988: Justification

by Ladron Reece



Three weeks after Unchanging Spots

(In the year 2240)


-=Ladron’s Mansion on Sveji=-

“What you’re doing is wrong,” Tolarum warned.

“Mmhmm,” Ladron answered, as he attempted to obtain the Fourth Cube of Greelack from the Hergle Beast in the video game he was playing. This was the final scene of the seventh level and he had been trying to pass it for hours now. He tried his best to ignore Tolarum and his bladder, both of which were growing more impatient by the moment.

“Oh so you agree with me? Okay, then let’s give all these people their money back.”

“What? No! Not my money. Son of a…I’m out of rockets.” Ladron pressed the pause button in frustration, threw the controller down on the diamond encrusted coffee table, and cracked his aching knuckles, before jogging off the to the bathroom for a break.

Tolarum picked up a hideous vase and rolled it around in his hands, searching for an angle where the collection of colors on it could be considered artwork.

“Isn’t it horrible?” Ladron asked upon returning from his rest stop. “It was the most expensive thing at an auction, so I bought it.”

“You have to stop,” Tolarum said, bringing the conversation back to the topic at hand.

“Look,” Ladron started, then stopped. “Do you want to go for a drive?”

Ladron didn’t wait for an answer.. Instead he grabbed a ring of keys from a table by the front door, and walked out to the garage. Tolarum yelled for Ladron to stop but he did not. He stood on the front step, exasperated, as he saw Ladron vanish into the garage.

A minute later, a sleek blue antique roadster with a motor loud enough to wake the dead tore out of the garage, tires spinning and dirt being flung in every direction. Ladron gave Tolarum a little show of his muscle car’s power, before sliding up along side him at the front door, and lowering the convertible top.

“Put this on and get in.” Ladron tossed his friend a cap with a strange logo on it. Tolarum did as he was told, and Ladron tore out of the driveway, heading for the open road. “It’s the local gribball team’s hat. You want people around here to like you, you wear it.” Ladron explained to his friend, who was still fiddling with the cap. He put it on at last.

They rode in silence for about ten minutes, Tolarum with his arms crossed over his chest, Ladron with his hands up in his hair, driving with his knee as he futilely tried to shape his blond locks against the flow of the open air. They merged onto the highway and Ladron zipped across all three lanes into the left lane, traveling at a velocity far greater than any other the other cars on the road.

“How long do you think you can keep this up?” Tolarum asked, raising his voice over the wind to be heard.

“You are such a killjoy.” Ladron reached in and turned on the radio, which Tolarum immediately turned off.

“There’s some kind of official vehicle up there. You better slow down.” Tolarum warned.

“Relax.” Ladron sped down the road, giving a quick wave as he passed the police vehicle positioned in the median of the highway. The officer waved right back as he watched Ladron fly right on by.

“I can’t let you do this.. Not again.”

“Pffffffffffft.” Ladron scoffed. “What will you do? Go back to Trill and get help? Tell them you let me take over the whole planet? Yeah that’s going to go over well. And good luck trying to convince anyone here I’m a fraud. After all,” Ladron turned towards Tolarum and grinned. “I’m God.”

“You’re taking advantage of their trust and generosity.”

“I’m giving them exactly what they want, Tolarum. A crutch. A reason to roll out of bed and face each day in their miserable lives. They had nothing to look forward to except working until they dropped dead without ever getting ahead. Well, now they all know that everyone will be rewarded in the end. That is of course, so long as they contribute towards the greater good and spreading of the word.”

“But there is no greater good and you know it.” Tolarum shot back.

“Who cares? They’ll die happy because they believe there is one. I was like them, Tolarum. I’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Gone from bad paying job to bad paying job and half-baked scheme to downright illegal scam. You get nothing for your hard work.”

“Oh so illegal activities and scams now count as hard work. I studied for years to get to where I was, and lost it all because of a fraud of an Initiate that I recruited. How in the world did you pull the cloth over my eyes anyway?”

Tolarum tried to keep his eyes on the dashboard, rather than the road and other traffic which were rushing by at an alarming rate.

“Hey, bringing me in was your idea, not mine. Though I have to admit I trumped up my credentials a bit to make sure you picked me. If you had actually bothered checking with the University you would have seen the only records I had there were for selling alcohol to minors.”

“I did check,” Tolarum said softly, as he rubbed his temples with his forefingers. How could he have been so stupid?

“We need gas, and we just crossed the border.” Ladron said. He snatched the hat off Tolarum’s head, and fished another one out of the back seat. “Now put this one on. We are in Stars territory. These are their colors.”

“Are you kidding? Pander to the people much?”

Ladron zipped across the highway again, and off the exit ramp, cutting off several other cars in the process. Despite his rudeness, the other drives only smiled and waved at Ladron as they tried to catch the dust he kicked up in their outstretched hands. He pulled into the first fuel station he could find, turned off the engine, and took a credit card from his pocket.

“No no no! No no no!!!” A young woman with tattered clothes, missing teeth, and a hefty limp hobbled out of the station towards the pump. She stepped in front of Ladron and tapped a code into the pump. Then she grabbed the nozzle herself, and slid it into Ladron’s vehicle.

“Well, bless you my dear,” Ladron put his credit card away, and the woman handed him a crumpled monetary note.

“For the word,” She said, through her broken grin.

Tolarum watched in disgust, as Ladron tucked the bill into his pocket, then slung his arm around the woman. “Tell me my dear. When you get to Wonderland, will it be the in-ground pool, or the roundball court?”

She appeared to be lost in thought for a moment.

“Wait, who am I kidding, I’m God! How about both? No! Better yet, I’ll give you the ability to walk on water, so you can play roundball and be in the pool at the same time.”

The pump clicked off as the tank reached full. “Oh thank you Ladron, thank you!” She set the nozzle back on the pump and twisted the gas cap shut.”

“I’ll save a special place for you,” Ladron promised, before he roared off back towards the highway. “Go Stars! And remember, when life gets really tough, just repeat the universal benediction...” He yelled with his fist in the air. Once they were out of the station Tolarum started shouting as the woman they'd left behind closed her eyes and reverently recited the words Ladron had taught to the 'faithful'.

"Let it be."

"Universal benediction?!" Tolarum growled in disbelief.

"Yep. True words of wisdom." Ladron replied. "Let it be."

"Let it...let it..." Tolarum stammered in frustration. "On top of it all, you're stealing from the Beatles for your mantra?" He knew the origin of the three word phrase because of a song that Ladron had played so many times over the ship's comm system before he moved into the mansion that if he had been able to figure out how Tolarum would've erased the damn file.

"Hey, if you're going to steal, steal from the best." Ladron laughed.

“I can't believe you let her pay and took that note. That was probably all the money she had! You should have been giving her cash, not taking it!”

“Today she got to do a favor for her god, and she’s been guaranteed a place for herself and her family in Wonderland for it. She’ll sleep better tonight than she ever would have with the money.”

Ladron reached over and opened the glove box, where he had several snacks stored. He tore open a bag of chips and began eating.

“Could you keep one hand on the wheel please?” Tolarum asked.

Ladron held the bag between his legs and put a hand back on the wheel, cooperating for the first time.

“Everything changed when you gave my this guy right here.” Ladron said, as he patted his stomach abdomen where Reece was safely nestled. “Aramos’ confidence and swagger, Leacynth’s brilliance, the diplomatic and speaking skills, the lifetimes of experiences with people from every walk of life. All they needed was a dash of immorality to make them unstoppable.”

“Inspiring,” Tolarum mumbled.

“So what’s your plan? I’m not giving this up. I have the whole planet on my fingertips.”

“Truth be told I rather like the solitude of living in the ship in the woods.”

“Fantastic! I’m happy, you’re happy, they are all happy. What else do you want?” Ladron asked.

“You’re going to pay for this someday, Ladron.” Tolarum warned.

“Are you kidding? By the time any of these people figure out what happened to them, I’ll be long since dead and gone.”

Ladron dropped the pedal down even further, blasting through the traffic as he headed for home.

Ladron Reece
USS Serendipity NCC-2012

NRPG: Thank you, Reece, for allowing me to insert my desired Beatles lyric. It just seemed too perfect to pass up. ~ZL

987: Tastes Like Dirt

by Lara Valera Ryn and Landry Steele
Following Hardly Fair


Lara looked around at the camp site -- or what would become the camp site once the team got started on it. The last time she had been on a dig this wet had been on Ferenginar. Now that was rain. They had been lucky to even get two whole days that month when it did not rain for more than half the day. So this was nothing.

Or at least Lara thought so. She was not so sure that most of her fellow teammates thought the same way. But then again, she did like the great outdoors. The sights, the smells, the pure naturalness of it.

She looked up and down at her wet and muddy self. She even didn't mind this. Or the "naturally" dyed brown hair that came with a mud bath, which actually made Lara smile. The last time she had donned this look, Julian Ryn had told her that she would make a great brunette. At the time, she had scowled, picked up a scoop of mud, threw it at him, and missed horribly. He had simply laughed and told her 'better luck next time.' And there had been a next time shortly thereafter, and as Lara recalled -- not to mention as the Ryn symbiont remembered it -- Julian had given far better than he had gotten in that encounter.

Lara shook her head at the memory, but then after a moment, she smiled, for once recognizing that a memory of Julian was not painful.

"What are you smiling about?" a voice asked.

Lara shook her head for a second time, bringing herself completely into the present and turning to face a fellow mud-covered teammate.

"Ghosts of mud baths past." Lara answered. "I take it you don't like getting wet?"

"Don't like?" Landry Steele groused, cringing at the sickening 'sucking' sound her boots made every time she took a step. "I like water about as much as your average cat. That is unless it is steaming hot and filled with cherry almond scented bubbles!" She heard a buzzing noise around her head and shrieked, batting frantically at the enormous flying insect that was circling her.

"Well I can't help you with the fragrance-laden beauty products, Steele, but hot and bubbling water we've now got." The voice of TC Blane caused Landry to spin around. "I just stumbled on a malfunctioning holo-blind while I was looking for something to use to start a fire. Panel was flashing in and out and when I deactivated it, turns out that we're really not far from a pretty dense forest area. At the edge of that forest area is a natural hot spring. I scanned it with my tricorder and it's definitely safe for bathing."

"I'm there." Landry took off in the direction in which Blane was pointing, but he grabbed hold of her shoulder.

"Not so fast, Bathsheba." He shook his head firmly. "Camp set up comes first. Then the Captain will then send the crew down to bathe in gender appropriate shifts."

"I hate this!" Steele moaned, dizzy from exertion and the heat. "I'm dirty, I'm cranky. My ankles are swollen. I'm retaining more water than the Hoover Dam and there isn't a Twinkie in sight for kilometers or a replicator from which to demand one! I went into Temporal Investigations for a reason. To avoid situations just like this! I do not do ground combat!"

"Hey! Goddess of all things Temporal! Either use your divine superpowers to speed up time to the point where you end your rant or shut your yap so we don't have to listen to you whine anymore. Either option works for me." Dane snarled, as he battled a couple of tent poles into submission before successfully joining them together. "Some of us are trying to work here."

Landry picked up the two nearest tent poles and tried jamming them together, yelping as she nearly pinched off the tip of her index finger in the process. When she finally got them assembled, she held the long metal rod they made up in the air and rotated it menacingly.

"Remember what happened last time you got too close to me while I was holding a lengthy metallic pole, Cristiane? Unless you want me to break your nose again, or find an even more unpleasant way to inflict pain using this thing I sincerely suggest that you cram it."

"'Accident' my ass. I knew you did it on purpose." Dane muttered, not really caring much anymore. He looked off into the distance, wondering when Gira and the Captain would return. The longer they were gone, the more he worried.

He worried about Gira a lot...

"I hear we're going to share a tent! I couldn't be happier." Jamie Halliday grinned as he approached Cristiane. Halliday seemed entirely too happy to Dane, considering he was wringing wet with muddy water, hadn't eaten all day and had hiked for hours before the tug of war. Cristiane just couldn't understand how anyone could be so naturally optimistic and...perky.

"Swell." Dane replied, handing off the tent poles to Halliday as he picked up two more. "Let's get this over with. I'm beat."

While watching the reality show that was Halliday, Dane, and Steele, Ryn made her way closer to the piles of supplies. Steele followed a few steps behind her though much less enthusiastically. Lara picked up one of the folded pieces of tent material meant to be stretched over poles and made into their shelter for the night and gave it a once over. "Standard Starfleet issue." She commented, "Zips shut, that's good for keeping our little winged friends from dining on us overnight...."

"That...that can't be the material for our tent..." Steele shook her head in horror and backed away slowly. "Dwan Tubman's flak jacket is bigger than that!"

"That also zips shut. Maybe he'll loan it to us and we can sleep under that instead."

"You don't understand!" Landry squeaked. "I'm seriously claustrophobic. I can't...breathe in...small...spaces!" She wheezed a gasping, half-breath inward to punctuate the point.

"First off, it is bigger than it looks. Second, where is your sense of adventure?" Lara asked as she began to put the tent together without much thought. It was an old skill, much like riding a bike; you never forget the basics.

"I don't do outdoors, I don't do nature, I don't do this!" Landry bemoaned as she dropped the last pole to their tent, which she had, to her credit, been trying to put together properly.

"Well, if you don't like the idea of a tent," Lara replied as she picked up Landry's errant pole with her foot, lifted it up, and snatched it with her hand, "then you could sleep out in the open." Lara watched as Landry's eyes popped. "But with this weather and unknown creatures out there, I wouldn't recommend it."

"I just want a nice hot bath and a warm meal. Is that too much to ask?"

"Not at all. You just have to think outside of the box when it comes to what a hot bath and warm meal mean."

While the two girls were bantering, TC Blane had come back around to inspect their part of the camp site. Seeing their tent almost finished, he asked of Lara, "How does it feel to be back outdoors?"

Lara smiled at the second officer; she didn't think that they had ever met, but she was still not surprised that he knew who she was; it was his job after all, and if there was one rumor about TC Blane, it was that he was good -- very good, in fact -- at his job. "Just perfect."

"Mud and all?"

"I don't see why everyone maligns mud so much. Mud will stick to you, granted, but dry dirt just gets everywhere. Do you know what it is like when everything you eat or drink tastes like dirt?"

"What do you mean, 'tastes like dirt'?" Landry interjected.

Lara did not know the second officer well, but she figured that he might appreciate her sense of humor when she replied, "Oh, you mean, you didn't know. We're having mud pie for dinner tonight."

Landry opened her mouth and a soft, exasperated whimper came out, but she did not say anything.

Now turning to TC, Lara added, "Too much, eh?"

He neither nodded nor shook his head before stating, "Keep up the good work, ladies."


Lt. Lara Valera Ryn
Science Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012


Ensign Landry Steele
Temporal Investigations Intern
The Alchemy Project

986: New Games and Old Friends

by: Mellice Cem and Lair Kellyn
Stardate: 91026.1047
Concurrent with Women Have Wiles...
and Hardly Fair


Special Assignment Event Log, Lt. Mellice Cem: Stardate 91026.16

Even though offered use of the underground, hidden comforts of this world meant to test a person's mettle, I have declined them.

Instead, the only (necessary) piece of their technology I've availed myself of is the transporter armband, other than that I've been hunting my own food, making use of my water rations and otherwise living off of the land.

What is the point of trying to match wits with your fellow Starfleet officers if you're taking the easy road-- sleeping in a soft bed every night, and eating from a replicator? Jelca and her colleagues may feel comfortable in their management roles doing such things, but in my role as unknown rival to Zanh Liis and her crew from the Serendipity, I will choose to take the more difficult route knowing it'll also be more personally rewarding.

This is going to be the most fun I've had in a long time.

Upon my arrival, I was given an outline of the Sera's crew roster, and just the last name, first initial and rank of two of the people on that list were enough to tell me all I needed to know. This has got to be a damn fine crew and tough too, given who their Captain is.

Zanh Liis, with four pips on her collar. Who'd have believed it.

I served with her for a time aboard the USS Aries. She was younger then, though from what I've seen of her from a distance though my visual enhancement gear, she hasn't changed much. She and I were vying for the same promotion back then, and trying to outdo each other at every turn. For awhile, it was a hate/hate relationship; but when we both lost out on the job and to a man neither of us felt was qualified for it, after which we quickly bonded through our disgust with Command over a bottle of Terran whiskey.

That turned our hate/hate relationship into a grudging acceptance. A few tough Away Missions working together turned that grudging acceptance into something damn close to mutual respect just about the time that she was yanked from the ship and put in another post.
Yeah, how that situation with the job we were shooting for turned out, neither of us could've predicted. In the end I had to respect the woman for being who she is and not being afraid to speak her mind.

She was transferred out not long after that, quickly too, and I had no idea where she'd gone or what had become of her; if she'd even still be in Starfleet. Hell, part of me thought for sure she'd have found a way to get herself killed by now. But apparently, she's done well for herself. I can't wait to use my considerable skills to make her stay on Sibalt a bit more miserable, and then give her absolute hell about it after the games have ended.

The other name familiar to me on the list is for much more sentimental reasons.

I knew Lair Kellyn during her post-grad work at the Academy, during which time she took great delight in reminding me just how young she was by calling me "Grandpa". I took to calling her "The Brat" in response and things took off from there. We had, during the two years we lived on the same floor of that dormitory complex, what you would call a warm, sibling-type relationship. I'd lost track of her, as of so many people over the years as we all moved from one assignment to another. But it appears she is doing well, also, and this is a good thing to see. I really hope that after the games have ended I'll be able to catch up with her and hear about what's gone on in her life since those days.

I've some stories to tell her, myself...

Mellice put the PADD he'd been typing on back into his pack and returned his attention to the crowd on the ground below.

He was kilometers away from their current position, high up in a tall tree that was currently obstructed from view by holographic blinds put into place to mislead them as to their true, distant surroundings. He watched with satisfaction as the teams shuffled through the mud. He'd been having a bit of fun with them all day, turning the rain on and off by manipulating the weather modification net at will. Now, it was time to sit back and enjoy the entertainment.

It was a bit of a shame that for some reason Zanh herself was not participating in the events- it appeared that their 'neutral observer', a large Irishman by the name of O'Sullivan according to his file, was taking up anchor position for her team.

Mellice, if he was a betting man, would've predicted based solely on evident brute strength and weight of the people involved that the Vulcan and his team was going to be first into the drink. Only time would tell.

It wasn't too long before he took out his PADD and, laughing, he made another notation.

They put up a valiant fight, but into the swamp the Alchemy team went...

He watched them disperse from his hidden spot not too far away. This was only the first of many challenges for the two teams, and an amused chuckle escaped his lips. *I think for the next game I'll toss in a few of my own ideas on how to rattle their cages...* he thought to himself, as he grabbed his pack and tapped his armband transporter to take him back to his own small base camp. Surely, with this lot of officers he'd have himself a field day--especially if they were this easy to distract.

Still, he knew that no matter how easily distracted the rest might be, two of them at least were certain to provide a challenge, especially in any battle of wits as opposed to just a show of physical strength.

He thought back again over his personal experiences with Zanh and Lair as he materialized at his campsite. He moved to the large log he had previously set up in front of the fire pit he'd built. He reignited the fire to chase away the evening dampness as it settled in around him, and once the fire was going strong he once more took up his PADD and began typing.

Special Assignment Event Log, Supplemental:

It appears I was right, the Vulcan's team was the first to hit the drink so now they have to set-up base camp, it was fun to watch and play with the weather net while they were out there having a grand ole time in these war games. I was surprised to see that Kellyn, even as drenched as she became, stayed pretty even tempered, well, for her, anyway- and appears to be much the same as I recalled her from the Academy. A little older, maybe a bit wiser. She certainly seems more open to trying new things.

Back then, she was so introverted and anti-social that she barely spoke and I thought she'd never leave the Quad. After she finally admitted to being nervous in large groups of people, a few of us decided something just had to be done.

At one point we literally had to 'kidnap' her from the Engineering Design lab just to get her out in public and seen. How she HATED that, even though we told her that it was for her own good. She may have resented us for doing so back then but I think it may have helped her more in the long run than she realized.

In the end, she had a couple of beers and a few laughs in the company of friends that night. Despite her determination to have a lousy time I even caught her smiling once. I know she actually enjoyed the evening even if she never would admit it. I knew in the end it was just about helping her get past her fear of interacting with people socially, hardly difficult to understand considering the conditions we grew up in on Bajor.

We didn't know if we'd be alive tomorrow- keeping a full social calendar was hardly a priority.

I knew at the very least that night out on the town was a first step in the right direction. By the end of it, at least Kellyn didn't seem to be so afraid anymore.

Zanh Liis, on the other hand, has as far as I know never been afraid of anything in her life.

I have to shake my head, looking back. By the Prophets, I think more than once we nearly just decided to have a duel, get it over with and see who was left standing at the end. On board the Aries we were bitter rivals for the top spot in both security and tactical. Needless to say that when neither of us got the job--that went to Ensign or should I say FORMER LT. Jason "'Fraidy cat" Fender. He didn't keep it long.

From what I understand, department leadership didn't suit him in the least. Rumors say he's now a farmer on Detrel VII, specializing in hydroponics. Vegetable crops, they say.

He packed his bags and resigned his commission at the first sign of the Jem'Hadar during the Dominion War and hasn't been heard from through official Starfleet channels since.

I can't wait to tell ZL that he washed out but damn, now that I think of it, it happened quicker than I predicted. I think I might owe her some latinum or at least a drink to settle that bet.

Mellice felt fatigue creeping up on him and finally stopped his typing. He placed the PADD back into his pack, putting it away for now.

He was deep in contemplation as he warmed his hands in front of the fire; entertaining thoughts of old times long past and new games yet to be played, wondering what the next 'challenge' for them all would be.

Whatever orders Jelca gave him in the morning as far as his role in the day's events, one thing was certain.

He was going to have a hell of a good time making 'trouble' for a couple of very good, very old friends.

Lieutenant (jg) Mellice Cem
Assistant Security/Tactical Chief
USS Revolution NCC-71605-A
Games Saboteur


Commander Lair Kellyn
Engineer and Reformed Recluse
Engineering Research and Development
The Alchemy Project

985: Hardly Fair

by -=/\=- Zanh Liis O'Sullivan
Immediately following Women Have Wiles and Men Have Needs

-=A Muddy Field, on Sibalt=-

The woman's dearest immediate wish was one that could only be expressed in deeply felt, passionately spoken words.

This one thought was so overwhelming that it threatened to consume her, as well as the man that wish involved along with the stirring and powerful emotions that inspired it.

She inhaled as deeply as she could given the way that she was trembling and at last gave voice to her desire in low, hypnotic tones.

"I hope you choke on a Jumja stick and die."

Ashton Ledbetter sniffed haughtily in the general direction of Lair Kellyn. The engineer stomped away after hurling the insult at him along with a very pointed look of pure, unadulterated hatred. She didn't look back, her head held high even as she was leaving a trail of muddy water in her wake.

"Highly unlikely." He replied smugly. "I'm not Bajoran."

Just as Ashton was smiling secretly within at how he had escaped falling into the muddy water, he suddenly found himself careening face first towards it.

Standing on the bank where he'd been before was host of the 'games', Jelca Rued.

Rued calmly folded her hands, even as Ledbetter flailed in the shallow depths and screamed like a girl that he was drowning.

All those around stared at her, mouths hanging open, amazed that she had been the one who pushed Ledbetter into the drink.

"I am sorry." She remarked with a shrug. "But your team lost the challenge and went into the water. You would have an unfair advantage over them if you were not to suffer the same fate and the after-effects of that fate."

Ashton sputtered and grumbled that he would have someone's head over this once he got back to Starfleet and "talked to Gem." Landry Steele, closest to Ledbetter as she made her way out of the muck, sighed and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, or rather by the collar of his soggy uniform.

"Don't you get it, Ledbetter?" She sighed. "Gem is the one who sent us here."

"It is time to set up camp." Rued continued.

"Right now?" Dane asked, folding his arms as he was finally pulled away from the sight of Gira as she tried to wring the muddy water from her hair.

"Yes, Ensign Cristiane. Right now."

"Don't we get a....bath or something first?" Gira inquired meekly.

"Perhaps the rain will help wash off some of the mud." Jelca replied. "I believe it will be picking up again soon." Once again she gave that overly sweet, overly wide smile and Dane grumbled softly.

"You will be assigned to tent-mates." Jelca continued, ignoring the murmurs of protest rising all around her. "Lair and Lassiter. Ryn and Steele. Cristiane and Halliday, Samson and Ledbetter, Sterling and Tryst, Salvek and Briggs."

"Wait a minute..." Vol protested, but Jelca raised her hand.

"These are your assignments for the duration of your stay on Sibalt, Lieutenant Tryst. You are not to deviate from them."

"Not even if we're married?" Kellyn asked, raising her muddy hand in protest.

"Or don't want to be?" Vol added wryly.

"Especially not if you're married." Jelca replied simply to Lair, before turning her attention to the Betazoid. "Or don't want to be."

"But on the other side, they've got one extra in O'Sullivan as observer. Who gets the tent alone?"

"They'll have to figure that out on their own." Jelca replied. "Teamwork."

"I bet the Captain gets to pick her tent-mate." Cristiane complained, having meant only to think it.

"'Course she does.." Keiran called, grinning at the young man as he approached. "She's the Captain."

"I'd suggest that you get to work. The materials needed to raise your tents are over there." Jelca gestured down the field a long ways.

"Way over there?" Landry moaned.

"Yes, Ensign. Be grateful you do not have to hike for hours trying to find natural materials to construct your shelters from." The rumble of thunder punctuated Rued's words. "I'd suggest you make haste. Have a good night's sleep, everyone. We begin again at sunrise."

Jelca's form shimmered and faded from view but then just as suddenly she reappeared. "Wait. Commander Reece..." She waved a hand, her unnaturally long fingers beckoning the sopping wet Trill forward.

"Yo, Medusa. You rang?" Dabin muttered.

"You violated the spirit of the rules of the game when you let go of the rope to yell at your teammate. You will assist the Alchemy team in setting up camp."

"Hey, I call no way!" Reece objected. "They were cheating."

"We were just using a tactical advantage." Vol countered, still rather satisfied with the work he'd done.

"Bite me." Reece stomped over toward the Alchemy team. "Fine, queen of the gorgons, have it your way. But I'm campin' with them." He jerked a thumb in the direction of his team.

"We won't stop you!" Ledbetter assured, as he tried to straighten the bobbing clump of dripping blond hair that was hanging down over his forehead.

Jelca merely nodded serenely towards Reece and then once again she was gone.

Zanh Liis made her way over after Rued's exit, and as she walked, she stopped to talk to each member of the Alchemy's team one by one to check on their welfare.

She began each short conversation with the same simple question, one that any concerned leader would ask before any other. "You all right?"

One by one, she heard the same short reply: "Aye, Sir."

Everyone said it, until she got to the last of the lot, Gira Lassiter.

When she asked the young woman the same question, she noticed that Gira was much slower to answer than the others had been.

Dane, who was standing nearby, also noticed. He moved to retrieve the jacket he'd been wearing earlier from the ground beside the muck where he'd left it, wanting to give it to Gira now as it was obvious she needed it from the way she ran her hands up and down her arms to try to fight the chill.

Zanh raised her eyes to Cristiane, her expression telling him to stand where he stood.

"Yes...Sir." Gira finally replied, barely audibly. She knew that she was lying, but she didn't want to let her teammates down by showing how bad she felt and risking bringing them down too. She wished she'd been stronger during the challenge, that she could've helped them to better fight against their inevitable defeat.

All her life, she had wished for the ability to do more to stave off the inevitable defeat which always seemed to find her, somehow.

"Walk with me, Ensign." Zanh instructed, catching and holding Keiran's eye for a moment as she reached up and put her arm around the soaked and shaking Lassiter. Finally, she removed the jacket she'd been wearing and draped it over Gira's shoulders.

"But Captain, my team is-"

"Your team can live without you for a little while. Besides, Reece can haul more tent equipment in five minutes than you could in an hour, you featherweight. Come with me."

"Yes, sir."

Keiran sighed as he watched the two women walk away. Rain began to fall again, a much colder, soaking rain, and he realized that even though the Alchemy team was supposed to put up camp alone, if they didn't all work together to try to create a source of heat, everyone was going to catch pneumonia.

"We need to figure out how to get a fire going." TC Blane said to O'Sullivan, as if reading the Irishman's thoughts. "Shelter it somehow so it doesn't go out in the rain. Sun's setting quickly."

"Right you are, Thomas." Keiran agreed, though his thoughts were following Liis and Gira as they walked instead of truly on his task. "Right you are."

"I'll track back a little ways, look for anything we can burn." Blane replied, retreating.

"Commander O'Sullivan?" Hearing another familiar voice behind him, Keiran turned. He found the equally familiar form of Rada Dengar standing just over his shoulder.

"Aye, Dengar, what is it?" Keiran asked nervously. From the look on Rada's face it was difficult to tell what he was thinking.

"Would it be considered a violation of the rules if we helped them?" Dengar inquired.

"Helped them?"

"Yes. If...those of us who want to, volunteered to help the Alchemy team set up camp."

Keiran rubbed his chin thoughtfully, thinking that not many men would have bothered to even ask the question. "Dunno, Rada. Why? You wanna help 'em?"

"It just seems that it wasn't really fair," Dengar remarked, shrugging his shoulders. "The teams weren't evenly matched. They really didn't have a chance."

More often than not in life, boy, the teams are not evenly matched, Keiran thought sadly. Life is hardly fair.

"Well, I'm just an observer, I'm not makin' the rules, right?" Keiran answered softly. "So, if ya want'ta help 'em, I'm not the one to stop ya. Either that unusual hostess of ours, or yer Captain would be. Since neither of 'em seem ta be around just now, if ya want to offer yer assistance to Commander Salvek 'til someone objects, am not gonna stand in yer way."

"Thank you, Sir." Dengar said. The Angosian returned to the group of Serendipity officers who were standing by, watching the others plod off down toward the piles of supplies that had appeared on the surface.

Dengar said a few words to the group, and then to his amazement, Keiran watched as each member of the Sera's team, to the last, made their way down the field to assist the Alchemy team in starting to set up the tents.

"Quite a crew you've got here, Zanh Liis O'Sullivan." Keiran said softly, shaking his head as he himself moved to join the others. "That's what I call teamwork."

-=/\=- Zanh Liis O'Sullivan
Commanding Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012

984: Women Have Wiles and Men Have Needs

by Dabin Reece and Vol Tryst
After Across the Pond

-=Tug-of-war pond on Sibalt=-

Things appeared dire indeed. As Vol crossed his arms, with an obvious frown on his face, he eyed the other team as they prepped. It took most of his conscious effort not to just forfeit right then and there, but Vol was feeling a particular burning sensation in his gut. That was unusual for him, but the Betazoid wasn't altogether too surprised. Vol worked tremendously well under pressure, even more so when the odds were stacked up against him. Judging from the team alone, Vol felt the battle cry within him rest just behind his lips. Indeed, perhaps the Sera team would undoubtedly win, but they'd have to bleed and bruise to do so.

Vol half listened to Salvek and Briggs discuss strategy, but was much more concerned in tapping the un-obvious Achilles heel of Keiran and the rest of the Sera team. He saw Dabin and February speaking amongst themselves, with TC and Keiran taking on leadership roles though stopping every once in awhile to tell Dabin to shut up.

And maybe that was it. Vol was now subconsciously biting his thumbnail as he slowly raised his eyebrows as an idea stuck him. Dabin was an invaluable crewmember, but as a teammate he seemed to be more or less distracted at the moment. Vol could almost feel the horns grow on his head as his plan evolved. He concluded that the only chance the Alchemy team had to win relied on the basic humanoid condition. If Vol could somehow ease the way for the opposing team to slip into human error, and for his own team's human instinct to boost their dexterity and strength, this would be very interesting indeed.

Vol quickly analyzed the situation on both teams: Keiran's weakness would be Zanh of course, but both were mature and Vol actually thought Keiran would be quick enough to see through any ploy Vol would attempt. Dabin on the other hand, well it wasn't that he was immature; he was just the good ol' Reece that Vol had learned to love and adore. He was also a recent father.

*That's evil,* Vol slyly smiled to himself.

Vol then concentrated on his own team. Surely, Cristiane could be taunted into giving his all in the hopes of impressing a crush of his. The young man was foolish enough to fall for it, and foolishness could work if manipulated correctly. That still left the teams at one potential advantage against two potential susceptibilities. Vol was aware of the fact that things may not occur as he prayed for them to, but he still rather preferred an even playing field in the absence of fairness in physical prowess.

“What are you smiling about?” said a voice, approaching Vol from his left.

Vol crashed out of thought as his eyes landed on Trev Sterling.

*Then again…* Vol perked up almost immediately.

“I'm just picturing what Salvek's going to look like all muddy and soaking wet,” Vol responded convincingly, gazing back at the other team as if Trev was not Vol's main focus at the moment.

“So sure we're going to lose, are you?” Trev stood shoulder to shoulder with Vol, jokingly challenging Vol's apparent hypothesis.

“I cannot deny what my sense of sight tells me.” Vol made a gesture to the other team with a wave of his hand.

“I thought Betazoids had the ability to rely on senses beyond what they could see.” Trev grinned, moving to stand right in front of Vol.

“True,” Vol replied curtly.

“What do those senses tell you?”

“That we may have a shot in hell.” Vol coyly smiled, leaning on one foot as he crossed his hands again. Vol could read this man like a mid 20th-Century newspaper. It was almost too easy.

“Trust that.” Trev softly and playfully punched Vol's arm as he moved past Vol towards the side of the rope belonging to the team.

“Such a shame,” Vol said loud enough so that Trev could hear him, though Vol did not turn around from where Trev left him. “Salvek wasn't the only one I was imagining dripping wet.”

Vol sensed Trev's mind almost hiccup in response and Vol used every ounce of willpower not to burst out laughing. Instead, Vol looked up at the sky, the rain falling on his head and he inhaled deeply. This, figuratively speaking, drowned the laugh within him. The hybrid also took the opportunity to juice up his secret weapon just a little bit. Since Vol was wet already, uncomfortable because of his body's humidity and sweat, and because it was likely he would be mud-ridden everywhere soon enough, he slowly took off his rain jacket and peeled off his shirt.

The rain was nice on his hairless torso and back and as he approached his position on the rope. He could feel Trev's eyes on him. What was more rewarding however, was Trev's new found determination. Vol almost hopped for joy.

“Counselor, we've been discussing an alternate strategy,” Salvek began as Vol took up the rope right in front Briggs, who was in front of Salvek.

“Way ahead of you boys,” Vol smiled.

Vol took a brief moment, to find the inner strength he would need for this challenge. Fueled by his desperation to not do any more work beyond this challenge, he gripped the rope firmly before waiting patiently for the game to get underway.

Vol's stance on the slippery wet ground seemed to almost fasten immediately, as per the new strategy the team was implementing via Salvek and Briggs’ counsel. This was due to the frustration Vol felt when Ashton Ledbetter gave up after a number of microseconds.

“C'mon Dane, stay put and she won't fall in.” Vol encouraged Mr. Cristiane. As Ashton settled himself on the sidelines, Vol glanced over to him, seething through his teeth as he spat out at him.

“Whatever critter it is that has crawled up your rear-end Ledbetter, I hope for your sake it remains there before it nests and eventually dies.”

“Why would that be for my better sake?” Ashton inquired, disappointed that the Counselor wouldn't think an insult through before laying it on him.

“Because if it doesn't remain there, it would have made enough room for me to shove my boot so far up your…”

“I beg your pardon?” Ashton's jaw would have fallen to the ground if it could. As it was Paxton Briggs stepped in, asking Ledbetter to just let it go, before he proceeded to lecture him a smidge on how entirely uncooperative he was being on this special assignment.

Ledbetter looked across the pond and caught the eyes of Zanh Liis.. She was scowling with her arms folded over her chest, as was Dalton McKay for that matter. Liis was wishing this event had a few extra twists, such as the first person to lose contact with the rope must lick the deuterium injectors clean. Ashton just smiled and waved through the raindrops, which only served to infuriate her more. The Alchemy team may have been her opponent today, but they were still her crew, and Ledbetter had left them hanging literally on the end of the rope.

Their strategy seemed to be working, for the moment. Neither team was moving all that significantly and Vol wasn't even exuding all of his force, just enough to remain in one place without having to lift his feet.. Trev was in front of Vol, and Vol thought that perhaps the man needed a small reminder of his audience.

“Come on everyone, we're doing superbly.” Vol said through a clenched jaw.

It was then that Vol thought it appropriate to even out the teams a little bit.

*Hey Reece.*

Reece didn't reply.

*Reece!* He thought with a little more force.

*What?* Dabin asked, sounding annoyed.

*You didn’t really leave your kid with a Parisian, did you?*

Dabin was silent for a few moments. Vol looked out over the pond, and saw Bru’s eyebrows furrow. They exchanged a glance, then returned their focus to the task at hand. Dabin looked straight across the pond at Vol and snickered. Zanh Liis was watching them both like a hawk and her eyes now darted back and forth between the Reece family and Vol Tryst.

*Nice try.*

*Did you?* Vol asked, his thoughts sounding intentionally shocked.

Dabin clenched his eyes shut and shook his head, as if attempting to stifle Vol’s voice. There was silence for several more moments. Then Dabin cracked.

*Why, is there something about Fleur you’re not telling me? She’s been different since she and Gregor Mendel got together. Happy. A little too happy.*

*Dabin! Don’t let him get to you!* Bru pleaded as she held onto the rope with all her might.

*No, Vol’s right. This is one of those Hand that Rocks the Cradle deals isn’t it? While we’re down here unassuming, she’s probably up there hijacking a shuttle. Two kids not enough for you eh?*

Vol grinned, and Zanh Liis was now on her feet, watching Reece wince in what appeared to be pain. “Reece? Talk to me. What’s going on? Are you hurt?” McKay was right at her side, ready to render aid the moment Reece needed it, if he needed it.

*Dabin! This is your wife! Get a hold of yourself, and the rope!*

Reece’s knees began to buckle, and his thoughts spun out of control. *None of this ever would have happened if the Vedek hadn’t lured her in with his quiet gentle nature and chiseled good looks. Damn him.*

Dabin spun around and looked straight at Jariel.

“This is all your fault!” He shouted to the stunned Vedek. As soon as he did, he lost his stance and was dragged straight through the mud into the water. The Alchemy team gained three steps, but lost their rigid stance at the same time.

With a roar from Keiran O’Sullivan and a lurch from the other anchors Jariel, Tubman and Blane in front of him, the Sera team gained back four, before the Alchemy crew could regain their footing. Gira Lassiter was left flat-footed, right at the edge of the water, mere inches from joining Dabin Reece for a swim.

“Doctor, see if he’s all right, please.” Liis sighed. McKay stepped effortlessly into the water to help Reece up.

Vol grinned. *One down,* He thought to himself. From somewhere close by, he felt an incredible sense of satisfaction. Pure unadulterated pleasure as to what had just happened. It wasn’t any of the competitors. They were far too busy trying to avoid Dabin’s fate. The Captain’s demeanor certainly was not that of a woman who had enjoyed watching one of her oldest friends dragged through the mud, and whatever pleasure Ashton Ledbetter had experienced for a moment had already eroded back into boredom.

Not being able to find a clear and precise answer immediately, Vol shook his head in an attempt to re-concentrate his thoughts on where he was at the moment. Bru, on the other side of the mud puddle, took notice of this and decided that it was time for pay back.

*Distracted by the grease monkey in front of you?* She thought, trying to sound teasing but with some strain given that she was in the middle of a strenuous activity.

*No.* Vol shot back.

*Oh, I think you lie, Mr. Betazoid. I think you wish it was him half-naked right now.* Bru was pulling out all the guns now

*No, that would be your husband.*

*Huh?* Bru almost coughed.

*I love a respectable man all wet and dirty, so irresistible.* Vol licked his lips as he held firm in his stance and grip. He soon heard Bru laughing in his mind.

*Nice try you cheat, but you won't sway me that easily. He's not even your type.* Bru trailed off at the end, uncertain.

*Right, because you know my type. Let's go back shall we? To my reaction to your generous set-me-up with Mr. Sterling.*

*Yeah, but you were just horsing around. Playing hard-to-get.*

*But he doesn't have Dabin's spots.* Vol wagged his eyebrows.

“I think we un’dra’estimated Salvek’s secret weapon, Thomas.” Keiran said, loud enough for his intended target of February to hear, despite his use of TC’s name. He had taken note of Zanh Liis, who was taking note of Vol Tryst, and Keiran had put the pieces together.

February harrumphed and thrust her chin into the air. She wasn‘t going to listen to Vol anymore. This was the thanks she got for trying to set him up? Vol was going to have to be punished. Next time they had coffee out, she would make him pay for his own.

*Who am I kidding? I can’t make you pay. But I’m still done listening to you, Vol.*

Jariel turned around, looking at Tubman through the sweat and raindrops pouring down his face. “They aren’t even trying to pull!”

“Nope.” Tubman answered, with his usual degree of loquaciousness.

“There are playing for a stalemate, making it as difficult as possible to for us to move them.” TC added.

“I’s workin’.” O’Sullivan finished. This had Paxton Briggs written all over it, and with Vol Tryst playing head games from across the pond, their task was getting even more difficult than it already was.

From his position over on the Alchemy side, Vol was trying to get back into February’s head, so to speak, but was distracted by the voice of Trev Sterling.

“Watch out, Vol!” Tryst looked up just in time to see a large mudpie streaking through the sky between the raindrops towards his face. Vol shifted his upper body just enough to allow the mudpie to fall harmlessly beside him. He looked across the pond and saw a filthy and sopping wet Dabin Reece shaking his fist, then making the I’m watching you motion with his fingers by pointing at his own eyes, then at Vol’s.

“Thanks,” He said to Sterling, but before Trev could answer, there was a shriek as Gira Lassiter, who had been battling the slippery mud at the edge of the pond, lost her footing and was pulled into the water.

“GIRA!” Dane called, and dropped the rope to jump to her rescue. He pulled her to safety and neither appeared to be the worse for wear from their brief journey into the muck.

“Brace yourselves!” Salvek warned, to draw everyone attention back to the task at hand, and Vol knew why immediately. Despite everyone holding as fast as they could, the loss of Gira and Dane resulted in their stalemate being broken. Vol was now sliding. He was moving only an excruciatingly slow fraction of an inch at a time, but he was sliding nonetheless, across the surface of the mud.

“I hope you enjoy your pond water cold and filthy,” Ledbetter said to Vol, with a chuckle.

No matter what anybody on the team did, they couldn't stop themselves from losing ground. Vol wasn't quite giving up yet, but he did submit himself to his ultimate fate. However, he would get in the last word as far as Ledbetter was concerned.

"We may soon become wet Ashton," he said through clenched teeth, "but the only real loser here is you."

And with that, Landry Steele fell in the pond, impressing all those around her by actually taking the fall, and so the domino effect ensued. Ryn, Lair, Halliday and Samson, who had no intention of being outdone by Landry, all held on until the bitter end. Trev Sterling spun at the last moment, an altogether unsettling grin flashing on his face, and he grasped Vol's forearm and dragged the Counselor in with him.

The Sera team eased up a bit as each successive person fell, not wishing to harm anyone as it became clear the rest of the competition was academic.

“Release the rope Mr. Briggs, I do not wish for you to injure your back.” Salvek instructed. Paxton’s back seemed to agree with the Vulcan. He let go, and proceeded to dive on his own into the pond, eliciting a cheer from the rest of the Alchemy team.

Keiran bellowed for his team to hold up, leaving Salvek dangling on his own as the last man on the Alchemy team. He was not about to pull the First Officer in when the respectful thing to do was allow him the chance to retire from the game on his own. With a tug that jolted the Sera crew, Salvek made it clear that he stood with his team.

Keiran gave the order to pull, and Salvek slipped through the mud into the pond with the rest of the Alchemy crew.

In the spirit of good sportsmanship, the Sera team immediately dropped the rope and circled the pond to help their opponents to their feet and out of the muck. Vol was actually hoisted up by both Bru and Dabin.

"My thanks."

"Uh huh…" Bru said in a ‘you better be thankful’ tone.

It didn't take long for Vol to begin shivering, his teeth chattering against themselves. The hybrid was quickly regretting his stunt where he showed off his body, because it left him with nothing dry to now drape himself with. A fact that left him unable to properly react when Trev approached him and started rubbing his hands up and down his bare arms.


Teeth clattering away, Vol simply nodded his head.

"Funny, I was going to describe you using an antonym of the same word." The grease monkey smiled.

Vol's brows furrowed, as he could've sworn the man just winked at him.

Alchemy team!” Jelca’s voice bellowed over the assemblage. “Follow me. You have a camp site to build!”


Commander Dabin Reece
Chief Science Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012


Lt. Vol Tryst
Ship’s Counselor
USS Serendipity NCC-2012

983: Across the Pond

by TC Blane and Keiran O'Sullivan
Concurrent with Hold Your Ground

-=A muddy field, on Sibalt=-

TC smiled as he watched the Alchemy team make their way to the far side of the small pond. This was most certainly going to be an interesting trip. He tilted his head back and let the light rain fall onto his face as he took a deep breath and readied himself for the task at hand.

Up to this point, TC had forgone any sort of rain protection. His experience and training had long since made him realize that delaying the inevitable, in this case getting wet, was pointless. Besides, with the humidity as high as it was, it was more important to allow his body heat to escape. Under a parka that was impossible and he would have been soaked with perspiration in no time anyway.

With a sigh he turned and made his way over to O'Sullivan, who had already taken up position at the back of the large rope. "Anchor?" TC asked with a smiled as he approached.

The large Irishman nodded. "Aye, anchor."

TC turned to face their opponents across the small expanse of water. "Commander Salvek will be the strongest, Commander Briggs most likely their second, but he does have a bad back. He glanced at the rest, I don't know anything about the new engineer or the Counselor's skills. Samson is fit but soft." He smiled at O'Sullivan. "I'd put him out front if I was them."

"Same thing with Reece..." Keiran replied, gesturing toward the Trill as he, scientist that he was, kept looking up at the sky.

"There has got to be a way to shut that freakin' thing off." Dabin sighed, as the light misting rain that had commenced the moment Jelca left continued to make everything even more slippery, if that was possible.

"Reece!" Zanh called from her position of oversight on the sidelines. "Focus!"

Keiran laughed and TC just shook his head. "See, Thomas. I married the woman for a reason."

TC once again sized up their team. "And what of our powerful friend Tubman?"

"Ah, Dwan might be the difference between victory and defeat, right?" Keiran's eyes flashed. "I say we put him between Reece and Grace; not only to help keep Reece focused on what he's doin' but also because the man is stronger than the both of 'em put together."

TC nodded, thinking. "Dabin up front..."

O'Sullivan shook his head. "We'll haveta listen to him whine if he goes into ta water."

TC winked. "I think I've got it covered."

He made his way to the front of the line where Dabin and Bru were talking, as Keiran moved to position the rest of the team. "Mr. Reece I need you to man the front of the rope."

Dabin glanced at the dark water and the even darker mud that lined the edge of the small pond. "Yuck."

TC shrugged his shoulders. "Well if that is your final stance on the subject." He turned to Bru. "Very front of the rope Lieutenant." He gently grabbed her shoulder. "Sorry."

Before turning and walking towards the back of the rope he shot his best, 'what kind of man are you to let your wife take your place in line,' look he could muster.

Reece wondered how Blane could possibly think that he'd let the mother of his child go into the drink before him. "Sheesh. This place has sucked the sense of chivalry right out of you people. Bru, get as far back as you can, honey. I'm gonna get wet, ain't no reason for you to ruin your pretty lil' pink rain slicker."

"If you get wet, I get wet." Bru said firmly, nodding with conviction. "I mean, think of it this way, the caves at Makala don't look too different from this."

Reece gave her a kiss on the cheek and he smiled at Blane. "See, TC? I married the woman for a reason."

TC distributed the rest of the team up and down the line before returning to Keiran who was now ready to take the anchor position.

"See that?" Keiran nodded toward Dane and Gira, who were engaged in conversation on the other team's side and ignoring all around them. "Cristiane is lean but strong, and we should never underestimate the abilities of a young man determined to impress a woman."

"Yeah well we should never underestimate the ability of a woman to distract a young man at the worst possible second." Blane chuckled. "If I were Salvek..."

"Come on, ladies, let's go!" Zanh admonished with a brisk clap of her hands. "If I don't get coffee soon..."

That was the only warning to move faster that the teams needed.

"You heard the Captain! Pick up the rope!" Keiran called.

TC nodded as he took his spot in front of Keiran. "Ready?"

"As I'll ever be, brother. As I'll ever be." Keiran turned back a moment and winked at his wife.

"Remember, O'Sullivan...distraction." Blane warned.

Keiran's face reddened and he laughed. "Right yeah? Young and not so young men too hav'ta watch for that, I s'pose."

In the spectator's section, Zanh Liis sighed. She reached into her pack and pulled out the Doctor's emitter.

She surveyed it for a moment, considering.

Then, something occurred to her.

These exercises were not only about strength and about strategy and tactical advantage. The whole point was team building, and Dalton was part of their team.

Maybe he couldn't participate, but as long as he kept quiet, she didn't see why he couldn't watch. She tapped the controls and he reappeared before her. He was startled, and questioned her. "Did ya finally inflict injury on Reece for his whinin' or is there another reason you rang?"

"Just thought you might want to see the sights with me." Zanh smiled. She patted the ground beside her. "Have a seat, Doctor."

McKay beamed. He looked at the titans preparing to clash, and shook his head. "This is gonna be sloppier than the pigpen at the County Fair."

Keiran wrapped the rope around his back like a pulley as TC tucked it under his left armpit and took a firm hold. Footing was going to be a problem so he used the heels of his boots to create small ledges in which to hopefully gain some traction.

"Everyone set?" Zanh asked. A mixture of grumbles and confirmations emanated from both sides. "I'll take that as a yes. Ready… set... GO!"

The instant that the rope was pulled, snapping taut in the middle over the water, Ashton Ledbetter looked once more at the filthy water before him and made a calculated decision.

He 'dropped' it.

"Clumsy me." He sighed with mock exasperation. "How ever did that happen?"

"Just....get....out of the way...then, you....coward!" Dane shouted through gritted teeth. He dug in his sliding heels as best he could, struggling as he tried to keep Gira, who was now the first in line, from going into the slimy water.

"Gladly." Ledbetter sniffed, retreating from the scene.

Commander TC Blane
Second Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012


-=^=- Keiran O'Sullivan
Anchor of the team that's gonna win
Security Liaison for The Alchemy Project

982: Hold Your Ground

by Lt. Commander Paxton Briggs and Commander Salvek
After Let The Games Begin

-=Alchemy Team: on Sibalt=-

Jelca stepped back away from the two groups, as they broke off and headed for opposite sides of the pond. Salvek took note of his team, and their varying amounts of enthusiasm for the current game. Ryn and Halliday seemed to be leading the pack as far as those who were actually excited about what was to come, while Tryst and Ledbetter were bringing up the proverbial rear. Samson was gazing at the sky with unease, and Cristiane was gazing at Lassiter with in much the same manner. Salvek could tell he was worried about her, but Gira’s mannerisms seemed to indicate that, if anything, being off the ship and engrossed in this training was probably the best thing for her.

Salvek’s second in command had fallen into step at his side. The last time they had served as Commander and First Officer, Briggs had relieved the Vulcan of duty, dropping the jaws of all those around them. There had been a silence between Briggs and Salvek up to this point that stemmed from those events, but if they were going to coordinate this team and lead them to victory, they would need to communicate.

Salvek finally broke the stalemate between the two of them.

“If you are worried I blame you or do not trust you, do not.”

Paxton had been engrossed in checking how the opposite team on the far side of the pond was setting up and was caught off guard by the statement. It took a moment for him to realize exactly what Commander Salvek was referring too.

He smiled. “Oh. Um that’s good sir. I really was not too worried about that, I’ve been around you enough to know that you are a stand up guy. Still, it’s good to know that there are no hard feelings.”

He looked back to the other side of the pond and changed the subject as he considered the subject closed and no worth further discussion. “They’ll probably use O’Sullivan as anchor with Blane in front of him to give them the most leverage. The expendables will be in front.”

“Expendables?” Salvek asked.

Paxton nodded not taking his eyes off the competition. “Yes, the weakest of the bunch will be out in front because they will contribute the least to the effort and if they go into the drink it would be less of a overall impact to the team.” He turned back to Salvek. “What I know of Commander Blane that is what he is suggesting right now.” He nodded to the conversation commencing between Blane and O’Sullivan.

Salvek surveyed his team to determine who exactly was “expendable”. He found the term distasteful, as even the those with the least physical prowess would still contribute more to the whole than the team would have without them. Except maybe for Ashton Ledbetter.

Dane could hold his own, he was sure, as could Ryn. Lassiter fit and Salvek knew there was no stopping Lair Kellyn when she put her zeal into anything. He was not sure what to expect from Vol Tryst. Tug of war did not seem to be his forte, yet the motivation of not being dragged in the mud could possibly have a profound effect on him. Trev Sterling was a newcomer but just sizing him up physically, he appeared to strong. Samson and Halliday were average in size and Ledbetter was, well he was Ledbetter. And Landry was Landry...

What concerned Salvek was the clear mismatch of pure brawn between the two sides. The Sera side had O’Sullivan, Blane, Tubman, Blakeslee, T’Dara and a Vedek who could clear out a bar if he so desired. And those were just the heavy lifters.

“I believe it is clear you or I should anchor,” Salvek said, offering Briggs the opportunity to make the choice as a show of trust.

Paxton nodded his agreement. “You should anchor, my back is not what it used to be.”

He noticed the First Officer’s curious stare and decided to explain. “I suffered some…significant injury to my back several years ago. Almost ended my career.”

“Perhaps it would be wise for you not to participate.”

Paxton shook his head. “Oh I think I will be fine. I just think you should anchor and don’t worry I’ll stop if I think I’ll be injured.”

He glanced up into the lightly falling rain and then back to the slick ground. “It’s going to be hard to get good footing.”

Salvek was already calculating the strength of each team in his mind, and it was a foregone conclusion that he was depending on Briggs to even consider victory a long shot. If Paxton’s back was injured, then Salvek’s long shot had just turned into a no shot.

He looked over his crew once more, as they awaited their assignment. None of them seemed to be aware, or to care how outmatched they were in this battle. It was in the moment that Salvek decided surrender was not an option, and if the Sera was going to be victorious, they were going to have to earn every inch.

“Mr. Ledbetter, you are at point.”

“That’s Captain Ledbetter,” Ashton corrected.

“No, it is not.” Salvek corrected right back. He went down the line from Ledbetter arranging his officers as best he could, before digging in his heels into the ever increasingly

Paxton gripped the rope tightly and positioned himself in front of Salvek when a thought struck him causing him to turn around and face the Vulcan.

“You know, maybe we are looking at this the wrong way. A large part of these exercises is the tactical aspect. Maybe we should rethink this.”

Salvek’s eyebrow rose. “What is your idea?”

“We are at a distinct disadvantage here. Maybe we should not try to win this event but to simply hold ground. This will be a long couple of days, if we can cause them to burn up energy now, it might payoff later.”

“A war of attrition?” Briggs was definitely onto something. If they forwent the offensive aspect of the challenge, and merely played defense in the form of doing their best not to give up ground, the Sera team would expend a great deal of their resources to defeat them.

Paxton nodded. Salvek signaled the strategy to everyone. “Hold your ground as best as you can.. Do not loosen your grip in an attempt to pull on the rope. We will play for a stalemate as long as we possibly can.”


Lt. Commander Paxton Briggs
Executive Officer
USS Alchemy NX-53099


Commander Salvek
Leader of Team Alchemy

981: Unchanging Spots

by Ladron Reece
One Year After Allow Me To Introduce Myself (in the year 2240)

-=Aboard the Trill Ship, on the Surface of the Planet Sveji=-

Tolarum watched as Ladron once again vanished in the glow of the transporter. He was hiking again today. Always hiking. That’s all Ladron ever did anymore. As always, Tolarum was left to clean up the dishes from breakfast.

The more days went by, the more he wondered where exactly Ladron was going. Sure, he always beamed out dressed for a hike, but Tolarum snuck a peek into his duffle bag a few weeks ago and found Ladron’s pure white preaching outfit, the same one he had worn on Trill, neatly packed inside.

Then there were the transport logs. Ladron was beaming who knows what from site to site while he was gone. Tolarum wanted to ask him what exactly he was doing but he kept telling himself it was none of his business. Ladron’s life had been taken away from him, and if wasting the days away traipsing across the planet made him happy, then Tolarum had no right to complain.

After all, he himself spent most of his time wandering around the ship, setting traps for food and experimenting with the local flora to see if anything could be turned into a decent salad. He had had some success, and even started a small garden by transplanting the seeds of some of the edible plants he had found.

He had hoped to use the ship’s sensors to try and scan beyond the horizon for more forms of life here, but for some reason the sensors were just not working, and he lacked the know-how to repair them. In fact they hadn’t worked since shortly after they had arrived here. That left only good old-fashioned exploration as the only means to discover their surroundings.

While Tolarum was content to stay where it was safe, near the ship, Ladron seemed willing to go to all corners of the globe. Tolarum was not so adventurous.

Still, he wondered. He looked at the transporter logs again, which were just a bunch of meaningless numbers corresponding to latitude and longitude lines on the planet. Meaningless because while they represented a particular place, Tolarum had no idea what was there. A mountain? An ocean? With his luck if he followed Ladron he would beam in right over open water and end up drowning because he didn’t take a set of scuba gear with him.

There was one set of coordinates however that popped up time and again. Sometimes Ladron would beam there, sometimes he would beam back form there, and sometimes Ladron would transport himself, or something, there while he was gone.

Tolarum brought up the coordinates of the most recent transport. His heart began to race with fear. He was not the kind of man who relished facing the unknown. What if this was some sort of jungle? Or savanna? There could be an animal the size of a shuttlecraft at the other end of this transport cycle that finds Tolarum a tasty midnight snack.

Ladron had asked time and again for his privacy to be respected, but enough was enough. Tolarum wasn’t going to spend the rest of his natural life paralyzed by fear, nor was he going to spend it alone here every day with no idea where his only companion in life was.

He shut his eyes with his finger right over the transport button, and pressed it.

When he rematerialized, the first thing he was aware of was the sound. The unmistakable roar of internal combustion engines filled his ears, and then soon after came the stench of their exhaust. He opened his eyes and looked around.

He was standing in an alley between two large structures constructed of ancient masonry materials. They had used them on Trill hundreds of years ago as well before everything became constructed of advanced composites and polymers. At the end of the alley on each end were the streets where the automotive noise was coming from. Cars and trucks of all sizes rumbled past, and only now did he realize there were people walking down the sidewalk past the alley as well.

Tolarum ducked behind a scratched and dented automobile that had apparently been abandoned there to conceal himself lest someone look his way. At first glace of the others hear, he could tell they looked very little like a Trill, and would easily be able to discern that he did not belong here.

*Why didn’t you tell me, Ladron?* Tolarum thought. All this time there was a civilization on this planet, and Tolarum had been completely oblivious.

He slipped around the car towards a garbage bin that was close by. He took a deep breath to help deal with the stench of rotting food and suddenly wished he had not complained about the smell of the automobile exhaust.

Tolarum slid the door of the dumpster open, and took a look inside. As expected there was not very much inside that appeared as if it could be of use to him. He tugged on a newspaper that was sticking out of the top of one of the bags, and opened it up. The words were unknown to him, but it would serve as a decent enough cover until he could procure a more adequate disguise.

He pulled up his collar to hide any spots on the back of his neck, and held the paper up to cover his face, as if he were reading it. He took measured steps to be sure he wouldn’t trip on anything, and slowly stepped out onto the sidewalk, and amongst the people. After a few minutes the universal translator allowed him to understand what they were saying, even if he could not read any of the store names or street signs around him.

Across the street, he saw an assortment of clothes and hats in the display window of a large store. That was where he needed to be. The problem was crossing four lanes of traffic without being able to see beyond the newspaper in front of you.

Stepping to the edge of the sidewalk, he tried to hold the paper steady against the gusts created by the cars and tracks zipping past. He peeked to the left and then the right, waiting for the traffic signals at either end of the street to stop the flow of traffic. When it did, he casually stepped off the sidewalk.

As he reached the middle of the street, a car at one end turned onto his street, and began accelerating towards him. He heard the horn blare and realized the impatient driver wished for him to get out of his or her way as quickly as possible.

Tolarum glanced around the edge of the papers, and saw the black vehicle with a skull painted on the hood bearing down on him. In a panic, he dropped the newspaper and ran. The driver slowed down and yelled out the window.

“Get the hell out of the road, jackass!” Then she slammed on the gas and took off back down the street.


His annoyance with the local youth soon turned to panic, when he realized his cover was gone, and a young woman in some sort of business attire with a large bag slung over he shoulder was staring at him with her mouth hanging open. Tolarum stammered, trying to search his mind for an excuse. As he looked at the woman’s face, he suddenly realized something very odd about her.

She had spots.

“You are probably wondering…”

The woman closed the gap between them, grasped Tolarum on either side of his head with her hands.

“Remarkable,” She exclaimed as she turned his head from side to side.

“I can explain.”

“Who is your plastic surgeon? I have to know. I took me three months just to get the spots.”

Other people walking by merely smiled and nodded at Tolarum. None of them seemed the list bit unsettled by the fact that he looked so much different from them.

“Well he’s a local guy, I guess.”

“Write down the number,” The woman demanded. She shoved a scrap of paper and a pen into Tolarum’s hand.

Unfortunately he had no idea what a number looked like here. He looked at several symbols on the facades of the nearby buildings, and began mimicking them on the paper. Just to be sure he folded the paper up, hoping she would not read it until later. The woman tucked it into her purse.

“Listen, maybe you can help me since I helped you. I left my money at home and I came into town to busy a new shirt and hat.”

“For the sermon? Say no more. I’d be happy to help you. Its not like money will mean anything soon anyways right.” She laughed and linked her arm with his.

Tolarum forced laughter on his own, having no idea what she was talking about, but figuring it was best to go along. She guided him into the clothing store, where Tolarum was once again greeted by smiles and friendly waves. The clerk even made a comment that his 'dedication was clear and would serve him well.'

“Thanks,” Tolarum replied.

He picked out a shirt with a large collar he could flip up over his spots, a hat with a huge brim, and a pair of sunglasses that would adequately conceal his true nature. His female companion paid without any hesitation, and walked him out of the store.

“I don’t know how to thank you,” Tolarum began, but she waved him off.

“You already have,” She said, patting the side of her purse where she had tucked the note with the number for the imaginary plastic surgeon. “See you at the Sermon!” The woman dashed off, heading in the same general direction everyone seemed to be headed. Tolarum found a secluded doorway where he changed his shirt, and donned the hat and sunglasses to conceal himself.

He followed the throngs of people, heading for he did not know what, but he imagined it must have something to do with this “sermon” the woman kept mentioning. The sun was setting and streetlights were popping on around him. Above he saw the first twinkle of a star in the sky. While it was only morning on the ship when he had departed, here night was about to fall.

The crowds grew thicker the farther he walked, and in the distance a massive structure loomed. People filled the streets around it, and Tolarum quickly realized they were approaching a large stadium. There was a large banner draped over the side of the stadium which he could not make out from the distance he was still at.

As darkness fell completely, he was nearly blind behind the sunglasses. He pulled up his collar a little tighter, and the brim of his hat down a little lower, and took the sunglasses off. He looked up now at the darkened banner, which he was almost directly below, just as a spotlight turned on to illuminate it. There, staring back at him, was the four story tall face of Ladron Reece.

“Ladron, what have you done?”

It all made sense now. The unexplained transports, the preaching suit in the duffle, the desire to be left alone, even the “malfunctioning” sensors, which Tolarum was guessing Ladron had sabotaged to keep the truth of this world from being discovered. Ladron had located the native population of Sveji, and picked up right where he had left off on Trill.

“Blessed be all those who enter Wonderland.” A young man handed Tolarum a small flower, the moved on to provide the same blessing to others who were waiting to be admitted into the stadium.

“A Trill never changes its spots,” Tolarum said to himself.

He went back the way he had come, finding the first ally he could use for cover to return to the ship. As soon as he arrived, he looked up the transport logs to find that location Ladron kept sending things to. He recharged the transporter, and beamed directly to the location.

When he arrived, he found himself standing outside a massive hilltop mansion. Alongside the building was a warehouse of some sort. The mansion no doubt must have belonged to one Ladron Reece, but the warehouse intrigued him. He looked around to make sure no one had seen him, and jogged over to the door.

He opened it, and what he saw beyond the door dazzled him. There were riches as far as the eye could see. Dozens of automobiles, literal piles of money and jewels, racks of suits and other clothing, artwork and sculptures. Tolarum shook his head.

Ladron was going to have a lot of explaining to do.

Ladron Reece

980: Let the Games Begin

by Zanh Liis O’Sullivan


Soundtrack: Know Your Enemy by Green Day


Cue the Rain by Queen Latifah


-=Two Days Ago=-

-=Location: The utility hallways, or “Utilihall” beneath the surface of Sibalt: Part of the command facility known as Labyrinth Station=-

The scuffle was short.

Mere moments after they’d materialized, the efficient team of highly trained professionals had the environment around them completely secured.

“Too trusting, this ‘Starfleet’…” The tall, thin male who was second in command said, with just the hint of a disappointed sigh. “I had hoped it was going to be a lot more of a challenge than that.”

”The challenge is only beginning.” The female in charge responded. “I must compliment you, Vrett. You chose the perfect moment to execute our plan.”

“Well, with all the cutbacks that the Sibaltians have made across the sector…it wasn’t difficult to predict when the security levels here would be at their lowest.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” A quaking voice replied. She was the only one left of her group of ten that had not yet been blindfolded and taken from the room. “Starfleet is sending a crew here for training, they’re due any time.”

As the woman scheduled to ‘host’ the games to be played and training undertaken by the crew of the Serendipity, Lana Suttil knew that they wouldn’t arrive in nearly enough time to have any clue anything had gone wrong here. Even if they did at any point become aware that underground compound existed, they would have no way to know that the security of the location had been compromised.

Before the alien woman could respond, another spoke. “Leader, there is a signal coming in over the comm.

“It can’t be the Serendipity crew already.” The Leader scoffed.

“It is not. It is a man claiming he was sent here on special assignment. He’s transmitting his orders. They were authorized by an Admiral called Harris.”

The female alien locked unusually large eyes upon Lana. “Do you know of this?”

“They never tell us when they’re going to send so-called Saboteurs. They do it on a case by case basis depending on how challenged they feel the incoming crew shoul-“

The alien gripped her by the throat, choking off the possibility she could finish her sentence. “You will speak to him. Carefully.”

She released her hold only to viciously push Lana face-first toward the comm panel. “Speak.”

Lana coughed, her hand elevating toward the bruised flesh of her throat as the hail repeated. The alien woman began to quickly work the panel.

[This is…on board the…for duty. Please respond.]

The alien attempted to clear the static distortion from the incoming message, while deliberately creating it to interfere with outgoing voice communication. She disabled video altogether so that the man about to arrive would not immediately learn of the compound’s recent change in management.

“Wait.” She held up her hand toward Lana, now having second thoughts. “Tell me, quietly, what to say to him.”

Lana hesitated. She knew that if she did what the woman asked, the crew of the Serendipity would be walking straight into a trap. If she didn’t do as they wanted, though, not only her own life but those of her staff could be lost before the Sera’s crew set foot on the planet.

“You have three seconds to start talking.” The Leader warned, pressing the muzzle of her weapon against Lana’s head.

Sadly, Lana whispered the correct words and the alien repeated them verbatim. “You are clear, Lieutenant. Beam to the coordinates you are receiving and I will greet you myself. Labyrinth Station out.”

“Now what are you going to do with us?” Lana asked softly, fearing she already knew the answer.

“What we do with the others is no longer your concern.” The alien replied, before raising her weapon again and striking Lana heavily over the head with it. Lana’s lifeless body fell to the floor, and the alien gestured disinterestedly toward it. “Get rid of it.”

“And then, Leader?”

“Then I will meet the trained…” She read the orders on the screen again “Saboteur on the surface. But first…” She gestured toward the corridor. “I have to get the proper costume from this… ‘locker room’.

-=Right Now: On the surface of Sibalt…=-

"Liisssyyy, it's hot. Fix it."

"I can’t fix it, Dabin. Take off your rain slicker."

"But it's raining! I'll get wet!" He pulled the hood tighter around his face.

"Then leave your rain slicker on, Dabin."

"I'm tired!"

"You can rest later."

"I'm thirsty! Can I have some of your water?"

"No, you already had your water. That pack was supposed to last you for an entire day." Zanh sighed.

"Tell me about it. Speaking of all that drinking...um..."

"Do not you even suggest it, Reece. Do you see a bathroom around here?" She gestured to the open field around them.. "Neither do I. Deal with it."

Reece frowned. "My backpack keeps sliding off my shoulder! Will you carry it?" He suddenly winced as he noticed the irritation in the normally kind, peaceful eyes of Keiran O'Sullivan. They were glued to him, warning him he'd better stop his complaining.

"Sure, Dabin, I'll do that. If you take the tritanium implants in my spine for awhile I'll be happy to carry your pack for you." Zanh now nearly bumped into the group walking ahead of her, Reece and O'Sullivan as they suddenly came to a halt.

They'd been hiking for hours now, in driving rain and over terrain that alternated from being so tall with overgrown grass that seemed to have a life of its own and mud so deep that it threatened to suck the boots right off of her feet with every step.

"This is it." Called Dane Cristiane's voice from the front of the pack.

"This is what?" Zanh yelled to him over the sound of distant thunder. Keiran's eyes shot up toward the sky.

"Not gonna be lightning I hope." He fretted. "They said this 'special' weather net wasn' gonna pose any danger ta the crew."

"It won't. Might motivate them to move a little faster, but it won't pose a danger." Liis said, giving him a half a smile.

“That it might.”

"Dane!" Liis raised her voice again, growing impatient. She'd gone hours with coffee at this point, and she was afraid she was beginning to develop a headache due to caffeine deprivation. "This is WHAT?"

Cristiane made his way through the twenty some-odd members of the Serendipity's crew and approached. "I'm not exactly sure, Captain. But these are the coordinates we were told to report to."

"There's nothing heeeeeere!" Reece whined.

Keiran and Liis shot the Trill another exasperated glare and at once both exclaimed the same two words. "Reece! Seriously!"

The Trill fell silent. He kicked a moss-covered stone with his foot and said "Ow," softly under his breath.

February, who had been happily trudging through the mud in a bright pink rain slicker while conversing with Vol Tryst, approached her husband. "C'mon, Dabin, time for a snack. Want some cookies?"

"Cookies!" He squealed with joy, happily distracted for the moment. He followed as she led him off.

"She gets my vote for most valuable player." Keiran whispered to TC Blane, who had joined O’Sullivan and Dane at this point in looking over their immediate surroundings.

They found themselves in a large field. It was a low lying area and all of the rain had accumulated into a sort of sludgy lake at the mid-way point. There were no trees here, no caves or mountains anymore. The land was as flat as a board as far as the eye could now see in any direction and there were no structures of any sort for kilometers.

That was, however, only an illusion.

Suddenly, there was a shimmering light before them, similar to a transporter beam but brighter and more wave-like. A being, neatly dressed and the only person within sight who wasn't soaked to the bone, appeared before them.

"Greetings, worthy crew of the USS Serendipity. Where is your Captain Zanh?"

Not immediately speaking up, Liis watched to see what would happen.

The crowd split into two neatly aligned rows, parting as every soul to the last under her command turned and stared squarely in her direction.

Liis raised her hand and tried to stifle a laugh. "That would be me. Zanh Liis O'Sullivan, USS Serendipity."

"I am Jelca Rued. I am to be the closest thing to a guide that you will have during your stay with us. Though, perhaps ‘host’ would be a more appropriate term as I will not actually be guiding you anyway." She smiled, and when she did it seemed that her face was almost too small to hold the expression. Whatever species she was, and off of the top of her head Liis couldn't recall having seen anyone who looked quite like her before, the woman’s mouth seemed just a little too wide for her face.

“And I was secretly hoping she was a Sherpa in disguise.” Landry Steele grumbled beneath her breath.

"Ha! That chick said her name was rude!" Dabin laughed from the back of the group. Suddenly all eyes were on him, including once again those of his increasingly annoyed Commanding Officer.

"Rued." Jelca corrected mildly. She tried to see through the throng of dripping wet Starfleet Officers the face of the man who belonged to the voice, but was unable as he was now leaning forward to dip his cookie in the hot chocolate that Bru had put into a thermal bottle; anticipating that at some point during the day it would be needed.

"So, Ms....Rued." Salvek addressed her now, blinking serenely even as water dripped from his hair and the points of his ears after the rain ceased to fall. "How are we to begin? Have you a task for us before the rain begins again?"

No one else had really noticed yet that the moment their 'host' had arrived, the rain had ceased.

"You are to designate your teams." She declared. "One for the Serendipity, and one for the Alchemy."

"That's not fair, they'll have more people than we will." Landry complained, knowing that with her assigned position she'd surely be put on the Alchemy's team.

"We'll even it out." Zanh Liis assured. "So we split into teams. Then..."

"Then, you will engage in your first challenge. It is an exercise designed to demonstrate which team has superior physical strength." She tapped a button on the PADD in her hand and out of nothing, a very large coil of rope appeared on the ground beside her. "I believe to the many Humans here this contest would be known as a Tug of War.

Keiran's laughter rumbled softly. Somehow, he would be willing to bet that when the design for these 'games' was put together that a certain Scottish thumbprint was all over this particular choice of exercise. Very funny, William, he thought.

"Well ain’t that prettier than Granny’s hat on Sunday.” A twangy voice interjected sarcastically, adding, “lookie here, lady…” McKay tapped her on the shoulder, and Jelca turned.

He was a tall man, who appeared to be unnaturally calm for a Human given his surroundings and, more troubling, devoid of any moisture on his skin or clothing. He was wagging a finger at her.

“If our Captain there don't sit this one out, we'll be takin' her back to the Sera in itty bitty pieces. She’s stubborn as a mule but physically…one yank of that rope and her back will come unhinged. She’ll crumble faster than a sand castle at high tide.”

"That's right." Lance Hartcort added, much to McKay's dismay. "Her spine is held together with chicken wire and Silly Putty. Tug of war can’t happen for her."

"Excuse me, but why are you..." the woman momentarily ignored Hartcort as she eyed McKay warily. She scanned him with a small device. "I am sorry, Captain Zanh, but your Photonic cannot participate in these games. He has unfair advantages in that he requires neither rest nor nourishment of any kind."

"Now just a cotton pickin'-"

"Dalton..." The Captain waved him over, and whispered something into his ear. He sighed heavily, and nodded. “Thank you.” She patted him on the arm reassuringly.

"Have fun in the swamp, ya'll. I hope ya don't get the Sibaltian equivalent of Malaria from all the Sovereign Class-sized skeeters that come out after sunset." McKay tapped the emitter on his arm and vanished, and Liis caught it mid-air as it dropped.

She tucked it quickly into her backpack. "I'll keep the doctor with me. Any objections?"

There were none.


"So what happens if we win the tug of war?" Asked TC Blane.

"More importantly, it's what happens to the losers." Jelca replied evenly. "They get to set up your base camp, and hopefully before the late evening snowstorm."

"Snow...storm?" Micah Samson looked truly horrified. As the resident weather expert, he wished he could get a look at this 'special' weather net himself...and improve upon it a little.

With a sledge hammer...

"Yes. But then, it could be a dust storm. One never quite knows. Tonight you will have one base camp. Tomorrow, each team will camp separately." She blinked and widened her eyes. Zanh nearly shivered at the sight; again their host’s features seemed just a little too large for the square footage of face they occupied.

"Well if the Captain is out for the first round, who will take her place?" Dane wondered.

Liis and Keiran shared a glance, his eyes just about begging her to let him leave the purely supervisory role he was meant to play just long enough to take part in this one battle of wills.

"You sure?" She laughed.

"Oh yeah. Quite."

TC Blane now grinned. "OK. O’Sullivan will substitute for the Captain. Let's get our teams set."

“For your official teams, top level command structures should remain in place.” Jelca advised.

“That means it’s going to be you against me, Logic.” Zanh gave Salvek a lopsided grin. “And that means that Paxton is your right hand, and Thomas will be mine.”

Briggs and Blane took up position accordingly.

“I believe then that the crew assigned to the Alchemy’s On-Call Crew should also be on my team.” Salvek concluded.

“Take ‘em away.” Zanh gestured with an open hand, and watched as Lair, Halliday, Ryn, Steele, Lassiter, Cristiane and the newest addition to the crew, Trev Sterling, moved to stand with Salvek and Briggs..

Now shuffling around the rest of the crowd, uneven as it was, stayed on Zanh’s side. “Samson, you’re with Salvek.” Zanh suggested, and Salvek nodded his approval.

“Captain, if I might,” Lance Hartcort interjected. “Each team should have someone with advanced medical training assigned to it, just in case immediate first-aid is required.”

“Good plan, Lance.” She turned and sought out a specific face in the crowd. “With Dr. McKay out of play, I guess that means you, Vol.”

“But, Captain…I’m a Counselor, not a physician. Ensign T’Dara is much more medically…” Vol protested.

“Yes, you’re very special Vol. But two Vulcans on one team, especially when we’ve got Reece? I don’t think so. In fact, I know not.” Liis watched as Dabin tossed the last bite of his cookie up in the air, caught it in his mouth and then nearly choked on it. He coughed, and as people turned to see if he was all right, he waved them away.

“I meant to do that.” He sputtered.

“We need to balance that out.” Zanh concluded. “Besides, T’Dara does not yet have the initials M.D. after her name and you do, Doctor Tryst…” As she spoke to Vol, Liis glanced toward the gifted Vulcan nurse, a sign that she had faith that one day T’Dara would complete her studies and become a full-fledged doctor.

T’Dara modestly inclined her head in thanks for the compliment from her Captain.

“Captain…” Vol began to object again, his spirits sinking even lower than before as he was unable to help but sense the smug satisfaction at this potential turn of events in both February Grace and Trev Sterling.

“Sorry, Counselor, no time for discussion. Off you go.” Zanh concluded, walking awa

Vol marched dutifully across the grass and stood in the empty space beside Sterling.

“I guess we’ll get that chance to have coffee after all.” Trev said softly, leaning toward him.

Vol stared straight ahead and said nothing in return. Trev laughed as quietly as he’d spoken, unable to remove the grin from his face. From across the divide his friend the tall blonde Trill simply winked at him.

“Our teams are still uneven, Captain,” Salvek advised as Zanh did a quick head count.

“Yeah yeah, I know. Workin’ on it..”

”I would suggest you work quickly, Captain…” Jelca warned. “The clouds are gathering again.”

“Okay. Look, Grace was only supposed to take notes as an observer but I’m drafting her to even us up. You up to the challenge, Bubbles?”

February beamed. “Yes, Sir.”

“Good. Salvek that means Ashton is all yours.”

There was an audible groan from everyone on the Alchemy team with the two notable exceptions of Salvek and Halliday.

Salvek, because he suppressed his emotions as much as he could and Halliday because he liked everyone he’d ever met, including Ashton Ledbetter.

“I don’know, Thomas,” Keiran laughed, leaning in closer to speak to Blane privately. “But if judgin’ was ta be done on style for that last maneuver, I’d say my wife won hands down.”

Blane nodded his agreement.

-=Five minutes later=-

"This isn't right." Ashton Ledbetter complained, as the Alchemy team prepared to hoist their end of the heavy rope up off of the ground. It had somehow soaked up a great deal of moisture it seemed, making it even heavier and more difficult to hold on to. "They've got O'Sullivan now and he's easily three times stronger than Zanh Liis."

"Only three times stronger?” Liis roared, as she plunked down onto the ground and prepared to watch the entertainment. “Thanks Ledbetter, you just made my day. We’ve got O'Sullivan but you've got Salvek, Briggs…need I continue? Quit your bitchin' and pick up the damned rope!"

Ashton sighed, looking down at his flawless, and almost femininely supple hands. “There goes my manicure.”

"You will stretch the rope over the pond, with a team on each side." Jelca instructed.

"So the losers not only certainly get wet again but also covered in muck." Vol sighed.

"Precisely, Counselor Tryst." Again there was that broad smile.

February frowned just a little as she noticed that though the woman was supposed to be addressing Vol, her eyes had drifted directly back to Dabin.


Their tourguide was entirely too focused upon him for Bru’s liking, and remained that way as she repeated the word she’d said before once again much more menacingly.


-=/\=- Zanh Liis O’Sullivan
Leader of Team Serendipity
Tramping through the Muck on Sibalt