|Lost and Found
As they marched him out of the room and into the corridor, Tom twisted in the guards grip, and caught a last glimpse of Chakotay just before the door closed. The Commander was shackled to the bed, and struggling vainly to free himself, but the whole time, Chakotay's eyes were focused on him. In that brief moment, Tom became aware of the depth of emotion present in Chakotay's gaze. And it wasn't just deep concern for a subordinate officer that he saw, but something that seemed to be far more personal.
//You're too important to me.//
Chakotay's words played over and over inside Tom's head as the guards dragged him down the cold, white-walled corridor. What had the Commander meant by his words? In what way was he important to Chakotay? And what was it that Chakotay had wanted to tell him? The Commander had been so nervous, not his usual unflappable self; what had caused that?
Tom's musings came to an abrupt end as he was pushed roughly through a doorway at the end of the passage, and sent sprawling into a brightly lit room that appeared to be some sort of control centre. Tom couldn't tell what it's exact purpose was, but the rows of button-and-light-filled panels and monitors that lined the bottom half of one wall seemed to indicate that it was a place of some significance.
"Pick Tom Paris up," Telsesh ordered, looking disapprovingly at his men. "Put him in the chair."
"What's going on, Telsesh? What do you want with me?" Tom demanded as he was forced to sit, and metal bands attached to the chair's arms were clamped around his wrists, holding him firmly in place. "Why are you doing this?"
Telsesh ignored all of Tom's questions as he walked across to stand in front of one of the panels. He turned around then, and smiled. "It is time to contact your Captain," he stated.
Tom frowned, puzzled. "How can you do *that*?" he queried. "What about the shield surrounding Nahldar? You can't contact my ship while *that's* in place." He noticed the amusement written on Telsesh' face, and a thought sprang to mind. "What day is it?" he asked. "How long is it since we left your club?"
Telsesh sneered at him. "I do not give away information as freely as you do, Tom Paris. But I will tell you this: I have not kept you in a state of ignorance for nothing," he said, his eyes full of contempt for his captive. He turned to the panel and tapped one of the buttons there, continuing to speak as part of the wall above the panel slid back to reveal a large, blank screen. "Prisoners are more easily kept if they do not have all the data they require to plan an escape, so I am sure you will understand why I will not be answering any of your questions." He faced Tom again, leaning nonchalantly against the panel behind him. "I am going to contact Captain Janeway, and *you*, Tom Paris, are going to remain quiet unless I tell you to speak. If you disobey me, then be assured that your Chakotay will suffer for your error."
"You leave him alone," Tom warned, his voice low and menacing. "You've hurt him enough."
"His fate is in your hands," Telsesh responded lightly. "If you do not wish to see him harmed further, then all you have to do is cooperate with me. It is as simple as that." He reached round to flick one of the switches. "As you are now aware of the situation, and as I am sure that you will not want to cause any trouble for your Chakotay, I will contact Voyager." The screen behind Telsesh flickered to life as he turned to face it, leaving Tom glowering at his back.
Tom glanced up as he heard a familiar voice. "Telsesh," Janeway said as her face filled the screen. "You promised to show me my men. Where are they? I want to see them."
"Of course, Captain Janeway," Telsesh said with a smile. He stepped to one side, and gestured to where Tom was seated. "I have Tom Paris here. As you can see, what I told you before was the truth. He is unharmed."
Janeway looked past Telsesh, and saw her pilot restrained in the chair. "Are you all right, Tom?" she asked, her eyes scanning the Lieutenant's body for signs of any injuries.
Tom remained silent, heedful of Telsesh' threats of a few moments ago, but his eyes sought out the Captain's as he tried to convey to her that he had been ordered not to answer.
Janeway understood Tom's plight, and nodded. She returned her attention to the Nahldarian. "Where is my other officer?" she enquired. "I want to see him, too."
"No," Telsesh said, shaking his head. "You will not see him until you agree to listen to my proposal - something that you should have done the last time we spoke. I have acceded to your wishes as much as I am going to. I have allowed you to see your pilot, and that is enough."
"I want to hear from Tom that Chakotay is okay," Janeway insisted. "I won't be listening to anything you have to say, Telsesh, until I'm *sure* my officer is unharmed."
The Nahldarian took a deep breath, and turned to Tom. "Tell her," he said, his eyes glittering a warning for Tom to obey him. "Tell her that your Chakotay is well," he ordered.
"Is that right, Tom? Is Chakotay okay?" Janeway asked, studying Tom's face.
Tom schooled his features to remain neutral as he answered, although he directed his gaze just above her head. "Yes, Captain," he responded. "Chakotay's well."
"You see," Telsesh said, smiling at Janeway. "I have told you the truth. Now you will listen to me." He waved to one of the guards to bring him a chair, then placed it in front of the screen. He sat down, leaning back with an air of arrogance about him as he addressed Voyager's Captain. "You have many things that Kenthah desires," he told her. "But there is one thing he wants above any others. Your pilot has told me of many confrontations that you have had with well-armed and dangerous adversaries, therefore, your ship must carry some very powerful weapons. You will supply us with these weapons," he stated.
Janeway responded immediately. "I will not," she stated forcefully. "I'm not in the habit of arming criminals."
"You do not wish to have your men returned to you?" Telsesh queried. "I thought you were worried about their safety. I thought they were of value to you. After all, I am in possession of your First Officer and your Chief Pilot. Surely they are indispensable to you when you have such a long way to travel to your home. And," he added, reaching into a drawer in the base of the panel in front of him. "I believe you require these." He placed Voyager's stolen components on his lap where Janeway could see them. "If I understand correctly, without this equipment, you and your crew would be unlikely to reach your own area of space within your lifetimes. Can you really afford to reject what I propose we exchange? Voyager's weapons in return for your officers, and the parts that will allow you to complete your journey home."
Tom watched and listened silently as Janeway stated her position. "The components *are* very important," she began. "But they are not irreplaceable. It would cause us to suffer a very long delay while we tried to manufacture new ones, but it *can* be done; it's not impossible. As for my men, you are correct, they *are* valuable to me, but no matter *how* valuable, I cannot put two lives above those of the rest of my crew. And if I supplied you with weapons, there is no guarantee that you wouldn't use them against us. It would also cause a shift in the balance of power in this region of space, and I cannot allow that to happen. So, while I would obviously prefer to have both my men returned, unharmed, along with the parts, I cannot agree to your demands."
"You have reached a hasty decision, Captain Janeway," Telsesh advised her. "I strongly suggest that you think about my offer because it is the only one I am going to make." He looked at her thoughtfully for a moment. "Perhaps you need something to convince you to change your mind," he remarked.
"There is *nothing* that could change my mind," Janeway responded, shaking her head. "I *cannot* supply you with weapons, even though my officers' lives are at stake."
"Very well." Telsesh got up from his chair, placing the components on the floor, and went to stand in front of Tom. "Fetch me the gevasen," he ordered the guard nearest the door. "And the application tools."
The guard nodded briskly, and left the room.
"What are you going to do, Telsesh?" Janeway asked, sounding more calm than she actually felt.
Telsesh answered her without turning away from Tom. "As you do not appear to want your pilot, Captain Janeway, I am going to claim him as my own property," he stated.
The guard reappeared then, carrying in one hand, a small clear-glass dish that contained a deep blue viscous substance, and in the other, a small, dull metallic sheet with an intricate design cut from its centre. He also carried a broad-bladed knife in that hand, and he gave it to Telsesh, along with the other items, before he returned to his spot near the door.
"Now, Tom Paris, you will remember what I said to you earlier. You will remain silent," Telsesh ordered. "You know what will happen if you do not." Without waiting for any sign of acknowledgement from Tom, Telsesh went to stand behind him, deliberately making sure that he was out of reach of Tom's unrestrained legs. "Stay still," he commanded as he reached forward and laid the metal plate on Tom's bare chest, just below his left shoulder. He then held the sheet in place with one hand as he delved into the pocket of his pants with his other one.
"I want to know what you're doing, Telsesh," Janeway said as the Nahldarian produced a roll of adhesive tape, then tore pieces off and placed them around the edges of the plate, leaving the sheet firmly affixed to Tom's skin.
"I have already told you," Telsesh replied curtly. "I am claiming Tom Paris as my property." Before he'd even finished speaking, Telsesh had dipped the end of the knife into the dish, and scooped out some of the contents. The blue substance clung to the blade as he moved it towards the plate.
Tom watched as the knife came closer, a pungent smell assaulting his nose as the blade passed beneath his chin. He looked down at the plate on his chest, and could just make out the design there - a series of interlocking triangles of various sizes all contained within a circle.
"You are mine, Tom Paris," Telsesh said as he used the knife to smear the blue paste all over the metal sheet. "I claim you."
Searing pain shot through Tom's body as the substance that Telsesh was coating the sheet with touched his skin in all the places where the metal was absent. His legs jerked upwards involuntarily, and his arms struggled to free themselves from their restraints. His flesh began to smoulder, and he screwed his eyes tightly shut as acrid smoke drifted upwards, choking him. His blood felt as though it was boiling in his veins, flooding his body with indescribable pain as it flowed through him, making its inexorable way to all of his vital organs. It was too much for Tom to take, and blackness engulfed him as he passed out, his head lolling backwards, and his pain-etched face tilting towards the ceiling.
"What the hell did you do to him!" Janeway shouted at Telsesh.
The Nahldarian put the dish and the knife on the floor before turning round to look at the screen. "He wears my badge of ownership now," he informed Janeway. "But what does it matter to you? You did not want him. Or have you changed your mind now?" he asked with a smirk.
Janeway sighed heavily, rubbing her hand across her flushed and angry face as she gazed past Telsesh, to Tom's still form. "I'm not in a position to change my mind," she stated with quiet control. "I will not give you any weapons."
"Then I invite you to be a witness when I claim ownership of your First Officer," Telsesh said, smiling. "I will contact you tomorrow. Tom Paris will most likely have recovered from his ordeal by then, and I wish *him* to witness me marking Chakotay, as well. Of course, if you *do* reconsider your position before then, I am sure we can resume our negotiations."
"What negotiations?" Janeway questioned. "All you've done is make demands. There's been no room for any bargaining. You said yourself, this 'offer' was the only one you were going to make."
Telsesh shrugged. "I am in the stronger position," he asserted. "Kenthah knows what he wants, and I've been instructed to tell you. You need what we have, and we want your weapons. It is a fair trade. What could be more straightforward than that?"
Janeway shook her head, and sighed again. "It's obvious to me that we aren't going to agree," she said looking directly at Telsesh. "So there's no reason for you to contact me again. You can keep my men," she stated. "And the parts, as well. I will find replacements for all of them. This discussion is at an end." She reached forward as she finished speaking, and Telsesh was left staring at a blank screen, the Captain having closed the link from her end.
Telsesh was livid. He'd expected the female alien to back down at the last moment, and now his credibility with Kenthah was going to suffer because he hadn't secured the deal that he'd been convinced he would obtain. He'd used similar hostage/ransom strategies with other species and had been successful, so why hadn't his tactics worked with these humans? How would he tell Kenthah of his failure? Not wanting to inform his boss of what had happened, he began to grasp at straws. Perhaps the alien would still change her mind. Perhaps he would try to contact her tomorrow as he had said he would. He would convince her that she should cooperate with him. He could still get the weapons then, and his position as one of Kenthah's most trusted men would be safe.
Highly agitated, he turned towards Tom who was still unconscious in the chair, and in anger, kicked out at him, connecting with Tom's right shin. "Take him back to his room," he ordered the guards. "Neither man is to be given any food or water until I say they can have it. Now, get him out of here."
The guards approached Tom, and one of them carefully removed the tape from around the metal sheet. It dropped to the floor, taking with it the remains of the paste, and leaving behind a patch of red, raw skin that was marked with a raised pattern of tiny blue crystals where the substance had bonded with Tom's flesh. Without any response from Tom, the men removed the metal bands from around his wrists, and lifted him from the chair. A few minutes later, they had carried him back down the corridor and were outside the cell that he shared with his superior officer.
Chakotay looked across to the door as it opened, and his earlier anger was rekindled as he saw the guards carrying Tom into the room. But before he had chance to voice his outrage, the men had dumped Tom on the bed, and left, leaving Tom sprawled partly across his bruised chest, the younger man's skin uncomfortably hot to the touch. He tried to move, pulling at the restraints that still secured his wrists to the bed frame, but only managed to shift enough to allow Tom's head to fall against his neck. It was a comfort though, as this new position allowed him to feel tiny puffs of air against his throat, letting him know that at least Tom was breathing. With difficulty, he bent forward and brushed his lips across the younger man's hair, feeling the dampness that was making the strands cling to Tom's scalp, before his aching neck forced him to drop his head back on to the mattress. Tears stung his eyes as he closed them, his mind working furiously as he contemplated just what he was going to do to Telsesh once he was free.
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