Romancing the Stone: Stage II

"Diamond in the Rough"

Darrel W. Beach

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


     Something was there.  She could sense its presence hiding amidst all the calculations and vectors, taunting her.  She just couldn't see it.
     Every idea she conceived to disable the network fell flat.  The Mokra constructed five levels of backups and other fail-safes into each node to guard against everything from computer viruses to radiant solar activity.  Anything that could adversely affect the operation of a node would trigger an alert to a control station on the planet.  She hated to admit it but using stealth to rescue the landing party looked impossible.  Leena stopped to rub the fatigue from her eyes and work out the knots forming in her shoulders.  How long had they been sifting through these files?  "Harry, what time is it?  Harry?"  She looked around, found the ensign hunched over the Ops station, looking as haggard as she felt but still engrossed in his work.  She had to give the guy credit: he knew how to work.  "Computer, what time is it?"
     "The time is seventeen-hundred thirty-four hours."  More than two hours since they had started scrutinising the logs.  Nearly six hours since the away team was first reported missing.  For all she knew Tuvok and the captain could be dead for real now.  Hopefully those slimy Mokra weren't as impatient as she feared.  Uncertainty could be a terrible weapon when wielded effectively, and Augris certainly seemed to know how to handle it.
     "How's it going, Harry?" she asked, walking over to Ops.  Her voice was flat, listless.
     Harry took the interruption to scrub his tired face.  "This is pointless, Leena.  I really don't know what you think we'll find in all this."
     "Come on, Harry, don't give up on me now.  Where's that ingenuity you were bragging about earlier?  I could use some of it right now."
     "Sorry, but I'm fresh out of ideas.  There's just no way to knock out that net."
     Leena braced herself over the console, bowing her head in frustration.  "There has to be a way.  No system is perfect.  Maybe if I beamed into one of those nodes, looked at it first hand...."
     "I hate to say it, Leena, but we're running out of time here.  I'd like to analyze one myself, but we've already spent two hours on this problem with no results.  I think it's time we cut our losses and try another approach."
     "What do you mean exactly?"
     "Well, if we can't beam down undetected, maybe we can try to confuse them."
     "And how do we do that?"
     "I have an idea."  Activating a few keys, Harry displayed a simplified diagram of the prison and Voyager in space above it.  "Before we started working on this I was developing a way to beam through the prison's metaphasic shields.  I think I've found a way to do that using a radion beam.  By modulating it to the right frequency and timing it to coincide with the fluctuation I found, we can create a large enough hole to push a transporter beam through.  It wouldn't be that difficult to hide a transporter signal in a radion beam."  As he spoke, the diagram animated his explanation.  "Now comes the neat part of this plan.  As Neelix said, the Mokra Order will know where we are the moment we penetrate the shields.  However, if we use more than one radion beam targeted at different co-ordinates around the prison they'll have a harder time tracking us down.  It's not fool proof, but it should give the rescue party a few extra seconds to make their way into the tunnels before they're spotted."
     Leena mulled over the information.  Definitely it was a risk; in the worst case the team would still be caught right away.  The sensor node problem continued to nag her, but she knew it was time to give that a rest.  Unfortunately, Harry was right.  They didn't have the luxury of studying them up close.  "I doubt we'll get anything better.  I think we should go forward with this plan."  The reality chafed her, though.  All that effort, wasted.

     "Yes, sir!" Tom responded enthusiastically to Chakotay's order to assemble an away team.  Frankly, it was about time they finally got off their cans and did something.  He slid out of his chair and worked his way to the security station.  "Nice work, Calloway," he murmured.  "I've got to give Harry credit for channelling your stress into that console.  The way you were going, I thought you'd start cracking heads at any moment."
     Leena glowered at the pilot for his unintended slight.  "Keep talking, Paris.  I'm sure we could arrange something."
     "Uh, maybe later."  Tom took a step back.  She'd reacted a little stronger than he'd expected.  She obviously wasn't as happy about the plan as the rest of bridge.  He had to diffuse this situation, and quickly.  "Anyway, how about taking point on our little prison raid?  I hear you're pretty handy with a phaser."
     That seemed to work; Leena lowered her ire.  "Then you have a good ear."  She hesitated.  "I just don't know if I should go, though; right now I'm second in command of security.  My place is on the bridge."
     "Leena, I've been watching you all day.  I know how much you want to go down there and get Tuvok."  He gripped her shoulder supportively.  "Don't worry about the bridge, it'll still be here when we get back."

     She sighed, defeated.  Tom was more perceptive than she gave him credit for.  He had teased her with the right bait to get her mind off her recent futility: an opportunity to lead a charge to find Tuvok.  As the acting chief, she shouldn't have considered leaving her post; she could put Voyager in the dubious position of losing its top two security officers.  However, she felt the pull of loyalty to Tuvok.  If there was a chance to get him out, she wanted to be there to do it.  "Murphy, cover for me."  She hustled into the turbolift before she could change her mind.  Tom followed her in.  "Exactly what kind of moron do you take me for anyway?"
     "Pardon?" he asked, startled.
     "Cut the act, Lieutenant.  I know what you're up to.  You think that by doing me a few favours that I'll feel obligated to reciprocate."
     Tom looked genuinely hurt by the accusation.  "You wound me, Calloway.  How is it that you see an ulterior motive behind everything I do?"
     She looked squarely at him.  "Tell me I'm wrong then.  Are you trying to score brownie points with me or not?"
     Tom levelled his gaze with hers.  "Absolutely."
     Leena stood there, thunderstruck.  Somehow she expected him to dodge the question, or at least lie in that playful style of his.  Not for a second did she believe he would come right out and admit the truth.
     "I'm not going to lie to you, Leena.  I'm doing this because I want to prove to you that I'm capable of being unselfish, and because I want you to like me.  Can you think of a better way to befriend a person than by doing nice things for them?"
     Her mouth bobbed, trying to find purchase on an acceptable response.  ""
     "Good.  I'm glad we got that straightened out."
     Leena had to consciously force her legs to operate in order to follow Tom out of the turbolift and into the transporter room.  It took her brain a few minutes to process what had happened.  She likened the experience to being run over by a hovercar.  By the time she regained rational thought Neelix, Pietr Ogdanovich and Justin McCabe had joined them.
     Tom tapped the badge on his chest as soon as they assembled on the pad.  "Paris to Bridge.  The away team is assembled and in position for transport."
     "Acknowledged, Lieutenant.  Stand by."
     The next minute was surprisingly tense as they waited for Chakotay's order.  Leena shifted into full alertness.  Tom fidgeted, double-checking the setting on his phaser.  What were they waiting for?
     Chakotay's voice finally broke the suspense.  "Transporter room, stand down.  Sorry, away team.  It didn't work."

     Tom couldn't take the waiting anymore.  Who knew what tortures Augris was inflicting upon the away team while he held Voyager at gun- point.  At least he hadn't shot at them yet.  That meant Augris still had something he didn't want them to have, namely the away team.  Unfortunately, he didn't know how much longer that would still be the case.  It was so damn frustrating, this feeling of helplessness.
     "Commander."  Tom jumped at Harry's agitated tone.  He looked up at Ops.  Just the expression on Harry's face made the hair on his arms stand up with anticipation.
     "Give me some good news, Mr. Kim."
     Harry obliged.  "There's a disruption in the shields around the prison."
     Chakotay looked up at the ensign, pleasantly surprised.  "That qualifies.  Good work."
     "I wish I could take credit for it, but it's coming from inside the prison."
     "Can we get through?"
     "Yes, but the Mokra will detect our transport."
     "Sounds like they have other things to worry about right now," Tom said.  The possibilities of what was taking place down in the prison ran through his head.  Equipment malfunction, maybe? That seemed far- fetched.  More likely that someone had employed some creative maintenance, and he could think of three people off the top of his head who had the technical knowledge and ability to implement it.  He approached the first officer.  "That disruption might not be accidental.  Someone in there might be trying to get out."
     Chakotay frowned.  "That's a big assumption."
     Tom pressed.  "Even if our people didn't cause the problem, you know they'd take advantage of it.  This is our best chance to find them."  He knew Chakotay couldn't argue against that reasoning.
     Still, the commander appeared to consider the situation.  Obviously he worried how long Voyager would be unable to withstand the Alsaurians' ion cannons once the transporter signal was detected.  But if they didn't act now they might lose any chance they had to get them back at all.  Augris surely would have them killed once order was restored in the prison.
     Chakotay looked briefly at the exterior view of Alsauria, then back at Tom.  "In about 30 seconds the Mokra are going to open fire.  I don't know how long we'll be able to wait for you."
     That was all Tom wanted to hear.  It didn't matter to him that he could have just volunteered for his last away mission.  "Understood."  Turning on his heel, he gave Leena a nod and made a break for the turbolift.  She was waiting in the car when he reached it.  On the way down he signalled Neelix, McCabe and Ogdanovich to join them on the double.  The turbolift doors snapped open and they jogged down the corridor.
     Leena noticed the broad grin on Tom's face.  "You're really looking forward to this, aren't you?"
     "I guess it's the irony of the situation," he replied.  "An ex-con breaking Voyager's chief of security out of jail?  I wonder what Tuvok would have to say about that?"  He was rewarded with the sound of Leena's laughter as they entered the transporter room.

    Leena squinted her eyes to adjust to the low-lit tunnels.  No surprise, really; making prisoners the most uncomfortable in their rehabilitation environment was usually indicative of most despotic ruling bodies.  Tom immediately had his tricorder activated and scanning the branched entrances.  "I'm reading a large concentration of humanoid life signs about 500 metres north-east of us.  I'm guessing we'll have to take the left tunnel.  McCabe, you and Ogdanovich take point.  Neelix and I will be right behind you.  Calloway, cover our backs, make sure than no one tries to sneak up behind us.  Okay, let's move it, but be cautious."  The unit headed briskly into the mouth of the left tunnel.
     Leena side-stepped her way down the corridors, glancing over her shoulder every few seconds.  She kept her composure up and her body relaxed even though adrenaline coursed through her veins.  Damn, it felt good to be lurking behind enemy lines, under the constant threat of being caught, her phaser resting comfortably in her palm.
     Leena was impressed with Tom's display of leadership.  It contradicted the image of the cocky, malingering coward she had envisioned of him.  A lot of things he'd done lately had surprised her, though.  He had shown her one of the skeletons in his closet to vindicate himself against her hasty conclusions.  He had given her a kick in the pants when she needed it.  He had gone out of his way to put her career back on track.  He wasn't nearly the villain she had made him out to be.
     "Whoa!"  Everyone froze and centred on Tom as he stared at the tricorder readouts.  "Move it!  I just read two pulsed energy discharges at our destination."
     The quintet bolted down the corridor.  Leena's heart pounded with fear, not exertion, terrified that they hadn't acted fast enough.  She couldn't begin to measure how sick she'd feel if Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Tuvok had been executed mere moments before their liberation.
     McCabe and Ogdanovich rounded a bend and ran into a couple of armed guards.  The guards were more surprised than anything, not anticipating that a pair of Starfleet officers would suddenly be bearing down on them.  The security officers, prepared for confrontation, didn't even slow down their charge.  They disappeared down the next turn before the guards toppled unconscious to the tunnel floor from a pair of phaser stuns.
     Tom pumped his legs harder to try to keep up with McCabe and Ogdanovich, grimly wondering if he should increase his daily exercises when he returned to the ship.  At least Neelix appears to be labouring, too.  With a physique like his, he should be struggling to keep up.  Looking past a shoulder, Tom caught a most welcome sight: twenty metres down the corridor stood B'Elanna and Tuvok!  He broke stride, jogging his way down to a steady walk.  I've got to find a swimming program for the holodeck, he lamented, pulling in large doses of oxygen as he approached the two other lieutenants.  Tuvok looked a little roughed up, and B'Elanna a little shaken, but otherwise relieved to see the rescue team.  "Man, I never thought I'd say this, Tuvok, but you're a sight for sore eyes."
     The Vulcan held a steady gaze at Tom.  "Indeed."
     Leena came in behind Tom and gasped when she saw Tuvok's battered countenance, eliminating the feeling of elation when she espied him from further down the passage.  "Sir, are you all right?  What did they do to you?"
     "Do not be concerned, Lieutenant.  I was subjected to physical duress by Magistrate Augris and his enforcers, but they were not successful in their objective of extracting information."
     With that addressed, one question remained.  Tom beat her to it, though.  "Where's the captain?  Is she here?"
     "She's in the tunnel off to the right just ahead, Tom," B'Elanna said distractedly.  Tom slipped around the group and down the tunnel.  Neelix took his cue and tagged along.
     "Lieutenant Calloway, we are on our way to recover a number of captives belonging to Mr. Darod's resistance movement.  We will require assistance to escort them out of these passages."
     Leena looked over her shoulder.  "Ensign McCabe, Ensign Ogdanovich, please escort the lieutenants and show them the way out."  She then looked back at Tuvok.  "If you don't mind, sir, I'll stay behind and escort the captain back to the ship."
     Tuvok lowered his eyebrows slightly and, almost imperceptibly, nodded.  Leena recognized his gesture of approval, and the significance of it touched her.  He knew of the regard she held for Captain Janeway.  "Very well, Lieutenant."  He then motioned at the ensigns to follow his lead and the group disappeared down the tunnel.
     Leena followed the path Tom and Neelix had taken, wondering what was delaying them.  Neelix stood at the mouth of the adjoining tunnel looking unusually sullen.  Her anxiety resurfaced.  What had happened?  She quickened her pace, and stopped abruptly when she reached the Talaxian.  What she saw took her breath away.
     In the middle of the chamber, Captain Janeway huddled over the body of a man, her tears staining his face as well as her own.  Knelt at the captain's side, Tom gave her both emotional support and enough personal space to grieve.  That single moment topped off all the redeeming qualities in Tom that Leena had seen in one day: loyalty, compassion, altruism, frank honesty, courage, leadership...was this the same Tom Paris she thought she knew?
     "We'd better go now, Captain," Tom gently advised.  "This place is going to be crawling with guards pretty soon."
     Janeway caressed the dead man's face one final time, wiped away the moisture in her eyes, and stood up.  "All right, I'm done.  Darod, just make sure Caylem receives a proper burial.  He deserves that much respect, at least."  The man must have made quite a sacrifice for the captain to be so concerned, Leena thought.  She wondered how he was connected to the events that had recently taken place.
     "Don't worry, Captain, I'll make certain he gets the best of treatment, and a monument erected in his honour."
     Janeway smiled at Darod.  "Thank you."  She glanced at Tom and Leena, telling them she was finally ready to leave.  Leena led the way out as Darod moved to gather Caylem's still form.  "Tom, thank you for giving me that last moment.  Caylem had his peculiarities, but he was a truly brave and caring person."
     "I could tell he meant a lot to you, Captain.  Believe me, I know what it's like to lose someone very special and not have the chance to pay them the proper respects."
     Leena's stomach twisted into a knot when she heard that.  "Captain, I believe we're clear to beam up to the ship now."
     "Very well, Lieutenant.  Any time you're ready."
     Leena gratefully tapped her communicator.  "Lieutenant Calloway to Voyager.  We have four to beam up."

     Leena winced again at the sight of Lieutenant Tuvok's contusions as she walked into the Security office.  The Vulcan's tolerance for pain was admirable but the visible discolourations on his face indicated just how cordial his Alsaurian guests had been.  She derived some small satisfaction from knowing that Augris had been killed at the hands of Caylem.  The old man had deserved such an honour after the years of hurt and suffering Augris had inflicted upon him.  Regrettably he had also perished in the attempt but he would at least be rewarded with being rejoined with his family in the great hereafter.  "You wanted to see me, sir?"
     "Yes, Lieutenant, I do."  Tuvok set down a report on his desk.  "I've had the opportunity to speak with Commander Chakotay since my return to the ship."
     Uh-oh.  A heavy feeling settled into her chest.  She dreaded what he would have to say about what they inevitably discussed.
     "The commander informed me of his altercation with you on the bridge.  I found myself troubled by his account of the incident.  Your adversarial conduct with Commander Chakotay was insubordinate and unbecoming a Starfleet officer, Lieutenant," he said grimly.  "That is not the type of behaviour I would have expected from you."
     "I can explain that, sir," she replied, although she didn't believe she could.
     "Indeed?" Tuvok questioned.  "You accused the commander of mutiny."
     Her face turned a bright shade of red.  That statement sounded more like a death knell than an observation.  "It my opinion, sir, that Commander Chakotay's decisions were not made for the best interests of the ship.  I...suspected...that he might foil our attempts to rescue you and the captain, and take command of the ship for himself."  Her voice, in line with her confidence, fell flat.
     "I see."  Leena heard, in spite of the speaker, the disapproval and disappointment in Tuvok's voice as he acknowledged her explanation.  "Lieutenant, considering the recent social and career changes you are experiencing I understand how your present state of mind might be agitated.  That does not, however, excuse your reckless manner on the bridge.  Your affront to Commander Chakotay was highly inappropriate and irrational."
     She couldn't bring herself to look him in the eyes.  "Yes, sir.  I'll accept whatever discipline you deem necessary."  She could already see her recent promotion snatched away.
     After an indeterminable silence Tuvok folded his arms across his lap.  "I have discussed this matter with Captain Janeway and the commander.  The commander has decided not to make an issue of this confrontation.  He explained how his precautionary attitude toward you served to instigate this affair.  By his estimation you have already punished yourself enough with your self-imposed confinement and therefore he did not see the need to strip you of rank or sentence you to confinement.  The captain supported his recommendation.  She also added that, although your infraction is sufficient grounds for dismissal from Starfleet and confinement to the brig until you can be brought before a judicial panel, Voyager must make full use of everyone aboard if we are to succeed in our task of returning to the Alpha Quadrant.  This I have taken in consideration.
     "I must confess that I am partly responsible for this outcome, since it was I who confided in Commander Chakotay of your infirmity.  However, it still does not excuse your transgression against him.  Your accusations were based on incomplete information and personal emotions.  As a security officer, you should know the importance of gathering evidence through unbiased, controlled procedures.  It is therefore my judgement that you be suspended from duty for the next 72 hours to contemplate your actions on the bridge.  Your position as assistant chief will of course be re-evaluated as well.  At the end of your suspension you will be put on stand-by duty until further notice."
     Leena waited for him to continue.  There had to be more to her punishment than that.  After a long moment she realized he wasn't going to say any more.  "I don't mean to criticize, sir, but that's it?  No demotion?"
     "Your wariness of the commander's motives closely resembles my own caution when the two crews were first merged into one.  My daily interactions with the commander and the others, however, enabled me to work past my initial suspicions.  You, on the other hand, voluntarily removed yourself from such interactions; you do not have the same insight that I have amassed.  Thus, it is logical to suggest that your mistrust of the Maquis would have been supplanted if not for your self- imposed isolation.  It would not be appropriate to penalize you."
     Numbness enveloped Leena.  Under ordinary circumstances she would have been facing some time in the brig, probably even a court-martial hearing.  She should feel happy that circumstances were far from ordinary on Voyager.  So why did she feel so hollow all of a sudden?
     "You may return to quarters, Lieutenant, unless there is something you would like to discuss further?"
     "Hmm?  Oh, n-no, sir.  Thank you, sir."  Leena left the room in a daze.  She found it difficult to accept this slap on the wrist as just for her atrocious behaviour.  It didn't seem big enough for some reason, only she didn't know the reason.
     She wandered through the corridors, trying to make sense of the impossible situations that had played themselves out in the last few days.  She had a rakish pilot, who had a great deal more character than anyone realized, vying for her affections.  This very same person, a moral misfit, had bested her in a trial of compassion and honesty, had set her on the path to personal stability, and still she had almost mutinied against her first officer.  Now she had been given a light reprieve from her superior when, by all rights, he should have prosecuted her to the fullest extent of the law.  Just thinking about it made her head ache, so instead she let her mind go blank.  The thinking could be put off until such time that she would be better equipped to handle it.  Which, at the rate she was going, would take far longer than the three days she'd just been given.

On to Chapter 6...

Return to the Stories page