Author: Anthony Butler
PREVIOUSLY, ON “STAR TRAKS: THE VEXED GENERATION”:
Counselor Peterman became the recipient of some bad news when Dr. Browning announced to her that she had special warm and snuggly romantic feelings for Commander Conway, who every- one knows is a first-rate schmuck.
AND NOW, THE CONTINUATION OF “ALLY McBEAL,” I MEAN, “STAR TRAKS: THE VEXED GENERATION”:
Stardate 54417.6. It’s been ten days since my patient, Janet, has expressed her feelings to me about her fellow officer, Commander Donaway. Since Commander Donaway is a first-rate jerk and a half, it is my reccomendation that Janet not come near him with a ten foot tractor beam. She is, so far, receptive to my suggestions. I think I’m making real progress.
“I think you’re full of crap!” Chief Medical Officer Janice Browning said, kneading one of Peterman’s pillows in her lap. She was curled up on the counselor’s fainting couch.
Counselor Kelly Peterman blinked. “Janice…you’ve never said anything like that to me ever before! What’s gotten into you? Is this…wave of lust you’re feeling turning you into an agressive hate machine?”
“Hah, don’t be silly,” Browning said. “I just think your irrational dislike of Commander Conway is clouding your judgment on this. I’m not asking your permission, here. Don’t you see I just want to know how to deal with these feelings?”
“And I told you how to deal with these feelings. Get rid of them!”
“You’re not looking out for my best interests, Kelly. You’re just thinking about yourself.”
“Now who’s being silly? It’s in my job description to look out for your best interests.”
“Well start acting like it!”
Peterman leaned back in her chair and sighed. “Jeeze, Janice. We’re having our first fight, aren’t we?”
“And who here needs counseling?”
“Three and a half years, and we’ve never fought once. Now a man is coming in between us!”
“So to speak,” Browning said. “Listen, I know this decision of mine is not going to sit well with a few people…”
“Andy will freak out, you realize.”
“If he’s my friend, he’ll understand.”
“Don’t be so sure.”
Browning tossed her pillow across the room. “I can’t go around making choices just to make other people happy! Is that really what you want me to do?”
Peterman sniffed, fighting the urge to say “yes.” “Hmm. I guess not.”
“This might be a huge mistake. But it’s my mistake to make.”
After a few moments of silence, Peterman nodded. She took Browning’s hands in hers. “Janice, I wish you the best of luck. I’ll even be your Bride’s Maid.”
Browning stood up. “Now let’s not get carried away here.”
“That was just the response I was hoping for,” Peterman giggled, and walked Browning to the door to her office. “So. Off to go…” Peterman made a disgusted face. “Make some romance happen with Commander…ugh, oh God, Conway?”
“No, but thanks for the support,” Browning said. “I’m off to pick up Plato from school.”
“Just that your competition is teaching your son. Isn’t that a bit odd?”
“I don’t like to think of her as competition.” Browning smiled wistfully. “I like to think of her as old news. Anyway, off I go!”
Peterman smiled weakly as she watched Browning leave. Not for the first time in her counseling carreer, she felt like she was way in over her head.
“He’s getting along with the kindergarteners very well,” Tyra Shar said, as she and Dr. Browning watched Plato and the other children play through the observation window in Shar’s office. “The only disadvantage Plato has is that he’s not quite talking yet. We get a few mumbled words out of him, but nothing solid. His only really disruptive behavior is that he keeps suctioning on to all the furniture.”
“That is a problem,” Browning said. “Well, I’ve been trying to talk to him as much as possible. You know, I tell him about my day, current events, the political situation on Earth…”
“Have you thought about reading him children’s stories?” suggested Tyra.
“No, actually. Do you think he’d like that?”
“Most children do.”
“No kidding. I’m going to give that a try.”
“Great. Well, let me just go wedge him out of the swingamagig.”
Right after Tyra ducked out into the play room, the opposite door opened and Commander David Conway stepped in with a bouquet of flowers.
“Hey, Tyra, guess what I’ve–” Conway stopped short when he saw Browning. “Whoops.”
“Commander,” Browning said. She decided to play dumb. “What are those for?”
Conway shrugged. “Uh, um…they’re for you.”
Browning grinned. “No kidding?”
“Yeah, yeah. I, uh, got them for you to express my sincere thanks.”
“For…” Conway was obviously reaching deep into his brain. “For when you lanced that boil on my back last week!”
“Well, isn’t that sweet!” Browning said, and graciously took the flowers.
“Don’t mention it.” Conway’s expression turned to one of panic when Tyra Shar walked in with Plato glued on top of her head.
“Doctor, here’s your…oh, Commander Conway!”
“Ms. Shar. Just here to deliver these flowers to Dr. Browning.”
“To Dr. Browning?” Tyra asked, as Browning struggled to yank Plato off her head.
“Yes, for lancing that boil on my back last week.”
“That was nice of her,” Tyra said. Finally, with a THONK! Plato came loose and Browning tucked him over her shoulder, and tucked the bunch of flowers under her arm.
“All in a day’s work,” the doctor said sheepishly. “Thanks again, Commander. Just let me know if you get another boil…or anything else…” She grinned and walked out.
Once Browning was gone, Tyra smouldered. “Those were MY flowers!”
“WERE your flowers,” Conway muttered, staring at the door. He quickly turned back to Tyra. “I’ll get you some more.”
“Don’t trouble yourself,” Tyra muttered. “Besides, I’d have a hard time explaining to Jenna exactly how I got them.”
“You’d think of something.”
“She’s getting suspicious,” Tyra said, shuffling some padds on her desk. “The excuse that I’m teaching a night kindergarten class is beginning to get old.”
“I thought it was a great idea.”
“Yes, well, I think we’d better be a little more careful. If Jenna finds out, I’ll be in big trouble. To say nothing of the kind of trouble you’ll be in.” She sneered threateningly as she said this.
Conway rubbed his chin. “I always thought of the Trill as a warm, friendly people.”
“Think again,” Tyra muttered. She glanced out the window. “Crap. I’ve got to go. Bruce Kamtezen is trying to eat a potted plant again.”
“Don’t they eat foliage on Bewhal?” Conway asked.
Tyra grimaced. “Yes, but he’s half human. Don’t you have work of your own to do? Or do you just walk around the damn ship looking lovestruck all day long?”
Conway blinked. “Well, then, I’ll just be going.” As he headed out of Tyra’s office, he considered that she didn’t really have the temperment for dealing with children. Then again, he was really no expert on it either.
“I’m telling you, Andy, this crewmember is going to get into a whole bunch of trouble. She’s in way over the head with this guy,” Peterman said, as Captain Baxter hunched over the tiny ionic stove in their kitchenette.
“You don’t say,” Baxter said, and tossed some spices into the pan. “I’ve got a question. Why aren’t you telling me who this person is? You’ve never seemed to care about confidentiality before. Why start now?”
Peterman fought with a napkin, leaning her elbows on the kitchen table. “It’s a sensitive issue.”
Baxter carefully carried the pan over and sat it in the middle of the dinner table. “Is it someone I know?”
“No, it sure isn’t,” Peterman said. “Now what is this?”
“Yellow rice and chicken.”
“Then why is the rice brown?”
“Because I cooked it too long.” Baxter scooped big globs of sticky rice onto Peterman’s plate. “Janice’s recipe was a little hard to follow.”
“No kidding.” Peterman stabbed her fork into the gloppy mess and tried to turn it around. “What’s with this sudden urge to learn to cook, anyway?”
“Maybe I’m just trying to better myself. You know, expand my horizons?”
“Or maybe I’m just sick of people reccomending things that make me get drunk or have psychotic episodes.” Baxter slumped into his chair. “Either way, what fun.”
Peterman took a tentative bite and chewed, and chewed, and chewed.
“Well?” Baxter asked expectantly.
“Mmm…” Peterman choked the sticky substance down. “Great.”
The next day, Counselor Peterman stumbled into her office, tossing back a special fizzy substance Nurse Wilcox had insured her would stop her stomach from aching. Andy’s rice dish really did a number on her.
Even worse, she had an appointment first thing in the morning. In mere minutes, Lt. Kamtezen was about to waltz in complaining about his kid, and how his ex-wife wanted more custody, and how they argued over human versus Bewhal ways of raising him, et cetera, et cetera. Just what she needed, when in fact Peterman wanted to focus all her energies on finding a way to steer Janice as far away from Commander Conway as possible.
She slumped behind her desk and stared blankly at the wall across from it. What was she to do? And why was she so concerned about Browning’s relationship anyway? Was it really any of her business?
Of course it was her business. Janice was a crewmember of the Explorer, and as such, her happiness was Peterman’s top priority. Commander Conway could not possibly make her happy, so she therefore absolutely must not get involved with Commander Conway. It was imminently logical.
Peterman sighed. “Come.”
Lt. Kamtezen stepped through the door to her office. “Good morning, Counselor.”
“Good morning, Lieutenant,” Peterman said tiredly. She called up Kamtezen’s file. “Problems with your ex-wife, Bewhal versus human beliefs, custody. Does that about cover it?”
“In so many words, I suppose it does,” Kamtezen said as he took a seat in front of Peterman’s desk. “Look, aren’t I supposed to lay down on the fainting couch over there or something?”
“Not today,” Peterman sighed. She didn’t feel up to the whole Freud routine for some reason. “Well, spill it, Lieutenant. Tell me where it hurts.”
“Forgive me, Counselor, but you don’t seem all that interested in my problem,” replied the orange-skinned scaly engineer.
“Oh, sure I am,” Peterman mumbled. “You really want your kid. Your ex-wife wants him, too. Its a common situation.”
“Maybe so,” agreed Kamtezen. “But you have no idea what it’s like. Have you ever been divorced?”
Peterman rolled that thought around in her mind, not for the first time. “Eventually.”
“Well, I don’t see how you can help me. You have no idea what it’s like to be divorced, or to be a single parent. And you don’t seem to care.”
“I care,” Peterman said, then her eyes lit up. “That’s it!”
“You know how I can get total custody? Or convince Clara to let me ritually pierce Bruce’s nipples?”
“No, but you should talk to a lawyer about that first thing, and make a separate appointment with me about the second one. I don’t have a solution to any of your problems, Mr. Kamtezen, but I do have a way you might get some help.”
“Really?” The engineer brightened.
“Just one question.”
“Are you dating anyone right now?”
“A single-parent support group?” Dr. Browning asked, narrowing her eyes skeptically. “I don’t know. I feel like I’m doing fine, really. Pressure clamps. Stop the bleeding. Four CCs vidrazine.”
Peterman paced the OR as Dr. Browning and Nurse Holly Wilcox worked on Ensign Pressbury’s appendix. “It’ll be great for you, Janice. There are a few other single parents on the ship. They’d love a chance to get together and share their common experiences. And I know you would too. And hey, Lt. Kamtezen will be there.”
“He works down in engineering,” Peterman said, leaning over Ensign Pressbury, giving Browning a seductive wink. “And he is really, really gorgeous. He has the most beautiful orange skin…and the deepest hunter green eyes!”
“You’re trying to fix me up!” Browning explained, pounding on Ensign Pressbury’s chest cavity. Bits of Pressbury sprayed up in her face and she sighed. “Holly, towel, quick. And get me the thoracic coupler while you’re at it.”
“Yes, Doctor,” Holly said, and turned to the nearby supply tray.
“I am not trying to fix you up,” Peterman replied. She watched Browning take the coupler and jab it into Pressbury’s open chest cavity. “Wow, Janice, this really is fascinating.”
“You shouldn’t even be in here,” Browning said.
“Ahem…no kidding…” Holly Wilcox said under her breath.
“What?” asked Peterman.
Peterman whirled toward Browning. “Well?”
Browning sighed. “You’re really not going to take no for an answer, are you?”
“Nope. I’ll stay with you straight through recovery, if necessary.”
“Please, Doctor,” Holly pleaded, sopping up Pressbury’s blood. “Just do it.”
“Okay, okay. Now get out of my OR.”
“Gladly,” Peterman said, and patted Pressbury’s chest. “Get well soon, pal. You’ve got a lot of counseling coming. Trying to cut out your own appendix! I swear!”
“Go!” Holly and Browning both shouted.
That night, Peterman had the “Brian Doyle Murray” room all prepared for a support group. Doyle Murray was great for support groups because it had a warm, inviting decor, plenty of soft, comfy chairs, a fire place, and wet bar.
Yeoman Briggs had just finished placing the chairs in what he called a “conversational” circle, when Peterman hurried in.
“Paul! The place looks perfect.”
“Hot coffee’s brewing, honey. And there are the makings of s’mores in the cabinet if you get hungry.” Briggs grinned and pinched Peterman’s cheek.
“Oh, Paul, if you only I wasn’t already married and you liked women!” Peterman grinned and hugged Yeoman Briggs. “Thanks for everything. This is perfect!”
“Have a good support group,” Briggs said, and headed for the door.
“Where are you heading?” asked Peterman.
“Book and Beanery,” Briggs said. “Me, Ensign Rockford, Lt. Tilleran, and Lt. J’hana are getting together for a poetry reading.”
“I see,” Peterman said, and filed that little nugget of information in her Tilleran/J’hana file. “Well, have fun.”
“You too, sweetiepie.”
Once Briggs was gone, Peterman scouted out the comfiest chair and took a seat. She shifted around a little bit until she was comfortable, and then she reached out for the coffee table at the center of the circle of chairs and grabbed a blank padd. She didn’t really expect to take many notes, but she wanted to at least give the impression that this whole thing was a legitimate counseling tool, and not just a way to get Dr.
Browning hooked up with someone, anyone, that wasn’t Commander Conway.
The members of the group began trickling in minutes later. Peterman was horrified to see Lt. Commander Richards and Lt. Commander Larkin walk in. They weren’t on her sign-up sheet!
“Chris, Kristen!” Peterman said, rising from her chair. “What are you doing here?”
“Janice told us about this,” Richards said. “She said it might be good for Kristen and I to get some of our feelings out into the open.”
“For the final time, Father, I have no feelings,” Larkin said tersely. “I am merely here for your benefit.”
“See?” Richards said. “She’s been like this for months now. Bottled up, distant…”
“I have been no such way. My emotional state is nil, exactly as it was the very moment I was activated. Exactly as it shall be the moment I am deactivated.”
“This is what I’m talking about,” Richards said.
“Wow,” Peterman said. “You guys do seem to be experiencing a bit of a tough spot in your relationship. Maybe we can set up an appointment sometime this week to talk about it. This is more a support group for single parents, you know…”
“Single parents like me,” Richards said. “Single parents with bottled-up, distant, children.”
“His refusal to believe that I am not a child is most fascinating,” Larkin said, and sat down in one of the wingback chairs, next to Lt. Unlathi, the mammoth Velvattian security officer who was, by definition, a single parent, but only because Velvattians impregnate themselves.
“Just waiting for one more person,” Peterman said, and headed back to her chair. The group was already starting to murmur among themselves. Maybe this whole thing would have a good effect on ship morale, in addition to serving her ends with Dr. Browning. Peterman didn’t object to that at all, but first things first.
Suddenly the doors to Doyle Murray opened and Dr. Browning walked in–
–followed by Commander Conway, and his Welsh corgi, Bucky.
“Commander…” Peterman said, barely able to contain her anger. “What exactly are you doing here?”
“Dr. Browning told me about this when she came to ask me to babysit. I thought it’d be interesting, since I have all sorts of problems taking care of Bucky.” Conway sat down beside Browning in the circle of chairs and pulled Bucky into his lap. He nuzzled the stumpy-legged dog with his nose. “Isn’t that right, Bucky?”
“None of this would have been possible if you hadn’t given Bucky to Commander Conway,” Browning said. “Just look at how much he’s grown emotionally over the past year since he’s had to take care of another little life.”
“Another little life he may be,” Peterman said through gritted teeth. She stared at Conway. “However, we are talking about people with human children. To suggest that taking care of a pet is the same thing is an insult to all these good crew–”
“Come now, Counselor,” Conway grinned. “Pets are people too. You of all people should know that.”
“Don’t you dare go turning my love for my animals against me!” Peterman railed, jumping out of her seat.
“Well, I don’t know about you,” Richards said, looking over at Kamtezen. “But I’m feeling better about myself already.”
Peterman tried to regain her composure. She counted slowly to ten and then sat down. “Everyone, what I just showed you is an example of how not to act around your child, no matter how bad things get.”
“No kidding,” coughed Lt. Kamtezen.
“What was that?” Peterman asked, whirling toward the Bewhal.
“At any rate,” Peterman said, grabbing her padd. “Let’s start the discussion with Dr. Browning. Doctor, you gave birth to Plato three months ago. How did that make you feel?”
“Exausted,” Browning giggled.
Conway burst out laughing, slapping the chair arms. “Janice, that was a great one.”
“Self-healing is not a joking matter!” said Peterman.
“Right,” said Browning. “Well, I won’t kid any of you. It’s been tough. But I think Plato and I have gotten on very well over the past few months. He’s developing at an exponential rate, though that’s probably the changeling in him, not any of my doing.”
“It must be an emotional drain, huh?” Peterman said. “Constantly having another lifeform depend on you?”
“Just the opposite,” said Browning. “Plato makes me thank the…oh, jeeze …Directors…every day that I have him. He makes life worth living.”
Peterman sniffed. “Is that so?”
“She’s got a point,” said Kamtezen. “Pierced nipples or no, little Bruce is the…grapefruit of my eye.”
“And, even though she doesn’t return the favor, I love Kristen with all my heart,” Richards said, smiling at Larkin. She did not smile back.
Peterman rolled her eyes. This wasn’t going where she wanted it to. “But you find yourselves alone, without a partner to help raise your respective children. That has to be rough.”
“Members of the crew have been a great help to me in raising Plato,” Browning said. “Andy watched him while I was at the medical conference on Carstair Three. Holly took care of him when I had to go stop that plague on Regalus. And David here is already scheduled to look after him when I have to go to the annual Dillon Enterprises shareholder’s meeting next month.”
“He is, huh?” Peterman asked, covering the grimace on her face with her padd. Why hadn’t Browning asked her? “Isn’t that wonderful. But, in the final analysis, isn’t your heart really aching for the kind of human companionship your child can’t provide?”
“Mine sure is,” Conway said, and Browning burst out laughing.
This was not going at all the way Peterman had planned it.
“I understand Mr. Kamtezen plays the bassoon,” Peterman said, smiling weakly. She had to grab the reigns, and quickly. “And what a wit! He had me laughing like you wouldn’t believe earlier today.”
“I did?” Kamtezen asked, confused.
“Excuse me,” said Marjorie Grayhorse, the Arboretum Director. “But is this a support group or a dating service?”
“It’s a support group!” Peterman snapped back, causing the slight, strawberry blonde woman to hop back a bit in her seat.
“Perhaps by your definition,” Lt. Commander Larkin said. “But so far, by any definition I am familiar with, in all the annals of counseling, this is certainly not a support group. Whether it is a dating service or not is up for debate.”
The android went on but Peterman stopped listening. Browning and Conway were making some sort of goo-goo eyes at each other. Browning was leaning over, petting Bucky, who sat smugly in Conway’s lap. She should have never given him to Conway.
“I’m out of here,” said Ensign Hal Fiedler from Astrophysics. “My Molly has probably peed herself by now, and for what? For some psychobabble and a discussion about Kamtezen’s musical career?”
“There are s’mores,” Peterman said distantly, staring at Browning and Conway. Conway was apparently trying to adjust one of the pips on Browning’s uniform. The little bastard. She took some small measure of gratification in the fact that Richards was now watching too. And he didn’t like it any better than she did, by the look of things.
“Well I’ve just about had enough, too,” Richards grumbled, and stood to head for the door. So much for her ally. “Come on, Kristen.”
“I believe I shall stay and watch this further,” Larkin said. She was watching Browning and Conway too.
A storm was slowly building in the pit of Peterman’s stomach. She tried counting to ten but couldn’t remember what came after four. She gritted her teeth and stared at the horrendous display of her best friend and one of the most disagreeable men in the galaxy…flirting!
Counselors were not supposed to get angry. They counseled other people on how not to get angry. They were supposed to be in control of their feelings. They were supposed to know how to deal with conflict in a reasonable, productive way.
Peterman forgot all this when she lept out of her chair and shrieked: “ENOUGH, YOU TWO!”
The various members of the support group stopped filing out of the Brian Doyle Murray room and turned around. Suddenly, the “support group” had become a lot more interesting.
“Kelly, I think you had better just calm down…” Browning said softly. “You are going to embarrass yourself…”
“You’re embarassing yourself!” Peterman exploded. “By throwing yourself all over that insensitive, bloated egomaniac!”
“Who, me?” Conway asked dumbly.
“Yes, you!” Peterman shot back. “You, who struggled to make my professional life miserable since the moment we met. You, who constantly seeks to undermine my husband in every little squirmy way he can. You think I don’t realize it, but I do, buddy, I do. And I won’t let you hurt Janice. Not while you’re boinking Tyra Shar on the side, that’s for damn sure!”
Conway’s face went ashen. The group standing around the chairs suddenly became ghastly quiet.
“Don’t hold back,” Browning muttered. “Tell us how you really feel.”
Peterman’s jaw dropped. What had she done? “Commander, I…”
“You’ve said enough, Counselor,” Conway said, and stood up. “Much more than enough.”
“I didn’t mean to…”
“Save your breath, Peterman,” Conway grumbled, and dragged Bucky by his leash out of the Doyle Murray room. “You’ve royally f***ed things up. And that is a favor I intend to return. Remember the promise I made you? When you found out about me and Tyra?”
“You wouldn’t…” Peterman stumbled, caught herself on the chair. “You couldn’t…”
“Maybe, maybe not,” Conway said, and grinned. “We’ll just see.” He bulled his way through the small crowd and out the door.
Someone said, “Way to go, Commander,” and he and Bucky were gone.
“I’d better go make sure he’s okay,” Browning said, and headed out the door.
Richards glanced back at Peterman. “What the hell is going on?!”
Peterman stumbled for the door. “Janice has feelings for Commander Conway. Get over it, mister. I did all I could to stop it, but now it’s too late. Too late for her, you, him, me…and…and all my beautiful pets!”
She burst out crying and rushed out of the Brian Doyle Murray room.
“Well,” said Kamtezen, glancing around at the stunned crowd. “How about that. Who wants s’mores?”
“I’d love some,” said Marjorie Grayhorse. “Say, Mr. Kamtezen, those eyes are a beautiful color of green…is that forest?”
Captain Baxter walked into his quarters to find Peterman the same way he’d left her half an hour earlier: curled in a fetal ball on their couch staring out the viewport at the stars that streaked by.
“We’re all set. The whole kit and kaboodle is locked up in Holodeck Four, in the ‘Bonanza’ simulation. We’ve put up a forcefield around the holodeck and posted two guards. There’s no way any wildlife reserve will get their hands on your pets.”
“We can’t leave them like that,” Peterman said, her voice lightyears away. “Not forever. He might strike at any time, Andy. They’re not safe as long as they’re on this ship.”
“Should we take them back to your parents ranch on Earth, then?” Baxter asked, his voice noticeably hopeful.
Peterman twisted her head around to face Baxter, eyes suddenly afire. “Absolutely not!”
“You don’t think Commander Conway will really have your pets deported, do you?”
“Why not? He has nothing to lose. Tyra is going to kill him when she finds out. And she will find out.”
“Wow. What a crazy day. Conway and Shar. Browning and Conway. What’s next? Hartley and Mirk?”
“No way,” Peterman said, choking out a dry chuckle. “Seriously, though, I need to patch things up with Commander Conway before he does anything rash.”
Baxter cracked his knuckles. “Do you want me to talk to him?”
Peterman turned toward Baxter. “What are you going to do? Beat him up?”
“I could,” Baxter shrugged.
“He’d destroy you, Andy. He’d fight dirty. Crotch-kicks, eye-jabs, you name it. Nice offer, but I don’t think so.”
Baxter sat down on the couch beside Peterman. “Then what do you want me to do?”
“There’s nothing you can do. This goes beyond what Conway may do to my pets. This is about me failing in my first duty as a counselor. I put my feelings ahead of Janice’s. And ahead of Conway’s. And ahead of the feelings of my whole supposed ‘support group.’”
“You did it with the best of intentions,” Baxter said helpfully.
“No, I didn’t. I did it with the intention of sabotaging a relationship. I don’t deserve to ever counsel again.”
“Now you’re just being silly.” Baxter grabbed Peterman’s hand. “This will all blow over. Just give it some time.”
“You know, I’m really beginning to get sick of these platitudes of yours, Andy. They’re not helping.”
“Okay, then. Maybe this will help.” Baxter scooted next to Peterman and put an arm around her. “You see, Kelly, there was once a captain of a starship which was lost in the Delta Quadrant. He beamed down to a planet of women and got caught up in some political…difficulties, and he was about to be put to death. The First Officer didn’t seem too concerned about saving his captain’s life, but the Ship’s Counselor was concerned enough to mount a rescue. She saved the captain, they got married a year and a half later and lived happily ever after.”
Peterman narrowed her eyes at Baxter. “What. Is. Your. Point.”
“The point is, the counselor is a beautiful, wonderful woman, and the first officer is a jerk.”
“Good for the counselor,” Peterman muttered and stood up. “I’m going to bed. Mind taking the couch?”
“Guess who the captain and the counselor are?” Baxter called after Peterman as she headed into the bedroom.
“A couple of saps,” muttered Peterman. “Good night.”
Baxter sat on the couch, befuddled. Pandora, the only pet left in his cabin now, hopped up on the couch beside him.
“Married life isn’t all fun and games and sex, Pandy,” Baxter sighed. “If you ever find that special Jack Russel terrier, remember to get him a comfy couch. That’s essential.”
“Oh, that’s right. You’re fixed.” Baxter sighed again. “Just as well.”
At 0400 hours, Lieutenant J’hana’s antennae twitched. She shot up in bed. The irritating whine of the modular-frequency transporter beam beam was easily detectable to J’hana’s antennae. It had just pierced the shields, somewhere near section Baker on Deck 12. Something was afoot.
“Mmpfh, what is it,” Tilleran muttered, rolling over in bed beside her.
“Trouble,” said J’hana. She hopped out of bed, stepped over Ensign Rockford’s snoring form, tied on her fur-lined housecoat, stepped over Yeoman Briggs, grabbed her phaser, and charged out of her cabin.
By the time she reached Holodeck Four, she realized she was too late. Ensigns Saral and Puckett were uncouncious. J’hana sniffed the air. “Anesthezine,” she deduced.
She stepped through the holodeck doors. As she figured, the room was empty.
She stared up at the ceiling and screamed, defeated: “ZAARTVAVAAAGAGARGAARGGAWRGAR!” She pounded the wall so hard she broke several pieces of optical circuitry.
J’hana never cared much for Peterman’s pets. She despised them, in fact. But something told her that, now that they were all gone, life on the Explorer would get exponentially worse.
That in mind, she called Sickbay about Saral and Puckett and headed back for her quarters. There was work to be done. Pleasurable work, to be sure.
“Wha?” Commander Conway asked, stumbling out of bed at the sound of his door chime.
“It’s a cahndygram, mate!” said a voice with an officious cockney accent. “From Couns’lor Peterman. Assorted choc’lates, car’mels, and cremes. Message reads: ‘Apologies for de outburst lahst night. Please find it in your ‘eart to fogive me.”
“Too little, too late,” Conway muttered, and tied off his robe. “Might as well eat the chocolates though.” Conway keyed his door opened and found Captain Baxter standing there.
“Was the accent a bit much?” he asked.
“Where’s my candy?” demanded Conway.
Baxter didn’t respond. Instead, he rushed forward into Conway’s cabin, grabbed the commander by his throat, and slammed him up against the nearest wall. “You listen to me, Commander, and you listen to me good! I have a very, very upset wife one deck up who has lost all of her pets. Something tells me you know where they are. Tell me where they are now and I promise not to throw you into a nacelle tube!” Veins were bulging out in the captain’s forehead. Conway had never been so scared of Baxter. Actually, he’d never been remotely scared of Baxter. Funny the things a distraught wife will do to a man.
“Fillibar Four, Fillibar Four!” Conway cried. “It’s the home base for a bunch of liberal animal-lovers called ‘People for Pets.’ I convinced them Peterman’s pets were all crammed in here and unhappy. They’re being very well taken care of now!”
Baxter put Conway down and touched his comm badge. “Baxter to bridge. Lay in a course for Fillibar Four. Warp Nine. Engage as soon as you’re ready.”
“Understood,” came Lt. Commander Larkin’s voice.
“Commander,” Baxter seethed, “I hope Maloxitarianism has a hell. Because if they do, you’ll be going there. She loved those pets more than me!”
“It’s not a hell, really, it’s more like a dusty wasteland with no fruit, according to the readings…”
“Shut up!” Baxter said, and slammed Conway against the bulkhead again. “I don’t give a crap about the readings right now. I give a crap about getting Kelly’s pets back so that twinkle comes back into her eyes. She’s nearly catatonic and it’s all your fault!”
“You realize that because of her everyone on the ship knows about me and Tyra Shar, don’t you? It’s only a matter of time, Captain. Don’t you see? Tyra’s going to kill me. I’ve ruined her marraige. Peterman’s ruined her marraige.” Conway grimaced. “And on top of all that, I find out now that Janice likes me.”
Baxter shook his head, still bracing Conway up against the bulkhead. “You really are racking them up, aren’t you, Commander?”
“I don’t mean to do it. It’s just my natural charm.”
“What natural charm?”
“I don’t know. Ask Janice.”
“I’d rather not.”
“If you’re her friend–if Peterman’s her friend–you’ll both just let this happen. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. All you will accomplish is that you’ll both lose Janice.”
“I don’t intend to interfere, Commander,” Baxter said, turning for the door. “Know why?”
“Wh-why?” Conway asked, fearing the answer.
“Because you, sir, are a self-centered, rotten, mean little man. After they spend time with you, women tend to try to kill you. Your last wife pushed you into a gorge, for Pete’s sake. You won’t last a second in a happy relationship. You won’t last a second with a classy, loving woman like Janice. You’ll just self-destruct like a faulty warp core. I only hope Janice doesn’t get caught up in the shockwave.” Baxter smiled inwardly. Nice metaphor.
“You let me worry about that,” Conway said as Baxter left. He turned for his replicator and called up a box of assorted chocolates, caramels, and cremes. Baxter’s visit put him in the mood for candy.
Captain Baxter found Peterman waiting for him on the couch in his readyroom. She was dressed in a loose-fitting burgundy top and khaki pants.
“What’s with the outfit?” Baxter asked.
Peterman handed him a padd. He sat down next to her and read. “Why does this not surprise me,” he finally said, after a long read.
“It’s my only logical course of action,” Peterman said. “I can’t go on counseling. Not after I lost the respect of the whole crew.”
“You didn’t loose the WHOLE crew’s respect,” Baxter said thoughtfully. “From what I hear, Kamtezen and Grayhorse want you to be the Maid of Honor at their wedding.”
“They’re not getting married. He’s a co-dependant and she’s anal retentive. It’ll never work.”
“Hmm. Do they know that?”
“Apparently not,” Peterman sighed. “Whatever the case, it’s not my problem now.”
“So what are you going to do?” Baxter turned a serious glare on Peterman. “You’re not leaving the ship…” He grimaced. “Are you?”
“Don’t be silly.” Peterman put a reassuring hand on Baxter’s leg. “I’m staying here.”
“But what will you do?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Peterman said, and stood up. She crossed over to Baxter’s viewport and stared out at the stars. “For a while I think I’ll just work around the cabin. Tidy the place up a bit. Paul can help me redecorate.”
Baxter watched her pace the quarters. “You’re not serious about this. You’ll go stir-crazy within a week.”
“I don’t plan on doing that the rest of my life. Maybe I’ll write a book.” Peterman rubbed her chin and thought about that. “My, I bet that would be interesting.”
Baxter looked plaintively up at Peterman. “Kelly…this is silly. You made a mistake. We all make mistakes. It doesn’t mean you should quit your job!”
“I’m not asking your permission, Captain,” Peterman said, turned on Baxter, and folded her arms. “I am one of your staff, and I have tendered my resignation. You can either accept it and hire a new counselor, or not. Whatever the case, nothing’s getting me back in that office. Not today, not ever. I’m more trouble than I’m worth.”
“Well,” Baxter said. “I’d better start a job search committee. It might take a while.”
“The nutcases on the ship will just have to wait, then,” Peterman muttered.
“Ensign Sefelt will probably need to be sent to Tantalus.”
“I hear it’s nice there this time of year.”
“And he was almost over his fear of parmesean cheese.”
After another hour or so of sleep, Commander Conway showered, put on his uniform, and stepped out into the corridor. Sure, the people of the Explorer would take a while getting used to the idea of him evicting Peterman’s pets, and of him dating Browning. But they’d get used to it. They’d just have to. Whatever the case, he had a woman to love. And he wasn’t about to let anyone get in his way.
He would go to Sickbay. He would find her, take her in his arms, and kiss her. Right then and there. She was as good as his.
It would be the first romantic thing David Conway had ever done in his life.
He rounded the bend toward the turbolift and bumped into Lt. Tilleran.
“You insensitive bastard!” Tilleran said. “How could you have done that to poor Counselor Peterman? And how could you boink Tyra Shar behind Jenna’s back? You are the worst person I have ever known!”
“Worse than Commander Ardek?” Conway ventured.
“Listen, I can ex–”
“Don’t bother, I’ve already read your mind and I think your explanation is pathetic. There’s no excuse for what you did. Either thing! And whatever song that is in your head, stop thinking about it, it’s driving me nuts!”
“It’s ‘Walk this Way,’ by Aerosmith,” Conway said numbly, but Tilleran had already marched off down the corridor. “Well,” Conway said, and giggled. “If that’s the worst they can throw at me, maybe things aren’t going to be so bad after all.”
As he approached the turbolift, the doors opened and Lt. J’hana stepped out. Upon seeing Commander Conway, she released a fast one-two double-fisted karate chop right into his stomach that dropped him to his knees. She shoved him into the turbolift.
“Bottom of the ship,” she said to the turbolift computer. “Engine coolant section; then deactivate turbolift for a twelve- hour maintenance cycle.” As the doors closed, she added, “Nothing personal, Commander. But when you fwark with ship’s security, you fwark with me.”
Conway groaned as the turbolift began its long descent.
Lt. Commander Richards stared at the thrumming warp core, letting his eyes unfocus.
“It’s not the end of the world, Chris,” Lt. Hartley said from behind him. She motioned to put a reassuring hand on his shoulder but recoiled at the thought. It just was NOT her.
“How on Earth could she be attracted to that officious, coffee-swilling, impolite…slob!” Richards yelled at the warp core.
“Women’s minds work in mysterious ways. You’d be surprised who we’re attracted to,” Hartley said, and quickly changed the subject. “So…big engine refit coming up next month, huh?”
“Yeah,” Richards said, spinning on a heel and breezing past Hartley. “Listen, I’m taking the day off. Engineering’s yours.”
Hartley clapped her hands. “Well, every apple does have a shine, after all!” Stupid Maloxitarian sayings. That one didn’t even make sense.
“Whatever,” Richards said glumly and walked off down the corridor out of engineering.
Hartley was just about to head into the engineer’s office when she heard the nearby Jeffries tube access door swish open. She turned to see who was coming out, so she could tell him/her to go do something productive. To her suprise, Commander Conway stepped out, looking haggard.
“Commander,” said Hartley, raising an eyebrow. She moved over to the Master Systems Display and began tapping in some routine commands. “What can I do for you?”
“Nothing,” Conway muttered, leaning on the display desk for support. “J’hana had a turbolift take me down to the bottom of the ship, then it shut down. I had to shimmy out and up ten decks.”
“You poor thing.” Tap tap tap, she went about her business on the display panel.
Conway leaned against the Master Systems Display. “Tell me about it. It’s like the whole crew hates me. Sure, I sent away Peterman’s pets, but look what she did to me! She ruined my relationship with Tyra Shar, and ruined Tyra Shar’s marraige.”
“That’s a shame all right.” Tap tap tap.
“I just want everyone to see my side of the story. You see what I’m saying, right? You and I aren’t that different, Megan. We’re both a bit curt at times, but we mean well. We’re not monsters! We’re human beings just like everyone else.”
Lt. Hartley smiled. “I couldn’t agree with you more.” Tap tap tap.
“Glad I have at least one ally in this,” Commander Conway said, and smiled. Then the hum of a transporter beam rose up around him and he frowned. “Oh. I see.”
Hartley smiled and waved at him. “Go get bent, Commander. Or, better yet, get irradiated!”
After climbing out of the port Bussard ramscoop collector, Commander Conway made his way back up through the ship to the forward section of Deck 12, where the school was located.
He’d have to talk to Tyra Shar today. He’d have to explain himself sometime, and it might as well be sooner than later.
He found Tyra Shar grading papers in her office.
“Tyra?” Conway asked meekly.
“Oh, David,” Tyra said, waving toward the chair across from her desk. “Come in and sit down.”
“Uh, thanks,” Conway said, and sat down. He fumbled with his fingers. “Uh, Tyra…”
“Hold that thought.” She finished tapping one one particular padd, then set it aside. “I guess we have lots to talk about.”
“Well, I’m more than happy to talk to you about it.” She gestured over at the window that faced out on the playroom. “But,as you can see, the kids are napping. We’ll have to go somewhere else and talk.”
“What about the lounge down the corridor?”
Tyra whistled a happy tune as she walked with Conway down the corridor toward the Explorer’s dimly lit teacher’s lounge.
“I guess some things really don’t change much over time,” Conway said, looking around. The lounge was poorly furnished (Starfleet was experiencing a minor budget crisis) and it smelled of salt sticks and beer. And someone had punched their fist through a nearby wall in a fit of frustration. Just like the Teacher’s Lounge back at old Chris Pike High in Allentown, PA, thought Conway with a glimmer of reminiscence.
“So, should you start, or shall I?” asked Tyra, bringing Conway back into the present.
“I’ll start.” Conway sat down on the sticky vinyl couch. “Tyra, I’m so sorry about what’s happened. I did all I could to prevent Counselor Peterman from talking, but she just went and blurted it out!”
Tyra threw her hands up. “What’s done is done. This is a relatively small community here. I didn’t expect our little adventures to go unnoticed forever.”
“Then you’re not mad?”
“Oh, I don’t know if I’d say I’m not mad.” Tyra rubbed her chin thoughtfully. “I’d say I understand the situation.”
“Oh. Okay. How’d Jenna take it?”
“Jenna’s divorcing me,” Tyra said flatly. She sat down beside Conway, uncomfortably close.
“That’s, uh, that’s uh…too bad.” Conway scooted away. Tyra scooted closer.
She wrapped an arm around Conway. He realized something he’d never noticed before. She had quite the biceps. Sure, she sometimes tossed him around pretty easily during their sexcapades, but he was in no position to notice at those particular times.
Tyra squeezed him hard. “It is too bad,” she said. “I loved Jenna a lot. Shar and Fran have been in love for hundreds of years. We’ve constructed a realationship that we thought was the epitome of those hundreds of years of waiting.” Tyra squeezed harder. Now it hurt. “And you and your counselor step in, and all of a sudden…poof! All gone!” Tyra had a mad look in her eyes.
“But not to fear,” Tyra said sweetly, though she still squeezed hard. “I still have you, don’t I?”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” Conway said. “See, Dr. Browning sort of–”
In one swift movement Tyra Shar was on top of Conway, squeezing his waist hard with powerful thighs. “Sort of what? SORT OF WHAT, COMMANDER?”
“We’re sort of interested in one another,” Conway said in a small voice.
“WELL TOO BAD, SHORTY! BECAUSE IT’S YOU AND ME, NOW! YOU AND ME, PAL, ALL THE WAY!”
Conway squirmed under the vicelike grip of Tyra Shar’s thighs. He could feel his circulation being cut off. “I’d really better go.”
“I don’t think so. We have a DATE, remember????” She shifted a knee around and ground it down into his crotch. Conway bit his lip and fought the urge to scream. He’d no doubt wake those kindergartners from six doors down.
Conway gulped, blinking back tears, and said, “Tyra, I think it’s best if we stop seeing one another.”
“Oh, I see.” And Tyra released Conway and stood up. “That’s how it is, then.”
“I’m afraid so.”
“You don’t know much about the Shar symbiont’s history, do you?” asked Tyra.
“No, not really. Lana never talked about it much.”
“Lana never did anything much,” Tyra grumbled. “She was wrong for Shar. The experiences Shar had for the fifteen years it spent in Lana were the dullest experiences in five hundred and forty years!”
“Really?” Conway mulled that. “Even the part where it was inside Peterman’s dog for a while?”
“Let me tell you something about Shar. Shar likes to drink, and f***, and party! And Shar does not take s*** from anyone! Shar doesn’t study colonies, and write reports, and collect artifacts…Shar is the baddest damn symbiont Trill ever did see!”
“And yet Shar teaches kindergarteners?”
“It’s a living,” Tyra said, and gritted her teeth. “Unfortunately, it’s the only thing this useless body is good for. But, you know what else Shar likes to do?”
Conway looked nervously up at Tyra. “I…uh, I give up.”
“Shar likes to fight!” Tyra slammed her fist into Conway’s gut. The air rushed out of his lungs.
“You want a brief history of my past hosts, huh?”
“Not really,” Conway said, and rolled off the couch. He tried to crawl toward the door.
Tyra dragged him up by the back of his uniform and shoved him against the wall. “Lemaya Shar, three-time Galactic Wrestling Federation champion!” She ran to the other end of the room, turned on a heel, then ran at Conway. Before he could run, she jabbed out an arm and clotheslined him. He dropped to the deck and Tyra belly-flopped onto his chest.
She dragged him up to his feet again. “Then there was Verdin Shar, a master at the Trill martial arts!” She swept one foot under Conway’s legs and he dropped to the floor like a sack of wheat.
“Let’s not forget Dosav Shar, who was the meanest, dirtiest street fighter on Trill!” Tyra bent down and grabbed handfuls of Conway’s stomach. She twisted hard. “He would pinch and twist every sensitive area of a man’s body, till he died of pain!”
“Tyra, please…” Conway sighed, breathless.
“Oh, aren’t you having fun yet?”
“Then let me tell you about Noval Shar. He once twisted a man’s legs until they snapped right off!”
Conway cringed, crawled away backwards like a crab. “No, no, no!”
Tyra stooped down next to Conway. “But I won’t do that. Nope. I’m not that mad.”
“I will get that mad, however, if you try to break up with me. I’m sensitive about such things.”
“Ob…Obviously…” Conway wheezed, gripping the art-deco end-table beside the lounge couch and trying vainly to drag himself to his feet.
“And I will also get that mad if you go telling people about me. It might tarnish my image as the ship’s most caring teacher of children,” Tyra said, rushing to Conway’s side and gently, suspiciously, helping him to his feet.
“No kidding,” wheezed Conway.
“So you’ll keep the little tidbits of info I shared with you to yourself?” asked Tyra, twisting Conway around so they were face-to-face. “And you’ll tell that Browning bitch to back off?
“Ugh,” moaned Conway. “I guess so. I have to go to Sickbay anyway.” He rubbed his side. “I think you bruised a rib!”
“Go to Sickbay,” Tyra said, walking over to the replicator and grabbin a drink. “Just tell them you got hurt at hoverball practice.”
“But…I duh–don’t play hoverball.”
“Now you do,” Tyra said, and smiled. She looked at the wall chronometer. “Oh, would you look at that. Time flies when you’re having fun. My kids should be waking up by now. See you tonight for dinner?”
“Shuh…sure…” Conway said, as Tyra dragged him to his feet.
“We’d better eat at that woman Janice’s restaurant. I doubt I’m very welcomed at the Book and Beanery now. Fran has a way of holding a grudge.”
“That’s a shame,” Conway said, rubbed his bulging sore eye, and plodded out of the lounge.
Supplemental. We’ve arrived at the Fillibar system to retrieve Counselor Peterman’s pets. She’s been acting wierder and wierder since she resigned. She’s dropped by three times to give the bridge a good cleaning, and is vacuuming out all the shuttlecraft at this very moment. Something has got to be done.
“Entering orbit of Fillibar Four,” announced Lt. Commander
“Scans,” Baxter ordered from the command chair.
J’hana studied her panel. “Looking for a massive pet concentration…”
“Hold the smart talk, Lieutenant.”
“Right, then. Found them. They’re in a fairly fortified installation.”
J’hana grinned toothily. “But it’s nothing I can’t break into, sir.”
Baxter got up from the command chair. “Great. You and Larkin are with me.”
J’hana accompanied Baxter and Larkin to the aft turbolift. “Although Fillibar Four is not a Federation world, I would remind you that breaking into an encampment of animal rights activists and stealing your wife’s pets back is still highly illegal.”
“I know that, and you know that, but the Federation doesn’t have to know that, right?”
“Indeed,” said Lt. Commander Larkin diplomatically.
“So are you with us or not, J’hana?” Baxter asked.
“I am indeed ‘with you.’ As a matter of fact, I am quite excited. I have been looking forward to taking down the rhinoceros all day.”
“Just remember, stun only,” Baxter said, as he, Larkin, and J’hana filed into the turbolift.
“I remember,” J’hana said tersely.
“Mr. Ford, the bridge is yours,” Baxter said, then added, for the turbolift’s sake, “Transporter Room Two.”
Ford moved from the helm to the command chair. “Just think, Saral. If they don’t come back from that mission alive, and if Commander Conway gets taken out somehow, the ship is mine.”
“I find that set of occurences highly unlikely,” Ensign Saral said, taking tactical. “However, of all the missions I’ve seen this ship undertake, the recapture of Counselor Peterman’s pets does seem to have the least likely margin for success.”
“That’s the spirit,” Ford said, grinning, as he took the command chair.
“I didn’t realize you played hoverball,” Dr. Browning said, as she waved her optronic mender over Commander Conway’s bruised ribs.
“Ouch…I just took it up.”
“We should play sometime.”
“Yeah,” Conway said, and sighed. “We should.”
After a few more moments, Browning put away her instruments. “There we go, good as new.”
“Thanks, Janice,” Conway said. “You know, I think we’d better have a talk.”
Browning nodded. “I think you’re right.” She turned to Nurse Wilcox, who was attending a patient on a nearby biobed. “Holly, would you move all of these patients into the other room and give Commander Conway and I a moment alone?”
“Sure, I could do that,” Holly said. “Or else you and Commander Conway could go into your office.”
“Thanks!” Browning said. “With quick thinking like that, you’re a shoe-in for M.D.” From anyone else, that would have been sarcasm.
“No kidding,” Holly muttered as Browning and Conway walked into the Doctor’s office.
“So,” Browning said, sitting down behind her desk. “You and me…”
“Me and you,” Conway repeated, and sat down in the chair opposite her.
“I…” Browning said. Then she stood up. “This feels silly. I feel like I’m interviewing you for a job.”
“Yeah, my palms are sweating,” Conway said. He grinned uneasily. Browning got up and circled around to the other side of the desk.
She faced Conway less than a meter away, and sat down on the edge of her desk. “Dave,” she said finally. “I’ve given this a whole lot of thought.”
“Me too,” agreed Conway.
“And, I’ve got to say, I really am attracted to you.”
Browning nodded. “Really. But…”
“But…” Conway echoed.
“But I don’t think it will work.”
“Really? Wow. Me neither.” Conway remembered Tyra Shar and her thighs of steel.
Browning let out a long, frustrated breath. “What a load off my mind. I thought I’d have to…uh…‘dump’ you.”
Conway held up his hands. “Hey, not necessary.”
“What made you realize this couldn’t happen?” Browning asked.
“Uh, you tell me first…”
“It’s this simple,” Browning said. She turned her desktop viewer around to face Conway. “Computer, call up Flight Recorder data on Cabin 9920.”
“You’ll see.” On the viewer, Conway realized, was Captain Baxter’s quarters. And Counselor Peterman was ripping up the carpet piece by piece, on hands and knees.
“Wow,” said Conway.
“Since I told her I was interested in you, she has gone more and more bonkers.”
“I know you and Counselor Peterman have been sort of…on the outs…since, well, since you first met, but she’s my best friend. I couldn’t date you knowing she’d be miserable. And it’s not just that. Andy and Chris have both been acting weird around me. The whole crew seems to be up in arms about this.”
Conway idly wondered if Browning had been beaten up and abused by Tilleran, J’hana, Hartley, and Tyra. Probably not.
When Conway didn’t answer after a few moments, Browning said “Well? What were your reasons?”
Conway shrugged, smiled weakly. “Pretty much the same as yours.”
“Then we’re in agreement. As much as we both want it, this just can’t happen. It’s for the good of the ship.”
“Yep. Right. For the good of the ship.”
“And it’s so sweet that you feel the same way, Dave. You spend so much time trying to convince people you don’t care about their feelings, but then why else would you give up on a relationship that could be so…” Browning leaned over and kissed Conway on the cheek. “Fun?”
“Why indeed,” Conway sighed, and slunked down in his chair.
“Dr. Browning!” Holly called from the main area of Sickbay. “Come, quick! Ensign Pierce just came in with multiple contusions to the head and compound fractures along the base of his spine!”
“Crap,” muttered Browning. “I’ll talk to you later, okay David?”
“Yep, later,” sighed Conway.
Browning shrugged on her labcoat and turned toward Sickbay. “Sounds like Pierce is pretty messed up.”
“I know how he feels,” Conway grumbled.
Lt. Commander Richards sighed as he shuffled into Engineering. He was surprised to find the place empty. “Hello?”
“Down here,” came a familiar voice from the direction of the warp core.
Richards walked over to the warp core railing to find Counselor Peterman dangling from the railing by a few lengths of cabling. She was scrubbing the surface of the warp core with a damp towel.
“What in the hell are you doing?”
“Scrubbing the warp core.”
Richards blinked. “…WHY?”
Peterman smiled up at him. “Because, silly, it was dirty.”
“Sure, fine. That’s great. Just great. And where are my engineers?”
“Kamtezen and Sanchez were getting stressed. I gave them the day off. Valdez is obsessive-compulsive and Kamtezen is about to marry the arboretum director, only it’s really a sham marriage, only they don’t know it.”
Richards nodded as Peterman scrubbed. “Uh-huh. You’re still a civilian, then?”
“Sure. What else would I be?” Peterman said, and blinked innocently.
“Come on, Kelly. I quit the ship for a few months and look what happened to me. Do you want to go down that road?”
Peterman dangled a moment, lost in thought. “But I don’t plan on going to Kronos to write scripts.”
“Browning to Richards and Peterman,” trilled the comm system. “Do you two have a minute?”
“Yeah, I guess,” said Richards.
“What’s up?” asked Peterman.
“I have some stuff to talk to you guys about. How about coming to the restaurant? I’ll cook up some country fried steak, and black eyed peas, and pickled razorbeast paws!”
“Make it a salad and I’m there!” Peterman said. “After all, I’ve got plenty of damned time!”
“Okay, salad it is!”
Richards sighed again and yanked on Peterman’s cable. “All right…uggh…come on! Let’s get this overwith!”
“This country fried steak is great,” Richards said, nibbling at a piece of the crunchy, gravy-covered glob on his plate. “But couldn’t you have changed out of your surgical scrubs before you came down to the restaurant?”
Browning shrugged. “I was in a hurry.”
She was wearing the standard red Starfleet surgical outfit, only it was slightly shiny, since some of the red was blood, Richards realized. Browning had told him about Starfleet surgical garments once, during a particularly fun doctor/patient roleplaying game they’d played (when they were still going out). Apparently, the surgical garments were red so that the blood wouldn’t so easily show up and freak people out. But the very fact that she was wearing surgical scrubs in the middle of a crowded restaurant was disturbing enough to her customers. And the blood wasn’t that hard to notice.
Peterman poked her fork around in her salad. “Okay, then. What’s this announcement you had for me and Chris?”
“Well, I know how you guys are so opposed to me and Dave dating.”
“Oh,” Richards grumbled. “So he’s ‘Dave’ now.”
“Will you let me finish?”
“Sure,” said Richards in a small voice.
“Okay, then. Dave and I have both decided not to see each other, for the general wellfare of the crew.”
Richards’s eyes lit up. “Really?”
“Yes. We’re putting the crew’s wellbeing before our own.”
Peterman burst out in tears. “I wish I could have done that! You should be Ship’s Counselor, not me!”
“Oh, for Pete’s–” Browning said, and handed Peterman a napkin. “This is precisely what Dave and I wanted to avoid. All of these bad feelings. This isn’t any way for a Starfleet crew to be.”
“Oh, you’re right, you’re so right,” Peterman sobbed.
“So, you’re free to date anyone, then,” Richards said, and smiled.
“Hold your warp engines, buddy,” Browning said.
Richards sighed. “It was worth a try.”
“All right, Kelly, everything else is back to normal,” said Browning. “Would you please come back to your old job? You’re driving the rest of us nuts with this cleaning thing!”
“I don’t know,” said Peterman. “I can’t just…”
At a nearby table, Ensign Howard Sefelt started screaming. “Oh my GOD! I didn’t know there were scallops in this pasta! GET THEM AWAY FROM ME!!!!”
“Okay,” Peterman said, and tossed her napkin down. “I guess I’m needed around here, whether I like it or not. I’m back!”
“That’s the spirit!” grinned Browning.
“Hartley to Browning,” came a bleep over the comm system. “Doctor, the away team just reported back aboard. We have a crapload of pets…and some casualties.”
“My pets?” Peterman asked. “Howard, your little shellfish fear is going to have to wait. For now, order the veggie lasagna. I promise it’s safe.”
“Yes, Counselor. Glad to have you back,” Sefelt said and grinned.
“And as long as Counselor Peterman is there, you might want to tell her that her husband took a pretty bad phaser blast to the chest,” Hartley added over the comm.
“Wow,” said Browning. “Glad I kept my scrubs on. Come on, Kelly!”
“Right. Come on, Chris!”
Richards stared down at his plate. “But I’m not done eating quite yet.”
Lt. J’hana hobbled into Sickbay, brushing her hands together. “There. The animals have been returned to their stable…” J’hana said. Then she grimaced and glared at Peterman, who was sitting with Richards on a vacant biobed. “I mean the Counselor’s quarters.”
“Great,” Peterman said. She eyed J’hana’s ripped and torn uniform, her bent antenna, her bruised face. “They didn’t give you too much trouble, did they, Lieutenant?”
“On the contrary, they nearly killed me. The bengal tiger was a particularly wily adversary. With your permission, I would like to spar with him one day on the holodeck.”
“I think he’d like that. Let’s call it a play date.”
“Very well,” J’hana said, and turned toward the door.
“Don’t you want to get some first aid?” Richards asked. “You look pretty busted up.”
“I think not. Dr. Browning and her staff will be kept quite busy with the captain. I have not seen so much blood in all my life.”
“And that’s saying a lot,” said Richards quietly.
“Poor Andy,” sighed Peterman.
“Indeed,” said J’hana. “You should be proud of him. He defended himself bravely. Let me know if he lives or dies. At any rate, I am late for my shift on the bridge. Good day.”
Richards and Peterman sat in the vacant sickbay for several moments in silence.
“What a day,” said Richards suddenly.
“Yep,” agreed Peterman.
“So…what about that Marjorie Grayhorse. She’s kind of cute.”
“Forget about it,” said Peterman. “She thinks she’s in love with Lt. Kamtezen.”
“Just making conversation.”
Finally, the doors to the operating room opened and Dr. Browning walked out, looking exausted. She yanked her operating gloves off and scooted up on a biobed. “Whew!”
“WELL?” Peterman demanded, after a few moments’ silence.
“Oh, yeah, oh…Andy’s still alive. The blast missed his heart and lungs by a couple centimeters. He’ll be fine in a few days.”
“Whew,” said Richards. “Well, that takes care of that.”
“Can I see him?” asked Peterman.
“I don’t see why not,” Browning said. “But don’t keep him up too long.”
“No problem,” Peterman said, and tiptoed into the operating room.
Browning unzipped her medical smock and handed it to one of her nurses.
“Where are you off to?” asked Richards.
“I have to pick Plato up from school.”
“Can I come with?”
“This isn’t a ploy to start dating me again, is it?”
“Don’t be silly.”
Browning stared at Richards skeptically. “Okay. Let’s go.”
Peterman brushed Captain Baxter’s hair away from his forehead. “Heard you had some trouble getting my pets back, hon.”
Baxter giggled weakly; some blood trickled out of his mouth. “Darn, I thought Janice had fixed that. Yeah, those ‘People for Pets’ have one hell of a chip on their shoulder. You’d think animal activists would be a little less violent.”
“Apparently not, huh?”
“Nope. They had phaser rifles, hon!”
“My brave little soldier,” Peterman said, and kissed Baxter on the forehead. “Thanks for getting my babies back.”
“Not a problem,” Baxter replied. “What the hell am I saying, of course it was a problem. But I’d gladly do it again. I have to admit, hon, when I was down there getting my skull bashed in by one of those tree-hugging lunatics, I thought about giving up and pulling my team out of there. Then I remembered how upset you were about your pets being taken away…”
“And then I thought, ‘Gee, maybe if she got her pets back, she’d be in a good enough mood to take her old job back.’”
“Yeah.” Baxter smiled weakly, then coughed. More blood. “It was about then that that damned woman blasted me in the chest with her phaser rifle. I guess I was so busy thinking about you quitting I didn’t even see her coming.”
“But I’m fine now…except for a little internal bleeding. Janice told me that would go away on its own.” Baxter grabbed Peterman’s hands in his own weak, charred hands. “So, honey, please…for me…will you take your old job back?”
Peterman thought a moment. “Well, I don’t know…but since you put it that way…sure.”
“Oh, honey. I’m so glad things are back to normal. It makes all that …suffering seem well worth it.”
“Yes, well…that’s what I’m here for. To help with the suffering!”
“That’s the spirit!” Baxter said, and lost conciousness.
“There’s my little guy!” Browning said, and knelt down beside Plato, who was busy stacking blocks with two other Explorer children.
“He sure is getting big,” Richards said, standing next to Browning and grinning at Plato. “How are you doing little guy?” He knelt down. “Say, how’re you doing?”
“Killem,” Plato said.
“What?” asked Richarsdon.
“Oh my gosh!” Browning exclaimed. “Did you hear that? He said his first word!”
“Killemall,” Plato repeated.
“What’s he saying?” Richards asked.
“I don’t know,” Browning said. “But it sounds almost like real words.”
“Killemall,” Plato said again.
“Kilometer?” asked Richards.
“Killemall!” said Plato.
“Klingon mall?” asked Browning.
Suddenly Tyra Shar rushed in. “Oh, hello guys. Good to see you. Plato has been an absolute gem all day long.”
“Great,” said Browning. “Sounds like he’s been talking a bit more.”
“He’s been making out a few words, yes,” said Tyra. “He should be speaking intelligibly any day now.”
“He’s been saying ‘killemall’ quite a bit,” said Richards.
“Where could he have picked that up?” asked Browning.
“You’ve got me! Kids say the darnedest things!” Tyra said, and threw up her hands.
“That they do,” said Browning. She picked Plato up and hiked him up on her hip. “Well, then, we’ll just be going.”
“Maybe I’ll send Larkin here,” mused Richards, as he followed Browning out. “See if they can do something about that rebellious streak of hers.”
“I don’t see her going along with that.”
Browning stopped at the doors to the playroom; they opened to admit Commander Conway. He had a boquet of roses tucked under his arm.
“Dave?” Browning asked.
“Commander?” Richards said sternly, putting his hands on his hips.
“Oh,” Conway said, and chuckled weakly. “These? These are for…for Tyra.”
“Right. Tyra,” said Browning. “Great. Well, it’s about feeding time for Plato.”
Conway tickled Plato’s nose and it wobbled plasmically. “He’s got your eyes, you know,” he said quietly.
“Sometimes,” Browning admitted.
“Well, let’s go,” Richards said. He grabbed Browning’s arm and gently tugged her out of the room.
Conway turned to watch Browning go and sighed. The doors to the playroom closed like a heavy prison door.
“Is that you, my little coffee cake?” trilled Tyra’s voice from the office.
Conway turned wearily and sure enough the larger woman was right behind him, grinning wide.
“Oh, David, are those for me?” she said, raising her eyebrows. “They’re absolutely beautiful!”
“Just for you,” sighed Conway. “You and you only.”
“Well, let me just get rid of these kids,” Tyra said, “and we’ll go get some dinner.”
“I mean wait for their parents to come pick them up.”
“Right. That’s what I thought.”
What’s been happening on Breen since they tried to destroy the Federation? Well, let’s just say the Federation forgave and forgot, and lovingly allowed the Breen back into its bosom, electing Retired Admiral Harlan Baxter to serve as their ambassador. But all is not what the Federation hoped on Breen, as Captain Baxter and Dr. Browning soon find when they visit for a little fun and fishing on the icy-est of planets. Find out how much of Deep Space Nine’s canon I can crush as we break through some “Thin Ice,” next time on Star Traks: The Vexed Generation!