Author: Anthony Butler
Lieutenant Andrew Baxter crouched down beside the Tarkalian razorbeast and carefully touched the tip of its tusk.
“You say this thing is pedigreed and neutered?” Baxter asked, looking up from his padd.
“Yes, sir.” Ensign Amanda Carpel replied. “I got it from Rigel Seven and all the paperwork is entered into the ship’s computer.”
Baxter tapped his padd and stood up. “Very well, Ensign. Everything looks to be in order here. I know this is a pain in the butt, but Starfleet does have strict rules pertaining to what can be kept in Starship cabins and what can’t.” Baxter put his hands on his hips and made a gallant salute. “And sometimes the duty of an inventory officer is grim indeed. Sometimes you have to tell people, ‘hey, this couch isn’t regulation, it has to go.’ It’s those times I wish I’d gone into starship command instead. This is a dirty job, Miss Carpel, and not one to be taken lightly.”
“Uh-huh.” Carpel said disinterestedly. “So…that’s all, right?”
Smiling enigmatically, Baxter put a hand on Carpel’s shoulder. “For you, yes, but for me, the struggle continues.”
“If you say so.” Carpel moved Baxter’s hand and ushered him toward her door.
“I’d love to talk some more, but I’ve got duty in twenty minutes.”
Baxter put his hands up to block the edges of the door, locking himself in place with his feet. “H-hey, if you really want to talk some more, maybe we can do something later on tonight!”
“Sorry, I’m not interested,” Carpel said, pushing Baxter as hard as she could to get him out the door.
“Please!” Baxter cried, as Carpel bent his fingers back from the edges of the door frame.
“NO!” Carpel shouted, glancing back at her razorbeast. “Sic him, Zoey!”
Carpel stood aside as Zoey lept forward, her jowls dripping with hot saliva.
“Oh, no!” Baxter cried, jumping to the floor and scrambling down the corridor.
In an instant, Zoey was on top of him, clawing and scratching.
“MERCY!” Baxter cried, as the razorbeast bore into him.
“Rydell to Baxter. Please report to my readyroom.”
Ensign Carpel stepped out of her quarters and gently led the razorbeast back. “Better see what he wants, Mr. Suave.”
Baxter picked himself up and dusted off his torn uniform. He glanced back at Carpel as she disappeared inside her quarters with the razorbeast.
There were some definite possibilities there.
“Rydell to Baxter, did you get my message or not?”
“Oh, yeah. Sorry, sir. I’m on my way.” Baxter hurried off down the corridor. He briefly wondered what the heck the Captain would want from him.
“Come,” Captain Alexander Rydell said tiredly.
Lt. Baxter peered in. “You aren’t going to gas me again are you?”
Captain Rydell shook his head, recalling his solution to the problem of the nagging inventory officer with a sense of nostalgia, wishing he could relive the special moment when he locked Lt. Baxter in the conference room and had the room flooded with anesthezine gas.
“No, Lieutenant, I’m not going to gas you.” Rydell replied.
“Well, then what do you want?” Baxter asked.
Rydell leaned forward in his chair, smiling weakly, trying to give the lieutenant the impression that the Captain wasn’t thoroughly sick of seeing him on his ship. “Have a seat.”
Baxter hadn’t been seated for more than five seconds before he dove to the floor. “So that’s where the tag is on your desk!”
The lieutenant was now on his back, squirming under Rydell’s desk.
“Get out from under there, you…” Rydell stopped himself, “Lieutenant.”
“Sorry sir, but I do have a job to do…”
Rydell suddenly remembered why he had called Baxter to his ready room in the first place. “Yes well, your job is exactly what I want to talk to you about.”
Baxter’s face turned pale as he sat back down. “Sir, if you mean to fire or demote me, you couldn’t possibly find a more contemptible place for me.”
Rydell nodded. “I know, I know. Well, what if I told you that I had found a position for you that would put all of your…talents to good use.”
Baxter stuck his finger in his collar, trying to loosen it a bit, suddenly appearing very hot. “You mean a p-promotion, sir?”
Rydell smiled. “Exactly!”
“I’d be honored sir.”
The smile widened as Rydell stood. “Great, you leave tomorrow. Commander Jaroch will debrief you on your orders. All you need to know for now is that there is a voice-over involved.”
Baxter gulped. “Voice-over?”
Rydell began recording.
“What am I supposed to say again?”
“Say something about space. And about your promotion.”
“Uh, okay. Here goes. Space, it’s bigger than life and scares the hell out of me, but at least I…well, let’s face it, things can’t get any worse, can they? What the heck am I doing here? I can’t tie my shoes without authorization and even my mom won’t return my calls. I’m on the bottom of the Starfleet food chain and my commanding officer has actually resorted to gassing me in order to get rid of me. Now he’s actually reassigning me. I can only hope my luck improves with my next assignment.”
“Good enough, Lieutenant Baxter, now get the hell out of here,” Rydell hurriedly deactivated the recorder and shoved Baxter through the parting doors of his readyroom. “Go to the conference room and talk to Lieutenant Commander Jaroch, he’ll fill you in on the assignment.”
Baxter raised a finger as the doors closed between him and the Captain. “But…”
A muffled voice could be heard behind the door. “NO BUTS! Just go! Computer, lock readyroom door.”
Lt. Baxter collapsed to the floor in the conference room for the second time, although in this instance it was more from shock than from gas.
“My own ship.” The words fell from Baxter’s mouth with disbelief as he lay on the plushly carpeted floor. He had stood in the doorway at first, making sure he could escape quickly in case they decided to gas him again, not taking any chances. After all, he still felt sick from the experience. But now he had a new reason to feel nauseous.
Jaroch turned on the conference room’s viewscreen, which displayed a schematic of a Starfleet vessel. “Correct, Lieutenant. Your…own …ship.”
Baxter grimaced as he sat up to look at the screen, the Yynsian spoke as if he was addressing a child.
“Now…” continued Jaroch, pointing at the graphic. “this is the starship Aerostar. It is a modified Nebula class, with tri-cobalt and conventional photon and quantum warheads, as well as powerful phaser emitters and super-efficient shields. The isolinear systems have been replaced with bioneural gelpaks, much like those used in the Intrepid Class.”
“Do those get inventory tags?” Baxter asked, his head propped on the conference table.
The officer shot Baxter an exasperated look. “No. Now, listen carefully. Starfleet is chartering the Aerostar to investigate the disappearance of several ships in the area of the Bermuda Expanse.”
Baxter’s brow furrowed. “Bermuda Expanse?”
Jaroch pressed a button that brought up another graphic. “A localized subspace plasma disturbance that takes up a large part of sector 34580. Several ships have been sent to investigate it, but none have returned. Starfleet’s solution was to modify this starship with the most advanced weaponry and scanning equipment available in hopes that it might be able to track down the lost ships.”
“Where do I fit in?” Baxter asked.
“You will be promoted to Captain, and since you are Starfleet’s senior inventory specialist, you are ideal for the mission. We will be assembling a top notch crew to aid you, and as I already said, you will have an extremely powerful vessel at your disposal.”
Baxter had ignored everything that Jaroch had said after the word “Captain.”
Jaroch rapped his fingers on the table for several moments, looking at Baxter, who seemed totally oblivious of the world around him.
Finally, the Lieutenant Commander got sick of waiting for the news to sink in. “You are to report back to your quarters and read up on your crew rosters and procedures. You have a lot to learn about being Captain and we will arrive at Waystation to rendezvous with the Aerostar by morning, so I’d begin studying now if I were you. You must be packed and ready to go by 0700 tomorrow morning.”
Finally something seemed to click. “Okay, if you say so, sir.”
“Stop calling me sir. You are a Captain now.”
“Whatever…” Baxter’s voice trailed off as he left the conference room.
“Is the coast clear?” asked Commander Travis Dillon as he entered from the opposite side of the conference room.
“Do you see him anywhere?” Jaroch asked with annoyance.
“Then the coast is clear.”
Dillon sat. “Well, did it work?”
Jaroch smiled at that. “Well of course it did. Thanks to the Captain’s connections at Starfleet, we’re not only getting rid of that pain in the butt Baxter, but I managed to unload a few of the other screwups from this ship as well. With any luck, they’ll fly in there, get blown up, and never be heard from again.”
Dillon laughed maniacally. “Wonderful. It’s great to know that there’s someone on board that gets less respect than me.”
“I wouldn’t go that far, sir.”
Stardate 51015.3. We have arrived at Waystation to drop off Lieutenant Baxter, Ensign Larkin, Ensign Ford, and all the members of the now defunct “glee club.” They will make a fine addition to the crew of the Aerostar. I’m sure they will boldly explore new…new…ha ha. I can’t say this with a straight face. Anyway, the point is, we’re getting rid of them.
Rydell couldn’t stop laughing as he stepped out onto the bridge. “Mr. Dillon, I have the conn. I want you to go down and wake Lt. Baxter and escort him to the transporter room.”
Dillon whined as he slumped out of the command chair. “Why me?”
“Because I said so, now go.”
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!
“Wha?” Baxter lurched out of his bunk and into the darkness, falling to the floor with a thud.
Baxter quickly got up and threw on his uniform.
“Dillon to Baxter.”
Baxter felt around in the dimly lit room for his communicator. It should have been pinned to his chest, but must have fallen off at some point.
“Dillon to Baxter.” This time the voice had more edge to it.
Baxter bent over to pick up his socks, and in doing so stumbled over his desk, fell back and landed in a heap on the floor.
That’s when his communicator chirped in response. It took a few moments for Baxter to figure out from there that his uniform was on backwards.
“Baxter here,” he said groggily.
“C’mon. It’s time to go. You have a mission to get to.”
“Okay. Where are you, Commander?”
“I’m right outside the door. Now hurry.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Baxter stumbled around trying to get his new uniform on straight, he had replicated it the night before and hadn’t had time to try it on. He really liked the idea of now having a red uniform as opposed to the usual ship’s services mustard. After some fumbling around, he finally got the jacket turned around face front.
Baxter appeared in the doorway looking more disheveled than when he had awaken.
Dillon did not look amused. “Okay, let’s go. Do you have everything you need?”
Baxter disappeared back inside his quarters and emerged with a small tote bag. “This is all.”
“Are you sure?” Dillon asked, peering over Baxter’s shoulder at the cluttered room.
“Oh, wait a minute.” Baxter disappeared back into the cabin and reappeared shortly after carrying a set of horseshoes that were connected together. “These are my lucky horseshoes. My dad gave them to me and his dad gave them to him. I don’t go anywhere without them.”
“Intriguing. Let’s go.” Dillon turned.
“The fun part is, you have to figure out how to separate them,” Baxter fumbled with the two horseshoes. “It’s kind of a brain-teaser. Wanna try, Commander?”
“No. I don’t want to be down here any longer than I have to.”
Baxter looked around. “Why, is there something wrong with this section?”
Dillon smiled fiendishly. “Of course not.”
As the two made their way to the turbolift, two engineering officers barred the door to Baxter’s quarters with a swatch of yellow plastic which read in black: “DANGER: RADIATION”
One officer looked at the other. “Okay, we’re done. Let’s go, I hear more than a half hour down here and you can get some serious brain damage.”
The other officer pointed back to the door to Baxter’s former quarters. “Then what was in there?”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure it was just a closet.”
Looking out the Secondprize’s viewport, the first thing Baxter noticed about the Aerostar was the size. It was almost twice the size of the Excelsior- class Secondprize, and as such, should have carried a complement of at least three hundred, but since this vessel was bulked down with observation equipment, new sensors, new weaponry, and lots of nifty supplies, the standard crew complement was reduced to around two hundred. Baxter saw no reason for complaining though. Hell, he was getting his own ship, and it was a beautiful ship. And it was bigger than Rydell’s.
Baxter suddenly realized that Dillon was now halfway down the corridor. Not wanting to be late, Baxter ran to catch up.
“So,” Baxter said to Dillon, who had been quiet during the long turbolift ride up to deck eight, “When do I get my pips? I guess there will be some kind of special ceremony…”
Dillon stopped in mid stride. A medical officer was walking by as they spoke. Dillon stopped the man and plucked two pips off his collar. “There,” he said to the surprised crewman,
“You’re an ensign junior grade now.” Dillon handed the pips to Lt. Baxter. “Here, enjoy.”
Baxter attached the pips to his collar as the two officers entered the transporter room.
“Hey, sexy,” Ensign Monica Vaughn said, winking at Dillon. “Who’s the putz?”
“He’s our former inventory guy.”
“Do you want me to arrange one of those little…accidents for him?”
“That’s okay, we’re getting rid of him anyway.”
Vaughn seemed disappointed. “If you say so.” She suppressed a yawn as she activated the transporter and sent Baxter on his way.
“Say, Commander,” Vaughn added, “What’s say we head to the back room and let you do the beaming for a change?”
Dillon backed towards the doors to the transporter room nervously. “That’s quite all right.”
The first officer was about to turn around, when the transporter room doors parted and six crewmen stormed in, knocking Dillon to the floor.
“What the hell!” Dillon said exasparatedly.
Jaroch strolled in behind the crowd, hands clasped behind his back. “This is the glee club, sir.”
Dillon grunted as he got up. “Well, get them the heck out of here.”
Jaroch nodded at Vaughn. “Beam them over to the Aerostar, Ensign.” The six crewmen took their places on the transporter pad, one of them spoke up.
“Okay everyone, from the top,” said Ensign Welch from Astrophysics. The group broke into an off-key rendition of “Happy Trails.”
Dillon covered his ears. “ENERGIZE, ENERGIZE!”
Vaughn’s fingers raced for the slidebars on the console and pushed them.
As the sextet began to dematerialize, Dillon wiped his brow. “Whew, thank goodness that’s over.” He headed for the doorway. “I’m going to go get a stiff drink.”
Just as the first officer approached the doors, they parted once more to admit Ensign Larkin, who, not looking where she was going, banged directly into him.
The impact caused the android’s clumsily assembled body to shatter into many components, which flew in several different directions about the transporter room.
“Great,” sighed Dillon, trying to regain his balance. “Pick all her pieces up and sit them on the transporter pad. She’s their problem now.”
Vaughn and Jaroch tried desperately to round up all of Larkin’s parts and place them into a rather clumsy pile on the transporter pad.
“I think that is the last of her,” Jaroch said, placing a finger at the top of the pile.
“Pardon me,” said Larkin just before her speech circuits lost power.
Dillon turned towards the doors, “I’ll be in Seven Backward.” Before getting to the doors this time, he paused, and stepped aside, looking at the doors, waiting for the next officer to enter.
On cue, Ensign Zachary Ford burst into the transporter room, lugging a large duffel bag. “I’m here everyone!”
Dillon smiled, having outwitted this latest stretch of bad luck.
Just as the first officer was about to leave the room, Ford swung around with the duffel bag and clobbered Dillon upside the head.
Dillon collided with the wall and then collapsed.
“Whoops, sorry, sir.” Ford said before swinging back around to address Ensign Vaughn. “Hey, Vaughn, have you driven a Ford lately?”
“Get a life, dork.” Vaughn said, proud that she could demonstrate some standards.
“That’s the last of them.” Jaroch said as Vaughn activated the transporter once again and beamed Ford and the pile of junk that once was Larkin over to the Aerostar.
Dillon got up and scratched his head. “Thank goodness. I hope I never see any of those people again.” Feeling a lump on his badly banged up head, Dillon added, “I’m going down to Dr. Aldridge now and see if she can fix my head.”
Jaroch and Vaughn looked at one another. “Don’t expect a miracle, Commander,” Jaroch said.
Lieutenant Commander Christopher Richards sat back in the command chair and looked from the drawing to the viewscreen. He considered it a pretty good likeness. He had steadily improved his drawings of the different bridge stations of the Aerostar the two days they had been docked at Waystation, and decided to begin a mural of the warp core as soon as they got underway.
“What do you think?” he asked Counselor Kelly Peterman, who was seated next to him.
“Well, it’s definitely interesting, I like how you did the stars. It seems a little–Charlie! Stop it!! I told you not to do that on the bridge!” She yelled at her golden retriever, who was presently lifting his leg on the helm station.
“Jeez!” said Richards, slapping his comm badge. “Richards to maintenance, cleanup on the bridge ASAP!” He turned to Peterman. “Didn’t Commander Conway tell you not to bring those animals on the bridge? Take him back to your quarters now.”
Peterman stuck out her tongue. “Bite me. Where is Commander Conway, anyway?”
Richards shrugged. “How should I know, he comes on shift in ten minutes.”
The maintenance crew entered, carrying a bucket and a mop. Richards pointed to where the dog had urinated and they quickly went to work.
“I’ve got to get down to engineering,” said Richards exasparatedly. “I want that dog off the bridge by the time the Commander gets here, hear me?”
Peterman made a mock salute. “Yes, sir.”
Richards made his way to the turbolift. “J’hana, you have the bridge.”
The blue-skinned Andorian’s antennae twitched slightly. “Understood. I will bring us immeasureable glory.”
“We’re in spacedock for Pete’s sake. I don’t think you’ll find much immeasurable glory here.” Richards said from inside the turbolift as the doors closed.
“Time until my shift, computer,” Commander David Conway asked as he finished buttoning his uniform.
“Eight point five minutes, Commander.”
“Okay okay, great that’s perfect,” said Conway as he broke for the replicator. “Computer, get me the biggest cup of your strongest coffee on file, and none of that Klingon crap.”
A steaming forty-ounce mug appeared in the replicator slot. Conway peered at the mug with dissatisfaction. “Is this the biggest you’ve got?”
“Affirmative,” the computer replied.
“Guess it’ll have to do,” Conway said, quickly chugging half the mug, slapping his communicator on, and rushing out of his quarters.
Commander Lisa Beck could not believe her eyes. The Commander of Waystation had seen a lot in her tenure as a Starfleet officer, but she had never seen a human being eat at the rate and volume that Dr. Janice Browning did, and not gain a single pound. Part of her was disgusted, but most of her was envious.
The two women were seated at one of the tables in Waystation’s food court, having breakfast before the Doctor had to report for duty aboard the Aerostar.
Beck looked at her chronometer. “You know, the Aerostar is going to be leaving in half an hour. Shouldn’t you get going?”
“Mffm Mfmff,” said Browning, not slowing down a bit.
Nearby, Lieutenant Sean Russel was walking to his own table, tray piled high with skewered scrambled eggs from “Breakfast on a Stick”. He didn’t notice the sign that said “Wet Floor”, but surmised the floor was freshly waxed when his feet slipped out from under him and he pitched backwards wildly.
Commander Beck was looking around idly, when she noticed some commotion near one of the adjacent tables. She caught a glimpse of Lieutenant Russel falling backwards, and was about to laugh, when she noticed his tray had been flung straight up, sending several skewers and lots of scrambled eggs flying.
Beck managed to yell, “Everyone duck!”
Russel opened his eyes to see the Food Court’s ceiling, then closed them quickly when he saw eight shish-kebab skewers falling down towards him.
Time moved in slow motion as Beck ran to help her officer. Unfortunately, she wasn’t fast enough, for each skewer found its mark in poor Russel’s chest.
Browning couldn’t help but hope that the replicators on the Aerostar provided food that was half as good as what she had sampled at Waystation. She considered snatching an armful of croissants from one of the stands on her way out when she heard a scream.
“Dr. Browning! Get over here quick, we have a medical emergency!” shouted Commander Beck.
“Mrffg errm!” shouted back Dr. Browning through a mouthful of Belgian waffle. The emergency would just have to wait; blueberry waffles happened to be one of the doctor’s favorites.
Blood and eggs were everywhere, but unlike the eggs, the blood that squirted several feet in the air from the punctures in Russel’s chest was quite necessary to the security officer’s survival.
“Can you hear me, Sean?” asked Beck.
The man’s eyes were now opened wide with pain. “Of course I can hear you, I didn’t get skewered in the ears!”
“Just don’t move, help is on the way.”
All Russel could think about as he lost consciousness was that all those wonderful eggs would now go to waste.
“DR. BROWNING! DR. BROWNING! GET OVER HERE!” Beck cried.
“Frmmf Mrffhfhf!! Frmmf Mrffg!” said Dr. Browning, swallowing the last Belgian Waffle whole, and washing it down with a glass of refreshing orange juice. “Do you want me to choke!”
Dr. Browning finally got out of her chair and went over to the source of all the commotion, a toothpick hanging lazily out of her mouth.
“What seems to be the problem here?” she asked.
“This man has eight skewers stuck in his chest, are you blind!” yelled Beck.
“You don’t have to be rude about it, Commander,” Browning bent down and plucked each skewer from the pained man’s chest. “There, what’s the big deal?”
Beck was now seething with fury. “GET…OFF…MY… STATION!”
Browning seemed taken aback. “Sheesh, fine, I was leaving anyway.”
As Browning left the food court, she heard, “And don’t come back! Ever!”
Funny, that’s exactly what the Captain of her last ship said.
Conway stepped onto the bridge and knew something was wrong immediately when he felt sharp teeth latch onto his crotch.
“That’s Charlie’s way of saying hello.” said Counselor Peterman from her chair at the front of the bridge.
The Commander looked down at the Golden Retriever. “Yeah, well this is my way of saying hello,” he said, kicking the dog sharply in the rear end. The dog let out a yelp and sought out shelter near the replicator.
The Counselor shrieked and ran to the dog’s aid. “Awwww. My snuggles-wuggles, did the bad man hurt you? Don’t worry, he won’t ever hurt you again.”
Conway collapsed into the command chair, setting his cup of coffee down in the cup holder. “I want that dog off my bridge, now!”
“And who’s mister grumpy today?” asked Peterman, sitting next to him.
“You heard me.” Conway took a long swig from his cup, now starting to twitch badly from the caffeine.
“That stuff will kill you, you know.”
“Go to hell.” Conway was not in the mood to be lectured by his subordinate.
“If you drank fresh juice every morning and ran a mile, you would not only feel better, but you’d live a lot longer.”
“Why on earth would I want to do that?”
Before Peterman could reply, there was a beep at J’hana’s tactical station. “Commander,” J’hana said, “the Secondprize signals that they have completed transport of their crewmembers.”
“Great, now I get to meet Captain Kangaroo.” Conway made a twirling motion with his index finger pointed straight up. “Whoopee.”
J’hana continued. “We are now being hailed by the Secondprize.”
“On screen,” Conway said unenthusiastically.
Captain Rydell appeared on the screen, looking like he was about to burst with laughter.
“Aerostar, we have completed transport of crew and supplies. We’re preparing to leave the station. Good luck on your…ahem… mission.”
“You don’t want to talk to the Captain?” Conway didn’t exactly care, but if Rydell talked to the Captain it would at least mean that he wouldn’t have to.
“That…uh…won’t be necessary. I’d love to chat but we have other duties to get to. Bye.”
Rydell’s face disappeared to be replaced with the view of the station from the Aerostar’s docked position.
“The Secondprize is leaving the station sir.” J’hana said.
“Now we are being hailed by the station, sir.”
Conway covered his face with one hand. “Not a moment’s peace, not one damn moment’s peace. Put them on screen.”
Commander Beck appeared on the screen, looking as if she had been through quite an ordeal, and her uniform was stained with blood. “This is Commander Beck of Waystation. I’d like to let you know what a screw-up your Chief Doctor is. I don’t want to see her on this station again. My Chief of Security almost died, and as it is he will be down for at least a week.”
Commander Conway got up from his chair. “I’m really not interested. Talk to Counselor Peterman, she’s in charge of PR.” Conway grabbed his cup of coffee and headed for the readyroom.
Glad for something to do, Peterman addressed Beck. “Why don’t you calm down and take a deep breath so we can discuss this peacefully, Commander? Now then, I take it you were beaten as a child?”
Beck fumed. “I hope you all die.”
“They have severed the channel.” J’hana said from tactical.
“Bitch.” Peterman frowned.
“What did you say??” J’hana suddenly fumed. Something seemed to be set off in the Andorian, who lept over the tactical railing and grasped Peterman’s long, dark hair. “Insult me while I’m in command of the bridge, will you?”
Peterman shrieked. “I was talking about the woman on the screen for Pete’s sake, calm down, calm down, count to twenty…no…thirty!”
“DIE, DIE, DIE!!!” J’hana screamed.
“Raphael, Raphael, sic her!”
As if on cue, a small howler monkey dropped down from the ceiling and latched onto J’hana’s back. What a cliche, the tactical officer thought idly.
Conway leaned back comfortably in the Captain’s chair in the readyroom. “Now this is more like it,” he said, taking a long drag of coffee, savoring it in his mouth for a moment and swallowing.
At that moment, the door to the readyroom beeped to announce a visitor.
“Great, it must be the Captain.” Conway called out, “Come!”
The doors parted and the now infamous Golden Retriever lept through the air and on top of Conway, clawing at his face, obviously hell-bent now on revenge.
“Arrggghhh! Get off me you little mutt!” shouted Conway as he fell back in his chair and began rolling around on the floor with the canine.
“Darn,” said Baxter as he stared down at the scrap pile that he had planned on being his Chief of Operations, which was now just taking up space on the transporter pad.
He looked at Ford. “Get her down to engineering and see if Mr. Richards can get her put back together.”
Ford looked down at Larkin and then up again at Baxter. “I’m sure I have better things to do than that.”
Baxter got right down in the shorter man’s face, pointing at his collar. “See these? These pips say I’m the Captain, and if I’m not mistaken, that means you do what I say. Now HOP TO IT MISTER!”
Ford gathered up the android and quickly made his way out of the transporter room.
The transporter operator, a young ensign straight out of the academy, smiled weakly at him. “Have a nice day sir.”
“Maybe I will get the hang of this leadership stuff after all,” Baxter said as he walked off.
“I’m going to kill you! I’m going to kill you!” J’hana growled.
“I bet you were never breast fed!” retorted Peterman.
“Prepare to be fist-fed!” J’hana shot back.
Baxter had whistled a happy tune all the way to the quarters he had been assigned. He was very happy with the quarters, but didn’t take the time to really look around after tossing his bag on the bed. He left quickly, ready to get on with this first mission and start a new, successful life. No more Andy Baxter the loser.
“Get off!” Conway screamed, grappling with the growling Golden Retriever.
“Conway to security! I’m being attacked by Counselor Peterman’s dog! Help!”
“Sorry, sir. We’ve already dealt with Peterman’s dog. We’re not going anywhere near him,” came the reply from the security officer on duty.
“Damn,” Conway muttered. “You just can’t get good help these days. Conway to J’hana. Come in here and help me kill this dog!”
“I would love to, sir, but at present I am trying to kill its owner.”
Conway struggled toward the drawer in the ready room desk, reaching for the phaser that lie within. “Okay then, I’ll just have to do it myself.”
“Bridge,” said Baxter, walking into the turbolift. The turbolift carried the Captain upward with a hum. He took great satisfaction in knowing the ship was all his, and he would actually get to order someone else around for a change–a lot of someone elses. What a lucky break for him!
Suddenly Baxter became aware of the sounds of shouting, coming seemingly from directly above him.
The noise got louder and louder as Baxter approached the bridge, and he had desperately hoped that it wasn’t coming from the bridge.
“So much for wishful thinking,” he said as the doors opened to reveal his Chief Tactical Officer throwing his Counselor up against the viewscreen.
“Ladies! Ladies! STOP IT!” Baxter shouted, approaching the two fighting women.
The two women froze, looking at Baxter with the faces of two kids who had been in the cookie jar.
Peterman blew her hair out of her face and let go of J’hana’s antenna. “Sorry, Captain.”
J’hana straightened and saluted. “Captain Baxter. It is a pleasure. I want you to know that as a warrior, and as your chief of security, I would cut off my arm and feed it to you to keep you alive. I would take a phaser hit for you. I would give you my very…”
“Okay, okay, great, just stop fighting and take your stations, we’re leaving in five minutes. Where’s Commander Conway?”
Peterman was checking her makeup in the side mirror attached to her computer console. “He’s in the readyroom, but it sounds like something weird’s going on in there.”
“What a surprise.” Baxter said, approaching the doors. He turned and looked at Peterman. “Do I smell monkey crap?”
Peterman shrugged. “Why on earth would there be a monkey on the bridge of a starship?”
The doors to the Captain’s readyroom opened, and as soon as they did, Baxter wished that they had not.
Captain Baxter’s new first officer was standing on top of his desk, holding a phaser and evidently trying to get a clear shot at a Golden Retriever that was rapidly circling the desk.
“Hold still, damn you!”
“Commander Conway!” Baxter shouted.
“One second, sir, me and fluffy here have a score to settle.”
“Get off my desk!” Baxter was becoming enraged now.
“Gotcha!” Conway said, firing his weapon at the dog, who maneuvered out of the way of the blast, unfortunately, Baxter was not as lucky.
Voices…he could hear several voices…and a crunching sound.
What was that smell? Pretzels! It had to be. Baxter assumed he was at his old house back on earth, snacking with his friends and watching old twentieth century videos. Baxter smiled at the memory.
Wait a second…the voices were becoming clearer…he could now make out words…
“Sorry, Captain, I’m normally a pretty good shot…”
“You will be court marshaled for this, infidel.”
“Shut up, J’hana, it was an accident.”
“You just better be glad you didn’t hit my dog. The poor thing can’t even eat his kibble now, he’s scared senseless.”
“Would you shut up about the damn dog, Peterman?”
“I don’t have to do what you say, you’re being court marshaled, remember?”
“Not yet I’m not. I still have time to blow you out the airlock.”
“Try it, shorty.”
Now, Baxter could feel crumbs dropping onto his face. What was happening?
“Mrff, He’s going to be..mfrrf…fine, he just needs some air, it was only…frmgmf…a minor wound…what he really needs is a nice big salad! I’ll be right back.”
“Is that all you think about, Browning, your appetite?”
Next Baxter heard a loud belch.
“Ewwwwww.” Many voices this time.
Finally he got up the strength to lean up and open his eyes. Cloudy shapes began to take form and Baxter started wondering if he could get his old job back.
Browning re-entered from the other room with a large bowl of salad. “Here ya go, Captain, a nice salad with croutons and anchovies and blue cheese dressing.”
“Dr. Browning I presume?” Baxter asked tiredly.
The woman nodded. “Yes sir, previously of the Exeter. I specialize in xenonutrition.”
Baxter felt the blurring sensation return. “You specialize in the dietary needs of aliens?”
“You’d be surprised what a demanding field that can be.”
“I’m sure.” Baxter turned his gaze to Counselor Peterman, whom he recognized from the crew profile.
She bit her lip childishly, glaring over at Conway. He ignored the fact that she looked absolutely gorgeous, her flowing dark hair framing her face perfectly. “I hope your dog is okay, Counselor. I’d hate to think he’d gotten injured while attacking one of my officers.”
“Get a mop, buddy, your sarcasm is dripping on the floor.” Peterman said, arms folded.
J’hana stepped forward. “I can take them both to the brig, Captain.”
“No, I’ll handle this myself. Just get back to the bridge and make ready to depart in fifteen minutes.”
“Ha.” This from both Conway and Peterman.
Baxter looked at the Counselor. “You. I want the damn pets off my bridge, all of them, and I know about the osprey nest in the conference room. Now hop to it.”
Peterman stuck her lower lip out in sadness and left sickbay.
The Captain turned to Commander Conway. “And as for you. I want to see you in private. May we use your office, Dr. Browning?”
“Go ahead. Are you going to eat this?” said Browning, pointing at the salad.
“Chow down, Browning.”
“Yes, sir.” Browning saluted and grabbed her fork, ready for active duty.
As Captain Baxter sat down at Dr. Browning’s desk, he wondered absently how many other Chief Medical Officers had a restaurant sized electronic pizza oven in their offices.
“Now, Commander Conway, there’s a little issue here we need to take care of. The first minute that you and I met you shot me with a phaser. Do you see something a teeny bit wrong with that?” Baxter asked.
Conway stood in the doorway to the Doctor’s office, hands clasped behind his back. “I’m sorry Captain, I had no choice, it was either him or me.”
“I’m prepared to overlook this incident, in light of the circumstances, but I would like you to try and be a little less reckless in the future.”
“Less reckless? Permission to speak freely, Captain.”
Baxter rubbed his eyes tiredly, “I suppose.”
Conway sat down. “Captain, I have sweated and grunted my way through the ranks to get where I am now, not to mention the extreme amount of sucking up I had to do on top of that. I didn’t get to be Commander by being reckless or playing roulette with my career. But I will tell you one thing, Captain, I sure as hell know a lot more about being a Starfleet officer than you do. I wasn’t lucky enough to get promoted straight from Lieutenant to Captain. That doesn’t happen every day you know. So in the future I ask that you don’t lecture me on Starfleet protocol, and in return I promise to try not to shoot you again.”
Baxter smiled at this. It wasn’t a happy smile. It was more a smile that says “I want to kill you.” “Okay, fine. Now let’s talk about you. Your record says you were promoted to Commander from Lieutenant Commander because of your great spit-shining work on the boots of Captain Avnar.”
“Well, Vulcans appreciate a well cared for shoe.”
“I’ll tell you this right now Mister, you can forget about sucking up to me. You think you’ve worked hard to get your post? Boy, I’ll tell you, I’ve spent ten years crawling around the grimiest parts of three different starships. For Pete’s sake I even had to dig through a diaper pail once, so don’t lecture me on hardship. I’ve seen it, and I deserve this, just like you deserve a kick in the–”
“J’hana to Baxter. We are prepared for departure.”
“I’m on my way.”
“Very well, standing by.”
Baxter stood up, first pocketing a few of the caramel candies from the bowl on Browning’s desk. “This is the bottom line, Conway: I’m the Captain of this vessel, and as long as I remain Captain and you remain my first officer, you will obey my orders wether you like it or not.”
“Just don’t expect me to take a phaser blast for you.”
The Captain actually had to chuckle at that. “Don’t worry, that’s what we have J’hana for.”
The two officers took a moment to chuckle about that before leaving sickbay.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Richards looked down at the mess that was sitting on the main worktable down in engineering. “I’m good, but not this good.”
“The Captain just told me to bring her down here and let you take a crack at fixing her. Obviously he didn’t know what an incompetent Chief Engineer he had,” Ford snickered.
“Look, I’ll do my best, now get out of my hair you pissant little nothing.”
“Jeez, what a jerk.” Ford said, leaving engineering.
Richards examined the android closer. “Larkin. Larkin. Where have I heard that name before? And why does she look so darn familiar?”
Baxter and Conway stepped off the turbolift and on to the bridge, greeted by the scent of disinfectant spray.
The Captain smiled, it seemed Peterman had obeyed his orders and not only rid the bridge of pets, but had the whole area cleaned by maintenance. Baxter had always enjoyed the lemony smell of disinfectant.
“Thank you, Counselor, well done.”
Counselor Peterman approached the Captain meekly. “I got rid of every animal, except for Charlie, sir. He’s in the conference room. Please please please don’t make me leave him in my quarters too, he has too much sentimental value. I promise he won’t be any trouble.”
Baxter was too frustrated to argue. “Fine, but you have to clean up after him. I don’t want to step onto the bridge and put my foot in dog poop, understood?”
Peterman smiled. “Completely. Thank you, sir.”
With that, Captain Baxter made his way down to the command center of the bridge, taking his seat. “Okay then, let’s get this show on the road.” The Captain tried to remember the name of the young Bajoran woman at ops. Soda? Cola? Pepsi? Fresca! That was it.
“Ensign Fresca, alert Waystation of our departure and have them release the docking clamps. Set a course for the Bermuda Expanse and engage at full impulse as soon as we’ve cleared the station.”
Just then, Ensign Ford stepped out of the turbolift. “Captain, Mr. Richards says that he will do his best in repairing Ensign Larkin, but that you shouldn’t get your hopes up, because he’s not really a good engineer.”
“Hmmm. I knew Richards when he worked on the Aquarius. I’m surprised he would say something like that.”
“I’d NEVER lie, Captain.” Ford said with an evil smile.
“Whatever,” Baxter said, eying Ford skeptically, “just take the helm. Mr. Conway, you have the bridge. I’m going down to engineering.”
“Work, darn you, work!” Richards said exasparatedly.
Larkin merely sat there, unmoving, eyes closed.
Putting the android back together was relatively simple, it was just a matter of fusing a couple of joints, but getting her positronic circuitry working again was a much bigger problem.
“Any progress?” Baxter said as he entered engineering.
Richards shook the Captain’s hand. “Not yet, sir. Long time no see.”
“Yeah, last time I saw you, you where fixing Captain Hatton’s Coffee Maker.”
“And you had to put a property sticker on it. She had some of the most antiquated stuff. Impossible to find replacement parts for.”
“Speaking of which…”
“Oh, the android. I couldn’t tell you what’s wrong with her. She seems to be caught in some sort of neural feedback loop.”
“I heard of one android that kept having reoccurring dreams. Could that be the case?”
“I’m not sure. Could be.”
Larkin could only conclude that she was dreaming. There was something dark within her mind, something she was never meant to know, either by choice or by design. Whatever this mysterious memory was, she knew she had to figure out what it was, because whatever else it concerned, it had something to do with penguins. She knew that for sure. And for some reason she kept hearing whistling. Who was whistling?
“Well, I’m going to do what I always did with my old computer terminal when it went on the blink,” Richards said.
“What’s that?” Baxter replied.
“Switch it off and reboot.”
Richards reached up underneath Larkin’s armpit and pressed her ‘on/off’ button, then pressed it again, reactivating her.
The Ensign’s eyes blinked open, and she looked around.
“Where am I?”
Baxter addressed her. “You’re on the Aerostar. Your new assignment. Does any of that seem familiar?”
“Yes, sir. You must be Captain Baxter.”
Baxter smiled. “Bingo. And you must be my new Operations officer.”
She turned to Richards. “Thank you very much for your help, Commander.”
“No problem. Have we met?”
“I do not believe so.”
“Neither do I.”
Baxter just shook his head in an attempt to get rid of the confusion. “Ensign, I need you on the bridge.”
Baxter turned to leave. “Good work, Richards. As you were.”
Richards sat down and stared at the engine readouts, trying to remember where he had seen that android before.
The turbolift ride up to the bridge was rather quiet. Larkin seemed unconcerned with conversation, so Baxter decided to break the ice.
“With the change in position, there will be a promotion, Ms. Larkin. Or should I say Lieutenant Larkin?”
The android turned. “Thank you, Captain. Although I am unconcerned with rank, I understand that it is a symbol of a job well done and should be properly appreciated.”
“No, I think it was because of my excellent record.”
Baxter glanced over at Larkin. “Are you talking to me?”
“No sir, the penguin made the observation that you had promoted me due to my being an attractive woman.”
“Well, you tell him that’s just not the…” Captain Baxter suddenly realized what she had said, and decided just to shut up and leave well enough alone.
“Indeed.” said Larkin, anticipating what the Captain would say.
“So,” Baxter said, trying to change the subject, “we never really met before today. Isn’t that funny?”
“I didn’t even know we had an android aboard the Secondprize. I thought Lt. Commander Data was the only android in Starfleet.”
“That is a fallacy. Lieutenant Commander Data is the only publicized android in Starfleet. Because he gets all the press, it is assumed he is the only one.”
“I see,” said Baxter. “Does that bother you?”
“Negative. I do wish, however, that Mr. Data would return my communiques. Apparently he now believes he is not good enough to associate with other androids since the emotion chip.”
“You could say he has an emotion chip on his shoulder,” Baxter said, poking Larkin in the elbow and grinning.
“No, I could not.”
Baxter decided to spend the rest of the turbolift ride in silence.
“Distance to Bermuda Expanse?” asked Baxter as he stepped onto the bridge, followed closely by Larkin.
“We will arrive in four minutes at this speed, as long as no one screws anything up,” said Ensign Ford from the helm.
Baxter took his seat at the center of the command area and Larkin relieved the ensign at ops.
After shifting in his seat a moment, Baxter looked to his tactical officer. “Lieutenant J’hana, sound the allcall.”
Baxter spoke on a channel that would be heard throughout the ship. “All hands, this is your Captain. We will soon be approaching the Bermuda Expanse, an extremely unstable and scary portion of space. Prepare for the weirdest possible thing to happen. There’s nothing to worry about, though, this is an extremely high-tech ship, I’m sure nothing bad will happen. Probably. So just don’t worry. Just do your jobs as if the threat of death around the corner wasn’t present at all. That is all for now. Have a nice day.”
“Short but sweet. Good choice, Captain,” quipped Conway from Baxter’s right.
“I got my point across, that’s what counts.” Baxter retorted.
“Captain, I am picking up a vessel on sensors,” J’hana said from behind Baxter.
A small vessel appeared on the screen, one Baxter was unfamiliar with.
“Lt. Larkin, is that class of vessel on record?”
“No sir, I cannot find a match in any Starfleet database. However, by design it appears to be a modified light freighter.”
“Sir,” said J’hana, “I am picking up Starfleet equipment. Photon torpedo launchers, sensor clusters, and tractor beam emitters.”
Baxter leaned forward and snapped his fingers. “That’s our bandit, I’ll wager. Ford, match course and speed with him. This mission may be easier than we thought.”
Larkin studied her panel. “Sir, the vessel is on a direct course for the Bermuda Expanse.”
“Curiouser and curiouser. Well, let’s follow this white rabbit and see where he leads us,” Baxter said.
“Dumb idea,” Baxter heard Conway mutter.
“Do you have a better one, Commander?”
“No sir, but I don’t know if it’s such a good idea, charging into that region, when every ship that goes in there is never heard from again.”
“I know what I’m doing, Conway. Trust me.”
“Great Bird help us,” Ford grumbled from the helm.
“I heard that. Hail them J’hana.”
“No response, sir. I say we blow her to hell.”
Baxter looked back at his tactical officer and looked at her like she was nuts. “Are you nuts? Let’s at least try to get our equipment back first.”
“If you say so, sir.”
“Now, open a channel.”
Baxter stood and straightened his uniform, trying to make his best first appearance to an unfamiliar vessel. “Alien vessel. This is Captain Andrew Baxter of the Federation Starship Aerostar. We have detected Starfleet equipment aboard your vessel and demand you cut engines and return the equipment immediately.”
Baxter turned back towards tactical. “Anything, Lieutenant?”
J’hana grimaced. “Nothing, sir. Wait…I’m getting something, audio only.”
“Nanny Nanny Nee, ya can’t catch me!”
“What the hell?” Baxter sat back down, perplexed.
Conway leaned over towards Baxter. “I recommend we go to yellow alert, Captain.”
“Excellent idea. Go to yellow alert. Lt. J’hana, see if you can lock a tractor onto our friend.”
“At warp, sir?”
“It’s been done.”
“But it’s not recommended.”
“There may be a glorious death in it for you!”
“Locking on tractor, sir.”
The mention of death caused Peterman to yelp with fear. “Peterman to Charlie, come ‘ere boy!”
The bridge crew cringed as the ferocious killer dog bolted out of the conference room and jumped into Peterman’s lap. He had a communicator pinned to his collar. The Counselor stroked his fur and seemed to calm down.
Baxter ignored her, trying to focus on the situation at hand. “Engage tractor beam.”
A blue beam of light reached out at the vessel on the viewscreen.
“Success, Captain!” J’hana said with pride.
“Nanny Nanny Nye, your all gonna die!” The voice had actually become more mocking.
Baxter frowned. “I’m really getting irritated. Lock phasers on that ship, target their engines, and fire on my mark.”
“Captain…” said Ford.
“Just enough power to disable them, J’hana, we don’t want to kill ‘em yet.”
“Captain…” Ford repeated.
“Phasers locked, sir.”
“Captain…” Now there was actually fear in Ford’s voice.
“What is it, Ensign?” asked Baxter, irritated.
“Sir, we’re headed straight for the Bermuda Expanse. We’ll be in the center of the disturbance in fifty-eight seconds.”
“Ho boy…” Baxter sighed.
“Maybe we could just let him go and take scans from outside the disturbance…” Conway suggested.
Peterman gripped her dog tighter.
Dr. Browning sipped at her hot chocolate timidly; the bartender had made it way too hot. She had become bored in sickbay and decided to go to the crew lounge and have a snack, hoping to have someone interesting to talk to there. She ended up being the only person in the lounge, besides the bartender, and he wasn’t being very talkative at all.
“Don’t you have any marshmallows?” Browning asked.
“Sorry,” said the bartender as he wiped off the bar.
Browning wondered idly what everyone else was doing.
The singing had only been going on for ten or fifteen minutes, and already Richards was starting to hate his engineering staff. They had already done five different show tunes since they had come shift, and now they were starting on hits from the late 20th century, there just didn’t seem to be an end to it. What could possibly make them stop?
“…Hold tight wait ‘til the party’s over / Hold tight we’re in for nasty weather / There has got to be a way / Burning down the house…” the former glee club continued as they worked.
“We will enter the periphery of the Bermuda Expanse region in nine point five four seconds, Captain,” announced Larkin from ops.
“Hang on everyone!” said Baxter.
“Nanny Nanny Nide, you’re in for a ride”
“SHUT UP!” yelled Baxter.
“Oh, man…” said Ford as the purple and green cloud of the Bermuda Expanse grew larger and larger and finally engulfed the screen.
The Aerostar glided into the disturbance, trailing the small freighter with its tractor beam firmly latched on, powered by dilithium and stupid determination.
“Um. Uh…” said the bartender, looking past Dr. Browning as if he was seeing death itself.
“What’s your problem?” the Doctor asked. She put down her hot chocolate and turned around to look out the massive viewports.
“…Lookin’ back, on the track, for a little green bag…”
Make it stop! thought Richards. He cursed himself for thinking that as the ship began to shake and sensor readings started going off the scale.
“Careful what you wish for,” he said to himself as he ran towards the warp core to monitor the coolant generators.
“…outta sight in the night, outta sight in the day!”
The glee club had no idea. They really had no idea.
The Aerostar began to shake like a spastic gym teacher.
“Helm control off-line, you son of a bitch, sir!” cried Ford.
“Hey, none of that, let’s stay civil here!”
“We’re all gonna die!” Ford continued.
“YES! HONOR!” cried J’hana.
“Shut…UP!” Conway growled.
Peterman’s fingers dug deeper into Charlie’s fur. “Count to one hundred everyone!”
“SHUT UP!” the bridge crew said in unison.
“Ten seconds ETA at the center of the disturbance,” called out Larkin.
“We’re losing shields!” J’hana cried. “Yes!”
“Divert auxiliary power to shields!” Baxter commanded.
“Shields still failing. Now at twenty percent and dropping.”
“Four seconds…” Larkin stated calmly.
“I’m up for suggestions everybody.” Baxter said weakly.
“Fine time to mention that!” barked Conway.
“Hold on, everyone!” Ford yelled.
“Oh, boy, oh boy oh boy!” Baxter whimpered, he desperately wanted to be back in his safe quarters on the Secondprize.
“One second until we–” Larkin didn’t have time to finish.
The Aerostar suddenly seemed to explode around everyone, and the next few moments were jam-packed with the basic assortment of explosions, screams, sparks and light.
Then everything went dark.
“Jaroch to Rydell.”
Rydell reached over to the night stand and pressed a control. “This better be good, Jaroch.”
“Sir, Starfleet reports they have lost sensor contact with the Aerostar.”
Rydell shot up in his bed. “Where were they last seen?”
“Near the Bermuda Expanse, sir.”
“What have I done?” Rydell asked frantically.
“Sentenced two hundred people to their death?”
“Not funny, Jaroch. Turn us around and set a course for the Bermuda Expanse, Warp Nine.”
“You are going to try to rescue them?”
“Did you miss the entire point of our plan?”
Rydell was becoming agitated. “I wanted him out of my hair, not dead.”
“Well, he would definitely be out of your hair if he was dead.”
“Just engage, damn it.” Rydell said, falling back to his soft, fluffy mattress, sinking into a dreamful sleep.
TO BE CONTINUED…