Ming entered the holodeck. It was running the same program from a few weeks earlier--the Arabian prince's tent. Suddenly feeling nervous, Ming turned to leave but found his way blocked by a huge eunuch carrying a scimitar.
"Computer, end program!" Ming ordered. But the program wouldn't end. And the eunuch wouldn't move.
From behind a heavy drape walked Karissa wearing a very seductive costume. It was a striking green in color. The short vest was made of satin with rich gold embroiery. It was also set with matching jems. The sleeves were also green, but of a sheer material. The pants were practically see-through as well, except for what looked like green satin bikini bottoms with sheer leggings attatched. It was the perfect harem outfit. In her navel was an emerald and over her face was a green veil and gold chains. Though he couldn't see her face clearly, he knew it was Karissa.
"Stay with me, Ming," she said seducitvely, her eyes shining like black onyx.
Ming went to her...reluctantly at first, then he all but ran to her. "Karissa!!!! I thought...I thought you didn't want me this way!" he stammered. The lamps in the background silhouetted her lithe body in shadow against the costume as she slithered and undulated to the music. The eunuch in the background made no move as Ming got closer.
She approached him and caressed his face gently. "I have wanted you since I moment I first saw you . . ." she said, letting her fingers run though his hair. Then, she kissed him passionately. As their kiss broke, she started a path down his neck, nipping and kissing her way to his chest where his uniform blocked her downward path.
"But...but what about the Captain?" Ming asked, remembering her confession from their mountain-climbing expedition in this very holodeck a couple of days earlier.
"I don't want him," she said breathlessly. "I have come to realize that you are the one I need . . . The one I love . . ." she said, kissing him passionately again, trying to work the zipper on his uniform.
Ming reached for Karissa, taking her face in his hands and bringing it forward to him. As he moved forward to kiss her, the image vanished....
And Ming woke up in a cold sweat. He was back in his quarters, the lights out. "Computer--time!" he said, still nervous--or was it nerves?
Ming stumbled out of bed to the shower and tried that time-tested method of calming himself after such an episode. That didn't work. *Well, there's always one method that does!* Ming thought.
He reached into his wardrobe and donned a pair of loose drawstring pants and a t-shirt. Over this, he began putting on a scavenged suit of Marine body armor he wore for added weight during his workouts. With the electronics and other systems removed from the armor, it served well in the place of traditional sparring gear--and weighed about twice as much. It was a training method that had served Ming well in competitions at the Academy and aboard the Von Braun. In fact, it had served him very well just recently, during the boarding of the duplicate Ronin.
He left his quarters and found his way to Holodeck 2, drawing only a few stares from the Gamma Shift crew. There were no Marines aboard the Ronin and Security usually did not wear the heavy body armor. *Oh, well--they'll get used to it!* Ming thought.
Ming reached the holodeck. "Computer--activate program WangShaolin213," he requested.
the computer replied.
Holodeck 1 was down for maintenance, and there were no other facilities available. "Who is using the holodeck?" Ming asked.
*Ciara? What's she doing up right now?* Ming asked, not thinking the same question could well be asked of him!!!! *And why would she give me permission to enter? Other than the poker game I hardly know her!*
Still, Ming decided to take a chance and entered the holodeck.
The holodeck had been tranformed into a very large, open space. The lighting was quite dark and smoky, except for several, colorful swirling lights. The music was loud with a pounding beat. Several people were dancing furiously on the large dance floor. A few sat at tables drinking and laughing. Several even dancing in their chairs.
In the middle of the floor, under the brightest, most colorful lights, was Ciara. She was dressed in a simple black, mini-dress, that barely went halfway down her thighs. She wore black fishnet stockings and low, black sandles. As he caught a glimpse of her face, he could see the shape of a spiderweb tattoo, leading off her right eye to her temple. her hair flew wildly around her as she lost herself in the music.
Ming tentatively stepped into the program, aware that he looked extremely out of place. But then again, as he looked around, he doubted anyone even noticed. Except Ciara. She caught a glimpse of him, turned around, smiled, and waved to him to come and join her. Forgetting everything else, Ming stepped into the light.
"What are you doing up at this hour?" he asked.
Ming felt himself drawn into the scene, which he recognized as a dance club from the late-20th century on Earth. That era had always struck Ming as being especially innovative, perhaps almost as much as what was usually considered the classical era. He looked around and saw no one else he recognized, then made his way over to Ciara slowly but deliberately.
The hard sounds of Stigmata by Ministry played through her head. It was one of her favorite songs and made sure it had been programmed in. She was swept away by a beat that shut off her rational thoughts. All that was left was the music. Suddenly, as she opened her eyes, she saw Ming there, and smiled. Rather than dancing alone like she had been, she began her movements toward him. Though she didn't touch him. Her eyes sparkled in the swirling lights as she gazed at him.
Hindered somewhat by the armor he was wearing (both physically and mentally) Ming joined in the dancing. Slowly at first, then with more abandon as his eyes met hers.
Finally, the song ended. "Computer. Bring down music volume 35%," Ciara said. Instantly the music softened so they could talk.
"So what brings you here?" she asked, welcoming the intrusion. She lead him to a table so they could sit and talk.
"Couldn't sleep," he said, sitting down with her. "Usually when I can't sleep I try to exercise."
She nodded. She sensed there was more to it, but didn't probe further. "Want a drink?" she asked. I programmed the bar to carry just about anything you might want," she smiled, "Including Altair water if you want to get to your exercise program . . ."
"Actually, that sounds good," Ming said as he got up and went to the bar. "What'll you have, soldier boy?" the scantily-clad bartender asked. Ming suddenly remembered he was wearing the armor. "I'll have beer. Tsingdao if you've got it."
"Sure!" the bartender replied. "Bottle or draft?"
"Bottle, please," Ming said. The bartender handed him the cold bottle and he returned to the table. As he saw Ciara sitting there, she already had a drink and looked at her curiously as he sat back down.
"I have a deal with the waitress . . . She sees me sit, she brings me a rum and coke!" she smiled.
"Good thinking!" Ming said. "So what brings you to the holodeck at this late hour?" For some reason all thoughts of Karissa had suddenly vanished from his mind. He knew it wasn't the beer--even though it was a replica of a notoriously powerful brand, it was still just a holographic simulation nonetheless. *The company, maybe?* Ming thought. *Maybe that's it--I just need to interact with more people and not get so fixated!* That his counselor aboard the Von Braun had told him exactly the same thing six months earlier was utterly forgotten.
"Oh, I couldn't sleep either," she replied with a devilish grin. "Sometimes I find this is the best time to dance and lose myself for a few hours," she explained. "This is my favorite program!"
"Really? What's keeping you up?" Ming said, suddenly feeling bold. He knew, of course, that by asking this question he made himself vulnerable to the same inquiry. But he didn't care. In a way, he wanted the question to come up.
"I've just had a lot on my mind," she replied. "What about you?"
"Me too. Sometimes, you just get something stuck in your head and it won't quit, no matter what!"
"You know, I have been wanting to talk to you, so I'm actually glad you're here . . . Its about the night of the poker game . . ." she said, growing a bit serious.
"Really? What's up?" Ming asked.
"Well . . . you just seemed out of sorts when I shifted into Karissa Bentara," she explained. "I don't mean to pry, but . . . is there a reason?"
*I need to talk to someone,* Ming thought, *and I obviously can't go to the counselor!* For the first time in his life, Ming decided to truly open up. "I want you to promise me that what I say goes no further than here. I'm trusting in your respect of patient confidentiality as a medical officer," Ming said seriously. The last thing he wanted was for Karissa's reputation--and that of himself and his fellow officers--to be ruined as a result of shipboard scuttlebutt!
"I promise," she replied and to be cute, she held up several fingers in an old pledge. "Scout's honor," she smiled.
Ming took a deep breath. He wasn't sure how much to tell her. Finally, the advice of his grandfather came to mind: when in doubt, tell the truth. That way you don't have to cover up anything.
"A few nights ago I was with her and some other officers," Ming said, declining to name the other officers for fear of disgracing them. "We were in a holodeck--this holodeck--and something happened with Karissa. She went into heat and emitted pheromones. We were...we were...." He began to lose his composure. He took another breath, then started again. "I was intimate with her. I remember it more every day--I was pretty drunk that night. At the time I'd never enjoyed anything more in my life. It was my first time with a woman, too. Now, I wish I'd never seen her before. She can't and won't be any more to me than just a friend. And I feel like every time I speak to her I jeopardize even that much. So you can see why I was affected that night," Ming finished. "Had it been anyone else--the Captain, a Denebian sand weasel, even a Borg--I'd have been fascinated. Karissa just brought up feelings I'm having trouble with right now."
"Oh . . ." Ciara replied. "I'm sorry . . . I can see why that would have bothered you . . . " She gazed at him. "And she doesn't feel for you what you feel for her?"
"No, she doesn't. She claims to have had some attraction for me, but I don't know if she's just trying to make me feel good," Ming said. "Her heart belongs...to someone else. And I'll never be a part of that."
She sighed and leaned toward him, gently placing her hand on his knee. "Its okay to mourn the loss," she said gently, "Its natural . . . I'm sorry for the both of you . . . Sounds like what was suppose to be a night of fun turned into something that wasn't planned on . . . and you lost . . . However, I get the impression from your mind, that she lost in this as well . . . As much as you're angry with her, you're worried for her . . ."
"You're probably right. I don't want to hurt her inadvertently. I'm a scientist--I know about pheromones and biochemistry; I'm the one who helped her pin down what happened! But I'm also a man, or at least I think I am. I don't know anymore!" Ming said, almost plaintively. A part of his mind was telling him not to break down completely in front of Ciara in this, her place of joy.
"You are a man," she said, smiling, "More so because you care about her, and want to help her . . . Placing your own desires to the side . . . Not many men will do that . . . " she could also sense his own concerns about her. "And its okay to be open with me here . . . This is a place where there was no yesterday and there will be no tomorrow . . . This is a safe place . . ." Her smile was warm and inviting, even comforting. She wanted him to open up and get it all off his chest. This whole thing had been quite a burden on him and since he couldn't very well go to the counselor, she would let him talk as much as he wanted to her. She wanted to help him, she thought, as she looked into his dark eyes.
"Thank you!" Ming said with a sigh of relief--the first relief he'd felt since coming on board the Ronin. "I feel like I can talk to you, Ciara. You're the first person I've felt comfortable around since coming on board. Please understand, I'm not usually like this," Ming said. "Normally I'm very confident around people." Somehow he still felt like he had to make the best possible impression on her. That he felt especially compelled to make an impression upon Ciara was also something that stuck in his mind.
She smiled brightly. "I'm glad I seem to put you at ease. Just be real around me and it'll always be that way," she replied. She could tell that he was attracted to her, but she felt it was too soon to let him know that the feeling was mutual, since he was obviously still feeling the sting of his time with Karissa. Though apparently the whole situation had been uncontrollable from what she understood.
"You know, I'm wondering if maybe this whole thing isn't just residual effects from her pheromones?" Ming asked. Now that he felt more at ease for telling his tale of woe, his analytical mind kicked in again. *But I don't *want* to be analytical right now!* he thought. *I want to enjoy the moment!!!* "It's not unknown for the effects to linger for a while."
"I'm not so sure about that . . . This happened how long ago?"
"About three weeks or so. Most of the time things would just process out of the system, but this is a whole different physiology at question," Ming said. "But let's not talk about science just now," he continued, meaning *let's not talk about Karissa right now.* "What's on *your* mind?"
"On mine?" she echoed back with a sensous smile. "Just you at the moment," she smiled.
"You're not just saying that, are you?" Ming said, grinning. His mind was really saying *REALLY???*
She laughed, as her eyes danced in the lights. "No, I'm not just saying that," she said. "Ming, whether or not you realize this, you are a very attractive man . . ."
"Actually, I hadn't realized it," Ming said, blushing. He was not used to such compliments. "You're very attractive, too," he replied. "And you dressed very nicely tonight! Or is that just you," he said. Only later did he realize just how bold he was being!
She laughed again. "Oh, its just me!" she said, and to prove her point, she changed the dress to a bright cherry red, with sequins and spaghetti straps.
Ming smiled. "Now *that* would have gotten me to stay that night!!! I hate to be this personal, but do you *ever* wear clothes? Aside from protective gear, that is." Ming didn't think that her abilities would go so far as to duplicating a functioning environment suit!!!
"Not unless I have to," she replied with a smirk.
"Hmmmm..." Ming thought, thinking of the possibilities and picturing various things. He suddenly became aware that Ciara could read his mind--and he didn't care at that point! "You definitely have some advantages. This stuff is chafing me!" Ming said, remembering the armor. "How the grunts live with this stuff is beyond me!"
Her laughter was like music. "Why don't you take it off then and make yourself more comfortable," she said. "Computer, get rid of other patrons. Leave Waitress Suzzi and the bartener." Suddenly everyone vanished. The waitress came up to them.
"Is there anything else I can get for you?" Suzzi asked.
"I'll have another rum and coke . . ." she said.
"Anything else for you?" the black haired waitress asked Ming.
"Another one of these, please," Ming said, holding up the bottle.
The waitress left with their orders. "Would you mind helping me, please?" Ming asked Ciara, quickly suppressing a thought about having her undress him if he couldn't undress her.
A teasing smile crossed her lips and she stood and went to him. She helped him pull off what she could. "Better?" she asked.
"Oh, yes!" Ming exclaimed. "Shall we dance," he said, extending his arm.
"Of course," she said, "But what music would you like to dance to? This program is complete with all music from Earth, circa 1980s. I'll leave the choice up to you."
"I love that period!!! White Wedding, by Billy Idol, please."
"Computer, play Billy Idol, select White Wedding." Instantly the music started playing.
Ming only heard the music as an afterthought as he danced with Ciara--closer than he'd ever danced with a woman before. It was as though she was anticipating his every movement and responding accordingly, which she was. She was the perfect dance partner, and Ming couldn't help if wonder if she wouldn't be the perfect partner for other things. But, no, it was still too soon after Karissa. He wanted to give it some time, and he still felt somewhat humiliated by that episode.
The song ended, and Ming immediately thought of another one. "Computer, play DEVO, select Girl-U-Want." The lyrics seemed to fit!
They danced and she could sense his thoughts. She so wanted to lean over and kiss him, but chose not to. She didn't want to come onto him so soon after a wounding . . . But it was difficult not to do it and impossible not to think about. So she continued dancing.
A few more songs, a few more drinks, and they kept dancing. Ming wanted to touch her, to hold her--but he didn't want to disrespect her. He held back. *One of these days, I will,* Ming thought. *But not now. It wouldn't be proper!*
That's it, she thought, she couldn't take it anymore! As she finished her drink, she stood up and went to him, seductively sitting down on his lap. "You know, I wasn't going to do this," she said, "But I just can't help myself . . . " With that, she leaned toward him, caressed his face and kissed kissed him. It was a tenative kiss . . . gentle . . . Ming returned the kiss eagerly and deeply. Now that his faculties were his own, he knew *exactly* what he wanted to do! He took her in his arms and held her.
"Computer," Ming said, looking down at Ciara's red dress. "Play Bryan Adams, select Lady In Red."
They held each other close, swaying to the slow selection. Ming had never felt more close to a woman, and more comfortable with a woman, before in his life! This made the evening with Karissa seem like a cheap, tawdry episode--which, Ming reflected, it was. Suddenly he wanted nothing more to do with it.
Ciara felt the change in him and caressed his face again, running her hand through his hair and then down his chest. She didn't want to seem forward, but she loved the feel of him. Ming responded by holding her even closer. He felt himself change, too. Suddenly all the overblown propriety, all the reservations, all the concerns melted away.
"Ciara, let's do this more often," he whispered in her ear.
"I think that would be a good idea," she replied, nibbling his ear gently.
As much as neither of them wanted to leave, they both knew that duty would rear its head in the morning. They parted, without words, but with a kiss.
Ming returned to his quarters and fell asleep immediately. His alarm woke him up it seemed a few minutes later.
Ming looked at himself and saw he was still clad in his workout clothes. *Could this have been another dream?* he thought.
The door chimed. "Enter," he said. An enlisted crewman from Engineering came in, carrying a box containing Ming's workout armor.
"Sir, we found this armor in Holodeck 2. It had your name and service number on it."
"Thanks!" Ming said. "Thank you very much!" *It hadn't been a dream after all!* "What was your name, Yeoman?"
"Yeoman Rashid Ali ben-Hassan, sir."
Ming tried to keep from laughing--it was the first time he'd wanted to see anything remotely Middle Eastern in weeks! "Thank you, Hassan. I'll put in a word with your watch commander."
"Thank you, sir. Have a good day!" Hassan turned and left.
Ming stowed the armor and checked his messages. Two messages from the lab regarding experiments in progress; he'd see to those soon enough. And one from Lieutenant Ciara Tierro.
[Ming, I just wanted to thank you for last night. I really do want to get together with you again soon! And remember--it doesn't count if you didn't want to do it!] the image said, clsoing with a wink.
Ming smiled broadly, then hurriedly
showered (again) and dressed for the lab.