Author: Anthony Butler
Stardate 51478.8. We are currently returning to the periphery of Flarn-controlled space at warp nine. There are some among us who doubt this decision, but it was one of necessity. It seemed the farther away from the Flarn nucleus of power we traveled, the fewer friends and more hostile worlds and situations we found. It is my hope that returning to somewhat more familiar waters will increase our chances of returning home. Perhaps the so-called “Directors” will resurface. Maybe the Sulani, the closest thing we have to allies here, will come up with a way of helping us out. In any case, my patience, and the ship’s fuel, is almost at an end.
After completing his log entry, Captain Baxter decided to head off to bed a little early. He wasn’t looking forward to putting the ship at risk by taking it closer to the Flarn empire, but he felt that he had no other choice. Deep space was not a friendly place, and he felt the chance at finding a way home was worth the risk. The plan was simple. Make a bee-line for the Sulani homeworld and try to make friends with that planet’s president. It was probably what he should have done in the first place. Baxter had to remember that one of his shortcomings as a Captain was that he was constantly second-guessing himself. Well, no need to do that anymore. The time for decision and unity had come. That considered, Baxter brushed his teeth and put on his official starfleet emblem pajamas and trotted off to bed.
Baxter had almost fallen asleep when his doorchime rang.
“Come.” Baxter muttered, sitting up and trying to rub the sleep out of his eyes.
His door opened to reveal Mr. Mirk. Baxter could barely make him out through the blinding light from the outside corridor.
“May I come in?” Mirk asked.
“Sure, pull up a chair.” Baxter said, getting up and ordering two cups of coffee from the replicator.
Baxter sat down at his desk and handed one of the cups to Mirk. “What’s on your mind?”
Mirk studied the warm liquid in the cup and thought a moment. “Well, Captain, I was thinking. I can’t stand being outcasted by my people any longer.”
“Haven’t they responded to any of your communiqués?”
“Not one. It’s as if I don’t exist anymore.”
“They are probably trying to keep a low profile. We picked up some subspace traffic a while ago. The Flarn have a huge bounty on your people’s heads. Almost as big as the one they have on us.”
“I know. Well, I have a feeling I’m no longer welcome with them. Do you think we could send a ship to find my people? Maybe I could talk to them and get back in their good graces. I didn’t do what I did to betray them. If I had let Granok have the Alpha and Beta quadrants, the Flarn would have obliterated your Federation, and my people would never have the chance to be free.”
Baxter had begun to nod off. He quickly looked up and tried to concentrate on what Mirk was asking him. “Certainly, Mr. Mirk. Tell the duty officer on the bridge to prepare a runabout and crew for launch in the morning. And before you go, I want to give you some friendly advice: Don’t get your hopes up. If the Flarn haven’t already found them, there’s not much hope for you finding ‘em.”
“I know, Captain, but at least I can try.”
“Anything you want, Mr. Mirk. You’ve been invaluable to us. Now…try and get some sleep.”
“Yes sir. Thank you, sir.”
Mirk disappeared back into the corridor, once again blinding Baxter, who stumbled back to his bed, determined to get some sleep.
THE CREBIUS CLUSTER
“Report, Subordinate Cridis.” Jum said solemnly, staring at the tactical readouts.
“We have confirmation from the listening posts. The Aerostar has returned to this sector.”
“Is that so? My son…”
“…is probably aboard, Seeker Jum. What are your orders?”
“I want you to continue our patrol of this sector, and ready the ship for combat. Also, I want you to send a message to Ronan of Starbase Dilus. Tell her to expect the Aerostar and deal with her accordingly.”
“Of course, sir, but to what end?”
“We will lay a trap for the Aerostar. Once they are caught, they will help me retrieve my son and punish him for what he did.”
“Should we not be focusing on the resistance?” Cridis replied. “I mean, I know your son betrayed us, but how can we spend our resources on revenge when so many our counting on our success at the resistance for their survival?”
“Once the Aerostar has been disabled and Mirk has been properly punished, we will use that vessel’s resources to turn our attention to the matter of the Flarn.”
Cridis kneeled before Jum’s command chair and smiled. “You are wise, Seeker. Your will shall be done.”
Mirk was up bright and early the following morning. He threw on some clothes and headed for the shuttlebay, eager to begin his mission. During his months aboard the Aerostar, he hadn’t done much, besides work at the bar. It felt good to do something a little more exciting. Maybe he would even have a chance to see his people again.
Mirk found Ensign Ford and Lt. Hartley in the shuttlebay. Ford was perched on the front of a runabout, leaning back against the front windshield and staring up at the ceiling of the large shuttlebay. Hartley, for her part, was inside, doing a preflight diagnostic. When Mirk entered, she banged on the glass, causing Ford to stir.
“Oh, there you are Mirk. Let’s get this show on the road.” Ford hopped down and ducked inside the small vessel’s cockpit.
Mirk pulled himself in and closed the door behind him. Hartley turned around in her seat and glared angrily at Mirk. “It’s too damned early for this crap. I’m a transporter chief. I should be in the transporter room or engineering or something. Not running around in a fucking runabout.”
Mirk took a seat. “Sorry, Hartley. I guess the duty officer on the bridge figured you were due for some field experience.”
Hartley turned her seat back around and trembled with anger. “I just wonder what jerk up there figured that.”
Ford checked the engineering console in the back and then moved towards the front of the cockpit. “It is a little early, isn’t it, Mirk?”
“I didn’t feel like we had time to waste. In return for you guys getting up so early, though, I brought you something special from the bar.”
“I can’t wait.” Ford said, hopping into the pilot’s seat. “But first, let’s just get this thing launched.”
Hartley pressed a control on the communications console. “This is the runabout Washita, requesting clearance to depart. Come out of warp and open shuttlebay doors.”
“Bridge to Washita, you have clearance. Have fun on your little field trip.” Commander Conway said blandly. He obviously was none to happy to have the morning shift.
“Conway,” Hartley raged. “So it was you who put me on this damned expedition.”
“I love you too, Megan. Bridge out.”
“I…am…going…to…kill…him.” Hartley growled.
“Time enough for that later,” Ford said, activating the vessel’s maneuvering thrusters.
The shuttlebay doors parted slowly as the runabout lifted off the pad and turned toward open space.
“All right, let’s get this trip overwith.” Ford said, engaging the engines. “Get comfy, Mirk. I have a feeling this is going to be a long trip.”
It was no use. Baxter was completely unable to sleep. He figured he might as well go to Mirk’s and have a drink, something to get his system jump- started before his shift.
“Tea. Orange Pekoe. Hot,” Baxter said to Elli, the relief bartender, who quickly filled the order. For some reason, Baxter felt as if something was missing. It was funny. He had actually gotten used to talking to Mirk.
Baxter sipped at his tea, noticing Counselor Peterman sitting at a table on the other side of the lounge, sipping at a cup of hot chocolate.
He walked over to say hello to her. “Hey, Kelly, how’s it-“
“Terrible.” Peterman said, wringing her napkin into a tight ball.
“Oh.” Baxter said, sitting down. “Care to talk about it?”
Peterman seemed to hesitate for a moment, and then just spat it out. “I think I have feelings for one of the crewmembers.”
Baxter could hardly believe it. “Well, that’s…that’s great, Kelly! I bet whoever it is feels exactly the same.”
“That so? Then why is it Ensign Spencer from engineering was seen at the arboretum sniffing freaking flowers with Ensign Fresca?”
“Spen…cer.” Baxter felt his heart crumble as the syllables crawled out of his limp mouth. “That’s…”
“Yeah, Spencer. Who did you think I was infatuated with?”
“I..um…you know, I th-think…” Baxter said, his eyes starting to well up. He suddenly felt very hot. What was he supposed to do now?
Suddenly his communicator beeped. “Conway to Baxter. You’d better get up here. We’ve found something.”
Baxter tried to stand up, and ended up knocking his chair backwards into an unsuspecting ensign. “Acknowledged. I’ll…uh…be right there.”
“Are you okay, Captain?”
“Yeah…yeah.” Baxter said, picking up his chair and dusting off the ensign, who now wore the western omelet she was carrying on her face. “I’ve got to be going. Maybe we can talk about this…um… later.”
Peterman just stared down at her hot chocolate. “Sure thing. Be careful up there.”
Baxter knocked into three other officers and a yeoman before navigating his way out of the lounge.
Baxter’s face had drained to a stark white by the time he had appeared on the bridge. So much for his lucky streak. Things were taking a turn for the worse.
“Captain, you don’t look…” Conway began.
“I’m fine. What did you find?” Baxter said, staring at the viewscreen, not feeling like taking his seat.
“We’ve just received a message from a local space station, name of Dilus. It seems to be an automated advertisement for relief, food, and supplies for weary travelers. It might be a good bet for docking. We sure could use a safe port, and it seems Flarn-free.”
“Change course to the coordinates of the space station. I want you to prepare an investigation.” Baxter said, turning to head for his readyroom.
“But don’t you want to…”
“Hop to it, Conway.”
The first officer seemed a little put off. “Are you even-“
“DO IT!” Baxter said, disappearing into his readyroom.
Conway seemed genuinely shocked. “What’s his problem?”
“Incompetence?” Fresca replied from the helm.
First Officer’s Log,
Stardate 51479.5. We’ve arrived at space station Dilus for some much needed resupply. I have been ordered by Captain Baxter to do a complete investigation of the facilities before we let any other landing parties beam over. He seems to be acting really weird lately.
Commander Conway, Lt. J’hana, and Lt. Larkin materialized in the main lobby of the Dilus space station. Upon their arrival, they were greeted by a tall, smiling dark-haired woman with a long flowing green gown.
“Hello,” the woman began, “My name is Ronan, and I am the commander of Dilus. Welcome to our little oasis. What is ours is yours.”
“Mind if we have a little look around?” Conway asked, surveying the surroundings.
“Not at all. Feel free to sample any of the facilities. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to page me.”
“I will. Thank you.” Conway said blandly, leading the away team down what appeared to be the station’s main concourse. Once they were safely out of earshot, Conway turned to his operations officer. “Okay, Larkin, I want you to give this place a good once over and make sure there’s nothing out of the ordinary going on here.”
“Should I be looking for anything in particular, sir?”
“Weapons, ambushes, that sort of thing. Be creative, dammit.”
“I am an android, sir, I cannot be cre-“
Conway sighed and rolled his eyes. “Just scan the freaking station and tell me what you find.”
Continuing down the main concourse, Conway came upon a map of the station, indicating the layout of its many areas of interest.
“I guess it’s true.” Conway said. “Things are the same all over the galaxy. Damn stupid maps. ‘You are here’ my ass. How does this help?”
“Actually,” Larkin began, “this will be very helpful. I believe that we should proceed this way, toward the escalators and past the arcade.” Larkin continued, pointing.
“If you say so.” Conway said, following the android. Why did this place just seem like a huge mall?
“I already hate it here.” J’hana growled, following Conway.
“It could be worse. I mean at least people aren’t trying to kill us.” Conway said.
“Don’t speak so soon.” replied J’hana, laughing.
That sent a chill down Conway’s spine for some reason.
Captain Baxter stared at the tower of cards sitting on his desk. He would have added to it, but he wasn’t really feeling in the mood. Instead, he just gazed at it, woefully, wondering where his luck went wrong with Counselor Peterman.
Baxter was jarred from his thoughts by his door chime.
“Come on in.” Baxter said, without much feeling.
“Hey,” Dr. Browning said, strolling in and staring at Baxter’s house of cards. “Wow, that’s pretty cool. Say, I was wondering when Commander Richards and I could go over to that station and spend some quality time shopping.”
Baxter didn’t take his eyes from the cards. “As soon as Commander Conway comes back from his investigation we’ll start sending over crewmembers. Assuming the station checks out okay, you guys can be on the first landing party.”
“Thanks. Are you okay?”
“Me? Fine.” Baxter remarked unemotionally.
“Alright, it’s just you seem really down.”
“Hah. I’m as happy as a clown.” Baxter said, his chin resting on his desk.
Doctor Browning headed for the door. “Okay. Let me know when we should report to the transporter r-“
“…a Clown with a tent stake stuck in his chest.”
Browning spun around and took a seat in front of Baxter’s desk. “Okay, spit it out, Andy. What’s the problem?”
“It’s nothing, Janice.”
Browning started to get up…
“…that a phaser blast to my head won’t cure.” Baxter continued.
Browning was starting to get annoyed. “Will you stop whimpering and just tell me what the heck is wrong?”
Baxter got up and plopped down on his couch, burying his head into a pillow. “Counselor Peterman likes someone else.”
Browning couldn’t help but smile a little. “That’s too bad. Are you sure about this? I could pass her a note in math class.”
“This isn’t funny, Janice! I thought I was falling in love with her.”
“You thought. So you’re not falling in love with her?”
“Of course I am! But it doesn’t matter now, does it?”
“So who is it?” Browning asked, turning in her chair to face Baxter’s pillow covered head.
“Ensign Spencer from Engineering.”
“I thought he and Ensign Fresca…”
“Yes, well, to Peterman’s chagrin.”
“Ah, I see. This seems like a love trapezoid. Or rhombus, or some other complicated geometric shape.”
Baxter buried his head deeper in his pillows. “This is NOT funny. My heart has been crushed, put through the wringer, diced, frappeed, sliced, and flame-broiled.”
Browning’s stomach began to growl. “Boy, I haven’t had lunch yet.”
“Aren’t you listening to me? I’m aching!”
“I’m a doctor, not a sexual therapist. If you’re feeling so depressed, why don’t you talk to the ships couns…” Browning thought a moment. “Oh, right. Well, does she know how you feel?”
“I can’t believe she wouldn’t have figured it out by now.”
“You’d be surprised, Captain. I suggest you talk to her. Who knows, she might feel the same way about you.”
“Yeah, right.” Came Baxter’s muffled voice.
“Talk to her, Andy. That’s all I can say.” Browning said, heading out the door.
“Well, what have we got, Larkin?” Conway said, leaning over the station’s second floor railing, looking over the promenade.
“The station seems sound, Commander. It is equipped with much in the way of supplies and equipment. However…”
“However, it seems as though the station was put together in quite a hurry, and made to be disassembled in a hurry, camouflaged, and moved.”
Conway turned around and considered the facts. “Well, seeing as they’re at the periphery of Flarn territory, that’s probably not such a bad idea. I’m going to give Captain Baxter my recommendation that the ship dock here and we send down away parties immediately.”
“As you wish, Commander.”
Conway looked around. “Where the hell did J’hana go?”
Lt. J’hana had wandered off to inspect the rest of the station while Larkin had inspected the cargo bay. She found it fortified with weapons and supplies, however utilitarian. Something just didn’t feel right, though. It was as if someone had something to hide, but she couldn’t quite figure out what that was. She would have felt better if Lt. Tilleran had been along. At least then they could get an idea of what these people were thinking.
J’hana came upon what appeared to be one of the station’s workers, hunched over a table and working on something. She walked over to see what he was doing.
“Hey, you there…”
The worker began to stand up. Little did J’hana know that he had a disruptor concealed beneath his jacket, ready to burn her to a crisp if she found out what he was working on. If she discovered it, the plans would be ruined.
“Conway to J’hana. Come on…we’re getting out of here.”
“J’hana here.” J’hana replied, touching her communicator. “I’m on my way.” The tactical officer turned on a heel and headed back toward the main concourse and promenade.
The worker’s partner joined him, staring at J’hana as she walked off. “That was close, Brin.” She said, eying the device he was working on.”
“You don’t have to tell me, Danel.” Brin replied, closing the panel on the detonator.
“So the senior staff is invited to a special dinner in their honor at the station’s premier restaurant, ‘The Galaxy’s Edge’.” Conway explained, making an effort see Baxter behind his lumbering house of cards. Between cards, he could discern the captain, sitting with his back to Conway, flipping one card in his hand, staring out the huge viewport that overlooked Space Station Dilus.
“Is that all, Conway?” Baxter asked dryly.
Conway looked at the PADD he was holding. “Well, docking has gone according to plan. Mr. Richards says that the staff has been nothing if not friendly and cooperative.”
“So, the dinner is at eight o’clock sharp. And, if you don’t object, I’ve set our departure time at 0900 tomorrow morning. Give everyone a chance to sleep in a little.”
“I’ll be there with bells on.” Baxter said blandly. “If that’s all, I’d like to be alone now.”
“Of course, sir.”
Conway was straining to be his most friendly, but it was having no effect. Well, he wasn’t responsible for dealing with his commanding officer’s depression. That was Counselor Peterman’s department. She’d have to help him.
“You know, Ariel, I don’t normally counsel without an appointment.” Peterman said as she poured Lt. Tilleran a cup of ginger tea.
Tilleran took the tea gratefully and sat down across from Peterman on the couch in her quarters. “Thank you, Counselor. I appreciate you seeing me on such a short notice.”
“Think nothing of it. Now what seems to be the problem?”
“Well, I woke up about half an hour ago from the most disturbing dream.”
“Go ahead,” Peterman said, trying to be as encouraging as possible. That was hard since all she could think about was Ensign Spencer.
“I was on board an alien space station, watching two people work on something…a detonator or something like that, I think. Then, the next thing I know, I’m at my station on the bridge. Everything’s fine, when, all of a sudden…things start exploding! Before I know it, I’m in an escape pod, and I can hear Captain Baxter’s voice on the comm, screaming for everyone to abandon the ship. Then there are more explosions, and then I wake up.”
Peterman was staring out the window, not really paying much attention at this point.
“It sounds almost prophetic.” she mused.
“Yes, it does. And that’s what bothers me. Being a Betazoid and all.”
“Well, I don’t think you should concentrate that much on your telepathic powers. Look deeper. Try to find a hidden message in the dream.”
“What kind of hidden message? You mean like, ‘There are people trying to blow up your ship’?”
“No, deeper than that. Are you having problems in your love life?”
“No, I couldn’t be happier with Lt. Elliot. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know how I’d get through the sorrow of being so far from home. Every woman has to have a strong man to look to for strength.”
The entire time Tilleran was talking, Peterman was folding and pulling at one of her pillows. By the time the science officer was finished, there was stuffing everywhere.
“I’m sure. Well, that’s all the time we have. I have another appointment in five minutes.” Peterman lied. “I think you’re just overreacting about this. Go home to…” Peterman brought the name up as if she was bringing up a load of phlegm, “…your boyfriend.”
Tilleran put her cup of tea down and stood up, seeming slightly confused. “If you say so Counselor. Thank you for the advice.”
Peterman walked Tilleran to the door. “Any time.”
Once Tilleran left, Peterman ran to her bed and jumped under the covers, beckoning for her dog, Charlie to join her.
“Oh, Charlie, what the hell am I going to do? There are almost a hundred men on this ship, how come I can’t find one good one?”
Charlie just licked Peterman’s face in response.
“Okay, Charlie, I’m sorry, one good HUMAN one.”
“All right, Mirk, we’re underway. Show us what great little snack you brought.” Ford said unenthusiastically as he set the ship for autopilot.
Mirk reached into his basket and pulled out a sealed bowl. “Well, I brought one of my special creations, diced larmak salad. The special ingredient is the larmak, a plant that comes from my native planet of Lobstrax. I brought some of it with me to the Aerostar when my ship exploded.”
Hartley tore the lid off the bowl, spooning some of the salad onto a plate. “This better be good, I’m starved.”
Just as Hartley was about to devour one of the plants, root and all, Mirk grabbed it.
“Hold on, the root is just for decoration. They contain a deadly toxin that kills you slowly, over many days. The only antitoxin is the blood of a wild animal that is found in the caves of my planet.”
Mirk broke the root off and handed the rest of the plant to Hartley. “Here ya go. Enjoy.”
Hartley just stared at the plant on her plate. “I think I just lost my appetite. Maybe it was the slow death thing.”
Mirk offered the bowl to Ford. “What about you, Ensign?”
Ford put up a hand. “No thanks, I think I’ll just get something out of the replicator.”
Hartley nodded, still keeping her eye on the bowl of salad. “Count me in. I’ll just have a nice, harmless ham sandwich.”
“Suit yourself, guys,” Mirk said, digging into the bowl with rigor. “You don’t know what you’re missing.”
“And you didn’t want to come on this mission.” Ford said to Hartley wryly, turning his attention back to the field of on-rushing stars in the front window.
“Thank you all for coming to ‘The Galaxy’s Edge’ for this very special occasion.” Ronan said, at the front of a long table which seated Captain Baxter, Commander Conway, Lieutenant Larkin, Lieutenant J’hana, Counselor Peterman, Doctor Browning, and Lieutenant Commander Richards. They were all sparkling in their dress uniforms. Commander Conway seemed to be having trouble with the collar on his.
“Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.” Baxter said, without much enthusiasm. Peterman was seated a couple seats down from him, but he didn’t have the heart to look at her tonight. He didn’t want to have to look at her ever again. Now he understood why officers never got involved with the people under them. Just too messy.
“You live, you learn.” Baxter muttered.
“Pardon, Captain?” Larkin said, across the table from him.
“I thought I told Yeoman Briggs to open the collar a little bit.” Conway whined, from Baxter’s right. “It’s just too damned tight.”
“Stop whining, human.” J’hana said from across from Conway. “You whine about everything. One wonders how you have time for anything else.”
“I hope we have lobster.” Conway countered. “Then you can watch while I rip the antennae off those suckers with my bare teeth.”
“You little…” J’hana said, lunging.
Larkin, always quick in reflex, jerked the Lieutenant down and held her down with unbreakable android strength. “I suggest you obey standard Federation diplomatic protocol in this matter, Lieutenant, lest I put you on report for insubordination.”
J’hana just growled and stared at her plate.
“Hey,” Doctor Browning called from the other end of the table. “When do we eat?”
Ronan stood, smiling wickedly. “Soon enough, Doctor…soon enough. But first, I would like to make a toast, to the bravest group of travelers that have ever passed this way. I couldn’t imagine living such a desperate and hopeless life.”
“Here, here.” The group said in semi-unison, unenthusiastically. It seemed they were being made painfully aware of the obvious.
“I shall get the food now.” Ronan said, moving off toward the kitchen.
“That was certainly fun.” Conway said sarcastically, laying his napkin in his lap.
“And what the hell kind of fork is this?” Richards said, holding up what looked like a small axe.
“I believe that is a knife.” Larkin said, holding up what looked like a large toothpick. “This is the fork.” She then indicated what looked like a medium sized spoon. “And this is a spoon.”
Baxter lifted his head up for a moment to looked at Larkin. “Sometimes I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or not.”
“I assure you, I am not.”
A few moments of silence followed.
“I could sure use a drink.” Peterman said, breaking the silence.
“Here we go!” Ronan said, appearing from the kitchen with two pitchers of dark, red liquid and setting it down on the table. “Help yourselves. It is called Kolad. It has a fruity aperitif and a slightly intoxicating effect.”
“Where’s the food?” Browning asked, holding her quasi-fork and knife with anticipation.
“Right here!” Ronan said gleefully, pressing a control on the wall.
One of the nearby walls lifted up, and out slid a long, waist-high table, covered with food, and complete with a sneeze guard.
“A salad bar?” Conway asked, incredulously.
“No,” Ronan said. “A food table. What is this ‘salad bar’ you speak of?”
Browning and Richards grabbed their plates and hopped up to start the line at the bar.
“Hey, Janice.” Richards said, smiling. “Care to see if this sneeze guard works?”
Browning smiled back. “Dare you.”
Richards began to sniff and snarl, boiling sounds of phlegm erupting from his nose. “Here goes!” he said, sneezing all over the sneeze guard.
“I’ll be darned.” Browning said. “It really works.”
Conway came up behind Richards and slapped him upside the head. “We’re at a diplomatic function, Richards, let’s try acting like it.”
Richards straightened and began putting food on his plate. “Yes, sir.”
Conway continued along the serving line with distaste. Nothing but salad as far as the eyes could see. Heaping mounds of it. It did not smell right, aside from the simple fact that it seemed healthy, it really gave him the creeps.
Finally, at the end of the bar, Conway came upon a small selection of meats and cheeses. He picked and prodded at the selection and finally put a few of the less disgusting animal limbs on his plate. Better safe than sorry.
Returning to the table, Conway noticed the rest of the staff, especially Browning and Richards, digging into the salad at the bar.
“Stay away from that stuff guys, I think it’s gone bad.”
“Can it, Conway.” Peterman said, scooping salad onto her plate.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you!” Conway replied, taking his seat and digging in.
One by one, the rest of the senior staff sat down and began to eat and talk.
“Does the meat agree with you, Mr. Conway?” Ronan asked, staring at his plate.
Conway burped and sat back, wishing for a toothpick. “Big surprise, Ronan, it tastes like chicken. Good thing too.”
“Chicken? What is this?” Ronan asked with wonder.
“The most beautiful eatin’ bird in the galaxy.” Conway said, his eyes filled with wonder and just a little sadness.
“Hmmmm. Did you sample our salad?”
Conway began to feel uncomfortable. Ronan’s eyes were boring into him. It was bad enough that she just stood over the group and watched them eat. She seemed downright spooky.
“Uhhh..yeah. It was very good.” he lied.
“I’m glad you enjoyed it.” Ronan said, moving on down along the table.
“Captain,” Lt. Larkin asked, looking across the table at Baxter, “Are you not enjoying your food? You seem distressed.”
“I don’t want to talk about it, Lieutenant.”
“You seem constipated. May I suggest a laxative for your fiber needs?”
“That’s okay.” Baxter said, putting his napkin on the table and standing up. “Thank you for a wonderful dinner, Ronan. You’ve been very gracious.”
Ronan nodded. “You are welcome. Leaving so soon? We have not yet had dessert.”
“No, thank you. I’m a very busy man, as I’m sure you know.”
“What’s his problem?” Peterman asked, chugging down a glass of Kolad.
“I think it’s girl troubles.” Browning replied through mouthfuls of salad.
Peterman just banged her empty glass on the table. “Hey, get me some more of that Kolad and keep it coming!”
Baxter had decided to try and take a walk along the station’s small, dark promenade, in the hopes of getting the thoughts of Counselor Peterman out of his mind. It didn’t seem to be working. Everything he saw reminded him of her-from the shapely female mannequins at the dress shop to the gorgeous, round, hard melon-like fruit the vendors were selling, to the slightly dented can of unidentifiable meat that somebody had left sitting on one of the benches. Everything.
The Captain came to a stop at a large viewport, watching the Aerostar drift by.
Beyond the Aerostar lay billions upon billions of stars.
How many of those stars would he have to pass before getting home?
Would he ever know?
“Captain!” Richards called out. “There you are. Everybody’s ready to return to the ship.”
Baxter didn’t turn around. “Wonderful. You guys go ahead.”
“What the heck is your problem, anyway, Andy? It’s Peterman, isn’t it?”
Baxter turned to look at the engineer. “Shut up.”
“It is. That’s pathetic. She hasn’t given you any indication whether she likes you or not, yet you act like she’s stomped on your heart.”
“She does kind of like another guy.”
“So what? Like that’s ever stopped you before.”
“Ha ha. I wouldn’t have a chance with a girl like her.”
“You’re the Captain of a starship. Girls pay to be with guys like you.”
“I’m no Captain Kirk. I’m not even a Captain Sulu. I’m not even a Captain Crunch.”
“Stop putting yourself down. Now get those damn ego shields up and go in there and target her engines!”
“Okay, okay. But if she refuses me, I swear I’ll never let you live this down.”
“You can wallow as much as you want after that…I promise.”
Baxter ran off, ready to give himself one more chance.
Conway was tapping his foot impatiently. “I’m sick of waiting for those two. They can find their own way back.” It was a good thing he didn’t see Dr. Browning stick her tongue out at him mockingly. That would have really ticked him off.
“Conway to Aerostar. Five to beam up.”
Baxter ran towards the group just as the transporter beam was engaged, and just as he shouted, “I love you more than anything!”, the group had completely disappeared.
Behind them, an old alien woman with two noses stood smiling, one sharp tooth protruding from her wrinkled mouth. “Thank you sonny. Have you seen my can of meat?”
Richards was close on Baxter’s heels. “That time doesn’t count. I call a technical foul.”
Baxter smiled slightly. “Your meat’s back that way, lady.” Then he turned to Richards. “Thanks for trying to cheer me up, for what it’s worth.”
“Hey, that’s what friends are for.” Richards replied.
With that, Baxter tapped his communicator. “Aerostar, two to beam up. Energize.”
Mirk was jarred out of his peaceful nap by a sharp kick from Lt. Hartley.
“Come on, get up already. We’ve reached your planet. We actually made it here in one piece, thanks to Mr. Richards’ alterations to our engines, the Flarn listening posts have mistaken us for a Garibid transport.”
Mirk pulled himself out of the cramped bunk. “That’s good news. I’m going to need you to beam down with me to the planet and help me search for clues as to where my people went.”
Hartley seemed to dread that idea. “Fine. It’s better than staying cramped up here with ‘Friendly Fingers Ford’.”
When Hartley and Mirk appeared on the planet, the first thing Mirk noticed was how empty the island he grew up on seemed.
“This used to be Oka, my home island. We reached the other seventy island-states by boat. They’re located pretty close together, so it’s never a very hard trip.”
Hartley pulled out her tricorder and checked it. “Fascinating. Well, I don’t see any Maloxians here. Let’s go.”
“Hold on a minute, let’s see what we can find around here.”
Hartley sighed. This mission was taking forever.
Mirk led the way to his old hut, deep at the center of the island. It took them twenty minutes to walk there, and by that time, Hartley was exhausted.
“Are we there yet?” Hartley asked, leaning up against a hut.
“Yeah, it’s right here.” Mirk said, indicating the hut.
Looking inside, Mirk noticed how empty it seemed. His family’s furniture was completely gone, and everything was taken out of his room. So much for finding momentos of his youth.
“There’s something I don’t understand, Mirk.” Hartley asked, looking around the spacious hut.
“Your people deal in complicated technologies, systems, and equipment. Then they go home and live in grass huts.”
Mirk sat down in the empty space where his bed used to be. “There’s something you must understand about our people, Lieutenant. We may deal with technologically advanced races, but in the end, all we need, all I need, is a simple grass hut. We’re a simple people.”
Hartley continued to look around. “Obviously. Are you finished?”
Mirk got up and wiped the sand off his butt. “I suppose.”
“Okay, what else do we need to check out?”
“I want to look at our temple. Maybe there’s a clue there as to where everyone else went there.”
Hartley followed Mirk out of the dwelling. “After you.”
Ensign Ford propped his feet up on the helm panel of the Washita and sat back, spreading open the centerfold of his latest (and last) issue of “Klingon Cuties.” He was quite impressed.
“Wow. She can bench three hundred kilograms. What a woman! And she likes to surf!”
Ford continued to flip through the magazine, ignoring the blinking “vessel proximity sensor” that was going off on his panel, along with the beep that accompanied it.
That was probably why he was startled as heck when the comm system came to life.
“Federation runabout: Identify yourself.”
“Who the hell could that be?” Ford asked, putting down the magazine and looking out the window…
…and staring right down the photon torpedo tubes of an Ambassador-class Federation starship.
Ford just stared in awe. “That is definitely a surprise.”
Hartley was cursing herself for not putting on her trailboots before going on this mission. She really loved them; she kind of felt like she was a real hiker when she wore them, despite the fact that her mom always called them “shit kickers.” Well, she wouldn’t have much say in the matter now, would she?
Hartley considered this as she trudged up the steep cliff leading toward the ancient Lobstraxian temple.
“We’re almost there!” Mirk called back.
“Wow, that’s a relief. There better be a snack bar with some drinks up there.”
“Don’t get your hopes up.” Mirk replied, finally reaching the top of the cliff.
When Hartley reached the top of the cliff, she was overcome with a wonderful sense of…boredom. “It’s shaped like a big zucchini, Mirk.”
Mirk stared at the towering temple with reverence. “It is not. It’s beautiful. That purple stone is abundant on an island on the other side of this planet. Every stone was carried from island to island right to this spot.”
“Why didn’t they just put the temple on that island?”
Mirk approached the entrance to the temple. “The reward, my dear Megan, is in the effort.”
Hartley just shrugged, continuing through the entrance after Mirk. “If you say so.”
“If there’s a clue at all, it will be in here.” Mirk said, switching on his wrist beacon. “I guess all the candles went out.”
“No kidding.” Hartley said, scanning the room with her own wrist beacon. “So what are we looking for?”
“Never mind…I found it!” Mirk shouted.
Mirk proudly lifted up a piece of paper. “This is a scroll of hope. It has a prayer to the Directors written on it. My father evidently wrote a prayer asking for guidance just before he left with everyone else. I wonder what it says.”
“Well…read it!” Hartley cried impatiently.
“Okay okay, here goes: ‘Directors, this is the lowly Seeker Jum. I have written to ask for your help, guidance, and understanding in my mission to turn the Maloxian people from a simple peaceful race into a strong force for rebellion against the Flarn and a powerful source of pride that will serve as an example for the hundreds of other races governed by the Flarn. P.S.- Please help me punish my cursed son for getting us into this mess in the first place.’”
Mirk’s face was a mask of confusion.
“What does all that mean?” Hartley asked.
“I guess I pushed him over the edge.” Mirk said, still amazed. “He always said what we had was not good enough. He said that we were never destined to carry the burden of Flarn greed. He’s started a rebellion.”
“With what? I thought your people had nothing.”
“They have strength in numbers, not to mention all the salvaged equipment from the starship graveyard. It is quite possible that they are attempting to mount a resistance against the Flarn.”
“They won’t stand for that for long.” Hartley replied, feeling a chill when the word “Flarn” was mentioned.
“They may not have a choice.”
Just then, Mirk’s communicator came to life. “Ford to away team. I think you guys better get back up here. Now.”
Hartley seemed irritated. “Just what the hell is the prob-“
“Okay, okay.” Mirk said. “Energize.”
As soon as Mirk appeared back on the runabout, he froze, his eyes glazing over in amazement.
“What is it?” Hartley asked, looking from Mirk to the ship’s front window. “Oh,” she said, answering herself.
Hartley was quite surprised to see the Federation starship sitting there, not a kilometer off their starboard bow.
“Now do you see why I called you guys back here?” Ford asked.
A smile began to spread across Hartley’s face. “It must be the cavalry from the Alpha Quadrant!”
“It isn’t,” Mirk said, still frozen in place. “Get us out of here, Mr. Ford. And put a distress call out to the Aerostar.”
“Why, they’re obviously here to help us-“ Ford said, still staring out the window.
“He did it,” Mirk said. “He actually did it.”
“Who?” Hartley asked. “Your father?”
“He’s over there.”
“How do you know?” Hartley asked, becoming more and more confused.
“Just get us out of here, Ford.” Mirk said.
“Okay, okay. I hope you’re right.” Ford replied, bringing the runabout around and engaging its engines.
“Federation runabout, cut your engines and drop your shields. This is the Federation Starship Inspiration. We are here to save you.”
“Don’t believe them, Ford,” Mirk said, running to the engineering console and trying to find a way to boost the tiny ship’s power.
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t!”
“How’s that?” Hartley asked, pointing outside the runabout at a twinkling red ball that seemed to be getting closer and closer.
“Shit!” Ford cried, banking the runabout so hard it caused everyone to hit the deck. “That was a photon torpedo!”
The torpedo missed the runabout by a fraction of an inch.
“NOW do you believe me?” Mirk asked.
“Sure, sure.” Ford replied, “What are we going to do?”
“Get that distress call out. And open a channel.”
“Okay. Channel open.”
“Dad, this is Mirk. Don’t do this. There’s another way to find our destiny. We’re not warriors. And we’re not killers. Listen to me!”
Ford, for his part, sent the distress call. “Aerostar. This is the runabout Washita. We’re in distress. We’ve found-“
Another torpedo seared space, causing Hartley to yelp.
“FORD! Look out!”
“Aaaaah!” Ford cried, pulling the runabout into a roll. “Hold on everyone.”
The torpedo glanced along the runabout’s hull, causing it to rock with the explosion.
“Shields down to twenty percent,” the computer chirped.
“We have to get the hell out of here!” Hartley yelled, grabbing on to her chair.
“That’s kind of hard when-“
The third torpedo was a direct hit.
Supplemental. Call it Captain’s prerogative, but I’ve decided to move up our departure time. I have recalled all landing parties and we will be getting underway within the hour. I hope the people of Dilus station don’t find it at all ungrateful that we’re leaving so soon, but I just can’t explain it, I feel the need to get out of here–the sooner the better. I’ve contacted the Sulani captain we rescued several months ago and he said he would help me open a dialogue with their President. Hopefully the Sulani will be able to help us find a way home without getting obliterated by the Flarn.
“We’re ready to get underway, Captain.” Commander Conway said, sticking his head into Baxter’s readyroom.
“Great. Set a course for Sulan. Maximum warp.”
“Aye, sir. If you don’t mind me saying…”
“That will be all.”
Conway was getting a little tired of being interrupted. This little charade had gone on long enough. He decided the only way to get a word in edgewise was to talk as fast as possible and then get the hell out of there. “CaptainIhopeyouarefeelingokayandIwantedyoutoknowifyoueverneedtotalkthatyoucancometomethanksalotI’llbeonthebridgebye.” Conway said quickly, ducking out of the readyroom before Baxter could respond.
“What did you say?” Baxter asked as the doors closed.
Baxter just shrugged when he didn’t get a response, and decided, since it was technically Conway’s shift, that he would go and try to get a few hours sleep before having to begin negotiations with the Sulani government.
Baxter walked out onto the bridge. “You have the conn, Commander Conway, I’ll be sleeping.”
“Okaysleepwelldon’tforgettobrushyourteeth.” Conway replied from the Command chair, enlisting curious looks from the bridge crew.
Baxter paused a moment, shook his head, and continued on to the turbolift.
Once Baxter was off the bridge, Conway noticed everyone looking at him. “Is there a problem?” he barked.
Everyone got quiet.
“I didn’t think so. Now get back to work!”
Try as he might, Baxter could just not go to sleep. He finally decided to get up and go to sickbay. Maybe Doctor Browning had some sleeping medication.
When Baxter arrived in sickbay, he noticed that Browning had a patient on the operating table.
“I didn’t realize you were with a patient,” he said. “I’ll come back later.”
Browning turned around to see who had come in. “Oh, Captain. Stick around. I’m just looking over Peterman’s dog.”
Browning stepped aside to reveal Charlie, laying helpless on the biobed.
Baxter started to back away, but, surprisingly, the dog didn’t jump at him.
“Hello, Captain,” Peterman said sadly from behind him. He must not have seen her as he came in.
“What happened?” Baxter asked.
“That’s what I’m trying to find out. He probably just got hold of something that didn’t agree with his stomach,” Browning said, checking her tricorder.
“Is he going to be okay?” Peterman asked, starting to get teary-eyed.
“I think so.” Browning said, “All the same, I’m going to keep him overnight for observation.”
“Whatever you think will help.”
“It would help if you told me what you’ve fed him lately.”
“Just his usual food supplement, and some scraps from tonight’s dinner.”
“Ho boy,” Browning sighed.
“What’s the problem?” Baxter asked.
“Well,” Browning began, “Charlie’s the second complaint I’ve had associated with tonight’s meal. Chris was complaining of a stomach ache, too.”
“Do you think it was food poisoning?”
Browning shook her head. “It’s too early to tell. I’d suggest putting out a message to the crew telling them to report any signs of sickness to me immediately, no matter how small. We don’t want a full scale epidemic breaking out here.”
Baxter turned to Peterman. “Will you take care of that for me, Counselor?”
Peterman was still staring at her dog. “S-sure. I just hope Charlie will be okay.”
Browning smiled. “I’m sure there’s nothing to be worried about. We’re just being cautious.”
“I understand.” Peterman said. “Hey, Captain, care to join me for a little nightcap at Mirk’s?”
Baxter began to fuss with his uniform. He still hadn’t changed out of his dress uniform and the collar was starting to bother him as much as it had Conway. “I don’t think so, Counselor. Thanks anyway.”
“No problem. Good night, guys.” Peterman said. “And good night, Charlie,” she added, kissing the dog on the nose and strolling out of sickbay.
“Good night,” Baxter said with a low whistle as Peterman walked out.
“Feeling any better?” Browning asked.
“No. Not at all.” Baxter said, his face falling once again. “I can’t get her off my mind, and what’s worse, I can’t sleep.”
“Poor thing. I’ll get you a somnetic inducer to help you sleep. And I’ll see if there are any other girls on board with long dark hair and a lot of pets.”
“NOT FUNNY,” Baxter grumbled.
“I thought it was,” Browning giggled, heading back into the storage room.
She returned shortly with a small blinking object. “Just put this by your bed and you’ll sleep like a baby, guaranteed.”
“Too bad they don’t have one of those to subdue your appetite. Or mine,” Baxter added.
“Ha ha. That wasn’t one of your best attempts, sir, but it’s good to see that you’re slowly getting your sense of humor back.”
“Don’t bet on it. Oh, and keep me up to date on Charlie, will you?”
“Listen, I know how you feel about her, Andy–but I really think it may be time to move on. I mean, before you came in, all she could talk about was Ensign Spencer.”
“Boy, I sure wish he would get sucked out an airlock.”
“Around this ship, you never know, you may get your wish. Now go get some sleep.”
“Thanks, Janice.” Baxter said, turning to leave.
Before he reached the door, she called out to him. “And take two blondes and call me in the morning.”
Baxter chuckled as he headed out the door.
Just before going to bed, Baxter decided to take a long shower, spoiling himself with real water, quite a joy after months of sonic showers. Sound never could quite reach that area right behind his left ear.
After putting on his starfleet emblem pajamas, Baxter pulled back his sheets and got in bed. He was all settled in when the comm panel next to his bed beeped.
“Conway to Baxter. I think you’d better come up here.”
Baxter groaned and sat up. “What is it?”
“Just get up here, sir.”
Due to the urgency in Conway’s voice, Baxter rushed up to the bridge in his pajamas. The entire bridge crew, Conway included, seemed to get no end of joy and laughter out of this–purely at Baxter’s expense.
“Okay, okay, what the hell is so damn urgent?” Baxter asked, the laughter increasing his annoyance at being stirred from bed.
“Play the distress call, J’hana.”
J’hana pressed a button on her panel. “Aerostar. This is the runabout Washita. We’re in distress. We’ve found-zzzzzrt”
“That sounds bad. What cut them off?” baxter asked.
“We’re not sure, sir. But that isn’t why we called you up here. It’s the second distress call.”
“The second one?”
“Okay, J’hana, play the SECOND distress call for Pete’s sake so I can get to bed.”
J’hana grunted in compliance and tapped a few buttons on her panel.
“To anyone that can hear this message, this is the Federation Starship Inspiration. We have been trapped in this quadrant of the galaxy for almost a year. We have found the wreckage of a runabout that appears to have come from a ship called Aerostar. Evidently, it was destroyed in a Flarn attack. If you’re out there, Aerostar, please respond to this distress call as soon as possible. We are desperate to find another friendly vessel out here.”
Baxter fell into his command chair. “I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t heard it with my own ears.”
Conway stood next to Baxter with his hands clasped behind his back. “How do you recommend we proceed, sir?”
“Are you kidding? Plot a course for the source of that distress call and engage at maximum warp.”
“What if it’s a trap?” Conway asked.
“That’s a risk I’m willing to take,” Baxter said, turning around and heading for the turbolift. “I’m going back to sleep. Wake me up before we get there.”
“Whatever you say, sir.” Conway said, reclaiming the command chair.
Lt. Tilleran sat at her station quietly as the two officers discussed the ship’s response to the distress call, tempted to speak up about her misgivings, the deceit that she could detect in the voice from the second distress call. She dismissed these feelings, however. Counselor Peterman was right. Her mind was playing tricks on her.
TO BE CONTINUED….