Double Dealing, Part I: Sisperia

Summary:

Double Dealing – by Malcolm Reeve

Part 1: Sisperia

(Paris/Torres/All) Relationships start to suffer when an old
acquaintance offers the crew a deal they can’t refuse.

DOUBLE DEALING

BY MALCOLM REEVE

PART ONE: SISPERIA

The heat was the first thing she noticed as she parted the heavy
leather curtain and peered into the darkness. The second thing
was the stench; a heady mixture of sour sweat, strong drink,
and the strangely metallic odour of blood. Taking a deep
breath, trying to ignore the smell, Captain Kathryn Janeway
stepped over the threshold and into the murky bar.

A thrill of excitement buzzed deep in her stomach as her eyes
roamed expectantly around the room, adjusting quickly to the
dark, and flicking quickly from face to face. She remained
impassive as she noticed Tom Paris slumped in a booth, an
exotic, and shockingly underclad woman squirming and
giggling in his lap. If he noticed his captain, it didn’t show on
his bleary, unshaven face.

Janeway continued towards the bar. Tuvok, she noted, sat at
the far end, a drink in his hands, his eyes drifting, apparently
aimlessly, across the room. Janeway ignored him too, as she
approached the bar, and her contact: Torres. A smile played
around the edges of her mouth as she noticed B’Elanna’s eyes,
fixed with a steely glint on the activities of Mr Paris.

“Is he here yet?” Janeway asked in a low voice, pulling a
rickety stool toward the bar.

Torres glanced at her, tension straining her voice. “Not yet.
You wanna drink?”

“Sure.” Janeway repressed an impatient sigh. NOT YET. BE
PATIENT. THE ODDS ARE TOO HIGH TO RISK A
BLUNDER. “Is he late?”

Torres drained the last of her drink, a rather nasty looking
concoction, and shook her head. “Not yet.” She tugged at the
bar tender’s shirt. “Give me two more Rikia.”

“Thirty six credits,” the bartender muttered as he filled two
glasses with the local brew. Grumbling to herself, B’Elanna
slapped down a few coins, which were swiftly swept into one
of the barkeeper’s large, scaly hands.

“It’s a pleasure doing business with such a beauty,” he said
with a lecherous smirk, his reptilian lips sliding back across
sharp, pointed teeth. “Or I should say, TWO such beauties.”
His last remark was directed towards Janeway, and was
accompanied by a leer. She met it with a frosty stare, but
refrained from answering; this mission was too important to
jeopardise.

“I have an excellent bottle of Glismere wine, just waiting for
an excuse to be opened,” the barkeeper continued. “Perhaps
you would care to join me…?”

“No.” B’Elanna’s eyes flared in a way Janeway recognised,
and she reflexively placed a restraining hand on the young
woman’s arm.

“Thank-you for the offer,” the Captain said through gritted
teeth. “But we’re here on business, and won’t be staying long.”

“A pity,” the barkeeper replied, his slit eyes blinking slowly.
“We rarely get specimens of your quality in here, we’re not
a…”

Janeway didn’t hear the rest of his speech; her attention was
suddenly caught by Tuvok, who stood up and wove his way
through the crowd towards the door. She felt B’Elanna’s arm
tense under her hand, and knew what it meant. HE was here.

“Time to go,” B’Elanna murmured in her ear, as she slid from
her stool. Janeway followed her lieutenant through the crowd,
towards one of the darkest, most impenetrable corners of the
room. At a rough table, almost buried in the dark, sat the man
they had come to see.

“Belkazem,” B’Elanna greeted the man, sliding into the seat
opposite him.

“Torres,” the man replied, in a smooth, hissing voice that was
almost disembodied in the darkness. Only his eyes penetrated
the gloom. They shone like obsidian, glittering menacingly
and exuding a promise of violence that was palpable. Janeway
felt the hairs on her neck prickle, and her nerves tingled with
tension as she eased herself into a seat beside Torres.

“This is your CAPTAIN?” Belkazem asked, pronouncing the
unfamiliar word carefully.

Torres nodded. “She will make the trade.”

“Very well.” He turned his gleaming eyes towards her. “You
have what I asked for?”

“I have half of what you need,” Janeway told him. “The rest
will be delivered once you have fulfilled your side of the
trade.”

The dark, glittering eyes moved closer to her and narrowed.
“That was not the deal,” Belkazem hissed, his voice as cold as
steel on steel.

Janeway tensed, barely daring to breath the danger-laden air.
“It is a fair trade,” she replied. “You get what you want when I
get what I want.”

“My Lady will not agree,” he replied, not moving.

“If your Lady wants our di-lithium, then she will have to
agree.”

“Ha!” Belkazem barked a sudden laugh, and leaned back into
the darkness. “My Lady does not HAVE to do anything – she
takes what she wants. You should know that, Captain.”

“Should I?” Janeway replied. “If she could take it, then she
would have done so.”

A hissing sound came from the darkness, a smooth intake of
breath. “Then you know nothing about my Lady. You have
no idea what you are dealing with. She takes what she wants –
she takes everything!”

“Then why bother seeking a trade?” Janeway asked.

“It amuses her.”

“Well,” Janeway stood up. “We’re not here for your Lady’s
amusement. If she doesn’t want to trade, then we’ll find
someone who does.” She turned to leave, every muscle rigid
with tension. She heard B’Elanna stand too, and out of the
corner of her eye she saw Paris, now leaning against the bar,
watching the scene intently, like a cat poised to spring.

She took one step. Then another. “Wait,” Belkazem hissed.

Janeway turned.

Belkazem paused a moment, as if to test the Captain’s
willpower one last time. Janeway stood her ground, and
Belkazem nodded. “She agrees.”

“Good.” Janeway slowly released the breath she had been
holding, and sat down. “When do we leave?”

***

“…Oh really?” Torres spluttered. “You HAD to have her on
your lap? There was no other way to ‘blend in’?!”

“C’mon B’Elanna,” Paris objected, “I was acting the part!”

“Of a drunk womaniser? Not much ACTING involved!”

“Computer, halt turbolift.” Tom turned to face her. “Are you
jealous?” he asked with an amused glint in his eyes.

“No.” B’Elanna turned away from him and glared at the wall.
“Computer, resume.”

“No, computer halt.” The turbolift jerked to a stop again. “If
you’re not jealous, then how come we’re arguing?”

“We’re not arguing.”

“Then what ARE we doing?” He reached out and touched her
shoulder, trying to turn her to face him. “C’mon, let’s just…”

“SENIOR OFFICERS TO THE BRIDGE,” Chakotay’s voice
interrupted.

B’Elanna angrily shook Tom’s hand away. “We’ll be late,” she
commented icily. “Computer, resume.”

As the turbolift doors slid smoothly open, B’Elanna stalked
out, leaving Tom trailing behind. It was unusual for B’Elanna
to be quite so irrational, and Tom was unsure if he was angry
or amused. A little of both, he decided.

“Tom, B’Elanna,” Janeway greeted them succinctly.
“Belkazem is ready to leave orbit. Tom, lay in a pursuit
course. B’Elanna, how are the di-lithium reserves?”

B’Elanna tapped into the engineering console. “Once the
transfer is complete, reserves will be down to fifty-three
percent of maximum, Captain.”

“We need to keep all but three percent for the rest of the
trade,” Janeway reminded her. “How far will that take us,
Lieutenant?”

B’Elanna looked up. “We’ll be okay as long as we don’t
exceed warp three for more than eight hours, Captain.”

“Very well”, Janeway turned to the main viewscreen. “Ensign
Kim, open a channel to Belkazem.”

“Aye Captain.”

“Belkazem, this is Captain Janeway. Are you ready to leave?”

After a moment’s pause the screen flickered into action and
Belkazem’s shadowy face filled the viewscreen. “Just as soon
as I get my di-lithium, Captain,” he hissed, his features still
lost in darkness. Janeway had the sudden impression that the
shadows surrounding him were part of the man, that they were
drawn to him like scavengers to carrion.

Shaking herself free of such irrational notions, she got down to
business. “Transmit your co-ordinates, Belkazem, and we’ll
transport the di-lithium to you now.”

“Thank you, Captain. We’ll leave immediately I have verified
its purity.”

“Co-ordinates received, Captain,” Kim reported.

“Di-lithium ready for transport,” B’Elanna added.

“Very well, begin transport Mr Kim.”

“Aye Captain,” Kim’s hands flicked over the console.
“Transport complete.”

“Belkazem, you should have the di-lithium now.”

Belkazem did not reply, his attention fixed on something
beyond the viewscreen. “Yes, yes, it looks sufficiently pure.
Prepare to leave orbit.”

Belkazem’s face disappeared from the screen, to be replaced
by an exterior view of his knife-shaped ship, as dark and
impenetrable as the man himself.

“That’s a nasty looking ship,” Paris commented.

“If it can lead us where we want to go, Mr Paris, I don’t care if
it’s as ugly as a Ferengi.” Janeway sat down. “Now then, let’s
see where he’s going to take us. Engage.”

***

“I was NOT flirting with the bar-keeper,” B’Elanna protested
from where she stood, staring at the speeding starfield through
the windows of the briefing room.

She heard Tom laugh quietly, and in the window’s reflection
she watched him lounge back in his chair, putting his feet up
on the conference table. “Oh really?” he said, “I saw the way
you were looking at him, beguiling him with your charming
Klingon ways.”

“Now you’re being ridiculous,” she snapped, spinning around
to face him. “And stop trying to change the subject. YOU were
the one all over that half naked woman.” He met her glare
with an irritatingly self-confident smile, and a slight widening
of his blue eyes. The picture of innocence. She felt like
throttling him.

“HALF naked?!” he said at last. “I paid for more than that.”

“YOU…” B’Elanna exploded, just as a delicate cough
interrupted them. It was Captain Janeway, standing with
Tuvok, Kim and Chakotay at the briefing room door. There
was amusement on all their faces, and B’Elanna felt ready to
curl up with embarrassment. She muttered silently, cursing
Paris anew for humiliating her like this.

Tom shot to his feet, and she was pleased to see that he at least
had the grace to look a little sheepish. “Err, Captain…” he
started.

“I hope you won’t mind if we use the conference room?”
Janeway interrupted, clearly repressing a smile.

“No, we’re…,” Tom spluttered.

“We’re FINISHED, Captain,” said B’Elanna sitting down and
scowling meaningfully at Paris, before she turned her head and
determinedly ignored him. She could feel his gaze on her,
trying to catch her eye, but she refused to look. Let him
wonder what she’d meant by that last comment. She was
wondering herself.

Janeway smiled a tight, tense smile, as she and the others took
their customary seats around the table. “Well, this is it,” she
began. “We’ve committed ourselves now, so let’s make sure it
works.” She turned to face Paris. “Tom, how long until we
reach our destination?”

Reluctantly taking his eyes from B’Elanna, Tom answered
quickly. “Belkazem transmitted co-ordinates for an M-class
planet in the Kheljar system. We’re travelling at warp three, to
conserve di-lithium, so we should be there in four hours.”

“Good, that gives us time to prepare. Harry, is Belkazem still
in sensor range?”

“Yes Captain,” Kim replied. “He’s 2000 kilometres ahead of
us, and maintaining a constant distance. There’s no sign of
him trying to run.”

“Good,” Janeway nodded. “But keep the tractor beam ready.
I don’t want him disappearing with half our di-lithium before
we’ve got what we came for.”

“Captain,” Kim said, shifting awkwardly. “What exactly
HAVE we come for? With respect, what can possibly be
worth half our entire supply of di-lithium?”

Janeway smiled. “It’s not worth half our supply, Harry, it’s
worth our entire supply.” She smiled again at his confusion.
“I’m sorry to have kept you in the dark, Ensign, but this has
been a very,” she paused, “DIFFICULT mission to organise,
and I didn’t want to raise the crew’s hopes without reason.”

“The crew’s hopes?” Kim’s eyes widened. “You mean…?”

“That’s right Ensign, we may have found a way home. We’ve
found the Caretaker’s companion.”

“Sisperia?”

“Yes. Belkazem is taking us to her. She needs our di-lithium,
and we plan to trade the remainder of it in exchange for the
trip home.”

“And she’s agreed?”

“So far she’s only agreed to meet us.”

“Tuvok,” Chakotay said, changing the subject. “Have you
come to any conclusions about why she may need the di-
lithium?”

“Not yet, Commander. But my preliminary studies on the data
we accumulated during our previous encounter suggests that
she has power considerably beyond our own.”

“I can vouch for that,” B’Elanna muttered, remembering the
ease with which Sisperia had almost killed her.

“Her powers did seem almost omnipotent,” Tuvok continued.
“However, I believe that they were derived in large part from
the technology aboard the Array. I can only surmise that she is
required to trade for the di-lithium because she is somehow
weakened. Were she in possession of her full powers, she
would be able to take what she needed from us. I can only
assume that the Array has been damaged or is failing in some
other manner.”

“If the Array is damaged, she may not be able to send us
back,” Tom pointed out, his brow creased into a frown.
Janeway thought she detected a hint of…was it relief?…in his
voice.

“That’s a risk I’m prepared to take, lieutenant,” she told him.

“Captain,” B’Elanna asked suddenly, “When…if…we get back,
what will happen to us?”

Janeway stared at her blankly for a moment.

“The Maquis,” Chakotay explained quietly. “We didn’t exactly
leave under the best of circumstances.”

It suddenly seemed a strange concept, to think that half her
crew weren’t really HER crew. She’d almost forgotten.
“Starfleet may have their questions,” she told them, “but I
assure you that you are MY crew, a STARFLEET crew, and I
will make sure that THAT is how you are treated.”

“What if they don’t see it that way?” B’Elanna pressed. “I
think we need another option.”

“Another option?”

“A ship.”

The room went silent. At length Janeway spoke. “I don’t like
the idea of losing ANY of my crew,” she said.

“Captain,” B’Elanna interrupted, “with respect, when we get
home we won’t BE your crew anymore.”

The silence deepened. It was a disturbing thought. Since
they’d been stranded in the Delta quadrant, all past loyalties
had been superseded by the overriding necessity to get home.
Now that their object was in reach, Janeway could see the
divisions start to re-emerge, and she didn’t like it. It felt
wrong, and suddenly, for the first time, she felt a reluctance to
break the bonds she’d forged with her disparate, mismatched
crew. Coming home would be more than the end of the
journey; it would be the end of a way of life.

She looked at her silent officers; Chakotay and Torres were
Maquis, sworn to fight the Cardassians; she couldn’t see them
staying in Starfleet, even if they were able. And Paris, cut
loose from Starfleet, where would he go? Perhaps to the
Maquis, but he’d betrayed them once, long ago, in that other
life in the Alpha quadrant. Only Tuvok, silent, impassive,
unconnected, and Kim, young enough to have left little
baggage behind him, could return home without trepidation.

The cracks were forming, and cracks split under pressure. No.
She had to stop it now, if they were ever going to make it back.
She had to hold her crew together in this last, and most
difficult mission. She had to keep them together until they
reached home.

Kathryn Janeway stood up, hands on the table, and leaned
forward, fixing each of her officers with a stern eye.
“Lieutenant,” she addressed Torres. “Until I hand command of
this ship over to Starfleet, this crew is my responsibility. You,
all of you,” she allowed her gaze to touch each in turn, “are my
officers and I expect you to act as such. It is my responsibility
to get Voyager home, but I can’t do it without you. I don’t
want Maquis officers, I don’t want Starfleet officers; I want
officers of the USS Voyager. That is what you are, and that is
what you will be until I say otherwise. Is that understood?”

B’Elanna looked down, contrite but still uncertain. Chakotay
smiled a little, looking relieved, and the others all nodded
assent, agreeing as one to set aside their concerns about the
future until the final mission was complete.

***

The doors to the briefing room slid shut behind Torres as she
strode towards engineering. Suddenly she felt a strong hand
on her arm, pulling her to an abrupt halt. It was Tom. His eyes
flashed with anger.

“How could you say that to the Captain?” he asked in a low,
furious voice.

Shaking herself free of his grasp, she glared back at him.
“Someone had to say it. It’s the truth.”

“So you’re just planning to leave?” Tom asked, struggling to
control his temper as a couple of crewmen hurried past.

“Why not?” B’Elanna demanded, “I’m not going to wait until
they arrest me!”

“The Captain won’t let that happen,” he snapped.

“She won’t be able to stop them,” she snapped back, irritated
by his blind faith. “Nothing will have changed when we get
back. The Cardassians will still be there, the demilitarised
zone will still be there, and so will the Maquis.”

“And you’re going back to the Maquis?” His voice was
suddenly quiet, tense. He didn’t want to hear her answer.

“What else would I do?” she said, her own voice softening
slightly. WHAT ELSE COULD I DO?

“What about Starfleet?”

“Starfleet!” She couldn’t repress an angry laugh. “Starfleet
doesn’t want people like me! I’m a drop-out, remember?”

“You’re the best engineer…”

“Tom,” she snapped, “You’re a fool if you think Starfleet will
want anything to do with any of us!”

“But the Maquis have been serving on board Voyager for three
years now. You and Chakotay are senior officers! Once the
Captain gets done explaining that, they’ll have to take you
back.”

B’Elanna shook her head, and looked away. HE JUST
DOESN’T GET IT – STARFLEET WON’T WANT THE
MAQUIS, AND THEY WON’T WANT TOM PARIS
EITHER.

She changed tack. “What if I don’t want to go back to
Starfleet?” she asked quietly.

Tom started in astonishment, staring at her mutely, shock
written across his face.

B’Elanna continued: “I have my own fight, remember?”

Glancing down at his shoes, Tom shifted awkwardly but still
said nothing.

“I didn’t choose to wear this uniform,” she finished defiantly,
her Klingon half getting the better of her.

Finally marshalling his shattered thoughts, Tom spoke. “So,
where does that leave us?”

It was the question she’d been dreading ever since she knew
that they might have found the way home. She turned around
to face him, but was unable to meet his eyes.

“You could come with me,” she ventured, afraid that she
already knew his answer.

Tom shook his head, and scrubbed a hand through his short,
blond hair. “That’s impossible, B’Elanna,” he said. “The
Maquis wouldn’t take me back…even if I wanted to go.”

B’Elanna felt her heart constrict, and she clenched her teeth
against the sudden pain. She could hardly bear to lose him,
but she could already feel fate sliding its cold fingers around
them both. Cardassians, the Maquis and the Federation;
treaties, politics and betrayal: life in the Alpha Quadrant was
too complicated for them now. It was destroying their delicate
relationship even before they had returned. Resistance was
futile; their fate was inevitable.

She had been silent a long time, she realised, and she looked
up to see Tom watching her with concern in his clear, blue
eyes. She tried to shut her heart to him before she spoke, but
the effort made her voice sound cold and distant, even to her
own ears.

“What will you do?” she asked eventually.

“The Captain thinks that Starfleet will reinstate me, once
she’s…”

A flame of anger, burning deep in her heart, flared brightly.
HOW COULD HE BE SO NAIVE? “Tom,” she objected,
“You were in prison! Court martialled for falsifying an
accident report, drummed out of Starfleet, and convicted of
selling your services to the Maquis! They’ll be only too happy
to lock you up again.”

“I have to try,” he told her simply. “B’Elanna, this is my one
chance to really make something of my life, not just waste it
away like…”

“Like me?” she snapped angrily.

“No. That’s not what I meant,” he gazed at her seriously. “I
feel like I’ve been given a second chance out here. I just don’t
want to go back to…to what I was, what my life was.”

“Then don’t,” she objected. “Come with us. The Maquis
could use a good pilot, and you’re the…”

“No,” Tom interrupted her, reaching out and gently touching
her face. “I can’t, B’Elanna. I’m sorry.”

She pushed his hand away, hot human tears welling up behind
her Klingon facade, threatening to crack her legendary control.
But Klingon won over human and she buried her pain in anger.
“Then I guess you’re a bigger idiot than I thought,” she hissed.
“Starfleet won’t reinstate you, Paris. You’re walking straight
back to prison.”

He shook his head slowly. “No,” he told her, “I made a
deal…”

“Oh, yes, the DEAL.” The angry flames turned to ice. She’d
practically begged him to go with her, but now she knew that
he didn’t want her: a uniform and an ideal meant more to him
than she did. Tom was going to leave her, just like her father
had left her. The thought froze her heart, it added a frost to her
voice and a sheen of ice to her eyes. She breathed more easily.
Yes, she liked this icy anger; it numbed her pain.

“I remember now,” she said calmly. “The deal. The one where
you hand us over to the Federation – our freedom for yours,
right?”

“No!” Tom started to protest, but she talked right over him.

“I guess Starfleet WILL welcome you back after all. You’ll be
a damned GALACTIC HERO,” she spat the words in anger,
her heart thumping. Somewhere, far away, in a quiet corner of
her mind, she cringed at the words that spilled from her lips.
But she couldn’t stop them flooding out. “Oh, you’ll be fine!”
she continued bitterly, “As long as you complete your part of
the deal, and BETRAY us to the Federation….That IS the plan,
right? I guess I should have expected it, you’ve betrayed
everyone else in your life, why not us? Oh, you’ll be a REAL
hero, Paris.”

Tom stared at her in silence, and for a brief moment pain
clouded his eyes and his face froze in shock. But the look was
gone as soon as it arrived, replaced instantly by a wry cynicism
that she recognised. That was how he used to look, back in the
early days. Without a word he spun on his heel and strode
away from her.

The anger drained from B’Elanna’s body as she watched him
leave. Control returned, and she remembered her cruel words
with a kind of numb horror. Remorse melted the ice around
her heart, and she felt a desperate desire to run after him, to
stop him and say she was sorry. But pride held her rooted to
the spot. Though every fibre of her heart cried out in misery,
she too turned, and began the long lonely walk back to her
post.

***

The routine of work helped calm Tom’s thudding heart, but his
mind was far from the console in front of him. B’Elanna’s
words still flew around his head, sending out bitter pangs of
pain with each remembrance. Suddenly a quiet bleep alerted
him to the task at hand.

“Commander,” he reported, “Belkazem’s ship has entered the
Kheljar system.”

“Slow to impulse but keep him in tractor range, Lieutenant.”
Chakotay tapped his com badge, “Captain, we’ve arrived.”

Tom concentrated on matching Voyager’s speed to Belkazem’s
ship, which was slowly decelerating as it approached Kheljar
IV. Even as he concentrated on the job, he couldn’t help
thinking that this might be the last time he piloted the ship.
Within days, or even hours, if all went right, they would be
back in the Alpha Quadrant, and he would be cut loose.

Cut loose? Where would he go? Deep down he knew that
B’Elanna was right: Starfleet wouldn’t want anything to do with
him. And neither would the Maquis. There was no place for
him back home.

He had found his salvation here in the Delta Quadrant; it had
saved him from himself. It had allowed him to become what
he had always wanted to be; responsible, respected. A DAMN
GALACTIC HERO, as B’Elanna had said. His father would
have been proud, he thought bitterly.

As his thoughts turned to home, a cold kernel of fear nestled in
his stomach, and he knew that he didn’t want to go back. He
didn’t want the life that had once been his; it wasn’t worth
returning to. But what would he do? There was only one
thing he could do: his duty. He would get them home. In that
quiet, selfless deed he would be performing his greatest act of
heroism. And no one would know. He smiled at the irony.

Janeway strode out of her ready room. “Reports, please,” she
asked briskly. As Chakotay briefed her on the situation, Tom
noticed that Belkazem’s ship was not performing the usual
deceleration required to enter orbit around the planet.
“Captain,” he said, still examining the controls, “it appears he’s
going to land the ship on the planet. Shall I follow him in?”

“Negative, Lieutenant. Put us in a geosynchronous orbit above
his estimated landing spot.”

“Aye, Captain.” It was a measure of the trust that Tom and the
Captain had developed over the years that she would leave the
details of executing this order to his discretion. As he
considered the best way to comply, he felt a pang of regret, as
if the special bond he had forged with the Captain, and the
entire crew, were already gone.

“Captain, entering orbit now,” Tom said. “Belkazem’s ship is
resting on the surface, about ten degrees north of the equator.”

“Very well, Lieutenant. Ensign Kim, have you scanned the
planet yet?”

“Yes, Captain,” said Kim. “There seems to be some kind of
structure on the planet’s surface. Its signature matches that of
the Array.”

“Indeed,” Tuvok agreed. “It appears that the Array has either
crashed, or been landed on the planet. It is, however, still
functioning.”

“And the Occampa?” Janeway asked.

“I’m reading only two life forms”, Kim told her, “and they’re
both near Belkazem’s landing site.”

“Can we hail them?”

“No need to, Captain. They’re hailing us.”

“On main viewer.” Janeway stood up, hands on hips, but it was
not Belkazem’s face that filled the screen.

“Greetings, Captain Janeway. I have been waiting for you.”
The face that greeted them was as different from Belkazem as
one could imagine. Pale, almost translucent skin was stretched
tightly over a bony face that looked as if, at one time, it might
have been beautiful. White hair, shimmering like silver, was
swept back from the forehead, disappearing under a thick,
velvety black hood. Bony, elegant fingers hovered intently just
under the hooded face, poised to reach out and snatch
whatever their owner might desire.

“Sisperia?” Janeway asked. The ancient face before her bore
little resemblance to the girl she had once met aboard
Voyager. To her right, she saw Tuvok examine his
instruments, and nod once in confirmation.

“Do you have what I want, Captain?” Sisperia asked again in a
voice brittle with irritation.

Determined not to be intimidated, Janeway drew herself up to
her full height. “I do. Half you should already have received.”

“You do not trust me, Captain?” Her voice was cold, like the
sound of cracking ice. Her thin, bloodless lips twitched in
what might have been a smile. “You are wise.”

“Do you know what we wish to ask of you?” Janeway asked.

The woman flicked one of her skeletal hands. “Nothing of
significance. You are a limited species. Of all the wonders
and secrets of the universe that I might grant you, you seek
nothing more than a way HOME.” Her mouth twisted in
disgust at that last word.

“To us, there is nothing more wonderful,” Janeway told her,
“and we are prepared to trade all that we have for it.”

Cold, silvered eyes looked down on her. “I will not trade.”

Janeway froze, and Tom couldn’t repress a wild leap of his
heart.

Silence. Sisperia’s cold gaze seemed to have frozen them all.
“I will not trade HERE. Like this. If you want your trade, you
must come to me.”

“Very well”, Janeway replied at last. “Send us your co-
ordinates….”

“I will be awaiting you, Captain,” the icy voice cut across
Janeway’s words. “Be here in one hour, or there will be no
trade.”

With that, the viewscreen flickered into darkness.

“I think she likes to play games,” Tom noted, breaking the
uneasy silence that had fallen.

“Then we’d better hope that we play a faster game, Mr Paris,”
Janeway replied as she tapped her com badge. “Lieutenant
Torres, meet us in Transporter Room One. Mr Chakotay, you
have the bridge. Tom, Tuvok, you’re with me.”

***

Ensign Kim met them in the transporter room, his arms full of
heavy enviro-suits. “You’ll need these Captain,” he told them,
as he entered the room. “It’s reading -20 centigrade down
there.”

“Thank you, Mr Kim,” Janeway said, taking a suit. “Is
Lieutenant Torres here yet?”

“Right here, Captain,” B’Elanna replied, as she too hurried into
the room. Tom turned away from her, busying himself with
his suit. He didn’t want to talk to her, he didn’t want to look at
her; it was too painful. Now that he knew what she really
thought of him he couldn’t face her. The worst of it was, of
course, that she was probably right about him. He deserved
nothing more than she gave him.

Before they stepped up onto the transporter pad, Janeway
turned to face them. “I don’t need to tell you how important
this mission is,” she said. “But I want you to remember this:
our first priority will always be the safety of this ship and her
crew. Finding a way home will only ever come second.” She
smiled at their nods of agreement, “Very well. Let’s go.”

***

The away team materialised near Belkazem’s ship which rested
in a landscape full of snow. Around them white flakes swirled,
nearly blotting out the setting sun and reducing distant objects
to mere shadows. Lifeless trees struggled under the weight of
icicles half a metre long.

It was cold. It was silent. It was empty. “Scan for life signs,”
Janeway instructed, her breath coming in billows of mist.

“Captain,” Tuvok reported, “Energy readings and two life
forms 1.6 kilometres north east of this point.”

Janeway tapped her com badge. “Janeway to Voyager.”

“Chakotay here, Captain.” The commander’s voice sounded
distant and crackly.

“Can you beam us directly to the co-ordinates entered into Mr
Tuvok’s tricorder?”

“Negative, Captain,” Chakotay replied through a wall of static.
“Some kind of…..interfering with…..unable to trans….” His
words eventually sank beneath the static hiss.

Janeway frowned. “Then I guess we’re walking,” she told
them.

Tom pulled his suit’s thick hood up around his ears, and
squinted into the distance. Daylight was fading, and the winter
sky was a delicate shade of grey, tinged gently with blue.
Snow clung to everything, and the flakes drifted down around
him in slow, lazy circles. He looked over at B’Elanna, who
was hunched as deeply as possible into her enviro-suit. He
knew she hated the cold. As he watched her she glanced
towards him, and their eyes met for the briefest instant before
they both looked sharply away.

Tuvok had already started walking, the Captain at his side.
Tom strode after them, watching his feet sink into the snow
with every step, and listening to B’Elanna’s light footsteps off
to his right.

They had been walking for at least half an hour, trudging
through the icy, motionless, breathless air, when a terrifying
howl split the frozen silence.

“What the…?” Tom hissed, phaser in hand and heart suddenly
racing.

B’Elanna was scanning the gloom, her phaser also drawn. “It
sounded like some kind of animal,” she said, her breath
coming fast.

“A hungry one,” Tom added darkly.

“Captain,” Tuvok said, studying his tricorder. “I am not
picking up any life signs coming from the direction of that
sound.”

“Well, Lieutenant,” Janeway told him. “Something’s out
there.”

“Not necessarily, Captain,” Tuvok replied. “Remember that
when we were aboard the Array, the Caretaker created an
environment which he believed would be soothing to us, and
that environment was populated by a number of characters.”

“And you think that this,” Janeway gestured around, “is all
such a creation?”

“It is possible, Captain.”

“Life signs or not,” Tom reminded Tuvok, “those people on
the Array still packed a punch.”

“That is true,” Tuvok agreed, one eyebrow slightly raised.

Another mournful cry filled the air, but this time it was closer.
“I don’t like this,” B’Elanna said, her voice muffled inside her
hood.

“Neither do I,” Janeway agreed.

“Captain,” Tuvok spoke again, “I suggest we keep moving. It
will soon be dark, and that will only hamper our journey. We
have twenty-seven minutes left to reach our destination before
the allotted hour has passed.”

“You’re right,” the Captain said, “but keep scanning the area. I
don’t want any surprises.”

Cautiously, they turned away from the unnerving howls, and
returned to their trudge through the snow. But every sound
seemed louder now, every creak of a snow-laden bough, every
crunching footstep, every breath.

They walked closer together, and Tom no longer watched his
booted feet sinking into the snow. Every sense was alert,
every nerve stretched taut – something was out there. He didn’t
care what Tuvok said; his guts told him there was danger in the
icy air.

At last they approached a steeply inclined hill, bordered to
their left with tall trees that were leafed in nothing but ice. The
snow was falling thickly now, and the hill’s crest was veiled in
a dense, madly swirling, white mantle.

“I believe that our destination lies at the top of this hill,
Captain,” Tuvok commented calmly, bringing the party to a
halt as he examined his tricorder. Tom repressed an irritated
sigh. The man didn’t even sound COLD, let alone frightened.

Turning away, Tom noticed B’Elanna staring back the way
they had come. Her lips, he noted, were turning blue. He was
about to comment when something in her expression made him
follow her gaze. Darkness was falling fast, but in the dim light
he thought he saw movement; something long, sleek, and
moving with the careful grace of a predator. He squinted into
the dusk, a shiver, that owed nothing to the cold, running down
his spine. Yes. There was something out there in the dark.

“Did you see…?” B’Elanna whispered.

“Wolves,” Paris replied before she finished.

“Captain,” B’Elanna said in a louder voice.

“I see them,” Janeway replied. She looked around quickly.
“Head up hill, towards the trees,” she ordered sharply. “But
don’t run!”

As if in answer, a long, hungry howl rang out behind them. It
was picked up by several more voices, and despite the
temperature, Tom found himself sweating as he floundered
through the deep snow, trying to keep one eye on the wolves as
he made his way towards the trees.

“Tom!” B’Elanna called out, an urgent tone in her voice. She
nodded towards two dark shapes keeping pace with them to
their right. Closer now, Tom could see them more clearly.
Bigger than any wolf he had ever seen, the creatures were
sleek and black, with yellow eyes that pierced the darkening
night, and long grey tongues that lolled between razor sharp
teeth.

“Keep walking,” Janeway called out softly. “We’re nearly at
the trees.”

Tom turned around, walking backwards up the hill. His
stomach churned with fear at the sight he saw below; the
darkness beneath them was alive. Countless pairs of
unblinking yellow eyes wove their way up the hill behind
them, to the right and to the left.

“Captain, this isn’t looking good,” he said, trying to keep the
fear out of his voice. Just then, he backed into a tree, and
nearly yelped with shock.

“We’ll hold here,” Janeway said, in her most determined voice.
“In a circle, back to back.”

Tom made sure he was standing next to B’Elanna; she might
hate him, but he still wanted to make sure she was safe – as far
as he could. Yet, despite their somewhat desperate situation,
he couldn’t help but be acutely aware of her closeness. It
penetrated his fear, but only with the deeper pain of loss. He
scowled at himself, and turned to his phaser as a distraction. It
was then that he noticed it was dead.

“Damn it!” he heard Janeway curse as she made the same
discovery.

A chorus of wolfish howls split the night again, as if their
plight had been betrayed by some cunning intelligence.

“Curious,” Tuvok noted. “It seems that…”

“No time for explanations,” Janeway told him sharply.
“Quickly, everyone look around. Find the heaviest stick you
can lift.”

Finding dead branches was not a problem in these woods
where everything was dead or dying. Tom found a branch
about two metres long and as thick as his arm. He lifted it just
in time; two wolves attacked simultaneously, and even as he
fended them off he could hear the cries of the others as they
fought off the voracious pack. But no matter how hard they
fought, the wolves would not give up. Wounding one merely
meant there was room for another to join the fray, and the
battle raged for minutes that felt as long as hours. At last,
though, the assault abated, and the wolves retreated,
regrouping in the murky darkness.

Tom heard B’Elanna gasping for breath as she lowered her
club. “Oh what I wouldn’t do for a batleth right now,” she
muttered.

“I’d settle for a phaser,” said Tom, eyeing the creatures that
lurked close by. “Or preferably a transport out of here.”

“None of which are an option,” said Janeway briskly. “We
have to find a way to deal with these wolves, and quickly, if
we’re to meet Sisperia on time. I’m open to suggestions.”

B’Elanna spoke up. “There’s an outcrop up the trail, about fifty
metres ahead. If we can just make it there we would stand
better odds.”

The darkness was filled with growls and snarls, as the pack
paced backward and forward, eyeing them malevolently, but
refraining from the attack. For a moment there was a pause,
and Janeway grabbed it in an instant.

“It’s now or never,” she said. “Let’s go.”

The four made a break for the rocks. The wolves only
hesitated for a moment, before setting out in pursuit. Tuvok
and Janeway led the way up the hill, followed closely by
B’Elanna, while Tom took rearguard. They battled through the
snow, sometimes sinking deeper than their knees, struggling to
stay ahead of the lithe, dark forms that followed, snapping and
snarling in the darkness behind them.

At last the Captain and Tuvok reached the relative safety of the
rocks. Tom saw them start to scramble up when a snarl,
suddenly too close, made him spin around with a startled
exclamation. B’Elanna was only a step ahead of him, and she
turned at the sound of his voice. In an instant, the wolves
attacked, overwhelming them both. As Tom went down under
a blur of fangs and fur, he lashed out with his club, flailing it
wildly above him. He felt it connect with flesh, and heard the
crunch of bone and yelps of wolfish pain. He staggered to his
feet in time to see three of the beasts heading off into the
woods. B’Elanna, crouched low, faced two more.

Ignoring a sharp pain in his left shoulder, Paris took position
beside B’Elanna. The two wolves paced and snarled, just out
of reach of their clubs, while in the distance, Tom could see
the rest of the pack massing. It was hopeless. This was the
end. Briefly he toyed with the idea of telling B’Elanna that he
still loved her, but he dismissed the idea immediately. There
was no time, and besides, what good would it do? He hefted
his club in his hand, wincing as a bolt of agony shot through
his shoulder.

“Tom! B’Elanna!” Janeway called from the rocks. Tom risked
a brief glance over his shoulder, and he saw Tuvok firmly
holding the captain back, preventing her from rejoining her
crewmen.

“Go!” Tom yelled. “Get them home!”

Janeway hesitated.

Tom half glanced at B’Elanna. “You too,” he said.

“No,” she replied, staring straight at the wolves. “I’m not
leaving.”

“I can hold them off,” he told her, stepping slightly closer to
the snarling beasts.

“I’m staying with…” she cut herself off. “I’m staying here.”

He recognised the tone in her voice, and knew there was no
point in further argument.

From above him, Tom heard Tuvok’s cool, logical voice. “We
must leave now, Captain. We have eighteen minutes left.”

“I can’t just…” Janeway’s anguished tones were cut off by a
deep throated growl. Tom had enough time for one last glance
at B’Elanna before the onslaught began.

***

“Any luck, Ensign?” Chakotay asked, impatiently pacing the
bridge of Voyager.

“No, Sir,” Harry replied, fingers flying over his console. “The
dampening field is just too dense – I’m not picking up
anything.”

“Damn it, where’s it coming from?” Chakotay asked, for the
hundredth time.

“I don’t know, Commander,” Harry looked up helplessly. “It’s
everywhere.”

THIS IS THE LAST TIME, Chakotay stormed at himself.
THIS IS THE LAST TIME I’M LETTING HER LEAD AN
AWAY MISSION. Keeping his face calm, he turned to Kim.
“Keep looking, Ensign,” he said. “But I’m rapidly running out
of patience with this situation. The trade should be made in
fifteen minutes time. If we don’t hear anything by then, I’m
taking Voyager in and we’re going to get some answers.”

“Aye, Sir,” Kim responded, enthusiasm brightening his
worried face.

***

Tom sucked breath into his lungs, raw with the freezing night
air. His shoulder screamed in agony each time he swung the
heavy club, and his knees threatened to give way with
exhaustion. And still they came; all snarling, snapping,
slavering jaws, ripping claws and stinking fur. Blood caked
the end of his club, and his breaths came in ragged gasps.

B’Elanna was little better. She still fought with all the ferocity
of a mountain cat, but he could tell she was tiring. Her club
was held lower, her swings less accurate, less powerful. They
both knew it wouldn’t be long. Darkness pressed in from all
sides, there was no moon, no stars, just the endless pairs of
glowering yellow eyes watching them from the dark, leaping at
them with sharp, ferocious teeth.

Suddenly a wolf pounced at them from the side; a different
angle of assault. B’Elanna twisted to meet the attack, but lost
her footing in the treacherous snow, and fell helplessly onto
her back. Scrabbling in the snow, she couldn’t regain her feet.
The wolf’s jaws were inches from her throat when Tom
knocked the beast flying with a mighty swing of his club.
Anger blurred his vision and he saw through a sudden haze of
blood-red fury, his ears ringing with his own desperate shouts.

“Leave her alone!” he heard himself yelling, almost screaming.
He hardly recognised his own voice. The creature, if it
survived his attack, did not return. Tom stood in front of
B’Elanna, gasping for air and waiting for the end. But it didn’t
come. His vision began to clear, the ringing in his ears
subsided and he heard nothing but silence. One by one, the
yellow eyes in the darkness began to blink out, and within
seconds, they were alone in the dark.

He lowered the heavy club with suddenly shaking arms, and
dropped to his knees in the snow beside B’Elanna.

“Are you okay?” he asked through raggedly drawn breaths.

She was silent a moment before she answered. “Yes. I’m
fine.” It was too dark to see her clearly, but what light there
was reflected in her dark, round eyes. She stared at him for a
long time, a strange look on her face. She half reached out a
hand to touch him, but at the last moment she pulled back and
turned her head away. “We’d better get out of here,” she
muttered, “before they come back.”

He sighed sadly; this had changed nothing between them.
“Can you stand?” he asked, struggling to his feet and offering
her his hand.

She ignored it as she stood up. “I’m fine,” she repeated coldly,
turning away from him to look up at the rocks behind them. “I
guess it’s that way.”

Tom looked up at the steep scramble ahead. His shoulder was
blazing agony – he dared not even look to see how badly he
was injured – it was going to be a fun climb. “Well,” he said,
gritting his teeth against the pain, “Let’s go before we freeze to
death.”

***

The sounds of the night were soon swept away by the heavy
snow that battered Tuvok and the Captain as they struggled to
reach the top of the hill. But in her mind, Janeway could still
hear the snapping jaws and ferocious growls of the beasts that
Tom and B’Elanna had stayed to fight. Her heart swelled with
pride at the bravery of her two officers, even as it twisted with
the bitterest anger and regret.

Guilt squirmed deep in her belly, but she ignored it. They had
willingly faced the enemy to allow her the chance to get the
rest of the crew home. She couldn’t let her own sense of guilt
and loss distract her from doing everything she could to ensure
that their sacrifice was not in vain.

“Captain,” Tuvok’s voice broke through the blizzard and her
gloomy reverie. “I believe we have arrived.”

Looking up, Janeway saw an immensely high stone wall rising
into snowy oblivion above her head. Before her stood two
imposing wooden doors, at least 15 meters high, their
weathered faces shut and impassive.

“How do we get in?” she asked her lieutenant.

Tuvok was once again examining his tricorder. “I believe,
Captain, that these walls are also part of our host’s creation.
However,” he looked up, “as Mr Paris observed, they still pack
a punch, so to speak.”

Janeway frowned. “Suggestions?”

“Scaling the walls would be time consuming, and we only have
four minutes and thirteen seconds left.” He shrugged. “I
suggest we knock.”

“Why not?” Janeway replied, raising her fist and hammering
twice on the solid wooden door. There was no response. In
the distance, she heard the plaintive howl of a wolf.

“This is ridiculous,” she muttered, and reached for her phaser.
It was still dead. She pushed on the heavy doors, but they
didn’t budge an inch. “Tuvok,” she asked, “is there any other
way in?”

“Negative Captain,” he replied, examining his tricorder again.
“It appears that this is the only door in the wall.”

“Damn it!” she thumped the door again. Still no answer.

“That’s it!” she suddenly shouted into the snow-filled darkness.
“We’ve played your games long enough.”

Her voice bounced off the high stone walls and receded into
silence. “Do you understand me?” she shouted. “Unless you
show yourself immediately, there will be NO trade.”

The howls of wolves were her only reply. She turned to
Tuvok. “Let’s go,” she said, loud enough for her voice to carry.
“Voyager will come looking for us. Let’s make sure we’re at
the beam-in site.”

“Aye, Captain,” Tuvok replied. “I believe that….”

He never finished his sentence. A tremendous grating screech
split the night, and behind them, the vast wooden doors began
to swing slowly open.

“Now, that’s better”, Janeway said, turning around with a small
smile. She strode into the torch lit darkness beyond the door
without one backward glance. Tuvok followed her wordlessly,
showing nothing more than curiosity on his impassive face.

The corridor they traversed was long, and lit periodically with
guttering torches. Its monotony was unrelieved as it wound
itself onward in ever decreasing circles. As they walked they
heard nothing but the sound of their own foot falls against the
stone floor. At last, after what seemed like an age, the corridor
emerged into a large, round room. It’s ceiling rose up into a
dome that glittered with an eerie, silver glow. The walls were
sharp, jagged, shards of ice which sucked all colour and
warmth from the room. Despite her enviro-suit, Janeway
couldn’t repress a shiver as she entered the frozen chamber.

A dais, carved of glittering ice, stood in the centre of the room.
And upon an icy throne, sat the creature they had come to see.
Her long black robes were startling against the colourless
chamber, but it was her silvered eyes, glittering dangerously,
that caught and held Janeway’s attention.

“Greetings, CAPTAIN.” The woman’s voice cracked like
breaking ice, “Well met.”

Janeway was in no mood to be pleasant. “So far we have co-
operated with you. But my patience is wearing thin, and I
have no intention of wasting anymore time.” OR ANY MORE
LIVES. Ruthlessly, she suppressed the thought. Time to
grieve later, if she had to.

“You did not enjoy my little entertainment?” the creature
asked, her thin skin stretching taught with a mirthless smile.

“Enjoy?!” Janeway swallowed her anger again. NOT NOW.
In an even voice she said, “Two of my most valuable officers
are lost. No. I did not ENJOY your game.”

“Lost?” the voice hissed. It might have been a laugh. “Not
lost. See,” she pointed a skeletal hand towards the corridor
down which they had just walked, “there they are.”

Janeway and Tuvok both turned around, to see Torres and
Paris emerge, blinking, into the comparative brightness of the
room. B’Elanna looked startled, as if the world had suddenly
changed around her, but when she saw the Captain she smiled
with sudden relief. Tom gazed about with a bewildered,
unseeing look on his face. He was pale, and swayed a little on
his feet. His left arm hung limp at his side, and in the torch
light, Janeway saw an ominous dark mass across his left
shoulder.

She allowed herself one, brief, smile of relief before she turned
back to face their capricious host.

“We have met your demands,” she announced. “Now, you
must answer us. Will you trade us passage home for our
remaining supply of di-lithium?”

The creature smiled again, and reached out one long, bony
finger to a small control panel on the arm of her throne.
Silently, a door appeared in the wall, and Belkazem, all
darkness and shadows, emerged.

“My Lady,” he said, bowing low at the feet of his mistress.

“Belkazem, my pet,” she crooned in a voice of ice. “It is time
to TRADE.”

***

The negotiations seemed to last for hours. Torres stood by the
entrance to a long corridor, at the back of the room, while the
Captain, Tuvok and Belkazem stood at the foot of the dais, in
close conversation. She couldn’t hear a word.

She turned and looked down the corridor. There was nothing
to reveal where it might lead to, but it seemed to be the only
way out. She had no idea how they had arrived in the room –
one minute they had been slogging through a blizzard, the next
she was standing right here.

Tom stood off to one side, but she didn’t look at him. How
could she? She felt so ashamed. Those awful things she’d said
to him – she’d been so cruel. And then, after all she had said,
he saved her life. She shivered at the memory – she’d thought
she was dead. The wolf’s breath had been hot on her throat,
it’s weight heavy on her chest. Memories had flashed into her
mind, memories and regrets. She remembered wanting to
apologise to Tom, to tell him that she hadn’t meant a word of
what she said, and to tell him that she still loved him. But
there had been no time. Death had been inches away, and
then, he had charged in and driven it away.

She’d almost told him then, as he knelt next to her in the
bloodstained snow, but something had stopped her. She’d
wanted to, her hand had reached out to touch him, and she’d
ached to be in his arms again. But shame had held her back.
After what she’d said to him, how could he do anything but
hate her? She hated herself for it.

Out of the corner of her eye, she stole a glance in his direction.
Her heart jumped in alarm at what she saw, and she turned
towards him anxiously.

“Tom?”

His face was deathly pale, closer to grey than white. He turned
his head vaguely at the sound of her voice, and she noticed his
eyes, glazed and shimmering with fever. He swayed
unsteadily on his feet, and she took a concerned step closer.
He must have been injured. Why hadn’t he said anything?

“Are you all right?” she asked.

“Fine,” he whispered. And with that his eyes rolled, and he
pitched forward in a dead faint. B’Elanna just managed to grab
his enviro-suit in time to prevent his head from cracking
against the stone floor.

It was only when she rolled him onto his back that she noticed
the wound on his shoulder. What was left of his shoulder. A
large chunk of flesh hung down in tatters, and the silver-grey
of bone and sinew glimmered inside the bloody mess. Blood
soaked his suit, and the edges of the wound looked an
unhealthy white, where it had been exposed to the night’s
severe cold.

B’Elanna sucked breath through her teeth, and cursed him
silently. WHY DIDN’T HE SAY ANYTHING? She frowned.
WHY DIDN’T YOU NOTICE? she asked herself.

Pulling her hand free of her gloves, she felt for a pulse in his
throat. His flesh was cold and clammy, but there was a pulse,
low and quick.

“Captain,” she called urgently.

Janeway turned around. “What happened?” she asked.

“He’s badly injured,” Torres told her. “I need to get him to
sickbay now.”

Janeway turned to Belkazem. “Our communicators are dead,”
she told him, a steely edge to her voice.

“I know, Captain,” he replied, casting a glance at his mistress,
who nodded her head once.

“Your affection for your crew is quite touching,” Sisperia
hissed. “Very well,” she waved one hand imperiously towards
them.

Janeway ignored her, and tapped her com badge. It bleeped
into life. “Janeway to Voyager,” she began.

“Chakotay here,” her first officer responded instantly.
“Captain, are you all right?”

“Yes, but Lieutenant Paris is badly injured. Lock onto his com
badge, and beam him and Torres directly to sickbay.”

“Aye Captain,” he replied, and almost instantly Tom and
B’Elanna shimmered out of existence. “We have them,
Captain,” Chakotay told her. “Would you like us to send down
another team?”

Janeway looked over at the shadowy features of Belkazem,
who shook his head slowly. She pursed her lips in irritation,
but decided not to make an issue of it. “No, commander,” she
said, “We’re almost done here anyway. We just have a few
details to clarify. Janeway out.”

She turned back to Belkazem, a phrase of her father’s suddenly
echoing in her head: THE DEVIL’S IN THE DETAIL.

***

The ice cavern faded in a fall of stars, to be replaced instantly
by the walls of sickbay. The walls, and blessed heat, of
Voyager.

“What happened?” the doctor asked immediately, stooping
over Tom, medical tricorder in hand.

“We were attacked by some kind of animals,” Torres
explained, looking down at Tom’s unconscious face as he lay
cradled in her lap. “He was injured, but I didn’t realise until he
collapsed.”

“You didn’t notice this?” the doctor sounded incredulous.

“It was dark,” she snapped. But she was more irritated with
herself than the doctor. In the brilliant light of sickbay, she
could see the extent of his injures. His shoulder had been half
torn away, blood soaked his enviro-suit and his face was
ashen. I DIDN’T EVEN ASK IF HE WAS OKAY, she
thought bitterly. SOME FRIEND. HE COULD HAVE DIED,
AND I DIDN’T EVEN NOTICE!

“Well,” the doctor, continued, scanning the wound. “Help me
get him onto a bed before he bleeds all over the floor.”

Tom’s inert form was heavy, but between them they managed
to manoeuvre him onto a bed, and the doctor began his
treatment.

“He’s going to be okay, right?” B’Elanna asked, hovering
behind the doctor and watching over his shoulder.

“Well, he won’t be playing racquetball for a few weeks, but
he’ll live. Severe intra-muscular damage, blood loss, a touch
of frost bite. It’s not much of a challenge really.”

B’Elanna wasn’t in the mood for the doctor’s attempts at
humour. “Sorry we weren’t more entertaining,” she muttered
angrily, turning to leave the room.

“And where are you going?” he asked, looking up.

“Back to work.”

He stared at her for a moment. “I see,” he said at last. “Well,
would you like me to inform you when Mr Paris regains
consciousness?”

It was B’Elanna’s turn to hesitate. “Urm,” she paused. “Yes.
Yes, let me know. I’ll be in engineering.”

***

Janeway’s heart was heavy as she made her way towards
sickbay, Tuvok walking silently by her side. Both of them, she
knew, were thinking about the deal they had struck with the
strange creature on the planet below. There was a condition to
the deal, a price that someone would have to pay for the sake
of the crew. It was a condition that she would not ask anyone
to fulfil but herself, yet her usually indomitable spirit quailed
at the very thought, and nothing but her iron sense of duty held
her to her purpose.

As the door to sickbay hissed quietly open, Janeway forced
herself to focus on the issue immediately before her. There
would be time enough for her fears, but right now she was here
to check on the condition of her officer.

“How is he?” she asked the doctor, as she strode into sickbay.

“He’s sleeping,” the doctor replied, “I recommend a couple of
days rest, but other than that, he should be fine.” He eyed her
critically. “By the look of you, I would recommend the same.”

Janeway smiled. “Thank-you for your concern, doctor, but I’ll
be fine. And I’m afraid that we don’t have a couple of days to
spare right now.” She looked over to where Paris lay sleeping.
“I have an officer’s briefing tomorrow at 08.00 hours. I’ll stop
by to see how he’s doing after that,” she sighed. “I hate to do
it, but I’m afraid we’ll need Mr Paris as soon as possible.”

The doctor frowned. “Can’t someone else cover his duties?”
he asked.

Janeway shook her head. “For what we’re about to do, we’re
going to need the best pilot we’ve got. And that, I’m afraid, is
Lieutenant Paris.”

“Can’t it wait?”

“I’m sorry doctor,” she said, a tone of finality in her voice.
“Please do what you can to have him fit for duty as soon as
possible.”

“Very well,” the doctor muttered, clearly disgruntled.

“Thank-you,” Janeway replied, and turned to leave. Just as she
did, the sickbay doors slid open, and Torres walked in.

“Captain!” she started, clearly surprised to see Janeway, “I
didn’t know you were back.”

“We just arrived.”

“And were you successful?” she asked eagerly.

Janeway smiled and nodded. “We made a deal. She’s agreed
to send Voyager home.”

B’Elanna let out a deep breath. “Wow,” she said after a pause.
“I never thought…”

“It’s not over yet,” Janeway told her. “I doubt it’s going to be
an easy trip home, which is why,” she nodded towards Paris,
“we’re going to need our best pilot.”

She saw B’Elanna’s eyes flicker towards Tom, and then look
quickly away. Janeway didn’t know exactly what was going on
between the two, but she could guess; the prospect of the
Alpha quadrant was putting strains on a lot of relationships.

“The doctor says he’s going to be fine,” she told Torres.

“Yes,” B’Elanna replied, looking down at the floor self-
consciously. “No thanks to me.”

“Lieutenant?”

Torres sighed, and looked up, her face alive with emotion.
“Captain, he saved my life – I mean, I was seconds away from
death and he…” she faltered, regaining control. “Captain, I
didn’t even know he was injured until he collapsed. He could
have died, and it would have been my fault.”

Janeway shook her head. “Don’t blame yourself. Tom’s not
the sort to complain, B’Elanna,” she told her.

“I know,” Torres replied, still looking miserable, “But I didn’t
even ask.”

“Lieutenant,” Tuvok said. He’d been silent so long that
Janeway had almost forgotten he was there. “Mr Paris did not
die, and he is no longer seriously injured. There is little point
in self recriminations. No harm was done.”

“No harm?” Torres echoed quietly. “He was meant to be my
friend, and I let him down. That’s the harm.”

Tuvok clearly didn’t understand, and opened his mouth to
press the point, but Janeway forestalled him.

“You didn’t let anyone down,” she insisted. “You were ready
to die for your crew, B’Elanna. That is what I remember. And
that’s what I’m going to record in the log. I want everyone to
know that when you get home. I’m commending you and
Lieutenant Paris for bravery.”

B’Elanna shook her head, “Captain, I…”

“No.” Janeway held up her hand. “That’s enough. Get some
rest, Lieutenant. Officer’s briefing at 08.00, and I want your
full attention. Tomorrow might be the most difficult day of
our journey so far.”

“Aye, Captain,” Torres nodded, standing aside to let Janeway
and Tuvok leave the room. When the doors had shut behind
them, she turned and took a few steps towards Tom’s bed. The
captain’s words did little to assuage the guilt that squirmed in
her gut. Not only had she hurt him with her cruel words, but
she’d let him down in the field too. She’d failed him as a friend
and as a colleague. He had every right to hate her. But as she
watched him sleep, she knew that she could probably bear
anything but the knowledge that he despised her. She almost
cried. But Klingons, even half-Klingons, never cry.

***

Tom awoke in sickbay to the wonderful absence of pain in his
shoulder. He sighed, stretched, and sat up. All in all, he felt
okay.

“Ah, good morning, Lieutenant,” the doctor chirped from his
office. “How are you feeling?”

“Better.” Tom replied, testing the movement in his shoulder.
It ached a little, but nothing more. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” the doctor replied, pleased.

“I feel like I’ve been asleep for days,” Tom said.

“16 hours and 24 minutes, actually.”

“Really?” he yawned again, and glanced around, looking for
his uniform. “So, what’s going on?” he asked.

“Don’t ask me,” the doctor grumbled. “No one ever tells me
anything. You’d better ask the captain. She said she’d stop by
and see you after the officer’s briefing session this morning.”

“Briefing?” Tom asked. “What time?”

“In about 15 minutes I believe.”

Tom swung his legs down from the bed. “Where’s my
uniform?”

“You’re not thinking of going, are you?” the doctor asked.

“Yes. Where’s my uniform?”

“It was ripped and covered in blood. I destroyed it.”

“Then get me another one.”

“You’re not fit for duty yet, Lieutenant. Now get back in bed.”

“I’m fine doc,” Tom told him, standing up and ignoring the
wave of nausea that suddenly swept over him.

“Fine?! You have a t-cell count of….”

Tom ignored him, went to the nearest replicator and got
himself a new uniform. Rations be damned – if they were
almost home, who cared? The doctor was still babbling as
Tom dressed, but he was too preoccupied to listen. He had to
get to that briefing and find out what was going on. For all he
knew, they were already half way to the Alpha quadrant. At
least he wanted to know his fate.

Tom suddenly became aware of the doctor again, who was
holding something out towards him. “… before you go.” He
heard the doctor say.

“What?” Tom asked.

“I said, you should at least eat something before you go.
Here.” He shoved an energy bar towards him. “Take this, and
try not to pass out in the briefing room.”

Tom grinned, and took a bite. “Thanks doc.”

The doctor just shook his head, and walked away.

***

At 08.00 the senior officers assembled in the briefing room.
Captain Janeway surveyed them with a mixture of pride and
sadness. If this worked they would all soon be home, and this
crew that had learned to work together, that had grown
together, would be broken up as people resumed their own
lives; their individual journeys would send them all in different
directions. Even if some of them stayed with Voyager, who
knows where she herself would be?

She cleared her throat and spoke. “Sisperia has agreed to make
the trade – what’s left of our di-lithium for the return trip to the
Alpha Quadrant. But there’s a catch. We don’t trust her and she
doesn’t trust us, so someone has to stay behind to complete the
trade and hand over the di-lithium after Voyager has gone.”

Tom spoke up immediately, his still pale face flushed with a
sudden excitement. “I’ll stay, Captain.” His expression turned
grim. “I don’t have much to look forward to in the Alpha
quadrant – out of prison but out of Starfleet too. No one’s
going to miss me.”

“I very much doubt that, Tom,” she told him, with half a
glance at B’Elanna, who sat staring at him in open-mouthed
astonishment. “And if I were you, I wouldn’t be so quick to
write off your Starfleet career either.” She held up a hand to
silence his further protests. “No, I’m sorry, but I can’t let you
stay, Mr Paris. We need our best pilot to take Voyager home
– it’s going to be rough, and I want you at the helm.”

The Captain paused for a moment, and took a deep breath. “I
won’t leave ANYONE behind,” she said firmly. “As Captain,
it is my duty to do everything I can to get my crew home
safely. I made that promise to the crew, and it’s a promise I
intend to keep. And so, I will be the one to stay behind and
make the trade.”

A long moment of stunned silence hung in the air, until
Chakotay’s voice shattered it. “No, Captain, your place is on
your ship. I won’t let you….”

His words were drowned out, as the rest of the officers
recovered from their shock, and a chorus of protest erupted
from around the conference table. Janeway tried in vain to
silence them, until Tuvok finally gained the upper hand, and
spoke.

“Captain, with respect, you are not the most logical choice to
make the trade. You are needed on the bridge. By contrast, my
presence is not required on the bridge as we are unlikely to
confront a tactical situation in this operation. And my life
expectancy is such that I am more likely than you to be able to
find a way home during my lifetime.”

“Point taken, Lieutenant, but the Captain cannot ask a member
of her crew to make a sacrifice that she herself is not willing to
make,” said Janeway.

Tuvok raised an eyebrow. “You did not ask me. I
volunteered.”

As the two old friends fell into an awkward silence, Neelix
spoke up. “Captain, Mr Vulcan, if I may, you have forgotten
the obvious candidate to make the trade.”

Chakotay turned to him and asked, “And who is that, Mr
Neelix?”

“Why, me, of course,” Neelix replied.

Janeway felt hope spark in her heart. NEELIX! SHE HADN’T
EVEN THOUGHT OF HIM AS AN OPTION!

“Mr Neelix,” she said seriously. “I meant it when I said that I
didn’t want to leave anyone behind, and I include you in that. I
won’t ask you to do this.”

“Captain,” Neelix rose. “This is my home. Well, not right
here in the Kheljar system, but you know what I mean. The
Alpha Quadrant sounds just fascinating, but it IS a long way
from home. And if someone has to stay here, well, it should
be me. I mean,” he laughed a little, “it would be rather silly to
have me stuck in the Alpha Quadrant desperate for a bowl of
leola-root stew, and you stuck here desperate for a cup of
coffee!”

“I admit that your offer is tempting, Neelix,” the Captain told
him. “But I don’t like the idea of leaving anyone behind.”

“Captain,” Neelix replied. “You won’t be leaving me behind.
You’ll be leaving me where I belong.”

“He has a point,” Chakotay pointed out softly.

“It IS a logical choice,” Tuvok agreed.

Janeway hung her head for a moment, gathering her thoughts.
“Very well,” she said at last, looking up at the little Talaxian.
“And Mr Neelix, you will have the whole crew’s eternal
gratitude and thanks.”

Neelix smiled, but covered his emotions with bustle. “Well
then, we’d better get going. My ship’s going to need refuelling,
and I’ll need some supplies. I wonder if a replicator could be
fitted? No, no. No time. But, if I could just…?”

The captain cut him off. “We’ll give you all the help we can,
Neelix.” She turned to B’Elanna. “Lieutenant, will you see
what you can do for Mr Neelix’s ship? You’ve got five hours.”

“Aye Captain.”

“Five hours?” Neelix’s smile suddenly faded. “That doesn’t
give me long to say goodbye to every one.” He clapped his
hands suddenly. “Well, I’d better get on with it then. Excuse
me Captain.” And with that he bustled quickly out of the
room, B’Elanna following him. The rest of the officers
watched them go in silence. They all knew that this would be
the first, but not the last, goodbye; the coming days promised
many more.

***

The bridge was full of silent tension. Neelix’s ship hung
motionless off the bow of the ship, and Kheljar IV glowed an
eerie blue in the corner of the viewscreen.

“Transport complete, Captain.” Ensign Kim’s voice sounded
loud in the hushed room.

“Di-lithium reserves at 2.7 percent of maximum,” Torres
reported.

The viewscreen flickered, and Neelix’s face suddenly filled it.
“I have the di-lithium, Captain,” he said, forcing a cheerful
tone into his voice. “Everything’s ready.”

“Thank you, Mr Neelix,” the Captain began. They had all said
their private farewells to Neelix, but she knew she must say
something now. Something on behalf of her crew. “Neelix, we
could not have asked for a better guide, or friend, in the Delta
Quadrant. We would not have survived here, and we wouldn’t
be on the verge of getting home, without you. We are all
going to miss you, but none of us will ever forget you…”

“Or your leola-root stew,” Paris quipped.

Janeway smiled, and shook her head. Tom always knew when
to lighten the mood.

“You will always be welcome in the Alpha Quadrant, Neelix,
and I hope, I very much hope, that we will see you there one
day.”

“You can count on it Captain,” Neelix replied. “Now off you
go! And try not to get into too much trouble without me!”

Janeway nodded. The Talaxian’s lips were quivering with
emotion, and she knew that she should cut short the pain of
parting. “Goodbye, Mr Neelix,” she said, fighting to swallow
the lump that rose in her throat. “And good luck.”

“The same to you, Captain,” Neelix replied seriously, and with
that his image disappeared from the viewscreen.

Janeway took a deep breath. “Mr Kim,” she said, “contact
Belkazem, and inform him that we are ready to depart.”

“Aye, Captain,” Kim replied. “He’s responding to our hail.”

“On screen.”

Belkazem’s shadowy features flickered onto the screen before
them. “You are eager to depart,” he hissed. “Are you quite
sure that you are ready?”

“Quite sure, Belkazem,” Janeway replied, feeling her hackles
rise.

“Very well. My Lady will create the spatial rift, 200
kilometres off your starboard bow. You will have 13.5
seconds in which to enter it.”

“How long will we have to send Neelix the command codes he
needs to transport the di-lithium to you?”

“Communication will be possible for 72 hours after the rift has
closed,” Belkazem told them.

“And what can we expect inside the rift?” Janeway asked,
eager for information.

Belkazem shrugged. “Expect anything and everything. Or
nothing.”

“Thanks for the advice,” Paris muttered, his eyes flicking
intently over his controls.

“Goodbye, Captain,” Belkazem said. “I hope your return is all
that you wish it to be.” He smiled then, a cold and lifeless
stretching of his lips. It made Janeway shudder.

“Captain,” Kim reported. “Spatial disturbance forming – right
where he said it would be.”

Janeway took her seat. “Mr Paris, set a course, and proceed at
impulse.”

“Aye, Captain, course laid in.”

“Tuvok,” Janeway asked, “what can you tell me about the
disturbance?”

“It IS a rift, Captain,” Tuvok replied. “The disturbance has
reduced sensor accuracy by 7.3 percent, but given that margin
of error, I believe that the rift does terminate in the Alpha
Quadrant.”

Janeway felt her heart begin to race. Then this was it, they
were going home. She pushed all the worries, concerns and
regrets to one side, and sat back in her chair.

“Mr, Paris,” she said calmly. “Increase to warp two and take
us home.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Paris replied, without betraying a hint of regret
in his voice.

***

Voyager looked small from Neelix’s perspective. He watched
the ship arc away, heading for the roiling, contorted area of
space that would take them home. Even from this distance, he
could see Voyager shudder as she approached the rift.
Powerful forces battered her, trying to throw her off course,
but she held true. The bright blue light of her engines faded as
she moved deeper into the spatial distortion, and then, with a
suddenness that took his breath away, Voyager was gone. The
rift began to close slowly, and Neelix knew he was alone.

Tears filled his eyes, but he wiped them away rapidly as the
soft bleep of a hail sounded in his ship. He punched the
controls, and the hard white face of the creature on Kheljar IV
appeared before him.

“My Lady,” he greeted her, preparing to complete his last duty
to the Voyager crew. “I’m just waiting for Voyager’s signal to
come through the rift, and then I’ll beam the di-lithium directly
to you.”

“That won’t be necessary,” the woman whispered, and the ice
in her voice made him shiver. “I want you to bring me my
prize in person.”

“I don’t think so,” Neelix told her, beginning to feel uneasy,
and suddenly very glad that B’Elanna had installed a new
phaser array on his ship. “Once I hear from Voyager I’ll just
beam it to your co-ordinates, and be on my….”

“No!” she hissed. “You don’t understand, Talaxian. I want
your ship. And I want you.”

“Now, just you wait a minute,” Neelix exclaimed. “I haven’t
heard from Voyager yet, and until I do I….”

The creature laughed, a sound that pierced his mind like
needles of ice. It was agony, and hit Neelix like a physical
blow. He gasped, holding onto his head, but the needles
pressed through his fingers, deep into his consciousness.

He felt a great weight slam against his mind, squeezing and
pinching it into a tiny corner of his brain. The terrible, needle
sharp laughter continued, as Neelix helplessly watched his own
fingers flicker across the ship’s controls, piloting it towards the
planet’s surface.

He struggled to make his lips form words, struggled to force
breath from his lungs: “This…” he whispered hoarsely, “was
never part of the deal.”

Sisperia’s laughter echoed inside his head. “Ah, my pet, in time
you will learn that I NEVER make deals!”

…to be continued

***

Thanks for reading until the end, and I hope you like it so far!
Part two is being written, so if you have any suggestions, ideas
or comments they will be gratefully received. Please send
them to Malcolm Reeve at 106625.3210@compuserve.com

Thanks again!

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