Author: Anthony Butler
For new beginnings, which all of us could use
from time to time–no matter how hard they
are to come by.
USS CAPISTRANO OBERTH-CLASS DEEP SPACE EXPLORER
Stardate 51989.4. We have completed our scans of sector
21994, and are currently en route to sector 21995. So far,
there’s nothing unusual to report. Sector 21994 was about as
action packed as the last twenty sectors. Something tells me
if this crew doesn’t see some action soon, they’ll go nuts.
Captain Marion Gray grabbed a cup of coffee out of the
replicator and sat down in the command chair, rubbing her eyes
tiredly as she watched the stars float by on the viewscreen.
Gray blew on the steaming cup before taking a sip,
peering over the steam at the Ensign sitting at ops.
“How was the party last night, Carla?”
Ensign Payne turned around in her chair. “Not very
eventful, sir. Muldoon and Wilkins got really drunk, as usual,
and Parker almost blew out deck four’s primary plasma
“We’re really getting cabin fever, aren’t we?” Gray
asked, leaning back and sipping again from the cup of coffee
“Yes, sir,” Payne said, turning back to her panel. “And,
frankly, the ship’s counselor is not much help.”
Gray nodded. “I’ve heard similar things from the rest
of the crew. You have to remember that Starfleet believes in
giving second chances.”
“But, Captain…really…” Payne said, “What kind of
morons would hire a Vulcan ship’s counselor? And one with a
severe case of manic depression at that?”
“Starfleet morons, Ensign Payne, that’s who,” Gray
said sternly. “Try and remember that.”
“Yes, sir,” Payne said, deciding to let the matter rest.
“Captain, we’re picking something up on the long range
sensors.” Lieutenant Uriel said from tactical. “It’s
“Is it a vessel or a natural space body?” Gray asked,
leaning forward with concern.
“It’s definitlely not naturally occuring,” Uriel replied.
Gray turned to face her officer. “How can you be so
“Well,” Uriel said, gulping. “It’s slowing down.”
“Red Alert,” Captain Gray said, turning back around.
“Recall the remainder of the senior staff.”
Ten minutes later, the remainder of the senior staff,
which was comprised of science officer Hill, Commander Fred
Muldoon, the first officer, and Counselor Telvin.
Commander Muldoon took his seat and stared at the
approaching blip on the viewscreen. “What is it, Captain?”
Captain Gray frowned. “I wish we knew. Payne can’t
identify it as anything in the Federation database.”
“Can we tell if it’s hostile?” Muldoon asked, concerned.
“Well,” Lieutenant Uriel piped up. “It’s armed to the
teeth with antiproton cannons and plasma torpedoes. And
they’re all aimed at us.”
Gray raised an eyebrow. “Sounds pretty darn hostile
to me. Arm our weapons, Mr. Uriel. And try to hail them.”
“Affirmative,” Uriel replied, going to work at his panel.
“The vessel is moving to intercept us, Captain.” Ensign
Payne reported. “It will be within weapons range in one
“No response to our hails, Captain,” Uriel reported.
“We should get the hell out of here,” Muldoon said.
“Do you have anything to add to this?” Captain Gray
asked, turning her command chair to face Conselor Telvin.
Rather obese for a Vulcan, Telvin shifted uncomfortably in
his chair. “I wish I knew. I’m very scared, Captain. We
could all die!”
“You’re a Vulcan, for goodness sake,” Gray said
incredulously. “Start acting like one. You’re supposed to be
“Tell that to my hands, sir,” Telvin said, holding up his
hands. “Look at them, they’re shaking.”
Gray just rolled her eyes, turning her chair to face
forward. “Mr. Uriel, send to Starfleet, priority channel:
Contact made with new lifeform, well armed, may be hostile.
“Aye, sir,” the Bajoran replied, entering the proper commands.
“Captain…” Ensign Payne said, panic in her eyes. “The
vessel is within weapons range and closing fast.”
“Open a channel,” Gray said urgently.
“Open,” Uriel reported.
“This is Captain Marion Gray of the Federation Starship
Capistrano. We are a peaceful vessel on a mission of
exploration. Please stand down your weapons and identify
Uriel looked down at his panel. “We’re getting a
response, Captain. Audio only.”
“On speakers,” Gray commanded.
“Did you sssssssay Federation?” The voice asked. The
raspy, almost effeminate sound of the voice made Captain
“Y-yes, that’s correct,” Gray said nervously. “Why,
have you heard of us?”
“You could ssssssay that,” the voice said angrily.
“Sir, they’re firing!” Uriel shouted.
“Evasive maneuvers!” Gray replied, as suddenly the
ship was pounded by the other vessel’s antiproton cannons.
“Shields down to forty percent,” Uriel replied, holding
onto his station as the vessel shook. “Hull damage on deck
“Return fire, all weapons,” Gray replied, as the ship
was pounded again.
“Our shields are down,” Uriel said. “Hull breaches on
decks six and ten.”
“I don’t want to die!” Counselor Telvin said suddenly,
jumping to his feet and running off the bridge.
“Counselor! Come back–oh, why bother,” Gray said,
jumping to her feet and struggling over to the helm console.
“Ensign Wilkins, can you get us out of here?”
“No sir,” Wilkins replied, holding onto his station. “We
can’t go to warp and I can’t even divert enough power for
“Damn,” Gray said, looking up at the massive, hawklike
vessel as it loomed over the Capistrano. She quickly tapped
her comm badge “This is the captain to all hands, abandon
The bridge crew scrambled for the turbolifts, not waiting
to be told a second time and not even following proper
Starfleet evacuation protocol.
Ensign Payne stepped into the turbolift, turning back
momentarily to watch the huge vessel on the screen fire another
The blast tore through the Capistrano’s engineering hull
immediately, sending the saucer section spiralling through
space like a huge frisbee. Seconds later, another blast
destroyed the saucer section.
And that quickly, the entire Starship Capistrano was
destroyed by this powerful new foe.
All hands were killed.
Well, all but one.
WAYSTATION STARDATE 51991.6
Commander Lisa Beck tied her robe quickly around her
waist as she stepped out of the turbolift and onto the ops
“This better be good, Commander,” she said angrily,
folding her arms and looking over Lt. Commander Walter Morales’s
shoulder. “You woke me up from a wonderful dream.”
“See for yourself, Commander,” Morales said, hitting a
button on his docking panel.
Beck looked up at the viewscreen, which suddenly
displayed a severely damaged vessel.
“It’s Nebula-class,” Beck said thoughtfully. “We don’t
have any Nebula-class vessels in the area.”
“We sure don’t,” Morales agreed.
“Which means…” Beck said tiredly.
“You won’t believe it when you see it, Commander,” Lt.
Commander Morales said, hitting another button on his panel,
which zoomed in on the top of the vessel’s saucer section.
Beck gasped as she followed the huge, black gash that
scarred the vessel’s saucer section. Whatever attacked this
ship was pretty damn…
And that’s when her eyes hit upon the call letters of the
ship. “NCC-83835,” Morales said, now behind Beck as she
approached the viewscreen. “USS Aerostar.”
“You’re right, Commander,” Beck said incredulously. “I
don’t believe it.”
“Should we contact Starfleet?” Morales asked.
Beck turned around, shrugging. “Might as well.”
FEDERATION HEADQUARTERS PARIS, FRANCE
“So, in conclusion, the Explorer project is a dream given
form,” Admiral Frank McGrath said, smiling broadly as he
addressed the Federation council. “And the dream is closer at
hand than you might think. The ship is almost finished. All I
need now is a crew.”
“Frankly, Admiral McGrath,” President Jaresh-Inyo said slowly,
turning his back to the giant viewscreen at the front of the
council chambers and folding his hands on top of his desk. “I
fail to see the necessity for such a project. Our new ship can
be put to much better uses than what you propose. We are
always in need of a new warship to guard the Federation
“Perhaps,” McGrath said, approaching Inyo’s desk. “But sir,
with all due respect, we have enough warships. What we need is
a ship of discovery, of exploration. We need to seek out new
life, new civilizations.”
At the rear of the chambers, Admiral John Phillips bent
over and whispered to the woman sitting next to him. “He’s
finally lost it, hasn’t he?”
“Perhaps,” Admiral Mora Neilson replied.
“The Explorer will give us the greatest weapon we could
add to our arsenal, Mister President,” McGrath said, turning back
to face the council. “Knowledge.”
“I thought our greatest weapon was the tri-cobalt
device,” Inyo said, rubbing his chin.
“I have a question,” one of the councilmembers said,
raising his hand. “Where exactly do you plan on getting your
crew? You’ll need experienced officers, won’t you?”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” McGrath admitted.
“Very well, Admiral,” Inyo said, standing up and
replacing McGrath at the podium as he stepped aside. “Find your
crew. Meanwhile, we will put off our decision until the
completion of the new starship.”
Admiral McGrath shook the President’s hand and made his way
out of the council chambers, suddenly feeling very uneasy about
the project he had been preparing for ever since he had heard of
the construction of the new, upgraded Galaxy-class starship.
The council member did have a point. What kind of crew
would actually be able to survive the ravages of unfamiliar
space? None he knew of.
“Damn,” Commander David Conway said, pounding the
tactical railing in frustration. “You w-w-w-win again, sir.”
“Never challenge me at ‘rock, scissors, paper,’ C-c-c-c-
commander. I’ll always win,” Captain Andy Baxter said,
patting Conway on the back. “But it was a nice t-t-t-t-try.”
“Care to play m-m-m-me?” Lt. Tilleran asked, as she
huddled underneath the science console.
“Not on your l-l-l-l-life,” Baxter stammered, as lights
suddenly began to flicker on all over the bridge, casting a
dim glow over the room.
“It’s about damn t-t-t-time,” Commander Conway said, watching
as the bridge’s malfuncioning panels fizzled on.
The comm system buzzed to life: “Larkin to bridge. The
primary power conduit was fatally damaged. I was, however,
able to repair the battery backups. They should sufficiently
handle our power needs for a short time.”
Baxter tapped his comm badge as he walked around to the
front of the bridge, where Peterman was curled in his command
chair. “That’s g-g-g-g-great news, Larkin. I can feel it
getting w-w-w-w-warmer already.”
“Indeed. Larkin out.”
“When did you say the r-rescue party was coming?”
Counselor Peterman asked, as Captain Baxter walked back down to
the front of the bridge where she sat huddled in the command
“Well,” Baxter said, sitting down next to her, “Commander
Morales said that Starfleet would dispatch its nearest vessel.”
“Which means we could be waiting anywhere between an hour
and a day,” Commander Richards said unhappily, cuddling up to
Dr. Browning near the engineering console.
“I wish you would stop complaining, Commander,” J’hana
said, shifting uncomfortably under the weight of the beam that
“Try not to move J’hana,” Browning cautioned. “Remember,
you have a fractured vertebrae and four broken ribs.”
J’hana huffed in annoyance. “Please. It is a minor
injury. If Lt. Larkin had been kind enough to pull the beam
off of me before gallivanting down to Engineering to restore
power, I would be helping her repair the ship’s systems right
“Can we just try to get along?” Captain Baxter said,
pulling Peterman closer to him. “We don’t know how much longer
we’ll be here, so we should start getting comfortable.”
“What about the turbolifts?” Ford asked. “They should be
operable again. We could at least spread out some.”
“When Larkin took the Jeffries’ tube down to
Engineering, she said that there were large pockets of
radiation,” Commander Conway said. “It’s not worth risking
any lives just to make sure our possessions are still intact.”
“Oh, I’d never thought of that,” Peterman said worriedly.
“What about my babies? Charlie, and the others? They could be
“I’m sure they’re fine,” Baxter said reassuringly. “But
just in case, I’ll have Lt. Larkin look for them.”
“Thanks,” Peterman said, leaning back against Baxter’s
“Well, I don’t know about the rest of you guys,” Baxter
said with a sigh, “but I could sure go for a nice stiff dr-“
Suddenly the tactical console beeped threateningly.
Commander Conway stepped over J’hana’s crippled body and
looked over the tactical readings. “Captain, our scanners are
barely functioning, but the proximity sensors are picking up
something approaching us.”
“Well, this could be good or bad,” Peterman said.
“They’re scanning us,” Conway said. “What should we do?”
“What can we do? We’re dead in space with only minimal
battery power,” Baxter replied.
“We could go outside and throw rocks at them,” Lt.
Commander Conway walked over to the supply closet and
pulled out a phaser. “Well, whoever they are, I’m going to be
ready to blast them to atoms if neccessary.”
Baxter held Peterman close. “Just make sure your trigger
finger isn’t too damn itchy. This could be our rescue party
for all we know.”
“Or they could be Yridian pirates,” J’hana suggested.
“Always the optimist,” Browning sighed.
Suddenly five figures materialized at the center of the
Conway immediately aimed his phaser at the group.
“Don’t shoot!” Commander Travis Dillon cried, shielding his
face with his hands. “We’re Starfleet officers! From the
Another member of the away team, Lt. Patricia Hawkins, Chief
of Security, had her phaser out in a flash, trained on Conway.
The Secondprize’s science officer, Lieutenant Commander Jaroch,
just shook his head in disgust at Dillon as Dr. Beth Aldridge
and Commander Scott Baird, the Secondprize’s chief engineer,
spread out to survey the damage.
“Oh, boy, it’s the cavalry!” Ensign Ford said
sarcastically, picking himself up and walking over to greet the
away team. “My, Lt. Hawkins, you’ve filled out nicely in the
“Can it, Ensign,” Dillon said.
“I can handle this one,” Hawkins said, turning her weapon
on Ford and firing.
“A woman after my own heart,” Conway said, gently putting
his phaser down. “You guys took long enough to get here.
We’ve been dead in space for over an hour, you know.”
Lt. Commander Jaroch pulled out his tricorder and began
scanning the bridge. “You are lucky that we arrived at all.
We just happened to be on our way here to study the strange
behavior of the Bermuda Expanse.”
“What kind of behavior?” Baxter asked.
“It disappeared. Approximately one hour ago,” Jaroch said.
“That’s around the time we got back here,” Baxter said,
rubbing his chin.
“Yes, about that,” Dillon said, looking around. “Could
you tell us exactly how you got back from the Delta Quadrant?”
“All in good time, Commander. Right now, we’ve got
injured people for you to see to, and our ship is in pretty bad
shape,” Baxter replied.
Dr. Aldridge looked up from Lt. J’hana as she scanned the
Andorian with her medical tricorder. “This one took the worst
of it with a broken back. We need to get her back to sickbay
“Nonsense,” J’hana grunted. “It’s only a minor flesh
“The ship’s f**ked,” Commander Baird said, looking to
Dillon. “It’ll have to be towed.”
“Okay,” Dillon said, glaring down at Baxter. “Let’s get
you guys back to the Secondprize.”
“Did you hear the news?” Lt. Megan Hartley asked,
dangling over the railing around the warp core.
Larkin looked up from the power conduit she was
repairing three levels down. “What news are you referring to?”
“The Secondprize just got here. They’re evacuating
everyone from the ship. I think it’s going to be towed or
“Then it would seem my work here was for nothing,”
Larkin said, grabbing her tools and walking over to the lift
that would take her up to Engineering’s main level.
Hartley met Larkin at the main level with a look of
disbelief. “Don’t you have any feelings about that? I mean,
the ship is wrecked; we’re leaving it, probably for good, and
we’re very likely going to be reassigned. Isn’t that sad?”
“I would not know.” The android proceeded to put her
Hartley shrugged. “I just thought that after your
encounter with the Borg, and with your separation from your
newly found ‘father’, you’d gain some new insight on life.”
“I have indeed gained many insights,” Larkin said as
she worked. “But my experiences in the last weeks have not
changed the fundamental truth of my programming. I have no
“Maybe you could duplicate the chip that Mr. Data has,”
Hartley suggested, following Larkin down the corridor leading
away from Engineering.
“You do not understand, Lieutenant. I have no feelings,
nor do I wish to have any feelings, or any other human traits.”
“Then what do you want?” Hartley asked. “Everyone wants
Larkin stopped again. “Want? I do not know. I had
not considered the possibility of us ever returning to this
quadrant. I suppose a whole new variety of choices are open to
me. Perhaps even my own command. Of course, as an android, I
am devoid of ambition. Still, it may be interesting to consider
my new options.”
“I know what I’m going to do,” Hartley said, as they
entered the now functioning turbolift. “Deck Nine.”
“And what is that?” Larkin asked.
“I have a month of leave saved up. I’m going to Corsica
and spending the entire time working on my tan.”
“Hmm. It sounds as if you are devoid of ambition as
“Almost ready?” Baxter asked, sticking his head into
Counselor Peterman’s quarters.
Peterman was slumped in her couch, clutching the huge,
white teddy bear that Baxter had replicated for her for her
birthday. Charlie and Fritz were snuggled next to her, asleep.
“I guess,” Peterman said quietly.
Baxter carefully picked Fritz up and set him on the
floor. The almost fully grown kitten immediately woke up and
began to hiss and scratch at Baxter’s hand.
“Damn cat,” Baxter said, momentarily forgetting that he
was glad to see Peterman’s pets had come to no harm. He
composed himself and turned to Peterman. “What’s wrong,
“I don’t know,” Peterman said, sadly. “All my pets are
fine; but, when I got down here, I realized how screwed up the
last couple weeks have been. And then I realized how screwed up
the last year has been. And then I realized that they’re
probably going to scrap the Aerostar and reassign us all. And
then I realized…I realized that I would probably never see
The Counselor burst out crying and buried her face in
Baxter’s shoulder. “And I don’t want that to happen.”
Baxter kissed Peterman’s head and hugged her tightly.
“Don’t worry…that won’t happen. I’ll make sure of that.
Whichever ship they put me on next, it’s bound to need a
“Are you sure? They’re in less and less demand lately,”
Peterman sniffled, looking up.
Baxter leaned down and kissed her. “I’m positive.”
Peterman smiled. “Good. In that case, I’ve got eight
suitcases full of stuff in there for you to haul down to cargo
Baxter glanced into Peterman’s bedroom, saw the giant
Suitcases, and let out a brief sigh. “That’s my Kelly.”
“Oh, hello Commander,” Lt. Larkin said, letting Lt.
Commander Richards into her quarters. “I did not expect to
see you here.”
“Well, Janice was helping Dr. Aldridge move some
of our injured out of sickbay, and I’m already all packed up.
I just thought I’d come down here and, um…”
“Is something on your mind, Commander?” Larkin asked,
as she placed all of her penguin dolls carefully into a large
“Well, yes,” Richards replied, sitting down on
Larkin’s sofa. “Isn’t it a little cold in here? I thought
life support was back up…”
“This temperature reflects that of the penguin habitats
of the arctic, Commander,” Larkin replied. “As do the walls
Richards looked around, then looked down at the
slippery area at the center of the room, feeling relieved that
he hadn’t stepped anywhere near there. The walls and the
slippery area were painted as a giant, icy mural, which, at
least from an artistic standpoint, Richards had to
“Nice mural,” Richards said.
“Thank you,” Larkin replied. “I believe the walls are
an accurate representation of ice.”
Richards picked up a painting, again, of ice. “Maybe
you could get a little more creative, though. I mean, all of
these pieces are either of penguins, or ice, or sometimes,
penguins on ice. Maybe you should expand your horizons.”
“To what end?” Larkin asked.
“I don’t know,” Richards said. “But the fun is in
“Fun?” Larkin asked.
“Yes, the reason you create is because its fun, right?”
“I create to explore the many facets of penguinkind. I
am not capable of having fun.”
“Oh,” Richards said, looking down.
“Is there something else I could help you with,
Commander?” Larkin asked.
“No, I mean yes. I mean, well, I don’t know,” Richards
said. “I’ve just been thinking. I mean, ever since I found
out that I was your…um, mother, or whatever, I’ve had trouble
figuring out how I should act around you. I mean, I did create
the brain you have. That makes me an inextricable part of your
“Would you like the brain back?” Larkin asked calmly.
“No, no!” Richards said. “I just…well, wanted you to
know, that if you ever wanted to talk, I’m here.” The engineer
felt like that might have opened up a huge Pandora’s box, since
Larkin was known as one of the most talkative crewmembers aboard
“I will keep that in mind, Commander,” Larkin said, as
she continued packing.
“Thanks, Lieutenant. And call me Chris,” Richards
said, standing up to leave.
“In that case, thank you for stopping by, Chris,” Larkin
“Don’t mention it,” Richards replied, leaving quickly.
Richards idly wondered whether all mothers felt this
awkward at first.
Mirk slung his duffel bag onto the bar and walked behind
it, grabbing a bottle of Tellarite scotch and pouring himself a
He sipped at it quietly, surveying the overturned tables,
smashed glasses, and tipped over stools. The Starlight Lounge
was as much of a disaster area of the rest of the ship.
It wasn’t very comforting to the Maloxian that the
only thing he had left near to him was completely wrecked.
“Hello?” Lt. Hartley asked, pushing past the broken doors
and peeking into the dimly lit lounge.
“We’re closed,” Mirk said solemnly, throwing some bottles
into a box and sitting it on top of the bar.
Hartley walked up to the bar, picked up a stool, and sat
down on it. “I’ll have a Bolian fizz.”
“I said we’re closed,” Mirk said.
Hartley looked around. “Really? I didn’t notice.”
“What’s wrong with you?” The transporter chief asked,
grabbing the bottle of Aldebran whiskey from Mirk’s box and
pouring some in a glass.
Mirk glared at her as she drank. “Well, I’m permanantly
separated from everyone I’ve ever cared about and the gods I
used to worship are gone forever. Other than that, I’m just
“Gee, far away from home. I can’t imagine what that must
be like,” Hartley said sarcastically.
“Well, you’re home now, be thankful,” Mirk said, walking
around the bar and seeing if he could salvage any of the
decorations he had put up when he took over the bar.
“I don’t know what to tell you, Mirk. But, from what I
hear, the Directors wanted you to come here. They said it was
part of your destiny.”
“I don’t know anything about my destiny anymore. I used
to think I knew exactly what I was doing. But not anymore.”
Hartley set the bottle down and turned around to watch
Mirk take down the charicatures that Richards had done of the
command crew, and the pictures of different Starlight Lounge
events, such as the “Drunken Limbo” contest, and the “Klingon
Country Line Dancing” lessons.
“C’mon, Mirk, I’m sure we’ll be assigned to a new ship.
And that new ship will probably need a bartender.”
Mirk thought about that. “Then that’s all I’ll do?
Shlep drinks the rest of my life? Is that my great destiny?”
“Who knows?” Hartley asked. “But it’ll be a great way of
finding out. And besides, I don’t think the crew would be the
same without you.”
Mirk turned over one of the chairs and sat down. “You
think I belong with these people? The Federations that I
taunted and teased into following me to the Delta Quadrant less
than a year ago? The Federations whose friends I let the
Flarn destroy? The Federations who, months ago, my people
swore to destroy? Those people?”
“As one of those people,” Hartley said, placing a hand on
Mirk’s shoulder. “I’d have to say yes.”
Captain Baxter hurriedly left his readyroom, loaded down
with his model of the Secondprize, as well as the several packs
of cards he had replicated, his Dallas Cowboys game ball, and
several padds. He was on his way up to the turbolift to meet
Counselor Peterman in cargo bay five for transport to the
Secondprize, when he noticed Commander Conway sitting in the
“What are you still doing here, Commander?” Baxter asked,
Conway sighed. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m getting
sentimental in my old age.”
“Don’t count on it, Conway,” Baxter said. “You’re just
trying to get one last chance to sit in the big chair.”
“It is comfortable, Captain,” Conway said, standing up
and taking one last look at the destroyed viewscreen.
“Damn right it is. Now come on, we’re going to be late,”
Baxter said, reaching over to hit the turbolift’s call button.
Conway made his way up to the turbolift, taking one last
look at the dedication plaque, reading the line at the bottom
one more time:
“We’re on a road to nowhere, come on inside. Takin’ that ride
to nowhere, we’ll take that ride…”
“Who said that?” Conway asked, joining Baxter in the
“The quote on the plaque?” Baxter asked.
“Melville, I think. Or maybe Keats.”
Stardate 51992.1. We have completed transfer of all
personnel from the starship Aerostar. A tug ship from
Waystation should be here within the hour to take the Aerostar
to a starbase, where she will be stripped down and
eventually sent off to the nearest scrapyard. Meanwhile, we’re
taking the Aerostar’s crew back to Earth, where I’m sure their
story will spark a rebirth of tabloid journalism.
“Have you read this?” Captain Alexander Rydell asked, looking
at Captain Baxter’s report.
Commander Dillon nodded, sitting down in the chair
opposite Rydell’s desk. “I certainly did. It’s pretty
amazing, if you ask me.”
“All of it.”
Rydell nodded. “I especially like the part about the
Federation Marine who stowed away and tried to lure the Borg
back to the Delta Quadrant.”
“Personally, Captain, I like the part about the Romulan
Tal Shiar agent. The fact that he could successfully
infiltrate a Federation vessel for that long is astounding.”
“Not when you consider who’s in command, Commander. By
the way, is that guy still in the brig?”
“T’Phil? Yes, sir. Luckily there were independent power
backups in the brig that kept the security field intact. He
might have escaped, otherwise.”
Rydell scrolled through the report, nodding. “I guess
the crew of the Aerostar is lucky all the way around.”
Rydell put the padd down and looked up at Dillon. “Have
you told Baxter the truth yet?”
“You mean about their mission? No, sir, I thought I’d
Rydell stood up. “Fine. But you’re coming with me.”
Dillon gulped. “Do I have to?”
“Yes,” Rydell said, leading Dillon out of his readyroom.
“It’s just not the same,” Captain Baxter said, staring
down at his drink and looking around Seven Backward.
Commander Conway downed a shot of whiskey and pounded his
glass on the table. “You can say that again, sir. No
atmosphere at all.”
Trinian, Seven Backward’s hostess, refilled Conway’s
shotglass and smiled. “I’ll try not to take offense to that,
Conway looked up, narrowing his eyes. “Sorry.”
Counselor Peterman nursed her pink squirrel quietly,
looking up. “I think it’s very nice, Miss Trinian.”
“It’s just Trinian,” Trinian said, turning around and
heading back to the bar.
“Let’s face it,” Commander Richards said, sipping at
his beer. “We miss Mirk.”
“I miss his cheese cake,” Dr. Browning said woefully as she
drank her hot chocolate.
“Has anyone heard anything about J’hana?” Conway asked,
trying to change the subject.
“Dr. Aldridge said she’s going to be fine,” Dr. Browning said.
“She’ll be up and around by the time we get back to Earth.”
“Back to Earth,” Peterman repeated. “It almost seems
“I told you I’d do it,” Baxter said, smiling.
Commander Conway grunted. “Don’t be so humble about it,
“Okay,” Baxter said, grinning as he finished his beer.
“You guys helped a little too.”
“Do you think we should go over there?” Counselor Claire
Webber asked, watching as the crew from the Aerostar talked.
Lt. Commander Jaroch worked quietly on a padd as the two sat
at the bar. He was obviously not paying much attention.
“Hmmm,” he said, not moving his eyes from the padd.
“It wouldn’t hurt,” Trinian said. “They’re probably
feeling a little wierd about being back in the Alpha Quadrant
Webber smiled. “I bet they are. Come on, Jaroch. We should
go over there.”
“Why?” Jaroch said as he worked.
“Because, they need to see a bright, happy face. They
need hugs and care. They need love.”
“I do not believe I have any love to give at the moment,”
Jaroch said, momentarily looking up from his padd. “Although I
will keep you posted if any becomes available.”
“C’mon,” Webber said, grabbing Jaroch’s arm and pulling him
out of his seat.
“No,” Jaroch said firmly, holding on to the bar.
Lieutenant Larkin looked around Seven Backward,
recognizing several familiar faces from the Secondprize,
including Trinian, Lt. Commander Jaroch, and Counselor Webber. As
the android walked by, she nodded briefly at Jaroch and Webber, who
seemed to be involved in some sort of struggle.
Larkin continued to the opposite end of Seven Backward,
approaching the table where Baxter and some of the other senior
officers from the Aerostar were gathered.
“I have retured from the Aerostar, Captain,” Larkin
said firmly, standing behind Baxter’s seat.
“Well, don’t just stand there. Pull up a chair,” Baxter
said heartily, indicating the chair opposite Commander Conway.
“Very well,” Larkin said, sitting down and folding her
hands neatly on the table. “A preliminary Engineering survey
indicates a systemwide failure of the power distribution net.
However, Commander Baird has stabilized main power for the
duration of the trip back to Waystation.”
“And after that?” Conway asked.
“I don’t know,” Baxter said. “I haven’t talked to
Starfleet yet. I assume they’ll have her decommissioned and
“Sad end for a great ship,” Conway said, just as a waiter
came up and refilled everyones drinks.
“Life goes on,” Baxter said. “Anything else,
“Waystation has dispatched a tug ship to retrieve the
Aerostar. As for the the crew, I understand that Captain
Rydell’s orders are to bring us all back to Earth immediately.”
“Guess I’ll have to talk to him pretty soon,” Baxter
“What’s going to happen to us?” Dr. Browning asked. “Are we
going to be kept together or sent off on different
“In these cases,” Larkin said, “Starfleet rarely
assigns an entire crew to a new vessel.”
“Then that’s it,” Richards said. “We’re all going our
“I’ll try not to cry too hard,” Conway muttered.
“Well, come what may,” Baxter said, smiling and raising
his glass, “I’d just like to make a toast to the finest crew
Starfleet ever sent to the Delta Quadrant.”
“Here, here,” Peterman said happily, as the group clanged
their glasses together.
“Excuse me,” a woman said politely, approaching the table
Baxter and his officers were seated at. “My name is Claire
Webber, and I’m the Secondprize’s Ship’s Counselor. I’d just
like to congratulate you on your triumphant return to this
quadrant. What stories you must have to tell!”
Baxter looked up at the woman, noting her tie-dyed
Starfleet uniform. Obviously, she was some sort of wierdo.
“Yep. That’s very thoughtful of you, Counselor.”
Counselor Peterman smiled up at Webber. “What a pleasure
it is to meet you. My name is Kelly Peterman. I am–I was
–the Aerostar’s Ship’s Counselor.”
“Is that so?” Webber asked. “Keeping everyone together on
a voyage like yours must have been quite a chore.”
“Well…” Peterman said.
“Can I leave now?” Commander Jaroch asked from behind Webber.
“No,” Webber said with teeth clenched. “You will say ‘hi’
and be nice to these people.”
“Okay, fine,” Jaroch said, stepping out from behind the
Counselor. “I’m Commander Jaroch, the science officer. Hi.”
“We’ve met,” Baxter said, glaring up at Jaroch. The Yynsian
wasn’t too nice a few months back when Baxter’s mind had been
combined with Commander Dillon’s.
“Charmed,” Conway said blandly.
“I hear you’re the one that gave the Captain his
assignment,” Dr. Browning said, trying to break the tension.
“I assure you, I merely briefed the Captain. It was
Captain Rydell and Commander Dillon who actually…”
“Yeah, what was Starfleet thinking anyway?” Conway asked.
“Do you know how many Federation ships alone were lost in the
Bermuda Expanse before we were sent in there?”
“Dozens,” Richards chimed in.
“So what gives?” Baxter asked. “Why did Starfleet send
us on that mission?”
“Do you really wish to know?” Jaroch said, bending down and
staring Baxter in the eye, an unsettling smirk spreading across
his face. “They sent you to die. They were hoping you and
your crew of abject failures and incompetants would be lost out
there in the Bermuda Expanse…forever. And so were we.”
“Where are they?” Captain Rydell said, as he and Dillon
entered Seven Backward.
“If you’re talking about the people from the Aerostar,”
Trinian said tiredly, leaning against the bar, “they’re right
She pointed towards the corner of the bar where Baxter
and the other senior officers sat, and where Jaroch could be
plainly seen bending down and staring mockingly into Baxter’s
“…They were hoping you’d be lost out there in the
Bermuda Expanse,” Jaroch said, smiling. “And so where we.”
“Uh oh,” Dillon said, following Rydell quickly to the
other side of the bar. “Looks like Jaroch beat us to the punch.”
“Why you little…” Baxter growled, jumping to his feet
and cold-cocking Jaroch right in the jaw.
The Yynsian science officer was sent reeling backwards
into the table behind him.
“Oh, dear,” Dr. Browning said, peering over the table at the
Counselor Webber looked down fearfully at Jaroch, slowly
moving backwards. “That wasn’t happy at all, Captain.”
“I would tend to agree with Counselor Webber,” Larkin
said. “That was quite unwise.”
“Um…sorry, Jaroch,” Baxter said, bending over and looking
down at Jaroch.
The Yynsian shook his head, grunting angrily, his eyes
“You…should not have…done…that,” he growled.
“Uh-oh,” Baxter said, as Jaroch pulled the Captain’s legs out
from under him, body slamming Baxter before he could react.
“Beware the wrath of the mighty J’ter!” he shouted,
pummeling Baxter with his fists.
Richards and Conway immediately came to Baxter’s aid,
trying to pull the crazed Yynsian off of him.
“Stop beating up my boyfriend!” Peterman cried, dumping
the remainder of her pink squirrel into Jaroch’s face.
“What the heck is happening?” Dr. Browning asked in
“Yynsians have a peculiar connection to past lives,
Doctor. Occasionally, when subjected to violent stimuli, they
regress,” Larkin explained.
“Oh,” Browning said, watching as Baxter was beaten severely.
“Shouldn’t you help him?”
Larkin peered down at the brawl, which had now
encompassed Richards and Conway as well.
“It seems they are doing quite well without me, Doctor.”
Captain Rydell quickly slapped his comm badge. “Rydell
to security. I need a team in Seven Backward on the double.”
When had things started going so wrong?
When we met up with the Aerostar, that’s when, he thought
“Break it up, break it up!” Commander Dillon shouted,
trying to pull Baxter and Jaroch apart.
“I have been waiting for this for a long time, puny
weakling!” Jaroch/J’ter shouted, as he pounded Baxter against the
table he had been sitting at moments ago.
“Me too,” Baxter croaked. “So far it’s not exactly all
I’d hoped it’d be.”
“Hey, watch it!” Commander Conway said, as Dillon tried
to break up the fight. Conway gave the Secondprize’s First
Officer a shove, who in turn shoved Conway back, until both of
them dropped to the floor in a no-holds-barred flurry of fists.
“At ease, Commander Jaroch!” Rydell shouted, moving into the
fray. “Both of you, start acting like men about this!”
“We are acting like men, you pantywaist,” Jaroch/J’ter
growled as he pummeled Baxter.
“I’d just love to thank you for sending me and our crew
to our deaths, Captain…” Baxter choked out. “But first I
have to get this crazy bastard off me!”
Before Rydell could respond, a chair flew up into his
face and knocked him backwards.
Lt. Patricia Hawkins, Chief of Security and Chief Tactical
Officer for the Secondprize, gasped as she entered Seven
The entire room had descended into chaos, reminiscent of
old fashioned bar room brawls of the Ancient West.
“What the hell is going on?” Hawkins shouted to Trinian,
as the Hostess smashed a bottle of Bolian Brandy over one of
the combatants heads.
“I believe we’re having a rumble. Secondprize versus
Aerostar,” Trinian said, as Hawkins pushed through the crowd.
“Break it up!” Hawkins cried, pushing towards the back of
the room in a vain attempt to find the center of the brawl.
Suddenly Counselor Webber sailed by her, flying face first
into a giant ikoberry tort that Ensign Carpel had been enjoying a
few minutes earlier.
Counselor Peterman leapt past Hawkins, grabbing the back
of Webber’s uniform and pulling her back, then plunging her back
into the tort. “Eat up, you tie-died freak!”
As the two Counselors proceeded to roll onto the floor in
a flurry of hair pulling and biting, Hawkins continued on, to
find Commander Dillon pinned to the floor in a Full Nelson, at
the mercy of the Aerostar’s first officer.
“Say mercy!” Commander Conway cried, yanking back on
Dillon’s arms. “Say it, dork!”
“Never!” Dillon returned. “Someone save me!”
“Get off!” Hawkins cried, kicking at Conway. But it was
no use. Hawkins finally grabbed Conway by the scruff of his
neck and yanked him off Dillon. “Find someone else to ruff up
“Watch out!” Dillon called out, just in time for Hawkins
to see Conway come rushing back, this time wielding one of
Seven Backwards’ plush, fluffy chairs.
Hawkins ducked, sending Conway flying over her and into
the wall. The security officer turned to find Lt. Larkin
struggling to get ahold of Commander Jaroch, who had obviously, in
a fit of rage, become J’ter.
“I must have my revenge!” Jaroch/J’ter bellowed, struggling
against Larkin’s steely grip.
“And I must protect my commanding officer. Might I
suggest you vent your frustration in a more healthy manner, Mr.
Jaroch,” Larkin replied.
Hawkins pushed past Larkin and Jaroch to find Captain
Rydell and Captain Baxter locked in combat.
They were circling each other like angry jungle cats,
sneering and growling.
“You assaulted my science officer!” Rydell said.
“You sent us to die!” Baxter said.
“Stop it, you two. This is insane!” Hawkins shouted, as
Rydell and Baxter sized each other up.
“Yet somehow strangely satisfying,” Rydell said, as
Baxter lept at him. The two rolled around the floor, fists
“What should we do?” one of the other security officers
asked, as Hawkins surveyed the situation.
“Set your phasers on minimum stun, broad beam,” Hawkins
said, pulling out her phaser, “and light ‘em up.”
Four minutes and several phaser blasts later, just about
everyone in Seven Backward was unconcious.
“Well, what do you have to say for yourself?” a voice
asked, as Captain Baxter opened his eyes, wincing at the bright
light as his eyes adjusted.
His head was pounding and it felt as if someone had
driven a freighter right into his stomach.
Baxter looked up.
He was in the brig.
And on the other side of the security field, Captain
Rydell stood, a gray bandage on his forehead, and a very angry
look on his face. Baxter also noted that Rydell was holding
his left arm gingerly with his right arm.
Someone must have twisted it. Who could that have been?
“Well?” Rydell asked expectantly.
“What was the question?” Baxter said, straining to pull
himself into a sitting position.
“I asked you what you have to say for yourself.”
“Maybe I should be asking you that,” Baxter said, looking
around his cell.
“Okay, I deserved that one,” Rydell said. “I guess Jaroch
told you before I got the chance.”
“What? That you guys planned on sending us out there so
that we would disappear or be killed? That you wanted to get
rid of us, like some sort of bad rubbish, or out of date dairy
products?” Baxter asked angrily, standing up and lurching over
to the perimeter of the force field. “Am I to believe that it
just slipped your mind, Captain?” Baxter stared Rydell in the
“Not exactly,” Rydell said, stepping back a bit. He
winced at the pain the movement caused in his arm. “Listen, we
did want to get rid of you, but we never really expected that
the mission would end up like it did. We just thought that you
guys would hit some turbulence, get shaken up a bit, then come
“You mean like all those other ships that didn’t return?”
Baxter asked incredulously.
“Okay, so maybe it wasn’t that well planned out,” Rydell
admitted. “The point is, we’re not your enemies. As a matter
of fact, when you turned up missing, we went looking for you.”
“And?” Baxter said, sitting down and folding his arms.
“And Starfleet suspended our investigation. Not only
that, but they also closed off the entire area around the
Bermuda Expanse. Suddenly we realized we were caught up in
something bigger than ourselves.”
“Damn right you were. And we ended up paying for it,”
Baxter said angrily.
“But I have a feeling someone in Starfleet knew what was
in there,” Rydell said. “Admiral Neilson was awfully quick to
seal off that area and stop our investigation. And after that
incident when your mind was combined with Commander Dillon’s
last year, we tried to report your location to Starfleet, but
Admiral Neilson put a gag on us and marked the whole thing
confidential. I’m just guessing here but it seems like she’s
“I wonder what?” Baxter said, rubbing his chin.
“That’s for you to find out,” Rydell said. “After you’ve
cooled down in here a while longer.”
Baxter suddenly heard Commander Conway grunt from the
cell next door.
“What the hell happened?” Conway asked tiredly, before
collapsing back to his cot and falling back unconcious.
“So I guess your officers got off scot free?” Baxter
asked wearily, as he watched Conway slumber in the adjacent
“On the contrary,” Rydell said, stepping aside to reveal
Commander Dillon and Commander Jaroch passed out on the cots
in the cells opposite Baxter and Conway’s. “We thought we’d
punish the highest ranking officers as an example for the rest.
I mean, we only have so much brig space.”
“Right,” Baxter said, watching Dillon snore. “What about
“I think she’s at pottery class with Counselor Webber.
They’ve become the best of friends.”
“Well, how nice for them,” Baxter muttered. “And what
about you? Shouldn’t you be stuck in here too?”
“Hey,” Rydell said, heading for the door, “it’s my ship.”
“Well, what the hell are we going to do now, Mora?”
Admiral John Phillips asked, arms folded behind his back as
he stared out the window at Golden Gate bridge. He idly
wondered why Admiral Neilson’s office had such a great view. All
he could see from his office was the matter reclamation units.
Admiral Mora Neilson sat back at her desk. “We’ve been
caught with our pants down. We never really expected
the Aerostar to come back. Even after Captain Baxter’s failed
attempt to contact the Secondprize last year we assumed they’d
be stranded there forever.”
“But they are back, and that leaves us with several
issues to deal with,” Phillips said uneasily.
“Do you think our infiltrator was found?” Neilson asked,
turning back to face Phillips.
“Undoubtedly,” Phillips replied. “And if I know
Internal Affairs, they probably had someone working there as
“For all we know, it was Captain Baxter himself,” Neilson
said, plopping down into the chair opposite Phillips’s desk.
“It was your dumb idea to send the son of the Vice
Admiral in charge of Internal Affairs into the Delta Quadrant,”
Phillips grunted. “Damned risky if you ask me.”
“I didn’t ask you,” Neilson said flatly. “Anyway, it seemed
like a good idea at the time.”
“Well, Admiral Baxter is going to have a lot of questions
for his son when he gets back,” Phillips said uneasily.
Neilson raised an eyebrow. “What if he doesn’t make it
Ensign Ryan Stuart folded his arms and looked around
engineering one last time. He still couldn’t get over the
giant gash in the side of the ship, now covered by a piece of
duranium. Paul Dunbar was sucked out of that gash a few days
ago, and it could have easily been him instead.
Stuart tried to clear his head of such thoughts as he
slapped his comm badge. “Stuart to Tangier.”
“Tangier here. What is your status, Stuart?” Captain
Gibson’s deep voice responded.
“Power systems have been stabilized,” Stuart said,
looking around at the flickering panels around engineering.
“We can be tractored in at any time now.”
“Stand by, Mister Stuart. We’ll leave for Waystation
in five minutes.”
Stuart sat down at a nearby console and propped his
chin up on his hands. Why’d he get stuck babysitting the ship
while it was being stripped and salvaged? Why couldn’t
Richards have done it?
Because he’s the boss, that’s why, Stuart reminded
Stuart’t thoughts were interrupted when he saw a blur
of orange briefly fly down the corridor near engineering.
What the hell was that?
The ensign shook his head in disbelief. “Computer…how
many life signs on board?”
“There are four life signs on board the Aerostar,” the
computer replied. Well, that would account for him, Colonel
T’Phil, and the two security officers assigned to watch over
him. Stuart’s brain must have been playing tricks on him.
Captain Gibson leaned forward over the helm and
operations console of the freighter Tangier’s cramped bridge.
“Are we ready?”
The Ensign at the helm nodded. “Yes, sir, as soon as
Suddenly the Ensign seemed very alarmed. She looked down
at her panel. “Captain…there’s some kind of distortion
forming off our port bow!”
“On screen,” Gibson said, straightening.
On the Tangier’s tiny viewscreen, a huge Romulan Warbird
“Oh, my God…” Gibson said, when suddenly the Warbird
fired a disruptor blast, which crossed space in seconds,
blowing the Tangier to dust.
On board the Romulan Warbird Exalax, Commander Ardek
smiled, let out a whoop of joy. “I just love blowing up
“Shall we secure the Aerostar now, Commander?” Sub-
Commander Gatana said, hands clasped behind her back.
“Yes, yes, yes!” Ardek said happily, bouncing up and down
in his command chair. “Send in the teams!”
“You heard him,” Gatana said gruffly, inclining her head
toward the chief of security. She turned to Ardek, concern
plain on her face. “You realize we will not be safe here for
much longer. We have destroyed a Federation vessel. They will
be looking for us.”
Ardek rolled his eyes. “Don’t worry about that. As soon
as we get T’Phil, we’ll make for the Neutral Zone. Now prepare
to extend cloaking shields around the Aerostar.”
Gatana gritted her teeth angrily. “As I am sure you are
aware, extending cloaking shields around such a large object
will greatly decrease their effectiveness.”
“We won’t need them for long. The Neutral Zone is not
that far,” Ardek said testily. “Now follow my orders.”
Gatana nodded reluctantly. “As you wish, Commander.”
Ensign Saral and Lt. Gellar had run out of conversation
after the first hour of being stuck guarding Colonel T’Phil.
All in all, it was a pretty darn boring job.
Gellar was about to suggest that he run get them
something to drink when he heard the intruder alert klaxon go
“Intruder alert. Decks One, Nine, Twelve, and Twenty-
Nine,” the computer said calmly.
Gellar withdrew his phaser and looked to Saral. “Stay
with the prisoner, Ensign. I’ll go check it out.”
Saral nodded. “Very well.”
In one of the cells in the brig, T’Phil stirred. “My
friends have finally arrived. I’m going home.”
Saral diverted her eyes to T’Phil for a moment. “If you
are referring to the Romulans, I find that highly unlikely.”
She had barely finished making that statement, when suddenly
she heard a loud disruptor blast and a cry for help from Lt.
“Saral to Gellar. Please respond.”
There was no response.
The Vulcan slapped her comm badge. “Saral to Tangier.
Again, there was no response.
“You see?” T’Phil said, standing up and rubbing his hands
together. “They’re coming.”
Saral was about to reply, when suddenly the door to the
brig burst open, allowing several Romulans to pour in.
“Do not move,” the lead Romulan said, leveling his
disruptor at Saral.
“This is still highly unlikely,” Saral said, as she was
clubbed over the head by the butt of the disruptor and knocked
An hour later, Commander Lisa Beck stepped out of her
office and out into Ops. “Any word from the Tangier, Commander
Lt. Commander Morales shook his head, leaning against the
docking console, a worried look on his face. “No, but they
should have checked in by now.”
“Hail them,” Beck said, resting her hands on her hips and
staring up at the viewscreen.
“No response,” Morales said.
Beck looked back at the science console. “Check the long
range scanners, Mr. Porter. See if you can track them down out
Lt. Craig Porter checked the scans, then rechecked them,
shaking his head in disbelief. “I can’t find them, Commander.
What’s more, I can’t find the Aerostar now either.”
“They didn’t just disappear,” Beck said, walking around
to the science console.
“I’m enhancing the scan resolution. Maybe I can find–”
Porter said, “–wait a minute. I’m picking up debris. I’m not
positive, but it looks like what’s left of the Tangier.”
“Damn,” Beck said, looking up at the viewscreen as Porter
put the scans onscreen. Chunks of duranium of all different
sizes floated by on the screen. “Contact Starfleet and apprise
them of our current situation.”
“They’re going to start getting tired of hearing from
us,” Morales said grimly from the docking console.
“I would too if I was them,” Porter added.
“Time to Earth?” Captain Rydell asked, settling down into
the command chair and staring at the stars as they rushed by on
“A little more than an hour,” Ensign Carr replied
Lt. Hawkins sighed loudly, drumming her fingers on the
Rydell turned to face her. “Problem, Lieutenant?”
“I was just wondering when you planned on letting Dillon
out of the brig.”
Rydell smiled. “Don’t tell me you’re already starting to
Hawkins looked down. “It was bad enough that I had to
shoot him. Then I had to throw him in the brig. That’s not
going to do wonders for our relationship.”
“The only wonder in your relationship is why it’s still
going on,” Lieutenant Andrea Sullivan said from the conn.
“And that’s the end of today’s episode of Love in Space,”
Rydell said, derailing the conversation before Hawkins could
respond to Sullivan’s jab. “You can go get him at the end of
“Yes, sir,” Hawkins said, returning her gaze to her
panel. Suddenly she looked up. “Captain…there’s a vessel
entering the area.”
Rydell sat up in his chair. “What kind of vessel?”
Hawkins studied her scans. “Starfleet transport vessel.
Miranda class. They’re hailing us.”
“Onscreen,” Rydell said, idly wondering what the heck a
Starfleet transport would want with them.
A rather chubby, blank-looking man appeared on the
viewscreen. “Hello, Captain Rydell. My name is Commander Vincent
Kramer. Starfleet has ordered me to transport the Aerostar’s
crew to Earth.”
At least he was the get-to-the-point type. “Might I know
“Starfleet belives that the Secondprize should be kept
available for more pressing duty.”
“I can’t think of anything more pressing,” Rydell
“I have my orders, sir,” Kramer said dully. “Please come
out of warp and drop your shields.”
“Okay,” Rydell said grudgingly. “Sullivan, take us out
of warp. Hawkins, drop the shields and apprise the Aerostar
crew of their change in location.”
Kramer nodded curtly to Rydell and disappeared, the view
of the approaching starship replacing his image. Captain
Rydell wasn’t sure what it was, but something felt wrong about
this Kramer fellow.
“What do you have to say, Mister Hothead?” Counselor
Peterman asked, nudging Baxter insistantly as he stood, staring
at his boots, in the transporter room.
“I’m…sorry I decked you, Mister Jaroch,” Baxter said
Counselor Webber smiled. “How big of you, Captain Baxter.
How do you respond to that, Jaroch?”
Lt. Commander Jaroch stared blankly at Baxter, hands clasped
behind his back. “I am…sorry that I tried to snap your neck.
And I apologize for trying to send your crew to their doom.”
Baxter shrugged. “No harm done.”
“Now shake on it,” Peterman and Webber said in unison.
Baxter and Jaroch reluctantly shook hands.
“All right, let’s get you guys over there. We’ve got
places to go, people to see,” Commander Dillon said hurriedly.
Baxter and Peterman quickly mounted the pad, joining Dr.
Browning, Lt. Commander Richards, and Commander Conway.
“That was very big of you,” Conway whispered mockingly.
“Be quiet,” Baxter snapped, as Commander Dillon gave the
command for the transporter chief to energize.
The Pakled trade vessel Pookie chugged through space at a
slow clip of one-tenth impulse power. They had been hired by
the Tellarites to transport a load of food supplies to one of
their far-reaching colonies. It wasn’t much in the way of
money, but then again, like most Pakleds, these weren’t that
“We need to go faster,” Captain Chub said slowly, his
unibrow creasing with worry. “We need speed.”
Engineer Burbert shook his head. “No more power. We
“But we have to get there fast,” Chub protested.
“Uh-uh,” Burbert said, continuing to shake his head.
“We are slow,” Chub said, finally deferring to his
“There’s a thing out there,” the science officer piped up,
interrupting Chub’s concentration.
“A thing?” Chub asked. Now this was interesting.
“A big thing. A fast thing.”
“Big and fast?” Chub scratched his chin.
What could be big and fast? A ship!
“A ship?” Chub asked.
“Maybe,” the navigator replied.
“We should destroy it,” Burbert said.
Chub turned. “Can we?”
“We have lasers,” Burbert said.
Captain Chub clenched his chubby fist. “Then shoot our
lasers at them.”
The Pookie’s lasers flared out at the approaching craft.
“Well?” Chub asked impatiently.
“We did not hurt them,” the navigator said sadly. “Our
lasers are not strong.”
Chub turned back to Burbert. “Is this bad?”
Burbert thought a moment. “They may have bigger lasers.”
“Oh,” Chub said. “We are not smart.”
Suddenly the oncoming craft fired a thick, blue beam at
the Pookie, destroying it in one shot.
“This tiressssss me,” former Overmaster Granok of the
former Flarn Empire said disappointedly. “Thesssse
weaklingssss are not what we sssseek.”
Lieutenant Lord Kenjek nodded, keeping his place behind
Granok. “True. But we are getting clossssser. The lasssst
ship we desssstroyed was quite similar to the Aerostar.”
“The Aerossssstar,” Granok hissed, narrowing his eyes,
remembering the unhappy incident nearly one year ago, when the
Aerostar had shoved them through the portal in the Crebius Cluster,
and doomed them to wander space, thousands of light years away from
Flarn space. “They banissssshed us from our own empire. For that
they will be obliterated.”
Kenjek smiled. “Do not fear, Granok. We will find them.
They cannot hide for long.”
STARFLEET HEADQUARTERS OFFICE OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS
Yvonne walked into the office, smiling pleasantly as she
sat several padds down on the Admiral’s desk, adjusting the
curtains in the room, and whistling a happy tune as she placed
some new flowers in the vase near the window.
“You should be happy, Admiral,” Yvonne said,
straightening the furniture carefully. “Your son will be home
Vice Admiral Harlan Baxter turned in his chair, puffing
away on a cigar. “I’m not happy at all, Yvonne. Not when I
still haven’t heard from our agent.”
“Maybe she just forgot to check in,” Yvonne offered
“I.A. operatives don’t just forget anything,” Harlan
grunted. “Something smells rotten around here, and I’m going
to get to the bottom of it.”
“Well, the Aerostar is back, and that’s the important
thing,” Yvonne said, heading towards the door to Harlan’s
office. “Should I contact your wife and tell her where the
welcoming reception will be?”
“She already knows. She’s on her way,” Harlan said.
“I do love a party,” Yvonne said, smiling.
“We’ll arrive at Earth in about thirty minutes. Begin
preparations for beamdown,” Commander Kramer said
unenthusiastically over the comm system.
Captain Baxter tossed one of his suitcases onto the bed
in the cramped quarters he had been issued aboard the
Federation Transport Richard M. Nixon.
“Something is really bothering me about this whole
thing,” Counselor Peterman said, ducking out of the cramped
bathroom and brushing her teeth. “I mean, why move us all to
another ship an hour before reaching Earth?”
“I don’t know,” Baxter said. “Maybe they just needed the
Secondprize for more important duty.”
“That’s not all, though, Andy,” Peterman said. “Have
you noticed how edgy the people on this ship are acting? It’s
like they’re waiting for something terrible to happen.”
Baxter went over and grabbed Peterman’s hand, pulling the
tooth brush out of her mouth. “Don’t be silly, Kelly. We’re
home, we’re safe. Nothing bad could possibly happen here. I
Suddenly the door to Baxter’s temporary quarters chimed
“Come in,” Baxter said, looking towards the doorway.
Lt. Ariel Tilleran rushed into the room. “Captain, we’re
all in terrible danger here!”
Dr. Browning strolled into what was jokingly referred to as
“sickbay” aboard the Nixon. It was really just an assortment
of beds, medical tricorders, hypos, and closet space.
Actually, there seemed to be a lot of closets. More than
“How’s my patient?” Browning asked, walking over to the
biobed where Lt. J’hana sat on her hands, rocking back and
“I am fine. I want to leave right now,” J’hana growled.
Browning grabbed a medical tricorder and looked J’hana over
with it. “Well, the bone has completely healed. I think it’s
safe to release you now.”
“Thank the hive mother,” J’hana grunted.
Browning crossed sickbay, looking up at the dizzying row of
cabinets and long file-type drawers. “Let me just scan you with
the dermal subscanner, just to make sure.”
Dr. Browning searched the cabinets, only coming up with a
few padds and isolinear chips. No good.
Next the doctor opened up one of the long drawers, hoping
to find the tool she needed in there.
Instead, she found the partially incinerated body of
Captain Andrew Baxter. One intact eye stared blankly back at
Browning just covered her mouth, gasping in horror. “Oh,
“What is it?” J’hana asked, sliding off her biobed and
“I don’t…” Browning said, when suddenly her comm badge
“Baxter to all senior officers. Report to my quarters
J’hana stared impassively down at Baxter’s body, then
looked up to Browning. “I suppose we should go see what he
Browning nodded, still not able to take her eyes of the
burned and mutilated body.
“We found the entire command crew in there,” J’hana said
grimly, leaning against Baxter’s couch. “As well as some
random low-level officers.”
“How the hell did they do that?” Commander Conway asked
“I don’t know,” Browning said, shaking her head. “We
scanned them with the medical tricorder. The DNA was matched
up perfectly. My only guess is that the bodies were grown
organically in a lab. It’s possible, but quite difficult.”
“But, why?” Richards asked. “Why would someone want to
simulate our deaths like that?”
“Because they are going to want us alive when they
question us,” Tilleran said calmly, standing in the opposite
corner of the room with her arms crossed. “But everyone else
has to believe that we’re dead.”
“Who?” Conway asked. “Who wants us alive, or dead, or
“It’s a general feeling I have, Commander,” Tilleran said
wearily. “My abilities have been terribly stressed lately.
All I know is that the people behind this are high-ranking
Starfleet officals. I can’t say any more than that.”
Baxter leaned back on his couch, shaking his head. “I
refuse to believe that.”
“Believe it or not, Captain, it is the truth,” J’hana
said. “We have learned to trust Lt. Tilleran’s powers, have
“Yes,” Baxter said grimly. “We have.”
“So what do we do?” Peterman asked.
“Simple,” Baxter said, pulling a phaser out of his
duffel. “We go to Sickbay and fry the command crew.”
Colonel T’Phil stepped onto the bridge of the Exalax,
straightening the folds in his Romulan uniform. He’d become
quite sick of wearing that disgustingly comfortable Starfleet
uniform, and was glad to get out of it.
Commander Ardek turned in his chair to inspect the
Colonel as he walked out onto the bridge.
“I see they were able to restore your ears to their
proper state,” Ardek noted.
T’Phil nodded. “Thankfully. You wouldn’t believe how
disturbing it was to wake up every morning to see a pair of
human ears looking back at you.”
Ardek shivered slightly at the thought. “How terrible it
must have been.”
“Well, it’s all over now. Now we can reap the rewards of
my year in exile.”
“About that…” Ardek said uncomfortably.
At the same time, T’Phil looked up at the viewscreen. The
stars seemed to be moving far to slow. “Have we slowed down?”
T’Phil asked with concern.
“Our engineers detected a spike in the quantum
singularity core. It wasn’t dangerous to us, but it was
detectable through our cloak, so we had to come out of warp,”
“Can’t we fix it?” T’Phil asked, annoyed.
“I am afraid not. The spike is being caused by the
Aerostar’s power core, and even with all of that ship’s main
systems deactivated, the singularity is still affected,” Sub-
Commander Gatana said solemnly from beside Ardek.
“So what do we do?” T’Phil asked impatiently.
“We head back to Romulus at impulse speed,” Ardek said.
“And hope that we’re not spotted.”
“Why would we be spotted?” T’Phil asked. He was anxious
to get back to Romulus.
“Well,” Ardek replied with uncertainty. “It’s really not
that big a deal…”
“What is it?” T’Phil demanded.
“We’re…uh…having trouble masking the Aerostar’s power
“Then we can be tracked…” T’Phil said nervously.
“Only if someone was capable of detecting the alien power
signature the Aerostar is giving off. Luckily, we’re not in
the Delta Quadrant. What are the chances of a ship looking for
a–what did you call it–Sulani…power signature?”
T’Phil calmed down a bit. “You are correct, Commander.
Still, I will feel safer when we get back to Romulan space.”
“As will I,” Ardek said, settling into his seat.
Lieutenant J’hana poked her head around the corner,
looking around quickly.
“Well?” Baxter asked from behind her.
“The coast is clear,” J’hana said, leading Baxter and
Conway around the corner and down the corridor towards sickbay.
Baxter tapped his comm badge as he walked. “Team two.
How’s it coming?”
“Slow,” Lt. Tilleran’s voice replied. “We’ll get back to
“She’s taking too long,” Dr. Browning whispered, looking
over Tilleran’s shoulder at the image on the tricorder the
Betazoid held pointed at Commander Kramer’s quarters. They had
managed to squeeze into a supply closet adjacent to his
quarters, but found that they had very little room to move
around once inside.
“Stop worrying,” Tilleran whispered back. “And get that
coil spanner out of my back.”
“So, how long have you commanded this powerful vessel?”
Counselor Peterman asked, draped sultrily on Commander Kramer’s
Kramer smiled very slightly, pouring Peterman a drink and
joining her on the couch. “Only a few weeks actually. I run
errands for Admiral Neilson.”
“Admiral Neilson, huh?” Peterman asked. “As in Mora Neilson?”
Peterman repeated this very loudly.
“Uh, yes,” Kramer said, draping his arm around Peterman’s
shoulder. “But, enough about me. What’s your story?”
“You could say I’ve been around, Commander,” Peterman
said, smiling nervously. “It’s really hot in here. In fact,
I’m burning up.”
Kramer laughed. “You sure are,” he knew he was running
out of time; but, hell, he was always the no nonsense type when
it came to the bedroom. “Let’s have sex.”
Peterman smiled coyly. “Why Commander Kramer, I do
believe you’re flirting with me.”
“Burn ‘em,” Baxter said, drawing his phaser and
vaporizing his body in its coffinlike drawer.
“This is kind of spooky,” Conway said, as he blasted away
at Dr. Browning.
J’hana quickly vaporized Conway’s body. “I like it.”
“Commander Kramer, there has been a phaser discharged in
sickbay,” Kramer’s security officer, Lieutenant Seligman,
Kramer smiled at Peterman momentarily, as she tried to
pull away from his vicelike grip. The Commander quickly tapped
his comm badge. “Take care of it, Seligman,” he said quickly.
“Gee, I hope nothing’s wrong,” Peterman said, trying to
pull to the opposite side of the couch.
“Everything looks fine from here,” Kramer said, climbing
across the couch in an attempt to mount Peterman.
“Okay,” Tilleran said firmly, putting away her tricorder
and drawing her phaser. “We have all the evidence we need.
We’re going in. Stay behind me.”
“This is so cool,” Browning said, following Tilleran out of
the cramped closet.
“You do it,” Baxter said, looking down at Counselor
Peterman with disgust. “Please.”
“With pleasure,” Conway said, pushing Baxter aside and
vaporizing the Counselor’s body.
Suddenly, the doors to sickbay parted. “What the hell do
you think you are doing?” Lt. Seligman asked angrily.
“The dirty laundry,” Commander Conway said, tossing Lt.
J’hana’s fragmented body at him.
The Andorian’s body hit Seligman, knocking him backwards
into the other three members of his security team.
“Go!” Baxter cried, setting his phaser back to stun and
firing at Seligman before he could get up.
J’hana quickly tapped her comm badge. “J’hana to
Henson. I want you to mobilize every officer we
have and begin locking up the Nixon’s crewmembers.”
“You want me to do what?” Henson asked incredulously.
“You heard me,” J’hana said, following Baxter and Conway
out of Sickbay. “I’ll explain later.”
With that, Baxter, Conway, and J’hana jumped over the
stunned officers and ran like hell out of sickbay, phasers at
“Get away from her!” Lt. Tilleran shouted, running into
Kramer put his hands up quickly, allowing Peterman to
jump up from the couch and run for cover behind Tilleran.
“What is this all about?”
“You can’t hide the truth from a Betazoid,” Tilleran
said, approaching Kramer and sticking the phaser in his face.
“I know what you’re planning on doing. And the more frightened
you get, the clearer it gets to me.”
“Mind telling us?” Browning said, her arm draped
comfortingly around Peterman.
“Yeah,” Peterman said. “What are you up to, besides
trying to feel me up?”
Kramer frowned. “Damn. They didn’t tell me about any
Tilleran glanced back at Browning and Peterman. “He’s going
to blow up the ship and he and his crew are going to escape
safely aboard the lifepods. Meanwhile, we’ll be transported to
a holding place somewhere in San Francisco by a suppressed
carrier wave transporter beam. The rescue parties will find
some charred bodies at the Nixon’s crash site and they’ll assume
we all died in the crash. Am I leaving anything out?”
“That about covers it,” Kramer said, nervously glancing
at the chronometer on the wall.
“You look kind of anxious there, Commander,” Browning said.
“Do you have somewhere you’re supposed to be right now?”
“Yeah,” Tilleran said, still aiming her phaser at Kramer.
“He’s supposed to be safe in his escape pod right now.”
“Look,” Kramer said, “none of us wants to die. I’m sure
we could work something out.”
“I doubt it,” Peterman replied angrily.
Kramer looked again at the chronometer. His other
officers were probably scrambling for the escape pods right
now, and here he was, trapped with these psycho women, about to
get blown to smithereens. And simply because he couldn’t reign
in his hormones. He had known that they would get him in
trouble sooner or later.
“Team three. Please tell me you’re making progress,” Baxter’s
voice said nervously from Richards’ comm badge.
Lt. Commander Richards edged along the Jeffries tube,
slowly making his way towards the well-hidden access panel.
“Almost there, Captain,” Richards grunted, pulling
himself farther along the tube. “But I have no idea how long
it will take to disable this system.”
“Approximately four minutes, given your engineering
skill,” Lt. Larkin said, from behind Richards.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Larkin,” Richards
said, pulling the panel off.
“My time estimate had nothing to do with confidence. It
was a cross reference of your skills relative to the task at
“Right,” Richards said, carefully removing the casing
of the mechanism. It was a fairly common Maquis device, used
to override the lockouts on the magnetic constrictors. They
would have an operative place it deep in the Jeffries’ tube of
a Cardassian warship, and blow it up before their engineers
even knew what had happened. The problem was, the device
completely overrode the magnetic constrictor controls, which
meant, if he removed it, they would fail immediately and the
ship’s warp core would breach.
“Move it, fellas,” Commander Conway said, pushing the
last remaining crewmen of the Nixon into the cargo bay and
locking the door. “That does it, Captain.”
Baxter patted Commander Conway and Lt. J’hana on the
shoulders and motioned for them to move on down the corridor.
“Whoever planned this must not have expected us to find out
about their little plan; I mean, we outnumbered this crew ten
to one. Once we mobilized J’hana’s security forces, Kramer’s
people didn’t stand a chance.”
“Poor tactical strategy,” J’hana commented.
“What’s next, Captain?” Conway asked as they moved down
“We’re going to have a little talk with Commander
Kramer,” Baxter said, cracking his knuckles angrily.
“What about Richards’ team?” Conway asked. “What if
he can’t stop the ship from blowing up?”
“I have complete faith in my engineer,” Baxter said,
quickening his pace down the corridor.
“Might I remind you that the device is set to go off in
four minutes?” Larkin said, as she watched Richards work.
“I remember,” Richards replied testily. “I almost have
“Perhaps I should…” Larkin said.
“Don’t worry…I can do it!” Richards said, his hands
pulling at the optical cable that stood between him and the
device’s power feed. “Just give me a couple more minutes…”
“I am not capable of worrying, Commander,” Larkin said.
“However, it stands to reason that I would consider the death
of everyone aboard this ship, including myself, to be
“You don’t say,” Richards said dryly.
“As a matter of fact, I find that idea quite distasteful.
But to say that I am worrying…that would not be an accurate
“Shut up!” Richards said, ripping the cable out. “I
need to concentrate.”
“Of course,” Larkin replied.
Ensign Ford stroked the arms of the Nixon’s command chair
lovingly. He didn’t really know when he’d get another chance
to sit in a command chair, so he thought he’d get as much
pleasure out of it as he possibly could.
Of course, seeing that they were all in imminent danger,
pleasure was not really formost on anyone else’s mind.
That went double, Ford thought, for Ensign Puckett.
The two of them had been assigned to go and secure the bridge,
and during the rollicking firefight up there, she hadn’t responded
very well to his flirtations. As a matter of fact, she’d threatened
to shoot him with her phaser on more than one occasion.
Oh well, Ford thought, glancing back at Puckett as she
worked at the tactical station behind him. There’s plenty of
other fish in the…
Suddenly, Ensign Ford felt the unmistakable sensation of
an arm latching around his throat and threatening to choke the
life out of him.
“Urk…” Ford choked out, as his unseen adversary
Puckett immediately withdrew her phaser, leveling it at
“Drop it,” a man in a Starfleet Lieutenant’s uniform
said, “or the ‘Captain’ here dies.”
Puckett seemed to consider this a moment.
“Errggggg…” Ford protested angrily.
“Oh, alright,” Puckett said, dropping her phaser and
The Lieutenant threw Ford to the deck roughly, looking
down at him with disdain.
“I thought we stunned all of you…” Ford said, rubbing
“You’re an ignorant fool,” the lieutenant said with
disgust, looking up at Ensign Puckett. “And so are you. So is
the rest of your so-called ‘heroic’ crew. But it’s no matter.
You won’t live long enough to do anything else foolish.”
Suddenly the lieutenant’s arm stretched across the
bridge, grabbing Puckett’s phaser and pulling it back towards
“You’re a changeling!” Puckett said in astonishment.
“Oh, what gave it away?” the changeling said, pointing
one phaser at each officer. “Now both of you get in the
corner.” The changeling walked over to the ops panel and hit a
few buttons. “Admiral.”
“Yes?” A female voice crackled over the speakers.
“We have the situation under control. What should I do?”
“Continue as planned, Lieutenant.”
“But the bodies have been destroyed.”
“Just blow the ship up in space, then. The crash landing
and the bodies were merely for theatrics anyway.”
“Understood,” the Lieutenant said cooly, closing the
“You see, John?” Admiral Neilson said, turning in her chair.
“Nothing to worry about.”
“But they managed to completely take over the Nixon,”
Admiral Phillips protested. “You don’t expect them to just
give up that easily.”
“I don’t expect them to give up at all. I expect them to
die,” Neilson said. “We’ll get the information we need out of
the senior staff, and the rest of the crew will perish in a
“And Admiral Baxter will never see his pathetic son
again,” Phillips replied with a smile.
“And before you know it, Starfleet and the Federation
will be ours,” Neilson grinned, watching the approaching blip on
her office’s viewscreen. The Nixon was just now clearing
Neptune. Soon her secret would be safe, and everything she
wanted would be well within her grasp.
Admiral Harlan Baxter stalked across the courtyard at the
center of Starfleet command angrily. The uncharictaristcally
sunny San Francisco day did little to brighten his mood.
He had just recived the signal that proved his greatest
fears. He had intercepted a carefully coded message directed
to Admiral Neilson from the Nixon. And he suddenly realized
exactly what she was planning to do.
Harlan made his way to Admiral Neilson’s office, determined
to settle this one himself.
“Who sent you, Kramer?” Captain Baxter asked, looming
over Commander Kramer ominously as he sat on the couch. “Was
it Admiral Neilson? Was it? Afraid I’d go public with her plans
for the Borg? Well, I’ll tell you…”
Suddenly he found himself caught up in the familiar blue
swirl of a transporter beam. Looking around, Baxter noted that
Peterman, Browning, Tilleran, J’hana, and Conway were being beamed
away as well. But to where?
“Get his phaser!” A voice shouted, as Baxter
Before he knew what was happening, a hand pushed him back
into a chair and ripped the phaser out of his hand.
“You were saying?” Kramer asked. Suddenly, it seemed,
the tables were turned.
“Hi, Captain,” Ensign Ford said, beside him.
Baxter looked up at Kramer, then to the man behind him.
Baxter didn’t recognize the other man, but he could tell by the
shape of his face that he was a changeling. “You can’t win.
You guys are outnumbered.”
“You have a point there,” the man behind Kramer said.
“But that fact won’t be true for long. We’re all beaming down
to Earth as soon as we are in transporter range. And as for
your gallant crew, they’ll all die.”
“Richards to Baxter. Larkin and I have disabled the
device they were going to use to blow up the ship. What are we
supposed to do next?”
Baxter looked up at his captors.
“Answer him,” the changeling said. “Tell him everything
is just fine.”
“Everything’s fine, Chris,” Baxter said calmly. “Tell
everyone to stay calm down there and wait for further
“Gotcha, Captain. Richards out.”
“I have a question,” Kramer said nervously, glancing back
at the changeling as he pointed the phaser at Baxter and his
crew. “If they disabled the device that we were going to use
to blow up the ship, how are we going to blow up the ship?”
“Simple,” the changeling replied, walking over to the
helm station. “I’m going to crash us into Earth’s moon.”
“Oh,” Kramer said blankly. “What about us?”
“Admiral Neilson will beam you and I, as well as Baxter and
his senior staff, to safety.”
“Are you sure that’s safe?” Kramer asked. He was
beginning to have his doubts. “Couldn’t we just use the self
The changeling shook his head, glaring at Baxter. “No
doubt Captain Baxter’s engineer locked out those subsystems
before doing anything else.”
Baxter looked around at his senior officers. “Well, it
was a good guess.”
“It wasn’t a guess you imbecile! Do you think I’m an
idiot? Do I look like a baboon or something to you?”
“Well, judging by the last changeling we ran into…”
“Enough!” the changeling said, turning around and
programming in the ship’s crash course with the moon.
“Could we talk about this?” Kramer said, turning to face
the changeling. “I’m sure we could come up with a better…”
Baxter took that opportunity to leap out of his chair and
charge at Kramer with all his might, ramming him up against the
The changeling had just enough time to engage the course
and tap some other buttons before Commander Conway charged into
him, with J’hana right behind him.
“Let me at him!” J’hana cried.
Conway wrapped his arms around the changeling, pushing
him up against the wall. “I gotcha!”
“You have nothing!” the changeling cried, as he suddenly
melted in between Conway’s fingers and dripped to the floor,
collecting at Conway’s feet and pushing him up into the air.
“Ford…” Baxter grunted, as he fought Kramer. “See if
you can get us back on course.”
Ford jumped to the helm panel, looking fearfully at the
controls. “They’re locked out, sir. And I can’t break the
Baxter slapped his comm badge with one hand, and Kramer
with the other.
“Baxter to Richards. They managed to put the ship on a
collision course and we can’t seem to stop it. Get everyone to
the escape pods now!”
“But, Captain, maybe I can stop…”
“No time…” Baxter grunted, as he pummeled Commander
Kramer. “Just get everyone out of here.”
“But what about y -“
“We’ll be fine. Just move it!”
“And get my pets!” Peterman cried.
“And my luggage!” Conway cried.
“And my batleth!” J’hana cried.
“And my pornographic playdoh!” Ford cried.
“Um. I’ll see what I can do,” Richards replied,
cutting the channel.
“Starship Nixon, this is McKinley Station. Your course
has become erratic. Are you in need of assistance?” the
viewscreen suddenly came to life.
“Yes!” Baxter cried as he strangled Commander Kramer,
pushing him up against the viewscreen and strangling him,
causing the face of the small Asian woman on the screen to
contort as the delicate fabric of the screen was dented by
Kramer’ bulky body.
“He’s trying to kill me!” Kramer choked out.
“Help is on the way, Nixon, just hold on!”
Conway, Browning, Tilleran, Peterman, Puckett, and J’hana
continued to fight with the changeling as it sloshed around the
bridge, constantly taking shape just long enough to throw one
of them off balance or attempt to strangle one of them.
“Just hold still long enough for me to shoot you, you
bastard!” J’hana shouted, trying to take aim with her phaser.
Suddenly the Nixon jerked backwards, causing everyone on
the bridge to fly forward. It felt as if someone was trying
to lock a tractor beam onto them.
It also felt like it wasn’t working.
Captain Robinson of the USS Goodall grimaced as he
listened to the report from tactical.
“We cannot get a positive lock. We’re too near the
moon’s gravity well,” Lt. Poloma reported, slamming her fist
down on the tactical panel.
“Very well,” Robinson said, turning to his executive
officer. “Go over and get them out of there.”
“Yes, sir,” the First Officer said, jumping out of her
chair, pointing to Poloma and the ensign at ops, glancing
back as the two follwed her to the turbolift “Think he’ll be
surprised to see me?”
Robinson allowed himself a brief giggle as his exec
stepped into the turbolift. “Given the circumstances, I bet
he’ll be happy to see anyone right now.” Robinson then looked
back up at the viewscreen. The Nixon was about to collide with
Lt. Commander Richards tried desparately to see through
Ozzie the osprey’s flapping wings as he ran down the Nixon’s
corridor toward the last escape pod. With a cat in each hand,
a bird on his head, and a dog trotting along at his side,
Richards looked like a deranged version of Dr. Doolittle.
“Everyone has reported to their respective escape pods,
Commander,” Lt. Larkin said, coming up behind Richards, a
cage full of bunnies, gerbils and hamsters in her arms.
“Great. I guess I’ll see you down on Earth.”
“I beg to differ, Commander,” Larkin said, following
Richards into the cramped pod. “This is the last
Charlie clawed at Richards’s crotch as he tried to hold
him at bay.
“Oh,” Richards replied, gulping nervously as the hatch
sealed and pressurized, sealing him off from the Nixon’s
Animals squirmed around the tight compartment, including
Ozzie the osprey, who continued to flap his wings in the poor
“Why do I feel like I’m on Noah’s Ark?” Richards asked,
as he felt the pod jerk free of its moorings and shoot out into
“That is an interesting historical analogy,” Larkin
said, balancing the cage of hamsters, gerbils and rabbits in
her lap. “I should like to discuss it with you at length
during the hours before we are rescued.”
Richards briefly wondered if it was too late to go back
to the Nixon.
“Hold on!” Captain Baxter cried, as suddenly the Nixon
shuddered severely and rammed into the moon, sliding across
its surface at a blinding speed, spinning uncontrollably over
the rocky terrain.
Baxter looked up at the viewscreen just in time to see
the Nixon plow over the ancient American flag that Neil
Armstrong placed on the moon back in 1969. Oh, well. It was
getting pretty old anyway.
The Captain was hoping the ship would come to a merciful
stop, but, evidently, the ship had other things in mind.
The Nixon continued in a straight line, still following
its course, which had been altered ever so slightly by the
Goodall’s tractor beam. Clearing the moon’s gravity, the Nixon
continued on course, right toward Earth.
“Well, everyone,” Baxter announced, as the green-blue
planet grew larger and larger on the viewscreen. “Welcome back
Suddenly, Kramer, who Baxter had sworn was out cold,
kicked Baxter right in the gut, jumping to his feet and diving
on top of the Captain.
“Help!” Commander Conway cried, flailing around as the
changeling wrapped itself around him.
“Escape pods launched,” the computer reported happily.
“How comforting,” Ford said. “What about us?”
“We’re going to die!” J’hana replied with vigor as she
ripped at the orange ectoplasmic goo that surrounded Commander
Captain Baxter suddenly found himself smashed up against
the viewscreen, in another fierce struggle with the Nixon’s
commander. He had almost freed himself from Kramer’ grip, when
suddenly Kramer threw him against the bulkhead.
When Baxter heard the high pitched whine, he assumed it
just went along with all the pretty colors the collision had
That’s when Baxter saw a bright yellow flash over Kramer’s
shoulder, a flash that immediately disintegrated the changeling
that grappled with Commander Conway.
Conway cringed as he looked down at his scorched uniform.
“Jeeze, you almost vaporized me!”
“Sorry,” A dark haired woman with a gold-collared uniform
said, holstering her phaser and helping him up. “Next time
I’ll make sure I do vaporize you.”
“As you were, Lt. Poloma,” another officer said,
walking over to where Baxter and Kramer fought.
Captain Baxter suddenly felt a wave of nostalgia as a
hand clamped down on his ear and jerked him away from Kramer.
Kramer yelped as another hand latched down on his ear.
“Hey, get off!”
The first officer looked from Baxter to Kramer, shaking
her head. “Starfleet officers, fighting like children. I
can’t believe it. I would have thought better of both of you.”
She turned to Baxter. “Especially you.”
“Hi, mom,” Baxter said meekly.
“Pardon me?” The woman said, looking at Baxter
“Uh, I mean Commander Mom,” Baxter corrected.
“Better,” Commander Lucille Baxter said, looking at the two
men she held in her grip. “Now can both of you settle this
like good boys, or will I have to stun you both?”
Baxter blushed, looking down and mumbled, “Uh…I guess.”
“What, I didn’t hear you?”
“I said, yes, I can settle this like a good boy.”
Commander Baxter looked to Kramer. “What about you?”
“He started it,” Kramer said quietly.
“Throw him in the brig, mom. He’s a traitor,” Captain
Baxter said. “He tried to kill all of us.”
“Is that so?” Commander Baxter asked, shaking Kramer by
his uniform collar.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Kramer said meekly.
“Then off you go,” she handed Kramer over to Lt.
Poloma. “Now I suggest we all get back to the Goodall.”
Baxter watched as Earth got bigger and bigger on the
screen. They were almost within the atmosphere.
“Good idea, Mom. I mean, Commander.”
Lucille slapped her comm badge. “Baxter to
Goodall. Beam everyone out of here.”
“Aw, his mommy came to save him,” Ensign Ford said
sweetly, looking up at Baxter and batting his eyes. “That’s so
“Shut up, Ensign,” Captain Baxter sneered, as the entire
group beamed out.
Counselor Peterman held Captain Baxter’s hand as the
senior officers were led by Commander Baxter up to the bridge
of the Goodall. As far as she was concerned, she’d been on too
damn many starships in the last day.
She’d definitely be glad to get back to Earth, that was
for sure. She was also glad she wasn’t going to be getting
back by riding the Nixon through the atmosphere and hitting the
Earth at hundereds of thousands of miles an hour.
During the turbolift ride, Peterman breifly studied
Commander Baxter. She didn’t seem to resemble Andy much at
all. As a matter of fact, other than having the same dirty
blonde hair and blue eyes, they seemed almost like polar
Commander Baxter was short, slim, and compact, as opposed
to Andy’s big, lumbering awkwardness, and her hair was worn
in the standard “aging female Starfleet officer bun.”
Early on in her Starfleet career, Peterman had decided
that she would never go to the bun…no matter how old she got.
The bun was so infamous, it was generally accepted as the
telltale sign that a female Starfleet officer was beginning to
Peterman felt a little sad that Baxter and his mom hadn’t
even hugged yet, after being apart for a year. But, she
reasoned that there must be a Starfleet regulation somewhere
against it. And Commander Baxter didn’t strike her as someone
that broke many Starfleet regulations. Another difference
between her and Andy, Peterman supposed.
“…so your father told the Captain that if he didn’t
want to fill out the proper paperwork, he’d have him digging
out forsythias with old Boothby at the Academy,” Commander
Baxter said, as the turbolift reached the bridge.
“That old man can’t still be alive,” Baxter said,
chuckling as he followed his mother out of the lift.
“Not only is he alive, but I bet he could still outrun you in
a sprint,” Commander Baxter said evenly. “I’d place my bets on
him any day.”
“So would I,” Captain Baxter admitted.
“Finally, we’ve reached the bridge,” Conway muttered as
he and Peterman followed the two Baxters out of the turbolift.
“Maybe they’ll finally stop chit-chatting about family stuff.”
Peterman elbowed Conway. “Come on, Commander. That’s
“Sorry, close brushes with death tend to affect my
“What sensitivity?” Peterman asked.
Captain Robinson immediately rose to his feet, rushing to
shake Captain Baxter’s hand. “Well, well, well. It’s been a
long time. Last time I saw you, you were a struggling Ensign
whose voice had hardly changed.”
Baxter shook the Captain’s hand. “Wasn’t that long ago
“And he’s a Captain now,” Commander Baxter said proudly.
“Well,” Baxter said, blushing again.
“Won’t be long before he’s giving his mom orders,”
Captain Robinson said, patting Baxter’s shoulder and smiling.
“Sheesh,” Baxter said.
“You know, we were almost killed a few minutes ago…am I
the only one here that rememembers that?” Commander Conway
“You’ve got a point, Commander,” Robinson said, turning
to the tactical station. “Lt. Poloma, hail Starfleet
command and ask them how we should proceed.”
Yvonne had just finished blowing up the balloons for
Captain Baxter’s welcome back party when two admirals were
unceremoniously tossed into the office, knocking into the
table where the “Welcome Back from the Delta Quadrant, Captain
Baxter” cake had been laid out.
The secretary frowned as Admiral Baxter strolled in.
“They crushed your son’s cake,” Yvonne said, looking down
at the admirals and frowning.
“We can get another one,” Harlan grunted.
“You can’t do this,” Admiral Neilson protested, pulling at
the restraining bolts that held her hands together.
“We outrank you,” Phillips chimed in, pulling at his
“Not anymore you don’t. Traitors have no rank,” Harlan
said, turning to Yvonne. “Get someone from Starfleet security
over here. I have two prisoners for them.”
“What’s the charge?” Yvonne asked, peering at Neilson and
“For starters, collaborating with a changeling to murder
Starfleet officers, conspiring to take over Starfleet, witholding
information from the Federation council, and sending an entire
starship to the other side of the galaxy without authorization.”
“Wow, that’s a lot of charges,” Yvonne mused, heading
back out into the reception area.
“You can’t prove anything,” Neilson said. “It’s your word
“Well, I’ve got recorded evidence against you from my
operative’s files, plus the testimony of the entire crew of the
Aerostar that you two were up to no good.”
“You’re too late,” Admiral Neilson said, smiling. “We took
care of your son and his friends.”
Harlan smiled back. “That’s what you think.”
“Admiral…” Yvonne said rushing back into the
office. “We just got word that the transport carrying
Captain Baxter and his crew crash-landed somewhere near
Harlan turned around. “What?”
“You see?” Neilson said.
“And the Goodall reports that they rescued the entire
crew, including the Commander that was responsible.”
“Doh!” Neilson said. She would have smacked her forehead,
had she a free hand with which to smack it.
“It’s all over, Mora,” Harlan said, turning to Yvonne.
“You could have told me the bit about them being saved first.”
“Wouldn’t have been as dramatic,” Yvonne explained.
“Enough with the drama, Yvonne, go call Starfleet
Security,” Admiral Baxter barked, looking back to Neilson and
“Yes, sir,” Yvonne said, hurrying out once again into the
reception area outside Harlan’s office.
Admiral Baxter stared disapprovingly at Neilson and
Phillips. “What has Starfleet come to?”
“I don’t know,” Neilson said, watching the chronometer on
her wall. “But I may be able to tell you where Starfleet’s
“What?” Harlan asked.
Suddenly Admirals Baxter, Neilson, and Phillips
disappeared in a flash of purple.
“Admiral, I called Starfleet Security. They said they’d
send someone right–” Yvonne looked around the empty office.
Yvonne looked around Admiral Baxter’s office in
confusion. “Admiral?” she peered under Harlan’s huge mahogany
desk. “Admiral? Where are you?”
Admiral Baxter sauntered out of the private restroom at
the back of his office, adjusting his uniform pants. “Right
here, Yvonne. I had to use the bathroom.”
Yvonne scratched her head. “Where are the prisoners,
“I had them beamed to a brig to save Starfleet Security
the trouble of getting them,” Harlan said, placing a reassuring
hand on Yvonne’s shoulder. “Now, why don’t you go get another
cake for my son.”
“Yes, sir. Should I also cancel the rest of you
appointments for today so that you can spend time with him?”
“That’s a good idea, Yvonne,” Harlan said, a menacing
grin spreading across his face, “my son and I have a lot to
“Well, what do you have to say about your smug Starfleet
beliefs now, Admiral?” Neilson asked, looking gloatingly at
Harlan as two hulking Jem’Hadar guards held him at bay.
“You two are changelings!” Harlan said incredulously.
“I am,” Neilson said, crossing to the center of the ship’s
bridge. “Admiral Phillips here is one of you, but he’s a
“They promised me my own ship,” Phillips said happily.
“Soon enough,” Neilson said. “Right now we have other
business to attend to.”
“How could you have gotten around Earth’s defenses?”
Harlan asked angrily.
Neilson gestured at their surroundings. “This is a
prototype Jem’Hadar warship that’s equipped with a cloaking
device. Just one of the perks of our battle with the Tal
“You conniving bastards,” Harlan growled.
“We’re not finished yet,” Neilson said with a smile. “Since
your son was unkind enough to mess up our plans, we’ll have to
“We just exchanged one changeling Admiral for another.
And this one has access to your son.”
“You replaced me with a changeling,” Harlan said grimly.
“And BINGO was his name,” Phillips said pleasantly,
placing a hand on Harlan’s shoulder.
“And as for us, we have a starship to capture,” Neilson
“Precisely,” Neilson said. “We’re going to capture that
starship and get all the information we need on the Bermuda Expanse.
Then the Dominion will conquer one more quadrant!”
“I’d worry about the Alpha and Beta quadrants first, if I
were you,” Harlan growled.
Neilson smiled. “I wouldn’t.”
Stardate 51993.3. We have been sent by Starfleet to
investigate the destruction of the Federation freighter
Tangier, as well as the mysterious disappearance of the
Starship Aerostar. I don’t know why Captain Baxter gets to
relax back on Earth while we sit out here and root around for
his stupid ship, but, like a good Captain, I’m complying with
“Well?” Commander Dillon asked, leaning over Lt.
Commander Jaroch’s shoulder. “What have you got?”
“An imbecile looking over my shoulder,” Jaroch said, not
“What have you got on the sensors?” Dillon demanded.
“You must try to be more precise in the future,
Commander,” Jaroch said, looking up. “There is insufficient
debris here to represent the mass of the Aerostar and the Tangier.
Therefore, I am forced to assume that the Aerostar has been
“Waystation told us that much, Jaroch,” Rydell said from the
command chair. “What I want to know is where the heck the
“Oh, Waystation already figured that out?” Jaroch asked.
“Well, good for them. I am gratified to see that I am using my
abilities so productively.”
“Get over it, Jaroch. We need to find the Aerostar,” Rydell
“Very well,” Jaroch said, looking at the long range scanners.
“I am picking up a faint power signature…almost unreadable.
It seems like a distorted echo of some sort.”
Dillon rubbed his hands together. “Now we’re getting
somewhere. Could it be the Aerostar?”
“Quite likely,” Jaroch said, continuing to look at his
scanners. “However, the sensor image is not clear enough to
get a specific location.”
“Well, it’s a start,” Rydell said. “Helm, lay in a
course to inter-“
“Captain…” Lt. Hawkins said from tactical. “We’re
being hailed by an approaching Bolian freighter.”
“What the heck could they want?” Dillon asked, walking
over to Hawkins’s station.
“They say they have someone who needs to talk to us on
board. Someone who specifcally requested to be taken to a
“Put them onscreen,” Rydell said, leaning forward in his
A very disheveled looking Vulcan appeared on the screen.
“Uh, h-hi, I am Counselor Telvin of the late Starship
Capistrano. We were on a d-deep space expedition when we were
a-a-attacked. They killed e-everybody.”
“Attacked? By who…or what?” Rydell asked.
“Don’t know,” the Vulcan stammered. “Big ship. Big,
“What an odd Vulcan,” Jaroch mused.
“Quiet, Jaroch,” Rydell said under his breath. “Mister
Telvin, please beam aboard our ship immediately, and we’ll try
to find out who destroyed your ship.”
“Okay, th-thank you. It’s been a long…c-couple of
“I bet,” Rydell said. “Secondprize out.” As soon as
Telvin’s image disappeared, Rydell turned to Commander Dillon.
“Mister Dillon, go down and fetch our visitor. And take
Counselor Webber with you. Something tells me her services
might be needed.”
Telvin took the cup of tea from Counselor Webber with
shaking hands, as he tried to recount his story.
“Then our shields came down, and the hull started to
breach,” Telvin said, sipping from the tea gingerly.
Commander Dillon and Captain Rydell leaned forward at the
other end of the conference table with interest, as Counselor
Webber sat down across from Dillon on Rydell’s left side.
“And then what?” Dillon asked.
“Then I left,” Telvin said plainly.
“Left? What do you mean you left?” Rydell asked.
“I ran to an escape pod and jumped ship. I’m no idiot,
Captain. I’m technically a civilian. I didn’t make any oath to
Starfleet. I got my PhD in psychology from Yale, where the
students are not expected to get shot at.”
Rydell grimaced inwardly. He was obviously not talking
to the selfless hero-type. “Then, two days later, you were
rescued by the Bolians.”
“And taken here, yes, that’s correct Captain,” Telvin
said, taking another sip. “By the way, this is wonderful tea.”
“Thank you,” Webber said sweetly. “So, Telvin, you seem
quite rattled. If you don’t mind me asking, how is it a Vulcan
could possibly have this reaction?”
“Quite simple, Counselor,” Telvin said, “I am half human.
My full name is actually Telvin Abramowitz, which is my mother’s
maiden name. Of course, when she married my father she changed
it to, well, nothing, because Vulcans don’t have last names.
Why is that?”
“I don’t know,” Rydell said tiredly.
“Anyway, mom raised me on Earth, with all the normal
schooling a Terran would recieve, much to my father’s chagrin.”
“I’m sure,” Rydell said. “About that ship that attacked
you. Can you remember what it looked like? Is there something
you might be able to tell us that would help us track it down?”
Telvin turned in his chair to face the conference room
windows. He stared out at the slowly moving stars beyond the
windows, his gaze falling on one particularly bright, twinkling
star. Maybe it was Vulcan. Heck, he’d never been there–how
would he know?
“It was really big,” Telvin said, glancing back at Rydell.
“With a predatory, almost birdlike shape to it.”
“Romulan…Dominion?” Dillon asked, looking to Rydell.
“No,” Telvin said, shaking his head. “Bigger, bulkier.
And it wasn’t green or purple…it was more like a tannish color.
With some dark blue spots.
“Tan and blue,” Rydell said, rubbing his chin. Didn’t
sound like any damned ship he’d heard of. But it did sound
like a good color scheme.
Telvin squinted a moment at the twinkling star. Was it
his poor eyesight, or was the star coming towards them?
“It sounds like the Federation has a new enemy,”
Commander Dillon said. “Whoever it is, they took out a
Starfleet ship with a few shots.”
“Maybe it was Tamarian,” Webber offered. “Their ships are
kind of bird shaped, but they’re more a greyish color.”
“No,” Telvin said. “Whoever attacked us spoke English
through the Universal Translator. They did, however, make a
kind of hissing sound.”
“Hissing?” Rydell asked.
Telvin stared harder at the star. It was definitely not a
star. It was some sort of ship, and it was coming closer, with
“Mister Telvin…” Rydell said, after a few moments of
silence. “If you can tell us anything else that would help us,
we’d greatly appreciate it. As it is, we have very little to
“You know…” Telvin said, looking out the windows, as his
teacup began to shake more violently. “It looked a lot
“Like what?” Rydell prodded. Interrogating this fellow
was like talking to a little child.
Telvin dropped his teacup and raised a pointed finger at
the transparent aluminum window. “Like that!”
Rydell, Dillon, and Webber all turned to look out the
window, just in time to see a ball of blue light shimmer
“Red Alert,” Lt. Commander Jaroch’s voice said calmly as the
red alert klaxons began. “Captain Rydell to the bridge.”
“Evasive maneuvers, Lt. Sullivan,” Rydell ordered taking
his chair from Jaroch. “Damage report.”
“Shields are down to sixty percent,” Hawkins said.
“They are using some kind of focused antiproton beam,”
Lieutenant Commander Jaroch said, as he returned to the science
station. “I calculate that two more blasts will disable our
“Hail them,” Rydell said. “Maybe we can reason with
“There is no reasoning with them. They’re killers!”
“I’ll remember that,” Rydell said.
“They’re responding,” Lt. Hawkins said.
“Onscreen,” Rydell ordered.
Suddenly, a huge, menacing, predatory looking creature
appeared on the screen. It seemed to be half reptile, half
insect, with a huge torso, tiny, spindly arms and legs, huge,
almost lobsterlike talons, and deep set compound eyes. The
creature smiled, revealing huge jaws full of sharp teeth.
“Another Federation ssssstarship, eh? Would you mind
telling us where we might find the USS Aerossssstar?”
“The Aerostar?” Rydell said. “They’ve only been back in
this quadrant for a day.”
“A day, you ssssay?” the creature hissed. “But they are
“Yes,” Rydell said. “Now would you guys mind terribly
not blowing up any more of our ships?”
“Sssssorry,” the creature said, leaning back in his
chair. “We have quite a few more ships to dessssstroy before
we begin stockpiling you for consumption.”
Dillon gulped. “Did he say consumption?”
“Yesssss, I did,” the creature hissed angrily. “That
meanssss we are going to eat you. We’ve found humans to be
“Who are you?” Rydell asked. “Where are you from?”
“If you must know, we are the Flarn, and we come from a
far away region of space, where we control a huge empire.”
“Why didn’t we think of that before?” Webber asked. “This
is the species the Aerostar ran into in the Delta Quadrant!”
“Damn,” Dillon said. “Then we are in trouble.”
Rydell glared at Dillon and Webber and turned back to the
viewscreen. “What do you want with the Aerostar?”
The Flarn’s smile widened. “Very sssssimply, we want
revenge. Now are you done with all the quesssstions?”
“I–” Rydell said.
“Good. Have a nice day, and thank you for all your
“But–” Rydell said.
“They’re firing again!” Hawkins said, as the deck rattled
underneath Rydell’s feet. “Shields now down to twenty-three
“I’d love to be able to complete just one sentence,” Rydell
muttered. “Return fire, all weapons.”
Hawkins looked up from her panel. “We weakened their
shields. Negligible damage.”
“Damn it,” Rydell said. “Back us off, Sullivan.”
Suddenly, another volley came from the Flarn ship, this
time causing several panels on the bridge to overload and
“Shields down!” Hawkins cried. “Damage to decks eleven
“We’re finished,” Dillon said quietly.
Telvin cowered at Hawkins’s feet, deciding that it was the
best port in a storm, since he had no idea where the escape
pods were on this starship.
“We will not withstand another hit, Captain,” Jaroch said.
Rydell watched the massive ship loom over him. Was this
really it? After all its crew had been through, were they
doomed to bite the dust out in the backwaters of space,
destroyed in less than ten minutes by a ship they couldn’t even
The Captain tried to ignore the sound of Commander
Dillon’s nervous whimpering from beside him as he attempted to
think of a way out of this mess. Maybe it really was a
Kobayashi Maru. A no win situation.
Maybe it was time to simply throw in the–
“Sir!” Jaroch said from the science console. “They are
Rydell looked up. Jaroch was right. Suddenly the ship
turned on a wing and warped away.
“Talk about luck,” Ensign Carr said from ops.
“Maybe they found something that interested them more,”
“Whew,” Commander Dillon said, wiping a hand over his
forehead. “I really thought we were finished there, Captain.”
“We still may be,” Rydell said. “Helm, set a course to
follow that ship. Maximum warp.”
“Are you crazy?” Sullivan asked.
“Quite possibly,” Rydell replied. “Now engage.”
“Are you ssssure it is a Ssssssulani signature?” Granok
asked, watching as the Federation ship they were attacking
vanished away in the distance.
“Yessss,” Astrok said from the science console. “But
ssssomeone is attempting to massssk the signal. It is sssssome
sort of camoflage device.”
“Can we sssssee through it?” Kenjek asked.
“Enough to get a target lock,” Astrok said, baring his
teeth in a menacing smile.
Colonel T’Phil paced the bridge of the Exalax nervously,
his fingers twiddling behind his back.
“How long now, pilot?” T’Phil asked, as he came to the
The pilot straightened. “Six hours, fourteen minutes, at
our present sublight speed.”
“That’s not good enough,” T’Phil said, turning to Ardek,
who sat in the command chair busily working on a padd. “We’re
still not out of Federation territory.”
“‘The strongest of all warriors are these two–Time and
Patience,’” Ardek said, looking up at T’Phil proudly.
“What?” T’Phil asked.
Ardek smiled. “It’s my thought of the day. Do you know
who said that?”
“Mevak? Or was it V’karn?” T’Phil asked, raising an
“Tolstoi,” Ardek corrected. “A human writer.”
“Well, he writes like a Romulan,” T’Phil commented,
returning his gaze to the viewscreen.
“That’s what I thought, too,” Ardek said. “Do you know
what it means?”
“That I should be patient?”
“Exactly,” Ardek said. “Patience is a virtue, wouldn’t
“I supposed the Tal Shiar have something to learn from
Tolstoi. Maybe if we had thought like that, we would have
never sent that fleet into the Gamma Quadrant.”
“Live and learn,” Ardek said cheerfully.
T’Phil grimaced as he remembered the dreadful day he had
heard of the destruction of the Tal Shiar fleet. Since that
time, he had difficutly getting used to the fact that his
organization was crippled, a mere shadow of the fierce,
devastating political power they once had been. That’s why he
was forced to lower himself to undercover work aboard the
Aerostar. In the old days, one of his minions would have taken
care of that task. But now, most of those minions were dead.
Slaughtered by the Jem’Hadar. Oh, well.
“These organizers really do help you keep your life in
order,” Ardek said, happily tapping away at his padd. “Not
only do they have a quote for each day, but they have a list of
things to do as well. See, I have ‘steal Federation starship
and take it back to Romulus’ right here under stardate 51992.
“And 51995 is my daughter’s birthday.” Ardek continued
to page through his padd. “And, of course, who could forget
stardate 52050, Tarshak day.”
“Commander…” the science officer said, looking up from
his console. “I just detected a vessel on an intercept course
with us. They are approaching at warp two, on a course of 214
“On screen,” Ardek said, putting his padd down and
looking up at the viewscreen.
T’Phil looked up, and gasped. “No…it’s not possible…”
The huge, predatory starship loomed closer on the screen.
“The ship matches nothing in our databanks,” the science
“What is it, Colonel?” Ardek asked urgently.
“Get us out of here. As fast as we can go,” T’Phil said.
“Forget the Aerostar!” T’Phil cried frantically, pushing
the pilot aside and grabbing the controls.
Suddenly a blue beam lanced across space, connecting with
what appeared to be empty space.
The Exalax shook, as panels on the bridge began to spark
“Direct hit on the Aerostar. The energy surge from the
blast was absorbed into our cloaking shields and our tractor
beam,” the science officer reported.
“Can we maintain our cloak?”
“Barely,” the science officer said. “Our electrical
systems took a lot of damage.”
“I’m disengaging the tractor beam and getting us out of
here,” T’Phil said, grabbing at the helm controls.
“Who are they, T’Phil?” Ardek asked, watching as the
Aerostar emerged from the cloaking shields and became visible,
a huge new scar apparent on its lower hull.
“They are called the Flarn, and they are likely the
most fearsome species I have ever come in contact with,” T’Phil
said, watching the vessel on the screen as it fired another
shot at the Aerostar, cleaving a giant tear in the bottom of
its saucer section.
“Overmassssster!” Astrok shouted, as Granok watched the
crippled Aerostar list in space. “It issss the Aerossssstar.
They sssssseem to have been refitted with Sulani enginesssss.”
“Excellent,” Granok said, looking excitedly at the image
of the Aerostar on the viewscreen. “Find me Captain Baxter.”
“One problem, ssssssir…” Astrok said. “The
Aerossssssstar is dessssssserted.”
“Where issssss the crew?” Granok asked.
Astrok studied his panel. “I am detecting another power
sssssignature. There issss another camoflauged vessel in the
“Can we find it?” Granok asked
“Ssssscanning…I’ve got them!” Astrok reported.
“Sssssshoot them!” Granok commanded, slamming his hand
down on the arm of his command throne.
“Our cloaking device is failing!” the science officer
reported. “They may be able to detect us!”
Suddenly the science officer’s fears were confirmed when
a huge blast rocked the Exalax.
“Drop the cloak and raise the shields,” Ardek commanded,
as the ship shook. “Lock our disruptors onto them and fire!”
“There she is,” Commander Dillon said, watching the
gruesome vessel come into view on the screen.
Captain Rydell peered at the viewscreen as the
Secondprize grew closer to the Flarn ship. “And is that the
“It seems as though they have they found it, Captain,” Jaroch
“Well, where the hell was it?” Rydell asked. “You can’t
just make a ship disappear.”
“Romulan Warbird decloaking ahead, Captain!” Lieutenant
“I stand corrected,” Rydell admitted.
“Oh, dear,” Telvin said, still cowering behind Hawkins.
“Lt. Hawkins. Give Starfleet a little update,” Rydell
said, slapping his comm badge and watching as the Romulan
Warbird began to attack the Flarn vessel. “Rydell to Baird.
How are those shields coming?”
“They were pretty f**ed,” Baird cursed. “But I managed
to get them back up to sixty percent. Why?”
“We’re heading in for round two,” Rydell sighed.
“We’ve lost our shields!” the science officer of the
Exalax cried out. “Damage to the warp engines.”
“We’re as good as eaten, Ardek,” T’Phil said.
“What do you mean?” Ardek asked. “Eaten?”
“The Flarn find humanoids tasty,” T’Phil said.
Ardek madly stabbed at the comm button on his command
chair. “Engineering. We need warp power. You have to get us
out of here.”
“It is useless, Commander Ardek. The warp engines are
disabled,” the engineer replied.
Another blast sent the Exalax spiralling, one wing ripped
Suddenly something appeared right in front of Commander
Ardek in a shimmer of purple.
“Intruder alert!” the pilot cried, pulling his disruptor
out and running towards the huge creature that materialized in
front of Ardek.
The gigantic reptilian creature jabbed a claw into the
pilot, impaling him, then tossing him across the bridge.
“What did you do with the crewmemberssssss of the
Aerossssstar? Where isss Baxter?” the creature hissed.
“Oh, Captain Baxter?” T’Phil asked, stepping up behind
Ardek, who appeared to be paralyzed with fear. “He went back
“Earth?” the creature asked, obviously interested.
“Ssssso he’s returning home.”
“Yes, home. I’m sure he’d be happy to see you,” T’Phil
said uneasily. “Why don’t you look him up? Earth is lovely
this time of year.”
The creature grabbed Ardek in one claw and T’Phil in the
other. “Why don’t WE look him up?” he asked. “Assssstrok to
Jendak. Transsssssport three.”
Lt. Commander Jaroch gripped the science console as the
Secondprize shook. “Damage to the port stabilizer! We are
clearly outgunned here!”
“We can’t last much longer like this!” Commander Dillon
said, as the Flarn ship pounded them again.
“Starfleet said they would try to send us some backup…
but they don’t have much out this way. It could be a
while,” Lt. Hawkins reported. “Waystation is sending two
runabouts to take some pressure off us. But we can’t expect
them to do much good.”
Rydell gripped the command chair, trying to maintain his
balance as his ship recieved its beating. “I need some
“We could lead them towards Waystation,” Jaroch suggested.
“They are equipped with some more advanced weaponry to battle
“I don’t want to endanger so many innocent lives,” Rydell
said. “There must be another answer.”
Suddenly the Flarn ship turned again on the viewscreen
and engaged into warp.
“They’re leaving,” Jaroch said incredulously. “Again, what
dumb, stupid luck.”
“Luck is not chance–it’s toil–Fortune’s expensive smile
is earned,” Rydell said. “That’s Emily Dickinson.”
“Where on Earth did you get that from?” Jaroch asked.
“Thought for the day,” Rydell said.
“Well, should we follow them again?” Dillon asked.
“Captain…” Hawkins said from tactical. “The Romulan
Warbird is seriously damaged. I don’t think they’re going to
be able to keep it together much longer.”
Rydell rubbed his chin. “How many people are over
“Two hundred Romulan, two humans, and one Vulcan,”
Rydell’s brow furrowed. “How the hell did they get over
“Probably the crew left behind to look over the
Aerostar,” Dillon suggested.
“Very well,” Rydell said. “Send an engineering crew over
there to try and rescue the ship. Meanwhile, get everyone
“What’s the word from the Secondprize?” Commander Beck
asked, the concern plain on her face.
“They’ve sustained quite a bit of damage, and they have
stopped to assist the Romulan Warbird that stole the Aerostar,”
Lt. Porter reported from the science console.
“What about the invading warship?” Beck asked,
approaching the main viewscreen.
“Rapidly approaching our position, Commander,” Lt.
Russel said from the tactical console. “It looks like they’re
heading for the Terran system. And our runabouts are directly
in their path.”
“Damn,” Beck said, considering the situation a moment.
“Bring the runabouts back in. No way they’re going to last
against a ship that overpowered a Romulan Warbird and an
“Aye, sir,” Russel said, hitting a control on his panel.
“Waystation to Cumberland and Yadkin. Return at once. I
repeat, return at once.”
“How close will the warship pass to us, at their present
course?” Beck asked, looking back to Porter’s console.
“Four thousand kilometers,” Porter said. “Well within our
“Then we’re going to try to stop them,” Beck said
decisively. “Go to Red Alert. Arm all weapons, and put the
shields up as soon as the runabouts return,” Beck said.
“Already contacting Starfleet for the third time, sir,”
Porter said, tapping away at his panel.
“…and as you can see, it’s true…” Captain Baxter
said, pulling nervously at his dress uniform as he addressed
the Federation council.
Behind him, on a huge viewscreen, the crashed starship
Nixon was still smoldering in the morning light, as the salvage
team from Peking worked to clear up the wreckage. “…only
Nixon can go to China.”
The audience was completely quiet, with the exception of
a Tellarite who noisly cleared his throat.
Seeing that her boyfriend was struggling, Peterman cried
out, “Yay, Andy!”
Conway quickly jerked her back into her seat. “This
isn’t a damn football game, Peterman!”
Baxter looked around nervously. “Um…in conclusion, I
can only say this: The biggest threat to Starfleet is within.
Admirals Neilson and Phillips represent our weakest links, and
these links have to be rooted out and eliminated, by whatever
means necessary. The threat of the Dominion and the Borg
almost pales in comparison.”
Baxter pulled at his collar again. “Well, it doesn’t
really pale, but, maybe it just looks a little peaked. Anyway,
my point is, the Aerostar’s mission was based on the fact that
my crew and I would fail, and in doing so, unwittingly carry
out Admiral Neilson’s plans. But as you can see, we did not fail.
We did–kind of–carry out Neilson’s plans, but, hey, we did stop
the Borg from ransacking the entire Delta Quadrant.”
The Captain started to break out into a nervous sweat.
The council stared back at him blankly. President Inyo was
asleep. And Kelly clapped every time he finished a sentence.
He felt more comfortable battling the Flarn.
“I guess my point is,” Baxter said, “we survived. We
beat the odds and made it back. And for that, I believe my
crew should be recognized.”
At that, the group began to clap vigorously. They’d
finally heard something interesting. The sound of the clapping
caused President Inyo to stir. He looked up, saw everyone else
clapping, and joined them, standing up to join Baxter at the
“Thank you, Captain Baxter, for that amazing story. Your
fantastic voyage will no doubt go down in the annals of history
as one of our most…interesting. I’d also like to remind
everyone that we have some punch and cookies out in the lobby.
Also, the Department of Earth Agriculture is having a square
dance tonight at eight o’clock in the ‘Joe Piscopo’ room of the
Federation affairs building. All are invited. Thanks for
The crowd began to disperse as Baxter stepped down from
the podium. Baxter’s command crew rushed to meet him.
“So, how’d I do?” Baxter asked, as Peterman ran up to hug
“Wonderful,” Peterman said, squeezing Baxter so tight
that one of his pips almost popped off.
“It was inspiring,” Conway muttered sarcastically.
“Did someone say cookies?” Dr. Browning said, dragging
Richards in the direction of the refreshments.
“Great job, Andy,” Richards said as he was dragged
“Congratulations, son,” Admiral Baxter said, stepping up
to shake Captain Baxter’s hand. “It’s good to have you back.”
Captain Baxter smiled. “Thanks, Dad. Where did mom go?”
“She had to go back to the Goodall. After dropping you
guys off, they’re scheduled to go on a mapping mission in the
“Oh,” Baxter said. “So, what did you think of my
Harlan laughed. “It read like science fiction,
son. Hard to believe that it actually happened.”
“Even harder to believe that you stuck an undercover
operative on my ship and didn’t even tell me about it,” Baxter
Captain Baxter looked at Harlan askance a moment. It seemed
like he didn’t know what the Captain was talking about. Baxter
dismissed his suspicions as silly paranoia. “I just hope she’s
happy with Admiral Neilson’s operative.” Baxter wondered what
Commander Prescott and Private Henricks were doing at that
moment. He was sure that sex had something to do with it,
whatever it was. “So was it your idea to have her try and get
in my pants?”
“She…um, had to get access to information from key
individuals on your ship. Anyway, I knew you were a lonely
“Not anymore. I found someone. And she isn’t even on
your payroll,” Baxter said, smiling over at Counselor Peterman
as she talked to the Trill ambassador.
“I’m proud of you, Andy. When should Commander Baxter
and I… uh, expect a little grandchild?”
Baxter considered that a moment. He could recall
Counselor Peterman’s tirade on the subject, which went
something like: “Something that big coming out of something
this small? Are you kidding me? Do you know how much that
“Don’t hold your breath, Dad,” Baxter said. “We haven’t
even really talked about marraige yet. So…” Baxter tried to
change the subject. “Any word on the Aerostar, yet?”
“None that I’ve heard,” Harlan said. “The Secondprize is
still searching for her.” After that Admiral Baxter smiled.
“But I wouldn’t get my hopes up if I were you.”
Baxter’s conversation was suddenly interrupted when a
shorter, white haired man rushed up to shake his hand.
“Captain Baxter. What a pleasure to meet you!”
“Same here,” Baxter said, looking at the man’s pips.
“Admiral Frank McGrath,” The man said excitedly. “So, I
understand you had quite an adventure in the Delta Quadrant.”
“Yes, sir. I did,” Baxter replied.
“I also hear you lost your ship,” McGrath said, his voice
lowering to a conspiratorial whisper.
“I imagine the Aerostar will be scrapped, sir,” Baxter
“Well, what if I told you I had a brand new ship for you.
A top-of-the-line Galaxy-class, equipped with all the latest
bells and whistles,” McGrath said excitedly.
Both Admiral and Captain Baxter’s eyes lit up. “You’re
kidding,” Captain Baxter said.
“I’m going to call her the Explorer. And she has
everything you could possibly imagine…except a crew.”
“And what would this…Explorer…do?” Harlan asked.
“Just what the name implies,” McGrath said, his eyes wide
with excitement. “Explore…”
“Explore what?” Captain Baxter asked.
“The farthest reaches of space. We would send her
everywhere the human eye has yet to peek…we’ll probably even
send her into the Gamma Quadrant for some expeditions, if the
Dominion threat ever lets up. She would be a modern day space
“Well,” Captain Baxter said, rocking nervously on his
heels. “It sounds like you’ve definitely put a lot of thought
McGrath nodded excitedly.
This was all very sudden. “I was kind of thinking of
taking some time off…maybe hang around the house a bit.”
“That’s fine,” McGrath said. “They say it’ll be a couple
weeks before the final touches are done.”
“You see, Admiral McGrath, I was kind of thinking of a more
mundane, quieter assignment. Maybe a little closer to home.
A patrol ship, or something like that,” Baxter was beginning to
“Patrol ships don’t bring adventure. They don’t bring
glory. How could you come off a grand adventure like the one
you’ve just finished, and then become a glorified security
guard? You can’t kill the adventurer in you, Andy!”
“Tell you what, I’ll think about it…” Baxter said,
when suddenly Counselor Peterman grabbed his arm.
“Come on, Andy! They’re getting ready to do the hokey
“Those crazy ambassadors,” Captain Baxter said, as
Peterman dragged him away.
“Think about it awhile!” McGrath called after him. “Just
think of the possibilities!”
After all the dignitaries had been hokey-pokeyed out, the
Starfleet band switched to a spicy tango.
“Did I tell you today how beautiful you are?” Captain
Baxter asked, as he dipped Counselor Peterman in time to the
tango music, pulling her back up so they were face to face.
“Not yet,” Peterman replied, sweetly, putting her face
next to Baxter’s as they tangoed. “But you’ve still got time,
you sly thing.”
“Are you saying I’m a better sweet talker than Commander
Kramer?” Baxter asked, smiling a wry smile.
“Even in your sleep.”
“Especially in my sleep,” Baxter corrected.
Suddenly a hand came down on Baxter’s shoulder.
“May I step in?” Admiral McGrath asked, his eyes twinkling.
Baxter looked down at the Admiral, considering it. “I
suppose. Just don’t get too friendly.”
“I’m an honorable man, Captain, I assure you,” McGrath said,
taking Counselor Peterman in his arms and twirling her across
the dance floor.
“Oh, my. You’re a wonderful dancer,” Peterman said, as
she was whisked away by the shorter man.
Baxter put his hands on his hips. “Now how do you like
Richards and Browning tangoed by, Browning leaning her head
back, her mouth filled with a rose. “Mmff. What’s he doing
“Yeah, does he have a new assignment for us?” Richards
added, bringing Browning up to face him.
“Kind of,” Baxter said, walking over to the punch bowl
and getting a cup of punch.
“Well?” Browning asked, taking the rose out of her mouth and
handing it to Richards. “Do we have a new ship?”
“Maybe,” Baxter said, taking a sip of punch.
Richards and Browning stopped dancing and walked over to
join Baxter. “So what’s the deal?”
“It’s a deep space exploration mission. Galaxy-class
vessel, all the amenities. “
“Sounds a lot better than Delta Quadrant duty,” Browning
“So what’s wrong?” Richards asked. “You don’t exactly
seem ecstatic about this.”
“It’s just…” Baxter said. “I enjoyed the idea of
staying on Earth for awhile. I’m sick of being far from home.”
Richards looked at Baxter as he gazed out into the
crowd and watched Admiral McGrath dancing with Counselor Peterman.
“But there’s no assurance that, if we refuse this offer,
we’ll still be able to stay together,” Richards said.
Browning could see where Richards was going. “So you
should ask yourself what you want to be close to the most.
Earth and your past…”
“Or my future,” Baxter said, his eyes still fixed on
Counselor Peterman. “Good point.”
“Just something to think about,” Richards said, as he
and Browning danced away.
Captain Baxter smiled as he watched Richards and Browning
disappear back into the crowd, then diverted his gaze back to
McGrath and Peterman. He noticed a very panicked looking ensign
making his way through the crowd, holding a padd up above his
head as he moved.
Baxter put down his punch and began to move towards McGrath
as the ensign took him aside, showed him the padd, and
whispered something quietly to him.
“What’s going on?” Peterman asked, as Baxter moved
Admiral McGrath held up the padd for Baxter’s inspection.
“The intruder has changed course. It’s heading towards us
“Damn,” Baxter said. “How much time do we have?”
“Our scientists are calculating a matter of hours,” McGrath
“What intruder?” Peterman asked with concern.
“Some kind of alien warship was spotted yesterday
afternoon by the Starship Capistrano,” Baxter explained.
“A few hours ago, it attacked the Secondprize while they
were out looking for the Aerostar. Since then, we’ve lost
contact with Waystation and the Secondprize,” McGrath added.
“Oh my goodness,” Peterman said, gasping.
“Do we have anything firm on the identity of the vessel?”
McGrath nodded excitedly, handing the padd to Baxter. “Yes.
A sensor image Waystation picked up on long range. They
transmitted it with their last communication.”
Baxter called up the image on the padd, his eyes suddenly
growing wide. “Oh my God.”
The padd started to tremble in his hand.
“Something wrong?” McGrath asked.
Peterman glanced over Baxter’s shoulder. “No…”
“We’ve seen this ship before,” Baxter said. “They come
from the Delta Quadrant. They’re called the Flarn.”
“But how did they get here?” McGrath asked.
“I don’t know. My only guess is that they could have
gotten through the portal,” Baxter said. “We thought they were
“Evidently they weren’t,” McGrath said. “We have to do
something about this.”
“I want to be on whatever ship goes out there,” Baxter
said. “Me and my crew are the only Starfleet officers around
that have ever faced the Flarn.”
“I agree,” McGrath said. “But we don’t have any available
ships nearby. And I don’t think anything we have could get
here in time. The Secondprize was our last hope.”
“Wait a minute…” Baxter said. “What about the
McGrath’s eyes lit up. “We could step up her completion…”
“Explorer might just be powerful enough to take out the
Flarn,” Baxter said.
“But she needs a crew,” McGrath replied.
“Funny,” Baxter said. “It just so happens I know where
to find one.”
Ensign Zack Ford turned over in bed, shaking his head
groggily and looking up at his chronometer. 0900 hours. He
should still be sleeping.
“I said wake up,” the woman next to him said. “Someone
named Commander Conway has been calling you for the past ten
“Oh…jeeze,” Ford said. “He didn’t tell you anything
The woman seemed upset. “Only that he was your
commanding officer and the First Officer of the Aerostar. AND
that you’d be in deep trouble if you didn’t rendez-vous at
Starfleet command with the rest of the command crew within the
“Oh,” Ford said. “I see.”
“I thought you told me you were the Aerostar’s first
officer,” the woman said, pushing off the bed and heading
into the next room to put her clothes on.
“Well, we kind of…had, um…two first officers,” Ford
said. “Yeah, that’s it. Two first officers.”
“Likely story. Now get the hell out of here.” She emerged
from the bathroom, tossing Ford his clothes.
“I said get out of here!”
“Will I ever see you again?” Ford asked, throwing on his
uniform top and attaching his comm badge.
“Not likely,” Alicia said. “So what rank are you,
“I’m actually…uh, Lieutenant Captain,” Ford grinned. “I’m
above the first officer, but below the Captain.”
“Uh-huh,” Alicia said, shoving Ford out the door. “I’m
not as dumb as you look.”
“But you drove a Ford!” Ford protested.
“And I think your model needs to be recalled,” Alicia
replied as she slammed the door in Ford’s face.
“Ouch,” A voice said from behind Ford. “Pretty harsh.”
Ford looked around sheepishly. “Oh, hi, Lieutenant
“Are you ready to go already? The group’s been waiting
in the lobby for ten minutes.”
“I just hate goodbyes,” Ford said, glancing woefully back
at the door to Alicia’s room.
“I’m sure. Come on, Romeo,” Hartley said, leading Ford
into the elevator.
“I am unimpressed,” Lt. J’hana said, staring down into
the Grand Canyon. “It is a giant hole.”
“The Yalla expanse on Betazed is much deeper,” Lt.
Tilleran agreed, surveying the area.
“You guys have no appreciation for natural beauty,” Nurse
Holly Carter said, watching Crewman Wilcox as he played in the
“Rocks,” Dean said happily. “Earth rocks.”
“Good job!” Carter said. “We’re on Earth!”
“We do appreciate natural beauty, Holly,” Tilleran said.
“The tour guide was a natural beauty, if I ever saw one. And
he was interested in me, too.”
“I can’t believe you used your powers like that,” Holly
said. “Isn’t that an unfair advantage?”
“‘All is fair in love and war,’” Tilleran quoted.
“Good point,” Holly agreed.
“Do you hear something?” J’hana suddenly said.
“No,” Tilleran said. “Why?”
“Be quiet,” J’hana’s antenna began twitching.
“I hate it when she gets like this,” Holly said, rolling
“Quiet!” J’hana ordered. “Federation shuttlecraft, type
three. It has a slight imbalance in the deuterium matrix.”
Suddenly a shuttlecraft soared into view, softly landing
in a nearby clearing.
The hatch opened, and Lieutenant Larkin ducked out.
“Ah, Lieutenant J’hana. Lieutenant Tilleran. We have been
looking for you all morning. You did not bring your
communicators with you.”
“We’ve been sight seeing,” J’hana grunted. “What concern
is it of yours?”
“A Flarn warship is headed for Earth. That is my
concern,” Larkin replied. “Captain Baxter is reassembling our
crew in order to stop them.”
“I suppose we are going to fly around in his mommie’s
ship?” J’hana asked, chuckling.
“Not exactly,” Larkin said. “Now…we must leave
Tilleran sighed. “Okay, but Mister Mirk will be
“Mister Mirk is here as well?” Larkin asked.
“Right here,” Mirk said, floating peacefully in mid air,
a few meters away from the canyon’s rocky ledge. “I saw the
shuttle coming while I was checking out the canyon. Nice
planet by the way. What’s up?”
“I will explain on the way,” Larkin said, leading
everyone into the shuttlecraft.
Captain Baxter entered the conference room at Starfleet
Headquarters, causing the ten voices of his crewmembers to
immediately die down.
“Well?” Commander Conway asked. “What’s the word,
Baxter stood at the head of the table, looking around at
each member of his command crew.
“The word is go, Conway. Starfleet wants us to intercept
the Flarn warship and either disable or destroy it. Anything
it takes to stop it from reaching Earth.”
“I knew it,” Conway said. “They’ve gone mad. Don’t they
realize that we’ll be blown to bits?”
“We’re Earth’s last hope, Commander,” Baxter said.
“Bye-bye, Earth,” Ensign Ford said quietly.
“It certainly is cold in here,” Commander Ardek observed,
looking around at the interior walls of the Flarn freezer.
“Wouldn’t you say, T’Phil?”
“Shut up,” T’Phil said. “We wouldn’t be in this mess if
you had listened to me.”
“Well, how was I supposed to know they would kidnap us
and put us in a freezer?” Ardek said indignantly. “I mean,
you’re the one that knows the Flarn so well.”
“I guess it is a moot point now,” T’Phil replied. “We need
to find a way out of here.”
“Preferably before the chef gets back,” Ardek muttered.
Captain Baxter rested his hands on the back of Ensign
Ford’s chair as he piloted the shuttlecraft De Gama out of
Starbase Zero Zero One’s shuttlebay. “Steady as she goes, Mr.
“Aye, sir,” Ford said, steering the shuttlecraft gently
towards McKinley station, where the Explorer was currently
The massive vessel quickly came into view as the De Gama
glided towards it.
“There she is,” Baxter said in awe.
Counselor Peterman squeezed Baxter’s hand. “I like it,
Andy. It looks much more graceful than the Aerostar.”
“It should,” Conway huffed. “It’s a Galaxy class. That’s
the same class as the old Enterprise-D. The former flagship of
“Humpff. Graceful,” J’hana said. “Graceful has nothing
to do with it. It is a powerful killing machine.”
“A powerful exploration tool, J’hana,” Baxter corrected.
“According to Admiral McGrath.”
“Call it what you will,” J’hana said. “We shall see once
we get it into battle.”
“Leave it to J’hana,” Dr. Browning said. “She looks forward
to fighting like most people look forward to sex.”
“But, Doctor, are they not truely one and the same?”
Commander Conway laughed. “I never thought I’d hear you
get philosophical, Lieutenant.”
“Andorians are some of the galaxy’s greatest
“Yeah, didn’t they come up with passive resistance?”
“Very funny. Only a human would come up with such a
flawed concept,” J’hana grunted.
Ensign Ford slowed the De Gama down slightly as it
approached closer to the Explorer, gliding in between the
vessel’s port side and the framework of the McKinley station
Baxter watched as workers in space suits finished some
last minute welding on the Explorer’s hull, as the shuttle
turned, approaching the main shuttlebay at the rear of the
“You’re sure Admiral McGrath said this thing was almost
finished?” Richards asked, as they approached the opening
“He has complete confidence in this vessel,” Baxter said.
“Well, he’s not going to be the one out there fighting
the Flarn, is he?” Conway asked.
“This is true.”
“Shuttlebay control to De Gama. You are cleared for
Ford pressed a button on his panel. “Roger, shuttlebay
control. Prepare to lock on tracor beam.”
Suddenly a blue beam lanced out from the shuttlebay as the
De Gama approached. Ford leaned back and let the beam drag
the shuttle inside the bay.
Ensign Ford hit the door control just as the De Gama
landed softly on the shuttlebay’s deck. “Last stop, Fresno,
Redondo, Beta Quadrant and all points south.”
“All right,” Baxter said, leading the way out of the
shuttle. “We have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Admiral McGrath stepped up to greet Baxter and his officers
as they exited the shuttle. “Glad to see you all made it here
safely. Isn’t she a beautiful ship?”
“Lovely,” Conway said, looking around the shuttlebay.
“Where’s the bathroom?”
“There’s a bathroom on the bridge,” McGrath said, gesturing
for the door of the shuttlebay. “If you will all follow me,
I’ll take you there.”
It was a fairly quiet turbolift ride up to the bridge,
allowing Captain Baxter to take note of the suttle nuances that
go along with each different starship. The first thing he noted
were what appeared to be real oak railings along all the corridors,
and the latinum fixtures inside the turbolifts. He had to
at least give McGrath credit for his attention to detail.
As McGrath led Baxter and his officers out onto the bridge,
Baxter took note of its size and splendor. Like most Galaxy-
class bridges, it was obviously intended not only as a command
center, but as a place to show off to visiting dignitaries.
Captain Baxter walked down to his chair at the center of
the command area, flanked by Peterman and Conway.
“Nice,” Baxter said, taking his chair. He could feel his
butt sinking into the soft slate blue cushion. Very comfortable.
“The seats are ergonomically designed for maximum
comfort,” McGrath said, “they can inflate for lumbar back support,
and they can even…”
“Yay!” Counselor Peterman said, as her seat at Baxter’s
“…vibrate,” McGrath finished.
Ensign Ford slid into the plush swivel-armchair, running
his hands along the expanded, u-shaped conn panel. “Now this
“This is not acceptable,” J’hana grunted from tactical.
Captain Baxter turned around to face his tactical
officer, putting on the best pouty face he could. “What’s
wrong, Lieutenant? You don’t like your new station?”
J’hana grimaced. “Tactical belongs directly behind the
command center, not off to the side. I should be near the
Captain so we can communicate efficiently and so I may throw
myself in front of him should an intruder beam onto the bridge.
This is a flawed design, and it should be corrected immediately.”
“The design has a purpose, Lieutenant,” McGrath said,
walking back to stand between the tactical console and the
engineering console that sat directly across from it. “We put
tactical and engineering together at the rear of the bridge, so
that they could coordinate damage control during battle
“I suppose I can see where that would be useful,” J’hana
“She’s just upset because she’s not at the center of
attention any more,” Ensign Ford grinned.
Ford managed to duck just in time to avoid being hit by
the padd that J’hana hurled at him.
“Just kidding,” Ford squeaked, turning back around in his
“I’m just glad I have a chair of my own now,” Lt.
Tilleran said, taking a seat behind the large, L-shaped
Science console that was situated next to Commander Conway’s
chair. Another console, equipped to handle environmental controls
and mission ops, waited on the opposite side of the bridge near
“Captain,” Lt. Commander Richards said, after checking
out the engineering systems from his own panel. “I’d like to go
down and get a first-hand look at the engines if I could. See what
I’ve got to work with.”
“By all means,” Baxter said. “Take Dr. Browning with you so
she can take a look at the new Sickbay.”
“Good idea,” Browning said, taking Richards’s hand and
following him to the turbolift. “I have to make measurements
for my new pizza oven.”
“Lieutenant Hartley to the bridge. We’ve got everybody,
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Baxter said, looking over to the
ops station. “How many personnel aboard, Lieutenant Larkin?”
Larkin examined her panel. “There are one hundred
sixty-five people on board at present. That also accounts for
the Starfleet engineering team.”
“Shouldn’t we have more?” Conway asked.
“After injuries and deaths, I am afraid not,” Larkin
said. “Several of our crewmembers are still convalescing down
on Earth. There is also a small detatchment aboard the
Aerostar, assuming the Flarn have not destroyed it.”
“Very well,” Baxter said, pressing a button on the arm of
his command chair. “All hands, this is the Captain. I know
it’s going to take some time getting used to the new ship, but
save the housewarming parties for later. I want us ready to
leave within the hour. All department heads be ready to submit
a status report to Commander Conway by 1100 hours.”
“And don’t hesitate to try out the olympic sized swimming
pool when you’re done,” Admiral McGrath added. “It has a
holographic generator that allows you to swim with holographic
creatures, from Terran dolphins to Andorian eels.”
Baxter bristled inwardly at McGrath’s interruption. “Good
luck to each of you. Baxter out.”
“Care to see the conference room?” McGrath asked. “It’s
“If you don’t mind, Admiral,” Baxter said. “We have a
lot of work to do.”
“Say no more!” McGrath said, raising his hands and making
his way to the turbolift. “I don’t wish to get in the way.
I’ll be in my quarters if you need me.”
Baxter blinked. “Your quarters?”
“Yes, Captain. You didn’t expect me to sleep on the
battle bridge, did you?”
“Well, our mission is very dangerous, Admiral. I kind of
expected that you would return to Earth.”
“I’ll do nothing of the sort,” McGrath said. “I intend to
accompany the Explorer on her maiden voyage, Flarn or no.”
Baxter sighed. “Wonderful.”
“I’ll see you in forty-five minutes for your pre-launch
“What pre-launch staff meeting?” Conway asked, as McGrath
disappeared into the turbolift.
“I don’t know,” Baxter said. “I hadn’t scheduled one.”
“Is he going to accompany us on every mission?” J’hana
asked. “That is unacceptable.”
“We’ll figure something out,” Baxter said. “I’m sure the
man can be reasoned with.”
“If not, I will have to kill him.”
“Not if I get to him first,” Conway muttered.
“Yes, Ensign Monroe, I scanned the entire complex. Your
Elmo doll is just plain gone,” Lt. Hartley sighed, as she idly
ran another diagnostic on the transporter console.
“But you don’t understand…” Ensign Beth Monroe said
over the comm link. “I’ve had that doll since elementary
school. It’s been with me through thick and thin. I can’t
just leave it on Earth!”
“I’ve got one piece of advice for you, Ensign,” Hartley
said in annoyance. “Get a freaking life. Hartley out.”
After Lt. Hartley finished the diagnostic, she decided to
take a look around her transporter room. She had to give it to
Starfleet, they definitely had class.
Hartley reasoned that Starfleet intended to have
dignitaries from all sorts of foreign worlds visit the Explorer,
and as such, the transporter room was equipped with such amenities
as fresh, warm hand towels hanging next to the transporter pad
and a large monitor behind the transporter console that
provided guests with a narrated visual montage of the Explorer,
Starfleet, and the Federation.
She had to admit to herself, however, that all of it
seemed to be overdone. Really, mirrors around the transporter
pads? Latinum fixtures and cheesey elevator music in the
bathrooms? Vibrating matresses in all the cabins?
Hartley felt as if she was staying in the nicer wing of
the Federation Plaza, only this Plaza came equipped with
“Richards to Hartley. Are you busy?”
“That depends, Commander,” Hartley said. “Do you need me
to help you with something?”
“Then yes,” Hartley said flatly. “I’m extremely busy.”
“Quit clowning around. I have less then an hour to get
this ship ready for departure and my staff isn’t very
“What’s the matter, are they off-key?” Hartley asked
“Please come down here and help me. Or I’ll have you
beaming Doctor McCoy’s tapioca pudding supply from the
Starfleet food depot,” Richards seethed. Hartley could almost
imagine the veins bulging out on his forehead.
“Okay, okay. I’ll be right there,” Hartley said, grabbing
a mint candy out of the handy dispenser and heading out of the
Hartley wasn’t halfway down the corridor before she heard
someone call her name out.
“Hey, Megan!” Mirk picked up step next to Hartley as
“Oh, hi Mirk,” Hartley said. “How’s the new bar coming?”
“Slow,” Mirk admitted. “I’m having trouble coming up
with a name. For some reason, ‘The Starlight Lounge, Part Two’
just doesn’t have the right ring to it.”
“I’ll agree with you there,” Hartley said, stepping into
the turbolift. “Deck thirty-six.”
“Oh…Deck twenty-two,” Mirk said, remembering he had to
tell the turbolift where he wanted it to go.
“We’re on our way, set a course for galactic adventure
today!” the turbolift computer said, as it started up with a
“Does it say that every time?” Mirk asked.
Hartley shook her head. “It has forty different sayings,
each annoying in its own little way.”
For the next several seconds, the interior of the turbolift
was quiet, except for the steady thrum as the decks passed by.
“How about ‘The Beer Nebula’?” Hartley asked.
Mirk shook his head. “I looked that one up. Already taken
by the bartender on the Venture.”
“Oh. Why don’t you do a theme?”
“Theme?” Mirk asked. “What do you mean?”
“You know, everything in the restaurant relates to a
certain theme…the ancient west, space, the circus. It could
“A theme!” Mirk said exuberantly, his eyes lighting up
as the turbolift stopped on deck twenty-two. “That’s a
wonderful idea, Megan. Thank you.”
“Now all you have to do is think up the theme,” Hartley
said, as Mirk stepped out of the lift.
Mirk’s face darkened. “Oh, yeah.”
“Good luck!” Hartley laughed, as the doors closed and the
turbolift resumed its descent.
“Well, that does it, sir. I’m putting in for a
transfer,” Commander Conway said, stepping out of the
conference room and crossing the bridge to sit down in his
chair next to Baxter.
“What’s the problem, Commander?” Baxter asked, looking up
from a padd.
“No cappucino machine in the conference lounge.”
Baxter stuck out his lower lip in an exaggerated pout.
“Oh, the horror.”
“There’s nothing like steamy, frothy milk, Captain,”
Conway said. “And it’s amazing that with all the other fancy
gadgets on this ship, they don’t have a cappucino machine.”
“Maybe they have one in the rec room,” Baxter suggested.
“Or the casino,” Tilleran offered, glancing up from her
“Or the stadium,” Ensign Ford said.
“I don’t care,” Conway said with a frown. “We won’t be
having our meetings in any of those places.”
“Computer, make Commander Conway a cappucino–” Baxter
glared at Conway, “–and make the milk extra frothy.”
Commander Conway sighed as he walked to the replicator to
get his cup of coffee. He took a sip. “Not the same,
“Aw, too bad,” Baxter said, just as his communicator
“Richards to Baxter. Everything checks out down here.
They haven’t installed all of the gelpacks yet, so we won’t
have some science labs, or power to some of the crew
“But engines, weapons, shields, and life support work,”
Baxter said, getting to the point quickly.
“Exactly. The only other problem I can see so far is
that the ball return in the bowling alley keeps getting stuck.”
“That I can live with. Finish up down there and get up here
for our pre-launch meeting. I want to get it overwith as soon
“Understood. Richards out.”
Fifteen minutes later, Commander Conway still found
himself missing the cappucino machine. However, after hearing
Admiral McGrath go on about the luxuries of the Explorer, all he
really wanted was a muzzle.
“And as you may have noticed,” McGrath said, “the conference
room is located at the very front of the bridge, so that its
windows face the direction in which the ship is traveling,
giving the occupants of the conference room a much better view.
No use in looking back, eh?”
“I’m thrilled,” Ensign Ford said sarcastically. “I just
want to know when we can use the extra large hot tubs!”
“Later,” Baxter grumbled. “Anything else about this ship we
might need to know, Admiral?”
“Did I mention the rotating dance floor in the disco
“Yes,” Baxter sighed.
“The three acre rain forest in the arboretum?”
“Many times,” Peterman said.
“Then I guess that’s all,” Baxter said. “If anyone has
any concerns about their stations, better voice them now.
Things are bound to get pretty sticky in the next several
The conference lounge was quiet for several moments.
“I noticed that the tactical station does not have a
vibrating chair,” J’hana said glumly. “As a matter of fact, it
doesn’t have a chair at all.”
“Fine then. Everyone’s dismissed.”
“They’re preparing to leave, Admiral,” Yvonne said
pleasantly, refilling Admiral Baxter’s “Work Sucks” coffee mug.
“I know,” Harlan grunted, turning to watch the Explorer
power up on the viewscreen in his office.
“Something wrong?” Yvonne asked. Harlan looked more
gloomy than usual.
“No. I have much work to do, Yvonne. I want you to set
up a conference with all the department heads in the internal
“Of course, Admiral. Planning some big changes?”
“You could say that,” Harlan grunted, ushering Yvonne out
of the office. “Now go. We don’t have much time.” Once
Yvonne was gone, the Admiral lit up a cigar and chuckled.
Changes. She didn’t know the half of it.
“Lt. J’hana: contact McKinley Station and advise them
that we’re ready for launch,” Baxter said from the command
chair, as everyone worked busily at their stations, preparing
the Explorer for departure.
“McKinley station reports we are clear to leave,
Captain,” J’hana replied, tacking away at her panel.
“Very well, Mr. Ford…clear all moorings.”
Ford hit the appropriate buttons on his panel. “Moorings
“Take us out, one quarter impulse, then full impulse once
we’ve cleared the station,” Baxter added.
“Let the dramatic voyage begin!” Admiral McGrath cheered
from his position behind Baxter, leaning forward on the railing
that surrounded the command area.
“Lay in a course to intercept the Flarn warship at
maximum warp,” Baxter said, ignoring McGrath’s comment.
“Course laid in,” Ford replied.
Baxter turned to Admiral McGrath. “Admiral, would you do
“Of course, Captain,” McGrath said with a smile, pointing at
the expanse of space that rushed by on the viewscreen as the
Explorer glided out of the Terran system. “Engage.”
And with that, the Explorer lept into warp, disappearing
into the blanket of stars with a flash.
“We managed to get everyone off the Exalax,” Commander
Dillon said, leaning forward tiredly on the conference room
table. “Including the officers from the Aerostar.”
Captain Rydell rubbed his eyes. It had been a long day
for everyone. “Could they shed any light on what’s happened?”
“Nothing more than what was in Captain Baxter’s report,”
“What about the Aerostar’s disappearance?” Rydell asked.
“Evidently the Romulans came to rescue the prisoner…T’Phil.”
“We should have expected that,” Rydell said, turning to
his Chief Engineer. “What about repairs?”
Commander Baird shook his head. “We had the sh*t pounded
out of us twice in one day…but somehow I managed to get the
shields and engines back online. Just try not to get us in any
“No promises,” Rydell muttered. “I’m not finished with these
‘Flarn.’ I don’t like bullies.”
“And it would appear,” Jaroch said pointedly, “that bullies
do not like you.”
Rydell ignored Jaroch’s comment. “What about Waystation?”
“The Flarn pounded the sh*t out of them too,” Baird
said. “We’re working on getting them back up and running right
“Commander Beck reports that casualties were low, but
they’ve lost all main power,” Dillon added. “They’re
“So what do we do now?” Counselor Webber asked.
“We’re going to remain here to protect Waystation while
it undergoes repairs. Meanwhile, Mister Dillon, I want you to
take the runabout Hudson and retrieve some equimpent from the
“To what end, Captain?” Dillon asked.
“I want us to have a little surprise waiting for the
Flarn, should they come back,” Rydell said with a smile.
“We have reached the Aerostar, praised one,” First
Boppity’Boo announced, as the Jem’Hadar vessel came out of warp
and the Nebula-class starship appeared on the monitor.
“Very well,” Admiral Neilson said from the center of the
bridge. “Maintain our cloak and prepare to transport the
engineering team over.”
“Yes, praised one.”
Admiral Baxter glanced at the two burly Jem’Hadar guards
that surrounded him then regarded the ship on the viewscreen.
Its hull was pock-marked in several places from weapons damage-
-and some of the scars looked very recent. “What are you going
to do with the Aerostar?”
“We’re going to drain every bit of data from her
computers and then take her back to the Dominion,” Neilson said.
“Do you have a problem with that?”
“What if I did?”
“Then we’d do it anyway.”
“Well, I have a problem with it.”
“Aw, too bad,” Neilson said with an evil smile.
“You’re going to be okay,” Doctor Aldridge said, leaning
over the inujured Romulan that lay on the biobed. “You just
took some minor scrapes and bruises.”
“Very well,” Sub-Commander Gatana grunted. “Please leave
“You’re welcome,” Aldridge said brusquely, moving to her next
Gatana grimaced at the bright cheerfulness of the
doctors and nurses in the Federation starship’s sickbay. She
was still upset that she had not been able to save her Ardek from
being kidnapped. Thankfully, like a good Sub-Commander, Gatana had
a plan to rescue her commander. All she had to do was get past the
weak Starfleet personnel. Not a problem.
Gatana leaned over and gave a hand signal to the
Romulan guard that lay next to her.
On cue, the Romulan began to scream and shout, rolling
around on the biobed in what seemed like agony.
“Hold him down while I get a hypospray!” Doctor Aldridge
shouted, as nurses, medical staff, even the security officers
that were assigned to guard the Romulans in sickbay, ran to the
Romulan guard’s aid.
Gatana had to thank the Starfleet officers for their
compassion as she slipped unseen out of sickbay. After all,
without that weakness, she would never have been able to
Commander Dillon tapped his foot nervously as Lt. Hawkins
went over the preflight check on the runabout Hudson.
“Are you almost done, Patricia?” Dillon asked nervously.
“Keep your pants on,” Hawkins replied. “We’ll be
underway in just a minute. You don’t want the inertial
dampeners to fail while we’re out there, do you?”
“I guess not,” Dillon said, looking idly out the porthole
next to his chair, watching as the shuttlebay workers readied
the Hudson for launch.
Outside, as the shuttlebay crew worked, Sub-Commander
Gatana peered around the cargo container she was hiding behind.
She had found out from one of the Secondprize’s helpful comm
panels that the Starfleet crew was sending a runabout out to
the Exalax. Seeing that as a way out, she had quickly made for
the vessel’s shuttlebay.
It was a miracle that she was actually able to get down
to the shuttlebay without being spotted. Most likely, though,
it was a tribute to her excellent training in covert ops.
Gatana watched as a crewman loaded the rear cargo hold of
the Hudson with some sort of diagnostic equipment. That would
be her way in.
As soon as the crewman moved away, Gatana broke for the
cargo hold and jumped in, concealing herself behind a spare
photon torpedo. It was a tight fit, but Romulans had no need
for comfort. Although, as the cargo hold’s door was sealed
shut, Gatana percieved a slight itch behind her left ear that
she wanted desparately to scratch. Unfortunately, Gatana
realized that it would take some maneuvering to free one of her
Gatana tried to ignore that itch as she felt the Hudson
lift off and leave the shuttlebay. If she was to successfully
rescue her commanding officer, she would have to endure the
itch long enough for the Hudson to reach the Exalax.
“Kelly, honey,” Captain Baxter said, calling into the
bathroom of his new quarters as he searched through his duffle
bag. “Have you seen my lucky horseshoes?”
Peterman emerged, with her uniform halfway pulled on.
“No. Why? Can’t you find them?”
“No. They’re just not here,” Baxter said, rubbing his
chin. “I thought I told you to pack them.”
“Nope,” Peterman said, returning into the bathroom.
Baxter began to panic. He’d brought those horseshoes
with him to the Aerostar a year ago, and as far as he was
concerned, they were responsible for getting him back to the
Alpha Quadrant in one piece. He couldn’t go on commanding the
Explorer without them.
“Maybe you left them on the Aerostar,” Peterman
The Captain thought hard. “Damn. We really have to find
the Aerostar now.”
“Just so you can get those silly things back?”
“Yes. Honey, you know how superstitious I am.”
“That’s just plain silly.”
“I don’t care if it’s silly or not,” Baxter said,
throwing his duffle onto his bed in annoyance. “I’m finding
those damn horseshoes.”
Mirk looked up from the crates of liquor he was unpacking
to see who was knocking at the door to his bar.
Lt. Hartley peered through the Federation logo-frosted
windows. “Hey, Mirk. Are you open yet?”
“Is the door opened?” Mirk asked.
“No, it’s locked!” Hartley said.
“Then I’m still closed.”
“Well, open up!”
Mirk sighed, walking over to the door and pressing a
button. “What do you want?”
“A Bolian Fizz. With extra bubbles.”
“I told you I’m not open yet,” Mirk said, walking back to
the bar. “You’ll just have to wait. Or better yet, go to a
freaking replicator and get the drink yourself.”
“But it’s not the same,” Hartley said. “The whole reason
to come to a bar is socialization. Seeing other people,
chatting, finding out gossip.”
“If you’ll notice,” Mirk said, gesturing around the dimly
lit bar. “There isn’t anyone else here.”
“Yet,” Hartley said. “Just wait. When are you opening
“Haven’t decided. I still haven’t come up with a theme.”
Hartley looked around the bar. Obviously, the engineers
hadn’t finished building it yet. Only some of the chairs,
tables, and booths had been erected. And the walls sill needed
a coat of paint.
“Well,” Hartley said, examining one of Mirk’s bottles.
“You’ve still got time. In the meantime, however, you could at
least get the replicators up and running.”
“From what I understand, we may not even be staying on
this ship,” Mirk said. “The scuttlebutt is that Baxter hasn’t
decided to take the command yet.”
“He will,” Hartley said firmly. “Think about it, Mirk.
If we don’t stay on the Explorer, we’ll be separated. And
while he may not have any problems with being taken away from
Conway or J’hana, Captain Baxter would never be able to leave
Counselor Peterman. Trust me. We’re staying right here.”
Mirk shrugged, pouring something from one of his bottles
into two glasses he had just unpacked. “In that case,
Megan, why don’t we toast the grand opening of
“‘Mirk’s…um…Place’ it is!” Hartley said with a smile,
raising her glass.
“Your move,” Baxter said, handing the padd back to
Counselor Peterman. The Counselor and he had returned to the
bridge to await the inevitable meeting with the Flarn.
Baxter was still worried about finding his horseshoes, but he
realized that there was nothing he could do about it until they
found the Aerostar.
Peterman eyed the padd carefully, finally using a stylus
to draw a line across the grid on the padd’s screen. “Three
x’s in a row. I win, Andy.”
“Damn,” Baxter said. “I can never beat you at Tic-tac-
“I hate to interrupt your game, Captain, but I have a
small question,” Commander Conway asked from beside Baxter’s
“Shoot,” Baxter said, putting the padd down.
“Have you given any consideration to how we’re going to
defeat these Flarn? I mean…every time we’ve battled them
we’ve come within an inch of our lives.”
“You forget, Commander,” Baxter said boldly. “Starfleet
uses the metric system, and in this case, we’re dealing with
“What?” Conway asked. “What the hell are you saying?”
“I’m saying we have a much more powerful ship. I’m
confident the Explorer can knock the Flarn into next week.”
“And if we can’t?”
Baxter shrugged. “Then I’d go ahead and sell my real
estate on Earth now, because it’s bound to drop dramatically
once the Flarn take it over.”
Suddenly Lt. J’hana’s panel beeped pleasantly. “Captain…”
J’hana said, looking up. “We’re nearing the Flarn Warship.
Sensors confirm it’s the same ship we faced a year ago in the
“Then it is the Jendak,” Conway said. “How the hell did
they get here?”
“I don’t know, but we’re about to find out. Go to Red
Alert,” Baxter said, straightening. “Raise the shields and
arm all weapons.”
“Done, sir,” J’hana said. “Shall I alert Admiral McGrath?”
Baxter looked to Peterman, then to Conway. “I’m sure
this isn’t something that would interest him.”
“Flarn vessel closing sir,” J’hana said. “What do you
want me to do?”
“Be ready to singe their eyebrows, Lieutenant,” Baxter
“Sir,” Larkin said. “The Flarn do not have eyebrows.”
“Oh,” Baxter said. “Then just make sure you singe
“Understood,” J’hana said, smiling and bending over the
Lt. Commander Richards rushed out onto the bridge and
took his place behind the engineering station. “Everything’s
online, sir, but this is our shakedown cruise. There may be
Conway turned and glared at Richards. “What do you
“Oh,” Richards said. “Maybe a jamming in the torpedo
bay… maybe a warp core spike here and there. Nothing major.”
“You don’t know how relieved I am to hear that,” Baxter
muttered. “Hail the Flarn once we get in range.”
“Sir…” J’hana said. “They are hailing us.”
“Is that so? Then, by all means, put ‘em on screen.”
Overmaster Granok appeared on the viewscreen, baring his
Vicious row of teeth.
“Federation Sssssstarship, you are in our way. Clear a path or
we will desssstroy you.”
Conway leaned over to Baxter and whispered, “They don’t
know who we are yet, Captain.”
Baxter smiled. “They will shortly, Commander. J’hana, open
Baxter stood, straightening his uniform. “Flarn vessel: This
is Captain Andy Baxter of the Starship Explorer. You’re damn right
we’re in your way. And we’re about to get even more in your way.
You want to tangle with me, you bug-eyed bastard, you’ve got me.
But there’s no way you’re getting near my home town.”
“That sounded cheesier than month old milk,” Conway
“Shut up,” Baxter said quietly. “Now stand down, or I’ll
be forced to blow you halfway back to the Delta Quadrant.”
The Flarn reappered on the viewscreen. “Why, Captain
Baxter. I’ve been looking all over for you,” he said sweetly.
“I really did misssssss you. And I hate misssssing mealsssss.”
“This is one juicy rump roast you won’t be chowing down
on, Mister,” Baxter said sternly. “Mind telling me how the
hell you got here?”
“I could assssssk you the same quessssstion,” Granok
replied. “But it is no matter. We were slingshotted through
the Clussssster’sss portal when it exploded, and sssssssent to
a far reach of sssssspace near the edge of this galaxy. I
realized the only way to get back to the Delta Quadrant
wassssss through the other end of the portal, so I sssssspent
the last year trying to find it. But now I’ve found YOU, which
is much more rewarding. Now I can finally get the revenge that
I am owed.”
“Oh, I owe you something all right, Mister,” Baxter said
angrily. “I owe you the ass kicking you never got last year.”
“We shall ssssseee!” Granok hissed, closing the channel.
“They’re firing!” Tilleran shouted from the science
Admiral McGrath had been underwater when the Red Alert
sirens had gone off, so he didn’t know anything was wrong until
the olympic-sized swimming pool he was swimming in began to
McGrath pulled himself up to the edge of the pool, coughing
up water, as the contents of the pool, holographic dolphins and
all, sloshed around the room.
A wave crashed over McGrath’s head as an Ensign ran to his
“Are you okay, Admiral?” Ensign Welch from Stellar
Cartography asked with concern. He had been assigned to watch
the pools until Starfleet could provide them with a real life
McGrath pulled himself out of the pool, knocking water out
of his ears. “I think so. What’s happening?”
“I think we’re under attack,” Welch said, as the Red
Alert klaxon blared.
“Well, I–” McGrath said, when suddenly the ship shook
again, causing another wave to crash over him and Welch,
sending a holographic dolphin right into their laps.
The dolphin squeaked happily, looking up at McGrath with
Love in his eyes.
“I think he likes you Admiral,” Welch said.
McGrath grunted, pushing at the dolphin. “Yes, so it seems.
Now get him off me!”
“Shields holding,” J’hana said, holding onto her station
as the Flarn pummeled the Explorer.
Baxter returned to his seat. “Charge main phasers.”
“Ready,” J’hana grunted.
“Do you realize that the Defiant’s weapons systems have
never been field tested on a ship this size?” Conway asked
nervously from beside Baxter.
“First time for everything,” Baxter said easily. “Fire,
Like an old style machine gun, phasers blasts chugged out
of the dual launchers on the bottom of the saucer section. In
addition, conventional phasers flared from the rings on the top
and bottom of the saucer.
Baxter watched eagerly as explosions ripped through the
“The Jendak has taken major damage,” J’hana said. “They
are still, however, more than a match for us.”
Suddenly the Explorer rocked again.
“Shields down to fifty-three percent,” J’hana called out.
Baxter braced himself behind Larkin’s chair. “Mr. Ford,
bring us about to course two nine one mark oh four seven.”
Ford turned to Baxter, holding fast to his station as the
Explorer shook again. “Back towards where the Bermuda Expanse
used to be?”
“I knew they made you a helm officer for some reason.”
“You’re luring them away from Earth, aren’t you?” Conway
“Exactly. I’m going to finish this where it started.”
Peterman shook her head in annoyance. “He’s got other
“Like what?” Conway asked.
Baxter glared at Peterman. “Nothing you have to concern
yourself with, Commander. I just have something I…need to
get.” Baxter turned to Ford. “Make your speed Warp Nine and
“He’s nuts,” Counselor Peterman said quietly.
The Explorer lept back into warp, and the injured Flarn
vessel turned to follow.
“They have done major damage!” Kenjek shouted, as repair
crews extinguished the fires that had caught around the bridge
of the Jendak. “We are about to be defeated again!”
“We’re not finished with them,” Granok ordered. “I’m not
going to let Baxter ussssse all that corny dialogue and get
away with it.”
“Are you sure we can defeat him?” Kenjek asked.
“Unmisssstakably,” Granok said reassuringly. “Jussssst
“Third Farfig’Nugen reporting in. We have established a
data feed,” came the voice of the Jem’Hadar engineer.
“Here,” Neilson said, placing a pair of goggles into Admiral
Baxter’s hand. “Take a look at what we’re reaping from your
son’s pathetic vessel.”
Admiral Baxter slid the goggles on, and was immediately
greeted with the image of a darkened crew lounge, in what
looked lik the ten-forward section of the Aerostar.
Captain Baxter wandered in front of the camera. “Kelly,
I really don’t see the point in coming here. All I want is a
nice, quiet dinner in my quarters. No big–”
“SURPRISE!” chanted a group of crewmembers, emerging from
the darkness. Loud music piped up and the lights came full on,
as bursts of confetti shot into the air from all sides.
“What the?” Admiral Phillips said, looking into his own
Neilson grabbed Phillips’s goggles and peered into them.
“What is this?”
“Looks like a suprise party,” Admiral Baxter said with a
“Guys, you didn’t have to do this,” Captain Baxter said.
“We most certainly did,” the Andorian tactical officer
replied. “Counselor Peterman threatened to have all of us
“Aww, then you all really do love me,” Baxter said, a
tear streaming down his cheek.
“No,” the churlish first officer said. “We just like our
jobs. Now can we pass out the requisite gifts and get this
“Not yet,” the Counselor said. “Everyone start singing.
What followed was an unenthusiastic rendition of “For
He’s A Jolly Good Fellow.”
“Enough!” Neilson shouted. “Farfig’Nugen! Scan another
data area. You’ve obviously uploaded their personal database.”
“Working,” Farfig’Nugen replied curtly.
Neilson watched angrily as the image in her goggles rattled
nauseatingly. The shaky image seemed to depict a rocky,
“Hold the imager still, J’hana!” the First Officer’s
voice whispered harshly.
“Trying to, sir. It’s hard to walk around and film at
the same time.”
“Perfect,” Neilson said. “This must be information on a
Delta Quadrant planet.”
“Shh,” Conway whispered. “They’ll hear you.”
“I am being as quiet as I can, sir,” J’hana replied
gruffly. The image shakily continued across a craggy mountain
ridge. “I must say, sir, I do appreciate this human concept of
‘April Fools,’ though I believe the effect would be much more
satisfying if we were to cause some real sort of physical
Neilson raised an eyebrow. “April…?”
“Shut up and hand me a water balloon,” the image said.
The camera swung around to reveal two figures standing at
the foot of the ridge. One appeared to be Baxter, the other a
female officer in a gold-collared uniform.
“That’s the android,” Neilson said eagerly. “But what is
this talk of…water balloons?”
“You’ll see,” Admiral Baxter said with a chortle.
Suddenly several multiclored blobs flew by on the screen,
pegging the two figures at the base of the cliff right in the
back of their heads.
“April fools!” Conway’s voice called out triumphantly.
Captain Baxter turned around, soaking wet and seething
with anger. “Conway!!!”
“Damn it, Farfig’Nugen! Can’t you find us anything
remotely pertinent?” Neilson asked frantically.
“I have to hand it to you, ma’am, so far your plan is an
unprecedented success,” Admiral Baxter said with a satisfied
“Shut up!” Neilson barked.
Admiral McGrath rushed out onto the bridge, still soaking
wet, dressed in an old style one-piece tank top bathing suit
complete with goggles and skull cap. “What’s happening?”
“We’re under attack,” Baxter said, watching the stars as
they rushed by on the viewscreen. “Would you mind drying off?
You’re getting the carpet wet, and I’m not sure if it’s stain-
protected or not.”
“It is,” McGrath said, grabbing the towel that a nearby
Yeoman offered him and walking around to the front of the
bridge. “The Flarn, I presume?”
“Yes sir,” Baxter said. “We’re luring them away from
“I see,” McGrath said. “How is the ship holding up?”
“Wonderfully under the circumstances. And the new phaser
arrays worked too.”
“Great. What’s the next step?”
“We’re heading to the Bermuda Expanse so I can settle things
with Mr. Granok one on one. Mano y Flarn,” Baxter said
“Oh,” McGrath said. “Is that wise?”
“Not exactly,” Baxter said. “But if I don’t come back,
Commander Conway here will get a nice promotion.”
“There’s a bright side to everything,” Conway said,
“Hey!” Peterman said. “You’re just using this as an
excuse to get back to the Aerostar, aren’t you?”
“I’m a sentimental sucker, darling.”
“You’re a sentimental fool,” Peterman said, folding her
arms and pouting.
“Well, I’m off to the showers,” McGrath said, heading back
to the turbolift. “Good luck, Captain.”
“My boyfriend is going to risk his life and all you can
say is ‘I’m off to the showers’?” Peterman asked incredulously.
“I also said ‘Good luck’,” McGrath corrected, as he stepped
into the lift.
“Andy, you can’t do this!” Peterman pleaded. “You
could be eaten!”
“Control yourself, Counselor,” Baxter said, then his
voice softened. “Or I’ll have to remove you from the bridge.”
“Don’t worry, Counselor,” J’hana said. “The Captain is
too fatty for Flarn taste.”
“I’ll try not to take that the wrong way.”
Peterman just pouted. “I think all the fat’s in your
“Don’t worry, Counselor,” Ford said from the helm. “If
Baxter dies, I’ll take care of you.”
Ford ducked as both Baxter and Peterman hurled a padd at
“Transport complete,” Lt. Hawkins said, as the equipment
that Rydell had requested materialized in the Hudson’s small
“Good. Take us back to the Secondprize,” Dillon said.
Meanwhile, in the cargo hold, Gatana struggled with the
space suit she had managed to free from its storage locker.
She fought the helmet on as the Hudson lurched ahead. The
Romulan officer realized they must have already got what they
had come for and were on their way. That meant she had less
time than she first thought.
After making sure the space suit was working, Gatana
opened up the cargo hatch.
Back up in the cockpit, Lt. Hawkins looked at the
blinking light on her panel. “That’s strange.”
“What is it?” Dillon asked, glancing over her shoulder.
“The cargo hatch just opened,” Hawkins said.
“Is there anyone back there?” Dillon asked.
Hawkins looked at her panel quizzically. “I’m not sure.
One of our spare torpedoes was leaking radiation, so I can’t
get a clear reading back there. Wait a moment…the torpedo’s
Dillon smiled. “Good. That solved that problem.”
“But the cargo hatch isn’t supposed to just open like
that. And torpedoes don’t usually just jump out.”
“You worry to much,” Dillon said, placing a hand on
Several minutes later, Sub-Commander Gatana reached
inside the access panel on the torpedo that she rode, hitting a
control that halted its tiny thrusters, causing it to drift
right by the powerless Exalax.
Gatana jumped off the torpedo and grabbed onto the hull
of the Exalax, using her priority access code to open the
nearby engineering access hatch.
Once inside, Gatana closed the hatch, repressurized the
small chamber, and opened the door that led onto one of the
Exalax’s many corridors. Now all she had to do was get to one
of the shuttlebays.
Lieutenant Gellar tapped the tactical console on the
bridge of the Secondprize nervously. In the last day, he had
been kidnapped by Romulans, attacked by Flarn, then
transported aboard the Secondprize. Now all he wanted to do
was sleep. But he couldn’t sleep. Because the rest of his
crewmates were out there somewhere, and he knew from his past
experience with the Flarn that they wouldn’t stop until
Baxter and his crew were dead.
Now he was filling in for the Secondprize’s chief of
security as a way to keep his mind off all that. So far, he
was having limited success.
“So, Lieutenant,” Rydell asked from the command chair.
“We can’t find the Commander of the Exalax or that T’Phil
fellow. You think the Flarn have them?”
“I don’t know where else they’d be,” Gellar admitted.
“They probably took T’Phil because he was part of the Aerostar’s
crew. I suppose they’ll grill him for information and then eat
“I wouldn’t wish that on any man,” Rydell said.
“You didn’t know T’Phil,” Gellar replied. “He was a real
“I’ll take your word for it,” Rydell said, slapping his
comm badge. “Rydell to Dillon. How are you guys coming with
“It’s almost installed, sir,” Dillon said. “Hawkins and
Baird have been working on adapting our systems. I’d say about
“Good. Keep me posted. Rydell out.”
Lt. Gellar went back to his nervous tapping, when
suddenly something on his panel caught his eye. “Captain
Rydell…a ship just left the Exalax’s shuttlebay.”
“What kind of ship?” Rydell asked.
“Romulan scoutship, D type.”
“I thought we got everyone off that ship,” Rydell said,
rubbing his chin.
“Aldridge to Rydell. We can’t seem to locate one of our
patients. I think she was the Exalax’s first officer.”
“I believe we just found her, Doctor,” Rydell said,
looking back to Gellar. “What could she be up to?”
“I don’t know. We easily outgun that scoutship. I doubt
she’s trying to rescue her comrades.”
“Whatever the case, Lieutenant,” Jaroch said, “the scoutship
is on a heading out of this system.”
Gellar checked his panel. “You’re right. She’s going in
the same direction that the Flarn ship went.”
“Of course I’m right,” Jaroch said smugly.
“You’ve got to admire her loyalty,” Rydell said. “I
doubt any of you would do the same for me.”
“Well, Captain,” Jaroch said, “if you recall, I got you a
nice tie for your last birthday.”
“I almost forgot,” Rydell said. “Please forgive me.”
“Captain…” Gellar said. “The scoutship is turning
around. It’s coming back this way.”
“Why?” Rydell asked, leaning forward in his chair.
Jaroch looked at his panel. “Presumably, she was scared off
by the other two vessels heading this way.”
“Well,” Rydell said. “Commander Dillon. What’s your
“We’re almost ready sir,” Dillon replied.
“Have Commander Baird activate the device as soon as it’s
ready,” Rydell said. “Then come up here with Lieutenant
“What’s the hurry, sir?” Dillon asked.
“Just get up here. Rydell out,” Rydell said. “Have you
figured out what those two vessels are, Mister Jaroch?”
“One of them is our Flarn friend. The other is a
Federation starship. Galaxy-class.”
Rydell smiled. “The cavalry.”
“Some cavalry,” Jaroch said. “They’re leading the Flarn
“What ship is it?” Rydell said angrily, realizing
the gravity of Jaroch’s deduction.
“USS Explorer,” Jaroch said.
“I thought she wasn’t due to be launched for another
couple weeks,” Rydell said.
“Evidently they launched early,” Jaroch murmurred.
“I wonder who the hell they put in command.”
“For all our sakes, let’s hope it’s someone with a lick
of sense,” said Lieutenant Sullivan.
“Damn it,” Baxter said, pounding on the door panel that
led to his private washroom. “Computer, open this door.”
“The mechanism is jammed. Please contact maintenance.”
“Computer, I have to pee.”
“Then you will have to hold it in,” the computer replied
Sighing, Baxter headed out of his readyroom, stepping out
the door in between tactical and engineering. “Lt. J’hana,
has Conway come out of the conference lounge bathroom yet?”
“No,” J’hana said. “And he’s been in there for ten
“Hmm. You wouldn’t happen to have a paper cup handy,
“No,” J’hana said. “I do not. What are you suggesting?”
“Never mind,” Baxter said, returning to his seat.
“We are nearing Waystation,” Larkin reported from her
“Take us out of warp,” Baxter ordered. “Full scan.”
“Waystation is heavily damaged, Captain,” Tilleran
reported. “They are functioning on backup power only.”
“And the Aerostar?”
“I’m detecting the Aerostar and a Romulan Warbird
nearby.” Tilleran said. “Both are also heavily damaged.”
“What about the Secondprize?”
“One moment…” Tilleran said. “I can’t find it
“Where could they have gone?” Baxter said. “We picked
them up in this system just a few minutes ago.”
“Uncertain,” Tilleran replied.
“Okay, then. Open a channel.”
Rydell looked around his now dimly lit bridge. “I can’t
believe it actually worked.”
Commander Dillon sat down next to Rydell as Hawkins
relieved Lt. Gellar from tactical. “It feels kinda wierd,
“Yes, it does,” Rydell said. “I never thought I’d see
the day we’d put a cloaking device on the Secondprize.”
“It’s like having a new toy to play with,” Dillon said
“Now, all we have to do is see if it works,” Jaroch said.
“The three ships are approaching our position.”
On the viewscreen, Rydell watched as first the Romulan
scoutship, then the Explorer, then the Flarn ship, flew by,
evidently oblivious to the Secondprize’s prescence.
“The Explorer is broadcasting some sort of message,
Captain,” Hawkins reported.
“Onscreen,” Rydell said. “Let’s see what bozo we’re
dealing with here.”
Everyone on the bridge of the Secondprize sunk low
in their seats as Captain Andy Baxter appeared on the
“To everyone in this system, this is Captain Andy
Baxter of the starship Aero–I mean Explorer. We’re just in
the neighborhood to destroy a nasty, deadly, evil alien warship
that has invaded our space. I advise all ships to leave the
system immediately. There’s nothing more to see here. Just go
about your daily business as if the entire quadrant wasn’t
under the threat of immminent death.”
Captain Rydell shook his head. “Of all the freaking
people to come to our rescue.”
“You must admit, sir,” Dillon said, “It has a certain
symmetry to it.”
“It’s not symmetrical at all!” Rydell said. “It’s the
most insanely wrong thing in the galaxy! We’re relying on that
crew to save our asses! The same crew that we thought was the
most completely incompetent bunch of jerkoffs in the entire
universe, the same crew that we sent to the Delta Quadrant just
so we wouldn’t have to deal with them!”
“Symmetrical, no. Ironic, yes,” Jaroch said calmly from the
Lieutenant Gellar joined Saral and Stuart in Seven
Backward, as they watched the Explorer sail by the windows.
“Our crew is on board that ship,” Gellar said, taking a
seat. “It’s Captain Baxter’s new command.”
“God help us all,” Stuart said quietly.
“It was a pleasure working with you all,” Saral said,
standing. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I shall go now and
meditate on our imminent demise.”
“Another round of drinks, and keep them coming!” Stuart
said to a passing waiter as Saral left the lounge.
“I do not believe it,” Neilson said, tossing her view-
goggles to the deck angrily. “Your damned son is here.”
“What was that about a nasty alien warship?” Admiral
Phillips asked uneasily.
“Oh, quit your whining, John,” Neilson muttered. “Our
vessel is more than a match for them.”
“Are you sure?” Harlan asked.
“Positive,” Neilson said, folding her arms. “Though it’s
not as if we have to worry about being discovered. Our cloak
is holding quite well. We’ll simply have a front row seat in
order to watch the junior Baxter perish horribly in what is no
doubt going to be a fantastic display of carnage.”
“Hey, I wouldn’t count my son out that soon,” said Harlan.
“And just why not?” Neilson asked.
“Because he has a secret weapon that has helped the
Baxter line survive centuries of war and death. With it, he’ll
“What exactly is this secret weapon?”
“I’m certainly not going to tell you.”
Commander Conway adjusted his uniform as he strutted out
of the conference room, tucking his copy of “Federation Coffee
Beans Monthly” under his arm.
“Someone light a match!” Ford cried, holding his nose.
“All better, Commander?” Baxter asked angrily as Conway sat
“Much,” Conway said. “But I wouldn’t go in there if I
“Damn,” Baxter said. “I guess the computer was right.
I’ll just have to hold it.”
“The Flarn vessel is closing, Captain,” J’hana
reported. “If you mean to implement this plan of yours, you
should do it now.”
Baxter stood. “You’re right. Helm, bring us within
transporter range of the Aerostar.”
“Please be careful, Andy,” Peterman said, grabbing
Baxter’s hand and squeezing it.
“Don’t worry, baby,” Baxter said. “I’ve been in tougher
“Like what?” J’hana asked. “This is pretty damn tough.”
“Okay, I’ve been in jams almost as tough as this before,”
Baxter said. “You guys just do your best to disable that
warship.” Baxter turned to Conway. “But if it looks like this
ship might be destroyed, get out of here. Evacuate Waystation
and head back to Earth. By then maybe we’ll have a fleet
Conway assumed the command chair as Baxter stood up.
“Just remember, if you die, I get your job.”
“That alone should be enough incentive for me to come
back alive,” Baxter said. “J’hana, open a channel to the
Flarn. Tell them that I’m going over to the Aerostar to
settle this once and for all. Just me and Granok.”
“What if they decide to simply blow the Aerostar to bits
instead?” J’hana asked.
“Then this will be the shortest mission of my life,”
Baxter said simply, stepping into the turbolift.
“Thisssss mussssst be a trick…” Kenjek said. “You
cannot go over there.”
Granok picked Kenjek up by the throat and growled
angrily. “Are you ssssssaying that I sssssshould be afraid
of a ssssstinking human?”
“N-n-no,” Kenjek squeaked. “Not at all.”
“Good. Then I’m going over there. If they try anything
funny, dessssstroy the Aerostar and the Explorer.”
“Yes, sir,” Kenjek said, as Granok stormed off the
T’Phil awoke with a start as the freezer he and Ardek were
stored in creaked open. Before the Romulan knew what had
happened, a huge talon reached in and pulled him out.
“What’s the meaning of this?” T’Phil asked, as he
dangled from the Flarn’s claw.
“The Overmassster requires your assssssssistance,” the
Flarn said, throwing T’Phil into a large sack and cinching it
“Issssss the prisssssoner ready?” a voice, presumably
“Yesssss,” the other Flarn replied.
“Are you sssssure it is the one that wassssss on the
“Good,” Granok said, grabbing the sack and jarring T’Phil.
“Then We sssssshall use this pathetic, pointy eared human as
leverage againsssst Baxter.”
T’Phil poked his head out of the tiny whole in the sack as
Granok lugged him towards the Jendak’s transporter room. “If I
may say two things, sir: One, I am a Romulan, not a pointy
eared human. Two, I am not a friend of Baxter’s-as a matter of
fact, we’re mortal enemies. Hence, I would make a terrible
Granok considered this. “No liessssssss!” he finally
said, smashing the sack up against a bulkhead, knocking T’Phil
“I’ll give it to you, Captain. You have real balls,” Lt.
Hartley said, as Baxter strapped on the new, patented ‘Starfleet
Survival Jacket.’ An upgraded version of the ones they had on
the Aerostar, this one was supposed to be impervious to low-
level phaser and disruptor blasts, as well as knives and other
blades–or in this case, Flarn talons.
“I’m not really that brave,” Baxter said, grabbing a
compression phaser rifle and climbing the transporter pad.
What Hartley didn’t realize as she activated the transporter was
that Baxter had no choice but return to the Aerostar. Without
those lucky horseshoes, his whole family was doomed, and he
wasn’t about to let that happen. The fact that he was also
going over there to try to defeat Granok was just an unpleasant
byproduct of an already messy situation.
Thankfully, Harlan must have been so happy to see him when he
returned that he must have forgotten to even ask about the horseshoes,
which was fine as far as Captain Baxter was concerned. He would be
able to get the horseshoes back from the Aerostar, defeat the
Flarn, return home, and no one would ever be the wiser.
Baxter crept through the Aerostar’s dimly lit corridors,
noting that emergency battery power was probably about to fail.
Glancing at his tricorder, he realized that he was right. He
had about a half hour of battery power, then an hour or two of
air at most.
Scanning the area carefully with his tricorder, Baxter
made his way into his quarters, noting that the cabin was
completely trashed. No doubt by the Romulans.
If they took his horseshoes…
Baxter’s concerns were alleviated, however, when he
busted open his porcelain casting of Troy Aikman’s head and
found his horseshoes safe inside.
Baxter stuffed the horseshoes into the pocket of his
survival jacket and strutted happily over to the bathroom to
take a victory whizz. He definitely needed one.
Baxter sighed with enjoyment as the pressure on his
bladder was relieved.
“Conway to Baxter,” Baxter’s comm badge beeped.
Baxter freed up one hand in order to tap his comm badge.
“You may be interested to know that two Flarn and one
Romulan just beamed aboard the Aerostar.”
“Wonderful,” Baxter said. “What about the Flarn ship?”
“We’ve got all our weapons pointed at them, and they’ve
got all their weapons pointed at us, but nobody’s batting an
eye, sir. By the way, what’s that sound I hear in the
“Oh, nothing,” Baxter said. “Just stand by in case the
Flarn try anything funny.”
“Understood, Conway out.”
Baxter finished his business, jiggled Mr. Petey, then
placed him back in the protective custody of his boxer shorts.
The Captain thanked his lucky stars that the toilet
actually worked. After the thrashing the Aerostar took from
the Borg, it was a wonder anything worked around there anymore.
Baxter looked up at his reflection in the bathroom mirror
as he washed his hands.
“You handsome devil,” he said confidently. “Flarn-
shmarn. You’ve got it covered. You’re one lean, mean,
Baxter pointed at his reflection. “Who’s the man? Who’s
the man? You? You the man!”
“You’re about to be a dead man,” a voice growled from
behind him. Baxter looked closer at the reflection in the
mirror. A few meters behind him, in his darkened quarters, a
pair of beady, deepset eyes shined in the darkness, glaring at
Suddenly the eyes rushed forward, revealing that they
were attached to an eight foot tall Flarn body.
“Die!” Granok growled, ramming his claw into Baxter’s
back and slamming him up against the mirror, causing it to
shatter into a million tiny pieces.
“Seven years bad luck for you, bub,” Baxter said
uneasily, sliding down the wall into the sink.
Then Baxter realized something. He wasn’t dead.
Granok’s claw should have gone right through him, but it
Meanwhile Granok cried out in pain, lifting up his broken
claw and staring at it in horror.
“Look what you did!” he hissed, slashing at Baxter with
his other claw.
“Man, the jacket worked!” Baxter cried in triumph,
ducking between Granok’s spindly legs and darting out of the
“Come back here!” Granok shouted, turning around and
rushing towards Baxter.
“Go to Hell!” Baxter cried, throwing dish after dish from
his set of Phaltzgraff Federation China at Granok.
Granok clawed after Baxter, smashing the plates, cups,
mugs, even the gravy boat. “I’ve got one of your
friendssssssss hosssstage, Captain. If you don’t sssssurender,
I will kill him!”
Must be the Romulan Conway had referred to, Baxter
thought. “You mean, T’Phil?”
“Yesssss, that’sssss hisss name,” Granok hissed. “Your
“Oh, no!” Baxter cried in sarcastic terror. “You’re
going to kill my worst enemy!”
Granok slashed at Baxter again, this time tearing a gash
in his mighty jacket.
“Okay, second worst,” Baxter yelped, jumping back and
lifting up his couch as a barracade.
“You lie!” Granok cried, ramming his massive body into
the couch and shoving it and Baxter up against the back wall of
“I’d kill him myself if I could…” Baxter choked out as
he tried to squirm out from under the couch. Granok ripped the
couch apart and grabbed Baxter up with his one good talon.
“I have you now, Federation sssssissssy,” Granok growled
“Captain Baxter…” Commander Conway’s voice said excitedly
from Baxter’s comm badge.
Baxter tapped his comm badge as he struggled against
Granok’s steely grip. “I’m kind of busy right now, Conway.”
“Trust me, Captain, you’ll want to know this. I found
out something pretty neat about the survival jacket you’re
“What, pray tell, is that?” Baxter said in annoyance.
“Just press the button on the inside of your left
cufflink. Trust me!”
Baxter shrugged, pressing the button on his left
cufflink. Suddenly electricty surged through the jacket,
making Baxter look like some sort of insane angel, bathed
in a bright, effervescent light.
The electricity surged right through Granok, knocking him
across the room.
Baxter sniffed at the smell of burnt Flarn in the air
and dusted off the jacket, which was a mistake, beacuse its
outer surface was burning hot.
Tapping his comm badge, Baxter smiled triumphantly and
said, “Good work, Conway. Thank the folks at Starfleet R and D
“One problem, Captain,” Conway’s voice replied. “Tilleran
tells me that the effect will only breifly stun a Flarn, and the
jacket only has the power for one burst.”
“Uh-oh,” Baxter said, watching as Granok stirred.
Baxter hurdled over Granok’s semiconcious form and plowed
through the door to his quarters, rushing out into the corridor
“Ssssssstop, human!” Astrok cried, putting down the sack
that contained T’Phil. Astrok quickly pulled out his disruptor
and took aim, blasting away at Baxter as he ran.
It was then that Baxter realized that he had a phaser rifle
slung over his back. Why hadn’t he used that instead of ruining
all that precious china? He quickly unslung the rifle and fired
back at Astrok, ducking the blasts from the Flarn’s weapon.
One of Baxter’s shots pegged Astrok in the shoulder and
sent him reeling to the deck.
Granok emerged from Baxter’s quarters, still dazed, and
looked down at Astrok. “Don’t just sssssit there, you
imbecile, help me get that human!”
“But, my Lord, the human blew my shoulder apart,” Astrok
complained, nursing his wound.
Granok examined the charred mess that once was Astrok’s
shoulder. “You are weak. Now come on.”
“What about the Romulan?” Astrok asked, as the Flarn
broke into a run.
“Apparently, he is not a valued member of Baxter’sssss
“Then why have him aboard?” Astrok asked.
“Beatssssss me. Now run fassssster!” Granok ordered.
Instinctively, Captain Baxter ran into the turbolift,
which normally would have taken him to safety on another deck.
However, since battery power was terribly low, all the lift did
was sit there.
“Come on, Computer…divert any power you can to the
turbolift I’m in,” Baxter said quickly, watching as the Flarn
that were chasing him grew closer.
“Unable to comply. Power relays in that area have been
“Damn,” Baxter said, ripping a panel off and using the
manual lever to close the turbolift door. His last view of the
Flarn placed them only a few meters away.
Given the urgency of the situation, and the lack of other
options, Baxter quickly pulled himself up to the top of the
turbolift and kicked at the hatch, knocking it open.
Swearing to go on a diet if he survived this, Baxter
sucked his gut in as best he could, pulling himself through the
narrow hatch just as the two Flarn burst in through the
Granok swiped at Baxter’s feet as he pulled them through.
“Come back here, coward!”
Baxter ignored the Flarn and grabbed the ladder that
extended through the length of the turbolift, hanging on for
Granok made a vain attempt to squeeze through the hatch,
but, much like Winnie the Pooh in the honey tree, he was just
“Hand me your blasssster, Assstrok!” Granok hissed, eying
Baxter as he clung helplessly to the ladder, fumbling for his
Since he had to use both hands to hold onto the ladder,
Baxter couldn’t get ahold of his phaser rifle as it hung from
Just as Granok managed to squeeze Astrok’s blaster
through the hatch he was stuck in, a wonderful idea entered
“Computer!” Baxter shouted. “Release moorings on
turbolift five, authorization Baxter Alpha Zero One Eight.”
Granok’s eyes went wide as the turbolift wrenched free of
its holding clamps and plunged down through the shaft.
“Damn you, Baxter!” Granok cried, firing the blaster in
a mad attempt to hit Baxter.
Baxter held fast to the ladder as the suction pulled him
down, and as blasts from Granok’s weapon threatened to singe
his eyebrows off.
Realizing that the impact at the bottom of the shaft
wasn’t near enough to kill one Flarn, much less two, Baxter
slung one of his arms around a rung on the ladder and grabbed
his phaser rifle, setting it on overload and dropping it
down the turbolift shaft.
“Bombs away!” Baxter cried, using his free hand to salute
Granok as the phaser rifle fell. “See you in the funny papers,
Moments later, an explosion ripped through the turbolift
shaft, blasting hot air past Baxter’s face, threatening to
shake him free of the ladder.
Finally, after the shockwave of the blast had passed,
Baxter made his way down the ladder, swinging through the
doorway that led back out to the corridor.
Baxter fell to the deck, exausted. He felt soreness in
places he didn’t know he had, but he had defeated those
Now he could finally rest.
“Remember me?” a voice asked, as Baxter felt a sharp kick
to his stomach.
Baxter looked up to see a now fully Romulan Colonel
T’Phil, who stared madly back at him. “I never finished my
business with you, Captain.”
The Captain rolled to the side, deftly avoiding another
swift kick. “Come on, T’Phil,” he choked out, still feeling
the dull pain in his gut where T’Phil had kicked him. “I saved
you from the Flarn. They would have killed you too, you know.”
“Oh, I didn’t thank you?” T’Phil said pleasantly, hurling
a punch at Baxter as he staggered to his feet. “Allow me to do
that right now!”
Baxter ducked, causing T’Phil to ram his fist painfully
through the computer panel that was behind him.
Baxter then grabbed T’Phil by the back of his neck and
rammed him into the sparking computer panel. “You want me to
take you to funkytown? So be it!” Baxter kneed T’Phil in the
gut as the Tal Shiar agent leaned forward, then the Captain
rammed him up against the wall.
“You will not win!” T’Phil cried, a stream of green blood dripping
from his mouth.
T’Phil was able to free up one knee to kick Baxter in the
crotch, using the time that gained him to run like hell.
“Oh, boy. Oh, boy,” Baxter said, staggering back and
gripping at his fractured gems. “That hurt.”
“As soon as I find a weapon, I’ll kill you!” T’Phil
“What’s happening over there?” Counselor Peterman asked
fearfully, watching the Aerostar list on the viewscreen.
Conway looked back at J’hana. “Well?”
“I picked up some weapons fire and a large explosion,”
J’hana said. “But the Captain’s comm signal is still present.
And I’m still picking up human and Romulan life signs.”
“What about the Flarn?” Conway asked.
“That I don’t know,” J’hana admitted.
“What’ssssss happening over there…” Kenjek asked,
leaning forward in the command chair.
“I don’t know,” Drako, the science officer said. “I read
a huge explosion, and then the sensorssssss went funny.”
“Funny?” Kenjek growled, turning around. “What do you
“I mean I can’t tell if anyone’ssssss alive over there or
“Are you telling me the human sssssscum may have killed
Granok?” Kenjek asked angrily.
“Maybe,” Drako admitted.
“Dessssstroy the Explorer!” Kenjek cried. “Then destroy
the sssssspace ssssstation. We’ll bring the entire Federation
to their kneesssssss!”
That sounded nice, but Drako doubted whether it was
practical. Then again, the Flarn seldom dealt in
If there was one thing Admiral McGrath really enjoyed, it
was a nice, long, steamy shower. It gave him time to sort out
his thoughts, relax, and contemplate the truths of life.
It also opened up his pores, which was definitely a
Presently, the one truth that McGrath was contemplating was
an expecially melodius ballad from the old Earth musical “South
“I’m gonna wash that man right outta my hair, I’m gonna
wash that man right outta my hair!” McGrath sang, oblivious to
the fact that outside the steamy confines of his bathroom, a
massive warship was getting ready to pound the Explorer to
“And what ain’t we got,” McGrath sang, “We ain’t got…”
Suddenly the Explorer shuddered, sending Admiral McGrath
flying forward, right into the shower head.
The Admiral then reeled back, losing his footing and
cursing the builders for not putting non-slip pads in the
floors of the showers. They weren’t really that expensive, and
they were known to prevent one third of all domestic accidents.
“Shields are down to thirty percent!” J’hana called out
over the din of red alert sirens and shouting crewmembers.
“Load the quantums and return fire!” Commander Conway
shouted, as the deck rattled beneath his feet. “Attack pattern
Conway zero zero three!”
The stars twisted on the viewscreen as Ensign Ford
brought the Explorer around, moving temporarily out of the
Flarn ship’s line of fire.
Explosions rocked both ships as they danced through space
in an ugly tango of death.
“Well, I guess it’s now or never,” Rydell sighed. “Arm
all weapons, drop the cloak, and raise the shields, Lieutenant
Hawkins hesitated a moment. “Are you sure, sir?”
“They’re idiots, that’s a given,” Rydell said. “But I’m not
about to sit back and watch them all die.”
“Why not?” Jaroch asked plainly.
Rydell really couldn’t think of a good answer. “Just arm
the damn weapons!”
“Vessel decloaking astern!” Lt. Tilleran reported. “It’s
“How’d they get a cloaking device?” Conway mused.
“I assume they procured it from the damaged Warbird,
Commander,” Larkin stated. “At any rate, we could use the
“Indeed,” Conway said, mimicking one of Larkin’s
commonly used words.
The Explorer rocked again, as the Secondprize soared into
view on the viewscreen, coming in between the Explorer and the
Jendak, its weapons blazing.
“Our shields are almost gone!” J’hana shouted.
“Keep firing. Target their primary weapons,” Conway
said, holding on to the command chair with all his might.
“Sir, we’re running way too much power through the
weapons systems. Even a Galaxy-class vessel was never designed
to channel this much power,” Lt. Commander Richards said,
leaning over the engineering console. “We’re in danger of
overloading the primary power conduit.”
“Noted, Commander,” Conway said. “Lt. Larkin…see if
you can find a way to penetrate those Flarn shields without
blowing our power conduit to pieces!”
“Aye, sir,” Larkin said, going to work on her panel.
“Status of the Flarn?” Conway asked, looking over at
“Damage to the Flarn vessel is severe…” Lt. Tilleran
reported. “We’ve managed to breach their hull in several
“Good,” Conway said. “Let’s breach it some more!”
Sub-commander Gatana carefully piloted the scoutship in
between blazing photon torpedoes and phaser beams, targeting
one of the breaches on the Jendak’s hull and aligning her ship
so that it lay against the open section, in effect sealing the
breach and giving her an entry point into the ship. Luckily,
the Flarn were so busy battling the Federation ships, they
could do little to stop her. Her earlier plan of simply
escaping to get reinforcements now turned into something much
more beneficial: she would rescue her commanding officer and
reap untold gratitude from him–maybe even a promotion.
Gatana quickly removed her space suit, grabbed a
disruptor, and yanked open the docking hatch at her feet,
sliding through the hatch and out into one of the Flarn
With her weapon set to maximum, Gatana quickly took out
the three Flarn that happened to be coming down the
corridors, then followed the path her sensing device told her
would lead towards the only Romulan life sign on the ship.
Lights went out throughout the Aerostar as Captain Baxter
grabbed through darkness at T’Phil’s feet, pulling them out from
under him and dragging him to the ground.
T’Phil rolled to the side, bringing an elbow smashing down
into Baxter’s face.
Baxter could feel blood rushing out of his nose, but
ignored the tremendous pain he felt as it swelled from the
“Ib goink to gill you, Duh-rue…” Baxter stammered,
clasping his hands together and ramming them into the base of
The two combatants rolled down the corridor, tearing and
punching wildly at each other.
They kept rolling until they hit something solid.
Baxter looked up through the dim light of the
independently powered glowstrips along the corridor to see what
they had hit, expecting to see a wall.
Instead, he saw a very badly injured, very angry Flarn.
“You can’t keep a good Flarn down, Captain!” Granok
hissed, picking Baxter up and throwing him over his shoulder.
“You show him who’s boss, Granok,” T’Phil said, when
suddenly Granok tossed him over his other shoulder.
“It’ssssss a two for one special today, my pointy eared
Gatana ripped open the huge freezer door and yanked
Ardek’s limp body out. “I have come to rescue you, my
“Huh?” Ardek said. He was evidently suffering from mild
“I said I have come to res–”
Suddenly a giant butcher knife sailed through the air,
becoming stuck in the freezer door.
“Ssssssssstop!” an angry Flarn in an apron that read
“Kissssss the Chef” said. “I will not allow a good meal to
Gatana fired her disruptor at the chef and missed,
dragging Ardek out of the kitchen and into the massive dining
The chef followed, cursing something unintelligible in
Flarn. “The other chef may have allowed thisssssss!” he
cried. “But that was Colok. I am Dran. And if Dran can cook,
ssssso can you!”
Gatana barely avoided another butcher’s knife as she
ducked out of the dining room and made her way back to the
scoutship, Commander Ardek in tow.
“Sssssssssstop them!” Dran cried. “They must be
bassssssted and broiled at three hundred degreesssssss!”
Baxter awoke to the sound of two knives scraping
together, no doubt being sharpened for maximum carving power.
The Captain tried to cry out, but he the apple shoved in
his mouth prevented that. He tried to move, but realized that
he was tied down. He looked over, noticing that T’Phil was
next to him, similarly bound and gagged.
Granok hovered happily over Baxter and T’Phil, sharpening
two large carving kives. “I must thank whoever used to have
these quartersssssss. I would never have guessssssed that a
human would have a dining table thisssss huge! And there’ssss
enough fixin’sssss here to feed an army of Flarn!”
It only took a little looking around for Baxter to
confirm his suspicions. Damn you, Doctor Browning, he thought.
Baxter had to admit, though, that the candles Granok had lit
around the quarters did add a nice touch.
“Ssssso we’ll have a little picnic aboard the
Aerosssssstar,” Granok said happily, looking around the
corridors and sighing. “Hmmm. Ssssssseems an appropriate
place for the two of you to meet your end.”
Granok continued to sharpen his knives. “I must say,
your second attempt on my life was as inventive as the one you
made lasssst year. And jusssssst asssss effective, I’m afraid.
Asssss you can ssssee, I’m ssssstill alive and well. And you,
well, you my dear Captain, are right back where you
sssssssssstarted from. On my dinner table. This time,
however, I intend to eat you. And believe me, all the waiting
and all the pain will ssssssssimply add to the joy of gnawing
into your arm assss you scream your ugly little human head
Baxter had to at least thank Granok for leaving his
clothes on. It was downright embarassing last time, sitting
there in his underwear. This time he not only had his uniform,
but his ja–
“Use the jacket…” Conway’s voice echoed in his head.
Baxter wriggled his arm inside his right sleeve. It made
sense that if there was a button in one sleeve, there would be
a button in the opposite sleeve, and that would no doubt do
“The jacket is the key…”
Finding the button with his fingers, Baxter squeezed it
with all his might.
Just as Granok was about to begin carving, Baxter’s
jacket suddenly began to inflate. It got so big Baxter’s head
could barely be seen.
Granok plunged his kife into Baxter’s jacket, which may
have been a mistake, since the air release caused the Captain
to shoot right off the dinner table and carreen through the
open door and into the corridor beyond.
Baxter rubbed his aching head and picked himself up,
yanking the apple out of his mouth. He was wearing one hell of
“No matter,” he heard Granok saying from inside Browning’s
quarters. “I ssssshall eat you firssssst, T’Phil, and have the
Captain for dessert. Ssssso tell me, Colonel, are you finger
Baxter activated the wrist beacon built into his sleeve
and slapped his comm badge, running as far and fast as he
could. “Baxter to Explorer. I need some help over here.”
“So do we. We’re getting mauled by the Flarn. You’re on
your own, buddy. Conway out.”
Great, Baxter thought. He would have to escape on his
own, which probably meant finding his way to the shuttlebay and
blowing his way out with a shuttlecraft.
Baxter’s mind briefly wandered to T’Phil. What would
happen to him? He would no doubt be painfully consumed by
Granok. And as much as Baxter hated T’Phil, he couldn’t bare
the thought of Granok having a satisfying meal.
Baxter quickly changed directions and made his way
towards the first place he could think of to find weapons.
“Our shields are gone!” J’hana cried, as sparks showered
out from a station near her panel.
“I guess now’s a good a time as ever to test out that
ablative armor,” Lt. Commander Richards said uneasily.
“And if it doesn’t work?” Conway asked fearfully.
Suddenly the Explorer shook with another blast.
“Ablative armor holding!” J’hana said, gasping with
relief. “But it won’t hold out long.”
“Throw the tri-cobalts at them, J’hana,” Conway said.
“See if that changes their attitude any.”
“Aye, sir,” J’hana said, trying to hide the fact that
she was a bit uneasy about fighting in a ship without
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” Captain Baxter said,
shining his wrist beacon on the sign on the door, making sure
he was at the right place.
|(09||0800) LT. J’HANA|
CHIEF SECURITY/TACTICAL OFFICER
Yep, he was at the right place all right.
Baxter used the crowbar included in his jacket to pry
open the doors to J’hana’s quarters, shining the light around
and taking stock of what he had to work with.
Baxter knew J’hana had her batleth with her, so that
automatically eliminated that possibility. Still, Baxter
noticed that there were several other implements of death and
destruction left to chooose from. The Captain hurriedly
grabbed a klingon dk’tang knife, turning to go and show Granok
Then he realized that probably wasn’t near big enoug, so
he dropped it and went back to the wall of weapons.
Ah, ha! A Ligonian mace, tipped with enough poison to
render any foe instantly dead. A perfect weapon.
Baxter stopped short just before reaching the door to
J’hana’s quarters. Gee, poison tipped. He could accidently
hurt himself with that one. He put the mace back and went back
to the wall.
Ah, the infamous mekleth, the hot weapon of choice among
Klingon warriors. Smaller than a batleth, but much more
It didn’t feel quite right either though.
Baxter picked the mekleth down and surveyed the remaining
Finally, Baxter selected a lirpa, the ancient Vulcan
weapon with a razor sharp curved blade at one end and a heavy
bludgeon on the other. Legend had it that a similar weapon was
used in the famous confrontation between Kirk and Spock back on
Vulcan, when Spock was having some kind of problem with his
Having never been terribly lucky at love, (until
recently) Baxter could sympathize with Spock.
Baxter grabbed the lirpa and bolted back to Dr. Browning’s
“Hold on, Commander,” Gatana said, firing her disruptor
at some approaching Flarn and shoving Ardek up through the
Gatana quickly climbed in after Ardek, closing the hatch
and starting up the scoutship’s engines.
“Where?” Ardek said, opening his eyes and looking around.
“I will explain later,” Gatana said, releasing the
docking clamps and steering the scoutship away from the Flarn
“I said I will explain later,” Gatana said curtly. “Needless
to say, I have saved your life.”
“That’s nice,” Ardek said, losing conciousness again.
Gatana heaved the scoutship to port, just barely evading
the quantum torpdeo that whizzed by, destined to smack into the
Flarn warship. “This will be quite difficult.”
The massive Galaxy-class starship swooped past the tiny
scoutship as it grappled with the Flarn warship, giving
Gatana the perfect avenue for escape. Her only obstacle now
was the derelict Aerostar, which hovered innocently ahead of
her, the only still object for some distance.
Ardek’s eyes fluttered open. “Ga-Gatana? What’s–”
Suddenly alarms twinkled all over Gatana’s panel, and a
large, blurry image coalesced on her sensor screen. “That’s
certainly odd. I’m picking up a major energy-mass irregularity
near the Aerostar. I hope it’s nothing harmful.”
Phaser beams seared past the scoutship’s windshield,
forcing Gatana to bank the scoutship steeply to port, right
towards the energy-mass irregularity. To her, it seemed the
obvious choice when forced to choose between that and a bona
fide phaser beam.
Evidently, it wasn’t much of a better choice.
Suddenly, Gatana was jerked out of her seat as the tiny
scoutship slammed into a hard duranium-like surface with a
metallic clang. Through the smoke that wafted from exploding
panels, Gatana watched the very solid empty space in front of
her shimmer with sparkling electricity.
Ardek struggled beside her on the deck to see what was
happening. “Oooh, that’s really pretty, isn’t it?” he said.
Gatana didn’t know how to reply.
“We have been hit!” First Boppity’Boo cried out, as
Admirals Neilson and Phillips tried to steady themselves against
him, each grabbing an arm.
“By what?” Phillips cried.
“By another ship!” Boppity’Boo said, examining one of the
sensor panels. “Praised, the cloaking device is out!”
Neilson stumbled over to another panel. “Well, fix it!”
“Impossible. All power connections are destroyed.”
“Do we have weapons?” Neilson asked.
“No, my Lord, that junction was severed as well.”
“Then what have we?” Neilson asked.
“A giant problem,” Harlan said jubilantly.
Dran ran out onto the bridge, breathless, heaving his
butcherknife along with him. “Lieutenant Lord…where issss
the Lord Granok?”
“Over there,” Kenjek said, nodding towards the Aerostaras it
drifted by in the middle of the melee on the viewscreen. “Why?”
“The rest of hissss meal got away!”
Kenjek turned. “Are you sssssssaying it sssssimply
“No. One of itssssss friendsssss came looking for it!”
“We mussssst retrieve it!”
Drako almost mentioned the fact that preserving the
warship was more important at that point, but he kept his mouth
“Drako!” Kenjek cried out. “Locate that mealsssssss’
Drako gulped. If he didn’t find that Romulan, he’d be
blamed for the loss of the meal, instead of the cook. So went
politics on a Flarn vessel.
“We have a larger problem than you might think,”
Boppity’Boo said, examining his panel. “The experimental
cloaking device has caused a cascade failure in our power core.
The entire ship will be destroyed in five minutes.”
“Then do something!” Phillips cried.
“John, be quiet!” Neilson said. “Let me think!”
“I’d suggest we evacuate,” Harlan said.
“I didn’t ask you for suggestions,” Neilson barked.
“Do you have a better one?”
“As a matter of fact, I do,” Neilson finally said.
“Boppity’Boo, evacuate the ship.”
“Yes, Praised One.”
“Innovative thinking, Neilson,” Harlan mumbled.
“Those ‘Flarn’ are attempting to lock on a transporter
beam!” Gatana said.
“Move us out of range?” Ardek suggested, rubbing his
“Not enough time,” Gatana quickly surmised.
Suddenly a humongous green starship shimmered into
existence between the scoutship and the Flarn vessel that
bore down on it.
“That’s a Warbird, right?” Ardek asked.
“Presumably,” Gatana said, as the pull of a transporter
beam came over her. Which transporter was another matter
“What the hell is happening out there?” Conway asked,
shaking his head in disbelief, as the Jem’Hadar warship listed
away from the Aerostar and exploded in a flash of pyrotechnics.
“A Jem’Hadar warship appeared near the Aerostar, followed
by a Romulan Warbird. The Jem’Hadar ship blew up and the Romulan
Warbird is now battling with the Flarn,” Larkin summed up. “Does
that explain the situation clearly enough, Commander?”
Conway fought the temptation to slap Larkin upside the
head and returned his attention to the confusion on the screen.
“What happened to the personnel on the Dominion ship?”
“Evidently they transported over to the Aerostar,” said Tilleran.
“Damn. Conway to Baxter. You’re about to have company.”
“Oh. Okayyyy. In the form of…”
“Dominion? Since when did they get here?”
“About five minutes before the second Romulan Warbird.”
“It would take too long to explain. Listen, Captain, if
I were you I’d busy myself looking out for the Jem’Hadar over
“I have bigger problems than that, Conway.”
“I have to save T’Phil from the Flarn Warlord.”
Conway blinked. “Pardon?”
“Eh?” Kenjek said, regarding the ship on the viewscreen.
“All thesssse shipssss appearing and dissssssappearing. How
isssss one suppossssed to keep track of them all?”
One of the pointy-eared humans appeared on the
viewscreen. “To everyone in this sector. This is Major Vohn
of the Tal Shiar. We are here to recover the cloaking devices
stolen by the Dominion AND the Federation. The inventory
numbers are 44401 and 44455, respectively. Please transfer
said equipment to our cargo bay or you will fired upon.”
“What’ssss he talking about?” Drako asked.
“I don’t know,” Kenjek said. “Ssssstop assssssking
quesssstionssss and ssssstart shooting!”
“How the heck did they know about our cloaking device?”
Dillon asked, looking to Rydell.
Rydell rubbed his chin. “I don’t know. You have to give
it to them, for an organization that was supposedly destroyed
by the Dominion, these guys are awful sharp.”
“So do we give them the cloak?” Dillon asked.
Rydell nodded. “Have Baird jettison it out an airlock.
We don’t need it anymore.”
“What about the Flarn?”
Rydell looked up at the viewscreen. The Flarn and
Romulan vessel were now locked in combat. “Back us off. Let
the Romulans play with them for awhile.”
Slowly returning to conciousness, Admiral McGrath pulled
himself to his feet, in a vain attempt to escape from the watery
grave that his shower had suddenly become.
“Did they stop shooting at us?” McGrath asked groggily, to
no one in particular, letting his head collapse to the tiled
floor as he lost conciousness again.
“They stopped shooting at us,” J’hana surmised, looking
up at the Romulan and Flarn ships on the viewscreen. “They
are now focusing the whole of their efforts on the Romulans.”
“Good,” Conway said. “That gives us enough of a break to
try to rescue the Captain and the others.”
“One problem, sir,” Richards said. “The transporters
were fragged by one of the last few antiproton blasts.”
“How long will it take you to fix them?”
Richards examined the readouts on his console. “I have
a team on it now. Give me twenty minutes.”
“You’ve got ten,” Conway barked. “Ford, take us closer
to the Aerostar.”
“Sir,” J’hana said. “You realize that if we go too near
the Aerostar, we are bound to get caught in the crossfire
between the Flarn and the Romulans.”
“Do you have a problem with that, Lieutenant?” Conway
“No, not really. I thought you would, though.”
“Well, I have nothing better to do. Intercept Aerostar,
Mr. Ford, and STEP on it!”
Gatana followed Ardek onto the bridge of the Romulan
Warbird. He had regained his composure after the rattling
affair aboard the Flarn warship.
“Report,” he ordered.
“I am not answerable to you, military man,” the man in
the center seat said. “My name is Major Vohn. I answer only
to the Tal Shiar.”
“Well, Major Vohn, you do realize that you have an agent
out there held captive by those…things,” Ardek said.
“We are aware of Colonel T’Phil,” Vohn said. “He is not a
priority. Obtaining the lost cloaks and apprehending a live
Founder are of chief importance.”
“What about them!” Ardek said frantically, pointing at
the Flarn warship that bore down on the viewscreen.
“We are attempting to subdue them,” Vohn said.
“I hate to eat raw food, you know,” Granok said, as he
prepared to carve up Colonel T’Phil. “I mean, I read the
medical reportsssss jusssst like everyone else. I know the
risk of bacteria and infectionssssss. None too appetizing,
“Too bad we don’t have any power,” T’Phil stammered. “You
can’t cook me without power.”
“I’ll rissssssk eating you raw,” Granok hissed, bringing
his knife into the air to carve into T’Phil.
Suddenly T’Phil percieved what sounded like a deranged
battle cry, and the next thing he knew, Granok fell forward on
top of him, bruising several of his ribs.
Captain Baxter tried desparately to pull the lirpa out of
Granok’s back, but it was pretty darn well stuck.
“You little…” Granok said, reaching back and swatting
Granok turned, causing Baxter to swing around, hanging on
to the lirpa for dear life.
In the confusion, the Flarn dropped his knife, which
T’Phil was able to snag with a free finger.
Within moments, the talented Tal Shiar operative was free
of his bonds, and ready to pay Granok and Baxter back for their
“Stab him! Stab him!” Baxter cried.
Obediently, T’Phil rammed the knife into Granok’s neck.
Granok, in turn, slapped T’Phil away with his damaged claw
and slammed Baxter into the table.
T’Phil quickly searched the kitchen for some kind of
weapon, finally grabbing a battery-powered mixer. It wasn’t
exactly the ideal weapon, but it would have to do.
T’Phil ran over and plunged the mixer into Granok’s back,
the metal blade sparking against the Flarn’s hard, shiny
That diversion gave Baxter just enough time to roll off
the table and run over to Browning’s desk.
She had to have a sidearm in there somewhere.
Baxter rifled through Browning’s desk drawers, madly looking
for her standard issue phaser. The Captain pushed aside
Brownies, twinkies, muffins, tarts, candy bars, apples,
bannanas, a canned ham…
“There it is!” Baxter shouted, pulling out the phaser
and setting it on “Well Done.”
Granok lept at Baxter, snarling ravenously, just as the
phaser ripped through his chest and knocked him backwards, the
smell of sizzling Flarn once again filling the air.
Baxter studied the phaser. Granok should have been
Damn it. He had it set on sixteen, not seventeen.
Suddenly Granok’s claw came up between Baxter’s legs,
sending the Captain hurtling out of Browning’s quarters.
Baxter scrambled to his feet, ignoring his screaming
boys, who had now been roughed up twice in one day.
“Come on! We must run!” T’Phil cried, running out of
Browning’s quarters, Granok in hot pursuit. Really hot pursuit,
since his chest was still smoking.
Baxter led the way; although he more waddled than ran,
what with the recent beatings his crotch had taken.
“Any ideas?” T’Phil asked.
“One very stupid one,” Baxter said, heading towards the
end of the corridor.
Fifty meters away, just around the corner from Baxter and
T’Phil, Admiral Neilson led the way down the corridor, flanked by
two Jem’Hadar guards. The other ten brought up the rear,
keeping an eye on both Admiral Baxter and Admiral Phillips.
“They are nearing our position, Praised one,” Boppity’Boo
said, eying his scanning device. “Prepare to see your son
splattered all over the bulkhead, Admiral Baxter.”
As the group quietly approached the intersection of
corridors, Admiral Baxter silently hoped that his son was
carrying those lucky horseshoes.
“Well, are you going to tell me the idea?” T’Phil asked,
Baxter shrugged. “It’s still in the early stages of
development. Basically, I think we should–”
“Surprise!” Admiral Neilson called out, rounding the corner.
“Admiral Neilson!” Baxter cried, then looked behind her.
“Dad? What the hell are you doing here?”
“Son!” Admiral Baxter called, just before being pulled
back around the corner. “It’s a trap!”
“No kidding,” Baxter said, as the Jem’Hadar guards
leveled their weapons on Baxter.
“We’re borrowing your ship, Captain,” Neilson said.
“You can have it. It’s busted,” Baxter said.
“That may be, but our engineers will make short work of
this primitive technology. But before we get it ready to take
back to the Dominion, we must first rid it of some unneeded
“Let me guess. That would be me,” Baxter said weakly.
“You’re catching on,” Neilson smiled. “Boppity’Boo, take
out the trash.”
Suddenly, and with a gut-wrenching screech, Granok ripped
through the ceiling and crashed down onto Boppity’Boo and his
compatriot, smashing them both with a sickening crunch of
bones. “You can’t esssssscape that easssssily!”
“Oh, my,” Admiral Phillips said quietly.
“Who are you?” Granok asked, pausing and regarding the
“Pardon me, we’re in the middle of something here,” Neilson
“Die!” Granok hissed, taking two more Jem’Hadar and
smashing them together, letting them drop to the ground in a
“That’s just about enough of that!” Neilson called out,
morphing into a gooey blob and stretching forward into Granok’s
“What’sssssss thisssss?” Granok said in confusion,
pulling at the mass of Admiral Neilson as it enveloped him.
“Protect the Founder!” one of the Jem’Hadar said,
ramming headlong into Granok’s knee.
“Well, we’d love to stay and chat, but we’ve uh…got a
thing,” Captain Baxter said, backing away. “Come on, Dad!”
Admiral Baxter pushed past Granok and Neilson, jumping out
of the way of one attacking Jem’Hadar, just as another bore
down on him.
“Dad!” Baxter cried, reaching into his jacket and
withdrawing the gleaming metal horseshoes. “Hold on!” Baxter
closed his eyes and hurled the horseshoes through the air.
The lucky shoes spun through the air, clanging against
the Jem’Hadar’s skull. The warrior was at first unfazed,
pulling at one of the two connected horseshoes, realizing that
one of them was caught on something–his precious tube of
“This is quite difficult,” the Jem’Hadar said as he
attempted frantically to separate the two horseshoes.
Admiral Baxter used the Jem’Hadar’s moment of surprise to
jab the other end of the horseshoes into the warrior’s eyes.
“Arrgh!” the Jem’Hadar cried, reeling back.
Admiral Baxter tossed the horseshoes back to Baxter. “I
knew those things would be lucky.”
Then Baxter’s comm badge crackled to life. “Conway to
Baxter. Our transporters are operational and we’re ready to pull
you guys out of there.”
“Energize, Commander!” Baxter cried.
Suddenly, Admiral Baxter, the Jem’Hadar guards, and the
mass of goo surrounding Granok disappeared in a flash of green.
“What do you mean someone else transported them?” Conway
asked, staring angrily at the viewscreen.
“I mean, the Romulans locked on to everyone but Granok,
T’Phil, and the Captain, and beamed them over to their ship,”
Tilleran explained quickly.
“They just engaged their cloaking device!” J’hana called
“Damn,” Conway grumbled, pounding the command chair.
“Well, you’d better get the Captain before the Flarn turn
their sights back on–”
A powerful antiproton blast suddenly slammed into the
Explorer, causing sparks to shower from panels all over the
Richards sighed, working madly at his panel. “There go
all our repairs.”
“Where’d they go?” Baxter asked.
“That was a Romulan transporter beam,” T’Phil said,
dumbfounded. “Why did they not transport me?”
Baxter ignored T’Phil and slapped his comm badge. “Baxter
to Explorer. Where’d everyone go?” All the Captain got in
return was static. Baxter shrugged. “The Flarn must have
damaged their comm–”
“Remember me?” Granok cried, slamming into Baxter and
Both men scrambled out from under Granok as fast as they
could, making for the nearest Jeffries tube.
“They’re coming after us again,” Lt. Hawkins called out,
surveying the tactical situation. “And the Romulans just took
off with our cloaking device.”
“We can live with that,” Rydell said. “Just find a way
to take out that Flarn warship.”
“That might be easier said than done,” Lt. Commander Jaroch
said. “Even with the combined firepower of the Explorer and
the Secondprize, the Flarn vessel can still overpower us.”
“Maybe the crew of the Explorer will come up with
something,” Dillon suggested.
Jaroch grunted. “That is a laugh.”
“Keep on them, J’hana!” Conway cried, as the Explorer and
the Secondprize weaved around the Flarn warship, attempting
to finally overpower its defenses.
The Explorer rattled with another blast from the Flarn,
and J’hana quickly returned fire with everything the Explorer
“The Flarn shields are gone,” J’hana said victoriously.
Smoke settled over the bridge as Lt. Commander
Richards surveyed the damage. “Yeah, but so are all our
weapons. We just lost phasers, quantums, the whole shabang.”
J’hana clenched her fist. “We have them right where we
“And they have us right where they want us,” Conway said,
glaring at Richards. “Except they have weapons!”
“I’m working, I’m working,” Richards said, tapping away
at his panel. “Give me a minute.”
Conway watched the Flarn vessel swing towards them on
the viewscreen, its weapons array bristling. “We don’t have
a minute! That Flarn ship is about to blow us to smithereens.”
“Ablative armor,” Larkin suddenly said to herself.
“What?” Conway asked, turning to face the android.
“We have ablative armor.”
Larkin ran some tests on her panel then turned in her
chair to face Conway. “I advise we ram the Flarn ship at a
speed of warp two.”
Conway shook his head in disbelief. “Are you crazy,
“No, she’s not, Commander,” Lt. Tilleran said. “I think
our armor can handle it, judging by the amount of structural
damage the Flarn have already taken, and by the materials
they use to construct their warships.”
“So we’d survive the collision?” Conway asked, rubbing
“In theory,” Larkin said.
“In theory????” Conway asked. “This better be a lot
better than just a theory!”
“It is the best I can offer at this juncture, Commander,”
Larkin said. “To use an aphorism, ‘take it or leave it.’”
Conway collapsed into the command chair, sighing. “I was
really starting to like this ship too. Initiate your plan,
“I hope this thing has air bags,” Ensign Ford said
“Say again?” Rydell said, watching the Explorer turn on
“I said,” Jaroch said tiredly. It had been a long day, “they are
preparing to ram the Flarn vessel.”
“They must be crazy,” Dillon said.
“Remember who we’re dealing with,” Rydell snapped back.
“The Explorer is reported to have ablative armor,” Jaroch
said. “Perhaps that will protect them.”
“I don’t think the Great Bird himself can protect them
this time,” Rydell said quietly, as he watched the Explorer
“All hands, brace for impact!” Commander Conway cried out
as everyone held fast to their stations. “Mister Ford…ENGAGE!”
Ensign Ford crossed the fingers of his left hand and
stabbed the engage button with his right hand.
And everyone on the bridge of the Explorer held on for
Admiral McGrath dried himself off, humming to himself as he
mosied over to the sink. Thankfully, the Explorer had stopped
shaking long enough for him to get in a good shave.
The tune his father used to sing to him still rang in his
“Shaving cream, always stay clean, shave every day and
you’ll see what I mean!”
So McGrath shaved every day with a real razor and real
shaving cream. Call it a strange ritual, but it was something
he did ever since he was old enough to shave.
The Admiral quickly lathered up and prepared to shave.
Thank goodness for peace and quiet.
“Lieutenant Lord Kenjek!” Drako cried out. “The
Explorer is coming towards usssss!”
“Do they mean to ram usssss?” Kenjek asked. “Are they
“Apparently ssssso. Even if we had minimum shields, they
would not withstand such an impact,” Drako said confidently.
“What about no shields and a badly fractured hull?”
Kenjek asked, fear filling his angry red eyes.
“Um…” Drako said, looking up at the viewscreen.
“Sssssssssson of a….” Kenjek cursed, watching as the
Explorer’s engines glowed bright blue.
The crew of the Secondprize watched with baited breath as
the Explorer shot into warp, colliding with the Jendak.
Suddenly there was a huge, bright explosion that caused
the entire Secondprize to shudder.
Rydell covered his eyes as the bridge was washed with
light. “Jaroch! Give me a report! What’s the status of the
“I do not know!” Jaroch shouted. “The sensors are as blinded
as we are!”
Rydell watched the viewscreen, and as his eyes adjusted,
he could make out a faint black shape.
Rydell’s eyes adjusted a little more. A little more. A
And he didn’t like what he saw.
Rydell lept towards the helm console, while Lt. Sullivan
watched in horror as the Explorer spun towards them on the
Rydell slammed his hand on the “DOWN” button, sending the
Secondprize diving out of the way as the Explorer hurtled past
Commander Conway struggled to his feet, gripping the arm
of the command chair as he was overcome by a wave of nausea and
“We are out of control!” Larkin shouted.
“Tell me something I don’t know!”
“Inertial dampeners failing!” Richards cried. “Hull
damage on six decks!”
“Put on the brakes, Mister Ford!” Conway cried.
“I can’t, Commander! Helm control is offline!” Ford
“Well,” Conway said, grabbing on to Larkin’s chair,
“any more bright ideas?”
“Possibly,” Larkin said, running her hands along her
panel. “We must anchor the ship.”
“She’s finally lost it,” Commander Conway said, as he was
“I don’t believe it!” Commander Baird cried from the
engineering station, as the Secondprize lurched out from under
his feet. “They’re locking a f**king tractor onto us!”
“You are correct, Mister Baird,” Jaroch said. “But to what
“They’re using us as an anchor!” Dillon said.
“Oh, hell,” Rydell said, as the tractor beam became taut,
pulling the Secondprize along for the ride. “All engines, FULL
“Woah, boy!” Lt. Sullivan said from the helm, as the
Secondprize jerked back on the larger Explorer. “Come on,
Baxter and T’Phil made their way quickly down the ladder
towards engineering, deck by deck, almost oblivious of the
trembling around them as the shock wave from the Jendak’s
“Think that was the Jendak?” T’Phil asked.
“Maybe,” Baxter said. “Or it could have been the
“Pity,” T’Phil said with a sneer. “You do have a way of
losing ships, Baxter.”
“I’m more worried about my dad. What are your people
going to do with him?”
“I don’t know…interrogate, torture, kill?” T’Phil
“God I hate you,” Baxter muttered, quickening his climb.
“Now I see why the Tal Shiar wouldn’t take you back.”
“Oh, that was a low blow, Captain,” T’Phil said. “Not
that I don’t enjoy this pleasant little chat, but how much
farther do we have to go before we can initiate your grand
Baxter watched as the giant number twenty flew by them.
“Oh,” T’Phil said. “That’s good.”
Suddenly a black, shiny blur plunged past Baxter and
T’Phil. The blur latched a claw on to both of them, ripping
them free of the ladder.
“I have you now!” Granok cried. “And I’m willing to
place betssssss on who will survive the impact at the bottom!”
Baxter grabbed madly at the rungs of the ladder as they
flew by him, but he was falling too fast to get ahold of any of
them, and Granok’s grip was unbreakable.
Conway’s voice entered Baxter’s head again. “The
jacket…use the jacket!”
Baxter quickly fumbled at the pockets and the lining of
the jacket, madly searching for a button, or a string, or
something he could pull, or push, or twist.
Suddenly, miraculously, the back of Baxter’s jacket
exploded open, and a huge white parachute, complete with fancy
Starfleet emblem, opened up inside the cramped turbolift shaft.
“What?” Granok said, as their descent began to slow.
Just as suddenly, the group hit the bottom of the shaft,
the parachute floating down to join them several seconds later.
Baxter thanked Granok for breaking his fall and quickly
pulled another cord that released the parachute, and made his
way back up the ladder, T’Phil fast on his heels.
“That’s some jacket,” T’Phil admitted.
“RRRRGGGGGHHHH!” Granok growled, ripping at the parachute
that surrounded him. “I haven’t finisssssshed with you,
The Captain frantically pumped at the manual door lever,
sliding open the hatch that led out into main engineering.
Both he and T’Phil climbed out into engineering, stopping
a moment to catch their breath.
“Why are we here?” asked T’Phil.
Baxter pointed at the strange green prism-shaped object
that glowed at the center of the room, the only illumination
left now that backup power was gone. “Because of that…” he
huffed, still short of breath.
“Your warp engine?”
“A Sulani warp engine. The only one of its kind in this
quadrant,” Baxter said, limping over to examine the engine as
it sat there, glowing serenely. “Much like a Romulan engine it
has an independent power source, so that if main power fails,
its primary systems still function.”
“Of course, but what good will that do us?” T’Phil asked.
“For one, it stopped us from being blown to bits by a
containment failure when we lost power,” Baxter said, grabbing
a phaser out of a nearby locker.
Suddenly a claw smashed through the glass floor that
surrouned the Sulani warp core. Evidently, Granok found
another way out of the turbolift shaft, no doubt by clawing
through sheets of duranium.
Baxter had to give it to the Flarn. They were
“And for another…it makes one hell of an explosion,”
Granok pulled himself up, reaching for Baxter and T’Phil.
Baxter tumbled backwards, shot at Granok with his phaser,
But, in ducking the blast, Granok slipped–and in a
frantic attempt to regain his footing, he dug his claw into the
closest available surface.
The warp core.
Green material immediately began shooting out of the
place where Granok’s claw was still stuck, burning away at his
“Sulani antimatter,” Baxter explained, leading T’Phil away
from the warp core as Granok screamed out in frustration.
Almost immediately, Red Alert klaxons went off, a
byproduct of the only system left functioning aboard the
The warp core.
“The warp core has been fatally damaged,” a pleasant, male
Sulani voice said. “Prepare for warp core ejection.”
Granok struggled to get away from the warp core, but it
was no use. His claw was stuck in the housing and he was wedged
in between the warp core and the railing that surrounded it.
Captain Baxter ran to a rack of isolinear chips and
started yanking chips out madly, one after the other.
“What are you doing?” T’Phil asked frantically.
“Disabling the ejection mechanism,” Baxter explained.
“Oh,” T’Phil said. He thought a moment. “Why would you
want to do a stupid thing like that?”
“To make sure Granok dies here and now,” Baxter said,
pulling out the last chip.
“Warp core ejection nonfunctional. Three minutes to warp
“I’ll have to admit, you’re pretty damn gutsy for a
human,” T’Phil said. “Now how do we get out of here?”
Baxter tapped his comm badge, staring from Granok’s
struggling form to T’Phil. “Baxter to Conway. What’s your
“The Flarn ship has been destroyed, but we fragged our
engines in the process. What about you?”
“We’re about two minutes from a breach,” Baxter said.
“Think you might be able to kindly transport us the hell out of
“Working on it.”
“Looks like you’re going back the brig, T’Phil,” Baxter
said amiably, trying to make small talk as he waited for Conway
to come through with the transport.
T’Phil grimaced. Back to the brig. While Baxter rested
on his laurels. He wouldn’t let that happen.
The Romulan Colonel laughed pleasantly. “Well, if I’m
going to prison, I might as well let it be for a good reason.”
“Mmm hmmm,” Baxter said, watching Granok struggle with
the warp core, hoping the Flarn wouldn’t be able to work his
way free before the transport. He wasn’t really even listening
That’s why he was so surprised when T’Phil lunged across
the room at Baxter, gripping him in an unbreakable stranglehold.
“I…thought…we…agreed…to put aside our…differences!”
Baxter shouted, as the two rolled on the floor.
“I lied!” T’Phil shouted, knocking Baxter’s phaser out of
his hand. “I’m going to see you dead yet, Captain. I may have
to work at a Federation Penal colony for the rest of my life, but
I’ll be alive, Captain! I’ll be alive!”
T’Phil threw Baxter up against the back wall of engineering,
jumping through the air and grabbing for Baxter’s throat.
“Not if I can help it!” Baxter shouted, kicking T’Phil
back. Baxter continued to kick T’Phil away, gradually loosening
the Romulan’s grip on his leg. “I have had just about enough
of you, T’Phil!” Baxter said finally, giving the Romulan one
last, good kick.
The Romulan reeled back, his arms spiralling through the
Baxter regained his footing quick enough to grab the
Romulan by the front of his collar and hurl him with all his
Right towards Granok.
“Merry Christmas, you son of a bitch!” Baxter shouted, as
Granok latched his free claw onto T’Phil.
“No, Baxter, no…you can’t!” T’Phil cried, as Granok
stared down at him hungrily. “Don’t leave me here!”
“Thank you, Captain,” Granok said sweetly. “Thank you
for a divine lasssssst meal.”
“Ready for transport, Captain,” Conway’s voice reported.
“However, we lost T’Phil’s signal in the radiation from the
damaged warp core.”
“That’s a shame,” Baxter said. “I guess we’ll have to
leave him here.”
“Understood, Captain,” Conway said. “Whenever you’re
“Ten seconds to warp core breach,” the computer reported.
“Now’s really good for me, Commander!” Baxter replied.
The last thing Baxter saw before he was transported was
the look of horror on T’Phil’s face as Granok sank his teeth
into his chest, and the look of satisfaction on Granok’s face.
At least he wouldn’t die hungry.
“Secondprize’s tractor beam is holding,” Ensign Ford
reported, as Baxter materialized on the bridge.
“Tell them to get us out of here,” Conway ordered.
“The Aerostar’s core is breaching,” Lt. Larkin reported
Captain Baxter staggered back to his command chair.
“Everyone hold on!” J’hana shouted, holding onto her
panel for support.
Baxter covered his eyes as the Aerostar exploded in a
nova of light, its saucer spiralling through space and busting
into tiny, smaller pieces, finally incinerating.
A hot white shockwave surged through space, causing the
Explorer to shudder as the Secondprize towed it away.
Everyone on the bridge stood up as they watched the
burning wreckage of the Aerostar twist and smoulder on the
viewscreen, streaking away from the epicenter of the blast.
“She went before her time,” Conway sighed.
“Everyone remember this day,” Baxter said grandly,
looking around the bridge. “And make sure that history never
forgets the name… Aerostar.”
Ensign Ford looked back. “I sure won’t forget this day.
It was the first time I got laid in more than a year.”
Baxter shot an angry glare at Ensign Ford as Counselor
Peterman wrapped her arms around him. “I thought you were
going to die, Andy!”
“I almost did,” Baxter gasped, wincing at the pain
Peterman’s hug was causing his injured bones and internal
“You look like hell, Captain,” Commander Conway said,
looking over at Baxter.
“I feel like it to,” Baxter admitted. “Good work,
Commander. Destroying a Flarn warship is no small feat.”
“Wait until you see how much damage I did to our own ship
in the process, Captain,” Conway replied.
“I’m looking forward to your report,” Baxter said,
wincing again at the pain in his ribs.
“Captain,” J’hana said from tactical. “Romulan Warbird
“Not them again,” Conway said, smacking his forehead.
Baxter collapsed back into his command chair. “Open a
A serene-looking Romulan man appeared on the screen.
“Greetings. I am Major Vohn of the Tal Shiar. Congratulations
on destroying that alien menace, Captain.”
“Congratulate yourself, Vohn. Where’s my dad?” Baxter
“I am not sure I know what you’re talking about.”
Baxter narrowed his eyes at the Romulan on the
viewscreen. “I’m talking about one of the two Starfleet
officers you have aboard your vessel.”
“Oh…you mean the dignitaries that we took aboard as
honored guests? We simply transported them aboard in order to
protect them from the dangerous battle that you and your crew
were involved in.”
“How kind. We want them both back,” Baxter said. “In
addition to the Changeling I happen to know you have in
“We will happily return your wayward officers to you.
The changeling, however, cannot be returned.”
“And why the heck not?”
Vohn looked a bit ashamed. “It attacked my transporter
officer and disappeared into a maintenance shaft. We have not
seen it since.”
“But it is somewhere aboard your ship, right?”
Baxter sighed. “At this point I don’t even care if
you’re telling the truth or not. I just want my dad and that
other guy back pronto.”
“And pronto you shall have them,” the Romulan grinned.
“And perhaps this act of kindness will facilitate good feelings
among our peoples.”
Captain Rydell’s head suddenly emerged in the upper
corner of the viewscreen. “Hey, what about the freighter you
“Who said he could initiate a conference call?” Baxter
said, looking to Larkin.
The Android simply shrugged.
“I destroyed the freighter,” a shorter Romulan said.
“Commander Ardek at your service.”
The two Romulans whispered for a moment, then Vohn
thumped Ardek in the forehead. Ardek disappered from view and
Vohn once again turned to Baxter, smiling. “Gentlemen, my
compatriot was obviously mistaken. He was thinking
of…another ship. He did not destroy that freighter.”
“Oh, yeah?” Rydell asked. “Then who did?”
“That is not our concern. Now…if you’ll excuse us, we
must be returning to Romulan space.”
“What were you and this Ardek fellow doing in Federation
space in the first place?” Baxter asked angrily.
“Um…we were off course. Bye.” Vohn disappeared,
leaving Captain Baxter to scratch his head, attempting to
discern whether he should be mad at the Romulans or just glad
the conversation was over.
Rydell’s image took over the entire screen. He seemed as
confused as Baxter.
“We’ll have a hell of a time filling out our reports
tonight, won’t we, Captain?” Baxter asked amiably.
“That we will, Captain Baxter,” Rydell said. “By the
way…your crew did okay out here today. Maybe they won’t
cause the destruction of the universe after all.”
“Hey,” Conway said, irritably, “give us some time. We
just got back here a few days ago.”
“Duly noted,” Rydell replied. “Now let’s get you guys to
Waystation before somebody starts hugging somebody.”
“Do not hold your breath,” J’hana muttered as Rydell
disappeared from the screen.
Suddenly, the turbolift doors parted and Admiral Baxter
rushed out onto the bridge, followed by Admiral Phillips and
two security officers. “Son, you have to send a message to
Starfleet. Neilson replaced me with a changeling!”
Baxter rubbed his chin. “I was wondering how you got out
here so quick. Do it, J’hana.”
The Admiral Baxter changeling looked out over the
expansive conference table where his top staff was gathered.
“And another thing, I want all our operatives working near
Dominion-controlled space to begin sending reports on their
positions directly to me. And I want locations and specs on
all the major Starfleet defensive installations in the quadrant
from Tactical Operations. Is that understood?”
One of Harlan’s assistants raised his hand. “Sir, might I ask
why you need all this information?”
“Yours is not to ask why, but to do and die!” Harlan
quoted. “That is my damn thought for the day, Commander. Now
get it done!”
The Commander shrank back in his chair. “Yessir.”
Yvonne came in and poured coffee into Harlan’s cup.
“There you go, Admiral. Cuban blend, just like you like it.”
“Whatever,” Harlan replied. “How about some danish?”
“Danish…but sir, you don’t–”
“No buts–I want danish now. Do it!” Harlan barked,
causing Yvonne to stumble backward.
“Y-yes, sir,” Yvonne said, scuttling out of the room.
The secretary walked up to the replicator and ordered up
the Admiral’s danish nervously. He never ate danish. Ever.
He had been acting strange all day, and it was really starting
to bother her. She considred requesting a transfer when the
monitor on her desk bleeped.
“Incoming message from Starfleet Headquarters,” the
computer’s female voice said sweetly.
“Wonder what they want,” Yvonne said, putting down the
tray of danish and pressing a button on her viewer. “Good
afternoon, Internal Affairs. This is Yvonne, how my I help
A female Admiral appeared on the viewscreen looking
extremely agitated. “Yvonne. This is Fleet Admiral Alynna
Nechayev from Starfleet Headquarters. Is this line secure?”
“Always,” Yvonne said. Wow. Admiral Nechayev herself.
Yvonne reasoned this was pretty important.
“Even from Admiral Baxter?”
“Well…yes. But he’s in a meeting right now. Should I
Necheyev lept forward, trying to physically stop Yvonne
with her hands. “No…no, don’t get him. I want you to listen
“So that is how we’re going to proceed,” Admiral Baxter
said, pushing back in his chair. “Any questions?”
Commander Williams raised her hand. “Sir, I have a small
“What is it, Williams?” Harlan grunted, lighting up a cigar
and puffing away on it.
“Are you okay? You’ve been acting really strange.”
“I am FINE!” Harlan barked. “Any more questions?”
Everyone just shifted uncomfortably in their chairs,
rocking back and forth, murmuring, and clearing their throats.
That’s when Yvonne scurried in, weighed down with a tray
of danish. “Here’s the dessert you asked for,” Yvonne said,
placing the tray down on the table, her hands shaking.
Harlan latched a hand onto Yvonne’s arm. “Yvonne.”
“Wh-what?” Yvonne asked nervously.
“These are cinnamon.” Harlan smiled. “I wanted prune.”
“R-right,” Yvonne said, scuttling out of the room
“What was she thinking,” Harlan said to himself, shaking
Yvonne hurried in moments later with a new tray. “Here
you go.” She placed the tray in front of Harlan. “How’s that?”
Harlan grabbed a danish and chomped down. “Deeeeelicious.”
Satisfied that Harlan was enjoying his danish, Yvonne
grabbed the coffee pot from the center of the table and
prepared to turn around.
“Sir, you can’t just expect us to do all these crazy
things withoug questioning you,” another officer said.
“After all, with the changeling threat around…”
“You think I’m a changeling?” Harlan asked, eyes glowing
with rage. “I’ll show you a freaking changeling!”
“Uh-oh,” Yvonne said, gripping the coffee pot tighter.
Harlan’s hand morphed into a rubbery tentacle, which wrapped
itself around the nearest staff member’s head and slammed it
repeatedly into the glass table. “How’s that?”
“Stop that!” Yvonne cried, slamming the coffee pot into
Harlan’s head. The metal pot sank into Harlan’s forehead, and
was forcefully propelled out, knocking the secretary to the
“I’m getting comp time for this,” Yvonne muttered,
reaching down into her boot and pulling out a phaser, upping
its power setting to maximum. “Take this job and shove it,
Harlan lept from his seat, extending his tentacle
towards Yvonne, but before he could act, her phaser ripped into
him, causing him to stagger into his chair and slide backwards,
as the beam caused his flesh to boil, bubble, and finally
explode in an orange shower that covered half the conference
The doors to the conference room burst open and two
Starfleet Security officers charged in. “No need to worry,
Yvonne tucked her phaser back into her boot. “You’re too
late. I took care of it.” She turned to the staff, who were
staring at the scene in front of them, speechless. “Meeting’s
Necheyev smiled on the viewscreen. “And then she took
him out with a pocket phaser. Had she not been a civilian, I
would have promoted her for it. Brave girl.”
“I trust my Changeling counterpart didn’t do too much
damage,” Harlan said with concern from the seat beside
“Thankfully, he was eliminated before he could enact any
of his plans. The really odd part is that, according to your
staff, the Changeling seemed to be a bit…unbalanced.”
“A dud, perhaps?” Captain Baxter suggested as Dr. Browning
worked on his injuries.
“Maybe,” Necheyev said. “At any rate, he’s been taken
care of.” Necheyev looked at Captain Buter. “Which is more
than I can say for you, Captain. The rest can wait until you
write your report. For now, get medical help.”
Baxter shifted uncomfortably in his command chair as Dr.
Browning mended one of his broken bones. “That’s probably not
a bad idea.”
“And Admiral,” Harlan said.
“Give Yvonne the day off.”
“Already did. Good luck to all of you in getting back
safely. Starfleet out.” Necheyev was suddenly replaced by a
view of the slowly rotating Waystation.
With Harlan’s help, Dr. Browning heaved Baxter to his feet.
“Come on, Andy. Let’s get you down to sickbay,” Browning said.
“You’ve had enough fun for one day.”
“Just in case you wanted to know,” J’hana said, as Baxter
hobbled into the lift, followed by Browning, Peterman, and
Harlan. “Lt. Commander Richards signals that our engines are
in good enough shape to make the trip back to Earth now.”
Commander Conway assumed the command chair. “What course
do you want me to set, Captain?”
Baxter leaned against the wall of the turbolift heavily,
a dreamy, drugged look clouding his eyes. “Home.”
“Yes, sir,” Conway said, turning back toward the main screen.
He suddenly looked back over his shoulder at Baxter. “Oh, sir,
I never did ask how that survival jacket worked out.”
“It was wonderful, Commander,” Baxter said as the lift
doors closed. He patted the horseshoes that rested in the
jacket’s side pocket. “Aboslutely wonderful.”
Stardate 51993.9. We’re on our way back to Earth, where
the Explorer will undergo some major repairs as well as a few
finishing touches. It’s kind of amusing that the ship has
barely been broken in and already it’s had the crap pounded of
Speaking of crap pounding, I’m recovering nicely, thanks
to the ministrations of the ever-competent Doctor Browning.
I had quite an interesting night in sickbay. Who should I meet
in there but Admiral McGrath. Evidently, he suffered a nasty
accident in the bathroom, the details of which I promised I
would leave out of my log.
Now that the Flarn have been defeated, T’Phil has been
eliminated, the Changelings have been kicked out of Starfleet,
and the quadrant has been saved, I’m left with only one task.
I have to come to a decision that will affect the lives of me
and my crew for some years to come. And I really don’t know
what to do about it.
Captain Baxter looked at the expectant faces of Commander
Conway, Lt. Larkin, Lt. J’hana, Dr. Browning, Lt. Commander
Richards, Counselor Peterman, Lt. Tilleran, Lt. Hartley,
Ensign Ford, and Admiral Baxter–as well as several other
crewmembers who were gathered before him.
The Captain clasped his hands behind his still aching
back, trying to stand as straight as possible.
“Ahem. Well, I know you all have been waiting for this
decision, and I feel I owe it to you, and believe me, I’ve
given it a lot thought.”
Baxter paused briefly for effect.
“After much consideration, I have decided…”
Everyone leaned forward with anticipation of what Baxter
“…to christen this lounge…” Baxter looked around at
the faces of his senior officers, “…Explorations.”
“Gee, Captain. It just doesn’t have the same ring as
‘The Starlight Lounge,” Conway said, as the doors opened and
the crew poured into the lounge, plowing right past poor Mirk
as he opened the doors.
“We’re opened for business…” he croaked, pulling
himself to his feet.
“I like the name, Captain,” Counselor Peterman said, as
she walked along with Baxter, Richards, and Browning, into the
“Eventually it will be decorated,” Mirk explained, as
everyone took in the rather drab decor. He didn’t have much to
work with in the time he had. “With, well, you know, with, um,
a space theme.”
“Styrofoam planets and cardboard astronaut cutouts?”
Conway asked jokingly.
“How’d you know?” Mirk asked. “Did Lieutenant Hartley
“Classy, Mirk, classy,” Lt. Gellar said, as he and Ensign
Ford laid claim to a booth, which just happened to be adjacent
to the one where Tilleran and Hartley were seated.
“Actually,” Mirk explained, “Captain Baxter selected the
“You set me up to take the fall, didn’t you Mirk?” Baxter
said with amusement as he took his seat in a booth with
Richards, Browning, and Peterman.
“Not at all,” Mirk said, wiping off the table. “I just
thought it’d be nice for the Captain to select the theme.”
“It’s…very…um, creative,” Dr. Browning said, busting
out into a laugh.
“Four stars!” Richards said, joining Browning in her
“Just great, I’m the laughing stock of the entire ship,”
Baxter said, staring down at the Whiskey Buzz that Mirk had put
in front of him.
“The more things change…” Mirk said, moving off to
serve the next table.
“At least you have a ship to be the laughing stock of,”
Dr. Browning said, looking over the menu. “I’ll have the Veal
“Yeah,” Richards said. “Things could be a lot worse.”
Peterman leaned over and squeezed the Captain, who still
seemed a little disappointed that his first attempt at
restauranteuring was meeting with limited success. “At least
we’re together, hon.”
Baxter smiled and downed his shot of whiskey. “You’re
right, Kelly. Anyway, I’m sure people will love this place
once we get it decorated.”
After giving the lounge a thorough examination, Harlan
sauntered over to Captain Baxter’s booth. “A great little
place, boy. And not a bad ship either.”
“Yes, sir,” Baxter said, smiling. “It’s not much right
now, but with a little paint…”
Peterman smiled, nuzzling closer to Baxter. “It’ll be a
Conway walked up behind Harlan, grunting. “A cold, hard
million-ton hunk of flying technology? Not much of a home
if you ask me.”
“We didn’t,” Browning said with a grin.
Harlan patted Conway on the back. “Boy, home is wherever
you happen to be. Try to remember that.”
“What’s that?” Conway asked, arching his eyebrow. “A
thought for the day?”
“No, son, I just made it up,” Admiral Baxter laughed.
“Now where can I get a good cigar?”
Mirk appeared behind Harlan almost instantly-almost
magically. “Cigars, you say? Why, Admiral, I have a
replicator file for Maloxian tobacco that’ll knock your feet
“That’s socks, Mirk,” Captain Baxter corrected.
“Whatever,” Mirk said, leading Harlan over to the bar.
“You’ll love the cigar I’m going to make you.”
Conway shook his head as he watched Mirk eagerly punch up
the “Maloxian” cigar. He turned to Baxter. “I’d be
worried if I was you.”
Baxter laughed. “I am.”
There was a long silence as Harlan puffed the cigar, and
Commander Conway rocked uncomfortably on his heels.
“Are you just going to stand there, Commander?” Richards
“You could pull up a chair,” Browning suggested.
“Actually, that sounds like a good idea,” Conway said,
grabbing a chair and sitting down in front of the booth.
Baxter shot Richards, Browning, and Peterman a bewildered
look–Conway despised Baxter, and didn’t much care for the rest
of them. Why would he want to sit there with them?
Behind Conway, just out of the visual range of anyone at
Baxter’s booth, Harlan keeled over next to Mirk’s bar.
The nervous Maloxian dragged the Admiral behind the bar and
began trying to resusitate him.
“Great, first week back from the Delta Quadrant and your
bartender kills your dad. This will really look bad on my
“So what can I do you for, Commander?” Baxter finally
“Well, Captain, I swore to myself several months ago that
if we ever got back here in one piece, I’d hand you my
resignation.” The first officer reached behind his back and
pulled out a padd. “And I never break my word.”
“Oh,” Baxter said, taking the padd and looking at it.
“If that’s what you really…”
Conway smiled. “But I never said anything about taking
The first officer reached out and grabbed the padd,
pulling it away from Baxter.
The Captain held his grip firm. “You sure you don’t want
“No, of course I don’t want to quit, Captain. That was
just, kind of a…a joke,” Conway said, his face becoming
serious as he pulled back on the padd. “Now give me back my
Baxter pulled back harder. “A resignation is a
Conway yanked back even harder, gritting his teeth. “But
I like being part…of…this…crew!”
The padd flew up in the air and Baxter and Conway dove
for it, finally hitting the deck and brawling hysterically over
the elusive padd.
Harlan jumped to his feet, to Mirk’s relief. “Boy, that was
a hell of a cigar.”
“Thank you, um, sir. Are you sure you’re okay?”
Harlan straightened his uniform and nodded, slapping Mirk
hard on the back. “Damn straight. Have some of that sent to
my quarters, boy.” Harlan took another toke from the
large stogie. “Hot damn, that’s good!”
On his way out of the lounge, the Admiral spotted Conway
and Baxter brawling on the floor. “Get ‘im, boy!”
Peterman watched Baxter and Conway with amusement.
“You’d think they’d have outgrown this kind of thing years
Browning shook her head. “They never outgrow this kind of
thing, Kelly. It’s called ‘being a man.’”
“Hey!” Richards said indignantly.
Browning put a hand over Richards’. “Don’t worry, honey.
We weren’t talking about you. We were talking about men.”
“Thanks. Hey…wait a–”
“I love you too,” Browning leaning her head on Richards’
“Give it!” Baxter shouted.
“No!” Conway shouted back. “I like the Explorer!”
“Well a deal’s a deal! Resign, damn it!”
“No, I won’t resign!”
Baxter slapped Conway repeatedly with his own
resignation, slamming the padd into his first officer’s
forehead. “This’ll teach you to get a man’s hopes up!”
And the two continued to fight.
Space, the flighty frontier. These are the voyages of
the Starship Explorer. Her crew’s new mission: To explore
brave new frontiers of boredom and incompetence, to seek out
new neuroses and new cheap parodies, insanely going where no
spin-off has gone before.
STAR TRAKS: THE VEXED GENERATION CONTINUES
WITH YEAR TWO!
BE HERE IN A FEW WEEKS FOR THE LAUNCHING
OF THE ALL-NEW STAR TRAKS: TVG WEBSITE
AND THE PREMIERE OF YEAR TWO:
“HONEY, I’M HOME!”