Author: Anthony Butler
“Well, Lieutenant, I think we’ve made real progress.” Counselor Peterman said, yawning and eyeing Lt. Daniel Elton as he lay on the couch in her office.
Elton sat up. “Thank you, Counselor, I feel much better now.”
Peterman smiled nervously. “You’re welcome, Lieutenant. Take heart, you’re no more messed up than any of the rest of us.”
“See you next session.” Elton said, whistling a happy tune as he left.
Peterman sank onto her couch and sighed. “Whew, what a wacko!” At that moment, Peterman’s door beeped pleasantly. Did she have another appointment? She called up her appointment list for the day on her terminal.
“Darn,” Peterman said, noticing that she had a session scheduled with Lieutenant Larkin. And, just like an android, Larkin was right on time. Peterman could have set her clock by her.
“Come in,” Peterman said. She idly wondered why an android would even seek counseling.
“Hello, Counselor,” Larkin said flatly, taking a seat on the couch. Peterman had moved back to her desk, grabbing a pad and stylus.
“I am ready to begin.” Larkin stated.
“Go ahead,” Peterman said, “the meter’s running.”
“Sorry. Earth colloquialism.”
“Of course. Since our last session, I have done my best to meditate on my penguin nature, and have met with limited success. One might say I have come upon an obstacle in my journey of the soul.”
“Hmmm.” Peterman said. She was doodling a picture of the Aerostar flying around a big flower, zapping bees with its phasers.
Peterman’s musings were interrupted when her kitten, Fritz, hopped up on top of her desk, evading Charlie’s watchful eye.
Larkin continued to talk, endlessly spouting philosophical rubbish. The android did not even notice the probing nose of Charlie as he looked for his prey.
The golden retriever’s head suddenly darted up. He barked loudly, jumping on top of Counselor Peterman’s desk, scattering padds all over the place.
“Charlie, down!” Peterman called out, just as the dog knocked over her hot chocolate.
“Perhaps I should reschedule my appointment, Counselor.” Larkin said, staring at the mess.
Peterman was holding her dog at bay with one hand and her kitten with the other, just as Larkin’s communicator beeped.
“Baxter to Lieutenant Larkin. Report to the bridge immediately.”
Larkin touched her communicator. “Acknowledged. I am sorry, Counselor, we will have to reschedule our appointment for a later date.”
“What a pity,” Peterman said, distracting Charlie with one of his chew toys as Larkin headed out the door.
Stardate 51439.3. Isn’t it funny, how just when you think things have reached their all time worst, a beacon of hope reaches out and makes you just want to thank God for being alive? Well, this isn’t exactly like that, but after months in deep space, we’ve finally reached a planet. I am feeling extremely optimistic about it.
“It’s a damn rock,” Lt. J’hana huffed, looking at sensor readings as Lt. Larkin entered the bridge and took her place at ops.
“Let’s not be so hasty,” Baxter said from his command chair.
“Well,” Conway began from his seat next to Baxter, “it looks like miles and miles of ice floes and nonpourous rock. Sounds pretty damn nice to me. As a matter of fact, I may schedule my next vacation there.”
“This must be Crysta,” Mirk said, from the chair to Baxter’s left. “My race has never been out this far, but we’ve heard about this planet in Flarn tales. It is known as one of the most inhospitable planets in the quadrant.”
“Things are looking better and better,” Conway said sarcastically.
“Uggggh.” Baxter groaned. “Will someone please give me some good news?”
“I believe I can, Captain.” Larkin said, looking at her panel. “We are picking up weak life signs emanating from the planet. Sensors cannot pick up much more than that. They seem to be coming from deep within the planet.”
“Are there any entry points that might lead there?” Baxter asked.
Larkin studied her panel. “I am not certain. Interference from a nearby pulsar is affecting sensor readings.”
“I don’t see any other choice.” Baxter said finally. “Mr. Conway, take a team down there and see if you can find those life signs. Where there’s life, there’s food and energy.”
“And death?” Ensign Ford asked helpfully from the helm.
“Shut up, Ford.” Baxter said, turning to Conway. “Well…hop to it!”
Conway seemed disgruntled. “Yes sir. Ford, J’hana, Larkin, you’re with me.”
“Here we go again.” Ford sighed, heading for the turbolift.
“You guys are going to freeze to death,” Lt. Hartley giggled from the transporter console.
“Shut up, Hartley.” Conway grumbled as he shrugged on his all weather gortex away team jacket. “These things are so fucking uncomfortable.”
“Well,” Hartley said, “I have some good news.” She looked at her panel. “It’s a cozy 60 below down there, with a wind chill factor of negative 98.”
“Wonderful,” Ford grunted, fighting with the zipper on his jacket.
“I’d bundle up if I were you,” Hartley said, still smirking.
“Wish you could be there to keep me warm.” Ford added.
J’hana rolled her eyes. “Human scum.”
“Just get on the damn transporter pad, smartaleck,” Hartley said, her smile starting to stiffen. “And have a safe trip.” Hartley added, without much concern in her voice.
Lt. Larkin was already set to go–she didn’t need an away jacket since her external dermal layers would quite adequately protect her from the extreme temperatures. “Are we ready?” Conway asked, impatiently packing away a phaser and tricorder.
“Have fun,” Hartley snickered as she targeted the controls on the transporter console.
“And don’t do anything stupid like sending us 10 klicks away from the life signs,” Conway added.
“Whoops.” Hartley said, re-entering the coordinates. “I would never think of doing such a thing.”
“Just energize, dammit.” Conway grunted.
The away team materialized on a craggy, snow covered mountainside. Lt. Larkin found herself buried up to her hips in snow. Her first observation was the vista that the mountain overlooked. The landscape was a pristine white, the sky a clear, pleasing blue. The plain of ice was completely untouched, beautiful. At least Larkin assumed it was, according to human standards of beauty.
“Okay, the sightseeing portion of our tour is over.” Conway grunted, trying to keep balance on the mountainside, which was more difficult due to the weight of his jacket.
Larkin filed her observations away in a lower priority memory block. The situation at hand was more demanding. As was Commander Conway.
“Well, Larkin, scan already!” Conway said impatiently.
Larkin pulled out her tricorder and made a sweep of the area. “This way, Commander.”
“You heard the lady,” Conway said, following Larkin as she led the way much like a hound dog leading a hunter to his quarry.
“I sure hope we meet some nice people for a change,” Ford muttered, trudging through the deep snow.
“At this point I could care less wether they are nice or not. At least if they are hostile I’ll actually get to shoot someone who is not part of the crew for a change,” J’hana replied.
Larkin led the away team almost around the entire circumference of the mountain, which the away team had aptly dubbed, “Mount Difficult.”
“We are very close,” Larkin said, stopping.
“Well, I sure as hell don’t see anything,” Conway said, surveying the landscape.
The group had reached a particularly steep part of the mountain’s incline. Ford had stopped walking and seemed intensly interested in the mountainside above them.
J’hana turned around and stared at the ensign. “Why have you stopped, ensign?”
Ford said nothing.
As J’hana approached the point where Ford was standing, her antennae picked up a faint rustling. What the hell was that?
Now J’hana could hear Ford whispering something, but even her extremely acute sense of hearing was not able to make out the words.
“What?” J’hana said, becoming annoyed.
“I said,” Ford whispered. “Avalanche.”
“What?” J’hana repeated.
“AVALANCHE!!!!” Ford yelled, looking up suddenly. “Whoops,” he said sheepishly, as the huge mass of snow moved towards them.
“How odd,” Larkin said, staring at her tricorder.
“What is it?” Conway asked.
“I am detecting a huge shift in landmass directly behind us. I am uncertain as to-“
“RUN LIKE HELL!!!” Ensign Ford shouted, running past Conway and Larkin, followed shortly by Lt. J’hana.
“Wait up!” Conway shouted, heaving his bulky mass through the snow. It was no use; the jacket was too heavy and he was almost hip-deep in snow. He didn’t know how, but somehow Ford and J’hana were able to run on top of the snow. He guessed they were being powered by pure fright. As the tons of snow dropped down on Commander Conway, he briefly wondered why he hadn’t had the same reaction.
Still running, Lt. J’hana briefly glanced back. Conway and Larkin had disappeared beneath the weight of the avalanche. Whoops. She knew this would not look good on her service record, considering that she was, after all, a security officer. She had managed to let the first and second officer die in one blow. Well, maybe they weren’t dead.
“J’hana to Aerostar!” J’hana shouted, tapping her comm badge as she ran.
“Baxter here. Tell me you have some good news.”
“Afraid not. What I have is an avalanche. I need an emergency transport right now.”
J’hana stopped to catch her breath. The ground had leveled now and the massive tundra had seemed to stop chasing them.
Several moments passed before J’hana was able to get a response. “Baxter to J’hana. Lt. Hartley is having trouble locking on to Commander Conway and Lt. Larkin.”
“That may be because they were both consumed in the avalanche.”
“Did we make it?” Ford said, approaching J’hana and collapsing from exhaustion.
“Shut up,” J’hana replied.
“Well, we can’t find them. You two get back up here before you freeze to death. We’ll have to figure out another way to get the others. There’s just too much interference from the pulsar.”
“Understood,” J’hana said, eyeing Ford distastefully. “Energize, Aerostar.”
The dreams had returned. Larkin had not thought it possible, but they had. She was in a small room. Someone was whistling. They were singing that same tune–what was it? And they were listening to music. It was nothing like what the average twenty-fourth century listener would choose. It sounded like cats being mercilessly tortured and killed. Based on that alone, Larkin was able to narrow the era of the music down to the twentieth century.
Next she heard some sort of warbling. Like quacking, but not quite quacking. Almost squawking, but not quite that either.
This was new, yet familiar. What kind of animal made that sort of noise?
“Of course,” Larkin said, opening her eyes and shooting up like a stiff board. “Penguins.”
A small band of scantily clad, spear toting, proto-homonid penguins were grouped expectantly around Lt. Larkin, watching her intently. They backed up a bit, startled by the movement.
“Greetings,” said Lt. Larkin. This was an interesting development.
“Report, Lieutenant,” Baxter said, rising up from his command chair and joining J’hana as she took her post.
“It was pretty ugly down there, Captain. Ensign Ford noticed a huge snow bank, and…well…tried to alert me to its prescence, and when I couldn’t hear, he kind of…well…screamed, ‘avalanche’.”
“That was smart. Where the heck is Ford, anyway?”
“He insisted that he report to sickbay immediately for hot tub treatment for his hypothermia.”
Baxter grimaced. “Sheesh. Lt. Tilleran, I want you to do a full scan of the planet. If you pick up what might be a trace of either Larkin or Conway, have Hartley get a lock on to their position immediately.”
“I knew you were going to say that,” Tilleran grinned from the science station.
“Just do it, you damned smug Betazoid.”
Baxter was silent a moment, trying his best not to think anything else as long as Tilleran was on the bridge. She was really acting like a-
“I am not!” Tilleran shouted.
Baxter’s face grew extremely red. “Just do the freaking scan!” he shouted, running for the sweet solitude of his readyroom.
Lt. Larkin struggled to free herself from the snow bank she had landed in. Looking around, she slowly pieced together what happened. Evidently the weight of the snow pushed her and Commander Conway through several feet of snow and a few sheets of ice. Below the ice was some kind of natural burrow hole that led straight through the rock, which they were lucky enough to slide all the way down, until they reached a vast underground cavern.
The underground world was a marvel of design. Larkin found herself surrounded by wall to wall ice. Light was coming in through the ceiling. That meant that the ceiling above them and the planet’s surface, at least at this location, was just a huge ice floe. Larkin also noticed that trees and plants seemed to poke right out of the ice. Larkin ascertained that she and Conway had unwittingly stumbled onto some kind of hidden underground civilization. And the greatest thing was, it was a civilization of penguins!
The Penguins themselves were similar in dress and appearance to ancient Earth Native Americans. They stood about seven feet tall, with smooth black and white skin and four-pronged flippers. They were wearing animal skin loincloths and toted long, pointed spears.
Larkin looked around for Commander Conway to tell him the good news. He was nowhere to be found. She quickly withdrew her tricorder and scanned. Conway was buried under several feet of snow.
Knowing she was short on time, Larkin withdrew her phaser, took careful aim, set a wide beam and began to melt the snow, thereby freeing Conway.
The snow quickly disappeared, revealing the stiff form of Commander Conway.
Meanwhile, the penguins just observed, warbling quietly amongst themselves.
Larkin studied Conway’s body with the tricorder. “He is in hypothermic shock. He must receive medical care immediately.” The android turned to the penguins that observed her. “Can you speak English? I would suppose not. At any rate, the universal translator appears unfamiliar with your basic, low level form of communication.”
The birds merely continued to warble quietly.
Larkin heaved Conway’s body up onto her shoulders. “I must see your leader.”
Larkin made a flapping motion with one free arm and approximated a squawk.
At this the birds marveled, now squawking loudly, leading the android toward what she hoped was the center of the village.
The Penguins directed Larkin toward an empty straw hut. Larkin idly wondered where on earth they would find straw underground, assuming that the penguins were in fact cut off from the surface. For that matter, how did they find food? No, they must have some other way up to the surface. One thing was for sure, Larkin couldn’t get back to the surface the way her and Conway had come, she would exhaust her phaser and Conway’s before reaching the surface again, assuming either of them could manage the steep incline of the tunnel they had traveled down.
Larkin took stock of Conway’s condition, laying him on a straw bed at the center of the hut. He did not look good. She could build a fire and warm him, but he would need medical attention within forty-eight hours if he was to live.
The android quickly set about building a fire out of spare straw from around the hut. Once she had made a bundle of it, she set the phaser for a short, powerful burst and ignited the small pile. Larkin began working on her tricorder, hoping to find a way to decode the complex language of the penguins she had met.
“Computer…replicate another deck of cards please,” Baxter said, staring at the towering house of cards he had erected on his desk with pride.
A deck of playing cards materialized in the replicator slot with a hum.
Baxter opened up the deck and sat down, trying to figure out where to place the next card. He had attempted this project when he was working in Inventory on the Secondprize, but he had never been able to get the cards placed exactly right. It was time to finally make something of himself. Lt. Baxter may not have been proficient at card stacking, but Captain Baxter sure as hell would be.
Suddenly Baxter’s door chime rang, signaling a visitor.
“Come,” Baxter said, still concentrating on his cards.
“Hey, Andy,” Counselor Peterman said, strolling in and plopping down on Baxter’s couch.
“Sshhh,” Baxter said, his brow wrinkling with concentration.
Peterman stared at the house of cards with wonder, leaning forward. “Wow. That’s quite an achievement, sir.”
“You bet it is. I’ve been working on this for quite some time now.”
“I can see that. Lt. Tilleran wanted me to tell you that she hasn’t had any luck finding Conway and Larkin. She suggests waiting until tomorrow when there will be a scanning window through the interference.”
“Very well. What time is it, anyway?”
“Man, it doesn’t seem like we’ve been waiting that long.”
“Well I for one am pretty tired. I’ve been seeing one nutball after another almost all afternoon.”
“Nutball? Is that a technical term, Counselor?”
“It is if I want it to be.”
“Touché. Listen, how about we catch an early dinner. I’m starved.”
Peterman considered that for a moment. “Sure, why not. Afterwards we could see Ensign Dawson’s flute recital.”
Baxter picked up a card. Ace of Spades. He was having a wonderful day so far. “Sure, I always have loved the flute,” Baxter lied. Oh, well, a little white lie like that wouldn’t hurt.
“Let me just put this last card on,” Baxter said, setting the Ace down on top.
“Wow,” Peterman marveled, staring at the cards. “That’s- that’s–” the Counselor’s nose wrinkled. “Um…”
“No!” Baxter cried, leaping across the room and pushing Peterman onto the couch just as she let out a gargantuan sneeze.
Peterman sniffed slightly, looking up at Baxter who had somehow ended up on top of her. “Jeeze, you could at least buy my dinner first,” she joked.
Baxter stared at the house of cards. Whew! Still in tact. What luck. Baxter stood and straightened his uniform, following Counselor Peterman out the door.
“Ugggggggg.” Commander Conway moaned, lifting his head slightly and looking around. “Where the hell am I?”
Larkin was busy on the other side of the thatched hut, working on her tricorder. “Oh, Commander. You are awake.”
“Damn right I’m awake. Would you mind telling me what happened?”
“We were caught up in an avalanche.”
“I know that much.”
“And rescued by a primitive tribal race of penguins.”
“That I didn’t know,” Conway said, rubbing his head. “So why didn’t we get beamed back to the ship?”
“I would assume that the same interference that prevented the penguins’ cave from being discovered is interfering with the transporter’s scanners.”
“That’s great. So how the heck are we going to get back to the ship?”
“A worthy question. I have not, however, come up with a solution.”
Conway sank his head back into the straw. “Well tell me when you do. And find me some tissues. I can barely breathe through my nose.”
“You may be experiencing early stage pneumonia.”
“That’s nice,” Conway said, turning over and pulling some straw over him.
Suddenly, a member of the penguin tribe stuck his head into the hut and garbled. Larkin had been left alone in the hut virtually all day, and she found it interesting that they had taken so long to pay her and Conway a visit.
“I am attempting to communicate with you, sir,” Larkin said, pointing her tricorder at the penguin and tapping several buttons.
“Honk honk honk!” the penguin said.Well, that wasn’t right.
“Baaaaahhhh!” came next. Larkin continued to adjust the tricorder.
“Hey, what are you doing?” Conway asked, lifting his head again.
Larkin didn’t take her eyes off the tricorder. “I am attempting to adjust the tricorder’s language matrix to decode the penguin’s language.”
“Bonjour, qui etes vous et ou avez vous originez?” the penguin said, flapping its flippers.
“Hmmm. That is not correct either, but much closer.”
“Ello-hay, oo-hay are-ay oo yay and ere-way id-day oo-yay ome-cay om-fray?” the penguin said, in what seemed to be pig Latin. Or maybe penguin Latin.
“I almost have it,” Larkin said triumphantly.
“Wonderful,” Conway moaned nasally.
“Hello, who are you and where did you come from?” the penguin asked, seeming to become impatient.
Larkin seemed satisfied. “Hello. I am Lieutenant Kristen Larkin of the Starship Aerostar. I come from another quadrant of the galaxy. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
The penguin suddenly dropped to its knees. “Larrin. Larrin! You have come!”
“No, sir, my name is Larkin.”
“Yes, Larrin!” the penguin said, jumping up and running out of the hut with joy, screaming “Larrin” throughout the entire village.
“It appears they have confused me with someone else.”
Conway looked over at her. “I’m happy for them. Now if you don’t find me something to blow my nose on, I’ll confuse your uniform with a tissue.”
“Of course, sir,” Larkin said, pulling the emergency tissue supply out of Conway’s away jacket.
Larkin handed the tissues to Commander Conway. “I wonder who the Penguins think I am?”
Conway blew his nose. Larkin noted that the decibel level of the nose blow was quite a bit above normal. “I dunno. I jus wanna go back to the ship and get in a warm bed. Look wat you did, Larkid, you gabe me a code!”
“As I said before, Commander, you most likely have pneumonia, which is an entirely different phenomenon than the common cold.”
Suddenly, three of the penguin people came in and grabbed Larkin, hoisting her on their shoulders and carrying her out, shouting “Larrin!”
Conway merely rolled over and sighed. “I jus wanna go hobe.”
Larkin was placed on a huge stone throne that seemed to be carved out of a rock face. She now had more of an opportunity to observe the center of the village. Small thatched huts spread out for kilometers in every direction. This civilization of penguins was quite huge.
They surrounded her throne, bowing and softly chanting, “Larrin, Larrin!”
“You obviously have me confused with someone else,” Larkin tried to explain.
“You are Larrin,” the one that had gone to her hut said. “You are Larrin. All praise Larrin!”
“No, no, no, I’m not your god. I am Lieutenant Kristen Larkin.”
If Larkin was human, she would have gotten very annoyed at that point. But, being an android, she maintained her composure.
“I must return to my ship. Can you help me?” Larkin asked one of the penguins.
“Return? But you have just arrived,” the penguin replied.
Larkin began to realize that in order to escape, she would have to play along with the penguins’ charade.
“I have come, dear friends, to wish you well,” Larkin began, effecting her best godlike voice.
The penguins dropped to their knees. One of them said, “The Great Larrin is speaking! What must we do, Great Larrin?”
“First,” Larkin said, keeping the Prime Directive in mind, “You must direct my…disciple…and I to the nearest route to the surface.”
“The surface? You mean the above-place? Why would you want to go there. It is a treacherous place, and the journey there doubly so.”
“It is a necessary rite of passage for my disciple. He must survive in the above-place in order for him to rise to his…higher consciousness.”
“I see. Well, why do we have to help you? You are Larrin– you know all. Can you not find the surface?”
“I…can…find it,” Larkin began, hoping she wasn’t affecting this society too much. “But you must prove to me that you can find it. You see, your people are being tested as well.”
“As you wish, Larrin. We shall leave in the morning, said the penguin chief.
Larkin ran into the hut to tell Commander Conway the good news.
“Commander, the penguins have agreed to show us the way out of here.”
Conway’s face had turned completely blue. It looked to Larkin as if he was getting worse. The tricorder confirmed that much.
“Dat’s good, Lieutenad. Meanwhile, I can’t breed.”
Larkin pressed a small hypospray up to Conway’s arm. “There, Commander, that should help you sleep and decrease the cloggage of your nasal membranes.”
“Thank God,” Conway groaned.
“You’re welcome,” replied Larkin. “Now get some sleep, sir.”
Early the next morning, Lt. Commander Richards stepped out onto the bridge to begin his shift. The Captain had contacted him around 0200 hours, asking him to trade bridge shifts. For some reason he was whispering. Being a good friend, Richards obliged.
“Commander,” Lt. Tilleran said from the science station.
“What is it, Tilleran?” Richards asked, glancing over Tilleran’s shoulder.
“We’re nearing a window in the pulsar interference. I am beginning to pick up a large underground cavern within the planet.”
Richards rubbed his chin. “Hmm. Is that near the region where the avalanche happened?”
“Then there’s a good chance that Commander Conway and Lt. Larkin are down there.”
“That there is, sir.”
Richards tapped his communicator. “Richards to Baxter. I have some good news.”
Captain Baxter frowned at his friend’s voice coming over the comm system, moving into his bathroom. He didn’t want to wake Counselor Peterman. After all, she was asleep on the couch. She had come back to Baxter’s quarters the before, and they had a drink. He had brought out some of the Bolian Brandy he had saved for a special occasion. And, sadly, it put her right to sleep. All things considered, though, it was still an enjoyable evening since she fell asleep against Baxter’s shoulder.
“Richards to Baxter…are you there?”
“Here. What’s up?” Baxter whispered.
“There’s going to be an opening in the scanning window soon. We have found a cavern below the planet’s surface. We might be able to find our missing people there. However, according to sensors, our transporter will not be able to get through the rock.”
“Any ideas on how to get through?”
“There is a point on the surface where the non-porous rock is fairly thin. I think we can use a tunneling phaser to get through there. We should be able to get a transporter beam through that opening.”
“Hop to it, then. Baxter out.”
Baxter returned to his couch and put his arm around Counselor Peterman, who was softly snoring.
“Thanks for the hot dog, Barney,” Peterman said, snuggling up to him, still sleeping.
Well, it wasn’t perfect, but Baxter still wouldn’t miss this for some stupid old bridge shift. This was the closest he had come to a date in quite a while.
“We are almost there,” the Penguin Chief said solemnly. The group of spear-carrying tribesman had been quiet for nearly an hour now as they made their way through the winding maze of caverns and tunnels. Larkin idly wondered why they would stay underground if they knew the way to the surface. It seemed like every time she mentioned the surface they spoke of it with awe and just a little bit of fright. She wondered why.
Larkin looked back at the sled she was tugging. Commander Conway was tied snugly to the sled and fast asleep. The hypospray had worked.
“You seem calm, Larrin, something I gather is attributable to your wisdom,” the chief said.
“Why would I not be calm?” Larkin asked.
“Well, you will be doing battle with the great Hwangar.”
Larkin stopped a moment. “Hwangar.”
“Yes, your sworn enemy on this plain and beyond. He guards the above place and insures that we are kept within your realm. He is quite powerful.”
Larkin took the chief’s comments as simple tribal superstition. Hwangar indeed.
Several minutes passed, without the chief saying another word. Conway was starting to toss a bit, but that stopped as soon as Larkin plunged another hypospray into his neck. That would keep him comfortable until they were rescued. Hopefully.
“We have reached the place of the great Hwangar,” the Chief finally said, upon reaching a five pronged fork in their path.
“It was a pleasure knowing you, chief. Which one of these tunnels leads out of here?”
“Don’t you know, Larrin?”
“Of course I know. I asked whether or not you knew.”
“The middle one, of course, great Larrin.”
“Thank you. My disciple and I must be leaving now. The rest of the journey is too…perilous for you to make with us.”
“Of course. Thank you for sparing us from encountering Hwangar. And good luck. As if you would need it. Hah.” The chief turned around and left with the rest of the penguins.
“This has been a truly enriching experience,” Larkin noted, dragging Commander Conway through the tunnel. She would miss the Penguins. They seemed almost like a family to her.
“Gellar to Transporter Room. Tunneling phaser is ready,” Lt. Gellar said, tapping a few buttons on the tactical console.
“Great,” Richards responded. “Begin firing and wish us luck.”
“You’ll need it,” Gellar mumbled.
“What was that?”
Richards closed the channel and checked his survival jacket. Yep, everything was intact.
“Lt. Tilleran, I want you to set the tricorder to scan for Larkin and Conway’s comm badges. J’hana, I want you ready with your phaser rifle as soon as we materialize, got it?”
J’hana nodded. “Thank you for adding me to the away team. I do feel partially responsible for the situation.”
“You should. Have you got the coordinates, Hartley?”
“Not yet,” Hartley said, flipping through a magazine. “Hey, what do you think about this injector coil? The new ones came out just this year. Nice, huh?” she continued, pointing to a picture in the magazine.
“Who cares. Now get the coordinates from the bridge and prepare to energize.”
“Jeez, always in a hurry. You’d think you were off trying to save someone’s life.”
“Gellar to Transporter Room. We’ve punched through the rock.”
Richards, Tilleran and J’hana took their places on the transporter pad. “Okay…energize!”
Larkin was wondering how much further the trip to the surface would be. Her tricorder apparently couldn’t penetrate the rock, and was for the most part useless. She was beginning to fear for Commander Conway’s life, as well.
Suddenly, the walls of the cave began to shake. Larkin could hear an audible hum. It was unmistakably the Aerostar’s phasers. She guessed that they had found a window in the pulsar’s interference and were using the phaser array to cut through the rock. They must be sending down an away team.
That was quite relieving. Soon they would be safe aboard the Aerostar.
“RUUUUUUUUAAAAAARRRRRRR!” Larkin suddenly heard a loud roar from farther down the twisting tunnel. That didn’t sound like a myth to her. That sounded like an extremely large, extremely angry beast.
Since fear was not part of her program, Larkin simply retrieved her holster and set it on heavy stun. That would certainly be enough to disable whatever beast lay ahead.
“What have we done to deserve Larrin’s wrath?” one of the tribesmen said, as the cave rumbled.
“This is not her wrath,” the chief replied, looking up at the surrounding cavern as it shook. “She is doing battle with Hwangar. Rejoice, as the forces of evil shrink away in fear of the great Larrin.”
The flock began to sing and cheer as they headed back to the village.
“RUAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRR!” the beast cried, leaping out of the darkness. Larkin found it fortunate that Conway was still asleep, as the sight of the great white rampaging beast would probably cause him to overreact.
Larkin unleashed her phaser on the beast, causing it to stagger back and shake its fluffy white head. It seemed to Larkin almost like a giant mutant polar bear crossed with the abominable snowman. What a curious combination.
The creature lunged forward with its fists and pounded the ground.
Larkin backed off, dragging Conway along with her.
“RUUUUUAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRR!” the beast cried out, beatting its chest with fury and giving chase.
“Wha?” Conway said, raising his head and starting to regain conciousness.
“Not now, Commander,” Larkin said, jabbing the hypospray into his arm again.
“Oh,” Conway said, once again slipping back into lazy, dream-filled sleep.
“I found them!” Lt. Tilleran shouted with glee. “Straight ahead about seventy-five meters and closing.”
Richards shivered and tried to pull his jacket closer to him. This was a remarkably beautiful underground world, but it was also colder than Breen in winter. “Wonderful. Let’s find them and get the heck out of here.”
“That’s not all, Commander,” Tilleran added. “It seems there is also a huge heat signature directly behind them. It appears to be chasing them.”
“Damn. I knew this wouldn’t be simple. J’hana, get ready with your phaser rifle and prepare to blow whatever that thing is into next week.”
“You don’t have to ask me twice,” J’hana said, charging up her phaser and digging herself in for a battle.
Richards really wished he hadn’t let Baxter talk him into changing shifts. This was really hard work.
Larkin knew there was a way out of this situation. She just couldn’t quite figure out what that was.
All she did know was that there was a huge creature chasing after her at a blinding speed, and that if she didn’t do something, both she and her commanding officer would be dead.
Suddenly there was a cry from up ahead. “Larkin, DUCK!”
That sounded like Commander Richards. What was he doing down here?
Since Richards was her superior officer above all else, she obeyed him and ducked down.
A hail of phaser fire streaked past Larkin’s head, knocking the beast off its feet.
“Lieutenant! Are you all right?” Richards asked, shouldering his phaser rifle and leaning over the android.
“I am functioning within normal parameters. However, Commander Conway is in need of serious medical attention.”
“Okay. Richards to Aerostar. Beam us directly to Sickbay.”
“Oops,” Tilleran said, looking at her tricorder.
“Oops? What do you mean ‘oops’?” Richards asked.
“It seems we have lost the scanning window. We can no longer establish contact with the Aerostar.”
“So what the hell do we do now?” J’hana asked.
“Run,” Larkin said, looking at the beast, who seemed to be stirring. “Run very fast.”
The group broke into a run, Larkin still dragging Commander Conway behind her.
“What the heck do you recommend now, Ms. Tilleran?” Richards asked, running as fast as he could.
“You’ve got me strapped.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“It means I don’t know. Now leave me alone!”
“What about you, J’hana?” Richards asked, turning to the tactical officer.
“I vote we kill it.”
“Pure genius. How?”
“Good question. Maximum stun seemed to have no effect.”
“What about kill?”
“May I remind you,” Larkin began, taking up the rear, “that this is an exotic life form indigenous to a slowly developing planet. Killing it would be extremely unethical.”
“Kill should suffice,” J’hana said.
“Good. Smoke it, J’hana!” Richards ordered.
“Like a fat cigar, sir,” J’hana said, still running, setting the phaser to its maximum setting, pointing it behind her, and thumbing the trigger.
A huge explosion ensued, throwing everyone forward and bringing the walls of the cavernous tunnel down around the huge beast.
Richards picked his head up out of the snow. “Did we make it?”
Larkin stood, looking around. “It appears we have. We are at the edge of the main concourse of the cavern, near the village. And the creature seems to have been enveloped in the avalanche.”
Richards picked himself up, helping Tilleran to her feet. “Great. Let’s get the hell out of here.”
“There is only one problem,” Larkin said, helping J’hana up and checking on Commander Conway. “By destroying that cavern we have blocked our only way out of here. I assume the tunneling phaser dug an entry point in the tunnels?”
“Well, what if it did?” Richards asked.
“Then we’re stuck,” Tilleran answered, cutting Larkin off. “There won’t be another sensor window until tomorrow.”
“Then I suggest we move to the village and wait until the sensor window reopens,” Larkin said.
“Good idea. Let’s get moving,” Richards said, really beginning to miss his warm bed on the Aerostar.
“Bridge to Captain Baxter. Are you awake, sir?”
“Huh?” Baxter said, rubbing his eyes.
“This is Lt. Gellar, sir. We’ve got a small…problem here.”
“What kind of problem?”
“The kind of problem when you lose contact with an away team.”
“Put another senior officer on it.”
“There are no more senior officers. Just you, Dr. Browning and Counselor Peterman. You want me to put one of them on it?”
“No. Definitely not. I’ll be right up. Baxter out.”
Peterman sighed in her sleep and turned over, right on top of Baxter as he lay on the couch.
“Uh. Um,” Baxter said nervously, the breath being pushed out of him. How would he get out from under her without waking her up? She looked so cute in her sleep; he hated the idea of waking her.
Baxter slowly slithered out from underneath Counselor Peterman.
The movement caused her to stir. “More fruit loops, Jimmy? Sure, I’ll take the whole damn box.”
What the heck was she dreaming about?
Larkin quietly built a fire while Commander Richards paced behind her.
“How did I get talked into this? I should be curled up in my bed dreaming right now.”
“I have heard enough of your complaining, human,” J’hana barked.
“Shut up, J’hana. I’m your superior officer and I’ll complain all I want.”
“Fine. Just do it quietly,” the Andorian growled.
Tilleran was studying her tricorder. “Hey, we’re stuck down here. We might as well enjoy it. At least we’re not dying like Commander Conway here.”
“You’ve got a point,” Richards said, almost smiling.
“I must go explain myself to the chief,” Larkin said, tucking Commander Conway’s jacket around him and standing.
“Okay, just make it quick.”
“Why have you returned, Larrin?” the chief asked from his throne, seeming confused. “Please do not tell me you were defeated by Hwangar.”
“Not at all. Hwangar has been vanquished. But along my journey, I found several of my other disciples. They…had not seen this village before and wished to do so.”
“You know you are welcome here for as long as you like.”
“That is good to know. However, we shall be leaving in the morning.”
“That is a pity. We would gain much from your wisdom.”
Larkin considered that. To lead a tribe of penguins. It seemed a good vocation.
“Well?” Richards asked, looking at Larkin as she entered the hut. Tilleran and J’hana were already curled up on the hut’s floor fast asleep.
“I have spoken with the chief. We can stay here tonight. You will be leaving in the morning.”
“What do you mean ‘you’?”
“I will be remaining here to lead the penguin tribe.”
Richards shook his head. “Are you out of your ever-loving mind?”
“I am an android. I do not have a mind to be out of. Technically, I could in fact be out of my positronic brain…”
“Whatever. Why would you stay willingly on this hellhole?”
“Frankly, Commander, I feel they need me.”
“That’s a load of crap. Just because you have a thing for penguins is no reason for you to want to live with them.”
“On the contrary, Commander. It is exactly the reason.”
“I have made up my mind sir. Any further conversation on the matter will be useless.”
“Okay, fine. I give up. I’m going to sleep,” Richards said, laying down on the pile of hay near where Tilleran and J’hana had made their beds.
Larkin, not needing sleep, decided to make herself useful. Just in case the plan to get the others out of the cavern did not work, she would have to come up with an alternate one.
The android gathered up the away team’s phasers, along with J’hana’s phaser rifle, and got to work.
Richards awoke to a huge, vicious snarl. “Stop snoring, J’hana,” he said, rolling over. It was then that a huge dollop of drool fell on him, coating his face.
“Ewwww,” he said, shooting up off the hut’s floor. That wasn’t J’hana. Richards looked up and found the source of the drool. “Oh boy.”
The huge snow monster that had chased them before had ripped off the roof of the hut and was staring down at the Aerostarpersonnel like they were a giant TV dinner.
“Uh, Larkin, your pal is back…” Richards said, but Larkin was nowhere to be found.
J’hana and Tilleran had begun to stir. “What the hell is going on?” J’hana asked. She fell silent as she looked up at the raving beast, her question answered.
“Phasers, everybody!” Richards said, diving to a defensive position on the hut’s floor. “Sir…I cannot find the phasers!” J’hana cried. No phasers. The phrase took a moment to sink in. There were no phasers. There was no Larkin. And there was a ten foot tall beast staring down at them like they were dinner. Damn. Richards then remembered that, on top of everything else, it was Tuesday. It was his laundry day, and now that whole schedule was thrown off.
Upon entering the bridge, Baxter realized that almost his entire senior staff had made their way down to that godawful planet. He was now left with Gellar, Ford and Fresca.
None of them were much help. Minor characters were such a pain.
Baxter decided to go and work on his house of cards while he brainstormed on a way to get his crewmembers. Obviously it would do well for them to be rescued before the scanning window came about; the sooner the better. But how would they do it? They had to get in the atmosphere in order to get any kind of reliable readings. And even then, the rock would be a major impediment. But maybe with some better, starship-style sensors, they would be able to pick up a way in there.
But to take the Aerostar down into the atmosphere would be way too risky. There had to be another answer. Something smaller. A shuttle…no…a runabout! That was the answer.
Baxter ran out onto the bridge. “We’re taking a runabout down there and we’re kicking that planet’s butt. I’m tired of being passive about this. We’re going to find those people.”
“Take a pill, there, Cap,” Ford said from the helm.
“Shut up, Ford. Mr. Gellar, Ensign Fresca, you’re with me.” Baxter said, heading for the turbolift.
“What about me?” Ford asked.
“You…have the bridge.” Baxter said, straining to get the words out. He regretted leaving the ship in Ford’s control, but what else could he do?
“Shuttlebay One,” Baxter said, clasping his hands behind his back as the turbolift began to descend. Baxter tapped his communicator. “Doctor Browning, meet me in Shuttlebay One. We’re rescuing Lieutenant Commander Richards and the others.”
“That’s good to hear. I didn’t even know they were lost,” came Browning’s bewildered reply.
“Haven’t you been keeping up on what’s been going on the past two days?”
“Well, of course I have. I mean, you don’t seriously think I was goofing off on the holodeck or something stupid like that this whole time, do you?”
“Of course not. Just meet us in the shuttlebay.”
“Understood. Browning out.”
“Come on, we have to get out of here!” Richards said, running towards the back of the hut, grabbing J’hana and Tilleran by their uniforms and dragging them up. He busted through the back of the hut, bringing the entire thing down.
Tilleran and J’hana were now running behind him as he made his way out of the village. “What about Commander Conway?”
Richards thought a moment. “We can’t drag him and still outrun that thing. Maybe it won’t notice him and it will chase after us instead.”
“That would be nice,” Tilleran said sarcastically.
Richards glanced back in time to see the creature begin to rifle through the contents of the ruined hut. It picked up Commander Conway’s limp body and began to inspect it. Darn. Oh, well. You can’t win them all. And where the heck was Larkin?
Larkin had spent several hours constructing her plan. She had managed to use the away team’s phasers to melt through the snow that blocked off the tunnel to the surface through which her and Conway had arrived. She then used strong plant fibers and wood from surrounding trees to make a semi-sturdy ladder for the crew to climb out on. Larkin surmised that they should be able to make it to the surface in that manner. She would help get Commander Conway up to the surface and then go back to the underground cavern and live out the rest of her days with the penguins. It was a flawless plan. Larkin took stock of her efforts. Now all she had to do was scale the steep tunnel and erect the ladder. She marveled at how well her efforts had come to fruition.
That’s when she heard the commotion in the village. She turned around to see the tribe of penguins running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Near the center of the village she could discern the ten foot tall snow beast, who seemed to be sizing up Commander Conway for snacking purposes.
Larkin broke into a run, toting the phaser rifle she had used to burrow through the tunnel along with her.
She saw Richards, J’hana, and Tilleran running toward her.
“Just where the hell have you been, Larkin?” Richards asked, irritated.
“I have been engineering an escape plan. Allow me to rescue Commander Conway,” Larkin said, then gesturing behind her. “The rest of you must go to the tunnel opening I have cleared and make your way up to the surface. It will not be easy, but it seems preferable to staying here and risking certain d-“ Before she could finish, the three crewmen broke for the tunnel. Well, no time for long good-byes. Just as well.
The runabout Wicomico descended toward the planet Crysta at a steady clip.
Captain Baxter had taken up a position behind the two pilot’s chairs, resting his hands on them, drumming the fingers of his left hand on Fresca’s headrest nervously.
“Would you please stop that, sir? You’re making me nervous,” Fresca grunted with irritation.
Gellar was at the other piloting station, handling sensors and weapons. “Sit down, spanky. You won’t accomplish anything by standing there and twiddling your thumbs. We’ve got the situation under control.”
“Don’t call me that!” Baxter shouted, moving to a seat behind Fresca.
He looked to his right, to the seat behind Gellar, where Doctor Browning sat idly playing with her terminal. “Doctor, I want you to be ready to treat severe cases of hypothermia.”
Doctor Browning shifted her eyes to him warily and patted the shoulder pack that lay next to her chair. “Do you see this, Captain? It’s my medical kit. I’m fully prepared. You don’t have to worry about–”
Baxter grabbed the pack, ripping open the front panel. He pulled out a soft, oblong yellow object. “Twinkies, Doctor? I’m sorry, I haven’t been keeping up with the latest medical texts, but last time I checked, TWINKIES WERE NOT MEDICAL EQUIPMENT!”
“It’s for sugar supplements,” Browning said indignantly, grabbing the pack and stuffing the twinky back in. “You do your job and I’ll do mine.”
“Yeah, listen to her spanky,” Gellar added.
“Are we there yet?” Baxter said, ignoring the remark.
“Almost,” Gellar said, looking at his instruments. “We should be getting a reading any minute now.”
“Good. Have the phaser modifications been made?”
“Yes sir. The runabout’s phaser array has been replaced with high power compression phaser banks. They should open up a tunnel in the surface, providing we find the right place, that is.”
“Well, Conway and Larkin had to get down there some way, right?”
“Good thinking, sizzlechest.”
“What’s with the nicknames?” Baxter shouted frantically.
“They annoy you.”
“There ya go. Now shut up so I can scan the planet.”
Baxter banged his head on his terminal. He was ready to give up.
“You must save us, Larrin. Hwangar will destroy this village!” the chief said, running up to the android.
“The matter is under control. Have your people get to a safe place. I will take care of things.”
“Thank you, Larrin. You are funky.”
Larkin cocked her head, confused at this latest adjective. The universal translator must be having more trouble with the penguin’s language than she had previously thought.
Conway was just coming to again when a tremendous feeling of vertigo overcame him. On top of that he had a huge headache and his nose was still stuffed. And the pillow Larkin had given him was extremely hard. It felt so bony…
It wasn’t a pillow. He was laying on the shoulders of some huge, white, furry beast, and it seemed to be carrying him away.
Was he delirious? He lost count of how many times Larkin had jabbed him with that damn hypospray. This was not good. At any rate, he felt like he was about to die. In short, more miserable than he had ever felt in his entire God forsaken life.
“Have no fear, Commander, I will save you,” Larkin shouted bringing her phaser rifle to bear.
Conway just held on tight, praying for the entire experience to end.
Larkin fired the phaser rifle, which merely sputtered at the beast. She surmised that she had exhausted it melting the snow. Larkin saw no alternative. She used her immense strength to uproot a tree. She would have to clobber the creature to death.
Larkin got close to the creature and smacked it from behind, knocking it off its feet. It grunted in pain. She regretted her act, remembering the speech she had given Richards about preserving life. Still, if she did nothing, Commander Conway would certainly die.
“Gurreeugrrr!” the creature cried out. “Arggggghfffffooot!” it continued.
Did she hear it say foot? Larkin pulled out her tricorder and began to play with the controls. Sure enough, the program she had used to decode the penguin language was now attempting to decode the creature’s grunts.
“Mrrrrrrryyyyyy Frrroooooot Hurrrrrrrrrz!”
Larkin continued to adjust the controls.
Commander Conway shook his head. When the monster fell back, he had been thrown several feet clear. He expected the next thing he would see was the welcome sight of Larkin clubbing the evil creature to death. Instead, she seemed to be using the laser scalpel included in her first aid kit on the beast’s foot. Well, she certainly was going about killing him the entirely wrong way, if that was her aim.
“Wad are you dooig?” Conway asked, wincing from the pain in his throat that talking caused.
“I have ascertained the creature’s problem. It has an ingrown toenail.”
“Indeed. I have since fixed the toenail. You would be surprised to learn how mild natured the creature actually is. It has told me that it only wished to have someone fix its toenail. It apologized for the mix-up it had inadvertently caused by scaring us and the rest of the penguin tribe.”
“All well ad good, but how are we goig to ged to da ship?”
“I have an escape planned. We must leave now,” Larkin said, picking up Conway’s body like a sack of old potatoes.
“He is a dreadful little man, is he not, Kristen?” the snow creature said, taking up step next to the android.
“He is human, thus his value system can be quite flawed at times.”
“Understandable. Now what can I do to help you?”
“Just make your wishes known to the penguins. Perhaps this will be the dawn of new understanding between you and them.”
“I think it shall, madam.”
“I’ve found them,” Gellar said, indicating a blinking light on his panel.
“Great,” Baxter said, sipping from his cup of hot chocolate and looking over Gellar’s shoulder. “Do we have a way in?”
“Yes, sir, but we’ll have to utilize the tunneling compression phasers.”
“That’s why we have them. Blast away.”
“Yes, sir,” Gellar said, inclining his head toward Fresca, who banked the runabout swiftly and brought it toward the surface.
Baxter steadied his mug, hoping that this would be a smooth ride.
Richards grunted as he plunged a make-shift climbing peg into the tunnel wall, mounting the inclining slope. Mountaineering had always been his worst subject at Starfleet Academy. He had made it almost half way up thus far. He stopped a moment to look back at J’hana and Tilleran. They were keeping a good pace behind him.
“Maybe we could sing a climbing song…” Richards said helpfully.
A stern look from both J’hana and Tilleran told him that would be a bad idea.
“Careful, Fresca,” Baxter said, as they descended towards the tunnel.
“Hey, I know what I’m doing.”
Suddenly, at Fresca’s command, the runabout nosed down into the hole in the ground, its phasers expanding the walls around it in order to give it more room.
Richards shuddered as he heard a thundering noise from up above him. What the heck was that?
“Accelerate our descent, Ensign Fresca,” Baxter said calmly, looking out the Wicomico’s front viewport. “Report, Mr. Gellar.”
“I can’t be sure, Captain, but it seems that our people are very close,” Gellar said, eyeing his instruments carefully.
“How close?” Baxter asked, fighting to steady himself at the angle at which the runabout was diving.
“Um…about twenty meters,” Gellar said calmly.
“What the…” Richards said, as he suddenly saw the huge runabout hurtling down toward him, its searchlights blinding him. Richards turned around on his back and prepared to slide down the tunnel’s slippery incline. “Get out of here! There’s a runabout coming this way!” he said, bracing himself as he flew down the slick surface.
J’hana and Tilleran followed suit, screaming as they flew back down toward the base of the tunnel.
They’re right ahead of us!” Baxter screamed. “We’re going to hit them! Full breaking thrusters!”
“Calm down, spanky!” Gellar said, manipulating the controls quickly.
“Breaking thrusters frozen, Captain! I can’t slow us down!” Fresca cried.
“Brace yourselves, everybody!” Baxter cried out, falling back into his chair and desparately searching for a seatbelt.
“Move, move!” Richards screamed, the friction beginning to actually burn his rear end as he flew down the length of the tunnel.
The three officers tumbled out of the tunnel, falling to the snow. Thinking fast, Richards pushed J’hana and Tilleran’s heads down into the snow and ducked, praying for dear life.
Richards felt a sudden rush of air as the huge runabout soared over him and hit the snow, still sliding, skidding along the slippery surface and fishtailing like an ‘86 firebird on a slick highway.
“Inertial dampeners failing! We’re spinning out of control!” Gellar shouted, grabbing a nearby railing for support.
“Tell me something I don’t know!” Baxter retorted.
“Okay, we’re about to hit a village!”
“Why did I have to come!” Dr. Browning shouted, digging trenches in the armrests of her chair with her fingernails.
“Get us under control, Fresca!”
“Stop telling me what to do and save us your own damn self, Captain Baxter!” Fresca responded.
“Good news, Chief,” Larkin said, approaching the penguin chief’s throne with Conway on her back and Hwangar behind her.
“You have tamed the mighty Hwangar!” the chief said incredulously.
“In a manner of speaking, yes. He wants you to know that he wishes to do his best to help your people. You must no longer fear traveling to the surface.”
“This is joyous news, indeed, Larrin,” the chief said, stepping down from his throne. “We shall all gather and celebrate this momentous occasion!” The chief began wildly ringing a bell that was next to his throne. “Come one, come all, and celebrate the dawning of a new era of peace!”
The penguins approached from all directions, first timid, then warmly welcoming the gentle snow beast.
“This is quite acceptable,” Larkin said, nodding in approval of the happy outcome of the mission. Suddenly, she heard a rumble. What was that? She suddenly detected the engine signature of a Danube-class runabout.
The runabout plowed into the village, causing penguins to part, running this way and that, as the scout ship barrelled toward the throne, and the unsuspecting chief.
The penguin chief never saw it coming. The runabout slammed into him and finally came to a stop, resting on one of the cavern walls.
The tribe just sat there in shock, staring at the wreckage, utter horror upon their faces.
The door of the runabout creaked open and Captain Baxter peaked his head out. “Hi. Sorry to disturb you guys. My name’s Captain Andy Baxter. Oh…Hi Lt. Larkin. There you are. Come on, we’re getting out of here.”
“Captain…” Larkin said, pointing below Baxter.
The Captain looked down, to see one limp flipper sticking out from underneath the runabout. He could barely hear the chief’s weak voice. “Don’t let it end this way.”
The flipper curled up as the chief let out one last dying wheeze.
“Oh. Sorry about that. Really I am. Come on, Larkin.”
“I am staying here. I belong here. I hereby resign my commission as a Starfleet officer.”
One of the other penguins approached Larkin. “Do you know this man?”
“Yes, he is my commanding off–I mean another disciple.”
“I do not believe you are Larrin. You and your friends killed our chief! Kill her!” The penguin said, sneering.
“Oh, dear,” Larkin said, as the flock began to fold in on her and the runabout.
“Dreadfully sorry about this,” the snow beast said with a look of dismay on his face.
“Do not worry about it,” Larkin replied, ducking away from the attacking flock and running for the door to the runabout, throwing Conway’s limp body inside. “Captain, I have rethought my stay here and wish to rescind my resignation.”
“Fine by me!” Baxter said, pulling Larkin inside the runabout’s cockpit and pounding the door mechanism. “Come on, Fresca, get us out of here!”
Baxter winced as he heard the sound of spears digging into the runabout’s hull. Those rabid penguins were trying to break in! What had he ever done to them? Oh, that’s right. He killed their leader. So what of it?
“Let’s bust a move, Fresca!” Baxter shouted again, underlining the urgency of their escape.
Fresca’s hands moved madly over the controls. “The systems were slightly damaged by our crash, but I think I have rerouted enough power to get us moving. Something’s not right, though.”
“I’ve got it!” Gellar said, pounding a panel with his fist. Suddenly, lights came on all over the cockpit. “That did it. Let’s get the hell out of here.”
“That would be wise,” said Larkin.
The runabout shifted in the snow bank a moment, its engines straining, then if fianlly lifted off. The Wicomico turned against the flowing tide of angry penguins. Baxter was careful not to look back. He was sure the sight of penguin guts would seriously sicken him.
Baxter sighed with relief as the runabout picked up speed and the clangs of spears began to lessen in frequency.
“We will reach the tunnel in about forty seconds,” Gellar stated calmly.
Baxter ran over to the transporter. “I don’t want to have to slow down one bit. We have to time the transport so we can beam Richardson and the others up o our way out.”
“That’s assuming we didn’t smush them too,” Fresca mumbled from the pilot’s station.
Baxter ignored her and fired up the transporter. “I’ve got ‘em. Energizing.”
Richards, Tilleran, and J’hana materialized on the transporter pad, still dusting themselves off and rubbing their sore rear ends.
“Hey baby!” Dr. Browning shouted, jumping on top of Richards and knocking him back down.
“Erg. My butt hurts,” Richards grunted, trying to lean forward against the pressing attack of Dr. Browning.
“Don’t celebrate yet,” Gellar said as the runabout came to an abrupt stop.
“What now?” Baxter said, moving to the front of the compartment. What he saw did not make him feel optimistic. There had obviously been another avalanche, one which blocked off their exit.
“I would not reccomend trying to tunnel out. We may not have time for such a maneuver,” Larkin said, looking at one of the readouts. “We are currently being pursued.”
“Well, we’ll just have to find another way out,” Baxter said resolutely, taking a chair. “Bring us around, Ensign.”
The runabout turned around slowly, and strangely enough, the field of vision in front of them was blocked by something huge and white.
“Snow bank?” Baxter asked.
“Snow monster,” Tilleran corrected.
“Outside audio speakers, Mr. Gellar,” Baxter commanded, watching for the Lieutenant’s signal. “To the huge beast off our port bow. Please don’t kill us.”
“Dreadfully sorry. It is nothing personal. My new friends just don’t like you.”
“Darn,” Baxter said, as the creature brought its huge fist down on the runabout.
The small ship hit the ground with a thud.
“Auxiliary power!” Baxter shouted, trying desperately to keep in his chair. The cabin grew dark as main power began to fail.
“This never happened to Bugs Bunny!” Dr. Browning shouted, cuddling into Richards’s lap.
“It will probably be a quick death, darling,” Richards said reassuringly.
“Come on you jerk! Is that all you can do?” J’hana cried as the runabout pitched, the beast picking up the small vessel and pitching it.
“I wish I could have gotten to know you fellows better. It is a shame to have to kill you so fast.”
“Hey, I don’t think you’re familiar with Starfleet officers. We don’t die easy, buddy!” Baxter shouted defiantly, grabbing onto a bulkhead.
“Speak for yourself!” Lt. Gellar said, crawling under the flight console and curling into a fetal position. “I’ll take a quick death please, Mr. Creature!”
“I’m sensing hostility,” Tilleran said as she clung to Fresca’s chair.
“Thank you so much for that little piece of advice!” Baxter growled, becoming more and more nauseous.
Larkin had remained quiet throughout the crisis; she was busy working at one of the engineering panels. “Tractor beam set to repulse. Activating now!”
“Good thinking, Lieu-“ Baxter said, cut off by the sudden jerk as the runabout was propelled free of the creature. Baxter thought quick, leaping over the tangle of bodies in the smoky cockpit. “Fresca, divert all power to impulse engines and engage!”
“You got it,” Fresca said, manipulating the controls as quickly as she could.
The runabout flailed around in the air a moment and finally righted itself.
“There’s only one option left for us to take,” Baxter cried. “We’ve got to ram her through the ice floe above us.”
Gellar smirked. “Hey, zippy, I’m not as dumb as you look.”
“DO IT, Fresca!” Baxter shouted.
“Okay, okay! Hold on everyone!”
Everybody clutched something solid (in Doctor Browning’s case, it was Lt. Commander Richards), and held on for dear life as the runabout made for the huge cavern’s ceiling, leaving in its wake a flock of screaming, warbling, cursing penguins and an extremely inadequate-feeling snowbeast.
The runabout smashed through the ice, rising to a height of about seventy meters, than nosing back downward.
“We’re going back in!” Richards said with fear as he looked out the window and saw the hole in the ice growing larger as they approached it.
“Not if I can help it!” Fresca said, tapping the controls. “Damn. Helm is not responding.”
Meanwhile, Commander Conway was starting to come around again. He had blacked out sometime during the period when that huge snowbeast was tossing him around and now found himself in a runabout hurtling toward a rapidly approaching hole in the ice. “Hey, guys, what’s going on?”
“Shut up!” Dr. Browning said, jabbing yet another hypospray into Conway’s arm.
“Not again…” Conway said, returning to dreamland.
“Hold on…” Richards said, reaching underneath the helm console. “…there’s the problem!” Richards pulled out a huge wad of opticable. “Try it now!”
Fresca nodded, tapping the helm panel. The runabout nosed upward, coming almost level with the planet’s surface, glancing over a snowbank, and once again becoming airborne.
Once the ship was flying level again, Baxter bent over Richards’ shoulder as he frantically worked the mess of wiring under the helm console. “Do you think we can make it back to the ship?”
Richards looked around the smoky cabin. “Just barely. Life support may start giving out relatively soon, though.”
“Good enough for me. Fresca, get us back to the ship, maximum speed.”
Baxter turned to Dr. Browning. “What about Commander Conway?”
“He’s reached the final stages of hypothermia. I need to get him to sickbay and warm him up somehow.”
“Well, will he live?”
“No, not really. He’ll be fine. But I had you going there for a minute, didn’t I?”
Baxter grimaced. “Ha ha. Stick to being a doctor…”
“I know I know, I’d make a lousy comedian.
Baxter took a moment to heave another sigh of relief as the runabout soared through the atmosphere of the dreaded planet Crysta. He silently cursed himself for ever approving an away mission to this planet. He also resolved that he would never even think of vacationing in Alaska again. Provided he ever got back to Earth.
Supplemental. The Wicomico made its way back to the ship in one piece after all, and I’m proud to say, so did all of my officers, albeit some of them a little worse for wear. Commander Conway is expected to make a full recovery in the next couple of days and has been ordered to maintain a diet of hot tea and apple juice so as to stabilize his electrolyte levels or some such thing. Anyway, he should be back to active duty soon. I’d also like to include in this log a commendation for Lieutenant Commander Christopher Richards, without whom the failed rescue that came before my successful one would never have been possible. On a personal note, I’d like to thank him for taking over my bridge shift. I owe him big. I promised him he that I would do anything he wanted in return.
“What do you call this place again?” Dr. Browning asked, around the strikingly bizarre environment Richards had cooked up on the holodeck.
“It’s called ‘Dunkin Donuts.’ I have a whole range of restaurants programmed in the holodeck for our dates. Each one more bizarre and surprising.”
Browning leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “That’s so sweet.”
“Anything for you, my little crueller,” Richards said, inwardly cursing himself for using such obscenely cute dialog. Oh, well, Dr. Browning seemed to like it. “How’s that donut?”
“Very interesting. The recipe’s a little different from the one’s I’ve tasted before. Double chocolate was definitely an excellent choice.”
A few moments of silence followed. “So all we do is sit here?” Browning asked.
“On the contrary. Watch this.” Richards turned around in his chair and flung a donut at a nearby window.
“Hey! Stop throwing food, fool!” the waitress called out, running over with a mop.
Browning observed this with amusement. “You throw food around and make the waitress clean it up.”
“And that’s fun?”
Browning smiled. “Then by all means, pass the chocolate frosted!”
Dr. Browning grabbed a donut for each hand, hurling one and stuffing the other in her mouth. “Hey,” she said through a mouthful of donut, “weren’t you supposed to work tonight?”
Richards leaned back and smiled. “That’s all been taken care of, hon.”
“I hate engineering duty,” Captain Baxter murmurred, leaning over the guardrail that surrounded the warp core and considering the idea of jumping. “This is so boring.”
Just then, Baxter felt someone tap him on the shoulder. “Hey, Andy, I’ve been looking all over for you.”
It was Counselor Peterman.
“Kelly! I’ve been looking forward to…that is…you know, I uh…”
“Yeah, I know. Hey, thanks for letting me stay in your quarters. You know, some people may have gotten the wrong idea about me spending the night over there. Some people might have even taken advantage of me in my semi-drunken state.”
“Hah. No, nope, uh-uh, not me!” Baxter smiled.
At that moment, Ensign Stuart walked by and patted Baxter on the back. “Good going there, ‘Andy the Annihilator’! Errrr!”
Baxter grimaced as Stuart walked off and called after him. “Hey, why don’t you make yourself useful and patch up a power conduit or something.”
“Jeeze, what was that all about?” Peterman asked.
“Oh, nothing. Hey, I have an idea. Why don’t we go grab a nightcap at Mirk’s. I’m exhausted, and besides, I don’t have to do this. I’m the freaking captain for Pete’s sake.”
“Okay, after you,” Peterman said, extending her arm. Baxter took it, flashing Peterman a debonair smile.
“Yeah, dilithium crystal repairs can be put off until tomorrow.”
With that, Baxter led Peterman to the nearest turbolift and disappeared behind its doors.
Evidently, the dilithium maintenance was not a chore that should have been put off, as alarms began to ring loudly and crewman rushed all over the place, frantically working to avoid a warp core breach.
Ensign Stuart quickly patched the dilithium fracture, thus avoiding the feared breach. Unfortunately, the warp core breach of love that was currently taking place in Captain Baxter’s heart could not be so easily stopped.
NEXT ON STAR TRAKS: THE VEXED GENERATION
In an attempt to reach the Alpha Quadrant, Captain Baxter’s conciousness is lost. And as the crew begins to try and figure out how to operate a ship whose captain is a braindead vegetable, Captain Baxter wakes up on Earth, in the body of Commander Travis Dillon.