Summary: A mysterious entry in the Engineering logs suggests to Tom Paris that something changed on Voyager after their encounter with the Hirogen. But with their approach to Earth looming, will he ever discover what?
Disclaimer: Paramount all, me nil.
This is a/u, for reasons that will become obvious ;)
Tom Paris didn’t like to think of himself as an eavesdropper. It really wasn’t his fault that he possessed good hearing. Since he’d been a child he’d had the knack of picking up whispered sounds and separating them from ambient background noise. So it really wasn’t surprising that he accidentally overheard Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay talking in low tones on the bridge that day.
Thanks to the help of Admiral Janeway and the Borg, Voyager was now steaming towards the Alpha Quadrant. In a little under a week they would reach Earth itself. The crew’s initial enthusiasm had ebbed, but surpressed joy and antipication suffused every face. There were many preparations to make. Captain Janeway ordered all official records, crew logs, maintenance schedules, data logs and hololibraries to be checked and if needed, brought up to date. In was in the midst of one of their dull administrative conversations that he heard it.
“There’s something else I think we should consider,” Janeway was saying in low tones.
“Captain, if you’re going to force me to read one more Astrometics schedule, I might cry,” Chakotay said.
“No. It’s about twelve seven fortyone E,” she said.
Tom felt his heartbeat quicken. He could see in his mind’s eye, as clearly as looking at a holoimage, the file he’d created on the terminal in his quarters all those years ago. Imaginatively titled “12741-E,” it contained fragments of data, a spare parts manifest, key stardates, a short list of personnel, and a longer list of wild suggestions. He peered intently at his console and hoped that nobody would interrupt them.
“Yes,” Chakotay was saying. “I thought you might bring that up.”
“It seemed a sound idea at the time, when we thought we’d be out here for seventy more years,” she replied.
“It certainly served its purpose.”
“It did indeed.”
Tom held his breath. Please, he thought, give me a hint. What purpose? For all his curiosity and three years of intermittant detective work, he was yet to discover what 12741-E actually was.
“Perhaps we could ask B’Elanna and her team to undo their handiwork.”
“Do you think that’s necessary?”
A moment’s silence followed, during which Tom could imagine Janeway’s eyebrow arching quizically.
“Would you like to explain to Starfleet why I ordered it? To Admiral Paris, perhaps.”
“At times, I’ve thought it would be quite amusing.”
“Perhaps for you, Mister,” Janeway said, “but I’m not intending to end my career in Starfleet just yet.”
Tom bit his lip, thinking hard. Her career in Starfleet? This really had to be something serious. Perhaps his earlier guesses (secret adjustments to the weapons systems, illegal propulsion aids?) had not been been so far off the mark.
The Commander chuckled softly. “Alright, Captain. I’ll speak to B’Elanna.”
That was what made it unbearable, somehow. His own wife knew what 12741-E was, and had in all liklihood carried it out herself. No matter how Tom importuned her, she’d steadfastly refused to even admit that she knew what he meant. It had been a running battle over the years, with skirmishes he consistently emerged from none the wiser.
He’d discovered 12741-E three years ago, about four years into their journey and, he’d estimated, about a month after it had taken place. Someone in B’Elanna’s team had made impressive alterations to the flying controls in one of Voyager’s shuttlecrafts. The increase in pilot maneuverability was so great he’d wanted to know who was responsible, and when B’Elanna couldn’t recall, he’d browsed through the engineering schedules himself. The shuttle repairs were numbered 12742-E. Serendipitously, Tom accidentally called up the incorrect file, only to find it protected with an unusually high level of security. So high, in fact, that only the Captain could access it.
If this hadn’t been enough to pique his curiousity, B’Elanna’s reaction when he mentioned it only entranced him more.
“What were you looking at my schedules for?” she snapped.
“I told you, I wanted to find out who repaired the shuttlecraft.”
“You shouldn’t go poking around in other people’s things”.
Tom had stared at her, surprised by how suddenly her tone became prickly. “The engineering logs are public documents. Except for the encypted one.”
“Tom Paris,” B’Elanna stopped pacing then and turned to face him, her hands squarely on her hips. “I’m going to say this to you once, only once. I will not ever tell you what that task involved, and I do not want you to ever ask me again. I won’t even acknowledge that I know what you’re asking about. For your own good, pretend you didn’t see that file.”
“I’m serious, Tom. Leave this one alone.”
It was a red rag to a bull, of course. But she’d been true to her word. So here he sat on the bridge, four years later, rapidly typing notes about what he’d just overheard. He’d add it to his file later. This had been his usual procedure – collecting fragmentary data, then periodically reviewing the file to see if the puzzle made any more sense. Now, however, there was an added sense of urgency. He’d assumed that with Voyager’s return to Earth he’d never solve the mystery. But if the Captain was ordering the job undone – he smiled eagerly – perhaps there was a chance he could finally find out.
“Come on, Harry.”
Tom leaned slightly forward over the mess hall table, wondering idly how many times he’d uttered that phrase over the past seven years.
“The only names I have in my file are B’Elanna, Tuvok, and William Chapman. He knows what that job was. For some reason, B’Elanna couldn’t do it herself. I’m not going to get any answers out of her, and I’m certainly not asking Tuvok.”
“I don’t see what you expect me to do about it.”
“Chapman’s a friend of yours.”
“A casual friend.”
“Better than nothing.”
Harry sighed. “What would you like me to do, Tom? Say to him, ‘Hey Bill, I was just wondering if you could tell me about a job you did, oh, around four years ago now. I was just curious if the Captain had asked you to reverse whatever it was you did back then’.”
“Three years, Harry. It was three years ago.”
“Whatever. Long enough for you to let it go.”
“You don’t have to ask him, just shadow him for a while.”
“Be extra friendly. Keep an eye on what he’s doing in his spare time.”
“We’ve got about five days until we reach Earth, Tom. None of us has much spare time.”
“Exactly. Whatever the Captain wants done, she’s going to want it soon.”
Harry rubbed at his eyes tiredly. His own preparations for their return home were still imbued with excitement, but the extra adrenelin of the past week was wearing him down.
“If I say yes, will you leave me alone?”
“Give me this famous file of yours.”
Harry took the padd Tom proffered and began scanning through it.
“So, you have a Stardate. 51752.4.” He frowned. “That’s around the time we stopped running into the Hirogen. And a list of parts. That’ll narrow it down a bit.”
Tom sniffed indignantly. “There’s more than that. I’ve narrowed the possible decks down by doing a search of all the maintenance on all decks during a six month period around that time. I’ve tracked all of the repair crews movements and checked each sector against the ship’s specs to note any changes that weren’t recorded.”
Harry blinked at him. “You spent all that time crawling around the ship with a pile of diagrams?”
“More or less,” Tom admitted.
“You are crazy.”
“I was being thorough.”
“It’s very thorough,” Harry said, “for what it is. But I don’t see how that helps. You have it down to decks one through seven. But logically, what would they have done to deck six or seven?”
“I don’t know.”
“I mean,” Harry went on, feeling himself being drawn into the puzzle despite his reservations. “Whatever this alteration was, it had to be something that served a purpose.”
“That’s what they were saying on the bridge this morning,” Tom agreed. “It made sense because they thought we might be out here for seventy or more years,” he recited.
“Okay. But I don’t see how scanning each sector helps. If we haven’t noticed it by now, it might be something really insignificant to us, but meaningful to the Captain. Maybe... maybe she just had them do something non-regulation, like replace all the cushions on her ready room couch with something super soft and comfortable.”
“Replace all her cushions,” Tom said softly. His eyes had lost their focus, and he was gazing at Harry as though the other man was translucent. “Maybe that’s it.”
“Tom,” Harry said, snapping his fingers, “that’s just a stupid example I made up. I didn’t mean it.”
“No,” Tom said, “but you might be onto something.” He shook his head as if to clear it, then grinned suddenly. “Harry, I may have been looking in the wrong place all along. At the ship’s systems. What if it was just something personal, a favour that the Captain asked? Something for her alone, something a little unconventional. If not against regulations, at least something she’d be embarassed to explain.” His eyes gleamed. “Maybe even something in her quarters.”
“Oh no,” Harry said. He dropped the padd back down on the table as though it had overheated. “I am not going anywhere near the Captain’s quarters.”
Tom was staring off into the distance again, his face thoughtful. “Maybe we won’t need Chapman after all.”
“We?” said Harry. “This is your wild goose chase, Tom.”
“Aren’t you even slightly curious?”
“To tell you the truth, Tom, I don’t really care.”
Even to him, they sounded like famous last words.
There was some kind of momentum to Tom Paris’ schemes that created a field of artificial gravity around them. Harry knew this by now, and yet he could feel himself being sucked into the orbit of Tom’s crazy idea all the same. He told himself that his own suggestions were just practicalities, a way to help Tom out, or, more correctly, to stop him behaving so obviously. Tailing Bill Chapman as he performed his maintence rounds was hardly subtle detective work.
So the bug in B’Elanna’s boot was his idea.
“She said she was going to the holodeck,” Tom said.
Harry shook his head, pointing to the three dimensional image of Voyager’s schematics displayed on Tom’s terminal. “Her comm signal is in the holodeck, but the boot isn’t. It’s in the turbolift. Now it’s getting out at deck three.”
“She, Harry, not it.” Tom said. “I think we can safely assume my wife’s foot is in the boot.”
“Okay,” Harry said. “She’s passing the VIP quarters now.”
Tom thudded his fist on the desk. “I knew it! She’s going to the Captain’s quarters.”
“Nope,” Harry said. His fingers flew over the console, enlarging the map so that Tom could see more clearly. “She’s stopped, and is now entering...” he pointed with his index finger, “the Commander’s quarters.”
“Chakotay?” Tom frowned. “That doesn’t make sense at all.”
“Perhaps he wanted more comfortable cushions, too,” Harry suggested.
Tom ignored him. “Why would the Captain authorise a change in his rooms?”
Harry eyed Tom for a moment, then smiled slyly. “I guess it’s time to bring out the big guns.”
“Guns? What guns?”
“Computer,” Harry said, “activate Harry Kim program Beta Pi Three.”
On the monitor screen the diagram of Voyager flickered and disappeared. It was replaced with a view of what looked like a close up of grey fluff.
“Carpet?” Tom said. “You put a camera in her boot?”
“Why not? It was no harder than the tracking beacon.”
“Oh boy. We really better hope she doesn’t find that.”
They both craned their necks to the left to try to see the image more clearly.
“It’s grey,” Harry said. “Whatever she’s working on, it’s definitely grey.”
“Helpful. Very helpful. There’s not much grey on Voyager.”
Now they both turned their necks to the right. Minutes passed as they watched the blurry images wavering on the screen, first ten, then twenty, then half an hour.
“Maybe you should have put the camera in the cuff of her sleeve,” Tom said. “At least it would have gotten near what she’s fixing.”
“Are you criticising, Paris? Because your plan wasn’t too brilliant either.”
Tom sighed and slumped back in his chair.
“I guess at least we know where the job was done”, he said. “We just need a better way to get a look at it.”
“I am not breaking into the Commander’s quarters,” Harry said firmly. “And, before you ask, I’m not attatching surveillence equipment anywhere on his person either.”
“Maybe we could replicate a bottle of wine and drop by,” Tom said.
“I hardly think they’d let us inside.”
They fell into silence for a while, until Tom’s suggested that perhaps they should forget the whole thing, and for old times’ sakes, pay a visit to Sandrines.
A combination of their impasse and six hours drinking in the Marseilles bar seemed to lead logically and inevitably to Tom and Harry being caught crawling through the Jeffries tubes above Chakotay’s rooms. To Tom’s credit, he thought quickly enough on his feet – metaphorically speaking – to create a semi-plausable excuse.
“A radiation leak?” Janeway said.
“Err... yes,” Harry said, trying to remain upright while shooting Tom a quick glare. “We thought it might be extremely serious, and that we should look at it ourselves to save time.”
“As it turned out,” Tom added, (to Harry’s ears, a touch too loudly) “it was just a false reading on the tricorder.”
“Lucky,” Janeway said.
“Yes, it was.”
Janeway glanced out of her ready room window, seeming to supress a smile as she responded. “I mean, lucky you happened to be in the vicinity of the officers’ quarters, scanning with your tricorder at this time of night.”
“Wasn’t it,” Harry said.
“Listen boys,” Janeway said, edging forwards on the couch. Harry wondered how she could create such a threatening aura by moving her body a few centimetres. His eyes strayed curiously to the cushions. They appeared innocuous enough.
“I don’t know what you’re up to. I suspect some kind of end-of-voyage prank. To be honest, I don’t think I want to know.”
Tom and Harry exchanged glances.
“We-” Tom began.
Janeway held up a hand to forestall him.
“Never mind. I really don’t want to know. But I would like to give you some advice, if I may?”
“Of course, Captain,” Harry said, assuming that a missive on alcohol would follow.
Janeway’s eyes narrowed slightly, although she was still smiling.
“Stay away from my First Officer’s quarters,” she said. “And that goes for mine as well. Dismissed.”
As they were about to step through the door, she called out after them.
“Oh, and Tom?”
She smiled again, that curve of her lips that suddenly seemed more dangerous than friendly.
“If there’s anything you want to know, you can come and ask me.”
Tom bobbed his head. “Yes ma’am,” he said.
Harry almost forgot to breathe again. Once they were safely in the bridge turbolift, he turned to his friend.
“You do realise that she knew exactly what we were up to? Exactly.”
Tom snorted. “How could she possibly know?”
“I don’t know how, Tom.” Harry sighed. “But one thing I’ve learnt on this voyage – you should never ever think that you know absolutely everything about Kathryn Janeway.”
Tom echoed his sigh. Perhaps he wouldn’t solve the riddle of 12741-E after all.
“I can’t believe you did it so quickly. I’m impressed.”
B’Elanna grinned at her Captain and friend, and rested a hand on her bulging stomach. “Chapman and Chakotay helped. But I’m still the most efficient mother-to-be in the fleet.”
“You should get back to your quarters and get some rest.”
“And keep an eye on my husband?”
Kathryn chuckled. “That too. Though I think he might have run out of steam, for the present, anyway.”
As the young woman turned to leave her quarters, Kathryn reached out to touch her arm.
“B’Elanna,” she said. “I wanted to thank you. For your help, but also...”
“For being discreet?”
Kathryn smiled. “For not giving in to Tom’s nagging. We do appreciate it.”
“I was happy to help, Kathryn.”
“We owe you.”
“I’ll remember that, come baby-sitting time.”
After B’Elanna had left, Kathryn moved towards the smooth grey wall of her quarters. She reached out and pressed her palm flat against it, tracing an invisible line with her hand. There were so many memories in this wall, so many days and nights, such sadness and joy that had seeped into the fabric of the bulkheads over the past seven years.
In the silence, Chakotay stepped up behind her, slipping his arms comfortably around her waist, pulling her against him.
“Oh, Chakotay,” she said, as she leaned her body weight back against him. “You know I wouldn’t have made it through these seven years without you.”
His warm lips planted a familiar kiss on her neck, just below her left ear.
“Yes, you would,” he said. “Wouldn’t have been so much fun, though.”
Kathryn thought of the Kazon, of Seska, the Vidiians, the Void, the Borg.
“Not that you should forget the unpleasant parts of the past,” he said softly, resting his cheek against her hair, “but I’d like to think we’ve had our share of great times in this ship, too.”
“Mmm,” Kathryn murmered. She thought of Kes, of Da Vinci, of Amelia Earheart, young Naomi Wildman. And of course, of Chakotay. She let her fingers slip from the wall and reached down to caress his hands.
“But it’s strange though, isn’t it. Look.”
They stood there for a few moments more, both gazing at the bland grey wall that separated the Captain and Commander’s quarters.
“You can’t tell at all, can you?” she said
“No,” he said. “Unless they did a very detailed scan, no one would ever guess that B’Elanna had built us a connecting door.”
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