A Case of Need, part II
She knew how to fix things. B'Elanna realized this when a power surge spiked through her console and through Amina's also. The yellow grid lines went blank and the two women could smell the smoke wafting from the console. B'Elanna wrinkled her nose at the smell.
"What occurred here?" the efficiency monitor arrived on the scene within minutes of the surge. The efficiency monitor wore a silver object just above her right eye, a device that B'Elanna was alternately startled and fascinated by.
... you will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.
The hairs on B'Elanna's neck stood up and she shivered, feeling a sudden draft.
"B'Elanna?" Amina asked. "Are you all right?"
B'Elanna blinked and saw both her friend and the monitor staring at her, one in concern and the other impatiently.
"Please state the cause of this disturbance," the monitor said coolly. B'Elanna looked back at her PADD.
I've seen this before, she thought to herself.
... plasma relays have blown, Captain. Looks like a fluctuation-
... can you fix it?
"A power fluctuation," B'Elanna explained. "Apparently, the power transfer scheduled for early this evening overloaded the main circuitry. The problem should be easily resolved."
"You should have been paying attention."
"I was," B'Elanna said. "It happened so suddenly - I noticed a problem in the North Sector and I was attempting to fix that."
The efficiency monitor glared at B'Elanna and then nodded.
"This problem must be corrected quickly otherwise our productivity will be severely undermined."
"I-" and then B'Elanna stopped as one of the engineers removed the cover from her console. "I see the problem."
The efficiency monitor cocked her head to the side.
"Explain," the woman ordered. B'Elanna nodded.
"The inverted transducer here looks like it wasn't made to handle the voltage. We could replace that one with another with greater conductive properties. If we don't make that adjustment now, then something like this could happen again."
"Can you handle the repair? It seems simple."
B'Elanna nodded without really knowing the answer to the question. The engineer found a new transducer and B'Elanna carefully removed the old one. After a few moments, the console lit up again and the efficiency monitor nodded.
"Efficient work," she said. "I will make a note of it in your record. You are employee eight five eight eight."
"You can call me B'Elanna."
The monitor regarded the half-Klingon with a cool look and then moved on. Amina came to stand next to B'Elanna.
"She gives me the chills," Amina said in a low voice. "She's everywhere, watching everything and everyone. I don't think she misses a beat."
"Do you think I offended her?" B'Elanna was worried now. What would she do if she lost her position here?
"I think everything offends her."
"I really need this job," B'Elanna said pensively and then she shook her head. "I should have been more careful, should have realized. I haven't met her before, but I've heard plenty of stories about her."
"Don't worry about it, B'Elanna. I'm sure she'll find someone else less efficient than you. After all, she did pay you a compliment about your fix. That was some good work. Were you an engineer back on Kessik?"
B'Elanna shrugged. "I don't know."
"Then how did you know how to fix that?"
"Instinct, I suppose." And she laughed uneasily.
"I'm impressed. I wish my instinct was that good," Amina said. "I wouldn't worry about the efficiency monitor, B'Elanna. She's probably forgotten about you already."
"I certainly hope so."
The two women watched as the monitor made her rounds, stopping occasionally between the different workstations to make notes on her PADD. B'Elanna admitted to herself that Amina was probably correct; there were plenty of others here for the monitor to focus her attention on, especially with all of the new workers, many of them still struggling to learn their duties.
"There are a lot of new employees here," Amina said, as if she had been reading B'Elanna's thoughts. "You wouldn't think there is a labor shortage in the galaxy. So many people. I wonder where they're coming from."
"I suppose everyone heard about Quarra the way we did," B'Elanna said. "There's a lot of opportunity here for those of us who didn't have any choices back on our home worlds."
"That's a good point. Still, it's curious."
B'Elanna didn't say anything in response; she was concerned that the efficiency monitor might come back and fault her for not working. B'Elanna quickly tapped a few keys and was satisfied that everything was working as specified.
"Well," Amina said, catching the hint. "I'm off. Good work on fixing that console. Maybe you should consider moving to a more technical section. You might be happier there. Besides, this position is replaceable. The engineers are more indispensable; the management has a hard time keeping the talented people here. They move on quickly. Just think about it, all right?" And when B'Elanna didn't respond, Amina said quietly, "Hope it's a good night, B'Elanna."
"Good night," B'Elanna said. And that night, as she watched the rise and fall of the power waves on her PADD, she contemplated Amina's suggestion.
B'Elanna settled into her usual table at the restaurant, her eyes already fixed on the PADD. In the last installment of the novel, T'Alia had lifted the sagging spirits of her fellow warrior women with a rousing speech and together, the women had all pledged to vanquish the evil forces of Tagoth, the false God, who had come to challenge Kahless.
But her quiet time didn't last long before Tom showed up at her table.
"Hi," Tom said.
B'Elanna looked up at him. His expression was soft, kind, and maybe even caring. B'Elanna bit her tongue. She didn't want to like him, not in any way possible. She had the suspicion that anyone she cared for, however remotely, eventually left her, and at this stage in her life, she wasn't prepared to take the risk.
"Listen, I get off work in a few minutes. I thought maybe you and I could-" Tom said.
"You don't give up, do you?" B'Elanna spoke more harshly than she had intended.
She regretted her tone immediately.
"You don't even know what I was going to say."
"Let me guess: you were going to invite me for a 'walk by the river' or maybe to your living quarters to 'admire the view'," B'Elanna said bitterly. Somehow, she knew she had heard all of these lines before and she suspected that she had fallen for any number of these at least once.
"Actually I was going to offer to introduce you to some people I met."
B'Elanna looked at him surprise, wondering what he was up to. She certainly didn't think she'd have anything in common with his friends.
"A couple expecting their first baby in a few weeks," Tom said. "I thought you might want to get to know other parents. You know, swap stories, maybe even find a playmate for your baby."
B'Elanna couldn't speak. The thought of meeting other people - people who could possibly understand her situation, who could help her...
"If it's a bad idea..." Tom looked uncertain.
"No, it's -" B'Elanna shook her head and then glanced back at Tom. He looked at her pensively. B'Elanna smiled at him. "It's nice."
Tom appeared relieved.
"I'm sorry about the other day," he said.
"I'm the one who should be apologizing. I shouldn't have assumed-"
"Forget it," Tom's tone was light, casual, forgiving. B'Elanna sighed. Another time, another place, maybe... the possibility was growing more attractive.
No, she lectured herself sternly. Don't even think it, B'Elanna. Don't even dare. It's how you got into this mess in the first place.
And because Tom was still looking at her so expectantly, B'Elanna softened.
"Look, it's very rare that I admit I'm wrong, so you should probably take advantage of it while you can."
He grinned at her and B'Elanna immediately warmed up to him. There was something sweet in that smile. He seemed genuinely interested in her - an intriguing, but welcome surprise after days of relative anonymity.
"It's been hard being alone with a baby coming. I have a habit of keeping guard up."
"It's just a romantic relationship is out of the question for me right now, so when you started asking..." her voice drifted off. B'Elanna bit on her lip.
"How about a friend?" Tom asked gently.
"You said romance is out of the question. Could you use a friend?"
B'Elanna considered. She could say no and he'd walk away; this she was sure of. Or she could say 'yes' and the result would be exactly the same. But right now, she really did want to talk to someone, so she nodded.
"I would like that," B'Elanna said hoarsely.
"Look, I've got a few minutes," Tom said. "Mind if I sit down?"
"Please." B'Elanna turned off her PADD.
"What are you reading?"
"'The Warrior Women at the River of Blood.'"
"Sounds fascinating. Are you enjoying it?"
"Yes," B'Elanna nodded. "It's... riveting, if not a little predictable."
"Yes. I seem to know every twist and turn before it happens, but still, I do like it."
"That's good," Tom said. "Do you mind a suggestion?"
B'Elanna looked at him warily. Now that she had actually let her guard down, was he going to proposition her again? Involuntarily, her fists clenched below the table.
"What?" she asked.
"I noticed you reading here every day. You know, it's okay to get up and meet people. Everyone here is really friendly."
"I- I will. Right now, I just feel a bit-"
"Insecure?" Tom said softly. B'Elanna nodded.
"Yeah, a little. Do you ever get the feeling that you don't know where you're going?"
"I don't know how I got here." The moment she said the words, B'Elanna felt better. Tom looked at her in concern.
"What are you talking about?" he asked.
"Everyone else, they know where they came from. I don't. I mean, I think Kessik, but I'm not sure. I don't really remember."
A moment of silence and B'Elanna was convinced that Tom thought her crazy. But his expression - it was contemplative, maybe even a little sad.
"I know what you're talking about," he said in a low voice.
"Yeah." Tom leaned forward, knitting his fingers together on the table. "I don't remember anything before I worked at the Power Facility and you know how that turned out."
"No, I don't actually."
"I had an argument with the efficiency monitor."
B'Elanna nodded. "I met her today. A power surge blew out my console. She arrived immediately."
"Impressive talent she has to be everywhere at once," Tom said. "Anyway, we had an argument. Apparently my work wasn't up to par. The next minute, I was out here, looking for a job. Umali, the restaurant owner, took a chance on me. I convinced her that I had natural charm."
"I can imagine," B'Elanna said dryly.
"But to be honest, I can't think of where I worked before the Power Facility. I probably wasn't any good at that job either. I'm starting to think I'm a vagabond, moving from place to place. You know, not letting any dust settle? To tell the truth, I think I like that. Something gets a little dull and it's time to move on."
"Starting over, you mean?" B'Elanna asked.
"That's why I came here. To get a new start. I want to make sure I give my baby a good life and I don't think- I mean, I must have thought things were bad enough on Kessik to leave."
"Was it the father?"
"Who?" B'Elanna asked.
"The father. Your baby's father- I'm sorry, I'm being insensitive."
"No, it's all right," B'Elanna said. "He- he left."
"Don't. It's all right. I'm okay. Really. Everything, everything's okay."
"If you don't mind me saying, you don't look okay," Tom said softly. B'Elanna bit her lip. Her eyes felt moist and she cursed herself for her lack of emotional control. Tom reached across the table and covered B'Elanna's hands with his. His touch was light against her cold skin, and surprised, B'Elanna realized she actually liked the warmth of his palm. He caressed the top of her hand gently. B'Elanna nodded, because she couldn't speak.
"Hey," Tom said softly. His fingers covered hers and without thinking, B'Elanna grasped his hand. Tom didn't pull away and for that, she was grateful.
"I- I'm so, so sorry. My- my emotions sometimes get the better of me. I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize. You don't need to. Not with me."
B'Elanna sniffed, feeling absolutely ridiculous, but appreciating Tom's kindness at the same time.
"This, this isn't like me. I don't know what's come over me."
"You're under a lot of stress; it's understandable."
B'Elanna looked at him, nodding. It felt so much better now that Tom had validated her emotional response. She looked down at their intertwined hands. A few days ago, she would have pulled away, but now, she simply enjoyed the comfort in another person's touch.
"I don't remember him," B'Elanna said softly.
"The father. I don't remember him. Nothing."
B'Elanna inhaled deeply, feeling the lump in her throat growing larger. She couldn't quite make out Tom's expression and wondered if he thought she was completely crazy. After all, she reasoned, how could she possibly not know the name or face of the man who fathered her child? B'Elanna stared down at her hands, still covered by Tom's larger ones.
"You don't have to be alone," Tom said quietly. B'Elanna glanced up, almost in shock at his words.
"I don't remember a time when I wasn't," she got the words out with difficulty. Her throat hurt now, and she really did think she would cry despite her best efforts not to.
"I have a hard time believing that," Tom said softly. "A really hard time."
"It's true," B'Elanna said. "If it wasn't, why can't I remember anything at all? I can't even remember him..."
In the background, Umali called for Tom and he groaned.
"Go," B'Elanna said. "I understand."
"Will you be okay?"
"Yes. Fine, I mean, I'll be fine. Thanks. Really. Thanks for everything."
B'Elanna swallowed hard and then let go of Tom's hand. He looked at her and reached over to gently run his fingers over her cheek; to her surprise, B'Elanna didn't flinch. She rather liked feeling his touch across her skin. There was nothing seductive about the touch, nothing that implied anything but friendship and concern, a genuine warmth that B'Elanna missed desperately.
"I need to get back to work, but if you need anything ever, please don't hesitate to ask. I mean it." Tom got from his chair and then looked back down at B'Elanna. "I can't imagine anyone wanting to leave you. I just can't."
Go to part III
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