"Like All Good Things...."
Paris woke early in the morning hours to Chakotay holding him and crying softly. He cuddled and hugged him tightly once again. He waited for Chakotay to say something, but when the sobs stopped, the breathing became regular and then seemed to go rapidly back into deep slumber. Paris kept silent and said nothing. He would not mention this in the morning unless Chakotay did. It took him a while to go back to sleep, but he managed it after a time.
The alarm shook them awake with difficulty. Paris murmured, "Shut up, damn it!" and the alarm quieted. Chakotay stirred, but his only movement was to rest his head on Paris' chest and become still again. Paris ran his fingers through Chakotay's hair and said, "Time to get up. Today's the day we have to face all our friends again, you know. We've had a wonderful vacation, but like all good things, it has come to an end."
"Not everything good ends." Chakotay pointed out sleepily.
"True." Paris said. "But you don't think we can carry on on the bridge the way we did on this shuttle, do you?"
"Of course not." Chakotay rubbed his eyes as if they itched.
"So you're going to call me Lieutenant instead of baby and I'll call you Commander and add sir on a regular basis."
"That seems reasonable."
"I can call you Tom if you'd rather." Chakotay pointed out. "After four years, it's time the bridge crew was on a first-name basis anyway. Besides, with the wormhole, we won't be on a Starfleet vessel much longer. If you're my pilot on a Maquis ship, I'll call you baby any time I want to."
"Let's get cleaned up, eat and report in." Chakotay said briskly.
"Aye, aye, sir. Darling. Snoogums. Cupcake."
"Watch it, Lieutenant."
Paris chuckled and when he saw Chakotay intended to shower first this morning, he went over to pick out breakfast and that's when the communicator buzzed. "Channel open, voice only." he said.
"Captain Parlane here." The intense young captain of the Kepler was on the screen but unable to see him.
"Lieutenant Paris here."
"We've run the projections on the probe based on the readings you sent us. I'm afraid you're going to have to try to repair it. Otherwise, it will shut down operations as of 1400 hours today.
Paris whistled. "You have instructions on how we can do that?"
"Do you have another probe like the ones you sent us?"
Paris looked over where the third probe sat. "Already operational and ready."
"Good. You need to take it over to our probe and hook it in. Let its power pack enhance our own. Here are the schematics you need."
Paris was looking at the spaghetti when Chakotay stepped up. "What is it?"
"You and I get to play probe repairman again. Otherwise, the wormhole goes away in a few more hours."
Chakotay's whistle was an unintentional duplicate of his own.
"That's what I said." Paris affirmed.
Chakotay studied the schematics. "Let's send this over to Voyager and get Seven of Nine's feedback on it. She might have a better idea. As you reminded me, we shut that thing down and the wormhole takes off who-knows-where."
"Good idea." Paris said.
"I'll call Voyager." Chakotay said. "You get in the shower and get cleaned up and decent. We're going to need visuals on this."
"Right." Paris showered and then, with Chakotay still talking with Seven of Nine, fixed breakfast for them. She was showing him not the schematics of a probe, but of their own shuttlecraft, which she had tinkered on. And Chakotay was agreeing. Paris listened and realized that she wanted to use the shuttle's own control panel to regulate the power source during the changeover of power sources, and use their tiny deflector array to broadcast the signal to the probe. Trouble it, it would require someone to manually regulate the flow on the shuttle while someone else did the work. Paris made a bet with himself as to who got to do the dirty work. He refused to take the bet with himself, even at ten-to-one odds. Paris put Chakotay's breakfast in front of him, where it was ignored for the next half hour.
"We'll call you back when we are ready to begin regulating the flow. I'll send Paris over with the probe right now."
"Affirmative." Seven of Nine said. "Voyager out."
"I get to play space monkey?" Paris asked.
"Afraid so." Chakotay said. "Alone. I need to stay here and keep the power stabilized manually from this end. With that probe fluctuating, I won't be able to turn my attention away for a moment. You will be the one hooking our probe into the Federation probe. Be careful out there. I don't want to lose you."
"You don't get rid of me that easily." Paris said and leaned over for a quick kiss. "Damn, I'm going to miss being able to do that back on Voyager tomorrow. Or will you kiss me on the bridge?"
"Of course not." Chakotay said. "Even married couples don't kiss on duty."
"I know a few married couples who slip one by when no one's looking." Paris retorted.
"All right, when no one's looking." Chakotay conceded with a smile.
"I intend to hold you to that. I'll get into my pressure suit." Paris said. He did so and stood next to the probe, and Chakotay beamed him out to the probe.
Paris hooked into the probe's communication grid and said, "This is Lieutenant Paris calling the shuttle. Come in shuttle."
"Shuttle here." Chakotay said.
"I just called to say I love you, Sweetcheeks." Paris said.
"Lieutenant!" Chakotay said sharply. Paris imagined him turning beet-red.
"Relax, Chakotay." Paris said, laughing. "I haven't hooked in the other commlinks yet. I'll do so now."
"All right." Chakotay said, only half-mollified.
Paris hooked in the second commlink, this one on the link directly back to Voyager's readout panel, where Seven of Nine was undoubtedly waiting. "Paris calling Voyager."
"B'Elanna here with Seven of Nine." came the response.
"Hi, B'Elanna." Paris said. "Haven't heard from you in quite a while."
"I've been busy." came the terse response. "And it's time for you to get busy."
"Calling the Kepler now." Paris hooked in to the Federation probe's link to the Kepler's readout panel. "Kepler, this is Lieutenant Paris."
"Lieutenant Briggs here." came the female response.
"Alright, everyone, I'm making the temporary power link on the count of three."
"Ready to modulate." Chakotay said.
"Ready to monitor and compensate." Briggs said.
"Same here." B'Elanna said.
"One, two, three." Paris pushed in the power coupling on the word "three."
"Power level increasing by six-one-seven." Briggs tersely reported.
"Compensating." Chakotay said. "Reducing to three-seven-four."
"Confirmed. Briggs said.
"All right." Chakotay told Paris. "I'm beginning the manual control. Go ahead and begin the power nodule transfer."
In many ways, this was the same
duty as assembling the probe, only Paris had to unfasten the Federation
probe's power source as he hooked in their own power source. It was a difficult,
finicky job. Often he had to careful slip the old relay out and the new
one in over the old. A power cell for a probe was designed to continue
operating with only 80% of its cells intact. But Paris had to be sure not
to go below that number, and each cell had a different ratio of responsibility
depending upon the needs of the moment. Three times in the course of the
next two hours, he had to hurriedly replace the cell he had just taken
out, while Chakotay fed the other cells by hand control. Yet they persevered
and finally, Paris plugged in the final cell. "Power source replacement
complete." he said and breathed a huge sigh of relief. "I'm going
to rest a moment and then I'll finish removing the old power source and
be ready for beam-in."
"Good job, Tom." Chakotay said.
"You, too." Paris said with feeling. "You really saved our bacon three times there."
"You were on hand to make the save count." Chakotay rejoindered. "That's what really matters."
"Much as I hate to interrupt this mutual admiration society." B'Elanna said. "But as long as we're sitting here idle, Kepler, are there any new messages for Voyager personnel?"
"Affirmative." Briggs said. "A huge data dump from Starfleet Command, and approximately two hundred personal messages. Prepare for reception."
Paris pushed at his back to get the kinks out and listened to the high-pitched whine in his ears as data was fed at a ratio of ten-thousand-to-one over to Voyager. Even at this rate, it took over five minutes for the download to be complete. "Reception confirmed." B'Elanna said when it was over. "Tom, any time you're ready to finish and get out of there, it's fine with me."
"Me, too." Paris said. "I can think of better things to do for the next few hours than listen to tech talk."
He unhooked the old power source completely. It was completely unfastened but interlinked with the new leads in some places, it took some doing to get the old power cell out of the way. He had to cut the leads in four places to get it out, but finally, nearly another hour later, he had the old power source in his arms.
"Paris calling Chakotay." He said. He realized that Chakotay hadn't said anything to him in quite a while, though he had kept up a line of banter as he had worked, chiding B'Elanna and almost flirting with Briggs. He was glad he couldn't see her, he suspected that she was older than he had thought when he had started, for she enjoyed his chatter far too much for a lady with any real prospects.
"Paris calling Chakotay." he said again. "Come on, Chakotay, I'm ready for beam-in."
"Paris calling Chakotay. Please respond."
He was getting worried. He let only a few seconds go by and then he said, "Paris, calling Voyager. Come in, please."
"This is Voyager."
"I'm not getting a response from Chakotay. Can you contact him?"
At that moment the transporter beam caught him.
He materialized and set the power source on the side table in place of the now- cannibalized third probe. "Whew, I was getting worried for a moment there." he said as he looked at Chakotay. Chakotay's back was to him, studying the starfield ahead. "Hey, Chakotay, what happened?"
"Come on, darling, talk to me." he said, stepping over.
The look in Chakotay's eyes were pure hatred and anger. The anger of betrayal. The words were a litany Paris could have repeated along with him. "Go away, Tom! Just go away and leave me alone! I never want to even look at you again!"
God, the vision! "Chakotay, what is it? What's happened?" he asked.
"Don't talk to me." Chakotay turned away.
"Chakotay, whatever it is, I'm sorry." Paris said. "I'd apologize better, but I don't even know what I've done."
Chakotay looked over at him. "Captain Robert Brennovan of the Federation Ship Potemkin died of his wounds at 0500 this morning." he said. "I received a message from him. He was on his deathbed, Tom, and calling me to say good-bye. He apologized to me for pretending to be dead all these years and said he would have talked to me earlier but you talked him out of it. You talked him out of it! What were you...no, don't answer that! Just...Lieutenant, step to the back of the shuttle."
Paris knew what was about to happen. Coventry. Sometimes on a shuttle, you and your comrade would get into a fight or personality dispute, or just plain sick of looking at each other. When that happened, the thing to do was for the junior officer to step to the back of the shuttle and let the senior activate the privacy shield. It left the junior in possession of the bed and not enough space to do anything but lie there on the bed and talk to the computer's entertainment protocol programs. The computer was designed to not permit command access to a junior officer on board while the privacy screen was down; it would only obey the senior officer in front. "Chakotay, please, talk to me." he begged. "God, if I had known...."
"Step to the back of the shuttle." Commander Chakotay was talking now. The ice was firmly in place and he would brook no nonsense from a junior officer.
"Chakotay, let me explain." he said, stepping back again. The back of his knees hit the bed and he sat down, hard. And the shield came down.
"Shit!" Paris said. He thought about trying to communicate, but that was out of the question at the moment. He might as well be in a jail cell back in New Auckland, for unless Chakotay specifically overrode some protocol commands, he was denied access to anything other than the entertainment database. He could listen to any sort of music, access small replicated meals from the subsidiary replicator there, view plays or movies on the small bedside screen. But that was it.
He listened to music until it bored him, he watched a few new movies courtesy of the Kepler download, until they galled him, he replicated snacks to the point where his rations were strained. And watched the chronometer. Voyager would arrive at 1500 and he would have to be let out. Watched while the chronometer changed from 1300 to 1400. At 1430, he got up and spent some time composing himself. Sat on the edge of the bed and waited. 1500. 1530. 1600.
At 1700, he was downright worried. He slapped his comm badge. "May the prisoner ask a question?" he asked.
"What is it?" Chakotay asked.
"Voyager will arrive tomorrow at 0800 hours." was the terse reply. "Kepler had to leave due to an approaching Dominion fleet. The wormhole has closed and I am in the process of retrieving the Federation probe for our own use. We are not going home today or tomorrow, Lieutenant, not by the wormhole, which has completely collapsed. Voyager has slowed speed to permit repairs to some of her systems. Any other questions?"
"Am I ever going to get a chance to explain things to you?"
No answer. Paris sat down and watched Game 2 of the World Series. Even watching Wen Chow pitch his first professional no-hitter and catching a run off from N'Kele in the fifth inning, a double. The Stallions then sacrificed their next three runners, the batters swinging and connecting with wild pop flies that accomplished nothing, except to let the young Wen Chow steal another base. Wen Chow slid into home as the Stallions got their third out and that's where the score stayed. The Stallions won the second game of the Series 1-0, a complete shut-out.
It all tasted like stale popcorn to Paris. God, what did Robert say in that final message? Did he lie to Chakotay, tell him that Paris had forced him to keep silent, citing jealousy? What did Robert say in that final message?
"Paris to Chakotay." Paris called. "The prisoner has another request."
"May I see the message from Robert?"
Finally, at 2000 hours, the shield came down. Paris looked up with hopeful eyes, but the eyes that met his were still dead, dull, pain-ridden.
"Chakotay, I would have done anything to avoid hurting you." He said quickly. "I didn't know Robert was going to come knocking on our door like he did. I thought it was news from half the galaxy away and it couldn't do you any good and...
"Go to bed, Lieutenant." Chakotay said sternly.
"Huh?" Paris looked.
Chakotay pointed to the auxiliary bed panel.
"Oh." Paris got up, getting angry about the way he was being treated. Anger felt better than sorrow, and it always had. If he couldn't apologize, then fuck him! "Sorry, Commander." he said icily. "Just let me sleep until 0800, all right? I'll sleep in my clothes, even. You can have this whole fucking shuttle. I'll stay in the metal coffin."
Not a word met his glare. Chakotay looked at him, and there was no light in those eyes at all. Just a dull stare met his, like an old workhorse that was on its last legs, enduring because it had no choice, waiting for death to take it whenever it felt like. Paris' anger died in the light of that stare. "I'm so sorry." He whispered. "Please, please forgive me. Please?"
"Go to bed, Lieutenant." were the only words of response.
Paris got down on his knees and pulled open the auxiliary bed panel. Pulled out and unfolded the mattress, plugged it in and watched it inflate. When it was full, he lay on it and pulled the quarter circle over him and clicked it shut.
He had to bite the sheet to keep from crying. The fiber blend had an odd taste to him. It took him a while until he recognized it.
The taste of defeat.
It took forever for him to get to sleep.
END OF CHAPTER 11
TO GO TO THE NEXT SECTION,
Shuttle Trip, Conclusion