Title: Come of Age
Author: Annette Welsh-Shinya 01/99
Series: VOY
Part: 34/?
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 walked into the Briefing Room carrying a stack of padds, greeted his senior staff, and sat down. Last night's crisis of faith in his abilities not evident in his demeanor or speech. When he woke up that morning, he'd decided that it had no place in his thoughts. He'd done what he could, now it was time to accept that. It would probably haunt him, but it had good company in the hinter parts of his memory. The responsibility of leading this crew came first. Indulgence in self recriminations was behind a whole lot more than that in his remaining priorities. "We're getting closer to our target. Seven, give us a run-down on the Ibesian system."

Seven got up and walked over to the wall panel. "Ibesia Prime is the third planet in the system. It is class M. Preliminary data obtained shows that it is a fertile world, approximately two-thirds water. There are three major continents and two smaller ones. There are many large population centers." She touched the data display, and it changed from the system projection to the planet itself. "There is a planetary defense system in place from the edge of the solar system as well as around the planet itself." Seven moved back to her seat and Harry got up and took over the narrative.

"The outer defense system consists of a field of mines and roving seeker program devices, just like the ones we've encountered before. With our enhanced scanning ability, we have no problem mapping out a route through the mine field. The planetary defense perimeter is another story. They've got three space stations in orbit around the planet, and they are running random scans of all known wavelengths and all types of particle emissions. They cycle through the entire group every 14 minutes. We could achieve orbit, but even with our cloaking shield, we'd be detected. They must have spent some of that money they've fleeced out of their visitors to their gaming facilities, because it took a lot of latinum, or whatever they use here for money, to build these," Harry said disgustedly. "We'd probably make it past the first set of scans, but these scanners are pretty sharp. If they picked up our same pattern around the planet, they'd come in for a closer look. Their range is pretty limited, but I wouldn't recommend getting any closer for any longer then we have to, sir."

"Sounds like we're going to be knocking on their door from a distance, then," Tom noted.

"Knocking on their door?" B'Elanna said, raising her eyebrows.

Tom smiled a little nastily. "We're going to come in the front door this time." He held up his hands, "Before you think I hit my head a little too hard last time, hear me out. They have to know we are coming. They have the ability to communicate between systems as quickly as we do. They'll be waiting for us. They also will be expecting an attack." Tom shook his head, "We don't want to be predictable. Also, we have someone they just may want back - Administrator Cline."

"I can't believe that you're going to attempt to negotiate with them?" Harry said angrily.

Tom looked at Harry, his face composed, but his eyes had taken on a steely glint at the tone of his friend's voice. "We're going to follow Starfleet procedures as much as we can. I've been playing fast and loose with the Prime Directive and a few other regulations, simply because we didn't have the ability to survive without doing what we did. Despite all the goodwill in the universe, I wasn't going to sacrifice this crew or this ship to Starfleet regulations. However, we've rebuilt the ship, and we have capabilities that we didn't before. Our crew has been restored for the most part, and we're a functioning starship again." Tom put his hands down on the table and leaned forward for emphasis, "The regulations exist to keep us going, to keep order. We're going to need that if we're going to get the Captain and Cmdr. Chakotay back." He stood up and the nasty smile was back. "Especially since I think that the Ibesians are not going to play fair by any means."

"You're going to cover all your bases," Harry said appraisingly, with a sort of grudging approval and acknowledgment of his stepping out of line.

"Yes," Tom replied. "And all of you are going to have to be ready for anything. I want all departments to run emergency response drills for the situations I've outlined here," he handed out padds to everyone. "Harry, I want Seven and you to work on different phase modulations of our shielding. Pull out every Borg trick in the book. I need you to give me as many options as you can come up with."

"We should be able reroute power from the main deflector to enhance the shields. We can use the old Borg phase remodulations if we reinstall some of their matrixes, right?" Harry said, looking at Seven for confirmation.

"That is correct," Seven said. "The equipment has been stored in cargo bay 2. I will retrieve it and start installing it."

"How long will it take," Tom asked.

"We should be finished by this evening, if I can use some of the Ops crew," Seven answered.

"Harry, coordinate with Seven," Tom motioned with one hand. "Neelix, get on recalibrating the phasers to break through shielding that has the capability to rephase. Have O'Connell get you the specs on that modified Hirogen weapon he has. I want enough of them to outfit a team."

"Yes, sir," replied Neelix. "I've already started on the handheld phasers, and Ensign Seven has supplied a series of non-linear modulations that should hold up to even Borg adaptations."

"That's what I like to hear, Mr. Neelix," Tom said approvingly. "B'Elanna, how's the progress on the personal shielding devices coming?"

"I got a report from Vorik this morning," she replied. "They're almost ready for use. He wants to field test them on the holodeck. I've looked them over and I think they look good."

"Get him on the holodeck now, Lt. Torres," Tom ordered. "I want those personal shields ready by tomorrow."

"He's already there with Nicoletti and Powers, sir," B'Elanna replied with satisfaction. "The warp drive is functioning very well at the moment, and the power plant is producing sufficient power to run all primary and secondary systems at approximately 78%."

"Good," Tom smiled a genuine smile this time. "B'Elanna, I want you to oversee the drills. Keep them up until you think we're ready. I want regular reports." His smile hardened into a look of resolve, "We're going to get them back, one way or another. That's all, dismissed."

They filed out, each returning to their departments to start the drills and work on the modifications. Tom went to the bridge and sat down in the command chair, noting that McNaughton was already running the tactical drills he'd outlined. He glanced up at the viewscreen and the stars sliding by. The configuration unfamiliar, but soothing nonetheless. He stared at them for a moment. The pressures were building, and expectations were high. He *had* to get the Captain and Chakotay back, if they were still alive that is. He really didn't want to consider that they might not have survived. They had not been ransomed, but the Ibesians were known for not wasting their resources. Life was cheap to them, but also to be exploited rather than just terminated. He hoped that the Captain and Chakotay had proved to be useful to them. Harry had him worried a little. He had been just short of insubordinate in the briefing, and Tom did not want to be put in the position of having to discipline him so soon after his return. Harry's adjustment to his return to Voyager was far from over even though his new relationship with Seven had brightened his outlook considerably. Tom supposed that all of the returned crew were having problems of one sort or another. It was not the best situation to be in when they needed to be at peak efficiency to pull off this last rescue. It was one thing to take on small gambling or mining colonies, but this was the Ibesian's home world. They could not do a smash-and-grab operation here. It called for finesse and forethought. Tom was not the best at this kind of planning, and he knew it. He was better at seat-of-the-pants stuff. Rubbing his head to relieve some of the tension, he decided that he needed some advice from a man who thought everything out.

"Ensign McNaughton, you have the Bridge," he called out. "Continue with the drills and report to Lt. Torres. I'll be in Sickbay if you need me."

"Aye, sir," McNaughton acknowledged, and went back to coordinating response drills to tactical scenarios.

"Morning, Doc," Tom called as he entered Sickbay.

The Doctor looked up from his desk, "You aren't scheduled for duty until 1500, Mr. Paris. I hope you aren't injured."

"No, Doc," Tom laughed at the old joke. "But I thought I'd come early and just wait. You never know what might happen to me."

"Don't tempt fate, Mr. Paris," the Doctor sighed. "You have already have 58% more Sickbay time than the average crewmember. And, that doesn't count your duties as my assistant." Tom grinned in response.

"Actually, I'm here to see Tuvok," Tom was serious now. "Is he up to visitors yet?"

"Ask him for yourself," the Doctor gestured to where Tuvok sat on a slightly inclined bio-bed. "If you don't need me, I'll get back to my research."

Tom knew what the Doc was researching. "Thanks, Doc," he smiled slightly at the EMH. The Doctor nodded and returned to his office.

"Hey, Tuvok," Tom walked over to the Vulcan's bed.

"Good Morning, Mr. Paris," Tuvok's voice was weak, but steady.

"I'm here to give you a status report," Tom continued. "You up to hearing it?"

"Proceed," Tuvok said.

Tom went on to outline the ship's condition, the crew's status, and the information they had on the Ibesians system. He kept it short, but made sure he hit all the details he felt Tuvok would think relevant.

"That's it for the reports," Tom finished. "I do have some other concerns." He paused here, unsure of how to continue.

"What is it that you are concerned about," Tuvok asked.

"I kind of got off track," Tom went on. "What I really came to see you about was to get your views on my plan to get the Captain and Cmdr. Chakotay back." Tom handed Tuvok the padd he had been carrying, "This is a general outline. I'd really appreciate your input. It's a new approach for me, and I'm not so sure I can carry it off."

Tuvok scanned the padd briefly. "I will read it and make my comments, Mr. Paris. However, from what the Doctor has told me of your exploits during the past months, it would appear that you have some aptitude for leadership. This is quite fortunate, in that I am unable to assume command of the ship."

"Why do you say that?" Tom said concerned. "You're a little under the weather now, but you'll get your strength back, and I'm sure the Doctor and B'Elanna can come up with something to assist your movements."

"I am certain that Lt. Torres and the Doctor will be able to create any number of useful devices. What they cannot create is a new spinal column for me." Tuvok's voice became implacable, "I would endanger the welfare of this ship and its crew if I attempted to perform the duties of captain without having a fully functioning body and mind. I have seen my medical reports. Despite the Doctor's well intentioned efforts, I know that I will not ever completely recover from my injuries. At best, I will be able to move slowly, with aid."

"That doesn't mean anything, Tuvok," Tom insisted. "You don't need to be able to walk to lead the crew. You can run the whole ship from the Bridge. There's nothing wrong with your mind and your leadership abilities."

"A captain is more than someone who directs activity from the Bridge, Mr. Paris," Tuvok replied. "You know this to be true. The crew looks toward the captain as someone who leads them in all ways. A captain should ask no more of a crew member than something that they are prepared to do themselves," he finished.

Tom looked sad and a little uncomfortable. "What you are saying is, I'm going to have to continue to lead the crew, even though I'm not really the best person for the job," he said finally.

"Whether you are the best person for the job is irrelevant," Tuvok declared impassively. "You are functioning as captain of Voyager now. You have been quite successful in your present capacity. You must continue. It is important to maintain continuity in the face of all the upheaval that has occurred."

"So, I suppose you would say that how I feel is not relevant either," Tom said a little ruefully.

"How you feel is quite relevant to yourself and how you will function," Tuvok said, surprising Tom a little. "However, you cannot let your feelings cloud your judgment and inhibit your ability to make the decisions necessary to proceed with the mission of this ship."

Tom quirked a wry smile. "I'm not suing ow to say this, but I'm really worried about the emotional well-being of the crew. Most of them were held captive for several months, then we returned them to Voyager. They got a little rest, but circumstances being what they were, they were pressed into full duty. It was far too soon for their own good."

"You think that the crew is having adjustment difficulties to returning to their former lives and duties?" said Tuvok.

"That's just it. I don't know enough about it to make more than a slightly educated guess," Tom said, by the tone of his voice Tuvok could sense that he was exasperated. "I've been reading the text that the Doctor researched for me on emotional traumas and post-traumatic stress disorders. Also, I've gone through a couple of them on counseling. Mostly, it just tells me that we really need a ship's counselor more than ever. The Doctor agrees with me." He looked at Tuvok.

"Your concern is a valid one," Tuvok noted. "It is well documented that post-traumatic stress can appear days, weeks, months, or even years after an event. It can affect the performance of the crew greatly. Have you noticed any specific problems?"

Tom went on to explain his concerns, detailing Jenny Delaney, Mike Baytart, and Harry's problems specifically. "I don't think that reassigning Mike was the best thing to do, but it was all I could think of at the time. I couldn't have any distractions on the Bridge while we were going after you and the others on the mining colony. As for Jenny, I just don't know how to help her. And Harry, I need him to be able to function, be a part of the Bridge crew. But, I don't want to damage them further... I just want what's best for them, to help them return to as normal as they can," Tom finished on a sigh.

"You believe that I can assist them," Tuvok stated. "You wish me to become the ship's counselor."

Tom looked at Tuvok and said, "You have insights into people, your judgment isn't clouded by excess emotion, yet you have empathy for people's troubles. You are able to absorb a great deal of information quickly, so you would be able to use the resources the Doctor dug up for me. Also, you are currently not able to perform your regular duties. It would give you an opportunity to be a working member of the crew, and you would be functioning in a greatly needed capacity. I suppose you could say that I think you are the logical choice," Tom added with wry humor.

"You outline your position clearly and logically," Tuvok allowed with a raised eyebrow. "Also, it would give me the opportunity to contribute to the well being of the crew. I will accept your recommendation and take the position as ship's counselor." His voice had faded a little more, but his eyes had a look of gratitude.

"That's great, Tuvok," Tom enthused a little, his old charm coming through. He looked at Tuvok, his smile fading a little, "Thanks."

"You are welcome, Mr. Paris," Tuvok replied gently.

"You sound like a counselor," Tom managed to find a small smile for the Vulcan.

"And you have already accepted the responsibilities of command of this ship, Tom," Tuvok responded. "You would not have been able to come this far if you hadn't. You must learn to trust yourself and your judgment. I have always found that, despite your tendency toward impulsiveness, you have good skills and have demonstrated leadership abilities. Also, your conversation today indicates to me that the necessity of leading this crew has curbed your impulsiveness. To echo your previous statement, you are the logical choice to be captain until such time as we recover Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay."

Tom laughed outright. "All right, Tuvok. You win. But, be ready. I'll be coming to you for advice." He turned to go then turned back, "I'll be back for my duty shift later, and I'll bring those texts with me. You can let me know what you think of my plan. Get some sleep. Some of those texts are really boring, you'll want to be rested before you tackle them." Tuvok inclined his head and then closed his eyes.

Tom felt the urge to make sure he was all right. He pulled a tricorder off an instrument tray and ran a quick scan. Tuvok was stable, but his metabolism was running a little slow, and he appeared tense. Tom checked the ambient temperature in Sickbay and nodded to himself. "Computer, raise the area temperature around Cmdr. Tuvok's bio-bed to 24 degrees."

"Unable to comply," the computer replied.

"Specify problem," Tom directed.

"The individual section environmental controls are off-line," the computer explained.

"Can I reach their controls from the Sickbay panel?" Tom said walking toward the access panel.

"Affirmative," said the computer.

Tom sighed and keyed in the combination to open the panel, then walked over to a cabinet and retrieved a repair kit he put together with B'Elanna's help several months ago. He had stored it in Sickbay for the various repairs the Doctor and he had been forced to do themselves, as the Engineering crew had been unable to spare time for them during the almost continuous crisis they had been in. He pulled out a tricorder and ran a scan. The Doctor had been right. He should have nagged B'Elanna until someone from Engineering came down to fix the environmental controls. He located the problem. The isolinear control chips for the sub-system controls were fused from a system overload. He pulled and prodded, then swore a bit as his hand slipped and he hit his fingers. He then picked up a hyperspanner and gave them a good bang. They loosened up amenably and he yanked them out.

"Doc," Tom called, rubbing his fingers absently. "I'm running down to Engineering for a couple of replacement chips. I'll be right back."

"Carry on, Mr. Paris," the Doctor called, and amusedly watched Tom as he went out the door to head to Engineering. It would never occur to him to order someone to bring him the chips. He would consider whatever they were doing far more important. He would get the chips, replace them, and warm up Tuvok's area. It wasn't necessary, but a nice touch of concern for the Vulcan. The Doctor was pleased. Tom was very good at taking care of others. Now, if he could just get the man to take care of himself.

End Part 34 1