“She’s beautiful, Tom.” Owen Paris kissed his granddaughter’s cheek. “The spitting image of her mother. My God, son, I am so proud of you.”
“Thanks, Dad.” He flushed, still not used to his father’s praise. “All I ever wanted was to make you proud of me.”
“And I am.” He patted his son’s back affectionately.
“You have every reason to be proud, Owen.” Kathryn told him. “We wouldn’t have made it home without him.”
“As much as I hate to admit it, Paris – “Chakotay smiled at him. “She’s right.”
“Of course I am!” Kathryn tickled Miral under the chin. “I’m the Captain.”
“Next week you’ll be an admiral. Congratulations.” Chakotay said quietly.
“Oh for the love of – “ Tom decided he’d had enough. “The two of you love each other! Quit trying to hide it – everybody knows! We’re home now, so just – just admit it already!”
“Sir, we’ve got a reading!”
“Where is it, Lieutenant?” Captain Picard leaned forward in his chair.
“Ahead 500 million kilometers, sir.”
“Adjust our course. Keep us just behind and at a safe distance.”
“I want a medical team standing by in the cargo bay. Number One, you’re with me.” Picard stood and headed toward the turbo lift. “Mr. Worf, you have the bridge.”
“Sir, it may be dangerous.” The Klingon protested.
“Then keep a transporter lock on us at all times.” He stopped and smiled sadly. “Trust me, these people aren’t dangerous.”
Everyone was speechless for a moment, staring at him. Finally, Owen cleared his throat and winked at Tom. “Do I have to make it an order?”
“Kathryn, why don’t we go talk? Privately.” Chakotay held out his hand to her. After a moment, she took it and let him lead her from the room.
“Finally!” B'Elanna hugged Tom fiercely. “Oh, I love you!”
“I love you, too.”
“Not now.” He lowered his lips to B'Elanna’s.
“Tom.” Then again, more insistently when there was no response. “Tom Paris.”
“Go away.” B'Elanna growled and nipped at his cheek.
“What?” He looked up into the face of a stranger.
“You have to come with me.” The man was in a uniform that resembled a Starfleet uniform but wasn’t quite right.
“Who are you?” Tom frowned at him. “Dad, is this someone you know?”
“Never saw him before in my life.” Owen shook his head. “Let me tell you again how proud I am of you.”
“Thanks, Dad.” Tom choked down the lump in his throat.
“We have to leave here.” The man said again. “This isn’t real.”
“What?” Tom shoved him away. “Who are you? Get the hell out!”
“I’m sorry. Truly, I am.” The man tapped his communicator. “Picard to Enterprise. I’ve located another one. Energize.” He reached out to grab Tom’s wrist.
“Let go of me!” He tried to jerk away. There was the familiar tickle of the transporter and Tom was suddenly standing in a brightly lit cargo bay. There were people everywhere, some giving medical aid, others sobbing and moaning. “Where are we? What happened?”
“You’re on the Enterprise. Don’t worry, you’re safe here.”
“The Enterprise? What – beam me back! My father is – “
“Admiral Paris. Yes, I’m aware of that.” Picard nodded. “And he’s going to be very happy to see you.”
“Considering you kidnapped me from his house?” Tom moved away from a red headed woman with a medical scanner in her hand. “I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but if you don’t beam me back to my family right now – “
“There’s no one to beam you back to.” Picard shook his head sadly. “It was only an illusion. Nothing more.”
“You’re wrong!” Why did some of these people look familiar? “You’re lying!”
“I know you experienced your fondest desire – felt true happiness.” He remembered his own ‘family’ and how real it had all been to him. “But that was the lie.”
“No!” Backing away, Tom bumped into someone. The man turned to look at him. “I know you – you’re – no! This is a lie! It’s all a lie!”
Dr. Crusher pressed a hypospray to Tom’s neck, and he collapsed to the deck. “Take him to Sickbay. Keep him sedated.” She told a pair of orderlies.
“Is that wise, Beverly?” Picard watched as Tom Paris’ limp body was lifted onto a stretcher.
“For now, yes.” She sighed heavily. “They’ve been trapped in there for years, and it’s become real to them. Some of them have trouble adjusting. They can hurt themselves or others.”
“Will he be all right?”
“I don’t know, Jean-Luc. I just don’t know.”
“It’s hard to resist, Beverly.” He looked over the group of people they had rescued. “It’s very hard.”
“Where is she?”
“B'Elanna! My wife!” Tom struggled against the restraints holding him to the biobed. “Where is she?”
“B'Elanna?” Deanna said the unfamiliar name slowly. “Was she one of the other passengers on the ship?”
“Passenger? She’s the Chief Engineer!”
“The engineer?” Scrolling down the list of the people they had rescued, she didn’t see a ‘B'Elanna’ and the Chief Engineer’s name was a male one. “Can you tell me more about her? Her last name?”
“Torres – B'Elanna Torres.” He slumped back on the bed. “Please, just tell me where she is.”
“B'Elanna Torres…” Deanna frowned at the new information on her PADD. “Starfleet class of 2364. Lieutenant in engineering on the Firedrake.”
“No – that – that’s not right!” Twisting on the biobed, Tom tried once again to free himself. “She quit the academy – joined the Maquis!”
“According to this, you shared some classes with her in your third year, Tom. Is that where you remember her from?”
“No – you’re trying to – where’s Captain Janeway?”
“Janeway? You mean Commander Janeway?”
“Commander? She’s the captain of Voyager.” He fell back, panting with the effort that hadn’t loosened his bindings one bit. “I want to see her now!”
“I’ve never heard of a ship called Voyager.” She said gently. “And Commander Janeway works at Starfleet Headquarters; she’s one of the people who made it possible to find you.”
“Then she might want to know you’re holding me prisoner! I want to talk to her now!” He demanded. “Or Chakotay – Commander Chakotay – get him!”
“Voyager’s first officer. Big guy – tattoo – you can’t miss him.”
“Captain Chakotay is an instructor at Starfleet Academy.” She looked at the information on her PADD. “You took his tactics classes and did quite well.”
“This is crazy.” Tom closed his eyes. “You’re all crazy.”
“Tom, I know that it’s hard for you. But what you experienced wasn’t real.” Deanna said sadly. “I wish I could tell you that it was. I’m sorry.”
“Brainache is more like it.” Deanna rubbed her temples. “The anger and denial is overwhelming. And the sadness…”
“Here, let me.” Will brushed her fingers aside and gently massaged her temples. “Let the master work.”
“Oh…” She sighed as his big hands worked up into her hair, massaging her scalp expertly. “Oh, it’s so awful, Will.”
“Should I stop?” He teased.
“Not you, silly.” She sighed again.
“You mean the people from the Liberty?” He slid his fingers through the rich black hair. “You’re thinking that maybe some of them were better off where they were. You’re thinking it’s all very sad.”
“When did you start reading minds?”
“Only yours, Deanna.” He brushed a kiss across her temple.
“Your beard tickles.” She reached a hand up to stroke his face.
“That’s why you love it.”
“You can read my mind.”
“Mr. Paris, there’s someone here to see you.”
“Go away.” Tom rolled over and faced the wall. He was no longer tied to a bed in Sickbay. Instead, he’d been confined to the brig for ‘his own safety’ they said. “Visiting hours are over.”
“Dad?” He rolled back over. “Dad?”
“How are you feeling?” Owen Paris stood with his hands clasped behind his back.
“Get me out of here! They won’t tell me where B'Elanna is – “ He stepped up as close to the forcefield as he could get. “Or Miral. Dad, please tell me they’re all right.”
“Thomas, you don’t have a wife. Or a daughter.” He frowned at his son. “You were piloting that – that – merchant craft. The Liberty. Don’t you remember?”
“No – I – “ He had a sudden flash of memory. Cramped quarters and ancient systems. “No – I want – I didn’t – “
“After you left Earth, the ship disappeared. That was seven years ago.” Owen sighed. “I paid your debts, Thomas. So you can stop with this game.”
“Admiral!” Dr. Crusher had been standing discreetly to one side. “I must protest! The effects are very real and well documented!”
“You don’t know my son.” Owen told her. “Always a scam or scheme of some kind.”
“You – you were proud of me.” Tom staggered back and collapsed on the bunk. “I was a good Starfleet officer – I helped get Voyager home.”
“Thomas, you were thrown out of Starfleet years ago.” His father turned to go. “I’m sorry it turned out this way.”
“You were proud of me.” He dropped his face to his hands. “You were so proud of me.”
“He thought the Federation would give worlds to the Cardassians. Just hand over entire systems? After what they did in the war?”
“What are you complaining about?” Chakotay looked up from his work. “My father was murdered and I joined a terrorist group to avenge his death. I can’t wait to tell him.”
“Freedom fighters, Chakotay. Maquis.” Kathryn took the PADD from his hands and tossed it aside, then settled herself on his lap. “Sounds romantic, don’t you think?”
“I suppose the tattoo he said I had is romantic, too?”
“Very… dashing and dangerous.”
He laughed, dimples flashing. “So how did you resist me?”
“Don’t ask me! Ask Tom Paris!” She poked a finger into his chest. “You cheated on me anyway, with who was it? 2 of 30something?”
“A Borg.” He shivered. “Never.”
“At least he thinks he brought us together.”
“Fantasy, illusion, or some crazy alternate reality – “ Chakotay kissed his wife passionately. “I’ll always find you, beloved.”
“Poor thing, he’s had such a tough life. His friends dying, getting thrown out of Starfleet.” Kathryn looked into the black velvet eyes, seeking the answer there. “Maybe they should have left him there. He was happy.”
“But it wasn’t real, Kathryn.”
“But it was.” She smiled sadly. “For him.”
“I’m sorry, Admiral Paris. There’s really nothing we can do for him.” The doctor said gently. “Every therapy we’ve tried – they’ve all failed. He’s retreated farther and farther into his fantasy.” The Admiral was silent and after a moment, the doctor spoke again. “There are more radical methods – surgery – “
“No.” Owen shook his head. “Leave him be. He’s built his own world, given himself the redemption and acceptance that reality never will.”
“We’ll take good care of him, sir.”
“See that you do.” He looked through the glass at where his only son sat talking animatedly with someone who wasn’t there. “I’m sorry, Tom. If I had known – I’d have left you in that damned galactic ribbon.”
He watched Tom for another few minutes and then turned and walked away.
“Did you hear him, Harry? He’s proud of me! Can you believe it!”