Captain's Log, Stardate 5842.9:

The Enterprise suffered major damage in a catastrophic accident in Engineering, brought on by a violent encounter with an unknown aggressor in the Outer Rim of the Tau Sigma Pi system. We were en route to the Stanos II colony on Epsilon Theta to provide humanitarian aid, a mission we could not delay. Neither Mr. Spock nor Mr. Scott has been able to identify the class of weapon used against us, but the damage done to our engine systems was extensive. We lost a total of seventy-five crew members, fifty-four of whom were engineers, but it would have been much worse, even to the loss of the ship and all hands, had Mr. Scott been unable to restrict most of the damage to his Engineering section. Many more crew members were injured, including Mr. Scott, who has continued to work commendably to keep this ship together. It has proven to be a herculean task for him and his engineers. Our mission to the Stanos colony was carried out, and, although it delayed our arrival, we took care to avoid the Outer Rim on our way to Starbase 12, the closest facility with the capability to work on damaged Fleet vessels, for repairs and new crew members. I have authorized some well-earned R and R for the crew while the base engineering teams repair whatever Mr. Scott has been unable to jury-rig before we arrived. I commend the engineering section for their efforts in keeping things together in the face of such a drastic shortage of personnel and such extensive damage. Mr. Scott estimates at least two to three weeks before repairs are completed and the Enterprise can return to her mission.

McCoy and Scott walked into the starbase general recreation area and looked around the busy room. "Damn, it's crowded," McCoy muttered.

"What did you expect? There are almost four hundred people down here on leave."

"I didn't expect them all to be here in this room."

Scott laughed softly. They managed to find an empty table and sat down. McCoy sighed and said, "I'll be right back with the drinks."

The chief engineer leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. He could not remember a time he was so worn out and beaten down. Despite his injuries, he had been working double shifts since the attack on the ship to compensate for the shortage of personnel, and overwork had certainly taken its toll on him. Exhaustion had delayed the healing of his injuries and pain still interfered with his attempts to sleep, but he did his best to downplay it all to McCoy. Every day was a struggle just to get through, especially since Lt. DeSalle, his first engineer, had been lost. Mortally wounded rescuing a group of trapped engineers in the lower decks, DeSalle had succumbed to his injuries the following day. Scott had also lost Lt. Fortescue, his swing shift supervisor, which prompted him to take on the swing shift rather than leave a junior officer alone to manage his unstable section. Although he was less prone to exhaustion-related errors than any engineer in his section, the toll it had all taken on him was significant, more than even McCoy realized. There had been too much...too much damage, too much death. His body was worn and his soul was weary. Now he could finally take the time to rest, to heal and to mourn.

Before leaving the ship, he had been informed that he would receive two dozen engineers, less than half the number he'd lost, but they were all seasoned veterans, not raw recruits. One experienced engineer was worth half a dozen inexperienced ones, he had learned the hard way. Their service records would be forwarded to him within the week, but one he had already studied. Before they left orbit above the Stanos colony, he had received a personnel file from Command for the officer who would have the vital position of his first engineer. With it was a request for him to approve or deny the selection based upon his opinion of the officer's suitability for the job. With his sweat and blood, and his unparalleled skill, he had earned that much respect from Star Fleet Command. After studying the file and communicating with colleagues he trusted to assess this engineer's skill and capability, he had let Command know of his approval.

His thoughts were interrupted by an increase in the volume of the conversation at the table behind him. Several words in the argument caught his attention. Two men and a woman debated the feasibility of channeling phaser power through the warp drive. The man who had raised his voice would not be dissuaded from his opinion. "Nope, no way. The warp integration circuits weren't meant to take that kind of stress."

"So you bypass the integration circuits," the woman replied.

"Then you'll blow every relay in the system. The engines were not meant to have that kind of power shunted through them."

"Not on a regular basis and not for an extended period," she conceded, adding, "but if it's done the right way, it's possible."

"No, it's not."

Slowly, Scott turned around in his seat and looked at the three occupants of the table. The woman glanced up and met his eyes. The young man turned around, curious, and Scott shifted his gaze to look at him. He was much younger than Scott anticipated. "Something wrong?" the young man asked.

Scott shrugged briefly and said, "I couldna help overhearing your discussion. It happens to fall within an area of interest of mine."

"You know something about warp engines?" she asked.

"A little," he admitted with a smile in his tired eyes.

"Good!" the young man declared triumphantly. "You tell her that phasers cannot be channeled through the warp engines."

"Well," Scott began. "It's generally not a good idea. A lot of things can surely go badly. But exactly what makes you so certain the lass is wrong?"

The young man studied him with an air of poorly concealed contempt. He snorted. "If you really knew anything about warp engines, you wouldn't have to ask me that question."

McCoy was approaching the table and he heard that last comment. "Uh-oh," he muttered.

Scott raised his eyebrows. "Is that a fact? Your friend there certainly seems to know what she's talking about."

"It's just speculation, man. That's all it is. Speculation. It's never been done."

"Oh…" Scott said slowly. "You seem certain about that. Have you ever worked on a Constitution-class starship, lad?"

"I spent two months on the Constellation as a midshipman under Captain Decker. I also read a lot."

"Reading is good," Scott conceded. "And what do you read? Popular fiction? Some Shakespeare, maybe?"

As his companions laughed, the young man flushed and his temper flared. "No, Orion trade magazines," he snapped. "What the hell do you think I read? Technical manuals, desk jockey. Of course, I wouldn't expect you to know anything about them."

Scott calmly nodded and looked again at the woman seated at the table. She was gently spoken, and her voice carried a hint of an accent very much like his own brogue. "And what about you, lass? Ever spend time on a starship?"

"I was a junior assistant to the chief engineer on the Excaliber for two-and-a-half years."

Scott nodded, then trained his gaze back on the young man. "If I were you, lad, I would take more care to avoid sticking your foot in your mouth. The lass is right, you know. Phaser power can be channeled through the warp drive, and without blowing every circuit in the system, if you know what you're doing and you do it right. You'd be damn surprised what you can do with warp technology when you know what the hell you're doing."

The arrogant young man glared at the Enterprise's chief engineer. "You're full of it. I told you it's never been done," he declared confidently.

Scott met his glare steadily. "Ach, but you're wrong about that."

The young man spluttered, seeking a comeback, but when he came up empty, Scott simply shook his head and turned back to his own table as McCoy pushed his drink toward him with a silent plea to let the matter drop. The doctor wondered how arrogant the young man would have been if Scott had been in uniform. He relaxed when Scott took a drink, seemingly done with his part of the conversation.

"That's right," the young man called loudly, ignoring the protests of his two friends. "Bug out when it gets over your head."

Scott looked across the table at McCoy. "C'mon, Scotty," the doctor pleaded softly. "I can't exactly patch you up with baling wire and spit the way you did those engines, you know."

Scott smiled reassuringly at his friend and turned back to the young hothead. "You mentioned being a midshipman. Star Fleet Academy, I presume. Did you actually graduate?"

"Damn straight I did! When was the last time you even saw a starship up close?"

"Not as long ago as you think," Scott answered.

McCoy saw that Scott's grip on his glass had tensed, even though his tone remained reasonable. He grasped Scott's wrist and hissed, "Your friendly neighborhood physician honestly has seen enough of your blood for a while."

Scott released his glass and McCoy's hand fell away. Scott had no intention of getting into a fight. He finished his drink and got to his feet. The young man rose to meet the perceived challenge but the other man at his table grabbed him, wrapping both arms around his friend's torso. Scott knew it was an act borne of familiarity and shook his head, disgusted. "I hope your engineering skills are better than your grasp of theory," he said with a dismissive wave.

He motioned to McCoy, who gladly finished his own drink and rose to leave.

As they stepped away from their table, Scott was called back by an irreverent shout. "Hey, desk jockey!"

Scott stopped, hesitating before he turned to look at the belligerent young man, still held firmly in his friend's grasp. "Aye, Star Fleet?" he said with an exaggerated patience he did not feel.

"What the hell makes you think phasers can somehow be made compatible with warp engines?"

Scott sighed wearily. "That's simple," he replied. "I've done it."

Shifting his eyes to the man who kept a firm hold on his rude friend and then to the woman, he gave her a wink and left the rec room with McCoy.

"Get off me, Carl," the young man snapped, shaking off his friend. He slowly sat back down, watching the two men leave.

Carl slid back into his own seat and shook his head. "Nice, Ray. What the hell is wrong with you? I hate when your mouth runs off by itself before your brain engages."

Ray took a swallow of his drink, still annoyed at not having gotten the last word. "Carl, I'd bet a month's pay he's just a station-bound paper jockey who's read a few tech manuals and wishes he was out there with us, working a real job on a starship."

The woman had watched the entire exchange between her friend and the man with the tired dark eyes. There was something about him that seemed familiar but she could not place it. She watched him leave with his friend, taking note of the way he carried himself and the way others in the room greeted him. "That's a bet you would lose, Ray," she said with certainty.

"Pfft," Ray hissed. "Look, Fallon, there are no starships in dock. At most, he's a freighter wrench monkey. I think three of them have come into port just this week. I doubt he's even Star Fleet."

Though unaware that Enterprise had arrived after suffering serious damage, she still doubted his opinion. "No. He's Star Fleet. You're going to eat your words, Ray. And I promise you, they aren't going to taste as good going back down."

He dismissed her with a playful gesture, his annoyance gone, and they resumed their leisurely banter.

The three friends had not known each other long. They had been fortunate enough to catch an early transport to the station from the same spaceport, and they formed an easy friendship as they traveled. That friendship solidified when they realized they were all being assigned to the same vessel, the legendary Enterprise, flagship of the Federation and pride of Star Fleet.

Raymond Preston, the hot-headed lieutenant who had argued with Scott, was headstrong and stubborn, with a knack for finding trouble wherever he went. Generally easy-going, he possessed an endearing manner. Mischievous gray eyes hid behind an unruly shock of dark hair and his infectious grin was seldom absent from his handsome face. At twenty-seven, he was cocky enough to believe he had seen it all, unaware that soon he was going to be shown how very wrong he was. He had been orphaned at a young age and shuffled from foster home to foster home, frequently running away, getting into fights and generally causing havoc. His saving grace was his intelligence and love of learning. His aptitude for mechanics landed him in engineering red, and he was proud of it. He loved fixing things and tinkering about to test the limits of anything on which he could get his hands. He was a loner who never felt he belonged anywhere until he was accepted to Star Fleet Academy and he met Carl Wilson. Star Fleet gave him the sense of belonging his young life had been missing, and the Service was willing to take a chance on him, but following rules was not something that came easy to him and his time was running out.

Carl Wilson, also twenty-seven, was very much the opposite of his unruly friend. Naturally shy and introverted, he was the only child of a Wyoming rancher and a small-town physician. Bright blue eyes shone intelligently beneath close-cropped blonde hair and his smile had never lost its shy appearance. Having been raised around a rowdy bunch of cowhands, he overcame his shyness and he knew how to find his own way into trouble. His friendship with Preston made it even easier. Together, they had proven a headache for every chief for whom they had worked. His carefree disposition made him popular with his peers but made his superiors question his dedication to a Star Fleet career.

Fallon Kincaid was nothing like her two friends. Soft brown hair fell about her shoulders, her green eyes could shoot fire and ice as readily as warmth and kindness, and she was dead serious about her career. Quiet and observant, her Star Fleet record was spotless. Born in the port village of Mallaig on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands and raised by loving parents, her world came crashing down around her when she was a teen. The fallout from a traumatic incident near her school caused her to leave her beloved home to live with an aunt and uncle in London until she left for San Francisco and the Academy. She had not seen her parents in nearly a quarter-century. Trust was something she did not readily give. Whether Preston and Wilson-or anybody-earned it would remain to be seen. There was only one thing of which she was absolutely certain: within her heart and soul burned a passion for starship engineering. She had a proven knack for handling subordinates and was incredibly excited to have the opportunity to serve on the Enterprise as first engineer to the man who was, by all accounts, the best engineer in Star Fleet. She hoped she would live up to his expectations as much as she wanted him to live up to hers.

Late that night, McCoy found Scott on the observation deck that overlooked the bay where the Enterprise was docked. The base maintenance crews had been giving her a thorough once-over before beginning the repairs that she needed. Scott and his people had managed to keep the ship from blowing apart, affecting what repairs they could, but the chief engineer had been severely handicapped by the losses his section had suffered.

Knowing the stress Scott had been under, Kirk had insisted that his overworked chief engineer relax and enjoy some R & R rather than supervise the base engineers as they worked on the starship. Annoyed, Scott begrudgingly followed the request Kirk had made into an order at the first sign of balking from the engineer he knew so well.

McCoy looked out at the dark, battle-scarred ship, then at Scott, who leaned a shoulder against the wall that framed the observation window. A half-filled glass was in his hand. "Thought I might find you here," McCoy said.

"Look at her," Scott said mournfully. "Ach, I wish I could figure out what the hell they hit us with."

"It's something we've never encountered before, thank God."

"Aye, but the pattern of damage should give me a clue."

"Scotty, if you and Spock can't figure it out..."

Scott shook his head. "Spock views the universe through a veil of logic. Everything must somehow conform to what he knows to be the fundamental laws of the universe. But there are things out there that just dinna make sense. The answer has to lie somewhere in the damage she sustained. Whatever hit us, I'm not so sure it was a weapon. I dinna think it was meant to destroy."

"Are you kidding me? We lost almost a quarter of the crew's complement."

"I know that," Scott responded impatiently. "But look at the damage, Doc. What was hit hardest? Propulsion-the thing that makes us go. Most of the casualties were in Engineering. That was no coincidence. Life support sustained almost no damage at all. I think we were just a wee bit more fragile than they thought we were and quite a bit more cunning. They wanted us disabled for some reason, and they didna expect us to move again under our own power."

McCoy gave it some thought. "That's an interesting theory and I'm certain Spock would love to debate it with you, but, whatever it was, I sure as hell hope we never run into it again."

"Never say never. It's a big universe, but it's not that big." He took a drink, then pointed the glass toward his ship. "If I could run through the timeline, assess which systems went down when and then catalog the damage..."

McCoy's patience snapped. "I could catalog every injury you suffered since the ship went down. That doesn't mean I can let it keep me up nights trying to figure out the why! I'll never figure out the why!"

"You already know the why," Scott retorted, much too exhausted to argue.

McCoy drew in a deep breath and calmed himself. "You're right. Look, Scotty, your ship is safe for the moment. You should try to get some real sleep now. If you need anything from me..."

"No," Scott interjected quickly. He tipped the bottom of his glass toward the surgeon. "I can manage on my own."

"Maybe you can," McCoy agreed.

Scott was quiet for a while as he watched the sleeping starship. "That..." he whispered. "That is where I need to be."

"No, it's not," McCoy argued, though more quietly. "You think I don't know how you have been downplaying your actual physical condition lately? Do you forget how well I know you? Here, on this starbase, is exactly where you need to be, resting and recovering, healing."

Scott shook his head, disagreeing. "That ship...that is where I get my strength, Doc, my will to keep going when every fiber of my being screams at me to stop."

"I get that, Scotty. I really do. But you have reached your limit and somehow pushed past it. I blame the Enterprise for that. Now it's as much a time for you to heal and recover as it is for her. She's earned this rest and so have you, so how 'bout it?"

Scott sighed wearily, looking wistfully at the ship he dearly loved. "Aye. I suppose you're right."

McCoy laid a firm but friendly hand on Scott's shoulder. "Of course I'm right. Come on."

He and the exhausted engineer left the deck for their respective quarters. It was time to rest and Scott, whether he agreed or not, needed it.