The routine the following night changed very little, even though
the night's work consisted of a diagnostic and recalibration of the
internal sensors on every deck. Lt. Calloway remained extremely curt
and totalitarian with Tom, dispensing orders without warmth,
and meticulously pointing out his errors every time she checked on his
progress. Tom had to bite his tongue several times throughout the shift
to avoid blowing up at her as she continually picked apart his
procedure, but he at least managed to stay on top of his duties. She
rewarded his timely efforts with absolutely nothing in terms of
reinforcement, but then neither did she complain about tardiness. To
Tom, it was an encouraging sign.
He carefully looked over the offerings for lunch and contemplated the outcome of the situation he knew he had to face. The results ranged from bad to catastrophic, but he tried to keep a positive attitude - no one ever really accomplished anything with pessimism. He took a quick survey of the room in an effort to gain some form of confidence.
The mess hall bore a smaller number of patrons than usual for the night crews; either people were unusually busy tonight - which, due to their present situation, seemed unlikely - or else a larger number of people had decided to expend a few replicator rations on the same night. Tom hoped it wasn't because of the organic enigma he currently carried on his tray. Ensigns Fowler and Renehan were at their usual table. He glanced over just in time to catch a look from Robert which implied, "We're waiting, Tom." Back in the corner sat Leena Calloway. Tom bore down and approached her table.
"Mind if I sit down?" he politely asked. She did not reply. He figured she meant to ignore him. "I'll take that as a 'no,'" he declared, seating himself opposite her.
"You know, sir, there are plenty of other tables that are unoccupied," she said churlishly.
"That would undermine the purpose of asking to sit with you, now wouldn't it?"
Her irritation became even more visible: she abandoned protocol when she addressed him. "And just what exactly is your purpose?"
"To talk, simple as that," he replied plaintively.
She looked crossly at him. "I thought I told you that we don't socialize while on duty."
Tom shot back a skeptical look. "Since when is eating lunch being on duty? Admit it, Calloway, you're just trying to avoid getting to know me because you just might discover that I'm a decent person, and that you might like me. You're scared of finding out the truth because that would mean you made a mistake - that you were wrong - and you can't accept the fact that you could ever make a mistake. But the truth is, Calloway, everyone makes mistakes. You're no different from me or anyone else."
"I don't have to listen to this," she spat. She grabbed her tray and bolted upright to leave. Tom had to react fast to grab hold of her tray before she could take off.
"Hey, take it easy!" He kept his voice low to avoid attracting even more attention than they were already receiving. "Sit down before you make a spectacle of yourself!"
"If you don't let go of my tray this instant I'll file a harassment charge against you," she hissed back. She tried to yank the tray free of his grasp but Tom wouldn't give.
"Now wait just a damn minute here. You may be the one in charge when we're on duty, but the second our shift ends I get to crawl out from under your thumb and throw my wieght around. Personally, I don't want to do that, but I will if I have to. Now, either you sit back down and act like a civilized person, or I might just decide to unexpectedly drop by your quarters later this afternoon while your eating dinner. It's your call."
With an icy stare, Leena stopped her struggle and sank back into her chair.
"Thank you." He very quickly swept a stern look across the room as if to say 'Show's over folks, nothing more to see here; you can stop staring at us now.'
Lt. Calloway sat and sulked in silence for a minute, having the minutiae of Starfleet regulations thrust in her own face. "Just because I'm sitting down doesn't mean I'll talk to you," she finally said.
"Fine with me; I just want you to hear out what I have to say. I know you've probably heard a lot about me from the other Starfleet officers when you first boarded the ship, and back then I couldn't have cared less what you or they thought about me. It wasn't as if I could deny anything they said.
"But things have changed a lot since then, and I'd like to believe that I've changed as well. That's why it bothers me right now to find out that someone still thinks of me as a self-indulgent mercenary. It's like comparing me to a person that no longer exists. I don't think that's fair. At least give me a chance to show you I'm not who you believe."
"And you think that by telling me your great sob story you'll win me over?" she retorted.
"That, my dear Lieutenant, will be for you to decide, not me. I'm not the one who has to choose whether or not to accept me for who I really am."
"I already know who you really are: a pathetic excuse for a human being who likes to talk his way out of trouble. So go ahead, talk until you're blue in the face. You won't change my opinion of you."
Tom raised his hands in conciliation and smirked in satisfaction. "Hey, if you don't want to listen, that's fine. I can deal with the fact that you're not open to new ideas. At least I'll have the advantage of knowing you dislike me because you're prejudiced by a false perception. I'm afraid, however, the rest of the crew might not be as forgiving as I am."
Leena sneered at him. He knew that last remark would irritate her. It was an attack on her integrity and professional character. Even security officers were instructed on the importance of objectivity and equity. Whatever happened now, he knew he'd at least get her audience. "Okay, you've got ten minutes. Spill your guts."
The smirk on Tom's face vanished. "No, you don't understand; it'll take more than the remainder of our break for me to tell you everything. Besides, this isn't something I feel comfortable talking about openly in public."
She eyed him carefully. "Then what was it you had in mind?" she asked suspiciously.
"I was sort of hoping I could explain it to you over dinner -"
Calloway's face donned sudden realization. "So that's it! All this talk about knowing the real you - you're just trying to hit on me!" She was ready to explode. "They were right about you! How could I think even for a minute that -"
"Will you be quiet!" Tom hissed, looking about the room. Once again they'd gathered an unwelcome audience. "Let me finish. You have to understand, this is difficult for me to do. I haven't told anyone about my past yet, not even my closest friends. It's a part of my life I'd rather forget, but I feel I owe it to my friends to tell them what happened. I mean, what are friends if you can't trust them to accept you for all your problems, right? So I was thinking of hosting some sort of dinner party so I could finally open myself to them, and now that I need to have this talk with you, I thought I might as well kill two birds with one stone. So you see, I'm not asking you out on a date."
The colour of anger in her face dissipated, replaced with a look of skepticism. "You want me to come your dinner with a bunch of your Maquis friends?"
Now it was Tom's turn to look annoyed. "Boy, you never quit, do you? I'll have you know my best friend happens to be Harry Kim, one of the best and brightest ever to come out of the academy, and this ship's Operations Officer to boot. He's not the only Starfleet officer I call 'friend' either; I can list ten more right now if you think it's necessary." He paused, allowing his words to settle in her mind. "So, what do you say? In three days?"
Leena frowned, realizing that he wouldn't relent until she accepted. It was a no-win scenario: either she went to the dinner or risked tacitly admitting to being close-minded. "What time?" she sighed in resignation.
"How does nineteen-thirty sound? It may be a bit early, considering we're working nights, but we shouldn't miss our shift."
"Fine, whatever. Now get a move on, our break ends in two minutes."
Tom allowed himself a small smile. "Yes, sir."
It felt like a huge victory, winning that verbal sparring match. Tom could sense a brief rush of adrenaline surge through his system; there was nothing quite like the feeling of getting the upper hand on a competitive and argumentative person. That was probably what he enjoyed most in his friendship with B'Elanna Torres - the continual rounds of squabbling and slandering between them. Despite its tenuous appearance, it had evolved into a reassuring, familiar arrangement.
There were still times he could rile up the strong-willed engineer. He needed only a look or an off-hand remark to get underneath her Klingon skin and produce a rash that drove her into a mad frenzy. He couldn't rationalize to himself why he did it, though. Perhaps he did it to prove to himself that he could still unnerve those who considered themselves unflappable. Whatever the reason, though, he'd just found another subject with which to entertain himself. Suddenly Leena Calloway wasn't as bad as he had set her up to be. Well, whether or not I can change her mind about me, she'll be a lot of fun to talk to. Still, I'd like it more if she can learn to tolerate me. Now, to organize this dinner....
On to Chapter 4...
Return to the Stories page