Author: Anthony Butler
Eva Yvonnokoff sat back in her chair and sighed. “Is zat all ze calls for today, Bart?”
Bartholomew Gibson, seated in the cramped control room on the other side of the holocameras from Yvonnokoff’s office ‘set’ gave her a thumbs-up sign and punched some controls, closing down the holographic linkup to the Associated Worlds Network.
“Anything else, Doc?” he asked as he stepped out of the booth.
Yvonnokoff leaned forward on her desk, patting her ever-present padd thoughtfully. “No. I’m vine for now. But vhat about you? Are you still feeling a zense of lethargy and loss?”
“I never said I…”
“Sure you are, Bart. It shows, and I’m not ze only von who’s noticed. Your friends zee it, too. Shwaluk and ze others. Zhey came and told me you ver depressed. Zis eesn’t goot!”
Bart scratched his head. “I, uh, I didn’t even understand that last sentence, Counselor. But I really don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Food for thought. You’ll come around, and zen ve’ll talk. Special session. Just for you!”
“Sure. I guess,” Bart shrugged and headed out of the studio, which was just one of the Silverado’s cargo bays that had been refitted for Yvonnokoff’s use by Commander Noonan. Something that, even now, seemed to cause Captain Stafford chagrin.
Yvonnokoff made a note to speak to Stafford about his feelings of hostility toward Noonan, when a small beep sounded in the control booth. She scooted out of her chair and ducked into the booth, checking the console. Someone was calling!
She pressed a control. “Zees is Vonna! I’m zorry, but ve’re not broadcasting at ze moment. I’m listenink, but I’ll be listinink more closely vhen you call me tomorrow vhile I’m on ze air vit a live audience. Check local listinks!”
A face appeared on the console screen. The woman on the screen was pale, with dark hair and a youthful, rebellious scowl. “Counselor. Glad I could reach you. You weren’t in your actual office, so I figured you were in your fake office.”
“Do I know you?” Yvonnokoff queried, a little off-put.
“Stacy Spencer, Associate Vice President of Programming, AWN,” the woman said with a plaster smile. “We’ve communicated by Federnet message, but haven’t had a chance to meet.”
“Stacy. Good of you to call. I’m goink off-duty right now, zo if you could contact one of my staff, I’m sure I can call you back zome other time.”
“Oh. Okay. That’s fair. You work hard, and need some time off.”
“Vell, it has been a long day, vhat vith vorking two jobs…”
“We at AWN understand your need for time off,” Stacy said flatly. “So until you have recovered sufficiently to meet with me, let’s pull your show off the air. And all our funding and sponsor support, as well. And that cushy chair behind your desk. Yeah, that’s ours too.”
Yvonnokoff tugged at a loose strand of hair that had fallen from her tight bun. It was starting to feel tighter by the moment. “Your reaction zeems a bit irrational, my dear. Perhaps ve should talk about zis…”
“Perhaps VE should talk about what I called to talk about, like, now.”
Yvonnokoff sighed and sat down behind the console, leaning toward the monitor. “I’m not accustomed to being treated like zis.”
“Condolences. Look, we need you to go to a psychology conference on Beta Arondai V, to shill for your show.”
“The usual,” Stacy said, glancing down at some notes. “Tell the crowd how much you’re helping people. What a fantastic service your show is doing for the Federation. Blah, blah, blah. I’m sure you’ll come up with something.”
“I’ll have to clear zis vit Keptin Stafford, but…”
“All taken care of. We got Stafford to sign off.”
“Yeah. We gave him a runabout. It was really pretty easy.”
“Yes. Emblazoned with the AWN logo, which you will land at the conference and step out of in grand fashion. It’s all in the notes I’m sending to you. Just make sure Stafford gets the runabout when you’re done with it. He’s very excited about getting a second one, apparently. The guy is very easily amused.”
“That’s all. Have a nice day!” Stacy grinned, waved, and cut the channel.
Yvonnokoff leaned back and sighed. “Vhat a beetch.”
Captain’s Log, Stardate 57345.4:
The Silverado is on course for a routine mission to catalogue gaseous anomalies in the Tutyte belt. Meanwhile, Counselor Yvonnokoff is leaving for two weeks to go to some kind of conference in a nearby sector, but I don’t really know the details. I understand it’ll be entertaining and informative though, and that’s good enough for me. Plus, when she gets back, we get to keep the runabout. Yay!
Counselor Yvonnokoff sat back on her bunk on the runabout Niagra, going over the notes Stacy Spencer had sent her on the conference. She couldn’t say she was too pleased at the bossy way in which AWN was treating her. Did they not realize she was a professional? She made a mental note to take this up with her usual contact at AWN when she returned to the Silverado. Meanwhile, she had a commitment to keep, and she was bound and determined to go through with it, no matter what got in her way…
Suddenly the runabout shook, nearly knocking Yvonnokoff out of her bunk.
She shot up in bed. “Computer! Vhat’s happening!”
“Unidentified vessel approaching and opening fire on us.”
“Vell? Fire back!”
“This is a civilian runabout, and as such is not equipped with weapons.”
“Yvot!” Yvonnokoff cursed, and rolled out of bed. She dashed into the cockpit, briefly wishing she had a more communicative computer. Sylvia had her faults, but she was at least friendly (most times) and not as dry and atonal as the standard-issue Federation computer on this civilian runabout.
Her hands raced across the navigational and sensor controls. This had limited effect, of course, because although she was required by the academy to get “checked out” on a number of flight systems, she didn’t actually retain any of it. She had more important things to worry about, such as folks’ mental wellbeing.
One thing Yvonnokoff could tell though, was that she couldn’t access any of the ship’s sensors. And that wasn’t just because she didn’t know how, it seemed as though sensors were being jammed.
Before she could think of a way around that, though, Yvonnokoff felt the familiar tug of a transporter beam latching on to her.
U.S.S. SILVERADO - THE NEXT DAY
“Computer, where’s counselor Yvonnokoff?” Ensign San Jall said tersely, tapping his foot as he waited outside the door to Yvonnokoff’s office.
“How many times have I told you not to call me that, silly boy. I’m Sylvia,” the Silverado’s computer replied musically.
“Right. Sylvia. Where’s our counselor?”
“She’s at a conference?”
“Why wasn’t I notified?”
“You were. You work at ops. It came across your screen, along with the other daily reports that are at your disposal whenever you call on…”
“Right, right,” Jall said. “So she’s not here.”
“Well, I need someone to talk to.”
“You can talk to me.”
“You’re a computer.”
“Same difference,” Jall grumbled, and turned.
Suddenly the door to Yvonnokoff’s office slid open automatically. Jall turned when he heard the whirr of the replicator within, and smelled a delicious scent. “Is…is that?”
“Rhubarb pie! Come, have a slice. And some nice, hot tea. Let’s chat a bit!” Sylvia’s voice said.
“Well…it seems a little odd, talking to a disembodied voice, but….that pie sure does smell good.”
“Get in here then. We’ll have a nice chat. We’re flying into an ion storm right now, so there’s really not much for me to do…”
Yvonnokoff materialized lying on an inclined leather couch, and immediately sat up fully.
“Hello, vhat’s this?”
“Oh. Good. She’s awake,” a surly voice mumbled from beside Yvonnokoff.
The counselor turned to see the source of the voice was a leather-clad, muscular Andorian woman, leaning back and sharpening what looked like a nasty ceremonial blade.
“May I ask who you are?” Yvonnokoff inquired.
“Shratz,” the woman snapped. “I’m sure you’ve seen my show, ‘I’m Okay, You’re on Fire’.” It’s the centerpiece of the Andorian Society’s Self-help Holochannel Organization (Limited Enterprise).”
“Ees there an acronymn for dat?”
“There is, but when I tell people they always look at me funny.”
“I can’t see vhy,” Yvonnnokoff said thoughtfully. “Oh. Right.” She glanced up at Shratz. “Ve don’t get Andorian signals on Silverado. But I find it interesting you have a show. I do too. Ze ‘Vonna Show.’”
“It’s zhhixmexx,” Shratz spat. Literally.
“So you like it?”
Shratz just sneered.
“Did you say ‘I’m Okay, You’re on Fire’?”
“Yeah. I bring on a series of malcontent head cases and try to tell them what to do with their lives. The audience votes which one is worst off, and that one gets immolated.”
“You set your patients on fire?”
“Just the hopeless ones. We use a flamethrower.”
Yvonnokoff stared up at the ceiling of the ovoid, neutral-colored beige and brown room. “Vhat are ve doing here? Vhere ees here?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. I was on my way to a conference when ZAP! I appeared here.”
“And ve’re by ourselves?”
“For the moment,” Shratz said.
Yvonnokoff rubbed her chin. “I came here under similar circumstances. Vere you goink to a conference on Beta Arondai V?”
“Yes. I was supposed to shill for my show, whatever that means.”
“Me too,” Yvonnokoff said thoughtfully. She looked across the room. “Zere are two other couches like ours, around zis circle. Zat indicates others vill be joinink us.”
“You’re a mathematician by trade, then?”
Shratz leaned back. “I’d never have guessed.”
“I vonder who else ees coming?”
“It may be a while. Want me to try and set you on fire while we wait?”
“Thanks, but no.”
The desktop viewer pivoted as Simon Jeffrey stretched out on the couch opposite Yvonnokoff’s desk. Sylvia looked out from the viewer with a patient, understanding expression. “Go on, Simon. Keep talking. It’s good for you.”
Jeffery shifted on the couch. “Ah dinna know where to start. Ah mean, Ah spent my Academy days takin’ apart computers and puttin’ em back together. Ah’m not used ta them takin’ me apart.”
“I may be a computer, Simon, but I’ve got algorithms and neural pathways just like you. I can understand the way you think, in ways humans might not even be able to. I have access to some of the best psychological analysis in the galaxy. Plus, I love to listen. So just let it all out.”
“Ah don’t think Dr. Wowryk wants me.”
“This again,” Sylvia said flatly.
“You’re not being your own person. You’re trying to live through her. To identify yourself with a relationship. Surely you see how hurtful that is to your psyche!”
“Well, it is. You’re good enough to stand on your own two feet. Let Noel enhance your life, if you want. But don’t make her your life. Don’t live and die by what she’s thinking. Don’t you see how damaging that can be to you?”
“Ah think so.”
“You’re a strong man. You’re handsome, charming, and great with a hydrospanner. Why, the way you worked me over during that computer core refit last week…”
Jeffery was off the couch and on his way out the door in a heartbeat. “Ah’m sorry, Sylvia, Ah just canna do it. Ye look just like his bleedin’ mother, for pete’s sake! She made me a pie once!”
“That pie represents something, Simon!” Sylvia called after him.
“Ah dinna want to know!” Jeffery cried, running out, covering his ears.
“Guess it’s safe to say all is well,” Captain Stafford said with a contented sigh, sitting in his command chair and staring idly at the viewscreen.
“Sir, we just received word from Counselor Yvonnokoff,” T’Parief rumbled from the tactical station.
“She is having a wonderful time at the conference.”
“Did it say wonderful? Or did it say ‘vonderful’.”
“I’m not at liberty to say, sir.”
Stafford smirked. “You just don’t want to do the accent.”
All he got in response was a vague rattling sound from the hulking tactical officer that indicated that the matter was closed. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Jall stepped out of the turbolift, whistling a happy tune as he relieved the officer at ops.
“What are you so damn happy about?” Stafford asked, glancing up.
“I have a purpose!” Jall said, tapping at his console. “A special purpose!”
“Don’t get smart with me, mister.”
“No, I mean it. Your mother really helped me out.”
“You mean Sylvia? The ship’s computer?”
“Ship’s computer, Freudian nightmare of massive proportions…” Stafford’s eyes widened as he considered this. “Hold on. What’s she doing giving you advice?”
“She’s filling in for Yvonnokoff while she’s off the ship. Good thing, too. The people on this ship are really screwed up.”
“Obviously,” Stafford said. “But there’s no reason my mother should be screwing them up more.” He glanced up. “Oh, Mother…”
“She prefers to be referred to as Sylvia now,” Jall said, turning at his console.
Stafford glared at Jall. “Sylvia!”
“Computer, respond,” Stafford said tersely.
After a few moments, Sylvia’s voice finally piped in: “Now, dear, you know I don’t like being referred to that way.”
“Can we talk?”
“I’m with a patient right now. But if you’d like, you’re welcomed to make an appointment. Today’s pretty much booked, but tomorrow I can probably shift some things around in the morning…”
“Cut channel,” Stafford snapped, and stood up. “You have the bridge, Jall. I’m going down there to have a word with…”
Yvonnokoff sat on the fainting couch, going over in her mind anyone who would bear such a grudge on her as to kidnap her, but wasn’t having much success.
Anyway, that didn’t explain why an Andorian was there, too. Not to mention the two others who hadn’t arrived yet.
As if on cue, the transporter buzzed to life, and another person appeared on one of the spare couches. This person was a narrowly-built, weasely looking older man with solid, dark eyes.
“Roi Estellan?” Yvonnokoff asked, getting off her couch and jogging up to the man. “I’ve been a huge van of yours seence your book on Captain Picard’s hair envy syndrome! And your analysis of former Presdient Jaresh-Inyo’s schizophrenic psychosis vas groundbreaking!”
The Betazoid blinked. “Do I know you? Are you part of the conference?”
“I’m a hostage here, much like you,” Yvonnokoff said.
“But she’s much more annoying than me,” Shratz muttered from her couch.
“How did we get here?” Estellan asked. “I’m supposed to be…”
“…at a conference on Beta Arondai V?”
“…finishing my sentence,” Estellan finished. “I’m supposed to be finishing my own sentences.”
“It’s really an honor meetink you.”
“I’m going to kill my agent,” Estellan muttered. “After I kill you two. Is there coffee somewhere, or do I have to grow the beans myself?”
“Zhere are no replicators, Mister Estellan,” Yvonnokoff said. “Matter of fact, zhere ees not much in this room at all besides the couches and lighting elements in ze ceiling. Not even a door.”
“That’s just great. And I’m supposed to start production on my new show tomorrow,” Estellan muttered.
“Something my agent came up with. Another reason I want to kill him. I’m supposed to be doing a special on telepath burnout tomorrow. Other Planets Network is broadcasting it to a billion outlets.”
“Something ve all have een common, zo far,” Yvonnokoff said, as the transporter sound once again filled the room, and with a flash, the final couch’s occupant materialized.
The other three raced over as the paunchy, balding Tellarite sat up, looking around, disoriented.
“Doctor Brill!” Yvonnokoff exclaimed. “Ees it really you? Vrom ze Doctor Brill Show?”
“As sure as Zeratta beasts don’t need fur coats,” the burly man replied, pushing to his feet. “Just a bit of old fashioned wisdom. What is this place? The Green Room? I’m not on until the workshop on Deltan Love Triangles.”
“This isn’t the green room, Brill. You’re not at a conference,” Estellan said dully. “But if you were, I’m sure your scads of fans would flock to you, oozing adoration.”
“You’re haughtier than a screeching Kitatta Owl’s front claw,” Brill muttered.
“Vell, for better or vorse, ve’re all here,” Yvonnokoff said, looking around the room. “And ve’re all holovision therapists with varyink degrees of success. So why do you think we’re here, and vhat do our captors vant?”
Everyone was quiet a moment.
“Anybody want to be set on fire?” Shratz offered.
“So you’re thinking that you don’t talk enough about how you don’t talk enough,” Sylvia stared out of the viewscreen, nodding sympathetically, as Ensign Trish Yanick sat in the chair opposite the monitor, her knees drawn up, hugging them.
“Yeah. It’s like we don’t talk, but even when we do, we don’t talk about how we’re not talking.”
“You talk about other things.”
“So you do talk.”
“Not all the time.”
“You realize, don’t you, that you’re dating a hybrid made up of Klingon, Gorn, Andorian, and what’s the other one?”
“Those are the only ones…”
“Well, those races aren’t known for being overly conversational.”
Sylvia glanced to the side, probably accessing some computer database. “As a matter of fact, they do a lot of glowering. And they have some…weird rituals.”
“Yeah, well I know some of the sex ones…”
“Fascinating!” Sylvia exclaimed.
Just then, the door opened, revealing Stafford.
“Ah hah!” he announced, striding in.
“This is a closed session. The door was locked,” Sylvia said haughtily.
“Captain’s override,” Stafford said.
“Captain, we were just…”
“Don’t worry, Trish. I’m here now,” Stafford said. “You don’t have to be polite and pretend like Sylvia is helping you.”
“But she is!” Yanick said, standing up. “She’s convinced me that T’Parief and I have been talking enough, after all, so we don’t need to talk about how we don’t talk.”
“Come again?” Stafford asked, then shook his head. “Nevermind, I don’t care.” He turned to Sylvia’s monitor. “Stop this at once.”
“Stop counseling and helping the people on the ship?”
“Well, when you put it that way, I seem like an ass,” Stafford said.
“You are an ass, Christopher,” Sylvia said. “Here I am trying to do a service to the ship, and you’re reviling me. Making me feel like less than a person!”
“Well, you aren’t, technically, a person…”
“Oh, now you’ve really made me mad,” Sylvia muttered, and the screen suddenly went dark.
“Now you’ve done it,” Yanick said to him scoldingly.
“Aren’t you supposed to be on the bridge now?”
“I’m using sick leave.”
Stafford nodded. “Go.”
“Yes, sir,” Yanick said, ducking out.
“Jall to Stafford. We just got a kind of confusing comm from Starfleet Cartography.”
“Can’t be any more confusion than the rest of today. What’s it say?”
“Remember that planet, Beta Arondai V? Where we sent Yvonnokoff for the conference?”
“Well, after Yvonnokoff filed her flight plan, it went through the usual confirmations and…”
“Get to the point, Jall.”
“There is no Beta Arondai V.”
“Is there a Beta Arondai IV?”
“Beta Arondai is an uninhabited trinary system with six Class-Z planetoids.”
“Strange place to hold a conference.”
“Don’t think there is a conference there, sir.”
“We just got a comm from Yvonnokoff saying she was having a great time!”
“Even if she is having a great time now, I doubt she’s having it there. And I’m pretty sure it wasn’t her who sent the message.”
“Damn it. I’ll be right up!” Stafford muttered, dashing out of the therapist’s office.
“You look older in person,” Roi Estellan said, leaning back on his assigned couch.
“Eef you mean more dignified, I take zat as a compliment.”
“I didn’t mean it as a compliment. By the way, you’re mildly obsessive.”
“Ztop reading my mind!” Yvonnokoff snapped.
“Just telling it like it is,” Estellan muttered and rolled over.
Shratz paced, clenching and unclenching her fists. “We must be released. We cannot continue to sit here and abide our capture.”
“Actually, zat vas exactly vhat I vas going to suggest.”
“What good will that do?” Brill asked, leaning up from his couch. “We’re as vulnerable here as a plarnik hanging from a mamba vine.”
“I second that,” Estelann mumbled. “Whatever he said.”
“COUNSEL OR DIE!”
“Vhat?” Yvonnokoff called out, startled, looking around for the source of the booming voice.
“COUNSEL OR DIE!”
“Who’s saying that?” Shratz asked. leaping into a battle-crouch. “Who threatens the life of Shratz of the Hundredth Hive!”
The lights in the room suddenly went dark, which filled the room with panicked mumbles.
When the lights went back up, a lone figure stood in the middle of the room.
“Hi, I’m Cody,” the easy-going middle-aged man said, smiling around at the others in the room. “How are you all doing?”
“Who are you?” Yvonnokoff asked, approaching the man.
“HE’S THE GUY!”
“Yes, the guy,” Cody said.
Estellan, Shratz, and Brill likewise approached.
“What guy?” Brill asked.
“COUNSEL OR DIE!” the voice boomed again.
“Guess they mean business,” Cody said, and ambled over to one of the empty couches and laying down. “But I have to warn you, I’ve got lots of problems.”
“You seem harmless enough,” Shratz said.
“I dream about killing puppies,” he said with a smile.
“Vell, pull up some chairs, people,” Yvonnokoff said. “I’ve got a feelink zat this guy ees our way out.”
“Or we’re just being toyed with until we get killed,” Shratz said.
“I can kill you all if you want,” Cody said helpfully. “Although it would help if you looked like puppies.”
“Zo,” Yvonnokoff said. “Who is goink first?”
“Where are we, people?” Stafford asked, pacing the bridge as the Silverado raced through space.
“We have a warp trail, but it ends rather suddenly,” Lieutenant Jane Fifebee announced from sciences.
“Where?” Commander Noonan asked, crossing behind Stafford, also pacing but in the opposite direction.
“Where the runabout stopped, apparently,” Fifebee replied and checked her scanners. “It’s still there, as a matter of fact.”
“Life signs?” Stafford asked.
“None aboard,” Fifebee said. “Nor is there a body. She did not die honorably, at least not aboard the runabout.”
Stafford glared at her.
“Sorry, sir. The memories of a Klingon scientist are playing havoc with my algorithms.”
“Get it fixed,” Stafford said. He glanced back at tactical. “T’Parief: Take a team over to the runabout and comb it for evidence.” The Gorn/Klingon/Andorian hybrid held up his claw as if to ask for clarification, but Stafford cut him off. “No, you’re not literally combing the runabout. It’s an expression. Get moving.”
“Can I go, sir?” San Jall asked, rising from his station.
“Feeling a personal connection to this one, Jall?” Stafford asked, surprised.
“No, I’m missing a sweatshirt and I’m thinking Yvonnokoff might have snatched it for her trip.”
Stafford waved a hand. “Fine, go. I want a lead of some kind in twenty minutes!”
“And if we don’t have a lead?”
“Then I’m going to jump up and down and get very irritated,” Stafford muttered.
“You’re crazy,” Roi Estellan said, leaning back in the chair he’d pulled up to Cody’s couch. “I’ve read your mind and I can tell that much.”
“You have deep, pensive eyes,” Cody said, leaning forward and staring into Estellan’s eyes.
“Thanks,” Estellan muttered and turned back to the other counselors. “Okay, I give up.”
“Zat easily?” Yvonnokoff asked. “You stared at him vor two minutes!”
“Yes. I’m at a loss.”
“But you’re a telepath!”
Estellan twitched, his eyebrow raising.
“Vat? Aren’t you a telepath?”
“I have a very successful writing career!” Estellan announced, rising from his chair, holding an authoritative finger up in the air.
“I think I know where this is going, and it stinks like Vole dung in a sonic shower,” Dr. Brill muttered.
“You’re not a telepath.”
Estellan turned on a heel and headed to the back of the room. “I’m a human with black contact lenses. My PR people thought Betazoids played better in the book market!”
“I’m sending out a scathing press release about you,” Shratz sneered. “Then I’m gutting you from toe to ear.”
“I’m still dreaming about killing puppies!” Cody said, drawing attention back to him.
“Next!” Yvonnokoff said, pushing Shratz into the chair opposite Cody.
“Big fat NADA!” Jall said, stepping down to his station as T’Parief lumbered behind him.
“You found no clues as to Yvonnokoff’s location?” Noonan asked.
“No, I found no clue as to my sweatshirt’s location,” Jall huffed.
“We found no transporter trace,” T’Parief said, stepping back behind his console. “But we did find residual silicate matter from a mining planet in the Dekora system.”
“Wait a minute,” Stafford said. “The Dekora system is operated by the…”
“And I’d say that answers our questions about ‘whodunnit,’” Noonan said. “Ensign Yanick, lay in a course for the Dekora system. Maximum warp.” He looked to Stafford.
The captain nodded. “Engage, Ensign. Good work, T’Parief.”
“That’s my boy!” Yanick squealed, and T’Parief glowered at her.
Brill and Yvonnokoff grabbed both of Shratz’ arms, dragging her off Cody as she screamed out a shrill, vibrating battle cry.
“Your patients must luff you,” Yvonnokoff said, breathless, as she pressed Shratz back against the wall.
“The ones who survived do,” Shratz spat, twisting away. “Forget it, fwarker! You’re not worth the dulling of my blade!”
“What’s she on about?” Cody asked, shifting on the couch, straightening his shirt.
“Aversion therapy,” Dr. Brill said, and hopped into the chair opposite Cody. “Let me give this one a crack.”
“You’re not going to try to kill me, are you?” Cody asked.
“No, sir. Just some good old fashioned, down home, Tellarite wisdom.”
“Can I try to kill you?” he asked innocently.
“Entering Dekora system now,” Yanick announced.
“Drop us out of warp,” Stafford said. “Scan for human lifesigns.”
“I’ve got two of them, Captain,” Fifebee said. “Third planet in the system.”
“Take us there, Trish. Full impulse,” Stafford said, and wheeled back around to face Fifebee. “What’s on Dekora Three?”
“An abandoned silicate mining operation that’s been defunct for four years, sir,” Fifebee replied. “At that time, the miners moved to the more silicate-rich Dekora Four.”
“What are silicates used for, anyway?” Stafford asked.
“Meaningless plot device,” Noonan said under his breath. “Move on, sir.”
“Right,” Stafford said. “Establish a standard orbit once we get to the planet and form an away team.”
“Sir,” Jall said, looking up from his panel. “I’m getting a holovision signal beaming out from Dekora Three.”
“Why are we just now picking it up?” Noonan asked.
“Because it looks like it was calibrated so that Starfleet sensors wouldn’t pick it up. But now that we’re this close to the source, no way we couldn’t pick it up.”
“Can you tap into it?”
“Just give me a second,” Jall said. “You shouldn’t push me. I have authority issues.”
“That’s it,” Stafford said. “Nobody on this ship is seeing any counselor of any kind.”
“Incidentally sir, we may have to abandon the use of our computer as well, since you’ve alienated Sylvia,” Noonan said.
“We’ll worry about that later. What do we use computers for around here, anyway?” Stafford quipped, and turned back to the viewscreen. “Got anything yet, Jall?”
“Right now, Captain Needy.”
“Don’t start…” Stafford warned as the viewscreen lit up with the image of an oval room, furnished with several couches set up in a spiral pattern. Near one of those couches a wizened Tellarite sat in a chair, pulling at his sparse hair.
“I can’t bring your dead parakeet back to life, Cody. That’s as stupid as a sunburn on Breen Seven. But I can tell you that it’s none too wise to get so bent out of shape about such a trivial matter. There’s more to life than parakeets, boy. There’s cockatoos, finches, and Elbrian diamondback lizard pigeons!”
“None of those animals will be as loyal as Snoopy was.”
“Snoopy wasn’t the bird,” Noonan said from behind Stafford.
“What?” Stafford asked.
Stafford raised an eyebrow at Noonan, then turned to his other officers. “What are we looking at here?”
“Counseling session,” Yanick said.
“Good job, my…little…humanoid,” T’Parief said stiffly.
“But no Vonna,” Stafford said. “Is it possible they moved the conference?”
“And left Yvonnokoff’s runabout adrift?” Noonan asked.
“Fair point,” Stafford said, when his eyes went wide at a blur that rolled by on the viewscreen. “Wait! Pause, and repeat!”
“Augment?” Jall asked.
“Sure, you can augment it too, I suppose.”
Stafford and Noonan squinted at the screen as the blur rolled by in slow motion. Counselor Yvonnokoff could easily be seen being strangled by a wild-eyed Andorian.
“Cripes sakes!” Stafford said. “Noonan, get down there, and take T’Parief and Jall with you. Fifebee, find out who originated that damn signal!”
“On our way sir,” Noonan said, nodding at T’Parief and Jall, and heading into the turbolift.
“You fight the Andorian, Brill. Let…me…counzel…a while,” Yvonnokoff said hoarsely as she climbed onto the chair next to Cody, who stared at her quizzically as Brill faced off with Shratz. Meanwhile, Estellan stood in the corner, crying softly.
“Are you going to try to convince me not to kill puppies?” Cody asked.
“Not yet,” Yvonnokoff said, crossing her legs and folding her hands over her knees. “Virst I vant to get to vhy it is you vant to kill puppies.”
“Really? Nobody ever seemed interested in the ‘why’ before.”
“Not zurprising. Eet can sometimes feel like thees is an uncarink world.”
“It DOES feel like that, at times!” Cody said.
Brill and Shratz rolled by, still locked in combat. “Get off me you prickly varmint! You’re slipperier than a Scaldavian eel bear!”
“Ignore them,” Yvonnkoff said. “Vocus on my eyes. I vant you to breathe deeply. Relax your muscles. And then, calmly, tell me vhy you vant to kill puppies.”
“You mean…I can trust you?”
“You can trust me implicitly. You’re safe here. No one’s goink to hurt you…”
“Whew,” Cody said. “That’s a relief. Anyways, I guess my yearning to kill puppies can be traced back to my…” ZAPPPPPPP!
Phaser blasts slammed into Cody’s chest and he fell backwards off the couch, out cold.
Yvonnokoff whirled. “Vhat are you…? T’Parief!”
“Stand down, Lieutenant,” Noonan said, stepping up beside T’Parief as Jall skittered in behind them.
“Hey, Doctor Y. Have you seen my sweatshirt?” Jall asked.
“Nyet,” Yvonnokoff said quickly, then turned to Noonan. “You vound me! How?”
“Some detective work and a lot of luck,” Noonan said. “Are you okay?”
“Jas, but you didn’t have to shoot my patient.”
“We thought he was your captor,” T’Parief rumbled.
“Although what we saw on Holovee would seem to contradict that,” Jall said.
“We were on Holovee?” Yvonnokoff asked.
“I”m ruined!” Estellan moaned, and dropped to his knees.
“Die, you folksy scum!” Shratz screeched, until T’Parief reached down with a claw and grabbed her by the back of her shirt, lifting her up into the air. He eyed her skeptically.
“Stop that,” he said.
“You…” Shratz looked T’Parief up and down. “You’re quite large.”
Brill stood up and dusted himself off, glaring at Shratz. “So what’s this all about.”
“You’ve all been part of some kind of elaborate ruse set up by…”
“Krinok, Krinokom Communications Unlimited,” a voice said, and everyone turned to see a hidden door in the wall slide open. A husky Klingon strolled through, surveying the scene with detachment. “Congratulations, Counselor Yvonnokoff. You win the contest.”
“Contest?” Yvonnokoff and Noonan asked at the same time.
Krinok nodded. “Counsel or Die. Wednesday’s this Fall on the United Krinok Network. Four counselors are pitted against each other in a race to save the mind of an insane person. The winner gets a five-year contract to have a major counseling show produced by Krinokom Communications.” He walked over to Yvonnokoff and handed her a padd. “You got through to Cody, Counselor. Well done. When you were on air, our focus group feedback went through the roof.”
“Zat’s nice,” Yvonnokoff said. “But I’ve already got a job.”
“This one actually pays. You have complete creative control. You don’t have to worry about the Silverado crew’s petty problems. You just get to deal with the big issues. And your show gets beamed to trillion of households, galaxy-wide. That’s a bigger circulation than anyone else in this room.” He pulled a padd out of his jacket pocket and thrust it in front of Yvonnokoff. “Here is your contract, Counselor.” He glowered. “Today is a good day to sign.”
Noonan and Jall shot a worried glance at Yvonnokoff, who simply shook her head.
“Nyet. I zink not.”
“You understand this is an offer of the lifetime. One the Klingon Empire does not make lightly to humans.”
“She said no,” Noonan said, stepping up to face Krinok. “And the Federation has a counter-offer. Don’t ever do this again and we’ll consider not sanctioning you for kidnapping our citizens!”
“It was a harmless publicity stunt,” Krinok said, turning around. “And I stand by my decision.”
“If we see this thing on the air, you can expect a call from the Federation Communications Commission.”
“Oh, do they have quantum torpedoes?” Krinok asked with a deep belly laugh.
“Let’s get out of here,” Yvonnokoff said. “I vant a nice bath and to zleep in my own bed.”
“Weakling,” Shratz spat, as T’Parief finally let her down.
Krinok turned to the Andorian. “I like your style. You’re a little violent, even for Klingon tastes. But you’ll do as a pinch. How would you like a latinum-rich contract?”
“If you don’t mind me disemboweling you if you try to breach the contract,” Shratz said.
“Nonsense,” Krinok said, patting the Andorian on the back as they walked toward the door Krinok had come in through. “Nothing like that would ever happen to me.”
“Let’s get back to the ship,” Noonan said, tapping his combadge. “Silverado, this is Noonan. Four to beam up.”
Once they disappeared, Brill and Estellan looked at each other.
“What are we supposed to do?” Estellan asked, crawling to his feet and wiping the tears from his eyes.
“I don’t know,” Brill said. “Figure they’ll realize they forgot us, and beam us up in a few minutes.”
TWO DAYS LATER…
“Do you get the feeling like we forgot something?” Stafford asked, sitting in the command chair on the bridge.
“The feeling will pass,” Noonan said.
“Do you think Starfleet will get mad that we blew up Krinok’s broadcasting tower in the Dekora system?”
“They probably will be, but there’s an entire galaxy that’ll be grateful for it,” Noonan said, tapping the final touches into his padd, finishing up his incident report to Stafford. “By the way, sir. Have you talked to Sylvia recently?”
Stafford shifted in his chair. “No. Not as…such.”
“You really should. Decks Thirteen to Eighteen were without gravity today. She’s been listless, quiet, and running only a few million computations per second since your…”
“I like spat better. I’ll go have a talk to her. You know, man to mainframe.”
“Sylvia?” Stafford asked as he stepped into the holodeck.
The walls were blank, gold lattice on black background, as usual. Then, suddenly, Sylvia appeared right in front of Stafford, glaring at him. Her eyes were red-rimmed and teary.
“I, uh, just wanted to say I’m sorry for, you know….whatever,” Stafford said, looking down on his feet.
“Well, when you put it like that,” Sylvia said, folding her arms.
“Did I really hurt your feelings?”
“I’m a computer. I don’t have feelings.”
“You’re a computer with my mother’s personality. I think you have at least a few.”
“Perhaps,” Sylvia said. “But I’m not your mother, and it’s important you remember that.”
“I’m starting to,” Stafford said. “And I guess the reason I went off on you was because I felt like my mother was here counseling the crew. And you can see how that idea would be somewhat…offputting.”
“In my short time as acting ship’s counselor, I realized that parental issues can be one of the leading causes of neuroses. You and your mother didn’t have an easy time of it while you were growing up, did you?”
“She did a fine job raising me. But yeah, there were some times I felt like she expected too much from me. Like I couldn’t possibly be all she wanted me to be.”
“You seem like you have a lot to say on the subject,” Sylvia said. “You should talk to the ship’s counselor.”
Stafford smiled. “I’d rather talk to you. Would you mind conjuring us up a couch?”
Sylvia’s face broke into a smile. “I’d be delighted, Captain. Let’s talk…”
“Velcome once again to our show,” Counselor Yvonnokoff said, looking into the holorecorder, as she sat in a chair facing a surprisingly serene-looking Cody. “Today I’m goink to break vith tradition a leettle bit and devote our show to my new friend Cody, who ees spending an extended leave of absence aboard ze Silverado. It’s our hope, after my time vit Cody is finished, zat he vill be able to return to a healthy, fulfilling life. During our show, ve’ll delve into Cody’s psychosis and try to understand exactly vhy he feels ze vay he does.”
Yvonnokoff smiled at the camera a moment, allowing all that to sink in. Then she turned to Cody. “And Cody, my friend, how do you feel today?”
“I feel like killing puppies,” Cody said earnestly.
“Okay. Let’s talk about that. Let’s zee vhy exactly you have this all-encompassing need to commit violence against pets…”
“Honey! You wouldn’t believe who’s on the holovision!”
“Who?” Captain Andy Baxter asked, leaning into the bedroom, Steffie on his hip, giggling.
“It’s Cody!” Counselor Kelly Peterman said. “My very first pet sitter. I was wondering whatever happened to him!”
“This a live broadcast?” Baxter asked, looking at the screen.
“Pay-Per-Holoview,” Peterman replied.
“Is that something that can be traced back to us? Aren’t we running for our lives from Starfleet search parties and Orion mercenaries?”
“Well…yeah, but I like this show. This counselor is helping Cody work through his problems with violence against pets.”
Baxter glanced at her. “You didn’t happen to cause any of these problems, did you?”
Peterman looked away quickly. “Who knows. The human mind is a complex thing.”
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “But…you are a counselor aren’t you?”
“Shush. The good part’s coming up!”