Author's Note: This section of Act of War was removed from the original draft of the story; what happened here was used as background information for the final product. "Act of War" picks up the action from where this section leaves off.
The first impact hit just after lunch. 1305 hours. B'Elanna Torres braced herself for the inevitable aftershocks that were sure to follow, even as her fingers danced across the console; the captain would require a damage report quickly.
"Torres to Bridge."
"Go ahead, B'Elanna." Captain Phillips' voice was calm. It was hard to tell by the way the man conducted himself that this was his first starship command; John Phillips was one of those people who took naturally to command, infusing all of his subordinates with confidence. In a way, he reminded B'Elanna of Janeway - that same strong, unyielding presence and the ability to confront difficult situations without flinching.
"We've lost auxiliary systems on deck eight," B'Elanna reported. She scrolled through the damage report quickly. "Potential hull breach on deck three, near section five, but the force fields are in place for now. Warp core containment holding, but it's going to be some time before I recommend using warp. Other than that, Captain, damage is minimal. Nothing we can't fix in four or five hours."
"Understood. Phillips out."
B'Elanna leaned against her console, catching her breath. Kahless, it was hot in here. She double-checked the environmental controls. About six to five percent in variation from standard, but still in the acceptable range. And thankfully, radiation levels were also holding. There would be no need to evacuate Engineering. Not today.
Around her, the other engineers bustled, immediately snapping to duties without asking B'Elanna for direction; for this, B'Elanna was grateful. On Voyager, they had worked like clockwork, in synch - it seemed that the same synergy was very much in evidence here.
It could have been worse, B'Elanna knew. Much worse. The hull breach was the worst of it and surely, everyone in that area had been evacuated now.
Two weeks of patrol in the Neutral Zone and they'd been shot at every day so far. This was the first time the Minuteman had actually taken a hit.
B'Elanna pulled a toolkit out of a cabinet. Some of the relays connecting the environmental systems would have to be manually replaced and recalibrated. This kind of work, she could do in her sleep. Voyager had trained her well in that sense; she had often gone days in Engineering without grabbing more than a couple hours of rest.
She had done it then; she could do it now.
B'Elanna located the panel housing the environmental controls and ripped off the covering. The burned out relays were easily seen; blackened and smoking, they burned the fingers as B'Elanna pulled them out. In the background, the klaxons howled at red alert.
And then the second hit.
B'Elanna fell backwards as the ship rocked. As she scrambled to her feet, the aftershock sent her flying across the room, her knee banging painfully into the railing surrounding the warp core.
Now there was smoke, there was screaming and for a moment, B'Elanna lay on the floor, in shock. Then she rolled onto her side; her engineers needed her. She pulled herself up and hobbled to her feet, grabbing the railing for support.
"Engineering, report!" Phillips snapped over the com.
"Torres here," B'Elanna said. She stumbled to the nearest console, trying to ignore the prone body lying nearby. Mentally she made a note: Laura Gale, ensign, first tour of duty. "Captain, we've got two hull breaches. The existing one on deck three and a new one on deck five." Her mouth felt dry. "We've lost life support on decks three, four and five. I'd suggest evacuating." The constant beeping made her turn and look at the warp core, which was now flaring dangerously purple-blue. She'd seen that color many times before and knew what it meant. "Sir, I believe the core overheated as a result of a direct impact to the rear induction coils." She made a few calculations. "Three minutes at best, Captain, before we lose containment."
"Understood. Prepare to eject the warp core."
B'Elanna considered protesting; on Voyager, she most certainly would have. But they were in the Alpha Quadrant now; repairs were possible. And, looking around, she could see that at least of a third of her engineering crew were incapacitated. The odds were against her, but still, she had to give it her best shot.
"Give me ninety seconds, Captain," B'Elanna said. "I might be able to amplify the force field, hold it together for at least a few minutes longer."
"What about the radiation danger?"
B'Elanna gritted her teeth. She'd been through radiation before; parts of her skin were leathery from burns, skin she'd refused to regraft, despite the EMH's urging. She carried those scars proudly, those memories of her unending battle to hold Voyager together.
"I'm fine, Captain," B'Elanna said. "Torres out."
She hobbled to the console that directly controlled the warp core. She was peripherally aware of an officer vomiting in the background and of another one nearby, a toolkit at her side. Jenni Li, lieutenant, second tour of duty, engineering track.
"Help me with the warp core," B'Elanna commanded. She felt renewed as Li came to assist her. They barely spoke as their fingers tapped out the complex equations necessary to reroute power from other parts of the ship to the containment field. Decks four and five were unsalvageable; B'Elanna turned off the power in those parts of the ship. She hoped desperately the people in that particular area had gotten out.
But Kahless, it was so hot, so damn hot.
B'Elanna unzipped her jacket and a second later, Li followed suit. With a few seconds to left to go on their self-imposed countdown, they reinforced the warp core.
"Good work, Lieutenant," B'Elanna said. Li nodded briefly and leaned down to pick up her toolkit, ready to move to the next task. B'Elanna heaved a sigh of relief. She could relax now.
"Torres to Phillips."
"Go ahead, Torres."
"The warp core has been reinforced. It'll hold for another thirty minutes max but I don't suggest going to warp. It'll strain the field too much. You still have impulse. That should give us about twenty minutes to put some distance between us and the core when we finally do eject."
"Understood. Phillips out."
B'Elanna leaned over to read the ship's schematic. Red dots blinked on and off in all parts of the ship. The force fields holding the ship's hull together were at thirty percent capacity. They would be able to compensate by rerouting non-essential systems to buy more time before the inevitable collapse of the lower decks.
Damn. It was going to be a long day.
The third explosion came then. 1312 hours.
"What the hell was that?" B'Elanna yelled as her console went blank, sparks sputtering. The ship creaked, lolling slightly to the side, knocking the engineers off their feet. B'Elanna groaned as she hit the floor. And then came the crash, as a steel beam on the opposite side of Engineering came crashing down, smashing the mainframe computer system.
"Get clear!" someone shouted in the background, the one clear voice over the din. B'Elanna pulled herself up, leaning heavily against her now disabled console.
"Damn it," she muttered under her breath. She looked to Li, who looked dazed; the young woman's hair was disheveled and a sharp red line streaked Li's cheek. "There's a medkit on the wall, Lieutenant. Take care of your cut and then start working triage." B'Elanna looked around. "We need to get the critically injured to Sickbay. Now."
"What about you, Commander?"
"I'm fine. Now do it."
B'Elanna stared at the flickering warp core, knowing that all of the work she and Li had just done had fallen apart in the destruction of the mainframe system. All of the complex programming algorithms would fail within seconds as the primary power systems went under; the secondary power systems would not be enough to hold their modifications in place. Already, the radiation detectors were howling. A quick reading showed that the warp core was about fifty seconds from breaching. "Prepare to eject the core!"
The engineers fell into position quickly, all of them knowing exactly what they needed to do. Li tossed the medkit aside as she came back to B'Elanna's side. In the background, the computer kept a running count of seconds to warp core breach. Sweat beaded on B'Elanna's forehead and she felt grimy from the smoke that that now billowed through Engineering. You've done this before, B'Elanna, you can do it now, she mentally urged herself.
"Ready, Commander," the engineer standing to her right said. B'Elanna nodded as she initiated the security sequence to eject the warp core. A second later, Phillips' authorization came through.
"Get out!" B'Elanna screamed, pointing towards the main Engineering doors. They had ten seconds to get out before the safety doors came down. "Go, now!" She pressed back against the railing, letting the others go. There were fifteen meters between her and the door and the throb in her knee reminded her that she couldn't move quickly. "Hurry!"
"What about you, Commander?" Li asked.
"You're hurt. Let me help you."
"Go. That's an order.
I'll be fine."
Read the rest of "Act of War" here.
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