Author: Anthony Butler
Stardate 51465.4. Stellar cartography reports that a small planet has been discovered on our route through uncharted space. It reads Class-M and is most probably be inhabited. We have changed course for this planet with high hopes that it may offer us the help in getting home that we so desperately need.
Most of the bridge crew nervously drummed their fingers as the Aerostar streaked through space at warp eight en route to the mysterious planet, one that Mirk swore up and down shouldn’t be there, at least as far as he knew.
Captain Baxter paced at the front of the bridge nervously, hands clasped behind his back. “Are we within hailing range yet?” he asked impatiently.
“In two minutes,” J’hana announced from tactical.
Commander Conway leaned forward in his chair, a cup of coffee cradled in his shaking hands. “This better be the break we’ve been waiting for, Captain. If we don’t get home soon, I’ll go mad.”
“You and me both, Commander,” Baxter said, sitting down and trying to seem his most professional. “At least you don’t have the responsibility of talking to whoever these people are, providing they have communication technology.”
“Or providing they actually exist at all,” Lt. Tilleran said from the science console.
Baxter turned back to the Lieutenant. “A little optimism, please!”
“We are now within hailing range,” J’hana announced.
“Gee, do you think we should hail them?” Conway asked sarcastically.
“Just do it, for Pete’s sake,” Baxter muttered, sitting up straight in his chair and straightening his uniform.
“Open,” J’hana said curtly. She obviously wasn’t thrilled with Conway or Baxter’s tone.
“This is Captain Andy Baxter of the Starship Aer-“
Suddenly the screen was filled with what looked like a cross between one of the keebler elves and the Klingon demon Fek’lar.
“Grinat. Boklo…mopeta,” the little creature spat.
“What the heck?” Conway muttered.
“Hi, this is Capt-“ Baxter tried again.
“Shomooowinga….dorooodi, mopusha!” The being cried. He seemed to be getting slightly annoyed.
“Larkin…what does the universal translator make of this?” Baxter asked.
“Uncertain, Captain. The translator seems to be having difficulty deciphering this particular species’ dialect.”
“Just great. So we finally find someone out here, and they just happen to be the only race in the entire universe next to the Tamarians and those penguins that can’t speak Federation Standard,” Conway muttered.
“Essentially, sir,” Larkin replied.
“Sheesh,” Baxter sighed. “This bites.”
“Sheesh! Yaka, sheesh maree, la coda moshi!” The little man’s demeanor seemed to improve.
“What did I say?” Baxter asked.
“Obviously you have pleased him, Captain. Perhaps some of our words are homophonically similar to theirs.”
“Does this help?” Baxter asked.
“Well, I certainly hope we can meet. It seems a fair arrangement,” this response took the entire bridge crew by surprise.
“That is odd,” Larkin said, looking at her panel. “Evidently the universal translator has succeeded in decoding this species’ language.”
“Great,” Baxter said, smiling and standing up. “Hello, my name is Captain Andy-“
“I know, I know. Captain Andy Baxter of the Starship Aerostar. Please don’t repeat yourself.”
“Yes, I know, you’ve been out here for months without finding anything and you’re glad to have finally met up with us.”
“Well-“ Baxter said.
“And you wish to confer with us to see if perhaps we had something to offer you in trade?”
“Perhaps we-“ Baxter continued.
“We will consent to a rendezvous at my position, where we will offer you a technology capable of unlocking the secrets of the human brain or the secrets of space and time itself, in return for a few paltry commodities. Does this seem fair?”
“Excellent. We will speak again when you reach the planet. With you and you only. Is this understood? We find dealing with toadies distasteful, as distasteful as we find your…intercourse.”
“How does he know anything about that?” mused Conway.
“Thank you for-“ Baxter responded.
“You’re welcome. Berengatti out.”
The bridge crew sat there, stunned for a moment.
“Was that his name or the name of the planet?” Ensign Ford asked from the helm.
“Good question,” Baxter asked, rubbing his eyes. “Well, I think I did pretty darn well for my first negotiation. I’ll be in my readyroom if somebody needs me.”
Conway seemed speechless for a moment. “We’re either the smartest bunch of morons in the galaxy or the luckiest.”
“Is there a third choice?” Ford asked.
Doctor Phillip Kerridan closed the panel on the huge metal cube that he and Lieutenant Larkin had been working on for the last three months. It was almost ready for a second test attempt. Providing Captain Baxter did not mess things up again. He was becoming a nuisance to Kerridan, and Kerridan didn’t like nuisances, especially when they bore captain’s pips.
“Clean up this work area, Atkinson, and have Lieutenant Larkin and Lieutenant Tilleran report down here as soon as possible.”
Lieutenant Junior Grade Doug Atkinson nodded. “Yes, sir. Do you think this will work?”
“Indubitably. Now get moving. I have to think,” Kerridan said tiredly, retiring to the small office to the rear of the lab.
“The way I see it, Captain, I was well within my rights to knee Lieutenant Elton in the crotch,” Counselor Kelly Peterman said defiantly, stretched out on Baxter’s couch.
Baxter just propped his elbows on his desk and cradled his head in his hands. “Your howler monkey did try to scratch his eyes out, you know. Doctor Browning was barely able to save his vision.”
“So, that was no excuse for him to toss poor Raphael across the room,” Peterman moaned.
“Perhaps not, but still…”
“And Lieutenant J’hana twisted my arm when she dragged me to her office. No doubt she got all sorts of pleasure from doing that.”
“But Kelly, you assaulted a fellow officer…during a counseling session…while he was trying to explain to you his fear of small animals, after your pet monkey tried to blind him for life…don’t you see something…extremely wrong with that?”
“The way I see it, he got what was coming to him.”
“Listen, I don’t know how much longer I can–” Baxter said as he was cut off by the chirp of his communicator.
“Larkin to Baxter. Please report to science lab four. I believe the Subneutrino Neural Transmitter is ready for a trial run.”
“The brain wave transmitter.”
“The device we are going to use to contact the Alpha Quadrant.”
“Oh. That. Fantastic, I’ve got to see this,” Baxter said, standing up and walking around his desk.
“But what about me?” Peterman asked, frowning. “You’re not going to fire me, are you?”
“Fire you? Of course not. What would I do with you? A demerit will appear on your permanent record and you’ll be ineligible to participate in the crew’s touch football competition in the spring.”
“Darn. And I was really looking forward to that,” Peterman moaned.
“You should have thought about that before you cracked Mr. Elton’s jewels.” Baxter chuckled as he ducked out of the readyroom.
“Time to Berengatti?” he asked, strolling across the bridge to the turbolift.
“Twenty-two minutes,” replied Ford.
“Why so long?” Baxter asked, pressing the turbolift button.
“Commander Richards called up here a few minutes ago and asked that we reduce our speed to impulse while he does some diagnostics on the reaction chamber,” Commander Conway said.
“Why did he have to do that right now?” Baxter asked in annoyance as the doors opened.
“Don’t ask me. It was on the schedule.”
“Well, tell him to hurry up and finish the diagnostic. The sooner we get to this planet the better.”
“Okay, activate the main power coupling,” Lieutenant Tilleran said, glancing at a tricorder.
“Power is on,” Lieutenant Atkinson said, kneeling next to the cube, which now lit up with many multicolored lights and thrummed quietly.
“No surges so far–the system is stable,” Tilleran reported, checking her tricorder. “As a matter of fact, the power efficiency is incredible. It’s operating at ninety-eight percent.”
“As we expected, Lieutenant,” Larkin stated.
“It had to be efficient,in order to broadcast neural energy over seventy thousand light years,” Kerridan added.
“What’s up?” Captain Baxter asked, strolling into the lab.
Kerridan narrowed his eyes, just barely showing his resentment for the Captain.
“Good news, Captain. The transmitter is functioning,” Lt. Tilleran said. “Now all we need to do is test it out.”
Kerridan looked Baxter up and down. “Yes. We need to find a subject to test it on.”
Baxter looked confused. “I thought we were going to use Commander Dillon?”
Kerridan grumbled impatiently. “Yes, we are. But we need someone on this end to transmit the neural signal to Commander Dillon.”
“Who did you have in mind?” Baxter asked, looking around the room at Larkin, Kerridan, Tilleran, and the two crewmembers that were helping with the project.
“Hmmm…” Kerridan said, narrowing his eyes. “I was thinking you might like to do the honors.”
Baxter stepped back. “Me?”
“It would not be wise to put the Captain at risk,” Larkin finally said. “I would volunteer, if I had any neural waves to transmit.”
Kerridan seemed mildly shocked. “Are you saying that one life is worth any more than another? Surely any real Captain would immediately volunteer for a chance such as this. A chance to be the first person to send the proverbial ‘message in the bottle’ to shore?”
“You’re way out of line, Kerridan,” Baxter grunted.
“Am I?” he looked at the others in the room. “Or am I just being reasonable?”
No one noticed Lieutenant Tilleran briefly clutch at her forehead. “Not again.” She said quietly to herself. Another annoying migraine. The third in three months. Tilleran winced slightly in pain as Baxter and Kerridan continued to argue.
“Are you calling me chicken, Doctor?” Baxter asked angrily.
“You said it, not me.” Kerridan smiled.
“We’ll see who’s chicken you son of a bitch,” Baxter barked. “Get this contraption going, Larkin. We’re doing it.”
“Are you sure this is a good idea, Captain?” Larkin asked.
“No. Just do it. I’ll prove Doctor Smartypants here wrong if it’s the last thing I ever do.”
“Let’s hope it is,” Kerridan said under his breath as Larkin prepared Baxter to use the transmitter.
“The helmet itches a little,” Baxter noted as Larkin adjusted the chin strap.
“I apologize, Captain. This system is what humans might refer to as ‘jury rigged.’”
“No kidding.” Baxter sat in a nearby chair as Lieutenant Atkinson plugged his helmet into the large, pulsating cube.
“Now if you feel any discomfort, Captain, press this control, and the system will immediately shut down. Do not fear, Doctor Kerridan will be monitoring your vital signs every step of the way,” Larkin continued as Baxter was plugged into the machine.
“Why don’t I find that comforting?” Baxter asked, watching the smiling visage of Doctor Kerridan as he adjusted the tricorder.
“Don’t worry, Captain. Everything will be fine,” Kerridan said resolutely. “Hit the switch, Atkinson.”
Lieutenant Atkinson pressed a button on the cube and the thrumming began to increase in loudness.
The lights in the lab flickered slightly as power began to surge through the cube, right along the cord, and directly into Captain Baxter’s head.
“Wow,” Lt. Tilleran said, looking at her tricorder. “His cerebral cortex is absorbing energy exponentially.”
Baxter’s eyes opened wide and his body jerked violently as the energy surged into him.
“Richards to lab four. What the hell are you doing?”
“Stand by, Commander, we are performing a crucial experiment,” Larkin said, watching the readings on the lab wall carefully.
“Well, whatever you’re doing is drawing a hell of a lot of power form the ship’s engines.”
“She said to stand by!” Kerridan shouted, watching with wonder as the machine thrummed.
“But nothing!” Kerridan said, stabbing a control on the lab wall that shut off the comm system. Nothing must interfere with this project.
“I don’t like this guy,” Tilleran whispered to Larkin.
“He seems an adequate crewmember to me, Lieutenant,” Larkin replied quietly.
“Jeeze, if you say so,” Tilleran replied.
“His vital signs are stable,” Kerridan said, darting his eyes over to Larkin and Tilleran. He noticed them whispering. “If you don’t count the doubled blood pressure and brain activity.”
Baxter suddenly fell limp and closed his eyes.
“He is still conscious…barely,” Kerridan said, looking from his tricorder to the Captain.
“Can you hear me, Captain?” Larkin asked.
“Yes, I can,” Baxter said, his eyes still closed. “What do you want?”
“Tell me what you see, Captain,” Kerridan asked.
“I see…space. Yeah. I’m definitely in space,” Baxter replied.
Tilleran clutched at her head. “His mind is divided. It’s as if he’s in two places at once.”
“Fascinating,” Larkin commented.
“You’re looking for Commander Travis Dillon. Can you find him?”
“I see an Excelsior-class ship. It’s the Secondprize,” Baxter mumbled offhandedly.
“Wonderful. Is Commander Dillon aboard?” Kerridan asked, moving toward Baxter excitedly.
“No. He’s on the planet below,” Baxter announced.
“Great! What planet is he on?”
“Yes…yes?” Kerridan asked excitedly.
“Home,” Baxter said, smiling. His eyes were still closed, but it looked as if Baxter was seeing the most beautiful thing in the world.
“He’s on Earth!” Baxter shouted, now extremely excited. “I see Earth!”
“Incredible,” Tilleran gasped.
“Then go to him. Go to Commander Dillon!”
“I can’t…too far…” Baxter said, becoming upset.
“He can’t take much more of this, Kerridan!” Tilleran said, becoming worried.
“Boost the gain on the transmitter,” Kerridan said to Lieutenant Atkinson.
“Are you crazy?” Tilleran asked. “You could fry his brain–or worse–kill him!”
“Do it, Atkinson,” Kerridan ordered. “It could be our only way home.”
“I hope you know what you’re doing, Kerridan,” Tilleran replied.
Larkin had been silent all this time. “We must be careful. By running this much extra power through the navigational deflector, we may be in danger of overloading the–”
Suddenly sparks began to spray out of the cube as the lights flickered again and went out.
”–main power grid,” Larkin continued.
Alarms went off all over the Aerostar as main power went out, causing gravity, life support, and other main systems to go offline.
“What the hell is happening?” Commander Conway shouted over the din of alarms as the bridge crew struggled to stay at their stations.
“Main power is offline. We’re having trouble switching over to secondary!” Ensign Fresca said from ops.
Conway suddenly lost his grip on the command chair and spiraled through the air, completely weightless.
“This isn’t very damn funny!” Conway shouted, just before he hit a bulkhead.
“Shunt power to secondary systems!” Richards cried as his crew scrambled throughout engineering, tumbling through the gravity-less air.
“The circuits are fried, sir!” Ensign Paul Sanchez said. “It’s almost like the time when-“
“Shut up, Sanchez, and switch to the manual override!”
“Engage emergency battery power!” Richards said, grabbing for the main status console, just as a dull red light flickered on and panels throughout engineering flickered on.
Richards hit the ground roughly, about half a second before several tools that were floating over him did.
The engineer tried to deflect the tools that flew at his face as Sanchez leaned over him. “Emergency battery power has been established.”
The group in lab four sighed with relief as the red emergency lights came on.
“Power’s back on!” Tilleran said, looking around the room.
“You’re kidding. I never would have guessed,” Kerridan said, pulling himself up off the ground. He had bumped into Lieutenant Atkinson and Ensign Taylor when gravity was lost and then into Larkin, finally landing on the deck rather painfully.
Lt. Tilleran rubbed her side, standing up. “What about the Captain?”
Tilleran, Larkin and Kerridan slowly turned to look at the smoking mess the cube had become. Next to it, Baxter lay sprawled on the ground, about three feet from the helmet, which must have come off when gravity was lost.
“Oh, boy,” Tilleran said with worry.
“What?” Kerridan asked.
Larkin picked a tricorder up off the deck and stared at it.
“He’s not there,” Tilleran said. “I can’t sense anything.”
“The Lieutenant is right, in a sense,” agreed Larkin. “Captain Baxter is brain dead.”
“Gee, I can’t tell a difference,” Ensign Taylor whispered, nudging Lt. Atkinson and laughing.
“Conway to lab four. What the heck happened? And where’s Captain Baxter? We’re almost at Berengatti.”
“We’ll get back to you, Commander,” Tilleran said, staring down at Baxter’s limp body.
Captain Baxter cried out in pain as the energy flooded his brain, until finally, mercifully, it stopped. He had heard voices–many voices–shouting at him. Telling him to find someone. Find Dillon. Why was he supposed to find Travis Dillon? What did they need with him? Who where ‘they’ anyway?
Baxter opened his eyes, hoping to find an answer to one or more of those questions, but found himself in bed, in a dark room.
Baxter inwardly sighed with relief. It was all a bad dream. He was back in bed in his quarters on the Aerostar.
“Computer…lights,” Baxter said. He sat up, waiting for the lights to come on. It took him a few minutes to realize that the voice that had said that…it wasn’t his voice. But he had said it. Baxter was quickly becoming confused.
Suddenly a hand grabbed his shoulder. “Travis…relax. You’re not on the Secondprize. You’re on Earth. Remember? You were just having a bad dream.”
“Huh?” Commander Travis Dillon asked, turning to face Lieutenant Patricia Hawkins. “What are you talking about?”
“You were saying something in your sleep. ‘Find Dillon,’ ‘I’m in space’. Stuff like that.”
“Weird,” Dillon replied, laying back down. “I don’t remember having a dream like that. I just feel really confused.”
“Just go back to sleep, honey,” Hawkins said, putting her arm around Dillon. “Things will look better in the morning.”
Commander Conway banged his head repeatedly on the conference room table. Normal lighting had been re-established along with the rest of the main power grid, although some of the subsystems were still being repaired.
“It’s not as bad as it seems, Commander,” Kerridan said from the other end of the conference table. “Baxter did prove that we could reach the Alpha quadrant with brain waves.”
“Brain waves? I’ll show you what you can do with your brain waves!” J’hana cried, leaping across the table at Kerridan.
Larkin was quick to push her back into her seat. “There is no use for violence now. What is done is done.”
“We are royally screwed,” Ensign Ford added from his seat.
“Yeah, we need Baxter to negotiate with these Berengatti people,” Conway muttered. “Without him, we can’t get the technology that might get us home.”
Peterman had been sobbing this whole time, and finally spoke up. “Don’t any of you care? Andy’s DEAD!”
Dr. Browning put a hand on Peterman’s arm. “That’s not true, Kelly. His body’s still here. His brain is just gone.”
Peterman just sobbed harder. “Thanks a freaking lot.”
“Does anyone have any ideas on how to get him back?” Commander Conway asked.
“Actually,” Tilleran spoke up. “Yes. We can repair the transmitter and I can retrieve Captain Baxter’s consciousness.”
“Are you sure about this?” Larkin asked.
“Pretty sure. I believe we can split the signal into two signals. Like splicing a wire.”
“No, it’s too risky,” Kerridan said. “Any attempt to rescue Captain Baxter could result in further loss of life.”
Peterman rubbed her eyes and looked up. “You sure seem like you’re in a hurry to leave the Captain for dead.”
“I don’t see that we have much of a choice. Would you like the same thing to happen to Lt. Tilleran?”
“No…but…” Peterman said softly.
“I didn’t think so.”
“Kerridan’s right, unfortunately,” Conway said. “I’m not going to risk anyone else on that contraption until we can get the bugs worked out. Maybe you have some ideas, Commander Richards?”
Richards turned his chair toward Conway. All this time he had been staring out the conference lounge’s windows. “Darn right I have some ideas. First of all we fire this Kerridan guy out a torpedo tube. Then we repair that thing and get the Captain back. It wouldn’t have caused that power surge if I hadn’t been doing an engine diagnostic. Someone should have told me about the experiment.”
“I take full responsibility for that,” Larkin said. “It was an oversight on the part of Doctor Kerridan and myself.”
“Well, in any case, we need to see if the Berengatti will settle for me as an arbitrator. I’d hate to lose this chance because of some people’s…” Conway said, turning to face Kerridan. “Incompetence.”
“Commander, I…” Kerridan said.
“If that’s all, you’re all dismissed,” Conway said, standing up and heading for the bridge.
Doctor Browning walked over to Commander Richards’ chair and put a hand on his shoulder as everyone else but Peterman filed out. “I know he was a good friend of yours, Chris. Maybe you should talk to Counselor…”
As if on cue, Peterman lay her head on the conference table and let out a huge sob.
Commander Dillon grunted as he sat up in bed. “Boy, that was one weird dream.”
“Morning, Travis,” Patricia Hawkins said, walking into the bedroom. She had just finished dressing and was busy affixing an earring to one of her ears. “So you remember your dream?”
Dillon scratched his head. “Kind of. I dreamt I was…on the Aerostar.”
“You know, the ship that was sent to explore the Bermuda Expanse a few months back? We haven’t heard from them since then and three of our crewmembers were aboard.”
“Oh, that Aerostar. You’re still thinking about that?” Hawkins knelt down on the bed beside Dillon and put her arms around him. “There’s nothing you can do for them, honey.”
“Are you sure?” Dillon asked, standing up and heading for the shower.
“Positive,” Hawkins said, walking over to her suitcase and trying to find her other earring.
Dillon walked into the bathroom and turned on the shower. He and Patricia had spoiled themselves by staying at the Federation Plaza, just outside of downtown San Francisco. Sure it had cost a few more credits, but it had real showers and beds with sleep induction fields, and a fully equipped antigrav tennis court.
“So do you still want to go to the museum today?” Hawkins asked, digging though her case.
“I guess,” Dillon said, turning to the mirror that was above the bathroom sink. “You need a shave, Travis.” Suddenly something clicked inside Travis Dillon’s brain. Well, maybe snapped is a better word.
“What the hell?” he suddenly shouted.
“Travis?” came Hawkins’ voice from the bedroom.
“Be calm, Andy, just be calm. There’s got to be a logical reason for this. What are you doing here? Who are you? Who am I? What are we doing?” Dillon shouted, running out of the bathroom in nothing but a towel, barreling through the bedroom, careening into the living room and tumbling out the door of the hotel room and out into the corridor of the sixty-seventh floor of the Federation Plaza.
“Where am I? Who am I? Why are we here?” Dillon screamed, running down the hall.
Hawkins chased after him, pulling her high heels off one by one. “Get back here Travis! What the hell has gotten into you?”
Dillon headed straight for the sixty-seventh floor terrace, overlooking the vast and spacious courtyard of the Federation Plaza, hitting the guardrail, flipping over it and tumbling through the air like a spastic acrobat with an inner ear imbalance.
Hawkins hit the guardrail and stopped, watching as her boyfriend plummeted towards the Earth below.
“Hold on, Travis!” she screamed, running back into the corridor and slamming her hand down on one of the comm panels. “Main desk! This is room Patricia Hawkins, room 6720. My boyfriend just took a nose-dive off of the sixty-seventh floor terrace!”
“This is the main desk. Please hold.” Suddenly Hawkins was treated to a sweetly rendered muzak version of The Talking Heads’ “Wild, Wild Life.”
“Arrrggh!” Hawkins cried, smashing her fist into the comm panel.
“Ahem,” a male voice suddenly said from the direction of the terrace. “Do you know this man?”
Hawkins turned to see a man in a custodial uniform, approximately seventy-five years of age and short in stature, with Commander Dillon draped over his shoulder. He was standing on the opposite side of the guardrail. “There I was, washing the windows, minding my business, when all of a sudden this lunatic falls on top of me. Damn lucky, he was. You’re on the sixty-seventh floor, ya know.”
The man heaved Dillon over the guard railing and onto the terrace, sighing. “Sheesh, these Starfleet types are all the same. Put ‘em in a sane civilian environment and they go loony.”
“Thanks for your help, Mister…” Hawkins said, lugging Dillon over her shoulder.
“Boothby. Frank Boothby. Come from a long line of senile old custodians, I do. Maybe you know my brother?”
Hawkins didn’t reply; she had already lugged Dillon half way to the hotel room by then.
“Damn starfleet types,” Boothby cursed, hitting the control that sent his hovering window-washing platform back downward.
“Brzzzzt…this is the front desk. How may we help you?” The partially functioning comm panel fizzled.
“How is he?” Peterman sniffed, looking down at Captain Baxter’s still form.
“Exactly the same, I’m afraid,” Doctor Browning said, nibbling on a bagel. “We have him on total life support. The only thing that’s keeping him breathing and keeping his heart beating is the computer. I’m afraid we can’t do anything for him until we get his nuts and bolts back.”
Peterman frowned and knelt down by the Captain’s side, leaning her head against the biobed. “Jeez, Andy, I’m sorry I yelled at you so much. I should have said something sooner–”
“He’s not in a coma, Kelly. There’s no chance he will hear you,” Browning said, patting Peterman on the back. “Now come on, you have to carry on with your job.”
“No buts. Kerridan, Richards, Larkin, and Tilleran are trying their hardest to get that cube functioning again. They’ll get the Captain’s brainwaves back. Don’t you even worry about that.”
Peterman sniffled slightly and rubbed her nose. “I guess you’re right. I just feel so helpless. I can’t help but wonder what’s happening to the Captain right now.”
“I’m sure he’s fine. He’s probably just floating around in some sort of neurological limbo.”
Peterman stood up and looked down at Baxter’s still form once again. “I sure hope you’re right.”
“What do you have to say for yourself, Travis? Are you crazy?” Lt. Hawkins asked, extremely perturbed.
Dillon rubbed his eyes and sat up. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, Patricia. It’s like there’s someone else floating around in my brain.”
“Yeah, right,” Hawkins said. “You’re just overworked. Which is exactly why Counselor Webber asked you to take this vacation in the first place.”
“I know, I know,” Dillon said. “I guess I’m just letting my imagination get the better of me.”
Hawkins smiled. “There you go. Now why don’t you go back into the bathroom and take a nice, warm bath. And I’ll have room service send us up a wonderful breakfast.”
“Gee, that sounds nice,” Dillon smiled, getting up from the bed and strolling over to the bathroom.
Once Dillon had disappeared behind the bathroom door, Hawkins sighed. “What’s gotten into him?”
Dillon settled into the warm bathtub and sighed with relief. Maybe he had been working too hard the past few months. This was the exact reason that he had been forced to take his leave while the Secondprize was on detached duty in the Terran system. Patricia was right, he just needed to relax.
Baxter settled into the warm bathtub an sighed with relief. Maybe this had just been a terrible dream. He had been under a lot of stress in the past few months, and he had probably just been working so hard he had hallucinated the entire bit about being in someone else’s body. It was almost laughable. Commander Dillon indeed!
Suddenly Dillon shot up in the bathtub. Commander Dillon indeed? Who was thinking that? Not him, that was for sure.
“Who’s there?” Dillon called out.
“Me,” Dillon responded.
“What?” Dillon asked himself.
“I said I’m right here, are you deaf?”
“This is confusing,” Dillon replied, scratching his head.
“That freaking prick. He did this to me. That has to be the explanation,” Dillon said, pounding the side of the tub in anger.
“Who?” Dillon asked, bewildered.
“Commander Dillon?” Dillon asked himself. “Is this really you?”
“Last time I checked,” Dillon replied sheepishly.
“Damn. I guess it worked.”
“What worked?” Dillon asked with exasperation.
“The experiment. A scientist on my ship, along with Lt. Larkin, was working on a device that would transmit a neurological signal to the opposite side of the galaxy, in hopes that someone would know we were out here.”
“And who the heck is ‘we’?”
“The crew of the Aerostar.”
“And that would make you…”
“Captain Baxter,” Dillon said, getting tired of explaining the situation. “My guess is something went incredibly wrong.”
“Evidently the transmitter malfunctioned and my consciousness somehow got trapped inside your head.”
“Because you were the logical choice, according to Larkin.”
“If I ever see that android again, I’ll…”
“Shut up, Commander. We have to figure out a way to get me back into my body. And soon. My ship may depend on it.”
“The sooner the better.”
“Tell me about it. It’s really damp and quiet and lonely in here.”
Dillon grimaced at this. “Shut up. I sure as hell didn’t ask for you to get in my head.”
Hawkins suddenly stuck her head in the door. “Breakfast is here, Travis. Who were you talking to?”
“Mind your own business, Lieutenant; me and the Commander here have some discussing to do,” Dillon replied.
“Shut up, Baxter,” Dillon said.
Hawkins marched into the room. “Who the hell do you think you’re talking to?”
“It’s a long story, Patricia.”
“One we don’t have time to tell. Now…” Dillon said, pulling himself out of the tub. “We have to contact the Secondprize. Captain Rydell and Lieutenant Commander Jaroch will know what to do.”
“About what?” Hawkins asked, her head spinning with confusion as Dillon marched out of the bathroom, and grabbed a towel.
“He’ll tell you later,” Dillon shouted from the bathroom.
“You’ve really gone off the deep end, Travis,” Hawkins sighed, following him out of the bathroom.
“Tell HIM that, sweetie,” Dillon said, drying off and pulling on his uniform. “Could you please let me control my own body?”
“If you’d hurry…time is of the essence.”
“I realize that, but I’m fully capable of dressing myself!”
Hawkins watched with wonder as Dillon tried to pull his uniform shirt on, pulling at it and jerking at it, while hopping around the room with his pants hanging around his knees.
“Stop doing that! You’re messing us up.”
“Just let me have that…”
Dillon seemed to be having a heated debate with himself.
Hawkins had finally had enough. She grabbed Dillon by the front of his shirt and threw him up against the wall. “What…the…hell… is…going…on?” she grunted.
“I’m sharing my brain with Captain Andy Baxter of the Starship Aerostar,” Dillon said.
“At your service,” Dillon said.
“I don’t believe it.” Hawkins let Dillon go.
“Have I ever lied to you before?” Dillon asked.
“Okay, she understands. Now finish getting dressed. This is no freaking picnic for me, you know.”
“Well, it’s not for me either, now just hold your horses while I zip–”
“Arrrrrrrggggggggghhhhh!” Hawkins yelled. “Why are you doing this?”
“It’s an urgent matter of Starfleet security!” Dillon said.
“Starfleet security my butt! You just want to get back home.”
“Well, I guess.”
“STOP IT!” Hawkins cried. “You are one person. ONE PERSON! You’re talking to YOURSELF. Now stop it before I have you committed.”
Dillon crossed the room and embraced Hawkins, who was now shaking with anger. “I’m sorry honey, I promise I’ll try and have this straightened out as soon as possible.”
“This is all very touching. Now can we get moving?” Dillon added.
“Where are we going?” Hawkins asked, beginning to pack.
“We’re grabbing a transport to Maryland,” Dillon said with finality.
“MARYLAND?” Dillon asked with exasperation.
“Yes. There’s something I have to see to there.”
“We don’t have time for this,” Dillon said.
“We’re going to make time,” Dillon said.
“Over my dead–” Dillon replied, when suddenly he was caught unawares by his own fist, which pummeled him in the face and knocked him down. Dillon rolled around on the floor with himself for several minutes, finally coming to a stop near the edge of the bed.
“Okay, I give up. Let’s just get this overwith.”
“That a boy. Now have your girlfriend call us a transport. Chop chop!”
“This is too weird,” Hawkins sighed, sitting down on the bed.
“Just do it, Patricia. Trust me.”
“Well, who are you?”
Hawkins just covered her face.
Fifteen minutes later, Dillon and Hawkins were standing outside the Federation Plaza waiting for their shuttle. They would have been there sooner, but Dillon had argued himself into changing into some civilian clothes. He had convinced himself that they would be less conspicuous that way.
Once the transport had arrived, Dillon and Hawkins quickly piled in, instructing the pilot to take them to a place called “Salisbury” Maryland.
“I said Salisbury, darn it. Are you deaf?”
The Ferengi shuttle pilot turned around. “What, no ear jokes?” he cackled annoyingly for what seemed like an eternity as the transport lifted off the ground and headed east. “Name’s Gral. Nice to meet you guys. Why would you leave San Francisco for a dump like the Eastern Shore of Maryland? There’s nothing there.”
“Well, Gral, I happen to have some…interests there,” Dillon replied.
“Really? That’s great. Me, I sold my family into slavery two years ago. They’re nothing but trouble, I tell you.”
“Is that so?” Dillon asked. “Don’t you miss them?”
“Like a hole in the head,” Gral cackled again. “Know what I mean?”
Commander Conway stepped into the lab holding a steaming cup of coffee. He found Lt. Larkin, Lt. Tilleran, and Lt. Commander Richards hard at work on the neurological transmitter.
“I thought I’d find you guys in here. Have you been working through the whole night?”
“Yes, sir,” Richards said, bending over the cube. “We’re going to get this thing fixed come hell or high water.”
“How’s it look?”
“Not good,” Tilleran said, leaning back against a bulkhead and wiping her forehead with exasperation. “This thing was fried pretty good. What’s happening with the Berengatti?”
“They’ve given us a little extension. We have until this afternoon to get the Captain back. Of course, I had to do some talking even to get that arrangement. Do you think you guys will have that thing up by then?”
“I hope so,” Richards said, continuing to work on the device.
“So where’s Kerridan?” Conway asked, looking around the room.
“Don’t know, don’t care,” Tilleran said, bending over and checking some circuits with her tricorder.
“I believe he is in his office,” Larkin said, indicating the room to the rear of the lab.
“I think I’ll pay him a visit,” Conway said.
“I don’t like him, Commander,” Richards muttered, his phasertorch punctuating the remark.
“Should I wait here for you guys?” Gral asked, as Dillon and Hawkins ducked out of the transport.
Dillon thumbed his signature on a padd and handed it back to Gral. “That won’t be necessary.” Gral had really cheated them on the fair, but Baxter didn’t feel that bad. Hey, it was Dillon’s money, right?
“Why do I feel like that guy overcharged us?” Dillon asked.
“Are you talking to me?” Hawkins replied, as the transport took off.
“Of course I’m talking to you, Patricia,” Dillon said, leading Hawkins along a street and down a long driveway.
“That’s a first for the day.”
“I’m sorry. I’m trying my hardest to deal with this situation the best I can. Imagine it from my point of view.”
“I’m trying, Travis, I’m really trying,” Hawkins said, looking around her. “So where are we?”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Dillon replied.
“We’re going to my house,” Dillon replied.
“Oh. Your house or Baxter’s house?”
Commander Conway stuck his head into Kerridan’s cramped office. “May I come in?”
“Oh…yes…” Kerridan said, switching the terminal on his desk off quickly. “What can I do for you, Commander?”
“For starters, you can give me some answers.”
“What do you mean?”
“Something smells extremely bad around here, Doctor. And I’ll wager it’s you.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, I think you do. And as soon as we find out what that is, we’ll have you sucking vacuum before you can blink.”
“Your threats don’t scare me, Commander. The worst you can do to me is lock me in the brig, and for that you’d need proof that I’ve done something wrong. And if I’m not mistaken…” Kerridan rifled through the padds that littered his desk. “Umm…no, I don’t see anything like that around here. But I’ll let you know if any turns up.”
Conway reached across the desk and grabbed Kerridan by the collar, pulling him across the desk. “Listen here, Kerridan! I have no great love for the Captain, but you’ve seriously screwed up the chain of command. And I’m going to find out why…”
“Bridge to Conway,” came Lieutenant J’hana’s voice. “The Berengatti want to speak with you. Now.”
“I’ll be right up,” Conway said, setting the Doctor back down in his chair. “We’ll finish this little discussion later.”
“I doubt that,” Kerridan sneered as Conway left. Once he was sure Conway was gone, he switched his viewer back on. “Now, as I was saying…”
“Here we are,” Dillon said, as he and Hawkins reached the large three story house that overlooked a dark, serene lake.
“So this is Baxter’s house?” Hawkins asked.
“Sure is. This property’s been in my family for hundreds of years. The Baxters have always been big on tradition. See that lake back there? That’s Leonard’s Lake. Me and my grandfather used to fish back there all the time. Best perch you’ve ever seen. It’s such a good fishing spot, I programmed it into the holodeck.”
“Unfortunately, the place passed over my father right to me. He seemed to think that an old house in a small town was no kind of place to raise a family. That’s why he had us move to San Francisco when he became the Vice Admiral of Internal Starfleet affairs.”
“Admiral Baxter is your father?” Hawkins asked. “I’ve met him before. Not a ten on the personality scale, but a nice guy.”
Dillon laughed. “That’s what mom says too.”
Hawkins giggled at that. “You know, Travis, Andy’s kind of a funny guy when you get to know him.”
“You don’t have to have him living in your head.”
“Anyway, Mom’s in starfleet too. She’s the first officer on a science vessel. They don’t see each other a lot, needless to say.”
“So the house is yours,” Hawkins said.
“Sure is.” Dillon placed his palm against the reader at his door.
“Admittance refused,” the computer replied curtly.
“It’s not your palm, stupid,” Dillon said to himself. “It’s mine, remember?”
“Oh,” Dillon said. “Oh yeah. Open door, password ‘Pandora.’”
“Password accepted,” the computer said, opening the door.
“So who’s Pandora?” Hawkins asked.
“Pandora!” Dillon called out. Suddenly a tiny Jack Russell Terrier ran into the room, sliding across the hardwood floors.
She stopped and looked up at Dillon suspiciously, smelling his feet. She turned her head quizzically.
“I guess she doesn’t recognize me,” Dillon said. “Come on, Pandy, it’s me!”
The dog jumped up in the crook of Dillon’s arm, licking his face.
“I missed you, girl,” Dillon said, smiling.
“Stop licking me!” Dillon muttered, trying to set the dog down, but he couldn’t get his arms to work. “Andy, can I please put the dog down now?”
“I guess so,” Dillon said, setting the dog down.
Hawkins picked up Pandora and stroked her lovingly as she followed Dillon into the kitchen. “So you came all the way back here to make sure your dog was okay?”
“That’s part of the reason,” Dillon said, checking a huge bowl labeled “Pandora.” “That’s odd. The bowl is half full. I guess Emily’s been feeding her.”
“Emily?” Hawkins asked.
“Who are you guys?” a voice asked from the top of the stairs that led down into the kitchen.
“It’s me…uh, I mean, it’s Travis. A friend of Andy’s. I’m here to…uh…see him.”
A dark-haired woman of about twenty-six years stepped down to meet Dillon and Hawkins. “You mean you haven’t heard?”
“What ever could you mean?” Dillon asked.
“It’s a long story,” she sighed, looking down at Pandora as she lapped at her water bowl.
“I know,” Dillon said.
The woman, who was apparently named Emily, walked over to the stove and began preparing a pot of tea. “Starfleet won’t tell me much. All I know is that I got a message from Andy saying he was promoted to Captain and given his own ship, and the next thing I know, Starfleet’s telling me his ship has disappeared indefinitely while on some “top secret” mission. Isn’t that weird?”
Dillon sighed. “Extremely.”
“I didn’t get your friend’s name,” Emily said, looking to Hawkins.
“Lieutenant Patricia Hawkins, tactical officer on the Secondprize. This is Commander Travis Dillon. He’s the first officer.”
Dillon smiled. “Yep, that’s me.”
“Emily Arden. Andy’s next door neighbor. So you knew him?”
“I was acquainted with him,” Hawkins said.
“Yeah, he’s been on my mind a lot lately,” Dillon said wryly.
Emily sighed. “Mine too. I’m really worried. I mean, I hear they want to declare the crew of the Aerostar dead. Andy’s father even wanted to get rid of the house and sell the dog. But I wouldn’t let him. I know how much the house and the dog means to Andy. They’re all he really has.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say that…” Dillon said.
“You say they want to declare them dead?” Hawkins asked.
“Yeah, can you believe that?” Emily replied, as the kettle began to whistle.
“I assure you, they aren’t dead,” Dillon asserted.
“That’s what I’d like to believe, too,” Emily said thoughtfully, pouring the tea into a cup. “But it’s hard. Would you guys like some tea?”
“Well, we–” Hawkins said.
“Sure,” Dillon said, sitting down at the kitchen table.
Emily smiled. “Good. No one comes around here much. Andy used to say Salisbury wasn’t a place you’d visit on purpose.”
“He’s a wonderful guy,” Dillon said.
“He sure is,” Emily agreed.
Dillon looked into the steaming cup Emily handed him. Orange Pekoe, Baxter’s favorite. “So…did you receive any other messages from Andy before Starfleet lost contact with him?”
Emily thought a moment. “No. Why do you ask?”
“Just wondering. I just remember Andy mentioning something–er, just before he left, about a note that he had left in the breadbox, just in case he was ever to be lost in the line of duty. You might want to look and see if there’s one there.”
Emily crossed the kitchen to the counter where the breadbox sat. She opened it and, sure enough, inside lie a small padd. “How strange…” Emily said, silently reading the padd.
“Secondprize to Hawkins,” Hawkins’ purse suddenly chirped. Hawkins pulled her comm badge out and tapped it. “Hawkins here. Go ahead, Jaroch.”
“I could not seem to raise Commander Dillon on his badge, so I tried yours. The diplomatic situation on Nestron Three is deteriorating and the Secondprize is being asked to respond immediately.”
“Understood. Have the Federation Plaza send our baggage up to the ship and beam Dillon and I up from this location in two minutes.”
“What are you doing in a degenerate area like Maryland, anyway?”
“It’s a long story, Jaroch. I’ll tell you later.” Hawkins palmed the comm badge carefully and grabbed Dillon’s hand. “Sorry to cut the visit short, but we have to be leaving.”
“Nice to meet you guys,” Emily said quietly as she continued to read the letter.
Dillon petted Pandora once more, kissed her on the head, and sat her down. “I’ll see you again, Pandy, don’t you worry. Nice meeting you, Emily.”
With that, Dillon and Hawkins disappeared in a swirl of blue.
And Emily permitted a tear to roll down her cheek. “Leave it to Andy to wait until he’s disappeared off the face of the galaxy to tell me how he feels about me.”
Pandora sat at Emily’s feet and let out a short whimper.
“Yeah, I know, you miss him too, girl. I’m starting to feel like we’re the only ones, though.”
Jaroch escorted Hawkins and Dillon to the bridge, strolling down the corridor nonchalantly with his hands clasped behind his back. “I trust you two had a nice vacation,” he said, rather curtly.
“Yeah, it was okay,” Dillon replied.
Jaroch raised an eyebrow. “You sound different, Commander. I cannot put my finger on it, but you sound different.”
“Don’t worry about it, Jaroch.”
“I did not say I was worried,” Jaroch replied.
The three stepped into a turbolift, and Jaroch ordered it to the bridge.
The ride to the bridge was for the most part quiet.
“Well,” Jaroch finally said. “Not much has happened while you two were off…doing whatever you two do. It wasn’t as if anyone has missed you.”
Dillon suddenly snapped out of his train of thought. “What?”
“Never mind,” Jaroch said exasperatedly.
“Are you okay, Jaroch?” Hawkins asked.
“Most definitely,” Jaroch replied.
It was then that the turbolift reached the bridge. The doors opened to reveal Captain Alexander Rydell. “There you guys are. I hope you had fun, because the vacation’s over.”
Dillon followed Rydell to the front of the bridge while Hawkins took her place at tactical. “What’s going on?”
“Essentially, Nestron Three is tired of being in the Federation,” Rydell replied.
“Why?” Dillon asked, confused.
“In a word,” Jaroch said, “they think we suck.”
“Lieutenant Sullivan, set a course for the Nestron system, maximum warp,” Rydell said, turning to Dillon. “Seven months ago, we lost the Nestron freighter Corska in the Bermuda Expanse. They say it was incompetence on our part that was responsible. Since then things have worsened, until recently, when the Federation embassy was attacked by Nestron radicals.”
“I could tell them where the freighter is,” Dillon said resolutely.
“What?” Rydell asked.
“Nothing, Captain,” Dillon replied. “Shut up,” he muttered under his breath.
“What?” Rydell asked again.
“I said, I could tell them where the Corska is. I’ve seen it.”
“And how, exactly, have you done that, Commander?” Jaroch asked from the science station.
Dillon stood up and looked around at the bridge crew: Hawkins at tactical, Jaroch at science, Sullivan at the helm, Ensign Tasha Campagnola at ops and Captain Rydell. “Because, my name is Captain Andy Baxter, of the Aerostar, and my ship is stuck, along with the freighter, on the other side of the galaxy, and my consciousness is stuck in this officious martinet’s godforsaken brain, and I’d kill for some suggestions on how to get out of either situation.”
The entire bridge was quiet. “Talk about a conversation stopper,” Hawkins muttered.
“We would like to speak to Captain Baxter,” the Berengatti said with an air of finality.
“He’s…um, indisposed for the moment, sir,” Commander Conway replied, shifting uncomfortably in the command chair.
“I have heard this. We would like to speak to Captain Baxter. If no, no deal, no?”
“Yes. I mean, no,” Conway said. “I mean, give us ten minutes and I promise Captain Baxter will talk to you.”
“I give you seven minutes. Bye.”
“You’ve really done it now, Conway,” Ford said from the helm as the Berengatti disappeared form the viewscreen.
“Shut up,” Conway said. “Conway to Richards. I need a way to trick the Berengatti into thinking that Baxter is talking to them in seven minutes.”
“That’s a tall order, Commander. Usually, I’d suggest using a holographic projection filtered into the subspace transmission, but unfortunately we lost those systems when power went down and I just don’t have the time or the resources for that type of repair job in the time we have.”
“Then I’ll have toget creative,” Conway said, heading for the turbolift. “J’hana, you have the conn.”
“I’ll be damned, he’s right,” Doctor Beth Aldridge said, studying the brainwave analysis as Commander Dillon sat patiently on the biobed. “There’s definitely surplus neurological activity in there.”
“How the heck did this happen?” Rydell asked in disbelief.
“I’d love to explain it, Captain, but we don’t have that kind of time. Now help me and maybe I can help you,” Dillon said.
“Who’s talking now?” Rydell asked, looking from Dillon to Aldridge, then to Jaroch and Hawkins.
“Andy,” Dillon said.
“And Travis,” Dillon said.
“Okay, fine. As soon as we reach Nestron, I’ll have you, Hawkins and Jaroch beam down there to talk to the radicals. Meanwhile, Mister Jaroch, I want you and Commander Baird to work on a way to get Baxter out of Dillon’s head.”
“I’m sure we can put our heads together and come up with something,” Jaroch chuckled.
“Computer, transfer life support control to the bridge and activate life support field,” Dr. Browning said, monitoring the vital signs of Captain Baxter’s body as it sat limply in the command chair. “He’s all set, Commander.”
“This is the stupidist idea you’ve ever had, sir,” Ensign Ford said as Conway finished tying the fishing line around Baxter’s arms.
“Shut up, Ford, and act natural. If they suspect something, you’ll never see your girlfriend back home again.”
“I don’t have a girlfriend back home.”
“Why am I not surprised,” Conway added, wrapping the string that kept Baxter’s head up around the tactical console.
“This is ridiculous,” J’hana said, staring down at Baxter’s limp form, slumped in the command chair like a dummy.
“If you have another suggestion I’d love to hear it,” Conway muttered.
Doctor Browning surveyed Conway’s work approvingly. “Looks lifelike to me.”
“Thank you for that professional opinion, Doctor. You can return to sickbay now.”
Browning giggled. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” she walked behind the tactical station and took up a position next to J’hana. “I promise I won’t get in the way.”
“Fine,” Conway said, taking his seat beside Baxter. “Now Counselor, do you remember what to do?”
“Yes,” Peterman said quietly. “I work the left arm, you work the right arm.”
“Right, and the other string will cause his head to turn to the left, and my string will pull his head to the right. What about you, J’hana?” Conway said, looking up at J’hana.
“I’m in charge of nodding and mouth movement,” J’hana grumbled, looking down at her two strings. “This is so stupid.”
“Shut up and open the channel,” Conway said, suddenly flashing the broadest, fakest smile he could manage, casting his eyes at Peterman and nodding until she did the same.
“This won’t work,” Peterman said through clenched teeth.
The Berengatti flashed up on the screen. “Aaah, there you are Captain. So nice to see you.”
J’hana jerked Baxter’s head up and tugged on the string pulling his mouth open, while Conway spoke. “You too…uh, sir. I’ve been very busy lately.” The speech was somewhat slurred, since Conway was by no means a professional ventriloquist.
“You do not look well, Captain. Perhaps some rest would do you good.”
“I couldn’t agree more. But first, this trade.” Conway strained to keep his face straight, but it was difficult, because Ford kept looking back and making faces at him.
“Then I suggest I beam up to your ship and see it’s wondrous alien technology.”
“I’m sure it’s nothing you haven’t seen before, Mister Berengatti.”
“On the contrary. I insist. I shall bring my own technology with me.”
“Fine, fine,” Conway muttered. “Then by all means, come on up. We’ll beam you aboard immediately.”
“Wonderful. I’m looking forward to–”
Suddenly J’hana dropped the string that kept Baxter’s head up, causing the head to sag. It appeared as if the captain had just nodded off.
J’hana and Dr. Browning scrambled for the string, trying to grab it as it fluttered to the ground.
“Captain, are you okay?” came the Berengatti’s concerned voice.
Conway dropped his string, causing Baxter’s arm to sag, and rushed to Baxter’s side. “Doctor…come down here and look at the Captain.”
Improvising, Browning ran down to the command chair. “Hmmm. Looks like a simple case of exhaustion.” She looked meekly at the Berengatti on the screen. “You know how that is.”
“Of course. I just hope he’s well enough to receive me in ten minutes. I’d hate to have to withhold this wonderful technology just because the Captain is ill. But that’s no excuse for me to consent to giving the technology to anyone lower than the Captain.”
“Damn,” Conway said under his breath, turning from Baxter to face the Berengatti on the viewscreen. “Ha ha, don’t worry, sir, he’ll be perfectly fine. We’ll just run down to the transporter room and beam you aboard.”
“I look forward to meeting your Captain face-to-face,” the Berengatti said, as his face was replaced with the spinning orange orb of Berengatti.
“No problem. We just need to get his brain back,” Conway muttered. “All right, Browning, get the Captain back to sickbay. I have another stupid idea.”
“We have arrived at Nestron Three,” Sullivan announced from the helm.
“Great,” Rydell muttered from the command chair. “Rydell to transporter room. Are you guys ready?”
“As ready as we shall ever be,” Lt. Commander Jaroch’s voice responded.
“Then get down there. And be careful.”
“You don’t have to tell me twice,” Dillon replied.
“Hardee har har,” Rydell said, closing the channel.
As Dillon, Jaroch, and Hawkins materialized in the Federation Embassy on Nestron Three, the first thing they noticed was the maddening sound of explosions outside.
Dillon looked to Jaroch and Hawkins. “Phasers on stun.”
They both withdrew their phasers, checked the settings, and held them at the ready.
They moved through the quiet halls of the embassy slowly, looking from side to side, but having no luck finding anyone.
“Where’d everyone go?” Dillon asked.
Jaroch looked at his tricorder. “Everyone is being held in a large room up ahead.”
“Then by all means, lead the way,” Dillon ordered.
The group moved through the palace in relative silence.
“Have you figured out a way to get my mind back to it’s rightful place yet, Jaroch?” Dillon asked, breaking the silence.
Jaroch kept his eyes on the tricorder. “Unfortunately, no. However, Commander Baird had a rather interesting idea that involved cutting out the part of your brain that held Baxter’s consciousness and shooting it in the general direction of the Delta Quadrant utilizing the photon torpedo launcher.”
“I’m really laughing on the inside,” Dillon grumbled.
“I on the other hand,” Jaroch said wistfully, “am of the opinion that, in this case, perhaps two heads are almost as good as one. I mean, when you and Baxter put your heads together, you’re almost as smart as the average neandrethal.”
“Knock it off, Jaroch,” Hawkins muttered.
“But I enjoy it so.”
“I said knock it off.”
Jaroch frowned. “If you say so. Ah, we’ve reached the doorway to the chamber we are looking for.”
“It’s about damn time,” Hawkins grumbled.
“After you, Commander,” Jaroch said, stepping away from the door.
“Here goes nothing.” Dillon said took a few steps back and rammed headlong into the door.
“Maybe I was wrong. Two heads aren’t even as good as one,” Jaroch said, turning the handle and opening the door.
“Come on,” Hawkins said, pulling Dillon up.
As soon as they entered the room, a man at the front of the room shouted, “There, the Federation’s lackies! Kill them!”
The crowd surged toward the away team, wielding bats, sticks and batons. Dillon saw the hostages tied up at the other end of the room, along with the Federation ambassador. “We’re from the Federation, alright, but let me assure you guys, we aren’t lackies. We’re here to help. I can tell you where the…”
That’s when a bat collided with Dillon’s head, causing him to fall to the ground.
“Travis!” Hawkins screamed, firing her phaser into the crowd on a wide beam.
“We must get to the hostages!” Jaroch shouted, pushing through the crowd.
“Travis!” Hawkins pushed toward where Dillon lie, cutting through the mob with her phaser.
Jaroch finally reached the hostages. “Relax, ladies and gentleman. Everything is under…” That’s when a similar bat cracked down upon the Yynsian’s head.
For those that don’t know anything about Yynsians, they have a fervent belief in reincarnation and a peculiar connection to their past lives. From time to time, when Lieutenant Commander Jaroch is subjected to physical trauma, one of his more aggressive past lives is brought to bear, name of J’Ter.
J’Ter stood up and raged at the tiny man who had hit him with the bat. “You dare to stain the honor of J’Ter! I will stain the floor with you, puny cretin!” Jaroch/J’Ter screamed, picking the Nestron man up and bodyslamming him. “I shall take all comers! All will fall under J’Ter’s wrath!”
“What was that about not worrying?” One hostage said to another.
“And this is the Bridge, Mister Berengatti,” Captain Baxter said happily, motioning the dwarfish man out of the turbolift and onto the bridge.
“Please, call me Buck,” the Berengatti said, looking over the bridge with satisfaction.
The bridge crew smiled back at him, waving, and saying in unison, “Welcome to the Aerostar!”
“Buck…” Baxter said. “What an interesting name. Is that short for something?”
Buck looked up at him. “Nope, just Buck.”
“Extraordinary,” Baxter replied.
Commander Conway tapped his foot nervously behind the two. “Well, I guess you’ll have to be going now, right Buck? I’ll show you to the transporter room and you can give us that technology.”
“Actually, I really should hurry, as I have to go and prepare my home for coming winter.”
“How interesting!” Baxter said, “Does it get very cold on Berengatti this time of year?”
“Quite,” Buck replied. “In fact, if one is not careful, he could easily freeze!”
At that moment, the entire bridge crew stopped moving. All the lights on the bridge stopped blinking, and even the planet on the viewscreen stopped turning.
“Oh, my,” Buck said. “What has happened?”
Conway was the only person that hadn’t froze, since he was the only person other than Buck that was actually there on the holodeck. “Um, Computer, resume program Conway Theta. No, no…I mean Delta, Conway Delta!!”
It was too late. The bridge disappeared and was replaced by a racing track.
“What devil work is this?” Buck asked, as cars whizzed by him.
“Just some more of our wonderful technology!” Conway said, trying to think of a way to rescue the situation.
“And where is Captain Baxter?”
“Um, Computer, reinitialize character Andy Baxter.”
Baxter reappeared next to Buck. “So, isn’t this a great ship? Great ship? Great ship? Great ship?” he stuttered.
Conway just slapped a hand over his face and sighed. “Computer, end program.” Both Baxter and the racing track was replaced with the orange and black holodeck grid.
“Now. Would you mind telling me what exactly is going on?” Buck asked, his face creasing with annoyance.
Lt. Hawkins looked on with disapproval as J’Ter laid waste to the room full of Nestron radicals. At the same time, she dragged Commander Dillon over to a relatively quiet spot and tried to wake him up.
“Come on, Travis, you have to wake up. Don’t you remember when the Borg ship was attacking us and I passed out? You helped me then, and I’m helping you now. You saved my life. I can save yours.”
Dillon’s eyes fluttered open. “What the heck are you talking about?”
Hawkins just sighed and jerked Dillon to his feet. “Come on, Andy. We have to talk some sense into these people.”
“That’s so sweet, Patricia, the life thing, I mean,” Dillon said.
“We don’t have time for this!” Hawkins said, dragging Dillon to the front of the room.
“You must stop this, J’Ter!” Jaroch said to himself.
“What are we going to do?” Dillon asked himself.
“I will do whatever I want!” J’Ter responded.
“Don’t ask me!” Dillon responded.
“ARRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHH!” Hawkins screamed, not for the first time.
“I didn’t sign on for this…” The leader of the revolt said, taking his megaphone and making for a nearby exit.
“No you don’t!” Hawkins said, picking him off with her phaser. “I’m in no mood to mess around. I’ve got two guys on my hands here with multiple personality problems. One of them is laying waste to a room full of terrorists and the other is obsessing about what to do to stop it. And I’m just about frigging fed up!” Hawkins said, grabbing the unconscious man’s megaphone and shoving it into Dillon’s arms. “You wanted to tell them something, go ahead!”
“Um. Hi!” Dillon said into the megaphone, waving at the raging crowd.
“DIE!” J’Ter screamed, running toward Dillon.
“Sorry, Jaroch,” Hawkins said, firing her phaser at the science officer. He stumbled backward a little, then continued toward her and Dillon. She upped the setting a couple notches and fired again, this time putting the Yynsian on his back. “Now talk, Dillon!” she shouted.
“Okay, okay. You don’t have to get pushy. Listen up, everyone: I’m the Captain of a Federation Starship that was lost just like your precious freighter. I’ve been far from home for months and only because of a freak accident have I been able to visit this quadrant again. Your ship was sucked, like mine, into the Delta Quadrant, by what is basically a collapsed wormhole. Its cargo was probably stolen by a race called the Flarn, and its crew was probably eaten by the same race, unless your people have some unsavory aftertaste that I don’t know about. In short, they’re dead, but at least you can stop searching. And, now, thanks to the accident that brought me here, so can Starfleet.”
Everyone stopped rioting for a moment and looked around the room.
One of the Nestrons spoke up.”Are you telling us the truth?”
“Yes,” Dillon said with exasperation. “Who would make up a story as convoluted as that?”
Another Nestron looked to the first. “He’s got a point, you know.”
While Dillon was talking, Hawkins had taken the liberty of untying the Federation hostages. “Now do all of you guys promise to behave?” she asked the crowd.
One by one, they all mumbled agreement.
“Good,” Hawkins said. “It’s about time.”
Dillon looked to Hawkins. “I think the diplomats can handle the rest. We’re exhausted.”
Hawkins nodded. “Agreed. Hawkins to Secondprize. Three to beam up.”
Stardate 51466.8. The Secondprize has left Nestron Three, with the Ambassador’s assurance that matters are under control. Commander Dillon, and…Captain Baxter, I guess, did an excellent job silencing the raging masses. We’ve alerted Starfleet to the Aerostar’s dilemma, and they’ve promised to look into it. I can only hope now that we will be able to send Baxter back to the Delta Quadrant for his trouble. It’s the very least we can do.
“I still like my idea,” Commander Baird said, as the Secondprize’s senior staff considered the dilemma of returning Baxter to his proper place and returning Commander Dillon’s mind to its former state.
Commander Dillon stood at one end of the conference room, looking at a reading of his brain waves on the conference room screen. “I’d be lying if I said I knew what the heck all this garbage means.”
“It means it would take a miracle to get your mind back in order, you simpleton,” Jaroch said.
“You wanna take this outside, Jaroch?” Dillon asked.
“Wait just one minute, Andy! If he beats the crap out of you, it’s me that’s going to feel it in the morning,” Dillon protested.
“Just shut up and give me one good fist to use, Travis,” Dillon said, glaring at Jaroch.
“My, my, are we upset?” Jaroch asked, feigning concern.
“Yes…we…are,” Dillon said through gritted teeth.
“Then do your best,” Jaroch challenged.
“This isn’t doing any of us any good,” Rydell said from his seat at the front of the table, trying to regain control of the meeting.
“Speak for yourself!” Dillon cried, leaping through the air, but before he could reach Jaroch, he hit the conference table with a thud, grasping at his head and flopping around like a fish out of water.
“What the hell’s happening to him?” Rydell asked.
“Don’t ask me!” Hawkins said, rushing to Dillon’s side.
“He’s in severe neurological trauma,” Doctor Aldridge said, after whipping out her medical tricorder.
“Any insights, Jaroch?” Rydell asked.
“You’ve got me,” Jaroch replied.
Dillon suddenly sat up, rubbing his eyes. “That was really weird.”
Hawkins looked at Dillon. “Can you hear me, Travis? Are you okay? Say something else!”
“He’s gone! He’s gone, Patricia! He’s finally out of my head! Hoo hoo!” Dillon cried, standing up on the conference table and doing a little jig.
Hawkins collapsed back into her chair. “Thank the Great Bird.”
Rydell stood. “I’d like Doctor Aldridge to do a full checkup on the Commander as soon as he’s finished with his little performance; but other that that, I think it’s safe to say we can all go back to our normal lives.”
Sullivan laughed at this. “Normal my butt.”
“You know what I mean.”
Dillon finally stepped off the table, wrapping his arms around Lieutenant Hawkins. As everyone filed out of the conference room, they turned to face the stars as they whizzed by the viewport.
“Are you sure he’s gone, Travis?”
“Yep,” Dillon replied.
“Good, then we can kiss in private,” she said, turning around and facing the Commander, smiling.
Rydell, for his part, made his way across the bridge to the turbolift, the one that would hopefully take him to his quarters, where he could get some much needed rest. “Goodnight, Secondprize. And goodnight, Captain Baxter, wherever you are.”
Captain Baxter shot up in the biobed, scaring the living crap out of Counselor Kelly Peterman.
“He’s awake!” Doctor Browning said, running over to the biobed and checking on Baxter’s readings.
Baxter rubbed his head. “Why does my head hurt so bad?”
“Sorry,” Browning said sheepishly. “I was moving you onto the bed and I kind of dropped you. Twice.”
“It’s okay,” Baxter said, looking to Counselor Peterman, who was still trying to catch her breath. “Sorry I scared you, Kelly.”
Peterman reached forward and hugged him. “It’s okay. We all thought you were dead!”
At that moment, Commander Conway, Lieutenant J’hana and the mysterious Buck entered sickbay.
“Good to see you up and around again, Captain,” Buck said, looking up at Baxter with approval.
“Do I have you to thank for rescuing me?” Baxter asked, trying to rub the disorientation from his eyes. It almost felt weird to be in his own body again.
“But of course, Captain. As soon as I heard of your dilemma, I was only too glad to help. I simply used our expansive knowledge of the human brain to reprogram your wonderful little cube and retrieve your consciousness.”
Baxter slid off the biobed. “Wonderful. Now we can negotiate that trade, right?”
“Trade? Oh, yes, well…I told you that I would give you the secrets of the human brain or those of time and space but NOT both! It seems as though, by saving you, I’ve fulfilled my part of the bargain. Now I believe that you owe me my fair share.”
Conway looked at the little man angrily. “You have to be kidding me! After all we went through to please you, all you could do is rescue our measly Captain? Not send us home?”
“Send you home?” Buck asked. “For heaven’s sakes, do we look like magicians to you? Now I think we’ll start with grains and work our way up to raw building materials.”
“You want your fair share, Mister,” Baxter asked, kneeling down to face the little man eye to eye.
“Please, just call me Buck.”
Baxter looked down for a moment then regained his composure. “Right, Buck, you want your fair share? I’ll give you your fair share. J’hana, escort this little fellow to the transporter room.”
“I don’t understand…” Buck said, looking from Baxter to the menacing J’hana.
“I’m sending you back to your wonderful little planet where you can wonderfully rot away and die as far as I’m concerned, and be glad I don’t blow you out a freaking airlock. Now get off my ship!” Baxter growled, standing back up.
“You’ll regret this, Captain!” the little man cried, as J’hana dragged him out of sickbay.
“Not bloody likely,” Baxter said, stumbling out of sickbay, heading for his quarters.
Supplemental. Well, I guess I should have listened to Buck. It turns out that that wonderful mind knowledge he so easily gave us was just as easily taken away. He somehow was able to wipe every bit of information he had imparted to us from our data banks. Oh, well. We didn’t need his stupid information anyway. I’m also pleased to report that my mind has returned to my body, and all is as it should be. Well, actually, if all was as it should be, then we wouldn’t be in the Delta Quadrant, but I guess you can’t have everything. I should, however, be glad that, throughout this ordeal, I was able to get a fleeting glimpse of my old stomping grounds, and even return to my home, see my dog…see Emily. I felt that it was important that she know how I felt about her although, sadly, I now harbor those feelings for Counselor Peterman instead. Perhaps with her things will be different. Perhaps this time I’ll be smart enough to proclaim my feelings before it’s too late. I can only hope that Emily will take my note’s advice and move on. Over the last few months, if I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned that sometimes…you just have to move on.
Captain Baxter leaned back on the couch in Counselor Peterman’s office. “…so I guess I learned that sometimes…you just have to move on.”
Peterman looked from her padd to Baxter and back again. “I guess you’re right. But sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and take risks…”
Baxter leaned forward. “Exactly. I guess I was too late to figure that out with Emily.”
Peterman looked at her padd thoughtfully and made a few notes, which read, “Andy likes this stupid Emily girl and not me.”
“Well, I think we’ve made some progress, Captain, and without me having to knee you in the crotch.”
Baxter laughed. “Yeah, thanks, Kelly. Thanks for listening, and thanks for being there for me.”
“Don’t mention it,” Peterman replied, setting her padd down and getting up to walk Baxter to the door.
“Hey, do you have time to go to lunch with me? Mirk’s making antipasto!”
Peterman smiled. “That sounds great…but I have an important appointment in a few minutes,” she lied.
Baxter stood by the door, across from Peterman. “No problem. Then I guess I’ll see you later.”
“Yeah, later,” Peterman replied.
“Okay,” Baxter said, heading out the door. The door closed, separating him and the Counselor. He almost turned around and went back in to bite the bullet and tell her how he felt, but something stopped him.
“Next time,” Baxter said, heading down the corridor. “Definitely next time.”
NEXT ON STAR TRAKS: THE VEXED GENERATION
“The Salad of Vengeance, Part One”
Frustrated at the total lack of things to do in the backwaters of the Delta Quadrant, Captain Baxter makes a daring decision to turn the Aerostar around and take it back into Flarn territory. There they find some militant Maloxians, a mysterious Federation ship, and a hell of a lot of trouble. Did somebody say “sweeps week”?