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A Boy And His Dog

Posted on Jun 24, 2020 @ 6:30am by Commander Jacob Crichton
Edited on on Jun 24, 2020 @ 6:31am

Mission: Dog Days Of Summer

A Boy And His Dog =

(cont’d from “Hostile Takeover”)

*****************************
LOCATION: USS PHOENIX
SCENE: Counseling Center - Waiting Room
STARDATE: [2.20] 0623.1736


Jake sat on the couch, hands folded awkwardly in his lap, staring at the wall chronometer across from his position. Beside him, the strange boy who called himself Billy was looking around at everything. Jake watched the boy from the corner of his eye.

He and Xana had gone deep-sea diving once in the oceans on Risa, many years before. Even behind her breather, Xana’s face had been bright and open, as she tried looking in all directions, eager not to miss a single fish or cluster of coral. Billy seemed to be moving in a similar way now - his eyes lighting on each object, studying it, as though committing its details to memory, before moving off again in search of something new. But Billy’s expression was not open and inviting… he looked suspicious.

And then, every so often, the boy would turn and look back at Jake, and for just a moment that suspicion seemed to melt away in a genuine, if understated, smile. Then Billy would start looking around the room again, and the smile would gradually shift back into that hesitant, cautious look as he went back to studying his surroundings.

“How much longer?” Jake asked.

The officer seated at the nearby workstation, a male Trill named Owen Arion, looked up from his work and glanced at the chronometer.

“Lt. Dalziel’s current appointment isn’t over for another ten minutes,” Arion said. “It may not be that long, but I couldn’t say for sure.”

“Right,” Jake said.

He’d shown up early, wanting to get this over with, wanting so desperately for someone else to confirm what he already knew; Billy was not his son, not Ben. That meant Ben was missing, and that Billy was somehow connected to his disappearance. He needed help, he needed the ship’s resources committed to helping him locate his missing son - but before that could happen, he would need someone to prove he was right.

**And what if you’re wrong?** Jake thought to himself. **What if that is Ben, and something’s happened to him, changed him in some way? Maybe it’s not possible for you to get your son back… maybe this is who your son is now.**

Jake pushed the thought away. It was easy enough to do; if he ever needed help, all he had to do was look at Billy. Every time he did that, the feeling in his guts was the same:

**That is not my son.**

The door to Eve Dalziel’s office opened, and John Maynell stepped out. Jake recognized him immediately; John Maynell had been one of his top lieutenants in the days when Jake had been the PHOENIX’s Chief Engineer. Maynell’s expression brightened when he saw Jake - then, when he noticed the boy sitting by his side, the expression turned doubtful. Jake supposed everyone aboard the ship had heard of his little predicament by now. He briefly wondered what that might be doing to his reputation… and then decided he didn’t care.

“Jake,” Maynell said. “And, uh…”

“Billy,” Jake said.

The boy looked at John Maynell with the same dubious expression he looked at everything else with. He didn’t say anything.

Behind Maynell, Eve Dalziel poked her head out of her office.

“I’ll see you next week, John,” she said. “Jake, Billy, please come in.”

John Maynell looked relieved to have an excuse to make his exit, and he did just that as Jake and Billy stood and entered Dalziel’s office.

=[/\]=

SCENE: Eve Dalziel’s Office


From one couch to the next.

Jake now sat across from Eve, who was herself settled into a comfortable-looking sofa chair. Billy sat next to Jake, now with a whole new universe of objects for his apparently never-ending threat-assessment game. Eve watched the boy for several seconds before smiling.

“Well,” she said. “Maybe we should start with introductions? My name is Eve Dalziel.”

Billy looked at her, his eyes searching her face for a moment. “I’m Billy.”

“It’s very nice to meet you, Billy,” Eve said. Billy didn’t reply, so Eve went on: “I’ve taken a look at some of the results from scans they took while you were aboard the Starbase. Billy, I’m not a medical doctor, but I am pleased to report that you are in very fine health.”

Billy still didn’t reply, but he’d stopped looking around this room. He still wasn’t looking directly at Eve, but Jake thought the boy was paying close attention regardless.

Now Eve glanced at Jake as she continued speaking. “A little malnourished, but we seem to have taken care of that. Did you not get a lot of food where you used to live, Billy?”

Billy shrugged, but didn’t say anything.

“Well, that’s no problem at all here,” Eve continued. “If you get hungry or thirsty, we can get you almost anything you want. We even have a real restaurant aboard ship if you want something a little more rich.”

Billy shook his head. “Not hungry.”

There was short, sharp bark. Jake turned and saw the tiny form of Captain Smooshy, the ship’s resident pug and honorary member of the counseling department, trotting out from behind Eve’s desk. Billy’s eyes fixed on the dog immediately, and for a moment, all the worry had left his expression. The boy looked at the dog the way all boys look at dogs, and in that instant he seemed so much like Ben that Jake wanted to scream. But Billy did not move; he remained on the couch, eyes fixed on Smooshy, who was regarding him with his shiny black eyes in return.

“I see you’ve met the captain,” Eve smiled. She leaned down and stroked the back of the pug’s head. “Billy, this is Captain Smooshy. He works with us here. Don’t be impressed by his rank, I still sometimes catch him chewing on the pillows.”

“Hi,” Bill said to the pug. Smooshy barked once in return, then trotted forward. The pug had to go up on its hind-legs, perching its front paws on the edge of the couch cushion, to get a closer look at its new patient. Billy looked at Smooshy, hearing the curious snorting and sniffing sounds the dog was making, and then he looked at Jake.

“Can I pet it?”

Jake looked at Eve, who nodded. “Sure kid,” Jake said. “Might want to let him sniff you first, though.”

Billy held out his hand, which Smooshy immediately began to investigate. The pug sniffed all along the back of the boy’s hand. Billy laughed a little, apparently tickled by the dog’s tiny, twitching nose. After a moment of this, Smooshy neatly hopped up onto the couch. It sat on its haunches, still staring at the young boy, and tilted its head.

“Smooshy sometimes joins us for our conversations,” Eve said. “I hope you don’t mind if he sits in.”

“What conversation?” Billy asked, as he gently stroked behind the pug’s ears.

“Well,” Eve said. “Your dad asked me if I could talk with you for a while. Would you like that?”

Billy looked at Jake, and again whatever apprehension the boy held seemed to dissolve in light of his trust for his father. Jake looked at him and nodded, once.

“I guess so,” said Billy, looking back at Eve.

“Good,” Eve smiled. “Is it okay if Jake waits outside?”

“Does he have to?”

“I think it might be better,” Eve said. “He’ll be right outside that door. You can see him any time you want to, just ask.”

Billy looked at Jake, who nodded again.

“I’ll be out there,” Jake said.

“Ok,” Billy said glumly. He sank back into the couch and folded his arms, and for a moment Jake doubted that certainty gnawing at his guts. The boy was *identical* to Ben - his expression, his posture… but then, Billy looked at him, and the certainty was back. It was the eyes, always the eyes. They were *wrong* somehow, as if…

**Those eyes have seen things,** Jake thought. **Bad things. Maybe even… what happened to Ben.**

Jake rejected this thought so fiercely that he actually stood up from the couch, trying to distance himself from this imposter boy. Eve was looking at him, the unspoken question in her eyes: are you ok? Jake nodded, smiled weakly at Ben, and repeated his promise.

“I’ll be right outside the door,” Jake said, and he left them alone.

=[/\]=

About an hour later, Eve emerged from her office, with Billy a few steps behind. The boy’s demeanor had softened - he was even smiling as he stepped out, still playing with some small toy that he’d discovered during his talk with the counselor. He looked up at Jake, and his face brightened even more.

“Hi dad,” Billy said. He held up the toy - a simple box puzzle with sliding tiles, covered in runes that Jake thought might be ancient Vulcan - and grinned. “Eve said I could keep this until I solved it.”

“And I’m sure I’ll get it back quickly,” Eve smiled back. “You’re a very smart young man, Billy.”

“Thanks,” Billy said, though his attention had returned to the puzzle box, as he pushed colored tiles this way and that along its various planes.

“Billy, is it okay if you wait out here while I talk to your dad?” Eve asked. “Lt. Arion and Smooshy can keep you company.”

“Sure,” Billy said, as he seated himself on the couch. There came another short bark from Eve’s offices, and then Smooshy came trotting out, moving around the waiting room, sniffing the corners of tables and chairs. Billy seemed too wrapped up in the puzzle game to notice.

Jake followed Eve back into her office, and they resumed the same seats they’d occupied before. Jake sat forward, his hands on his knees.

“So?”

“I agree with you that something’s wrong,” Eve said.

Jake thought he could feel that tightness in his stomach and chest start to loosen for the first time since Ben had been reported missing. “You agree that isn’t Ben?”

“It’s possible,” Eve said. “We’ve been through ringer more than once, Jake. From the Promethean Device to time loops to who knows what else, we’ve certainly seen enough weird shit that I’m not going to discount the possibility that that isn’t Ben Crichton sitting out there. Furthermore, that boy very much believes everything he’s been saying to us, and I think we have enough reason to take him at face value. Someone brought him here, from somewhere else.”

“That same someone could have taken Ben,” Jake said. “He needs to tell us--”

“Hang on,” Eve said. “Jake, I know this will be hard to hear, but he doesn’t know anything.”

Jake frowned. “Doesn’t know anything? Eve, he came here with the person who took my son!”

“Which he told us freely,” said Eve. “I talked to him about his home… he doesn’t like to talk about it, but he wasn’t evasive, didn’t seem to be holding anything back. I talked to him about this blonde woman… he’s described what she looks like, and what he remembers about her ship. I’m prepared to make a full report about all of this to the captain, and we can start reviewing his statements to try and ascertain where exactly this boy came from.”

“Good,” Jake said. “We need to get security involved as soon as--”

“But I am not convinced he’s dangerous,” Eve concluded firmly.

“Then where the hell is my son?” Jake asked, his voice rising. Eve’s eyes widened, and immediately Jake could tell she was worried that Billy might hear him from the other room. He felt a stab of guilt twist in his heart.

“I agree we need to find Ben,” said Eve. “But that kid in there… he genuinely believes you’re his father, Jake.”

Jake shook his head. “I am *tired* of hearing that. Look, I’m sorry, but I have bigger things to worry about right now. If you say that kid isn’t dangerous, then fine, but that doesn’t mean he can’t help us figure out who took Ben.”

“He might,” Eve said. “But for now, he’s told us everything he can. He’s a ten year old boy, Jake, and that means he needs food, rest, and most important, someone to care about him.”

“Sure,” Jake said. “I’ll take him home, make him pizza, tuck him into Ben’s bed--”

“You misunderstand me,” Eve said. “I’m recommending the boy be removed from your custody.”

Jake blinked. “What?”

“With all due respect, you’re in no state of mind to be responsible for this child,” said Eve. “If the boy is correct and someone really *did* take Ben, you need to be focused on that. In fact, until we know more, I’m also going to recommend that you be relieved of duty--”

“No,” Jake said sharply. “No, I need to be part of the investigation. Eve, I’m not going to sit back and do nothing while someone out there has my son!”

“The captain may be sympathetic to that,” Eve agreed. “I’m still making the recommendation anyway.”

Jake fell back into the couch, his eyes closed. He felt very tired.

“So where’s the kid going to stay?” he asked.

“We’ll take care of that,” Eve said. “And you can still see him, if you want to. In fact, I hope you will, I think it will be very important for him.”

“Who’s going to tell him?” Jake asked.

Eve looked down. “I think I should.”

“Yeah,” Jake sighed. “Probably a good idea.”

“We’ll get to this bottom of this,” Eve said, reaching out to place a hand on Jake’s knee. “We always do.”

=[/\]=

NRPG: Hope I did alright with Eve and Smooshy! MOAR POSTS!

Shawn Putnam
A.k.a.
Jake Crichton
Executive Officer
USS PHOENIX

 

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