“Cobb to Arthur.” Cobb’s voice comes through the comms, interrupting Arthur’s mental calculations. He’s just about finished writing up his report on the last away mission, but if Cobb keeps interrupting him he’s never going to be able to send it in.
Maybe that’s what Cobb wants, though. The mating ritual misunderstanding was kind of embarrassing for him.
“What is it, Cobb,” Arthur says. It’s not a question. He doesn’t actually want to know.
“I need you on the bridge,” Cobb says, which is exactly what Arthur was dreading he’d say. “We’ve got a problem.”
Arthur pinches the bridge of his nose. There’s always a fucking problem.
Arthur slides into his chair, and spins to face the captain’s chair. Saito is sitting primly by the science station, and Yusuf is behind the piloting consol. He’s tapping his fingers irritatingly on the consol and Arthur is becoming worried that he’s going to press something by accident and send them into warp 4.5 with no warning.
“Well?” Arthur asks. He could be finishing his report right now, but no. Not on this ship.
“We’re receiving a transmission,” Cobb says, steepling his hands in front of his face. Arthur rolls his eyes; Cobb’s flare for the dramatic is enough to make him want to hurl most of the time.
“So, where is it from?”
“It’s a distress signal, from NE3417.3,” Saito says, voice expressionless as usual. “Starfleet has been barred from the area due to a series of complications during peace negotiations. However, the signal has been sent directly to us, not on an open channel.”
“We’re going to have to plan a rescue,” Cobb says. His eyebrows are drawn down in thought, but Arthur knows that he’s positively gleeful. He’s probably thinking, I’m going to get to shoot things again!
“We don’t even know what we’re rescuing. Captain.” Arthur tags on the required title in his driest, more sarcastic voice. Cobb doesn’t even wince.
“True!” he says, cheerfully. “That’s your job.”
It takes just about all of Arthur’s will power not to cover his face with both of his hands.
As it turns out, NE3417 is a solar system containing twelve planets, two of which support life. .4, which Arthur has privately dubbed Constance, is the more advanced of the two – the peace negotiations, which have banned them from the system, took place on Constance. .3, which Arthur is calling Lothario, hasn’t achieved space travel yet, and thus, they aren’t supposed to deal with them at all. According to the prime directive, anyway.
Cobb usually avoids following the prime directive.
Constance apparently tried to colonize Lothario at some point in the past, but it never stuck.
Their language is an interesting one, however.
“No, you’re hearing it wrong,” Arthur says. “Stop talking.” He hits Eames on the shoulder, and pushes him away from the consol. He’s sitting in Arthur’s spinning chair, and if Arthur were a lesser man, he might remind Eames who it belongs to.
“Hey, mate, you’re the one asking me to upgrade the speech programming. Something about it not being specific enough? I’m just here as a humble engineer catering to your every whim.” Eames’ smile is wide and charming, if one liked gamblers who took to home brewing liquor underneath warp coils. As if no one would think to check there. Starfleet doesn’t have an anti-alcohol policy, but Arthur would like to think that they encourage class. Eames isn’t what Arthur would call classy.
“I’m so very glad, Mr. Eames,” he says. “Now if you’d stop talking, I’m supposed to be translating this message.”
Eames leans back in Arthur’s chair and pulls at his lower lip with his fingers. It’s distracting mostly because he has lips that are mostly made for sucking cock and shouldn’t be used for actual speech. He ruins them by talking.
“Not a peep,” he says, and grins. Arthur sighs. He’s highly trained in hand-to-hand combat. If he decided to take Eames out, Eames wouldn’t know what hit him.
The thought makes him feel a little better.
“So, as you can see, the government on Constance is starting to fracture, and one faction has decided to set up an outpost in the sub-tropical region on Lothario. Unfortunately, the native resistance seems to be more than they’ve bargained for. They don’t know the political situation on Constance at the moment, due to some form of communication barrier between the two planets, so they are searching for outside help.” Arthur sits down, report over. This is the part of his job that he hates the most.
“That seems relatively illogical,” Saito says.
“Why am I even here?” Ariadne asks. “I’m still treating those burn victims from two weeks ago when you decided to make a pit stop on a supposedly friendly planet. Oh, you said, the beaches are beautiful! Of course the indigenous population won’t try to set us on fire!” There are many reasons Arthur likes Ariadne. Her grasp of sarcasm is one of them.
“I apologized didn’t I?” Cobb shakes his head. “Anyway, it’s our duty to, you know, protect people. And stuff. And you’re coming on the away mission, Ariadne. In case there are wounded!”
“You’re a terrible captain. I don’t know why they gave you this ship but Starfleet command is clearly filled with drunks and idiots.” Ariadne is shaking her head. Eames is shaking with laughter. Cobb’s eyebrows are touching the top of his nose.
“Hey, guys?” Yusuf’s voice comes through on the comms. “We’re being hailed. I just thought, you know, you might want to know.”
The government on Constance, apparently, has satellites. They’ve identified the Mal as a Starfleet ship and don’t look very happy about it.
“We haven’t even done anything yet,” Cobb hisses.
“I don’t believe that matters,” Saito says, voice calm and even. “It appears that they would rather we left.”
“Oh, yay,” Arthur says, unable to contain the sarcasm. “Maybe now we won’t have to go on an away mission on a planet we aren’t supposed land on in a solar system we aren’t supposed to be in.”
“Recue missions, Arthur, are worth breaking any rule. I live to help people!” Cobb bangs his fist on the armrest of his captain’s chair.
“Tell that to the angry Constancian on the other side of the viewing screen.” Arthur wishes that common sense worked. It never does.
“Distract him,” Cobb says to Saito. “We’ve got a rescue mission to complete.”
Saito nods, and Cobb grabs Arthur’s wrist, pulling him out of his seat and toward the door.
“I apologize for my captain’s hurried exit,” Arthur hears Saito say. “He’s not always in full control of his faculties. If I could interest you in these graphs–“
Robert, in the transport room, is a little surprised when Cobb bursts through the doors still dragging Arthur behind him. Ariadne and Eames are trailing behind half out of the residual habit to follow orders and half out of sheer curiosity. Well, and Eames just likes to be in the middle of all the harebrained shit that Cobb insists on creating.
“You! We’re going down to the settlement,” Cobb says, pointing at Robert. Robert blinks and then nods slowly. He’s kind of new. He hasn’t gotten used to Cobb’s eyebrows and general demeanor yet. Arthur stumbles onto the platform after Cobb, and Ariadne steadies him. Eames just gives Arthur a huge thumbs-up.
“This is a terrible idea,” Ariadne says, clutching her med kit to her chest.
They don’t even have a plan past actually getting to the planet. Arthur hates it when they don’t have a plan.
This is how Eames and Arthur end up traipsing through the jungle in search of a settlement they don’t even have the coordinates for. Ariadne and Cobb, of course, are searching the opposite side of the jungle.
“Eames, slow down.” Arthur is going to shoot him. He’s not even going to put his phaser on stun. It’s going to be set right at kill. No mercy.
“You are so pretentious,” Eames replies, out of nowhere. He’s still stomping about like an angry British elephant. “I meant to say it earlier, but it slipped my mind. Lothario? Really?”
“What?” Arthur says, and then he gets clobbered on the head with some kind of massive stick.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Arthur says, and wishes desperately that he could rubs his hand over his face. Or at least cover his eyes. Unfortunately, he’s tied to a post. Eames, similarly restrained, is cackling like a crazed chicken, and Arthur has never before wished he was deaf quite as much as he does at this moment.
“Hi, guys,” Cobb says, looking remarkably cheerful. And naked. Cheerful and naked. He’s in the center of the circle of posts, and there’s a Lotharian pulling off the last scrap of his pants and sniffing it, before throwing it into the fire next to him. All six of the Lotharian’s large, dingo-like ears are swiveling in what could be curiosity or anger. Arthur has no idea.
“Where’s Ariadne?” he asks. She’s nowhere in sight, which is probably better for her, at this point.
“No idea!” Cobb isn’t even struggling. The Lotharian is poking at the skin along Cobb’s ribs and then farther down. He says something in his own language that Arthur roughly translates to, I like this one. I’m keeping him.
“Uh,” he says.
“What?” Cobb’s still not scared at all. His eyebrows are inquisitive. “What’s he saying?”
“Uh,” Arthur says again. “Have fun?”
He’d wave if he could while the Lotharian drags Cobb off, but his hands are still tied.
“Another mating ritual?” Eames has managed to stop laughing, but his face is that of the thinly composed.
“Looks like it.” Arthur starts to twist his hands in the bonds, seeing if he can loosen them at all. He’s pretty used to this scenario by now. “I’m just glad I’m not the one with the sparkling charisma.”
“You wouldn’t be so bad if you weren’t so angry all the time,” Eames says. He’s smiling almost pleasantly. Arthur has never been so glad for Ariadne to show up in his entire life.
“Psst,” she hisses from the underbrush. “Any guards around?”
“Uh,” Arthur says for the third time, looking around. “Nope, doesn’t look like it.”
“We’re all on our lonesome,” Eames confirms.
“Good,” she says, and steps into the clearing. She’s dirty and she’s got leaves in her hair. “Should we fetch Cobb, or can we leave him behind?”
Eames and Arthur look at each other, and then shrug.
The Lotharian is asleep and kind of curled up half on top of Cobb’s torso by the time they find him. All six of the Lotharian’s ears quiver as he sleeps, and Cobb is looking around, tied spread-eagled on the mattress. He doesn’t appear much fazed – he’s got a few bite marks on his chest and a bruise on his hip that Arthur really wishes he couldn’t see, but he’s not bleeding anywhere either.
“Well?” Eames asks, voice cheerful. “How’s Lotharian sex?” Ariadne knocks out the sleeping one with a hypo, and they’ve avoided detection thus far from the rest of the encampment. Apparently the number of ears isn’t uniform.
“Athletic?” Cobb hazards, like he’s not quite sure.
Ariadne snorts. “Just come in for your STI panel when we get back to the Mal.”
“If he’s gotten anything that’s easily transmitted, tell me so that I can put it in the report,” Arthur says. He’s not gentle when he cuts the bonds from Cobb’s wrists and ankles.
“Arthur,” Cobb starts, his voice almost a warning. He’s rubbing his wrists.
“Robert?” Arthur says into the comms, ignoring Cobb. “Four to beam up.”
The Constancian’s are in their conference room having tea when they get back to the bridge. Cobb’s pulled on the extra pair of pants he keeps in the transporter room, and Robert hadn’t even looked that shocked.
Arthur waits for Cobb to burst dramatically into the conference room before following him at a much calmer pace.
“Delicious!” the one with seven ears says. He appears to be in charge. Number of ears equates to power, maybe? “You will have to teach me more about your tea when you visit us again, Mr. Saito.”
Saito is nodding sagely, “There are many distinct varieties. I look forward to educating you about them.”
“Everything okay in here?” Cobb says. Arthur rolls his eyes.
“We thank you for your hospitality, Captain,” the Constancian leader says, ears swiveling in pleasure. He stands. “Your first officer is a remarkable man.”
“Thanks,” Cobb replies. He doesn’t appear to be able to think of anything else to say.
“I will walk you to the transporter room, Councilor,” Saito says, and finishes his tea. He raises an eyebrow at Cobb. Arthur really wishes that Saito were captain.
“Well, that went well!” Cobb is back in his chair.
“If by, that went well you mean we were captured by aliens again,” Arthur says.
“But it appears as if Constance will now be willing to allow Starfleet ships to pass through their territory,” Saito says. “I would consider that a positive.”
“That wasn’t even our goal,” Arthur can’t help pointing out.
“What Starfleet doesn’t know won’t hurt them.” Cobb spins his chair toward the viewing screen. “Yusuf, set a course.”
“Yes, sir,” Yusuf says. “Where do you want to go?”
“Oh,” Cobb says, “that way.” He gestures vaguely.
“Um, okay, sir.” Yusuf’s hands are quick on the consol. “That way we go.”
Arthur sighs, and turns back to his station. It looks like he has another report to write.