Star Trek and all its references are the sole property of Paramount and Viacom Communications. Star Traks, the Secondprize, Waystation, and all their references are the sole property of Alan Decker. That tiny portion left over is ALL MINE! Anthony Butler, Copyright 1997. WARNING: The following contains mildly disturbing language and situations. I'd say it's comparable to prime time. If Seinfeld doesn't offend you, you're probably okay :)

Author: Anthony Butler
Copyright: 1997

USS AEROSTAR


Chaos had given way to darkness. The last memory Baxter had before blacking out was of the entire ship seeming to shake apart, and now all he could feel was a warm tongue slithering in and out of his ear.

Baxter sat up, trying to clear his ears of drool. “Shoo, Charlie.” He said, with annoyance.

He walked over to ops, where Lt. Larkin was busy at work on her panel. “Status, Lieutenant.”

“I am functioning, Captain. My systems must have momentarily gone off- line during the explosion. It is strange, I seem to have had another dream.”

“Tell me about it later, Lieutenant, right now I need a damage report.” Baxter said, looking around the bridge.

Larkin studied her panel. “I believe we have experienced a large subspace quantum displacement. The resulting energy flux overloaded our shields and blew out the main power conduit.”

“Quantum displacement?” Baxter leaned against the ops panel and stroked his chin. “You mean we went through some kind of wormhole?”

“More likely a subspace conduit of some sort, but in essence, yes.”

“Well, where are we?” Baxter was becoming panicked.

Larkin stared at her readings, perplexed. “I am not sure, the navigational sensors have been severely damaged. A full assessment will take several minutes.”

“Very well, get to it.”

The rest of the bridge crew began to stir.

“What the hell happened?” Commander Conway asked, standing and rubbing his head.

“That’s what I’m trying to find out.” Baxter frowned, looking over Larkin’s shoulder.

“Well, a fine mess you’ve gotten us into, Captain,” quipped Ford.

“Shut up, Ford, and see if you can get the helm operational,” Conway barked, stepping up the bridge ramp to the science station adjacent to tactical. “Captain, I’m going to try to get the internal sensors working.”

“Good. Lt. J’hana, I want you to reroute all essential functions to the secondary conduit and see if you can get turbolifts and the main computer back up.”

Peterman approached Captain Baxter excitedly. “What do you want me to do, Captain?”

“You can make us some coffee…not that it’s your job or anything, but you know, in an emergency, it’d be…”

“Strong…really strong!” Conway shouted from the science station.

Peterman marched off toward the conference room, happy to be of assistance.

“Hmmm. That is peculiar,” said Larkin from ops.

“What’s that?” Baxter asked.

“I am not sure…Intriguing…” Larkin added.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Ford said, looking over at Larkin.

“Hmmm.”

“Damn it, Larkin, what is it?” Conway said, becoming annoyed.

“Very interesting.”

Conway rushed at the android, hands outstretched for her throat.

Baxter held up an arm, blocking him. “Spit it out, Lieutenant.”

“Captain, I believe we are in the Delta quadrant, more than seventy thousand light years from our previous position.”

“Oops,” Baxter said, breaking the silence.

Suddenly, Counselor Peterman strode out of the conference lounge with a heaping tray. “Cappuccino everyone! I also found some biscotti and cookies back there, so let’s get munching!”

Evidently the cappuccino machine in the conference lounge was still functioning perfectly, but much to Peterman’s chagrin, no one really seemed to care.


When the explosions hit, Dr. Browning had held on to the bar for dear life, unfortunately, the bartender had not been as industrious.

Browning’s last memory before she hit the floor and lost consciousness was seeing the bartender fly over her head and crash into one of the tables.

When the doctor awakened, she looked out the viewport. The stars drifted by slowly, she was guessing they were adrift, and most likely without power. Brownings’ gaze turned to the bartender, who seemed to be injured badly and rapidly losing blood.

“My goodness, he’s the only person who can operate the replicator down here!”

Browning quickly slapped her communicator. “Browning to sickbay, I need a trauma team STAT!”

Nothing. Communications must be down. Browning would have to save this man on her own.

She felt for a pulse. None. Okay, CPR!

Browning kept shouting “LIVE, DARN YOU, LIVE!” as she pummeled the man’s chest with her fists.


At least the singing had stopped, thought Richards. His entire staff had lost consciousness, and as far as he could tell from his position, rather uncomfortably pinned beneath a support beam, the ship was in dire straits indeed. Why on earth did he have to be assigned to this ship? As his consciousness faded, he prayed that he would be rescued, by death or whatever other forgiving deity presided over his fate.


“Okay, everybody sit down,” Baxter said, eyeing Counselor Peterman as she made yet another trip to the Cappuccino machine. He had to admit that even that was state of the art; for Pete’s sake, it even boiled and frothed its own milk.

Peterman quickly took her seat along with Commander Conway, Lt. J’hana, and Lt. Larkin.

“All right,” Baxter began. “Let’s start with exactly what happened. Lieutenant Larkin?”

“I believe that the Bermuda Expanse is actually the result of a collapsed wormhole. It is, in essence, an area of disrupted space with a rupture in subspace at the center. This rupture in subspace generates intense gravitational eddies, and in effect, pulls objects towards its center at speeds that increase exponentially in proportion to their distance from its center.”

“Hey,” Conway said, rifling through the Cappucino stand. “Where’s the damn sugar?”

“Let’s focus here,” Baxter said, turning his attention to Larkin. “Can you rephrase what you just said for those of us who AREN’T androids, Lieutenant?”

If the android took offense to that remark, she didn’t show it. “Imagine the whirlpool caused by pulling the plug in a conventional bathtub, for lack of a better analogy.”

“So we must destroy the phenomenon!” said J’hana.

“No, Lieutenant, that would be counterproductive.”

“We have to go back through,” said Conway, finally producing several sugar packets from under the Cappucino machine.

“Exactly!” Baxter added.

“No.” Larkin seemed to dash everyone’s hopes. “I’m afraid that would be analogous to trying to suck water back through the other end of the drain.”

“Where’s a plumber when you need one?” Conway said, banging his head into the conference table.


“Sheesh, it figures.” Browning kicked the panel of the replicator. It wasn’t damaged, but it didn’t seem to want to work. But that did not necessarily mean no one could repair it. She had given up on saving the bartender, she had realized that he was beyond help after several repeated attempts at resuscitation.

What she needed now was someone to fix the replicator.

“Engineering!” she said excitedly.

Browning decided to abandon the bartender’s dead body for the moment and go off in search of someone to repair the replicator, it was almost three, and that’s when she always got the afternoon munchies.


“So what do you suggest we do, Larkin?” Baxter didn’t seem to be adjusting to all the technical bullshit he was being exposed to.

“One must assume that the alien that led us here knows a way to get back to our quadrant, or else he would never have been able to get there in the first place.”

“Well, does anyone know where he went?” Baxter asked.

“Yes,” replied J’hana. “Sensor logs just before the explosion indicate that he was on a direct course for the third planet of this system.”

“Well, then we have to find him and convince him to show us the way back home,” Baxter said, standing up.

“Then we kill him,” said J’hana.


Prying open the malfunctioning doors to the crew lounge wasn’t hard. Dr. Browning decided to use the body of the bartender to keep them propped open so when she returned she wouldn’t have to pry them open again. The bartender looked so relaxed and natural, sitting there slumped over between the doors.

The next problem was the turbolifts. They didn’t work, so Browning had to get resourceful and make her way down the maze of Jeffries tubes and crawlways.


“Baxter to Engineering.” Still nothing. That was his third attempt, and still he could not get a response. Internal sensors read sporadic life signs and some minor structural damage, and Baxter was becoming increasingly worried about the state of his engineering team, his friend Chris in particular. “Larkin, is there no way to get a clearer reading on the internal sensors?”

“Not without main power.”

“Very well, I want you and J’hana to go down there and see what you can do to fix that conduit and rescue our people.”

“Aye, Captain,” J’hana said as she followed Larkin into the turbolift.

“Maybe it would be a good idea to have a medical team meet them in engineering,” Conway offered.

“Good idea. Baxter to Browning.” Nothing. No engineers, no medical officer, was everyone on his ship dead? “Baxter to sickbay.”

“Nurse Bailey here. How may I help ya?”

“We have a big problem down in engineering and we need a medical team down there. Where’s Doctor Browning?”

“She’s off right now. I suppose she could be anywhere. Probably eating though.”

“That’s a good bet. Oh, well, take a team down to engineering and see if you can be of any assistance.”

“Sure, have a nice day!”

“Yeah, same to you.” Baxter could only assume by the happy sound of that young woman’s voice that she must have radiated pure sunlight. Baxter was glad to see that at least one person on his crew was just a genuinely nice person. “Ford,” Baxter said, turning his attention to the helm. “Lay in a course for the third planet in the system, half impulse until we get main power back.”

“Aye aye, Cap’n Butthead.”

Conway and Peterman could be heard snickering.

“No freaking respect,” Baxter muttered, shuffling into his readyroom to unpack the scotch that he had intended to save for a diplomatic function. Oh, well, no need to worry about that now.


Dr. Browning had finally reached engineering. Once there, she asked the closest conscious person. “Are you the chief engineer?”

Richards eyes fluttered momentarily as he returned to consciousness. “Why, yes, how can I help you?”

“I can’t get the replicator in the lounge to work.”

Richards looked down at the beam that was crushing him. “Well, I’d love to help you, but you see, I’m kind of busy being crushed by this beam right now.”

“Darn. Do you know someone that could help me?”

Richards grunted. “Listen, I can help you if you just help me get this damn beam off!”

“Oh, okay, sure.”

The two huffed and puffed until finally the beam budged enough to allow Richards to slide out from under it. “Okay, lead the way,” the engineer said, grabbing an engineering kit.

Browning climbed back up into the Jeffries tube. “Just follow me.”

Richards felt like he could probably see to his staff and getting the ship operational again later. After all, the woman who seemed to drop into his life and rescue him seemed really nice. And somehow he felt like in a previous life he might have known her. Really well.

“Oh,” Richards mentioned, “do you think after I repair the replicator we can try to find a doctor? I think I broke a couple ribs.”

“Sure, no problem.”


Just as Richards and Browning disappeared through the Jeffries tube, Larkin and J’hana slid out of the one across from it.

“The main power conduit was fractured thirty meters away from here in that direction.”

Larkin pointed, consulting her tricorder.

“We must destroy it,” said J’hana.

“No, we must repair it.”

“Whatever.”

Larkin studied the conduit and consulted the tricorder several times before closing it and holstering it. “I have come to an inescapable conclusion.”

“We all must die?” J’hana offered helpfully.

“That is certainly true in the philosophical sense. However, my specific conclusion is that the conduit must be temporarily repaired with a super-conductive material until a new section of conduit can be replicated.”

J’hana, strong for her size, hefted a chunk of bulkhead that was lying on the floor. “How about this?”

“I have determined that none of the spare material in this area is capable of providing the conductivity that we require.”

J’hana cursed in Andorian.

“I, however, am.”

“You will die honorably,” J’hana said happily.

“That is quite comforting, now if you will excuse me, I will just sacrifice my life for my fellow crewmembers. Forgive me if you are burnt by any sparks that may fly from my rapidly incinerating body.”

From anyone else that would have been looked on as sarcasm, but from Larkin, it was more a statement of fact.

The android stepped into the gap between the two sections of conduit. “Now, when I grab both ends, you must press the control to activate main power.”

“Understood. Happy death, Lieutenant!”

“Thank you,” Larkin said, grabbing both ends of the conduit.

J’hana activated the main power switch and looked on as sparks began to erupt from Larkin’s head, and as her eyes grew red hot and melted out of their sockets, as her hands began to melt and fuse with the housing of the conduit.

Meanwhile, Larkin dreamt, but this time the dreams were more powerful. She could see a bright light, calling her toward it. And still she heard whistling. She wondered if this was what death was like. She could almost see her creator…almost.


“Computer, activate Emergency Holographic Bartender,” Richards said as he entered the bar.

A short, balding man shimmered into existence behind the bar. “Please state the nature of the beverage emergency.”

“I need a hot chocolate with marshmallows,” stated Browning.

“Coming right up,” the bartender said, whistling as he punched in the access code on the replicator and got it functioning again. “Come here often, gorgeous?” he said, handing her the drink.

“No, but that will change,” Browning said, smiling. She really liked this bartender. “Oh, thanks Mister…”

“Richards…” said the engineer sheepishly. “Hmm, if the replicators and the holographic generators are working now, someone must have restored main power. I’d better get back to engineering.”

“Okay, I’ll be fine here. I hope you find a doctor,” Browning said, sipping at her hot chocolate.


“How the hell did you get main power back up so quick?” Baxter’s voice sounded surprised over the comm.

“Well…” said J’hana, staring at the twitching, electricity filled form of Larkin. “Lt. Larkin kind of used herself as a conductor.”

“WHAT??? Is she okay?”

J’hana seemed thoughtful. “I don’t think so.”

“Darn. Where’s Richards?”

“I don’t know.”

“Right here, Captain!” said Richards, hopping out of the turbolift. “Jeeze…what the heck happened to Larkin?”

“She honorably sacrificed her life to get the ship functioning,” J’hana said, seeming proud of the android.

“And I just fixed her. What a turn. Computer…” said Richards, heading towards the back of engineering. “…replicate me a three foot section of type twenty-five power conduit tubing.”

“Processing…” said the computer. Soon, a section of conduit appeared on the pad before Richards. The engineer scooped it up and walked back to the rapidly melting android. “Just hold on, Larkin.”

Richards momentarily shut off main power. Doing so caused Larkin to collapse to the deck in a fizzling heap. Richards welded in the new section and reactivated main power. “There, good as new.”

He looked down at the android he had just finished fixing a few hours ago. She was definitely not good as new anymore.


“Ford, increase our speed to full impulse and have repair teams sent out to begin repairing the damaged sections of the ship,” Baxter said, as panels began to flicker back to normal all around the bridge.

“Aye, sir.”

“We will reach the third planet in thirty minutes, Captain,” Ford said from the helm.

“Excellent. Now all we need to do is get a casualty report. Baxter to Browning.”

“Browning here.”

“Where exactly are you, Doctor? I’ve been trying like heck to track you down.”

“I’m in the lounge. The bartender is dead, but we got the emergency holographic program running and everything is under control here.”

“Well then why couldn’t I reach you when I tried to contact you a little while ago?”

“Probably because I left my comm badge here when I went down to engineering to get someone to fix the replicator.”

Baxter did not feel the need to waste what little nerves he had left continuing the discussion. “Would you please get down to sickbay and see if you can be of some assistance? There should be some injured crew coming in.”

“Okay, okay, I’m going.”

“Great. Baxter to Richards.”

“Richards here.”

“What’s the damage look like, Commander?”

“Yes, well, the conduit is fine now, but I’m afraid Lt. Larkin’s pretty much fried.”

“Darn. Is there anything you can do?”

“I’m going to have to go in and do a complete overhaul. Whoever built her did a damn sloppy job of it.”

“Understood, but I want you to be ready in case we have to go into battle.”

“Right. Richards out.”

Baxter got up from his command chair and strolled to the rear of the bridge, satisfied that he’d at least gotten the ships medical and engineering woes temporarily settled.


“Wow, she looks really messed up,” Nurse Bailey said, peering over Richards’ shoulder.

“Yeah, she is,” the engineer said, finishing up the welding job on Larkin’s right arm. Richards noticed that Bailey seemed to be chewing on something very difficult to swallow. It made a peculiar smacking sound. “What are you eating?”

“It’s called chewing gum. It’s an old twentieth century earth delicacy that I’ve become addicted to. Want some?”

“That’s okay.”

“Suit yourself,” Bailey chomped.

“Don’t you have to go heal people or something? For Pete’s sake, my whole staff is lying unconscious on the deck.”

“Oh, yeah, hee hee.” Bailey walked over and assisted the medtechs in moving the defunct glee club. They didn’t seem very gleeful at all now.


J’hana hadn’t been at her post for five minutes before she discovered a large mass in the Aerostar’s flight path. “Captain, we are nearing a large debris field.”

“Full stop,” Conway said.

Baxter looked up from the padd he was working on in his command chair. “On screen.”

There was a stunned gasp on the bridge when the image appeared on the viewscreen. What the bridge crew saw was a sight similar to the wreckage at Wolf 359. Baxter stood, in awe.

“Verify, Lt. J’hana, are those Federation ships?” Conway said, staring at the mass of twisted metal on the screen.

“There are a number of wrecked Federation ships out there, Commander, as well as several Klingon, Romulan, and other Alpha Quadrant ships.”

“I guess that answers the question of where all those ships went to, huh?” asked Baxter.

“What about life signs?” asked Counselor Peterman.

“None that I can detect,” J’hana said grimly.

“Well where the hell did they all go?” asked Conway.

“That’s what I’m wondering. Scan the debris for a log recorder or anything that might give us a clue as to what happened,” Baxter said, now pacing in front of the viewscreen.

“I have something, Captain!” J’hana said excitedly. “It is the log buoy from the starship Holloway. Shall I beam it aboard for analysis?”

“Do it,” Baxter said flatly.


“Where am I?” asked Larkin, bewildered.

“You’re in engineering. You took a nasty shock,” Richards said, still working on the Lieutenant’s body. Larkin noticed this right off the bat, because her head was sitting clumsily on the engineering work table.

“Why am I in such a state?”

“I would guess you tried to sacrifice yourself to get the ship working again. Good try.”

“Thank you. I remember now. I believe I had another dream.”

“Really. Do you remember anything?” Richards asked, tightening the new sealed gaskets on Larkin’s legs.

“Very little, although I do seem to be aware of a song. Someone was whistling in the dream, but I cannot seem to recall the exact melody.”

“Weird. I’d love to help you, but I’m having enough trouble with your hardware without messing in your software.”

“Understandable, but I would appreciate you returning me to working order.”

“That won’t be as hard as I thought. Whoever made you built you to take some punishment, its just a matter of replicating and replacing some parts, but I just wanted to remove your head to assure that your neural nets were unharmed.”

“There seem to be no ill effects. The penguin is fine as well.”

“Penguin?”

“The one standing behind you. I was afraid he would have been shocked.”

Richards was nonplussed. “I take it the penguin was there before you got shocked, too?”

“Of course, where else would he be?”

Richards just shook his head and kept on working.


“Captain’s Log, Stardate 45431.8, Captain Fred Donnely of the Starship Holloway recording. I have determined that we have been transported to a far side of our galaxy, and I regret to inform anyone who may find this recording that it is not a very friendly neighborhood.”

Baxter sat in his command chair, listening intently to the logs of the Holloway, knowing full well that the logs could hold the secret of that ship’s fate, and possibly the fate of the Aerostar as well.

“Captain’s Log, supplemental. We have made many attempts at communicating with this vessel, but it seems to be intent on destroying us.”

Charlie cringed and covered his eyes with his paws. If Captain Baxter had paws, he would have done the same.

“Captain’s Log, final entry. This is my last official recording as Captain of this vessel. I have failed in my attempts at diplomacy with these so called “Flarn.” They have destroyed our shields and commenced boarding our vessel. My crew will fight valiantly, but if this was a horse race, our horse would have three broken legs. Oh, well, it was nice while it lasted. Good-bye cruel world. Come get me you buglike sons of–” The rest of the recording was drowned out by garbled shouts, growls, grunts, and what sounded like phaser fire.

“That is the last entry,” J’hana stated.

“Duh,” Peterman said.

“Don’t start with me again, Terran.” The Andorian said testily.


USS SECONDPRIZE


“We have arrived at the Bermuda Expanse, the last known coordinates of the Aerostar,” Lt. Commander Jaroch said, as Dillon and Rydell exited the turbolift and took their places in their respective command chairs.

“Full sensor sweep, Commander,” Rydell ordered.

Jaroch looked at his panel for a minute, his brow furrowing. “The disturbances from the phenomenon make it difficult to get a clear reading.”

“Well, could they be in there?” Dillon asked.

“Difficult to tell, but I do not believe so. Their warp core signature would most likely be detectable even through this interference.”

“Not if they were disabled or destroyed,” Dillon suggested.

“Should we go in and investigate?” Rydell said, rubbing his chin.

Dillon seemed to shrink into his chair at that idea.

“Not a good idea, Captain, given the track record of this phenomenon.”

“Good point,” Rydell replied, watching Dillon sigh with relief. “Very well, then. Inform Starfleet of the situation and ask for further orders.”


Nurse Bailey whistled a happy tune as she mopped the blood up from the sickbay floor.

Dr. Browning, meanwhile, had passed out on one of the medtables. She had worked feverishly for over an hour and a half, and was just about ready to turn in.

“Man, that one guy really bled a lot, didn’t he, doc?”

“Yeah,” said Browning absently. “He bled all over my labcoat, too.”

“I hate when they do that.” Bailey stopped mopping for a moment to ponder something. “You got them all out of here pretty quick, even the guy with the severe cerebral hemorrhaging. What was your secret?”

Browning sat up and pulled a pickle out of one of the colorful jars lining one of the walls. She munched on it thoughtfully. “There was a guy with cerebral hemorrhaging?”

“Yeah, he looked pretty messed up.”

“Hmmm. I don’t know. I guess I gave him some painkillers. Morphine or something. I don’t remember.”

“Well, I hope he’ll be alright.”

“I wouldn’t worry.”

“You’re that sure he’ll be okay?”

“No, but I’m not worrying about it.”


“Thank you very much for your assistance, Mr. Richards.” Larkin said, working out the kinks in her new joints. She felt like new, and was impressed with the Chief Engineer’s work.

“I made sure that it will take more than a little bump to make you fall apart now.”

“I am grateful for–” Larkin said when suddenly a crewman entered engineering, stumbling around and clutching at his head, which seemed to be oozing blood.

Larkin stared at the crewman, whose blue uniform indicated that he was some kind of science officer. “Are you okay, crewman?”

“Crewman…Dean…Wilcox…at…your…service…” said the man, walking towards the warp core. “My…head…hurts.”

“What happened to you, Crewman Wilcox?” Richards asked.

“I…fell…”

“You should be in sickbay, Mister Wilcox, your injuries seem severe.”

“Was…in…sickbay…I’m…fine…now…” the crewman said, still walking, not stopping when he hit the railing around the warp core and fell straight down.

Larkin and Richards were once again alone.

“I wonder when I’ll get my engineering staff back again,” Richards said, starting to call up the warp engine diagnostics.

Larkin considered that for a moment. “I am not certain, but I feel that I am needed on the bridge.”

“You might want to change your uniform first, it’s burnt to a crisp.”

“Indeed.”

Then came a thump, indicating that Dean had reached his destination at the bottom of the warp core.


Captain’s Log,

Stardate 51016.1. After viewing the rather disturbing logs of the Holloway, we have resumed course to the third planet of the system to get some answers about these so called “Flarn.” I am determined to find out what happened to all those people and why we were brought here.


“We have arrived at this system’s third planet, Captain,” Larkin announced, now back at ops.

Baxter stood and approached the viewscreen, glaring down at his helmsman, ready for his newest quip.

“Standard orbit, Mr. Ford.”

“Aye, Jackass,” Ford sneered.

Conway held Baxter back before he could leap at the helm officer.

“Scan the planet,” Conway said, pushing Baxter back into the seat.

“The planet is eighty-five percent water, fifteen percent land, comprised of several hundred tiny islands that are clustered around the planet’s equator,” Larkin said. “I read a desert climate with sporadic life signs. I believe we are looking at a tribe-based humanoid society with minimal technological skills.”

“Well, if this is where our friend came from, where did he get a ship?” Baxter asked, standing back up and shooting an annoyed look at Conway.

“Uncertain,” Larkin said. “However, the ship in question appears to be located on an island at the center of one of the island clusters.”

“Then that’s where we should start looking,” Baxter said. “Transmit the coordinates of the ship’s landing site to the transporter room. I want to go down there.”

“Sir, is that wise?” Conway asked.

“No. But I want to get to the bottom of this. Larkin, J’hana, Peterman, you’re with me.” Baxter headed for the turbolift.

“If you die down there, I get the ship,” Conway said in a mix of annoyance and mirth.

“Agreed,” Baxter replid as the lift doors closed.

Let Baxter risk his life, Conway thought, I’m not going out of my way to help him. The thought of the Captain’s death made Conway momentarily laugh. He ordered a refill for his coffee and collapsed in the command chair, ready for some rest.


As Baxter, Larkin, J’hana, and Peterman entered the transporter room, the first thing he noticed was a pair of feet propped up on the transporter console. The supposed transporter chief was reclined in her chair, intently reading something from a padd.

Baxter cleared his throat.

The officer put the padd down without sitting up. “Oh, there you are. Equipment locker’s that way, and the transporter pad’s over there.”

“Listen, Miss, Miss, whoever you think you are,” Baxter said, getting irritated.

“Lieutenant Megan Hartley,” she said, going back to her reading.

“Whatever. Let’s look a little more lively. You’re not on vacation here, you know!”

This caused the transporter chief to swing her feet around and stand up. She stared up at Baxter with an evil look on her face. She had to stare upbecause she was a good foot shorter than he. “Listen, buddy, I’m not in the mood, okay? If you piss me off, you’ll regret it.”

Baxter was feeling saucy. “Who do you think you’re talking to? I don’t know if you’re up on current events, but I’m the captain of this ship!”

The evil glare became an evil smile. “You’re also a moron. Now get on the padd before I decide to beam you out to space.”

Something inside the Captain told him not to pursue the matter further. “Just beam us down to the prearranged coordinates, okay?”

“Maybe,” Hartley said, pressing some buttons.

Lt. Larkin distributed phasers and tricorders from the equipment closet to the away team members as Baxter continued to glare at the transporter chief.

“Are you ready or what?” Hartley asked, unimpressed.

“C’mon, sir, don’t let her get to you. She’s been this way the whole trip,” Peterman said, grabbing Baxter’s arm and dragging him up to the transporter pad. Baxter had the impression that she and Hartley had crossed swords before.

As Baxter felt the transporter energies swirl around him, he idly wondered if he would actually reappear at all.


USS SECONDPRIZE


“Let me get this straight, Admiral Neilson. You just want us to leave?” Rydell said in disbelief.

The Chief Third Assistant Supervisor of Starfleet security just sat there with a blank look on her face. She didn’t seem like a friendly person at all. “Yes, that’s right, stay away from the Bermuda Expanse. I am officially declaring it ‘off limits’.”

“But, Admiral, I don’t understand…”

“You don’t have to understand–it’s an order. There will be no further expeditions to investigate the Bermuda Expanse. Furthermore, all records you have regarding the Aerostar and her crew will be erased. Okay?”

Dillon leaned over toward Rydell and whispered. “Sir, I have a feeling we are involved in something much bigger than us.”

“Okay,” Rydell sighed uncomfortably, “but I will be filing a formal objection with Starfleet.”

“Do what you have to do, Captain, just follow my orders. Bye.”

“You heard her,” Rydell said, “Get us out of here, Lieutenant Sullivan.” The Secondprize turned away from the Fruitlands and engaged into warp.

“I am not happy,” Rydell muttered, rubbing his eyes.

“I guess we’ll never find out what happened to them,” Dillon remarked.

“Somehow I have a feeling that we aren’t that lucky,” replied Jaroch.


BACK IN THE DELTA QUADRANT…


As the away team materialized on the surface, they noticed an odd smell. It was oddly similar to sound of pork or beef frying.

Baxter coughed, taking note of all the smoke that seemed to swirl around him.

“Larkin, what is all this?”

Lt. Larkin studied her tricorder thoughtfully. “I am uncertain, Captain, the tricorder is picking up what appears to be some kind of burning animal tissue.”

“A cookout?” asked Peterman.

Suddenly the smoke seemed to swirl away, revealing a large ship nestled in a rocky crater. The ship was replete with various colored running lights that blinked on and off out of sync, reflecting in the clear green waters surrounding the island. Odd-shaped trees sprouted from the ground all around the vessel, seeming almost to clutch it like giant fingers.

“By the angle of the light reaching us from the sun, I would guess that it is dusk,” Larkin added.

“Really,” Baxter asked sarcastically, “I guessed that when I saw the sun going down on the horizon.”

“Indeed,” Larkin said, continuing along a path that lead towards the vessel.

Baxter followed the android along the path and suddenly stopped, cocking his head. “Do you here music?”

Counselor Peterman suddenly smiled, reaching back and putting her hair in a ponytail. “Yeah, it sounds like a party to me! That’s where I’m at my best. Come on, Captain!” Peterman grabbed Baxter’s arm and dragged him down the trail, past a puzzled Larkin.

The android studied her readings. “I am still picking up Starfleet gear, but in addition, there seems to be a large amount of food and supplies present in the hold of the vessel.”

J’hana followed close behind, keeping watch suspiciously. “I don’t like it.”

“Don’t like what?” Larkin questioned.

“Anything.”

“I see.”

“Maybe we should let Larkin or J’hana lead,” Baxter said as Peterman continued to drag him down the path.

“Nah, they have no sense of fun.”

“Yeah, but they do have a marvelous sense of self preservation. Well, okay, J’hana doesn’t, but she at least has a sense of ME preservation.”

“Scaredy cat.”

Baxter was becoming increasingly annoyed by the amount of sand that seemed to seep in his boots, when the two officers reached the crater where the vessel was nestled. They circled the ship, coming to the other side, following the melodious drum beats and guitar riffs that echoed throughout the island.

They reached a spot in front of the vessel’s cargo hatch, where a huge bon fire was erected. There were at least fifty people surrounding the fire, dancing and singing, eating and drinking. There was also a stand set up where someone seemed to be barbecuing some kind of meat, and another pit set up with a band, who played music that Baxter found faintly similar to 20th century Earth’s Dave Matthew’s Band. Baxter prided himself on being well versed on Earth music from many cultures and time periods.

Larkin and J’hana followed closely behind Baxter and Peterman, who had come to a stop near a huge, jutting rock.

Lt. Larkin was still intently studying her tricorder. “Hmm. This ship still seems quite out of place. I have mapped the region for three square kilometers, and all that can be found is primitive straw, wood, and stone structures. The vessel appears to be completely alien to this environment.”

“That’s because it is, dummies!” a new voice said from the other side of the rock. A painfully familiar voice.

Baxter peered around the rock. A head peered around from the other side. As soon as they saw one another, they quickly moved their heads back.

“It is the scavenger,” J’hana said with irritation. “Allow me, sir.” The tactical officer set her phaser on “flambe” and charged.

Baxter held up his hand. “That won’t be necessary, Lieutenant. Mister…whoever you are. I want you to come out from behind the rock and face us like a man.”

A short, humanoid appearing boy appeared from behind the rock. “My name is Mirk, and I am not a man, but you four and your friends are dead. You’re Federation might as well be called the Deaderation!” Mirk doubled over with laughter at the thought.

“Silence!” cried J’hana, exasperated.

“The point is, you’re all gonna die,” Mirk said. “And there’s nothing anyone can do about it.”

Baxter picked the boy up by his collar. He appeared to be about the age of an Earth sixteen year old. “Listen, you scrawny little punk. I just saw a graveyard of Starfleet ships, without crews, and the only clue we got to their disappearance is ‘Flarn.’ Now do you wanna give me some answers, or do you want me to let Smurfette here rip you limb from limb?”

J’hana bared her teeth menacingly.

“Okay, okay, I will talk, Starfleet. This is the planet Maalox, and we are Maaloxians. There was a time when we were spread out through half this quadrant. Then the Flarn came. They were the worst nextdoor neighbors we could have. They butchered us, fried us up, carved us into tiny bite sized chunks, dipped us in garlic butter, and ate us.”

Peterman gagged at this thought, Baxter and J’hana sharing similar sentiments.

“The only way we survived,” Mirk continued, “is by finding the portals, which we only assume were sent to us by enigmatic beings known as the ‘Directors,’. We’ve used these portals for millennia as a means to go into your quadrant and retrieve supplies and materials that the Flarn demand. Meanwhile we also retrieved the supplies to keep us alive and one day hopefully allow us to regain our rightful place in this quadrant.”

Baxter was becoming more and more confused. “So why don’t the Flarn just eliminate you and go through the portals themselves and pillage our quadrant?”

“Because they do not have the ability to pass through. The key portal to your quadrant is located in a vast asteroid field, one through which only Maaloxians are able to navigate. Every once in a while a ship from your side will follow us here. Then they become trophies for the Flarn. Trophies for Granok.”

“So they use you as glorified errand boys?” J’hana asked, disgusted.

“Essentially, yes. Only select few Maaloxians are gifted enough to pilot the field. I am one of them.”

“Then you could get us home!” Baxter shouted.

“I could, if I wished to.”

J’hana grabbed the boy and slammed him up against a rock. “You would do well to wish to get us back home.”

Mirk smiled, trying to seem diplomatic. “Believe me, if there was something I could do, I would. But they’ll be here soon, and they’ll eat you.”

Baxter sat on another nearby rock and cradled his head in his hands. “Eat us.”

“Yes, they have found humans quite tasty. One of your ships serves as quite a feast. They prefer you much to our fatty, salty flesh. They would still eat us today if it wasn’t for the ability we evolved to secrete poison when eaten.”

“Curious. Much like the jungle frogs of…” Larkin said.

“Cut to the chase, shorty–” Baxter said, cutting Larkin off. “What are we supposed to do?”

Mirk was still straining against J’hana’s grip. “There is little you can do, besides die.”

“Freaking great,” Peterman said, collapsing next to Baxter, laying her head in his lap and wailing like a baby.

“I refuse to believe that,” Baxter said, gingerly patting Peterman’s head. “You have to help us.”

“That’s what the other fifty captains said. You aren’t any different.”

Baxter smiled. “That’s where you’re wrong, buddy.”

Peterman looked up, thought a moment about what Baxter had said, and went back to her sobbing.


“Commander Conway…” Ensign Fresca said from ops, her eyes wide.

Conway sighed, feeling quite annoyed at having to get up from his seat, and heaved himself over to Fresca’s station. “What is it, Ensign?”

“An unidentified vessel is heading this way. It’s huge. It can’t be good, Commander.”

“Can it be bad?” Conway asked, fearing the worst.

“I’m afraid so, sir.”

“I figured,” the First Officer muttered, heading back to the command chair and sitting back down. “Shields up. Red alert. Prepare to break orbit and go to evasive maneuvers.”

“What about the away team?” Ford asked.

“Screw ‘em. We can’t worry about four people when the ship is at risk,” Conway said blandly.

“Cool.”

“Tactical status?” Conway asked, looking up at the Lieutenant at Tactical.

“Shields are back up at one hundred percent, weapons systems on stand- by. All decks report secure.” Reported Lieutenant Junior Grade Brian Gellar.

“Distance to unidentified vessel?”

“One point five million kilometers and closing fast.”

“Damn. Anything else on that ship, Fresca?”

“It’s approximately five times our size, it operates on a quantum power core similar to the Romulans but much more powerful. The shields are so intense that further readings aren’t possible.”

“Great,” Conway said, heading for the replicator. “Computer: Beans…Jamaican Coffee…in a bowl. Lots of ‘em, and quick.”

A bowl materialized in the replicator slot, and Conway could have sworn he heard the computer mutter something about “damn eccentric officers and their damn weird orders,” but he let the matter fall.

Conway dumped a handful of coffee beans into his mouth and chewed. “Time to vessel’s arrival, Fresca?”

“Fifty five seconds, sir.”

“Damn. Conway to Baxter.”

“Baxter here.”

“Don’t overreact, sir, but…”

“Spit it out, Conway!”

“There’s a giant ship headed our way.”

“The Flarn, I presume?”

Conway heard a voice in the background say yes. It was the same taunting voice that had been responsible for them being in this God forsaken mess in the first place, but Conway kept his questions to himself. “Look, what do you want me to do? They’ll be here any second.”

“Talk to them. You’re the one with all the experience. I’ll just…monitor from here.”

Conway cursed as he severed the channel, realizing that maybe being on the away team wouldn’t have been so bad after all.


“So what do we do?” Peterman asked. She had finally stopped crying.

“We talk to them, negotiate. I’m sure they’ll listen to reason,” Baxter said.

“Ha!” Mirk laughed, finally released from J’hana’s grip.

“Listen, Mister, if you can’t be positive, then just keep your mouth shut,” Baxter grumbled.

“Captain…” Larkin said. Baxter looked up and groaned. There was an object falling from the sky, and it looked like it was streaking towards them.

“What the hell is that?” Baxter asked.

“That,” said Mirk, “is Granok.”


The blue and tan Flarn ship on the viewscreen was huge and ominous looking, seeming to Conway almost like some kind of predatory bird, ready to pounce on an unsuspecting field mouse, or in this case, the Aerostar.

“The vessel has launched some type of shuttlecraft, Commander. It is headed for the surface,” said Fresca from ops.

“Hail the Flarn vessel,” Conway said.

“No response, sir,” Gellar replied.

“Fine, then. Lock phasers on the shuttlecraft and fire. Try to disable it.”

“Stupid. Dumber than Baxter,” Ford remarked from the helm.

“Shut up, Ford.”

A beam lanced out from the Aerostar and connected with the shuttle, bouncing harmlessly off its shields.

“No effect,” announced Lt. Gellar. “We are getting a message from the Flarn vessel, however.”

“Onscreen.”

The picture of the planet below on the viewscreen was replaced by a huge, menacing creature. Conway gulped. “Uh-oh.”

The creature looked half reptilian, half insectoid, and had hard black skin and huge, sharp talons. He also looked mad. “You have fired on the transsssport of Overmaster Granok. You will sssssuffer before you are eaten.”

“Uh oh,” Conway repeated.

“Incoming fire!” shouted Gellar from tactical.

The Aerostar began to shake violently as it was pounded by the huge Flarn vessel.


“Whoa!” Richards exclaimed as the deck pitched out from under him. The ship was evidently under attack.

“Conway to Engineering. We need full power to shields now.”

“Richards here, I’m doing my best, sir,” Richards said, going to work madly at the main engineering console.

“We may need warp power quickly.”

“I can’t promise you anything as long as we keep taking this kind of beating.”

“Do the best you can. Conway out.”

Just then, the Engineering staff exited the turbolift. “Sorry, sir,” Ensign Yakelson said. “We stopped off at the lounge on the way back from Sickbay. That holographic bartender is great.”

“Just get to work. We’re under attack.”

The staff grudgingly got to work, and before long, they were singing again.


As soon as the shuttlecraft approached the crater near Mirk’s vessel, the singing, dancing, music and eating stopped. All of the Maaloxians stopped what they were doing and looked on in awe.

The shuttlecraft landed softly next to Mirk’s vessel. Baxter cringed as the ship’s door creaked open and a landing plank was extended.

A huge, ominous creature emerged from the doorway and drifted out. He was flanked by two slightly smaller but equally menacing creatures. All three were draped in flowing black robes. They had glowing red eyes nestled in hard, black reptilian faces that curled in sinister sneers.

The lead behemoth approached Baxter and eyed him approvingly. He must have been at least a meter and a half taller than the captain. “Captain of the Ssssstarsship Aerosssstar….”

“Yes, that’s me. It’s nice to meet you, sir,” Baxter offered diplomatically, swallowing hard.

“Yesssss….it will be nissse to eat you.” The Flarn’s voice seemed kind of fruity to Baxter.

“Surely we could…” Baxter asked.

“Ssssshut up,” the Flarn commanded. He then turned his gaze to Peterman. “Hmmmm. You look delicious too. Astrok, take thessssssse two inssssside. I wish to have them prepared for my evening meal.”

“Yes, Overmassssster,” one of the guards said, dragging the two officers away. Peterman was kicking and screaming and Baxter was too surprised to speak. He just made a kind of surprised squeak as he was dragged inside the hulking shuttlecraft.

Granok turned his attention to J’hana. “Ewww. Andorians are so distasteful. Those antennae always get stuck in my teeth. We’ll worry about thissss one later.”

“Why you bug-eyed son of a slarg!” J’hana cried. Luckily, Larkin was able to hold her back.

The Flarn moved on to Larkin. “Hmmm. Ssssomething isn’t right.”

Upon scanning the android with a device from his pocket, he frowned. “A primitive android. She can be disassembled later.”

Finally, Granok’s eyes came to rest on Mirk. “Errand boy, I trussst you returned from the Alpha quadrant with many gifts for usssss….”

Mirk dropped to one knee. “Yes, Overmaster, you will not be disappointed.”

“I’m ssssure. Drako, begin transsssferring equipment from Mirk’ssss vessssssel to my shuttle. Be quick about it. As for you, Mirk, I have another assssssignment for you.”

“What do you wish, your highness?”

“I want you to lead me to the key portal.” The sinister smile grew wider.

“Granok, you know that is not possible. It is written that only Maaloxians may pass through the key portal.”

“The Directorssss are a myth, Mr. Mirk. How then did the Ssssstarfleets come through?”

“Any race is capable of passing through the return portal, but the key portal is different.”

“I’m sssure. We ssshall ssssee. We leave for the key portal immediately.”

“Fine. It’s your funeral.”

“No, if it doessss not work…it shall be yoursssss.”

Granok disappeared back inside his shuttle, which Drako had almost finished loading.

“So you are going to sell out your own people in order to please your enslaver?” Larkin summed everything up quite nicely.

“I need some food,” Mirk said, making his way to the barbecue stand.

“We must rescue our crewmates,” J’hana announced as soon as she and Larkin were alone. “I do not believe being eaten qualifies as an honorable death.”

“That much is certain,” Larkin responded.

“Then what do we do?” J’hana asked, irritated.

“I suggest we contact the ship and ask for assistance. Larkin to Aerostar.”

“What do you want?” came Conway’s irritated voice.

“The Captain and Counselor Peterman have been taken hostage by the Flarn. We must get them back.”

“Take care of it yourselves. We have enough to deal with up here. Aerostar out.”

“Less than helpful,” Larkin noted.

“I have an idea!” said J’hana with satisfaction.

“What is that, Lieutenant? Do you believe we should accompany Mr. Mirk in an attempt to discover the secret of the key portal?”

“Well, I was going to suggest killing Mr. Mirk and taking his food, but your idea is good too.”

“Agreed. Then we must leave immediately,” Larkin said.

Mirk was climbing the ramp into his cockpit, chewing on a large piece of meat.

J’hana and Larkin ran to join him, followed by an older, cloaked man with a mustache.

“I am Jum, father of Mirk. I have come to dissuade him. His actions will doom us all,” the man said, matching step with the two officers.

“Do your best,” J’hana said, ignoring him.

Within the vessel, Mirk was pressing buttons, activating all of the ship’s systems. Jum stepped in front of J’hana and Larkin and addressed his son. “Have you no respect for the sacred scripts? What you are attempting is sacrilege!”

Mirk ignored his father. “Shut up, Dad, I know what I’m doing.”

“Teenagers are the same all over the galaxy,” J’hana observed.

The man pounded his fist on a console. “Then you will rot for all time in the pit of eternal consternation!” he cried.

He ran out of the ship as if he was announcing the Armageddon. “WE ARE ALL LOST!”

Larkin watched Jum walk away with interest. “Indeed.”

“Listen, we have to go with you…” J’hana said. “We are obliged to rescue our Captain.”

“Suit yourselves. You’ll all be eaten anyway,” Mirk replied, putting on what looked like an old fashioned baseball cap and sticking a toothpick in his mouth. The diminutive Maaloxian switched on some loud music and threw his ship into reverse. The ship made an annoying noise as it backed up.

“I hate it when it does that. That’s what sucks about driving your parent’s ship. I’m going to get my own the next time I go into the Alpha Quadrant.”

Larkin and J’hana took their seats as Mirk pushed the throttle, causing the ship to lurch forward and take off.


“We are losing attitude control!” shouted Ford from the helm. “We’ll crash into the planet if we stay in orbit much longer!”

“Then break orbit! FULL IMPULSE!” Conway cried out, gripping the tactical console for support.

The ship lurched from its orbital position. “Conway to Richards. I want warp speed on the double.”

“No go. The intermix isn’t stable enough. Tell them to stop shooting at us!!!”

“I don’t care what isn’t stable, just DO IT!!!”

“Working on it.”

“Shields at thirty percent and dropping, sir,” called out Gellar from tactical.

“Damn. What could possibly happen next?”

“Sir, the scavenger vessel is leaving the planet’s surface. It is being followed by the Flarn shuttlecraft,” Fresca reported from ops.

“How is the Flarn vessel responding?”

The air was still for a moment.

Fresca seemed relieved. “It has stopped shooting. They have lowered their shields to bring the shuttle aboard. I am reading two communicator signals. Captain Baxter and Counselor Peterman.”

“We have to do something,” Conway said.

“Yeah, we have to get the hell out of here,” was Ford’s quick response.

“The Flarn vessel has engaged its engines. It is following Mirk’s ship,” Fresca added.

“Richards to bridge. The intermix has stabilized. We can go to warp now.”

“Good. Mr. Ford, set course and speed to follow both ships.”

“You have got to be kidding me,” Ford said. “We’ll be killed, all for an incompetent captain and an annoying counselor!”

“This isn’t up for debate, Mr. Ford. Engage already,” Conway muttered, returning to the command chair.

“Okay, okay, jeeze, you didn’t have to get rude about it.”

The Aerostar’s engines fired up and it took off after the two other ships.


Baxter and Peterman had been chained and bound together shortly after the shuttle had docked in the Flarn ship’s shuttle bay. They groaned and struggled as one of Granok’s guards pulled them along a corridor.

“Where are we going?” Baxter asked.

The guard laughed. “To the dining room of course,” the guard replied.

“I’m sorry I asked.”

The two officers were led into a large room which Baxter deduced was the dining room. Granok entered behind them and took a seat at a huge marble table, tucking a napkin into his robes. “Okay, I’m ready to eat, Assssssssstrok. Tell the chef I want them sssssserved a la Nelok.”

“Yes, your greatnesssss,” Astrok said as he dragged Baxter and Peterman back into the kitchen.

Astrok dumped the two officers on a table in the kitchen. “Here they are, Colok. Granok wants them ssssserved a la Nelok.”

The Flarn was wearing a giant chef’s hat and a large apron that read “Kisssss the Chef.”

“A la Nelok? Isss he crazy? That’ssss a terrible recipe. And the sauce is ssssso difficult,” Colok griped.

“That’s what he wants. Now do it!”

“Fine, fine, if that’ssss what the Overmaster wantssss, then sssso be it.”

As Astrok left, Colok began chopping up vegetables for the sauce and humming a happy tune. Baxter and Peterman gave each other a look that said “It was nice knowing ya.”


Dr. Browning had become bored in sickbay, so she decided to let Nurse Bailey finish cleaning up sickbay while she went down to the lounge for a drink. She was still a little rattled from the Aerostar’s recent firefight, so she decided a nice big milkshake would help dull her nerves.

Since it was mid-morning shift, the lounge was characteristically quiet. Browning took her usual seat at the bar and ordered a large strawberry milkshake from the holographic bartender.

“What’s happening, sweet thing?” asked the bartender from the replicator.

“Nothing, that’s why I came here. Now gimmee,” Browning replied as she grabbed for the milkshake.

“Suit yourself, madam,” the bartender said, a little taken aback.

At that moment, the doors to the lounge parted and a blue clad science officer entered. His head was bandaged and bleeding rather profusely. He sat down on a stool a few seats down from Dr. Browning and called the bartender over.

“I’ll have a bourbon, straight…ugh,” he said, his head collapsing to the bar.

“Funny,” the bartender remarked, “they usually do that after consuming the drink.”


“We’ll be there in ten minutes,” Mirk said over the din of the loud music that boomed inside the confines of his ship.

“What?” J’hana asked.

“We’ll be there in ten minutes.”

“What?”

“We’ll be there in ten minutes!”

“What?”

“We’ll be there in…never mind.”

Larkin was studying a panel near her chair. “Mr. Mirk, what exactly is our course?”

“What?” he asked, turning down the music.

“I was wondering where we were going.”

“We’re heading for a dense asteroid belt in the Crebius cluster. It contains the disturbance that carries us to the Alpha quadrant.”

“If the Flarn succeed…” Larkin continued.

“Then your ‘Federation’ is taco filling.”

“Indeed.”

“WOULD YOU STOP SAYING THAT!!!” J’hana barked.


“Man, it’s hot.” Captain Baxter remarked.

“Yes it is,” Peterman replied.

The two officers had been stripped down to their underwear, coated from head to toe in a honey-wine glaze, wrapped in a thick pastry, and placed upon a huge oven rack to roast at 400 degrees on “bake.”

“Now I know how Bugs Bunny must have felt when Elmer Fudd put him in the pot of boiling water,” Baxter said idly.

“Who?”

“You know, the smart-alecking rabbit from 20th century earth and his nefarious enemy, Elmer Fudd.”

“Sorry. I don’t know much about that era. I don’t know why everyone’s obsessed with it.”

“Because it was the peak of pop culture. What do we have now? Plays? Give me a break. And holonovels aren’t that much help either. I’m sorry, but why on Earth would I want to be Jane Eyre?”

“Ssssssilience! I ssssmack you!” the chef said, waddling over and smashing Baxter and Peterman with a giant spatula. While he was there, he turned them so they could cook evenly.

Baxter rubbed his nose. “Ow. That really hurt.”

Peterman nodded assent. “I want to go home.”


Conway was on his second bowl of coffee beans. He popped a handful into his mouth as he watched the Flarn vessel they were chasing on the viewscreen.

“I wonder where the hell this wild goose chase is leading us.”

“You wanna know what I think?” Ford asked.

“No.”


Astrok burst into the kitchen. “Put thosssse two on a tray now. Granok issss hungry and he doesn’t feel like waiting.”

“But they aren’t cooked yet…” the cook protested.

“I don’t care…Granok wants them now!”

“Fine, fine!” the cook shouted, “If he wantssss to eat half cooked human, that’sss hiss choice. I hope he getsss sssssalmanilla.”

The cook threw the two bewildered officers on a tray and shoved them in Astrok’s arms. “I’m through dealing with hissss impatience. I slave over a hot sssstove all day and get no thanks. I QUIT!” The cook hopped through a hatch next to the garbage disposal and slammed it shut behind him.

A few moments later a loud “woooosh” came from behind the hatch, and a green light flashed on above it.

“We losssse more cooksss that way,” Astrok said, heaving Baxter and Peterman out of the kitchen.

“That must have been an escape pod,” Baxter whispered. “I bet there’s another one around here somewhere.”

“Too pad we’ll be eaten before we can find it,” Peterman whimpered in reply.


“Please tell me you have a plan,” J’hana grunted at Larkin as Mirk’s scavenger ship sailed toward the asteroid field.

“Thank you for asking, Lieutenant, but in response to your question, no, I do not have a plan.” Larkin pointed at the screen she was studying. “However, as you can tell, the Aerostar seems to be pursuing us, so perhaps they have a plan.”

“We’re not that lucky.”


“What the hell are J’hana and Larkin doing on that scavenger ship?” Conway asked, peering at Fresca’s panel.

“How should I know?” Fresca asked, exasperated. “I’m a very insignificant character with few lines. I don’t know anything.”

Conway ignored the comment and studied the panel further. “I sure hope they have a plan. We’re almost to this damn asteroid field, and I’m sure as hell out of ideas.”


“Mr. Mirk, you say that this portal to the Alpha Quadrant is located in the asteroid field?” Larkin asked.

“That’s right.”

“Curious. And it only allows certain people through?”

“Certain Maaloxians.”

“Hmmm. And it is controlled by gods called ‘the Directors’?”

“What’s your point?”

“Mr. Mirk. This is very important. What is the shield modulation around your impulse engines?”

Mirk looked confused. “Two-twenty point three. Why?”

“That is the reason no other ship can get through. There is a similar worm hole phenomenon in the alpha quadrant. I believe I know why the worm hole reacts the way it does. I also know how to get the Aerostar back home and defeat the Flarn.”

J’hana nodded agreeably. “Not bad.”


Granok’s stomach growled loudly as Baxter and Peterman were placed before him.

“Ohhhhh Yummmmmeeee!” he slurped, drool dribbling down his long, jagged mouth.

“Enjoy, ssssir,” Astrok mumbled.

Baxter and Peterman whimpered as Granok extended a large talon towards them. “I enjoy watching my dinner cower as I eat it.”

Granok plucked a piece of pastry from around Peterman and dipped it in the honey glaze, popping it into his mouth.

“Hey, listen here,” Baxter said, trying his best to sound tough. “I think I’ve been very reasonable with you up till now, but enough is enough. I want you to let Counselor Peterman and I go…or you’ll regret it!”

“SSSSSHUT UP!” Granok said, sticking a large, apple-like piece of fruit into Baxter’s mouth.

“He’s usually much nicer than that,” Peterman remarked.

“Oh, well, you will both be ssssswimming around in my ssssstomach juicesss very sssss-“

“Lieutenant Lord Kenjek to Lord Granok. We are nearing the portal. It issss time.”

Granok clapped his talons together happily. “Ohhhh joy! Dinner can wait. Put thesssse two in the fridge and join me on the bridge, Assstrok.”

“Yessss sssir,” Astrok hissed, grabbing the tray and heading for the kitchen.


“I’m not so sure about this,” Mirk said uneasily.

“Come on, Mirk, show some garnaks. Make your family proud. Do you want to be a slave forever?” J’hana taunted.

“No, but I want to be alive forever.”

“The plan will work, just do your part,” J’hana commanded.

“Okay, okay, fine.” Mirk opened a channel to the Flarn ship.

“Sarfari to Jendak. This is Mirk. In order to get through the portal, you must modulate your shields to exactly one thirty-seven point eight.”

On the small viewscreen, Granok was just taking his seat at the throne on his bridge. “We undersssstand, Mirk. No funny ssstuff, though. If you trick ussss, your planet will be dessstroyed.”

Mirk gulped nervously. “No funny stuff.”

“Very well. Jendak out.”

“Okay,” said Mirk, turning in his chair. “You can transmit now.”

J’hana patted Mirk on the back. “Very good, Maaloxian. Perhaps there is a warrior in you.”

Larkin pressed a button on the console near her. “Now we must rely on the competence of the Aerostar crew to understand our message.”

“I would love to see the odds on that bet,” J’hana muttered.


“Commander!” Lt. Gellar said. “We’re receiving a coded transmission from the scavenger ship. The computer isn’t having any luck decoding it, though.”

Conway threw another handful of beans in his mouth. “Let’s hear it,” he said with his mouth full.

A series of long and short beeps filled the bridge.

Conway snapped his fingers. “Morse code!”

“How predictable,” Ford remarked.

“Shut up. Play it back slowly, Brian.”

Gellar replayed the message while Conway studied it carefully. “Hmmm. Flarn…shoes…are…at…one…thirty…seven…point… eight…”

“Shoes?” Ford said, bewildered.

“That can’t be right,” Gellar said.

“Nope. It must be something else,” Conway admitted.

“You imbeciles, it’s ‘shields.’ The Flarn shields are at one thirty- seven point eight,” Fresca said, annoyed. “They’re trying to tell us how to shoot through the Flarn’s shields!”

“Oh, yeah, that must be it,” Gellar agreed.

Conway snapped into action as the caffeine kicked in. “Greatgreatgreat! YES! YEEEEESSSS! YEEEEHAAAAAH!” He started doing a little victory dance around the bridge, all the way up to the tactical station, barking commands at warp speed. “Mister Gellar, load all torpedo bays and energize all phaser arrays, set phasers and phton torpedoes to a modulation of one thirty-seven point eight, and fire at will as soon as we get in range. Mister Ford, bring us right up on their pointed insectoid behinds.”

“Yes, sir,” Ford said, tapping away at his panel.


Granok leaned forward eagerly in his throne. “Come to Granok, you sssssuper portal you!”

The Jendak edged closer to the phenomenon. Mirk’s vessel had taken a position behind the massive vessel so it could squeeze through. Asteroids clanged against her hull, making impacts that would crush a less powerful vessel, but didn’t even affect the massive ship.

“We are entering the phenomenon,” Granok’s science officer said.

All Granok could think about was all of the riches and food that he would encounter in this strange new quadrant. Ohhh, how lucky the Flarn were. Granok just couldn’t wait.

That’s when the ship hit the portal, and it opened its hungry jaws, swallowing the Flarn warship.

Everything went fine for about five seconds, then the ship began to tear apart.


“Man, it’s cold,” Baxter said, shivering in his plastic bag in the huge Flarn Frigidaire.

“Yeah, it is,” Peterman agreed.

Suddenly, a great thundering sound roared through the Flarn ship.

“What the hell?!” Peterman cried as the refrigerator began to quake in step with the ship.

“We have to get out of here!” Baxter shouted.

The two ripped through the neatly sealed plastic bags and pushed with all their might against the massive refrigerator door.

“It’s not budging!” Baxter said, when the door suddenly flew open and they spilled out.

“Scratch that,” Baxter corrected.

The two officers picked themselves up and scrambled out of the kitchen as quickly as they could, with pieces of pastry trailing behind them.

They flew through the dining room and charged at the huge double doors. China and silverware was flying everywhere as the vessel quaked.

“What the hell is happening?” Peterman asked.

“I don’t want to know!” Baxter shouted as he covered his face and threw himself at the door, which budged a few inches open, knocking him to his feet.

Peterman grabbed the Captain and squeezed him through the opening. “If we get out of here alive I’m reccomending that you go on a diet, Captain!”

The corridor was full of rushing Flarn, red lights, and alarms as the ship’s hull began to groan. No one seemed to notice the two small humans scurrying along the deck.

“Where’s an escape pod when you need one?” Baxter asked when suddenly he fell down a long, dark tube.

“There’s your answer,” Peterman said, diving in after him.


“Fire!” Conway shouted, clenching his fist.

The Aerostar unleashed a fury of phasers and quantum torpedoes at the Flarn ship.

“They are caught up in the energies of the phenomenon and taking heavy damage,” Fresca noted.

“Great, we’re home free,” Conway sighed with relief as he got a fresh bowl of beans. Just as Conway was about to toss back another handful, the deck seemed to suddenly pitch out from under his feet. Beans flew everywhere.

Conway smacked against the deck painfully, as the beans rained down on him.

“Looks like we’re caught up in the phenomenon too,” Fresca said, as the Crebius Cluster’s swirling energies started to overcome the Aerostar.


“Damn it, Larkin, send them the right shield frequency. They are being torn apart!” J’hana shouted.

“Sending now.”

“We’re going in,” Mirk said, as the Sarfari proceeded after the other two ships into the phenomenon.


“It wassss a trick!!!” Granok yelled, gripping his throne for dear life as the Jendak lumbered through the phenomenon. “All enginessss, full reverssse! Back usssss out of here!!!”

“Imposssssible, we are trapped,” the science officer announced.

“Then lock misssssless on Mirk’ssss ssship…dessstroy it!!! And dessstroy the Aerosssstar!!!”

The Jendak flailed helplessly in the mire of the phenomenon, huge missiles streaming from it in all directions.


“INCOMING!!!” shouted Gellar, not for the first time.

The Aerostar shook violently, causing everyone to pitch forward, grabbing whatever was nearby.

For Conway, it ended up being Fresca’s hair.

“Ouch!!! Stop!!!”

“Sorry,” Conway apologized through the din of the red alert klaxons and explosions.

“Keep firing on them!” Conway added as he brought himself up between the conn and ops stations.


“Ewwww. What’s that smell?” Peterman’s voice cried out through the dark lumpy mass her and Baxter had become embedded in.

“In any quadrant, that’s definitely garbage!”

“Just perfect. Why is it everytime you go down a long chute, you inevitably land in garbage.”

“Wait a minute…that means the garbage will have to be…”

Baxter was cut off before he could say “ejected,” because at that moment he and Peterman where blown into space by an explosive decompression of the garbage chamber.


Mirk’s small ship began to rock under the assault of Granok’s ship. “Damn. I’m not even insured to fly this thing,” he said, trying to steer out of the way of the incoming missiles that pounded the small vessel’s hull.

“We must leave!” J’hana shouted.

“You’ll get no objection from me!” Mirk cried.


“Mirk’s sending us the correct shield modulation for the wormhole, Commander!” Fresca announced.

“Then change our modulation already!” Conway shouted, as he was pounded against the bulkhead he had chosen to cling to.

“Acknowledged!” Fresca said, pounding the new information into her panel.


Bright and various colors swirled around Baxter and Peterman as they floated through the purple haze of the Crebius Cluster.

“Is this heaven?” Baxter asked.

“No. That’s somewhere else altogether,” an eerie voice said.

Baxter turned around to see a giant eyeball staring at him, its pupil dilating and contracting with curiousity.

“Why are you here?” the voice, which presumably came from the eyeball, asked.

“I didn’t have much choice in the matter.”

“There are always choices. Your choice dictates your destiny.”

“I’ll remember that. Now can I get back to my ship?”

“Ha ha ha. Your ship. Yes yes. I’m sure you are very very concerned about that ship of yours. They always are, aren’t they?”

This is definitely NOT heaven, Baxter thought. God wouldn’t sound half as cynical.


“Commander Conway!” Fresca called out. “I’m picking up two human life forms outside our ship. They’re floating between us and the Flarn vessel.”

Conway crawled toward the Ops panel. “That must be the Captain and Counselor Peterman. Conway to transporter room. Emergency transport. Lock on to the two lifeforms between us and the Flarn vessel and beam them directly to the bridge!”

“Lt. Hartley here. I’m busy.”

“I don’t care, energize!”

“Hold your horses, okay?”

“No, you little bitch, I said ENERGIZE!”

“So you’re a tough guy, huh? Well I only have one thing to say to you. Bite me!”

“Damn it, Hartley!” Conway cried.

“Okay, okay. There’s no need to be a jerk about it!”


Baxter floated there before the giant eye, befuddled by its size and immensity and wondering why he was still alive. Beside him, Peterman was curled up against a cloud of purple as if she was taking a restful afternoon nap.

“Well, since you went through all the trouble to get here, I might as well explain what this whole “Delta Quadrant” business is all about. The real reason you are here is… ‘

That’s when Baxter heard the whine of a transporter beam locking on to he and Peterman.


Baxter re-integrated back on board the Aerostar.

“There. Happy now, jerky boy?” the miffed voice of Lt. Hartley resounded throughout the bridge.

“Dammit, he was about to explain it all!” Baxter cried, as Yeoman Franklin handed him a spare uniform shirt, which he promptly pulled on.

“Who?” Conway asked.

“The giant eyeball,” Baxter said matter-of-factly, pulling the shirt around him indignantly. “Yeoman, order me up some pants now!”

“Oh,” Conway said, reflecting on what Baxter had said.

Ford and Gellar couldn’t seem to keep there eyes off the pastry-clad, honey glazed form of Counselor Peterman that lie sleeping peacefully on the deck between the conn and ops stations.

Baxter kicked her gently and she began to stir.

“Who?” she asked, bewildered. Suddenly she seemed to figure out what had happened and looked around. All eyes were on her. “Hey, what is everyone looking at?”

“Well,” Ford said from the conn. “You look kind of cute in that little tortilla wrap.”

Conway sniffed the air. “But both of you smell like garbage.”

“Shut up, both of you,” Baxter muttered, pulling on the uniform pants Franklin had hastily ordered for him and tossing the pastry wrap aside. “Franklin, take Peterman into the conference room and get her some clothes.”

“Captain, I’m getting a distress call from Mirk’s ship,” Gellar said from tactical as Peterman raced into the conference room with Franklin at her side.

“It’s breaking up, Captain. Hull integrity is at twelve percent and falling,” added Ensign Fresca.

“Bridge to Lt. Hartley,” Baxter said, pressing a button on his command chair.

“Yeah, yeah, what now?”

“Another emergency transport. Get everyone off Mirk’s ship.”

“Man, not a moment’s peace.”

Suddenly the figures of Mirk, J’hana, and Larkin appeared on the bridge. Directly after that, the scavenger ship exploded in a brilliant wash of light that shook the ship even more.

“Captain Baxter,” Mirk said urgently. “This is just what I thought would happen. There’s no mistaking that the wormhole is collapsing. We can’t get through with the Flarn vessel blocking the entrance.”

“Can’t we move it with a tractor beam?” Conway asked.

“No, it is caught too deep in the graviton well. Are only recourse is to attempt to break free of the wormhole’s pull,” Larkin said, replacing Fresca at ops.

Baxter didn’t seem to like that decision. “Fine. Aft thrusters ahead full. Get us out.”

Ford complied, cursing all the way. Moments later he said, “It’s not working, Captain Bungler! We’re stuck.”

Rapping his fingers against the command chair, Baxter suddenly had a brilliant idea. “Of course…everybody breakout the technobabble manuals NOW!”

Everyone on the bridge complied immediately, calling out all sorts of jargon.

“Metallic Quark Degausser?”

“Harmonic Prostate Oscillator?”

“Quantum Alpha-numeric Inversion Field?”

“Verteron modulation?”

“Static warp shell!” Conway called out triumphantly.

“That’s it!” Baxter said. “That’s the most cool-sounding thing we’ve heard so far. It’s bound to work. Baxter to Enginering!”

“Richards here. What do you want, Captain?”

“I need a static warp shell, on the double, hold the salsa!”

“May I ask why?”

“Just do it!!”

There was a hum as the warp engines engaged.

“We are sealing the subspace breach!” announced Larkin.

Mirk looked at a science console. “The ship is caught halfway between our quadrant and yours. Its hull condition is critical.”

Suddenly there was another explosion, one that dwarfed that of Mirk’s ship.

The Aerostar was tossed through space like a rag doll in a dog’s mouth.

Baxter climbed up the ops station and examined the readouts. “We’re out of the phenomenon.”

“Yes, sir,” agreed Lt. Larkin from underneath Baxter’s elbow.

“And still in the Delta Quadrant,” Ford grumbled.

“Also correct,” agreed Lt. Larkin again.

Baxter collapsed into the command chair, exhausted. “Well, at least we’re alive.”

“A real comfort,” said Conway sarcastically from the seat next to him.

Counselor Peterman then emerged from the conference room, freshly uniformed, with her dog beside her. Charlie was licking the honey glaze off her face.

Peterman sat down in her chair on the opposite side of Baxter, calling the giant dog onto her lap. “I feel better already. Plus I got a nice tan from that Flarn oven.”

“If you all will excuse me,” Baxter said, heading for the turbolift, “I’m going to go wash this honey glaze off.”

“Captain…” Mirk said, as Baxter pushed the tubolift call button.

“What?”

“Well, I’m probably no longer welcome on my planet, since I committed a cardinal sin and have most likely caused my planet to be invaded by the Flarn.”

“So you want to join my crew?” Baxter asked skeptically. “After stranding us here in the first place?”

“Captain, might I say that I am an excellent busboy, waiter, handyman, and go-fer. Plus, I know which neighborhoods to stay away from. I’m really not a bad guy when you get past my self-involvement and lack of maturity.”

“Sure, go ahead. Join us. But don’t expect us to be returning to your home planet very soon. I plan on getting us as far away from here as possible,” Baxter said, stepping into the turbolift.

“So, where do we go from here?” asked Conway.

“We’re on a road to nowhere, Commander, come on inside,” Baxter said, quoting from the passage at the bottom of the Aerostar’s dedication plaque. “Taking that ride to nowhere–we’ll take that ride.”

The bridge crew blinked their eyes in unison as the lift doors closed.

“Does anyone know what he meant by that?” Ford asked, breaking the silence.

“Just make up a damn course and engage at maximum warp,” Conway barked, settling into the command chair. “I think we’re already wearing out our welcome here.”


Tags: vexed