Author's notes: My gratitude to my beta babes, Rocky and Jemima.
Disclaimer: Paramount owns all. No profit or infringement intended.
## T +5 seconds ##
The explosion flung Torres against the wall.
She swung her arm close to her face in an attempt to shield herself both from the heat and the flying debris. She landed, with a thud, about five meters away from where she'd been standing. She had some minor scrapes and bruises, but she could feel both her ankle and left arm throbbing. Forcing herself to ignore the pain, she gingerly picked herself up off the floor.
"Warp core breach in 60 seconds," the computer voice intoned over the sound of sparking and sizzling of equipment. "Life support systems failing, all decks."
Torres stepped over Seven of Nine's body and made her way to an engineering station. Acrid smoke filled the air and she coughed. In the background, the klaxons were blaring loudly, and the red lights bathed what was left of Engineering in an eerie glow. Tapping quickly on the console, Torres retrieved a list of diagnostics, even though she knew her action was in vain.
"Warp core breach in 50 seconds."
Torres could barely contain her frustration as she pounded her fist against the console. She'd never imagined months of effort would end like this. She turned and looked at the remnants of the warp core. The hull plating above had been ripped open and the flicker of force field was the only thing separating Engineering from space. She knew it was only a matter of time before the force fields failed and she, along with the few other survivors, would be sucked out into space.
"Warp core breach in 40 seconds."
Torres's gaze was drawn to Joe Carey -- lying flat on the floor, his face turned towards her. His eyes were wide open, his mouth frozen in mid-scream. Turning away from this very visible reminder of a broken promise, B'Elanna placed her hands on the console, leaned forward, and took a deep breath. Exhaustion seeped into every inch of her muscles, and she could feel a pounding ache take hold just behind her left eye. Torres tapped her communicator.
"Torres to Janeway."
Torres paused. The undercurrent of excitement and anticipation in Janeway's voice was unmistakable.
"I'm ejecting the warp core," Torres said as calmly as she could muster. Her fingers were already playing across the controls. "The warp field exhaust backwashed into the plasma conduits. Life support systems are failing across the ship."
"Captain, I'm sorry,"
Torres said. "The quantum slipstream drive has failed."
The silence seemed to go on forever. A wave of nausea rose up within her and trying to fight off the dizziness, Torres leaned her weight against the wall. Of all the different issues she'd considered over the past eight hours, how to deal with failure had never been seriously considered and looking at Carey now, she felt considerable guilt. If only she hadn't been so ambivalent about returning to the Alpha Quadrant, if only she had worked better with Seven of Nine, if only, if only…
Torres pressed the final sequence to eject the warp core and then with just thirty seconds to get out of Engineering, she rolled beneath the closing safety doors with barely a few centimeters to spare.
In the background, the computer intoned, "Life support systems offline."
## T -15 minutes ##
Torres inhaled sharply as she inserted the holodeck program into its slot and then tapped in the activation sequence. In a matter of seconds, the yellow-girded walls of the holodeck were replaced by the familiar environs of Engineering. Torres eyed the warp core, pulsing blue, in the center of the room, and then took stock of those around her. Seven of Nine was standing at her console, examining data, while a few meters away, Joe Carey was running a diagnostic.
Torres walked slowly through Engineering, occasionally running her fingertips over the smooth and familiar outlines of the consoles and other equipment. She walked up to the warp core, leaned against the railing that separated it from the rest of Engineering, and her gaze was caught by the hypnotic pulsing mechanism. Over the years, she'd learned to differentiate the various noises the warp core would make, and at times, could even diagnose a problem just based on the sounds the core made. While she knew the new enhancements she was making to the core would be superior in every way to the existing technology, B'Elanna couldn't help but feel a little bit nostalgic. As she passed Carey, she remembered the conversation she'd had with him earlier in the day.
"You'll see your boys," she told the holo version of Carey. "I promise."
Carey glanced up from his console. "I'm sorry, Lieutenant. Did you say something?"
B'Elanna shook her head. "Just wanted to say you've been doing a good job on this project."
She then walked past Seven of Nine, and to the main engineering console where the slip stream drive would be controlled from. "Computer, initiate countdown to quantum slip stream drive activation."
## T -45 minutes ##
Janeway stared at the PADD for several minutes before slowly nodding.
"Yes," she said, excitement coloring her tone. "These calculations look like they should work." She handed the PADD back to Torres. "When do you expect to implement the drive?"
"We'll have to run the simulations at least a half a dozen times. If those are successful, then I'll look into implementing the drives on one of the shuttles. "Then it'll be a matter of days, probably less than a week, to install and activate the slip stream drive."
Janeway nodded. "And then just a few years more to return home." The energy in Janeway's voice was contagious, but Torres' mouth suddenly went dry and chalky. She stared down at the PADD, and the yellow print against the black background blurred slightly. Torres blinked.
"Captain, about the probabilities for success, Seven of Nine--"
Janeway held up a hand. "Run the test," she said. "We'll talk about the statistics afterwards." She smiled at Torres. "This is a big step for Voyager," she said. "You've accomplished the improbable, B'Elanna. We've tried the Borg-Starfleet tech fusion before." Janeway turned to stare out the window at the starscape passing by. "From what I've seen of your current projections, it looks like there's a good chance for success. Who'll be present when you run the test? Seven? Harry?"
Torres considered. "I wasn't planning on having anyone else there," she said cautiously. "I thought you wanted me to keep this quiet."
"I would say the cat is out of the bag, isn't it?" Janeway asked. "At least have Seven--"
Torres shook her head. "I think it's best everyone remain in the positions they'd be in when we activate the quantum slip stream drive." With a start, Torres realized she'd used the word 'when', not 'if'. What was it Harry had said to her just a few hours ago? 'Don't make promises you can't keep.' Torres pressed her lips into a thin line. Perhaps Janeway hadn't noticed the semantic slip. "Besides, it is the first run of the test and I'd feel more comfortable running it myself."
"I understand," Janeway said. She rubbed her hands together. "After all these years..." her voice drifted off.
Torres waited a beat and then said, "Is there something else, Captain?"
Janeway shook her head. "No," she said. Her gaze fell on the PADD in B'Elanna's hand. "Good luck and good work."
B'Elanna swallowed hard. "Thanks," she said. "It was a team effort."
"Though not without interpersonal conflicts, I understand," Janeway said.
B'Elanna shook her head ruefully. "I should have guessed you would have heard."
Janeway held up her hand. "I'm just glad you and Seven were able to work out whatever differences you might have had." Janeway bit her lip and stared at some point just beyond B'Elanna. "What matters is that we have a common goal and there's no room for personal considerations or wounded egos."
B'Elanna flinched slightly at Janeway's words, but also knew the Captain was correct in her assessment. She cleared her throat. "I understand. It won't happen again."
Janeway smiled. "You're dismissed," she said. "Go run that test."
## T -2 hours ##
She found Seven of Nine in Astrometrics. The former drone barely acknowledged B'Elanna. Taking a deep breath, B'Elanna held out the PADD to Seven.
"You win," B'Elanna said simply.
"I was unaware this was a contest," Seven said, and as usual, a trace of arrogance underlined her tone. B'Elanna tried not to react.
"I mean, I'm sorry. For the way I acted in Engineering earlier when you offered to help," B'Elanna said. "I was out of line and I owe you an apology."
"Your apology is not necessary, but I accept it." Seven glanced at the PADD in B'Elanna's hand. "What do you require?"
B'Elanna leaned her hip against the console. "I need your help, if you're willing. Can you take a look at those calculations? I've gone over them a thousand times, but for some reason, I can't get the delta between the threshold and resonance levels to balance properly."
Seven of Nine scrolled through the lines of calculations quickly. B'Elanna held her breath. After so publicly pushing Seven's assistance away, would the drone actually help her now? Not to mention, Seven had no personal stake in the outcome of this test, and in fact, it would be in her best interests were the test to fail.
You can't think that way, B'Elanna told herself fiercely. Instead, while Seven focused on the calculations, B'Elanna turned her attention to the viewscreen in front of her. She rarely came down here, a tacit acknowledgement this was Seven's domain, not hers. Still, the giant starmaps were beautiful to look at. B'Elanna focused her attention on the upper right hand corner of the map -- the Delta Quadrant. Slowly, she gazed diagonally towards the swirl of white in the middle of the map. Without thinking, B'Elanna zoomed in on the Milky Way. A few more taps on the control panel and Earth filled the viewscreen. B'Elanna eyed it and after a moment, she increased the magnification to the North American continent and then to the West Coast, where she finally settled on an image of the Golden Gate Bridge. If she closed her eyes, she could almost smell the salty tang of the Bay and hear the crash of the waves against the rocks below.
"I am uncertain this particular configuration will work," Seven said finally, breaking into B'Elanna's thoughts. Startled, B'Elanna tore her attention away from the famed landmark reluctantly.
"What do you mean?" she asked sharply.
"The resonance frequency is off by point oh three microns," Seven said. "It will not be able to accurately predict the threshold levels at this variance. It was foolish of you to use this particular algorithm."
B'Elanna tried to push down the irritation she felt at Seven's smug attitude. Perhaps giving in and asking Seven for help wasn't such a good idea. Maybe Neelix was wrong and Seven truly had no interest in helping develop the slip stream drive; after all, it seemed all she did was point out the flaws in the technology. Still, she had promised Neelix she would make an effort, and recalling the promise she'd made to Joe Carey to get him home, B'Elanna reined in her temper.
"Do you have a suggestion on how to fix the problem? The helm can compensate for any variations in the threshold levels, and I think we can manually adjust the resonance when it deviates outside the safety range," B'Elanna said.
"Manually implementing the adjustments will require a great deal of attention and skill, which I am not certain Lieutenant Paris, talented as he is, is capable of," Seven said. "In addition, I do not believe Voyager's engines can handle the stress of repeated adjustments."
Frustration bubbled up within B'Elanna and she had to count to five to keep her composure; it would do no good to get angry at Seven again. "You seem to have forgotten," B'Elanna said acidly, "that we've been augmenting all of Voyager's systems over the last few weeks and increasing capacity. I believe the engines and deflector dish both can handle the additional variations."
"You will also have to consider the course trajectory. It will be difficult to control under these circumstances, even for the most accomplished pilot."
"*I* have faith Lieutenant Paris can handle it," Torres answered. She snatched the PADD back from Seven. "Looks like you only have problems to offer, not solutions. No thanks. I'll handle this on my own," she added with a heavy edge of sarcasm. She turned and headed for the door.
"Lieutenant?" Seven called.
Torres stopped in her tracks, but didn't turn around. "What is it?"
"Your work on this project is admirable, but your priorities are misguided."
B'Elanna bit back her anger and then slowly, turned to face Seven. "What?"
"You have made a promise to Captain Janeway you will bring the slipstream drive online. You do not wish to fail her and as a result, refuse to acknowledge that there may be errors in your theory." Seven tipped her head to the side, considering. "You are impervious to reason and fail to see the weaknesses in this technology."
"And you don't want this project to succeed!" B'Elanna shot back. "I asked for help, and you gave me reasons why it wouldn't work." She shook her head. "I should have known better than to count on you for anything. I should have never listened to Neelix when he said you wanted to truly contribute to Voyager."
"You did not ask me for a solution. All you stated was that there was one specific area where the equations did not work and I have explained why, and the consequences of those failures."
B'Elanna opened her mouth to respond and then realized that Seven was indeed correct. As usual, she'd made assumptions Seven would understand what she wanted, but as usual, Seven had taken the literal meaning of her words. What they had here was not an attitude problem, but a communication one.
"You're right," B'Elanna said. "I'm sorry." She gave a small laugh. "I seem to be apologizing a lot lately." She glanced at the PADD. "I do want this to work, very much so, and I was hoping to do it on my own, but I've run out of ideas. I'd appreciate any solutions you could offer."
Seven stepped off the platform, and made her way towards B'Elanna, her high-heeled boots clicking on the floor. The sound grated on B'Elanna's already frayed nerves. Without a word, Seven took the PADD back from B'Elanna and quickly tapped out a few adjustments.
"I believe you will have a greater chance of success under these conditions," Seven said, handing the PADD back.
B'Elanna stared at the corrections in shock and then slowly, nodded her agreement. "I can't believe I didn't pick up on the phase variance."
"It is a temporary fix," Seven said. "I do not believe it will hold for the long term, however it should give Lieutenant Paris the buffer he will need to compensate."
"Well, there's only one way to find out," Torres said. "A holodeck test." She took a few steps towards the door and then stopped. "Seven--" she held up the PADD "-- thank you."
"You're welcome." Seven offered what could pass as a smile. "The Captain has asked me to act more as a 'team player'. If you should require my assistance in Engineering, I will comply."
"That's very generous of you," B'Elanna said quickly. She could barely contain her excitement. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to show this to the Captain."
## T -3 hours ##
"Damn it!" Torres slammed her fist against the wall. Silence fell over Engineering and Torres knew everyone was watching her; she didn't care. She stalked angrily away from her station and stood in front of the warp core, staring at the blue pulse. The hum of the core always seemed to soothe her. She gripped the railing that separated main Engineering from the core. Her knuckles turned white, but she barely noticed. The calculations should have worked. She'd gone over them a dozen times. What possibly could have gone wrong? What variable was she missing?
Torres turned on her heels and stared hard at Joe Carey. "What is it?" She immediately regretted her snappish tone.
"I just wanted to thank you. For all the hard work you're putting into this project." The sincerity in Carey's voice eased some of Torres' impatience. She took a deep breath before answering.
"You're welcome," she said.
"It means a lot to me," he said. "I worry, about my sons, my wife, what they're up to, how they're coping, what I'm missing. We got those few messages a while back, but it's not the same as being there in person. This technology--" he nodded towards the computer "-- is our best chance. I know it's a risk, but, still. I'm glad you're planning to make it work."
"I'll do my best," Torres said, momentarily distracted by the computer's beeping. She frowned as she stared at the display. "This can't be right. The equations are not calculating the threshold levels properly. At this rate--" she pointed "-- Voyager would disintegrate within minutes of entering the slip stream corridor." She pressed her lips together. "I was so sure this would work."
"Oh." Disappointment was heavy in Carey's voice.
Torres tipped her head slightly to the right in acknowledgement of Carey's feelings. "Want to give me a hand?" she asked, pushing away her desire to solve the slip stream challenge alone. She knew it would boost Carey's morale if he could contribute to the problem solving. Besides, she thought, it would be nice to include someone who truly had a vested interest in the success of the drive. "I could use a second set of eyes on this."
Carey brightened. "Sure," he said. He took his spot next to her. "Thanks."
Torres shrugged off his comment. "We've got a run-time error at parsec 85 and a fatal flaw at 86. Let's start there." She scrolled to the place in the code where the code had failed. "This is the calculation for the deflector dish's resonance frequency, the one that initially sets the threshold, which in turn creates the quantum effect we're going to slide in behind."
"The one if we're even a micron off, we blow up?" Carey asked.
"Something like that."
In spite of herself, B'Elanna smiled. "I'm going to make sure that doesn't happen." She bit her lip and for a few minutes, the two of them worked in silence. The numbers blurred in front of B'Elanna's eyes; she'd been looking them over for so long now, she could practically recite the code from memory. Finally, B'Elanna shook her head in irritation. "I can't see the problem."
"I hate to say it, but neither do I." Carey ran his hand through his hair. "So I guess this is the end, huh?" His expression was uneasy and B'Elanna knew he was thinking the same thing she was.
"No," she said finally. "We're not completely out of options." B'Elanna downloaded the program to a PADD. "I'll be in Astrometrics. Maybe what we need is a fresh set of eyes." Seeing Carey's surprised look, B'Elanna offered him a wan smile. "For your family's sake," she said, "I can swallow my pride."
## T -4 hours ##
"Dinner was wonderful," B'Elanna said sincerely. "Thank you." She pushed back her plate and settled back on the sofa, resting her hands flat on her stomach. It felt good to relax. She closed her eyes. In the background, she could hear Tom clearing the table and putting the dirty dishes in the recycler. A few minutes later, she felt the sofa cushion sag beneath his weight.
"I've got something for you," Tom said.
She opened her eyes. "What?"
Paris pressed a slim gold tube into B'Elanna's hand. "Your holodeck test program, as requested. I followed your instructions to the letter. Once you get the final calculations into the computer, just upload it into the database and it should work perfectly. If not, you know where to find me." He slipped onto the sofa next to Torres, resting his arm lightly across her shoulders. Torres turned her face towards him, pressing her cheek against the curve of his shoulder. He pressed his lips to the top of her forehead.
"This is nice," she murmured. She closed her eyes. For the moment, all thoughts of the slip stream drive were far away. "I'm going to miss this."
"You know… *this*."
Paris frowned. "Cuddling and kissing haven't been outlawed, as far as I know."
B'Elanna laughed. "No, you silly. I meant, Voyager. All of this."
"Where is it all going that you're going to miss it?"
"It's going to be different when we get back to the AQ." She purposely didn't use the word 'home'. The AQ had never really been home to her, just a place to be. Given her estrangement from her parents and most of the Maquis were either dead or in prison, there wasn't much in way of incentive to return. Even so, she'd made her peace with the AQ; she'd rather take her chance with the Federation than face the Hirogen or Borg again.
"Ah." Paris tightened his arm around her shoulders. Torres sat up and leaned against the sofa arm, turning so that she was facing Paris directly. "Have you thought about what's going to happen when we do end up back in the AQ?"
"I'm counting on my 'get out of jail free' card," Paris answered lightly. "The one Janeway promised me for helping track the Maquis down." He grinned impishly at Torres. "I suppose I owe you an apology for that, hmmm?"
"The statute of limitations on past crimes is over. Don't worry."
"But you are worrying." He put his hand lightly on her knee. "Something on your mind?"
"I was thinking about what you said earlier in Engineering, about working against my own best interests and maybe you're right. I don't have any assurances of freedom when we return to the AQ. For all I know, Starfleet will round us former Maquis up, dump us into the brig, and throw away the key forever."
"If that happens, try to get sent to Auckland," Paris said. "I have it on good authority that it's the country club of Federation prisons. All the best prisoners are there. Plus I know a handsome tour guide who can show you the sights."
"I'll try and keep that in mind," Torres said. She sighed. "Prison is the worst case scenario, and best case scenario is that the Federation forgives and forgets." She twisted her lips into a frown.
"Janeway will vouch for all of the ex-Maquis."
"Yes, but she's just a Starfleet captain. How much power do you think she really has? On Voyager, yes, she's in charge, but the Alpha Quadrant is filled with plenty of alpha admirals jockeying for positions."
"You're right," Tom said. "It'll be a whole new ballgame, but at least Janeway can say she kept her promise to get us home, return us to the lives we once had. Such as they were."
"I can't imagine a life I'd want more than the one I have right now." Torres drew her knees up to her chest. She tipped her head to the side, resting against the sofa back. "Sometimes I wonder, would it be such a bad thing if it took us 70 years to get back to the AQ? But then I see the Captain, her determination to get us back, and more than anything, I want to be a part of that. I feel like I've come such a long way from my Maquis days, from the angry cadet I was at the Academy--" she paused, thinking for a moment. "Janeway gave me a second chance and in a small way, I feel making the slipstream technology work is a way to repay her."
"She's not looking for gratitude, B'Elanna," Tom said gently.
"I know, but I do feel like in some way that I owe her, and she's genuinely excited, Tom. This is the first thing that's come along in a long time that has any hope of working." B'Elanna got to her feet. "Thanks for dinner. It's time to get back to work. It's the moment of truth. I'm going to attempt to run the equation set and see what happens," she said. She was halfway to the door when Tom called her name. B'Elanna turned.
"Back at the Academy," Tom said, "I used to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge and stop at the halfway point to look at the water. I loved the way the waves crashed into the boulders at the base of the Bridge, the way the foam dipped and swirled in the current. I always felt so at peace, so removed from everything Starfleet when I stood there." He smiled to himself. "When we get back, I'll take you there."
And even though she'd been to the Bridge more than a dozen times during her sojourn at the Academy, B'Elanna nodded, knowing visiting the Bridge with Tom would be an entirely new experience.
"I'd like that," she said.
## T -5 hours ##
Still seething from her encounter with Seven of Nine, B'Elanna stormed out of Engineering, PADD in hand, and made her way to the Mess Hall. It was crowded, but she was able to find a table in the far right corner and sit down. She took a few deep breaths, trying to calm herself down.
Torres looked gratefully at Neelix. "Thanks."
He set the mug down next to her. "When was the last time you got some sleep?"
Torres considered. "It's been a few days."
"Even Klingons need rest, B'Elanna."
Torres dismissed his comment with a wave of her hand. "You know how the Captain is whenever there's a possibility of getting home in less than forty years."
"Is that the Captain or is it you?" Neelix pulled out the chair opposite her and sat down. "Not to mention, exhaustion might make people act more strongly in a situation than they otherwise might."
B'Elanna sighed. "This ship gets smaller every day." On any other occasion, she might have found humor in the observation. "I guess you heard about what happened with Seven of Nine."
B'Elanna pressed her hand to her face. "The slip stream drive is a problem I really want to solve, but then she comes and criticizes and tries to take control--"
"Or she could be genuinely trying to help," Neelix said gently. "Everyone on Voyager knows how hard you're working on this project. Seven has expertise you could use, so why not?" Neelix settled back in his chair, placing his hands primly on the table.
B'Elanna considered. "Because I just feel--" she paused. "I feel like she wants to take over. You know how she is, always acting superior, looking down at me, everyone--"
"The slip stream drive matters to a lot of people on board and Seven probably wants to feel like she's a part of it too." Neelix nudged the coffee mug towards B'Elanna, and taking the hint, B'Elanna lifted it to her lips. "I doubt Seven has any motive other than wanting to be regarded, without suspicion, as a member of Voyager's crew. She might be former Borg, B'Elanna, but there's a part of her that's human and that experiences the same emotions you do of loneliness and exclusion." He looked directly at B'Elanna. "She can't help how she got the knowledge, so she's doing the best she can."
B'Elanna flinched at Neelix's words, but she nodded slowly. She understood what it felt like to be an outsider, always looking in on others, and wondering what she could do to belong. While she appreciated Neelix's words, she still had that streak of Klingon stubbornness running through her.
"Neelix," B'Elanna said, putting the mug down. "You said the slipstream drive is important to a lot of people. Does that include you?"
"You know me, B'Elanna, I'm always up for traveling, new adventures--"
"But the Alpha Quadrant isn't home for you. Would you really be all right with leaving the DQ?"
"Voyager is my home now," Neelix said. He nodded towards Torres' mug. "I hear the coffee's better in the AQ anyway."
B'Elanna smiled. "And, in theory, there's also a lot less Borg in the AQ as well. I hate to break it to you though. Leola root is completely unknown there."
"Then I will stock up before we make the final jump," Neelix answered lightly. "I wouldn't want to deprive the crew of this delicacy."
"No, of course not." She drained the last bit of her coffee and was about to rise when her communicator beeped.
"Paris to Torres."
B'Elanna frowned and then remembered. "Is it time for dinner already? I'm so sorry. I'll be there in a few minutes." She stood up. "Thanks for the talk, Neelix."
"Anytime," Neelix said, but B'Elanna was already out the door.
## T -5 hours, 15 minutes ##
B'Elanna marched across Engineering, heading straight for Seven of Nine. Joe Carey moved out of the way. Seven's expression was impassive as B'Elanna approached.
"What are you doing here?" B'Elanna spoke between tightly clenched teeth. Her fingers curled into fists at her side.
"I came to offer my assistance. I have experience with the slipstream drive."
"You mean you *assimilated* it."
Seven tipped her head to the side. "It is irrelevant how I acquired the knowledge. I can be of assistance and can great improve your chances of succeeding at this project. It would be foolish not to accept my help." Seven indicated the console directly to her right. "Lieutenant Carey has been demonstrating the program for me. I do not believe in its current incarnation this drive will succeed."
B'Elanna felt the heat rising in her face. "It's a work in progress." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Carey back slowly away. All around them, a heavy silence had fallen over Engineering. Everyone seemed to be concentrating on their own work, but B'Elanna knew better. However, Seven showed absolutely no reaction and that infuriated B'Elanna even more. "What? Are you just trying to show off?" B'Elanna asked, her voice rising in pitch. "Show how you can do it better than me. Wait, never mind, don't answer that." She shook her head. "Look, I can handle this. I don't need your Borg technology to get me through, so if you're insinuating--"
"I was merely offering my assistance." Seven's calm voice grated on B'Elanna's nerves.
"If I need your help, I'll ask for it. In the meantime, stay out of my way."
"Very well." Seven walked out of Engineering, and the way she held herself added to B'Elanna's fury.
"Well?" she demanded, as she scanned Engineering. "What are you all looking at? Get back to work!"
## T -5 hours, 45 minutes ##
"A penny for your thoughts."
Torres pushed her hair back from her face and then straightened up from her console. There was an ache in the small of her back she hadn't noticed until this very moment. She winced as she turned to face Tom.
"Hey," she said. In the background, she could see Joe Carey talking to Seven of Nine. B'Elanna frowned, and with some effort, dragged her attention back to Tom.
"What's this I hear about the resurrection of the slipstream drive?" he asked, leaning against the console, his arms crossed against his chest.
"Word travels fast."
"It's a small ship."
"So I hear." Torres hit a few keys and put her calculations on pause. Then she turned her full attention back to Tom. "Any reason in particular you stopped by?"
Tom frowned. "Everything okay with you?"
"I'm busy. Don't waste my time."
"Then I'll make this quick." He held up two fingers. "First, as Voyager's most skilled pilot, I thought you could use my assistance in calculating the threshold index," he said, "and second, dinner tonight? My quarters?" He flashed the grin she always found irresistible at her and even though Torres knew she had an enormous quantity of work to accomplish on the drive, she found herself giving in.
"You're too good to me," she said in a low voice, very aware of other crew members in the vicinity.
"You deserve it. Your double and triple shifts over the last few days have been admirable and I know you're physically capable of carrying that load. It's the mental part I'm worried about."
B'Elanna bristled at the implication. "What do you mean?"
"You have the hopes and desires of an entire crew resting on her shoulders--" he held up his hand as she opened her mouth to speak "-- and even though you've tried to keep this quiet, the fact you're working on a way to get us home is now an open secret. And then there's the fact you're working on a project clearly opposite your own best interests. Returning to Earth isn't going to be a cakewalk for the former Maquis--"
"None of that has affected my work and you know that." B'Elanna couldn't help the note of anger which slipped into her voice. "I can't believe you'd even imply such a thing."
"I'm not accusing you of anything, B'Elanna, just acknowledging reality and the pressure you've been under."
Despite herself, B'Elanna softened. It never ceased to surprise her how Tom Paris managed to smooth out the edge of her anger.
"I know activating the slip stream drive will signal an ending of sorts," she said quietly. "And I've made my peace with it. Even when we found the Dauntless, I knew I'd rather face the music in the Alpha Quadrant than hang out forever in the DQ." At Paris's surprised expression, she held up a hand, as if forestalling further comment. "Even if today's test isn't a success, it's only a matter of time. The Captain has made it clear she wants me to focus on ways of pushing Voyager's engines. As an engineer, I relish the challenge." She fiddled idly with her fork. "I've been running away from things my whole life, rather than having something to run to."
"That makes two of us." Paris reached out and clasped her hand warmly between his. "B'Elanna, you do understand, right? This test, if successful, means giving up everything you've worked for on Voyager."
Torres swallowed hard. "Sometimes you have to make choices." She glanced down at the control panel. "I guess I've made mine. Maybe it's not so much of an ending as a new beginning." She frowned as she looked back at Joe Carey and Seven. It was obvious Carey was showing Seven something. A few seconds later, sparks shot out of the console. B'Elanna's eyes widened in anger. "Excuse me."
"I need to get to Sickbay anyway," Tom said, but she barely heard him.
## T -7 hours ##
"So, let me get this straight." Harry Kim fell into step next to Torres as she made her way down the corridor to Engineering. "Rumor has it you're working on a way to get us home. Is it true?"
"The Captain gave me the go-ahead," Torres said. She held up the PADD. "Ever since we came across the Dauntless, I've been thinking of a way to get the drive to stabilize and work with Voyager's technology. I guess you could call it my own special project." Her eyes gleamed as she thought about the months of secretive work she'd put into the slip stream drive. "I think I've found a way that'll work." She lightly swatted Harry in the arm. "Just think, we get back to the Alpha Quadrant, and you can finally get your well-deserved promotion."
Harry scowled, but then said, "Not to mention seeing my family again." They rounded a corner, and Torres stepped to the side to narrowly avoid colliding with a passing lieutenant. "It's not going to be easy and there are a lot of variables to take into consideration," she said, "but I'm feeling optimistic."
"I can certainly help," Harry said. "And Seven of Nine--"
B'Elanna shook her head. "No."
"Come on, B'Elanna."
"She's never been in favor of the slip stream technology. I don't see her as being an asset on this project."
"Plus you don't like ceding any territory when it comes to Engineering or special projects like the slip stream drive."
Wounded, B'Elanna stopped in her tracks. "You know that's not true. I appreciate all the help you contribute."
"But not Seven."
"I don't understand why everyone thinks Seven has all the answers to every single problem Voyager faces," B'Elanna said. She gritted her teeth. "It's like we have to go out of our way to include her."
"She's a part of this crew, B'Elanna."
"But not a part of Engineering."
Harry shrugged. "Have it your way, but for all you know, she's probably seen at least a thousand variations of slipstream schematics." He tapped a button to summon the turbolift. "I know Voyager's engines are exclusively your domain, but not accepting aid when it's readily available is ridiculous."
The turbolift doors slid open and Torres entered. She leaned against the wall, her arms folded against her chest. Harry stepped opposite of her. "I'll think about it," she said in a voice that made it clear she wasn't going to give ground.
Harry was silent for a moment. "Hey, Maquis?"
B'Elanna jerked. It had been a while since Harry had used that nickname on her.
"What?" she asked.
"Just, I'm glad, glad you're doing this." Harry shook his head. "The whole crew knows already and is excited about the possibilities. I hope you aren't making promises you can't keep."
Torres glanced at the PADD in her hand. "That makes two of us," she said softly.
## T -8 hours ##
Torres laid the PADD on the table and pushed it towards the Captain. Janeway stared at it for a moment and then reached for it.
"What is this?" Janeway asked.
"Schematics for the quantum slipstream drive. I think I may have found a way for it to work," Torres said.
"I thought we decided the technology was too unstable and dangerous for our purposes."
"I've come up with a way to modify the deflector dish, to align the quantum fields. I think it could work." Torres clasped her hands behind her back as she watched the Captain carefully.
"If this works, we'll slice years off our trip back to the Alpha Quadrant."
Janeway reviewed the data in her hands. "You've made considerable progress on this project," Janeway said, a trace of admiration in her voice. "This is excellent work, B'Elanna."
"Thank you, Captain. It's been a fascinating engineering challenge, something to distract me from the run of the mill diagnostics, warp core idiosyncrasies. Not, by the way, that those aren't important."
"This looks like it required much more work than 'distraction' implies," Janeway said. "Have you told anyone about this?"
B'Elanna shook her head. "No, I wanted to run it by you first, see what you thought of it. I didn't want to get anyone's hopes up, so I've been keeping it quiet. Even from Lieutenant Carey. I didn't want anyone to know unless I had a chance of success."
Janeway nodded. "I agree. We've raised their hopes so many times in the past and failed."
"Captain, this time will be different," Torres said earnestly. "I know this can work."
For the first time since
Torres entered the Ready Room, Janeway looked unconvinced. "I don't know,
B'Elanna. Activating the quantum slipstream drive is an ambitious project and
it's more than a question of tweaking some formulas and re-calibrating engines.
Are you sure you haven't bitten off more than you can
Torres shook her head. "Captain, this is the type of project every engineer dreams of." She knew it wasn't a great answer, but she also knew Janeway admired determination. "This is the most promising chance to return to the Alpha Quadrant yet--"
"I haven't forgotten the Dauntless and how easily we were tricked," Janeway said.
"I understand and I'm asking you to trust me that I know what I'm doing," B'Elanna said softly. "I just want to try, Captain. A chance, that's all I'm asking for." She paused for a moment. "You gave me a second chance when I came aboard Voyager and--"
Janeway held up her hand, cutting B'Elanna off. "You're right," Janeway said quietly. She took a few steps towards the window. "We should give every technology a chance and--" glancing at the PADD in her hand, she continued "--if you think you can make this work, then by all means." She turned and held the PADD out to Torres. "Make it your priority. Use all available resources and even though it's evident this is your baby, you should draft anyone you can to help make this reality."
Torres nodded. "Thank you, Captain."
Torres headed towards the door, but as they slid open, she turned to look at Janeway. The Captain had made her way to towards the window, clasping her hands behind her back as she stared out at the starscape.
"I won't let you down, Captain," Torres said quietly.
"You never do," Janeway answered.
~ the end
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