|A Last Time for Everything
Chakotay alone of the crew delivered a nod and a, "Tom" when the young man arrived on the bridge the next morning, but the greeting was brusque at best. Yeah, hiya Chakotay, Tom didn't say. He found his way to a chair without a station (Great. . .) and sat, feeling edgy and largely out of place. He might, he thought with a certain amount of rancour, have stayed in bed for all the good it seemed he was to do here on the bridge. "Don't expect a place at conn."
Tom shifted in his seat and, as the Maquis crew took the Magh up and out, he found himself watching Chakotay. The man was broad shouldered under the patchwork leather that he wore. He outweighed everyone on the bridge, and though the Vulcan sitting at tactical was probably stronger, he would be less likely to use his strength as implied power, to coerce or intimidate. It was easy to see how Chakotay held command. A rough, geometric pattern was tattooed above his left brow and extended all the way up his left temple. He looked like a terrorist. Forbidding. The last word floated through Tom's head. He promptly told himself not to be ridiculous.
He tried to imagine Chakotay as a Starfleet officer, to take the edge off, but it didn't get him very far. He just couldn't see him on the bridge of a Starfleet ship. He couldn't believe that he'd ever joined the officers for a game of post-alpha shift poker, or sat around the Captain's table at a briefing.
Chakotay wasn't a bad pilot, though. Nothing flashy but then again, nothing stupid, although (and here Tom's thoughts tightened) he himself wouldn't have quite compensated that much for the plasma burst to starboard, and come to think of it, Chakotay was really making a habit of those heavy handed responses, granted, this was a rebuilt, Maquis fighter and not a silvery little Fleet ship but--
All right Tom. Relax. Watch the view screen, not the readouts. Don't watch him fly the ship. You're only making yourself crazy.
Chakotay passed his hand across his hair, once, twice, three times, leaving it branched crazily, a forest of dark brown spikes. 08:45, and no sign of Kasidy. And he could feel Tom's gaze on him, an irksome tickle. It was not improving his temper. When he had turned, intending to warn Tom off, the younger man had met his eyes, and before Chakotay had managed to speak, he'd stretched long legs out, crossing them at the ankle, and smiled, giving Chakotay a little wave.
"Something's not right," Seska said. "She should be here by now. We've risked exiting the Badlands. She should be here."
"Relax. We'll give her another quarter hour, then if she still hasn't arrived here, we'll head the Magh back."
"We're totally exposed." Seska was frowning. "We should--"
Carter interrupted. "I'm reading some kind of malfunction in our torpedo array, Chakotay," she said. "Power build up in the launch unit. I think we've got problems."
"I am detecting a neutrino surge," Tuvok said, "four hundred kilometres to port. It may be the cause of the difficulty."
The sensors picked it up a second before it appeared on the viewscreen, so that Carter's words accompanied the image; a large grey ship shimmering into sight. "There's a vessel decloaking off our port hull--"
"Romulans?" Chakotay turned almost fully round to face Carter. "Carter can you get a reading?"
"No, the signature's wrong. I--it's--" Carter broke off, and there was a moment of silence in which she stared at the readings, drew in a single, steady breath. "Oh, shit."
Tuvok said, "It's the USS-Defiant."
"Raise shields," Chakotay commanded instantly. "Arm phasers and I want the forward torpedoes ready for launch. Carter, I need you to--Carter," he said. "Carter."
"Sisko commands the Defiant," she said, her hand slack on the controls. "He's the Emissary, Chakotay."
Seska turned from her post. "It's been seven years since you wore an earring, Carter--"
"Right." Carter repeated the word to herself. "Right. We're being hailed--"
The interior of the Defiant was distorted slightly by the third rate viewscreen, but the three-and-a-half pip Commander was clearly visible, sitting Captain-like in the main chair. He was kneading at his forehead with two fingers when his image flared into life. "Maquis vessel," he said. "This is Commander Benjamin Sisko of the USS-Defiant. You're being detained for questioning. Lower your shields, and prepare to be boarded."
"Ben," Chakotay said.
"Lower your shields," Sisko repeated, ignoring the greeting. "We're going to be coming on board."
"We won't come without a fight, Ben. You know that."
A look of resigned frustration passed over Sisko's face. "Dammit, Chakotay. You're outmatched and you know it. Fighting's not going to accomplish anything."
"It's an old ship, but a good one. Maybe we'll surprise you."
"I'd like to say 'I hope so' but this is only going to end one way. We've known each other a long time, Chakotay," Sisko said. "You know I can't back down."
"I'll give you five minutes to reconsider. Five minutes," Sisko repeated. Then, hand already raised to signal an end transmission: "I wish it didn't have to be this way. Sisko out."
"Suggestions?" The word was terse. Chakotay's gaze wound around the bridge.
"Hit them as hard as we can." This from Dalby. "Do as much damage as possible. Maybe get our one chance in a million. Who knows? At least we'd be kicking at the end, hurting their ship."
Carter was shaking her head. "We're in trouble," she said. "Shields won't hold out long against their weapons, and we've lost power to the torpedo launchers--"
"Phasers. . .Chakotay, I doubt phasers would dint the Defiant's hull, let alone get past her shields. We could do some damage if we rammed them, maybe. . ."
Seska was adamant. "I'm with Dalby. We hit them, and hit them hard. Show them how the Maquis stand up to the Federation."
Chakotay transferred his gaze to the Vulcan. "Tuvok?"
"It's clear the Defiant can neither be escaped, nor substantially damaged. When contrasted with a futile death, capture is the logical alternative."
"I won't be captured," Seska said. Each word was bitten off, blunt and uncompromising. Her determination was mirrored on Dalby's face. Carter nodded, once, slowly. Beside them Tuvok raised an eyebrow, unshakeably calm.
And somehow Chakotay found himself with his eyes on the individual who hadn't yet spoken. Tom, whose gaze was fixed disinterestedly on a point left of the view screen. Tom, who looked vastly removed from proceedings, expression blank, eyes flat.
Tom drew his knee up, and draped an arm around it. His blue gaze left the panelling and, with every semblance of reluctance, drifted over to Chakotay's face.
"Sure," he said, shrugging a shoulder. "Give me the helm."
Out of the corner of his eye, Chakotay saw Seska and Dalby exchange identical, incredulous looks.
"You think you can get us out of here," he said. "That's a Defiant class starship out there, fully armed and armoured. Its sustainable warp factor is at least 9.9. And you think you can get us out of here."
Another shrug, elegant, one shouldered. But through the couldn't-care-less expression, Chakotay noticed something hardening in Tom's gaze. A challenge. Yes.
Chakotay said, "How?"
"Chakotay--" interrupted Seska.
"You're making a fairly substantial claim," Chakotay said, cutting Seska off with a firm gesture, and surprising himself with the tone of his response. It was sceptical, yes, but it wasn't a dismissal. In fact, it was closer to a Captain's request, More information. A leader, wanting, but wary, You'll need to convince me.
He felt his own words being weighed in return.
Come on, Tom. Convince me.
"all right," Tom said. "Listen. Deep Space Nine's current strategic importance, Cardassia, the wormhole, it wasn't planned for. Nobody imagined that the Defiant would end up flying recon in deep space. If you'd asked them eighteen months ago half the Fleet would've told you Terok Nor was the name of the Cardassian Ambassador. They'd've been lucky if they could have spelled 'Bajor', much less pointed to it on a star map--"
He's all business, Chakotay thought distantly, absorbing the information. He sounds like a Starfleet Command officer, and a damned good one at that.
Well, he had asked to be convinced. Now Tom was rising to the challenge. Even Dalby was listening.
"Starfleet Command doesn't field its best crews out to obscure deep space assignments. It sure as hell doesn't provide middle-of-nowhere utility ports with decent pilots. Yes, the Defiant's a good ship, but circumstance has left her with a station crew on her bridge, a crew that was handpicked for long term diplomatic, surveillance and trade work, not for conflict and not for flight. That was a three-pip science officer at the helm, Lieutenant Commander Jadzia Dax, actually she's DS9's head of operations. Helm isn't her area of expertise--her rating is level three. Which is not good enough to best a seasoned Starfleet pilot, not one who knows what he's doing--"
"You think you're that pilot."
"Against a level three? I'll know every run before she flies it. Every attack pattern, every counter. You give me the helm, and I'll get us out of here."
Chakotay flushed, his mind teetering on the brink of a slow re-evaluation. He really believes he can do it. He's talking seriously about outflying the USS-Defiant.
He stared, cold fingers of speculation splaying across his back. Are you really that good, Tom Paris?
"Chakotay is a seasoned Starfleet pilot," Seska said into the silence that followed. Like a finger snap, her voice broke the hold of Tom's recitation. "Considering what you've told us, Paris, I think Chakotay is more than capable enough to get us out of here."
Tom blinked over at her. "I d--" He closed his mouth with a snap, and didn't speak the words that were so obviously on his lips.
No comment, hmm? Chakotay found himself smiling, a warm, genuinely amused smile, despite their situation. Tactful of you, Paris.
"The Defiant is hailing us, Chakotay," Carter said. "Do I put Sisko on screen?"
Chakotay rose from his chair, surprised to feel the smile lingering, a tiny new wellspring of exhilarated hope. "No," he said, moving back. "We fight. Mr. Paris, you have the conn."
The helm, sweet heaven. It felt like coming home. Sensors, engine readouts, and there was the USS-Defiant, showing up clearly on the display. Her slick little bridge crew evidently so sure of themselves that they weren't bothering with any kind of sensory subterfuge.
Considering the difference between vessels, Tom felt he could hardly blame them. No one sitting in a Defiant-class ship would feel threatened by a knock off K't'inga. Hell, a Galaxy-class would worry more about an attack from a shuttle.
And what Tom hadn't told Chakotay was that while Jadzia's Starfleet pilot rating was technically only level three, the woman was a joined Trill, and her symbiant, Dax, was a couple of hundred years old. Experience-wise, she had a past life-time as a Trill pilot tucked neatly under her belt.
So, Tom thought, he'd just have to hope that Trill manoeuvres, with which he wasn't thoroughly familiar, wouldn't factor too heavily in the encounter.
"Paris--" Chakotay said tightly, as a teeth rattling explosion showered sparks down from the opps station wall panel.
It wasn't happening. Dax was too good a pilot not to realize exactly where her advantages lay. Once she started flying Trill, she started winning, and from that point on, she ignored Federation engagement protocols completely.
Tom found himself the victim of an uneasy double vision. Seeing the Defiant's crew, in his mind. Seeing himself, through their eyes.
"Damn these Maquis, do they want to get themselves killed?"
"Commander, we're going to have to return fire--"
"Try to target their weapons systems, old man. We don't want casualties."
"Aye, sir. They're coming about--"
It was not a place Tom Paris had ever expected himself to be. On the outside, looking in.
"Shields," Carter said, "down to thirty one percent--"
He was going to have to do something about Dax, Tom realized. Something to level the playing field. Soon. Otherwise they were going to lose. They were going to lose. Huge.
"They're targeting our weapons systems," Seska ground out. "We've taken multiple hits along the port hull and we've got damage to the portside phasers--"
Hell, Tom thought. I could anticipate a ship board computer easier than I can anticipate this stuff.
And that was when the idea swept into his head, insane, clear as light.
Tom hesitated for a second, then he turned the Magh on a quarter, and headed her straight for the Defiant.
One hundred kilometres.
He felt a firm pressure on his shoulder, something warm, and tight. A grip. He heard Chakotay softly speak. "Easy Paris. You're doing a damned good job."
"Chakotay," he said. "You haven't seen anything yet."
And it happened.
Inside of ten kilometres, Dax relinquished manual controls. Tom could almost feel her do it. She had little choice, he knew. This close, with ships flying at speeds of around 40,000 kph, there was no time to manually configure flight. You just authorized whatever manoeuvre the computer threw up on your screen. Delta four, alpha six, lambda eighteen, omega nine--like that.
But back in another lifetime at the Academy, he and a classmate, Hawk, had occasionally, very occasionally, flown manual under conditions like this. They'd crawled into a sims together, turned the safety protocols off, turned the autopilot off, and one-on-one, pushed themselves right to the very edge of talent, and training. To the point at which the simulator seemed to fall away, and patterns just. . .came, and there was nothing else, just you, and the ship, and it was magic, and maths, and nothing could touch you. You were invincible. No one could touch you, here.
Tom remembered being eight, studying three dimensional kinematics in class. They'd been given a simple problem: calculate the position of a ball, after three seconds, if, as his teacher's voice had droned, "--the angle of ascension is thirty five degrees, and the ball is thrown with a velocity of six metres per second--on Kronos, where, as we all know, the gravitational constant is g equals 10.1 Newtons--"
They'd all bowed their heads, and made the appropriate calculations.
"Was that difficult?" his teacher asked.
Twenty 'Fleet-hopeful children had nodded, Yes.
"Would you believe me if I told you that you could do those calculations instantly, without thinking?"
Twenty sets of eyes had blinked. No.
"Here, Mr. Brady, catch--"
Tom's teacher had smiled as Lionel Brady caught the ball. "There, you see? Can you imagine the calculations it must have taken to catch that ball? Mr. Brady had to calculate speed, trajectory, spin, position. And he did it all, without even thinking. The human brain is an incredibly powerful--"
Tom Paris had never been a physics prodigy. His school work in that field had been solid, but unspecial. Put a temporal mechanics problem in front of him, and he'd very quickly grin, or wrinkle his nose and admit it was too difficult, too complex, out of his scientific league. He wasn't a scientist. He wasn't an engineer. But some fluky ability--some odd mechanism in his brain--allowed him to process it all, here, when it counted. Impossible physics. And he shone with it. It was his form of brilliance. It was genius, in flight.
He was distantly aware that the bridge was falling silent. No one was speaking, and the Defiant's phaser fire was no longer connecting with their shields. His own world had narrowed to one of anticipation and reaction: What pattern will the Defiant's computer fly? And: What do I need to fly to best it? It was madness. An impossible skein. But he had the solution. He had hold of the single, golden thread.
The Defiant wasn't landing a shot.
A flash of vanity. What would they be thinking aboard that ship, he wondered? Would Dax say to Sisko, I can't touch him, Commander? Would Sisko lean forward in his chair: Who the hell is their pilot?
You'll never guess, Tom thought crazily. I am no longer one of You. And that can't hurt me. You can't hurt me, here.
Too driven. He knew he couldn't keep this up for long.
"Here it is," he said. "The warp drive of this rebuilt piece of junk was scavenged from a K't'inga-class Klingon fighter, so the Magh will be showing up on their navigational computers as a type four. A Klingon attack vessel. That means that in about ten seconds, when I fly the Klingon pattern loS loS vagh the Defiant computer will kick in with the Engels Defence, and divert all power from the lateral phaser array. Tuvok," Tom addressed the Vulcan without turning. "When that happens, I'll drop out of formation, and we'll pass under the Defiant close enough to disrupt both our shields. But we'll be armed. They won't be. You'll have about two seconds and a clear shot at their engines. Do as much damage as you can in that time. Understood?"
"Understood," Tuvok replied. "Powering phasers."
Tom's heart rose, shoving at his throat. "Initiating Klingon standard attack pattern loS loS vagh."
"They're curving around portside," Carter said aloud. "Speed, 20,000 kph."
"The first move in the Engels Defence," Chakotay murmured, lack of volume belying the tension in his voice.
The attack window was opening up--
And Tom froze, thinking, hell, Tuvok can't just fire, he'll have to follow Starfleet engagement protocols in order to pull this off. Compensate for interference: standard Fleet procedure, a rule for close quarter flight. But a Maquis wouldn't know that. A Maquis wouldn't know that, and Tuvok's phaser fire was going to miss its mark, and they were going to miss their chance, and it would be death, or capture and all because he'd made a wrong assumption, and hadn't said, "Tuvok. Alter phaser modulation to--"
The long, orange stream of phaser fire cut through the rising panic in his head. It streaked straight for the Defiant. No--
And hit. Right on target. Tuvok had--
--done it. It was finished. And they'd done it. A Starfleet manoeuvre, from both tactical, and conn.
An explosion ripped across the Defiant's bow.
The Magh shot out from beneath the starship's belly, and Tom
had just enough presence of mind to engage warp, so that they blinked away,
leaving the Defiant limping, with damaged engines, dropping further
and further behind.