Family Secrets

Maybe the lizard incident was to blame.

And of course, despite the interplanetary tabloids’ gleefully raunchy descriptions of how Captain Kathryn Janeway turned into a reptile and mated with her handsome young pilot, it never really happened. The lizard story was actually a chapter in an atrocious holo-novel, written by a bored Voyager crewmember with no literary talent whatsoever. Tuvok, ever mindful of his captain’s dignity, had immediately deleted the offending program as soon as he became aware of it.

Someone kept a copy, naturally, and as soon as Voyager returned to Earth, the ridiculous reptilian tale ended up being published by the same sleazy company that had distributed the Doctor’s twisted epic. A whole new fad seemed to be underway: Very Bad Voyager Stories.

Then again, perhaps the lizard story wasn’t the reason why Owen Paris, looking peculiarly embarrassed, called Janeway into his office one morning with a mumbled explanation that there was something she really ought to know about Tom.

Janeway, sipping her ubiquitous black coffee with no apparent concern, seated herself in a comfortable chair and remarked calmly, “After seven years in the Delta Quadrant, I’m not at all easy to shock.”

The admiral looked down at his tightly clasped hands for a moment before confessing, “Tom isn’t really my son. The truth of the matter is, and I know this is going to sound strange, he’s my brother. We would have attended Starfleet Academy together, except that Tom, as soon as he learned he’d been accepted, decided to travel to Risa with a group of friends to celebrate. He convinced me to come along. It seemed like a safe enough vacation, or so I thought at first.”

Barely repressing a snort of laughter, Janeway, now convinced that Owen Paris was pulling her leg, observed, “Well, he certainly looks young for his age.”

“Yes,” the admiral mournfully agreed. “It all happened because the ship docked at Cherubia on the way to Risa. Are you familiar with Cherubia?”

“A major producer of dilithium crystals, isn’t it?”

“That’s correct. Other than trade, the planet’s inhabitants don’t have much contact with us or anyone else. They’re extremely moralistic and xenophobic. The Federation routinely warns travelers that it’s inadvisable to leave the spaceport. Unfortunately, Tom didn’t pay attention to the warnings. He’d become infatuated with a singer in the ship’s bar, a woman who called herself Cyndi Lauper and claimed to have been recently revived from cryogenic storage after having achieved fame as a twentieth-century entertainer.”

Janeway had to admit that certainly sounded like the sort of woman Tom would date, as preposterous as this story was. She took another sip of coffee, deciding that the best comment on that subject was none at all.

“So Tom and Cyndi, or whatever her real name was, decided to take a romantic walk on a nearby beach under the light of Cherubia’s three moons. One thing led to another, naturally, and a few hours later, I found out that they’d been arrested for public indecency. Under local law, the offense required a lengthy prison sentence. The Federation consul attempted to intercede, but his pleas only convinced the Cherubians of the total immorality of our culture. Eventually they agreed to release the singer, having discovered that she was pregnant, but they wouldn’t let Tom go. The only concession they made was to place him in stasis for the duration of his sentence, so that he wouldn’t continue to age while imprisoned.”

“Quite sporting of them.” No doubt about it, this definitely had to be another demented exercise of Paris humor, Janeway concluded.

“At the time, my wife and I didn’t feel ready to care for a young child, so when the singer told me she didn’t want to keep Tom’s baby, I put her in touch with my good friend Gretchen Janeway, who had just begun looking for an infant to adopt.”

Janeway promptly choked on her coffee.

“I should have told you all this long ago,” the admiral went on. “I know that, as a young woman, you spent several years unsuccessfully searching for your birth parents. I have to admit that I’m the one responsible for destroying the records . . .”

“There is absolutely no way in hell you’re going to convince me,” retorted a furious Janeway, slamming down her cup for emphasis, “that my parents are Tom, of all people, and some tramp of a singer! What kind of a sick joke is this, anyway?”

“I don’t blame you for being angry.” Owen Paris still didn’t meet her gaze. “But you see, it was just so embarrassing for everyone concerned. As you can imagine, Tom had a tremendous amount of resentment when the Cherubians finally released him and he discovered that, although he was still a first-year cadet, his brother had become an admiral. Letting everyone think that I was his father seemed so much easier than telling the true story. Because I felt sorry for him, I pulled a lot of strings for Tom at the Academy. In retrospect, too many. I should have seen it coming before he ran off to join the Maquis, but I didn’t. So you can see why Tom and I always had such an awkward relationship.”

The somber-faced admiral certainly didn’t look like a man who was joking. But then, a story like this couldn’t possibly have the slightest bit of truth to it. Janeway glanced around the office suspiciously, wondering if she’d somehow been transported into a holo-suite without realizing it. Maybe the admiral and his office were about to disappear, to be replaced by a grinning Tom Paris, who was probably concealed behind one of the walls. This was definitely the sort of prank Tom, damn him, would enjoy.

Now that she thought about it, B’Elanna had mentioned that Tom had been working on some sort of holo-program. She’d assumed that it was just another of his classic car fantasies, but who knew what evil lurked in that innocent-looking head.

It wouldn’t surprise her, either, if Tom had been the one responsible for the lizard story. And of those two accounts of their past, on balance, Janeway had to admit that she preferred the lizards.

Leaving the admiral’s office, Janeway told herself firmly, as she stepped into the hallway, that the conversation never happened. No way, nohow. She closed her eyes for a moment and tried to focus her thoughts.

“Computer, end program.”

Nothing happened, except that a passing civilian with a contractor’s badge looked at her very strangely.

Of course, that didn’t prove anything. Tom might have transported her into this hallway just a moment ago, while her eyes were closed. She wouldn’t have noticed a thing.

At any rate, that was the explanation of events that Janeway intended to believe.