What Makes the Best Pilot

Author: yannik

Website: http://www.fanfiction.net/s/2431269/1/

Contact: olga_janik (at) wp.pl

VOY, Paris, rated PG.

Summary: ‘Voyager’ must get through a dangerous region of space, relying on Tom Paris’ remarkable piloting skills.

Disclaimer: I do not own any Star Trek contents. There are also some lyrics from Red Hot Chilli Peppers “Porcelain”, that I do not own either. I was listening to it while writing and…

Timeline: Somewhere in season one… or two…

Warning: contains slight references to drug abuse. NEVER use drugs, medication or any stimulators without consulting it with (and getting permission from!) right authorities.

******

Chapter One

Tom Paris turned around abruptly, as the door to the sickbay swooshed open. He certainly didn’t expect anyone here at 0300 hours!

Lt. Torres strode in, clutching her bleeding hand. At the sight of the pilot, she stopped mid-step, anger and distrust immediately dominating her features.

“Paris” she snapped, as if the word tasted of shit.

“Lieutenant” Tom struggled to remain calm. Argument with fierce half-Klingon was the last thing he needed right now.

Her eyes assessed the environment – Doctor was nowhere in sight. Tom stepped towards her, eyeing her injury and judging it not very serious.

“May I help you with anything?”

She actually seemed to consider the answer, but it came out as could be predicted.

“No.” Her eyes hard as stone. “Computer, activate Emergency Medical Holoprogram.”

Tom snorted lightly.

“Name the nature of medical emergency?” Doctor asked politely. His first question was about the only thing he was ever saying in nice manner. “Oh, Lt. Torres. I see you hurt your hand. That’s just a cutaneous abrasion, Lieutenant. And since Lt. Paris is here, I do not understand why was I activated. It’s nothing you, given your medical training at the Academy, couldn’t handle, Mr. Paris. My programming allows me to deal with much more complex cases, and yet you keep calling me to all the minor cuts and bruises. Try to keep in your mind that I was created to be an Emergency Medical Hologram, with the emphasis on Emergency. So if there is anyone capable of dealing with a problem around, there is no need to activate me. I would appreciate if my needs were respected, even if I am not a living being, as you all see me. Now, if there is nothing else my skills would be considered necessary for, I’d appreciate if someone deactivated me, please. I’m leaving you in competent hands of Mr. Paris here, Ms. Torres.” Doctor glanced at B’Elanna forcefully.

Half-Klingon gripped her teeth and snapped:

“Computer, deactivate Emergency Medical Holoprogram.”

Doctor disappeared with satisfied smirk.

“I offered” Tom couldn’t help not to remind her, getting the tricoder, and dermal regenerator. She didn’t answer.

After diagnosing her injury as minor, he started regenerating it.

“May I ask what happened?”

“Repairs at the Engineering.”

Small talk was the maximum, that could be considered acceptable conversation between them. Tom sighed, and squinted his eyes for a second to relieve some of the pain. She would leave in a second, he could find what he was searching for. Just a few more regenerator moves.

“Still a lot to do after the fight?” he asked matter-of-factly.

She noticed his discomfort of course, but allowing her concern to show, was too much to ask

“If you didn’t rock that ship like a rattle-box, and perhaps didn’t founder the engines like wasted horse, it would be less work!”

“I’m sorry for saving your life again” Tom answered wearily.

“Oh, you think it’s all your doing, don’t you? I can’t believe you’re so arrogant! If I didn’t put up those engines to the tip-top standard, you would have nothing to fly with.” she stopped suddenly, seeing his appearance transforming into contemptuous smirk. She gripped her teeth, and decided to just shut up.

“It’s done” he notified her. “Like brand new. You’re free to go.”

Oh, he wanted her to go, she could say that! No way this time.

“And what were you doing here at three a.m.?” she asked, and recognized his distress with satisfaction. But he could escape any situation, couldn’t he?

“I was checking up if the Doctor wasn’t left activated. You know how he hates that, don’t you?”

“Right.” She scorned.

They eyed each other for a long while, but she was none to give up easily. And he was tired. He shook his head, and sighed once again.

“I was searching for analgesic. I have headache.”

“Oh, alright. Now I trust you” mockery was not gone from her voice. “Let’s see you taking it. Or better not” he hated that self- contented, sly look on her face. “Computer, activate Emergency Medical Holoprogram.”

“No, you don’t want to do it.”

“I already did it. Are you allowed to take analgesic without prescription?” she asked over -

“Name the nature of medical emergency. It’s still you Lieutenants?” Doctor asked impatiently, and then registered with what was said. “Analgesic? Without prescription?”

“Lieutenant Paris complains of headache” Torres reported, her eyes narrowed with evil satisfaction.

“Again?” Doctor asked and simply turned to get a tricoder. Tom had to admit, that B’Elanna’s look of obvious surprise, was strangely enjoyable. “Hmm” Doctor hummed. “Why didn’t you call me Lieutenant?”

“I thought it wasn’t emergency enough, and I didn’t want to bother you with unimportant stuff.”

“I thought I specifically told you to inform me of any more headache you’d get!”

B’Elanna’s eyebrows rose even higher. Doctor continued.

“You weren’t reporting any over the last month. Am I to suspect you were taking medications without my supervision?” he slammed shut the tricoder.

“The ones you prescribed lately worked well, so I figured it wasn’t necessary to trouble you every time…”

“And how many times it was exactly, over the last month?”

Tom eyed B’Elanna, and Doctor’s bedside manner surprisingly kicked in.

“Lt. Torres, if you do not require medical assistance, would you please leave us alone? This is the mater between a patient and a doctor, so…” he gently, but sternly motioned towards the door. Chief Engineer looked Paris over, then the Doctor, and then she turned around and stormed out without another word.

******

Chapter Two

This wasn’t the place he was supposed to be. Engineering in the middle of the night. Nicoletti dozed in Chief’s office – lucky for Tom that she didn’t notice him.

He approached Warp Core and checked the readings. Nothing unusual. Warp 3.0 – exact. Then why did he have this eerie feeling?

Was he bored, or something? Did he want trouble, so he made things up? Weeks ago – shortly after last encounter with Kazon – they entered less star-populated region of galaxy. Piloting ‘Voyager’ was now easy – if not dull. Hey, there were problems – they were running out of dilithium, and since there wasn’t many star systems in the neighborhood, chances of topping off the resources in near future were really small. Couple of days ago Captain ordered slowing down to Warp 3 in order to prevent losing supply all too soon. But that was nothing the pilot could help with. It was not his job.

He was bored – Tom decided staring at warp core console. Warp 3. There’s nothing to it. But still…

“Paris?” someone asked, and though the voice lacked the usual disgust, Tom recognized it immediately.

“Torres” he welcomed not turning away. He heard her soft footsteps, and rose his eyes. “What are you doing here? At this hour?”

“I work here, remember? I’m bound to come here, even at the weirdest hours, if I – say – get some unusual idea on how to keep warp core working without dilithium.”

“That’s possible?”

“I’m just figuring it out, y’know” she smirked. It was odd, but nice, to joke with her. “But you?”

“Me? You think I could figure it out?”

“Sure, Paris. You can figure out about anything” she obviously lost patience. She turned around and headed towards her office.

“Torres, wait” Tom stopped her, and before he could stop himself, he started telling her, what happened on the bridge today. “Actually I may have discovered something. Well not how to make ‘Voyager’ run without dilithium, but how to make it go faster. Well, actually not even that. Just… That we are going faster. And I do not know why.”

Chief eyed him suspiciously, and returned to the console.

“Warp 3.” She lifted questioning look to him.

“At conn this morning it was 3.0002.” Her brow rose. Not in surprise, but in mockery. Damn! Just like Chakotay. He should have been wiser than to tell her about it.

“That’s some difference!”

“Yeah. Chakotay’s words.”

“Go back to bed, Paris. I got work to do.”

“Actually… last night I felt we were speeding up.” Again words came out faster, than conscious thought could keep his mouth shut. As if that could prove anything! “The reading at the conn just confirmed that. And I still feel it” he added, apparently only to doom himself.

“Whatever. Did you report it to the Captain?”

“No, only Chakotay.”

“Good. Leave it that way.” She turned her back on him again, this time intending it indefinite.

“At the end of my shift it was 3.0005.”

“Paris!” she snapped. “These are normal fluctuations of speed. It’s not even one percent. That happens.”

“No.”

“Go to sleep.”

With that she entered her office, slamming the padd on her desk, and waking Sue Nicoletti up. Tom turned on his heel, and went to his quarters. But he couldn’t sleep.

He run to the bridge, even before going to the mess hall. Culhane gave him flabbergasted look, but Tom didn’t explain himself. He stared with fear at the numbers – warp 3.0031 – was indicated speed. He couldn’t keep it to himself anymore.

******

“What’s the difference?” asked incredulous Chakotay, at the senior staff meeting, when the pilot reported speed change. “3.002, or 3.003? That’s speeding up? That’s normal fluctuation of speed, is all.”

“It was 3.0002 yesterday, not 3.002, sir. Plus – warp core still indicates 3 – exact. Isn’t it so Lt. Torres?”

“Well… it is.” Chief Engineer was concerned this time. “But how?”

Captain looked over the faces of her officers and decided it was important enough to look over.

“Mr. Tuvok, Mr. Kim check that up. It’s possible that there is some micro over voltage at the helm console and that’s it, but it requires investigation. What is it Mr. Paris?” she asked seeing Tom shake his head with frustration.

“I’m sorry, Ma’am, but we are speeding up. I can feel it!”

“Feel it?” Chakotay asked leaning towards the pilot. “As in… with your special supernatural sixth sense?” he teased

“I can’t quite explain it commander” Tom’s blood was at the boiling point. “But… when I concentrate really hard on piloting ‘Voyager’, I can tell her exact speed, bearing, whatever parameter you want, without looking at the console. Almost as if I was a part of the ship. Laugh all you want, that’s true!”

Chakotay laughed. Not out loud, oh no! But inwardly, and some of that must have been visible on his face, because Captain told them both to stop, and just solve this issue. She wanted report. “And now to the dilithium crisis issue…”

******

Chapter Three

“Black hole?” Chakotay asked. Now, finally, he started believing pilot’s senses. Especially that the answer came from both – tactical, and operations – officers.

“I do not think so” Tuvok explained. “It’s some kind of gravitational disturbance, but there seems to be visible matter there. We’re still to far from the source of it, to determine anything for sure. Nonetheless, Mr. Paris was right. We are being pulled.”

******

Next few days brought complete answer – they approached enormous star cluster.

Neelix chastised himself for not remembering that routes through this region of the Quadrant were usually longer, than could be predicted from simple astral cartography. That was so obvious for all the travelers, that not many people even remembered the reason. And now it stood in front of them shimmering with hundreds of stars, pulling them, even though engines were at a dead stop.

“We have several options” Tuvok reported. “None of them likable. One – we go back, find dilithium in more populated space, and then continue our journey, by a different route.”

Captain shook her head and looked at her officers. None of them seemed pleased with this idea.

“Option Two, Mr. Tuvok?”

“We may go around the cluster. But it might take us even up to a year, given our dilithium supplies. Of course we receive many dilithium signs from the stars on the border of the cluster, but whether they are accessible or not, is not determined yet. So it would be safe not to exceed over warp 2.”

Captain flounced inarticulate sound.

“That’s a bit slow, Tuvok” Chakotay commented.

“But that’s all we can manage” B’Elanna backed up tactical officer. “And we would still have to enter the cluster in order to get some dilithium sooner or later. Unless we take all replicator rations from the crew, and start replicating only dilithium, but then we’d run out of Neelix’s food in matter of weeks, and that’s doom as well. We don’t have much choice.”

“That’s all my fault” Neelix whimpered.

“Mr. Neelix, please. It’s all right” Captain scolded him lightly. “That’s not the problem anymore.”

“But I was supposed to guide you through…”

“Neelix, it’s really okay. What we need to think about right now, is how to get through it. Mt. Tuvok, you said about ‘several’ options, and you named two so far.”

“Another option is to go through the cluster. But at warp speed it’s extremely dangerous. Gravitational fields are unstable, and we’d have to carefully plan the route. Straight route to Alpha Quadrant leads about five degrees above the very center of the cluster, given our current position, and bearing, but that road is impossible to surpass. Density of stars in the area would have us either torn apart, or smashed into one of them. We’d have to go around in more or less tight arc.”

“Let’s plan the route then. What is the problem with that option?”

“That I wouldn’t trust the conn to anyone besides Mr. Paris on this one.”

The room fell silent for a moment. All eyes turned to Chief Pilot.

Tom shrugged.

“I can take it. What’s the big deal?”

“That the fastest eventually possible route, would have you piloting for approximately five straight days. Without any rest” Tuvok added to be fully comprehended.

Tom blinked. And swallowed hard.

“That’s impossible” B’Elanna Torres was the first to shake off the blow. “We could go faster” her mind stared racing over the ideas. “We’d have to replicate dilithium it this case – that’s just a matter of days, hours maybe. We could try to launch warp 9 for a short period of time, couldn’t we? It’s pos…”

“Unfortunately no, Lieutenant” Tuvok interrupted. “The fastest I would recommend is warp 5, and even that may be too much. The variable gravitational field of the stars in the cluster interferes with out subspace bubble, and makes piloting the more difficult, the faster we go. Actually the only way to make it safe, would be to go at impulse speed, but it might take us up to ten years, so… that option is out of the question.”

Nobody answered. The silence in the room got so heavy, it was hard to breathe.

“Well actually…” Tom was the first to break it. And he hesitated. There was a way, but would he dare?… “Captain may I speak with you in private?” He needed help in making up his mind.

Janeway nodded and the two transferred to her ready room.

“Well?” she asked after waiting a while for Tom to begin. He stood in front of the viewport, and watched myriads of stars in front of them. She understood he was deliberating on something, but she needed options and she needed them fast. She hated to rush him, so she tried to be gentle. “Tom?” she stroked his arm.

Tom exhaled, and turned to her. For a while she caught a glimpse of so much hesitation in his eyes, that it almost hurt. But then it was gone, and all that was left – was pure determination.

“There is that… thing. Neural activator. It’s often used by the cadets at the Academy. When they need to endure long tests, flights, anything that requires a lot of concentration without getting tired.”

“Is it legal?” Captain frowned.

“Yes. It’s absolutely legal, but must be carefully supervised.” He didn’t have to admit that many of his fellow students took it without doctor’s permission. “And it’s not really hurtful.”

“Not really?”

“Well… there were cases of… But any medication has some side effects, right?”

“Tom I must know everything about this medicine before I let you take it. I think I know the one you’re talking about, but we need to discuss it with the Doctor. You agree? Now tell me – have you been using that?”

Tom nodded. Why bother with details?…

“Side effects?”

“None” the answer came fast. Too fast. Captain eyed him skeptically. And of course she was right. “They weren’t exactly side effect” Tom grimaced. “It was similar to what I told you about feeling ‘Voyager’ – her speed, bearing and so on. Except that now I feel that way all the time, not just… I mean – before ‘Voyager’ I felt that way only when I took activator, with her it’s just… normalcy. Maybe because of these bio-gel ram-jam” he joked, but Janeway remained stern.

“It doesn’t…” she hesitated. “I don’t know… make you dizzy or whatever?”

That reminded him of those headaches he’d experienced recently, but they had nothing to do with the issue on topic – or so Tom thought. There was no need to bother Captain with that.

“It never did.”

“Okay” Janeway heaved a sigh. “We’ll see what the Doctor says about it.”

******

Chapter Four

“Hmm” Doctor hummed.

“If he says ‘hmm’ one more time, I swear, I’ll get out of here, get out of this ship, and get out of this Quadrant, and I won’t need dilithium to do that!”

“Calm down Mr. Paris” Captain tried to scold her officer, but her demeanor worked against her. She was smiling warmly. At both – Doctor’s obvious – almost theatrical – concern, and at Tom’s impatience. “Any conclusion, Doctor? We’ve been sitting here for over two hours…”

“I should do some more test…” Doctor hesitated, taking tricoder from Kes for twelfth time, and scanning the pilot, despite all the complicated diagnostic apparatus attached to his scull.

“No!” Tom moaned.

“There is slight enzymatic imbalance, and his brain patterns are… well… not exactly erratic, but not entirely typical either” Doctor refused to speak with his patient and was reporting to the Captain only. “Unfortunately everything is within standard!”

“Unfortunately?”

“Yes, because if it wasn’t I would just forbid him taking that stuff! This way I… I can’t!”

“So you say I can take it?” Paris interrupted.

“NO!!! I haven’t finished examination” Doctor’s answer was so intense, that it had pilot swallowing his tongue. But Captain was supposed to take care of more than just one pilot, therefore Doctor was unable to force respect on her.

“Doctor, it’s already taking too long” she reproached him. “If you haven’t found any contradictions, then…”

“I need more time!”

“We do not have more time! And trying to find something because of some prejudice is not going to do anybody any good. Now, replicate correct amount of neuro-activator, and administer it to Mr. Paris.”

“But…”

“That’s an order. I’ve seen enough, considered enough, and made up my mind.”

With that she turned away, and left the sickbay.

Doctor and Kes looked at each other, and Doctor returned to his patient, scanning him yet again. “Hmm”

“Doctor, please!”

Kes almost laughed, but one fierce look from the Doctor had her calming down immediately.

“Mr. Paris!” Doctor erupted. “It’s all your fault! If you let me run those tests on you the last time you reported headache, or the previous time, or the first time I wanted to run them actually, we would not have a problem now. We would know. Now we don’t.”

“What we do not know exactly?”

“What is causing the headaches!”

“That’s not important! It’s not relevant to the situation…”

“I am a doctor here Mr. Paris! If I say something is relevant it is! Unless Captain says otherways…” he added after a moment, and started removing paraphernalia. “I should have emphasized it more to her, I’m not sure she had enough data to ‘consider’. But you – needless to say – had to sabotage my authority and add your comments to nearly everything I said!” Doctor threw gauge on a tray with noticeable disgust – not at the gauge of course, but at his stubborn patient. He gazed at Paris, and shut his thin lips tighter than was possible. “I need to prepare the data for replication” he buzzed, and without another word he left Tom in Kes’ hands.

“He’s right, you know?” she said softly.

Her calm attitude always worked for Tom, but not this time. He sighed in exasperation, but didn’t say anything.

“Your headaches may be…”

“All my test results are normal, aren’t they? What one more test could prove? People tend to have headaches and there’s nothing to it! I was tired sometimes…”

“You’d be more tired after flying for five days straight.”

Tom had no answer to it. Besides there were those things he haven’t exactly told the Captain, and Doctor didn’t ask all the right questions.

Kes removed last piece of diagnostic equipment, and Tom sat up on the biobed immediately. Her appearance was so concerned, that he felt sorry for her the very moment.

“Kes…” he started, taking her hand in his, and was at a loss for words. What could he tell her to comfort her? And himself in fact. She obviously felt his anxiety, because she squeezed his hand too, in silent understanding.

“I know ‘Voyager’ has no other option. I do understand Captain, and you. But I agree with the Doctor.” She stopped for a moment, but didn’t really expect him to answer – he knew that. He knew her. “Go, get some rest now. As Captain said, Ens. Baytart would start taking us into the cluster in a moment, and you’d take over in about ten hours.”

“He already started” Tom said softly. Kes smiled. She was the only one who believed in his ability to sense ‘Voyager’ without distrust.

“Do you need something to help you sleep?” she asked, and Tom nodded.

Equipped with hypospray to use once in his bed, Tom headed towards the mess-hall.

Neelix’s food tasted good for a change. Tom wondered if Talaxian did it purposefully, to help the pilot get fit enough for the ride, the best way he could – by providing food – or was it a coincidence. Whatever it was, Tom had to appreciate it. Taking another spoon of concoction – he already forgot what Neelix named it – he realized someone sat across from him at the table. And most certainly it wasn’t Harry, since ops officer was most likely still preoccupied with Tuvok on working out the best route through the cluster.

Tom rose his sight.

And he saw none else, but B’Elanna Torres.

“Hey!”

“You’re really going to do that?” she asked straight on, without greeting.

“Well. You don’t believe I could get us through some crazed gravitational fields?”

“I don’t mean that. I mean neural activator.”

Tom was stunned, that she had doubts about it being the best possible way out of it. If there was any other – he was not informed.

“Uh… Well, if I’m going to fly this boat for… what is it?… like a hundred hours straight I couldn’t possibly do it without some extra aid, don’t you think? I’m not that great pilot.” He smirked, but she didn’t get the joke – as usual. Serious Klingon warrior.

“Stop it!” she snapped. “I don’t… I mean I saw what it does to people.”

“It does nothing! Every pilot-cadet uses that thing during end-semester rides. It would be impossible to get through all the tests without some outside help!”

“So you were using that too?”

Tom hesitated. That’s the question Doctor didn’t ask…

“Yep.”

B’Elanna eyed him a while. Did she notice his wavering?

“Still.” She exhaled finally. “It’s not just some vitamin! It can lead to addiction, to… brain damage?” she wasn’t sure, but she was worried. Wasn’t that just sweet?

“Really?” Tom teased. It got strangely pleasant to have her talking to him like that. He couldn’t help, but smiling.

“Really!”

“Maybe” he agreed, still smiling. “If used unsupervised. Doctor is taking good care of me.”

“Is he?”

Wow, that was something. He asked before he thought about implications of a question.

“Hey! Are you worried for me?”

“No” she answered simply. “I’m worried for the ship.”

Tom just stared at her for a moment. The answer came out so briskly! Couldn’t be untrue. He felt regret. Just a little, tiny regret.

“Everything will be okay” he soothed her. “We’ll get through it, and we’ll do it quickly!”

They sat in silence for a while. His food was getting cold, but his appetite was suddenly gone. He looked at the spoon, rummaging through the layers of yellow, and brownish vegetables, and green meat. Weird to look at – Neelix’s cooking. Maybe he should have stuck to his own replicator? Captain gave him special extra replicator rations, and some credits for warm water shower this evening.

“Why do you do this?” B’Elanna asked suddenly, and solemnly.

“What?”

“Sacrifice yourself like that” that came out even more quiet. Absolutely unusual for hot-tempered half-Klingon.

“What?!” Tom couldn’t hide his astonishment.

“Well…” she hesitated. Gosh, wasn’t she just lovely? Tom placed his hand across her slender palm, laying on the table. He squeezed it lightly.

“I’m doing it, because I care for this ship too.”

She rose her eyes to meet his, and smiled finally. But it was a sad smile.

“That’s charming, but… Tom. Given your recent headaches… You’re going to suffer! Suffer a big deal.”

He frowned. Did she talk to the Doctor? Or was this conclusion so obvious to everyone beside him? It wasn’t really something he wanted to consider right now.

“Maybe…” he said, and smiled deviously. “But… If you promise to come and comfort me when I suffer, it will not be that bad.”

“Oh, stop it!” she pulled her hand out from his hastily and strode to her feet, in attempt to leave. But Tom grabbed her wrist.

“Hey! Okay… Sorry” he apologized. “Don’t leave. This dish is really tasty” he pointed at his plate, “I never thought I could say that about Neelix’s kitchen, but you should try it.”

B’Elanna hesitated. She observed him really long, until she calmed her senses, and made her decision.

“I’ll get myself a plate” she said simply. “What’s it called?”

“Have no idea, those names of his… Just say – same as Pig” he smiled the widest, the cockiest smile of his.

“I’ll do that” surprisingly she smiled back.

When she returned, he managed to finish off his dish. Appetite was suddenly back. But soon her question caught him off guard again.

“Have you really used that stuff before?” she asked matter-of-factly, but he knew better that that. He heaved a sigh.

“The activator? Once, or twice.”

“So you weren’t using it at all of the end-semester rides?” slight tease was subdued by curiosity. Maybe even worry.

“Just don’t betray me before my colleagues… No. I was passing with excellence on my own skills. Without aids. I never admitted that to my fellows though…” Tom suddenly got thoughtful. His insecurity was the reason for a disaster… Of course Torres had to notice his switch of mood.

“What?” she demanded.

“Nothing.”

“Tom?”

“It gave me this incredible kick, y’know?” he briskly returned to the subject. “When I took the staff. The first time I took it, I felt as if I was a part of the flyer. I didn’t need to look at the control to know all the data. They just were there” he poked his skull. “Incredible feeling.”

“You said you felt that way about ‘Voyager’, but you don’t take anything…”

“I know. It’s weird, isn’t’ it? Maybe it’s because she has this bio-gel hocus-pocus – thinking engine. I have no idea.”

“And the second time?”

Did she have to ask?

“I got a little scared of that feeling when I first got it” he started speaking slowly, not really sure how much he wanted to reveal. “So I decided not to take any energizers anymore. But after a few years I forgot that. We were on that difficult passage. We knew it would take a lot from us to endure this flight, so… the guys… at Ops, Tactical, Co-pilot… They took it. They said that I should too, because I was to drive them home. I said okay.” Tom stopped talking and involuntary run his hand across his face.

“And what happened?” B’Elanna urged.

“Nothing.” He shook off memories. “It made me a little… messed up, that’s all.”

“Messed up?”

“Don’t worry. It won’t happen here.” Tom promised. “As long as I take it, we’re completely safe. I will be the tip-top pilot all the way.”

“What do you mean – as long as you take it?…” she did not follow.

“It messed me up after it wore off, and I refused to take another dose.”

She considered his answer for a second, but it didn’t reduce her doubts. In fact it increased them.

“But you have to stop taking it sometime!”

“After we get through. Then it will be safe.”

“Not for you!”

He looked at her dumbfounded. So she did worry.

But at the moment it didn’t matter anymore.

“I’d better go” his throat was so clenched, that he could barely speak. He only wanted to escape his past, his present day… “I need to get some rest, I should be on the bridge in nine hours. Goodnight.”

******

Chapter Five

Comm chime didn’t wake him up. Regardless of the sedative Tom slept restlessly. His ‘supernatural sixth sense’ didn’t like what was happening with ‘Voyager’. And it was right – of course.

“Mr. Paris, wake up!” Chakotay was shaking him.

“Wha…”

“We’re having some problems. I know you were due to the bridge in a few hours, but we need you now!”

Tom barely heard him, and most certainly – didn’t understand.

“I have no choice Mr. Paris. Sorry” Chakotay said, pressing hypospray to Tom’s neck.

It took seconds for Tom to wake up. He didn’t really need Commander’s explanation, to know how quickly he had to get dressed and get to the conn. He nearly pushed Baytart away, and took over controls. They were running – at warp 7, though warp core indicated warp 3 as usual – towards a white giant!

Neuro-activator was already kicking in. Tom asked for gravity parameters, and as numbers started coming to his console, he found a current in the field, that he could cling to. He started turning slowly. Gently. One degree, three degrees, five, eight… He needed to lose speed to.

“Engineering, we need to slow down to warp 2, but we have to do it gradually. Very. Steady.”

“Understood.”

They managed. Soon Voyager was circling around the star, using her gravity to spun farther, deeper into the cluster.

There was another star ahead of them, but it was smaller, and they weren’t at collision course with it. Tom smoothly used its gravity field to turn, and dive ahead.

“Are we on the estimated route?” he asked Tuvok, and received confirmation.

He allowed himself a deep breath. Slalom between the stars was not easy, he had to stay focused. But somehow it already was rewarding. Excitement started building up, and Tom couldn’t help but smile. He vaguely remembered, that he was usually scared of how the activator made him feel – those two previous times. He wasn’t scared now!

Another dive, another turn. Gravitational streams were like a river. A dangerous river full of rocks, whirls, rapids. It required extraordinary skill to maneuver through them. And Paris had that skill, he knew that. Despite anything Commander Chakotay could say. Mockery, silly jokes, humiliation – were behind him now.

The only thing that mattered, was just another star ahead. Yellow dwarf. Not too small, not too large. Just like Sun. Far away, shining upon Earth, in distant Alpha Quadrant. It’s gravity wasn’t that disturbing, and Tom could finally adjust ‘Voyager’s’ speed. They slowed almost to warp 2 at Engineering, and as they moved past the star, Tom risked turning ‘Voyager’s’ back directly at the star.

It pulled. They started decelerating. And just when they reached actual speed of warp 3, gravitational effect of yellow dwarf got to small to have any influence on them. They run forward. Towards another star.

Tom had no idea how long he was running, but little by little he started hearing voices of people on the bridge. They were fairly disturbing now. He tried to focus on piloting, not listening to Captain asking Harry about distance to the center of the cluster. It was not important. Not for him. Not right now.

Neuro-activator is wearing off – he realized. He swallowed hard. What now? Uneasiness concerning first period of driving was faintly knocking to his mind. He recalled now, why activator’s influence always scared him off like that. He was apt to get so immersed in his job, that the outside world didn’t matter.

And now it was even more – it seized to exist!

He didn’t want to feel this way, he wanted to be aware of reality!

Yet another thing his father always told him to do: “Stick to reality Thomas! Be real!” And that was something Tom was always able to agree with.

Numbers on the console forcefully brought this reality upon him again. There was another giant looming ahead! Tom hesitated. They were heading to it’s left, but that was the path to the center of the cluster. They were supposed to go around it. But if he turns right, he may not have time to catch the orbit! And then they would smash…

“What are you doing?” He heard Tuvok’s loud question. Vulcan was scared! If Vulcan was scared…

“Neuro-activator is wearing off” someone said.

No! Don’t shot me with another one! I want to know what’s happening around me!

Too late. He felt cold metal press against his neck, and heard soft hiss.

And within seconds he was back out there. He confidently turned to the left, as currents led him, circled around the star, and escaped her gravity at the exact moment, where he could catch the correct route around the cluster’s center. Forgetting all his fears, all reluctance.

What happened? What was he thinking? Didn’t he know the consequences of avoiding the activator all too well? Didn’t he already do it once? Didn’t it cost too much?

He made a conscious choice now – not like the last time, when it was – in a way – forced on him. He was aware of all the implications – both for him, and for his ship, his crew. And he made the decision. He had to stick to it. There was no turning back now.

There were so many stars. Big ones – pulling them hard, small ones, but of huge mass, and powerful gravity, ones that could be avoided easily, and ones that ‘Voyager’ struggled to cope with. Numbers on the console told the pilot about the next one nearing, and then staying behind. He danced around them, swam like a fish in a mountain stream.

Warp speed was constantly changing. Dropping to warp 2 when they were escaping gravity field, and increasing to warp 5 when they were closing on another one. There were many stars.

Tom smiled again. Oh yes, he knew what he was doing. He knew what he was risking. Even if in reality it was – as B’Elanna said – sacrificing himself. He did it for ‘Voyager’. For the ship and for the crew. It mattered. And he was doing it willingly.

Number of stars was increasing still and still, as they neared central regions of the cluster. Sliding on the currents became more and more difficult. Many gravitational fields were intermingling with one another, and finding the right way through them was getting nearly impossible.

Suddenly there was a disturbance, and ‘Voyager’ was forcefully pushed out of the flow. Subspace demonstration of a red giant outstretched it’s welcoming arms, and helpless ship, with equally helpless pilot on it, drifted swiftly towards the surface.

Tom fought controls. Fought with all his ability and might, struggling to stabilize the orbit. Semiconsciously he realized there were red lights flashing now, instead of soft yellow glow.

They were falling! Red giant right ahead was sucking them in, speed increasing rapidly. Warp 4, warp 5, warp 5.5. Tom managed to turn slightly, but it was to no avail. Distance was dropping. 2 light hours, 1.5, 60 minutes… shrinking within seconds. What was a small ship with it’s petty warp engines, against a red giant? Nature was showing poor human where their place was – Tom thought bitterly.

He barely registered Captain’s brisk orders. They were not helping. Nothing could help! It was ironic – just a moment ago Tom thought about sacrifices, about his sacrifices, and now he only wished there was anything else he could sacrifice, to save this wretched ship. But there was nothing…

Or was it?

“Captain! I need more activator!” he shouted. He hoped he shouted, because his link with reality was still feeble. But they heard him. Cold metal. Hiss.

Neuro-activator kicked in.

And then everything changed.

All of the sudden Tom saw – with incredible clarity – enormous star ahead of him. Not the numbers at the console, not even the view screen. Just a star hanging in cold vacuum of space.

He was flying to it!

On the edge of his consciousness there were still people depending on him, but what really mattered right now, was his own survival. He acted on instinct. He searched for gravitational currents. He saw them! He outstretched his hand and caught the stream of gravitons, pushed himself away with other hand. Away from the red giant.

Still not too far. She was holding him, but he managed to turn, to dance around the bright sphere. It hurt to look at her, and it wasn’t even the actual star. Tom… no, not Tom anymore… Voyager knew, that was only this star’s display in subspace. They were dancing, running in subspace. She was racing him. And he escaped.

He escaped her, and then he escaped another one. And then yet another.

And then he allowed himself to look at them finally. They were beautiful! He’d never been inside something quite like that – a star cluster. The meaning of that term finally reached him. There were millions of stars around him, each of them different, yet all of them unified in eternal dance. Circling around one another, teasing, caressing, changing partners. And colliding sometimes with force unimaginable. And shining. So bright with all shades of burning fuel – blue, white, yellow, red. Even some little brown dwarves.

Tom… Voyager… For a moment he wished he was a star.

And then he was just happy to be a starship. That was enough. Running through the space, seeing all those marvels. That was enough. That was exhilarating…

But there was something wrong. Suddenly he wasn’t sure anymore if he was really a starship. There was that other name, that other identity. Tom? Who was Tom? Why was Tom him?

No! He didn’t want that! He wanted to return to space, he wanted to touch the stars, to push away from them, to dance, tease and caress them…

“I need another dose” some voice said. Tom’s voice. Tom wanted to be him – to be Voyager.

“We’re almost clear form the cluster, Mr. Paris. I suggest you continued on what’s still left in your system…”

“No! I need another dose!”

“We’re really close to safer territory, and then Mr. Baytart could take over. There’s no need to inject you with another one, because then you would require more time to recover…”

“I need another dose! Just give it to me!!!”

Cold metal. Hiss.

Relief.

And stars in open space again. Voyager smiled. That was what he needed. He needed to see the stars, to touch their burning spheres, to swim in their warm currents of gravity. Drifting and flowing and fading away… little low… always…

But not always. Suddenly he realized he was sitting at the conn, on the bridge, and he was Tom Paris again.

“What?”

“I gave you suppressant, Mr. Paris. We’re safe now, please give up the conn.”

“I can’t we’re…”

“We made it. You made it. Not in five days – in a little over twenty hours. I have no idea how you did it, but that escape from the most dense region was… Well I don’t even know how to name it. Congratulations. Now please step away.”

Tom decided to pretend he didn’t hear her. He wanted to continue this journey. He wanted to unite with the ship again.

“Tom?”

I’m the ‘Voyager’ – he thought with all force there was. I’m the ‘Voyager’! But it was to no avail. That feeling didn’t return. Will it ever? Tom wanted to cry.

He looked to the side – Captain Janeway was standing there, hypospray in her hand. Was it the suppressant? Yes. There was another – abandoned – hypo, right behind her, on the edge of the console. And it was full of activator. If they run for twenty hours, there must have been a lot of it left. If he could just grab it!

“What are you trying to do?” Captain noticed his longing look. “Mr. Ayala, please recycle this!” she took the hypo, and handed it to the officer. And then she turned to Tom again. “If you don’t think about flying, you should resign the conn. That’s an order.”

“There’s no point Captain” Tom answered dryly, as he turned his full attention to the console again. “It’s still couple of hours before the activator wears off. I may spend them here.”

“I’d rather you didn’t Lieutenant.”

Silence was too heavy to bear with. And then Tom just knew he lost. He felt like he lost himself.

With heartbreaking sigh he passed the helm to Ensign Baytart. Substitute’s reactions at the helm were rough, as if ‘Voyager’ resisted another pilot than the one she could link with.

Tom gripped his teeth and fought the urge to push that incompetent helmboy away and sit back. He exhaled deeply once more and turned to the crew.

******

Chapter Six

Round of applause given to him was a surprise. And he couldn’t even say it was a nice surprise – he was still too detached from them. His very self itched for ‘Voyager’, for her conn, for the living stars outside.

Tom turned to the view screen, but it was blank, empty. There was no need to observe the space outside. Numbers on consoles were saying everything the crew needed to know. Tom found himself wondering how – how indeed! – did he see all that? How did his mind escape the prison of his body?

No. That was before. That was gone. He was himself now, himself again. That was good. Wasn’t it?

Captain’s words started registering with his still confused mind:

“…reward for your work. Ask anything, and – within ‘Voyager’s’ resources – you’ll receive it.”

Tom looked incredulously around. Heh, everyone was smiling at him. Even Chakotay. But the nicest – and the most honest – smile belonged to Harry Kim. Tom knew he still had couple of hours until activator wears off, and he’d be able to rest. So why not?…

“Captain, could I borrow Ensign Kim for a game of pool?”

“Now?”

“Now.”

After a few minutes they entered Sandrine’s. And Tom started enjoying being Tom again – on the contrary to Harry.

“Actually I feel a little guilty of leaving my shift” young officer grumbled.

“You’re fulfilling your duty, right? Captain’s order to keep me company. I’d have fun if I were you. Let’s play!” Tom handed Harry his cue, and prepared the balls. Harry got to break, and that was the only ball he threw in on this game. Tom was invincible.

And so he was at the second game. And at the third.

“Hey, what’s up?” B’Elanna Torres came to the holodeck as soon as she was told, what was Paris’ wish after the tremendous ride through the cluster. She wanted to congratulate him herself.

“We’re playing pool” Tom exclaimed joyfully.

“Actually he’s playing, I am just standing here” Harry yawned.

“What can I do?” Tom asked innocently. “I can’t help it. I feel like I could poke those balls in with my bare will.” With that he extended his hand, as if trying to exert his force on the ball. B’Elanna laughed.

“Right. Just the way you hurtled us through that cluster. You actually figured out how to move that boat without dilithium, y’know? We rechecked it, and we really were running at warp 9,75 max” she turned to Harry, who shook his head with slightly disbelieving esteem. “Impossible, right?”

“What, do you mean I set it running with my own will?” Tom didn’t believe either.

Chief engineer shrugged. She had no answers yet.

“You have no idea what human brain is capable of doing” Harry commented.

“Well… It is capable of a lot, but telekinesis?” B’Elanna questioned. “At this scale – moving ships and all? I’d agree that Vulcan, maybe Ocampan. But not human!”

“No. Of course not” Harry started explaining. “I didn’t get the chance to analyze it yet, but my first suspicion is, that he was using gravitational fields to perfection. He was able to calculate the variables faster than computer did!”

Both Tom and B’Elanna looked at ops officer skeptically.

“It’s just like pool. He’s unable to make a mistake even now. Even if he wanted to I guess. I’ve heard about people with such abilities. They were called autistic, or something like that.”

“Are you saying Tom is this… autistic?” B’Elanna asked.

“Maybe” Harry looked at Tom with a smile, but the pilot shook his head.

“According to what I’ve learned about it at the Medical Course, I am about the last person on Voyager, who could be considered autistic!” he laughed.

“Why?”

“Those people were said not to interact with others. Do I look like not interacting?”

“Well, now you certainly do” Harry snorted. “You wouldn’t let me play!”

“Not to mention your behavior during the flight. You were in another world!” B’Elanna reminded with a glance at Harry.

Tom gave up on the smart remark this time. As the neuro-activator influence started subsiding rapidly, the words of teasing comrades no longer registered with him.

“You weren’t reacting to anything, that didn’t concern flying!”

“But you must admit B’Elanna, that this flight was like no other. Voyager was… like a bird!”

“Harry, you poet!”

Tom suddenly felt dizzy. He leaned heavily on the pool table.

“Tom? Y’okay?” B’Elanna and Harry reacted in unison.

“Yeah” pilot answered wearily. “I’m just… the medication is… wearing off. I think I need to… go to my quarters.” The last words were barely audible.

“Do you need assistance?” Harry asked anxiously.

Tom only nodded. He was hastily growing weak. Too weak to even talk.

And then everything went blank.

******

B’Elanna and Harry were both shocked, when Tom curled unexpectedly, terrifying shriek escaping his mouth. He fell to the floor like a stone.

“Tom!” B’Elanna leaned to him, trying to grab him, but his muscles were so tight, that she couldn’t even squeeze her hand under his arm. “Tom, what’s happening?” she screamed.

And then his body unrolled, and he started shaking violently, his eyes still shut, moist forming on his mouth. That dazed B’Elanna even more, but it woke Harry up.

“Emergency transport of Lt. Paris to the sickbay!” he shouted over the comm.

In a heartbeat Tom flickered from their sight, and they faced equally shaken Sandrine.

“What happened to my Thomas?” she spluttered.

“Computer, end program” was all B’Elanna could say, her lips numb.

Then they both run out of holodeck, and straight to the sickbay.

Doctor was already trying to stabilize Tom, but it seemed to no avail.

“You must wait outside” Kes pushed them both gently. Her face was drawn, as if she was in pain herself.

There were no answers right now. B’Elanna and Harry remained outside the sickbay, staring at the closed door, not moving.

******

Chapter Seven

“He’s waking up!” B’Elanna called Harry, who was pacing the sickbay nervously. How come she managed to sit by Paris’ bedside, while her – always so composed – friend couldn’t control his guts, she had no idea. Even more weird – couple of days ago she despised the pilot. How did he manage to earn her respect in such a short time?

Harry rushed to witness Tom feebly opening his eyes.

“Hey! You got us scared, man!”

“What happened? Where?…” Tom whispered, fearfully looking around.

“Neuro-activator got you… well… messed up” B’Elanna tried to joke, but her concern was too big for her to really smile.

“Did we?… Did Voyager?…”

“Yes, we got through the cluster. You got us through it!”

“And you did remarkably well too!”

“I can’t… remember…”

“It’s all right.” B’Elanna turned, her eyes searching for the Doctor. He was checking some data in his office. She motioned him over.

“There are bits and pieces…” Tom’s brow furrowed, as he struggled to remember. “But it’s all a blur.”

“Don’t worry. It’ll get back to you” Harry tried to cheer him up, but he was no good either. They were all too frightened at the moment.

“I don’t know. I have a feeling that… I’m missing out on something.” Tom stopped as Doctor and Kes neared his biobed. “Something important” he added under his breath.

“What’s most important right now is your rest” Doctor’s self-important attitude was supposed to scare Harry and B’Elanna out of the sickbay, but he had to use more than just a glare to have them going. “Mr. Paris should stay alone. You waited for him to wake up, now you may stop to worry, and leave!”

To Doctor’s dismay, at this very moment Tom Paris had yet another visitor. Captain Janeway entered sickbay, and approached pilot’s bed.

“How are you feeling Tom?” she asked cheerfully, seeing her ‘personal reclamation project’ quite lucid. She was scared for him too, but was better able to control her facial appearance.

Tom is fine!” Doctor exclaimed. “And now – Captain I’d like to talk to you in my office. Ensign, Lieutenant – please, leave. I’d let you know if there are any changes. Kes, please make sure that Mr. Paris gets rest and is not disturbed.”

Doctor turned around, not sparing another look even at the Captain. Janeway shrugged, gave her officers meaningful look, and followed EMH.

B’Elanna squeezed Paris’ hand, Harry just waved, and they both left. Tom looked after them, weary and confused.

“You loved it” suddenly he heard a gentle voice.

He turned and looked at Kes blankly, so she tried to explain.

“I was there, on the bride. When you flew. For a moment only, but what I felt from you… You loved it. I don’t think I ever experienced such happiness emanating from you. You were…” she searched for the right word. And she found it “… fulfilled.”

Tom smiled. Yes, he could believe that.

“Sleep” Kes mouthed.

******

“His mental state is highly unstable” Doctor hollered. Captain couldn’t remember if she’d ever heard him hollering when it was about his patient, not about himself. “But if you listened to me, none of it would happen!” But then – everything was about Doctor’s self, wasn’t it?

Captain sighed.

“He seems clear-headed.”

“I assure you he’s not! All his parameters are off limits. I haven’t evaluated him emotionally, or mentally yet, since he was unconscious, but…” Doctor shook data padd meaningfully.

Captain frowned. She knew what this padd contained. She gave it to him couple of hours ago.

“Did you find anything in his medical history?” she asked.

“Yes! And I wish I had asked permission to look at them sooner! It just didn’t seem so important!” Doctor was – for once in his life – mad at himself.

“Well, what was that?”

“Shortly after his birth Tom Paris was diagnosed with a serious neural and mental disorder.” Doctor waited for the news to fully register with astounded Captain. “Yes. He was treated of course – his father had the best connections imaginable, so Tom was treated in the best facilities and he was cured completely. But the Bonean incident must have triggered some chemical imbalance in his brain, and now this neuro activator just added it’s toll. I fear that this illness is back – and to the fullest.”

Captain couldn’t draw in a breath. Tom Paris mentally unstable? What was going to happen?

“What do we do now? What do you do?”

“I’m going to take an attempt in treating him again. However on Voyager it’s going to be difficult – we are not that specifically equipped. But I can find a solution for any medical problem, Captain, my programming…” Doctor’s self-satisfied smile annoyed Captain like never before.

“I know about your programming!” she interrupted. “I want to know about Tom’s condition now! What could this illness do to him?”

“Well according to this data” Doctor was all business again “his childhood condition consisted of headaches – which he experienced over the recent months as well, but you wouldn’t listen to me – insomnia, mild autism, and episodes of epilepsy. I don’t know about autism, but what Lt. Torres, and Ens. Kim witnessed in holodeck was grand-mal seizure, so we have headaches and epilepsy now. I hope that I can treat him out of it – as I said earlier” Doctor finished, and waited for Captain to respond.

But she found it hard to talk at this very moment. She considered all implications, and possible scenarios. And she was scared. Finally she exhaled and rose her sight to the Doctor.

“I’m stunned” she admitted.

“I understand. I’m going to inform you, that I want him to remain in Sickbay for a while, so I could have an eye on him. And I shall precede with treatments as soon as I make all the necessary modifications to the sickbay.”

“Of course.”

They were silent for a while again, both deep in thoughts.

“Is he of any danger to anyone due to his condition?” Captain asked suddenly.

“Oh, no! Patients suffering from it are absolutely harmless. They are just… well… not adjusted to society” however silly this explanation sounded, it was true – according to Doctor’s knowledge. “Therefore, Captain – all we’ve said here must stay between the two of us.”

“Of course!” she exclaimed. What was he thinking? But then – “What about Mr. Paris? Aren’t you going to inform him?”

“I’ll probably have to, but… Maybe not in full detail. This would only add to the stress he’s already under, and that would not help his brain chemistry at all. I’ll have to explain the necessity of treatment to him, but I’ll find the way, don’t worry. No one from the crew may be aware of his condition however.”

“That’s… well… understandable.”

“Oh, yeah! Can you imagine the reaction of some people here if such a gossip shall spread? Our society haven’t witnessed real mental disorders in over a century, but myths and misinformation still remain. It’s hard to believe how human fear those who are different. And that mentally disabled Human are considered more different than ‘normal’ Klingon, or Vulcan.”

“Yes. That’s strange.”

Captain looked over – behind the transparent walls of Doctor’s office – at peacefully sleeping Tom, at Kes silently attending to him. She remembered sensitive Ocampa’s words from earlier on – during the flight.

“It makes me wonder…” she whispered.

“What?”

She rose her eyes. She didn’t realize she said it out loud. She looked at Tom again. And after few seconds she started speaking slowly, considering.

“What kind of person would Mr. Paris be, if he wasn’t treated? I remember those unusual things he said about how he’s able to feel ‘Voyager’. Don’t you think this may have been because of his illness? Wasn’t that what made him such a great pilot? When the activator made him ‘mentally unstable’ – he flew like he never did before!”

Will he ever do that again? – Kathryn Janeway asked herself inwardly, and – surprisingly – with slight remorse…