CHAPTER 2: Muddling Through

His dress uniform itched. And the collar was chafing the side of his neck - once more. The dress uniform always did this, in any reality. And for the life of him, Lieutenant Jean-Luc Picard, senior grade, could not figure out why Starfleet with its vast numbers of geniuses, engineers, architects, clothing designers, life-style engineers, etc., of whom more than half were male, could not design a dress uniform that fit a humanoid, male body comfortably. Even when the uniforms were custom made, which was a vice to which Jean-Luc circumspectly subscribed, they still did not fit quite right. Even if the tailor followed the official Starfleet patterns for the uniform, there was still something off about said uniform.

Matters weren't helped any that he was standing here at attention, waiting in Transporter Room Five, for the Ambassadress from Betazed, who, if the chronometer on the control panel was correct and Jean-Luc Picard had no reason to think otherwise, was now thirty-two minutes late. Lieutenant Picard seriously considered asking Mr. Data to check and see if there was a problem. Other than the problem being Lwaxana Troi, of course…

The transporter room doors swooshed open. An irritated Captain Thomas Ian Halloway stormed into the room. "She had the gall to personally demand that I meet her here! Who does she think she is? A bloody Sassenach queen?" he complained to his First Officer trailing after him. Will just rolled his eyes, and then glanced about to make sure that the ambassadress' daughter wasn't in the room. Captain Halloway noticed this. "Where's Commander Troi?"

"According to Commander Data, Commander Troi's counseling session is running late - a crisis of some sort. She asked me to tell her mother that she will be joining her mother, later this evening," an apologetic Lieutenant Picard explained. While he silently understood the reasons behind Deanna's sudden patient crisis, he doubted that the captain would if Lwaxana behaved like Lwaxana usually did toward the captain.

The sound of the transporters being activated silenced any further remark that Halloway might have made.

Captain Halloway bowed before the lady on the transporter platform accompanied by Mr. Homm and four of her entourage, and then formally stated, "Welcome aboard, Madame Ambassador."

Lwaxana stepped off the platform, her silken, virulent purple skirts swirling about her hips as the multitude of ruffles framing her bared bosom fluttered as she moved. She stuck her hand in front of Captain Halloway's bulbous nose.

The captain took it, pivoted and presented the hand to Lieutenant Picard. "Madam Ambassador, may I present one of my bridge officers, Lieutenant Jean-Luc Picard? He's your new Starfleet liaison on board the Enterprise."

Not even bothering to glance at the lieutenant, Lwaxana started to immediately - and loudly - complain. "No, Tommy. I want only you and your senior officers as my escorts. No one lower than a commander will do, my dear. Appearances, you know."

Deciding to take the matter in hand both literally and figuratively, and actually knowing what to do with the knuckles that Captain Halloway had thrust in front of his face, Lieutenant Picard bowed in front of the lady, firmly grasped the lady's hand, kissed each knuckle, and then, for good measure, lightly stroked a finger across the palm of her hand. He tried to ignore her perfume which was currently stinking up the transporter room.

Startled by the lieutenant's action, Lwaxana stopped her complaining and started to actually listen to what is was that Captain Halloway was saying. "Lieutenant Picard, is it?" she cooed as she finally did bother to look over at this officer. He seemed familiar. "We've met before, haven't we?"

"Yes. At other diplomatic functions." Picard uttered these words with his most stentorian, former-captainly voice.

The sound of his voice captured the lady's attention. Apparently, after thoroughly inspecting the lieutenant, Lwaxana decided that she liked what she was looking at. He was suitable. She glanced over at Captain Halloway. "You were saying, Captain?"

Halloway could not quite contain the gleeful tone in his voice as he enumerated. "Lieutenant Picard is the officer who helped save Commander Troi's life from the Romulans. And as for his suitability as an escort for such an esteemed ambassadress as yourself, well, Lieutenant Jean-Luc Picard is a member of the French nobility on Earth. His brother is a Comte which still means something with the 'right' sort of people. And Jean-Luc is also half-owner of one of the finest wineries in all of the Federation…"

Lwaxana abruptly interrupted the captain. "Château Picard is you?" Visions of bottles of fine de la marne brandy suddenly appeared in the lady's imagination. A title was nice. A winery was not something that could be ignored. Her gaze upon Picard suddenly acquired a proprietary air…

"Of course it is!" Halloway boomed. "I've boasted about that fact on more than one occasion…"

Picard sincerely doubted that Halloway had ever done so. But still… Picard considered the captain and the way that the man was oh-so-adroitly maneuvering him.

Suddenly the hand which he was still holding, yanked him forward. And Picard found himself squished against a very ample bosom. It moved. And so did he.

"Come along, Jean-Luc. I've a mind to take a relaxing Parallax bath. The trials and tribulations of travel you know. All the stress… I need to relax. And you are going to assist me…"

Picard heard Halloway chuckle as the Ambassadress from Betazed pushed him out the transporter room door. It was then that Picard knew for sure that he had seriously underestimated this man who was captain of his Enterprise. He supposed he should have realized that any captain of the Enterprise would be a skilled tactician. Captain Thomas Ian Halloway was definitely more than just a martinet.

=/\= =/\= =/\=

Jean-Luc's trepidation grew the moment he was half-dragged into the holodeck and beheld the program for the Parallax Mud Baths. He hadn't known about the 'mud' part before this moment.

Mr. Homm was remarkably swift for a man his size. The room was in readiness. Jean-Luc realized this and the fact that even though Lwaxana had only been on board the Enterprise a few times, she was remarkable familiar with the layout of the ship, for she'd had not one whit of difficulty in finding holodeck three.

His trepidation grew as he observed the Ambassadress from Betazed unhook and then shimmy out of her purple dress. It took only a few seconds for the lady to become totally nude and then sashay down the steps to sit in the mud bath.

Picard had not moved from the spot he'd claimed when he'd entered the holodeck. This did not please Lwaxana. "Strip!" she ordered as she stared at him, anticipating his obeying her commands.

"Strip?" he uttered, as his brain rapidly went through all of his choices that would not result in Madam Troi vociferously complaining to Captain Halloway in her favorite, shrill tone of voice.

"Well, yes, Jean-Luc. Of course. You don't want to get your dress uniform muddy."

Picard actually would have preferred that option if he had been given it. But knowing that the lady would show no mercy toward his modesty, there was only one thing that he could do, and still uphold the honor of all French men along the way - not to mention Starfleet officers in general. Jean-Luc Picard turned away from the lady presenting only his back to her, as he quickly removed his dress uniform and underclothing, wrapped a towel about his waist, then turned and sat down to remove his shoes and socks. With a sense of sangfroid that was part of his personal sense of the absurd, he then casually strolled to the steps into the mud bad, turned again and climbed down the three steps holding onto the railing with his behind to the lady, and then, once he was thigh high in the mud, he dropped his towel and flung it onto the ledge. Then, as if he had not noticed Lwaxana's annoyance at his little 'Picard' maneuver, he chose to sit directly opposite of the lady in the mud bath.

Lwaxana vented her frustration at his thwarting of her intent to see him buck naked. "You do know that Betazeds consider the naked body to be a beautiful sight to behold, don't you? I didn't think that a man of your age would be a prude! You're supposed to be accommodating my cultural preferences!"

"And I have - to the best of my abilities within the parameters of my personal preferences," the lieutenant coolly responded as he nodded at Mr. Homm, and then accepted a flute of champagne from the manservant. Mr. Homm respectfully bowed in Picard's direction, and gave the lieutenant a brief, real smile. Then Jean-Luc took a sip of the champagne. And he was not that surprised that Captain Halloway had provided the Ambassador from Betazed with a bottle of his family's champagne. It was one of the rarer vintages too. Probably the '31.

He was amused by the fact that Mr. Homm had chosen to serve him first, before Lwaxana. The way the lady was sputtering indicated to Jean-Luc that this was a heretofore new experience. He was also very glad at this moment that he was not a telepath. He could only imagine how Lwaxana was mentally berating her servant. On the other hand, Mr. Homm's expression had not changed one little bit. He was benignly smiling throughout her temper tantrum. And he seemed to be enjoying himself.

Finally Lwaxana grabbed her flute, and drained the glass. She them imperiously held out her glass for more wine. Mr. Homm obediently filled the flute.

"Your family does know how to make good wine," she observed as she calmed down, drinking this glass more slowly and appreciatively. She tried to lasciviously study what she could see of him. Which wasn't much since the mud was up to Picard's collar bones by this time.

"Merci," he calmly answered, unruffled by Lwaxana's attempts to discombobulate him. "My elder brother Robert, along with his wife Marie, runs the family business. He is very good at what he does."

Lwaxana studied the man seated across from her more closely, and then, as if she'd reached a decision, she observed, "You're not like most of the Starfleet toadies to which I've become accustomed."

"I don't believe that I have ever toadied in my life," Jean-Luc politely replied.

She laughed. "Now that is something that I do believe." She stood, noted that Picard's gaze did stray in her direction as she moved a few steps closer to his side of the pool, and then sat down again. "I don't want to scare you - too much," she explained as she put down her glass on the pool ledge. "Mr. Homm, we're going to need at least two more bottles."

Mr. Homm merely nodded toward a table where there were four champagne buckets icing bottles of wine.

Picard mentally groaned at the sight of so much champagne. If he drank even a bottle, he wouldn't be fit to work his shift tonight. "Picard to Commander Data," he called out.

"Commander Data here, Lieutenant Picard."

"Captain Halloway asked me to inform you when I would be unable to make my gamma duty shift due to my, er, other assigned duties."

"Captain Halloway has already told me that you will be not be available until we reach Rigel X. I have already removed you from the duty roster."

"Did he," Picard muttered under his breath. Then, more strongly he replied, "Thank you, Commander Data. Picard out." Picard forced himself to relax back against the pool wall. He permitted himself to make note of the pulsations of the pool's jets, and the soothing way the mud glided and swirled about his body. Absentmindedly, he drank more of his champagne, and really didn't even notice when Mr. Homm refilled the glass.

"This is… pleasant," Jean-Luc observed as he was amazed by the way the stress of this situation seemed to be evaporating from his body.

"You've never tried this program before?" Lwaxana softly asked, as she sidled just a little bit closer to her target.

"I rarely explore such programs," Jean-Luc remarked, as he drank some more champagne. He felt rather good at the moment. Surprisingly so. "Perhaps I was in error. I believe I shall be more adventurous in the future. I know that Beverly enjoys such experiences." He waited to see how Lwaxana would react to the mention of his lover's name.

Lwaxana merely raised an eyebrow, seemingly unconcerned by the mention of another woman's name. "Beverly, she is the woman you love?" She waved her hand as if to silence his protests. "She is foremost in your thoughts… even now." Lwaxana glanced about the program, observing the bubbling clear water pools, the padded benches, a table laden with all sorts of delectable noshes as seductive music filled the air. "Just now, you had an image of what Beverly would be like if you placed her on a bench. You think it's the right height for you to be standing so that she can wrap her legs about your waist as you…"

"Madam, you go to far!" was his sharp rebuke. "You have no right to invade my private, personal…"


Whether or not Jean-Luc would have given in to a tirade for her personal intrusion into his mind will never be known since at this very second, the door to the holodeck swooshed open.



"A Parallax Mud Bath! What a wonderful way to relax before dinner," Deanna cheerily stated, ignoring the sudden fear in Lieutenant Picard's gaze at her appearance. From her point of view, a naked man in the company of her mother was not that unusual of an occurrence. Deanna stepped to the edge of the pool, dropped the silvery blue robe that she was wearing, and proceeded to walk down the steps, totally naked, before sitting between her mother and her mother's quarry.

Jean-Luc Picard was proud of himself that he did not visibly react to Deanna's disrobing. Though he had always noticed that the counselor was a beautiful woman, he had never once fantasized about what the lady would look like naked. His fantasies had always been devoted elsewhere.

A moment later the doors whooshed open again. "Sorry, I'm late," a semi-breathless Beverly cried out, as she rushed into the room. She too was wearing a robe - a crimson one that was one of her favorites, Jean-Luc remembered. Knowing what was coming, especially since Beverly sent a meaningful, saucy look in his direction, Beverly too stepped to the edge of the pool, dropped her robe, kicked off her slippers and then slipped into the mud bath, to sit on the other side of Jean-Luc Picard. She was totally nude now, as well.

Sighing, knowing that no being of a masculine persuasion not to mention Will Riker, would believe or condone his complaining about his current situation, Jean-Luc consigned himself to this personal hell and decided to make the best of it. At least with a naked Beverly by his side, he might be able to convince the ambassadress that he was not at all interested in any other woman other than his love. And since he was a French man, the thought of three naked woman was not that distasteful…

Surprisingly, Lwaxana did not say a word about the newest member of their little mud bath party. Mr. Homm silently went about serving champagne, and as if already knowing what Deanna would prefer, provided trays of chocolate covered strawberries and other chocolate covered fruit to the two ladies.

Jean-Luc decided to collect his thoughts for Beverly did have ways of distracting him. He drank. Another two glasses of champagne. Since four glasses had always been his limit, regardless of the situation since he'd learned a long time ago that one does not ever wish to suffer through another champagne hangover, after his fourth glass Jean-Luc shook his head, and handed Mr. Homm his empty flute.

Disappointed that the champagne wasn't going to work on this aggravating lieutenant, Lwaxana mentally conceded the man this round. And then she decided that what was usually a boring trip to a conference had suddenly turned decidedly interesting.

As Deanna was working on her third glass of wine, she innocently asked Beverly, who so far, hadn't said a word, "Aren't you hosting the poker party tonight?"

Beverly dropped her glass into the mud. It went splut and sank. "Damn. I am. And I was so enjoying this…" Standing, and then casting a rather sultry look in Jean-Luc's direction, she stepped out of the mud bath, paused to make sure that Jean-Luc got a very good look at her, and then crossed over to the clear water pool. She dove into it.

And Jean-Luc rightly concluded that this was not Beverly's first time at taking a mud bath on the holodeck.

Beverly rose out of the pool and stepped into the robe that Mr. Homm was holding open for her. After dressing, she mentioned, "I'll see you all later. Enjoy your dinner with your mother, Deanna," Beverly commanded for good measure, as she walked out of the holodeck.

"Come along, Mother," Deanna ordered as she stood, and climbed up and into her robe, that Mr. Homm was holding for this lady. "We're having dinner together. It's time we got caught up." She glanced over at Lieutenant Picard. She duly noted that his gaze was cast elsewhere rather than upon her person as she had been climbing. She appreciated his innate good manners and sense of propriety. In some ways, her Mother had met her match.

"Oh, very well," Lwaxana complained, even as she deliberately stood in front of Jean-Luc for more than a few seconds, before eventually giving up - for now - on her quarry. She joined her daughter and they walked out of the holodeck, leaving Jean-Luc alone with Mr. Homm.

It took the lieutenant a second to realize that the holodeck mud would disappear the moment one stepped over the chamber's threshold. And that's when he realized that Beverly, by her very actions, had been doing her best to put on a show for her lover.

He would make her pay… later.

His considerations were disturbed by the sound of Mr. Homm laughing out loud.

As Jean-Luc climbed out of the pool, Mr. Homm handed him his robe, slapped him on the back, and then laughed out loud, again. Then the giant went to the champagne coolers, picked up a bottle and didn't bother using a glass as he drank the first one down.