Finding Clarity

© 2007 MultiMapper
All Rights Reserved

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Chapter 5

::Be-Op:: the door chime sounded.

"Come in." Chakotay called as he finished pulling on his sleeveless T-shirt.

"Am I too early?" Tommy asked cautiously.

"Not at all. Have you eaten?" Chakotay asked as he walked to Tommy's side.

"No... I don't think so." Tommy said slowly, not entirely sure.

"Good. Me either. Let's get something at the resort, my treat." Chakotay said happily.

"Are you sure you have the rations for that?" Tommy asked cautiously.

"I've been saving rations for five years Tommy. I think it'll be okay to spend a few extra to enjoy a meal by the pool if we want to." Chakotay said with a grand smile.

"What's got you in such a good mood?" Tommy asked curiously.

"I'll tell you on the way to the holodeck." Chakotay said as he motioned toward the door.

* * * * *

"So what is it?" Tommy asked as they walked.

"Well. How much do you know about what happened last night with Tom?" Chakotay asked curiously.

"Not much. I got the feeling that Tom was really pleased with the way things went, but he didn't talk to me about it." Tommy said in thought.

"Holodeck 1." Chakotay called to the ceiling of the lift, then asked, "What about my meetings with Flyboy and the Lieutenant?"

"I didn't even know that you had a meeting with the Lieutenant, and Flyboy doesn't really talk to me much. He always seems to be too busy with other things." Tommy finished with a shrug.

"Well, let me fill you in on the most important development." Chakotay said with a happy smile as the turbo lift doors opened.

"What's that?" Tommy asked with excitement.

"Counselor Chakotay has concluded that Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris is one hundred percent fit for duty and as sane as any person on this ship." Chakotay said happily.

"Really? Even Tom?" Tommy asked with delight.

"Especially Tom. As long as you four keep working together and being considerate of each other the way you have been, I don't see any major problems on the horizon." Chakotay said with a smile.

"But what about Harry?" Tommy asked with concern.

"I think you'll have to decide how you're going to deal with him at some point. But I don't see it being an insurmountable problem." Chakotay said honestly as they approached the holodeck door.

"It's already running." Tommy said with surprise.

"Yes. The resort has been running all day. Most of the alpha shift have their day off today." Chakotay said seriously as he entered the holodeck.

"Oh... I thought it was just going to be us..."

"Is that a problem?" Chakotay asked with concern.

"I... well... I'm just not comfortable around a lot of people." Tommy said reluctantly.

"Well, I don't see that changing unless you go out and do things." Chakotay said honestly, then walked to the bar at the poolside.

Tommy reluctantly nodded as he noticed four crewmembers interspersed among the holographic characters.

"What would you recommend for lunch?" Chakotay asked casually.

"Um..." Tommy said as he shook himself out of his thoughts, then considered for a moment.

"Do you need a menu?" Chakotay asked slowly.

"No, I'm just thinking. How about the Hawaiian Kabobs? They're vegetarian and taste pretty good." Tommy said consideringly.

"I haven't tried that before. I think I will." Chakotay said with a smile, then looked at the bartender and said, "I'll have the Hawaiian Kabobs, please put both meals on my account."

"Yes Commander Chakotay. And for you?" The Bartender asked Tommy.

"Make it two." Tommy said with a content smile.

"And to drink?" The bartender asked professionally.

Tommy looked at Chakotay expectantly.

"I plan to drink at Sandrine's later, so I'll just have iced tea with lemon." Chakotay said seriously.

"Me too, minus the lemon." Tommy said with a smile.

"If you would like to have a seat at a table, I'll bring it out to you when it's ready." The bartender said with a friendly smile.

"Thanks." Tommy said, then looked around to find a table that was somewhat secluded.

"Is this okay?" Chakotay asked as he picked the table nearest the holodeck doors.

"No, I don't want to be by the entrance." Tommy said reluctantly.

"How about over here?" Chakotay asked and indicated another table.

"That's right by the pool." Tommy said slowly.

Chakotay rolled his eyes and said, "Tommy. I know you don't like being around other people, but this is one of those things that is good for you and you need to do it whether you like it or not."

Tommy reluctantly nodded and moved to the table by the pool.

* * * * *

"Are you okay?" Chakotay asked with concern at Tommy's worried look.

"I don't know. I just feel like... if I make one wrong move everyone will know that I'm not Tom and then everything will be ruined." Tommy said quietly.

"We don't know what will happen if everyone finds out. Maybe it will turn out to be a good thing. The only thing I know is that you can't spend every day of your life from now on hiding from people." Chakotay said firmly.

"I guess you're right." Tommy said reluctantly.

"Now cheer up. Our food's here." Chakotay said and gestured toward the bartender slowly approaching with two long flaming skewers.

A waiter placed their plates and drinks on the table, then took one of the skewers from the bartender and made a production of slowly sliding the flaming tropical fruit onto Chakotay's plate.

Tommy chuckled and said, "I forgot about that."

Chakotay quickly blew out the last few flames on his plate, then said, "You forgot that our lunch was a fire hazard?"

Tommy nodded as he fought to contain his laughter. The waiter then moved in front of Tommy and started to fill his plate with flaming chunks of fruit.

* * * * *

"The whole idea of a flame broiled banana is repulsive to me, but... this is really good." Chakotay said with surprise.

"Yeah. I don't know if it's the rum or the open flame that does it but the flavor is great." Tommy said happily.

"Well, *there* he is!" A voice said dramatically.

Tommy's look fell as he saw Harry approaching.

"Tommy, it's time to face this. I'm right here with you." Chakotay said firmly.

After a moment, Tommy reluctantly nodded, then looked up at Harry who was almost at his side.

"I tried to call you half a dozen times last night and again this morning and the computer couldn't route the call. Is everything okay?" Harry asked with concern, completely ignoring Chakotay.

"Um... yeah. Chakotay and I were doing some things and didn't want to be interrupted." Tommy said shyly.

"You and..." Harry said, then reluctantly looked at Chakotay.

"Good afternoon Ensign." Chakotay said with a bland smile.

"Um... Yeah. Good afternoon Commander." Harry said in a distracted voice, then turned his attention back to Tommy.

"Yeah Harry. Chakotay and I got to talking and decided to do some things together." Tommy said, sounding a little defensive.

"In fact, we're planning to shoot pool at Sandrine's tonight if you'd care to join us." Chakotay said in a neutral tone.

Tommy smiled and said, "Yeah. Maybe we can talk B'El into playing and play as teams."

Harry considered for a moment, then said, "That might be fun. So what are you guys doing here now?"

Chakotay and Tom exchanged a look as Harry pulled out a chair and sat with them.

"Having lunch. Then we were just planning on getting some sun by the pool." Tommy said, trying to sound happy about it.

"I thought about getting a massage." Chakotay said seriously.

"Yeah, that sounds nice." Tommy said with a smile at Chakotay.

"I think I'll go track down B'Elana and see if she wants to join us tonight." Harry said as he stood.

"How does 18:00 sound?" Chakotay asked with a pleased smile.

"That's good. I'll see you guys later." Harry said and hurried away from the table.

Tommy let out a relieved gust of breath.

"That wasn't half as bad as you thought, now was it?" Chakotay asked with a smile.

"No. I guess not. But for a minute I thought he was going to join us for lunch." Tommy said seriously.

"I thought so too. But when I mentioned getting a massage, I could almost see him form the mental image of me wearing only a towel. Food was the farthest thing from his mind after that." Chakotay said with a chuckle.

"I don't know. I think you'd look nice." Tommy said with a gentle smile.

"After lunch we could both get massages if you'd like to find out." Chakotay said with a grin.

"Yeah, let's do that." Tommy said peacefully, then went back to eating his lunch.

* * * * *

"Hey Chak. How are you doing tonight?" Tom asked with a big smile.

"I'm fine. You really outdid yourself on the outfit. You look good." Chakotay said with an appraising eye.

"I didn't think I was overweight before, but losing a few pounds has made a lot of difference." Tom said as he patted his firm belly.

"Did Tommy tell you about Harry and B'Elana joining us tonight?" Chakotay asked curiously.

"I was watching. I could have smacked Harry up side the head for sitting down uninvited like that. I'm the only one allowed to get away with that kind of a stunt." Tom finished with a smirk.

Chakotay chuckled and said, "I guess you've been doing other things the past few weeks so Harry's picking up the slack."

"I guess so. You're not going out wearing that are you?" Tom asked with a pained look.

"What's wrong with it?" Chakotay asked curiously.

"Um, Chak. If you looked up boring in the dictionary, whatever it said would have to be more exciting than that shirt. Let's find? you something else." Tom said, still looking to be in pain.

"Is it really that bad?" Chakotay asked as he looked at the burgundy and navy blue plaid shirt.

"Yes. Show me what you've got." Tom said firmly.

"I didn't think that when we called a ceasefire between us, you'd end up dressing me." Chakotay groused as he led the way to his closet.

Tom rolled his eyes, then looked at the selection.

"Boring, boring... God! When I was a kid my cat threw up something that looked like this one... Wait... Here. Put this on." Tom finally said and handed Chakotay a multi-colored striped shirt.

"B'Elana got me that. It looks like something that belongs on a parade float." Chakotay said as he looked at the loud colors.

"Chak. Trust me on this. You're bland enough to neutralize the colors of the shirt. Put it on." Tom said firmly.

Chakotay reluctantly accepted the shirt and began to change.

"I'm sorry Chak. I don't mean to be like that, but I just feel like it's important to look good when you go out." Tom said hesitantly.

"It's okay Tom. I understand that you're not doing it to be mean. You're just trying to help me." Chakotay said as he tucked the shirt in.

Tom stepped back and looked at Chakotay critically.

"Do you have any kind of hair stuff?" Tom asked cautiously.

"Yes, in my bathroom." Chakotay said hesitantly.

As Tom walked away, he said, "You don't have to give me that look. I'm not going to do anything weird."

"I'm kind of used to my hair the way it is." Chakotay called toward the bathroom.

"I know. You've heard the expression 'Letting your hair down'? That's what this is. A different look for a different Chakotay." Tom said as he walked to Chakotay with a little dab of hair gel in his hand.

Tom stopped and looked at Chakotay with question.

"Okay Tom. I'll go along with you this time, but if I don't like it then never again." Chakotay said in warning.

"Relax Chak. Like I said, nothing weird." Tom said as he styled Chakotay's hair down into loose, casual bangs.

"Good. That works." Tom said with accomplishment.

Chakotay reluctantly walked over to look in the mirror over his dresser and was stunned at the difference.

"Cute guy, huh?" Tom said with a grin.

"Thanks Tom." Chakotay said in a bewildered voice.

"Come on. Harry and B'El are probably waiting on us.

Chakotay took one last look in the mirror before hurrying to follow Tom.

* * * * *

"They're finally here!" Harry said as Tom and Chakotay entered the room.

"When you get back to your cabin, look up the phrase 'fashionably late' Har." Tom said as he walked over and took a seat at Harry and B'Elana's table.

"Looking good Chakotay. What's the occasion?" B'Elana asked with appreciation.

"I'm spending the evening shooting pool with a lovely lady, how are you this evening B'Elana." Chakotay asked with a sultry smile.

"Things are looking up." B'Elana said with a predatory grin.

"How's it hangin B'El?" Tom asked curtly.

"Pig." B'Elana responded without turning her gaze away from Chakotay.

Harry and Tom shared an amused glance as that confirmed that everything was normal.

* * * * *

After a night of drinking beer, shooting pool and trading insults with Harry and B'Elana, Chakotay reluctantly got up to leave.

"As nice as it's been to spend the evening with all of you, the commander is expected on the bridge in the morning and it wouldn't do for him to be groggy." Chakotay said with a friendly smile.

Tom quickly stood and said, "I've been trying to shape up, so I'd better follow our fearless leader's example."

"Well, I hope we can do this again sometime soon. It's been fun." B'Elana said then took a casual sip of her beer.

"How about next week. Same time, same holodeck?" Tom asked happily.

"Yeah. It's a date." B'Elana said with a smile.

"And that'll give me a week to work on Chakotay about relaxing the restrictions on betting rations on the game." Tom said with an impish grin.

Harry chuckled and said, "Good luck."

Chakotay looked at Harry and said, "I've noticed that when Tom sets his mind to something, he has a remarkable talent for achieving it."

"I can't wait till next week to find out." B'Elana said happily.

"I'll see you all in the morning." Chakotay said, then turned to leave.

"Wait up Chak." Tom said and hurried to his side.

* * * * *

"So? Did you have as much fun as it looked like?" Tom asked as they walked away from the holodeck.

"Yes. I don't think I've had that much fun since I came on Voyager." Chakotay admitted reluctantly.

"I'm glad. After everything you've done to help me the past week it's good to be able to do something for you." Tom said with contentment.

"Is that what this was about?" Chakotay asked curiously.

"No. I really wanted you to be here with us. But it's just good to know that it's not all one way." Tom said with difficulty.

Chakotay nodded that he understood, then said, "I've enjoyed this week as much as you have Tom. I can honestly say that I've lived more this week than in the past five years."

Tom considered the words as they waited for the turbo lift to arrive, and finally said, "Me too."

* * * * *

The next morning came and everything was business as usual until Chakotay noticed Lieutenant Ayala approaching.

"Chakotay? Can I talk to you for a minute?" Lieutenant Ayala asked in a whisper.

Chakotay got up from his chair and followed Ayala back to his station.

"Gerron just sent me a message about us having dinner with you and Lieutenant Paris tonight. Do you know what's going on?" Ayala asked with concern.

"Not exactly. Tom and I discussed the possibility of the four of us doing something together sometime but I didn't know that he was arranging it yet." Chakotay said honestly.

"So it's for real?" Ayala asked in thought.

"Yes. Something happened in sickbay a couple days ago that gave Gerron and Tom a chance to talk. Tom seems to think that if they spent some time together that they might become good friends. I mentioned to him that you and I are old friends so... it just seemed like the thing to do." Chakotay said casually.

"What is he wanting to do with Gerron? I mean, what kind of friends?" Ayala asked cautiously.

"Friends like we are Greg. I already asked him if he had any romantic interest in Gerron and he said that he didn't. I believe him." Chakotay said frankly.

Ayala nodded in thought, then said, "Thanks Cap. I've just heard the stories about how Paris has screwed his way through half the crew and I don't want Gerry to get hurt."

Chakotay stifled his automatic defensive reaction and quietly said, "Trust me Greg. Even though Tom has done some things that he may not be proud of, he's not trying to do anything more than make a new friend."

"Okay. I don't trust him, but if you say he's okay, I'll trust you." Ayala said reluctantly.

Chakotay patted him on the shoulder, then said, "Just watch and listen. You'll see."

Ayala nodded, then noticed an unusual reading on his console.

"Ensign Kim, are you detecting a dilithium signature at heading 17 mark 4?" Ayala asked curiously.

Chakotay moved to the operation station to see if the reading was really dilithium.

"Confirmed. It appears to be a dilithium deposit on the fourth planet from the star... 'M' class... no signs of humanoid life forms. " Harry said in an increasingly excited voice.

"Captain to the bridge." Chakotay called out into the air.

"Lieutenant Paris, alter course to heading one seven mark four." Chakotay said seriously as he examined the reading over Harry's shoulder.

"Report." Janeway barked as soon as she stepped onto the bridge.

"We've detected a dilithium signature, I've altered course to check it out." Chakotay said seriously.

"How big?" Janeway asked cautiously.

"Big." Harry said as he examined the readings closely.

"Can you be more specific Ensign?" Janeway asked hopefully.

"The sensors can't penetrate very far below the surface, but so far I'm reading one point two metric tons." Harry said as he looked up from his console.

"Please tell me that it's somewhere that we can get to it." Janeway said in a pleading tone.

"Yes Captain. The edge of the deposit appears to be exposed to the surface." Harry said with excitement.

"Chakotay, take the Delta Flyer and collect as much as you can carry." Janeway said seriously.

"Yes captain." Chakotay said as he continued to examine the readings carefully.

"Paris, Ayala, Kim, you're with me." Chakotay said seriously.

The three named individuals waited for the standby crew to man their stations so they could proceed to the shuttle bay.

Chakotay keyed the comm and said, "Ensign Swinn, Crewman Gerron, Crewman Dalby and Mr. Neelix, report to shuttle bay one for away detail."

Janeway looked at Chakotay with question.

"The scanners also show a variety of plant life. It would be short sighted of us to overlook the possibility of finding something useful just because we've also found dilithium." Chakotay said as he looked at Janeway with a smile.

"Very good Commander." Janeway said with an answering smile.

* * * * *

"Ensign Kim, would you download the sensor readings to the Delta Flyer so we can decide where to land for optimum efficiency?" Chakotay asked as he boarded the shuttle.

"Yes sir." Harry said as he took a seat before a console.

"Lieutenant Paris, take off as soon as you're done with your preflight, we'll have touch down coordinates for you before we hit the atmosphere.."

"Yes sir." Lieutenant Paris said professionally.

"Swinn, you'll be assessing the plant life for potential scientific use. Neelix, you'll be looking for edible food. Gerron will be in charge of collecting and maintaining the plant samples you find valuable." Chakotay said seriously, then turned to the others.

"Ayala and Kim will be in charge of collecting the dilithium. Dalby will be in charge of the equipment." Chakotay said seriously.

"I have the teams logged." Lieutenant Ayala said from his console.

Chakotay nodded that he heard, then moved to Harry's side and said, "Ensign Kim, have you mapped out the terrain?"

"Yes sir. But I'm afraid that the area where the dilithium is exposed has very little plant life." Harry said reluctantly.

"I see. I'd say that this area sixty kilometers to the South is the most concentrated area of plant growth anywhere near the dilithium site." Chakotay said as he pointed.

"Yes sir." Harry said carefully.

"Fine. Dilithium team. Prepare your gear and be ready to leave the shuttle as soon as we land. Botany team. When you land, make good use of your time and secure the samples as you go. As soon as we've collected a decent amount we'll signal for pickup." Chakotay said firmly.

"I will command the Dilithium team and Lieutenant Paris will be in command of the Botany team." Chakotay said seriously.

"Ensign Kim. Make note of both landing sites and relay the coordinates to Lieutenant Paris and back to Voyager." Chakotay said as he moved back to the copilot's seat.

"Yes sir." Harry said immediately.

* * * * *

The Botany team walked through the lush undergrowth trying to find plant life that could be of use to the crew of Voyager.

As soon as they were away from the others, Gerron walked to Tom's side and quietly asked, "Who are you?"

"Lieutenant Paris." The Lieutenant said seriously.

"It's nice to meet you Lieutenant, I'm Gerron Tem, a friend of Tommy's." Gerron said quietly.

Lieutenant Paris smiled at the introduction and replied, "It's nice to meet you Crewman Gerron. If there's an opportunity later, I'll try to arrange it so you and Tommy can talk for a few minutes."

Gerron considered for a moment, then said, "If everything goes as planned, we'll be having dinner together tonight, so that's alright. You probably need to stay out front while you're in command of our team."

Lieutenant Paris smiled at the statement and said, "Yes. That's probably best. Thank you for understanding."

Gerron nodded, then turned as he heard Neelix's excited voice in the distance.

* * * * *

"::static:: ...Paris, please... ...Dilithium... ...immediate... ::static:: emergency..." Lieutenant Paris couldn't identify the voice due to all the distortion and static.

"Botany team. Return to the Delta Flyer immediately." Lieutenant Paris said firmly into his comm badge, then rekeyed it and said, "Commander Chakotay, please come in."

There was a moment of silence, then he tried again.

"Dilithium team, please report your status."

"What's the matter?" Olivia Swinn asked as she approached from Lieutenant Paris' left side.

"I've lost contact with the Dilithium team." Lieutenant Paris said firmly as he increased his pace toward the Delta Flyer.

"Paris to Kim, report." Lieutenant Paris said firmly.

After a moment, Lieutenant Paris rekeyed his comm badge and said, "Paris to Voyager, the Dilithium team has reported a medical emergency."

A burst of static was the only response.

"Tom, why don't you go see what they need and come back for us? We're perfectly safe here and it will give us time to collect more of these lovely roots." Neelix said in a wheedling tone.

"Neelix. I'm in command. We're leaving." Lieutenant Paris said firmly and didn't slow his pace.

Neelix looked surprised by the statement, but gave no further argument.

Gerron worked his way ahead of Swinn and Neelix to fall into step at Paris' side.

"What's wrong Lieutenant?"

"There was static. Our scans didn't show anything that should be able to interfere with our communications." Lieutenant Paris said cautiously.

"So our presence may have caused something to happen?" Gerron asked in thought.

"It's possible. Come on everyone. Let's hurry." Lieutenant Paris said as he started jogging toward the Delta Flyer.

* * * * *

"Delta Flyer to Voyager, please respond." Lieutenant Paris said, then continued working down his checklist for the preflight.

"Tom, I've got something on the sensors." Olivia Swinn said in an anxious voice.

"Can you be more specific?" Lieutenant Paris asked as he continued his preflight checks.

"No. Not really. It's... maybe a storm..." She said helplessly.

Lieutenant Paris looked at his sensor readings and saw that the storm or whatever it was appeared as solid and none of their sensors could penetrate it.

"It shows as solid, but it seems to be moving fluidly." Swinn said in concentration.

"Are we secure?" Lieutenant Paris asked loudly.

Gerron looked around to see that everyone was belted in, then said, "Yes sir."

"Then hang on." Lieutenant Paris said as he launched the Delta Flyer into the air at the top speed.

When the Delta Flyer leveled out and the gravitational forces had lessened, Neelix hesitantly asked, "Tom... Do you think you could not do that again?"

"Sorry Neelix. We have a team in trouble." Lieutenant Paris said frankly.

"Right. Right... It's just that I've never accelerated fast enough to taste my spleen before and it wasn't a very..."

"We're about to enter the storm. Brace yourselves." Lieutenant Paris said as he followed the flight path from their previous sensor readings.

\Flyboy? Are you ready to step in if this goes wrong?\ Lieutenant Paris called internally.

{I'm watching and I'll take over at the first sign of trouble.} Flyboy responded immediately.

Everyone braced themselves as the Delta Flyer entered the complete blackness.

The transition from bright sunshine to deepest midnight was disturbing, but otherwise nothing seemed to happen.

"Did we hit it yet?" Neelix asked cautiously.

"Yes. We're inside... whatever this is. I'm flying completely blind here." Lieutenant Paris said as sweat began to bead on his forehead.

"I'm quite a good navigator, if I do say so. Maybe I could help." Neelix suggested hesitantly.

"Thank you Neelix. Take the copilot's position." Lieutenant Paris said quickly.

Neelix unbuckled his restraint harness and moved to the copilot's position.

"I'm following the sensor readings we took before we landed. When I land the ship, I want you to take the pilot's seat and be ready to take off at a moment's notice. If I'm not back in fifteen minutes, take off and get far enough away from this storm to call for help." Lieutenant Paris said seriously.

"Let me go Tom. You're a much better pilot..." Neelix began to say.

"I need to be the one to go. I'm the one with medical training. I'm also in command and your safety is my responsibility. And I've seen your piloting skills. This won't be any problem for you, besides, all you'll need to do is go up. That should be the most direct route to help." Lieutenant Paris said firmly.

"Up. I can do that." Neelix said with assurance.

"Good. I'm counting on you to keep Olivia and Gerron safe. That's your first priority." Lieutenant Paris said, then started making preparations to land.

"I understand. You can count on me." Neelix said confidently.

"Everyone hold on. We're about to land." Lieutenant Paris said loudly, then there was a thump as they impacted the ground heavily.

* * * * *

"Chakotay! Harry!" Tom called out in the complete blackness as he took one blind step after another, hoping he had enough rope to make it to the Dilithium Team.

Sound didn't seem to carry very well and the air was bitter and hard to breathe.

The blackness seemed to have currents that were pushing against him as he trudged forward.

"Tom? Is that you?" Harry's voice finally called in response.

"Har! Where are you? I can't see anything." Tom called out.

"I'm right here. I can't see anything at all." Harry called and sounded closer.

"How are you guys?" Tom asked as he finally found Harry and hugged him gratefully.

"Chakotay and Dalby both got hit with... something. It came out of the dilithium when they tried to cut it. They don't look hurt but they won't wake up. When it got dark Ayala fell down and now he's hurt." Harry said in a small voice as he held Tom tightly.

"I don't think I'll be able to do much to help them in this blackness. Can Ayala walk?" Tom asked cautiously as he tried to coax Harry to let go of him.

"How's Tem? Is he hurt too?" Ayala asked in a pained voice.

"He's fine. He's waiting for you back on the Delta flyer. Just follow this rope I'm holding, the Flyer is about twenty meters away." Tom said firmly.

"Twenty meters? I can do that. I need Tem." Ayala said with pain as he found Tom, then followed the rope that he was still holding.

"Harry, where are Chakotay and Dalby?" Tom asked as he tried to stay calm.

"Just feel around, they're right here by our feet." Harry said as his voice seemed to be descending.

Tom knelt down and found an ankle.

"I think this one is Dalby." Harry said quietly.

"Then I've got Chak. Fireman's carry, twenty meters. Let's go." Tom said firmly.

"I can't pick up Dalby. He's too big." Harry said reluctantly.

"I don't care if you have to drag him by his ears, just get moving." Tom said as he struggled with the dead weight of Chakotay.

* * * * *

"Harry?" Tom called out behind him.

"I'm tired." Harry said in a whining tone as he struggled to drag Dalby.

"Can't you make it a little longer. We're over half-way there." Tom asked impatiently.

"No. No more."

"I don't know if breathing this stuff is making you tired. Keep talking to me while you rest so I know you're okay." Tom said as he carefully laid Chakotay on the ground beside him.

"Okay. You want to talk? Why don't you tell me what's going on with you and Chakotay?" Harry asked in an angry voice.

"What do you mean?" Tom asked curiously.

"Don't play games with me Tom. I've known you too long. Something happened and then I don't see you except on duty for two weeks. The next thing I know, Chakotay is your new best friend. Did he brainwash you or what?" Harry asked angrily.

"No Harry. He didn't brainwash me. He just talked to me." Tom said with caution.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Harry asked angrily.

"Exactly what I said. We talked."

"Talked about what? Becoming boyfriends? Lov-ers?" Harry asked in a mocking voice.

"Your inner child is pretty much running the show right now, isn't he Har? Come on. The rest break is over. Let's get back to the Flyer." Tom said with irritation.

"You're calling me childish? I'm not the one who's being childish. You are! I've been your friend for five years. I defended you and put up with a lot of crap from a lot of people because of you. Now in two weeks you just blow me off and Chakotay's your new best friend?" Harry asked angrily.

"A few things Har. If it was such a fucking burden to be my friend, then you shouldn't have bothered. If the price of your friendship is that I don't get to have any other friends then the price is too high. And what's with this 'best friend' shit anyway? What are you, eight years old? Grow up Harry." Tom said, then struggled to heft Chakotay onto his shoulder again.

"Tom?" Harry called out in a frightened voice.

Tom felt his anger wash away at the fearful tone.

"I tell you what Har. Just stay right there and keep hold of the rope. I'm going to get Chakotay inside then I'll be right back to help you with Dalby." Tom said more gently, then started struggling toward the ship in the complete blackness.

* * * * *

Tom finally found the Flyer and was helped aboard by Gerron and Swinn.

He put Chakotay down as gently as possible then pulled out the med kit and tried to find out what had happened to him.

After a moment of looking at the medical tricorder readings Tom reluctantly looked up at the expectant faces around him.

Rather than say anything, he turned to Ayala and began to assess his condition.

He quickly took off Lieutenant Ayala's shirt and started to wrap his chest with a heavy bandage.

Lieutenant Ayala let out a few whimpers, but Crewman Gerron was holding his hand and whispering to him to keep him calm.

As soon as he was finished, he checked the hypospray to see what the contents and dosage were and held it where Lieutenant Ayala could see it.

"Lieutenant Ayala, this is a pain reliever. It will take the edge off the pain." Tom said seriously.

"Huh?." Ayala asked semi-coherently.

"This will make it stop hurting. Do you want some?" Tom asked cautiously.

Lieutenant Ayala nodded hopefully.

Tom pressed the hypospray to Ayala's neck, then watched as relief filled his eyes.

"I'm going out to get Harry and Dalby. Neelix, you're with me." Tom said in a commanding tone.

Neelix quickly nodded and hurried to Tom's side.

"What about Gregor and Chakotay?" Gerron asked in a small voice.

"Don't worry. Ayala is going to be fine. But we need to go get Dalby and Harry so we can get the hell out of here." Tom said frankly.

"I like that plan." Ensign Swinn said firmly.

"Come on Neelix." Tom said as he stepped back out into the inky blackness holding firmly to the rope.

* * * * *

"Harry!" Tom called out into the dark, but didn't receive a response.

"Tom, I have a very bad feeling about this." Neelix said seriously.

"You and me both." Tom said as he felt his way along the rope.

Finally the rope seemed to be snagged on something low to the ground and Tom followed it.

"Tom, what is it? What did you find?" Neelix asked anxiously.

"I think it's Dalby." Tom said as he felt the man on the ground.

"What about Ensign Kim?" Neelix asked cautiously.

Reluctantly, Tom said, "I don't know... but we'll have to worry about him once we have Dalby safe."

"Ensign Kim! Please answer us!" Neelix called out.

"Neelix, grab Dalby's legs. You can keep calling out for Harry while you're helping me." Tom said with a sinking feeling.

After a moment of shifting around to take hold of Dalby's legs, Neelix called out, "Ensign Kim!"

"Harry!" Tom called as he struggled to carry the dead weight and follow the rope.

* * * * *

"Everyone, it's decision time." Tom said as he looked at the group on the shuttle.

"I'm the ranking officer and it's my decision as to what we do next. But I would welcome your thoughts before I make that decision." Tom said carefully.

"I don't understand what decision you're talking about." Gerron said quietly from Ayala's side.

"He's talking about leaving Ensign Kim here." Neelix said in a concerned whisper.

"There's more to it than that. I don't know how severe Chakotay and Dalby's injuries are. The medical tricorder isn't telling me anything useful and anything I could try to do to help them would be just as likely to make matters worse." Tom said with regret.

"So you have the choice of risking two lives to save one?" Ensign Swinn asked cautiously.

"That's one way of looking at it. Another is that if we can get out of this black fog or whatever it is, we can call Voyager and get more help, not only for these guys but help in searching for Harry." Tom said in thought.

"That sounds like a very good bit of reasoning." Neelix said as he nodded.

"Yeah. So why does it feel like I'm giving Harry a death sentence if I decide to take off?" Tom asked quietly.

After a long moment of silence, Gerron said, "Because you probably are."

Tom nodded, then walked to the front and began his preparations for take-off.

"Thanks." Tom called out over his shoulder into the cabin, then reluctantly powered up the engines.

To Be Continued...

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