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[Age of Mouldwarp]    
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Cadavers (Part 4)
Basement Instincts
Ensign Nicholson was concentrating on her drink.  It was a Mint Julep, something sheíd come across once at the Academy, or while attending it.  It was stronger than its name implied.  The room was slightly spinning.  She giggled, because Fonden was next to her, and the Benzite had told her of feeling dizzy earlier that day.  No Mint Julep for the Benzite.  Nicholson and Fonden were in Crewman Douglas Velarís quarters, where Nicholson had found herself when the ship-wide lockdown had been issued.  Her interview with Franzoni had left her feeling vulnerable and she was looking for a shoulder to lean on.

At the moment, she was not leaning on Velarís shoulder.  She was on the floor, just in between his sofa and coffee table, on which sat her Mint Julep and Velarís paperback version of Contadinaís Trivet, a Trill work concerning Initiate programs.  It was weird, Laurie thought, that Doug would have a paperback book.  Everything was computers these days.  Books, computers, extraction facilities.  They were all the same thing.  The Mint Julep, she thought, was having fun with her.

"He doesnít care about honest work," she stated, in a slightly slurred exclamation.  "He wants to know why Iím here, why I signed up.  Would I show up to his office if I didnít want to?  Bolian freighters, thatís probably what he thinks I should be serving on."

Fonden, who was one of the few officers still allowed free reign over their movements aboard the Copernicus, had shown up looking for a friendly face as well.  Franzoni was the means of her torment.  Velar sensed a recurring theme.  Fonden sensed that it was a good thing that she could not taste Mint Julep.

"His tactics are not uncommon, Laurie," Velar said, perfectly sober as he was.  "Some of the greats have been known to employ them.  Picard, for example."

"Picard?  Heís some sort of god," Nicholson said, half-thinking.  "Heís above us.  Leave him out of it."

"The Commander was just trying to make you think," Fonden noted.  Her thoughts were still on the Mint Julep.  She sounded and looked too distracted for Nicholson to take her input seriously.  This was understood by both parties.  Fonden was on the sofa, leaning over.  Velar stood just to the side.  They were all distracted.  It was only natural.

"Youíre trying to let him off the hook," Nicholson decided.  "It wasnít fair.  Iíve been doing a decent job."

"Did you wonder what Ethan might have said to Franzoni?" Velar offered.  Ethan was a sore spot in his and Nicholsonís relationship, and Velar liked to drop a negative thought about the young doctor whenever he could.  It was thoughtless, cruelÖperfectly human in Velarís estimation.  Besides, he wasnít even sure Laurie was paying attention.

"Iím a navigator.  I navigate the ship.  Off we go!" Nicholson garbled.  Fondenís hand was slinking towards the Mint Julep.  

The flashing blue light above his door caught Velarís attention.  No klaxons for Blue Alert, just the lights blinking on and off.  Incessantly.  "Parkes is back onboard."

"How did you know?" Fonden asked hesitantly.

"Ethan may be a scoundrel, but heís a decent friend all the same," Velar said.  How did that saying go?  ĎKeep your enemies closerí?  That was his approach, anyway.  "Parkes was brought back as soon as the Salient arrived.  Funny thing is, he refused treatment."

Fonden was nervous.  With such liberal felony, such as it was, since there was an internal communications ban by all nonessential personnel on top of the lockdown, it should have been impossible for Chenoweth to contact Velar.  Especially in the case of such sensitive information.  That they were both her friends was beside the point.  She wondered if reporting this would put her back in the good graces of Captain Matheson.  The Mint Julep momentarily slipped out of mind.

"Your friend?" Nicholson asked, blindly.

"Parkes?  He was," Velar said.  He was feeling even more sober now.  "But whatís he up to now?  Thatís all I care about.  FondenÖ"

"Oh no," she shouted, "you are not getting me into trouble.  I will not help you.  Iím sorry."  It was probably the most passionate Velar had ever seen her, or any Benzite for that matter.  He visibly backed off, and walked over to his port, where he gazed out to the stars.  They were like eyes, scrutinizing the ship that had somehow lost its way.  

"How did this happen?" he inquired abstractly of Fonden and Nicholson.  "How did we fall into this place?  If Picard is a god, then this should be his realm.  Weíre not prepared for this.  These murdersÖthey should have been solved by now.  Itís been four days now.  At the risk of sounding obvious, somethingís not right."

"That much was obvious," Nicholson said.

"Get up," he said.  "Mint Juleps will not make thisÖcrisis any better to bear.  Fonden, did you ever figure out why you went to the holodeck?"

"No," she said, suddenly alarming herself.  "No.  I just donít know.  I donít even know what I did, if I did anything.  I was there, thatís all I know.  Itís disturbing to think that I have done something that I cannot explain."

"Ethan could help, you know," he offered.
"Doctor Sokor allowed him once to circumvent sickbayís silence.  He wonít allow it a second time," she reasoned.

"Itís a matter of shipís security," Velar stated.  "You donít need to sneak around."

Fonden felt cornered, and should have been a good thing in this instance, but inside of her a voice was whispering.  She couldnít bring this out in the open, this lapse in consciousness.  It wasnít a matter of being suspected in the murders.  Or was it?  "IÖcanít."

"What do you mean?" came the incongruous reply.  "FondenÖ"

"I think sheís right," Nicholson chimed in.  She was standing in between the sofa and the table now.  Her head was still spinning now, but Fonden was the only one in the room still considering the glass of Mint Julep.  "Frankly, Franzoni should be investigated."

Velarís first instinct was to dismiss the remark to the effects of the Mint Julep, but he caught himself.  Right now, he didnít know what to think, so he couldnít afford to start ignoring anything.  He walked back to the sofa and sat down.  Nicholson plopped down beside him.  Now all three were seated on it, and all three looked uncomfortable, but not because of the sofa.  Fondenís hand crept to the Mint Julep, slowly.

"Franzoni," Fonden murmured.  She didnít have anything to add to that thought, but she had felt compelled to utter it all the same.  "Maybe we should call up Ethan anyway," she decided, having now seemed to forget her earlier assertion against it.

"Why?  What could he do?" Velar wondered, not following Fonden.

"He has access to the medical logs, doesnít he?  Perhaps he has something that might explain why Laurie and I, who both left his company in altered statesÖ" She paused.  "It hadnít occurred to me.  I did start feeling strange after leaving the holodeck the first time."

"Youíre seriously accusing Franzoni of being a part ofÖ" Velar started, not knowing how to finish, "a part of whatever is going on here?  Something happened to you.  Commanding officers do not get Ďpossessed.í  Or whatever youíre thinking."

"I wasnít implying anything," Fonden said, frustrated.  Her hand withdrew from the Mint Julep.  "I told you, I donít know.  Iím grasping at straws here."

"Perhaps Dolan would know something," Nicholson offered, "or Ethan could find out something about Dolan.  Dolan, seek ye Dolan."

"So says the wise and all-knowing Laurie," Velar joked.  The sofa became relieved for a moment.

"I am Picard!  I am omniscient!" she continued.  The moment continued.

"You may actually have something there, Laurie," Fonden noted.

"About Picard?"

"About Dolan.  Whatever is happening, heís obviously involved somehow.  Franzoni had the wisdom to decipher that," Fonden said with a note of bitterness.  Velar nodded in agreement with the current line of thought.  It was something to consider.  File it next to Franzoni-is-suspicious.  Fondenís hand began to creep toward the Mint Julep again.

"Do either of you know what exactly the Salient is here to do?" Velar decided to throw in.  

"Iíve been wondering that myself," Nicholson said.  Her mind was still in a haze, but she was beginning to think straight again.  She made a private vow to never again have three Mint Juleps in one sitting.  The fourth sat on the table, and Fonden was trying desperately to hide her secret longing, but she feared that it wasnít working.  Velar had seen something in her eye a moment ago.

"Perhaps Ethan could tell us," Fonden suggested, compounding the already keen interest in the young doctor and perhaps deflecting interest from her own present distraction.  "We shouldnít wait any longer to contact him.  How did you manage it before?"

"He did, actually," Velar stated.  "But youíre awfully eager all of a sudden.  What happen to that reserve you had?  Not afraid to get into trouble now?"

"Itís not that.  It seems prudent now, useful," she argued.  A new resolution came upon her.  "Perhaps while we have him on the comm, I could ask him what I would have to do to have a taste of this beverage."

Velar glanced at her again.  Something was definitely odd about this.  "Weíve got to tell someone something, thatís all I know."  The blue light was on his mind again, but he resisted the urge to look at it.  He wanted to turn it off.

Someone did do something.  On Haley Minor, Lt. Jacobi had himself arrested, and when Captain Matheson found out, she could hardly contain herself.  Captain Rivera of the Salient was summoned to the Copernicus for a conference, and a new resolve was made to settle this matter.

But of course, it was all going as Matheson had planned.         
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characters and story © copyright Sean "Waterloo" McKenna 2001-2003; Star Trek copyright Paramount