Romancing the Stone: Stage II

"Diamond in the Rough"

Darrel W. Beach

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


     Ensign McCormick turned into section 38 on Deck 5, pausing briefly along the passage to check the cabin numbers.  The rumour mill was now in full swing regarding Lt. Calloway's disappearance.  Some people claimed that Tuvok had confined her to quarters for the remainder of their journey.  Others said the captain had stripped her of rank and ordered her to de-oxidize every single circuit board in the ship.  Still others had heard that Calloway had resigned her commission.  Some of the stories circulated seemed pretty outlandish, but the fact that Julie hadn't seen a trace of Leena anywhere in the last day had her concerned.  Leena would be able to clarify matters for her, once and for all.
     She stopped in front of a door and depressed the touch pad along the jamb.  A few moments passed but no one answered.  "Computer, is Lieutenant Calloway still in her quarters?"  The computer confirmed Leena was there.  She pressed the pad again, thinking she could have been napping or distracted, then a third time: still no answer.  She tapped her commbadge instead.  "Ensign McCormick to Lieutenant Calloway.  Leena, I know you're in there."
     "Leave me alone, Julie," the pin growled back.
     "Leena, I'm your friend.  Talk to me."
     "No.  Go away."
     "I'm not leaving until you let me in.  I'll ask Lieutenant Torres to override the lock on your door if I have to."
     Leena responded with an irritated sigh.  "All right, fine.  Come in."  A second later the door opened to a darkened room.  McCormick walked in before the lieutenant changed her mind.  She nearly tripped as the doors closed behind her.  Stars streaked past the lone window in the den, distorted by the warp field surrounding the ship.  As such, little light actually entered the room.  "Computer, increase the light in this room to half-full intensity."  Now with the ability to see, Julie approached the entrance to Leena's bedroom, which quickly swallowed up the low light from the den.  She rapped lightly on the doorsill.  "Are you decent?"
     Leena laughed bitterly.  "That's a matter of opinion."
     The ensign risked a look in.  Through the shadows she saw Calloway's prone form stretched out atop her bed.  It looked like she hadn't bothered to change out of her uniform; the low light managed to highlight a swatch of gold fabric on her shoulder.  "I came to see if you were still among the living.  I haven't decided yet."  The joke fell to the floor hard.  McCormick decided that this conversation would be difficult to get through.  "Lieutenant Tuvok wasn’t too hard on you, was he?"
     "He wasn't and he was, depending on how you look at it.  He took me off duty for three days."
     "That was my first reaction, too.  That's it.  Just time off to reflect on how I screwed up."
     "Then I don't get it.  Why are you acting like your career is over?  You should consider yourself lucky that he didn't throw you into the brig."
     "I think I'd feel better if he had."
     This certainly wasn't getting her anywhere.  If she wanted to change Leena's mood she had to penetrate the barriers she had erected.  "Is it okay if I turn the light up a little in here?  I have a hard time talking to shadows."
     Leena sighed irritably again, but said nothing right away.  Julie was about to interpret her silence as an affirmative when she finally responded.  "Lights, dim setting."
     Julie could now see the rumpled condition of her uniform and her dishevelled appearance.  Not only had she not changed, she probably hadn't even moved from that spot.  "Is this all you've been doing since yesterday?  Lying in the dark staring at the ceiling?"
     "Pretty much."
     "Why not?  It's about the only thing I'm good for."
     "Gee, we're feeling just a little bit sorry for ourselves, aren't we?"
     Leena finally moved, propping herself into a sitting position.  "How would you feel if you realized that antagonizing people was the only skill you have?"
     "Lighten up on yourself, girl.  I doubt that anyone here thinks you're a detriment to the ship.  You just have to get back into the swing of things, get used to working with the big boys again.  Argelis wasn't built in a day, you know."
     The lieutenant flopped back down on the mattress.  "It was embarrassing, Julie!  I specialize in tactical architectures.  I should have been able to break that sensor net, but I couldn't!  I've never felt so incompetent in my life!  Then to top it all off I go and accuse Commander Chakotay of being a worse officer than I am.  I'm a hypocritical bigot.  I don't deserve to wear this uniform anymore."
     "Then take it off," Julie snapped.
     "Go to the captain and tell her you quit.  Ask her to drop you off at the next habitable planet, if that's what you want."
     "That's not what I want, Julie."
     "Then what do you want, Lieutenant: to stay in this room for the next seventy years feeling guilty?  You think you can't hack it as a security officer because of one lousy day?  I've got a news flash for you: everyone has bad days.  You deal with the share of junk life hands you and you move on.  If you're lucky you run into people who care enough to help you dig your way out if you can't do it by yourself, but they'll stop trying if you keep burying yourself in it."
     Leena sat up again.  "Julie, I...."  A blush burned her cheeks.  "I'm really sorry.  I didn't mean to push you away like that.  Everything's been happening so fast lately, I can't cope with all of it."
     McCormick softened her stance; Leena had understood the message.  "Then be thankful you still have two more days to sort it all out.  I know it was to tough to hear, Leena, but sometimes friends have to be tough to be kind."
     Calloway pushed her legs over the foot of the bed and smiled wanly.  "No, I deserved it.  I've been told I can be quite stubborn when I put my mind to something.  But where do I even start?  There's so much to think about."
     "My advice would be to forget all about it for a while.  Do something to relax, then come back when your mind is free of clutter.  I guarantee you'll have an easier time of it."
     "Think so, huh?  Got any ideas?"
     "As a matter of fact, I do.  Feel up to logging a few miles through the Trenamen Foothills?"
     Surprise and curiosity gripped the lieutenant.  Trenamen was one of her favourite holodeck settings for running.  How did Julie know that?  Had she looked through her holodeck programs?  "How do you know about Trenamen?"
     "I grew up near there.  You've been there?"
     So, it was only coincidence.  Leena found the probability staggering.  "Only on a holodeck, but I do a lot of my running there."
     "Woah, this is so weird!  It's like we were meant to be friends or something."
     Julie's observation hadn't occurred to her, but now that she thought of it, it did seem that they were destined to become friends.  A sportive grin worked at her features.  "Stranger things have happened.  So how soon do you want to go?"
     Julie beamed broadly.  "Meet me at Holodeck 2 in ten minutes, okay?"
     "I'll see you there."

     Leena always loved the smell of the air in the Trenamen Foothills.  Maybe the native conifers had something to do with it, but she felt enervated every time she parsed the forest-side trails.  Just feeling the coolness of the shadowy path intermixed with the sun's warmth made her feel better.  It was a shame she hadn't of thought of doing this herself.  Wallowing in self-loathing will do that, I guess.
     Julie was already limbering up at a designated rest point.  She just smiled at her friend's arrival and continued her exercises.  There would be time enough to talk on the track.  Leena stretched her own muscles, working out the tension and stiffness built up from a full day of inactivity.  That would definitely cut into her usual pace time, but she didn't care.  She wasn't here to race.
     Sufficiently warmed up, the pair trotted on to the path and assumed a leisurely pace.  Before long they were chewing up ground at a steady clip.
     "So you grew up here, huh?"
     "Sure did."  Julie pointed westward.  "My family lives in a settlement about thirty kilometres that way, straight over the river."
     "Sounds wonderful."
     "It had its moments.  Every summer until I went to the Academy we'd pack up and camp out in these forests for a whole week."  She chuckled.  "I used to hate it.  My brothers Jarod and Michael could turn any holiday into a miserable experience.  I never thought I'd miss them, but I do."  The conversation stunted for a few moments.  Leena worried that she had inadvertently raised a sore spot for Julie, but the ensign resumed a lighter air.  "What about you, Leena?  Got any brothers or sisters back home?"
     "No.  My parents were lucky to be together long enough to have even one child."
     "They were both 'Fleeters?"
     "My mother was.  My father worked as a mineralogist, mostly for terraforming projects.  In fact, that's how they met.  My mom's ship, the Descartes, was called in to deliver supplies to the Beta Epsilon project.  It was love at first sight.  A week later they decided to get married."
     "Wow, that was quick."
     "Yeah, but it didn't happen until the following year.  The Descartes was sent on a scientific exploratory mission.  My father said it was the longest year of his life waiting for her to return.  By the time my mother pulled into space dock the wedding arrangements were all completed.  Two days later they had the ceremony and made up for a lot of lost time on the honeymoon.  That's where I come in, and that's when everything began to change.
     "The pregnancy was not all entirely well planned.  My parents still barely knew each other apart from their subspace communications, and all of a sudden they were looking at becoming a family.  My mom requested a transfer to Outpost 115, where my dad was currently working as a senior researcher.  They were both committed to making the family work, and for a while it did.  Unfortunately, my mom got restless.  She missed the feeling of being on a starship, and she found out that living with a research scientist wasn't all that it was cracked up to be.  I'm not sure if she told dad that, though.  If it hadn't been for me she would have left him a whole lot sooner.
     "It was tough on both me and my dad when she decided to go.  I was almost three years old.  The Turing was coming in to deliver medical supplies and a transfer of personnel.  When my mother found out she put in a call for consideration.  The captain of the Turing liked her credentials and offered her a post, which she accepted.  She explained to my father that it was just to satisfy her craving to be back out among the stars, but by then I think he knew that the love just wasn't there anymore, so he didn't fight it too much.  He filed the divorce papers six months later.
     "At my mother's insistence, I stayed behind.  She called home fairly frequently at first, mainly to see me for a short time and to apologize for being so far away, but as I got older the calls got fewer and further between.  I never realized that she wouldn't be coming back until dad finished his research project and signed on to another terraforming project in the Coriolis sector."
     Julie looked rather stricken.  "Oh, that must have been awful, finding out that way."
     "I'll say.  I thought it was my fault they broke up.  It took quite a bit of therapy with my father and a bunch of counsellors to get over that hurdle.  I can remember the toughest one; the counsellor actually managed to get a hold of my mother and arrange a group session with both my parents on her ship.  I was eight years old at the time.  I really hated my mother.  I accused her of abandoning me.  It took a couple of weeks, but we eventually reached an understanding.  In time I even learned to forgive my mother."
     "Look, Leena, if you don't want to talk about this I'll understand."
     "It's okay, Julie, really.  That was twenty years ago.  I've accepted what happened."
     They continued on in silence for a while.  Leena wondered if her friend felt awkward with the turn their discussion had taken.  She couldn't blame her if she did; growing up in a broken family wasn't easy.  The nights spent wondering when her father would come home or if her mother would call.  The frustrations involved with dealing with family care facilitators or having no one around to help at all.  The hardest part was probably the travelling.  For a few years she and her father moved from one project to another, at times just long enough to make a few friends before having to leave for his next assignment.  She was a frightfully lonely child.  This past year was probably the closest thing in years to match that feeling of loneliness.  Wilton, June and R'Kesh, her closest friends, all cruelly snatched away from her by the Caretaker.  Perhaps some of her resentment stemmed from being thrust back into the role of that little girl reluctantly stripped of all ties to security.
     "Your parents never remarried then?"
     "My father didn't.  He occupied himself with his work mostly, but he never met anyone he really wanted to spend the rest of his life with.  As for my mother, she dated around quite a bit with guys she worked with.  I don't know if she ever planned to marry again.  Then when she called me on my sixteenth birthday I found out she was seeing some lieutenant in security.  They'd been dating for a few months and she seemed pretty serious about it.  She took it a lot slower with him, though; she wanted to be sure she didn't get burned a second time.  It took her three years to make that commitment again.  To my knowledge they haven't had any kids yet, but then I haven't spoken with her in about two years."
     "It must have been rough growing up with one parent, especially one as busy as your dad."
     "It was a real struggle, all right.  I basically had to learn how to take care of myself.  Then I had to look after my father, too - you know, keep the place clean, prepare meals, that kind of stuff - whenever he was too tired or too busy with his research.  I'm sure I impressed him, taking on so many responsibilities and still manage to keep on top of school studies.  Sometimes he practically had to force me to go out and do 'kid' stuff and appreciate the advantages of youth.  He pretty much helped me become the woman I am now."  Leena chuckled softly.  "In fact, he probably influenced my Starfleet career more than he realized."
     "Really?  How does a scientist influence his daughter into becoming a security officer?"
     "Well, the self sufficiency was a start, but it really began when I was fifteen, when I really started to mature.  If you can believe it, I was a late bloomer."
     The ensign's eyes widened.  "With breasts that size?  You're putting me on."
     "Not a bit!  At fourteen I still looked like a ten-year-old.  It was torture seeing all the other girls sporting brassieres.  Then came the growth spurt to end all growth spurts.  Seven and a half inches in six months, and I went from being washboard flat to the bustiest girl in class.  My father panicked a little; his little girl wasn't so little anymore, and he worried that I might be taken advantage of.  He enrolled me in a martial arts class so I'd know how to take care of myself in situations where men might force themselves on me.  Unfortunately, it came in handy a number of times, but I suppose it was better to break a few noses than wind up a teenaged parent.  The real obnoxious guys learned to keep their distance after awhile, especially after I got a few inches taller.  It's harder to intimidate a young woman who's the same size as you."
     "I suppose there are some real advantages to being tall, aren't there?  I mean, you probably get more respect for your opinions and decision because of your stature."
     "Well, maybe, I guess, but then I also have to deal with people who don't take me seriously because of my chest size.  I think that was a major motivator for me to join Starfleet.  Appearance doesn't matter; you get recognized for what you do, not what you look like."
     "That probably didn't stop half the campus from hitting on you, though," Julie chaffed.
     Leena laughed.  "Not a chance."  They shared the jollity for another few minutes.  "I'm sorry, I've got to stop.  I can hardly breathe."  They slowed down to a stroll, allowing her to claim a second wind.
     "Damn, I haven't had this much fun for months!  We should do this more often, Leena."
     "I agree.  I hate to admit it, but I'm glad you suggested this.  I almost feel like a new person."
     Julie grinned.  "I thought so.  There's no better way to deal with frustration than airing it out."
     "That's not quite what I meant."
     "I think unconsciously you do.  You may have accepted what happened to you in the past, but how many times have you actually told anyone about it?  Not many times, I bet.  I feel honoured that you picked me to share it with."
     "Now you're starting to sound like Mr. Paris.  How many psychoanalysts do I need anyway?"
     The ensign looked at Leena sideways.  "Is there something going on between you and Tom that I should know about?"
     "What?  Don't be ridiculous.  Whatever gave you that idea?"
     "Ah, so there is something going on.  I thought as much when I saw you with him in Sandrine's.  I didn't want to say anything, though."
     "You were right not to.  I was there only out of professional courtesy."
     "Right.  You were probably wondering what he looks like out of uniform."
     "You've got to admit, he is cute."
     "That doesn't automatically mean I want to jump him.  A week ago I could barely tolerate being in the same room with him."
     "All the more reason why you two should date.  You two are intensely passionate together.  The bad times can be rough, but the making up will be all the more spectacular!"
     Leena's face grew hot with embarrassment.  What a filthy mind you've got, Julie!  "This is insane!  Sure, he's attractive, but so are 80% of the guys on this ship.  What makes Paris so special?"
     "He's got charm, he's a bit rebellious...some women are attracted to an element of danger.  He's a challenge."
     Could that be it?  Did she see Tom as a challenge to overcome?  "This is stupid.  I don't know why I'm even considering this."
     "I think the question you should be asking yourself is why you're trying so hard to push him away.  He obviously interests you, otherwise you wouldn't be so hung up about him."  Julie assumed a pensive appearance.  Leena wondered what she was thinking.  "Maybe it's not the relationship you're scared of.  I think you're more afraid of being rejected."
     "Excuse me?"
     "No, think about it.  You said how hard it was making friends growing up.  You'd form a bond with someone, then you'd experience pain when the bond was severed.  It's not unrealistic to assume that you've developed an extreme view of friendship.  If a bond looks safe - obviously like the one we have - you snap it up and hold on to it as tightly as possible.  On the other hand, if there's any room for doubt in a possible friendship you shy away because you only see the potential for failure, not the opportunity of success.
     "Now expand on that to what happened with your mother.  Losing someone that significant in your life seriously hurt you, so the thought of forming an intimate attachment to another person scares the hell out of you."
     "I'm tired of talking about this.  It's not like you're actually going to convince me to ask him out," Leena snapped.  Julie's words were hitting a little too close to home, and she didn't want to think that she might actually be right.  "You know, as much as I've enjoyed our run together, I think I'm going to call it a day."
     "Oh, I'm not chasing you away, am I?  I was just making conversation."
     "No, I just don't want to risk an injury.  My legs are starting to tighten up already.  I'd love to do this again next week, though."
     "I'd like that, Leena.  I'll enter it in my schedule."
     "Perfect.  I think I'll freshen up and see myself to the mess hall.  Feels like I haven't eaten in days.  Computer, exit."
     "My advice: stay away from the blue stuff."
     Leena looked over her shoulder as she headed for the exit and smiled.  "Thanks for the tip.  I'll see you later."

On to Chapter 7...

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