Author: Anthony Butler
Lt. Hartley watched through the transparent aluminum window of the main shuttlebay’s control tower as the runabout Rio De Janeiro glided through the yawning shuttlebay doors and drifted into the hangar, slowly settling to the deck.
“What in the hell happened to her?” Hartley asked, as the technician beside her let out a low whistle. “Call in a repair team, Danny. I’m going down there.”
The Rio De Janeiro’s airlock was already sliding open when Hartley reached the shuttledeck. Judging by a cursury look-over, Hartley could only assume that the Rio De Janeiro was in some kind of firefight. The bow was creased with a huge dent, the primary hull was pocked with scorches from what looked like plasma torpedoes, gas sputtered from breaches all over the dorsal hull, and the upper sensor pod was smashed nearly beyond recognition.
Ensign Madera stormed out, looking battered and extremely disheveled, but smelling oddly of lilac.
“I’m never going on a runabout mission again!” she cried, shoving past Hartley and exiting the shuttlebay.
“Good for you,” Hartley said disinterestedly, raising an eyebrow as Conway hobbled out of the hatch.
Stripped down to his red Starfleet turtleneck, arm in a sling, a bloody gash on his forehead, Conway limped to the deck and looked at Hartley, as if for the first time. “Tell the captain we finished the mission. I convinced the people of Bralon Two to continue trading with the Federation. Yee hah.”
“What’s with Ensign Madera?”
“That’s a long story,” Conway said, hobbling out of the shuttlebay.
Hartley stood there by the runabout, watching Conway leave, as the repair crew hurried in to begin work on the Rio De Janeiro.
After surveying the damage, Ensign Ryan Stuart approached Hartley. “Did you find out what happened?”
Hartley shrugged. “I’ve got a weird feeling about this, Ryan. I’m not sure either of us want to know what happened.”
Captain Andy Baxter arched an eyebrow at Hartley’s recently filed status report on the Rio De Janeiro, shifting uncomfortably in the command chair. “Lt. J’hana, what’s this I hear about the Rio De Janeiro getting attacked during the mission to Bralon Two?”
“We believe it was a hit and run Leeramar attack, sir,” J’hana said, glowering from behind her terminal.
“This has got to stop. Now they’re pushing into a wholly different sector,” Baxter said, studying a stellar cartography mapon his chairarm, which detailed the Rio De Janeiro’s route. “I want Commander Conway and Ensign Madera to report up here as soon as they can so we can debrief them on the attack.”
“I have already contacted both of them in order to assemble a tactical report. Neither have replied to my communications.”
“That’s odd,” Baxter said, as Counselor Peterman stepped out of the forward turbolift. He stood and circled around to the tactical console. “Computer, locate Commander Conway.”
“Commander Conway is in Sickbay.”
“Must’ve been injured in the attack,” Baxter mused. “That must be why he’s not answering. What about Ensign Madera?”
“Ensign Madera is in turbolift car four, en route to the bridge,” replied the computer.
“Good,” Baxter said. “Someone that can tell me what the hell happened aboard the Rio De Janeiro.”
“What happened to the Rio De Janeiro?” Peterman asked, stepping up beside Baxter at the tactical console.
Baxter grimaced. “That’s what I’m trying to find out, hon.”
Just then, the doors to the aft turbolift swooshed open and Ensign Madera drifted out.
Baxter stepped toward her. “Ah, Ensign Madera. How about we go in the conference room and talk about this Leer–”
As if Baxter wasn’t there at all, Madera passed by and launched herself at Peterman.
On instinct, J’hana went for the phaser that was holstered under her panel, but immediately recognized the attack as a simple, though rather sickening, hug.
Madera squeezed Peterman with all her might, bursting into an uncontrollable flow of sobs.
Taken aback, Peterman just sort of stood there. She would have stroked Madera’s hair or something, but her arms were clenched at her sides as a result of the hug.
“Uh, Ensign…Susan…it’s okay,” Peterman said uneasily.
“No, no, no, it’s not okay…it’ll never be okay again!”
“What’s she on about?” Baxter asked, walking over.
“I SLEPT WITH COMMANDER CONWAY!” Madera blurted out, burying her head in Peterman’s shoulder.
Everyone on the bridge collectively grimaced.
“Dear God,” Baxter gasped.
“We need to get down to my office…” Peterman said, ushering Madera over to the turbolift. “Where there are texts on this sort of thing. What am I saying? There are no texts on this sort of thing.”
Baxter scrubbed a hand over his face, retreating to the command chair. “Do what you can for her, Kelly.”
“I’m not a miracle worker, Andy,” Peterman replied, as the doors sealed shut in front of her and Madera.
“How’s the leg now?” Dr. Browning asked cheerily, as she Conway’s condition on the biobed readout.
“It’s healing quite nicely,” Conway muttered. “It would have felt better if you’d fixed it half an hour ago, before having lunch.”
“A good doctor should eat regularly,” Browning explained.
“Then you must be the greatest doctor in the galaxy.”
Browning grinned. “Why thank you, Commander. So, how did your trip to Bralon go?”
“Fine. We got them to agree to our trade demands. Why do you care?”
“I’m just trying to have a nice bedside manner, Commander. People keep saying that’s important,” Browning said, shoving a hypospray into Conway’s arm. “There, that should help with the pain.”
“You’re oh-so-kind,” Conway deadpanned, shoving off the biobed.
Nurse Holly Carter approached Browning as Conway headed out of Sickbay. “What, no threats to report you to Starfleet Medical this time?”
Browning shrugged. “Guess not. I suppose his heart just isn’t in it.”
“He did seem a little too nice this time. Think he’s mellowed?”
“That would be a welcome change.”
“Does that mean you really think he’s becoming nicer?”
Peterman handed Madera a cup of Bajoran herbal tea and sat down across from her. “How’s that, Susan?”
Madera leaned back on Peterman’s fainting couch and sipped at the tea gingerly, drawing her legs under her. “A little better.”
“Now,” Peterman said, pulling out a padd. “How about we go through what happened as thouroughly as possible.”
“You want it all?” Madera asked warningly.
Peterman wrinkled her nose. “Uh…no, of course not. Leave out whatever details you feel…I don’t need to know.”
Madera pulled in a long breath. “Right. Well. The mission went exactly as planned. The Bralon authorities agreed to market the Federation petunia plants at their yearly gardening festival, and we agreed to distribute their processed meat product at starbases throughout the sector, and we were on our way.”
“And?” Peterman asked, leaning forward eagerly.
Madera bit her lip. “And…”
ONE DAY AGO
“We’re underway, Commander,” Ensign Madera said, ducking into the aft compartment of the runabout Rio De Janeiro. “We’ll rendez-vous with the Explorer in a little under eight hours.”
“Good,” Conway said, intent on his Tom Clancy novel. When he sensed that she hadn’t returned to the cockpit yet, he put his book down and looked up at her. “Something else?”
Madera seemed thoughtful. “Do you know Kris Larkin well?”
Conway returned to his book. “No.”
“She seems to have taken quite a liking to Mr. Richards. They’re on the comm together all the time.”
“And how do you know that?”
“Oh, I’m in Engineering every now and then. I drift by his office, happen to look in his window. Stuff like that.”
“So you spy on him. I’ll have to remember that when it comes time for your personnel review.”
“It’s not like that at all!” Madera cried. “Here I am trying to have a pleasant conversation with you and all you can do is threaten to write me up!”
“Sounds to me like you’re just grilling me for information.”
“Not at all. I just thought you’d understand my point of view. You know, someone who’s been jilted by a lover.”
“I know Dr. Crusher hasn’t responded to any of your communications in the last week. We can only assume that you’ve scared her off and now she’s avoiding you.”
“Damn, you’re nosey,” Conway muttered, trying to continue reading his book.
“I’m just trying to make pleasant conversation.”
“Then talk to me about something other than the love life of one of the crew, or my love life for that matter. Or better yet, go up front and make sure we’re still on course.” Conway continued reading, then turned around again when he realized Madera still hadn’t gone. “Do you have a problem, Ensign?”
“You’re right. I shouldn’t be talking to you about this,” Madera said, working her fingers nervously. “I really need to talk to Counselor Peterman.”
Something seemed to click behind Conway’s eyes. He perked up and immediately swung out of his upper bunk. “What could you possibly benefit from talking to that loopy space cadet?”
Peterman blinked. “He said that?”
“Well, something like that,” Madera said, sipping tea. “I don’t remember the exact wording. I’ve been through an intense trauma…”
“Right. Go on.” Peterman tried to appear concerned, but at the moment she was really pissed at Commander Conway.
“Anyway, I was concerned about Kris and Chris getting together, and since you weren’t there, I decided to talk to Commander Conway about it.”
“Mistake number one.”
Madera nodded. “But not the last. He wasn’t very helpful…”
“What do you see in that lanky art-nut, anyway?” Conway asked, leaning easily against the aft compartment’s conference table. “There are better men to be had on the Explorer.”
“Like who?” Madera asked suspiciously.
Conway grinned. “Like me.”
Madera backed toward the cockpit. “Maybe I should just wait and talk to Counselor Peterman when we get back to the ship.”
“Wait, don’t go so soon. You wanted to have a pleasant conversation. Let’s have one.”
“No,” Madera said, ducking between the doors to the cockpit. “I’d better check our course, like you said. I think we’re heading into an asteroid field or something.”
Conway followed Madera into the cockpit, jumping back when she unexpectedly let out a whoop of shock.
“I’m here if you need me, Ensign,” Conway said, flashing Madera his most competent smile.
Madera rolled her eyes and stabbed a finger at the forward viewport. “Look!”
Conway followed Madera’s finger and immediately swallowed a gulp of fear. “That’s a Leeramar interceptor ship.”
Madera swung behind the pilot’s chair and immediately brought up the shields and spun the Rio De Janeiro around. “Not quite the size of their battleships, but more than a match for us.”
Conway hopped into the seat beside Madera and began tapping at the communication panel. “I’ll send out a distress call.”
He reached to his left, gently brushing Madera’s hand as she attempted to outmaneuver the approaching Leeramar ship.
She glared at Conway. “Would you mind not making advances on me while we’re under attack?”
“It was purely incidental, Ensign,” Conway said, grimacing at the communication report. “Damn. They’re jamming our communications.”
“They’re arming weapons,” Madera said worriedly.
“Well, this thing has quantum torpedoes doesn’t it? Turn us around. We’ll fight.”
Madera glared again. “Are you kidding me?”
“We can’t outrun them, can we?”
“Not in our dreams.”
“No convenient nebulae or planets nearby, am I right?”
Madera sighed. “You’re right.”
“Okay, then.” Conway cracked his knuckles. “Don’t worry one bit, Ensign. I’ve operated one or two tac panels in my day. We’ll be okay. You just keep us moving.”
“Right…” Madera said, as the first volleys of plasma torpedoes emerged from the interceptor.
“It was a slaughter,” Madera said matter-of-factly. “They’d fractured our hull and decimated our shields in minutes. So much for Conway’s skill at tactical.”
“Why would he call me a space cadet?” Peterman said thoughtfully. “I thought our relationship had finally progressed a bit.”
“Are you listening to me?” Madera asked angrily.
Peterman cleared her thoughts. “Uh…slaughter, shields decimated. What next?”
“Well, you know how the Leeramar are so reclusive…how they’ve totally cut themself off from interaction with humans ever since your husband, uh…”
“Sneezed on their leader.”
“Right. Anyway, I was at least a little curious to see what the inside of a Leeramar ship looked like, since no human has ever been aboard a Leeramar ship.”
Peterman gasped. “So they brought you aboard their ship once the shields went down?”
“Yep.” Madera took another deep breath. “And let me tell you, it was not at all what I expected…”
“Shoes off!” the Leeramar guard shouted as soon as Conway and Madera materialized in the Leeramar transporter room.
Madera surveyed the transporter room. It wasn’t half as gloomy as the Leeramar ships looked from the outside. As a matter of fact, it was downright…cheerful.
The walls were papered in bright blue and white checker patterns, the deck covered in thick, shaggy, white carpet. And the transporter console bleeped pleasantly, draped in a frilly white doiley.
“What is this place?” Conway asked from beside Madera, surveying the room.
“I said shoes off!” the guard demanded again, shoving some sort of energy weapon against Conway’s head.
“Do what he says,” Conway said uncomfortably.
Madera undid her boots one by one, all the while looking uneasily up at the guard. She’d never seen a Leeramar. She wasn’t on duty when their autarch came aboard the Explorer to negotiate with Captain Baxter. They weren’t at all what she expected. She expected fierce, angry-looking creatures. Somewhat like the Flarn, Gorn, or Klingons.
Instead, the Leeramar looked somewhat delicate. They were thin, frail creatures, all cloaked in fuzzy sweaters and pants that resembled something in khaki. Their eyes were large, round, shiny. Conteplative. And their heads were huge, oblong and smooth–grey-ish with blue highlights. They looked downright studious. Not at all the kind of aliens Madera expected would make so many agressive moves against the Federation.
“Come with me,” the guard said, once Conway and Madera had removed their boots. “And don’t touch anything!”
“We demand to speak to a Federation representative,” Conway said, as they were led out of the transporter room and down a long, bright, shag-strewn corridor.
“This carpet really feels great in between my toes,” Madera observed from behind Conway.
“Quiet,” Conway barked over his shoulder. “When held captive aboard an enemy ship, one does not compliment the enemy on their carpet!”
“And where is that written, huh?”
“Shut up and let me do the talking, Ensign,” Conway said gruffly, as he and Madera were shoved forcibly into what appeared to be some kind of detention cell.
“The Shipmaster will be down to talk to you shortly,” the guard said, activating some sort of forcefield and walking away.
“Well, isn’t this just great,” Conway muttered. “You know, this could get us killed.”
“Don’t say that!” Madera said, trembling. “I’m sure the Explorer will come looking for us.”
“Don’t be so sure. This has been the very way many of Starfleet’s best have met their end.”
Madera found a very comfortable, leathery chair in one corner of the cell and hopped into it. “You’re just trying to scare me.”
“Believe what you want,” Conway said, “but this could very well be the end for both of us.”
“He was obviously trying to woo you into submission,” Peterman said. “Calculating bastard.”
“Oh, there’s more,” Madera replied. “We sat in that cell for something like an hour. Then the captain of the ship came down to see us. She was…well, I’ll just say it. Gorgeous.”
The Leeramar captain was drenched in thick, blonde, curls that cascaded all the way down to her narrow ankles. Unlike the flat, grey skin of the male Leeramar Madera had seen, Shipmaster Klareen had shiny, blue-white, perfect skin. And she was dressed impeccably, smartly, like the other Leeramar. But Klareen looked particularly well-groomed in her matching cable-knit slacks and top, which was complimented with a stylish scarf. Something, call it instinct, told Madera that this scarf was some type of indication of Klareen’s rank.
“You smell repugnant,” she said gamely, looking Conway and Madera over with detached disgust.
“Sorry,” Conway said. “I take it you’re the boss around here?”
“I am Shipmaster. I control the Yoyoma, which is the ship we are taveling in at present.”
“Then you contact Starfleet Command immediately and let them know you have two of their officers prisoner. According to the Seldonis Four convention, interstellar prisoners of war must at least be given an opportunity to speak with a neutral representative.”
“I’m sorry,” Klareen said, not quite kindly, “but we don’t recognize any of your interstellar laws. In case you weren’t already aware of it, we’re the Leeramar. We do not have to listen to any of your inconsequential babbling.”
“Just because you’re the Leeramar?” Conway asked, his anger flaring.
“That’s correct,” Klareen replied. “We’re superior to you in every way.”
“What gives you that idea?” Conway demanded.
Klareen looked at Conway as if he was a small child. “This quadrant is troubled, and it is the mission of the Leeramar to set things right.”
“And how do you plan on doing that?” Conway asked.
“It’s not my job to explain such things. That job rests with The Great Mar.”
“Mar who?” Conway asked, arching an eyebrow.
“I can say no more. We’ll be underway in a little while. But trust me on this: your whole way of life is about to change.”
And Klareen turned around and left.
A Leeramar rushed behind her, vacuuming the rug. Another two Leeramar came by, wiping down and dusting the walls.
“It’s a race of neat freaks!” Conway exclaimed.
“Now I’ve seen it all,” Madera sighed, scrunching deeper into the comfy chair.
“But that wasn’t the worst of it,” Madera said, her voice trembling. “Not by a long shot.”
“What happened next?” Peterman asked.
“It’s…it’s too much…” Madera buried her head in her arms and began sobbing again.
Peterman moved over to the couch and wrapped an arm around the Ensign. “Come on, Susan. Let it all out.”
“Have you ever seen them wash down a Tarkalian razorbeast at the zoo?” Madera asked, between sobs.
“Well, we were the razorbeasts.”
“I want to go home!” Madera wailed, as she and Conway, stripped of their uniforms, were lowered, suspended by the wrists, into a cylindrical, smooth-walled room, under the careful observation of several Leeramar ‘cleansers.’
“Begin Cleansing,” commanded Klareen’s voice over the thrumming of the powerful machinery that buzzed to life in the circular room.
“What’s going to happen to us?” Madera asked fearfully, as the thrumming got louder and louder.
Conway wasn’t listening. “I demand to speak to a neutral representative. Haven’t you ever heard of the Dtanga Conference? The Khitomer Accords? The Federation Civil Liberties Union????”
Then jets of water surged from all directions at once, as Conway and Madera began to spin dizzily.
Or was her or the room spinning? Madera couldn’t tell anymore.
Foam spurted and bubbled around them. The water level rose, threatened to drown them.
“You’ll all be sorry for this!” Conway choked out, as water filled his mouth. “Starfleet takes care of their own!”
And foamy water enveloped the pair, as every sound was drowned out by the rush of water.
Next, Conway and Madera were sucked down into a second circular room, where they were smashed from all sides by waves of superheated air, which, understandably, caused their hair unmentionable trauma.
“I can’t feel my face!” Conway cried, clawing at the room’s vented walls. “For the love of all that’s good, make it all stop!”
And then they were sucked down through another hole in the deck, to another room where they were instructed to put on silvery, anti-germ, anti-static, anti-dust jumpsuits and instructed on the proper, thirty-two step process of waste extraction that the Leeramar expected from them, if they were to travel on a Leeramar vessel.
They were then dragged back to their cells, where a guard was nice enough to inform them that they “cleaned up rather well.”
Madera retreated back to the comfy chair, and Conway had begun figuring out how to make a bed out of the futon that lined the opposite wall of the detention cell.
Once Conway had unfolded the contraption, he sat down on it, testing the mattress. “Great bed,” he said nonchalantly.
“I’m fine in the chair,” Madera said firmly.
“Oh, come on, Ensign. We’re far from home, in an alien ship, surrounded by hostile enemies.” He pointed to the bed. “This is all we have to keep us sane.”
Madera shrunk away. “I have the chair.”
“See if that will keep you warm!”
“I’m not compromising myself just because we’re in a bad situation.”
“This isn’t just your average bad situation. Do you realize what’ll happen if we so much as…well, sneeze?”
“I don’t want to think about it.”
“They’ll rip out our mucuous membranes. Destroy our bowels, our bladders. Every single disgusting part that makes us human…they’ll root it out of us until all that’s left is clean, soulless, slabs of skin!”
“Hold yourself together, Commander!” Madera said uncomfortably.
Conway inched over to the bed. “Ensign, I’m scared.”
“I’ve still got a bit of pneumonia from Crysta. What if I sneeze?” Conway shook Madera by the shoulders. “WHAT IF I SNEEZE, DAMN IT!”
Peterman had begun biting her nails, rocking uneasily on the couch next to Madera. “It’s so obvious he was manipulating you. So what next?” she said quickly, sounding more nervous than she would have liked.
Madera shrugged. “I did it.”
“Just like that?” Peterman immediately wished she hadn’t put it that way.
“No, not ‘just like that,’” Madera said defensively. “It took a while, but I finally did give in. Maybe it was the submissive thing he had going. I thought it was cute that he was scared.”
“Conway, CUTE?” Peterman said. “I’m really going to have to re-evaluate your personality profile.”
“Please, Counselor, you have to remember that this was after two hours of repeated ‘cleansing.’ I wasn’t exactly of sound mind.”
“But you certainly were of sound body.”
“According to the Commander, anyway.”
Peterman rubbed her eyes. “This is too much.”
“Anyway, I can’t explain it, but somehow, sex was our salvation…”
Lights flared to life throughout the detention area as Leeramar guards rushed in from all sides.
“What on Leeramar are they doing?”
“Cover them! Initiate decontamination procedures!”
Klareen pushed through the crowd, then immediately shrieked, and made some sort of gesture that Conway and Madera could only assume was a curse.
“You have desecrated our ship with your foul fluids. You’ve made us all unclean! This whole crew will have to undergo cleansing for days!”
Conway yanked the covers up around him. “You know, if you don’t mind, we’d love a little privacy here.”
“What are you going to do to us?” Madera asked, jerking her silvery top and pants back on. “Are you going to kill us?”
“And cause a bigger mess?” Klareen asked frantically. “Are you insane!”
“Just asking,” Madera replied quietly.
“So what will you do with us?” Conway asked fearfully.
“It’s obvious we overestimated the threat you pose. Sneezing–that is one thing.” She gestured at the two on the futon. “This–this is quite another. We must reassess our behavior toward your Federation.”
“Is that a good thing?”
Klareen trilled a high, nervous laugh. “Hardly.”
“So they just sent you on your way?” Peterman asked in wonderment.
“Hardly,” Madera replied, mimicking Klareen’s trilling laugh. “No, Commander Conway and I were run through the cleanser again, the whole ship was bathed in an isotomic radiation field, and Klareen reported her status to the Leeramar homeworld.”
“What did they say?”
“Well,” Madera sighed, “needless to say, they weren’t happy.”
“Invading Federation territory?” Conway asked, slumping against the freshly-made futon bed. The room had been painstakingly cleaned top-to-bottom.
“That’s right,” growled the Leeramar outside the isolation field. “You’re both going to witness the beginning of a great war. Wiping out the blight of the Federation.”
“Bite me!” Conway snapped back. He looked to Madera for support, but she was curled in a corner, rocking back and forth nervously.
“It’ll never be okay again…” she kept repeating over and over.
“Anyway, just thought I’d let you know,” the snappily- dressed Leeramar said, heading away. “Say goodbye to your precious Federation.”
“We’ve got to do something,” Conway whispered, nudging Madera’s shoulder. “Hear me, Ensign? We have to stop them so we can warn Starfleet before the Federation is invaded.”
“Please tell me I didn’t have sex with you,” Madera pleaded.
“Oh, come on! It wasn’t that bad!”
Madera sunk her head back into her arms. “Oh, it was, it was!”
“Snap out of it, Ensign!” Conway barked, slapping Madera hard across the face. “That’s an order! Now, we’ve got a job to do.”
“He slapped you!” Peterman exclaimed. “Why, that little…”
“He got his in the end, Counselor, don’t worry about that,” Madera said. “I still haven’t told you how we got off the Yoyoma.”
“It’s time for your dinner,” said the guard, deactivating the protective field around Conway and Madera’s cell and stepping throuh.
“Great,” Conway said, reaching for the tray. “I–ah–ah– ah!” he held his nose. “Whew! Almost sneezed.”
“Don’t scare me like that!” exclaimed the guard, turning away.
“CHOOOOO!” Conway replied, spraying snot all over the guard’s back.
“Ahhhhh!” screamed the guard, stumbling. “Someone help me!”
Conway charged forward, tackling the guard to the ground and reaching for the weapon holstered at his side.
Another guard rushed to his companion’s aid, but Conway brought the plasma rifle up to bear.
The guard under Conway had lost conciousness just from the sheer shock of it all, and he reached up to grab the guard by the shirt. “I haven’t even had a cup of coffee yet today, you alien son of a bitch!” Conway tossed his plasma rifle to Madera and slung an arm around the guard.. “Okay, skinny, let’s get to the bridge.”
“You’re sweating on me!” the guard cried.
“That’s the idea,” Conway said merrily, reaching back into the depths of his throat and hacking up the largest loogie possible on the carpet in the Leeramar ship’s corridor.
“See if they try to follow me now!”
“You sick bastard!” cried the guard. “That’s not even stainmaster!”
“Too bad. Come on, Madera.”
Madera shakily swung her rifle around to see if anyone was following. For good measure, she dragged the butt of the rifle along the polished formica bulkhead, causing a shrieking sound that made the guard shudder.
“That’ll take days to fix!” he cried.
Conway ripped curtains, overturned endtables, and blasted sofas as the group marched toward the turbolift. “That’s the idea!”
“Oh, our precious ship,” cried the guard, as Conway dragged him into the turbolift.
“You guys are way to easy to beat,” he muttered. “Stand up for yourselves.”
“You know,” replied Madera. “This is probably going to wreak hell with our diplomatic record.”
“You’ll all die for this!” intoned the guard.
Conway bashed him in the face with his rifle. “Shut up!”
They exploded onto the bridge, firing plasma rifles at the scattered Leeramar operating the many stations.
Klareen stood from her command chair, a stylish post-modern forest green leather chaise. “You nasty little creeps! What are you doing on my bridge!”
“It’s our bridge now, sister,” said Conway, putting aside his rifle to examine the Yoyoma’s forward station. “Now. Help us pilot this ship or die.”
“I’d rather die.”
Madera pointed her plasma rifle at the command chair. “Help us, or we’ll blast apart your chair.”
“Fine!” shrieked Klareen, storming down to the front station. “The thruster controls are here. That takes us into warp. That programs our course and speed.”
Conway cracked his knuckles. “Excellent. Now go show Madera how to flood this ship with gas or something to knock out your crew. We don’t want to have a mutiny on our hands.”
“So we made our way to rendez-vous with you guys, slowly, because the Commander wasn’t half as skilled at piloting the Leeramar ship as he let on.”
Peterman’s nose wrinkled. “Okay, then why did you show up in the Rio De Janeiro and not a Leeramar vessel?”
“Well, that’s where the ride gets bumpy…”
“You know, this is a damn comfortable chair,” remarked Commander Conway, swinging back and forth in Klareen’s huge chair as the Yoyoma warped toward Federation space.
“And you’re getting your blasted oils all over it,” remarked Klareen from beside him.
“You know, that shtick gets pretty old after awhile,” Conway said. “When will you learn that oils and sweat are just part of our existence. If used in the right amounts, they can even be rewarding.” Conway glanced at Madera, who was manning helm. “Right, Ensign?”
Madera shivered. “Don’t talk to me, Commander.”
“Oh, what’s wrong,” Conway said, moving out of the chair and joining Madera at the large, curved array of lights and controls at the front of the Yoyoma’s bridge. “You didn’t have fun with me last night?”
“Fun is not the word for it.”
“Human sex, how disgusting,” scoffed Klareen.
“You don’t know what you’re missing, baby,” Conway cooed. He looked down at Madera. “Come on, admit it. It wasn’t THAT bad, was it?”
“Oh, it was.”
Conway folded his arms. “You’re being such a bitch, you know that? Just admit you had a good time with me. So I’m not beautiful Brian Gellar,” Conway rolled his eyes. “I’m still not a bad catch.”
“Oh, I don’t believe this. You’re a piece of work, Ensign, you know that?”
That’s when Klareen rushed Conway; cautious to do the least damage to her ship possible, she slammed his head into the unbreakable durotanium surface of the helm console, dragged him backward and snapped his arm with a sickening crack.
“Turn the ship over to me!” Klareen shrieked, her cascades of curls fluttering around her face.
Madera ducked away from Klareen as she rushed the helm, tapping buttons.
“I can’t believe she broke my arm!” Conway grumbled, staring at the loosely swinging appendage as he slumped to the ground.
“We’ll breaking more than that soon,” Klareen growled. “Just wait.”
Madera pushed Klareen away from the helm, trying to once again get control. What was that on the navigational sensors, anyway? She couldn’t read Leeramar writing, but the formation looked like a large field of nearly moon-sized asteroids.
Klareen shoved Madera away from the helm, but the young ensign mounted the Leeramar, ripping at her beautiful locks.
“You’re destroying the shape and hold!” Klareen screamed, biting Madera’s arm and slinging her over her shoulder, slamming her onto the helm panel. While the console was made of an unbreakable alloy, the panel itself was quite breakable.
The Leeramar electrics sizzled under Madera, exploding with a hideous sizzle and pop. That sent the ship spinning dizzily out of warp.
Then the Yoyoma bucked like a bronco, and asteroids flung forward on the screen.
“Look what you’ve done to us now!” shrieked Klareen. “You’ve killed us all!”
“You’re the one that slammed me into the panel!” Madera moaned, rolling to the ground and shoving Conway. “Commander! Pull yourself together! Now’s not the time to come apart!”
Conway winced. “I can’t believe she broke my arm.”
Then the Yoyoma slammed into something. The sound of rock raking the bottom of the hull shrieked through the bridge.
Klareen looked around fearfully. “It’s ripping through our three pristine coats of blue paint! Curse you, Conway, you’re wrecking this ship!”
“Don’t go blaming this on me!”
Madera dragged herself up to the helm panel and stared at the screen. They were heading right for one of those moon-shaped asteroids. Ripping at the wires and circuits inside the helm panel, she searched for the controls that would activate the thrusters.
Miraculously, she restored a connection and the Yoyoma veered to port, narrowly avoiding one large rock and slamming right into the one next to it.
“Warning: The ship is beyond cleaning. Structural integrity is at fourteen percent, furniture and wall coverings are a total loss, and the paint job has suffered massively,” said the Yoyoma computer. “Hence, self-distruct has been activated. Leave the ship or be permanently cleansed in ten minutes.”
Madera shimmied out from under a fallen support beam, clearing strings of hair from her face. “Commander!”
“Urggg…” Conway mumbled.
“You okay?” she asked quickly.
“That bitch broke my arm.”
“Get over it,” Madera said, helping Conway to his feet. “You’ll be all right.”
“She’s stronger than she looks.”
“Believe me, I know.” Madera glanced at Klareen. “Listen, we have to get out of here. This ship’s about to blow!”
Klareen’s eyes fluttered open to find that she had stumbled back into her soft, forgiving chair. She also noticed a shard of formica had fallen from the ceiling and embedded itself uncomfortably in her thigh.
She wrenched it free. “Oh, would you look at that.”
Madera dragged Conway toward the turbolift. “Come on, Commander. We have to go.”
“She’s not bleeding!” Conway exclaimed, as Madera pulled him into the turbolift.
Klareen grinned evilly, arranging her hair in a tidy bun. “Leeramar don’t bleed.”
“It was a chase through the corridors of the Yoyoma, as life support and structural integrity began breaking down,” Madera said. “Apparently, Klareen was able to get down through the bridge by way of some sort of Jeffries’ tube. Anyway, we managed to outrun her and get to the Rio De Janeiro just before the ship blew.”
Peterman nodded thoughtfully, pouring food into Charlie’s dish. “Keep going, Ensign. I’m listening. Come on boy, eat up, eat up good!”
“Can we get the mains operational?” Conway asked, hunched over Madera’s shoulder as she fretted over the Rio De Janeiro’s engines.
“Sure,” Madera said. “They left us with enough engine to make it back to Federation space. Maybe even to rendez-vous with the Explorer.”
Conway fell into the chair beside Madera. “Thank goodness. I knew we’d get out of this.”
“That’s why you were screaming ‘we’re all gonna die’ the whole way down the corridor?”
“Forget you heard that, Ensign? Okay? Don’t tell ANYONE about that!”
Madera smiled. “Sure.”
“What a little sissy,” Peterman giggled.
“Yeah, I know. Anyway, we made it back here in one piece. But I don’t doubt that the Federation will be hearing from the Leeramar shortly.”
Peterman ran her hands through her hair. “That is a problem.”
“I can’t believe you had sex with Commander Conway.”
“Counselor, I really think there are worse problems at hand.”
“Then why did you come to me in the first place?” Peterman said weakly.
“I dunno. I guess to get all that off my chest. I feel a little better now.”
“Good for you. I feel like crap.”
“So should I expect us to be going to war soon?”
“Well, all I know is that the Leeramar aren’t too fond of the Explorer in particular,” Madera said. “Who knows what they’ll do. You know more about obsession and compulsion than I do.”
“I guess we’ll just have to wait things out and see what happens,” Peterman said, still reeling with disgust over the Conway sex thing. Crusher was one thing–she didn’t live aboard the Explorer. “How are you going to deal with Commander Conway now?”
“I don’t know. How do you deal with the captain?”
Peterman blinked. “You are NOT marrying him.”
“Heck, no. I’m not even going to date him. Or do anything else with him, for that matter.”
“Good idea,” Peterman said. “No, great idea.”
“Thanks for listening, Counselor.”
Peterman waffled. “That’s…what I’m here for.”
Madera headed out of the office and Peterman slumped back in her chair. “Woo boy.”
“Thanks for listening,” Commander Conway said, stepping out of Baxter’s readyroom and stretching. He looked around the bridge. “Wow, I didn’t realize we’d been talking so long. Delta shift is already over.”
“How about that,” Baxter said, scanning the bridge and sighing. Conway’d been blabbing all evening, and he was sapped from it. It was so easy to talk to Browning, Peterman, and Richards. And talking to the other crew wasn’t so bad either. But talking to Conway, especially about love, gave Baxter the heebie-jeebies. And there was more than that–the Leeramar gave him the heebie-jeebies, too. Conway and Madera’s weird voyage would no doubt lead to some very hard–and very bizarre–days ahead.
“There you are.” Peterman looked up from her padd–a copy of Chapter One Counselor Troi’s new book “Mommie Dearest: The Electra Complex in Betazoid Familial Circles.”
Baxter unzipped his uniform tunic and began the long process of stripping to his t-shirt and Starfleet insignia boxers. “I had a long chat with Commander Conway.”
“No kidding. I had a conversation of my own with Madera. Can you believe it?”
“What, you mean the bit about the Leeramar having a personal vendetta out against us now?”
“No–the bit about Conway and Madera.”
“Oh, sure,” Baxter said. “She’s a bit of a temptress, isn’t she?”
“SHE!” Peterman exclaimed. “Andy, Conway as much as forced himself on her. I’m almost tempted to bring fraternization charges up against him.”
“Funny,” Baxter said. “I got a whole different story from Conway.”
Peterman tossed her padd aside and folded her arms. “No doubt.”
“What, you’re so quick to believe the woman’s side of the story without even conceeding that there MIGHT be two sides? How primative.”
“Primative? You’re the one backing up your buddy Dave, knowing that he’s the bastard in all this.”
“Dave…er, Commander Conway is not my buddy. I’m his captain, so I listened to his stupid story about the Leeramar. And, from a detached perspective, I can tell you I think Madera was a little pushy about them having sex to get out of the Leeramar prison.”
“It was Conway who suggested it! And how dare you say you have a detached perspective!”
Baxter hunkered down under the bedsheets. “Well, we have no flight recorder footage to support either of them, so I guess we’ll never know.”
“You know,” Peterman said, settling down a bit, “we were always taught at the academy that there are two sides to every story, and usually neither of them are right.”
Baxter closed his eyes. “That’s never been more true than in this case, I think.”
“So what do we do about the two of them?”
“I haven’t the slightest, and frankly, I think we have more important things to worry about, like the Leeramar.”
“So we just let them sort things out by themselves?”
“Brilliant. I can’t wait to see how that turns out.”
The next day, Commander Conway arrived on the bridge, coming face to face with Ensign Madera.
“Excuse me, sir,” she said, side-stepping him to duck into the turbolift.
“Hold on,” Conway said, taking her arm. “We need to settle something.”
Conway gestured between them. “This!”
“Come on–” Conway dragged Madera toward the readyroom.
“You’re not going to try to have sex with me again, are you?”
“Very funny. Come on.”
Conway stormed into the readyroom, where Baxter was busily thumping a tiny football through the goalposts in his scale model of Texas Stadium.
“Hey!” Baxter exclaimed. “You can’t just barge in here!”
“Personal business, sir.”
“Use the conference room!”
“J’hana’s spread out in there cleaning the phaser rifles.”
“Use the bathroom.”
Baxter narrowed his eyes. “There are nearly forty decks on this ship, Conway. Hundreds upon hundreds of rooms. Why do you have to pick MY special room to sort out your little problems in?”
“Because it happens to be close.” Conway edged in closer. “And because it’s neutral territory.”
Baxter threw his hands up in resignation. “Fine, I’ll get out of here.”
“I’m sure your piles of work can wait,” Conway mocked, as Baxter headed out onto the bridge.
“Just don’t touch anything!”
Madera sat down on Baxter’s desk. “Okay. What?”
Conway paced the area in front of the desk. “All right. Am I crazy, or was there some chemistry there on that Leeramar ship?”
Madera burst into laughter. “Chemistry? If you mean between us, I sincerely doubt it.”
“You didn’t think–” Conway gestured weakly. “THAT–was fun?”
“Oh, it was all right. Not a rollercoaster ride, or anything.”
“Sheesh, why not just blow me out an airlock and get this overwith.”
Madera rolled her eyes. “Commander, when I left on that mission to Bralon Two, I was still a little confused about Mr. Richards.”
“Now I’m not confused. Now I realize that I’d rather be celibate than date any man on this ship.”
“You like Lt. Gellar, don’t you?”
“Okay, I’d rather be celibate than have Lt. Hartley beam me into a duranium wall.”
“But I’m not going to date you, if that’s what you’re hinting around about. Besides the fact that you’re my commanding officer, there’s also the matter of that chemistry you talked about. That matter being that there is none.”
“Oh, don’t be all hurt about it. We were both confused about someone else and had some time to clear our minds. Sure, we almost died, and sure, I sort of find you repulsive now that I really think about it, but what’s done is done, right?”
“Things were so much easier with the symbiont.”
“Sorry, Commander. Things will look up for you.”
“Sure they will. Dismissed.”
A worried look crossed Madera’s face. “I’m not going to end up in Inventory because of this, am I?”
“Nah. Go on, get out of here.”
Madera turned on a heel and left the readyroom. Conway studied the window behind Baxter’s desk for a few brief moments, then pounded Baxter’s model of Texas Stadium to pieces, including all the little Dallas Cowboys players.
On leaving the readyroom, Conway patted Baxter on the back. “Thanks, Captain. I owe you a stadium.”
“What–” Baxter said, hurrying in to the readyroom as Conway stepped into the aft turbolift.
Conway grinned as the doors shut and he heard Baxter’s pained cry. “No, Troy, noooooooooooooo!”
The Captain was crushed, as was his stadium, and all the little players within.
So things weren’t all bad.
Are the Directors messing with Lt. Hartley’s dreams? It certainly seems so, if the disturbing dreams she’s been having about a certain Maloxian bartender are any indication. What do those pesky Directors want from her? And does it involve time- travel? Maybe! Find out in “Rapid Eye Movement!”