Tom stepped into the turbolift without looking up from the padd he was reading. It had been a hell of a week, and retaining the specifics of Voyager’s propulsion systems wasn’t coming as easily to him as he thought it would. It had been years since he’d had to study a technical manual, since flying a starship had come as naturally as breathing. And though he considered himself the master of the bluff, he’d started to wonder if he was in over his head this time.
He took two paces, turned, and leaned against the back wall of the ‘lift. “Deck two.” Maybe some freeze-dried oatmeal with figs and assorted nuts would power his brain. Ration pack number four: his childhood favourite from family camping trips before they had turned to shit along with everything else in his life. Though, despite being stranded 70,000 light years from the loving embrace of his family and the Federation, things were actually starting to look up for him. Or maybe it was because he was 70,000 light years away…
A good pilot knew more than just which button to push. He had a hell of a lot to brush up on and, luckily for him, most of the new systems were just improvements on ones he’d already mastered but some were wholly new. He thumbed through the specs on the nav control system, thumbed back to the section on the sensor interface. He could control Voyager from the helm: sensors, shields, weapons. If he ever decided to mutiny, the primary and defensive systems were all there, at his fingertips. Forget mutiny, if somehow the command crew were incapacitated, maybe in their next go ‘round with the Kazon, the responsibility for saving Voyager’s ass fell squarely on him. It was a sobering thought.
Added to that was the challenge of plotting a course home when you weren’t exactly sure which way home was, though, the Delaney sisters made hanging out in stellar cartography little easier to bear.
And added to that was the realization that when the captain had handed him his pips and spoken about the lieutenant assigned to the helm, what she’d actually meant was the lieutenant in charge of the whole damn department! He wasn’t ready for that responsibility. He didn’t want to have anyone look to him for guidance. He sure as hell wasn't ready to evaluate people and run drills and train them. It was only a matter of time before he was found out for the fraud he was.
“Stand at attention in front of a senior officer, Lieutenant.”
Tom jerked in surprise. He hadn’t even noticed that he wasn’t alone. He straightened, pulled his shoulders back, lifted his chin, lowered the padd. “Chakotay,” he acknowledged. “Sorry, I didn’t see you.”
“You’ll address me by rank, Lieutenant.”
Tom stared at the older man a half second too long, an act of defiance he’d perfected in his teen years. “My apologies, Commander. It won’t happen again.”
Chakotay glanced at the padd Tom held. It displayed a picture of Ensign Jenkins, looking proud and incredibly young, likely taken only a month ago when she’d received her first commission on Voyager. Chakotay frowned.
“Don’t even think about it, Paris,” he scolded. “And why are you accessing personnel records?”
Tom frowned, confused. “I’m reviewing the records of the ship’s pilots to see who needs training in emergency procedures. After that fight with the Kazon—” He cut himself off as Chakotay’s meaning sank home. “Oh, come on, Commander. She’s still wet behind the ears.” His chin came up another notch and he barely repressed a smug look. “And I’m not the one who makes a habit of sleeping with my staff.”
Chakotay stiffened. Obviously the barb had hit its mark. He opened his mouth to reply when the ‘lift shuddered, the lights flickered, and they stopped. They both waited for the alarm klaxon to start before saying anything, but when the silence stretched Chakotay raised a hand to his combadge.
“Chakotay to engineering. What just happened?”
“Torres here. Sorry, Chakotay.” B’Elanna’s voice came clearly in the quiet of the ‘lift. She sounded harried, and Tom could hear people behind her rushing around calling out orders. “We’ve had a power drain on decks three through seven. We’re tracking it down now.”
“Can you do me a favour?”
“What’s that?” There was wariness in her tone now.
“Get the turbolifts in section two back up as soon as possible.”
“Oh. Sure. Your bad luck, I guess?”
“This could take a while. Sorry, Chakotay.”
“Keep me posted. Chakotay out.”
Tom raised an eyebrow. He’d noticed that Torres hadn’t called him commander, and that he’d appeared to be just fine with that. Now there was someone who had jumped straight into the deep end. If Tom thought he was over his head, his situation had nothing on Torres’. Engineering was the largest department on the ship, and if Tom thought he had a lot of technical manuals to review… Then again, from what little he knew of her, she didn’t seem inclined toward self-doubt.
“Looks like we’re stuck with each other.”
For Tom, who didn’t believe they’d find a wormhole to Sector 001 just beyond the next nebula, that was something he’d figured out a week ago. “Permission to sit, Commander?” Tom didn’t really care either way, he sat all day long, he just wanted to know if his former and present commander was feeling petty enough to make him stand.
Chakotay stared at him hard, likely trying to decide if he was being insubordinate. “We might as well,” he finally said.
They sat in silence for several minutes and Tom concentrated on his padd. Baytart had more experience than Jenkins, thank god. Hell, so did Chakotay. Truth be told, so did Henley. Not for the first time he wished that Stadi had lived. He had no doubt that he would still have been assigned to the conn eventually, he had to earn his keep for the next seventy-five years, but he wouldn’t have minded being her second. His ego didn’t give a rat’s ass.
Chakotay was still staring at him, observing him, and Tom fought the urge to twitch. There was a time when he would have kil— No. But when he’d been an eager young ensign he’d certainly tried to gain his XO’s attention, tried to distinguish himself. But he didn’t think Chakotay had praise in mind.
“Something I can do for you, Commander?” Hell, if you were going to poke the bear, you might as well shove the stick right up his nose.
“You can tell me why.”
It was on the tip of his tongue to respond with, because it was there. Or maybe, to get to the other side. They were certainly on the other side of the galaxy. The ass-end of the galaxy. Appropriate considering how his life had indeed turned into a pile of…
Tom’s face morphed into its best perplexed expression. Chakotay scowled in response. Victory!
“Janeway.” Chakotay clarified. “You can tell me why you betrayed us.”
Tom realized this wasn’t really a conversation he wanted to have sitting on the floor. He’d been waiting for this question, anticipating it, but he’d convinced himself that Chakotay would brood for at least another week. He sighed, and his fingers clenched on the padd. He forced them to relax. “I did—” He paused. “Permission to speak freely, sir?”
The big man simply nodded: a short, sharp bob of his jaw.
“I didn’t betray you.” If anything, the glorious, righteous Maquis Brotherhood had betrayed him. First, with the beatings he’d taken when he’d arrived in Auckland, then, after the doctor had raised his concerns with the administration, with the silence, part of a good, old-fashioned shunning. “I didn’t say a word in my own defense at my trial. I’m sure you can look it up now, Commander.” Tom was under no illusions that Janeway’s offer had been a spur-of-the-moment thing. She likely had a file on him ten centimetres thick. One that Chakotay, as her XO, could now access any time he liked.
“I didn’t tell them who was in your cel, I didn’t reveal the location of your secret base, I didn’t even give them your name; you can blame someone else for that.”
“Why not? Weren’t they offering enough? What makes you think I’d believe a word you said?”
“Funny, that’s exactly what the admiral who presided over my trial told me.”
In fact, they were offering him a free pass, all he had to do was turn on his new Maquis family. Which, as it turned out, liked him about as much as his original family did. But even though he’d only been in the Maquis for a few weeks, he’d started to believe in their fight, started to believe that the Federation was wrong, that the settlers had been dealt a bum hand. The Federation had turned its back on them in the name of political compromise and, as far as Tom was concerned, they had the right to defend their homes with force. They weren’t rebels, they were every bit the freedom fighters they were named for.
He’d mostly flown covert runs, picking up supplies for the small bases that were home to the former settler’s families: children who had been raised in the sun and soil of planetside colonies, who had been uprooted from their homes and forced to grow up on dingy spaceports or the ships themselves.
Watching children as young as six playing at Maquis versus Feds had turned his stomach. Knowing that in less than ten years, if the Maquis hadn’t lost their struggle by then, those kids would be in the fight for real had firmed his resolve. Softie that he was, Tom couldn’t betray the children: he couldn’t expose them to the risk of an overzealous Federation starship captain coming at them with guns blazing.
Maybe, maybe if he’d had a way to warn them, so they could evacuate…
“You were more than happy to lead Voyager right to us. You sold us out for an early release.”
Tom looked heavenward, drew a breath. What the hell, he might as well tell the truth, he had nothing to lose.
“She wasn’t really after you; she wanted Tuvok back. Starfleet already had all the information they needed on you. I had no idea where you were, Chakotay. I lied to her so she’d take me with her. It was just dumb luck we both ran into the Caretaker and ended up here.
“Yes, I took her offer. I was half way through my sentence, looking at another nine months, and I couldn’t do it. She was offering me my freedom and I took it.”
Nine months to grow a baby, nine months to make, or remake, the man. The problem was, Tom didn’t know if he was a better man now or not. He turned his head and stared at the wall. Chakotay’s silence was a tangible thing in the small room, huge and accusing.
The ‘lift shuddered then began to move, and Chakotay got smoothly to his feet. He looked at Tom, still sitting on the floor, starting to shift to knees, and extended a hand. Tom took it and a Chakotay hauled him up.
“We shouldn’t have stayed in the Badlands,” he said.
“They were a perfect cover.” Tom shook his head. “Voyager was probably the only Starfleet ship that could navigate inside them.”
“We have our own rough waters to navigate.”
The ‘lift doors opened on deck two, and Tom took a step toward the corridor. He paused and turned his head, looked at Chakotay again. “Are you going to tell the captain?”
“If she asks.”
Tom nodded. That was fair. In the end, he’d traded nine months for seventy-five years. Even if she was pissed off at him, Janeway couldn’t do much to top that.