Being towed by the nose of the shuttle wasnít Lt. Tom Parisí idea of a heroic entrance into a battle situation; certainly not one suited for his Captain Proton holodeck persona. The Federation shuttle hid itself aft of the Delta Flyer in their approach to the Tenari warship and pretended to be nothing more than a natural part of the Flyerís unique exterior hull design. On the viewscreen link to the Flyer, Paris saw Voyager battling the alien warship. They exchanged phaser fire in a show of force. The weaponry on the alien ship could give the Flyer a beating, but the aliens arrogantly treated the small Flyer like nothing more than a pesky gnat that needed a casual swatting to shoo it away.
When in position, Chakotayís Flyer delivered an onslaught of phaser fire and deployed cobalt mines against the alienís shields. On cue, as the Flyer increased speed away from the damaged shields, Paris released the camouflaged plating magnetically tethering their ships. Riding on Deltaís coattails and being cut loose at the right trajectory flung the shuttle in a head-on collision course with the alien warship.
"Nice light show, Chakotay," Paris said as the shuttle crackled through the borders of the alien shields using maneuvering thrusters only. The shuttleís shields and life support remained online, but to avoid detection, all other systems were set to idle.
"Donít mind me, General Eiler. Iím just flotsam from your battle with Chakotayís Flyer." Paris piloted the shuttle to the edge of the huge ship and nestled gently against its hull.
"Computer, scan the interior of the alien ship for a human female and show me her location." Paris checked the console and hissed through his teeth. "Sheís in too far. Computer, can you get a transporter lock on her?"
"Negative. Interference from the alien shielding combined with the thickness of the hull plating-"
"Stop. Never mind."
Paris eased the shuttle forward, just tickling the belly of the Tenari ship. They were ignoring him completely and concentrating their efforts on Voyager and the Delta Flyer that returned for another round. Just ahead of Paris, the Flyerís cobalt mine blast hit the alien ship. A splintering of ash, smoke, and fragments of molten metal ricocheted off Parisí shields. The bay doors of the alien shuttle hanger collapsed and tore free. The static charge of a force field filled the space in the bay. Paris darted the shuttle toward the damaged entrance.
"Computer, get a transporter lock on Janeway and energize."
The glittering transporter lights revealed the slight frame of Captain Kathryn Janeway as she began to materialize on the floor of the shuttle. "Welcome aboard," he said. "You all right?"
He started out of the pilotís seat toward her when she didnít answer, but the shuttle rocked from weapons fire. Paris returned to his seat. Three Tenari assaulted the shuttle through the open bay doors with disruptor rifles.
He had grown accustomed to the captainís presence behind him when he flew Voyager. He expected her to slide into the copilot's seat next to him. The lieutenant awaited her orders as he heard her stirring behind him, but she retreated to the back of the shuttle.
"Iíve got it, Captain." Paris powered the engines and weapons. "You donít really want me to take out your force field and blow all of you into space, do you?" Paris smiled and waved at the Tenari as he engaged the engines. With a precision hit and perfect timing, the Delta Flyer hit the Tenariís shields again, weakening a spot for Paris to escape. Once past the boundary of the shields, Voyager eased out ahead of the Tenari warship to draw their fire. As hoped, the aliens ignored the Flyer and shuttle and went after the starship prize. Voyagerís warp nacelles retracted and locked into place. The ship jumped to warp with the alien ship in pursuit. The Delta Flyer hovered nearby to protect the shuttle.
"Everything all right over there?" Chakotay asked.
"I have her , but I think sheís hurt," Paris said as he looked over his shoulder and saw the captain huddled in the rear of the shuttle. "I can handle it, Commander."
"Good. Looks like Tuvok has his hands full. I want to make sure the Tenari know they picked a fight with the wrong crew."
"Blow them a cobalt kiss from me, Commander."
The Delta Flyer flashed to warp and the shuttle stood alone in space. The quiet made Paris feel vulnerable and alone. He moved toward the captain. The shadows darkened her face, but he could see her eyes wide with terror, unblinking.
"Captain," he said and brushed a hand against her arm. Janeway swiped her nails across his face leaving four stinging scratches in his flesh. Paris jumped back to give her a wide berth.
He remembered a solo training mission that his fatherís survival class took to Delem Prime. The cadets were separated from one another and told to space their rations carefully, but none anticipated a delay in extraction. By the third day without food, Paris built an animal trap. The planet was crawling with Delemian grossels, a type of docile rodent the size of a domestic cat. They were curious little creatures, and according to the local legends, quite tasty.
Paris captured a grossel in his cane trap. The beast began to throw itself against the cage. Though thought to be mute, it emitted a high-pitched wail as if it called for death to free it. It kicked and raked its flesh against the bars, screaming and clawing, gnawing and spitting its objections to being held captive. It would sacrifice itself to find freedom.
Parisí official report of that training mission stated that the animal cracked the cane trap open and escaped. He would never forget the posturing and vocalizations, the wilding in its eyes, the sorrowful moans and screams of demand. He let the animal go.
Those eyes with that same terror and rage met him again. This time they were blue, not golden. They belonged to his captain, not a beast. Janeway gathered herself tighter into a self-protective ball, wrapping her arms around her legs pulled to her chest. Her head pivoted as if to listen or as if sound pained her.
"Captain, itís me," he said just above a whisper as he scooted a little closer to her.
She directed her alert, glassy eyes toward him, but seemed to look past him. "I demand to be released." She spit her words like venom.
"You are released, Captain. Youíre free. Itís me, Tom Paris. Weíre in a shuttlecraft."
"Voyager and the Delta Flyer are leading the Tenari vessel away and they will disable it."
"Liar. I wonít fall for your demented tricks you degenerate savage."
She raised a hand to strike out at him again. She swiped the air in front of him before retreating again to the corner.
"Can you see me?
"You know how your vile experiments work; what they do."
Paris felt queasy in the pit of his stomach. Paris hated moments like these when words and experience failed him. The rags she wore, tattered in places, revealed bruises on her body and limbs. He reached behind him for the medical kit.
"Captain, I am Tom Paris." He reached out a hand to touch her. "Here feel how warm my skin is, not slimy like the Tenari."
She flinched at this touch, but did not pull her hand away. He caressed her hand. It felt so small and cold in his own. He brought her hand to his face. She grabbed and yanked his left ear.
"Ouch," Paris said.
"Is it attached?" She gave his ear a hard twist and let go.
"It was a minute ago." He clutched his ear and his cheek still stung from where she had clawed him.
"We rescued you."
Janeway drew her lips tightly together. "Some rescue. What took you so long?"
Her words stung him like the wail of the beast trapped in its cage. He could only imagine what she had been through in the fifteen days it took for them to locate her.
"Iím sorry," he said softly. He took the tricorder out of the medical kit. The sound of it opening startled the captain.
"Donít! Get that away from me." She grabbed at his hands and tore the scanning device away.
"Captain, I only want to help you. Youíre hurt."
She simply shook her head.
"You need medical attention. I know youíre in pain."
Her eyes grew moist. "You canít fix this."
He stood up and Janeway drew her hands protectively toward her face.
"Itís okay. Iím getting you a blanket. Youíre in shock. That much I can fix; if youíll let me."
The blanket from the overhead compartment felt soft in his hands. He let it unfold to the floor.
"Iím draping it behind you."
She flinched, but relaxed as the fabric posed no threat. Cold fingers clutched the edges of it and she pulled it around her body. Janeway backed against the wall away from him. Silent.
He felt like he was the one trapped in the cage with no way to communicate. He wanted to cup her bare feet in his hands and pour warm, soothing water over her bruises. She looked so fragile, so vulnerable. He remembered her demand to be released and he hoped the Tenari got more than they bargained for when abducting this starship captain.
Even in the shadows he could see the slow stream of tears from her closed eyes. That voice issuing demands to be released sounded more like a whisper of desperation now.
His movement started her.
"Sorry. I was getting you something for the pain."
She recoiled as if the sound of his voice were too loud. "No more!"
Kneeling in front of her with the hypospray. "I want to help you."
"I donít need your help. You canít trick me."
"Listen to my voice. Itís me. Itís Tom."
"Voices are easily simulated."
"Remember the night you told me I couldnít pilot the Warp 10 shuttle? I told you how much I needed to be the one to break the record."
"That information is in my personal logs from the mission. You could have accessed Voyagerís computer database."
He looked at her with a slack-jawed stare. The survival instincts that had kept her alive, sane, were locked on full thrusters. His mind raced through scenarios of missions and experiences past, shared privately by the two to them, in search of the key connection.
"You served with my father-"
"Common knowledge!" She thrust forward and shoved Paris away from her. The impact of landing against the bulkhead or the surprise of her aggression took his breath away.
Blood flushed through his face, heating his cheeks and ears. "You helped him! When the Cardassians captured you. What did you tell him?"
"There arenít words."
Paris held out his hands in front of him. "He never told me. How do I help you? How did you help him?"
"I did the only thing I could do." Janewayís voice lost its aggression. Her face softened as she retreated into a realm where reality etched itself in memory. Her eyes became moist. Her voice, a whisper; as if thinking aloud. "I held him while he cried."
His argument hovered just out of reach. Thoughts mingled and he fell silent. Such intimate confessions of trust were not part of what his father shared with him. The thought of Admiral Owen Paris being broken and weeping in the arms of a junior officer seemed as alien as any being ever discovered in uncharted space. Paris looked at the woman seated in front of him and understood the depth of trust that Kathryn Janeway generated in others, regardless of rank.
"In the cavern on Quashtra," Janeway said, "you and I were alone. I told you a story."
Paris wrinkled his brow. "It was Quashtra. We were never in any caverns, we were in an open field. You didnít tell me a story."
He saw her shoulders lose their tension.
"At Sandrines, the night you issued a challenge at the table, what happened?"
Paris laughed. "You not only cleaned me out of three weeks worth of replicator rations at the pool table, but I peeled a cargo hold full of leola root the next month doing KP for Neelix. I asked you where you learned to play pool like that."
"What did I say?"
"You told me it was none of my business."
The captain drew in a slow breath. "Tom?"
Paris eased forward until he was sitting next to her. He slowly reached to touch her hand. She did not withdraw it. He brought her hand upward and she ran her fingers over his face as if constructing a picture of him in her mind from her touch. He eased his arm around her shoulders and gave her time to get used to his touch. She pivoted her knees away from the wall and he drew them into his arms. Cradled there in his embrace, she wept.
The hiss of the hypospray was the only sound he heard. She drew in a deep breath as the painkiller took effect. Her ear rested against his chest. She tapped the rhythm of his heartbeat with her fingers against his uniform. The sound soothed her. She fell asleep, exhausted and wounded.
When Voyager returned, Paris stood with her still folded in his embrace and asked for beam out directly to sickbay. He asked for someone else to dock the shuttle. He stood silently watching the doctor restore her health. The lights had been dimmed until her eyes could adjust.
"I donít know why alien cultures are so fascinated by sleep and sensory deprivation experiments," the doctor said.
"Will she be all right?"
"Iíve treated her physical injuries, but sheís going to have to work on the emotional aspect of her captivity experience."
Janeway stirred. She seemed shocked at first by the brilliant colors and it seemed to Paris as if she saw the world for the first time. She searched her surroundings and upon seeing him, smiled.
"So, it really was you, Mr. Paris. She held out a hand for him to come near.
"In the flesh," he said as he approached the biobed.
"How are you feeling, Captain?"
She moved stiff limbs and stretched gently. "Better. Thank you."
The holographic doctor moved to the diagnostic computer to give them some privacy while finishing his tests.
"Tom, what happened in the shuttle- I donít want anyone to-"
Paris held up a hand to interrupt when he saw the pain in her eyes. "Itís not my story to tell. And Captain, sometimes there just arenít words."