The trembling ceased.
Janeway released her tight grip on the arms of her command chair, where she'd been fighting to remain seated and ride out the storm since her intrepid-class starship had begun shaking, shockwaves being violently transmitted through its rigid superstructure that forced everyone to hang onto something or risk being thrown to the deck.
The large viewscreen that dominated the forward bulkhead was a mess of computerised static, and all around the darkened bridge the numerous display screens and consoles were flickering erratically. The crimson slow of emergency lighting cast unusual shadows across the large command centre.
For long moments an eerie silence reigned on the bridge of the USS Voyager as shaken crewmembers dusted themselves off and got to their feet, exchanging confused glances with each another. Every one of them sought the answer to the same question: what just happened.
Suddenly, a piercing two-tone klaxon blared into life, shattering the hush and startling everyone as it reverberated through the decks of the injured vessel. It was a specific sound that was ingrained into the psyche of every Starfleet officer - the one alarm above all that no one wanted to hear since it foretold the death of the starship.
"Reading a warp core breach, captain!" Kim cried out from his operations console at the rear of the bridge, grimly confirming what everyone already knew.
Janeway instinctively slapped her combadge, exchanging only the briefest of glances with Chakotay who had vacated his own command chair to stand beside her.
"Bridge to Torres!" she said sharply, all trace of familiarity banished from her voice. "We're reading a warp core breach up here!"
"We're on it, captain!" Torres called back from engineering nine decks below, shouting over the alert klaxon and hiss of depressurising cooling systems fighting to keep Voyager's central reactor from explosively detonating, destroying the starship and everything within a thousand kilometres.
"Plasma temperature is at forty-three million kelvins and rising!" Kim reported, clearly struggling to retain his composure as he frantically operated his flickering control panels.
"Can you shut down the core, B'Elanna?" Janeway demanded, recalling the necessary authorisation codes and mentally steeling herself for the unthinkable task of ejecting Voyager's beating heart into space so that it wouldn't kill them all when it exploded.
With no core to drive her warp engines, Voyager would be instantly transformed from a superluminal interstellar starship into a sublight spacecraft unable to travel above impulse speeds, robbing it of any chance of traversing the galaxy and deliver the one hundred and fifty people onboard safely home.
Only a few short months after being transported to this distant part of the Milky Way, Voyager's mammoth odyssey across the unknown Delta Quadrant would be over.
"I'm trying, captain!" Torres answered, her voice sounding strangled by the responsibility that rested solely on her shoulders as the crew looked to her for salvation. "It's not responding!"
"Evacuate engineering!" Janeway commanded, knowing that her next order would permanently remove any chance that Voyager would return home. But if she was to save the lives of her combined Starfleet and Maquis crew, she knew she had no other option. "I'm going to eject the warp core!"
"Wait!" Torres snapped. "Let me try one more thing."
"Plasma temperature now at fifty-million kelvins!" Kim announced, as if pronouncing a death sentence.
"Captain," Chakotay said urgently, his tone a plea for action. As well as anyone, he knew that this hesitation could mean death for everyone onboard in an immense uncontrolled explosion of matter and antimatter.
"I can't wait any longer, B'Elanna!" Janeway called, feeling the frightened eyes of her bridge crew on her as they awaited her inevitable order.
"A few more seconds, captain!" Torres pleaded. "I can do this!"
"Fifty-five million kelvins!" Kim called out.
"There!" Torres cried triumphantly.
Janeway spun around. "Harry?" she said, his name all the question that was necessary.
Kim was watching his console in disbelief. "Core temperature is dropping," he told everyone hoarsely, scarcely able to comprehend the information being displayed. "Forty million kelvins and dropping. Thirty million. Twenty million."
The alert klaxon ceased.
At that moment an almighty cheer erupted from nearly everyone on the bridge, leaving Janeway and Chakotay standing at the centre of a sudden outpouring of relief and gratitude directed at the half-Klingon chief engineer who had saved them all.
For the briefest of moments Janeway thought Chakotay would reach forward and hug her, but they both settled for a handshake.
"Core temperature has dropped to within safe levels," Kim announced, a broad smile present on his face.
Janeway drew in a long breath, calming herself as the exhilaration and relief began to subside, leaving her exhausted. Above all, her starship was intact and her crew alive after averting a devastating core breach by mere seconds.
"B'Elanna," she said warmly as the celebrations died down. "I have no doubt that I speak for everyone on board when I say we owe you an enormous debt of gratitude.
An awkward pause followed, during which everyone on the bridge stood silent.
"I'm afraid that isn't strictly true, captain," Torres replied finally. "I'm afraid it was me who caused the warp core breach in the first place."
Janeway frowned, struggling to comprehend what she'd just been told. She opened her mouth to ask Torres to repeat what she'd said, but before she could speak Paris called out from the helm.
"Captain, the navigational sensors just came back online. Sikaris is gone."
"Gone where?" Janeway asked, exchanging a puzzled glance with Chakotay. Voyager had been in orbit above Sikaris for three days, and had been in the process of departing when the ship had been hit by whatever turbulence she'd assumed had triggered the core breach.
"I'm afraid that Mr. Paris is not entirely correct," Tuvok interjected suddenly, having remained silent throughout the impending disaster. "Sikaris is precisely where it has always been, though it is not to be found on his navigational sensors."
"He's right, captain," Paris said, rapidly rechecking the astrogation panels on the helm. "If these readings are correct, we're about seventy-thousand light-years from where we were." He swallowed hard. "We're in the Alpha Quadrant."
Chakotay looked at her, disbelieving. "We're home," he breathed.
Less than ten minutes after the warp core breach had been averted and the staggering revelation that Voyager was home had been made, the small group of senior officers had convened in the briefing room just off the bridge.
Janeway sat at the head of the conference table, forcing herself to remain seated and outwardly calm despite the nervous energy that filled her. Her prayers had been answered and her starship had been delivered home, but the question over how such a miracle had occurred was still upmost in her mind.
Once Voyager had been stabilised and Tuvok had requested a meeting with the senior staff, it only reinforced what she already knew.
Chakotay sat beside her as the others filed in, his face still bearing the smile of disbelief that could be found on virtually everyone throughout the intrepid-class starship.
There was however one notable exception.
"As you are all aware," Tuvok said impassively, standing in front of the table as he addressed the assembled group, "Approximately ten minutes ago Voyager was transported from its orbit around Sikaris in the Delta Quadrant to its current location - an unspecified point in the Alpha Quadrant that will be determined more precisely once navigational sensors are fully restored."
Janeway leaned forward, the growing sense of unease she'd felt since Paris had announced their location threatening to overwhelm her.
"It is my duty to inform you that this was achieved through the use of a Sikarian subspace trajector matrix," Tuvok continued, "That was obtained in exchange for a copy of the Federation library in direct contravention of the captain's explicit instructions.
A few muffled gasps could be heard issuing from the mouths of the group, Paris and Kim chief amongst them.
"I never thought you had it in you, Tuvok," Paris admitted gleefully. "But I'm sure as hell glad you did."
"I can't let Tuvok take complete responsibility for what happened," Torres interjected, rising from her chair and moving to stand beside the Vulcan. "I'm the one who designed and built the interface for the trajector. I'm the one who activated it. And I'm the one who nearly triggered a warp core explosion by doing so."
"On the contrary," Tuvok said, "I take full responsibility for these actions. Lieutenant Torres was involved, but I was the senior officer and the culpability is mine. I fully expect to lose my commission and be court-martialled when we return to Federation space."
The room fell silent.
"That's certainly a possibility," Janeway conceded after a moment, interlacing her fingers as she considered his admission. "But I think we both know how unlikely it is given the outcome. I'm having a hard time reconciling your betrayal and the incalculable risk you took with yours and everyone else's lives by activating an untested piece of alien technology that could have easily destroyed this ship and killed everyone onboard."
"You have made it clear on many occasions that your highest goal for this crew is to get them home," Tuvok said. "But in this instance, your standards would not allow you to violate Sikarian law. Someone had to spare you the ethical dilemma. I was the logical choice, so I chose to act."
"Tuvok, you are one of my most valued officers and you're my friend," Janeway told him. "We have forged this relationship for years and I depend upon it. I realise you made the sacrifice for me, but it's not one I would've allowed you to make."
"But what are my own personal feelings balanced against what was actually achieved by your actions? Even if those actions went against my orders? What is there to achieve with recriminations over what could've gone wrong when we're all here in one piece?"
Tuvok stood dispassionately silent. Beside him Torres looked unsure, her expressive face speaking of the shame she felt at disappointing Janeway despite having brought Voyager home.
"Perhaps in this case the end justifies the means," Janeway concluded. "In any case, there are a hundred and fifty people onboard this ship who consider you both the greatest heroes. I think I'd have a hard time matching you both down to the brig for disobeying orders given the circumstances."
At that moment the doors to the briefing room slid open, admitting Rollins who carried a small datapadd.
"Sorry to interrupt, captain," Rollins apologised briskly. "But we just got the astrometric database back online. I think you'd better see this."
"Just tell me, Mr. Rollins," Janeway said impatiently.
"We've identified our exact position," Rollins said slowly, as if delivering bad news. "We're in Cardassian space."
Janeway looked at Chakotay. Why was nothing easy?