From the log of USS ARTEMIS (NCC-69069)
|by Van ©2010|
Midshipman Angeronia "Angie" Goodnight, recent graduate of Starfleet Academy and freshly minted Starfleet Officer, settled back in the minimal padding of her seat and tried to suppress both the nervous anxiety of reporting to her first posting and the crushing boredom of the final, three hour leg of the journey to said posting. She sighed, forced a smile, and turned to her fellow passenger. Irritatingly chipper, as always, Midshipman Lyra D'varas smiled back.
They were in one of Starfleet's new, twenty-passenger HSIENNING-Class short-haul shuttles, but only two of its marginally comfortable seats were deployed. The rest were folded back into the bulkheads to make room for bulk cargo, all of which was palletized, containerized, transponder-tagged, and ready for transfer when they reached the near-space of their ultimate destination.
Angie's smile became a smirk as her thoughts turned to the just-completed post-graduation leave the two classmates had taken together at Angie's home on the New Avalon Colony. Lyra would have visited her own home on Orion-II, of course, but their orders led in the opposite direction and New Avalon was more-or-less on the way. Lyra accompanying Angie had been both expedient and a pleasant prospect, and Angie knew her friend would return the favor at their first opportunity.
The visit had been a lot of fun. Okay, truth be told, the Goodnights' neighbors had been somewhat scandalized by the presence of a young Orion female in their midst, although Lyra had been on her best behavior the entire time. Of course, Lyra's idea of "best behavior" and that of your typical "Navalon" was somewhat different. Proud of their English heritage, the colonists cultivated what they believed to be a "Proper English Reserve", which included the "traditional suspicion of strangers". They weren't bigots. After all, roughly one fifth of the colonists were alien, meaning non-Homo sapiens [Sol-3], and all were fully integrated into colony life. In fact, the current Prime Minister of the Colonial Parliament was Lurian.
The problem was—as anyone familiar with Orions in general and "Laughing Lyra" in particular might expect—modesty and polite reserve were a challenge for the bubbly, green-skinned Midshipman.
Modesty of dress had not been an issue, thank god! Both Angie and Lyra had worn their uniforms when venturing out of the Goodnight home. Both were fiercely proud of their hard-earned status as members of Starfleet. Besides, New Avalon was decidedly more temperate than tropical Orion-1, and Lyra appreciated the warmth of the uniform's full-length pants and long-sleeved tunic. It was much more practical than traditional Orion female garb (which consisted of little more than a bikini, a few semi-opaque silk scarves, and a couple of kilos of jewelry).
There had been one incident, early in the visit, when Angie and Lyra had decided to go for a five-kilometer run. Angie had arrived at the Goodnight kitchen at the agreed upon time properly attired in the leotard-like version of a Starfleet Academy sports uniform. It had long sleeves and legs that covered her completely, revealing only modest decolletage (but did nothing to hide the curves of Angie's svelte, trim figure). Then, Lyra had breezed in—in a pair of skin-tight mini-shorts and a sports bra. It was also Starfleet Academy issue, and was often the favored sports costume of the "warm-blooded" races (like Vulcans and Orions). The problem was, she was about eighty-six percent green skin! On New Avalon... it was the equivalent of going out in public in one's knickers, and scandalously skimpy knickers, at that!
The effect on Nigel, Angie's thirteen-year-old little brother, had been epic! He'd been lounging in the kitchen, innocently enjoying a cuppa and some biscuits, when Lyra came bouncing (breasts, especially) down the back stairs. The instantly blushing youngster had nearly choked to death on his tea, and it hadn't helped matters when Lyra rushed to his aid, cooing sympathy and pounding his back. Tolerant and understanding, as always, Angie's mother had sorted things out while Angie took her green friend back upstairs to change.
Lyra noticed Angie's expression. "What?" she demanded.
"I was thinking of Nigel," Angie responded. "Are you sure you didn't give him a whiff of 'Green Spice' at some point?"
Lyra favored her friend with a pained expression, then grinned. Orion females could secrete a pheromone, common Academy slang for which was "Green Spice", which was a powerful aphrodisiac for the males of a wide range of sentient species. "Oh, yes," she said, with mock sincerity. "I've chosen Nigel as the first slave in my harem." Orion slave-holding was a thing of the past, officially, the institution having been eradicated as a condition of membership in the Federation. The infamous criminal enterprise known as the "Orion Syndicate" was another matter, of course. The Syndicate still trafficked in sentient slaves, including their fellow Orions.
"Is he still sending you sub-space messages?" Angie teased.
"Nigel?" Lyra chuckled. "Yes, and just before we left Starbase Seventeen I sent him a reply... and attached a holo-recording of our graduation party at the Tailwind."
Angie blushed, furiously. "You didn't!" The party in question, back in San Francisco, had gotten slightly out of hand, especially after someone spiked the punch with a bottle of Romulan Ale. Inhibitions had been shed (along with several articles of clothing). Lyra was talked into demonstrating an Orion Courtship Dance, and at some point, Angie and her female classmates peeled off most of their uniforms and joined in! (At least, Angie thought she might have joined in. The next day, her memory of events was a little... fuzzy.)
"Of course not," Lyra admitted. "You think I want to cripple the little guy's libido for life?"
"You're incorrigible," Angie muttered, still blushing.
Just then, the pilot's voice sounded over the intercom. "Passengers, prepare for combat transport! I say again—prepare for combat transport—in ten... nine... eight..."
Angie and Lyra stared at each other in surprise—then scrambled to release their restraining straps, grab their duffles from under their seats, and race to the small, clear area in front of the cargo. They clutched their duffles to their chests and crouched into "ready stance", prepared to take cover or engage in unarmed combat at the other end of the transport beam.
"Three... two... one."
Around the tensely waiting pair the shuttle's cargo bay began to shimmer—
—and they found themselves on the personnel transport pad of what was unmistakably a Starfleet vessel.
The transport had been a little rough, normal for "combat transport" protocol, in which two vessels dropped shields for only a fraction of a second. This was long enough for a full pattern-lock, but usually not long enough for the buffers to fully compensate for differences in momentum. The result was often mild nausea, but Academy training had prepared Angie and Lyra for the experience.
They quickly recovered and focused on the only other person in the room. "Welcome aboard USS ARTEMIS," she said.
Their welcomer was a Klingon—a female Klingon with the usual cranial folds; however, her folds were not very pronounced, and for a Klingon she was downright petite. She was wearing Starfleet duty uniform: black boots and trousers and the tank-top variant of the standard gray undershirt, but the required outer tunic was missing. Her Starfleet comm-badge was pinned above her left breast, and the three gold pips of a full Commander formed a vertical row on the right strap of the tank-top.
Angie and Lyra dropped their duffles and snapped to attention.
"Midshipman Lyra D'varas, reporting for duty," Lyra intoned.
"Midshipman Angeronia Goodnight, reporting for duty," Angie added.
"Commander B'Elanna Torres, Executive Officer," the Klingon (half-Klingon?) responded. She tapped the panel of the transporter console and the familiar "Open Channel" bleep sounded. "Thank you, Seventeen-gamma," she said. "I have them, and Storage Bay Two shows all cargo successfully received. Well done, and thank you for participating in our drill."
"My pleasure, ARTEMIS," the disembodied voice of the shuttle pilot responded. "Anything to break the routine of these resupply runs. Returning to base. Seventeen-gamma, out."
"ARTEMIS, out." CDR Torres broke the link, then powered-down the transporter. "Follow me," she ordered, and strode to the door. Her manner wasn't particularly friendly, but the midshipmen realized she was probably just maintaining the appropriate professional distance. The door slid into the bulkhead with the customary snick, and Angie and Lyra grabbed their duffles and followed their new XO.
The passageway beyond was dimly lit, signaling "alert-one" status. Also, either there was something wrong with Life Support, or the ambient temperature and humidity had been set unusually high. Lyra was right at home, but Angie was already starting to sweat. It was now quite clear why CDR Torres had foregone her tunic.
"We're in the final week of working up for our next mission," B'Elanna explained, "and you arrived in the middle of a drill. Everybody's a little busy, but don't worry, I had myself designated a battle casualty so I'd have time to deal with you. I'll show you your quarters later, and when the Captain's free you can report and present your orders. Until then, we can start your first indoctrination tour... unless you're tired and need to rest?"
"No, ma'am!" the midshipmen answered, instantly.
The rank of Midshipman (one black pip) was a recent Starfleet innovation. Training Command had decreed that Academy graduates would no longer report to their first postings as Ensigns, but as "Middies". They would then rotate through all shipboard or starbase departments and when, in the opinion of their Commanding Officer, they had demonstrated the required proficiencies, they would be promoted to the rank of Ensign (one gold pip). This was generally only a matter of a few weeks for Academy grads, as they were fresh from four years of comprehensive education and training.
There were also non-Academy Middies. Starfleet enlistees and crew-members could decide to earn academic credit in their spare time while serving in the fleet. When their progress reached a certain level, they became Midshipmen and eventually Ensigns. The majority of Starfleet officers still came through the Academy, but it was useful to have another path for the acquisition of junior officers. The Academy's San Francisco campus was only so big, and it already operated at full capacity.
"What have you been told about our next mission?" B'Elanna asked.
Angie glanced at Lyra, then answered. "Nothing, Commander."
For the first time, B'Elanna smiled. "Nothing?"
Angie swallowed nervously, and Lyra answered. "We tried hacking Starbase Seventeen Operations, but the ARTEMIS mission profile is classified."
"And you can't hack a simple security protocol?" B'Elanna demanded.
Lyra flashed her patented dimpled grin. "It wasn't so 'simple', Commander."
"And we didn't want to violate regulations," Angie added, hastily. Their attempt to access classified data without an officially recognized need-to-know was already a violation, but she figured she might as well try and put the best face on the situation.
B'Elanna was still smiling. "Just as well. Not that we can prevent things like Top Secret operations orders from reaching the Syndicate, but I'm glad Starbase Seventeen is making an effort."
They stopped at a doorway. The interface panel to the right read "Holodeck Two", and the readings indicated a program was running.
"Drop your duffels and I'll see they get to your quarters," B'Elanna said, and the Middies complied. "Your first departmental rotation will be Security," she announced, and hit the "join program" icon. The outer door opened—and a jungle clearing was revealed, a rather exotic jungle clearing. "Inside," B'Elanna ordered, still smiling. Again, the Middies complied. "Good luck," B'Elanna chuckled, and the door closed.
Angie and Lyra were surrounded by feathery and broad-leafed vegetation, some of it long, delicate, and richly patterned, and some thick, glossy, and broad.
"Class-M planet," Angie noted. "Equatorial jungle, but it's no place I recognize." The leaves were green, for the most part, but the overall color balance was more blue and aqua than with similar environments on Earth or Orion.
"Multi-canopy rain-forest," Lyra added, looking up. "Obviously, it's planetary day, but I can't see the sky. I can't even do a shadow-trace and make a guess as to the number of suns."
"What should we do?" Angie asked, "besides sweat like the proverbial horse, I mean."
"Speak for yourself," Lyra responded, smiling sweetly.
"I am speaking for myself, Tree Frog," Angie huffed. (Tree Frog was Lyra's cadet nickname. Angie's was Kipper, a moniker she'd earned by ordering grilled herring and eggs for her first Academy breakfast.) "I repeat, what should we—"
Angie was interrupted by a bright flash of blue light, followed closely by an echoing bang.
Lyra's eyes popped wide and her mouth opened in shock—then she crumpled to the forest floor, unconscious.
"No!" Angie gasped, grabbed Lyra's wrists, and started dragging her toward the edge of the clearing.
There was another flash and bang—and Angie felt a pulse of ionized energy course through her body. Disruptor! she realized, and collapsed to the leaf-litter beside her friend.
Angie opened her eyes... but everything was a blur. She'd been hit by a disruptor weapon, set on low power. It wasn't her first time. Various energy weapons were used for tactical training at the Academy, and no cadet escaped the unpleasant experience of being stunned by a phaser, sonic disruptor, or EM pulse weapon, the instructors saw to it. Yes, a disruptor, she decided, blinking her eyes. Maybe Andorian... or K'zinti.
Eventually, her vision cleared to the point she could focus on her surroundings. She was lying on her side in a different jungle clearing—and oh-by-the way, she was naked, bound, and gagged! Her wrists were tied behind her back, as were her elbows, and her ankles and knees were also bound with—she bent forward at the waist and straightened her legs—rope. Her bonds were some kind of soft, tightly braided, pale silver rope. A cloth rag was stuffed in her mouth and a narrow bandage cleaved her mouth and was knotted at the nape of her neck, under her hair. Her regulation bun had come undone, and her long, brown tresses were a disheveled mess. She heard a noise behind her.
Angie wasn't alone. She rolled completely over... and came face-to-face with Lyra—an equally naked and similarly bound and gagged Lyra! "M'rm'pfh'r'rr?" Angie "asked", blushing furiously and struggling to free herself. "What the hell is going on?" was the intended question.
Lyra got her message, and in typical Tree Frog fashion answered with a gagged smile and a saucy wink.
Training exercise, Angie realized, now that she was fully recovered from being stunned. Escape, evasion, and resistance training was part of the Academy curriculum, but she'd never been stripped in the course of instruction! This was... embarrassing!
Lyra rolled onto her opposite side, reached out with her bound hands, and wiggled her fingers. Angie took the hint, rolled back to her original position, and presented her bound wrists. She felt Lyra's fingers groping for the key knot of her bondage.
"No you don't, Starfleet!" a voice chuckled.
Angie heard Lyra grunt through her gag, and half-rolled to look over her shoulder. An Andorian female had appeared, and she was using a boot to roll Lyra away from her fellow captive. The vegetation was still swaying where the blue-skinned woman had entered the clearing.
The Andorian was dressed in dark red knee boots and a sleeveless leotard in a mottled swirl of jungle colors. An equipment harness matching her boots was strapped to her athletic, well-muscled torso, and a disruptor pistol was holstered on her right hip. Her long, straight, pale blond hair was combed back and trailed down her back in a tight ponytail. An evil smile curled her lips, and her antennae twitched with amusement. (Angie and Lyra had learned to read the body-language of antennae from Andorian classmates.)
"I doubt if you can untie ice-harvester knots, Orion brat," the Andorian chuckled, "but try again and I'll get out my nerve-lash."
Another Andorian woman entered the clearing. She was clothed and equipped the same as the first, only her boots and harness were dark gray and she had additional coils of the silver rope slung across her shoulders, bandoleer-fashion. Her smile was also evil. "Trouble with our lucky catch?"
"Nothing a little extra spider-silk can't deal with." The first Andorian—Angie decided to designate her "Red Boots"—held out her hand and the second—"Gray Boots"—unslung two coils of rope and tossed them over.
Roughly two minutes later, Angie and Lyra found themselves standing about two feet apart and balancing on their toes on a horizontal, moss-covered log. The additional ropes had been tied to their elbow bonds, then looped and cinched around their necks. The remainder of the ropes were then tossed over an overhead tree-branch, looped through a gnarled tree-root, pulled taut, and tied off with quick-release knots.
The Andorians smiled up at their captives, hands on hips and antennae bobbing.
Slavers, Angie realized. Andorea was a founding member of the Federation; but every culture has its criminal elements, and the "Ice Planet" was no exception.
"The pink-skin is a little scrawny," Gray Boots chuckled.
"Almost like a youngling," Red Boots agreed, "right down to the tiny boobs and sparse crotch-warmer."
"The green-skin's tits aren't much bigger," Gray Boots noted, reached out, and pinched Lyra's right nipple. "I hate Orions," she growled.
"Who doesn't?" Red Boots laughed, then she locked eyes with Lyra. "But there's a lucrative special market for green captives, a small and somewhat sadistic clientele who enjoy torturing females of the race that used to enslave their ancestors. It's just an excuse, of course. No doubt they'd enjoy torturing a pink-skin, as well. She shifted her attention to Angie, took a pinch of the furiously blushing Angie's pubic hair, and gave it a firm tug. "They're shipmates and probably friends," she purred. "We might be able to sell them as a matched pair."
"Possibly," Gray Boots chuckled. "Don't worry," she said, addressing the prisoners. "We won't let you strangle." She reached up and gave Angie's taut, vertical ropes a twang.
Angie swallowed, nervously, very much aware of the silky, soft rope encircling her throat.
"I do suggest you don't struggle too much, however," Red Boots advised, and nodded at the log under their toes. "Your perch might be rotten, and it might give way if you squirm around." She turned to her fellow-slaver. "Let's make another sweep of the area before taking them to the ship."
"Might as well," Gray Boots agreed. "They'll be okay... for a few hours."
Laughing, the Andorians disappeared into the jungle. The vegetation shook and swayed, then slowly grew still—and the Starfleet captives were alone.
Angie tested her bonds for about a minute, without success. Her friend was doing the same, with the same outcome. She finally convinced herself she'd never be able to get free and forced herself to relax. Despite what the blue-skinned slavers had said, the mossy wood under her toes felt solid, and even if it had given way, she was sure her elbow bonds would take her weight. Not a pleasant prospect, but she wouldn't choke herself... not immediately, anyway.
Not even Academy prisoner-of-war training had been this intense. It had been rough, but the really bad stuff had come in the form of classroom instruction, not in field exercises, like this. Angie wasn't really scared, but she definitely wasn't enjoying herself.
Suddenly, the vegetation on the far side of the clearing parted and a Human female entered the clearing.
She was a little older than the Middies and was pretty, in an athletic, hard sort of way. Her blond hair was cut in a short bob. She was wearing boots, trousers, equipment harness, and tank-top, superficially similar to the costumes of the Andorian slavers; but they could tell it was a Starfleet uniform. It was highly unusual and certainly non-standard, but recognizable by cut and design. All of its elements, cloth, synthetic-leather, and ballistic fabric strapping, had been replicated in jungle colors arranged in a mottled mass of irregular shapes. The hues and digital pattern were "tuned" to the local environment, and it was a good match to the vegetation.
As the blonde came closer, they could see a Starfleet comm-badge and a pair of Lieutenant's pips pinned to her tank-top; but they had a dull, non-reflective finish, another divergence from uniform standard.
"Lieutenant Olena Basán, Security Officer," the camouflaged newcomer announced, introducing herself. She made no move to untie the naked captives. "You're both my problem until I decide you're something for the next department to worry about." She walked a circle around the prisoners, examining their tightly bound, naked bodies from every angle, and the captives swiveled their gagged heads to watch.
Angie couldn't help but continue to blush. She stole a glance at her fellow captive and was unsurprised to find a nonplussed expression on Lyra's gagged face. Cheeky, as ever, Angie sighed. I wish I could be so casual about standing around in the nude... or rather, being involuntarily ON DISPLAY in the nude.
"Humiliated?" Olena inquired. "Vulnerable? Frightened?" She was still all business, without even a hint of a smile on her grim face.
Angie suppressed the desire to glower at her new boss. LT Basán wasn't behaving in an evil or gloating manner, as had their Andorian captors, but she wasn't exactly being friendly, either—and she still made no move to release them from the tight ropes.
"Imagine if this was not a training exercise," Olena continued. "Imagine you're a Federation colonist or member of a pre-warp culture on the edge of Federation Space. There you are, going about your business. Suddenly, without warning, you're the prisoner of slaver-pirates and on your way to a secret slave compound on some godforsaken planet. Training will follow, meaning torture, deprivation, and erotic conditioning... and eventually, you'll become the property of some criminal or a slave-holder on some primitive planet, with nothing to look forward to but a life of crushing toil... at best." She took a step back. "Think about that... until I return."
Olena spun on her booted heels and walked away, but she paused at the edge of the clearing. "ARTEMIS is about to start Anti-Pirate Operations in the Gian Expanse. I can't think of a more honorable or important mission."
And then she was gone.
Angie blinked in astonishment. She knew they were near the edge of the Gian Expanse, but it was a complete surprise to learn that ARTEMIS would be operating inside!
The Gian Expanse was a globular cluster of only about a thousand stars, at the center of which a pair of highly unusual pulsars were locked in a tight orbit. They flooded the Expanse with waves of very weak and highly unusual Berthold radiation which harmonically interacted to the detriment of advanced lifeforms—advanced male lifeforms. Prolonged exposure to the radiation caused progressive damage to "Y" chromosomes. The degradation was treatable with anti-radiation drugs and gene-therapy, but the most effective regimes were involved and technologically challenging. Therefore, all warp-capable cultures, including the Federation, tended to avoid the Expanse.
There were M-class planets inside the cluster, and some supported complex animal life. Without exception, all known Gian species were female and reproduced either through autogamy (self-fertilization) or by exchanging isogametes (in various highly unusual manners). The biologists of every Federation Science Council and University had exploration of the Expanse on their project wish-lists, but so far there had only been a handful of brief surveys of the cluster by Starfleet science vessels. The galaxy was vast, with countless wonders that didn't inflict radiation sickness on half the scientists that tried to study them.
So, slaver-pirates are using the Gian Expanse, Angie surmised. She turned her head and fixed Lyra with a quizzical stare—a gagged quizzical stare—but her fellow-prisoner's response was another gagged smile and saucy wink. Really, Angie sighed.
Just then, the vegetation at the edge of the clearing started to shake... and a Starfleet officer stepped into view. She was a Lieutenant with long, straight, dark brown hair pulled back in a ponytail and the teal-blue tunic of a Science or Medical specialist. The friendly smile on her very pretty face faded to a disgusted frown as she examined the Middies' predicament. "Oh, Olena," she muttered, and hurried toward the naked captives.
She stepped around the log and began untying Lyra's wrists. "I'm Gwen Tabor, Ship's Doctor. I'd welcome you to ARTEMIS, but Olena seems to have already taken care of that." By this time she had untied Lyra's elbows and was helping her hop down and sit on the log. She then turned her nimble fingers to the task of releasing Angie's bonds. "The XO should have taken you two straight to sickbay. I can't clear ARTEMIS for the Expanse until I have a baseline exam on file for everyone on board, including Midshipmen."
Lyra had untied her gag and was attacking the knot of the silver rope binding her knees. "How will we be able to operate in the Gian Expanse, Doctor?" she asked.
"Isn't it obvious?" their rescuer asked.
"All female crew."
"Exactly," Gwen chuckled. She had freed Angie's wrists and elbows and was helping her sit.
"LT Basán mentioned pirates," Lyra said as she untied her ankles.
"Slaver-pirates," Gwen confirmed. "They started operating out of the Expanse about five years ago, using small, very fast ships. They make lightning raids, then disappear into the cluster before any Starfleet vessels in the quadrant can intercept."
Angie untied her gag, stretched her mouth, and swallowed. "All female pirate crews?"
"Very good, Midshipman Goodnight," Gwen nodded. "That's the supposition, anyway. It's taken Admiral Janeway three years to get Starfleet Command to authorize this mission. ARTEMIS was selected, and all the male officers and crew were reassigned. Welcome to the only all-female ship in Starfleet." She pointed across the clearing. "There's another open patch about twenty meters that way, where you'll find your uniforms. Dress-out and I'll call the arch and get us outta here."
"Uh, we were told to wait here, ma'am," Angie noted, "until LT Basán returns."
"Let me deal with Olena," Gwen huffed, shaking her head. "Andorian holo-goons tying up people who should be reporting to my sickbay—the nerve!" She put her hands on her hips. "Snap to it, Midshipmen. I don't have any more time to waste."
"Yes, ma'am!" Angie and Lyra hurried across the clearing.
The naked Middies picked their way across the jungle floor, carefully planting their bare feet to avoid anything sharp that might be hiding under the carpet of fallen leaves. Gwen smiled. "What a cute pair," she whispered to herself, watching Angie's pale pink and Lyra's vibrant green forms as they disappeared into the thick foliage. "Nice, tight buns." Still smiling, Gwen moved to follow—"M'rmpfh!"—and was abruptly grabbed and dragged back into the jungle in the opposite direction!
It was Olena. Resplendent in her camouflaged uniform, she had her right hand over Gwen's lips in a tight hand-gag and her left arm locked around the Doctor's elbows, pinning her arms behind her back. "So," she whispered in her wide-eyed prisoner's ear, "you're going to deal with me, are you?" The hand-gag turned into a single finger tracing the outline of Gwen's lips. "What did you have in mind? Anything... interesting?"
"Like what?" Gwen whispered back, and kissed Olena's finger. "Maybe restraining you ... naked and gagged, of course... on one of my sickbay tables... and giving you a thorough examination?" She turned her head to the side, and they kissed.
Seconds passed as their lips sucked and tongues rolled. Olena maintained her grip on Gwen's arms, throughout, with her free hand gently squeezing Gwen's right breast. Finally, they came up for air.
"Let me go," Gwen whispered, and squirmed against Olena's continuing hold.
"I'll let you go," Olena whispered back, "but I'll be back, to deal with you... later."
"Lucky for me I have a spa program scheduled in Holodeck One for after my shift," Gwen purred. "I'll be perfectly safe and beyond your reach... naked... on a cloud table... covered in oil and being massaged by a Risan handmaiden. Perfectly safe. After all... it would take some sort of security expert to hack a holodeck program's privacy protocols."
"Doctor Tabor?" It was Angie, calling from the clearing.
"Later," Olena whispered, released her hold, and disappeared.
Gwen straightened her tunic and stepped back into the clearing.
Lyra had joined her friend. Both were back in uniform. "You okay?" the grinning Orion asked. "You look a little flushed."
"I'm fine," Gwen answered, combing an errant strand of her dark hair from her face. "I thought I saw a really, really ugly lizard over here, and went to investigate. Most of it was cryptically colored, but parts of its upper body were this hideous pink color, and it had a bizarre tuft of yellow hair or feathers on its head. Anyway," she shrugged, "it appears to have skittered away." Gwen knew Olena was listening, and that later that night she'd pay for her teasing "explanation"—in fact, she was counting on it. "Computer, arch!" she commanded, and the holodeck control arch materialized. "Exit program!"
There was a shimmer... and one end of the arch formed into a door panel. It opened, revealing the corridor beyond. The shipboard lighting had returned to normal.
"The drill appears to be over," Gwen noted. "Follow me."
The Doctor and the Middies exited the holodeck, the door snicked closed and the arch dissolved, and all was jungle, once again.
Olena stepped into the clearing and stood, hands on hips, an evil smile curling her lips. "A 'really ugly lizard', huh," she muttered under her breath. "I'm gonna get you for that one, Doctor."