Title: Come of Age
Author: Annette Welsh-Shinya 01/99
Series: VOY
Part: 9/?
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 afternoon was going by fairly slowly, no crisis of the moment, so the ship's routine duties were being attended to. Tom read endless reports, made approvals or denials of requests, mediated differences (there were only two, very minor), and generally kept an eye on things. In a spare moment, he'd make notations on his idea padd. He had taken to keeping it with him at most times on the Bridge, always trying to come up with better ways of doing things, or trying to get them back to doing them the 'Starfleet' way. They were having to modify or branch out on their own through necessity, but it still felt wrong. He wondered for the umpteenth time what Captain Janeway would have done in his place. It was a pointless to think about it, because she wasn't there, and they weren't going to have her input for some time. He just missed her a great deal, and not just because it would take a great deal of responsibility off his shoulders. He had gotten used to it, in a way. He just would like to have someone to share the burdens of command with. B'Elanna was great; but she was new to this level of command, too. She did a lot of work in Engineering, and still managed to help out on the command level. She was making a great effort to be available to the crew for them to talk to her.

At first, the crew had been terrified of doing so, but Tom had kept referring those crewmembers who needed counseling to her. He had told B'Elanna that he knew she had a lot to offer, and that the crew wouldn't expect her to give them all the answers, just be someone they could open up to and get some positive feedback from. She had been utterly against it at first, stating that it would be ludicrous for her to counsel someone. Tom had looked at her and said, "Do you think it's any stranger then me Captaining this ship?" She had not said another word in protest after that. In fact, he had seen her reading some padds on which she had downloaded some texts on counseling from the ship's database when it became available again. As testament to her effectiveness, the crew now went directly to her with problems, thus relieving him of one of his endless duties.

It came to him as the end of alpha shift drew near. The plan to rescue the Voyager crew members being held by the Ibesian Syndicate. He had accessed the information they had gotten from the Vandal ships, and it had contained data on the Syndicate. They sounded very tough, much like the Orion Syndicate of the Alpha Quadrant. However, they had a weakness. They were as much of profit mongers as the Ferengi were, without all the Rules of Acquisition, and they would go to great lengths to be the one who obtained the highest profit with the most outrageous scheme. In other words, he needed to make them an offer they couldn't refuse. The Vandals traded with them in order to get supplies that the Syndicate controlled. They didn't like them any more than any other species; the Vandals were incredibly ethnocentric, also they just delighted in destroying things. When they had been unable to unlock the command codes that had secured Voyager in a timely manner, they had set their destruction programs on it. No one could remember who had first coined the name "Vandal" for them. It had fit, so naturally it stuck. They took what they could use and tried to destroy what they didn't want or need. They actually were a people called the Masaalia, but Vandals were what they were called by everyone on Voyager.

The Vandals traded in something that the Syndicate was always in need of - fresh supplies of warm bodies. Not only did they run this maze establishment, he had found that they had six other operations on Barnok IV alone that used the torture and death different species as the major portion of the entertainment. There were more on other planets, plus they controlled the area mining companies and most of the manufacturing. In fact, they pretty much controlled everything. They most liked to show their power and wealth by thieir 'shows'. They were forever escalating the spectacle, increasing the betting, raking in the profits. The Vandals had been their procurers for years. Tom decided that he was going to horn in on their corner and set up shop for himself. He'd be playing the part of a hardened criminal, willing to sell live flesh for profit at bargain basement rates. Shouldn't be too much of a stretch, he thought. He had been playing Captain for months now, and no one had seemed to catch on.

He noticed that all was quiet on the Bridge. McNaughton hadn't once asked for help with her naviagation questions, and had run a diagnostic and corrected a problem without being told to do so. Tompkins, likewise, was occupied with doing his job. Tom sat back in the command chair and relaxed slightly. It had been the quietest day he had seen in a long time. They had the warpdrive back, they had rescued more members of the crew, and he had a date tonight. Things were looking up.

The ship's inertial dampers took a hit just then, causing a slight rocking motion. Tom barked, "Report, Ensign Tompkins!"

"A seeker booby-trap just went off on deck 5, section 25b, sir," said Tompkins frantically searching for the commands to shut off the red alert that had come on.

"Has the hull breeched?" said Tom, accessing the alarm from his command panel and shutting it off.

Tompkins looked slightly relieved, and answered, "No, sir. Hull integrity has been maintained. The explosion took out one interior bulkhead and some subsystems."

"Casualties, Mr. Dell?" called Tom out to the Ensign at Security.

"Information is still coming in, sir," replied Dell. "The ship's comm system is down in that area due to the explosion, and it's still not cleared for personal communicator use." Dell looked down at his board, then made a face, then looked up at Tom. "In fact, sir. That's what caused the explosion, use of a personal communicator."

"Who's in that area?" asked Tom, feeling the frustration of not knowing what was going on.

"It's Mr. Neelix, sir. He's sending a runner back to a secure area with the current information. It should be just a moment, sir," said Dell, clearly upset by what was happening, but trying to remain calm and do his job.

"Let me know the moment the report in is, Ensign," said Tom. "I'm going down to assess the damage myself." He walked over to the command chair and said, "Ensign McNaughton, maintain current course and speed. Call me if anything changes, you have the Bridge. Ensign Dell, notify Mr. Neelix that I'm on my way." And with that, Tom was out the door. He was still in the turbolift when Dell came on.

"Dell to Mr. Paris. I have that report you wanted, sir."

"Go ahead, Ensign."

"Mr. Neelix reports that there were two casualties in the explosion. Both have been taken to Sickbay with unspecified injuries. The internal transporters still won't function in that section of the ship, so the stretcher crew took them to Sickbay a few moments ago. Mr. Neelix also states that there appear to be more devices in this area, so he has placed a security zone around it until they can begin disabling the devices," Dell got this all out in a rush.

"Understood, Mr. Dell," said Tom, thinking rapidly about how they could go about re-routing power and relocating personnel that lived in that area of the ship. He was still trying to get a handle on that when he arrived.

Stepping out of the lift, he was met by the runner, Crewman Ling. Ling reported that the secure area had already been cordoned off and that Mr. Neelix had been informed that he was coming down. Tom stopped a moment and keyed his commbadge and called for B'Elanna.

"Torres here."

"B'Elanna, I need you up here on Deck 5 to assess the structural damage," said Tom. "It sounds like we're going to have to do some re-routing of subsystems and relocation of crew's living quarters. We've got another live area."

"I'm on my way. Does Neelix have an estimate of how long it's going to take to get rid of the booby-traps?" asked B'Elanna, picking up her kit and making her way to the lift.

"I'm on my way to talk to him now. It's section 25b. The explosion took out ship's comm system and it's definitely not cleared for personal comm use. We're using a runner, who'll meet you at the lift, Paris out," and Tom then handed his commbadge to Ling and made his way down the corridor and turned the corner.

There, wielding a tricorder and holding a probe device he had designed himself, was Neelix. He was accompanied by O'Connell, who was making notations on a padd while Neelix made observations in a low voice. Tom walked carefully up to Neelix and waited for him to notice his presence. After a few minutes, Neelix looked up.

"I've located four more devices in the area, sir," he said with a tight voice. "They're the self-replicating kind."

"That explains why we can't get rid of the damn things, even after all this time," said Tom in a disgusted but low tone. He looked at the bulkhead that was damaged. It was right next to a sub-system power relay junction. He didn't even want to think about which systems that junction was a part of. "Who was injured?"

"Crewmans Dali and Bernard, nothing too serious, I think. They were both conscious by the time the stretcher crew came. They were assigned to this corridor to do a sensor sweep," Neelix said, his voice getting lower and more intense. "According to the information available from our less than stellar internal sensor system, Crewman Bernard must have used his personal comm device and triggered the program's boobytrap system to explode the junction."

"What was he doing using his commbadge in this area?" said Tom, his voice very hard.

"I don't know, sir," replied Neelix, obviously very irritated. "It's a violation of Security protocol to go into an unsecured area with a personal communicator anyway. It's just too easy for those seeker programs to lock onto that bandwidth and target it," Neelix looked up at Tom here.

"You'd better start re-emphasizing the importance of following that particular protocol, Mr. Neelix," said Tom, his voice not friendly in the least. "Or we will be having to clean up after your personnel a lot more."

"Yes, sir," replied Neelix.

"How long before you can get rid of this group of the devices?" asked Tom looking at the bulkheads where they could be hiding.

"I can disable them in a few minutes, just as soon as I get the decryption sequences going," replied Neelix. "I was just finishing up locating the devices and am ready to set the counter-program into motion. I'll need to clear the companionway, sir. No sense in anyone else being here if I get the settings wrong and these babies go off."

"Carry on, Mr. Neelix," said Tom briskly. He turned to go, then said, "Oh, and Neelix?"

"Yes, Mr. Paris?" replied Neelix.

"Dinner is at 1800 hours sharp," said Tom. "Be alive and on time, I want to go over the duties for the week. You know, Seven's cooking tonight; you don't want to miss it," and he nodded and turned to go.

"Yes, sir," nodded the Talaxian, momentarily non-plused.

Tom went back around the corner, and Neelix just looked at where he disappeared to. It was O'Connell chuckling that brought him back to the present.

"Please enlighten me, Crewman O'Connell, as to what is so amusing about this situation?" said Neelix in a testy voice.

O'Connell looked at Neelix as he began to prepare to set up decoding modules for disablement of the booby-traps. "It's just, Mr. Paris is the only officer I ever heard chew somebody out in one breath, order them to live through a dangerous procedure in the next, and then make a joke without losing a beat."

"Mr. Paris is an exceptional officer," said Neelix in a thoughtful voice. "What's this about Seven making dinner?"

The two made their way back around the corner with their equipment, then Neelix returned alone to begin setting the decoding modules. He had to hurry if he was going to make it to dinner on time and alive.

Tom met B'Elanna at the turbolift doors. She was taking what readings she could from this end of the corridor.

"What's the damage?" asked Tom as he came up to her, and took back his commbadge from Ling, who was dismissed.

She shook her head. "Not good. Life Support, Communications, internal sensors, a few other minor systems, they all route through that junction. They couldn't have picked a better place to mess up. Not that there's many places left that aren't affected in some way."

"Can you re-route them?" said Tom, running his hair back with his hand.

"Ye-es," said B'Elanna, who had moved to a wall panel and was accessing some information. "It looks like this particular subsystem has been partitioned enough that they have been able to effectively wall it off. No seeker program problems for some time. I'm going to use it as holdingkinsa for these sub-routines and re-route the power flow. That way, ship's systems won't deteriorate any more than they already have."

"Sounds great," said Tom. "How long to do it?"

B'Elanna tapped a few more keys, then said, "I'm done. It's only temporary, and we'll need to get some more diagnostics done on this area as soon as it's clear, but I don't anticipate any more problems than usual. I'll notify Systems Control to get on it, along with everything else."

Tom smiled and said, "Good work, Lieutenant." In a lower voice he said, "I believe our date is saved."

"Good thing, sir," said B'Elanna, equally low in tone. "Otherwise, I would have just had to kill you."

"Killing your commanding officer is an act of mutiny, Lt.," said Tom with mock severity.

"Sure it is," said B'Elanna reasonably. "But who's going to prosecute me? It would be an act of self-preservation."

"Presevation of what?" said Tom with a puzzled look.

"My sanity, that's what," said B'Elanna with an unrepentant grin.

"I wanted to be in command," said Tom eyes heavenward. "I asked for this."

B'Elanna just smiled and said, "I'm going to get back to Engineering. Neelix will probably be finshed soon, and I want to be able to get started on the complete re-route."

"See you at dinner, then," said Tom. "If this is under control, then we'll have the Staff Meeting as usual."

"All right," said B'Elanna as she waited for the lift. "I'm going to present Vorik's report on his research on how to calculate the location of the cloaked sleeper program devices that are remaining on the ship. He has some ideas on how to key in on the replication process that they go through as how to locate them."

"Good," said Tom. "If we could just get rid of these things, we could stop running around all the time, trying to pick up Humpty Dumpty,"

"Humpty Dumpty?" said B'Elanna with an incredulous laugh. "I don't know why I ask, but who or what is 'Humpty Dumpty'?"

"I'll tell you all about him, tonight," said Tom with a grin. "You say you're presenting Vorik's report. I take it he's off-shift now, and in the company of the very pleasant Ensign Powers?"

The lift arrived and B'Elanna stepped into it. She said before the doors closed, "Now that would be telling, wouldn't it?" Tom laughed as the doors closed on her teasing countenance. He'd get it out of her tonight, somehow.

End Part 9 1