The Engineer's Creed
By Janice Liedl-Myatt

Rated PG-13
Disclaimer: Star Trek, Voyager and all characters property of Viacom and Paramount. I make no claims of my own. I just play with their toys (nicely). This story is intended for all readers, although sexual situations are mentioned. You have been warned! You may print or repost this story, provided you include this disclaimer and give credit to the author.

Summary: How can B'Elanna balance her work responsibilities and her relationship with Tom? The answer lies in learning another interpretation of the key principles of the Starfleet engineer's creed.


Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres cursed fervently, if silently, as she banged her head against the ceiling of the cramped Jeffries Tube for what had to be the hundredth time this shift. Even with the thicker skullbones of her Klingon progenitors, her nerves protested the repeated abuse. Behind her, Susan Nicoletti's gentle sigh indicated that the other engineer waited patiently for B'Elanna to resume her slow crawl through the tube. Checking her hold on the small tool kit, B'Elanna began the slow move of hands and knees towards the next replicator repair junction, with her colleague close behind.

Hard to believe that the beginning of the day had held such promise. After working until 2300 solving an elusive problem in the external force field generators, B'Elanna luxuriated in an uninterrupted night's sleep, the first in days. No unexpected attacks, engine failures or shuttle accidents had conspired to wake her early from an exhausted slumber. Silently she'd stepped over a growing pile of discarded uniforms, reaching into her closet for the last clean Starfleet uniform she owned. She made another mental note to clean the rest of her uniforms, certain that her replicator rations wouldn't stretch far enough for an entire uniform if she failed to keep her promise. Fortunately, the following day was a rest day for her rotation-although how much rest the Chief Engineer took when her ship traveled solo, thousands of light years from home, was something she'd yet to determine. Straightening the broad shoulder straps of her gray singlet, B'Elanna strode to the small, cluttered desk that held a pile of padds, parts and other possessions. Her eyes narrowed as she spied one padd, blinking patiently from the top of the pile. She didn't remember seeing it there when she'd come in last night. B'Elanna picked it up and began to read. The opening text indicated a private message for her, which she thumbed into view.

"B'Elanna," it read, "I didn't want to disturb you, after coming off beta shift, but I miss you. I'm beginning to wonder if you're just a figment of my imagination. If it weren't for meeting up at command briefings, I'd be convinced! Maybe if we can't make a date for lunch or dinner, you could meet me for breakfast at 0600? Tom"

"Computer, time?" B'Elanna queried, although she was certain of what she would hear.

The serenely feminine voice of Voyager's main computer replied, "It is 0715 hours, ship's time."

"Damn! Why didn't Tom program a wake up call?" B'Elanna spat as she dropped the padd with a clatter onto her desk. She closed her eyes, smoothed her dark hair back from her prominent brow and concentrated. "Computer, what is the location of Lieutenant Paris?"

"Lieutenant Paris is on the bridge," came the expected, if unfortunate response.

B'Elanna sighed. Even Tom's legendary good humor had been stretched to the limit with cancellations and missed meetings the past two weeks. To be fair, not all of them had been her fault. His piloting duties had led to at least one missed rendezvous. But it was B'Elanna's never-ending duties as Chief Engineer that put the most strain on their relationship, and led to the most disruptions of their private life. Not that every one of those incidents hadn't been for a good reason! But B'Elanna frowned in frustration at the thought of another night wasted. There had to be some way to juggle her responsibilities as chief engineer and still enjoy some vestige of a private life. That is, she thought darkly, if Tom still wants to have a relationship with me, after all this!

Stopping to pick up a dedicated padd loaded with the latest engineering reports, B'Elanna gave her uniform a final tug into place then smoothly exited her quarters. As she strode to the turbolift and rode it to the command level, she quickly reviewed the data compiled during the overnight shifts. Everything seemed to be running smoothly, although Lieutenant Carey noted that the inexplicable anomalies in the replicator power systems had reappeared, then disappeared again. B'Elanna scowled angrily. Anomalies and fluctuations like this could be symptoms of an underlying problem. With all the re-building and jury-rigging that Voyager had survived since its arrival in the Delta Quadrant, Engineering fought a constant, losing battle against breakdowns. Something like this might not be life threatening. Yet. But the eternal pessimist inside her feared that they might be the sign of something more.

The turbolift doors wooshed open onto the bridge. Beside her, Harry Kim looked up with a grin from Ops, while Tuvok's more restrained nod paid the courtesy due from a Lieutenant Commander to a lieutenant. Chakotay spared her a glance from where he stood at Tom Paris's shoulder. The two men were evidently engaged in programming a new series of evasive maneuvers. As B'Elanna watched, Tom put the ship through a complex series of rolls and dives, ending with a spin that threatened to wrench the stomach, even if inertial dampeners kept the body from experiencing what the eyes took in on the main viewscreen. As the ship resumed a steady forward glide, Commander Chakotay complimented Tom on his success, clapping him on the shoulder.

"That's enough for this morning, but we'll run another series of practice sessions this afternoon, okay, Tom?" As Tom uncoiled himself from behind the conn panel, he nodded his assent. His eyes fell on B'Elanna, still standing near the turbolift. Two fair eyebrows rose in question. B'Elanna shrugged, a pink blush shading her cheeks.

"I guess I slept too well, this morning," she offered as Tom made way at the conn for his replacement. Together they strode to the meeting room for that morning's briefings. "Sorry, I didn't see your note 'til after I woke up."

Tom waved dismissively. "Nah, I'm happy you finally got some sleep. I just figured that you'd probably be up hours before your shift to take care of some engineering problem anyway, in which case we could meet before I reported back to the bridge myself." <P."I would have loved to have breakfast with you, Tom," B'Elanna assured him as she took her seat at the briefing table. Tuvok had already preceded them; his attention clearly focused on a small stack of datapadds in front of him. The others had yet to arrive for the 0730 meeting. "We've hardly seen each other for . . . ." She paused while her memory struggled to provide the answer.

"Five days and seven hours," Tom supplied innocently.

B'Elanna sharply looked up and caught Tom's heated gaze. His words brought to mind their last, heated night together. B'Elanna had just come off of duty, late for a dinner date and hurrying to her shower, when Tom had let himself into her quarters. Surprised at his unannounced entrance, B'Elanna had only had enough time to clutch her abandoned uniform to her chest as she whirled from the bathing chamber to confront the intruder. Seated now at the briefing table, her mouth curved reminiscently as she recalled Tom's wide-eyed look of shock as he spotted her state of undress. They'd made passionate love in her quarters. Afterwards, B'Elanna had smiled. Tom raised an eyebrow in obvious inquiry.

"Just thinking-another cheap date for you, Tom Paris. No need to go to all that fuss if we never make it out of my quarters."

"Oh lord, I forgot! I guess we've missed our reservation in Holodeck 2 by now. Computer, release holodeck reservation, authorization Paris Omicron Four."

"Reservation released." At the bland reply, Tom arched an eyebrow and leered at B'Elanna. "Now, how are you going to pay me back, Torres?"

"Pay you back?" B'Elanna retorted indignantly. "In your dreams! It wasn't my fault we missed the reservation."

"Oh yes it was," Tom countered. "When I came into your quarters and saw you like that I was trapped."

B'Elanna rolled her eyes and stood up. Stretching luxuriously, she turned and began to walk bath to the bathing alcove. "I knew it was a mistake to authorize the computer to give you free access to my quarters," she threw over her shoulder. "I guess I was lucky. . . I could have come back to find a microgravity generator reversing the field in my bedroom or the entire suite filled with Gardavian grass seeds."

"I'd never betray your trust like that, B'Elanna," Tom averred.

B'Elanna peeked around the corner. "I know you wouldn't, Tom, because I'd kill you." Silence followed her matter-of-fact pronouncement. "Be a love and while I'm showering, order us a meal, on your replicator rations." B'Elanna smiled again at the muted complaints she heard as she turned the shower on.

After her shower, she quickly finger combed her ebony hair into place and donned a maroon robe that lay crumpled on the counter. Securing the knot at her waist, she sniffed the air approvingly and strode out to see what Tom had ordered up.

A candle provided simple and elegant illumination for the two plates and glasses that lay waiting. Tom sat expectantly, dressed anew in his deep blue tunic and pants. B'Elanna's eyes widened at the pristine state of her quarters. Uniforms stowed, pillows plumped and datapadds neatly stacked on the desk. "I knew you were good for something, Tom," she joked as she joined him at the table.

"Hey, it was the least I could do, especially since I have some bad news." Tom began to carve up his replicated salmon steak. After savoring a few bites he explained further. "Chakotay has some new evasive maneuvers he wants me to learn and then start teaching protocols to the other qualified pilots. I've got to log in a lot of practice time over the next few days in order to meet his schedule." Tom grimaced ruefully. "So I'll be heading back to my quarters soon, to try and grab a little sleep before the big man 'stops by' to pick me up at 0500 hours tomorrow morning."

B'Elanna reached out a hand to caress his cheek. "Poor Tom. Waking up is so hard to do!" She was unable to suppress a snort of laughter.

He responded with indignation. "Hey, I thought I'd get a little sympathy here."

"It all depends," B'Elanna replied enigmatically, digging her fork into the leafy salad.

"Depends on what?" Tom questioned suspiciously.

"On how soon after dinner you have to head off," she explained.

Tom's grin briefly reappeared. "Not too soon, B'Ela, never you mind." 


Tuvok's significant cough brought B'Elanna abruptly back to consciousness. A flush once again colored her cheeks as she looked up to see the other officers were taking their seat at the briefing table. She shot Tom a warning glance. He raised his eyebrows in exaggerated innocence and turned to look at the Captain.

"So, what's the crisis du jour?" Tom enquired.

Captain Janeway locked eyes with Commander Chakotay and nodded her head. Chakotay looked down at a padd in his hands and began to speak. His soft voice carried clearly across the table. "Beta and Gamma shifts report no major difficulties. Weapons testing indicates all systems are at maximum, even the torpedo bays. We've got a new series of evasive maneuvers that Lieutenant Paris and I have tested and will now begin teaching to the other qualified pilots. The only problems to report from last night were from engineering." Chakotay's dark glance fell on B'Elanna.

Defensively, B'Elanna straightened her shoulders and took the Commander's lead. "We had another of those replicator shut-downs last night. Lieutenant Carey reported that power systems in the personal replicators throughout the crew quarters experienced an unexplained cascade failure at 0117 hours this morning, lasting for a maximum of twenty-eight minutes. We're still investigating."

"Well, Lieutenant, I expect some answers. The replicator systems main not be essential to life-support or propulsion, but they're damned important to the crew's morale. And I want to make sure that there isn't some fault lurking in the replicators that will boomerang on the whole ship. Get on it!"

"Yes Captain," B'Elanna averred fervently. She keyed in a note on her padd, speeding a note down to the duty officer in engineering. -Staff meeting at 0800 hours- the padd obediently read, then flashed an acknowledgement of her 'send' command.

B'Elanna raised her head to follow the ongoing discussion about pilot training schedules, Neelix's plans for a morale-raising treasure hunt and Seven's cool report of improvements in astrometric analysis. The Captain dismissed them with a smile and a wave, and B'Elanna quickly rose from the briefing table. She smiled at Tom, careful to preserve proper decorum during duties hours, ever since the Captain's dressing down of them during that awful period when those out-of-phase aliens had tampered with their inhibitions. Tom, too, was careful to be all that was proper in his quickly voiced goodbye.

B'Elanna strode to the turbolift. "Engineering," she directed as the doors closed in front of her. During the smooth descent she noted the padd carried a reply to her earlier directive. "Meeting set up. Lt. Carey." She smiled. Joe had suspected the Captain would be calling for some immediate action on the problem and hung around after his duty shift was officially over.

Familiar faces looked up at B'Elanna's entrance a few minutes later. Stepping forward to one of the diagnostic consoles, B'Elanna called up the schematics of the replicator power systems. "Okay, people, we've got a problem and we need a solution. There have been two failures of these systems within the past several days. The Captain and I aren't eager to see a third. Any ideas?"

Vorik furrowed his brow in deep concentration. Joe Carey cleared his throat. B'Elanna indicated he should speak.

"We can rule out some possibilities. Cellular level scans reveal no lingering Borg contamination. There are no multiphasic signatures and materials analysis indicates that the relays aren't suffering any microfaults."

B'Elanna nodded her thanks. "That's helpful, Lieutenant, but we need some new ideas if we're going to avert any more breakdowns in the system."

"Lieutenant, if I may?" The hesitant voice came from a long- limbed Nurrelian, her indigo skintones rendering her nearly invisible in engineering's dim lighting. B'Elanna squinted while her mind raced. "Ah, Ensign Gerjian, you have something to add?" At B'Elanna's acknowledgement, the flat-nosed alien took a deep breath.

"I just transferred over from ship's systems a few weeks ago, but this problem reminds me of a situation we had in the hydrologic recycler. You see, while most of Voyager's systems were redesigned to accommodate the new gelpaks, low priority items such as the recycler were hooked up with conversion circuits. For days no one could figure out why we were having intermittent power failures until Sam Wildman noticed that the couplings between Voyager's gelpak systems and the recycler's control panel showed signs of microstress. Chief Davies estimated that those circuits had about a tenth the operating integrity of an integrated gelpak circuit. We rewired the recycler with some of the new circuitry you incorporated in the holodeck upgrades and haven't had a problem since." Finishing her long speech, the Nurrelian bowed her head and sighed, obviously waiting for an explosive dismissal of her suggestion.

But B'Elanna's eyes had brightened progressively as the idea had taken root. Eagerly she began to call up schematics on the engineering console. Eyeing them carefully, she crowed, "You might just be right, Ensign Gerjian, and if you are you've saved us hours of headaches. Specs indicate that all but the main replicator systems received the same conversion couplings as in the recycler."

"Pardon me, Lieutenant, but then why didn't they fail at the same time as the hydrologic unit?" Vorik's precise query demanded a response.

"Easy, Ensign," B'Elanna returned. "The recycler operates almost constantly, using a high level of power to process and purify our water and other fluids. The replicators, especially in the crew quarters, receive only limited use, thanks in no small part to our rationing program."

"I never thought I'd say this, but thank heavens for replicator rations." At Joe Carey's interjection, the engineering team broke into chuckles.

"We're still not one hundred percent sure of this diagnosis," warned B'Elanna. "We're going to have to do some tests, then, if everything checks out, I'll need teams to go one by one to each of the power junctions throughout the habitat decks and rewire them according to the new specs."

A universal groan arose from the engineers. This meant an entire shift, or longer, spent in the cramped quarters of the Jeffries Tubes, crawling from one junction to the next. B'Elanna nodded sympathetically. "I understand, but this is the only way to get things done. I'll also need a team here in engineering to coordinate shut- downs and power-ups as well as fabricating more couplings." Her fingers flew rapidly across the console's face. "Each replicator has four couplings: intake, outflow and a backup pair. That makes. . . ."

"Seven hundred and eighty eight couplings to install," Vorik supplied. "Including the replicators in all the laboratories and public rooms, there are one hundred and ninety seven class two replicators on this ship. At four couplings per unit that makes. . . ."

"We get the idea, Ensign," Joe Carey interrupted, rolling his eyes at his superior.

"Better make sure that there are over eight hundred couplings available to allow for breakage and loss," Susan Nicoletti suggested.

"Good idea, Lieutenant. Why don't you try out Ensign Gerjian's approach on the replicator in my office? It should be the same set-up. I'll put in a call to Chief Davies in ship's systems to get her input. And Joe," she concluded on a ferocious note, "you should've been off duty two hours ago. I appreciate your staying around, but I'm sending you back to quarters. Get some rest! After all, we probably won't be done with this project before you're back on duty tonight."

Reluctantly Joe smiled, fatigue evident in the shadowed circles below his eyes. He turned to exit engineering as B'Elanna directed the others to their regular duties. She half-turned for privacy and fingered her combadge. "Torres to the Captain," she hailed.

Captain Janeway's distinctive voice responded through the combadge's speaker. "Janeway here. Can I hope that you have some good news for me, Lieutenant?"

"We think we have the replicator failures figured out, Captain. It looks like it's a problem with the conversion technology between the gelpak systems and the replicators themselves. I've got a team testing our theory and if all works out we'll be ready to go within two hours."

Approval warmed the Captain's voice. "Good job, Lieutenant."

Honesty compelled B'Elanna to elaborate. "Well, I don't want to take too much credit. The suggestion came from one of our new transfers from ship systems, Ensign Gerjian. Seems that they had a similar problem with the hydrologic recycler awhile back."

"Well, my thanks to the ensign, too, then. Janeway out."

B'Elanna squared her shoulders and set off to see what other matters needed to be dealt with in her domain. She smiled with all the rest as Susan Nicoletti gleefully reported the successful test of the repair protocols on the small office replicator. Teams were delegated to manufacture and quality test the hundreds of couplings repair teams would require. As B'Elanna hastily wolfed down her a lunch brought back from the mess hall, Nicoletti divided most of the staff into two- person teams, to conduct repairs.

B'Elanna cautiously sipped on a creamy blue beverage as her subordinate sketched out the details. "We've got teams out in the Jeffries Tubes already, concentrating their energy on those replicators accessible to more than one person. Those are the ones we figure have had the most wear."

Nicoletti consulted the padd again. "Three engineers remain here to complete manufacturing of the final three hundred couplings. According to our estimates, we'll have all the couplings we need by the end of this shift. Installation will be complete by midday tomorrow."

B'Elanna scowled darkly at that last. "Is there anyway we can speed that up?"

"Well," the junior lieutenant replied doubtfully, "we could split the teams up. But it's more efficient to have a second person rerouting power and testing the repair."

"How about fielding more repair teams?" B'Elanna suggested.

"We don't have enough people left! I already took Chafin and Marley off of the scheduled shuttle refit. I don't see who else we can assign."

"How about you and me?" B'Elanna asked. Her fingers itched to be working on something, anything, especially if it would speed the repair schedule along.

"Well, I thought you'd want to stay here in main engineering and supervise," Nicoletti explained. "I'd planned to take a turn myself after I help with the remaining couplings. How about we go together, then?"

Inwardly, B'Elanna sighed. Her subordinates seemed to believe that the chief engineer's place was always in the engine room and were reluctant to let her get her hands on any "real" work. She stifled the angry bark that she might have released a year ago, demanding to get out there immediately instead nodding acquiescence at the suggestion. "But tell you what; as soon as I'm done with my lunch, I'll help with the testing, okay? That way we should get out there sooner."

Shaking her head a little at the chief engineer's obviously eagerness to get out into the cramped Jeffries tubes, Susan Nicoletti exited the small office and went back to work.

B'Elanna swallowed another mouthful of the smoky drink. Actually, it wasn't too bad, if you ignored the almost florescent color of the beverage. She glanced at the chronometer on her workstation. According to the time, Tom should be in the mess hall right now, having his lunch. For a moment, she toyed with the idea of joining him there, herself. -How would it look,- she asked herself, -if the chief engineer is lounging around in the mess hall while the rest of her staff is slogging through extra duties?- Doggedly, she set herself to finish the meal and join her staff in the delicate task of crafting and checking the power couplings.

By 1330 hours, they'd finished the fiddling task of microwiring. Susan Nicoletti looked up from the toolkit she was assembling. "Still sure that you want to go? I can always take Vorik."

B'Elanna rejected the suggestion emphatically. "No, I need to take my turn, Lieutenant." She held up her own toolkit. "Ready to go?" The pent-up energy of her day revealed itself in the long strides she took from engineering to the turbolift. As they smoothly rode the lift, Nicoletti consulted her datapadd. "The other crews have been proceeding well. I've slotted us in to service the replicators in the command crew quarters."

"We'll have to hurry, then," B'Elanna commented. "I want the captain's replicator up and working before she comes back from her shift!"

Once within the Jeffries tube, the two women worked in an easy partnership. B'Elanna took the delicate task of removing the old linkages and establishing new ones with the specialized couplings, while Susan Nicoletti rerouted power and checked the results. Nevertheless, the work took time, so much so that B'Elanna was startled when her combadge abruptly interrupted her concentration with the familiar voice of Tom Paris.

"Damn," was her first word as she banged the back of her head on the lip of the access hatch she was using to service Lieutenant Commander Tuvok's replicator.

"Hope I didn't call at a bad time," responded Tom in some amusement.

B'Elanna stifled an automatic smart retort. "Not at all, Tom. I'm just up to my elbows in a replicator unit."

"Hmm, now that's an interesting picture!"

"Why are you calling, Tom?" B'Elanna asked as she maneuvered the next coupling into place.

"It's 2100 hours, B'Elanna. I was wondering when you were going to call it quits and get something to eat."

"Probably not for awhile, Tom. There are still seventy replicators that need servicing."

Incredulity edged Tom's voice, "Are you planning to do them all yourself?"

"No," B'Elanna replied acerbically, "but I can't just leave this job half-done. It wouldn't be in line with the engineer's creed."

"Geez," Tom exploded, "I could understand if it was the warp core or life support, but you're telling me you're going to pull another night of overtime to service replicators?"

"You won't find me neglecting my duties," B'Elanna responded heatedly. With some difficulty, she kept herself from crushing the delicate spanner she clenched in her hand.

"And you're saying I do?"

"No! But you don't understand, I can't leave this job half done!"

"I understand that you'll neglect your own health if you think that the bulkheads might benefit from a coat of polish," came Tom's angry retort.

"No, you don't understand, Tom!"

"Maybe I do. See you when it's convenient, Lieutenant," came the chill response. Then the com channel fell silent.

B'Elanna resisted the temptation to put her fist through the Jeffries tube. The whispery sound of cloth against metal reminded her that Nicoletti, next to her in the confined space of the access tube, had heard everything. "Sorry about that," B'Elanna apologized tersely.

"I could finish this up, Lieutenant, if you want to call it quits."

B'Elanna's rage erupted, "No!" She fought to control the angry words so easily unleashed by her Klingon temper. "No, thank you, Lieutenant," she finally managed. "We'll carry on until our section is completed." Purposefully she installed the last component in the maze of connections and panels, then carefully leaned back on her haunches to survey the work.

Susan Nicoletti nodded in seeming agreement, then put down the tricorder she'd been using to verify installation. "I'm sorry, Lieutenant, but . . . permission to speak freely?"

B'Elanna bit back a sharp negation and carefully acceded to her subordinate's request.

Nicoletti nervously drew in her breath and ventured, "Begging your pardon, Lieutenant, but have you ever considered cutting yourself a little slack?" <P."What do you mean?" B'Elanna asked, still with an acid edge to her voice.

"I mean, you take care of your engines and your engineers very well. Like today, when you sent Joe off-duty after he'd overstayed his shift to help. But you never take care of yourself the same way."

"Missing a little sleep and a few . . . social engagements hardly constitutes any hardship on my part," B'Elanna retorted defensively.

Nicoletti, gaining confidence as she spoke, "I'm sorry, ma'am, but when you push yourself too hard, it's not good for us, for the ship, for anybody. For instance, do you really need to be out here fixing replicators when your shift ended hours ago."

"So did yours, for that matter," B'Elanna noted triumphantly.

"But you'll make sure that I get comp time off within the week, the same as every other engineer who pulls extra shifts. You never take comp time off!"

B'Elanna tried another line of defense. "Look, I'm just following the engineer's creed. A Starfleet engineer puts the needs of the ship and crew first; that's the first article. If certain people can't appreciate that, well that's too bad, isn't it?"

"Begging your pardon, Lieutenant, but it's a damned shame you never made it through to the fourth year of the Academy."

"Why's that," B'Elanna questioned edgily.

"Because you'd learn then what a crock of shit that bloody creed is; at least they way they teach it in first-year. With all the simulations and viewings, you come out of first-year believing that every Starfleet engineer is married to her engine room. Well, that's not the case." Susan's hands gestured emphatically in the small spaces of the Jeffries tube. "In fourth-year, serving engineers come in and you work in service and repair depots with them. That's when you learn the use and abuse of the creed."

Despite herself, B'Elanna was intrigued. "Go on."

"Well, for instance, I learned that even though the ship and the crew come first, that doesn't mean that you, the engineer, come nowhere. We all deserve a private life and humane treatment! It would all be a lot easier if we were back in the Alpha Quadrant. There you get leave time as well as maintenance crews to lend a hand at stations and stardocks. Here we never get a real rest. But the ones who suffer the most, if you ask me, are people like the Captain and you. You never give yourselves permission to enjoy the same comforts you ensure for the rest of us."

Flushed and embarrassed, Susan Nicoletti ended her speech and nervously picked up the tricorder she'd let fall earlier. B'Elanna crouched, unsure what response to make. The automatic angry response she shunted aside. Barking at well-meaning busybodies certainly was satisfying in the short term, but she was determined not to let her impulses rule her, this time. Carefully, she composed a reply.

"What are you saying I should do, then?"

The other woman met B'Elanna's eyes in startlement. "Why, maybe that you'd let the rest of the engineering staff get on with regular assignments and not treat every problem that arises as if it's your own personal emergency, I guess."

"But as chief engineer, any ship's problem is mine," B'Elanna shot back.

"Yes," Nicoletti reluctantly conceded, "but does that have to mean that you have to do everything? Look at today. Did you really need to come out here and take a shift in the tubes yourself?"

"Hey, I'm not the kind of chief who sits back and lets everyone else do the work!"

"Nobody thinks that! You're always in the thick of things, but sometimes we wish that you'd let the rest of us do our jobs, too."

B'Elanna considered this. She still didn't feel entirely comfortable with the criticism. "Nobody tells Captain Janeway she works too much."

Susan Nicoletti laughed merrily. "Who could? Except Commander Chakotay, that is, or maybe the doctor. I know that you've complained yourself enough times about how the Captain can't step back when she should and let us get on with something in engineering."

B'Elanna had to concede that point. "So, you're saying that I should step back and let you other engineers get on with your work."

"Yes! And save yourself for the jobs where Voyager really needs you. Nobody else can do half the things you can with the warp drive or keeping shields online in the middle of an emergency! You can see the way to solving most problems before the rest of us have a clue."

B'Elanna shrugged uncomfortably at the praise. When Susan Nicoletti seemed poised to continue, she intervened: "Okay, okay. I never knew the rest of you felt this way about me! And maybe I seem a little overbearing to the rest of you, but I don't really know any other way to be Chief Engineer."

"Well, for one thing," Susan offered slyly, "you and I both could call it quits for today. Do you realize we've been working since 0800, with only one meal since then?"

B'Elanna burst into laughter herself. "I guess I am a stern mistress! Well, since it's-" she paused to consult the chronometer "- 2123 by my reckoning, maybe you're right."

"Great," enthused Susan Nicoletti, gathering up the tools and unused couplings. "I'll just drop these back at main engineering and I should still have time to visit the resort tonight."

"Just as long as you're back bright and early tomorrow," B'Elanna warned. Inwardly, she was a little amazed at how easily she'd been persuaded by the other woman. But even she had to acknowledge the justice of the argument. As well, there was someone else who she needed to talk to: Tom Paris.

As the two women made their slow way down the Jeffries tube towards a main node, B'Elanna felt a rush of nervous energy. Would Tom want to speak with her so soon after their argument? She resolved to ensure that he did.

"Susan, this is where we part ways," B'Elanna announced at the junction. She met the other woman's surprised gaze. "You take these down to engineering and I'll head back to my quarters. Oh, and make sure that nobody else is overstaying their shift?" Nicoletti smiled, a bit surprised. Judging by her calculations, Lieutenant Torres' quarters were a long and uncomfortable crawl away through Voyager's access passages. Unlikely that the half-Klingon engineer was planning to head there via the Jeffries tubes. But Lieutenant Paris' quarters were very close by. . . . On that intriguing thought, Susan Nicoletti quickly descended the ladder that would lead to the access hatch out to the deck below.

Meanwhile, B'Elanna waited for the sound of Susan's passage to soften, then mentally calculated. She turned to her right and counted off the grids until she reached her goal. Reaching overhead and to her side, she carefully detached a hatch covering, laying it down beside her in the tube. Dim light flooded through from above, and B'Elanna grabbed the hatch rim, lifting herself into a familiar room.

"Hey!" came an immediate surprised comment. Tom Paris strode over to the small access hatch suddenly opened in the floor of his sleeping quarters. Dressed in another of the blue outfits he favored, he stood above B'Elanna's head and shoulders. "What in the hell are you doing here?"

B'Elanna levered herself the rest of the way into Tom's room, reaching down to snag the hatch cover and carefully work it into place. Tom stood quietly while she delicately snapped it into position. B'Elanna turned around, still on her knees and looked up at Tom standing there, arms planted firmly on his hips, a small scowl distorting the long line of his lips.

"Coming to see if you're still up for dinner?" she offered.

Tom cocked his head. "Don't you have some life-threatening emergency in the secondary holo-buffers to fix right now?" A teasing tone vied with disgruntlement in his voice.

B'Elanna forced a smile. She didn't relish Tom's slight superiority, especially when she'd come to his quarters prepared to concede, at least partly, that he'd been right. She slowly stood, straightening her uniform with suddenly nervous hands. "No, actually. I had an interesting conversation with Susan Nicoletti." B'Elanna deliberately let the words dangle, sure that Tom couldn't resist.

"Oh," he challenged, arms crossing in front of his chest, "what about? The joys of submolecular circuitry?"

"No, in fact, we talked about the engineer's creed."

Tom heaved a bored sigh. B'Elanna raised an eyebrow and closed the space between them, tilting her head back to lock his cobalt blue eyes with her own. "Really, Tom, engineering isn't always boring." She reached a hand out to gently caress the line of his shoulder through the soft fabric of the short-sleeved tunic.

Tom jerked back abruptly, obviously still unwilling to let go of his anger. "I never said it was boring! Just obviously more interesting than . . . other things."

B'Elanna felt his resistance ebbing and pressed a little closer. A second hand joined the first at his shoulders, slender finger caressing the golden hair at the nape of his neck. "Susan and I were talking about other interpretations of the engineer's creed. In that light, I've been awfully neglectful." Tom let his arms drop to his side and B'Elanna pressed herself against him.

"For example, I've been terribly neglectful of the ship's crew; at least one member of the ship's crew that is. Why, by my calculation it's been over six days since I gave him any real attention."

Tom's lips curved upward and his arms linked loosely behind B'Elanna's back. "Really?" he drawled. "And just what do you intend to do to rectify this neglect?" He cocked his head to the side.

B'Elanna patently pondered Tom's question for a moment. "Well," she sighed, "I guess there's nothing to do except embark on a long night of . . . maintenance."

"Maintenance?" Tom parroted playfully as he lowered his lips for a kiss. "I could get to like this kind of engineer's creed."

B'Elanna anchored her hands around the back of Tom's head, securing his lips for a deep and passionate kiss. The two carefully worked their way over to the bed, Tom making contact with the back of his leg and pulling B'Elanna over with him. B'Elanna arched an eyebrow as she stretched with Tom. "Guess I'm getting my wish tonight!"

Tom looked at her dusky face, framed by the smooth fall of ebony hair to either side. "What wish?" he asked.

"We're making it to the bed first time tonight," his lover explained as she lowered her mouth to his.