Author: Anthony Butler
Captain Andy Baxter punched a few controls, opening up a comm channel to Waystation, requesting the guest quarters of Counselor Kelly Peterman.
The system hung there, Federation emblem spinning, for several moments.
Finally, a message popped up on the screen, blinking in big, ugly, block letters.
“RECIPIENT UNAVAILABLE. RECIPIENT UNAVAILABLE. RECIPIENT UNAVAILABLE.”
“Figures,” Baxter said, and closed the channel. “Nobody’s where they’re supposed to be lately.”
WAYSTATION THREE DAYS EARLIER
They were Starfleet-style quarters, right down to the furnishings. Everything- the bed, the sink, the replicator- was so close to what she’d known for the last several years on the Explorer.
But it was all wrong. All of it.
Kelly Peterman sat on the edge of her bed and fought back another round of tears. For better or worse, this was home now. She’d made her choice to stay on Waystation. Even if she wanted to leave, which she didn’t, the Explorer was gone, departed hours earlier with her daughter and husband.
She told herself that it wasn’t forever. Certainly she couldn’t stay away from Steffie that long.
And then there was Andy.
She would return to them, but first she had some other issues to deal with. Federation President Bradley Dillon had dragged the Explorer across the quadrant then trapped Peterman, Captain Baxter, Commander Chris Richards, and Dr. Janice Browning back on 21st century Earth just so he could pursue a personal matter, a matter that had evidently ended unsuccessfully. Now President Dillon was back in his own time and returning to his job as though nothing had happened. That kind of denial was not healthy.
She owed it to the Federation to help Bradley through his problems. He needed to face them and deal with them, not hide from them behind his work. Peterman would make this happen, no matter how long it took.
First thing tomorrow, she would settle the issue of her posting here and then track down Bradley. For tonight, though, she needed to settle into her new home.
It was quiet. So quiet. She’d had a bit of trouble adjusting to sleeping in the 21st century due to the noise from the street running outside of their apartment building. Back in the 24th century, she’d quickly readjusted to the sound of starship engines thrumming constantly in the background. But Waystation was not a starship, and its reactors powered the station’s systems without so much as a hum.
And then there was the view. Or lack thereof.
Her quarters on the Explorer had several windows giving her a view out to stars streaking past or a planet slowly spinning by if the ship was in orbit.
Now she just had four blank walls. No windows. No animals. No Steffie.
And no husband.
Andy’s face flashed into her mind. The look. The hurt in his eyes when she told him she was remaining on Waystation. And then he left, pushing away the stroller holding their daughter, a little girl barely over a year old. Would she cry when she realized Mommy was gone? Had she cried when Peterman left in the 21st century?
Peterman shook the thought from her mind and stood up from the bed.
She had to focus. She had a duty to the Federation. If Bradley Dillon was in emotional pain, which he obviously was, she had to help him. Everything else was secondary.
Several decks away, Federation President Bradley Dillon hummed along to one of his favorite sections of the opera “Boris Godunov” as he air conducted the music playing through his bedchamber with one hand while finishing up his preparations for bed with he other.
He strolled over to his beside table and took a last sip from the cup of warm milk sitting on a saucer there, then slipped off his burgundy dressing gown, revealing the royal blue Yridian silk pajamas underneath, and climbed up into the massive four poster bed which dominated the rear wall of his bedroom.
With a contented sigh, Bradley snuggled into the sheets and lay his head on the down pillows shipped there from Earth. “Lights out,” he declared, plunging the room into darkness.
It was good to be home.
He’d been away far too long. But now he could get back into the normal routine of his life, a routine he hadn’t been able to perform in over a year.
At least while Bradley was traveling on the Explorer in his effort to locate the Bast, he had been able to keep fairly well abreast of events in both the Federation government and his Dillon Enterprises business empire.
For the last three months, however, he had been completely out of touch as he visited Earth’s past.
Three months. Yet for him it had only been three weeks. The disparity was disconcerting, but he would adjust. As soon as he returned to the 24th century, he had made use of the resources available to him on the Aerostar-A to bring himself up to date on events that had occurred in his absence. Fortunately, when a government was a stable as the Federation’s, there were few surprises. And any situations that had occurred while he was away were more than adequately handled by his Vice President, Heran Roloi, in the case of the government, and his Chief Financial Officer, Mister Auditmi, in the case of Dillon Enterprises business.
Still, three months was quite a long time. When Captain Conway of the Aerostar-A had informed him of the length of time that had passed, Bradley had been tempted to use his temporal vortex generator, the device that had transported him and the Explorer officers to Earth’s past, to return to the 24th century far sooner. He realized, however, that this action would create more questions and problems than he cared to deal with.
There was also the slight matter that he had completely lost his taste for time travel. As far as he was concerned, the temporal vortex generator should be destroyed.
Bradley suddenly realized he wasn’t alone in his bedchamber. He wasn’t sure how he knew, but he had a feeling, the same feeling he’d gotten a year earlier when that Madison woman who claimed to work for an outfit called Section 31 appeared in his rooms on the Explorer.
“Lights,” Bradley ordered, sitting up.
The lights flared to life and proved Bradley correct. One of the leather arm chairs in the sitting area at the end of his bed was currently occupied, but not by Agent Madison. Instead, Bradley saw an older woman who was smiling kindly at him. Her shiny black outfit was more than a bit reminiscent of Madison’s, though.
“Good evening, Mister Dillon,” the woman said, a British accent evident in her words. “I hope I didn’t startle you too badly.”
“Not at all,” Bradley replied. “I cannot say that I am accustomed to receiving guests at this hour, Miss…”
“Just call me Rosalyn. And I think you’ve been visited like this before.”
“True. That does not mean I am accustomed to it. And quite frankly, I can’t imagine while you’re here. I already told your Agent Madison that my actions would not endanger the Federation, and that had been borne out. What additional business could your so-called Section 31 have with me?”
“I assure you that I am not associated with Agent Madison. I am simply here to see about a time machine,” Rosalyn said.
“The temporal vortex generator,” Bradley said. “You want me to give it to you?”
“If you wouldn’t mind.”
Bradley laughed. “Now why would I hand a device with that kind of power over to you?”
“You will hand it over to me precisely because it has that kind of power. The residents of this era have no business mucking about with the time stream.”
“Mucking about? Is that what you call what I did?”
“There were bigger forces at work, Mister Dillon. We both know that. I simply wish to prevent any further…”
“Take it,” Bradley interrupted.
“Take it?” Rosalyn repeated, surprised.
“I have no more use for the damn thing,” Bradley said, sliding down from his bed and heading over to the safe hidden behind one of his wooden wall panels. He opened the safe, removed the vortex generator, and handed it to Rosalyn. “Now I am trusting that you will not be putting this device to nefarious use.”
“Wouldn’t be worth the bother,” Rosalyn said with a smile. She extended her hand to Bradley. “Thank you, Mister President.”
“You’re welcome,” Bradley said, shaking her hand distractedly. He really just wanted this over with and to return to bed. He suddenly felt something press against his wrist and looked down to see a small hypospray head, which was poking out from a mounting hidden inside Rosalyn’s sleeve, touching his hand. In an instant, his world went blurry.
“You disposed of the vortex generator,” Rosalyn said, her voice a soothing whisper. “And I was never here.”
“You…never here,” Bradley mumbled, then collapsed to the floor.
The office had been quiet for several moments now as Captain Lisa Beck let out several deep breaths and fidgeted with her ear. Across the desk from Beck, Kelly Peterman sat unmoving in her chair, her eyes locked on Waystation’s commanding officer waiting for a response.
“You want to be our counselor?” Beck said finally. Someway, somehow, Captain Andy Baxter was responsible for this. He wasn’t here to annoy Beck in person, so now he was sending members of his family after her. What had she ever done to him?
“Yes, ma’am,” Peterman said eagerly.
“Aren’t you already the Explorer’s counselor?”
“They found a replacement while we were…in my absence. Besides, I would like a change. Look for new challenges, you know?”
“I think I could be useful on Waystation.”
“And you don’t have a counselor currently,” Peterman stated.
“That’s true,” Beck said hesitantly. Waystation’s previous counselor, Ray Miller, had left under mysterious circumstances about two years earlier. He said it was some kind of secret project, but Beck couldn’t imagine what kind of secret project would need a counselor…especially one like Miller.
“Then this would fit both of our needs perfectly,” Peterman said.
“Counselor,” Beck said, putting her hands together and resting them on her desk as she leaned forward to address Peterman. “This just isn’t the way Starfleet does things. There are forms to fill out. Oh Great Bird are there forms to fill out. I’d be surprised if Command had even gotten around to completing the ‘Missing Officer’ work on you, much less the ‘Oh Wait, She’s Not Missing’ and the ‘What Was She Doing While She Was Gone’ pieces.”
“Actually, Commander Larkin took care of all of that when the Aerostar-A brought us back to the 24th century,” Peterman replied.
Beck smiled weakly. “Nothing like having an android on your side,” she said.
“Absolutely. Of course, she’s not really on my side anymore. She’s on Captain Conway’s. Well technically we’re all on the same side, but she serves at his side…and on his ship…and not on mine…not that I’m on a ship anymore.”
“I got it,” Beck said, holding up her hand for Peterman to stop. If that didn’t work, she would either resort to begging or a phaser.
“In any case, I’m free to be your counselor.”
“Uh huh. Can I be blunt with you for a moment, Peterman?”
“We don’t need you.”
“Don’t be silly. Of course you do.” Her eyes narrowed at Beck. “Don’t tell me you’re one of those people who doesn’t believe in counseling.”
“Not at all. It’s just…to be honest the Waniquanbi Group has been satisfying all of our counseling needs.”
“The Waniquanbi Group?” Peterman asked confused. “Who is that?”
“It’s a private psychology practice that opened up here nine months ago. In exchange for space on the station, they provide mental health care to all Starfleet personnel on board. So far, it’s been a great arrangement for all concerned.”
“You privatized your counseling?” Peterman asked in horror.
“Um…yes,” Beck said confused as to why this was an issue.
“But another Starfleet counselor could have…”
“No one wanted to come out here,” Beck snapped, finally having had enough. “We solved the problem, though. We’re fine. Thanks for the offer. Now if you don’t mind, I have work to do. Feel free to talk to Commander Morales or Yeoman Jones about arranging transportation back to the Explorer. Goodbye.”
“I still want the position,” Peterman said firmly.
“You never filled the Counselor post, so it’s available. I want it.”
“Weren’t you listening? You won’t have any clients.”
“Maybe. Maybe not,” Peterman said. “Maybe some of the crew would prefer an actual Starfleet counselor over some civilian.” That was of secondary concern to her, though. President Dillon wouldn’t be going to the Waniquanbi Group. In fact, unless Peterman took action, Bradley probably wouldn’t talk through his problems with anyone at all. He was the only client she needed on Waystation.
“Fine,” Beck said, throwing her hands up. “If I say no, you’ll probably just go above my head anyway. If you want the job, it’s yours. Have fun.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Peterman said grinning as she stood up from her chair. “You have my word that I will do my best for sake of the Federation.”
Beck stared at her blankly. “Yeah,” she said after a couple of moments. “You do that. Bye now.”
Peterman gave her a jovial wave, then headed out of Beck’s office, her mind racing with ideas about President Dillon. He had nothing to worry about. Help was on the way.
Moments after he stepped into the reception area of his office, Bradley Dillon found himself trapped inside a pair of steely arms.
“Mister Dillon!” Gisele, his assistant of many years exclaimed happily, squeezing Bradley one more time before releasing him and retreating back to her desk. Bradley grinned as he smoothed out his slightly-rumpled suit. He’d never seen Gisele react like that, but it was nice to know she was doing it for him. “We’ve missed you, sir,” she said, forcing herself back into a more professional demeanor.
“I’ve missed you as well,” Bradley said, patting her warmly on the hand. “Is everything where I left it?”
“Most certainly. I checked it myself as soon as I got back to Waystation from the Explorer.”
“Ah yes. I hope the trip back wasn’t too stressful for you. I know my departure was rather…abrupt.”
“I’m just glad to know you’re okay. What happened?”
“A lot and nothing,” Bradley replied enigmatically. “I’ll explain it all to everyone in my speech this evening. I can’t have the populous thinking I abandoned them.”
“No one would ever believe that.”
“Of course they would,” Bradley said heading toward his office doors. “But not after they’ve heard what I have to say. I expect to be working for most of the morning, Gisele. Please alert me should anything urgent arise.”
“Yes, Mister Dillon.”
Bradley entered the confines of his office, allowed the doors to close behind him, and let out a contented sigh as he surveyed its majesty. Dark wood paneling. Floor to ceiling bookcases filled with antique leather-bound volumes. A desk that practically had its own gravitational pull. This was the place he felt most himself. His very own private sanctum sanctorum.
He strolled happily over to the desk and tapped a switch, causing a bookcase on the right wall to spin around revealing a mini-bar and replicator, then went and ordered up his morning meal. Initially he’d entertained the thought of having breakfast at the Waystation food court, just to mingle with his constituents a little bit, but he’d awakened that morning so rested and refreshed that he’d wanted to get to his office and get right to work. He knew that he was anxious to be home and in his own bed, but he hadn’t expected to sleep so soundly. Evidently the relief he’d felt at disposing of that infernal temporal vortex generator and finally finishing this chaotic phase of his life had allowed him to go positively unconscious.
But now it was time for work! As was his custom, he started his morning with a perusal of the states of his various business ventures and accounts. Construction was proceeding apace on the new Starfleet Suites Hotel being built within easy reach of the Mall of Antares. His chain of Dillon’s Supply Depots was performing adequately, but not spectacularly. Over the next few days, he would have to hold a conference comm with his store managers to discuss marketing possibilities to push things along. They were usually a good group when they put their heads together.
Satisfied that his business affairs were in order, Bradley pulled up his personal messages as he prepared to comm Gerald Bouvier, his presidential aide who acted as his eyes and ears in the Federation Capital on Earth. As he expected, there was not much there. Very few people were able to comm him directly without going through Gisele or his aides in the Federation government. There were, however, five comms from his parents. He idly activated the most recent one.
“Bradley, it’s your mother. Are you ever coming back? Well, when you do, give us a comm. Oh, have you heard from your brother lately? We haven’t had a peep out of him in a couple of years now! Go use some of that power of yours to make him comm his parents. Bye.”
Bradley rolled his eyes. He was the President of the United Federation of Planets and the CEO of an interplanetary business conglomerate. He had far better things to do with his time than track down wayward family members. His brother would turn up. He always did. If their parents wanted to talk to him that badly, they could find him themselves.
Shoving that particular bit of nonsense forcefully out of his mind, Bradley activated the comm unit in his desk and attempted to contact Gerald Bouvier’s office on Earth. Moments later, the thin face of his aide appeared on the viewscreen.
“Mister President!” Bouvier exclaimed in his heavy French accent. “It is good to see you again, sir.”
“And you, Gerald. How is my Federation this morning?”
Gerald frowned. “You do not know?”
“I assumed they would have… Ah. Wait. Allow me to start over.”
“Perhaps you should,” Bradley said, his mood darkening rapidly.
“All of Paris is abuzz with the news of your return, but your absence has raised even more questions in the Federation Council. Many of them were not happy with your mission on the Explorer to begin with, but now…if the rumors are true…”
“And what rumors would those be?”
“That you attempted to alter the timeline for your own gain.”
Bradley threw his head back and laughed. “Is that what they’re saying?” he asked, regaining control of himself.
“Yes, Mister President. The Council is quite disturbed by this perceived misuse of your office.”
“And they would have every right to be…if it were true.”
“Which it is not,” Gerald said, relief evident in his voice.
“Not at all,” Bradley said. “But these rumors must be dispelled. I’ve prepared a speech that I would like to deliver across the Federation this evening.”
“You prepared? But your speech writers…”
“I needed to handle this one myself, Gerald. Just make sure that AWN and UFPN are on board to carry the broadcast. If Krinokor wants in, that’s fine, too. The Klingons may be interested in what I have to say.”
Gerald shifted uncomfortably. “Tonight may be a problem,” he said.
“And why is that?”
“When the Council learned that you had returned, they quickly formed a committee to investigate your activities. Their ship should be arriving at Waystation sometime today. That’s what I thought you were comming about.”
“Who’s on the committee?” Bradley asked.
“Councilor P’Kee of Vulcan, Nransk of Andor, Drubk of Tellar, Lundhet of Althos Four, and Oncan Gresell of Napea.”
“Some of my biggest fans,” Bradley muttered sarcastically.
“I don’t doubt it. Thank you for the information, Gerald. I’ll prepare for their arrival.”
“Will you be canceling your speech?”
“Yes, but get the networks on board for tomorrow. If P’Kee and his cohorts want to have an inquisition, they can do it in front of a live Federation audience.”
Gerald nodded. “Good luck, Mister President.”
“I appreciate the sentiment, but I don’t think luck is going to resolve this situation. I’ll be in touch.” Bradley smacked his hand against the comm panel, cutting the channel, then leaned back in his desk chair, lost in thought.
None of the five Councilors on the committee had been pleased that Bradley had bought his way into power three years earlier. He had hoped that after some time had passed, they would let the matter drop and get on with the business of government. Obviously, that was not the case. They seemed to believe that recent events had given them the opportunity they needed to start the process of removing him from power.
They were mistaken.
Of course, that was no reason for him not to be a gracious host. He would be very gracious…within reason.
He tapped the comm panel on his desk again. “Gisele?”
“Yes, Mister Dillon?” Gisele’s voice replied.
“I will be visiting Starfleet Square Mall shortly.”
“I’ll alert the Special Secret Section for you.”
A soft chime sounded, alerting Yeoman Tina Jones to the arrival of someone into Waystation’s Welcome Center located on the lower level of Starfleet Square Mall. She looked up from her console, where she had been logging her visitors for the day, to welcome the newcomer. It was a Welcome Center after all.
As it happened, the new arrival wasn’t much of a newcomer after all.
“President Dillon!” Jones exclaimed, jumping up from her chair and coming around the silver circular desk to greet Bradley as his Special Secret Section agents flanked the exit.
“Tina, please. We’ve known each other too long for you to use formal titles with me. It’s Bradley.”
“But I don’t think I’ve ever called you Bradley,” Jones said, squinting a bit as she tried to remember.
“Then now is a perfect time to start,” he said, gesturing for her to come sit with him in the lounge area by the information rack and the holovision screen. “I like what the renovations to your office,” he added, looking around. “When was this done?”
“About a year ago. Traffic has increased through the station, so Captain Beck decided it was time we moved up from a Liaison Office to a Welcome Center. I even have assistants now! Well, mostly it’s just Hypple, but there are a couple of others who work here occasionally.”
“Hypple? As in the Multek?”
“Yeah. He’s been great. Really. And I’ve needed the help, since I’ve started taking night classes at the Starfleet Academy annex.”
“Yep. Since I’m already enlisted, I only have a few courses to take to become an officer. I’ve even picked out a specialty already. Security. It’s going to be great.”
“I’m happy for you then.”
“Thanks!” Jones said cheerily. “Now was there something that you needed?”
“I can’t just come by to chat?”
Jones chuckled. “Come on, Mister Dillon…I mean Bradley. You never come by to just chat.”
“I’ve been gone a while.”
“But you still want my help with something.”
“Yes,” Bradley admitted. “Several members of the Federation Council will be arriving this afternoon, and I wanted to make sure their accommodations are in order before they arrive. I would get the rooms at the Starfleet Suites, but I can’t have any appearance of impropriety here. And since it is my hotel…”
“I knew you would,” Bradley said, pulling a small padd out of his suit coat. “Here are the details.”
“You could have just transmitted this to me,” Jones said.
“True. But then I wouldn’t have been able to see you in person,” Bradley replied, flashing the charismatic smile that had sold more than one used starship in a previous career.
“Oh!” Jones said suddenly, her attention focused on the Welcome Center entrance. “Did I tell you that…”
“Mister President,” Counselor Peterman interrupted urgently, rushing over to the pair.
“…Counselor Peterman decided to stay on board,” Jones finished, deflating.
“No,” Bradley said coldly, eyes locked on Peterman. “I was not aware of that turn of events. Don’t you have a family to care for, Counselor?”
“I had a more pressing concern. You,” Peterman replied.
“Me?” Bradley said, laughing in surprise. “Why would you possibly be concerned about me?”
“That’s why we need to talk.”
“Talk? You mean you wish to be my counselor.”
“We already started the process in New Mexico. We just need to continue the strides we made there.”
Bradley rose from his seat and straightened his suit coat with a stiff tug. “This is neither the time nor the place for this discussion. And considering there will never be a time or place for it, we must be finished. Thank you for your assistance, Tina. Good day, Counselor.” Bradley strode past Peterman, heading for the exit.
“Don’t walk away from me, Bradley..”
Bradley stopped in mid-step, then turned back to Peterman.
“I was not aware that we were on a first name basis, Counselor. Or that you outranked a President.”
“I just want to help you.”
“I will keep that in mind, should I require help, which I do not,” Bradley said, his voice rising with each word. He caught himself and lowered his tone. “I appreciate your concern, but I can assure you, as I believe I have already assured you, I am fine. Better than fine actually because I am home where I belong. Can the same be said for you?”
“You’re not fine. We have to talk about what happened.”
“You were there. I don’t see a point in rehashing it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a great deal to do.” Before Peterman could respond, Bradley exited the Welcome Center, leaving Jones and Peterman alone.
“That man needs me,” Peterman said, shaking her head sadly.
“He seemed fine to me,” Jones said.
Peterman’s head whipped toward Jones. “Are you a counselor now?”
“Then stay off my turf!” Peterman snapped before storming out of the Welcome Center, muttering under her breath as she went.
Jones rolled her eyes as she headed to back her desk. “And she thinks he needs counseling? Right.”
She stalked around the confines of her spartan office like a panther…or maybe more like a house cat. Like Fritz. Fritz, the one who had been controlled by a Bast, who had taken over her mind, who had driven her away from…
No. He was just a cat. None of this was his fault. There was no fault. Everything would be fine. Peterman would return to the Explorer and her family as soon as she was finished helping Bradley Dillon. That was just the way it had to be.
Bradley. She cursed herself silently for making such a basic mistake. She’d gone in too hard, and in a public place! What was she thinking? All she’d managed to do was put him on the defensive.
She needed to step back and find a way to reestablish contact. She could go to his office, but there was every chance that she wouldn’t be able to get around his staff.
Unfortunately, that really only left Peterman with the option of catching Bradley out in public. That could actually be a good thing. If she spoke to him casually and didn’t force matters, she might be able to reopen the lines of communication and restore the trust in her Bradley has shown back in the 21st century when he’d revealed to her what had motivated his quest in the first place.
The trick would be finding the opportunity to speak with him. If the events of the last couple of days were any indication, Bradley did seem to visit Starfleet Square Mall at times. And knowing him, he would make his entrance to the mall by way of his own hotel. That way he could put in an appearance there, greet his guests, and check up on things with his staff.
It was certainly a place to start. And Peterman had no desire to remain in Waystation’s Counseling Office, which was located deep in the lower saucer. The only thing that the previous counselor had left behind was a padd that Peterman had found in one of the desk drawers. She had hoped it might contain case notes about the various clients who might visit her. It turned out to be porn. Otherwise, the departing Counselor Miller seemed to have stripped the place clean, which considering the one trinket he’d left behind, may have been a good thing.
Peterman could always contact the Explorer and have some of the items from her office shipped here. It would allow her to give the place some of her personality and put her future clients at ease and…
No. This was temporary. She didn’t want or need anything from the Explorer. Clients would be here to see her, not what she had hanging on the walls.
Of course, the one client she was concerned about would not be visiting this office. She was going to have to find him, and the place to do that was in Starfleet Square Mall.
Leaving the bare office behind, Peterman headed out into the corridors of Waystation where she almost ran smack into a golden-skinned alien with bulging eyes. Peterman didn’t recognize his species right off hand, but he was in a Starfleet uniform.
“Are you the new counselor?” he asked, glancing up and down the corridor sheepishly.
“Yes, I am,” she said impatiently.
“I’m Ensign Loatyl. I was wondering if…”
“Nice to meet you,” she said quickly. “I don’t mean to be rude, but there’s somewhere I really need to be right now.”
“Oh…I see. Well…” Before Loatyl could get any farther, Peterman was gone, having already charged off down the corridor on her way to the nearest turbolift to take it to Starfleet Square Mall.
For his part, Bradley was far too busy for most of the afternoon to even consider a stroll through Starfleet Square Mall. His actions over the next day or so could very well determine the future of his presidency. As much as he wanted to take the offensive in this matter, he knew that a balance was the key. He would not leave things entirely in the hands of the Council’s investigative committee, but he would not overplay his hand.
“Mister Dillon,” Gisele’s voice called over the comm as Bradley worked at his desk. “Yeoman Jones is on the line asking to speak with you.”
“Thank you, Gisele. Please put her through.”
“Right away, sir.”
“Mister President? Er…Bradley?” Yeoman Jones’s voice said.
“I’m here, Tina.”
“I just got word from Ops that your guests’ ship is about to dock at Port 16.”
“Thank you, Tina. I’ll meet you there.”
“Okay,” Jones said. Bradley heard a bit of rustling, then a muffled grunt. “Just let me…get this dress uniform…on! Jones out.”
Bradley chuckled softly as he stood up from his chair. Yeoman Jones had a way of making him smile whether she meant to or not. He remembered a few years earlier when she had been so determined to stop him from buying the naming rights to Waystation. Faced with no other options, she went and organized a telethon, which she hosted. It was adorable really. Captain Beck was lucky to have someone with Jones’s personality as the first face of Waystation many guests see. There was just something about her. If Bradley didn’t know she was so devoted to Starfleet, he’d be tempted to try to steal her away for Dillon Enterprises. He was half-tempted to try it anyway.
But now was not the time to think of such things. He stepped over to the rear wall of his office and opened a hidden panel revealing transporter controls. Then, after locating the coordinates of Docking Port 16, he activated the device, beaming himself to his desired destination.
Yeoman Jones had not arrived yet, giving Bradley a few moments alone to think about the circumstances that had led to his present situation.
Leximas had told Bradley that he had an important role to play in the events that unfolded in New Mexico of the past, yet Bradley couldn’t help wondering what that role had actually been. Had his destiny been to go back in time alone and be the one who tackled Irma? If that were so, the presence of the Explorer officers had cheated him of that destiny, since it was Captain Baxter who actually launched himself through Irma’s energy barrier and ended the battle between her and Leximas. It was only the intervention of 24th century medicine in the Aerostar-A’s sickbay that saved Baxter’s life. Therefore, if it had been Bradley’s destiny to attack Irma, his destiny was to die in the middle of a barren plateau in the 21st century. Hardly what he’d call a fitting end to his life.
Perhaps then, Leximas and the Directors knew that Baxter and his people would end up traveling to the past with Bradley. In that instance, Bradley’s role may have been simply to make sure the Explorer officers were in the right place at the right time.
But no. Leximas had clearly said that Bradley had a role to play well after everyone had met back up in New Mexico. What then was this important role? Had it simply been to provide moral support to Leximas as she battled Irma? Or maybe achieving closure with him was what allowed her to finally and completely move to a higher plane of existence. In the end, Bradley knew his questions were unanswerable and that they had little bearing on his current situation. Filing the past away, Bradley refocused himself on dealing with the present as he spotted Yeoman Jones running toward him, her long fine brown hair bouncing behind her.
“Wow,” she gasped, trying to catch her breath. “You got here fast.”
“I didn’t have to change clothes,” Bradley said.
“And I used a transporter.”
“Oh. Oh! Wait. Captain Beck lets you do that?” Jones asked.
“Why would she stop me? It’s my transporter.”
“Oh. I guess you can do that sort of thing. You are the President.”
“Last time I checked,” Bradley said with a slight smile.
“Um…can I ask you something? Something kind of personal?”
“Of course. Anything?”
“Are you okay? I mean with what Counselor Peterman said earlier and all, I just wondered if anything was wrong. I know I’m not a counselor, but you could certainly talk to me. I mean you know me better than Peterman, and we’re friends…at least I think we’re friends. We’ve known each other for a while anyway.”
“Tina, I’m fine. Really. Counselor Peterman is just a tad overzealous and feels that the time we spent together entitles her to unrestricted access to my psyche whether I need her there or not. Thank you for your concern, though. I’m touched. Believe me, were I to have a problem, I would come to you long before I would even consider speaking to Kelly Peterman.”
“Okay. I just wondered. I didn’t want to pry.”
The red light on the wall outside the airlock switched to green, indicating that a vessel had docked and achieved a hard seal with the station.
“Here we go,” Bradley said, rubbing his hands together for a moment before clasping them behind his back. Jones took her lead from Bradley and adopted the same pose as the airlock slid open to admit the ship’s passengers onto the station.
A regal-looking Vulcan woman emerged first, her cold gaze immediately falling on Bradley. “President Dillon,” she said simply.
“Councilor P’Kee,” Bradley said warmly, bringing his hand forward in the traditional Vulcan salute. “Live long and prosper.”
“Indeed,” P’Kee replied stepping aside for a heavyset wrinkled Andorian male.
“Councilor Nransk,” Bradley said, bowing his head slightly.
“Dillon,” Nransk grumbled.
The remaining three Councilors filed out in turn and gave Bradley equally warm greetings. Sensing the tension in the air (and honestly it was impossible to miss), Yeoman Jones cleared her throat to grab everyone’s attention. “Welcome, Councilors. I am Yeoman Tina Jones, Waystation’s Liaison Officer. If there’s anything you need while you’re aboard to make your visit more comfortable, please don’t hesitate to contact me or anyone at Waystation’s Welcome Center. I have arranged accommodations for each of you, so if you will come with me…”
“We will not be staying at the Starfleet Suites Hotel?” P’Kee asked, arching an eyebrow.
“Since I own the hotel, I thought that offering you rooms there might seem…inappropriate,” Bradley said.
“Indeed it would,” P’Kee said. Bradley stifled a smile. Thought you had me, didn’t you, you pointy-eared pain in the ass?
“I would, however, like to invite the five of you to join me for dinner this evening,” Bradley said. “I have a private dining room set aside.”
“That would also be quite inappropriate,” P’Kee said pointedly.
“Of course,” Bradley said with a polite nod of his head. He had made the offer, and they declined. Excellent. He had done his part to dispel any notions that he might be coming into this investigation with an adversarial attitude.
“We will meet with you at 1300 hours tomorrow,” P’Kee said. “Be prepared at that time to answer our questions concerning your recent activities.”
“I would be happy to,” Bradley said. “And since I know this matter is of great interest to our citizens, I am arranging to have our session broadcast throughout the Federation.”
The Councilors exchanged glances ranging from surprised to perturbed to, in P’Kee’s case, stoic. “That is your right,” the Vulcan said.
She believes I’m digging my own grave, Bradley thought.
“We will, however, request that you give your answers while connected to a lie detector,” P’Kee added.
Bradley held the smile on his face in place by sheer force of will. A lie detector? Of all the nerve. He was the President of the Federation! He knew they wanted him to refuse. That alone would be more damning than possibly anything they could ask him at this inquisition. His only other option was to sit hooked up to a lie detector in front of a live Federation audience. But if Gerald was correct about the rumors swirling around Paris, Bradley had nothing to worry about.
“That would not trouble me in the slightest,” Bradley said, sending another round of glances flying between the Councilors.
“Very well. We shall adjourn to our rooms to rest from the journey. Until tomorrow, Mister President,” P’Kee said with a slight nod of her head before turning her attention to Jones.
“Um…I guess we should go,” Jones said, giving Bradley a brief uncomfortable look before she headed off down the corridor with the Councilors in tow. Soon after they left, the various Council aides attending P’Kee and the others swarmed out of the ship and into the corridors as Bradley stood lost in thought.
The lie detector had been an unexpected move. Bradley suspected that Nransk or maybe Lundhet, the Althoan, was behind that particular choice. It appeared that P’Kee was in charge, though, and it was she who would most likely handle the questioning. That suggested a certain formality of style to the interrogation that would probably put most viewers to sleep. That might work in Bradley’s favor should things go badly, but he honestly didn’t expect that to happen.
Tomorrow was tomorrow, though. He still had some time to prepare. On the eve of his interrogation, Bradley needed to show his constituents that he was not concerned. A public appearance would seem to be in order.
Was she really ready to do this everyday until Bradley showed himself? The mall benches were comfortable enough, and the food she’d grabbed from the carry-out counter at the Double D Diner across the concourse was quite tasty as well, even if it was a little disconcerting to have her order already cooking before she’d even talked to the woman at the counter (Evidently the whole place was staffed by Betazoids, and they knew her order as soon as got close to the diner.). Despite that, Peterman was getting bored just sitting in the mall waiting for Bradley to appear.
She was deep into considering other options when there was a great hubbub at the entrance to the Starfleet Suites Hotel. Moments later, a gaggle of Special Secret Section agents in matching dark blue suits emerged from the hotel lobby into the mall proper surrounding a figure.
Peterman resisted the urge to jump to her feet. That kind of sudden movement in the presence of the Special Secret Section was a great way to get shot. Moving slowly to her feet, she was able to confirm though a small gap in between the striding bodyguards that they were indeed encircling Bradley Dillon.
Actually, Bradley wasn’t attempting to hide his presence there. As people moved aside to make way for the President and his entourage, Bradley would take a moment to greet them, even going so far as to push past his protective guards and shake an occasional hand, all the while flashing a charismatic grin.
He’s certainly putting on a brave face, Peterman thought as she fell in behind the group, strolling along as casually as she could.
The Presidential caravan eventually made its way to the mall food court, where Bradley actually got in line at one of the stands there and ordered food. His presence was certainly causing a stir, and Peterman had a feeling that the Bolian manning the counter at Sandwich or What?, Bradley’s eatery of choice, was about to faint. Bradley was all smiles and exchanged pleasantries with the other food court patrons before finally settling into a table overlooking the hoverskating rink down on the lower level of the mall as his guards took up positions a discreet distance away.
Peterman watched Bradley for several more minutes as he spoke with the various beings who came over to talk to him, and then it finally clicked. Bradley couldn’t have Leximas, so he was looking elsewhere for affection. In this case, rather than romantic love, he was seeking adoration from the citizens of the Federation, most of whom were overwhelmed to be in the presence of a President.
This was not the way to deal with what happened.
Steeling her resolve, Peterman entered the food court and wove her way through the tables until she was within a few meters of Bradley, at which point the Special Secret Section got to their feet.
Bradley looked up at the sound of the disturbance. “Counselor Peterman,” he said, forcing a smile. “Again.”
“Hello, Mister President,” she said kindly.
“Is there something I can do for you?”
“I actually came by to apologize. For the Welcome Center.”
“Oh really?” Bradley said.
“May I sit down?”
Bradley badly wanted to send her away, but the last thing he needed right now was for there to be an angry scene right in the middle of the mall. He would deal with Peterman quietly. “Be my guest,” he said, gesturing for her to take the seat across from him.
“Thank you,” she said, slipping into the chair. “Like I said, I want to apologize for before. I was out of line and insensitive to your feelings.”
“Apology accepted,” Bradley replied. “And I hope you can see that, while I appreciate your concern, I am not in need of your services.”
“I have to disagree. You’re hurting, Bradley,” she said, ignoring his bristling as she used his first name. “You feel that Leximas was your one chance at love, and, now that she’s gone, you have no one. That’s just not true. There are other women who would be thrilled with a man like you. You just have to go get them.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes! If you continue moping about Leximas, you’re going to miss the opportunities that come along. You’ve already missed one.”
“I presume you are referring to Doctor Browning.”
“Exactly. She was very interested in you.”
“I see. So all I had to do to live happily ever after was sweep her into my arms and kiss her,” Bradley said.
“Why not?” Peterman said. Everyone else does, she added sourly to herself.
“Counselor, I assure you that if I were interested in a relationship with Doctor Browning or anyone else, I would pursue it. At the moment, however, I am not, and I do not require your services as a matchmaker.” Bradley looked over her shoulder and smiled. “It would appear that some others wish to speak with me, so if you don’t mind, we’ll consider this conversation to at an end. Good evening to you.”
Peterman glanced back at the young grinning Bajoran couple waiting to speak with Bradley, then rose from her seat. “Think about what I said, Bradley. You know I’m right.”
“Actually, you aren’t.” And with that, Bradley focused his full attention on the Bajorans, shutting Peterman out entirely. For half a moment, she considered barging back in and finishing things, but that would not help matters. There was time, and he would not evade her or these issues forever. Discretion was the better part of counseling in this case, so Peterman made her retreat. Before approaching Bradley again, though, Peterman decided it would be wise to do a bit more research about her client.
Captain Lisa Beck opened the lid of carry-out cup of steaming hot mizz’nit that she’d picked up as a part of her breakfast from Waystation’s Andorian restaurant and sighed, leaning back in her desk chair. “I told them no chunks,” she muttered. Beck had the morning duty shift, and, rather than just getting breakfast from her office replicator, she’d decided to place a pickup order. Maybe that had been a mistake. She’d know for sure when she opened her omelet. If they’d forgotten the extra kelzts fungus, there’d be hell to pay.
Expecting the worst, Beck unwrapped the omelet and was his by an oh-so-welcome smell. They’d remembered the kelzts. All was right with the universe.
She’d just managed to get the first bite into her mouth when her office door chime sounded.
“Come in,” she called through a mouthful of Andorian breakfast goodness. As the doors opened and Counselor Peterman stepped into her office, Beck instantly regretted not actually looking up to see who was at the door before granting them entry. The woman had only been on board for two days. What could she possibly want from Beck already?
Beck gulped down the bite in her mouth. “Good morning, Counselor.”
“Morning, Captain. Do you have a minute?”
“As long as you don’t mine me eating while we talk.”
“No no. You go ahead,” Peterman said, taking a seat across from Beck. “I just came by to talk to you about Bradley Dillon.”
“What about him?” Beck asked before putting another fork-full into her mouth.
“How well do you know him?”
“We’ve been on the same station for seven years. Well six really, since he was on your ship for a year. I wouldn’t say we’re close friends, though. Why do you ask?”
Peterman shifted in her chair. “I really shouldn’t be discussing this with you considering doctor-patient privilege and all, but since the safety of the Federation is at stake, I kind of have to. The man needs counseling.”
“Counseling,” Beck said flatly.
“Yes. We can’t have a person with this much responsibility on his shoulders feeling this much pain.”
“Granted I haven’t seen much of Bradley since he returned to the station, but he seemed fine to me.”
“Exactly my point. He’s in denial. You have to help me get through to him.”
“Let’s back up here a second, if we could. Just why do you think he’s in so much pain?”
“How much do you know about what happened to us?”
“Just what was in the official report,” Beck replied. “There was an accident on the Explorer, and you, Bradley, and three other Explorer officers were sent back in time. I may be remembering this wrong, but wasn’t there a baby involved, too?”
“Ah. I didn’t realize you’d brought a baby on board with you.”
“I didn’t,” Peterman said uncomfortably. “She’s on the Explorer.”
“With your husband. I see.”
“Back to the point, we were sent back in time, but the President was responsible. The whole purpose of the mission to find the Bast was so that he could get a part for his time machine. Taking us back in time with him was an accident. He intended to go alone.”
“Why would he want to go back in time?”
“She was there?” Beck asked surprised.
“I don’t know why completely, but she was. Bradley went to the 21st century to find her and bring her back here,” Peterman said.
“So let me get this straight. Bradley Dillon built a time machine and sent a starship a thousand light years to the middle of nowhere just so he could find Leximas.”
“Yes. He was madly in love with her, and she could not be with him. But now he’s acting like nothing happened.”
“Well, he is kind of a pragmatic guy,” Beck said. “He may just be able to take no for an answer.” Or more likely, Peterman was nuts. Bradley could have a dramatic streak sometimes, but there wasn’t a gram of romance in his entire body.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Captain. This is love we’re talking about. No one deals with ‘No’ well in love. He has a problem, and he won’t face it.”
“I hate to break this to you, Counselor, but maybe he just has more pressing issues on his mind,” Beck said.
“What could be more pressing than his heart?”
Beck snorted. “You haven’t been watching the news, I guess. Several members of the Federation Council are on board currently, and this afternoon they’ll be raking Bradley over the proverbial coals about your little trip back in time. Rumor is that they’re going to hook him up to a lie detector, and, lucky us, we can all watch the fun live on holovision.”
“I had no idea,” Peterman said stunned.
“You can see why his attention might be focused elsewhere.”
“Yes,” Peterman replied distractedly as she stood up. “I need to go.”
“Don’t let me keep you,” Beck said, instantly returning to her omelet as Peterman exited her office.
A broad grin spread across the counselor’s face as she headed for the turbolift in Waystation’s Operations Center. Bradley Dillon would be hooked up to a lie detector this afternoon. This was too perfect. When she was finished, he’d have no choice but to accept that he was hiding from his emotional issues.
“Welcome back to this AWN News special presentation of…”
BA BA BABA BAAAAAAAAA
“…The Dillon Inquest. I’m Joan Redding.”
“Oh why are we watching her?” Captain Beck asked in disgust as she emerged from her office into Ops, where the officers on duty were watching AWN’s broadcast on the main viewscreen.
“Shouldn’t we support our local channel?” Commander Walter Morales asked. “They are right on board.”
“Besides,” Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter said, “the commentators on UFPN won’t shut up about what everyone is wearing.”
“Isn’t Krinokor supposed to be showing this thing?” Beck asked.
“They were…for about five minutes,” Porter replied. “As soon as they figured out there wouldn’t be any blood, they went back into a rerun of last year’s Race To An Honorable Death.”
Beck frowned. “I already know who won that.”
“So do we. That’s why we’re watching this,” Morales said.
“All right,” Beck sighed, grabbing a chair. “Who’s got the popcorn?”
In the reception area of Bradley Dillon’s office suite, Gisele chewed her nails as she watched the proceedings on her desktop monitor. She suddenly realized she was not alone. Counselor Peterman stood on the other side of her desk, her face a mask of determination.
“How do I get into that room?” Peterman demanded.
“What room?” Gisele asked, wondering if she should hit the panic button hidden under her desk.
“You know what room! Where they’re holding the inquest! The main door is guarded, but there has to be another way in.”
“Why would I tell you anything?” Gisele said, standing up to face Peterman.
“Because I’m good friends with a certain Andorian of your acquaintance.”
Gisele blanched. “J’hana,” she whispered, her bottom lip trembling slightly.
“That’s right. And unless you want her to pay you a visit, I suggest you tell me what I want to know. How do I get into that room?”
“They’re using a conference room, and there’s a little kitchenette with a replicator and a few cabinets of plates and utensils hidden behind a wall panel. You can get into it from the corridor on the other side of the conference room. Fourth door on the left.”
Peterman patted Gisele on the cheek. “There. That wasn’t so hard was it?”
Thus far, the inquest had gone pretty much as Bradley had expected. He was seated in the middle of one of the Dillon Enterprises conference rooms, his right hand resting on a sensor for the Napean-made lie detector unit, while the Councillors questioning him sat at a long table facing him. Up until now, their questions had focused more on establishing the basic facts than anything else.
Did you order the Explorer to find the Bast? Yes.
Did you intend to obtain technology from the Bast? Yes.
Was this technology for a time machine? Yes.
Did you then use this time machine to travel to Earth’s past? Yes.
And so on.
Bradley could tell from the looks on the non-Vulcan Councillors’ faces that they were both surprised that he was answering questions so readily and convinced that they had him dead to rights. Bradley was fairly certain however that they had no idea as to what he was actually admitting.
Councillor P’Kee, who as Bradley expected had been leading the questioning, rose from her chair again to address him. “Mister President, you have thus far described to us the basic series of events that occurred in this incident. I will now to turn the panel’s attention to the motivation behind your actions.
“By all means,” Bradley said.
“We know that you visited the past, which, as you know, is a most serious matter, hence the existence of a Department of Temporal Investigations in the Federation.”
“Yes, I am aware of that,” Bradley said. Bradley had to believe that DTI was monitoring this inquest. If they were not satisfied when this was over, he could no doubt expect a visit from their agents as well.
“Why, then, did you feel it was necessary to visit the past?” P’Kee asked.
“The Directors sent me,” Bradley replied.
The Vulcan blinked several times as the other Councillors dove into hushed conversations amongst themselves.
“The Directors?” P’Kee said, glancing over at the lie detector monitor.
“That is correct.”
“Your visit to the past was in no way intended to extend the reach of your business empire or enrich you financially?”
“Absolutely not,” Bradley said.
The Andorian Councillor, Nransk stalked over to the lie detector and tapped it roughly several times. “Is this thing even on?”
“It’s functioning perfectly,” Councillor Gresell of Napea replied, the irritation evident in his voice that his world’s technology would be questioned.
P’Kee silenced her colleagues with a look, then turned back to Bradley. “What reason would the Directors have for sending you back in time?”
“I was there to help stop the Critics and their forces from disrupting the timeline and erasing the Federation as we know it from existence.”
“Oh come on!” Nransk shouted. “That thing didn’t even blink!”
“Because he’s telling the truth,” Gresell shot back.
“No he’s not!” a female voice shouted from the side of the room. Kelly Peterman strode into the center of the conference room and planted herself in front of Bradley’s chair. “Isn’t it true that you did all of this just for a woman?”
“Oh no. No no no,” Captain Beck mumbled, hiding her head in her hands.
“Um…what the hell is this?” Lieutenant Commander Porter asked.
“It’s Counselor Peterman’s pet theory,” Beck said. “Bradley did all of this because he was in love with Leximas and couldn’t stand to be without her.”
The officers in Ops looked at each other for a few moments, then started laughing.
“Yeah right,” Porter said. “The only way he’d do that was if she was made of latinum.”
Bradley didn’t even flinch as Peterman’s question faded from the air. A woman? Just a woman? Leximas is not a woman; she is a higher being. Yes, Bradley wanted to find her, as Leximas told him in New Mexico, the Directors planted the clues and nudged him in her direction.
“No,” he said calmly. “I did it because the Directors needed me to.”
“But you were in love with her, weren’t you?”
“Madam, that will be quite enough,” P’Kee said, her voice booming through the conference room as two members of the Special Secret Section took hold of Peterman. “Please escort her from the chamber.”
“Just a moment,” Bradley said. “I want her to hear this. I want all of you to hear this. I realize that my actions have been rather unorthodox, but the Directors obviously deemed them necessary. Because of their guidance, I was able to travel back in time, and, by joining my efforts with those of some of Starfleet’s…officers…” He’d almost said ‘finest,’ but it was best not to push matters. He was attached to a lie detector after all. “…we were able to prevent the destruction of the galaxy as we know it and stop the Critics. If the citizens of the Federation wish to punish me for that, so be it!” Bradley finished, slamming his left fist down on the armrest of his chair.
The room was silent for several moments.
“You never answered my question,” Peterman said finally.
“Get her out of here!” Nransk ordered.
Bradley did not look at her as Peterman was dragged out of the conference room. She knew that most likely he’d never look at her again. She’d gone too far. She’d pushed too hard. And Bradley Dillon had still evaded her.
“Now Councillors,” Bradley said, addressing his interrogators once Peterman was gone. “I believe we should see about concluding this affair, if you would not mind.”
The Councillors could do little but acquiesce to Bradley’s request, and within five more minutes, it was all over. With the holovision cameras shut down and most of the Councillors’ aides busying themselves with other details, Bradley stepped over to the Councillors’ table, where P’Kee and the others were rising to leave.
“Will you be remaining on board this evening?” Bradley asked jovially. “We could all finally have that dinner I spoke of.”
“We will be returning to Earth…immediately,” P’Kee said.
“A pity. Well, at the very least, I hope you had a pleasant stay on Waystation.”
P’Kee narrowed her eyes at him. “Through this investigation, I have inadvertently legitimized your incursion into the past and helped credit you with saving the galaxy, thereby making you a hero. I see nothing pleasant about it.”
“As I said, a pity,” Bradley replied smiling. P’Kee eyebrow twitched slightly, then she turned on her heel and strode out of the room, her Councillor’s robes billowing behind her. Nransk and the others soon followed her, each in turn shooting Bradley a glare (and in the case of the Tellarite, a grunt) as they passed.
Bradley took once last look around the now empty room, then headed out into the corridor, whistling a sprightly tune as he went.
Peterman did not sleep well that night, tossing and turning in an unfamiliar bed in unfamiliar surroundings as her mind continually flashed back to that moment in the conference room. What if Bradley had been forced to answer her final question? What would he have said? What if she was wrong about all of this?
Impossible. She’d been a counselor for years now. She recognized a person with issues when she saw one.
Still Peterman couldn’t bear the thought of facing Bradley the next morning…or anyone else for that matter. She ordered breakfast in her quarters, then waited until the corridor outside was as empty as possible before making the journey to the Counseling Office.
At that moment, she was actually glad that everyone on the station who needed counseling went to the Waniquanbi Group. She needed time. Time alone to let people forget what had happened with Bradley. Maybe she could go back to work on her book.
The book. She hadn’t thought much of it since they were sucked back to the 21st century. While most of it had been written under the influence of Fritz, who was himself under the influence of the Bast, Peterman wanted to complete it in hopes of helping others in failing marriages.
Not that her marriage was failing.
She simply had other concerns to deal with right now.
Peterman had just sent out a request to retrieve the file from the Explorer’s databanks when a transporter beam cascaded down into her office, quickly coalescing into the figure of Bradley Dillon.
“Counselor,” he said simply by way of greeting.
“What are you doing here?” Peterman said as Bradley took a seat in one of the plush chairs in the office’s sitting area.
“I would think that much is obvious. We need to talk.”
“You’ve finally decided that you want my help,” Peterman said, moving from her desk to the chair across from Bradley.
“This isn’t about me,” Bradley said. “It’s about you. I had hoped that you would come to realize on your own that I do not require your services; however, your interference in matters that did not concern you yesterday afternoon proved to me that you are a problem that must be dealt with.”
“Interference?” Peterman said, unsure whether to be angry or amused. “I’m only trying to get you to face what’s going on inside yourself.”
“Self-reflection?” Bradley exclaimed. “Is that what you think I need? The genius of that conclusion astounds me. What do you think I’ve been doing everyday since I found Leximas? The Directors used my affection for her to manipulate me for their own ends. More than that, though, Leximas cannot be with me. I understand that. I’ve accepted it. Now what do you want from me? Tears? A hug? I am the chief executive of one of the largest corporate entities in known space as well as the president of one of the galaxy’s primary powers. I have neither the time nor the inclination to curl up in bed and sulk just because something did not go my way. I got what I needed, Counselor. I saw Leximas, I spoke to her, and, to use one of your psychology terms, we achieved closure on our relationship. That was important to me. I spent a long time working to find her, but now that I have, the affair is complete. I do not have lingering regrets about it, and I certainly do not feel the need to rehash events in therapy with you. I have far larger issues to deal with in my life, as do you.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Peterman demanded.
“Why are you here?” Bradley asked pointedly.
“I’m a counselor. I’m here to help people.”
“It seems to me that you were able to do that on the Explorer, which would seem to be an attractive idea considering you have a husband and child there, Mrs. Baxter.”
Peterman jerked back in her chair as though she’d been struck.
“Leave my family out of this,” she snapped.
“They are out of this. That’s the problem,” Bradley said. “I’m no counselor, but when a mother abandons her baby twice in the space of a month, that tells me that something is seriously wrong.”
“I never abandoned Steffie!” Peterman shouted, leaping to her feet.
“Funny. I don’t see her around here.”
“She’s being taken care of. And I had important things to attend to, like trying to help you. Am I supposed to stop being who I am and doing my job just because I’m Andy’s wife and Steffie’s mother?”
“You have responsibilities.”
“I didn’t stop being me just because I gave birth! What about what I want? Where does Kelly fit into all of this?”
“I’m not the one you need to be discussing this with,” Bradley said quietly. “And I think you know that, even if you haven’t wanted to admit it.”
“I need time,” Peterman replied, sinking back into her chair.
“Perhaps. Or perhaps you’re hiding. You’re the only one who knows for sure,” Bradley said, rising from his chair. “I suggest you work it out while you still have a husband and child to go back to.”
Peterman was silent for several moments. “You’re pretty good at this,” she said finally, forcing a weak smile.
“In business it pays to know people. Just be glad I wasn’t trying to sell you a used starship,” Bradley said, pulling a small padd from his pocket. He tapped the screen and vanished in a flurry of molecules.
Peterman didn’t move for a long time. Could Bradley really be okay after all? Had the time he spent with Leximas in New Mexico really been enough to give him closure and allow him to move on with his life? Perhaps he was no longer dwelling in the past after all.
If that were true, which it certainly appeared to be, Peterman had made an idiot of herself in front of the entire Federation yesterday.
But that was quite likely the least of her problems. Was it possible that she threw herself into helping Bradley not because he needed it, but because it gave her a reason not to face her own problems? In all honesty, had she ever really expected him to open up to her anyway? Or was pursuing him simply a diversion? If she’d actually been interested in counseling, she would have done more for the rest of the Waystation crew. A memory of the golden-skinned Ensign she’d encountered outside of her office two days earlier struck her. He wasn’t just passing by. He’d come to see her, but she was so focused on Bradley that she didn’t even realize it.
Some counselor she was. She could fix that, though. And she would. Peterman would be the best counselor Waystation had ever had, which honestly wouldn’t be all that difficult since the station had only had one other, and he was evidently a porn fiend. Before she could help others, though, she had to help herself.
And that meant she needed to see Andy Baxter.
Okay. So maybe this wasn’t the most direct route to dealing with things, but it was a start, Peterman thought as she stood in one of Waystation’s holodecks in front of an unmoving representation of Captain Andy Baxter.
Even though this Baxter was just a hologram, seeing him sent a flood of emotions through Peterman. Love, hate, adoration, annoyance, the whole gamut experienced by most people who’d been married for any length of time. The pain she’d felt when she’d learned of his flirtation with Janice Browning was still fresh as was the mix of sorrow and, yes, joy at seeing the hurt on his face when she’d told him she was staying on Waystation.
Now all she had to do was express all of this to him. But it wasn’t really Baxter. This was no more than a realistic-looking manikin. She couldn’t talk to this.
“Computer, access available records on Captain Andy Baxter and give the holodeck character his personality.”
The computer responded swiftly. “Working…program complete. Animating character.”
The holographic Baxter began to move. Actually it seemed to be having more of an epileptic spasm as a line of drool started to fall from its lips. “Hi!” it said, its voice practically a high-pitched scream. “I’m Andy! I hope you like me because I’m going to bug you forever! Won’t that be fun? Can I make your life a living hell? Please? Please?”
The hologram took a step and immediately tripped, rolling forward into a table full of glassware and plates that had materialized out of nowhere. With a deafening crash, the table toppled over from the impact, reducing the items it to so much debris.
“Whoops!” Baxter said. “Hope that wasn’t important.”
“Computer, freeze program!” Peterman shouted. The Baxter hologram instantly froze. “Where did you get these personality parameters?”
“Captain Beck’s personal logs.”
“That explains it,” Peterman muttered. This was not working. If she was going to have this conversation, it needed to be with the real Andy Baxter. And she would. She would talk to him, which was something she hadn’t really done in a couple of months now.
“End program,” she said, causing the holographic Baxter and the broken shards to vanish.
She would talk to him…when she was ready.
For now, though, she had a job to do. She was the Waystation crew’s counselor, whether they wanted one or not.
Can Captain Baxter play second fiddle to Captain Vansen? A vital First Contact mission puts that question to the test, as Baxter finds himself in the position of rescuing an away team. Or is it he who needs the rescuing? Only time will tell, as Baxter and crew learn that “First Impressions” are important.