The rattling of the ship suddenly subsided significantly. Pike eased his grip on the bridge railing and cast a hopeful glance across the room to Captain Evans. Evans let out the breath he'd been holding and thumbed the intercom switch on his chair's armrest. "Bridge to Hancock. Good work, Doctor."
There was no answer from the other end of the line however, not even static. Evans glanced back over at Pike, only this time the look they exchanged was one of renewed concern. That the *Ronin* no longer shook meant that Hancock had managed to stop the warp core breach, but had he made the ultimate sacrifice to save the ship?
Evans thumbed the intercom switch again. "Hancock, respond!" Still there was no answer. "Hancock!" Evans gave up and hit another switch. "Evans to deck 7. Emergency in Main Engineering." This time, static burst forth from the intercom speakers, but still no one answered.
"Damn!" he cursed. He pounded the intercom panel with his fist, and the static stopped. "The circuits are dead." His face twisted into a grimace of indecision, but only for a brief moment. A split-second later, Evans began calling out orders. "Admiral, you have the Conn. I'll be in Engineering--"
"With all due respect, Captain," Pike interrupted, stepping forward. "Your place is on the bridge, and none of the bridge crew can be spared in this crisis. I'll go and see after your man."
Evans hesitated, but he knew that Pike was right. "Go!" he said, hitching his thumb toward the turbolift. In a flash, Pike was off, and Evans sank back into the command chair, wishing the tables were turned.
The turbolift was damaged, and could only take Pike partway to Main Engineering. He ran down the corridors, toward the nearest Jefferies tube access. The damage to the ship's interior was considerable. Fallen beams and blown-out panels were everywhere, and littered the corridors with obstacles and debris. He found the tube access, pried open the warped hatch, and started down it.
The farther he crawled though, the hotter the walls of the tube got. Pike wiped a sleeve across his forehead to mop up the sweat. When he came to the end of the tunnel, he pressed the hatch activation control with the palm of his hand. The hatch hissed open, and Pike was instantly bathed in a blast of searing heat. Crying in pain and trying to shield his eyes from the furnace heat, he frantically scrabbled at the hatch controls with his free hand. He could feel his eyebrow hairs beginning to crinkle up and char.
Just when he thought he'd finally bought the farm, the tube hatch slammed shut. Instantly, the temperature dropped from utterly lethal levels to merely slightly lethal levels. Pike crawled backwards along the Jefferies tube about a dozen yards and collapsed, panting. His uniform was completely soaked in perspiration from just those few seconds of exposure, and he had a feeling that he didn't have any eyebrows left.
He leaned against the wall of the tunnel and tapped his commbadge. "Pike to bridge."
"There's plasma fires burning around Engineering...," Pike gasped, still trying to regain his breath. "...There no way to reach there until they've been put out...."
[That'll be too late for Hancock, Admiral,] was Evans' grim reminder.
Pike sighed in defeat. As a former starship commander, he was unaccustomed to giving in to fate. But with the only access to Engineering ahead of him down the Jefferies tube, and the tube blocked by 10,000 degree plasma fires, there was absolutely nothing he could possibly do to help Doctor Hancock. "I know that, Captain," he said, angry at his own helplessness. "I'm sorry...."
Will Hancock lay slumped against the corridor wall just outside Engineering. He'd been fading in and out of consciousness, but he was vaguely aware that the temperature had been steadily rising. He was starting to get uncomfortable, but in his condition, couldn't muster the willpower to drag himself any further away from the heat.
Suddenly, through barely-open eyes, he saw a figure standing before him. Or maybe the blood-loss was making him delusional. The figure spoke, but Hancock couldn't understand the words. It was as though he was at the bottom of a very deep hole, and sounds couldn't quite reach him there. He was marginally aware of strong arms lifting him off the deck and carry him away.
*Some time later...*
Hancock awoke, to his lasting surprise, and found himself in sickbay. Captain Evans and Admiral Pike were standing at the foot of his bed, with Yeoman Piper hovering behind Pike as usual. Ciarra Tierro was nearby, monitoring his vitals.
The Captain noticed that he'd opened his eyes. He smiled and said, "Glad to see you back among the living, Doc."
Hancock tried to respond, but his throat was dry and no sound came out. Ciarra noticed and admonished, "Don't try to talk, Will." She poured a small cup of water from a pitcher on the countertop next to Hancock's bed and helped him take a few sips. Then she turned to Evans and said, "Captain, you should let him rest."
"Of course, Lieutenant," assured the Captain. "Will he be all right?"
"Yes sir," said Tierro. "His injuries have been repaired and he's been stabilized. He'll be right as rain in a few days -- maybe a week."
Hancock had been trying to clear his throat, and now managed to croak, "Sir...?"
Evans came closer so as not to miss anything the Doctor said.
"Who do I thank for pulling me out of there?"
Evans smiled, and Hancock thought he'd admit to the deed, but the Captain backed up a step and said, "I can't take the credit, Doctor." He looked at Admiral Pike with an expression on his face that Hancock couldn't interpret. Did the *Admiral* pull him out?
Pike noticed the quizzical expression on Hancock's face, and answered the unspoken question. "Don't look at me either, Doctor."
Hancock was puzzled. Who had saved him? Why the big mystery? Was there something going on here that he didn't know about? And why didn't Admiral Pike have any eyebrows? Just then though, another figure stepped into his field of vision. The figure said, "I was just doing my duty, Doctor."
It was Lieutenant Benton. In human form!