Romancing the Stone: Stage I

"Breaking Ground"

Darrel W. Beach

Looking for story notes?  You'll find them in Chapter 1.


     To Tom's surprise, the ensuing engagement occurred sooner than he expected.  Following his first night of exchanging witty banter with Ensign Fowler - a gratifying alternative to Calloway's no-nonsense approach to work - Leena showed up at his quarters unannounced.  "Lieutenant, this is a bit unexpected!  What brings you by?"
     "Orders from Lieutenant Tuvok, sir," she answered grimly, taking Tom's invitation to enter the room.  "He noticed the changes I made to tonight's roster, particularly your reassignment.  He asked me why I wasn't supervising your activity as directed by his instructions.  I told him that I was experiencing some personal conflicts in working with you, and that I required some time off from my current assignment to resolve them."  She dropped herself into an armchair.  "Unfortunately, Lieutenant Tuvok thought the best way to resolve my problems would be to confront you, so here I am."
     "So I see."  Tom had been preparing to visit one of the holodecks, attired in his civilian clothes.  Leena looked in dire need of relaxation, but an invitation to Sandrine's for a drink probably wouldn't have been well received just now.  A public setting might not be the ideal place to discuss private issues.  Instead he walked over to the replicator.  "Can I get you a drink?"
     "No, but thank you for asking," she replied, for the first time with a smile.  It took Tom aback for a fraction of a second; it definitely made her face more attractive when she smiled.  His legs began to function again as the smile disappeared.  "Sir, I've done a lot of thinking over the past three days...."
     "Leena, we're off duty now," Tom interrupted.  "You don't have to call me 'sir'.  In fact, I insist.  If you're not going to address me by my first name, then just use my last name."
     She looked ready to snap something at him, then stopped herself.  The reaction caught Tom's interest; he wondered what was on the irascible woman's mind.  The two opponents settled into a staring match, both waiting for the other to break the silence.  The moments passed with increasingly uncomfortable quiet.  "Okay...Paris," she said at last.  "You're not making this any easier for me, you know."  Tom merely smiled back at her.  "First, I should apologize for running out on you like that.  You behaved like a gracious host and I acted horribly.  I didn't even thank you for your hospitality."
     "Apology accepted and your thanks welcomed, even belatedly."  His grin melted into a more neutral expression.  "I have to admit, though, we were all wondering why you suddenly excused yourself."
     Leena flushed slightly.  "Well...there were actually two reasons."  Her hands fidgeted in her lap.  "I was more than a little disturbed when you said how much you enjoyed being out here."  Tom nodded absently, not surprised.  "Unlike you, I had a very bright future waiting for me in the Alpha Quadrant.
     "I've worked under Captain Janeway as part of Lieutenant Tuvok's security staff for five years now, long before the incident in the Badlands occurred.  The lieutenant appreciated my work ethic almost from the beginning of my first mission with them and sort of took me under his wing.  He taught me the merits of vigilance and meticulous observation, and his guidance paid off huge dividends for my career.  I earned a number of commendations and citations for exemplary service.  Other people in Starfleet - important people - noticed my service record and invited me to consider some offers, some of them even involving promotion to commanding rank."  She surprised him with a look of excitement.  "I mean, think of it: I had only just been promoted to a junior officer, and I was being asked to take positions that would make me a lieutenant commander!"
     "You must have quite a resume," the pilot commented.  "Why didn't you accept one of the offers?"
     Leena seemed to remember to whom she was talking and reigned in her enthusiasm.  Her expression darkened.  "I was about to, but when we caught word that the Maquis vessel Lieutenant Tuvok was on had disappeared I delayed my transfer.  I felt I owed it to my mentor to find out what had happened to him.  If he needed help I was determined to give it to him."
     Way to stick your foot in your mouth, Tom.  He shrank back into his chair.  "Oh.  So...Voyager's mission to the Badlands...."
     "...was supposed to be my last mission with Captain Janeway, yes," she finished for him.  She didn't sound angry when she said it, just tired.  "Needless to say I was a little resentful.  Not only had my career been upended, but I also lost a lot of friends to the damage caused by the displacement wave.  Then when the captain decided to take those Maquis on board as part of the crew something in my head just snapped."
     "The captain didn't have much of a choice, Leena.  As it stood we didn't have enough people to run the ship by ourselves.  Asking the Maquis to become part of the crew was the only option we had available."
     "But to give them command level positions?  It's one thing to have to work alongside people who have no respect for Starfleet and Federation policies, but it's another thing entirely to have to take orders from them!  How would we know they could be trusted to make decisions in a professional manner?  I'd sure sleep a lot better at nights if I knew they weren't poised to take command of the ship without question."
     Tom frowned.  Not exactly a healthy attitude she had.  "So I suppose having to deal with the threat of a mutiny every day would be a fair exchange?  Oh, now there's a thought to help send you off to dreamland!  Wake up and smell the roses, Leena!  Do you think the Maquis would have consented to just being second-class citizens on this ship?  Besides, don't you think Janeway knew what she was doing when she asked Chakotay to be her first officer or made B'Elanna Torres the chief engineer?  Their assignments filled a dual role: to keep the masses happy and to give the job to the most qualified people.  Just because we were Maquis doesn't mean we're uneducated or untalented.  B'Elanna may not have graduated from the academy but she's probably the best engineer you'll find in the Delta Quadrant!"
     Leena startled at the bitterness of his response, then fidgeted nervously as she absorbed the full implication of his emotion.  "I'm not saying I condone my feelings, Paris - I know it's unfair to selectively judge or categorize people because of their political beliefs - but that's how I felt at the time.  I thought Captain Janeway was betraying her loyalty to Starfleet, and the fact that Lieutenant Tuvok was allowing it to happen only made it worse.  I felt like I was the only person I could trust on the ship.  I asked Lieutenant Tuvok to reassign me to night security, but I knew that wouldn't be enough to shield myself.  I decided to interact on a purely professional basis only; I thought that by removing all social or emotional involvement I'd be able to deal with those recreants.  It took me months to finally accept their actions and restore my commitment to them."
     He chewed on a few thoughts, thinking of how best to broach the subject.  "I don't know quite what to say, Leena, that couldn't be interpreted as an insult.  I can kind of understand how you felt.  I spent a long time trying to assign blame to people for the way my life turned out, but eventually I moved on.  You've got to move on too, Leena.  It's not healthy, and it's not fair to the others on the ship.  Almost everyone who's served on this ship since the destruction of the Caretaker's array has accepted their role on Voyager and learned to reconcile their differences.  We are a living example that change is possible."
     She shook her head, amused but exasperated.  "Before you intruded my life I would have been surprised by what you said just now.  That's part of the second reason why I left your dinner party early. upset everything I believe in."  She shifted her weight.  "I never questioned the choices and judgements I made because I was so sure that everything I believed in was right.  Then you came along with your incongruent nature and cast doubt on all my principles.  At one moment you would confirm yourself as the self-serving nihilist I assumed you to be, the next moment you would do or say something that completely undermined my expectations.
     "But you didn't stop there.  You also put into question my commitment to Starfleet when you spoke of Admiral Karr's blatant disregard of proper procedures.  I joined the academy because I always thought Starfleet was an unshakeable institution, a force of great truth and responsibility.  Yet you showed me that it can be corrupted by those who would take advantage of its virtue, even people whom I thought represented the very definition of Starfleet, people who possessed better character than...well, you."  She blushed, knowing how offensive that sounded.  "That didn't come out right.  What I mean is, I found it appalling that a Starfleet admiral would act so irresponsibly as to allow another officer to be unfairly tried, guilty or not.  It disturbed me even more to think that I myself was doing the same thing now.  I used to think I was a fairly good judge of character, but now I'm not so sure.  I mean, if I can't even depend on the validity of official Starfleet records how can I trust myself to base judgements on them?"
     "I wouldn't be too hard on myself if I were you, Leena.  You're not the first person to experience disillusionment with Starfleet."  Tom put on a canny smile.  "Just ask any one of our Maquis contingent.  Seriously, though, why not use some common sense when making decisions?  Relying on hard data may feel safer, but you can't expect the data to be infallible.  People can manipulate data to say anything they want."
     Calloway returned a hard stare.  "And did you use common sense when you flew the Fraser into the ground?"
     Tom frowned; her barbed question stung like a slap to the face.  "No, I didn't.  I made a careless, selfish mistake.  But I don't see how this is relevant to what we're talking about.  You're not making a level comparison here."
     "Aren't I?" she asked bitterly.  "Every cadet enrolled in the academy is taught the importance of self-sacrifice: to selflessly risk one's life to ensure the safety of others.  We learn to trust our fellow officers because we know they would just as willingly cede their lives for us as we would for them."
     She turned away, unable to look at him further.  "I've been selfish, Paris.  I don't trust the people on this ship.  That's why I turned my back on them.  I betrayed my oath of loyalty to this crew.  How can they rely on me when I won't even give most of them the time of day?
     "Tolerance, equality - the most basic of Starfleet ideas.  I turned my back on them ever since we lost our way in the Delta Quadrant.  I've selectively used only the principles I desired to serve my own pettiness.  I didn't want to admit it to myself, but I see now that I'm just as intractable as you used to be.  I don't deserve to wear this uniform."
     Tom definitely did not like where this discussion was going.  Calloway was digging herself into a pit of despair so fast she wouldn't ever climb her way out.  "That's a little harsh, Leena."  He held up a hand, begging continuance.  "You're beating yourself up over circumstances that are completely normal."
     The security officer looked quizzically at him.  "I don't follow you."
     "The way you isolated yourself from the rest of the crew.  The way I see it, you sacrificed your career advancement to scout for someone you respected a great deal.  You took a gamble and forfeited more than you bargained for.  You lost friends, family and your future.  You feel cheated."
     Tom hunched over, crossing his arms and resting them in his lap.  "I know that feeling.  After I was cashiered from Starfleet I was very angry.  I wanted to rebel against everything that had made me the person I had become.  I drifted, hopping from system to system, looking for any excuse to show people what the Paris name was really worth.  I ran away from my problems, just as you did.  The only difference is that I had the entire Alpha Quadrant at my disposal.  You didn't have anywhere to go except within."
     Calloway's brow creased.  "'re making it sound as though it's a good thing to be self-absorbed."
     "It's a fact of human nature.  Sometimes we need to be selfish.  The hard part, however, is knowing how to be selfish."
     Leena looked at him dubiously.  "You mean there are different kinds?"
     "Well, sort of."  Tom twiddled his thumbs.  "I guess what I'm trying to say is that self-interest can be applied in a number of ways, both productive and destructive.  For example, personal ambition, nurtured appropriately, breeds excellence.  In my case it also bred a reckless arrogance.  It's a tricky balance.  We must temper our selfish impulses, but we have to be careful.  If we reject our impulses altogether, more than likely we'll find they've merely been subverted.  In the long run it's better to use the power of desire to fuel our actions than to deny it."
     The security officer crossed her arms and looked at him defiantly.  "And I suppose you've found the 'perfect' balance?" she threw out skeptically.
     "Hell, don't I wish," Tom laughed.  "I'm not sure I'll ever find it, but I'm probably closer to it now than I was a couple of years ago."  He leaned into the back of his chair, a cheeky grin suddenly forming.  "I'm probably closer to it than you are, too."
     Calloway stopped dead in her place and sunk back into the chair, dumbfounded.  "You really think you're better than me, don't you?"
     "I meant every word.  You've been locked into a mode of mistrust and self-serving isolation for so long that you don't know how to break out of it.  You've become too dependent on form; you have to learn to make decisions for yourself again."
     Silence overtook the room swiftly.  Leena wordlessly sat and stared blankly at the man who had all but completely disassembled every facet of her life in the span of a week.  The same man she once considered a moral reprobate.  A man now more her equal than she cared to admit.  The healing had to start somewhere though, didn't it?  "Well...I suppose you have a point...."
     Mission accomplished!  Tom smiled sincerely.  A breakthrough of this magnitude deserved a well-earned reward, for both of them.  He stood up, walked over to Calloway and offered her a hand.
     She looked at him askance.  "What?"
     "I was just about to go to the holodeck before you came.  Sandrine serves up a good synthale.  I think you could use one right about now."
     She pushed his hand away, anger unexpectedly rising to the surface.  "I don't believe this!  I spend twenty minutes airing the most confidential and vulnerable parts of my life just to repair my professional relationship with you, and already you're asking me out on a date.  You are such a slime!"
     Tom sighed.  "Oh, brother!  Calloway, why does everything have to be adversarial with you?  I'm not asking you out.  I want you to go to Sandrine's and, for once in your life, relax.  Have a drink and loosen up.  Forget about work and all that 'who-belongs-to-which-group' stuff.  Just go and talk to people, find out for yourself if you really like them or not.  Be yourself.  Be selfish."  Again he stuck his hand out.
     Leena switched her gaze between the hand before her and the face of its owner, wondering if she should really take his advice to heart.  She didn't loathe him anymore, but she wasn't exactly sure if she liked him enough to forgive him.  She just didn't have enough grounds to put her trust in him yet. had to start somewhere.  Leena took the offered hand and Tom helped her out of the chair.  "Let's get one thing straight first, Paris.  Just because I'm accepting your invitation doesn't mean we're friends.  We're just working acquaintances, that's all."  She walked to the cabin door, which responded by whisking open.  "And I still don't like you," she threw in unnecessarily.
     With her back to him, Leena couldn't see the smirk on Tom's face widening into a huge smile.  "Yes, ma'am.  I understand completely."

End Stage I

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