PART THREE

xxx

One Door Closes. Another Door Opens.

xxx

CHAPTER ONE

xxx

Dr. Annika Hansen exited the aero-cab, turned and handed the driver the fee and the obligatory tip through the window and watched as the cab pulled away, the whirling engine sound quickly fading into the distance.

A blast of wilting hot, humid air, and the smell of decaying vegetation assaulted her senses. She felt the sultry heat seep underneath her light linen peach colored skirt and matching jacket. The short-sleeved white shirt underneath was already starting to stick to her perspiring skin. She was glad she put her hair up in a simple twist or it would surely wilt into lanky strands.

She surveyed the blocky one-story building before her, noticing the block letter sign above the double doors stating in Federation Standard that this was Guido’s Garage. The building had a profusion of vines of various types creeping up the corners and trailing up the sides where ever there was a niche or crack to support them.

The plate aluminum windows were tinted a dark gray thus preventing anyone from viewing the interior, but giving the occupants a clear view of the outside. The sidewalk in front of the building was as broken and uneven as the dry bed of a desert gully, except the dried and broken surface of the gully would not have supported the various weeds and other flora thriving between the cracks. She knew that if the inhabitants should ever abandon this city the flora would take over in a matter of weeks and swallow all of this from view in a jungle of greens and blues.

There was no pedestrian traffic on the sidewalks and very little traffic on the narrow street, and the only sound was the unmistakable clink of metal on metal and muffled laughter that seemed to emanate somewhere in the general area of the building’s rear.

She shrugged and straightened her shoulders to settle her jacket’s fit before striding purposely toward the door and almost running into its plate aluminum glass when she realized that it did not open automatically. Only her quick reflexes prevented her from crashing into it. She then saw the small sign on the door, right above a horizontal bar that said PUSH. She pushed against the bar and heard a loud click and a buzz over her head, obviously some sound device to announce her entrance.

As she followed the forward momentum of the door, she could feel the oppressive heat pushed aside by a cool rush of air from the building’s interior, quickly envelope her. She paused just inside the doorway, still clutching the handle, and surveying her surroundings, not at all impressed with the grimy and seedy interior. The first thing she noticed was the long counter against the far wall. Behind the counter was a large closed door that she surmised was an entrance to the rest of the building. She brought her attention back to the counter noticing the clutter of PADDs, papers, and thick books that she guessed were catalogs.

To her right were four decrepit hard seat chairs situated against a dingy beige wall that had various posters of aero-cars and other vehicles displayed on it, and much to her disapproval, a calendar with a scantily dressed green-skinned woman, perhaps Orion, staring out through hooded dark eyes with parted lips.

Crude and vulgar.’

Her attention was drawn back to the counter area by the sound of the door behind it opening and a small Ferengi male emerged, glared at her, and said, “Will you shut the door? I don’t want to air-condition the whole outdoors. My power bill is astronomical as it is.”

She let the door close behind her and stepped forward to the counter, aware of the small male’s beady dark eyes assessing her as he looked her up and down with a leering and toothy grin, finally his gaze stopping at her breasts.

“B’Elanna Torres. I understand that she is employed at this establishment,” she inquired frostily.

He continued to leer at her for a few long moments before saying, “I know you’re not one of her…friends. Much too classy. Too classy to be a bill collector. You a lawyer?”

“No. I am Dr. Annika Hansen.”

His leer immediately dropped to be replaced by one of surprise and he said with alarm, “Doctor? Are you with the Department of Health? She’s not got some disease you can catch, does she?”

“My Doctorates are not in the medical field.”

“Doctorates? Like in what?”

“Mathematics and Quantum Physics,” she answered succinctly.

He wondered why a doctor in these things would want to see Torres. But the rigidness in her stance and the frostiness in her eyes and voice made him reconsider asking more questions. He motioned with his head to the left side. “Go through that door to the break room, and I’ll send her in. I’ll make sure no one goes in there while you’re talking to her.”

“Thank you,” she said coolly.

She went through the door he indicated and into a good-sized room with a large table in the middle surrounded by several chairs. There was a replicator on one wall and a door on the other that said REST ROOM. The walls had various pictures of individuals representing many different species, most were scantily dressed young males and females, and some of indeterminate gender, displayed in various poses meant, no doubt, to stimulate the libido.

The sound of the door opening drew her attention to a Klingon-Human hybrid woman who walked in and stopped, a look of surprise in her eyes, as she looked Annika over. Annika also looked the woman over, noticing that her height was around 5’5”, and she was solidly built. There had been a photograph in the files Annika obtained and she noticed some changes in the hairstyle from the picture, which showed a Human-Klingon with straight, helmet cut hair, and not the style she was currently wearing; wavy and caught back in a ponytail. There was a smudge of a dark substance on her face Annika took to be from her work repairing aero-cars. Perhaps a lubricant. The woman had recovered her surprise and was now looking at her in what to Annika seemed like a challenging as well as a defiant stare.

Her records did state she has a belligerent and defiant attitude. How unfortunate her Klingon characteristics are dominant. Of course, there are many Humans who have the same characteristics.’

Annika stood straight with her hands behind her back, a posture she often took when unsure of others, and maintaining a steady look at the woman, asked in a cool voice, “You are B’Elanna Torres, are you not?”

“Yeah, that’s me. And you are?” She once again gave Annika the once over, pursing her lips this time as if she were looking over something she was considering purchasing.

Guido wasn’t kidding. Classy. First class. Not a hair out of place and dressed for a courtroom or a boardroom. I wonder if that hair is her true color. Tall, beautiful long legs, fantastic body, nice rack, a real nice package. Not very friendly though.’

“I am Dr. Annika Hansen. I am in need of an engineer for a special project I am heading, and to fill the position as chief engineer on a Soyuz class starship for an indeterminate amount of time.”

B’Elanna blinked in surprise and asked, “Soyuz class?” ‘A Starfleet ship?’ “And…just what does that have to do with me?”

“I am offering you the position.”

B’Elanna snorted and raked her eyes down and back up Dr. Hansen, smirked, and said in a derisive voice, “Hey, Doctor, you might stand like a Starfleet cadet on review, but you aren’t exactly dressed for the part…and I’m sure not Starfleet material.”

“I assure you, Ms. Torres, I am not Starfleet. You come highly recommended by a former colleague of yours, Tom Paris.”

B’Elanna exclaimed in surprise, “Tom Paris?” Then she added angrily, “that taHqeq is a Starfleet spy.”

“I am aware of his past association with Starfleet. However, he is no longer an associate of that organization. He is in my employ as a pilot.”

“Doctor, don’t trust him as far as you can throw him. I‘m surprised he recommended me for anything.”

“He put me in contact with Professor Chapman at Starfleet Academy. Professor Chapman was impressed with your abilities and intelligence while you attended there and informed me you had one of the best minds for engineering he had ever had the privilege of teaching.”

B’Elanna couldn’t help feeling pride that her former instructor though so high of her, and gave a quick nod of acknowledgement before inquiring, “Professor Chapman tell you I dropped out of Starfleet Academy…and why?

“I was informed of the facts. I also read your dossier. However, your past has no bearing on my decisions, save that I need an accomplished engineer. You will be recompensed handsomely if you decide to accept the position. You will, in fact, be the head of the engineering department for a special project my Institute is currently researching and testing. In addition, you will be offered the position as Chief Engineer on my Soyuz class research vessel, Raven, for the duration of this project.”

B‘Elanna was intrigued by the offer but also miffed over the obvious ‘snooping’ into her background. She folded her arms, and looked challengingly into Dr. Hansen’s eyes, noticing that they were cool and unwavering, and her expression remained placid. ‘She sure looks Human, but she sure doesn’t act it. Bet that’s her poker playing face. I don’t trust anyone I can’t read. Bet she hates Klingons.’ “If you’re not connected with Starfleet, just how the hell did you get to review ‘my’ dossier?” B’Elanna demanded with a sneer.

“It is contained in the Federation Judicial files from your trial, which falls under the domain of public records since you were tried and sentenced under Federation laws.”

B’Elanna snorted and rolled her eyes before facetiously saying, “Uhm Huh. Now, about your offer--Chief Engineer of a Soyuz class ship and working on some ‘special’ project. You know I’m an ex-con and can’t take the exams to get certification as an engineer to serve on any vessel registered in the Federation, unless I keep clean for the next year and a half. Sorry, you wasted your time in coming here. Unless you want to wait that long.” She smirked as she said the last part.

Raven is the Hansen Shonok Institute’s private research vessel and is not registered with the Federation. It is registered with the Ferengi Alliance. I have already put in the necessary documents for your full certification as an engineer with the Ferengi Trade Commission. You will only need to sign the documents.”

B'Elanna's eyes went wide with surprise and she exclaimed, “Ferengi Alliance! Ha! I bet that cost you a cargo bay full of gold pressed latinum.”

A brief expression of distaste passed across the Doctor’s features, but she said nothing, and B’Elanna looked suspiciously at her and said, “You must be doing something illegal to go to that much trouble and expense. Look, I don‘t want to get involved. I don‘t relish going back to a penal colony. I don‘t even want you to tell me what…this…‘special project’ is that you’re doing. So, I suggest you leave. I‘m not interested.”

“I assure you the project that I am heading is not illegal. However, it is of such a nature that there would be intensive Federation and Starfleet involvement. I wish to avoid their involvement in this endeavor. This necessitated the methods I took.”

B‘Elanna thought for moment. ‘Intensive Federation and Starfleet involvement. Hmm, that means it’s some weapon or research that could benefit the Federation or impact negatively on it. And the new rules passed after the Dominion War means Starfleet could take over any private research and development if it is deemed a part of insuring Federation Security.’

B‘Elanna was curious and asked, “Okay. Just what does this project entail that you don’t want Federation involvement.”

“A way to effectively and efficiently traverse from one end of the galaxy to the other in a relatively short period of time.”

B‘Elanna let out a low whistle. “Starfleet would definitely be interested in that. Bet they would snatch the whole project out from under you if you were successful,” she paused, and then a thought struck her, and she said with interest, “It’s some sort of worm hole technology like that Trill scientist was working on a few years back, isn’t it?”

“I am not at liberty to go into specifics. Should you accept the position you would be privy to more information pertaining to this project.”

The Hansen Shonok Institute of Borg Study on Vulcan?’ Yes, of course.’ “Say, you're one of ‘the’ Dr. Hansens? The authority on the Borg?” B'Elanna didn't wait for a reply and continued, “Don't tell me. This is Borg technology, isn't it? No wonder you want to avoid Starfleet and Federation involvement.”

“I will not divulge the nature of the technology used.”

“Let’s not play games here…Doctor. It‘s Borg technology. It doesn‘t take Vulcan logic to figure that out. My guess is you have some sort of transwarp device based on Borg technology. Hey, I might have been out of circulation for a while, but we did have access to the latest news at the Penal Colony. And that included research and scientific news. I also was able to put the bits and pieces together from the various Engineering Journals I subscribed to that Starfleet had reconstructed a Borg Transwarp coil, but there were major difficulties in working out compatibility. You know what? I think you have a coil but are having problems with compatibility.” She grinned and said, “Do I win the weekend on Risa?”

Annika was not familiar with most slang terms but deducted that she was seeking affirmation that she was correct in her conclusions. ‘She has adequate deductive abilities. I will not deny that it is Borg technology.’ “Yes. It is Borg technology. That is all I am allowed to divulge. As I stated, if you accept the position, Ms. Torres, you will be given more information. It is classified and only those who are in my employ, and who are members of my senior staff, are privileged to know the details. While other…agencies…may know or suspect what we are doing; I request that you not repeat this conversation.”

B’Elanna stared at Dr. Hansen, trying to read her. ‘Kahless, she has got to be part Vulcan, or an android. Anyway, what do I have to lose. Only thing here is a dead end job until I can get my certification. I am definitely interested.’ She gave Dr. Hansen a straightforward look and solemnly said, “On my honor, I won’t repeat this conversation to anyone.”

Annika nodded in acceptance, knowing, somehow, that this woman would keep her word. “I thank you.”

“A word of friendly advice. You want to keep a tight lid on this? Get rid of Paris. He’s a spy for Starfleet. Probably reporting to his Admiral Daddy or Captain Janeway as we speak.”

“I had him thoroughly investigated. Shortly after your incarceration, he resigned from Starfleet and was employed as a test pilot for a private corporation. I employed him over a year ago. He has been an adequate employee.”

B’Elanna shrugged and said, “Well, don’t say you were never warned. Now, about this transwarp coil--how far along are you on that?”

“As I stated before, Ms. Torres, that is privileged information.”

“And how long is this project to last?”

“That depends on a lot of variables, Ms. Torres. The projections are that the goal for success will be achieved in six months or less.”

“Six months. That’s not very long. Why should I quit my job here and in six months have to look for another?”

“You are guaranteed six months’ salary at twenty-five percent above the top-tier income for the position of Senior Engineer as it is classified in the Federation Rating System of Occupations. If the project is successful, you will receive a generous bonus equivalent to three months of your salary. There is also the possibility that we will need a full time engineer for Raven. You would be considered for that position.”

“You're sure it will be successful, aren't you?” B’Elanna smirked and added, “I bet you got a Vulcan mathematician to work out the odds for you.”

“No. I, however, have taken all variables into account, and my calculations are that there is a 96.26 percent chance of success.”

“Funny, you don’t have pointed ears and slanted eyebrows. But you sure do talk and act like a Vulcan.” ‘Must come from living and working there.’

Annika did not answer, ‘she is insulting’, as she regarded B’Elanna with a cool assessing stare for a moment before saying with a touch of sarcasm, “You need not ‘complement’ me, Ms. Torres. I only require your services as an engineer.”

Ha. Watch it. Or you will piss the nice lady off. Transwarp technology. I could make a name for myself in engineering and have my pick of future jobs if this is a success. I don’t know if I’ll want to work for the Ice Queen after the project is over. “Okay. That's the slick sales pitch. Now give me the 'caveat emptor'. You know, you're offering me a plum position, and I have often found that plums, no matter how plump and juicy looking, can taste sour. So what's the catch?”

“There is no hidden agenda, Ms. Torres.”

“What are the requirements and rules I have to follow?”

“You will be obligated to adhere to the rules and regulations of confidentiality set forth by the Institute. Likewise, we adhere to a code of conduct that is standard for the majority of Universities and Institutes in the Federation.”

B‘Elanna shrugged. “Hey, can‘t be any worse than Starfleet Academy regulations.”

“As for your time spent in the position as an officer on Raven, you will be required to adhere to the code of conduct and regulations set forth in the standards for all officers and enlisted who serve aboard a civilian vessel as is mandated in the Federation Civilian Starship Rules of Conduct: Articles 842-2603.”

B‘Elanna sputtered, “But…but…this is a vessel registered under the Ferengi Trade Commission. Wouldn‘t their laws be in effect? I mean, Federation Civilian Starship rules are too close to Starfleet rules for my taste.”

“I do not believe you would appreciate the rules that govern crew ‘discipline’ allowed under Ferengi rules and regulations, Ms. Torres.” ‘My calculations are 100 percent that you would infract 83 percent of them.’

B’Elanna smirked. “What? The captain can beat you with a whip or something?”

“To be concise, yes. The captain has the authority to use corporal punishment to discipline crew, even for minor infractions.”

B‘Elanna opened her eyes wide in mock shock and facetiously gasped, “Ohhh, how shocking.” She then leered. “That could prove interesting. Especially since I’m part Klingon. You know how we Klingons love those pain sticks.” B’Elanna then snickered and wiggled her eyebrows up and down.

Dr. Hansen’s eyes looked as if they went from a dispassionate cool blue to a downright frigid arctic blue. B’Elanna thought, ‘Definitely a prude. Bet she’s never played ‘VULCAN LOVE SLAVE’ in a holosuite before. Probably doesn‘t play anything at all. Couldn‘t unwind enough to relax.’

'She is crude and uncouth.' “In addition, you could have your wages garnished.”

B’Elanna gave a derisive snort. “Yeah, that would be the Ferengi thing to do. They would probably charge you for each lash of the whip they gave you. I can’t promise I will adhere to every rule if I take this position.”

“I will concede that in certain rare circumstances that may apply. However, I will demand that you adhere to the code of conduct as it relates to those who are your superiors and those under your command.”

OOOHHH, demand will we, Ice Queen? My, my, my. I wonder if that extends to the bedroom. Don’t think so. The woman is an Ice Queen. She probably only ‘sleeps’ in the bedroom.’ “Well, I'll think about it. When do you have to know?”

“In two days. I do not want to delay the project any longer. I expect you to start in the position in two weeks.”

She noted that Dr. Hansen did not include ‘if you accept’. B’Elanna smirked. ‘Sure of yourself aren’t you Doctor? I wonder what it would take to wipe that Vulky look off your face. Oh come on, Torres, you know you’re dying to accept. Nope, can’t seem too eager. Make her wait. Bet she’s not used to that.

B’Elanna gave her best Cheshire Cat grin and said, “Okay. I’ll let you know in two days. You got a way for me to contact you?”

“I will contact you, Ms. Torres. I have already transmitted the pertinent information on the benefits, monetary compensation, rules of confidentiality, and code of conduct to your comm address. I believe the offer is a generous one. The information should be on your communications array for you to access.”

Efficient little Vulky, aren’t you, Doctor?’ “Why didn't you just offer the job to me over the comm, instead of coming here?” B'Elanna asked.

“This is an important position, and I wished to make the offer personally rather than rely on your comm system receiving the message.”

“Yeah, I can see it. I might have thought it was spam and deleted it instead of opening it up. I’ll make sure I don’t delete the information you sent. I’ll have an answer for you in two days.”

B’Elanna wiped her right hand on her coveralls and held it out, noticing the ragged, dirty fingernails and the skinned knuckles that she had banged up earlier reaching inside an engine. She knew her palms were work callused. ‘Let her shake the hand of someone who puts in an honest day’s work. Bet she wouldn’t dirty those hands of hers working, except to push a PADD.

Dr Hansen hesitated briefly and clasped B’Elanna’s hand in hers for a moment then quickly drew her hand back.

Um hum, afraid to get your hands dirty touching a commoner, Your Majesty?’ “I‘ll read over the information tonight. Uhm…Guido said you came by aero-cab. He’ll call you another when you leave.”

Annika nodded and turned to leave, B’Elanna accompanying her to the main office.

B‘Elanna called out to her boss, who was behind the counter, pretending to thumb through a catalog, “Hey, Guido, call the lady a cab.” ‘Bet the little toad has the break room bugged’ She turned to Dr. Hansen and said, “You can wait in here if you want. That heat is wilting.”

“I thank you. However, I am acclimated to heat and will wait outside,” she said, wanting to escape the scrutiny of not only Guido, but of Ms. Torres as well. The touch of the other woman’s hand, and the emotions she had sensed through the touch, had her feeling uneasy.

“Well, suit yourself. Like I said, I’ll read everything and let you know when you contact me in two days.” B’Elanna let her eyes once again rake over the Doctor, and her gaze settled on her breasts. ’Nice’. She realized what she was doing and brought her eyes quickly up to look into ice blue orbs that seemed to shoot out a freezing ray of disdain. ‘Geez, Torres, you’re a horn dog. What did ya do that for? Because I’m a horn dog.’

Dr. Hansen turned and walked away from her, her posture seeming even more erect and stiff than when Torres first met her. ‘Ice Queen!’ But a damn good looking woman. Probably needs a good lay to thaw her out. I bet I could thaw her out. What’s the matter with you? She’s out of your league. I need a date, or a Holosuite. Yep. I think I can swing the credits for a trip to the local Holosuite. Some program with a tall, sexy blonde.’

xxx

Annika could almost feel the woman’s eyes burn into her back as she exited the building. ‘This is a mistake. I cannot work with her. She is too Klingon, or perhaps, too Human in her emotions. She lacks discipline. I surmise that she is highly illogical. How can she be a superb engineer without logic? It is illogical. However, she is the best, and my needs far outweigh her…flaws.’

She remembered the challenge in those dark amber eyes that flashed fire and defiance. That smirk and smug smile, and the inappropriate assessment of her body that made her feel, yes, ‘feel’ the emotion of anger. An emotion she had not felt for some time.

She thought again of those dark flashing eyes and the feel of the woman’s hand in hers. The emotions the hybrid emanated ran like a current through that touch, and she had felt her sexual interest and a sexual energy. This woman desired her. She had felt uncomfortable with the touch, and something else that disturbed her greatly. A jolt of sexual arousal had seized her for a brief moment. Her own arousal. ‘I am weak.’ She should have declined to touch her.

Her attention was caught by the arrival of the aero-cab. She would return immediately to her hotel suite and meditate.

xxx

B’Elanna turned the sonic shower to full force. She shrugged her shoulders and wagged her head back and forth to loosen up the muscles, her mind, for about the one hundredth time, playing the encounter and conversation she had had earlier in the day with Dr. Hansen.

The offer seemed too good to be true. Granted, that there were rules and regulations, but what place didn’t have them. Even if she signed aboard a Klingon vessel, there would be rules and regulations, as well as ‘Klingon’ discipline, if she infracted any of them. ‘Gre’thor, the Ferengi don‘t know what corporal punishment is compared to what a Klingon captain could and would dish out.’

The memory of glacier cold blue eyes flashed in her thoughts and she smirked. ‘Of course, if a certain blonde were to… ‘flip the whip’ …that might prove interesting.’ The picture then flashed to said blonde in a black leather corset with a black whip in hand. B’Elanna closed her eyes and groaned. ‘Vulcan Love Slave, Vulcan Love Slave. I’m definitely going to buy a few hours in a holosuite tonight.”

She finished showering, exited the small bathroom, and went into the large room that served as living room, bedroom, and dining room. She grabbed a robe lying on her bed, tying it around her, and going over to her work area in one corner, by the replicator. Her communications and computer array was blinking with incoming messages. She accessed them and saw that the information was from the Hansen Shonok Institute. She would look at that later.

“Computer. Pull up all information, make that biographical information, on Dr. Annika Hansen. Start with the official information the Hansen Shonok Institute has on her.”

Working.”

A few seconds later, the official biographical information was displayed, and B’Elanna began to read,

Mother, Dr. Erin Hansen, married to Dr. Shonok. Hmm, a Vulcan. Let’s see…been on Vulcan since Stardate…educated on Vulcan... Dang, no wonder she’s so Vulky, she’s spent most of her life there. Whew, smart too. More than smart. Admitted to the Vulcan Science Academy at age 14 and awarded …Kahless, look at those awards she won…a doctorate in Mathematics and Quantum physics at age twenty. Joined the Hansen Shonok Institute as a full professor. Teaches both mathematics and Quantum physics. Nothing about being married. Bet it would be to a Vulcan, though.’

“Computer. Pull up all information on Dr. Annika Hansen. Excluding information from the Hansen Slovak Institute, scientific journals, and scientific digests.”

Working. There are 2,362 items of information on Dr. Annika Hansen.”

“Computer. Show me only the information contained in…ah, entertainment sources, celebrity pages, and ah…tabloids. ‘Let’s see if there’s any gossip or juice on the good Doctor. Bet the Galactic Enquirer has something. After all, ‘Enquiring minds want to know’.’

There are 438 items of information located.”

Well, looks like VULCAN LOVE SLAVE will have to wait.’

xxx

CHAPTER TWO

xxx

The first thing she noticed was the higher and drier temperature, and the second was the slender and tall Vulcan woman who stepped forward to meet her, slightly bowing her head in greeting, saying in a pleasant alto, “Ms. Torres, welcome to Vulcan. I am Doctor Voncel and will transport you to your residence. If you will accompany me, I have a small skiff right outside.”

“Nice meeting you.” She walked beside the woman through the small transportation station, which had very few people about. This station, she knew, was located on the Institutes campus. She had read the Institute’s orientation brochure that stated there were two transporter stations on campus.

She discreetly studied Dr. Voncel out of the corner of her eye, noticing that she was taller than herself by around two or three inches, and, as most Vulcans, purposeful in her walk, ‘like someone I just met two weeks ago…who isn’t really Vulcan.’ Voncel wore soft, muted, gray robes that flowed gracefully around her, and unlike most Vulcans whom B’Elanna had seen, she wore her raven black hair past her shoulders with the sides swept back, held in the back by a copper clip, and not in the current fashion of a short Vulcan bob. ‘Nice looking woman.’

As they exited the building into the harsh Vulcan day, B'Elanna felt the temperature increase to a hot dry wave. ‘This is hotter than Gre’thor. Not even the Klingon in me could take this blast of phaser heat for long.’

She followed Dr. Voncel down a short walkway to a small parking area that held a small, tan, four-seat vehicle that sat on struts. B’Elanna slid into the front passenger seat, finding the temperature within the craft cooler than the outside. Apparently, the vehicle temperature controls had to be on constantly, or the temperature within the closed craft would have approached heats that would roast you. Voncel took her place in the driver’s seat and fastened her seat belt, B'Elanna following her example, fastened hers, and Voncel started the vehicle, B'Elanna feeling a small jolt as the struts lifted. The vehicle moved slowly forward and picked up a little speed as it headed down a wide paved area that circled a small park and then into a broader area surrounded by low buildings in ivory, pale pink and salmon sandstone.

“Ms. Torres, this the Institute’s housing compound for staff.”

“What is the number of staff who works for the Institute and how large is the enrollment?”

“One hundred and eighty-eight professors and instructors. Support staff numbers ninety-two. Staff for Dr. Annika Hansen’s project number one hundred seventy nine. This number includes the crew for The Raven as well as laboratory staff. The Institute has a current student enrollment of eight thousand and nine. We also employ ninety-seven technicians and maintenance crew specializing in various service fields.”

B’Elanna thought, ‘Dr. Hansen’s project employs almost more staff than the Institute. The credits needed to fund it must be huge. This must mean it’s serious stuff.’

“I will show you to your assigned domicile.”

Dr. Voncel parked the craft in a small paved area beside a sandstone wall, and they exited.

She followed Dr. Voncel through a small gate into a large courtyard with a fountain in the middle, surrounded by ivory and pale green ferns, a carpet of blue green grass and a few trees, their branches long and willowy. She noticed a simple stone bench by the fountain and a few others scattered underneath many of the trees.

Dr. Voncel said, “This garden was originally part of the monastery compound that now comprises the Institute’s administration complex.”

B'Elanna slowed for a moment and breathed more deeply, smelling the rich verdant green growth and moisture, and it brought a comforting balm to her senses, and a relief from the drying heat.

Dr. Voncel stopped and said, “The fountain is fed by a natural spring, and the runoff is channeled to a nearby garden area behind the compound.”

“It’s very nice.” ‘Oh, that was lame, Torres.’

“I find it to be soothing.”

They continued down a flagstone path and out of the garden area. The walkway then entered a gated area containing ivory and pale pink adobe bungalows on either side of a wide paved stone lane. B’Elanna thought the bungalows must have been here for a while as many of the yards contained huge palm like trees. They passed several bungalows before coming to one with a large faded gray door recessed into the pale pink stone. The long door handle was burnished bronze, Voncel lifting it, causing a click as the hold disengaged. She pushed it open and stepped aside for B'Elanna to enter.

B'Elanna stood for a moment in the doorway, surveying the wide atrium, open to the sky and filled with growing plants and a stone table with wrought iron chairs. Voncel stepped ahead, her sandals tapping lightly on the floor of pale gray and tan flat stone.

She walked twenty feet to another door and opened it, B’Elanna following her into a small foyer, which led into a spacious living area. B'Elanna looked around, noticing the wide window that looked out into the atrium and onto a small rock garden.

Her focus returned to the living room and to a sofa big enough for two, piled with cushions in various shades of blue and tan. In front of the sofa was an oblong, light tan table polished to a high shine, and to either side of the sofa were two matching comfortable looking chairs upholstered in material matching the sofa. A desk with a communication and computer console was in the far corner of the room and against one wall. The floors were bare, polished, tan stone with a small woven blue and tan area rug situated in front of the computer console.

“I shall prepare tea while you familiarize yourself with your dwelling. Your luggage should be here shortly.”

“Thank you.” ’I could really go for a mug of cold ale. But while in Rome...’

B'Elanna watched as Dr. Voncel walked to a divide, and behind a counter top, and knew the small area behind it was a kitchen. To her right was a hallway, and B’Elanna walked down it until she came to a door to her left, discovering it to be a bathroom with a good-sized tub was set into the floor and beside that was a shower area. B'Elanna inspected the shower, discovering it to be a standard sonic one. There was an apparatus for waste and a sink, which had a mirror above it. The ceiling had a skylight above the tub, B'Elanna wondering what it would be like to bathe and see the stars above her head. She wasn’t much on hydro- bathing, but relaxing in a hot steaming tub with a mug of blood wine did have its appeal and was great for loosening up those tight muscles from working in cramped spaces.

Across from the bathroom was a door that led to a good-sized bedroom containing a neatly made full-sized bed with cool, blue covers, situated between two windows with matching curtains. The floor was the same polished stone as in the rest of the house, with an oblong woven blue and rose rug placed on it beside the bed. The room also had a closet, chest of drawers, as well as a low squat table with a stool.

She returned to the living area, noticing Dr. Voncel seated on the sofa. She took the chair closest to Dr. Voncel, and the other woman started pouring her a cup of tea, and handed that to her.

Dr. Voncel indicated a platter of pastries on the coffee table and said, “Please, help yourself to as much as you would like.”

“Thank you.” B’Elanna took one of the plates by the platter, and using the small flat spatula resting beside the platter, removed a piece of the pastry, placing it on her plate. She took a fork, proceeded to cut off a small piece, and put it in her mouth, finding the taste to be sweet and tangy.

Dr. Voncel also took a serving of the pastry. B’Elanna knew that Vulcans did not like to touch their food with their hands while eating. Though, she had known a couple of Vulcans at Red Rock who did not adhere to this custom. Still, it wouldn’t hurt for her to follow this custom while interacting with her Vulcan colleagues. She wondered how many of the customs Dr. Hansen adhered to. ‘More than a few, I bet.’

“This is pretty good,” B’Elanna said after swallowing the bite of pastry.

“I’m glad you find it acceptable. It is a pastry made from the Goleden fruit. This is the season when it ripens.”

“Did you make this yourself?”

“No. They were purchased from a local baker.”

There was an awkward silence for a moment, and she noticed Dr. Voncel looking at her blandly, her expression, hard to read.

I just don’t trust anyone I can’t read. Not even Vulcans. Especially Vulcans,’ Tuvok coming to mind.

Dr. Voncel broke the silence by stating, “I am to take you to the research conference room in three hours for you to meet your engineering staff. Do you have any questions?”

“What is Dr. Hansen…Annika Hansen, like to work with…and for?”

“She expects the best from her employees as she does from herself. It is an honor to be chosen to work for, and with her.”

Geez, that’s not saying much.’ “Does she treat her employees fairly?”

“Yes. It is my opinion that she does.” Dr. Voncel paused for a moment and then asked, “Ms. Torres, may I inquire as to why you took this position?”

B’Elanna blinked in surprise, wondering why Dr. Voncel would ask such a question, then she said, “Well, it’s obvious isn’t it? I mean, the pay is great, benefits are good, and it is a great opportunity to work with developing a new technology.” She smiled before adding, “I think it will be a challenge, and I do enjoy a challenge.”

“ Is that why you joined the Maquis, as it was a challenge?”

B’Elanna felt a note of alarm and said suspiciously, “You seem to know something about my background.”

“Yes. I am on the staff of the Institute and have had the opportunity to look over the information on all of the prospective applicants for Dr. Hansen’s project.”

“I take it you must be on a screening committee…or something like that?”

“Why did you join the Maquis, Ms. Torres?”

“Well, it’s a long story. I was working as an engineer aboard a freighter in the Bajoran sector when we ran into a Cardassian Galore class frigate that demanded we allow a boarding party. The freighter was running supplies to some of the colonies Cardassia claimed was in their space.

“Before we were boarded, a Maquis cruiser showed up and destroyed the frigate. The Maquis were in desperate need of medical supplies as they had sick and wounded onboard. These were survivors of a Cardassian concentration camp that they had freed. I went aboard their ship to help with the care of some of the sick.”

B’Elanna paused and took a drink of tea. She found it hard to talk about that time, and said in a halting voice, “What I saw…and heard… from the survivors…I just couldn’t believe any civilized species would inflict such atrocities on another species--on innocent men, women, and worse of all, children. I couldn’t walk away. Chakotay, the leader of that particular cell, needed an engineer. So, I joined.”

“Yet, you were captured and sentenced to serve time in a penal colony. Would you do it again?”

“In a nano-second,” was her abrupt, but forceful reply.

“You are part Klingon, Ms. Torres, did you feel it part of your honor as a Klingon to align yourself with the Maquis?”

“Not at all. Being Klingon didn’t have anything to do with it. It was the ‘right’ thing to do.”

“I understand that you were in quite a few combat situations with the Cardassians. As a Klingon, you must have gained some satisfaction from the conflict. Klingons do pride themselves on being fierce and aggressive warriors.”

B’Elanna began to feel annoyed. “Look, Dr. Voncel, I don’t want to appear rude here, but I get the feeling a lot more is going on than just curiosity. So, why the line of questioning?”

“My apologies, Ms. Torres. It was my intention to gain some insight into possible problems that may arise with your interactions with staff and peers.”

B’Elanna let out a mused snort and facetiously replied, “Oh, I see. And because I’m half Klingon you think I’m going to have problems, do you?”

“I did read your records from Starfleet Academy. You were disciplined many times for infractions of the rules and were described as quarrelsome and volatile.”

B’Elanna raised her eyebrows in question. “If Dr. Hansen had any qualms, why did she hire me?”

“She was in need of an experienced and accomplished engineer.”

B’Elanna became suspicious then and said pointedly, “And it was your recommendation that she not.”

“As staff psychologist, it was my recommendation that she not.”

B’Elanna wryly laughed. ‘Staff psychologist! I’ve been had.’ She then sobered and gave Dr. Voncel a level look, and said, “I didn’t know Vulcans could be so devious and deceitful. ‘ Well, there was Tuvok, don’t forget’. Don’t you think you should have TOLD me who you really are and just what you were up to?”

“I apologize if you feel I have deceived you. I find information gathered when the subject is relaxed and not aware they are being interviewed is more reliable.”

B’Elanna let out a long sigh. “Look. I’m Klingon, okay? Klingons do have the reputation as being quarrelsome and aggressive. A lot of it is true, and it’s not mainly due to genetics, but for cultural reasons. We can, however, control our tempers and aggression and refrain from knocking the heads off those who provoke us.

“When younger, yes, I let my temper get away from me, as do most young people of many species. Yes, it is part of my nature to be aggressive when the occasion warrants. But, that is not necessarily from my Klingon side. It could just as well come from my Human side. You can rest assured that I’m not going to get a bat’leth and start killing people.” ‘Little B’Elanna does not play well with the other children on the team.’

“Again, I apologize if I offended you.”

“Hey. Okay. Let’s drop it. Now, I have a few questions. Can you give me some details on this transwarp project?”

“I will be glad to answer any questions you have pertaining to the Institute. I cannot tell you any details of the Valhalla Project. That is Dr. Annika Hansen’s area of expertise.”

“Valhalla Project?”

“Yes. That is the name chosen for the project. Dr. Hansen tells me it is the mythical name of a magical place that many Terrans believed they would go to when deceased.”

“Yes. I believe it is. A Terran race, called the Norse, believed that brave warriors killed in battle were taken there by Battle Maidens, the Valkyrie, who rode their flying horses over the battlefield to gather their souls.”

B‘Elanna smiled and took a sip of the tea, trying to hide the smirk she felt coming. “Much like the Klingon belief in Sto‘vo‘kor. Only brave warriors will go there. Both Klingons and the Norse believed these places to be paradise, where you will fight all day and feast and celebrate all night.”

“Interesting.”

“More than likely, Dr. Hansen named the project Valhalla due to her heritage. Hansen, I’m sure, is a Norse name. The Norse were fierce and aggressive warriors. Often tall, blonde, and with blue eyes. ‘Sound like anyone you know?’ They raided other lands for riches. They were seafarers and sailed in longboats with carved dragonheads on the bow. They were also called Vikings, and were feared by all. They thought nothing of burning a whole village and killing all of the inhabitants. Many entered into a state of battle lust and were called Berserkers because of the bearskin shirts they wore. They would have made great Klingons. You know, live to fight, fight to live. Probably a lot like early Vulcans.”

“Yes. How…interesting.”

B’Elanna smothered down her smirk. ‘It’s not nice to tease the Vulcan, dear.’

xxx

CHAPTER THREE

xxx

B’Elanna shook hands with members of her engineering crew and some of the other crewmembers, and staff of the transwarp research team. They were gathered in the research center’s auditorium to welcome her to the team. There were the obligatory snacks and soft drinks for the occasion, as well as a banner reading, ‘Welcome Chief ’.

Earlier, after Dr. Voncel departed, her luggage had arrived, and she unpacked and put her clothing and toiletry items away.

Dr. Voncel arrived right on time and took her to the Research Center that consisted of a large building, where much of the research was housed, and an adjoining building called the laboratory. It was the latter where the actual technology was constructed. There was also a facility in the desert used for testing the technology.

“Hi, Chief Torres, I’m Cortanna, but you can call me Cort. I hear we have a lot in common,“ said the tall blue skinned Bolian as she firmly shook B'Elanna's hand.

“Just Chief will do. And just what do we have in common?”

“Starfleet Academy.”

“Oh. Well, I wasn’t there that long. We had a difference of…philosophy,” B’Elanna said dryly.

“That’s one way of putting it. We had a difference of...opinion. I was there right after you left. You’re a legend, you know.”

Cassias Bril, a cute, vivacious redhead from Bajor, said with curiosity, “Do tell, Cort.”

B’Elanna groaned inwardly. “No. No. No. No telling on the Chief , or my first order as Chief will be having you scrub out the plasma conduits,” she said with her hands on her hips and in a tone of voice that you didn’t know if she was serious or joking.

Cortanna grimaced and said to Bril, “No way. I don’t want to piss off the Chief the first day she’s here. My lips are sealed.”

B’Elanna grinned and said, “Smart girl. I think I’ll put you on the Alpha team with me…just to keep my eye on you.”

A few snickers could be heard at this comment.

“Get with me later, Cort,” Bril said in a loud whisper and lifted her eyebrows suggestively.

B’Elanna smirked and said, “You too, Bril. You’ll be on Alpha. Consider it an honor.”

“Oh, no, Chief. My girlfriend works Beta.”

Gary Brock, an older Human from Alpha Centuri, exclaimed, “Girlfriend? I thought you and Jeff Whithers were an item.”

“He was last month’s flavor, Brock. She’s dating Action Jackson, now,” said Jo Hong, a petite Human female of Asian descent.

“This is the real thing. I’m in love,“ Bril sighed and made goo-goo eyes.

“You’re always in loooove,” said Cortanna, as she fluttered her eyelids.

“Love? Who’s in love, and did we have a pool on this?” Tom Paris said as he joined the group. He was followed by an attractive young woman with dark brown curly hair that hung just below her ears.

“B’Elanna. Long time no see,” Paris said with what he thought was his winning smile.

B‘Elanna gave him a wicked grin, displaying her teeth, and said sarcastically, “Well, well, well. If it isn’t the Flyboy, or should I say Spyboy, Tom Paris.”

“Hey, B’Elanna, I can explain…,” Tom said hurriedly.

“Well, Tom, I’m sure you can. But not now. I’m with my ‘crew’.” She looked at him pointedly. “And I don’t remember seeing ‘your’ name on the roster.”

“Hey, I just wanted to drop by and introduce you to Dr. Kleinberg. She’s the Project’s Data expert,” he turned to the woman next to him, “ Judith, B’Elanna Torres. B’Elanna, Dr. Judith Kleinberg.”

“Just ‘Jude’ will do,” Jude said amiably.

They shook hands, taking each other’s measure, B’Elanna noticing that Jude was the same height as herself but of slighter build. B’Elanna saw a sparkle of mischief in her green eyes and dimpled smile.

“Welcome, B’Elanna. Dr. Hansen told me to tell you she would have liked to be here to welcome you, but unfortunately, she’s in Hars’Ta on business for today and most of tomorrow. If I can be of any help, just let me know. I’m in the Institute’s comm listing under Judith Kleinberg.”

“Thanks, how long have you been on the Valhalla Project?”

“Officially, since it went into the planning stage. Unofficially, since Nick first told me about it.”

“Nick?”

“That’s what I call Annika…Dr. Hansen. We’ve been best friends since I was thirteen years old and she twelve.”

B’Elanna couldn’t image Dr. Hansen allowing anyone to call her Nick and said with a small smirk, “I bet not everyone gets to call her that.”

“You’re right. Only a few people who have known her for a while,” Jude acknowledged before inquiring, “You settling in okay?”

“Yeah. The place is very nice. Dr. Voncel picked me up at the transporter station and took me over.”

Jude was surprised at this. “Hmm, I would have thought Nick would have sent someone from the Research Center.”

B’Elanna gave a short snort and said, “Seems Dr. Voncel had another motive. Once she got me relaxed and plied me with goodies, she started prodding for information. Not because she was curious--she was doing the Freud on me.”

There were a few puzzled looks and someone whispered, “Freud. What‘s that?”

Jude looked at B’Elanna with a confused expression but before she could inquire further, Tom said, “Head shrinking was she?” At the puzzled looks of the others, he added, “Twentieth century Earth slang for psychoanalyzing. Sigmund Freud was a twentieth century Earth psychiatrist.”

B’Elanna glared at him, but agreed, “You got it, Spyboy. Sneaky about it. I didn‘t know Vulcans could be so devious. If she tries it again, I’ll just have to go all Klingon on her. That’ll give her something to psychoanalyze while she‘s recuperating.”

B’Elanna heard Cortanna say, “Uh, oh.” And noticed Tom making a slashing motion with the edge of his hand across his throat.

Jude smirked and snickered. Jude liked Voncel for the most part. However, sometimes she felt that Voncel was doing the ‘Freud’ on her in some of their conversations. Jude cleared her throat and, still smirking, said, “Now, B’Elanna. You don’t want the Boss firing you because you, ah….went Klingon…on her girlfriend, do you?”

B‘Elanna snapped her head back in surprise and blurted, “Girlfriend? You mean Dr. Hansen and Dr. Voncel?”

“Uhmm humm. Not just girlfriend, but betrothed, fiancée, intended, bride to be--”

Tom added, “Main squeeze, old lady, ball and chain--”

“Okay, I get it. Why does that not surprise me?” She was surprised though, and felt disappointed in some way she couldn’t explain and wasn’t inclined to exam too closely.

xxx

CHAPTER FOUR

xxx

“He kept calling me Ms. Kleinberg, until I told him it made me sound like my mother and to call me Jude or Judith. After that, he started calling me Judith. I can’t get him to call me Jude. He said it would be illogical to call me by a name that is not mine. I explained to him about nicknames. It didn’t do any good--he still calls me Judith,” Jude said wryly as she relayed to B’Elanna an anecdote concerning her husband, Stron.

B’Elanna snickered and said, “Be glad it’s not ‘Hey You’ or ‘Woman’. Woman, replicate me dinner. Woman, bring me a brew.”

B’Elanna thought about Dr. Hansen with Dr. Voncel and asked curiously, “Dr. Voncel ever call Dr. Hansen, Nick?”

Jude shrugged. “Not that I have ever heard. Just Annika. Vulcans aren’t much on nicknames or pet names like ‘honey’ or ‘baby’.

“How ‘bout Dr. Hansen. She ever call Dr. Voncel, Voncie, or something like that?”

“No.” Jude smirked. “Voncel would probably go all ‘Freud’ on her if she started calling her Voncie.”

B'Elanna was curious about Dr. Hansen's engagement to Dr. Voncel and figured that Jude, being Dr. Hansen's best friend, would know the story. “How did those two get together? I mean, I know they work at the same Institute, and all...”

B’Elanna noticed that Jude shifted in her seat uncomfortably and took a drink of her cola. ‘She’s uneasy with this question. Why?’

Jude tried to disguise the uneasiness in her voice when she said, “Uh…they’ve known each other for a long time…work for the same institution…you know…things like that.” Smiled and said, “Say, how about I show you around campus tomorrow, and then I can give you a guided tour of Raven afterwards?”

Changing the subject, are we? Well, maybe I shouldn't be so nosy. It's really none of my business.’ “Yeah. That would be great. What time?”

“Nine hundred hours. I’ll leave a message for Nick so when she comes in the office tomorrow, she’ll know where we are.”

“Great.” B’Elanna yawned. “Oops, sorry. Space-lag catching up with me.”

“You better turn in. It’s getting pretty late, and the party is emptying out.”

“Ladies.” Tom walked up and placed a plate half full of hors d'oeuvres on the table. “Can’t let this go to waste.”

B’Elanna glared at him, saying sarcastically, “I’ve suddenly lost my appetite. It must be due to the stinking smell of rat crap that just drifted over.” She rose from her seat, looked at Jude, and said with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes, “It’s been real nice talking to you, Jude. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Okay. Meet me over here, at 09:00. I’ll be at the front entrance.”

B’Elanna nodded and turned to leave, glaring at Tom, and sneering, said, “Spyboy,” before walking away.

Tom’s eyes lingered on the departing figure, Jude seeing a hurt look pass over his face.

He took the seat B’Elanna vacated, indicated the platter of food, and smiled. “Help yourself.”

Jude noticed that the smile did not reach his eyes and said, “If she’s your friend, I would hate to meet your enemies. Spyboy?”

Tom sighed, took a swig of cola, and swirled the contents in the bottle around for a moment. He looked at Jude and sheepishly said, “It’s something I’m ashamed of doing.” He gave a sharp snort and added, “There’s a lot I’m ashamed of doing. I’m not going to go into the dirty details of my life…you’ll hear them eventually. Just know I’m working hard to leave that person behind.” Jude didn’t say anything, just continued to look at him and he continued. “I got into some trouble while at Starfleet Academy. I was kicked out…for good reasons. I just drifted along for a while. My friends were anyone who would buy me a drink.

“I met up with Chakotay, the leader of B’Elanna’s Maquis cell. He needed a pilot, I needed the cash for my next big crash. So, I go into the mercenary business.

“I got careless in a bar one night and ended up nabbed by Starfleet Intelligence. I was sentenced to serve time in a Penal Colony on Earth. New Zealand. I couldn’t stand it. I needed the stars.

“Captain Kathryn Janeway had an assignment from Starfleet to bring in Chakotay and his cell and came to see me at the Penal Colony. She said if I agreed to lead her to them, I would get out.

“I went for it,” he paused, and snorted wryly, “ Hell, what did I care about a bunch of rebels. Their cause wasn’t mine. I led Janeway right to them. She caught them, and they were sentenced as terrorists to time in a Federation Penal Colony. B’Elanna was in that group.

“Thing is, I really had no future anymore, not even in Starfleet. None of the officers trusted me, and my crewmates didn’t trust me. Hell, I didn’t trust me. I quit and drifted back into my old habits.

“Janeway tracked me down. She told me if I didn’t want to wear the uniform, that was okay. Told me I was the best pilot she knew, and why waste a talent like that. She gave me a comm number and said ask for Tracie Rodriguez. That was all she said.

“I was curious and called. It was for a position with the Stardyne Corporation as a test pilot.

“I took the job. It was just me in the cockpit with the stars. Being a test pilot, well, you’re a tick of a millisecond from death. Between that tick and death, you can learn a lot about yourself. I didn’t like ‘me’ very much. It sounds like a cliché, but ever since, I’ve been working on becoming a person I could be proud of being. A person others can depend on. A person more like B’Elanna Torres. She is the one person that I would trust to watch my back in a fight. And she has never left a comrade behind, even if it meant she could lose her own life.”

“She’s done that then? Endangered her life for others?” Jude asked.

“Yeah, she has. Her Maquis cell had a contact they were supposed to meet in a little tavern in a mining town on Xorros, which was in the zone that the Federation handed over to the Cardassians.

“She and three others volunteered to go even though it was in Cardie territory. The information was for the location of a forced labor camp where colonists who didn’t agree to Cardassian rules were being sent to serve as slave labor. Many had family members in the Maquis.

“Chakotay took them to Minos Two on the border of Cardie territory. From there they went to two other planets to muddy the trail. They took a small shuttle and landed it on the outskirts of town. There had been no sign of Cardie ships in the surrounding space so they thought everything was okay.

“It’s night so they get into town unobserved and go to the tavern to meet with the operative. The operative is not there yet. They decide to wait a few minutes more. B’Elanna has to take a bladder break and gets up to go to the bathroom. About the time she’s almost there, boom, a squad of a dozen Cardies come in from all sides. Someone set them up.

“B’Elanna makes a sprint, crashes through a window, and is gone into the night. She‘s pretty fast, having won ribbons in her Academy days for running.

“The three others are taken to a little field in back where a transport shuttle is waiting. The Cardies put the Maquis in a cell on the shuttle. I’m not talking about the ones that have a force field. But an honest to god cage with a deuterium door. The guards take their seats, and the officer goes up to the helm section to give the orders to leave. The ship takes off, and as soon as it hits the vacuum of space, the shuttle doors open, and the Cardies are sucked out into the vacuum.

“The cell the prisoners were in was self contained so no one got hurt.

“Turns out B’Elanna knew they had to have a shuttle somewhere close. She figured it was in the field behind the tavern, or in that vicinity, because the Maquis came in from the opposite side of town and didn’t see a thing.

“She snuck up and drew a phaser on the two Cardies outside the shuttle. One was the pilot. She had them enter the shuttle and go into the helm area. She phaser stunned both of them. Placed one in the pilot’s seat and another at tactical.

“The officer comes through the door and gives the order to leave. B’Elanna sends him to lullaby land. She takes the helm control, and you know the rest.

“She frees her comrades, and they wake the officer up. He won’t tell them anything so B’Elanna says to take him in the back and leave him, and she’ll open the shuttle door. He starts singing like a Ferengi serenading a latinum mine. Says a frigate is some light years away and they flew the shuttle over so the frigate wouldn’t be detected. B’Elanna heads in the opposite direction from the frigate location, and a little while later meets up with Chakotay.

“The information they got from the officer leads them to free not only that camp, but another camp where Bajoran children were being used to work in dilithium mines. She was in on that action, too. I understand from others that she drew fire away from them, and this allowed them to get behind the Cardies and take them out.

“She’s the bravest and most honorable person I know. Maybe from being part Klingon. She always said the Klingon part of her was more trouble than it was worth. But I think her mother must have instilled it in her. You know how the Klingons uphold honor. She would do them proud.”

“Sounds like she would make a good friend.”

“She would. I’m hoping she’ll forgive me. She may never call me her friend, but I’m hoping she’ll never call me her enemy.”

“Be her friend, Tom. Even if she says you’re not her friend. And just maybe, she’ll see that person you’re becoming. And already are.”

xxx

B’Elanna kicked her shoes off, putting her feet up on the coffee table, leaned back into the sofa, and brought up the specifications of Raven on a PADD she was holding. Jude had taken her on a tour of the ship that afternoon. She was impressed by what she saw. The ship was close to seventy years old, but it had been well maintained and upgraded. Dr. Hansen had Jude’s husband update the ship’s warp core as well as the propulsion system. Also, there were upgrades to the sensors, life support, and other systems.

Jude informed her that Dr. Hansen wanted only the best equipment and upgrades, and it had taken almost two years to do them, mostly dependent on obtaining funding.

Before the upgrades, it took a crew of close to two-hundred to keep her operational. Now, Raven could operate efficiently with a crew of one hundred and ten. There was enough cabin space for everyone to have their own quarters.

Hansen had even used part of one of the cargo bays to put in a Holodeck.

B’Elanna was looking over the sensor array diagram when her door chime sounded.

“Computer, door, audio. Yes?”

Hi, B’Elanna. It’s me, Tom. Can I talk to you?”

She snorted derisively, curling her lip in disgust and said, “I don’t want to hear anything you have to say. Get lost."

Please, B’Elanna. Just give me five minutes. That’s all."

“Paris, that’s five minutes too many. Get out while you’re still in one piece,” she growled.

I’ll tell you what. Just five minutes and I won’t bother you again. Please. I won’t go away unless you let me talk to you.”

To make his point, he kept ringing the chime, the continuous peal was an irritating sound that aggravated her even more.

“Kahless, I’m gonna kill him,” she angrily ground out before going to the door and flinging it open. She glared menacingly at Paris and warned, “You put your finger on that button again, and I’ll rip it off. I don’t want to hear your targ shit, you traitorous bastard. Now get out!”

“You’re right. I was a traitorous bastard. I sold you and the Maquis out for my freedom. I know it doesn’t make things right, but I’m sorry. I just want to tell you I’m ashamed of what I did. I want you to know I had a hard time living with myself. I‘ve changed, B’Elanna. If there is any way I can make it up to you, I will.”

B’Elanna gave him an incredulous stare before sarcastically blurting out, “Ha! Yeah, yeah. You’ve changed, I’ve changed, and the whole frigging galaxy has changed. The only reason I didn’t kill you when I saw you, and why I don’t now, is that I’ll lose the chance to work on something important. Now, you’ve said your spiel. Get out!”

She slammed the door in Tom’s face and muttered, “‘Slime ball” as she went to the kitchen and replicated a glass of milk before continuing her reading.

xxx

CHAPTER FIVE

xxx

B’Elanna was fascinated by the information she was reading on the transwarp coil. She had to admit that Dr. Hansen was truly a genius to reconstruct this from the specifications and the three dimensional holographic vids that the Hansens made of the one they had installed in Raven to return home.

She had spent the latter half of yesterday onboard Raven, with Jude and Denal, who she met at the reception and learned that he often acted as Stron’s second in command while onboard Raven. He was a slim and wiry Vulcan who looked, in Human years, to be in his early twenties. They spent three hours going over the warp core, engines, plasma conduits, and shielding array. Everything was in order.

She had an appointment with Dr. Hansen at 14:00 hours to talk to her about taking the ship out for a run, perhaps to Mars or Earth. She wanted to see how the warp core performed, as well as the engines.

At 13:57, she rang the chime to Hansen’s office.

“Enter”

Dr. Hansen was seated behind a desk, which was situated in front of a large window that held a view of distant mountains. B’Elanna noticed that her tight twist didn’t have one loose strand of hair out of place, and, of course, she was dressed immaculately in a blue Vulcan long sleeve tunic that was fashioned from the very expensive ubotee fiber. Her desk prevented B’Elanna from seeing what pants and what type shoes she wore. But you could bet they were expensive.

At least she wasn’t sneering at her for looking a mess. But who could tell what she was thinking. ‘If I didn’t know better I would think she was adopted by Vulcans at birth.'

“You may sit if you wish.”

B’Elanna took the padded chair in front of Hansen’s desk.

The doctor regarded her for a moment before saying, “I apologize for not meeting with you earlier. I hope that the accommodations are adequate.”

“Oh, yes. The place is great. More room than I’m used to. But it‘s great to have a place of my own.”

Hansen nodded. “And the engineering staff and the facilities?"

“Yes. Top notch. I can tell the crew knows their stuff by how well the Raven is maintained.” She grinned and said, “I don’t think I’ll have to get my bat’leth out.” She noticed Doctor Hansen’s expression didn’t change, and she mentally rolled her eyes while thinking, ‘No sense of humor. Get back to business.’ She shifted in her seat, and said, “What I wanted to see you about is if you could arrange to take Raven out for a trip to somewhere and back. I want to get a feel for how she runs. To Earth and back would give me an idea, but I think a trip of about four days would give me a better feel.”

Dr. Hansen gave a slight nod, before saying, “That can be arranged. I shall make arrangements and contact you.”

B’Elanna gave a quick smile and said, “Great.” No forthcoming smile came from Dr. Hansen, and B’Elanna cleared her throat, before continuing, “I went over your specifications of the transwarp coil and inverter. It’s sound, and should work on Raven. I don't see any major problems with installing the components. How did you come up with the idea of incorporating a Molecular Phase Inverter?”

Dr. Hansen lifted her eyebrows, slightly, in what seemed to be interest, and said, “After examining information and data relating to the opening by the Borg of a transwarp corridor, I discovered that one of the particles present in and around a transwarp corridor was Chroniton particles. Cloaking devices emit Chroniton particles. The Borg would have no need of cloaking devices, and my conclusion was that the Borg utilized a Chroniton field to keep the Cube in temporal sync and minimize temporal stress.

“While pursuing information on cloaking devices and their correlations with Chronitons, I came to the information on the Romulan and Klingon attempts to integrate a Molecular Phase Inverter with a cloaking device to create an interphase cloaking device. This led me to concentrate on phased matter. Since phased matter is not in sync with normal matter, it can pass though external energy sources, such as a star or possibly a planet. I theorized that there was the possibility of it passing through an energy field generated by a transwarp corridor. My calculations lead me to believe it would work. It did work on our test shuttle. Raven would be out of phase with the surrounding transwarp field and should not be subject to massive energy feedback…”

B’Elanna noticed the look and sound of excitement in the normally placid features and neutral voice. ‘It’s Techie talk that turns her on. Bet Voncie doesn’t talk Techie to her. Of course, if she were mine, she wouldn‘t need the Techie…Kahless, Torres. What are you thinking? B’Elanna returned her thoughts back to the conversation.

xxx

CHAPTER SIX

xxx

Three days later Raven was on its way to the planet, Paradise. It would take the ship approximately two days to get there. They would stay over for twenty-four hours and then head back to Vulcan. The Alpha crew would get a short leave of six hours to shop and get a meal, and then have seven hours of rest or sleep before taking the shift from the Beta crew so they would get some leave time.

Hansen did not accompany them. Captain Verias was the commander. B‘Elanna had met the older woman earlier, and had heard from her crew that she was a good commander.

B’Elanna was in the engine room making sure everything was running properly. She had made notations on her PADD of the various readings and would go over these later in helping her determine any foreseeable problems with installation of the various transwarp components.

Cassias Bril was working at one of the consoles, and B’Elanna walked up, leaned her hip against one side of the console to get her attention. The redhead looked up and smiled.

B‘Elanna smiled back and said, “Everything up to par?”

“The warp core is performing at 97.978 efficiency. I’d say that’s pretty good.”

“Hmmm, I think I’ll tweak it later and see if I can’t get it few decimal points higher.”

“I can see why Dr. Hansen picked you for Chief. You’re a perfectionist like she is.”

B’Elanna gave Bril a pointed look and said, “I don’t know if I should take that as an insult or a complement.”

Bril didn’t answer but did give her a grin.

B’Elanna went on to ask, “What kind of captain is Dr. Hansen?”

“A hands on type. She has to know everything that goes on. Oh, and don’t call her Dr. Hansen when she’s aboard ship as commander. It’s Captain Hansen,” the redhead said.

“She hasn’t been a captain long has she?”

“No, only a few months. But don’t worry. That’s why Verias is First Mate. In case Hansen screws up. Not that she would, of course. She personifies the word perfectionist. She would probably kill herself if she ever made a mistake.”

“You ever see her unwind? She got any hobbies?”

“Hobbies? Yes, work. I occasionally see her out with Jude and Stron, or with just Jude, at a couple of restaurants in town, and sometimes shopping.”

“Bet it’s one of those expensive restaurants."

“No, not really. Of course, I wouldn’t know if she goes to the expensive ones as I don’t frequent those places. I figure Jude picks the place and picks ‘em for the quality of the food and not the price.”

“Jude seems like a fun individual.”

“She is. Easy going and comfortable to be around. It’s hard to believe that she and Hansen are friends. Best friends at that. I heard they’ve been friends since childhood.”

“Dr. Voncel ever go out with them?”

“Uhm. Once or twice. But it may be more. I just don’t see Hansen and Voncel together that much.” She smirked and said, “I just can’t imagine those two…If you know what I mean. But then again, you know it’s the quiet ones that will surprise you. Voncel may have hidden talents that send Hansen screaming at warp speed to the Celestial Temple.”

B’Elanna felt a sudden and intense dislike for Voncel that she didn’t want to exam closely so changed the subject. “Speaking of Celestial Temple, how’s your love life going?”

xxx

CHAPTER SEVEN

xxx

“She’s all yours for the next twelve hours, Denal,” B’Elanna said as she handed a PADD to her second.

He took the PADD and said, “Enjoy your shore leave, Chief Torres.”

“It’s Chief. And I will.”

Raven arrived at Paradise some two hours before and was docked at a small station circling the planet. Paradise was mainly an agricultural planet, but did have several places of interests: Hades Gate Canyon, which could hold three Grand Canyons, and the underground city of Elysium, which was situated in huge adjoining caverns and built around a gigantic underground lake.

It was to Elysium that B’Elanna and her crew were headed for five hours of R and R. It was reputed to be a free open city with just about every form of entertainment imaginable. It was often referred to as Risa Jr., because it was more affordable than the Federation’s pleasure planet.

You could not transport in or out of the city due to the composition of the cavern walls, so the transporter stations were located outside the caverns. Transportation inside was either by foot, an antique trolley service, or streamlined overhead trolley system. Aero-cars and cabs were prohibited.

She, Cortanna, Bril, and Bril’s girlfriend, Tania ‘Action’ Jackson, a tall dark- skinned woman from Brysus in the Comor system, and several others from other departments, took the old-fashioned trolley into the city. They passed several casinos, shopping areas, and restaurants, where most of Raven’s crew departed for the casinos and shopping areas.

Cortanna had visited here before and said she knew the best places to go for cheap drinks and to see some exotic ‘birds’. She said the last part with a leer that let B‘Elanna know that it didn’t involve a wildlife preserve or cages. Or at least it didn’t involve any avian species, though it might involve cages.

The trolley left the regular tourist areas and headed on to a seedier side of town with rundown hotels and small taverns and bars. Most of the bars advertised in blurring neon that they were nightclubs and sported such names as Exotica, Doll House, Stud’s Pub, Wacko’s, and Sugar Shack. Many had holo-graphic displays above their entrances featuring scantily dressed females and males, and some of indeterminable gender, dancing and gyrating in what was supposed to be a stimulating enticement.

“I hope you’re not dragging us to some titty, ass, and cock bar, Cort,” Bril said, while giving Cortanna a doubting look. She had her arm around Tania‘s waist.

B’Elanna chuckled and facetiously said, “You need to learn to read between the lines, Bril. You think we‘re going to a zoo to see some birds?”

“No. I was thinking more in the line of chorus girls and boys like they have in Vegas or on Risa.” She looked pointedly at Cortanna and said, “That’s what you meant by exotic birds isn’t it? Dancing in those feathered costumes?”

Cortanna smirked and said, “Don’t worry, Bril. You can get your own ‘private’ dancer if you want. With or without feathers,” Cortanna chortled wickedly, before saying, “Our stop is coming up.”

“You can just count me out,” said Bril in a huffy voice.

“Oh, Brilly. Let’s do it. It’ll be fun. A few drinks and then we can go back uptown and go to a nice restaurant,” Tania said, and literally batted her eyes at Bril while running her fingers through the Bajoran’s red hair.

B’Elanna snickered. “Yeah, Brilly, a couple of drinks and we can all leave and find a feed trough.”

Bril stuck her tongue out at B’Elanna and then said, “All right, for maybe an hour or two.”

They exited onto a sidewalk in front of a holo-dome that advertised a variety of x-rated holo-adventures you could participate in, from Vulcan Love Slave: The Revenge to Borg Boys Gone Bad, and Mugato Madness.

There were only a few people on the sidewalks, mostly ignoring them and going about their business. Some were in a group or in a couple, and one or two staggered along, obviously under the influence of drink or drug.

B’Elanna looked around and said to Cortanna, “Okay, Cort, you’re the guide. Which way?”

“Let’s cross the street. I know a little bar on further down where they have good drinks and birds in cages.”

B’Elanna laughed and said, “Somehow, I knew cages would be involved.”

As soon as they were across the street, a short male individual who looked like he may have been part Ferengi, approached them. He had the ears, nose, and forehead of one, but he sported a bush of orange hair. His clothes were a garish pink and yellow, making him look like a pimp or a clown from a nightmare.

“Ladies, ladies, ladies. Welcome. I hope you ladies are having a good time,” he said with a sickening toothy smile.

“We’re not interested,” B’Elanna growled and glared at him.

He laughed and shook his head. “Oh no, ladies. You’ve got the wrong idea...” he stuck out his hand, which contained several coupons, “We have a special at the Sporting Club. Buy one drink or stimulant and get one free. Just walk down the sidewalk, and you’ll see the sign. It will point the way.”

B’Elanna wasn’t about to take the proffered coupons from his grimy little paws. She didn’t know where that hand had been.

Cortanna reached out and took the coupons. “Come on, let’s check this place out.”

“Enjoy ladies.” The Ferengi said with an ingratiating smile showing his crooked and pointy teeth.

They walked a half block down the sidewalk past entertainment arcades, diners, and bars, before coming to a brightly lit standing sign on the sidewalk that said, Sporting Club, with a flashing arrow pointing down a small alleyway.

The group turned down the alley and headed for a small neon sign over a door that said, Sporting Club.

They didn’t see the silent figure going in and out of the doorways, shadowing them down the sidewalk and alley, and slipping in behind them as they entered the establishment.

xxx

The music was loud, and the tempo fast. B’Elanna leaned against the bar, ordered a mug of blood wine, and watched the multi-specie crowd go about their business of having a good time. Her drink was placed before her, and she took it, weaving her way through the crowd and back to the booth she shared with the others.

The Sporting Club looked like a little rinky-dink place from the outside. But that all changed when you went through the door and got past the bouncer, a huge hulking, green scaly Gorn with a snout and teeth to match a T-rex. You went down a flight of stairs and into a short foyer that was so eerily silent, you thought you had entered a church or temple until the door opened and your senses were assaulted by the thrumming bass, flashing lights, and various smells of smoke and other substances.

B’Elanna took a sip of her drink and thought it was not bad. She looked toward the crowded dance floor at Bril and Tania doing a sexy shimmy with each other and Cortanna dancing with a Deltan, both women’s baldheads reflecting the overhead glitter lights, one blue, and the other brown.

She had been approached by two patrons asking her to dance, but had begged off saying she just wanted to relax and watch. She didn’t see anyone that she wanted to ask to dance, and she often felt clumsy when she did dance.

She felt someone slip into the bench beside her, and a female voice purr close to her ear, “I noticed you’re not dancing with your friends. Would you dance with me?”

B’Elanna turned to say no thanks, and then smiled when she saw the lovely woman beside her. She was a Human with shoulder length blonde hair and a becoming smile. It was too dark to see the color of her eyes, but she just bet they were blue.

“Ah, no thanks. I’m really not that good of a dancer.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that. I saw the way you moved through the crowd with that full glass. You moved gracefully. I would wager you’re an excellent slow dancer.” She held out her hand and said, “I’m Dallas Montague.”

B’Elanna took the woman’s hand for a shake. “B’Elanna Torres.”

Dallas’s hand was warm and soft, and for some reason, B’Elanna was reluctant to let it go. Dallas slowly withdrew her hand from the shake, and said, “Torres? I’m familiar with that name. I grew up in Dallas, Texas, on Earth. I know a lot of Torres’.”

“My father’s family comes from Mexico. I don‘t think we have any relatives living in Dallas.”

“You’re part Klingon, aren’t you?” Dallas said curiously.

B’Elanna felt her hackles go up. ‘Here we go again.’ “Yes. I am ,” She said with a challenging look that reflected in her voice.

Dallas gave a small chuckle, and smiled, smoothly saying, “I’m just curious. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there? I don’t judge on species or race.” She looked B’Elanna’s face and hair over appraisingly and said, “The combination of Human and Klingon genetics has produced a beautiful woman. Only when it comes to gender do I discriminate. You are definitely the gender I prefer to spend my free time with.”

“Spend time doing what exactly?” ‘Is she picking me up?’

“Conversation, maybe a dance. I’m just here to unwind from a busy work day.”

“What is it you do?”

“I’m a partner in a public relations firm. And you?”

“Chief Engineer for the starship Raven. It belongs to the Hansen Shonok Institute on Vulcan.”

“I believe I’ve heard of them. They teach courses on the Borg, a subject I find fascination. Can you tell me more about the Institute,” She said with what sounded like genuine interest.

B’Elanna began to relay to Dallas about what the Institute’s objectives were, and answered other questions related to her work, but not about the transwarp project.

Cortanna and the others returned, and B’Elanna introduced them. They talked and laughed for thirty minutes, and B’Elanna bought drinks for the table.

At the far end of the bar, the man who had followed them observed the group with interest. He would occasionally take a drink from his glass, but his focus was on the women, one in particular. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought he had seen her before. His instinct was that she was dangerous. He would observe and make his move, if, and when it was necessary.

A slow song started, Bril and Tania got up to dance, and Cortanna went in search of another dance partner.

Dallas looked at B’Elanna, gave a soft smile, and said, “Dance with me."

“I’m not much of a dancer. I’ll step on your toes.”

“No, you won’t. I’ll lead.” She stood and held out her hand, her smile now bright and expectant.

“Okay, but don’t say you weren’t warned.”

Dallas took B’Elanna’s hand and led her up onto the dance floor and into a dark back corner. She put her arms around B’Elanna’s waist, and B’Elanna put her arms around her shoulders.

She pulled B‘Elanna against her and said softly into her ear, “Relax and let the music and tempo move you.”

B’Elanna shivered at the warm caress of breath on her face and in her ear.

Dallas was a half head taller than B’Elanna was and well proportioned. B’Elanna felt the press of soft breasts against the top of her own that sent a wave of desire coursing through her.

Dallas nuzzled her hair aside and kissed the side of her temple. “You’re doing fine. You’re a natural. I knew you would be when I first saw you move across the room.”

B’Elanna felt the warm hands on her waist move lower and caress her hips, drawing her even closer into the warm soft body.

She closed her eyes and groaned softly. It had been a while since she had held a woman this close. She lifted her face to Dallas’ and felt warm lips brush across hers. Her mouth parted, and she felt the caress of a warm tongue against her tongue.

The song ended, and Dallas drew back and looked into her eyes. B’Elanna looked back and felt the rise of passion. Dallas whispered in her ear, her breath once again caressing and making small prickles go down B’Elanna’s back. “I want you to stay the night with me.”

“I can’t. I’m due back in the ship in about three hours,” the sound of disappointment evident in her voice.

“Then stay those hours with me. I have a place close by we can go to,” Dallas said invitingly.

“You’re very tempting, but I’m with my friends.”

The music started up, and Dallas asked, “Then give me one more dance.”

B’Elanna smiled and nodded. “Sure.”

She went back into Dallas’ arms, and they moved together, swaying slowly to the tempo.

B’Elanna felt Dallas’ hand move up her spine and to the back of her neck where she felt the press of something hard but warm, a ring perhaps. Suddenly, she was infused with warmth, the only thing that mattered was the woman in her arms.

“B’Elanna, come with me.” The voice was so enticing it was hard to resist.

“Yes.” B’Elanna would go with her willingly. She was so beautiful and soft with her blond hair down from its severe bun, a cloud of gold about her face and shoulders. The eyes that had been ice blue were now a blue flame of passion. Her voice a soft and inviting purr, not the cool and passionless clip that she had used in addressing her when they first met and later when she would meet with her in her office. Her lips were smiling and inviting. She wanted to devour them: to nip the full lower lip and run her tongue in the cleft of her chin. She wanted to press her lips against the soft cheek, claim her, and taste her blood, sweet and hot.

Dallas took B’Elanna’s hand and led her off the dance floor and past the long bar, passing the seated figure who covertly watched them, and down a hallway to a door.

The angel knocked, and the door opened. B’Elanna followed her in, and the door closed behind them.

xxx

CHAPTER EIGHT

xxx

The figure seated at the bar slid off the stool and walked down the hall until he came to the door and slowly tried the knob, grimacing when he found that it was locked. He placed the palm of his hand against the door and felt the cold metal surface, knowing that he would be unable to kick or shoulder it open.

He took a small communicator out of his pocket and pushed the buttons on its small pad, and after a moment, spoke low, “Yes, this is an emergency. I’m Tom Paris. My friend has been kidnapped and is being held in a back room in the Sporting Club. Please, send help immediately, I’m going to try to get her out on my own.”

He immediately cut the connection to avoid receiving any orders not to interfere.

After placing the communicator back in his pocket, he reached down, and withdrew a small object from his boot top. It was a small phaser, the length and size of his thumb. He hid it in his hand, rushed to the front of the bar, and motioned for one of the bartenders.

The Human male came over, and Tom said, “Where’s the manager? This is urgent. I need to see him.”

“She’s busy,” was the gruff reply.

Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew a wad of credit slips and slammed them on the table, and demanded with a forceful look, “The manager. Now.”

The Human looked at the wad of credits, smirked as he reached for them, “Come back tomorrow.”

Tom quickly whipped out his hand, snatching the man by his collar, slamming his head and upper torso on top of the bar, and pressed the small phaser up against his temple. Some of the nearby patrons, seeing this, quickly moved back from the bar.

“You got five seconds, bud. The manager.”

“I’m telling you. She doesn’t want to be disturbed. I can’t get her.”

“Then you’re a dead man. Five…”

Other nearby patrons were becoming aware that something unusual was happening, all eyes were focusing in on the scene.

“Tom, what the hell is going on?” Cortanna said as she approached.

“It‘s B’Elanna, she’s been kidnapped and held in a room in the back,” he motioned with his head.

Cortanna walked up closer and stood by Tom, looking around menacingly. Bril and Tania stood to one side, their eyes flicking over the crowd.

Tom pressed the phaser hard against the bartender’s temple and said, “Do you have a key to the door down the corridor?”

“No.”

“Where was I? Oh, yeah, four, three, two…”

“Bruk, give the man the key,” the bartender said with obvious alarm.

Bruk, a small Ferengi who was several feet away, went over to the credit register, reached down under it, and retrieved a card.

“Give it to the nice blue lady there. Oh, and that phaser I see you trying to reach under the counter, that too,” Tom ordered.

Cortanna took the phaser and card.

Tom took the card from Cortanna and said, “Cort, if this sucker so much as flinches, shoot him, and the little Ferengi weasel, too. Watch out for the bouncer. The police are on the way.”

Tania vaulted over the bar top and began searching the area for another phaser.

Tom sprinted down the hall with Bril right behind, saying, “Keep your wits about you, Bril. This is going to be ugly.”

Before she could answer, Tom inserted the card in the slot, and the door opened. He rushed in and pointed the gun at a half-undressed B’Elanna being stroked and kissed by the blonde. Both women were clad only in their bra and panties. Nearby, on a large bed, a naked and aroused male Deltan watched, stoking himself.

“Everyone on the floor, face down! Now! Or I start shooting, and this thing doesn’t have a stun setting.”

The male slid off the bed and onto the floor, doing what Tom ordered.

The blonde said angrily, “Just a minute, you can’t come barging in here--”

“Shut up and on the floor!”

“You can’t--”

“Shut up, bitch! The floor with your buddy there.”

The blonde got on the floor and lay by the male. B’Elanna stood staring at him, her eyes glazed.

“Get her, Bril, and take her out of here. Take that robe on the chair to cover her.”

Bril moved quickly, grabbed the robe, and threw it over B’Elanna’s shoulders. She saw B’Elanna’s pants, shirt, and shoes on the chair seat and got them. She led the compliant woman out of the door.

Tom aimed his phaser at a huge wall mirror and fired., shattering it to reveal a shocked Ferengi operating recording equipment.

“You. Out and join your friends.”

The Ferengi squealed and said with an ingratiating smile, “Listen, I can make you a rich man.”

Tom shot the phaser just above the Ferengi’s head. “Damn, aims too high, I need to aim lower.”

He lowered his aim, and the Ferengi squealed and fainted.

xxx

CHAPTER NINE

xxx

B’Elanna felt nausea rise into her throat and retched into the small basin by the clinic examining table.

She felt depressed, pissed, and ashamed. All she remembered was dancing with a woman…Dallas, and feelings of arousal, and then abrupt clarity and staring into the face of a small dark skinned Human male in a blue lab coat who identified himself as Dr. Patel.

He had informed her that she had been doped with an illegal substance known as Erotica. It was an aphrodisiac that not only made one sexually aroused, but also very compliant. He had administered a neutralizing agent, warning that she would feel some nausea.

Dr. Patel had gone to the examining room door, and she heard him conversing with someone for a few seconds. Then a middle-aged, dark haired woman with olive skin, and in a business suit, entered the room and identified herself as Detective Jandra Desra.

B‘Elanna thought she may have been Betazoid by the way she looked, and Jandra was a popular Betazoid female name. She asked the detective if she were a Betazoid, and the woman confirmed that she was.

She asked B’Elanna questions about her activities once in the city. B’Elanna answered them all to the best of her recollection, and truthfully, knowing that the Betazoid would know if she lied.

Detective Desra told her that the blonde woman, who identified herself as Dallas Montague, didn’t exist. There was no such name in any Federation records, which led her to believe that the name was an alias. The police were running a check on Dallas’ DNA, while she was being held on possession of an illegal substance, assault with an illegal substance, kidnapping, attempted sexual assault, and participating in, and producing, illegal pornography.

Detective Desra explained to B’Elanna what had occurred and Tom Paris’ rescue of her. Tom had apparently recognized the woman and an accomplice from a previous encounter, and had given the police information that would help in identifying the culprits involved.

She had taken B’Elanna’s sworn testimony and told her she could return to her ship. They would contact her later if they needed more information and for any upcoming court dates. She could testify over comm instead of showing up in person at the arraignment and trial.

B’Elanna took a damp-wipe from the dispenser next to the basin and wiped her face and mouth. She heard a soft knock on the room door and said, “Yes?”

Tom Paris entered and looked her over, concern clearly showing in his eyes. “Dr. Patel is releasing you and writing instructions for you to follow once we get back onboard Raven. He said you will have some dizziness and dry mouth over the next eight hours, or so, and that you need to rest and not operate machinery.”

She sighed and said, “Detective Desra told me what happened. I want to thank you for what you did. If you hadn‘t come along…I hate to think about what would have happened. I owe you, Tom.”

“You owe me nothing. It’s what I would have done for any of my crewmates. Cort, Bril, and Tania helped, too. I couldn’t have done it without them watching my back.”

B’Elanna thought, ‘maybe he has changed. Maybe I should give him a chance.’

She felt some dizziness and sat back down on the examining table. “How did you know, Tom?”

“I just happened to get off a second trolley when you all crossed the street. I watched as that slime toad approached you and knew I had seen him somewhere before. I couldn’t recall where, or what planet, but knew it was one of those dives I used to frequent back in my dark days.

“I saw Cort take something from his hand and him point the way up the sidewalk. After you left, I went up to him and asked him if he were giving some promotional items away or something. He told me to ‘fuck off’. I knew then something wasn’t right and followed you into the nightclub. I watched from the bar for a little bit when I saw the blonde approach you. I knew I had seen her somewhere before but couldn’t recall where. I knew she was bad news.

“I saw you dance with her, and she led you from the dance floor. I could tell something was wrong because you walked right by me, looked right at me, and didn’t even give me a look of recognition. Your pupils were dilated and the way you walked…I knew you were doped.

“I followed and when you went through that door I had the feeling something bad was going to happen. I called the police and got the key by force from the bartender. The others stood guard while Bril went with me.

“When I opened the door and saw the scene, it came back to me. I had seen the blonde on Rassato. She used to operate in the downtown district and frequent some of the low-class, or should I say, no-class bars I use to dive into. The word was that she would zero in on an attractive male or female, dope them, and take them somewhere to make pornography without them knowing it.

“After I got Bril to take you out of the room, I shot out the wall mirror, figuring I’d find the recording equipment. Sure enough, it was there, and I caught the little shit operator.

“The police came a few minutes later. They brought us here, to the clinic, which is part of their headquarters. While you were being treated the rest of us were questioned. Now you have the story.”

B’Elanna felt anxiety so intense that she almost retched again. Her mouth was dry, and she took a cup from a tray by the exam table, filled it with water from a nearby dispenser, and took a long sip.

She turned to Tom and said, “Tom, tell me truthfully, was I engaged in any…you know… acts…when you found me? The detective said they had not gotten that far, but, I need to know.”

“No. You were in your underwear and standing with the blonde. All you were doing was kissing. The Deltan was on the bed watching.” Tom didn’t mention that the Deltan was naked and aroused.

B’Elanna ran her hand through the top of her hair, took a hand full, pulled at it, and ran it through her fingers nervously. “Arrhh. Kahless, I’ll never live this down. I don’t know if I can face anyone after this.”

“Don’t beat yourself up. It wasn’t your fault. How were you to know something like that would happen? Besides, Cort, Bril, and Tania said they wouldn’t even mention what went on. Cort feels bad that she took the rest of you to that section of town.”

B’Elanna gave a wry twist to one side of her mouth and said, “You know the crew will know something went down. And you know we’ll have to tell the Captain what went on as I’m sure the authorities reported this to her.”

“That has already happened. The Captain contacted me here at the clinic and said as soon as you’re released, we’re to meet her in the ready room. About the only thing she can do is to tell us to be more careful. We didn’t break any laws. Well, I did by carrying a concealed weapon, but the police are letting me off with a warning, considering what happened.”

B’Elanna took a deep breath and expelled it through her nose forcefully. ‘Captain Verias is bad enough, but what will Dr. Hansen think when she reads the report? And you know she will read it, Torres. Probably think I’m a whore dog.’

xxx

CHAPTER TEN

xxx

The day after Raven got back to Vulcan, B’Elanna went to the laboratory to give orders to have the inverter packed properly for shipment by shuttle the next day to the ship so she could start the installation.

The two-day cruise back to Vulcan proved to be quiet as far as any gossip about the events on Paradise. Cortanna, Bril, and Tania had gotten with her to find out how she was doing and to tell her that they would say nothing. B’Elanna had been absent for half of her shift, recuperating from the drug. Word was spread that she had gotten some sort of virus from the food she had eaten while on the planet.

The group had met with Captain Verias, who took their statements and really didn’t comment but to say she was relieved that everything had turned out relatively well.

B’Elanna was just leaving the laboratory when Tom Paris stopped her outside the door. “Hey, B’Elanna. How about a game of poker tonight? Jenkins over in communications said he’s game. We just need a few more players to make the pot sweet.”

Cortanna was just exiting the lab when she excitingly said, “Did I hear the word poker? Deal me in.” Her blue face actually seemed to glow neon.

“There you go, the pot is getting sweet,” Paris said enthusiastically.

“I don’t think so, guys. I just want to kick back and relax.”

“Come on, B’Elanna…” Paris cajoled, “I’ll provide the brews and the snacks. If you don’t know how to play, I’ll take you under my wing and teach you personally.”

B’Elanna put her hand on her hip and said sarcastically, “Paris, there is not a thing you could teach me. Remember, I was in the big P.C., too, and I was one of the best.”

“Yeah, yeah. Best what, Torres? Chump? Bet it was like taking candy from a baby. Or were you just one of the eye candies fetching drinks and snacks for the real players.”

“Well, little boy. Don’t go crying to daddy when momma takes your candy away.”

“We’ll see. Bring credits. My place, twenty hundred.”

xxx

B‘Elanna tried to suppress a yawn as she entered the Research building and headed for the office of Dr. Hansen. She had made it home last night a little after 02:00 hours and twenty-two credits short. Jenkins had a lucky streak. She was already in a sour mood when she saw her comm unit blink with a message. It was from Dr. Hansen. She wanted a progress report at 07:30.

What ever happened to a five day work week and 8 to 5? ’

Luckily, she had done the report right before leaving for her poker game.

She had awakened at seven hundred hours, jumped into the sonic shower for a quick three-minute scrub, put on a pair of cranberry red pants, a black tee shirt with the Klingon empire symbol emblazoned on the front, and slipped on a pair of black canvas sports shoes.

She replicated a glass of milk, gulped it down, grabbed her PADD with the reports, and headed out the door. A few minutes later, she stood before Hansen’s office door, quickly running her fingers through her hair. ‘Kahless, I forgot to brush my hair. I’ll look I’ve been sleeping with a targ. At least I‘m on time. The Queen would probably behead me if I was late.’ She sounded the chime and waited to be invited in when the door slid open.

“You may enter.”

Yes, Your Majesty.’

“Please, have a seat,” Dr. Hansen said.

B’Elanna took the seat in front of the desk, leaning over to hand the report PADD to her boss. “Here’s my report.” Hansen put out her hand to take it, B’Elanna noticing the clean and manicured nails and nicely shaped hand as the doctor took the PADD. She also noticed the ragged nails and calluses on her own hand, but was relieved that they were clean and didn‘t have various stains from fluids and lubricants. “Everything is ready, and I can begin installation tomorrow. I’m estimating only four days to complete.”

“Very good. I have set the launch date for the mission for two weeks from today. I am arranging several meetings to discuss the plans and schedules.” She paused for a moment, looked away from B’Elanna, and then back up, meeting her eyes and saying in an evenly modulated voice, “I have read Captain Verias’ report and the official report of the ‘incident’ on Paradise. I am glad that you sustained no injuries. I do not make it a rule to interfere in my crews’ choice of places to frequent on their free time, as long as it does not involve breaking the law, or putting themselves in a situation that would cause injury to themselves or others. I request that you use caution and discretion in your choice of entertainment establishments, and their personnel, in the future.”

B’Elanna groaned inwardly and felt like crawling under the desk. “Believe me; I had no idea that anything like that would happen. It won‘t happen again.”

“Very well. I will contact you if I have any questions.”

B’Elanna felt like a whipped cur as she headed for the door. ‘She probably thinks I’m a tramp. At least Her Majesty didn’t behead me.’

xxx

CHAPTER ELEVEN

xxx

B’Elanna loved this part of her work: Actually getting her hands on the different components and parts and installing them and making them fit. You had to be an artist, a craftsman, to blend the components into the piece of functional living art that was a starship.

Ships had personalities, hearts and souls, likes and dislikes, quirks and foibles. No two were ever alike. Raven was a fine ship and her ship now, for as long as she was the chief engineer.

She was sometimes hours on her back under some console or stuffed into a Jefferies tube. But the concentration on your work was somehow cathartic. Besides, this was the big test. And, to be honest, she wanted to do the fitting. If anything went wrong, she would be the one to blame and not her crew.

Not that she didn’t trust her crew. She did. They were knowledgeable and hardworking. No deadweights in her crew. Dr. Hansen had done a good job of picking the best people.

Doctor Annika Hansen. Standoffish and downright cold. An ice queen for sure. Human, yet so Vulcan. True, she had lived on Vulcan for a long time, but so had Jude. Jude wasn’t anything like close to Hansen’s Vulcan demeanor.

She could now see why Hansen would be engaged to Dr. Voncel. Hansen was so controlled and passionless. She had always thought Vulcans a passionless race, except during that seven-year thing, when they had to mate.

However, Jude seemed like a hot-blooded individual, and she was married to a Vulcan. She came across as a person who was upbeat about life and satisfied. If she wasn’t getting good sex from her husband, then she must be using a holosuite a lot.

She just couldn’t picture Hansen and Voncie making passionate love. Well, to be honest, having sex at all. Their idea of a fun time together would probably involve Doc Voncie psychoanalyzing everything Hansen did: “Annika, just why did you name your project Valhalla? Was this because of your Viking Heritage? They are known as fierce and aggressive warriors. Do you ever have the urge to be fierce and aggressive?”

An image popped into her mind of a naked and aroused Dr. Hansen kissing her aggressively and … ‘Don’t go there. Get your mind on your work, Torres.’

She finished the last coupling and closed the panel. The only thing she had to do was run a few diagnostics and, if they panned out, contact Dr. Annika Hansen with the news.

An hour later, she exited the Jefferies tube entrance into engineering and stopped in midstep. Dr. Hansen was at the warp core modulator console with her fingers quickly entering in information. Stalworth and Cortanna were standing to one side, and Bril was surreptitiously watching as she pretended to read information from another console some twelve feet away.

'What the...' One thing that peeved B'Elanna was unauthorized persons in engineering, even if they did happen to be her superior.

She walked briskly up to Hansen and addressed her, “Doctor. Was there an inspection that I was unaware of?”

Hansen continued what she was doing and answered, “I reviewed the data on the warp core’s performance on Raven’s recent trip. It was operating below one hundred percent. I am attempting to determine the cause and rectify the problem.

“Oh, and did you read the part where I made adjustments and it was operating at 99.45 percent? Which is above the standard operation level of 95 percent? I don‘t call that a ‘problem’,” B’Elanna crossed her arms and replied testily.

Annika continued to work as she replied coolly, “Perhaps to you it is not.”

B’Elanna saw red and replied in a tone that held a decided amount of anger, “Look, Doctor. I don’t know what you’re doing, but I would appreciate it if you consult with me before you attempt to…tinker with the settings. And I would also appreciate it if you would have discussed this with me.”

Annika stopped what she was doing, raised her eyebrows in surprise, and looked at B’Elanna. “I wished to determine for myself if adjustments could be made to improve performance. I saw no need to consult you unless there was a problem.”

B’Elanna’s nostrils flared and she flushed red, saying tersely, “Oh, you saw no need? This is my department and you saw no need to consult me? And, I will have you know, that there is no PROBLEM. Anyone with any ‘knowledge’ of warp-core dynamics and engines knows that the only time an engine runs at one hundred percent is when dilithium is at particle ten. Raven’s dilithium is at particle nine. The only grade of dilithium that meets particle ten is prohibitively expensive, and you will find only a few flagships in Starfleet that use it.”

Annika stood stiffly and put her hands behind her back. B’Elanna could swear she was looking at her contemptuously, and her tone was decidedly freezing, “Chief Torres. Your emotional display is illogical. I am not questioning your expertise nor impugning your abilities as an engineer. I was merely applying a method I have recently formulated that I believe would boost efficiency to one hundred percent, or above. As an engineer, you are aware that the addition of both the inverter and transwarp coil will drop efficiency to a projected range of between 95.5 to 96 percent. I thought to rectify that problem.”

“Fine. As I said, I am the Chief Engineer, and you should have consulted with me before you made any adjustments.”

Annika handed her a PADD. “This is my formulation and the application I used. Review it, and if you have any questions, contact me.”

B’Elanna snatched the PADD out of her hand and glared defiantly at her.

“Is the installation of the inverter complete?” Annika asked.

“Yes.”

“Very well. I will expect your report before close of business today.” She turned and walked out of engineering, leaving an angry B’Elanna.

“I can’t believe her. Who does she think she is?” B’Elanna said through gritted teeth.

“I told you she was ‘hands on’,” Bril said.

“Did she do this to Raven’s last engineer?”

“Stron? All the time. Stron didn’t seem to mind. But it’s hard to say, him being Vulcan. She’d just breeze right in, start entering information, then turn to Stron and inform him what she had done. As far as I know, she didn’t consult with him ahead of time.”

B‘Elanna sneered and said, “I‘m not Stron. Engineering happens to be my Kingdom” ’Stay the Gre’thor out, Your Majesty.’

xxx

CHAPTER TWELVE

xxx

”Your move.” Jude leaned back in her chair and started a staccato tempo of taps with her middle and forefinger of her right hand on the tabletop in Annika’s dining room. She watched as her friend contemplated her move.

Without looking up Annika said, “You are attempting to distract me.”

Jude stopped tapping her fingers and replied, “I need all the help I can get. Next time I get to choose the game we play.”

Annika moved her bishop and said, “Check.”

Jude studied the board and said, “There is no move that I can make that you won‘t be able to mate me. You know, you would get a better game out of the computer chess program.”

“No. I would not. The computer is not erratic. Your playing is often erratic and follows no logical path. It has led me, on occasion, to think only one move ahead instead of three or four moves ahead.”

“Gee, a compliment, I think,” Jude said dryly.

“If you wish,” Annika said with a barely detectable smirk.

“I saw Chief Torres today. She says all systems are ‘go’. I’ve talked to her crew, and they seem to like her?”

“She is a superb engineer. However, I find her too emotional and quick to take offense. She had the…audacity…to inform me that I should have consulted with her before adjusting the warp core modulating matrix. I find her to be irritating and insulting.” Her words had an even more pronounced clip than usual, and her tone was strident.

Jude looked at her with surprise. “My, she really got under your skin, didn’t she? I don’t think I have ever heard you complain about anyone to that extent before. And so vehemently. I agree with her though . You should have consulted with her. How would you feel if she came into your office and started messing around in your work and PADDs?”

“There is no comparison. I made what I thought were the appropriate adjustments based on my calculations. She did not give me time to inform her of the changes that were made before she…verbally attacked me.” Annika felt a niggling of anger at recalling this, which she had to work to suppress.

“Engineering is her department and under her control. She would naturally want you to inform her ahead of time of any changes. Remember too, she’s part Klingon, and she might have seen what you did as a challenge to her authority. Plus, Klingons are often insulting. Consider it a cultural thing. You need to take that into account. It wouldn’t hurt to consult with her.”

“I shall consider your advice.” Annika wanted to argue but knew it would serve no purpose. Just thinking about the incident made her feel anger. She had recently felt both impatience and a certain irritation when things did not move as smoothly as she liked. The Valhalla Project and its demands on her time and energy were beginning to wear both mentally and physically. She was so close to success though. She must persevere. In a few short weeks, she would be able to work at a more leisurely pace. She would take time tonight and meditate. This would help her relax and subdue her emotions.

xxx

“As you know, the exit point is here.” Dr. Hansen used the small laser pointer to designate an area on the three dimensional holographic map, which was displayed in an area in front of the conference table. This was the final meeting before the Raven‘s mission was to begin. “The latest reports do not indicate any increased concentration of Starfleet ships. Deep Space 2 is not due for a supply run for another three weeks and four days. While Deep Space 2 may detect the opening of a transwarp corridor, it would take six days for them to send out a team to investigate. By that time, we will have completed the mission and be within five days from Vulcan. Are there any questions?”

Second Mate Denise Shelkofsky, who had the ops station during the Alpha shift, asked, “My understanding is the destination point is twelve weeks from Vulcan and six days out from Deep Space 2. If something happens, or we can’t open a corridor to return, do we go to Deep Space 2?”

“If a corridor fails to open and the ship is not damaged, we will proceed to Vulcan using warp power. We are well supplied. I do not want to involve outside parties, especially Starfleet, unless absolutely necessary. The last resort in the event Raven is unable to function is to put out a distress call. Deep Space 2 would receive this and send out assistance.

“Are there anymore questions?” She waited for a response. “If that is all, our departure time is in exactly five days, three hours, and thirty five minutes.”

B’Elanna Torres mentally rolled her eyes. ‘And 21 seconds. Not only is she an Ice Queen but she’s a walking computer.’

B’Elanna was still peeved about the incident in engineering a few days ago. She had sent Hansen her report by computer exactly at five seconds before close of business, which was 18:00 hours. She had it finished earlier but wanted to make a point. What point, she wasn’t sure. Maybe that she was pissed.

“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” said an excited Jude Kleinberg. “There’s a Bon Voyage party in the auditorium planned three days from now at 19:00 hours. Be there or be Pi squared.” She did a little shimmy dance that brought a smile to B’Elanna’s face, making her forget for a moment that she was supposed to be pissed.

xxx

Jude stood at the front door of Nick’s home. Her friend had moved into her own house two years ago. It was one of the newer staff houses, and Nick had furnished it with Scandinavian furniture.

She had not seen her since the staffing two days ago, except for a very brief talk after the meeting to invite her for dinner. But Nick had declined, saying that she had work to do. Jude noticed that she had seemed tired, more than likely from putting in long hours, and the stress of her project.

Jude usually saw her friend every day at the Research Center, and they had lunch together. However, for the past two days, Nick had been aboard Raven during lunchtime making inspections.

She was inviting Nick for dinner tonight and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Yes,” came Nick’s voice over the speaker above the door.

“It’s moi, Nick.”

The door clicked open, Jude entered, and walked through the foyer and into the living room. “Nick?”

“In the office.” Nick had turned one of the two bedrooms into an office. It still functioned as a bedroom with a fold down bed recessed in the wall.

Jude entered the room and rolled her eyes, when seeing her friend at her desk surrounded by close to a dozen PADDs. “All work and no play makes Nicky a dull girl.”

Annika raised her eyes from the PADD and said, “Do you have a purpose for being here?”

“Why yes, I do,” Jude said facetiously. “Put that stuff away and come with me. You’re having dinner at my house tonight.”

“It is not time for dinner.”

“It will be by the time you help me prepare it.”

“You do not appreciate my culinary abilities. That is why you never practice the Vulcan custom of having the guest prepare the meal.”

“Culinary abilities? Your abilities extend to ordering delivery from T’Olnie’s Restaurant. Enough work. You’ve been working too hard lately.”

“I appreciate the offer. But I must finish this.”

“Three hours, Nick. That’s all I’m asking. Then you can come back and work,” Jude said exasperatingly.

“I apologize, perhaps another day.”

“I’m not taking ‘no’ for an answer so you might as well come.”

“I said, NO!” Nick blurted out angrily.

Jude was stunned. Nick just didn’t get angry.

Annika saw the look on Jude‘s face, and felt momentarily anxious, before saying, “I am sorry, Jude. Perhaps you are right. I have been working too hard. I will accept your offer.”

Jude studied her closely and with concern evident in her voice, said, “Nick. That’s not like you. Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yes. It is the stress from the project, and I have been overworking.” She got up from her chair. “Shall we go?”

“Sure. Let momma mia prepare your favorite dish tonight.”

Annika lifted her left eyebrow, and a barely perceptible smile upturned the ends of her mouth. “Spaghetti with tomato sauce and mushrooms?”

“You got it, kiddo. Garlic bread, too.” ‘She needs someone to pamper her. I’m going to have a talk with Voncel. She should be doing this.’

xxx

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

xxx

B’Elanna smoothed down the legs on her mocha brown leather pants and tugged at the bottom of her matching leather jacket that she wore over a red, long sleeve shirt. She walked down the hall to the research facility’s auditorium, hearing, and feeling, the low rhythmic thrum of music rolling like thunder from behind the closed door. The door swished open ,and the roar of music and mayhem blasted her, while strobes of color stabbed into her eyeballs from the darkened room, silhouetting the gyrating crowd.

She stood a moment to get her bearings and felt a hand on her shoulder.

“B’Elanna, what took you so long?” Jude leaned over and said close to her ear so that B’Elanna could hear her over the crowd noise.

“Had to run…”

“What? I can’t hear you.” Jude then turned and cocked the side of her head closer to B’Elanna to try to hear above the noise.

B’Elanna said into her ear, “I had to check a few things on Raven. Have I missed anything?”

“No. Give it another hour and things might get interesting when the synthehol kicks in. Hey, Stron got in from Cardassia this morning. Come on, I’ll introduce you. ”

She took B’Elanna’s hand and led her around the perimeter of the room, stopping along the way to snag two bottles of ale from a barrel of ice, and handing one to B’Elanna.

Almost halfway around the room, they stopped at a table with several people seated around. B’Elanna saw that her boss and girlfriend were there, as well as a Vulcan male.

“Stron, this is Chief B’Elanna Torres. B’Elanna, my husband, Stron.”

B’Elanna was surprised when Stron stuck his hand out for a shake. She took it, and they traded firm grips.

“Chief Torres, It is nice to meet you. I have been informed that your work on Raven is excellent.”

“It’s B’Elanna. And thank you. She was in tip-top condition when I took over. I hear that is due to your efforts. I could tell she had been in good hands. I hear you will be going with us on the mission. You know, I‘ll need an expert as assistant chief.”

“Thank you. I am here for three weeks until I return to Cardassia. I will be able to go on the mission. Did you have any problems adjusting the matrix of the thrusters to the warp core interface?”

“Not after I replaced one of the circuits in the flow regulator. The problem was in the--”

Jude poked Stron with her elbow and said sternly, “All right you two. No shoptalk while on party duty. Here, B’Elanna, take a seat.” She indicated the one across from her and next to Stron, who sat at the end of the table. Next to Jude were seated Dr. Hansen and Dr. Voncel.

B’Elanna took the seat and looked across the table at the two doctors.

Dr. Hansen nodded and said, “Ms. Torres.”

“Dr. Hansen. Dr. Voncel” B’Elanna said coolly, giving a nod of acknowledgement to each woman. She saw that Hansen’s hair was down from its normal twist and in a low ponytail. It made her look younger. She wondered how it would look flowing around her shoulders.

“Nice party.” ‘Lame, Torres.’

Dr. Hansen nodded again and said, “Yes. You have Jude to thank for the party. I leave it to her to arrange all social functions and gatherings.”

Why am I not surprised. Her idea of a party is tea in china cups, sipped sedately while taking delicate nibbles on some pastry.'

B‘Elanna noticed that Dr. Hansen had an opened bottle of beer in front of her. ‘Uoooh, and not even a mug to pour it in. Why, I’m shocked. How, common, Your Majesty.’

“Nice get-up, B’Elanna. Looks good on you,” Jude said as she surveyed B'Elanna's outfit.

“Thanks. You look pretty good--”

“TORRES! It’s a small galaxy after all.”

B’Elanna felt a slap on her back, and someone took the seat next to her. She turned and said with some surprise, “Carlson? What are you doing here? I thought you went home after being sprung.”

“That lasted about a week. I had to get out and get some grease under my fingernails. I knocked around for a while taking a lot of dead end jobs until I ended up here. I’ve been working for Stron about two months now, and yesterday he asked me if I wanted to work on this project. He told me you were the chief. I couldn’t believe it. It’ll seem like old times on the Zola. You’re the Chief, and I’m back to being one of the Indians.”

“Well, I have that opening on Beta shift I need to fill. Consider it yours,” B’Elanna said.

“You two worked together before, I take it?” Jude asked.

Carlson smiled and said, “Yeah. We served on the Zola back in our Maquis days. Went to the P.C together, too. Let me tell you, Torres was a smooth operator. Why, she--”

“Yeah, well. That’s over now.” ‘Shut up Carlson.’ B’Elanna could tell he was a little high. He never could hold his brew. Or keep his yap shut when drinking.

Dr. Hansen looked at Carlson and inquired, “P.C.?”

“Oh, excuse me ladies. I’m James Carlson.” He stuck out his hand for a shake, but neither Hansen nor Voncel acknowledged it.

Forget it Carlson, she doesn’t shake hands with commoners. Might get cooties.’

“I am Dr. Hansen, and this is Dr. Voncel. What is the P.C.?”

He drew his hand back and shrugged. “Penal Colony. We got a five-year sentence for, quote, being terrorists and for crimes against the Federation, unquote. I was released a year early from my sentence, but Old Torres here got caught bonking the Warden’s daughter in the back of his aero-car--”

B’Elanna sprung up and took Carlson by the arm, trying to drag him up from his seat. “Come on, Carlson, let’s me and you go get another drink.”

“I’m fine. See, I have one here.” He held up the bottle and then took a sip. “Anyway, as I was telling you, Torres got caught bonking the Warden’s daughter and--”

“Carlson, they don’t want to hear that stuff,” B’Elanna said warningly.

Jude said brightly, “I do.…,” after seeing the blistering look B’Elanna gave her, she added, “not.”

B’Elanna looked at Carlson and said through a Cheshire Cat grin, “Carlson, not another word about the past. Okay?”

He looked at her and swallowed. He had seen that look before and it said, pissed off. “Sure, Torres…ah, Chief.”

B’Elanna looked across the table and saw both Doctors staring at her as if they were trying to figure out just who, or what, it was sitting at the table with them.

Great. Hansen will probably send Voncie over tomorrow to psychoanalyze me. She already thinks I’m a slut-puppy after that Paradise business.’

“Uhm, I see some people I need to talk to. Catch you guys later and nice talking to you.” She took Carlson by the arm and pulled him from the chair. “Come on, Carlson. You're with me.”

Jude watched as the two hurried off and said, “Uh oh. If Carlson doesn’t show up for work, then someone will need to scour the desert for his remains.”

She heard Nick’s voice close to her ear ask, “Bonking?”

xxx

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

xxx

“I see you’re eating tomato soup again. Don’t you get tired of eating the same thing for lunch every day?” B’Elanna asked and took a bite of her taco. They were in Raven’s mess hall.

Raven had left six days earlier from Vulcan to perform its most important mission yet, to test the transwarp core on a starship.

“This is tomato soup with sage and chili pepper seasoning. Yesterday was tomato soup with vegetables. The day before was chunky tomato soup. Before that--”

B’Elanna rolled her eyes and said, “Okay, already. I get the picture. The point is, the base ingredient is still tomato soup.”

“Hey, mind if I join you?” Jude had just gotten her lunch from one of the two replicators in the mess hall.

B’Elanna slid her tray over and moved to the next chair. “Here you go, Jude. I kept it warm for you.”

“Why, aren’t you sweet,” Jude said facetiously as she placed her tray on the table and took the seat B’Elanna vacated, and added, “Ohhh, hot seat. Must be because of the higher Klingon body temperature.”

B’Elanna smirked and said, “We Klingons are noted for our…hot…blood.”

Tom said, “I’m not commenting on that.”

“Wise move, Paris,” B’Elanna said.

“Everything ‘go’ in engineering?” Jude asked.

“You bet. Tomorrow history will be made and all that kind of thing,” B’Elanna replied and then added, “You seen Hansen? Is she excited? Or does she ever get excited?”

“I saw her this morning, and she was a little distracted. I think she’s excited. After all, we’re on the threshold of a new era of space travel.”

“You plan to have a big party to celebrate tomorrow night? That is, if Valhalla is successful?” asked Tom.

“No. I’m going to wait until the second phase is complete and have a party. I thought I would get you to program the holodeck for an appropriate party theme.”

Tom perked up and said excitedly, “I’ve been working on this program and what better time to unveil it but then. It will only take about an hour to program it into the holodeck. I can do it right after my shift tonight.”

Jude looked at him with interest and inquired, “What’s the theme? Something from Earth’s twentieth century?” It was a well known fact that Tom was an expert on that period of Earth’s history. Especially the cultural aspects of North America.

“Actually…it’s this bistro I used to frequent in Paris, France in my student days at the Academy, called Sandrine’s. It has a pool table, dance floor, and plenty of atmosphere.”

B’Elanna chortled, “By atmosphere, I take it to mean a pretty barmaid or two?”

“Why, of course. If you’re nice to me, I’ll program a pretty one for you. Let’s see…how about a feisty redhead?”

“No, thanks. I work with a feisty redhead all day. How ‘bout you surprise me? Oh, wait. What am I saying? How ‘bout you don’t surprise me. Just make sure they serve drinks.”

“That I can do. Want to get together tomorrow night, after all the initial excitement, for a game of poker with the gang?” Tom asked, and looking at Jude, added, “How about you and Stron? Oh yeah, I forgot Stron has Beta shift. How about just you coming, Jude.”

“Uhm, I’ll think about it.”

B’Elanna elbowed her and said, “Come on, Jude. You do know how to play poker don’t you?”

“Well, it has been awhile, but I was pretty good in my student days.”

“Pretty good as compared to what? Bet you just played for toothpicks. You ever play a ‘real’ game of poker?” B’Elanna teased.

“I’ll have you know, Ms. Torres, it was for ‘more’ than toothpicks. I kept on most of my clothes. Well, the important pieces, that is.”

Tom chocked on his drink and started coughing.

B’Elanna blurted out, “Strip Poker?” And laughed.

“Gives you more incentive to win, especially if the guys are hunks.”

B’Elanna smiled wickedly and said, “This will be for credits. Do you really want to see Paris and Jenkins in the buff? I sure don’t. And I don’t want to see Cort in the blue buff, either.”

Paris said, “Hey, now. Jude, you’re a married woman. What would Stron say?”

“I don’t want to find out. I’m game. My limit is twenty credits though.”

B’Elanna smirked and said, “Kiss them goodbye.”

xxx

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

xxx

Tom Paris waited with anticipation for the order to go to warp nine. Raven was cruising at warp six now and all systems were go.

They had arrived at the launching point at Bazas some four hours earlier.

He glanced behind him to a calm, but alert, First mate Verias, and an alert Captain Hansen seated in her Captain’s chair.

To his surprise, there was a strained look on the Captain’s face and not the normally calm features she usually presented. However, lately, he noticed a strain about her features, as if she were not getting enough sleep. Project Valhalla was her whole goal, and it was now or back to the drawing board. A lot was riding on this test.

Second Mate Denise Shelkofsky was at ops, and Stron was at the engineering post. B’Elanna was in engineering.

“Engineering, report.” Captain Hansen’s voice was steady.

All systems are up and running within normal parameters”

Tom noticed B’Elanna’s voice sounded calm, as if this was just another routine flight.

“Second Mate Shelkofsky?”

“All departments report clear, Captain.”

“Mr. Paris?”

“She’s ready to roar, Captain.”

“Very well. Engage to warp nine.”

“Warp Seven, Warp Eight, Warp Nine.

“Engage transwarp,” Annika ordered.

“Transwarp engaged, Captain,” Stron announced.

A funnel of swirling lights and colors appeared on the screen. There was a minute jarring of the ship, and a slight vibration was felt.

“Transwarp corridor opening, Captain. We have entered the transwarp corridor.” Tom’s voice was steady despite the butterflies fluttering in his stomach.

“Keep her steady, Mr. Paris. Engineering, report.”

Everything reads within normal parameters, Doctor.”

Second Mate Shelkofsky reported, “All departments reporting as normal, Captain.”

The ship stopped vibrating and smoothed out. Tom had to frequently look down at his controls and readouts as the tornado of eddies and lights on the view screen made him feel slightly nauseas. “Captain, we are approaching destination point in thirty seconds,” Tom said.

“Twenty seconds”

“Ten seconds”

“Five seconds”

The swirling, flashing lights, and colors cleared to show a star field. Tom looked at his readings. “We have arrived at the destination point, Captain.”

The Bridge crew clapped and cheered.

Annika could not help but smile. “Engineering, status.”

Warp Core and engines readings are normal. I’m running a diagnostic on the coil and inverter now. Then I’ll check the shield and sensor array. I should have a report to you in two hours.”

“Very well. When complete send the report to me in my ready room.”

Yes, Doctor.”

It did not escape Annika’s notice that Torres called her Doctor. She had let it be known that she preferred to be called Captain while actively acting in that role. She was sure Torres was aware of this and deliberately used the term Doctor.

On the few occasions she had contact with the engineer, she had sensed an underlying current of aggression in her body stance and voice. Her dark eyes seemed to challenge you to step over some boundary. It was even more apparent since Annika had encountered the Chief in engineering when she made adjustments to the warp core matrix. Perhaps Jude was right, and this attitude was due to the part of her that was Klingon.

“Captain, all stations report normal,” said Verias.

“Verias, you have the bridge. I will be in my ready room.”

xxx

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

xxx

It was now minus one hour and twenty-five minutes since exiting the transwarp corridor. Raven was at station keeping. Annika checked and double-checked all reports. The one outstanding was from Engineering.

The first phase had been successful. Now, if everything were in order, they would commence with the second phase in twenty-two hours. This would be the important phase: If the transwarp coil could successfully open a transwarp corridor and return Raven to its original starting point.

If this occurred, only then would she count it as a total success. They would have a transwarp coil that could possibly take them to another quadrant entirely and return them home in a relativity short period of time.

She felt some anticipation and anxiety when thinking about this. It was illogical that she should worry.

She suddenly felt restless and unsettled. ‘It should not take two hours for Torres to have a report on my desk. Why is there a delay?’ She got up from her chair and headed for engineering.

She entered engineering but did not see Chief Torres. She went to Denal and asked, “Where is the Chief, Mr. Denal?”

“Captain Hansen, Chief Torres is in the sensor array compartment assessing the matrix.”

Annika felt annoyance that the Chief was not there. “I wish to review the data you have on all systems.”

“Captain, Chief Torres should be here shortly.”

“Mr. Denal, I gave you an order. If you cannot follow my order, then get someone who can.” Annika felt her annoyance grow.

Several of the engineering crew stopped what they were doing and stared at the two.

“Captain Hansen, the report is not complete. Chief Torres--”

“Mr. Denal. The report now. Do I have to repeat my order?” Her voice had a definite strident tone.

Denal’s eyebrows lifted in apparent surprise. “No, Captain.” He went to a nearby workstation, retrieved a PADD, and handed it to her.

She looked at him and said, “Have Chief Torres report to the ready room when she returns.”

“Yes, Captain.”

She turned and walked out of engineering with a quick and purposeful stride that relayed her displeasure. Four pairs of puzzled and surprised eyes followed her departure.

“Prophets! That can’t be Dr. Annika Hansen,” declared Bril.

Stalworth said, “I’d say. She was pissed about something. Her face turned red. I’ve never seen it do that.” He turned to Denal and said, “No offense, Denal. But she’s always been so ‘Vulcan’. Wait ‘till we tell the Chief this.”

“Tell the Chief what?” B’Elanna had just walked in from the area where the array compartment matrix was located.

“Chief, you’re not going to believe this, but Doctor…I mean, Captain Hansen was just in here, and she was pissed,” Stalworth said.

“I think you had better start at the beginning.”

xxx

B’Elanna Torres rocked impatiently on her feet while waiting for the turbo lift to take her to the Bridge.

I don’t give a Cardassian Vole’s ass if she’s the captain or not. How dare she treat my crew like that.’

She exited the turbo lift, went to the Bridge, and briskly walked to the Ready Room. She didn’t even bother to look at the bridge crew. If she had, she would have noticed that her ‘entrance’ caught the interest of a few, including First Mate Verias.

Before she could ring the chime for entrance, Verias said, “Chief Torres. You have an appointment with the Captain?” Captain Hansen had just returned a few minutes ago and had said nothing about expecting anyone. Without stopping, she had told Verias she had the Bridge and went into her Ready Room.

B’Elanna vigorously hit the chime one time and said in an angry voice, “Apparently so.”

The door slid open, and B’Elanna stalked in and slammed a PADD onto the desk where Captain Hansen was seated.

She gave the Captain a defiant glare and tersely said, “Here is the rest of the report you couldn’t wait another ten minutes to get. Doctor, the next time you need something in engineering, you contact me first before you go barging in and treating my crew like children.” She turned and briskly headed out the way she came in.

Annika felt rage boil up in her and threw the PADD across the room where it hit and bounced off the closed door.

She got up from her chair to follow but then stopped and fell back into her chair. ‘You are acting illogically. Control yourself. Your anger serves no purpose. It is stress, nothing more. After this is over I will take a vacation, perhaps with Voncel.’

She had neglected her meditation these past two weeks. She had been working 14-16 hours a day and when she stopped, she went directly to bed. However, recently her sleep was interrupted by nightmares. It was always the Borg. Images of drones reaching for her. Drones holding her father, their assimilation tubules plunging into his neck and his color fading to a pasty white. His eyes were black and unseeing.

She glanced at the chronometer and noticed that it was close to the end of Alpha shift. ‘I shall meditate tonight and center and cleanse my mind. First, I must establish discipline. She has no respect. She is illogical and irritating. She sets a bad example to the crew.’

xxx

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

xxx

Annika stepped out of the turbo lift and made her way down the corridor. She passed two of her crew who greeted her politely. She barely nodded her head in acknowledgement of the greeting.

She wanted to show a certain obnoxious, illogical, and irritating Engineer that she was Captain. And she did not need her permission to go anywhere on Raven. Her ship.

She is, after all, part Klingon. It is in her nature to be illogical. However, it is my prerogative to check on the progress of the ship. I am captain. She is not.’

She exited the turbo lift and followed the corridor to engineering. The doors were already open and she stopped in the doorway to look in. She saw Chief Torres by the manifold relay with two of her crew and proceeded to enter.

One of the crew, Cassias Bril, saw her and informed the chief, “Captain is here, Chief.”

Torres glared at the Captain and turned to the crewmember that had commented on her appearance and said, “Bril, it’s feeling cold in here all of a sudden. How ‘bout checking the thermostat.”

She saw Bril smirk and leave, and the other crewman, a Human male…Stalworth was his name, turned his head away and she heard a guffaw.

I am being insulted. Her insults mean nothing. It is, however, disrespectful to my position as Captain and sets a poor example to the crew. I need to correct this behavior.’

B’Elanna walked over to her, stopped a few feet away, and folded her arms across her chest, in what Annika perceived to be a belligerent and defiant stance. “So. Dr. Hansen. What can I do for you?”

Annika answered coolly, “I prefer to be called Captain Hansen, when aboard Raven.”

“So. ‘Captain’ Hansen. What can I do for you?”

“I would like to discuss a matter with you in your office.”

“This way.” B’Elanna motioned her head toward her office.

B’Elanna led the way to her office and, passing Cortanna, said, “Cort, tell the gang I’ll be a little late tonight.”

Cortanna glanced at Captain Hansen and quickly focused back on B‘Elanna. “Will do, Chief.”

B’Elanna went into her office with Annika behind her, the door automatically shutting.

“Have a seat.”

“I prefer to stand.”

B’Elanna shrugged. “Suit yourself. What’s on your mind…Captain?”

“Your attitude toward me and lack of respect for my title. I understand that you may not like me as a person. That is your prerogative. However, I am captain, and as the captain, I am due a certain amount of respect, especially in front of the crew. Your behavior and comments show a total disregard for rules governing the proper attitude and behavior toward a superior officer. This behavior shall cease.”

B‘Elanna saw red. ‘How dare this…’ “And what about your behavior, Ms. High and Mighty? You march into engineering without arranging it with me and intimidate my crew. Not even a hello or could you please help. Making demands. So don’t go jumping down my throat about behavior and respect.”

Not only could Annika see the anger in Chief Torres’ face, she could actually feel it, and this was without touching her. This made her feel her own anger increase. ‘Do not let her emotions control you.’

She backed away, put her hands behind her back, and stood more erect. “It is not my intent to insult or be rude. However, your behavior is deliberately rude and insulting to me. You will refrain from this behavior.”

B’Elanna sneered and then stood at attention. “Yeah, okay…Captain. Whatever you say... Sir.”

Annika felt her anger flare and fought it down. ‘She is trying to provoke you. She is illogical. Do not let her illogic snare you.’

“I could terminate your contract for your infraction of the rules.”

B‘Elanna then stood in a defiant stance, hands on her hips. “What rules? So, I called you Doctor, and we had words. I didn’t undermine your authority. You’re still Captain.”

“I will relieve you of duty and appoint Stron to take your place.”

B’Elanna snorted derisively and said, “No you won’t. You don’t want to involve him in this. And, frankly, he wouldn’t appreciate taking my place as Chief Engineer as I would contest your decision to remove me. You have no valid grounds. The contract I signed is as an employee of the Institute. It gives me the right to a hearing.

“Besides, in twenty hours we return to Bazas. When we get back to Vulcan, we can say adios. Until then, do your duty as a Captain and let me do mine as the Chief Engineer. Things will go a lot smoother if you just stay out of engineering.”

“I am the Captain. I have authority to go anywhere on this ship.”

“That is true, ‘Captain’. However, I’m Chief Engineer, and Engineering is my domain. That has always been the unwritten rule of every space faring vessel that ever was. Sometimes we are in a critical situation making sure this ship doesn’t blow up. You would just be in the way. And I don’t want you in here meddling and messing things up.”

Annika felt a surge of anger. ‘You must control yourself. Do not give her power over you. She is the snare beneath the sand. Walk carefully.’

“While you are an accomplished engineer, you are also contentious, argumentative, volatile, illogical, and juvenile in your emotional displays.”

B’Elanna laughed. “Yeah, I’m all of that and then some. But, you know what. I feel, I live. I’m not afraid of being who and what I am. You. You’re some Ice Queen who doesn’t know how to live, to feel, and to be Human. Hell, a Vulcan has more warmth and emotion than you do. What are you hiding from behind that ice cold facade…Captain?”

Annika felt a white-hot rage. She clamped down on it. ‘She is provoking you. Do not respond. Do not give her what she wants.’ She turned and purposely walked away.

xxx

Chapter Eighteen

xxx

The door opened to Tom’s quarters, and B’Elanna observed her three poker playing buddies sitting around the table with drinks in hands.

“Better weep now kiddies, cause Momma is gonna take your candy away.”

Everyone hooted, and Jenkins retorted, “As I recall, Torres, you were the one weeping the last time. I hope you brought your hankie.”

“Wrong. Cort wept the last time. We’ll see who needs a hankie. Isn’t Jude supposed to be here tonight?”

Cortanna answered, “She’s in the bathroom. I told her she better not be putting cards up her sleeves and in her boot tops.”

Tom chuckled and said, “That would be kind of hard to do, as she’s wearing short sleeves. We had better have her take her boots off though. Hey, B’Elanna, you know where the replicator is, help yourself.”

B’Elanna went over to the replicator and got an ale. Just as she was sitting down, Jude came into the living area and took the seat provided for her at the table.

“Hi, B’Elanna. Cort said you would be a little late, but I think you had to work up your nerve to face the fact I’m taking your credits?”

“Yeah, right. You got atna bad, girlie.” At the look of befuddlement on Jude’s face she added, “Atna, All Talk, No Action.” She took a sip from her mug. “I would have gotten here earlier, but Captain Doctor Ice Queen showed up in engineering to chew my ass out.

“You’re her friend, Jude. What’s with her? She comes into engineering earlier today, while I’m gone, and chews out Denal for not jumping to her commands. Later, she comes in to chew me because she feels my attitude sucks and I‘m not showing her ‘respect’. I chewed right back. Told her to her face she‘s an Ice Queen and rude. She stomps out without saying anything. Truth hurts.”

“B’Elanna. She’s not an Ice Queen. And, did you show her respect? She just wouldn’t confront you if she didn’t have a reason.”

“Okay. I got pissed when I found out about her coming in engineering while I’m out, and I went to her office in a pissed mood. I had some words with her about her rude behavior then I stormed out. But, Kahless, she had it coming.”

Tom said, “Sounds like you two just rub each other the wrong way.”

“I don’t want her ‘rubbing’ me anywhere or anyway. I might get frost bite,” B’Elanna said with a smirk.

There were snickers around the room.

“I know she sometimes comes across as authoritative and cold. It’s part of her reserved nature. She really is a nice and caring person. It’s hard for her to show that sometimes,” Jude said.

Tom said, “I think Jude’s right, she‘s just a reserved person. She’s always been nice to me. She listens to your opinions and what you have to say. After all, she took my advice on hiring you. You know the old saying: Still waters run deep.”

“Yeah, the water under a polar cap,” B’Elanna said facetiously.

Jude rolled her eyes. “Are we gonna play cards? I don‘t want to sit around and listen to you badmouthing my best friend. She’s the captain, show some respect. Besides, If you can’t say anything nice …”

Everyone jumped in and chorused, “Don’t say anything at all.”

Tom said, “B’Elanna, you’re not the easiest person to get along with yourself. At least she‘s not exploding in your face and threatening to shove a spanner up your rear.”

B’Elanna snorted and rolled her eyes. “Hey. My crew knows I‘m not serious. It’s just part of my nature. Isn‘t that right, Cort?”

“Right, Chief. You haven’t shoved no spanner up anyone’s rear. Yet.”

Jenkins said, “She’s the smartest person I think I’ve ever met. Certainly one of the most beautiful women I have seen.”

Cortanna sighed, “Yeah. She’s built, too. Too bad she isn’t blue. She’d be perfect.”

Everyone laughed, and B’Elanna exclaimed, “Blue? Yeah, I can see it. Ice Blue.”

Jude, a sound of warning in her voice, said, “B’Elanna. Just drop it. Next time you see her try to be civil. It wouldn‘t hurt you to do that. Let this project end with the knowledge that we’re all on the same team.”

B‘Elanna said, “I‘ll try. But, I‘m not taking crap from her. Another thing, she was angry, too. That’s just not natural for the Ice Queen.”

“Angry?” Jude asked.

“Yes. A loud, angry voice and a red, angry face,” B’Elanna declared.

“She’s been under a lot of stress lately with the Valhalla Project. This is her baby, and it means a lot to her,” Jude explained. ‘I hope that’s it. It’s not like her to get angry.’ She thought of the time almost two weeks ago when she asked Nick to dinner, and she had gotten angry. She felt a moment of dread. ‘No! Don’t think it. It‘s stress. That‘s all.’

B’Elanna replied, “Too bad Doc Voncie didn’t come along. She could give the Doctor what she probably needs. A good lay. Not that I could imagine those two actually doing ‘it ’. Bet it’s once every seven years when Voncie goes into Pon Farr.”

Jude was stunned. The words she had been trying not to think, spoken. Pon Farr. She stood up and said angrily, “That cuts it. I‘m outta here. Those kinds of comments are uncalled for. I don’t like hearing them and you shouldn‘t be saying them. I’m married to a Vulcan, or have you forgotten. That’s a very serious subject and not a subject to make a joke about. Maybe it’s you who needs a good lay. I heard you Klingon babes are always hot for it and not too discriminating in who, or what, you get it from!”

Jenkins groaned, “Ah, come on, Jude, don‘t go. Hey guys. Let’s stow it and play.”

Tom looked at B’Elanna and said, “Be nice, B’Elanna. You‘ve gone too far.”

B’Elanna contritely looked at Jude and said sincerely, “I apologize. It was uncalled for and wrong. I should know better. Please stay, Jude. I promise I won’t open my big fat mouth again about Captain Hansen. And, neither will anyone else. Right, guys?”

Everyone agreed.

“I apologize about the Klingon babe part. I just wanted to make a point,” Jude said apologetically.

“I know you did. There’s nothing to apologize for.” B’Elanna grinned and then said “Besides, Jude. You being new to the group, I got to initiate you by taking all of your candy. This may be my last night playing poker with you guys.”

“Say, what?” exclaimed a surprised Tom.

“When we get back to Vulcan I’m packing my bags. After all, Project Valhalla will be at an end.”

“I thought you were going to stick around and run more missions,” Tom said.

“Nope. Denal can take over as Chief. He’s qualified and knows the routine. Besides, Captain Hansen and I decided it was best.”

Nobody said anything, and B’Elanna added, “Hey, cheer up, guys. I’m looking forward to kicking back on Risa. Just think, you guys will be on Vulcan, and I will have a different girl on each arm every night and having a good time. Oh, and, thanks in advance for paying for my vacation. After tonight your credits are mine.”

Jude snorted, “Torres, you been sniffing plasma exhaust? Who‘s dealing?”

xxx

CHAPTER NINETEEN

xxx

The sun was cruel in her unwavering love of this place. The Traveler was a stranger here. She did not belong.

Perhaps the sun in her jealousy was trying to drive her out. The heat was almost unbearable.

There, among the sheltering rocks, she caught a glimpse of green, and the desert breeze brought the heavy scent of moisture. Yes, a small oasis in the desert. She saw that the small pool was home to reeds and grasses.

She walked around the edge to the source, a trickle of water from the rocks. She stepped into the shallow pool among the reeds and waded to the rocks. The cool water caressed her tired feet.

She caught the trickle from the rocks into her cupped hands and drank. The taste was sweet nectar on her tongue and a cold river in her throat. Yet, her thirst remained.

She heard a noise descend from above her. It was the crunching sound of gravel and the rub of pebbles. She lifted her eyes to the red rocks and into the dark molten eyes of a woman. She wore a simple salmon colored shift. It was the color of sand and rippled around her in the breeze, showing her womanly form.

Her skin was dark honey and her smile held a secret. Her forehead was ridged, and the dark hair was wild and waving. She felt she knew this woman. The woman’s dark liquid eyes held her; they burned with an inner fire.

Are you the guardian spirit of this spring? Have I trespassed?”

The woman stepped up close and ran the back of her hand along the Traveler’s cheek. The touch was soft and tender. “No, Annika. I am the spirit of fire and have come to quench your thirst.”

You know my name. Have we met before?”

Yes.”

Where?”

In the furnace and forge of creation.”

You speak in riddles.”

No. I speak in truths. I have brought fire to quench your thirst.”

The Traveler was puzzled. “How can fire quench my thirst?”

The woman kissed her then and the Traveler felt the fire of desire in her belly and between her thighs. “Our fires will consume each other and you will no longer burn.”

Annika woke with a groan, the dream tugging at her mind. Déjà Vue? She was aroused. She felt the throb of her groin and warm slick moisture coat her fingers and hand. It had been a while since she felt the need to do this.

Her need and desire were too strong to resist. She stroked herself quickly, she was so close, the taste of the woman’s kiss and the feel of her heat still on her. She knew she should turn her thoughts to another. She tried to imagine the face of her intended. Instead, she saw a ridged forehead, caramel skin, and dark flashing eyes. Her orgasm was sharp and strong, causing her womb to contract from the power of it. She shuddered and again felt herself shaken.

She removed her fingers and flung her arm over her face in dismay. ‘Why her? She is annoying, illogical, irritating. Perhaps it is because she tried to provoke me earlier.

Echoes of the dream remained and rebounded down the spiraling path of consciousness to awaken a memory. It was the eyes, dark and molten. Her vision during Pon Farr. 'No. Not that, not now!’

She felt fear then that this was the start of Pon Farr. Perhaps that is why she felt on edge, impatient and yes, emotional. It had been almost eight years since the last. She thought she had escaped it. However, her physiology was not Vulcan. It was Human.

Anger boiled up, sudden and sharp. ‘Silvik, dying was too kind a fate for what you did. Insanity would be the better punishment.

Anger and fear, the ferocious twins that ate the soul and destroyed logic. The snares under the desert sand.

She wrestled these demons down with logic. However, they lay right under the surface. She was walking treacherous ground now and needed to both shield and arm herself: Willpower and logic.

She got up from bed, went into the living area, and retrieved a candle from the coffee table. She took it to the pallet she used for meditation, placing it on the floor before the pallet, and lit it. The acrid smell of the burning wick assailed her nose before the flame bit into the scented wax.

She sat on the pallet in the Vulcan meditation position and took even deep breaths, focusing on the flame‘s wavering dance. She studied the different colors of fire: Blue and green at the bottom, whites, orange and yellows at the top. The flame could not burn away her thoughts. Instead, it was a mocking echo of the fire that had been kindled within her while she dreamed.

She felt anxious and frantic. ‘If this is Pon Farr, I will do what must be done. I will be home in less than eight days. Voncel and I will marry. I must not let this interfere with my mission.’ She once again concentrated on the flame, and, with much effort, centered her thoughts in logic and order.

xxx

Jude got up an hour early the next morning, dressed, and ran out the door, telling Stron she had an errand to run. Stron had heard about the earlier incident in Engineering and relayed it to Jude. That story, what B’Elanna Torres relayed, and Nick’s recent anger, had her worried.

Was it just overworking to prepare the mission?

She took the turbo lift to deck three and went down the corridor a short distance to Nick’s door where she stopped, and rang the chime and waited.

The door slid open, and she heard, “Enter.”

She saw that Nick was up and dressed, drinking a hot tea. “Jude. Would you like a cup of tea?”

“Sure. My usual.” Jude could see that Nick appeared tired. Her eyes had small dark smudges under them.

Annika turned to the replicator. “Tor’ka tea. Hot.” The cup materialized, and she handed it to Jude. “You have a purpose for visiting this early?”

“Can’t I just want to visit my best friend?”

Annika lifted her left eyebrow and gave her a steady stare. “You have a purpose. I know this because you are not a ‘morning’ person. The only occasions that you have visited me early in the morning have been because you had something important you needed to tell me. Or, something you needed to know. However, I am always pleased to see you.”

“You’re right. Tell me what happened between you and Chief Torres, Nick.”

“What have you heard?” she said, surprise obvious in her face and voice.

“That you went into engineering and chewed her out.”

“I had a discussion in her office pertaining to her attitude and behavior as regards my position as Captain of this ship. She became irrational and accusatory. When we are back on Vulcan I will no longer need her services.”

“Was this concerning the incident that happened earlier in Engineering when you demanded that Denal give you the updates and he told you to wait for Torres?”

‘”I owe you no explanation, Jude. This is a command issue and does not involve you.”

“Nick, I wasn’t there, and, of course, I’m only getting one side of the story, but tell me truthfully, did you overreact? Become angry?”

Annika looked down at her teacup for a moment and then back up at Jude. “Truthfully, yes. As you are well aware, the Valhalla Project has been my top priority for months now. I have dedicated many long hours to this endeavor and have unwisely forgone proper rest. Unfortunately, this has led to stress. The stress has led to an occasional lapse in judgment and I have allowed my emotions to control my actions. When we return to Vulcan, I shall take a sabbatical.”

Jude said softly and concernedly, “Nick. Are you sure this is all that it is? Perhaps you need to go to Sickbay and get the doctor to check you.”

“It is stress. However, I will go to Sickbay tomorrow. Today I must attend to the final stage of the mission.”

“I think it’s a good idea about the sabbatical. Maybe Voncel will take one with you. I may even take a few days off and join you. I’m thinking a place with a beautiful white sandy beach, or the mountains. Just us girls.”

“I would like that.” Annika quirked her mouth in a barely perceptible smile.

“Well, Captain Hansen, you may return to your duty,” Jude said jokingly.

“I shall ‘Admiral’ Kleinberg.” Annika cocked her left eyebrow.

Jude chuckled. It made her feel some relief from her worry that Nick showed some of her rare humor.

xxx

CHAPTER TWENTY

xxx

“All stations have reported, Captain, and all is clear,” said Second Mate Denise Shelkofsky at ops.

“Very well. Mr. Paris, take her to warp nine, slowly.” Annika sat on the edge of her seat. The next few minutes would determine if the Valhalla Project was a total success.

“Warp seven.”

“Warp eight“

“Warp nine.”

“Engage transwarp.”

A swirling vortex of color swallowed the ship. She bucked, but instead of leveling out, the turbulence continued and increased.

“Level her out, Mr. Paris.”

“I’m trying.”

The shaking was severe now. Tom worked rapidly over the controls.

The bridge crew held tight to the consoles at their stations and the arms of their chairs.

All of a sudden, Raven gave a mighty heave, and several of the bridge crew were thrown to the deck. Captain Hansen was almost thrown out of her chair. The warp corridor dissipated, and the star field once again appeared.

Captain Hansen. We have a tachyon leak into the warp core. I have done an emergency shutdown of the warp core.” B’Elanna’s voice was controlled but forceful.

Annika immediately got to her feet. “Stron, come with me. Verias, you have the Bridge.”

She strode quickly to the turbo lift with Stron right on her heels.

xxx

“Stalworth, disengage the trans plasma conduit couplers from the core,” B’Elanna Torres loudly ordered.

She was working franticly at the console to take the warp core completely off line. If too many tachyons leaked into the warp core, a warp core breach would almost certainly occur. This was due to the resonance frequency created by the tachyons, which would cause the core pressure to increase out of control.

Annika and Stron entered engineering, and both went to nearby consoles to see if anything else needed to be done.

After a couple of minutes, B’Elanna stepped back from her console, looked at her crew, and said, “Good work, people. Now, let’s flush the plasma.”

She then saw Captain Hansen stride purposely toward her and stop a few feet away. “Report,” she barked out. It was obvious that she was upset.

“When we entered the corridor I detected a tachyon leak into the warp core. To prevent a breach I performed an emergency override of all propulsion systems and disengaged the transwarp coil. I won’t know until we do an analysis what caused it, or if there was any damage to the core or transwarp coil.”

There was silence for a moment, and B‘Elanna saw that Captain Hansen was shaken by the event. The blood seemed to drain from her face, and she closed her eyes and took in a deep breath before saying in a relatively cool voice, “I shall assist, as will Stron. I will examine the warp coil.”

She turned to Stron and said, “Stron, access the inverter and sensor array.” She turned her attention back to B’Elanna. “Chief Torres, run a full diagnostic on the warp core.” She turned then and walked briskly to the manifold that contained the transwarp coil. B’Elanna watched her go. She, herself, felt deflated and could not get angry with Captain Hansen for taking over.

Even though the transwarp coil was, for all accounts, successful in opening a transwarp corridor to get them light years away, she knew that Hansen would consider it a failure in that they could not return to the original departure point.

They were alike in that. Perfectionist. Neither would be satisfied with a glass half-full. It would always remain a glass half empty.

Kahless, this has to be heartbreaking for her. To be so close and have this happen.’

xxx

The end of part three. Continued in part four.

 

PART FOUR. THE FORGE AND THE ANVIL
B'Elanna and Seven Romance Page