The molecular patterns that constituted Commander Thomas Eugene Paris materialized into cohesion in the vacuum of space. He floated freely within his EVA suit over the brightly lit, arrow-like primary hull of the NCV-901 USS Perseus
. She was sleek and lean and sharp; borne of speed, coiled on her long haunches as if ready to bolt from her restraints at any moment. Four Sovereign-style warp nacelles jutted port and starboard, angled in ventral and dorsal antipode. A fifth warp nacelle lay embedded in her primary hull, for use when the vessel engaged its M-VAM, or Multi-Vector Assault Mode. She could divide into a squadron of three independent ships: the Primary, Secondary and Tertiary cruisers that characterized her as a deep space tactical warship. She had a full complement of shuttlecraft and a Delta Flyer-class Captain’s Yacht christened the Star Flyer
. With rare, unstable benemite crystals driving her heart, she cruised at warp nine with a maximum speed of more than nine point nine-nine-nine. While other Prometheus-class ships had equivalent features, and at maximum warp could hypothetically fly from the Sun to Pluto in five seconds, Perseus had a secret weapon: Seven of Nine. She was personally fitting and tweaking each primary engine component herself, with total Borg efficiency. She had asserted he would be able to make the Sol Run in one-fifth
of a second. Perseus
was the fastest ship in the fleet—even before she activated her subspace-bending quantum slipstream drive. She could plot courses for tens
of thousands of light years and still make curfew. She had weaponry to outmatch any ship of the fleet, tetryon warp plasma, ablative armor, regenerative shielding, and full quantum slipstream drive for each of her sections. She was a bird of power unlike anything in the galaxy.
As Commander Tom Paris fired his suit’s thrusters over Perseus
, he felt a special, kindred connection to this vessel. Watching her being born above the gleaming red planet Mars, sharing space with these two galactic marvels, he knew it was one of the most beautiful sights he would ever see in his life.
And for the first time in his life, he wanted to be a starship captain.
As he drifted down towards the dorsal hull, Tom considered his command. He didn’t like the idea of infusing the bioneural computer network with Borg nanoprobes; but there was little doubt he should defer to Seven of Nine’s technical assessments, and trust in her judgment, as Captain Janeway had always done. With Captain Tuvok incommunicado in the brig, with who knew how many other crewmen, the burden of the problem fell squarely on Tom’s shoulders. While the crew fought for control against the ship itself, he couldn’t help but liken it to roping and breaking a wild horse, in a contest of wills he wasn’t about to lose.
Captain Tuvok had put enough faith in him to offer him the exec position; but in truth, given such different personalities (and command styles), Tom couldn’t say exactly why. The kind of rapport he and Tuvok shared, even Tom could see, was illogical. But then, he never could say exactly why B’Elanna had chosen him either. Perhaps stubbornness was a trait Klingons, Vulcans and Terrans shared.
Or it might be my persuasive charm
, he’d later tell Harry. Stronger than Vulcan logic and Klingon ire
. Harry had laughed, but not for the right reason.
“Paris to Sally Ride. I’m approaching the dorsal section now.” An unsteadiness in his voice surprised him. There was more riding on this command than any of his crewmates, even Harry, could know. At the time of his promotion to full Commander, Tom couldn’t say why B’Elanna had believed that he could meet the qualifications for starship command beyond helm. He’d studied Voyager’s
systems with her expert help and somewhat Klingon motivational techniques. He’d passed the technical qualifiers. Then, Captain Chakotay had personally volunteered to help him with his tactical scenario qualifiers. They hadn’t wanted to bother Tuvok, preparing a much-deserved leave to Vulcan, with such a request. One at a time, Tom had faced each test and passed—one way or another.
The cruelest part of the whole experience was a holographic simulation in which he’d had to order B’Elanna—love of his life, mother of his daughter, shipmate of seven years—to repair a faltering containment field in an attempt to save Voyager from a breaching core. In the simulation, she had repaired the field, but had suffered fatal exposure to warp plasma radiation and perished at the base of the great engine. Like a sacrifice upon an altar, he’d had to pull her burnt, lifeless body off the engineering console; he aborted the core ejection sequence with the ship descending into a sun’s corona. Together, he and his courageous wife had saved the ship—qualifying him as Commander, followed by promotion to Executive Officer of Starship Voyager
. It was a memory that he knew would stay with him forever.
And later, though she’d pressed, he’d never actually told B’Elanna the details of his test. She’d surprised him by intuiting his guilt; and asserted that, if she had had to die, it would be...rather Klingon of her to die at her post. What surprised him was that B’Elanna seemed to like the sound of that. And later beside him, just before he could drift to sleep, she’d said, “Just don’t forget which crewman will be waiting for you in Sto-Vo-Kor, dear husband.”
Serving as exec of Voyager
had not prepared him for the same position under Captain Tuvok on Perseus
. Unlike the rapport he shared with Chakotay, whom he could at least understand, if not always agree with, Tuvok was a strict keeper of Starfleet rules and Vulcan cultural protocols. A superior officer in every sense of the word, on whom Tom’s greatest “interpersonal aptitudes”, as Seven had described them, were utterly lost—like a shuttle in a subspace sinkhole.
Tom had little doubt he could dispense his duties under the Vulcan captain. Not only was the Captain a powerful officer and tactician, Tom counted him among his few true friends—and knew it was reciprocated, if not quite demonstrated. Tuvok not only displayed emotional sensitivity where others were concerned; the Captain was also steadfastly loyal in professional and personal relationships—which Tuvok would never shortchange by being anything other than what he was: a Starfleet officer. And a damned stubborn one, too.
Up until the present, the Captain-Exec relationship went surprisingly smoothly, attuned as they were to each other’s rough spots; and now, each demanded of himself exceptional performances in the comportment of the fledgling space vessel. Tuvok hadn’t thrown anyone in the brig (yet), and Tom hadn’t started any betting pools. So why was he on edge, even before his wife and daughter had reported to sickbay? It wasn’t the pressure, the unknowns, the variables, or just plain extra work involved. It wasn’t even the waiting, watchful eye of his father the Admiral Owen Paris, that Tom was certain he sensed behind every Command communique. So what was it that was juicing up his nerves beyond his ability to control? Why was he so keyed up about this mission anyway?
He located his junction. His magnetic boots locked onto the hull and he turned into position. As he knelt to release the plate mechanism, a motion caught his eye.
It came from beneath the saucer section. Far away, a crewman in an EVA suit stood upside-down on the underside of the saucer hull. Tom couldn’t tell what he was doing; but around the figure, several panels lay exposed.
Is that a hologram?
Tom wondered. In an EVA suit?
It was possible the computer would program the holograms to wear environment-appropriate attire; it wouldn’t be as disturbing as seeing a crewman wandering around the vacuum of space in a light jacket. Something glinted. Tom strained his vision. What is he doing?
He hadn’t thought to bring a phaser. He released his boots’ magnetic locks and thrusted towards the figure.
As he approached, Tom squinted in the raw sunlight to assess the crewman’s odd motions. The crewman, apparently, did not see him. Beneath the crewman now, Tom could see he was swinging something overhead with great sweeping blows.
Toward a plasma coupling.
“Is that a…sword
?” Tom asked.
“Repeat your last transmission,” said Seven of Nine.
Tom inverted and alit with a heavy thudding vibration behind the crewman. “Nice day for a walk,” he said over the suit’s com.
The crewman started and turned. Tom studied the short Japanese sword perched in the sunlight.
“Maybe you’d like to explain what you’re doing to my ship.”
The crewman faced the Commander. He squinted to see Tom’s face through the visor. His eyes widened and he stood in attention, sword resting on his shoulder like a phaser rifle. “Commander!”
Tom didn’t recognize him through the reflection off his visor.
“What’s your name, crewman?”
“Chief Master-At-Arms Grifahni Jace. Sir.”
Now Tom knew him. The Chief Petty Officer was stationed at Utopia Planitia in a mobile security detachment through Starfleet Command. While the detachment provided light point security around the Fleet Yards, Jace reported to Perseus specifically as temporary chief of dock security.
“Expecting a samurai attack, Chief Jace?”
“Chief Grifahni, Sir—most people call me Grif. Just rectifying ship’s security, Sir.”
“Alright, Grif. At ease. Just how do you propose to rectify ship’s security with—a katana, isn’t it?”
, Sir. Shorter than a katana.” He handed it to Tom, hilt first. He noticed the tightly-woven silk handle covering what appeared to be some kind of rough animal skin underneath. He took it in his gloved hand careful not to create a new seam in his EVA suit.
“Commander Paris,” came Seven of Nine’s voice over the com. “You have not initiated the infusion. Is there a malfunction?”
“Standby, Seven.” Tom studied the strange forging patterns on the short, arcing blade, and then the exposed plasma junctions scattered across the underside of the hull. “I suggest you explain all this before you make Seven of Nine any more curious, Chief.”
“What on Mars are you talking about?”
The security chief pointed at the conduit. “The ODN circuitry, Sir. I’ve severed the coupling interface lines around this section of the primary hull.”
“What will that accomplish?”
“When the computer can’t read a flow regulator, it can’t monitor plasma flow. Disable enough plasma coupling interfaces, and the TPS grid failsafes kick in and shut down power to the whole section automatically. No commands necessary.” He looked at Tom. “You didn’t think I was hacking at the conduit, did you Sir? That’s not a recommended procedure.”
“Thanks, Chief. But why not just pull the ODN lines? Why is it necessary to cut them?”
“Computer perceives that as a manual operation, and might trigger security countermeasures. Sword cuts simulate plasma leaks.”
“Where did you learn how to do this, Chief Grifahni?”
“My father used to…decommission Cardassian vessels this way.”
It was only then that Tom noticed the Bajoran ridges across the Chief’s nose.
“Yes,” said the Chief.
“You were about to ask me if my father was a Maquis. He was. A military-trained commando, in fact.”
“Actually I was going to ask you why causing a power outage around this section would give us a tactical advantage, Chief. This section contains crew quarters. It’s not as if you’ll be able to deactivate the security grid from here.”
“You can’t force a computer in a security lockdown. You have to fool it. Confuse it. Think about it, Sir. What utilizes power in crew decks?”
“Let’s see. Environmental controls, replicators, turbolifts…. I still don’t see the idea. You can’t shut down anything more vital than secondary systems.”
“That’s the idea. There’s no real threat. But with a sudden unexplained power loss across a couple of decks—secondary failsafes go into effect. And turbolifts to the bridge go into standby mode.”
“That’s right--and with the turbolifts unoperational—”
“We can access a turboshaft through a maintenance shaft. We can penetrate the whole ship.”
“Failsafes,” Tom pondered. “Using the ship’s own systems against it. Not bad.”
“Meanwhile, bridge stations register it as a minor malfunction. No idea it’s an attack.”
“Once in the shaft we could disable more coupling interfaces, create more TPS shutdowns, and disable the security grid. You say your father used to blow up ships this way?”
“It was war, Sir.” He eyed the sword. “Would you like me to continue, Commander?”
Tom studied the security chief. He had scanned the young man’s service record, and had been impressed with the extent of his training, which included Starfleet commando training; but for some reason, Grifahni had never been deployed beyond this somewhat inconsequential, light port duty. Yet for someone in his mid-twenties, he had impressed Tom with his initiative, if not respect for command. “We already have a plan in place, Chief Grifahni, which you have put in jeopardy by stepping out of chain of command. Seven of Nine believes a shutdown of the computer core will have the same result—but without
risking lives in unauthorized plasma transfers.”
“Yes Sir! I apologize Sir!” he said without feeling. “But around the Yards when we see a problem we solve it. Waiting for chain of command to make a decision on a half-built ship just gets people killed. Sir.”
“As opposed to hacking at plasma grids with medieval cutlery, you mean.”
“Would the Commander prefer to implement his plan now Sir?”
Tom didn’t much care for the young man’s unrepentant attitude or cavalier disregard for the ship or crew; but he had to admit: the kid had initiative—and guts. “Keep in mind it’s not a Cardassian ship,” he said, and handed back the wakizashi