Author: Alan Decker
Cruising for Trouble
By Alan Decker
“Captain’s Log. Stardate 51306.5. We have arrived at Alkaxis Prime with the diplomatic delegation the Federation Council has sent to mediate the conflict between the Alkaxians and the neighboring planet of Tumsersa. It seems the Tumsersan leader keeled over dead at an official dinner on Alkaxis. The autopsy declared it severe indigestion, but the Tumsersans didn’t like that answer. War quickly ensued. Of course, we peace-loving Federation folk don’t like it too much when our members start blowing each other to hell. Therefore, we get to play diplomatic chauffeurs once again.”
Captain Alexander Rydell entered through a massive set of ten foot tall double doors into the meeting room where the evening’s negotiations were to take place. Inside, Lieutenant Patricia Hawkins and Lieutenant Commander Jaroch were scanning for any weapons or explosives while Commander Travis Dillon stood in the corner trying to look like he was doing something useful.
“How’s it coming?” Rydell asked.
“We have not found anything unusual,” Jaroch said. “That is good news or bad news depending on how irritated you are with our passengers.”
“As tempting as blowing them all up would be, I’d prefer that there were nothing harmful in this room.”
“Please leave, Commander,” Jaroch said, turning to Dillon.
“What?” Dillon said snapping alert. He’d been watching Lieutenant Hawkins’s reflection in the glass doors of the trophy case he was examining. They’d been dating for several months now, but he still found himself astonished that Hawkins had feelings for him. Dillon tried very hard not to let his personal relationship with Hawkins interfere with his duties, but sometimes his mind wandered off without him.
“Looks like you just wasted a joke, Jaroch,” Rydell said.
“I was at least hoping for a bit of righteous indignation,” Jaroch said, disappointed. Dillon gravitated over to the window looking out at the sea. The room was near the top of the Alkaxis Great Palace, which sat on a cliff at the edge of the Peptlik Ocean. It really was a nice view. Pretty day, too. If only he had a boat…and knew how to sail.
“Anything else to report, Commander?” Rydell said to his first officer.
“Not a thing,” Dillon said, turning his attention back to the matter at hand. “We haven’t detected the merest trace of a bomb or other possible assassination devices.”
“But we’re still going to scan every person entering this room tonight,” Hawkins, the Secondprize’s security chief, added.
“Good. I don’t really feel like getting yelled at by Command if we screw this up,” Rydell said.
“Don’t worry, sir,” Dillon said, grabbing a blue, apple-shaped fruit from the bowl on the table. “If there’s a bomb, we’ll find it.” He took a big bite out of the fruit and immediately spit it out. That thing tasted like plastic. He looked at the fruit. Well, okay, it was plastic, and it had a blinking, beeping device inside of it that had just been damaged by Dillon’s teeth. It started to hum, the sound quickly growing louder and louder.
“Problem, Commander?” Rydell asked.
“I think I found the bomb,” Dillon said matter-of-factly. Realizing what that meant, he screamed and dropped the fruit on the floor.
It exploded on impact, blasting Dillon backwards through the window, out of the room, and sending him plummeting towards the ocean.
Jaroch was at the window in a flash, checking to see where Dillon had gone.
“Is he alright?” Hawkins demanded rushing over to the window with Rydell.
“He landed on the edge of the cliff,” Jaroch said, even more disappointment apparent in his voice. The three officers looked down at Dillon’s smashed body laying at the very edge of the cliff.
“I didn’t know legs could bend like that,” Rydell said.
“He’ll be fine,” Hawkins said.
Suddenly, the ground beneath Dillon crumbled away, tumbling down, with Dillon in tow, to the churning sea. Just as Dillon hit the water, a giant fish-like creature leapt up and swallowed him whole.
“Or not,” Jaroch said barely hiding his glee.
“Captain’s log. Stardate 51306.8. Thanks to Commander Dillon’s uncanny detection skills, the explosive device hidden in the meeting chamber was discovered before it could do any harm…except to Dillon. The plastic containing the bomb was specially formulated to be unreadable by most scanning devices. Without Dillon’s stomach, we could have had a real mess on our hands.
Speaking of stomachs, after some quick phaser work by Lieutenant Hawkins, we retrieved the fish that swallowed Dillon and cut the commander out of it. In celebration of the averted assassinated and the newly signed peace accords, we’re having a good, old-fashioned fish fry down on the surface. Even though he still has a bone or two left unbroken, Commander Dillon has decided to skip the festivities and remain in sickbay groaning in agony.”
“Congratulations, Commander,” Doctor Elizabeth Aldridge said as she helped Dillon sit up. “Not many people can say they survived being blown up, smashed into the ground, tossed off a cliff, and eaten all in the same day. You should have been dead three or four times over.”
“Unfortunately, the powers in the universe aligned against me have made that impossible,” Jaroch said. He had accompanied Lieutenant Hawkins to sickbay to check on Dillon.
“Stuff it, Jaroch,” Hawkins snapped. She leaned down next to Dillon and kissed him gently. Jaroch visibly shuddered.
“I don’t feel good,” Dillon said softly. Aldridge had been able to mend the broken bones, heal the cuts and bruises, and take care of the burns from the fish’s stomach acid, but Dillon still looked like a large asteroid had landed on him.
“I know,” Hawkins said. “But you’re a hero.”
“I am? Goody for me,” Dillon said happily. A second later, he was asleep.
“Please do not inflate his ego any more grossly that it already is,” Jaroch said.
“You can leave, you know,” Hawkins snapped.
“I am here for moral support.”
“I don’t think it’s working.”
“Yes, it is. I feel much better after seeing this suffering.”
“Travis almost died. I know you hate him, but can’t you just show a hint of compassion?”
“Where would be the fun in that?” Jaroch said just before heading out of the room.
Dillon had no idea how much time had passed when he regained consciousness. He really wasn’t even sure if he still existed. The only sensation he had was floating. Happy floating.
“Is he coming around?” Lieutenant Hawkins asked concerned.
“Doubtful considering the amount of drugs I pumped into him,” Dr. Aldridge replied. She checked Dillon’s vitals on the biobed readout. “He’s doing fine, though.”
Hawkins held Dillon’s hand and looked down at him. His eyes were open but vacant, and his mouth was locked in a goofy grin.
“We really need a vacation,” Hawkins muttered.
“Floating,” Dillon said softly. His voice was almost childlike. “Floaty-floaty float.”
Happy water. Floating. A nice boat on the water. Sailing. Sailing. Happy breeze.
“Hello, little fishies.”
“What’d you say?” Hawkins asked.
“Float. Boat. Snooze. Cruise.”
“Now, a cruise would be nice,” Hawkins said. “We could book a couple of cabins on a starliner and just relax for a few days.”
“Cruisin’. I’m just cruisin’.”
A commercial drifted into his mind, floating as free as he was.
“On a Simms Ship, we don’t stop.
We’re the cream of the crop.
You’ll eat until you could pop.
Drink life to the last drop.
Go on Simms Ships, we’re the tops!”
“A Simms ship cruise?” Hawkins said. “Are you serious?”
“I wanna ship!”
“I’ll book tickets and request leave for us!” Hawkins said excitedly before she practically ran out of sickbay. When Dillon wanted a vacation, he didn’t mess around. Simms Cruise Lines was renowned as the most luxurious starliner company in the galaxy. John Simms, Junior had spared no expense to make his ships unrivaled in comfort and opulence. Dillon was right; this was exactly was they needed.
“Floaty boaty bippity boppity boo!”
Dr. Aldridge pressed a hypospray against Dillon’s neck, rendering him unconscious once again. One of the nurses looked at her confused.
“Didn’t we want him awake?” the nurse asked.
“If I had to listen to him babble on much longer, I was going to have to kill him,” Aldridge said. “I figured he’d make a better recovery if he was still alive.”
“How are you feeling?” Lieutenant Hawkins asked. Commander Dillon groaned and rolled over to face her.
“Much better,” he said, smiling weakly. “Doctor Aldridge says I can probably go back to my quarters tonight. I’m getting pretty sick of sickbay.”
“Was that supposed to be a joke, Dillon?” Doctor Aldridge shouted from her office on the opposite side of the room.
“No,” Dillon said. “And stop listening in on my personal conversations.”
“I reserve the right to eavesdrop on people in my sickbay. And considering I had to put you back together piece by piece, I think you owe me a little respect,” Aldridge said.
“We can talk later, Travis,” Hawkins said. She’d been looking at him adoringly ever since she walked into the room. It was starting to get a bit unnerving. Hawkins was never that…drippy.
“Are you okay, Patricia?” Dillon asked finally.
“Me? Perfect. Everything’s all set.”
“Great.” Dillon thought a minute. “Wait. All set for what?”
“The cruise. Captain Rydell approved our leave, and I got us tickets for the maiden voyage of the newest Simms Ship, the S.S. Pomposity.”
Dillon stared at her blankly. Cruise? What cruise? He considered the options here.
He’d been somehow dumped into a parallel universe where he agreed to take a cruise.
Hawkins had lost her mind and scheduled this trip thinking she’d talked to him.
While drugged, he was forced to agree to something he’d normally never consider.
Ruling out 1 and 2, Dillon settled on option three.
“A cruise! I never wanted to take a cruise.”
“Yes you did. You told me yesterday!” Hawkins said.
“I was not here yesterday,” Dillon replied. “I was in a drug-induced state of la-la-ness. I hate cruises.”
“Well, it’s too late now. I’ve already got the tickets. I don’t see the big deal. It’s a two week vacation.”
“I don’t take vacations,” Dillon said. That was the truth. He was saving up leave, so he could take an entire year off. With him gone that long, Starfleet would realize his true value to them. Dillon had only taken shore leave once, and that was during the whole mess on the planet of obnoxious belchers. Even then, he’d managed to convince Starfleet that he hadn’t used any of his leave because he had to help Captain Rydell save the planet’s government.
Now Hawkins had just spent two of his meticulously-saved weeks for him. Two weeks that could have been used to prove his importance to Starfleet were now going to be wasted on some starliner with a bunch of tourists. Lovely.
“I think it’s about time you start,” Hawkins said. “It might help get that pole out of your ass.” She stormed out of sickbay. A moment later, Doctor Aldridge emerged from her office.
“Good one,” Aldridge said clapping. “I’ll remember to add ‘Galaxy’s Most Romantic Guy’ to your file.”
“She went behind my back,” Dillon said sulking.
“No she didn’t. You told her to book that trip.”
“That doesn’t count. I was incapacitated.”
“Would it kill you to go?”
“That’s not the point.”
“Sure it is. A woman you supposedly care about has asked you to take a trip with her. She wants to spend time with you in a romantic setting. You should be ecstatic, not angry.”
“But…” Dillon fell silent. He didn’t have any buts. Doctor Aldridge was absolutely right. Patricia had just basically said she wanted to spend two weeks alone with him. No duty shifts. No getting interrupted by red alerts. No annoying onlookers.
“And a clue has landed in his head,” Aldridge said.
“I’m such an idiot.”
“No news there. I’m releasing you from my care. Go find Hawkins and try to patch things up.”
“Thanks, Doctor,” Dillon said pulling himself out of the bed. His legs were weak and stiff. Wobbling visibly, he headed out of sickbay in search of Hawkins.
It was a short search.
The computer told Dillon that Hawkins was in Seven Backward, not that he really needed to ask. She always went there when she was upset.
Sure enough, Hawkins was seated at a table next to the viewports watching Alkaxis Prime rotate below the Secondprize.
Trinian, the Secondprize’s bartender, intercepted Dillon as he entered the lounge. She shoved a drink into his hand.
“I didn’t order this,” Dillon said confused.
“No, but she did,” Trinian replied gesturing toward Hawkins. “I’m just asking you to deliver it for me. You’re heading that way, I assume.”
“Is this some clever plan to help get her to talk to me?” Dillon asked.
“No, I just have better things to do. Take her the drink.” Trinian rushed back to the bar where Lieutenant Commander Jaroch was sitting.
“I assume Commander Dillon and Lieutenant Hawkins have had a bit of a falling out,” Jaroch said.
“Probably,” Trinian replied. “He looks like a man about to beg for forgiveness.”
“This sounds entertaining,” Jaroch said, stepping away from the bar.
Dillon put the drink down in front of Hawkins. She didn’t look away from the viewports.
“Thanks, Trinian,” Hawkins said.
“Hi, Patricia,” Dillon said sitting down across from her.
“What are you doing out of sickbay?” Hawkins said.
“Doctor’s orders. I have to try and find a…”
Dillon saw Jaroch sit down at the table next to theirs. The Yynsian turned his chair around to face them, watching expectantly.
“Can we help you?” Hawkins said irritated.
“Just observing,” Jaroch replied pulling out his tricorder. “Would you mind if I recorded this?”
“Go away, Jaroch,” Dillon said.
“Just let him stay there,” Hawkins said. In a flash, she drew her pocket phaser and zapped Jaroch. He fell to the floor unconscious. The other crewmembers in the lounge scooted their chairs farther away from Hawkins’s table.
“You were saying?” Hawkins said, turning back to Dillon. He looked fearfully down at Jaroch’s body then back up at her. She was still holding the phaser, running her finger idly along the fire button.
“Uh…well…Doctor Aldridge thought that…I know…well…I…you.”
“Spit it out!” Hawkins shouted.
“I’m sorry I was an idiot. I’d love to go on the cruise with you. Please don’t shoot me,” Dillon said quickly.
“You aren’t saying that because I’m armed, are you?”
“Only the please don’t shoot me part. I’m really looking forward to this trip. I’ve never had a real vacation before.”
“What changed your mind?” Hawkins asked, pointing the phaser a bit more in Dillon’s general direction. Now was the time to say something very sweet. Maybe then she’d put the phaser down.
“The idea of being alone with you for two weeks.”
“You sure you can handle it?” Hawkins replied, her eyes twinkling evilly.
“I hope so,” Dillon said. “We’ll just have to go see.”
Hawkins reached across the table and pulled Dillon in for a kiss.
“Do that somewhere else!”
“People are trying to eat in here!”
Hawkins ended the kiss and started shooting.
“Commander Travis Michael Dillon’s Personal Log. Stardate 51312.4. After explaining the extenuating circumstances to Captain Rydell, he agreed not to throw Lieutenant Hawkins in the brig for assaulting 32 Secondprize crewmembers with her phaser. He did request that in the future I refrain from angering Patricia in anyway whatsoever. Sounds like a wise plan to me.
“The captain also agreed to divert the Secondprize to Rigel VI, where we will board the Pomposity for its maiden voyage; although, I think Patricia’s veiled threats to shoot more people if she didn’t get a vacation soon had more to do with Captain Rydell’s decision than any generosity on his part.
“In any case, the Pomposity’s two week cruise from Rigel to Vulcan should be very relaxing. Just me and Patricia. Two weeks alone. This ship had better have great entertainment, or we’re going to be bored out of our skulls.”
Dillon and Hawkins literally had to push their way through the mobs of people gathered on Rigel VI’s orbital docking station to attend the launch of the Pomposity.
“Half the quadrant must be here,” Dillon muttered.
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Hawkins said. “The passenger list for this cruise is a who’s who of the galaxy’s rich and powerful.”
“Then how’d we get tickets?”
“Family connections,” Hawkins said. “My younger sister was roommates with the Vice President of Simms Enterprises’ daughter in college.”
“At least they kept in touch. I haven’t spoken to my roommate from the academy in years. Actually, we didn’t speak much when we were rooming together.”
“It’s hard to imagine you sharing that little space with anyone,” Hawkins said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’re just very particular about your belongings.”
“Never mind, Travis,” Hawkins said laughing.
“Worf and I had a very equitable arrangement,” Dillon protested.
“You roomed with Lieutenant Commander Worf?” Hawkins said in disbelief.
“I definitely can’t see you rooming with a Klingon.”
“We got along fine…once we split the room in half. Anything of mine that went on his side, he sliced up with his bat’leth. Anything of his that went on my side, I returned to him unharmed.”
“Sounds very equitable,” Hawkins said pushing ahead toward the Pomposity’s boarding arm.
Up in the docking platform conference room, overlooking the chaos on the promenade below, John Edward Simms, Jr., president, owner, and chief executive officer of Simms Enterprises and its subsidiary, Simms Cruise Lines, watched the massive crowd with glee.
“This is exactly the kind of big, showy launch I wanted,” Simms said. “We won’t be able to fulfil the demand for tickets on the Pomposity.”
“Yes, sir,” his assistant, Merwin, agreed.
“That beauty was worth every bar of latinum it cost to build.”
The conference room doors opened admitting an angry older woman in a white ship captain’s uniform.
“What’s all this then?” she demanded in a huff.
“Captain Isaacs to see you, sir,” Merwin said.
“Thank you, Merwin. What can I do for you, Captain?”
“Give me back the Pomposity! I’ve commanded the maiden voyage of every Simms Ship since your father started the line thirty years ago.”
“Times change, Captain,” Simms said. “I’ve decided to take command of the Pomposity myself.”
“You? You have no experience!”
“Who needs experience? The crew knows what to do. We’re traveling one of the most boring stretches of Federation Space. Why do we need an experienced captain? You’re simply there as a figurehead anyway.”
“Figurehead! Why you overblown moron!”
“Show Captain Isaacs the door please, Merwin.”
“Of course, sir,” Merwin said with a quick bow as he roughly grabbed Isaacs’ arm and dragged her out of the conference room.
“So long, Mary,” Simms said with a quick wave before he turned back to observe the crowd below, a crowd that had gathered because of him.
“Was that Crown Prince Nuplatel you just shoved out of the way?” Dillon asked as he and Hawkins continued to ram their way toward the ship.
“Don’t know; don’t care,” Hawkins replied.
“WELCOME TO THE LAUNCH OF THE BRAND NEW SIMMS SHIP, THE POMPOSITY!” the loudspeaker blared suddenly.
“IT IS NOW OUR PLEASURE TO INTRODUCE THE OFFICIAL SPOKESPERSON OF SIMMS CRUISE LINES, MISS MINDY DAWES!”
On giant viewscreens hanging from the forty-foot high walls, the young, super-perky Mindy Dawes stepped up in front of a microphone.
“Oh no,” Dillon said.
“She’s going to sing,” Hawkins added in horror.
The shrill caterwaul of Mindy Dawes began to echo through the docking station, just as it did on every Simms Ship commercial.
On a Simms Ship, we don’t stop.
We’re the cream of the crop.
You’ll eat until you could pop.
Drink life to the last drop.
Go on Simms Ships, we’re the tops!
“Thank you,” Mindy said after finishing her song, her overdone brown curly hair bobbing along with her wild head movements. “I love you all!” Joyous tears welled up in her eyes as she blew kisses to the silent crowd.
“Who the heck is she thanking?” Hawkins said. “No one clapped.”
“She makes Doctor Singer look stable.”
“She’s got to be sleeping with Simms,” Hawkins said. “That’s the only possible explanation for her continued employment. Although, I’m sure she’s very popular on Kinsodi.”
“Kinsodians are deaf.”
Finally, Dillon and Hawkins forced their way up to the boarding ramp.
“Hold on there, folks. Only passengers allowed beyond this point,” the Simms Steward manning the ship entrance said, holding his arm out to block Dillon and Hawkins’s path.
“We’re passengers,” Dillon said.
“I don’t think so,” the steward said, looking at their Starfleet uniforms. They weren’t even admirals. No one this…mundane would be on the Pomposity’s maiden voyage. These were obviously two nobodies trying to sneak on board.
“Here’s our tickets,” Hawkins said, passing a data chip to the steward. Skeptically, he put it into the verification module.
“Welcome aboard,” the computer said warmly.
“You are passengers,” the steward said, shaking his in disdain. How in the universe did they get tickets? “Your luggage will be brought to your rooms after we launch.”
“Thank you,” Hawkins said, taking back the chip. She took Dillon’s arm and led him onto the ship. “Cruise Simms Ships, where the machines are more friendly than the people,” she said once they were out of earshot of the steward.
“Why did you bring luggage anyway?” Dillon asked. “That’s what replicators are for.”
“Some of my casual outfits aren’t in the replicator,” Hawkins replied.
“All of mine are.”
“That’s because you’re wearing it.”
“I am not! Starfleet uniforms are not casual. Worf thought they were, but I never…”
“Travis, you’re babbling.”
Two decks below the boarding level, Simms Ship workers scrambled over a giant mountain of suitcases, trunks, travel bags, and luggage of every possible configuration, all of which had to be loaded onto the Pomposity and distributed to the various guest cabins.
Unnoticed amongst the horde of blue jumpsuited Simms employees, one of the workers climbed a bit of the mountain, then slowly his form began to ripple, turning from solid to an orangish gelatinous consistency. It transformed from humanoid shape to that of a black leather attache case and sat in the pile of luggage waiting to be taken on board.
Safely in his suitcase form, Ragoo plotted his next move. He had been sent by the Dominion to destabilize political relations in the Alpha Quadrant. Sabotaging the Pomposity would go a long way toward that end. Several planetary dignitaries were on board. If anything were to happen to them, the results would be unfortunate for the Alpha Quadrant. Ragoo laughed to himself. So much the better for the Founders and the Dominion.
Now all he had to do was cause a disaster. Most Founders would have this assignment taken care of without a moment’s worry. But this was Ragoo’s first mission. He was a relatively young Founder, just recently rejoined to the Great Link. Successfully sabotaging the Pomposity would be his one chance to prove his abilities to the other Founders. If he failed…he dreaded to think of the consequences. He’d spend the rest of his life in the Link, not allowed to go anywhere or shapeshift into anything. He’d spend the rest of his existence bored and miserable. But Ragoo was not going to fail. There certainly was no way that a ship full of rich, lazy solids was going to stop him from ending their little pleasure cruise.
“My God! The hallways in this place are wider than my quarters,” Dillon marveled as he and Hawkins walked along the ornately decorated corridors, glittering with gold and diamonds. The substances themselves may have been worthless, but they made beautiful chandeliers and wall coverings.
“The Pomposity has nothing but the best,” Hawkins replied.
Dillon read the signs on some of the doors as they walked.
Vulcan Massage (Dillon had a feeling that would be fairly dull.)
Klingon Massage (And that one would probably hurt.)
Nude Orion Slave Girl Massage (Hmm. Mental note. Check back later.)
“This ship has everything,” Hawkins continued.
“I can see that,” Dillon said.
“I think we’re on the recreation deck,” Hawkins said, noticing the Full Contact Andorian-Style Combat gymnasium.
“Indeed you are,” a voice said from very close behind them. Hawkins and Dillon’s Starfleet instincts took over. They whirled around, pocket phasers drawn. A small horde of stewards and well-dressed businesspeople were standing around a man in a fancy, white ship captain’s uniform, complete with gold shoulder braids and spiffy hat.
Hawkins and Dillon relaxed and put their weapons away.
“Sorry about that,” Hawkins said.
“What are you doing on my ship?” the man in the captain’s uniform said, stepping forward.
“We’re passengers,” Dillon said.
“This is the second damn time today,” Hawkins said angrily pulling out her data chip with the ticket information. An assistant took it and put it in a portable ticket reader.
“Do you have any idea who I am?” the man asked.
“John Simms, Junior,” Hawkins said. “What of it?”
Simms was a bit taken aback. These were lowly Starfleet officers. They should have been impressed beyond belief to be in the same space as him.
“Their tickets check out,” Merwin said, handing the chip back to Hawkins.
“Very well,” Simms said. “But try to stay away from the media. I don’t want the elegance of this voyage cheapened by a couple of military types.”
“Listen up, pal,” Dillon said stiffening. “Starfleet is one of the most prestigious military organizations to exist anywhere at any time. Our officers are highly-trained and examples of the best the galaxy has to offer. I myself graduated at the top of my class and currently serve as first officer of one of the finest ships in the fleet. I will not stand here and have my career and my colleagues insulted like that.”
“Does he come with a muzzle?” Simms asked Hawkins.
“Johnny!” a shrill female voice cried from behind Dillon and Hawkins. Drawing their phasers, they spun around to intercept the potential danger. Mindy Dawes raced by them, straight into the arms of Simms.
“Hello, Mindy-kins,” Simms said sweetly. He playfully pushed her nose with his finger.
“Beep beep,” she squeaked happily.
“I’m going to be sick,” Hawkins muttered.
“Logan, show the officers to their rooms. If you’ll excuse me, we’re heading to the bridge,” Simms said.
“Nice meeting you, Mister Simms,” Hawkins said insincerely.
“Likewise,” he replied with equal sincerity. “And for the remainder of this voyage, the name is Captain Simms.”
“Thanks for the warning,” Hawkins said. “I’ll make sure to keep the lifeboat locations in mind.”
Simms glared at her, then continued on his way toward the turbolift with Mindy snuggled up beside him.
Simms’ steward/thug Logan ushered Hawkins and Dillon to their quarters by way of the service hallways and kitchen area, all the better to make sure none of the other passengers saw the riff-raff that had somehow gotten on board the Pomposity.
Finally, they re-emerged in one of the main corridors. Logan dashed toward a cabin door and opened it.
“Here is your suite. Enjoy your cruise,” he said quickly.
“I hope you aren’t expecting a tip,” Dillon said irritated as he and Hawkins entered their rooms.
“Not from you, sir,” Logan said disdainfully. “Good day.” He closed the cabin leaving Hawkins and Dillon alone in their suite. Dillon couldn’t help but marvel at the size of the place. A huge sofa wrapped around the room facing a faux fireplace crackling with holographic flames. Each furnishing had the look of an antique. On the far wall, an old-style mini-bar sat complete with built-in drink replicator. Two separate doors led off into what Dillon assumed were the sleeping accommodations.
“I got us separate rooms,” Hawkins said, noticing Dillon’s gaze on the doors.
“Great,” he said, not sure if he meant it. They had been together for close to a year now, yet still stayed in separate rooms. Having never really been in a relationship before, Dillon wasn’t sure if that was a problem or not.
“At least the room is welcoming,” he added. “But, these people have a lot to learn about courtesy and customer service.”
“I am a highly trained professional. Yes, my profession happens to be the military, but that does not give these civilian pipsqueaks the right to insult me and my uniform. If this were a Starfleet ship…”
Hawkins wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him, shutting Dillon up.
“Travis,” she said after ending the liplock. “You aren’t on duty. This is a vacation. Just change clothes and start relaxing. We’re going to be launching soon.”
“That guy didn’t bother you?”
“Of course he bothered me,” Hawkins replied. “I just have enough confidence in my superiority to ignore insignificant toads like him and his employer. Now, are you going to go change, or am I going to have to start stripping right here to get you to keep your mouth shut?”
John Edward Simms, Junior stepped out onto the bridge of the Pomposity ready to face the waiting cameras and reporters. The bridge glittered so brightly that it was almost blinding. Everything that could be gold-plated had been.
“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us,” Simms said as he walked down the short ramp to the throne-like captain’s chair dominating the center of the bridge. Mindy followed him down and stood next to her captain. The room was at least three times the size of a Starfleet bridge and designed to overwhelm visitors with its immensity. Ironically, during the voyage it would be unoccupied. The ship could fly itself to Vulcan; the consoles were mostly for show. They functioned, but they definitely weren’t needed. And neither were the fifteen actors dressed as bridge crew who had been hired to rush about and look busy during the ship’s launch.
“Status report,” Simms shouted authoritatively. One of the fake bridge officers raced over to his chair.
“All systems nominal,” he replied, reading his lines off of the padd he was carrying. “We are ready for departure.”
“Oh, Johnny, this is so cosmocular!” Mindy exclaimed.
“Our next stop is Vulcan, so everyone not headed there had better get off the ship,” Simms said.
The reporters erupted into a flurry of raised hands and babbling voices at the news they were about to be put off the ship.
“Is there any truth to Captain Isaacs’ claim that the Pomposity is in incompetent hands?” one of the voices shouted above the crowd.
“Absolutely not!” Simms bellowed. “I have taken command personally just to make sure that absolutely nothing goes wrong on this trip.”
“Mister Simms! Mister Simms!”
“Sing, Mindy,” Simms said.
“On a Simms Ship, we don’t stop.
We’re the cream of the crop.”
The questions ended abruptly in a mad dash for the turbolift doors to escape the din of Mindy Dawes.
Simms patted the armrests of his captain’s throne lovingly.
“You hear that, my girl. Nothing is going to go wrong.”
Sixty decks below him, things were starting to go wrong.
One of the suitcases in the cargo hold began to ooze toward the exit. Gradually, the orange glop solidified into a non-descript man wearing the uniform of one of the Pomposity’s stewards. Safely in his new form, Ragoo left the cargo hold on his way to complete his mission.
“Attention all passengers. This is your captain speaking. We will be embarking in two minutes. Feel free to make your way to the observation dome at the top of the ship to enjoy the spectacular views of Rigel as we leave the solar system.”
“Come on, Travis. We’re going to miss it,” Hawkins said, pounding on Dillon’s door.
“Hold on,” Dillon replied. “Besides, it’s not like you haven’t seen space before.”
The door opened a moment later, and he walked out in a loose-fitting blue shirt and black slacks. Amazingly, he looked casual.
“Much better,” Hawkins said approvingly.
“Thank you,” Dillon said. They headed out of their cabin and down the corridor toward the turbolift. Hawkins rested her hand on Dillon’s shoulder. For one of the first times since she’d known him, he wasn’t tense.
“You’re actually figuring out this vacation stuff,” Hawkins said smiling.
“I know how to relax,” Dillon replied.
The turbolift doors opened revealing an older couple. Hawkins was sure she’d seen the woman somewhere before.
Suddenly, Hawkins felt Dillon’s shoulder tense up like steel.
The woman’s face brightened in joyous surprise.
The man nodded curtly.
“Hi, Mom. Dad,” Dillon said, clearly not pleased with this turn of events.
Dillon and Hawkins boarded the turbolift unenthusiastically, taking up positions between Dillon’s parents and a steward. As soon as the doors closed, Mrs. Dillon grabbed her son in a big hug.
“It’s so good to see you,” she said.
“Likewise,” Dillon replied. “What are you doing here?”
“Your father and I won tickets. The psychological board was having a contest or something. Right dear?” Dillon’s father grunted in the affirmative.
“Anyway, he won the tickets, and we’ve never been to Vulcan, so here we are.”
“That’s wonderful,” Dillon said flatly. “What are you going to do on Vulcan?”
“Oh, we’re meeting your brother there. He’s borrowing a house from some business associates of his.”
“Associates, huh? I didn’t think Vulcan had any swindlers or con-men.”
“Travis! That’s an awful thing to say about your brother.”
But it’s very true, Hawkins thought to herself.
“You didn’t tell me you were going to Vulcan,” Dillon said.
“Why would we bother?” Mr. Dillon muttered.
“I thought you’d be busy with your starship,” Mrs. Dillon said. “Besides, you don’t take vacations.”
“He’s on one now,” Hawkins said.
“You’re with him?” Mr. Dillon asked with a hint of surprise in his voice. Mrs. Dillon looked Hawkins up and down.
“Don’t I know you?” she asked.
“We met on the Secondprize during your visit a couple of years ago.”
“Patricia, these are my parents, Doctors Linda and Richard Dillon. You met mom when she came to the Secondprize a few years ago. This is Lieutenant Patricia Hawkins, our chief of security and…”
Hawkins wondered if Dillon would actually say the words.
He said them. Unbelievable. Richard Dillon burst out laughing.
“What are you doing with him?” Richard said. Before Hawkins could answer, the lift stopped at the observation level.
“Come on, Richard, be nice,” Linda Dillon said, ushering her husband out of the turbolift.
“Oh, I am just so happy about this,” Dillon mumbled as he and Hawkins followed behind them.
“Stop thinking about it and enjoy the view,” Hawkins said. Indeed the view was spectacular. The top level of the Pomposity was a giant arboretum complete with a stream. Swimming pools and jacuzzis dotted the landscape. The entire area was covered by a huge transparent dome looking out into the vastness of space beyond.
“See why I wanted to come up here,” Hawkins said. “We don’t have one of these on the Secondprize.”
Back in the turbolift, Ragoo tried to calm himself. The four solids he rode up with hadn’t taken any notice of him. Why should they? He looked like any other steward. Their conversation, though, had startled him. The two younger ones were Starfleet. There weren’t supposed to be any Starfleet officers on this ship. They could possibly present a problem. Ragoo had thought about killing them right then and there, but decided it would be best not to draw attention to himself before he had a chance to do his work. Returning his focus to the job at hand, Ragoo headed for the Pomposity’s auxiliary control room.
John Simms, Jr. saw the green light flash on his command chair signaling that the computer was ready for departure.
“All right, ladies and gentlemen,” Simms said, standing up and straightening his uniform. “Prepare to launch.”
“Uh, sir,” Merwin said sheepishly from the communications console. “Could you do that again? I didn’t have the cameras activated to transmit to the media.”
“Very well,” Simms said, retaking his seat. “I wasn’t real happy with my line delivery anyway.”
“All set, sir.”
Simms rose up out of his seat and straightened his uniform with a firm tug.
“All right, ladies and gentlemen, prepare to launch.”
The actors sprung into action as Simms surreptitiously pressed the launch button.
“Clear all moorings.”
“Thrusters at full.”
“Docking clamps disengaging!”
Simms had to admit that these actors were convincing. He almost believed they were controlling the ship rather than the computer guidance system that was actually doing the job.
“We have cleared Rigel docking station.”
“Excellent,” Simms said. “Take us out. Full impulse.”
“Helm answering full impulse.”
“And we’re clear,” Merwin said, ending the broadcast to the station. “Magnificent performance, sir.”
“Thank you,” Simms said. “Good work, everyone.” Mindy ran over from her chair just out of view of the cameras and hugged Simms.
“You were so commanding, honey! Can I sing now? We should have a goodbye song.”
“You’re absolutely right,” Simms said. “Put my lovely-one on ships’ speakers.”
“You’re on,” Merwin said, fighting the urge to cover his ears.
Dillon heard the ships’ comm system buzz to life and waited for what he was sure would be a mind-numbingly obvious comment from “Captain” Simms.
So long. Farewell. Auf Wiederzein. Good night.
Adieu. Adieu. To you and you and you.
“Auuugh! She’s singing again!” Dillon shouted holding his ears.
“Oh, Richard, she’s quite talented,” Linda scolded then she started to sing along.
“When did she lose her mind?” Hawkins asked softly.
“I don’t know,” Dillon replied. “I think it’s all those years married to a psychologist. Dad was probably performing experiments on her.”
John Simms, Jr. took a loving look around the now deserted bridge of the Pomposity. It was actually kind of a shame that no one was needed up here. The room was pretty damn spectacular.
“Lights,” Simms said. The bridge lights dimmed until the only thing visible were the lights blinking on the bridge consoles.
“Oh, it’s so beautiful,” Mindy said from beside him. “Just like Christmas.”
“It is nice, isn’t it?” Simms said. “Well, that’s enough of that. Let’s go mingle among the passengers and make them wish they were us.”
“Okey-dokey,” Mindy said smiling. She and Simms stepped into the turbolift leaving the bridge absolutely empty.
If someone had been on duty, they might have noticed the ship’s course start to change. It wasn’t drastic; certainly not a big enough turn that anyone who wasn’t watching the course readouts would notice. But the Pomposity was no longer headed for Vulcan.
In the equally deserted auxiliary control room, Ragoo finished programming the new course into the Pomposity’s navigational computer.
Before he could make his escape, Ragoo heard footsteps headed his direction. In a panic, he quickly shapeshifted into the first image that sprung to mind.
“This is such a waste of time.”
“They pay us to do security checks, so that’s what we do, whether they’re needed or not.”
Two of the Pomposity’s stewards peeked into auxiliary control. The room was normal. Just computers and a small fountain with a statue of Cupid spitting water into a pool.
“See, not a damn thing.”
“I can’t believe they bothered to put a fountain in here.”
The auxiliary control doors closed again just as the water began to ooze over the fountain walls with a life of its own. Gradually, the stone Cupid melted along with it into a glopy mess which resolved itself into Ragoo.
Now, all he had to do was get rid of the Starfleet officers before they realized something was wrong on the Pomposity.
“Well, that was lovely,” Linda Dillon said. Richard Dillon grunted in agreement or acknowledgment or something. Maybe he was just clearing his throat. It was hard for Hawkins to tell. She knew Borg who were better conversationalists that Travis’ father.
“It was very nice,” Hawkins said. “Even though we’re in space all the time, we don’t often get that kind of view.”
“There’s certainly a lot of it out there,” Dillon said.
“So…Patricia, is it?” Linda began.
“Patricia, what takes you and Travis to Vulcan?”
“Nothing really. We’re just here for the cruise,” Hawkins replied.
“We wanted to spend some time alone,” Dillon said, hoping his mother would catch the broad hint implied in his statement.
“Well, you two have got to have dinner with us in the forward dining room tonight,” Linda said. Obviously, the hint flew right by her.
“Great,” Dillon said unenthusiastically.
“We’re going to be in the Saturn Room which is on deck thirteen.”
“Fourteen,” Richard said.
“Fine, fourteen. It’s near the front of the ship. Don’t get confused because there’s a Jupiter Lounge at the rear of deck fourteen. This ship just has too many restaurants.”
“Thirty-seven,” Richard said.
“That’s just too many.”
“We’ll see you at dinner, Mom,” Dillon said heading back toward the turbolift.
“Alright, dear. 7:00. Don’t forget.”
“We won’t,” Hawkins said chasing after Dillon.
“Bye, Dad,” Dillon called.
Richard just grunted.
“Travis, are you coming or not?” Hawkins shouted as she paced the floor of their cabin.
“Just a minute,” Dillon’s voice replied from behind his closed bedroom door.
“You’ve been saying that for the last half-hour.”
The bedroom door opened finally, and Dillon walked out into the living room straightening the cummerbund of his tuxedo.
“Why is it every time we go out somewhere for dinner I end up in one of these things?” Dillon said, shifting uncomfortably in the tux.
“Blind luck,” Hawkins replied. “Now, we’re going to be late for dinner.”
“They’re my parents; they’ll wait.”
“And you’re the one who’s usually so anal about being on time.”
“I’m on vacation,” Dillon muttered. “I’m in no hurry to spend a large portion of it with my family.”
“I’ll try to keep you distracted,” Hawkins said, spinning around quickly so Dillon could get a full view of her dress. He’d been so wrapped up in his own whining that he hadn’t even taken a look at her.
The dress was something she’d picked up on Risa years earlier. She’d been saving it for a special occasion. Well, actually, any occasion would have done, but her social life hadn’t exactly been active until she started seeing Dillon. This cruise was a perfect opportunity to pull the dress out of her closet where it had hung since she bought it.
The tailor on Risa, a planet not known for its modesty anyway, had made the gown as form fitting as possible. Its sparkling red fabric seemed to mold itself to Hawkins as she put it on. Two spaghetti straps held up the top leaving her neck and arms bare. Thin, cris-crossed strips of the fabric also allowed tantalizing views of her back, midriff and legs.
“Wow,” Dillon said softly. “I can’t believe you’re going to wear that around my mother.”
Hawkins stormed over to him, placing her hands on the sides of his face and dragging it right in front of hers.
“Stop thinking about your parents!” she demanded. “We’re going to have a nice dinner. Understand?”
“If the conversation becomes too annoying, we’ll just get up and dance for a while.”
“Oh, that will help. I just love dancing so much,” Dillon said sarcastically.
“Shut up and let’s go,” Hawkins said, shifting her grip to Dillon’s bow tie and dragging him out of the cabin.
Ragoo watched Dillon and Hawkins leave their cabin and head for the turbolift. Ever since discovering the presence of two Starfleet officers on board, he’d been a puddle of paranoia. Why were they here? Had the Federation somehow gotten wind of his plan to sabotage the Pomposity? The easiest course of action would be to just kill them and get it over with, but the Pomposity was still too close to Federation space to risk drawing attention to himself.
Instead, he’d just have to be patient and keep an eye on them. Quite possibly, they had no idea a changeling was on board. A bit of surveillance would give him the information he needed on the unwanted Starfleet intruders.
Still in the guise of a steward, Ragoo stepped out from his hiding place and followed Dillon and Hawkins to the turbolift.
“Deck please,” the turbolift said in a sing song voice.
“Deck thirteen,” Hawkins said.
“Thank you.” The doors began to close.
“No. Fourteen,” Dillon corrected quickly. The doors stopped, reopened, then started to close again.
“Halt doors,” Hawkins said. She turned on Dillon. “Are you sure?”
“Positive. Mom, said deck fourteen near the bow of the ship.”
“I thought she said thirteen.”
“Deck please,” the turbolift said.
“Just a second,” Hawkins said.
“She did say thirteen, but Dad said that was wrong,” Dillon explained.
“I don’t know.”
“Deck please,” the turbolift said, a bit more insistently.
“But you’re the one who doesn’t want to go to this dinner.”
“I do so.”
“No you don’t!”
“Well, maybe not,” Dillon said. “But I wouldn’t purposely send us to the wrong deck!”
“Fine,” Hawkins said.
“Would you two make a decision!” the turbolift shouted.
“Deck Fourteen!” Hawkins and Dillon yelled.
“I can hear you. No need to get nasty,” the turbolift replied. The doors began to close. Suddenly, an arm reached in, preventing the doors from closing all the way. If Dillon and Hawkins had been paying attention, they might have noticed the arm bend in strangely as the doors closed on it.
“Hold the elevator,” Ragoo said as the doors reopened. He stepped into the turbolift, gave a quick nod to Hawkins and Dillon, then moved to the back of the lift car.
“Oh god! Not again!” Hawkins said.
“Fourteen,” Dillon said. He looked back at Ragoo expectantly. Ragoo did nothing. “Hello? What deck do you want?”
“Oh, Deck Fifteen,” Ragoo said.
“Thank you,” the turbolift said, at long last beginning its ascent.
“Don’t mind me,” Ragoo said. “You two go ahead and have whatever conversation you would have if I were not here. I hear nothing. Private talk is not a problem.”
Hawkins glared at him.
“Sorry. Never mind. Just pretend I’m not here.”
“Fine,” Hawkins said. She turned to Dillon. “God this steward is an annoying moron,” she said, taking Ragoo up on his offer to pretend he wasn’t around. “Whoever hired that nimrod ought to be fired along with him.”
Ragoo felt his fist turning into a large sledgehammer. Fighting for control of his anger, he willed the sledgehammer away.
“Patricia, be nice,” Dillon said uncomfortably.
“Why? He said pretend he wasn’t here. It’s the fool’s own fault.”
Ragoo’s fist stretched into a very nasty looking serrated blade, perfect for painfully ripping the flesh of a solid.
“No,” Ragoo said, forcing the blade down.
“Have you decided to be here after all?” Hawkins asked without turning to look at him. Ragoo’s blade/arm shot up toward Hawkins’s back. He stopped it just before he would have impaled her. This was exactly the sort of behavior the elder Founder’s had warned him about. If he let his emotions control him, he was bound to spoil everything.
The turbolift thankfully slowed to a stop at Deck Fifteen allowing Ragoo to leave the turbolift without killing anyone. The woman would die horribly and painfully later.
“Bye now,” Hawkins said with a smile and a wave just as the doors closed again. Ragoo ignored her and raced to the jefferies tube access panel running near the turbolift. He oozed inside and slid quickly up a level to Deck Fourteen. After oozing back out into the corridor, he transformed into as small of a mouse as his body mass would allow and ran toward the Saturn Room.
He caught up with Dillon and Hawkins just as they were about to enter the dining room. The older female solid who had been with Dillon and Hawkins in the turbolift earlier that day was waving them over to a table located near a group of potted plants. Ragoo ran ahead and took up a position behind the empty chairs at Mr. and Mrs. Dillon’s table. As unobtrusively as possible, he changed into a tall, leafy plant, blending in with the other plants in the grouping by the table.
“Sorry we’re late,” Hawkins said as she and Dillon approached the table.
“You women always take too long to get ready,” Richard Dillon said.
“Actually, it was me,” Dillon said. “These tuxes are a pain.”
“If you wore them more often, you wouldn’t think so,” Richard said, sitting up straighter in his tuxedo as if to make a point. “I wear mine at least six times a year.”
“Your father has become quite a star in the psychological world,” Linda Dillon said.
“So I’ve heard,” Dillon replied.
“He was just published in the Ligellian Psychological Review,” Linda told Hawkins. “And the Vulcan Science Academy Journal just raved about his book. Well, as much as Vulcans rave about anything, I guess.”
“Fascinating,” Dillon said flatly.
“And your brother’s been doing well for himself out at that Waystation place, too,” Richard said. “Some of my friends on the colony review board have told me Bradley’s the number one supplier for the colony ships headed toward the Beta Quadrant.”
“Can we change the subject?”
“Why?” Richard said. “You haven’t even asked about your mother.”
“She sends me updates,” Dillon said. “I heard all about the college news.”
“Your mother is president of one of the most prestigious universities on Earth. Johns Hopkins is a name that demands respect!”
“I know Dad.”
“And what are you?”
“Oh, here it comes,” Dillon said.
“Richard, not now,” Linda said.
“Waiter,” Hawkins said, trying to flag someone, anyone.
“Yes, madam,” a waiter said, quickly rushing over.
“We’d like to order,” Linda said.
“And I’d like to order the strongest drink you have,” Hawkins said. This was going to be a long meal.
“Make that two of them,” Dillon said.
Ragoo was really starting to wish that he’d picked another method of surveillance. The Starfleet officers, Patricia Hawkins and Travis Dillon as he’d gathered from the conversation, seemed to be doing nothing more than talking…incessant talking…never-ending talking. It was driving the changeling mad.
And the two other solids, Dillon’s parents, were even worse. They kept prodding and pushing the Starfleeters to talk more and more and more and AUGHHHHHH!
This is never going to end, Dillon thought as his mother started in again with the story about him and the time he broke Ambassador Sarek’s window when they were visiting his uncle, Admiral Matt Dillon in San Francisco. .
“…and the ball smashed the window and a ceremonial vase before hitting the ambassador right in the forehead. Travis was sure that Sarek would personally see to it that he never set foot into Starfleet Academy after that one.”
“Wow,” Hawkins said, turning to Dillon. “Worf was your roommate. You knocked out Sarek. You’ve met some of the biggies.”
“Yeah. Several brushes with greatness,” Richard Dillon said. “He just can’t get any for himself.”
Dillon had just about had enough. In the space of less than an hour, his career had been ridiculed, every mistake he’d ever made had been dredged back to the light, and it showed no sign of stopping.
To control his anger, Dillon reached back and started ripping leaves off of the plant behind his chair.
Ragoo had to use every ounce of willpower he had not to lose his shape as Dillon ripped off pieces of his body and dropped them to the floor. Luckily, most of them landed close enough that, when they lost their leaf shape, they oozed right back into his body. A few others lay unnoticed in little orange puddles. The pain, however, was excruciating.
“I take it you wanted Travis to do something else,” Hawkins said diplomatically. Richard turned his attention away from berating his son for a moment.
“He was supposed to carry on the family work,” Richard said. “The first Dillon child has been a psychologist for generations upon generations. We can date Dillon psychologists all the way back to the 20th century. Back then, some Dillon’s chose other lines of work, but the general path had been set. And since 2136, we Dillons have practiced psychology in Baltimore.”
“That’s quite a tradition,” Hawkins said.
“You know it, young lady,” Richard replied. He pointed accusingly at Dillon. “And you, need to come back where you belong. You’re only in your thirties. It’s not too late to get the degree you need.”
“I like Starfleet,” Dillon said, struggling to remain calm. He ripped off a few more leaves.
“Maybe it is time the family branched out a little,” Hawkins said. What was she doing? She had no business trying to reconcile these two. This tact and diplomacy crap was more Counselor Webber’s line of work.
“That’s why we have more than one child. Travis’ brother went out and opened a successful business. Travis has other obligations to his family, though.”
“Dad, we’ve been through this for years. I am not leaving Starfleet.”
“You are turning your back on Dillon psychologists all the way back to Wayne Dillon, your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather…or something like that.”
“His son didn’t become a psychologist,” Dillon retorted.
“True, but if he had, maybe he would have avoided a lot of his later issues. The only good thing he did was have some decent children.”
Listening to Richard verbally thrash his son, Hawkins had to wonder just how good of a psychologist he was. This didn’t sound like someone she’d want to tell all of her problems too.
“Does the fact that I’m 33 mean anything to you? I’ve been legally an adult for 15 years. Beyond that, I have a position of authority and respect aboard one of Starfleet’s finest vessels. I don’t need lectures from you on what my career could be like. It’s pretty damn good right now.”
“Travis! Your language!” Linda Dillon said.
Hawkins waited for Richard to respond. Other than exaggerating a bit about getting respect and the Secondprize being one of Starfleet’s finest ships, Dillon had spoken amazingly eloquently.
“Good! Hah!” Richard scoffed. “What happened to ‘Captain Dillon’? Huh? Where’s your command?”
“That was out of my hands,” Dillon replied. Honestly, it was. He’d been promoted to captain briefly a year and a half before, but his ship, the Edsel, had been put back in drydock. Then, the ship was sent out with a temporary commanding officer solely because the Secondprize was too far away from Earth for Dillon to return to take over. Uncle Matt assured him that he’d get command again. But then the Edsel disappeared in an anomaly called the Bermuda Expanses out beyond Waystation. So much for that.
“Well, I’m stuffed. How about you all?” Hawkins said, trying to change the subject.
“You were never supposed to be promoted,” Richard said.
“What?” Dillon said in disbelief.
“Uncle Matt talked Picard into it. After your run-in with the Klingons, they decided it was a big mistake and demoted you.”
“Am I? Ask Matt. He’s the one who told me. They just wanted to spare your feelings and your damn ego.”
“I can’t believe that you’d sink to making stuff up to try and get me out of Starfleet.”
“I’m not making it up. Am I Linda?”
“Richard! Don’t drag me into this,” Linda said.
“Mom?” Dillon said, turning to her for some kind of answer.
“You know your abilities, honey,” Linda said, dodging the question.
“Stop babying the boy,” Richard snapped. “You stink as an officer, Travis. The only reason you made commander is that they needed somebody gullible to stick on the Secondprize under an untried captain. That whole ship was nothing but a dumping ground for Starfleet’s flotsam.”
“Hey!” Hawkins said angrily.
“Honey, I think we should call it a night,” Linda said.
“It’s so pathetic that you have to sink to lies and insults to try and force me to do what you want.” Dillon said, standing up from the table. “I’m stronger than that. I don’t believe a word of your bullshit…sorry, Mom. Now, goodnight!”
Dillon kicked the plant over behind his chair and stormed out of the restaurant.
“We’ll see you both tomorrow,” Linda said to Hawkins. “But we’ve got dinner plans. We’re supposed to eat with Captain Simms.”
“I don’t think Travis is going to have much of an appetite anyway,” Hawkins replied.
“Do yourself a favor,” Richard said. “Find a man more worth your time.”
“Travis’ brother Bradley is very nice,” Linda said. “And available.”
“I don’t think so. We’ve met.” Hawkins walked away from the table. She’d seen some bad parents before, but these two were ridiculous. No wonder Dillon was so screwed up. Obviously, they both liked his brother better.
She was almost at the exit when she decided that she couldn’t leave without one little parting shot.
“Besides,” Hawkins said, turning toward them as an evil grin spread across her face. “Travis is so fit and energetic…especially in bed.” Hawkins watched gleefully as Linda’s mouth dropped open in shock and Richard scowled. It was time for the finishing touch. “I’ve just never met anyone like him. He’s a real man.”
She hurried out of the restaurant before she could start laughing. Dillon was waiting for her by the turbolift.
“So, what else did they have to say?” he muttered.
“They’re eating with the captain tomorrow night.”
“Great. All three of them can bash Starfleet…and me.”
“I put in a good word for you,” Hawkins said. Dillon could tell by the glint in her eye that something was up.
“What did you say?” he asked, not really sure if he wanted to know.
“Not much. I said that I didn’t want to date your brother and that you’re great in bed.”
“Wonderful. I’m sure they loved hearing about our sex life.”
“Who was talking about sex?”
“I’ve never met anyone as good at making a bed as you are. I’ve bounced strips of latinum off of your sheets some days.”
Dillon couldn’t help but smile.
“Much better,” Hawkins said, kissing him. “You always look so goofy when you’re depressed. I can’t stand it.”
“I’ll try to remember that.”
“Good. Or I’ll go run off with Bradley.”
“Don’t even joke about that.”
Ragoo slowly let go of his shape and oozed in between some of the other plants in the restaurant. Little bits of him glistening underneath the Dillon’s vacated table. He’d retrieve them in a second. First, he needed to try and get a handle on the pain he was in.
The scream rattled the entire restaurant. Fortunately, no one could figure out where it originated. In the resulting confusion, Ragoo grabbed his missing pieces and scurried out of the restaurant in the form of a mouse.
Dillon is dead. Hawkins, too. They’re both dead. That whole damn Dillon family is going down! Ragoo chanted to him himself as he headed back toward the Pomposity’s auxiliary control room.
Dillon and Hawkins reentered their cabin and plopped down on the sofa.
“That was exhausting,” Dillon said.
“And I usually enjoy dinner,” Hawkins added.
“I think I may head to bed.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. I’m sorry, Patricia. I know it’s early, but I just need to go to bed. We’ve got several more days and nights to spend together.”
“Hopefully, minus your parents.”
“No kidding.” He gave her a quick peck on the lips and pulled himself up off the sofa. Hawkins yawned.
“You know. I may head to bed myself.”
They headed to the doors of their separate rooms and stopped. They looked at each other, each waiting for the other to say something.
Several seconds passed.
It felt like an eternity.
“Well, goodnight,” Hawkins said finally.
“Goodnight, Patricia,” Dillon replied and headed into his room. He was almost sure that this would be the night she’d invite him in. For some reason, though, she seemed to have this barrier. Messing around was okay, but actually spending the night together asleep hit too close to something for her. Every evening on the Secondprize, when they decided to call it a night, they’d head back to their individual quarters. Here, it was more of the same. Until they could get past this intimacy block, Dillon would always wonder how strong their relationship really was.
Hawkins closed the door of her room and leaned against it frustrated. The moment was perfect. Dillon should have said something. Asked her to stay in his room. That was the way it was supposed to be. Staring at her across the living room, though, Dillon looked petrified. But then again, so was she. Hawkins had never shared her life with anyone. Everything she’d done had been on her own. She got herself into Starfleet Academy. Her parents supported her, but she did it alone. She’d never had the need or the time for relationships with men. Now, she was in one, fairly deeply. She knew she loved Dillon; she knew she wanted things to go forward. And she was fairly sure he wanted them to as well. Now, someone just had to make the next move. The question was who? And when?
This was uncharted territory for her. Of course, it was for him too, but that didn’t make his lack of action any easier to deal with. She stripped out of her dress and crawled into bed, pushing these depressing thoughts out of her mind. Tomorrow, she and Dillon would have fun. That was the only thing she would plan for the future right now. And tomorrow night? Hopefully, much more fun of a more adult character.
Dillon collapsed into bed, cursing his cowardice. Why the hell was this so difficult? The problem was…intimacy. Not the physical kind, but the emotional. All of his life, he’d been alone. His parents’ presence had brought those days flooding back. Days of avoiding his family, his classmates, everyone. Oh, he’d tried to make friends at first, but nothing seemed to work. Now, he wasn’t sure he knew how to let someone get close to him. He wondered how patient Patricia would be. Would she dump him? Or worse, shoot him?
Ragoo’s thoughts were solely on revenge. He could not believe that one solid could cause him so much agony. All he wanted now was to kill the Starfleet officers, but the Pomposity was still too close to home for him to strike. Not for long, though.
In auxiliary control, he gently eased the ship’s speed up a couple of notches. By tomorrow evening, the Pomposity would be far enough off course that he could kill Dillon and Hawkins without worrying about the rest of the ship being alerted. Tomorrow night, it would be too late for all of them.
Dillon took a step away from the tee and surveyed the course in front of him. Above the golf course, the transparent aluminum dome allowed for a magnificent view of space streaking by.
“Okay, 250 yards. Dogleg to the right. Avoid the bunker on the left and the water hazard ahead.”
“Are you going to play or not?” Hawkins asked.
“I’m making calculations.”
“If you were Jaroch, I’d believe it. But you’re not, so hit the damn ball.”
“Golf requires a great deal of precision.”
“And when did you become the expert.”
“Can we get on with it?”
“Fine.” Dillon swung, sending the ball soaring away from the tee. Unfortunately, it wasn’t heading anywhere near the green. It landed out of sight. Then, the screams started.
“My gods! Are you alright, your highness?”
“See what happens when you rush me,” Dillon said. Three angry and very muscled men emerged from the bushes, charging toward Hawkins and Dillon.
“Imbecile! You have injured the Prince!” the lead man shouted.
“I think we just further tarnished our already wonderful reputation on this ship,” Hawkins said softly.
“Which prince?” Dillon shouted back. “There’s about a hundred of them on board.”
“The Royal Crown Prince Hebelia Junedre Lorencia Gernet of Pologasiz Four! That’s which prince!”
“Sorry about that,” Dillon said. “She rushed my shot.”
“Travis! Fine, blame it on me!”
“But you did.”
“Shut up.” Hawkins turned toward the prince’s entourage. “My feebleminded friend here did not mean to harm his royal highness. Please give him our deepest apologies while we head off to a safer activity.”
“Very wise. Otherwise, I will have you executed for high treason and attempted assassination of a royal personage as well as…”
“I get the damn point,” Hawkins snapped. “Shut the hell up and go back to Whiny the Prince over there. I swear. One golf ball to the head, and you’d think he’d been disintegrated or something.”
Hawkins spun on her heel and headed toward the golf cart. Dillon smiled weakly and rushed after her.
“I see why you never entered the diplomatic core,” Dillon said. “Generally, it’s not considered wise to call royalty any names. Your ‘whiny’ comment could have started a war between the Federation and Pologazis Four.”
“Only if your golfing didn’t start one first. Come on.”
“Where are we going?”
“Somewhere where you can’t hurt anyone.”
“Okay. Straight ahead, up the ramp, through the windmill, bounce off the far corner and down the hill into the hole.”
“Would you just putt?” Hawkins demanded.
“You just don’t appreciate the more cerebral side of sports.”
“I came here to relax, not plot the trajectory of a golf ball.”
“Without the precise mix of angle and power, you’re just going to be swinging wildly.”
“I’m close to swinging wildly at your head.”
“Fine. I’m going.” Dillon lined up his shot for the twentieth time and swung.
The ball sped away up the ramp and launched into the air, sailing between the spinning blades of the windmill.
“Too much power,” Dillon said.
The ball ricocheted off the model Golden Gate bridge, flew over the Vulcan Temple of Kohlinhar, bounced again off the statue of Zephram Cochrane, and landed in the midst of a group golfing a few holes away.
“This is starting to sound familiar,” Hawkins said.
“You have horribly injured the heir to the throne of Pologasix Four!” a man cried, charging toward them.
“I WANT MY DADDY!!!”
“I’d say he’s a chip off the old block,” Hawkins said.
“Maybe an entirely different sport is in order,” Dillon sighed.
Ragoo had come to the conclusion that Travis Dillon must be one of the most dangerous people in the galaxy. In a short span of time, Dillon had managed to injure more people by accident than whole troop of Jem’Hadar could on purpose. Ragoo shuddered…well, quivered gelatinously anyway, at the thought of what the man could do when he was upset. Dillon had to be eliminated and fast. Fortunately, the Pomposity was now far enough off-course that Ragoo felt safe to strike. Now, all he had to do was find the method.
“How’s the shoulder?” Hawkins asked as she and Dillon rode the turbolift up to their cabin.
“Better,” Dillon said, rubbing it gingerly. “Captain Rydell always makes it look so effortless.”
“Travis, it’s a twelve pound ball. You can’t just swing it around like it’s nothing.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Well, scratch bowling off of your list of possible Olympic sports.”
The lift doors opened on their deck. They exited without noticing the extra plant near the turbolift doors.
“No need to attack my athleticism.”
“I know who I’m inviting to your next birthday party,” Dillon said just as they reached their cabin door.
“Thanks,” Hawkins said, pushing Dillon inside the cabin forcefully. The doors slid shut.
“I was just kidding,” Dillon said defensively. That really was a low blow. She still had the occasional nightmare about the Borg clowns that had assimilated her recently.
Out in the hall, Ragoo had not heard the rest of this exchange, and the subtle sarcasm of Hawkins’ “thanks” had been totally lost on the changeling.
So, she likes clowns, Ragoo thought, congratulating himself for studying a little bit of human culture before heading out on this mission. That’s just perfect.
Dillon threw himself down on the sofa exhausted and emitted a huge sigh. Hawkins was fiddling back in her room.
“So, how are we going to top today’s fun and excitement?” he said. Hawkins suddenly flew over the end of the sofa, landing beside him.
“We’ll think of something,” she replied.
“Hmm. Like what?” They stopped speaking, instead staring into each other’s eyes. Their heads moved closer.
“Hold on!” Dillon said suddenly as he jumped up from the sofa. “I’ll be right back.”
“Where are you going?” Hawkins demanded. Dillon was already back in his room. Hawkins settled in on the sofa, adjusting her position so her phaser wasn’t jabbing into her. Dillon always told her she shouldn’t wear it all the time, but she was a security chief. Phasers were a part of her life.
The door chimed sounded.
“Come in,” Hawkins said. Hopefully, Dillon wasn’t about to come running out dressed in his regulation Starfleet boxer shorts…or worse.
The door slid open revealing a man in bright baggy clothes, white face paint, and obscenely red hair. He was accessorized with an equally red nose and a bundle of balloons. Hawkins established the man’s identity fairly rapidly.
“CLOWN!!!” She had her phaser out before the clown had a chance to react.
Dillon, wearing his new Starfleet bikini briefs, charged out of his room just as Hawkins started firing.
The phaser beam smashed into the clown causing him to ripple and shrink back.
“FOUNDER!!!” Dillon and Hawkins screamed.
Reeling from the unexpected welcome, Ragoo retreated back into the corridor.
“Come on!” Hawkins shouted.
“Get your phaser!”
Dillon rushed back into his quarters as Hawkins dashed out into the hall after the shapeshifter. The long corridor was devoid of life, but Hawkins wasn’t giving up so easily. She seriously doubted that the shapeshifter could have gotten away so quickly. Without warning, she started blasting every potted plant in sight, running down the corridor toward the turbolift as she went.
She caught a flash of movement out of the corner of her eye just a second too late as one of the light fixtures on the wall sprung to life and wrapped tentacles around her arms and neck. She struggled to keep her grip on her phaser as Ragoo started to squeeze.
“Surprise,” Ragoo said, his lips forming at the end of the tentacle choking the life out of Hawkins.
“Let her go!” Dillon shouted from down the hall.
“Travis, I don’t think he takes orders,” Hawkins gasped.
“Very true,” Ragoo said.
“Fine,” Dillon said. “I’m going to call security.”
“You do, and she dies.”
“You’ll kill her anyway.”
“No, I won’t.”
“Yes, you will.”
“Then, why did you grab her?”
“But you’re choking her.”
“Would you two shut up?!?” Hawkins said.
“I’m trying to negotiate for your life here, dear,” Dillon said.
“Don’t bother.” Hawkins, with the last bit of strength she had in her arm, twisted her phaser toward Ragoo’s tentacle and fired. A pained howl left the shapeshifter as it dropped Hawkins and projectile oozed into the nearest air vent.
“We’ve got to warn Captain Simms,” Dillon said.
“I’m fine, thanks.”
“I know. I was just distracting him for you.”
“We better get to the dining lounge,” Dillon said, heading toward the turbolift.
“Uh…Travis. You look great and all, hon, but I think some clothes would be a good idea.”
“You really like them?” Dillon asked, doing a quick fashion turn in his new briefs.
“Very sexy. Now, come on. We have to save the ship.”
“…but Simms Ship Lines is not going to rest on its laurels with the Pomposity,” John Simms Jr. said as he continued his dinner speech. “We are already deep into planning the next Super Starliner. I’ll have more information for you on this as soon as we think of a big enough name for it. Thank you and enjoy your meals.”
The other seven diners at Simms’ table, which included Richard and Linda Dillon, applauded as he sat back down.
“That was just great, John-John,” Mindy exclaimed.
“I know, dear. Now, our first course this evening should be…” Simms trailed off as he noticed some colorful movement out of the corner of his eye. Something red and something yellow was heading his way. “What the devil?”
Richard Dillon looked up from his salad and, following Simms’ gaze, immediately wished he hadn’t. “Oh, by the Great Bird.”
Commander Dillon and Lieutenant Hawkins, rushed up to the table out of breath with their phasers drawn.
“Captain, we’ve got a situation on board,” Dillon said. “Under Starfleet regulation 578 subparagraph six, I am taking command of this vessel.”
“Travis! For god’s sake, shut up and go away!” Richard said. “You’re embarrassing your mother and me.”
“This man is your fault?” Simms said, turning on Richard incredulously.
“I take no responsibility,” Richard said. “Starfleet’s warped his mind.”
“Hello? Is anybody listening to us?” Hawkins said. “There’s an emergency.”
“Impossible,” Simms said. “This ship is perfectly fine.”
“It won’t be for long with a shapeshifter on board,” Hawkins said.
“One blob of goo is not going to harm my ship,” Simms said. “Now then, we’re going to return to our meals in peace.”
“But I just took command,” Dillon said.
“Stop whining!” Richard shouted.
“Travis, maybe you should go back to your cabin and get some sleep,” Linda said. “I think you’re overreacting.”
“Overreacting? To a shapeshifter? Do you realize that this thing could be anywhere? He could be that salad, Dad. He could suddenly change into a huge monster with blades on every finger and jump up and slice you all into bloody ribbons, intestines and organs landing everywhere as he pokes out your eyeballs and eats them like olives! Do you want that?!?”
“TRAVIS!!!” Richard bellowed. Linda and several other diners in the lounge pushed their plates away, suffering from a sudden loss of appetite.
“Commander Dillon, if you do not leave right now, I will have security toss you and your equally charming companion into the brig for the rest of the trip to Vulcan,” Simms said. “We are in one of the safest and most heavily traveled sections of the galaxy. Everything is fine.”
“We’ll see,” Dillon said, turning to leave. He stopped and turned back on Simms. “And you, Mister, are damn lucky you aren’t in the fleet. Flagrant disobedience of Starfleet regulations is a serious matter.”
“Travis, let’s go before you make us any more unpopular,” Hawkins said, pulling Dillon toward the door.
“The rules are there for your protection!” Dillon shouted as he was dragged out.
“Doctor and Doctor Dillon, no offense to either of you, but you should have been sterilized,” Simms said.
“Our other son is much better,” Linda said. “Really.”
“Fools! Blind fools!” Dillon was shouting at every passenger he passed. “You’re in danger! Don’t you see! Danger!”
“We’ve got to get to the bridge,” Hawkins said.
“Will that even help? This thing isn’t going to show up on the internal sensors, especially not the weak ones this ship probably has.”
“Think about it, Travis. What damage could one shapeshifter really do to a ship this deep into Federation space?”
“You’re starting to sound like Simms. And it could do plenty. Blow us up for one thing.”
“What good would that do? The Founder’s strategy is divide and conquer. They want to promote unrest. One ship accident isn’t going to do that.”
“Oh hell. I think I see where you’re going with this.”
Dillon and Hawkins raced to the nearest turbolift.
“Deck please?” the computer said warmly.
“Bridge,” Dillon said.
“I’m sorry. That deck is for authorized employees of Simms ship lines only.”
“I’m a Starfleet officer. I am authorized!!!”
“Deck two, fore section,” Hawkins said, cutting Dillon off before he had an embolism.
“Thank you,” the computer replied.
“We’ll blast our way in if we have to,” Hawkins said. “Give me a boost.” Dillon lifted her up so that she could reach the maintenance hatch at the top of the lift. She and Dillon were already on top of the turbolift car, when it slowed to a halt at deck two. They were easily able to climb up a maintenance ladder the rest of the way to the bridge doors.
“Phasers on vaporize,” Dillon said angrily.
“Hold on,” Hawkins said. She pulled up the access panel next to the closed doors and adjusted a few of the circuits. The bridge doors opened a moment later. “And you say I’m impatient.”
“Sorry. I’m just not having a good day.”
Simms felt his pocket communicator start to vibrate. Damn! Always during dinner. He was a bit confused, though. The communicator was only supposed to alert him in case of a dire emergency. Dillon’s warning briefly flashed through his mind, but he pushed it away as nonsense. The Pomposity would be fine. At worst, they were running low on Andorian Cognac.
He pulled the communicator out of his suitcoat pocket as unobtrusively as possible and activated it.
“There has been an unauthorized entry on the bridge,” the computer said.
“Two human lifesigns.”
It had to be Hawkins and Dillon. Damn them. “Alert security. I’m on my way.” Simms put his napkin on the table and stood up.
“If you’ll excuse me ladies and gentlemen, I have a small matter to attend to.”
“Don’t leave me, John-John,” Mindy said getting up to follow him.
“There’s no one here!” Dillon said in shock. “How do you not man your bridge?”
“Like this, I guess.”
“And he calls himself a captain.”
Hawkins located the helm console and sat down.
“Where are we?”
“I’m still getting a bearing, but we are way off course.”
The turbolift doors opened behind them revealing Simms, Mindy, and five security guards.
“Arrest them,” Simms said.
“I told you we were in trouble,” Dillon said, triumphantly pointing at the helm console. Two guards pulled Hawkins out of her chair as a third sat down to take her place.
“We are not,” Mindy said. “Are we?”
“Of course not, hon.”
“Uh…sir?” the guard at the helm said nervously.
“What is it?” Simms demanded.
“The computer says we’re in Klingon space.”
“Klingon! We’re supposed to be going to Vulcan!” Mindy wailed.
“Shut up,” Hawkins said.
“I’m taking command!” Dillon said.
“You are not,” Simms said. “Helm, get us out of here.”
“I don’t think so,” one of the other guards said. He raised his phaser and blasted the helm console.
“It’s him!” Hawkins shouted, pulling away from the shocked guards holding her and drawing her phaser. Ragoo had his phaser trained on her in a flash. She dove behind the wreckage of the helm just as he fired.
“Get down,” Dillon ordered as he fired at the shapeshifter. Ragoo dodged and returned fire, narrowly avoiding another shot from Hawkins.
“Make them stop!” Mindy said.
“I can’t!” Simms said.
Ragoo, realized that two against one wasn’t good odds and dove into the turbolift, firing several shots of cover fire to protect his escape. A moment later, he was gone.
“You horrible, horrible man!” Mindy screamed, launching herself at Dillon and pounding on his chest with her fists. “This was John-John’s finest hour. You’ve ruined it.”
“Yeah, we always like to carry a spare shapeshifter in our luggage for special occasions,” Hawkins snapped.
“The helm’s fried,” one of the guards reported. “We can’t do a thing from up here.”
“And we are deep into Klingon territory,” Dillon said, pushing Mindy off of him. “Please turn this ship over to me. You need my expertise.”
“Don’t do it, John,” Mindy said.
“I have to,” Simms said. He turned to Dillon. “But you’d better get us out of this.”
“John!” Mindy whined.
“Hawkins, if you please,” Dillon said.
Hawkins shot Mindy, sending her sprawling to the deck unconscious.
Ragoo assumed another humanoid form and stepped calmly out the turbolift. On the outside he looked calm anyway. Inside, he was frantically reconsidering his options. Not only had his presence been detected, but the solids now knew that the ship was off-course. Any moment now, they would be sending for help and turning the ship around. Unless…
“Where do you think he’s headed?” Dillon asked as Hawkins looked over a schematic of the Pomposity.
“This is a huge ship. He could be going anywhere.”
“Mr. Simms, I want armed security guards combing the ship,” Dillon said, turning toward the shaken cruise magnate.
“Armed? Other than you two, we’ve only got about twenty phasers on board. We’re a pleasure vessel, for god’s sake.”
“Twenty?” Dillon said.
“And the shapeshifter’s got one of them,” Hawkins said.
“Okay. Alternate plan of attack. Hawkins, send a message to Starfleet apprising them of our situation. Also, set up a distress beacon and alert the Klingons of our presence and our condition.”
“Anything else?” Hawkins said sarcastically as she moved over to the communications console.
“That should cover it,” Dillon said obliviously. The ship’s status board suddenly flashed a silent warning.
“What’s happening?” Simms demanded.
“We just lost communications,” Hawkins said. “Someone’s disabled all access to the external array. We’ve still got the internal comm system, though.”
“Great,” Dillon said. “Communication’s gone. So…” He fell silent for a moment, lost in thought. Hawkins did the same, considering their next move. Almost in unison, they snapped out of their silence.
“Security to auxiliary control and engineering,” Hawkins said.
“Go armed,” Dillon added.
“Commander, I know I gave you command, but I built this ship. What is going on?” Simms said.
“He’s cutting off our avenues of escape. First, he makes it so we can’t call for help. Now, he’s going to make sure we can’t get out of Klingon space under our own power,” Dillon explained.
“Team one is nearing auxiliary control,” Hawkins said.
“Bridge to auxiliary control. Report!” Dillon ordered.
“We’re entering the room now,” one of the security officers reported over the comm system. “All clear so far.”
“Stay alert,” Hawkins said. “Look for anything out of the ordinary.”
“Everything’s fine. I really like the statue they put in here. Very classy.”
“Statue!” Hawkins shouted. “Shoot it.”
“The statue? I’m not…OH MY GOD!!! AUUGHHH!!!”
The comm signal dissolved into static just as another status board started flashing. Hawkins checked the readouts.
“Auxiliary control has been trashed,” Hawkins said.
“Bridge to engineering,” Dillon said, trying to contain his irritation. “What’s your status?”
“We’re all clear. A security perimeter has been established. That slimy piece of metamorphic sludge is not getting in here,” an officer replied.
“Good because he just took out an entire team in auxiliary control.”
“That ain’t going to happen to us. Hold on a second, sir. Uh…little girl…you shouldn’t be down here. Run back to your mommy. Little girl…miss…AUGGHHH!!!”
The Pomposity lurched and went black. A moment later, emergency lights flickered to life all over the vessel. The bridge consoles slowly came back online as reserve power kicked in.
“Do I even want to know?” Dillon asked.
“Damage to all systems,” Hawkins said. “Engines are off-line.”
“Engineering to bridge,” a weak voice said over the comm system.
“We’re in pretty bad shape down here.”
“I heard,” Dillon replied. “How soon until we can have main power back?”
“About an hour. I can get you partial main power now. Whatever that thing was, it seemed mostly concerned with the propulsion systems.”
“We know. Give me all the power you can to sensors.”
“Aye, sir. Engineering out.”
Dillon moved over to the command chair and threw himself into it. Normally, he’d be relishing the power of being in command again, but this was just not the time. He had to think and think fast. The odds were that Captain Rydell was not going to come swooping in and save his ass anytime soon. Dillon was now responsible for the safety of several hundred innocent civilians. So much for the glories of being in charge.
“Sensors are on line,” Hawkins said. “I’m not picking up anything.”
“Good. What do you think the Founder’s going to do next?” Dillon asked.
“Probably lie low until it can find a good moment to kill you and me. We’re really the only threat to the success of its plan.”
“Thanks. That takes a load off my mind.” Dillon sunk a bit lower in the command chair and attempted to relax.
“K-Bop decloaking off the bow!” Hawkins shouted.
“What the hell’s a K-Bop?” Dillon asked.
“Klingon Bird of Prey. Do I have to spell it out for you?”
“I was trying to save time by using an acronym.”
“It didn’t make any sense.”
“Uh, excuse me,” Simms interrupted. “You’ve now spent more time arguing about it that you would have if she’d just said the damn words in the first place!”
“He’s right,” Dillon said.
“Oh, shut up, Travis.”
“Could we deal with the Klingons now?” Dillon said.
“Fine. Raising shields and… Where are the shields?”
“We don’t have any,” Simms said. “I told you, we’re a cruise liner! We’re going to die, aren’t we? This is a disaster!”
“Not yet. We’ll get out of this,” Dillon said. “The Klingons don’t like intruders, but we are their allies. Let me talk to them.”
“How? The comm system’s down?”
The sparkling orange cascades of five Klingon transporter beams appeared on the bridge and slowly resolved into people. Dillon stood up, straightened his uniform, and prepared his usual opening statement. As soon as he saw the lead Klingon, he forgot all of it.
“Oh God!” Dillon said.
“You!” Captain Donask of the Klingon Empire said, pointing angrily at Dillon. “YOU!!!”
“I take it you two know each other,” Simms said as Donask advanced menacingly on Dillon.
“Not really,” Dillon said, backing toward the wall. “I just ran into her once about a year or so ago.”
“Ran into me! You dishonored me!” Donask seethed. Her hand was starting to move toward her dagger.
“Hey, I never laid a hand on you,” Dillon said.
“Not like that, you worthless pitakh!”
“I sense a back story here,” Simms said.
“Yeah. We’ll get to it later,” Hawkins said.
“Do you know how many cups of coffee I had to serve because of you?!?” Donask said. Dillon was now smashed up against the wall as the irate Klingon captain glowered at him.
“With all due respect, Donask, Captain Rydell was responsible for the coffee machine,” Hawkins said.
“Is he here?” Donask asked.
“Then this worm will do nicely.” She grabbed Dillon’s collar and lifted him up in the air. “And if you had not interfered with me, Rydell never would have shown up in the first place.
“So this is all my fault?” Dillon said.
“You learn quickly, human,” Donask said smiling an evil smile which displayed her sharp, vile teeth. “And, I have your current invasion of our space to add to your crimes.” She dropped Dillon to the deck and started pacing the bridge. “As of this moment, your ship and cargo are the property of the Klingon Empire. Consider yourselves our prisoners.”
“Uh, Donask, about that…” Dillon said, regaining his composure. “We’ve got a Founder on board who sabotaged our systems and sent us lumbering into Klingon space. If you take action against us, it’ll cause a galactic incident.”
“So, that’s just what the changelings want,” Hawkins said.
“It’s their lucky day,” Donask said. “Take him!” Two large, heavily armed Klingon warriors advanced on Dillon. Hawkins drew her phaser and placed herself between the Klingons and their target.
“I wouldn’t do that.”
“If Commander Dillon does not surrender to us immediately, I will order my ship to open fire,” Donask said.
“If one of your thugs takes another step, the firing’s going to start right here and now,” Hawkins said.
“Can we talk about this?” Dillon asked.
“NO!” Hawkins and Donask shouted.
“Hear me out a second,” Dillon said.
“Travis, I’m trying to help you here,” Hawkins said.
“Could we all just shut up and let the man talk?” Simms said.
“Man? Ha!” Donask said.
“Look, all I really want is to get this ship back to the Federation without anyone getting hurt,” Dillon said. “If you will tow the Pomposity to the border and forget this mess ever happened…I’ll go with you.”
“You’ll what?” Hawkins said.
“I’m the captain. I have a duty.”
“Oh, don’t be a damn martyr.”
“Agreed,” Donask said, interrupting them. She pulled out her communicator and spoke in Klingon to her ship for a moment. “Several cruisers are on their way to assist in towing.”
“Thank you,” Dillon said.
“We leave now,” Donask said. Hawkins looked on helplessly as the Klingon thugs grabbed Dillon and pulled him over to Donask.
“See you in a while,” Dillon said to Hawkins.
“Not likely,” Donask said.
“Is this going to hurt?” Dillon asked.
“Oh yes…a lot,” Donask said. Dillon almost thought he detected glee in her voice.
“Can I tell him one last thing?” Hawkins asked, approaching Dillon.
“No treachery,” Donask said.
“I promise.” Hawkins moved close to Dillon. “You’re nuts,” she whispered.
“I had to do it.”
“I know. I love you for it.”
“Thanks. I…” He was interrupted by intense pain as Hawkins’s knee slammed up into his groin.
“That’s for leaving me here like this,” Hawkins said. She looked deep into Dillon’s anguished eyes and kissed him. “Get back here soon.”
“Right,” Dillon gasped.
“Energize,” Donask said. She, Dillon, and the remaining Klingons vanished in a swirl of molecules.
“Wait!” Hawkins shouted at the empty air. “What about the changeling? Fuck!”
“I can’t believe he did that,” Simms said.
“Me either,” Hawkins said softly.
“Does this mean I’m captain again?”
The Klingons marched Dillon down a series of dark, steel corridors until they came to a door, which they unceremoniously tossed him through.
“I need to contact the Federation ambassador,” Dillon said. “I have rights!” The door closed before the Klingons could respond, but he was pretty sure they were laughing at him.
Dillon took a look around at the room he was in. He wasn’t sure if it was a cell or one of the normal crew quarters. The steel decor and furniture didn’t give him any hints either.
What the hell had he just done to himself? Sure captains were supposed to give their lives for their crew, but those people weren’t his crew. They were a bunch of lazy civilians who didn’t understand a thing about Starfleet and the dangers of space and…that’s exactly why he’d done it. It was his job as a Starfleet Officer. Regulation 34, subparagraph…he couldn’t remember.
Now he knew he was stressed. The regulations were starting to slip. Somehow right then, they didn’t seem all that important anyway.
Hawkins watched several more Klingon vessels approach on the newly-repaired viewscreen. On the bright side, they supposedly came in peace. Hawkins just hoped that the Klingons would keep their word. If they didn’t, the Pomposity was a sitting duck.
“Are we just going to sit here?” Simms asked.
“Shouldn’t you be looking after that girlfriend of yours I blasted?”
“She’s fine. This place is too dangerous for her anyway.”
“It is not,” Mindy said, storming furiously out of the turbolift. She ran over to Hawkins and slapped her without warning. “You shot me!”
“You did not just do that,” Hawkins said, an intense fury building up inside of her.
“Slap me, you moronic bitch.”
“You heard me!” She couldn’t help Dillon, she couldn’t find the changeling, and she couldn’t fight the Klingons, but Hawkins could sure as hell stomp this little twit’s ass.
“Why you…” Mindy reared back to slap Hawkins again. Before she could get her hand fully cocked, Hawkins roundhouse kicked her in the stomach, sending the woman reeling into Simms’ arms. “That hurt!”
“No shit!” Hawkins said. “Ready for some more?”
“Get out of here, Mindy!” Simms shouted. Mindy raced into the turbolift, almost running headlong into the waiter emerging with a cart of food. She was gone a moment later.
“I know, Mr. Simms. I shouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry. This situation is just getting to me.”
“And me as well,” Simms replied, gesturing at the cart. “Fortunately, the cavalry has arrived. Care for a late snack?”
“That’d be great.”
“Thank you, Thomas,” Simms said to the waiter. The waiter bowed stiffly and headed back into the elevator, leaving Hawkins and Simms alone with their meal. “He really is one of the best cooks in the quadrant.”
Hawkins lifted up one of the silver serving dish lids revealing a bowl of orangish goo.
“He fixed Jell-O?” Simms said incredulously.
“Not funny. It looks just like…oh shit!” Hawkins dove backwards just as a fluid tentacle burst out of the bowl.
“Not again!” Simms shouted, racing for cover.
“Haven’t you done enough damage?” Hawkins said, as she fired at the cart.
“Not even close,” Ragoo said. He slid out of the bowl and slowly formed into a humanoid shape. One arm was still the tentacle; the other stretched under the cart and soon returned with a phaser in its grip. “Where’s the other one? Dillon?”
“With the Klingons,” Simms said.
“The Klingons are here already? Wonderful. Everything is going according to plan.”
“It must be a stupid plan then,” Hawkins said. “Dillon has convinced the Klingons to let us go free.”
The ship suddenly lurched at the Klingon’s tractor beams locked on to the Pomposity.
“They’re towing us back to the Federation now,” Hawkins added.
“What!” Ragoo screamed. His tentacle whipped around fiercely as he used his other limb to manipulate the phaser controls. A third limb lanced out of his body and opened the turbolift doors.
“It’s over!” Hawkins said.
“Only for you two,” Ragoo said. He suddenly launched himself into the waiting turbolift while tossing the phaser behind a bridge console. A moment later, the bridge was quiet except for the beeping consoles and a growing hum that Hawkins knew way too well.
“What’s he done?” Simms asked, peering out from behind his console.
“His phaser’s on overload,” Hawkins said running for the turbolift. The doors didn’t open.
“We’ll have to wait for the next car to get here,” Simms said.
“Next car? We’ve got about twenty seconds left!”
“Yes. Is there another way out of here?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. I…”
“Shut up!” Hawkins aimed her phaser at the deck and started firing. The gold-thread carpet vaporized instantly revealing the deck plating underneath which started to superheat and melt away.
“Hurry up!” Simms demanded.
“Hey! I don’t see you doing anything!”
“Then stop complaining.” The hole finally got to human size, but the edges were still white hot. “Jump!”
“I’ll get burned.”
“Fine, die.” Hawkins leapt through the hole and fell to the deck below. As soon as she hit, she rolled out of the way and headed for cover. Evidently deciding that a minor burn was imminently better than being blown up, Simms dropped to the deck a moment later. Almost as soon as he touched down, the ship rocked from the force of the phaser explosion. Hawkins dove at Simms, knocking him out from under the hole just before the blast forces blazed through it. They rolled along the deck together as the fire suppression systems sprung to life, extinguishing the resulting flames.
“My bridge,” Simms whined softly.
“I hope you carry insurance for explosions.”
Simms shook his head slowly.
“We’re a cruise ship, for god’s sake.”
When the two burly Klingons barged in and dragged Dillon off of the metal slab he was attempting to use as a bed, Dillon figured his situation wasn’t going to improve any. He was right. Now, he was strapped rather harshly into a metal chair that must have been designed by Vlad the Impaler. Sharp bits of metal stabbed into his back and rear end as he tried unsuccessfully to get somewhat comfortable. The bonds around his ankles, knees, thighs, waist, chest, shoulders, arms, wrists, neck, and forehead weren’t making things any easier. He had to hand it to the Klingons, though. They certainly were thorough.
The large viewscreen in front of him along with the nearby table full of various sharp, jagged objects didn’t give Dillon a lot of hope for an easy time of it. Donask was probably going to slice him open slowly and make him watch all of it on the big screen. He’d always liked the idea of movies and being in one of the old 20th century action spectaculars, but this was not the way he wanted to break into show business. Somehow he didn’t think “Dillon’s Guts” would do that well at the box office anyway.
Lieutenant Hawkins paced back and forth around the makeshift command center she’d set up in one of the racquetball courts at the front of the Pomposity. Several technicians were installing consoles to give her some semblance of an idea of what was going on around the ship. Under a different set of circumstances, she and Dillon would be in here playing. Hawkins couldn’t help but smile at that. Dillon loved the sport, but didn’t quite have the agility necessary for it. He always went after each shot at full-speed, leading to some very rough collisions with the walls of the court.
“We’re all set, ma’am,” one of the technicians said, standing up and pocketing a couple of tools. “You should have complete access to the sensors.”
“How’s that comm array the Klingons gave us?” Hawkins asked.
“Just a couple of minutes,” another tech said from deep within the console’s wiring.
“Well, hurry it up.” The sooner she had communications, the sooner she could find out about Dillon. She just felt lucky that one of the other Klingon crews towing them had been nice enough to beam over and offer supplies. Of course, Hawkins had to pummel their first officer into submission first, but she did get the supplies.
Captain Donask entered the room with her face spread in a maniacal grin. She walked over to Dillon without a word and ran her rugged hand along his face.
“Well well. It’s time to discuss the coffee situation.”
“Coffee? Great. I’d love a cup. Cream and sugar if you’ve got it,” Dillon said quickly, trying to calm his nerves. Donask reared back and slapped him viciously across the face.
“I serve no one coffee! Because of you, I spent six long months serving cup after cup to Gowron and the High Council. You dishonored me and my family.”
“Sorry about that,” Dillon said. The coffee comment was a bad move. Okay. Now Donask was probably going to hurt him even worse.
Donask stalked over to the table and picked up something that looked like a pair of pliers from Satan’s toolbox. Sharp spikes jutted out from every surface. Dillon tried to not think about what she was probably going to do with those.
“I have been waiting for this for a long, long time.”
“You sure you don’t want a rematch in dizzy bats?” Dillon asked weakly.
“I will enjoy hearing your screams.”
“Uh…sure. What’s the in-flight movie?” Changing the subject might at least delay the inevitable for a few seconds.
“What do you know of movies, human? Your culture foolishly discarded the art-form centuries ago.”
“I still watch them,” Dillon insisted.
“I do too. Why is a Klingon interested?”
“Your 20th century film stars understood honor in battle. They are models of what warriors your species could have become if not for the weak Federation. I show my crew movies each week to fill them with the glory of battle.”
“Fine. Schwarzenegger or Stallone? Who kicks more ass?”
“You do know about film.”
“I told you.”
Donask put the pliers down and pulled a chair up in front of Dillon. She was looking at him in a whole new way that was making him uncomfortable. But hey, it was better than torture.
“Are you busy?” a female voice said from behind Hawkins. She turned to face Linda Dillon, who looked tired and worried, not surprising under the circumstances.
“Not really,” Hawkins said, lying. She knew she’d have to tell Dillon’s parents what happened eventually anyway.
“I don’t mean to intrude, but Richard and I are having a terrible time sleeping with all the jolts and explosions and Klingon ships outside and all. Is everything alright?”
“The ship’s being towed back to Federation space. We’ve lost all engines and communications, there’s a changeling on board, and the Klingons have your son,” Hawkins said, blurting it all out in one breath.
“Will we be late to Vulcan?”
“Most likely,” Hawkins said, waiting to see if any hint of concern would come across Linda’s face. Finally, some concern appeared.
“No communications? How will I inform Bradley that we’re running behind schedule?”
“Did you miss the bit about Travis being taken by the Klingons?”
“Aren’t they our friends…sort of?”
“Not the one that has Travis. He’s probably being horribly tortured as we speak.”
“That’s not even the real movie!” Dillon said.
“You’re talking about the Terminator re-release of 2032 with the new scenes and effects. Arnold was computer generated for a lot of that stuff. You have to go back to the 1984 original version to see James Cameron’s original vision.”
“There is another Terminator?” Donask said in disbelief.
“Yeah. And I’ve got it in the databanks on the Secondprize.”
“I don’t mean to sound harsh, Patricia,” Linda said, taking a seat in one of the lounge chairs that had been dragged into the racquetball court. “I do care about Travis, but he’s been going against our wishes all his life. Someday he’s just going to have to face the consequences of his actions.”
“Consequences? He could be killed.”
“Well I hate to sound like his father, but maybe he shouldn’t have joined Starfleet. It’s a dangerous job.”
“The Klingons were going to destroy this entire ship unless Travis went with them. He saved everyone on the Pomposity”
“And why did they want him so badly?”
“Well, Travis had a run-in with their captain a while back when he was in command of the Edsel. She was trying to steal a powerful artifact from a Federation world.”
“And Travis stopped her?”
“More like annoyed her, but he stalled for time long enough from Captain Rydell to show up and take care of things. Unfortunately, Captain Donask blames Travis for the whole mess.”
“So all of this is his fault.”
“No, it isn’t. Donask just happened to show up after the changeling sabotaged the Pomposity.”
“I’m sure it’s probably got a grudge against Travis, too. That boy never could make friends,” Linda said.
“I like him.”
Hawkins started to reply, but stopped. Why did she like Dillon? Most of the time he was obnoxious and thick-headed. Occasionally, he even bordered on clueless. Yet, underneath that…
“Patricia?” Linda pressed.
“Well… Travis is incredibly dedicated to his work,” Hawkins said finally. “Yes, he sometimes confuses living by Starfleet’s philosophy with following its regulations to the letter, but he always has Starfleet’s goals at heart. That’s why he’s in the hands of the Klingons right now.”
“So you love him for his sense of duty?”
“Not totally. There’s a caring, sweet man in there somewhere. He’s just become very guarded about when he shows it. I used to wonder why. Then I met you two.”
“Travis follows his own path.”
“Yes, he does. And doing so has probably caused intense psychological damage because he’s been rejected by his family.”
“Now you’re starting to sound like his father,” Linda said.
“…and Robocop 3 was complete garbage,” Donask said.
“I agree totally,” Dillon said.
“Uh, could you please scream or something? My crew will be starting to wonder what’s happening in here. I am supposed to be torturing you.”
“Sure. AAAAAAAUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH! That help?”
“Perfect. Now then, what about Rambo?”
“Depends on which film you’re talking about.”
“Of course,” Donask said, nodding her head in understanding. This human DID understand the glories of film battle.
Ragoo finished regenerating and started to plot his next move. The attack on the bridge had worn him out more than he was expecting. A little time to rest had done wonders, though. Now he had to find a way to turn this improving situation back into a mess. The thought of beaming over to one of the Klingon ships and wreaking havoc crossed his mind, but he decided that a ship full of Klingon warriors would probably have much better odds of finding and killing him. His mission was pretty much a failure. Starfleet would be all over the Pomposity soon, leaving no bunk unturned until they found him. Well if he was going to go out, he was going to take Dillon and Hawkins with him. An idea formed in his mind. It was beautiful, evil…insidious even.
“See,” Dillon said, pointing at the frozen image on the screen of bodies being thrown clear of an explosion. “Pure artistry. Nobody does action like James Cameron,”
“I see your point,” Donask said. She’d been kind enough to let Dillon out of the interrogation chair so he could continue his lecture on the finer points of action cinema. He was knowledgeable…very knowledgeable.
“Now here comes my favorite part,” Dillon said as he restarted the film.
“I’ve decided to release you,” Donask said suddenly.
“You are free to go. Your death would be a great loss to those trying to keep this art form alive.”
“Why thank you,” Dillon said. Donask walked over to him smiling. Assuming that she wanted to shake his hand, Dillon put on his best diplomatic smile and extended his arm. Donask moved right past it, landing a vicious blow to his stomach. As Dillon doubled over, Donask smashed his face with an uppercut, which sent him sprawling to the floor.
“Wha…what was that for?” Dillon stammered.
“Appearances,” Donask replied. “You must look like I tortured you.”
“It’ll certainly be realistic.”
“We’re nearing the Federation border,” the crewman monitoring the sensors said.
“Good. How’s that communications array coming?” Hawkins asked.
“Just finished it,” another tech reported.
“Are you going to get Travis back now?” Linda Dillon asked.
“Do you care?”
“Yes. I really do. I gave birth to that boy. And even though his father can sleep peacefully while his son’s in danger, I can’t.”
“I’ll get him back,” Hawkins said. She activated the comm array. “Attention lead Klingon vessel. This is Lieutenant Patricia Hawkins, acting captain of the Pomposity. I demand that you return Captain Dillon to this ship under the terms of the renewed Klingon/Federation alliance. If he is not returned…”
“Here he is. Now, shut up, human!” Donask suddenly barked from behind her. Hawkins whirled around and saw Donask, Dillon, and a group of four Klingon warriors.
“Ah, Captain,” Hawkins said, resisting the urge to run over to Dillon. “I didn’t hear you beam in.”
“Take the pathetic worm!” Donask said, pushing Dillon toward her.
“Are you alright?” Hawkins asked, leading Dillon to a chair.
“It looks worse than it is,” Dillon said, covering his black eye. “She actually likes me.”
“I can tell.”
“So she didn’t kill you,” Linda Dillon said.
“No, Mom. I’m fine. Really.”
“These family moments are just so touching,” Hawkins said.
“What family moments?” Richard Dillon snapped as he entered the room. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”
“I was with the Klingons, Dad,” Dillon said.
“Not you. Your mother,” Richard said. “You just pay attention to that Amazon bitch you call a girlfriend.”
“Dad!” Dillon exclaimed rising out of his chair.
“Richard, that was uncalled for,” Linda said. Dillon glanced over and noticed Hawkins’s hand edging toward her phaser. He moved between her and his father.
“I’m sorry, dear,” Richard said. “I’ve just had enough of this whole mess.”
“We’ll be back on our way to Vulcan soon,” Dillon said.
“I don’t care about that. I mean you and her.” Richard pointed accusingly at Hawkins. “You go and throw your life away on Starfleet. Now, you’ve got this psychotic wench to keep you company.”
“Shut up, Dad,” Dillon said, anger welling up within him.
“Don’t tell your father to shut up, boy!” Richard shouted. “I’ve been far too lax with you anyway. I should have insisted you do something useful with your life. What are you doing now? Name one thing you’ve done on that starship.”
“He helped save the universe from a massive temporal disruption,” Hawkins said.
“Yeah,” Dillon said.
“Helped? What have you done alone?”
“That’s not the point of Starfleet,” Hawkins said. “We work as a team with each person doing their part to get the job done.”
“Oh, somebody gag her,” Richard said. “She sounds like a damn recruitment poster.”
“That’s enough, Dad!” Dillon shouted.
“This is perfect,” Ragoo thought. Dillon was so distracted that he probably wouldn’t even notice the changeling moving to stab him. Ragoo just hoped the argument kept going. Now, if only Hawkins would take a couple of steps to the right, she’d be in perfect position as well.
“I haven’t nearly said enough, son,” Richard said. “And you know I’m only doing this for your own good.”
“Right, Dad.” Two technicians packed up their gear and headed for the door. Donask and her Klingons stopped them long enough to do a quick blood screening.
“What’s going on?” Linda asked.
“The Klingons are going to help us track down the Founder on board,” Dillon said.
“You mean the changeling you should have captured hours ago,” Richard said. “The one that never should have gotten on board in the first place if Starfleet was doing its job and protecting our borders.”
“Be quiet until I’ve finished yelling at you, you moron!” Richard said.
Dillon glared at his father silently. Anger like he had never felt before raced through his insides warming him almost unbearably. His father had insulted him, his career, Patricia, and why? Was the man that much of a bastard that he didn’t care if his son was happy? Was all that really mattered that Dillon do what his father wanted him to?
“You arrogant twit,” Dillon said softly.
“What did you say?”
“I’ll spell it out,” Dillon said. He suddenly lashed out with his fist, bashing Richard solidly on the jaw…and it kept going, taking Richard’s stretched mouth with it. Richard Dillon started to melt into a ripple of orange.
“Changeling!” Hawkins shouted, going for her phaser. The Klingons had their disrupters drawn in a flash.
“You’ve bungled it again!” Ragoo shouted at Dillon as his arm morphed into a lance. “No more!”
“Get down, Mom!” Dillon dove for his mother, knocking her to the deck and narrowly dodging Ragoo’s attack just as Hawkins and the Klingons opened fire.
“I hate you all!” Ragoo screamed as six blasts slammed into his body. Orange goop exploded all over the room.
“That was a short search,” Donask said.
“But it ended so nicely,” Hawkins said, reholstering her phaser.
John Simms entered the room followed by a very groggy Richard Dillon.
“Honey?” Linda said, rushing over to her husband. “Is that you?” To answer her question, a Klingon jabbed a blood screener into his arm.
“Ow!” Richard shouted.
“He is human,” the Klingon reported.
“One of our crewmen found him asleep and stuffed in a supply locker,” Simms said. “I figured that you’d want…” His voice trailed off as he noticed the orange gel dripping off of everything and everyone.
“What happened?” he asked.
“Founder guts,” Hawkins said.
“Commander Travis Michael Dillon’s Personal Log. Stardate 51317.4. Starfleet has towed the Pomposity to Starbase 212 after picking the ship up from the Klingons. Captain Donask and I have parted on good terms even though she has promised, or threatened depending on how you look at it, to visit the Secondprize in order to see my movie collection. There’s another hobby my parents felt was a waste of time. This one saved my life, though. Long live film!
“Patricia and I spent a good portion of the trip to the starbase sleeping off the events of the last few days. It’s the most relaxation I’ve had since we got here. Oh, my father has stopped speaking to me because he blames me for the whole ‘getting stuffed in a closet by a Founder’ mess. Honestly, I haven’t heard a thing out of him or Mom since we killed the changeling. That’s probably why I’ve been able to relax.”
Dillon sat alone in the dark watching the starbase shuttles and workbees race around the hangar facility. The quarters he’d been provided on the base gave him an excellent view of the entire docking area. He could have stayed on the Pomposity, but after what had happened, he and Hawkins decided that they’d be more comfortable on a Starfleet station.
What a mess the last few days had been. Changelings, Klingons, parents. Ugh. Dillon’s life was so much simpler on the Secondprize. There was order. The crew knew how to handle crisis situations…well, sort of. He never could get Captain Rydell to let him start having surprise attack drills. Never mind. Not important right now.
His parents’ reaction to the whole trip hadn’t really surprised him. He risks life and limb to save not only them, but everyone on the Pomposity. He averts a galactic incident. He is pummeled by a Klingon. And they couldn’t care less. That was fine. If they wanted to behave that way towards their own son, that was their right. He didn’t have to deal with them much anyway. After this trip, he’d make sure that he saw them even less.
The door chime sounded, jolting him out of his slow burn.
“Come in,” he said.
“Is this mood lighting or moody lighting?” Hawkins asked, surveying the dark room.
“Moody,” Dillon replied. “How are your quarters?”
“Fine. Just like yours. Stop trying to change the subject.”
Hawkins sat down on the sofa beside Dillon and wrapped her arms around his neck. He leaned in closer to her, trying to snuggle up as closely as possible.
“You did good, Dillon,” Hawkins said softly.
“So did you.”
They sat in silence, just enjoying the moment and each other’s presence. The door chime startled both of them when it resonated through the room.
“Who the hell…”
“Let’s just ignore it,” Hawkins said.
Linda and Richard Dillon barged through the doors a second later. Hawkins and Dillon leapt off the sofa and straightened their uniforms.
“Is your chime working?” Linda asked. “We had to just walk in. Why is it so dark in here? Lights.”
Dillon and Hawkins were momentarily blinded as the computer flashed on the room lighting system.
“We were trying to be alone,” Dillon said.
“So you’re parents aren’t important?” Richard said.
“Richard, we gotta go,” Linda said. “Bradley’s arranged passage for us on a freighter bound for Vulcan.”
“I’m sure that’ll be cozy,” Hawkins said.
“At least he’s cares enough to try,” Richard said.
“We just wanted to say goodbye,” Linda said. “It was nice meeting you, Patricia.”
“Likewise,” Hawkins lied.
“You aren’t going to marry him, are you?” Richard asked.
“Already did,” Hawkins said. “And I’m pregnant.”
“Funny gal,” Richard said.
“We’ll see you soon, right?” Linda said, hugging Dillon.
“No doubt,” Dillon said.
“Don’t forget about Christmas.”
“Not a chance,” Dillon said.
“You can bring her too if you want, I guess.”
“Thanks,” Hawkins said. Linda’s hesitation just made her feel so welcome.
“Bye, Dad,” Dillon said.
“Travis. Come on, dear.” Richard grabbed Linda’s arm and led her out of the room.
“Thank god,” Dillon said, collapsing back on the sofa.
“If anything, we’ll spend next Christmas with my parents,” Hawkins said. “Assuming they’ve finished their observations of the bush people of Ogonis Twelve.”
“Or we could just spend it alone,” Dillon said.
“Wonderful idea,” Hawkins said, crawling up close to him again. “Let’s go find somewhere to be alone.”
“We’re alone now.”
“Where…” Hawkins shut Dillon up with a kiss.
“Oh,” Dillon said, suddenly understanding.
“Are you ever going to leave that boy alone?” Linda Dillon asked as she and her husband heading to the docking area.
“Why? I can still get three or four more books out of him. Hell, this trip alone ought to be worth a paper for the annual conference on Andor.”
“I just dread to think what would have happened if Bradley had been born first instead of Travis.”
“I imagine he would have responded to the experiment in the same way. That’s the whole point of the project.”
“Why did I ever let you start this in the first place?”
“Because you wanted to go to Risa,” Richard said. “I’m the one who got us there.”
“Travis’ the one who got us there.”
“Ha! Without me to control the experiment, he’d just be another guy. I’ve used psychological principles to create a human mind to my specifications.”
“Did you have to make him such a twit?”
“I’m just glad he found that Patricia. She seems very nice.”
“I hope she dumps him soon. She’s liable to ruin everything. He’s starting to loosen up and show signs of being likable,” Richard said. “I’ll have to work doubly hard the next time he comes to visit.”
“I’m not sure which version of you is worse: the real one or the changeling. At least the changeling didn’t want to torture him.”
“It’s all for science, my dear. All for science.”
Hawkins looked down at Dillon’s contentedly sleeping body then slipped out of the bedroom. Maybe they should go visit her family. It’d be one more step in the process of letting him into her life. She’d always had to be a loner as a child, since her parents moved from primitive planet to primitive planet doing their anthropological research. Now, for the first time, she had been as alone as she had. It was kind of pathetic really. But worst of all, she’d relied on herself for so long that she wasn’t sure how to open up to Dillon. She’d figure it out, though. She wanted to, and, judging by Dillon’s family, he probably needed her just as much if not more than she needed him.
After the last few days, though, what she really needed was a vacation.