|Lost and Found
Tom paced restlessly. The room that Telsesh had left him in reminded him of a prison cell. The walls were white, and bare of anything except for a small mirror which hung forlornly from an old piece of twine, its ornately carved frame out of place in the starkness of its surroundings. Beneath it, an uncomfortably-hard, black sofa which Tom had perched on for short periods of time during the Nahldarian's absence, took up a large proportion of the floor space.
Tom looked around, noting again the only other objects in the cheerless room: a tattered paper book in a language that was totally unknown to him, and next to it, a pale blue china mug, both sitting on top of the only piece of furniture besides the sofa - a small, rickety wooden table. There wasn't even a window, Tom mused. The only light in the place came from a softly glowing panel set into the ceiling. All in all, he thought, it was worse than the cell he'd occupied in Auckland.
He sighed. His legs were tired from walking in aimless circles, so he sat back down, leaning against the unyielding arm of the couch as he wondered about Telsesh. Where had the Nahldarian got to? What was taking him so long? Had he found Chakotay? Tom was beginning to doubt the wisdom of letting Telsesh talk him into staying behind while the Nahldarian made investigations, alone. What if Telsesh had been kidnapped the way Chakotay had been?
That thought had crossed Tom's mind numerous times in the previous four hours, and each time it did, his concerns had increased. If Telsesh didn't return, then there would be no way out of the room, because as far as he could tell, the door only opened from the outside. No-one else knew he was here. He would perish, his whereabouts unknown. He would never see Chakotay again.
He closed his eyes as that prospect sent a wave of panic washing over him. His chest tightened, while his mind drifted to what Telsesh had said earlier. The Nahldarian seemed convinced that Chakotay was interested in *him*, Tom Paris, and Tom decided he wanted the chance to test Telsesh' theory, not to expire without ever knowing if he could have had something with the one man he wanted more than anyone, or anything.
Realising that his thoughts were becoming far too negative, Tom mentally shook himself. He was a Starfleet officer. He could handle this. He was trained to deal with almost anything that was thrown at him. Anything. Except losing Chakotay.
"Shit!" Tom got up again as the circular nature of his thoughts made him curse out loud. "Come *on*, Telsesh. Where the hell are you? All this waiting's driving me fucking *crazy*!"
In frustration, he kicked out at the small table, and although he hadn't actually meant to connect with it, he did, his foot sending the shaky piece of furniture crashing noisily to the uncarpeted floor, and causing the fragile mug that had sat on it to smash into tiny shards that went flying in all directions. Sighing heavily, Tom knelt down and picked up the book that had also fallen. A couple of pages had come loose, and he pushed them back into place, then put it down carefully while he set the table upright again. He decided against collecting the pieces of broken china, and instead, used his foot to scrape the fragments into a small pile near the wall.
As he finished clearing up, his stomach growled loudly, and gave him something else to think about. The last thing he'd eaten had been a few snacks that he'd enjoyed in one or two of the clubs he and Chakotay had visited the previous night. Breakfast had been non-existent that morning, and he was now acutely aware of how hungry he was. Things just had to improve soon, he thought.
As it turned out, though, things didn't improve until almost an hour later, and then, Tom wasn't exactly sure that they *had* improved.
The door suddenly made a buzzing noise, then opened. Telsesh came hurtling into the room, his arms filled with a variety of bags which he hastily dumped on the table. "I cannot stop, Temospah," he announced breathlessly. "I have a lead; a contact to meet. I believe he knows of Chayelah's whereabouts. You remain here. I will be back shortly."
"What!" Tom exclaimed, staring at Telsesh. "You have got to be kidding! I've been here for over five hours already, I'm not stopping any longer!"
"There is no other choice, and I have no time to argue about it," Telsesh said, heading out of the still-open door. "It is too dangerous for you to accompany me. I will be back in an hour."
"Look. Just hold on a minute. Tell me what you've heard." The door was already swinging shut as Tom spoke. "Tell me about Chayelah," he pleaded as it closed completely. Telsesh had gone again. "Damn!"
Tom shook his head, unable to completely grasp the whirlwind events of the last thirty seconds. In a daze, he turned to the bags on the table and automatically opened the one nearest to him. It contained food; an assortment of fresh fruit. On further investigation he found that bread and small fancy cakes filled the other bags, and there was a container of water.
But, although the food was a very welcome addition to the contents of the room, Tom was more concerned about Telsesh' announcement than anything else; the Nahldarian had said that he had a lead. Perhaps he would get Chakotay back after all. Tom breathed a small sigh of relief. He hated being left behind again, but if it meant that Telsesh might be successful, then he would endure it. After all, it wouldn't be for much longer.
Feeling slightly less anxious, Tom took a selection of things across to the couch and sat down, pleased that at least now he wouldn't starve to death. But it had been a long morning, and after filling himself up with the tasty treats, and drinking most of the water, he started to feel tired. Making himself as comfortable as he could on the hard sofa, he closed his eyes. Telsesh had said he would be back in an hour, so Tom decided he would sleep until then.
Tom stirred; a cold draught was wafting over him from somewhere, making him shiver. He rubbed at his arms, trying to warm them, but the movement made him wince. His back and neck were sore. Sleeping on couches really didn't agree with him, he decided, especially on ones that felt as though they were made from concrete. Yawning, he opened his eyes and sat up.
"What the hell?" Tom couldn't see a thing. He blinked a few times, thinking there was something wrong with his eyesight, before his sleep-fogged brain finally reached the conclusion that the overhead panel had gone out. The room was pitch black; not a glimmer of light anywhere. And it was silent. Tom hadn't noticed before just how quiet the room was. Not a sound filtered in from outside, and all he could hear was his own rapid breathing.
"It's okay. Calm down. You can do this." Tom gave himself a pep talk as he realised he'd started to hyperventilate. He didn't like enclosed spaces, never had, and now that it was dark, the room seemed even smaller than before. All the worries he'd had earlier seemed to come back with a vengeance. He had no idea what time it was, but he was certain that Telsesh was late, and his mind screamed at him that something terrible had happened. Telsesh must have been captured. There would be no way out of the room now; he was going to die here for sure. And Chakotay. Oh, God. Chakotay. He'd lost him for good. He'd never get the chance to tell Chakotay how much he loved him. Chakotay would never know. And Voyager; Voyager would try to contact them only to find that they'd both disappeared without a trace. Nahldar's governing body would be powerless to help, and both his body and Chakotay's would rot in some unknown spot on this planet, never to be found.
"Stop it!" Tom yelled loudly at himself. He knew he had to get a grip on his escalating panic before it totally overwhelmed him. "Why the hell am I letting this get to me so much?" he questioned aloud. With a great deal of effort, he forced himself to take slow, deep breaths, closing his eyes so that he could pretend he had control over the darkness. Gradually, he calmed down, and after about ten minutes, his breathing returned to almost normal. With a shuddering sigh, he opened his eyes again.
What should he do now? What *could* he do now? Tom realised that his unspoken questions had only one answer: nothing. There was absolutely *nothing* he could do, except wait for Telsesh to return. Even though the room was now in darkness, his situation hadn't changed at all - he was still totally dependant on the Nahldarian.
Lying back down, Tom decided he would try to sleep again; it seemed like the best way to deal with his anxiety. He quashed every stray thought that attempted to disturb him, and closed his eyes.
"Temospah. Wake up!"
Tom was roused by a hand gripping his shoulder and shaking him. He looked up blearily to see Telsesh standing over him. "Telsesh? What time is it?" Tom mumbled sleepily as he sat up and stretched his aching limbs. "Hey. The light's working again," he remarked, rubbing his eyes.
Telsesh sat down on the couch next to Tom. "I am so sorry, Temospah. I did not mean to leave you for so long. I hope you will forgive me," he said, looking contrite.
"You weren't gone that long," Tom said, glancing down at the watch he wore. He'd been supplied with it before he'd left Voyager, and it displayed both ship time and Nahldarian time. Both showed that it was a little after 1600 hours. "You only left around two hours ago. I know you said you'd only be an hour, but, still...."
Telsesh shook his head slowly, dropping his gaze to the floor. "Temospah. I left yesterday. I have been gone for twenty-six of your hours. I am so sorry. But it *was* necessary."
"I've been here for nearly a day and a half, in total?" Tom queried incredulously. "Why? What happened? And why did I sleep for so long?"
"You've been asleep all this time?"
"Most of it, yeah," Tom confirmed.
"I do not know for certain why you slept. Your physiology is obviously different to mine, but when Nahldarians are stressed, sometimes our bodies decide we require rest, even if our brains do not understand the need. Perhaps yours reacted similarly."
Tom nodded, running his fingers through his hair and pushing it back from his face. "You might be right," he remarked. "I *was* feeling pretty anxious. I still am." He looked intently at Telsesh then. "You said you had a lead. What happened. Did you find out where Chayelah is?"
Telsesh smiled. "Yes, Temospah. I know where your Chayelah is. We will get him back."
Tom swallowed heavily, fighting back the tears of relief that threatened as Telsesh' words registered. "He's okay?" he asked, his voice quiet and emotional.
The Nahldarian nodded. "He is alive." He reached out and placed his hand on Tom's arm, and squeezed gently. "But he is not unharmed. Kenthah has had him questioned."
A few tears escaped and rolled slowly down Tom's cheeks. "What have they done to him?" he asked in a whisper.
"I do not know. Kenthah has many interrogation techniques; I was unable to find out which he used this time. My contact only informed me that your Chayelah was alive, but injured."
"Where is he? How will we get him back?"
"You need not worry about 'how', that is already in hand," Telsesh said, smiling slightly. "I have friends who are working to free him, right now. And once they have him, they will bring him to me."
"They'll bring Chayelah here?"
"No, Temospah. Not here. We must go elsewhere." Telsesh stood up and offered his hand to Tom. "Come. I have transport arranged that will take us to where you will shortly be reunited with Chayelah. We must hurry."
Tom allowed himself to be helped to his feet, then wiped the tears from his face with the back of his hand. He looked at the closed door. "How are we going to get out?" he asked, baffled. "It's shut."
Telsesh frowned. "I will open it," he said, giving Tom an odd look. "How else would we be able to leave?"
"I thought it only opened from the outside," Tom remarked. He raised his eyebrows as Telsesh tapped at a pad on a small box he'd produced from his pocket, and the door buzzed, then opened.
"Let us go, Temospah," Telsesh said, smiling.
The journey from the small room in the club to the much larger room that Tom was now sitting comfortably in had taken less than half an hour. Telsesh had escorted him out of the building and down the alleyway to a small personal shuttle that he had waiting for them. They were airborne within a few seconds of climbing in, and were passing over the western outskirts of Velator shortly afterwards.
The afternoon sky had been clear and bright, with many other shuttles heading in the same direction as them, mostly containing visitors who had finished their stay in the lively tourist centre and were heading home. Tom had found himself becoming more relaxed as each minute passed, pleased to be out of the confines of the tiny room, and on his way to see Chakotay again. His change of mood had allowed him to appreciate the sights as they'd flown.
Having used the transporters to travel from Voyager to the planet's surface, Tom had only seen Velator from the ground. He hadn't known that the Nahldarian entertainment sector was surrounded by breathtaking scenery; spectacular mountains and crystal-clear lakes that stretched over a vast area, and which turned to lower hills and pasture land the further they went. The whole landscape was a riot of colour, from the shimmering blue of the water to the vivid red leaves of trees that were dotted here and there in the midst of a sea of lemon-coloured grass. Tom had felt his spirits lifting even further as he'd gazed out of the shuttle's window at the beautiful countryside below.
Eventually, they had landed close to a large house which stood alone in the middle of a well-kept garden, the area surrounding it consisting of grass for as far as the eye could see. There had been no-one about as they'd climbed out of the shuttle, and Telsesh had led the way to a door at the back of the building where they'd entered, then made their way to the cosy room in which Tom was now seated. It was a bright, airy room with large windows on two sides, and on another, a door which led outside to a paved area; a real change to where he'd spent over thirty-one of the previous thirty-two hours.
Tom looked up as Telsesh walked in carrying a tray. The Nahldarian had been to the kitchen area to fetch refreshments, and he'd brought back a plate of snacks and two glasses of a pale green drink. He set the tray down on a large wooden table beneath one of the windows, and gestured for Tom to help himself to the items on it. "Please, Temospah, join me. Eat. Relax. And when we are finished, I will contact my friend and find out more about Chayelah," he said as Tom joined him at the table.
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