The following presentation is rated PG for adult language and some implied adult situations. Parental guidance is suggested.
Leena scuttled down the corridor ignoring the open stares of
passing people, still dressed in her Victorian evening dress and
clutching a folded uniform to her bosom. Certainly they were forming
some curious opinions about her appearance.
The date had run long. It wouldn't have been much of a problem, except someone else had reserved time on the holodeck right after her. She couldn't change out of her costume in the holodeck like she'd planned. She increased her pace slightly. The corset was really starting to irritate her skin now.
"Come one, Julie, please be home," she said to herself when she reached Ensign McCormick's cabin and pressed the chime. Mercifully the door opened right away. Leena ducked inside. "Oh, thank God you're here! Could you help me get out of this thing, please?"
McCormick goggled at her dress. "Wow, Leena. You look fabulous in that. What's the occasion, and why wasn't I invited?"
"Sorry, Julie. Private function - very private." She turned her back to the ensign and lifted her arms over her head. "Please, dress first, questions later."
Julie stumbled out of her chair and began unfastening the hooks. "Huh, talk about an authentic costume. What on earth are you wearing?" she gasped at the sight of the corset.
"It's a corset. It's also starting to itch like crazy."
"Don't you find it hard to breathe in this thing?" Julie picked at the knot holding the undergarment in place. The corset seemed to sigh contentedly as it was freed of its responsibility of constricting Leena's flesh.
Leena sighed as well. "Ahh, thank you. It's not so bad once you get used to it." She held the bodice to her chest with one hand and massaged the newly exposed skin with the other. She swivelled back again to give McCormick a sheepish smile. "Is there some place I can change?"
"Bedroom's through there," she said, indicating a doorway. "Knock yourself out."
Leena disappeared into Julie's bedroom, her dress scuffing the floor as she walked. Julie stood just to the outside, looking away from the entrance. After a short time she heard Leena giggle. "What's the joke, Leena?"
"Oh, nothing. Tom asked me the very same question about the corset."
"Tom Paris? Were you and he out on a date?"
"Don't sound so surprised. You were the one who suggested it in the first place."
"I know, but...you were wearing that?"
Leena laughed. "I wanted to keep him a little off balance."
"I'm surprised he didn't have a heart attack - or pass out from blood loss. You ought to be ashamed of yourself."
"Why should I?" Leena emerged wearing the familiar black and gold, the evening dress draped over her arm. "Okay, maybe it was unfair, but I don't think Tom follows any kind of rule book either. I just want to keep him honest." The two women sat down on the sofa.
"So you're going to keep seeing him then?"
"Well, at least one more time. I sort of owe it to him."
"The date was that bad, huh?"
Leena blushed. "No, I wouldn't say that exactly. It just got off to a rough start. I should have told him that I like 18th Century literature as much as he like cars."
"Oh, dear." Julie giggled. "How did he hold up?"
"Amazingly well. He must really want it to work." Leena grinned broadly. "His English accent was absolutely brutal."
Tom positioned Voyager just outside the perimeter of their
destination: Anre Kiol. At first glance it looked like any other
asteroid cluster, but the sensors had picked up some kind of gravity
well at its centre. Also peculiar were the relatively high amounts of
natural ores and minerals, in addition to the dilithium. With many
space faring races neighbouring Anre Kiol, Tom thought the asteroids
would have been stripped of most or all of their usable resources by
now, much like the ones that lined the outer edge of the cluster.
Harry conveniently provided an answer to that question. "Captain, I'm starting to get a clearer reading inside the asteroid field. The gravity well we detected is actually a twin star. The increased levels of radiation and gravimetric fluctuations were interfering with our sensors."
"Does it pose any threat to us, Ensign? Can we still send out the shuttles?"
"The shuttles should be able to withstand the conditions near the perimeter. If the excavation teams try going in further the ride will get choppy pretty fast."
B'Elanna growled in dissatisfaction at Harry's report from the engineering station. "But all of the asteroids out on the edge have been stripped bare, Harry. If we want any dilithium we've got to go in there to get it. The closest deposit is 500,000 kilometres inward."
Harry checked his instruments, shook his head. "It's too far in. If the gravitational forces don't pull the shuttles apart the away teams risk getting a serious dose of radiation poisoning."
"How about if we manoeuvre the ship closer, cut down on the shuttles' travel distance?" the captain asked.
Harry grimaced. "I wouldn't recommend it, Captain. The dangers wouldn't change, and there's no telling how long we could shield Voyager at that range."
"Okay. If we can't go in, then the question becomes how do get the dilithium to come out here? A tractor beam, maybe?"
"The increased radiation may adversely affect our ability to maintain a lock on any object, Captain," Tuvok said. Everyone turned to look at him. "The additional gravitational pull would also create a greater amount of shearing stress on the hull. Success would seem highly improbable."
The ridges on B'Elanna's forehead had an added definition due to her intensely thoughtful expression. "Maybe a tractor beam by itself won't work," she said. It sounded at first like she was talking aloud to herself, but her voice grew in assurance as she worked through the idea. "Maybe we could modify the deflector to emit an inverted magneton beam, to use in conjunction with a tractor."
"Give the asteroid a little push first, give it enough momentum to help break the gravitational pull," the captain replied, translating the technical jargon. She paused in thought. "How long do you think it will take to make the modifications?"
"Twenty minutes, half an hour, tops."
"Captain," Tuvok dourly spoke. "I must warn you that using the deflector in this fashion will cause a drain on the shields. If this attempt does not succeed, the ship will be put at risk."
"I understand your concern, Mr. Tuvok, but right now this is our best option to get that dilithium. Besides, I have a hunch that this plan will work. I'm willing to take that risk. B'Elanna, start making those modifications. In half an hour I want us digging for crystal."
Twenty minutes later the plan was put into motion. B'Elanna and
Harry co-ordinated to find a suitable target: a small asteroid with a
high concentration of dilithium and a high enough rate of velocity that
the modified magneton beam would only be needed for a few seconds to be
effective. Tom had the toughest part of the assignment: to position
Voyager at such an angle as to push the asteroid away from the twin
suns. That meant flying deep into the cluster where the radiation would
be more lethal. Maybe Tuvok wasn't being such a grump after all.
Janeway settled into her chair, looking confident and calm to relax the bridge staff. "Whenever you're ready, Mr. Paris."
Tom swallowed the lump in his throat. "Aye, Captain. Engaging thrusters. Hang on to your hats, everyone; this is gonna get bumpy." Tom almost felt the deck plates pulling under his feet as Voyager entered the field.
"Hull stress is rising. I am increasing power to structural integrity," Tuvok reported from tactical.
Tom allowed his piloting instincts to take over. With practiced ease he deftly avoided chunks of rock that drifted into Voyager's path without turning the ship too hard. The gravitational forces of the binary stars tugged and yanked them in several directions at once. The increasing turbulence threatened to throw him from the conn, but he clung to the console and somehow managed to minimize the extra stress forced upon the hull. "We're almost at the designated co-ordinates."
"The target will be within range in twenty-three seconds, Captain," Harry reported.
The ship shuddered and groaned as Tom cut propulsion. "Full stop, Captain. I'm turning the ship into position now."
Janeway gripped into the arms of her chair. "Keep us steady, Lieutenant. We might only get one chance at this."
"The deflector is fully charged. Ready to initiate magneton beam." B'Elanna's voice strained with anticipation.
"Stand by. Lieutenant Paris, set course and prepare to engage thrusters on my mark."
"Aye, Captain," Tom replied nervously.
"The asteroid is now in range." Ensign Kim's voice also contained an edge of worry.
"Activate the deflector."
All eyes were glued to the forward viewscreen as a blue-white stream of energy lashed out from the deflector toward the approaching rock. They intercepted each other with a flare of light.
The excitement in Harry's voice was tangible. "It's working. The asteroid's trajectory has been altered by 0.7 degrees...1.8 degrees... 4.1...."
"Shield strength is at 84 percent and dropping," Tuvok announced. "62 percent."
"Disengage deflector. Mark," Janeway said much too calmly. Voyager shot forward just as the magneton beam dissipated, swooping over top the tumbling asteroid. "Let's see if we've given it enough momentum to steer it where we want it to go. Tuvok, activate tractor beam."
The ship struggled slightly as the tractor reached out to grab the asteroid. "I am having difficulty establishing a lock. The increased radiation from the stars is still interfering with sensors."
"Do what you can, Tuvok. The farther we can drag this thing, the safer it will be to mine it."
"I am attempting to compensate."
A few seconds later the tractor beam snapped into place around the asteroid, and suddenly the ride was much smoother. Voyager wove through the rest of the field with a minimal amount of resistance and was soon back into open space. Tom exhaled as if he'd been holding his breath through the whole thing.
Janeway stood up and surveyed the crew, smiling proudly. "Excellent work, people. I couldn't be more proud of your accomplishment today."
Something at the Ops station twittered. Harry immediately pounced on it. "Captain."
Janeway swerved around to face him, a touch of concern tempering her relaxed visage. "What is it, Ensign?"
"The sensors have finally been able to get a clear reading on the dilithium. We can definitely process it."
Tom turned in time to see the captain share a meaningful look with B'Elanna. Tom could appreciate it as well. The 'tellerium incident' was still fresh on everyone's mind. "That's the best news I've heard yet, Mr. Kim," the captain said. "Lieutenant Torres, assemble an excavation team and take a shuttlecraft to mine that dilithium."
"Aye, Captain. We'll be ready in ten minutes."
On to Chapter 2...
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