Romancing the Stone: Stage I

"Breaking Ground"

Darrel W. Beach

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


     Tom stomped into the mess hall telegraphing his mood to anyone within visual range.  His face was so red one could have envisioned the curls of black smoke pouring off his scalp, he was that hot.  He swiped a tray off the counter before Neelix could get in a word and almost hurled it onto the dining surface in front of Harry Kim and B'Elanna Torres.
     "Hey!" the ensign snapped as the lieutenant's fruit juice sloshed across the table, his breakfast and very nearly his uniform.
     "Bad night, Tom?" the engineer asked out of courtesy.  B'Elanna hadn't heard about Tom's reassignment until Harry had filled her in the previous evening.
     "I don't know who I want to kill first: Tuvok or Lieutenant Calloway." he grated.  "Do you know what he did?  He gave that little wanna-be-Vulcan authority over me for the next two weeks!  'To provide proper tutelage in Starfleet protocol and discipline,' that's what he said.  If I hadn't heard it with my own two ears I wouldn't have believed it."
     Harry tossed a soggy napkin over his plate.  "Sounds like you and Calloway got off on the wrong foot."
     "I was on the wrong foot way before I even took a step!  I think she left her objectivity back on DS9 with the rest of my prison sentence.  As far as she's concerned I should be riding out the rest of our trip in the brig; she was busting my ass all night.  I tell you, she was this close to putting me on report for not keeping up to her schedule," he said, holding his thumb and forefinger two centimetres apart.  "She's a narrow-minded, compulsive-obsessive freak."
     "She must be a load of laughs at parties," Torres said wryly.  "So, clearly neither of you like each other.  Won't Tuvok change the assignments?  He ought to know that most humans can't function with each other efficiently when emotional conflicts occur."
     Tom gave her a sour, defeated look.  "Not a chance - I asked him already.  He says it's illogical to change the assignment because she's the best person available for the job, and besides, Starfleet officers shouldn't allow their personal disagreements to interfere with their work.  I'll just have to stick it out and show her that I'm not the complete screw-up she thinks I am.  And with a little luck I'll get her to go out with me."
     Unfortunately for Harry, he was sipping his juice just as Tom delivered the last line.  The comment instantly made him choke.  It took him a few minutes to recover, with B'Elanna trying to lend assistance and assess his state of health.  He waved her off, insisting he was fine.  "Tom, you're kidding, right?" he sputtered out between breaths.  "You've done nothing but complain about her since you came in.  Why would you want to ask her out on a date?"
     "I have to, Harry.  Have you ever met her?  She's a...a..." he looked uncomfortably at the engineer.  "Uh... oh, hell, she's probably the most gorgeous woman I've ever met."
     B'Elanna snorted derisively.  "Now why doesn't that surprise me, coming from a pig like you?"
     "Hey, I feel I have an obligation as the most attractive man on the ship to date her."  At B'Elanna's challenging look, he added "Okay, okay.  I sort of made a bet with the rest of the night shift that I could unwind her strings a little."
      Torred looked taken aback.  "Now that does surprise me, Tom.  I think you've just sunk to a new low.  Wagering that you can get her into bed?  That's disgusting!"
     Tom took offense.  "Did I say that?  My goal is just to get her to mellow out; this has nothing to do with sex."  Yet.  "If I can get her to go out with me she just might start opening up to other people.  But before I can do that she's got to have her attitude readjusted."
     "But you just said she hates your guts," Harry pointed out.  "How are you going to change her mind about you?"
     "Well, I have a plan, but I'll need help from you guys if it's going to work."
     "What makes you think I'd want to help a sleazy little worm like you?" the engineer argued.  It didn't matter if he intended to sleep with her or not, the idea of helping Tom catch a woman irritated her.
     "Because you're a nice person?"  Tom received only a pained look for the lame remark.  "Look, I'm not just doing this for my own benefit here.  As far as Calloway is concerned you and the rest of the Maquis should be sharing prison cells with me.  You've got as much to gain from this as I do."
     Harry and B'Elanna exchanged looks.  "What exactly did you have in mind?" she asked.
     "How would you guys be interested in a dinner party?"

     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