Title: Come of Age
Author: Annette Welsh-Shinya 01/99
Series: VOY
Part: 6/?
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!


The Doctor stomped, if a hologram can stomp, down the companionway to Ensign Wildman's quarters. He'd been up to the Bridge, and down to the Messhall, and now he was outside his current location. He'd checked on Mr. Paris, found that, contrary to his previous statement, he had not spent "ten minutes" buttoning up the ship for the night. The Doctor was totally exasperated with the man. He acted as if he weren't human sometimes, driving himself beyong endurance. He debated about pounding on the door, then just tried to open it. It was unsecured, and he went in, one brow raised. He went through the mostly dark living area to what he knew was Naomi's bedroom. He was puzzled, he didn't hear any noise. He opened the door and looked in. There, in the dim illumination that his optical receptors had no trouble processing, lay Tom Paris, Acting Captain of Voyager, and Naomi Wildman, beloved ward of the entire ship, wrapped in each other's arms, sound asleep. The Doctor closed the door silently and retreated back to the living area. He called out, "Computer, set wake-up alarm for the Wildman's quarters for forty five minutes before alpha shift. Make it an extreme level one for Mr. Paris." The computer acknowledged the order in the odd singsong voice that it had had since the first sleeper programs had gotten to it. Mostly, the crew tuned it out, but the strangeness of it struck the Doctor that night because of the quiet. He sighed, then gathered himself up and left the room.

No rest for a hologram, he thought, as he made his way back to Sickbay and dismissed B'Tall to get some well-deserved sleep. He picked up a padd and started going over the data he'd been given from Reclamations Systems. He began calculating the energy needed to dispose of personal waste from each crew member, as the new arrivals had upset the balance of the current settings used. They had so little energy to spare, that they had the settings on the waste reclamators set to a excess margin of less than .03 percent. He hummed an aria to himself as he crunched numbers into the night.

Tom felt quite a bit better as he made his way to the Bridge the next morning. He had been awakened by the noise of an extreme level one wakeup alarm that he didn't remember setting before he fell asleep in Naomi's room. Upon inquiry, he had found that the Doctor had set it. He'd had a moment of chagrin that the Doctor had found him unable to make it to his own quarters before succumbing to fatigue, but then he supposed that if anyone was going to find him like that, it was best that it was the Doctor.

He knew that he needed to keep up the facade that he was indestructable, so the crew had something to hold themselves up to. It was hard, but then that was what they paid him the big bucks for, he thought with an internal laugh. After he'd stopped by Sickbay for a flying visit with B'Elanna, who had yet to wake she was so exhausted, he'd made a few minutes to stop by the messhall for the promised French toast. It had been pretty good.

Now, had had three minutes to go before alpha shift change, and as usual, he was stopped every five meters by someone saying something to him. Mostly, it was about how glad they had found more of the crew and that they were hoping that the new information recently obtained from the Vandal prisoners would be of a help to find more. Tom acknowledged their greetings and answered their questions or made comments, trying not to give out too much information, but yet respecting their intelligence. He briefly wondered how in the galaxy that the interrogation information had managed to get around the ship so fast. The Voyager grapevine was a marvel in its efficiency. He wondered how he could harness its effect to make their mission a little easier. He was musing this when he stepped out the of turbolift onto the Bridge, exactly on time. He gave a quick thought at how many times Captain Janeway had done this. He had always wondered how she did it. Now he knew; she did it because she had to. It was as simple and as complicated as that.

"Good morning, Ensign Powers," said Tom. "I see the ship is still in one piece. My confidence in you grows and grows," and he smiled a bit at her to let her know he was actually very happy that she hadn't called him out in the night.

"Good morning, sir," replied Powers tired but satisfied. "Nothing remarkable happened last night. No indications of that target we hit yesterday coming after us. Our trailsweeping techniques are apparently good enough to confound even their searcher programs." Here she handed him a padd with the current data on the ship. Tom glanced at Ensign Bradley, who was trying hard not to fall asleep at the Conn. He straightened up suddenly as he noticed that Tom was on the Bridge. Ensign McNaughton then appeared to take the Conn and Bradley stumbled off the Bridge, mumbling a "Good night, sir" as he went. Tom pretended not to notice his fatigue, as he knew that Bradley had been one of the people working hard the day before getting the power grid back on line on deck three when it had gone out during their battle with the Vandal ship. He hadn't been to bed, Tom was sure, prior to coming onto a gamma shift that was as dull as dishwater. It was harder sometimes to do nothing and stay alert, then to respond to a high level crisis. Tom knew from experience how easy it was to let the stars in the viewscreen lull you into a trance.

Tom read the padd from Powers as he sat down in the command chair. It was as she had said, nothing remarkable, just the ship running at what passed for peak efficiency these days. "We're still at impulse power, Ensign. Did Mr. Vorik indicate when the shield modifications for the warpdrive would be ready?"

"No, sir," said Powers looking somewhat dismayed at this. "He did say that he had an idea and that he would get back to me on it. That was four hours ago."

"He would get back to you on it?" asked Tom with some surprise.

"His exact words, sir," said Powers, trying hard not to smile. She added, "He's very tired, sir. He's been up three days ago straight working one crisis to the next in Engineering." Here she trailed off her voice, looking embarassed that she had spoken so freely.

"Understood, Ensign," said Tom, and he did. Powers had worked with Vorik in Engineering for years, so she knew him better than most people. He also detected the slight blush about her face when she spoke so concernedly about him. Ahhh, a romance in the air. At least an attraction anyway. "Ensign Powers, I know you have just finished a shift, but I think Mr. Vorik could use a hand down there, getting his idea into action, so to speak. Why don't you report down to him and help him for a while. Tell him I need a report on his progress by 1000 hours."

Powers looked at him gratefully, and she said, "Yes, sir. I'll get down there right away. And, sir?"

"Yes, Ensign?"

"Thanks. I appreciate your confidence in me," said Powers.

"Carry on, Ensign Powers," was all Tom replied, but he acknowledged her thanks with a look.

"Yes, sir," said Powers and she left the Bridge as Ensign Tompkins took her place at Ops and began his work for the day.

Tom looked at the chronometer on his command screen and thought to himself, Seven, you are now officially late, and wondered how he was going to get out of this one. He was going to have to discipline her, even though he knew that she had been exhausted last night when she had left the Bridge. The order of the chain of command must be maintained, and the rules must be followed. He was so tired of following them, but he had to. He was quick to overlook what he could, but when it hit the fan, he was inflexible about enforcing the rules. He'd had to learn the hard way to do that. They were in a true crisis mode most of the time, and for discipline to break down at any juncture would be fatal to their quest for their lost crew and to their very survival. He sat there pretending to read the padd he had already finished and waited. Four minutes later, Seven, looking harassed, made it onto the Bridge.

"Good morning, Ensign," said Tom, not looking up from his padd.

"Sorry I'm late, sir," said Seven, slipping into the First Officer's command chair. "I'm afriad that sleeping is still relatively new to me, and when I do fall asleep, I tend to not wake up, even after an extreme level one personal alarm goes off."

"No excuses, please, Ensign," said Tom looking up from his padd, his tone stern. "You will make it to the Bridge on time for your shift, or you will be replaced in your position, no matter how fast you can calculate equations. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, sir," spoke Seven, looking straight ahead, sitting at attention.

"And, I will be making an entry into your personal file later regarding this tardiness. This is the third time this month you have been late. If it happens again, I will have an official reprimand filed. You have the Bridge, Ensign. I'll be in my ready room," and Tom handed her the padd he had and walked into the ready room.

Tom slumped down into the chair and shook his head. He'd just chewed out Seven for being late for God's sake. How many times had he been late or just on the edge of it, and then felt that it was unreasonable for the Captain to give him a bad time about it. He was so caught up in this new feeling of the burdens of command, that he had not even noticed that he had called it "His" ready room. It had always been "The" ready room, or "The Captain's" ready room. It had not escaped the notice of the Bridge crew, though.

Seven of Nine concentrated on reading the reports on the padds and making the necessary orders to keep the ship going. She'd chafed under the tongue-lashing that Paris had given her, but knew that he had to do it to maintain command protocol. It showed also that he was very concerned about her. He would not ask her to do anything that he would not do himself. That she knew. She vowed to work harder to live up to the confidence he had placed in her. She had not obtained Borg perfection in some time, in fact, her humanity had been asserting itself quite a bit lately. However, she could try harder. She pictured Harry Kim, good naturedly taking all of the abuse he had received as "The most upstanding Ensign in Starfleet". She smiled a little as she paged through endless calculations and information from the different departments. Thinking of Harry always made her feel better, closer to him. If he could do this, so could she. She was responsible for him being lost; the least she could do is hold up his end of the work until he got back. And, he would get back, she vowed silently, if she had to personally search every sector of the Delta Quadrant to find him.

Tom was working on some course corrections to the Ibesian Gambling Syndicate's location in the Barnok system. It was quite a ways away from their current position, but the distance to the mining colony on Abraad was further, though they were roughly in the same direction from the center of the galaxy. He rubbed his forehead absently, then picked up a cup of the day's coffee substitute. He drank it without tasting, his attention utterly focused on coming up with a plan of action to find out if there were Voyager crew members on the planet, where they were being held, and how to overcome what were sure to be very good defenses. If the Ibesians dealt with the Vandals, rather that the Vandals stealing from them and destroying their property, then they were going to be pretty tough customers. Tom pushed his padd back and sighed. Everybody they were running into these days were pretty tough customers. He longed for the days when there were familiar bad guys that they knew how to deal with, like the Cardassians or Romulans. He'd even take a Breen.

"Engineering to Mr. Paris," came B'Elanna's voice over the comm system.

Tom looked up and said, "Paris here. What are you doing out of Sickbay, Lieutenant? I believe the Doctor told me you would be there at least until tomorrow."

"I released myself, sir," came back B'Elanna's voice, a little testy. "The Doctor worries too much. I'm fine, and I have a lot of work to do down here."

"Well, you just had pretty major surgery yesterday, so I am assuming that you are there in strictly a supervisory capacity, and *not* doing any actual crawling around Jefferies tubes or the like?" Paris voice acknowledged that she was needed in Engineering, but that he was not going to let her work to her physical detriment.

"No, sir," B'Elanna's voice was dry. "I won't do anything but sit here and read reports and make calculations. I just wanted to tell you that we'll have the warpdrive on-line with the new shield modifications for the warpfield in place in about two hours."

"That's great, B'Elanna," enthused Tom. "How'd you do it?"

"I didn't," she said grumurie. "It was Vorik who came up with the idea. I won't bore you with the details, let's just say that he surprised me on this one. He's finishing the modifications now, and we'll begin the preliminary testing right away. Oh, and thanks for sending Powers back down. We really need her to get this on-line," she finished in a lighter tone.

"Anything to help out my First Officer," said Tom lightly, making notations of the new information on his padd.

"That's Acting First Officer, Mr. Paris," said B'Elanna in an arch voice.

"Yes, Ma'am," said Tom in an echo of times past. He continued, "I'm going to make a new set of course corrections based on use of the warpdrive now, B'Elanna. Let me know as soon as it comes on line, and we'll be on our way to the Barnok system."

"You have a new lead?" said B'Elanna, her voice anxious.

"Yes," said Tom, getting up and walking around the room, he was pacing and thinking furiously. "Do you think that these new modifications in the shielding will hold up to Warp 6?"

"I'm not sure," said B'Elanna. "I'll have to run some calculations, but it may. We only tried to get the shielding effective up to Warp 4, because after that, the exponential factors of the random decay of the edges of the warpfield made it too hard to calculate the actual effect of the shielding on the warptrail." Her voice trailed off, and Tom could almost hear her incredible brain working on the problem.

"Get back to me on it, B'Elanna, OK?" said Tom, sitting back down again. "We can go over it at lunch."

"Sure, Tom," said B'Elanna, distracted. "Uh, yes, sir," she added hastily. "I'll get right on it, Torres out."

Tom chuckled a bit, but realized that B'Elanna had given him a great compliment by recognizing his need for following protocol. He bent back down to the task of coming up with a plan to overcome the Ibesian's defenses. Without knowing very much about them, it was a pretty hard task.

On the Bridge, Seven continued to work on the updates, and when Tom came out of the ready room, she looked up and said, "Continuing our course, sir. Still no signs of any Vandals or other ships in the area."

"Very good, Ensign," replied Tom, coming over to her and handing her the padd he had made the entries regarding the new course corrections. "Here are some new course corrections, based on us going to warp. Lt. Torres tells me that they should have the warpdrive up and running within a couple of hours."

Seven looked pleased at this and paged down the padd, reading the information. She said, "We are heading to the Barnok system?"

"Yes, that's a base of something called the Ibesian Gambling Syndicate. Apparently, they like to use bait for their amusements. The bait they prefer is live people. We got a tip from one of our guests in the Brig that some of our people may be there. When the warpdrive comes back on line, I want you to head there at the maximum warp we can achieve and still maintian shielding."

"And you will be where, sir?" said Seven.

"Oh, here and there, Ensign," replied Tom easily. "I'll be back to spell you for your lunch break, and then I want you off-shift at 1500 hours. I want you to help Crewman Wilson with dinner tonight."

"You want me to help the cook with dinner tonight," said Seven evenly, looking in askance at Tom.

"Yes," said Tom cheerfully. "It's a new idea of mine. Officer of the Day in the messhall. Tomorrow, I'm going to have Ensign McNaughton take crack at it.' Tom smiled at Seven and said encouragingly, "Think of it as a challenge, Seven. You can go assimilate some recipes from Neelix and then report to the messhall."

Seven then realized that Tom was teasing her, at least she thought he was teasing her. She decided that it meant that she was to go off shift at 1500 hours, and to 'relax' for a while. If she wanted to help Wilson in the galley, then she probably thought that there wouldn't be any problem in that. It was Tom's way of helping her over the earlier incident about her tardiness.

"May Naomi Wildman assist me in my culinary endeavors?" asked Seven, trying to get the tone of her voice right. This teasing business was actually a lot of work when it came down to it.

"Sure," said Tom, happy that she was getting into the spirit of things. "She's helping Jenny Delaney in the hydroponics bay this morning, but I'm sure she would be willing to assist you with your dinner preperations. I gave her the day off as Captain's Assistant, as she pulled a little overtime yesterday during the crisis."

"Captain's Assistant?" queried Seven. "You've promoted her then."

"Yes," said Tom nodding. "I think she's earned it, don't you?"

Seven considered this for a moment and said, "I concur. But her designation will be what? The title 'Acting Captain's Assistant' seems a little awkward, even to me."

"Yeah," said Tom. "I know what you mean, it just doesn't roll off the tongue. I think we'll just have to stick with Ms. Wildman for the time being." Tom looked over at Seven and laughed.

"What is it?" she said, puzzled by his amusement. She had said nothing funny that she knew of.

"I was just thinking of how many times I told Captain Janeway to just give in and let Naomi be her assistant. How she'd just stand there and say, 'Mr. Paris, I am running a Starship, not a nursery. We have a protocol for ship's positions, and nowhere in the manual is there a designation for 'Captain's Assistant'. My decision stands.'" His imitation was dead on.

"I think that she would have made that same decision as you, should your positions be reversed," said Seven, with forethought about others that was still a little surprising coming from her.

"You think so?" asked Tom, genuinely please with her. "Well, I'm off to Sickbay for a while, then I'm not sure where I'll be. Call me if you need me, you have the Bridge."

"Aye, sir," replied Seven.

Sickbay was empty except for two patients, who looked as though they wouldn't be there for too much longer. Tom found the Doctor in his office, making log entries and looking somewhat peeved.

"Lose all your customers, Doc?" called Tom from the doorway of his office.

"Mr. Paris," said the Doctor testily. "How can I be expected to competently run a Sickbay without the proper equipment and supplies? I have had my current requisitions for replenishment of my drug supplies ignored for a week now. I need my equipment overhauled and I will not be responsible for the condition of the Sickbay's environmental systems or their malfunctioning. I'm a doctor, not an engineer."

"Good morning, to you too, Doc," said Tom shaking his head. "Those the latest of your casualty reports?" He took the padd from the Doctor and read it quickly. All was reasonably well.

"Yes," grumped the Doctor. "About my supplies..."

"I know, I know," Tom put his hands up. "I'll talk to B'Elanna today about the supply requistions. We picked up several Vandal power cells yesterday, so there should be a little more replication time available this week. As for the equipment overhaul, I am at your disposal this morning, for a few hours at least. Regarding the environmental controls, have you ever considered branching out in your specialties, Doc? Plenty of opportunities in the Engineering Department," Tom teased.

"Oh, sure. I can just see it," said the Doctor acerbically. "The Holographic Engineer: he replaces isolinear chips, he degausses the warpcorp shielding, he makes a hell of a tricorder."

"It's finding the challenges in life that makes it worth living, Doc," said Tom, picking up the first of an entire tray full of poorly or non-functioning instruments.

"Lately, I've had more challenges than one set of sub-routines can take," said the Doctor, coming up to assist Tom with the equipment.

"You can take it, Doc," said Tom with confidence. "You're tough."

"Right," said the Doctor, taking a regen from the pile and looking at it with distaste. "Just call me the Hard-assed Hologram."

"How about Doctor Demon?" joked Tom, poking into the entrails of a medial tricorder that would only register the readings of a female Trill. Trouble was, they didn't have any Trills on board.

"I'll only go by that if we ever get the holodecks back up and running, and Captain Proton rides again," said the Doctor.

Tom looked up at the Doctor, who was busily engaged with the regen. Tom knew that the Doctor was trying to fill in for Harry with these little banter sessions, and he really appreciated it. He had always had a rather odd relationship with the Doc, but he had truly considered him a friend. Now, he didn't know what he'd do without him.

"You got it, Doc. We'll run the Captain's program as soon as we get the power. I'd give a lot to see you in a cape," Tom said with a grin.

"Only if I get to wear a mustache, Mr. Paris," said the Doctor firmly. "A big long one that curls on the end."

"OK, Doc," said Tom reasonably. "That could be worked out. How do you feel about silver lame?..."

The two laughed at the utter silliness of their remarks, which were just whistling in the dark. They both knew that there hadn't been enough power to run the holodecks for months, and the there was little liklihood of them getting enough in the near future. But, it felt good to talk about it. Tom realized that, even if they had the power, he wouldn't have the time to go play on the holodeck, anyway. The days of Captain Proton to the rescue seemed very far away, almost unreal. They work companionably together, fixing what they could, robbing Peter to pay Paul with the parts of that equipment that just couldn't be salvaged. Making due with what they had, an old story on Voyager.

End Part 6 1