Dedicated in Memory of Col. Mitchell Paige USMC (ret) 1918-2003
"Just one more, Jo." The quantity of smoke rising from Harry's cigar showed just how excited he was at the prospect, the mere possibility, of a complete refit. "One more job and they've promised us a complete overhaul."
The tall woman looked skeptical. "That's what they said the last time, Harry, and the time before that, and the time before that. "
From behind them, "Excuse me." Harry waved in the direction of the unfamiliar voice. "Be right with you." He motioned for Jo to continue.
"So far, their idea of an 'overhaul' has been slap up back together and shove us out into space because they have another assignment that needs doing. At this rate, they should build us our own spacedock complete with revolving door. What makes you think this time will be any different?"
Harry grinned and blew a smoke ring. "This time I'll have it in writing. I'm headed..." The unfamiliar voice broke in again. "EXCUSE ME! I'm talking to YOU, mister!"
He afforded the new speaker the merest glance. A woman of medium height, immaculate uniform with Commander's pips, and elaborately coifed hair was glaring at him and tapping her toe. He turned back to Jo with studied indifference. "As I was saying, I'm on my way to the Admiral's office right now to pick up our orders and that includes an order for a complete overhaul."
Jo nodded. "Good luck, Harry. I'll believe it when I see it." She glanced down the corridor in the direction of the ship. "I'd better go and make sure maintenance doesn't end up with any 'leftover parts' when they put her back together."
Harry watched Jo head off, blew another smoke ring, then turned slowly to the woman who had addressed him. "You wanted something, honey?"
The woman's frown grew deeper. "I'm looking for the USS Mitchell Paige. Do you know where she's docked?"
He pointed after the departing Jo. "That way, sweetheart. Fifth berth on the right."
The woman took a deep breath. "Look, I'm..."
"Can't stay to chat, honey. I've got an appointment with an admiral." He strolled off down the corridor with the woman staring at his back.
A short time later, orders in hand, he approached the Paige's berth to find the woman staring at the ship. "I see you found it, sweetheart." He eyed the ungainly looking ship with a grin. "A real beauty, isn't she?"
"YOU again!" The woman sounded incredulous. "A beauty? This has to be some sort of mistake." She pulled out her PADD and scanned it briefly, her eyes narrowing. "I'll just have to talk to the captain. Where's Captain Roberts?"
"You're speaking to him, honey."
The woman gaped at him. "You're Captain Roberts?"
"The very one."
"This has to be some kind of joke, your uniform is at least ten years out of date and it looks like you slept in it."
Harry removed the cigar from his mouth and blew a smoke ring at her. "You have a problem with that? For your information, I've been *working* in my uniform. Now, what did you want?"
She coughed. "If you're Captain Roberts, where are your pips?"
"I know who *I* am and my crew knows who I am. Who needs pips? Now that we've established who I am, maybe you'd be so kind as to reveal *your* identity, honey."
"I'm not your honey and I'm not your sweetheart."
"Well, who *are* you then?"
She straightened her back. "I am Lieutenant Commander Regina Hammond, daughter of Admiral Buckland Hammond."
"Oh, *you're* my new XO. Welcome aboard the Mitchell Paige, Commander. You'll find the her a little different than your usual Starfleet vessel. She's got character and lots of it. The best way to get to know her is to work the different stations until you've gotten a grasp of them all. I'll set you up a rotating schedule so that you don't miss any." Harry moved off and motioned a slightly dazed looking Regina to follow. "Come on. I'll introduce you to the crew."
Harry noticed that she had recovered her composure by the time his officers gathered in the cramped conference room. Regina met the murmurs of welcome with a nod and a pleasant sounding mumble. Introductions over, he launched into the real agenda for the meeting. "There's some sort of epidemic on Kalimar Prime." He looked at Doc Varta. "The lowdown on the disease itself is in the computer banks for you to read up on, Doc. The Paige's job will be to assist in ferrying medical supplies or anything else that needs ferrying. Depending on how things progress, it's quite possible that we'll be ferrying plague victims as well. Starfleet is rigging some cargo pods with quarantine equipment just in case." Nods all around the table, all except for Regina.
"Why this ship, Captain? Why isn't Starfleet assigning something more modern?"
"The name's Harry. To answer your question, they're assigning us because there isn't another ship that can lift as much with the same speed. The Paige is a one of a kind and she can be summed up in three words, 'We do it.' Whatever it is that needs doing, we do it."
He looked around the table. "We've been promised, in writing, a complete overhaul when we finish this job so we'll have plenty of time to rest once we're done. Any questions?" Nobody seemed to have any. "We leave in twelve hours. Let's go do it and do it right."
A yeoman showed Regina to her quarters. "Here you are, Commander." They were smaller than she'd expected, but looked livable at least. "We've got some time before we leave. I suggest that you let me take you round the ship so you don't get lost. By the way, I'm Klaus."
Regina started unpacking. "Isn't that usually the Captain's duty?"
"Normally yes, but Harry and Jo are making sure all our repairs in order. Harry's talented, but he hasn't yet mastered the art of being two places at the same time."
She grimaced and continued putting her belongings in place. "Do you always address your superiors by their first name?"
"We're an informal bunch, Commander." Klaus glanced at her disapproving expression and smiled. "If you prefer formality, wait 'til you're on the bridge in the middle of an operation. Harry can snap orders with the best of them and it's about the only time you'll hear him addressed as 'Captain' or 'sir'."
"Look, unless you find the sight of me unpacking fascinating, why don't you come back in an hour?"
"Will do, Commander." He walked off down the corridor whistling.
Regina looked after him for a moment with narrowed eyes and tightened lips. Someone definitely made a mistake in assigning her here and she would find out who.
Klaus was back an hour later to give her the grand tour. She dutifully followed him up and down corridors and in and out of compartments. Her impression of the Paige's interior was that of a rabbit warren with bits and pieces of mismatched equipment jammed in anywhere it could be fit. Uniforms were a mix of styles, all of them several years out of date, and any indications of rank were missing entirely. The one favorable thing that could be said of the ship was that it was clean. From the look she'd had of the outside, she'd expected the interior to be grimy. She was pleasantly surprised to find that the decks and walls looked clean enough to eat off of.
It was late by the time she returned to her quarters. She slid into bed and waited for the sleep that would not come. Stirring fitfully, she sat up listening. Yes, there was definitely a noise, a low, persistent thrum that was jarring. She would have some words with...What was the woman's name? Ah yes, Jo...She would have words with Jo in the morning. Until then, a pair of earplugs from the replicator should do the trick. A few minutes later she installed the plugs, lay back with a sigh, then realized that the sound could be felt as well as heard. It was going to be a long night. Hours later, exhaustion finally had its due and she slept soundly.
Jo looked up from her breakfast to see Regina make her way slowly into the wardroom. Once Regina had her meal in hand, Jo waved her over and motioned to the seat across the table. Dark circles under the other woman's eyes and the way she sank into the seat told Jo that she had not slept much. "Rough night?"
Regina looked at her tiredly. "There was this awful noise all night. You ought to look into it."
Regina paused, listening, and held up her hand. "You can hear it now."
"There's something humming." Regina waved her hand at the air. "Listen."
Jo closed her eyes and listened intently. She could hear the low murmur of conversation from other people in the room. Soft footsteps and a rustling of cloth that faded rapidly told her that someone had just passed by in the corridor. There was a clicking as someone put something down on one of the tables, probably their eating utensils. All the usual sounds that one hears on the Paige, including a low thrum that she felt more than heard that told her the engines were working properly. Her eyes popped open and she looked quizzically at Regina. "Are you talking about this?" She imitated it as best she could.
"Yes! It kept me awake all night!"
Jo chuckled softly. "There's nothing to worry about. You're only hearing the engines."
"You mean they always sound like that?"
"This is nothing. They're idling right now. They're a lot louder when they're really working." She reached across and patted the back of Regina's hand at the woman's shocked look. "Don't worry. It won't take you long to get used to it." She finished the last of her breakfast. "Gotta run. I'm on duty in a few minutes." Regina watched her depart and set to working seriously on her own meal.
She was one of the last people to arrive on the bridge for the start of first shift. Harry was already in the center seat. He looked up as she entered. "Good morning. Why don't you take the helm this morning, Commander." He lifted a cup of coffee out of a weird contraption bolted to the command chair and took a sip.
"Aye, sir." She slid behind the helmsman's station. Klaus appeared at her side and held out a cup of coffee. She took it and sipped gratefully while she let her eyes slide over the various bridge stations. Judging from the styling the console she was sitting behind appeared to be almost 100 years old, and more alarmingly, so did the emergency life support station. "Sir, I'm surprised Starfleet hasn't replaced this old equipment." She put her half-full cup down and ran her hand over the console.
Harry took another sip of coffee. "No need to. It works just fine."
She was about to say something about keeping up with the times when the Comm Officer broke in. "Sir. We have clearance to depart."
"Helm. Detach all umbilicals and take us out of here. Point-two-seven impulse."
Regina blinked. "Point-two-seven impulse, sir? Standard operating procedure dictates..."
"I'm well aware of standard operating procedure, Commander. Point-two-seven impulse."
Regina bit back her retort. If he wanted to blast out of spacedock like a show-off instead of doing it at the regulation one-quarter impulse, on his head be it. "Umbilicals detached." She keyed the console and heard the impulse engines engage. The ship began to move toward open space. "Point-two-seven impulse, sir." She watched the indicator as the Paige picked up speed. 0.18... 0.20... 0.235... RUMBLE! The ship shuddered heavily as the indicator moved past 0.25. Her coffee cup danced across the console and tumbled into her lap. She yelped in surprise, but kept her hands steady on the controls until they were safely at the designated speed and in the clear. She looked around the bridge. Everyone else was holding or sipping calmly on their morning drink of choice, all except for Harry. Harry's coffee cup was swaying gently in the contraption on his chair. "What was that?" she gasped.
Harry took another nonchalant sip. "I told you the Paige has character. That's part of it. She does it every time we hit one-quarter impulse. Nothing a new set of impulse engines won't cure."
"You're not worried?"
"She's been doing it for the past five years and we haven't blown up yet. We just don't travel at one-quarter impulse if we can help it." Harry looked Regina up and down. "Set course on heading three-five-nine, then go get cleaned up."
Her reply came through tight lips. "Heading three-five-nine. Aye, sir." She saw the ship safely on the new course and left to get the mess taken care of. She returned shortly, clean but dissatisfied, in a fresh uniform that was as out of date as the ones everyone else was wearing.
It was a long shift. Harry gratefully yielded the center seat to his second shift replacement and headed for his quarters to change into workout gear. He stepped through the doors of the recdeck to find that Jo had beaten him there and was already on one of the treadmills. He stepped onto the one beside her and began warming up. Jo took a sip of water and looked over at him. "How's the new XO, Harry?"
"I'd feel..." He broke off as two more people entered the room. "Computer. Privacy screen around these two treadmills." A shimmering curtain appeared around the two of them. Harry whistled appreciatively. "Nice! Installing that salvaged holodeck equipment was a good idea, Jo."
Jo looked a little smug. "I told you you'd like it. Recdeck equipment when and as you need it and a 50% reduction in recdeck mass when you don't."
"OK, ok. You don't have to sell me on it twice. I'm convinced."
"So, what were you going to say?"
"About your new XO."
"Oh. I was about to say that I'd feel a lot better if it was you in that position. I figured that Starfleet would promote one of the crew to XO when you turned it down. Why they decided to assign a total novice to us...."
"Harry, you said she's been in Starfleet over ten years. I would hardly call her a novice."
"Yes, but her cruises have consisted of routine science patrols. The only thing further away than the Paige from that would be an assignment in an active war zone. She's so stiff and regulation that I think she has the replicator starch her uniform before she puts it on."
Jo chuckled. "Give her time, Harry. The Paige will either loosen her up or kill her doing it. Besides, her duty schedule has her in engineering next week. She won't make it past the first day if she doesn't learn to bend a little."
He stepped up the speed on his treadmill to match Jo's. "Ready when you are."
"Some scenery while we run?" At Harry's nod, "Computer. Woodland setting."
The mechanical voice answered her. "Specify."
"Redwood National Forest, Earth." The shimmering screen was replaced with a sun-dappled trail winding between tall pines. "Much nicer." The twittering of birds was broken only by the sound of their breathing as the workout continued in companionable silence.
The Mitchell Paige picked up her assigned cargo three days later. Regina could see the two huge cargo pods, now quarantine hospitals filled with medical supplies, waiting for them on the main viewscreen as they neared the Vela V spacedock. She had been told how big standard cargo pods were, but this was the first time she'd been this close to any. She was surprised just how big they really were. Harry's voice interrupted her musings. "Comm. Let them know we're here."
She turned to her station. "Vela V, this is the USS Mitchell Paige. We are ready for pick up." A moment later came the answering hail. She turned to Harry. "Sir. Vela V says we're clear to take over the pods whenever we're ready."
"Acknowledge. Go ahead, Chief."
"Aye, sir." The cargo pods grew larger yet as the Paige inched her way toward her proper docking position. Regina watched the man at the helm with fascination. Zaru, the regular first shift helmsman, had given the station over to the Cargo Master for this operation. A massive man, his thick fingers handled the ship's controls as delicately and precisely as a concert violinist handles his instrument. His brow furrowed with intense concentration and his normally stony face now looked like someone had roughly chipped it out of granite. Regina felt only the slightest bump as the Paige's tow pad contacted the tow pad of the lead pod. He activated the ship's tractor beams to hold everything steady then keyed the intercom. "Chief to Team One. We have contact. Lock it down."
"Aye, sir." The speaker was silent for a minute. "Team One to Chief. Locked down, sir."
He sat back and turned to Harry. "We have the cargo, sir. She's ready to tow."
Harry nodded as the Cargo Master relinquished the helm to Zaru. "Comm. Tell Vela V we're ready to tow."
Regina did so and listened for the response. "Vela V acknowledges. They are detaching the cargo now."
Harry looked inquiringly at the helmsman who scanned the console in front of him. "Clear, sir. The cargo is all ours."
"Let's go. Helm. Set course for Kalimar Prime, heading zero-two-zero. Warp eight."
"That course will take us through the asteroid field, sir."
"I'm aware of that. We can use the weapons practice."
"Aye, sir. Heading zero-two-zero. Warp eight."
Regina opened her mouth to remind him that regulation maximum towing speed was only warp six then closed it again without saying anything. She could hear the impulse engines kicking in, but the Paige just sat there. The sound grew louder, deeper, and more urgent as the Paige strained against the tons of dead mass and slowly, very slowly, they began to move. Once the initial inertia had been overcome, the engines ceased their bellowing and dropped to a more normal pitch. Zaru called off the numbers as they slowly picked up speed. "Zero-point-one- five... zero-point-one-nine-five... " Regina grabbed for her coffee cup and noticed that the rest of the bridge crew had done the same. "Zero-point-two-zero... zero-point-two-four..." He didn't need to announce when they reached one-quarter impulse. The Paige announced it herself with the usual vibration. Zaru resumed the count. "Zero-point-three-two... zero-point-four-one. Coming about to heading zero-two-zero, sir. Speed coming up. Zero-point-six-five... zero-point-seven-seven... zero-point-nine-five... full impulse, sir. She's handling well."
"Go to warp when ready."
"Aye, sir. Warp one in three... two... one... now." The stars on the main screen blurred as the Paige shifted over to her warp engines. "Warp one-point-three... one-point-seven-eight... warp two-point-four " The ship was picking up speed rapidly now. "Warp three... warp four... warp six... " Regina held her breath. The most modern tow vessels were not safe past warp six when fully loaded and the ancient Paige was certainly not among them. She stole a glance round the bridge. Nobody seemed the least bit bothered that the Paige was still picking up speed. "Warp seven-point-three-five... warp eight, sir."
Harry finished off his coffee and noticed her expression. "You're thinking that regulation max tow speed is warp six, right?"
Regina felt herself blush. "Yes, sir."
He chuckled. "The Paige is built to handle warp eight under load. She was towing at warp eight back when every other vessel in Starfleet could only do warp four with the same load. She can still haul more, faster, than anything else in the fleet. That's why we haven't seen a complete refit in almost seventy years. They can't afford to take her out of service long enough."
"If that's the case, why haven't they built more of these?"
"You had a good look at her from the outside. They won't build more because she's 'funny looking'. There are some people high up in Starfleet who wouldn't mind it at all if the Paige were to get swallowed by a black hole right after we drop our cargo off. They keep her going with spot repairs because she's just too useful to scrap." The bridge doors slid open to reveal some of the second shift arriving. Harry stretched and yawned. "Good job, everyone." He yielded his seat to his replacement and headed out the door.
Lying on her bed following dinner, Regina was reflecting over the past few days. She still didn't know who had assigned her to this monstrosity of a ship and she wasn't any further along in discovering their identity. No matter, she would find a way off the thing no matter how long it took, and then the person responsible for putting her here and interrupting her career would pay for the mistake.
The ship was a disgrace. The bridge functioned well enough, but outside of that discipline was so lax that she wasn't surprised the entire crew seemed to feel they could bend the rules when and where they chose. Well, what could you expect with the Captain setting the example. The man seemed to take actual *pride* in the fact that his uniform was horribly out of date. She snorted. 'Harry' was smugly secure in his position and the ability of his ship. Granted it was a masterful exhibition of docking, but big deal, his motorized barge could haul a lot. One of these days, things wouldn't happen quite the way he expected and she wanted to see his ego deflate when it did.
She was getting hot under the collar, not a state very conducive to sleep. Klaus had told her there was a lounge with a view on this thing just off the recdeck on the other side of the hanger bay. Some time spent contemplating the serene universe around the ship would lull her into relaxation. She pulled on her shoes and headed in the direction of the recdeck.
She found her way to there without getting lost. A few crewmembers were in evidence, some engaged in board or card games, some involved in individual pursuits. She approached one of the card players when it appeared that the play had paused. "Excuse me. Which way is the lounge?" The woman pointed to a pair of doors. "Go through the right one."
Regina walked over and opened the indicated portal. She caught her breath at the sight. The wall opposite her was filled with the view of space. She could feel the tension begin to leave her and she walked through the door. Once inside, she scanned the room. To her right, Jo was sitting in a comfortable chair, reading. The wall to her left caught her attention. It was covered in plaques and she drifted over to study them. She began reading with the one on the top left.
U.S.S. Mitchell Paige ~ NCC-1942
Named in honor of Platoon Sgt. Mitchell Paige of the United States Marines who, along with his platoon, defended the ridge just south of Henderson Field on the island of Guadalcanal, Earth on the night of October 25th, 1942 to prevent the American base from being overrun by a vastly superior number of enemy soldiers. When the enemy broke through the line directly in front of his position, P/Sgt.Paige, commanding a machine gun section with fearless determination, continued to direct the fire of his gunners until all his men were either killed or wounded. Alone, against the deadly hail of Japanese shells, he fought with his gun and when it was destroyed, took over another, moving from gun to gun, never ceasing his withering fire.
At dawn on October 26th, battalion officers found P/Sgt. Paige sitting upright behind his 30-caliber Browning on a hill where the bodies were piled like cordwood, waiting to see what the dawn would bring.
One hill: one Marine.
It is in this spirit of dedication and determination that this ship was launched on Stardate 6062.4
Intrigued, she scanned the next row of plaques. They were unit citations and commendations, all of them. So was the row under that one, and the row below that one. She realized with a start that the entire wall was filled with awards that the ship had been given.
"Pretty impressive, isn't it?" Regina jumped at the voice right behind her. She turned around to find Jo standing there and reading over her shoulder. Jo smiled. "Sorry to startle you."
Regina waved her hand at the wall. "There has to be over sixty awards here. I've never heard of a starship with more than ten. If the Paige has such an outstanding service record why has nobody heard of her?"
Jo's smile slipped a bit and she shot a wry glance at the wall. "Nobody likes to admit that they decorated their tow truck, but the Paige and everyone who has ever served in her have earned every one of those awards with blood, tears, and the sweat of their brows." She looked Regina in the eyes. "This ship may not be sleek and glamorous, but she's a proud ship and she's got a proud crew. Starfleet has none better. Different yes, better no."
Regina stood silently. Jo checked the time and nodded at her. "Good night, Regina." Jo headed out the door as Regina settled herself into a chair by the window. There she stayed, staring out at the blackness, until fatigue drove her back to her quarters.
She rose early the next morning, determined to try to make the replicator yield a uniform a little closer to the one everyone else in Starfleet was wearing these days. Long, fruitless minutes later she was no closer to getting what she wanted and at last donned one that was identical to the uniform she'd worn for the past three days. Since the replicator seemed incapable of producing any kind of rank insignia she removed the pips from the uniform she'd been wearing when she first boarded the Paige and affixed them defiantly to the new collar. She'd earned the right to wear them and she was going to wear them even if nobody else on the ship did. She checked the time while doing her hair. There was still plenty before she was on duty. She had time before breakfast for a visit to Lieutenant Neebish to see about correcting the oversight in the Paige's computer.
Regina paused before entering the ship's central computer area and took a deep breath. She had only met Neebish once and had found being regarded by those compound eyes of his disconcerting. Well, he was a member of Starfleet and she would just have to deal with it. Once in the area, it took her a moment to find him. He was lying on his saddle with his uppermost pair of arms engaged in something in the innards of one of the consoles. He seemed to know she was there without even turning to look and greeted her in his clipped and clicking accent. "Good morning." Regina suddenly realized where the computer's 'voice' had been modeled from.
"Good morning, Lieutenant. I need to speak to you about something." Regina wondered if he would understand about the uniforms. Neebish himself didn't wear one. He simply painted his chitin of his shoulders in his section colors and glued his commbadge to his thorax.
He turned to face her and rose to his full height, inclining his antennae toward her. "What is it that you need to discuss?"
"The uniforms that the replicators are producing are at least ten years out of date. It appears that the program hasn't been upgraded in some time and is badly overdue."
He jerked in a startled fashion. "This is a serious oversight. I will check on it immediately."
"Thank you." She looked around the area. It was crowded with machines and she could identify at least three different styles of computer equipment all humming away in apparent harmony. "This is quite an impressive display of hardware."
"It is indeed. I do not believe that I have had the pleasure of acquainting you with this area."
"I don't believe you did."
"Please allow me to be informative." Neebish closed up the console he had been working on and moved over to one machine that actually had buttons on it. "This is the oldest unit on the ship. It was worked on by Dr. Daystrom, himself." He unfastened one of the top panels. "As you can see he signed the case." He moved across the room to another unit. "This one is part of the generation of equipment that evolved from Dr. Daystrom's original work." Regina felt her eyes starting to glaze. "It is..."
"Excuse me, Lieutenant. I'm on duty in a little while and I still have to eat breakfast."
"Of course. We can continue the tour the next time you stop by."
"Thank you." She hastily departed for the wardroom.
She reported to the bridge after breakfast to begin her shift. Harry was already there, talking to Klaus. They both looked up as she entered. Harry raised his coffee cup in greeting. "Good morning, Your Pips." He smiled at her and took a sip. Good natured chuckles ran around the bridge.
Lips tight, Regina made her way to her station barely glancing at him. "Morning." Once she was settled in her seat, Klaus approached with a coffee offering. "Good morning, Pips...." He grimaced apologetically at the slip. "...er...um...Regina."
She took the cup, glaring at him. He spread his hands in a gesture of peace. "Sorry." Regina nodded, sighed, and turned to check her station over. She had a feeling it was going to be a long shift.
The shift progressed smoothly. Harry reviewed the reports from the second and third shifts. No problems reported and the run was going well. At of the end of the third shift the Paige was one day out from Kalimar, plus or minus three hours, and she was functioning as smoothly as...well...the Mitchell Paige. The Paige's functioning could never be described as silken smooth, but the old girl always took care of them. Harry smiled fondly, then coughed. He could tell he was getting a little short of breath again. Time for another pulmonary sweep and a scolding from Doc. He would take care of it once they were safely in orbit around Kalimar. Regina broke into his train of thought. "Sir. I have a message from the USS Hadrian requesting an ETA."
"Helm. What's our current position?"
"Time to Kalimar at our present speed is 22.3 hours, sir."
"There's your answer, Comm. 22.3 hours."
"Aye, sir." Harry watched as Regina turned to relay the message. Who did she think she was? The arrogant snoot thought she was so far above them that flaunting her rank would make an impression. She certainly knew her way around the various bridge stations, but he wondered just how capable she was in a real emergency. Heaven knows the Paige was sent into enough of them. Two routine science patrols just couldn't give the kind of experience that someone in charge of the Paige needed to get out of a jam. He'd have to keep a close eye on her. Sooner or later, she was going to run into a situation that her high and mighty posturing wasn't going to get her out of. He fervently hoped that he and the Paige weren't there when it happened.
Continued in Part Two
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The Above is a work of fiction. All characters are fictional, any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.
Copyright © Susan & Garry Stahl: June 2001. All rights reserved, re-print only with permission.