Author: Brendan Chris
“Evasive, Gamma-three!” Captain Christopher Stafford snapped over the comm channel as he tapped at his control panel, sending the Peregrine-class attack fighter he was piloting into a looping spiral, evading several weapons shots as his attackers tried and failed to match the maneuver.
“Confirmed,” acknowledged Lieutenant Command T’Parief. Rather than trying to follow Stafford’s wild course T’Parief fired his forward thrusters, dropping his velocity down to a crawl. The attacking fighters flew right past him. Two shots later, Stafford was clear.
“Silverado to Stafford,” Noonan’s voice came over the comm, “The station has acquired us with its primary weapon. You must disable it now!”
Stafford swore as he dived back on course for his attack run. He found the target trench easily and slipped in; opening his impulse throttles to full. T’Parief followed right behind.
Temporarily free of enemy fighters, Stafford took in the situation.
Nearly a thousand kilometers away, Silverado was exchanging fire with four gigantic, mile long spacecraft. Dozens of turbolaser blasts shot out, hitting the Federation ship dead on. Fortunately, the shields had been designed with more powerful weapons in mind and easily deflected the attack. But the four Imperial Star Destroyers and their fighter escorts were making it nearly impossible for the relatively tiny ship to escape, and even if a turbolaser shot couldn’t match a phaser beam in terms of destructive power, enough impacts from the weak weapons would still wear down the shields. As Stafford watched, a phaser beam tore into one enemy ship, breaking through its shields to leave an angry looking gash in the hull. Turning on another, Silverado fired her pulse-phaser cannon, the rapid-fire phaser beams gouging a dozen craters in the Star Destroyer’s ivory skin before the energy cells powering the cannon were depleted.
“Get out of there!” Stafford ordered, watching as another swarm of TIE fighters dove at his ship. There was no way Noonan could take Silverado to warp with that much hardware in the way.
“Captain, I am under attack!” T’Parief called out.
Three TIE fighters had come up behind T’Parief and Stafford, one of them bearing the distinctive bent foils of a TIE-Advanced. Cursing, Stafford tried to dodge; careful not to impact the sides of the trench he had to fly down.
“Reinforce your aft shields!” Stafford called to T’Parief, stealing a glance at his rear display. The tiny viewscreen showed T’Parief’s fighter taking no less than six direct hits to his starboard engine. The small fighter lurched, bouncing from one trench wall to the other before exploding in a fierce fireball.
“I’ve lost T’Parief!” Stafford cried, shouting into his comm microphone.
“The Death Star is powering up its main weapon!” Noonan reported back, “Captain, we’re trapped! If you don’t blow that thing soon, it’s going to be too late!”
“Just a few more minutes!” Stafford hissed. His targeting computer beeped, indicating that the shaft he had to launch a torpedo down was almost in range. There was a high-pitched shriek of alarms as his sensors detected a weapons lock.
The fighter shook as he took several hits to his aft shields before he managed to duck the target lock. Apparently, the explosion that had killed T’Parief hadn’t been big enough to take out the fighters following him.
“10 seconds until they fire!” Noonan called, his voice in a very uncustomary state of panic.
“Torpedoes launched!” Stafford called out, slamming his hand down on the fire controls. Two photon micro-torpedoes shot out of the fighter as Stafford pulled away.
“They’re firing!” Noonan cried, “Captain, it’s been an honour-“
The comm channel fizzled out as half a dozen beams of fierce green energy shot out from the rim of the focusing eye of the Death Star’s super-laser. The beams met at the center and phased together, forming a massive column of destruction that shot out towards Silverado.
Stafford could see his ship lurch as Yanick pulled into last-ditch evasive maneuvers, the superlaser blast neatly spearing the open space between the four Star Destroyers where Silverado had been trapped, the outer fringe of the beam catching the tiny Federation ship. As the beam faded, Stafford began to hope that his ship had survived.
Stafford was too far away to see the ripples of energy washing over the hull of his ship, and certainly too far away to hear the screams of his crew. But he was close enough to see the Ambassador-class ship explode in a massive release of energy.
“That f**king SUCKED!” Stafford snarled, jumping out of his simulated cockpit as the holodeck simulation disappeared around him, “That’s the third time you’ve managed to blow yourself up crashing the damned fighter!”
“I’ll remind you,” T’Parief said stiffly, “That it is also the third time you have managed to miss the target shaft with your torpedoes,”
“Well maybe if I still had somebody covering me so I could actually concentrate on the shot I could do a bit better!” Stafford replied.
The two officers glared at each other for a moment.
Stafford cracked first. Who could blame him? T’Parief had fangs, after all.
“I guess this hasn’t exactly been a fun evening, has it?” he sighed.
“It has been entertaining,” T’Parief replied, “And it has saved me from an evening of enduring the unending stares of Ensign Yanick’s potpourri lizards,”
“She has potpourri lizards in her quarters?” Stafford asked, “I never noticed,”
“You will now,” T’Parief declared darkly.
“Sylvia, could you please save the program and shut down the holodeck?” Stafford called out.
“Computer,” Stafford corrected himself, “Save program and exit,”
The computer beeped in acknowledgement, the cockpits of the two fighters fading into nothingness. The door however, did not open. Stafford walked straight into it, flattening his nose and making a dull ‘thud’.
“Dammit!” he swore, “I’m really NOT in the mood for this!”
T’Parief tapped at the door panel, overriding computer control and opening the door.
“Thangs,” Stafford said, his voice nasal, “I guess I bedder ged do sickbay. Thangs for running da prograb wid me, have a good night,” he rushed down the corridor.
“Of course,” T’Parief said to the empty room, a little surprised at Stafford’s hasty retreat. He had planned on asking the Captain to join him and Yanick for an evening drink. Shrugging, he turned and headed for the turbolift.
“And what inane male bonding ritual were you and T’Parief doing that involved you breaking your nose?” Wowryk asked crisply as she ran a dermal regenerator over Stafford’s flattened face, “Boxing? Bat’leth fighting? Or a good old-fashioned wrestling match?”
“None of the above,” Stafford said, wincing as his nose was repaired, “I walked into a door. And what do you mean ‘male bonding ritual’?”
“Nothing,” Wowryk said innocently, “I just mean that you and T’Parief seem to have gotten closer in the past little while,”
“Well, seeing as how Jeffery’s off in another sector on another starship, I have to find somebody else to hang out with, now don’t I! And I think saying we’ve gotten closer is exaggerating things a bit. We’ve run a holodeck program. That’s it.”
At the mention of Jeffery’s name, Wowryk had immediately chilled by about fifty degrees.
“I’d thank you to not mention that man in my presence again,” Wowryk said.
“What’s the big deal?” Stafford asked, “I mean, you were practically dumping him anyway-“
“I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT HIM!” Wowryk snapped. She took a breath and calmed herself, setting the dermal regenerator aside, “I’m sorry, Captain, that was uncalled for,”
“Um, yeah,” Stafford said, gingerly touching his nose, “Thanks for the fix. Um, you might wanna consider talking to Yvonnokoff. Y’know, if you’re having…trouble,” Stafford trailed off as Wowryk looked coldly at him.
“So yeah. See you tomorrow!” he walked briskly past Nurse Kerry and out the door.
“You know,” Kerry said, picking up the dermal regenerator Wowryk had used and eyeing the nail marks she’d left in the soft grip, “He may be right,”
“And it’s, um, 19:04 hours,” Crewman Gibson said, gulping as he sat looking into the holo-camera in Eva Yvonnokoff’s small recording studio, “You’re watching ‘The Vonna Show’, your source for all your head-shrinking needs. Heh heh…head. Oh, um, it’s gonna be 1905 hours coming up on the beep,”
“Uh,” Gibson swallowed, looking around nervously, “Beep?”
He said staring at the camera for several seconds.
“So, uh, yeah. This is Bartholomew Gibson, Vonna’s slave, uh, producer. Filling in for Vonna, who’s been delayed by a, er, stuck turbolift. Yeah. They’re prying her out right now. Aaaanytime now…”
A few more moments of silence.
“Uh, so yer totally watching ‘The Vonna Show’ on the Associated Worlds Network, the best entertainment in the Alpha and Beta quadrants. That’s what their commercials say anyway,” Gibson swallowed again, “Uh, if that slogan is copyrighted or something, please don’t sue me,”
He looked at the door to the corridor, praying for Vonna to come through and save him from making a total ass of himself.
“Well, fine,” Gibson said, “Let’s take a call. Um, one sec,” he leaned out of view of the camera, taking a deep pull on a joint he had hastily dropped on one of the decorative end tables and popping back into view.
“OK,” he said, expelling a plume of smoke, “on Channel 2 we have Adam. Adam, dude. What’s up?”
“I already told you,” Adam said, annoyed.
“Uh, yeah, I know, dude,” Gibson said, rolling his eyes, “But now we gotta tell everybody else. So folks, um, Adam here is dating this totally hot Andorian chick and doesn’t know whether or not to take things to the next level. I say bang her!”
“It’s not that easy!” Adam protested, “She’s an Andorian Pleasure Mistress of the Third Order!”
“Sounds good to me,” Gibson shrugged, “Shag her rotten,”
At that moment, Yvonnokoff came rushing into the studio.
“Get avay from zat camera!” Vonna snapped, “Who knows vhat kind of insane babble is spewing forth from your filth-infested yap? Scoot!”
Gibson scurried back through the soundproof door and into his control booth, a layer of transparent aluminum separating him from his very annoyed boss.
“Who do ve haff on ze line and how can I help?” Vonna asked.
“Uh, this is Adam,” Adam said, “And I’m dating an Andorian Pleasure Mistress…”
Vonna eyes widened.
“Adam,” she said, “You are in great dangers! Do you not know vhat ze Andorians consider to be pleasure?”
“No,” Adam said, “That’s why I’m calling!”
“Vell,” Vonna said, “First, zis is not ze ‘Xujo Han’zon Show’. Zat expert on interspecies mating habits is on een two hourz, here on AWN. Second, if you attempt to mate vith an Andorian woman, she vill tie you to a bed of hot coals, or perhaps a duranium heating coil. Depends on taste. She vill beat you severely before she violates your body in ze most painful and humiliating vay possible,”
“Uhh, thanks Vonna,” Adam said shakily, “I think you just saved my life. Um, tell your producer he’s an idiot, OK?”
Gibson, out of sight, flipped a finger at the camera.
“Zank you, Adam,” Vonna said, glaring at Gibson, “I vill keep zat in mind,”
“Vat a day,” Vonna said, walking back to her quarters. The rest of her show had gone smoothly, but her earlier adventure in the turbolift had stressed her out. It shouldn’t have been a big deal. Normally she would have been beamed out of the jammed turbolift car, but for some reason the subspace compensators on the transporters were being balky, making any kind of intraship beaming very risky unless the warp engines were shut down. Given the choice of being late for work or having her molecules smeared around the ship like sour cream on a perogie, she had waited for somebody to open the turbolift.
She stepped into her office, intending to pass through to the rear door that led to her private quarters. She inwardly cursed whoever had designed the counselor’s living arrangements for the Ambassador-class when she saw somebody was sitting on her couch, waiting for her.
“I am zorry,” Yvonnokoff said, “But ze office is closed. Come back tomorrow?”
“I really think I need to talk to somebody now, Dr. Yvonnokoff,” Dr. Wowryk said.
“Oh very vell,” Yvonnokoff sighed, ordering a coffee from the replicator as Wowryk started her story.
Two months ago…
Wowryk sat in her office in Sickbay, analyzing the data T’Parief had brought back on the Parians.
It really wasn’t anything all that ground-breaking. The Parians were created using the same genetic engineering T’Parief had been created with, with the addition of growth acceleration. The Transference Ray had changed them from being little more than brainwashed slaves of K’Eleese into intelligent, independent beings. But she’d had months to examine T’Parief’s anatomy, not to mention the Parian corpse that had spent a week in her morgue, and the Transference Ray had already been well documented after the many encounters the crews of the Secondprize and the Explorer had had with the device.
Silverado was due to rendezvous momentarily with the U.S.S. Kindness, the ship that would be escorting K’Eleese’s captured vessel, the Jubilent Death (renamed by it’s Parian crew T’Parief’s Claw) to Starbase 45. K’Eleese would also be turned over to Starfleet authorities.
“Attention all decks,” Lieutenant Jall’s voice came over the comm, “We may experience some minor computer problems in exactly five minutes. Stand by to switch to backups if necessary. What a pain, huh? Jall out,”
“What’s that about?” Wowryk wondered aloud.
“They’re removing Sylvia from the computer core,” Nurse Kerry replied, “No big deal, but I guess Jeffery and Jall want to play it safe,”
“Sylvia’s leaving?” Wowryk asked.
“Yeah,” Kerry said, “She’s going on temporary assignment for Admiral Tunney. Didn’t you know that?”
“No,” Wowryk replied. In truth she’d been very preoccupied by her last conversation with her boyfriend, Lieutenant Commander Jeffery. He (while drunk) had tried to kiss her in public, an action against which she protested very strongly. She’d been so sure that she was right, up until Stafford had strolled into Sickbay and demonstrated that not all men were trying to get into her pants by giving her an innocent, platonic hug.
Of course, Jeffery really DID want to get into her pants. During their conversation, actually a heated argument that half the crew witnessed, he’d told her not to bother coming back to him until she was ready to at least kiss him.
Wowryk sighed. As much as she didn’t like the idea of a public display of affection, she had to admit that men had their needs. And Jeffery wasn’t even asking her to ‘help’ him with most of them. He just wanted a kiss. But she didn’t want to…did she?
‘Love the sinner, hate the sin.’ Her counterpart from the ‘Universe of Perfection’ (AKA the Bizarroverse, according to Stafford) had introduced her to that concept. And the more she thought about it, the more she really had to wonder why her father had never mentioned such a philosophy. It fit in so well with what the Bible taught her, how she must love her fellow humans and practice forgiveness and kindness.
Well, she could admit that she had reconsidered. She, Dr. Noel Wowryk, had every right to refuse Jeffery. But if it meant so much to him, then she would consent to an innocent kiss.
Walking purposefully down the corridors, Wowryk didn’t stop to talk to any of her crewmates. She rode the turbolift from Deck 8 to Deck 3 and turned the corner. Not bothering to buzz, she strode right into Jeffery’s quarters.
“Simon, I’m here,” she said, “I know we had a bit of a fight, and I stand by my beliefs. But a kiss is innocent enough, and if that’s what you want then I will permit it,”
“Sylvia, where is Commander Jeffery?” Wowryk asked.
Right, Sylvia was leaving.
“Computer, where is Commander Jeffery?”
“Commander Jeffery is not aboard the Silverado,” the flat, toneless voice of the computer replied, so different from Sylvia’s warm responses.
At the sound of her voice, the terminal on Jeffery’s desk came to life.
“Hi, Noel,” the recording said, “Ah, um, Ah know Ah probably should have told ye this in person, but, ye know, after out last little, um, talk, Ah can’t imagine ye really want to see me that badly. So I’m leaving for a bit. Ah’ll be goin’ with Sylvia to work for Tunney for a few months. After that, Ah dunno. Um, anyway, Ah want ye to know that Ah really care for ye, and that Ah hope things go well. Bye,”
“I zee vhere zis ees goink,” Vonna said, nodding her head as she tapped away on her padd, “You feel abandoned and rejected. You feel as though you vill never love again, and zat ze vorld could be right again, if only Jeffery vould come back,”
“Are you kidding?” Wowryk snapped, “If he comes anywhere near me again, he’s going to wish he’d never been born!”
Vonna’s eyebrows went up.
“But vat about forgiveness, and loving ze sinner?” she asked.
“Jeffery doesn’t deserve my forgiveness!” Wowryk snapped, “I was right the entire time! He wanted to fulfill his carnal urges with me, and now that he knows I’m not putting out he’s off to find some other poor woman to accept his-“
“Please,” Vonna help up a hand, “Spare me ze details. But I zink you may have misinterpreted-“
“Misinterpret my ass!” Wowryk said, rising, “Simon Jeffery is, as far as I am concerned, dead meat! And so are the rest of the filthy men on this ship!”
Lieutenant San Jall walked though the corridors of Deck 12, his mind wandering. He passed Unbalanced Equations, barely noticing the sound of music playing behind the wood-paneled doors. Walking along the curving corridor he passed by the Officer’s Dining Hall, now Le Plateau Argenté. Deck 12 may have been the social hub of the ship, but Jall just wasn’t in the mood to be social.
“Heya,” Ensign Yanick called, catching up with Jall as he passed a corridor junction, “Whatcha doin?”
“Nothing,” Jall replied.
“Are ya sure?” Yanick asked, “You’ve already walked around this deck three times,”
“I’m getting my exercise,” Jall said firmly, walking faster.
“You already passed by the gym,” Yanick pointed out, almost having to run to keep up, “The treadmills would really be better for-“
“Look, just back off, OK?” Jall said, stepping into the turbolift and hitting the ‘close’ button.
Yanick stood, stunned, as the doors hissed shut.
Well. OK then. Obviously Jall was perturbed. That was fair, Yanick concluded. He was the Operations Officer of a starship after all, and there were a lot of expectations of him and demands on his time. If he wanted a little bit of space then that was perfectly OK with her.
Yanick walked in the direction Jall had come from, around the curving corridor of Deck 12.
Deck 12 was her favorite part of the ship. When Silverado had been refurbished, many of the recreation facilities on other decks had been moved to Deck 12, turning it into the social center of the ship. Lounges and dining halls for crew and officers, the gym and fitness facilities, arboretum, the holodecks and the ship’s library taking up large parts of the deck. Being at the widest point of the saucer section, Deck 12 was the single largest deck on the entire ship and Yanick felt that it was groovy that Starfleet had decided to use if for the benefit of the crew, instead of cramming it full of science labs and engineering things. Sure, there was plenty of other stuff there, but Yanick really didn’t care about airlocks and that other boring stuff.
“Hi Noel,” Yanick said as Dr. Wowryk exited a turbolift.
“Trish,” Wowryk nodded curtly.
“Bad day?” Yanick asked.
“Miserable,” Wowryk confirmed. Yanick followed her into Unbalanced Equations where she grabbed a stool at the bar and ordered a calming cup of tea.
Taking a quick look around while Wowryk sipped, Yanick noticed Stafford sitting alone in one of the corner booths near the windows.
“Why don’t you go talk to him?” Wowryk asked.
“I’m pretty sure he wants to be alone right now,” Yanick sighed.
“Uh-huh,” Steven butted in, moving behind the bar to mix somebody a drink, “The guy’s been moping around in here ever since Jeffery and Sylvia left. He’s miserable, and he’s taking up an entire corner booth! We could have six people sitting there!”
Without even waiting for a response, Steven grabbed the drinks and walked to one of the tables.
“Busy night in here,” Yanick commented.
“You’re changing the topic,” Wowryk said, “Why don’t you want to talk to him?”
“Why do you care?” Yanick shot back.
“Excuse me for being concerned,” Wowryk shot back.
“He just really hasn’t said anything to me in a while,” Yanick sighed, “Like I said, it’s like he doesn’t want to talk to me. So I don’t wanna bug him,”
“Fine, don’t,” Wowryk said, picking up her tea, “But I will,”
“Come here often?” Wowryk said calmly, slipping into the seat across from Stafford.
“Oh, hi,” Stafford said, sounding about as energetic as a Rigellian slug, “What’s up?”
“Well, I thought you might want somebody to talk to,” Wowryk shrugged.
“Oh,” Stafford took another sip of his drink. He put the padd he had been reading down and faced Wowryk, “What do you want to talk about?”
“I don’t know,” Wowryk said, “You’re the lonely one!”
“I’m not lonely,” Stafford said pointedly, “I blew stuff up on the holodeck with T’Parief, now I’m enjoying a quiet drink,”
“I’d think you’d be happy to have a woman going out of her way to talk to you,” Wowryk said, crossing her arms.
“And what is that supposed to mean?” Stafford asked coldly.
“It’s no secret that you’re a little jealous of the couples on the ship,” she said, “And now your partner in crime isn’t around either. It’s perfectly understandable,”
“And this is your way of helping?” Stafford asked sarcastically.
“I just though you might want to talk about it-“ Wowryk started.
“I know what I like and what I enjoy doing,” Stafford said, getting up, “And right now I think I’d enjoy finishing this book in the privacy of my quarters!”
“Then Noel just walked away too!” Yanick said, sitting with her arms crossed in Vonna’s office as she explained what had happened. It was the next afternoon, and despite getting a good night sleep Yanick still wasn’t very happy about her encounter with Wowryk, “Like she wanted me to go away!”
“Perhaps she vanted some time alone?” Vonna asked, tapping at her padd and glancing at the replicator. She’d ordered a cup of tea nearly half an hour ago and it still hadn’t appeared.
“She went to talk to the Captain,” Yanick said.
“And you know what else?” Yanick pushed on, “Jall. He was being rude too!”
“Perhaps it eez-“ Vonna started.
“You know what it is?” Yanick interrupted, “It’s the other Jall. The one from the other universe we found a few months ago,”
“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Vonna said, pulling up her notes on the other universe on her padd, “But ve haff not had any contact vith ze other universe since we closed ze portal,”
“Well, yeah,” Yanick said, “But, you know, Jall like finds this totally perfect version of himself, First Officer of a Sovereign-class starship with a Captain that’s totally accepting of his lifestyle. Then he’s gotta look at his life here, where he’s been demoted, shuffled away and couldn’t have an honest talk with the Captain if his life depended on it!”
“Ve are here to talk about you,” Vonna reminded her.
“Right,” Yanick said.
They sat in silence for a moment.
“Hey, have you ever gone waterskiing?” Yanick asked, “It’s so much fun! The way the water just…”
Vonna sighed as Yanick took yet another plunge off topic. This was not turning into one of her more productive sessions!
T’Parief sat in his office, wondering just how he managed to get into this conversation.
“It’s not that I don’t understand the role of a security officer,” Ensign Danny Grant said, seated across from his commanding officer, “It’s just that, y’know, in our training simulations there’s been all this violence and shooting…”
“We’re in security,” T’Parief said flatly, “We hurt people. It’s what we do,”
“I was looking more at the ‘Protection’ part of the recruiting poster,” Grant admitted. While Grant had a fit build, his expression was that of an earnest puppy. His slightly thinning hair didn’t help with his overall image either. Grant was, in T’Parief’s view, about as intimidating as a newborn kitten.
Mmm…all that talk of puppies and kittens was making him hungry.
“And, y’know, how do you know we’re supposed to be doing all this freaky training stuff,” Grant went on, “I mean, when’s the last time the Captain even came through here to see what we were doing?”
“That is not your concern,” T’Parief, “We will train according to my training plan,”
“I guess,” Grant replied, “I’m just not used to this stuff…”
“I am surprised you made it through the Academy training,” T’Parief said, quite honestly.
“Well yeah, but-“
“T’Parief to Kreklor,” the reptilian officer tapped his comm badge, “Please report to my office immediately,”
“What are you doing?” Grant asked.
Kreklor stepped into the cramped office, his broad shoulders nearly filling the doorframe, corded muscles fully visible beneath his uniform and a standard glower darkening his Klingon features.
“Crewman Kreklor will teach you what you need to know,” T’Parief said, baring his fangs in satisfaction, “Dismissed!”
“But-“ Grant gasped as Kreklor dropped a meaty hand on his shoulder and pulled him out the door.
Loading up his calendar on his display, T’Parief realized Ensign Grant had been his last item for the day. Sure, his shift didn’t officially end for another hour, but then what was the point in being the boss if you couldn’t leave early once in a while? Stafford wouldn’t mind. And besides, it would give him a chance to do something for Yanick. Their relationship had been somewhat stagnant recently. Reaching into his desk, he pulled out a small wrapped package. Looking around quickly to be sure nobody was watching, he devoured the contents. Ahhh…he felt better already. Now then, off to Yanick’s quarters.
Ensign Marsden was manning the main desk in the Security office and Ensign Rengs was on bridge duty. Checking to be sure they would contact him if necessary, T’Parief took the turbolift to Deck 4. Walking into Yanick’s unlocked quarters he tried to ignore the stares of over a dozen potpourri lizards as he stepped towards the replicator. Trish would be off-duty in less than an hour!
Back from her counseling session, Yanick picked at her console on the bridge. The ship was on course, off to something-something Prime to deliver a shipment of…something. Honestly, she didn’t really care that much. But all she really had to do was sit back and keep an eye open for anything that could cause problems.
She looked back at the command seat. Stafford was in his ready room doing whatever it was he did in there. He’d been doing that a lot lately. Noonan was sitting in his chair, going through some administrative detail or whatever on his padd. Jall was working his console with an intensity that bordered on anger.
Yanick blew out a breath of frustration. There was NOBODY to talk to. And beyond that, she didn’t even really feel like talking.
Fifteen more minutes until her shift ended. Then she could go down, have a nice hot bath and maybe feel a little better. Not that those had really been helping all that much lately anyway. But it was worth a try at least. Hmm. That funny little button on her console was yellow instead of blue. Was it a fatal systems error? A subspace fiber bundle, ready to shake the ship like a pothole in the road?
Nope. Just a notification that warp coil number four in the port nacelle was showing a slight increase in temperature. No doubt by now the same error was being reported on the Ops console, in Main Enginnering, in Auxiliary control and about a dozen other places through the ship. No reason for her to worry about it. Or know about it. Or do anything about it. Just another one of the hundreds of glitches and errors that had been cropping up since Sylvia had left.
Ten minutes. Yanick was ready to bite her nails.
“Huh?” she asked. It was her relief, Ensign Travis Pye.
“I got here a little early,” Pye shrugged, “Hey, did you see that show on Galactic Discovery last night? The one about the-“
“I gotta go,” Yanick mumbled, walking for the turbolift.
“Uh, OK,” Pye shrugged, watching her go.
T’Parief surveyed Yanick’s quarters, hoping he had everything right this time. Her tropical fish were in their tank, not on an hors d’oeurve platter. Terran music played in the background and a meal of steak and baked potatoes had been set out on the table. Now he just had to sit back, relax and wait for his loving-
“What’s going on?” Yanick whined, walking through the door and rubbing one hand on her forehead, “What is that racket?”
“The Offspring,” T’Parief said calmly, “I know you don’t like Andorian music, so I thought I’d play something more Terran,”
“Computer, end playback!” Yanick requested, collapsing into her chair.
T’Parief was quiet, not knowing what to say.
“Did you have a good day?” he finally asked. Usually that was a safe question for initiating small talk with Yanick, who loved a good chat.
“No,” Yanick said, sighing, “Let’s just eat,”
The rest of the meal was very quiet. If they had been a Klingon couple, T’Parief knew the silence would mean nothing, that the participants were just too focused on their food and drink to bother speaking. And that sexual combat would be close at hand. If they were Andorians, T’Parief would suspect that Yanick was preparing to slide a knife into his side. As it were, he had no idea what it meant for humans and even less idea what it would mean for Yanick, who was normally so cheery.
“Did you have fun with the Captain the other day?” she asked.
“We failed to defeat the holodeck scenario,” T’Parief grunted.
“Well, it’s good you’re spending some time with him,” she said quietly.
“The Captain and I have only socialized on a few occasions,” he replied.
“Really?” Yanick asked absently, playing around with her baked potato, transforming it into a mashed potato, “I thought he’d been hanging out with you since Jeffery left,”
“No,” T’Parief said. What did Stafford have to do with anything?
“I wonder what he’s been up to,” Yanick wondered, “I’ve barely seen him for the past month,”
“Must we talk about the Captain?” T’Parief said, “I would rather talk about you,”
“I don’t feel like talking,” Yanick replied, getting up and putting her plate into the matter reclamator.
“Vhy don’t you haff a seat?” Yvonnokoff asked T’Parief as he paced in a very distracting fashion, back and forth in her office.
“My tail will not fit on your chairs,” he replied.
“Ahh,” Vonna started scribbling on her padd, “Do you perheps feel zat your tail sets you apart from ze rest of ze crew? Are you perhaps ashamed zat you are so different?”
“No,” T’Parief grunted. He explained the situation.
“So Yanick does not feel like speaking?” Yvonnokoff asked, “Vat is ze problem vith zat?”
“It…is Yanick,” T’Parief said.
“Zat point aside,” Vonna shrugged, “she has every right to have her own quiet time,”
“And what of the obsession with Stafford?”
“Concern is hardly obsession,” Vonna said, frowing as she tapped frantically at her padd, “But it is interesting. Perheps part of an even bigger problem,” she tapped on her padd hard for several moments.
“So what should I do?” T’Parief asked.
“Hmm?” Vonna asked, looking up, “Oh, you are still here. I sorry. Uh, give her her space for now. I haff other matters I must attend to,”
Lieutenant San Jall watched Yanick leave the bridge and for a moment contemplated following her. But he was still waiting for Ensign Day to arrive and take over Ops.
“Heya Lieutenant,” Pye said, settling into the Conn station and tapping at the controls, “Having a good day?”
“Oh, I see we’re passing close to a Mutara-class nebula,” Pye said, tapping and chattering away, “Hope the energy discharges don’t interfere with my navigational sensors. Maybe we should tie in the lateral array for redundancy?”
“Uh-huh,” Jall muttered, shooting a look at the forward turbolift, hoping Day was about to pop out.
“Hey Lieutenant,” Day said happily from behind Jall, clapping a hand on his shoulder.
“YEAWWW!” Jall shouted, starting.
“Sorry!” Day cried, “Didn’t mean to startle you,”
“I keep forgetting we have two turbolifts,” Jall grunted. At least this time his mistake hadn’t ended with somebody getting his or her head stuck in a bucket.
“Really, I didn’t mean to-“
“Forget it,” Jall said, surrendering his console and heading up to the turbolift.
“Here you go,” Steven said, handing Jall an apple martini as the Ops officer moped at the bar, “Enjoy,”
“Uh-huh,” Jall grunted.
“Y’know, most bartenders around here would chat things up with you,” Steve said conversationally as he set a tray of used glasses into the replicator and hit the ‘reclaim’ button.
“Right,” Jall muttered.
“They’d ask about your day, see if everything was all right,” Steve continued, “Help you get to the root of your problem, spend some time working through your issues,”
“I’m not a normal bartender!” Steven snapped, slamming a fist down on the bar and jolting Jall out his reverie, “You’re dragging down the whole atmosphere of this place and on top of that you’re getting on my nerves! Now if you want to be pampered go talk to Yvonnokoff or Patsy Horton. If you want to get good and drunk, talk to me. But if you plan on sitting here wallowing in self-pity then you need to get another plan!”
“Right,” he nodded, more confidently, “Right. I’ll just go over here now,” he picked up his drink and sat at one of the tables near the edge of the room. Looking around he could see Fifebee sitting in her usual seat near the windows. What was strange was that she was sitting with Ensign Puk. Normally Stafford, Wowryk, Yanick or somebody would be with her, talking about something or other. But Jall couldn’t see any other senior officers in the lounge.
He turned back to see Ensign Roal standing near the bar sipping a bright red drink and chatting with Lieutenant Stern. Roal had come aboard at Starbase 45, his clean Alpha-Centarian features and trim build bringing him many glances from the ladies. As Jall watched, Stern pointed him out to Roal, who raised his glass in Jall’s direction, smiled and winked.
Swallowing, Jall slammed down his glass and left the lounge.
“Hey, San,” Lieutenant Stern called, catching up to Jall as he walked through the corridors of Deck 12.
“Shouldn’t you be on the bridge?” Jall asked.
“It’s my day off,” Stern shrugged, “Look, I wanted to talk to you about-“
“David, please,” Jall snapped, “I know what you want to ask me about, and I really don’t want to talk about it!”
“Yeah, I know,” Jall cut him off, “You did something…intimate…with your counterpart from the other universe. And you want to talk to me about it. Because you feel like we have something in common that you want to share. And you think setting me up with Roal with help you fell like you’re part of the club. But you know, I don’t care if you feel liberated, ashamed or happy I just DON’T want to hear it!”
“I thought you’d understand,” Stern said, stopping in his tracks.
“Y’know what? I do,” Jall replied, “But it’s the 24th century. People aren’t supposed to care if people like you or me are a little different from anybody else. But some of them do. And if I have to deal with that then so do you,”
Biting back a building surge of anger, Jall spun away from Stern and stalked into the nearest turbolift.
“Zis is Vonna, velcome to ze Vonna Show,” Yvonnokoff said, sitting straight and proper in her chair as she faced the holo-camera, “You know, I have to vonder, vhat can cause people to change? Ees it always a huge, life-changing event, or can it be many small things? Eizer way, I vould like to hear from you,” she turned to Gibson, “Bart, who do ve haff on subspace?”
“We have Samuel,” Gibson replied, tapping at his panel, “He’s having trouble at work,”
“Hello, Samuel,” Vonna nodded at the camera, “Vhat ees ze problem?”
A male voice, scrambled by a voice modulator of some kind, came on the line.
“Yeah. Well,” the voice said, “I don’t think my Cap, uh, boss respects me,”
“Haff you done anyzing to cause that?” Vonna asked.
“Short story?” the voice said, “Oh yeah,”
“Zen perhaps you should try behaving well, to better earn his respect,” Vonna suggested.
“Er, right,” even through the modulator, the voice sounded uneasy, “The last time I did that, it was part of a bet. He got pretty pissed about it”
“Vhy do you care about his respect zen?” Vonna asked, “I do not zink you cared in ze past,”
“I, I,” the voice paused, “I can’t do this,”
There was a click as the signal cut out.
“Vell,” Vonna sighed, “Let us listen to few commercials from sponsors, jas?”
Gibson flipped a switch, then pulled his headphones off.
“You realize,” he said, tapping the intercom, “That was Lieutenant Jall, right?”
“Mr. Gibson,” Vonna sighed, “If your vodka-soaked little brain can figure eet out, haff of ze quadrant has likely figured eet out,”
“My brain is NOT soaked in vodka!” Gibson muttered.
Jall looked up from his table, where he had been concentrating hard on his terminal.
“Who is it?” he asked.
“Uh, Pizza Delivery?”
“For the love of…” Jall shook his head, heading to the door. The voice was female. Given the ridiculous statement it was probably Yanick, back to probe and pester and-
“Counselor Yvonnokoff!” Jall gasped as the door opened, “Uh, what can I do for you?”
“Let’s pick up vere you hung up, shall ve?” Vonna asked, sweeping into Jall’s quarters and sitting on the couch, “Vhy do you suddenly care vhat Stafford thinks of you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about…”
“Even vithout a voice de-scrambler,” Vonna said, “It doezn’t take much to realize zat vas you,”
“I suppose not,” Jall admitted.
“Zen let’s talk,” Vonna said, patting the couch beside her.
“Y’know when we were in that parallel universe?” Jall started hesitantly.
“How could I forget?” Vonna asked, “AWN vas very upset zat I missed my broadcasts zat week,”
“When I was there, the other Stafford saw something,” Jall went on, “He saw, er, Lieutenant Stern and Commander Stern getting, uh, intimidate,”
“So vhat?” Vonna asked, “Heppens all ze time. Vell, maybe not vith parallel selves, but really. Even in ze 20th century such things vere becoming accepted. Zere vas zis movie about zese two cowboys-“
“And the other Stafford took it in stride,” Jall went on, ignoring her, “It didn’t bother him. And he, uh, he thought I was the other Jall. And I guess the other Jall is…like that to. And that Stafford still has a good working relationship with that Jall,”
“Mr. Jall,” Vonna said, “Eef you zink that our Stafford vould discriminate against you-‘
“No, no, no,” Jall said, shaking his head, “It’s not that. I just,” Jall stood and walked towards the window, “It bugs me that the other me has such solid relationships with the people he works with-“
“And you don’t?”
“It’s my own fault,” Jall admitted, “I should be a first officer now, even a captain! But I made a stupid mistake,”
“Jas, Yanick is quite upset zat you von’t tell her about it,” Yvonnokoff cut in, tapping at her padd, “Oh, sorry. I should not haff told you zat,”
“Mistakes that the other me didn’t make,” Jall said bitterly, “I really dug myself in deep here,”
Vonna rolled her eyes.
“To borrow a phrase from you,” she said, annoyed, “‘Don’t be such a drama queen!’ You haff recognized your problem. Now you fix. Take tall steps. No, I mean small steps. Jas. I go now,”
And Vonna swept back out, still tapping frantically at her padd as Jall crossed his arms, pondering her words.
“Change in the crew?” Lieutenant Sage scratched his head, trying to catch a glimpse of Yvonnokoff’s rear in the reflective panel he had installed on the back wall of the Chief Engineer’s office while outside the Alpha shift engineering team worked to keep the ship running, “I don’t think so. But then, with all the malfunctions we’ve been having I haven’t really checked,”
“I zee,” Vonna said, tapping at her padd, “And do you feel hostility towards you because of ze malfunctions? Perhaps you feel crew is blaming you, jas?”
“Not really,” he said, “I mean, it’s always been part of living on this ship, right?”
“Jas, but ve have not had problems like zis in some time,” Vonna said, “Not since our stopover in the Deneria drydocks,”
“Really interesting, actually,” Sage said, “Turns out that Sylvia had been doing a lot of little things to keep all the systems working together. Now that she’s gone everything’s out of whack again,”
“Uh-huh,” Vonna waved a hand, not really interested, “And ze Captain? Has he been pressuring you to fix?”
Sage shrugged again.
“I guess. Haven’t really seen much of him. I’m just doing the best I can until Jeffery gets back,” Sage leaned back and spun his chair, “Unless he decides to stay away. In which case this job, and this office, are MINE!”
By the time he was facing the office again, Vonna had left.
“Status report, Ensign Pye?” Noonan asked calmly, seated as he was in his chair.
“Uh, Ensign Pye already left sir,” Crewman Malac said.
Noonan started. Indeed, rather than seeing Pye’s thinning brown hair he was faced with the shiny bald head of the graveyard shift helmsman. Crewman Malac was very young, his dark skin still smooth as, well, you know what goes here.
“What time is it?” Noonan asked.
“04:30 hours, sir,” Malac said uneasily. He’d grown accustomed to Noonan’s odd hours, but now the First Officer was starting to scare him.
“I see,” Noonan said thoughtfully, “I suppose it is past time I retired,”
“If you say so, sir,” Malac yawned, turning back to his solitaire game.
Noonan stepped into the turbolift and rode down to his quarters on Deck 3. The corridor was deserted at the late hour. Stepping into his quarters Noonan debated sleeping, but decided he really wasn’t in the mood.
Instead, he powered up his computer terminal and started typing.
Grunting in annoyance, Noonan looked up.
“Come,” he said.
“Commander,” Counselor Yvonnokoff nodded as she walked in.
“Counselor,” Noonan gave a small smile, “You’re up awfully late,”
“Sir?” Vonna frowned, “Ze time is 12:00 hours. I haff been up for some time,”
“Really?” Noonan wasn’t really surprised, “Well, time does fly when you’re having fun, after all,”
“Are you having fun?” Vonna asked him, tapping at her padd.
“Is there a problem?” Noonan asked politely.
“Just keeping an eye on ze well being of ze crew,” Vonna said.
“Good idea,” Noonan nodded, “That whole other universe thing is bound to cause some problems,”
Vonna stopped tapping at her padd.
“Zat vas over two months ago,” she said.
“Really?” this time Noonan was surprised, “That can’t be right,” he mentally started counting duty shifts, but found that his schedule was so erratic that it wasn’t an easy task, “Oh my!” he finally exclaimed, “It has been a while!”
“Vhat are you vorking on, may I ask?” Vonna asked, gesturing to his terminal.
“Nothing of importance,” Noonan said smoothly, “Just a little project to keep me busy. I suppose I’ve been too busy to really notice the passage of time,”
“Has zis happened before?” Vonna asked, once again tapping away, “Losing time during an important project?”
Noonan’s mind whirled. He couldn’t tell her the truth; that for beings like him years could pass by like minutes. That would just invite further questions. What would get her out of his quarters the fastest?
“I was looking at pornography,” he said, mentally wincing. Maybe that wasn’t the best thing to say.
But it was effective.
“Oh, I see,” Vonna blushed slightly, getting up to leave, “Vell, I suppose you vill be wanting your privacy. Nothing wrong with that. Is healthy! Jas!”
Noonan sighed. Sure, he got rid of Vonna easily enough, but what was that going to do to his reputation?
Some time afterward, Stafford sat on the bridge, waiting patiently for his shift to end. To anybody that looked, he was engrossed in the latest batch of reports from Starfleet. To anybody who could actually see the padd he was holding, he was reading an interesting fictional story about an ancient underground civilization knows as the D’ni.
“Sir,” Jall said from Ops, “We’ve got a bit of a variance in the port warp nacelle,”
“Is it serious?” Stafford asked, not taking his eyes from his padd.
“Well no, but-“
“Let engineering handle it,” Stafford cut Jall off with a wave of his hand.
Biting his tongue, Jall waiting until his console indicated that somebody in engineering was taking care of the problem.
Yanick sat next to him, saying nothing.
Bout time too actually, Stafford mused. Everybody was going about their duties in a calm, respectful way. There was no giggling, no shouting, no arguments taking place.
“Captain,” T’Parief rumbled, “The ventral phaser array on the engineering hull has just gone offline,”
Too bad stuff was breaking worse than ever.
“Get a crew on it,” Stafford said.
“All our engineering crews are busy,”
“Then get a security team on it,” Stafford said impatiently, rising from his chair, “T’Parief, you have the conn. I’ll be in my ready room,”
“Aye,” T’Parief replied.
“What’s his problem?” Jall grumbled after Stafford had left.
“The Captain’s mood does not seem to have changed,” Fifebee pointed out from her console at the back of the bridge.
“Has he actually talked to any of you other than to give orders lately?” Yanick piped up suddenly from helm.
Nobody said anything.
“That’s what I thought,” she muttered.
Stafford enjoyed a leisurely yet productive afternoon in his ready room. He managed to finish the book he was reading before admitting that it really was time to get some work done. Accessing the communications logs he started reading through Starfleet’s reports on recent events. Some ship named ‘Explorer’ kept popping up over and over again, some kind of major search effort seemed to be underway Or had been underway. Some of the reports had been delayed due to the distances involved. Stafford tried to recall if he’d ever met anybody on that ship, but couldn’t remember anybody specific. Probably just his imagination. He was probably thinking of the Endeavor or the Exeter.
As he finished drawing up the mission plan for their upcoming visit to Drenus Prime he realized it was time for his shift to end. He stepped out of his ready room and onto the bridge just as the relief crew was arriving. Nodding at Lieutenant Quintaine he stepped into the turbolift, squishing in between Yanick and Jall.
“Deck 3,” Stafford said,
“Deck 4,” Yanick added.
“Deck 12,” sighed Jall.
The lift moved briefly, stopping at Deck 3. Stafford departed.
“Bye,” Jall muttered towards Stafford’s retreating back.
“Computer, lights to one-half,” Stafford said as he entered his quarters, “Play something…cheerful,” music began to play as the lights dimmed, “Hmmm, a good book, or work on that model?” Stafford’s gaze alternated between the replicator and the small Constitution-class ship model he was working on. He decided instead to go through an info-pack Starfleet Academy had sent out instead. Something about continuing education.
“Come in,” Stafford called.
Yvonnokoff stepped into his quarters, looking around and making some notes on her padd.
“Ahh,” Stafford dropped his info-pack, “It’s my turn, huh?”
“I beg pardon?”
“I heard somebody talking about how you were making your rounds,” Stafford said, “Checking up on people. Great initiative, by the way. So what brings you here? I’m doing just fine,”
“Er, jas,” Vonna shifter her weight, “Captain, haff you noticed a distinct change in crew moral lately?”
“Not really. The crew seems fine,”
“Not ze crew. Ze senior staff,”
“They’re doing their jobs fine,” Stafford said, “They’ve been quieter and more professional than I can ever recall seeing them. So, what’s the deal. Are you going to ask about my problems? Try to figure out what’s making me tick? I assure you, I’m fine,”
“Captain,” Vonna swallowed, “I am not here to talk about your problems. You ARE ze problem!”
“What?” Stafford rose to his feet, “I didn’t do anything!”
“Exactly!” Vonna said, shaking her padd at him, “You are ze leader here, no? Is it not your duty to look out for ze well-being of your crew?”
“Isn’t Noonan in charge of personnel matters?” Stafford asked, “I’m pretty sure that’s in the First Officer’s job description,”
“He is to handle ze rest of ze crew. But you still must maintain good relationships vith your senior staff! And right now, you ignore zem outside of ze bridge!”
“I didn’t think they really cared,” Stafford mused, “They’ve got their lives, I have mine.”
“And since Jeffery left yours has been more lonely?” Vonna asked, tapping at her padd.
“I thought this wasn’t about my problems,” Stafford shot back.
“Vell, your friendship problems might explain why you suddenly do not vish to spend time vith your staff,”
“They think I don’t want to spend time with them?” Stafford frowned, “Well, I guess I don’t. I’m just as happy to be on my own,” he sat back down, “You know, I had a very similar conversation with Sylvia right before she left. I guess with her gone, these things just sort of slipped my mind. But you know, I’ve come to grips with my problems now. There’s nothing wrong with me!”
“I don’t believe zat,” Vonna said, “I zink is different. But I have way to find out!”
“So,” Yvonnokoff said, looking around the conference room, “I take it ve all know vhy ve’re here?”
Yanick, Wowryk, Jall, T’Parief and Noonan all exchanged glances.
“No,” they said.
Vonna looked pained. “Ve are here,” she said, “Because you are all having some problems vith your interpersonal relationships zat ve all vant to resolve,” she looked around at the gathered officers, “Who vants to start?”
“I’ll start,” Wowryk said, getting to her feet and turning to Stafford, “Just because your little friend is gone is no reason to be hiding from the rest of us. You don’t have to pretend everything’s fine, we know you’re upset about it,”
“I’m not hiding!” Stafford shot back, “I’m not upset about anything! People come, people go!”
“Then what have you been doing in your quarters all by yourself?” Yanick asked.
“Probably ‘personal stuff’,” Jall grunted, making an obscene up-and-down hand gesture.
Stafford rolled his eyes at Jall. “Building ship models, reading,” he shrugged, “y’know, stuff. Not that my private life is really much business of yours,”
“Oh, of course not,” Wowryk exclaimed, “Why would we care?”
“Why would you care?” Stafford looked a little confused, “You hate all of us, don’t you?”
Wowryk looked taken aback. ”I don’t hate any of you,” she said, “I just don’t approve of you,”
“What about Mr. Jeffery?” Noonan asked.
“He can rot!” Wowryk snapped.
“Zank you, Doctor,” Vonna said, “See? Ve start. Who else vould like to speak?”
“I will speak,” T’Parief said, climbing to his feet, “Commander Noonan-“
“Let’s forget ranks for a bit, hmmm?” Vonna suggested.
“Er, Matthew,” T’Parief corrected, “I have noticed that it has been very hard to get your attention on the bridge, to the point where I’ve become concerned that you are not well,”
“Yeah, I’ve kinda noticed that too,” Jall said, “You’ve been zoning out for hours!”
“Have I?” Noonan sighed, “I suppose I’ve been having some trouble keeping track of time, but it’s typical among my people-“
“We’re not your people!” Yanick snapped, ignoring the look of shock on Noonan’s face, “But I still need you,” she included Stafford in her glare, “BOTH of you, to PAY ATTENTION TO ME on the bridge when I have a problem!”
“We haven’t been?” Stafford asked, “I was wondering why you’ve been so quiet!”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Yanick said.
“See?” Stafford exclaimed, “that’s exactly what I mean! How are we supposed to know something’s wrong if you’re not going to tell us about it!”
“I’ve just been so sad!” Yanick wailed, all semblance of calm gone, “I was so happy before, then the beam stopped and it all went away! And you!” she pointed at Stafford, “You’ve been ignoring me! And you!” she pointed at T’Parief, “Have just been pretending everything’s normal, like I’m still the way I was and you’re still the way you were, but everything’s different now!”
“Beam?” Stafford asked, “What beam?”
“Happy beam?” Noonan speculated.
“I am different?” T’Parief asked.
“You are ze founder of a new race now, so to speak,” Vonna mused, “I can see how zat can be different-“
“I have not changed,” T’Parief said firmly.
“You’re not listening to me again!” Yanick complained.
“For crying out loud, stop whining!” Jall snapped, “We get it, you’re lonely. But reminding us over and over again won’t help us!”
“Hey, that’s not really fair,” Stafford cut in, “The whole problem was that she wasn’t telling us that in the first place!”
“Oh, you’re a really good one to tell us about fairness!” Jall shot back, “Like you’re ever fair with me!”
“What?” Stafford asked, “It’s not like I’ve treated you any worse than you’ve treated me!”
“You just think that because I don’t sleep with every woman I meet there’s something wrong me! I’ve heard your snide little remarks any time my romantic life comes up!” Jall declared, “But now I know that in a perfect universe that kind of thing wouldn’t matter to you!”
“I find it rather admirable, actually,” Wowryk cut in, “At least you treat women with some respect. One day you’ll marry a nice girl and live in harmony under God,”
“Or have a really good time living in sin with her,” Stafford chuckled.
“News flash lady,” Jall growled shaking a finger and shooting Stafford a dark look, “Are you listening to this? Good, cuz I’m only saying it once: One day I’m gonna marry a nice GUY and live sinfully ever after!”
Wowryk’s jaw dropped. Stafford’s eyebrows rose and T’Parief sat down. Hard.
“Really?” Stafford asked after a minute, “ Huh. Well I never would have guessed,”
“Great investigative reporting there,” Jall said, “So there you go. Deal with it,”
“But so what? That’s your business. Not a problem. We just never knew” Stafford said, “I mean, we all still respect you as much as we did before…”
“Which isn’t much,” T’Parief added, recovering from his surprise.
Everybody stopped as the doors hissed open and Lieutenant Fifebee entered the room.
“I’m sorry all, but your squabbling, interesting though it is, is becoming disruptive to the bridge crew,” she said, “I must ask that you refrain from further shouting,”
“I knew I forgot somebody,” Vonna fumed, “Pull up a chair,”
“Could you explain what-“
“Group therapy,” Stafford grunted
“As a hologram,” Fifebee started, “I do not-“
“Lieutenant, sit down,” Stafford sighed, “We need every level head we can get,”
“That is NOT approved by the Bible,” Wowryk finally said to Jall.
“What, and stoning people to death is?” Jall shot back.
“This is just asking for trouble,” Stafford moaned.
“We’ve already GOT trouble!” Yanick said, crossing her arms.
“Yes, I have noticed the change in the command crew recently,” Fifebee said to Vonna, “I assumed it was a biological thing,”
“See, there she goes again,” Stafford said, “Looking down on us living things because we’re lowly and diseased!”
“Commander Noonan is not diseased,” Fifebee pointed out.
“Hmm?” Noonan came out of his reverie.
“No ranks!” Vonna reminded them.
“Noonan, really,” Stafford asked, “what’s bugging you?”
“I’ve…made some bad choices in my life,” Noonan admitted.
“Is this about that girl you met? Chelsey?”
“She’s like the, um, daughter I never head,” Noonan said softly, “There is much I wanted to do in this life, and it seemed like I would never have time for it all. Now I have all the time I’ll ever need, but I’ve lost that which matters most about life,”
“We need you here,” Fifebee said, “Chris cannot administer this ship on his own,”
“Yeah, somebody’s gotta tell him what to do and what regulations he has to follow,” Jall smirked.
“Hey!” Stafford frowned, “I’m pretty sure I resent that!” He turned to Noonan, “I resent that, right?”
“Yes,” Noonan advised him, “you resent that all right,”
“See? I told you so!”
Some more time later…
“I don’t have any kind of problem with you,” Stafford said to T’Parief, “I like you just fine!”
“Then why do you never give feedback on my work?” T’Parief asked, “Our adventure on the holodeck was the only time you actually told me what you thought of my performance,”
“Your performance is great,” Stafford shrugged, “I didn’t really think you wanted praise,”
“Uh,” Stafford squirmed, “You just didn’t seem to…need…it…”
“I still have feelings, Capt, um, Chris,” T’Parief said, “And part of that is a need to know that my work is appreciated. Please understand that, and quickly. Because if somebody,” he shot a dirty look at Yvonnokoff, “continues to make me talk about my feelings, I will vomit!”
“It is appreciated,” Stafford said firmly, “I’ve got one of the most unique security teams in the fleet! Nobody else has a Hazardous Team…not even the Enterprise!”
“Not sure we want to brag about that one,” Jall muttered.
Even more time later…
“Why did you agree to this anyway?” Wowryk asked, “It seems to me that you don’t really want to be here,”
“I resent that!” Stafford shot back, “If I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t be here!”
“Starfleet obviously wouldn’t let you leave!”
“Hold on, I’m confused,” Yanick cut in, “Do you mean here as in this room, or here as in this ship?”
“The ship!” Wowryk exclaimed, “None of us wanted to be here but we’re stuck with it. You just managed to get the highest rank!”
“Listen here!” Stafford snapped, “I may not have wanted this command to begin with, but we’ve put a hell of a lot of work into this ship and we’ve been through two years worth of missions together! I LIKE this ship, I LIKE this crew and I’m not going anywhere!”
There was silence around the table.
“Uh, I like it here, too,” Yanick said, rising a hand.
“I really enjoyed the battle against the Matrians,” T’Parief added.
“Perhaps,” Vonna said, “You are projecting Jeffery’s decision to leave into a general dislike of ze-“
“Will you STOP bringing that UP??” Wowryk snapped.
“It doesn’t matter, Vonna,” Stafford said, “The important thing is that we’ve realized that there’s a problem-“
“And it’s mostly your fault,” Jall cut in.
“And that we all want to work to fix it,” Stafford continued, “And if you really want to earn respect, interrupting me isn’t going to help!”
“No,” Jall agreed, “But what’s the good of having respect if your life is too dull for you to enjoy it?”
Captain’s Personal Log:
“Well, that sucked. Here I thought everything was going along great, but it turned out my senior staff was unhappy as hell and I wasn’t doing anything about. Even more disturbing, Noonan wasn’t doing anything about it. I guess I’d gotten too used to him taking care of all these little details for me, but now he’s dropped the ball just as badly as I have. I guess nobody’s perfect, but still! The guy’s a…a. Whatever he is, I kinda thought his species didn’t have problems like this.”
“I really doubt that most of these problems are going to fix themselves quickly. Dr. Wowryk, for example, is still upset. Yanick is still moody. Hell, everybody is still cranky and morale is down. Which I really should have seen sooner. But at least now we have a start at turning things around.
Stafford sat in his command chair, drumming his fingers in irritation.
“Did she tell you about this?” he asked Noonan.
“Not a word,” Noonan replied.
“I shouldn’t really be surprised, should I?” Stafford sighed.
The bridge crew was watching as, on the main viewer, Dr. Vonna spoke into her holo-cam.
“And so it eez my pleasure to bring to you zis very special edition of ‘Ze Vonna Show’,” Vonna was saying, “in which we take a close, personal look at six friendz as zey enter zeir mid-life crisis’s”
“I am SO not old enough to have a mid-life crisis!” Yanick objected.
“We’re all about thirty years short of mid-life,” Stafford agreed.
“This is humiliating,” T’Parief declared.
“We could ‘accidentally’ lose power to the subspace transceiver array,” Jall suggested.
“Naw,” Stafford said, “As long as she keeps us anonymous, let her have her fun. She’s earned it. I guess.”
“I theorize zat part of ze reason why Subject A, ze leadership role in zis case, chose to isolate himself eez because he suffers from fears of social and sexual inadequacies-“ Vonna was saying.
“Screw that!” Stafford growled