Tom and B’Elanna were reviewing the data from opposite ends of their couch, their legs casually entwined, when their door chime sounded. “Come,” B’Elanna called without standing up.
“I hope I’m not disturbing you,” Chakotay said as he stepped into their home. This was unusual. Though the first officer was very close to his chief engineer and former Maquis partner-in-crime, he and Paris generally kept each other at a friendly arm’s length. It was rare for him to come to visit them both alone and without an invitation.
“Not at all,” the pilot offered, swinging his legs over to touch the floor.
“I’m surprised you’re not watching that television,” Chakotay quipped, gesturing to the circa-1950’s set B’Elanna had built for Tom during a long two-week away mission over a year earlier. “I understand that B’Elanna has gotten hooked on something called a ‘soap opera.’ It sounded…interesting.”
She glared at her friend, as her husband laughed and answered. “Energy rationing. Unfortunately, it’s one of the many luxuries we’ve been doing without lately.”
Chakotay nodded, looking more serious as he remembered how difficult the last few weeks had been on them all. He imagined that Tom, whose favorite activities all seemed to require some machinery or holodeck simulation, was feeling the pinch more than most of the crew. Of course, he did have a beautiful young wife to keep him busy. It seemed to B’Elanna’s friend that the time she and Tom had been forced to spend together–without the distractions of the television or the holodeck–had been good for their relationship. After what he knew had been an incredibly volatile courtship, they seemed to have finally settled happily into their lives together.
“I see you’re catching up on some reading instead,” Chakotay said, indicating the PADD’s they had both been pouring over. “Let me guess: it’s a thriller about a group of daring explorers who are trapped far from their homes, who decide to risk everything in a suicidal attempt to make it back to their families.”
Tom grinned. “It’s a best seller, Chakotay. Everyone seems to be reading it.” The commander returned the grin before becoming serious once again.
“I was hoping I could talk to you both about another story I’ve heard of: it’s about a brave group of travelers, too, only–in this story–they band together to forge a new life for themselves on an isolated but charming little planet in the middle of nowhere.”
“Does it have a happy ending?” B’Elanna furrowed her brow in her ‘I know where this is going’ look.
“Funny you should ask,” Chakotay answered. “It’s one of those stories where you write your own ending. I was hoping the two of you could suggest something….”
Tom stood and pulled over a chair for their guest, before returning to his place on the couch. “What did you have in mind?” he asked as he sat back down.
“It’s no secret that the three of us and some of our colleagues face an uncertain future should we make it back to Earth,” Chakotay began. “That’s not to say that we haven’t all worked hard to make sure this ship and our friends made it safely home. It’s also no secret that we’re going to be faced with a choice soon, between taking an incredible risk with the lives of everyone on this ship, and deciding, instead, to make a home for ourselves here in the Delta Quadrant. I was wondering if you two have decided what your choice will be.”
B’Elanna looked at Tom for a moment, then replied, “We haven’t really talked about it. I guess I just assumed until today that the captain would be making that decision for us.”
Tom had been staring softly at her as she spoke. He hadn’t told her about his ‘Scenario A-C’ contingency plans. He didn’t want her worrying about the fact that two of the three would force serious changes in the lives they had built for themselves. Tom had been thinking about their options, ever since the captain hinted at the briefing that she would allow the crew to choose for themselves. Still, he wasn’t sure what choice he and B’Elanna would make. “What are you suggesting?” he asked Chakotay.
“I’d like the two of you to come with me to talk to the captain,” he answered. “Help me make the case that this plan is too dangerous to consider. I’m afraid, if I plead my case alone, she’ll question my motives.” He didn’t have to say what he meant by that. It was no secret to any of the senior staff that Chakotay was deeply in love with their captain. Her feelings were less obvious, but not in question, or so believed everyone in their inner circle of friends. Staying in the Delta Quadrant would mean making new lives as civilians–ones without the restrictions on a commanding officer fraternizing with her first officer. The only future anyone could imagine where Chakotay and Kathryn Janeway might make that life together, as a just a man and a woman. Tom had lived long enough with the uncertainty of his future with B’Elanna that he wondered sometimes how Chakotay kept himself together this long. Working so closely each day with a woman he adored but couldn’t have must have seemed like slow torture. It was one of the many things, over the last six-plus years that had made the lieutenant respect his first officer so deeply.
“To be honest with you, Chakotay,” Tom began, ” a few days ago I was all for landing Voyager on the closest Class M planet and never looking back. When our only other option was drifting until we ran out of food and fuel, the choice seemed pretty clear to me. Now,” Tom considered, “now, I’m not sure how I feel.” He glanced back to his wife, wondering if B’Elanna felt the same. In many ways, she had more to lose and less to gain by making it back to Earth; Tom’s sentence in Auckland was almost over, and he was now in cautious-but-regular contact with his family. B’Elanna hadn’t spoken to either of her parents in over a decade–wasn’t even sure they were alive, in fact–and she had yet to stand trial for her actions in the Maquis rebellion. Tom knew that she and Chakotay had been pretty successful pirates and smugglers during the Cardassian War. He wasn’t sure Starfleet would have any choice but to prosecute them if they returned.
Chakotay seemed to know the best way to convince him. “I know you’d do anything to protect your daughter and the life you’ve built for yourself with B’Elanna. Starfleet’s plan involves huge risks, Tom. Risks that might be worth it if we didn’t have another option. But we do. You said it yourself yesterday; that planet you and Harry found. There’s a chance for a safe, normal life there–for all of us. If we can convince Kathryn to hear us out.”
“And what makes you think she would listen to us?” B’Elanna asked, not sure what path she’d choose herself if given the opportunity.
“Kathryn’s very protective of both of you, you know,” her friend answered. “Her ‘personal reclamation project,’ her surrogate daughter, and–especially–her ‘goddaughter-to-be’. I’m hoping that she’ll realize the incredible risk she’d be asking you to take if we were to go through with this plan.”
“That’s a little emotionally manipulative, don’t you think?” Tom interjected, putting his wife and Chakotay on edge unexpectedly. “Sounds like a job for me,” he continued, smiling.
The computer told him he’d find her in her quarters, though somehow he had expected the ready room. Almost no one interrupted the captain when she was off duty, Tom mused, but he was on a mission of mercy for a friend. Besides, he thought, maybe this conversation would help him decide what it was he wanted to do. He pressed the enunciator and the doors swished open a moment later.
He was surprised to find his captain wearing a simple, pale green dress, not the uniform he was so accustomed to seeing her in. Like this, in the warm surroundings of her shipboard ‘home’ and without the trappings of her command, Tom realized how slight and vulnerable she looked. “Sorry for the interruption, Captain” he offered as he took a step inside her door.
“Tom,” she said a bit surprised. “Come in. What can I do for you?”
“I wanted to ask your permission to name the planet we found yesterday.” She was a little thrown by his comment, which had been his intention.
“You want to name the planet?” she mimicked back to him.
“Yes, ma’am. I’d like to call it, New Phoenix, like the mythical bird. It rose out of the ashes, too.”
Janeway considered Tom’s request for a moment, then motioned him to the seat across from her couch. “I suppose this means you and B’Elanna won’t be joining us for the rest of our journey?”
Tom looked deeply into her eyes and replied, “Actually, Captain, I was thinking maybe New Phoenix might be the final stop on the journey for all of us.”
The captain started to interrupt him, but he continued, “I’ve been thinking about the promise you made to us when we were first stranded out here by the Caretaker. You said you wouldn’t stop until you got us home.”
Janeway’s eyes misted slightly as she answered, “Yes I did. And I still have every intention of making good on that promise, Mr. Paris.”
He nodded his head gently, “I know you do. I just thought you might consider that getting us home might not mean getting us back to Earth. We’ve been together as a kind of family for almost seven years now. Many of us are closer to the people on Voyager than we ever were to those we left behind. I know there are some, though, that left friends and family back home; people who would do almost anything to get back. But I’ve been wondering…is it really worth risking their lives when we have the chance to live–all of us–on a new home right here in the Delta Quadrant.”
“Tom,” the captain began gently, “we have had plenty of opportunities to give up this journey, to set down on any one of dozens of habitable planets and just start over. I’ve been pretty clear about my priorities. Giving up just at the moment when we’re handed a chance to finally…”
He knew what she was going to say, and interrupted her, but kept the gentle tone as he went on. “Things were different, Captain. We had a functioning ship with ample supplies and no reason to think that would ever change. Under other circumstances, we could wait a few months, refine Starfleet’s plan, try to improve the odds. But Voyager doesn’t have a few more months in her. As you said, it’s all or nothing this time. Are you prepared to risk this ship and her crew on this one chance to get it right?”
She was more than aware of what was at stake, yet she knew Tom had a right to ask. After so many years of struggling to straighten out his life, now, finally, on the other side of the galaxy, Thomas Eugene Paris had found himself. In his communication with her through the datastream, Tom’s father had congratulated and thanked the captain for finally straightening out his son. She had immediately disavowed him of that notion. She may have given Tom the opportunity, but it was Paris himself who had turned his life around. She was proud of what he had become, and had grown terribly fond of her young friend–and the volatile and brilliant woman he had married. And she knew they now had their own young family to consider. She knew she couldn’t ask them to come with her. She was just sorry Owen Paris wouldn’t get to reconcile with his son in person.
“Tom, I would never ask you or anyone else to risk your lives on this gamble. That’s why I’ve decided to offer the crew the chance to stay behind on your ‘New Phoenix,’ if that’s what they want. We can leave behind what’s left of our supplies, shelters, and terraforming equipment. I might even be persuaded to part with the Delta Flyer….” She knew the ship was more Tom’s than Voyager’s anyway. She also knew if was a rather empty gesture, since the Flyer required the same absent power sources as its parent ship, and would soon be planet-bound itself. She continued, “But as long as anyone on board thinks the risks are worth it, I have an obligation to try to get them home. It’s a promise I made to this crew and to myself.” She was resolute and he could tell.
“So, you’re going to risk it no matter what,” Tom said as much as asked.
“Yes. I hope you can accept that,” she answered firmly. They sat considering each other for another moment before Tom chose to speak again.
“You’re the bravest woman I’ve ever met,” he said sincerely. “Though I’m sure you’ll understand if I ask you not to mention that to B’Elanna.” They smiled warmly at each other before he continued. “I wonder, sometimes, what my life would be like now if you hadn’t busted me out of that prison.”
She laughed, “It wasn’t exactly a ‘jail-break,’ you know!”
Tom chuckled softly, then added tenderly, “I’ll never be able to repay you for what you’ve given me.”
Her eyes misted over a bit as she considered how far they had come, together, since that first sarcasm-filled conversation on the lawn of the Penal Colony grounds so many years ago. Almost seven years. A lifetime. She was going to miss him. “Sure you can,” she assured him. “Just hang onto the man you’ve become here on Voyager–that’s the real Tom Paris. Never forget it. That’s payment enough.”
They stood and he began to head for the door before turning back to face his captain. “I’m not sure everyone on board will find it so easy to accept your sacrifice,” he said.
She smiled, knowing all too well to whom Tom was referring. “Did you volunteer for this mission, Mr. Paris, or were you recruited?”
He grinned. “A little of both,” he admitted. “He’s just trying to look out for you.” Of course. As he had for as long as she could remember.
“Good night, Tom,” she said softly.
“Good night, Kathryn,” he answered.
Tom and B’Elanna were lying in bed, staring quietly at the ceiling, wide awake and holding each other tightly. They had spent the rest of the evening studying the data on the rescue plan, and now knew all too well how dangerous the attempt might be. Any navigational error, any minor system failure, and the ship could be torn to bits. It would require a kind of precision that couldn’t be guaranteed in Voyager’s current condition.
They had also come to the same conclusion: if the crew had any chance of making it through, they would need all of Tom’s finesse at the helm and all of B’Elanna’s bag of engineering tricks. That alone had made the decision for them: if they stayed behind, ensured their own safety, they would be condemning their friends to near-certain death.
“You’re sure,” Tom confirmed.
“Yes,” B’Elanna whispered. “You are, too.” Their reassurances comforted them, each one knowing that the other was firm in their mutual decision. Tom leaned over and gently kissed the top of his wife’s head. That’s how they stayed, silently, until they both finally drifted off to sleep.
The captain had cleared the mess hall of all but her senior staff, Neelix, and Samantha Wildman. As the mother of the only other child aboard Voyager, Janeway knew Sam faced a more complex decision than many of the others aboard the ship. Her responsibilities as Naomi’s mother held equal weight to her duties to her ship and captain.
Kathryn didn’t want to have this meeting in the formal atmosphere of the briefing room. This was a ‘kitchen table’ conversation, and they should be in the place they had all come to feel the most comfortable. After sharing some quiet talk and Neelix’s poor excuse for coffee, the captain called them to order.
“As you know,” she started, “I have decided to move ahead with Starfleet’s rescue plan. I have also made it clear that each of you must decide for yourself whether or not to join me, or, if you choose, to stay behind on the colony we will form on the planet I am now calling ‘New Phoenix.'” She winked quickly at Tom as she continued. “Unfortunately, those who are staying must decide quickly. We have less than a month to complete the structural repairs and equipment modifications before the next datastream to Earth. We will also need to balance the supplies for the colony based on its size. I trust you have all given this careful consideration.”
She stared with the easiest first. “Mr. Kim?”
Harry didn’t hesitate. “I’m with you, Captain. I’m staying right here.”
She nodded. “Mr. Tuvok.”
Her old friend was also easy to predict. “I also intend to stay with the ship.”
Neelix volunteered next, “And I think I’d like to come along, too, if that’s alright, captain. I really have had my heart set on becoming an ambassador.”
Ensign Wildman patted her friend’s arm. “Naomi and I will be staying, too, Captain. She’s never met her father. I can’t deny her that chance. Plus, she would never forgive me if we left Neelix.”
Janeway smiled. “Seven?”
“I have analyzed the data and believe you will be unable to succeed without my assistance. I have also come to look forward to seeing Bloomington, Indiana. I will stay.” The captain was clearly moved. It looked like Tom and B’Elanna might have their new home all to themselves.
Her chief engineer spoke up before she was asked. “Tom and I discussed it for a long while last night and…we’ll be staying with the ship, too.”
The others were clearly surprised, but to say that Harry was stunned was an understatement. “What about making a new home with your family in the Delta Quadrant?” the ensign asked his best friends.
“That’s just it, Harry,” Tom answered. “Our family has decided to try for home. And we want to stay with them.” Kathryn was choked up. After her conversation with Tom the night before, she was sure they had decided to leave. Now she was grateful for many reasons, not the least of which was the boost to their chances provided by the unique talents of these two young officers.
“I guess its unanimous, then,” Chakotay chimed in.
Of course he wouldn’t leave without us, Kathryn realized. “I guess it is,” she replied, reaching over to squeeze her first officer’s hand, not concerned at all who was watching this show of affection, for they were among friends. “I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you have all decided to see our mission through. But we have 136 others to ask. Department heads, convene staff meetings as quickly as possible. You can report back to me at 1200 hours.” She didn’t bother saying ‘dismissed.’ This had been a family meeting, not a briefing.
She watched as her friends rose from their seats and headed for the doors. Harry couldn’t seem to contain himself, and hugged B’Elanna tightly. Tom put his arm around his best friend’s shoulder and the three walked out together. A moment later, only her first officer remained behind.
“You’re disappointed,” she said to him softly. “I’m sorry.”
Chakotay’s face held that kind of peaceful resolve she had seen him use so often to mask his pain. “A bit,” he admitted. “But I never expected you to be anyone other than who you are.”
She smiled sadly at his observation. “I made them a promise.” A story he knew all too well.
“Yes. Then…,” he said with more conviction than he really felt, “let’s get on with keeping it.” He stood and held out his hand to her. She took it, and rose to stand next to him. They walked together toward the mess hall doors, still quietly holding hands. As the doors swished open to reveal the corridor, Kathryn gently squeezed his fingers, then let go. They walked back to the bridge, arms at their sides, in silence.