It was almost like old times.
Tom leaned against the comm station and folded his arms over his chest. The tactical suite was packed with former shipmates. Most were in uniform, but a few were still in civvies and rubbing sleep from their eyes. Ken Dalby and Gerron were chatting with Sue and Philicia in one corner of the room, while the Delaney sisters grilled a blushing Ethan Murphy about the handsome young Trill he'd brought to Celes and Billy's wedding. Chell, Sharr and Stipes had commandeered the replicator and were passing cups of coffee and plates of pastries through the group. Swinn and Jarvin had their heads bent close together, no doubt conspiring to pull off a practical joke on either Pablo Baytart or Renn – or both, probably. Tom and B'Elanna had been surprised and pleased to find Renn at Baytart's house in Albuquerque just half an hour earlier.
Tom smiled, watching the group. They'd all been together just a week ago for the wedding, of course, but there was a different energy to the gathering now. There was a mission at hand, and while Tom and B'Elanna had only been able to give each of them the barest details of the situation, they'd all agreed to help with no hesitation whatsoever. Admiral Janeway was in trouble and Commander Chakotay needed their help to rescue her. That was really the only information any of them had required before jumping into the fray.
B'Elanna peered at him. "What are you grinning at?"
Tom thrust his chin toward the gathered crowd. "That," he said. "I suddenly feel a lot better about getting the Admiral and Kayma back."
"We all do make a pretty good team, don't we?" She leaned against him and he draped an arm across her shoulders.
He was about to agree when the doors slid open and admitted Tuvok, Seven and Vorik. All three wore grim expressions, probably almost as much for their rain-soaked uniforms as for their concern with the situation. Vorik joined Dalby's group while Tom motioned to Tuvok and Seven. "Did you find anything else?" he asked when they reached him.
Tuvok shook his head, sending a splatter of raindrops into the air. "Negative. Were you able to track the cargo vessel?"
B'Elanna nodded. "It launched from Crater Lake into low-Earth orbit, then broke orbit about half an hour later. The tracking data is already loaded into the Flyer II's navigation system."
"Are we certain the Admiral and Kayma were aboard the vessel?" Seven asked, gingerly wiping rain from the rim of her ocular implant.
Tom shrugged. "We scanned for her biosignature in the area and never found it. Seems like the mostly likely scenario. Chakotay thinks so, anyway."
Before either Tuvok or Seven could reply, Chell waddled up and handed them each a large, fluffy towel. Sharr waited for both officers to wrap the towels around their shoulders, then gave them each a steaming cup of tea. Both Bolians nodded solemnly at them all before turning and shuffling back into the crowd. Tom chuckled.
The doors slid open, this time admitting Mike Ayala and the Doc. Both man and hologram looked very serious – not an unusual expression for the Doc, but Mike definitely seemed more subdued than normal. Tom felt B'Elanna tense under his arm and drew her a little closer to his side. He waved the Doc and Mike over, too, and Tuvok and Seven stepped slightly aside to draw them to the group.
"Did you find anything at the Admiral's house?" Tom asked.
Mike shrugged. "Not much. She definitely didn't leave willingly, though." His jaw clenched. "While we were there that Thorpe guy showed up."
Tom groaned. "What did he want?"
"I think he was supposed to go somewhere with the Admiral. Wasn't very happy that Chakotay was there late last night." Mike grinned suddenly. "So…Chakotay was there late last night?"
Tom started to answer, but quieted when B'Elanna elbowed him in the ribs. Someday soon, he was going to have a permanent bruise there.
B'Elanna turned to the Doc. "How's Harry?" she asked.
The Doc's expression cleared instantly. "Recovering nicely," he said. "His wound was extensive, and he had lost a great deal of blood. But I was able to repair the damage and reverse the effects of the neurotoxin."
Tom and B'Elanna both gasped. Tuvok and Seven frowned. "The what?" Tom asked.
The Doc glanced at Ayala. "Should we wait for the Admiral and Commander?"
Mike nodded solemnly. "Probably. It would be best if we all heard it at once." He started to turn away. "Is there coffee?"
B'Elanna's hand shot out and wrapped around Ayala's wrist. She yanked him back to her with inhuman force. "What the hell is going on, Mike?" Her voice was low and dangerous. "Where's Chakotay?"
Mike winced and tried to pry her fingers from his wrist. "He's getting more information from Admiral Paris."
"Tell me what's going on," B'Elanna hissed.
Tom placed a soothing hand atop hers, around Mike's wrist. He felt the tension quivering just beneath her skin. Harry was one of their closest friends, and the thought of him being harmed by a neurotoxin was almost too much for Tom to take, too. He had a sick feeling in his stomach that the situation was much worse than they'd imagined, and he felt the apprehension rolling of his wife in waves. "I'm worried too, B'Ela," he said softly. "But let's just wait for Chakotay and Dad." He stroked her fingers with his own until she let go and gripped his hand, hard.
The doors opened again, admitting Owen and Chakotay. Tom was sure he'd never seen his father so ashen. And Chakotay… Angry. Very, very angry. Tom couldn't remember the last time he'd seen the man's expression quite so dark and dangerous. Maybe during the episode with that slimy Devore Inspector. Maybe even before that.
Everyone in the room quieted. Tom took a quick look around and realized everyone had come to the same conclusion he had: Chakotay was one pissed off man. B'Elanna gripped his hand so hard, Tom's fingers went numb. "Something's wrong," she whispered. "Something has happened."
Chakotay held up his hands for attention, although the gesture was unnecessary. "I want to thank you all for coming so early on a Sunday morning. I know the Lieutenants Paris filled each of you in as you arrived, but Admiral Paris has just given me some new information that changes things." He rubbed his forehead for a moment, as if searching for words. "This isn't just a simple search and rescue anymore. The abduction of Admiral Janeway and my cousin Kayma…" He swallowed hard. "It was the first stage in a much larger operation. Before we proceed, before you commit to anything, you all need to know: This is now a tactical mission, with full Starfleet backing. And we're facing a new threat from an old enemy."
The words were enough to silence the little remaining chatter. "First, Lieutenant Kim is going to be fine." A murmur of relief rose up. "When he came to, he was able to identify the abductor. It's Brant Suder, Lon's brother."
A gasp rose up, and a question came from the back of the room – Sam Wildman. "What does he want with the Admiral and your cousin?"
"He wanted to get to me," Chakotay said simply. "Revenge for his brother's death. He's just as unbalanced as Lon, and just as dangerous. But he's not the real problem. It's the people he's been working for. He's just a pawn in somebody else's game, someone who does want Admiral Janeway—and Voyager."
Everyone in the room went completely still. Chakotay met each pair of eyes in turn, falling at last on Dalby and Gerron. "We have reason to believe that, whether he knew it or not, Brant was working for an organization called The True Way. He delivered Kathryn and Kayma to Cardassian terrorists, led by Gul Evek."
The revelation caused a sensation among Tom's former Maquis crewmates. Ken Dalby smashed his fist against the nearest console. Gerron's whole body deflated. Philicia leaned into Sue, hiding her face in her hands. Beside him, B'Elanna trembled with rage.
Chakotay cleared his throat. The silence that followed was tense. "You all know what that means, and how dangerous this operation will be," Chakotay continued. "Before I turn the floor over to Admiral Paris, you all need to know: I'm not ordering anyone to undertake this mission. This is strictly voluntary. Starfleet can have a full tactical team at my disposal if I ask for it. So if you want out, now's the time." He met Tom's eyes, and then B'Elanna's. "I know this dredges up a lot of old memories and anger from a fight you thought was over. And you've all made good lives for yourselves here, Starfleet and Maquis alike. Those lives are worth preserving and protecting. So no one in this room will think less of any of you for leaving now."
No one moved. Five seconds passed. Ten. Tom thought of Miral, back at his parents' house. She was probably eating the breakfast they'd left for her, gripping the spoon in her little fist and trying to get even one bite of strained peaches, her favorite, into her mouth. Then he thought of Harry lying alone in the road with a hole in his chest and a neurotoxin coursing through his system. He knew that Chakotay was trying to give them, all of them, a way out.
But as good as their lives were, Tom knew none of them would take it.
He looked down at his wife, who nodded once and stepped forward.
"All due respect, Chakotay," she said, breaking the charged silence, "but you're wasting time."
"That's right," Dalby called out. "Starfleet'll take forever to move on this. And we're here now." Tom's gaze flicked to his father, who wisely chose not to contradict Dalby.
Gerron stood up straight again, renewed fire in his eyes. "No one messes with our Captain Janeway!"
"Admiral," the Delaney sisters said together, and Gerron shrugged.
"She'll always be my Captain," he crowed, and a general shout of assent rose from the group.
Dalby slapped the younger man on the back and addressed Chakotay again. "Let's get on with it. Sir."
Chakotay glanced at Tuvok and Seven, who raised identical eyebrows at him. Tuvok inclined his head toward the gathered crew. "I suggest, before the team grows any more restless, you 'get on with it.'"
"Sir," Seven added. "I believe the suggestion was, 'get on with it, sir.'"
Chakotay held up his hands again. "Thank you all," he said again. "You can't know how much it means to me, and how much it'll mean to Kayma and Kathryn, that you're willing to put yourselves in harm's way for them." He stepped aside. "Admiral?"
Tom watched his father closely. They'd never actually worked together, and as grave as the situation was, Tom was glad to get even a glimpse of Owen Paris, Starfleet Officer, in his natural element. The older man's face was still ashen, but he looked just as determined as Chakotay. "As some of you may know, the True Way were active before the Dominion War. They believed then that the Federation was the primary threat to Cardassian civilization and advocated a return to an older, more militaristic form of Cardassian government. In 2372, they committed several acts of terrorism against the Federation, including the assassination of two Bajoran politicians and the bombing of the USS Orinoco. We thought they had disbanded during the war."
He consulted a padd and went on. "We know that several months ago, shortly after your return from the Delta Quadrant, the True Way became active on Cardassia again, attempting to rise to power in the political vacuum left after the Dominion War. They want to return control of Cardassia to the Cardassian Union. And they're working with the Jem'Hadar to make it happen."
Owen paused to let that information sink in. "The True Way is telling the people of Cardassia that Voyager returned to the Alpha Quadrant with Borg technology Starfleet intends to use to destroy its enemies, including Cardassia."
A ripple of angry disbelief moved through the room. "But that's not true," B'Elanna protested. "Voyager's at Utopia Planitia just doing nothing."
Owen nodded. "Precisely. But word of your return, and the way you got here, filtered back to Cardassia. They're a defeated, vulnerable people. The True Way used that little bit of information to play on ordinary citizens' fears of further devastation. The True Way has been rising steadily. We've been watching for signs of further militarization, and hadn't seen anything worrisome." The older man consulted the padd again, and sighed. "But Starfleet Intelligence dismissed a source prematurely, it seems. The tip we didn't take seriously was this: The Jem'Hadar, unknown to the people of Cardassia except those highest in the True Way, are developing a biological weapon. But they don't have a ship fast enough or powerful enough to deliver it to the Federation."
As all the facts came together in his mind, the bottom dropped out of Tom's whole universe. "And Harry was hit with a neurotoxin," he groaned. "A test?"
Chakotay shook his head once and spoke up. "A plasma weapon that delivered a dose of the neurotoxin. Probably developed by the Cardassians with help from the Jem'Hadar."
Tom nodded and turned to the Doc. "Psylosinine?"
The hologram looked startled for an instant. "Your medical training does you credit, Mister Paris," he said, and addressed the team at large. "Weaponized psylosinine is a neurotoxin and makes for a very efficient biological weapon. In its purest form, it causes intense pain at the site of the delivery that radiates rapidly throughout the body. The neurological damage spreads along the nervous system. When it reaches the brain, it causes autonomous functions to shut down, culminating in organ failure and death. Fortunately, Mister Kim took a very small amount, and while the pain must have been considerable, the damage was not extensive."
Tom breathed a sigh of relief at that, but knew there was more to come. "Natural psylosinine is a neurotransmitter found in the brains and nervous systems of Betazeds," the Doc went on.
"Healthy Betazeds," Tom corrected.
The Doc nodded. "That's right. Lon Suder's system was not capable of producing sufficient psylosinine to keep his paracortex functioning properly. Hence his lack of typical Betazed telepathy. Lon's brother Brant likely has the same pathology."
Vorik spoke up for the first time. "Is this how the True Way secured Suder's cooperation? By supplying synthetic psylosinine?"
Chakotay nodded. "We think they promised him regular doses of psylosinine and a chance to confront me if he delivered Kathryn – Admiral Janeway. He missed the Admiral on the first try and wound up with Kayma instead. Now he has them both."
A slow murmur of grim understanding spread throughout the room. Tom felt B'Elanna's shoulders slump. "And they wanted Admiral Janeway," she deduced, "to get to Voyager."
Chakotay nodded again. "Brant's a pawn in this. Not blameless," he added, "and far from innocent, but a pawn."
Seven raised an eyebrow at him. "You're certain they're going after Voyager?"
"The planetside station on Mars lost contact with Voyager's dock about half an hour ago," Owen said. "When I was speaking with the officer in charge just a moment ago, we lost contact with Utopia Planitia altogether. Either the entire facility has been disabled, or a dampening field has been activated. Or," he said grimly, "the facility has been destroyed."
"Have you sent Security to check it out?" Ayala asked.
"The station has gone dark," Chakotay answered. "A team is moving in from Jupiter station, but we're closer, and if Kathryn and Kayma are being held on the ship, we're more familiar with Voyager than anyone. We're the best team for the operation. Although," he addressed the Doc. "I need my Ops man, Doctor. How soon can you have Harry ready to depart?"
"In three days' time," the Doc said with indignation. "Mister Kim's place is here. He needs to rest and recover."
Chakotay frowned. "He knows Voyager's systems better than I do. We need him. Get him ready."
"Out of the question," the Doc stated flatly. "He stays here." The Doc turned to Tom. "I cannot believe he wants to force Lieutenant Kim to take part in this operation. Typical lack of judgment where my patients are concerned."
Tom patted him on the back and winked at Chakotay. "You're right, Doc. Harry'll be fine here at Starfleet Medical. You're leaving him in good hands." Out of the corner of his eye, Tom saw Chakotay duck his head to hide his smile. "The Doctors and nurses here will take excellent care of him."
"Excellent care?" the Doc spluttered. "Here?"
B'Elanna took his hand again, and Tom noticed that, now that it was time to act, some of the tension had left her. "You're going with us, Doc," she said. "Aren't you?"
"Of course, but I-"
"Then you'll just have to leave Harry to take his chances with the staff here," Tom said, "but I'm sure he'll be fine."
The Doc frowned at him, B'Elanna and Chakotay, and then back at him again. "Well played," he grumbled, and left the room on a wave of soft, knowing laughter.
Chakotay motioned for silence again. "Thanks to Lieutenant Nicoletti and Ensign Gerron, the Delta Flyer II is ready to launch," he said. "It'll be a tight fit, but it's a short trip to Mars. See Chell and Sharr for gear and equipment. I want everyone armed and on the Flyer in ten minutes." He met each of their eyes in turn. "You have your orders. Move."
There were a few subdued cheers, and then everyone hurried to comply.
Tom watched his father and Chakotay cross the room to them, both of them quietly serious. Chakotay in particular had a concerned expression on his face. "Tom, B'Elanna," he began, "you've been a great help this morning. But I'll understand if you don't want to take this any further."
B'Elanna punched him on the shoulder. "Stow it, Chakotay, and tell us what you want us to do."
Before the Commander could say anything more, the comm station bleeped. Surprised, everyone in the vicinity turned to check the source of the incoming signal: Bloomington, Indiana.
Chakotay sighed. "Gretchen. I should probably give her an update."
Owen, closest to the console, accepted the incoming call. "You're on, Commander."
Gretchen Janeway's worried face materialized. "Commander, I was wondering…" She paused and peered at all of them crowded around the comm. "Well," she said dryly, a lopsided smile appearing on her face, "I see you've gotten the whole gang involved now. Can I assume there's a plan?"
They all nodded. "There's a plan," Chakotay said.
"Is it a good plan?"
Gretchen nodded once, a quick dip of her chin that instantly reminded Tom of his former Captain. "That's good enough for me," she said.
"But it's not good enough for me," a thin, reedy voice protested, and Richard Thorpe appeared behind Gretchen's shoulder. He ignored the entire group and addressed only Owen Paris. "Admiral, I demand to know what's being done to recover Kathryn."
Owen's expression went completely blank. "It's classified," he said calmly.
"Classified?" Richard roared. He pointed at Chakotay. "This man should not be entrusted with this operation. He's a teacher. And before that, he was a known enemy of the Federation."
Everyone within earshot lurched toward the screen, howling their collective objection. Owen held up his hand. Tom stared at him, unsure of what his father would say. "And before that, he was one of the finest tacticians in Starfleet's arsenal." Tom relaxed. "He's heading up this operation," Owen continued, "and he has my complete confidence."
Richard Thorpe scowled and leaned toward the screen. Gretchen suddenly wrinkled her nose and moved to the side, out of the picture. "You listen to me, Chakotay," Thorpe threatened, his thin voice shaking with fury. "If anything goes wrong, if Kathryn gets hurt, I will hold you personally responsible. I will sue you for every credit you're worth. I will find you and I will-"
With a faint pop, the screen went dark. Wide-eyed, everyone turned to Owen, who removed his hand from the console's control panel and shrugged.
A disbelieving silence settled on the room.
Tom cleared his throat. "Tuvok?"
"Yes, Mister Paris?"
"When we're done," he drawled, "when it's all over and we've got the Admiral and Kayma back safely… Will you help Mike and me hold that jackass still so Chakotay can break his nose?"
Before Tuvok could respond, Chakotay shook his head. "No," the Commander said quietly, and everyone froze. Tom tensed, until Chakotay looked up with a feral grin. "I think I'd like to chase him first. Make him sweat a little."
The whole room exhaled. Tom slapped his old friend on the back. "Then can we hold him?"
"Then you can hold him," Chakotay agreed.
Tom turned to Tuvok. "What'll it be, Tuvok? Will you help?"
The Vulcan raised an eloquent eyebrow. "It would be my honor, Mister Paris."
B'Elanna crossed her arms and looked up at Chakotay. "Orders, Commander?"
"Let's move out," Chakotay said, one hand resting on the phaser at his hip. "I'm tired of being two steps behind."
Tom grinned. It was definitely like old times.