Author: Anthony Butler
“Any good news before bed?” Governor Zark Zemmel asked as he loosened his shirt and stepped up the grand and winding staircase of the Colony Governor’s Residence.
Adjutant Flagel looked over his padd. “First thing tomorrow, you’ll be meeting with the magistrate from Bligh District. He’ll be in your office at nineteen hundred to discuss the new water reclamation project.”
“Oh, water reclamation,” Zemmel said disinterestedly as he stepped onto the landing and angled toward his suite. “Is that really the best way you can think for me to start the day?”
“It’s what the schedule dictates, Governor,” the diminutive Bolian said with a nervous laugh. “Would that I could schedule everything the way I want to. You’d be eating jellybeans all day, every day.”
“You have an uncanny way of anticipating my appetite, Flagel,” Zemmel said with a soft smile. The square-shouldered, graying gentleman put a hand on the diminutive Flagel’s shoulder. “You’re a good adjutant.”
“Just doing my job, sir,” Flagel said. “Well, I’ll let you get off to sleep. Big day tomorrow.”
“Yes, as you’ve said, water reclamation.” Zemmel huffed and turned to his door. “Good night, Flagel.”
“Yes, sir. And…to you as well,” Flagel said, and descended the staircase to the landing below.
Zemmel keyed open the door to his suite and stepped inside. Darkness and peace greeted him, after a trying day meeting with constituents and discussing colony policy. It wasn’t easy being a far-flung colony world of the Federation, especially when you weren’t located near any main transit lanes or near any interesting supplies. For all their protestations that they didn’t care about material things, the Federation was never anything short of opportunistic when it came to supplies and trade.
Zemmel pondered these and other issues as he removed his shirt, slipped into his pajamas, and crept into bed.
The east wind, at its peak this time of year, pounded the tree limbs against his window.
He tossed, in an effort to get to sleep.
He turned again, finding he couldn’t quite get comfortable.
Then a swirl of red flame lit his bedroom, seeping up from seemingly every corner.
From the foot of his bed, a shadow loomed, and a massive, thick- necked creature, covered in horns with blazing eyes of gold, roared at Zemmel.
“BY THE FIRES OF CHASTIUS THREE I WILL DESTROY YOU, CONSUME YOUR CORPSE AND YOUR SOUL. BY ALL THE BURNING FLAMES OF PERDITION, YOU SHALL BE DEVOURED! YOU SHALL BE DEVOURED!”
Zemmel sighed and leaned over, tapping a control on his nightstand. “Flagel, it’s happening again. Rework my morning appointments. I’m putting in a priority one communication to Starfleet.”
He looked over his shoulder at the seething creature that shook his bed and marched around his room, smashing furniture and breathing flames.
“By ‘it,’ I assume you mean…?” Flagel’s voice asked over the comm.
“Yeah,” Zemmel said, shaking his head. “Now I’m never going to get to sleep.”
“Just try to pretend it’s not there.”
“Easy for you to say. Have you ever had to sleep with a flame beast of Chastius Three in your bedroom?”
“I’ll get right on the comm, sir.”
“Thanks, Flagel,” Zemmel said, and leaned up, staring at the flame beast. “And you…SHOO! SHOO! Go away!”
Unfortunately, as usual, it didn’t.
“Is there anything in my teeth?” Captain Andy Baxter asked as he walked down the corridor toward the turbolift.
Commander Christopher Richards leaned in and gave a look. “Not that I can tell.”
“Weird.” Baxter worked his jaw thoughtfully. “It feels like something’s in there.”
“Did you have roast beef for lunch again?”
“No. Tuna salad, which is why it’s even more frustrating.”
“Maybe it’s a dill. Or a caper,” Richards offered as he stepped to the turbolift and pushed the call button.
“Julie’s tuna doesn’t have capers.”
“Well, then you’ve got me,” Richards said.
“Anything interesting to report from night shift last night?”
“Absolutely nothing,” Richards said, as the lift doors opened and he and Baxter stepped in.
“And you’re sure there’s nothing in there?” Baxter said, baring his teeth again.
“On my commission, sir.”
“I guess I’ll have to take your word for it. Bridge.”
“I’ve got to say, this is one of the least interesting conversations I’ve had in my adult life,” Richards said.
“I’m pleased to help you reach a milestone,” Baxter said dully, working his tongue around his teeth. “God, this is going to bug me all day.”
“Let’s hope that’s the worst of our problems today.”
“No kidding,” Baxter said, as the lift doors opened and the pair ducked onto the bridge…
And came face to face with his father on the viewscreen.
“Dad…er….Admiral!” Baxter said, crossing down to the front of the bridge. “I hadn’t realized you’d commed!”
“Yrrrsh,” Harlan mumbled, working his cigar around in his mouth.
“I told your daddy that you didn’t like to be disturbed during lunch,” J’hana said, moving from the command chair to her aft station.
“Well, that’s true, but…obviously, when the admiralty, or the…Dad…miralty…calls, I make exceptions.”
Harlan ripped his cigar out of his mouth. “Shut up and listen, boy. I’ve got an important assignment for you.”
“Oh, good. We could use something…important to do,” Baxter said, exchanging a glance with Richards.
“You need to go to Dalek Four and spend the night in the governor’s mansion, and figure out if it’s haunted.”
Baxter stared back at Harlan blankly.
“There’s some kind of damned entity in the governor’s mansion, and they’ve asked Starfleet to investigate.”
Baxter rubbed his chin. “Does Dalek Four have any strategic importance?”
“Don’t all Federation colonies?” Harlan shot back.
“No it doesn’t,” Harlan said. “But you’re going anyway.”
“Really, Dad. Ghosts?”
“We don’t know what it is, which is why you need to investigate.”
“But this is a Galaxy-class starship. Certainly there are better ways our talents could be put to use…”
“Son,” Harlan said, leaning forward. “Over the past few months, you’ve demonstrated to Starfleet you don’t have any talent, or good sense, come to think of it. Need I go through your blunders one by one?”
Baxter blanched. “I’d really rather you didn’t.”
“Welcome to rock-bottom, boy. You’re now Starfleet’s first- responder to the most idiotic assignments.”
“Looks like I’m not the only one who reached a milestone today,” Richards whispered from behind Baxter.
“Shush,” Baxter said, and turned his attention to Harlan. “Can’t you give it to someone else? Like the Silverado or somebody? I’m sure they would love an assignment like this…”
“Take your shitty assignment like a man, boy, and show Starfleet you know how to run an investigation. Go out there and get the job done.”
Baxter’s shoulders sank a bit. “Yes, sir.”
“And for godsake, boy, get that stuff out of your teeth!”
THE CASE: DALEK GOVERNOR’S MANSION
“So I assume you all know why I’ve brought you here today?” Captain Baxter asked, looking around the conference room table at his gathered staff.
“To help you figure out how to get that thing out of your teeth?” J’hana offered, leaning forward in her chair.
Baxter narrowed his eyes at her. “No. It’s gone. See?” He grinned broadly showing his teeth.
“I think you have another one on the bottom,” Lt. Commander Tilleran said, pointing.
“No. His gums are just inflamed,” Dr. Holly Wilcox said. “I’ve told him to gargle at night, but he just doesn’t listen.”
“Can we PLEASE just focus, people?” Baxter asked, looking to Richards. “Chris?”
“I still think it was a dill.”
“I’m talking about our assignment,” Baxter said, in slow, measured tones.
Richards straightened. “Yes. Right.” He pressed a button on the table, bringing up an image of a ochre-colored planet on the viewscreen. “This is Dalek Four. We have a medium-sized colony there, run by this man: Zark Zemmel.”
The slightly rotund, greying Efrosian appeared on the screen, as his biography scrolled by. “He’s mildly decorated,” Richards continued. “Seen by many as competent, assured. He’s instituted some practices on Dalek that have been adopted successfully by other colonies across the Federation.”
“Get to the ghosts,” Baxter said, pointing at the screen.
Tilleran turned in her seat. “Pardon me? Ghosts?”
“He never said ‘ghosts,’” Richards said. “More like…an entity.”
Counselor Peterman leaned forward in her chair. “Entities? What kind of entities?”
“Unfortunately, nothing has appeared on the colony’s rather limited sensors,” Richards said, bringing up sensor data and visual footage on the screen. “We only have the personal experiences of Governor Zemmel and some of his staff to go on.”
“Have you allowed for the possibility that Zemmel and his staff are just crazy?” Peterman suggested.
“We always allow for that,” Baxter said. “But it’s obviously quite strange that an entire group of people would manifest such specific claims.”
“What kind of claims?” J’hana asked.
“Um,” Baxter said, looking at Richards.
“Flame-beasts,” Richards said. “Vampires. Goblins. And….and…”
“Hell hounds,” Baxter said. “They’ve got hell hounds.”
“Awwwww….poor little guys are probably just misunderstood,” Peterman giggled. “Poor wittle hell hounds.”
“This isn’t funny!” Baxter snapped.
“I find it hilarious,” J’hana said. “This is obviously a case of mass- hysteria, or outright lying.”
“An alien presence could be responsible,” Tilleran said, tapping her chin thoughtfully. “But we’ll need to conduct an investigation.”
“That we will,” Baxter said. “We’re on course now for Dalek Four and will arrive there in thirty-six hours.” He turned to Richards. “Chris, form a team, get your equipment together, and prepare to beam down. You know what to do.”
“Actually, we don’t,” Richards said. “I’m pretty sure we’ve never ‘ghost hunted’ before.”
“And there’s a reason for that,” J’hana said. “There’s no such thing as ghosts. This whole mission is absurd.”
“That’s a fact,” Baxter said. “But, as my father so kindly pointed out, we’re getting exactly what we deserve for screwing up at just about every other juncture.”
“So then you’re saying we shouldn’t look at this assignment as reward for a job well-done,” Peterman said wryly.
“Just the opposite,” Baxter said, with a heavy sigh. “Well, unless anyone has anything else to report, let’s get moving.”
“Meanwhile, I’ll see you in Sickbay, Captain,” Holly Wilcox said with a grin. “Let’s talk about flossing.”
“Interesting perspective, Cadet,” Counselor Peterman said, idly gazing at her padd. “You think she’s suffering from mild depression?”
“That would explain her sporadic eating habits,” Cadet Ethan Piper said.
“I think she’s having nightmares.”
“And why’s that?”
“Because she kicks a lot in her sleep.”
“And you’ve observed this?”
Piper swallowed. “Unfortunately.”
“What treatment would you suggest?”
“Rub her ears. Take her on long walks…give her a jerky treat every now and then.”
“Good ideas, all,” Peterman said, nodding assent. “Now stroke her back.”
“Yes, Counselor,” Piper muttered, reaching down from the couch and stroking Charlotte’s back. Peterman’s golden retriever responded by sticking her tongue out and licking Piper’s face.
“I’ll call that a positive response,” Peterman said, jotting down more notes.
“Say, Counselor,” Piper said, looking up.
Piper resumed petting Charlotte, and the puppy responded by moaning with pleasure.
“Say, Counselor…are we going to be counseling any…um, sentient beings today?”
“You’re suggesting Charlotte doesn’t possess sentience?”
“Well, by traditional definitions…”
“I canceled the appointments. I can’t very well focus on my work when Charlotte is obviously depressed! Can I, girl?” Peterman knelt down and took Charlotte’s nose in her hand and nuzzled her. “No, didn’t think so!”
“Oh. Well. I was kind of hoping to get to do some…counseling… during my counseling internship.”
“You got to break Ensign Anders of her french fry habit.”
“Yeah, by introducing her to donuts,” Piper said. “That wasn’t really what I was thinking. I thought we could dig into something a little more…meaty.”
“Now rub her chest. Give it a good rub. Try to get some tail wagging going on.”
“Right,” Piper said, continuing to rub Charlotte, who responded with a grateful yip. “Say, what was that meeting you went to about?”
“Oh, the staff meeting? Just about some dumb investigation at our colony on Dalek Four.”
“An investigation of what?” Piper asked as Charlotte bowled him over onto his back, licking his face.
“Oh, proported paranormal activity. Some kind of entity I guess.”
“Wow, that sounds cool. I’ve always had an interest in the paranormal.”
“Really?” Peterman put up an eyebrow.
“Yeah. I thought the house I grew up in was haunted, so I would stay up late trying to capture evidence with an old tricorder my parents gave me to play with.”
“Did you ever find anything?”
“Some very suspicious static,” Piper said. “But no, nothing, really.”
Peterman gave Piper a thoughtful look. “Well, I suppose I can take the Charlotte case from here.”
“You think?” Piper asked hopefully.
“Well, this internship is supposed to provide you with…unique experiences. I suppose there’s nothing more unique than chasing ghosts at a Federation colony.”
“You’ve got that right!”
Peterman smiled. “Then it’s settled. I’ll get you assigned to the away team as…” she jotted down some notes on her padd. “The official counseling representative.”
Piper’s eyes brightened. “Cool!”
Charlotte looked up and barked.
Peterman sighed and glanced down at her, waving a scolding finger. “No, you can’t go, girl. Dogs don’t believe in ghosts.”
Piper got up to leave, wondering how Peterman could be so sure of that.
“Gravometric nanometer. Check,” Cadet Sparks said, tossing another piece of equipment into her case as Lt. Commander Tilleran looked on.
“Toss in a spectric sizemometer too. And a thermal scanner,” she said, checking a padd.
“That’s a lot of stuff,” Richards said, standing by the door, beside J’hana.
“Is all this really necessary?” J’hana asked. “Just in response to a minor colony’s pathetic need for attention?”
“Well, whether or not the assignment is glamorous, we’re going to carry it out like good Starfleet officers,” Richards said.
“It’s ridiculous,” Sparks said. “Everybody knows there’s no such thing as ghosts.”
“We shall see,” Tilleran said, as she scanned her equipment cases, making sure she’d brought everything.
J’hana turned to look at Tilleran incredulously. “Betazoid, are you telling me you’re actually a…believer?”
“I don’t know if I necessary believe in the paranormal,” Tilleran said, closing the case and setting it down next to the others. “But I find the whole concept…romantic.”
J’hana arched an eyebrow. “Really? I didn’t think you were a romantic.”
“You know better,” Tilleran chided. “You’ve seen my romantic side.”
“Yes, and I’m sad to say it’s going to waste at the moment,” J’hana muttered.
“There’s nothing wrong with being…in between…lovers,” Tilleran asserted. “Besides, we’re not all meant to put down roots.”
“Betazoid, I’ve seen your roots,” J’hana said with a lusty growl.
“Can we talk about something else?” Tilleran asked. “You’re as bad as Crellus.” She picked up a padd, waving it at J’hana. “He sends me two, three messages a week, wanting to ‘talk.’ I know what he wants, and I’m not any closer to marrying him than I was when we were on that stupid talk show.”
Sparks turned, raising an eyebrow. “Did you say talk show?”
“Long story,” Tilleran sighed, tossing the padd down.
Richards suddenly appeared a little sweaty, and nervous. He clapped his hands together. “Well, let’s get down to the transporter room!”
“We won’t make orbit for another hour,” Sparks said.
“It pays to get an early start, that’s what I always say!” Richards said, and darted for the door to the lab, just as Piper stepped in.
“Commander! Just the man I was looking for.”
“I am? I mean, I am,” Richards said, tugging at his collar. “What can I do for you, Cadet?”
He handed Richards a padd. “From Counselor Peterman, requesting that I be assigned to the away team as an investigator!”
“You are?” Sparks asked, glancing up.
Richards looked at the padd. “Great idea, seeing as these colonists are almost certainly delusional.”
“We’ll soon find out about that,” Tilleran said.
“Yes,” Piper said. “Everybody ready to hunt some ghosts?”
J’hana growled. “Ready as we’ll ever be.”
“Watch your back, Ethan,” Sparks said with a wave.
“I’m not sure that will help, if there are ghosts,” Piper replied.
“Trust me,” J’hana mumbled. “Whatever is stalking the colonists down there is something that can be killed. And just to prove it, I’ll happily kill the thing myself.”
“That’s the spirit,” Richards said, immediately regretting his choice of words.
THE INVESTIGATION: DALEK GOVERNOR’S MANSION 2020 HOURS
Governor Zark Zemmel looked red-eyed and weary, which didn’t say much, considering that Efrosians always looked a little old and tired, at least as far as Chris Richards was concerned.
“Thank Providence you came,” Zemmel said, reaching out to shake Richards’s hand.
“Our…” he looked at his away team. “Pleasure.”
Zemmel turned to the shortish Bolian beside him. “My assistant, Flagel.”
Richards gave a nod, and gestured to the group behind him. “This is my team. Lieutenant Commander J’hana, tactical officer; Lieutenant Commander Ariel Tilleran, sciences; and Cadet Ethan Piper, assistant to the ship’s counselor.”
“Assistant Ship’s Counselor,” Ethan said in a low voice.
“Right,” Richards said blandly. “So, may we have a look around?”
Zemmel nodded. “Of course. However, I’m perplexed as to why you decided to bring a counselor along.”
“Uh, standard, um, away team protocol,” Richards said.
“You’re obviously lying,” Zemmel said. “There’s only one reason you’d bring a counselor along. To debunk my claims and write my staff and me off as crazy.”
“That’s not true,” Piper said. “I actually am an avid ghost hunter.”
“Please don’t say ‘ghost hunter,’” Richards said, covering his face.
“Well, that’s different, then,” Zemmel said, brightening. “Come right along, Mister Piper. Let me show you my insane mansion.”
“He already said ‘insane,’” J’hana whispered, leaning toward Richards.
Richards waved her off. “Tilleran and J’hana will start setting up our equipment, while you show Cadet Piper and me around.”
“Very well,” Zemmel said. “Flagel, show them to the first-floor study. They may use that as a command center.”
“Well, now we’re official,” J’hana groused. “We have a command center.”
“Don’t be difficult,” Tilleran chided as Flagel led her and J’hana away.
Zemmel gestured up the staircase. “Gentlemen, if you’ll follow me.”
“This should be good,” Richards mumbled.
“Commander, I ask that you go into this evening with an open mind,” Piper said, bringing up step next to Richards as they climbed the massive staircase. “Who knows what we might discover tonight!”
“I know,” Richards said. “Believe me, I know.”
“Our first stop is the second floor hallway,” Zemmel said. “Several manifestations have happened right here.”
Richards glanced up and down the hallway, and removed his tricorder. He gave a quick scan. “Nothing out of the ordinary.”
“Of course not,” Zemmel said. “Don’t you think we have tricorders here? We’ve already scanned the mansion up and down. There are NO signs of paranormal activity.”
“I’m just being thorough, Governor,” Richards said tightly.
“What do you see in the hallway?” Piper asked, by way of changing the subject.
“Oh, many things,” Zemmel said. “Three nights ago, a Klingon targ appeared at the end of the hallway, and chased me into the East Wing bathroom. I was locked in there for a good hour before the snarling stopped and I poked my head out.”
“And when you came out of the bathroom?” Richards asked.
“The targ was gone, as usual,” Zemmel said. “Quite frustrating, really.”
“What else?” asked Piper.
“My social secretary, Salisha, was attacked by a nine-foot, three headed, winged sea raptor that emerged from the north wing bath tub.”
“And you tell the targ story first?” Richards asked. “You might consider switching up the batting order, there, Governor.”
“An awful lot seems to be centered around the bathrooms,” Piper observed.
“Not at all. There are just a lot of bathrooms here,” Zemmel said. “Nineteen in all.”
“Efrosians…” Zemmel began. “Well, we have to…go a lot.”
“Does this have anything to do with the investigation?” Richards asked.
“Nope,” Zemmel said. “This way…”
The group passed two bathrooms, and then came to a large room filled with books and holovid monitors.
“This is my private library,” Zemmel said. “I’m the only one who uses it.”
“Ahhh, and I bet books fly around in the middle of the night, right?” Piper asked eagerly. “Do they come right off the shelves?”
“No,” Zemmel said flatly. “Nothing happens in here. This is just where I go to read.”
“Could we move this along?” Richards asked.
“Certainly.” Zemmel continued along the hallway to another room, which appeared to be a small bedroom…too spare to be Zemmel’s room.
“This is a guest room.”
“And what kind of activity do you get here?” Piper asked as Richards scanned with his tricorder.
“I’ve had house guests complain of creaking floorboards…”
“Typical of hauntings,” Piper said, leaning toward Richards, who was beginning to realize he didn’t know the cadet very well at all.
“…and then, sometimes, the floorboards will break open, and a hundred or so large Mondavian eels will slither out, and crawl onto the bed and, well…needless to say, it’s not pleasant.”
“This happens, what, while people are sleeping?” Richards said.
“Well, they don’t stay asleep for long, when that happens, I assure you.”
“Next room,” Richards said with growing irritation.
Zemmel led Richards and Piper down the hall to a large, expansive room with a large, four-poster bed, ornately wood-carved.
“Your room?” Richards asked, pulling out his tricorder.
“Yes. You could say this is the epicenter of the activity,” Zemmel said. “Most of the…occurrences…are right here.”
“You think the entity is somehow angry with you?” Piper asked.
“It’s angry, all right. I don’t know at what, or who, but whatever it is, it’s definitely angry.”
“And you believe this entity will come out tonight?” Richards asked.
“It almost always does. Maddeningly.”
“Don’t you worry, Governor,” Piper said confidently. “We’ll find whatever is bothering you and your staff, and we’ll get rid of it.”
“You do that,” Zemmel said. “Now, unless you need anything else, I’ll be hiding in the guest house next door. It may only have four bathrooms, but at least it’s not haunted.”
THE INVESTIGATION: DALEK GOVERNOR’S MANSION 2240 HOURS
“I’ve got audio and visual sensors set up throughout the mansion,” Tilleran said, pointing to the screen on the desk in Zemmel’s first-floor study. “The upstairs hallways, the guest room, Zemmel’s bedroom, the first floor foyer and pantry, and the basement…all the areas where activity was reported.”
Richards looked on. “Okay. Looks good, I guess. But of course I could be wrong. This is sort of uncharted territory.”
“Did you put sensors in any of the bathrooms?” Piper asked, leaning over Tilleran’s shoulder and looking at the screen
“Yes,” Tilleran said tersely. “For the last time, yes.”
“Just being thorough,” Piper said.
“Uh-huh,” Tilleran said, and turned back to Richards. “I’ve also set up motion detectors that will alert our tricorders when anyone but us moves about the house.”
“You still believe this is a who rather than a what?” Richards said.
“We’ll see,” Tilleran said vaguely.
“I interviewed Mister Flagel, and a couple other staff,” Piper said. “They all seem legitimately frightened of SOMEthing, and their stories match up with Zemmel’s.”
“Everyone I encountered certainly seemed to believe what they were talking about,” Tilleran said. “I didn’t sense any deception.”
J’hana pulled out the phaser rifle that was slung around her back. “Well, whatever is out there, I am prepared to shoot it.”
“Just make sure you don’t shoot one of us instead,” Richards said.
“Don’t get in my way, and we won’t have a problem,” J’hana said, leading the way out of the study.
“Is she always like this?” Piper asked, bringing up the rear with Richards.
“Yep,” Richards said. “Ok, guys, let’s break into teams and shut off the lights.”
“Tell me again why we have to shut the lights off?” Tilleran asked.
“Because the ghosts are more likely to come out when it’s dark,” Piper said.
“And we’re more likely to stub our toes on something,” Tilleran muttered. “Commander, really, are we really going to throw hard science completely out the window?”
“I’m going to defer to the Cadet on this one, since he’s the only one of us who’s actually done anything like this before,” Richards said. “Now then, J’hana and I will start upstairs. Tilleran, you and Piper check out the basement and work your way up. Stay together.”
“I knew you’d want me on your team,” J’hana said, poking Richards with the tip of her rifle.
“Hey, watch where you point that thing!”
THE INVESTIGATION 2305 HOURS
“Do you have any idea what we’re looking for?” J’hana asked, as she and Richards made her way down the corridor, having checked out yet another bathroom.
“No, but I imagine whatever it is will make itself known, if there is anything.”
“Be truthful, human. Do you think there’s an evil presence here? Besides mine?”
“I wish you’d stop calling me ‘human.’ It’s…insincere.”
“Answer the question.”
Richards shrugged. “I don’t know. The Governor made a claim, and it’s our job to check it out.”
“Yes, but don’t you agree it’s a waste of our time?”
“Let’s just see how this plays out,” Richards said. “It could very easily be some sort of nefarious alien being that’s just screwing around with them.”
“Andorians don’t believe in ghosts,” J’hana said flatly, cradling her rifle. “There’s nothing better than death…so why would you want to stick around on this plane and belabor the point, when you could instead spend eternity clasped in the chubby arms of the Hive Mother?”
“I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation,” Richards said. “Still, I’m not sure I’d be eager to go to Andorian heaven, if that in fact was my destination.”
“We don’t call it heaven.”
“Yes, but your word is unpronounceable.”
“No, it’s not. It’s flarg’slak. How hard is that?”
“Oh, we just say it’s unpronounceable to fwark with people. The funny part is they buy it every time. “
“The more I learn about Andorians, the less I feel like I know.”
“Compliment taken. Now let’s get on with this thing.”
“Yes. The investigation…”
“I wasn’t talking about that. There’s a great closet two meters ahead. The whole building is dark. Let’s fwark like rabid sharz-beasts!”
“I’m not sure that’s…urk!” Richards gasped as J’hana grabbed him in her fist and dragged him through the darkness.
“I hate basements,” Piper said. “They’re all inherently scary.”
“Really,” Tilleran said, sweeping her tricorder around in the dim lit and dank room, her face lit by the glow.
“Not that I’m scared, really,” Piper said. “I’m just glad that I can finally contribute to an away team.”
“We’re glad to have you along,” Tilleran said tonelessly.
“And, if I may say so, Commander, I don’t hold you responsible for all that telepathy stuff. I realize that you weren’t really, you know, yourself…and I think everyone deserves a second chance.”
Tilleran stopped and turned, barely making out Piper’s shape in the darkness. “You weren’t even around for it.”
“Yes, but, you know, people talk…”
“And obviously, you listen to them. So how about keeping it that way, and not so much with the talking.”
“Sorry, I’ve obviously touched a nerve.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Tilleran said, frowning at her tricorder. “Nothing, on any wavelength. There’s just nothing here.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Reasonably,” Tilleran said, only half listening.
“If it was an alien being causing this, then you’d be able to detect it with your telepathy, right?”
“Presumably, however I can’t read all species.”
“But I don’t sense much here other than your unyielding need for acceptance.”
“My parents worked a lot when I was little,” Piper said, staring at his boots.
“Well, I’m sure you and Counselor Peterman will have a nice chat about that when we…” Tilleran said, and was suddenly interrupted by a clunk several meters behind her. She turned. “Did you hear that?”
“Yeah,” Piper said, freezing in place.
“Having the lights on would be great about now.”
The clunk was followed by a weird skittering sound, like something moving across the floor.
Piper instinctively drew toward Tilleran. “Commander!”
Tilleran grabbed her palm beacon and whipped it around in the direction of the sound. A round furball dodged across the beam of light, heading into a corner.
“It’s just a vole,” Tilleran said. “See, nothing to worry about.”
“Yeah,” Piper said, catching his breath. “As long as you’re not scared of voles.”
“That was breathtaking,” J’hana said, lurching out of the closet and zipping up her tunic.
“Yeah, I thought it was kind of fun when you took the rifle and…”
“No, I was talking about the closet, not the sex. The closet was very comfortable. The sex was just average.”
“Well, you know, different surroundings, and, um, maybe the planet’s environmental conditions…”
“Please, I’m joking,” J’hana chortled, slapping Richards on the chest. “The sex was good. Not great. But good.”
“Oh, well, in that case…”
“I suppose we should resume the investigation,” J’hana said, reaching down to snatch her rifle up off the ground and examined it. “I may need to field-strip this thing, considering…”
J’hana’s antennae twitched suddenly.
“Did you hear that?” she asked.
“No. What did you hear?”
“A light fluttering.”
Richards examined his tricorder. “I’m not picking up anything.”
“Well, I know I heard something.” She marched down the hallway, readying her weapon. “And I’m going to find it and…”
“And shoot it. Yes, you’ve said,” Richards said, bringing up the rear. “There’s still nothing on sensors. None of our motion detectors tripped. Nothing on audio or video.”
“Well, see if your sensors pick up the explosions when I…”
J’hana came to a stop at a door at the end of the hallway. “What is this place?”
“It’s Zemmel’s room.”
“Is he in there?”
“No, he’s in the guest house next door.”
“Good,” J’hana said, setting her phaser to the widest possible beam. “I’m getting a really bad feeling about this place.”
“What kind of feeling?”
“My antennae are doing the kind of thing they do only when…” J’hana gasped, a light sweat sheen appearing on her forehead as Richards’s flashlight glanced over her suddenly fear-stricken face. “No. No, it can’t be.”
Richards reached out to open the door. “Only one way to find out.”
“Be careful!” J’hana said, her voice trembling as Richards turned the doornob.
He pushed the door open, and then he heard the fluttering and gossamer-flapping, and a multicolored cloud rushed past him.
“ACCKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK! BUTTERFLIES!” J’hana shrieked, and fired her phaser rifle, cutting a swath through the thick swarm of butterflies that came pouring out of Zemmel’s room, and at the same time, incinerating his bed and his carpet, slicing through a wall.
Butterflies vaporized and fell to the ground in heaps of dust, but still, more came.
“Oh, fwark this!” J’hana cried out, displaying a cowardice Richards, in nearly eight years, had never seen before. The Andorian turned and ran.
“J’hana!” he called out. “Come back!”
“Not on your life!” she screamed back, ducking into the nearest bathroom and slamming the door.
Once she disappeared, so too did the butterflies, and Richards was alone in the corridor.
“Well,” Richards said, looking down at his tricorder, which hadn’t registered anything but J’hana’s phaser blasts and the resulting destruction. Then he looked up and around the vacant hallway. “Guess that’s a good start.”
DALEK GOVERNOR’S MANSION: THE INVESTIGATION 2520 HOURS
Tilleran sat down behind the desk in Zemmel’s study, the away team’s erstwhile command center, staring at the large screen that displayed all of the visual sensor feeds for the Governor’s mansion.
She sighed. “So far, so absolutely nothing.”
Piper stood behind her. “Mabye we’re not looking in the right places.”
“Maybe the ghost just doesn’t want to come out and play.”
Piper glanced down at Tilleran. “Do I detect sarcasm?”
Tilleran looked up at Piper and grinned. “Are you Betazoid, too?”
“No, just a counseling intern with a hunch.”
“And that hunch is?”
“Our true enemy has yet to reveal himself.”
Tilleran rapped her fingers on the desk. “Well, he, or it, sure is taking his time.”
Just then, on the screen, the figure of J’hana flashed by quickly, followed by a swarm of bees.
“Well, that’s interesting,” Tilleran said, leaning up.
“What the hell is that?” asked Piper.
“Our true enemy,” Tilleran said, pushing out of her chair. “Let’s go.”
Tilleran and Piper turned and headed to the door to Zemmel’s study. When Tilleran opened the door, she expected to see the foyer of the Governor’s mansion, which ostensibly was on the other side of the door.
Instead, she saw a quaint, artistically decorated, subtly appointed living room, in bright pastels.
She turned around, to head back to the command center, to figure out what the hells was going on.
The door to the command center wasn’t there. Neither was Piper.
“Sharzz,” she muttered in Andorian, which highlighted just how disturbed she was. She almost never used J’hana’s vernacular. And she really wished she could sense whatever it was that was causing this hallucination.
“Oh, sweetheart, you know I hate it when you use those vile Andorian curse words,” a voice chided from behind her. Tilleran knew immediately who it was.
“Crellus,” she said, without turning around.
She turned slowly, to find Crellus Risello, the Betazoid man she had once been promised to marry, standing, resplendent in his best suit. “I…” she began.
“Feel like going out tonight? Maybe something simple…” He dropped to one knee. “Dinner and a marriage?”
If the thing in Zemmel’s mansion was trying to scare her, it had done a remarkable job.
“Did you hear that scream?” Richards asked, breathless, reaching the end of the hall, where J’hana lie in a heap on the floor.
“Yes. It was me.”
“No. It was another one. It sounded like Tilleran.”
“Imzadi?” J’hana blinked, looking up, dazed.
“Yes, we should get downstairs,” Richards said, taking J’hana’s hand and lifting her up.
“Not if there are more butterflies that way,” she huffed.
“I’m pretty sure you vaporized them all.”
“Some of them. The others just sort of evaporated into the air,” J’hana said.
“Maybe that’s a good thing.”
“You’ve no idea.”
Richards shook his head. “Really, J’hana? Butterflies?”
“Make no mistake, human. All sentient beings experience fear. Some of us just fear fewer things than others. I fear only one thing. Those incessant, evil flapping wings. The insectoid head. The entire…” she swallowed back a dry heave. “…cocoon process…”
“Aren’t your people grown in hives?”
“Yes, but it’s so much more civilized…”
“We have to get downstairs and help Tilleran,” Richards said. “We’ll pick up this discussion later.” He turned to head down the hall toward the stairs, pulling out his tricorder to see if the readings had changed any since his first scan. He called back to J’hana. “Have you picked up anything on your tricorder?”
She didn’t respond, so he turned, and found the hallway empty.
“J’hana?” he asked.
“Brace yourself!” the Andorian’s voice bellowed deeply.
Richards looked up, only to find that J’hana was facing him from the other end of the hallway. How did she get there?
“Brace myself for what?”
“Total domination!” the Andorian cried, then let loose a howl that chilled Richards right to the bone.
J’hana launched herself down the hallway, arms spread wide, fingers curled, clawlike. She roared, her antennae twitching madly, and leapt into the air, missile-like, right at Richards.
“YAHHGHHHHHHH!” Richards cried, and turned, bolting the other way.
“Commander Tilleran?” Piper asked, ducking out of the study. How could that be? She was there one moment, and gone the next. No sign on his tricorder of transporter effects. She simply…disappeared.
Piper turned back to the command center and hopped behind the main sensor panel, scanning the video feeds.
“That’s funny,” he said softly. He couldn’t find Richards or J’hana on the sensor feeds, much less Tilleran.
He was alone.
And it was dark.
He reached for one of the away team’s supply packs and removed a thermos, pouring himself a cup of water. Stay hydrated, Piper, he told himself. Stay calm. Remember your training.
He was alone, and it was dark, and everything was fine. He would fall back on his Starfleet training, solving problems with technology, and only relying on violence as a last resort.
He was alone, and it was dark.
And something was growling, from just outside the mansion.
It was a curious growl. Animal, for sure. Mammal, probably. Furry, for sure.
Piper rose slowly from the desk and walked toward the study’s broad bay windows. He set his cup down on a nearby bookshelf.
“J’hana?” he asked, knowing that the tactical officer was given to the occasional growl. Maybe it was her.
“Rrooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooowl,” the growl continued.
Then Piper felt the ground shake ever so slightly. He looked at his cup, and saw the water ripple as the ground shook. The shaking was becoming a little more pronounced.
Piper took a cautious step back, reaching for his sidearm and pulling it from its holster. His fingers trembled as he dialed the setting up to maximum stun.
Maybe Dalek Four’s indigenous population simply included large, furry mammalian creatures.
Check that, Piper thought, as a massive head lowered itself in front of the window, and a deep, thoughtful brown eye studied him.
A wet nose fogged the window ever so slightly, and that deep, soulful brown eye just stared.
Piper’s hand shook as he held out his weapon. “This isn’t real. This can’t be real. No…flooping…way…”
And then the thing barked, a thunderous, ear-splitting sound, that shook the floor beneath Piper’s feet.
“Good girl, steady, girl,” Piper said, backing away a few more steps.
The creature responded with a long, high whine.
The window glass shattered, tumbling to the floor.
And the massive, one-story tall, Golden Retriever puppy came bounding through the window, breaking off half a wall in the process, and pounced Ethan Piper, driving him to the ground.
This is it, he thought, as the beast that bore a striking resemblance to Counselor Peterman’s puppy, Charlotte, licked all over him and pulled him slowly into her mouth.
The end of my Starfleet Career, over before it really started, Piper groused inwardly.
Well, if death is inevitable, there were probably worse ways to die than being devoured by a giant golden retriever.
“You’re proposing,” Tilleran said flatly, staring at Crellus. “That’s the vision this psychotic house has cooked up for me. And I’m supposed to what…tear out my hair and freak out?”
“I don’t know,” Crellus said with a thin smile, gesturing delicately at the suburban Betazed setting outside the living room windows. “Are you freaking out?”
“A bit,” Tilleran said. “But it’s irrelevant. I’ll never, in any reality or alternate universe, marry you.”
“Yes, but isn’t it frightening to imagine what might become of you if you did?” Crellus asked, his eyes aflame. “Isn’t it positively retchid?”
“Well, yeah,” Tilleran admitted.
“I thought so!” Crellus announced victoriously. “You’re so scared!”
Tilleran blinked. “What the hell is wrong with you? What is this place, and what the hell are you?’
“Oh, what should I answer first?” Crellus asked, circling Tilleran and dangling a crystalline chalice in front of her, the Betazoid equivalent of a wedding ring. “How about none of the above?”
Tilleran sighed. “You’re just trying to scare me, aren’t you?”
Crellus stared at her, doe-eyed. “Well, you guessed it.”
“Why?” she demanded.
“Because that’s what I DO!” Crellus said, advancing on Tilleran. “It’s fun, see! I like to watch weak humanoids like you tremble and quake, riddled with fear. Absolutely dripping with it!”
“So you are an alien presence, just screwing around with us,” Tilleran reasoned, pulling out her tricorder again.
“More or less,” Crellus said, circling Tilleran. “What of it?”
“Well, that’s a relief. I didn’t believe in ghosts, anyway.”
“Why not? People love to be scared.”
“Not me,” Tilleran said, intent on her tricorder.
“What are you doing now?” Crellus asked, trying to affect a casual stance, leaning against a bookcase in the smartly decorated living room.
“Now that I know you’re definitely an alien force, I can figure out how to defeat you.”
“You don’t want to do that.”
“Could you be quiet for a minute? I’m working,” Tilleran said, and returned to her tricorder. She was barely listening to Crellus anymore.
“But, I’m scaring you.”
“You scared me, yes, but that’s over now. Now you’re just annoying me, and I’m going to put a stop to it.”
“I could always come up with something more scary,” Crellus said, his eyes going wide and red.
Tilleran thought about that a moment. “I seriously doubt it, but you’re welcome to try.”
DALEK GOVERNOR’S MANSION: THE INVESTIGATION 2604 HOURS
Richards kicked in the door to the nearest bathroom and crawled in, his uniform tatters, blood everywhere. Mostly his.
He kicked the door closed, twisting the lock, and scrabbled across the bathroom floor, falling to his knees and leaning against the bathroom counter.
“Richards!” J’hana roared from just outside.
“What’s gotten into you?” he demanded, turning on the sink, and then the tub.
“A need to rip you limb from limb….romantically!”
“Sounds good, but maybe could we talk first, you know, get to know each other more?”
“NO! No discussion! More destruction!”
Fists slammed into the bathroom door, and Richards wondered how much more it could take.
He turned to the window, betting he could survive a one-story drop.
He grabbed a towel, wrapping it around his arm, and slammed it into the window, smashing it. He removed the towel and slithered out through the window, trying to avoid broken glass as much as possible. If he was going to get scraped up, though, so be it. No way he was going to be in that bathroom when…
J’hana rolled into the room like a storefront, wild eyes fixed on Richards’s rear sticking half out of the window.
“HUMAN CARNAGE!” she screamed, and leapt at him.
Richards took that opportunity to shove himself bodily out of the window, grabbed a drainage duct, and slid down it, collapsing unceremoniously on top of a bush.
His eyes widened when he saw J’hana leap out of the window and tumble, gracefully turning her body, landing on her feet on the ground nearby. Moves like that are what drew him to her to begin with, but now he was scared senseless. For whatever reason, the Andorian wanted blood. His to be exact.
Richards scrambled to his feet and ran along the perimeter of the mansion, to the front door.
He grabbed at the knob, hearing J’hana’s graceful footsteps fast approaching.
When he yanked the door open, he was greeted with the pensive face of a giant Golden Retriever. The head itself was easily as tall as Richards.
He glanced back at J’hana, who came running, determined, right at him.
He turned back toward the massive Golden Retriever, which eyed him suspiciously. Hungrily.
Richards took his chances with the lesser of two evils, and ran into the mansion, right under the belly of the beast.
He was nearly certain he heard muffled screams from inside the animal’s stomach, but he pressed on, slapping his combadge.
“Richards to anybody on the away team. Please respond!”
“I’m hiding,” a familiar voice responded. “Let me know when the butterflies are all gone.”
Richards stopped in his tracks. “J’hana?”
“Yes. What of it?”
“Where are you?”
“Where else? A bathroom.”
“Uh-huh.” He turned just in time to see an (actually, another) enraged J’hana, running top speed into the mansion, going airborne, right in front of the curious golden puppy.
The puppy, for her part, scooped the bloodthirsty Andorian up with his nose and tossed her onto his back.
Richards moved to the staircase in the main foyer. “J’hana, you still hear me?”
“Yes. What’s that in the background? It sounds like growling.”
“It is. Could you, um, come downstairs for a second?”
“Are there any butterflies down there?”
“No, but there’s…” Richards sighed, and looked at the combat ensuing between the other J’hana and the puppy. She had a good hold on the scruff of her neck, but the puppy wasn’t about to be taken down so easily. She twisted to and fro, sending the Andorian swinging left and right, hanging on for dear life. “There’s no butterflies,” Richards said finally.
“I’ll be right down then,” J’hana said.
“Ahhhh, nucleonic energy. Fascinating,” Tilleran said, looking at her tricorder.
“Not fascinating,” Crellus said, looking crestfallen. “Horrifying.”
“The truly horrifying thing about this scene is that you think I’d pick orange throw pillows,” Tilleran said, shaking her head and tapping her tricorder.
“Stop making fun of me,” Crellus said defensively. “I don’t like it.”
“Well, you’ll like this even less,” Tilleran said as she holstered her tricorder and pulled her phaser out.
J’hana tentatively stepped out to the upper landing, and came face to face with a massive, thrashing puppy, which was inexplicably locked in mortal combat with what looked like her identical twin (if she had an identical twin).
“So, what’s happening out here?” J’hana asked, walking down the steps to where Richards was standing.
“Well, let’s see…you were attacked by butterflies, Tilleran disappeared, I was mauled by a sadistic, violent version of you, and I’m not sure, but I think Cadet Piper is stuck inside that massive replica of Counselor Peterman’s puppy.”
“I see,” J’hana said, taking in the scene. “Wait.” She turned to Richards. “If she’s a sadistic, violent verison of me, then what the shatz am I?”
“I don’t know,” Richards said thoughtfully, a smile slowly spreading. “But I’m pretty sure she could kick your ass. Yes, definitely. Far more violent.”
“Want to make a bet?” J’hana asked defiantly. She didn’t wait for an answer. She struck off after the other Andorian, clambering up the puppy’s hind leg to get her footing, then grabbing handholds of fur, reaching out for her counterpart.
Richards gasped as the two Andorians fought on the beast’s back, bobbing and weaving, striking out with fists and claws, kicking, snarling, flipping through the air.
The puppy, meanwhile, reared up, smashing tables, chandeliers, and whatever artifacts Zemmel possessed that were in his way.
Richards just watched the total carnage, glad to have momentarily distracted, well, all of them.
Just then, a nearby door opened, and Tilleran ducked out. “Commander!” she said. “Am I glad to see you.”
“Where were you?” Richards asked.
“I’d…rather not say.” Tilleran looked Richards up and down. “Where were you?”
“I’d rather not say.”
Tilleran nodded, then turned to see two J’hanas and a fierce, bounding canine, locked in a fracas. “So…”
“See any ghosts?” Richards asked.
“Yeah. Me neither.”
“I did figure out what we’re up against,” Tilleran said. “And how to neutralize it.”
“Really,” Richards said, turning back to watch the fight.
“Yep. Want me to…”
“In a minute….in just a minute. Let them finish…”
Tilleran sighed and aimed her phaser at the puppy, blasting away.
The beam lanced out at the creature, then seemed to splinter off in a every direction, refracting, surrounding it.
It yelped plaintively, then vanished.
Both J’hanas fell to the floor…right on top of a very disheveled- looking Ethan Piper.
“Help me!” Piper cried out, as the J’hanas rolled right over them.
“I don’t suppose that beam is harmless to, you know, real beings?”
Tilleran shrugged. “I’d rather not hit our J’hana, if that’s what you mean.”
Piper retreated to a corner as the J’hanas tumbled, clawing their way up to their feet, still locked together in combat.
“Excuse me!” Tilleran called out. “Could you two split up for a second?”
The two J’hanas stopped fighting and looked at Tilleran.
“I’m busy right now, Imzadi. What do you want?” one of the J’hanas said tersely.
“I’ll rip your throat out with my teeth!” the other J’hana roared.
“Take your best guess,” Richards said.
And Tilleran fired.
DALEK GOVERNOR’S MANSION: THE FINDINGS
The next morning, in a bedroom in the mansion’s East Wing, Richards lay spread out on a bed, staring at the ceiling.
“I ache,” Richards said. “For figments of our imagination, those creatures last night had a devastating impact on our away team.”
“Not to mention the foyer,” J’hana replied.
“I’m surprised you’re not hurting more,” Richards said, looking over at the Andorian. “Wait, nevermind. I take that back. I’m not surprised at all. You’re J’hana.”
“The other J’hana was ruthless in battle, but I emerged victorious.”
“I thought it was more like a stalemate.”
“Which one of us is still here?”
“Well, I’m all done poring over the sensor data,” Tilleran said, turning away from the desk at the other side of the room.
“Let’s hear it,” Richards said, leaning up on his elbows.
“Nucleonic energy beings, at least four of them, inhabiting the mansion and manifesting themselves at will, in whatever form they choose. They didn’t do any lasting damage, other than to our psyches and perhaps the foyer.”
“Do you know what species of energy being we’re dealing with?” Richards asked.
“Hard to say, based on the evidence we have here, but they’re certainly powerful,” Tilleran said. “I think the good Cadet Piper will concur.”
“I concur,” Piper groaned from his spot laying on the floor. “In spades.”
“Chin up,” Richards said, leaning up and looking down on the floor where Piper lay. “You were eaten by a giant puppy last night. That means you are officially part of the crew.”
Tilleran tapped some information into a padd and flipped it to Richards. “Anyway, mystery solved. We can take this to Zemmel now and get the hell out of here.”
Richards stared at the padd. “But did we kill those things or just scare them off? I’m sure he’ll ask…”
“All my modified phaser blast did was momentarily dissipate the energy. They’re still here, all right.”
“So we really accomplished nothing,” J’hana said.
“Like I said, let’s get the hell out of here,” Tilleran said with a slight smile.
“Well, we need to talk to Zemmel. Tilleran, you’re with me. J’hana, try to get Cadet Piper to move, you know, at all…”
DALEK GOVERNOR’S MANSION: THE REVEAL
“Well, you know what we did,” Richards said, leaning forward across the conference table in Zark Zemmel’s office, as Flagel looked on,
seated next to the Governor. “We came in, we set up our equipment, and searched for the so-called ‘ghosts’ that haunt this mansion.”
“They’re not ghosts at all, as it turns out,” Tilleran said, as Richards slid the padd across the table to Zemmel. “They’re nucleonic energy beings that are feeding off your fear like…well, vampires.”
Zemmel read the padd with interest, nodding along as he read.
“We caught some evidence,” Richards said. “But you should prepare yourself. It’s a bit…disturbing…”
Zemmel watched in silence as the scene from the foyer played out on the screen.
“That’s a big puppy,” Zemmel said. After a few moments, he put the padd down, rubbing his eyes. “This is consistent with what we’ve seen.”
“That’s disturbing in and of itself,” Tilleran commented. “You shouldn’t have to live like this.”
“Yep, it’s a shame,” Richards said, rubbing his hands together. “So, mystery solved. Gentlemen, it was nice meeting you!”
“Wait!” Zemmel said, holding up a hand. “You figured out what these godawful things are, but now what? I’m just stuck with them?”
“Pretty much,” Richards said.
“Not necessarily,” said Tilleran. “I’ve been thinking about it since this morning. I suppose, if we retool the Explorer’s phaser banks to flood this building with anti-nucleonic energy, that should force whatever being is nesting here away, for good.”
“NO!” Flagel shouted.
“What?” asked Zemmel. “Why not? It seems like a perfectly logical solution.”
“You can’t,” Flagel said.
“Have you seen the giant puppy?” Tilleran asked. “These things are a menace. They need to be dealt with. We’re not talking about killing them…just…evicting them.”
“Sounds great,” Zemmel said.
“Governor, I have a confession,” Flagel said, turning toward the Efrosian.
He started glowing, first bright blue, and then a whole rainbow of color, until his physical form dissolved entirely, and all that remained was pure, flickering light.
Tilleran and Richards rose, reaching for their phasers.
<Do not fire,> the voice of the energy being announced. <I’m from a race called the Scardeen. I mean you no harm.>
“Tell that to the antique parlor set in my foyer!” Zemmel protested. “What is this, Flagel? Are you telling me that you, my loyal assistant, have been a flooping energy being this whole time?”
<It was necessary to disguise myself,> the being said. <You wouldn’t have hired me if you knew my true form.>
“A good bet,” Richards said.
“But…why work for me when you’ve obviously got the power to be and do…anything?” Zemmel asked.
<Because I have traversed the great expanse of the Universe, and I could find no better calling than to be your adjutant.>
“Wow,” Tilleran said. “Talk about aiming low.”
The energy being flickered a moment, then added. <And, I’m just sort of wasting time before I enroll in grad school.>
“Oh,” said Zemmel.
“What about the other entities?” Richards asked. “The ones that have been wreaking havoc here for months?”
<Oh. Those are my friends. I told them it would be all right if they crashed here for a while, you know, until they get their band started. They’re good guys, you know. They just have this…craving for fear. They eat it up like candy. It’s a real problem, but they’re working on it.>
“What?” Zemmel protested. “Do you know how many sleepless nights I’ve had?”
<I figured it might be good for publicity. You know, our colony isn’t really known for anything. We could sort of become the ghost colony. Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?>
Zemmel pondered that. “You know what? It kind of does…” He turned to Richards. “We could have people come here and spend the night…and be frightened out of their wits!”
“All right, we’re out of here,” Richards said, slapping his thighs and standing up. “Have fun with…” he gestured around. “All of this.”
Tilleran stood too, and looked at the energy being. “Say, the one that impersonated the Andorian…would you, um…” She looked at Richards. “Never mind.”
Richards shot her an odd look as they walked out.
Stardate 58579.6. I’m happy to report that our away team has returned from Dalek Four, with, well, I suppose it’s good news. I really have no idea.
Richards sighed and stared out the conference room windows. They’d just briefed the senior staff on their experience on Dalek Four, which prompted no end of laughter from the other senior officers. Poor Cadet Piper was sure to get some ribbing from Sparks and Mathers.
“There’s something I don’t get,” J’hana said, standing behind him and staring at the same stars. “I’m deathly afraid of butterflies, so the being conjured butterflies. Why did the being that attacked you take my form?”
Richards glanced over his shoulder at J’hana. “I’m not sure.”
“Are you really that frightened of me?”
Richards gulped. “Um, a little.”
J’hana crept up, wrapping her arms around him. “Good. Let’s go down to the aft phaser maintenance shaft and scare the pants off you.”
“No buts,” J’hana growled. “I insist!” And she dragged him out of the conference room.
Lt. Commander Tilleran paced her cabin, staring at the blank viewscreen on her desk.
“Just do it, Ariel. What’s the harm?” she said aloud to herself.
The harm was, she’d be admitting defeat. She’d be giving in to the exact thing she swore she wouldn’t do.
She couldn’t just lie down and roll over, not about something as important as this.
But something about her experience down on Dalek Four told her she had to.
Ariel Tilleran was never one to run away from her fears.
Marriage was not in her plan. Being confronted with that possible future scared her, for sure.
But the fact that she was starting to warm to the idea scared her even more.
She turned around and tapped her desktop panel. Moments later, Crellus Risello appeared on her screen.
“Hi, Crellus,” she said flatly. “Are you well?”
“Better now, that I’ve seen you. How are things on the Explorer?”
She considered how she’d spent the last day. “About the same,” she said.
“Ah. And your telepathy…”
“Well under control. Things are returning to normal…or close enough anyway.”
“Very good.” Crellus studied her expression as they sat in several moments of silence. “So, Ariel, what can I do for you?”
“Talk to me,” Tilleran said, and eased into the chair at her desk.
Tilleran took a long breath, leaning back and staring at the ceiling, and thought a moment. “I don’t know. Surprise me.”
The Explorer crew comes calling on Deep Space Nine for a special summit on the Dominion, and all seems well as Chaka’kan prepares to give a presentation to the gathered delegates. But, as often is the case, all is not as it seems. What is Odo planning to announce at this conference, and why does it scare the heck out of Baxter and company? And why is Browning’s purse talking all of a sudden?