by E. L. Zimmerman


With half of the crew complement enjoying themselves to the food and festivities on the surface of Rintella, it was no surprise how empty the ship felt, B'Elanna thought, as they rounded a corner. She and Captain Janeway were marching to the brig, escorted by Narek, armed with a single Type II Phaser. What she found increasingly ironic was that Narek was part of her Engineering staff. Her own staff! Escorting her to the brig! Granted, Narek struggled with constructive criticism when it came to improving his work skills, but he had shown some progress as of late ... if he kept his temper under control. But ... how could he do this to her, his senior officer? How could he conspire, with the others, against the Captain's mission of getting Voyager home? How would his mutinous actions, ultimately, reflect on her efficiency rating?

That was it.

In Sickbay, as she listened to the Doctor's explanation of how the crew had been inadvertently affected by the Rintellan energy pulse emanating from the satellite protection grid, she kept wondering why she had felt nothing.

That was it!

Eventually, she had decided that her Klingon DNA must have somehow given her an immunity that the others didn't have. But, as she remembered, the Doctor pointed out that the effects could take any number of a variety of symptoms.

The efficiency rating.

These last three week, B'Elanna Torres had been putting herself through more than an "ensign's duty," increasing the effectiveness of every possible system in Engineering. Some days, she remembered, she had worked double shifts on relatively unimportant tasks ... for no reason whatsoever other than to preserve her department's increased efficiency rating.

She had been affected by the Rintellan energy, but in a very positive way.

Now, in the corridor, she couldn't help but stop ...

... and laugh.

Angered by the turn of events, Narek shouted, "What's so funny?"

Stopping, the Captain turned to see her chief engineer. B'Elanna leaned forward, holding her stomach, laughing uncontrollably in the passageway. If Janeway didn't know any better, she'd think that B'Elanna had been reduced to tears of entertainment, but, as the adage went, "everybody knows that Klingons don't have tear ducts."

Suddenly, Janeway realized that this incident, unanticipated, might pose an opportunity for escape.

"Easy, Narek," cautioned the Captain. "It may be the effects of the Rintellan energy." Janeway knew that the Doctor had prepped B'Elanna with a neural stimulator, so that explanation was as far from the truth as one could get.

Quickly, she moved to her chief engineer. She placed a hand on Torres's shoulder, steadying the woman. "B'Elanna," Janeway said softly, "are you all right?"

Obviously unnerved, Narek shoved his phaser in their direction. "I don't care about her condition! She can suffer the effects behind a forcefield in the brig! Get her moving! Now!"

Of her own volition, B'Elanna whirled around, still laughing. "Narek, stop being a fool! That's an order!" Then, she burst into even louder uncontrolled laughter.

Narek's face contorted in anger, his chin constricting and quivering, his nostrils flaring. "I'm no fool, Torres!"

"You're a fool if there ever was a fool!" she countered.

"You'd better get moving, or I'll -"

"You'll what?" B'Elanna asked, still clutching her stomach. "You'll shoot me? That'll only prove how big a fool you truly are!"

Shuffling, Narek nervously ordered the Captain, "You'd better shut your engineer's mouth!"

"Narek," B'Elanna continued, challenging him through the laughter, "I'm standing right in front of you! Don't you think I can hear you?" She burst out with another round of raucous laughter, and Janeway sensed the situation quickly spiraling out of anyone's control.

"That's enough!" Narek shouted.

"Or what?" B'Elanna asked. "You'll shoot me? You already said that!"

"I'm warning you," their captor spat, his eyes glaring venom at the two of them, "for the last time -"

Her laughing fit finally under control, B'Elanna took one bold step toward her staff member. Clearly, she shot back, "You fire that thing at me, and I'll pry that phaser from your filthy hands and stuff it down your Flarellian throat!"

Stunned, Janeway saw Narek's face lose all emotion.

"I said," he began, gesturing at the half-Klingon with his weapon, "be quiet!"

The hiss of a phaser broke the air.

Launching into action, Kathryn Janeway did what she could. She threw herself into B'Elanna, hoping to propel her clear of what she assumed would be a blast set to kill. She collided with her engineer, and they hit the corridor wall before rocketing to the floor and rolling clear.

Righting herself quickly, Janeway ordered, "Narek, stop!" Crouching, she was poised, ready to lunge at their captor, if absolutely necessary, to defend both her and B'Elanna's life.

To her surprise, Narek stared ahead ... with an expression of confused on his face.

He wasn't looking at them.

He looked past them, down the corridor, at nothing.

Slowly, he slumped to his knees.

Behind him, as he fell, Kathryn Janeway saw the form of Harry Kim, his own phaser in hand.

"Bless you, Harry!" Janeway cried.

"Way to go, Starfleet!" B'Elanna shouted, climbing to her feet despite her body's protest from her recent collision with the Captain. "I knew you'd do the right thing when the time came!"

Sweating profusely, Harry lowered the phaser and stumbled forward.

"I have to," he started to say, and then he lurched sideways. He caught himself, instinctively, by grabbing the corridor wall.

"I have to," he tried again, "I have to get to the Bridge."

Even braced against the wall, Janeway noticed how his hand trembled.

"Captain?" he said softly, turning to her, his eyes pleading. "Captain, there's something wrong with me." He swallowed hard, his eyes darting left to right. "There's something wrong with all of us."

Janeway stood. "Harry, you're suffering the effects of a Rintellan energy pulse. We all are. But you're probably feeling a lot worse." She stepped up to him and helped him stand up straight, understanding his penchant for serving his captain with distinction. "Harry, do you remember when you and your crew repaired the sensor dish? You were exposed to an undetected energy pulse that decreased the activity of serotonin in your brain. It's affected the way we process neural messages. That's what is causing everyone to think and behave out of the norm."

Visibly, Harry struggled to control his tremors. He felt shame for appearing so weak in front of his senior officer. "I ... I have to get to the Bridge," he said. "Tuvok ... Tuvok has arranged for a fireworks display to serve as a distraction." Again, the ensign struggled to control himself, almost slipping to the floor, but the Captain quickly threw an arm under his shoulder to prop him up. "I have ... less than five minutes left."

Reaching out, Janeway took the phaser from Harry's hand. "The only place you're going is Sickbay." Looking at B'Elanna, she nudged her head at Harry. "Can you get him to the Doctor?"

Nodding, B'Elanna asked, "Where are you going?"

"You heard him," Janeway replied. "I'm going where every captain should." She checked the phaser status and was pleased to find that it was fully charged.

"I'm going to take back my Bridge."

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