Authors: Dean Wesley Smith,Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction
THE SHUTTLE DIPPED AND BUCKED.
CHIEF ENGINEER B'Elanna Torres kept her balance with practiced ease. She braced herself on the control panels with the heels of both hands.
Her fingers dancing on the control panels like those of a concert pianist, constantly adjusting, strengthening, shifting power. She hadn't flown a Starfleet shuttle much since her Academy days, but it was coming back to her. The mission should have been a simple one.
The largest asteroid in this sector had deposits of armalcolite ore they needed to fix the Oltion circuits in the warp processor. Torres had convinced Captain Janeway to allow her to take a shuttlecraft to the asteroid for the necessary supplies.
Sensors had shown an easy ride. In reality, the asteroid belt was as volatile as the Badlands had been. If Torres had known that before she started, she would have asked for Lieutenant Paris, the best pilot on Voyager, to join her. Instead, the Vulcan security officer Tavok sat in the pilot's seat. His brow was furrowed, making his eyebrows seem almost straight. He looked calm, but the beads of sweat on his forehead showed his tension. He wasn't the best pilot on board Voyager, but he was good. They were so close. The sensors on Voyager had shown a high concentration of ore in the area, and Torres needed it. Desperately..
"I do not believe the shuttle can stand more of this." Tuvok spoke with his usual precision. "I don't know if I can stand more of this." Torres shifted her hand onto the console and almost lost her balance. She wanted something to work right. Anything.
She was tired of not having the right equipment or enough time to complete a task. It felt as if the entire Delta Quadrant were out to get her. "Report." Captain Janeway's voice came clearly through the communications system of the bucking shuttlecraft.
Torres almost snapped to attention, a habit she had thought lost until she met Janeway.
Torres glanced at the viewscreen. The asteroids surrounded their small ship like Cardassians around a helpless Bajoran. What had been a vision of hope a few hours ago was now a symbol of frustration. "The subspace forces that tore this planet into an asteroid belt are still at work," she said, trying not to let that frustration into her voice.
She wasn't as 2 THE ESCAPE successful at it as Tuvok. But then she sometimes felt like she was all emotion while Tuvok was all intellect.
"I'm not sure -- how much longer this craft can stand the punishment and I've found no way to block the disturbance." "Thirty seconds to target," Tuvok said. "I would suggest then, B'Elanna, that you and Mr. Tavok return to the ship. We will determine how to get the ore from here." "Captain, this will probably be our only chance." Tuvok glanced at her, eyebrows raised in warning. She still wasn't used to the strictness of the command structure on a Starfleet vessel. "Twenty seconds," he said. "It's your call, B'Elanna. But I don't want to lose two officers on a mission this minor." B'Elanna opened her mouth to retort when Tavok grabbed her arm. He shook his head.
No one seemed to understand how important this mission was to her. They needed the ore desperately for repairs to Voyager. She needed the ore. She was the one who worked two and three shifts straight juryrigging all the equipment. If the captain had had to do all that work, she would never have called this mission minor.
The shuttle continued to rock in the subspace turbulence. Tuvok's steady hand kept them away from the larger asteroids, but the tiny ones pelted the shields.
"Captain, just a few more seconds-was The interior lights of the shuttle dimmed for a 3 moment and B'Elanna's fingers flew over the control board. On the viewscreen, a large asteroid loomed in front of them. "Report," the captain said.
The subspace turbulence was damaging the shuttle in ways B'Elanna didn't have time to fix. They were losing power and life support. "The shuttle is not responding easily to my comcommands," Tuvok said. B'Elanna cursed under her breath. If they didn't turn back now, they might never get the chance. The ore was important, but it wasn't worth losing the shuttle.
Or their lives.
"Let's get out of here," she said.
Tuvok nodded once as if any more movement would cause him to lose his precious control.
He was hunched forward as if he could move the shuttle with the force of his will. Within seconds, he had the craft turned. But it bounced and rolled. The turbulence seemed almost worse now that they were heading out of the field. Above Torres, something in the communications system released a slow, steady, irritating whine. The lights dimmed again, then went out. The darkness in the craft made her clench her hand into a fist. Her left hand. She was still playing the controls with her right.
"Auxiliary power on," she said. The cabin lights flickered and came back on much dimmer than before. "Shields at only twenty percent.
Don't hit anything too big." "With the shields at twenty percent, even a small impact could prove disastrous." Tuvok spoke the obvious with the sincerity of a man giving a speech before the Federation. Next time, she would ask for Paris. He at least would not have the need to comment on every statement she made. She leaned forward herself. The subspace turbulence had somehow grown worse. It was as if they were fighting back against a very real current where before they had been going with it. The shuttle rattled like a child's toy. It was coming apart.
"Captain," Torres said. "Life support is failing. The shuttle is disintegrating. Request you put a tractor beam on us." "Done," Janeway said.
Now even Tavok was sweating.
His fingers flew over the controls as fast as B'Elanna's. Again the ship was buffeted by a wave of subspace disturbance, and then a loud crash echoed through the shuttle.
"What-T" The lights went out again, then came back on.
Sparks flew over both officers and the air filled with a thick smoke that smelled of burning insulation.
"That rock was 3.5 inches in diameter," Tuvok said in a matter-of-fact way. "Shields at five percent." B'Elanna willed the shuttle forward. Instead of a fight to get into the belt, they were now in a race to get out. "I'm doing all I can, but I can't divert any more power. There simply isn't any$99 Again the ship rocked and a smash echoed through the cabin. B'Elanna winced at the red light blinking on her console. "Hull breach in the rear cabin.
We're sealed in." The pressure door behind them slammed shut.
"That one was.53 inches," Tuvok said.
B'Elanna took a deep breath. Tuvok's calm seemed at times to almost be infectious. She let-the level of her voice fall. "I'm holding five percent screens, but all life support is gone." "B'Elanna. Mr. Tuvok." The captain's voice filled the smoky cabin. "As soon as we have a tractor on the shuttle, we'll beam you out." The rattling of the hull and what seemed like every part inside it had become deafening. Tuvok's expert piloting kept them from the larger asteroids, and five percent screens at least blocked the smaller dust bits. But again something collided with the ship and sent it rocking. "Twenty seconds," the captain said.
"I hope we have twenty seconds," B'Elanna said to herself, She wiped sweat from her eyes with the sleeve of her tunic. "I'm shutting down the engines and rerouting all power to the forward screens." "Logical," Tavok said. "But wait for my mark. I will aim for the clearest possible path." He made a slight evasive action and something else crashed near the rear. "Now!" Her fingers flew over the controls as she put a power to the shields. Beside her Tuvok's hands stopped and hovered over his dead panel. "Sixty percent on the forward screens." "Not enough." He pointed at the viewscreen ahead and the shuttle-sized rock hurtling at them.
"Voyager!" B'Elanna shouted. "Lock on that asteroid directly in our path and blow it out of space. Quick!" "We see it." The captain sounded as calm as Tuvok. Didn't they feel the stress?
EV-ERY ounce of power B'Elanna could find in the poor, beat-up shuttle she directed at the forward shields, but she knew it would never be enough.
That piece of rock was far, far too large.
Then, at what seemed to be the very last instant, she felt the tingle of a transporter. As she vanished she glanced at the viewscreen. It showed a phaser beam hitting the rough surface of the asteroid square in the center.
Captain Kathryn Janeway stood in the center of the bridge, feet apart, hands clasped behind her back. She was watching the asteroid explode on the viewscreen. The tractor beam around the tiny shuttle barely pulled it clear.
"Both officers on board, Captain." Ensign Hoffman's mellifluous voice sounded tinny through her comm link from the transporter room. Janeway let out the breath she'd been holding. That had been just a little too close. So far from home, each routine action became a risk. She had hesitated before sending her experienced officers on a mission like this one, but now she was glad she had. She would definitely have lost two of the more inexperienced crew.
"Direct hit on the asteroid," said Ensign Harry Kim. For all his inexperience, Kim was already a good officer. "The shuttle is out of danger." "Nice job, Ensign," Janeway said. Then she turned slightly to Lieutenant Tom Paris.
"And nice job getting us in close. A fine piece of flying. Your quick action and skill may have saved their lives." Paris let a smile cross his face without taking his eyes off his board. "Thank you, Captain." Janeway held her position for a moment, the rigidity of her stance helping her control the fluttery feeling she had each time she remembered that the Federation Starship Voyager was all alone in the Delta Quadrant. She had flown missions without backup in the past, but she had always known that within a few days at warp speed, she could be at a Federation station or near a friendly planet. Not only was Voyager alone here, it was alone in uncharted space.
She knew that fact bothered the others, too, although they never spoke of it to her. Her first officer, Chakotay, simply wasn't the type. He stood behind Paris, as if he didn't trust Paris's expert flying. The two had an odd relationship, constantly-bickering, and yet beneath it lay respect for each other's abilities. She had been lucky in both of them. She needed rebels and risk-takers out here. The average Starfleet officer would have had to learn some of the skills that came to these men as naturally as breathing.
She had been fortunate too in young Kim. He was so inexperienced in spaceflight that he adopted the attitude of the people around him. He was sharp and decisive, traits she valued more than she cared to name. The bridge crew had returned to its morning business. Two other ensigns bent over the science station, deciphering information that came from the asteroid belt. A lieutenant stood in Tuvok's place near security, awaiting his return.
The expedition to the asteroid belt had provided the morning's excitement and nothing more.
Or so it seemed.
The expedition had pointed out several problems that Janeway had to deal with immediately.
"I want all senior officers in the briefing room at 0930," Janeway said as she headed for her ready room to prepare. "Commander Chakotay, you have the bridge until then." The briefing room, like the rest of the ship, was done in gunmetal gray. Like everything else on Voyager, the room was designed for speed as well as comfort. Janeway felt each time she walked into the room that decisions made here would be swift, incisive, and important. The soft conversation stopped as soon as she entered. Neelix and Kes sat on the far side of the table. Janeway's gaze was always drawn to their bright nonregulation clothing.
They had shown their worth as guides and companions, and she did not regret bringing them on board.
Chakdtay sat in his regular spot to the, left of the captain's chair. He was bea solid man, sturdy, like 9 Voyager herself. Paris sat on the other side of the table from Chakotay. Paris was not solid or sturdy, but mercurial and occasionally brilliant, hiding depths behind a soft, sardonic manner.
Finally her gaze rested on the two shuttle passengers. Tuvok sat calm and seemingly undisturbed by the morning's events. She was relieved to see him. She relied on his guidance more than she cared to admit. She also relied on B'Elddanna Torres. The chief engineer was smiling, a reaction that Janeway would not have expected. It seemed as if the near brush with death had lightened B'Elanna's outlook on life a little this morning.
Janeway took her place beside Chakotay.
"It seems," she said without preamble, "that we're not going to recover any ore from this asteroid belt.
I will expect a full report on what happened as well as on the status of the shuttlecraft as soon as possible." "You will have it within the hour," Tuvok said. "Captain," B'Elanna said, "I already have Lieutenant Carey going over the shuttlecraft and starting what repairs he can." "Good," Janeway said. She took a deep breath, then leaned forward slightly. "This morning's battle with the asteroid belt exemplifies the seriousness of our problems. We are short of most parts, the repticators are functioning only on an emergency basis, and the warp drive is down over fifty percent. Is that a fairly accurate assessment?" She looked directly at B'Elanna, who for some reason looked relieved. B'Elanna must have thought 10 that Janeway would do nothing about the engineering problems. "Actually," B'Elanna said, "I don't think I can honestly guarantee more than another day of warp power until we find or manufacture some replacement parts. And that's if we take it easy on the drives. If we push them I wouldn't count on more than ten minutes." Janeway nodded. "I agree, I'm afraid.