LaFuentes, Gel, and a mollified Pipes emerged from the turbolift onto the bridge.
“We have to talk to the Captain!” LaFuentes declared.
“Enigo!” Doall said. “The captain told you to – oh!” She took in his gym attire and sweaty…everything. And he had a jar of dirt. Then her eyes traveled to Gel, who didn’t wear gym clothes or clothing of any kind, but was still worth a gander because he was cradling the ship’s katt, who had apparently decided to forgive him in return for snuggles. Pipes blinked sleepily and purred.
“Okaaay,” she said.
Smythe turned in his seat just enough to make eye contact. From the lack of surprise he showed, one would think the two – three – bursting in was nothing unusual. And to be frank, stranger things had suddenly appeared on the bridge of the Impulsive; it was just they were usually unknown aliens. “The Captain is in negotiations and cannot be disturbed. I take it, however, you have an idea?” He tapped a quick message on his console: Stall.
They descended to the main floor. The entire bridge crew set their consoles on “distracted user” and turned to watch. This setting directed the computer to alert them if anything on their consoled needed their attention and allowed them to take part in the drama that made bridge duty so desirable while ensuring the ship didn’t get invaded or blown up because someone wasn’t focused on their jobs.
“Pretend Pipes is Loreli. So the big deal is that they don’t want us making off with any of their oh-so-sacred dirt, right?”
“Rather sarcastically put, but essentially correct.”
“And we can’t transport her without some kind of protection for her roots because she’s too fragile, right? Not to mention her roots are thin and tangled in the dirt.”
“I assume you are stating the obvious for the benefit of the bridge crew who have not been part of the planning session.”
“Yeah, sure. Oh! Right. I’ll get to the point. Watch.” He opened the jar, got his hand dirty and then petted Pipes, leaving a brown streak on his sleek tortoise-shell fur.
“Go ahead, Gel.”
Gel ran a pseudopod over Pipes’s dirty back. He lifted his arm, pulling the fur up with him to show he had enveloped it, soil and all. Then the substance inside his pod began to shift. Little by little, the dirt flowed off of Pipes and out the back of Gel’s pseudopod until he held a clean katt and a ball of dirt. He put it back in the jar, and gave LaFuentes a high five. His pseudopod surrounded his boss’s hand, and like before, drew off the dirt. This, too, he deposited.
“Computer, how much dirt did we lose?” La Fuentes asked.
“Just like the last three times, there’s no discernable difference,” the computer obliged.
This time, the security chief and his minion gave each other a real high five. It made a splotchy, wet sound, the sound of victory.
“Impressive,” Smythe admitted.
LaFuentes grinned his mad, I-got-this! grin. “Even better, we don’t have to uproot Loreli at all. Gel can just infiltrate the soil, surround her roots, and extract the dirt. Then Dolfrick can beam them out together.”
“It’s no problem, Captain,” Gel added. “I can wrap myself around our ship’s sexy easy.”
There were a few sighs and some jealous mutterings among the bridge crew.
Smythe ignored them. “Gentlemen, you may have saved Loreli’s life and earned yourselves some extra leave. Now get cleaned up and prepare for another demonstration in case the captain needs to convince the GONs. And get Pipes some milk. He has been a good kitty.”
* * *
Jeb’s momma used to tell him, “You’d better corral that temper of yours, boy. Stampedes don’t do anything but damage.”
Jeb’s dad used to say, “Stampedes are what cattle do. We’re men, not cattle.”
It took him a few years to figure out what his dad meant, but he’d learned there was a time for temper, and a time damage – or at least the promise of damage. He was at that point now.
When Wylson had called with his “good news,” Jeb had dismissed his officers with the order to “Get me an answer – and prep a stealth shuttle with Wikadas shields in case you don’t.”
Next, he arranged for Smythe to listen in on his negotiations through a private com link and gave him a “go” phrase. He would stall as long as he could, but if he said the phrase, then Smythe was to launch whatever rescue operation they’d managed to come up with.
Then he’d gone to his ready room and contacted Wylson and the GON who’d come up with the cockamamie idea of chopping down his xenologist. He sat at his desk because so his frustration didn’t show in physical activity. If he had to stampede, it would be with words…and phasers, if need be.
He’d tried to reason with them. He’d shown them medical records and the Loreli’s health readings. He’d even tried to compromise to uprooting and a power wash, though the Botany Department wasn’t sure she could survive that. He was getting dangerously close to a stampede.
“Tell you what, Whoosh-chit-chit-kreee. How about if you come to my ship, and I cut off the bottom half of your thorax with an ax?”
Wylson’s frontal features fought for neutrality, but his right-side face stifled a snicker. Apparently, it was fed up with the GONs as well. Whoosh-chit-chit-kreee, gasped.
“Are you threatening me?”
“I think,” Wylson cut in, while his side face put a tentacle to his mouth and pretended to cough, “that Captain Tiberius is drawing an analogy to the injury such an action would do to his valued officer.”
“Though if a threat works…” Jeb added.
The GON waved a leg. “Nonsense! She’s a vegetative life form. A plant! Get her into a fertilized bath and she’ll be fine.”
“Maybe if we’d done so immediately,” Jeb agreed. “Maybe if you’d let us heal her injuries. But she is perilously weak, bleeding internally –“
“Plants don’t bleed.”
“Vegetative life forms do. She is a living, sentient creature. She’s not some orchid you can take a cutting from.”
The GON did an admirable job of pretending to roll his eyes.
Jeb opened his mouth to give the “go” phrase and to hell with diplomacy, but a message appeared on the bottom of his screen. Stall. He grit his teeth and corralled his temper. He needed to give his people more time.
Now you have more time – a whole week to figure out how they are going to get Gel to Loreli. Will they take the diplomatic path or go stealth? Remember the Kitracks from Episode 5!I do know how it ends, but I’m not Telling. Keep reading to find out.