Looking Glass Life


by Mylochka

(Standard Year 2253)

Return to Valjiir Stories

Return to Valjiir Continnum

Go To Part Two

“You got 23 minutes an' 47 seconds 'til that shuttle explode,” Noel DelMonde informed his captain dispassionately.

Both the captain and the chief engineer of the U.S.S Drake glared at him unappreciatively for this undeniably accurate statement of fact.

“It’s just too dangerous,” Rivka Mazar insisted for what seemed like the fortieth time.

Sulu turned to the Cajun for his rebuttal.

“You now got 23 minutes an' 39 seconds 'til the shuttle explode,” DelMonde updated him instead.

“Beaming the shuttle passengers out through an ion storm…” Driven to inarticulate frustration, Mazar gestured emphatically for a few moments instead of actually voicing her objection.

“Yes?” Sulu prompted.

Mazar chopped her hands through the air a few more times before finally bursting out, “Anything could happen!”

The situation was indeed desperate. A starliner had been destroyed by an unusually violent ion storm. The Drake had responded to their SOS and had been able to retrieve several shuttle-loads of survivors. However one of the escape vessels had been caught just inside the edges of the storm and had suffered severe damage to their propulsion system. The violent fluctuations of the storm were making establishing a tractor beam lock impossible and had destabilized the shuttle’s power core. Time and options were running out for those aboard the little ship.

The Captain of the Drake turned to give his chief engineer's subordinate an opportunity to make his case.

“One t'ing that will happen in 22 minutes an' 24 seconds,” DelMonde assured him, “is that shuttle gonna blow up.”

Sulu frowned and thought, “In 22 minutes and 26 seconds, I’m going to throttle you” to the telepath before turning back to his chief engineer. “But with Del’s booster hooked into the transporter….”

“Untested!” Mazar objected with nearly incoherent force. “Completely untested! …And in an ion storm…!! The accuracy needed… The permutations of even the slightest overlap of variance of disynchronic fields….Captain, we just don’t know what could happen to those people!!!”

“I know what gonna happen to 'em in 21 minutes an' 3 seconds,” the Cajun drawled.

“Del…” Sulu warned.

“He’s not the one facing the consequences if something goes wrong with his… “ Mazar’s lip curled as she looked down on the admittedly ungainly conglomeration of wires and glowing boxes the Cajun had affixed to the transporter console. “…improvisation.”

Instead of getting as angry as Sulu would have predicted his friend would at such a slight to his genius, DelMonde simply shrugged.

“If that th' way ya’ll want it…” DelMonde handed his chief the laser wrench he had in his hand and stepped up to the transporter chamber.

“Del!” Sulu objected.

“You got 11 minutes an' 13 seconds to beam me back,” the engineer informed him taking his place on one of the front pads.

Despite the danger into which he knew his friend was putting himself, Sulu had to grin. “Didn’t I just have 20 minutes a minute ago?”

“No need t' screw 'round to th' las' second, cher,” the Cajun replied dryly, then nodded to his chief. “Okay, girlie, let’s get this show on th' road…”

*** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** ***

The weight of the world fell on Del’s head as he struggled to regain consciousness…. and not just any world… a very strangely familiar world. Sunlight tickled his eyelids. A million voices muttered, grumbled, and moaned inside his head. His nostrils twitched at the unmistakable smells of… home.

Home?

He tried to snap his eyes open, but his whole body was weighted down by the leaden burden of a million minds trespassing through the too open gates of his consciousness. Through slitted lids, he could see tiny particles of dust glittering in the sunlight the way they never did on a starship. He was lying on his mother’s red velvet sofa.

Del was struck for the first time with a realization of how old-fashioned his parent’s house was. Most people lived in apartments as sleek and streamlined as a ship’s cabin. By contrast, a soldier coming home from the Civil War would have felt at home in this room with its Persian rugs, glass chandelier, oval portraits on the wall, and upright piano.

“What th' hell am I doin' here?” the engineer asked himself.

“The hell if I know,” a voice as familiar as his own answered. “You got that fancy damn apartment fixed up fo' yourself in the carriage house, but every Monday mornin', your hungover ass winds up passed out in my damn livin' room.”

Del almost fell off the couch as his head jerked around to confirm the presence of his father sitting at their kitchen table.

Dominic DelMonde had not even bothered to look up. He was – as has been his habit for the entirety of Del’s life – reading the morning news from a hand-held scanner as he drank his coffee.

“Sweet Mary,” Del groaned, rolling back into the embrace of the velvet cushions and rubbing his aching temples. “My head….”

The miserable pressure of a thousand alien thoughts trying to bludgeon their way past his own was almost unendurable. His brain hadn’t hurt like this in forever…. Since before xenoneurophen…. Before sapphire… Before the Academy… Before Ruth….

“Wit' a head like yours, boy,” his father commented dryly, “I be surprised if it not hurt.”

Del struggled up to sitting and groped blindly for the decanter of whiskey that used to sit on the end table nearby. Thankfully, it was still there. After gulping down a tumbler full of the blessed, numbing liquid, he sat with his elbows propped on his knees, resting his pounding skull against his knuckles and tried to summon up all the Vulcan and Antari tricks he’d been taught to dull the infernal roar of all the noisy brains around him.

Within a few moments the clamor inside his head quieted enough for him to begin to wonder: A) What had happened to so scramble his brain? B) How could he possibly be home? ..and finally C) What the hell was going on with his upper lip?

When he turned to stare into the green-tinted mirror behind him, he had to blink a few times before he recognized his own features underneath an unkempt mane of lank hair and a positively hideous mustache.

“What th' hell is on my face?” he demanded from his reflection.

“We all been wonderin' that fo' a long time, son,” his father replied, still not bothering to look up from his newsreader. “Like I done told you – if you want folks to t'ink you a badass, you gotta be a badass. It not got not'ing to do wit' you wearin' your hair in a particularly fucked-up manner…”

Although he would not dream of admitting it, Del could see that he was also appareled as someone perhaps a little too anxious to be thought of as a formidable individual. The black and silver suit he was wearing was exactly the sort of Haven-knockoff ensemble young toughs wore when they went out clubbing.

“… or dressin' like a two-bit hood,” his father added, engaging in his usual annoying habit of agreeing aloud with any negative thought that might pass through a person’s mind.

The blistering rejoinder on Del’s lips died as it finally occurred to him that there were several odd things about his father. For one thing, Dom DelMonde looked old – maybe as much as twenty years older than he’d looked the last time Del had seen him… which could have been as much as twenty years ago when one came to think of it…

And since when were they even speaking to each other? They’d spoken briefly when his uncle had died but that had been nothing more than a temporary truce only for that occasion…

And the thing he’d said about Del having a fancy apartment in the carriage house…? The engineer had once dreamed of renovating the tumble-down storage building behind their house. In fact, his mother had left the dilapidated building to him in her will for just such a purpose. However, Del had never had the resources to do more stash a sleeping bag and some clothes in the parts of the building where the flooring was still safe to walk on… relatively safe, at least…

His father briefly glared a reproof at him for breaking their mutually agreed upon – though never actually articulated -- rule against staring before turning back to his reader. “They’s coffee if you want it.”

Del’s nostrils patiently informed his brain and taste buds that he did desperately want some of that coffee. His father might be as repugnantly evil as Satan’s third cousin, but Dom DelMonde did brew some of the best coffee known to humankind.

Keeping his distance and his eyes to himself, the engineer poured himself a cup of the fragrant black brew. As an adult, Del understood their shared aversion to staring much better than he had as a child. A telepath didn’t have to stare at you in order to read you, but staring was a pretty reliable indication that the telepath was reading you.

Paying attention to what he was reading from his father revealed the most startling bombshell of all – His father didn’t hate him anymore.

Del was so shaken by the revelation; he had to sit down to absorb the shockwaves of this sudden readjustment of his universe.

There was a wariness between them still… Memories of the old bad times… A physical tentativeness… as if Del had finally landed some of those punches he’d longed to deliver as a teenager… But there was a new… closeness. His father took care of him now…. There was a kind of a… sad sort of… almost like… love… Understanding, definitely… His father now identified with him… understood him… felt sorry for him…

A cold shiver ran down Del’s spine as he contemplated what sort of reality he’d landed in where he lived at home, dressed like a thug, and his father understood and pitied his situation.

“This is some shit here,” he decided aloud.

Dom DelMonde merely shrugged. “Make you own damn coffee then.”

“No, I jus'…uh…” Del was at a loss as how even to speak to this person who still looked like his father on the outside, but had changed so radically on the inside. “I not understandin' this… I mean… How did I….? When did I…? Where was I…?”

“T-Boy an' Willie dragged you in a while ago,” his father offered with a shrug. “I not talk to them or not'ing.”

“I t'ink I been in a transporter accident,” the engineer concluded, grasping at the edges of a blurry memory.

Dom snorted. “You not got no elbow comin' out you abdomen,” he replied, referring to a freak malfunction that was rumored to have happened in the French Quarter in his youth.

Del rolled his eyes. “Not that kind o' transport accident, Daddy.”

“You mean the kind where you wake up on th' wrong side o' the universe not even sure who you is,” the elder DelMonde surmised in his patented I-just-happened-to-guess-the-weird-thing-you-were-just-thinking manner that really creeped out folks who weren’t telepaths.

“I know who I is,” the engineer assured him. “This jus' ain’t it.”

“You gotta quit takin' that hardcore Haven shit, son,” his father advised, turning back to his reader. “It messin' wit' the li'l brains you got left.”

Since his mental competence was hard to argue in his current, profoundly disoriented state… and especially in light of the mustache this version of himself was apparently convinced looked good, Del sighed and stood up, resolved to speak with his cousins… until he realized that he wasn’t sure exactly where either of them lived anymore.

“T-Boy an' Willie gonna be down at Josef’s this time o' day,” his father replied to his unasked question without looking up from the news item he was scanning.

Josef’s?” the engineer repeated. “You mean Josef’s --the bakery?”

“Uh-huh.”

“What they doin' there?”

“If they runnin' true to form – somet'ing stupid.”

Del sighed in protest of the unhelpfulness of this input.

“Remember you gotta go see your Uncle Johnny this afternoon,” his father said, this time very purposefully not meeting his eyes.

“What?” Del sunk back down into his chair, dread hitting him in the stomach. “Why I need to go see him fo'?”

Dom shrugged. “I guess he got a job fo' you.”

“What I wanna do a job fo' him fo'?” the engineer asked, not as a question, but rather as a plea that what he was assuming was far worse than the truth.

Although his father’s expression did not change, the shadowings of sorrow and pity in grew stronger in his thoughts. “Fo' whatever he pay you these days.”

“Oh, shit….” Del rested his forehead against his hands as if his fingers could shield him from receiving a clearer picture from his father’s mind of the sort of “jobs” he did for his Uncle Johnny. “I gotta get out of here,” the engineer said, rising determinedly. “I gotta… I gotta figure out… I gotta find out…” Del caught another glimpse of himself in the mirror over the sofa. “I gotta shave, comb my hair, an' put on some decent clothes.”

His father nodded. “That the best string o' ideas you have in a month o' Sundays, son.”

“Not sure how much time I got.” Del put his hands on his hips and frowned as he tried to make the fuzzy edges of memories of the Drake’s transporter room pull into focus. “Not sure if local time matter in this sort o' t'ing… Still I probably should avoid transport stations 'til I figure out what done gone wrong… Mais< if I got an apartment, surely I got a garage full o'…”

“Nope.” His father shook his head.

“I not got no kind o' vehicle?” Del was incredulous.

“Not since you wreck that last speedster.”

“An' I not fix it?”

“Nope.”

“How is that possible?” Del demanded, suddenly finding himself at the very end of his patience with this hateful version of reality. “I a damn hitman fo' the damned mob an' I not even got a damned vehicle? Gotta take the damned streetcar? Not got my shit together enough t' fix a damned speedster? How the hell is that even possible?”

“It possible,” his father replied, turning his black eyes on him at last, “'cause you drink an' drug up an' wreck all your vehicles ‘til you not got no more credits. You mope around fo' awhile, then you go do a job fo' your Uncle Johnny. Then you gotta drink an' drug up so you can forget what you done. An' the times you try to fix one o' your speedsters up, you gotta drug up again – twice as hard -- ‘cause it make you know that you coulda been somet'ing else… Somet'ing better than what you wound up wit'.”

Del was silent for a moment as the awful weight of this world settled around him. His father’s unflinching pity was even more suffocatingly unbearable than Dom’s irrational rejection of him had been.

“That sad as shit,” the engineer concluded, then shook his head. “Jesus God…. I not no angel. Never have been. An', God knows, I come as close to scrapin' the damn bottom recently as I ever have… But, Sweet Mary, I gotta be better than this. They not no way I gonna get stuck here an' wallow in this shit.”

His father merely grunted and turned back to his newsreader. “On second thought,” Dom said, pausing to take another sip of coffee. “Maybe you oughta stock up on more o' whatever you blacked out on last night. It seems on the verge of knockin' some damned sense into you.”

*** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** ***

“Oooeee, Shortie!” The plump man behind the counter exclaimed as Del entered the small coffee shop that fronted Josef’s Bakery. “Praise the Lord!!”

“That bad, huh?” the engineer asked, surprised that the transporter misfire he was theorizing would result in that much of commotion. He’d assumed it wouldn’t have looked like much more than an odd-colored blink.

“That was th' worst mustache ever grown by man,” T-Boy pronounced, picking up a pot of coffee and gesturing him towards a table by the window that was already occupied by a shockingly middle-aged-looking version of his cousin Willie. “Bet you had to wrestle it down an' beat it wit' a stick 'fore you could get rid of it.”

“One o' these days, he gonna wrestle you down an' beat you wit' a stick,” Willie warned his cousin, taking advantage of the fresh pot to warm his cup before pouring one for Del. “Where you at, Shortie? You feelin' any better?”

“I feelin'… different,” the engineer admitted, as he took a seat in one of the old-fashioned wrought-iron chairs that tourist always slobbered over so much. “What happen to me?”

T-Boy and Willie exchanged a look as if dreading the reaction they anticipated from him.

“Benny!” T-Boy called to the short, plump teenager who took his place at the counter. “Bring your uncle a beignet an' some o' his special order coffee.”

Del frowned. “What is it?”

“How much money you have wit' you las' night, cher?” Willie asked carefully.

“I not know.” The engineer shrugged. “My papa tell me I not got none.”

“Even if you had some las' night, you probably not got none this mornin',” T-Boy informed him as the teenaged boy -- who looked more like how Del remembered his cousin than T-Boy himself did -- brought out a little tray and set in down in front of him. “You got robbed, cher.”

Del was pleased to find that his “special order coffee” was actually a pretty little teacup filled with whiskey.

“Jeffie T saw a flash o' light outside his place,” Willie explained, seeming encouraged that the engineer had not exploded with rage, but not entirely convinced that he would not still do so. “He run out an' see you laid out on th' street.”

“Beside a public transport booth?” Del guessed.

Willie and T-Boy exchanged glances, now officially puzzled/relieved that he wasn’t getting angry. “Yeah, I guess they’s a booth outside th' bar,” Willie confirmed.

“What color was th' flash?” Del asked, holding the beignet over the saucer so he wouldn’t get powdered sugar all over his shirt. “Blue? Green? Yellow? Red?”

“He not say not'ing 'bout that.”

“He did say somet'ing 'bout maybe th' cops had come by,” T-Boy remembered.

Del nodded as he tried to narrow down the possible dychronic mal-phasing each position on the visible spectrum indicated. “So it coulda been a blue light or red light … or red an' blue lights…. Or jus' a white flash…”

“Want me to have Marcel call an' ask him?” Willie offered.

Del wasn’t entirely comfortable with the reasons why his older cousins might be treating him like he was their boss… but simultaneously, their unaccustomed helpfulness was speeding things along nicely. “Yeah. It would be good fo' me to know. Get me a copy of yesterday’s news, too, while you at it. There’s somet'ing I need to check out.”

“You sure you feelin' all right, cher?” T-Boy asked as Willie stepped over to the counter to call forth another teen-aged boy who was the very image of his cousin Cole.

“This “special order” is sittin' right wit' me,” Del assured him, deciding that coffee, beignets, and bourbon was truly the best of all possible breakfasts.

“’Cause you not seemin' 100% like yourself.” T-Boy tilted his head to one side, giving Del the sort of searching look he’d so often received from his mother and his favorite uncle. The Duhon family’s empathic talents finally seemed to have manifested in his cousin. T-Boy’s scan was so light and pleasantly familiar that it didn’t feel like an intrusion at all. It was more like a warm beam of slow sunshine gently illuminating even the dark corners of one’s soul. “You seemin' like you jus' visitin' here from way far away… more 'an half-way ‘cross the galaxy an' back…”

“Hey.” Del waved a warning hand at him, although he was loathe to turn off that warm, sweetly-familiar light. “Cut that out.”

“You actin' like you done half-forgot us all…” Since it was impossible to stop doing something that one was not aware one was doing, T-Boy’s empathy continued to cast its gentle glow through the translucent edges of Del’s consciousness. “Like you done forgot the boys completely… Not even recognize this here shop you done help me buy… Like you more 'an half a stranger to your own self…”

“Jeffie T say it a blue light,” Willie announced as he headed back to the table with a newsreader in his hand.

“Shortie think he done been in transporter accident,” T-Boy announced abruptly.

Del blinked in surprise at the rapidity of his cousin’s grasp of his very unusual situation. This intuitive leap confirmed his opinion that empathy was a far more practical gift than telepathy. If one knew what another was truly feeling, figuring out what that person was thinking was usually easy… and a lot quieter and less annoying than the chatter a telepath had to put up with.

Willie raised his eyebrows. “Oh?”

“Yeah.” T-Boy turned back to Del solicitously. “You lucky you not wind up wit' you fingers stickin' out th' side your nose like that fellow down in th' French Quarter that one time.”

Apparently, though, becoming an empath was not a cure for being a moron.

Del shook his head and gave an exasperated sigh. “It not that kind o' transporter accident. It was… mais…. It kinda hard to explain…”

“That why you not got that damn mustache no more, non?” T-Boy interrupted to surmise.

“No,” the engineer explained patiently as he scanned the news for items on solar flares or ionic displacement waves. “Facial hair not got nothing to do with parallel universe theory… well, not most of the time at least….”

“So you t'inkin'… you from a parallel universe?” Willie said slowly with the well-earned dubiousness of someone who had dealt with any number of the aftermath’s of Del’s bad drug trips before.

“What it like in your universe?” T-Boy, who had always had more of a taste for the fanciful, asked eagerly.

“Less shitty,” Del replied briefly as he continued to scan the Science section.

“Like all th' women have four tits or somet'ing?”

“More bizarre than that,” the engineer replied paging back to weather reports. “In my universe, you is smart an' Willie is good-lookin'.”

“How many kids I got?” T-Boy persisted, undeterred.

“None that I know of.”

“Now, that a damned shame.” His cousin fished in his pocket for holo-disk. “Here, let me show you somet'ing pretty.”

“Dammit, T-Boy, I tryin' to…” Del broke off as the image of a little girl with his mother’s eyes danced onto the tabletop.

“This my girl, Lula,” T-Boy announced proudly.

Willie smiled as the holo of the little girl tossed her mass of braids and put a hand on one hip to scold the person holding the camera. “She the spittin’ image of Tia Lou, non?”

“Sweet Mary…” Del watched, entranced as this miniature version of his mother skipped a circle around the holo-emitter.

“Some folks say she look like you, but I not hold that against ‘em,” T-Boy joked, before beckoning to the plump boy behind the counter. “C’mere, Benny! Let your Uncle N.C. get a look at you!”

Benny, demonstrating the depth of valor his father was renowned for, ducked and ran into the bakery.

“Y'all call me N.C.?” Del asked, although it did seem like a practical option. If he was working for the DelMonde clan, that family might chafe at calling him by a shortened version of their shared surname and there were several examples of DelMondes with particularly unwieldy names who went by their initials. “Well, that would tickle Jer…”

“Who that?”

“You remember one time we was shootin' pool down in the Quarter an' this fella come in decked out like some kind of a circus acrobat an' started buyin' drinks fo' us all?”

“Oh, yeah.” Willie frowned. “Surprised you remember him. We was teasin' you 'bout him. You got mad an' slipped out th' back.”

“Yeah…” Del nodded. “I did t'ink 'bout doin' that…”

“That the night Cole met Marcella, non?” T-Boy remembered.

Willie nodded sadly. “Yeah, that young fella got us into a party uptown wit' a bunch o' high-rollers… An' that was how it all got started…”

Del felt a sudden pang of alarm. “Where is Cole?”

His cousins exchanged a look to decide who had to tell him.

“Cole been dead a long time, cher,” T-Boy informed him gently.

Although Del was sure this was not his reality, the sudden loss stabbed at his heart.

“Marcella had this boyfriend who eventually showed up…”

Hot rage surged through Del’s veins. “What his name?”

“Oh, cher…” Willie had to shake his head and laugh sadly. “You done made that bastard dead a long time ago.”

“An' they not never been nobody made dead like you done to him,” T-Boy assured him grimly. “You make him scream like you showin' him the gates o' hell ‘fore you shove him in.”

“He was some off-world high roller,” Willie recalled. “So you had to get permission through your Uncle Johnny to do him in. Fortunately, he was someone that Johnny DelMonde an' his friends wanted dead fo' some reason…”

“…But then I was under obligation to th' family fo' coverin' up what I done an' hidin' me ‘til the heat was off,” Del speculated, feeling sick.

“You wanted to kill yourself,” T-Boy remembered. “But my Daddy made you promise not to do that.”

“Although losin' Cole killed him,” Willie said, bitter sadness still fresh enough to rise to the surface of his emotions.

“Oh, hell…” Tears came to Del’s eyes from even the imagined pain of that staggering double loss.

“Pretty shitty when you lay it all out like that….” Willie concluded, borrowing a teaspoon of Del’s “special order” to mix in with his coffee.

Del frowned. “So I in wit' the DelMondes now…?”

“Well, sorta…” Willie shrugged.

“They not never like you too much, cher,” T-Boy confided gently.

“Not'ing new there,” Del conceded with a snort. He then looked speculatively back and forth between his cousins. “So... you two my gang?”

Willie nodded. “Yeah, pretty much.”

“Then that leave me wit' jus' one question.” The engineer folded his arms. “How I not dead?”

His cousins burst into peals of laughter. “It a close t'ing some days, Shortie,” Willie admitted, wiping his eyes.

“I guarantee!” T-Boy confirmed adamantly.

“That why I buy this place fo' you?”

“We meant t' launder your money through here, but you not never got no money fo' long.”

T-Boy shook his head. “Me an' Willie try to shake some folks down in th' neighborhood at first, but they jus' say, 'Take it outta what you owe me, ya broke bastard!'”

“We make a pretty good go of it jus' as a bakery,” Willie reflected, leaning back in his chair. “T-Boy got all your grandmamere’s recipes an' it a real good location… an' the DelMondes throw us a certain amount o' business jus' to keep you outta they hair...”

Del frowned. “So Uncle Johnny keep me on a leash…”

“It a loooooong leash, cher,” Willie soothed. “A real, real, real long leash.”

T-Boy tilted his head discontentedly. “So, I not married to Felicia where you from?”

“Jesus, God!” Del exclaimed, nearly as shocked that T-Boy would end up wedded to Cole’s shrewish ex-wife as anything else he’d heard today. “You married Felicia?”

“Yeah…” The plump Duhon cousin chuckled sheepishly. “We both get pretty drunk at th' funeral an' one t'ing lead to another…”

Del took a deep drink of his special order to try to burn that particular image out of his mind.

“What you fixin’ to do, Shortie?” Willie asked with the resigned battle-readiness of someone who was a veteran of many of Del’s Plan B’s… and Plan C’s… and D’s…

“I not exactly sure.” The engineer took in a deep breath as he considered his options. “I gotta figure that at the end where I come from, they gonna have enough sense to jus' throw ever't'ing in reverse an' try to pull me back t' the Drake…”

“What the Drake?”

“It that new bar in Kenner,” T-Boy concluded confidently.

Del rolled his eyes. “No, it my starship. I a Star Fleet engineer.”

“Ooo…” His cousins nodded, impressed and approving. “You would like that.”

“I guess I do,” Del admitted. “I not exactly in the middle o' my best day on th' job here…”

“Trust me, Shortie,” Willie assured him. “It beat th' hell outta a bad day on th' job up in this joint.”

“I gonna trust you on that one,” the engineer assured him firmly to forestall any elaboration. “My big problem is that I not able t' figure out what happen on this end. From what I always heard, situations gotta roughly duplicate at both ends on this sort of t'ing. On the Drake, we was right on top o' a monster ion storm. Here – far as I can tell from the news– they’s jus' one li'l bitty ionic disturbance flarin' up in the general vicinity…”

“Out in the Gulf?” T-Boy guessed.

“Out near Sigma Draconis,” Del corrected.

“So jus' next door, then,” Willie concluded wryly.

“In a manner of speakin'. The other t'ing is that I had been doin' some experimental work on the Drake’s transporters…” Del paused and glared at his cousins preemptively.

“What?” they each asked in alarm at almost the same moment.

The engineer crossed his arms. “I jus' wanted to let anybody who felt he need t' make a comment 'bout my 'tinkerin'' go ahead an' get it out o' his system.”

“I not t'inking not'ing like that,” Willie assured him.

“We happy to see you in a good enough mood to get some work done on somet'ing,” T-Boy seconded. “Even if it is in the Altered Universe.”

“Good God.” Del scowled and grumbled into his bourbon, “I jus' not able to get used to ever'body bein' so careful 'round me. What I do – walk 'round wit' a phaser on my hip all th' time?”

“Shortie, you not need a phaser fo' the t'ing you do,” Willie informed him delicately.

“Sweet Mary….” Del shook his head and refused to ponder what this comment implied. “The point I was workin' up to is that I doubt anybody’s amped up th' public transport booth outside Jeffie’s bar.”

“I wish someone would,” T-Boy complained. “That damn t'ing always broke.”

“They’d need to be some sort of tremendous power surge… or anomalous chronotopic activity…” The engineer chewed on his thumb discontentedly as he pondered the possibilities. “Listen -- Is there anyt'ing else strange been goin' on ‘round here recently?”

His cousins exchanged a look and then laughed. “How different is New Orleans in your world, cher?”

Del sighed defeatedly. “I retract my question.”

“So…” T-Boy twisted his lips into what for him passed as a thoughtful expression. “You set on headin' back to where you come from?”

“Yep,” the engineer confirmed unhesitatingly.

“’Cause we not mind you stayin' ‘round fo' a while.”

Del had to shake his head and smile. “Good to hear that I seem like an upgrade to what you used to… Even though I believe this fella here got the bar set pretty low.”

“Look, Shortie,” his plump cousin requested seriously. “When you go back, do what you can to make sure I hook up wit' Felicia.”

The engineer raised an eyebrow. “You sure 'bout that?”

“She do work a man’s last nerve,” T-Boy granted, “but I love my kids, cher.”

“If I can get back – an' I not sure 'I can right now,” Del warned, although he had already lost his heart to the little niece he’d only glimpsed in a holo. “I not goin' back in time. So… that ship might have done sailed.”

“Oh, hell no,” T-Boy scoffed. “After being married to that woman fo' sixteen years, I am positive that they not another livin' soul in the city of New Orleans that can put up wit' her mouth fo' any length o' time. Jus' get us alone wit' a bottle o' red wine an' – trust me, cher – nature gonna take its course.”

“Sweet Mary…!” Del put up a hand as if that could help his inadequate shielding block any clearer picture of his cousin’s love life. “Spare me…”

T-Boy’s animated features suddenly went uncharacteristically slack.

“Oh, hell…” Willie groaned.

An unpleasantly familiar chill was running up Del’s spine too as his cousin announced, “Them folks you always t'ink is snoopin' on you has come to snoop on you.”

“Why they always gotta pick the damn time when the damn tour shuttles always come through?” Willie grumbled, downing the last of his coffee as Del half-rose to get a better look at unwelcome visitors who were not yet visible. “It not like a whole herd of tourists is gonna keep th' two o' you from sniffin' them out a mile away…”

“They not never come in the place,” T-Boy assured Del as he too stood to peer out into the street. “But you usually duck out…. Not tryin' to say you scared o' them or not'ing.”

Del snorted. “I gonna be worried 'bout myself when I ain’t scared o' this bunch.”

“You run across them before,” his cousin concluded instead of asked.

“Yep.” The engineer nodded and tried to swallow the bitter taste of mingled revulsion, dread, and rage the distinctive flavor of these specially conditioned approaching minds roused in his. “They’s a bad bunch, T-Boy. You keep yourself an' your darlin’ li'l young’uns well away from 'em, ya hear?”

T-Boy snorted as he took a step back from the window. “You not have to tell me twice.”

Willie gave him a sidelong look and then frowned. “You not plannin' on keepin' clear o' them, though, is ya?”

Del released a long, reluctant breath. “If they’s anyone who would know how I got here, it would be these folks. If they’s anyone who can access the technology to get me back -- it them.”

“Is they aliens?” T-Boy speculated, careful to remain in the shadows as he peeked at the group of completely unremarkable-looking tourists beginning to wander out of the brightly painted shuttle stopped two store-lengths away.

“They seem like it, non?” Del nodded sympathetically at his fellow empath’s confusion as he kept both eyes on the direction from which the distinctively masked thought signatures were emanating. “Ever't'ing normal clouded over wit' that blue shit… But no, they not aliens… ‘Cept fo' the ones that is… An' the others that is jus'…”

The word “half” died on the engineer’s lips as a final tourist stepped into view.

His heart froze and then began to thud wildly in his throat, nearly choking him with its sudden fullness.

“Shortie!” Willie warned as he strode to the door, unhesitatingly abandoning the shelter of the shop.

“Not'ing gonna stop him,” he heard T-Boy inform his cousin. “They pullin' him by th' heartstings this time.”

*** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** ***

Del had no clue that he wasn’t going to know what to say to her until he was across the street.

She turned and fixed him with a frosty glare.

It struck him as being simultaneously so typically her and so cute that he couldn’t help just grinning stupidly and saying, “Hey.”

Never breaking the tourist character, she sniffed disdainfully, and turned away.

“Wait, wait,” he called, but when she turned back towards him, he was again at a loss as to how to commence what had no hope of being anything other than a painfully strange conversation. “Uh… We know each other, non? You know me.”

The woman put one hand on her hip. “Mister, I’ve heard a lot of good pickup lines since I arrived in New Orleans,” she informed him, her voice music to his ears. “That, I assure you, is not one of them.”

“Sweet Jesus…” Del found himself caught between crying from frustration and laughing from sheer joy. “At a moment like this – an' you gotta be such a hardass?”

When she started to turn away again, his instinct was to reach out to stop her. He hastily squelched this impulse, though, figuring the other agent nearby might very well gun him down in the street if he got any more aggressive in his approach.

“Pelori,” he called softly instead. “Darlin’… I need your help.”

Like the consummate professional she was, MacIntyre managed to look blandly annoyed. Like the powerful empath he was, Del could feel the red alerts inside her head wailing full blast.

“I am Lieutenant Commander Noel DelMonde,” he said, deciding that the truth was probably his best bet with her… no matter how incredible that truth may be. “I an Engineerin' officer assigned to th' U.S.S. Drake… a rather underappreciated engineer… who is gonna have a helluva time livin' this screw-up down… if I manage to live through it at all.”

MacIntyre merely blinked at him, but even without telepathy, Del would have been able to hear the wheels of her formidable intellect spin into high gear.

“You, my darlin’, are Lieutenant Pelori MacIntyre…” The engineer paused to reconsider. “Mais, that is to say, I t'ink you is a lieutenant. That what you told us… But in your line o' work…” Del stopped and decided that it might not be prudent to go into much detail about what he knew about her line of work at this point in the conversation. “Anyways, you is Pelori MacIntyre. Your daddy’s name is Douglas. Your mama’s name is… somet'ing Indiian that I not rememberin' right now. You like to drink Scotch an' soda. An' you got a cute li'l mole right 'bout here on your left hip.”

MacIntyre released a long, displeased breath. “Well, Mr. DelMonde, I must admit, that is a lot more original than 'Haven’t we met somewhere before?'”

Although he could feel the icy hands of the potential for sudden death or capture reaching for him from a half-dozen directions, Del felt giddy with delight to have landed in a universe where his sweet girl was once more by his side. “C’mon, cher, lemme buy you a drink.”

“That’s a bakery,” she objected.

“This is New Orleans, darlin’,” he replied, turning towards the shop… and knowing that her curiosity would compel her to follow. “You can get a daiquiri at a daycare here.”

MacIntyre stubbornly crossed her arms. “I’m not going inside with you.”

“Given what I know 'bout who I am here, I not blame you fo' that, sugar,” Del conceded, then nodded towards the small patio in front of his cousin’s shop. “But look here. They bringin' out a couple of chairs fo' us.” He couldn’t help but grin at the Intelligence agent. “Jus' like they know what I t'inkin', non?”

“Just like,” MacIntyre agreed dryly as she reluctantly fell in step with him.

Moving at near warp speed, T-Boy’s sons had a little table set up; drinks delivered, and had made a discreet exit before the two of them had re-crossed the street.

Del sighed deeply and shook his head at his own folly as he held a chair out for the Intelligence Agent. “I sure hope you ain’t here to kill me, girlie.”

Pelori raised an eyebrow. “Why would you think I’m going to kill you?”

“Jus' ‘cause that the absolute shitty-est possibility I can t'ink of off the top o' my head,” the engineer admitted as he took his seat. “Which seems to be how these damned parallel universes tend to work out… Assumin' that you believe in that parallel universe shit at all – which I guess I got to believe now since I in one…” He scanned the crowd in the street before them, trying not to be too obvious as he noted the relative positions of his lady-love’s co-workers. “Out o' all the nice possible twists an' turns o' alternate fate,” the Cajun grumbled, “ever'body I ever heard of goin' through this sort o' shit seem to wind up in th' positively most shit version o' their life possible…”

Pelori gave her teacup a dubious look before sipping to confirm that it was indeed Scotch and soda. “I don’t suppose you have any way of proving any of this… story you’re telling is true?”

“Well, Miss MacIntyre, I did forget to put my Parallel Universe ID card in my pants pocket this mornin',” Del retorted, “which not do much good anyway since I ended up in this fella’s pants instead o' mine. But I t'ink you could draw some conclusions from the fact that – as I done told you -- I am a Star Fleet engineer an' can accurately an' in detail describe th' modifications I made to th' Drake’s transporter an' th' unfortunate interaction wit' the ion storm we were tryin' to beam through that I believe led to my windin' up here. There should be a clear contrast wit' my status here as a ignorant-ass Mafia thug – an' not even the real Mafia, jus' the damn New Orleans mob that not never been good at not'ing but killin' each other – who didn’t make it all th' way through th' eight grade and probably’s not able to do much more than accurately an' in detail tell you to go to hell.”

Pelori did not seem to be convinced at all by this clear and compelling argument.

“Or,” the engineer said, moving on to what had to be his strongest possible argument, “we could jus' stop pretendin' you not one o' th' most powerful telepaths I have ever met an' you could jus' scan me.”

She did not do this either. Del frowned at her reluctance. Despite the fact that in this reality he had less effective shielding than a Bourbon Street strip bar artiste, he could not sense her attempting to probe his mind at all.

“So,” she countered instead, “you are claiming to be a Star Fleet officer?

“Yep.”

“And that I’m one too?” “Mais… you in…” Del sought for a polite way to express his disgust for her bosses. “… an affiliated branch o' the service…”

“And you said your ship was the U.S.S. Drake?”

“Yep.”

MacIntyre shook her head. “There is no starship called the Drake in Fleet.”

Del shrugged. “Well, Sulu gonna be broken up 'bout that…”

“Who’s he?”

“The captain o' the ship.”

Pelori smiled and shook her head again. “Never heard of him.”

“Considerin' your line o' work, that prob'ly a good t'ing fo' him.”

Once more failing to acknowledge her employers so completely that Del began to doubt he’d spoken aloud at all, MacIntyre tilted her head thoughtfully to one side. “How were we supposed to have met… in your universe?”

“I was picked fo' this…” The memory made a sudden, agonizing slash at his heart. “… mission…”

“Yes?”

“Some undercover t'ing…” Del mumbled into his drink.

“Under the aegis of my branch of the service?” Pelori guessed, as if humoring a madman.

“Yeah, yeah…” he agreed, making a motion to indicate that they could just skip over this part of his explanation of events.

“And we became… friends?”

“Honestly – no,” he had to admit, smiling at the thought of how they’d instantly hated each other. “I would not say that we were friends at all.”

“Lovers, then?” she corrected, again humoring the half-wit.

“Why that so hard t' believe?” he retorted.

“And that was the beginning of our beautiful relationship?” she asked with the same sort of gently mocking smile… which quickly faded as she could not help but read his reaction. “No,” she said, leaning back and looking at him as her real self for a moment. “That was the end of our relationship. Because… I… I.. didn’t come back…”

“Look, cher,” Del replied gruffly as he tried to make it look like he was wiping away a bit of street grit that had suddenly flown up into his eyes. “I not gonna go into it, but if they ever ask you t' go into Romulan territory – Jus' say no. I hope t'ings is different here, but in my version o' reality, they had these dead Romulans in a jar who by some weird-ass coincidence jus' happened to be the spit an' image ' you an' me an' these other two fellows who…” The Cajun stopped as he began to put together the pieces of reactions that Pelori’s surprise had allowed to slip. “Oh, hell…”

“Yes?” she asked, hastily shoring up her defenses once more.

“I jus' figured out why you an' your friends not usin' me fo' target practice,” he replied, taking a fresh count of the agents in the crowd.

Pelori smiled and sipped her scotch as if they were talking about an imaginary tennis match. “Do tell.”

Del looked straight into her beautiful grey eyes and said the one thing he was 100% sure he should not say, “You folks t'ink I really be Joron.”

“And who is that?” she asked without even taking a half-second to blink.

“Well, fo' one t'ing, he a dead guy,” the Cajun replied. “But, as usual, he not lettin' that hold him back none…. O' course he mighta gotten over bein' dead in this universe...”

MacIntyre crossed her arms. “According to you, there’s quite a bit of that going around…”

The engineer chewed his thumb thoughtfully. “An' I guess if I were th' Romulans an' I had a fellow who was a dead ringer fo' a telepathic hitman who lived 'bout two shuttle stops from Star Fleet, it be well worth my while to do what I could t' take advantage o' that shit…”

The Intelligence agent lifted a dubious eyebrow. “Has anyone ever told you that you have a vivid imagination, Mr. DelMonde?”

“Why, yes, they have, Miss MacIntyre,” Del retorted. “In my universe, I will have you know I am an award-winnin' poet.”

“I would have never guessed.”

“That why I have t' tell you,” he replied lightly. Beneath all her cool and calculated sarcasm, he could feel her doubts about him continuing to multiply. “But this all entirely beside th' point. An' before you ask, the point is – how th' hell could the Romulans even hope t' pull off a swap like that? I mean… damn. This is Earth. I know some wild shit go down in Southern Louisiana, but you should not be able to pull your raggedy-ass Bird o' Prey up to th' nearest dockin' orbit – even if you do have the most hot-shit invisibility cloak ever built – then drop your shields an'…”

“Dare I ask?” MacIntyre prompted when he paused to reconsider.

“What if they not have to drop they shields or de-cloak?” Del mused.

“From my understanding of such things,” she admitted carefully. “That’s not possible.”

Non? ‘Cause that essentially was what I was tryin' to do on the Drake,” the engineer replied, the wheels in his own brain beginning to tick over into high gear. “The ion storm in my universe make it so the shuttle I was trying t' beam to not able t' drop their shields. So I put a booster on the Drake that not only strengthened the transport signal from our end, but remotely coordinated wit' the shuttle’s systems so I essentially flattened the diachronic variance in a itty bitty slice o' time/space synchronous to each ship’s phase plane trajectory.”

“Thus opening a very brief transdimensional corridor to travel through?” the Intelligence agent concluded when he failed to explain right away.

He favored her with a sardonic half-smile. “You catch on fast fo' a tourist, cher.”

“You’re remarkably well-versed in phase conversion interpolation for a Mafia hitman,” she countered in the same spirit.

“You gotta know it, darlin’,” he confirmed, encouraged that she was beginning to thaw towards him… Although a loosening of her mask could still prove to be a sign that his situation was getting worse instead of better. “Now the job fo' a cloaked, shielded Romulan would be twice as hard – fo' one t'ing, I was arrangin' transport between Star Fleet equipment an' civilian Federation gear… An' the two of them is virtually the same t'ing at different scales fo' what you need here. Sometimes even the same manufacturer. Them damned Romulans -- on th' other hand -- would be tryin' to go between their tech an' a broke-ass Louisiana Department o' Transportation piece o' shit…” Del snapped his fingers as a memory fell into place. “An' T-Boy done say the transport booth outside Jeffie T’s was always breakin' down…”

“You’re speculating that a public transport booth had been… somehow modified?”

The Cajun nodded. “They have to modify th' hell out that t'ing to get it where it would recognize my pattern an' shove me up out o' time/space. The Romulans not be able to do that remotely either. They gotta have a confederate t' come in an' work on that t'ing… Which is probably what tipped you folks off that something heinous was afoot.”

“Oh?” she asked, in a rather self-consciously theatrical version of innocence.

“Yep,” Del decided, nodding to himself. “Either there was a weak link in th' chain leadin' to this confederate who did them modifications who squealed on that person, or your bunch jus' happened to notice that suddenly a broke-ass transport station outside a line o' cheap-ass bars an' strip clubs down in the Marigny had grown itself an entirely new set o' phase-interpolation coils an' a big ol’ honkin’ bio-systems parsin' array.”

“That does sound… noticeable,” MacIntyre conceded wrly. “So, you’re asking me to believe that you’re here because of a three-way time/space transfer gone wrong?”

“Not'ing worse than a three-way gone wrong, non?” Del argued lewdly with a half-smile. “It might not be so straightforward as that, though -- Not that a three-way bang gone bust is ever all that simple. I t'ink the problem might be that there was a lag in th' system.”

“A lag?”

“Lemme show you. First here is me – th' real me -- jus' wantin' t' push myself from A t' B through that trans-dimensional corridor…” To illustrate, he laid a line of napkins between the saucer that had come with his “special order” and the completely unnecessary bowl of sugar cubes his nephews had provided. “T'ings shoulda gone like this.” He took a sugar cube and traced a path over the napkins to land in his saucer.

“Sweet,” the Intelligence agent punned.

“But…” He picked up her saucer. “We got ol’ Joron up here.” The engineer took out cube and made a face at it. “Up to no good. Not wanna drop his cloak or shields so he gotta put his hook into the water an' wait fo' me t' bite – alternate me, that is.” He selected another cube. “Here that drunk-ass bastard.”

“Maybe you should soak it in your 'tea.'”

“He havin' enough trouble holdin' together as it is,” Del replied with a sympathetic shake of his head. “Now unlike me, Joron gotta both push himself through the corridor…”

“And he would also need to pull your alternate self through simultaneously,” she guessed as if she had decided to play along purely as an academic exercise.

“Not necessarily simultaneously. Since we essentially playin' wit' a trans-dimensional time/space bubble o' sorts, once this version o' me was pulled in, Joron could have had time t' brush his teeth an' grow a skank-ass mustache if he needed to…. Which he would probly need since he not gonna be sure when alternate me is gonna be staggerin' home drunk from Jeffie T’s.”

“And that’s where your 'lag' comes in.”

“Yeah. Here where we get our trans-dimensional traffic jam. Th' trap springs on drunk-ass alternate me at the transport station outside Jeffie-T’s. His sad ass is pulled up out o' time-space…”

“So that when you make your attempt to transverse the corridor,” MacIntyre, entering into the spirit of the demonstration, took a sugar cube and moved it next to the sugar cube Del had already positioned on the napkin. “You find that another version of yourself is already populating the same slice of time/space.”

“Which is exactly the sort o' weird shit that happens outside normal dimensions an' might not have been a problem at all if I coulda jus' kept movin', but apparently ol’ Joron activates his souped up transporter which catches my signal an' pulls me here instead o' him…” He took the sugar cube she’d dropped and placed it in his saucer. “Then when Sulu tries t' pull me back to th' Drake…”

MacIntyre’s grey eyes went wide. “Joron goes there?”

“Maybe. Maybe alternate me goes to th' Drake. Maybe Joron bounces back t' his ship. Maybe alternate me does. Maybe one or both of 'em gets stuck in th' corridor.” Del sat back and shrugged. “You see, darlin’, a model made o' sugar cubes is, by nature o' the t'ing, pretty rough… I need to see the modifications to that transport unit outside Jeffie T’s to be sure.”

Pelori’s face once again went cold and secret agent-like. “Yes, you would.”

The engineer sighed. “Which is exactly where a Romulan agent wit' his tail caught in a trap would wanna go, non?”

Oui,” she agreed unsmilingly.

“If it any comfort, cher,” Del said, disassembling his model. “I can assure that both me an' Joron is fully capable of spinnin' a much, much, more convincin' yarn than this damned cock-eyed truth I stuck wit' relatin' here.”

“Nope.” She took a long sip of her drink. “Not comforting at all.”

“At least this model not got me screwin' up my transduction calculations,” the Cajun concluded philosophically as he dropped his imaginary trans-dimensional travelers back into the sugar bowl. “My set-up coulda been workin' perfectly.”

“Just had a little bad luck,” Pelori said, almost sympathetically.

“And/or Romulan meddlin',” the engineer agreed. “Well, praise the Lord fo' that much. I thought I was gonna have to tell Sulu that I made a mistake there fo' a minute…”

MacIntyre tried hard not to smile and failed badly. “Oh, heaven forbid.”

“Girl, why you gotta always be makin' that exact same sort o' smart-assed remark 'bout me bein' stuck on myself in every universe where we run into each other?” the Cajun complained.

“Do I?” Her smile turned into a teasing laugh. “Can’t imagine why…”

Del sat back and took a minute to drink in the sight of his lost love. How often he had wished that he’d had an opportunity to show her his hometown. She looked so pretty in her tourist clothes. Her copper hair glittered in the early morning sun. Her sweet freckles were like a dusting of brown sugar across her pert little nose. If a man had to be gunned down in the street like a common crook, he supposed there were worse ways to spend his last minutes…

“You startin' to like me despite yourself,” he accused with a smile.

He felt the truth of this hit her. The undeniable immediate attraction between them was as much of a surprise to her as it had been in his universe.

“I don’t know you, Mr. DelMonde,” she replied honestly as she carefully corralled her wandering emotions.

His right hand was resting on the table. In a slow, measured gesture gentle enough to avoid spooking a nervous fawn, he turned his palm up and opened it to her. At the same time, he let the little scraps of shielding he could muster unfold in a similar offering. “You could fix that, darlin’,” he pointed out tenderly.

She was tempted. He could feel how much… and how taken aback she was by the depth and breadth of that temptation. He also got a glimpse at the size of the fear that was holding her back.

“Damn that slick bastard,” the Cajun swore. “So you t'ink Joron would try to seduce you into helpin' him? Well, he always was always flirtin' his damn pants off… But, cher, he already got him a steady boyfriend. So, if it any comfort, you would be able tell he not speakin' 100% from the heart.”

Pelori had to laugh despite herself. “Not a comfort, Mr. DelMonde. Another good plot twist, but not a comfort.”

Mais, it just as well.” Del sighed and settled back in his chair, knowing from hard experience that there was no way to rush her... even if his life was literally be depending on it. “Wit' all th' good bars in New Orleans, I be ashamed t' take you to Jeffie T’s.”

“A bit of a dive, huh?”

“It might have changed in th' past twenty years,” the Cajun allowed, sipping his “tea.” “But since it ain’t changed in 'bout th' last three hundred years, I gotta bet no.

“Old fashioned charm,” the Intelligence Agent concluded.

“They water their bourbon like they expect it t' bud out in pint bottles,” Del replied. “An' the Fontenot boys always hire their cousins as cocktail waitresses… An' them gals do tend towards buck-toothed an' bow-legged.”

Pelori smiled. “You don’t make it sound like your favorite place.”

“Now that you mention it, I surprised they would look fo' me t' be at Jeffie T’s.” The engineer tilted his head and frowned at a thought that had been troubling the edges of his thoughts for several minutes. “But then again, I not able to imagine how the Romulans would even know 'bout me in the first place.”

The Intelligence agent shrugged. “Well, as an accomplished engineer and poet…”

“No, that all in my universe,” DelMonde corrected impatiently. “Here I jus' a dumb-ass thug.”

“And a telepathic assassin,” Pelori reminded him lightly. “That has to be pretty unique.”

“Yeah,” the engineer agreed without enthusiasm. “But even though I never read through th' Mafia hitman manual, I be guessin' that instructions on keepin' your shit on th' down/low 24/7 has got to be covered on ever' page o' the damn book. That gotta be job one. An' if I have stayed alive this long, I guessin' the telepath part is helpin' me stay off th' right radars… 'ceptin' fo' your crowd it seems.”

Dodging another reference to her “crowd,” the Intelligence Agent pointed out, “Wouldn’t other criminals know about you?”

Mais, not too many of 'em. You know them criminals is none too trustworthy,” Del replied, then frowned. “You do got a point, though. Jus' who th' hell is my Uncle Johnny rentin' me out to?”

“...Who would have offworld contacts…” Pelori added, as if she too was wondering about this piece of the puzzle.

“Not the Havens.” Del shook his heads. “From what I hear, I make my bones in the hitman trade by icin' some Havani scumbag. Haven Security not too forgivin' 'bout that sort o' t'ing. I not survive too long wit' that bunch knowin' too many personal details 'bout me…”

“No.” The Intelligence Agent agreed.

“There is the Orions, though,” the engineer decided. “New Orleans mob been in with the Orions hip deep since three days befor' always.”

“Orions have no ties to the Romulans,” MacIntyre objected.

“No official ties,” Del corrected. “The Orions not never got official ties t' shit. That why they always can do whatever th' hell they want… which includes sellin' out whoever they want an' makin' a pretty penny off of it if they can... An' dependin' on how th' diplomatic winds are blowin' this week, a li'l Romulan ship could hitch a ride pretty far into Federation territory inside th' hull of an Orion trader. So, Miss MacIntyre, there I got means an' opportunity fo' this little caper worked out fo' you. An' you know a helluva lot more 'bout motive than I do…”

“Oh?” The Intelligence agent set down her cup. “Do I?”

“Yes.” The Cajun mimicked her gesture. “You do. We have now come to th' audience participation portion o' this here show where you – jus' for fun, o' course – help me tell my li'l story by fillin' in some gaps on th' whys an' wherefores.”

“I’m afraid I don’t have your award-winning imaginative powers,” MacIntyre demurred.

“I not bettin' that you ain’t, darlin’.” Del took in a deep breath. “Look here, Lil’ Mac. I can happily sit here all day an' stall wit' you, but you know you gotta make a decision here real soon. Either A) you give th' order fo' them to shoot me an' we all call it a d-a-y or B) ya’ll take me in an' your friends interrogate me literally to death – ‘cause I sure that no matter what ya’ll get out o' me, they gonna be one asshole standin' there as they slice an' dice apart my las' molecule saying, “Damn, them Romulans sure do a good job o' makin' us t'ink this bastard is Human” – or C)…”

“I trust you?” Pelori supplied.

“Oh, hell no.” Del dismissed the thought with a wave of his hand. “I know you better than t' try t' sneak that sort o' shit on th' list. My C) is you check the parts o' my story you can check first hand.”

The Intelligence Agent lifted an eyebrow appreciatively. “Hmmmm….”

“See? That sound more like you, non?” the Cajun said, folding his arms. “I do know you, cher.”

“You seem to have done a certain amount of research,” she granted parsimoniously.

The engineer gave a snort of agreement. “Oh, you not need to doubt you make me work for ever' scrap o' insight I got on you, girl.”

She tilted her head to one side. “And you are essentially still asking me to trust you.”

“Jus' an itty bitty bit,” DelMonde conceded. “But – you not need t' worry – I not gonna get th' big head. I jus' gonna take that any trust you gotta squeeze out fo' my benefit is jus' a measure o' how set your bosses are on gettin' their slimy mitts on ol’ Joron.”

The Intelligence Agent gave a sigh that betrayed how big a priority that goal seemed to be. “Since use of public transporter stations don’t seem to be a good option -- How far away is this Jeffie T’s place?”

Despite his promise not to let any show of trust on her part go to his head, Del had to smile. “We could take a streetcar.”

MacIntyre gave a sardonic half-laugh. “As long as it’s not named Desire.”

“We in th' wrong part o' town fo' that, cher,” Del said, rising. “But we are headed in that direction…”

Pelori rolled her eyes. “Of course we are.”

As they headed for the street, the Cajun overheard T-Boy’s voice inside his head.

“Well, boys,” his plump cousin was saying. “Either that the las' you gonna see o' your ol’ uncle, or th' firs' you gonna see o' your new aunt.”

*** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** *** *** ** ***

Go To Part Two

Return to Valjiir Stories

Return to Valjiir Continnum