Star Traks, the Secondprize, Waystation, and immeasurable dignity belong to Alan Decker. The Explorer, her fated crew, and all the mistakes and uncomfortable situations that come about because of her are gladly owned by Anthony Butler, Copyright 1998. Paramount owns everything else, including my eternal soul. If you're offended by mildly disturbing language, situations, and the utter disregard of some of Star Trek's greatest premises, better hit the "Back" button on your browser right now. If not, welcome aboard!

Author: Anthony Butler
Copyright: 1998

Captain’s Log,

Stardate 52088.5. After a long and restful shoreleave on Earth, the Explorer is finally ready for her first deep space assignment. We’re on our way to the periphery of sector 27987 to negotiate a settlement between the Blardvars and the Oblari, two races whom I’m told have shared a violent rivalry. And I, for one, can truly say I know a lot about vilent rivalries.

“You’re a damn idiot, Captain,” Commander David Conway said, watching as Baxter hung the picture behind his desk.

“Shut up, Conway. You don’t know anything about interior decorating,” Baxter muttered, straightening the picture.

“I know what sucks,” Conway replied. “The picture should go over on the other side of the room.”

“It’s my damned readyroom and I’ll say where the picture should go,” Baxter said, eying the picture of him and his senior staff that was taken during their vacation on Earth.

“Fine,” Conway said, looking at the padd he had cradled in his hand. “On to more important business.”

Baxter looked at his picture one more time and sat down. “Fine, what is it that’s so damn important?”

Conway looked at the padd again. “It’s Ensign Timmons. One of our new officers in engineering.”

“We lost a lot of engineers in the past year,” Baxter admitted.

“Well,” Conway said, “he’s lazy, disrespectful, and sloppy. We need to get rid of him.”

“Then get rid of him,” Baxter said. “We’re not in the Delta Quadrant anymore. We don’t have to worry about where to put him. As soon as we return from this assignment, we’ll drop him off at the nearest starbase.”

“Great,” Conway said, continuing to page through the padd. “Then that leaves one more thing.”

Baxter braced himself. He could tell that Conway was going to make a completely unreasonable request. “What is it, Commander?”

“I was wondering, while we’re in the Blardvar system…”

“Go on,” Baxter prodded. He was becoming impatient.

“I was wondering if I could handle some of the negotiations.” Conway said. “You know, boost my diplomatic experience. Now that we’re back, I’d like to start working on that promotion to Captain.”

Baxter sighed. “I don’t think so, Commander. From what I know of the Blardvars, they’re very serious about rank. They’ll want to speak to the Captain, and no one else.”

“But, Captain, I don’t think you’re giving me…”

“The matter’s closed, Conway,” Baxter said. “Now…help me hang this mural over my sofa.”

Conway grumbled angrily to himself while he helped Baxter hang the mural. What did the Captain know anyway?

“Perfect,” Baxter said, standing back and looking at the mural. “What do you think, Commander?”

“It’s crooked,” Conway muttered.

“No it’s not,” Baxter said. “It’s perfectly straight.”

“Why don’t we let the computer decide?” Conway said. “Computer…analyze the orientation of the mural on…”

Suddenly Baxter’s comm badge beeped pleasantly. “J’hana to Captain Baxter. There is a priority message from Starfleet coming in for you.”

Baxter walked behind his desk, turning his terminal to face him. “They probably want to make sure I remember all my diplomatic training. Pipe them through to my terminal, J’hana.”

“Aye, sir,” J’hana said, as a frozen image of Admiral Frank McGrath appeared on Baxter’s terminal.

Commander Conway peered at the image over Baxter’s shoulder. “It’s a recording.”

“I know it’s a recording,” Baxter said, annoyed. “We’re too far out for two-way communication. Computer, play message.”

“Please state access code.”

“Access code Baxter Alpha oh oh nine.”

“Access granted,” the computer replied, as the message began to play.

Baxter noted that Admiral McGrath seemed to be a little agitated as the message ran. He briefly wondered what the problem was. Hopefully nothing that would hurt his chances for success at the current mission.

“Captain…what I have to say isn’t easy, but I thought it would be best if you heard it from me,” McGrath said slowly.

“Oh boy,” Baxter sighed. “What now?”

“…I’ll get right to it, Captain. In looking over their, um, records, the personnel department…um…couldn’t find Captain Rydell’s official field commission papers.”

“Damn yellow tape,” Baxter muttered.

“Red tape,” Conway corrected.

“What I’m afraid this means is…” McGrath took a deep breath, “effective immediately, you are now relieved of command of the Starship Explorer and reduced in rank back to Lieutenant. Command of the Explorer will be turned over to Commander Conway until the current mission is over. He will be granted a field commission to Captain which will become permanent should the personnel department rule that your promotion to Captain is null and void. I’m very sorry, Andy. McGrath out.”

Speechless, Baxter simply stared at the Federation emblem on his terminal.

A broad grin began to spread across Commander Conway’s face. “Lieutenant, I believe you’re in my chair!” he exclaimed, ripping the picture of the senior staff from the wall and tossing it into the reclamator bin.

“Got anything stronger, Mirk?” Baxter said drunkenly, slamming his shotglass down on the table in the “Explorations” bar and belching loudly.

Mirk shook his head. “Not unless you want me to go collect the plasma exaust from the warp nacelles.”

Baxter looked up, his bloodshot eyes full of hope. “D’you think you could do that?”

“Go home, Cap–” Mirk stopped himself. “Lieutenant. You’re shnarrzed. You need some sleep.”

“I can’t go home,” Baxter whimpered. “Conway has the big cabin now. He bumped me down into the crew quarters on deck twenty.”

“Poor guy,” Mirk said. “I’m sure this isn’t permanent.”

“And if it is?” Baxter whined. “What then?”

“You have to take what life gives you and turn it around in your favor, sir. No matter what the case, life goes on,” Mirk said, taking Baxter’s glass and returning to the bar.

Baxter slammed his head down on the table, looking up at the sound of opening doors.

Counselor Peterman rushed into the bar and, at a gesture from Mirk, found Baxter’s booth.

She sat down across from Baxter and took his hands in hers. “I came as soon as I heard, Andy. How are you doing?”

Baxter looked up at Peterman weakly. “How do you think I’m doing?”

“Judging by the look in your eyes and the smell of Romulan ale on your breath, I’d guess that you’re shnockered.”

“Shnarzzed,” Baxter sighed, ramming his head back into the table.

“It’s not so bad, Andy,” Peterman said. “Really it isn’t.”

“Oh, yeah?” Baxter asked. “How do you figure?”

“Well,” Peterman said, rolling her eyes toward the ceiling. “Um, your new job isn’t as stressful as being Captain. You don’t have any annoying duties…or powers to think about.”

“Really?” Baxter said, looking up.

“Really,” Peterman said. “I mean, just because I outrank you now…”

“Arrgggh!” Baxter cried, ramming his head into the table again.

Captain’s Log,

Stardate 52089.3. Boy, I never got to say “Captain’s” log before. Captain Captain Captain Captain Captain Captain. I love the way that sounds. Captain David Conway, at your service, just giving my “Captain’s” Log. Where was I? Oh, yeah, we have arrived in the Blardvar system, where I will have my first diplomatic experience as Captain. I’m sure it won’t be too hard. I mean, I just have to stop two races from going to war, right?

“Coming out of warp,” Ensign Ford reported. He glanced back approvingly at Conway, raising an eyebrow. “Captain.”

Conway smiled, shifting comfortably in the command chair. It somehow felt…better…to sit in it when he was Captain. “Very good, Mr. Ford, very good. Take us to Blardvar Four, one-half impulse power.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” Ford said. “And may I say your command prescence is admirable.”

“Keep sucking, Mr. Ford, you’ll go places,” Conway smiled, looking to his right. “How’s the uniform, Commander?”

The newly-promoted Lt. Commander Larkin turned to regard Conway. She somehow looked unnatural sitting in the chair reserved for the First Officer. “It is a uniform, Captain. Other than the red coloring on the collar, it is no different than my previous uniform.”

“But don’t you love the feeling of power the new position gives you?” Conway asked.

“You forget, Captain, I have no aspirations of any kind. Nor do I have an ego to satisfy,” Larkin said.

“I’ll have to be egotistical enough for both of us, then,” Conway said.

“Indeed. I doubt that will be a problem,” Larkin replied.

“We’ve arrived at Blardvar Four,” Ensign Monroe said from ops.

“Standard orbit, Ensign Ford,” Conway said. He looked to his left, suddenly realizing someone was missing. “Where the hell is Peterman? She’s supposed to be here to help with the negotiations.”

Counselor Peterman sighed and rolled over in bed. “I’m late for work, Andy! I have to go.”

Baxter kissed Peterman’s neck and pulled her toward him. “Come on, screw the Captain! He’ll get along without you.”

“That’s okay…I used to screw the Captain all the time,” Peterman remarked, pulling free of Baxter and heading for the shower.

“That hurt, Kelly,” Baxter pouted, rolling over in bed and pulling the covers up over his head.

“Sorry, Andy,” Peterman said as she activated the sonic shower. “It’s not the end of the world. Today is a new day, a new adventure.”

“Yeah, you don’t have to crawl around on the floor of the main shuttlebay all morning,” Baxter sighed, crawling out of bed to join Peterman in the shower.

“Hey, get out of here!” Peterman said with a smile, as Baxter pushed her up against the tiles.

“Come on, just let the sound waves hit you, baby.”

“Well…” Peterman said.

“Conway to Peterman,” came Conway’s angry voice over the speakers in Peterman’s bathroom. “We’ve arrived at Blardvar Four. Would you do us the pleasure of joining us on the bridge, or should I send you a freaking engraved invitation?”

“No, no, Captain, I’ll be right up,” Peterman said, sliding out from under Baxter.

“You were never that responsive to me,” Baxter said, feigning a frown.

Peterman slipped out of the shower and slid on her robe. “That’s because I knew you’d never court martial me.”

“We’ll never know now,” Baxter said sadly, as he watched Peterman dress.

Peterman slapped on her comm badge and zipped up the front of her uniform. “Feel free to get whatever you want out of the replicator.”

“You sure you don’t feel weird about me living here?” Baxter called out. For some reason he still felt like he was imposing.

“Don’t be silly, Andy. I couldn’t stand the thought of you living in those tiny quarters on deck twenty. Anyway, you and I have no problem living together,” Peterman said, heading for the door to her quarters. She glanced at Baxter’s dog Pandora, who quivered nervously at the edge of Peterman’s couch, staring down at Charlie’s sleeping form cautiously. “Pandora and Charlie, on the other hand, are a different story.”

“It’s about time,” Conway muttered, looking back at Peterman as she stepped out onto the bridge.

“Don’t start with me,” Peterman muttered, plopping down into her chair. “Let’s start being freaking diplomatic.”

“For once today, you’re just in time,” Conway said sharply, looking back at J’hana. “Hail them, Lieutenant.”

“Hailing frequencies open,” J’hana replied crisply.

Conway straightened his uniform and leaned forward. “This is Captain David Conway of the Starship Explorer. We are here to offer diplomatic aid. Please respond.”

“We are getting a response,” J’hana said.

“On screen,” Conway replied, patting his hair down and shooting the viewscreen his best “debonair Captain” look.

A Blardvars man appeared on the viewscreen, looking extremely excited and happy. Like all Blardvars, this man had extremely huge, red eyes, and bumpy green skin. “Hello, Captain. I am Torutu, Chancellor of Blardvar. I was told that your name would be Baxter.”

“That was our old Captain,” Conway said with a smile. “I’m the new and improved Captain.”

“So we shall see. Might I propose that we begin our negotiations with the Oblari immediately?” the man said, all business.

“Whatever you say, Torutu,” Conway replied. “If you would like, I can beam you and your staff aboard immediately.”

“Yes, I’ve heard of this so-called transporter. I am very excited to try it out,” Torutu said. “My people and I are ready to transport aboard immediately.”

“Very good,” Conway said. “See you in a few minutes. Explorer out.”

“So how’s he taking it?” Lt. Hartley whispered, leaning over her transporter console to speak to Peterman as she, Conway, and J’hana waited for the Blardvars contingent to be beamed aboard.

“Andy?” Peterman asked, turning back toward Hartley. “He’s taking it pretty hard. I think he liked being Captain.”

“Oh, well,” Hartley said. “If it makes him feel any better, tell him I despise Conway much more than I do him.”

Conway stared back at Hartley angrily. “I heard that, Lieutenant.”

“I love you, Captain!” Hartley said sweetly, batting her eyes at Conway lovingly.

“You’d better watch it. Now that I’m in charge, things are going to change around here. Commanding officers will get some respect from now on.” Conway turned back to watch the transporter pad.

Hartley made a retarded face at Conway’s back, slapping her hand against her chest.

At that, Peteresen burst into laughter, causing Conway to look back again.

“Quit it!” he grumbled. “Do you have those coordiantes yet, Hartley?”

“Yessir,” Hartley said. “Would you like me to energize, Captain sir?”

“Damn right,” Conway muttered.

Lt. Hartley slid the three glowing bars up the panel, causing the transporter pads to light up, as three figures appeared on them.

The one Conway recognized as Torutu stepped off the pad. “Hello, Captain,” he said, shaking Conway’s hand warmly. “What a pleasure to meet you.”

“The feeling is mutual,” Conway said, with his best fake smile.

“Allow me to introduce two of my staff. My chief of security, Colonel Katani…”

The bulky, muscular, seven foot tall woman stepped forward, smiling viciously. “Greetings,” she muttered unenthusiastically.

“…and my Minister of Diplomacy, Badrago.”

Badrago stepped forward. An older, feeble, grey-haired man, who Conway guessed already had one foot in the grave.

“Hello,” the man said shakily.

Conway shook neither person’s hand, for fear that one of them would break his hand, and afraid the gesture might kill the other.

“And this is my staff,” Conway said pleasantly. “Chief of Security, Lieutenant J’hana, and Ship’s Counselor, Lt. Commander Peterman.”

The three officers nodded curtly. J’hana bared her teeth menacingly at Katani, but Conway stepped in front of her before the Blardvars could react.

“Lieutenant J’hana will show you all to your quarters. And if you need anything, feel free to contact me. Dinner will be at 20 hundred hours,” Conway said, ushering the Blardvars group out of the transporter room.

“I will?” J’hana asked, glaring at Katani.

“You will be nice to them or I will make sure you have a dishonorable death,” Conway whispered through clenched teeth, shoving J’hana behind the rest of the group and out of the transporter room.

“Death threats only serve to stimulate me, Captain.”

Conway shuddered.

“How’s it coming, Andy?” Lt. Commander Richards asked, as he stepped into the shuttlebay.

Baxter looked up, the shadow of the shuttle Cabral bathing him in darkness as it loomed over him.

“I don’t know why they hide the property tag on the bottom of the shuttles. They have to hoist them with a tractor beam in order for me to look under them,” Baxter grunted, as he scooted out from under the shuttle.

Richards sized up the floating shuttle and looked down at Baxter. “Must feel scary knowing that tons of duranium could fall on you at any second.”

“I was trying to forget about that,” Baxter said, standing up and brushing off his uniform. He motioned to the control room on the second level of the bay, where Ensign Sanchez worked the tractor controls. “Set her down, Sanchez. I found what I was looking for.”

Sanchez hit a switch, causing the Cabral to slam down on the shuttle deck, shaking the room and sending Baxter and Richards stumbling back.

“Be careful with that, Sanchez!” Richards shouted, looking to Baxter. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Baxter said, picking up his padd. “I guess I’m done in here.”

Richards shot Sanchez an angry look as he followed Baxter out into the corridor. “What’s next?”

“Not much today,” Baxter said idly, checking his padd. “Just all the quarters on deck eleven, and maybe sickbay if I have time.”

“Oh,” Richards replied. “So is the job like you remembered it?”

“Pretty much,” Baxter said. “Though Starfleet has a nifty scanning device now that reads the property number off the tag without me having to write it down on a padd. Saves a lot of time.”

“What will they think of next?” Richards commented.

“Yeah,” Baxter said. “So what are you up to?”

“Well,” Richards said, “Conway wanted me to realign the warp core while we’re doing all this impulse travel, so that’s been keeping us busy. Janice and I are still planning the wedding…”

“How do you feel about that?”

“Oh, fine,” Richards said. “I mean, I’m getting married, what can I say?”

“You don’t exactly sound enthusiastic,” Baxter said. “Aren’t you happy?”

“Sure I am,” Richards said. “I just…never though it would be so soon.”

Baxter stopped short of the turbolift as Richards stepped in. “Well, I never thought I’d have my command stripped and get demoted, but hey, the world’s a funny place.”

“Take care of yourself, Andy,” Richards said, as the turbolift doors closed.

Baxter looked at his padd and sighed. “Oh well, back to work.”

Later that night, the Blardvars group gathered in the Captain’s Mess. The time between their arrival and dinner afforded the work crew enough time to redecorate the room.

At Conway’s orders, they were instructed to make it fancier– give it a more dignified, executive look. Baxter had decorated his dining room with festive floral patterns and lots of gaudy fixtures, no doubt influenced by Peterman. Now it was wood-paneled, with the traditional bland Starfleet-toned silverware and flatware.

Captain Conway sat down at the head of the table, joining his senior staff and nodding approvingly at the decor. Much better. This ship would be running smoothly within a week with Conway in command.

“Vulcan Olive Wine, sir?” a crewman asked, waiting patiently at Conway’s side.

Conway sneered at the thick green liquid in dismay. “No, just coffee. Black.”

“Yes, sir,” the crewman said, returning to the replicator.

“I am impressed by your ship, Captain,” Torutu said warmly, sipping at his wine. “Your Federation must be a powerful, rich organization.”

Conway smiled. “Well, we do our best.”

Suddenly Lt. J’hana burst into the room, still pulling at her dress uniform. “I despise this farking dress unif–” J’hana grunted, looking up and realizing that all eyes in the room were on her. “Um, war. I despise war.”

Torutu smiled politely. “As do we all, Lieutenant.”

At a glare from Conway, J’hana bowed her head shamefully and quickly took her seat.

“So,” Conway said, still glaring at J’hana. “Torutu, tell us a little bit about your people.”

“We’re a simple, peaceful race, Captain,” Torutu said, as he was served a plate of fried chicken. “We have a beautiful, untouched planet, which we are in fear of losing now.”

“Because of the Oblari,” Peterman surmised.

“Exactly,” said Torutu. “Have you studied the Oblari much, Counselor?”

“Enough to know that they’ve been a thorn in your side for twenty years,” Peterman replied smartly.

“That is an understatement,” Colonel Katani grunted. “They have plagued us with their trifling wars for decades, and we have had enough.”

Torutu raise his hand. “Enough, Katani.” He turned to Conway. “What we want, simply, Captain, is peace.”

“And you’re confident these Oblari will comply with your wishes?” Lt. Tilleran asked.

“Most confident,” Badrago said finally. “With such a powerful ship at our side, we cannot lose.”

“Our aim is not to threaten the Oblari. We are simply acting as a liason between your two peoples,” Conway said. He didn’t like Badrago’s insinuation that Starfleet acted as a galactic policeman. That’s what got the United States into trouble in the late twentieth century.

“Of course,” Torutu said quietly, staring down at his fork. “What did you call this, Captain?”

“It’s one of Earth’s greatest delicacies, sir. Macaroni and cheese,” Conway said happily.

It was evident that the rest of Conway’s senior staff was not as enthused at the menu.

“It is delicious,” Torutu finally said.

Katani sneered at the macaroni on her fork as if it was full of evil. “It is…adequate.”

“They make artwork out of this stuff too,” Peterman commented, trying to get in on the conversation.

“Indeed,” Torutu replied. “I would like to see some of this artwork some time.”

“In good time,” Commander Conway said. “After the negotiations, I believe the Federation and the Blardvars will share much with each other.”

“I agree,” Torutu said.

“When will we be arriving at the Oblar system again, Captain?” Badrago asked with interest.

Conway looked to Larkin, “Commander?”

“At our current speed of full impulse, we should arrive by tomorrow morning,” Larkin said.

“We’re taking our time in order to allow our group to get acquainted with the Blardvars contingent,” Conway explained. “That way, we’ll be better able to assist with the negotiations.”

“I see,” Torutu commented. “That will be sufficient. What you call slow for your vessel is twice the speed of our fastest ship.”

“I assume the Oblari have faster ships,” Lt. Commander Larkin said. “It seems, given the distance between your two worlds, that faster ships would be necessary to make up an effective invasion force.”

“The Oblari are equipped with warp technology,” Katani said.

“Yes,” Badrago continued. “That is a gap between our peoples that we’ve been wishing to bridge for quite some time.”

“Perhaps one day you will,” Conway said mildly.

“Yes, perhaps,” Torutu said. “In the meantime, would it be possible to see your ship? Specifically, these powerful warp engines?”

“I don’t see why not,” Conway said, looking to Richards. “But we are not allowed to let you see any detailed schematics, in keeping with our Prime Directive.”

“I understand this Prime Directive does not apply to Federation worlds,” Torutu said, narrowing his eyes at Conway.

“No, it doesn’t,” Conway said. “If your world was to join the Federation, you would have access to much of our technology.”

“That interests me immensely, Captain,” Torutu said. “Perhaps one day we will be able to join your Federation.”

“I don’t doubt it, Chancellor,” Conway said, continuing to eat.

After a few moments of silence, Dr. Browning stared down the table at Captain Conway. “When’s dessert, Captain? That macaroni and cheese wasn’t very filling.”

Annoyed, Conway looked over at the crewman standing near him. “Schultz, get Dr. Browning some cake. Enough to keep her mouth full for awhile.”

“Sir,” Schultz whispered, “you don’t know what you’re asking…”

“Do it!” Conway hissed under his breath.

“Aye, sir,” Schultz replied, going to the replicator and ordering up the largest piece of cake the replicator had on file.

“Hurry, my tummy’s growling!” Dr. Browning said aloud.

“All in good time, Doctor! All in good time!” Conway grumbled.

Finally, Crewman Schultz placed the giant slice of cake in front of Browning, who devoured it immediately.

Badrago looked at Browning, “So, Doctor Browning, do you enjoy…” he paused as she looked up, icing dripping down her face. His voice dropped a notch. “…cake?”

“Yes, I…mff…love it!” Browning said, with her mouth open.

Conway just covered his face with his napkin.

“Stop staring at me!” Katani cried, glaring at J’hana.

J’hana stabbed her fork down into the table, cracking the glass and causing the whole table to rattle. “I would never stare at something so ugly.”

Badrago held Katani down with a feeble hand. It was obvious that if Katani wished to attack J’hana, Badrago would not have been able to stop her.

Torutu sighed. “I see we have a long way to go.”

“So, how was the dinner?” Baxter asked, putting his book down as Counselor Peterman climbed into bed.

“Embarassing,” Peterman said, pulling the covers up. “A classic entry in our crew’s resume of diplomacy.”

“That bad, huh?” Baxter asked, tossing his book onto the nightstand and leaning back onto the bed. “How about Conway?”

“Strangely enough, he almost seemed cordial,” Peterman replied, clapping her hands to deactivate the lighting and turning over.

“Oh,” Baxter said, settling onto the mattress. “I was half hoping he’d screw up. You know, have forbidden sex with a Blardvars official or something.”

Peterman clapped her hands to reactivate the lights. “This thing is really bothering you, isn’t it?”

“What thing?” Baxter replied innocently.

“The whole ‘Captain Conway’ thing.”

“You think it shouldn’t?” Baxter asked. “I have one of the worst jobs on the ship, and Conway got just what he wanted. And my own girlfriend outranks me.”

“Oh,” Peterman said, clapping her hands again.

A minute later, Peterman shot up in bed and clapped her hands once more. “Wait a minute. The thing that’s really bothering you here is that I’m a higher ranking officer than you now, isn’t it?”

“Of course not,” Baxter said defensively. “Although…you do know the crew is starting to talk.”

“What are they saying?” Peterman said angrily.

“They’re saying you’re in command of this relationship now, and that I’m your newest pet. And that I’m nothing more than a lazy live-in lover.”

“Nice aliteration.”

“Thank you.”

“That’s silly,” Peterman said. “I thought we were an advanced culture. Since when has it been forbidden for a woman to have a higher ranking position than her boyfriend?”

“I’m just telling you what the crew thinks, dear,” Baxter said, closing his eyes.

“Well, what do you think?” Peterman asked, her angry expression softening.

“I think I’ve worked hard all day and I need my sleep, because I have to be at work by seven tomorrow morning or I’ll be written up by my commanding officer.”

“I doubt Commander Larkin would write you up,” Peterman said soothingly.

“You’d be surprised how different people act towards you when you’re not Captain anymore,” Baxter said, clapping his hands.

“You don’t mean me, do you?” Peterman asked quietly in the darkness.

“Don’t be silly,” Baxter said. “Now go to sleep. And that’s an order from your subordinate.”

Peterman leaned back and put her hands behind her head, staring at the ceiling. Who was she kidding? Baxter’s demotion had affected her. It was obvious she had to do something about it.

The next morning, Counselor Peterman strolled into Engineering, pressing the button on the door to Lt. Commander Richards’s office.

“Come in,” Richards said, prompting Peterman to continue through the door.

Peterman glanced at the large sculpture Richards was molding on his desk. It was so large, it completely obscured her view of Richards.

“Christopher, I need to ask you a favor.”

Richards peered around the sculpture. “What can I do for you, Kelly?”

“I need you to transfer Andy to a better position. Even though Larkin is his superior officer, you have the authority to transfer him,” Peterman said, sitting across from Richards’ sculpture.

“I don’t know, Kelly. Andy’s a proud man. I’d love to move him to a better position, but he’d know what I was up to right away. At best it would only make him feel worse. You’re the ship’s Counselor. You should know that.”

Peterman stared at the sculpture. “What the hell is this, Chris?”

“It’s an interpretive piece. It’s designed to look like a warp core, with a DNA strand inside of it. It represents the miracles of science.”

Petersen leaned forward to get a better look, crinkling her nose upon smelling the sculpture. “What is it made of?”

“Chopped liver,” Richards explained. “Janice’s idea. I’m practicing for the wedding reception. Janice wants a giant chopped liver heart with an arrow going through it.”

“That’s the stupidist thing I’ve ever heard of,” Peterman said, tasting a bit of the antimatter pod at the top of the sculpture. She hat to admit, it tasted pretty darn good.

“You’re welcomed to tell Janice that. Just don’t do it while I’m in the room. Truth is, I hate the idea myself.”

“The price of getting married,” Peterman said. “Christopher, if I can’t help Andy feel better somehow, I’m afraid it might just break us up.”

Richards thought about that a moment. “And then I’d be doing all those boring date-type things by myself.”

“Exactly,” Peterman smiled.

“Okay,” Richards sighed. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Are these all the hyposprays you have?” Lt. Baxter asked, looking down at the array of medical equipment on the medtable.

Dr. Browning took the lollipop out of her mouth, studying the equipment. “I think so. Probably.”

Baxter looked up at Browning, annoyed. “You can’t think. You have to be sure. Starfleet command will be on me like blue on a tractor beam if I mess up these inventory reports.”

“Gee, you never used to care what Starfleet thought when you were Captain,” Browning said, grabbing a sandwich out of the replicator.

“Well, things are different now. I have to do a good job if I want to advance in rank,” Baxter said, scanning the numbers into his tricorder.

“Andy, for all you know Starfleet could rule in your favor, and you’ll be Captain again,” Browning said, munching on her sandwich.

“Or, I’ll be a stinking Lieutenant for the rest of my life,” Baxter said, shoving the hyposprays back into a drawer.

“Who cares?” Browning said. “You’ll still have your friends, your health…”

“Why do people always say that?” Baxter asked. “‘You’ll still have your health.’ What does that mean? Are you saying the only thing I have left to be thankful for is the fact that my body’s still functioning?”

“Well, I haven’t given you a checkup in months. For all I know you, don’t have that either. Feel better?” Browning said with a chuckle.

Before Baxter could respond, the doors to sickbay parted, allowing Captain Conway, Lt. Commander Larkin, and the group from Blardvar to enter.

“And this is our sickbay,” Conway said, waving his hand at the room. “We have a fully capable medical staff, and all the latest equipment.”

“Hi,” Dr. Browning said, as she continued to munch on her sandwich.

Torutu looked around sickbay. His gaze finally fell upon Lt. Baxter. “And who is he?”

Conway stared at Baxter. “Just one of our maintenance staff. Nobody important.”

Baxter bristled at the comment, but stayed quiet.

Dr. Browning glared at Conway as he and the group left sickbay.

“You shouldn’t have taken that, Andy. He’s being a complete jerk.”

“He’s also my Captain now,” Baxter grumbled. “And as much as I hate it, I have to take it.”

“I could always arrange for a little…medical mishap at his next checkup,” Browning suggested.

“That’s sweet, Janice, but I don’t think that will be necessary,” Baxter replied, heading for the door.

“Necessary, no. But fun, yes,” Browning giggled.

“And this is the bridge,” Conway said, leading Torutu and the others around to the front of the bridge. “This is basically the nerve center of the entire ship.”

“Impressive,” Torutu remarked.

Lt. J’hana stood from the command chair as Conway and Larkin took their places.

“Status, J’hana?” Conway asked.

“We’re about five minutes from Oblar, Captain,” J’hana said, returning to tactical.

“Good,” Conway said, gesturing for Torutu to sit in the seat at his left. “Any ships to greet us yet?”

“A small fleet is gathered around the Oblari home planet,” J’hana reported. “B-type ships, capable of minimum warp travel, armed with phasers only. Not a threat to us.”

“But a massive threat to us,” Badrago commented, taking a position at the railing around the command area with Katani.

“Perhaps,” Katani muttered.

“Sir.” J’hana looked up. “One of the ships is breaking off and coming toward us.”

“Hailing frequencies,” Conway commanded.

“Open,” J’hana replied.

“Oblari vessel, this is Captain Conway of the Explorer. I am here, along with representatives of the Blardvars, to negotiate peace between your two races. As a sign of good faith, will you please deactivate your weapons and send over a diplomatic representative?”

The view of the Oblari ships was suddenly replaced with a wiry, birdlike figure.

He narrowed his eyes at Conway and Torutu. “I am Braalix, Chief Commandant of the Oblari Battle Forces. I will speak for the Oblari.”

“Good, then why don’t you and your associates beam aboard and discuss the matter of peace with us.”

“A fruitless gesture, but I will agree. I doubt that you will say anything that will dissuade me from taking over the pitiful Blardvars.”

Katani was obviously angered by this, but she held her place.

“You may transport us at your leisure,” Braalix continued. “But I warn you…no funny stuff. Our fleet stands ready to destroy your ship.”

Conway could hear J’hana scoff quietly at that. “Wonderful. I’m sure we’ll all get along famously.”

“We shall see,” Braalix said, cutting the channel.

“Commander Larkin, prepare the conference room. Lieutenant J’hana, you and Lt. Tilleran will accompany me to the transporter room,” Conway said, rising from his chair.

Lt. Tilleran stood from her station and approached Conway. “Can I speak to you for a moment, Captain? In private?”

“Sure,” Conway said uneasily. “J’hana, go ahead and fetch Baalix and his associates from the transporter room.”

“Fine,” J’hana muttered, leaving her station. This diplomatic duty was really wearing thin on the Andorian.

“What’s so important you had to interrupt this assignment, Lieutenant?” Conway asked, storming into the readyroom.

Lt. Tilleran viewed the changes Conway had made to the ready- room with unease. A model of Conway’s old ship, the Garrison, sat where Baxter’s Secondprize model once sat, and the walls were papered with Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin posters. Additionally, the badly scorched and dented espresso machine Conway’d salvaged from the Aerostar’s wreckage sat in one corner, gleaming as if it had been recently polished.

“Are you just going to stand there?” Conway asked, letting a steady stream of espresso drip into his mug.

“I just wanted to let you know what information I’ve gathered from observing the Blardvars and the Oblari, Captain.”

“And?” Conway asked, taking a sip.

“Well, I can barely even read emotion from the Blardvars. They’re apprehensive, and a little upset–right now, especially.”

“Yeah, yeah. What about the Oblari?”

Tilleran straightened. “That’s what I wanted to tell you about, sir. They hold a lot of hostility towards the Blardvars. It was evident even over the viewscreen. I think they may even try to kill the Blardvars representatives if they get the chance.”

“We’ve made all the proper security precautions, Lieutenant. But thanks for your concerns.”

“And I can’t quite tell where it’s coming from, but when we communicated with the Oblari, I felt a sudden rush of cold hatred. Probably from the Blardvars.”

“Noted,” Conway said, sitting his tiny espresso cup down. “Keep me informed. For the moment, we’ll just tell security to keep on their toes while we try to work this thing out.”

“Yes, sir,” Tilleran said, clasping her hands behind her back and following Conway out of the readyroom.

Lt. Baxter approached the deck eleven quarters and entered his special inventory access code. He hadn’t gotten around to this wing yesterday, so he was in a hurry to finish.

Once inside, Baxter ascertained that the quarters were no more than basic guest quarters, probably reserved for VIPs, from the looks of them.

Baxter began to take inventory of all the furniture when his comm badge beeped.

“Richards to Baxter. Could you come down to engineering for a minute?”

“As soon as I finish this room, Chris,” Baxter said. “What do you want?”

“Just come down here. I need some…help.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll be down as quick as I can,” Baxter said, walking over to the bathroom to inventory the bed and nightstand.

Baxter slid underneath the bed, flicking on his palm beacon so that he could find the inventory number.

Baxter cursed as something hit his head.

He grabbed the small object and jerked it out from under the bed.

“Damn shaving kits,” Baxter grumbled, examining the small, black case.

He was about to put the case away when he noticed some writing on the other side: ————————————————————————- CARDASSIAN “E-Z KILL” DISRUPTOR

Designed to look like an ordinary pocket chronometer, the “EZ-KILL” will let your enemies know when it’s “time” to die.”

TAKES A LICKIN’ AND KEEPS ON SHOOTIN’ ————————————————————————–

“Oh, my gosh,” Baxter said, opening the case.

It was empty.

“Computer…whose quarters are these?” Baxter asked hurriedly, looking down at the case in dismay.

“We will no longer allow your people to flagrantly disregard our borders,” Katani growled, leaning across the table and glaring at Baalix and his two advisors, while the Oblari attack vessel loomed ominously just outside the conference room’s windows.

“What you will allow means nothing to us,” Baalix said cooly. “We will do what we wish.”

“Then you will die!” Katani hissed.

From the middle of the table, flanked by Larkin and Tilleran, Captain Conway held up a hand. “Now everyone just calm down. I’m sure we’ll find a way to settle these differences.”

“I doubt it, Captain,” Baalix hissed.

“Listen,” Conway said, exasperated. “Nobody wants a war…”

“I want a war,” Baalix said. “Disposing of the Blardvars once and for all will be a small matter.”

“Would you care to test that theory?” Katani asked, leaning forward farther.

“Stop this bickering!” Conway shouted, slamming his hand down on the table. “It’s counterproductive!”

While Conway spoke, a hand carefully aimed a tiny disruptor under the table.

“I agree,” Torutu replied. “We must stop this arguing if we ever want peace.”

“I’m not interested in peace,” Baalix said. “We are superior, so we should have control of this sector.”

“If you continue to violate our territory, the Federation will send a starship to destroy your pitiful fleet,” Torutu said plainly.

“Is this true?” Baalix asked, glaring at Conway.

Conway looked back at Torutu. “I never said that!”

“You said you would give us your help if we joined your Federation. Did you lie?”

“No. But we’re not going to destroy another race because they’re your enemies whether you’re in the Federation or not.”

“Then I seriously misjudged your people,” Torutu said angrily. “We have nothing left to discuss.”

“Now, I don’t…” Conway said, looking from Baalix to Torutu.

Just then, Conway’s comm badge beeped.

“Ford to Conway. Sir, there’s…”

Before Ford could tell Conway what the problem was, the problem became apparent.

Lieutenant Baxter burst into the conference room, Lieutenants J’hana and Gellar hot on his tail.

“Stop everything!” Baxter screamed, diving through the air.

Before anyone could react, Baxter slammed painfully into the conference table.

Everyone sat there, awestruck, for a moment.

“J’hana, take him to the brig,” Conway muttered.

Someone readied a finger on the fire control of the disrupter and looked at Baxter pleasantly as J’hana approached him.

“Please, Lieutenant, come with me,” J’hana grunted, withdrawing her phaser and taking Baxter’s away.

Baxter edged off the table, straightening his uniform. “One of these people is a killer!”

That caused an uproar from everyone gathered at the table.

Commander Conway surveyed the worsening situation, staring angrily at Baxter. “Lt. Baxter has taken leave of his senses, J’hana. Take him to the brig.”

“The killer has a disruptor encased in what looks like a normal chronometer, J’hana. I can show you!” Baxter cried.

J’hana looked from Baxter to Conway with confusion. Who should she listen to? Her loyalties seemed to lie with Baxter, her captain of over a year. But, like it or not, Conway was her new commanding officer.

“Take him away, J’hana,” Conway said more forcefully. “Or I’ll find someone who can.”

“J’hana, I know who the killer is. Just give me the chance to show you.”

“I…” J’hana said.

“Too late!” Badrago screamed, jumping out of his chair and pointing his chronometer at Baalix. “I’m not the killer yet, but I will be!”

“No!” Baxter cried, pushing past J’hana and tackling Badrago, as he fired his weapon. The beam hit the ceiling harmlessly.

Baalix’s advisors were on their feet immediately, drawing their weapons and aiming them all around the room. They really didn’t know where to shoot first.

Badrago scrambled out of Baxter’s grasp and made for the door to the conference room. “Come on, Katani, now!”

Katani scrambled over the conference table, deciding that was a quicker route then actually going around it.

J’hana acted fast, leaping through the air toward Katani, slamming her painfully into the table. “Not this time, behlatch!”

“He’s heading for the bridge!” Conway shouted. “Security…pin him down!”

Lt. Gellar and the other security officers scrambled after Badrago, as everyone in the conference room poured out onto the bridge, clambering over each other to see what was happening.

Once she was sure Katani was unconcious, J’hana moved to hold back Baalix and his men as everyone else scrambled out onto the bridge.

Badrago smiled insanely at them, his arm clenched around Ensign Ford’s neck, the “chronometer” pointed at the poor Ensign’s head.

“Nobody move, or this human dies,” Badrago growled, looking around insanely.

“Why are you doing this?” Torutu asked. “You were the most honorable Blardvars in our history, and you’ve served with us for a hundred years.”

“And in that hundred years I was never thanked for anything,” Badrago hissed. “I figured I only had one more chance to make a name for myself before I died.”

“Should we just let him kill Ford?” Conway whispered, looking over to Larkin. “It wouldn’t be that big a loss.”

“It would definitely be considered a stain on your diplomatic record,” Larkin whispered back.

“Suggestions?” Conway asked, looking back at Baxter.

“Sorry, I’m just one of your maintenance staff, nobody important. Remember?”

“This is no time for hurt feelings, Baxter!” Conway barked.

“What are your demands?” Larkin asked calmly, noting that neither Conway nor Baxter would be much help at this point.

“I want your ship to destroy the Oblari fleet,” Badrago commanded. “I know that your ship is capable of such a task. Now do it!”

“Who’s the master diplomat now, Captain?” Baxter said. “I mean, it sure looks like you have the situation well in hand.”

“I assure you, that is not possible,” Larkin said. “Release our crewman and let us discuss this rationally.”

“You’re not helping, Baxter,” Conway growled.

Suddenly, a realization hit Lt. Baxter. He looked over at the enraged Blardvars holding Ford hostage. “Hey, Badrago, I think you’re forgetting something.”

“Oh, I am?” asked Badrago. “And what might that be?”

“If I’m not mistaken, that weapon was manufactured in 2370.”


“So, Cardassian batteries only have a shelf life of about four years. You’ve already fired that thing once. Something tells me it won’t fire again.”

“Oh,” Badrago replied shakily. “So you think this thing doesn’t work any more?”

“I’m willing to bet Mr. Ford’s life on it,” Baxter said, moving closer to Badrago and Ford.

“Hey!” Ford said. “Don’t I get a say in this?”

“Fraid not,” Baxter said, edging closer.

“You’re making a big mistake!” Badrago said indignantly, pressing the fire control on his disruptor.

Ensign Ford closed his eyes, waiting for the awful, long, painful death he was sure he was about to recieve.

Instead, a tiny, sputtering beam flickered out of the firing chamber of Badrago’s chronomter, frying the hair on the back of Ford’s head.

Lt. Baxter leapt forward, grabbed Badrago, and threw him to the floor in a heap.

Ford rubbed the back of his head painfully. “Hey, that stung!”

“You’re alive, aren’t you?” Baxter asked, picking Badrago up off the floor and pushing him into J’hana’s waiting arms. “There you go, Lieutenant. One potential killer.”

Lt. J’hana dragged Badrago off to the turbolift, where her other officers were already waiting with Katani.

“I’m dreadfully sorry about all this,” Torutu said to the now very angry Oblari.

Baalix stared Torutu in the eye, a vicious snarl forming on his lips. “Your people are more volatile than I thought. Maybe our peoples aren’t so dissimilar after all. Perhaps we can come to an… understanding.”

Captain’s Log,

Supplemental. Okay, we may not have done it in the most peaceful way, but we have succeeded in beginning the peace process between the Blardvars and the Oblari. After talking with Baalix and the Oblari Prime Minister, Torutu assures me that a peace agreement, and at some point, maybe even an alliance of some kind, is close at hand.

Meanwhile, we’re back on course toward deep space, for a routine mapping mission of the Dataga sector. No matter what’s happened in the past two days, I’ve got to say, it’s good to be Captain.

Lt. Baxter poked his head into Richards’s office. “So, Chris, you wanted to talk to me?”

“Yes, Andy. Sit down,” Richards said, pushing his sculpture aside.

“Nice,” Baxter said, leaning in to examine the sculpture. “Makes me think about scientific achievement.” Baxter sniffed several times. “And liver?”

“You’re more perceptive than most, Andy,” Richards said. “The reason I called you here is that I want you to come into Engineering.”

“I’m already in Engineering,” Baxter said.

“That’s not what I meant. I want to transfer you. And promote you.”

“Promote me?” Baxter asked. “To what?”

“To Engineer’s Mate First Class. You’d still be a Lieutenant, but you’d have much more responsibility and opportunity for advancement.”

“No one asked you to bring presents to my pity party, Commander,” Baxter said. “I don’t need favors. I can succeed on my own.”

“I just want to help, Andy. I know you’d do the same for me,” Richards said. “Besides, I know Ensign Cartwright is devastated about losing her position as Chief of Inventory.”

“I don’t know. Let me think about it.” Baxter stood up to leave.

“Conway to Baxter,” chimed the comm system in Richards’ office.

“Wonder what he wants,” Baxter said. “Baxter here.”

“I think you should come up here. Now.”

“Probably wants to gloat about his big diplomatic victory,” Richards muttered, going back to his sculpture.

“His victory my ass,” Baxter grumbled. “I swear, if I ever become a Captain again…”

On the way up to the bridge, Lt. Baxter ran into Counselor Peterman.

“I heard about your little act of heroism, Andy,” Peterman said, wrapping an arm around Baxter’s waist as he walked. “That’s my brave little bubbybear.”

“Nothing any Captain wouldn’t do,” Baxter said sheepishly.

“Very funny,” Peterman replied. “So, did you talk to Commander Richards?”

“Yes. But I got called away. Conway wants me for something,” Baxter said. “Oh, and I don’t appreciate you putting him up to that promotion thing.”

“What makes you think I put him up to it?” Peterman asked innocently.

“Because nobody else is diabolical and sneaky enough,” Baxter said as he approached the turbolift. “And because nobody else loves me that much.”

“Nothing any girlfriend wouldn’t do,” Peterman said, grabbing Baxter and engulfing him in a long kiss. “You’ll always be my Captain.”

“In that case,” Baxter said, still holding onto Peterman. “How about reccomending me for promotion to Lieutenant Commander?”

“For what it’s worth, I will,” Peterman said, following Baxter into the turbolift. “But don’t expect much enthusiasm from Conway about it.”

“I never expect enthusiasm from Conway,” Baxter muttered.

“You never know,” Peterman replied. “Maybe he called you up to the bridge to congratulate you on a job well done.”

Baxter and Peterman laughed about that the rest of the way up to the bridge.

“…turns out the file was accidently routed to a Klingon listening post,” Admiral McGrath said from the screen on Conley’s desk terminal, looking a little embarrased. “It took a lot of doing, but we were able to acquire the file and everything seems to be in order. In light of this new occurrence, Lt. Baxter will be put back in command of the Explorer and restored to the rank of Captain. And Andy, once again, I’m really sorry for this mixup. What can I say? These things happen. Anyway, good luck on your next mission. McGrath out.”

Conway switched off the terminal and turned it back around. “I suppose you’ll be wanting your chair back…Captain.” Conway said the word as if it left a bad taste in his mouth.

“Damn right I do,” Baxter said happily. “And while you’re up, you can take all those crappy posters down. And get that espresso machine out of here, too.”

Conway quickly took down his posters and unplugged the espresso machine. He twirled the cord around the base of the huge, ornate and silvery chunk of metal and pushed it toward the door. “Captain, I trust you won’t hold any grudges about the last couple days. I mean, you know, water under

the bridge and all.”

Baxter sat down at his desk. “You know me better than that, Commander. I don’t hold grudges.”

“I know the last time you were ticked at me, you put a laxative in my coffee and had me crapping for a week,” Conway mumbled, shoving his espresso machine out of the readyroom.

“Come, now, Commander. We’re both mature adults.”

“Right,” Conway said. “I knew you’d be big about this, sir.”

The following morning, Commander Conway was up bright and early, double checking the inventory of Ensign Paul Sanchez’s quarters.

If the stench wasn’t bad enough, the fact that he had to wade through a week’s worth of soiled Starfleet boxer shorts was.

“Baxter to Conway. How’s it coming down there, Chief?”

“Terrible,” Conway muttered, pinching his nose shut and scanning Sanchez’s forbidden underwear drawer. “This little…transfer…is only for a day, right?”

“I suppose,” Baxter replied. “That is, unless you discover that Inventory is your secret calling. You may have finally found something you’re good at.”

“Not very damn likely sir,” Conway grunted, sifting through the dozens of encrusted, fossilized plates on Sanchez’s dinner table.

“Chin up, Conway. The day’s not over yet,” Baxter said cheerfully.

“Yeah, yeah,” Conway said, approaching Sanchez’s closet. The tricorder read some sort of blockage, but he couldn’t quite read what was in there.

Cautiously, the Commander opened the closet.

Books upon books upon books upon books upon books spilled forth from Sanchez’s closet. Obviously, he was well read.

By the time the avalanche was over, Commander Conway was completely buried.

Struggling to free himself, Conway tried to wriggle his way out from underneath the sea of books.

Suddenly a horrifying thought entered Conway’s mind.

Sanchez didn’t get off duty for hours.

“Conway to Baxter!” Conway cried. “I need a hand down here!”

The only response Conway got was the sound of Baxter and the rest of the bridge crew clapping.


Lt. Commander Richards finds himself the star of his very own television show, “Star Trek: Explorer.” And it only gets wierder from there.

Tags: vexed