Romancing the Stone: Stage II

"Diamond in the Rough"

Darrel W. Beach

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


     Tom allowed the hint of an arrogant smile to show.  Following the face-to-face conference with Augris, Chakotay had immediately put Harry to work with Neelix to assay the planet's defensive capabilities.  That made two things abundantly clear: the captain and the others were probably still alive, and Chakotay was finally taking matters into his own hands.  It looked like they would be mounting a rescue operation after all.
     Of course, it wouldn't be easy, according to the data Harry and Neelix had assembled.  Beaming directly into the prison simply couldn't be done.  Aside from being heavily shielded and teeming with guards, the Alsaurian sensor net would immediately detect Voyager's transporter signal.  The away team would be surrounded in no time, no matter where they beamed in.  Regardless of the plan devised, the sensor net proved to be the biggest stumbling block.  Again, Chakotay dumped the assignment into Harry's lap, much to the ensign's frustration.  Out of the corner of his eye, Tom caught Leena's reaction to Chakotay's delegation.  It sure didn't look like relief.

     Leena gripped the sides of the security console so hard her knuckles whitened.  Apparently that little exchange in the captain's office meant absolutely nothing to the commander.  From the very first moment he had set foot back on the bridge Chakotay had been directing the crew as if she didn't exist on the same physical plane.  Was this just a sample of what she could expect if they couldn't get the captain back?  Getting pushed aside while the situation spun out of control around her?  If excluding her from Harry Kim's impromptu presentation on the Mokra Order's defensive perimeters hadn't been enough to raise her ire, inviting Tom Paris to listen in instead sent her blood boiling.  Dammit, didn't Commander Chakotay realize what kind of stake she had in this rescue operation?  She decided to eavesdrop on the congregation at the science station beside her anyway.
     Neelix was in the midst of explaining the prison's defenses to the commander.  "My sources tell me it's surrounded by metaphasic shields."
     "Can we find a way to beam through them?  The Mokra aren't familiar with transporter technology."
     Harry offered a suggestion.  "There is a periodic fluctuation in the shields' energy pattern.  I'm working on a way to take advantage of it."
     "There's only one problem with that," Neelix said.  "If the Mokra detect us breaking through their shields we'll be surrounded by soldiers in seconds."
     "If we could beam in close enough to where the away team is being held, we might be able to get in and out of there before the Mokra had a chance to react."  Leena threw a sour glance behind Tom's back.  Who are you trying to kid, Lieutenant?  We don't know exactly where they are.  Quit acting like you've actually got something useful to contribute to that discussion and pay attention!  I should be the one looking at that data, not you.
     Harry echoed Calloway's thoughts, albeit less snappishly.  "We can't locate the away team from here.  The detention level is subterranean and the rock is too dense for our sensors to penetrate.  You'll have to look for them after you beam into the prison."
     "Too dangerous, we can't risk beaming in."  Chakotay reconsidered the important facts of their discourse.  The Mokra Order certainly backed up their paranoia well.  A simple search and rescue couldn't be done.  Even a sophisticated plan looked doubtful of succeeding. Nonetheless, something had to be done to extract the away team.  He couldn't see Augris' hospitality improving much after his visit to Voyager.  "We'll have to find a way that the Mokra won't detect.  Sounds like a challenge for you, Mr. Kim."
     Leena's reserve finally cracked under the weight of that order.  She locked her arms at the elbows to keep from shaking her grip free.  A murderous scream of rage swelled within her, but caught in her throat.  Did the commander think Tuvok was the only capable security officer on the ship?  Remove him from the picture, and suddenly there was an unfillable void?  Drawing upon her very essence of self-control, Leena fought the stifled cry until it finally subsided.
     "Are you feeling all right, Lieutenant?"
     Commander Chakotay's concern surprised her.  It took her a moment to realize how hard her breathing had become.  "No, sir, I am not all right," she panted, practically gasping for air.
     "Should I tell Sickbay to expect a patient?"
     "No, sir.  My problem doesn't concern my health, it concerns your attempts to undermine this rescue operation."
     Suddenly the bridge became deathly quiet, every set of eyes now focused on the tactical station.  The commander looked quite steady for a man in complete shock.  "Excuse me?"
     Leena managed to collect herself.  She squared her shoulders and tried as best she could to look him straight in the eyes.  "I have cause to believe that you are subverting the command structure of this vessel, sir."
     The commander did not take kindly to her accusation, but he composed himself remarkably.  Twin tempests brewed in his brown eyes, yet his voice remained incredibly calm.  "Follow me, Lieutenant."  He took a few steps toward the captain's office, then stopped and checked over his shoulder to make sure she following.  She hadn't moved an inch from the security station.  His voice took on a slightly harder edge.  "I gave you an order, Lieutenant.  Move it."
     Leena felt the stares of everyone on the bridge trained on her.  Perhaps it wasn't such a good idea to cause a scene in front of so many people.  Her resolve wavered slightly while she considered how she could lose the respect of her peers by losing face.  Mustering up her remaining conviction, she fell in behind Chakotay.  Tom, Harry, Neelix and the others watched on steadfastly as they disappeared into the captain's ready room.
     The moment Chakotay heard the entrance close he whirled around to confront his accuser.  Leena stopped in time to prevent bumping into him but she backed up half a step reflexively.  The commander immediately moved closer and made himself as tall as possible.  It was a fairly common tactic that command officers used to intimidate their taller subordinates.  Crowd them, make them as uncomfortable as possible.  "You want to tell me what just happened out there?"
     Leena looked directly into his eyes and stuck her chest out as far as she could to neutralize his intimidating posture.  She resisted a smile when he stepped back to avoid bumping into her bosom.  "I thought I made myself quite clear, Commander.  I'm questioning your motive to usurp command of this ship."
     "That's quite an accusation, Lieutenant.  Do you have any evidence to back that up?"
     "Where shall I begin, sir?  When you allowed Captain Janeway to beam down to a hostile environment?  All the times you bent over backwards to cede to Augris' stipulations?  Your decision to have Ensign Kim attempt to break through that sensor net, when there are other officers on this ship who are more qualified for the assignment?  If you had bothered to read the ship's personnel files, you would know that I have had extensive studies in defensive systems architecture at the Academy."
     Chakotay folded his arms across his chest.  "In case you've forgotten, Lieutenant, it's the first officer's responsibility to review and maintain those files on a regular basis.  So, yes, I happen to be fully aware of your background."
     "And yet to chose to overlook my qualifications in light of this assignment.  Why is that, Commander?  Aren't you supposed to be looking out for the crew's best interests, or is it just the Maquis' interests you're looking out for?"
     Chakotay's posture sagged, his adversarial demeanour replaced with resigned sadness.  He sighed, its sound reflecting the strain of having faced this situation far too many times already.  "Please have a seat, Lieutenant."
     His change in attitude flagged her temper slightly, but not quite enough.  "Thank you, sir, but I'd prefer to stand."
     "Suit yourself."  Chakotay opted to lean against the captain's desk.  "Tuvok told me about the transition you're going through.  I understand why he did that now.  He wanted to be certain that you could avoid a confrontation like this one.  I don't think he could have anticipated the situation we're facing now, but the intent was the same.  I usually don't respond well when the crew accuses me of mutiny.
     "Lieutenant, I understand what you're feeling.  You're at a very vulnerable point in your life right now, and you don't know whom to trust yet.  It's been a difficult adjustment for all of us here.  There isn't a person here who didn't lose a friend or two because of the Caretaker, and there were a lot of us who blamed Captain Janeway for the loss of our ship and our opportunity to return to the Alpha Quadrant. Some of my crew still haven't gotten over it yet, in fact.  However, the point is, the rest of us did.  We accepted that we would have to co operate with your crew and to do what we could to get home."
     "I've heard all of this before, Commander, and nothing you've said so far has convinced me that you wouldn't jump at the chance to turn Voyager into a trophy for the Maquis."
     "Lieutenant, do you know what took place between the captain and I after the Caretaker's Array was destroyed?"
     "I think it's fairly obvious what happened."
     "Maybe it's not as obvious as you'd like to think.  Captain Janeway asked me how to merge the two crews together.  It was basically my decision for Voyager to remain a Starfleet vessel.  The captain recognized the potential difficulties involved in asking my crew to abide by Starfleet regulations, and she gave me the option to choose."
     She peered at him through slit eyes.  "And you're telling me you just chose Starfleet?  I find that hard to believe.  I doubt the captain would have seriously let you decide the fate of our crew without making a case for Starfleet."
     Chakotay's lips twitched upward.  "You're probably right, Lieutenant.  The captain's not one to give up her principles easily. But believe it or not, I did opt for Starfleet.  It wasn't an easy decision to make, though.  I had to consider what was best for the whole crew, and it involved more than taking into account what the captain wanted.  I chose Starfleet because I thought it was the best way for the two crews to work together as a single team.  I knew it would be difficult for my crew to accept that decision, but I figured it would be a lot harder for Janeway's crew to adjust to running a Maquis ship.  You outnumbered us almost 4 to 1; I can't imagine trying to deal with that much animosity - it's been a struggle as it is now.  I think the decision has worked out for the best, though.  My men have made the adjustment.  Your people have supported them.  If we can't get the captain back, I see no reason to upset the balance we've achieved.  However, I'm not willing to consider that decision yet.  We will get the captain back.  The same goes for Tuvok and Lieutenant Torres."
     Leena could feel her foothold crumbling.  His arguments were very reasonable.  "Well, if you're so concerned about their safety, why have you been putting me at arm's length when you know I can help?  If you'd give me half a chance I know I can break their defenses!"
     "I'm sorry about that, Lieutenant.  I didn't want to subject you to any undue pressure.  I thought you had enough problems already without also having to deal with the sensor net.  Now I see that was a mistake.  As first officer it is my responsibility to make the best use of my crew.  I hope you'll forgive me of that error."
     Her knees buckled for a moment and she grabbed the nearby chair to steady herself.  The apology had initially taken her by surprise, but his plea for forgiveness completely rattled her.  The man was deeply concerned about her opinion!  "Y-you meant well, sir."
     "Thank you, Lieutenant.  If you feel you're up to it, how about assisting Ensign Kim?"
     "I believe I can handle that, sir."
     "Glad to hear it.  Now I suggest you two get a move on, we're a little pressed for time."  She started for the exit, but he stopped her midway.  "One more thing, Lieutenant.  If you ever talk to me again like that I'll have you thrown into the brig, understand?"
     Calloway instantly felt a respect for Commander Chakotay growing within her.  She pulled herself straight to attention and locked as professional a look on him as possible.  "Aye, sir.  Perfectly."
     Satisfied with the response, the commander nodded.  Leena resumed her pace and left the office.  Chakotay waited a moment.  May you conquer your demons soon, Lieutenant.  He put his business face back on and returned to the bridge.  He took his place in the captain's chair and started scrolling through data on the attached console.
     "Commander Chakotay really is concerned for the captain's well being, isn't he?" she murmured to Harry as the ensign joined her at Tactical.
     "After all the times he's already gone to bat for her?" he countered.  "The commander's completely given his loyalty to the captain.  He'll do whatever it takes to get the away team back safely."
     "I'm beginning to see that."  Leena drew a thin smile in reply to Harry's own grin.  "All right, let's see what we're looking at.  Tell me, what sort of deterrents are we up against?"
     "There are a few," Harry said, punching up the schematics on the security console.  "The prison occupies approximately 175,000 cubic metres of territory on the eastern side of the capital, most of it underground, and is patrolled by a staff of 200 armed guards on rotating shifts."
     "That's a pretty large facility.  You think they have a real problem with crime or is it just the political dissidents that get special treatment?"  They exchanged a wry look, then Harry continued.
     "Whether they realized or not, the Mokra Order couldn't have built the prison in a better spot.  The density of the rock is high enough to block our sensors, which not only means we can't locate the away team, but our transporters become less effective.  We could probably beam the rescue party into the mouth of a tunnel, but any deeper in and there's no telling where you'll materialize.  And if that isn't enough, they have what looks like metaphasic shields extending 150 metres from the perimeter of the facility.  We can't even get close to the compound with a transporter signal, much less beam into one of the tunnels, without alerting them."
     "Is there any possibility we can shut down their generators?"
     Harry shook his head.  "They're too heavily monitored, and that runs into another problem: the sensor net.  It seems extraordinarily sensitive to electromagnetic fluctuations.  They might even have the ability to track our sensor sweeps.  The moment we beam a second party to the surface the Mokra Order has pinpointed our location and dispatched their soldiers to intercept us."
     "Harry, let's focus on the sensor net a little more.  Do you have any schematics?"
     "Hang on a sec."  A pull away shot of Alsauria replaced the prison blueprints.  Several points glowed to life, identifying the sensor net nodes.  "There.  As you can see, the sensor net consists of 98 nodes spaced equidistantly and cross-linked in hexagonal grids."  As he spoke, little orange lines fanned out from the glowing points, creating a mish- mash picture of the planet.  "Each node has its own fusion generator, pumping out power at 8.34 THz, which might account for the net's sensitivity."
     "Have you tried finding any holes we could sneak through?"  Leena knew he would have tried already, but thinking aloud always helped her focus on the problem.
     "No luck.  It's the power output; the sensor fields the nodes produce are so strong they bounce off their own neighbours.  It's like wrapping yourself up with a quilt made of duranium instead of cotton fleece.  You're going to know when someone tries to poke a hole in it."
     "What if we tried disabling some of the nodes? Could we create our own hole?"
     In response, Harry isolated a schematic of a node, creating a split-screen view.  "I thought of that, too.  The material used to construct the nodes is quite dense; I had a hard time getting the sensors to penetrate the casing.  Most likely we won't be able to send an overload or shutdown command to the computer bank because our signal will just bounce off the skin.  Either we use a subspace pulse or the phasers to penetrate it, but in both cases we'll end up destroying the entire node.  Unfortunately, even if the Mokra Order doesn't notice that we've blown up their property and immediately start firing on us, the high output of the neighbouring nodes easily compensate for the disabled one.  We'd have to take down at least half a dozen nodes before we could sneak a transporter signal through, and by then it won't make a difference if we just decided to land the ship instead."
     Leena frowned: so much for that idea.  There had to be something they were missing.  No security system was ever completely foolproof. "I think I need to see more, Harry.  What we got here isn't going to cut it."
     "Like what?  I've already shown you all the schematics I could put together."
     "Then I'll start from the beginning.  Pull out every sensor log we've got since we entered the system.  There's got to be something we're overlooking."

On to Chapter 5...

Return to the Stories page