by E. L. Zimmerman
With no warning of the impending collision, all of Voyager’s inertial compensators nearly overloaded when the two conflicting forms of shield energies impacted. The starship heaved, a sailboat run aground by the violent eruptions of an advancing hurricane. The ship, literally, groaned in space as it lurched against its will. Caught unprepared, B’Elanna Torres felt the plating vanish under her feet as she was ripped ferociously from her command console. Swearing in Klingon, she flew through the air, screaming, arms flailing wildly, and slammed into the warp core’s protective railing. The sturdy metal arm ripped into the muscles between her stomach and rib cage, knocking the wind out of her. Gasping angrily and with a lack of Klingonese strong enough to demonstrate her fury, she slumped to the cold floor, avoiding as best as she could the clutter of her equally helpless shipmates falling to the deck all around her.
Unable to twist her momentum into a useful role, she hit the floor. Again, her body was wracked with piercing, immeasurable pain.
"Don’t panic," she mentally repeated over and over again.
Fighting the instinct to run, she quickly flopped over onto her back and then lay completely still on the floor, staring up at the blurry vaulted ceiling. She blinked, clearing her vision momentarily.
With immense concentration, she tried to block out her throbbing muscles, her piercing headache, the moans of her crew, the muffled explosions erupting all around them, and the lethal pounding of her own heart.
She tried inhaling, tried bringing air in through her mouth and nose, tried forcing it down deep into her lungs, but it was no use. Instead, she felt only the spasm of her chest muscles, still constricted from the blow, over the cool freshness of Voyager’s needed oxygen.
Quickly, she slapped a hand against the burning muscle and started to massage, desperately trying to loosen them so that she could suck one full, sweet, mouthful of air. Trying to regain control of her body was the first priority, so she closed her eyes, ignoring the truth that she couldn’t breathe evenly, and she lay perfectly still.
Surrendering to the needs of her unique Klingon physique, she lay there, bitterly waiting for the muscle spasms denying her the precious air she needed to subside.
Focusing, she softened the voice in her head to one that was calm, practiced, and secure.
"Don’t panic," she repeated. "You’re no good to yourself if you do. You’re no good to the ship. You’re no good to those who need you the most. Don’t panic. Remember your training. And … breathe …"
Finally, Voyager stopped shaking, and her chest muscles relaxed.
Relieved, she gulped in salty air tainted with …
"Plasma leak!" she shouted, her strength returning, sitting up hurriedly.
"People!" she screamed. "We’ve got a plasma leak!"
Her attention recouped, B’Elanna pushed herself off the deck, almost leaping like a gymnast to her feet in a single, fluid move.
"Get that leak sealed, people!" The work, she trusted, would make them forget any lingering fears.
The Engineering crew came alive around her. They hustled in the direction of the steam geyser venting from the warp core’s floor conduits.
His uniform shirt somehow torn and sprinkled with what resembled crimson raindrops, Ensign Sean Andres burst through the throng. In his hands, he wielded a fire extinguisher, and he was desperately trying to get a console fire under control.
A two-inch gash dripping blood from her forehead into her eyes, Ensign Larak Shevek ignored her injury, instead cradling an emergency conduit seal in her hands. Bravely, she headed into the gurgling steam, one arm drawn up and across her forehead to wipe the blood away.
Half of his face covered with the black smudge of facing a console explosion, Lieutenant Carey angrily tore the jammed hatch off a nearby Jefferies tube. Leaping up, he slid into the opening and disappeared, off on a mission to begin whatever repair he detected vitally necessary to Voyager’s internal systems.
Brushing the hair back from her face, B’Elanna demanded, "Does anyone know what the hell hit us?!"
Unfortunately, her crew was captivated with their work. She received a few replies of confusion from the passing shipmates, but, for the time being, they paid her little attention. Now, their task was clear: secure the core, and get the engines back online. Still, B’Elanna needed answers, and she knew where to find them.
Rapping her comm badge, she shouted over the ruckus, "Engineering to Bridge!"
Angrily, she pounded on her badge. "Bridge, respond!"
"Internal communications must be down!" she shouted.
She thought for a moment, cursing herself for not having an immediate solution.
‘There has to be a way,’ she told herself. ‘There has to be …"
The memory of watching Lieutenant Carey climb into the Jefferies tube came to her.
Knowing full well that he probably had other destinations in mind, B’Elanna pushed her way through her crew, crossing over to the mouth of the open tube. "Carey!" she yelled into the dimly lit crawlspace.
After a quick second, he replied, "What is it, lieutenant?"
Thankful that he had heard her over the activity’s roar, B’Elanna exclaimed, "Internal communications are down! The Bridge isn’t responding!"
"After a hit like that," Carey shouted back, now deep within Voyager’s engineering systems, "I’m surprised we still have life support!"
To her pleasant surprise, she had come to have a special appreciation for Carey. After all, he was the man she had bested for the Chief Engineer’s position, and, thankfully, he didn’t carry a grudge. For that trait alone, she was eternally grateful to the man, but, as they worked together over the last five years, he turned out to be the perfect engineering counterpart to bounce ideas off. She admired his expertise, his commitment, and his professionalism. In fact, she relied on them, far more than he would ever know.
"Lieutenant," she tried, "since you’re in there, see if you can restore communications! We must establish contact with the rest of the ship! I want damage reports from all decks on all systems! More importantly, we need to know if whatever hit us is coming around for another pass!"
"Aye, chief!" he shouted back. "But, in all honesty, you might have better luck taking a lift to the Bridge! Almost all of the conduits I can see in here have broken loose from their housing! If I don’t stabilize the fluctuations in the inertial dampeners immediately, communications with the Bridge won’t mean a damn! We’ll all be nothing more than carbon-based jelly splattered against the Engineering walls!"
Trying to maintain her calm, she replied, "Understood!"
Suddenly, her comm badge crackled angrily at her.
A frantic voice tried breaking through the white noise.
Someone was trying to communicate with her!
Responding, she tapped the badge. "This is Torres!" she reported, ignoring the reality that the comm line sounded as if it were being filtered through a wind tunnel. "I’m in Engineering. We’re doing everything we can to get a plasma leak under control. Please repeat your last message!"
Then, she forgot her training.
She feared that the broken, indiscernible, electronic voice belonged to Tom Paris.
Her beloved Tom …
"Tom?" she asked. "Tom, is that you?"
When she received no reply, she headed for the Main Engineering Console. From there, she’d patch directly into to her Bridge Station, hoping that an alternate communication lines might be operational …
… but, before she reached the port, the unit burst, exploding into a blossom of sparks, flame, and plasma lightning! The explosion’s gush of heat washed over her, and she brought her arms up to protect herself, letting the gale force her back to the core railing.
"Dammit!" she spat, preferring good old-fashioned Earth slang for the benefit of the crew around her.
Opening her eyes, she slapped her hands to the rail and gripped it tight enough to leave the impressions of her fingertips.
Beneath her feet, Voyager trembled again.
Fearing the worst, she steadied herself against the core railing.
"What the hell is going on?!"
Undoubtedly, she trusted the only answer to that question would be found on the Bridge.