The corridor smelled like goats.
No matter how Geordi La Forge and his engineers tweaked the environmental controls, the stench of the Bringloidis’ animals pervaded the air throughout the Enterprise. The Federation’s flagship might almost have been mistaken for a barnyard, although the colonists had only been on board a short time.
Picard fidgeted with his uniform, muttered a few French swearwords, and continued along the corridor.
He could feel a faint vibration in the deck plates, caused, no doubt, by the colonists’ infernal dancing. Whenever they weren’t milking the goats, feeding the chickens, or other equally malodorous chores, they were dancing. Their stomping feet and raucous singing could be heard on several decks in the vicinity of the cargo hold where they had been housed. Which wasn’t nearly as far as the reek of their livestock had traveled.
And then there were the overly intellectual Mariposan clones, who had agreed to form a joint colony with the Bringloidis. The clones didn’t stink or sing, at least, but they gave Picard the creeps.
A few words could now be made out, sort of, through the nerve-jangling stomping and the off-key, alley-cat yowls that somehow passed for singing.
“It’s a long way . . . to Tipperary . . .”
Picard gritted his teeth and went on, reminding himself that the Enterprise’s unwelcome visitors would soon be gone, along with every goat, pig, and bale of hay. He would never have to see them again.
Never, as things went, didn’t even last a year.
“We’re just going to give the colonists basic medical exams, Jean-Luc. It shouldn’t take more than a few days, and we don’t seem to be particularly busy right now.” Beverly Crusher smiled as if she were genuinely looking forward to spending a little time on a simple, restful, pastoral world.
Little did she know.
But she was correct, of course, that it was standard Starfleet procedure to check on the well-being of colonists who had made a recent move. It was just Picard’s bad luck that the Enterprise happened to be on patrol in this sector at the moment, with nothing else to do. Well, almost nothing.
“We received a subspace message a few days ago,” he informed Beverly, “that we’re to be on the lookout for a ship of Edenists who were last seen traveling this way.”
The doctor frowned slightly, looking puzzled. “Edenists?”
“A religious cult that’s obsessed with the idea of settling a planet they believe to be Eden. The planet is completely unsuitable for humanoid life — most of the vegetation secretes a deadly acid, and all fruit is poisonous. That hasn’t deterred the Edenists, however. On several occasions, cult members have hijacked or stolen spaceships in order to reach their destination. Although that’s not true of the ship we’re looking for now — this one was legitimately chartered — Starfleet considers the ship’s movements to be suspicious. Usually, members of the cult make a beeline for Eden as soon as they get access to a ship, but this sector is nowhere near Eden.”
“Maybe they want to recruit a few more cultists first?” Beverly didn’t sound at all concerned as she switched the conversation back to the previous topic. “Whatever they’re up to, it’s not likely to interfere with our checking on the Bringloidis and Mariposans.”
As much as he would have preferred the situation to be otherwise, Picard had to concede that she was, in all probability, right.
Probability had been taking quite a beating lately.
The Edenist ship, an antiquated, tired-looking little freighter that showed signs of recent conversion to passenger use, had parked itself in synchronous orbit directly above the Bringloidi/Mariposan colony well before the Enterprise arrived. Based on all of the unusual activity that the ship’s sensors detected on the surface, it wasn’t hard to deduce that the Edenists were up to no good.
Picard had no authority to arrest the cultists, as long as they hadn’t violated any Federation laws, which still appeared to be the case. All the same, nothing prevented him from paying them the equivalent of a friendly visit from the neighborhood cop on the beat. He selected an away team, which consisted of Crusher’s medical personnel and a few security officers, and beamed down to the center of the village.
Crates were piled high everywhere Picard looked. One huge stack of cargo shimmered and faded as a transporter beam took it away, presumably to the Edenist ship. Clearly, there was far too much cargo to be explained by a mere sale of supplies to the cult members. The colonists appeared to be packing up all of their worldly goods, even to the chickens and pigs, and preparing to leave with the Edenists.
One of the Granger clones — not surprisingly, Picard couldn’t tell them apart — noticed the arrival of the Starfleet officers and carefully set down a box of computer equipment before hastening over to greet the newcomers with an uncharacteristically broad smile.
“Welcome, Captain Picard! Have you come to escort us to Eden?”
“Not exactly, Mr. Granger. The Enterprise has been assigned to patrol this sector, and we’re visiting your colony to determine if any of your people are in need of medical or other assistance.”
“Certainly not, Captain,” was the earnest reply. “Once we reach Eden, none of us will need medical care ever again.”
The cult’s influence over the unfortunate colonists was clearly even more insidious than it had seemed. Picard paused for a moment to collect his thoughts before remonstrating with the deluded man.
“You have to understand, Mr. Granger, that the planet sometimes described as Eden is covered with highly poisonous vegetation and is quite uninhabitable . . .”
“But ve’re going to deal vith that, straight avay,” declared a cheerful female voice with a pronounced Russian accent. Picard turned to his left and saw a short brunette wearing a sheer, brightly colored dress with an unfashionably revealing hemline that showed more of her stocky legs than he would have preferred to see.
The Edenist firmly shook Picard’s hand as she introduced herself.
“I’m Nadia Chekova, sir, and I assure you, before our wessel departed on this woyage, ve analyzed all the geologic data wery carefully indeed. Some areas of Eden are no more acidic than the peat bogs of Ireland. Moss and heather should grow there, and traditional Irish crops such as potatoes, vith a little genetic tinkering. Our wessel came here only to get a few samples of the Bringloidis’ crops, Captain. Ve vere wery surprised ven they decided to come with us.”
This made no sense at all to Picard. “What’s the point of settling an inhospitable planet like that, full of poisonous fruit? Many other locations are more suitable for terraforming.”
“The poisonous fruit of that vorld is precisely vat ve seek, Captain Picard. Ve believe that a thorough analysis of its many unique compounds vill allow us to distill the elixir of eternal life.”
Granger was practically bouncing up and down with excitement. “And then we can make perfect clones, and we won’t need to have sex with, ick, women!”
To Picard’s right, Brenna O’Dell came into view, brushing her farm-roughened hands against her long skirts. Bits of straw fluttered to the ground. “Indeed, ’tis an opportunity that suits us all. I’ve little enough use for men, myself.” She leered in the direction of a rather flustered Beverly Crusher, who couldn’t quite hide the fact that she was equally interested in the attractive young colonist.
“You don’t have a terraforming permit,” observed Picard.
Nadia Chekova appeared entirely untroubled as she replied, “For vat ve intend, no permit is required. Ve plan only to alter a small area surrounding our settlement. All non-native wegetation vill be rendered sterile before planting, in accordance vith the terms of the Interplanetary Ecological Protocol. No harm vill be done to the enwironment.”
“Your ship turning up like this, Captain, ’tis providential,” Brenna O’Dell put in. “The chartered vessel would have had to make two trips, at least, in order to transport all of us and our animals. Perhaps the Enterprise could give us a lift, once more?”
Picard stared at her in disbelief. The abominable woman’s boldness knew no bounds whatsoever. Definitely time to put a stop to this nonsense before it went any farther.
“The Enterprise,” he announced icily, “was not designed to transport livestock. We made an exception before, when your lives were at risk, but I have no intention of allowing that to happen again.”
Brenna laughed easily. “Oh, I didn’t mean for you to carry the animals, Captain! Most of them have already been loaded aboard the chartered ship, and ‘twould be far too upsetting for the poor beasties to be moved again. No, all I’m asking is that you carry some of our people to Eden. Surely that can’t be too daunting of a task for a fine ship like this?”
“I wouldn’t mind sharing quarters for a few days,” Beverly Crusher put in, with a long, appreciative look at Brenna.
The way these two were carrying on, Picard thought, the show would be well worth the price of admission, even if he had to let a few crazy Edenists aboard his ship for a few days. And, after all, there wasn’t anything in Starfleet regulations that prohibited a ship from traveling to Eden.
Whenever Picard saw his CMO during the trip to Eden, the Bringloidi woman was invariably draped all over her, engaged in a variety of creative activities that gave a whole new meaning to the term ‘public displays of affection.’ To compare the pair to hormone-driven teens would probably have done a major injustice to teenagers. Everyone, including Picard, stopped and stared when the new lovers went by, with limbs and other body parts intertwined in what might have been thought to be impossible positions.
Their relationship seemed entirely harmless, though, considering the fact that the colonists would soon be leaving the ship, and Picard decided not to interfere. His first inkling that there might be a more serious problem was when a distraught Wesley followed him into a quiet corridor, pleading for help.
“Captain, sir, there’s got to be something you can do! My mother has gone completely out of her mind! She’s making plans to stay on the Eden planet with that awful woman Brenna, and if she does, she’ll make me stay, too! You have to stop her, Captain! Can you imagine me living on some horrid primitive farm, milking goats?”
Wesley’s voice rose to a ghastly screech.
“Your mother is responsible for your care, Wes, and I can’t interfere with her decisions,” Picard observed, looking down at the shuddering, twitching boy. “Perhaps the goats won’t be so bad. Hard work builds character, after all.”
With a howl of despair, Wes sank to his knees and started banging his head against a power systems access panel.
The best thing to do, Picard decided, was just to leave Wesley alone for a while. He would get over it eventually.
In orbit around Eden. A successful journey, or so it appeared. After dealing with the Bringloidis and Mariposans for a few days, though, Picard definitely felt that he could use a drink. Not synthale, either, but some of the real stuff that Guinan kept hidden under the bar. After all, he was off duty for the time being.
As Picard approached Ten Forward, an unusually high level of noise, along with lively music that he didn’t recognize, could be heard. Evidently he wasn’t the only person aboard the Enterprise who needed some rest and relaxation after having had to contend with the Edenists’ lunacy. He walked into the lounge.
The first thing he noticed was that the walls had somehow acquired an assortment of brightly glowing signs, most of which had something to do with popular alcoholic beverages. Large potted plants occupied every corner. A fog machine with a spinning light ball on top sent wisps of sparkling mist floating through the room. Tabletop games were scattered here and there, and a scowling Worf stood across one of the tables from Geordi, focused on some sort of combat involving little plastic men. Almost everyone else was on the dance floor, learning new steps from a group of very enthusiastic Bringloidis.
Riker saw him and grinned cheerfully. “Isn’t this great, Captain? Geordi and I spent most of the afternoon setting it up. We even managed to find replicator specifications for a foosball table.”
“Don’t you think you’ve gotten a bit carried away with this, Number One? I’m not sure the regulations would approve of,” and Picard glanced up at the nearest wall, “a sign advertising ‘Cerveza Dos Andorianos.'”
“The picture of the two surfer dudes in Baja waving their antennae? What could be wrong with that? Besides, it’s good beer.”
Picard was about to say something more when Guinan pressed a glass into his hand. “Here, try some of this, Captain. A new recipe of mine.”
He swallowed the fruity drink absently as he surveyed the completely unacceptable behavior in Ten Forward. On a platform next to the dance floor, Deanna Troi and Nadia Chekova had started performing a very suggestive striptease. Not that the Edenist had been wearing much clothing to begin with.
It was definitely time to put an end to all this. Picard took a step forward and swayed, almost falling, as whatever had been in his drink suddenly rushed to his brain. He turned toward Guinan, whose image inexplicably kept drifting in and out of his field of vision and morphing into two, or three, or possibly even four placidly smiling bartenders.
“What was in the . . .”
Picard couldn’t quite figure out how to complete the sentence, and then he forgot what he had been about to say. Guinan gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder and took the empty glass from him.
“Don’t worry about it, Johnny. Just have a good time.”
He stumbled toward the dance floor, not at all certain where he was going. Beverly and Brenna, wrapped around one another as securely as a pair of mating barnacles (did barnacles mate?), moved out of his way as he approached the striptease platform.
Deanna and Nadia, wearing nothing at all now but their sequined lace undies, reached down to give Picard a hand up to the platform. Before he knew it, they had efficiently stripped him down to his Starfleet-issue briefs and were bouncing against him as they gyrated to the music. Wolf whistles from numerous women, not to mention a few guys, filled the room. Everything blurred around Picard, and he probably would have fallen if Deanna and Nadia hadn’t been holding him upright.
The unexpected appearance of a small, cold metal object in his crotch brought him almost back to consciousness as slender fingers withdrew from the waistband of his briefs. He saw other women reaching forward with strips of gold-pressed latinum and wanted to tell them to go away and let him sleep; he really wasn’t very comfortable at all. His brain just couldn’t form the words, though, and several more latinum strips were soon deposited in his briefs.
One hand, with rather rough fingers, didn’t withdraw. In fact, it stayed down there inside his shorts for quite a while, playing with the masculine contents thereof. His bleary eyes finally managed to focus on the woman’s face. Brenna O’Dell.
And behind her, an obviously infuriated Beverly Crusher was storming toward the door, loudly muttering something that included the words, “Little enough use for men! Hmph!”
Poor Beverly, his friend was upset. That made Picard feel sad. It was hard to remember that he was supposed to be sad, though, when Brenna’s very skillful fingers kept distracting him.
Then the lights went out, the music fell silent, and the crowd quieted. Brenna let go of Picard and took a step backward.
A moment later, the lights came on again to reveal a furious Beverly striding toward the platform with a medical bag in one hand and a bullhorn in the other.
Beverly raised the bullhorn to her lips. “PARTY’S OVER!”
Then she took a hypospray from her medical bag and jammed it against Picard’s bare arm. The whirling, confused images around him resolved almost at once into a clear picture of his officers and crew, along with quite a few Bringloidis and Edenists, slinking hurriedly toward the exits. Anti-intoxicant, he realized, as his brain began to function again.
Brenna O’Dell made a quick dash for an exit, too, before Beverly could get hold of her. In contrast, Deanna Troi stepped back into her dress with an air of complete calmness and sauntered slowly toward the door, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Nadia Chekova, pouting, threw her clothes on in a rather haphazard way and followed the others out of the room with obvious reluctance.
“Next year,” Beverly declared, tossing her red head like an agitated bull in an arena, “I’m going to let someone else check on the medical condition of these damned colonists.”
Picard bent down to the floor to retrieve his uniform. As he did so, several latinum strips shifted position inside his shorts, digging painfully into his balls. He reached down to extract the offending pieces of metal.
“Yes, Doctor, I wholeheartedly agree.”