Title: Come of Age
Author: Annette Welsh-Shinya 01/99
Series: VOY
Part: 4/?
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 slid into the harness Seven gave him while in the turbolift to the shuttlebay. It fit like a glove. He pulled it back off, and decided that if it worked out, he would have the whole entry team fitted with them. He stepped out of the lift and was met by Neelix and Sawra, each equipped with specially modified tricorders and code breaking modules. They proceeded together in silence to the doors of the shuttlebay. There, O'Connell stood by a pile of equipment that looked like enough weapons to start a small war, which was exactly what they were going to do.

"Here's the new specs for the latest modulations I came up with for the phasers, sir," said O'Connell handing a padd to Paris. "I worked with those Borg equations like Ensign Seven suggested. It seems to be a pretty good series."

Tom took the padd and examined it. He hoped the Borg version of their code was going to hold up, they had really used up just about everything else they had. He cursed, again, the seeker programs that had destroyed their ability to use their entire computer system. They were still repairing the damage done to independent systems, and had not even begun trying to reconstruct all the main computers functions. They had settled for partitioning all the main functions from the main control system and bringing them back on line individually. They still were without the deep logic and data calculations functions that made a Starfleet computer indispensible. The whole crew was beginning to think that their padds were an actual extension of their bodies. He had never done so many math and physics calculations by hand in his life before himself. The risk of contamination was still too great to try to bring up the whole system. They could totally lose the whole thing if they did. They would just have to muddle through as they had been doing. He looked up at O'Connell. "Good work, O'Connell," he said handing the padd back to him. "Let me see the Hirogen weapon you modified."

"Isn't she a beauty, sir?" crooned O'Connell, stroking the shiny barrel of the rifle before handing it to Paris.

"She's absolutely gorgeous, Nate," said Paris dryly, carefully examining the weapon, then returning it to O'Connell. "But can she perform under pressure?"

"We won't let you down, sir," said O'Connell seriously. "Won't we, darlin'?" he talked to the rifle again.

"See that you don't," replied Tom. "Both of you." O'Connell nodded respectfully, and began lifting equipment and strapping it on various parts of his body.

Tom picked up a phaser rifle and fit it into the harness' rear holster. He slid into the harness and fastened it. It felt good and secure. He tucked a couple of personal pattern enhancers into loops that Seven had apparently designed for just that function. He was ready.

Neelix looked over from where he was getting his own equipment set up. "Say, Tom. That looks like a pretty good little weapons harness. Where'd you get it?"

"Just a little present from Seven, Neelix," said Tom, giving it a tug. "I think it's going to be general issue, if it works out today."

Neelix eyed the harness again, and said, "A present from Seven?"

"For the man who has everything," teased Tom. He then added, "I'll make sure I tell B'Elanna about it before she finds out from someone else."

"Preferably when I'm not in the area, sir," said Neelix, putting the finishing touches on his gear.

"Oh, come on, Neelix," said Tom. "She's not that bad, you know. She's just been on edge a little lately, trying to make due with even less materials than usual."

"Mmm-huh," mumbled Neelix non-committedly, inward musing that he'd rather be hunting booby-trapped seeker programs that face B'Elanna during one of her moods.

Tom shook his head, put his medikit on his belt, then turned to face O'Connell and Sawra. They appeared ready. "Let's move," he said simply. They entered the bay and Crewman Lansing greeted them. He had his encounter suit on, with the helmet off.

"All set, Lansing?" said Tom as the others made their way to the Delta Flyer.

"Yes, Mr. Paris," replied Lansing.

"Did you redouble your safety tether? I don't want to have to go hunting for you when I get done with the Vandals," he said.

"Yes, sir," Lansing gestured to space doors. "I reworked the whole tether since the last incident. It won't break free again."

"See that it doesn't," said Tom in a firm voice. "You won't be so lucky as to catch hold of the bay door next time. I can't afford to lose any more people than I already have, Crewman."

"Yes, sir," Lansing said again.

"Be careful, Hank," Tom said last. Lansing nodded and looked resolute. They both went their ways, Tom to the Delta Flyer, and Lansing to the space doors, putting on his helmet. Tom paused at the entry to the Flyer and looked at Lansing, who gave him a thumbs up. Tom waved in return and entered the ship. That was one brave man, manually opening and closing the shuttlebay space doors because the system that controlled the door had been almost completely destroyed by the seeker programs initally set on Voyager. He sat down and began pre-flight check on the flyer. Neelix sat in the Ops position, running his own set of checks. Sawra was at the Engineering station and O'Connel at Weapons systems. They were efficient, showing much practice at their current duties.

"Countdown sequence for takeoff on my mark," called Paris. "Delta Flyer to Crewman Lansing, we are ready to began atmospheric purging of the bay."

"Aye, sir. Beginning atmospheric cycling now," and worked a series of commands at a panel near the space doors. The hum of atmospheric recyling motors began then faded out as there was no air to transmit the noise. Lansing hit the shutoff manually, then keyed his comm, "Cycling complete, sir. Ready to open the doors when you are."

"Standby, Lansing. Neelix, are we a go?" called Tom.

"Aye, sir. Systems are functioning within acceptable parameters, shields are up and running, and we have clearance from the Bridge."

"Very good, Mr. Neelix," said Tom, making a few adjustments to his controls. "Delta Flyer to Lansing. Begin opening bay doors, we are good for takeoff."

"Aye, sir," called Lansing, and began the complicated procedure to manually open the space doors. After the doors were completely open, he moved back to the far wall of the bay and checked his tether. He keyed his comm system again, and said, "All set here, sir. Good hunting."

"Thank you, Lansing," said Paris, getting the Flyer underway. "Delta Flyer clearing the shuttle bay," he flew the Flyer with grace and deftness. God, he missed flying the ship. The only flying he got these days was on these target missions, and they were very short flights.

"Bridge to Delta Flyer," called Seven. "We have you targeted on our scanners. Your intercept time is four minutes fourteen seconds. We will begin cover fire in three minutes forty-six seconds."

"Acknowleged," said Paris, noting his postion and making a slight adjustment in his course.

"Good luck, Mr. Paris," came Seven's impassive voice.

Tom turned to look at Neelix, who beamed at him with approval. "Thanks, Seven. We're going to need it."

The attack proceeded. At the precise moment noted, Seven ordered the cover fire to begin on the Vandal ship. The ship halted and immediately began to engage Voyager with its very powerful weapons. The Delta Flyer then approached the alien ship and using the specially modulated transporter beams transferred the crew of the Delta Flyer to the interior of the Vandal ship. Even with the special modifications, the range of the transporters was very short without having the special personal pattern enhancers for the ship's sensors to key in on.

No two Vandal ships were alike on the interior. They modified them individually, putting in hidden traps and very complex locking systems on any doors. Paris and the rest materialized in a dark room. They immediately lit their hand lamps and checked the room; it was empty. Tom said in a low voice, "Neelix, take that door. Sawra, you've got the one across the room. Be ready, O'Connell."

Neelix got the lock open on his door first, but he didn't move the door panel. They all waited for Sawra, who finished moments after Neelix. Both scanned the doors to see if they could get readings from the other side. Both shook their heads. This was usually the case. The compartments on the Vandal ships were shielded heavily to prevent such a thing. Tom looked at Neelix, who shrugged his shoulders. "Eeny, meany, miney, Mo!" said Tom pointing at the last to the door Neelix stood by. They all assumed entry positions and Tom took up the one by the door. He slowly opened it, and began slicing the pie to check the room for occupants. He knew that Neelix crouched down on the floor next to him, doing the same. That way, there were two pairs of eyes examining the room, and two separate targets, should there be a hostile in the room. Tom moved the door out slowly, in small increments, checking his field of vision over and over again. The Vandals could be very patient, waiting for an unsuspecting intruder to expose themself by making a mistake.

There, in the corner, he fired his phaser and the Vandal slumped down. It was alone, apparently this was its quarters, for there was a pallet on one side of the small room and a stand next to it. O'Connell came up and stripped the weapons from the alien, making a small pile of them in the center of the room, then he fired his phaser at them, melting them slightly to make them useless. Tom motioned the others out, and they went to the door that Sawra had opened. They proceeded with the same painstaking entry maneuvers that they had done on the previous door. It was a hallway. Tom motioned to Neelix and Sawra, who flanked out behind him, O'Connell in the rear. They proceeded down the hall with caution. Tom realized that this ship was similarly layed out to one that they had run into about a month before. If he was correct, there would be a prisoner holding area at the end of this hallway, which led toward the ship's engine room. The ship suddenly rocked as Voyager made a good hit with its weapons.

They regained their balance and headed for the door at the end of the hallway. Tom motioned for Neelix to open it, and he went to work. This was a more complicated lock, so Tom knew that whatever was behind the door was pretty important. Finally, Neelix looked up and nodded that he was finished with the lock. Tom began the entry procedure. Just then, O'Connell called out and fired his phaser on two Vandals that were coming up from behind them. They probably had been hiding in a secret room that was not visible from the hallway. Both Sawra and O'Connell fired repeatedly at them. O'Connell's modified Hirogen rifle made a low boom, and the two Vandals slumped to the floor of the hall. He looked very pleased at the weapon in his hands and grinned at Sawra. She quirked a smile back at him and began stripping the two unconscious aliens of their weapons and disposing of them. Tom and Neelix continued their entry into the room at the end of the hall, knowing that it would be a very short time before more of the Vandal crew came looking for them.

They entered the room at last, no guards appeared to be in it. There were small compartments lining the walls of the room. Tom made a feral sound of satisfaction, which caused Neelix to look at him. Really, Tom was turning into more of a Klingon everyday. He supposed it was the pressures of command. They each went to a door of one of the compartments, which could be considered the size of a small closet. They scanned the doors, checking for booby-traps. Neelix said, "Got one, sir."

"Can you disable it without damaging the interior of the compartment?" said Tom, examining the next one in line.

"I think so," replied Neelix, getting out yet another piece of specially designed equipment. He got to work.

Sawra and O'Connell came into the room. O'Connell gave a whistle and said, "There's a lot here, sir. Any for us?"

"We're attempting to determine that, Crewman O'Connell," said Paris. "Would you mind giving us a hand?" he added meaningfully.

O'Connell looked a little sheepish and moved to join Sawra in using their tricorders to scan the compartments.

Neelix made his own sound of approval and said, "Voila, it's disabled."

"You are an offical member of the Voyager miracle-worker team, Neelix," said Tom coming over to the compartment door. "Consider yourself under orders to perform this level of work at all times." Neelix looked at Tom with a little consternation, then turned to look inside the compartment.

Crouched in the corner of the small closet of a room, was a figure. Tom knelt down, keeping his distance, and said in a soft voice. "It's Tom Paris. We've cohe uo get you. Will you come out now?"

There was a sound from the figure, like a stifled sob, then a shuffling noise as it crawled out. It was Mike Baytart, clad in a tattered red topped uniform. He got about halfway across the tiny room, and could no further. Tom came into the room and carefully lifted Baytart into his arms and took him out. He was very thin and marks of his physical abuse were evident on him. Anguish rose in Tom's soul, but his face was resolute as he set Mike down very gently on the floor of the room. He motioned to Sawra, who was already setting up a personal pattern enhancer for the injured officer. He tapped his commbadge and said, "Paris to Voyager, pattern enhancers are being set. Begin transporter sequences immediately. Tell the Doctor to standby for new customers. We may have quite a few this time." They began opening sequences on the next door even as Baytart's shimmer was fading from the room.

Tom checked the time that they had been on the ship. Voyager could not hold up much longer, and he didn't want to waste any more power than he had to. They had found six crew members, who had been beamed off the alien ship to the relative safety of Voyager. They had been successful, but he still felt an emptiness in him. He was very glad that they had retreived the crew that they had, and Baytart especially would come in handy, but he had been secretly hoping that he would find one of the very special people he was looking for. Harry, Tuvok, Chakotay, the Captain. They remained elusive. He looked at his boarding crew, "Let's get to the power cells and get off this barge." They proceeded down to the engineering area, fighting off several attacks and disabling one bomb that was set to go off when an unknowing person stepped on a pressure plate. They blew the door to the engineering room to save time, and went in and cleared the room of Vandals. The new weapons settings were good, and the modified Hirogen rifle was excellent. Tom made the decision that they were going to use it on all their target runs. They gathered up the power cells that were available, set their own pattern enhancers, and beamed back to the Delta Flyer.

"Voyager, this is Delta Flyer," called Tom, heading away from the alien ship at full speed. "Warm up the coffee, we're coming home."

"Delta Flyer," replied Seven. "We are readying the final energy burst for disablement."

"Acknowledged," said Tom, setting the Flyer on a descent glide to the shuttle bay. "We are on the homestretch and you are clear to fire."

"Aye, sir," said Seven, and gave the order to Tompkins to fire the last blast that would disable the Vandal ship's systems for the necessary time needed for Voyager to hide its signature trail. If they didn't disable them, the Vandals would track them down, not stopping until one or the other ship was destroyed. It was a matter of honor. However, Voyager did not destroy the ship. To do so, would invite the wrath of the entire loosely knit Vandal species. To get your butt kicked in battle was one thing, to kill off their brothers & sisters really pissed them off. Their complex social structure really was confusing, complicated by their very ritualistic myriad of religious rules and practices.

Tom set the Flyer down with practiced ease on the floor of the shuttlebay, and they waited for Lansing to work his controls to restore the atmosphere to the bay. When the cycling was complete, they got out of the Flyer, carrying their equipment and the heavy power cells that they had liberated from the Vandal ship's engineering room. Tom felt like he'd just gone six rounds with the Klingon Bat'leth Grand Champion, but his day was not over yet.

"Get those power cells down to Engineering. Have Ensign Vorik give me a report on his progress," he said to Sawra and O'Connell. "Lansing," he called. "Has there been a sweeper patrol through the shuttlebay systems recently?"

"Day before yesterday," replied the crewman.

"Get on another one, immediately," said Tom to Neelix walkinguateard the door. "It's been too long since we turned one up, and I get the feeling that there are a few more to be found before we're over them."

"Understood, sir," replied Neelix, readying his tricorder for yet another scan of the systems.

"Oh, and Neelix," added Tom.

"Yes, sir?"

"Good work. Couldn't have done it without you," said Tom with a smile.

"Yes you could have, sir," replied Neelix with a smile of his own.

"Yeah, but then I'd really have to work, now wouldn't I?" said Tom over his shoulder, getting into a turbolift. "Sickbay," he called to the lift and he lifted his hand in a little wave to Neelix, who nodded his head once in return.

The Talaxian then shook his head, wondering who Tom thought he was fooling. He knew that Paris had so many duties and responsibilities, it made his own problems seem minor in comparision. He got to work looking for the seeker programs, keeping a weather eye out for booby-trapped systems. Oh, the glory of being head of Security.

End Part 4 1