“MAD MEN”: Wasted Partnership

 

“MAD MEN”: WASTED PARTNERSHIP

Looking back on Season Two of AMC’s “MAD MEN”, it occurred to me that the rivalry between the series protagonist, Don Draper aka Dick Whitman (Jon Hamm) and a supporting character named Herman “Duck” Phillips (Mark Moses), seemed like a complete waste of time . . . story wise. Do not worry. I am not criticizing the writing of Matt Weiner and his staff. At least on this subject. Instead, I am criticizing the behavior of two male characters, who I believe had the potential to be a winning advertising team.

Following senior partner Roger Sterling’s (John Slattery) second heart attack in the Season One episode (1.11) “Indian Summer”, one of the Sterling-Cooper’s clients had advised Bert Cooper (Robert Morse), the firm’s other senior partner, to make Creative Director Don Draper a junior partner. Which Cooper did at the end of the episode. He also told Don that as one of the partners, he should be the one to find someone to replace Roger as the Director of Account Services. In the following episode, (1.12) “Nixon vs. Kennedy”, Don hired Herman “Duck” Phillips.

In the Season One finale, (1.13) “The Wheel”, Duck seemed appreciative of how Don’s creative skills landed Kodak as a client for the firm. Yet, the early Season Two episodes clearly made it obvious that storm clouds were hovering on the horizon for the pair. In the Season Two premiere (2.01) “For Those Who Think Young”, Duck informed Roger that he believed younger copywriters with a bead on the youth of the early 1960s, should handle their new Martinson Coffee account, instead of veteran copywriter Freddy Rumsen (Joel Murray). Don dismissed the idea, claiming that a bunch of twenty year-olds lacked the experience and knowledge on how to sell products. But Roger forced Don to go along with Duck’s plans and hire the latter’s protégées – Smith “Smitty” (Patrick Cavanaugh) and Kurt (Edin Gali). Pete Campbell’s (Vincent Kartheiser) father perished in the famous American Airlines Flight 1 crash on March 1, 1962 in the second episode of the season, (2.01) “Flight 1”. And when Duck convinced Roger that Sterling Cooper should dump the regional Mohawk Airlines as a client and use Pete’s personal plight to win the bigger American Airlines (who sought to change advertising agencies following the disaster) as a new client. Naturally, Roger and Cooper dismissed Don’s protests and went ahead with Duck’s idea.

In the end, both men lost and won their arguments. Instead of gaining American Airlines as a new client, Sterling Cooper ended up with no client altogether. In (2.04) “Three Sundays”, Duck informed the Sterling Cooper staff that their efforts to present American Airlines with a new campaign had been for nothing, when the airline fired Duck’s contact. Many fans saw this as an example that not only had Don been right about not dropping Mohawk, they also seemed to view Duck as someone who was no longer competent at his job. However, three episodes later in (2.07) “The Gold Violin”, Duck proved to be right about hiring the much younger Smith and Kurt as copywriters for the Martinson Coffee account. Their efforts led to a new client for the Sterling Cooper agency.

But despite the success and failures of both men, Don and Duck continued to duke it out over the heart and soul of Sterling Cooper. Only once, in (2.08) “A Night to Remember”, did both men seemed capable of working seamlessly as a partnership, when their efforts led to Sterling Cooper landing the Heineken Beer account. But this ability to work as a pair failed to last very long. One, both men seemed adamant that their particular expertise in the advertising business – whether it was Creative or Accounts – only mattered. Two, Don received most of the praise from Cooper and Roger for the success of the Martinson Coffee account in “The Gold Violin”. Granted, Don tried to give some of the praise to Duck (who mainly deserved it), but he really did not try hard enough. And finally, Duck became so resentful of his failure to acquire a partnership in the firm that he maneuvered a takeover of Sterling Cooper by the old British advertising firm that he used to work for. The main conflicts between Don and Duck seemed to be twofold – Don’s preference to take the nostalgia route over the future in his advertising campaigns (unless forced to) over Duck’s willingness to look into the future of advertising (television ad spots and younger employees, for example); and each man’s belief that their respective expertise in the advertising field is the only one that matters.

Most viewers seemed to view Don as the hero of the conflict between the two men and label Duck as the villain. This preference for Don even extended to his belief that Creative was the backbone of the advertising industry. Personally . . . I disagree. Not only do I disagree with Don and many of the viewers, I would probably disagree with Duck’s view that advertising needed to solely rely upon images – especially television spots. Frankly, I am surprised that no one had ever considered that both Don and Duck’s views on the future of advertising are equally important. Don and other copywriters might create the message or jingo to attract the public. But it is Duck’s (and Pete’s) job to not only snag the client, but provide the client with the opportunity to sell his/her wares. Even if that means using television spots – definitely the wave of the future in the early 1960s.

But many fans seemed to be blinded by their own preference for Don over Duck. And both characters seemed to believe that their ideas of what the advertising business should be were the only ways. The problem with both Don and Duck was that business wise, they needed each other. Look at how well they had worked together in mid-Season Two over the Martinson Coffee and Heineken accounts. Duck needed Don’s creative talent. Don needed Duck’s business acumen and ability to foresee the future in advertising. Unfortunately, both remained stupidly resentful of each other.

In the end, Don’s career managed to survive, despite the failures of two marriage and the near failure of his career, due to personal problems, heavy drinking and shirking. Duck, a former alcoholic who resumed his old habit in later years, was simply plagued with bad luck. Sterling Cooper’s British owners fired him after he had indulged in a brief temper tantrum. He worked at an advertising firm called Grey for a few years, before being reduced to a corporate recruiter. Copywriter Peggy Olson and Accounts executive Pete Campbell learned to maintain a balance between Creatives and Accounts whenever they worked on an account together. Yet, every now and then, I find myself wondering what would have happened if Don and Duck had managed to achieve the same.

“Perils of a Matchmaker” [PG-13] – 2/2

“PERILS OF A MATCHMAKER”

SUMMARY: Tom Paris helps Pablo Baytart win the affections of Sue Nicoletti and endangers his own pursuit of the Chief Engineer in the process. Set during late Season 3.

Part 2

“Where in the hell were you?” Sue Nicoletti demanded, as she glared at Tom inside Voyager’s Engineering Section. “We were supposed to work on your holoprogram, together! Instead, I nearly got electrocuted by that klutz, Baytart!”

In his most persuasive voice, Tom begged forgiveness. “Since it was a training program for pilots, I thought Baytart could take my place. Besides, I didn’t think you would be this upset.”

“Upset? I nearly died!” Sue’s voice nearly rose to a shrill, attracting stares. Looking embarrassed, her face turned pink. Tom’s eyes fell to the floor, avoiding the stares of others.

“For God’s sake, Sue!” Tom hissed through clenched teeth. “You merely suffered a few burns! There’s no need to exaggerate!”

Cold blue eyes stared pointedly at Tom. “If that’s the way you feel Paris, I’m sure you can finish your program all on your own!” Sue turned her back on the pilot and stalked away.

“Sue . . . Sue! Dammit!” Tom rushed after the engineer, ignoring more stares. He followed her to a console on the upper level. “I’m sorry, Sue,” he said, after catching up with her. “Look . . .”

“I have work to do, Lieutenant Paris,” she replied icily. “Do you mind?”

One glance at that haughty expression and Tom knew he was facing defeat. Dammit! Cold Hands, Cold Heart Nicoletti!. He had forgotten how cold and stubborn Nicoletti could be. As far as Tom was concerned, Pablo was on his own.

* * * *

Later that evening in the Mess Hall, Tom broke the news to Baytart. The latter responded with uncharacteristic panic. “You can’t stop! Not now! What am I going to do?”

“Why don’t you take a chance, Pablo?” Tom wearily suggested. Hours of flying Voyager and fielding off curious stares and questions about Sue had left him exhausted. “Ask her out. You don’t need my help.”

Panic filled the ensign’s dark eyes. “I can’t!” he cried. “I can’t face her like that! Please Lieutenant! I can’t do this on my own! Not after what happened in the Hololab.” The young pilot stared at Tom with beseeching eyes.

A long sigh escaped Tom’s mouth. If only Pablo could face Sue at this moment. He would have broken the engineer’s defenses within seconds. “All right,” Tom conceded with great reluctance. “I’ll help you. I still say you should be up front with Sue. But, if you’re that reluctant . . .”

“Thanks a lot, Lieutenant!” Pablo was all smiles. “I won’t forget this.”

A familiar voice asked, “Won’t forget what?”

Both Tom and Baytart glanced up to find two newcomers standing before them. Both Harry and B’Elanna held lunch trays. “What are you two talking about?” Harry continued.

Tom opened to mouth to answer, but Pablo spoke first. “It’s nothing, Ensign Kim. We were talking about a personal matter. Uh, see ya!” The pilot stood up, flashed a quick smile and beat a hasty retreat out of the Mess Hall.

B’Elanna and Harry stared at Tom. Who indicated the two empty chairs, opposite him. “Have a seat,” he said. The pair quickly filled the seats.

“Did Baytart say something about a favor?” Harry asked. He took a sip of his juice. “Has this anything to do with Sue and the Hololab?”

Tom shrugged. “Somewhat. He did a favor for me by working with Sue. So, I’m doing a favor for him in return.”

“Which is?” Harry insisted.

Aware of Pablo’s desire for secrecy, Tom merely replied, “A favor.” Relief appeared in the form of Sue Nicoletti. Who had just entered the Mess Hall. Tom rose to his feet. “Excuse me, guys. I have a personal matter to deal with.” And he headed straight for Sue.

* * * *

Two pairs of dark eyes followed Tom, as he strode toward Nicoletti. B’Elanna struggled to fight back a wave of jealousy. “I guess Tom wants to apologize for what happened in the Hololab,” Harry commented.

B’Elanna gave her friend a pointed look and grumbled, “I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a lot more to apologize for than Sue getting electrocuted by Baytart.”

“What else could it be? You don’t think Tom would ask Baytart to take his place during a date, would you?”

B’Elanna sighed. “Of course not, Harry. Maybe Tom had hoped it would become a date. I don’t know!” Her last sentence came out in an angry outburst.

Harry’s next question threw B’Elanna into a fix. “Why are you so upset?”

“Wha . . .?” Shock immediately became annoyance. “What are you talking about? I’m not upset! Do I look upset?”

“Well, to be hon . . .”

B’Elanna continued to growl, “Kahless, Harry! If you must know, I don’t give a rat’s ass about anybody’s social life! Including Tom Paris!”

A knowing smile curled Harry’s lips. “Whatever you say, Maquis.”

B’Elanna glared at her friend.

* * * *

“No!” Sue continued eating her pleeka rind casserole.

Tom let out a sigh. “C’mon Sue. How many times do I have to apologize?”

“As far as I’m concerned, you’re wasting your breath,” Sue snapped.

Ignoring the curious eyes around him, Tom fell to his knees. “Look at me, Sue. I’m no my knees. Begging for your forgiveness. Please?” He blasted her with every ounce of emotion his blue eyes could muster.

Not even “Cold Hands, Cold Heart” Nicoletti could resist the pilot’s pleading eyes. She sighed. “All right! I forgive you.” She gave him a slight smile. “When do you want to resume working on the program?”

Tom smiled with relief. “Tonight would be just fine. At 20:00?”

Sue nodded. “Okay, 20:00, the Hololab. But if you’re running late or unable to meet me, just let me know. I don’t need anymore surprises,” she added. “And that includes sending Ensign Baytart in your place.”

Tom’s smile disappeared. He had no intention of repeating his earlier mistake. Yet, Sue’s words hinted that she wanted nothing to do with his second-in-command. Silently, he realized he would have to take the gloves off. Try something a little less subtle. Like the old “stuck-in-the-turbolift” trick.

* * * *

Baytart stared at Tom with confused eyes. “I don’t understand,” he said. The two pilots stood inside the Shuttle Bay, where Tom had just completed a staff meeting for the Conn Division. “You want me to get into Turbolift One on Deck Ten and head for Deck Two?”

“That’s right,” Tom calmly replied. “At 13:03 hours, to be precise. Tomorrow.”

“Why?”

In preparation for his latest scheme, Tom had spent a least a week observing Sue Nicoletti’s daily habits. He explained one particular habit to Pablo. Unless a special project, a battle or any other special situation made it impossible, Sue always left Engineering at 13:00 hours and boarded Turbolift One for the Mess Hall. “Only tomorrow,” he added, “you will join her when the lift reaches Deck Ten. Somewhere between Decks Six and Seven, the turbolift will stop.”

“Stop?” Pablo frowned momentarily, until realization lit up his eyes. “Wait a minute! Is this the old “stuck-in-the-turbolift” routine? Is the best you can do?”

Tom gave him a cool stare. “Well, I had better ideas, but they didn’t exactly work. Gee, I wonder why?”

Baytart had the good grace to blush. “I’ll be in Turbolift One at exactly 13:00 hours, tomorrow.”

“Good,” Tom said, nodding. “Now, if something happens to prevent Sue from leaving Engineering on time, I’ll let you know.” He gave the young pilot a friendly pat on the back. “Don’t worry, Pablo. If everything goes according to plan, you’ll soon have Sue Nicoletti in your arms.”

* * * *

Everything went according to plan. At precisely 13:00 hours, the following afternoon, Lieutenant Nicoletti interrupted work on the magnetic constrictors and left Engineering to have lunch. The minute she headed for the doors, Carl Ashmore contacted Tom.

The Chief Helmsman then alerted Pablo Baytart to head for Turbolift One. The junior pilot followed his chief’s orders. When he stepped inside, he was relieved to find the object of his desire, alone. The dark-haired engineer took one look at Pablo and immediately stiffened. His heart sank at the realization that Lieutenant Paris’ participation in this scheme was easy – getting him and Sue together. He had the more difficult task of wooing the haughty engineer.

Don’t freeze, Pablo, he said to himself. For once in your life, get your thumb out of your ass and talk with the woman. You’ve already done it, twice. Before dumping a plate of dim sum on her lap and electrocuting her. Pablo took a deep breath. Think positive thoughts. Remember, you’re a Starfleet officer, not an idiot.

Pablo turned to the engineer to speak. Before he could open his mouth, he realized that the turbolift had failed to stop between Decks Six and Seven. Instead, it continued on, until it stopped at Deck Two. The doors slid open and Sue Nicoletti stepped out, leaving behind a flabbergasted pilot.

* * * *

Tom watched the entire debacle from his monitor on the Conn Station. Once again, fate, this time in the form of an unstoppable turbolift, came between Pablo Baytart and Sue Nicoletti.

“What the hell happened?” a stunned Tom muttered under his breath.

Another voice broke him out of his reverie. “Did you say something, Mister Paris?” Captain Janeway asked.

Tom’s heart nearly leaped out of his chest. He took a few deep breaths and managed to subdue his rapidly beating heart. “Everything’s fine, Captain,” he calmly replied. “Just a little problem with the navigational relays.”

“Oh. Perhaps I should summon someone from Engineering.”

“Don’t bother, Captain. If you don’t mind, I’ll just head down to Engineering, myself. I’m soon due for my lunch break. That way, I can kill two birds with one stone.” He flashed the red-haired captain his most reassuring smile.

Fortunately, Janeway nodded her assent and Tom immediately headed for the turbolift. His first stop – the Mess Hall on Deck Two. Tom popped his head inside the doorway and spotted both Pablo and Sue – sitting yards apart. The young pilot immediately saw the older man and sprang toward the doorway.

“What the hell happened?” Pablo demanded, once the pair retired to the corridor, outside. “The turbolift was supposed to stop between Decks Six and Seven! It didn’t!”

Tom retorted, “I know what the damn thing was suppose to do! Something must have gone wrong the programming.”

“Now what do I do?”

There were times Tom wondered how Baytart ever managed to become a Starfleet officer. Hell! Even Harry Kim has shown more boldness in pursuit of other females. And he was two years younger than Pablo. And less experienced. An impatient sigh left Tom’s mouth. “Why don’t you just ask her out, Pablo? At least try to strike up a conversation. You were doing great at the party and in the Hololab.”

Pablo cried out, “Until I dumped food on her and nearly electrocuted her! I just can’t do it on my own, Lieutenant! I can’t!”

“Then why in the hell did I even bother to plan that little turbolift scheme in the first lace? Surely, you didn’t expect me to hold your hand all the way to Deck Two?”

A little shrug from Pablo’s shoulder reminded Tom of himself at the age of twelve. “I almost said something in the turbolift,” the younger man mumbled. “But it continued on to Deck Two before I could.”

“Look,” Tom said, “I’m heading down to Engineering. Maybe Ashmore can help me find out what went wrong.” He paused. “And hopefully, we can try again.”

Hope brimmed in Pablo’s eyes. “We will?”

Tom reassured the pilot that they would make another attempt to trap Nicoletti in the turbolift. Smiling, Pablo returned to the Mess Hall. And Tom continued on to Deck Eleven. Upon reaching Engineering, he found Ensign Carl Ashmore working at a console on the upper level.

“What happened?” were the pilot’s first words to the engineer, repeating both himself and Baytart.

Ashmore’s light brown face puckered into a frown. “It didn’t work?”

“The damn thing didn’t even stop. What went wrong?” Tom watched as the other man punched in a few codes into the console.

“According to the computer,” Ashmore continued, “there’s nothing wrong with the program. So, it must be . . .” He punched in a few more entries. “Oh, here it is. We’ve been having problems with the computer’s relay circuits.”

A crewman appeared out of the blue, startling the two officers. “Excuse me, Ensign Ashmore?”

Ashmore glanced at the crewman. “Yes, Soltay, what is it?”

Crewman Soltay expressed difficulty with several ESP circuits connected to one of the ship’s gel packs. Ashmore excused himself to help the crewman. He told Tom, “I’ll get to you about this. How about later this evening?”

Tom sighed. All this scheming on Baytart’s behalf has proven to be very exhausting. And distracting him from his own pursuit of B’Elanna. “At the resort,” he said wearily. “Holodeck One, at 20:00 hours.”

Ashmore and Soltay left. Tom glanced at the chronometer. It read 13:53 hours. Realizing that he had an extra seven minutes, along with an hour for his lunch break, he left Engineering and headed for the nearest turbolift. Might as well enjoy every free moment until his return to duty. The moment he stepped into the turbolift, a voice cried out, “Hold the lift!” Was that . . .? Seconds later, B’Elanna Torres dashed into the turbolift. Tom could not believe his luck.

* * * *

The moment the turbolift doors slid shut, B’Elanna barked an order to the computer. “Deck Two.” Slightly winded, she took a deep breath. A familiar scent filled her nostrils. Kahless! Was that . . .?

“On your way to the Mess Hall?” Tom Paris asked in his usual soft voice. B’Elanna closed her eyes momentarily. Of all the people to find herself alone with! Dammit!“Hello? B’Elanna?” Tom continued. “Paris to Torres! Cat caught your tongue? Or is this some new ploy of yours? The silent treatment?”

Her dark eyes flashed with irritation. B’Elanna whirled on the pilot. “Keep it up, Flyboy! And I’ll give you my version of the silent treatment! Only you’ll be the one unable to speak. Especially with a broken jaw.”

“Ah! Nice to see that your tongue hasn’t been paralyzed after all.”

An impatient growl rose from B’Elanna’s throat. “What the hell you want, Paris?”

Tom protested. “Hey! All I did was ask you a question! Like, are you heading for the Mess Hall?”

“I asked for Deck Two!” B’Elanna snapped. “What do you think?”

“Well,” Tom leaned forward and waggled his brows lavisciously, “maybe we can share lunch. Like a bowl of Ktarian pudding?”

Only Tom Paris could make a simple lunch between friends seem suggestive. B’Elanna sighed. What did he have in mind, anyway? Ktarian pudding spread all over her body for him to lick? The idea of Paris’ tongue on her body brought forth erotic visions and feelings that immediately aroused B’Elanna. Even worse, were thoughts of her licking the pudding from his body. She took a deep breath to vanquish the images and Tom’s familiar scent hit her again. Good grief! Couldn’t she stop thinking about the man?

“Hello? Hey, B’Elanna!” Tom’s voice interrupted her forbidden musings. “Why am I having trouble in holding your attention for a few minutes?”

B’Elanna shot him a dark look. “Perhaps you haven’t said anything worth my attention. And as for lunch . . .” The turbolift lurched to a stop, taking the two occupants by surprise. “What the hell? Computer, resume turbolift!”

“Unable to comply,” the computer’s voice droned. “Turbolift One is malfunctioning.”

Irritated, B’Elanna shot back, “Malfunctioning? Where is the turbolift located now?”

“Turbolift One is located between Deck Six and Deck Seven.”

Something like a gasp escaped Tom’s mouth. B’Elanna stared at him. Then she tapped her combadge. “Torres to Engineering, what the hell is going on? I’m stuck in one of the turbolifts.”

A voice responded. It belonged to Carl Ashmore. “Uh, sorry Lieutenant. There seemed to be some problem with the computer’s circuitry. It must have affected the turbolift.”

“Well, do something about it!” B’Elanna barked.

Nervousness tinged Ashmore’s voice. “Uh, yes ma’am. I mean, uh, sir.” A pause followed. Then, “I’ll get to right away. Ashmore out.”

An amused Tom commented, “Poor Carl. After the way you had applied the whip, he’s probably pissing in his pants, by now.”

B’Elanna glared at the pilot. “Never mind about Ashmore,” she retorted. “What do you know about this?”

Blue eyes widened innocently. “What do you mean?”

“I saw the way you reacted when the computer mentioned we were stuck between Decks Six and Seven.” B’Elanna stepped closer, invading Tom’s personal space. “You know something about all this, Tom Paris. And I want the truth.”

A self-deprecating smile touched the pilot’s lips. “Okay. If you must know, I had Carl program the turbolift to stop right here.”

“I knew it!” B’Elanna crowed triumphantly. “I just knew you had something to do with this! What’s your game, Tom? Another half-assed attempt to get me alone? First, I’m going to tear Carl’s limbs apart and feed them to the warp core. But that’s . . .”

Tom interrupted, “Okay, B’Elanna. Before you go off half-cock, let . . .”

“What I’m going to do with Carl is nothing in compare to what I have planned for you! Of all the immature, idiotic . . .”

“WILL YOU PLEASE SHUT THE HELL UP?”

Immobile with shock, B’Elanna stared at the pilot. “What did you just say?” she asked in a deadly whisper. “Did you just tell me to . . .”

“Yes! I told you to shut up and let me explain!” Tom grabbed hold of the engineer’s shoulder, surprising her even further. “Now, are you going to let me talk?”

B’Elanna’s eyes narrowed dangerously. Tom did not realize it, but he was seconds away from a broken jaw. “Okay, explain.”

He took a deep breath. “Like I said, Carl and I had programmed the turbolift to stop her for a good reason.” Tom hoped that Baytart would forgive him for this next bit of indiscretion. But if it meant saving him from pain at the hands of an angry, half-Klingon, too bad. “The reason we programmed the lift to stop was to trap Baytart and Sue Nicoletti inside, for a half-hour or so.”

A small frown creased B’Elanna’s brow. “Wait a minute! Are you saying . . .?”

“Look, this goes no further than you.” Tom paused. “Pablo had asked me to help him win over Sue Nicoletti. He’s in love with her and it seems he is too shy to approach her, himself.” He went on to explain his failed attempts at matchmaking – the dinner party, the Hololab and this latest attempt in the turbolift.

Comprehension hit B’Elanna like a wet rag. “That explains everything,” she murmured. “The little talks with Nicoletti and why you were always . . .” B’Elanna glanced up and became aware of the blue eyes staring at her. “Never mind.”

“Never mind, what?” Tom demanded. “What were you talking about? What talks with Sue?” He eyed B’Elanna questioningly.

Her mouth hung open. “I . . .” A wave of embarrassment washed over her. Kahless! When will she ever learn to think before she opened her mouth?

Tom’s eyes lit up mischievously. He slowly maneuvered B’Elanna against the turbolift’s walls. “You were about to say, Lieutenant?” he whispered in suggestive tones. His mouth hovered inches away from hers.

Keep hold of your emotions, Torres. Don’t let it overwhelm you. B’Elanna’s eyes refused to meet Tom’s. Instead, they focused on his square jaw. That delicious piece of flesh that she felt tempted to sink her teeth into. She took a deep breath. Big mistake! Tom’s scent, again invaded her senses. With great effort, B’Elanna ignored the scent and replied, “Actually, I meant to offer my help.”

“Excuse me?” Tom’s brows quirked upward.

B’Elanna continued, “I want to help. I’ll have a talk with Sue. Let her know that Baytart is interested in her. And suggest that she go on a date with him.”

Tom frowned. “What if she says no? I don’t think Sue is in any mood to give Pablo a chance. Especially after what happened at my party and in the Hololab.”

“Then he’s screwed,” B’Elanna replied bluntly. “And I would suggest he search in greener pastures.”

A sigh left Tom’s mouth. “That’s what I’ve been telling Pablo. Only he can be such a stubborn bastard, sometimes.”

“Sounds like someone I know,” B’Elanna murmured. She ignored the pilot’s pointed stare and tapped her combadge. “Torres to Engineering. How are those repairs coming along?”

Ashmore’s voice replied, “We’re almost finished, Chief. The turbolift should be back on line . . .” Before he could finish, B’Elanna felt a jolt. The turbolift began to move.

“Never mind, Carl. It’s moving. Good work.”

“No problem, Chief. Ashmore out.”

The turbolift resumed its journey. The two occupants rode in silence. Once it reached Deck Two, the doors slid open and the pair strode out and into the corridor. “Like I said,” B’Elanna continued, “I’ll have a talk with Sue. And you can convince Baytart to ask her out. Who knows?” They finally reached their destination. “Maybe something will happen between them.” She flashed Tom a smile and the two entered the Mess Hall. Dammit! Why did she have to smile at him, like that?

* * * *

“Nicoletti! I need to see you in my office, right away!”

The dark-haired woman warily headed for her superior’s office. B’Elanna could see by the set of her shoulders that she would rather keep her distance away from the Chief Engineer.

“Yes, Lieutenant?” Nicoletti answered, once she stepped inside the glass-encased room. “You want something?”

B’Elanna hesitated. She hated getting involved in the affairs of others. On the other hand, she had opened her big mouth and promised Tom to help him with his little matchmaking scheme. “Uh . . . Sue,” she began, “have you been noticing something odd, lately?”

“Odd?” Blue eyes stared at B’Elanna with one of those ‘what-did-I-do-now?’ looks. “What do you mean? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. I . . .” Again, a hesitation. This felt so embarrassing! Why in the hell did she allow Paris to talk her into this? B’Elanna conveniently forgot that she had volunteered. Dammit! She might as well get this over with now! “Look Sue, have you been encountering Ensign Baytart a lot? Lately?”

Slowly, Nicoletti replied, “Ye-ess-ss.” She paused and blinked. Realization lit up her eyes. “Yeah,” she added in a soft voice. “I wonder why.” B’Elanna told her about Tom’s matchmaking efforts. Nicoletti’s eyes grew wide with disbelief. “What?”

“All those little encounters with Baytart – the dinner party, the Hololab and the turbolift – had all been engineered by Paris. He’s been helping Baytart to get a date with . . .”

Sue angrily cut in. “Get a date with me! So, that’s why Paris has been hounding me all week long! And those damn accidents with Baytart! They were all his fault?”

An uneasy feeling grew inside B’Elanna. She wondered if Nicoletti felt disappointed that Baytart was the interested party and not Tom. “Sue, calm down. Neither Tom or Baytart meant any harm.”

“Any harm?” The other woman’s blue eyes blazed with anger. “How would you like to be the target of some cheap, matchmaking scheme?”

Impatience and her volatile temper finally caught up with B’Elanna. “Kahless, Sue! You act as if Baytart and Tom had played some dirty trick on you! Don’t you get it? Baytart is interested in you! He’s so infatuated that he risked his pride and asked Tom to help him. You asked if I would like to be the target of someone’s matchmaking? A part of me would say no. But another part of me would say . . .” Realizing that she was about to reveal one of her inner feelings, B’Elanna immediately clamped her mouth shut.

Nicoletti stared at the Chief Engineer. “You would say, yes?”

B’Elanna took a deep breath. She had not expected matters to get out of hand, like this. But, Sue deserved an answer. “Yeah,” she murmured. “Maybe.”

The two women fell silent. Then Sue asked, “Do you really think I should go on a date with Pablo?” For the first time, B’Elanna wondered if she and Sue shared a lot of traits – a tendency to become too involved in work, insecurity and a reserved nature.

“Sure. Why not?” B’Elanna replied, with a shrug. “Unless you’re interested in someone else.”

A knowing smile curved Nicoletti’s lips. “You mean, someone like Tom Paris. Hmm.” She paused, as if contemplating a decision. “Well, I have to admit that I wouldn’t be the only female on this ship to consider a date with Paris. Of course, what’s the point in longing for a man who has eyes for someone else?”

“Who are you talk . . .?” B’Elanna paused, suddenly aware of the mischief in Nicoletti’s eyes. She growled, “Never mind!”

“Chief?”

B’Elanna grabbed a PADD from her desk and pretended to be interested in the contents. “If Baytart ever finds the courage to ask you out,” she continued, “will you say yes?”

Nicoletti shrugged. “Maybe. We’ll see.” Which meant, B’Elanna realized, yes.

* * * *

Sheer panic filled Pablo Baytart’s eyes. “You told Lieutenant Torres everything?” he cried out. The two pilots stood inside Tom’s quarters. The latter had just finished his shift on the Bridge. “Why? I thought this was between the two of us!”

“I had to tell her,” Tom insisted. “It was either that or let her beat me to death for causing the turbolift to stop.”

Pablo demanded, “What are you talking about? That damn lift didn’t even stop! Or have you forgotten?”

Tom sighed. “It did stop, Pablo. Only an hour later than it was suppose to. And I ended up trapped with Torres.” He sat down in one of his chairs. Baytart sank onto the sofa. “Once she found out the truth, she offered to help.”

“Help?” Baytart frowned. “How?”

Here comes the tricky part, Tom realized. “Well, B’Elanna had volunteered to have a talk with Sue and convince her to go out on a date with you, if you asked. In fact, I believe they’ve already had their conversation.”

“WHAT?” The young pilot’s voice vibrated around the cabin.

Tom winced from the cry that rang in his ears. “God, Pablo! Not so loud!”

“Are you . . . do you mean to say that Sue knows everything? She’ll never go out with me, now!”

“She won’t if you try to avoid her like some ten year-old who’s frightened of girls!” Tom retorted. He heaved another sigh. “Look, according to B’Elanna, Sue is willing to have a talk with you. Give you a chance. All you have to do is face her and ask for a date.”

Baytart’s face expressed uncertainty. “But, what if . . .?”

“Dammit Pablo! You can’t hide from her, forever! What do you want me to do? Go on the date for you?”

Apparently, the idea did not appeal to Baytart. “N-n-no,” he stammered. He sighed. “I guess not. Maybe I should face her. Do you know where she is at the moment?”

Holding back his glee, Tom shrugged. “Why don’t you check with the computer?”

According to the computer, Lieutenant Nicoletti could be found in Engineering. Just as Tom had expected. “Well?” he said to Pablo.

The younger stood up and flashed an uneasy smile. “Well, wish me luck.” He squared his shoulders and gave Tom a nod. “Thanks for the advice, Lieutenant. And for helping me find my nerve.”

“Good luck, Pablo,” Tom replied, before Baytart left his quarters. Once alone, Tom raised his eyes heavenward and allowed himself a heartfelt sigh. “Thank God!” he shouted to know one in particular. Now, he finally had the time to return his attentions to other matters. Namely, a certain chief engineer.

* * * *

FOUR DAYS LATER . . .

“I don’t believe it!” Harry declared in a disbelieving tone. “I see it, but I don’t believe it! Is that Pablo Baytart with Sue Nicoletti?” He pointed at a couple, sharing a table on the other side of Sandrine’s, inside Holodeck One.

Both B’Elanna and Tom glanced at the couple. The former allowed herself a satisfied smile. As she had suggested, Sue accepted Pablo’s invitation to a date. She learned from Tom that the pair ended up having dinner together at simulation of a Parisian bistro, created by the Chief Helmsman. Fortunately, the date turned out to be a success.

“I had a great time!” Sue had gushed on the morning, following her first date with the pilot. “The dinner was delicious and the atmosphere, fantastic! Later, Pablo and I took a walk along the Left Bank. Very romantic.” Naturally, B’Elanna had not demand any further details.

Tom chuckled over Harry’s comments. “Well, they look like Pablo and Sue to me. Make a cute couple, don’t they?” His blue eyes danced merrily, sending shivers up B’Elanna’s spine.

“Yeah, I guess,” Harry said reluctantly. His eyes returned to Tom’s face. “What are you grinning about? You look like the cat who just swallowed a canary.” Suspicion gleamed in his dark eyes. “Say, did you have anything to do with . . .?”

Laughter poured out of Tom’s mouth. “Boy, Harry! You do catch on ‘fast’, don’t you?” Harry’s face turned red. “As a matter of fact, I had everything to do with them being together.”

B’Elanna arched an eyebrow and stared at Tom. “Excuse me, Flyboy,” she said caustically. “Only YOU were responsible?”

Embarrassment quickly replaced Tom’s triumphant expression. “Sorry. I meant us. I managed to convince Pablo to get over his shyness and ask Sue for a date. And B’Elanna had convinced her to give him a chance.” He went on to explain the entire situation to Harry.

The Ops officer shook his head after Tom finished. “The pilot and the engineer. Who would have believed it?” His remark caused B’Elanna to nearly choke on her drink. Both Harry and Tom stared at her with concerned eyes. “Are you okay, Maquis?”

“I’m fine,” a slightly hoarse B’Elanna replied. “My scotch went down the wrong way.”

Harry again, contemplated the two newly formed lovebirds. “So Tom, you were helping Baytart set up a date with Sue? That explains all those lunches and dates with Sue in the Hololab. And to think, B’Elanna thought . . .”

The moment he spoke her name, B’Elanna knew what Harry was about to say. She panicked and gave him a swift kick in the shin. Followed by a menacing stare that expressly ordered him to shut up. The younger man winced in pain. But B’Elanna also achieved her goal. Harry quickly clamped his mouth shut.

Tom glanced at his friends with barely concealed amusement. “Are you okay, Harry?”

“Fine,” the Ops officer muttered. “Just a muscle twinge in the calf.”

Feign innocence lit up Tom’s eyes. “Oh. I see. By the way, you also mentioned B’Elanna. What exactly were you about to say?” A smile threatened to quirk his lips.

He knew! Embarrassment filled B’Elanna’s guts. The teasing bastard had obviously guessed what Harry nearly revealed. Dammit! She had to get out of here. In order to make her escape, B’Elanna rose from her chair. “I just remembered. I have an Engineering report to finish,” she gushed. “I’ll see you two, later.”

Tom stood up. “Okay. I’ll walk you home.”

“I don’t need an escort, Paris!” B’Elanna retorted. Couldn’t the man take a hint? “I’m a big girl now.”

An appreciative smile curled Tom’s lips. “All the more reason to walk you back to your quarters.”

B’Elanna speared the pilot with her deadliest glare. His smile grew wider. She sighed in defeat. “All right, you can follow me.”

“Have fun you two,” Harry added. His eyes danced with glee. Both B’Elanna and Tom glared at him, but he ignored their stares and continued drinking.

Once they left Holodeck One, Tom did not follow B’Elanna to Deck Nine. Instead, the pair strolled together, side-by-side, without touching each other. B’Elanna made sure of that. They finally reached her quarters. She punched in the codes to her room and turned to face the pilot. “Well, here we are. Thanks for the uh, escort.” The doors slid open.

To her horror, Tom did not walk away. Instead, he brought up an embarrassing subject she long thought dead. “What exactly did you think about Sue and me?”

B’Elanna’s eyes grew wide. “What?”

“Harry mentioned something about why I was having all those lunches with Sue. Then he said that you thought . . . before everything went blank and he suddenly developed a ‘muscle cramp’.” A smirk touched Tom’s lips.

Again, B’Elanna’s breathing became irregular. “Nothing,” she quickly replied. “It was nothing. I . . .” Her mouth hung open.

Tom leaned closer, his mouth less than a millimeter from hers. “You what?” he whispered. The soft timbre of his voice sent waves of heat throughout B’Elanna’s body.

Dark brown eyes met blue ones. B’Elanna found her resistance to the handsome pilot slipping away. ‘Kiss him’ her mind barked. ‘Just lean forward and press your mouth against those soft, firm . . .’ Voices in the corridor broke B’Elanna out of her trance. She snapped back, growled a quick “good night” and immediately slipped inside her quarters.

Once the doors slid shut, the Chief Engineer leaned against them and sighed. Her body still shook from the memory of her close call with Tom. She felt relieved that she had escaped from becoming Tom Paris’s next conquest. Yet, she could not forget the disappointment that flashed in his blue eyes. Or ignore that same disappointment that refused to leave her heart.

THE END

“AND THEN THERE WERE NONE” (2015): Party on Soldier Island

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Below are some animated GIFs that I had found on Tumblr. They featured scenes from Episode 3 of the BBC’s 2015 miniseries, “AND THEN THERE WERE NONE”, which was adapted from Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel:

 

“AND THEN THERE WERE NONE” (2015): PARTY ON SOLDIER ISLAND

In the scene below, the remaining four survivors of the ten strangers lured to U.N. Owen’s isolated island house party, decide to release stress through alcohol and drugs found in the possession of one of the guests who had been earlier killed . . .

“BLANCHE FURY” (1948) Review

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“BLANCHE FURY” (1948) Review

I suspect that many fans of costume dramas would be fascinated to know about the series of period dramas released by the British film industry during the post-World War II era. A good number of those films were released by a British film studio known as Gainsborough Pictures. But not all of them were released through this particular studio. Some were released through other studios or production companies . . . like the 1948 period drama, “BLANCHE FURY”.

Based upon the 1939 novel written by Marjorie Bowen (under the pseudonym of Joseph Stearling), “BLANCHE FURY” told the story of two lovers during the 1850s, who become embroiled in adultery, greed and murder. More importantly, Bowen’s novel and the movie was inspired by a real-life case involving the 1848 murder of an estate owner and his adult by a tenant farmer trying to stave off a bad mortgage. The story surrounding “BLANCHE FURY” proved to be a bit more complicated and melodramatic.

The story begins with a beautiful impoverished gentlewoman named Blanche Fuller, who is forced to serve as a domestic companion for a wealthy woman (think of Joan Fontaine in 1940’s “REBECCA”). To Blanche’s great relief, she receives an invitation to become governess for the granddaughter of her rich uncle Simon Fuller. Upon her arrival, Blanche becomes romantically involved with Simon’s only son, the weak-willed Laurence. She learns that her uncle and cousin have assumed the surname of Fury, which belonged to the previous owner of the estate, the late Adam Fury. She also meets Philip Thorn, Adam’s illegitimate son, who serves as the estate’s head groom and resents Simon and Laurence’s possession of his father’s estate. Blanche decides to marry Laurence for the sake of security and wealth, but becomes dissatisfied with her marriage. She and Philip also fall in love and quickly drifts into a sexual affair. Longing for possession of both Blanche and the estate, Philip drags Blanche into a plot that leads to double murder.

The first thing that caught my attention about “BLANCHE FURY” that it is a beautiful looking film. Producer Anthony Havelock-Allan, director Marc Allégret and cinematographers Guy Green and Geoffrey Unsworth really made use of the Technicolor process. And if I must be brutally honest, I could say the same for the costumes designed by Sophie Devine, who created some colorful outfits for leading lady, Valerie Hobson, as shown below:

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Despite my admiration for the photography and costumes, I was not that impressed by the set designs and especially the production designs. Well . . . let me take some of that back. I had no problems with John Bryan’s production designs for scenes featured in smaller rooms – Philip’s quarters and a private bedroom or two. But I was not impressed by scenes in large rooms – you know, the drawing room, foyer or library of the Fury manor. Quite frankly, these “sets” resembled badly made matte paintings instead of lived-in rooms. Lifeless. An individual museum room with a collection of paintings looked warmer.

But I certainly had no problems with the story. The latter begins with Blanche in the process of giving birth before it flashes back to her days as a paid companion. Thanks to the screenplay written by Audrey Erskine-Lindop and Cecil McGivern, audiences received several glimpses into Blanche’s mindset – her frustrations as a paid companion and later, as wife to the weak-willed Laurence Fury; her sexual fascination with Philip Thorn and the later realization that she had bitten off more than she could chew, thanks to Philip’s murder plot. For me, the most memorable scene in the entire movie featured an argument between the unfaithful Blance and the arrogant Laurence, who had insisted that she interrupt her rest to entertain a guest who had arrived with him and his father in the late evening. Blanche’s blatant refusal to blindly obey her husband nearly caused me to stand up and cheer, despite the fact she had spent the last 24 hours cheating on him with Philip. I had an easier time understanding Blanche than I did Philip. He seemed to have this attitude that the Fury estate should have been given to him, despite being born on the wrong side of the blanket. And the fact that he was willing to destroy the Fuller-Fury clan (with the exception of Blanche), including Laurence’s young daughter, left me feeling cold toward him in the end.

“BLANCHE FURY” featured some very solid performances, despite a penchant for some of the cast to nearly drift into slightly hammy acting. I could never accuse Valerie Hobson of overacting. Mind you, her performance did not exactly knock my socks off, but I thought she did a pretty job. Her best moments proved to be the Blanche/Laurence quarrel and Blanche’s horror over Philip’s arrogant behavior following the deaths of her husband and father-in-law. I had recently come across an article suggesting that Stewart Granger was not exactly the most skillful actor. Recalling his performances in movies like “KING SOLOMON’S MINES”, “SCARAMOUCHE” and “BHOWANI JUNCTION”, I found this opinion hard to accept. But a part of me could not help but noticed that his performance in “BLANCHE FURY” – especially in the movie’s last half hour – threatened to wander in the realm of the melodramatic. Otherwise, I found his performance satisfactory. Michael Gough fared just as well as Miss Hobson as Laurence Fury – especially in the memorable Blanche/Laurence quarrel scene. Though, there were moments when I thought he would go a little overboard. Sybille Binder, who portrayed the Furys’ stoic housekeeper Louisa was just that . . . stoic. I thought she would play a major role in the movie. But in the end, I felt that her time was more or less wasted. Susanne Gibbs made a very charming Lavinia Fury, Laurence’s young daughter. But I thought the best performance came from Walter Fitzgerald, who portrayed Blanche’s no-nonsense uncle (later, father-in-law) Simon Fury. I found it rather interesting that Fitzgerald could portray such a blunt character with great subtlety. He seemed to be the only cast member who did not threatened to become melodramatic.

I may have had a few problems with “BLANCHE FURY”. But if I must be honest, I found it entertaining and rather satisfying. Thanks to Marc Allégret’s direction, Audrey Erskine-Lindop and Cecil McGivern’s entertaining screenplay, Guy Green and Geoffrey Unsworth’s photography and a solid cast led by Valerie Hobson and Stewart Granger, I found the movie more than satisfying.

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” (2016) Review

 

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” (2016) Review

One of the more popular story lines to emerge from Marvel Comics was the 2006 story called “Civil War” in which many comic book characters from the company’s franchise battled over a new law designed to have superpowered individuals act under Federal regulation. Kevin Fiege and Marvel Films decided to adapt this story line for the final film in their Captain America trilogy.

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” features some differences from the Marvel Comics comic series. The latter featured the Superhuman Registration Act, which would force those with superhuman abilities to register with the U.S. government . . . even at the expense of their secret identies. All those with special abilities – via magic, science, extra-terrestrials and even gods – would be forced to register. The 2016 movie featured the Sokovia Accords, a set of internationally ratified legal documents that provide regulation and frame-working for the military/law enforcement deployment of enhanced individuals, particularly the Avengers. To be honest, the difference between the Superhuman Registration Act and the Sokovia Accords strikes me as rather minimal.

However, the plot for “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” began with a flashback to 1991 when a mysterious assassin intercepts an automobile on an isolated road, carrying a case of super-soldier serum. The plot jumped some twenty-five years later to Lagos, Nigeria; where a team of Avengers under the command of Steve Rogers aka Captain America stop a HYDRA team led by Brock Rumlow aka Crossbones from stealing a biological weapon from a lab in Lagos. When Rumlow blows himself up, hoping to kill Steve; Wanda Maximoff aka tries to displace the blast into the sky with telekinesis. Unfortunately, the blast destroys a nearby building, killing several Wakandan humanitarian workers. Because of the Lagos incident, U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross informs the Avengers that the United Nations is preparing to pass the Sokovia Accords, which will establish a U.N. panel to oversee and control the team.

Some members of the Avengers support the Accords and decide to follow Tony Stark aka Iron Man, who continues to feel guilt over his creation of the A.I. Ultron and the latter’s destruction of Sokovia. Others decide to follow Steve, who remains suspicious of the governments’ use of enhanced individuals. But when a bombing disrupts a conference in Vienna where the Accords were to be ratified and kills King T’Chaka of Wakanda, security footage indicates that the bomber is James “Bucky” Barnes aka the Winter Soldier, whom T’Chaka’s son, T’Challa aka Black Panther, vows to kill. Steve, who has been searching for Bucky since the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., becomes determined to find Bucky first before anyone else can harm him and find out what really happened in Vienna. The search for Bucky manifests into another story line when the latter and Steve begin to suspect that someone from HYDRA might behind

I must admit that when I first learned that the third Captain America movie would be an adaptation of Marvel’s “Civil War”, I was not happy. I felt certain that the movie would be more of an Avengers tale than another Captain America movie that would round off the character’s trilogy. But I had decided to put aside such fears and see the movie. “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” had a great deal to offer. Exciting action sequences, plenty of travel, drama, thought provoking issues and especially some first-rate acting.

One aspect of “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” that really caught my attention were the issues presented in this story. And the issues in this story seemed to focus on guilt and responsibilities. This especially seemed to be the case for the Avengers in the wake of what happened in Sokovia and Lagos. Although Steve, Sam Wilson aka the Falcon, and especially Wanda feel guilty for what happened in Lagos; they would prefer to deal with the consequences on their own rather than allow the government to take control of their lives as Avengers. Tony, James “Rhodey” Rhodes aka War Machine, Vision and Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow seemed to feel that the best course to deal with the consequences of the group’s actions is to allow the government to control their actions. What is interesting is that while various governments and especially Thaddeus Ross want the Avengers to pay a high price for what happened in Sokovia and Lagos, Ross refuses to acknowledge guilt or pay the consequences for the battle in Harlem between Bruce Banner aka the Hulk and Emil Blonsky aka Abomination in “THE INCREDIBLE HULK”. Someone had pointed out how friends found themselves on opposite sides of this conflict. I saw this theme played out with Natasha, who found herself opposing Clint Barton aka Hawkeye, Sam and Steve – three men with whom she had formed close friendships. This theme also played out with Wanda’s growing friendship with Vision, when the pair of them took opposing sides on the Accords issue.

The past seemed to weigh heavily in this movie, as well. The ghost of Steve’s past – in the form of one “Bucky” Barnes manifests on the heels of the Vienna bombing. Another ghost from Steve’s past manifested in the form of Sharon Carter, a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, whom he had first met in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”. Both Steve and Sam were surprised to discover that Sharon was the great-niece of his former love, Peggy Carter. One could say the same for Bucky, whose past as the brainwashed Winter Soldier is not only used to frame him for the Vienna bombing, but also manifests in the discovery of Howard and Maria Stark’s fates. And while I found this revelation rather interesting, I did not find it particularly surprising, after the events of “THE WINTER SOLDIER”. In fact, many fans of the franchise did not seem surprised. Tony’s ghosts from the past also formed a cloud above this story. His and Bruce’s creation of Ultron not only led to Sokovia’s destruction, but also to his support of the Sokovia Accords. More importantly, Sokovia’s destruction led a colonel from an elite Sokovian commando unit named Helmut Zemo to seek revenge for the deaths of his family during the battle against Ultron. And the newly ascended King T’Challa struggled to deal with his father’s death, as he sought to kill Bucky for the death of his father King T’Chaka during the Vienna bombing.

But “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” is foremost an action film. And the movie featured some first-rate action sequences. Many film critics and moviegoers have been talking about the battle between the two Avengers factions at a Berlin airport. And yes, I found it impressive . . . somewhat. My favorite moment occurred when Scott Lang aka Ant-Man transformed himself into a giant, taking everyone by surprise. But if I must be honest, the airport sequence is not my favorite action scene in the movie. One of my favorites proved to be the chase sequence in Berlin in which the police, Steve, Sam and T’Challa pursued a fleeing Bucky. Another favorite turned out to be the movie’s first action sequence in which Steve’s Avenger team battled against Rumlow and his HYDRA team in Lagos.

The movie also featured some excellent acting. To be honest, I cannot think of a bad performance in this film. Once again, Chris Evans stepped up to the plate and provided another first-rate performance as Steve Rogers aka Captain America. For once, his Steve proved to be a more reflective man, who had learned to control his quick temper (until near the end of the film). I can also say the same for Robert Downey Jr., who gave another excellent performance as Tony Stark aka Iron Man.

Scarlett Johansson was excellent as former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow, who desperately tried to get Steve and Sam to cooperate with the government and sign the Accords. Anthony Mackie’s portrayal of Sam Wilson aka the Falcon proved to be a little more emotional and satisfying, as his character openly expressed contempt toward the Sokovia Accords and minor distrust toward Bucky Barnes’ re-appearance in Steve’s life. Sebastian Stan continued his excellent performance as Bucky Barnes, now a desperate man trying to keep both his memories and his life intact. Don Cheadle’s performance throughout most of the movie struck me as solid. But I must admit that he really stepped up his game and gave a very poignant performance in his last scene in which he and Tony discuss the near tragic circumstances of the Berlin airport fight. Both Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany clicked on screen as Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch and Vision. This was especially apparent in one scene in which Wanda becomes aware that Vision has been trying to prevent her from leaving the Avengers’ headquarters.

Chadwick Boseman made a very impressive debut as T’Challa aka Black Panther. Boseman did an excellent job in portraying T’Challa’s barely controlled anger over his father’s death and his obsession in exacting revenge. Eight years after “THE INCREDIBLE HULK”, William Hurt repeated his role as Bruce Banner’s main adversary, Thaddeus Ross, who has become the U.S. Secretary of Defense and main supporter of the Sokovia Accords. And he was a lot more subtle and scary in this film than he was in the 2008 movie. Daniel Brühl gave a very subtle, yet intense performance as Helmut Zemo, the former Sokovian commando who wanted revenge against the Avengers for the deaths of his family. Alfre Woodard gave a very sublte, yet emotional performance as a woman who had confronted Tony about the death of her son in Sokovia. The movie also featured some solid performances from Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, John Slattery, Hope Davis and Frank Grillo.

Despite my admiration for the movie’s cast, the action sequences and some of the issues raised in “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”, I had a major problem with it. In fact, I had several problems with it. First of all, the whole idea behind the Sokovia Accords really made no sense to me. I could say that this whole matter began because several Wakandan civilians were killed, when Steve and Wanda were trying to stop Rumlow from harming others through self-detonation. But it really began with the Chitauri invasion of New York in “THE AVENGERS”. Then came the fallout from the destruction of the HYDRA sponsored helicarriers in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”, along with Iron Man and the Hulk’s battle in South Africa and the destruction of Sokovia in “AGE OF ULTRON” and finally, the Lagos incident in this film. For some reason, people like Thaddeus Ross want to solely blame the Avengers for the civilian fallout and not the villains. In the case of the events of “AGE OF ULTRON”, Tony, Bruce and Wanda were to blame. And Wanda . . . was not an Avenger at the time. What I could not understand is that neither Steve, Sam or anyone else who supported them had bothered to point this out. In fact, no one had bothered to point out Ross’ own involvement in the Hulk v. Abomination battle that nearly destroyed Harlem in “THE INCREDIBLE HULK”. You know . . . like Tony and Natasha?

Even if the Avengers had found themselves under government control, the possibility that innocent civilians might get hurt would always be possible. Not even the Avengers or any other costumed hero/heroine can save everyone. Yet, no bothered to point this out. I also noticed that Thaddeus Ross failed to mention the Hulk v. Abomination battle in Harlem. This is understandable, considering he was partially to blame for what happened. But why did no one pointed this out? And could someone please explain why the Accords were named after the Sokovia incident, instead of the incident in Lagos, which had kick-started the international community’s decision to create them in the first place? Martin Freeman portrayed a character from the Joint Counter Terrorist Centre, who helped Ross regulate the Avengers. The problem is that . . . he really did nothing in this movie, except show up and then sneer, first at Bucky and later, at the movie’s villain. Frankly, I found his appearance in this movie a complete waste of time. Speaking of waste . . . Frank Grillo, who had skillfully portrayed Brock Rumlow aka Crossbones in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”, reprised his character for this movie. And guess what happened to him? The poor schmuck was bumped off via a suicide bombing some twenty to thirty minutes into the film. Am I to believe that Rumlow, a major character in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”, had been reduced to a cameo, a plot device for the Lagos sequence . . . and nothing else? I guess so. In the end, Marvel ended up wasted Grillo’s time, just as they had wasted Thomas Kretschmann’s time in “AGE OF ULTRON”. And what were the German special forces, the GSG 9 doing in Bucharest, Romania? Bucharest was Bucky Barnes’ home at the time. And it was at his apartment where the GSG 9 tried to arrest him. What were they doing in a foreign country, trying to arrest an American citizen for a terrorist attack (the Accords conference) that happened in another foreign country – namely Austria. What on earth was the GSG 9 doing there?

I also had a problem with Tony Stark’s discovery that Bucky Barnes was the HYDRA assassin who had killed his parents. This discovery led Tony to try to kill Bucky, and Steve to come to his best friend’s defense. Two years earlier, Natasha Romanoff and Nick Fury had released top secret S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA files on the Internet, during the battle at the Triskelion in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”. Through these files, Helmut Zemo discovered that Bucky was a brainwashed assassin used by HYDRA to kill Howard and Maria Stark back in 1991. If Zemo had been able to gain access to those files, why did Tony or any Stark Enterprises employee failed to do so? Why did he not make any attempt to access the files? A man, whose own father had been one of the co-founders of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a former enemy of HYDRA’s? Considering Tony’s nature, I find it difficult to believe that he never bothered to make the attempt. I have a deep suspicion that screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely may have deliberately ignored this issue so they would have an excuse for Tony to suddenly react to Zemo’s revelation. How sloppy . . . and manipulative.

And then there is the problem of Robert Downey Jr. The actor was first cast in “CIVIL WAR” in a supporting role. However, the actor refused to do the movie, unless he was made a co-star. And Marvel gave in to his demands, because they so desperately wanted him in another Marvel film. Why did they allow Downey Jr., who portrayed Iron Man, to become a co-star in a Captain America movie? The name in the movie’s title is Captain America. I do not recall the name of Iron Man being in the title. So, why did Kevin Fiege and Marvel allow Downey Jr. to hijack half of Chris Evans’ third solo film? Especially since Evans was the lead in one of Marvel’s biggest hits – both financially and critically. Why did a Captain America movie end up giving as much attention to Tony’s character arc as it did to Steve’s? Tony’s character arc had more screen time than Bucky Barnes or Sam Wilson, who had stronger emotional connections to Steve than Tony. Why did the movie’s screenplay featured a five-to-ten minute scene in which Tony Stark recruited Peter Parker aka Spider-Man for his team and did not bother to show how Steve recruited Clint Barton and Scott Lang? In a Captain America movie?

You know, Marvel could have saved the Civil War story line for an Avengers film and wrapped up Steve’s connection to HYDRA in this film. This movie could have focused upon Steve’s efforts to help Bucky and put HYDRA behind him for good. The movie “ANT-MAN” featured former S.H.I.E.L.D. official/HYDRA mole Mitchell Carson alive and well at the end, with a sample of Darren Cross’ Yellow Jacket serum in his possession. They could have tied this up with the Winter Soldier program . . . or create another plot featuring HYDRA. The narrative for “CIVIL WAR” could have focused on the Winter Soldier program, allowed Helmut Zemo to remain a HYDRA agent, allowed Steve’s friendships with both Sam and Bucky to become more complex and allowed his relationship with Sharon Carter to develop at a decent pace. Instead, Fiege and Marvel decided to (temporarily?) end the HYDRA story arc with former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Phil Coulson and ATCU director Glenn Talbot blowing up HYDRA bases . . . off screen in an “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” episode called (3.18) “Singularity”. I found this so unsatisfying. And since Marvel and Fiege decided that this third Captain America movie should be more about the Sokovia Accords, this left Sam and Bucky engaged in a long and rather stupid running joke regarding their mutual competition for Steve’s friendship. The latter’s romance with Sharon proved to be very rushed. And instead of admitting this, some fans are blaming actress Emily VanCamp and the Sharon Carter character, instead of the movie’s screenwriters and producers. They have also began promoting the idea of Steve becoming bisexual and beginning a romance with Bucky (and not Sam, whom I suspect was not white enough for them). And I am not the only one who has noticed that Zemo’s motivation for revenge against the Avengers bore a strong resemblance to the Maximoff twins’ hostility toward Tony Stark in “AGE OF ULTRON”?

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” featured some excellent acting by a cast led by Chris Evans, some interesting issues on whether government intervention is a good thing or not, and some great action sequences, thanks to directors Anthony and Joe Russo. But for me, “CIVIL WAR” turned out to be nothing more than an Avengers movie shoved into a Captain America flick. And in the end, I found this rather unsatisfying and schizophrenic.

“Perils of a Matchmaker” [PG-13] – 1/2

 

“PERILS OF A MATCHMAKER”

CODE: P/T, B/N, Kim
RATING: [PG-13]
SUMMARY: Tom Paris helps Pablo Baytart win the affections of Sue Nicoletti and endangers his own pursuit of the Chief Engineer in the process. Set during late Season 3.
FEEDBACK: Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: Tom, B’Elanna and all other characters related to Star Trek Voyager belong to Paramount, Viacom and the usual Trek Powers to Be.

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Part 1

Tom Paris heard footsteps behind him as he walked along the corridor of Deck Six. “Lieutenant! Lieutenant Paris!” a voice cried out. “Lieutenant, may I speak to you?” The voice belonged to Ensign Pablo Baytart, one of the pilots under the Chief Helmsman’s command.

“Can I help you, Pablo?” Tom paused to face the younger man.

Breathing heavily, Baytart replied, “Yeah, I . . .” He paused momentarily. “I need to speak with you. About a private matter.”

Private matter meant Baytart wanted to conduct this conversation somewhere other than in the middle of the corridor. Tom nodded. “I’m heading for Holodeck One. For the resort. Why don’t you join me?”

“Well, I . . .” Hesitation loomed in Baytart’s eyes. “Can we go somewhere a little more private?”

Tom sighed and promised to initiate the privacy lock on the holodeck. The two pilots reached Holodeck One and entered. Although Neelix’s resort program was running, no one seemed to be inside. Much to Baytart’s obvious relief. After Tom ordered the computer to initiate the lock, he turned to the junior pilot. “Okay Pablo, we’re alone. Now what’s the problem?”

It all came tumbling out of Baytart’s mouth. In a nutshell, the young pilot was in love with Lieutenant Sue Nicoletti, from Engineering. And he required Tom’s help to play matchmaker. The older man gave Baytart a blank look. “Matchmaker? Why me?”

“I . . . uh . . .” Baytart blushed. “Well, I heard how you helped Culhane with Jenna Carlson in Exobiology, a couple of months ago. And I wondered if you could . . .” The pilot’s face now turned deep red. “You see, it’s Sue. I heard she can be difficult to pursue.”

The understatement of the century, Tom thought wryly. He recalled his own six-month long efforts to pursue Sue Nicoletti, last year. Efforts that eventually ended in failure. Not that Tom felt any bitterness over the matter, despite the “cold hands, cold heart” comment he once made to Harry Kim about the engineer. He had never felt anything more than lust for the dark-haired Sue. Something he wished he could say about his present goal – namely Sue’s commanding officer – a certain half-Klingon, half-Human chief engineer. Images of the recent events on Sakari IV flashed through Tom’s mind. Along with memories of a conversation inside a turbolift. “Careful of what you wish for, Lieutenant.” With a sigh, Tom realized he may have taken on a more impossible goal.

“Lieutenant?” Baytart’s voice interrupted Tom’s thoughts.

The older man shook his head. “Sorry. My mind was elsewhere. Uh, as for the elusive Lieutenant Nicoletti, I’ll see what I can do.”

A bright smile lit up Pablo’s face. “Thanks, Lieutenant.”

“Don’t get too excited, Pablo. This is Sue Nicoletti we’re dealing with.” Cold hands, cold heart. “It might take a while before we achieve success.”

Still smiling, Pablo stood up. “I’m sure you’ll get the job done, Lieutenant. I’ll see you later. And again, thanks.” He left the holodeck.

“Yeah, sure,” Tom murmured under his breath. He realized, to his regret, that he might have to put his pursuit of B’Elanna Torres on hold.

* * * *

Sable eyes watched the doors to Engineering slide open. Watched a sandy blond-haired figure in Command black-and-red, stroll inside. Those same eyes quickly glanced away the moment Voyager’s Chief Pilot walked toward the Chief Engineer’s private office. B’Elanna Torres’s heart began to beat rapidly.

Breathe Torres. Calm down. Tom Paris is no one to get excited over. What happened on Sakari IV had been a mere fluke. An unfortunate incident caused by a chemical imbalance forced upon her by a Vulcan in . . .

“Hey B’Elanna.” Tom Paris’s soft, masculine voice filled her ears. The same voice that told her over two months ago that he would like to see more of her Klingon side. Tom entered her office, his scent pervading her senses. B’Elanna struggled not to breathe deeply. He tossed a PADD on her desk. “The navigation reports. Just as you had requested.”

B’Elanna snatched the PADD from the desk. “Thanks,” she said, giving Tom a curt nod. She did not even bother to look at him. The last thing she wanted was to look deeply into the pilot’s blue eyes. Unfortunately for B’Elanna, once she received the report, Tom refused to move. Another sigh left her mouth. He possessed a stubborn streak that rivaled any Klingon’s. “Is there something else you wanted, Paris?” She glanced up and frowned. It helped that her eyes focused upon his forehead.

“Paris?” One of Tom’s sandy brows quirked upward. “I thought we had put surnames behind us a long time ago.” Over a year, to be exact.

B’Elanna growled. “What do you want, Tom?”

A slow smile curled the pilot’s lips. B’Elanna forced herself to ignore the electric currents shooting up her spine. “Well, I was thinking of holding this party,” Tom replied, “and I thought you would like . . .”

“I’ll be busy,” B’Elanna shot back, interrupting him.

Tom frowned. “Oh? When? I don’t recall mentioning a specific date.”

Idiot! B’Elanna mentally castigated herself. She should have kept her mouth shut, until he finished. Now, how in the hell was she going to get out of this mess?

B’Elanna eventually asked herself why she would want to avoid an evening with Tom. She could no longer deny her interest in the pilot. At least, privately. Publicly admitting her interest seemed another matter. A little voice inside her mind – one that she labeled “FEAR” – told her that it would be a matter of time before Tom Paris grew weary of her Klingon side. And that in the end, he would reject her.

Heaving a sigh, B’Elanna deliberately examined the PADD in her hand. “Look Tom,” she commented in her usual gruff manner, “I’m sure that your party will be a lot of fun, but I don’t know when I’ll have time to enjoy it. Between our encounter with that Borg cube and the Doctor’s foray into homicidal schizophrenia, I don’t know when.”

“Oh.” Tom’s voice permeated with disappointment. At least that was how it sounded to B’Elanna. “Well . . . uh, hopefully you’ll be free, sooner than you think.”

“Hopefully.”

Another moment passed before Tom murmured a quick good day. And then he left. Only his scent lingered inside the office. The half-Klingon kept her eyes fixed on the report. At least, she tried to concentrate. The moment she felt safe enough to do so, she glanced up to watch Tom leave Engineering. Only, he did not leave. Instead, he made his way toward one of her engineers working at a console near the warp core. Sue Nicoletti. B’Elanna’s eyes narrowed.

* * * *

“Say that again?” Sue Nicoletti demanded. “You’re inviting me to where?” Her voice rang throughout Engineering, drawing stares.

There were times Tom wished the engineer would learn to keep her voice at a moderate level. Ignoring the curious stares, Tom repeated his question. “I asked if you would like to join me in my quarters, tomorrow evening.”

Sue shot an uneasy glance at the Chief Engineer’s office. “Uh, just us alone?”

“Huh?” Tom realized that he had misinterpreted his intent. The last thing he wanted was to give Sue the idea that he had renewed his interest in her. “Oh! Uh . . . damn! No, it’s not what you think.” He exhaled a gust of breath. “I’m holding a little sociable, tomorrow night. You know, food, drinks, music and perhaps a little game of poker.”

Disbelief replaced the wariness in Sue’s blue eyes. “This is new. You haven’t asked me to a friendly get-together in months. Ten months, to be exact.”

Tom shrugged. “Considering the number of times you’ve turned me down in the past, can you blame me?”

“Uh-huh.”

A nervous laugh escaped Tom’s mouth. “Look Sue, it’s not what you think. I’m not interested in romance. Just a little get together with people I consider to be my friends.”

“I don’t know whether to be relieved or insulted,” Sue commented wryly. Again, she shot a glance toward B’Elanna’s office. “Will Lieutenant Torres be there?”

Tom quickly squelched the disappointment he felt over B’Elanna’s recent rejection. “It seems she’ll be busy for a while. I’m only surprised that you aren’t.”

“Busy doing what?”

Of course. Tom realized he should have known that B’Elanna’s excuses for turning down his invitation were mere smoke screens. Either she had no desire to spend her off-duty hours with him. Or she was afraid. Tom hoped it was the latter.

Sue repeated her question. “Well? Busy doing what?”

“Nothing,” Tom responded with a sigh. “Forget what I said. All I want to know is will you be able to show up at my quarters, tomorrow night. Say, 20:00 hours?”

“I’ll be there.”

Tom smiled. “Good. Now be sure . . .”

“Nicoletti!” a throaty female’s voice cried out. “Haven’t you finished recalibrating those specs, yet?” Tom and Sue stared at the glass-encased office. B’Elanna stood in the doorway, hands on hips. Glaring.

Sue threw Tom a long-suffering glance. One that pleaded with him to leave before either of them piss off the Chief Engineer any further. Tom quickly got the message and left Engineering before he could further inflame B’Elanna’s wrath.

* * * *

Around 19:45, the following night, Tom glanced around his quarters. His guests were due to arrive any minute. And sure enough, the first one arrived three minutes later. Pablo Baytart. Harry Kim arrived with both Delaney sisters, two minutes after Pablo. Before 20:00, the rest of Tom’s guests arrived, with the exception of Sue Nicoletti. The engineer showed up fifteen minutes late.

Soft jazz music filled the pilot’s cabin. A tempting array of Earth and Bajoran dishes stretched across a table, set up against a bare wall. The food had been replicated, thanks to additional credits provided by Baytart and Harry.

The party seemed to proceed smoothly. Talk focused on topics other than survival in the Delta Quadrant. Everyone seemed to enjoy the food. Tom did not blame them. He had to keep the party a secret from Voyager’s Talaxian cook – who would have undoubtedly volunteered to prepare the food. And to Tom’s delight, Pablo and Sue managed to strike up a conversation on famous jazz musicians. If everything went according to plan, the engineer and the pilot will drift from acquaintance to friendship, and eventually toward romance. Then disaster struck.

Pablo volunteered to fetch a plate of dim sum for Sue. Eager to please the engineer, he set out on his task. As he headed back toward Sue, Pablo failed to notice Mike Ayala’s protruding foot. He tripped over the latter and the plate of dim sum with soy sauce, sailed out of his hands and landed on Sue’s lap.

The engineer cried out with dismay. Pablo laid sprawled on the floor, wearing a horrified expression. Tom closed his eyes and sighed. Getting Pablo and Sue together, he realized, might proved to be more elusive than him winning the hand of one B’Elanna Torres.

* * * *

“Hey, Starfleet!”

Harry glanced up from his breakfast and found the Chief Engineer standing beside his table inside the Mess Hall. “Hey, Maquis. Have a seat.” He gestured toward the empty chair, opposite him.

Once B’Elanna eased into a chair, she began poking at her food. Either she was not hungry or like Harry, found Neelix’s idea of Eggs Benedict, unappetizing. “Doesn’t look that hot, does it?” Harry commented.

B’Elanna smiled wryly. “Not really. I would have replicated something, but I’m low on credits, right now.”

“Yeah, so am I. Tom managed to win most of my credits during a pool game, day before yesterday.” Harry scooped up a forkful of orange-colored eggs. “He must have used them for that party in his quarters, last night.” The moment he mentioned Tom’s party, he saw B’Elanna’s mouth tightened into a grim line. “What’s wrong?”

Her mouth quickly relaxed. Dark eyes widened in innocence. “What do you mean?”

“Is there something wrong?” Harry continued. “You looked upset for a moment. When I mentioned Tom’s party.” He deliberately paused. “Were you upset over that?”

B’Elanna’s nose wrinkled in distaste. “Of course not! Why should I be upset? Tom had invited me. I just didn’t . . . I mean, I was busy, last night.” She began to attack her food.

“Busy?” Harry frowned. “Doing what? Most of the major repairs were finished three days ago.”

An exasperated sigh escaped B’Elanna’s mouth. “There were minor repairs to deal with,” she replied through gritted teeth.

“Which could have been done by your staff. After all, you are the Chief Engineer.”

“What’s your point, Harry?”

The Operations Chief realized that he was about to tread through dangerous waters. But he also remembered that he was a Starfleet officer. Not only was weird part of the job, but also danger. Harry took a deep breath. “It sounds as if you had turned down Tom’s invitation. To avoid Tom.”

B’Elanna rolled her eyes. “Kahless, Harry! The world does not revolve around Thomas Paris!” The moment she spoke his name, the Mess Hall doors slid open and in strode the object of their conversation. Harry glanced at B’Elanna, whose cheeks immediately turned red. A smile tugged at his lips.

“Hey Harry!” Tom greeted in his usual gregarious manner. He joined the two friends at their table. His eyes slid toward the Chief Engineer. “B’Elanna.” The latter responded with a murmur.

Harry smiled at his friend. “Hey, Tom. Where’s your breakfast?”

“I ate some of the leftovers from last night’s party. You should taken some yourself, Harry.” Tom shot a withering glance at the orange eggs. “And maybe spare yourself from Neelix’s latest sample of Delta Quadrant cuisine.”

Harry dismally poked his eggs with his fork. “Oh God, please don’t remind me!”

Tom turned to face B’Elanna. “Say B’Elanna, you miss one hell of a party, last night. We had a great time. Right, Har?”

“I have to admit that I did enjoy myself, last night,” Harry conceded, recalling the festivities. “Tom’s right, B’Elanna. It’s a shame that you missed it.”

Mischief sparkled in Tom’s blue eyes. “Well, B’Elanna was busy last night, Harry,” he drawled. “With repairs. Of course that does seem odd, since all of the major repairs were finished three days ago.”

B’Elanna gave Harry an accusing stare. “You told!”

“What are you talking about?” a bewildered Harry protested. “I didn’t say a word!”

“Then who . . .?” B’Elanna’s gaze pierced the Chief Helmsman. “All right, Flyboy! Who told you?”

Projecting an air of innocence, Tom shrugged. “Told me what?”

“Tom!”

Chuckling, Tom finally gave in. “All right, all right. It was Sue Nicoletti. I asked her about the repairs, last night.”

Sable eyes slitted dangerously. Harry prepared to calm down B’Elanna. Before he could do so, the doors slid open again and Sue Nicoletti entered. As she strode toward the galley’s counter, Tom rose from his chair. “Excuse me for a minute.” His eyes focused on the dark-haired engineer. “I have some business to attend to.” The pilot walked toward Sue, leaving behind two speechless friends.

B’Elanna finally spoke out. “What the hell does he want with her?” she growled.

Harry noticed the grim expression on his friend’s face. And the envy in her dark eyes. Interesting, he thought. B’Elanna was jealous. Harry glanced at his other friend. And what exactly did Tom want with Sue Nicoletti?

* * * *

Tom approached the engineer, flashing his trademark effervescent grin. “Sue!”

Nicoletti eyed the helmsman with a wary eye. “Tom. What can I do for you?” She picked up a breakfast tray and began to examine the dishes on the counter.

“Just wanted to know if you enjoyed last night’s party.” From the corner of his eye, Tom noticed the perked interest on Neelix’s face.

Sue quietly made her breakfast selections. “I enjoyed it,” she coolly replied replied, “aside from getting a plate full of dim sum and soy sauce on one of my best dresses.”

Tom winced at her answer. It seemed Pablo’s clumsy act had failed to fade from Sue’s memory. “Yeah, I’m real sorry about that. Mike should really learn to keep his feet tucked in.”

“And Baytart should learn to watch where he steps,” Sue retorted. Oh, oh! Things did not look promising. Once Neelix filled her plate with food, Sue carried it over to the nearest empty table. Tom followed. She eased into a chair with a sigh. “Okay, Tom. What do you want, now?”

Tom sat down in a chair, opposite her. “I have a favor to ask.” He paused.

“What favor?”

In a breathless rush, Tom informed Sue of his plans (phony ones, at that) to develop a training simulation holoprogram for the pilots in his division. “Holoprogram?” Sue took a bite of her Eggs Benedict and grimaced. Then she chewed her food and swallowed. “What do you need me for? You’re one of the best holoprogrammers on the ship.”

It amazed Tom how a compliment could sound so cold. What on earth did Baytart see in this woman? Better yet, what on earth made him pursue her for six months? The challenge? Tom gathered all of his patience and replied, “It’s not your programming skills I need, Sue. It’s your memory. Of Geminian Prime. I understand that your last assignment before Voyager was the Hiriku. And that it was the first starship to chart the Geminian Prime system.”

“So what? I’m an engineer, not a astrophysicist.”

Tom sighed. Patience, Tommy boy, patience. Hell, you’ve been practicing it long enough with B’Elanna. His lips still fixed in a smile, Tom continued, “That may be true, but I heard you were part of the original survey team. To study the geological and metallurgical details of several of the planets. I need to provide me some details of the system.”

Sue warily speared a piece of Ragealan sausage. “You can find all the information you need in the ship’s database.”

“The database cannot provide those little details that make a program exciting. C’mon Sue! Please?” Tom gave the engineer the full blast of his blue eyes.

A sigh left Sue’s mouth. “Okay,” she said, surprising Tom. “I’ll help you. I may not remember much, but I’ll help. When do we start?”

So much for Cold Hands/Cold Hearts Nicoletti, Tom decided. Maybe he should have tried begging, when he had pursued her a year ago. “How about tomorrow evening? Around 1900 hours? I’ll meet you outside the Hololab.”

“It’s a date,” Sue replied. Unfortunately, she had spoken loud enough to draw stares from nearby diners.

Tom decided it was time to leave before a false rumor could start. He bid Sue a quick good-bye and returned to Harry’s table. However, one person seemed to be missing. Tom’s eyes narrowed. “Where’s B’Elanna?” he asked. Harry did not say a word and instead, responded with a sardonic smirk.

* * * *

Somewhere on Deck 8, B’Elanna crawled through Jeffries tube 26, lugging her toolkit with her. Several of the EPS conduits had malfunctioned and for some reason, the two engineers she assigned to make repairs seemed capable of completing the task. A firm believer in the old adage – “If you want something done, do it yourself” – B’Elanna decided to deal with the repairs, personally.

She came upon a console, located a few feet away from one of the tube’s opened doors. After removing the console’s panel, B’Elanna’s dark eyes examined the circuitry. Obviously, Ensigns Mulcahey and Ballard’s repairs had failed to solve the problem. In fact, their work only seemed to have made matters worse. How in Kahless’s name did Starfleet allow such incompetents on their starships?

A sigh left the Chief Engineer’s mouth. She picked up a hydro-spanner and set about making repairs. B’Elanna hoped that a little work would help her forget that scene she had witnessed in the Mess Hall. Unfortunately, no sooner had she begun repairs, her hopes quickly dashed. The circuits before her, soon transformed into the unwelcome vision of Tom Paris and Susan Nicoletti, engaged in an intimate conversation.

What in the hell made Tom rush to Sue’s side, the moment she entered the Mess Hall? Did he have an innocent matter to discuss? Or did he invite her to another one of his private parties? B’Elanna began to wonder if Tom’s romantic interest in the dark-haired woman had revived, after his failure to woo the Chief Engineer. The latter longed to know. And yet, a part of her had no desire to concern herself with the notorious Chief Helmsman. Ah, conflict! Her constant companion in life.

“. . . has to be,” a voice beyond the tube’s door, was saying. “How else can you explain it?”

Another voice sighed. “Explain what?” B’Elanna recognized that soft, sarcastic voice anywhere. It belonged to her second-in-command, Joe Carey. “Pat, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Ensign Patrick Mulcahey snorted. “Of course, I do! I was sitting at the table next to them, inside the Mess Hall . . .”

B’Elanna’s hands paused over the console. She placed the spanner on the floor and quietly crept toward the door. When Mulcahey mentioned the words, “Mess Hall”, she realized that he and Joe were discussing Paris and Nicoletti. At that moment, B’Elanna refused to even think of the Chief Pilot as Tom.

“You mean to say,” Carey sarcastically continued, “that you and Lindsay overheard the entire conversation?”

Mulcahey retorted, “We heard enough.” He paused, causing B’Elanna to mentally scream for the man to continue. “Paris asked Sue to help him with a holodeck program.”

“And?”

B’Elanna’s heart lurched at the news. Since when did Tom Paris need help with a holoprogram?

“Tom Paris, asking for help with a holoprogram?” Mulcahey cried out, repeating B’Elanna’s thoughts. “He’s one of the best programmers on the ship! Probably the best! What the hell does he need Sue’s help for?”

A sigh from Carey. “What are you leading to, Pat?”

“I think Paris is interested in Sue, again. C’mon Joe! What else can it be? He invites her to a party inside his quarters . . .”

Joe shot back, “I was there!” I could have been, B’Elanna added silently. “There were at least ten to fifteen people at that party.”

Mulcahey continued, “And what about this morning? Paris seeking help for his new holoprogram?”

Silence followed. B’Elanna immediately knew the answer to Mulcahey’s suggestion. Tom Paris wanted Sue Nicoletti. Quite simple. He had apparently grown weary of pursuing B’Elanna and now focused his attention upon another woman. Surely, Joe could see that?

Seconds later, B’Elanna had her answer. “I guess Paris finally got tired of chasing the Chief after Sakaris IV,” Joe finally said. “Too bad.”

“Too bad?” Mulcahey’s voice rang with disbelief. “Are you kidding me? Can you imagine the Chief and Playboy Paris as a couple? It would never work! She’s too intense for a guy like that!” Intense could only mean one thing – too Klingon in Mulcahey’s eyes. He did not realize it, but he had just earned another black mark in the Chief Engineer’s book.

Carey responded, “I don’t know. Personally, I thought they had something. Like I said, too bad.” He almost sounded mournful. But not as much as B’Elanna felt.

* * * *

Tom strode along Deck Six’s corridor in his usual, easygoing manner. He was on his way to Pablo Baytart’s quarters, located right next door to Harry. Upon reaching his destination, he rang the announciator. Several times. After six weeks of accumulating extra flying time, Baytart managed to get two days off for his troubles. Today was the first of his off-duty time. A groggy voice from inside cried out, “Wha . . . Who’s there?”

“It’s me, Pablo! Paris! I have something for you.” Seconds passed before the door opened, allowing Tom to enter.

Tom’s eyes glanced around the immaculate cabin. There were a few facts about Pablo Baytart. He was an excellent pilot, a good juggler, a friendly soul, he constantly complained about Harry’s clarinet and he also happened to be a neat freak. Tom barely saw an object out of place or a piece of clothing scattered about. Amazing.

“Lieutenant,” Baytart greeted his superior, while tugging at his robe. “Can I help you?”

Tom replied, “Not really. Actually, I’m here to help you. Here,” he tossed a PADD at the ensign. “Read that. You’re going to be helping Sue with a holoprogram, tomorrow. Nineteen hundred hours. Be there.” He turned on his heels and started toward the door.

“Wait!” Pablo cried out. He ran a hand through his dark hair. “What do I need this PADD for?”

“I told Sue that I needed help with a pilot training program. It’s all there on the PADD. She’ll be expecting me, but you’ll show up, instead. Tell her . . .” Tom’s mind raced for a plausible explanation. “Tell her that I was called unexpectedly by Ensign Kim, regarding an Operations matter.” He slapped the younger man’s back. “After that, it’s up to you.”

Before Tom could leave, Pablo thanked him. “I really appreciate this, Lieutenant.” The Chief Pilot responded with a quick grin and left.

* * * *

At precisely 19:00 hours, the following evening, Tom deliberately failed to meet Lieutenant Nicoletti in the Hololab. Instead, he turned on his computer inside his quarters and watched Ensign Baytart make the appointment in his place, by activating the lab’s video monitor.

The expression on Sue’s face expressed annoyance at Tom’s failure to meet her. However, the engineer seemed willing to work with Pablo. Within twenty minutes, Tom could see that his plan was going smoothly. Both Sue and Pablo worked well, together. And unlike the party from a few days ago, there seemed to be no mishaps.

No sooner had those words entered Tom’s thoughts, Pablo punched in a few entries on his console, his eyes fixed upon Sue with unabashed admiration. Sparks immediately lit up the engineer’s workstation. Sue cried out in pain, before she fell to the floor, unconscious.

Tom lowered his head into his hand and let out a heavy sigh. He realized, with a touch of despair that his efforts to help Baytart win Nicoletti’s affections had just risen from difficult to near impossible.

* * * *

“One last item on the agenda, this morning,” Captain Janeway declared, “is Lieutenant Nicoletti’s injuries.” The auburn-haired captain and her senior officers sat around the large table, inside Voyager’s Conference Room. “Doctor, can you give us the details on this matter?”

Due to his possession of a 29th century holoemitter four-and-a-half months ago, the Chief Medical Officer had been able to appear outside Sick Bay and the holodecks. And finally even make personal appearances at senior staff meetings. Much to Tom’s annoyance. The latter preferred the good old days when they communicated with the EMH via a computer monitor. Which meant anyone could switch off the ponderous hologram whenever he became annoying.

The Doctor gave a slight cough. “Lieutenant Nicoletti had suffered minor burns and electric shock from an outage in her console in the Hololab. She healed quite nicely, following a minor surgery and a few hours of rest.”

“How on earth did that happened?” the Captain demanded. She turned to B’Elanna with concerned eyes. “Lieutenant, was there something wrong with one of the Hololab’s computer terminals?”

The Chief Engineer’s mouth formed a grim line. Tom almost smiled. She looked very Klingon at that moment. And quite gorgeous. “There was nothing wrong, Captain,” B’Elanna grumbled. “It seemed Ensign Baytart had accidentally caused a surge in the console Sue was working from.”

A puzzled frown appeared on Chakotay’s face. “I’m surprised those two were working together. Neither really struck me as being exceptional holoprogrammers.”

Tom spoke out. “It was my idea.” All eyes fell upon him. “I needed Sue’s help on a particular program, but I had to bow out at the last moment. So I asked Ensign Baytart to take my place.”

“Why?” Janeway asked.

Tom shrugged. “It’s nothing. I’m creating a new training program for the Conn Division.”

“Is that what you two were talking about in the Mess Hall?” Harry blurted out.

The question took Tom off guard. He had no idea that his little conversation with Sue had generated so much speculation. “Well . . . yeah,” he replied slowly. “What did you think?” He stared at his best friend, whose face turned red. Even more surprisingly, so did B’Elanna’s.

Before Harry could answer, Neelix had a question of his own. “Why would you need Lieutenant Nicoletti’s help with a holoprogram?” His question reflected in the eyes of the others.

“There’s a certain system in the . . .” Tom paused. Why on earth was everyone interested in him and Sue Nicoletti? “Look, it’s a private matter,” he quickly explained. “Excuse me, but isn’t this suppose to be a staff meeting and not gossip time in the Mess Hall?”

The majority of the staff glanced away, looking embarrassed. Except for the Captain, who let out a small cough. “You’re right, Mister Paris. This is turning into a gossip session. However, you cannot blame us for being a little curious.” She gave Tom a small smile. “If there is nothing more to discuss, everyone is dismissed.”

The rest of the staff filed out, one by one. Tom started toward B’Elanna, but she walked past the door and toward the turbolift, before he could stop her. Damn! And he thought he had problems with Pablo and Sue.

* * * *

Two hours later, B’Elanna paused outside the doors to Engineering and took a deep breath. Disappointment threatened to overwhelm her. Disappointment that Tom Paris had found someone new to pursue. Or to be more accurate, someone he had pursued before. Namely, Sue Nicoletti. After the senior staff meeting, there was no doubt in B’Elanna’s mind.

So many regrets filled her thoughts and heart. Regret that she had resisted Tom’s overtures for a date. Or that he had resisted her pon farr-induced overtures on Sakaris IV. And that Vorik had interrupted when she and Tom were finally about to have sex. After receiving rejection after rejection, Tom had finally lost interest in her.

“Going in, Chief?”

B’Elanna snapped out of her funk and stared at the figure next to her. Carl Ashmore. She gave the engineer a tight smile. “After you, Ensign.” She indicated the door with a wave and followed him inside Engineering.

The moment she stepped inside, B’Elanna froze in her tracks. Just ahead stood both Sue and Tom, their heads together in deep conversation. And judging by the animated expressions on their faces, Tom may have finally succeeded in his pursuit of the dark-haired engineer. A surge of anger flared briefly inside B’Elanna, followed by jealousy and despair. Life was so damn unfair!

END OF PART 1

“Buffy’s Relationship With the Scoobies”

I have something of a problem with Buffy Summers’ relationship with her close friends, also known as the Scoobies:

“BUFFY’S RELATIONSHIP WITH THE SCOOBIES”

I just finished watching the “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” Season Three episode, (3.07) “Revelations”. I find myself recalling the scene in which the Scoobies revealed to Buffy that they knew that Angel, the souled vampire whom she was forced to kill in the Season Two finale, (2.22) “Becoming (Part 2)”, was still alive and she had been keeping his presence a secret from them. Apparently, one of the Scoobies, Xander Harris, had decided to spy on Buffy, due to her secretive behavior and found her kissing Angel.

Now, I realize that they had a right to be angry that she failed to tell them about Angel being alive. The latter had spent the second half of Season Two as their main antagonist, due to his losing his soul. Because of this, he had caused a great deal of problems for them. He had also summoned the demon Acathla in order to bring about the end of the world. Buffy was finally able to defeat him in “Becoming (Part Two)” . . . but not before fellow Scooby Willow Rosenberg had restored his cursed soul.

But . . . God, this scene when the Scoobies had confronted Buffy in “Revelations” had pissed me off! If there is one thing about Buffy’s relationship with her Watcher Rupert Giles and the Scoobies that has burned me is that she has allowed them to dictate her behavior and moral compass, due to her own fear of losing their friendship. Has Buffy ever put such pressure on Xander, Willow or Giles? I wonder. For years, they put her on this pedestal called “THE SLAYER” and rarely allow Buffy to be herself or have her own life.

Xander was the worst offender of them all. I do not know how this character came to be so beloved by the series’ fans. Granted, Xander could be entertaining. But of all the characters, he was probably the most self-righteous of the bunch. And he has allowed his self-righteousness, along with his jealousy toward Buffy’s relationships with both Angel and Spike to compromise his morals without any remorse. Good examples would be his lie to Willow about Buffy’s wishes regarding Angel in “Becoming (Part 2)” and his attempt to murder a chipped Spike in (6.18) “Entropy” for having sex with the fiancee he had dumped at the altar. Even in “Revelations”, he was behaving in the most self-righteous manner about Buffy’s lie regarding Angel . . . yet, at the same time, was kissing Willow behind his girlfriend at the time Cordelia Chase’s back. Some would say that at least his infidelity with Willow was not a threat to anyone. But his and Willow’s actions ended up hurting Cordelia in more ways than one.

The Scoobies’ attitude toward Buffy reached its pinnacle in Season Six. In (6.01)”Bargaining (Part 1)”, Willow, with the assistance of Xander, his second girlfriend Anya Jenkins and her girlfriend Tara Maculay’s assistance, brought Buffy back from the dead . . . without her consent or anything. An act that led to a year long depression for for the Slayer. And they did this, because they needed “THE SLAYER”. They believed that Sunnydale needed a Slayer. Despite the fact that Sunnydale had managed to exist without a Slayer for nearly a century before Buffy’s arrival.

Is it any wonder why Buffy began to emotionally distance herself from her friends” in Season Seven?