|Lost and Found
The room they were in was dimly lit and filled with a low, haunting melody which many couples were dancing to, but Tom took no notice of anything except the Nahldarian in front of him, and the words he'd just spoken. "We were drugged? How?" he demanded angrily as he stared at Telsesh. "And why? Is that usual here?"
"Do not raise your voice, Temospah," Telsesh advised calmly. "Remain quiet, and I will tell you what you want to know."
"Then do it!" Tom hissed. "What the hell were we given, and how?"
Telsesh sighed, then leaned forward, resting his arms on the small table. "You must remember that Amshev believed that you were clients. He had heard that you were looking for me, and as I was not there, he decided to offer his own services," he began quietly. "It was not his fault; just an understandable mistake on both his part and yours. Neither side is to blame for the conclusion that Amshev reached. You accept this, yes?"
"I suppose so," Tom muttered, looking across the room to see if there was any sign of Chakotay returning. The Commander had been gone for over five minutes now, and Tom hoped he would be back soon, although he couldn't even begin to imagine how Chakotay would take the news that they'd both been drugged.
"You will understand, then, that Amshev was just following standard procedures," Telsesh stated, holding one hand up when Tom went to speak. "Let me explain without interruption, Temospah." The Nahldarian continued when Tom nodded. "The drug is given to new clients in order to increase the Vlenkla's effectiveness. Most Nahldarians are reluctant to seek our help even when they know it is probably the only way they will overcome their problems, so to help them relax, amongst other things, a drug is administered without their knowledge."
"In their drinks?" Tom queried.
"Yes. In their drinks," Telsesh confirmed. "Although, the drug does not have the same effect on each person," he added. "You will have noticed that you did not react in the same manner as Chayelah. The drug is a very versatile substance that reacts differently according to the level of physical or mental stimulation that the recipient experiences. That is why Chayelah responded to Amshev in the way he did. The close physical contact that Amshev initiated caused the drug to first banish any negative thoughts that Chayelah might have had, and then lowered his inhibitions, prompting him to seek out sexual pleasure with the Vlenkla. Although, it will undoubtedly set your mind at rest when I tell you that Amshev was only a substitute for *you*, Temospah."
"What?" Tom asked incredulously. "How do you mean, 'a substitute'?
Telsesh smiled. "It is obvious to me that there is a great deal of attraction and affection between yourself and Chayelah, and Amshev merely tapped into that supply when he was with your partner. A Vlenkla does not create feelings in his client, he only amplifies what the person feels for their life mate. In this case, that life mate is you, Temospah."
"But we're not really a couple," Tom said, frowning. He was taken aback by what Telsesh seemed to be insinuating. Chakotay was attracted to him? Was, perhaps, *more* than just attracted to him? He and Chakotay were, or should be, 'life mates'?. He shook his head, puzzled. "We're just playing a role while we try to recover the parts that Kenthah stole from our ship."
"That may be so, for now," Telsesh remarked. "But it does not change the fact that you both care a great deal for each other, and wish to be together permanently. Tell me," he said, grasping Tom's hand. "How did you feel while your Chayelah was with Amshev. Did it upset you?"
Tom snorted, remembering just how much the previous evening's events had affected him. "Yeah," he replied softly. "It upset me a lot. I was so jealous all the time they were together, and I don't feel much better about it this morning, despite the fact that I decided last night that Chayelah wasn't responsible for his actions."
"That is to be expected; the drug heightened your reactions. It would not have done so if you did not love Chayelah as much as you do."
Tom looked shocked. He was glad now that Chakotay hadn't been there to hear Telsesh' remarks. As far as Tom was concerned, there was no way that Telsesh could be right; not about Chakotay's feelings for *him*, anyway, although the Nahldarian had obviously noticed his feelings for Chakotay. But what would Chakotay think of Telsesh' claims? Tom doubted the older man would be pleased to hear that his subordinate, one Lieutenant Tom Paris, was deeply in love with him. And then to hear that Telsesh believed Chakotay was in love with Tom would upset the man still further, Tom was sure of it.
Tom shook his head, unable to sort out his conflicting ideas, and despite the fact that he was pleased the older man had missed the conversation, he wondered again where Chakotay had got to. The minutes were ticking by and the Commander really should have returned. "I think I'll go and look for Chayelah," Tom said, removing his hand from under the Nahldarian's, then getting up. "He's been gone quite a while. I'll explain about the Vlenkla to him, myself, and then when we get back, we'll all discuss Voyager's missing components. After all, that *is* what we actually came here to find out about."
"Very well. I will wait for you here," Telsesh said, nodding. "But do not be too long. If Kenthah's men see my 'clients' acting outside of what is normal, they will become suspicious of you. Find Chayelah quickly, and bring him back."
"Okay. I won't be long," Tom answered. He nodded at Telsesh, then set off in the same direction that Chakotay had gone.
Tom entered the rest room to find that he was the only occupant; Chakotay was nowhere around. Puzzled, he stood in front of the mirror and stared vacantly at his own reflection, his mind whirring madly as he wondered where the older man could be. His concern grew as he sorted through the thoughts that filled his head.
He'd continually scanned the outer room from the moment he'd left Telsesh, so there was no way Chakotay could have made it back to their table without Tom seeing him. He remembered the look on Chakotay's face as he'd walked away, and considered the possibility that Chakotay had been so embarrassed by the way Telsesh had spoken about his actions with Amshev that he'd decided, on the spur of the moment, to head back to the hotel. Tom had to admit to himself, though, that this scenario was unlikely to be correct. Even if Chakotay *was* feeling highly embarrassed, Tom knew, really, that it wasn't a good enough reason for the Commander to abandon the mission. Chakotay was too professional in his attitude for that.
Tom stood for a few moments more, trying to calm himself, and silently cursing the fact that he couldn't contact Chakotay via their comm badges. Nahldar's planet-wide shield not only prevented them from contacting Voyager but also interfered with short range communications, making their comm badges redundant for now. Tom was thankful, though, that Tuvok had insisted the Doc fit them both with subdermally implanted homing devices as a precaution, because that at least gave him one option for locating the Commander.
Tom considered removing his tricorder from it's place hidden away in the lining of his pants, to see if Chakotay's whereabouts would register on it, but, remembering the surveillance equipment in use in the club, he decided against it until he found an area free from the hard-to-spot cameras; it was imperative to keep his true identity, and the technology he was carrying, concealed from whoever might see the recordings. With this in mind, Tom decided the only option open to him at the moment was to go back and talk to Telsesh.
Taking a last glance in the mirror, Tom headed for the first of two doors that separated him from the main room. He stepped out, desperately trying to control the uneasy feeling that Chakotay's disappearance had generated in him as he quickly made his way back to where Telsesh was still seated. Telsesh looked up, frowning, as Tom approached. "Temospah? Where is Chayelah?" the Nahldarian queried as Tom sank down on the chair opposite him again.
"I don't know. I couldn't find him," Tom replied anxiously. "He wasn't in the rest room, and he never passed me on the way. I'm really worried, Telsesh; it's not like him to just disappear like this." He looked earnestly at the Nahldarian. "I need your help. I need to go somewhere that isn't monitored by the security cameras."
"For what purpose?" Telsesh asked, puzzled.
"I need to scan for his life-signs; to see if he's still in the area. But I don't want the technology I'm using to be recorded. So, is there somewhere in the club that isn't monitored?" Tom asked, deciding to keep the knowledge of the homing devices to himself for now.
Telsesh nodded and got to his feet. "Come with me," he instructed. Tom stood, and followed the Nahldarian around the edge of the crowded dance floor, then through a door which led up a narrow flight of stairs and took them to the surveillance control centre. It was an automated zone, the recordings only kept for review in case of problems, and no-one was there. The Nahldarian ushered Tom inside, quickly closing the door behind them. "Now, Temospah, run your scan while I find the recordings for the room downstairs. I will try to locate Chayelah on them."
"Thank you," Tom said, gratefully.
As Telsesh crossed to the control panel and began calling up the required information, Tom took out his tricorder and switched it on. A feeling of dread ran through him as he looked at the display; there was no trace of Chakotay. He closed his eyes, attempting to push down the panic that threatened to overwhelm him as he attempted to find reasons for the negative readout. Perhaps the shield didn't just affect communications, maybe it was interfering with the scan, too; perhaps Chakotay *had* set off for the hotel and was out of range; perhaps....
"Temospah, I have located him."
Tom switched off the tricorder, hurriedly pushing it back into its hiding place as he quickly crossed to the Nahldarian's side. "Where?" he asked.
Telsesh pointed to the monitor in front of him, and the clear picture that showed Chakotay walking away from the table they'd all shared. "I need to switch to the next camera now," he stated, pressing a few buttons. The next image came up, and after a few seconds, Chakotay came into view, heading for the rest room's outer door.
"Are there security cameras in the rest room too?" Tom queried as he watched the door close behind Chakotay.
"In the main area, yes," Telsesh answered, trying to find the relevant recording. "Although, obviously, we respect our clients' privacy and do not monitor elsewhere." The next pictures appeared on the screen, and Telsesh frowned. He tapped at the controls, checking the time of the recording, then glanced at Tom. "I do not understand," he said, pointing to the image of an empty room. "The time index is correct, but Chayelah is not there."
"Are you *sure* you've got the right recording?" Tom asked worriedly.
"I am positive," Telsesh confirmed. "I started the playback at the precise moment that Chayelah stepped through the outer door. He should have entered the main area by now."
"Then, where is he? Why can't we see him?"
"I do not know," the Nahldarian responded. "Perhaps he changed his mind, and exited without ever entering the monitored area. I will replay the other recording again, but allow it to run on further this time." Telsesh did as he'd said, but there was no sign of Chakotay leaving. "This is most odd," he commented. "Chayelah appears to have just vanished."
A chill ran down Tom's spine as a thought occurred to him. "I think Kenthah might have him," he said quietly. "I think he's somehow transported Chayelah out of here."
"No, no," Telsesh argued. "That is not possible. The shield would prevent transport taking place unless the signal was boosted. That could only happen if the booster was attached directly to Chayelah."
"So, we check all the recordings *again*," Tom said decisively. "There's *got* to be some kind of clue in them."
Telsesh nodded, and began replaying everything from the moment Chakotay had left the table until he'd entered the rest room. During a second review of the recordings, Tom suddenly grabbed the Nahldarian's arm. "Back a bit, Telsesh," he instructed. "Stop. Just there." He pointed to the screen. "Who's that man there?" he enquired. "The one who brushed past Chayelah."
Telsesh stared at the screen, backing the image up slightly until he got a partial glimpse of the man's face. He looked up at Tom, a serious expression on his face. "I do not know all of Kenthah's men, there are too many of us in his employ to recall every face and name, but this one is familiar to me; his name is Gelvash. He is one of Kenthah's more senior operatives," he reported.
Tom cursed silently. "Can you run it frame by frame? I want to see the exact moment he came into contact with Chayelah. Maybe something will show up that wasn't visible at normal speed."
The screen went blank momentarily while Telsesh reset the recording. "I have set the equipment to play back frame by frame," he said as the image flickered steadily.
They watched carefully, and after a couple of attempts managed to pause the playback at the moment that Gelvash' hand briefly came into contact with Chakotay's arm. "Can you zoom in on that?" Tom asked. He peered intently at the screen as the selected area filled it. "Now run it forward again," he requested.
The image was a little fuzzy, but as Gelvash removed his hand, a tiny object could be seen on Chakotay's sleeve; something that had not been there previously. Tom swallowed hard as his fears were realised; Gelvash had attached a signal booster to the Commander without him being aware of it. Chakotay had been taken.
Tom slumped down in a nearby chair, his breathing fast and shallow as fear for Chakotay's safety consumed him. He tried to sort his confused thoughts out into some sort of rational order. He had to find a way to locate Chakotay with the very limited means at his disposal; Voyager was unreachable for another two and a half days; the tricorder seemed to be ineffective; the comm badges were useless. All that remained was whatever help Telsesh could provide. Tom prayed that whatever the Nahldarian could supply would be enough. He *had* to get Chakotay back. He looked up when a hand touched him gently on the arm.
"You are not safe here now, Temospah. Kenthah must know who you are. You must stay out of sight."
"I realise that, Telsesh," Tom responded quietly. "But how will I get back to my hotel without either being followed, or transported away like Chayelah? And what about you? Kenthah is obviously aware of your involvement with us; how will you keep *yourself* safe?"
"Leave that to me," the Nahldarian said, shutting down the monitor he'd used. "I have a place that we can go to while I try to find out what has happened to your Chayelah." He patted Tom's shoulder. "Do not worry, we will be safe there, and we *will* find him."
"I hope you're right," Tom said, his voice barely above a whisper. "He's far too important to lose."
"You love him a great deal," Telsesh stated, nodding. He patted Tom's shoulder again. "Come with me, now. There is another exit on this level. We must leave quickly."
"Okay." Tom stood, then followed Telsesh from the room and along the passageway outside, in the opposite direction to where the stairs were. The Nahldarian opened a heavy metal door at the end of the corridor, and they walked out into the bright Velator sunshine, both squinting at the sudden increase in the light level.
"Quickly," Telsesh said, ushering Tom down the deserted alleyway that they'd emerged into. They walked about a hundred yards before Telsesh stopped in front of a battered-looking blue door that was almost obscured by large wooden crates piled one on top of the other in front of it. "It is the trade entrance to a club affiliated to the one in which I work, although only the owner and myself know the code for it," Telsesh explained as he keyed in the entry sequence on a pad to one side of the door. "I have a room here which Kenthah knows nothing of. I acquired it secretly, and for use in a situation such as the one we find ourselves in now."
"And you're sure the people here can be trusted?" Tom enquired as the door beeped, then swung open. "We're not going to be assaulted the minute we go inside?"
Telsesh smiled. "No, Temospah. We will be perfectly safe here. This door opens on to a secure area that requires further codes for each of the doors that lead off it. A few years ago, I was able to do a pretty large favour for the club's owner; he was extremely grateful, and the room is his way of thanking me." He pushed the door open further. "Come, Temospah. Let us go inside."
Tom nodded, then followed Telsesh through the door, neither man noticing the pair of curious eyes that watched them from a high window in a building on the opposite side of the alleyway.
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