Act of War by Seema

Author's note: This story is part of the "Glory Days" universe and takes place approximately one month after the events in "The Sweetest Days" by yours truly. My gratitude to Rocky for allowing me to play in her sandbox and also for her wonderful beta of this story. Feedback welcomed at

Warning: This story features violence and/or drastic events that may be disturbing to some readers.


"Because I could not stop for Death -
He kindly stopped for me -
The carriage held but just ourselves
And immortality."

~ Emily Dickinson


As B'Elanna Torres regained consciousness, she realized she was lying on the floor. Smoke stung her eyes and nostrils as she struggled into a sitting position. Klaxons echoed loudly through the smoky corridors of the USS Minuteman. It had been years since B'Elanna had heard that particular sound and frankly, she hadn't missed it in the slightest.

B'Elanna leaned back against the wall, her eyes focusing on the safety doors that had permanently sealed Engineering off from the rest of the ship. She had been on her way to the Bridge when the first torpedo had slammed into the Minuteman. Once she'd regained her balance, B'Elanna had returned to Engineering, knowing she'd be of more use there than on the Bridge. She'd barely reached her station when the second torpedo hit, causing a hull breach on deck five. The third torpedo, which impacted only moments later, badly damaged the primary plasma routing conduits on the Minuteman, including the rear ducts.

B'Elanna had immediately grasped the seriousness of the situation as she'd scanned the preliminary damage reports. The overheated plasma in the ducts meant not only was radiation leaking throughout the ship, but also that the warp core was in danger of immediate implosion. As a rule, Starfleet engineers ejected the warp core only as a measure of last resort but in this particular instance, B'Elanna had seen no alternative; warp core failure was imminent and her 'quick fixes' would not hold long enough to get the Minuteman to space dock.

She had given her people exactly sixty seconds to evacuate Engineering and after entering the proper authorization codes, she had begun the ejection sequence. She'd given herself just thirty seconds to get out of Engineering, rolling beneath the closing safety doors with barely a few centimeters to spare.

B'Elanna glanced once again at the safety doors and tapped her comm badge, hailing the captain to let him know that the warp core had been successfully ejected. The comlink crackled with static, but B'Elanna managed to get the salient points across. She then returned her attention to the engineers congregating in the corridor. Some were standing, others sitting and a couple appeared to be seriously injured. A few looked absolutely terrified and B'Elanna was once again reminded how young some of these engineers were and that many of them were on their first tour of duty.

"Did everyone make it out in time?" B'Elanna asked, coughing slightly as she tried to clear her throat.

"Everyone who could did," a voice responded. B'Elanna's vision blurred slightly and she felt nauseated as she turned slightly to look at the speaker. Elton Bernie, ensign, Engineering track, first tour of duty. "We didn't leave anyone behind, Commander. Not anyone who could be saved, that is."

B'Elanna decided she would ask for a casualty report later.

"Good." B'Elanna struggled to stand. "All right, people. We've got work to do." Her head spun as she leaned against the wall. She was also aware of a pain - a very sharp one - in her right leg. She had a dim memory of being thrown across Engineering during the initial attack and banging her knee against a steel cabinet. "We've practiced the emergency drills before. You know where to go and you know what to do. Split up into teams of two and three." Her throat was so dry it was difficult to project the confidence she *knew* her team needed to hear from her. She licked her lips before continuing to speak. "We need to enforce the lower decks. The hull integrity-" her voice trailed off as she saw a vaguely familiar figure approaching her through the smoke.

She took a step forward, almost in disbelief.

"You look like hell, Maquis," Harry Kim said as he stood in front of B'Elanna. She swayed slightly as she reached for him, wondering if he was real. He wrapped his arm around her waist, steadying her. The solid feel of Harry's arm supporting her assured B'Elanna that she wasn't hallucinating.

"I could say the same about you," B'Elanna retorted as she took a quick look at her friend. His uniform was dusty, smudges of ash streaked across his face and his hair was standing on end. "It starts out as just another day on the Neutral Zone and then all hell breaks loose. What happened?"

"Another misunderstanding, you might say."

"Must have been one hell of a misunderstanding," B'Elanna said, recalling the explosions that had torn through the ship. "Let me guess, the Romulans?"

"Yup, for which you can thank the Ponzi," Harry said, referring to the raiders that were the cause of the recent troubles between the Federation and the Romulans.

B'Elanna groaned. "What did they do *now*?"

"The usual. The Ponzi were up to their old tricks and we figured we'd better warn them off before the Romulans decided to take matters into their own hands. But there appears to have been a miscalculation in the trajectory when the Amherst actually fired. The torpedo ended up crossing the Neutral Zone and hitting a Romulan freighter. Or at least, the Romulans *claim* it's a freighter." Harry shook his head in disbelief. "The Romulans decided to retaliate. They disabled the Amherst pretty quickly and then when the Minuteman came to the rescue, we received an equally warm Romulan welcome as well. Thanks to the their new dispersion technologies, our shields didn't stand a chance. Not to mention, their warbirds outnumber our ships. That second explosion you heard -"

"Was the hull breach on deck five," B'Elanna finished off the sentence. Each Romulan missile had been aimed perfectly, just enough to cause serious damage to the Minuteman, but not enough to destroy the ship. And hopefully the Romulans had finished their target practice for the day; B'Elanna knew that the ship would not survive another torpedo. She took a deep breath. "On deck five... did- did everyone...?"

Harry shook his head. "Five crewmen were lost. They were sucked out when hull integrity collapsed. They-" Harry looked at B'Elanna, a pained expression crossing his face - "were doing their best to reinforce the shielding."

All of B'Elanna's engineers had been with her in Engineering. The people on deck five had been regular crewmen, the ones who performed routine maintenance. While they had had the skills to manually reinforce integrity, they wouldn't have had the speed or smoothness of the highly trained engineers. But in a battle situation like this, it was impossible to second guess who would have been better equipped to handle the crisis.

"All right," B'Elanna said, resolutely pushing away any thought of the crewmen who were irretrievably lost. She coughed slightly. "I'd better get to work. If this ship is going to stay space worthy for any amount of time, I need to reinforce the force fields, not to mention, reroute major systems." She glanced over her shoulder at the heavy doors sealing off Engineering. "But I'll have to attempt it from a Jefferies tube, not from here."

"You may find it difficult to get to a clear junction," Harry said. "Debris is blocking the way to the turbolifts on this deck. And even if we could get there, the turbolifts gave out on deck nine. I had to hike down the last two decks to get here. Are you up for it, B'Elanna?" His glance darted down to the tear in the leg of her uniform.

B'Elanna set her jaw. "It's just a bruise. Let's go."

As per her orders, the other engineers had already dispersed, the more critically wounded to sickbay, and the others to various tasks around the ship. "Tasks" was the understatement of the year, B'Elanna thought sardonically; the work in front of them was more Herculean than not. It was only then she looked at Harry, at the three pips on his collar.

"What are you doing here?" she asked abruptly. "You should be aboard the Livingston, not here. And if I recall correctly, the Livingston is at least two hours from our current position."

"Admiral Janeway had a few things to discuss with Captain Phillips in person," Harry answered. His arm was steady around B'Elanna's shoulders as he helped her move forward. "And she asked me to accompany her. It was a last minute request or I would have let you know ahead of time that we were coming. We shuttled over about an hour ago. We'd just made ourselves comfortable on the Bridge when the Amherst fired off the warning shot. You might say that we had the best seats in the house to witness the Romulans' latest burst of pyrotechnics." B'Elanna stumbled, wincing with pain. Harry grabbed her arm and she leaned heavily against him, grateful for the support. "Careful there," he said.

B'Elanna nodded as she managed to sidestep some debris in the hall. She took quick shallow breaths in a futile attempt to avoid inhaling the fumes, which were slowly filling the corridor. Dust sprinkled down on them.

"I heard the preliminary damage report you relayed to Phillips on the Bridge after the first torpedo hit," Harry went on, "and given how dire the situation sounded, I thought I'd come down and give you a hand. It'll be just like old times, right, B'Elanna?"

B'Elanna tried to smile as they came to a four-way junction in the corridor. Teams of medical personnel were making their way through; one medic had stopped to administer first aid to a lieutenant who was curled up in obvious pain on the floor. Harry spoke briefly to one of the nurses and managed to procure a hypospray.

"Here you go," Harry said as he pressed the hypospray against B'Elanna's neck. "This should help with the pain, but I'm afraid we're going to have to wait in line for anything more substantial."

B'Elanna, already feeling much better, nodded. The injured lieutenant had several life-threatening injuries and was obviously in much more need of medical attention than B'Elanna.

"Thanks," B'Elanna said. She handed the hypospray back and the two continued their way down the corridor. They were halfway to the Jefferies tube when B'Elanna stopped.

"Give me a second," B'Elanna said as she turned to the panel directly in front of her. She traced her finger over the schematics of the Minuteman as she studied some of the more important junctions; about half of them had collapsed and some were filled with toxic fumes, debris or were exposed to space, thus rendering them unreachable. Thankfully, life support systems were still functioning but the transporters had been rendered inoperable. She glanced up at Harry. "What's your assessment, Harry?"

"All you need is a little bit of spit, string and chewing gum," Harry said confidently, referring to the oft mentioned "fix" for Voyager's many repairs. "In other words, nothing I don't think you and your engineers can't handle. At any rate, if you just enforce hull integrity as you were saying before and bring the shields back online, I believe we can hold out for a few more hours."

"I was hoping you'd say that. I was thinking exactly the same thing," B'Elanna said, mentally prioritizing repairs. "We can make repairs from here." She pointed to Jefferies tube twelve, section A9. This was a major conduit and one from which life support and other major systems could be accessed. If nothing else, B'Elanna was determined to reroute systems to the Bridge and surrounding areas. It would give the crew a safe place to wait for help, "safe" being purely relative. "Let's go."

Harry turned the corner, pulling off the panel of the adjoining Jeffries tube. They were on deck seven. Five floors to get to where they wanted to be. He stepped aside to let B'Elanna crawl in first. She groaned, as piercing pain shot through her leg.

"Are you going to make it, B'Elanna?"

"I'm fine." She gingerly shifted her weight, gritting her teeth. Her Klingon physiology made it possible for her to bear more pain than a human, but that still didn't negate the fact that her leg hurt like hell. She bit back another moan. "Really, Harry, I'm fine."

"Not from where I'm standing."

"Then move," B'Elanna snapped. She inched her way forward. She stopped when she saw one of her engineers struggling to yank a panel off the wall. As the engineer leaned forward, wires sparked, and the man yelped in pain.

"Are you all right?" B'Elanna asked as she reached him. The lieutenant, Drei Roberts, nodded as he ruefully stuck his fingers in his mouth.

"I'll be fine, Commander," he responded. He pointed at the intricate circuitry in front of him. "I'm manually redirecting power reserves to compensate for the decompression on deck five."

B'Elanna quickly checked his work over. "Looks good to me, Lieutenant."

"Thanks. Where are you heading?"

B'Elanna glanced back at Harry before responding. "Deck twelve."

"That's quite a way from here, Commander," Roberts said. "And not at all easy going. There's a lot of smoke, radiation and debris. Not to mention, about half of the tubes have collapsed on the upper decks. I barely got out of one tube before it came tumbling down."

"Thanks for the warning," B'Elanna said. "But I think we're going to have to chance it." The lieutenant shifted his position so that B'Elanna and Harry could crawl past him. It was slow going and the metal grill lining the bottom of the tubes were arduous on the knees. She stopped briefly to check if Harry was following her; sure enough, he was right behind her.

A loud crash - and then a scream - echoed through the Jefferies tube. B'Elanna paused. The sound came from behind them. A look back at Harry confirmed that the collapse indeed had happened in the section where Lieutenant Roberts had been working.

"We'd better hurry," B'Elanna said, trying to sound calm as she fought the urge to turn back and check up on Roberts. The collapse of the Jefferies tube confirmed B'Elanna's deepest fears: the two hull breaches had seriously compromised structural integrity and without the warp core, the Minuteman would be unable to get to help on its own. She assumed that the other three ships patrolling the Neutral Zone would probably have their hands full with dealing with Ponzi antics and Romulans rage; it could be hours before rescue vessels arrived. She stopped crawling as a thought occurred to her. "Harry, did the Amherst cross into the Neutral Zone to warn off the Ponzi?"

"Why are you asking?"

"Because I need to know." She was breathing heavily now. No longer in fine physical form, the way she had been on Voyager; her exercise regimen these days had been reduced to chasing two active children around the house. "And because you said we went in after the Amherst when the Romulans fired on it. In that case, *we're* also in the Neutral Zone, and if a rescue ship crosses over, that gives the Romulans yet another reason to fire upon us and the Minuteman *can't* take another hit." She licked her parched lips, wishing desperately for a glass of water.

"I doubt that the Romulans are keen to destroy the Minuteman. It'd suit their purposes better to capture the ship and salvage the technology on the ship for themselves. The Mars class vessels are the most technologically advanced in Starfleet. Not to mention, with sixty or so prisoners of war, including an admiral of considerable stature, the Romulans would have plenty of leverage to negotiate terms with the Federation."

"Does that mean - Is the peace process officially dead?" B'Elanna asked. She coughed, her throat feeling increasingly raw. "Are we at war now?"

"The Romulans' attack on the Amherst and the Minuteman could be constituted an act of war, yes," Harry said cautiously.

"Even though the Amherst fired first?"

"It's a matter of interpretation," Harry said. "No doubt the Romulans consider the destruction of their 'freighter' an official declaration of war by the Federation, but our stance is that it was a mistake."

"A stupid and potentially deadly mistake," B'Elanna said. She resumed crawling. "We all know how jumpy the Romulans are and how much they're itching for a showdown with the Federation. What the hell was Captain Brandon thinking, firing off a warning shot at the Ponzi so close to the Neutral Zone in the first place? Why not just open hailing channels?"

"The Ponzi aren't exactly receptive to what we have to say. If they were, we wouldn't have this 'conflict' in the first place," Harry said wryly. "You can be sure when this is all over, HQ will have a full investigation into the trajectory miscalculation."

"And the Admiral? What was her response?"

"One word. 'Damn.'" Harry's voice, a mixture of humor and respect, was a perfect imitation of Janeway. "To say Janeway is furious would be an understatement. All of her hard work over the last two months gone to pot in just a matter of minutes. You can be sure that there will be hell to pay when Janeway finally gets her hands on the captain of the Amherst."

B'Elanna reached the main junction. Relieved to finally be able to stand upright, she took a moment to catch her breath and then to contemplate the ladder reaching up to the upper decks of the Minuteman. Dimly, B'Elanna wondered how much time had passed since they first entered the Jefferies tube and whether trying to reach the main systems routing conduit was the best option open to them.

*You never gave up on Voyager, B'Elanna, don't start now.*

The ship shuddered violently just as B'Elanna reached for the bottom rung of the ladder. She held on, her knuckles whitening from the effort. Below them, they could hear creaking and somewhere, the echo of metal striking metal was evidence enough that yet another part of the ship's infrastructure had collapsed. The lights in the shaft flickered. Finally, the ship stopped shaking and B'Elanna turned to look at Harry.

"Not another hit, just the aftershocks," Harry said, sounding relieved. He considered. "But I wouldn't be surprised if we just lost a major computer system or two."

"Great," B'Elanna said, knowing that Harry was probably right. She stared up at the endless ladder. "All right. Start climbing, Starfleet."

"Anything you say, Maquis," Harry said. He grinned. "But technically, I outrank you. I've been a lieutenant commander far longer than you have."

B'Elanna looked down at Harry, glaring at him in mock fury. True, she had only received her pips the day before the Minuteman had left spacedock, when Captain Philips had granted her a temporary field commission. The actual rank was determined by her previous service on board Voyager. Her thoughts drifted to Tom, who had attended the quick ceremony, and how afterwards, they'd gone out to dinner, just the two of them. She had shipped out the next morning at 0500 hours, and Tom had insisted on coming to see her off, despite the early hour. B'Elanna bit her lip as she continued to climb. *Don't think about that now. Just one hand after another, one rung at a time.*

"But when it comes to engineering, of course you know better," Harry said.

"Good save, Starfleet." B'Elanna choked as they continued to climb. The smell of smoke was stronger as they went higher; there had to be a fire nearby and she wondered dimly if the fire suppression systems had finally failed; that particular circuitry had been hardwired through environmental controls, which had been showing signs of strains during her quick check outside of Engineering. "Just another deck to go, Harry."

"Right behind you, B'Elanna."

She pulled herself into the conduit, moving over so Harry could plop down next to her. The grid on the wall showed that they were in section A7. Only two more sections to go. Piece of cake, B'Elanna thought, borrowing an expression she'd heard Tom use so often. The ship shuddered again, throwing them up against the curved wall of the tube. When B'Elanna opened her eyes, she saw Harry bleeding.

"Harry," she said in distress, reaching out to touch him.

"It's all right. I'm fine." He put a hand to his forehead and his fingers came away sticky and red.

"You don't look fine to me," B'Elanna said. She ripped a strip of material off the cuffs of her pants and used it to dab at Harry's forehead. She was relieved to see that the cut itself wasn't too deep, but she was concerned about the possibility of a concussion. "Harry-"

"You take care of yourself, B'Elanna," Harry barked. "That's an order."

B'Elanna stared at him. "Harry-"

"Keep going, B'Elanna. We're running out of time."

Knowing he was right, B'Elanna nodded and turned back, crawling as quickly as she could. Time was running out, she knew. She could hear Harry behind her, his breathing labored. At one point, she could hear him retching.

They finally reached the section of the Jefferies tube that contained the control panel for the main support systems. Environmental controls, life support, primary diagnostics and other major functions ran through this particular workstation. Feeling relieved to finally be doing something, B'Elanna ran a quick scan of the ship's major systems. Next to her, Harry was breathing deeply, a sheen of perspiration across his forehead, his eyes half-closed. She tried not to look at him, his earlier outburst still ringing in her ears.

"We've lost life support in two out of thirteen decks so far beginning at deck three," B'Elanna said as she quickly rerouted the necessary power couplings. "And we're about to lose it in two more. At least it's going sequentially and not intermittently. But you were right about that last aftershock. It took out at least two or three major routing junctions." She sighed. "We're going to have to start cutting power deck by deck if we're going to get through this in one piece." She could see from the readouts that force fields had been erected all over the ship to compensate for the hull breaches and weakening structural integrity. B'Elanna felt a swell pride for her engineers; most of them might be young and new to Starfleet, but they had done an excellent job under particularly grueling circumstances; it was a marvel that the Minuteman had managed to stay space-worthy after sustaining three hits from the Romulans. "I'll do it from here. You better get going, Harry. See if you can make it to Sickbay and get that cut looked at."

"I'm not going anywhere."

"This isn't the time to play hero, Harry. You need to get out of here."

Harry shook his head. "You need me, B'Elanna. You can't do this alone."

"It's just a push of a few buttons and then I promise, I'm going to leave."

"And who is going to help you out when you discontinue life support from this deck? You're not going to have much time to get out of here before the oxygen runs out."

B'Elanna didn't answer him; she was staring at the LCD screen in front of her. The dancing red dots had captured her attention. The backup generators were still holding for the moment but B'Elanna noticed that an entire section on deck six had gone completely black.

"I'm not going anywhere," Harry continued, oblivious to what B'Elanna was looking at. "If nothing else, Tom's going to kill me if he found out I left you behind with a bad leg."

"Don't be stupid, Starfleet." But truth be told, B'Elanna was glad Harry planned on staying; much as she didn't want to admit it, she would definitely need his help once she discontinued life support. On the other hand, she eyed Harry's head wound with trepidation. Who was going to help whom here? She decided she didn't want to think about it.

The ship shuddered again, the floor beneath them slightly buckling. Visible seams appeared as bolts snapped free from their moldings. A few meters away, a sheet of metal paneling popped free from the wall, landing on the floor with a dull clank.

"Move!" B'Elanna screamed, pushing Harry to the side just before a section of the Jefferies tube collapsed only a few centimeters from where Harry had been sitting. Dust filled the tube. B'Elanna wiped a hand across her eyes, trying to clear her vision. Her head was pounding worse than before now and she felt dizzy.

"I owe you one," Harry gasped.

"I guess that takes care of the decision of who's staying," B'Elanna said wryly. "Might as well make yourself comfortable, Harry. We may be here for a while." She nudged at the steel beam blocking their path; it was intractable.

Harry grimaced, but said nothing. They heard another loud crack and in the distance, a scream. B'Elanna stiffened.

"I've lost my nerve for this kind of thing," she said, more to herself than to Harry. She had been doing her best to keep focused; on Voyager, she had often found herself in situations worse than this, but this *wasn't* the Delta Quadrant. She had never imagined that the Romulans would actually *fire* upon a Federation ship; she had always assumed that all of the pugnacious talk between the Romulans and the Federation was exactly that - just talk. And now the Romulans had the perfect opportunity to show off their new weaponry to the Federation. A show of force, but one B'Elanna was starting to realize, had very real consequences. The Minuteman was a sitting duck without shields and without weapons. It seemed peculiar that the Romulans hadn't come back to finish off the job. Another missile or two would be all it would take to completely destroy the ship. Even if they could get to the escape pods from here, B'Elanna knew that the small craft would be easy pickings for the Romulans warbirds.

*We should be dead.* B'Elanna's stomach lurched. She swallowed, the bitter taste of bile stinging her already sore throat. She mentally calculated the stresses on the ship, knowing what had collapsed so far, she knew that there was no guarantee that this tube would hold up for much longer. The next major junction was ten sections away, but there was no telling what they would find when they got there.

"What do you think?" B'Elanna asked quietly as she glanced to her right. The way was still clear. "Want to chance staying and finishing the job or take off now?"

Harry followed her look. "What's your assessment?"

"Good news or bad news?"

Harry shrugged.

"The force fields holding the ship together will give out sooner, rather than later, and given the recent collapses, my guess is that the fields are already failing," B'Elanna said. "You know that just as well as I do. That's the bad news. The good news is that it appears the Bridge didn't sustain as much damage as the rest of the ship."

"I see."

"As I was proposing before, if we turn off life support to all decks except for one, we may be able to keep our people safe there," B'Elanna said. She took a deep breath. "Every additional deck is a drain on resources and this ship needs all the juice it can get if it has any hope of staying together until help arrives."

**** part 1 ****

"Right," Harry said. He knit his fingers together as he stared at the panel in front of B'Elanna. "Sounds like a plan to me."

B'Elanna hit her communicator. "Torres to Phillips."

"Phillips here." The signal was scratchy at best and B'Elanna suspected that the comm system would be the next one to give out; it was one of the few systems on board that lacked redundancy features outside of deck one where the Bridge was located. "Where are you, B'Elanna?"

"Jefferies tube 12, section A9. I'm rerouting all life support to the Bridge and surrounding areas. I'd suggest evacuations to deck one now if they haven't already begun."

"Security is already taking care of it," Phillips replied. His voice was faded, as if carrying over a great distance. "When will you get here?"

"We're going to do our best, Captain," B'Elanna said, glancing at Harry. "But we're blocked in at the moment and it may take some doing to get out of here."

"Understood." There was a scratchy silence and then Phillips continued, "Admiral Janeway is negotiating with the Romulans now, trying to resolve this situation, B'Elanna. They seem-" Phillips were cut off as the comlink crackled with static. The ship lurched wildly, causing Harry and B'Elanna to slip down the tube. Wires sparked and the smell of burning plastics filled the Jefferies tube. B'Elanna clawed frantically at the metal grating on the floor of the tube, trying to gain some purchase with her fingers. Every muscle in her body ached as she struggled to keep from slipping further. The ship lolled and then banked abruptly to the right before ceasing to move. B'Elanna's head throbbed as she pulled herself back into her previous position. She glanced at Harry; his face was ashen.

"What was that?" B'Elanna asked. She gulped, fighting the urge to throw up. "Another aftershock?"

"That was a bad one," Harry said. He tapped his communicator. "Kim to Janeway." No response. Harry tried again as B'Elanna turned to look at her flickering LCD.

"It's no use," she said. "The comm system is down on this deck." She swallowed, trying to wet her parched throat, as she surveyed the rest of the diagnostic. Deck six was now completely dark. "But it looks like the Bridge made it through," she said in relief, pressing her finger against the flickering dot that represented the Bridge. "Many of the key systems there, including life support, are still operable."

"That's good news," Harry said. "It means Janeway can continue her negotiations."

B'Elanna nodded as she slumped against the rounded wall. She was uncommonly exhausted and sleepy; perhaps it was an effect of the smoke, now snaking its way through the Jefferies tubes. *Stay awake, B'Elanna, stay awake!*

"B'Elanna!" Harry gripped her shoulder.

"You don't happen to have another hypospray anywhere on you, do you?" B'Elanna asked. She rubbed her aching wrist and then gingerly touched the injured knee. It was definitely more than just a bruise. Only a sprain, if she was lucky, but she suspected, from the increasing intensity of the pain, that the knee injury was much, much worse. She turned her attention back to the diagnostic. "How's your head, Harry?"

"I'll live," he said through gritted teeth. He was lying on his back, his arms across his chest. A thin line of blood trickled out the edge of his mouth. "Don't worry about me. Just do what you have to." After a second, he rolled onto his stomach and crawled to sit next to her.

"I'm glad to hear it because I don't want to have to drag your sorry ass through these corridors," B'Elanna said, her tone as light as she could possibly make it. She ran another scan. Force fields were still holding, but she could see now that the comm system was failing throughout the ship. She estimated that within twenty minutes, shipboard communications would be restricted to the Bridge, best-case scenario. "After all, you're the higher ranking officer." She inched over, giving Harry more room to look at the control panel. Harry's fingers ran lightly over the keys, not exerting enough pressure to press any of them. "Put those shiny new pips to work, Harry."

Harry didn't respond immediately to her joking. He was staring at the screen, evidently transfixed by the diagnostics that revealed the ship's dying sections.

"Harry?" B'Elanna asked. "Are you all right?" She fully expected him to reply that he was fine; it might not be the truth, but that *was* the routine, wasn't it? But this time, Harry shook his head.

"I'm thinking about Captain Phillips," he said finally. "And Admiral Janeway. About what they must be going through."

Instinctively, B'Elanna knew Harry was referring to those who had been killed - including the crewmen who had been sucked out into space in their efforts to hold the ship together. She wondered about her engineers, the ones who had gone to the lower decks; surely they would know by now to evacuate. Surely...

"As much as I want a command of my own, I'm not sure *this* is what I want. I'm not necessarily sure I could *order* my crew to make sacrifices. As for me, I can do whatever it takes. That doesn't bother me. It's asking someone else to do it, that's the problem."

"That's understandable. But remember, Starfleet officers take an oath when they enter service to give up their lives in the line of duty if it should come to that." B'Elanna's thoughts inadvertently went back to Engineering. They'd told her everyone had gotten out, but was that the truth? Or were they just saying that to make her feel better? I should have stayed behind and double-checked, B'Elanna thought, sudden regret stabbing at her. How the hell could she have just turned and run like that without first making sure that all of her people were out?

"I envy how calm the Captain always seems," Harry said. He put his hand on top of B'Elanna's. His palm was cool, clammy, to the touch. "If our positions were reversed, I'm not so sure that I could project that same confidence."

"But you did when the Hirogen took over Voyager and turned it into a bloody playground. We owe our lives to you and your nerves of steel."

"That was different. I had no choice."

"A commanding officer never has a choice either." B'Elanna leaned forward to tap another few buttons. Yet another deck went dark. A few more and she would cut off life support to their current position. "You do what you have to and then you evaluate the consequences later."

"Would you consider command?"

B'Elanna shook her head. "No, Harry." She bit her lip. "Remember, my field commission is temporary. Once I'm out of here, I'm going back to civilian contracting."

Harry put his arm around her shoulder, pulling her close. "For what it's worth, I know Tom would be very proud of you right at this moment."

B'Elanna didn't answer him. Instead, she pushed another button. Deck seven went dark. Already, she was starting to feel cold; she had left her uniform jacket behind in Engineering where she'd shrugged it off in the heat and intensity of the crucial minutes following the attack. In a few minutes, it would be colder still.

"We make a good team, don't we?" Harry asked.

"The best," B'Elanna said. A crash to their left signified that yet another section of the Jefferies tube had collapsed, thus sealing off any possibility of escape. Desperately, B'Elanna continued, "Remember that time - I think it was during our sixth year in the Delta Quadrant - when you and I went to look for dilithium in the Delta Flyer? You ejected, but I crashed." B'Elanna took a deep breath, regretting it almost immediately; the air was acrid and foul-smelling. "I honestly thought I was doomed to spend the rest of my days on that planet spinning stories about 'shining Voyager, far from home' in order to earn my bread. But then you came along and rescued me."

"You were doing pretty well on your own, if I remember correctly. You certainly managed to charm Kelis into doing your bidding, not to mention, you averted a war."

"Yes, but if you hadn't shown up, I'd probably still be there, hiding out in the Delta Flyer with Kelis the poet as my only company."

"I doubt it. You would have found a way to repair the Flyer and you would have come home to Voyager. You always come up with solutions, B'Elanna. It's always been a matter of time with you."

B'Elanna shrugged, wrapping her arms around herself. Harry saw the movement.

"Are you cold?" he asked in concern.

"A little," she admitted. Somehow, in the small space, Harry managed to remove his jacket. He handed it to B'Elanna.


"I can't take that, Harry. I'm sure you feel the cold as well."

"Not as much as you do and it's going to get a lot colder in here," Harry said. "Go on, take it."

B'Elanna took the jacket and put it on. "Thanks."

"No problem. Tom has told me about the fights you two had about the ambient temperature in your quarters."

B'Elanna looked at Harry in annoyance. "I thought we were talking about what a great team we make."

"Right," Harry said. He leaned back, closing his eyes. "I just need a minute, B'Elanna."

That didn't surprise B'Elanna; the smoke was getting thicker and it was getting harder to think clearly under these circumstances. She glanced to the right, wondering if she could somehow begin to clear the debris blocking them in.

"Don't fall asleep on me, Harry," B'Elanna said fiercely. "You've got a head injury so you've got to stay awake. That's an order."

"You can't order me around anymore, Maquis. Remember? I outrank you." His speech was slow, the words slightly slurred.

"A well-deserved promotion," B'Elanna said desperately in an attempt to keep Harry's attention focused on her. She leaned forward to tap another button. Deck nine was now completely dark. "I see a glorious future for you, Harry. One day, we'll be calling you captain. Maybe even admiral." She turned her head to look at Harry, smiling. "Admiral Kim. It has a nice ring to it, don't you agree?"

"Yes. Sounds pretty good to me." Harry lolled his head slightly to the side. "And I'm pretty damn lucky; I got lessons in diplomacy from the best in the business. Can't ask for anything more than to be able to follow Kathryn Janeway around for two months."

"You'll make a terrific captain," B'Elanna said. She reached over and clasped Harry's hand in her own. "And when it comes to making the difficult decisions, I know you'll be able to do it. With compassion and integrity. All those things that I've always admired about you, Harry." She smiled slightly. "When you make admiral, I hope you'll still take the time to talk to us little people."

"I don't forget my friends, B'Elanna."

"No, but we *have* drifted apart." B'Elanna pressed her lips together as she pressed another button. Deck ten no longer had life support. "It's understandable. We've all got our own lives. You and Janeway work as if everything in Starfleet depends upon you. Chakotay and Seven, they're always off to their next great adventure. I can hardly keep track of the two of them. The Doctor has his medical research and the courses he teaches at the Academy. And Tuvok, he's got a full and rewarding life on Vulcan. I know it's not intentional, this distance that has grown between us all, but I regret it. Staying on Voyager for seventy years, that wouldn't have been so bad now, would it have been?"

"No," Harry said finally. "Not if it meant we would all still be together. But you, B'Elanna, you've got a great life. A really great life."

B'Elanna concentrated on the panel in front of her; there was nothing left to monitor but she felt better *pretending* that she was focusing on something other than the wistful expression on Harry's face.

"You've got it all," Harry said. His fingers instinctively went to the pips on his collar, fingering them absentmindedly as he spoke. "Family, kids, a job you love... and someone who loves you."

"Yeah, I've got it all- but that just means so much more to lose." The words slipped out before B'Elanna could catch herself. She inhaled deeply, focusing her gaze once more on the brightly flashing panel in front of her.

"I live in two rooms on a starship," Harry continued, seemingly not having heard B'Elanna. "My entire life is regimented by Starfleet and every night, I come home to empty quarters. Would it have been different if we had stayed in the DQ? I don't know. It could be awfully lonely out there sometimes, despite having each other. I'm still lonely now." Harry gave a brief, humorless laugh. "At least here in the AQ, I got a promotion."

"It sounds like you got what you always dreamed of on Voyager," B'Elanna said softly, "but it doesn't make you happy."

"It's a different kind of 'happy.'"

"What will it take, Harry? To get you to where you want to be?"

Harry pressed his lips together, grimacing. "I don't know the answer to that question. I wish I did. And now I'm afraid it may be too late."

"Don't think like that. You're going to have a really great life when we get out of here," B'Elanna said vehemently. "I'm sorry it didn't work out with Libby, but there will be someone else. A great guy like you, how can it be otherwise?"

"Well, you know how it goes. Libby wanted to have a life, I wanted a career," Harry said. He didn't sound bitter, merely reflective. "And we'd both changed so much over seven years. You can't force two people to fit together, no matter how much you both want the relationship to work out. At least we both came to that realization at the same time and without recriminations. And we still managed to preserve our friendship. That counts for something."

"It counts for a lot," B'Elanna said wistfully. "At the end of the day, a job is simply a job and it's the people whom you come home to when the work day is finished who make it all worthwhile. That's what I miss most about Voyager. During the difficult adjustment period, when the Maquis and Starfleet had to learn to be one crew instead of two separate groups, we still managed to have respect for each other and over time, that grew into something more. I never imagined that I would find people I cared about so deeply nor did I expect for them to feel the same about me." B'Elanna sighed. "That kind of camaraderie is missing from the Minuteman. Maybe it's because we've only been together for a month, but I don't feel that same spark, that same vitality."

"Yeah," Harry said feelingly. "The Livingston is the same way. I've made a few friends, but nothing like the friendship I had with you and Tom on Voyager."

"Stop using the past tense, Harry," B'Elanna said sharply. "We're *still* friends."

"Of course."

She shivered. It was getting terribly cold and she was having a hard time keeping her teeth from chattering. Harry pulled B'Elanna close, wrapping his arm around her shoulders.

"Stay with me, Maquis," he said softly.

"I'm not going anywhere, don't worry."

"We *are* going to get out of here." He sighed. "And to answer your earlier question, yes, the Minuteman did cross into the Neutral Zone when it came to the aid of the Amherst. The Amherst's navigational systems were disabled when the Romulans first retaliated and it somehow drifted into the Neutral Zone and we followed. Janeway was convinced that she could persuade the Romulans that the destruction of their 'freighter' was a mistake, but they were less than pleased when the Minuteman crossed over to rescue the Amherst."

"And that's when the Romulans took aim at us?" B'Elanna groaned as she shifted her position.


B'Elanna imagined the Starfleet Admiralty arguing over what would be done now with the crippled Minuteman. There weren't that many options. Leave the Minuteman and Amherst in the Neutral Zone and hope the two ships would somehow limp back to Federation territory on their own power? The Neutral Zone was only one light year wide, but without a warp core, there was no way the Minuteman could cover the distance to Federation territory, which left the second option: send another ship in after them and risk yet another confrontation with the Romulans. There was a third alternative: sacrifice both the Amherst and the Minuteman in order to avoid further hostilities with the Romulans. And then of course, the outcome that was looking more and more inevitable: that the faulty systems on the Minuteman would eventually cause the ship to explode. By the concerned expression on Harry's face, B'Elanna guessed that he had probably been musing through the intricacies of the dilemma as well.

"You're the command track officer," B'Elanna muttered. She was finding it hard to focus her thoughts and her vision was blurring, whether from smoke or from something else, she didn't know. "What would you do? Take the risk and rescue the Minuteman, let the ship figure out her own course of action, or perhaps sacrifice sixty people in the name of peace?"

Harry leaned back, considering. "Neither."


"Like I said, I learned from the best. There's always another option. Janeway taught me that."

"And that would be?"

"Pull both ships out of the Neutral Zone so that it can be recovered without further stirring up the Romulans."

"That would require-"

"Amplifying a tractor beam to extend over the Neutral Zone and pull the Minuteman and the Amherst to safety," Harry said promptly. "At minimum power requirements and velocity, of course."

B'Elanna raised an eyebrow. "Don't look now, Harry, but I think you just made a command decision."

"The Livingston's tractor beam could be modified," Harry said, his pitch rising with excitement. "And it *is* the closest ship to us."

"Makes perfect sense to me." B'Elanna leaned forward as she watched another deck disappear from the small viewscreen. "Say good-night to deck eleven, Harry." The next deck was theirs - deck twelve.

Harry squeezed B'Elanna's hand. "We're getting out of here, B'Elanna," he said, this time sounding confident.

"I know." She looked at him seriously. "I intend to make sure we do." She glanced to her side; she had no idea what lay on the other side of the pile of metal, but she sure as hell was going to find out; there was no reason to just sit around waiting to be rescued.

She was feeling light-headed, almost giddy, but somehow, she managed to pull herself over to the debris pile at the end of the tube. She pushed at the contorted metal, slicing her hand in the process. She yelped in pain and then gave the debris another shove. Harry was by her side, trying to wiggle the largest piece free.

"All we need is a small opening," Harry muttered. He leaned backwards, supporting himself on the palms of his hands as he pushed against the pile with his boots; the thick soles of his Starfleet-issue boots gave him protection against the twisted metal. B'Elanna ripped the cuff off Harry's jacket, using the material to bind her injured hand. "I feel a little give. Right here." He pointed and B'Elanna nodded. She yanked at the metal, but it barely budged. Harry grabbed B'Elanna's toolkit and brought out the small hypospanner. B'Elanna understood what he was doing and moved out of the way as the instrument crackled and sparked against the cool metal.

It was slow going and B'Elanna knew that there was no way that they would be able to cut through an entire beam with a tool meant to weld small pieces of circuitry together. She rummaged through her toolkit, finally coming up with a phase link coupler. Its sharp blade lacked the heat of the hypospanner, but it still had a cutting edge. At any rate, they had nothing to lose. They could stay here, hoping for rescue or they could do their best to cut themselves out.

The ship lolled to the side. Harry, closest to the metal debris, fell against it. He groaned. Somewhere, B'Elanna thought she heard someone scream.

"Today is *not* a good day to die," B'Elanna said out-loud. Next to her, Harry grunted in agreement as he continued to work. The metal moved slightly, creating a small gap, just large enough to put an arm through. B'Elanna wiggled so that she could look through it. The tube was clear on the other side. She coughed and then looked at Harry.

"You okay, Starfleet?" she asked.

He nodded. "Like you said, today is *not* a good day to die."

Together, they pulled at the main beam that supported the debris. The hole grew a little larger. B'Elanna kicked at it again with her good leg, wrenching her ankle in the process. She groaned as she leaned back against the wall, exhausted from her efforts. She heard Harry breathing heavily next to her.

"Can we take a break? I just need a minute," she said, fighting to catch her breath. The air was growing increasingly thick with acrid fumes and each breath caused her chest to constrict.

"No problem."

B'Elanna's eyes itched from the smoke. She rubbed them to no avail. "I hate feeling so... helpless."

"I know. I feel the same." Harry sounded tired and B'Elanna roused herself. This wasn't the time to let fatigue get the better of them.

"I never congratulated you on your promotion," Harry said, his words slurring more now.

"It's no big deal. It's just temporary."

"Can I convince you to stay in Starfleet for good?"

The lights flickered once again and B'Elanna realized that all power systems were minutes away from complete failure. She clenched her teeth and tried not to think about it. She was already so cold and increasingly fatigued. Perhaps she would simply close her eyes...

"B'Elanna?" Harry asked urgently. He shook her gently. B'Elanna shook off his arm, more out of annoyance at herself for her momentary weakness. "What about it?"

"I can't say that the idea of working on a starship again doesn't appeal to me," B'Elanna admitted. She pushed against the metal debris once again with her good hand, but it was unyielding and she no longer had the strength to exert more pressure. "I enjoy a good challenge every now and then, but this, this might be a little too much excitement for me."

"Starfleet could use good engineers like you."

"You sound like a recruiter," B'Elanna said, a hint of amusement slipping into her voice. At that moment the lights went out, leaving them in pitch blankness. B'Elanna reached out, her hand touching Harry's sleeve. "But I'm afraid my days on a starship are over." She shifted her position and Harry put his arm around her, drawing her close. His skin was cold and clammy to the touch. "Harry?"

"I'm here," he said. After a moment he said, "I'm glad you're here, B'Elanna."

"Don't give up on me, Harry."

"I'm not giving up," he said, "but I *am* glad that you're here and I admit to having a selfish reason to asking you to stay on as an engineer."

"I know, Harry," she said quietly, understanding what he didn't verbalize. She ruffled his hair lightly with her fingers. "It *would* be nice for all of us to serve together again like we did on Voyager, but things have changed and we've all moved on with our lives. But -" she smiled, even though she knew Harry wouldn't be able to see it -"if there was a reset button, and I got to do it all over again, yes I would certainly want to join Starfleet again as an engineer."

"If there *was* a reset button, is there anything you'd change?" Harry asked.

B'Elanna bit her lip. So many things had been hard in her life. On Voyager, she had finally found acceptance, and more importantly, she had formed relationships that she knew she could depend on for life. Of course, she still had work to do on her relationship with her father and she wanted, one day, to visit her mother's grave on Qo'Nos. "No," she said. "I wouldn't change anything. Not a single moment, attractive as it might sound sometimes. You?"

Harry was quiet for several seconds before responding. "If given the option, maybe. But I know I would never give up Voyager. Yes, it was seven years I lost, but what I found on Voyager means more to me than an extra one or two pips."

At that moment, the ship shuddered violently. B'Elanna gulped as she heard a loud explosion somewhere below them. A crash echoed through the Jefferies tube as debris clanked against the metal tubes. And then, another explosion. Given the heat radiating through the Jefferies tube, B'Elanna knew this one had been nearby.

"I agree," she said hoarsely, coughing as thick smoke filled the tube. Her eyes grew heavy and suddenly, she felt calm, almost serene. She leaned over awkwardly, hugging Harry with one arm.

"When we get out of here, Harry, don't be a stranger. Promise me. That's an order."

"I promise," Harry said. B'Elanna leaned against him, her fingers curling around his, as the ship dissolved around them.

~ The End ~

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