Author: Anthony Butler
She was curled up with him, nestled, on a red-checkered picnic blanket, spread out on the cracked earth, as sun beat down on the outback, warming her skin, and warming his fur.
She used him as a pillow, leaning back and staring at the blue, blue sky, giggling at the cawing sound of the black birds that flew over her head. Pretty black birds, circling. What a serene, beautiful image.
He leaned up his large head, so it was next to her, breathing hot dog breath on her. It was a scent of kibble and filet mignon, and after dinner mints. She loved that smell.
He licked her face, rolled over onto his belly, and she knew he was eager for tummy rubs.
So she leaned up and started to rub his tummy, listening expectantly for that satisfied moan he’d always given her.
But he didn’t make that sound. Instead, his lips pursed to make a very human sound, one that shook Peterman to her core:
“Free me, Kellyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! Freeeee meeee!”
Counselor Kelly Peterman shot up in bed, sweat streaming down her face.
“Unnk…what?” Captain Andrew Baxter asked, ducking his head under his pillow.
“It was nothing, Andy,” Peterman said shakily, swinging her legs around and hopping out of bed, pulling on her silk tiger-patterned robe. “I’m going to get some hot cocoa. Go back to sleep.”
But he was already asleep.
Peterman walked out into the living room and ordered hot cocoa out of the replicator. She slowly sipped from it as she walked toward the viewports and stared at the stars streaming past the Explorer.
What was that dream trying to tell her? And why couldn’t she stop having it?
If she was counseling a crewman who’d had that dream, what advice would she give?
“Dreams are a call to action,” Peterman said, paraphrasing from her Starfleet Academy Counseling textbook. “One way or another, you’ve got to answer that call.”
She sat down her unfinished cocoa and turned around, headed back for bed, determined to get a full night’s sleep.
“So, tell me, Ensign Reader, what’s stopping you from getting a good night’s sleep?” Counselor Peterman asked distractedly, stifling a yawn, and petting her cat, Fritz, who was curled comfortably in her lap, in the chair opposite the fainting couch.
On said couch, Ensign Frank Reader rolled over and stared up at the ceiling.
“It’s all that void out there. All that empty space. I just feel it crushing in on me.”
“Uh-huh,” Peterman said, looking down at Fritz. “You don’t say.”
“I feel like there might be some kind of breach in the bulkhead of my quarters. Like some radiation may be seeping in, and might kill me…I know that sounds silly, but…”
“That’s an ender!” Peterman said suddenly, standing up. “You’re excused, Ensign.”
Reader sat up. “But…”
“I said that’s an ender. That means you’re done for today. It’s important to realize when you’ve…covered enough ground in a counseling session. You’ve made great strides today. Let’s reflect for a couple days and come back at this problem later.”
“But I just got here!”
“Who’s the counselor?” Peterman demanded, lifting her cat in her arms and pointing for the doorway. “I believe you know the way out.”
Reader stood and, shoulders slumped, walked out. As he reached the door, he turned around. “Was it something I said?”
“Yes!” Peterman snapped. “Now go!”
Peterman walked around behind her desk as Reader left and sat Fritz down next to a stack of padds. “Bad man mentioned the radiation that nearly killed Charlie, Fritz,” she said to the cat, who commenced at scratching the dickens out of one of Peterman’s padds.
“No scratchies!” Peterman said, snatching the padd and putting it on the other side of her desk. “I know I’m probably overreacting. But I don’t like being reminded of what forced me to put Charlie into stasis…” She looked around her empty office. “I mean….let him die peacefully.” J’hana’s surveillance gear could be anywhere. One couldn’t be too careful.
“Oh, Fritzie,” Peterman said, leaning her chin down on the desk. “I miss Charlie so much. I feel like I’ve been living the past few weeks in a daze. Nothing seems real. It’s like life just doesn’t have meaning anymore.” She looked at Fritz, who returned the glance with a loving mew. “Know what I mean?”
Fritz suddenly lashed out and dug a claw into Peterman’s hand.
“I guess that’s a ‘no,’” she muttered, rubbing her hand, as the comm system bleeped.
“Baxter to Peterman. Report to the bridge immediately. We may need your services.”
Peterman looked up. “My…services. Really?”
“Yep. Hope I’m not interrupting one of your appointments…”
Peterman thought about that. “As a matter of fact, you are. All the more reason I should have a staff.”
“You’ve got a point, honey. I’ll look into it, I promise. Now please, just come up here.”
Peterman stood. “On my way. Be a good boy, Fritz!”
The cat carefully followed her with his eyes as she left the room.
When she walked out onto the bridge, Peterman saw what was typical, of late, for a day on the Explorer: The command area was crowded.
Baxter, Richards, Vansen and Federation President Bradley Dillon all stood at the center of the bridge, looking at the view screen.
Peterman stepped down to join them. “Can I ask what’s so important?”
“That,” Baxter said, pointing at the viewscreen.
All Peterman saw was a freighter. Uninteresting design, but definitely Federation. A Federation freighter! All the way out here? They were already almost halfway along one of the arms of the Milky Way!
“Where’s my comm signal?” Baxter asked his crew, hands on hips. He looked at Petersen. “We’ve been trying to contact them for fifteen minutes, honey.”
“Yes, honey, it appears their comm system is down,” Vansen said dryly to Peterman.
“Dear,” Peterman said, taking Baxter’s arm. “Why don’t I have a chair up here yet? Didn’t you say you’d install one? Last year?”
“I’ll get right on it, Kelly,” Baxter said. “But right now we have something more pressing. Tilleran?”
Lt. Commander Ariel Tilleran was reviewing her scans. “That freighter is quite old. At least a hundred years. One occupant. Human.”
“What on Earth is a human doing all the way out here?” Richards asked.
“What indeed,” said Baxter. “Starfleet didn’t have anyone else out here besides the Orleans and us.”
“Perhaps it lost its way,” Bradley Dillon suggested. “At any rate, this is a very important contact. A Federation citizen this far out in deep space. If he was thrown off course somehow, and has been out here drifting for years, he may have come into contact with the Bast.”
“Contact!” Tilleran finally said, her hands running across her panel. “J’hana, boost the signal amplifier.”
“What? Oh, yes,” J’hana said boredly, tapping a few buttons on her panel. She tended to get restless in situations where she wasn’t required to open fire.
Peterman watched, along with the rest of the bridge crew, as the viewscreen crackled to life, the static gradually clearing to reveal a handsome, mustacioed, dark-haired man in his early forties, sitting in a command chair on what looked to be a cramped bridge.
“Bonjour!” he exclaimed. “Como vas-tu?”
In the background, Peterman heard something that felt out of place in a viewscreen communication. A bark.
She blinked in disbelief as a large, white, frilly standard poodle trotted up and leaned its head in the man’s lap. He patted its head absently as he stared out of the viewscreen at the Explorer’s bridge crew.
“Como what?” Baxter asked. “Tilleran, can you clean that up? Why isn’t the universal translator picking that up?”
“I thought he was human,” Richards said.
The man on the screen cocked his head as another white standard poodle came up from the other side and also stuck its head in his lap. Peterman’s eyes went wide. Two dogs were always better than one! “Voulez-vous aide moi?” he asked.
“Checking,” Tilleran said. “It’s not in our database.”
“You idiots!” Vansen exclaimed. “It’s French!”
“Oh,” Baxter said, then turned on Tilleran. “Why the hell doesn’t our computer have French in its databanks?”
“Is French a planet?” asked Tilleran.
“I believe it is located in Sector 24412,” J’hana said helpfully.
“It’s an Earth dialect, you guys,” Richards said. “Didn’t you know that?”
“You’re the one who’s from Earth,” J’hana spat. “Would you recognize a different Andorian dialect?”
Richards stared at his feet. “Um…”
“Well….” Baxter said, looking around the bridge. “Does ANYBODY in here speak French?”
“I’m afraid of France,” Lt. Sefelt said uneasily, sliding low in his seat. “All that… cream sauce.”
“Ah, you of course mean our bernaise!” the Frenchman on the viewscreen said, gently kissing his fingertips. “I will make you a chicken dish that you will adore. Muah!”
“Nooooooooo!” Sefelt cried, sliding underneath the ops console.
“Now look what you’ve done,” Baxter said, looking up at the viewscreen. “So you do speak Federation Standard?”
“Indeed, little Earth man, I do,” the man on the screen said. “But our people rarely use the tongue.”
“That’s not what I’ve heard,” Richards said under his breath.
“It is considered….so passee on our world.”
“What world is that?” Bradley Dillon asked.
“Fleuria Prime,” he said simply. “The last refuge for the French.”
“What the hell is this guy talking about?” Richards asked quietly.
“Of course,” Bradley Dillon said. “The French Exodus of 2240. Several thousand French nationals left Earth to start their own colony and were never heard from again.”
“Yes, I remember reading about that in history class,” Vansen said.
“I flunked history class,” Baxter said softly.
“I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t get your name,” Bradley said.
“Jacques Allemand, Foreign Minister of Fleuria Prime.”
Peterman looked on in rapt disbelief as the conversation went on. She couldn’t take her eyes off the poodles.
“So you do have contact with outside worlds?” Bradley asked.
“When necessary, with some. Not the Federation. Is that where you’re from?”
Uncomfortable glances were exchanged throughout the bridge.
“Um, perhaps,” Baxter said.
“Well, then we should bid each other good day. Please don’t start any colonies out here. We don’t want to have to move again…”
“Wait!” Bradley said. “We have a unique opportunity here to heal the rift between your people and the Federation. To bring you back into the fold, so to speak.”
“And why would we want that?” Allemand asked.
“Because we can help each other,” Bradley said, stepping forward. “We have resources that you can take advantage and…I’m sure you have things we want as well.”
“C’est possible,” said Allemand, leaning down and grabbing a small, round squeaky ball and tossing it. The dogs loped off after it. “I would need to confer with you, of course, on your ship.”
“You’re welcomed here, as are your…animals. Why don’t you dock in our shuttlebay and join us for dinner this evening? We’ll repair your ship and return you to your planet.”
“You make a tempting proposition,” Allemand said. “One I would be more likely to turn down were my ship functioning.”
“Then it’s settled,” Bradley said. “Approach our shuttlebay. Our tractor beams will take it from there. Explorer out.” When Bradley turned around, he faced a seething Captain Baxter. “Captain, why don’t you call down to your chief engineer and have her and her staff study the Fleurian ship and determine what it will need in terms of repairs.”
“Mister President,” Baxter said between clenched teeth. “Wouldn’t you like to consult your captain before making decisions like that?”
“Why should I?” Bradley asked.
“Because, I’m your captain! And besides, how do we know what his motives are? His people defected from the Federation. Maybe he wants to embarrass us. Or worse.”
“Those are manageable risks,” Bradley said. “What’s important here is we have a chance to get a foothold in deep space. That’s good for business. It’s also good for helping us find the Bast. End of discussion.” And Bradley walked off the bridge.
“ERRRG!” Baxter groaned, stamping his foot.
“Andy,” Peterman said gently, touching Baxter’s elbow as Vansen and Richards went to sit back down in the command area. “Why did you want me here?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Contact with a strange new lifeform. I wanted to use your diplomatic skills. But now it seems Bradley’s taken over the whole thing. I guess we just let him handle this.”
Peterman nodded, still thinking about those poodles. “Or we make use of my diplomatic skills. And you let me meet this Allemand fellow!”
“And keep an eye on President Dillon,” Baxter said thoughtfully. “Make sure he’s not compromising the Explorer in his dealings. Yes. That is a good idea.” He’d apparently taken little notice of the poodles. Didn’t surprise Peterman. He never did have the affinity for pets she did. He pretended to, sure, but in the end he always liked humans more.
“It’s a stupid idea. Your wife wouldn’t know a bad treaty if it bit her on the ass,” Vansen said as she read a padd.
“Well, maybe next time I see a bad treaty, I’ll sic it on YOUR ass, Vansen,” Peterman grumbled, and headed up to the turobolift. “Okay, time to go meet the French!”
“Good luck, sweetie!” Baxter called over his shoulder, and sat back down in the command chair. “I’ll just take care of things up here. You know, important ship’s business and such.”
Suddenly a great wailing came from the captain’s readyroom.
“Captain, your baby is making that exploding warp core sound again,” J’hana said dryly.
“I’m on it!” Baxter said, and ran into his readyroom.
Peterman picked up step next to President Dillon on his way to the shuttlebay. “Hello, Mister President,” she said, trying to maintain a pleasant tone of voice. “Having a good day today, are we?”
“Please do not hug me,” Bradley said. “I’ve heard Counselors do such things. And you should know that there are at least four people lying in wait right now who will pick you off with a phaser beam if you try to touch me.”
“Oh,” Peterman said. “That’s nice. Look, I’d like to help you with these negotiations.”
“Actually, I prefer to conduct my own negotiations, Counselor.”
“But I can be useful to you!” Peterman said. “I can meet this guy, size him up, give you a psychological profile.”
Bradley looked in Peterman’s eyes. “You’re not Betazoid are you?”
“Well, not really,” Peterman said. “But someone called me intuitive…once.”
“That’s nice, Counselor. But I really can handle this on my own. I’ve been through many negotiations in my past.”
Desperation time. “Yes,” Peterman said, then quickly unzipped her uniform top a little bit. “But can you lull the other side into submission with your striking beauty?”
Bradley stopped in the hallway and looked at Peterman blankly. “No, I suppose not.”
“Well then think of me as the ‘ace in the hole.’ Your secret weapon. Businessmen like having secret weapons, don’t they?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact they do,” he said, rubbing his chin.
“Then unleash me, Mister President. I’m at your service.”
Bradley narrowed his eyes at Peterman. “Why are you being so nice to me? Did your husband send you here?”
“No…I just want to help.”
“Fine,” Bradley sighed. “You can come with me. But keep your comments to a minimum, and allow me to do the talking.”
“That’s just fine with me,” Peterman said, as the pair approached the shuttlebay and walked into the massive double doors.
Ensign Aronitz stood by at the tractorbeam controls as the oblong, copper-colored freighter drifted in through the shuttlebay doors and landed softly right in front of Peterman and Bradley.
“At ease, Ensign,” Peterman said officially, then stepped toward the door to the freighter as it cycled open.
Bradley gently navigated around, and in front of, Peterman, as the door opened, and Allemand stepped out.
“Greetings, on behalf of the United Federation of Planets,” Bradley said regally, extending his hand for Allemand.
“Quite,” the Frenchman replied, limply putting his hand out for Bradley. The two shook hands as Peterman looked behind Allemand.
“Sir? Didn’t you have a couple of dogs with you?”
“Oui, but of course” Allemand said, then turned around motioning with his hand toward the inside of the freighter. “Robespierre! Richlieu! Allons-y!”
“Mental note,” Bradley said to himself. “Learn French this afternoon.”
And the two standard poodles trotted out of the recesses of the freighter, taking flanking positions on either side of Allemand. They had diamond studded collars, perfectly groomed and poofy paws and tails.
“They’re so…” Peterman wrinkled her nose. “Not fluffy.”
“Non,” Allemand replied sharply, snapping a leash onto each dog and gripping them both in one hand. “These animals are not fluffy at all. They have been perfectly groomed by an electronic grooming system aboard my ship.”
“Electronic?” Peterman asked. “May I see it?”
“Non!” Allemand replied more vehemently. “Parce que we have more important things to attend to this evening.”
Bradley Dillon stepped forward to shake Allemand’s hand. “Like a treaty between our two peoples. I couldn’t agree more.”
“I said nothing about a treaty,” Allemand said as the two men and two dogs walked toward the shuttlebay exit.
“We have plenty of time to discuss all those details,” Bradley said, casting a glance over his shoulder at Peterman.
For her part, Peterman looked into the dark recesses of the freighter, took a tentative step toward the freighter’s entrance. Then, suddenly, a heavy metal door swung closed in front of her face, keeping her out.
From the doorway to the shuttle bay, Allemand waved a tiny control device. “I have activated the ship’s security device. One cannot be too careful, non?”
“Non,” Peterman muttered. “Whatever that means.” She was still looking at the freighter as she jogged out of the shuttlebay.
Answer the call, a voice said inside her.
Stardate 56557.4. We’ve taken the Fleurian Foreign Minister aboard, and have laid in a course to ferry him and his broken freighter back to his homeworld. Apparently, my counselor thinks it’s a good idea to throw him a dinner before he gets there. Because dinner always helps with diplomacy. Whatever!
“Well?” Baxter asked as he flossed and stared at his open mouth in the mirror in his bathroom.
Peterman leaned back on their bed, Fritz the cat prancing about on her chest, circling twice, then finally collapsing, nestled between…well, let’s just say nestled.
“Shouldn’t you floss AFTER dinner, hon?” Peterman said vacantly as she stared at the ceiling and twirled Fritz’s tail between her fingers.
“I want to make sure I don’t have any beef between my teeth. Janice made carne asada steak for lunch this afternoon.”
“Yum. I had something from the Sandwich Star stand on the lower level of the mall while I tagged along on ‘Monsieur Allemand’s’ tour of the ship.”
“The lower level?” Baxter asked. “But you never go on the lower level. There’s nothing but…”
“Used antiques and cheap baby clothes,” she snapped. “Yes, I know. Ever since the alternative-lifestyle coffee shop turned into a gourmet restaurant and the Bolian fabric store turned into a video arcade, the lower level has turned to crap. The only place down there that gets any business is Dillon’s Supply Depot…and really, since when have I had the urge to go pioneering?”
“Not lately,” Baxter admitted, walking out of the bathroom and looking at Peterman. He put his hands on his hips. “How’s the belt?”
Peterman leaned up. “What belt? You’re not wearing one.”
Baxter nodded vigorously. “Yeah. I thought you’d be happy about that. Even though it’s a diplomatic dinner, I’m not wearing a belt in your honor.”
“Why my honor?”
Baxter sat down on the bed beside Peterman. “Because I thought it’d make you happy.” He touched her hand. “Look, I know you have been feeling bad lately. I thought it might cheer you up.”
Peterman squeezed Baxter’s hand, but gingerly. “Yeah, it’s nice, I guess.”
“But I can’t get my mind off those two poodles.”
“Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?”
“No, you don’t understand.” Peterman leaned up, curling one leg under her and balancing Fritz on it. “Allemand had two poodles with them. And they seemed….I don’t know. Depressed. And way overgroomed.”
“You’re diagnosing the mental condition of pets now?”
“Hey, who better equipped to do it than me?”
“Doctor Leonardo on Deck 19,” Baxter said quickly.
“I told you that guy is a fraud. Pet psychotherapy is the biggest fraud in mental health for the last three centuries.”
“Isn’t that what you’re talking about, though?”
“It’s different with me. I’m highly trained as a counselor, and I’ve spent my life around animals. I know when they’re suffering. And believe me…something is troubling Robespierre and Richilieu.”
“Robes…” Baxter began. “I think you’ve answered your own question. Those names… that’s abuse in and of itself.”
“You wanted to name our daughter Twittilina.”
“Jeeze! It was just a suggestion! If she’d been a boy, you’d have called him Lemuel!”
“That’s my great grandfather’s name!” Peterman shot back, then calmed a little. “And it’s also SO not the point. Andy…I need to know these animals are okay.” She grabbed both of Baxter’s hands and squeezed them tightly. “It’s more important now than ever.”
Baxter looked back into Peterman’s eyes, trying to understand how he could make his wife feel better. In all the years they’d been together, he had to admit to himself he truly didn’t understand the level of grief she was going through. He missed Charlie greatly, knowing it hurt even more that the golden retriever was still alive, in suspended animation, several decks down. But he had no clue, no possible way of knowing what Peterman was going through. Of that much, he was certain.
“So,” he sighed. “What do you propose?”
“Nothing invasive or intrusive. You just leave that up to me.”
Baxter nodded dumbly, a knot forming in his stomach. “Uh-huh.”
Just then, the doorchime sounded, and Peterman rushed to the door. “Ahh, that must be Chaka’kan.”
“I cannot believe we’re leaving our child with a Jem’Hadar,” Baxter muttered.
“It was either him or Lieutenant Sefelt.”
Baxter nodded quickly. “Right. Want me to brief him on nappy- time?”
Meanwhile, J’hana and Hartley were busy doing nothing invasive or intrusive.
“I’m getting extra vacation time for this,” Lt. Commander Megan Hartley said, studying the schematics her and Ensign Stockton had pulled together from sensor sweeps of the vessel. Of course, those schematics were supposed to be used to repair the ship, not break into it. “And the captain already owes me several days for calling me back early from my honeymoon.”
“I’ve used up all my vacation days,” Lt. J’hana said solemnly. “I could use some more.”
Hartley and J’hana stood in the empty shuttlebay, staring at the door to the Fleurian freighter.
“Want to check the doors again?” Hartley asked.
“Coward,” J’hana spat. “I locked them myself, using a security seal only myself or the captain can break.”
“And the internal sensors?”
“On a convenient diagnostic cycle. Commander Vansen and President Dillon will be none the wiser.”
“You’ve really thought this through.”
“It is my job.”
“It’s your job to break into a friendly vessel to check for signs of pet abuse?”
J’hana nodded, pushing up her shirtsleeves. “Under ‘other duties as assigned.’ Now hand me that isolinear decoupler. We do not have much time.”
Hartley sighed and knelt, opening her toolkit. “I’m too old for this sh**.”
Peterman shoved the mushy chicken mess around on her plate and stared beyond the other side of the dinner table to the streaking stars beyond, outside the windows of the captain’s mess.
“What did you say this was again?” Allemand said, at one end of the table, his poodles at attention at either side of him as he picked at his own plate of reddish chicken glop.
“French chicken!” Baxter said from the other end of the table, enthusiastically shoving forkful after forkful into his mouth. “A dish of my own design. Something I came up with in my academy days. It’s chicken, with French dressing, and crumbled up french fries baked on top. Yum!”
“Sir, is vomiting at the table permissible?” Lt. Commander Tilleran asked from her position across from Peterman.
“Not at the table, Commander,” Baxter said gently.
“Belay that,” Vansen said as she pushed her plate away. She was on the other side of Baxter from Peterman. The counselor had to look past Vansen to see the stars, and that annoyed her. “Go ahead and vomit. I think I’ll join you.”
“Lovely,” Bradley Dillon said, from his position next to Allemand. “Tell me, Mr. Foreign Minister. Do you trade much in this area?”
“Some,” Allemand said, looking around the table, and at his plate. He seemed…uncertain of what to do.
Baxter wondered why Bradley didn’t insist on being at the head of the table. He was sure Bradley would waltz up and take his seat, but he apparently felt being next to the Foreign Minister was more important. And, as Baxter shoved French Chicken into his mouth, he noticed Bradley’s chair was about ten centimeters higher than everyone else’s. He was sure that was no mistake.
“Care to elaborate?” Commander Chris Richards said, sitting on the other side of Allemand from Bradley. He too seemed to have no problem with the French Chicken. “I mean, what planets did you do business with?”
“Excellent question,” Bradley said, steepling his fingers and looking at Allemand.
“Ahem,” Allemand said, patting each corner of his mouth with his napkin. “Let me counter with a question of my own. Is it my understanding that your whole senior staff is here for this occasion?”
Baxter looked around. “More…or less.”
“Where is everyone else?”
“Lieutenant Madera has the conn,” Baxter explained. “And Lieutenant Sefelt…is in the back room putting little french flags in the cheesecakes.”
“Great, Captain, you ruined the surprise,” Vansen deadpanned.
“And Doctor Browning…” Baxter said, pulling at his collar.
Suddenly the door to the Captain’s Mess slid open and Browning ran in. Everyone gasped when they saw the whole front of her uniform was coated in a dark red blotchy stain.
“Sorry I’m late. I had four critcal patients in sickbay–holodeck accident–and had to drop Plato off at fingerpainting class.”
“Ahh,” Baxter said with a relieved sigh. “So that stain…is fingerpaint, right?”
“Yeah,” Browning said, pushing loose strands of her hair out of her face and ducking behind the table to a seat near Allemand. She then turned and pointed at her backside. “THAT’s blood.”
Then there was silence in the dining room. Someone coughed.
Then there was the sound of slurping as Browning scooped French Chicken into her mouth. “Andy! You made your special recipe. Nice choice! But where are the onion rings? Get me onion rings!”
Baxter tapped his combadge. “Mister Sefelt. Onion rings for Doctor Browning, please.”
“But, sir…I’m the Chief of Operations.”
“Of course,” Baxter said. “Bring us some extra napkins as well. Thanks! Baxter out.”
The captain looked around the table. “I’m so glad we’re doing this.”
“You never told me about those trade opportunities,” Bradley said, turning quickly to Allemand.
Allemand put his fork down and leaned back. “Well, I wouldn’t really call them opportunities.”
“And why not? Are your customers not interested in other, more lucrative, opportunities in the Federation?”
“More lucrative? And what is that supposed to mean, dear sir?”
“This is going well,” Peterman muttered in a whisper, leaning next to Baxter.
“No kidding. Well, at least there are no complaints about the food!”
Tilleran coughed and spit something into her napkin.
“Yep!” Peterman said quickly. Then her combadge chirped.
“Hartley to Peterman!”
“There’s a…there’s some poop in the kittylitter.”
Peterman nodded. “Okay…just scoop it out.”
“I mean…there’s some…metaphorical poop. In the metaphorical kitty litter!”
“She is saying you should come down to the shuttle–mmph!” J’hana interrupted, and was apparently silenced.
“Shuttlecock room,” Peterman said quickly. “Those women are crazy about their quilting!” And with that she dashed out of the dining room, leaving some perplexed crewmembers–and one very suspicious captain–behind.
After knocking repeatedly, and assuring J’hana over the comline that she was who she said she was, Peterman finally gained entrance to the shuttlebay.
What she found, as J’hana reset the security locks on the door, was Lt. Commander Hartley standing, arms folded, at the entrance to the freighter.
“Counselor, I don’t think you want to go in there.”
“But you called me here!”
“True, but I think it would be better if I just described–”
“Out of my way,” Peterman snapped, and shoved Hartley aside, storming into the freighter, which, she thought, smelled interestingly flowery.
“I told you she would want to see for herself,” J’hana said, stepping up next to Hartley, who followed Peterman into the freighter.
“It’s the room on the right,” Hartley said, pointing down the corridor. “We think that’s where the pets are kept. It has that…zoo smell your quarters have.”
“That may not be from animals,” Peterman said absently as she keyed the doors open. “J’hana, make sure to screen all the fingerprints from this vessel before we leave. Wouldn’t want suspicion from–OH MY GOD!”
J’hana chortled. “Yes, Counselor. It is a worthy contraption.”
“What…what’s it for?” Peterman asked, touching one of the curved blades that jutted from an awkward angle from the rectangular frame, about waist high that had numerous skinny, robotic arms jutting from it, equipped with implements from blades, to combs, to sprayguns.
Hartley consulted her tricorder. “To the best of my knowledge, it is some kind of…grooming device.”
Peterman ran her hand along the gleaming metal struts and supports of the device, which was about as long as…she shivered…two dogs. “Yes, now that you mention it I think I read about one of these things before. They call it the Groommatic Five Thousand. It’s sold by the Tarkalians.”
“So the Fleurians do trade with other species,” J’hana noted.
“Not the point,” Peterman said. “It’s banned in the Federation, and every other civilized culture. It’s nothing but a glorified torture device.”
J’hana held up an alien-looking metallic blue padd. “According to the instruction booklet, it promises ‘Primped pets in plemmets.’”
“What’s a plemmet?” asked Hartley.
“Apparently a very small measure of Tarkalian time.”
“No wonder those dogs looked so…stressed out. They’ve been run through this thing so many times they’ve been traumatized. They’re going to need…counseling.”
“I’ll call Doctor Leonardo,” Hartley said, turning toward the door to the freighter. Peterman grabbed Hartley’s arm and spun her.
“You’ll do no such thing. This is MY responsibility.”
“Because I said so! Now tell me how to destroy this thing and make it look like an accident.”
Hartley looked from J’hana to Peterman. “Oh, no. I’m not blowing up part of a diplomat’s ship. Reconnaissance and general mischief is a-ok with me. But when you get to malicious destruction of property, that’s when I bail out.”
“How about malicious destruction of pets?” Peterman demanded. She looked at J’hana. “Lieutenant, it looks like it’s just you and me.”
J’hana nodded vigorously, then said, “I am afraid not.”
“I won’t turn away from a fight; however, I have recently been reprimanded for killing several dozen Klingons and stealing the Escort last year, for which I was demoted. I am also out of vacation days. So my back, as it were, is against the wall.”
“Listen to her, Kelly,” Hartley said. “Just walk away from this. Report it to the authorities and walk away.”
“What authorities? Andy? President Dillon? Andy would never do anything that blatantly destructive, and President Dillon just wants to suck up to these people.”
“Perhaps we should contact the Federation SPCA?” J’hana offered.
“PETA-Galactic?” Hartley suggested.
Peterman shook her head. “No. They’re all too far away. If this has any chance of succeeding, it’s up to me.”
“I cannot allow you to violate ship’s regulations and cause a diplomatic incident,” J’hana said sternly.
“A couple months ago you killed more than twenty Klingons to save your comatose lover,” Peterman shot back.
“That was different!” J’hana replied sharply.
Hartley put a hand on Peterman’s shoulder. “This can be handled through diplomatic channels, Kelly. Don’t do anything stupid.”
Peterman looked around the freighter. “You know, you’re so right. You two make excellent points. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Baxter belched with satisfaction as he keyed open his quarters and walked inside, a tupperware container full of leftovers tucked under his arm. “Waste not, want not,” he had said, as he scooped the remainders from everyone’s plate into his tupperware container. For Peterman’s animals, of course. And, maybe, breakfast tomorrow, if he was feeling saucy.
“Honey?” he called into the cabin as he called for the lights to come on.
“Hmmm?” Peterman’s voice called from the bedroom.
Baxter put down his leftovers and tiptoed into the bedroom, leaning onto the bed next to Peterman and kissing her on the cheek. “We missed you during dessert, sweetie.”
Peterman curled tighter into a ball and pulled the covers up close to her chin, turning away from Baxter. “I went to see what J’hana and Hartley wanted, and when I got back, I just got so tired so fast. I decided to just come back here and relieve Chaka’kan. Good thing I did. Steffie got out of her crib and crawled up behind him while he was reading one of your football books. Scared the dickens out of him. It took me twenty minutes just to calm him down.”
“Uh-huh. So why are you in bed at 2200?”
“Early to bed, early to wise, or something like that.”
“Uh-huh,” Baxter said, as he stood and began removing his uniform. “So this doesn’t have anything to do with Jacques Allemand?”
“Who? Oh, the Fleurian! Right!”
“And J’hana and Hartley…they weren’t looking in his ship?”
Peterman peeked out from the covers. “That’s ridiculous. And even if they had been, I didn’t find anything.”
Baxter tossed his tunic and pants into the clothes recycler and, in his boxers and Starfleet Academy tee, slipped under the covers. “So I can count on you NOT to do anything to jeopardize our relationship with the Fleurians.”
“You can count on me.”
“Good,” Baxter said, leaning over and kissing Peterman’s cheek. “I knew you could.”
“Night, honey,” Peterman said softly and turned around.
In seconds, Baxter was fast asleep and snoring.
Peterman pushed off the covers and got up, still fully dressed in her Starfleet uniform. She stepped out of the bedroom and tapped her combadge. “Peterman to Briggs,” she whispered. “You ready for me?”
“Everything is in place. Come on down!” Briggs replied over the comm channel.
Peterman grinned. “Be right there.” She stopped in Steffie’s bedroom to kiss her on the forehead and dashed out.
“I told you that we could rebuild it. Make it better, stronger, tighter, than before,” Yeoman James Briggs told Peterman.
“Niiiiice,” Peterman whistled, turning this way and that in the mirror, admiring the sleek curves of the black, formfitting leather-spandex blend that caressed each and every contour of her body. It was fitted with pockets on the thighs and arms for assorted weaponry, and belt clips for bulkier things such as phasers and tricorders. Straps criss-crossed her back, which allowed her to sling on a bat’leth or mekleth if she so chose. And the shoes, Briggs told her, had been found on sale in Sparnak’s on Decorous Prime. They had comfort insoles, ornamental buckles, and two- inch treads. They were capable of navigating any terrain, and the uniform was–and this was an improvement on the last one–virtually stain-resistant.
“I dare J’hana to try and drown you in solid waste again. It’ll roll right off this uniform, unlike the last one,” Briggs said proudly, tugging a little at the shoulders. “Feel good?”
Peterman turned fully around, looking over her shoulder to study her rear end. “My circulation is being cut off in a few places, but that’s to be expected. Say, why didn’t you build me a new commando outfit sooner?”
“Because you got pregnant, remember? That sort of threw a lil wrench into things, sweetie.”
“Oh. Right.” Peterman suddenly remembered something. “You vaporized that muumuu you made for me, right?”
“It has been thoroughly destroyed,” Briggs affirmed. “But I kept the schematics, just in case, you know…you feel like having another–”
“NO WAY,” Peterman said. “I’m not doing that to my body again. Andy can have the next one. Besides…” she sniffed. “Babies just die eventually anyway.”
Briggs pulled Peterman into a hug, gripping her tightly. “Oh, sugar, I’m so sorry about Charlie. Still grieving, eh?”
Peterman sniffed, burying her face in Briggs’s shoulder. “Sometimes all I can do is think about how much I miss him.”
“And dressing up in spandex helps?”
“Well I’m glad to help.” Briggs leaned back and rested his hands on Peterman’s shoulders. “I don’t know what you’ve got planned for that outfit, but wherever you go, you’ll be jusssst spectacular!”
“Thanks, James,” Peterman said, smiling. “You know, if I wasn’t already married, I’d seriously think about dating you.”
“That’s, um, nice, dear,” Briggs said, then blew kisses at Peterman. “Now run along! Jimmie’s got a date this evening.”
“Some lucky girl,” Peterman giggled, then pulled on a leather trenchcoat over her outfit and ducked out of Briggs’s dim, closed store, into the barely populated upper level of the ship’s mall.
“Yep,” Briggs said flatly, waving as Peterman left.
Peterman considered what she was about to do as she shimmied through the Jefferies tube toward her target.
She was crossing a line here, she realized. But something in the back of her head said it was worth it. Those dreams she kept having were a call to action, and she had to answer it.
At first she told herself that the dreams were trying to tell her that putting Charlie into stasis was wrong. That she needed to grow up and let him die peacefully.
But that was ridiculous.
Obviously, those dreams were trying to tell her that she had to pay attention to her heart, and make hard choices to benefit others. Others like Robespierre and Richilieu.
So Peterman resolved herself to listen to that little voice inside her and do the right thing.
And with that, she hopped out of the Jefferies tube into the compartment below and got to work.
“Dillon to Baxter. Respond!”
Baxter yawned, stretched, and rolled over. “Honey, tell him to call back in twenty minutes,” he said absently, smacking his lips and rolling over again.
“Dillon to Baxter. If you don’t respond now, I am taking command of your vessel!”
“But I’m second in command,” Commander Chris Richards could be heard saying in a small voice in the background.
“And I’m a better commander,” Lt. Commander Vansen said.
“Silence, both of you. Captain Baxter! I’m serious!”
“What, what, what…” Baxter droned, leaning up and looking around, rubbing his eyes.
His bed was empty. No Kelly. His stomach ached, then dropped about to Deck 19.
“There has been some trouble,” Bradley continued. “I want you in the bridge conference room ten minutes ago. And bring your wife.”
Baxter got up and ran into the living room, looking around. “That’s easier said than done, Mister President.”
“And why is that?”
“She’s, um…breastfeeding.” Where the hell was she?
There was a pause. “Indeed. Well just get here as soon as possible.”
Baxter nodded. “Very well.” He yanked his uniform trousers on, then stumbled over to his dresser and slapped the comm button. “Baxter to Chaka’Kan.”
“You are in luck, Captain. I just finished some light gardening in the arboretum. All the ship’s petunias are as they should be. Horicultural victory is in my grasp.”
“Super. Look, I need you to watch Steffie for a little while. I’m…needed.”
“I am pleased to. Babysitting is life!”
After making sure there was plenty of formula at Chaka’s disposal, and reviewing the Jem’Hadar’s storybook to make sure it was free of disembowelments, Baxter dashed up to the bridge. He noticed that the bridge officers–Keefler, Koltz, Madera, and Sefelt–were looking at him rather strangely. They avoided eye contact. Seemed overly interested in their consoles. He decided not to ask them about it until after this “important” meeting with President Dillon.
Baxter stepped into the observation lounge. “All right, what’s the status?” he said.
President Dillon was standing at the other end of the room, staring at Baxter, hands clasped behind his back. Two of his Special Secret Service Agents, and Gisele, waited by the door to the conference room. He was taking no security chances.
“The status is, your wife has kidnapped Monsieur Allemand’s dogs!”
“Monsieur?” Baxter asked, looking at Richards
“It’s French,” Richards whispered.
“Oh.” Baxter turned to see an irate Allemand sitting opposite Richards, looking up at Baxter with a scowl. “Hi…Monsieur.”
“Captain!” Allemand said, rising to his feet. “Those animals are purebred showdogs. They are irreplaceable creatures who are three time winners at the Fleurian Kennel Club Annual Championship Showing! For your Counselor to blatantly…steal them from my quarters…it’s unthinkable! Elle est une vache, absolument!”
“I totally agree, except for that last part, which I didn’t understand,” Baxter said calmly, leaning his hands on the table. “Now…why are you so certain my wife’s the one who took your dogs.”
Vansen looked around the room. “Where is she, then, Captain?”
“She could be any number of places,” Baxter said defensively.
“I thought you said she was breastfeeding,” Bradley said, folding his arms.
“Uhm…” Baxter said. “Computer! Locate Counselor Peterman!”
“Counselor Peterman is in the observation lounge.”
Baxter blinked. “Um…” He squatted, looking under the table.
“Ahem,” Bradley said, calmly clearing his throat.
Baxter stood back up as Bradley flipped a communicator around in his palm. “Recognize this?”
“A random communicator that could belong to anybody?” Baxter said in a small voice.
“It’s your wife’s!” Bradley snapped.
“Okay, maybe so,” said Baxter. “But you still have no proof that my wife did ANYTHING wrong.”
Bradley nodded in Vansen’s direction.
The Second Officer smiled. “Lieutenant J’hana.”
J’hana stood, and as she walked by Baxter, she said in a low, low voice, “Apologies, Captain. You understand I derive no joy from this. Well, maybe a little bit.”
Baxter nodded. “Uh-huh.” He watched as J’hana punched a control on the conference room viewscreen.
It flickered to life with an image of Peterman, shimmying down a length of cable from a hatch in the ceiling of an Explorer cabin (presumably Allemand’s). Before her, two fluffy white standard poodles lay curled together.
She quickly and calmly reached into a thigh pocket, pulled out two leashes, and snapped on each dog’s neck. They made a motion as if they were about to bark, but Peterman quickly stuffed a hypospray in both their necks.
The dogs immediately went limp.
Next, Peterman slung more cable over a pipe inside the Jefferies hatch and rigged, from extra lengths of cable, a crude conveyor system by which she harnessed the dogs, then hoisted them, one by one, up into the hatch.
“Why didn’t she just use the transporter?” Richards commented. Baxter was just speechless.
“Could have been traced too easily,” Hartley said. “She doesn’t have the systems knowledge to black out the transporter records.”
J’hana nodded. “The same reason she did not disable the security sensors. She wasn’t able to.”
“Then she will be easy to find,” Allemand said slowly, menacingly.
J’hana leaned forward, steepled her fingers, and rested her chin on them. “Not at all, Mister Allemand. Quite the contrary. Counselor Peterman is what those in my profession fear most. A desperate woman.”
“A desperate woman who will be captured and dealt with quickly and readily, right ladies and gentlemen?” Bradley Dillon asked, looking around the table.
“Uhmmmm…” Richards said, looking around the table. “Well…”
J’hana stood up. “I will capture her. You have my word on it.”
Finally regaining the ability to speak, Baxter touched J’hana’s shoulder. “Lieutenant…”
J’hana turned briskly to face Baxter. “Captain, I’ll thank you not to interfere. This is a matter of Federation law and must be settled. I am under orders from the Federation President to find and neutralize this threat and I intend to do so.”
“Neutralize?” Tilleran asked. She’d been silently watching the exchange in the conference room this whole time. “She doesn’t mean that, guys. J’hana realizes this is Counselor Peterman. One of our…”
“Ariel, this is neither the time or the place.” J’hana looked at Bradley. “Now if you’ll excuse me, Mister President. I have a job to do.”
President Dillon nodded, and J’hana turned on a heel and left.
“She’s bluffing, Andy,” Richards whispered. “She’s on our side.”
Baxter leaned down. “You sure?”
Richards swallowed hard. “Uh, no.”
Baxter looked back at the group around the table. “Well, nothing’s going to be accomplished sitting here. Mister Allemand, I recommend you return to your quarters until this is settled. I’m going to find my wife before J’hana does. Tilleran, you’re with me.”
“Um…ok,” Tilleran said uncomfortably, and followed Baxter out of the room.
“This is enough reason to fire him, right?” Vansen said, looking at Bradley.
“Not yet, but I’ll let you know when,” Bradley said, and gestured to Allemand. The Frenchman stood and walked with Bradley and his entourage out the opposite door.
Richards looked at the remainder of the room’s occupants: Hartley and Vansen. “Well, then. I guess that leaves the rest of us to run the ship.”
“Some more so than others,” Vansen said cattily and walked out.
What must they be thinking? Peterman thought to herself, curled in her special hiding nook. She was fairly certain she’d be safe here from J’hana’s security sweeps.
Meanwhile, Robespierre and Richilieu, the two poodles, still slept, curled in little poofy white balls on the other side of the compartment from her.
Lugging them all the way down to the port nacelle had been tricky. They weren’t light, and she couldn’t risk using an antigrav. So she just had to sort of push them along the Jefferies’ tubes. But it was worth all that effort. Those dogs may not realize it now, but in a few years, after some intensive counseling, they’d see what Peterman was doing was for the best.
But now she just had to focus on keeping out of J’hana’s way. Sure, the Andorian helped her break into Allemand’s ship, but Peterman knew the score. This was much like when J’hana had gotten loose in the ship and Peterman had to chase her down and counsel her. The counselor had a job to do and she did it, regardless of the fact that she was chasing down one of her crewmates. And…sort of…a friend.
Now the roles were reversed. But J’hana was going to have to work extra hard to find Peterman. She was deep in the port nacelle, underneath meters and meters of plasma coil, where no sensor could penetrate. Sure, she couldn’t stay down there indefinitely. Eventually a maintenance team would probably find her. But Peterman only needed to stay long enough to formulate the rest of her plan…whatever that was.
All she had to do was find a way down to Fleuria Prime, once the Explorer got there. Then it was just a matter of finding an accommodating Fleurian to take in her two poodles and give them the loving, protective home they so needed. Peterman hadn’t known many French persons in her life, but the ones she knew had always been kind and gentle, friendly folk. She didn’t forsee any problems, once she got down to the planet.
Then came the hard part. Turning herself in. Returning to the Explorer and facing J’hana. And Andy. There’d be questions, maybe even a court martial. But she’d have done the right thing. She’d be able to sleep nights again.
Peterman put her hands behind her head and leaned back against the plasma junction behind her. Yes, she’d thought this all out.
All she had to do was lay low for a while.
Nobody would find her here.
Peterman concentrated on that thought and drifted off to sleep, finally…
Just then she felt something touch her shoulder.
“Hi there,” a sweet voice said. “I figured you’d be pretty tired from running around the ship causing havoc, so I made you some s’mores.”
Peterman’s eyes opened wide. “Janice!”
Dr. Janice Browning knelt by her, a tray of steaming chocolatey treats in her hand. “C’mon. Have a few.”
Peterman leaned up. “How the hell did you find me?”
Browning shrugged. “Easy. I was out on the same drunken night with you and Hartley two years ago when she revealed the safest place to hide on the ship. Who’da thought you’d actually need that information?”
“Man, she was really out of it when she told us that,” Peterman sighed. “She probably doesn’t even remember telling us that.”
Browning looked around. “How long do you figure on staying down here?”
“As long as it takes,” Peterman said. No need to divulge her plan. If Browning was captured, J’hana would interrogate her. And Peterman wouldn’t wish that on her worst enemy.
“I take it you have a plan.”
Browning nodded. “Listen, I watched J’hana come through my sickbay with four security officers, lifting blankets off the dead bodies to see if you were hiding in there. She means business. You’ve got to be careful.”
Peterman blinked. “There are dead bodies in sickbay?”
“Um. A few. But that’s not the point. You need to resolve this before someone gets hurt.”
“We may be too late for that,” Peterman said, leaning her head back and staring up at the ceiling of the cramped compartment.
“Why is that?” Browning asked.
“Just a feeling…”
“You really think she’d be hiding in her quarters?” Ensign Keefler asked as J’hana marched down the corridor toward Peterman’s seldom-used quarters. Mostly, she just kept her animals in there. Should she ever move out, J’hana pitied the next tenant. They’d never get the smell out.
“No, I don’t,” J’hana said. “But we may find clues as to her whereabouts.”
“Oh,” Keefler said as the pair reached the doors. “What now?”
“What now is you stay out here. I’m going in alone.”
“No buts. She keeps all her animals in there. Usually there are restraining fields holding the more dangerous ones at bay, but in this case, one can’t be too certain.”
“How bad can it be?”
J’hana just smirked at Keefler. “Was I ever as young and stupid as you?” She shook her head. “No matter. Wait out here. If I do not come out in ten minutes, seal this deck.”
Keefler nodded. “Aye, sir.”
J’hana keyed open the door to Peterman’s quarters and stepped in, letting it close behind her. The quarters were dim.
“Lights,” J’hana said.
The lights didn’t come on.
“Lights,” she said again. Still nothing.
“Computer, activate emergency mood lighting.”
Per request, the computer initiated a warm, amber glow throughout the room. Just enough to see, but not enough to see everything clearly. J’hana looked around. “Here, animals, animals. Come to Jannie…”
Suddenly J’hana’s ankle hit something…a tripwire!
“ZHARNT!” the Andorian cursed, and fell backwards, looking up in time to see a bucket hanging from the ceiling overturn and drop piles of…glop onto her.
“This is to get me back for the raw sewage incident,” J’hana said wryly, lying in glop. She rubbed her finger along her face and tasted the glop. “Raw meat chunks. Hmm. Raw meat chunks.” She sat up.
She heard a growl from the bedroom.
“Raw meat chunks!” she exclaimed, jumping to her feet. “So that is how you want to play it, Counselor? Very well, I will play your game.”
She saw a giant shadow loom in the doorway to the bedroom.
J’hana reached behind her back and yanked out her bat’leth. “She isn’t fooling around. Clever girl.”
And instantly it was upon her.
Keefler’s combadge suddenly chirped. “Baxter to Keefler. What’s your position?”
“We’re checking out your wife’s…quarters…sir,” the security officer replied as he paced outside Peterman’s seldom-used (at least for humans) cabin.
“I want to speak to J’hana. Why aren’t my comms getting through?”
Keefler ducked his head into the cabin, then quickly yanked it out. “Because she is currently a little busy fighting a lion, sir.”
“Damn it! Go in there and try to break up the fight!”
“I’m sorry, Captain, but there’s just some things you cannot ask an officer to do. That’s, like, three of the things.”
“Very well. Godspeed to both of them. Baxter out.”
J’hana roared back at the beast, tumbling with it, gripping it by the throat as it scratched and clawed at her.
“You think this will stop me, Peterman! Think again, you fool! This will only slow me down!” J’hana growled as she shoved the beast up against the wall. “I know your weakness, Zha-Zha! I babysat you. Remember? When you were but a cub! Now we are enemies! So it shall be!” And J’hana unleashed her secret weapon.
She tickled Zha-Zha the lion in her armpits. The creature collapsed to the floor in a fit of pleased yelps.
J’hana brushed her hands together and turned around. “I am wasting my time in here. I had better leave before the rhinoceros gets out.”
“You leave that rinoceros alone, J’hana. That was a gift from the K’tarrian Ambassador!” Baxter said as he and Lt. Commander Tilleran marched down the corridor toward engineering, where Tilleran said she was getting a definite bead on Peterman’s thoughts. Baxter was amazed it had taken him five years to fully utilize Tilleran’s sensory powers. He thought about all the trouble she could have saved him. He still couldn’t find his favorite sock. He shook his head silently as he walked. That sock didn’t have thoughts, so she’d probably be useless finding it. But people, well, that’s what telepaths were for. Sensing.
“Anything, Commander?” Baxter asked as he and Tilleran rounded a corner into Engineering.
“She came through this way,” Tilleran said, “But I’m not convinced she’s still here. She’s…farther out.”
“Can you be more specific?”
“Farther from the center of the ship. Out on the edges. Port side…” Tilleran turned, holding her fingers to her temples. “Her thought patterns are very strong. She’s worried about being caught, concerned about those two poodles…she’s…I’ve almost got her…she’s…”
“She’s hiding in the port nacelle,” Dr. Janice Browning said, squirming out of a nearby Jefferies’ tube hatch.
Baxter stared incredulously at Browning. “And how would you know that?”
“I just came from chatting with her.”
“And how did you find her?”
“Because I know her hiding places.”
“And how come I don’t know her hiding places?”
“Because you’re not very perceptive, Andy,” Browning said, patting Baxter lovingly on the chest. “Now stop saying ‘and,’ and go find your wife.”
“Tilleran,” Baxter said, motioning to the Jefferies tube.
“You know, it’s not fair of you to pit me against my girlfriend like this, Captain,” she said, ducking in the tube. Baxter followed.
“I thought you guys weren’t dating anymore.”
“It’s off and on.”
“Good luck, Andy,” Browning said quietly, then headed out of engineering. She almost bumped into Lt. Commander Hartley. “Oh, sorry, Comman–”
“So that’s how it goes, eh?” Hartley asked, arms folded. “You’re betraying Counselor Peterman, just like that?”
Browning scratched her head. “What?”
“I was just down the corridor, listening. You gave up Kelly’s position to the enemy!”
“The enemy? Andy’s her husband, he’s just concerned about her.” Browning smiled coyly and strolled down the corridor. “Besides, who says I betrayed Kelly?”
Hartley stared after Browning, her eyes going wide. “You two-timer!”
“I’m raising a changeling. It pays to be shifty, Megan.”
“Ah-hah! I gotcha!” Baxter and Tilleran squeezed out of the Jefferies tube and into the Port Nacelle control hub.
“Ow, stop elbowing me!” Tilleran said. “I already told you, I can’t sense her here anymore.”
“I figured she was just using some kind of mind trick on you,” Baxter said haughtily, hands on hips as he looked around the cramped, and empty, room. “I smell something.”
“That would be dog poo,” Tilleran said, pinching her nose shut. “Can we get out of here?”
“Well, do you sense her anywhere nearby?” Baxter asked desperately.
“No. I think it’s safe to say she gave us the slip.”
“Janice!” Baxter growled, diving back into the Jefferies tube.
Tilleran just sighed and followed him in.
Peterman ran at a steady gait along one of the access tunnels that ran along the outer edge of the stardrive section, the two poodles, now awake, and on leashes, trotting behind her. She’d successfully given her husband and J’hana the slip, and managed to go several hours without being captured. Since waking up, the dogs had responded well to her. All the more reason to believe they’d been abused by their master. They were eager to follow orders from anyone who didn’t hit them. Boy, did that Allemand have a royal spanking in store for him!
Peterman said a silent thank-you to Janice Browning for providing a diversion to spring her from her hiding place. Browning said she really wasn’t taking sides, that she was just seeking a quick end to this conflict. But her diversionary tactic bought Peterman the one thing she truly needed: A route to a cargo transporter. They’d be at Fleuria Prime within the hour, then she’d be able to escape the Explorer by simply beaming down, providing her shields weren’t raised. And even if they were, she was reasonably sure she could contact Hartley and get her to drop the shields long enough to get her down there. Yes, Hartley would be on her side. She had no particular loyalties to the captain anyway, and had always been a bit of an anarchist at heart.
Peterman yanked a small padd out of her thigh pocket and paged through it as Robespierre peed on an ODN junction. “Yes! Just a few more meters, lovies, and we’ll be at the hatch to the cargo bay!”
The dogs yipped happily, and she thought one of them may have pooped. It was hard to tell–it was dark in the access tunnel.
Peterman jogged up to a small hatch, Robespierre and Richilieu tagging behind. She cranked it open and slid through, and felt the pinch of a phaser barrel shoved against her forehead.
“Nice outfit,” J’hana said flatly.
“J-J’hana?” Peterman stumbled. “Fancy meeting you here.”
“You’re wily, counselor, but not wily enough,” Lt. Commander J’hana said, then tapped her combadge. “J’hana to President Dillon. I have captured Counselor Peterman. As I’d anticipated, she headed for one of the more out of the way cargo transporters. I also should inform you that I defeated her lion in honorable combat.”
“Very…good, J’hana,” Bradley said over the comm channel. “Put her in the brig, and bring the dogs to me. Mister Allemand will no doubt be glad to see them.”
“You heard the man,” J’hana said, gesturing with her phaser. “Please stand up, Counselor. You are under arrest, of course. Please don’t make me shoot you.”
“Yeah, hate to do that,” Peterman muttered. “Guess you win, huh?”
“Was there ever a doubt?”
Just then, all the lights went out.
Amid the panicked barking of Robespierre and Richlieu, Peterman clasped both her fists together and swung them around, knowing she’d have only one chance at this. She connected on a blow to the side of J’hana’s head, sending the shocked Andorian to the ground, and her phaser clattering to the deck. She swiftly picked up the phaser and dragged Robespierre and Richilieu along with her.
“Dozens of Klingons are no match for you, but fight one little Ship’s Counselor and you buckle,” Peterman gloated as she left the cargo bay. “I guess I’ll be counseling you about that sometime next week, provided I get to keep the job.”
She nearly stumbled over Ensign Keefler in the dark as she plowed down the corridor. He didn’t have time to get his phaser out of the holster; she felled him with one stun blast.
“Sorry about that! I know how you fear focused light beams!” she called over her shoulder as she ran down the corridor. “Thanks, Megan, wherever you are!” she called to the ceiling. The Engineer had obviously come through for her in a pinch once again.
“What the hell did you do in there?” Lt. Commander Hartley asked, waving a palm beacon in Baxter and Tilleran’s faces as they squirmed out of the Jefferies tube and back into Engineering.
“I don’t know,” Baxter said. “I didn’t do anything. Didn’t you?”
“I didn’t touch a thing,” Hartley said. “What, you think I’d hurt my ship to save a couple dogs? I haven’t softened THAT much!”
“Damn,” Baxter said. “Well, Janice’s not ordering food in the holodeck, so we couldn’t have lost power that way. I guess Kelly did it again.”
“Or J’hana blew out a power conduit while shooting at her,” Tilleran offered.
“Either way,” Baxter said, snatching the beacon from Hartley. “We need to get to the bridge. Tilleran, you’re with me. Hartley: Get power back up.”
“Well…if you insist!” Hartley snapped back. Then, once alone in engineering, she smiled as she went to re-couple the power conduits she’d decoupled. “You’re not the only one who can lie through your teeth, Janice Browning.”
There was only one chance now, Peterman thought. The whole ship was powerless, except maybe for life support. That meant that the shuttlebay doors couldn’t be opened. The escape pods would be locked down. The transporters would be down.
Really, there was only one place she could go and get off the ship. One mode of transport that was reasonably easy to steal, too, given the Explorer’s history.
Peterman took a deep breath as she stood in the circular corridor, having cranked open the specially sealed door. She thought she could here Richelieu peeing. What was Allemand feeding these dogs?
How many times had she stood in this corridor and dreaded the upside-down spin action that lined up the personnel within with the upside- down orientation of the scoutship U.S.S. Escort?
Now she wished there was some power to get the revolving corridor cranking, because the alternative was even less attractive.
Peterman hadn’t done a lot of anti-grav or reverse-grav training since her time at the Academy. All she did know is it was sure to be damn disorienting to crank open that hatch to the Escort and flip herself inside, and suddenly find herself standing upside down.
Not to mention doing it while dragging two dogs behind her.
“Well, it’s now or never, guys,” Peterman said, shoving the palm beacon she’d pilfered from a nearby storage hatch into her armpit. She approached the Escort hatch and reached into her bicep pocket, retrieving the handy-dandy Starfleet Door-Jammer (TM) mechanism that had helped so many Starfleet crew get around powerless vessels over the years. She placed it on the hatch, punched a control, and grinned as the hatch wheezed open.
She tentatively stepped through the hatch, then did a somersault.
It felt like she had suddenly fallen over, only instead of tipping forward, she tipped backwards, and her feet planted firmly on the ceiling of a well-lit corridor, which of course was the flooring of the Escort. Which, Peterman guessed, still had power.
“Whew,” Peterman said, grasping her stomach, which hadn’t turned upside down as quickly as she had.
The dogs, meanwhile, threw up everywhere.
“We’re really going to have to work on your diets, boys,” Peterman observed, and pulled the dogs along the Escort corridor. “C’mon. Before someone else gets clued in to this bright idea.”
She took the lift up (down?) to the bridge level, and stepped through the perfectly functioning lift doors, coming face-to-face with Lt. Commander J’hana, who looked none the worse for ware save a big navy blue bruise on the side of her head. And, it seemed, one slightly tweaked antenna.
“The ride through the airlock was a real vizitch, was it not?” J’hana hissed.
“Didn’t notice,” Peterman said, fingering the firing stud on the phaser rich rested at her side. “Say, how’d you get here so fast?”
“Because I am in charge of ship’s security,” J’hana said simply. “And because I am J’hana.”
“Now,” J’hana said, raising her phaser at Peterman. “I do not know what is happening back on the Explorer, but you and I have business.”
“You’re right,” Peterman said, holding her wrists forward for J’hana. “Cuff me, or whatever it is you do. I deserve to be punished.”
J’hana let out a low growl. “Do not try to distract me!” J’hana sighed and put her phaser down. She turned and punched the door control to the captain’s readyroom/quarters, just adjacent to the bridge. “Go in there and sit down.”
She lifted the phaser again. “I said sit!”
“Fine, fine,” Peterman said, pulling Robespierre and Richelieu along with her into the cabin, which, she grinned, smelled kinda like a zoo.
J’hana stepped into the cabin and allowed the door to close behind her. She put her phaser down again and stared at Peterman. “We have a problem.”
“No kidding,” Peterman said sullenly, and took a seat on the couchbed (which was currently a couch). “I can’t seem to outsmart you.”
“We already knew that to be the case. I mean, we have a problem in that I don’t necessarily want to turn you over to President Dillon.”
Peterman stared up at J’hana from the stiff sofa. “What?”
“You…referenced Dwanok earlier. And I realize you made a valid point.”
“You mean…I said something that really made you think? I…I may have defeated you by counseling instead of guile and weaponry?”
“You have not defeated me!” J’hana shouted, raising her phaser again.
“Right, right, I mean…allowed you to defeat me.”
“Yes,” J’hana said, and let the phaser back down. “In any event, I have a dilemma. My sense of duty tells me that I should take you to President Dillon, no questions asked. My sense of honor tells me that you are on the path of the righteous, and that I would be wrong to stand in your way.”
“Sounds like there is a powerful struggle going on within you, J’hana,” Peterman said, and crossed her legs. “Let’s talk about that.”
Baxter’s palm beacon lighted upon the rigid features of Jacques Allemand as he plodded down the Deck 14 corridor toward the Jefferies tube to the bridge.
He expected the Fleurian Minister to look shocked, or panicked, or at least worried about the Explorer’s current power predicament (one of many lately, Baxter grumbled to himself). Instead, he looked downright calm. He had a satchel at his side and something in his hand. A beacon of his own?
“Captain, watch out, he’s planning to–” Tilleran suddenly cried out, just as Allemand raised his hand and fired what Baxter now realized was a phaser, right at Tilleran. It winged her on her shoulder and knocked her to the ground.
“Tilleran!” Baxter cried, but could do nothing to help the Betazoid, as Allemand suddenly shoved the phaser against Baxter’s neck and grabbed him around the shoulders.
“Ma Capitan,” Allemand hissed. “You would do well to take me directly to your scout vessel, or you will be killed. Comprennez-vous?”
“I understand, but I don’t know what that last thing you said means.”
“Forget about it,” Allemand said, pushing Baxter down the corridor. “Lead the way.”
“Um…how do you know about the Escort?” Suddenly, realization hit Baxter. “You! You’re the one that turned off the power!” Baxter felt pretty good about himself for piecing that together.
“No, that was merely a helpful coincidence. I thought I’d have to rely on my phaser to do the talking. No, I’m not versed enough in your ship’s systems to disable it, but I’ve perused your vessel’s library computers. Learned many things about the Federation and the glory and achievements of good old Terra Firma.”
“Well then what the hell are you doing?” Baxter said, then it dawned on him.
Allemand smirked. “It should be obvious.”
“It really isn’t.”
“Well, I’ll tell you as soon as we get aboard your scoutship, and are free of any crewmembers empowered to stand in our way.”
Baxter had to hand it to Allemand. Whatever his motives, he’d be scot free if he managed to get aboard the Escort and detach it, especially with the Explorer currently on the fritz.
Because, really, at that point, there’d be nobody around to stop him.
J’hana sat beside Peterman, as Robespierre walked up and licked her hand. “Counselor, you must understand, Dwanok’s death has had far more of an affect on me than you realized. I did not feel comfortable discussing it with you, because you had a death of your own to mourn.”
“I did?” Peterman said.
“Oh, yes. He’s dead.” Peterman often forgot most of the crew didn’t realize Charlie was in stasis in the former Inventory Control office.
“In any event, I can appreciate the need to…vent your frustrations over your powerlessness to save Charlie. I understand this is a symbolic act. That this is something you need to free yourself of the pain of Charlie’s death.”
“I didn’t realize you understood me so well.”
“Probably because you were too busy with your own problems,” J’hana muttered under her breath, then looked at Peterman. “No matter. I will help you transport these dogs to Fleuria Prime, and find good owners for them, if that is what you feel you must do.”
“And after that?”
“And after that, we both must deal with the consequences.”
“Fair enough,” Peterman said, and stood up.
J’hana suddenly grabbed her arm, antennae twitching. “Stop where you are!”
“You’re not going to aim that phaser at me AGAIN, are you, Peterman said?”
“No,” J’hana snapped. “I…sense…” She turned quickly and looked out the small porthole. The stars were…moving. “This vessel has detached.”
“How’s that possible?” Peterman asked. “We’re the only ones aboard.”
J’hana’s antennae twitched again. “No, we’re not. There are two others aboard the ship. They’re on the bridge right now.”
“One is…unidentifiable. The other…is wearing Starfleet Red cologne…and smells of garlic.”
“Apparently,” J’hana said, grabbing her security tricorder and flipping it open. “There is a weapon in the other room. The other occupant is human, and looks as if he is aiming the weapon at the captain.”
“Who could be…” Peterman said, then snapped her fingers. “Allemand.”
“That,” J’hana said, “is highly…maybe.”
“We need to do something!” Peterman said, and J’hana suddenly covered the counselor’s mouth with one powerful hand.
“Be quiet!” she said between clenched teeth. “This is my purview, Counselor. Kindly let me do my job and defeat whatever madman has your husband held captive.”
“But he’s MY husband,” Peterman said, a little more quiet.
“And I am his Chief of Security!” J’hana said, raising her voice and her phaser.
Suddenly, the poodles started barking.
J’hana and Peterman looked down at them, then at each other.
“Uh-oh,” they both said, and each quickly wrapped a hand around one of the poodles’ snouts.
“Uh-oh,” Commander Chris Richards said from the command chair, as one by one, systems around the bridge twinkled online.
“‘Uh-oh’?” President Bradley Dillon asked, arms folded, staring at Richards as he sat in the command chair. “Is that all you have to say?”
“Well what would you say?” Richards said. “Ensign Koltz has just informed us that the Escort just detached from our ship and fell off our sensor screens, and we can’t find our science officer, captain, chief of security, counselor OR our Fleurian diplomat. What would your response be?”
“To call for help,” Bradley said. “Immediately.”
“Just one problem, Mister President,” Vansen said, running a hand over her face as she stared at the tactical console. “Because we’re out in the middle of nowhere looking for your ‘mysterious alien race,’ we don’t have any Starfleet backup nearby.”
“The Fleurians?” Bradley suggested.
Vansen shook her head. “They’re at least another six hours away at warp, and we don’t have the warp engines back up yet.”
“Then contact them. I know their resources are limited, but maybe they could send a search ship. They may be the only people out here we can really trust.”
“Tilleran…to…bridge. The Fleurian just kidnapped the captain. Shot me. Losing consciousness…fast…somebody get me to Sickbay…or…wait. I’m already at Sickbay now. Thanks anyway…ugh….”
Richards stood up. “Richards to Browning!”
“Browning here. Christopher, you’ll be glad to know Tilleran will be all right. She suffered a phaser blast to the solar plexus. We just brought her in, and we’ll get her patched up in notime.”
“Get her talking as fast as you can, Janice. She’s the only person who saw what happened to the captain.”
There was a pause. “Something happened to Andy?”
“He was kidnapped.”
“Well, Kelly went too far this time, didn’t she?”
“It wasn’t Kelly. It was Allemand.”
“And why ever would he want to kidnap the captain of a Federation starship?”
“THE STATUE OF LIBERTY!”
Captain Baxter rubbed his eyes tiredly as he leaned over the helm console of the Escort. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” He cocked his head. “Do you hear barking?”
“Don’t try to change the subject!” Allemand was perched in the Escort’s little command chair. “Now what makes you think I’m kidding?”
“Because that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” Baxter considered that. “Why would you want a big old hunk of metal sitting in the middle of Ellis Swamp?”
Allemand leaned forward, mad desire in his eyes, as Baxter looked over his shoulder at the French diplomat, narrowing his eyes suspiciously and wondering if this guy was operating on a fully-powered warp core.
“Don’t you see, the people of your North America never thanked us!”
“Who, the French?”
“What did they have to do with anything?”
“They built the thing, idiote!”
Allemand smiled, steepling his fingers and pressing them to his chin. “My great, great, great, great, great, great, great….well, many generations removed…grandfather, Pierre-Yvon Allemand was one of the builders. His sweat and toil produced one of the most beautiful landmarks on Earth, and him and his French brethren selflessly delivered it to you piglike North Americans. And for what?”
“I don’t know….maybe they just wanted to be nice.”
“They wanted to be THANKED!” Allemand snapped.
“They weren’t thanked?” Baxter asked, turning around in his seat at the helm. “That doesn’t seem fair.”
“Now you’re getting it! Now you see why the whole lot of us departed when we did. We petitioned the Earth government for a formal gesture of gratitude from the North Americans but none ever came, so we left Earth, determined to find a place where gestures of friendship are returned. Did your Americans even once try to give anything to the French?”
Baxter thought about that. “History wasn’t exactly a specialty when I was in school, but it seems to me I remember some big, uncomfortable war that the Americans helped the French out with, sending money and troops. And I don’t think the French ever paid them back for that. So…” Baxter stuck out his hand. “Let’s call it even. Shake?”
Allemand slapped Baxter’s hand away. “Never! It’s too late! No war effort is enough to bring back Pierre-Yvon, who, one day before the statue was finished, fell form the top of her torch. Of course, the primitive antigrav devices of the time were not able to prevent his fall, and he perished, never having seen his creation come to completion.”
Baxter nodded uncomfortably, then turned around and looked at the viewscreen, the onrushing stars. “Then, Mister Allemand, could you tell me what exactly we’re doing out here?”
Allemand smiled. “We are going to make our way back to Earth and get what’s rightfully mine…I mean the Fleurians’.”
“Just send the Federation Council a subspace message. I’m sure they’ll gladly give it to you.”
“That’s not enough. I want to be thanked. In person.”
“This is ridiculous. You mean your whole colony is based on this…petty need for a ‘thank you’?”
“We all had family who worked on the statue. We all deserve to see it tower over the Sacred Future Statue Location in the center of New New Paris.”
“You realize we’ll never make it all the way back to Earth in this ship?”
“Then we’ll find the nearest Federation ship, and hijack it, using you as a hostage.”
“Nobody would give up their ship for me. I’m not that important.”
“That’s just a risk we’ll have to take,” Allemand snapped.
Baxter sighed. It was time to make a final push with this guy. “Listen,” he said, bracing his hands on his knees. He tried to remember all the things his wife told him about after work every day. SOMETHING of it had to sink in, at some point. “You’ve been holding on to this repressed anger for far too long. Don’t you think it’s time to let go of that…”
Allemand looked at Baxter a long moment, as if he was just now seeing the Captain. He was really buying this! Time to finish with a joke.
“You know, pass the torch?”
“Zut alors!” Allemand growled, rising out of the command chair and leveling his phaser at Baxter, blasting him into unconsciousness so hard that he spun in his chair at helm.
“Zut yourself!” Lt. J’hana cried, dropping from the ceiling onto Allemand, knocking the phaser out of his hand, then knocking his head repeatedly against the metal deck of the Escort bridge until he lost consciousness.
Suddenly, the door to the bridge opened up, and Peterman rushed in, two yipping poodles flanking her.
The poodles immediately sunk upon a groaning Allemand, licking him all over his face.
Peterman knelt by Baxter, checked for a pulse. “He’s alive, thank goodness. Could you have waited any longer to spring yourself on him, J’hana?”
“I had trouble getting the Jefferies hatch open,” J’hana said.
Peterman looked from Baxter to Allemand, who half-consciously waved a hand at his dogs, batting them away. “Any clue as to what he wanted?”
“Only that it had something to do with a law or governmental policy,” J’hana said. “They kept saying the word ‘statute.”
Peterman shrugged. “Weird.”
Ship’s Counselor’s Log,
Stardate 56559.8. We’re delivering Monsieur Allemand back to his home planet of Fleuria, without a Statue of Liberty to show for his efforts.
It remains to be seen whether the Fleurians knew of his treacherous plan to play dead with his ship and hijack a Federation vessel, but I’m sure President Dillon and the Captain will have all sorts of pleasant conversation about it when they beam down to the surface and talk to the Fleurian Ruling Council about it tomorrow morning.
I’d love to join them, and personally deliver Monsieur Allemand, and his poor mistreated poodles, to the proper authorities, but I have other matters to attend to.
“I’ll never get people like you,” Captain Baxter said, standing in the brig, arms folded, staring across a crackling forcefield at Allemand, curled in a ball, on the bench in his cell. “You live in the past. You hold grudges. You build your life around what, in essence, is a dead issue. It’s pathetic. It’s no way to live, and I hope you’ve learned that lesson here today.”
“Fu toi,” Allemand grumbled, and buried his head in his knees.
“You’re welcomed,” Baxter said with a smile, and took three steps to his left. He was now looking across a forcefield at his wife who was laying down on the bench in her cell, staring up at the ceiling of the brig.
“You know J’hana enjoyed putting me in here,” Peterman said softly. “Gave her some kind of freakish pleasure.”
“Let’s not dwell on that, shall we, honey?” Baxter said weakly, although he knew it to be true. And J’hana wasn’t the only one. Vansen wanted to throw a party to commemorate the occasion. “The important thing is, you’re only in there a couple weeks. I had to serve a thirty-day sentence, remember?”
“Need I remind you that I was right? That Allemand WAS a bad guy?”
“That may be, but you violated, like, two dozen ship’s rules. Not the least of which was shooting people and lying to your husband.”
“It’s not against ship’s rules to lie to your husband,” Peterman said.
“It is when he’s also your captain!”
“Oh, sure, bring THAT up again.”
Baxter sighed. “You should have told me.”
“You would have stopped me. Some things you just do because you know, in your heart, they’re right. And it doesn’t matter if I’m in the brig. I’ll sleep more soundly on this bench than I would have in my own bed, because I know I freed those dogs from their naughty master. Don’t you realize how that grated at me, considering…everything that’s happened?”
“So you did this all…for Charlie?”
Peterman rolled to her side, to face Baxter. “I had to do something, Andy. I was torn up inside.”
Baxter nodded. “And now?”
“Now I feel a little better. I’m sorry if it doesn’t make sense to you. I’m sorry if you don’t get people who build their lives around what, in essence, is a dead issue.”
Oops. Baxter frowned. “You heard that?”
“You were four feet away.”
“Well, I wasn’t talking about you.”
“Maybe you weren’t, but the same thing applies. And just like Allemand had to do what he did, and just like J’hana had to do what she did when Dwanok’s life was in danger…the same applies to me.”
“Except J’hana didn’t serve any brig time,” Baxter said thoughtfully.
“You are NOT throwing her in here!” Peterman snapped.
Baxter thought about that, tried not to get a thrill from the concept, then concentrated on keeping a straight face. “Good night, sweetheart, and get some sleep. I’m going to be by tomorrow morning to bust you out of this joint.”
Peterman watched him go. “You mean it?”
“I’ll have to move some appointments around, but…yeah.” Baxter smiled as he ducked out of the brig.
As the lights went dim in the brig, Allemand could be heard grumbling something at Peterman. “Sleep well, you sadistic, meddling, infuriating salope!”
And she did.
Dr. Browning has her eye on a certain someone on the Explorer. Having not been the luckiest in love over the last few years, is this Janice Browning’s chance to truly find love? Or will forces conspire to muck up her first shot in a long time at building a solid relationship? And what does pet psychology have to do with anything?