Romancing the Stone: Stage III


Darrel W. Beach

Original draft, September 1998
Revised and HTMLized, July 2002

Author's Note:

This story continues the events chronicled in Stage II: Diamond in the Rough.  Time placement is the second season of Star Trek: Voyager, following the episode Resistance.

The following presentation is rated PG for adult language and some implied adult situations. Parental guidance is suggested.


     I really should've asked her what she had in mind for our date first.
     Tom stood outside Holodeck 2 wearing a heavy woollen English long coat, circa 1750, contemplating what Leena had planned for him.  It was nearly 1830 hours, the time Calloway had instructed him to arrive.  That request was unusual enough, being asked to just show up at a certain place at a certain time.  Still a traditionalist when it came to dating, Tom preferred escorting his partner to the chosen milieu; to do otherwise eliminated the opportunity to build rapport.  The period costume she'd instructed him to wear wasn't helping either.  18th Century styles weren't hideous by any means, but neither were they the most comfortable.  He wasn't about to turn down her offer, though.  With her looks and superlative ability to carry a grudge, quibbling over dating semantics seemed monumentally unimportant.
     Tom tugged irritably at the starched collar of his shirt.  The coat was itchy and hot.  Trust her to select England's wet season for our first meeting.
     For a moment he had thought she might be playing some kind of prank, judging by the characters they were to play: a carriage driver attempting to seduce a wealthy young widow when she mistakes him for a well-to-do mill owner.  The situation was a satirical swipe at how Leena regarded his efforts to befriend her.  He'd let her have her fun, though; no one had ever accused Tom of not appreciating a sense of humour.
     The holodeck doors rumbled opened at the stroke of 1830.  By some illusion Tom felt the damp air blow through the opening.  He reflexively wrapped the coat tighter to his body as he entered the simulation, the bulky garment feeling suddenly reassuring.  A deafening wind buffeted against him, the cold, damp air slamming into him like a wall of ice.  Staggering to find his balance, Tom again wondered if she was testing him or simply having fun at his expense.  He neither saw nor heard the doors close behind him.
     The pale glow of candle-lit street lamps provided the major source of light to cast off the inky blue night sky.  It surprised Tom that they could withstand the strong winds threatening to knock him over.  He turned left, spying the stoop of a townhouse, his destination.  Its Victorian architecture truly reflected the personality of Leena's character, Lady Waltham - stunningly beautiful and reeking with class.  Still clutching the collar of the jacket, he scurried up the steps and used the brass knocker to announce his presence to the household within.
     An agonizing minute later a middle-aged gentleman opened the door.  He was tall, slight of build, and very British, a perfect exemplar of the butler stereotype.  "Good evening, sir.  Have you been expected?"
     "I dare hope so, my good fellow.  I am Mr. Simmons," Tom replied, attempting the Queen's English.  He knew it was unnecessary, but imitating accents helped integrate him into the programs he used.
     "Ah, yes, the Lady has been expecting you.  Please come in."  He stepped aside and admitted Tom to the foyer.  "Your coat, sir?"
     Tom snapped out of a daze, his attention caught by the manor's chic interior.  "Oh, yes, thank you."  He removed his coat and handed it to the butler.  "Sorry for being late.  My usual driver has the night off and his replacement doesn't quite know his way around the city yet."
     The butler made no reply, either uninterested in the excuse or not paid to express his own opinions.  He instead led Tom into an anteroom and directed him to a comfortable chair while he retired to fetch the lady of the house.  Tom gawked at the ornate decorations, recalling how people of this time associated personal wealth with social influence.  Judging by the lavish furnishings around him, Lady Waltham was in very good standing in the community.
     His fascination gradually turned into irritation with the passage of minutes.  Why had Leena asked him to come at a specific time, only to make him wait?  If she had been delayed by something, why hadn't she called him?  As the clock on the mantle chimed out the hour Tom was impatiently wearing out the patterned rug on the floor trying to dismiss all the obvious signs that he'd been stood up.
     "The Lady Waltham," the butler suddenly announced.  Tom turned sharply toward the door, now quite angry.  Leena should have told him that she'd be late.  When the butler stood aside from the entrance, though, Tom literally forgot all about it.  He could only think of one thing as Leena walked into the room.  I think I like the 18th Century.
     A dress fashioned from oriental silk formed tightly around her torso and plumed outward at her waist with a frilly petticoat, the colour bringing out the green hue of her eyes.  She had painted her lips with a dusky, flat shade of red.  Her hair was elaborately and perfectly coifed.  Simple silver earrings matched her bracelets, choker and the centrepiece of her ensemble, a second silver necklace with a cluster of sapphires and diamonds hanging scant inches away from an obscene but arousing amount of cleavage.  Unable to pull his eyes away from the provocative accoutrement, Tom felt the sweat form on his upper lip.  It seemed as though she deliberately wanted to draw attention to her ample figure; some sort of corset further exaggerated her intention.  So that's why they call it an hourglass figure.  Tom felt his voice die in his throat.  His face burned from arousal and embarrassment.  Even if it was part of Lady Waltham's character to dress provocatively for Mr. Simmons, Tom hadn't expected a conservative like Leena to flaunt her body so flagrantly.  He considered it a mixed blessing that he was standing up.
     Leena beamed a devastating smile.  "Mr. Simmons!  I'm delighted you could come this evening.  I feared that the inclement weather might deter you from our appointment."  She moved forward a few steps and raised a hand, palm down.
     The sound of Leena's voice freed Tom from a frozen stupor.  Grasping the outstretched hand, Tom bent over and kissed her knuckle, keeping his eyes locked onto hers.  "I wouldn't have missed this night if the world were nearing its end, my dear lady."  He hoped she knew Mr. Simmons wasn't the one speaking.
     Leena giggled like a schoolgirl, adhering to Lady Waltham's flighty character.  "My, such flattery!  I fear I might have to beware your charm, Mr. Simmons, lest I succumb to an indiscretion."  She slipped her hand from Tom's grasp, but slowly.  "May I have Langston pour you a brandy?  Supper won't be for some time yet."
     Tom licked his dry lips, wishing he could accept the invitation.  "No, thank you, but a gracious offer."
     "Very well.  Langston, you may leave us."
     "Yes, madam."  Langston bowed stiffly and disappeared into the hall.
     Leena put one hand on her hip and waved the other across the room, taking the opportunity of a private moment to slip out of character.  "Well, Tom, what do you think?"
     With the initial shock wearing off, the mischievous twinkle in Tom's eye reappeared.  "It's absolutely incredible, Calloway.  Classic design, exceptionally well built, smart, tasteful decorations.  The program is nice, too."
     Leena returned a satirical glare.  "Really funny, wise guy.  Just remember to keep your hands where I can see them.  Try anything and I'll have you feeling like a whole new person - one without gender, in particular."
     "All right, all right.  I can take a hint.  There's just one thing I have to know, however.  Don't you find it difficult to breathe in that corset?"
     Leena frowned.  "Trust you to notice something like that.  If you must know, the first time I ran this program I had a bit of trouble, but I'm used to it now.  A little discomfort is no big deal."
     "Seems kind of stupid, though.  If it's uncomfortable, why wear it at all?  I mean, you don't have to impress me.  It makes no difference to me if you wear a bra instead."
     Leena's expression could have put Lt. Torres to shame.  "I am wearing it, Mr. Paris, out of my appreciation of 18th Century culture and all the people who worked so hard to make this program!  Of all people, you should understand the painstaking effort that goes into an authentic representation, and these people have a much harder job because of the limited amount of period data."
     Tom blinked in surprise at the severe tone of Leena's outburst.  He searched to find some ancillary words to prevent their date from destructing.  "I'm sorry, Leena.  It was just an observation.  This program is really important to you, isn't it?"
     "Yes, it is."  She seemed to calm down a little, but Tom knew he wasn't out of the woods just yet.  He coughed nervously, knowing that his entire future with the woman before him possibly hung in the balance with the next utterance.
     "On second thought, madam, I think I'll have that brandy after all.  Only if you join me, of course."  Tom had a feeling that he'd be in for a rough evening.

     Leena scuttled down the corridor ignoring the open stares of passing people, still dressed in her Victorian evening dress and clutching a folded uniform to her bosom.  Certainly they were forming some curious opinions about her appearance.
     The date had run long.  It wouldn't have been much of a problem, except someone else had reserved time on the holodeck right after her.  She couldn't change out of her costume in the holodeck like she'd planned.  She increased her pace slightly.  The corset was really starting to irritate her skin now.
     "Come one, Julie, please be home," she said to herself when she reached Ensign McCormick's cabin and pressed the chime.  Mercifully the door opened right away.  Leena ducked inside.  "Oh, thank God you're here!  Could you help me get out of this thing, please?"
     McCormick goggled at her dress.  "Wow, Leena.  You look fabulous in that.  What's the occasion, and why wasn't I invited?"
     "Sorry, Julie.  Private function - very private."  She turned her back to the ensign and lifted her arms over her head.  "Please, dress first, questions later."
     Julie stumbled out of her chair and began unfastening the hooks.  "Huh, talk about an authentic costume.  What on earth are you wearing?" she gasped at the sight of the corset.
     "It's a corset.  It's also starting to itch like crazy."
     "Don't you find it hard to breathe in this thing?"  Julie picked at the knot holding the undergarment in place.  The corset seemed to sigh contentedly as it was freed of its responsibility of constricting Leena's flesh.
     Leena sighed as well.  "Ahh, thank you.  It's not so bad once you get used to it."  She held the bodice to her chest with one hand and massaged the newly exposed skin with the other.  She swivelled back again to give McCormick a sheepish smile.  "Is there some place I can change?"
     "Bedroom's through there," she said, indicating a doorway.  "Knock yourself out."
     Leena disappeared into Julie's bedroom, her dress scuffing the floor as she walked.  Julie stood just to the outside, looking away from the entrance.  After a short time she heard Leena giggle.  "What's the joke, Leena?"
     "Oh, nothing.  Tom asked me the very same question about the corset."
     "Tom Paris?  Were you and he out on a date?"
     "Don't sound so surprised.  You were the one who suggested it in the first place."
     "I know, were wearing that?"
     Leena laughed.  "I wanted to keep him a little off balance."
     "I'm surprised he didn't have a heart attack - or pass out from blood loss.  You ought to be ashamed of yourself."
     "Why should I?"  Leena emerged wearing the familiar black and gold, the evening dress draped over her arm.  "Okay, maybe it was unfair, but I don't think Tom follows any kind of rule book either.  I just want to keep him honest."  The two women sat down on the sofa.
     "So you're going to keep seeing him then?"
     "Well, at least one more time.  I sort of owe it to him."
     "The date was that bad, huh?"
     Leena blushed.  "No, I wouldn't say that exactly.  It just got off to a rough start.  I should have told him that I like 18th Century literature as much as he like cars."
     "Oh, dear."  Julie giggled.  "How did he hold up?"
     "Amazingly well.  He must really want it to work."  Leena grinned broadly.  "His English accent was absolutely brutal."

     "Lieutenant Paris, please alter our heading, six-eight mark two- two."
     Tom keyed in the course change, then swivelled in his chair slightly to read the captain's expression.  He saw Chakotay looking curiously at her also.  "Find something?" the commander asked first.
     Janeway barely suppressed an amused grin.  "Possibly.  Lieutenant Torres, are you busy?"
     B'Elanna's sharp voice rang across the bridge over the intercom.  "Not at the moment, Captain."
     "B'Elanna, I want you to run a long range scan on a system about twelve light years from our current position, and tell me what you see."
     "Okay," a puzzled Torres signed off.  Moments later the communication line activated again, a distinctly more excited voice driving it.  "I don't believe it!  There are concentrations of dilithium out there!"
     Tom now turned fully around almost in disbelief of the report.  He saw Janeway beam at B'Elanna's exuberant response, and he understood.  Anyone within earshot of the engineer's report would have received an emotional lift.  "I thought so.  Tom, do us all a favour and increase speed to Warp 5."
     Tom soon joined her with an equally wide grin.  "Yes, ma'am!"

     Tom positioned Voyager just outside the perimeter of their destination: Anre Kiol.  At first glance it looked like any other asteroid cluster, but the sensors had picked up some kind of gravity well at its centre.  Also peculiar were the relatively high amounts of natural ores and minerals, in addition to the dilithium.  With many space faring races neighbouring Anre Kiol, Tom thought the asteroids would have been stripped of most or all of their usable resources by now, much like the ones that lined the outer edge of the cluster.
     Harry conveniently provided an answer to that question.  "Captain, I'm starting to get a clearer reading inside the asteroid field.  The gravity well we detected is actually a twin star.  The increased levels of radiation and gravimetric fluctuations were interfering with our sensors."
     "Does it pose any threat to us, Ensign?  Can we still send out the shuttles?"
     "The shuttles should be able to withstand the conditions near the perimeter.  If the excavation teams try going in further the ride will get choppy pretty fast."
     B'Elanna growled in dissatisfaction at Harry's report from the engineering station.  "But all of the asteroids out on the edge have been stripped bare, Harry.  If we want any dilithium we've got to go in there to get it.  The closest deposit is 500,000 kilometres inward."
     Harry checked his instruments, shook his head.  "It's too far in.  If the gravitational forces don't pull the shuttles apart the away teams risk getting a serious dose of radiation poisoning."
     "How about if we manoeuvre the ship closer, cut down on the shuttles' travel distance?" the captain asked.
     Harry grimaced.  "I wouldn't recommend it, Captain.  The dangers wouldn't change, and there's no telling how long we could shield Voyager at that range."
     "Okay.  If we can't go in, then the question becomes how do get the dilithium to come out here?  A tractor beam, maybe?"
     "The increased radiation may adversely affect our ability to maintain a lock on any object, Captain," Tuvok said.  Everyone turned to look at him.  "The additional gravitational pull would also create a greater amount of shearing stress on the hull.  Success would seem highly improbable."
     The ridges on B'Elanna's forehead had an added definition due to her intensely thoughtful expression.  "Maybe a tractor beam by itself won't work," she said.  It sounded at first like she was talking aloud to herself, but her voice grew in assurance as she worked through the idea.  "Maybe we could modify the deflector to emit an inverted magneton beam, to use in conjunction with a tractor."
     "Give the asteroid a little push first, give it enough momentum to help break the gravitational pull," the captain replied, translating the technical jargon.  She paused in thought.  "How long do you think it will take to make the modifications?"
     "Twenty minutes, half an hour, tops."
     "Captain," Tuvok dourly spoke.  "I must warn you that using the deflector in this fashion will cause a drain on the shields.  If this attempt does not succeed, the ship will be put at risk."
     "I understand your concern, Mr. Tuvok, but right now this is our best option to get that dilithium.  Besides, I have a hunch that this plan will work.  I'm willing to take that risk.  B'Elanna, start making those modifications.  In half an hour I want us digging for crystal."

     Twenty minutes later the plan was put into motion.  B'Elanna and Harry co-ordinated to find a suitable target: a small asteroid with a high concentration of dilithium and a high enough rate of velocity that the modified magneton beam would only be needed for a few seconds to be effective.  Tom had the toughest part of the assignment: to position Voyager at such an angle as to push the asteroid away from the twin suns.  That meant flying deep into the cluster where the radiation would be more lethal.  Maybe Tuvok wasn't being such a grump after all.
     Janeway settled into her chair, looking confident and calm to relax the bridge staff.  "Whenever you're ready, Mr. Paris."
     Tom swallowed the lump in his throat.  "Aye, Captain.  Engaging thrusters.  Hang on to your hats, everyone; this is gonna get bumpy."  Tom almost felt the deck plates pulling under his feet as Voyager entered the field.
     "Hull stress is rising.  I am increasing power to structural integrity," Tuvok reported from tactical.
     Tom allowed his piloting instincts to take over.  With practiced ease he deftly avoided chunks of rock that drifted into Voyager's path without turning the ship too hard.  The gravitational forces of the binary stars tugged and yanked them in several directions at once.  The increasing turbulence threatened to throw him from the conn, but he clung to the console and somehow managed to minimize the extra stress forced upon the hull.  "We're almost at the designated co-ordinates."
     "The target will be within range in twenty-three seconds, Captain," Harry reported.
     The ship shuddered and groaned as Tom cut propulsion.  "Full stop, Captain.  I'm turning the ship into position now."
     Janeway gripped into the arms of her chair.  "Keep us steady, Lieutenant.  We might only get one chance at this."
     "The deflector is fully charged.  Ready to initiate magneton beam."  B'Elanna's voice strained with anticipation.
     "Stand by.  Lieutenant Paris, set course and prepare to engage thrusters on my mark."
     "Aye, Captain," Tom replied nervously.
     "The asteroid is now in range."  Ensign Kim's voice also contained an edge of worry.
     "Activate the deflector."
     All eyes were glued to the forward viewscreen as a blue-white stream of energy lashed out from the deflector toward the approaching rock.  They intercepted each other with a flare of light.
     The excitement in Harry's voice was tangible.  "It's working.  The asteroid's trajectory has been altered by 0.7 degrees...1.8 degrees... 4.1...."
     "Shield strength is at 84 percent and dropping," Tuvok announced. "62 percent."
     "9.8 degrees...."
     "Disengage deflector.  Mark," Janeway said much too calmly.  Voyager shot forward just as the magneton beam dissipated, swooping over top the tumbling asteroid.  "Let's see if we've given it enough momentum to steer it where we want it to go.  Tuvok, activate tractor beam."
     The ship struggled slightly as the tractor reached out to grab the asteroid.  "I am having difficulty establishing a lock.  The increased radiation from the stars is still interfering with sensors."
     "Do what you can, Tuvok.  The farther we can drag this thing, the safer it will be to mine it."
     "I am attempting to compensate."
     A few seconds later the tractor beam snapped into place around the asteroid, and suddenly the ride was much smoother.  Voyager wove through the rest of the field with a minimal amount of resistance and was soon back into open space.  Tom exhaled as if he'd been holding his breath through the whole thing.
     Janeway stood up and surveyed the crew, smiling proudly.  "Excellent work, people.  I couldn't be more proud of your accomplishment today."
     Something at the Ops station twittered.  Harry immediately pounced on it.  "Captain."
     Janeway swerved around to face him, a touch of concern tempering her relaxed visage.  "What is it, Ensign?"
     "The sensors have finally been able to get a clear reading on the dilithium.  We can definitely process it."
     Tom turned in time to see the captain share a meaningful look with B'Elanna.  Tom could appreciate it as well.  The 'tellerium incident' was still fresh on everyone's mind.  "That's the best news I've heard yet, Mr. Kim," the captain said.  "Lieutenant Torres, assemble an excavation team and take a shuttlecraft to mine that dilithium."
     "Aye, Captain.  We'll be ready in ten minutes."

On to Chapter 2...

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