked.

"Yes. We have proceeded to the transporter site and have beamed up the entire landing party with the exception of Mr. Neelix, Mr. Vorik, and myself," Seven replied. "We are standing by to assist you."

"Negative, Seven," Tom ordered, shaking his head as they went down the corridor. His back ached from having to stoop so low and the cold was getting more intense. "Get yourself and the rest of the team up to the ship. Harry and I have found Geron, and we are proceeding to the surface via another route. We'll contact Voyager when we have reached the surface."

"Understood," Seven's voice was hollow, and it was quite probable that it was not only the effect of the interference to the signal that gave it that quality.

"Tell B'Elanna to wait another hour, then she's got to get the ship out of orbit. Don't risk looking for us, and don't send another team," Tom began climbing another set of stairs. "They'll be looking everywhere for Voyager, and it's just possible that they might find her. Seven, did you hear me?"

"Yes, sir," she answered. "I will tell Lt. Torres what you have said. Good luck, all of you."

Tom glanced back at Harry, who was practically carrying Geron now. "I'll pass it along, Seven. See you in a little while, I hope. Paris out." He dropped back to help Harry with Geron. The cold grew more intense as they climbed. Their luck was holding. So far, no guards had appeared, although he would think that the emergency tunnel system would be crawling with them. This thought made him uncomfortnd w. He called to Harry, "Hang on a minute," and got out his tricorder and made a scan. "Oh, damn," he said shaking his head. "Now I know why we haven't encountered any guards here," he said to Harry.

"What is it?" Harry asked.

"If I'm reading this scan correctly, there's been a build-up of volatile gasses from the 'down below' section of the mine. The computer is off-line, so the venting system isn't working properly." He looked at Harry, "This whole system is a powderkeg just waiting to go off."

Harry looked over Tom's shoulders and said, "You're reading it correctly. We've got to get out of here."

"We can't head toward the main tunnel," Tom said shaking his head. "We're just going to have to keep heading through this corridor. We're almost out of here."

"Yeah, but the gasses are rising to the highest level, and that's exactly where we want to go," Harry cautioned.

"I don't see any way out of it, Harry," Tom sighed. "Let's go."

End Part 29 1