Out in Thirty Days
"Am I reading this correctly." Dropping the hand which she had been casually resting her chin on, Janeway managed to read aloud, "'I hereby request to be relieved of the privileges and responsibilities of those of the Chief of Engineering.'"
Lt. Torres looked up from her feet, at her Captain across the table, only to see disappointment and concern etched in that elegant face which had replaced the initial curious smile.
"I don't understand. It seemed like everything was going very well for the past year and a half. Maybe you'd like to speak with Chakotay or the Doctor?" offered Janeway. When she and B'Elanna had withdrawn to her Ready Room, Janeway was unprepared for the kind of shock she had just received.
"No, Captain. This isn't about any depression, though I can't deny it isn't related. I've made my decision," stated B'Elanna firmly, then she stood at attention. "I formally request to stand down from my post, but to remain on duty as part of the Engineering crew."
Janeway set her jaw. She stood up and walked around her desk until she was face to face with Lt. Torres. "B'Elanna, until I understand why you are doing this, I won't accept your request," replied Janeway. She was going to hold her ground until both of them were blue in the face.
The lieutenant sighed. She knew this wasn't going to be simple conversation. Janeway wouldn't let her off that easy. In some ways, she dreaded this more than a confrontation with her own mother. She just hoped the explanation she rehearsed was going to be convincing enough at this point.
"My priorities have changed. I can't see myself spending sixteen hours a day in Engineering, repairing EPS conduits or warp coils." Torres paused and began again, "I want to do more. I want to be something else for a change."
B'Elanna didn't know if she sounded passionate enough, but she believed in what she said and how she felt. It all started when she had awakened from her journey on the Barge of the Dead. Then, her time on Kelis' planet showed her there was something more to living that didn't revolve around warp cores and Star Fleet technology. Those experiences had unsettled her, making her view her world differently somehow, in ways which she couldn't express, but nevertheless, urged her to find a sense of self she had been missing. How could she put this to words which her Captain and friends could comprehend?
"I can understand if you're feeling stressed or overworked. We haven't given you much of a break over the years with the constant traveling that Voyager does and the hostile encounters we've been through," argued Janeway. "Are you sure this is not just a symptom of that? Perhaps, a vacation from your duties will make you feel differently? Captain, if you're worried about a replacement, Lt. Carey is more than qualified. We both know that. Of course, I'll be in Engineering for whatever assignments that need to be handled. And he has Vorik and Seven to help him, both of whom are extremely competent." Torres folded her arms, ready to argue to the last inning of the game if necessary.
The Captain gazed one more time into B'Elanna's eyes before turning away. She walked towards the window and looked out at the quietly passing stars. It was a moment before she spoke again.
"Give it thirty days. Lt. Carey will take over your duties as Chief Engineer temporarily during that time, while you work a regular Engineering shift. The rest of the time, you can do whatever you want."
Torres closed her eyes and ran a hand through her hair. It was a compromise, but it was better than having her request denied up front. "And after thirty days?," she asked, frustration evident in her tone.
"We'll talk again," replied Janeway, eyes still looking out at the stars.
"I'll make it known from tomorrow on. Please debrief Lt. Carey on all current projects and report to him for assignment." Turning, she pleaded, "Before you go, I want you to know, B'Elanna, I don't want anyone else in that position but you. My door is always open if you need to talk."
Torres nodded in silent acknowledgment, and left not only one very confused captain, but her shipwide identity behind her that morning. Janeway made her way back to her desk, and sat heavily in her chair, astounded, speechless at the turn of events. She rubbed her forehead as a new headache began to pulse.
"Commander Chakotay, please report to my Ready Room."
By 0700 hours the next morning, Captain Janeway had hailed Engineering, announcing the changes in chain of command. Fourteen crewmembers were told to report to Engineering even when their shift had just ended or weren't even to begin so that everyone was present. It was not something Janeway wanted to have to repeat. Everyone except Lt. Carey stood, unmovable with shock and disbelief written all over their faces over the abruptness and lack of explanation. Carey immediately began handing out the assignments for the day and dismissed those who were not on duty. By 0930 hours, the entire ship knew that Lt. B'Elanna Torres was no longer in charge of Engineering.
Before the hour of her announcement, Janeway had called the senior officers to the Briefing Room. The reaction she found in the room would later be mirroreramount, but the story and d by the one in Engineering, except for Chakotay. Even Tuvok seemed to register some surprise from his normally impassive expression. Seven merely raised her brow, and watched the Captain unwaveringly, as she paced around the table during the silence that followed the announcement.
Harry was the first to speak up. "Captain, what's going on? Why is Lt. Carey taking over for B'Elanna?"
Janeway raised her hand to calm the storm of questions on everyone's lips. "I know you'll find this hard to believe, but B'Elanna came to me yesterday with the request to step down from her position as Chief Engineer." She added, "I couldn't convince her otherwise. What I want to know 6/00 to 11/00. now is that did she speak to anyone of you beforehand?"
"Tom?," she questioned as everyone else turned to him.
He shrugged helplessly, "She only told me that Engineering had become kind of tedious these past few weeks, and she was looking for a change in pace. She didn't say she was going to do something like this."
Chakotay spoke up then, "Did she mention what else she was thinking or feeling at the time? Did she seem indifferent to you?"
"No.... Not at all, in fact. Unless you know something that I don't."
"Captain?," the Doctor questioned with some concern.
"She only told me that her priorities had changed after her recent experiences," answered Janeway.
Chakotay asked again, "Tom, are you sure she hasn't mentioned anything to YOU? You're not just protecting her?"
Tom frowned at the accusation, but let it pass. "She didn't say anything," he reiterated. "Not that it's anyone's business, but B'Elanna and I called off our relationship a few weeks ago. But I think we should trust her on this. I think she's EARNED it," he reproached sternly.
That particular information also left quite an impression as well, as another quiet moment passed. But everyone was clearly affected by Tom's last point.
"I haven't noticed anything strange in her behavior either. I think maybe Tom's right," supported Harry.
"As morale officer, I haven't noticed anything out of the ordinary. Perhaps there's nothing more to it than has been said," Neelix chimed in.
"I agree," Tuvok added. "Until we note otherwise, we should respect Lt. Torres' decision, however unfortunate it may be for us."
"Alright, now that we've cleared the air, we can get down to business," reconciled Janeway. "Lt. Carey will be joining us shortly as a senior officer."
It was painfully obvious, however, to everyone how empty one chair seemed in that instant. But it wasn't the first time one of them had been missing during a meeting. They were accustomed to new faces who would participate in these briefings over the years. This time, however, there was a strange sense of abandonment and disappointment mixed together by B'Elanna's departure. The group remained pensive until the door swished open, and the familiar figure of Lt. Carey entered somewhat hesitantly, approaching the table.
"Lt. Carey reporting as ordered, Ma'am." He stood at attention, giving a fine performance of his Star Fleet training.
"At ease, Lieutenant," Janeway ordered, casting a brief smile, even though deep down she didn't feel like giving one to no fault of the poor man. "Please be seated."
All the other officers, and including Seven, welcomed the lieutenant to the briefing, finally proceeding with the session. The dynamics were altered, that much was evident, with the interruptions, apologies, and occasional polite pauses. It was difficult not to compare the differences between the engineers as the session progressed, the group needing time to adapt.
Lt. Torres reported for duty at 0800 hours, as suggested by the Captain. She preferred not to be present at the time of the announcement to avoid all the looks she already had gotten from the few that noticed her arrival in the department. Unshaken, she headed straight for Lt. Carey, now her superior, who was standing next to the warp core console. Oddly, she felt quite at ease, knowing she no longer had responsibility over all the shipwide systems.
"Lt. Torres, reporting for duty," teased B'Elanna.
"Lieutenant," acknowledged Chief Engineer Joe Carey. "You seem to be in good humor today. I have an assignment for you. The port tertiary Deflector panels are off by a 0.5 deviation. You feel up to fixing that?"
"Sure thing. I'll have it done in three hours."
"There's no rush."
"Like I said, I'll have it done in three hours," replied a smirking Torres, as she walked off towards the equipment lockers.
Shaking his head, Carey chuckled all the way back to his new office. Seven failed to see the humor in the entire situation from where she stood to the side, but was summarily satisfied to see Lt. Torres in good spirits. Perhaps, Ensign Paris was correct in his assumptions. But not having Lt. Torres as head of Engineering was illogical and inefficient, she grudgingly admitted to herself. Outwardly, there did not appear to be a large decline in overall efficiency in Engineering productivity, however, whether it proved to endure during a time of crisis remained to be seen. Seven had her doubts if her assessment was correct.
B'Elanna spent the next two weeks working on several projects with teams she was put in charge of. Occasionally, she signed on as Chief's Assistant, heading the third shift, where she had the most fun screwballing around with "Acting Captain," Harry. The rest of the time she used to the read up on quantum slipstream drives, polish her Hoverball skills, and watch Tom's TV, though she would never confess to it under torture. But she was quite enthralled by the Olympic games. They were similar to the decathlon meets she ran in at the academy, and the athletic competitions her mother encouraged her to participate in during her youth, as some "passage of rights" thing.
"So same time tomorrow?" asked B'Elanna as she and Harry strolled down the corridor still dressed in their black and blue jumpsuits, after a game of Parrises Squares in the Holodeck.
"Are you kidding me?" Harry replied incredulously, while taking a practice swing with his mallet. His glossy black hair was wet from perspiration, and his bare biceps flexed with the tautness of a young male. "You know, some of us actually have work to slave over."
"Oh, come on, Harry. You're young. You've got to live a little while you still have the stamina. Besides, I overheard Ensign Pitman saying that he could whip our butts in a challenge game," ribbed B'Elanna.
B'Elanna stopped when she noticed Harry was no longer stepping along-side her. Grinning impudently, she looked back at him, noting his expression, while she rubbed her hands mentally with glee.
"Pitman!? The guy was captain of the second place team while we were at the academy!" exclaimed an indignant Harry. "Oh, alright. We'd better practice our passes then, before we make him eat his bullshit."
She laughed at that as he caught up with her in a few paces, and they strolled on towards their quarters. "If you don't mind me asking," he continued, "don't you ever get bored with having all this free time?"
B'Elanna dropped her grin as her face turned serious. "You know, I thought I would at first, go crazy. I've actually kept myself pretty well-occupied. We've been on this ship for what, six years now, Harry? And I know only thirty of my crewmembers well enough to hold a conversation on the turbo lift."
"You were a senior officer. It's hard to get past the difference in rank," defended Harry.
"Yeah, well, I'm not saying I want to be Miss Congeniality all of a sudden. I'm just saying I've let a lot of things pass me by.... I want to be more than just a person who fixes things."
Harry nodded in acceptance, though he still had trouble understanding. They were about to enter the turbo lift when they were interrupted. Seven had approached from behind.
"Lt. Torres.... May I speak with you?" she asked, looking back and forth between them. " polite request, B'Elanna was impressed, as far as Harry could tell when they exchanged glances.
"Sure, Seven," B'Elanna answered cautiously, as Harry stepped into the turbo lift with an amused look on his face. The half-Klingon moved out of the way from blocking the turbo lift doors. "What can I do for you?"
"Lieutenant, the navigation-sensory intercoil to Astrometrics has begun to wear down, and has fused unexpectedly at several interfaces. I require your assistance with the repairs," requested Seven.
"I think you should take that up with Lt. Carey, Seven," Bones@aol.com
"I have already inquired," answered Seven matter-of-factly. "However, he told me that all of the Engineering crew have been delegated other high priority tasks. I do not wish to wait." she added.
" few crewmembers came around the corner, and excused themselves as they passed between the two women, waiting for the lift to arrive. Wanting to maintain their conversation private, B'Elanna motioned for Seven to get into the turbo lift. The crewmembers knew not to follow the them, their eyes finding other interesting things to look at, at that moment.
"Well, then...," started B'Elanna.
"I have also checked the duty schedules. You will not be on duty until tomorrow morning, which means you are the most available," pointed out Seven.
B'Elanna sighed mentally. She wasn't in the mood to argue with the Borg today as she had enjoyed her afternoon with Harry too much to let it be spoiled. The sooner she capitulated, the sooner she could have it done.
"Alright. Give me a half hour to at least shower, 'cause I stink. I'll meet you in Astrometrics and we'll go from there?"
"That would be acceptable." Seven reassured her, "Your smell is distinct, Lieutenant, but not wholly unpleasant."
Brows raised, B'Elanna let out a snort and shook her head as Seven took leave of the lift when it arrived on her deck. Seven never failed to surprise her. B'Elanna wasn't really that opposed to working on the sensor coil problem. But just the thought of working exclusively with Seven of Nine was not something she was looking forward to. They just had different ways of going about accomplishing things. Finally, she arrived at her quarters, and proceeded to strip out of her jumpsuit, still thinking about the ex-drone and her strange comment. In twenty minutes, she stepped out of the sonic shower, donned a fresh uniform, and downed a cup of chilled raktajino, before heading off to the Astrometrics lab.
They crawled through a short section of the Jefferies tube to reach the worn-out intercoil that kept the Astrometrics' link to Navigation defunct. Before they began their work, B'Elanna made sure to divvy up the tasks between them to prevent any disagreements. Everything was worked out before they got into the tiny little space, but even so, she and Seven still had to engage in the occasional conversation. Seven removed the access panel, and proceeded to unload the tools they needed.
"Computer, bypass EPS conduit and navigation-sensory intercoil in Grid 432, and create an alternative pathway for navigational circuitry," requested B'Elanna, as she examined the condition of the intercoil.
-blip-blip- "Bypass in Gird 432 complete."
"Good. Now lower energy current levels to safety protocol margins."
-blip- "Energy current levels lowered to specifications."
Seven handed her the extraction wrench wordlessly, before she began detaching smaller connections to the intercoil. Though normally Seven would have complied with maintaining a low level of interaction with the half-Klingon, curiosity got the best of her, and she had to bring up the question on her lips.
"I don't understand your actions, Lieutenant," she admitted. "You are an important member of this crew. Do you not have a duty to perform in the role where your talents lie best to benefit Voyager the most?"
"Uh!" B'Elanna threw down her instrument in disgust. "Not you too!?"
"Excuse me?" asked Seven, quirking her brow, as she carefully moved the discarded tool away out of reach.
"You're about the tenth person to ask me why," replied an exasperated Klingon.
"I'm sorry. I did not intend to offend you." Seven explained, "As part of the Collective, I did what I was assigned to do. There were no options as a drone."
B'Elanna sighed, wondering why she could never escape the Borg's scrutiny. Her life really wasn't all that interesting, was it to provide such fodder for Seven's inquisitive nature? She was still seething over the whole "Deck 9, Section 12" comment. But with no one else around listening, B'Elanna realized she was sitting next to probably the most objective person among those she worked with.
"I don't know how to explain this to you so you'll understand, Seven. I'm trying to figure it out myself. It's not that I don't like engineering anymore. Heck, I can't imagine myself as an hydroponics tech or a security chief. I'm just not so sure that being Chief Engineer is what I want to do with my life. Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful for the opportunity that Captain Janeway and Chakotay gave me six years ago," admitted B'Elanna, picking up the wrench again. "And as for my duty to the crew, I only wish I wasn't letting anyone down...."
"I've spent all this time throwing myself into the work. I've been a good Maquis ... engineer ... officer ... girlfriend. But never have I once asked myself who I wanted to be until now, because I wasn't sure what the answer would be. Oh shit, I'm positive that you didn't want hear all that stuff."
"On the contrary, Lt. Torres," Seven replied, "It has given me much to think about."
"You know, I envy you sometimes."
"You...envy me? Why?"
"You're just coming into your own self in a place that allows you so many choices. Captain Janeway is open to anything you choose to do, well, minus getting off this ship or returning to the Collective," chuckled the Klingon.
"Yes, that statement is correct in many ways," Seven agreed. "However, if and when we do return to Earth, my future is quite uncertain." Seven tried to hide her discomfort from such thoughts by returning to her task.
"For all of us, my dear drone."
"We've arrived," informed Paris, as the helm registered the coordinates.
"Slow to impulse, Mr. Paris," ordered Janeway.
Voyager dropped out of warp so the Engineering team could complete a long-overdue maintenance check. In the meantime, they could also survey the sector for any organic food to stock Neelix's supplies, and add to the Hydroponics Bay.
"Should I start scanning for class M planets in this sector?" asked Ensign Kim.
"Might as well," replied Janeway good-naturedly.
"I'll help," offered the Commander. Then he muttered, "Anything to relieve monotony."
Janeway glared at him in mock disapproval, but she had to admit, the past few weeks had been quite peaceful, moving from survey to the next. Most of the species they had come across were quite xenophobic, except for the occasional trader transport or two they ran into. They were informed, however, that on the edge of the next sector, there would be colonies and species open to trade, but they were also warned of the crime and hostility that often went with such commerce. Which is why the Captain chose to perform the overhaul now, rather than later.
Even now, reports from most of the divisions claimed that the majority of the maintenance repairs had been completed. But regardless, the senior staff elected to spend a day's worth effort into checking all systems.
Tuvok was performing his own scans of the region at his tactical console, when he noticed a few aberrant readings. Calmly, the manner which he always approached a problem, he analyzed the collecting data as it was displayed continuously.
"Captain, I am reading a small spatial distortion 25,000 km off our port bow," Tuvok notified.
Chakotay moved to confirm those readings from Harry's console as the ensign looked on. "He's right. I'm detecting a disturbance in the space-time continuum."
"I suggest we send a class 6 probe with Borg-adapted multi-phasic shielding," advised Tuvok.
"Do it. "nd Tom, hold our position," ordered Janeway, nodding in harmony with her words. If this was a singularity, it might prove to be an interesting astrological study. She wouldn't mind heading up such a project herself, being a competent scientist to boot.
Tom tapped in the orders, bringing Voyager to a dead stop. He focused the screen on the disturbance, subtly detecting, by his own eyes, the distorted light coming from various stars.
"The probe is ready," Tuvok declared.
"Launch the probe," commanded Chakotay.
But before the probe could reach the edges of the distortion and send back sensor readings, the distortion abruptly disappeared, and the science panels went silent without input to analyze. Everyone stared at the nondescript view on the screen, displaying no evidence that the singularity had existed.
"What happened?" demanded Janeway, walking back to her chair from where she stood at the conn overlooking Paris' shoulder, and took her seat.
"I'm not sure, Captain," replied Kim. "It looks like it was unstable, and must have collapsed."
"I want a full analysis, ChakotayC," Janeway began to command.
But she was interrupted when some sudden, unseen force struck the ship, knocking occupants almost out of their chairs, and tossing standing crewmembers against each other. The ship made terrible noises as if metal was being sheered, as it pitched again and again.
"Shields up! All decks, Red Alert!" bellowed Janeway over the clamor.
"Structural integrity down by 35% and dropping!" yelled out Kim.
"Shields are holding, but down by 25%," informed Tuvok.
"I want all power from non-essential systems re-routed to structural integrity and shields. Chakotay, report!" ordered Janeway.
"Captain!" Paris interjected back, "We're moving...."
Another lurch, projected him out of his seat, but he struggled back into his chair hand over hand, trying to regain control of the helm. He engaged impulse engines against the direction of the pull, but it made the deafening noise of crushing metal louder.
"I'm attempting to move away from whatever it is that's pulling us!"
"Could it be the distortion?!" asked Janeway.
"Captain, another singularity just appeared 24,000 km off our starboard bow!" yelled Chakotay.
" whirling, gaping mouth of a wormhole appeared on the screen to the awe of those on the bridge, at least those that were conscious enough to admire it. There it sat, chewing up bits and pieces of the universe like a predator circling and drawing in its prey, silently and unaware of its own menace and brutality that such a phenomenon would possess.
Paris hollered over the noise, "It's pulling us in! We'll be caught in the event horizon!"
"Harry, where does it lead? Is it stable enough for us to cross?!" asked Chakotay.
"It looks like...." Beads of sweat dripped down the side of his face, as Kim tried to make sense of the data that poured over his panel screens. He responded, "It looks like the wormhole's non-traversable, if I'm interpreting the data correctly. According to the theory of Einstein-Rosen bridges, it could collapse at any moment!"
"Good, isn't that what we want?!" exclaimed Paris.
"Not if we get sucked into it!" barked Chakotay, his impatience reflected in the harsh lines of his face.
"The gravimetric sheer is putting undue stress on the hull! At this rate, the ship will be crushed by the time it enters the wormhole," added Tuvok.
"Hull fractures on Decks 5 and 6, force-fields are in place!" informed Kim.
"Try to evacuate those Decks!" ordered Chakotay.
"Warp engines are offline!" yelled Tom.
The ship rocked repeatedly as it was gradually dragged towards the event horizon, spiraling to the edge of the funnel out of control, while the crew clung onto any stationary object within their reach. The gravitational force of the singularity was enormous even though they were still a significant distance away. Disheveled from being whipped around, Captain Janeway gathered her wits while her crew went about their tasks, keeping the ship together.
"Mr. Paris, match the horizontal trajectory of the gravitational pull so we move with it, and engage impulse engines and thrusters against the vertical forces. That should push us out, if not buy us some time!" instructed Janeway.
B'Elanna swore she heard her scapula crack on the last impact as she and Seven were throw around the Jefferies tube like a couple of ragdolls. She had an easier time bracing herself against the bulkheads than Seven because of her shorter height. In addition, Seven had grabbed hold of their equipment with her Borg-enhanced hand, and had clasped it to her chest to keep it from flying freely and injuring either of them. The act cost the Borg probably a mild concussion from the way her head was swimming. The ship continued to jerk and pitch, trapping them both. They tumbled forward and backwards in the tube, depending on which direction forces were pushing at the moment, banging roughly into the panels and trimmings.
B'Elanna cursed up a storm in between grunting with each impact. Seven was taking a considerable beating, from where the lieutenant could see from behind, and B'Elanna realized she had to help her. When the next lurch came, B'Elanna propelled herself forward to cover the ex-drone. She reached around Seven, and grabbed hold of the grating between her fingers and braced her legs against the ledges, willing her body rigid. The rocking seemed to go on forever, and it was quickly draining the Klingon's strength.
"Seven," whispered B'Elanna through gritted teeth, as if to apologize before her fingers would give out. Seven heard her and tried to grip the ledge harder, easing some of her weight off the lieutenant.
"Steady the helm, Mr. Paris," ordered Janeway.
The maneuvers had help stabilize the ship, but they continued to descend towards the mouth of the wormhole. Reports of injuries were coming in from all decks, and Sickbay was suddenly flooded with the wounded while the lurching had ceased for the moment. Engineering was also thrown into chaos as many of the staff had been scattered all over the ship for the maintenance repairs. Structural integrity was a main concern as gravimetric forces continued to tear the ship apart.
"Ideas, gentlemen, on how to get out of this?" asked Janeway. "I don't intend to ride it out."
'Cowabunga!' never left Paris' lips.
Seven became aware of the warm body that spooned her own from behind when the pitching stopped. She could hear heavy breathing in her right ear, and felt the heaving bosom against her back, along with the quick beating of her own heart. B'Elanna sat up, slowly releasing her cramped fingers from the grating. They were sore and cold from the blood that left her grip minutes ago. It had not been the kind of rocking she pictured she'd be doing against a body like Seven's.
"Are you okay, Seven?" asked B'Elanna, in between breaths, examining the woman head to toe, noting the bruises and contusions, the usually brilliant blue eyes closed.
"Yes," she replied softly, resting a bit against the floor of the Jefferies tube to catch her bearings.
"I'm going to transport you to Sickbay. The doctor needs to take at look at you."
"That won't be necessary. I am fully functional."
"I can't take care of you. I have to get to Engineering," B'Elanna answered back coldly, but with conflicting emotions running across her face.
"Then I will accompany you," the Borg responded stubbornly.
The Klingon let out deep breath and helped Seven upright. There was no point in arguing. The girl was going to learn the lesson on her own, even if that meant Seven had to fall flat on her face. B'Elanna led the way as they both crawled back out of the Jefferies tube.
B'Elanna and Seven reached Engineering in time to hear Captain Janeway's hail. Lt. Carey was suggesting to the get engines back online so that they could jump to warp, and escape the gravitational forces. The medics came around to check on the two women who looked bruised and battered, before they joined Carey at the warp console.
"The wormhole is pulling us into the event horizon. We're about 12,000 km from the mouth and closing," informed Captain Janeway.
"Structural integrity is going to be a major problem. Tuvok says that we have only five minutes before the gravimetric sheer causes a fatal hull breach," Chakotay noted.
"We're working on boosting structural integrity, but we're already diverting all the power that we can. I suggest we evacuate more decks and reroute power from life support," advised Carey.
"What about the warp engines?" asked Janeway. "We're going to need them in a few minutes before the gravitational pull becomes too great."
B'Elanna was running through all she had learned about spinning wormholes. Warp engines would certainly get them out of the area, but it may not be possible to even establish a warp field. The ship began to rock again, but to a lesser degree. The stress on the hull became even more prominent as the metal began to screech steadily.
Seven must have come to the same conclusion when she interjected, "Captain, we may not be capable of entering warp."
"The engines will be back online in a couple of minutes," argued Carey. "We can't achieve escape velocity on impulse and maneuvering thrusters. We have to give it a try."
B'Elanna now spoke, "We might not be able to warp if the wormhole is already distorting the space-time continuum. I think we should emit large tachyon bursts from the deflector dish. They should cause the other side of the wormhole to collapse. Tachyons are the only FTL particles that can get through a non-traversable wormhole."
"Yes, but it might take time for this end of the wormhole to collapse. We might get sucked in before then," Carey answered back.
"How long would it take to modify the deflector?" the Captain asked.
"Two, maybe three minutes, but it's going to take a lot of energy to generate tachyons," admitted B'Elanna.
The two head Engineers faced off. Each respected the other's idea, but each supported their own. There was no right or wrong under the circumstances. The Engineering crew froze, confused as to whose orders to follow. B'Elanna was out of line, and she knew it. Lt. Carey was Chief Engineer, and she shouldn't have undermined his authority. Time, what little they had, was being wasted.
"Carey's right. We should try the warp engines," conceded B'Elanna, looking away and releasing the aggression from her posture.
Janeway took the silence to mean the decision was made. "Fine, get those engines online in two minutes. We're going to break away."
B'Elanna took her orders from Carey, walked over to the plasma injectors and began working on them. She ignored Seven when the Borg tried to address her.
Voyager was fast approaching the edge of the wormhole. Bits of space debris and dust slowly disappeared in the swirling disarray of the event horizon. Although it was a stunning view and Janeway felt a certain excitement to being so close to such a phenomenon, she preferred to be elsewhere at this particular moment. The bridge crew braced for impact as fifteen metric tons of debris headed towards the bow, smashing into the forward shields and breaking into pieces.
"Captain, the engines are back online!" hollered Paris.
"Engage slowly, Mr. Paris! We don't want to rip the ship apart!" commanded the Captain.
"Engines are operating, Captain, but the warp field isn't generating!" informed Kim.
"Increase the plasma flow to the injectors as well as the antimatter flux to the warp core, Lt. Carey!" ordered Janeway.
Paris was knocked out of his seat when the ship began bucking uncontrollably again as the gravimetric forces increased exponentially near the event horizon. The eddies of spatial distortion began to collide with the mass of the ship, flowing over the hull like the whitewash of a wave upon a shore. Paris jumped back into his seat, riding it like a bronco, as his fingers flew over the conn.
"Thrusters are failing! We're descending faster into the wormhole!" Tom cried out.
"More power to the warp engines!" hailed Chakotay.
"We're trying!" replied Carey. "It's draining the warp core almost as fast as we can feed it!"
The core hummed louder and louder as the warp engines revved up, the cobalt blue lights rippling. Carey could see on his panel the small spark of a warp field being established around the ship. On the bridge, the view of the mouth of the wormhole was getting larger and larger. Structural integrity was dropping rapidly, and the hull started to buckle, creaking with resistance, under the crushing forces attacking from every dimension.
Carey shouted, "Yes! We got it!" as the sensors detected the warp field formation.
It was the last thing heard over the comm as Voyager blasted off into warp, leaving the singularity behind. The wormhole existed for a little while longer before it spasmed, and collapsed onto it last victim, crushing the hapless asteroid.
-Plop- B'Elanna tossed herself on her bed, sans her uniform and boots. She covered her eyes with her arm, weary from the day. Guilt had always been her bedmate. Why should it be any different now? Fifty-one injured, multiple hull breaches, and damaged systems shipwide. Ensign Wildman was almost sucked out into space when a hull breach tore her station apart right before they jumped to warp. Maybe if she had spent more time helping with Carey with the transition, and less time on the Holodeck, some of this would never have happened. She regretted that she almost undermined Lt. Carey's authority, and cost them crucial time.
'I don't know what I am anymore.'
Chakotay entered the Ready Room, flipping several reports in hand. Janeway could tell there was something on his mind, since he didn't have his usual grin on his face as he walked over to her desk.
"Here are the damage reports." He passed over the hefty pile.
"Thank you." She offered him some coffee, but he turned it down politely, taking a seat in one of the chairs.
"Are we going to talk about what happened today?" he asked.
"Weren't you there? You didn't hit your head, did you?" she jested, not really wanting to broach the subject, as she took a gingerly sip from her coffee mug.
"You know what I'm talking about, Kathryn." He took the serious tone. "Don't you think it was a close call? You could order her back on the job."
"I can't do that. She has to come to the decision herself, Chakotay."
"Well, then, I guess we're going to be in for a bumpy ride," he said with a straight face, but finally broke out into a grin. He always did have a twisted sense of humor. In truth, he only wanted to test the waters, to see where Janeway was going to go on the issue, but ready to defend B'Elanna, just in case.
"By the way," he add, "the dilithium supplies are low as a result of our little escapade with the wormhole. The attempts to jump to warp to escape drained out most of our stores."
"Tell Carey to arrange the away teams."
Seven finally stepped into the quiet comfort of her Cargo Bay. Unfortunately, to her dismay, it was a mess, with storage bins, boxes, and equipment strewed all over her space. She'd save the clean up for later. Her Borg alcove had been resilient throughout the ordeal, still operational though powered down. Seven reactivated the system and readied it for regeneration, as the Doctor had insisted.
She replayed the day's events in her mind, from its ordinary beginnings to the harrowing encounter with the spatial phenomenon. Some of the crewmen, from what she overheard, had found the experience wild and exciting, despite the obvious life-threatening nature of the event. The only time during the whole ordeal she felt at all stimulated, oddly, was in the Jefferies tube, with Lt. B'Elanna Torres of all people. Seven could still feel the warm presence against her back, and the hot breath against the skin of her neck, sending sensations from the ends of her nerves to her spine. It made her feel strange. She wanted to ask the Doctor about it but he was too busy with the other injured crewmembers. Even when the EMH had touched her so intimately during their dance practices, she never felt such stirring of emotions. Captain Janeway was the only other person who frequently touched her, though it was always comforting, so much so that she often anticipated it.
Seven decided she must do further research on the subject, which would entail her own participation. She would take every opportunity to spend time with the lieutenant, and elicit physical contact from the unsuspecting half-Klingon as much as possible.