Part 23

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Neelix put his uneaten dinner back in the replicator opening. He wasn't hungry enough, delicious as Leola Root Stew was, although it lost some flavor when replicated. He hadn't felt like heading to the mess hall, knowing he would be followed by one of the Maquis, the entire way. And that there would be more Maquis in the mess hall, ones that were staffing the kitchen, upon his explanation that that was the duty of his normal assistants. The little comfort he got out of making them work was neutralized by the thought that he didn't know exactly what was happening in the kitchen, and that they could be following in the grand tradition of Tom Paris, with far deadlier intent.

Tom, who had been punished for his involvement in such activities. Punished nearly to death, Harry Kim had explained an hour ago, but had survived. Under the watchful eye of Gerron, Neelix had pretended the attack was a shock, and that he hadn't been witness to what almost were Tom's last moments alive. Before leaving, Harry had remarked in the most off-handedly way, that he still believed what he and Neelix had discussed days ago, in the mess hall. And Neelix had responded, hopefully without rousing the suspicion of Gerron, that he now agreed with him. Harry had, to his credit, avoided looking at Gerron at that answer, and left without a backward glance.

Neelix had been too nervous to eat. He was definitely too nervous to sleep. The nervousness persisted, even without the presence of Gerron, the quiet but incredibly intimidating younger Maquis, and Suder, the older Maquis whom he now knew had a violent under-belly, carefully hidden beneath a calm facade. He knew even without them peering over his shoulder, that he was still being watched. B'Elanna Torres had come in hours ago, claiming she needed to fix a receptor in his ceiling, but it was obviously some sort of device to monitor him.

Neelix knew he couldn't go tell the Captain what was happening, not without consequences closely resembling what Tom Paris had endured. He honestly didn't know exactly what was happening, as the Maquis assumed he did. He'd only overheard a disturbing conversation, and it was even more confusing than disturbing, in the mess hall. Gerron and Jarvin had had a peculiar reaction to a conversation between the Captain and Tuvok, involving Tom Paris, and now the formerly mention Maquis was guarding him whenever he left his quarters.

Neelix hoped fervently that Harry Kim did know exactly what was happening, and that he would report to the Captain and she would resolve it.

Neelix climbed into bed, pulling the covers up to his chin. If he couldn't sleep, maybe he could rest a bit. And he had almost, to his surprise, drifted off, when the door chimed.

He snapped awake.

It could be the Maquis. What did they want this late at night? When the ship was so quiet and so few people were on duty, and even less were awake?

The door chimed again.

Not opening the door wouldn't keep the Maquis out, he knew.

"Come in," he called, clutching the sheets.

The door slid open. Through the doorway to his living area, he saw a distorted shadow enter. It looked in all directions. It looked for him. The door slid shut, and the cabin was dark again.

"Neelix?" asked the young voice of Naomi Wildman.

Naomi. Neelix dropped the sheets from over his face, and quickly sat up.

"I'm right here, Naomi. Computer, lights!"

Naomi entered his bedroom. She was in her pajamas, red hair mussed.

"Hi, Neelix."

She hugged his leg.

"Naomi, aren't you supposed to be asleep?"

"I can't. My mom has all the lights on. She's packing for shore leave."

"Shore leave?"

"She says we get to go on shore leave tomorrow morning. She doesn't know for how long, so she's packing a lot of stuff. I can't sleep with the lights on," Naomi whined, every bit the sleepy child.

"Oh, Naomi."

He pulled the child on to his lap.

"Maybe if I tell you a story, you can fall asleep here, in the dark," he offered.

"Okay," Naomi sounded like she didn't need much of a story.

"Computer, lights at ten percent."

He told Naomi the story of the Julwa bears on Talax, which was one she'd heard many times before. She was asleep, snoring lightly, before he finished. He picked her up, carried her out the door into corridor. The slight sound of the turbo lift woke Naomi, slightly.

"Neelix," she yawned.

"What is it, Naomi?"

"My mom said Tom fell down, and he's in sick bay. Is he going to be okay?"

She was fading out before she finished the question.

"He's going to be just fine," Neelix told her softly.

He had some difficulty getting a hand free, but managed to chime the door to the quarters she and her mother shared. Samantha opened it. Naomi had been right. The lights were on and the quarters torn apart, with clothing everywhere.

"Oh, Neelix. I didn't even see her leave. Thank you for bring her back."

He shifted the child into her mother's arms.

As he walked back to the turbo lift, he wondered why Samantha knew there was shore leave authorized for the next day, but the Captain had made no announcement.

When Neelix stepped out of the turbo lift and started down the corridor, he heard footsteps behind him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Gerron.

Gerron's uniform was rumpled, like he'd just put it on. His hair wasn't combed, and he only had one boot on. And he was mad.

Neelix pretended not to see him, turning into his quarters. Even through the thick wall, he heard what had to be a Bajoran curse, and the sounds of the young man stomping away.

Part 24 | Index page