Test to Destruction, Conclusion


By Tommyhawk1@aol.com

*
Paris woke up the next morning hearing singing in the shower. Hal's thin voice was belting out "I Wish They All Could Be California Girls" at the top of his voice. Paris chuckled; Hal had learned that song from him. Chakotay groaned and looked up.
*
"What is that racket?"
*
"Our son. His first bridge duty is today, you know."
*
"I know." Chakotay looked over at the chronometer. "Five a.m.? Will that kid ever sleep through the entire night?"
*
"Well, he doesn't get that from my side of the family." Paris said. "Besides, as long as you're awake anyway." Paris' hand went down under the covers. "Remember when Hal would come bouncing us awake and we'd chase him off to bed and then do this?"
*
"M-hm." Chakotay said smiling.
*
"He's going to be in that shower for a while, and then there's getting the hair combed just right, then putting on the Ensign's uniform for the first time...." Paris' hand sped up. "And admiring the look, that takes at least fifteen minutes right there."
*
"M-hmmm." Chakotay said pliably.
*
"So we have loads of time right now."
*
"Make sure the door is locked." Chakotay said.
*
"Well, I'll just get out of bed right now and be sure." Paris let go and started to get up. As he expected, he got as far as the edge of the bed before two dun-colored arms snaffled him back down. He fell back, laughing.
*
"Forget the door." Chakotay said and kissed him hard.
*
* * * * *
*
Paris was showered and cleaned up by 0730, when Hal buzzed their door. "Come on in, Hal." he said.
*
The door opened and Hal looked over at Chakotay, still in the bed, while Paris was fully clothed. "Aren't you both coming to breakfast?"
*
"Commanders get an extra half hour in bed in the morning." Paris pointed out. "One of the many perks of being a commanding officer."
*
"Believe me, the problems far outweigh the perks." Chakotay said. "I was up until nearly midnight working on the quarterly reports and shift reassignments."
*
"So let's you and me get breakfast and then to our posts and let your Daddy sleep."
*
"Okay, Papa." Hal said. He leaned over and kissed Chakotay. "See you later, Daddy."
*
"I'll expect you to be at your station and everything shipshape when I get there." Chakotay warned him.
*
"It will be." Hal said. "Piece of cake."
*
"That's the first lesson you'll get to unlearn." Paris said. "There's a world of difference between classes, even mock-ups like yesterday, and the real thing."
*
"Okay." But Hal didn't look any less cocky.
*
Paris let him go out the door and turned. "He's taking this too easily." he said to Chakotay. "Like he owns the whole ship."
*
"Reminds me of someone I used to know." Chakotay said.
*
"Used to?" Paris cocked an eyebrow at him.
*
"Still do. You know what I mean."
*
"Yeah. Well, I hope he shakes down before we face a real problem." Paris leaned over and kissed Chakotay. "You'd better get moving on your own morning routine, Commander."
*
"Slave driver." Chakotay turned over in bed and Paris left it at that. He knew Chakotay would climb out of bed the moment he walked out the door.
*
He and Hal breakfasted on Neelix's latest efforts, a blue, leafy, heavy vegetable floating in purple sauce that looked hideous, but wasn't half bad after you got used to the surprisingly sweet taste it had. Hal summed it up when he called it "sugar-frosted spinach."
*
Ensign McNeil came over when they were done. "You two about to go to bridge duty?" he asked.
*
"Yep. Hal's first day." Paris said.
*
"Mind if I beam you two there?"
*
"Why would we beam to the bridge?" Paris asked, puzzled.
*
"I need to test the pads. Any kind of beam-over will do. Thought you might enjoy the ride."
*
"Come on, Papa." Hal begged. "It sounds like fun." Hal hadn't done much beaming of any sort, and his chance to beam aboard the bridge for his first duty sounded novel, at least.
*
"Okay." Paris said. "Let's get moving. We'll need time to walk there after the circuits all blow out." he mock-chided McNeil.
*
They went to the transporter room and the beam-over occurred with no problem at all.
*
It was what was happening when they got there.
*
Janeway was belting out orders. "Red Alert. Battle stations. Lieutenant Paris, Mister Paris, take your stations."
*
Paris looked around. Janeway, two ensigns and he and Hal were the sole occupants of the bridge. "Where's the rest of the crew?" he said as he slid into the completely vacant navigator's station.
*
"The rest of my crew just disappeared." Janeway snapped. "What is out there?"
*
"Scanning." Paris said. "Unknown life form."
*
"On screen!"
*
Hal reached and snapped a control and the forward scanners showed an odd pattern of lights.
*
"It's heading right for us." Paris said.
*
"Mr. Paris, data?"
*
Hal was working the controls like a pro. "Energy creature only. Resonating on all frequencies. Captain, it's off the scale in the X-ray range. Lethal radiation but the shields are stopping it. Shields are failing, now down to 85%. I'm attempting to stabilize."
*
"Evasive maneuvers." Janeway snapped out.
*
Paris slapped his controls, but... "Helm controls aren't responding." He said. "Firing impulse engines manually."
*
Nothing happened.
*
The forward scanners went out.
*
The red alert quit functioning, causing silence to fall around them.
*
Lights went out at several stations, until they were lit only by two screens, those at Paris' and Hal's stations. More of Hal's work, Paris had a half-dozen command consoles crowded into his one station display. Hal probably had the rest.
*
"Shields down to 25%." Hal reported. "Captain, they'll fail entirely in ten more seconds."
*
"Engine room, report!" Janeway called out.
*
Nothing.
*
"Transporter room, report!" Janeway snapped again.
*
Nothing.
*
"Any station, report!"
*
Silence.
*
"Captain, I'm getting a reading....eeyah!"
*
Paris turned to see the ensign, a young woman he didn't recognize immediately. And he didn't have time to see her face very well.
*
She began to melt. Her skin liquified and ran down her body. Then her muscles. She seemed held in place as her bones were revealed. Soon only a skeleton was remaining erect, and a foul-smelling green puddle was spreading out from where she had stood.
*
Then the bones fell as well into the morass that had once housed a human soul.
*
"What the hell just happened?" Janeway said. "Ensign Morris, scan her body. What happened to her?"
*
Ensign Morris ran over and ran his tricorder. "Captain, her body's ionization pattern is totally neutral. It's like every electrical impulse in her body was stripped of its power and every atom turned into this...this stuff." Ensign Morris stepped back as the puddle continued to spread.
*
A small machine came out to clean the mess, and was permitted to do so. The small vacuuming sound it made was the only noise in the room.
*
"Engines are off-line." Paris reported. "Captain, the entire array of bridge commands are dead. Even the computer is only functioning at 1% of capacity."
*
"Anything we can use?" Janeway asked.
*
"Not unless you want to launch a messenger probe." Paris said after he ran the diagnostic. "We have archival abilities and the use of our database. That's about it."
*
"So search the database for equivalent life-forms, Paris. Ensign Paris."
*
"Aye, aye, Captain." Hal said. Paris saw that Hal looked like he was going to be sick. He didn't feel too well, himself. The stench from the dead ensign's body filled his nostrils from way over here, and Hal was right beside it.
*
"Searching the database." Hal said. "Captain, the speed of our computer is way down. It will take about a half hour before we have any results."
*
"We may not have a half-hour."
*
"I can try to reroute circuits from the navigational panel." Hal offered. "We could tap that power to speed up the processing."
*
"We need navigation. Assuming engines ever come back on-line. Try instead to figure out how to contact the Engine Room."
*
"Aye, aye, Captain." Hal looked around. "We could take the Jeffries tube down there."
*
"Do it, Ensign Morris." Janeway ordered.
*
Ensign Morris nodded and went to the panel. "Come help me, Ensign Paris." he asked.
*
Hal went over and Ensign Morris gave him the tricorder. "You'll need these readings." He said. "Now, if you can help me open this panel manually....ugh!"
*
The same...process had captured Ensign Morris. Hal had a front-row seat for it, and he watched, frozen, as Ensign Morris, a handsome young man, turned into runny syrup before his horrified eyes.
*
"Ensign Paris." Janeway snapped.
*
Hal didn't respond.
*
"Hal!" Paris called out.
*
"Huh?" Hal turned. "Sorry, Captain."
*
"Monitor what is happening to him!" Janeway ordered.
*
Hal ran the tricorder over Ensign Morris, as the man became a zombie-looking creature, a sticky skeleton, and then a pile of bones that rattled, bones striking Hal's legs, splashing him with the foul slime. But Hal stayed on the job.
*
"Results?" Janeway said calmly.
*
Hal lifted the tricorder and read the results. "Same as before, Captain. Electrical energy is being drained. I think...I agree with Morris that the electrical bonds between atoms is being broken down, causing the, uh, rapid decay. But I can't detect the cause."
*
"Back to your post." Janeway said.
*
Hal made it two steps, and was sick. He vomited onto the deck-plates.
*
"At your post, Lieutenant." Janeway said.
*
Paris hadn't realized he was about to get up. "Aye, aye, Captain." he said and turned around. He was useless here. What was the use of the navigational panel when you had no engines? But if engines came on-line, they may need to flee fast.
*
Hal was left to vomit, recover, and stagger back to his station. "Sorry, Captain." he got out.
*
"Happens to us all at times, Ensign." Janeway said soothingly.
*
The solitary cleaning 'bot came over and valiantly resumed its struggle to clean the bridge.
*
It's vacuum was overloading, and now roaring almost as badly as those of the vacuum's earliest progenitors. H-m-m-m-m-m-m-m!
*
The computer spat out its results slowly. Hal heaved a sigh of relief when it was done, and shunted the results over to their stations.
*
Negative.
*
"It couldn't find any matches." Hal said slowly.
*
"Hal, can you think of anything that might work as a barrier against this creature?" Paris coaxed him. "You did great on that test yesterday. Can you think of anything?"
*
"I...Maybe a baryon pulse." Hal said. "But the deflector array is off-line. We'd have to go down and do it manually."
*

"Captain, I could send a message pulse down there." Paris said. "If anyone down there gets it, they'd know to turn it on. Then we could regulate the frequency the same way."
*
"Try it." Janeway ordered.
*
Hal's fingers were shaking as he worked it. "Message sent."
*
They waited. Nothing happened.
*
"Sending the message again." Hal said.
*
Nothing.
*
Hal kept it up, sending the message down time and again. After a half hour, Hal said. "They aren't getting it, Captain."
*
"Give them time, Ensign." Janeway said. "That message will only display at one console. They have to get to that console and read it. Keep sending it."
*
"Aye, aye, Captain."
*
The computer was humming, but Paris didn't know why. After a time, it concluded.
*
"Captain?" Hal said hesitantly.
*
"Yes, Ensign."
*
"No need to keep sending the message. Computer says no other life signs aboard this vessel. Everyone else is dead. We're the only ones left."
*
"Reasons?"
*
"We may be at the very edge of that creature's field effects." Hal said, his voice shaky. "It wouldn't...affect us as quickly."
*
"And it wouldn't be as hungry." Janeway said. "We have some time. Any suggestions, Ensign?"
*
"We can't do anything more than send out a message pod." Hal said. "Hope somebody gets it, reads it in time to come help us."
*
That was a forlorn hope if ever Paris heard on, but Janeway nodded.
*
"Prepare it. Lieutenant Paris, assist your son."
*
Paris went over to the tactical station. Hal was shaking.
*
"Buck up, son." he hissed. "We've gotten through worse times than this before. Believe me, we have."
*
"Sure." Hal said. "Papa, I don't want to die." He whispered that, but it was a shout in Paris' ears.
*
"Me either, son, but what else can we do? Face it like a man, son."
*
"Gahh!!" Janeway's voice hit them.
*
Paris turned, then turned away. He couldn't bear to see the Captain...melt. Hal was wide-eyed, looking at the sight, paralyzed.
*
"Come on, son." Paris snatched at his arm. "We can't help her. This pod is our only hope."
*
"Okay." Hal turned and they ignored the sounds, which were mercifully brief. Then the "h-m-m-m-m-m picked up again. Now it was a roar pervading their world. But it was better than the alternative.
*
He and Hal worked on the pod for an hour, delayed by the slow computer's processing.
*
Finally, they had a chip in their hand. "Well, son, plug this in and let's put it in the hatch." Paris said. There was a small manual chute on the bridge, for just such eventualities.
*
Paris lifted the pod, then felt something grab him. He let the pod slip, yelling, "Eyah!!!"
*
Then the tingle of the transporter beam.
*
Paris came back into existence looking at the Briefing Room. A large screen was there, and the entire staff was there. None of them would meet his eyes, not even Chakotay.
*
"What the hell's going on here?" he demanded. On the screen, he saw... "Oh, my God!"
*
"Papa!" Hal was screaming. "Papa!" Screaming at a mass of rapidly decomposing corpse.
*
"What the hell is this?"
*
"Your son is undergoing his second command test." Janeway said to him, gently. "We had to administer it to him."
*
"And you couldn't tell me?" Paris demanded.
*
"I didn't know about it until after you had been beamed into it." Chakotay said. "But she's right. We have to know a cadet's limits. The no-win scenario is our only way."
*
"His first day of bridge duty." Paris agonized. "He was so damned proud when we stepped onto that bridge."
*
"I saw." Chakotay said.
*
Paris let Chakotay hold him. "Now what?"
*
"He only has one option left." B'Elanna said. Her voice was steady, but Paris saw the tears in her eyes. "Will he take it?"
*
Hal was watching the bones as they fell to the ground, sobbing incoherently. "Papa!" he wailed. His voice suddenly became calm, querulous. "Papa? Daddy? Aunt B'Elanna? Uncle Harry? Aunt Kathryn?"
*
"Come on, Hal!" Harry said, gritting his fists. "You can do it!"
*
Hal stood up, wiping his face. "Okay." he said to himself. "I got about two hours, if the rate of occurrences continues on its asymptotic curve. Two hours." He looked down at the pod.
*
Reached down and put it back on the table. He was standing in the gore that was supposed to be Paris' body, but he never seemed to notice it.
*
Opened it and put the message chip back into the computer.
*
"Recording. This is Ensign Harold Paris of the Federation Starship Voyager. I am the sole remaining survivor of this vessel. Before I...die, I am sending out this message to anyone who can receive it. Please try to return the messages enclosed to our Federation. They will reward you well, I am sure.
*
"The messages contained herein are personal messages to the families of the crewmen of this vessel. I have no family, other than the ones who lived here. So you can hear this message, and do with it what you will. Just know this. The men and women who served aboard this vessel served with honor, courage and fortitude in the face of unending adversity. I am proud to have been a member of her crew for the few short hours that I belonged to her. I guess this makes me her last captain. My final orders are this: Give this ship a decent funeral if you discover it, never let it be used for any lesser purpose than this last one it had, the home to brave, courageous, fort--." Hal realized he was repeating himself, said instead, "Honor this ship. Honor the memories of those who served aboard her. I am glad to have known them." Hal took a deep breath. "Acting Captain Harold Paris, signing off. End transmission."
*
In the silence of the Briefing Room, Harry said, "Attaboy."
*
Hal put the chip back into the pod, took it to the manual chute and put it in, worked the controls.
*
Then he went to the center of the bridge's deck space, and knelt down, head on his chest, he seemed to be meditating.
*
"Captain, how much longer are we going to let this..." Paris protested.
*
Janeway's hand went up, nearly slapping his face, and he quieted. There'll be words about this later.
*
Sounds were coming from Hal. Softer, they became louder and louder.
*
"The Indian death chant." Chakotay identified. "A warrior about to go into a hopeless battle chants it. I didn't know he knew it."
*
Hal stood up, still chanting and went over to the controls, working them.
*
"Captain, he's trying to short out the reactor core." B'Elanna identified. "If his signals get through, he'll blow up in ten seconds."
*
"Well, does he make it?" Paris said. "Get to take that creature out with him?"
*
"No." Janeway said. "Complete and utter failure. It has to be that."
*
Hal kept chanting. Waited for nearly a minute, and then when nothing happened, he said, "Nuts."
*
Knelt back onto the floor and resumed the chant.
*
"I think we've seen enough." Janeway said at last. "End the test."
*
"Wait!" Paris said. "Could you let it run long enough for me to go down there? I want to run the end test with him."
*
Janeway nodded, and Paris took off. It wasn't until he was on the turbolift that he realized Chakotay was right with him.
*
"Don't ask me to criticize his handling of this." He warned his husband. "I know it's in the rules, but don't ask me to do it."
*
"I wasn't going to say a word." Chakotay said. "But you plan to scoop him up and cuddle him while he cries?"
*
"Basically, yes." Paris said.
*
"Plan to do that every time he has an assignment that goes bad?"
*
"Chakotay, he's a little boy." Paris protested.
*
"He put on a uniform that says he's a man." Chakotay pointed out. "He knew what we were asking of him. You and I explained it to him often enough."
*
"But did he understand?" Paris said. "God, what have we done to a seven-year-old boy?"
*
"What we do to everyone who wants to wear the Starfleet uniform." Chakotay pointed out. "We make sure they know what it means. All of it."
*
They were at the door. "May I ask what you're going to say?" Chakotay asked.
*
"I'll know when I see him, I guess." Paris said. "Computer, end program. Open holodeck door."
*
The door opened and Hal was there, kneeling on the black grid. His face fell open in shock, and then closed. "So this was the real command test?" He asked.
*
"Afraid so." Paris admitted. "I didn't know about it while I was in it with you."
*
"And I didn't know until after you were already started in it." Chakotay put in.
*
"Oh." Hal said. "How did I do?"
*
Paris bit his lip. "The question is, how do you think you did?"
*
Hal cocked his head. "Well, I acted like a little kid there part of the time. I got sick."
*
"I nearly did, too." Paris agreed.
*
"And I cried when you died."
*
"Yes, you did." Paris said.
*
"But on the whole, I think I did okay. Considering that there was no way to win this test. That was part of the plan wasn't it?"
*
"That was the whole plan. It's why we had to rig up a second test for you." Paris said.
*
"Okay." Hal said. "May I go off duty for a moment or two?"
*
"Take the rest of the day." Chakotay agreed.
*
"Can you two take the day off, too?"
*
Paris looked over at Chakotay. "We can ask the Captain. Why?"
*
"Because as long as we're in this holodeck, let's conjure up something fun, okay?"
*
"Whatever you want, tiger." Paris agreed. Chakotay nodded.
*
Hal started to say more, then the eyes misted up. "But I am off-duty right now? And so are you two?"
*
"Sure." Paris said.
*
And Hal raced to throw himself in their arms, and sobbed heavily. "I thought you were dead! I thought you were dead!" he howled into Paris' shoulder.
*
"I know, son." Paris crooned. "I know."
*
"But you handled it wonderfully." Chakotay said, awkwardly patting his son's back. "I was proud of you."
*
"We were both proud of you." Paris said. "All of us were. Even the Captain."
*
Hal lifted his head up. "Really?"
*
"Really." Paris said. "Where do you want to go to celebrate? You name it, I'll call up the holodeck program."
*
Hal considered it. What I want.... I want to go to the bridge." Hal said. "The real bridge. I want to take my station at tactical and serve out my shift, like I was supposed to."
*
Paris looked at Chakotay. "Okay. Then let's celebrate by going to the bridge for our regular shift. You're now back on duty, Ensign."
*
"Yes, sir." Hal said. He straightened his uniform and walked out, straight and calm and collected. A proper Starfleet officer.
*
And they left the holodeck to its empty memories.
*

THE END

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The Tag-Team Approach to Parenting Geniuses