Capt Tiberius isn’t the only one who’s worried about Loreli. Security Chief LaFuentes is taking things very personally. What happens when a tough guy loses his temper? Read on!

Need to catch up? Read part 4 here. Gets links to all the stories here.

Captain Tiberius sat with his back braced against the back of the briefing room chair in order to avoid the temptation of resting his head on his fist. He’d just finished eight hours of negotiations with the Keepout’s Minister of Environmental Purity, and he was certain they had made up the position special for this crisis. It didn’t help; his legs were as tied as everyone else’s. The rules were plain: No outsiders could contaminate their beautiful world. This incident was exactly their worst fears come true. Never mind their own people instigated it.

I swear, those terrorists are getting exactly what they want, he thought.

At least he had acquiesced to letting them scan Loreli though the comm link. The Doctor Pasteur had just finished his report on Loreli’s health.  “Of course, this is just the roughest of examinations,” he concluded. “If only we could get her some nitrates and a couple CCs of imposazine…”

“A couple?” If the doctor was guessing at dosages, it was worse than he thought, and Jeb knew Loreli better than anyone. He’s seen her at the height of health and at the withering brush of death. He knew she was in a bad way.

“I can’t tell from the scans, but she has internal injuries. She’s leaking chlorophyll.”

“We’re on the clock,” La Fuentes said. “Why can’t we blast that shield, uproot her, return the soil and let that Wylson work it out after we’ve warped the hell away?”

Jeb rubbed his eyes. He’d wondered the same thing himself, until Smythe told him about the negotiation session he and Wylson had had with a GON historian. The historian has explained in what the universal translator insisted were very flowery and patriotic terms about how the a Kitack trader had made off with a three-foot square of sod. The GON armada had mobilized, destroyed the trader and his allies. All of them.

There had been hand-to-hand combat within one ship, the GON historian had said. Not only had they killed the Kitracks, but the GON injured were euthanized and dissolved so that the alien contamination could be removed and expelled. The remains were returned to the soil.

“Apparently, the area that was ‘fertilized,’ if you will, by the dead has become quite a lovely commons,” Smythe concluded.

Jeb liked parks, but that was not how he wanted to have one made. “Dour, give me a better alternative,” the captain said.

The teleporter chief pulled up the schematic of Loreli they had taken the first day. He overlaid it with a blue outline that covered her aboveground body and only the thickest roots belowground.

He said, “I have delved deeply into the arcane mathematics. Long have I toiled in the internal workings of The Machine. This is the best my mistress sees fit to grant me. If it be enough to save our ship’s sexy, say the word.”

“What about with the shield down?” LaFuentes asked.

“The problem is the soil. I can no more remove that which sticks to the epidermis than I can separate the sweat off your redshirts after they’ve been running away from some threat or the other – and trust me, I have tried. Perhaps if I beamed all but a few layers of skin…”

The doctor shook his head. “She’s not mammalian. If we strip her roots while she’s in such a fragile state, she’ll go into shock, and I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to revive her.”

“That’s not good enough, doctor.”

“Damn straight, it’s not!” LaFuentes rose from the table. “We’ve been at this for two days, Captain. Enough diplomacy! Let me get a team and go get our sexy back!”

“Enigo,” Doall began.

“Don’t ‘Enigo’ me, chica! How many stupid scenarios have you run, and you don’t have any better plan, either? Where’s your miracle worker rep now? Maybe you need to go read another book?”

“LaFuentes, that’s enough.” Some men roar. Some spoke with quiet anger. When Captain Jebediah Tiberius scolded, it was with a hard drawl that most instinctively associated with the cocking of a gun, even when they didn’t know what a gun was. It made weak men cower and strong men flinch.

Enigo shut up fast, but he glowered.

“Lieutenant, I think you’ve been at this too long. I want you to take a break and cool your head. Go spend an hour in the gym.”

“What? Captain!”

“Not the firing simulation, either. The gym. Dismissed.”

LaFuentes opened his mouth to protest, but Jeb said, “Git,” and his Security Chief got.

Good thing, too, because almost immediately after the door closed, Wylson’s round head appeared in the center of the table. “Captain! I’ve been in private negotiations with the head botanist, and they have agreed to a compromise. This afternoon, they will return your Loreli to you.”

“That’s excellent!” Jeb said.

“Just as soon as they chop her down.”

Whoa! Did you see that coming? Because I did not until I was writing it. That’s the joy of letting characters run the story. Where will these characters take us next? More surprises of the non-ax-murderer variety are in store!

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