Title: Come of Age
Author: Annette Welsh-Shinya 01/99
Series: VOY
Part: 3/?
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!


He thought about the conversation he and B'Elanna had after things had settled down. He'd taken command as a matter of course during the crisis, forgetting the small fact that he was an Ensign, and she was a Lieutenant. To her credit, she'd not once brought it up, not even after first crisis had ended. He had been on the Bridge for 38 hours straight when it had come to him. He had called down to Engineering and requested she come to the Bridge for a conference. When she arrived, they'd gone into the Captain's ready room and he'd handed her a padd with a summary of Voyager's current condition. He had said very formally, "I'm sorry, Lieutenant. I have been remiss is not reporting to you the status of the ship. Please let me know your orders for the day, sir."

B'Elanna had just stared at him for a moment. Then, understanding came into her eyes. She said, "I understand, Ensign Paris, that you wish to observe command protocol during the unusual situation the we find ourselves in. However, I want to point out to you that I am not a command grade officer, nor do I have any training or desire to become one. I'm an Engineer, and that's where I belong." B'Elanna paused here, knowing this would be tricky. "I believe that, regardless of your current rank, you have the most training and experience to act as Captain of this ship. We need you in that capacity."

Tom had been at a loss for words. On the one hand, he felt so deeply honored that B'Elanna would feel this way. On the other, he felt uncomfortable violating command protocol, which, he supposed, should have surprised him. He had never been one for protocol, but now that it was a very grave matter, he felt an utter need to adhere to procedure. Anything to give structure to chaos and keep them going.

B'Elanna continued, "And, I will be willing to make a log entry to that fact." She looked at Tom intently, "I can't do it, Tom. It's not what I do. You can. You're the best that we have."

"B'Elanna?" he'd breathed out, so dazed by what she was saying. "You're sure?"

"Yes," she'd answered back, her eyes shining. "If you want, I'll promote you myself to Lieutenant, so there won't be any questions. As the ranking officer, I can do that."

"Make it Acting Lieutenant, and I'll take you up on it," replied Tom very seriously.

She made the log entry right after that conversation, and he'd been in command ever since. The crew had accepted it with ease. They had followed his orders unquestionly since the beginning. He felt alternately proud and in awe of what he was doing. But, overall, was the pressing sense of responsibility. It made him feel tired and old, but he couldn't let up. There were people counting on him, and he had a mission to complete.

Tom looked over at Naomi, who had stood up and was walking toward him with her padd.

"Here are the Engineering logs, Mr. Paris," she said. "I'm going to go down and get some dinner and then go to my quaters."

"Good night, Naomi," said Tom, smiling.

"Night, Tom," she replied and reached up to kiss him on the cheek.

Tom turned to watch her get into the turbolift and then returned to the calculations awaiting him. He sighed and began making notations.

"Engineering to Bridge."

"Bridge, Paris."

"I have finished the testing on the port impulse engines, sir," said Vorik. "You may now engage full impulse with safety."

"About time, Vorik," said Tom with alacrity. "Ensign McNaughton, engage full impulse power and head us directly for the target ship. Calulate time to intercept and get back to me."

"Aye, sir," replied McNaughton, scrambling to make the course and speed change, while keeping track of the padd she had been using for reference.

Tom make an exclamation, then got up and headed down to the Conn. He said as he assisted McNaughton, "Vorik, you have an estimate on the repair of that plasma conduit? We can just whistle for the warpdrive if that conduit is still down." He spoke to McNaughton, "Just make the new heading for the last position the target was in. They don't make much varience in their zigzag course, just enough so that those ships without enhanced sensors can't find them, OK?"

"Yes, sir," replied McNaughton, still a bit confused about how to calculate the corrections.

Tom said, "Don't worry about the corrections, I'll do them. Just drive the direction I tell you, OK?"

"Yes, sir," said McNaughton, feeling better that she knew how to do that at least.

"Don't let it get you down, Ensign," said Paris with an encouraging tone. "You're the best geologist/pilot on the ship, you know."

"This coming from the best pilot/medic on the ship, sir?" said Ensign McNaughton tremulously. It was a pretty brave thing for her to say, she was usually so reticent. Tom had had to use considerable charm and command bullying tactics to get her to agree to try the Conn. She had finally acquiesced, as they both had known that there just weren't too many other options available to them. They were that short of pilots. She had at least rudimentary flight training and some navigational skills. They just were really rusty.

"You've got it, Ensign," with a rare flash of the Paris grin. "Vorik, I'm waiting up here."

"I'm just finishing my calculations, sir. I believe if we can modify an existing coolant central relay valve from the shuttle we're using for parts, it can be fixed in a day."

"You've got six hours, Vorik," replied Tom. "I want that warp drive. Go work a miracle. Paris out." He walked back to his command chair and picked up a stack of the padds. "Ensign McNaughton, you have the Bridge. If you need me, I'll be in the ready room," he said. "I'll give you the next set of course corrections when I have finished working them out. Call me if anything breaks."

"Aye, sir," replied McNaughton, sounding like the weight of Voyager was on her shoulders.

"Relax, Ensign," said Paris dryly. "It's not crunch time yet. I'll let you know."

McNaughton nodded, her eyes still a bit wide. Paris' eyes were wry with remembered humour. Oh, Harry, he thought with sudden sadness. Where are you when I need you? The next thought was, I'm coming to get you Harry. Hold on. He would not let them down. He owed it to all of them. It was his duty to get them all back. Every damn last one of them.

He went into the ready room and sat down at the Captain's desk. The action had lost the odd sensation that had first accompanied it. He had been doing it for so long now, it had become second nature. He put down the padds on the desk and picked up the first one of the navigational calculations. He worked rapidly, plotting course changes and calculating intercept times for what had become known as the Vandal's Vamp. They used a complicated zigzag navigational pattern that had defied their analysis for so long. Additionally, they had a kind of phase-modulating shielding that they hadn't been able to break through either. The damage to the ship's computer system had hindered them greatly.

The first target that they had hit had been dumb luck. The Vandal ship had just been through a bad ion storm, and it was at an almost complete standstill, systems down or going down. They'd freed a couple of crew members, casualties had been high, though luckily no fatalities. That was where they'd picked up their guests who were residing in the Brig, Tom being unwilling to leave even them in a ship that would not support life. They'd downloaded the information from the ship and tried to interpret it. The Vandals used a very sophistacated incryption coding which had defied analysis. It had been Seven and B'Elanna working together that broke the code. They had been at it for two weeks straight, at each other's throats, when they both came up with solutions to each problem on the same day. They had been jubilant at their success and Tom remembered when they had both come to him with the ability to track the Vandals and break through their shields. They would be able to track the ships that had the Starfleet people and follow the trail of where they had been sold. This, too, had enabled them to modify their own shields so that they remained undetected by the Vandal's seeker programs. At least for a while, until the sophisticated programs broke through. B'Elanna had told him later that the two women had been so ecstatic, that they had actually forgotten and gave each other a hug when they finally made the discovery. He chuckled at the memory, then got up and walked the course corrections out to McNaughton, who received them with thanks.

He returned to the ready room and worked on some more of the navigational padds, then put them down to take a look at the Engineering logs that Naomi had input. It appeared that Vorik had things well in hand, but Tom noticed that he made reference many times to instructions from Lt. Torres, and that his style of work and logs reflected B'Elanna's own personal style. Ah, he thought, so the chain goes. From Janeway to him to whoever; from B'Elanna to Vorik to whoever... He hoped that his unflagging confidence in Vorik would allow the Vulcan to believe he could finesse the warpdrive back on line. He knew that this was really B'Elanna's specialty, but he liked Vorik and knew he was talented. He wanted to get to that betting maze run by the Iberians. He needed the warpdrive to do it. He had a bad feeling in his gut that he would find some of Voyager's crew members incarcerated there. He'd learned to trust his gut the last few months. Then on to the mining colony. He'd checked the positions of these systems. They were light days apart; warp was essential. He then went to work reviewing reports, making log entries, and trying to keep up with the myriad of duties he'd inherited along with the leadership of the crew of Voyager. After a while, McNaughton notified him that they were getting close to the target. He noted the time and hit his commbadge.

"Paris to Neelix."

"Neelix here."

"We're coming up on our next target. Are you and Sawra ready to go?" asked Tom.

"We're on our way, sir," said Neelix.

"Very good. I'll meet you at the shuttlebay. Paris out."

"Paris to O'Connell."

"O'Connell here, sir."

"You all set to rock and roll, Nate?" said Tom piling up the padds and reaching into a drawer for his specially modified phaser.

"As always, sir. I've got the personal pattern enhancers recalibrated and all the pulse-phasers are fully charged. I've finished modifying one of those old Hirogen handheld weapons to fire a short scatter burst of photonic energy. It paralyzes and causes the dickens of a headache."

"And you know this because you tested it on yourself, correct?" said Paris shaking his head, going toward the door of the ready room.

"Well, yes, sir," replied O'Connell in a reasonable sounding voice. "How else am I going to know? I did use the lowest setting, sir. I was only out for around thirty minutes."

"That is such a relief, Nate. I would really start to worry otherwise," Tom said with just a hint of sarcasm. "Neelix and Lisa Sawra are meeting us. Be ready and at the shuttlebay in five minutes."

"Aye, sir," replied O'Connell.

Tom walked out on the Bridge and said, "Position, Ensign."

"We're about five minutes away from them, sir," McNaughton replied.

Her voice had steadied a bit and her movements on the board a little more sure, Tom noted. She had risen to the responsibility of her position, as he had hoped she would. "Slow to one quarter impulse, then hold us 5,000 kilometers off their aft, Ensign. Match them, but don't overtake them."

"Aye, sir."

"Ensign Tompkins, how are our shield modulations holding out?"

"Maintaining facade, sir. I have input the new Borg algorithmic subroutines, and they appear to be very good resisting the seeker programs," Tomkins looked up at Paris. "In the simlations, anyway," he finished a little weakly.

"No time like the present to test them out for real, Mr. Tompkins," said Tom with confidence he didn't feel. "Hold steady and be ready to monitor our transporter sequences when we board the target."

"Aye, sir."

The turbolift doors opened and Seven walked out, looking a little more rested. She was carrying a harness that was made of some webbing that Tom recognized as used for climbing gear.

"Reporting for duty, sir," she said, coming up to where Tom stood next to the command chair.

"Very good, Ensign," said Paris, he looked pointedly at the harness she held.

"It's a piece of equipment I designed recently to assist in your hunting," said Seven holding up the harness. It had a holster on the front of it, and another on the back, which look just the right size for a phaser-rifle. "It will hold the modified pulse-phasers securely for you on board the target ship, leaving your hands free for setting the personal pattern enhancers."

elintook the harness from Seven and looked at it appraisingly. "This looks good, Seven," he said looking up at her. "I'll try it out and let you know," his voice was approving and appreciative at the same time as he put his modified phaser in the front holster. It fit perfectly.

"Thank you, sir," she said looking directly at him, her expression one that Tom recognized as worried for her.

He spoke in a low tone so the other officers on the Bridge couldn't hear him, "Don't worry, Seven. I'm not going to get myself killed. I've got too much to do," he added dryly.

"See that you don't, sir," the sir was emphasized. "I am not equipped to fill Lt. Torres' position as Acting First Officer, should you be terminated on this mission," Seven's words said one thing, and her eyes said 'Be careful, you idiot'.

Tom gave her a slight smile, and he said in a gentle voice, "Sure you are, Seven. You've got talent, brains, and killer nanoprobes. What more could a Starfleet Officer want?"

"A stunning personality?" deadpanned Seven back.

Tom laughed and then got serious again. "B'Elanna's in recovery now. She's going to be one very angry Klingon when she wakes up and finds I've gone on another mission while she was out for the count, Seven."

Seven nodded her understanding. "I will be sure and stop by the Sickbay and let her yell at me sometime tomorrow."

Tom's gaze was appreciative and he said, "I knew I could count on you, Seven." He held up the harness, "Thanks for the present. I'll be sure to put it to good use." Then he was out the door.

Seven noticed Tompkins looking at her, "As you were, Ensign."

"Yes, sir," gulped Tompkins, and began intently studying his panel.

Seven's mouth quirked a bit, and she sat back down in Chakotay's chair and pulled a padd toward her with a sigh.

End Part 3 1