Seconds seemed like an eternity and suddenly it was over. While B'Elanna asked the Bidelli to wait for her in the corridor, Harry and Seven helped Tom to his feet and over to sit on the couch.
"What the hell was that all about?" Harry asked gruffly the instant the doors closed behind the two soldiers. He was careful however, to keep his voice down in case the Bidelli could hear through the door.
"It was about keeping this idiot alive." B'Elanna ground out as she used the painstick still in her hand to point at Tom. Tom flinched even though he was well away from B'Elanna who had moved to the far end of the room away from the door.
"He only told them to move. Just because he was a little rude is no reason to beat him like that." Harry reasoned.
"By their standards, it's all the justification they need. The only reason he's still alive is because I beat their second-in-command in fair combat. I rate as a warrior of high enough merit that my 'property' won't just be carelessly disposed of." B'Elanna answered.
"He insulted them Harry. According to Bidelli law, they would have been well within their rights to kill Tom." Seven added with her usual calm. "To them, we have a value only marginally higher than animals and are allowed to live only as long as we prove useful."
"So you're saying one wrong word and they could kill us at any time?" Harry asked shaken.
"With a little luck we managed to settle that." B'Elanna began. "Now that I've established all problems are to be brought to me and that I will carry out the punishment, you and Tom should be safe."
"Yeah, but who is gonna protect us from you?" Tom muttered.
"No one will, Mr. Paris." Seven answered, before B'Elanna could. "If you are seen to be disobedient and in need of discipline, B'Elanna will have no choice but to punish you." Looking into B'Elannas stormy eyes, Seven continued with perfect calm. "If she had not punished you as she just did, the Bidelli would have seen her as weak. She would lose honour in their eyes and all our lives would be at risk, even more so than when we first came aboard this ship."
Tom snorted derisively. He was still too sure of his own worth to realize just how little value he had in this culture. Harry however was not so stupid. "You can't just play at being the master. You have to make sure they never have a reason to think anything else. Even a single act of leniency at the wrong time could cost us everything." Quietly he asked, "This is what you tried to warn us about, isn't it?"
The trusting and understanding look on Seven's normally placid face helped restore B'Elanna's calm. So when she answered she was able to take a normal tone. "Yes it is. I'll be able to pass off some things as a cultural difference...."
"Like the issue of who is allowed to punish us?" Harry interrupted quietly.
"Yeah, like that. But the thing is, you will still have to bear the punishment if there is a problem." Unable to look at Harry, she said, "If you step on a Bidelli's foot, I have to shove that painstick in your gut for it."
Running his hands through his hair, Harry got up and moved to the window. After a moment he turned and addressed B'Elanna who had gone back to brooding. "It's ok B'Elanna. If I end up in trouble, I'm not going to like it much, but I know you won't go any further than you have to. Better a painstick than getting killed just for stepping on someone's toe." he finished with a small laugh.
"As long as she doesn't start having too much fun with that painstick." Tom muttered as he reached for the medical kit Seven had just brought over to him.
With uncharacteristic spite, Seven drew back and set the kit on the table just far enough out of the helmsman's reach to make sure he would have to painfully stretch to get it for himself. Tom had no trouble reading the anger in the gesture. Without a word she moved to B'Elanna's side.
Harry was just as angry. "Tom you need to shut up. If it weren't for your big mouth you wouldn't be sitting here bleeding all over the place." Seeing the look on B'Elanna's face he said, "Look, just leave him to me for now. Maybe I can talk some sense into him. If not, then he deserves whatever he gets."
Ignoring Tom's indignant look, he changed the subject. "You have a party to attend. I think you better go before your escorts start to wonder. Seven and I can take care of Tom."
"Actually Seven is coming with me." At the questioning look she clarified. "It's a perfect opportunity to establish her status as a.. ahhh.. ummm.."
Ignoring B'Elanna's sudden embarrassment, Seven took up the slack. "It is an ideal time to establish my status as her personal body slave."
Harry noticed the blush too, "You mean her sex slave?" he asked with a blush if his own, but the chance to break the tension in the room and tease the usually confident B'Elanna was worth it.
"Precisely." Seven answered. Though less obvious, she too was enjoying the Klingon's discomfort. "My attendance at her side will help establish that my body is for only her to enjoy." she said with clinical detachment, thought the small smile was easily seen by all.
"So will you have to physica..." Harry got out before B'Elanna interrupted.
"Enough! We have a party to go to. You two stay here and take care of Tom's injuries. We'll see you when we get back." And with that, she quickly ushered Seven out the door before either of them could embarrass her further.
The instant the two women were out the door Harry rounded on Tom. "Have you not been listening at all?" he asked angrily.
"Look, before you start the lecture could you give me a hand here? I'd like to stop bleeding sometime today." Tom replied sarcastically as he turned the dermal regenerator on and pointed it awkwardly at the cut on his cheek.
Harry could see that Tom was not in the best of moods. He couldn't blame him really. He'd just been beaten by a Bidelli officer for .. well.. being himself and the payback for it had been B'Elanna using a painstick on him. The problem was that if Tom kept acting like this he would eventually get them all killed. Sitting beside Tom on the couch he watched Tom for a moment as he decided how to get him to see how serious this all was.
"No lecture, just some very unpleasant facts." Harry finally said.
With a brutal honesty and clinical detachment that would have left Seven impressed he stated.
"We do not have enough of anything on the Delta Flyer to last more than a few days. Voyager will not be able to catch up to us for at least three weeks.
If we left this ship we would die unless we could find a safe planet to hide on. Without warp power that would be suicide.
We are in Bidelli space. Even if we could leave this particular ship, we'd just have to do this again and again with the every Bidelli we meet. How many of them do you think will even give us the same chance B'Elanna got for us here?"
Taking the dermal regenerator from Tom, he began waving the device over the gash in his cheek. Tom would not look at Harry even though they were practically touching, but by his expression he was listening.
"B'Elanna was the only one who had a chance of winning a challenge. If we'd all had to fight, you and I would not be having this conversation because we'd be the individual property of the winners and you saw how they treat slaves.
Like it or not, that story was the only one that had a chance of working and keeping us all together. Anything else and we'd be slaves for real to soldiers who were willing to kill you just for telling one of them to get out of your way.
She meant what she said Tom; if we so much as step on a Bidelli's toe she has no choice but to use that painstick on us, because if she doesn't they'll see her as weak. That thing hurts like hell, but at least there's no real damage.
These people prey on weaker cultures. The only reason we're still safe is because B'Elanna established herself as another predator. If she shows any weakness they'll turn on her in a heartbeat. Leniency or compassion would be seen as a major weakness."
Harry felt like he was rambling but he couldn't help himself. He needed to voice it as much for his own peace of mind as to try and get the point across to Tom.
"As strange and bizarre as it sounds, the only way to stay safe here is to play along and let B'Elanna use that painstick on us for every little thing."
"That sounds safe." Tom snorted. Tom was determined to miss the point
"For the next three weeks, that's as safe as it's going to get. B'Elanna will do what she can to avoid using any force but...." Harry grated.
"But what? When she turns that painstick on you what are you going to do?" Tom interrupted with a glare.
"I'm going to take it and try to act like I deserved it as the lesser being these people believe us to be." Harry replied stiffly.
"How very noble of you." Tom sneered.
"Call it what you want Tom." Harry answered tiredly as he got up and went back to the window he'd been looking out of earlier. "If B'Elanna hadn't done what she did, all our lives would be in danger. I know you don't like what just happened to you any more that I liked seeing it happen but you need to understand you gave her no choice. They were ready to kill you for insulting them. The only way to keep you alive was to present herself as the bigger threat."
"Yeah well she sure did that, and then some." Tom commented dryly. With his wounds freshly healed he put the medical kit back on the table and leaned back to rest his still sore body on the couch.
"It's ironic. The only reason we're even alive is because we're pretending to be the slaves we'd have become if we'd told them who we really are. Imagine what will happen if they find out we are not who and what we say we are." Harry asked rhetorically as he walked toward the smaller of the two bedrooms which him and Tom would be sharing for the duration. "If the Bidelli find out we've lied to them, we're all dead. You and I will probably go out the nearest airlock. But, you heard what Seven said about female slaves. By the time the Bidelli are ready to kill them, they'll be wishing for it." and with that he left a suddenly pale Tom sitting behind him.
It would be a long time before Tom would move from that spot.
The doors opened a split second before they reached them. As the body came sailing out, they had just enough time to take a hasty step back.
Seven watched as the body turned out to be a half conscious Bidelli.
"Stay close." she heard through the earring she wore. Seven was suddenly thankful that B'Elanna had decided to alter the eavesdropping devices they had found in their quarters into the devices they now wore disguised as earrings. Without a word she moved closer.
It had been most amusing to walk the corridors of the ship on their way to the mess hall. Her and B'Elanna had conducted an almost non-stop conversation, literally under the noses of their escorts. The *earrings* worked perfectly and they had been able to discuss the upcoming festivities all the way to said festivities without Brevis or Droma hearing a single word.
"Khima!" Brevis exclaimed with a loud booming laugh. "You really have to stop challenging Arvos for his post. Why don't you take on Rivek? He's more your size." Still laughing he and Droma helped the dazed man to his feet.
"I don't want to be a communications officer. I want to be head of security!" the still dazed and slightly drunk man exclaimed. With an incoherent shout he turned and went back into the room he had just been thrown out of.
Brevis moved closer so that the doors would remain open. "Khima you've met." he said jovially. "Time to meet the rest of the crew." and with a huge grin, he waded into what had more the appearance of a brawl than a celebration.
"Shall we?" she heard through her earring. The humour was unmistakable though to anyone else it would appear B'Elanna was completely ignoring Seven.
"Of course." Seven answered. "After you." she added dryly.
Resisting the urge to laugh out loud, B'Elanna led them into the chaos.