Author: Anthony Butler
“I’m glad you came to me with this, Yeoman,” Counselor Kelly Peterman said, leaning back in her chair and sighing heavily. “And I think I have just the solution.”
“I was hoping you’d say that.”
She spun her desktop terminal around to face the Yeoman.
The Yeoman nodded. “Beautiful. Right on the latinum!”
Peterman nodded. “I’d like to think so.”
“I’d just widen the collar a smidge! And flare out the legs a little. You know, that’s in again! Finally!”
“You always know just what to say to make a woman feel better, James,” Peterman cooed, leaning forward and resting her chin on her hands. “How is it a nice woman hasn’t snapped you up yet?”
“Err…” Yeoman Briggs, the Explorer’s resident fashion designer, hair stylist, and interior decorator said, staring at the floor. He looked back up at the monitor. “I can have your maternity uniform ready by next week. Maybe even by the end of this week.”
“Oh, it doesn’t have to be that soon.”’
Briggs leaned over Peterman’s desk, peering below at her tummy. “Are you sure? That uniform is looking a little snug.”
“I’m not even three months pregnant yet!”
“Really?” Briggs stood and circled around to Peterman’s chair. He knelt down next to her and poked slightly at her side. She giggled. “Yes. I feel definite pudge.”
“I’m NOT gaining weight,” Peterman said through clenched teeth.
“How are your breasts?” Briggs asked, concern plain on his face.
Peterman folded her arms across her chest. “They’re FINE. Listen, I have appointments lining up outside my door. It’s a very busy day. Why don’t you run along and start on that maternity uniform?”
“The sooner the better,” Briggs hissed and sashayed out the door to Peterman’s office.
“Counselor,” Lieutenant Howard Sefelt moaned, sticking his head in the doorway. “I don’t belong here. I think I’m from a parallel universe. Your office is about three paces closer to the turbolift than I remember, and your hair looks a little longer.”
“Do I look fatter?” Peterman snapped, head still on desk.
“GET OUT OF MY OFFICE!” Peterman cried and tossed a padd at Sefelt, who shrieked and ducked out of the door. She leaned her head back down and sobbed into her desk. She’d never attacked a patient before…at least, not on purpose. And, even worse, she’d never had harsh words with her hairdresser. Not EVER. “Hormones,” Peterman moaned to herself, drawing up her legs under her and crying into her desk. “Hormones, it’s got to be.”
Peterman was cursing those very hormones as she walked out onto the Explorer’s bridge, Charlie pulling at his leash. She was annoyed to find Lieutenant Commander Nell Vansen in the command chair instead of her husband or Chris Richards.
“Report,” she snapped at Vansen, and sat down next to her.
“I’m sorry,” Vansen said, glaring at her. “Did I miss a memo? Do I report to you? Are you even in the chain of command? No. I didn’t think so. Go away. And while you’re at it, get that dog off my bridge. You wouldn’t believe how many regulations you’re breaking right now.”
“WHERE’S MY F***ING HUSBAND?” Peterman shouted at Vansen.
Vansen stared placidly at Peterman. “Wherever he is, he’s probably proud that, for once, his wife has more estrogen pumping through her than he does.”
Peterman grabbed Vansen by the front of her uniform, as Charlie sniffed at and circled her legs. “I’m not playing games with you, Commander! Tell me when my husband is scheduled to rendez-vous with us, or I promise you I will give you neuroses that will turn you an even brighter shade of pale!”
Vansen blinked. “We’re on our way to rendez-vous with the Escort now. Your precious incompetent husband will be back aboard in ten minutes. Allow me to jump for joy.”
“F*** off,” Peterman snapped, and headed back to the turbolift, dragging Charlie behind. Everyone on the bridge clapped.
“Good job putting her in her place, Counselor,” Lt. Commander Tilleran said as Peterman stepped into the lift.
“Damn straight,” Peterman said as the doors closed.
Vansen turned in the command chair to face the now-closed lift. “What nerve. The next time she does that, Tilleran, I want you to call security.”
“I didn’t see anything.”
“She jerked me around like a rag doll!”
“Sorry. I was looking the other way at the time.”
“This pregnancy has her acting like a raging lunatic. Unless, of course, she’s been like that all along, in which case she has no business serving in Starfleet.”
“Have you no compassion for the woman? She’s three months pregnant! Can’t you imagine what that must be like, emotionally?”
“I’m not having kids. They are annoying, clingy, and messy. As much as this crew has prepared me for dealing with that, I have no desire to take my work home with me.”
“Your loss,” Tilleran muttered, going back to her science scans.
A rush of relief came over Peterman as the airlock cycled open, allowing Captain Andy Baxter to step out, followed closely by Commander Richards, Lt. Commander J’hana, Dr. Browning, and Browning’s half-changeling son Plato. A handful of other officers from the Escort filed through the corridor, looking dizzy. Since the Escort was always parked upside-down, the airlock had to rotate in order to allow crew through into the Explorer. First-timers always found it nauseating.
“Baby!” Peterman cried, jerking Baxter into her arms and hugging him so tight it brought back images of Claire Webber, the Secondprize’s counselor. Charlie, meanwhile, hopped and clawed on Baxter eagerly, tongue wagging.
“Not even a ‘hello’ for me?” Richards muttered, and headed off arm-in-arm with Browning, Plato skipping behind.
Peterman continued to hold Baxter close as officers ducked out of the airlock behind him.
“I’ve missed you, love,” she cried into Baxter’s shoulder.
“I see I’m not too late for the emotional pangs of pregnancy?” Baxter asked, gently running his fingers through Peterman’s hair and cupping her face in his hands.
“You could say that,” she sniffed. “I’m not dealing with things very well. I’m getting fat!” She stepped back a few paces. “Look at me! I’m huge!”
Baxter cocked his head. “You’re hiding it well.”
“Starfleet uniforms are slimming.” Peterman grabbed Baxter’s hand and placed it on her hip. “Feel that? That’s pudge!”
“So? You’ve gained a couple pounds. I’ve got plenty more where that came from.”
“In just another month I’m going to be the size of a Sovereign-class starship!”
“But you’ll always be Excelsior-class to me, honey,” Baxter said soothingly, just as the diminutive Weyoun clone, the Explorer’s Dominion Ambassador, approached from the airlock.
“Captain,” he said, bowing at Baxter. “I want to thank you on behalf of all the Founders for allowing Plato to visit with them this past week. It meant a great deal to them.”
“Thank Janice. She’s the one who gave the OK,” Baxter said.
Weyoun looked at Charlie with a mixture of curiosity and concern. “Captain, what is that creature?”
“My wife’s dog,” Baxter said. “Isn’t he a cutie?”
“I am not certain.”
“Maybe you’ll want to dogsit sometime,” Baxter said, and wrapped an arm around Peterman, leading her down the corridor. “Now, if you’ll excuse me. My wife and I are going to get some lunch.” He tickled a finger on Peterman’s chin. “And you can tell me about everything I missed while I was gone.”
“Okay,” Peterman sniffed.
“Counselor,” Weyoun said, as the pair walked to the turbolift. “Are you all right?”
“Nothing giving birth won’t fix,” she called back over her shoulder.
“Excellent,” Weyoun said, clapped his hands together vigorously, and headed off the other way.
Peterman laid quietly on her side in bed as Baxter looked over a padd containing the Federation News.
“President Dillon imposed another tarriff on asteroid mining,” he said, shifting onto an elbow and paging through the information on the padd. “I swear he’s turning the Federation into the Ferenginar of old.”
“That’s nice,” Peterman said distantly.
“No, it’s not. The Federation is going to pot, and we’re too far away to do anything about it. If it wasn’t for the listening post outside the wormhole that leads back to the Alpha Quadrant, we wouldn’t even get periodic updates.”
“Shame,” Peterman said. “Say, hon…could you turn off the light and go to sleep?”
“Sure,” Baxter said. “I’ve heard enough bad news for one day.” He put the padd on his nightstand. “Computer: Lights.”
The lights in the Baxter/Peterman bedroom went out, and Baxter noisily rearranged himself in bed, folding pillows and tugging covers, until he was curled next to Peterman. He wiggled a bit more then let out a long breath.
“You know what?”
“Commander Vansen demoted an officer while I was gone. Lieutenant Sanborne. Or should I say ENSIGN Sanborne.”
“I’m sure she had her reasons.”
“The woman is a dictator and a control freak.”
“I don’t know what to do with her.”
“I have an idea.”
Baxter snuggled closer to Peterman. “What’s that, hon?”
“Shut up and go to sleep.”
“Pelomius Five,” the short Weyoun said, standing with his hands clasped behind his back in the front of the conference room. A little blue planet spun innocently on the viewscreen beside the diminutive Vorta. “A lovely galactic jewel just on the outskirts of Dominion territory.”
“Why is it so lovely?” Lt. Commander J’hana said gruffly.
“Because the planet is a vast and natural source of omega particle emissions. As many of you know, omega particles are extremely rare, and if harnessed properly, could be used to power starships indefinitely.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” J’hana muttered.
Tilleran patted her hand. “He’s actually got a good point. Starfleet’s been trying to harness omega particles for decades.”
“What stopped the Dominion?” asked Richards.
“The small matter of a nasty little war with the Alpha Quadrant,” Weyoun said, and looked out at stars flying by the conference room viewports. “As you might imagine, that diverted our attentions elsewhere.”
“And now the Dominion wants us to help them mine an innocent planet?” Baxter asked. “No dice. Starfleet doesn’t work that way.”
“We don’t want to mine the planet. We just want to study it. Nothing intrusive.”
“An ‘anthropological mission,’” said Richards. “Anthropological my ass. It’s pure greed.”
“I assure you, the mission is in the interest of science, and it’s one we wanted to undertake with the help of the Federation, in the spirit of cooperation and sharing knowledge.”
“I’ll make sure the away team is well-armed,” J’hana rumbled.
“I don’t think they need to be well-armed,” Vansen countered from the other side of the table. “Just well-disguised.”
“We’ll send them down to Sickbay for some alterations,” Baxter said. “But let’s get one thing straight…there will be no actions that will disrupt the affairs of this culture. Treaty or not, the Federation doesn’t play like that. Got it, Weyoun?”
Weyoun smiled broadly, then bowed. “Of course, Captain. May I ask who you plan on sending?”
Baxter nodded Richards’s way. “Let’s keep it small. Chris, you and Tilleran. The fewer people we send down there, the better.”
“Suits me,” Richards said.
Vansen cleared her throat. “I’m going.”
“Pardon?” Baxter said, glancing at her.
“I’ve been studying Dominion worlds for years. I haven’t gotten to visit one yet. I’m your Dominion expert. It’s appropriate. I’m going.”
“Can she tell me what to do?” Baxter asked Richards, scratching his head.
“Nope,” Richards said, smiling at Vansen.
“I’m going, or I am going to spend the afternoon briefing your bridge staff on proper turbolift etiquette.”
“Fine, get out of our hair,” Baxter said, waving Vansen off. “See if I care.”
“Wonderful,” Richards said, scooting out of his chair. “Are we done?”
“I guess,” Baxter mumbled.
“These are indeed exciting times,” Weyoun said, but in the rush for the conference room door, no one was really paying attention.
“Barley pancakes, a bowl of strawberries, and guava juice,” Doctor Browning said, setting the plate in front of Counselor Peterman as if it were crawling with bloodworms. “Can I get a side of branches and twigs with that?”
“Very funny,” Peterman muttered, and began busily munching on pancakes.
Browning sat down across from Peterman, watching her with concern. “You can tell a lot about a person by what they eat. There’s something wrong with you.”
“Are you telling me that as a xenonutritionist?” Peterman said, popping a strawberry into her mouth.
“No, I’m telling you that as a restaurant owner, and a friend. You’re depressed.”
“I’m overcome with raging hormones. I’m happy one minute, desperately sad the next, and seething with anger the next.”
“Hmm. Sounds like Doctor Ranowat.”
“The internist who works nights in Sickbay. He’s bipolar.”
“I am NOT bipolar!” Peterman shouted, holding her fork up to Browning’s throat. “Don’t even insinuate I’m bipolar! Take it back, take it back! Take it BACK!”
Browning gently pushed the fork down. “I think you just illustrated my point.”
Peterman’s lip quivered, and she reached forward and enveloped Browning in a hug. “Oh, Janice you’re right. I’m so sorry. I’m so sooo sooo sorry. How can I make it up to you?”
“Know a good counselor?” Peterman sniffed, leaning her head on Browning’s shoulder.
“The best. Unfortunately, I just told her to take a couple days off, so she’s unavailable.”
Peterman looked at Browning, bleary-eyed. “So who should she talk to instead?”
Browning lovingly stroked Peterman’s hair. “Her best friend.”
“Actually, I think Lieutenant Commander Hartley is busy today.”
“And then she didn’t even want to gossip about Commander Vansen,” Baxter said, staring across his desk at Commander Richards.
“I thought we were meeting to discuss the anthropological visit to Pelomius Five.”
Baxter blew a frustrated breath. “You should see her, Chris. She’s distant and weird. She’s frazzled.” He tapped some controls on his desktop viewer. “Look at these appointments.” He spun the terminal to face Richards.
The First Officer nodded. “She has a lot. Wait a minute. These are from last week.”
“Yeah. She still hasn’t seen them. She’s too depressed to deal with them.”
“Well,” Richards said. “If you eliminate Lieutenant Sefelt, that’s half of ‘em right there.”
“Good point,” Baxter said, turning the viewer back around. “Still, I feel like I should do something to lift her spirits. Get her out of this rut. She really hasn’t gotten out much since the pregnancy.”
“What about that time she got stuck aboard a rebel Jem’Hadar battleship with you a couple months ago?”
“And you better believe THAT lifted her spirits,” Baxter said. “What she needs is an adventure.”
Richards pursed his lips. “Are we going to discuss the Pelomius Five mission, or not?”
“That’s it!” Baxter snapped his fingers. “We’ll send her down to Pelomius Five as part of the away team. She’s always bugging me about going on more away teams. And here’s one that is sure not to be dangerous, so I don’t feel bad sending her on it.” Baxter tapped a control on the desktop viewer. “According to our Dominion report, Pelomius is in a stage of development similar to the Rennaissance on Earth. It should be booming with culture and entertainment. The perfect getaway! You did it, Chris! You solved our problem!”
“No kidding? Cool.”
“Well, don’t just sit there. Beam down already!”
“You all look just fabulous!” Yeoman Briggs said, clapping his hands joyfully. “Turn around for me. Let me see you move in those outfits! Don’t be afraid to swing your arms a little, Mister Richards!”
“I feel like an idiot.”
“That may be because you’re wearing pantyhose,” Tilleran said.
Indeed, Richards was dressed in a rennaissance-Earth type outfit, similar to those worn by the Pelomians, so Weyoun had said. It was complete with white pantyhose, breeches, and a frilly white shirt.
“I like my outfit better,” Tilleran said, turning this way and that, looking at herself in the mirror in Briggs’s Fashion Shoppe. She was wearing a long, flowy dress with gold embroidery and gilding. Vansen stood beside her in a similar outfit. Both women were victim of a merciless hair-crimping, performed by Yeoman Briggs.
“This getup is absolutely ridiculous,” Vansen muttered into the mirror.
“That’s because you have no taste in clothing, honey. Stop by my shop after your mission, I’ll fix you up.”
“Why don’t you just shut up and loosen this corset!” Vansen snapped.
“You catty little bitch,” Briggs hissed and knelt down to work on Vansen’s dress.
“I wonder where our last away team member is,” said Richards.
“Probably getting her ear ridges,” Tilleran suggested, fingering the textured ridges that traveled along the outer edge of her earlobe, the only feature that distinguished Pelomians from humans and Betazoids.
“What last away team member?” Vansen asked, looking up from Briggs’s alterations.
“We had a late entry.”
“This isn’t a sehlat race!” Vansen grumbled.
Vansen covered her face. “I can only imagine.”
“One counselor, ready for her vacation!” Doctor Browning announced, ushering Counselor Peterman into the shoppe. “Look at her ears. Aren’t they cute?”
“Why did you make hers cuter than mine?” asked Tilleran.
“To keep her from flying into a berserker rage,” Browning hissed between clenched teeth, then smiled again at Peterman. “Doesn’t she look beautiful? Tell her she looks beautiful, everybody.”
“I give a crap what she looks like,” Vansen said, looking to Richards. “Why is she going on this away mission?”
“Because she needs the vacation.”
“And since when is this a Club Fed?” Vansen muttered, turning on Peterman. “I won’t stand for you fouling up this mission. We don’t need a counselor.”
“Get me your scissors, Yeoman Briggs,” Peterman growled. “I have some alterations to make to Commander Vansen.”
“I say we need a counselor,” said Richards. “And I outrank you. So does the captain, whose idea this was in the first place, so shut up and get ready to disembark.” That drew a smile from Dr. Browning.
“Honey, that was quite nice. Remember that speech. I want you to give it again tonight, after a large dinner and lots of wine.”
Richards grinned. “Yes, Doctor.” He looked at Briggs. “Hurry up and get Kelly into her outfit. Time is wasting.”
Briggs squeezed Richards’s arm. “Ooh…you are so forceful. I second Doctor Browning’s emotion.”
“Isn’t he nice?” Browning asked, then ducked out of the fashion shoppe.
Vansen stormed out of the shoppe. “I’ll be waiting in the transporter room. Don’t be late.”
“Where to, sugar?” Transporter Chief Lindsay Morgan asked with a wink and a smile as Richards climbed the transporter pad, followed by Vansen, Tilleran, and a hesitant-looking Peterman.
“To the area with the highest concentration of omega emissions,” Richards said. “I believe Commander Tilleran arranged that with you in advance?”
“Oh, she did,” said Morgan. “I just wanted to ask. You know, as a courtesy.”
“That’s, um, mighty thoughtful of you, Chief,” Richards said with a grin.
Vansen glanced at Peterman as Morgan programmed in the coordinates. “You look like a slut.”
“You’re just jealous because I have bigger breasts,” Peterman snapped back.
“That’s because you’re pregnant. Look, your hips ballooned up too. I’m not jealous of that.”
“Ladies…” Richards said tiredly.
Peterman covered her face. “I’m sorry, Chris. I know you’re trying to lead a nice away team, and I’m messing it all up now. I’ll be quiet from here on out.” She muffled her mouth with her hands, sobbing quietly.
Vansen rolled her eyes. “Energize, Morgan.”
The away team materialized on a gravelly road that cut through a field of blue, wavy grass.
Peterman heard music coming from a far-off town, which looked to be about half a kilometer away.
“Do you hear that?” she asked. “It’s beautiful. It sounds like Earth classical.”
“I hear something else. Something more like Betazoid Rhythm and Blues,” Tilleran said, and withdrew her tricorder.
“What are you picking up?” Richards asked, glancing around the scenery, and the horizon, where a yellow-brown sun was setting.
“A high concentration of omega particles emanating from about one kilometer due south of us, for one, and…” Tilleran’s voice trailed off.
Richards stared at her. “What else?”
“I’m…I’m not sure. Something…something…” She held her hands to her temples. “I’m picking up something large and complex…a powerful mind. Maybe hundreds of powerful minds…”
“Good luck with that,” Peterman said lightly, and trotted off onto the wavy blue grass.
“Don’t get lost!” Vansen said smugly, waving as Peterman walked out into the field.
The grass felt so good crunching underneath her boots. Peterman knelt to feel it, and indeed it was soft and cushiony. It would feel so good to lay on that, with her aching back…just another of the new things that had been happening to her body of late. She wondered how much more her back would ache when she was carrying a heavy child in her tummy.
She turned and laid back on the grass, letting her ornate dress spread all around her, staring up at a sky full of green-white clouds.
This was Pelomius. How beautiful.
Peterman wached the clouds roll across the horizon and thought about how happy she was, how content, to be sharing this moment, alone, just her and her future child, laying on the grass, enjoying, inhaling the cool, sweet breeze.
Several minutes later, she leaned up, expecting to see the away team still milling about on the road.
“That’s odd,” Peterman said, climbing to her feet and straightening the folds of her dress in front and back. She jogged out to the street to find everyone gone.
“Chris? Tilleran? Vansen?” Peterman glanced to her left, then her right. In the distance, she spotted a figure with a large, flowing dress which was undoubtedly Vansen. But she looked like she was talking, and staring off at something in the distance, even though Peterman couldn’t get the slightest clue of what it was she was staring at.
She lifted her dress off the ground and jogged down the road toward Vansen, and was puzzled when she heard her speaking.
“Nought’s had, all’s spent, where our desire is got without content; ‘tis safer to be that which we destroy than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy.” She glanced at Peterman, as if seeing her for the first time. “How now, my lord, why do you keep alone, of sorriest fancies your companions making, using those thoughts which should indeed have died with them they think on?”
“What the hell are you babbling about, Vansen?” Peterman asked.
“Things without all remedy should be without regard: what’s done, is done,” Vansen replied.
“Uh-huh,” said Peterman. “I see.” She turned around. “TILLERAN! CHRISTOPHER! SOMEBODY!”
She tapped the combadge hidden inside her boustier. “Peterman to Tilleran.”
“Peterman to Richards.”
Grunting…and splashing. What could that be?
She hadn’t thought to bring a tricorder, but knew Vansen had brought one. Vansen’s dark brown eyes looked glassy and unfocused. The words sounded memorized and recited, as if Vansen was performing a private little play just for Peterman.
Peterman decided the thing to do was to test Vansen’s response while at the same time making a grab for the tricorder. If she could be snapped out of this trancelike state, then what Peterman was about to do would accomplish it.
The tricorder was strapped to Vansen’s ankle, so as not to be noticed by the passing Pelomian observer.
Reluctantly, Peterman knelt by Vansen’s dress and sighed, staring at it. She gently lifted it, and grabbed for the tricorder. When she put the dress flap back down, she looked up for any sign of reaction from Vansen, and got none. Instead, Vansen was just babbling more of the same nonsense:
“Come on; gentle my lord, sleek o’er your rugged looks, be bright and jovial among your guests to-night.”
“Riiiiiiiight,” Peterman mumbled, and flipped open the tricorder. She knew the basics of reading tricorders, but that was about it. Hopefully that would be enough. What she could see upon scanning Vansen was that her brainwave patterns were totally off-kilter. Not that it was totally surprising, but it annoyed Peterman that she wasn’t able to diagnose what had happened–just that SOMETHING had happened.
She then set the tricorder to scan for human and Betazoid lifesigns. She spotted the Betazoid lifesign as being slightly closer than the human, and trudged off in that direction, essentially leaving Vansen for dead. She didn’t have much of a problem with that.
As she walked along the gravelly path, she decided it was a rather good time to contact the Explorer.
“Peterman to Baxter.”
“Baxter here. How’s the away mission going so far, sweety? And why are you calling me, instead of Richards?”
Peterman resisted the urge to say “Aren’t you glad to hear from your wife?” and instead said: “We’ve hit a bit of a snag.”
“Um…what kind of snag?”
“The away-team-losing kind.”
“Oh, no. J’hana, Sefelt, you’re with me. Honey, I’ll be right–”
“NO!” Peterman exclaimed. “Not until we know what happened to the team. I walked away for five minutes and when I got back they had all wandered off in different directions. Vansen was the closest. And when I found her, she was babbling incoherently to herself in some kind of ancient Earth dialect.”
“I scanned her, and it looks like there is some kind of energy pattern affecting her brain.”
“Could it be that omega thingie?”
“Maybe. I don’t know.”
“That’s just what I plan on doing. I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, don’t send anybody else down or try to beam any of us up until we know what we’re dealing with.”
“That was a very professional, very Starfleet thing for you to say.”
“Don’t patronize me! Peterman out!” snapped the counselor, and she stopped in her tracks as soon as she saw Tilleran.
Peterman had just rounded a bend around a tall hill, and found Tilleran perched atop a rocky outcropping. At first glance, Peterman thought the Betazoid was being hit by some kind of electrical jolt. But that wasn’t at all the case.
She was dancing.
“Tilleran,” Peterman called as she approached the outcropping. “Commander Tilleran! Can you hear me?”
She whipped out her tricorder and started scanning. Same wave imbalance in the brain patterns as Vansen had.
But Tilleran wasn’t reciting anything. She had pulled off her dress though, and was standing there in a blouse, breeches, and stockings, contorting her body, holding her hands in the air and waving them, then squatting down and rolling over, kicking her legs up in the air. She then hopped back to her feet and began a series of quick hops, moving in a roughly circular pattern. Then she hopped off the outcropping and twirled, arms out, past Peterman, and along the gravely road.
“Tilleran!” Peterman called after the Betazoid. “Come back here! That’s an order!”
And the Betazoid just twirled away as if Peterman wasn’t there.
Peterman grumbled a curse to herself as the Betazoid jeteed off into the distance.
“Now to find Richards,” Peterman said to herself, even though she pretty much knew what to expect. She set the tricorder to scan for the Explorer first officer.
Peterman found Richards in an abandoned barn, surrounded by buckets of multicolored liquid. Much like Tilleran and Vansen, Richards went about his work as if Peterman weren’t even there. It was quite aggravating.
She didn’t even bother calling Richards’s name. She just watched him, trying to make some sense of what he was doing, trying to tie it in with what she saw Tilleran and Vansen doing.
Richards was grabbing buckets of paint one at a time, tossing their contents at the blank, white barn wall.
One after the other, great blobs of color hit the wall in vivid starbursts, overlapping and spreading across the wall like a beautiful, if abstract, mural…a pure artistic expression. An expression of Richards’s artistic ability.
A pure artistic expression of Richards’s ability.
Then it clicked. Peterman remembered Tilleran telling her once about her career before Starfleet. She worked in the Betazed business community where, Tilleran had told her, all the deals were made on the dance floor, in hot, sweaty dance clubs with multicolored lights. Each contortion of your body was either a bid, or a refusal or acceptance of someone else’s bid. It was a wordless language used by telepaths, who didn’t really need language to communicate anyway. Tilleran had often said she considered that an art form, and Peterman was pretty sure that’s what Tilleran was doing back on the rocky outcropping.
Vansen, then…was she reciting something from some sort of play? The words sounded vaguely familiar, but many years had passed since Peterman had taken a literature class and she just couldn’t be sure.
What she did realize, though, was that each member of the away team was caught up in a trance of artistic expression.
Fine and dandy, but how was that happening. And, more importantly, why?
“I’m busy finishing up with the renovations to Engineering,” Lt. Commander Megan Hartley said as she walked out onto the Explorer bridge. “This better be good.”
“We have an away team stranded down on the planet below, and we can’t get them back,” Captain Baxter said, glancing back at Hartley from his command chair.
“Where’s Vansen?” Hartley asked, stepping down beside the captain.
“She’s one of the one’s who’s lost.”
Hartley rubbed her chin. “Really?”
Baxter gritted his teeth. “I’d appreciate it if you put your hatred for Lieutenant Commander Vansen aside for the minute and help me find a way to get Richards, Peterman, Tilleran, and, yes, Vansen, back.”
“Hmph,” Hartley huffed. “I’d think, what with Tilleran gone, that Commander J’hana would be on the case.”
“She…was…” Baxter said uncomfortably. He pointed back at the tactical console, which was smashed in. “She wasn’t so successful. I sent her down to Mirk’s so she could cool off.”
Hartley still wasn’t convinced this warranted her services. “Don’t you have a backup science officer for things like this?”
Baxter thumbed over at the pudgy, warthog-faced young ensign at the science station. “That would be Ensign Koltz.”
Koltz, a Tellarite, grinned toothily at Hartley. “You married?”
“Engaged,” Hartley muttered, walking over to the science station.
“So, you’re not totally tied down?”
“Move over, furball,” Hartley said, and elbowed her way behind Tilleran’s console. She studied the readings. “As you might imagine, Captain, the omega emissions coming off this planet make it very hard to read much of anything. Makes me wonder why you even risked beaming down an away team.”
“Seemed like a good idea at the time,” Baxter mumbled, just as the aft turbolift opened up, spilling out a tiny Weyoun clone.
“Captain, I understand you are having some difficulties with your away team,” Weyoun said, approaching the command chair. He and Baxter, who was sitting, were looking almost eye-to-eye.
“Word travels fast,” Baxter muttered, looking at the viewscreen.
“Can I be of some assistance?”
“Don’t worry. My wife is on the case. Have a seat, enjoy the wait.”
“Your…wife. I thought she was some sort of therapist.”
“Why was she chosen for this away team?”
“So she could unwind and have some fun!” Baxter snapped. He was in no mood to be interrogated by a Vorta.
“HA!” Hartley exclaimed so loud Koltz jumped back.
“You nearly spit in my face, Commander,” he snorted. “Not that I wouldn’t have liked that.”
Hartley ignored the Tellarite. “Captain. I’ve located the members of the away team.”
“Peterman to Baxter,” trilled the comm system. “I’ve located all the members of the away team.”
Hartley glared at Baxter. “Why did I even BOTHER?”
Baxter ignored Hartley. “What have you found, honey?”
“That they seem to be stuck in some kind of trance, where they’re constantly expressing their artistic abilities, and not doing much else.”
“Ah ha,” Baxter nodded. “Well, that solved that. Lieutenant Commander Hartley has located the team in spite of the omega emissions, and we’re ready to beam them up.”
“Thank goodness,” Peterman said. “Still, I recommend full quarantine procedure.”
Baxter nodded in Hartley’s direction, and the engineer tapped quickly at the science console. “Commencing beam-out.”
Baxter rapped his fingers on the command chair for a few moments, until an alarming bleep came from the science station. He glanced at Hartley.
“We can’t maintain a signal lock,” Hartley reported.
Baxter got up and walked over to sciences. “Why not?”
“Because ‘we’ are all beauty and no brains!” snorted Koltz.
Hartley elbowed the Tellarite in the side and continued. “On the CONTRARY, it is because of all those stupid omega particles. They seem to have intensified around the area where the away team beamed down.”
“Bottom line…” Baxter siad.
“There’s no way to pick them up unless we go down in a shuttlecraft.”
“If anyone comes near this planet, they’ll probably get stuck in a similar trance,” Peterman said.
“Well, why aren’t you in a trance?” Hartley asked over the comm channel.
“Maybe she doesn’t have any artistic abilities,” Koltz suggested.
“I resent that, Ensign!” Peterman yelled over the comm channel.
“Is there anything else that separates Counselor Peterman from Tilleran, Vansen and Richards?” Weyoun pondered.
Baxter scratched his head. “Hmmm.”
Koltz stared at his boots. “Hmmm.”
Lieutenants Sefelt and Madera exchanged confused shrugs from the forward stations.
“SHE’S F***ING PREGNANT!” Lt. Commander Hartley cried out, then stormed into the turbolift. “Let me know when you find our people. Otherwise, don’t bug me unless it’s a bonafide emergency.”
“That was helpful,” Weyoun said quietly to Baxter.
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “You hear that, honey? You think maybe you’re not affected because you’re pregnant?”
“In the absence of any better theories, I’ll go with that,” Peterman mumbled. “So do you know of any other pregnant people on the ship who could come down in a shuttle and pick me and the others up?”
“I’ll look around,” Baxter said. “There’s got to be ONE pregnant woman…or something…somewhere on this ship. We’ll keep you posted.”
“Meanwhile, I’ll try to find some other Pelomians. See if they’re in similar trances, or if they can tell us how to snap people out of it.”
“Be careful baby,” Baxter called over the comm. “Baxter out.” He looked at Weyoun. “I don’t suppose you can shed any light on this, huh?”
“Regrettably, no,” Weyoun said.
“That’s a shame,” Baxter muttered.
As beautiful as it was, the music coming from town was just too overpowering. As she walked into the quaint little village, Peterman could pick out four or five different music styles, all playing at the same time, from, she assumed, live acoustical instruments, booming all about her from the surrounding cobblestoned buildings. It was all a little disconcerting. While any one piece was probably beautiful on its own, the combination of all the sounds was starting to give Peterman a headache.
As she considered this, Peterman came upon a storefront with a shingle hung out over the door, inscribed with the image of a frosty mug. On any planet, that meant a bar.
Obviously, considering she was with child, Peterman did not plan on drinking. She might, however, get some information in the bar.
“Hello, weary traveler,” said a stocky, bearded man from behind the bar as she walked in. The room was dank and not well-lit. At the other end of the room, a Pelomian stood atop a makeshift stage and recited what sounded like poems. Something must have been lost in the translation, because they didn’t make the faintest of sense to Peterman.
Peterman approached the bar and smiled at the bearded man. “Hi there,” she said. “I was wondering if you could tell me if there were any strange diseases going around.”
“You’re not with the health warden, are you?” the bearded man asked, eyes twitching with fear.
“No, no,” Peterman said, waving a hand dismissively. “I just have some sick friends down the road and was wondering if anyone else has their symptoms.”
The bartender’s round face softened with concern. “That sounds just awful. Let me get you a mug of brew, and we’ll talk about it. They say listening is an art form. And I’m here to do that.”
Peterman rolled her eyes. “Nevermind.”
“I’m here to talk to you! Just let me in! Let me break down those walls between us!”
With an annoyed sigh, Peterman walked over to the mostly-empty audience. A few Pelomians were seated at tables, sketching on rudimentary notepads or molding clay. It was then that Peterman realized the bar was dark for a reason. If it were well-lit, the customers would notice how extremely dirty it was. She ran her finger along an unoccupied table, and came up with a thick layer of dust.
This whole city, maybe this whole world, was in the same trance her away team was in. And the worst part was, since the whole planet was out fulfilling their creative dreams, there was no one around to clean. What kind of diabolical maniac would do something like that to a planet? Was this the result of some kind of plague, or biological warfare? Or the work some kind of being or consciousness beyond anything Peterman could imagine?
Whatever the case, Peterman was thankful that cooking was considered an artform. At least these people were eating well.
Not that it mattered to Peterman, whose stomach was growling, but too upset to hold anything down. She’d had some apple pie with sauteed mushrooms for breakfast and she was still full from that.
She was pondering that as the bartender came out from behind the bar and stared at Petesen as if for the first time.
“You have questions,” he said bluntly.
“Didn’t you just hear me ask you one, like two minutes ago?”
“I can take you to the source of all answers.”
“What’s the source?”
“Now that’s just plain rude. Why don’t you just answer me?”
The bartender stared blankly into space as he walked, zombielike, toward the exit. “Follow me, and your questions will be answered.”
“Well,” Peterman huffed. “It’s about time.”
“Hit me again, Mirk,” J’hana said groggily, shoving her empty glass across the Constellation Club bar.
“Are you sure?” Mirk asked. “Aren’t you on duty?”
“What is duty?” J’hana grumbled, staring at the ceiling of the darkened club. “I’m without my beloved Imzadi, and powerless to retrieve her.”
“Please, don’t say ‘retriever,’” Janice Browning moaned from beside J’hana. “You think you have problems. I have to dog-sit.”
“How’s that coming?”
Browning stared into her glass of Terellian apple soda. “Plato was riding Charlie through the living room, last I saw him.”
“Hasn’t he grown too big for that?” asked J’hana.
Browning sipped. “He shrank a little, actually.”
“Good for him,” Mirk said encouragingly.
“This is all my fault,” Browning moaned.
“I’m sure he’ll go back to his normal size,” said Mirk.
“I’m talking about Kelly being stranded down there. It was my idea that she go on the away team.”
“Actually,” J’hana belched. “It was the Captain’s idea, along with Commander Richards, I believe.”
“Yeah, maybe. But I encouraged her. I modified her ears, even.”
“I’m the one in charge of the safety of everyone on this ship,” J’hana said, as Mirk served her another drink…something bubbly from which black smoke billowed. “Ultimately, it’s my responsibility that Ariel…and those other people…are lost.”
“There’s always a bright side, ladies,” said Mirk. “If Counselor Peterman hadn’t beamed down with the others, they’d all be stranded down there in whatever kind of strange semi-conscious state they’re in. At least the counselor is able to find a way off that planet.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Browning said. “I don’t know.”
“You’d feel better if you got drunk with me.”
“I don’t drink.” Browning stared at the chronometer above Mirk. “Especially at 1300 in the afternoon.”
“You do not know what you’re missing,” J’hana muttered.
Peterman walked quietly behind the bartender along a dirt path as the Pelomian sun hung high in the sky. They were at least half a klick outside of town, and appeared to be nearing a narrow cave entrance.
The bartender stopped abruptly. So abruptly, in fact, Peterman nearly bumped into him. She maneuvered around the bartender and glanced at him.
He had a glazed look on his face as he pointed dumbly at the cave entrance. “You will find your answers there. Have a nice day.” He pivoted on one foot and trudged back toward town.
“Thanks,” Peterman said, squeezing into the cave entrance. She didn’t get far before she realized she was in complete darkness. She decided the best course of action was to call up to the ship to get a flashlight beamed down, and maybe some idea of what she was heading into. She tapped her combadge. “Peterman to Baxter.”
There was no response. She turned around to leave the cave so she could get a signal up to the ship, when suddenly a bright pink light shone in her face from deep in the cave, and a loud voice boomed in her ears.
“COME TO ME.”
“What if I don’t want to?” Peterman called back.
“YOUR QUESTIONS MUST BE ANSWERED.”
“I don’t really care if they get answered or not,” Peterman lied.
“YOU ARE LYING. COME HERE.”
“No.” Peterman folded her arms.
“Well, okay. If you INSIST!”
As Peterman proceeded deeper into the cave, toward the bright pinkish light, her tricorder was showing omega readings off the scale, just 20 meters away, dead ahead. Then, predictably, the tricorder’s data feed shut off. Now she was just groping her way along the ridged cave wall, struggling to get to the source of the bright, pink light.
The light grew more intense and lit her way as she approached, until finally, mercifully, she found the source of her search.
A bright, pink sphere, oscillating with what seemed like renewed vigor at Peterman’s arrival.
“A QUESTION. I HAVE WAITED EONS FOR A QUESTION,” it said, pulsating with each word.
Peterman scratched her head. “You’re another Guardian of Forever?”
“THANK YOU FOR ASKING, BUT NOT QUITE.”
“Then what are you?”
“I…” it said, in a rich, basso voice. “AM THE GUARDIAN OF WHATEVER.”
Peterman slapped a hand over her face.
“What do you mean, lost contact?” Baxter demanded of J’hana, who’d just retaken her post at tactical.
“I mean, we are showing no trace of her,” J’hana snapped back at Baxter, then clumsily slapped some controls on her recently-repaired panel, bringing up an overhead view of the area where Peterman had been last spotted, overlain with sensor input. “As you’ll see here, exactly four minutes ago, the Counselor walked into a cave or cavelike structure. She then…BRAAAAAAAAP …disappeared off sensors, due to an overwhelmingly strong amount of omega emissions.”
Baxter frowned at the viewscreen. “Can we punch through?”
“Not unless we beam someone else down.” She chuckled. “Then that person would be lost. Would that not be worthy of… BRAAAAAAP…laughter?”
“Commander, are you drunk?”
“I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”
“The Guardian of ‘Whatever,’” Peterman muttered. “Can’t say I’ve heard of you.”
“I AM NOT SURPRISED,” the Guardian replied. “MY CALLING IS NOT NEARLY AS HIGH-PROFILE AS THAT OF THE OTHERS.”
“What is your calling, if I may ask?” Peterman said.
“OOOOH, ANOTHER QUESTION,” the Guardian said giddily. “YOU ARE GOOD!”
“I AM THE GUARDIAN OF ALL THAT IS CULTURAL. THE ULTIMATE AND ETERNAL PATRON OF THE ARTS.”
“MY PURPOSE ON THIS WORLD IS TO USE MY CONSIDERABLE POWERS TO ENSURE ITS PEOPLE REACH THEIR PEAK ARTISTIC POTENTIAL.”
“I see. Well, you’ve snagged a few of my friends. Kindly let them go and we’ll be on our way.”
“I CAN’T DO THAT,” replied the Guardian. “IT HAS BEEN A LONG TIME SINCE I HAVE HAD THE PLEASURE OF HANGING OUT WITH ANYONE WHO ISN’T PELOMIAN. IT’S FRUSTRATING. THEY ALL HAVE SUCH SIMILAR ASPIRATIONS. I AM BORED OF THEM. YOU AND YOUR CREWMATES, THOUGH, ARE DIVERSE AND INTERESTING. I WANT TO STUDY YOU MORE.”
“Why aren’t I all tranced out like the others, then?”
“THANKS FOR ASKING ANOTHER QUES–” the Guardian said, but Peterman cut him off with a glare. “YOU ARE WITH CHILD,” he said, finally.
“What difference does that make?”
“I WISH TO STUDY THE ART OF CHILDBIRTH, SPECIFICALLY THE PRACTICE YOU CALL ‘LAMAZ.’ SINCE YOU WON’T BE GIVING BIRTH FOR SEVERAL MONTHS, I FIGURED IT WAS POINTLESS TO ENTRANCE YOU SO SOON. IT IS MUCH MORE INTERESTING TO SPEAK WITH YOU.”
“The others are just as interesting to speak to, if you’d have just given them a chance to talk without making them into zombies,” Peterman said. Then she thought about it. “Well, maybe not QUITE as interesting as me, but interesting nonetheless.” Something didn’t make sense. This entity wasn’t being entirely forthcoming about why he didn’t entrance Peterman, or at least that’s what her gut counseling instincts told her. “Why have you really brought me here?” she asked. “You’ve obviously gone to a lot of trouble. You gave me an escort, and everything.”
“I ENJOY THE COMPANY.”
“It goes deeper than that, doesn’t it?”
“I DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN. THAT IS A QUESTION, BUT I DO NOT LIKE IT.”
“You don’t want me for lamaz. You want me for the real artform I practice. Counseling!”
“AND WHO ON PELOMIA WOULD YOU COUNSEL?”
“THAT IS SILLY. I AM ALL-KNOWING. WHY WOULD I NEED COUNSELING?”
“Because even all-knowing spheres of rock need a person to help them sort through their feelings every once in a while.” Peterman sympathized with the Guardian. She was feeling a bit emotional herself, as she neared the third month of her pregnancy. “Trust me on this one, Guardian. I counsel people for a living, and even I need a counselor every now and then.”
“WHO DO YOU TALK TO?”
Peterman shrugged. “My husband, Andy, I guess. And my best friend, Janice Browning.”
“THESE PEOPLE COUNSEL YOU?”
“Not really. They just listen. Of course, I don’t tell them everything.”
“I thought I was supposed to be the one asking the questions?”
“OH. RIGHT. BUT I KIND OF LIKE ASKING QUESTIONS TOO.”
“Good, good. I think we’re getting somewhere,” Peterman said. “Listen, my feet are killing me. Could I sit down somewhere while we do this?
“I HAVE NO CHAIRS.”
“You’re all-knowing, and you can’t even get me a decent chair?”
“I CAN HAVE ONE OF THE HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF FINE CRAFTSMEN ON THIS PLANET FASHION ONE FOR YOU AND BRING IT HERE.”
Peterman sighed. “Don’t bother.” She glanced around and found a fairly flat outcropping of rocks and sat down, leaning forward on her knees. “Okay, then. You want to ask questions too. And you deserve that. Don’t let anyone tell you different.”
“THERE IS NO ONE AROUND TO TELL ME ANYTHING.”
Peterman thought about that. “Maybe that’s part of your problem.”
“I HAVE A PROBLEM?” The guardian sounded truly confused.
“That’s why you brought me here.”
“I BROUGHT YOU HERE SO YOU COULD ASK ME QUESTIONS, AND SO I COULD STUDY YOU AS A SPECIMEN OF HUMANITY.”
“Oh, you know that’s just a cop-out,” Peterman said. “Be true to yourself. Ask yourself, ‘Why am I really here’?”
There were long moments of silence.
“THE GUARDIAN CANNOT ASK HIMSELF A QUESTION. ASK ME ANOTHER QUESTION.”
“Wonder how she’s doing,” Captain Baxter said, idly swinging back and forth in his command chair.
Dr. Browning was sitting next to him. “Not that I’m not worried about Kelly, but you realize there are other people down there too. Your best friend, Commander Vansen…Commander Tilleran…”
Baxter nodded. “Yes. But none of them are having my baby.”
“Had I been male, one of them would be having mine,” J’hana belched, then collapsed onto the deck behind her station.
“You’re relieved of duty, Commander,” Baxter mumbled.
The gears in Peterman’s head were turning. “You know what I think?”
“A VERY GOOD QUESTION! HOWEVER, OMNISCIENT AS I AM, I FEAR I DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU THINK.”
“Then allow me to enlighten you: I think you’re jealous of the other guardians.”
“HAH! THAT IS A LAUGH.”
“Is it? I don’t think so. You mentioned that your calling is not as high as the other guardians. The ones who guard Forever, for instance. How can you not have a little bit of unresolved anger about the fact that you feel inferior to the other guardians?”
“WE ALL HAVE OUR PLACES IN LIFE.”
“And what’s your place in life?”
“TO HELP BEINGS OF THIS PLANET REACH THEIR CREATIVE PEAK.”
“Why this planet?”
“BECAUSE IT IS HERE.”
“Why not another planet?”
“THIS PLANET LACKED CREATIVE ASPIRATION. IN OUR DIVINE WISDOM, WE GAVE IT TO THEM.”
Peterman nodded. “And does that make you feel powerful?”
“I…SUPPOSE. I MUST SAY, THESE ARE A LOT OF QUESTIONS.”
“Yes. Therapy involves lots of questions. But it’s fun, isn’t it?”
“I DO NOT BELIEVE SO.”
“So…why do you need to feel powerful?”
“WHO SAID I NEEDED TO FEEL POWERFUL?”
“Well, you do this to feel powerful. Why is it necessary to feel powerful?”
“LOOK, THIS IS JUST MY LINE OF WORK. YOU ARE A COUNSELOR. WHY DO YOU COUNSEL?”
“We’re talking about you here, bub, not me.”
“RIGHT, RIGHT.” The Guardian sighed.
“I’m going to help you, damn it, whether you like it or not.”
“I DO NOT LIKE IT.”
“What about the people of Pelomius?” she asked. “Don’t you think it would be nice to see what THEY think about all this?” The whole thing was starting to really annoy Peterman. “Don’t they get a say in this?”
“THEY ARE CAUGHT AT THEIR ARTISTIC PEAK. PELOMIUS IS RIFE WITH THE BEST IN FOOD, ENTERTAINMENT, AND CULTURE. IS THAT SO BAD?”
“With no one around to enjoy it, other than you.”
“AND YOU, AT LEAST FOR THE NEXT SEVERAL MONTHS.” If the Guardian had a mouth, Peterman was sure he’d be smiling. “AFTER THAT, YOU WILL BE LOST IN THE LOVELY ART OF LAMAZ. AND YOUR CHILD…WELL, THERE IS NO TELLING WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO H–”
“WAIT! I don’t want to know the baby’s gender!”
“It’s just a thing with me. I’ve known all my life that if I was to get pregnant, I wouldn’t want to know the gender of the child until he or she is born.”
The Guardian let out an impatient huff. “THAT’S THE SILLIEST THING I’VE EVER HEARD.”
“Still, I’d appreciate it if you respect my wishes.”
“ARE YOU SURE YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW? I THINK YOU’LL BE QUIET PLEASED.”
“I don’t want to get into a whole debate with you.” Truth be told, however, Peterman was dying to know. She pushed that thought aside. “Listen…I’m a counselor. I’m specially trained in therapy. I can help you work through this…need to live vicariously through others.”
“AND WHY WOULD I POSSIBLY WANT TO ‘WORK THROUGH’ THAT?”
“Wouldn’t you like to have adventures of your own?”
“GUARDIANS DO NOT HAVE ADVENTURES. THEY MERELY OBSERVE.”
“So you just sit here, in this cave, and observe things. Don’t you have artistic aspirations of your own?”
“WE ARE NOT ARTISANS. WE ARE GUARDIANS.”
“Yeah, but you don’t even guard anything cool like ‘forever.’ You guard ‘whatever,’ whatever that is.”
“WHATEVER IS VERY IMPORTANT. IT IS THE FABRIC OF OUR LIVES, THE VERY REASON WE LIVE…THE SOURCE OF OUR CREATIVITY.”
“Yawn yawn YAWN!” Peterman moaned. “I don’t know what your particular life span is, but we humans have a saying: Life is short. Do you really want your legacy to be the fact that you lived through the potential of others? Is that REALLY what you want to be known for when it’s all over?”
“INTERESTING YOU SHOULD SAY THAT.” The Guardian was quiet several moments. “THE UNIVERSE IS SUPPOSED TO END IN SEVEN POINT FIVE YEARS. IT MIGHT BE NICE TO GET OUT AND EXPLORE THE COSMOS. I HEAR IT’S NICE THIS TIME OF YEAR.”
Peterman stared at the Guardian, shocked. “WAIT! Wait, wait, wait! The universe is going to end in seven and a half years?”
“WHAT? OH, NEVERMIND. FORGET I SAID ANYTHING ABOUT THAT.”
“So you think that will solve all your problems? Going out and partying around the universe for a few years?”
“IT IS BETTER THAN SITTING HERE BEING ANALYZED BY YOU.”
“Now, look here…” Peterman put her hands on her hips. “I am here to help you. And I intend to do just that, even if we have to sit here FOREVER!”
“WELL, WHEN YOU PUT IT THAT WAY…”
Peterman smiled. “I’m glad we’re seeing eye to eye. Now, then…about your parents…do you have parents? Or…” Suddenly Peterman felt the ground rumbling underneath her.
The Guardian glowed even brighter. “I CANNOT STAND THESE RELENTLESS QUESTIONS. I WAITED EONS FOR A QUESTION, AND NOW I JUST WISH THE QUESTIONS WOULD STOP. NOW, IF YOU WILL EXCUSE ME, I’M GOING SOMEWHERE WHERE I CAN BE LEFT ALONE!”
“But I’m trying to HELP you!” Peterman screamed over the rumbling in the cave.
“THANKS, BUT NO THANKS! NOW SCRAM, BEFORE THIS CAVE COLLAPSES!”
The warning gave Peterman the overwhelming urge to avoid her counseling instincts and bolt. She decided to give into that urge and dashed madly out of the cave, stumbling through the darkness and out into the light of day, just in time to see an explosion rip open the rocky bluff surrounding the cave entrance. She fell backward onto the soft grass, shielding her eyes as a bright pink light ripped up into the sky and disappeared in a blink on the horizon.
About then, she lost consciousness.
“You poor, poor, dear thing.”
Peterman’s eyes fluttered open. She came face to face with a balding man in his late 40s whose eyes were round, dark, and kind.
“Wh…what?” Peterman asked. “Am I… is the baby…?”
The man, who Peterman eventually recognized as the Beta-Shift Sickbay internist, Doctor Jarvay Ranowat, placed a gentle hand on Peterman’s stomach. “The baby is fine. You just fainted. You’ll be glad to know, too, that omega emissions aren’t dangerous to pregnant mothers.”
“Hmm….that IS nice to know.”
“Honey?” Captain Baxter said, stepping into Peterman’s field of vision as she leaned up on the biobed. She was in sickbay. Its muted grey and blue colors blurred. She was still a little dizzy. “Honey,” Baxter repeated. “Are you allright?”
Ranowat stared at Baxter. “She’s fine. No thanks to you. What’s the big idea, sending your pregnant wife on a dangerous away mission?”
“She wanted to go,” Baxter said. “We have that kind of relationship.”
“The kind where you throw caution to the wind and risk the lives of mother and child!” Ranowat screamed, stepping into Baxter’s face. “I have heard some sick, twisted things in my time, Captain, but THAT takes the Corellian cake! I should have you COURT MARTIALED!”
“Thanks for your help, Doctor,” Baxter said meekly, as Doctor Holly Wilcox stepped up behind Ranowat and patted his shoulder.
“Now, Doctor. What have I told you about skipping your medication?”
“It…it makes me all tweaky…” Ranowat muttered, then collapsed into sobs as Wilcox pulled him into a hug.
“Come into my office and we’ll talk all about it.”
“I guess I need to work that guy into my schedule,” Peterman said, leaning up to a sitting position on the biobed and watching Ranowat and Wilcox walk away. Baxter, meanwhile, wrapped his arms around her and kissed her gently.
After the kiss, Peterman glanced around Sickbay. “Richards, Vansen… Tilleran?”
“All returned to active duty, with little memory of their zombie-like states. Richards brought back some nifty sensor images of his murals. Tilleran lost a few pounds, and Vansen has this English brogue she just can’t shake. Other than that, they’re all none the worse for wear. They do have some questions about your conversation with that ball of rock.”
“That ‘ball of rock’ was the Guardian of Whatever.”
“The Guardian of What?”
“Whatever,” Peterman said. “His goal was to make the people of Pelomia more creative and artistic.”
Baxter smiled. “And you changed his mind about that?”
“Oh, he has a new goal now.” Peterman grimaced. “To get away from me.”
“Any victory is a good one. Anyway, you single-handedly saved a whole population from cultural snobbery,” Baxter said. “Not too shabby.”
“Who knows what they’re going to achieve without outside interference,” Peterman agreed.
“In any event, I don’t think the Dominion cares. Weyoun has told me they consider the whole thing a dead issue, since the planet isn’t rich in omega particles anymore.”
“For all we know, the Guardian could be heading toward a Dominion world,” Peterman said thoughtfully.
Baxter nodded. “Maybe the Dominion could use a little culture.”
“You’ll get no argument from me.”
“One more, teeny, tiny little thing,” Peterman said, making a minute gesture with her fingers.
Baxter draped an arm around her. “Yes, baby?”
“The Guardian almost told me the gender of our baby.”
“How would he know?”
“I think it’s well within his abilities.”
“But you stopped him before he could ruin the surprise?”
Peterman stared down at her feet thoughtfully as her legs dangled off the biobed. “I told him how we were planning on waiting until the baby was born.”
“Oh,” Baxter said. “Okay.”
“But what?” Baxter said, his expression brightening.
“But, then I thought, you know, what the hell. Let’s find out.”
“Do you mean it?”
“Yup, I mean it. I want to know.”
And then they found out.
Is Captain Baxter cut out for parenthood? Counselor Peterman doesn’t seem to think so, as she puts him through an exhaustive holo-parenthood program. While he’s dealing with that, will Vansen and Richards manage to put their disagreements aside long enough to deal with an isolationist alien race with one humdinger of a security system? Find out in the next story, guest-written by Alan “I created Star Traks” Decker!