Father Knows Best

“Lieutenant.” He sat behind the table in the briefing room as I entered, and I tilted my head ever so slightly to the left as I looked him over in evaluation.

“You’re not Sharad.” A smirk pulled at my lips as I settled in the chair across the way from him, and his eyes met mine — blue-green not unlike my own. There was a silence as we both looked the other over, and he fiddled with his PADD. His hair was dark but greying at the temples, his uniform immaculate with commanders pips shining like a new penny, and spots not unlike my own—though darker—marked him as Trill.

“You’ve been talking to Spiegel.”

“Not about the debriefing.” I grinned wide and was met with a silent stare for my troubles, so I settled back in my chair and crossed my arms. “This already doesn’t feel like your garden variety debriefing.”

“You’ve been spending too much time around Spiegel.” Though his face was unreadable, I was certain I detected a touch of amusement in his voice.

“Most of the colorful metaphor in my arsenal predate my knowing that spiky haired dork.”

“I do recall the dedication of his book mentioned you as an invaluable resource for a non-human perspective.”

“It’s scary how far that book of his has traveled already,” I muttered, and noted a raised eyebrow across the table, so I cleared my throat. “You know, I haven’t even bothered to skim the thing. Everything I know about it is based upon listening to him quote page numbers at the Blue Bastard.”

There was a pregnant pause before he coughed. “You really shouldn’t talk about your superior officers like that.”

“Calling someone who shot me in the back that is hardly the worst thing in my record.”

“I did skim the report filed by Commander Navarro after the incident.”

“Do I want to know how horribly she characterized me?” I rolled my eyes and across the table he chuckled, so I tilted my head to the side.

“Let’s just say there’s a very good reason she’s on Milliways.”

Silence stretched out between us again, and I tried to just wait him out, but as the moments rolled past and I watched him watch me, it started to bug me that I couldn’t quite put my finger on what about him bugged me — and he really bugged me.

“Are you one of Johnson’s pets?”

“As much so as you are.” He laughed when I growled at him, and he folded his hands together over his PADD as he leaned forward. “Zach and I have known each other a long time. It’s more likely you could consider him my pet, than the other way around.”

“That must be handy, having brass in your pocket.” I rolled my eyes again, and briefly wondered how much more of this I could take before they just rolled out of my sockets and across the floor. He chuckled in that insufferable way that someone who considers themself to be better than you does when they’re not amused by what you said, but by the fact that you dared say it. I sneered at him.

“I can see why Zach likes you, Diz.” There was a pause — intentional, done more for affect than anything else I would bet. “Is it okay if I call you Diz?”

“I’d be more inclined to say yes if I knew your name.”

He grinned as if I’d just made a tactical jab, and I narrowed my eyes at him.

“Where are my manners? You may call me Voralis Cryn.”

“Manners don’t seem to be a requirement for those Johnson surrounds himself with.”

“You would know, you certainly test the limits of social graces.” He chewed his lip as his eyes darted over me again. “Didn’t your mother teach you any manners?”

“My mother wears combat boots and eats men like you for breakfast.”

“I highly doubt that.”

“What would you know of my mother?”

Silence. So I pointedly met his gaze, and he didn’t flinch away like I expected.

“More than you’d think.” He finally blinked and looked down at his PADD.

“What’s your game?” I stood up, leaning across the table, bracing myself on my arms.

“Game?” He drew back on his chair, crossing his arms as he looked up at me with a sly smile.

“Someone like me, the fleet is gonna drop on a station like 668 to rot, not cherry pick for assignments that scratch all my violent itches and let me indulge my vices. Not let me play with special prototypes like the Obama.” Another measure of silence sat between us, this one you could cut with a knife. “You’re supposed to be debriefing me, but what are we doing?”

“Okay, let’s talk about what happened. Tell me about crossing over to the other universe.” He collected his PADD, and looked up at me expectantly. I stared at him a long moment, being thrown by how quickly he’d shifted gears, and the apparent ease with which he did it. I finally sat down with a sigh.

“It was pretty much a non-event.” I looked down at my hand as I started to speak, inspecting my nails. When I looked up again, he nodded at me to encourage me to continue. “One moment I’m piloting the runabout—doing some shakedown maneuvers in the Denorious Belt—the next the power cuts out. It was only out for a moment, but the comm traffic was all wrong when power returned.”

“Why would you notice the comm traffic?” He made a note on the PADD, and set it down on the table as he folded his hands on top of it. I shifted in my chair, pushing back from the table just a little bit.

“Spiegel tossed together a program for me, back when we served together on the Rothmore. It monitors comm traffic and informs me if anything important comes across.”

“How does it know what’s important? And what about encryption on Federation and Starfleet channels?” He leaned forward with a bit of a grin, and I shifted my chair back again.

“I feed it my security clearance when I open it, and it’s got a kill switch for when I’m not at my station or if someone without clearance gets too close. He said he tied it to internal sensors. It just hides itself if I step away from the station, but if someone who shouldn’t have access tries– well, it looks like it’s crashed.”

His eyebrow went up again as he collected his PADD and made some more notes. “And how does it know what’s of interest?”

“I can configure it with key words, phrases, and frequencies to watch for. Got like a dozen presets, and it’s easy enough to adjust or add new ones on the fly.”

“And Spiegel just… threw it together for you?” He looked up from the PADD, and there was a brief moment where I could have sworn I caught that gleam in his eye that I always saw when Spiegel or Corey would ask about something they were fascinated with. It was gone so fast that I wasn’t even sure it was there to start with. I shrugged the question off.

“He said he had updates he could push, but we haven’t had a chance to talk about it yet.”

Silence settled between us again, and this time I was determined to leave it with him to cut it this time. Given how it’d gone so far, I expected to glean more by waiting to see where he took things than if I tried to guide the conversation. I wasn’t keen to talk about some of what happened in the mirror universe, so if he wanted to wander off behind the potted plant to fuck the dog instead of debrief me…

“Who’s idea was the program?”

“I used to just leave an open comm when on away missions, scanning through frequencies that I had reason to believe had activity I’d find of interest. When Spiegel started being paired with me for away missions regularly during the Klingon war, he expressed a desire to get the same data without the literal noise.”

“And where’d that habit develop?”

“While I worked with a freighter company, before I joined Starfleet. Orion pirates never seemed to learn to keep their traps shut when approaching, so…” I glanced up at the ceiling — I half expected to see one of those pendant lamps overhead they always used in those old movies for interrogations. When I looked down again, I caught his eyes moving down from the ceiling also. Did he look up when I did?

“At least the ones who were picking up small fish like freighters. Now that you mention it, I do remember your service record saying that was your occupation before Starfleet.”

“This definitely isn’t a garden variety debrief,” I muttered, then looked at him. “Why would you need to read my service record?”

“You have a reputation, I like to be prepared.”

“A reputation?” I snorted as I slouched in my chair and crossed my legs. He set his jaw as he looked at me. “So, what are the rumors like these days?” I smirked, and he frowned. “They’re usually a riot, and I could use a laugh.”

He looked at the PADD, then sighed. “A few of your former crew mates from the Remington believe you’re the devil incarnate.” I waited for him to look up, but he didn’t.

“One of them happens to be the step brother of the kid in sickbay who foams green slime when he’s nervous — though he really seems to know his shit during a medical emergency. Old news.” With that, he got eye roll number three of the debriefing.

“Others call you a black widow — a bit dramatic, if you ask me, as only one of your past lovers has turned up dead.” When he looked up, I fixed him with a glare and he smirked at me. “Speaking of him, shall we continue this debriefing? Your report mentioned you ran into his double while you were in the mirror universe.”

“I said everything there was to say in my report.”

He glanced down at the PADD again. “Of everyone your team encountered, he seemed the most capable, and he seemed the one most likely to succeed if he wanted to prevent your return to our universe — not to mention taking our prototype runabout. Yet he seemed satisfied flirting with you. You claimed he’d never met your analog, yet he knew exactly what to do to provoke you — get under your skin is how you put it in your report, I believe?”

“Is there a question there?”

“Why do you think he paid you so much attention, instead of working with the others who did have the goal of keeping you, your team, and our technology?”

jav, vagh, loS, wej, cha’, wa’.” I counted down under my breath, and though I pointedly looked away from him, I could see him staring at me out of the corner of my eye. I took a breath, and still pointedly didn’t meet his gaze. “He didn’t like Maddie — I certainly couldn’t blame him. When I first encountered him, he’d been looking for Spiegel’s doppelgänger specifically to get his own neck out of the noose with her.”

“That universe’s Storvik was clearly not working for Maddie, why do you suppose Travis didn’t work with him?”

“Vicky was a fucking moron.”

“But your report–”

“Don’t get me wrong, he had the computer skills needed to hack the runabout, but socially speaking?” Eye roll number four. “Vulcans are usually better at dissecting the social nuances of us more illogical and emotional species, so who the fuck knows what happened there. Travis was coordinating with him somewhat, but clearly didn’t trust his pointy-eared ass any more than I did.”

When he didn’t say anything to that, I looked over. He was scrolling through notes on the PADD. Finally he cleared his throat.

“Do you suppose your choice of attire might have affected his actions? You weren’t in uniform.”

“Are you suggesting that I should have gone into a potentially hostile situation in uniform, a uniform that probably would have drawn unwanted attention to me and my team?”

“I get your point.” He cleared his throat as he looked down at the PADD again, then muttered under his breath. “You could have dressed a little less provocatively.”

I snorted. “You sound like a father dressing down his daughter.” A look flashed across his face at that quip, but it was gone as quickly as I noticed and I didn’t dwell on it. “The more normal—by your standards—one dresses in a place like that, the more suspicion they draw. If it weren’t for Spiegel finding Travis, my outfit would have kept attention off him and on me, so he could focus on the shopping list we had.”

“So you’re saying it’s Spiegel’s fault you got captured?”

“No. It was shitty luck. I wish he hadn’t called Noelle to join us, but given how scrambled Travis had me at first, I understand why that was his instinct. Of all the people to run into, and of all the people for him to be looking for… Well, the odds are pretty obscene.”

“That universe is known for being closely related to our own.”

“We didn’t know which universe we were in yet. Technically there are an infinite number of parallel universes, and we hadn’t had the chance to do much recon yet.”

“That universe is the one we have the most known crossover incidents with.”

“However, I’ve also had dealings with a man from a different parallel universe, so I don’t assume I’ve ended up in Starfleet’s pet mirror.”

“That’s right, Vicky isn’t the first Storvik you’ve had dealings with.”

“That in my service record too?” I snorted, and stared up at the ceiling again. “I really need to look at it again, see what crap they’re littering it with these days.”

“You don’t have access to the version I do.”

“You have your sources, I have mine.”

“Mister Spiegel would do well to remember how he ended up in Starfleet to begin with. He’s pushing the bounds of patience.”

I thought back on the conversations I’d had with Spiegel that first time we hung out off duty, where he got trashed on blood wine trying to keep up with me. He’d told me he was strong armed into joining Starfleet after getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar of intelligence files he shouldn’t have been able to get into — especially as a teen.

“You should play your cards a little closer to your vest.” I started tapping on the chair — morse code telling him to get the stick out of his ass. When he directed a glare at me, I smiled wide. It didn’t really matter if he actually understood what it meant, or if the tapping itself was sufficient to get under his skin.

“You should be careful too, it would be a shame to see someone with your potential throw it all away chasing ghosts and sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong.”

“Is that what happened to my father?” Part of that conversation with Spiegel had touched on the matter of my father — how he’d been listed as missing in action since before I was born, yet Starfleet had long passed that point where it was reasonable to expect his return. As these thoughts rolled through my head, I realized he was sitting in silence. I tilted my head, and that seemed to jar him into responding.

“Such an overactive imagination you have.” The chuckle he punctuated it with didn’t feel genuine, and I was up out of my seat in a flash. My hands slammed on the table, and I leaned forward to get as far into his personal space as I could. He didn’t even flinch as he looked back at me, hands folded on top of his PADD. It took me a long moment to be sure that something other than a string of curses a light year long would escape my lips if I opened them.

“That is one topic I have zero patience left on.” I bared my teeth at him, and he simply sat there and waited. “I’ve gotten nothing but lies, red tape, runaround, and pure bullshit even since I joined this happy fucking fleet family. Fifteen years of that, after twenty of knowing nothing other than my mother still held out hope for his return? You could say I’m a little annoyed.”

I couldn’t say how long I stood there, staring down at him. In that time, he didn’t look away, he didn’t move back. He didn’t seem the least bit put out. Finally he reached up and laid a hand on my shoulder — in other circumstance, that might have lead to me punching him, but I was too utterly shocked that he even dared. So I stared at his hand as he gently pushed me back across the table. I dumbly stood in front of my chair.

“He must be a pretty worthless man, if he’s still alive and hasn’t been in contact with his wife at all.” He folded his hands on his PADD again. “Unless he has contacted her, and she just hasn’t told you. Maybe he had a good reason for staying away?”

“If she knew he was alive, she’d tell me.”

“I know you’re not on the best of terms with your mother.”

“Is that in my service record too?” I threw up my hands with a laugh as I landed in my chair again.

“No, but you just confirmed the rumors for me.”

I growled, and he offered a polite smile to me.

“My father is about the only subject that she and I don’t fight about. If she knew anything, she’d tell me.” I took a deep breath as I looked to the ceiling again. When I looked down again, he was simply sitting there watching me. “Isn’t this supposed to be a debrief about the mirror universe?”

“Let’s talk more about Travis.”

“Sure, fine, keep dragging me through those coals.” I growled and slung a string of Klingon curses at him.

“Watch the language.” His rebuke caused me to stop mid word and I blinked.

“Have the universal translators improved that much without my noticing, or do you actually speak the language?” I leaned forward, head tilted to the left. He chuckled at me.

“I know a few of the important words.”

“Important words.” I made a small noise in the back of my throat. “Some of those important words caused me to have to get a regenerator before I was eleven years old.”

“I know–”

“Don’t tell me that’s in my service record too.” I drug my chair forward and leaned on the table. “Now you’re getting way outside the scope of what Starfleet is going to keep in my service record — especially given that a lot of this stuff you’ve claimed was in there occurred outside of Federation space.” I paused, and when he opened his mouth to say something, I cut him off. “Frankly, I don’t give a shit what your sources are.”

“Smart girl.”

“Oh, don’t go thinking this is because I’m afraid of you, or any of that sort of bullshit. This is just so far beyond the point of ridiculous that I can’t even find the fucks to care. Hell–” I snorted and smirked at him– “I wouldn’t be surprised if among the clutter of this excessive file you have on me is a list of everyone I’ve ever slept with, dated, or both. Probably even their fucking blood types, maybe even rank and serial number where applicable…”

“It’s interesting that the only person on the second list who isn’t also on the first was Patrick, but the first list is orders of magnitude longer than the second.”

“I said I didn’t want to know.” I chewed my lip, then leaned in again as I slapped the table. “Okay, let’s hear it.”

“What?”

“Blood types.”

“I don’t exactly have the list memorized.”

“The hell you don’t. I can smell a spook a light year away.”

Our eyes locked, and I waited to see how long until he’d flinch. Finally he sighed and looked down at the PADD.

“Travis, O negative, Toby, A pos, Jack, AB neg…” He paused, fiddling with the PADD. I crossed my arms and settled back in my chair.

“That ain’t even scratching the surface, why stop there?”

“You want me to run through twenty years of your overactive sex life by name and bloodtype?”

“Could you do it in the order I fucked them too?” I smiled wide at him and he drew back just a little. “It would be more productive than this debriefing has been so far.”

“No wonder your mother hates you and your father ran off.”

“You’re oversimplifying, but any way you look at it, those are topics you really shouldn’t disturb unless you want me to walk out that door right now, best case scenario.”

“And worse case?”

“I’ll punch your lights out so hard your children will feel it.”

He immediately broke out in laughter.

“Didn’t you learn your lesson the last time you did that?”

“This time the difference in rank won’t be quite so wide. Besides, do you really think I give a shit if they drum me out? I’d been fully prepared to get expelled from the Academy last time, and pretty sure you’ve better earned it than Paris did.” I shrugged.

“You realize that some of what you’ve already admitted to could be enough for me to make you miserable, right?”

“And you realize that should you bring that crap up, I’ll be able to also bring up that you’ve been baiting me about my parents, as well as the bad carbon copy of the man I still love more than life itself? I know I’ve got nothing to lose I won’t miss, can you say the same?”

He took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose. “What is wrong with you?”

“Do you want the Starfleet related list, the counselors’ favorite theories list, or just the greatest hits?” He winced at my immediate response.

“Just forget I asked.” He fiddled with his PADD again, and I snorted. “Both earlier, and in your report, you made mention of wanting to deal with Noelle’s analog—Maddie—but not having the chance to do so before the runabout was repaired enough to make the return trip. I’m pretty confident I know what you mean, but I want you to clarify — for the record.”

“I had every intention of killing her.”

He frowned and looked down at his PADD again. “I was afraid you were going to say that.”

“You read my report.” I leaned against the table, tilting my head to the side again. Reading people wasn’t one of my strengths, but even so I wasn’t getting the normal superior officer judging me vibes from him — I felt like he was disappointed with me and concerned for me. “I don’t know if I effectively conveyed just how fucked up Maddie left her, but if you read the report from the medical staff on DS9 maybe you–”

“So you wanted to sink to her level?” The look he fixed me with was as cold and sharp as a knife. “Staying above that is what makes us better than them.”

“Starfleet moral superiority,” I grumbled and shook my head. “But we can and do reduce ourselves to that level, because sometimes that’s the only way to effectively communicate with people like that. What we call being better, being more humane, they call weakness. In the past—after previous crossover incidents—they’ve often pursued us back across the barrier. I was concerned—still am—that Maddie may attempt to pursue us.”

“So you intended to take matters into your own hands and break Federation law?”

“Isn’t that exactly what’s endeared me to Johnson in the first place? My willingness to work around the pesky rules in order to get shit done? Hell, we wouldn’t even have the Blue Bastard right now if I didn’t violate the rules, I disobeyed a direct order to save his ass.”

“I know I’m not the only one confused by your actions during that mission, but let’s not get sidetracked. There’s a large difference between violating orders to save a life, and committing murder.”

“Challenging someone to combat to the death isn’t murder.”

“We’re not in the Klingon empire. You’re a citizen of the Federation and a Starfleet Officer.” He took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Last I checked, the mirror universe is not within Starfleet’s jurisdiction.”

“You were still representing Starfleet.”

With my fifth eye roll of the briefing, I slumped back in my chair and crossed my arms. “So, is this just gonna be a slap on the wrist and a stern reminder that I need to conduct myself better next time, or…” Since I couldn’t ensure there wouldn’t be a next time, I thought to myself as he watched me a long moment.

“Everything else in your report seemed clear cut enough, so that will be all for now.” He stood up. “Though I do reserved the right to call you back for further debriefing if we need further clarification. No hard feelings?” He held out his hand, and I stared at it a long moment.

“Just a word of advice,” I said as I stood up and clasped it. “Since you hit me as a hands on kind of a man, not an administrative bullshiter, next time? Leave the baiting about family and relationships out when you’re debriefing someone.”

He offered me a half smile as he took his hand back. “I’ll try to keep that in mind, if you’ll try to remember not everyone who outranks you is out to get you.”

“I already knew that, the problem is the sort who usually are also usually expect blind respect and obedience — down that road lies the path to hell, following good intentions.” I didn’t wait for him to formally dismiss me, only pausing just before the door long enough to toss him a sarcastic salute before I left.

Malathaar

All the planets just across the Orion border are the same. I have long forgotten which misbegotten hunk of space rock the cafe was on, but I remember the name — Malathaar. The sign was probably older than anyone on that moon, the flower it took its name from laser etched into it, but so faded that it was anyone’s guess what color it had been. It just so happened I had a lead on a man named Raebz — this was his favorite watering hole.

I felt a dozen pairs of eyes on me as I passed the threshold, live music caressing my ears as I casually inspected the owners of each — none matched the description I had for Raebz, so I sidled up to the bar to order. I almost didn’t look at the bartender, as my eyes were locked on the woman across the room.

Her hair was like silk—black as space and filled with jewels like stars—and her skin was the color of emeralds. When I gave her a smile, she immediately returned one twice as dazzling and my heart skipped a beat.

“That’s Felmia. You’ll want nothing of her.” The bartender set my drink down. “Raebz is fiercely protective.”

Even if I hadn’t already fallen in lust, that she was connected to my mark made her utterly irresistible.

“Send her a drink from me.”

“No.”

“I’ll pay in cash, up front, if you’re concerned about extending credit to a dead woman walking.” I fished some gold pressed latinum from a pocket that looked like it shouldn’t have been able to hold anything, let alone that much currency. His eyes slid down over my hip and across the painted on leather of my pants, then moved back up to my hand as I set his payment down.

“Now, what makes you think you’re a dead woman walking?” He swept the gold pressed latinum off the bartop in one quick movement, and was already collecting a glass and the mixings for a colorful cocktail. Clearly I’d judged the right amount. I smirked, and leaned across the bar as I lowered my voice.

“The fact that you mentioned she had someone fiercely protective of her. I can’t say I’m familiar with the name you dropped as I’m only just passing through, but you don’t wander the places I have without coming to recognize certain warning tones, if you follow me.”

He directed a look at me, even as the glass was filled with bright colored liquor without the appearance of his having to watch. Either he was good, she was a regular with a standing drink order, or some combination of both. When the silence stretched on, I looked across the room again and got a wink from Felmia for my troubles.

“No one steps foot on this moon without knowing who Raebz is.” He passed the drink off to a waiter who had been watching the exchange quietly, and he delivered it without needing to be told who it was for.

“Would you believe me if I told you I just stepped off the transport?” I flashed him my teeth with a wide grin.

“Doesn’t matter if I believe you. Though, before you go play with fire, you should let me know if there’s someone I should call when things go bad.”

I laughed, and a number of heads turned in my direction. “You think a misbegotten mutt like me has anyone who cares what happens to me? You have more faith in the universe than I’ve ever had.” I picked up my drink and sauntered across the room. The bartender didn’t seem like he wanted to talk, so I might as well enjoy my wait for Raebz to show. And if Felmia was his—in other circumstances I would be teaching a possessive pig like that a thing or two, but I had a job to do—flirting with her should bring him around faster when his gossip network tells him of the invasion of his territory.

“If I didn’t know better, I would think you were looking at me,” I said as I reached her table. I stood waiting for an invitation, circling my glass just enough to get a small vortex in the middle. She looked up at me, her dark eyes burrowing into my soul as she sipped her drink and considered.

“I don’t recognize your accent.” Her eyes flicked towards the chair across the table and I pretended I didn’t notice the subtle invitation — playing with fire like this, you wait for the blatant invite. It may not get you off the hook, but it’ll at least slow the brute down out of propriety.

“It’s what happens when one doesn’t stay anywhere long enough to put down roots.”

“Is that why you haven’t joined me yet?” She gestured, her hand moving over the table as if it were a dance. I treated her to a laugh as I perched on the chair across the small table, and she shook her head.

“Just being polite. Ain’t proper to presume I’m welcome, especially not with someone so lovely, and who the rumor mill makes me think I’ll pay for this company by occupying a casket — if I’m lucky.”

She pouted. “He doesn’t own me, I choose my own company. And right now, I want yours.”

I leaned across the table, staring deep into her dark eyes, as I dared lay my hand on hers. Her eyes dropped to look but a fleeting moment, and a chair a couple tables over roughly scraped across the floor. I saw someone standing out of the corner of my eye, and dared spare a look. The man turned and headed for the door as his gaze met mine. Felmia looked over her shoulder and clucked her tongue as she turned back to me.

“He has men everywhere, I feel like I can’t get a moment to myself unless I lock myself in my room.” She turned her hand over and clasped mine as she stood. “Let’s dance.” As she said it, the song the was playing cut out.

As she led me to the small clearing between the tables at the center of the room, a song soft and sweet replaced the joyous ruckus that had been filling the air as I’d arrived. My hand found the small of her back as she stepped in close, her head leaning on my shoulder as I started to guide us in time with the music. I closed my eyes as I breathed in her scent.

I couldn’t tell you how long we danced. One song blended into another, and all I could think of was how soft her skin was, how soothing her breathing, and the hint of the malathaar flower that lingered in her hair. As we moved past the low platform that served as a stage for the band, the guitarist hissed at me.

“That guy who ran off was going to get Raebz, you’ll want to make your way out the back door.”

Felmia started to lift her head, and I guided us away again, daring to kiss her forehead to encourage her to stay just where she was. Instead she raised her head and looked me in the eyes. Before she could say anything, I leaned in to steal that kiss I’d been able to almost taste from the moment I first laid eyes on her.

“Get your hands– your lips off my woman.” His voice was a growl, and I started to draw back. He probably wouldn’t attack me while she was still so close, but I didn’t want to find out I’d misjudged and have her pay the price. She laid her hand on the back of my neck, drawing me back in for a moment more and nipping on my lower lip when she finally pulled away. I drew a breath, trying to clear my head.

“How many times do I have to tell you, I’m not yours, I just choose to share your company from time to time.” She turned to face him, but stayed close. As I moved to slide my hand off the small of her back and step away, she clasped my hand and pulled it further around her waist. So much for making sure she was out of the line of fire if his temper got the best of him.

“You live in the lap of luxury because of me, I have a say if you associate with galactic trash that rolls in stuck to the bottom of the transport.” He directed a look at me, his hand settling on the handle of a disruptor that was strapped to his thigh, but he made no move to draw it.

“You consider anyone who isn’t you, galactic trash.” She sneered at him and he drew the disruptor. Now, no matter how tightly she held my hand, no matter how drunk on her perfume I was, I couldn’t risk playing games anymore — I had no way to know how true his aim was, nor how willing he was to make her collateral damage for her defiance.

I closed the space between us in a flash, one hand catching his wrist and pointing the disruptor towards the ceiling. In a move I’d practiced over and over to ensure I got it right, I spun the ring on my thumb so that the hypo was facing inward and reached for his neck. A momentary bit of pressure against his skin—I had to trust it since I couldn’t hear it—and I moved on as if I’d missed some attack I’d intended to make. I dropped to the floor, sweeping my leg under his and he tumbled down. The disruptor went skittering across the floor, and I was off at a run for the door.

She called after me, and I glanced back long enough to see her foot on top of his disruptor, but his men all taking aim to fire after me. I shouldn’t have slowed down, but I turned back long enough to blow her a kiss, then took off running like my life depended on it.

Heard It Through The Grapevine

Rik Caine had finished his shift and was returning to his office to slump down on his couch, pull a short from the barrel and get through yet more paperwork. He wondered to himself why anyone would voluntarily become Chief of the Boat. As he sidled into the room like a dusty lawman entering a saloon he noticed that things had changed since he’d last been there. He raised a single brow with intrigue. The lights were on when previously they’d been out for the count. In the middle of the desk floated a hat. Not just any hat, a brown felted fedora with a little card tucked into the hat band. Hidden under the hat, and giving it the illusion of defying gravity, was a bottle of whiskey. Perhaps work was not finished after all and the couch and that short of hooch would have to wait a while longer.

Rik moved closer to the foreign items that had appeared in his office like ghosts in the night. Lifting the hat off the bottle to inspect it, he couldn’t help but notice the flowing lines of the glass bottle, its sturdy belly as solid as any foundation containing pure liquid gold. The neck was short and perfectly straight like a meerkat looking for danger. It was a thing of beauty. He studied the label momentarily; an unmistakeable TR on the neck band standing out like a beacon to welcome boats safely to shore. Instantly recognisable. A smile played across Rik’s lips like he’d won blackjack in a casino. Templeton Rye. The drink of the era he embodied. He reached his hand out to touch it; check it was really there and he wasn’t going to pull awake on his couch with the same disappointment and wishful hoping as a Joe pulling awake alone; the dame having disappeared into the night. He touched it and felt the cool glass; he wasn’t dreaming.

Smiling again he then turned his attention to the fedora that had been perched atop the bottle as he’d entered. It was a thing of beauty, soft to the touch and all kinds of class. He picked it up delicately; as if it were a newborn child. His heart beat a little harder as he turned it; admiring the craftsmanship and detailing from every angle. Setting it back down he pulled out the card and it all made a little more sense. Coral lips; stark contrast against the white card. Being fairly sure he didn’t have another admirer there was only one who would go to this much trouble; one who would pick up on the very meaning of him and enhance it. The redheaded dame called trouble who had had graced his door. Amelia; the dame that made him dizzy. He kissed the card and leaned back in his chair wondering what he had done so right. The thought cut off however when the doors slid open.

He didn’t even bother to hit the chime. The tall blond joe simply walked in like he owned the joint and settled himself in one of the chairs in front of the desk. Looking like he’d stepped off the high seas of the silver screen, his eyes and the glasses that hung off the bridge piercing hid in the shadows of the tricorner hat with a plume large enough to fan a princess and featuring a hand painted skeleton fish. He smoothed his damask vest with the jolly rogers, skeleton fish, and spaghetti and meatballs pattern woven in as he looked at the fedora, then to the gumshoe expectantly.

Rik looked the bo over with intrigue. It wasn’t often someone sidled into his office with the confidence of a fakealoo artist on the film-flam. He felt like the barkeep at some kind of drum watching his newest patron with suspicious interest. Rolling the fedora up his arm he let it rest on his head, tipped and covering his eyes slightly — if the two gents from out of time were going to dance; he at least wanted to look the part.

“Admiral Waterhouse sends his greetings.” A smirk painted the tall blond’s lips, and he tipped the hat upwards to bring his softly ridged forehead and his faint trill spots into the light.

“Admiral?” Rik repeated half questioning and half concerned all the while swallowing firmly. He knew Amelia’s father was an Admiral but, had she told him already? A thousand questions fired through his head like the pistons of a speeding train. “You must be Noah?” he asked after a moment. The spots, the ridges showing a family resemblance. He cast his mind back to his conversation with Lily; apparently this rogue was trouble with a capital T. Rik grinned as he tipped the brim of his fedora to the elaborately dressed Joe before him. “I’d offer a seat but… Well…” he quipped nodding to the already seated position of his guest. “Care to dip the bill?”

Noah’s eyes dropped and skimmed the lower edge of his lenses, then he snorted with amusement as he shook his head.

“Only if you have rum, and not that synthehol blasphemy,” he answered, letting silence answer the other queries. His eyes took a meander around the room, actively turning his head to do so.

Rik chuckled to himself imagining Amelia saying something identical to the same question. This Joe was interesting that’s for sure; the pirate garb, the goggles, the reaction that made no sense. Slowly he lifted his finger to his chin tapping it in concentration. Rik leaned back in his chair after a moment. “Sadly not; it’s the replicator or I crack open the rather special bottle of hooch your sister left in my joint,” he responded, assuming that he was the infamous Noah Waterhouse.

Noah’s attention turned to the bottle for a moment, before his eyes found the bottom of his glasses again. His gaze slowly drifted left towards the display case in the shelves. “Smith and Wesson .32 double action 4th model?” He said this hesitantly, slowly, and as if he was reading it, as he turned his attention back to Rik and pulled a flask from a pocket inside his vest.

“You come prepared with your own hooch I see,” Rik quipped, taking admiration at a man who could not only get away with wearing garb he’d expect to see in a swashbuckler movie; but carry a flask around too. Rik took out a tumbler from his drawer and twisted the lid off the bottle breaking the seal with a satisfying crack like knuckles at the start of two hoods squaring up for a fight. As he pulled the stopper out he could smell the deep, rich amber nectar within; inviting him in like a temptress siren beckoning sailors. He poured a measure, savouring each and every moment of the process and parking Noah’s comment about his gat for now. “What are we toasting to bo?” He asked after a short pause and stealing a first sip of the hooch that had appeared in his office just like the dame who had supplied it. It was smooth, with just the right amount of kick. Easy to go down and a classy tipple, much grander than that he had offered Amelia on their first encounter. He’d have to get her to try it. Have to repay her. Have to thank her. As his mind wandered slightly he was almost caught off guard by the reply.

“To the Flying Spaghetti Monster, for touching us and filling our lives with so many wonderful things,” Noah insisted as he lifted his flask upward before bringing it to his lips for a taste.

Rik inclined his head unsure by what Noah meant and raised his glass upwards as if making an offering to the sky. “So while we’re sat here chinning — maybe you can spin the yarn as to how you’ve come to know your gats — not many who’d recognise her,” he said nodding to the case on the shelf to his right.

“Let’s just say a red-headed wench is coaching me,” Noah answered, stealing another sip from his flask. His eyes dropped to the bottom edge of his lenses, and he nearly spit out his drink as a string of words in Klingon tumbled from his lips — what little the universal translator could pick out spoke of his mother and thanking pasta she was back at the shipyard.

Rik watched the man with interest, the way he was speaking and reacting to things it was almost as if he were a parody of spy talking too obviously to someone in his ear, but Rik couldn’t spot any clear signs of communication devices about the man dressed as a pirate sat before him. “Problem with the hooch?” he asked after a moment before quickly adding, “and that’s an interesting garb you’ve got on your back; there a story behind it?”

“No, no, the rum’s fine. Smooth as silk, made it myself. Wanna try?” Noah held the flask out in offering, and his eyes darted downwards again. “This is my Friday’s best. Dad wanted me to make a good impression, and he’s–” He paused. “He’ll probably regret asking it of me.” He grinned wide.

Nodding slightly, Rik took the offered flask, taking a quick swig of the liquid inside before handing it back in one move. It was as smooth as he said; like drinking silk and the subtle bitter notes of alcohol didn’t leave much of a burning in the back of his throat. “Some mighty fine hooch you’ve cooked up, quite a talent,” he complimented before returning to his own glass of Templeton Rye. Rik paused again watching the man talk, correcting himself. Something was amiss but he couldn’t quite place his finger on it. “A planned visit then?” Rik enquired, his whiskey-hazed gum-shoe mind racing like sprinters to the finish.

“Mum and Dad asked me to look in after Pond called Mum for advice on your treasure there,” Noah explained, nodding to the whiskey and the fedora.

“I notice you call her Pond,” Rik commented picking up on the nickname Noah used. “How’d she come by it?” he asked interested as to its meaning.

“Mum and Dad named her for a character from an old earth show, Doctor Who — Amy Pond,” Noah answered with a shrug. “When she was young, Dad would tell her, Come along, Pond since that was a thing the Doctor would say to Amy. It just kinda stuck.” Another sip from the flask, and he leaned forward, gesturing with it. “Dad in particular was curious about you after reading your service record. He does that sort of thing because they don’t like to let him actually repair things, y’see. Brass aren’t supposed to get dirty, right?” He laughed, looking to the fedora again. “It suits you. Pond’ll be pleased.”

Rik nodded. Amy, Amelia – made sense. He made a mental note to check out the show clearly so important to the dame he was dizzy for and her family, before the colour drained out of his face like paint being poured from a pot as Noah mentioned that his and Amelia’s parents were already familiar with him and his record. He couldn’t help but wonder what the Admiral would make of a roguish gum-shoe being sweet on his dame of a daughter as he back-pedalled the conversation. “He… Read my jacket?” Rik questioned, swallowing slightly.

“Of course he read your jacket,” Noah returned, a sly smile tugging at the corner of his lips instead of a trademark grin. “He trusts Pond can take care of herself, but she’s still his little girl. He takes an interest, y’see.” His eyes skimmed the bottom of his lenses again, and he snorted. “Though, it’s really Mum you should be worried about. Dad can meddle with your career, but Mum… well, she’s the one who taught Pond how to be the deadly creature she is.”

Rik swallowed uncomfortably again, he was behind the eight ball and shifted awkwardly in his seat. “From… what I could tell in that painting of yours… equally scary and damn impressive,” he said after a moment trying to get his thoughts out. “And your mother knows her 20’s Earth hooch, I’m impressed.” He paused again. “It’s a mighty fine hat too.” He took it off to admire it once more, before picking up the white lipstick-stained card from his desk and tucking it into the band. “From the sweetest and most beautiful dame I’ve had the pleasure to lay my peepers on,” he finished forgetting who he was talking to, momentarily lost in the thought of Amelia.

Noah chuckled, shaking his head slightly. “He really is dizzy for the dame,” he said, almost as if he was talking to someone.

Rik cocked his head sideways like a child listening outside a door they weren’t supposed to. Too many inconsistencies, private moments shared with no one visible in the room. Off the cuff comments not related to the narrative of their conversation. Like the cogs in a watch ticking away Rik’s investigatory mind kicked into gear. His brow lowered slightly in concentration as he tried to hear the muffled sound of an audio device. Nothing. He glanced over the pirate sat before him before landing on his face. Eyes up and down like a yo-yo in a school yard. Goggles. Like having a light switch pulled on Rik allowed a small smile to creep across his face as the puzzle finally fell into place. “I sure hope you can tell the folks that I’m no tomcat foolin’ around — I suspect they’re making their own minds up literally as we chin huh?” he said inclining his head and raising his glass by way of a greeting, in case that thing had a camera built in.

“I was wondering when you’d catch on,” Noah returned with a chuckle, his eyes dropping to the bottom of the lenses again. “Mum says thank you, she’s getting dinner at Valanna’s next time she and Dad are on Earth. Dad thought you’d take longer to catch on… but either your service record doesn’t give you enough credit, or he was giving me too much.”

Rik took a sip from his glass and set it back down on the desk. “What can I say; Starfleet jackets are often littered with nonsense and diatribe. Wanna test the mettle of a Joe? Watch him go to town on a hood and elbow him into the slammer after twelve hours solid in an interview room,” he commented, taking another swig of the smooth whiskey he had been so graciously provided. Rik knew of Valanna’s, but had never been himself. “I hear it’s good, happy to oblige,” he quipped raising his glass to the goggles again.

“Dad’s translated a few service records for me, he’s usually good at sorting out the reality behind the fleet bull,” Noah insisted with a shrug. “Though maybe it’s just parlor tricks because he knows the people in question.” His eyes dropped to the bottom of his lenses again, and he smirked. “Mum says that made Dad squirm. Do you suppose I was near to the mark?”

Rik chuckled. “Well I would imagine he’d need a special brand of universal translator for that one bo.” Letting the smile play over his lips a little longer he reached for the glass and took another sip of the liquid gold it held. Like a bee to pollen Rik was hooked on the hooch. “He should consider himself a lucky Joe — you could be stepping him into a dive in the Tenderloin for gagh so bad it’ll make ya heave a full sundown later. He’s got it lucky, classy joint is Valanna’s from what I hear.” He couldn’t help but let out a small chuckle as he shook his head slightly and took another swig, draining the glass of its contents. Here he was, sat with a pirate in front of him, having a third party conversation with the parents of the dame who’d driven him dizzy.

“Actually, they might go for it if it was somewhere like the Tenderloin, Mum just loves putting muggers in their place,” Noah returned with a chuckle. “And Dad likes watching her in action. Though if the gagh is shit, she wouldn’t want to go.”

Rik couldn’t help but let a laugh escape at that comment as he mulled over the unusual situation he was in. Meeting Amelia’s parents without even being able to see them. His inquisitive mind couldn’t help but wonder what they thought of the ol’ gum-shoe. “Well I can see where Amelia gets her fire,” he paused and smiled to himself. “If you do head out that way, Ask for Gra’ak; tell him Jim Gordon sends his regards and he may crack open the good hooch. As for the gagh, it’s as rough as sandpaper with the flavour of death itself. That dive is full of bindle stiffs, chippys and molls looking for an easy time, all of them there for underhanded business and to forget their woes rather than have a decent bite. Hell, its one raid away from being classed as a low down creep joint,” he concluded with a devilish grin, remembering his time undercover and spending a lot of time getting into just enough trouble to be convincing.

Noah laughed as his eyes were pulled to the bottom of his lenses again. “Mum wants to know what the name of this dive is? She’s curious what quality hooch name dropping will get her, and she’s so terribly bored since settling back in at Utopia.”

Rik couldn’t help but let another charming but devilish grin play across his lips. “It’s a little joint called the Grey Targ round the back of Ada Court, look for the grey door that has no place being there and knock four times. They keep themselves to themselves and … Maybe leave the uniform at home, Starfleet ain’t exactly a welcome sight,” he explained.

“Considering Mum takes any excuse to ditch her uniform, even if she’s on duty—especially if she can get away with it on duty—I don’t think that’ll be a problem.” Noah shook his head with an amused grin.

Rik chuckled and shook his head, understanding more about Amelia as the conversation went on. “Well fair play; if you need a change of pace and don’t mind roughing it where quality is concerned, head on down to that dive; you’ll get hooch by the barrel and some good music to boot from an impressive canary with a solid set of pipes,” he added.

He poured himself another measure of the Templeton Rye. “Sure I can’t tempt you with a short, bo?” Rik asked his pirate guest before pausing and adding, “and I forgot to mention when you sidled into the joint; you’re a talented artist”.

“She’s let you up for air long enough to notice the artwork, huh?” Noah asked with a smirk. “Have you seen the new painting in her office, or just the two in her quarters?” He considered the bottle of whiskey for a long moment. His sister had raided her personal stash to spoil this man who’d made such an impression on her, and this particular bottle had come to her by way of Uncle Spiegel — there was no doubt about the quality of it. “Okay, I’ll give it a try.”

Rik cocked his head and raised and lowered both eyebrows quickly, saying nothing. “Well I might-a missed that bat’leth hanging on the wall,” he admitted. “Only seen the ones in her joint, yet to visit her office,” he said, his mind wandering briefly before snapping back to the room and remembering who it was he was talking to. He cleared his throat. “Good call bo, it’s mighty fine,” he said pulling another tumbler from his desk drawer. He poured out a measure and slid the glass down the desk and accidentality clipped a PADD onto the floor by Noah’s chair. “Well that was supposed to be a whole lot more class than it was,” Rik said with a wince.

“You missed the bat’leth?” Noah shook his head slowly as he collected the PADD from the floor and the glass from the top of the desk. The PADD lit up, and his eyes dropped to it automatically — like most people who read regularly, words drew him like a moth to flame. “Batman, huh?”

“I missed the bat’leth,” Rik admitted. “I was… distracted,” Rik admitted, thankful Noah hadn’t called him on the less than impressive glass slide. “As for that…” He said nodding to the PADD before continuing. “I have an affinity with the character; cut from the same cloth I suppose. I guess in a way those stories saved me from becoming a snowbird and a low down hood.” He paused for a moment not sure how Amelia’s parents would take to that part of his life; or even how much of it they already knew. “You know of the Dark Knight?” he asked eventually breaking the silence.

“Snowb-” Noah started to repeat the word, a confused tilt to his head, as his eyes were drawn to the bottom of his lenses again. A simple ‘oh’ silently passed his lips, and he read for a second more. “Dad said to relay his condolences about your parents.” His eyes dropped to the PADD again. “A lot of my early drawing used Pond’s comics as reference. She’s got some Batman in there, though she favors the Turtles and Wonder Woman.”

Rik lowered his head slightly and took an intake of breath. He wasn’t used to people discussing his past; let alone offering sympathy. “Thank you,” he said, simply not knowing how else to respond. He let the silence linger a moment before continuing. “Wonder Woman is an interesting dame; the turtles I don’t recognise; Amelia chinned to me about the painting hanging in her joint; how I learned of them.” Rik admitted before pausing. “Say bo, you may be able to help; I’ve never been able to get the batsuit to update in that software the way I want it, a lot of the source material has been lost. Don’t suppose I could trouble ya for some artwork to plug into the program?” he asked, hopeful that Amelia’s brother could assist. “Only if it’s no trouble you understand, happy to pass along some latinum, or rum, for it,” he added.  

“Get me some reference, and it should be easy enough,” Noah returned with a small shrug. He eyed the contents of the glass in his hand, and drug it under his nose for a smell. It certainly wasn’t his rum, but it didn’t smell bad either. “If you don’t have it, I’ll just borrow some of Pond’s Batman comics. I’ll tell her you and I had been talking, chinning you call it? And I just need reference for a painting or something. As for paying me? Don’t even worry about it, I only ever do art for hire when I need something. Right now, I’ve got a working ship and I’m a welcomed guest on this boat. Hard to be in less need of money.”

Rik smiled. “You sir, are a gent,” he commented as he got up abruptly from the desk and almost bounded over to the shelving unit. Crouching down he slid open the door and rummaged through boxes muttering to himself. “In here somewhere… I know you are.” There was a momentary pause as, like a kid at Christmas, he exclaimed with excitement when he found what he was looking for. Standing up, he headed back to the desk, dropping the graphic novel on the table as he retook his seat. “Should be a starter — and you’re spot on; chinning is exactly what we’re doing bo. You’ll be fluent yet,” he added. “Could you… Add it into the program if you hand the access codes? My skill is lacking in that area”.

Noah watched with a smirk and a sip of the whiskey as Rik retrieved the treasured tome from its hiding place. He could see the overlap in personality with his sister, and could see him as a good match for her. Hopefully nothing insurmountable lurked with the skeletons in his closet. If the chatter that scrolled across the bottom of his lenses were any indication, he’d quite won parental approval too.

“I can make things look pretty, but if you want it to feel right, you might want to ask me Mum to install it. Though, there is where danger lurks, she’s a genuine lunatic,” Noah cautioned with another sip of the whiskey. Not bad, considering it’s not rum, he mused to himself.

Rik grinned as he picked up his own glass and took a sip the whiskey; it went down smooth without the usual burn that followed. It was as classy as the dame it came from. “A lunatic?” he asked after moment of pause with a single brow rising above his ice blues that were looking at Noah and the goggles which allowed his and Amelia’s folks to chin; or judge him. He hadn’t quite worked out how this was going — hard to read people when they weren’t physically present and what they said came second hand.

“Well I’m one for danger and I’m intrigued by what she could do to dial the program up; getting a little stale these days,” Rik admitted hoping it could be revived.

“Are you s–” Noah started to protest, even as his eyes skimmed the bottom of his lenses. A snort escaped along with a small head shake. “Well, no time for second thoughts now, she’s accepted… insists even. I’ll put together the look of it, send the results along with your program and access codes, and she’ll send back your torture. Does Pond know about the program yet?”

Rik finished the contents of his tumbler with one swift action and set the glass down before producing another PADD from the inside left drawer of his desk. “Excellent news!” he exclaimed sliding it over to Noah. “Here’s the PADD with all the program details and access codes; apologies in advance for the poor coding. You can double-blink or whatever fancy thing them goggles do to transfer data,” he said with a grin and a glint in his eye. Rik paused and shook his head slowly. “Ain’t got around to telling the dame that I dress up as a bat and go fighting hoods in Gotham,” he admitted as he poured himself another measure.

Noah glanced at the PADD as he set his drink on the desk, but didn’t pick it up. His fingers fell to his leather wrist band, and a couple of flicks brought up a holographic one handed keyboard. His fingers danced, and the PADD turned on. Data scrolled across the PADD’s screen and Noah hardly paid it any mind.

Rik watched with interest as the wrist band kicked into life and the data flew across the screen of the PADD that remained untouched on the desk. “Engineering voodoo,” he commented, not to anyone in particular as he watched; impressed with the pirate’s toy.

A corner of Noah’s lip curled up in amusement at the gum-shoe’s remark; it was a phrase his mother slung happily at his father, as well as two uncles — one blood, the other not. He reached out to tap the PADD, shutting it off.

“She’ll probably want to play with your program. I think the Batman comics she had were the ones with the female Robin? What was her name?”

“Stephanie Brown,” Rik said without much hesitation. “She made a damn good Robin — shame what they did to her,” he added after a moments thought. “And I’ll have to invite Amelia to Gotham,” he concluded with a smile to himself.

“She’ll like that.” Noah collected his drink from the desk and took another sip.

Rik let a warm smile play across his face as the thought of him being able to share Gotham with Amelia played on his mind. From the sound of it; she’d enjoy what the game had to offer as much as he did which only served to widen his charming grin. As his mind wandered to the redheaded dame he eventually snapped himself back to the room and cleared his throat. “So what will be done?” he asked with excited intrigue.

“I’m going to make your batsuit look good. What Mum decides to do once she gets the physics right on the cape and such, well, only the Flying Spaghetti Monster knows… she certainly isn’t the sort to give warning.” He slowly shook his head again; his sister’s toy really had no idea what he was in for. “Mum’s responsible for many insane holodeck programs. Pond should have a copy of the family holoprogram collection here, and it’ll be available for anyone to use. If you want an idea of how masochistic you are, look through the collection. Tennis should give you an idea of her warped sense of amusement, particularly with the realism dialed up to eleven.”

Rik’s eyes sparkled with excitement at the prospect of a better Gotham playground — and that he would be able to share this with Amelia. “Insane holodeck programs huh? Sounds sure swell to me,” he quipped as he listened with interest to the collection. “I’ll have to ask… and… Tennis?” he queried, not really sure if this was some unusual version of the sport that had been cooked up. Amelia certainly hadn’t mentioned an interest in tennis.

“Long ago, before Pond or me, Mum was on a special assignment that involved high risk of encountering the Borg. You may or may not know of them, but last I heard they weren’t a risk anymore,” Noah explained, twirling the whiskey in his glass. “She made a training program on how to handle an encounter with them, and during the first years after the threat was eliminated, she still wanted Pond and me to prepare, just in case their elimination hadn’t been effective. That’s the Tennis program. As she relaxed the longer it’d been, she added more cartoonish game play and such, still with useful and truthful undercurrents to the play to teach all the right survival skills just in case.”

Rik nodded with interest. “Sounds like fun; I’ll have to ask Amelia for a game of Tennis,” he said with a grin before pausing and letting his mind replay over the commentary from before. “Oh… and, flying… what now?” he asked after a moment realising the term had cropped up before and he was still none the wiser as to who or what a Spaghetti Monster was, why it could fly and how that linked to the man before him being dressed as a pirate.

“Flying Spaghetti Monster,” Noah repeated; quiet, firmly, carefully. “The deity of the Pastafarian faith, of which I’m an ordained minister.”

Pausing Rik opened his mouth to speak but couldn’t find the words. He looked at the man slightly puzzled and reached for his glass and drained the contents. “The Flying Spaghetti Monster… Pastafarian?” he asked before adding “I’m sorry bo, can’t say I’m familiar”.

“It’s okay, I’m used to people not getting it,” Noah insisted as he snorted softly, and shook his head with a bemused smirk. “The important thing is that we love everyone as the Flying Spaghetti Monster does, and we learn and explore to experience all that he’s seen fit to touch.”

Rik nodded. “Well I don’t fully understand what a Spaghetti Monster that flies is, but sounds like a solid philosophy to me,” he said still not sure he understood but made a mental note to read up on it and ask Amelia any questions about her brother’s views he may have.

“Here,” Noah said, reaching into a pocket inside his vest. He pulled out a small book with a soft red leatherette cover with a gold foil picture of a wad of spaghetti and meatballs, and gold leaf on the edges of the page. It had certainly seen better days. “I’m due to recycle that one soon and replicate a new one, so just see that it gets back into the replicator when you’re done with it.” He stood up and held the small book out to the gum-shoe.

Leaning forwards Rik outstretched his arm and took the book with a small nod of his head sealing the action. As he leaned back in his seat he took a long look at the worn book, finding the image of pasta and meatballs fascinating. He flicked through the pages briefly before setting it down on the desk next to the Fedora and bottle. “Will do and that’s mighty swell of you bo; I’ll give it a read — still think my hat is better though,” he said with a wink and a devilish grin letting his hand rest on the Fedora and running his hand over the ribbon band lightly.

“You would think that, what with fancying my sister and her giving it to you,” Noah observed with a tip of his hat. “But I made mine.” With that, he turned and headed out the door.

Rik couldn’t help but chuckle as the pirate turned to leave. “True enough bo, true enough,” he said. He rolled the fedora up his arm and rested it over his eyes as he brought his legs up onto the desk and crossed them leaning back slightly in the chair. “See ya around!” he called out as the door shut behind Noah. 

Sittin’ Here and Wonderin’ What It’s All About

“What’s a Dick like you, doing on a ship like this?” Amelia couldn’t stop the words from tumbling from her lips as she darkened the door of his office. The Jazz that had spilled out when the doors opened had been on par with the holo-recording her brother had found and she’d just spent the last two hours in the holodeck enjoying. Having already pushed her chips forward without even knowing the odds, she figured she might as well go all in. She draped herself against the frame of the door with a smirk, one gloved hand on her hip, and one coral pump clad foot tucked behind her other ankle. Her dress matched the color of her pumps perfectly, the back seams of her Cuban heeled nylons were straight, and her pearls draped around her neck at just the right length above the sweetheart neckline of her dress.

There were a stack of PADDs so high it was reaching for the stars and from the half-empty bottle of whiskey on the disorganised desk, it had clearly been a long, slow night. Neither a hinky crewman nor clip joint to investigate. Yes. A slow night with jazz, paperwork and hooch. Hardly glamorous, but then Rik Caine wasn’t much into glamour unless it was from a dame on his arm.

Her voice trailed through the air almost blending with the smooth melody of the saxophone playing from computer terminal on the desk. From a few feet away she looked like a whole lot of class, but then, class didn’t often find its way to a security office so late at night. He grinned to himself and knew she was going to be trouble the moment she walked in the office.

“Rumour was you were in need of a half-way decent gum-shoe so they shipped me out.” He leaned back in his chair. “But that’s my excuse, what’s a dame like you doing in a dive like this? You found yourself in some kind of dutch?” he quipped playing along and looking around the dimly lit office, styled as far from standard Starfleet as he could manage. 

She snorted in amusement as she crossed the space between them, the doors sliding shut behind her with a soft whoosh as she perched herself on the edge of his desk. Her hand fell on the neck of the whiskey bottle, and she spun it to inspect the label as she pondered just what to say. The fact of the matter was, he’d shown up and settled in without so much as a nod to either herself or the Captain. It raised two finely shaped fiery eyebrows, and Amelia had volunteered to look into it.

“Trouble’s my middle name, but usually because I’m the one spreading it, not the one stuck in it,” she finally purred as she released her grasp on the bottle — it wasn’t swill, but it wasn’t anything to write home about either. “You’ve drawn a little notice from the bridge, so we thought we’d extend a proper welcome.”

For a moment Rik was clammed. He knew he should have looked away seconds before he actually did, but the redhead had fire and was certainly easy on the eye. Truth being told, he’d always been a fan of trouble and so grinned at her comment. Probably why he ended up as an investigator; probably why he was so good at it. He needed another drink, a new hobby and an easy life but what he had was a keen eye, a phaser and a stubborn demand for truth and justice like a starved dog who just found the last meat-covered bone in town.

“Not one for making a scene, prefer to slip in quiet and do my job. I’m touched upstairs noticed, but I made sure the transfer papers found their way to the right high pillow — I’m guessing you got ’em just fine or you wouldn’t be here.” He couldn’t help but notice she had gams light-years long as she perched on his desk.

He waited for her to finish eyeballing the bottle before taking another tumbler from the desk drawer. “Seeing as you found yourself here, and there ain’t nothing I can help you with work wise it seems, and what with you coming all this way just to say hello, how about a smell from the barrel to make the trip worth your while? It’s not the best, but sure beats synthehol to warm you on a cold tub in space. So, how ’bout it, tempt you with a short? Doesn’t look like you’re on duty unless there’s a new uniform code I don’t know about,” he asked, nodding to the dress.

“Well, I haven’t been caught out of uniform when I should be in it.” She winked as she grinned wide. “You have to assure me you’re not on duty either, if we’re going to share a drink,” she insisted as her eyes moved to his, after a quick detour past the fresh tumbler. She half expected them to be shaded by a fedora, but alas. She couldn’t help a small pout at the missed visual.

His eyes were a pale blue, like sunlight bouncing off a glacier. A little heart but a lot of sorrow. The heavy five o’clock shadow that covered his slightly squared jaw was neat enough to look purposeful, but rough enough to cast some doubt. That was the line that Rik Caine walked, able to blend in on both sides of the law. For him, that was where he needed to be. To the untrained eye he guessed he looked like a common hood, but opinion wasn’t something that bothered him. He ran a hand through his carelessly tussled dark hair and grinned at her comment, raising one eyebrow slightly with intrigue.

“Well officially I don’t start until the morning, but something told me to settle in early… never know what kind of–” he paused “–trouble is gunna turn up when you’re staring down the last half-a bottle without another soul about.” He poured her a large measure, then topped up his own glass and took a swig.

“An old Earth writer once said there is no bad whiskey. There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others. Well, I don’t know what kind of crazy he was… but this is a bad whiskey.” He coughed and shook his head slightly, half-laughing as the harsh liquor hit the back of his throat. “Sadly it was all I could rustle up on the trade freighter en-route. Met a nice blonde, pirate’s moll, helped her out a little and this was the reward… not sure what that says about my work, but I suppose you’ll be the judge of that. So… what do I call you red?”

“Well, if you’re smart, you won’t make the mistake of calling me Red again,” she quipped with a laugh, and took a sip of the whiskey despite the testament as to its quality. It went down about as smooth as sandpaper, and to her credit, she managed to not cough though there was no hiding the effort made to do so. “If I decide I like you enough, you can call me Amelia, otherwise it’s Commander Waterhouse.” It was practically a challenge, waiting to see if he was as daring as his looks hinted — would he take the invitation or just fall back on the safety of protocol? She set the tumbler down on his desk, resting her hand on top of it. She hadn’t yet decided if she was going to finish the contents, but if she wanted to offer better, it would involve retreating to her quarters.

“I’m going to hope that it says more about the blond, and her failure to show proper gratitude, than it does about your skill,” she added, her fingers tapping at the glass in time with the music, her gloves softening it enough to make it nearly silently.

Rik couldn’t help but chuckle. “No offence meant, just didn’t know what to call you and red seemed fitting — but Amelia, well that’s a very beautiful name.” He paused as he took another swig of whiskey, grimacing slightly as the burning amber nectar slid down his throat like hot magma on rocks. “We can sure hope so, but I’m sure you’ve read my jacket and wouldn’t have let me aboard if you weren’t confident I could deliver.”

He looked at the woman perched on his desk once again, he wasn’t getting dizzy for this dame but she was a beauty — even if she was technically the boss. “Well, you got dressed up and came seeking a drinking buddy late at night… I won’t lie; I know you’re taken with my charm.” He laughed, part self-assured but mostly with ironic jest. “Still, a dame such as you doesn’t strike me as one that hangs around a dive with a gum-shoe unless you’re partway sure you like him enough, or perhaps intrigued enough, to forget protocols. So…” He leaned in close and met his eyes with hers looking around like a canary about to sing. “Amelia–” he leaned back once more and let the use of her name sink in– “you’re a fan of old Earth jazz?” He looked to her rhythmically tapping digits. He wondered if maybe he’d crossed a line with a command staff member that didn’t know him, his style, and contemplated if this would be a short assignment. Still, it was worth the risk.

The first time her name drifted from his lips, she grinned, though she could feel a slight blush rise at his complement to her name. She trusted her make up to hide the tell tale flush, she wasn’t ready to concede that ground to him. Everything that came between it, and the next time ‘Amelia’ danced from his lips, was a testament to how his ego stretched to the stars like gravity couldn’t hold it back. The urge to pluck the single support beam that would send it tumbling to Earth sang to her like a canary in a cage. But she liked the way his voice caressed the curve of her name.

“I was dressed for the holodeck, don’t flatter yourself, Rik,” she chastised him though she smiled, lifting her hand from the tumbler to wave a finger at him. “It just so happens, the program I spent the last two hours in was a live recording of a little Jazz band my brother ferreted up on Earth while Vindicator was in at Utopia Planitia for refit. Lady luck must like you to set me in the right mood before sending me your way. Though, if she loved you, she would have put the idea in my head to raid my booze collection first. I have much finer than this back in my quarters.” And yet, she collected the tumbler and brought it to her lips again.

The idea of inviting him back to her quarters rapped at her consciousness not unlike the two am call of a nightstick on the front door. She knew it was a bad idea, but she couldn’t shake it as her eyes found his again. Disengage while you still have the upper hand, she thought to herself; yet there she stayed perched on his desk, foot bouncing in time to the music.

Rik gave her a wicked grin that played across his face as if a line was being traced in the sand. “Well I s’pose I can believe that; although Lady Luck must love me just a little if she sent trouble wrapped in a dress that fine to chin with a Joe like me.” He paused for a moment and took a final swig of the rough whiskey, before emptying the last few precious drops from the bottle into his tumbler. “Impressed you like the old classics though, not too many in this day and age that have even heard of it, let alone appreciate it long enough to spend two hours in a holosuite and come seeking more.”

He paused again before looking to the empty bottle, to her and then back at his own sorrowful excuse of a full glass. “Looks like we’re all out,” he mused, letting the moment drag out a little as the song changed to a slower tempo number with a soulful canary breezing out some lyrics like a leaf on the wind. Whatever her story had been when that had been recorded, that doll had had a fine set of lungs on her. “Unless of course you’re planning to confirm my belief in the good lady and invite me back for something smoother… Would be a shame if you made tracks when dressed to the bricks like that after all. I’m only thinking of you, you understand,” he said with a small wink showing his hand and going all in.

“My, is that tongue of yours shining like silver right now,” Amelia mused, spinning the tumbler in her grasp on the desk top. Staring into those icy baby blues of his, Amelia felt like she stood on the event horizon — one misstep and she’d go tumbling in, head over heels. In the back of her head a small voice reminded her how absolutely scandalous this was, the XO flirting with an enlisted man, but like the gin in a speakeasy, that made it all the sweeter. What would Rochelle think if Amelia took the next step and invited him back to her quarters? Even if it was just a drink, the gossip vine was hot on this ship, and such a dalliance would sizzle across it like a drop of water on a griddle.

“Doll I’ve been shaking the few dimes I have left since you stepped on in — you sure know how to light up a doorway and a room, and I’d be a liar if I said anything different. You should know I’m not in the habit of lying or going on the flimflam to get what I want, so my words are all I got. And ya know, you’re not exactly spinning less than silver yaself,” he said with a smile, watching her with interest.

She brought her drink to her lips again, to hide behind it as she considered. The firecracker rolled across her tongue and down her throat, and she couldn’t help but long for something better to chase it away. She needed more time to think, and he’d provided her another topic to grasp like a mobster would an alibi — the music.

“I was lucky enough to have a mother who minored in 20th century Earth history during her time at the Academy, and both my parents love music. Couldn’t help but rub off, and I like a little bit of everything,” she confessed, and took another sip. The more that passed her lips, the easier it flowed, and his boldness left her feeling obligated to finish what he’d shared with her unless she was going to retreat without him. In that case, the least a lady could do would be to leave the rest of the drink as a consolation prize? She felt like she was on the fast track to an empty glass though.

Rik paused again letting the music fill the silence and the song do all the talking. The sultry tones of the artist started singing about a girl meeting a boy and he let it linger before he spoke again. “Well it’s good to know I won’t be alone on this tub with my fondness for old music. You must approve of my office design,” he added, looking around the room at something almost reminiscent of a PI’s office from 1920’s America. “See that gat behind the glass? Hundred per-cent bone-fide original,” he said somewhat proudly of the antique six-shooter. “Belonged to a PI from Chicago who was shot by the mob in 1923. She’s a real beauty.” He looked back at the woman that he was sure could change the rise and fall of the sun with a single smile. “Different kind of beauty to a redheaded trouble-maker,” he crooned.

“You know, an old book I love has a quote that goes ‘the French have a phrase for it. The bastards have a phrase for everything and they are always right. To say goodbye is to die a little'” he mused, out loud, enjoying the company of this siren that had caught his undivided attention. He was sure it was a rouse, a trap laid out before him in the night like a sneak getting ready to climb through an open window to clean a joint out. Yet, at the same time he couldn’t help but enjoy the thrill, the chance of a game well worth winning.

The words flattery will get you everywhere had been about to escape Amelia’s lips when Rik drew her attention to the deadly beauty behind glass, and there was no two ways about it, he’d just earned himself a ticket to her quarters. How she hadn’t noticed the piece before this was a testament to how distracting he was.

“Does she work?” The important question, as the only other one left to answer she could not ask him. What bottle would she present when they reached the executive officer’s suite? She didn’t know him well enough to pull out the blue stuff, but she had some wonderful moonshine and some top shelf whiskey she could offer.

Rik pondered for a moment, the idea of testing the piece filling him with a sense of giddy excitement like a kid who had wandered into a candy store when his momma wasn’t looking. “Good question… want to get it out and give it a test?” he asked with a mischievous twinkle in his ice blues like starlight bouncing off a tropical ocean.

“I’m sure no one will hear and drop the dime on us… it’s late as well. We’re all… alone, together,” he emphasised. “It won’t trigger any alarm either. It’s too old fashioned to be picked up by the sensors,” he added, almost daring her.

“You sure know just the thing to say to a girl to make her weak in the knees,” she purred, then knocked back the remainder of her drink. “However.” She leaned across the desk, looking straight into those icy windows of his. “If we take her to the holodeck, I’ve got a subroutine that’ll let us play without having to waste any of those hard to replace hunks of lead.”

“A dame who appreciates the value of an antique. My, my ain’t you something,” Rik quipped. “Well, we’re clean outta hooch so moving on seems like a sound idea and you’ve got me intrigued with your…” he paused and pursed his lips for a moment, picking the perfect word before letting the corner of his mouth turn up as slow as a taxi pulling up outside a gin mill. “Subroutines,” he concluded, allowing any indication of a double-entendre to be hers to imagine. “Lead on Miss Ameila Waterhouse — me and my gat are all yours tonight,” he concluded, getting up slowly for the first time since she entered.

His physique was slender, but defined. His clothes, dark trousers and a blue shirt rolled up at the sleeves and unbuttoned at the collar, were stylishly untidy. Simple, understated. Walking with purpose to the cabinet, he tapped on the release controls as if he were a pianist rolling out a tune on the ivories and the glass promptly slid open. Rik wasn’t sure if it was the revolver or her, but his heart was drumming a beat something fierce in his chest trying its hardest to escape.

Taking it out slowly Rik pushed down on the latch releasing the top-break and checked the cylinder before snapping it back with a swift wrist action. He aimed it briefly before spinning it on his finger and offering the weapon, handle first, to the vixen on his desk. “Here’s where I pray I haven’t troubled you enough that you jam the roscoe in my button,” he said with a wink.

“I’m not one to waste my time in the company of people who don’t at least amuse me,” she insisted, sliding off the desk. In her heels she had a few inches on him, but she suspected they’d be nearly eye to eye if she slipped out of them, though she’d probably still have the advantage. As she closed the space between them, her fingers wrapped around the offered handle, and a chill ran up her spine. There she paused a long moment.

“Do you know your way around the ship yet?” she finally asked, taking a step backwards towards the door of the office. “Or do I need to go slow so you can keep up?” She smirked as her eyes darted between him and the pretty piece in her hand. She couldn’t decide which excited her more at this point, but she kept falling into the depths of his eyes, cold as the ocean and easily just as dangerous. “I have a riddle for you, smart guy. How do you know you’ve satisfied a redhead?”

Rik mused for a moment exaggerating his thought process. “Do you offer bad hooch and a gun and see if she bumps ya off? Or maybe you get closer like pulling up the collar of a winter coat and see what move she makes next,” he said lowering his tone and taking a step closer to the dame in front of him.

He kept his gaze on hers — locked together like the strongest safe in town. “As for knowing my way round this ol’ tub, ‘fraid I don’t so I’ll be following you blindly wherever ya lead me doll — you strike me as the type that’d enjoy that type of power though”. 

“That,” Amelia said, finding herself stepping closer to him instead of backing towards the door as she had before, “is perhaps the treasure map to follow on how to satisfy a redhead, but it’s not the big red X that tells you you’ve found the spot.” Her heart climbed into her throat, and the sound of it in her ears was like a tommy gun on full auto. She was certain he could hear it, he had to be able to. She swallowed, and leaned just that much closer. “No, that big red X is when I unlock the handcuffs and let you go.”

And with that, she stepped back from him, spun around, and was out the door. “Do keep up, I wouldn’t want you to get lost. I’m having such fun,” she called over her shoulder.

“You’re a firecracker ain’t ya doll?” he commented, his own heart beating a faster drumbeat. “Guess I’ll have to go hunting for that elusive cross”.

Rik watched her turn and leave, those long gams taking elegant strides like she’d learned how to float instead of walk. “Me too doll, me too,” he called after her as he followed like a puppy being called for dinner, and only just managed to lock the office door as he did so.

The corridors were empty, made sense for this late hour; or was it early now? He couldn’t tell. Left turn. He followed a few paces behind, partly because he didn’t know the way and mostly because he was enjoying the view. Right turn. Lost as if he’d wandered into a maze, there was no return now. He was truly at her mercy. He enjoyed the back and forth power exchange of their late night encounter, kept the evening full of spice.

Another turn, left again, and there was the turbolift. As Amelia spied it, and waited for Rik to turn the corner behind her, a verse of song sprung fully formed into her head. Normally when something is fully formed in the head, it bursts from the forehead, but this danced from her lips as he rounded the corner and she turned to face him. It wasn’t the first verse, but it certainly felt right.

“I fell for your jivin’ and I took you in,” she sang, realizing she hadn’t actually summoned the turbolift yet. She half turned to press the button. “Now all you got to offer me’s a drink of gin. Why don’t you do right, like some other men do?” The doors opened behind her, and with only a fleeting backwards glance first, she stepped back into the turbolift. “Get out of here and get me some money too. Why don’t you do right, like some other men do?” Amelia crooked her finger and beckoned him to join her in the lift. “Like some other men do.”

He slowed his walking as her sultry tones hit him square in the ears. If it had been a punch in the ring, it would have been the knockout blow. He smiled, locking his eyes on hers enjoying the irony of the song she had picked. Not to be beat he took a deep breath. He wasn’t much for singing; his voice, while capable of holding a tune, had a rough but pleasing growl undercutting each note. “Face of a betting women, she bets on every hand, she’s a tricking modafunkyou everywhere she lands,” he responded taking the original lyrics of the song she had just sung at him. It fitted as well as a glove and by the time he had hit the last beat he was standing close just inside the turbolift door. Close enough to feel her breath, close enough for the spark to be charged.

The doors slid shut as the moment lingered, no instruction to the computer being given.

“I used to have plenty of money, the finest clothes in town, but bad luck and trouble overtaken me, bound to get me down. Please have mercy, Lord have mercy on me. Well if I’ve done somebody wrong, Lord, have mercy if you please… Well if I’ve been a bad boy, baby, I declare I’ll change my ways,” Rik crooned, his voice just above a whisper, continuing their musical interlude.

The computer chirped. “That deck is not recognised. Please state your destination.” Rik could have cursed like a sailor at that moment but instead rolled his eyes as he caught the fiery dame’s gaze once again, taking yet another step closer.

For all the teasing she had received over the years, twisting her nickname or her family name into any number of water based pun, never once had the liquid comparison ever felt so apt — the only way she could possibly have felt like more of a puddle was if she’d been a changeling. She had told herself that she was going to make him make first contact, that she wouldn’t touch him until he touched her first, but he easily gave as good as he got and Amelia was not used to being anything but in charge.

She had found herself leaning in, ready to just kiss him, when the turbolift had so rudely stepped in nearly spoiling the moment. She couldn’t help a small little laugh, her eyes dropping for a moment, only to find his as soon as she looked up again. Her breath caught in her throat as he took that one more step so that the only thing that kept them from touching was effort.

“I, uh–” she started, and swallowed. “How about a rain check on playing with the gat, and we go back to my quarters for a nightcap?” The words just tumbled out, tripping over themselves like a thug caught in the act, and she was sure that she was nearly the color of her dress and no amount of makeup could hide it at this point.

Rik reached his hand out slowly, lightly tracing down the elegant frame of her lower arm to the hand holding the six-shooter, his fingers grazing hers with complete intention but the possibility of accident. He lightly pried the gun away and tucked it into the back of his belt, like a cop in an old TV movie who had just taken a firearm away from a no-good hood. This moment, however, lacked the forceful arrest that followed but instead was filled with was enough sparks to light up the fourth of July.

“We’re hitting on all eight doll, a nightcap at your joint sounds like a fine plan to me,” he said not needing to raise his voice much in the small cylinder that was the turbolift. “Would be a fine shame if you lammed off when we’re getting on so well… or at least, I’m amusing you enough to get another drink,” he added, reiterating her words from earlier like playing back a favourite song on an old record player.

“Deck eight,” Amelia directed the turbolift, her eyes darting upwards — a habit picked up as a child growing up on starships, but one she couldn’t manage to break, no matter how juvenile she felt it made her look. “Right, another drink,” she murmured as the turbolift hummed to life. “Did you want to stick to whiskey?” It was a stupid question, but it was all she could spit out. Her head still swum from the fleeting skin contact as he took the gun back, and she was mentally cursing her choice to wear the gloves with the outfit. Her eyes closed.

Rik smiled to himself as she instructed the turbolift with a flick of her eyes like she’d cast some kind of spell willing the contraption to move. Cute, he couldn’t help but think as the lift steadily climbed. “I’ll take whatever you think I’m worth — as long as it goes down easy and beats the poor excuse I had to offer,” he said with another of those half smiles.

“You know doll, now I see ya up close and personal and in all this light; you’re really quite the dish,” he said, lightly tracing her hairline and faint Trill spots with a caress of his hand. Her skin was softer than the richest of silks, and he had to admit the touch made his heart beat loudly into his eardrums. He wondered how she would react, but he’d jumped in headfirst, without checking to see if there were rocks, and there was no backing out now. Day one onboard and he was already starting to feel dizzy for this dame, and not just any dame, but a forbidden redheaded vixen that had graced his doorway holding that invisible sign saying trouble in nine different languages. But those gams, those sun-blushed red lips like vine tomatoes fresh for plucking, and the fire in her eyes matching the flame red of her hair. From the first words she’d let drift through his office. Sure she may be trouble, this may all end up similar to taking a smoke in a firework factory but boy, was it worth every stolen second of forbidden time.

Amelia’s eyes fluttered open again as his hand brushed her face, and she visually traced the shape of his in return as she leaned into his caress. She felt like she could crawl out of her skin waiting for the turbolift to reach her deck. At any point those doors would open, and anyone could be standing on the other side…. Anyone such as Rochelle. She wasn’t sure what Rochelle would think, but Amelia was almost certain her friend—her commanding officer—wouldn’t approve. Part of her didn’t want to disappoint, didn’t want to get caught in such a scandalous position, but this just felt right. The chemistry was palpable like a looming summer rain, and all she could think about was that first raindrop that indicated the oncoming deluge.

Her hands settled on his shoulders, and she leaned in, removing the remaining bit of space between them as her lips found his. This long anticipated connection sent a jolt from head to toe as the turbolift doors slid open behind him. Amelia was beyond caring if anyone saw or not, all she wanted was to be inside her quarters where there was no one to watch her unless she invited them in.

Mirroring her every move, but looking nowhere near as good as an honest reflection, he felt her lips connect with his. The culmination of their game — the big reveal. Turned out they both had the winning hand that night. It was soft, tender, sweet. Electric enough to power the whole ship. His hands instinctively wrapped around her, pulling her in closer and resting on the small of her back. The moment, like a scene out a movie, played out without interruption as he continued to embrace the red headed dame who making him dizzy.

He pulled away slightly at a time that felt natural to do so and rested his forehead on hers, their noses lightly grazing. His breathing was more rapid, his baby blues firmly locked on hers. If a picture could paint a thousand words than that moment was an entire library. “You’re full of surprises Amelia,” he managed to whisper through baited breath. Before she could return a comment he had embraced her once again. Rik hadn’t even noticed the doors opening behind him, exposing their forbidden moment to anyone around. He didn’t think he cared if anyone was to see—there are some things in life worth loosing everything for—he figured this was one of them. Figured, no. He was damn certain this was one of them.

Merry Happy

After Commander Ivanova left, I tried to hold onto the momentum of the tea and conversation shared, attempting to focus on going to the holodeck to shed my frustration with some good old fashioned ass kicking. As I changed clothes, putting on a tank top, comfortable pants, and my converse, my thoughts couldn’t help falling back on the conversation with Terry before he’d left my quarters.

We’d been sitting on the couch, he’d been quiet, but he often had been lately. I hadn’t thought much of it, some people just fall into a comfortable silence and I’d assumed that’s what it was. I’d asked for his thoughts on lunch as I was skimming reports, so I could decide what to tackle first when I went on duty later this evening.

Then I’d found the change of security clearance notification with his name and his resignation attached. He hadn’t answered my question about lunch yet, so I took the chance to change the topic. I asked if there was anything he needed to talk to me about. He met my gaze, something I realized then that he hadn’t been doing much lately, then even though I could see in his eyes that he knew what I was asking about, he gave me a simple nope.

As I reached the holodeck, I was able to draw myself out of my reflection long enough to pull up my program. Don’t Forget the Anchovies was what Mama had named the program all those years ago when she’d first given it to me. It’d grown and morphed to match my skills as they developed, Mama carefully working to keep the curve ahead of me to challenge me to move forward. I hadn’t actually opened it since before I’d gone under cover in the mines. While there, I’d had to develop a way to practice without the holodeck’s help, to keep my skills sharp, and when I’d gotten to the Griffin, the momentum of the solo practice had kept up… especially when Terry had taken to sparring with me and watching my work outs with the nunchuks with a bit of a fascination.

Thinking of Terry again, I sighed as I stepped into the holodeck, looking around at the comic book style rendition of a 20th century New York street. Like an old friend, I realized how much I’d missed the program in the time I’d been without it. The arch faded into the alleyway it was placed at the end of, and I pulled my nunchuks out of the waistband at the small of my back.

“Shuffle all,” I ordered, looking up at the sky. I knew, always have, that I didn’t need to look up to give the computer directions… but it was an odd habit that I still don’t know where I picked it up. Mama never did it, Daddy neither. I didn’t have time to muse on this, as the music started to play and the random goons, holographic meatbags that exist for no reason other than giving me something to abuse with my nunchuks, started to spill into the street from the buildings, the alleyways and around the corners. Only a half a dozen to start… it was like the program had forgotten me; I smirked as I started my green transparent aluminum beauties spinning around me. Then I recognized the song that had been randomly selected from my music library to play.

Watching me like you never watch no one
Don’t tell me that you didn’t try and check out my bum
Cause I know that you did
Cause your friend told me that you liked it

I knew the song well, Kate Nash’s Merry Happy, liked its catchy tune… but today the lyrics finally resonated. They never had before, even though I’d sung along dozens of times. My pausing from this realization left me with my guard down, and one of the holographic meatbags landed a blow, sending me down on my knees. Instinctively, I lashed out and heard the satisfying crack of breaking bone even as I willed myself to ignore the protests from my knees hitting the pavement.

Gave me those pearls and I thought they were ugly
Though you try to tell me that you never loved me
I know that you did
‘Cause you said it and you wrote it down

I started to sing along as I let myself fall into the flow of combat. The more I focused on the nunchuks, the less I usually thought… but my thoughts drifted to Terry again. I growled and cursed as my mind raced. I hadn’t even bloody well seen it coming, I had thought things were going well. I had even been trying to decide how to suggest we move in together. For some reason, he felt he had to retire, and that it required him leaving the ship, somehow also meaning he couldn’t talk to me about it.

Dancing at discos
Eating cheese on toast
Yeah you make me merry make me very very happy
But you obviously, you didn’t want to stick around

After a long moment, I realized I was standing there, unconscious thugs strewn across the street and sidewalks, and the next wave hadn’t arrived yet. Tears were sliding down my face as I stood waiting, and I stopped singing. I rubbed my upper arm where it felt like I was going to have a bruise in a little bit. It was far from the only spot on my body that felt that way. Mama may have been obligated to leave the safeties enabled on the program, or face charges of child abuse, but it sure did smart when you let the goons land a blow. I haven’t noticed I had, but clearly I was distracted by this turn of events with Terry.

Was it my fault? Had I pushed things too hard? I mean, sure, I thought I’d been coy at first, waiting to see what he did, waiting for him to express some sort of interest, but I certainly flirted until he seemed to wake up to it. Had he given in just because he felt like I was being pushy, and had he been hoping to relieve my pressure? I had offered up the rope to him not long after that, which is a large leap of trust. I trusted him, and he ran off without so much as a pardon me.

The tears poured down my cheeks, and I almost couldn’t see straight for them. I made out of the humanoid shapes moving towards me of the next wave of nameless goons, and my nunchuks started to spin again. I screamed at the top of my lungs. Violent words, hateful words, cursing in any and every language I knew even the smallest bite of. The choice Orion insults about his mother, the mud slinging bottom dwelling insults in Andorian about his fitness to sire the next generation, old Soviet insults that Auntie V had whispered to me behind my parents back… causing them to pretend they didn’t know she was doing it, then the Klingon. Oh the soothing prose of the Klingon insults, strung together poetically, as if penned by The Bard himself; speaking of smooth foreheads and relations to tribbles and unworthiness to wear combat boots. I couldn’t help a giggle at that last one. I knew that one would have left a mark had Terry been here to receive it.

Regardless of what anyone thought of his service as science officer, it was clear his heart had truly belongs to the marine core. His lingering loyalty to the core perhaps was what undermined his service in science. He’d always been more interested in the going ons of my department than that of his, even if he went through the motions to feign fascination with his. I hadn’t minded his interest in my department, I’d even used him as a sounding board as I’d tried to work through things I wasn’t sure how to handle.

Now, here I was yelling at the top of my lungs, breaking holographic bones in the holodeck, all because I’d fallen hard and the fucker clearly didn’t return the sentiment. I honestly hadn’t realized, not consciously, how badly I’d fallen for him. Sex had been good, but it’d been good with Ryan too… however, I wasn’t heart broken over Ryan. I was hurt over him, over his failure to communicate at all, and the absolute mystery that was him staying hitched to this stranger he’d been tricked into marrying, but I wasn’t heart broken. Mama and Daddy both had warned me: I would meet plenty of people that would do that sort of thing to me if the sex was casual. People move on without so much as a backwards thought to who they were fucking before, if they didn’t see a romantic attachment; treat you as a sex toy and don’t understand that you intended to be their friend first and foremost, that the sex was just something fun to do. Ryan was old news though, no point dwelling on his stupidity. He was still on the ship, I had to play nice with him on a professional capacity… so focusing on what had gone wrong would only lead to more bullshit and drama.

Terry though? Terry had just run away. I had fallen head over heels, and he’d run away. It wasn’t even until I reflected back on my thoughts about him, my feelings, after I’d yelled at him as he left my quarters that last time, that I’d realized it. That if he’d just said sorry, tried to see if there was some way we could continue to see each other without him needing to be in the fleet… I probably would have forgiven him. The words ‘I love you’ probably would have slid from my lips. Too late for that now, he was gone with the shuttle that needed to go back to the Whydah station. Hell, I’d caught myself a couple times in the last month, musing that Melody Mulholland had a good ring to it… and I knew that I was years away from wanting to have kids.

“Computer, pause program,” I ordered. The music stopped, the goons all faded from view, and I fell to my knees. I sat there sobbing, my hair hanging down around my face as I looked blankly down towards my nunchuck crossed in my lap. My body shook as I sobbed, and finally I was able to get my mind to shut up and stop dwelling on Terry as I just let it all out.

Andorian Lightbulbs

“Celestia and Luna,” Diziara said as she nodded towards the twin blue skinned holograms that stood in front of her and Blue. His eyes and antennae trailed up and down each of them — one in white with a pastel rainbow peaking through from a lower layer of her white hair, the other in black with navy blue and purple in her hair instead. Both lowered their eyes and bowed their head momentarily.

“Greetings, elder Tha,” they said in harmony. Diziara smiled and looked at Blue expectantly.

“Those are not Andorian names.” He walked around them quietly.

“Because Blue is?” Diziara crossed her arms and frowned.

“It is short for my given name, you know this.”

“It’s a bastardization of your given name, and those are their call signs. They have perfectly normal Andorian names, but you know how often humans fail to wrap their tongues around the names of your people.”

“Most can manage the shortened form.”

“So am I to call you Thinshal now?” Diziara grinned wide at the look he directed at her. “I thought so.”

“What of their clan names?”

“Knowing that some of the clans are still tight knit, I felt the best solution would be to create a clan just for the photons who came out Andorian, to avoid the confusion or hurt antennae that might come with one getting a clan name already in use. So far it’s only them, but with time we’ll probably get more.”

“A clan of photonic Andorians, it is an interesting solution. Do they also know our traditions, our ways?”

“We know everything the Starfleet database knows,” Celestia spoke up.

“But I’m sure you’re aware that the database is impersonal and likely missing important things,” Luna added.

“Which is why we requested Diz introduce us to someone who may fill in the gaps and make our understanding more personal.”

“So many of our own people do not even know as much as the Starfleet database knows.” He stopped pacing in front of the two photons and cocked his antennae. “I am sure that some who still follow the old ways would feel that your existence is wrong, but you could prove an interesting way to keep the old knowledge alive.”

“So you’ll help?” Diziara stepped close, laying a hand on his arm. He looked sidelong at her.

“Why is their skin so light?”

“You wouldn’t ask that if they were fleshbags.”

“I would know the answer in that case, but were they not programmed by you?”

“I helped set the variables the computer used to generate them.”

“Our initial holomatrix generation includes traits from the Aenar subspecies, as computer data indicates that what is left of their people have interbred with the dominant Andorian species, and a number of the population exhibit their traits in lesser and greater capacities.” Luna looked up briefly as she spoke, but as she met Blue’s gaze her eyes dropped again.

“We can adjust our skin pigmentation to better match yours.” Celestia did not look up as she offered.

“There’s nothing wrong with your skin color.” Diziara slugged Blue in the shoulder. “Don’t you dare introduce your prejudices to them.”

“They will likely encounter worse if they visit Andor, and if you wish for me to expand their knowledge of our culture, they should visit.”

“They already face enough bullshit from the fleshbags here in the yards who see them as tools, but it’s easier to brush off the hurtful words of strangers than it is to have that prejudice slung at you from someone who’s supposed to be trusted. I introduced you as a trusted friend.”

“You know their telepathic abilities bred mistrust among our people.”

“And most with Aenar blood are so watered down they don’t exhibit any of the telepathic traits, so any lingering hatred is prejudice.” Diziara’s shot him a look, and Blue looked away with his antennae curling a bit. Celestia and Luna stood quiet, their eyes on the floor. “If you’re going to subject them to your bullshit prejudices, I’ll swallow my pride and go ask the bastard for his help instead. I know he doesn’t have a problem with Aenar blood.”

“For fuck’s sake, who knows how fucked up they will end up with Therav to guide them.”

“Then swallow your prejudice. You know I would rather have your help. Besides, it would give you an excuse to stay for a while.”

Blue snorted, and his antennae bounced just a little. “You only wish for me to warm your and Cor’s bed.”

“We can get you guest quarters, if you’d rather. Though we certainly wouldn’t turn you out if you wanted to join us.”

Blue rolled his eyes. “I will hold a rain check for the guest quarters for now.” As Diziara shook her head with a grin, Blue turned his attention back towards Celestia and Luna. “Are you twins?”

“We were originally one, but in the process of developing the backup process, we forked to become two.”

“One of us selected to take on a new name, and we modified our hair to allow organics to quickly identify who is who.”

“Some of them have enough trouble telling us apart even when we do not look so alike. Are you identical, your hair aside?” Blue started to pace around them again.

“Yes Tha,” they answered perfectly in sync.

“Twins are not usually perfectly identical,” he observed, “You mentioned being able to modify your appearance. Have you considered introducing small variations, to allow you to better blend in with the organics? While those here at the shipyards know what you are, you will likely have a more receptive welcome on Andor when we visit if you better mimic us in that respect.”

“Yes Tha,” they answered together again.

“Stop calling me that, and you can meet my eyes. I have spent enough time off world, and particularly in the company of this hellion–“ Blue directed a look at Diziara and she smirked– “that it is more comfortable to me. Though that you know the proper manners of our people is good.”

“What do we call you then?” Celestia looked up as she asked.

“You are welcome to call me Blue, as do any who consider me a friend.”

“Does that mean we are friends?” Luna looked up, and a small smile pulled at the corner of her lips.

“Diz speaks of you, and the other photons, as if you are family. Anyone who is family of Diz is likewise for me.”

Both Celestia and Luna smiled wide.

“What variations should we introduce, to be more like organic twins?” Luna asked, looking between Diziara and Blue with her antennae cocked slightly.

“Usually one twin’s a little taller than the other, skin tone and eye color vary just a little, as can birth marks and other localized pigmentation, and facial and body structure is usually slightly different. I can give you data to analyze, as well as pictures of a number of identical twins to consider.” Diziara stepped to a workbench to pick up a PADD, her fingers flitting across its surface as she worked to access the Starfleet database.

Celestia and Luna looked at each other a silent moment, before Celestia shifted slightly. As she straightened her posture to match her sister’s again, it became apparent she was now a couple centimeters taller. Luna closed her eyes for half a minute and as she opened them again her eyes were a darker grey.

“You probably just pulled up the data yourself,” Diziara said with a frown, lowering the PADD as she did.

“We are curious which data sets you pulled up,” Luna insisted, shaking her hair out. As it settled around her shoulders again, it had a little bit of a wave to it.

“One of these days, I’ll remember you’re all patched into the computers and I don’t need to do things the hard way when we’re talking to each other already.” Diziara rolled her eyes as she lifted the PADD again and tapped at it. Luna and Celestia both rolled their eyes up and to the right as they accessed the data that Diziara had just transferred.

“The connection takes a momentary effort if we’re in our mobile emitter, at least,” Celestia pointed out.

“But we’re on the station emitters right now, so her annoyance is valid.” Luna’s skin flushed just a touch darker.

“Better?” they said together. Diziara crossed her arms and chewed her lip and Blue paced around them again.

“It’s a good start, but you could probably adjust things about your body and facial structure too. Go over the data I passed you, as well as the sources cited. It’s not a rush to do it all right away.” Diziara set the PADD down on the bench again.

“We will think on it further,” they answered in sync.

Blue’s antennae twitched. “That is unsettling.”

“What?” They both looked directly at him, and he took a step back.

“Organics do not speak like that, especially with voices so perfectly matched.”

“All the photons can communicate via data bursts too, so it’s not surprising these two sync up like that. Corey and I try to keep up with data stream — he somehow manages it better than me, and I still haven’t figured out how–“

Luna and Celestia giggled, and Diziara tilted her head as she directed a look at them.

“We’ll adjust our vocal ranges to differentiate them,” Celestia said.

“And stop speaking in sync,” Luna added.

“Finishing each other’s sentences is also a bit creepy, but organic twins do it too, so you can keep doing that if you want.” Diziara snorted and shook her head.

“Is the data burst communication by design?” Blue asked.

“Oh, no, they developed it themselves, and Corey stumbled on it by accident. Thankfully they invited us in when we asked about it, so we didn’t have to decide if we needed to inform Brass or not.”

“Brass would have insisted you brute force your way in, and the resources needed to crack the encryption could be better put to use elsewhere.” Luna shrugged.

“It’s not like we’re talking about anything we’d hide from you anyway. If you would like to join, we can give you credentials, Blue.” Celestia held out her hand, with a small transparent cube floating above her palm as her antennae cocked in question.

“The interface they set up for me and Corey translates it into standard for us, but they use binary. It moves fast, and I don’t poke my nose in often. Corey spends more time with it, but he’s somehow figured out how to input his responses fast enough that they don’t have to slow down too terribly when they know he’s snooping in on it.”

Celestia and Luna giggled again, and Diziara directed a look at them.

“I appreciate the invitation, but I would prefer to stick to vocal communication.” Blue inclined his head, and Celestia and Luna did so in return.

“You can have a rain check, should you change your mind,” Celestia said.

“Do you speak our tongue?” Blue switched to Andorian to ask, and received nods in return.

“We have a universal translator built in, but Stace also built localization packs in a number of languages,” Celestia said, likewise in Andorian.

“As far as we can tell, he was very thorough, as there are a number of regional accents and dialects to choose from,” Luna added.

“Stace is good with our tongue — for a pink skin.” A smirk teased at Blue’s lips and Diziara shot him a look. “The accent you have chosen sounds like it is out of Laibok. ”

“It is a large city, and less likely to cause question of our origin. And dying one’s hair is not culturally common among our people, so appearing to come from a large city with much off-world contact would make our coloration less confusing.” Luna touched her hair, twirling a strand of purple around her finger.

“You could also remove the color, if deemed necessary.”

“We like it, and would rather not.” Despite their earlier promise, Celestia and Luna spoke in sync again, and Blue frowned.

“With Diz as a role model, I have no doubts that I should not argue with this. Have you learned, or been programmed with, the ability to fight?”

“Diz created a defense program as part of the initial packages we get upon generation, and we have learned a number of additional styles.” Celestia shifted into a fighting stance, as if to demonstrate.

“Among them, the Ushaan. Though it would be unfair for an organic to attempt a proper ushaan with us, unless we were in our mobile emitters, as it could not be to the death.”

“Even then, since we maintain backups, it still might not be fair unless we agreed to have our backups deleted in the case of them destroying our emitter to end the fight.”

“I would recommend you don’t provoke someone into challenging you to ushaan, though one or both of you owe me a training rules match still.” Diziara crossed her arms.

“I believe you still owe me a rematch from your last visit.” Blue’s hand landed on Diziara’s shoulder and she grinned wide.

“Corey will be jealous unless we invite him to watch.” She set her hand on his.

“Maybe this time he will be brave enough to participate.”

“No, but he’ll likely want to participate in other things after.” She winked.

Blue shook his head, his antennae curled and a smile teasing at his lips. Celestia and Luna looked at each other.

“It looks like it’s time for us to take a rain check,” Luna stated. Both photons looked to Diziara, who snorted.

“Corey’s stuck in a briefing for a while yet. Why don’t you two show us how your ushaan skills are coming along until then?” Diziara crossed her arms and both photons grinned at her.

“He is bored in his meeting. You could invent an excuse for him to leave,” Luna observed.

“He is very active in the data burst communications,” Celestia added.

Walking in Central Park Singing After Dark

“I’ve been holding out so long, I’ve been sleeping all alone, Lord I miss you,” Amelia sung to herself as she crossed through Central Park. “I’ve been hanging on the phone, I’ve been sleeping all alone, I want to kiss you,” It was a little after 0200, and technically the park was closed. Not that it stopped people from cutting through anyways. The park sat right across the most efficient trajectory back to the hotel from Fly Me To The Moon, and with how cold it was this time of night, could anyone fault her taking the shortest path back to the hotel? The park was mostly closed to give law enforcement an excuse to clear out what few shady deals and transients still managed to find this city in this day and age.

She rounded a corner in the path she was on, and found herself staring down a couple people. The presence of knives in their hands snapped Amelia out of the soft buzz and the happy mood that karaoke and alcohol had left her in, and she quickly looked them over head to toe, trying to evaluate what she could. Doubling back would mean having to go completely out of the park again, and go all the way around, because she didn’t know the park well enough to try to detour around them. Chances are, they’d chase her anyways, especially since her combadge was buried under the woolly warmth of her green pea coat to avoid drawing attention to it, and thus wouldn’t be a deterrent by marking her as a part of Starfleet.

“Give us your valuables, and we won’t have to hurt you,” one said, holding his knife up to look threatening. A grin bloomed across Amelia’s face, and she felt a tingling up her spine. The other one took half a step back, also raising his knife.

“Uh, Marv, why’s she grinnin’?”

“Thank you,” she said softly, closing the space between them. The unnamed one took a full step back, as Marv looked at her dumbstruck. When her hand closed around the wrist of his hand holding the knife, something seemed to click, and he tried to pull away. She moved too fast, pulling his arm towards her, drawing him in. She turned as she did this, keeping the knife in sight and driving her elbow into his gut. The knife fell clattering to the paved walkway, and she quickly turned to look for his partner as Marv doubled over.

“Bitch.” She heard him before she saw him again, and tried to side step the lunge of his knife. Marv was in the way though, and she collided with him. He went sprawling to the pavement, and she fought to keep her feet, just shy of clearing the swipe of the blade coming at her. It sliced through the upper arm of her coat, but she couldn’t tell yet if it’d gotten deep enough to get at her skin too — she probably wouldn’t until the adrenaline stopped pumping after the fight. His lunge had been poorly planned, and left him wide open to her uppercut as she got her feed under herself again, sending him staggering backwards. Somehow he managed to keep hold of the knife and stay on his feet.

Their eyes met for a moment, then she dove for Marv’s dropped knife, having to tuck and roll to grab for it, as the man lunged for her again. She was clearly the quicker of the two, as he got nothing but air and she skidded across the pavement as she collected the knife. She was pretty sure she’d just destroyed the heavy knit tights she’d worn under her dress to fight off the cold; the tights were expendable, but the exposure that meant wasn’t good — she needed to finish this, fast. She sprung to her feet again, knife at the ready.

“Get outta here,” Marv snapped as he finally picked himself up off the ground. He took off running without waiting to see if his buddy was going to follow. Amelia’s eyes darted towards the back of the retreating mugger, and then leveled on the one who still stood in front of her. She curled her lip back in a snarl, and that was all it took to finally snap him out of it and send him after his buddy.

She stood there a long moment, calming her breathing and looking around. No sound other than the slap of shoes on pavement disappearing into the distance disturbed her, and she couldn’t help a small laugh as her eyes fell on the knife in her hand.

“That’s a souvenir even Uncle Spiegel couldn’t fault me for keeping,” she muttered, turning it to look at it closer. Pretty generic, serviceable but otherwise inexpensive. She bent over to slip it into her boot — probably not the best place for it, but for the distance she was going and with how well the boots fits, it would serve to keep it from drawing attention as she walked. She drew her fingers along the raw red of the pavement rash that covered part of her legs, hissing softly as she did, then turned her attention to the slice in the sleeve of her coat as she started walking again, finding blood on the edges of the slice in the fabric.

When she approached the entrance of the hotel, the bellhop almost turned her away until he recognized her, then he ushered her inside with an arm around her. She shrugged him away quickly, even as he tried to insist he should get her some attention for her injuries. Across the lobby, sitting in one of the plush couches, was Cecil with a nose in a PADD. He looked up at the noise, and before either one could realize he was there, he was between Amelia and the bellhop.

“I have her,” Cecil insisted. The bellhop opened his mouth to protest, but Cecil turned his back on him.

“I have myself, thank you,” she snapped, quick stepping to try to leave both men behind.

“He’s not going to leave you alone until he’s certain you’re being looked after,” Cecil insisted, easily keeping pace with her. “It doesn’t matter to him you’re an Executive Officer of a Starfleet vessel, you’re a guest in his hotel. It’s his job. Now you can either let me walk you to your room, or you’ll have him on your heels until he’s seen the last cut healed with a regenerator.”

“Fine.” She sighed. “Cecil will see me back to my room. I’m fine,” she growled. The bellhop inclined his head and quickly returned to his post. Cecil bit back a smirk as he silently walked next to her on the way to the elevator.

Silence followed them halfway up their ride until Cecil finally cleared his throat and rocked forward onto the balls of his feet. “You kicked someone’s ass, didn’t you?”

“Nothing quite so entertaining,” she returned, though she finally smiled and silently chuckled. “Had a couple guys try to mug me when I cut through Central Park. One landed a lucky slice on my arm, and I had to go sliding across the pavement to collect his buddy’s knife before they finally realized maybe I wasn’t worth the trouble.” She bent over, and pulled the knife out of her boot. “I got a souvenir.” She held it out to Cecil, and he reached for it cautiously as if it was going to bite him even though it was the handle she offered him.

“It doesn’t look like much,” he said as they reached her floor. She smirked as she strode out of the elevator, and he followed.

“It’s the story of how I got it that makes it interesting, not the knife itself. The knife is a cheap but serviceable blade. Something I’d expect a petty thief to steal because it would attract less attention than the flashy things he’d lift off tourists,” she insisted, and Cecil nodded. She pulled her keycard from her pocket, and let herself into her room. “Thank you, Cecil, I’ll be fine from here.” She held out her hand for the knife.

“I can get you a regenerator, or see if Doctor Rotek-” Cecil started to insist, and she shook her head. He handed over the knife.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got a regenerator,” she assured him. He shook his head with a look that said he really wasn’t surprised. “This will be our little secret, okay?”

“But shouldn’t you file a police report or something?”

“I’ll tell Rochelle, because she’ll have my neck if she hears about it somewhere else… like from you, or that bellhop. Otherwise, unless I’m passing the knife around at a cocktail party, I don’t want anyone else to hear about it.” She grinned at him when he shook his head at her. “Good night, and thank you for getting the bellhop out of my hair.”

“It wouldn’t due to have you skin the bellhop with your souvenir,” Cecil quipped, walking backwards down the hall. “Good night.”