Author: Anthony Butler
Stardate 51630.5. The Aerostar is currently on its way to rendezvous with the Sulani starship Camro to pick up some much needed supplies, such as dilithium crystals, deuterium, and those foot-long hot dog buns that are so hard to find on this side of the Delta Quadrant. The crew is in fairly good spirits, despite being damned tired out from our latest escapades throughout time and space. That in mind, I have decided to grant the crew shoreleave on a nearby planet while we await the arrival of the Sulani.
Dr. Browning studied her turkey sandwich carefully, as if it held some secret that no one else knew, as if maybe, if she looked at it long enough, it might share that secret with her.
“I admit, I make a good turkey sandwich, but you can only admire it for so long before having to eat it.” Mirk said, looming over her with anticipation.
Browning shook her head and looked up at Mirk, as if he woke her up from a long nap. “Did you say something?”
“Are you okay, doc?” Mirk asked with concern.
“S-sure. I’m fine.” Browning said uneasily. “But if you’d like to help, you could go and get me another Bolian Fizz.”
“Right away, Doctor.” Mirk said, grabbing Browning’s empty glass and scuttling away.
Browning was about to return to her sandwich when Counselor Peterman rushed into the Starlight Lounge, a stack of padds under her arm.
She sat the padds down in a heap on the table and sat, ordering a drink from Mirk.
“Sorry I’m late, Janice.” Peterman said. “I have a personnel review with Commander Conway this afternoon and I’m totally unprepared.”
“Oh.” Browning said, staring back down at her sandwich.
“And I have to get it done before we reach Paladia. Damned if I’m going to be stuck on this ship filling out reports while everyone else is having fun on some exotic new planet. That may be okay for Conway, J’hana, and Larkin, but not me.”
“Hmmm.” Browning said.
Finally, Counselor Peterman noticed that something was wrong with the doctor. “Are you okay, Janice?”
“Yeah. I’ve just been thinking.”
Browning looked up. “Well, about marriage.”
Peterman smiled. “Yeah, you and Richards. That’s really great, Janice. You should be happy!”
“Well, you don’t sound it.”
“I think I’m happy, I just don’t know. Everything’s been so weird lately, things have happened in such a blur…I’m not prepared.”
“Well, Janice,” Peterman said, as Mirk sat down her drink. “My mom used to say something about life. It went something like…” she seemed thoughtful for a moment. “…‘Life is like looking for a bar of gold-pressed latinum in a pile of horse shit: you just have to hold your nose and dive in.’”
Peterman smiled, as if she’d just imparted some great bit of wisdom.
“I never thought about it that way.” Browning said, after several moments of silence.
“Well it’s time you did.” Peterman replied.
Browning picked up her turkey sandwich and stared at it hungrily, saying, “Just dive in, huh?”
Peterman nodded. “That’s the idea!”
Unceremoniously, Browning shoved the entire sandwich into her mouth.
“How do you feel now, Janice?” Peterman asked.
“Mfffch Btttr.” Browning chomped.
“Come on, Commander!” Baxter said cheerfully, following Conway up the steps, to the upper level of the bridge, as he made his way over to the science console.
“No. I hate amusement parks.” Conway grunted, glancing at the readings on the science console and moving off to the tactical console.
“Come on, they have everything…animals, rides, games, a freak show…”
Conway peered over Lt. Gellar’s shoulder. “I have that right here on the Aerostar, Captain.” He frowned at one of the readouts. “See if you can get a solid power readout on the phaser banks before you go off duty, Mr. Gellar. They’re fluctuating way too much.”
“Yes, sir.” Gellar sighed.
“Did I mention they have exotic dancers down there?” Baxter asked, following Conway to the engineering station.
Conway finally stopped in his path, turning to face Baxter. “Exotic dancers you say?”
“No.” He said flatly, poking his finger at Ensign Stockton’s efficiency readings. “We shouldn’t be getting this much plasma flow in the injectors. Go check on the magnetic constrictors before you begin the repairs to the main core.”
“Aye, sir.” Stockton said woefully.
Baxter continued to follow Conway back down to the command area.
“You’re going to miss out on a great time, Commander.” Baxter said, as Conway sat down in the command chair.
“I don’t want to hear it, sir. I spent a wonderful week vacationing on Earth not long ago and I’d just as soon forget about it. What I want to do is spend the next two days in my quarters with a nice book and a cup of coffee. Nothing more, nothing less. Now please stop breathing down my back and let me do my job.”
“Okay, fine, stay here.” Baxter said, heading for the turbolift. “But you’ll be sorry.”
Conway just harrumphed as Baxter disappeared behind the turbolift doors.
When Lieutenant Hartley entered the Starlight Lounge later that afternoon, after coming off duty, she immediately noticed that it was quieter than usual. She surmised that most of the crew were getting ready to beam down to Paladia, which was now less than an hour away. She idly wondered what she would do with her free time on the planet as she ordered a stiff drink and collapsed into one of the booths near the back of the lounge.
“So,” Mirk began, busy polishing a glass behind the bar. “Where are you spending your leave?”
“I don’t know.” Hartley said thoughtfully. “I’ll probably check out the amusement park. It’s supposed to be one of the best rated resorts in the quadrant.”
“This quadrant is half-consumed by a totalitarian dictatorship, Megan.” Mirk said. “We don’t have that many resorts.”
Hartley considered that. “I never thought about that. What about you?”
“I don’t know. I’d like to go down to the planet. But I don’t know what I’d do down there. I’ve never had what you would call a ‘vacation’.”
Hartley stood up and handed Mirk her empty glass. “Well, all the more reason you should have one now. Me and Tilleran and Fresca are going to be going down there on the second away party. It just so happens that we have a couple extra spaces.”
Mirk took Hartley’s glass and began to rinse it out, raising an eyebrow. “Really? That’s awful nice of you, Megan.”
“You know, Mirk, I’m not all that bad.” Hartley said, heading for the doors to the lounge. “Besides, you caught me on a good day. Be at transporter room one at 1500 hours.”
Mirk put the glasses away and tossed his towel onto the rack. “I’ll be there.”
“We will arrive at Paladia in twenty minutes.” Lieutenant Larkin announced over the comm system in Captain Baxter’s quarters.
“Great, Lieutenant.” Baxter said, as he hurried across his quarters, making sure everything was in order before he left. “Say, have you seen Counselor Peterman?”
“I have not, sir. I assume she is still reviewing the month’s personnel reviews with Commander Conway.”
“Typical. She always puts these things off to the last minute. Thanks Larkin.”
“You are welcome Captain. Enjoy your vacation. Larkin out.”
“So I think Ensign Pressbury should be transferred out of the astrophysics department.” Counselor Peterman said, checking the chronometer for the third time. She had her feet propped up on the table in the conference lounge, staring at her padd without much interest.
On the other side of the table, Commander Conway grimaced. “Why on Earth would you do that? Pressbury is a damn good officer. And where would you transfer him?”
“I think he needs a less stressful job. He’s suffering from several neuroses.”
“This is not a daycare center, Counselor Peterman. If Pressbury is having problems, he’ll have to work them out. Besides, Astrophysics isn’t exactly a bridge position or something. He’ll get past his problems.”
Peterman rolled her eyes. “You’re sooo sensitive, Commander. I guess they were wrong when they said you were a total jerk.”
Conway raised an eyebrow. “They who?”
Peterman stood, scooping up her padds. “Never mind. If I’m not mistaken, that’s the end of the review.”
Conway clenched his fist and growled low under his breath. “Fine, Counselor. Have a peachy time down there with your boyfriend.”
Peterman smiled as she left. “I certainly will!”
As Peterman ducked out of the conference room, Conway rubbed his forehead, exasperated. “Good riddance.”
“We’re almost there, Kelly. I was worried you weren’t going to make it!” Baxter said as Peterman stepped into his quarters. He had just finished putting on his off-duty outfit. He hadn’t worn it much since coming aboard the Aerostar, but then again, the amount of times he had worn the colorful shirt and shorts at the few Secondprize functions he had attended was even less.
“Well, I would have been here sooner, had Commander Conway not fought me on every single one of my judgments.” Peterman said as she entered and sized Baxter up. “Nice legs, by the way.”
Baxter blushed self-consciously. “Uh, thanks. Anyway, you know how Conway is, Kath-“
“He needs to get that chip off his shoulder, Andy. Peterman fumed as she walked into the bathroom, making sure her hair looked okay, and that her cleavage was stuffed properly into the sparse wraparound dress she wore. “Personally, I think he’s an officious jerk, and professionally…I think his mood is interfering with his ability to command.”
Baxter grabbed his imager and checked his drawers to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything. “I’ll have a talk with him when we get back. But for right now, can we please just relax?”
Peterman crossed the room and embraced the Captain. “Anything you say, big boy!”
“Greetings Commander Conway. My name is Bendren, and I am the proprietor of Goodtimes Village. We have been anxiously awaiting your arrival.” The man said, staring at Commander Conway over the commlink. He was a tall, thin, angular man, which could have been the norm for Paladians, for all Commander Conway knew. Other than that, he looked vaguely human, save the orange-ish tint of his skin.
“Yeah.” Conway said blandly from the command chair. “The feeling is mutual. I assume all the paperwork is in order?”
“Yes, Commander. Your crew’s bill will be credited to the Sulani account. I hope your people have a wonderful time here at Goodtimes Village. I’m sure it will be a memorable occasion.”
“Undoubtedly. If you need us, we’ll be remaining here in orbit.” Conway said.
“I’m counting on that, Commander. Paladia Station out.”
As soon as Bendren closed the channel, he turned to his assault group. “Do all of you understand your jobs?”
Drensen rolled his eyes. “Of course we do, fearless leader. This isn’t exactly rocket science!”
Bendren walked over to the leader of the takeover forces and picked him up by the front of his uniform. “That’s a Nebula class starship up there, you fool!”
“Wh-what’s a Nebula class starship?” Drensen stuttered, panicking.
“I don’t know, but I hear they’re very big. And powerful.” Bendren’s face became twisted in anger. “I do not want you screwing this up. Is that clear, Drensen?”
As soon as he was let go, Drensen straightened his jacket. “Crystal clear, boss. Don’t worry, we know what to do.”
“Be sure you do. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go prepare the park.” Bendren said, marching off.
“Okay everyone, you heard the man. Let’s get ready.” Drensen sighed.
Transporter room one was packed.
“Excuse me, Captain coming through! Captain and girlfriend here! Make a hole! I said MOVE IT!” Baxter shouted through the crowds, as he pushed his way through, followed by Peterman, Richards, and Browning.
Finally reaching the transporter console, Baxter leaned up against it, sighing with relief.
“You’re five minutes late.” Lt. Hartley said angrily. “These guys have been waiting to beam down for five whole minutes! What’s the holdup?”
“I had a meeting with Commander Conway,” Peterman said, trying her best to be diplomatic. “And it, as usual, did not go well.”
“Oh.” Hartley said, disinterestedly. “Well, you guys go ahead and get on the pad.”
“Nice outfit, by the way, Megan.” Peterman said, indicating Hartley’s sporty skirt and blouse.
“Thanks. I got it at Starbase 77 last year and haven’t had the chance to wear it since.”
“Why don’t we open up the other two transporter rooms, Hartley?” Baxter asked, taking his place on the pad. “This is ridiculous.”
Hartley ignored the Captain completely. “And I love the wraparound dress, Kelly. You’ve got to tell me where you got it.”
“A little Ferengi place near the demilitarized zone. I’m surprised you never saw it!”
“I tried to do very little shopping while I was there…”
“Can we get this overwith?” Baxter asked impatiently. “I’m in hurry to go ahead and relax, okay?”
“Oh, yeah. See you guys down there!” Hartley said, energizing the transporter.
“Did you realized that your Heisenberg compensator was loose?” Lt. Tilleran said, emerging from a group of people that had clustered near the transporter pad. She had borrowed a tricorder and examined it in the free time she had while waiting for transport.
Hartley walked around the transporter console, shaking her head and grabbing Tilleran’s tricorder. “I didn’t know that, and frankly, I don’t care right now. We’re going to have fun!”
“No buts! On the pad!” Hartley said happily, shoving Tilleran onto the transporter pad.
Hartley turned around. “Okay, Fresca! We’re ready!”
Ensign Fresca emerged from the supply closet, looking extremely flustered and hot. Several seconds later, Ensign Pressbury from Astrophysics emerged. He had finally found a way to combat his nervousness. A regular dose of noncommittal sex.
“Ready to go!” Fresca said, applying a bit of powder to her nose and shoving her compact into her purse.
“We’ve got one more person.” Hartley said to the Lieutenant that took over her post at the transporter console.
Lieutenant Atkinson nodded. “Any time you’re ready, beautiful.”
Hartley held up a finger, “Watch it, Atkinson!”
That was when Mirk entered, after a hail of commotion, and several utterings of “whoops” and “excuse me” and “sorry about that.” He finally came into view, causing the crowd in transporter room one to collectively bust out laughing.
“What?” Mirk asked, not understanding what everyone was laughing at. He had carefully researched vacation wear in the cultural database. He thought that sandals, Bermuda shorts, and a colorful Hawaiian shirt looked extremely classy, and most closely matched Lobstraxian clothing in design.
“Don’t worry about it, just get on the transporter.” Hartley said.
“Yes, ma’am.” Mirk said, excitedly. “I’ve really prepared for this.”
“Seems like it.” Tilleran noted. “The sunglasses are a nice touch.”
“Yeah, I thought so too.”
“For the Great Bird’s sake, just energize, Lt. Atkinson! And open up the other two transporter rooms for this overflow crowd.” Hartley ordered, as she disappeared in a swirl of blue. Since when had she become the den mother for this bunch?
“That’s it, I want everything perfect for their arrival! Places, everyone, places!” Bendren cried excitedly as his blue-uniformed workers scurryed around like ants, aided by several of the park’s costumed mascots.
The mascots were all dressed as various characters that were Disney-esque in appearance, though not quite.
“When are they supposed to get here?” said one of his assistants, his voice muffled through the seven foot tall bear costume he wore.
“Any second now, Mr. Snuggles. Get into position.”
That’s when the whine of the transporter beam signaled the first beamdown party’s arrival.
Captain Baxter stepped forward and shook Bendren’s hand. “You must be Mr. Bendren.”
Bendren smiled. “Yes, and I assume you are the Captain Baxter I’ve heard so much about.”
“None other than.” Baxter said proudly. He looked around. “My, what a nice park you have here.”
“Thank you. I hope you enjoy your stay here. All of our attractions are at your disposal. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have much to do.”
“Sure.” Baxter said, turning back to Peterman, Browning, and Richards. “You heard him, guys! Let’s see what they’ve got!”
One by one, groups appeared at the main concourse of Goodtimes Village, until almost all one-hundred seventy- eight of the Aerostar’s crew were scouring the park.
Only a skeleton crew of Commander Conway, Lt. J’hana, Lt. Larkin, and some engineers remained aboard.
And that’s what made it so easy for the assault team to create a blindspot in the Aerostar’s sensor grid and beam into one of the cargo bays.
“Okay, what do we ride first?” Baxter asked, as he, Peterman, Richards, and Browning walked throughout the giant park.
“Good question.” Richards said, looking around. “Hey, did you notice how empty the park is? Where is everyone else?”
“Bendren tells me this is the off-season.” Baxter said.
“Ooooh!” Peterman suddenly exclaimed. “Bumper cars!”
“Wow,” Baxter said, approaching the bumper cars. “I rode one of these things once!”
Browning looked at the small track filled with tiny round cars skeptically. “What in the world is the point of this?”
Baxter smiled. “You have to ram your car into everyone else’s car as much as possible.”
“Sounds like fun to me!” Richards exclaimed, claiming the red car.
Little by little, other members of the Aerostar crew made their way to the bumper cars, until all ten cars had occupants.
“Everybody hold on tight!” A loudspeaker announced, as a siren went off and the cars were started up.
“Yahoo!” Baxter cried, causing his car to lurch forward immediately and plow into Richards’.
“Watch it, pal!” Browning shouted, ramming her blue car right into Baxter’s.
“I’m coming to help you, Andy!” Peterman said, getting her car in gear, when suddenly it was blind-sided by Ensign Ford.
“Hello, Counselor!” He said sheepishly.
“Grrrrrrrrrr.” Peterman growled, spinning her car around and backing up, getting ready to ram Ensign Ford.
“Yeee haaa!” Lt. Gellar cried, slamming into Ensign Ford, before Peterman had a chance.
With Ford out of the way, her car simply rammed into the curb. “That is it!” Peterman cried, turning her car once again and targeting Gellar and Ford.
“Damn.” Lt. Tilleran said, staring down at the controls of her car. “Mine’s not working!” Too late, she was slammed into by Mirk.
“Sorry about that, Lieutenant!”
“No problem!” Tilleran said, sliding underneath the dashboard of the car, opening a panel. “Aaah, here’s the problem.” Tilleran said, adjusting a loose wire.
Tilleran’s car lurched ahead, just in time to cream Ensign Ford.
“Weeeeeeeee!” Baxter cried, slamming into both of them.
Ford spun his car around, circling around to get behind the Captain. “Just give the word sir!” he shouted, heading straight for him.
“No you don’t!” Peterman cried, slamming into Ford.
“Where are the brakes on this thing?” Lt. Hartley cried, flying by both of them and crashing into Captain Baxter.
“Hi, Captain!” Hartley said, backing her car up and setting her sights on Ensign Ford.
She gave a glance to Peterman, Tilleran, and Fresca, who all nodded in agreement.
Before Ford knew what was happening, he was slammed into on all four sides by beautiful women.
“Hey,” he said dizzily. “I’m not complaining.”
“Watch out!” Lt. Commander Richards shouted, slamming into all five of them.
Each in a hurry to join in the pileup, Captain Baxter and Dr. Browning rammed into one another, causing both cars to spin backwards.
“Ahhhh!” Baxter cried as his car spun around, slamming into a wall.
Suddenly everything stopped, leaving an exhausted and beaten crew thankful for the cease fire.
“Who wants to ride again?” Ensign Ford said happily.
“I don’t think so.” Baxter said, pulling himself up and helping Counselor Peterman up. “I’m dizzy enough as it is.”
Bendren watched the group disperse on his viewscreen, steepling his fingers, deep in thought.
“Why didn’t you blow them up while you had the chance, Bendren!” One of the mascots, a huge, pink, fuzzy, nondescript animal said. “You could have killed most of the senior officers right there. What are you waiting for?”
“Silence, Bilbo! I will toy with the crew of the Aerostar first. There is no sense in wasting a good time. Besides, they’re not going anywhere.”
“I say kill them…as soon as possible.” Bilbo said.
“And I say get out there and play with them.” Bendren said, pulling his laser out and pointing it at Bilbo. “Now.”
Bilbo hung his head sadly. “Yes, sir.”
“This line is unbelievable.” Mirk commented. “You’d think that the entire crew was here.”
Lt. Hartley looked ahead as the line for the “Confusionator” rollercoaster. “Sure seems like that.”
“Maybe we should just go to another ride.” Tilleran suggested, as the line continued to move.
“Well, I-“ Hartley said, when suddenly a pair of hands covered her eyes.
“Guess who?” A familiar voice said.
Hartley thought a moment. “Let’s see…this person is obnoxious, he reeks of cologne, and he’s about to have his ass beat.”
In one swift moment, Lt. Hartley flipped the person behind her over her head, causing him to land roughly on the ground. “Oh, and look, I was right. It’s Ensign Ford.”
Ford smiled, dusted himself off. “How’d you guess?”
“Get out of here, Ford,” Tilleran said. “The end of the line’s back there.”
“Brian, c’mon!” Ford called to Lt. Gellar, who was standing near the cotton candy machine. “They’re going to let us in here!”
“Pardon me?” Hartley asked. “Do you want to get flipped again?”
“Please, Megan? What are friends for?” Ford asked.
“I’m not your friend.”
Ford put a hand on Hartley’s hip. “Well, then what are you?”
Hartley grabbed Ford’s hand and squeezed it, until a barely audible cracking could be heard. “Your…enemy.”
“Come on…Megan…that…hurts…” Ford wheezed.
“Touch me again and I’ll start BREAKING the bones.” Hartley huffed, turning away from Ford.
Gellar walked up and joined Ford, as Mirk surveyed the situation.
“I thought Starfleet officers were taught diplomacy,” he said incredulously.
Ford nursed his aching hand. “They are,” he said, glaring at Hartley. “Some people are just more diplomatic than others.”
“So are they going to let us cut in line, or what?” Gellar asked.
“Yes…” Ensign Fresca said coyly. “As a matter of fact, Mr. Gellar, you can stand right next to me.” She brushed up against Gellar seductively, looking up and batting her eyes. “I’m sooooo afraid of roller coasters.”
“Is that so?” Gellar said, not knowing what to make of that.
“This better be one damn good roller coaster,” Hartley said, as the group continued to slowly march through the line.
“Hold still, honey!” Baxter said, as he set the imager to take Peterman’s picture. She was sitting in the lap of one of the park’s many mascots, a big, pink, happy looking fluffy…something.
“Hyuk, hyuk! I make your day happy!” Bilbo said, his face twisting in disgust under the mask as he said the words.
“I bet you do,” Baxter said, snapping the picture. “C’mon, Kelly.”
“These will be great!” Peterman said, flipping through the proofs on the imager’s tiny viewscreen. “I especially like the ones Richards took of me and you on the waterslide.”
“I think we broke a couple of rules when we went on that one, hon.” Baxter chuckled, as they proceeded through the park.
“What a beautiful day,” Dr. Browning said, as her and Richards walked through the park, several feet behind Baxter and Peterman.
“Yeah, it is.” Richards said.
“So…we haven’t talked much about the engagement.” Browning said, looking up hopefully at Richards.
“Um…” Richards said. “I thought that was all we talked about anymore.”
“Well, do you want to get married, or not? It’s not a hard question. And it’s one that you asked.”
Richards stopped Dr. Browning in her tracks, grabbing her and holding her tight. “That’s the future, honey…and it will be here soon enough. Let’s enjoy right now while we have the time. You know things won’t stay quiet for long.”
Browning smiled, surprised, as Richards picked her up and turned her around and around. “Okay, Chris, I give! You can put me down now!”
“This better be worth the wait,” Lt. Hartley said, hopping into the two person rollercoaster car and pulling down the harness.
Lt. Tilleran was just about to sit down next to Hartley, when Ford ran ahead of her and hopped into the seat.
“Get out of there, Ford!” Tilleran exclaimed.
Ford suddenly pulled down his own harness. “Darn, the thing’s locked down, and I can’t move. Sorry Lieutenant!”
Tilleran just shrugged, taking the car behind Hartley and Ford.
“Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr,” Hartley growled angrily, pushing at the harness; but it was no use, she was stuck. “I’ll get you Ford. You better appreciate the time that I’m strapped in here, because when they let me go…”
Ford shrunk slightly in his seat at that.
Mirk sat down next to Lt. Tilleran, adjusting his own harness. “I have a feeling this is going to be extremely scary.”
“Don’t worry, Mirk,” Tilleran said. “It’s quite safe. That is, if it’s anything like Earth rollercoasters. It’s actually really interesting, the human need to be tossed around. Nothing this sadistic would ever have been thought up by Betazoid engineers.”
“No. But nonetheless, I really enjoy these things.”
“I can’t believe we’re going to be going upside down,” Lt. Gellar said, as he strapped himself down next to Ensign Fresca.
“Don’t tell me you’re afraid of heights, Mister Macho Security Officer,” Fresca said incredulously.
“Of course not,” Gellar said, slightly uncomfortably, as the rollercoaster began to move.
A big, blue, fluffy character, closely resembling the Cookie Monster, shifted a lever that sent the rollercoaster up a sharp incline.
“Bubby to base. Ready to initiate phase one at your command.”
“Stand by, Bubby.” Bendren’s voice replied. “I shall give the word quite soon.”
“Oh, look!” Peterman exclaimed. “A Tunnel of Love! I’ve always wanted to go on one of those!”
Baxter stared at the giant tunnel, as, one by one, empty two-person swan-boats drifted through. “Looks kinda dark in there.”
Peterman jabbed an elbow into Baxter’s stomach. “That’s the point, Andy.”
Baxter blushed. “Oh, yeah. How about it, guys?”
Browning and Richards looked at one another.
“Yeah, why not?” Richards said, taking Browning’s hand and leading her to one of the boats.
Baxter and Peterman hopped into the first boat that came by, and Browning and Richards took the next one.
“This is going to be so fun!” Peterman said, snuggling up against Baxter and hanging her feet over the side of the boat.
“Remind me to put this program on the holodeck.” Baxter said, putting his arm around Peterman as she snuggled closer.
Dr. Browning hugged Richards closer, regarding Baxter and Peterman as they floated slowly several meters ahead of them.
“It’s hard to believe they used to be at each other’s throats.” Browning said. “They’ve come so far.”
“What about us?” Richards asked. “We used to be at each other’s throat’s too.”
“But have we come as far?”
“What do you mean?”
“When I look at them, I see unconditional love. I see a man that will stop at nothing to keep that woman near him…and would do anything…even give his life…to keep her. Now do they see that when they look at us?”
“Probably. But we’re not them,” Richards replied.
“Then what are we?” Browning asked desperately. “I need to know.”
Richards hugged Browning tighter. “I don’t know, Janice. I just don’t know. But I know I love you. And for what it’s worth, I think you love me too.”
Browning leaned her head back and closed her eyes. “Of course I do.”
“Well, maybe Peterman and Baxter are so happy because they don’t stop to ask questions. They love each other so much, nothing else matters. They just…they just…”
“Dive in…” Browning said, distantly.
Commander Conway stood up from the command chair and stretched. “Well, I for one am ready to start my vacation.”
“Of course, Commander. Lieutenant J’hana and I will be able to monitor the bridge adequately if you wish to retire.” Larkin replied from ops.
Conway rubbed a hand over his face, looking at Larkin. “Is that the polite way of saying you guys don’t need me?”
After a brief grunt from J’hana, Larkin shook her head. “Of course not, Commander.”
“You have the conn, Larkin.” Conway said, heading into the turbolift, and shooting a nasty look at J’hana.
Four figures shimmered into appearance in the center of cargo bay eleven, deep in the belly of the Aerostar, near one of its many powerful shield generator junctions. These small sections of the ship were notorious for occasionally producing sensor blindspots during brief periods of time, a glitch that Federation engineers had still not completely taken care of.
“Remember…” Drensen whispered to his crew, as they unpacked and assembled their weapons. “This is a Nebula class starship. Whatever that means.”
Drensen knew very little of starship technology. He was a poor project kid from the lower continent, who knew everything about Paladian technology that he needed to steal cars and mug innocent civilians. He had spent eleven months in the military, but he soon realized that their program was not only severely limited, it was also not very profitable. He joined Bendren with the promise of profit, in return for his adept fighting skills and technical knowhow. But the idea of a starship, that was foreign to him.
The Flarn had promised to leave Paladia alone; it had no real resources to speak of, and in return, the Paladian government agreed that they would never, ever build a starship and go beyond their planet. However, Bendren had something else in mind. He was intent on getting one of these starships and escaping the very limited economic scope of Paladia.
Drensen, however, was just in it for the money.
“All right, everyone, are we clear on the game plan?”
“Could you go over them one more time?” Drensen’s hand to hand combat specialist, Zandrig, said.
“Okay, listen carefully, woman,” Drensen said tiredly. “Bendren was able to get this technical schematic of the Aerostar from the Garibid espionage net…at a pretty penny I might add. The operations center is here…” He indicated the bridge at the top of the ship. “…and main engineering is here…and we are here…” He indicated the bottom of the ship. “Zandrig…you and Vanadar will go and secure the bridge…Rondal and I will take engineering.”
“I’m not a child,” Zandrig said defiantly, flexing her arm muscles underneath her tight leather outfit. “And I’ll fight you right here to prove it.”
“We don’t have time for this…” Rondal, the team’s computer specialist said. “…Bendren gave us fifteen minutes, and, by the looks of it, we have to climb several decks to get to engineering.”
“You, stay out of this…you…intellectual.” Zandrig said, spitting at Rondal’s feet.
“Why, if I weren’t of a superior mind…” Rondal cursed.
“Quit your yapping,” Vanadar, the group’s tactical and munitions specialist said in annoyance. He was a huge, burly, muscular man. “Like the weaky said, we ain’t got a lot of time.”
“All three of you…shut up!” Drensen said, annoyed. “We have a starship to steal. Now let’s get moving.”
“They’re aboard the ship now, Bendren.” Dwayne Deer said. “What should I tell them?”
“Tell them everything is going according to schedule.” Bendren said, turning around in his chair. “And tell all event stations to initiate phase one.”
“This is so beautiful, Andy!” Counselor Peterman exclaimed, as the swan-boat rocked gently down the tunnel, and pretty pastel colors flashed around her and Baxter. “I’m so glad we came here!”
Baxter leaned forward and kissed Peterman, saying, “I know exactly what you mean.”
Baxter and Peterman were so involved in the kiss that they didn’t realize that the water rising.
“YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Mirk cried, as the rollercoaster looped and twisted, flying upside down, moving at exceptional speeds and climbing to unbelievable heights.
“Open your eyes, Brian!” Ensign Fresca said, staring at Lt. Gellar, who was pushed back against his seat, with his eyes squeezed shut, a look of total fear on his face.
“That’s quite all right, Ensign. I’m really enjoying the ride like this.”
“WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” Ford and Hartley cried out, as the coaster turned and turned.
Ford turned briefly to Hartley. “See, you’re enjoying yourself!”
Hartley cackled hideously. “I am! That’s because I’m imagining what I’m going to do to you as soon as we get off this ride!”
“You’re right, Lieutenant,” Ford said, fearfully. “I don’t want this ride to end.”
And, as if at Ford’s command, the coaster stopped at the track’s highest point…upside down.
Hartley glared angrily at Ford, her hair hanging down insanely around her face.
“Don’t look at me!” Ford protested.
“Please don’t tell me we’ve stopped,” Lt. Gellar said, his eyes still closed.
“That is odd.” Lt. J’hana said, staring at her panel with concern.
Lieutenant Larkin turned around in the command chair to face the tactical officer. “Define odd, Lieutenant.”
“I am getting some interference from the internal sensor array. It’s probably an overload of the shield generators, but I would like to be sure.”
“I shall contact engineering,” Larkin said, pressing a button on her command chair. “Larkin to engineering.”
There was a long pause.
“Larkin to engineering.”
The android looked back at J’hana. “Lieutenant…”
“Already on my way.” J’hana said, drawing her phaser.
“I am sure it is just a failure in the communications system.” Larkin said reassuringly.
“I do not believe in coincidences,” Lt. J’hana said, pressing the turbolift button and waiting patiently for the doors to open.
The doors opened, and J’hana stepped forward, only to be kicked backwards by an unseen, yet quite adequately hard, boot.
Larkin was immediately on her feet. “What is the meaning of-“
Zandrig picked up J’hana’s immobile form and shoved a gun up to her head. “Don’t move, missy, or the blue bitch gets ventilated!”
Larkin stepped back and put her hands into the air. “What are your demands?”
Zandrig smiled wickedly as she stepped down toward the command arena. “Nothing major. Just this ship.”
“I assure you, that will not be possible,” Larkin protested.
“Shut up,” Zandrig replied, taking a seat in the command chair and running her hands up and down the armrests. “Vanadar, secure these two in the supplies closet, and take their badges. They use them for communication.”
With J’hana slung over his back, Vanadar lead Larkin into the closet, shoving them both inside.
“The bridge is secure,” Zandrig’s voice said over the engineering comm system. “I assume you’ve done your part?”
Drensen smiled wickedly, kicking at the bound and gagged Ensign Stockton, who was tied to the railing that surrounded the warp core along with Ensigns Sanchez and Dunbar. “Engineering is also secure. Send Vanadar through the ship to make sure there are no stragglers and then prepare to switch it over to our control.”
“Understood. Zandrig out.”
Peterman rested her head on Captain Baxter’s shoulder, sighing happily. “I love you so much, Andy-“ she opened her eyes, looking up.
Baxter turned to look at Peterman. “What is it, Kelly?”
She pointed upwards. “Is it just me, or is the ceiling getting closer?”
“Um…” Baxter said, with concern. “Chris!”
Richards and Browning both looked up.
“What’s happening?” Browning said.
“I don’t know,” Richards replied. “There must be something wrong with the water system.”
“Don’t panic,” Baxter said, looking around, as the clearance between the water’s surface and the ceiling of the tunnel grew smaller and smaller. “There has to be a way out of this.”
Baxter looked to Richards, trying to think of a plan. “Come on, buddy, we have to think of something!”
“I’m thinking, I’m thinking!” Richards replied.
“This is really starting to scare me!” Peterman cried. She could now almost touch the ceiling.
“Okay…” Richards began. “Janice, Kelly, you two curl up in the bottom of the boats. Andy…break the neck off of your swan boat and bring it with you.”
Baxter did as Richards said confusedly. “Where am I going?”
“Follow me!” Richards said, diving into the water.
Baxter shrugged. “I guess he has a plan.” He leaned over and kissed Peterman on the cheek. “I love you baby!”
“Be careful!” Peterman cried, ducking into the bottom of the boat as Baxter jumped into the water.
Commander Conway sat down at his desk, with a steaming mug of coffee and his copy of Tom Clancy’s Russia Still Bothers Me (The last book he wrote, though some say it was actually completed by his wife after his death). Conway had a fascination with the military precision of Clancy’s work, probably stemming from his love of the spy novel as a whole. In Conway’s opinion, the only two good things that came out of the late twentieth century were NASCAR racing, Aerosmith, and the Cold War.
Commander Conway opened the book carefully, savoring the scent of “real” paper. The replicators had almost been perfected to the point where they could produce books that smelled like books, thus completing the entire sensual experience of reading.
While reading the first page, Conway reached over and grabbed his mug, leaning back comfortably in his chair and sighing with contentment.
Unfortunately, the chair had other things on its mind than Conway’s contentment, as it slipped out from under him, sending him, the book, and the coffee flying in the opposite direction.
Conway cursed, pulling himself up and wiping off his uniform.
“Damn,” Conway said, sizing up the giant coffee stain on the front of his uniform, as well as on the book.
Annoyed, Conway pulled off his uniform jacket and tossed into the clothes processor.
“Computer, call up file Clancy Alpha one-one-nine, and replicate another copy of Russia Still Bothers Me.”
“Unable to comply,” the computer responded politely. “Higher replicator functions have been disabled.”
“Why?” Conway asked angrily.
“Engineering is currently running tests on the matter processing system.”
Conway shrugged. “Figures,” He grabbed the book and padded off to the Deck Nine replicator station to have it re-replicated.
“Well this is just wonderful,” Ensign Ford said, beginning to feel a little delirious from all the blood rushing to his head.
“Shut up,” Hartley replied. “I’m tired of listening to your complaining.”
“I guess things could be worse,” Lt. Tilleran said.
“How?” Hartley asked. “How could things get any worse?”
Suddenly, the shoulder harnesses on all six rollercoaster car occupants released, causing the group to slip out of their seats. All six of them quickly grabbed on tightly to the harnesses, hanging on for dear life, hundreds of feet off the ground.
“Well,” Tilleran said calmly, straining to hang on to the harness. “This for starters.”
Commander Conway smelled the once again pure “new book” scent, as he carried the newly replicated book out of the replicator center. He was so busy smelling the book, he never noticed the giant, looming Paladian standing in his way.
Conway bumped into Vanadar’s chest, looking up. “Oh, excuse me.” he said, walking around Vanadar and continuing to walk.
Suddenly, he stopped and turned around. “Hey, who are you?”
“Who are you?” Vanadar asked, folding his arms over his expansive chest.
“Well, I asked you first,” Conway said defiantly. “You sure as hell don’t look like part of our crew.”
“I’m…” Vanadar diverted his eyes, trying to think of a quick excuse. “…the plumber.”
“Oh,” Conway said. “That’s interesting. Maybe I should call the bridge and confirm it.”
“I wouldn’t do that,” Vanadar said.
“Oh no?” Conway said, turning for the comm panel on the corridor wall, pressing a button. “Conway to bridge.”
“Bridge here,” a sultry, yet unfamiliar voice said.
“Who the hell are you?” Conway asked angrily.
There was a long pause. During that pause, Conway saw Vanadar leaping up from behind him in the reflective surface of the comm panel.
Thinking fast, Conway ducked, throwing the huge Paladian into the comm panel.
Sparks erupted from the comm panel as Vanadar crashed into it, rolling to the ground and lifting himself up.
“You’ve made me angry now,” he said slowly.
Conway turned around and ran like hell.
Peterman felt around the edges of the boat’s opening, trying to decide if any water was coming in. The boat was now pressed firmly against the ceiling of the tunnel, creating a seal around the edge. Peterman was confident that the tiny compartment she was curled in would not flood in the twenty or so more minutes of oxygen she had left to breathe.
She wondered idly where Chris and Andy had gone. They had been gone for almost five minutes now, and, although she knew Starfleet officers were trained to hold their breath for long periods of time, she also knew that the brain began to die at ten minutes. Oh, well, it wasn’t as if Baxter used his brain much anyway.
Suddenly the little swan boat began to rock vigorously. Peterman held on for dear life as it rocked, not knowing what to expect. Suddenly, the edge of the boat tipped enough to make a opening of a foot or so wide, from which Captain Baxter’s head emerged.
Baxter gasped for air as the tiny compartment flooded with water.
“Found a way out…hold your breath…follow me!” Baxter wheezed as he took in air and grabbed Peterman’s wrist, dragging her out of the boat and down through the water.
“I’m losing my grip!” Lt. Hartley shrieked, hanging on to her shoulder harness.
“Don’t worry, I’ll figure something out,” Mirk said confidently. “My telepathic powers should kick in any minute now.”
“I forgot all about that,” Hartley said. “Why don’t you just fly us out of here?”
“It’s not that easy,” Mirk replied.
“Well, if you’re going to do something, do it already, monkeyboy!” Lt. Gellar shouted.
Mirk squeezed his eyes shut and concentrated hard. “Here goes nothing!”
The rollercoaster cart suddenly broke from it’s track and plummeted towards the planet below, with Mirk, Hartley, Tilleran, Ford, Fresca, and Gellar along for the ride.
Commander Conway flew down the corridor of Deck Nine with Vanadar in hot pursuit, wondering what the hell was going on.
“Come here, weakling!” Vanadar shouted angrily. “I’m going to kill you!”
Conway rounded the corner, ducking into the first door he came to.
“Computer, lock this door, authorization Conway Beta four six zero.”
“Upper level command codes have been disabled,” the computer replied.
“Great.” Conway said, looking around, wondering whose quarters he’d stumbled into. He looked on the desk, gasping in horror as the pieces came together.
Conway shivered as he looked at the picture sitting on the desk, one of Captain Baxter, posing on the beach with a piece of drift wood and holding up a conch shell.
Now how many people would have a picture of Captain Baxter on their desk?
Commander Conway realized his error when an orange blur hit him from behind and knocked him into the wall.
“Get off!” Conway commanded, as Charlie licked him and batted at him with his paws.
Conway struggled through the quarters, trying to evade the golden retriever, tripping, and falling right on top of the sleeping kitten, Fritz.
Fritz shrieked and grabbed onto Conway’s face with his claws.
“AAaaaaaaaah!” Conway shouted, as the cat dug into his face, and as Charlie attached himself to his leg.
Suddenly Counselor Peterman’s door swished open.
“I thought I heard commotion in here,” Vanadar sneered. “The chase is over.”
“Get him, Charlie!” Conway yelled, as Charlie detached himself and charged at Vanadar.
Conway pulled Fritz off his face and threw her at Vanadar, laughing hideously. “You’ll have to excuse these guys, they’re usually so well behaved. They’re just not used to new people.”
As Vanadar grappled with the hellish pets, Conway dove for Peterman’s desk, rifling around for a firearm of some sort. Unfortunately, he found nothing.
“She has to keep a sidearm somewhere!” Conway exclaimed, digging through Peterman’s couch cushions as Vanadar writhed on the floor.
“Help me! For the Great Creator’s mercy, please help me!” Vanadar cried, as Fritz clawed at his face.
It would have greatly behooved Commander Conway to know that Counselor Peterman did in fact have a sidearm, and kept it in her panty drawer (a place she figured was the perfect hiding place for a deadly weapon).
Conway finally found a vase, carefully removed the flowers, and cracked it over Vanadar’s head.
“Thank you,” he said softly as he lost consciousness.
“Stay here and watch him, guys!” Conway said to Peterman’s pets, rushing out of the quarters.
“I have access to the engines, Drensen,” Rondal said proudly. “All control can be routed through this station.”
“You anticipated that I did not trust Zandrig enough to give her control?” Drensen replied, looking at the readouts over Rondal’s shoulder.
“Yes, sir. I don’t trust her either.”
“Excellent. Report our progress to Bendren and…”
“Zandrig to Drensen.”
Drensen pulled out his communicator and pressed a button. “What is it, Zandrig?”
“We have a problem.”
“And what problem is that?” Drensen asked, quickly becoming annoyed.
“One of the Federation officers is not accounted for, and Vanadar hasn’t reported to me in fifteen minutes.”
“Well, find both of them–now!”
“Yes, sir,” Zandrig muttered, obviously angered at having to take the initiative.
One by one, Baxter, Peterman, Richards, and Browning spilled out of the drainage pipe and into the underground Paladian sewage system.
Thinking quickly, Captain Baxter gripped onto an access ladder as the group was carried on through the duct. Peterman grabbed onto Baxter’s leg, and Browning onto Peterman’s, and Richards onto Browning’s, forming a chain of people supported only by Baxter’s grip.
“Pull yourself up, Andy!” Richards cried.
Baxter grunted as he dragged himself up the ladder. “It’s kind of hard with all of you guys hanging on me.”
Finally, exhausted, Baxter collapsed onto the small ledge overlooking one of the auxiliary water ducts, helping Peterman up, who helped Browning and Richards.
The group lay quietly on the ledge for several moments, catching their breath.
“An ingenious bit of rescuing there, guys,” Browning said tiredly.
“Thank you,” Richards said proudly, staring at the terribly mangled goose neck he held. “These things came in handy when we had to pry open that grating.”
“Good thing the duct was wide enough for us to fit through,” Baxter muttered.
“Now what do we do?”
“We try to find the administrator and tell him his tunnel of love ride sucks,” Baxter said, standing up and wringing out his clothes as best as he could.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are!” Zandrig cried as she walked through the corridors of Deck Nine. “You have to be around here somewhere!”
Zandrig regarded the sensor device she had brought along with her. It read a human heat signature directly ahead.
“Come to momma…” she said softly, continuing down the corridor.
In his quarters, and from a safe vantage point behind his couch, Commander Conway examined his tricorder, watching as the Paladian heat signature approached, holding his phaser at the ready.
Suddenly his door whizzed open.
“Where are you, Mr. Federation Man?” Zandrig said seductively.
“Right here!” Conway shouted, jumping up from behind his couch and firing at Zandrig, who promptly dove for the floor, barely escaping the bolt.
“I’ve used bigger men than you as footstools!” Zandrig cried, jumping over the couch and ramming her fist into Conway’s face.
Conway fell back, dropping his phaser.
“Oh, yeah? Well I’ve dated uglier women than you!” Conway retorted, plunging Zandrig’s head into his coffee table.
Zandrig pulled herself up and laughed. “Is that the best you can do?”
She then proceeded to hit Conway with a rapid succession of roundhouse kicks, pushing him back towards the wall.
Conway was jammed up against his replicator as Zandrig hit him with blow after blow.
“Computer…the usual, double hot!” Conway shouted, ducking Zandrig’s kick and reaching into the replicator slot, pulling the mug of coffee out and throwing it in Zandrig’s face.
Zandrig shrieked and clawed at her face as the coffee burned her skin.
Conway stumbled over to his couch and picked up his phaser, trying to shake the dizziness that was brought on by the beating that Zandrig had given him.
“I…don’t…go…down…that easy!” Zandrig gasped, moving towards Conway.
“Back off, bitch!” Conway shouted, firing his phaser and sending Zandrig to the floor, down for the count.
Hartley, Ford, Mirk, Tilleran, Fresca, and Gellar all collectively screamed their heads off as they fell to the ground, sure that they would all messily splatter on the asphalt below.
Then, before they knew what was happening, they hit a soft, forgiving surface, and rolled along it.
Lt. Hartley crawled across the rolling, undulating, fabric, trying in vain to right herself. “Where the hell did this come from?”
“I think it came from me!” Mirk shouted as he rolled along the blue fabric.
“You mean you imagined this thing up?” Ford said, as he rolled by.
“Well, what the hell is it?” Fresca asked in annoyance.
Mirk thought a moment. “If I were to guess, a giant pillow.”
“Well, imagine it away!” Hartley shouted. “I’m getting sick.”
At that moment, the huge pillow disappeared, and the entire group hit the ground roughly.
“Neat trick,” Ford said, rubbing his head.
“We have to talk to the head of this park…” Mirk said. “That ride is definitely not safe.”
“Tell me about it,” Hartley said, still in shock.
“Now Zandrig and Vanadar are missing, Bendren. I think we should abort the mission and cut our losses,” Drensen’s voice said over the comm link. Bendren turned around in his chair, steepling his fingers. “I don’t think so, Drensen. We’ve come too far to be ruined by your incompetence. He’s just one Federation officer. I want him stopped.”
“Whatever you say, Bendren. Drensen out.”
“What else could go wrong?” Bendren lamented, when suddenly his communicator beeped again.
“Bubby to base. The Federations managed to escape from the rollercoaster.”
“Well, stop them!” Bendren screamed, pounding his chair in fury. “Do I have to do this myself?”
“That will not be necessary. I shall see to the apprehension of these puny ones myself.”
It hadn’t been hard to find the ladder that led up through the winding tunnels of Paladia Station’s massive underground sewage system, which, as far as Baxter and Richards had guessed, ran directly underneath Goodtimes Village. The hard part, as the group soon found out, was climbing and navigating through the aforementioned winding tunnels.
“This is getting tiring,” Browning grunted as she climbed.
“I just wish this hellish vacation would end,” Peterman muttered.
Baxter looked down at her as he climbed. “How was I supposed to know things would turn out this way?”
Peterman shook her head. “I don’t know. It’s not your fault, Andy.”
Baxter continued to climb. “No, it is. I chose a crappy vacation.”
“Awwww,” Peterman said. “It’s okay, baby.”
“Can we hold off on the nurturing until we get out of this blasted sewer?” Richards asked with annoyance.
“So what are you going to do?” Rondal asked Drensen, from his place at the master systems display in Engineering.
Drensen walked over to the supplies locker and grabbed a phaser. “I’m going to find that bastard and teach him a lesson. Make sure they do not gain control.”
“Aye sir,” Rondal said as Drensen hurried out of engineering.
The bridge was unusually silent. In the last several months, it had been a place of intense violence, action, and suspense. Since the Aerostar had arrived in the Delta Quadrant, it had been a hotbed of activity. Now it was completely empty, and the only sound around was the occasional bleeping of panels. And the only motion was the slow turn of the greenish planet Paladia on the viewscreen.
Without warning, the stillness was broken, as Lt. Larkin punched her fist through the polyduranide supply closet door, ripping it apart and stepping through, followed by Lieutenant J’hana.
“Where is everybody?” J’hana asked.
Larkin looked around. “An excellent question. I assumed, after not hearing any movement outside the door for so long, that the invaders had left. I see I was correct.”
“Nice of you to share that with me,” J’hana muttered.
“You are welcome. Now, we must hurry if we are to stop these invaders.” Larkin stepped up to the turbolift and pressed the call button. She waited several moments then looked to the tactical officer. “Lieutenant J’hana, try the other turbolift.”
J’hana did so, with the same amount of luck. “They’ve locked us up here.”
“Unfortunate,” Larkin said. “Computer, release command control lockout, authorization Larkin Phi Eta one five.”
“That authorization is invalid.”
J’hana pounded the bulkhead in frustration. “We are trapped up here while they take over the ship!”
Larkin quickly walked over to the science station. “Perhaps not, Lieutenant. We may yet be able to gain control.”
“Well, I’m going down to Engineering to see if I can get control from there,” J’hana said, climbing into a Jefferies tube.
Larkin did not answer; she simply pulled off the access panel underneath the science console and began to pull at the optical cable within.
Commander Conway had been busy tying Zandrig up in his quarters when the communicator that was strapped to her belt buzzed to life.
“If the rebelling Federation officer that’s out there messing up my plans can hear me, this is Drensen, the leader of the occupation force. If you want things to go easy for you, human, you’ll go ahead and turn yourself in to me.”
Conway grabbed the device and pressed a button. “I don’t care who you are, Drensen. Nobody comes on board my ship and just takes over. I took out your friends, and you’re next. You don’t know the meaning of pain until you’ve come face to face with Commander David Conway.”
“Tough words, Commander Conway. Now let’s see if you can back them up.”
Conway grabbed his phaser and pocketed the communicator, rushing out into the corridor.
Mirk, Hartley, Ford, Tilleran, Gellar, and Fresca moved throughout Goodtimes Village with amazement.
“Where did everyone go?” Ford asked. “It’s as if the whole damn crew just up and disappeared.”
“They’re not far,” Tilleran said. “I can still sense them…but I’m not sure…” she shook her head. “I think they’re scared of something, or trapped somewhere nearby. This whole thing isn’t right.”
“Well, maybe we can get some answers from him,” Mirk said, approaching the big pink troll known as Bilbo.
“Hi, my name is Bilbo and I think you are neat!” Bilbo said happily.
“He wants to kill us!” Tilleran said in shock.
“Is that so?” Mirk asked, turning towards Tilleran. He shouldn’t have done that, because, from seemingly out of nowhere, a huge, furry pink hand came up and knocked him upside the head.
Ford and Gellar charged at Bilbo, frantically trying to take down the huge, furry creature.
The character floundered under the Starfleet officers’ attacks, finally throwing them off, causing them to careen through the air and hit the ground roughly.
Lt. Hartley looked up from Mirk’s fallen form angrily. “What the hell do you think you are doing?”
“Come with me,” Bilbo said, with evil in his voice, grabbing Lieutenant Hartley and slinging her over his shoulder, and Tilleran over the other one. He then motioned for two of his coworkers to get the others.
“I think I’ve found the way out of here!” Baxter said, pushing open a heavy vaulted door that led up to what seemed to be a dank subbasement.
At the center of the small room, eerily lit, was what looked like some sort of glass casket, with several lights running along its sides.
Peterman, Richards, and Browning followed Baxter out of the tunnel and into the room, staring down at the casket.
Inside the casket, a very old, very peaceful looking Paladian man rested.
“Who the hell is that?” Peterman asked.
“That’s what I’d like to know,” Baxter replied. “This whole thing rubs me the wrong way.”
“You’re not the only one,” Browning said. “We should get out of-“
Suddenly, a voice called out from the other side of the room.
“Humans! What are you doing down here?”
Baxter found the source of the voice: A seven foot tall piglike creature.
“Who are you?” Baxter asked.
The pig snorted loudly. “I am Hoagie the Boar, and I’m meaner than the average boar. Now come with me!”
“This is ridiculous,” Baxter said, as he held up his hands, and as Hoagie’s rifle was plunged into his back.
“Now move!” Hoagie said cruelly.
Lieutenant Hartley regained consciousness inside a large room that was filled with people…all members of the Aerostar crew. At the front of the room was a large portal, which was guarded by a menacingly crackling forcefield.
“What’s going on?” she asked rubbing her throbbing head.
“They’re taking over the Aerostar.” Ensign Madera said.
“Who?” Hartley asked.
“The Paladians,” Madera replied. “This whole thing was just a ploy to get us away from the Aerostar.”
“You’re kidding!” Hartley replied.
“No, I’m not. They kidnapped me from the Spinning Gravy Boat ride.”
“That’s insane,” Hartley commented, as suddenly the purple forcefield was lowered and four more people were tossed in, by the unfriendly chap that Hartley had identified as Murray the Moose.
The downtrodden ranks of the Aerostar crowded around the new group of prisoners once they had realized who they were.
“Hi, everybody,” Captain Baxter said, semi-cheerfully. “I guess you know by now that we’re all trapped here, and, that, as we speak, the Aerostar is being stolen. I’m open to any escape plans!”
Hartley just covered her face. “How do we get into these things?” she asked herself, as all hopes of rescue began to dwindle to nothing.
Drensen moved slowly throughout Deck Nine, his phaser drawn.
“End this now, Commander.” Drensen said. “End this and let us take over your ship. You must know that you are powerless to stop me.”
“Not!” Commander Conway shouted, diving out one door and into another, firing his phaser.
Drensen ducked, barely avoiding the blast, and followed Conway.
The Paladian briefly wondered where the hell he was as he dove behind a coffee table, just missing yet another blast.
Pulling out his own weapon, Drensen took note of how spartan and warrior-like the quarters seemed. All over the room were knives, swords, armor, and other implements of destruction. What kind of sick, tormented soul lived here?
Commander Conway ducked into the bathroom in Lt. J’hana’s quarters, gasping at the stench of the frothy liquid that filled the tactical officer’s tub.
“In here, sucker!” Conway called, quickly grabbing what he assumed was some sort of warrior bath oil out of J’hana’s bathroom cabinet. He quickly emptied the bottle onto the floor and dove behind the tub.
Drensen stalked into the bathroom. “Where are you, Con-?” Suddenly Drensen slipped, flying backwards and hitting the floor roughly.
Conway rushed to tackle Drensen, but all to quickly, he slipped around as well, noting the fresh, flowery scent of the oil as he fell on his rear end.
“All Aerostar crewmembers have been captured,” Bilbo reported, at Bendren’s side. “Your plan was a success.”
“Yes,” Bendren said with glee. “Now, if only Drensen is successful in stopping the Federation officer on board the Aerostar.”
“Murray the Moose to Drensen,” Bendren’s communicator suddenly beeped.
“What is it?” Bendren asked angrily.
“Captain Baxter is asking to speak with you.”
“Then by all means,” Bendren said happily. “Bring him on up here. Let’s see what he has to say.”
“Hello…” Rondal said, staring at the readouts on his screen carefully. “What’s this? Is someone trying to undo my handiwork?”
Rondal watched with mild amusement as the connections to the engineering control network began to fail one by one.
“Whoever it is will never get through my failsafes…”
Suddenly the final few connections began to fail. “This can’t be! Whoever is doing this knows his stuff, that’s for sure. Oh, well,” Rondal laughed hideously, “all the more fun for me!”
Rondal busily began reconnecting his control network within the Aerostar’s computer core, as his unseen foe continued to break them. He began tapping on the panel more and more urgently as it began to look like he was being outsmarted.
“This just can’t be! This just can’t be!” Rondal shouted, running his fingers through his hair.
That’s when Lt. J’hana busted out of the Jeffries’ tube access hatch, leaping through the air and knocking Rondal off his chair.
“What gives?” Rondal screamed, as J’hana came down on him with flying fists.
Drensen and Conway rolled around on J’hana’s oily floor like wild mud wrestlers, grappling for control of Conway’s fallen weapon.
Drensen finally managed to grab ahold of it, grabbing J’hana’s towel rack with his free hand and pointing the phaser at Conway.
“I guess I win!” Drensen said proudly. “Now stand up, Mister Conway.”
Conway began to stand up, and, without warning, grabbed J’hana’s towel off the rack, loosening Drensen’s grip and sending him reeling backwards into the tub.
Drensen’s screams were drowned out to mere blurbs and bubbles as his head was submerged in the viscous, churning fluid, until finally his body just went limp.
Conway leaned against the tub and sighed, staring at the churning pool of matter, wondering what the hell it was that J’hana put in there.
“Larkin to Engineering. I have regained control of the Aerostar. What is your status, Lieutenant J’hana?”
J’hana grappled with Rondal across Engineering, trying to subdue him, but he was surprisingly tricky for a technocrat.
“Stand by…” J’hana said, as Rondal caught her upside the head with an uppercut, sending her flying back towards the railing around the warp core.
“Can I be of some assistance?” Larkin asked helpfully.
Rondal choked J’hana as he bent her backwards over the railing.
“I think I can take care of myself,” J’hana croaked as Rondal tightened his grip.
“Are you sure, Lieutenant?” Larkin asked with concern.
“Quite,” J’hana replied, planting her free foot between Rondal’s legs and kicking him up and over her.
Rondal shrieked unhappily as he flew over J’hana’s head, plummeting several decks down to the bottom of the warp core.
“Ah, Captain Baxter!” Bendren said gloatingly. “How good it is to see you! You’re just in time to watch me christen my new ship!”
Baxter gave a sidelong glance to the cheery little fairy girl that held him at bay with a rifle. “So this whole thing was a setup?”
“Pretty much,” Bendren admitted. “It took more planning than you might think.”
“I imagine,” Baxter said angrily. “So what do you plan to do with my ship?”
“It’s a secret!” the fairy chirped. “And you’ll never find out!”
“Shut up, Twitterbell, and leave me with the prisoner.”
Twitterbell’s wings drooped as she frowned, turning to leave.
“So who’s the dead guy in the basement?” Baxter asked.
Bendren laughed wickedly. “That, my friend, is Walden Goodtimes, the founder of Goodtimes Village. He’s been in suspended animation for thirty years. An eternity in which we’ve been waiting to get the technology to revive him and escape this worthless planet.”
“You’re a lunatic, Bendren,” Baxter spat.
“Perhaps, but I’ll be a happy lunatic, with a powerful starship and a revived dead guy by my side. Now how many people can say that?”
“Not many,” Baxter admitted.
“Get him back to his cell, Twitterbell. We have work to do,” Bendren ordered.
Commander Conway stepped onto the bridge, after stopping by sickbay to tend to his cuts and scrapes.
He arrived on the bridge to find Lieutenant Larkin hard at work at one of the ODN junctions.
“How’s it going, Lieutenant?” Conway asked, surveying the android’s work.
“I have regained temporary computer control. It will take an engineering team several hours to restore all of the connections. You might call my efforts a ‘jury rig’.”
“Good enough,” Conway replied.
Just then, Lieutenant J’hana emerged from the turbolift, smacking her hands together with satisfaction.
“The two that are alive have been locked up safely in the brig.” J’hana reported. “One of the dead is at the bottom of the warp core, and the other is…” J’hana glared at Conway. “…rotting in my bathtub as we speak.”
“Sorry,” Conway said sheepishly. “What is that stuff, anyway?”
“If you must ask,” J’hana said angrily. “It wasAndorian skin treatment. Now it is ruined, thanks to you.”
Conway laughed. “So you won’t have that special glow anymore?”
J’hana just growled.
Conway’s face straightened as he turned to Lt. Larkin. “What about our people on Paladia. Have you been able to raise them?”
“Negative,” Larkin said. “According to sensors, they are being held in an installation at the center of Goodtimes Village.”
“Well,” Conway said, “I think it’s time we contacted Paladia and found out exactly what’s going on.”
“We can’t just sit here and do nothing!” Lt. Hartley protested. “There must be a way out of here.”
“No, there isn’t…” Captain Baxter said weakly. He was laying across Counselor Peterman’s lap, woefully contemplating his crew’s plight. “The exits are really well guarded. And the security field that’s surrounding us is even stronger than the ones on the Aerostar.”
“So we just sit here and wait to die?” Lt. Tilleran asked. “I don’t like that idea.”
Baxter closed his eyes as Peterman silently rubbed his temples. “Well, until I get a better suggestion, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
“We will look into it, Commander,” the Chief of the Paladian police said, as he blinked off the viewscreen.
“There’s something wrong down there,” Conway said, returning to the command chair. “And we can’t rely on the Paladian authorities to do anything about it.”
“So it would seem,” Larkin surmised.
“Then the question remains, what are we going to do?” J’hana asked.
“Could we replicate some costumes and beam down there disguised as park mascots?” Conway asked hopefully.
“I am afraid not.” Larkin said. “The replicator subroutines are still unavailable at the moment. However…I do have another idea.”
“I’m all ears…” Conway said, smiling.
“Percival Penguin reporting for duty,” a large, round, penguin-suited character said, standing at the entrance to the jail area.
Murray the Moose looked the penguin up and down carefully. “I haven’t seen you around here before.”
“That is because I am newly hired. I have my papers right here…” The penguin reached behind its back and pulled out a phaser rifle.
“Wha?” The moose asked, as the blast hit him and knocked him to the ground.
“My apologies,” Larkin said, grabbing the moose’s key card and sliding it through the door panel.
Larkin hurried down the hallway to the holding area, encumbered by the bulky costume she had quickly grabbed from her quarters, and the dozen compression phaser rifles she had packed into the lining of the costume.
Upon entering the holding area, Larkin immediately took out the two guards in front of the containment field.
“Who the hell are you?” Captain Baxter asked, standing up, as the rest of the cell’s occupants looked on.
Larkin removed the head of her costume. “It is Lieutenant Larkin, Captain, at your service. We must leave here post haste.”
“What do you mean the Aerostar has been retaken?” Bendren asked in disbelief.
Twitterbell grimaced. “Just what the hell you think I mean, buddy. The Paladian police are on their way. We have to go, now!”
Bendren sighed. “But what about Walden?”
“Leave him!” Twitterbell cried, grabbing Bendren’s arm and dragging him out of the operations center.
Just as Bendren and a swarm of his mascot-henchmen ran out of Goodtimes Village’s control center, a shadow descended over them.
“Not so fast, Bendren,” Commander Conway’s voice said over the comm system of the runabout Wicomico.
Conway maneuvered the runabout right over Bendren’s head. “I have phasers trained on you,” Conway continued. “Don’t move a muscle unless you want to get singed.”
Moments later, Baxter and several of the Aerostar’s security personnel poured out of the main control building, leveling their phaser rifles on the mascots.
“I don’t know about you, Bendren,” Baxter said, aiming his phaser rifle at the Paladian. “But I’m having a damn good time.”
Lieutenant J’hana grumbled quietly to herself as she examined the viewscreen from the Aerostar’s command chair. She was angry that Commander Conway got to take the runabout down to Paladia and secure the amusement park and not her. It was the job of a security officer and that was that.
Suddenly J’hana was stirred from her thoughts by the whooshing of the turbolift doors.
She stood and turned. “Commander, I did not expect you to be back so-“
The Andorian paused when she noticed that it was not Commander Conway or the Captain in the turbolift, but the two Paladians she had put in the brig.
“How the hell did you get out?” J’hana asked angrily. She hated it when prisoners escaped.
Zandrig stepped down to the front of the bridge triumphantly. “That’s not important. What is important is that we will kill you and take your starship with us.”
J’hana looked up at Vanadar as he trained the phaser rifle on her from up near the turbolift doors. “Is that so?”
“You’ve got that right you blue bitch!” Zandrig said with glee.
“Bitch? Are you calling me a bitch?” J’hana asked angrily. Zandrig had just crossed the line. “I was going to let you die painlessly, but now that’s not an option.”
“Oh, so you’re outnumbered two to one, and we have phasers and you don’t, and YOU are going to kill US?” Zandrig tossed back her head and laughed maniacally. “That’s rich. How do you expect to do that?”
“Just watch,” J’hana said, cracking her knuckles.
“Do you smell something?” Captain Baxter asked, as he Conway, and Larkin rode the turbolift up to the bridge to check on J’hana’s status. They’d left the clean-up work to the Paladian authorities, since they were in a hurry to make sure that the Aerostar was safe.
“Smells like smoke,” Conway said. “Do you figure something went wrong?”
“We will see in a moment,” Larkin said, shrugging off the last vestiges of her penguin costume.
A few moments later, the turbolift came gently to a stop and the doors parted with a hiss.
“Dear Lord,” Conway said, surveying the condition of the bridge. The walls and the panels were singed and black, and they were still smoking in some places.
Baxter coughed and tried to see through the smoke as he combed through the burning wreckage of the bridge. “J’hana! Are you in here?”
The door to Baxter’s readyroom fell to the floor with a clatter, allowing J’hana to step out. “I was wondering when you guys would get here. I had to handle these two by myself.”
Commander Conway bent down over the scorched body of Vanadar. “Jesus Christ, J’hana, what did you do?”
“I ordered the computer to overload the plasma conduits surrounding the bridge, then I ran like hell,” J’hana explained, brushing the flakes of ash and burnt debris from her hair. “They never knew what hit them.”
“My bridge,” Baxter said softly, collapsing into his command chair.
“You can’t make a Targosian soufflé without breaking some Dchan eggs, Captain,” J’hana said.
“I’ll have to remember that,” Baxter whimpered, as he lovingly stroked the burnt and twisted arms of his command chair.
Stardate 51631.2. Thanks to help from the Sulani ship Camro, the Aerostar should be well on her way in several days. The Paladian government assures me that Goodtimes Village will be shut down and Bendren’s surviving men will be taken into custody. In other news, the command crew is still adjusting to the temporary bridge. I have to admit, it couldn’t be in a less convenient place.
Captain Baxter kissed Counselor Peterman on the cheek and slid out of bed. “I have to go on duty now, hon.”
“Hrrrrmmmm…” Peterman sighed, still asleep.
Baxter put on his robe and walked out of his bedroom, ready to go get his ship back up and running.
He crossed his quarters and grabbed a glass of grapefruit juice out of the replicator.
“Good morning, Captain,” Lt. Larkin said. “Repairs to the bridge are almost complete.”
“What a relief,” Baxter sighed, sitting down on his couch next to Commander Conway. “Who’s idea was it to run the main ODN junction right by the Captain’s quarters anyway?”
“A peculiarity of this vessel’s design,” Larkin said. “It seems, in order to add more weaponry and lab facilities, they had to remove the auxiliary bridge center. It is simply a strange irony that the only junction capable of supporting emergency bridge control ran next to your quarters.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, and Richards wouldn’t let us invade engineering,” Baxter said, staring at the stars on the temporary viewscreen placed next to his team portrait of the Dallas Cowboys.
“I for one can’t wait to get out of here. It smells like a zoo in here!” Commander Conway grunted, shifting uncomfortably on Baxter’s couch as he reviewed the personnel reports.
“Captain…” Ensign Ford reported from the temporary helm console at Baxter’s desk.
Baxter glared at Conway as he answered. “What is it, Ensign?”
“I found the Counselor’s panties. They were under the desk.”
Baxter ran over and grabbed the panties indignantly. “Give me those! She’s been looking for them for days. I just don’t know how on Earth they could have gotten back there.”
Suddenly there was a shriek from the bathroom, and Lt. J’hana emerged, soaking wet.
Baxter looked up at her, amused. “Problem, Lieutenant?”
J’hana wrung her uniform out, her face a mask of anger. “You could say that. I was trying to run a tachyon sweep, and I accidentally turned on the shower.”
“Perhaps we should not have rigged the temporary tactical station in the shower…” Lt. Larkin suggested.
“I think it’s in a fine spot,” Baxter said, pocketing the panties and returning to his seat. “Serves her right for blowing up my bridge.”
“And Captain,” J’hana said, before returning to the bathroom.
“I killed your rubber ducky.”
NEXT TIME ON STAR TRAKS: THE VEXED GENERATION:
The Aerostar is diverted an entire day out of its way to make contact with a distant world, and in doing so, gives the Aerostar crew a chance for some much needed time off. Not that that’s necessarily a good thing.