Title: Come of Age
Author: Annette Welsh-Shinya 01/99
Series: VOY
Part: 35/?
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 entered Engineering and was presented with the nice, organized chaos that always seemed to reign while B'Elanna was in charge. Crew members crossed here and there purposefully, systems were being tested and worked on, and everywhere, it seemed, was one Chief Engineer, giving advice, making adjustments, barking out orders. He stopped to soak it in. Then, B'Elanna noticed him.

"We're not done with the drills yet. We've only obtained 74% efficiency ship-wide," she said with disgust. "I've got all departments reviewing their procedures and we're going to try it again after lunch."

"Sounds good," said Tom pleasantly. "Actually, that's not why I've come down here. I need some type 3 isolinear chips to fix the environmental controls in Sickbay."

"Oh," said B'Elanna, momentarily nonplused. "Here," she directed him to a supply bin. "How many do you need?"

"Four, please," Tom replied smiling at her. "I'm fixing the zonal environmental controls in Sickbay."

She picked out four and put them in a holding tray and handed it to him. "Anything else I can get for you, Mr. Paris?" she smiled back at him.

Oh, boy, don't I wish, thought Tom with a chuckle, and his eyes crinkled with amusement. Well, better not go there. "Tell me, what do you think of the response to the drills? Have I missed any scenarios?"

B'Elanna saw his silent acknowledgment of her riposte, then settled down herself. "I think that they cover just about any eventuality, except one."

"And that is..." he queried.

"Come with me to my office. I'd like to discuss it there." Tom raised her eyebrows, but accompanied her to her office. They sat down. "What are you going to do if we can't rescue them," she asked point blank. "If the Captain and Chakotay are dead, how will you respond, what will you do?" Her voice had dropped and she was looking at him intently.

Tom shut his eyes and took in a deep breath, then let it out and opened his eyes again. "I have thought about that. I didn't want to, but I did." He looked at her directly, "We have to attempt the rescue. I have to know if they are alive or dead. If they're alive, we rescue them, no matter what it takes. If they are dead...then we go on. We do what the Captain would want us to do, continue the journey home."

"And if you have to remain in command?" B'Elanna knew his conflicts with this.

"Then I have to," he replied. "Tuvok may never regain his ability to function as Captain. Even though I told him that neither I nor the crew believe that being a paraplegic would prevent him from functioning as captain, Tuvok has made it clear to me that he would feel inadequate to serve in his old position, let alone that of captain," Tom explained diverting his eyes from B'Elanna's face to the floor. "According to Tuvok, 'I have always found that, despite your tendency toward impulsiveness, you have good skills and have demonstrated leadership abilities.' and that I should remain as Captain, until Capt. Janeway or Chakotay can assume that responsibility," he explained in his best Tuvok expression.

"How do you feel about that?" she said gently.

"Truthfully?" Tom said. "I'm scared to death that I'll have to do it. I mean, these past months have been hell, yet..."

"You like it," she finished knowingly.

He smiled a little at her, "You have me figured out pretty well, maybe you should be the counselor."

"Not me," replied B'Elanna shaking her head. "In a pinch I was OK, but the crew needs someone with more patience than me. I take it you pitched your idea to Tuvok."

"Yeah, and can you believe it, he accepted," Tom said self mockingly. "He even complimented me on my logic. Oh, how the mighty have fallen."

"You've make good decisions, Tom," she stated with sureness. "You picked the right person for the job. You have the support of everyone on the ship, including Tuvok and myself."

"Thanks," he said gratefully. "Now all I have to do is come up with a way to rescue the Captain and Chakotay without getting into a full scale war with the Ibesians."

"I'm sure you'll think of something," said B'Elanna with a dancing smile. "You always do."

"You've been a great help," Tom said wryly and B'Elanna waggled her eyebrows with affection. "Thanks for the chips. I'll get back to you for the results of the drills later today. I'm going to fix the environmental controls, then I'll be back on the Bridge, then I have a 1500 shift in Sickbay. Will you be able to take the Bridge then? I want to keep Harry and Seven working on those shield modifications."

"Vorik's going to pull a double today, so he can take Engineering," she explained. "I'll be there."

"See you then," he saluted her with the tray of chips as he walked out of Engineering.

B'Elanna mused over what Tom had told her and what he hadn't actually come right out and said. She moved over to the warp core and ran a diagnostic on the secondary plasma flow. It had some variances in the flow readings that she didn't like the feel of. He was worried about pulling off the rescue of the Captain and Chakotay, but he was more worried about dealing with being in command for the long haul if they were beyond help. He hadn't asked for command, she thought with a sigh, but he had taken it and done what needed to be done. She'd been faced with the same task. However, she had had the luxury of being second in command, always one more person above her to take some of the weight off. Tom did not have that, and the strain had taken its toll on him. He had all the skills necessary for command, and now he had the experience. He knew enough now to worry about it. His self-confidence, which had always been a large part of his character, had underwent a change. He still was confident is his abilities, but the self-doubt she had witnessed last night was raising its ugly head on a regular basis. She was glad that he had talked to her about his concerns, and hoped that she had helped him. It was a knotty problem. One that she was sure was a constant companion to command officers. The trick was to carry on in spite of it. Tom could do that; he'd already proven that he could. She just hoped that there would still be something left of him when he gave of himself so freely to command the ship. It was her job, she supposed, to make sure he did. She went back to realigning the plasma flow. It was much easier to do than to realign someone's thinking. Still, the thoughts filled the back of her mind as she went about her tasks.

"We are within close range scanning distance of Ibesia Prime," Harry announced. "We haven't attracted any attention. Our shields are holding. Scans have picked up normal types of traffic for the planet."

"Go to Yellow Alert. Keep us out of the shipping lanes, Ensign McNaughton," Tom directed. "Ease us into a nice place at the edge of the minefield and all stop."

"Aye, Mr. Paris," McNaughton replied.

"Mr. Kim, keep a very close eye on those sensor readings. I want to know if their detection grid picks up on anything in our area," Tom ordered. "Mr. Neelix, standby the phasers for immediate response if they so much as blink hard at us."

"Yes, sir," Neelix said, making adjustments and setting up the phasers for various pattern bursts.

"Paris to Torres," Tom called. "I need you on the Bridge, B'Elanna."

"I'm on my way," she replied via the comm system.

"Paris to Seven. We're ready to go, Ensign. Pick up O'Connell and Sawra, and meet me in the shuttlebay."

"Acknowledged. Seven out."

B'Elanna stepped onto the Bridge and made her way over to Tom. "The modifications on the Flyer are complete, sir." She handed him a phaser and small armband device that looked similar to the Doctor's mobile emitter. "This phaser has the latest modifications and this is the personal shielding device that has been modified to your specifications. Vorik will be waiting at the shuttlebay with the others."

"Very good, Lieutenant," he replied, taking the equipment and examining it. "You have the Bridge. If all goes well, we should be back in a couple of hours. Monitor sub-comm frequency Beta4. If we transmit on that, you'll know all hell has broken loose." He looked at her intently, "Keep my ship in one piece, Lt. Torres."

"Aye, sir," she replied, all but standing at attention. Tom nodded and left the Bridge.

B'Elanna sat down in the command chair and glanced over at Harry. She knew that he wanted to go along on this mission, but that Tom had stated that his expertise was needed on Voyager. She had concurred. They couldn't afford to lose anyone, really, but the prospect of losing both Harry and Seven was not good. And let's face it, she thought, Harry's still not really ready for this type of mission. She concentrated on making sure that they wouldn't lose anyone. Tom had better know what he was doing, she muttered to herself. "Bridge to shuttlebay. Standby to clear the Delta Flyer for flight."

"Shuttlebay, acknowledge," Crewman Lansing replied. He rechecked the launch sequence and recyclers. All was ready.

Tom nodded to Vorik, who fell in behind him as he entered the shuttlebay. Seven, O'Connell, and Sawra followed immediate behind them. They entered the Flyer and began the pre-flight sequence. Tom went through the motions, but although he paid strict attention to the necessary details, a good portion of his thoughts were occupied by what was going to happen when they contacted the Ibesians. This was as much of a crap shoot as any of the other plans he had made during the course of his command. However, now there was more to lose than ever. He measured his need to try to rescue the Captain and Chakotay against the need to protect and maintain the well-being of the ship and the crew. There was no question that Janeway belonged back on the Bridge of Voyager, with Cmdr. Chakotay by her side. Tom wanted desperately for this to happen.

As he guided the shuttle out of the bay and made final preparations for the short flight to the planet, he thought about this fervent need of his. Was he just trying to get out from under? It didn't show to his credit if he was. B'Elanna had said that, despite all the problems and responsibilities, he really enjoyed being in command. Was that true? It was confusing. Part of him cringed at the thought of being responsible for the ship and crew for the next few decades as they made their way slowly back to the Alpha Quadrant. Another part felt pride and accomplishment, a rightness that he had never had before now. He had come through fire and was the captain of a ship, rank or no. The question was, which part was the largest, the strongest. Which one was the driving force behind this mission. The other members of the crew knew that he had always maintained that they would recover all the crew members that they could locate, be they alive or dead, before they would resume their course home, including, most especially, the Captain and Cmdr. Chakotay. Of all the decisions he had made, the one to make this last attempt to find them had been the hardest.

He had looked inside of himself after his Sickbay shift. Tuvok had given his seal of approval to his plan, though had pointed out the obvious risks. However, the Vulcan had said something to him that had reinforced Tom's position as leader of Voyager. He had said, "The plan has risks, but is basically sound. You have decided that the risks are acceptable within a certain set of parameters. This is your decision, Mr. Paris. I cannot nor will not question your right to do so." Tom had thanked Tuvok for his input and had left, pondering much of the same thoughts that he was thinking right now. He'd not come up with an answer then anymore than now. It had been his experience that many of his questions never got answered, especially the ones he asked himself. Sometimes, he was reduced to just taking things as they came, and making the decisions based on the facts and circumstances of the moment. He had made bad choices in the past, but he had always made them consciously. He knew right from wrong. He knew what he had to do most of the time. This time though, the answers were not so obvious. He looked up as Seven announced that they had almost reached the coordinates of the inner defense perimeter of the planet. Reflection time's over, Tommy-boy, he muttered to himself as he worked the controls and slowed to one-quarter impulse. You've already committed to opening negotiations, so you'll just have to follow through and hope that the damn thing doesn't blow up in your face.

"I'm slowing to one-quarter impulse," Tom announced. "Any sign that we've tripped any of their defense perimeter?"

"Negative," replied Seven. "Their initial scans have passed over us without detecting any of our systems."

"How long until the next set of scans hit us," Tom asked.

"Approximately 12 minutessighr," Seven said after checking her panel.

"Keep an eye out for any surprises, I'm taking us in closer and making contact," Tom decided, making the necessary course changes.

"Aye, sir," Seven said.

He opened a channel on the frequency they had previously had contact with the Ibesians on, "This is Captain Tom Paris of the starship Voyager calling Ibesia Prime. We request landing clearance and instructions." Mentally, he crossed his fingers. This was the sticking point.

"This is Ibesia Prime," came a calm deep voice. "You are cleared for landing at the Aegresco-city central shipping port. Transferring coordinates and landing instructions. Welcome to Ibesia Prime, Captain."

Tom's eyebrow was competing with Seven and Vorik's for a workout. "Thank you, Ibesia Prime," he replied. "Coordinates received."

"You were correct in your assumption that they would be expecting us," Seven stated.

"Yeah," Tom said, his eyes narrowed. "That's what has me worried. This is just a little too friendly a greeting, if you know what I mean," he finished.

"By their previous actions and our knowledge of their culture," Vorik stated. "It is logical to expect an attempt to take us by force at some time during this engagement. They may be trying to lull us into a false sense of security prior to their attack."

O'Connell looked over at Tom, "Does he always re-state the obvious, sir?"

"He's made a thorough analysis of the situation, Crewman O'Connell," Tom chided him. "If you have nothing constructive to add to the discussion, I suggest you prepare your weapons."

O'Connell, who had always operated just on the edge of insubordination sat up straighter and nodded without speaking. Mr. Paris was definitely not in the mood for any smart remarks. Actually, Vorik was an intelligent guy and a good soldier. It was the way the Vulcan talked that got on his nerves. He realized that he was nervous, and that he supposed was the problem. This was for all the marbles, Nate. They pull this one off, the big adventure was finished and they would be heading home. Part of him was so looking forward to that, another would miss the endless excitement that the challenge of performing under such difficult circumstances had provided. He, Nate O'Connell, crewman of no particular merit or skills, had shined in this time. It had been his moment of glory. Turning, he saw Lisa Sawra looking at him. She had a knowing look on her face. She'd been his partner in crime during this whole thing, and understood him down to the core. It was good to have a friend like that. "You ready for this, Sawra?" he growled.

"You bet," replied Sawra. She never said much, but she meant what she said. She knew that Nate was thinking about the mission and what it would mean to be a success. The entry team would be needed no more on a regular basis. They would be returned to their rather inauspicious regular duties. However, they could never take away from them what the two of them had done. She looked over at her partner. "You know," she said in a low voice. "They'll always need us. We can't possibly make it all the way back to the Alpha Quadrant without running into more problems. It's not how the galaxy works."

Nate gave an appreciative nod, "I know, kid. In fact," he gave an nasty grin. "I'm counting on it." She matched his look, and they were ready for whatever was going to be thrown at them.

Tom hadn't missed the conversation between the two. In fact, he'd been relieved by it. Vorik could sometimes do the Vulcan set-your-teeth-on-edge thing, but he was an important member of the team, and it wouldn't do to have his position of authority eroded by lack of discipline. Besides, he was getting better about it. If Tom wasn't mistaken, it was Vorik's version of nervousness that had led him to make the statement. They were all on edge. Even Seven looked like she'd rather be just about anywhere else at the moment.

"Making final approach," Tom announced and then set down the shuttle without any per unkible jarring. He got up and turned to the others, "We've just landed in the hornet's nest. We have to walk very carefully so we don't stir them up, until we find out why they let us in so easily." His voice took on a harsh tone, "Don't give them an excuse, but be on guard at all times. They want something from us, or they wouldn't have let us in so quickly. Our mission is to establish relations with them and to try and find out where the Captain and Chakotay are. If we can, we will attempt to start negotiations for their return. Nothing else. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, sir," came the replies of the crew of the Flyer.

"Let's go out and meet our hosts," Tom ordered. He took a deep breath and hit the hatch controls, hoping against hope that they would be able to accomplish what they needed to without resorting to mayhem and destruction. It was probably not going to come to pass.

End Part 35 1