The Long Shuttle Trip, Day 7


A BAD FEELING

By Tommyhawk1@AOL.COM
Artwork (c) 2002 by Eduardo. All Rights Reserved.
This original is for sale; make offer. Send E-mail for details/price.

Illustration of The Long Shuttle Trip, #7

DAY SEVEN
.
At 2250 hours, Paris walked over to the sleeping Chakotay. A small smile adorned his face and Paris looked at it. Sweet dreams, he had told Chakotay after he had turned on the somatic device, and it looked like it had worked, kissing Chakotay and hitting the switch in the middle of it. Then he thought of his own somatic sleep and wondered. He had felt turned off, which of course is what the device did. Was Chakotay turned off, waiting to finish the kiss?

Too bad the circumstances had changed here and all I can do is wake you up and tell you to get to work. The probe would arrive at the wormhole in ten minutes. They needed to take manual control of it at least a few minutes before that.

Paris smiled, leaned over and pressed his lips to Chakotay and tugged Chakotay's arm to around him, as it had been before he pressed the switch. Then he turned off the device.

Chakotay jerked, his arm clutched Paris, and his lips resumed the kiss interrupted over two hours before.

"Sorry, dear." Paris fought himself away from the embrace he wanted so badly. "The wormhole has shifted closer. Probe will enter in another ten minutes' time and you and I have to get up and get to work."

"But I'm horny!" Chakotay mimicked his protest of the day before.

"So talk to Mr. Hand about that." Paris could play that game, too.

"Mmmm, I had the nicest dream, all about the Klingon warlord. I hope your fantasy is half as good as that dream." Chakotay said.

"It's even better." Paris said. "I just went out like a light under the device. It was off and back on for me. Don't remember a thing, just a headache. No headache for you?."

"No." Chakotay said. He rose and pulled out his clothes. "Did the data dump arrive?"

"Yep and ready to be broadcast to the second probe. First one is too close, we'd never get it all uploaded in time."

"Never intended to." Chakotay said as he stood up and tucked his rather ample bulge into his trousers. That *had* been some dream, Paris thought to himself. Well, a few hours of managing the probe and they would have every excuse to retire to bed and with a long nap each under their belts, could take care of some important, yet delayed business! "You fly the first probe and I'll mastermind the data dump to the second probe."

"Assuming manual control now."

"Carry on, Lieutenant." Chakotay said.

Paris always lost track of time in situations like these. His screen showed him the view from the probe's nose, digital, yet in the rather bland color-scheme of space, realistic enough for him. He watched that probe as it approached, was buffeted about by the shifts of space-time, and in what felt to him like only a moment or two, entered the wormhole's event horizon.

It used to be at this time that they would lose contact with the probe, but Seven of Nine had given them a Borg program that let him retain control. He would be able to guide the probe all the way through. He'd lose control of it soon after it exited the event horizon on the other side, but then the standard automatic pilot could handle things.

So he was riding a narrow missile through a storm of blue fire and lightning all around him. The wormhole twisted like a mad thing, and Paris was reminded in the back of his mind of a roller-coaster ride he had been on at a Twentieth Century nostalgia fair. This was the same way, up and down and over and loop-de-loop and back and through. The hours it took for the probe to negotiate the wormhole were for him a matter of fifteen minutes or so and he never heard the comments Chakotay made to him from time to time at first. Chakotay had been silent for some time, but Paris didn't notice that, either. His world, his universe, was on the screen and beneath his hands and the rest of it didn't count.

A metallic object came by him, traveling in their direction, and Paris heard vaguely the command to report. Such was the intensity of his concentration that he answered without thinking. "Another probe, Federation design and recognition signals."

"Speed?"

"Paris absent-mindedly complied by transferring the information to Chakotay's screen while the biggest part of his mind continued to control the probe on its mad ride. He took in the information himself in the process, but as it didn't concern his control of the probe, it didn't connect into his own consciousness as anything other than minor data. The probe was on automatic pilot with enhanced energy avoidance capabilities, obviously specially designed for wormhole exploration unlike their own probe. It would enter the Delta Quadrant in another two hours' time, or at 0225.

Chakotay briefly stole a minor portion of his display screen, and Paris snarled a wordless protest. But Chakotay returned it to him in a few seconds and again, Paris had incorporated the data without giving it significance. Chakotay had cut the speed of their second probe to Warp 3, and thus it would not arrive at the wormhole until a few hours before their own shuttle, at 1445. Their own shuttle would arrive at the wormhole in eighteen hours' time, or at 1700 hours.

Chakotay was talking excitedly to Janeway, using a subsidiary screen this time, like he should have before, Paris thought scornfully. Their words were jabber-jabber to him.

After a time, Paris said, "Event horizon coming up." The end of the wormhole was approaching. A few minor corrections and he sat back, released the controls, and the first probe had left the wormhole safe and sound, out of his control and out of his mind once again.

"Probe has entered the Alpha Quadrant, Captain. We'll have a report back from it tomorrow at 1930. Shuttle out." Chakotay said.

Paris made the smallest move to look at Chakotay, and that's when his body began to ache. "Ooh!" Paris said, straining at his back and rubbing his arms when they ached more than his back did with the movement. "What time is it?"

"0145. You were controlling that probe for nearly three hours." Chakotay said. "Good job."

"Thanks." Paris said. "You were talking with the Captain?"

"Yes, and she has authorized us to enter the wormhole. Your opinion?"

Paris winced. "That strand of warped spaghetti? No way! The probe missed becoming part of the singularity time and again by mere meters. Trying to fly the shuttle into that would be a sure death mission. But I'll fly probes in and out of it any time you want me to. They're small enough to negotiate it." He rubbed his arms some more, he ached inside the bends of his elbows most, he decided. "But not right away, please!"

"If the wormhole increases in size, could we enter it?"

"If it grows to about two hundred feet in diameter, I'd risk the shuttle." Paris said. "But get it up to about two thousand before trying to take Voyager inside. That is one messed up tube in front of us."

"Well, at least it leads to the Alpha Quadrant and the Federation." Chakotay said. "I signaled the first probe to broadcast all information upon any contact."

"It does? You did?" Paris blinked and his mind processed the information he had garnered while occupied. "Yes, it does! Our personal messages got through. But why did you slow the second probe?"

"I want to wait until that Federation probe comes out and see what it says. I slowed it down to where we have some twelve hours to decide before the second probe enters."

"That makes sense." Paris said.

"The Federation probe will be here in another forty-five minutes. Time enough for us to grab a bite to eat." Chakotay said and stood up.

Paris stood up as well. "I know what I have an appetite for." And he grabbed Chakotay.

The bed again was some ten feet away but Paris made no attempt to get them there this time. He very nearly threw Chakotay on the floor and they hit with an audible "thump!" But Chakotay merely went "Oof!" and laughed while Paris' lips kissed his neck, Paris' hands fumbled at his jacket, removing it with eager fingers, Paris' legs forced his legs apart so that they could wrap around the agile body and their bodies rubbed together frantically, urgently!

"Ooh, oh, one minute, please!" Chakotay begged after a time. Paris stopped and rose up to rest on his knees, puzzled.

"Computer, answer all calls voice only and only after signal."

"Confirmed."

"Okay, back to business." Chakotay grinned.

Paris grabbed one of his legs and lifted it up to where the calf brushed his thigh and in that ignoble posture, he tugged off Chakotay's boot. Then the other leg rose to meet its mate, the other boot went flying and then the trousers were bodily yanked upwards.

"So this is what you're like when you've been deprived for a few hours?" Chakotay asked.

"Damned straight!" Paris growled as he got the trousers and briefs off in one smooth motion and Chakotay lay there, clad only in a T-shirt and jacket thrown open, lower body completely bare. "Next time I ask you for sex, you'll know better, won't you?"

"Yes, sir!" Chakotay said.

Paris opened his own trousers and saw now the flaw in this little scenario. No lubricant! He would have to stop this passion attack, get up and fish for the lube, if he could remember where they had left it! In one of those compartments at the head of the bed, was it the topmost left or the middle right....

No, damn it! There were other ways to make love, and they didn't require such a massive break in the progression of events from their insistent present to foregone conclusion. He began by flopping his cock on top of Chakotay's mashing them together with both hands wrapped around them, and began a two-handed stroke, jerking them together with a fierce grip and powerful, rapid strokes.

Chakotay groaned as his cock was mauled in tandem with Paris', his chest heaved as he gasped and moaned, "Oh, God, Tom, oh, oh!"

"Come on, damn it, shoot that wad for me!" Paris snarled at his bronze-skinned commander/lover prostrate before him and at his mercy. "Pump it out of there, and hurry up about it, I want us to shoot together and I'm going to shoot real soon, going to cover you with my load, so you'd better hurry or I'll let you go and you can finish yourself off all alone! Come on, come on, come o-o-o-n!"

"Oh, oh, yeah!"

"Come on, get ready, I'm building up to it." Paris gasped, trying to maintain the mood, keep the snarl in his voice, but his voice quavered, weakened. "Come on, damn it, come on!"

"Oh, yes, yes, uh, uh, uh, uh!"

"Come, co-ome, ku-u-u-uh, k-uh-uh-uh, Uh, UGH!" Paris felt his face turn red hot with the heat as his body churned with climax, and he did what he'd promised he'd do, he blasted loose a wide spray of jizz that flew in a fan of spurts in all directions over Chakotay, hitting his uniform sleeves, his neck, his t-shirt-covered chest, his bare stomach coated with thick wads too heavy to fly further.

The splats of jism seemed to bring Chakotay to the brink, he groaned, "Uh, uh, yes, oh, shoot it on me, shoot it, oh, God, oh, God, oh, SHOOT IT, ROBERT, UG-G-G-G-GUH!" and his own sperm joined the diminishing wads from Paris' wavering hands, flying in discrete clumps but in widely differing trajectories. Paris barely managed to finish Chakotay off, and when Chakotay's last load dribbled over his interlaced fingers, he let go and fell heavily atop Chakotay, his right cheek resting on Chakotay's chest and dampened in three separate places by the come that had made it there before him. His own or Chakotay's, it didn't seem to matter, he thought fuzzily as he lay on the still-heaving chest. They would both need a shower after this anyway, and then some lunch, he was hungry, and....

"Robert?" he said, the word slipping from his tongue as his mind wrapped around it, as if it had been squirted out by the sudden grip.
.
"I'm sorry, Tom." Chakotay said. "I meant to say your name. Really, I did!" His voice was almost cringing. "It just slipped out."

Paris lay still, not rising up to look at Chakotay's face, afraid of both what he might see there and what his own face might show. "I know." he managed after a time. "It happens." He gulped and gasped out a lie, "You should have heard Jenny Delaney when I called her Susan one time."

"I'm sorry, Tom." Chakotay repeated, and Paris felt Chakotay's arms moving penitently over his back. "I know how much you've come to hate the very sound of that name. Every time I try to talk about him, your face loses some of the light inside of it. Like some dark secret in your soul."

Chakotay's poetic phrases were hitting a little too close to home. Paris plastered a smile on his face and sat up. "Well, we've got to hurry if we're going to greet our Alpha Quadrant guest in--computer, time!"

"0203."

"Whooh, twenty minutes! You shower while I pick out the food and you can heat it while I shower. I remember where everything is in the freezer. Even if I don't know enough not to separate senka and leola root soup! We got to put those packets back together again! And find out if Neelix arranged any other pairings we should know about!"

"First things first." Chakotay said and Paris looked down at him. Chakotay crooked a finger at him and beckoned with it. Paris leaned over and Chakotay pulled him down on top of him roughly and kissed him, hard! For nearly a minute they kissed, and Paris, who hadn't caught his breath and couldn't breathe in the tight embrace, had to fight free. "That's for forgiving me again for being a moron who can't let go of the past. I sometimes wonder at just why I feel so strongly about this, so many years later. It isn't fair to you, and it isn't fair to me either."

"You can't help how you feel." Paris said, choking back the whole-hearted agreement he wanted to say so much--it would have been the very wrong thing to say! "First loves are the first, and that's all there is to it. Now we really do have to get moving, darling. The Federation is coming calling and we are covered with sweat and sticky stuff better left undescribed." Paris rubbed his cheek and merely smeared it around worse. "Yeesh! Hurry up in the shower, please!"

"Let's move!" Chakotay said and scooted out from beneath Paris, and shucked his jacket "Choose something we can eat in a hurry. I just hope that probe has some sort of message on it. Even the usual scientific greeting would be wonderful to hear." The T-shirt went over his head and he was nude. "Tuck that whanger back into its hidey-hole and move it, Mister!"

"Yes, sir!" Paris smiled and turned to his task. When the shower began, he permitted himself a brief indulgence. "Robert, he called me!" Then he reverted into silent thought. Robert! Gah! Is he going to call me that every time I get a little over-passionate? He thought to himself. Every time I think that bastard is buried, he rises up again. Where's a vampire hunter when you need him? Sheesh!

He had a selection that he hoped wouldn't cause any bad interactions and be soft and easily to gulp down when Chakotay stepped out. "Get in there, mister." he said as he moved to the compartment holding his jumpbag. "0212 already."

"Yes, sir!" Paris tugged off his clothes and left them in the impromptu pile with Chakotay's in the middle of the floor. This was no time for neat housekeeping, they could feed it to the shuttle laundry after the probe was examined. Bare, he went into the shower and turned on the sound waves, shaking as they pounded his flesh from all sides. Damned sonic showers! Made him feel like he was in one of those old movies with the bed that bounced you around when you turned on a switch! The waves of sound moved from his feet up his body in a wave designed to force his body free from all loose skin cells, with enough of an air blast combined with it to blow the flakes of skin and grime off his body and into the suctions that completed the hurricane moving around him. The floating shower units like so many fluttering moths got to his hands at their designated distance from his body and formed three circles around him instead and worked up his body to rejoin as they made it to his shoulders. Then they crawled over the top of him and Paris took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He hated this part worst of all!

The units formed a globe around his head and for ten seconds, his face and hair were pounded fiercely. Done, the units moved back down his body, removing the errant flakes that had made it past their first sweep, to disappear with their booty of what felt like a full layer of his skin going with them.

Paris turned to the sink and hurriedly pushed his hair into place again, not bothering with his usual lotion to hold it down, settling for a rather natural, almost windblown look, rather appropriate after a computer-generated tornado had assaulted him.

He stepped out. "I'm done."

"Get something on." Chakotay said. "Dinner is ready and its 0220."

"I'm moving, dearest." Paris grabbed his trousers from his jumpbag and slid into them without bothering with briefs and sat down to the meal. Desperate gulps and he was done as the chronometer turned to 0223. The computer signalled, Janeway wanting to be patched in to their sensors, probably.

Paris moved and answered, "Hello, Captain!"

"You couldn't have lost the poker game that quickly, Lieutenant."

"No, Captain." Paris said. "I'm wearing pants. Just a quick shower that wasn't so quick. But a probe won't care how I'm dressed."

Chakotay slid in beside him. "I intend to try to assume control of it when it arrives. Let's hope they haven't changed probe control signals in the last four years."

"Locking sensors on the event horizon." Paris reported.

"Twenty seconds to expected contact."

Paris looked at the event horizon with an ever increasing foreboding once again. This is not good, some inner voice was telling him again and again. This is not good! THIS IS NOT GOOD! His fingers ached to play over the shuttle's phaser controls, to hit that probe the second it came out and then to try to seal the wormhole with the shuttle's sole photon torpedo. But this was a shuttle, not a starship, and Chakotay would stop him and besides, how would he ever explain it? Sorry, folks, but I got a bad feeling, so I blew up the chance to get home?

The probe came out of the wormhole and Chakotay's fingers flew into action. "Signalling the probe now."

"Probe is changing course." Paris reported. "It's heading back to the wormhole."

"That makes no sense." Janeway said. "Did it run any sort of sensor sweep?"

"None that we detected." Chakotay said.

"Probe is stopping." Paris reported. "Energy readings from inside, strong ones."

"Magnify." Janeway said.

Paris watched as the probe's nose opened up like a flower. "Deflector grid array deploying." he said.

A beam of muon particles burst from the probe's array and into the wormhole. "Captain, the wormhole is increasing in radius." Chakotay reported.

"Have you made contact with the probe?"

"Only recognition signals. It is a Class M probe from the Federation ship Johannes Kepler, engaged in a scientific mission by the Galaxy-Web Group. I never heard of them. Purpose of the probe...purpose is to generate and sustain an artificial wormhole."

"You mean that wormhole is generated by the Federation?" Janeway said.

"Apparently, although they may have used an existing wormhole and enhanced it." Chakotay said. That would explain the odd build-up."

"Or a series of wormholes being connected through tau-space." Paris interposed. "That would explain the warped interior."

"More important is to determine if the wormhole poses a danger to Voyager." Chakotay said.

"Well, Voyager isn't going through it, not as long as I am ship navigator." Paris said. "You saw how twisted the interior was. If I'd been flying anything larger than a three-foot-long probe, I would have crashed."

"What's the rate of expansion?" Janeway asked. Oh, God, Paris thought, she's considering it anyway!

"Radius up to forty-seven feet. Tom said that he wouldn't take the shuttle through at less than one hundred feet radius."

"Two hundred feet diameter, is what I said." Tom clarified. "And that's a minimum, no safety margin. And that's for the shuttle, not Voyager."

"Doesn't look like a way home, then?" Janeway asked.

"No, Captain." Paris said with a touch more satisfaction in his voice than he intended. "The wormhole is too convoluted, not to mention the stability factor of an artificial wormhole."

"The second probe will arrive at 1445 hours." Chakotay said. "This probe seems to be expanding the radius only. No movement from the wormhole so ETA is unchanged. We'll check it hourly to be certain."

"Let's wait and see what else comes from the wormhole before then. Janeway out."

"Well, there goes the rest of the day." Paris sighed. "Now what?"
.
"More sleep?" Chakotay suggested.

"Why, Commander, it's only" Paris looked at the chronometer, "0315 hours. The shank of the evening."

"You want to take first watch?" Chakotay asked.

Paris shrugged. "Might as well. I'll wake you if anything comes through or the Federation probe changes activity."

Chakotay looked at him. "You seem less than thrilled at this contact from home." he said. "May I ask why?"

Paris looked over. "You might laugh."

"Try me."

"I got a bad feeling about this."

"And?"

"And I got a bad feeling about this. That nothing good is going to come out of that wormhole. Don't ask for more, there isn't more. Just that I've learned to trust this feeling."

"I can understand that." Chakotay said. "Personal danger or worse?"

"Bad news. That's what I get. The wormhole only carries bad news."

"Hmm. All right. Keep an ongoing scan on wormhole activity, and slave the signal to Voyager's sensor array. We'll relay everything that comes in to Voyager and even if there's a massive explosion, she'll have all the information."

"I don't feel danger like that. Just--bad news."

"If you'd said danger, I'd have stopped the shuttle right here." Chakotay said. "Meanwhile, if your feeling turns from bad news to danger, let me know. Wake me at 0530 and I'll take over and let you sleep until 0800."

Paris watched through the mirror-effect of the shuttle front window as Chakotay undressed. He'd taken me at my word, Paris realized, as Chakotay's brown lithe body slid beneath the sheets. I told him I had a bad feeling and he took it as simple factual information and treated it as such.

Chakotay trusts me.

Paris turned back to the computer and set up the sensor relay. Wormhole radius up to fifty-five feet, rate of expansion diminishing, explained by considering the area of the event horizon, which was expanding at a constant rate, only appearing to slow as the diameter measurement took up more and more area with each foot of expansion. Still--Paris ran a projection--at this rate, it'd hit Paris' self-imposed limit at 0730. Would Chakotay want him to then take them into the wormhole?

Paris' eyes lingered longingly over the photon torpedo control, a lighted display box on the touch-sensitive screen. One tap and a few course commands, and that probe and the wormhole would be history.

What was the Federation up to? An attempt to rescue Voyager? "Through that! No way!" he said loudly.

"Hmm?" Chakotay asked sleepily.

"Sorry, dear. Go to sleep. Want me to replicate you a warm toddy?"

"No need."

Paris inserted an audio receptor into his ear and typed in a command to the computer to play music, just to him. Then he began the scan of the Federation probe. Hmm, odd components here and there. Where had he seen those element combinations. Who used a titanium/germanium-based selenoid, for example? It sat there, an alien component to a Federation-standard probe, unimportant in and of itself, but selenoids were simple metal parts made as well out of iron and tin, no need to grapple for an alien part with exotic elements (with a rare-earth element like germanium!) to repair the probe. Any replicator would manufacture a replacement selenoid without hiccuping in two seconds!

Contrary to its recognitions signals, it was NOT a Federation probe. Rather than waking Chakotay, he sent over the display with the selenoid stats marked for notice, to Voyager.

Kim buzzed him back in no time. "You see it, too, Tom?"

"Yeah." Paris spoke softly. "I think that probe was stolen from the Johannes Kepler, maybe taken in trade."

"What was the scientific group again?"

"Uh...Galaxy-Web Group." Paris said.

"I'll run their name through our databanks, including newly formed or about-to-be- formed groups working on wormhole theory. We may find out something."

"Who would use a titanium-germanium selenoid?" Paris asked.

"I'll run that, too."

"Run it first, and now." Paris ordered.

"Yes, sir!" Kim said.

"Sorry. I've had a bad feeling about this wormhole for days, and now I'm getting some proof to back up my bad feeling." Paris said.

Kim ran his database check. "Titanium and germanium are common elements on the Valerian worlds. Hmm, several other races, but none of them with sufficiently advanced technology. Possibly the Breen."

"Valerians?" Paris asked. "That makes no sense. Last time we heard, they were allied with the Cardassians."

"Our information is four years out of date, Tom." Kim reminded him.

"Let me search for other anomalies in that probe." Paris said. He ran the scan, finding four other parts not conforming to Federation specifications. He sent them to Kim.

"That maser control chip confirms it." Kim affirmed. "Valerian technology."

"Hmm, I don't know much about the Valerians." Paris said.

Kim shrugged. "Technologically advanced, specializing in providing heavy-planet technology to the rest of the races in the Alpha Quadrant. Federation has a trade agreement with them, though limited due to their links with the Cardassians. They may have come by this probe legitimately."

"With the Kepler's recognition signals intact?" Paris rebutted. "I don't think so." And their first probe had been ordered to broadcast to the very first signal it encountered. Yeesh! Well, what would the Valerians do with the information? Read and chuckle over their personal letters? No, they'd probably offer it for sale to the highest bidder.

Maybe Dad would get that letter after all! Or Aunt Matilda, who would immediately read it, hop into a transporter, barge into Dad's office, and say, "Owen, you're a stubborn pig! Sit down and watch this or I'll call all your friends and tell them about the time when you were young and kept wetting your bed! In detail!" Good old Aunt Matilda! A good woman to keep on good terms with, anyway. Dad would listen to the message with her standing over him and then...then.... Paris found his eyes tearing up and he wiped at them in annoyance.

Kim had been talking with the Captain and she came on-screen. "Lieutenant Paris, I...what's wrong, Tom?"

"Stray thought, Captain." Paris wiped his eyes clear and concentrated on the task at hand. "No way to stop the first probe from broadcasting all its data, but I can program the second probe for another ten hours. Any alterations you want to include in it?"

"I'll enclose a message to the Valerians." Janeway said. "And encode that database dump in the second probe to a first-order security lock."

"But your codes will be four years out of date. Good chance they've been breached in that time."

"I know." Janeway smiled. "But the first-order lock will only open a message that they have to consult my personnel file at Starfleet Headquarters. When you take on command rank, they expand your file for just this sort of eventuality. I have personal codes that never go out of date."

Paris smiled. "Very well. Let me know when you want the connection."

"Good detective work, Lieutenant." Janeway said. "How's Chakotay?"

"Sleeping. Like you should be, Captain. One of us will be at the helm until Voyager gets here."

"No need to go that far." Janeway said. "Both of you get in bed and stay there until 0730. Just turn the sensor controls over to Voyager and we'll do the scans from here. This was meant to be a vacation for you two. Just because it's turned into a working vacation doesn't mean I'm putting you on full duty. We'll wake you if another probe comes through from the other side."

"But, Captain...."

"That was not a request, Lieutenant. We don't need you right now."

"Aye, aye, Captain."

"Kiss Chakotay for me. Janeway out."

Paris grinned and stripped, crawled in beside Chakotay. He was in the middle of the bed, reasonable considering its size and the expected lack of a bedmate, but it made getting in bed with him without rousing him impossible; Chakotay woke up. "Uh, Tom, what is it?" he asked.

"Go back to sleep, lover." Paris said. "I'm just taking a nap myself."

"Is it 0530?"

"No."

"Then why aren't you flying the shuttle?"

"Because someone else is flying it right now."

"Who?" Chakotay was groggy.

"The Captain." Paris said. "And by the way, she said for me to give you something."

"What's that?"

"This." Paris leaned over and kissed him slowly. Then he let go and said, "And this one is from me." And kissed him again, harder, more fervently. "Now go back to sleep. Orders from the Captain herself."

"Good night."

"Good night." Paris said and settled in beside Chakotay. He had hoped for seconds on the sex, but he was worn out and sleeping made all kinds of sense right now.
.
They woke at 0800 to the sounds of Janeway's call. "Commander? Lieutenant?"

"Uh?"

"Mmm?" came their groggy responses.

"Time to rise and shine, gentlemen. You forgot to order a wake-up alarm, I see."

"Aye, aye, Captain." Chakotay said and started to rise, stopped at seated position, then realized he was nude. "Pardon me, Captain. Computer, cut visual contact." The starfield returned and Chakotay got up. "How are the ship repairs coming, Captain?"

"Almost repaired. We'll fly at Warp 7 and join you in five more days' time. Lieutenant Paris, the wormhole diameter is now 225 feet. Would you fly the shuttle through it now without protest?"

Paris, in the act of pulling on his trousers, considered it. "I suppose so, Captain. But I wish we knew more about what was waiting on the other side."

"That's my reason for wanting you to go through if you can. Will you?"

"Yes, Captain." Paris said. "Provided the second probe shows the way no worse than it was before." It was in a good position to do just that, since it would complete the wormhole journey a mere half hour before the shuttle arrived.

"Then make plans accordingly. Janeway out."

"Captain!" Kim said desperately.

"What is it, Ensign Kim?"

"Another probe has just come through from the wormhole."

Chakotay hit the button to scan quickly. "Agreed. Standard design, badly damaged. Must not have had the energy avoidance capability of their first probe. It's hailing us, Captain." He slid into his chair, adjusting his jacket as he sat down.

"Can you get the signal?"

"On screen." Chakotay said. Paris fought his trousers up, annoyed that they had tangled while he was needed.

A badly derezzed screen came on. Even with computer enhancement, it showed only a vaguely human shape that cleared only once, enough to see a young woman in a Starfleet uniform. "[Static] Federation Ship Johannes Kepler. We never expected to contact the Delta Quadrant [static] Gamma [static] Cardassian War [static] alternative route to the Dominion [static] attack is an [static] only an experimental pro-- [static] hold wormhole open [static] come through? Please respond. Message repeats." But that merely restarted the loop, no new information could be gleaned.

"What's your reading on that?" Paris asked.

"Apparently, the Federation is at war with the Cardassians, which would put Deep Space 9 on the front line. And they hoped to open a wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant and go into the Dominion, perhaps with an attack fleet." Chakotay mused. "That makes the Cardassians allies with the Dominion, which sounds bad for the Federation. And I think they're offering to hold the wormhole open for us until we can fly through."

"That doesn't explain the Valerian components Lieutenant Paris found." Janeway said. "Could it be a trap to lure us in instead?"

"Valerian components?" Chakotay looked at Paris as, now fully dressed, he slid into the other chair.

"The probe has Valerian components in it, common components any Federation ship would have in stock. That makes it seem like it didn't come from the Johannes Kepler after all."

"Then the message would be a trap." Chakotay said.

"And you and I should go in and see if it is or not." Paris said. "And come back and report to Voyager."

"And send a probe back to alert us that the coast is clear or not." Janeway said. "If you can fly that shuttle back to the Federation, you are to do so."

"Yes, Captain." Paris sighed. Was he headed back to prison after all? Was that the "bad news." It didn't feel like it. It felt more like bad news coming in to greet him, not the other way around.

"I find it hard to believe this is a trap." Chakotay said. "After all, with us stranded in the Delta Quadrant, what possible use or harm could we be to them?"

"We have a fully functional Federation vessel." Janeway said. "That would be worth luring in and capturing under any circumstances. But I agree that their contact with us was unintentional. Go in with the assumption that they are friendly, but keep your eyes open. Janeway out."

"Well, Tom, it looks like you and I are going home."

"Maybe." Paris said. "But if that wormhole isn't any bigger inside, I won't take us through no matter how large the event horizon is."

"I agree." Chakotay said soothingly, and Paris realized his voice had become shrill. He did NOT want to take the shuttle through.

"Sorry, Chakotay." Paris said. "Well, it's 0830 and we have until 1430 all to ourselves, I guess. Six hours of not much to do if we're lucky. Any ideas?"

A hand suddenly found his upper thigh, and stroked over and into the inside of his leg. Paris grinned and chuckled briefly. "Okay. But what do we do after that?"

"What makes you think there'll be any time left after that?" Chakotay crooned.

Chakotay's hand touched the nexus of his pants and Paris hunched forward and sighed. "Whatever you say, Commander. Whatever you say."

"Computer, answer all calls voice only and only after signal."

"Acknowledged."

Paris stood up and was in Chakotay's arms in the crowded space between the two chairs. Warm rich lips found his and kissed him gently, strong hands caressed his naked back. Paris sighed and closed his eyes, as the cold touch of Chakotay's communicator badge impressed into his skin.

Chakotay's lips crawled across his left cheek and down onto his neck. Paris threw his head to the right to let Chakotay kiss all he wanted, knowing that this time, Chakotay wanted to be in control.

And what control! Slowly, every inch of his body was tasted by Chakotay, and Paris thrilled to the touch of newly-discovered areas of sensitivity and arousal. He'd known he liked having his neck kissed at the junction of his shoulder, and that of course the armpit was very sensitive, but that one spot on the top of the junction of his shoulder and arm, that was a new discovery. And that the bottom of his rib cage, all along that lowest rib, that too! And the navel was an old friend as Chakotay's tongue probed into the tight little dimple of skin, but the outer hip where the pelvis jutted out, that too was a complete surprise to him.

Chakotay was kissing him all over, everywhere except for the obvious places and it was wonderful! When Chakotay was beyond kneeling, and having to resort to all-fours, Paris interrupted him. "The bed!" he gasped out.

Chakotay just grinned and acquiesced. Paris fumbled off the useless clothing and ran to lie on the bed, watching as Chakotay strolled over more deliberately. He's prolonging this, Paris realized. He's going to take forever to bring me off. God, yes, forever!

Chakotay didn't search for his stopping place, but after stripping his own clothing off, he lay fully atop Paris and began again, this time down the right side. Slowly, slowly, every square inch of Paris' body was treated to his touch, his taste, his stroke. Paris felt the urge to take notes, unable to remember all the touches, all the motions that were turning him on so much and he didn't want to lose any of this wonderful, ecstatic information!

Yet it seemed Chakotay had been remembering, for when he had given homage to Paris' entire body, right down to his fingertips and his toes (God, the toes! Nibbling the toes, beneath their pads of tough skin, the little crook they make, inside there, so damned alive were those nerve endings!), Chakotay sat up, seemed to take inventory and make a plan, and he dove down again.

This time only the sensitive spots were touched, only the best motions were made, and Paris realized that Chakotay now knew exactly what to do to turn him on. None of the women in his life had tried this, explored his body to catalogue and quantify his arousal points, and then, with all of them touched once more, this time in sequence and in careful and expert caresses brought to the height of stimulation, only then did Chakotay condescend to take Paris' cock, now screaming for attention, into his realm of notice.

Long, slow strokes with his tongue up the shaft, like he was licking an iced-fruit-juice bar, until his cock was dripping like that same juice-bar with his saliva, Paris was beyond begging and beyond hope of ever achieving climax. His life had turned into this endless stimulation of his senses, and nothing was left to say, nothing left to do but endure and survive and continue, continue, more, more, more!

Chakotay turned his attention to Paris' balls, rolling them in his mouth, and Paris felt them gurgle angrily, rise up imperiously to press against his shaft, demanding to be allowed to fulfill their duty and release the stream of new life. Yet still Chakotay licked and stroked and touched his body, every touch was a scream of pleasure.

Paris' body trembled with the surfeit of pleasure, his entire body was flushed and darkened with the heat of his arousal. So when Chakotay suddenly rose up and dove onto his cock, when Paris felt the heat of his mouth surround him and press down to the very base, with his balls against the rasp of Chakotay's incipient beard and Chakotay's nose buried in his pubic hairs, its tip pressed against his abdomen, that was all it took. It was time, it was time! His body screamed to him in joy.

Climax was immediate and strong, like being struck by an unexpected wave in a calm ocean, your back turned and you are tumbling helpless through the surf to find yourself pushed hard aground in knee-deep water, orgasm struck Paris and he groaned, a single roar, and his body pumped its load of sperm suspended in the false sea water the body produced and needed still to procreate, his load pounded into Chakotay's mouth and down his throat as Chakotay held totally still, his head and body pressing Paris' down, forbidding movement, only the pulse of his prong in Chakotay's mouth allowed, and Paris nearly fainted from the power of this ejaculation, wavered on the brink of insensibility, to stumble back to life with feeble steps and the light returned to his eyes and he could see once more.

"Oh, man, that was great!" Paris sighed as Chakotay crawled up to lie beside him. "You are a man of many talents, Chakotay. Where did you learn this trick?"

"Just something I picked up here and there." Chakotay said with a shrug in his voice. "Did you really like that?"

"Yeah, only I'm wondering what I could possibly do to you for an encore." Paris said.

"Mind if we eat first?"

"Hmm? Oh, sure!" Paris realized he was hungry. How long had this been going on? He looked at the chronometer. 1115. "Oh, man, two and a half hours? That long?"

"Yeah." Chakotay said. "My tongue was getting pretty tired there at the end."

"I never would have noticed. I just hope you can remember all those spots you've discovered on me. And I want to do the same to you!"

"Lunch first." Chakotay said, tapping his nose with a forefinger.

"Deal." Paris said, realizing they had skipped breakfast entirely. "Whose turn to fetch dinner and whose turn to do dishes?"

"I'll pick and you wash up."

"Okay." Paris got up, watching Chakotay's deep brown body as it caught the lights around them and reflected them back in curved lines. Such a beautiful man, he thought. Why did I bother chasing after people like Megan MacGruder, when I could have had him all along? God, I want to spend my every moment with him, I want to hold him and take care of him and do little things to make him smile and...God, I want to *marry* this man!

Thomas Eugene Paris, you are in love!

Chakotay turned and smiled at him, said something, but Paris was entranced by the smile and the eyes, like he'd never seen them before, too dazzled by the realization.

"Tom?"

"Hmm?"

"Do you?"

"I do." Paris realized suddenly what he had said. "Uh, I mean, do I what?"

Chakotay grinned wider. "Do you want wine with lunch?"

"Wine?"

"We got access to our new replicator ration points at 0900, remember?" Chakotay said. "And for the things you replicated for us yesterday, I owe you enough points for a full meal. Thought I'd pay you back right now, seeing that we don't know where we'll be by tonight or tomorrow."

"God, yes, the wormhole." Paris said. "I'd forgotten all about that."

Chakotay cocked his head. "Was it that good?"

"Better." Paris crooned. "I can hardly wait to drag you into bed and show you what it feels like."

"I'd like that." Chakotay admitted. "Robert had always...I'm sorry."

"No, go ahead." Paris urged.

"No." Chakotay said firmly. "Do you want wine with lunch?"

"Sure. What are we having?"

"I accessed your ration logs to pick your favorites." Chakotay admitted. "I have the authority, if not the right, so I took the liberty. Hope you don't mind. I'm replicating roast beef for you."

"Not at all. Sounds great." Paris said. He always had roast beef for his dinner the first night the new rations came in, and what with lunch being a hasty affair due to bridge duty on those days, he usually ate Neelix's cooking and waited for the shift to end, to splurge and enjoy the human food slowly. "Red or rose will be fine."

"Rose goes good with roast beef." Chakotay agreed. "Or so I'm told."

"What are you having?" Paris asked.

"I found a pack of negathu in the supplies Neelix packed. Didn't know we were carrying any. I love it." Chakotay said. "So I'm having that with an Earth salad I'm replicating."
.
"Rather light lunch." Paris commented carefully. Negathu was a rather heavy-tasting vegetable they had picked up some time ago. It looked like a carrot, but tasted like squash, rather sour squash. Chakotay liked that? While dressing, Paris resolved to try to take his own peek at Chakotay's preferences and see if Chakotay was spending too many of his rations on this meal. He wasn't going to be another Megan MacGruder, with expensive tastes siphoning off Chakotay's ration points.

Paris felt better when he saw the rest of the meal. The roast beef for him and negathu for Chakotay was the only substitution, Chakotay ate the same as him for the rest of it, right down to the tomato soup and the lemon pie (a la mode, with rich vanilla ice cream for him and with iced milk for Chakotay--he didn't eat eggs, either, then).

Paris ate heartily and felt bloated when it was over. "Whoof!" he said. "I'm going to regret this meal for the next hour or so."

"I could just sit still for a while, myself." Chakotay said.

"Wish the shuttles came with a couch." Paris said. "After a nice meal, I love to just sit and cuddle with my date for a time, and we talk about nothing in particular and hug and kiss a lot."

"Were we having a date?" Chakotay seemed startled.

"Well, I hope so." Paris said. "This trip has turned into one very long date, hasn't it?"

"I guess so." Chakotay said, shrugging. "I've been having a lot of fun."

"Chakotay, I...." Paris leaned over, wishing again for a couch, the chance to cuddle. As it was, there was a physical space between them, and it was so wrong. "Chakotay, I am really enjoying this time together. I want more of it, when we get back to Voyager. I realized something a little while ago. Chakotay, I'm," Paris paused, lowered his head and took a deep breath, "Chakotay, I'm in love with you."

Paris found he was unable to look up. He didn't know what sort of look Chakotay was giving him right now, and he didn't want to see! So he waited. Silence. Silence too long.

"I'm sorry." Paris said finally. "This was too soon. You don't have to say anything, but I thought you deserved to know." His voice had picked up a tremor, making him sound pathetic. He could see Chakotay's lower body as he rose up, walked over until Chakotay's groin was right near the top of his head. He took a deep breath and said with finality, "Look, you can forget I ever said it. I know that...."

A hand reached down and grasped his chin. It tugged and Paris first raised his head. The hand scooped down to grasp him by the jaw and pulled, and Paris obeyed its commands, rising up without raising his eyes, just looking forward until at the top of his move, he was looking right into Chakotay's eyes. Those deep, those warm eyes.

Paris waited, in silence. For him to say, "I love you too." For him to say, "Tom, I like you, but...." For him to say, "Tom, are you nuts?"

Silence. "God, Chakotay, say something." he said desperately. "Say anything."

Chakotay took him in his arms and kissed him. Deep, warm, rich. God, it felt great, those arms around him, those lips on his.

When he was released, Paris said, "I thought I had really blown it for a moment there."

"No one should ever be offended by that." Chakotay said. "But I'm afraid my answer is that I just don't know, yet. This has been a great time for me, too. But I need more time."

"All right." Paris said. "I'll settle for that." And he reached for another kiss. Hugged and in the process, sneaked a look at the chronometer. 1245. "Not enough time for me to repay you for that wonderful morning of love. Not properly. But I owe you that, and intend to pay you back as soon as I can. In the meantime, can I, hm, be of service to you?" He ran his hand down Chakotay's broad chest.

"Actually, I took care of that while I was taking care of you." Chakotay admitted. "I want you to relax and be ready to fly that probe through the wormhole, and then if possible, the shuttle, too. You realize that you're not going to have a very long break between the two?"

"I know." Paris said.

"Still have the bad feeling?"

"Not about flying through. Just that...oh, I give up. We'll get the bad news when it happens." Paris managed a smile. "Just remember that I told you so."

Chakotay smiled. "I'll remember."

"So what do we do for the next two hours?" Paris asked.

"You." Chakotay said, "Should probably take another nap. You had a very interrupted night and I want you at peak performance. Shall I fetch the somatic device?"

"God, no!" Paris said with feeling. "I'll lie down like a good boy. After that meal, I could stand a nap. You?"

"I'm not sleepy, and I want to talk with the Captain for a while. Routine ship duties, she's filling in for me but I want to stay caught up. You go lie down and try to rest."

"Yes, sir." Paris said. He didn't bother with taking off his clothes, he just lay down fully dressed on top of the bed and thought things over. Chakotay hadn't fallen into his arms proclaiming his own love, but he had definitely left the door open, he thought to himself. And he had been a little too quick on the gun, there. Still impetuous after all these years, eh, Tom?

What would the ship think of the two of them in a steady relationship? Of moving in together? Just another couple on the ship. Voyager had really paired off. Wonder how long before children start showing up? Wildman had her daughter Naomi, and it was a shame that it was the sole child on the ship. So far, everyone else had held off on children, but they had been here for four years and were no closer to home, unless this wormhole panned out.

Would Voyager really have to take the long way home? If so, then children were a necessity, to help man the ship. Maybe he and Chakotay could get the doctor to help them have a child or two, after a proper time, of course, and if the others on the ship were having them.

Children? With Chakotay? God, Tom, you've got it bad!

Paris smiled to himself and continued his musing. He'd been in love before, from first crush to gentle caring, but this felt different, somehow. Of course it was different, the rest of them had been women! Still, was this the one? Really the one? He should wait until they got back to Voyager and had some time with other people to really figure this all out. Megan was right, no one thinks clearly while on a small shuttle. Still, love feels like love, and he didn't regret saying so. In matters of the heart, let the heart lead.

What would it be like, children that were his and Chakotay's? Chakotay would want to teach the child the Indian ways, of course, and he could teach them to fly the ship from a tender age. He'd learned to fly young and never regretted it. Flying had sometimes been the one joy in his life. Prison hadn't bothered him, except that they wouldn't let him fly. That had made it miserable.

Sit the boy on his lap at Voyager's controls, with helm controls off-line, and let the lad punch away at first, until he learned where all the buttons were. Then slowly giving the boy the information. He knew just what he'd say. "Now this is the guidance system. You input the angles here. You want to go left, you have to use a minus sign before the number. So thirty degrees right is thirty, three, zero, like this, and thirty degrees left is minus, three, zero. You see?"

"Yeah, Daddy! But how do you go up or down?"

"Same way, up is positive and down is negative. It's the second set of numbers you punch in. So if we want to go just up, we punch in zero, zero, mark, that's this button here, three, zero. That makes us go down up by thirty degrees. Do you get it?"

"Yeah! Can I do it for real, Daddy?"

"You'll have to ask the Captain." Paris turned his gaze behind him.

Janeway smiled and waved her hand. "Space is clear. Go ahead, he needs to learn how."

"Thank you, Captain. Now, Billy, I'm turning on the helm controls. Don't push any buttons but the ones I tell you to, okay?"

"Okay!" Billy was bouncing in his lap with eagerness.

"Steady, helmsman!" He teased as the tender-skinned face brushed against his. Billy was growing fast!

"Okay, son, first you press this bar here. That tells the ship to be ready to accept new course. Just one time, son. Notice how the display lit up over here? These are the course controls you were touching before. They're ready for input. Helmsman, turn the ship to twenty- five degrees right and up seventy-four degrees. That's twenty-five, mark seventy-four."

"Aye, aye, Captain!" Billy reached and punched the pad with careless ease. Somehow he had grown into a young man and Paris was standing behind him.

"Twenty-five, mark seventy-four!" Billy reported.

"Steady on new course!" Paris said from the command chair.

"Captain, we have an anomaly dead ahead!" Kim reported.

"On screen!" Paris said, standing up.

The wormhole had come out of nowhere! No way was it a way home, it was a maelstrom of angry colors and energy surges.

"Evasive action!"

"Helm controls aren't responding!" Billy reported. "We're being drawn in! Engines are off-line!"

"Shields are down to twenty-eight percent!" Tuvok reported.

"Fire photon torpedoes!" Paris ordered desperately. The energy bursts could disrupt the anomaly, close the wormhole!

"We used the last photon torpedo years ago, Captain!" Chakotay said soothingly at his side.

Paris cast about desperately for another solution. "Suggestions?" he asked his husband and first officer.

"Trust the wormhole. It came looking for us."

"I came looking for you." came the voice.

"Who is that?" Paris asked.

"I came for you, Chakotay." the voice said.

"I know." Chakotay smiled beatifically. "I've been waiting for you."

"It's been a long time, but I have never forgotten you."
.
"I never forgot you either, Robert." Chakotay said. "I'm ready now!"

Chakotay's body was lifted toward the forward screen, and the ship was gone, nothing but empty space in front of them. Paris grabbed onto Chakotay's legs, holding on tight.

"No!" he screamed. "You can't have him! He's mine now! Mine!"

"Let me go!" Chakotay struggled to break free. "I have to go now!"

"No!" Paris yelled, but the legs, kicking and struggling, slipped away from his grasp easily. Paris stood, yelling in anger and terror as Chakotay fell into the void before him, shrinking with distance, until he was so far away Paris couldn't even see his features!"

"I love you!" he shouted at the distant form! "I love you! I lo-o-o-o-o-..."

"Uhh!" Paris shouted as he sat bolt upright in bed.

"Whoa, Tom!" Chakotay said as he walked over. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah!" Paris said, shaking his head. "Just a bad dream."

"Take it easy." Chakotay said. "Lie back again. Shake it off."

"Yeah!" Paris said as he lay back, gasping. Looked at the chronometer. 1420. "Time for me to get up anyway."

"You were really out of it." Chakotay said. "I'm glad you rested."

"I don't feel rested." Paris complained as he sat up again. "Whoof!"

"Want to talk about it?"

"The wormhole." Paris said. "It had dragged you in from off the ship. You were falling into it and I couldn't do anything about it."

"Steady on course, helmsman." Chakotay said, bringing over a hypodermic spray. He pressed it to Paris' shoulder. "Captain wants me to give you a stimulant, anyway. We both saw how wiped out you were from piloting that first probe."

"Well, hopefully, the way is more wide open this time. That first probe was like swinging through a small tunnel. Like a spelunking expedition I took once, we had to crawl for almost a mile through these old water channels and they bent and curved and squeezed in. At one point we had to push our packs ahead of us and slither on our stomachs an inch at a time for almost fifty feet. Rough, but the cavern we got to was worth the trip."

"Let's hope the trip we're taking today is worth it as well." Chakotay said. "Take the probe controls whenever you feel it advisable."

Paris stood up and made some brief calisthenic moves, just to loosen up his body. This trip had him feeling sluggish, with no opportunity to exercise. Maybe he and Chakotay should pull out the mattress he had been sleeping on, unhook it and roll it out to its other duty as an exercise mat, and do some exercises together. Other than the sexual sort, of course.

Paris sat at the controls. 1430. He checked the settings on the probe controls and ran a diagnostic program. All clear. "Captain and you have the data all uploaded the way you want it?"

"Yes." Chakotay said.

"I'm assuming full control now." Paris said. The second probe was approaching the Kepler's probe and he kept sensors operational, to be sure he didn't interfere with that probe's beam and to avoid the beam. Plenty of room for him to do so, he entered the event horizon.

"Smooth sailing." Paris said. The wormhole was wide enough for the shuttle, and wide enough for Voyager, even. "This may be a way home after all. Going to be a dull navigation flight for me, looks like. Put on some music to occupy the time, please?"

Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" welled up. Good choice, Paris thought, perky and light-hearted, but not demanding of attention. You could listen, or you could turn it into background noise. Good thing, a curve was coming up.

He dipped into the curve the wormhole made, and found himself on the inside of a moving snake! The wormhole was moving like a live thing. Though the way was still wide open and there was no danger of losing the probe, he found constant course corrections necessary. Forget Voyager coming through, but the shuttle could navigate this. Let's hope the rest isn't any worse. He had said that aloud, in response to Chakotay's almost-unheard question, he realized after a time.

At the end of that course, at another curve, the way became smooth and clear again. "You can talk to me for now." Paris said.

"What do you think was happening back there?"

"I think they've opening a series of wormholes, or connected together several existing wormholes. That particular one is getting unstable, or maybe was just moving at the time we went through."

"You could fly the shuttle through that, you said?"

"Sure." Paris said. "So long as it doesn't collapse completely on us while we're inside. That's always the danger of traversing a wormhole, you know."

"I know." Chakotay sighed. "Well, let's see what else we come up against."

"Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" finished, to be replaced by Mendelson's "Violin Concerto in E Minor". The first movement, grandiose and somber, always reminded Paris of a Mafioso movie. You could hear the Italian godfathers giving orders for murder and betrayal, almost, in its tones.

Another curve, but this one also clear. It carried Paris through to the second movement, a tender love melody full of romance and the pain of passion. Then the second movement ended and another curve came up as wild at the first one. A sharp curve, he dipped into it as the third movement began, with the wild violin gone mad, churning notes out at top speed, so fast you could feel the violinist sweat with the exertion as he/she sawed at her instrument. It was appropriate for him, he found the way nearly as constricted at it had been before and the wild music matched the wild ride he was now on.

Chakotay had moved to the subsidiary screen and was talking with Janeway, Paris heard/sensed/peripherally saw. He swung the probe through another curve and again it was wide open. The third movement swung to its dizzying height and swung back down to the ending, pounded itself to death and ended. Silence in Paris' ears.

"Clear again." Paris said. "But we can forget about this little trip, I'm afraid."

"I got the Captain's authorization to broadcast the logs of the probe navigation to the Kepler when it breaks out and to turn over control of the first probe to the Kepler with the appropriate navigational program. Let them send it back to us with the control we had of it going in." Chakotay said. "We'll take up station at the Kepler's probe."

"Does the second probe have the navigation program?"

"I uploaded it while you were taking your nap. The Captain and I discussed the situation of the wormhole, including your premonitions and the dream you just had, and agreed a back-up plan was called for, if needed. And it looks like it is needed."

"Event horizon coming up." Paris said. He let the controls go, a meandering cow could waltz through the rest of this trip. The second probe dived through and was out of his senses.

"Well, Commander, what now?"

"Change course to come alongside the Kepler probe. You and I may need to take a space walk to investigate that probe closer."

"Aye, aye!" Paris said. He felt happier, knowing he wasn't going through that wormhole. But what would the Kepler do with the first probe? That feeling of bad news just received a conduit directly to their shuttle.

Half an hour later, and they pulled alongside the probe, less than a thousand kilometers from the wormhole's event horizon. By then, they had a battle plan. By hooking a spare probe's power source in tandem to the probe, they could enhance the Kepler's probe's power. Would it be enough to enhance the wormhole and stablize the weaker sections? They'd find out when they sent the third probe through. But tonight, they'd plug it in and see what it could do.

Paris objected to this without avail. He pointed out that the probe undoubtedly was part of a paired set, and the extra power going to this side's probe could cause it to burn out the other probe, and result in a death trap for any vessel in transit, not to mention closing the conduit they had just established for information. By 1800 hours, after an unappealing and silent lunch, he and Chakotay had dressed in the shuttle's emergency pressure suits (which weren't designed for heavy work in space, Paris had pointed out earlier, to which Chakotay had replied that hooking a power supply into a probe's external jack wasn't exactly heavy work. Paris had had no answer to that). As he dressed in the pressure suit, Paris realized their obstinance in refusing to listen to him. He was coming across as a coward, he felt sure, to Janeway and the crew. Chakotay, too, it seemed, from the exasperated look he got at the last.

From this point on, he'd follow orders and not protest again, he decided. They weren't listening to him anyway.

They programmed the shuttle for control from a remote panel they put on Chakotay like a backpack. Paris would have to treat Chakotay like a computer control panel in order to operate it, but it would let them beam out, add the power pack, and then beam back into the shuttle.

Paris shuddered a little when they beamed in. Space has dust in it, quite a bit, and it felt like some of it had really gotten inside him. It had, of course, during his beam-in, maybe as much as fifty or sixty molecules of it! Really dangerous stuff, eh? You could take that much pure strychnine and never notice it! Or maybe it was the wormhole, hovering what appeared to be above them, the probe like a tree with the deflector array deployed above them (they chose this location because the array would help protect them from radiation from the wormhole, which was like an angry cloud above their heads, a whirling maelstrom, or a malevolent demon.

Chakotay clung to him in a lover's embrace, but it was nothing to do with love, Paris had the EVA for his pack. Without him, Chakotay would indeed go whirling away into space. Was that what the dream had meant? He hooked them together with the short tether they had chosen, permitting them to go no more than five feet apart, and Chakotay released him and Paris sighted on the probe, only a foot or two away from his fingers with arms outstretched (but in space, this was as far away as the Alpha Quadrant, had they not had the EVA to move them. Paris gave them the barest nudge, and ten seconds later, they clung to the probe's sides like monkeys.

Suddenly, perspective shifted and they were clinging to a log floating on a stream of dark water. Paris liked this perspective better, though Chakotay being almost on the other side, he looked to be underwater. Still, Paris was feeling miffed at being ignored and he decided he liked Chakotay being underwater at the moment.

They worked in near-silence but for necessary cooperative phrases like "Hand me that" or "hold this while I push it in." Paris kept silent throughout as much as he could.

"Okay, Tom, test to see if they are receiving a feedback signal from the probe's operation." Chakotay's voice was squeaky, they were both breathing an oxygen-helium mixture (you avoid nitrogen in a pressure suit, because nitrogen, during a pressure change, can cause bubbles in the blood, killing you).

"Understood, Commander." Paris said, his voice that of a high-pitched comical character. "Coming around."

As Paris pushed carefully away from the probe and gently moved the EVA, Chakotay said, "Tom, what's your problem tonight? I thought we were getting along. Now you're the one pulling the silent treatment on me."

"Nothing I won't get over, Commander." Paris said. "Watch my drive as I decelerate." He gave the EVA another gentle nudge to stop and barely touched Chakotay's back to stop. "Hand me the alpha conduit, please."

"Understood, Lieutenant." Chakotay handed back the conduit and Paris plugged it into the jack outlet of the control panel.

"Watch the probe's power surge as I operate it." Paris boosted the power slowly.

"Muon particle strength up to 115%."

"That's where I intended to put it." Paris said. "We'll leave it at that for two hours, then boost it another 5% at regular hourly intervals. I want to give the Kepler personnel time to understand what we're doing, so they can compensate. Maybe."

"How do you plan to operate this power boost?"

"By leaving this control panel right here, plugged in. I'm switching it so that we can operate it from the shuttle. Hold on while I lift it off of you."

"Oof! Watch it!" Chakotay said.

"Sorry, Commander." Paris said. "Pull the lifeline out of the way so I can push this into place."

"Umph! Not long enough!" Chakotay said. "We'll have to unhook it for a time."

"No way, Commander." Paris said. "Safety precautions."

"I'll keep a firm grip on the probe while you swing the panel into place." Chakotay said.

"I don't feel it's a good idea...."

"Do it, Lieutenant."

"Aye, aye, sir." Paris said and unhooked Chakotay. He wasn't being listened to. Maybe he'd overestimated his value to Janeway and Chakotay, or maybe they were tired of his Cassandra-like prophecies of doom. That dream had been a bit much; why had he even felt he needed to mention it to Chakotay?

He put the panel into place and switched the panel locks on. At the last minute, he remembered that one of the lesser-important Valerian parts had been the subsidiary control panel compartment links.

There was a brief burst of power from the power pack they had just installed, and a breach in its power supply. A stream of beryon particles jetted out and Chakotay, near the path, flinched away.
.
And was loose! He floated behind the probe from Paris' perspective and toward the deflector array. God, he was floating toward the wormhole!

"Chakotay!" he screamed, the dream coming back to him suddenly in full force.

"Keep calm, Tom." Chakotay said. "Come get me."

"Acknowledged." Paris said, calmer now and he jetted the EVA to get clear of the probe, then changed angle. It was like he was moving horizontal to Chakotay's vertical, but it brought him away from the probe. He angled the jets and boosted towards Chakotay.

"You're coming in too fast!"

"You don't have time, Commander." Paris said. "You're heading for the deflector array. You hit that array with the muon stream going and your nervous system will be jelly a microsecond later."

Chakotay looked up and saw how close he was to the array. "Great Spirit!" he breathed in fear.

"I'm coming, Chakotay." Paris said, boosting again as he almost-subconsciously recalculated the trajectories involved. "Hang in there, dearest! I won't let you get away from me."

It seemed to take forever, closing the gap. But as Chakotay approached within ten feet of the edge of the deflector array, the muon particle stream just beyond, visible only as a wavering of the stars like vibrating dots, Paris caught up with them.

He grabbed Chakotay by one arm only, for a reason. The inertia of his course was suddenly altered and he was swung by Chakotay like a square-dancer's partner and he got the EVA's jets pointed at the muon stream and turned it on full blast.

The force yanked them and only their interlocked arms saved them, they were able to grasp hands as they slipped apart and cling hard as Paris accelerated them at nearly two gravities. Their hands ached but held. Paris cut the jet as soon as he saw they were headed away from the muon stream and deflector array.

"We'll have to float until I get well away from the probe." Paris judged. "Then I can work us back to the control panel and beam us back to the ship. After we judge the damage done to the Kepler probe, if any."

"Tom?"

"I wonder if the Kepler understood the power surge was only temporary and not connected to their probe. We'd better plan on moving the shuttle away from the wormhole, in case they....

"Tom?"

"What is it?"

"Thank you."

"Oh! Right! You're welcome."

"You were right. This was dangerous."

"We-e-ll...I had been sounding rather biased against this entire project." Paris said, magnanimous in his victory. "I can see how you might have stopped listening to me, what with bad feelings and bad dreams my only arguments."

"Of anyone on the ship, I should have listened to you. I listen to my own spirits so much, I can forget that your spirits may communicate with you other than through mediation and effort."

"It's okay." Paris said. "I've told you time and again my bad feeling has been that this wormhole only carries bad news. That doesn't make it any basis for thinking of me as a pipeline to the spirit world about everything we do."

"But your dream. I was falling toward the wormhole."

"The muon stream, actually."

"I would have died without you to help me."

"Hey, Chakotay, when I fall in love, they don't get away from me that easily."

"All right."

Paris sobered with those two words. He'd been trying to turn his embarrassment into a joke, and now felt ashamed. Chakotay was surrendering control of his own life, he suddenly realized. Giving himself to Paris. Gratitude was a bad substitute for love, but it could complicate things tremendously. Leave it alone, Paris! He told himself. Leave it alone. He drifted in silence, and was at the point where he could swing them to the control panel.

"Get me the cord so we can hook back together." he said. "I need to boost us back to the control panel."

Chakotay handed it to him and he pulled Chakotay to him while he rehooked the cord to his belt. Chakotay wrapped his legs around Paris and clung like a baby monkey to its mother's stomach. "Ready for boost, Chakotay?"

"Ready, Tom."

Paris gunned it and they fell together toward the probe. A few minutes later, they were alongside and Paris used Chakotay again to spin them on their mutual axis to aim himself away from the wormhole they had been falling toward in their trajectory and cut in the jets, putting them dead alongside. Paris reached for the control panel and said, "Oops!"

"What is it?"

"Control panel is dead. Power overload must have killed it."

"What now?"

"We work back to the shuttle with the EVA." Paris said. He looked at his fuel supply. The EVA needed actual gaseous fuel to jet out in accordance with Newton's Laws. Something had to go backward so they could go forward. "Down to 25%. Hmmm...that means we'll have to boost for five minutes, coast for an hour and a half, and then decelerate. Ready for a long ride together, Commander?"

Chakotay reached for him and again wrapped around him, this time feeling like a lover, not a baby. "I'm ready. Take me home, Tom."

"You sound like a young lady I almost picked up in Marseilles." Paris chuckled. "Of course, that was before I learned she had a price tag around her neck." He cut in the drive at the low power that was all he dared use. It left a gentle feeling of weight, pulling him down toward the probe, which was falling away from them from this perspective, while he stood on clear glass and looked down at it.

"You didn't tell me about her during our wager." Chakotay chided him.

"I didn't sleep with her." Paris said. "Though I thought about it."

"I didn't think prostitution existed on Earth any more."

"It's sort of an art form there." Paris said. "They do it for the fun of it, I guess, though the fun of selling your body escapes me. And of course, you have to have something of value to give her, which I really didn't. My Academy days. She asked for my Academy ring, but I refused. Dad always looked for that ring and if he had seen me without it, he would have asked why."

"You could have lost it." Chakotay suggested.

"Dad always saw through my lies." Paris said. "That's why we fought so much. I couldn't lie to him and I couldn't please him with what I wanted to do and I didn't want to do what he wanted me to do and he could see that as well. That's why that message I sent to him on the first probe is so...I'm glad he'll get to see it. He can see I'm telling the truth and he will finally have a reason to be proud of me."

"I'm proud of you, too, right now. You saved my life."

"The handsome hero saves the day." Paris chuckled. "Of course, the fair damsel is appropriately grateful."

"I don't exactly fit that part." Chakotay pointed out. "But I am grateful."

"Then I'll settle for the standard reward when we get back to the shuttle." The power pack, which had been pushing them all this time, cut off by its timer and they fell through space to the shuttle craft.

Chakotay used the lack of pressure to cling tighter to Tom, and Tom was surprised to feel Chakotay's groin rubbing against his through the fabric. The suits were thin, only air pressure (with a combined total of six pounds per square inch) fought them, so the touch, while not quite bare-skin feeling (though they wore nothing but the suits, which used skin contact to monitor oxygen flow, temperature and so on), or even as pliable as clothed skin, was quite erotic. Chakotay hunched against him, and Paris' cock was rolled about under the movements.

But Chakotay was gasping with the effort, and Paris took pity on him. "Please, dear, wait until we get back to the shuttle. I still owe you a full body check-out, you may remember."

Chakotay, panting, acquiesced. "Well, we have to sit here and do nothing for an hour, I guess. Any ideas?"

"Pawn to King Four?"

"Flat chess? Why not 3-D chess?"

"You want to try to visualize that board?"

"Oh. And why should you get white?"

"I'm your white knight in shining armor, remember?"

Chakotay laughed and hugged him. "All right. Pawn to Queen's Bishop Three."

Neither were adept at playing chess by memory alone, but they managed to play a game (with frequent recounts of moves and three separate I-give-up-let's-say-it's-there) and by the time they were ready to concede the draw rather than continue the rather futile pursuit, they were at the shuttle once again. Paris pushed them into the rear of the shuttle, Chakotay worked the air lock controls to open the door and they stepped into the small bay created by a force field. When the door closed, the shield lowered and a brief chuff of inrushing air, and they were home once more.

"Whew!" Paris said. "That was an excursion!"

The forward screen lit and Janeway's face appeared. "You two are all right?" she asked. She had been monitoring their conversation, Paris realized, though too far away to help. She had wisely kept silent and listened to them work it out themselves.

"Yes, Captain." Chakotay said. "Paris saved my life and we owe him an apology for not listening to his warnings."

"Forget that." Paris said. "What time is it? Yeesh, 2300 hours. Captain, you should be in bed."

"I will, now that I know you two are safe and sound. You had us worried."

"Everything was under control." Paris said. "No real danger involved."

"That's not true." Chakotay said. "I was falling toward the muon stream. If Tom hadn't been there to come after me, I would have died."

"Lieutenant Paris, I am placing an official commendation on your record. Now tell me why you were loose in the first place, Commander?"

"We were trying to put the control panel on." Paris said. "We had to unhook in order to get the panel in place and then forgot to rehook before clamping it on and the power burst caused Chakotay to lose his hold."

"That's not true." Chakotay said. "Paris reminded me of the safety precautions and I insisted he unhook me. And the reason I broke loose is because I let go when I could have stayed still and been perfectly safe."

"You were startled by the power burst." Paris said. "So was I. Your actions were perfectly understandable. And I was the one with the EVA, I should have insisted you re-hook the minute we got the control panel clear."

"But I was the one who broke safety precautions."

"But I was the one who was in charge of safety precautions and could have hooked you back immediately. The fault is half mine."

"Gentlemen, gentlemen." Janeway said. "Please! I give up. We'll call it unavoidable error and close the books, if you two don't mind. I need to get some rest now."

"Of course, Captain." Chakotay said. "Forgive us."

"Get some rest yourself."

"After we move the shuttle back from the probe." Paris said. "That power surge could cause a collapse of the wormhole and I don't want to be nearby if the muon stream fluctuates."

"Agreed."

"Twenty-five million kilometers should be far enough." Paris said. "Warp Three for a half hour and we'll be far enough."

"Go ahead and take her to Warp Six." Janeway ordered. "I want you two safe, and we can spare the power."

"Yes, Captain." Paris said. "Initiating warp drive."

Three and a half minutes later, he cut the drive. "We're in our new position." he said.

"Good. Now get some sleep, gentlemen. Janeway out."

"Well, Chakotay." Paris turned around. "I...."

Chakotay was sprawled out on the bed, sound asleep. He had stripped off his pressure suit but not put on clothing. Janeway had been watching the entire time, Paris realized. Had their shuttle become some sort of Voyager peep show? Her watching them in these moments was getting really annoying! The polite thing to do was to cut visual contact under such conditions!

He looked at Chakotay. Well, big guy, he said, I'll have to wait until tomorrow for my reward from the grateful captive. And you'll have to wait until tomorrow for that inventory I have in mind.

He lifted Chakotay's feet and pushed him into the bed against the wall. Then Paris stripped off his own pressure suit, and climbed in beside him. Chakotay woke when Paris climbed in, but he only snuggled up tight and went back to sleep. Paris sighed and was quick to follow suit. Tomorrow, he suddenly felt, was going to be a terrific day.

For a change!

END OF DAY SEVEN

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Long Shuttle Trip, Day 8