"GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT"
A disturbing image from that last hour on the Bridge replayed in B'Elanna's mind, while she headed for Engineering. Had she just witnessed the impossible? At least what her mind and emotions considered the impossible. The idea of those two as a couple . . . Impossible! He was Maquis and she was Starfleet. There was no way that two people of such disparate backgrounds could form a successful relationship. At least B'Elanna hoped.
"Hey B'Elanna!" Ensign Hogan greeted the half-Klingon after she entered Engineering. Like her, Hogan was a former member of Chakotay's Maquis cell. His intense face lit up with excitement. "Did you hear?"
She growled back, "Hear what?"
Hogan followed B'Elanna to her office. "About Seska and Paris. They had a fight in the Mess Hall."
"What?" B'Elanna stared at her subordinate. "Kahless! How in the hell . . . what happened?" Before Hogan could respond, B'Elanna spotted her close friend walking toward one of the consoles near the warp core. "Seska!" She rushed out of her office with Hogan right behind her. Both caught up with the Bajoran engineer. "Seska! What's this I hear about you and Paris?"
Anger illuminated Seska's blue eyes. "It's nothing. We had a little spat in the Mess Hall." By now, two other crewmen had joined the small group - another former Maquis named Mike Jonas and an attractive dark-haired Starfleeter named Sue Nicoletti.
"About what?" B'Elanna demanded. If Paris had insulted any former Maquis . . .
Seska heaved a large sigh. B'Elanna almost rolled her eyes. The former could be overdramatic at times. "It's nothing," the Bajoran insisted. "Just . . . well, Paris had made some comment about my time in the Maquis and I lost my temper."
"Why would he do that?" Nicoletti asked, earning a glare from Seska.
B'Elanna, who was very familiar with her friend's traits, added, "C'mon Seska. Give. I may detest Paris, but I also know you. You must have said something to piss him off."
"All right," Seska admitted. She punched a few sequences into the console. "I may have said something about what happened to him on the Banean homeworld." B'Elanna responded with a shake of the head. "What? Don't tell me that you sympathize with that scum?"
"I don't," B'Elanna replied shortly. "But you did start the fight, didn't you?"
Seska opened her mouth to reply, but remained silent. Jonas added, "If you ask me, I don't see why Janeway allows that murderer to roam free on the ship." A scowl appeared on his usually placid face.
"He's Starfleet," Hogan brutally explained. "What else is there to say?"
Hogan's remark spurred a spirited response from Nicoletti. Her pretty face twisted with distaste. "Tom Paris is not Starfleet," she said with great emphasis. "Not as far as we're concerned."
"What about his father?"
Sue shot back, "What about him? He washed his hands of Paris a long time ago."
"Then how do you explain Janeway giving him the Conn? And letting him roam the ship, despite being convicted of murder? I even hear that Tuvok was ordered to exonerate him."
It was B'Elanna who answered Hogan's question. "Lieutenant Tuvok was ordered to investigate the murder, not clear Paris. And the Baneans have already planted memory engrams, forcing him to relive the entire murder from the victim's point of view every fourteen hours. According to Harry, those engrams are frying Paris' brains."
A low whistle emitted from Hogan's lips. "I guess Paris is getting a little payback, after all."
"Huh!" Jonas grunted. "I still think he needs his ass kicked. Maybe some of us should do it, ourselves."
"Hear, hear!" Seska cried. A smile curled her lips. "Maybe a little Maquis operation is in order." She glanced at Nicoletti. The latter squirmed with discomfort. "Something wrong, Nicoletti? I would think you Starfleeters wouldn't mind getting into the action, considering how much you detest Paris."
Nicoletti looked away and returned to her duties. Seska sniffed. B'Elanna, as head of Engineering, decided it was time to nip Jonas' idea in the bud. Even if she liked it. "There isn't going to be any Maquis or Starfleet operation against Paris. So why don't we all end this conversation now? I'm not ready to find myself in Chakatoy or Janeway's bad graces. And I think neither are you."
"What's the matter, Lieutenant?" A smirk formed on Seska's lips. "Afraid of losing your precious position as Chief Engineer?" Both Hogan and Jonas chuckled.
B'Elanna coolly replied, "Let me put it this way. Do any of you want to serve under Carey or another Fleeter?"
The idea seemed to have cooled the other ex-Maquis' ideas of any "operations" against Tom Paris. Hogan and Jonas returned to their duties. Seska turned away from her task to face B'Elanna. "What was going on while you were gone? I thought I felt Voyager encounter phaser fire."
B'Elanna told the Bajoran about Voyager's encounter with several Numeri ships. "They tried to board us. I guess they didn't care for any of us visiting the Banean homeworld. Chakotay . . . he had suggested we use an old Maquis trick to drive them off." Her lips quirked into a small smile. "You know, the one we used against the Cardies."
Seska returned her attention to the console. "I'll bet Janeway snipped that idea in the bud."
"Actually, she didn't. She told . . ." B'Elanna paused, recalling the conversation between the red-haired captain and the First Officer. And the electricity that seemed to flow between the two. And electricity that hinted a future B'Elanna personally found unappealing.
"What did Janeway say?" Seska insisted.
The half-Klingon snapped out of her reverie, aware of a pair of narrowed eyes staring at her. She let out a gust of breath. "Nothing. Just . . . Janeway said that the trick was very old."
Seska grunted. "I'll bet that pissed off Chakotay."
"Not really," B'Elanna replied in a soft voice, recalling Chakotay's expression. "In fact, he seemed . . . amused."
The look on Seska's face told B'Elanna that the former did not care for that description anymore than she did. "Hmmmph," the Bajoran commented before turning away from B'Elanna. "Does that mean we'll be encountering the Numeri again?"
Thankful for the change of subject, B'Elanna replied, "I suppose so. Especially if Lieutenant Tuvok and Janeway have to return to the Banea to clear up this matter with Paris."
"Personally, I think Tuvok's investigation is a waste of time," Seska added in a sardonic voice. "Even if he wanted to, there is nothing he can find that will exonerate Paris. The man is a liar and a murderer. I say Janeway should wash her hands of him and toss him back to the Baneans."
B'Elanna remained silent. How could she argue with the truth?
* * * *
Tuvok came to the conclusion that he had finally arrived at the truth. Lieutenant Paris did not murder Dr. Ren. In fact, the volatile pilot was nothing more than a scapegoat of a more insidious plot.
Inside his quarters, the Security Chief sat on the floor with his eyes closed. Only he was not deep in another meditation session. Instead, his mind raced over the details and revelations he had unearthed during his investigation of Dr. Ren's murder.
The widow of the murder victim entered his thoughts. Lidell Ren. One would say she was a very attractive woman, fully aware of her charms and ability to seduce. Lieutenant Paris seemed the obvious type who would find her attractive and act upon his feelings. However, Tuvok could not see the volatile pilot kill for her. Even Mister Paris was intelligent enough not to take such a woman like Mrs. Ren seriously.
A mind meld Tuvok had conducted with the pilot had revealed the latter's belief in his innocence. Despite the engrams. And although the meld clearly painted Mister Paris as the perputrator, Tuvok found a few details questionable. First, the pilot had allegedly plunged the knife into Dr. Ren's heart, which was located in the same spot as the Human stomach. Tuvok found it illogical that an offworlder like Mister Paris know the exact location of the Banean heart. He also noticed that both the pilot and the widow seemed to be the exact height in the memory engrams. Yet, after meeting Mrs. Ren, Tuvok noticed that he was taller than the Banean widow and Lieutenant Paris was taller than both of them. And there was the matter of the mysterious inscriptions included in the ex-convict's memories. What did they mean and why were they included?
One last detail concerned Tuvok. To prove a theory, he had asked Captain Janeway to send Lieutenant Paris and Ensign Kim to the Banean homeworld in one of Voyager's shuttles. The Numeri ships, to everyone's surprise, went after the shuttle, instead of Voyager. Their actions not only confirmed Mister Paris' innocence, but the identity and motive of the true murderer.
Tuvok's eyes flew open. He tapped his combadge and suggested to the Captain that they make another trip to the Banean homeworld. And that Lieutenant Paris and Ensign Kim should join them.
* * * *
"What was that you said to Tuvok in the Mess Hall?" Harry asked Tom. The two friends sat inside Sandrine's, each enjoying an after-duty drink.
Tom took a sip of his bourbon and grimaced. Synthehol. Someday, he would have to find a way to replicate genuine alcohol. "I merely thanked him for helping me and told him he had a friend."
"A friend?" Harry snorted. "Lieutenant Tuvok was just doing his job, Tom. I doubt he really believed you were innocent."
"Maybe. But he didn't naturally assume I was guilty, either." Tom forced himself to take another sip. "Unlike many others on this ship. You know, when we first went to Banea, I had no idea I would end up as a courier for spies."
Harry shook his head and swallowed a mouthful of brandy. Unlike Tom, he seemed to enjoy his drink. "Or have a dog exonerate you for murder. You were very lucky, buddy! Very lucky. Maybe this will teach you to be a little more circumspect about the fair sex."
Tom gave his friend a hard stare. "Is this your way of getting back at me for that remark I made inside the shuttle, Harry?"
Dark eyes shined with innocence. Not very convincingly, as far as Tom was concerned. "What remark?" the younger man asked.
"You know. The one about you never finding romance with the wrong woman." Tom's eyes narrowed. "I was serious, Harry. It could happen to you. You're only human and I wouldn't dismiss the possibility if I were you."
Harry responded with a knowing smile. "Knowing you Tom, you just might set me up with a woman like Lidell Ren. Just to make your point."
Poor Harry. Tom shook his head. He valued the young ensign as a good friend and decent guy. But the latter also possessed an unshakable arrogance regarding his sense of morality. Just like any good little Starfleet officer. Tom also realized that many of the Maquis shared a similar sense of self-righteousness. How long would this morality last under decades in the Delta Quadrant?
Two crewmen passed their table. Starfleet, judging by the pips on their collars. They gave Harry a polite nod. And ignored Tom. "I can't believe this!" Harry protested. "Tuvok had cleared you of murder and they still treat you like a pariah!"
Tom shrugged in an attempt to mask the slight hurt. "Forget it, Harry. The crew has other reasons to dislike me. Like my prison sentence and getting cashiered out of Starfleet."
"How long are they going to hold that against you?"
A bitter smile touched Tom's lips. "Forever? Hell, the Maquis practically hate my guts! I'm sure everyone is disappointed that I haven't been executed. Or had my brains fried by now."
The tavern's wooden doors swung open, revealing B'Elanna Torres. "Oh great!" Tom muttered. "Look who's here!"
The two friends watched the half-Klingon sauntered toward their table. She took one look at Tom and hesitated. Hostility filled her eyes.
"B'Elanna!" Harry cried, waving at the Chief Engineer to join them. "Over here!" Tom suppressed his disappointment, as B'Elanna walked over to the table and slid into the booth, next to Harry.
She flashed a quick smile at the young ensign. "Hey Starfleet." A frown creased her ridged brow as she faced Tom. "Paris." After ordering a glass of scotch from Sandrine, she asked, "You didn't show up in the Mess Hall for dinner. Where were you?"
"Here," Harry replied. "We decided to replicate dinner here at Sandrines. It was pleeka rind casserole night. What can you say?"
Tom added in a low voice, "I can think of a few choice words. But I don't think they will make Neelix happy."
His comment was met with an amused grin from Harry and a stony glare from Torres. Tom wondered if the half-Klingon had a sense of humor. Or maybe she had been under Chakotay's influence too long. "Something bothering you, Torres?" he asked.
Her eyes glittering, the engineer shot back, "Yeah, the company."
"That's funny. As I recall, I was here first." Tom gave B'Elanna an acid smile.
A wall of silence surrounded the trio. Then B'Elanna slid out of the booth, signaling her departure. Harry stopped her before she could leave. "Wait a minute!" he cried. "Where are you going, Maquis?"
"To find better company," she growled, glaring at Tom.
"C'mon! Stay with us. This is suppose to be a celebration for Tom. For his exoneration."
B'Elanna sniffed. "That's not a reason for me to celebrate."
Tom added in a curt voice, "Let her go, Harry. The last thing I need is to spend my free time with another one of Chakotay's noble warriors. Especially one who still thinks I'm guilty."
"I never said you were guilty!" B'Elanna shot back.
"Of course you did," Tom retorted. "You just never said it to my face. I'll bet you even told Harry." The two engineers exchanged uneasy glances. Tom noticed. "Oh. I see you have."
Harry turned to the pilot. "Look Tom, I'm sorry about that. I was talking with B'Elanna and Seska and it just came . . ."
"What are you apologizing for, Starfleet?" B'Elanna growled. She slid back into the booth. "At least you didn't screw some married woman! Or get your best friend behind bars for two days!"
Tom added, "You forgot to mention it was for accessory to murder."
Fierce brown eyes turned on the Chief Helmsman. "Everything's a joke to you, isn't it Paris? Someone always has to pay for your irresponsibility! Harry almost died after the Baneans interrogated him and yet, you laugh over the entire matter!"
"Hey! B'Elanna!" Harry protested. "Tom has already apo . . ."
However, the Chief Engineer's tongue seemed to be on a roll. Tom noticed that Sandrine's other inhabitants seemed interested in what she had to say. "Tell me Paris, did you laugh after you crashed that shuttle at Caldik Prime? Or when you sold the Maquis to the Federation?"
Caldik Prime. Torres' comment brought up guilty memories of that infamous moment in his life. It also sparked a growing anger within Tom. Anger and resentment over her assumption that he had felt no remorse toward the deaths of his late friends. Like nearly every person he has encountered in his life, Torres made assumptions about his character without bothering to learn anything about him.
His body grew tense. A low, deep anger resonated in Tom's voice. "As far as I'm concerned, Torres," he growled, "the topic of Caldik Prime is off limits." The half-Klingon's face paled suddenly. Harry stared at Tom, his mouth gaped open. "And as for your precious Maquis," Tom continued heatedly, "I joined because I needed money."
"Mercenary!" B'Elanna spat out in disgust.
Coldly, Tom replied, "If you say so. However, that didn't stop the good Commander from recruiting me. And yet, from the moment I joined his cell, Chakotay and the others made it quite clear that I was nothing more than a mercenary and treated me like one. They never gave me a chance to prove otherwise."
"What did you expect?" B'Elanna shot back.
"What's the matter, Torres?" Tom snarled. "You don't believe in giving someone a second chance? Isn't that what the Captain and Chakotay did for you? Hey, I may not be the straight arrow type around Harry, Kes or the Captain. At least they gave me a chance to prove I was more than some good-for-nothing who was not worth their time. I can't say the same for your precious Maquis. And if you expect me to feel guilty for how I came aboard Voyager, you'll be holding your breath." Tom slid out of the booth. "For a long time. Now if you'll excuse me, this place has gotten a little too crowded for me." Tom glared at B'Elanna before he marched out of the holodeck.
* * * *
The chatter inside Sandrine's ceased to exist following Tom's departure. Barely a soul made a sound, aside from one crewman who coughed. Too embarrassed to speak himself, Harry finished his brandy in two gulps. Then the chatter returned, much to his relief.
A familiar figure, Sue Nicoletti, approached Harry and B'Elanna's table, carrying a glass of wine. "What was that about?" she asked, nodding toward the tavern's doors.
"Nothing," Harry replied. "Nothing at all." He signaled Sandrine. The tavern owner appeared and Harry ordered another glass of brandy.
A trembling B'Elanna finally recovered from her bout of silence. "Just Paris deluding himself that he has something to be righteous about." Her response produced a chuckle from Sue.
Harry remained silent, staring at the table's wooden surface. "Maybe he does," he mumbled darkly. The two women stared at him. "Let's face it, Tom has made mistakes in his life, but he's no murderer." He glanced up. "And he's not cold-blooded, despite what others may think."
Nicoletti quickly returned to her other companions. A deep flush colored B'Elanna's olive-skinned face. "Okay, maybe I was a little out of hand abut him being cold-blooded. But you can't deny that he had no business messing around with that Banean woman."
"He apologized about that, B'Elanna," Harry retorted.
B'Elanna added, "And the Maquis? Can you blame us for hating him, after he sold us to Janeway?"
"What are you talking about? Tom had been in prison for nearly a year before the Captain recruited him! How would he have known your last position?"
Persistent to the end, B'Elanna retorted, "That didn't stop him from accepting Janeway's offer to help her find us!"
Harry immediately replied, "B'Elanna, in a way, Tom had no choice. The Captain had insisted upon bringing him along; even after he told her that using him to track you down would be useless."
"Yeah, right," B'Elanna mumbled. "I suppose Paris told you this."
Harry stared at his friend through narrowed eyes. "It was the Captain who told me, B'Elanna. We were talking about how a Starfleet officer can utilize any resource. She realized that bringing Tom aboard may have been a shot in the dark, but she did it anyway. And that it all worked out in the end, with Voyager being stuck in the Delta Quadrant with a top-notch pilot like Tom."
The half-Klingon opened her mouth to respond, but as before, was rendered speechless. Sandrine returned with Harry's second brandy. He took a sip. "Look Maquis, Tom may not be the easiest person to deal with, but who is? You certainly aren't. And I know I can be very irritating sometimes. Yet, look at us. We managed to become friends. So when are you going to give Tom a chance to become your friend?"
Dark brown eyes belonging to the chief engineer blinked. Harry looked away and returned his attention to his drink. For once, B'Elanna had no ready answer on the tip of her tongue. Perhaps his words had finally penetrated her stubborn brain. Make her realize that Tom Paris might be a worthy friend to have. Harry hoped so. Because he had no idea how long he can endure being torn between his two best friends.
END OF PART 2