The Klingons have a saying when going into battle: "It is a good day to die."
It was certainly a good day on Altinea III; the local avians were twittering cheerfully, a mild breeze was blowing, the G-type sun was shining...It glinted beautifully off the business end of the modified Celeron-style phaser rifle aimed at the tip of Captain Tricia Robinson's nose.
She had gone very nearly cross-eyed from staring at the damned thing and, as far as she was currently concerned, Klingons were all insane. In Robinson's opinion, it was never a good day to die...unless you were referring to the other fellow. Unfortunately, there was usually someone insisting that the 'other fellow' was you.
Her ship, the U.S.S. Paragon, was in spacedock, orbiting the serene blue-and-white world of Altinea III and its many moons, home of the largest refit/resupply station in the sector, plus a number of luxury recreational facilities. Her crew was on a rotating shoreleave schedule, and no doubt scattered through out the system by now. Robinson's Starfleet-issue phaser was locked snugly in the Paragon's armory, where it was doing her just a helluva lot of good right now, her map had gotten her lost, and her Universal Translator wasn't.
She glared at the being on the other end of the phaser.
Short, bald, and blue, the alien looked like a Ferengi who'd fallen into a vat of Easter egg dye. If this one stood on his tiptoes, he might just come up to her chin. If not for the phaser, he'd have been about as threatening as a Smurf.
Apparently reading her thoughts, the alien shifted meaningfully and shoved the phaser closer to her face.
Okay, Robinson amended hastily, a Smurf with attitude.
She held her breath and hoped the little twerp didn't have an itchy trigger finger, nervous tics, or sneeze-inducing allergies.
No sooner had the thought scurried across her mind (moving fast and looking anxiously left and right in case it was shot at), than she felt the sudden irresistible urge to sneeze, herself.
She tried desperately to think of something -- anything -- else. Let's see...Phaser? Guy with a phaser...Maybe I'm allergic to him, now there's a thought, a starship captain with an alien-allergy, I'll start sneezing my head off everytime I beam down to a new world.
Oh damn, think of something else!
Uh, sun, sky, birds -- aren't some people allergic to feathers? Heck, I've even read of a "sun allergy" that makes you sneeze whenever you go outside in the sunlight. Awfully sunny out here today, isn't it?
Geez, that's no good, what am I trying to do? Get my fool head blown off?! Heh, that'd really be sneezing my head off...
Not funny, Tricia! She clamped down on a faintly hysterical giggle. Laughing would probably be as bad as sneezing, right now. Her mouth tightened. I swear I'm gonna get out of this alive just so I can personally murder Enrique Esteban. Slowly. Very slowly. And I'm going to enjoy every second of it.
Thinking of Esteban had the desired effect: she forgot all about sneezing and went back to plotting her fellow starship captain's painful demise.
Altinea III was Esteban's idea. In fact, everytime they'd spoken over the last year and a half, he'd brought up the subject, waxing lyrical over the systems' resorts and entertainment centers and restaurants and shopping centers...until Robinson had begun to wonder if he was getting kickbacks from Altinea's Merchants Association.
Whatever the motivation, his malevolent plan had worked: when time came for the Paragon's refit, she had requested -- and received -- permission to make use of the Altinea facilities instead of returning to Earth. More the fool, she. After less than 4 hours on the surface, she was beginning to think that if Esteban wasn't on the payroll, he was stark raving bonkers. Because if this was his idea of a good time, he needed serious psychiatric intervention. Or to get out more. Or both.
Quite possibly he didn't need a size 6 Starfleet issue uniform boot up the posterior, but if she got out of this alive, she was going to personally see that he got one.
And if she didn't make it out alive, she'd damn-well come back and haunt him.
The alien shifted uneasily, and Robinson realized she was scowling again, and that if she wasn't careful, she'd be haunting Esteban sooner rather than later.
Hastily, she rearranged her features into her patented "let's be pals" smile and tried like hell to look harmless. Unfortunately for her peace of mind, she was painfully aware that she wasn't very good at 'harmless.'
'Friendly', yes. 'Diplomatic', okay. In an emergency, even 'genial'. But...'harmless'? She was a starship captain, for crying out loud! She did 'harmless' about as well as the average Ferengi did 'philanthropic.'
Maybe she could manage 'mostly harmless'...
The alien stared at her, phaser twitching mere inches from her face, and growled something that came out of her Universal Translator sounding like the unhappy mating of two plasma drills. It wasn't exactly confidence-inspiring. Of course, he could just be telling her to have a nice day, but from the way he was brandishing the phaser , he was being awfully pushy about it.
Yep, she thought sourly. Best damn shoreleave this side of Risa. Esteban, you snake, you are a dead man...
Meanwhile, on Altinea IIIa, largest of the planet's moons and home to most of the system's famous resort facilities, the crew of the USS Paragon was enjoying some much-deserved shoreleave. In pairs, small groups, or just enjoying some time alone, the crew variously strolled through botanical gardens, sampled exotic cuisine at 5-star restaurants, swam in Olympic-sized pools, or enjoyed any of dozens of available recreational facilities.
One such group, consisting of Tim Garrick, Diania Mur, and Tellim Kuvall sat around an umbrella-topped poolside table, sipping fruit-laden synthehol drinks and recuperating from their afternoon swim.
Garrick dabbed a thick Turkish towel at the water dripping from his hair, and directed a relaxed grin at his companions. "I'm glad Capt. Esteban told our captain about this place. This is the most fun I've had in...well, too long."
"Speaking of our captain, has anyone seen her?" Diania Mur asked, peering around as if she expected Robinson to pop up from behind one of the potted palms.
"Not since we left the ship," Garrick said, frowning. Then his expression cleared, and he shrugged. "She probably wants some time to herself, a little peace and quiet for a change. You know that's not easy to come by when you're a starship captain."
"Look, if you're really worried, why don't you contact the ship and have them scan for her?" Tellim suggested before quietly hiccupping and turning to summon the waiter. Piled full of fruit salad or not, the drinks weren't bad...
"I think I saw her talking to the counselor before we beamed down," Mur volunteered suddenly. "I'm sure she knows where the captain is...and if she's not worried, why should we be?"
Seeming to forget that she was the one who'd introduced the subject in the first place, she went back to concentrating on the urgent task of draining her glass. She was determined to try everyone of the 47 varieties on the drinks menu and so far she'd only gotten up to number 12.
Garrick sighed; looked like it was up to him to complete the mission...Heaving himself to his feet took an inordinate amount of effort, most of it directed at staying upright. He seemed to have somehow suddenly gotten himself stranded on an ocean-going vessel during high seas. (Garrick was up to #23 on the drinks menu.)
Of course, the beauty of sythehol was that, should he truly need to be sober, he could be. However, the situation was not yet that dire, so he simply waited a moment for the deck -- er, moon -- to stop tilting quite so virtigenously beneath his feet before starting off around the pool.
Walking carefully, and using the occasional deck chair, potted plant, or startled passerby as a navigational aid, he slowly made his way toward the hotel lobby.
Another centimeter and the damned phaser emitter would be up her left nostril.
Robinson had long since decided she didn't care if the little blue twerp with the gun thought she was friendly or not. Another centimeter and she'd be able to grab his weapon or, failing that, inhale it.
The alien said something in his ear-splitting language and it echoed back at him from the wall behind her. It took her a second to realize that the "echo" wasn't an echo at all, but a second alien who, when he sauntered into view, turned out to be a clone of the first: short, bald, blue, and -- if his beligerent expression was any clue -- bad-assed.
Geez, she thought. Don't these guys come in any other flavor?
Without taking their eyes (or their phasers) off her, the two aliens carried on a brief conversation that sent her Universal Translator into fresh paroxysms of agony. Esteban's suave voice crooned in her memory: "Don't worry, Tricia. Everyone in the Altinea System speaks perfect Standard..."
Uh huh, sure they did.
And she was Queen of Andor!
That thought momentarily switched her train of thought onto a sidetrack. Did Andor have a queen? She couldn't remember; Fed. History had never been her favorite subject at the Academy. Maybe she should ask the computer when she got back to the Paragon...
The train derailed completely as she realized what she was thinking. Oh, yeah. I'll ask the computer to look that up all right...Right after I ask it to examine my head for me!
Great vacation spot you sent me to, Enrique-Your-Days-Are-Numbered-Esteban! I've been here less than 5 hours and already I'm losing my mind. But I'm saving a special piece of it just for you, Esteban ol' buddy.
And I can hardly wait to give it to you...
Garrick located the counselor by the simple expedient of wandering aimlessly around the hotel until he collided with her as she stepped off the lift in the lobby.
The Deltan woman recovered first, stepping back and straightening her robe. Politely, she asked, "Are you all right, Commander?"
Garrick looked blank for a moment, then grinned. He could think of worse things to run into..."Actually, I was looking for you."
"Oh?" She said it with a certain amount of reserve. For the most part, Dariel was enjoying her tenure aboard the Paragon; her fellow officers were professionals who respected her -- and her Deltan Oath of Celibacy. She hoped that wasn't about to change just because they had all been granted some time off.
"Uh, yeah. I was wondering..." He broke off as his eyes finally succeeded in informing his brain what the counselor was wearing. In the ensuing struggle between his common sense, his logical mind, and his libido, the first two contenders didn't really stand a chance.
Confused, she glanced down at herself. Finding nothing amiss with the short Deltan leisure robe and backless sandals she was wearing, she looked carefully at Garrick.
"Are you certain you're all right? You're looking a bit flushed..."
"Uh...No." Get a grip on yourself, Tim! You're a grown man, for pity's sake!
Unfortunately, while he was well aware of that fact, he was also almost painfully aware that the counselor was most definitely a grown woman...With considerable effort, he yanked his gaze back up to her face. "Where was I?"
Dariel was rather wondering that herself. "On your way to have a nice quiet nap, perhaps?" she suggested, with the kind of smile usually reserved for dottering aunts.
"Uh, no, I don't think so." She would have to bring up sleeping, when he was desperately trying to keep his mind off anything to do -- in any way, shape, form or fashion -- with beds. And then it hit him, like a splash of cold water. "I was looking for the captain! Have you seen her?"
"Not since beaming down." Dariel frowned. "Is something wrong? The Paragon...?"
"No, no." He waved away her concern, and with it, his own. "Just curious. We were kind of expecting her to show up at the pool by now. Speaking of which..." His gaze had begun, of its own accord, drifting downward again. "Would you care to go for a swim?"
He was really beginning to wonder what was underneath that brief robe...
He looked up just in time to get hit with the full force of a dazzling smile. Just as he was beginning to think it was his lucky day, he realized that she wasn't smiling at -- or even looking at -- him.
Turning, he saw the tall, tanned and extremely handsome man making his way across the lobby toward them. A tall, tan, and extremely handsome, Deltan man. Garrick deflated. "Oh," he said, to no one in particular.
Without waiting around to be introduced, he waved goodbye to the counselor, who barely seemed to notice his departure, and headed back to the pool. After all, there were still twenty-four more drinks on the menu for him to sample. Holding onto that cheery thought, he snagged a passing waiter and steered him toward the poolside table where his crewmates awaited. He glanced once at the clear blue dome of sky overhead and thought, why worry?
No doubt the captain's having the time of her life...
Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum, as Robinson had dubbed her two fun-filled companions, were not the galaxies greatest conversationalists. All either seemed to do was repeat their favorite untranslatable phrase, ad nauseum, and look put out when she failed to respond in kind. Who knew, maybe it was a never-fails pick-up line on The Planet of Really Irritable Smurfs.
As for Robinson, she had achieved a kind of Zen, repeating her new mantra silently to herself (gonna DIE, Esteban, gonna DIE...), so that she barely noticed when three more Smurf wannabes joined the party. All were armed with some variety of the Celeron the first alien was still pointing at her.
There must be a factory somewhere, churning these guys out by the dozens, she thought wearily. Or maybe they're some kind of accessory: buy one phaser, get a free Smurf...
The new arrivals immediately launched into a heated discussion with Dee and Dum, (a conversation her universal translator stubbornly refused to acknowledge as being conducted in anything even approaching a recognizable language), momentarily distracting them.
Robinson saw her chance -- and took it. With an ear-splitting scream that let out some of the day's pent-up frustrations, she batted the phaser from the nearest Smurf's grasp, bowling the startled alien over in the process. He tumbled into his closest compatriot and both went down in a tangled blue heap.
Without waiting around to see what would happen when they got back up, Robinson bolted for the exit. The remaining three aliens gave chase, shouting at her in their mouth-full-of-a-rock-quarry language, but since they were forced to take three or four steps to her one, she quickly outdistanced her nearest pursuer. One of the brighter Smurfs finally remembered that he was wielding a phaser and took a couple of potshots at her, but he was as poor a marksman as he was a sprinter, and she dodged them easily.
Robinson burst through the door and kept running. She had once read a book in which a very wise man had observed that in life-or-death situations it wasn't where you ran to that was important, but that you ran from...and kept running. Right now, that seemed like terribly good advice.
Robinson kept running.
The three Paragon officers seated at pool-side were deep in a heated philosophical debate, and had been for some time. They were also up to numbers 22, 46, and 15 (respectively) on the drinks menu.
"Nonono," Mur said, gesturing so emphatically that she almost fell off her chair. Tellim reached over and hauled up upright, again. Intent on making her point, she ignored him.
" 'S not chickens," she said, lip curling at the very idea. "'S obviously not chickens."
"And just why is that?" Garrick demanded sullenly. He peered blearily at her over a forest of cocktail umbrellas. "It could be chickens."
" 'S pigs," Tellim announced, with the air of one pronouncing a great truth. There was a sustained silence as the others stared at him. He nodded firmly (or at least as firmly as someone who had gotten up to #15 on the drinks menu could). "Tha's right. Pigs."
"'S not pigs!" the other two chorused. It was the first thing they'd agreed upon in hours.
"Can't be pigs," Garrick added. "They go 'moo', right? 'S a well-known fact. Pigs moo."
"They don't moo!" Disgusted at his ignorance, Mur shook her head. It was a move she immediately regretted, as it tried to fall off.
"Argh," she added, clutching her temples.
"Sure they do," Garrick argued, with the unshakable confidence of the very drunk. "Absolutely they do. Moo, that is. Pigs."
"Maybe it's ducks..."
Everyone glared at Tellim, who didn't notice as he was waving the waiter over for another round. Garrick pounded his fist on the table, elliciting a groan from Mur (who was now clutching her head in an attempt to keep it attached to her neck), and said,"All right, let's try it once more, shall we? From the top -- "
The others nodded, Mur very carefully.
"Ready, and a-one and a-two..."
They all burst into song -- in at least three keys and two different tempos, none of which went together. "We are poor little...unspecified Earth domesticated animals...who have lost our way...Baa, baa, baa..."
Robinson rounded a corner, vaulted a low-growing hedge, and dove for cover behind a conveniently placed fountain in the shape of water-spouting marble fish. Panting for breath, she cautiously peeked around an ornamental carp.
She could just make out the top of a bald blue pate bobbing back and forth over the top of the hedge. Looking for her....
"Persistent little bunnies, aren't they?" she muttered to the carp, which didn't seem to care. Keeping low, she crept around to the other side of the fountain and took another quick peek around the carp.
Like lawn ornaments from hell, the aliens were everywhere.
Robinson ducked back down behind the fish, but it was obvious she couldn't stay there for long; she was definitely on the verge of being surrounded. It was only a matter of time (and from the looks of it, not much time) before her hidey-hole was overrun by phaser wielding Smurfs.
She looked behind her.
Of course there was a wall.
Robinson wasn't sure which god she'd offended recently, but he, she or it was apparently in charge of shoreleave. Heaving a frustrated sigh, she tried her comm badge once more. It didn't work. Big surprise. There'd be no yelling for help from the Paragon.
She peered at the wall blocking her retreat. At least 9 feet if it was an inch, it was constructed of polished marble blocks and was actually quite nice if you were into that sort of thing, which she wasn't, especially right now. It was also completely unscalable, at least by her.
A phaser blast took out a chunk of carp near her ankle.
On the other hand...
Moving as if warp-propelled, she covered the distance to the wall in seconds. She made a flying leap and just managed to hook her fingertips over the top of the wall, the rest of her striking it hard enough to knock the wind out of her. And then she hung there, unable to move.
Another phaser shot singed the wall by her ear.
With a yelp, she scrabbled frantically, managed to find a toehold and boosted herself up and over the top. She went over headfirst -- right into the thicket of rosebushes growing on the other side.
At least they broke her fall.
Rising from the thorny depths like the wrath of roses, Robinson wasted a moment trying to untangle herself from the canes that had attached themselves to her clothing, apparently for the duration. Finally, she was forced to simply dive forward, flinging herself at the nearest patch of clear ground and ripping her clothing to shreds in the process. She fought her way clear of the rosebushes, leaving behind strips of cloth, skin, and at least one hank of hair.
Esteban is going to pay for this, she vowed. That was my favorite off-duty outfit!
Trailing rose petals and curses, she ran away some more.
"Could be sheep," Tellim suggested dubiously, after a great deal of concentrated thought.
They all stared at their drinks for a minute. Then, "Naw..."
Out of breath, out of options, and seriously out of patience, Captain Robinson dove behind the first cover that presented itself: a low, heavily carved retaining wall.
Unfortunately, it was retaining water.
A shallow reflecting pool, to be exact. she landed full-length in the water with a resounding sploosh that half-emptied the pool. Soaked to the skin, hair and clothes plastered to her body, she got slowly to her feet and stood there, dripping water and sarcasm.
Well, this was just dandy. And wasn't it turning out to be QUITE the little shoreleave? Here I am, out in the fresh air, meeting loads of interesting people, seeing the sights, getting back to nature... She glanced down at her clothing, currently dripping with nature. I really don't know how much more fun I can stand...
It would, she decided, be wonderful to get back to the dull routine and familiar faces of shipboard life. For now, though, she was stuck in the not-so-great outdoors, being hounded by a bunch of beligerent blue baddies, and she looked like something even the most socially-challenged cat wouldn't drag in on a bet.
She tapped her useless comm-badge. She didn't know if the signal was being jammed, if it had gotten damaged at some point in her not-so-excellent adventure, or if it was being mute out of sheer spite, but it certainly wasn't working, whatever the reason. She sighed.
Well, all was not lost! Someone was bound to come looking for her eventually. She was the Paragon's captain, for Pete's sake! They couldn't very well leave without her.
No, no, she chided herself. Stop being paranoid! They'll find you...after all, you've got the best crew in Starfleet.
Out of the frying pan....
With slightly glazed eyes, Robinson stared at the courtyard and contemplated the predicament in which she currently found herself.
Having run until she couldn't run anymore (namely because she'd run into a dead-end -- and wasn't that a lovely choice of words?), she found herself crouching behind a statue of what was either the ugliest Pegasus she'd ever seen or the offspring of a constipated donkey and Mothra. From this dubious tactical vantage point, she watched as still more of the Smurf wannabes filed into the enclosed courtyard.
It was getting to be a regular Smurf convention in there.
She wondered just what the little buggers were up to....
Her Universal Translator still refused to render the alien speech into anything even remotely approaching a recognizable language, but from their manner it was easy to see that they were all very excited about something. They were milling around, all talking at once, and passing around data padds like party favors. Robinson decided she needed to get her grubby hands on one of those padds.
The opportunity presented itself much quicker than she'd dared to hope. A shorter-than-average alien trundled past her Pegasus, his eyes glued to the padd clutched in his blue hand. He never saw her foot, not even when he tripped over it. He tumbled forward, whacked his bald pate on the statue's base, and knocked himself silly.
A quick check assured Robinson that he was still among the living, just very unconscious. No doubt he'd have a whopper of a headache when he woke up. But, considering the fact that she was more than ready to vent some frustration on the nearest available target, he'd gotten off lightly.
With a growl, she pried the data padd from his fingers and slunk off behind her statue to read.
Garrick peered blearily at his two companions. Mur had her head down on the table and was snoring softly. Paper umbrellas dotted her hair like brightly colored mushrooms sprouting after a spring rain. Tellim had slipped underneath the table at some point in the proceedings; only the occasional "baa, baa, baa" drifting out from under the tablecloth marked his continued presence.
Garrick tipped his chair back -- he had a bad moment when gravity threatened to get the better of him -- and signaled the waiter. He'd been through all 47 drinks on the menu, but there were one or five he wouldn't mind revisiting.
From beneath the table, Tellim sang. "Baa, baa, baa..."
Robinson couldn't believe her eyes. The translator function on the padd was working perfectly, and she was now staring at a detailed plan for the invasion of Earth.
Her mind boggled. These lawn ornament rejects actually thought they could invade her planet and get away with it? Well, they had another think coming!
She glanced at the Celeron phaser rifle she'd liberated from another of the terminally-distracted aliens (they really should learn to watch where they were going), and thumbed the power setting to "kick ass" (heavy stun, really, but somehow her version seemed more satisfying).
She took a deep breath, wiped her damp hair back from her face, steadied the rifle's stock against her hip and, with an ululating war cry that caused severe incontinence in the nearest unlucky aliens, leapt from hiding.
Time to kick some blue butt!
Garrick sipped his drink (#17), adjusted his sunglasses, and favored the approaching waiter with a beatific smile. Life was good....
For a moment, his mind drifted to his other shipmates and he wondered how Dariel was getting on with her new Deltan friend, immediately wished he hadn't, and hastily shunted that particular train of thought onto a side railing.
Wonder what the Captain's up to? he thought, figuring it for a safer topic of contemplation, and drained his glass.
She was up to her knees in unconscious aliens.
Robinson gave her trusty rifle an affectionate pat on its plastic stock. The Celeron might be an economy-model phaser, but it could kick butt with the best of them.
Beside her, a pseudo-Smurf twitched. She gave him another phaser burst and he sagged limply atop a short stack of his fellow conspirators. Robinson grinned. Damn, but that felt good!
Still smiling (or at least baring her teeth), she waded across the courtyard, looking for another target, a working communicator, and a hot bath -- not neccessarily in that order.
Garrick looked up as the familiar whine of the transporter sounded beside him. A column of sparkles formed nearby and resolved into the bedraggled person of his Captain. Garrick stared at her for a full minute before deciding he'd better lay off the drinks. He looked thoughtfully at the glass in his hand; he had a feeling there'd been something a mite stronger than synthehol in that last one...
He looked back up at Robinson and blinked. Unfortunately, nothing changed. Her clothes were still in tatters, and quite wet. Her hair was matted to her head in a style that only a weaver bird could love, and dotted with grass, twigs, and leaves. She was clutching a phaser-rifle which she panned across the poolside area, as if daring anyone to make a remark.
Garrick gave some swift and careful consideration to joining Tellim under the table.
Robinson's wild gaze settled on him and she started purposefully toward his table.
Ulp. Too late, he thought, sinking down into his chair to present a smaller target. He wished he were somewhere else; another galaxy would be favorite. "Uh, Captain...Hi?"
She didn't seem to hear him. She stalked past him, snared a passing waiter by the collar, hauled him up to eye level, and snarled, "Drinks. Lots of them. NOW."
The waiter gulped and nodded vigorously. "Yes, ma'am!"
Robinson dropped him and the waiter scurried off to fetch the required drinks. If he knew what was good for him, he'd return with a wheelbarrow full.
"Uh, Captain?..." Garrick tried again.
She stalked back to the table and yanked out an empty chair. "...baa, baa,
baa..." wafted out from underneath the table.
Robinson hesitated, shot the table a suspicious look, then decided she really didn't give a damn, shrugged and flopped gracelessly into the chair. After the day she'd had, singing tables were the least of her worries.
Across the table, Garrick opened his mouth to say something, glanced again at the phaser still firmly clutched in her hand, and thought the better of it. Robinson glared at him, daring him to comment, but although he'd had quite a lot to drink, Garrick wasn't stupid. From the look on his face, it would take the Jaws of Life to pry his lips apart.
Unaware of the danger, Mur cracked open her eyes, took one look at the captain, and mumbled, "Wha' happen'd to you?" before collapsing back into blissful oblivion. Garrick envied her.
The captain looked as if she were about to explode, but before the fuse burned down completely, Dariel and her new companion chose that moment to stroll past the table. They didn't stop, but the counselor glanced at Robinson and, with a knowing smile, asked, "Who won?"
"I did." Robinson grinned, the tension suddenly draining from her body. "And you should see the forty other fellows."