May 28, 2386
"Who is coming to my birthday party?" Miral Paris asked, as she sat at the computer on the table in the quarters that she shared with her parents, aboard Starbase 47.
Commander Tom Paris, her father, turned from the small counter where he had just filled his coffee cup. "Everyone who you invited. You already know that." He smiled, gently blowing on the steam that wafted from the surface of his morning caffeine.
"Leila said her parents are coming, too," the young girl countered, crossing her arms in an argumentative stance he saw growing more familiar each day as she grew.
"Leila is right. But you have homework you still haven't finished, and class starts in 45 minutes," her mother scolded as she entered the room, straightening the jacket of her Starfleet uniform, brushing her shoulder length hair back to keep it from snagging under the collar. "There won't be any party if you get in trouble at school."
"Aw, come on, Mom. It's my fault she didn't finish last night," Tom quipped as he sat in the chair next to his daughter, in front of a plate of peanut butter toast.
"Watching cartoons with her father isn't an acceptable excuse to Mrs. Cole," B'Elanna said, taking in both father and daughter in her scowl.
"It doesn't?" Miral asked innocently. "You're in charge of this station, Daddy. Can't you talk to her?"
"Honey, you have to follow the rules, just like everybody else. What are you working on?" he asked gently, as B'Elanna turned away to get her own cup of coffee.
"It's Voyager week, even at school, Daddy," she said flatly, as if he should have known already.
"And you're having trouble?" Tom asked incredulously.
Miral turned quickly to her mother, her long dark hair fanning out as she did so. "All I have left to do is correct my mistakes on the test we had yesterday," she added defiantly, trying to excuse her late work.
"What did you get wrong?" B'Elanna asked, as she moved to the other side of her daughter and sat down.
"Mostly stardates. Which I corrected. But there's one left. She wanted to know who was the only person who was born in the Delta Quadrant who now lives in the Alpha Quadrant," Miral pouted.
Tom and B'Elanna's eyes met over the top of Miral's head. "Naomi Wildman," Tom said in between bites.
Miral spun quickly back to her father, indignant. "What about me? Aren't there really two?"
"Technically, no. You were born in a Borg transwarp conduit, in between quadrants. Although I'm sure you're the only one who ever was," he smiled.
"Technically, it was the Alpha Quadrant, by a few seconds," B'Elanna countered, crossing her arms and lifting her cup to her mouth.
"The Alpha Quadrant?" Miral asked with disappointment leadening her voice. Her mother nodded in confirmation. "What about what Daddy said?"
"I guess I was wrong. It was only a few seconds," he said sheepishly.
"Weren't you there?" Miral demanded.
B'Elanna met his eyes over her head again, seeing the stricken look on his face as he sipped his coffee twice to avoid answering right away. "Miral, your father was at Voyager's helm when you were born," B'Elanna offered softly. She watched as Tom's eyes shifted downward, so suddenly aware how it still bothered him, nearly eight years later, that he had missed her birth. "We were navigating in a transwarp conduit, inside a Borg sphere. Your father was the best pilot Voyager had. We wouldn't have survived at all if he hadn't."
Miral seemed to ponder this for a moment. "But you were alone?"
"No, Honey, The Doctor delivered you. Your godfather," B'Elanna replied, her voice livening at the mention. Miral seemed satisfied with that. She started typing, correcting her test as she did so. Tom could still see the slight pout on her lower lip.
"What's the matter, Miral?" he asked.
"I thought I was special. The Alpha Quadrant is boring," she sighed.
"Miral, you are special. Because you are you, not because of where you were born," B'Elanna offered softly, brushing Miral's hair back over her shoulder.
"And you're the only one I know born on Voyager Day," her father quipped as he stood up with his crumb dusted plate and empty coffee cup, stopping to briefly kiss her on the top of her head. "Which brings me back to your original question. Who's coming. Your friends. And Counselor and Mr. Hawkins, Dr. T'Lassa," he paused, watching as she leaned toward him, anticipating his next words. "And The Doctor. And Admiral Janeway," he beamed with a wink.
"Admiral Janeway is coming?" she asked breathlessly. She jumped from the table, grabbing onto her father's leg as she hugged him. "Thank you, Daddy! That's the best present you could give me."
"Go brush your teeth, Miral. You'll be late for school. I have a meeting at 0800 that I can't be late for," B'Elanna admonished. Her daughter complied without argument, scampering away to the lavatory.
"Sleeping with the boss doesn't go as far as it used to, does it?" he kidded, sliding up to her as they found themselves alone. She gave him a withering smile, used to his sense of humor after all the time they had been together.
She touched his chest, brushing toast crumbs from the front of his uniform. "I thought you were going to wait to tell her, in case the Admiral had some last minute business she couldn't put off. She'll be so disappointed if-"
"I got a call from the Admiral yesterday. She missed Miral's last two. She told me there wasn't anything, including the end of the universe, that she would miss it for." He smiled boyishly, the same smile that let him get under her skin so easily. "Don't worry, it'll be fine."
"Tom, I wanted to talk to you about last night too," B'Elanna started seriously. "She was up too late on a school night. I know you missed her, but-"
"B'Elanna, it was just once. And yes, I did miss her. I was gone for a whole week. I feel like she grew while I was gone," he said forlornly.
"But you're home now," she said softly, the edge in her voice gone. "You and I gave up a lot to do this work here. So we could be her parents, raise her in a safe place, not be apart from her."
"I know," he said, walking away. "That's why it's so hard when I do have to go. No matter what it is, how infrequent it is, it feels like I'm wasting my time, when I could be here." He put his dishes into the recycler. "After all those questions about Voyager, I can't believe she didn't know that I didn't see her born. I just assumed…" His voice trailed off.
Tom felt B'Elanna's hands around his waist from behind, sensed the warmth on his shoulder where she lay her head. "She understands. Just like I understand. Don't worry, Tom."
He turned, took her in his arms. "At least I won't miss this one," he said softly, his hand reaching down to touch her rotund middle. She leaned up to kiss him.
Over B'Elanna's shoulder, he saw Miral emerge, her sweater buttoned and her shoes on, gently rolling her eyes at her parents' show of affection. "I thought you had a meeting," Miral scoffed.
"Let's go, Missy," she called, turning to leave, a scowl on her face at her daughter's attitude.
"Bye, Daddy," she said, darting past her mother and wrapping her arms around her father's waist quickly.
As Tom gathered his padds, the day's work scrolling down in an endless stream, he couldn't help recalling B'Elanna's words. They had given up a lot. When Voyager had set out for its three week mission, neither one of them had ever thought about a career in Starfleet. Both, coincidently, had in their pasts, but for various reasons, had had their plans derailed, mostly due to their own personal failings. But on Voyager, Kathryn Janeway had seen something in them each that she believed was salvageable. And despite their growing pains as the years in the Delta Quadrant had progressed, by the seventh year of being stranded, he had come to think of Voyager, and thus Starfleet, as his home. It had been a childhood dream, to fly a starship, and he was honored to be able to live his dream every day.
But better than just his childhood dream, he had also found his purpose, in the life he shared with B'Elanna, his wife. Without Voyager, she would never have come into his life, and he would never have known the peaceful contentment that now filled his heart every day. Being a husband and father was why he got out of bed every day, and Starfleet sustained that existence.
They had both been certain they would raise their children in space, on a starship, due to their particularly strange circumstances. But as fate would have it, Miral was born just seconds after Janeway had gotten them safely home, in a somewhat strange and unorthodox way, followed by a 36 hour Starfleet Temporal Investigation interrogation. Janeway had been promoted immediately, practically as she stepped off the starship into Starfleet Headquarters. Chakotay had been promoted to Captain, and almost all of his former shipmates had been promoted and assigned accordingly. Their family had been strewn to the wind, but they stayed in touch as much as possible.
The thought of shipping out on a starship, while his wife and child lived somewhere else permanently was unacceptable. His own father had been absent, away on missions, almost all of Tom's youth. In many ways, the long gaps in between him and his father interacting had helped drive the wedge between them that had persisted for years, until finally they had made amends when Tom had returned to Earth. Tom would be there, be the father that she needed, there to see it all-every game, play, night of homework, feverish night, dirty diaper-all of it. His confidence as a father had been built on his ability to know what not to do, to not repeat history and the mistakes he and his father had made.
Being able to choose where Starfleet sent officers was not always possible for most. But he had had Janeway's approval, which went far in the upper echelons of Starfleet Command, that allowed him to have more than one option as he had been promoted upon returning. His design of the Delta Flyer had caught many in the admiralty's eye. So in the rebuilding phase, after the Dominion War, Starfleet had commissioned an Experimental Propulsion and Craft Design Complex at Starbase 47. And he had been lucky enough to be stationed there as the Starbase Commander, along with his wife, who served as the Chief Engineer. It allowed close to a regular family life as could be expected with two Starfleet parents–family dinners at night, goodbye kisses each morning over breakfast. Weekends to spend with his family. Without ever having to sacrifice his love of flying, or his talent for ship design. He had given up something, yes, but what he had gained in return had become a dream life, something he pinched himself over every morning to make sure he wasn't dreaming.
Years back, while he and B'Elanna were still dating, they had bonded over the idea of collaborating, using his piloting skills and her engineering expertise to build something together. It was something they had in common, something they were passionate about that they shared, so that work was never really work. The actual ship he had built from scratch in a week's time on Voyager, the Delta Flyer, had been the first collaboration. It always bothered him in some way that the actual building of it, she had not participated in, due to her difficult bout with depression she had struggled with four years into their journey. Here, they collaborated every day, and they both took part in seeing what they had designed take shape and substance.
"Good morning, Commander. Welcome back," Lt. Commander Aaron Michaels called from his station as Tom walked by it as he was headed into his office.
"Good morning, Aaron," he called to his first officer. He sighed slightly as Aaron stood and followed him into his office, anticipating the onslaught of information as the day began. "And what's on deck this morning?"
Aaron, a man equal in height to Tom but with dark brown hair and olive skin, only a few years younger than Tom himself, shuffled the padds in his hand as he started. "Commander Torres is in a meeting right now with the Engineering Department concerning the issue with power utilization and the last holodeck installment. Maintenance on the upper docking pylons has been completed, starting on the middle and lower pylons today. It should be finished by the end of the week. NX-987 final design schematic is awaiting your approval before the holodeck is programmed. Ensign Velek is out with a fractured shoulder. Admiral Janeway is on time and due to arrive at the Starbase tomorrow at 0900 hours. Miral's party tomorrow at 1900 hours is confirmed."
"Is that all? And I thought today was busy," he quipped. "How did Velek break his shoulder?" he asked, taking the padds from Aaron and setting them on his desk.
"He was underneath a malfunctioning grav unit in one of the construction bays." Tom opened his mouth to ask, but Aaron finished, "All units have been checked for the same malfunction, and engineering is repairing the broken ones."
"Can you confirm the EMH Mark One is arriving with the Admiral?" Tom asked.
Aaron laughed, then answered, "From the communique I received, he is arriving separately. I do not have an ETA. Apparently something about being too busy and not deserving to be packed in the Admiral's luggage like a tricorder."
Tom shook his head slightly, "Good Ol' Doc. Some things never change." He sighed, adding, "I still do not understand what my daughter sees in him. He's arrogant and cantankerous, still, after all those years of his programming evolving."
"He thinks the world of Miral, you know that. 'Despite that fact that she's Mr. Paris' offspring,'" Aaron mimicked.
"Well, I am partial. I will admit that," Tom laughed. "Are you coming tomorrow night?" he asked.
"I'm sorry, Tom, but I don't think so," Aaron said, reverting to the familiar use of his friend's first name.
"Come on, Aaron, it's a party! You should come," he implored.
"It's your daughter's birthday. She's having a bunch of 8 year olds. Why do I need to come?" Aaron retorted.
"She's having 8 year olds. But we invited our friends too. Rayna and Mike, T'Lassa….." Tom said the last name teasingly.
"Nothing like being a third wheel," Aaron muttered.
"T'Lassa's coming by herself," Tom said suggestively.
"Tom, for the last time, she's Vulcan. And she's 60 years older than me," Aaron grumbled.
"She likes you. And Vulcan's live for 200 years. She's only 93. In her prime," Tom teased.
"Likes me? Are you crazy? Do you think I'm crazy?" Aaron insisted vigorously.
Tom looked up at him. "Look, Vulcans are harder to read, I'll give you that. But she calls you whenever something breaks in the Infirmary. Sometimes from the reports she files I think she breaks things on purpose just to have to call you."
"That's her Vulcan superiority at work. I'm just her errand boy, not the First Officer," Aaron groaned.
"Look, I've dealt with Vulcan superiority first hand. I know what it looks like. Not all Vulcans are quite so stiff. T'Lassa has a sense of humor. It's subtle, but it's there. Sometimes I swear I can almost see a half-smile on her face. Especially when she's talking about you," Tom added in a sing-song tone.
"Tom-" Aaron warned.
"At least give me this. She is attractive, isn't she? You get all flustered when she walks in here," Tom snarked.
"She's beautiful," Aaron said softly, some of the fight gone from his voice. "But…it's complicated. She has a daughter," he insisted.
"Whoa there. No one's talking about the old ball and chain. Just dinner. Or a drink. Get to know her," Tom coaxed.
"Enough matchmaking for one day. If B'Elanna asks me one more time…." Aaron moaned, covering his face with one hand.
"Did she already do this to you this morning?" Tom asked sheepishly.
"Today and everyday, as you know," Aaron deadpanned.
Tom laughed. "She's just trying to spread the wealth. You know, misery loves company. Why should we have all the fun, being married?"
"Misery my ass. You're the happiest person I know. Aside from B'Elanna," Aaron teased.
Deflecting, Tom said, "She's just trying to line up another baby-sitter. We only have another seven weeks or so."
"Engineering to Lieutenant Michaels. Please report to main engineering," the overhead page called out.
"Here starts my day. I'll see you," he said to Tom before he tapped the comm badge on his chest.
"On my way, Michaels out."
"Think about it!" Tom called as he left the office.
Tom entered the shuttle bay briskly. He heard several crew members call out good morning, or welcome back as he moved. He smiled amicably, waving to those who were further away, out of earshot. His footfalls echoed against the metal floor as he moved down the stairway that led from the overhead catwalk down to the open area where the team was working to assemble a small craft. The outer shell was almost intact, only a few gaps without casing, where he could see exposed mechanisms and electronics in various degrees of working order. The insignia was visible at last, the large black letters now reading NX-854, the latest experimental ship to make it from holographic prototype to a flesh and blood model.
This particular ship had a modified coaxial warp drive, a design Tom and B'Elanna had modified from a ship they had come in contact with in the Delta Quadrant, used by a race called the Bentham. The actual ship was based on technology that had been flawed, and the ship worked erratically. It had always been a hypothetical possibility, but the Federation had never been able to utilize anything like it on any ship they had built. Starfleet had tried something similar, but each experiment had been on larger ships, in an attempt to maximize its efficiency. They had seen Steth's ship work, however brokenly, and realized that on a smaller ship, B'Elanna's engine design worked much more seamlessly.
"How goes the battle, Ralana?" Tom called to the engineer in charge.
"Hey, Commander. Glad you could join us," she called from underneath a large metal panel as she fused it with a torch. She shut off the instrument, and smiled up at him through a visible slit in the panel.
Tom's primary role as station commander left him as a quasi chief Project Manager, coordinating each crew person's tasks as needed. Mostly, they worked on one ship or design at a time, while at the same time, working the backlog of tasks to bring designs from just pure thought, to schematics, to holodeck simulation, and eventually, as he saw here, to actual prototype generation. The NX-854 was the hands on prototype, while there were two other ships at the holographic simulation stage, four more with visual schematics in the database, and an unknown number of random ideas that cropped up during briefings held weekly. He kept everything on schedule and organized, something he had learned to do, as such pristine organization had never really been his style.
But commanding the station also allowed him the liberty of doing some of the work himself, rather than delegating it all to his subordinates. Of course, he mostly chose the tasks that he enjoyed, rather than drudge work, although when they were strapped or needed help, he would help them in any way he could, including and not limited to bringing sandwiches and coffee when the workshifts ran over. Today, after being gone for a week to give in person status reports at Starfleet Headquarters, he had cleared a huge block of his day to work here with Alpha Team.
"Ready to get your hands dirty, Commander?" Ralana asked as she scooted out from under the panel. "We're ready to install the drive system today."
"Are you kidding? I've been listening to Starfleet admirals for a week. I'll mop the floors in here if you need it," he kidded.
"Grab a hyper spanner, Sir, and dig in. Kimcha will show you where to start. We're running short without Velek." She motioned to a Bolian engineer deeper inside the ship.
Tom called out in the air, "Computer, playlist Paris….four."
He heard a groan from Ralana. "Problems, Lieutenant?" he asked.
"No, Sir. But, four? 1970s Earth?" The music started playing loudly, filling the room.
"Elton John. One of the most prolific artists of the late 20th century. This song is called Crocodile Rock." He had raised his voice over the power of the music. "We listened to Klingon opera last time. Now it's my turn," Tom laughed.
She walked past him. "No Benny and the Jets this time?" she smirked, raising an eyebrow.
"If you're good, we'll see," Tom said with a devilish smile.
"Commander Torres has a walkthrough here at 1100 hours. She hates Elton John, Sir." Kimcha called as he handed Tom a tool.
"Oh, you don't have to tell me twice, Kimcha. Just remind me to call up Rocket Man when she arrives. She can at least tolerate that song," Tom mumbled.
"What a depressing song," Ralana complained. "Seriously, she likes that one best?" Ralana asked incredulously.
"Have you listened to Klingon opera? Talk about depressing. Everyone always dies." Kimcha shook his head.
"With honor, though. Always honor," Tom called back.
They worked as a group, the entire team, companionably throughout the morning. At 1100 hours, he cued up the song, and watched as the entire team almost as one laughed when B'Elanna rolled her eyes and continued on, turning so Tom couldn't see her smiling at their joke.