Part 32

Torres was an idiot. She had climbed into the helm seat Tom had just been knocked out of-by her- and appeared to be setting a course into Peloran territory. Tom tried to get up, his head spinning, and fell right back down again. He tried again, feeling the ache spreading across his face and his attempt to balance on two feet proved to need more concentration than ever before.

Why oh why was Torres choosing the one direction that promised to get them almost instantaneously returned to Voyager? For the second time today, in his case.

If he'd been feeling reasonable, had the time, and had not just been punched in the face, he might have attempted to tell her that the Pelorans were very unsympathetic to people fleeing into their territory.

As it was, he was feeling completely unreasonable, primarily because he knew he didn't have the time to get back in control of the helm before the border patrol took action, and to a lesser degree because she had indeed socked him in the face.

He took the quickest, most obvious method of removing Torres from the helm chair while simultaneously interfering with her control over the helm console.

Tom wrapped one arm around her throat, shoving his other hand in randomly to hinder her movements over the controls, and yanked backward as hard as he could.

His intent was to pull her over the back of the chair and away from the helm.

It might have worked if the helm chairs in shuttlecraft were designed to be stationary, and not spin around when directional force was applied to the occupant, sending the one seated flying forward into the other person.

A scenario such as the one Tom was engaged in had probably never occurred to the shuttlecraft designers, for Tom's efforts to pull Torres over the seat resulted in the helm chair spinning sharply around and launching Torres directly into him.

He landed on the floor, thrown there by his own momentum. Torres landed on top of him with his arm still wrapped around her neck, giving Tom a momentary advantage.

Momentary, because it only took a moment for Torres to dispatch the arm around her throat and twist it maliciously.

Tom jerked it out of her grasp, trying to make a move of his own, but getting to caught up in defending himself from the flurry of attacking limbs he found directed at him.

From somewhere, he heard a child begin a rising wail. Naomi, of course.

He'd like to scream, too.

Naomi's cries become closer, and peering around Torres, Tom could see Sam stumbling to the front of the shuttle, leaning forward to activate the screen.

He hadn't noticed anything, but then again Torres was a significant distraction.

Naomi was wailing as loudly as she could, struggling mightily in her mother's arms, and staring tearfully at Tom.

That was when he remembered Torres , and that she should have taken the opportunity of his diversion to break his neck.

Glancing quickly back, he saw Torres frozen in place, arm poised above his face, eyes on Sam and her activities.

It was too much of a relief to be comical, and Tom jerked agilely away from Torres and rolled an appropriate distance-out of her reach, to be precise-and got to his feet. Torres seemed to think the screen was more interesting than Tom, definitely allowing him to get free, barely casting anything beyond a warning glance to stay away in his direction.

His knee hurt. His face hurt. And already knowing who was going to appear on the screen and what they were going to say began to hurt in advance.

He glanced at the sensors, noting their shuttle was already in the holds of the Peloran border patrol and that the Maquis shuttles were idling close by.

He kept one eye warily on Torres, who was reciprocating his own defensive stance, while they both tensely watched the screen.

It may have been the same Peloran to whom Tom had spoken earlier, and if it was not then this one had memorized the exact same austere greeting.

If anything, this one was more impatient and more exasperated, speaking forcefully over Naomi's cries as he demanded that Sam identify herself and her purpose.

Under other circumstances, it was a simple request.

Naomi was quieting, either because Tom and Torres were no longer fighting or because of the death grip Sam appeared to have on her daughter as she clutched Naomi to her chest.

Still, Naomi struggled and murmured in her mother's grasp, producing hoarse scratchy protests from her nearly broken voice.

Telling Naomi emphatically but ineffectively to be quiet, Sam struggled to explain. She was flustered, stuttering out a nonsensical response for a few moments, before recovering ever so slightly.

"My name is Samantha Wildman."

Naomi squealed then, inopportunely, as she beat against her mother's arms.

Sam began again, dismissing the usual preliminary comments. "I know. I mean, I've been told the Peli, um, Pelona,-"

"Peloran," Tom supplied softly, breaking his silence for the first time.

"Peloran," Sam correctly weakly. She recovered well, then. "That Peloran space was once a terribly violent and conflicted region which has endured to achieve stability."

How she knew any of this, Tom wasn't sure. As Sam talked, remarkably well composed now for a completely unplanned, unrehearsed speech, Tom moved unobtrusively over and gently removed Naomi from Sam's tight hold. Naomi clung to him, actually obeying his soft instruction to hush. Torres watched him while he did this, and Tom had a brief gratifying moment when he thought that she probably would not hit someone holding a child.

"I know that the Peloran people are careful to avoid altercations and I have to tell you that by getting involved with Voyager, by returning the Maquis and us, you are cooperating with a group of people who have as much hostility and internal trouble as your people ever did."

Sam ran out of breath, pausing to inhale deeply and nervously wet her lips.

"To which of these 'hostile' groups do you align yourself?" The Peloran questioned, rather sarcastically.

"I," Sam flared angrily, stopping herself as she realized the caliber of her response. "I have been trying my best to get my child and myself away from both of them."

"As have I," Tom contributed, moving closer to Sam.

Still watchful of Torres, Tom saw her quirk an eyebrow and move almost imperceptibly closer to the screen.

"I am with the Maquis," she reported smoothly. "And I warn you that returning the Maquis to Voyager will only worsen the situation for all involved, as you have made yourselves."

The Peloran didn't seem to comprehend the blatant threat.

"The Maquis have been identified as terrorists and mutineers," he accused.

"You clearly didn't ask Janeway why we were forced to act as those," Torres replied, unfazed.

Threatening the Pelorans was an absurd strategy, in Tom's opinion, far more likely to get them handed back to Voyager than anything else was.

Sam felt the same way, apparently, quickly jumping in before Torres could escalate it.

"In the interest of opposing the kind of aggression that Voyager and the Maquis on engaged in, I would ask that the Peloran government grant us permission to enter their space and asylum from Voyager during our journey through it," Sam entreated, careful to politely make it an obvious request and not any kind of demand.

Torres followed on the heels of the appeal, her own request decidedly less pleasant.

"And I would ask that you grant the same concessions to the Maquis."

"There are no concessions as of yet," the Peloran informed them all. "You accusations will be investigated and validated. Conclusions will be reached from there."

Sam nodded.

"You are correct in that the Peloran government does not wish to enable such behavior, but wrong that we have any duty to prevent it. But we will have no part in it."

With that, the screen flipped back to a view of the stars, the Peloran vessel, and Voyager.

There was silence, Sam dropping into the nearest seat with an exhausted cry. Tom watched the diminishing flames lingering on the side of Voyager, rapidly disappearing.

Holding Naomi close, he glanced over at Torres.

"I wonder," he said. "How that happened."

Torres spared him a venomous glance, staying standing.

Naomi began to sniffle, the only sound in the entire shuttle.

Part 33 | Index page