Romancing the Stone: Stage III


Darrel W. Beach

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


     Leena flopped wearily into a soft chair in her quarters.  Her shift in the shuttle bay had taken more out of her that she would have expected.  Then again, she hadn't expected the Kazon to attack.  She had expected Tom's visit even less.  She chuckled at her own naivety.  "Oh, I should have seen that coming."
     Really, when she thought about it, she was the one acting stupid.  She'd been interacting closely with Tom for over three weeks.  People were probably already talking about them; more feed for the rumour mill.  Why should it start bothering her now?
     A signal from her desktop console alerted her to an incoming file.  Leena didn't know what to make of it.  Maybe Lieutenant Tuvok sent out another change in the duty roster.  With a half-hearted attempt she struggled to her feet and trudged over to her work table.  Her eyebrows lifted an inch up her forehead when she read the sender tag.  She opened the file and read the message, a wry smile growing with each passing sentence.
I want to apologize again for leaving you to clean up my mess
in the shuttle bay.  If I could, I'd like to make it up to you.
Dinner, tomorrow night?  We'll talk about anything you'd like.
Please let me know.

     With the immediate threat of destruction averted, attention returned to the newly acquired payload.  B'Elanna had started developing plans for an ore separator in one of the engineering labs and Harry vacated Ops to perform tests on the samples with her.  Tom was almost envious.  With Harry absent Tom didn't have anyone to share in his usual bridge banter and Tuvok-baiting.  All that was left was to keep an eye out for Kazon ships and wait.  Correction, there is one thing, he reminded himself.  Leena had dropped by his room last night.
     "What brings you by?" Tom asked, pleasantly surprised by his late night visitor.
     "I got your message," she answered stolidly.  "I'm sorry, Tom, I can't have dinner with you tomorrow night.  I've made other commitments already."
     Tom's shoulders drooped.  "Oh, okay."
     "I am free the next night, though, if you're still interested," she said.
     "Uh, sure, that's fine!  Where'd you want to go?"
     "Actually, I was thinking that I could prepare something for you.  You know, pay you back for lunch and apologize for that stunt I pulled. I overreacted a bit."
     "No, I don't think you overreacted, Leena.  Like you said, I think you just need some time to get into the swing of things again.  After all that's gone on recently, I'd be overwhelmed, too."  Leena cleared her throat.  Tom figured out that she'd prefer to move off that subject.  "Okay, then.  So, it's dinner at your place then?  What time should I come?"
     "If it's all right Tom, I'd like to come back here instead.  No offense, but I'm not ready to let you into my quarters just yet."
     Tom couldn't resist teasing her a little.  "Oh?  What's the matter, Calloway?  Afraid of showing me how the other half lives?"
     Leena's facial expression didn't change, but Tom noticed something in her eyes.  "Knowing you, you'll be rifling through my underwear drawer the minute I turn my back," she deadpanned.  "I'll see you at 1900 hours."
     Tom grinned at the memory.  She had a finely tuned sense of sarcasm.  Whether Leena wanted to admit it or not, they were a good match for each other.

     "Are you free for a few minutes, Tom?  B'Elanna and I want to show you something down in Engineering."
     Tom stopped eating his lunch.  He looked at Harry, who had shown up unannounced, and grimaced.  "Not really.  I'm due to report back to the bridge in about ten minutes.  Why, what's going on?"
     Harry grinned like a cat.  "We performed a trans-state matter dispersion simulation to plot the power curve of the dilithium.  I wish I had the results here so I could show you.  You wouldn't believe what it says."
     "Well, what is it?" Tom asked, slightly annoyed.
     "It's still speculative at the moment, but B'Elanna thinks we could adapt the warp drive to cross the threshold.  She's talking to the captain about it right now."
     "The threshold," Tom said, slow to catch on.  His eyes suddenly widened as the words finally connected.  "What, you mean the Warp 10 threshold?"  He laughed dismissively.  "That's ridiculous, Harry.  You're talking about travelling at infinite velocity.  It's a theoretical impossibility!"
     "I know, I reacted the same way when B'Elanna first suggested it.  Just because a theory claims something to be impossible doesn't mean it can't be done, though.  Zephram Cochrane wouldn't have discovered faster-than-light travel if he hadn't challenged Einstein's Theory of Relativity."  Harry's hands became more animated the longer he talked.  "This new form of dilithium we found is much more stable than what we normally use, particularly at higher warp frequencies.  Our simulation suggests that we could travel at Warp 9.6 for over 22 hours before replacing it.  B'Elanna thinks it can be done.  Have a little faith, Tom."
     Tom grunted non-committally.  "I'm not ready to jump on the band wagon just yet, Harry.  The day I fly a ship at Warp 10 is the day I start eating tube grubs."

     Leena showed up at Tom's quarters right on time.  She met him at the door with a subdued smile.  "Hi, Tom."  Tonight she decided to play it conservative, wearing a light jacket to conceal her appearance.
     Tom put on his best face.  "Come on in, make yourself comfortable."
     "Show me where the replicator is and I'll do just that."
     Tom led her into the dining room thinking how much nicer it was that she had showed up in civilian dress this time.  It spoke volumes about how much her opinion of him had improved and her willingness to show him more than just her professional demeanour.
     "You, sit," she ordered, steering Tom to the table.  "I'll be right back."
     Tom didn't mind too much; he liked surprises.  She returned shortly with a chilled bottle of white wine and two glasses.  "This could be a very interesting night if you plan on us drinking the whole bottle, you know."
     She laughed derisively.  "Not even in your wildest dreams."
     Minutes later the table was fully spread.  Tom could hardly wait for her to sit down before digging in.  "This is good, Leena.  Really good."
     "Thanks, it's my own recipe," she said modestly.  "I did most of the cooking at home when I was growing up."
"Smart, strong, beautiful, and a good cook?  Don't wake me up yet, I like this dream."  She chuckled, albeit a bit stiffly.  "The next time Neelix is indisposed the captain should ask you to fill in for him."
     "Oh, no, thank you!  The most I'll ever cook for is two, not 150. I honestly wonder how Neelix manages to find enough time in one day to do all the things he does."
     "My guess is mind-altering substances.  There's no way anyone could be that cheerful all the time."  This time she laughed more in earnest, and Tom joined her.  It did a better job of breaking the tension in the room, because she finally began to relax.
     It turned out to be a rather pleasant evening.  As they ate Leena talked a little more about her home life, trying to juggle school and household responsibilities.  Tom noticed that she didn't talk much about her mother, but he wasn't sure how touchy a subject it would be to bring it up.  He'd save it for another time.  Tonight he was committed to keeping her as comfortable as possible.  He recounted a few tales from his days at the Academy to keep the atmosphere light.
     Their glasses refilled, they moved to the lounge.  "Your quarters are nice.  Are they always this clean, or do I have anything to do with it?"
     Tom took a chair slightly across from the sofa where Leena sat. "You don't grow up in my house without learning how to pick up after yourself.  The Admiral often brought his work home with him."
     "I see."  She sipped her wine, then placed it aside.  "So, I hear things are really hopping in Engineering lately.  Anything exciting going on that I should know about?"
     Tom blinked in surprise.  He hadn't pegged Leena as the gossipy type.  "Well, I just talked to Harry about that a couple of hours ago."  He chuckled.  "You're not going to believe this, but B'Elanna thinks we could break the warp speed threshold with that dilithium we found."
     Leena started.  "What?"
     "I know.  Crazy, isn't it?"
     She didn't seem to catch on to the joke, though.  "Incredible, maybe.  What kind of tests did they perform?"
     "Um, some kind of transmatter dispersion or something.  I don't really remember.  What does that have to do with anything?"
     "Did he show you the test results?"
     "No, he didn't have them with him."  Tom frowned slightly.  "Don't tell me you're taking this seriously?"
     She folded her arms across her chest.  "And I can't believe you're not!  How can you dismiss a theory when you haven't even looked at any data?"
     "It's pretty easy when someone says infinity isn't actually infinite."
     "I'm surprised at you!  This is what Starfleet is all about: exploration and the pursuit of knowledge."
     "Knowledge, yes, not pipe dreams."
     "You're a starship pilot," Leena said, leaning forward.  "You're telling me that you have no kind of interest in making this kind of discovery?"
     "This has nothing to do with me being a pilot.  It has everything to do with the fact that it can't be done."
     "How do you know that until you've tried?"  Leena sat back again.  "You told me that you were always looking for experiences to challenge your piloting skills.  Now you're looking at one of the greatest challenges in the history of space travel and you're turning a blind eye.  That doesn't sound like you, Tom.  What's this really about?"
     "How did this turn into a conversation about me all of a sudden?" Tom asked bitterly.
     "Why can't you just tell me what the problem is?  Don't you trust me?"
     Tom stood up and walked back to the dining table.  He leaned against one of the chairs, his back facing Leena.  "I'd rather not talk about it," he said quietly.
     "Tom, please.  I want to help."
     "I think you should go now."
     The room was quiet for a long moment.  Tom could hear the steady rhythm of Leena's breathing from across the room.  "Maybe I wasn't so wrong about you after all, Paris.  Deep down inside you're just a selfish coward.  You run away from your problems, and if you get caught you look for a scapegoat to take the pressure off."  The rustle of fabric briefly interrupted her lecture as she stood from the couch.  "Other people may have put up with it - with you - but I won't be one of them.  You've got a problem you don't want to tell me, fine.  Just don't expect me to come running back the moment you realize what a coward you are.  I won't be your scapegoat."
     Tom felt and heard her boots thud against the floor, and heard the doors slide open and shut.  He looked at the array of soiled dishes on the table and his stomach tightened.  He slapped the badge on his chest.  "Paris to Ensign Kim."
     "Kim here."
     "Harry, come to my quarters when you've got a few minutes, and bring those notes of yours.  I want you to fill me in on that Threshold project."
     He'd show her what a coward was capable of doing.

On to Chapter 4...

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