Summary: The most important day in Tom Paris' life does not begin smoothly.
Disclaimer: It ain't me, babe, but Paramount who owns the characters and the Trek universe. The phrase "The worldis room" (meaning "the world's room"), comes from a song called "Edward" by the Scottish group "Old Blind Dogs". It means the "freedom to roam" that travellers (British gypsies) held in exchange for owning no property or worldly possessions.
Many thanks to Judith Hill for her beta work.
The World Is Room
My palms are sweating this morning, my mouth dry. The glares I get from most of the prisoners, one brunette on the other side of the cafeteria near the window in particular, aren't the most welcoming. But that's not why I'm nervous. Someone else besides them is going to decide my immediate future, maybe even the rest of my life, in a couple of hours. Doesn't matter that I saunter into the cafeteria in front of Tamahori like the hardened mercenary I once pretended to be for all of six months. I'm scared. Some mercenary.
My roommate--no, my cellmate--Alex Sawalha, sits down next to me, on the sunny side of the room. As usual, he does it in his own time, not Tamahori's. He doesn't like the guards and they don't like him, though Tamahori just lets Alex's shit roll off his back. That's probably why Tamahori gets stuck guarding us more than the other guards.
"Relax, Tom," Alex says. "Janeway's not coming this far to play mindgames with you. Obviously, she wants something from you. You can use that."
"Maybe I can put in a good word for you, too," I say, even though I know he'll say no.
He smiles sadly. "What would be the point? I have nothing to give her. You do." That's as far as Alex will ever go toward admitting that he thinks I'm guilty of what I'm doing time for, guilty of being a Maquis. Which I am. According to him, he's not. In spite of doing six months in solitary on Ganymede, he's still been telling anybody who gets within earshot that he was framed. Considering that he's been put away for killing a fellow crewmember and trying to blow up his own ship, I can sort of see his logic. On the other hand, they've already told him that until he comes clean, he can forget getting out of here. That'll never happen. After being his cellmate for two months, I know that better than anybody. He's screwed.
Janeway is coming to see me today. Captain Janeway. She wants me to help her locate my old band of Maquis out in the Badlands. According to the prison database, she served with my dad on the Al-Batani, back when he was Captain, not Admiral, Paris. Maybe I can work with that. Not that I need the prison database to tell me who Kathryn Janeway is. Dad made sure I knew all about his protegee of an officer, and how I couldn't possibly measure up. That's how I knew I wasn't Starfleet material even before I got booted out of the Academy.
Alex, now, he's a guy with valuable skills. He was a trauma nurse back before his arrest. I bet that's why they want him rehabilitated so badly.
"I'm a good pilot," I say, poking at a sausage with my fork. I'm not very hungry today, for some reason. "She's gonna need a good pilot in the Badlands." I used to say I was a great pilot, but prison has a way of shaking your confidence in yourself.
Alex nods, shoving eggs into his mouth. "Good idea," he says around a mouthful. "If you can sell yourself well enough, maybe you can get back into Starfleet."
"Yeah, and maybe pigs'll get aerodynamic all of a sudden," I grumble.
"My grandmother always said, 'Compromise is when you agree with the other bloke to get what you want, even when you know he's wrong.'"
"Not another grandma story, please, Alex. I'm not in the mood." Alex loves to talk about his grandmother--fifteen years dead now after her freighter smacked into an asteroid at low warp. She was a traveler--a gypsy. When he was a kid, he'd go off with her during his school vacations, bouncing all over the solar system. I can see why he joined Starfleet, not that it did him any good in the end. He must be going stir crazy in here.
But I have to admit, I like his idea. As stupid and out-of-step as I felt in Academy, the dream of Starfleet is sure attractive. I can't say that the Maquis, with all their politics and rivalries, really made a good replacement. Sometimes, in the week or two before I got captured, when the disillusionment was really setting in, I wanted to ask Chakotay if this was really how he'd wanted to end up when he quit Starfleet. But that's just not the kind of thing you ask your commanding officer, even in the Maquis.
I didn't quite know what I'd expected from a prison, never having been in one before, but I can sure live with this one. Bright, New Zealand sunshine (whenever it's not raining, since the Kiwis aren't big on weather control), comfortable quarters, restraints limited to a single ankle bracelet tracking device and a work regime that consists of a lot of light gardening. If this is really the Federation's idea of penal correction, I'm surprised more people don't commit crimes. But I'm not surprised anymore that the Maquis crew I was with chose to be captured by a Starfleet frigate instead of running back into the guns of that waiting Cardassian cruiser chasing us. From what I've heard, Cardassian prisons aren't nearly as much fun.
But you know what? Prison is still prison. Nervous as I am, I'm looking forward to the chance to get the hell out of here. I've been a really good boy for the past two months. Maybe that's why they put Alex with me when he first showed up six weeks ago--aside from the fact that nobody else in this place would share a cell with either one of us. I guess the Rehab Commission was hoping, since I've been such a good dog, that I could change his attitude, make him 'fess up to his crimes and get him started on the road to rehabilitation. Alex made it clear that wasn't gonna happen about five minutes into our acquaintance. "Nice try, though," was how he left it.
I can't decide whether I'm flattered or insulted by the Commission's "trust" and praise for my quick progress. I was always a quick study, as long as the study wasn't too deep. In the end, though, I'm not a good rat. If anything, I'm beginning to think that I've gotten into so much trouble over the years because I'm a little too idealistic, not a little too cynical. But I could be wrong.
At least Alex doesn't hold my miserable attempt at snitching against me. Hell, I kinda believe him when he says he's innocent. Why would a real Maquis go to so much trouble to deny something he should be proud that he did? A set-up seems more likely to me, but hey, maybe they're right. Maybe he's counting on them thinking that. Maybe he's a deep agent, some kind of mole trying to worm his way in as deep as he can get. Hell, I've heard of Cardassian agents made up to look like Bajorans. Why not one looking like a Human?
Yeah, and maybe those pigs have gotten more aerodynamic since I've been stuck in this place, too. I don't hate the Federation, or anything. I just don't see it as quite the paradise everybody told me it was when I was growing up. Not all of us in the Federation are happy. Maybe that's our fault.
But I never really got why the Terran colonists who joined the Maquis were so mad about getting caught screwing around in somebody's backyard. Who cares if they'd already spent twenty years colonising some of those planets? Squatting is still squatting and encroachment is still encroachment. I mean, the Cardassian border is three weeks away from Earth and three days away from Cardassia Prime. I can see why maybe the Cardassian High Command got a little excited about that treaty. Not that I'm all that sympathetic to the Cardies. They're not the best of neighbours, even by their own admission. But still...I can kinda see their point, at least more than a real Maquis would. Maybe I'd feel differently if I'd grown up on the border like Chakotay, but I'm not sure that's a good enough reason to hate Cardassians anymore. Not after working for the Maquis, seeing how they treat everyone they don't call their own.
Most of the prisoners here are in for pretty minor things, non-violent offenses like theft, smuggling, corruption and embezzlement. Alex probably has the worst charges against him. Normally, I think that would work in his favour, except that since he keeps protesting his innocence, nobody wants to have anything to do with him. Hanging out with Alex is liable to make the Rehab Commission question your whole attitude toward rehab and make your sentence a lot longer. And the other prisoners hate me because they figure I'm shortening my own sentence by snitching on Alex. Never mind that they'd do exactly the same thing in my position and that's not what I'm doing anyway. Ya gotta love this fine group of people I've gotten myself locked up with. The Maquis are saints by comparison.
McFee passes by with his tray, on his way to some other table. He's in for Romulan Ale smuggling and he's got it in for Alex. Alex kicked him in the nuts the first day he got here when McFee gave him a hard time about being Maquis. McFee's still pretty sore about that. He stops in front of our table. "Heard yer gettin' out today, Paris. That must have been some deal you cut."
"Give it a rest, McFee," I say wearily. "I'm not in the mood." I notice that the woman near the window, a medium-sized brunette of no particular distinction, is watching the interaction closely.
Alex nudges me. "Don't mind him, Tom. He's just jealous you got in there first."
McFee's sallow face turns pale. "Oh, yeah? You gonna cut a deal with them, too, Sawalha? The way I heard it, they wanna leave you here until you rot."
Alex just keeps eating. "You shouldn't listen at so many keyholes, McFee," I say. "You might get an ear infection."
McFee jerks his chin at Alex. "You hang around with him, yer gonna get more than an infection."
Alex smiles back at him, still chewing eggs, his eyes flat. With his free hand he thrusts his fingers up between himself and McFee in a V-sign. McFee turns even paler and I can hear him grinding his teeth. "You bastard," he snarls at Alex. "Someday."
Tamahori comes over to investigate. "Do we have a problem, gentlemen?"
Alex lowers his hand and lays it flat, palm down, on the table. "But not today," he says quietly to McFee. McFee, unwilling to take on the guard, backs away and goes to the other end of the room.
"You like to live life dangerously, don't you, Sawalha?" Tamahori chuckles.
Alex sips his orange juice. "I'm easily bored." Tamahori waits for a few seconds more, but when neither of us volunteers anything, he finally goes away.
"Eliade was watching that whole thing you know," Alex says a few minutes later.
"Yeah, I know." That's the brunette's name. I gotta say, she scares the hell out of me. Reminds me of this guy in the Maquis--Souter. Nobody ever seemed to know what his background was but he had a scary temper--from dead calm to cutting your throat in ten seconds. I heard he'd killed guys for nothing at all. After working with him once or twice, that didn't surprise me. Carrie Eliade has that same flat, dead look, the one that says she's only waiting for the next big rage to come alive.
Alex scarfs up the rest of his eggs. "What's her game? Is she Maquis? She's been watching you for two weeks."
I grin. "Who knows? Maybe it's just my natural charm."
Alex shudders. "You better hope not. I get the impression that rousing any kind of passion in that woman is a fast way to end up dead."
"How do you know?" I mean, yeah, she scares me, but he sounds so sure.
He's being very careful not to look at her, so now I am, too. "Just trust me on this. I've worked in a lot of places as a nurse. During my training, I did my psych module in a hospital for the criminally insane on Tantalus V. She reminds me of half the patients I met there."
"I dunno," I say, feeling skeptical. "If she were crazy, wouldn't they have put her in a hospital?"
He shakes his head. "Unless she does something criminal, they can't just lock her up. And as much as I don't trust the woman, considering my present situation, I don't think they should. If she hadn't committed a crime, I bet she'd never have ended up in here." He pauses. "Unless she's genetically enhanced. But she still wouldn't end up here. She'd be somewhere else for that."
"I wonder what she's in for."
"Who knows? Just watch yourself. You sure she's not Maquis?"
"Well, I don't recognise her, but that doesn't really mean anything. It's not like we can tell each other from a secret handshake." I stop, startled. For a second there, I completely forgot he's in here for being a Maquis, too. He gives me a funny look and I don't know whether he's flattered or insulted.
A bell rings above our heads--mellow but insistent. Breakfast is over. "All I'm saying," Alex says as he stands up, "is watch your ass. If she is Maquis, or at all sympathetic to them, she won't like you one bit. And you can't afford to screw up today."
"You worry too much," I say, even though he's beginning to worry me. "Nothing will get screwed up. I'll charm Janeway and get out of here, free as a bird, you'll see."
He gives me a rueful smile. "Be careful. 'The world is room enough only for travelers,' as my grandmother always used to say. And you're no traveler, Tom, no matter how restless you may be. I saw that letter your father sent you last week. I pieced it together after you tore it up. He wants you back even now. You're the one being stubborn, not him. You have roots in Starfleet. You may not like them but you have them. And as long as you do, you'll always unconsciously abide by Starfleet's rules."
God damn him. He knows my dad is a sore point. I clench my fists, feeling my whole face flush as he looks me in the eye. He's my height and just as big. I can't intimidate him no matter how angry I am at him. But I sure as hell don't want to stand there and listen to him lecture me about Starfleet culture and principles, either. I turn on my heel and march away out down the hall to my assignment.
"Tom!" he calls after me. "Tom, wait!" I keep going, feeling a nasty satisfaction that he can't follow. The guard is there more to keep him in line than me. I'm a minimum-security prisoner and I'm supposed to be starting my work shift out in the garden now. To hell with him, anyway. Nosy bastard. Here he is in prison, pontificating to me about my duty to Starfleet. And to think they wanted me to rehabilitate him.
I go out to Sector B where I left my equipment yesterday. I don't have much there, mainly a minitricorder for checking the nutrient levels of the plant life around here. It's a boring job, but at least it gets me outside with nobody breathing down my neck. I pull out the minitricorder and crouch next to the plant, scanning it. I have to get nutrient read-outs for every plant in this area of the garden, so we can decide which ones need fertilisation or more water, or whatever. That's 300 plants, with ten to twenty minutes of scanning for each plant. So far, I've done 120 of them. Unless Janeway springs me today, I know what I'll be doing for the two weeks.
In spite of myself, I'm feeling jumpy. Alex's paranoia seems to be catching. Great. That's all I need--to be looking over my shoulder for the rest of the day. Thanks a bunch, buddy.
Even so, I almost don't see her in time.
She's just a shadow that makes me duck as I turn at the last minute. The knife passes so close, it scrapes through my hair. She slams into me and we both go down, her on top, the minitricorder spinning out of my hand. Eliade. Her face twists with hate as she tries to stab me in the face. "You treacherous bastard! You're not going to tell Janeway anything!"
She is Maquis. I don't have time to feel shocked. I kick out, unbalancing her as the knife comes down. It digs into the sod next to my head, right before I throw her off. I roll away and come up in a crouch. I'm still a pretty athletic guy, even if it's been over a year since Starfleet kicked me out. She comes to her feet and straightens up on the other side of the plant I was scanning. She's still got the knife. That is really unfortunate, since I don't have anything. Even the useless minitricorder is gone. I could run, but she's already lifting the knife to throw it--
Out of nowhere, Alex slams into her at waist level. The knife goes flying in one direction, the two of them in another. She lands with a thump, a crunch of bone and a yelp. That doesn't stop Alex from picking her up by the shoulders, and slamming her back down in the dirt a few more times for good measure. Three guards come running up a little late. They yell at Alex, but he's still too busy beating on Eliade to pay any attention to them. One of them grabs his arm and yanks on it. That's a mistake, because Alex, it turns out, has finally had enough. He comes up swinging and punches the guy right in the face.
And that's pretty much all she wrote. Alex doesn't make a sound as he fights them, not even when they slam him face down on the ground, yank his wrists behind his back and slap the force restraints on. When they pull him up, he's already got his mouth set in a thin line, like a reluctant martyr. He flashes me one exasperated look as they drag him off. Eliade is lying on the ground, groaning and clutching at herself. Any ideas she had about continuing her attack on me seem to have gone out the window when Alex snapped her arm. That wouldn't have stopped Souter, but maybe she's just a would-be True Believer. The medics are already coming out to tend her. Guess it takes a fellow medic to do a world of hurt in just a few seconds.
Tamahori comes over to me as I straighten up, brushing the dirt off my coveralls, which are a mess. So much for making a good impression with Janeway later. "Are you okay?" he says.
I look down at my hands. They're shaking. "Yeah...yeah, I'm fine. She didn't cut me, I don't think." I see my minitricorder lying in the dirt near my boot. Gingerly, I crouch down and retrieve it.
I hear a beep and look up. The guard taps his commbadge. "Tamahori here."
"You got Tom Paris there? Captain Janeway is here to see him." God. Just like that. This isn't quite how I imagined her arrival. "Yeah, he's right here." Tamahori looks down at me. "Are you ready for this? She's early. We can put her off for a little while. Give you some time to get your balance back. Not like our prisoners get attacked every day." He flashes a grin. "At least until your roommate moved in."
I shake my head. "That's okay. I can handle it." Tamahori means well, but Janeway won't be any kinder to me for making her wait. I'd better get this over with.
Tamahori jerks his head at another part of the garden, one that doesn't have a wounded woman and two medics in it. "Let's go to Section D. That way you won't have to explain any of this to your guest."
"Thanks," I say and trail along after him. "If I have to leave, is there any chance they'll let me see Alex before I go?"
Tamahori shakes his head, and laughs out loud. "No way! He'll be lucky if he gets out of Solitary before next week! Don't worry. We'll explain things to him if that happens."
"Okay." That should make be feel better, but it doesn't. I like Alex. He's been a good friend to me and hell, he just saved my life. There aren't too many people in this universe willing to be or do either. He'll understand if I don't say goodbye. "Every man for himself," he'd say and mean it for every man but himself. But I still feel bad about leaving him behind. I have a feeling that after today, I won't be back here for a long, long time.
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