A warm breeze rippled through the golden-green grass of the
clearing, rolling like the surf at the seashore until it spent itself at the edge of the
trail. On the other side of the path, to her right, the clear, sparkling waters of a
lake lapped serenely at an earthen bank. The pastel orange disc of Omicron
Delta V's sun hung low in a cloudless blue sky which bled into red and gold near the
horizon; the trees cast long shadows in sharp relief as the day teetered on the brink
between late afternoon and early evening. Gentle breezes stirred the canopy
of emerald leaves overhead.
Omicron Delta V, or, as the crew had quickly come to call it, the "Shore Leave" planet. So beautiful; so much like Earth...
Angela Martine-Teller glanced around her idyllic surroundings in disbelief. Was this all real? How could it possibly be? She still tingled from shock.
A little over five hours ago she had been strafed by a Japanese Zero, an archaic warplane from Earth's 20th century, and riddled with dozens of 50 caliber slugs. A last conscious impression of unfathomable agony seared through her body an instant before she slammed face-first into the bole of a thick tree.
Then she slid limply to the ground and died...
Angela shivered. She sensed a gap of...nothingness...from the time the bullets shredded her slender body until she found herself standing in the glade, blinking in astonishment. Yes, no scars or bullet wounds marked her body. Yes, she was alive.
Angela closed her eyes, and a tear trickled down her soft cheek. Maybe it would have been better for her if she had stayed dead.
"I am such a mess," she murmured aloud.
In the space of just a few short months, her life had gone to hell in a handbasket. Everything had been storybook perfect; she had a dream career, and was engaged to be married to the love of her life, Phaser Specialist 1C Robert Tomlinson,
But on her wedding day, her husband-to-be had been killed in a Romulan attack on the Enterprise.
Her mind refused to accept what had happened. She was in denial; she forced Doctor McCoy to show her Bobby's corpse so she could covince herself.
She shuddered. Phaser coolant had ravaged his remains into unrecognizability, lending them the appearance of a melted candle. She only knew it was him by his mop of wavy blond hair...
Shortly thereafter, Angela transferred to Life Sciences when the ship's phasers became fully automated and firing control was transferred to the bridge. She inexplicably married botanist John Teller soon after in a misguided attempt to heal the wound left by Bobby's death. The stodgy, phlegmatic Teller was stunned and flattered by the vivacious young beauty's proposal and readily accepted. However, he quickly and bitterly realized Angela's move was ill-conceived, forged on the rebound from Tomlinson's death.
A few weeks later, John Teller was reassigned to the U.S.S. Yorktown. His "request for dissolution of marriage contract" arrived in Angela's starmail inbox a day later.
She strolled down the lake path in the dying sun, trying to calm her jangled nerves. A flock of Canada geese exploded off the water in a cacophony of honking and splashing. A perfect summer evening; if only she had someone to share it with...
"Oh, Bobby, I miss you so much," she whispered, a tremor in her voice.
She remembered the first time they had made love--shore leave on Wrigley's Pleasure Planet--and chuckled in spite of herself. An eager Bobby had rented an anti-grav booth for them at Ro'Schal's Den of Sin. They quickly learned that attempting to engage in sex in that environment was problematic at best, and that Human semen, when ejaculated into zero-gee, formed into perfect little floating spheres of pearlescent, slimy goo. Bobby had admired the erotic spectacle of a lithe, naked Angela giggling as she bounced off the cushioned walls and ceiling, chasing the wobbling "sperm bubbles," and catching the little white globules on her tongue.
Angela sighed. It had been a magic night. If only...
Music. She recognized it--an electronicized, hopped-up instrumental version of 'The Moon's a Window to Heaven' from "1001 Orion Nights," one of Ariel Cord's most renowned holoporn epics.
The same music that had been piped out into the street from Ro'Schal's on the night they'd...
She broke into a run and gasped when she reached a clearing in the woods.
"Th-this can't be!" she exclaimed.
And yet, there it was.
Looming impossibly in the middle of a sylvan glade, hundreds of light years from Wrigley's, was the spotlight-bathed edifice of Ro'Schal's Den of Sin. Humanoids of various Federation species milled about; those leaving the premises wore sloppily blissful expressions. Angela hesitantly stepped inside, not daring even to think of what she might find, not daring even to breathe. Her eyes adjusted to the dim light.
Despite the tacky name, the Den was a posh, high-class establishment. The bar area was all polished wood and brass, with voluptuous, huge-breasted nude barmaids and waitresses bustling and bobbling about. Overhead, a beautiful Orion couple contorted their supple bodies into impossible positions on a floating anti-grav platform as they made love. Everything was as she remembered it. Kevin Riley waved rather sheepishly as pretty little Deb Gordon from Astrophysics eagerly led him to a privacy booth. Lieutenant Thalara, a beautiful and aggressive Andorian female, had apparently imbibed one too many Aldebaran screwdrivers. She had stripped naked and was on her knees, enthusiastically fellating a well-endowed nude waiter until he climaxed violently in her wanton mouth. And...
She couldn't bring herself to look, but she knew she must. Slowly she turned her head in the direction of the booth Bobby had rented that night.
And Angela Martine-Teller gasped, in joy, in shock, in disbelief--she didn't know which. Probably a mixture of all three.
"Hey, Angie!" Bobby Tomlinson exclaimed, his boyish face alight with joy. "I managed to rent a zero-gee booth!"
She could feel the blood draining from her face, and she sat down heavily at a table.
It was impossible; she knew that. Robert Tomlinson was dead, and yet there he stood, less than ten feet away. He ran over and took her in his arms, then kissed her with a heat that made her head swim.
"You okay, honey?" he asked. "You look a little pale."
"I...I'm fine," she managed. "I'm just so happy to...see you."
It was him. The green flecks in his hazel eyes, the ghosts of freckles on the tip of his nose. The crooked smile, and his lightly-scented aftershave.
Just as she remembered him.
Just as she had dreamed him up--a perfect wish fulfillment fantasy incarnate...
He couldn't be real.
But then Angela recalled something Mister Spock was wont to say: "A difference which makes no difference is no difference." There was no difference she could see, and right now she realized how much she missed him, and how much she wanted, no, needed him.
Wordlessly she took his hand and led him into the zero-gee booth.
When they made love, it was soft and sweet, slow and gentle, and she wept grateful tears of joy when they finished. She wrapped her arms around his chest and her long legs around his waist, reveling in the sweet warmth of his body, sighing in contentment. This time, their night together was never going to end.
And when her communicator beeped for attention, she simply ignored it...
Fascinating...and totally illogical.
Mister Spock arched an eyebrow as he surveyed the bridge personnel. After spending most of their shore leave shifts running around and jumping about, participating in sporting events, hiking, climbing, and engaging in...other, more erotic recreational activities, the crewmembers seemed more relaxed and happy than they had been in quite some time. Uhura seemed to be almost purring as she sat at her station, calibrating her communications board. Sulu animatedly regaled a long-suffering Farrell with the merits of an ancient hand weapon known as a Smith and Wesson .38. Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott, of course, had been spending his shore leave aboard the Enterprise, overhauling and fine tuning his beloved engines. For him, working and recreation were synonymous.
The captain's eyes twinkled; he seemed especially pleased with himself, and Doctor McCoy wore what Spock had once heard irreverently described as a 'shit-eating grin.'
The adoring expression on Yeoman Tonia Barrows' face told the Vulcan all he needed to know.
Humans were intriguing creatures, and their illogical bent made them that much more interesting.
"So, Mister Spock, I hope you've managed to get a little rest so far during our shore leave?" Kirk asked.
"Indeed I did, Captain. The solitude of a nearly empty bridge had a very soothing effect."
"Communing with your beloved computers, eh, Spock?" McCoy needled. "You know how Vulcans are, Jim. All that beeping and whirring and chirping of the computers and instrument panels is like music to their pointed ears."
Spock canted a surprised, appreciative eyebrow. "Indeed, Doctor--you are very perceptive. I am astounded by the conciseness of your analogy. The logical, precise sound of a well-tuned machine is akin to music. Very soothing."
"Well, how about that?" McCoy chortled. "I impressed Spock!"
"Don't let it go to your head," a smiling Kirk admonished. Then his expression sobered. "I'm just glad everyone got the chance to unwind and relax. We all needed a good dose of R'n'R."
Indeed, the Enterprise crew had just come off three months of hell, culminating in the recent Romulan incursion into Federation space. All of them had been worn down to the bone. Shore leave couldn't have come at a better time.
"Excuse me, Len...Doctor, but we're scheduled to rotate back down for a one last eight-hour shift in ten minutes," Tonia Barrows said.
"Indeed we are, my dear," McCoy returned. "Shall we depart?" He linked his arm through hers and headed for the turbolift.
The note of concern in Uhura's voice compelled Kirk to swivel his command chair toward her station. McCoy turned back as the lift doors hissed open.
"Sir...Specialist Angela Martine has not yet rotated back aboard ship, nor has she checked in since her first beamdown," Uhura reported. "Either she's turned off her communicator, or it has malfunctioned. I tried hailing her and got no response."
Kirk's eyes narrowed. "That's odd. Martine is a fine crewmember; this isn't like her at all."
"She's been under a lot of stress lately, Jim," McCoy put in. "She went through the recent death of her fiance, got married on the rebound and just as soon divorced, and then she herself was...killed...yesterday."
"Maybe she's hurt," Kirk said, rising from his chair as he reached a decision. "Spock, McCoy, with me. Uhura, recall the crew and suspend all further shore leave until we make sure the planet's equipment hasn't malfunctioned again. I'll extend our time here to make up for it. Sulu, you have the conn."
"Aye, sir," the helmsman said as he assumed the command chair.
Kirk turned toward McCoy. "Hopefully this is no big deal. Let's go find out, gentlemen."
They boarded the turbolift, and as the doors whisked shut, Uhura and Sulu exchanged worried glances.
"Well, she's almost a year old now and looks more like her mother every day--and she's just as gorgeous," Bobby Tomlinson said.
Angela gazed lovingly at their beautiful eleven-month-old daughter and smiled. True, baby Erin had her huge, dark eyes and bottlecap nose, but she also had Bobby's crooked mouth and a luxuriant crop of golden ringlets. She scooped the child up out of her high chair and cuddled her against her chest. Erin cooed and burbled contentedly as her mother kissed her cheek.
This is so perfect, she thought, sighing contentedly as she glanced around their front yard, shaded from the midday sun by a copse of trees. They had talked about it before Bobby...before the Romulan attack, and now they had it--simply because she wished it into existence. A nice, modest ranch house in Mojave, peace and quiet, and--eventually--lots of kids. Little Erin was only the first of many.
Bobby came up behind her and put his arms around her waist as he kissed the back of her neck. Angela shivered with delight.
"What do you say we put the little one down for a nap and see if we can make a baby brother or sister for her--or one of each?"
Before she could respond, a voice echoed through the woods.
"Angela? Where are you?"
Captain Kirk. Of course; she knew he would come eventually, once they found out.
"Miss Martine, please reveal your location," Spock called out.
"Angela, are you all right?" Doctor McCoy's concerned voice inquired.
Angela sighed in resignation. She'd been dreading this moment since she'd decided the course of her future. The confrontation was inevitable--and she knew they would not be happy with her decision.
But it was time to face the music. She deposited Erin back in her high chair. "I'll be back in a few minutes, honey," she said as she kissed Tomlinson on the cheek.
Then she called out, "Over here," as she opened the gate and left the yard.
Angela watched their faces as they approached, trying to gauge their reactions. Spock, of course, was stone-faced and unreadable. She thought she detected comprehension on Kirk's face, and sympathy in McCoy's expression. But she couldn't be sure.
"Angela," Kirk said softly. "This isn't real. I can't tell you that I understand how you feel, but I do know what it's like to lose someone. I know how much you wanted this. It isn't the answer, though."
"If grief runs its normal course, it will get better, honey," McCoy added. "I don't know how long it will take. Right now your pain is raw and fresh, and the pain will never completely leave you. But you need to come to grips with it so you can move on with your life."
"I am moving on with my life, Doctor," she quavered, blinking back tears. "Right here. I have a home and a ready-made family. I can be with Bobby for the rest of my life. I can be happy again."
"Happy," Kirk echoed. "You'd lose your mind within a week. Today it's one child. Maybe tomorrow you'll want five, then maybe cut back to two if five are too hard to handle. Or maybe you'll decide you just want it to be you and Bobby again. You'll stagnate and lose focus in your life. You won't know whether you're coming or going."
"It doesn't matter, as long as I'm with him." She turned to Spock. "Mister Spock, I've heard you say 'a difference which makes no difference is no difference.' Well, this makes no difference to me."
"That algorithm only applies to reality, Miss Martine," Spock intoned. "This is fantasy. This is not logical."
"I don't care." Angela drew a shuddering breath as she turned to face Kirk. "Sir, I've made my decision. I'm respectfully resigning my commission and leaving the Enterprise to stay here."
Kirk rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "You realize I could--and should--have you hauled away in irons, Miss Martine, but I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt because of the recent death of your fiance and other situations. I refuse to accept your resignation at this time. The Enterprise will leave orbit in twelve and a half standard hours. I ask that you consider seriously what you're doing here, the mistake you're making--throwing away your career. I hate to lose a good crewman. If you change your mind, call the Enterprise and we'll beam you up."
"Yes, sir," Angela responded. "I'll do that."
Kirk's hazel eyes bored into hers. "I expect you to be on that ship, Miss Martine." He flipped open his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise--three to beam up, Uhura. And shore parties can start beaming back down, effective immediately.""Aye, sir," came Uhura's filtered reply.
Then transporter sparkle engulfed the Enterprise's senior officers, and they vanished.
Angela wiped away a tear and trudged back into the front yard. She threw her arms around Bobby's neck and kissed him.
"Let's put the baby to bed and see if we can make some playmates for her," she said.
His face lit up. "Now you're talking!"
She retrieved Erin from the high chair and they went inside...
Angela stared at the ceiling as moonlight filtered into their bedroom. She glanced at the bedside chronometer. The Enterprise would break orbit in an hour and a half, taking her career with it.
Let her leave,she thought. I have everything I need right here. Don't I?
But Kirk's words haunted Angela. Once the ship left, there was no turning back for her. She had come so far in just a few short years. Did she really want to sabotage her career this way?
Hell, they'll probably court-martial me anyway,she mused. And on the ship I wouldn't have Bobby with me.
She needed Bobby to hold her, to reassure her that everything would be all right. She turned toward him.
Angela recoiled in horror, and gasped.
'Bobby' lay on the bed in the bright moonlight, an amorphous, featureless, vaguely man-shaped thing with shoe-button eyes. He resembled a mannequin.
And in the crib, her daughter looked for all the world like a doll baby.
The sound of her scream activated the two constructs. They rippled and morphed and assumed the familiar shapes of Bobby and Erin. The baby began to cry as Bobby rushed to Angela's side.
"What is it, honey?" he asked, concerned. "Are you all right?"
Angela choked back a sob. "I'm f-fine. Just waking up from a bad dream." She wiped away tears with the back of a hand. "Captain Kirk was right. This isn't real. It's fantasy. I'll lose my mind if I stay here. My happiness, like everything else here, is all a sham. It's not real. You're not real."
"I can be as real as you want me to be," he said.
"It's not enough. Goodbye, honey."
She kissed him, and as she turned toward the baby, 'Bobby Tomlinson' seemed to melt down and become part of the bedroom carpet.
"Goodbye, baby," Angela choked. She kissed the top of Erin's little head.
Then everything vanished. Angela Martine-Teller stood naked and shivering in a moonlit glade, her uniform and communicator at her feet. She dressed quickly and flipped open the communicator grid. "Martine to Enterprise.""Enterprise here; go ahead, Angela," Uhura said.
"Ready to beam up. More than ready..."
Angela took one last look around the clearing as the beam seized her and took her back where she belonged.
They called it a hearing, not a court-martial, and yet Angela wondered if she had reached the end of her career. She'd been confined to quarters for the two days she'd been back aboard the ship. Then this morning she'd been abruptly summoned to the briefing room to face a tribunal composed of Kirk, Spock and McCoy.
The hearing hadn't taken long. She had been charged with being away without leave, which was a court-martial offense in Starfleet, at the discretion of the ruling tribunal. There were, however, no charges of dereliction of duty, since the ship had been almost fully automated with a skeleton crew, and she had not been assigned any duties for the duration of the shore leave. Doctor Helen Noel, the new ship's psychologist, had spoken in her behalf, mentioning mitigating circumstances involving Bobby's death, the quick marriage with Teller and the even quicker divorece, and Angela's own trauma at being killed by the warplane. But Angela herself offered no defense for her actions--because there was no defense. She would take her lumps and hope for the best.
"All rise," Scott suddenly announced, and the assembly rose to its feet as Kirk, Spock and McCoy, resplendent in full dress uniforms, re-entered the room. The courtroom bell tinkled six times, in three pairs of couplets. To Angela, it sounded like a death knell.
A stony faced Kirk turned toward her. "This tribunal has reached a verdict," he announced.
McCoy cleared his throat. "In the matter of the defendant, Specialist 2C Angela Lisa Martine-Teller, due to mitigating circumstances, this tribunal declares all charges and specifications pursuant to this matter dropped, provided the defendant agrees to enter a grief counseling program with Doctor Helen Noel."
Angela stared in stunned silence as a collective gasp rippled through the crowd.
"Miss Martine," Spock prodded quietly. "Your response, please."
"I...I...uhm, of course--I ac-accept," Angela stammered.
"Then this hearing is adjourned," a beaming Kirk said.
The assembly broke into raucous applause, and the three senior officers of the tribunal joined in--even Spock.
Helen Noel hugged her. "We start tomorrow morning, okay?" the psychologist asked.
"That would be fine," Angela replied. "Thank you for everything."
A horde of hugging, hand-pumping well-wishers descended on her. Angela shook her head, overwhelmed. All these people, she thought. They all care about me.
Spock offered a word of congratulations, and McCoy embraced her in a crushing bear hug.
And then suddenly she was alone in the briefing room with the man who had ultimately held her fate in his hands, Captain James T. Kirk. She couldn't meet his gaze.
"Thank you, sir," she murmured. "I'll never be able to repay you for taking me back."
"Yes, you will," he said, "simply by being the best officer you can be."
He gently took her chin in his hand and lifted her head to meet his eyes. "Angela...I like to think of the Enterprise crew as a family--my family. Every time someone dies in the line of duty, a part of me dies with them. Every time I lose a crewmember--for any reason--I feel like I've lost a member of my own family. I'm glad we didn't lose you. I'm glad you came back to us. Did you see how the crew crowded in here--to support you? They're your family, too. We're all here to help and support one another."
"I realize that now, sir," she said. "I'm so sorry for what I did."
"Apology accepted," Kirk said. "You were under a lot of pressure. And I'm glad you decided to move on with your life, too. I think Bobby would have wanted that."
Angela blinked back tears. "Yes, he would have, sir."
"Now, Miss Martine, you'd better hurry," Kirk admonished as he checked a wall chronometer. "Your shift starts in ten minutes."
"Yes, sir--thank you, sir!"
"And so does mine, as a matter of fact," he muttered as she raced out the door.
Kirk strode out of the briefing room, greeting and being greeted by everyone he met. A squad of new security recruits, all boundless energy and good natured banter, jostled their way down the corridor. A young couple coming off the night shift strolled hand in hand to their quarters.
"Family," Kirk murmured.
Then he caught the nearest turbolift for the bridge.
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