The following presentation is rated PG for adult language and some implied adult situations. Parental guidance is suggested.
Leena wished she had insisted on changing before going to
Sandrine's, but she wasn't about to give Tom the satisfaction of seeing
even more compulsive behaviour. He was smug enough in his role of
amateur counsellor already. Besides, what did one wear to a
hologrammatic representation of a modern French bar with 20th Century
decor? She was tempted to ask Tom just what it was that fascinated him
about the era; from what she understood, several of his contributions to
the holodeck library echoed that time. It was probably just the huge
amount of film footage that started to become available in the mid-
1900's. It really was the oldest time that one could see and hear
readily: antique enough to be exotic, but easily accessible. She'd
always been far more drawn to 18th & 19th Century history and literature
herself. Leena stifled a grin at the thought of Tom Paris struggling
through a book like Middlemarch.
She startled at the touch of his hand at her elbow. Tom smiled slightly at her surprise. "Your shot Calloway," he said, pointing the tip of his cue down the pool table.
"What? I get a turn? There must be some mistake here, there are still some balls left," she replied as she walked around the end of the table examining her options.
Tom smiled a little more. "Was that a joke? I think you might just be starting to enjoy yourself."
"Not with leaves like this I'm not," she teased. Leena brought her cue behind her back, creasing her brow slightly as she nudged the cue ball into the three. Her ball rolled for the corner and fell into the pocket with a satisfying click, only to be followed ever so slowly by the white ball. She shook her head and reached down to fish them out of the pocket.
"If it's any consolation, they say that skill at pool is a sign of a misspent youth." The tips of Tom's fingers brushed her palm as he took the cue ball from her. Leena looked away, disturbed by the contact. This had been a mistake. Tom might not be quite the villain she had branded him, but she couldn’t see this friendship going anywhere good. She cringed at a picture of herself waking up in bed next to him someday, absolutely mortified. The cowboy probably notched the headboard with his conquests, for God's sake! She watched another ball drop into the side pocket, then glanced over to see him shrug and smile at her in that infuriatingly self-satisfied way.
Tom rounded the table and took aim at another ball, leaning low over the green felt surface. Leena asked herself just what it was she found so fascinating about the sight. He was tall, trim, fit, but so was much of the crew. Starfleet had virtually mandated that she be surrounded by vigorously handsome young men, so why was she so drawn by the most unsuitable of the lot? Because it bothered her, she answered herself, and she spent too much time thinking about how it bothered her. She had a sudden mental image of Tuvok lecturing his crew about detaching oneself from one's emotions, and focusing on the task at hand. Perhaps she could extend the lesson. The ship might not be under fire, but she'd been letting herself play a pretty embarrassing game of pool, and she could do something about that. Well, if she ever got another shot.
Tom did finally miss and gave Leena her chance to shoot. She kept her mind clear, thinking only of her form, the angle she needed, where on the cue to strike, where she wanted the leave to go. She could cheat the pocket a little and get both the seven and the one in. Thwack, click and click again. The seven fell in the corner pocket and the cue ball rolled a hand's width to the left, directly behind the one. If she kissed it with just a little follow she ought to be able to shoot the two along the rail at the other side of the table. She stroked gently, hitting high on the ball. It rolled into the one then followed a little on the path to the pocket, but stopped well short as the yellow ball fell with yet another satisfying click. She met Tom's eyes with a wide smile.
"I definitely think you're starting to loosen up," he said, nodding slightly.
Or to focus she corrected silently. Let him think what he would. Leena met his look and nodded slightly, then cleared those blue eyes out of her mind. She picked the spot on the rail she needed to hit in order to send the two along the edge toward the pocket. Unfortunately she would leave herself a difficult lie. Her other balls hadn't moved far from where they started at the beginning the game. Sending the cue around or through that mass would be a tricky shot. Someday she had to learn to break well, but right now she scolded herself for becoming distracted, and refocused on that point along the rail. She sank the two, but as anticipated she didn't have another shot. Leena tried a combination to send a ball into the side pocket. It broke the balls apart and she didn't scratch; it could have been worse.
"You've been holding out on me, Calloway," Tom told her as he eyed his choices. She just shook her head and laughed. "A nefarious little plan you've got going here. All the clear shots are solids. You think you can trick me into sinking your balls for you, don't you?"
"Of course not, I just wanted to leave them in your way."
"Very clever." Tom carefully surveyed the positions on the table, his brows furrowing as he tried to find the right shot. That last run of hers had clearly caught him off-guard. "Looks like I'll actually have to try with this one." Tom settled on a difficult bank shot, then sunk it solidly. He looked up at Leena with bright, boyish glee.
And you, Mr. Paris, have nefarious plans of your own, don't you? Leena watched with amused resignation as he cleared the rest of the table.
"Good game, Calloway." He offered his hand to her. She looked at him sharply. "Not a close game," he said with a look toward the numerous balls remaining on the table, "but a good game."
She cocked her head and crossed her arms, fighting off the same smile that adorned her opponent. The man was absurdly incorrigible, cocksure. He could certainly lay it on thick when he wanted to. It was charming, in an odd sort of way.
"Care for a rematch?" Tom prompted. Leena looked to the side as she considered this. She'd proved her point: she'd been a sport. Granted, Tom's suggestion to go for a synthale and relax might do her some good, but that didn't mean she had to spend all her time with him either. Considering the isolation she'd experienced the past couple of months, and the few beers imbibed during the game, it wasn't prudent to linger here in the low light with Tom for very long. "It's not that serious a question Leena," he teased.
"I'm just wondering if now is the time I suggest a high stakes wager, and start playing for real."
"You're on, Calloway. I'll even give you odds."
"Calling my bluff?" Leena asked vaguely as she noticed some of her shift mates come in. Tom wasn't really her problem: they were. In hiding from her pain she had shut out her co-workers. These three weren't even Maquis, but she didn't think she'd exchanged more than twenty off-duty words with any of them. It was time to close the rift she'd created between herself and the rest of the crew. She indicated the trio to Tom, saying more seriously, "I think maybe I'd just like to sit and talk for a bit."
"Sure thing." He replaced his cue in the rack, as did she a little more slowly. She considered her next task. If she'd choreographed the event properly she'd have sat down earlier with Tom and their shipmates would have quite naturally joined him. Now she had to approach them, or follow Tom's lead like a puppy. She wasn't about to back down from what she had set her mind to, she decided. She strode over to the table and let Tom follow behind, stifling his amusement.
The three ensigns at the table looked up with some surprise at her approach. It was far from flattering, but Leena smiled nonetheless. "Is there some problem, sir?" McCormick asked, straightening in her chair.
"None at all," Leena heard herself say, "but I was wondering if Mr. Paris and I might join you?"
"Of course." "Sure." McCormick and Napoli replied simultaneously. Leena just nodded and sat down. Tom followed suit, turning his chair to straddle it and rest his arms over the back. The three ensigns looked nervously between Leena and Tom. Leena consciously relaxed her jaw and folded her hands on the table, waiting out the pregnant moment in silence. She would not blather. Julie McCormick looked expectantly at her for a moment, then when she decided Leena wasn't planning on any announcements she met Leena's eyes and smiled, giving her a cursory nod. The ensign then tilted her head to look at Tom and asked. "Did you find the archive information you were looking for the other day, Tom?"
That was all the opening Tom needed to launch into explanations about a new holo-program he had been working on. Leena barely attended as he rebuffed them with plans to create a ground vehicle race simulation, complete with details about various track and weather conditions. It was when he mentioned the 1952 Austin he was designing for the program that she realized that this was another 20th Century inspiration. "What is it with you and that era?" she said bluntly.
Julie started giggling. Napoli and Hunter looked at the ensign questioningly.
"What?" Tom asked bemused. Leena studied her lap for a moment then took a deep breath before responding.
But McCormick beat her to it. "She's right! I've wanted to ask just that for some time myself. Mr. Paris, just what is it with you and 20th Century holodeck themes?"
"Coincidence, mostly," Tom admitted, smiling, "although it also has a lot to do with a hobby of mine. The evolution of transportation technology fascinates me, and the 20th Century was the earmark of all self-powered vehicles. It's amazing how much our ancestors advanced automotive technology back then. They had a lot of interesting ideas about how to put an engine together."
"Are you sure that's the only reason? My sister once dated a guy who also loved to play with big machines. She swore he did it because he felt insecure about his physical endowments. What about you, Mr. Paris?" McCormick tried to keep a straight face, but couldn't hold back her laughter when she asked, "Are you trying to compensate for getting the short end of the stick?" Leena couldn't help herself from chuckling. Hunter put a hand over his mouth to conceal a grin. Napoli seemed slightly offended by McCormick's remark.
"You just forfeited your chance to find out, McCormick," Tom teased, getting up. "I think I'll go find someone to play pool with, at least that way I won't be picked on. Enjoy your little party."
The women laughed more openly as Tom walked away. Leena felt a little guilty for laughing at Tom's expense, but it also felt good to see that Tom could be humbled. She was already beginning to like Julie.
"They must have talked for a good hour and a half. When we left,
I asked her what they talked about. Turns out that she and McCormick
share an interest in volleyball and long distance running. Leena also
served under Ensign Hunter's brother on her first mission out of the
academy. Believe it or not, she actually thanked me for dragging her
butt to Sandrine's."
"Man, that is sad," Fowler said melodramatically. "And here I thought the snake-charmer was up to his old tricks. My faith in you is severely shaken, pal."
"Very funny, Rob. I'm just glad I was able to get Leena to loosen up and start living again. She might even have a chance at being happy out here."
"Oh, you are a noble man, Tom Paris," Rob made no attempt to hide his mockery. "You just remember that we still have a bet going."
"Patience, my good fellow, patience," Tom replied. "Last night was only the first step. The seeds have been planted, and it won't be long until I reap the benefits of my labour." He polished off his breakfast with a final dramatic gesture. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to report to the bridge. My two weeks of detention are officially over."
"Don't forget to write, Tom, or I'll get lonely," Fowler cracked. Tom laughed as he left the mess hall.
Janeway's scowl deepened the more she studied the figures on the
engineering console. She had known for a long time that they would
inevitably run into some kind of problem with the engines. The only
recourse was simply to prepare as best they could in anticipation. Unfortunately, according to B'Elanna's report, the crisis they now faced
was one of only a handful of scenarios in which they hadn't been able to
cover yet. "Tellerium."
"That's right, Captain," Torres said. "I've tried every other alternative to maintain a steady power output level, but frankly, if we don't find a source of tellerium soon we'll lose the warp propulsion system."
This news didn't seem to surprise her all that much. Tellerium was not easy to acquire in the Delta Quadrant, not so much for its rarity, but because Janeway wouldn't allow herself to violate the Prime Directive. In prior negotiations the demands of the tellerium merchants were simply unreasonable. Now with their supply dispensed, sticking to their principles grew increasingly difficult. "I see. Right now we're about a day away from Alsauria; Neelix says we should be able to obtain a new supply there. Do you think the engines will hold out long enough to reach it?"
The half-Klingon frowned. "Possibly, but I wouldn't count on it, Captain. The matter-antimatter reaction rate is already at 81% of normal, and the way it's dropping we might not be able to reach the system in time to keep the nacelles operational."
"What if we reduced speed?"
Torres performed a few quick calculations in her head. "If we drop to Warp 3 we might be able to reach the planet and have enough power left to sustain normal ship functions for another day or two. However, that's assuming we can keep the M/ARA stabilized, and I can't give you any guarantees."
Janeway nodded grimly. "Just do the best you can and keep me informed of your progress. We can't afford to be caught flat-footed out here." She tapped her commbadge. "Janeway to Bridge."
Chakotay's voice cut over the hum of the warp core. "Bridge here, Captain. What can I do for you?"
"Commander, have the conn reduce speed to Warp 3 immediately. We've run into a problem down here."
Concern immediately set into the first officer's features. "Anything I should know about?"
"I'll fill you in when I get to the bridge. Right now, get that speed down to Warp 3."
"Aye, Captain." Chakotay shifted his gaze to the conn. "You heard her, Lieutenant."
Tom was already a step ahead of him. "Warp 3, aye, sir." A vague unease settled over him the moment he heard the edge in the captain's voice. If they were reducing speed this much perhaps their engine trouble was more serious than he first surmised. Tom chewed his lip. He picked up every hiss of the turbolift doors opening, a sound that otherwise would not have deserved such attention. However, anticipation of the captain's arrival had put him on full alert.
Several minutes later Captain Janeway finally made her entrance with Torres in tow. "Commander, Lieutenant Tuvok, Lieutenant Paris, Ensign Kim, to the conference room, please. Lieutenant Rollins, you have the bridge," she ordered, not breaking stride. Everyone fell into place behind her, the agitated pilot taking up the rear, while the replacement crew quietly and smoothly took over the bridge.
On to Chapter 2...
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