Paramount owns Star Trek and all references thereof. Alan Decker owns Star Traks and all references thereof. Anthony Butler owns The Vexed Generation and all references thereof. David Markham-Jones denies all involvement with the above organisations and individuals. Consequently he owns three words on line fifty. Despite the often coarse language employed by these characters I shall endeavour to filter out some of the more colourful terms which offend my British sensibilities.

Author: David Markham-Jones
Copyright: 1997



Candlelight lit the room. Soft music could be heard in the background, coming from hidden speakers. Starlight spilled in through the window, playing over the table set for two. A sumptuous meal was laid out, with wine carefully selected to complement the meat already opened and waiting in the ice bucket. Real wine, not the replicated stuff. “Appropriated” from Mirk’s wine store for just this special occasion. Captain Baxter sat quietly in his chair, gazing across the table, not saying a word, meal forgotten in front of him, wine in hand. Spoiling the romantic mood somewhat were several bunches of brightly coloured balloons bearing the legend “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” tied to strategic locations about the room. It should have been the perfect evening, but for one thing. Baxter was alone. Peterman had missed her own surprise birthday dinner. He had planned it all very carefully, cajoling the computer to reveal the counsellor’s timetable so he could casually ask her to visit his quarters when she had finished seeing to the mental health of the crew. Perhaps he should have been more insistent that she was on time, but he couldn’t exactly say “Make sure you’re at my quarters at 20:00 prompt so you don’t miss your surprise birthday meal.”

Just as he was about to start packing it away there was a chime at the door.

“Come in,” intoned Baxter.

“Oh, Honey, you would not believe the day I’ve had. Ensign Warwick just had to tell me all about her petty sexual problems. You thought you had some problems!” Peterman laughed wearily. “You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve heard today! Can you believe…” She droned on. Baxter tuned her out, nodding politely and looking concerned. “Yogurt! Yes, yogurt! I tell you…” She just kept talking.

“Uh, Isn’t all this supposed to be confidential, darling?”

“Hey, these wackos spend all day telling me about their problems. Who do I tell mine to? And my problem is having to listen to theirs all day long. And if I have to, so do you.”

“Happy birthday, Kelly.”

“You’d never guess that a fine upstanding member of the crew like Crewman Wheatcroft could have a thing for cats, would you? And that nice Phillips in Engineering, you’ll never guess what…”

Baxter smiled and nodded and waited for his girlfriend to wind down.

In Main Engineering there was a frenzy of activity around one of the diagnostic tables. Technicians chatted to each other as they assembled the last part of a complicated device apparently connected to one of the engineering computer terminals at one end and with what appeared to be an aluminum wok covered in flashing lights and wires at the other. In between there were several meters of optic cable with a data PADD spliced in around the half-way point. Chief Engineer Chris Richards and the android Kristen Larkin rounded the corner, discussing the odd contraption.

“So the Enterprise-D had a few problems with this. But you’re not Data.”

“That is correct, I certainly am not Data. However I am not certain that this is a good idea. Using my positronic net to run the ship in the event of a main computer failure could result in damage to the computer, myself or both.” Larkin looked serene as only an android discussing possible death for both herself and everyone around her could.

“I’ve been through the theory many times, and I see no reason for concern. The mistakes made before are easily avoidable if we know what to look out for.”

“Mr Richards, there is never any shortage of new mistakes to make. My experiences aboard the Secondprize and recently the Aerostar have reinforced this view. However, since my desire for self preservation is of course superceded by my desire to safeguard my crewmates I see no other reason to decline. I shall prepare for a trial run. What preparations are needed?”

Richards grinned and started to outline his plan.

Commander Conway looked at the viewscreen. It was the same view of the same stars he’d been watching since he came on-shift several hours ago. He looked over at Tilleran.

“Anything to report?”


“What, nothing?”

“Hey, I told you, nothing. There is nothing to report. No other ships, no planets, no unusual stars, no spatial distortions, not even a rogue comet.”

“Great. You know, we need a little more action around here.”

Tilleran’s eyes rolled.

“What did you have to say that for?”


“You know as well as I do that whenever anyone says that its too quiet or something the Flarn will attack and try to eat us or we’ll get sucked into a quantum singularity, or,” Tilleran shuddered, “Counsellor Peterman might bring Charlie onto the Bridge again.”

As if on cue the rest of the Bridge crew shuddered in unison at that last possibility. Conway couldn’t resist an apprehensive glance at the turbolift doors, which somehow gave the impression of being about to spring open and disgorge a dog-shaped engine of destruction named Charlie.

By the grace of God they remained closed. For now.

J’hana was in Mirk’s bar drinking heavily. Three bottles lay on the bar around her and on the floor beneath her stool and the strains of T’Rash’s Seventh Blood Opera filled the room.

“Come on now, J’hana. I think you’ve had enough Boiling Worm Wine for now.”

“Only three bottles,” replied J’hana nearly evenly.

“Even the Klingons only drink it in thimble-sized glasses.”

“Is it my fault if they can’t hold their drink?”

“Gimme a break, J’hana. If you don’t leave now or at least stop singing then I’ll…”

“Call security?” J’hana grinned lopsidedly at the bartender. Then her tone darkened considerably. “Stop singing? The Governor of W’Nata’P’Tish Province had this opera written for his ninth wedding. When his fiancee was killed in an accident he tried to cancel the wedding, and do you know what happened?” She looked Mirk squarely in the eye. “T’Rash gutted him for denying him the chance to perform his work in public. All Andorians have enjoyed the right to sing in public since that day.”

Mirk decided not to press the issue, and moved on to the next customer. Ensign Ross Cain looked glum.

“What’s with the long face, Ross?”

Cain glared at him, then returned his gaze to the glass in front of him. It briefly crossed Mirk’s mind that he might be interfering, but he quashed that thought.

“Come on, I want to hear about it. Anything to take my mind off J’hana’s singing.”

Cain looked up briefly, then resumed staring at the glass, as though hypnotized by its superior intellect. Without breaking eye contact with the glass he started speaking.

“I served on four ships before the Aerostar. On each one nothing went right. Anything which can go wrong does go wrong. And now I end up on a ship filled with incompetents on the wrong side of the galaxy.”

“I’ve heard many names for that phenomenon. Murphy’s Law is the human one.”

J’hana leaned over and said

“The Klingon version is “Single Tribbles rarely come alone”. But I prefer the Andorian version myself, “You’re going to suffer miserably and then die a horrible death.’ It’s not quite as snappy, but it certainly sounds more impressive.”

Mirk smiled sardonically at the intoxicated Andorian.

“That could tell us volumes about the Andorian racial psyche. You never know, things might start to look up soon.”

Richards looked down at Larkin lying on the diagnostic table.

“Are you ready?”

Larkin nodded, causing the wok to wobble slightly on her head.

“Then I’ll initiate the link. I’m going to start out low, then ramp up to full interface. At first you’ll be dimly aware of the ship analogous to an extra limb, albeit a rather complicated one. Then as the immersion approaches 100% you’ll actually become the ship.”

“Understood. This should be an interesting sensation.”

Conway felt himself vegetate in the command chair. He needed coffee.

“I’ll be back in a minute. Just going to get a coffee. I don’t think the Captain’s going to mind if I just use the replicator in his ready room.”

Tilleran scowled as Conway left the Bridge and headed for the Captain’s personal replicator.

“Okay, you should be aware of most of the ship right now.”

“I can …experience… nearly the entire primary hull now. I apologise for being so vague, but there are no words to adequately describe the experience.”

“Approaching seventy percent interface.”

Baxter had been smiling and nodding for twenty minutes now while he heard every sordid detail about his crew. Finally he decided enough was enough.

“Kelly, darling, I love you but if I hear any more about this obviously certifiable crew I might just have to stun you with a phaser to shut you up. Now, I spent hours preparing this meal. It’s cold now, but it’s the thought that counts. You and I are going to eat this meal and you are going to have a happy birthday and if I hear one more word about personal crises I can live without knowing about I swear to God you’re going to wake up in Sickbay with a phaser headache.”

“…And then he told me all about the time he lost his virginity, to this dirty little toerag he met on a subspace dating sevice, and - sorry, did you say something? Anyway, Mr Byrne said…”

Muttering something obscene about chatty girlfriends Baxter gave up on dinner and started to tidy away the uneaten food. Perhaps a phaser is a bit over the top. Instead he decided to replicate a sedative to get her to shut up. Maybe with her veins filled with Soporifinol she would calm down.

“How does it feel, Larkin?”


“Is that good?”

“I believe so.”

“Going to eighty-five percent.”

Doctor Browning was working in her office, reading a medical paper when the computer informed her it was time for her mid-evening post-dinner snack. Abandoning the pizza she had nearly finished she walked over to the replicator and scrolled through her hand-picked menu, containing over seven hundred entries for this meal alone. She decided she needed something particularly sweet to get her through that dull paper.

“Still stable?”

“It is an odd sensation to be able to perceive myself from all angles simultaneously.”

“Is it safe to proceed?”



“I know just what you need. It is my own special invention, guaranteed to pick you up,” Mirk told Ensign Cain, punching buttons on the replicator. “A combination of alcohol and synthehol, plus a few herbs unique to this quadrant. Its intoxicating to the extreme but with no hangover.”

“Are you ready for me to increase to full immersion?”


“100% in ten seconds.”


Conway programmed into the replicator the specifications for Conway’s Special #24 (Ultra-high caffiene version), thought about it, then added extra caffiene.





Interface now 100%…”

Across the ship four replicators were activated simultaneously. This would normally cause no problem. The computer could handle several hundred simultaneous replicator requests under ordinary circumstances. But at that precise instant computer control was being switched over to Larkin’s android brain. For the tiniest fraction of a microsecond the data got scrambled and was rerouted the wrong way. Poor Larkin suffered the combined effect of one of Conway’s super-strong coffees, Mirk’s alco/synthehol brew, Browning’s sugar- and calorie-laden snack and the 20cc’s of Soporifinol ordered by Baxter. Bombarded with such overwhelming confusion Larkin’s brain screamed and gibbered for an eternity of microseconds before it mercifully shut down.

Alarms screamed as the ship’s bio-neural gelpaks went into shock, causing feedback througout the ship. System after system shorted spectacularly as power was redirected at random. Three crewmen were injured when warp power was channeled into the doors on deck four, causing them to open and close so fast they became a blur. Sparks leapt from console to console on the Bridge as the furious energy sought release. Lights went out to be replaced with the dull red of emergency lighting. The ship shook like a chew toy in Charlie’s mouth. Then, as suddenly as it had begun, it was over.

Conway crawled out of the Ready Room back to the Bridge. There was a small fire merrily burning a hole in the carpet by the turbolift. Tilleran and Fresca were unconscious on the floor. Ford was sprawled over the conn console, mouth working feebly. Conway could just make out the words “moron Conway” before Ford passed out. Conway climbed wearily to his feet, and kicked Ford until he awoke.

“There’s been an accident.”

“You don’t say, Commander Sherlock. I was wondering why I was knocked out by an electric shock while my console exploded.”

“Don’t worry. They’re designed to explode like that. They can be repaired in a matter of minutes if the overload is dumped through a high-resistance earth. Like you.”

“That’s a nice touch, I’ll compliment the designers on it when we get home.”

Conway tapped his badge.

“Bridge to Engineering, what’s your status?”

There was a crackle and Richards’s voice, somewhat distorted, could be heard over the intercomm.

“Richards here. We’ve ***** another ****** and so we’ve **** a serious ***** here, we need to lock ********* the ***** before we can even ********* but we ********* the ********. And that’s the good news.”

“Thanks. Very informative.”

“Don’t ****** it. Richards out.”

Conway turned to see Ford leering at an unconscious Fresca.

“Don’t even think about it, Ford. She’ll rip your arms off when she wakes up.”

Engineering was a mess. Smoke filled the place, the lights were out and there were crewmen with beacons running about screaming technobabble at each other. Standard procedure. Wrist beacons cut through the darkness and smoke, illuminating the cause of all the chaos. The starboard plasma conduit had been breached in several places. Richards quickly checked Larkin’s body for damage. Good, no external damage. Larkin was mumbling something, sounded like “mouse hosepipe window mind unstraighten potato,” all nonsense. Richards grabbed a wrist beacon and phase inverter and charged into the fray, screaming orders at engineers who were already too busy.

Browning was puzzled. The replicator had never done that before. The lights were out in Sickbay and the diagnostic displays were either out or erratic. The replicator still hadn’t produced her snack. Fortunately she always kept a snack supply in her office desk for emergencies.

Baxter slowly got to his feet. Peterman was on the floor in front of him, obviously badly hurt. She was bleeding and either she had an extra joint in her left arm he’d never noticed before or her arm was broken. After a moment’s debate he decided on the latter. He tapped his commbadge.

“Baxter to Bridge.”

No reply.

“Baxter to Sickbay.”

No reply.

“Baxter to Engineering”

”******** here, Captain. Too ****** to chat. Richards out.”

“Hmmm.” Things sounded serious. “Kelly, darling, we’ve got to get you to Sickbay. Can you hear me? Can you walk?”

It was obvious that she wasn’t going anywhere under her own power anytime soon. The medical courses he’d attended at Starfleet Academy were all insistent that a victim must never be moved. Well, he was the Captain and she was his girlfriend. He had to get her to Sickbay, and couldn’t think of a way to get her there without moving her so he mentally told the first aid instructors to get stuffed, lifted Peterman gently and walked over to the door. He discovered that power to the doors was out when Peterman’s head impacted on the still-closed door. Putting Peterman down he looked about for something to prise the door open with.

J’hana sang, oblivious to the mayhem around her. Mirk climbed out from underneath the counter and surveyed the devastation. Ensign Cain peered at the diminutive Maloxian from under a table and asked

“Is it safe to come out yet?”

“I think the explosions are over for now, yes.”

“No, I asked if it was safe yet.”

“If we are where I think we are, then no. We’re not safe.” J’hana sang on.

Emergency lighting came on just as Baxter forced open the door to Sickbay, thinking that doors should default to open when power was lost.

“Doctor, some help would be appreciated.”

“Just a second. Be there in a tick.”

“Peterman’s bleeding badly here.”

“Okay, okay. You want me to starve. Just so long as I save your girlfriend. Sure thing, Captain.”

Browning looked around on the floor until she found a working tricorder.

“Heavy bleeding. Fractured left arm.” she decreed, spraying crumbs over the prone counsellor.

“Thank you, Doctor. Your observational skills are unmatched. Is there nothing that gets by this woman?”

“Don’t worry. I’ll replicate a hypo of Inaprovaline and a laser cauteriser and she’ll be as good as new.”

Browning sauntered over to the replicator and punched a few buttons. There was a brief hum of replicator activity. Browning reached into the replicator, withdrew what she found there, carried it over to Peterman and pressed it against her neck. There was a distinct lack of hissing sound. Browning took a closer look at the hypo. It wasn’t a hypo. It was a small brass statue of a penguin. The replicator hummed again.

Conway and Ford had managed to revive the rest of the Bridge crew. As Conway had said, the exploded panels were easy to fix. Just swap out the exploded surface for a new one kept in the hidden compartment under the tactical station.

“Damage report,” ordered Conway, feeling smug. Normally it was the Captain who got to ask for a damage report.

“Phasers off-line. Torpedo launchers off-line. Deflector grid off-line. Maneuvering thrusters off-line. Impulse off-line. Warp drive off-line. Sewage and reclam…”

“That’ll do, Tilleran. What’s left?”

“Life-support, auxiliary power, replicator system, structural integrity field and limited transporters.”

“Replicators?” grinned Conway, “Great! I can get a coffee after all.”

So saying he headed back towards the Ready Room replicator, only to find that it was already busy. As he watched another brass penguin materialised and joined the growing pile on the floor.

Captain’s Log,

Stardate 51540.2 We are stranded in deep space light years from any friendly systems. Impulse engines are out. So is the warp drive. Communications are out too, so we can’t call for a tow from one of our allies. We’re low on emergency power. Replicators all over the ship are churning out penguins. At least things can’t get worse.

Captain Baxter called the conference room to order, vaguely thinking that captains like Picard never had to shout for attention in his own staff meetings.

“So what exactly is the problem, people?” Baxter shouted.

“We’ve lost the starboard plasma conduit,” screamed Richards over the din.

“Why’s that a problem? Its ruptured on a regular basis.” Baxter shouted back.

“Ordinarily we’d replicate a new section. But the replicators aren’t cooperating,” came the reply.

“This is no good,” muttered Baxter. He walked around the table to J’hana and spoke a few words into her ear. J’hana nodded, climbed onto the table, drew her phaser and stunned the bickering officers one by one until the rest shut up.

“Thankyou, J’hana. That wasn’t quite what I had in mind, but it worked,” said Baxter, nodding at J’hana, who looked satisfied.

“Now, as you were saying, Chris?”

“I said, we carry spares of nearly everything else. But plasma conduit is so simple but bulky its better just to replicate it. And we can’t do that while the replicators are just producing penguins.” As if to underline that remark yet another penguin appeared in the materialisation chamber of the replicator in the conference room, causing a mini penguinslide.

Ford looked confused.

“Can’t we do without it?”

He realised it was a stupid question when everyone turned to stare at him oddly.

“Without the plasma conduit the starboard nacelle won’t work, so no.”

“Well, isn’t one nacelle better than none at all?”

Richards sighed.

“Didn’t you cover this at the Academy?”

“Well, probably. But our Engineering teacher was such a babe…”

Richards took a few seconds to thank God he was born male, count to ten and recite three Vulcan calming mantras.

“Each nacelle produces a series of controlled distortion waves in space. These waves push against the waves generated by the other nacelle producing the force which drives the ship forwards.”


Richards recited three more mantras.

“The defining technical achievement of this millenium, and all you can say is ‘cool’?”

Baxter chose that moment to interrupt.

“Gentlemen, please. The issue at hand is getting us going again. Now, why can’t we get control of the replicators?”

Richards looked sheepish.

“Well, I sort of, you know, wired Larkin into the computer. Picard’s lot did it. I thought we might try it. Only now we can’t get her out.”

“And why didn’t you think to tell us you were about to start playing with our colleauge’s brains and the computer?”

“I thought it would be a nice surprise.” said Richards lamely.

“Well, how about surprising us by getting replicator control back.”

“I’ll get right on it, Captain.”

“Well, just be thankful we’re not under any pressure. You can rebuild that conduit with your bare hands if necessary.”

Baxter sat back in his chair.

“How’re the repairs coming for the rest of the ship?”

J’hana perked up and replied

“Weapons will be online in six hours. That’s quantum launchers and phasers. Deflectors will be back sometime in the next twenty hours. Nine hours if we get access to a working replicator.”

“Good. Now if there’s anything else anyone would like to add..”

“Ah, Captain,” Mirk squirmed as all eyes locked onto him, “What you said about there being no pressure to get it done quickly…”

“I’m not going to like this, am I?”

“Well, according to these star charts we’re directly in the path of a Flarn food convoy. Three freighters and a single warship escort.”

“When do they arrive?”

“Well, navigational sensors aren’t back online yet, so if I have to guess at our position… I’d say five to ten hours until they show up.”

“In that case, gentlemen, we are f***ed. Dismissed.”

Baxter sat behind his desk in his ready room. He considered going down to Engineering to see if he could help, but he realised that he would have caused more damage than he could have repaired. It was his complete faulure at every Engineering exam he’d taken at the Academy that had started him on the Inventory Officer career track. So he fretted in his ready room whilst the rest of the crew fixed his ship. He stared out the window wondering idly when Flarn warships would arrive and whether they’d board and eat them or simply blast them into their component atoms.


“Come,” He called, proud that he remembered to drop the ‘in’ like the best Starship captains.

The doors slid open and Richards strode in.

“Ah, Richards. What progress have we made?”

“Well, weapons are back to seventy percent capacity. That’s good if we’re going into battle anytime soon. If the Flarn don’t arrive for another two hours we can maybe push the weapons to eighty-five percent.”

“That sounds suspiciously like good news.”

“I haven’t finished yet.”

“Am I going to like the rest?”

“I doubt it, unless you enjoy hearing that our shields aren’t going to be over fifty percent even if the Flarn don’t arrive for another three hours.”

“Well, that’s better than what I was told at the meeting.”

“If you want more good news I’d better get back to Engineering.”

“Thanks. If you see Commander Conway, send him in, would you?”

Richards nodded and left the room. Baxter idly considered plasma conduits and comatose androids while he waited for Conway. He turned the problem over and over in his mind, hoping something would ‘click’.


There was a ‘click’.


Baxter reached across his desk and pulled a PADD close.


The PADD’s display started to fill with sketches and calculations as Baxter’s idea was fleshed out.




“For f***’s sake, Baxter! Are you going to keep me standing out here all day?”

Baxter looked up, remembering he’d sent for Conway.

“Come. Sorry about that, Commander. I’d offer you a coffee, but…”

He indicated the pile of brass penguins which filled nearly a quarter of the room.

“Enough with the pleasantries, Baxter. Don’t taunt me with offers of coffee. God knows I need one, and for my incompetent commanding officer to dangle it in front of my face in my hour of need… What is it you want, anyway?”

Baxter regarded his first officer, who was obviously suffering from caffeine withdrawl.

“Aren’t you supposed to ask ‘Permission to speak freely, sir?’ before insulting a superior officer?”

“Would you have granted it?”


“There you are then. So what is it you want?”

Baxter opened his mouth to answer, stopped, and paused to think. Then, with an apologetic expression he answered

“Uh, um, I can’t remember.”

“You WHAT?” exploded Conway, “You drag me up here, make me wait outside for ages, tease me with the prospect of coffee and you can’t even remember why you wanted to see me? Did Picard ever call Riker into his office and say ‘Sorry, Number One. I can’t for the life of me remember what I wanted to say.’?”

Conway took a second to recite one of the Vulcan mantras Richards had taught him.

“Well, I just got this great idea that could save all our lives before the Flarn get here.”

“You? You haven’t got a clue about engineering. You’ll probably get us all killed with this master plan of yours.”

“Well, that shows what you know. Now get out of here. I’ve got work to do.”

Richards was back in Engineering. The rest of the enginnering staff were busy with minor repairs to the engines. If it wasn’t for the ruptured conduit the Aerostar could go to warp in the next five minutes. Richards was currently poring over the plans for the neural link between the computer and Larkin. Perhaps if he just severed the cable carrying the replicator data… But no, if Larkin was cut out of the computer there would be no way to get control back. Larkin had to voluntarily turn control over to the main computer. He scratched behind his ear with a PADD stylus and turned to the prone Larkin.

“Mr Richards, report to the Captain’s Ready Room.”

Richards swore softly and used the last of his calming mantras.

“On my way, Captain.”



“I’m a bit busy, Captain. I hope this is important.”

Baxter grinned at Richards.

“Take a look at this,” he said pushing a PADD across the desk. “I’d like your opinion.”

Richards picked up the PADD and started to scroll through its contents.

“What is this, Captain?”

“What does it look like?”

“It looks like a harebrained scheme to fix the warp engines to me.”

“It occurred to me that the plasma conduits on the shuttlecraft are the same diameter, just different lengths. If we can cut out several lengths of conduit we can patch up the one in Engineering and get out of the way of that Flarn convoy.”

Richards gave Baxter a funny look.

“You came up with this on your own?” Baxter nodded. “The conduits on the shuttles are sealed in. They don’t need to be accessed in general maintennance, so we’ll have to cut them out.”

“We’ll worry about the damage to the shuttles after we’ve escaped certain death at the hands of the Flarn.”

“We’ll need a phaser cutter from stores and some reflex dampers.”

“I’ll meet you in Shuttlebay One in ten minutes with the cutter. With a little luck we’ll get on the move and be out of here before the Flarn show up.”

Richards was about to relpy when the ship shook violently.

Conway leapt out of the command chair and turned to face Tilleran.


“No need to snap, its not my fault!”

“Just give me the damn report.”

“Flarn convoy has dropped out of warp at a distance of 2700km. They’re firing antiproton weapons. Shields are at forty-seven percent.”

Conway tapped his commbadge.

“Conway to Richards. Do we have impulse yet?”

“Half impulse at your command, Commander,” said Richards striding onto the bridge from the Ready Room.

“What are you doing up here? Get down to Engineering and fix those engines!”

Baxter came onto the bridge scowling at Conway.

“I’m afraid he’s going to be a little busy. Mr Richards and I are going down to Shuttlebay One to pull everyones’ asses from the fire. Try to keep my ship in one piece.”

Conway started to protest in fury before realising what he’d just heard. Baxter had just given him command of the ship during battle! It was time for him to show up that incompetent fool Baxter once and for all.

The instant Baxter and Richards left in the turbolift Conway’s face broke out in a manic grin.

“Are phasers charged, J’hana?”

“Charged, locked and ready to fire.”

“Fire at will. Quantum torpedoes only when you can be sure of a hit.”

J’hana’s hands flew over the console as Conway turned to Ford.

“Evasive pattern Mu, Mr Ford.”

“Mu, sir?”

“You know, the one where we jink randomly along the Y and Z axes presenting the minimum profile to the attacker.”

“That’s Beta.”

“Evasive pattern Beta, then. Stupid Greek lettering system.”

The Aerostar rocked once more as a beam of antiprotons impacted with the shields.

“Shields at thirty-four percent,” reported J’hana.

“What’s their condition, J’hana?”

“Their shields are at eighty-nine percent. This will be a glorious death.”

“Thanks for that, J’hana. I feel better already. I hate to admit it, but I hope Baxter’s plan, whatever it is, works.”

Baxter and Richards crouched over a phaser cutter mounted on a tripod. It was cutting a square of bulkhead from the side of the Shuttlecraft Northstar. It was only about a third of the way through its cutting cycle, and Baxter was fretting.

“Come on, come on. Can’t it cut any faster?”

Richards consulted the display on the top of the cutter and compared it to his tricorder readings.

“The antimatter storage pod is right next to the conduit. Cutting faster means we could breach the pod. And I don’t think you want to take a shower in liquid antideuterium.”

Baxter considered this. It was true, an antimatter shower wouldn’t be pleasant. The shuttlecraft’s antimatter containment pod contained nearly two hundred grams of antideuterium, enough to blow a runabout-sized hole right through the Aerostar’s primary hull.

“Cut faster. We can’t wait for the Flarn to board and eat us.”

Richards tapped at the panel on top of the cutter.

Conway sat in the command chair gripping the armrests tightly.

“Our shields?”

“Seventeen percent.”

“Their shields?”

“Seventy-eight percent.”


“Indeed, Commander.”

Conway picked at the armrests, a nervous habit he’d developed since losing his coffee supply.

“Conway to Richards.” He was damned if he was going to speak to Baxter.

“Richards here.”

“How’s it coming down there?”

“Five minutes.”

Conway glanced at J’hana, who shook her head.

Peterman woke up in Sickbay. She felt weak, and her arm hurt.

“Counsellor, you’re awake.”

“Janice. What’s going on?”

“Well, the ship’s blown up, the Flarn are attacking, Larkin’s in a coma, the replicators are spewing out penguins, and I’m just about to have a snack. Would you like some?”

“Where’s Andy?”

“He’s probably on the Bridge.”

“He should be here waiting by my bedside.”

“I think he’s trying to save the ship.”

“He’s a selfish little s***.”

The selfish little s*** was currently wrestling with an out-of-control phaser cutter. Its tripod had been knocked over by the last hit and it was busy carving abstract shapes into the deck.

“Shut this thing down!”

Richards watched as Baxter fought with the device, unsure how to deactivate something which was more than likely to sever any limb he put near it. He couldn’t understand why Baxter was still in one piece.


Richards thought quickly, picked up a heavy fluid spanner and flung it at the machine. There was a crunch, the sound of arcing electricity and a scream from the captain.

After a few seconds Baxter disentangled himself from the smoking machine and staggered over to inspect the side of the shuttle.

“Nearly through. We can probably force it the rest of the way,” Richards told his singed captain.

Baxter and Richards grabbed a still-warm corner of the panel and heaved.

J’hana hit her panel in frustration.

“Phaser power exhausted. Shields gone. Torpedo launchers overheating!”

Conway had nearly picked a hole right through the command chair’s right armrest. He stood up and paced.

“Ford, evade at random. Do whatever you need to. Don’t spare the inertial stabilisers.”

Conway tapped his communicator.

“Conway to Richards. Give me good news.”

“Richards here. We’re extracting the conduit now. Two minutes to get it to Engineering and install it.”

“Well don’t stand there telling me about it! Get to it!”

Richards tapped his communicator.

“One to beam to Engineering with equipment.”

“Comin’ right up, Chris!” came Hartley’s reply over the intercom.

Richards and the length of conduit dissolved in the transporter effect.

Baxter ran for the turbolift, heading to the bridge.

The Aerostar dodged and weaved with grace that belied her size. The even larger Flarn warship didn’t bother to dodge but just blundered forward, shrugging off the underpowered phaser blasts that were all the Aerostar could muster in her defense. The three freighters hung back, unarmed and lightly shielded as they were.

Conway swore loudly as the Flarn warship closed. He was all out of ideas. The hiss of the turbolift doors parting made him look round, to see Baxter arriving to take command.

“Get out of my chair,” Baxter ordered.

“Got any clever ideas, Baxter?”

“Of course. I’m the captain.”

“Then now is a good time to share them.”

“I’m thinking. Don’t rush me.”

The Bridge shook.

“Shields down. Minor damage, deck three,” came J’hana’s report.

“Baxter…” A console exploded in a shower of sparks.

“Um, ah… Transporters! Baxter to Transporter Room One.”

“Hartley here, Captain.”

“Lock onto my commbadge and prepare to beam it and everything within four meters into space between us and the Flarn ship.”

“Interesting way of committing suicide, Captain.”

“Shut up and do it.”


Baxter plucked the badge from his tunic and ran over to the door to his ready room. The door opened and spilt hundreds of brass penguins onto the Bridge. Fighting against the flow Baxter struggled into the room and threw his badge into the middle of the room.

“Conway, tell Hartley to energise!”

There was a pause, then most of the penguins in the room vanished in a swirl of blue light.

Conway looked annoyed.

“You just wanted to clear your ready room?”

J’hana interrupted:

“They’re firing again!”

Everyone braced for impact and explosive decompressive death. A slight tremor was felt through the hull.

“No damage. The penguins - they’ve absorbed most of the energy!”

“Don’t sound so shocked, J’hana. I planned it all along.”

“Richards to Bridge. Warp power up to factor six at your command.”

Conway nearly collapsed in relief. Baxter sighed and thanked whatever Gods there were for deliverance. J’hana merely scowled at being cheated of her glorious death.

“Ford, warp six. Any direction. Engage.”

On the viewscreen of the Flarn Warship Rentnar the Aerostar turned and streaked off into the distance.

“Follow the Federationsss. Warp nine!” screamed the Captain.

“But Captain,” pleaded an underling, “The freightersssss cannot match our sssspeed.”

“Leave them behind. I want those Federationssss on my plate thisss evening.”

“But Excelency, the freighterssss are carrying cargo for Hissss Majesssssty the Emperor. He will be … disssspleasssed … if they are left unattended.”

The captain’s fury needed release. He settled for gutting his presumptuous underling.

“No signs of pursuit,” reported J’hana.

“Well, we live to fight another day.” Baxter looked over at J’hana “Am I right?” he grinned.

“You are indeed right, Captain.” confirmed J’hana.

“Now, I’m going to Engineering to see what can be done about Larkin. You have the Bridge, Commander. Try not to blow it up again today.”

Larkin was only aware of a floating sensation. The passage of time was irrelevant. She had been floating for an infinite length of time, and also no time at all. She dreamed. She dreamed of brass penguins.

“Are you sure this is really necessary, Chris?”

“Sure. She needs to be enticed out of the coma state. You are a figure of authority in her life. She will respond best to you.”

“And the penguin suit?”

“Positive reinforcement of your authority with an image Larkin is familiar with, comfortable with.”

“Well, lets get this over with.”

Larkin was aware of being called. It was a familiar voice. She was used to obeying that voice. Gradually her positronic net accustomed itself to her body again. Her eyes opened slightly. Images danced before her eyes. There was a penguin calling to her with … her captain’s voice. She was needed. She moved towards wakefulness.

“I feel silly. I’ve been doing this for nearly half an hour. I can only jump about and clap my flippers for so long.”

“C. Cat. Capt. Capt.”

Baxter looked round to see Larkin slowly sitting up. Richards moved over and started fussing over her with a tricorder and positronic probe.

“Captn. I hv dscnected mself fro the ain computer.” She turned to Richards. “I regret to rport that the experiment was a faiure.”

Richards removed the wok from her head and took readings with his tricorder.

Baxter smiled and put a hand on the android’s shoulder.

“Well, Larkin its good to have you back.”

Larkin looked at Baxter and frowned.

“Why are you dressed as a penguin?”

Baxter was about to reply when a commotion at the entrance to Engineering caught his attention.

Peterman was storming across the room, Browning following close behind eating a sandwich.

“There you are. I wake up in Sickbay with a broken arm, blood loss and one mother of a headache, and I hear that you just dumped me in there and left without so much as checking I was okay. If Janice here hadn’t …”

Baxter smiled and nodded.

“Happy birthday, darling.”

Smile and nod.

Tags: vexed