Part 16

In the time since the smaller Peloran vessel had grasped Tom's shuttle in its tractor beam, he'd repaired the damaged helm controls. He'd picked up and disposed of the smashed remnants of what had been going to be his dinner. He'd replicated a new bowl of tomato soup, but after raising the spoon to his lips and experiencing one of the most painful sensations in the entire universe, he carefully set the bowl aside and picked up the regenerator he'd been using earlier.

He hadn't quite done an adequate repair job on the damage done to his face-particularly his mouth-by his sudden impact with the floor.

He was more careful and precise with the regenerator this time. Of course, he wasn't distracted currently with any thoughts of his imminent death, as he had been last time.

His soup was cold when he finished. He rose, picking up the bowl and returning to the replicator. The soup sloshed from side to side as he set it back in the slot.

That was expected, he'd been walking with it and stopped suddenly to put it down. It wasn't the motion of the liquid that made him stop and stand still, it was another feeling.

When he'd been in flight training, one of his instructors said to feel the motion of the ship. Other instructors thought that was ridiculous, because one didn't need to rely on a feeling because of all the helm instruments.

Tom didn't usually notice, but he definitely felt something.

On this instinct he returned to the helm and took in the sensor information.

The Peloran vessel towing him had just reversed course.

That move would definitely not get him through Peloran space faster, as the border Minister had clearly wanted him to go.

Tom wasn't ready to overreact just yet, although the thought of the Pelorans changing their plans all of a sudden was setting off alarms in his head.

We need to talk this out, Tom thought. He took a seat and hailed the Peloran vessel.

The alien that responded closely resembled the one at the border, although Tom instantly noticed a different demeanor that told him indignation and sarcasm was not the way to go with this one.

But there was nothing wrong with being direct and demanding to know where he was being taken.

"You've reversed course. Why?"

The alien stared at him scornfully.

"We have orders to return this shuttle," He paused, glancing downwards at some kind of reading. "To a ship called Voyager."


Was the first unintelligent sound Tom produced, and it was followed by several more disjointed syllables as Tom's brain went into overdrive so fast that his mouth couldn't follow.

He realized pretty quickly from the expression on the alien's face that he had better put himself back together and talk his way out of this.


Still one syllable, but actually coherent.

The ridge on the alien's face moved up an inch in what was probably a sneer.


In any culture in any quadrant in any part of the universe the expression on the alien's face was one of somebody in a position of power about to get considerable pleasure out of abusing someone in a lesser standing.

Tom knew that face. He knew that if he didn't take a deep breath and calm down he would not get anywhere.

Well, he might get back to Voyager.

His chest tightened at the mere thought.

"No," Tom said, calmly and deliberately. "At the border, the rear quadrant Defense Minister said that I would be escorted through Peloran space."

While speaking, Tom quietly checked the status of his weapons systems. His promise of obeying Peloran law and not firing any weapons was completely negated if they wanted to bring him back to Voyager.

"That is correct. Voyager is outside Peloran space. They will take custody of your shuttle once we escort you to the border."

The ridge moved again in what was definitely a smirk.

"Wait," Tom began.

"It is not negotiable."

The screen blinked dark, bringing back up the view of space and stars.

A stream of profanity raced through Tom's mind, aimed half at the Pelorans and half at Janeway. He ground his teeth together and resisted pounding his fist against the controls.

Then, before he had time to think twice and decide it was a really bad idea, Tom powered the shuttle's weapons, hitting the keys with a bit more force than was necessary.

It was a whole half-second before the Peloran vessel noticed, hailing him again.

The interior of the Peloran vessel again filled the view screen. Simultaneously, his sensors alerted him that although smaller than the gargantuan border guard ship, his escort had substantial weapons, all of which were now activated and aimed at him.

"It is forbidden to activate your shuttle's weapons in Peloran space."

It was not the threat of the Peloran ship that made Tom reach over and lower his weapons.

"Oops," he said sourly. "My mistake."

The rational side of Tom that wasn't blinded by fury had managed to convince him that trying to fight his way free in the middle of Peloran space was far more suicidal than doing it when he was closer to the border.

Closer to the border meant closer to Voyager, that he knew.

The nasty Peloran disappeared from the view screen, leaving Tom alone with his thoughts, which incredibly managed to get more profane.

Eventually, though, the sound of his pounding heart echoing in his ears drowned out his obscenity laced internal mantra on what he would rather have done to him than return to Voyager.

He couldn't sit still, getting to his feet and pacing the shuttle confines.

His heart was beating abnormally fast. His breathing was unusually rapid, too. His desire to kick something was overwhelming.

He was either having a panic attack of some sort or his brain was revolting and punishing his body for having to deal with the thought of returning to Voyager after everything he'd done to get off.

In keeping with his terrible luck, time started to fly. Seriously. Every time he looked at the chronometer-and since he couldn't stop checking it, that was quite frequently-an obscene amount of time had passed from when he last looked at it.

Tom sat down at the helm, finally. He rested his elbows on the surface, burying his head in his hands. He slowed his breathing, listening to his heart resume a normal rhythm. In the peaceful darkness of his palms, he came up with a relatively rational plan.

Rational because it probably wouldn't get him killed.

But there was now way he was willingly returning to Voyager. None whatsoever.

The peace he'd found by blocking out reality was abruptly destroyed when he raised his head.

He shuddered involuntary, staring out of the view screen at Voyager.

Part 17 | Index page