Sicilienne V, the Alpha Quadrant…
“You sure they can still track us? Even in this storm?” Garza said, turning to the two others standing in the threshold of the shuttlecraft. Ensign Dantine nodded with a shrug. Frank Pelligrino stepped out of the craft, offering his hand to her and smiling politely. Chivalry wasn’t dead, even in the twenty-sixth century. He turned and looked at the name on the side of the ship and laughed to himself,
“U.S.S. Enterprise “Cossey IV” The irony wasn’t lost on him, even if the craft was actually named after a hero of an almost forgotten skirmish in a nearly forgotten war. He sighed as Dantine spoke.
“At this point, the only thing I’m sure of…well, actually two. First, we got down in one piece. You know what they say about landings….” She smiled as Pelligrino turned and helped Melanie Cho step down onto the slight dip in the terrain at the rear of the craft. Garza shook his head and laughed.
“What’s the other, Dantine?” he asked. She smiled politely and said with a very soft but discernable Georgia accent,
“That you’re a jackwagon, Garza…absolutely positively one hundred percent sure that you’re a fucking jackwagon!”
“Well…there is that…” Peters said with a grin.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” Frank thought as he frowned and looked at the ever darkening sky; a dark blue with swirls of white and grey, almost like a tempest-tossed parfait. The gathering clouds blotted out the warm glow of Sicilienne, the system's star.
“Hey, Frank…” Garza spoke again, “Leave the girl alone.” He pointed to Dantine, who was staring up at the same clouds as Pelligrino.
“Shut the fuck up, Garza…” Dantine said with a laugh, but her expression belied her words as the nervous tension continued to grow.
“Aw, come on, Dantine…we know the two of you have a thing for each other.” Garza teased. Dantine was a “one-girl” girl, as they say, even if she was presently unattached, and she resented the foolish implications. Even in this day and age, intolerance reared its ugly head, irrespective of regulation, decorum or even common sense, and she garnered little respect; for her rank or her person.
“Yeah, Garza…you know Pelligrino ain’t got any time for girls…” Josephson said as he hopped out of the craft, scanning the small assembly before him with a broad grin. Frank’s face turned almost purple; his blush reflecting the dark blue sky, which seemed to have deepened in the last few moments. Dantine wasn’t the only one who received no respect.
“I don’t like the looks of this. Are you sure we can’t just fly back outta here?” Anderson shook his head as the wind began to pick up.
“Not sure, but not certain enough to risk it, either. We don’t know what we’re in for, so just take some quick readings within…say 20 metres of the craft and we’ll hop back in and ride this out. I don’t want to be out any longer than I have to, but orders are orders.” Dantine shook her head as she gazed at the tricorder and then back at the disabled shuttlecraft.
“Might as well get some work done.”
“Shit, Dantine…easy enough for you to say…you don’t have to walk out there. You can just point and click like an old fucking mouse while we icons scurry all over the fucking landscape,” Josephson quipped with a hardy laugh. A devotee of historic relics, Josephson had recently discovered an old computer in storage; a rescued artifact from the ruins of the Delta Base on Mars.
“If I thought it would work, I’d just use sheer power of will alone to get you guys to do some work, but this is what I’m stuck with, she said, pointing to her tricorder. She grinned.
“Let’s just get this over with and then we can all…oh holy fucking shit….” She said as the sky changed in an instant. The colors mixed in an array Anderson later recalled looked like the ‘last traces of a black eye’…the greens and purples and yellows all swirling as the wind howled even louder.
Garza cupped his hands to his mouth and yelled with a hitherto unknown respect.
“I suggest we call it a fucking day, Ensign Dantine!”
Dantine nodded and waved hurriedly for everyone to get back in the shuttlecraft. Garza was going to add something clever when he was interrupted by a loud bang followed by a bright flash that struck him and knocked him to the ground. A moment later every crew member was down and writhing in pain. Only seconds later the skies cleared to pale lavender as the wind simply stopped.
One by one, the crew sat up. None of them seemed to be harmed save for one, who still lay on his side with his head resting mere centimeters from the edge of a very sharp rock. Dantine stood and shook her head. The pain was gone for the most part, other than a lingering ache all over her body. She walked over to the prostrate figure and looked down. Her eyes squinted as if to gain some different or sharper focus as she examined the man on the ground…but it wasn’t anyone she recognized.
She covered her face with her hands and blinked twice as if she could make the vision clearer, but when she removed her hands, the same perplexing sight filled her view. She shook her head and turned, scanning the other crew members, all of whom were now standing nearby with the same dumbfounded look. Josephson, Garza, Anderson, Cho and Peters all stared at each other, as if they could discern something from each other’s amazement. All appeared unharmed, as did Dantine, but Pelligrino wasn’t so lucky…so to speak.
“…Frank? Are you…okay?” Dantine stared at Frank, who by now had sat up.
“I’m…okay…I think. I ache all over…like the flu, you know?” The tone of the voice sounded the same as always, but the pitch was slightly raised; a fact that would have been surprising but for the mouth that uttered the words. The lips were full and almost pouty; an expression that was enhanced by the slightly arched eyebrows, thin and soft and almost gray.
“Frank…Frank?” Dantine said softly, almost like a nurse tending to a patient waking after surgery. Cho stared at the two and put her hand to her mouth and nearly screamed, but no sound came from her. Garza, on the other hand, was his usual loud self.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, what the fuck is going on here. Hey Dantine…what the fuck?” His language may have been inappropriate in a social context or in Federation protocol, but here and now it was almost entirely to be expected. And he even added,
“Ensign Dantine…WHAT THE FUCK?”
His words mixed equal portions of respect for her command with an utter fear over what he was witnessing. One by one the crew members gathered around Frank and stared as he rose to his….her feet.
“I…I feel funny.” She shook her head.
“Frank…let’s walk over to the craft, okay?” Dantine grabbed Frank by the hand and walked over to the open hatchway threshold, sitting her charge down carefully like a mother with a sick child.
“It’s going to be okay.” She said it with as much conviction as she could muster, but the look on her face said otherwise.
“I…feel…funny.” Frank repeated the words, but the voice sounded almost content rather than anxious or upset.
“You look funny,” Garza said, evoking a very hard punch in the arm from Cho as she glared. Peters, on the other hand, stood and stared at his comrade and smiled.
“I don’t think she looks funny at all.” He laughed softly as Dantine turned around, thinking the comment was meant for her until Cho’s mouth finally gained enough composure to function.
“Frank…you’re…you’re not Frank anymore.”
“Whattya mean…he’s not Frank.” Garza shook his head, refusing to believe what his eyes beheld. But his endorsement of the moment was unnecessary as Dantine turned and glared at him before saying calmly.
“Crewman Garza, would you please shut the fuck up!” Dantine turned once again and stood open-mouthed as she gazed at the woman in front of her.
“You’re beautiful.” She thought as she silently mouthed the words, which came out of nowhere. The fact remained that Francis James Pelligrino was no longer a man, but a woman, and a fairly attractive woman at that.
“Holy shit, Dantine…what the fuck is going on.” Josephson said, tilting his head in puzzlement over the sight in front of him. Suddenly he gasped as his hand flew to his face.
They immediately looked at each other, fearing the worst, but their anxiety level dropped quickly as each touched significant and representative parts of their bodies. Cho stroked her cheek looking for hair that had never grown. Finding none, she half-smiled and choked back a sob. Anderson literally stuck his hands down his pants and actually sighed with relief as he realized his package was still intact.
One by one the four men and one woman looked at each other and back over at Dantine and Pelligrino.
“Hey….Dantine…notice somethin?” Garza laughed nervously as he stroked his chin, his fingers brushing softly over his goatee. Up to that point, Ensign Dantine was entirely focused on the woman standing in front of her. She turned and frowned at Garza.
“What, Garza...what?” She shouted back at his interruption. Garza pointed at Frank and spoke with perfect aplomb as if she weren’t there,
“She’s the only one who got a makeover.”
He laughed as Dantine scowled at him until his words slowly sank in. She turned around and stared at Pelligrino. The complexion was the same; the slight crows-feet invasion by her eyes; the same graying dirty blond hair, but in a decidedly female style. Dantine had never been drawn to older women before, but the one before her was very attractive for someone well past her fortieth birthday. To say that Dantine was shocked would be a gross understatement.
“Dear God in heaven…”
While she still retained the rank of ensign, the burgeoning warmth and color on her cheeks displayed a side that her crew members had only imagined until that moment. She turned to Garza and nervously smiled before saying with authority,
“Garza, I suppose we should commend you for stating the obvious, since it’s likely the first time since this mission started that you’ve actually made any sense at all. Good observation, Mister!” Peters laughed.
Cho said something in what everyone gathered was the Mandarin equivalent of Oh My God or some similar remark. Each crew member continued their physical inspections; all reasonably worried that they would ‘suffer’ from a delayed reaction. A brief moment of unanticipated silence was followed by…
“Shuttlecraft Cossey IV…this is the Enterprise…do you read? I repeat, Shuttlecraft Cossey IV, this is the Enterprise, do you read, over?” A voice came from the communicator badge on Dantine’s uniform.
“Enterprise…this is Ensign Dantine, we read you…over.”
“Well, Ensign Dantine…I do say…you’re a hard girl to get a hold of,” Ensign Roberta Cowell's voice came over the communicator again, loud, clear, female, and decidedly British.
“Okay, okay, very funny, Ensign Cowell. Listen…This hunk of tin isn’t going to fly…someone can retrieve it if they like, but we’ve got seven to beam up, and have Dr. Crusher meet me in the transporter room…we’ve got a problem.” She turned and frowned, unintentionally, before one last remark.
“God, do we have a problem?!”
The Enterprise Sickbay
“Frank? Look straight ahead.” Beverly Crusher smiled warmly; the mother in her came out in times like these…Were there actually that many ‘times like these?’
The woman sat on the edge of the exam table, swinging her legs like a child.
“I’m sorry, Dr. Crusher, I just don’t understand what’s going on. Why the exam. I feel fine other than that achiness I told you about and it’s nearly all gone.”
“Just a few more moments, and we’ll be finished.”
They wouldn’t be finished by a long shot. Frank was given a sedative and led into the quarantine area. One by one each member of the shuttlecraft crew was examined. However, none of them exhibited any sign of illness. No remarkable difference was noted other than that they all experienced the same flu-like aches as Frank and even those were abating by the minute for all of them.
“I’m sorry…” Beverly took a sip of coffee and shook her head, mostly out of frustration, but also with concern.
“Is there any reason to suspect some virus or other form of infection?”
“That’s just it… apart from the flora of the planet, there are no life forms. No animals. No microbes or viruses. The planet seems to be a completely self-sustaining botanical environment without any symbiotic presence. Very peculiar for
a class M planet.
“So nothing to suggest any type of interaction with any life forms, and yet he’s now a she?” Riker displayed his familiar toothy grin and laughed softly. Deanna leaned over and slapped his wrist accompanied by a mock glare.
“Not at all…at least without going back down there to re-examine the surface. Perhaps a probe, but nothing we sent prior to the shuttlecraft landing indicated other than what we already know.” Beverly shook her head as Geordie nodded in agreement.
“I am sorry for Pelligrino…it must be…troubling,” Worf said with a glower and a Klingon epithet that he nearly spat out.
“That’s the odd thing. Almost immediately from his transformation, he seems to be…content. It’s as if he was always the way we see him now. I haven’t yet had a chance to interview him…her…since she’s been under quarantine, but it’s only been a few hours. Perhaps as things settle in, she’ll say more, but so far…so good?” Beverly shrugged at the old expression, but it was true. It was as if Frank Pelligrino had been like ‘herself’ all along.
Crew’s quarters…several hours later…
“Hey…Josephson…how the fuck are you doing?” Garza slapped Josephson on the back.
“You’re not going to believe this. That promotion that’s been held up? It finally came through. After nearly a year of red tape…all of a sudden…wow…” Josephson shook his head and smiled.
“Way to go, bro.” Garza sighed.
“Some fuckers have all the luck.” He muttered to himself.
“Crewman Garza, report to Sick Bay.” Dr. Crusher’s voice came over the com. A few moments later he stood quietly as Beverly looked down at a com-pad before speaking as a smile crossed her face. He noticed Melanie Cho standing off to one side in a similar fashion until she stepped forward, her own face reflecting Beverly’s.
“I don’t know who you know…someone must have pulled some strings, but you and Crewman Cho here have been approved for training at the Starfleet Academy Medical School. Congratulations, Melanie… Congratulations, Steve.” Beverly offered a hand which they both shook in turn.
“I wish both of you well…” Beverly grinned broadly and finished with, “You’re dismissed.”
Cho failed to resist the temptation and hugged Beverly, who welcomed the embrace, patting Melanie on the back. Garza stood there and shook his head. Every ounce of his being inside shouted out, “Fucking Alright,” but he smiled and said calmly…and in a strange but familiar way,
“Thank you Dr. Crusher. I hope to honor your confidence in me.”
Later…at the entrance way to Ten Forward…
“Peters…what are you so…happy about?” Anderson asked soberly.
“You’re not going to believe this. Last shore leave…me and the wife…we connected again…you know we’ve been separated for a while? Well, she wrote me today and said she wants to get back together, ya know? Commander Riker said that he’d get this fixed quick, my time career with Starfleet is done in two months, and Noreen’s father has a job for me working in his furniture restoration place…I love working with wood, ya know?” Anderson nodded in agreement even though he didn’t really recall Peters ever mentioning wanting to work with…wood?
“Anyway, Geordie had been after me to re-up, ya know… I had to tell him…he’s been such a great guy and all, but when I told him he was so thrilled…I was afraid to disappoint him...ya know?...It was almost like he was ready for what I had to say, ya know?” Peters shrugged his shoulders and Anderson nodded his head as he smiled and pulled his buddy in for a hug and a pat on the back.
“Great news, Bud…great news.” Peters walked into the lounge and Anderson just stood there, wondering what just happened.
“Crewman Anderson, May I have a word with you?” Worf walked up to him and placed a very strong hand on his shoulder.
“Yes, sir!” Anderson snapped to with as much attention he could muster after a day of disappointments mixed with just a bit of envy and four classic Fosters.
“Security has an opening, and I know you’ve expressed interest. A noble endeavor.” Worf nodded.
“Are you still interested?”
Anderson forgot to whom he was speaking and said,
“Hell yes, sir… one of my grand-sires was Chief of Police in Denver…Colorado?”
“I am acquainted with Colorado, Crewman Anderson.
“It’s in my blood. Sir, so hell yeah.” Worf shook his hand, squeezing tightly.
“Then it is agreed? You are interested?”
“Yes, sir! …Commander?”
“I trust you will serve with honor and distinction. That is all.” Worf turned and walked away, grinning and laughing to himself.
Suzanne padded softly down the serviceway toward Picard’s office; almost as if she were reporting to the Principal for some teenage transgression. As she grew nearer she heard the strains of Faure’ coming from within. She stood outside his entrance way and took a deep breath before hitting the buzzer.
“Enter…” She stepped in and stood at attention as she noticed Picard’s back to the entrance way; conducting with his right hand as he sipped his Earl Grey.
“Ensign?” Captain Picard said as he turned to acknowledge her presence.
“Do you have a moment, Captain Picard?” She looked down at the floor uncharacteristically. Normally a very confident officer, the past few days had sent her in a nearly depressive tailspin.
“Certainly! But may I speak first?” Jean-Luc didn’t need to ask permission, but he wanted to address something straight off.
“I wanted to commend you for your work on Sicilienne V. By all accounts, you handled the mission well. We were concerned, of course, when we lost communication with you and the crew, but you brought everyone back safe despite the storm, which Geordie tells me was almost catastrophic.
“The shuttlecraft would have been destroyed with all hands if you hadn’t landed when you did. Your actions saved the lives of your crew and yourself. We’re certainly glad that Commander Riker recommended you for the mission.”
“Sir? I don’t understand? Everyone safe? What about Pelligrino?”
“What about her? She had some minor aches and pains, as you all did, but she’s back to duty assisting Counselor Troi.”
“Working with Counselor Troi?” Dantine shook her head.
“Why yes, the research they’re doing on behalf of the Collodi Institute on Cicero III? The Force of Will Project? Oh, surely you recall…the work Professor Randalynn started?” Suzanne nodded even as the memories seemed to squeeze their way through the back door of her mind, which the last few days had left ajar. She shook her head once again.
“Thank you, Captain.” She stood at near attention as Picard looked down at his desk. He lifted his head and nodded before saying,
“That’s all, Ensign…you’re dismissed.” He smiled. She returned the gesture awkwardly with a half-smile; trying to remember just what it was she wanted to ask him before turning to leave. She had one foot toward the door when she heard,
“Oh…before I forget…” Jean-Luc laughed softly. “Congratulations.”
“Sir?” Suzanne looked at him, confused. He lifted up his left hand and pointed to his ring finger and then to her.
She stared blankly at him until he repeated the motion, adding,
“You and Francine…?” He smiled as she looked down at her left hand, which sported a very pretty ring with a very exotic looking stone.
“I trust that you and Dr. Pelligrino will be very happy.”
She looked at Picard and back at her hand, nodding almost without thought until saying one last time,
“Uh…Happy…yes sir…very happy.” She shrugged her shoulders and smiled once again until she heard Picard say softly,
Pelleas et Melisande: Sicilienne
Composed by Gabriel Faure’
Star Trek: The Next Generation— owned by Paramount Studios
Force of Will written by Randalynn
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