Author: Anthony Butler
“Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to the grand opening of The Constellation Cafe!” Mirk said joyfully, standing aside to let the crewmembers that had been standing outside pour into his lounge.
Commander Conway walked in and looked around. “I don’t know, Mirk. This place looks a little too cozy.”
There was a crackling fireplace built into one corner of the room, and a huge sofa the size of a queen sized bed at the room’s center. Tapestries and artsy paintings hung on the walls, and the old grey and black bar was replaced by a shiny wooden one with polished gold rails.
“That’s the point, Commander.” Mirk smiled, straightening his tuxedo jacket. “It’s hard to feel at home on a starship, even in the cabins. Here, the crew can really feel like they’re at home.”
“I like it,” said a voice from behind Conway.
Mirk’s expression brightened when he saw the woman behind Conway. She was tall, well-proportioned–gorgeous. She wore a form-fitting, tight-ish silken green top and matching dress that tightened around the thighs, growing looser at the bottom.
The Maloxian took the woman’s hand gallantly and kissed it. “And who is this beautiful creature?”
“This ‘beautiful creature’ is Dr. Lana Shar,” Conway replied. “She’s the a Starfleet specialist on the development of outer colonies. She just arrived via courier ship today. She’ll be with us for the next several months to help us set up colonies near the galactic rim. Lana, this is our lounge manager, Mr. Mirk.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Mirk,” Lana smiled. “Commander Conway tells me you’re from the Delta Quadrant.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Mirk ushered Conway and Lana to a table and pulled a chair out for Conway’s companion to sit in. “What lovely spots you have. They remind me of someone else I know.”
“Another Trill, perhaps?” Lana asked.
“Lana here has a five hundred year old beautiful creature slithering around inside her,” Conway said. “Her symbiont is one of the oldest alive.”
“How intriguing.” Mirk stared into Lana’s eyes. “What stories you must have to tell.”
“We’d like a menu, Mirk.” Conway pushed Mirk back a few feet.
“Of course.” Mirk bowed and ran back to the bar.
“Some people,” Conway sighed, looking around the cafe.
“He seems quite nice, and the lounge does too,” Lana said, glancing at Lt. Ford and Lt. Gellar who were busy playing holo- foosball at the gaming table. “I’ve been on a lot of starships, and none of them have had a lounge this comfortable.”
“None of them have a Maloxian,” Conway said. “So, how was your trip here?”
Lana sighed. “Well, let’s just say a Vulcan ship is not the most fun to be on.”
“Well, you’re here now.” Conway looked up at Lana and winked, “and it’s time to have some fun.”
Mirk stared at Conway and Lana from the bar. Conway was smiling, giggling, and laughing. Something was terribly wrong. He never did any of those things.
“Who’s that?” Amara asked, setting a tray of empty glasses on the bar.
Mirk shook himself out of the trance the beautiful Trill had put him in. “She’s a new specialist that’s going to be on the ship for a few months.”
Amara craned her neck to see. “She’s pretty.”
“Well…” Mirk replied. “They, um…need menus.”
“Okay, I’ll get them,” Amara grabbed the menus and headed over.
Mirk let her go. It was probably a good idea to stay far away from any woman powerful enough to put Commander Conway in a good mood.
“So then I worked on the Sumpa Two colony for a while,” Lana said with a sip of her drink.
“You’re kidding,” said Conway, leaning forward, chin on his hands. “Where you there during the Breen raids?”
“Unfortunately. That was an ugly affair,” Lana sighed. “So, tell me about yourself.”
“Well, I’m a Scorpio. I enjoy coffee, donuts, phaser practice, and…”
At that moment Amara approached, carrying two dishes, handing one to Lana. “Here we are. Pasta salad for you,” she looked at Conway, “and the ten-piece fried chicken for the Commander.”
“Thought I’d eat light tonight,” Conway said, gnawing into the breast. “Thanks, Amara.”
Amara bowed slightly. “If there’s anything else, just let me know.”
“So, Commander,” Lana said, watching Conway eat. “Where’s the Captain? I haven’t had the opportunity to meet him yet.”
“Oh, Captain Baxter,” Conway said, chewing thoughtfully. “He’s down on the planet with our ship’s counselor.”
“Doing scouting and research?” Lana asked with interest.
“You could say that.”
A gentle breeze blew through the thick cover of trees down on Kintaris Four.
“Well,” Captain Baxter said, rubbing oil into Counselor Peterman’s back. “I think this planet has some colony possibilities.”
Peterman turned around to look up at Baxter, putting her hands on his knees as he straddled her on the beach blanket. “Possibilities? It’s gorgeous. We wouldn’t have to do any terraforming or anything.”
“I have some forming I’d like to do right now.” Baxter said, leaning down and kissing his way down Peterman’s face.
“Down, boy,” Peterman cooed, as Baxter made his way to her mouth.
Suddenly Charlie, Peterman’s golden retriever, sat his ball down nearby, putting a paw on Baxter’s back and looking at him expectantly.
“Go away, Charlie, I’m trying to celebrate my one year anniversary here.”
Charlie just cocked his head and barked.
“Aww, Andy, you have to throw it!” Peterman said. “You’ll break his little heart.”
Baxter leaned up. “Oh, all right. Go get it, boy!”
Charlie set off as Baxter hurled the ball into a clump of trees.
That done, Baxter resumed making out.
“Can you believe we’ve been together for a whole year, Andy?” Peterman asked, as Baxter rolled over and grabbed an orange out of the picnic basket they had brought down with them.
“No,” Baxter said, peeling the skin off the orange. “This is the longest relationship I’ve ever had.”
“Me too.” Peterman said. She suddenly looked upwards, smiling fiendishly. “Well, if you don’t count the Bolian.”
Baxter stopped peeling. “Bolian? I don’t remember hearing about a Bolian.”
“Oh, I’m sure I told you.”
“Refresh my memory.”
“There really isn’t much to tell,” Peterman looked down at the sand as if it was intensely interesting. “It was while I was in college. He was…hee hee…one of my teachers.”
“I got an ‘A’.”
Baxter sighed. “And now you’re going out with your Captain. I’m starting to see a pattern here, hon.”
“Whatever do you mean?” Peterman crinkled her nose in a smile and wrapped her arms around Baxter’s neck. “There are a lot of far more handsome Captains in Starfleet.”
Suddenly a piercing howl came from behind the trees where Charlie had gone to retrieve his ball.
“What the hell was that?” Baxter asked, turning his head.
“I don’t know. Charlie!” Peterman called out. There was no response.
Baxter grabbed a phaser out of the picnic basket. “I’m going to check it out, hon. You stay here.”
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Peterman said.
“Me too. Just the same…” Baxter grabbed his comm badge, jogging around the lake they had been sitting by and towards the thick of trees. “Baxter to Explorer. I need a scan of this area. Are there any humanoid life signs other than the Counselor and me?”
“One moment, sir.” Lt. Tilleran replied over the comm. “No, sir. Just you and the Counselor. Why, is something wrong?”
“I’ll get back to you.” Baxter set his phaser to stun and held it in front of him as he entered the forest. “Charlie! Here, boy!”
About twenty meters ahead, there was a rustling of leaves, and a flash of orange fur.
“Charlie, come on!” Baxter cried, following after the flash of fur. Charlie was not the perfect dog, but he usually came when you called him.
Baxter dashed past a few huge trees, ducking under a branch and once again catching sight of Charlie.
This time Baxter noticed that the dog was being pulled by his collar, by a black-gloved hand. The owner of the hand was obscured by the thick foliage.
“Stop!” Baxter cried out. “I’m a Starfleet officer and I am armed. Stop where you are!”
Charlie let out a yelp as he was tugged further into the woods. Whoever had him was moving pretty damn fast, and Baxter was beginning to fall behind.
“Stop or I’ll shoot!” Baxter shouted. Still nothing.
Baxter aimed as best he could and fired at the dark figure, barely missing his target.
The figure stopped suddenly, turning around and raising the other black-gloved hand. He had some kind of weapon.
The Captain dove to the ground as a white beam of energy seared through the woods, nearly hitting him in the head. The tree behind him was immediately vaporized.
“Baxter to Tilleran.” Baxter tapped his comm badge again. “There is indeed another life form here, and he’s about ten meters in front of me.”
“I’m not getting anything, Captain. I’m picking up you and Charlie in the area, but that’s all.”
“Scan for some kind of jamming device.” Baxter rolled behind a tree as another white flash lit the dark forest.
“Put down your weapon!” Baxter cried, firing his phaser again at the figure. This time he hit him square in the chest, but that didn’t seem to bother him. “What have you got, Tilleran?”
“There’s a mild EM surge in the area, but that’s routine for a planet with a high-level G-type star.”
“We’ll have to do this the old fashioned way,” Baxter said. “Send a well-armed security team down to my coordinates. I think I have him pinned for now.”
Suddenly, as if to prove Baxter wrong, Charlie and the black figure disappeared in a bright purple flash.
“Damn it,” Baxter cursed, tapping his badge again. “Tilleran, belay that order for security. My friend here just disappeared with Counselor Peterman’s dog.”
“Checking for transporter traces. Nothing, sir. There was a spike in the EM readings for a moment, then–”
“What is it, Tilleran?”
Suddenly Baxter heard shouts, then a loud red alert klaxon over the comm channel.
“Captain, an unidentified vessel just appeared. It’s blanketing our sensors with radiation. We can’t get any readings on it….zrrt…sszzz.”
“Tilleran!” Baxter cried. He hated not knowing what was going on up there.
“Return fire!” Tilleran shouted over the comm. “Captain, they just took out our whole shield network!”
“Get out of orbit, Tilleran!” Baxter shouted.
“Aye, sir…we’re…sir, wait! The ship just disappeared again.”
“God damn it.” Baxter gritted his teeth. “Beam the Counselor and me up immediately.”
“Yes, sir. At least we won’t have to waste time lowering our shields.”
“I’m not laughing.” Baxter said, as he disappeared. So much for a happy anniversary.
Stardate 52522.6. With no further sign of the mysterious ship and even more mysterious being that kidnapped Counselor Peterman’s dog, I have convened a staff meeting to discuss exactly what happened.
“Then at 1306.5 there was another surge in the EM readings, and the kidnapper disappeared,” Lt. Commander Larkin said, indicating the sensor readings displayed on the conference room wall. “Approximately one minute later, a vessel appeared four hundred kilometers off our port bow near the atmosphere of Kintaris four. Before we could scan it, it flooded our sensors with radiation and rendered them useless. Moments later, it fired what appears to be a modified polyphasic pulse at us which disabled the entire shield grid.”
“What was their last known course?” Baxter asked, steepling his fingers and watching the conference room screen with interest.
“Three one five mark four, sir.” Larkin said. “In the general direction of the Galactic Rim.”
“So this is very likely a race we have never encountered before.” Baxter said.
“If we are to assume they were heading back to their base, yes, sir.” Tilleran said.
“Baxter to Ford. Make your course three one five mark four and engage at full impulse.”
“Aye, sir.” Ford’s voice replied.
“Sir, we could be looking at a race who doesn’t want us here,” Commander Conway said. “And since we’re here to colonize, that could present problems.”
“Whoever they are, they’re not weaklings.” Richards said. “I don’t have to tell you what kind of firepower it takes to disable an entire shield network in one shot.”
“I’d like to know exactly what kind of firepower it is.” Baxter replied. “And then I’d like to know who designed it, who’s using it, and then I’d like to find them and get my f***ing dog back.”
Richards shrunk back a bit. “Aye, sir.”
“Perhaps if you could provide us with a description of Charlie’s kidnapper, Captain,” Larkin suggested.
“He was dressed completely in black.” Baxter said. “With a black, opaque helmet. He didn’t have any markings or discernable features that I could see.”
“That narrows it down,” huffed J’hana.
Baxter glared at her, “I’m not in the mood, Lieutenant.”
“Lt. J’hana does have a valid point, sir.” Larkin said. “The fact that we have no record of anything similar to the ship that attacked us, or the being that abducted Charlie, makes the odds of finding him again almost insurmountable.”
There was a quiet sniff from Counselor Peterman.
“Honey, its–” said Baxter.
But it was no use. Like a puppet whose strings were cut, Peterman collapsed to the table and began sobbing like a four year old baby.
“Now look what you’ve done.” Baxter glared up at Larkin as he went to Peterman’s side. “Don’t worry, honey, I’ll find him. I promise.”
Dr. Browning rushed to Peterman’s aid, scooping her up and putting her arms around the sniffling Counselor, “Come on, Counselor. Let’s go to Mirk’s new cafe and get something yummy to eat.”
“Okay,” Peterman said, taking Dr. Browning’s hand and following her out of the conference room.
“All right everybody, I want to find that dog. Let’s get working,” Baxter said, getting up from his position next to Peterman’s chair.
“What’s our first step?” Conway asked, following Baxter out to the command area.
“First, we do a complete search of this area of space. Lt. Tilleran, I’ll leave that up to you. If our quarry is out here, I want to find them. Meanwhile, Mr. Richards, I want you and your people analyzing what little information we have on our encounter with that ship.”
“Aye, sir,” Richards replied, heading for the turbolift.
“Captain, I think our new colony specialist should be kept up to date on this.” Conway took a seat next to Baxter. “She’s going to want to know why we’ve left orbit of Kintaris Four.”
“Oh, yeah. Dr. Shar. I still haven’t met her.” Baxter rubbed his chin. “Well, you tell her we’ve come across a security risk and will have to investigate before we can begin preliminary colony research.”
“She won’t be happy that our schedule is being pushed back.”
“Well, you’ll just have to try to make her happy,” Baxter replied. “Now, hop to it.”
“Yes, sir.” Conway replied happily, jumping out of his chair and heading for the turbolift.
“Is it my imagination or is the Commander a lot happier than usual?” Baxter asked, watching the turbolift doors close in front of Conway.
“It’s not your imagination,” Tilleran said, looking up from her science station. “He’s in love.”
“Well, it would be improper to say, sir,” Tilleran smiled a bit as she went back to her scans.
“It’s our new specialist, isn’t it?”
“Dum dee dum, la dee da,” Tilleran hummed to herself as she did her scans.
“I knew it,” Baxter grinned. “You can’t keep your secrets very well, Lieutenant.”
“And you have some twisted fantasies, Captain.”
Baxter’s grin disappeared as he returned his gaze to the main viewscreen. “Touche, Lieutenant.”
“Two double chocolate sundaes, STAT,” Dr. Browning ordered, handing her and Peterman’s menus back to Mirk.
Mirk looked from Browning to Peterman and back to Browning again. Peterman had her head on the table and was sobbing uncontrollably. “What’s her problem, Doc?”
“Some evil aliens kidnapped her dog,” Browning said. “Now hurry up with those sundaes.”
“Right away,” Mirk said, adding, “sorry about your dog, Counselor.”
Browning watched Peterman sob a few moments, idly rapping her fingers on the table. “Do you, um, want to talk about it, Kelly?”
“Well, then, let me tell you about my day,” Browning took a deep breath and thought a moment. “It started out pretty normal, then Ensign Madera came in complaining about a muscle spasm in her back. Just in passing, I happened to ask her how she got it. She said she got it in the holodeck with Lieutenant Gellar.”
Peterman lifted her head up, rubbing her drippy nose. “But I thought he was going out with Lt. Hartley.”
“That’s what I thought,” Browning said. “Needless to say, I didn’t press the matter. Then Nurse Carter came in for her shift, and brought Dean with her. Well, I’ve been trying these new brain stimulants on him, and instead of helping, they just ended up making him pee all over the place.”
“How terrible,” Peterman’s face brightened a bit as Mirk brought over the sundaes.
“Here you go ladies, two sundaes.”
“Thanks, Mirk.” Peterman sniffed.
“See, life isn’t so bad.” Browning said through a mouthful of ice cream. “Anyway, we’ll find your dog. With the Captain and his staff on the case, what could go wrong?”
Peterman sunk her head into the plate of ice cream and continued sobbing.
“This is a diagram of the vessel that attacked us,” Lt. Commander Richards said, indicating the diagram on the monitor in Engineering.
“So what have you found?” Baxter asked tiredly.
“Amazingly little.” Richards sat back on the main systems console and rubbed his chin. “Its systems are shielded in a way I’ve never seen before. We just can’t find a way to pierce the hull.”
“Any other ideas?”
“Well, I thought about the weapon they used to take out our shields. It used high frequency polyphasic pulse, right?”
“Don’t ask me. You’re the engineer.”
“It did. The pulse was able to overload every single one of our shield generators. I have fifty engineers working on repairing them right now. As it is we won’t have them back up for another six hours.”
“Translation: don’t get in another firefight.”
“Exactly,” Richards replied, calling up another graphic. “But we did get an exact frequency match on the radiation. To produce something like this, they’d either have to have an infinite power source, or a very large engine. One so large its exaust would probably back up into the ship and kill everyone aboard.”
“Obviously they’ve solved that problem.”
“Obviously. What we need to do then is blanket the area with high energy tachyons. No matter how well that ship is shielded, we should get some trace of this radiation signature.”
“Alert Lt. Tilleran and begin implementing your plan.” Baxter said, staring at the graphic with hands on hips. “I want to catch this bastard.”
“By the way, sir, how’s Kelly handling this?”
“Not well,” Baxter turned to leave Engineering. “Know a good Counselor?”
The Captain’s dining room was unusually quiet that night.
From one end of the table, Captain Baxter looked up from his Chicken Teriaki.
“You know, Richards thinks he has a way of detecting the ship that took Charlie.”
At the other end of the table, Peterman poked at her dinner, not saying a word.
“That’s good news, baby. We’re on our way to finding him.”
Peterman looked up from her dinner. “I think Lt. Gellar is cheating on Lt. Hartley.”
Baxter continued eating. He’d better find that dog soon, it seemed that grief was driving his girlfriend nuts.
“Larkin to Captain Baxter.”
Baxter looked up from his dinner with annoyance. “Baxter here, what is it?”
“Sir, we have found something I believe you should see.”
“No, sir. To use a human phrase, you must see this to believe it. Please report to the bridge as soon as possible.”
“What have you got?” Baxter asked, stepping out of the turbolift, pulling the napkin out from his collar and handing it to a waiting yeoman.
Larkin indicated the viewscreen as Baxter took a position beside her at the center of the bridge.
“This was a perspective colony world, near the galactic rim. Zeta Five Two Nine.”
Baxter looked at the scarred, blackened terrain of the planet on the viewscreen, as environmental information scrolled by.
“This planet isn’t fit for colonization. It’s a barren rock.”
“It is now, sir,” Larkin said. “Someone or something destroyed the planet’s atmosphere, removed all of its resources, and eliminated whatever organic life once inhabited it.”
Baxter slumped back into his command chair. “Who did this?”
“We might assume it is the same force that was responsible for kidnapping Charlie, sir. If that is the case, then we are dealing with a formidible enemy indeed.”
“This looks almost like something the Borg would do.”
Lt. Tilleran looked up from her science station. “Negative, sir. The ion traces left on the planet’s surface don’t indicate a Borg weapon. However, the level and type of damage is similar.”
“Borg cousins?” Baxter asked, looking back at Tilleran with a wry grin.
“Let’s hope not.”
“Can we find any trace of the ship they used?”
“I’m using the tachyon sweeping mechanism that Lt. Commander Richards suggested, but so far I haven’t found anything.”
“Keep looking,” Baxter said. “Then I want you, J’hana and Commander Conway to beam down to the planet and see if you can pick up any clues.”
“I hate space suits,” Lt. J’hana said nervously, as Lt. Hartley handed her a helmet.
“And why is that?” Conway asked. “Don’t your antennae fit?”
“I am not laughing.” J’hana snapped her helmet on and checked the charge on her phaser. “Let’s get this overwith.”
Commander Conway pulled on his own helmet, switching on its internal comm system. “Can you hear me, J’hana?”
“Loud and clear.” J’hana muttered back, trudging onto the transporter pad.
Conway turned to Lt. Tilleran, who was putting her own space suit on. “What about you?”
“I can hear you, Commander. Unfortunately, I’m also getting a strong vibe from your experience in the shower this morning. I really don’t think soap should be–”
“Alrighty!” Conway quickly interrupted Tilleran. “Lieutenant Hartley, punch in the coordinates and–”
Conway was interrupted by the swish of the doors to the transporter room. Lana ran in, shrugging on her own space suit.
“Hello,” Lana said, looking around at everyone. “I heard there was an away team going down to this planet, and I just had to come.”
“She’s nuts,” Hartley said, looking up to Commander Conway.
“She’s also cleared for away duty.” Conway said. “Listen, Lana, this could be dangerous. I don’t think you should–”
“Like you said, I’m cleared for away duty. Anyway, as Colony Specialist, I have a right to know what screwed our plans for colonizing here.”
“Good enough,” Conway said. “Lt. Hartley, reprogram the coordinates for four away team members.”
“Aye, sir.” Hartley said, punching away at her console. “Ready at any time.”
Lt. Hartley ran the slidebars up, watching as Conway, Tilleran, J’hana and Hartley dematerialized.
A few moments later, Lt. Gellar walked in, dressed in a wetsuit and lifejacket.
“Hi, Megan. Are you ready for our kayaking lesson?”
Hartley folded her arms and looked away. “I guess that all depends on whether you’re ready or not.”
Gellar held out his paddle for Hartley’s approval. “Of course I’m ready. I’ve got my paddle and everything.”
Hartley whipped around. “That’s not what I’m talking about. I heard that you and Ensign Madera were having lessons of your own in the holodeck.”
“Who told you that?”
“It doesn’t matter. Is it true?”
“Well,” Gellar rolled his eyes. “Look, Megan, Ensign Madera found out I liked canoeing and kayaking, and she asked if I could give her a lesson. She hurt her back and she had to go to sickbay. Wait a minute…Dr. Browning! That’s who told you, isn’t it?”
“Maybe, maybe not. Listen, the point is, I should have known about it.”
“Why? You’re not my mom.”
“No, but I’m your girlfriend.”
“Woah, woah, woah. When did I ever say that?”
“RRRRGGGH!” Hartley cried, pushing Gellar back against the bulkhead. “You are the biggest jerk! I wish I’d never met you!”
“Megan, listen, I’m sorry. I just didn’t think we were that serious!”
Hartley ignored Gellar and marched back to her transporter console, stabbing angrily at the buttons.
“Hey, wait a minute, what are you doing?” Gellar asked, approaching Hartley as she entered in the coordinates.
Hartley looked up at Gellar and gave him a fiendish grin. “Energizing.”
“No!” Gellar said, as he suddenly began to dematerialize.
“That’ll teach him to f*** with me,” Hartley said, folding her arms and collapsing back into her chair.
“More grapefruit juice, Captain?” Mirk asked, as Baxter bent over a pile of padds, busily working on the day’s sensor data.
Mirk looked at the information as he filled Baxter’s glass. “Any luck?”
Baxter sat back and rubbed his eyes. “Not much. I’ve combed through infrared scans, radiation signatures, energy displacement tables. Nothing has helped me find as much as hint as to where that ship is.”
“I’m sorry, Captain. I hope things–”
Mirk was cut off by a loud shout of alarm from above.
Baxter and Mirk looked up just in time to see Lt. Gellar plummet towards them, smashing into Baxter’s table and spilling his padds all over the place.
“Problems with Lt. Hartley, Mr. Gellar?” Baxter asked calmly, as Gellar slid of the table.
“Yes, sir. How’d you know?”
“Well, some women take out their frustrations on men by sending them hate mail. Lt. Hartley sends them to other parts of the ship.”
“I remember one time she beamed Ensign Dunbar into a four foot square maintenance hatch,” Mirk mused.
“It took four days to get him out,” Baxter added. “You have a daunting task ahead of you, Lieutenant. One any brave security officer would shy away from.”
“What’s that?” Gellar asked, rubbing his sore head.
“You have to make a woman happy,” Baxter replied. “Trust me, it’s one of the hardest things in the world.”
“How do you do it, Captain?” Gellar asked.
Baxter sat back and chuckled wryly to himself. “Funny you should ask, Lieutenant. I was wondering how to do it myself.”
“Peterman to Baxter,” came the tear-wrought voice of Counselor Peterman. “I’m sleepy and I need to cuddle.”
“I’ll be right there, sweety,” Baxter said, sliding out of his chair.
“Does it ever get better, Captain?” Gellar asked, as Baxter made his way out of the Cafe.
“Don’t ask me. My mom and dad have been married for more than forty years, and the only way they’ve lasted that long is that they only see each other about once a month.”
“So what am I supposed to do? Cuddle her? Give her presents? Beg her forgiveness?”
“Nice planet.” J’hana said, shining her wrist beacon around the scarred terrain of Zeta Five Two Nine.
Lana pulled out a tricorder and studied a sample of the planet’s dirt. “Depends on how you define ‘nice,’ J’hana.”
“Okay, everyone, spread out.” Commander Conway ordered. “I want to get as much information as possible in the amount of time we have. The Captain wants us back in an hour so we can continue chasing after his dognapper.”
“Dognapper indeed,” J’hana scoffed.
Lt. Tilleran bent down and examined a half-buried skeleton. “This is interesting. I thought Zeta Five Two Nine was supposed to be uninhabited.”
“It was,” Conway replied, looking over Tilleran’s shoulder. “Who is that?”
“That’s a very good question, Commander,” Tilleran replied. “I’m getting some very odd readings. I’d like to bring it back with us and have it analyzed.”
“Very well. Get as many samples as you can,” Conway replied.
“Commander!” Lana cried out. “I found something that looks like a building!”
Conway grunted as he trudged along the thick ashy terrain, weighed down by his space suit. “I’m coming, Lana!”
“Would you look at this?” Lana said, indicating a large, squarish, black object about the size of a shuttlecraft.
Conway’s beacon fell upon the structure, highlighting its twisted, melted exostructure. “What the hell is it?”
“I couldn’t begin to guess,” Lana replied.
Tilleran caught up with Conway and Lana, tricorder in hand. “The technology is strikingly similar to Borg, sir.”
“Oh, crap.” Conway slapped a hand against his helmet. “Why us?”
“But it is definitely NOT Borg. Sir, this is a mutation of Borg technology.”
“Take as many readings as you can and see if we can beam it back to the ship. This place is really beginning to give me the creeps.” Commander Conway said, looking around the darkened planet. Whoever did this wasn’t fooling around. And he didn’t have a strong desire to meet up with them.
Lt. Gellar stepped through the doors to the transporter room, a bouquet of a dozen roses in his hand.
“Here you go, lovely!” he said happily, holding the boquet out for Hartley’s inspection.
Lt. Hartley leaned forward and grabbed the bouqet. “Why, thank you, Brian, they’re absolutely beautiful.”
Gellar clasped his hands behind his back and grinned. “Thanks, I picked them out myself.”
“How thoughtful. Bye-bye.” Hartley quickly tapped a few buttons on her panel, and Lt. Gellar was once again transported away.
“How are the shield repairs, Chris?” Baxter asked, leaning over Richards’s shoulder as he took some readings on the warp core.
“We’ve almost got ‘em back up. Give me another hour and they’ll be done.”
“What about Kelly? How’s she holding up?” Richards asked, sliding the dilithium crystals out and examining them with his scanner.
“She could be better. She’s locked up in her quarters right now, sleeping like a baby.”
Richards pushed the crystals back inside the warp core, clamped them down, and looked up at the thrumming engine with satisfaction. “Well, the good news is the ship will be back up in the next hour and we’ll be ready to take on those jerks that took her dog.”
“If we can find them.”
“Well, that all depends on–” Richards’s expression changed as the unmistakeable sound of a transporter came from above, along with helpless cry.
“Helllllllllllllllllllp!” Gellar cried, as he flew right by Baxter and Richards and descended towards the bottom of the warp core.
Richards peered down as Gellar hit the bottom with a thump. “Gellar having problems with Lt. Hartley?”
“Yep,” Baxter said. “Better send someone down to see if he’s okay. I’ll be up on the bridge.”
Richards leaned over the railing. “You okay, Brian?”
“No,” Gellar called back.
“You can’t let them get to you, Lieutenant. You have to show them you’re the boss.”
“Like you do with Dr. Browning?” Gellar asked wryly.
“Keep making jokes and I won’t send someone down to get you out of there, Mister!”
Baxter stepped out onto the bridge. “Status report, Mr. Ford?”
Ford rose from the command chair. “We’re still holding orbit around Zeta Five Two Nine, and Commander Conway’s away team is about half-way through down there. Nothing else unusual to report.”
Baxter sighed and plopped down into his command chair. What a long day. “Okay, as you were, Lieutenant.”
Suddenly there was a beep from the tactical console.
“Priority one message coming in for you, Captain. Your eyes only,” Ensign Saral reported.
“That’s odd,” Baxter said, rising to his feet and walking over to the tactical console. “Starfleet couldn’t be responding to my message already. We’re too far out.”
“It isn’t a Starfleet code, sir. As a matter of fact, I cannot identify it at all.”
“I’ll take it in my readyroom.” Baxter said, heading for the parting doors to his readyroom.
Baxter walked to the front of his desk and bent over, turning his terminal to face him. “Recognize Baxter, Captain Andrew. Decode and play message.”
A dark figure appeared on the screen, backlighted by intense white light. “Baxter, Captain Andrew,” the figure said in a barely discernable rasp of a voice.
“Yeah, what’s it to you?”
“We are Dawg. You have trespassed. You have attempted to enslave one of us, but we will not be enslaved. It is you who will be enslaved. Do not try to take him back. He is with us now.”
“What the hell?” Baxter asked. “Baxter to Saral, trace this message and find its origins.”
“Where are you?” Baxter asked, leaning closer to the screen.
“You cannot harm us.”
“What have you done with my dog?” Baxter said, growing angrier.
“It is none of your concern.”
“GIVE ME BACK MY DOG!” Baxter cried, grabbing the terminal and tossing it across the room.
“Saral to Baxter. We have located the source of the transmission. It is a starship approximately four parsecs from here. It matches the identification of the starship we faced at Kintaris Four.”
Baxter rushed out onto the bridge. “Saral, have the away team beamed back up. Mr. Ford, set a course to intercept that starship, maximum warp.”
“Aye, sir,” Ford said, turning towards his panel.
“We’re getting another message, Captain,” Saral reported.
Baxter walked towards the viewscreen. “Put it onscreen.”
The dark figure reappeared. Next to it, Charlie sat patiently, wagging his tail.
“Do not come after us, Baxter, Captain Andrew.”
“Damn right I’m coming after you. I’m going to dedicate my life to tracking you down, you dognapping bastard!”
“The away team is back aboard, sir,” Saral reported.
“Punch it, Mr. Ford.” Baxter ordered, watching as Charlie and the strange dark figure blinked off the screen.
“Let’s see it,” Baxter said, marching into the cargo bay.
Lt. Commander Larkin gestured towards the large, black object at the center of the bay. “Here it is, Captain. Though I am afraid I cannot tell you much about it as yet.”
Lt. Commander Richards stepped out from behind the massive block of circuitry. “It’s pretty darn close to Borg technology, sir. Aside from that, we can’t say much. It was fragged along with the rest of Zeta Five Two Nine.”
“Our current hypothesis is that the Borg assimilated a planet and integrated some kind of genetic code into their system that disrupted operations,” Larkin said.
“Then they cut the ship off before it spread.”
“They called theirselves the Dawg,” Baxter said, rubbing his chin.
“The Dog?” Richards asked.
“No, the Dawg.”
“How odd,” Larkin said. “If we are to assume some kind of relative of Earth’s canine genus was responsible for breaking a ship off from the collective, then they might see Charlie as a prisoner.”
“If that’s the case, he’s in trouble,” Richards said.
“Not for long,” Baxter said. “I’m going to get that damn dog back if it’s the last thing I have to do.”
“But, sir, if these…things have the same capabilities as the Borg…”
“The ship we faced at Kintaris Four was nothing like a Borg ship, and the person I chased looked nothing like a Borg or a dog. There’s a piece here that’s missing. And that’s what we need to find if we’re going to locate this starship and get my dog back.”
“The away team also brought back a skeleton, sir.” Larkin said. “Perhaps that will help fill in the ‘missing piece.’”
“I’m willing to bet on it.” Baxter said, turning on a heel to leave the cargo bay.
“This is an extremely strange specimen, Captain,” Lt. Tilleran said, as the skeleton she had brought back from Zeta Five Two Nine hung limply in a vat of blue liquid in her science lab. To Baxter, it looked like the kind of jar barbers used to put their combs into.
“How so?” Baxter asked.
Tilleran handed Baxter a padd that contained her observations. “See for yourself, sir. The marrow in this skeleton contains both canine and human DNA. It appears the owner of the skeleton was part human, part dog.”
“Why would they do this, Tilleran? Why combine a human with a dog?”
“You’ve got me, Captain. We could be dealing with some slightly skewed intelligence here.”
“Slightly?” Baxter asked. “Find out everything you can about this thing, and then report to the bridge.”
Baxter ran into Counselor Peterman as he made his way back up to the bridge.
“Andy, I was talking to Dr. Browning. She said that whoever kidnapped Charlie was somehow related to the Borg!”
“She might be right, darling.” Baxter said, stepping into the turbolift.
“And that we found a skeleton that was a mixture of human and canine DNA,” Peterman said as she followed Baxter into the turbolift.
“Right again,” Baxter replied. “Listen, honey, we may be going into battle shortly. I want you to be…ready…for anything.”
“You’re going to risk this ship to get my dog back?” Peterman sniffed.
“That’s right I am, baby. I’ll tear apart their ship by hand if I have to. We’re getting him back.”
Peterman didn’t say anything, she just wrapped her arms around Baxter in a loving stranglehold.
“Interesting,” Lt. Commander Larkin said, running her tricorder over a section of the Dawg object.
“What is it?” Richards asked, looking up from the section he had torn open.
“This was definitely once a spacecraft. In addition, it was a spacecraft with many of the features of the one we encountered at Kintaris Four.”
“Can we use that to our advantage?” Richards asked, scooting out from under the object.
“Uncertain. But I believe there is a key here to the weapons that were used against us.”
Suddenly, the Red Alert klaxon echoed throughout the cargo bay.
“Red Alert. Red Alert. All hands to battlestations!” Lt. J’hana’s voice boomed.
“If I am correct, then we do not have much time to find that key, Commander,” Larkin said, grabbing the section she was examining and making for the door to the cargo bay. “I suggest we move to Engineering. I will formulate a shield modulation en route.”
“Even though I built it, that brain still amazes me sometimes.” Richards said, following Larkin out of the cargo bay.
“Aww,” Lt. Ford said, as the turbolift door opened to reveal Baxter and Peterman still hugging.
Baxter put an arm around Peterman and led her out onto the bridge. “Eyes on your panel, Ford. What’s our status, J’hana?”
J’hana rose from the command chair and returned to her station. “We have found what we are looking for.”
“Put it on screen,” Baxter ordered, as he and Peterman took their seats.
The sleek, oblong, blue-black vessel appeared on the screen, glinting in the rays of a nearby sun.
J’hana looked up from her sensors. “Confirmed, sir. It is the vessel we faced at Kintaris Four.”
Conway and Tilleran stepped out of the turbolift.
“Did we miss anything?” Conway asked, walking around to his seat.
“The fireworks are still to come, Mr. Conway,” Baxter said. “Hail them, J’hana.”
“No responses to our hails, sir,” Lt. J’hana replied.
“Scan the vessel for Charlie’s lifesigns, Lt. Tilleran,” Baxter ordered. “See if you can break through that sensor coverage you had trouble with before.”
“I’ve got a few ideas about that, sir,” Tilleran replied.
“Anything would be of help. Lt. J’hana, stand ready on weapons. Fire on them if they so much as breathe,” Baxter ordered.
“What about the shields?” Conway asked. “Did Richards ever get them back up?”
“Good question,” Baxter said. “Lt. J’hana?”
J’hana shook her head. “Ensign Stuart and his repair team reported that they’d be done in another fourteen minutes.”
“Contact Stuart and tell him to cut that estimate in half,” Baxter said. “And open a channel.”
“Aye, sir. Channel open.”
“Enemy vessel: This is Captain Andy Baxter of the Federation Starship Explorer. You have my dog and I want him back. Transport him aboard my ship in ten minutes or I will be forced to open fire on you.”
“No response,” J’hana said.
“Big talk for a guy whose ship doesn’t even have shields.” Conway whispered.
“Oh, be quiet.” Baxter said. “Baxter to Richards. I could sure use some good news about now, Commander.”
“I may be able to oblige you, Captain. Larkin and I have come up with a shield modulation that may give us some extra time to disable the Dawg vessel. Of course, it all relies on our ability to actually get the shields back up.”
“Yes, I heard. Well, you and Larkin do your best. And get ready to divert warp power to the weapons.”
“Understood. Richards out.”
Baxter looked back at J’hana. “Well, Lieutenant?”
“Stuart says to give them another eight minutes.”
“Half of fourteen is seven, J’hana.”
“That’s what I told him, sir.”
Baxter turned back to the viewscreen. “Very well. We’re cutting it a little close, but that’ll have to do.”
“Captain, I think I’ve found a way to penetrate the sensor blanket.” Lt. Tilleran reported. “I’m using a compressed barion scanning beam. It’s normally used to get readings from the cores of very dense planets–it’s the most powerful scanner we have.”
“And?” Baxter asked.
“I’m definitely getting two lifeforms, though I’m having trouble figuring out which one is Charlie.”
“Can we beam them both out of there?” Baxter asked.
“Not with all this sensor interference. Maybe if we punched a hole in the shields where the source of the interference was. We might get a shot.”
Baxter looked back. “J’hana?”
“We would have to target the precise location, sir.”
“I’m working on it,” Tilleran said, punching at her panel. “Give me five minutes.”
“Baxter to Lieutenant Hartley. If you can hold off on your revenge against Mr. Gellar for a little while, I’m going to need you to do some very precise beaming.”
“I’ve injured him enough for now, sir. What do you need?”
Baxter looked to Tilleran.
“As soon as a weakness develops in the shields of the vessel off our port bow, I’m going to need you to beam both lifeforms inside directly to the bridge,” Tilleran said.
“How much time will I have?”
Tilleran did some calculations. “Less than a millisecond.”
“Oh, piece of cake,” Hartley said with a hint of sarcasm.
“I knew you could do it, Lieutenant,” Baxter said, looking ahead to the viewscreen. “Still nothing out of that ship?”
“They’re not moving, sir,” J’hana replied. “Wait a minute…we’re recieving a response to our hail.”
Charlie and that spookie dark figure appeared again. “We told you not to follow us, Baxter Captain Andrew. You are trespassing. You must leave.”
“Not without my dog,” Baxter said.
“Charlie!” Peterman cried, looking at Charlie on the viewscreen. “What have you done with my dog!”
“Peterman, Counselor Kelly. You are different from Baxter Captain. You require further study.”
“I want Charlie back!” Peterman cried. “Do something, Andy!”
Uh-oh. Peterman wanted Baxter to do something. Nothing hurt more than to show weakness in front of your girlfriend. Baxter had to act.
“How are those sensors coming, Tilleran?” Baxter whispered.
“Three more minutes.”
“That’s not going to cut it,” Baxter whispered back, jumping out of his chair and moving forward. “Listen, Mr. Dawg-boy. You come and beat up my ship, take my dog, and expect me not to do anything about it?”
“We expect you to fall before us, eventually.”
“Oh, Fido, you’ve messed with the wrong space cowboy this time. Ready on weapons, J’hana.”
“But, sir, the shields-“
“I said ready on weapons!” Baxter shouted.
“Yes, sir.” J’hana replied.
“We have nothing to fear from you.”
“You have a minute to give my dog back or I’ll open fire on you.”
“That would be a mistake, Baxter Captain.”
“Oh yeah? Well let’s just find out.”
“Sir, may I remind you that all of this is over a dog that the entire crew despises?” Conway said quietly.
“Quiet, Conway!” Baxter muttered.
Baxter held his breath and waited a minute. The dark figure disappeared from the viewscreen and the bridge was eerily quiet.
Baxter glanced at the chronometer. The minute was almost up.
“The vessel is moving away…” Lt. J’hana reported.
“Now, Captain!” Tilleran said. “I’m feeding the coordinates to J’hana’s console.”
“Lock and load, J’hana!” Baxter shouted.
“Ready on quantums, Captain!”
Baxter clenched his fist. “FIRE!”
A spread of quantum torpedoes streamed towards the angling vessel, causing the shields to flicker and change.
“The ship’s outer protective armor is fluctuating. Sensor readings clearing up!” Tillrean reported. “Now, Lt. Hartley!”
The ship veered back around towards the Explorer, looking as if it was ready to return fire.
But it didn’t–it just kept on going.
In the same instant, two figures shimmered into existence in front of Baxter, Conway, and Peterman.
“Charlie!” Peterman cried, calling her dog to her. Charlie jumped into Peterman’s lap and began licking her face voraciously.
Two security officers rushed to grab the dark, helmeted figure.
“J’hana, lock a tractor beam onto that ship,” Baxter said, stepping toward the figure and examining him. “Well, I guess you underestimated this starship captain.”
The figure just emitted a low growl.
“Well, let’s see just who we’re dealing with,” Baxter said, reaching to remove the figure’s helmet.
Baxter lifted the helmet off carefully, making sure Saral and Hinceman had a good hold on the prisoner.
“Yikes,” Baxter said quietly, dropping the helmet and watching in disgust as the head of a golden retriever stared back at him.
“By the Great Bird,” Conway said. “It’s a human Charlie!”
“You have succeeded at nothing, Baxter Captain. It is only a matter of time before we take what is ours,” the retriever said.
“What are you?” Commander Conway said, inspecting the creature with disgust.
“I am the first step toward full assimilation,” the creature replied.
“Of the human race into machines?” Baxter asked. “We’ve heard that one before.”
“Of the assimilation of the human race into dog- machines.”
“You have to give him points for originality, Captain,” Conway said.
“I don’t care what you want to assimilate, frankly.” Baxter said. “Henson, take him to the brig. We’ll sort this out later. I don’t want to have to hang around here any longer than I have–”
“Captain,” Lt. J’hana called out. “Another vessel is entering the system!”
“Keep our friend up here a minute, Henson. Put the vessel on screen, J’hana.”
A small grey blob appeared on the viewscreen.
“Magnify,” Baxter said slowly.
The blob grew larger on the screen. It looked basically like a Borg ship, but it was shaped much differently–like a giant bone.
“I don’t believe it,” Conway sighed.
“Believe it,” Baxter said. “Lt. Tilleran, try to block our friend’s connection to the collective. We don’t want him giving them any information.”
“I’m locking into his frequency and blocking it, sir,” Tilleran replied.
“J’hana, how are we on those shields?” Baxter asked.
“Almost sir, another few minutes.”
J’hana checked her panel. “No response.”
“If those guys are anything like the Borg then they’re not going to be in the mood to talk,” Conway said.
“You would be correct,” the dog-man said. “They will take me and the dog back and destroy you and your pathetic ship.”
“Is that so?” Baxter said. “Well then, I’ve got a bone to pick with them. Target the ship as soon as they come into range.”
J’hana looked up from her panel. “In less than a minute.”
“I’m open to suggestions,” Baxter said, watching as the Dawg ship approached.
“Ha ha,” Ford said. “We could always throw the little ship at the big ship.”
Baxter thought about that a moment. “You know, Ford, that’s not a bad idea.”
“But, sir, I was just joking…”
“Lt. J’hana, get ready to toss that thing at them. Ford, ready a course to take us by the Dawg vessel at full impulse, on a sideways tack.”
“So you really like the idea?” Ford asked, looking back.
“Very much, now get ready to engage.”
“Your plan will fail,” the dog-man said.
“We’ll see about that, Rover,” Baxter said. “Engage, Mr. Ford.”
The Explorer jumped forward, flying by the Dawg vessel and slamming the vessel it had in tow into it, while simultaneously firing its phasers and torpedoes.
The smaller vessel exploded against the Dawg vessel in a bright white flash.
“Damage to the Dawg ship?” Baxter asked.
“Negligible,” J’hana said, with a slight tinge of fear in her voice. “I suggest you come up with another plan extremely fast.”
Suddenly a beam lanced out of the Dawg vessel.
“We are now caught in their tractor beam, sir,” J’hana reported.
Suddenly the Explorer shuddered as a beam crossed space, slicing into the saucer section.
“Multiple hull breaches across the saucer section!” Tilleran called out.
“F***,” Baxter said, gripping his command chair. “Where are those shields?”
“Oh, look, they just came on,” J’hana said.
“Perfect timing,” Baxter sighed. “Mr. Richards, how are you and Larkin coming on a way to destroy those things?”
“We think we may have found something, sir. I’m feeding the necessary frequencies to J’hana’s station.”
“Implement the new frequencies now, J’hana,” Baxter said. “And concentrate fire on that tractor emitter. We have to get free before they rip us apart.”
The Explorer rattled again as a new beam lanced into it.
Baxter watched as phasers from the Explorer tore into the Dawg vessel, blowing up the source of the tractor beam.
“The new frequencies worked, sir!” J’hana said victoriously.
“Get us out of here, Ford!” Baxter called out.
The Explorer swung around, lunging out of the way of another tractor beam.
The Dawg vessel surged ahead in pursuit, firing burst after burst at the Explorer.
“Lay in a course back towards Federation territory, Mr. Ford,” Baxter said. “Maximum warp.”
“Course laid in.”
Suddenly the dog-man threw Henson and Saral to the ground, turning to Baxter. “We will concede victory for now, Baxter, Captain. But we will be back.”
Before Saral or Hinceman could fire, the dog-man was gone.
On the viewscreen, the Dawg vessel turned around engaged into warp, presumably back towards its home space.
“Well, that was nice,” Conway said.
“I’m not sticking around to chat. Engage Mr. Ford,” Baxter ordered, looking down at Counselor Peterman and Charlie. “Welcome home, boy.”
Charlie barked happily, snuggling into Peterman’s lap.
Supplemental. We’re heading to the nearest starbase for repairs and so I can brief Starfleet on the Dawg. Meanwhile, the crew is sitting back and breathing a sigh of relief after this latest close call.
“Hi, Commander,” Lana said, approaching Conway’s table. “Mind if I join you?”
“Not at all,” Conway said through a mouthful of pizza. “Take a seat. Can Mirk get you something?”
“No, I already ate,” Lana replied. “I was wondering, how do you do it?”
“Eat the pizza backwards? It’s really easy. You just turn it around and–”
“That’s not what I mean. I mean, how do you make yourself get out of bed every day, when every day you know you’ll face something like the Dawg. I’ve been in deep space a long time, but I’ve never seen anything like that. But I checked the records of the Aerostar and the Explorer. Wierd stuff happens to you guys all the time. How do you handle it?”
Conway sat back and belched with satisfaction. “Well, Lana, it takes a special breed of man to survive out here in the far reaches of space. That’s why our select crew was chosen for missions like this. Because we’re used to any kind of–”
Conway stopped, looking down at his plate with disgust. “Mirk! There’s a hair on my plate! A damn hair! Get it away from here NOW!”
Mirk ran over and grabbed the plate. “You’re such a crybaby, Commander. It’s just a little hair. And I think it’s yours.”
“I thought replicators were supposed to be sanitary,” Conway said, grimacing as Mirk took the plate away.
“Boy, you’re such a turn-on, Commander,” Lana said sultrily, sliding out of her chair and heading out of Mirk’s.
Conway stared hungrily at Lana as she left the lounge.
Was she being sarcastic?
Captain Baxter looked out over the beautiful vista of plants and shrubbery in the Explorer’s expansive arboretum. “Run your butt off, Charlie. At least in here I can keep an eye on you.”
Peterman watched Charlie scamper away, wrapping her arm around Baxter’s. “Thanks, Andy.”
“For what? For risking the ship so we could rescue Charlie?”
“No,” Peterman said. “For being my knight in a shining Starfleet uniform.”
With that, Peterman pulled Baxter close to her and kissed him long and hard.
Baxter and Peterman kissed for several momentes, until they heard someone clear their throat behind them.
“Gellar?” Baxter asked, turning.
“It’s nice to see you happy again, Counselor,” Gellar said politely from behind a thick of bushes.
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Peterman said, a little embarassed.
“Are you here with Lt. Hartley?” Baxter asked, hoping things had been smoothed out.
“Not exactly,” Gellar said.
“Well, at least she hasn’t done something else horrible to you,” Peterman said with a giggle.
“Actually,” Gellar said, “she caught me talking to Ensign Madera–I was just asking her if she was feeling better–and well, she transported me into a tree trunk.”
Baxter pushed the bushes aside and, sure enough, Gellar was stuck waist-deep inside a tree trunk.
“Could you please call someone to cut me out, sir?”
Baxter shook his head. “Sorry, Lieutenant. I don’t want to get on Miss Hartley’s bad side. Next thing you know I’ll be stuck in that tree trunk right beside you.”
“But, Captain, this hurts!”
Peterman took Baxter’s arm and led him away. “Love hurts, Lieutenant.”
After a long period spent studying the Federation, the Directors decide it might be better off on the cutting room floor. Can Captain Baxter convince them that the Federation is worth renewing for a new season? Or at least being syndicated? Guest-written by Alan Decker!