Title: Equinox 1: Interludes
Author: Julie Evans
Email id: Juli17@aol.com
Codes: T/Burke, P/T
Summary: After Voyager and the Equinox meet in the Delta quadrant, B‘Elanna recalls her past relationship with Max Burke and Tom finds himself battling jealousy. Set during the events in "Equinox, Part 1."
Disclaimer: Star Trek and its characters are the property of Viacom/Paramount. I am just borrowing them for fun, not profit.
Notes: After watching "Equinox" I found myself wondering about the exact nature of B‘Elanna and Burke‘s relationship at the Academy, and about several other minor unexplained points mentioned in the episode. I also wondered what a Tom/Burke scene might be like (no, not that kind of Tom/Burke!), and in case it doesn‘t happen in Part 2, I tried my hand at it here. My interpretations could be negated when the second part of the episode premieres, if the writers decide to indulge in little more interaction between B‘Elanna and Burke (which I don‘t really foresee, but it‘s possible). In any case, this is just one interpretation, one that seemed plausible to me. Okay to archive to the ASC, BLTS, PTFever, and PT Collective archives. All others please ask the author for permission.
Additional notes regarding events and the passage of time in "Equinox, Part 1": The passage of time was not clear in the episode, but I finally decided that a couple of days probably passed (say at least two days and one night) during the events in "Equinox, Part 1." I base this on several comments made in the episode itself. For one, after Janeway has ordered the Equinox to be abandoned, Ransom addresses his crew and tells them they have time for "one last shower." This seems to imply that the Equinox crew has had some time to avail themselves of Voyager‘s many amenities.
Then, in the scene between B‘Elanna and Burke in Engineering, Burke says in reference to Tom Paris, "you could do worse." Burke offering an opinion on Tom seems to imply that he has had a chance to learn something about Tom, and that he and Tom probably met again after the memorial service scene. Otherwise his only knowledge of Tom Paris would be from Tom‘s previous history in the Alpha quadrantóCaldik Prime, being kicked out of Starfleet, being arrested as a Maquis traitor and sent to prison. That‘s probably not the kind of second-hand knowledge that would allow Burke to render a personal opinion of Tom (whether he is being sincere or simply keeping B‘Elanna‘s attention diverted). This implication in Burke‘s words to B‘Elanna also led me to theorize that when B‘Elanna spoke to Burke after the memorial service and suggested "why don‘t we all have dinner together" (including Tom and Harry in the invitation), the dinner did in fact happen, off-screen. In the Engineering scene (which would seem to take place the next day), when Max says "are we still on for dinner, just the two of us," I assume he‘s not referring to B‘Elanna‘s original invitation, despite the use of the word "still," but he is trying to flatter her and imply that he is still romantically interested in her by suggesting a private dinner (though we know his real intent is simply to distract her attention).
Finally, right before the deception of the Equinox crew is revealed, when Tuvok and Seven discover the Equinox‘s research lab is still flooded with thermionic radiation, Tuvok remarks that "the radiation should have dissipated by now." Based on the earlier comments that it would take some time for the radiation to dissipate, Tuvok‘s assumption seems to imply a passage of at least a day or two. That‘s my theory anyway. Now, on with the storyÖ
by Julie Evans
0420 hours, nearly a day after Voyager and the Equinox meet in the Delta quadrant:
"B‘ElannaÖ" He looked warily at the PADD in her hand, gripped like a weapon.
"I waited for thirty minutes! I don‘t like being stood up!"
"SomeÖthings came up, and I got delayed." He gave her a charming smile. "But I‘m here now."
She wasn‘t moved. "Well, some things have come up for me too," she snarled. "Goodnight."
He didn‘t take the warning. Instead he looked past her into the room and took a step forward, as if he was expecting to see somebody, though she was alone. She blocked his way and he wisely stepped back again.
"I‘m sorry," he cajoled. "I just lost track of time."
"I don‘t care!"
"Hey, you don‘t have to get so mad," he protested. "You‘ve cancelled on me before. In fact quite a few times lately."
"But I didn‘t leave you sitting in a cafÈ for thirty minutes," B‘Elanna said angrily.
"I know." He smiled again, his expression genuinely contrite. "I really am sorry."
"Fine," B‘Elanna snapped, her tone dismissive.
"So we can forget it?" he asked, glancing at the PADD.
"I don‘t forget things, Max," she growled, though she slowly lowered her arm. She didn‘t appreciate being stood up, but too many other things were on her mind to really make any further issue of it.
"Are you going to invite me in anyway?"
B‘Elanna stood back so he could step into the doorway, but he would have had to push her aside to get all the way into the room. He didn‘t. He leaned against the doorjamb instead, hands in pockets. He was still wearing his cadet uniform. He looked at the silky red jumpsuit she was wearing. "Do you still want to go grab a bite to eat?"
B‘Elanna shook her head. "It‘s too late now, and I have to study," she said curtly.
"Now haven‘t I told you that all study and no play makes BLT a dull girl," Max teased.
B‘Elanna gave him an annoyed look, not amused by his banter or that nickname. "Knock it off, Max, or I will hit you."
Max sighed audibly. "You‘re going to stay mad at me for a while, aren‘t you?"
B‘Elanna frowned. "No. I‘m not. It‘s not that important. But I‘m busy right now, Max." And she really was in no mood for his casual chatter. She hadn‘t been for weeks.
"Want me to help you study?"
B‘Elanna snorted. He never helped her study; she helped him study. She‘d tutored him through several Engineering courses, explaining theories and equations to him, and showing him various engineering tricks and shortcuts in the hands-on Engineering Applications lab where they‘d first met several months ago. Not that he was stupid, but he didn‘t apply himself, without what he called some "motivation." Soon after they‘d met he‘d told her that she was his motivation. No one had ever said something like that to her before, and, frivolous or not, and she‘d been flattered at the time.
"Okay, maybe you don‘t need my help to study," Max agreed. He gave her a suggestive smile. "How about I just hang around and provide some distraction when you take a break."
B‘Elanna rolled her eyes. "In other words, how about some sex later?" She slowly shook her head. "I guess that is what our relationship is all about." She wasn‘t sure why that suddenly bothered her.
Max looked at her, his expression equally unsure. "I thought our relationship was about enjoying each other‘s company, including that part of it too. And I thought we had some pretty good times." His gaze on her was probing, wary. "Are you looking for something more, B‘Elanna?"
He was looking at her as if he was afraid of what her answer might be. He was also right, they‘d had some good times. She‘d needed respite from the grueling schedule at the Academy, and someone who actually accepted her, who even liked her just as she was. She‘d appreciated Max being that person. But indulging in an occasional "good time" with Max wasn‘t keeping the demons away anymore. Not that it was his fault her life and her future were in complete turmoil. She wasn‘t sure anymore what she wanted, or where she was going. But she did know that she didn‘t want anything more from him than he‘d already given her, which unaccountably made her heart ache for a moment.
"No," she finally said softly. "I‘m not looking for any more, Max. And right now, I don‘t think have the time for anything at all."
Max looked momentarily relieved at her answer, and then he seemed to realize everything she was implying. "You haven‘t had time for anything lately," he said. "Dinner in the commissary, or concerts in Golden Gate Park. Even though I‘m the one who messed up tonight, I get the feeling your heart isn‘t in this anymore." He gave her a knowing ghost of a smile. "Have you been trying to tell me something, B‘Elanna?"
B‘Elanna didn‘t speak for several moments. It was true; they hadn‘t spent much time together in the last few weeks. She‘d had a lot of excuses, or sometimes he‘d had one. Maybe they were both trying to tell each other something. "I don‘t know. I guess we‘ve both been too busy lately," she said, knowing that hardly sounded convincing. "Maybe after finals are overÖ"
Max‘s mouth quirked, and he nodded slowly. "Yeah. Maybe after finals." He shrugged. "If I‘m still at the Academy. I‘m thinking of resigning altogether. Iím feeling more and more like I‘m not cut out for Starfleet after all."
B‘Elanna looked at him in surprise. She knew he was sometimes frustrated with the workload, but he‘d never said anything about quitting. "Oh, I don‘t know, Max. You have the ability. And you got an ‚A‘ in ‚Field Command Decisions and Applied Ethics‘ last semester." While she had interfered in a mass genocide situation on a non-aligned planet, unwilling to leave unarmed villagers to their corrupt government‘s mercy, and had nearly flunked the class. She gave him a brief, hopefully encouraging smile. She certainly owed him that much. "All you have to do is study a little harder, and you‘ll be fine."
"Maybe," Max said. "But anyone can emulate the correct action an upright Starfleet officer should take, especially in a simulation." He shrugged again. "I just wish I was as talented as you are on the technical aspects. I‘m sure you‘ll be Chief of Engineering on a Galaxy-class starship in no time."
"Sure," B‘Elanna said, her voice wry. "Chief of Engineering." It had a ring to it, a ring she‘d thought she could strive for, but now she doubted that phrase would ever be used in reference to her. If only her problems could be solved by studying a little harder. Max had no idea how close she was to being thrown out of the Academy. She wasn‘t sure she would even be around to take her finals. Several incidents over the past few weeks had probably sealed her fate. But she and Max rarely talked about anything serious, and if conversation between them ever threatened to delve too deep, he had a way of immediately moving to a lighter subject. For awhile she‘d appreciated that quality in him, since she‘d always felt acutely uncomfortable talking about herself or her feelings. Lately she‘d thought that maybe she did wish she had someone she could really talk to. Though she knew she‘d probably bite anyone‘s head off who really tried to get that close. Maybe that‘s why Max had never tried.
Max was looking at her thoughtfully, as if he was about to ask her what she was thinking, or what she was feeling. She didn‘t know what she‘d say, but then his momentarily pensive expression cleared and he looked nonchalant as he flashed her a persuasive smile. "Are you sure you don‘t want to come to dinner with meÖ"
B‘Elanna shook her head.
"Okay." Max shrugged. "I guess I can‘t change your mind."
An awkward silence ensued and they looked at each other for several moments, until the silence became uncomfortable. Finally he straightened and pulled away from the doorjamb. "I guess you want to get back to your studies, and if I don‘t get going I‘ll miss the crowd at Tremblors."
B‘Elanna nodded. She‘d always felt a little out of place at that popular student nightclub, even with Max, who was completely at home in a party atmosphere. She would never have gone there on her own, but for awhile, with Max, it had felt good to feelóor maybe just to pretendólike she belonged.
Max took a step back. "I could come back later, after you finish studying," he offered, in one final gesture.
"Maybe another night."
Max shrugged. "Sure. Another night." He stepped out into the hallway, and they looked at each other again, silently. A moment of unspoken communication passed between them, and they both knew. "I guess I‘ll give you a call later then. After finals. Or you can call me."
"Sure," B‘Elanna agreed. Their gazes held for a few seconds longer, until she finally said gruffly, "Take care of yourself, Max."
"Of course," Max said easily. "That is a particular talent of mine." Then he smiled again, ruefully. "You take care of yourself too, B‘Elanna," he said, before he turned and walked away.
B‘Elanna stepped back slowly into the room and the door slid closed. She knew with certainty that he wouldn‘t call. Just as he knew she wasn‘t going to call him. They‘d been drifting apart, and neither had made more than half-hearted attempts to breach the distance. He‘d seemed regretful about it, just as she felt a little regretful, but she knew his heart wasn‘t breaking. But neither was hers. Maybe because their hearts hadn‘t really been involved. Somehow that fact disturbed her again.
B‘Elanna growled and shook her head angrily. What a ridiculous thought. She should be glad they hadn‘t developed deeper feelings for each other. She definitely preferred it that way. That was the whole reason she‘d become involved with him. He couldn‘t hurt her.
She picked up the rest of the PADDs she‘d been browsing through with less than total concentration and strode from the small living area toward her smaller bedroom. Neither of her roommates was likely to be here tonight, since they were rarely here for longer than it took to grab a change of clothes. But she was still in the habit of keeping her stuff in her room, of guarding her privacy.
The first thing she saw as she walked into her room was the sweater folded neatly on top of her dresser. She dropped the PADD‘s on the dresser top and ran her fingers lightly over the soft blue wool. Max had lent it to her when they‘d been in Golden Gate Park several weeks ago and she‘d been cold, as she habitually was in San Francisco. He‘d told her to keep the sweater for as long as she wanted. She knew the other girls at the Academy often kept their boyfriend‘s sweaters, and shirts, and whatever else they could get their hands on, and then wore them proudly in public. Max had probably assumed she wanted to do the same, but she‘d folded it that night and left it on her dresser, and hadn‘t touched it since. Maybe she just wasn‘t sentimental enough to wear her boyfriend‘s clothing, in public or in private. Or maybe she just wasn‘t sentimental enough about Max.
B‘Elanna picked up the sweater. She was fond of Max, and he had been good to her. From the beginning she‘d felt an ache of loneliness at the Academy that even her intense focus on her studies couldnít completely eradicate. She‘d made very few friends, until Max. He wasn‘t intimidated by her temper, he just made himself scarce when it erupted. She‘d enjoyed his company, and his brand of casual fun had made that ache go away for awhile. But they‘d both known somewhere deep inside that it was never going to be anything more. So why did that make her feel sad? Just because their relationship was simply based on attraction and affection, and not some deep emotional connection? She wasn‘t sure she was even capable of the kind of all-consuming love that other female cadets spoke of feeling. Besides she didn‘t need that kind of demanding emotional involvement. The demand and satisfaction she got from her engineering studies was more than enough for her, and now that was slipping away. That hurt far more than losing Max.
B‘Elanna opened the bottom drawer of her dresser and shoved the sweater inside. She‘d take it back to him later, if she saw him again. She pushed the drawer shut with her foot and threw herself across her bed, too tired to bother with any more studying. She knew the material anyway.
Instead she lay on her stomach with her arms wrapped around her pillow and her head resting on it, her thoughts dark. She hadn‘t told Max, or anyone, that she would probably be leaving the Academy, before she could be thrown out. Her problems weren‘t as straightforward as Max‘s. She was smart, and the work came easy to her. Even Professor McKintlin, who was right now probably putting another reprimand in her file for her "uncontrolled behavior," had grudgingly said that she had an amazingly intuitive understanding of engineering concepts. Then he‘d added that it must be one of the positive effects of mixed breeding. He hadn‘t said "the only positive effect" but his meaning had been clear.
B‘Elanna turned on her side and hugged her pillow. That didn‘t matter. She should be used to veiled insults. All that mattered was that she couldn‘t control her temper, couldn‘t conform to the Academy rules, or, most of the time, to the social structure. And here learning came second to conforming, except to a handful of professors. Those few, who cared more about expanding minds than controlling them, she would miss. And Max, she would probably miss him a little too.
B‘Elanna slugged her pillow with one fist. To hell with Starfleet‘s narrow-mindedness. She could find her own way, and her own place, somewhere else. And she didn‘t need anyone‘s help. She didn‘t need someone with her, someone who would be on her side, no matter what. Someone who would share more than just sex, someone who would love heróreally love heróand whom she could love back. She snorted at the idea. Who would that willing to put up with her temper and her screwed up half-Klingon psyche anyway? Only someone else as messed up as she.
There was probably no one that messed up. But she was used to being alone. She had been before, and she would be again. She fluffed the pillow under her. She certainly didn‘t need, or want, someone‘s arms around her while she slept either. Sleeping was something else she did just fine alone. And as if to prove it she dozed off, feeling fitful and unsettled.
She woke up suddenly, just a minute or two later. The light in her room had been dimmed to near darkness. And she realized with a start that a warm body was pressing against hers, and someone‘s arms were draped loosely around her.
She turned, dislodging his light grip, and stared down at his shadowy form. How had he gotten into her quartersóno, into her bedroom? He wasn‘t supposed to be here, he‘d never even come back for his sweater. She‘d left it behind two weeks later when she‘d left the Academy for good.
But that couldn‘t be right. She must have dreamed that part. She was still here, at the Academy. And Max was still here.
He‘d never slept over before. She‘d never invited him to stay, but she must have tonight. Then why didn‘t she remember? She shook her head, trying to dispel the confusing jumble of her dreams and reality, and she touched him lightly on the shoulder. "MaxÖ"
He stirred and turned onto his back. It was very dim in her room but she could see his eyes when he opened them, and what she saw caused her to jerk her hand away. His eyes wereÖvacant. Like black bottomless holes, with nothing behind them, as if whatever he had once been was gone, had been sucked out. As if all that was left of his soul was emptiness.
His blank lifeless gaze bored into her, his hands reached for her, and she recoiled as his lips curved into a smile and he opened his mouth to speakó
She pushed his hands away, not wanting to look at him, not wanting to see what he had become, something dark and barren. She just wanted to get awayÖ.
She woke up.
"Computer, five percent illumination. B‘Elanna, are you okay?"
B‘Elanna stared, dazed, at the man who was looking down at her with an expression of concern on his face.
"You were really restless all of a sudden," he said, rubbing her shoulders. "Were you having a bad dream?"
She let herself relax a little under his hands. A dream. She shuddered involuntarily and Tom hugged her against him, his lips pressed to her brow. For a moment she accepted the comfort of his arms around her. Then she pulled away and looked at him. Even in the low illumination she could see the blue depths of his eyes, familiar and warm as they regarded her.
"I was dreaming aboutÖthe Academy," B‘Elanna murmured, trying to refocus her thoughts. It had mostly been a replay of her memories, up until the strange, ridiculous twist at the end.
"Oh," Tom said. "I guess seeing Max brought back those memories."
"Yes, I suppose." B‘Elanna sat up against the pillows, feeling Tom‘s eyes on her. She pushed her tangled hair out of her face.
"Bad memories," Tom said.
It was a statement rather than a question, since he knew that she didn‘t like remembering her Academy days, or talking about them. It had been an experience she‘d mostly prefer to forget. "Most of them."
"Except for Max," Tom said quietly.
B‘Elanna glanced at Tom. She thought she heard a hint of accusation in his voice. She didn‘t like feeling defensive about her past, or about not having told him every little detail of her life before Voyager. Most of it was unimportant. There were certainly huge chunks of Tom‘s past he hadn‘t shared with her, and she‘d never pressed him to dredge up memories he‘d rather forget. "It didn‘t mean that much, Tom," she said curtly. "But, yes, he was one of my few good memories from the Academy."
Tom seemed to read her flash of resentment. "Then I‘m glad he was there for you," he said, his tone sincere if a bit restrained. He dropped a hand lightly on her blanket-covered knee. "He seemed like aÖnice guy."
Tom offered that last part just a little grudgingly, and B‘Elanna couldn‘t help a small smile. "So you said last night," she pointed out. He had said little else about Max after dinner last night, as if he didn‘t completely trust himself to discuss that subject. As if he really was a little bit jealous.
"Dinner was so rushed we didn‘t get a chance to talk much. But he did seem nice," Tom repeated, sounding like he was still trying to convince himself. "And pretty cheerful considering the situation on the Equinox."
B‘Elanna frowned at Tom‘s qualification. Max had chatted amiably at dinner, and had joked about their Academy days, and then had relayed some of the more amusing adventures of the Equinox in the Delta quadrant. But what had Tom expected? "He was just trying to be friendly," she said sharply. She moved her knee, dislodging Tom‘s hand. "And I‘m sure everyone on the Equinox is very happy we came along. They probably wouldn‘t have survived otherwise.
They‘ve had a tough time, and that‘s probably why they seemÖ"
"Jumpy?" Tom asked, and B‘Elanna looked at him, trying to ascertain any sarcasm in his words. "I guess that‘s why their cheer seems a little forced, and why none of them will look you directly in the eye for more than a few seconds."
"What do you expect?" B‘Elanna asked, annoyed. "They‘ve watched their friends die, they‘ve been half-starved, they‘ve been harassed by those interspatial aliens, and their ship‘s literally about to fall apart around them. By comparison we‘ve been on a luxury cruise."
"I know we‘ve been lucky," Tom agreed. He touched her arm "And I didn‘t mean anythingó"
B‘Elanna shrugged his hand away. If Max seemed subtly different, well, who wouldn‘t be changed by what he‘d been through? How different were she and Tom now because of their own experiences over the past few years? "How would you react if you‘d gone through everything they have, Tom?" she snapped.
Tom stared at her in surprise for several moments, and then he looked a little uncomfortable. "I don‘t really know," he admitted finally. "I‘m sure it‘s a credit to their charactersóto Max‘s characteróthat they‘ve all managed to survive this far," he added, his tone conciliatory.
B‘Elanna suddenly felt irritated with herself, and a little guilty, for snapping at Tom about Max, a man she had in truth barely thought of over the past ten years. Maybe it was simply that after five years of isolation it was gratifying to meet others from the Alpha quadrant so unexpectedly, and especially to see someone she had once known. It was too bad it was under almost tragic circumstances. "They really have gone through hell," she murmured.
"I know," Tom acknowledged quietly. He touched her arm again, and his fingers lightly stroked her skin. She looked at him, and he gave her a disarmingly contrite smile. "My own judgment is probably off because I‘m just a littleÖ" Tom sighed. "Jealous."
B‘Elanna stared at him. "You admit that?" she teased, a small smile touching her own lips.
"Yes, I admit it," Tom grumbled. He gave her an annoyed look. "And you seem to enjoy it."
She did kind of like the idea that he really could be jealous, but she quickly repressed her smile, and put her hand over his. "I like knowing that you care," she admitted softly. Then she gave him an admonishing look. "But I told you before you have nothing to be jealous about."
"Not even that he calls you ‚BLT‘?" he asked lightly.
Then he smirked. "Do I get to call you that now?"
B‘Elanna snorted. "Not a chance. I didn‘t even like it at the Academy."
Tom looked at her curiously. "Then why did you let Max use it?"
B‘Elanna shrugged. "I wanted to be like everyone else at the Academy, to be moreÖhuman, I guess. Nicknames were popular, and I guess I thought letting Max call me ‚BLT‘ would help meÖbelong." She shook her head, amazed at her own insecurity back then, and met Tom‘s understanding gaze. "When he called me that yesterday, I suppose it was justÖhow he remembered me. I was willing to let it slide, under the circumstances. And I‘m sure he has a lot more on his mind now than me or that silly nickname anyway. Like whether the Equinox will ever be space-worthy again." Which reminded her of how much work was waiting for her in Engineering. She sat up and pushed the covers away.
"What are you doing?" Tom asked as she quickly got out of bed.
"I‘m wide awake now, so I figured I might as well get an early start in Engineering," B‘Elanna said, pulling her indigo nightgown over her head. She shivered as the cool air of his quarters touched her bare skin.
"It‘s 0430," Tom said as he glanced at the backlit chronometer on his nightstand.
"I can get in a couple of hours before breakfast." B‘Elanna snatched her uniform pants from the chair near the foot of Tom‘s bed and began to pull them on. "There‘s a lot to do, not just for the Equinox, but to make sure Voyager is protected against those interspatial fissures."
"Which is why we had dinner at 2230 last night," Tom pointed out. "And a quick one. You are allowed to get a good night‘s sleep you know."
"I got some sleep," B‘Elanna said, pulling her regulation tank over her head. She gave him a quick smile. "I always sleep well when you keep me warm." She reached for her uniform jacket. "Now all I need is a quick sonic shower and I‘ll feel good as new."
"My fresh uniforms are in my quarters," B‘Elanna said, fastening her jacket.
"Right," Tom said. He sounded resigned. B‘Elanna looked at him. He was still halfway reclined in bed, the covers tangled around his waist, his chest bare and his hair mussed. He looked very appealing, all winsome and sleep-tossed, though his blue eyes on her were completely alert. It was tempting, especially since they‘d gone immediately to sleep last night, both tired from the long, eventful day. But when she felt this sudden surge of productive energy, even Tom couldn‘t lure her from her work. She would just make it up to him later.
"I‘ve got to go," she said, her voice a little regretful as she snatched her underwear from the chair and stuffed them inside her jacket. She leaned over and pecked him on the cheek. "Go back to sleep. I‘ll see you later."
Tom grabbed her hand before she could move completely away from the bed again. He leaned forward and kissed her on the lips. "Later," he murmured against her mouth, and he ran his tongue over her lower lip.
B‘Elanna pulled away, with a small smile on her face. Unwilling to let his intentional provocation go unanswered, she licked her lips slowly as he resettled himself into the bed, a promise of more later. Then she turned and headed toward the door.
"Breakfast?" he asked softly from the bed.
She turned at the doorway and saw that he had stretched back out on the bed, but she wasn‘t able to see his expression. "I have a feeling I‘ll be so involved I‘ll just grab a replicated roll in Engineering." She could see him shake his head, and she knew he was probably smiling with his usual exasperation at her eating habits, knowing how often that was her breakfast of choice. "But definitely tonight," she whispered, before she turned again and strode out of his quarters.
She still had a smile on her face as she entered the turbolift and requested Deck 9. Tom really was a little jealous, even if he had no reason to feel that way. She and Max had been lovers. But it had been casual. And Max Burke wasn‘t Tom Paris. She‘d never felt for Max what she felt for Tom, never had the inclination to let Max fully into her life, or felt like he really wanted to be there. It had taken time and effort with Tom to get to the point where she, and he, could really be comfortable sharing their feelings with each other, even some of the time. She had never considered making that kind of effort for Max.
She shrugged. However desultory their relationship had been in retrospect, she did have fond memories of Max, and she was happy to see him again. She couldn‘t help being flattered that he seemed as happy to see her, and obviously remembered their time at the Academy with fondness too. Tom would just have to understand that, and realize it didn‘t mean anything more. Especially since it looked like Voyager and the Equinox would be travelling together from now on. Though it hadn‘t been put into words, she was sure now that they‘d found each otherótwo lone Starfleet ships dozens of years from homeóneither crew would want to continue on alone again. Which meant that she and Max would have a lot of time to catch up on each other‘s lives.
B‘Elanna stepped out of the turbolift on Deck 9 and turned toward her quarters. She really did look forward to getting to know Max again, to catching up on his life since the last time they‘d seen each other. Last night they‘d barely had time to trade a few brief details, and she was curious about everything that had happened to him since the last time she‘d seen him. He‘d obviously been through some bad times, and she couldn‘t help feeling some sympathy for him. After all, they had been friends once, and there was no reason they wouldn‘t be friends again. Just like Harry and she were friends.
B‘Elanna smiled wryly as she entered her quarters. Tom probably wouldn‘t see it that way, and maybe it wasn‘t exactly the same. But, if nothing else, it would keep Tom from taking her too much for granted. And if his ego needed a periodic boost she wasn‘t averse to accommodating him.
Her lips curved again as she began stripping off her clothing. She could always tell Tom in complete honesty that he was a far better, and certainly a more inventive, lover than Max. Max had been energetic but rather routine, and not particularly thoughtful as a lover. But before Tom she‘d always thought of sex as little more than a straightforward consummation of physical attraction. She‘d never considered that there were "playful" aspects to sex, and she hadn‘t placed much importance on tenderness or solicitude in the headlong race for a hard and fast release of sexual tension. She‘d never suspected that there could be so much more to it, or that one day she would become so utterly spoiled by having it all. She certainly hadn‘t known back then that endlessly drawn-out kisses and lingering caresses could be as arousing as fiercely focused passion, or that even more than the act itself the mere touch of handsóvery gifted handsólightly stroking her skin could drive her to feverish heights. Not to mention a very gifted mouth that could with devastating ease send her crashing over the edgeó
B‘Elanna quickly reined in that direction of thought. She took a deep breath and set the controls of her sonic shower before she was forced to make it a cold water shower instead. Even if Tom was light years ahead of Max by comparison, she wondered if she should bring up that subject after all. The one piece of advice she had heard amongst all the mostly frivolous "girl talk" at the Academy that might be sound was never to submit a lover to a performance comparison, even if that comparison fell heavily in his favor. The male ego was far less able to see the insignificance of discussing past lovers, or comparing technique, than the female ego. A man, they‘d said, tended to have some vestigial primeval sense of possession, and didnít like to be openly reminded that another man had been where he had, even if it was long past and no longer relevant. Women were far more sanguine about a lover‘s past, and much less proprietary.
B‘Elanna growled low in her throat as she stepped into the shower. On the other hand, none of those gossiping female cadets had been a half-Klingon. While she wasnít about to tolerate any caveman attitude from Tom, maybe it would be better for her own possessive nature to let things stay the way they were between them when it came to that subjectóthe existence of their individual pasts acknowledged and accepted, as long as the details remained unspoken.
Her thoughts drifted to Max again as the warm sharp blast of the sonic shower hit her skin. Maybe he‘d been no more than a serviceable lover, but he‘d been a friend to her at the Academy, and she couldn‘t help wondering with mild interest if being stranded in the Delta quadrant had affected him, and changed him, as it had her. If, like her, he‘d found an unexpected sense of purpose here. If he too had found that being forced to take a different and sometimes painful path had revealed to him an inner strength of character he hadn‘t yet discovered when he‘d been a young and untried Academy cadet. And if he had found a growing sense of peace and acceptance with his life and his choices, as she had.
She hoped so.
0640 hours, that same morning:
Tom slipped his regulation t-shirt over his head, and pulled it down his still damp chest. He looked in the mirror and decided that the face staring back at him looked tense and disgruntled. Definitely too much feeling obvious there. He used to be able to shove those feelings somewhere deep down, and go on as if they didn‘t exist. Apparently he‘d lost his touch.
He‘d been dozing when his commlink had beeped and he‘d been ordered to report to the bridge an hour early. Apparently a new tangle in the crisis had occurred. He‘d actually been glad to get out of bed and hop in the shower, since he hadn‘t been getting any real sleep, not since B‘Elanna had left nearly two hours earlier. He‘d been thinking about Max Burke and B‘Elanna, indulging in a little private self-torture. He couldn‘t help feeling a little annoyed that B‘Elanna had never mentioned Burke, even though he knew just how many women he had not mentioned to B‘Elanna. They‘d agreed tacitly early on that their sexual pasts were history, unimportant. He‘d also known that his own sexual past was far more extensive than B‘Elanna‘s. Maybe it was just the surprise of actually coming face to face with someone from her past that had definitely aroused a primitive response in him.
Tom glared at his reflection and strode out of the bathroom. He fastened his pants and grabbed a clean uniform jacket from the closet. He couldn‘t help a twinge of irrational jealousy knowing that B‘Elanna had once been physically intimate with Max Burke, but he also knew her well enough to know that if she had been emotionally entangled with Burke, and if their break-up had upset her or had broken her heart in any way, she would have reacted to seeing him again in a much more hostile manner. She probably would have slugged him. Instead she‘d simply seemed mildly amused to see him again, as if his presence brought nothing more than a few memories. Annoyingly pleasant memories.
B‘Elanna hadn‘t said it in words, but she‘d always led Tom to believe he was the first man she‘d ever been really serious about, and the first man she‘d ever loved. If he wanted to look at it reasonably, her reaction to Burke certainly hadn‘t refuted that impression in any way. And he knew he didn‘t have any valid reason to be jealous. After all, B‘Elanna had come back here with him last night, without hesitation, without him even asking, and had contentedly gone to sleep curled up next to him. Lately that had begun to happen more and more often, and he‘d decided it was a good sign, a naturally progressive transition in their relationship. Even when sex wasn‘t on her mind (though it was honestly rare when it wasn‘t on his mind, but he generally took his cues from her), she liked to simply sleep with him. When their schedules coincided, and when they weren‘t in the midst of a rousing argument. He was definitely getting used to her body snuggled next to his, even if last night he‘d had to push down what he knew was a ridiculously adolescent urge to initiate sex as a way to lay some sort of "claim" on her after seeing her with Burke, as if it was some sort of contest. He wanted to beóhe hoped he wasóa better man than that.
He finished fastening his uniform jacket, and pulled open his dresser to retrieve a clean pair of socks. It wasn‘t B‘Elanna‘s fault that something about Max Burke also rubbed him the wrong way. At dinner the previous evening the man had been charming and friendly in a smooth, almost rehearsed kind of way. He‘d shared a few stories from the Academy, and some of his experiences in the Delta quadrant, those with a humorous edge, and Harry and B‘Elanna had countered with some of Voyager‘s more innocuous alien encounters. All superficial chitchat, conversation light. Burke hadn‘t acted as if his ship had nearly been destroyed, or as if he‘d watched his friends and crewmates suffer and die periodically over the past few years, and especially over the past several days. He didn‘t appear affected by it at all.
Tom found his shoes in the closet and put them on. Maybe he was being unfair. Maybe the man was grieving inside. Maybe Burke‘s way of dealing with the loss was to bury the pain beneath a casual mask of humor and indifference. Which suddenly made Tom uncomfortably aware that he could in fact be referring to himself.
Annoyed at that thought, Tom strode toward his door, and jumped as the door announcer unexpectedly beeped. He pressed the door release, immediately expecting Harry, who probably wanted to join him for breakfast, or maybe someone from Flight Ops with a procedural question. Surely not B‘Elanna, who was no doubt deeply engrossed at the moment somewhere in Engineering.
The last person he expected to see as the door opened was Max Burke.
The man stood at his door looking at him with an insufferably nonchalant grin, and then immediately dropped the news. "Looks like we‘re all about to be shipmates, Ensign Paris."
Not "Tom" like last night, but "Ensign Paris" with a slight but definite emphasis on the "ensign" part. "We are?" Tom asked carefully. Shit, was that the "new tangle" Chakotay had mentioned?
"Yep," Max said, grin smartly in place. "We just got the word. Those interspatial aliens are working faster than we‘d expected, so it looks like we‘ll have to pool our resources, sacrifice the Equinox and regroup on Voyager. It makes perfect sense of course, since Voyager is in much better shape."
Tom felt momentarily stunned. Of course. Perfect sense. Sacrifice the Equinox so her whole crew, including Max Burke, could become part of Voyager‘s crew, for as long as it took them all to get back to the Alpha quadrant. Not that he shouldn‘t have realized before that once the two crews had found each other it was likely they would now travel together, one way or the other. He plastered a friendly smile on his face. He could gag later when no one was looking. "Welcome aboard then, Commander," Tom said smoothly, offering his hand.
Burke accepted it and shook it hard. Maybe Tom just imagined the other man‘s hard grip was intentionally meant to be painful, but he reacted by tightening his own grip. "Thanks," Burke said amiably after several moments, finally releasing Tom‘s hand as if he hadn‘t even noticed the brief test of strength between them. "I‘m sure we‘ll all merge together effectively as one crew, once rank and seniority and all that annoying stuff gets ironed out."
"No doubt," Tom said, his own congenial smile still in place. He wondered how soon he could challenge the jerk to an arm-wrestling contest. He definitely had to put in more time on the arm weights in the gym soon.
"Can‘t have two captains, after all," Burke was saying. "I suppose Ransom will move into the first officer position, and that will leave me and your Commander Chakotay out in the cold a bit." Burke shrugged at the idea, as if it didn‘t particularly bother him. "I don‘t know where Chakotay‘s strengths lie, but I put in some time at the helm before I became first officer. I suppose I can rely on you to show me the ropes of Voyager‘s helm, eh, Tom?"
Now that Burke had made clear their difference in rank, it was plain, friendly "Tom" again. Tom‘s smile faded slowly. A couple of minutes ago he hadn‘t even known what was going on, and now Burke was dropping a hint that he expected to take over at Voyager‘s helm. Tom felt himself grow disquieted at the thought of just how these two crews would merge together now on one ship, and how Captain Janeway would reassign positions among two sets of very experienced officers. But he managed to shrug and look as unconcerned as Burke. "I‘m sure that can be arranged, but it is Captain Janeway who will make those final decisions."
Burke shrugged back. "Of course. I was just indulging in a little idle speculation. And I‘m sure Captain Janeway will do what‘s in the best interest of her ship and the combined crew. And ‚c‘est la vie‘ in the end anyway, eh? We‘re all fellow Starfleet officers, and we‘re used to pulling together and rolling with the punches. At least we are on the Equinox." He playfully punched Tom in the shoulder, and it was all Tom could do not to roundhouse him back in the jawónot playfully. "Besides, it probably doesn‘t matter all that much to you anyway, since you‘ve got your hands full with the most beautiful, fascinating woman ever to grace a starship, even if she is pretty strong-tempered." Burke‘s eyebrows rose meaningfully and he grinned knowingly, guy to guy. "But, as we both know, that just means the making up is all the more exhilarating, doesn‘t it?"
It would be a cold day in every known interpretation of hell in the entire damned Universe before he would ever discuss that subject with Max Burke. Every galaxy could collapse on itself first. It was not going to happen. He gave Burke a carefully blank look. "Why did you stop by again, Commander?"
"I just wanted to let you know that any friend of B‘Elanna‘s is someone I‘d like to consider a friend too," Burke said, his tone completely congenial.
"We‘re a little more than friends," Tom said, and he purposely let his gaze shift to the chair just visible through the doorway into his bedroom area. He was glad now that he‘d been in too much of a hurry to tidy up the place. When he looked back at Burke he was pleased to see the other man‘s gaze had followed his and was now trained on B‘Elanna‘s indigo nightgown haphazardly draped over the back of the chair. Take that, pal.
"Of course," Burke said, moving his gaze to Tom again. He offered another one of his easy smiles, this one touched with just a bit of ruefulness. "Just between us, one never quite gets over a woman he once cared for, does he, Tom? And B‘Elanna certainly isn‘t the kind of woman anyone could easily forget." He gave Tom a commiserating look. "For instance, I‘m sure you could never quit caring about her, even if you two broke up at some point in the future forÖwhatever reason."
"I don‘t really see that happeningÖBurke," Tom drawled Burke‘s name just a bit, but his expression remained placid.
"Burke, eh?" Burke‘s eyebrows rose. "I won‘t hold that against you. You obviously love her. That‘s good to know." His gaze wandered to the chair again, then back to Tom. "And apparently she cares a lot about you. I‘m sure I couldn‘t change that even if I wanted toÖ" he shrugged, and gave Tom another smile, this one to all appearances completely earnest. "Which I don‘t."
Tom had no idea if Burke was being sincere, and he didn‘t much care. "Well, it‘s been enjoyable chatting with you, Commander, but I do have to get to the bridge, since at this moment I am still the chief helm officer."
Burke nodded. "Right. And a damn fine pilot from what I hear, despite your past mistakes." He shrugged, the friendly smile still on his face. "But hey, that‘s how we learn, isn‘t it? I hope you know I‘d never hold all that stuff against you."
Tom forced another smile, feeling sure that he was going to crack his face if this exchange of fake congeniality didn‘t end soon. "Gee, that‘s nice to know, Commander."
Burke appeared not to hear the sarcasm, or he pointedly ignored it. "And, as I mentioned, Iím not such a bad pilot myself. We‘ll have to set up a Bolian speeder-shuttle race on the holodeck some day, just as a little friendly competition."
*As long as it‘s around a sun going nova so I can run you and your shuttle right into it,* Tom thought. "Sure," he said pleasantly. "Why not. I‘ll even set my shuttle to manual control to give you a fighting chance."
Burke chuckled. "That‘s sporting of you, Tom." He backed up a step as Tom moved slightly forward. "Right, you have to get to the bridge, and I‘ve certainly got plenty of work to do myself."
Tom moved past Burke into the corridor. "I guess you‘d better get to it then. And thanks so much for stopping by."
Burke didn‘t seem to notice the sarcasm again. "You‘re welcome. I really do look forward to getting to know you, Tom." He smiled. Again. "And getting reacquainted with B‘Elanna, of course. Just toÖrelive old times, nothing else." He winked at Tom. "See you around."
The way Burke drawled "relive" was enough to make Tom clench his teeth. "Yeah, see you around," he muttered, staring after Burke as he walked down the corridor. He could almost swear he heard the man whistling. Why the hell had Burke dropped by? To stir things up a little? Because he wanted to make a play for B‘Elanna again and he was checking out the competition? If that was so, the man was in for a major awakening. The only thing Tom was sure of was that Burke hadn‘t called on him because he was looking to be best buddies.
He turned and strode to down the corridor to the opposite turbolift, feeling angry and frustrated, and filled with an odd sense of foreboding. He was so preoccupied that he didn‘t hear Harry shout for him to hold the lift.
"Tom!" Harry squeezed into the turbolift just as the doors began to close
"Yeah. Headed for breakfast?"
Tom nodded distractedly.
"I take it you heard the Equinox is going to be scrapped."
Tom could feel Harry‘s curious gaze on him. "Yeah, I heard. Deck Seven." Tom stared grimly at the closed doors as the turbolift began to move.
"Looks like we‘re going to get some new crewmembers," Harry said conversationally. Then his tone became teasing. "And I guess you might have a little competition."
Tom sighed. He wanted to tell Harry to shut up, but he‘d certainly needled Harry enough, so he could hardly do less than endure Harry‘s ribbing in return. He looked at Harry, his face expressionless. "Do you mean for B‘Elanna‘s affections, or for bridge positions?"
Harry stared at him, nonplussed for a minute. Tom felt better knowing he wasn‘t the only one who hadn‘t immediately seen the implications of the two crews joining together as one. "I hadn‘t thought of thatÖ"
"Relax, Harry," Tom said. He gave Harry a reassuring smile. "Your position is safe. Unfortunately the Chief Ops officer on the Equinox died recently, and you know more about Ops than anyone else on Voyager, or on the Equinox."
"And you‘re the easily the best pilot on either ship," Harry pointed out as the turbolift doors opened and they both stepped out. "Where do you think you‘re going?"
Tom shrugged. Even if Burke had exaggerated his abilities, and his rank alone wasn‘t enough to put him in the top helm position, Chakotay was certainly good enough to head Helm Control and Flight Ops, which would be an infinitely preferable alternative to Max Burke if it came to that. But there wasn‘t much point in worrying about it at the moment. "I think you were really talking about B‘Elanna anyway, Harry," he said.
"Actually I was only kidding about that, Tom," Harry said. "I don‘t think you have any competition."
Tom shrugged again, and felt Harry‘s intent gaze on him. He debated for several moments whether he should tell Harry about Burke‘s brief unannounced visit, and their resulting cryptic, and to his mind latently hostile, conversation. Or whether it would be the better side of discretion to keep that to himself and avoid the possibility that his negative reaction would be interpreted as simple jealousy. Or paranoia.
"Burke actually seemed like a pretty nice guy," Harry said as they approached the Mess hall doors.
Yep, he should definitely keep it to himself "I‘m sure he is," Tom agreed curtly, sounding unconvincing even to his own ears.
Harry followed Tom through the doors. The tables were crowded and there was a buffet laid out, a sure sign that something was up and that all shifts had been called on to assist. "Tom, whatever was between Max Burke and B‘Elanna, it was ten years ago, and it apparently didn‘t leave much of an impact on her, or she would have ripped his heart from his chest and fed it to him when she saw him again."
Tom looked at Harry and smiled at that colorfulóand very appealingóscenario. "Thanks, Harry."
Harry shrugged. "You‘re welcome, though I‘m only saying what‘s true." He reached for a plate and eyed the breakfast selection laid out on the counter. "If B‘Elanna acts happy to see an old friend and flattered by his attention, just grin and bear it. Give her a little time to adjust to his presence, and pretty soon she won‘t pay any more special attention to him than she does anyone else on Voyager. And I assure you B‘Elanna will appreciate your trust and your forbearance."
Tom stared at Harry. "Thanks for the sage advice, Harry," he said dryly, and he even managed a wan smile, hoping it looked like his mind was more at ease now. It would be sage advice if Max Burke were just an old friend, the same guy who had known and befriended B‘Elanna ten years ago. But ten years was a long time. Tom was far from the same person he‘d been ten years ago. And something told him Max Burke had gone through some immense changes too, maybe for the worse. "And I trust B‘Elanna completely," he added. That was very true. B‘Elanna was almost incapable of intentional deception, and she‘d never mislead him or lie to him. He had a feeling Max Burke was more than capable of deception though. It was Burke he didnít trust, at all.
"Good," Harry said, choosing to play it safe and go for the cereal instead of the greenish egg concoction. "But if you need someone to vent your feelings to, I‘m always available."
Tom opted for the cereal too. "I appreciate that, Harry," he said sincerely. "You‘re a good friend."
"I know," Harry said, without the least modesty. "And I won‘t even call you ‚Turkey Platter‘ anymore."
"Thanks," Tom said. "I guess I won‘t call you ‚Ham on a Kaiser roll‘ now."
Harry rolled his eyes. "That‘s the best you could come up with, Tom?"
"I‘ll work on it some more," Tom said dryly.
"Come on, let‘s eat," Harry said, as he grabbed several pieces of fruit, and dropped two on Tom‘s plate. "It‘s going to be a long day."
Not to mention the days to follow, and weeks, and months, Tom thought, as he followed Harry toward one of the crowded tables in the Mess hall. He tried to ignore the feeling that something was wrong. Under the circumstances his gut reaction to Burke would hardly be perceived as impartial. Even he couldn‘t be completely sure how much of his dislike was a product of jealousy, and how much was genuine recognition of Burke‘s insincerity underneath his mask of easy charm. After all, for a period in his own past he‘d become pretty masterful at the same trick.
Tom shook that uncomfortable comparison away. Maybe he really was being paranoid. Maybe everyone would settle together happily on Voyager, and he would find that his misgivings about Burke had been wrong. Just because he didn‘t like the guy didn‘t mean Burke was up to no good. Or that he had any designs on B‘Elanna.
Tom and Harry settled at the end of one table, and Tom nodded absently in response to several greetings. He started to eat his breakfast, as the animated conversation around him centered on the recent developments. Voyager had been in the Delta quadrant a long time, and most of the crew was looking forward to some new faces aboard Voyager.
Tom paid scant attention to the conversation. He decided he‘d bide his time for now and say nothing, but he planned to keep a close eye on Burke once they were shipmates. If Burke made any real moves on B‘ElannaÖwell, all‘s fair in love and war. It had been awhile, but he hadn‘t quite lost all of his old roguish edge. If he was provoked, he still knew how to play dirty, and how to cover his tracks. And if it meant keeping Burke and his conniving heart away from B‘Elanna, he‘d have no compunction whatsoever.
In the meantime he recalled the dartboard Shaun Mulcahy had recently put up in the back corner of Sandrine‘s. Quite a betting pool of replicator rations was accumulating around the newly popular pastime. His own skill at the game was fairly modest, and he‘d been meaning to put in some practice. Maybe he could schedule some time alone in Sandrine‘s soon, and program one minor temporary adjustment to the dartboard. A small, slightly fiendish smile touched his lips as he imagined Burke‘s face right in the middle of the board. Throwing darts at that inviting target would soothe his frustrations for the moment. In addition, with that kind of motivation he‘d be able to perfect his aim, and he‘d be swimming in replicator rations in no time.
1620 hours, later that day:
"The secondary emitter relays are still not transmitting at peak levelsÖ" B‘Elanna growled in frustration and reached across the control panel, nearly knocking Tuvok physically out of the way as she did so.
Tuvok merely moved aside for a moment, his eyes still on his own task. After the interspatial fissures had begun to erupt again, with rapidly increasing frequency, Voyager had been placed on red alert. The captain had sent him to Astrometrics to assist with the reconfigured security grid. It was nearly ready to go online, and it would not be a moment too soon, for the safety of the ship and crew, and for the volatile temper of Lieutenant Torres. The mood of the entire crew had undergone a disturbing change over the past several hours.
B‘Elanna muttered a string of Klingon curses under her breath as her fingers jabbed viciously at the control panel.
"May I suggest a more restrained approach, Lieutenant, if you do not wish to expend time repairing your damage, when time is a critical entity at the moment."
B‘Elanna spared Tuvok a withering look, but her movements over the control panel became marginally more gentle.
The captain had been appalled, furious, and, Tuvok suspected, personally hurt by the actions and deception of the Equinox captain and crew. And if the captain was taking the situation too personally, Lieutenant Torres was equally so. Tuvok would have had to lock himself in his quarters and cut off all form of communication over the past two days not to have heard that the lieutenant had once been personally involved with Max Burke, the first officer of the Equinox. During the brief general officer‘s meeting, shortly after the captain had confined the entire Equinox crew to quarters under guard, the reaction to the captain‘s announcement of the Equinox crew‘s actions had ranged from stunned, to dismayed, to incensed, with Lt. Torres‘ reaction ranging across the entire spectrum. She had stormed from the meeting room, stopping only long enough to allow a brief word or two from Ensign Paris, whose own reaction had been quite mild, as if he hadn‘t been completely surprised, followed by a tightly controlled anger as he watched Lt. Torres depart.
B‘Elanna uttered another Klingon curse and slammed her fist on the side of the console. She was not one to even attempt to control her feelings for more than a few moments.
"Perhaps this would be an appropriate time to practice some of the meditation techniques I demonstratedó"
"Not now, Tuvok!" B‘Elanna practically shouted. Tuvok merely raised an eyebrow as B‘Elanna looked up at him, her anger fading a bit as she suddenly aware of her lack of propriety. "I‘m sorry, Tuvokó"
"Apology accepted," Tuvok said, as he began entering the grid parameters. "I understand that the situation is personally disturbing toÖmany of the crew, however an emotional outburst under the circumstances is not productive."
B‘Elanna frowned, nodded curtly, and returned her attention to her work. Nearly a minute of silence passed as they both worked at the console, hands moving quickly and efficiently. Then B‘Elanna spoke in a low troubled voice, to herself or to him, Tuvok wasn‘t sure. "I thought I knew himÖ"
"Indeed," Tuvok replied. "Captain Janeway believed she knew Captain Ransom also, if only from his service record and reputation. She believed him to beÖhonorable."
B‘Elanna snorted, then shook her head, looking suddenly more sad than angry. "How could they have done something like that?"
"I do not know," Tuvok replied honestly. While he understood how grievous the situation had been for the Equinox, he could not comprehend any situation that would justify deliberately killing another species for personal gain, especially to a Starfleet captain. It appeared that emotionóbe it fear, obsession, greedó fueled by difficult circumstances, was once again the undoing of humans. "I have observed that desperate circumstances sometimes bring out the worst in humans and other emotional species." He had also observed that they sometimes brought out the best, a contradiction he did not fully comprehend.
B‘Elanna shook her head, her expression uncompromising, and she spoke, mirroring his own thoughts. "No matter how desperate the situation, we would never have murdered those aliens just to save ourselves. And even then they kept killing them." She gave Tuvok an indignant look. "People may change, but their basic ethics shouldn‘t completely disappear. If they ever had any."
"I agree, Lieutenant, and I do not pretend to understand the mindset of the Equinox crew." Tuvok rechecked the parameters, satisfied that the grid was almost ready. "I have noted that on a starship the captain, and the first officer, generally set the standard. If small ethical corners are cut here and there, it is a shorter and shorter descent to disregarding morality altogether. That appears to have been the case on the Equinox. Captain Ransom and First officer Burke were clearly lacking something in true moral character. However such a character deficit is not always discernible until it is tested by the most demanding circumstances."
"Is that an excuse?" B‘Elanna asked bitterly.
Tuvok did not know if B‘Elanna was referring to the Equinox captain and crew, or to herself and those on Voyager, but before he could reply, the ship shook around them. Both Tuvok and B‘Elanna grabbed the console for support and looked at each other as the captain‘s urgent voice came over the commlink.
"Bridge to Tuvok. We need that security grid!"
B‘Elanna nodded to Tuvok, and her fingers flew over the control panel again.
"We‘re preparing to bring it online," Tuvok said. He looked at B‘Elanna. "Charge the emitters."
B‘Elanna set the sequence. "They‘re charging. Everything looks good, and the relays are operating perfectly."
Tuvok waited patiently and B‘Elanna somewhat less so as the test sequence completed.
Finally B‘Elanna opened the commlink to the bridge.
"The emitters are charged," she announced.
Tuvok nodded. "Activate the grid."
B‘Elanna activated the grid, andÖnothing happened. After several moments she and Tuvok looked at each other.
Janeway‘s voice came over the commlink. "What happened?"
B‘Elanna was staring at the control panel in consternation and disbelief. "I don‘t understand. It should be working." She pressed several panels. "I‘m running a system-wide diagnostic."
Tuvok wasn‘t given to intuition, but something about the situation wasÖwrong. There was no apparent reason why their efforts should have yielded this result. Everything had checked out, and neither he nor Lieutenant Torres was given to error. The possibility of sabotage entered his mind as B‘Elanna monitored the diagnostic.
"Dammit!" B‘Elanna slammed her fist on the side of the console again. "I can‘t believe this!"
"What, Lieutenant?" Tuvok looked at the indicator she was focusing on, and saw it before she spoke.
"The field generator is offline! Someone disengaged the power couplings!"
Sabotage indeed. Tuvok hailed the bridge. "The field generator is offline. Its power couplings were disengaged."
"Someone reconfigured the sensors so we couldn‘t detect it," B‘Elanna added.
The captain‘s voice came through the commlink, clearly displeased. "Whatever it takes, get that grid online!"
B‘Elanna began to poke at the panel furiously again. And right before Tuvok closed the commlink they heard Harry‘s frantic voice inform the captain that an unauthorized transport by the Equinox crew was in progress.
B‘Elanna‘s hands stopped in mid-motion. "They escaped?" Her voice was incredulous as she stared at Tuvok.
Tuvok was certainly no less pleased. The situation had gone from bad to worse. Obviously his security officers had been outmaneuvered, and at the moment he was unable to find out how that had occurred, or to check on the condition of his officers, who had presumably been overpowered in the process of the escape and perhaps injured. "I suggestó"
"I‘m erecting a force field before they can cause any more trouble," B‘Elanna said, her fingers flying over the panel again.
That had been his unfinished suggestion. He began to reconfigure the power grid again, attempting to undo the sabotage initiated by one of the Equinox crew. They worked in tense silence for several minutes, and he noted that B‘Elanna‘s anger had turned into almost manic determination.
"There," B‘Elanna said with grim satisfaction. "It‘s in place. That shouldÖwhat the helló" she looked at Tuvok. "Someone‘s disrupting the force field."
B‘Elanna turned back to the controls and spoke again before Tuvok could reply. "It‘s Max! He‘s using a triquardric algorithm. I taught him now to do that ten years agoÖ" her voice trailed off in amazement and frustration.
"We are losing the force field," Tuvok told her.
"I know that! He‘s not winning," B‘Elanna said with fierce resolve as she countered Burke‘s moves. But when she looked at Tuvok a few moments later, her eyes were wide and her expression one of disbelief. Then she opened a commlink. "Bridge, they‘ve got the field generator."
Captain Janeway‘s voice came over the link, equally astounded. "What do you mean, they‘ve got it?"
"I don‘t know how, but they beamed it off Voyager."
B‘Elanna was staring dumbfounded at the control panel as Tuvok heard Harry announce over the still open link that the Equinox was going to warp. "How?" B‘Elanna echoed, her voice dazed.
"The captain placed no restrictions on the access codes of the Equinox crewmembers," Tuvok pointed out. He was already moving toward the storage lockers.
"But the field generator‘s specs can only be downloaded from the bridge or engineering," B‘Elanna said.
Chakotay shouted from the bridge that shields were down. Tuvok pulled the single phaser rifle and two hand phasers from the storage locker. As he turned around B‘Elanna spun and faced him, her eyes wide again, this time with horrified comprehension. "MaxÖhe set us up!" she whispered, her voice low and furious.
Tuvok could grasp the obvious from B‘Elanna‘s words and expression. Max Burke had been in engineering at some point, and had no doubt used the opportunity to download the field generator specs. He could have told B‘Elanna that there had been no reason for her to be suspicious of Max Burke, just as no one else had been suspicious of the Equinox crew, thus she had no reason to assume blame. But he was busy slinging the rifle into position as Janeway‘s voice came over the main comm channel, giving the expected order.
Tuvok saw the interspatial fissures forming even as he reached B‘Elanna and slapped a phaser into her hand. She immediately came out of her shock, though her fury was completely unabated, a fact in their favor as he heard the whine of another fissure opening to his right. An alien erupted from the first fissure behind B‘Elanna and swooped toward them even as she spun around and fired at nearly the same instant as Tuvok. And already the second alien was breaking through from the other direction.
Shoulder to shoulder, with no time to dwell any further on how they‘d been duped, and on how a fellow Starfleet ship and crew had willingly and callously abandoned them to a potentially deadly fate, they could do nothing but focus single-mindedly on defending their ownóand each other‘sólives.
The end (for now)