Author: Anthony Butler
Quandary, noun. A state of perplexity; a predicament.
Stardate 51878.2. We are currently en route to the Varbaran system to investigate a mysterious EM pulse that our long range sensors picked up coming from one of their planets. The pulse was followed shortly by a shockwave, which, according to Lieutenant Larkin, might indicate a global holocaust. But, really, what are the chances of that?
“They’re all dead?” Baxter asked incredulously, looking down at Larkin’s panel as she worked.
“I am afraid so, sir.” Larkin said. “There are no lifesigns on the planet, humanoid or otherwise. Further, it seems all biological life of any kind is gone as well.”
“What do you know?” Baxter said. “That’s remarkable. I mean, in a bad way.”
“Maybe it was something similar to the crystalline entity.” Commander Conway suggested from behind Baxter. “Sure sounds like its M.O.”
Larkin shook her head. “There are no residual radiation traces from any type of invading phenomena. Whatever caused the planet’s destruction was down on the planet. I would theorize some sort of natural disaster.”
“That destroyed every type of biological life on the planet?” Lt. Tilleran asked from the science console. “I don’t think so.”
“It would seem we have a mystery on our hands.” Lt. Larkin said.
“Yeah.” Conway said. “I say we look into it. What are the living conditions like down there?”
Larkin studied her panel. “There is still a residual layer of atmosphere, and enough oxygen to support life on a small scale. An away team would be permissible, as long as it did not remain on the planet for long.”
“Very well.” Baxter said, returning to his chair. “Assemble a team, Mr. Conway.”
“Right, Captain.” Conway said, heading for the turbolift. “Larkin, J’hana, Tilleran…let’s go.”
“Well, this is just lovely.” Commander Conway said blandly as he braced himself against a cliffside, wind and sand whipping against his face. “Remind me to come here Labor Day weekend.”
Varbara Two was, for the most part, grey sand and dirt, with a multitude of rocky, mountainous terrain. The away team was presently moving along a low cliffside, towards the foot of one of the mountains.
Lt. Larkin struggled to hold up her tricorder against the wind. “I have no explanation for this wind. I am picking up neither cold nor warm fronts.”
Lt. Tilleran looked at her own tricorder. “I don’t understand. I’m not picking up any of the telltale signs of a nuclear or any other kind of explosion. None of that type of radiation at all.”
“This was not caused by a meteor impact, or a massive geological phenomenon, or any other natural disaster that we know of, Commander.” Larkin shouted over the wind. “They are simply gone.”
“The could not have just vanished.” Lt. J’hana said, struggling to move through the heavy wind, grabbing onto the cliffside.
“Oh, I assure you, they could.” A voice said, as a dark figure emerged through the cloud of sand and dirt and approached the away team. He was wearing the uniform of a Starfleet Captain. “And so can you.”
“Who the hell are you?” Conway asked, pulling his phaser out and aiming it at the figure.
Lt. Larkin cocked her head quizzically. “He is a god-like entity known as Q, Commander. And he is extremely dangerous.”
“The one and only!” Q said proudly. “But really! Dangerous? I think not. I have done more for your pathetic race than you will ever know.”
“What the hell do you want with us?” Conway asked.
“Now now, Commander. Such a harsh tone. Not at all professional. I thought all you Starfleet types had a certain amount of class.”
“I’ll give you class, you son of a-“ Conway said, rushing for Q.
Q clicked his tongue in annoyance, waving his hand as Conway rushed at him, causing Conway to stop in mid motion.
J’hana growled angrily, firing her phaser at Q, who merely waved a hand again, causing J’hana, and the phaser stream, to stop moving.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you all weren’t happy to see me!”
Tilleran tried to withdraw her phaser, but became frozen as well.
Q looked to Larkin, who was the only member of the away team that had not been frozen. “I assume you have more sense then to try and attack the all powerful Q!”
“Did you destroy this race, Q?” Larkin asked.
“Moi?” Q said. “I am offended that you would think I could do such a thing.”
“You did not answer the question.”
Q’s face became serious. “No, I didn’t destroy this race. But if you are not careful, you might.”
“What is he talking about?” Conway asked through clenched teeth, his entire body completely stiff.
“I do not know.” Larkin said, staring at her tricorder. “If you did not destroy this race, then who did?”
“You’ll have to forgive me.” Q said. “I sometimes forget how stupid you humans are.” He then looked at Larkin. “Ah, but, then again, you aren’t human, are you? Another android, hell bent, I suppose, on becoming a human.”
“No, sir, I am not.” Larkin said calmly. “The human condition does not interest me, at least not as much as the penguin condition.”
“Penguins?” Q said with interest. “Really. Now they are fascinating.”
“You still have not answered my question, Q.”
“Oh, this is just ridiculous. My answer is a simple warning, Lieutenant Larkin.” Suddenly, Q changed into a small woman, still wearing the Starfleet Captain’s uniform. The woman looked to be in her late forties, and wore her hair in a tightly wound bun.
“Get off this planet.” The woman said, in a very chipmunk-like voice, almost as if the woman had been a heavy smoker.
“Captain Janeway? Of the Federation Starship Voyager?” Larkin asked with confusion.
“Just listen to me, Lieutenant. You have to get off this planet.” Janeway then changed back into Q. “Or else.”
Larkin cocked her head again. “I do not understand.”
“You don’t need to understand!” Q said, waving both hands in the air in a dramatic gesture, causing all four away team members to disappear.
“What do you mean we’ve lost contact with them?” Baxter asked, as Lt. Fresca worked at her panel.
“They’re just gone.” Fresca said. “They disappeared. They’re not there. Would you like me to spell it out for you? They’re GONE!”
Baxter stepped back. “Okay, okay, you don’t have to…”
Suddenly all four away team members appeared on the bridge with a flash.
“What the-?” Baxter asked, as J’hana, Tilleran, and Conway stood there, shaking their heads with confusion.
“Q is down on the planet, Captain.” Larkin said, approaching Baxter. “I do not know why, but he has something to do with the demise of that planet’s population.”
“Q?” Baxter asked. “You’ve got to be kidding me. What the hell is he doing down there?”
“I’m trying to stop you from making a huge mistake, Captain.” Q said, turning around in the seat at helm, where Ensign Ford was seconds ago. “Get out of here. Now.”
“I’m not leaving till I get some answers.” Baxter said sternly. “So you might as well stop toying with us, Q.”
“What did you say?” Q asked, snapping his fingers.
Baxter blinked a moment, confused. “I said, take us out of the Varbaran system, Warp Eight.”
“Aye, sir.” Q said, turning around in his chair.
“Captain?” Larkin said, looking at Baxter.
“Did I say that?” Baxter asked. “This is really confusing.”
Suddenly a hand grabbed onto Baxter’s shoulder, spinning him around. It was Q. Ford was now back in his place at the helm, looking extremely confused.
“It is it really that hard, Captain?” Q asked. “Does everything need to be spelled out for you?”
“Yes.” Fresca said from ops.
“Shut up.” Baxter said, looking at Q. “Could we talk, in private?”
“Sure.” Q said, snapping his fingers.
Suddenly the view of stars on the viewscreen completely changed.”Oh, would you look at that…no stars, no planets, not even a single asteroid. It’s all gone, Captain. You’re precious universe, you’re precious human race…everything. The whole thing just vanished without a trace.”
Lt. Tilleran had since taken her place at the science console. “He’s right, Captain. I’m not getting any readings.”
“Of course she’s not. I’ve taken you all to the end of the universe, to prove a very important thing to you.”
“And that would be?” Conway asked angrily.
Q sighed, exasperated. “I do tire of you humans so quickly. One constant in the galaxy is change. Change is forever, it’s eternal. It’s the only thing anyone can be absolutely sure of. And, if you don’t look around you, you’ll miss the change altogether.”
“Stop toying with us, Q.” Baxter shouted. “I’m tired of hearing your…”
Q snapped his fingers. “Shut up.” Suddenly, Baxter’s mouth disappeared, and he was left standing there, looking absolutely foolish, with his finger raised in protest, unable to make a sound at all.
“Gee,” Commander Conway said. “Do you think you could leave him that way?”
“Stop this, Q.” Larkin said sternly. “These games are unnecessary.”
“Oh, really?” Q asked. “Very well. Let’s change the game, then. You’re obviously not as intuitive as the other androids I’ve come in contact with. But, no matter. You’ll figure it out soon enough.”
Q waved his hand again, and the Aerostar was back in orbit around Varbaran Two. “There, all better.”
Suddenly, with another gesture, everyone on the bridge disappeared, except for Larkin and Q.
“What did you do with them, Q?” Larkin asked. “I assure you, killing my crewmates proves nothing to me.”
“Oh, I didn’t kill them. I’ve put them in a safe place for now.” Q looked around. “All of this will be gone in a million years or so. The blink of an eye, as far as I’m concerned. Now, what I have to show you is very important. And I think I’ve come up with a way to show it to you.”
Q waved his hand again, causing Larkin to disappear as well.
Larkin found herself sitting at a table at the mysterious bar, watching as Counselor Peterman strutted out on-stage, wearing a tight, colorful, flowery dress with all sorts and insanely tall platform shoes.
“Welcome, everyone, welcome to ‘The Quandary,’” Q said, dressed in a powder blue leisure suit, standing at the front of the stage. “We have a really groovy show for you tonight. Please welcome, the Crown Princess of Funk, Groovy Kelly Peterman!”
“What is the meaning of this, Q?” Larkin asked, as Q walked out into the audience.
“Just watch, lady.” Q said, winking at Larkin.
“Hey, let’s get groovin!” Peterman shouted, grabbing the microphone and giving a signal to the band.
The counselor suddenly launched into an unbelievable rendition of “Disco Inferno,” complete with unbelievably suggestive poses and gestures. The crowd went wild.
Larkin watched with growing confusion as the Counselor performed, when suddenly a woman behind her cleared her throat.
“Ahem. What’ll you have, lady?” Lt. Fresca asked, dressed in a skimpy waitress uniform.
“Lieutenant.” Larkin said. “What is going on here?”
“Do you want a drink, or not?” Fresca asked, annoyed.
“No, thank you.” Larkin said. “Excuse me, but what is your name?”
“Jenny.” Fresca said, moving on to another table. “Just call me if you change your mind.”
“She’s wonderful, ain’t she.” A man asked from an adjacent table. His eyes were transfixed on Groovy Kelly.
Larkin turned. “Captain?”
Baxter was dressed in a shirt and slacks, with loudly colored suspenders and a bow tie. “Captain? No ma’am, I’m no Captain. I’m a news reporter.”
“News reporter.” Larkin said to herself. “Why are you here?”
“Ain’t it obvious?” Baxter asked, staring up at Peterman. “She’s beautiful.”
“This is quite strange.” Larkin said. “You do not remember a ship called the Aerostar?”
“Aerosol?” Baxter asked. “I heard it hurts the ozone. But that’s probably just a myth.”
“I assure you, it is not.”
“You’re one weird chick, lady.” Baxter said, returning his gaze to Peterman. She had now begun singing a very slow, extremely sexy, rendition of James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend.”
“You just call out my name…” Peterman said softly, rolling around on the stage and kicking her legs into the air. “And…wherever I am…I’ll come running…” It was definitely an interpretive performance.
“So, how do you like the show?” Q asked, taking a seat next to Larkin. “Just picture it, Lieutenant: The year is 1979, disco is nearing its doom, and The Quandary is at the mercy of a violent mob boss. It’s quite operatic.”
“I do not understand. Why are you doing this, Q?” Larkin asked with confusion. “This does not serve any purpose that I am aware of.”
“That’s the point, my dear Lieutenant. You aren’t aware.” With that, Q disappeared, as Peterman launched into “Stayin’ Alive”
“Hey!” A woman said, grabbing Larkin’s shoulder. “The boss doesn’t like it when you talk during the performance.”
Larkin stood up to face the woman. It was J’hana, blue skin, antennae, and all, except for the fact that she was wearing the dark suit most popularly worn by bouncers and other thugs.
“Do I have to rough you up, or what?” J’hana asked angrily.
“I assure you, that will not be necessary.” Larkin said, staring at J’hana. “Who is this ‘boss’ you speak of?”
“You don’t know the boss?” J’hana asked.
Larkin thought a moment, attempting to index the time period. “It is still a bit early for Bruce Springsteen.”
J’hana shook her head. “Boss Marconi don’t like people who don’t know him. Says they’re the most dangerous type.”
“Boss Marconi?” Larkin asked. “I must speak with him.”
“Ain’t no one sees Boss Marconi, lady. Unless he’s a stop on the way to see St. Peter, if you know what I mean.”
“Primitive religious context.” Larkin said. “Interesting.”
Peterman was already into Zepplin’s “Dyermaker” as Larkin finished her conversation with J’hana.
“Just shut up, if you know what’s good for ya. Boss Marconi don’t like troublemakers, and he don’t like bitches who don’t know how to keep their mouths shut.” J’hana said, walking off.
“Oh, oh oh oh oh, you don’t have to go-oh oh oh oh.” Peterman said, leaning towards Baxter seductively.
“You’re a tramp!” A woman shouted from the audience. Peterman stopped singing and looked out into the audience, holding up a hand to see if she could make out the person who had said that.
The woman stood up in the audience, wearing what looked to be a very expensive dress, weighed down with even more expensive jewelry.
“Dr. Browning?” Larkin asked running over to the woman.
“I’m not a doctor.” Browning said, staring at Peterman. “But that bitch will need a doctor when I’m done with her.”
“Sit down, you old slut!” Peterman cried.
“And who might you be?” Larkin asked of Browning, as she continued to glare at Peterman.
“None of your business.” Browning said, sitting down.
A blue finger tapped on Browning’s shoulder angrily. “Excuse me, Ma’am. The boss wants to see you.”
“What do you mean?” Browning asked, pushing J’hana’s finger away. “The boss is done with me. He got what he wanted.”
“I am afraid not.” J’hana said. “Now come with me before this becomes violent.”
Peterman resumed her singing upon seeing J’hana appear, smiling victoriously.
“What does the boss want with Ms. Browning?” Larkin asked, looking up at J’hana.
“You again?” J’hana asked angrily. “What is your problem, anyway, lady?”
“I assure you, I am not the one with the problem.” Larkin replied. “But I would like to know why the boss wants to see Ms. Browning.”
“Who the hell are you?” Browning asked. “And how do you know my maiden name?”
“Well, well, well.” A large man said, walking up to the table. “If it isn’t yesterday’s news.”
“Boss?” J’hana asked, confused. “I thought you told me to take care of this trash.”
Marconi shook his head. “Leave this to me, Jo. Go have a drink at the bar.”
Larkin studied Marconi carefully. He was unmistakably Mr. Mirk, albeit quite a bit heavier.
“If you say so.” J’hana said. “Just whistle if you need me.”
Marconi put a hand on Browning’s shoulder. “So what brings you here, Jan?”
Browning looked up at him with distaste. “I had nothing better to do. Now I’ll thank you to take your hand off my shoulder.”
“No lady of mine gives me orders.” Marconi laughed. “Past, present, or future.”
“You ruined me, Marconi. And I’ll never forgive you for that.” Browning said, her eyes welling up. “All the money in the world couldn’t make up for that.”
“Keep talking, baby, and you’ll be on the street…without all those fancy jewels.” Marconi replied. “And who’s this? One of your little friends?” Marconi said, looking at Larkin.
“I’ve never seen her in my life.” Browning said defiantly.
“I am a friend.” Larkin replied.
“Of who?” Marconi said with interest. “Cause if you’re hanging around with the likes of Jan Marconi, you’re in a bad crowd, honey.”
“She is your wife?” Larkin asked.
“Ex.” Marconi and Browning said in unison.
“Ah.” Larkin said. “And you own this club, Mr. Marconi?”
“Everything you see, hon. I’m very proud of The Quandary.”
“Yeah.” Browning said distastefully. “Donnie here worked very hard robbing and stealing to buy this place.”
Marconi slapped Browning across the face. “You’ll keep yer mouth shut, if you know what’s good for ya.”
Browning held a hand to her face, sneering at Marconi. “Christopher! I’m ready to go. Get my limo.”
Lt. Commander Richards, in a black limo driver’s uniform, walked up and bowed slightly. “Yes, ma’am.” He looked up at Marconi for a split second, narrowing his eyes in disgust. “Right away.”
“Don’t get too drunk tonight, baby.” Marconi said, laughing and walking away.
“Bastard.” Browning said, studying the bump on her face in her compact and covering it up with some powder. “I don’t know what I ever saw in him.”
“This is all very strange.”
“You a space cadet, or something, Missy?” Browning asked.
“I was a Starfleet cadet. I graduated at the top of my class.” Larkin replied.
“Uh-huh.” Browning nodded. “Well, it was nice talking to you…”
“Kristen. But I’ve got to go.” Browning said, following Richards out the door.
Larkin stayed at Browning’s table for the final song of Peterman’s performance. At the end, she curtsied, thanked the crowd, and left the stage.
“Thank you all for coming to The Quandary, everyone. We’ll see you tomorrow night!” Q said, returning backstage.
Larkin remained at the table as everyone else left the bar, waiting as the busboys and the waiters began putting the chairs up on top of the tables. She was hoping that she could get some clue as to why Q had put her crewmates in this strange world, and what she had to do to get them out.
Larkin had an extensive amount of information in her database about Q, and from what she knew, it always seemed that Q’s puzzles had a very logical solution to them. Her job, she reasoned, was to find that solution. But so far, none of the clues seemed to lead anywhere.
Suddenly Larkin’s thoughts were interrupted by a loud ringing gunshot, followed by a shrill scream from outside the lounge.
Q ran into the room, blood all over his hands. “Someone call an ambulance! There’s been a shooting!”
Larkin found it extremely strange how quickly The Quandary filled back up with people, although, minutes before the shooting it had been empty.
A crowd had formed around the body lying in the lobby, Q at the center.
“Now everyone make room, there’s nothing to see here.” Q said, motioning for everyone to get back.
Peterman stood next to Q, blowing her nose loudly with a handkerchief and looking down at the body. “Who would want to shoot Boss Marconi? He was such a humanitarian!”
A shorter man with a trench coat and hat squeezed through the crowd, holding up his badge.
“Conway.” The man said gruffly. “Detective, NYPD. Who can tell me the story on the stiff?”
“I heard a gunshot and ran out here to see what had happened.” Q said, looking down at Marconi’s blank stare. “I found him lying here in a pool of blood, with this gun next to him.”
Conway dangled the snubnose .38 from a pencil and stared at it, handing it to an officer that stood behind him. “Take this to the lab, Officer Tilleran Have ‘em dust it for prints.”
Someone who looked remarkably like Lt. Tilleran took the gun and carefully placed it in a plastic bag. “Right away, sir.”
“I’m looking for suspects.” Conway announced to the crowd. “The NYPD would appreciate any leads you might have.”
“I have a lead or two.” Q said, smiling smugly from beside Conway. “You might want to start with a Mrs. Janice Marconi. She was Marconi’s ex-wife.”
Conway pulled out a notepad and scribbled down the information. “Gotcha. Anything else?”
“Yeah.” Baxter said, pushing through the crowd. “I need a picture of the body for tomorrow’s morning edition.”
“No pictures.” Conway barked, turning to look at the body as EMTs began to load it onto a stretcher and cover it with a blanket.
“Come on, the people have a right to…”
Conway turned to face the taller man, scowling angrily. “I said no pictures, and that’s what I mean. Now you wanna come downtown with me and do this the hard way?”
Baxter backed off. “No, sir. Of course not.”
“Good. Then be a good boy and give me some room to work. Is there anyone else that was close to the deceased?”
“His bodyguard.” Q said idly. “Wherever she is.”
“She?” Conway asked incredulously.
Q shrugged. “Tough lady.”
“Right. Well, until she shows up, she’s going on the suspect list.”
“I have another suspect for you, Detective Conway.” Larkin said, stepping out from behind the crowd of people.
“Who’s the skirt?” Conway asked, looking to Q.
“Oh,” Q said, glaring at Larkin. “She’s a regular.”
“So who do you wanna add to the suspect list, Ma’am?” Conway asked, readying his notepad and pencil.
Larkin pointed directly at Q. “Him. The proprietor of The Quandary. The establishment that Boss Marconi had a grip on.”
“Frank?” Peterman asked between sobs. “Frank Quimby couldn’t hurt a soul if he tried.”
“She’s got a point.” Q said innocently. “I have no idea what the broad is talking about.”
“What were you doing when you discovered the body?” Larkin asked, staring up at Q.
“If you must no, I was in the bathroom.” Q said, leaning in closer and whispering. “Careful, Lieutenant. You may be getting in over your head.”
“Was anyone with you?” Larkin asked.
“Of course not.” Q said indignantly, leaning back. “Am I so strange for using the bathroom in private?”
“No.” Larkin said, looking at Q. “But getting from the bathroom behind the dressing rooms backstage to the lobby would be quite a feat.”
“How did you know I wasn’t using the customer bathrooms in the lobby…” Q said, gesturing at the corridor that lead to the bathrooms.
“Because, if you’ll notice,” Larkin said, directing Conway to the men’s bathroom. “This bathroom is being cleaned.”
Sure enough, an “Out of Order” sign hung loosely from the door.
“Did I hear someone shooting?” the tiny, wizened
housekeeping woman said, ducking her head out of the
“Never mind, Juanita.” Q said, annoyed. “That proves nothing, whoever you are.” Q glared at Larkin. “It is merely circumstantial evidence.”
“Still,” Conway said, looking from Larkin to Q. “I’d like to bring both of you in for questioning.”
“Fine.” Larkin said. “I would be delighted to help.”
“Oh, I bet you would.” Q hissed angrily.
Larkin spent the rest of that night at the forty- first precinct, being attached to a lie detector, fingerprinted, questioned, poked, prodded, and investigated, along with several other witnesses from The Quandary.
After questioning, Larkin was asked to wait out in front while the other witnesses were being interrogated.
She decided to take the extra time to go over her files and see if she could come up with a reasonable solution to this predicament. If all of her files on Q led to one conclusion, that would be that Q creates a universe, then lets the events in that universe unfold as they naturally should. It seemed to Larkin as if controlling every aspect of the scenario would take away some of the omniscient being’s fun.Larkin watched as officers dragged Dr. Browning, or “Mrs. Marconi” into the holding area, after she had been deloused and dressed in a tacky blue prison uniform.
The android was beginning to see that Browning had become the prime suspect. Something told Larkin, however, that Browning had not committed this act.
Larkin immediately discounted the notion that this “inner feeling” was instinct.
“Hard at work trying to figure out ‘whodunit,’ Lieutenant?” Q asked, suddenly appearing next to Larkin on the bench. He was now back in the Starfleet uniform.
“I have a theory or two.” Larkin said, continuing to organize her files.
“You’ll be sorry to learn that Frank Quimby was released on his own recognizance.” Q said, leaning closer to Larkin. “Last I heard, he was on his way to Rio, for a little vacation.”
Larkin looked at Q. “Then I can discount him as a suspect.”
“Very good, Lieutenant. I saw you were moving in the wrong direction, so I gave you a gentle nudge.”
“Am I to assume that Doctor Browning will receive a fair trial?”
“You mean Mrs. Marconi?” Q said. “Of course. As a matter of fact, the trial is tomorrow.”
“I should make sure to attend then.”
Q looked at Larkin, astonished. “I must say, Lieutenant, your stoicism amazes me. I would expect you to have at least a shred of concern for your comrades.”
“If you are referring to Mr. Mirk, I am, in fact, concerned about his well-being. I understand that, if one dies in one of your scenarios, he may well remain dead.”
“But not necessarily.” Q said. “Your friend Mirk is safe…for now. How long he remains that way depends on tomorrow’s verdict. Better brush up on your legal skills!”
“Why would I have to brush up on my legal skills?” Larkin asked.
“Because,” Q said smiling. “You’re going to be handling the defense!”
“Then I do not have the time to chat.” Larkin said, standing up and heading for the exit.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Q asked.
“I have a…” Larkin thought a moment, searching for the correct word. “…hunch.”
Larkin left the police department with the assurance that she would not leave town before the trial was completed.
Of course she would not leave town. Where else could she go?
Larkin returned to The Quandary to find it closed down.
The android attempted, unsuccessfully, to peer into the boarded up windows, hoping to find some shred of evidence to prove the Doctor innocent.
She was about to give up when a man put a hand on her shoulder.
“Do you know the owner of this establishment?” the man asked, as Larkin turned around. He was a shorter, well-dressed man holding a briefcase. A taller, equally well-dressed man stood next to him, also holding a briefcase. Both men wore sunglasses, and bore striking resemblances to two of Larkin’s former crewmates.
Larkin looked from one man to the other in confusion. “I knew of him. He is deceased.”
“That’s too bad.” The taller man said. “We really needed to talk to him.”
“Who are you?” Larkin asked.
“The name’s Rydell.” The shorter man said, looking over to the man who was with him. “And he’s Dillon.”
“We’re with the IRS.” Dillon said proudly.
“Ah.” Larkin said, as she worked out the final pieces of the puzzle in her positronic brain. Rydell and Dillon were the help that she needed. “Then I will require some assistance, gentlemen.”
“Order in the court! I say order in the court!” Judge Zack Ford shouted, banging his gavel. Once the crowd began to quiet, he turned to the witness stand. “Okay, that’s much better. You were saying, madam?”
Megan Hartley, the (former) bartender of The Quandary, turned to look at the jury. “Well, I’d like to think I’m a pretty observant gal. I mean, I can tell when there are bad vibes in the air.”
Q leaned back against the witness stand nonchalantly, leaning his head back to look into Hartley’s eyes. “And, my dear, would you say that there were ‘bad vibes’ between Mr. and Mrs. Marconi the other night?”
“Definitely,” Hartley said.
Q smiled smugly and walked back to his seat, looking over at Larkin, who sat calmly at her table with her hands folded. “Your witness.”
Larkin stood up and strolled to the center of the courtroom. “Ms. Hartley, would you say that Boss Marconi had a relatively good rapport with his employees?”
Hartley thought a moment. “Well, I couldn’t complain…”
“Because he would not let you?”
“Objection!” Q cried. “She is leading the witness, your honor.”
“I’ll allow it.” Ford said. “But consider yourself warned, Ms. Larkin.”
“Yes, your honor.” Larkin said, returning her attention to Hartley. “You were saying, Ms. Hartley?”
“Well, Mr. Marconi was not what you would call a kind man.”
“How so?” Larkin asked.
“He paid us well, don’t get me wrong.” Hartley replied. “But, if he was in a bad mood…you wouldn’t want to get in his way.”
“No further questions.” Larkin said, returning to her seat.
“You may step down, ma’am.” Ford said, gesturing to Hartley. “Prosecution, you may call your next witness.”
Q stood up and placed his hands onto the table in front of him. “Your honor, I would like to call Mrs. Janice Marconi to the stand.”
The bailiffs led Marconi to the stand, took off her handcuffs, and had her sworn in.
As Marconi took her seat, Q approached the stand, looking into her eyes. “Did you kill your ex-husband, Mrs. Marconi?”
Marconi leaned back, crossed her legs, and lit up a cigarette. “Which one?”
“Donald Marconi. Your last ex-husband, if I recall.” Q replied.
“Oh, him. No. I definitely did not kill him.”
“Would you say you liked him, Mrs. Marconi?” Q asked.
At that she laughed. “Hardly, Mr. Prosecutor. But then again, that’s not a sin, is it?”
Q laughed. “No, ma’am. It’s not. Where were you the night before last, around midnight?”
“I was in my limo, on my way home.” Marconi looked up at Judge Ford. “My limo driver already backed me up on that.” She then diverted her gaze to the audience, where Richards sat patiently, smiling at her.
“Ah, the limo driver.” Q said, turning to the jury. “If you recall, Mr. Richards did, in fact, support Mrs. Marconi’s alibi that she left The Quandary, had a late dinner at McDonald’s, and then returned home.”
Marconi nodded. “That’s correct.”
Q turned back towards Marconi with a sinister smile. “One problem with that. The McDonald’s down the street from The Quandary closes at 11:30.”
“Maybe it was Burger King.”
“Or maybe you were lying!” Q shouted.
“Objection!” Larkin said. “Badgering the witness.”
“Sustained.” Ford said, looking at Q sternly.
“My apologies, your honor.” Q said, turning to the jury once again and flashing a charismatic smile. “But the truth hurts. Your witness, Ms. Larkin.”
Larkin stood again and approached the witness stand. “My apologies on the death of your ex-husband, madam.”
“I’ll live.” Marconi said, yawning.
“Not if you are convicted of this murder, I am afraid.” Larkin said. “Would you mind telling me where you really were last night, Mrs. Marconi?”
“What do you mean?” Marconi asked, leaning forward. “I thought you were on my side!” She whispered.
Larkin turned to face the audience. “I do not believe Mrs. Marconi was eating a quarter pounder last night when Mr. Marconi was murdered. However, I also do not believe that she committed the murder.”
“Then where was I, smartaleck?” Marconi asked, taking another puff off her cigarette.
Larkin walked over to her table and picked up a manila envelope. “Tell me, Mrs. Marconi, how many limo drivers do you know that drive with the car parked…” she whipped a picture out of the envelope and threw the envelope to the ground. “…AND in the back seat!”
Marconi stared at the picture agape. It was an overhead view of her and Richards in the midst of groping each other in the back of her limo.
“Darn. I never should have kept that sunroof open.”
“Let me enter this as exhibit ‘C’ for the defense.” Larkin said, handing the picture to Ford, whose eyes widened as he studied it.
In the audience, Andy Baxter gave Larkin the thumbs up. “I always get my headline, don’t I!”
“So you’re the peeping Tom!” Richards shouted across the audience, leaping towards Baxter and putting his hands around his throat. “I’ll kill you!”
“Bailiff!” Ford shouted. “Remove those two men from the courtroom at once.”
The bailiff, who bore an astounding resemblance to Lt. Gellar, grabbed both men by the arms and dragged them out of the courtroom.
“I love you, Janice!” Richards cried, as he was dragged out the door.
“I’m sorry, your honor.” Marconi said, putting out her cigarette on the witness stand’s railing. “I told a little white lie. You see, I didn’t want my relationship with Mr. Richards to be made public. I felt it would ruin my image.”
“Ha!” Peterman said from the audience. “What image?”
“Shut up.” Marconi said, turning to the jury. “I’m a proud woman. I didn’t want it known that I would stoop to…well, shtuping my servants.”
“I have one more question, Mrs. Marconi.” Larkin asked, leaning against the witness stand. “Why did you feel it necessary to keep the last name of a man that disgusted you?”
Marconi laughed, her eyes glistening. “Prestige, my darling woman, prestige!”
“No further questions, your honor.” Larkin said, taking a seat as Marconi was taken away by the bailiff.
Q shot Larkin a smug glance and then looked back to Ford. “The prosecution rests its case, your honor.”
“Well, then,” Ford said. “If there are no further witnesses, I suppose we can-“
Q glared at Larkin, snapping his fingers. Immediately the entire courtroom scene froze. “Very good work, Lt. Larkin. I would not have thought you brave enough to bribe the reporter for his pictures. But you still haven’t solved the case, have you?”
Larkin cocked her head. “I am not finished yet, Q.”
“Oh, well, then by all means!” Q laughed, snapping his fingers again.
“-allow the jury to deliberate on a verdict.”
“Ahem.” Larkin said, standing up. “I have one more witness to call, your honor.”
“You do?” Ford asked. “Oh, you do. Fine. Go ahead.”
Larkin looked at Q, then to Judge Ford. “Your honor, I wish to call Donald Marconi to the stand.”
At that the entire audience once again erupted into melee.
“Order! Order!” Ford cried. “Don’t think I won’t clear this whole courtroom!”
Finally, after several moments, everyone became quiet again.
“Thank you.” Ford said. “Now, forgive me if I’m wrong, but, isn’t Donald Marconi dead?”
Larkin stepped out from around her desk, shaking her head. “No, sir, he is not.”
“This is extremely strange.” Ford said, resting his head on his chin. “Call your witness, Counselor.”
Larkin walked to the back of the courtroom, and disappeared behind the courtroom doors.
“This is preposterous, your honor.” Q said defiantly. “She has obviously lost her mind.”
“We’ll see.” Ford said.
Larkin returned with two bound and gagged figures over her shoulders, laying them out on her desk.
“Your honor,” Larkin announced. “I present Mr. Donald Marconi, and his bodyguard, Ms. Jo Hannah.”
“I don’t believe it.” Q said dumbfoundedly, staring at Larkin and her two companions.
Larkin slung Marconi over her shoulder again and carried him over to the witness stand, placing him gently into a chair.
Next, Larkin carefully removed the gag from Marconi’s mouth. “Now, Mr. Marconi, I assume you will cooperate.”
Marconi lifted up his head disgracefully and looked around. “Yeah, I ain’t got nothin’ else to lose.”
“Now, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, there was a murder committed last night, but it was not Donald Marconi.”
“Who, pray tell, was it then?” Q asked angrily.
“It was Donald Marconi’s retarded brother Lenny.” Larkin announced proudly.
Ford looked down at Marconi, then at Larkin. “I’d like to speak for the entire jury when I say ‘huh’?”
“Please allow me to explain.” Larkin said, looking to the jury. “All his life, Donald Marconi has had to bear the burden of a retarded brother. Ever since the death of their parents, Donald has been forced to keep his brother alive, since he was not competent enough to do anything for himself.”
“Your honor…” Q said, “We aren’t actually expected to believe any of this, are we?”
“Yes.” Ford said sternly. “We are.”
“Finally, Donald Marconi reached his limit.” Larkin continued. “He shot Lenny Marconi in cold blood.”
“He was gettin’ on my nerves.” Marconi said. “He kept askin’ for jello. And I hate jello.” Marconi looked the jury, as if trying to get a little sympathy. “It just squishes around your mouth and slithers down your throat, ya know?”
“He then escaped,” Larkin continued. “With the only woman that ever seemed to understand him.” The android turned and pointed to the angrily struggling form of J’hana. “Ms. Hannah, his bodyguard.”
“I like strong women.” Marconi said, smiling.
“Indeed.” Larkin said, returning his attention to the jury. “As you may recall, ladies and gentlemen, about sixty years ago, the United States government instituted a law forbidding alcohol to be produced, sold, or distributed in any way. Many bars of that period had secret rooms that were used for the distillation of illegal alcohol.”
“Oh, thank you so much for the history lesson, Ms. Larkin, but, what does all this mean?” Q asked, amused.
“I was getting to that.” Larkin said. “The Quandary had one of these such rooms, and that, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is where Jo Hannah and Donald Marconi planned on hiding out until this whole thing blew over.”
“Circumstantial evidence.” Q said proudly. “You can’t prove any of that.”
Larkin walked over to the desk and picked up another manila envelope, pulling out yet another picture. “Defense exhibit ‘D’, your honor.”
The android held up a picture that plainly showed Q, or “Quimby”, shoving Marconi and Hannah behind a false bookcase in his office.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Baxter for his investigative acumen.” Larkin said, handing the picture to Ford.
Ford put on some glasses and stared at the picture. “I’ll be darned.”
“In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen,” Larkin said, “Donald Marconi is an evil man. He hoped to kill his troublesome brother and rid himself of Janice Browning Marconi at the same time, while consummating his love for his bodyguard.”
J’hana growled more fiercely and struggled at her bonds. She finally managed to spit out her gag. “I loved him! I make no secret of that! He was the greatest man I ever met, and I was glad to be his henchman, I mean henchwoman!”
“Take them both away.” Ford said with disgust, gesturing to bailiff Gellar. “And see that Mrs. Marconi is released.”
“Thank you, your honor.” Larkin said, looking at Q. “I believe I have solved your puzzle, Q.”
Q stood up, staring at the android skeptically. “I just have one question for you, Larkin. How did you figure it all out?”
“After my discussion with you at the police station, I went back to the scene of the crime to try and find a clue to what had really happened. I was about to give up when I was approached by two IRS agents.”
“Damn.” Q said. “I knew I shouldn’t have included them.”
“It occurred to me that one of the biggest problems twentieth century crime bosses had was dealing with taxes. I was able to utilize Mr. Rydell and Mr. Dillon’s resources to study Marconi’s past history. After searching through several false leads, I finally came upon the true Donald Marconi’s birth certificate. And, with it, I found Leonard Marconi’s as well.”
“Ingenious.” Q said, smiling.
“Thank you. After that, it was only a matter of recruiting the help of Mr. Baxter and assuring him that he would be protected should Marconi’s secret be let out. I believe he is currently in the custody of the Witness Protection Program.”
“How clever!” Q exclaimed. “You are brighter than I gave you credit for.”
“I have done as you asked, Q, now please release my friends and end this charade.” Larkin said sternly.
“Oh, the charade may be over, but you still haven’t solved the real puzzle, Lieutenant Larkin.” Q said, snapping his fingers and returning Larkin to the bridge. “But at least now you’re on the right track. After all, you seem to have quite the discriminating intellect.”
Larkin looked around the bridge, which was once again filled with her fellow officers.
Baxter braced himself against the command chair, looking around with confusion. “What the hell just happened?”
“You were all the subject to one of Q’s games.” Larkin said.
“I knew it.” Conway said angrily.
“Where is he now?” Baxter demanded.
“I do not know.” Larkin said, heading over to the science station. “But I believe I now know what has happened to the people of Varbaran Two.”
“And that is?” Conway asked.
“I do not have enough time to go into it.” Larkin said, typing commands into the science station at an amazing speed.
“I feel really weird.” Ford said, staring down at the helm controls. “I feel like I just woke up from a long, really weird dream.”
“There.” Larkin said. “Excuse me.” With that, the android headed to the turbolift and disappeared behind its doors.
“Where the heck is she going?” Conway asked.
“I don’t know.” Baxter said, sitting down. “But I’m going to sit right here until she gets back.”
Larkin materialized once again on Varbaran Two, wearing a personal forcefield armband and carrying a portable phase discriminator.
Q appeared next to her as the wind whipped against her hair.
“Got a hunch?” he asked pleasantly, staring down at the discriminator.
“Not a hunch.” Larkin said, adjusting the modulation on the discriminator. “A theory.”
Suddenly the android began to flicker, finally disappearing, as she phased out of normal space.
Larkin looked around, noting that the planet’s general features had not changed, although now it was lush and alive with vibrant plant life, exotic birds, and chirping animals. It was a veritable paradise.
Larkin put the phase discriminator aside and pulled out her tricorder. “Fascinating.” She said, staring at the readings.
“Pretty neat, huh?” Q asked, appearing next to her again.
“This entire civilization went simultaneously out of phase.” Larkin said, continuing to look at the readings on the tricorder.
“Bingo.” Q said happily, a trophy appearing in his left hand. “You win first prize!”
“Thank you, Q, but I do not require thanks.” Larkin said, tapping a few buttons on her tricorder. “That is odd.”
“What?” Q said, looking over her shoulder.
“There is a huge disturbance building in this area. A breach is forming in the phase continuity.”
“You don’t say!” Q said in mock surprise. “I wonder what could have caused that!”
“I have narrowed down the possibilities to one. The EM fields generated by our transporters, phasers, tricorders, even myself.”
“Right again!” Q said. “You’re eligible for the bonus round!”
“We must leave this planet immediately, or the delicate balance of this newly formed phasic continuity will be destroyed.”
“Really?” Q asked. “Do you think?”
“I am positive.” Larkin said, adjusting the discriminator’s controls again and bringing herself back into normal phase. “Thank you, Q.”
“Don’t mention it!” Q said, as Larkin tapped her communicator.
“Larkin to Aerostar. One to beam up.”
“What’s happening down there, Larkin?” Baxter asked, annoyed.
“I will explain as soon as I arrive, Captain.” Larkin said, as she dematerialized.
Supplemental. We have left Varbaran Two, after leaving a message buoy that will warn all star faring races to stay away from it, at least until its phase modulation or some such thing stabilizes. I have read Lieutenant Larkin’s report on the strange events that she experienced and, so far, none of the crew can recall participating in them, although I must say Counselor Peterman’s singing voice has improved dramatically.
“I guess we owe Q a debt of gratitude.” Baxter said, leaning back on the command chair and closing his log entry. “Without him we could have destroyed that civilization.”
“I still don’t see the correlation between our mission and the mystery Larkin solved for Q.” Peterman said from her seat next to Baxter.
“It is quite simple, Counselor.” Larkin said from ops. “Mr. Marconi was thought to be murdered, much like the Varbaran civilization. It turned out that he was alive, although I suspected Q of killing him.”
“Again like the Varbaran civilization.” Conway said, from Baxter’s other side.
“Exactly.” Larkin said.
“So where does Lenny fit in?” Peterman asked.
“I am not sure.” Larkin said. “It is likely that Lenny represents our side of the multiphasic continuity.”
“Because he was afflicted?” Baxter asked. “I’m insulted.”
“As well you should be, mon Capitane!” Q said, appearing in front of the viewscreen.
“I do not believe it.” J’hana said angrily from tactical.
“What do you want now, Q?” Baxter asked angrily. “Haven’t you tormented us enough for one day?”
“Not even close.” Q said, smiling. “What happened to that debt of gratitude?”
“Thank you.” Baxter muttered. “Now get off my ship.”
“Oh, I assure you, I have every intention of leaving.” Q said, strolling over to the operations console. “After giving a special gift to my intuitive robotic friend.”
Larkin looked up at Q, cocking her head slightly. “Q, if your intention is to make me human…”
“Hah!” Q said. “You androids all think alike. I have something much more interesting in mind for you, my dear.”
With that, Q waved his hand and disappeared.
“What was that all about?” Peterman asked, confused.
“Beats me.” Baxter said, walking over to Larkin and putting a hand on her shoulder. “What happened, Lieutenant?”
Larkin turned her head to look up at Baxter. To his amazement, she now had a beak.
“Erp.” Larkin chirped happily. “Erp erp!”
“I don’t believe it.” Baxter sighed.
The android looked down at her hands, which had now become black, shiny flippers. “Erp! Erp!” she repeated. “Erp! Erp! Erp!”
Suddenly, Q appeared again. “Oops, I almost forgot something!” He snapped his fingers again, and with a flash, the bridge crew was knee deep in tiny, limp, flopping fish. “Have fun!” Q said, disappearing once more.
“Erp! Erp!” Larkin said with glee, leaning down and picking up one of the flopping fish with her beak and swallowing it.
“Of all the…” Conway said, brushing the fish off and getting up from his chair. “Cleanup crew to the bridge…immediately!”
“Eeeeew!” Peterman shrieked, pulling a fish out from inside her uniform top. “This is disgusting!”
“Well, at least Larkin seems happy.” Ford said, regarding one of the fish skeptically.
Larkin continued to chirp, waddling around the bridge and eating the tiny fish happily.
“I sure hope this isn’t permanent.” Baxter said, plopping down into his now wet and slimy chair. “For all our sakes.”
Suddenly there was a loud roar from the conference room.
J’hana withdrew her phaser and walked over to the doors, peeking in.
She turned around, shaking her head in disbelief.
“What is it, J’hana?” Baxter asked, afraid.
“Polar bear.” J’hana said calmly. “I’d stay out of there if I were you, sir.”
NEXT TIME ON STAR TRAKS: THE VEXED GENERATION:
With Mirk discovering info that may get the Aerostar home and repeated Flarn attacks, the crew begins to suspect that there’s a traitor aboard. Who is cheating who? Will the Aerostar get home? Is Peterman really a brunette? Find out (most of) the answers next time in
“TURNED INSIDE OUT”