by Travis Anderson
“She said what?” Halifax exploded after Riker had returned with their meals and explained what had transpired.
“She said the Cardassians were the buyers,” Riker repeated…again.
Wren was curiously studying the padd. She’d taken scans of it as soon as Riker returned. She’d told Halifax she had run down the woman’s ID as soon as they returned to the Gandhi. Halifax had darkly muttered they might need to apprehend the stranger before then.
“There’s a map of the colony on here,” Riker pointed out, trying to retrieve the padd from Wren’s clutches. She was having none of it and perused the data display herself.
“He’s right,” she announced.
“They’re listed as potential locations for storing the warheads,” he shared.
Wren looked at Halifax. “He’s right again.”
“Should we trust this mystery woman?” Halifax wondered aloud, soliciting input.
“It’s the best lead that we have,” Wren shared, “and like I said, I have her biometric data and genetic samples to use to track her down later.”
Halifax turned to Riker. “Can we trust this woman?”
“She isn’t hiding much. There was a note of desperation in her voice and in her eyes as she described the Cardassians getting these weapons,” Riker stated. “If she’s right about their targets and their motives, I could see why she’d be afraid. The targets are all populated areas.”
Halifax had noted that as well. “Ensign, do you have anything to contribute?”
“I say we take her at her word,” Vallis spoke up.
Halifax was intrigued. “And why is that?”
“The woman, Kalinda, took a risk. It was a calculated one to be sure, but she stepped out to approach us when it would have been safer to stay out of it and try and deal with the problem alone, like Tom suggested,” Vallis opined.
Halifax stumbled over Vallis calling Riker “Tom.” “Are you certain that’s your only motive?”
“Yes,” Vallis asserted with some confusion. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
“The four sites are clustered into two groupings,” Riker observed. “We could split up and scout out those locations.”
Halifax looked to Wren, who nodded. She accepted the recommendation and ran with it. “We’ll split into two teams of two.”
“I suggest Lt. Riker escort Ensign Vallis,” Wren suddenly put in.
Halifax stifled a groan. It was obvious that Wren liked Riker and was trying to play matchmaker. Their pairing up in the other room should have satisfied that impulse.
“The Ensign needs someone of your experience to assist her,” Halifax insisted of Wren.
The security chief wisely backed down. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Riker, if we find the weapons depot, can you get us inside of it?” Halifax inquired.
He grinned confidently. “I sure can.”
She turned to Wren. “Could you do the same?”
“Probably, but I’m not on par with Tom,” Wren admitted with some chagrin.
Again with the “Tom,” Halifax thought sourly. She knew she should be happy since one of her reservations about him was that he’d isolated himself from the rest of the crew. He was stretching out now, and yet she was uneasy.
“Then after we’ve examined the four sites, we’ll regroup at the primary site, assuming there’s only one, and scout it out,” Halifax ordered.
“What about the Gandhi?” Riker asked. “Captain Moneii needs to know that the Cardassians could be arriving soon.”
Halifax nodded. It was a good point. She nodded to Wren. The Andorian peeked through the closed curtains.
Halifax tapped her comm badge. The signal linked her badge to the Precarious’ subspace transmitter and it activated. Transmitting into space, it bounced a signal through the system’s subspace relay network. She requested a connection with Moneii and was grateful when the captain replied.
“Commander, are you and the away team all right? We’ve been growing concerned,” Moneii spoke.
“Captain, the buyers are presumably Cardassian. Repeat, the buyers are Cardassian. They’ll be in-system within the next twenty-four hours. Our signals are being monitored and tracked. Halifax out.” She terminated the connection.
“That was quick,” Riker commended her.
Halifax turned to Wren. “Anything?”
“There’s movement at the end of the street. About a dozen toughs with some kind of lupine creatures.” Wren described what she saw. “They’re waving a radial around. They seem to have lost the signal.”
“Won’t they just come here?” Vallis nervously asked.
“There are three flophouses on this block,” Halifax reminded her. “That’s why we chose this street.”
“They’re moving off,” Wren said to everyone’s relief. “Night’s fallen and they don’t seem too happy to be out in it. I guess searching three boarding houses versus holing up in a tavern has a clear winner.”
“All right, we’ll hole up here for the night,” Halifax allowed.
“I guess that’s my cue to leave,” Riker chuckled. As he excused himself, Halifax took Vallis aside.
“Be careful, Ensign. Remember Starfleet’s code of conduct at all times,” Halifax urged.
Vallis left with a rather puzzled look on her face. Meanwhile, Wren was trying to choke down laughter. Halifax snapped at her.
“This is all your fault, you know!” she accused.
Wren held up her hands in surrender. “Let nature take its course, Megan. If anything untoward happens, maybe it’s best to leave it alone.”
“And if they end up hating each other,” Halifax wanted to know, “that’ll make for some long watches.
“Sort of like you and Boerhoven?” Wren asked pointedly.
“Yes.” Halifax loathed admitting it. “I dipped into my chain of command and it cost me and the ship.”
“I hate to bring it up, Megan, but Karl was being transferred regardless if you two shagged or not. He got promoted. Don’t begrudge him his promotion,” Wren advised.
“Why do you like him?” Halifax blurted.
“Who?” Wren asked, “Tom or Karl?”
“Riker,” Halifax grated.
“He’s got promise. He’s bright, enthusiastic, charismatic, and he’s making the best of a situation even after Starfleet gave him the shaft,” Wren explained.
“He told you that?” Halifax scented blood in the water.
“No, Elizabeth Mayweather did,” Wren clarified.
“Oh, there’s a fount of unbridled truth,” Halifax quipped.
Wren grinned. “She actually got most of her facts straight in this one. Her interpretations leave a lot to be desired, but she got the basics down this time.”
“So tell me what you really think of him,” Halifax invited her.
In their room, Riker and Vallis sat down. He took a chair that occupied an old fashioned writing desk and straddled it. He turned it so that he could face Vallis, who sat at the edge of her bed. He noticed she seemed off. Not noticeably nervous, but she was distracted by something.
“Penny for your thoughts,” Riker offered.
Vallis suddenly came back into focus. “A what?”
“A penny,” he smiled. “On Earth, in Anglo-American countries, it was a form of currency. Sort of like strips of latinum today.”
“So it was worth a lot?” she wondered.
He shook his head and chuckled. “No, it was next to worthless.”
She smiled. “Not much of a bribe then.”
“All kidding aside, what’s on your mind?” he asked.
“You, actually,” she admitted.
“Should I be flattered or worried?” he inquired.
“Earlier you said you grew up somewhere on Earth called Alaska. Tell me about it,” she requested.
He spoke to her of frigid winters and how people traveled by snowshoe and skimobile. They used air transports to get to most places because wheeled and tracked vehicles bogged down in the snow, ice, and mud. Then he described the grand vistas and the seemingly endless forests. He moved to the summers and the copious waterways and lakes.
“It was probably considered pretty rugged to most people on Earth, but it was home. Our house had its own fusion reactor, so we were set for power. My dad was away a lot, so I was always prowling about, getting into mischief,” he opted to disclose as well.
“I don’t have any memories like that,” she said wistfully.
“What’s your planet like then?” Riker wondered.
She smiled warmly. “It’s a lot like what you described, only a lot less snow. What I meant is, I didn’t have a childhood. I emerged from the lab force grown to a relative age of eighteen years with my education imprinted into me. I already had a job lined up and all I had to do was pick a name and accept both.”
“Of course, they kept me pretty close to the lab for the first six months. They had to determine if I was genetically viable. The cloning stock had degraded so much that most Vallises weren’t viable anymore. Everyone was afraid because they saw the collapse of our culture looming over us.” She brightened suddenly, “And that’s when the Enterprise came. Captain Picard had rescued the other colony founded by the SS Mariposa and brought its inhabitants to us. By combining the Bringloidi into our society, we staved off extinction.”
“And rediscovered fluid transfers,” he smirked.
“Yes, there was that too. Every woman needed to take four to six husbands. Frankly, I didn’t know what to do with one, so I left on the next transport that came by,” Vallis revealed.
She hesitated before plunging on. “I actually met your ‘brother’ while he toured our colony. He spoke some pleasantries at me and went on his way. The team sent down to find us was the first group of naturally born humans I’d ever met. I have to admit I didn’t know what to make of them.”
“But the little I learned about Starfleet captivated me,” Vallis confessed. “To have the opportunity to move from world to world and see indescribable diversity? That sounded like a dream come true.”
She smiled slyly, “And I have to confess, I thought your brother was beautiful.”
Riker smiled. “Most men prefer to be called ‘handsome.’”
“Whatever,” she said dismissively. “I found both of you to be beautiful.”
“You think I’m beautiful?” he asked, wondering where this conversation was suddenly leading. He felt a slippery slope sliding out from underneath.
“Yes,” she asserted defiantly, “I don’t care if you want to be called ‘handsome.’ I think you’re beautiful.”
“Thank you,” he replied. “Why the sudden ‘true confessions?’”
“Tell me about fluid transfers,” she suddenly demanded.
“Well, I’ll try to explain everything as best as I can,” he began.
Vallis waved him off. “No, I understand the mechanics. My education implants took care of that. I want to know about the experience.”
Riker shook his head. “I don’t think I can.”
“Really?” she asked imploringly.
“I’d have to show you and you could make up your own mind,” he suggested.
“Okay,” she said blithely, “how do we do that?”
He rose from the chair came to stand before her. “We start with the basics.”
“How?” she asked as he coaxed her off of the bed.
He leaned down and kissed her. She tentatively responded but she looked rather downcast when he pulled away. “Was that it?”
“Try opening your mouth,” he suggested with a grin and leaned back down. Their mouths met and suddenly Vallis came alive. After a few seconds she gripped him and tried to pull him in as though she were about to absorb him into herself.
Riker smiled as he pulled back. “That’s better. What do you think?”
“I like that,” she confessed. “I’m not to sure about the other parts, but I definitely want to do that again.”
“It’s called a kiss,” Riker explained.
“Would you kiss me again?” Vallis requested.
“Of course.” He readily complied. When he pulled away, this time he whispered into her ear, “So, do you still like it?”
“Are all fluid transfers like this?” she asked in a husky voice.
“They get even better,” he promised.
“Well, I guess you’re going to have to show me,” she coyly suggested. He leaned back so he could see her face. She winked at him, “After all, how else will I decide if I like them or not?”
Riker grinned and began showing her everything he knew about fluid transfers.
The next morning, he stepped outside of their room to get some coffee. Wren was out there too, watching him with some amusement.
“So, how was your evening?” she asked, despite her eyes revealing that she already knew the answer.
Riker instantly knew that she knew what had happened between he and Vallis. She’d turned out to be a bit of a screamer and he had no idea how thin or thick the walls were. Still, he opted to bluff his way out.
“It was pleasant,” he downplayed the events of the evening, which had gone on for hours.
“Oh, it sounded much more impressive than ‘pleasant,’” Wren chuckled. “One might even call it ‘momentous.’”
Riker hung his head and Wren decided to share one last zing. “You friend has some lung power.”
“Are you done?” Riker groaned.
“I just have one word of advice: Make certain you both know where you stand this morning. If I’m guessing correctly, it was her first time and you may have completely different intentions at this point. Don’t let things hang in limbo because that’ll ruin whatever friendship you’ve already forged with the lady,” Wren advised.
Riker eyed her in a new light. “When did you become so wise?”
Wren laughed. “I’m Andorian. It takes four of us to come together and make a baby. That’s a huge balancing act. Not just of time and schedules but of egos and intentions.”
“And have you made a baby?” Riker wondered.
“Yes,” Wren confided, “but I’m not the birther so I didn’t have to carry anything to term. But I played my part and I helped conceive a child.”
“Boy or a girl?” Riker asked. “Or do your people even qualify to those standards?”
“We had a boy, or at least a member of one of the two male sexes that Andorians have. Andorians also come in two female sexes. That’s as close to human biology that I can frame it,” she explained.
Riker came back to the original topic. “Does Halifax know about Annalise and I?”
Wren looked downcast. “Yes, and she’s chewing deuterium.”
Riker sighed, “Thanks for the warning. Want anything for breakfast?”
Wren smiled again. “I was about to head down myself, so I’ll join you. I’ll keep Megan busy while you hash things over with Annalise.”
Riker returned to his shared room with coffee and a scone for Vallis.
“Here you go,” he said cheerfully. “They didn’t have much in the way of selection, but this should cover the basic carb requirements.”
“Thanks,” she met his cheerfulness with her own. She munched on her scone for moment before mentioning, “Thank you for last night. I had no idea. I can’t wait to try this out with Mark, or Alfonso, or Darien.”
Riker almost choked on his coffee. “Really?”
“Yeah, they’ve all offered to show me about fluid transfers but I’m glad it was you that did it. I trust you. I feel comfortable with you in ways that I don’t with the other guys.”
“But you want to sleep with them?” Riker was reeling.
“No, I want to exchange fluids with them,” she corrected him. “I don’t think sleep will factor into it. Not if last night was any indicator.”
Riker was thrilled that he didn’t have to explain recreational sex. She seemed to have mastered that concept with her first outing. But it sort of hurt his feelings that she didn’t want to pursue him further.
There was a knock on the door and Riker opened it. Wren was standing outside wearing a wry expression. “Commander Halifax wants to see you now.”
“Understood. Will you wait here with Annalise?” he requested.
“Certainly,” Wren assured him.
That having been said, Riker marched off to his doom.
“What the hell were you thinking?” Halifax shouted at him.
Riker didn’t even flinch. “My actions were warranted.”
“How can you say that?” Halifax growled.
“She specifically asked me to engage in sexual activities with her.” Riker decided bald faced honesty was the best approach here.
“What does she know?” Halifax retorted, “She’s a sexual infant. Until last night, she’d never even had intercourse.”
“That may be true, but she wanted to know what it was like and I was honored to be her first,” Riker declared.
“I’m about two seconds away from writing you up for conduct unbecoming,” Halifax warned. She moved away to the other side of the room and then turned. “What are you intentions now?”
“I was just speaking to Ensign Vallis about that when you sent for me,” Riker admitted.
“And?” Halifax queried him. “Weigh your answer carefully, mister.”
“Ensign Vallis gave me a list of fellow officers that she’d like to exchange fluids with,” he announced.
Halifax’s jaw dropped. “She did?”
“Ensign Vallis is a grown woman with much more emotional maturity than she’s been assumed to have,ma’am,” Riker said smartly.
“Don’t get an attitude with me,” Halifax warned him. “You’ve got an attitude, mister. And I intend to drum it out of you.”
“Maybe the Commander is wasting her time,” Riker riposted.
“Just what is eating at you, Riker?” Halifax finally asked. He’d been surprised no one had dared to ask until now. “Was it that you were stranded for eight years? Because if it is, boo hoo. Starfleet did what they could and pulled you out of there as soon as they humanly could. That’s the hand fate dealt you, so suck it up and deal with it.”
“I knew Starfleet couldn’t reach me for eight years.” For the first time, anger laced Riker’s voice. “I spent every day trying to survive and hold on for that magical day. I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, but when I was rescued I found an exact copy of myself leading the party.”
His jaw set and he spoke again. “I wasn’t happy with that fact, but I dealt with it and moved on. To theGandhi, to be precise. Am I happy? Define happiness. I’m alive and I’m free of Nervalla. However, one important consideration was overlooked. Commander Will Riker received his initial promotion to Lt. Commander based upon his gallantry on Nervalla IV. There was only one Riker when those events occurred, which means I participated in them, too. However, the recovered Will Riker received the promotion and when I was recovered I was overlooked.”
“Should I be singing a maudlin tune?” Halifax asked acerbically. “Let me tell you, mister. You’re actionshave been considered — to the point that you were a candidate for second officer. As you know, Lt. Commander Boerhoven has been promoted and made first officer of the Potemkin, a ship I’m certain you clearly remember. That means his position is open.”
“And I was a candidate?” Riker said with resignation.
“You might be still,” Halifax declared, “but you have the rest of this mission to prove you’re not what I currently think you are.”
“May I ask what that is?” Riker inquired.
Halifax’s eyes narrowed. “I believe you are a complete egoist who is a threat to both his crewmates and the service. Plain enough?”
“Perfectly clear,” Riker said. Halifax appreciated the maturity and professionalism he exhibited while receiving that news.
“Now get Wren and Vallis in here so they can stop leaning against the wall to listen in,” Halifax instructed.
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