Author: Anthony Butler
Soft electronic music thrummed throughout the dimly lit hollows of the Asteroid Club.
Built on the bottom side of a rogue planetoid in the Braxas Minor Belt, the Asteroid Club was host to a number of travelers and vagabonds. Some of them were powerful movers and shakers, others the dregs of the galaxy.
In any case, it was currently being occupied by several members of the crew of the USS Explorer while she underwent a routine refueling of her deuterium storage tanks.
Lieutenant Commander Richards carefully examined the dom-jat cue as he prepared to take his turn.
“Sure you’re up to it, Chris?” Captain Baxter asked, eyeing the pair of borite traders on the other side of the table.
“It’s an easy pick-up, Captain,” Richards replied, kneeling down and getting a good look at the table. “Just a quick thrust of the cue and we’re fourteen bars of latinum richer.”
“But, Chris,” Baxter whispered, leaning closer and lowering his voice, “need I remind you that this is double or nothing? We’ll owe them twenty-eight bars of latinum.”
“You’re a starship Captain. You’ve got it covered,” Richards said confidently, getting ready to shoot.
“Easy for you to say. What am I supposed to do? Put up a shuttlecraft as collateral?”
“Heck, no. They’re worth way more than twenty-eight bars.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the bar, Lieutenants Zack Ford and Brian Gellar were enjoying a drink and scoping out the local night life, which, in this case, happened to be a surly looking Gorn female.
“Check out the biceps on that one, Brian!” Ford said in quiet awe of the woman’s physique.
“I see her, I see her,” Gellar replied quietly, sipping from his drink.
Ford looked back at Gellar. “What’s wrong with you? Normally you’d be ogling right along with me. You’re not still caught up over Lieutenant Hartley, are you?”
“Of course not.”
“I should hope not. The fact that you had a shot at her was amazing. I’ve met Klingon targs more friendly.”
“It’s just that…well, I feel kind of bad that things ended so badly. I mean, we didn’t exactly part on good terms. I think she still hates my guts.”
“You win some you lose some. Anyway, Hartley hates everyone’s guts.”
Gellar looked down at his drink sadly. “She used to like me.”
“Please,” Ford made a dismissive gesture. “Pack your bags and move on, buddy.”
Gellar had stopped listening to Ford. He was watching the woman in the tight black flight suit playing darts with the Bolian on the other side of the bar.
“What are you looking at?” Ford asked, suddenly seeing what had caught Gellar’s attention. “Wow, she’s cute.”
Gellar cocked his head as the woman turned around briefly, flashing him a sultry smile.
Ford and Gellar looked at one another, obviously making the same mental connection at the same time.
“She looks like–” Gellar said.
“Nah, couldn’t be.”
“Are you going to shoot or not, human?” one of the borite traders, a heavy-set Cardassian, huffed angrily.
“Yeah, hold your horses,” Richards said. “Now have some faith, Andy. I’ve done this before.”
“Faith I’ve got. It’s the twenty-eight bars of latinum I’m lacking.”
Richards ignored Baxter and made his shot.
The ball zigged and zagged across the table, bouncing off the opposite end and coming to a stop in a corner.
“Whoops,” Richards said in a low voice, putting down his cue and shrugging to Baxter.
Baxter looked up at his opponents meekly. “Best two out of three?”
“You owe twenty-eight bars,” the Cardassian’s accomplice, a Yridian, said. “Payable immediately.”
“Are you saying you’re scared we’ll win?” Richards asked.
“You’re not making this easier, Christopher,” Baxter said sternly.
“I am saying that I do not believe you two are able to pay,” the Cardassian replied. “In which case we will have to make…other arrangements.”
The Yridian rubbed his hands together excitedly. “Yesss, other arrangements!”
“Hey, we can pay,” Baxter said. “I just have to call up to my ship and get them to send down the latinum. You don’t think I’d be stupid enough to carry that kind of load around do you?”
“You have five standard minutes,” the Cardassian said, polishing his dom-jat cue and grinning fiendishly.
“I want to go over and talk to her,” Gellar said, keeping his eye on the woman playing darts.
“Sure, Brian, your funeral,” Ford replied. “See that Bolian with her? I bet it’s her boyfriend.”
“I think I can handle a Bolian,” Gellar replied. “Unlike some people I know who spend the day sitting at the helm, I’m in top physical condition. I’m part of an elite group–Starfleet security.”
“You’ve been listening to J’hana too much. That Bolian is easily over one hundred kilos. He could crush you just by sitting on you.”
“That’s only if he gets to me,” Gellar said, looking up as Captain Baxter passed by. “Hello, Captain.”
“Boys,” Baxter said tersely, pushing by other club- goers and into a small, deserted corner of the bar.
“What’s got into him?” Ford asked, watching Baxter.
Gellar shrugged. “You never know.”
After making sure that no one was looking, Baxter pulled out his comm badge.
“Baxter to Explorer.”
“Explorer. Lieutenant J’hana here.”
“J’hana, I need a big favor.”
“Let me guess. You’re losing at dom-jat.”
“Of course not. I’m just…uh, low on spending money.”
Baxter rubbed his face, pained. “About…twenty-eight bars of latinum.”
“I told you not to play, sir. You know very well you and Richards combined couldn’t sink a dom-jat ball to save your lives.”
“Now is not the time for lectures, J’hana.”
“Then again, if you had allowed me to be your partner, you would be bringing home the latinum instead of begging for it.”
“I am NOT begging,” Baxter said tiredly. “Now get me that latinum.”
“I don’t think we have twenty-eight bars of latinum on the whole ship. Unless you want me to collect all the toilet paper rollers from the bathrooms.”
“Let’s not overreact here,” Baxter replied. “Gather what latinum you can and get back to me. Baxter out.”
Baxter turned to head back to the table and explain the situation to the Cardassian and the Yridian. They were civilized, intelligent humanoids, right?
“Problem, Captain?” Gellar asked, as Baxter walked by.
“No,” Baxter replied.
The Captain pushed through the crowd back towards his table, not noticing that he had bumped into the woman in front of him.
“Hey, watch it jerk!” The woman called out. “You made me miss the dartboard!”
Baxter turned back to the woman, “I’m sorry, ma’am, I–”
The Captain stopped in mid-sentence.
Baxter scratched his head. “You look so damn familiar.”
“Human!” The Cardassian called out, prompting Baxter to turn around. He had Lt. Commander Richards hoisted by his collar. “I want my latinum now, or I use your friend here as a dom-jat cue.”
“Uh-oh,” Baxter said. “Hold on, Chris! I’m coming!”
“Hey,” the woman said, pushing Baxter aside. “I just lost out on five strips of latinum!”
“Larkin!” The Cardassian cried out, throwing Richards painfully into the dom-jat table and leaping over it, the Yridian at his heels. “I knew you were here!”
“Damn,” the woman said. “Now look what you did, creep.”
“Larkin?” Baxter turned around in confusion. “What the hell?”
“That’s my name. Now if you’ll excuse me.” Larkin turned on a heel and ran out of the bar.
Baxter raised a finger. “But–”
Then the Captain was stomped flat by the Cardassian, then the Yridian, as they hurried after Larkin.
“Gee, looks like the Captain’s in trouble,” Lt. Gellar said, as Baxter and Richards writhed in agony on the other side of the bar. “Think we should do something?”
“Probably,” Ford said. “As soon as I finish my drink we’ll go after that Cardassian.”
Captain Baxter scrambled to his feet, glancing over at Lt. Commander Richards. “You okay, buddy?”
“Other than the fact that I can’t move and I feel like I’ve broken at least half of my ribs, yeah, I’m fine,” Richards said from his spot on the table.
Baxter took off after the Cardassian and “Larkin,” slapping his comm badge. “Baxter to Explorer.”
“We haven’t got all the latinum, yet, Captain,” J’hana replied. “All we have so far is five bars and a lobite crystal.”
“That’s not what I’m calling for,” Baxter replied tersely. “I need security down here, pronto.”
“Decided to settle this the man’s way, huh? I am proud of you Captain. Even if you don’t have the borshnaks to take care of it yourself, you know when to send in your thugs.”
“Just get down here, J’hana.”
“Aye, sir. Isn’t Lt. Gellar already down there?”
Baxter glanced over to Gellar and Ford’s table.
“Just finishing our drinks, sir.” Ford said. “We’ll be with you in a moment.”
“No one steals from Jondok!” The surly Cardassian cried from outside the bar, as suddenly “Larkin” came flying in through a glass window, slamming into Ford and Gellar’s table, spilling their drinks everywhere.
“Just great,” Ford said, looking up at the Cardassian as he ducked through the broken window and came towards him and Ford, presumably to finish the job. “And me without my phaser.”
Baxter quickly stepped in between Ford, Gellar, and the Cardassian. “Let’s just settle this peacefully, Mister…”
“Jondok,” the Cardassian replied, looking down at the woman on Ford and Gellar’s table. “This is none of your business, Starfleet.”
The woman looked up, wiping blood from her mouth. “You’re not getting that opal back, Jondok!”
“I will, and I’ll have your head along with it!” Jondok shouted, the veins in his head bulging.
“Not if I get yours first!” the woman cried, grabbing a bottle off the bar and slamming it into the Cardassian’s head.
“Now, let’s not–” Baxter said, as the Cardassian slammed a fist into his face.
The ensuing confusion quickly engulfed the entire bar. In moments, everyone was fighting, even though most didn’t even know what they were fighting about.
“Help me!” Gellar cried, as he was pounded by the fat Bolian he was sizing up earlier. Ford was right, Gellar was getting the crap beaten out of him.
“I’m coming, Brian!” Ford shouted out, wildly swinging a dom-jat cue at the Bolian, cracking it right over his head.
The Bolian turned around and picked Ford up by the front of his shirt, slamming him into Gellar and knocking them both unconcious.
Captain Baxter’s eyes fought their way open. He was lying in a pile of shattered glass and splintered wood. Obviously, Jondok had lovingly set him down there after decking him.
Lt. J’hana’s gloomy visage loomed over him. “Captain, are you in need of medical assistance?”
“No, but I sure as hell could use a hand getting up,” Baxter groaned, as J’hana pulled him up one-handed.
“I am going to have to teach you a thing or two about defending yourself,” J’hana said, shaking her head in disapproval. “Gellar tells me you went down with one hit.”
“You don’t know how hard he hit me, J’hana,” Baxter said, rubbing his jaw.
“No matter, the Cardassian and his Yridian lackey are both in our brig.”
“Good,” Baxter said, surveying the wreckage that the Asteroid Club had become. “What about Richards?”
“We had to send him to Sickbay. Turns out he had some pretty severe internal bleeding. Dr. Browning is quite upset that you just left him on the pool table.”
“For Pete’s sake,” Baxter sighed. “Is that all, Lieutenant, or can I go up to the ship and take a ton of sedatives and go to sleep?”
“Are you not the least bit curious about the human woman?”
“The one that looks like Larkin?”
“No, sir. She is Larkin. Evidently she’s a freighter pilot who does the Cardassia-wormhole run. She hasn’t made a very good reputation for herself from what I understand.”
“Is she in the brig, too?”
“No, sir,” J’hana grunted with dissatisfaction. “According to the laws of this sector, we can’t hold anyone who didn’t directly assault one of our officers.”
“Peachy,” Baxter said, rubbing his head. “Can we at least prosecute the Cardassian and his Yridian lackey?”
“Unfortunately not. The Cardassians are sending a ship to fetch him.”
“Fine,” Baxter sighed. “Well, at least I won’t have to pay off my bet.”
“About that…” J’hana said reluctantly.
“Spit it out,” Baxter said tiredly.
“Mr. Jondok is demanding payment. And in the interest of peace, Starfleet is suggesting we give him a shuttle.”
Baxter rubbed his head. “Fine, fine. Let’s get back to the ship before anything else bad happens.”
Lt. Commander Larkin pressed the button outside Baxter’s readyroom and waited patiently for a response.
“Come on in,” Baxter’s voice came over the comm.
Larkin stepped into the readyroom to find Baxter leaning back tiredly on his couch with what looked like a big bag of ice on his head.
“Captain,” Larkin began, “I heard you encountered the woman that inspired my creation.”
“Sure did,” Baxter replied, wincing as he moved the bag of ice to look at Larkin. “She’s quite a little fighter.”
“I would like to talk to her,” Larkin said. “I believe I can learn a lot from her.”
“Lieutenant, Miss Larkin is a freighter Captain. She’s a drag on the galactic population. Dead weight. I’ve looked up her record and it’s not pretty. All you stand to learn from her is smuggling and extortion.”
“Still, Captain, she inspired my creation. I feel I must investigate. Learn from her. Learn what her life is like. Perhaps I can find some key to my destiny within her.”
“Okay,” Baxter finally said, putting the bag of ice back on top of his head. “Go ahead and meet her. But don’t be disappointed when she turns out to be a lot less than you expected.”
“Thank you, sir,” Larkin said, turning to leave.
“Commander…aren’t you going to ask how my head is?” Baxter asked from underneath the ice bag.
“No, I did not plan on it. However, if it would help, I offer my condolences. Why have you not gone down to Sickbay for treatment?”
“Let’s just say Dr. Browning isn’t in the greatest of moods right now.”
“Ah, yes, Lt. Commander Richards’s injuries,” Larkin said with a nod.
“The bet was his idea,” Baxter said.
“Indeed. I hope you feel better sir.”
“I’m not planning on it.”
Lt. Commander Larkin stepped out onto the docking platform on the other side of the Braxas Minor planetoid, glancing up to see the Explorer floating lazily above the huge transparent aluminum dome.
Maintenance crews worked quickly on several freighters and transports on the docking platform, getting them ready for launch or repairing the damage done by a trip through the asteroid belt.
Larkin was able to track down her counterpart’s ship pretty easily, as she had called up an image of it in the Non-aligned Vessel Registry.
“Excuse me,” Larkin said, addressing the pair of legs that stuck out from the maintenance hatch of the freigheter.
“What do you want?” The owner of the legs asked, sliding out and looking up at Larkin. “What the hell?”
“I take it you are surprised to see me?” Larkin asked.
“You could say that,” the woman replied, wiping off her hands on a rag and closing up the maintenance hatch. She looked just like Larkin, except instead of Larkin’s shoulder length, page-boy type haircut, she wore her hair long and in a ponytail. “I heard about your creation–I even heard you were in Starfleet. But to actually see you, well that’s wierd. I find it hard to believe my ex-boyfriend had the intelligence to make your brain work.”
“In fact he did not,” Larkin replied. “The brain was provided by Chris’s roomate.”
“Oh, the other Chris. What’s he up to these days?”
“He is the Chief Engineer of the Explorer, where I work as Chief of Operations and third in command.”
The other Larkin considered this. “Huh. Well, it’s nice to know you were able to get away from the jerk who created you.”
“Indeed, I am far away from him. We had to leave him in the Delta Quadrant.”
“Delta Quadrant?” the other woman asked. “You were in the Delta Quadrant?”
“If you like, I could tell you about it,” Larkin said.
“Okay,” the woman nodded. “I have about an hour before I have to leave. You can show me that fancy Starfleet ship of yours.”
Suddenly there was a loud snap above Lt. Commander Larkin’s head. The android looked up just in time to see a huge cargo container hurtling down towards both her and her counterpart.
“Run!” the other Larkin cried, watching in amazement as Larkin put a hand up to grab the container by one corner and set it down gently.
“That is quite dangerous. I will have to talk to the dockmaster about keeping his equipment under regular maintenance.”
The other Larkin was still staring at the cargo container. “How the hell did you do that?”
“I am considerably stronger than most humanoids,” Larkin said. “Mr. Henricks designed me for rigorous activity.”
“No doubt. Listen, I could really use a person like you riding shotgun.”
“Shotgun?” Larkin asked in confusion.
“I’ll explain later.”
“We were then able to remove the Borg implants. Shortly after, we found a way out of the Delta Quadrant, and Mr. Henriks made the decision to stay behind with Lt. Commander Preston and begin a new civilization of humans.”
“Sounds like my old Chris, all right,” the other Larkin said, picking at the Hungarian goat’s feet stew Mirk had served her. Luckily, she arrived on the Explorer just in time for Earth International Week.
Larkin watched her counterpart eat with satisfaction. “I have told you much about myself and the exploits of my crewmates, but I know little about you, other than what is in your Starfleet file.”
“Well, there’s not much to tell. I run cargo back and forth, and occasionally I get into some trouble,” Larkin said, wiping her mouth and putting her napkin down on top of her plate. “But me and Daisy get through okay every time.”
“That’s the name of my freighter. That used to be my sister’s nickname.”
“You have a sister,” Larkin said with wonder. “I did not know that.”
“No reason you should have. Anyway, I guess that’s all there is to tell.”
“Kris!” Lt. Commander Richards called out, running over from the entrance to the Constellation Cafe and giving the other Larkin a big hug. “I was too busy getting bodyslammed by that Cardassian to see you!”
“Watch it, Christopher, you’re still healing,” Dr. Browning warned from behind him.
Kris sat back down and smiled up at Richards. “Well, look at you Mr. Big Chief Engineer. And I thought you wanted to go into design and specs.”
“Things change,” Richards said.
Kris looked over to Dr. Browning. “I don’t belive I know you…”
“Dr. Janice Browning,” Browning said, shaking Kris’ hand vigorously and peeking under her napkin. “Wow, goat’s feet!”
“They’re all yours,” Kris said.
“Janice and I are…um…getting married in a few months,” Richards said.
“Is that so?” Kris said, surprised. “Chris, you devil. I never pictured you as the marrying type.”
“Well…um…you know…” Richards said, twiddling his thumbs.
“He wasn’t at first,” Browning said, stuffing a goat’s foot into her mouth. “But after a while he saw it my way.”
“I like the way you think, Doctor,” Kris said. “So I hear you had a run in with my ex.”
“Unfortunately,” Richards said. “He stowed away on our ship.”
“I heard,” Kris said, almost to her self. “What I wouldn’t give to tell him off one last good time…”
“I think I can help you with that,” Richards said, grabbing Kris’ hand and pulling her up. “We’ll be right back.”
“This is quite disconcerting,” Larkin said, as Browning moved into the other Larkin’s chair. “I was hoping to talk to her about her life.”
“Mmm hmm. More goat’s feet, Mirk!” Browning called out.
“Computer, select flight recorder info on subject PFC Christopher Henricks, and create a holodeck character based on that information and a cross-reference of his personnel file,” Richards said, pressing a button on the holodeck’s control panel.
“Ready,” the computer reported.
“After you, Kris,” Richards motioned as the holodeck doors parted.
“This I’ve got to see,” Kris said excitedly.
Inside the holodeck, PFC Henricks stood at attention in his Federation Marine’s uniform.
“PFC Henricks reporting for duty!” he belted ot.
“Go ahead, it’s perfectly safe,” Richards gestured towards the hologram.
“That’s what disappoints me,” Kris replied, hauling back and punching Henricks as hard as she could.
“Ow. Huh huh. That, uh, hurt,” he said.
“Come on, hit him again, it’s fun,” Richards said, watching with glee as Kris beat the crap out of the hologram.
The character kept taking the punches, just saying “Ow. Huh huh. That, uh, hurt.”
“I’m exausted,” Kris finally said, after ten minutes of punching. “Though I have to admit, that feels a lot better.”
“I knew you’d like it.”
“So you designed her brain?”
“Larkin’s? Yeah, indirectly. Henricks stole my brain project, then erased my mind so I wouldn’t know about it.”
“What a jerk. It figures though.”
“The thing that makes it all worthwhile is that Larkin ended up kicking him in the crotch and running away.”
“So she has a piece of me in her after all,” Kris said to herself.
“I don’t know if I’d go that far. Kris, you’re irreverant, you don’t care about rules, or the law, and you shun everything to do with Starfleet. Larkin is a walking Starfleet handbook. The essence of a good officer.”
“But she sticks by her guns when she is defending herself, doesn’t she?”
“She’s put herself on the line for us countless times. She’s the most selfless person I know.”
“Selfless, huh?” Kris asked. “Well, maybe she’s not like me.”
“Baxter to Holodeck Three. The Cardassians are here and they’re asking to talk to Miss Larkin.”
“We’d better go,” Richards said, leading Kris out of the holodeck.
“Captain, we are only asking for cooperation. Nothing more.”
Baxter leaned up against the ops console and propped an elbow on his knee. “I’d like to know why you want Ms. Larkin, Gul Rajel.”
“That is not your concern, Captain. Ms. Larkin is not a member of the Federation, and as such, she is not within your jurisdiction. Turn her over to us now.”
“You’re already getting a shuttlecraft, Rajel,” Baxter said. “Don’t push it. As long as she’s on my ship, I will offer Ms. Larkin complete protection.”
Rajel narrowed his eyes at Baxter. “Then she’d better stay on your ship.”
Just then, Lt. Commander Larkin emerged from the turbolift and relieved Ensign Monroe from the ops position.
Jondok came into view on the screen and glared angrily down on Larkin. “What is she doing masquerading as a Starfleet officer?”
“Funny story, actually,” Baxter said. “That’s actually an android created in Ms. Larkin’s image.”
Rajel gave a signal for Jondok to move back. “Is this some sort of trick?”
At that moment Kris and Richards emerged from the turbolift down near the viewscreen.
Upon seeing this, Jondok and Rajel both jumped back.
“What is this?” Rajel asked.
“Both of you can go away,” Kris said, taking up position on the other side of the ops console. “I got that prize fair and square and I’m going to keep it.”
“Think about it, Rajel. My ship is more powerful than yours, and you don’t have any of your Dominion buddies around to help you,” Baxter said, folding his arms.
Rajel made an unpleasant face. “All right, Captain. Have it your way. We’ll return to our space,” he turned to Kris. “But beware, Ms. Larkin. You are a marked woman among the Cardassians.”
Kris tossed back a lock of her hair. “I’ll try and remember that. Ta-ta.”
Jondok was about to protest, but Rajel held up a hand and both of them disappeared.
“Thank you, Captain,” Kris said, turning to Baxter. “I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, but I really have to get back to my ship.”
Larkin turned in her chair to face Kris. “Are you sure you must leave so soon? Perhaps it would be wise to wait until the Cardassians have gotten farther away.”
“I’m not afraid of those Cardassians,” Kris replied.
“According to my analyses, they are more than a match for your ship,” Larkin said.
Kris considered this. “What if you came with me?”
“Came…with you?” Larkin asked.
“Sure, I’ve got plenty of room. And I could use someone with your strength and smarts at my side. What do you think?”
“I do not know,” Larkin replied.
“Well, I’m leaving in thirty minutes. You’ve got until then to decide.”
Larkin watched as Kris disappeared into the turbolift, then turned to Baxter. “She is a fascinating individual, Captain.”
“You’re not really thinking about going with her, are you Larkin?” Baxter asked, returning to his command chair.
“I think she should,” Richards said. “It would be a good character building experience.”
“Oh, you think she should, huh?” Baxter asked, turning to Richards. “And who the hell are you, might I ask?”
“I am her mother!” Richards said, pointing at himself with his thumb.
“Well, I’m her Captain, and captains outrank mommies,” Baxter said. “Isn’t that right, Larkin?”
Larkin stood up and approached Baxter. “Captain, I formally request a leave of absence.”
“You were saying?” Richards asked with a smile.
Baxter sighed and punched his approval of her leave on his padd. “Fine. Have it your way. But be careful over there.”
“Thank you Captain. To coin a human phrase, I will ‘cover my ass,’”
Baxter shook his head as Larkin left the bridge. “Did you hear that? Where could she have learned such language? I tell you, Chris, we’re losing her.”
“This is getting too wierd,” Richards said, turning and heading for the turbolift.
“You know, after a quarrel over their progeny, Andorian parents often stab each other with ritual knives so that they may be reminded of the pain of child-rearing,” J’hana remarked from tactical.
“Charming,” Baxter said. “And what do they do when the kid does something wrong? Stab it as well?”
“Come,” Lt. Commander Larkin said, looking up from her suitcase.
Dr. Browning strolled in, nibbling on a huge pretzel. “Hey, Larkin, are you almost ready to go?”
“Yes, Doctor. I have packed the only possessions I require,” Larkin said, tossing a tricorder and phaser into her bag. “I find it is best to travel light.”
“I was wondering, do you want to be one of my bridesmaids?”
Larkin thought about that a moment. “Intruiguing. You want me to take part in your marraige ritual.”
“Sure, if you want to…um, call it that,” Browning looked at Larkin. She had changed out of her Starfleet uniform and was wearing a drab grey and black off-duty outfit. “So, how long will you be gone?”
Larkin examined herself in the mirror and typed some commands into the terminal at her desk. “I have not determined that.”
“But you will be back, right?”
“That is not certain,” Larkin said. “However, I will attend your marraige ritual. Serving as a bridesmaid should prove an interesting experience. They say that when human males wear tuxedoes they resemble penguins.”
“Well, I hadn’t thought of it that–”
“I wonder if Miss Larkin is obsessed with penguins as I am? I shall have to ask.”
“Listen, I know how Christopher feels about you doing this, but don’t you think it’s a little dangerous?” Dr. Browning asked, putting down her pretzel and picking up a stuffed penguin from Larkin’s suitcase. When she squeezed it, it made a shrill, annoying chirping sound.
“Danger is not a factor. I cannot be killed in that sense of the word.”
“But you’re not invincible. If you’re destroyed, you can be rebuilt, but your brain can’t.”
“True,” Larkin said, walking over to her bookcase and pulling a large, black box from the shelf. “However, I have created this data storage system to act as a backup for the bulk of my data.”
“A backup copy of your mind?” Browning asked, taking the box and balancing it in one hand while she held the pretzel in the other.
“Preciscely. If I am destroyed, a new body can be constructed and the balance of my experience may be downloaded. It may not be exactly the same as me, but it will be quite close.”
“Fascinating,” Browning said, when suddenly some mustard and melted cheese dripped down onto the device, causing it to crackle and fizz. “Whooops!” Browning said, juggling the box and the pretzel as it sparked.
“Doctor, please be careful,” Larkin said, grabbing the box from Browning and setting it back down. The android quickly wiped the box off with her shirtsleeve.
“Is it okay?” Browning asked, looking down at the box with interest.
Larkin pressed a button on the device. “Are you okay, Larkin?”
A voice similar to Larkin’s replied, “I am functioning within normal parameters, Larkin. My data systems are undamaged.”
Larkin pressed the button again, deactivating the box. “It would appear you did not do any permanent damage.”
“That’s creepy,” Browning said, grabbing up her pretzel. “Well, I guess it’s time for you to go. Christopher’s going to meet us in the transporter room.”
“Thank you for seeing me off, Doctor, I do appreciate it,” Larkin said, as she and Browning moved to the door to her quarters. Larkin took one last look around the cabin and deactivated the lighting.
Lt. Hartley looked up from her controls as Lt. Commander Larkin entered. “Wow, Commander. I think that’s the first time I’ve seen you in something other than your Starfleet uniform.”
“That is incorrect,” Larkin said, “You saw me disguised as a twentieth century Terran on Stardate 51622, when I led an away team down to Earth to find Captain Baxter, Commander Conley, and Lt. Commander Richards.”
“Oh, yeah. That’s right,” Hartley said. “Well, anyway, have a nice trip.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant Hartley.”
Richards stepped forward, handing Lt. Commander Larkin a box. “Here you go, Larkin. Call it a going away present.”
“How thoughtful of you,” Larkin said, tearing the box open. Inside was a black case covered with pictures of penguins.
“It’s a personalized engineering kit. It has your initials on it and everything. For those jury-rigging jobs that always come up on an old freighter.”
“I am sure it will come in handy,” Larkin said, mounting the transporter pad.
Browning jabbed Richards in the stomach as Hartley cued up the transporter. “I told you we should have got her the lamp.”
“Who needs a lamp on a freighter,” Richards muttered.
“Energize, Lt. Hartley,” Larkin said. “Goodbye, Commander, Doctor.”
And with that, Larkin was gone.
“Glad you decided to come along,” Kris said, stuffing Larkin’s belongings in an overhead compartment and turning to face the forward viewscreen. “Mr. Bort here is not much of a conversationalist.”
The Bolian at the helm snorted and turned his meaty bulk toward the controls. “But I’m the best helmsman you could find.”
Kris plopped lazily into the command chair. “That’s not saying much. Ready us for departure.”
“Is there something you would like me to do, Ms. Larkin?” Larkin asked, as Bort went to work.
“First, stop calling me Ms. Larkin. We’re like sisters. Call me Kris.”
“My shipmates on the Secondprize used to call me Kris. It seems as though everyone calls me Larkin now,” Larkin replied.
“Well, then, I’ll call you Kristen.”
“That appears to be a valid compromise,” Larkin said, searching out a seat and finding one among a pile of wiring and tubing.
“We’re cleared to leave, Kris,” Bort reported. “Engines standing by.”
“Make course for Deep Space Nine, maximum warp,” Kris ordered, leaning back in her chair and running her hands through her hair.
Larkin studied Kris with intense interest. “You appear very comfortable in that chair, Kris.”
“It’s an illusion. The Bolians built this thing like a damn Klingon ship.”
“But it doesn’t smell half as bad,” Bort chimed in from the helm.
Rajel studied his viewscreen as the Daisy emerged from the underside of the asteroid and shot off into warp.
Likewise, the Explorer powered up its engines and took off in the opposite direction.
“The Explorer is heading back on her route through unexplored space,” the navigator reported. “And the Daisy is on course to Deep Space Nine.”
“Well?” Jondok asked impatietly from behind Rajel.
“Set a course to follow the Daisy, but keep your distance,” Rajel ordered. “I do not want them to detect us. Now that the Explorer is gone, they will be ripe for the picking. We need only wait for the appropriate time.”
Lieutenant Larkin emerged from the lower decks of the Daisy and wiped her hands off on her shirt. “I have finished my work on your engines, Kris. I have doubled your fuel conservation while at warp and impulse speeds.”
“I am impressed, Kristen,” Kris replied. “Three hours on board and you’ve already solved one of my biggest problems. How did I ever get along without you?”
“Judging by reports of your exploits, by lying and theivery.”
There was a grunt from Bort that almost sounded like a laugh.
“Those reports are exaggerated, Kristen. I’m not a bad person. I’m just trying to earn my keep like everyone else.”
“But if you returned to the Federation, your ‘keep’ would be given to you,” Larkin said.
“Well then, it wouldn’t be my keep, would it?”
“I had not considered that,” Larkin said, taking a seat beside Kris.
“Put your android brain to work on this one, Kristen,” Kris said, turning in her chair to face Larkin. “Examine the structure and operations of the Federation government, and compare it to governments on Earth in the mid to late twentieth century. Which is it most like?”
“It most closely resembles socialism. Socialist governments are aimed at co-operative action and community of property, like the Federation.”
“Well, that’s all well and good. But how did they feel about socialism in America?”
“They did not like it, but they did like it more than communism. If I may ask, what is your point?”
“Well, I don’t like Socialism any more than the Americans did, and that’s why I can’t be involved in the Federation. What’s the fun in living if you’re guaranteed a ‘piece of the pie’? Where is the competition? The drama? The suspense?”
“I was not aware those were the criteria for a happy life.”
“They are for me,” Kris said finally.
“Most interesting,” Larkin said. “I have never considered what it means to be happy. As an android, I am not capable of such an emotion. Therefore, I simply do what I believe would be most beneficial to those who created me.”
“Isn’t there an android out there like you who has an emotion chip?”
“Lt. Commander Data of the Enterprise. I have considered asking him for information on the chip; however, I am content to live as I do. Human emotion is not a goal of mine.”
“Huh. No reason it should be. Half the time it gets you into trouble,” Kris said wryly.
Another grunt from Bort.
“You keep your mouth shut,” Kris smiled. “Well, I’m off to take a nap. You want to watch the bridge for awhile?”
“As I do not require sleep, that would be acceptable,” Larkin said.
“Good,” Bort said, standing up from the helm. “In that case you can take over my station too. I’m beat.”
“Call us when we reach Deep Space Nine, Kristen,” Kris said, as she and Bort disappeared down a corridor to the crew quarters.
Larkin settled into the command chair, attempting to mimic the position Kris had been sitting in. After trying it for several minutes, the android gave up and resumed her normal ramrod-straight sitting position.
So far, she found life aboard the Daisy most intruiging.
Kris led Larkin down to the airlock, throwing a satchel over her shoulder. “Now, do you remember what I told you to do?”
Larkin thought a moment. “I remember everything I am exposed to. However, I am uncertain that this is a valid act of commerce.”
“Oh, I’m certain it’s not,” Kris smiled. “Now, remember who you’re to meet.”
Larkin nodded. “I am to meet a Ferengi named Quark.”
“Right,” Kris said, shoving Larkin out the airlock. “Good luck, Kristen!”
“Luck is irrelevant, but I appreciate the sentiment,” Larkin said, ducking through the airlock doors as they slid shut.
Bort came up next to Kris as the door to the Daisy sealed. “The docking rig is holding for now. Ops said they’d send a crew down to check on that thermal flow regulator.”
“Good,” Kris replied, putting her hands on her hips. “I just sent Kristen on her way. Do you think I did the right thing, Bort?”
“Since when has that ever concerned you?” Bort asked with a laugh.
“I didn’t say it did,” Kris said. “Let’s get back up to the bridge.”
Lt. Commander Larkin pulled up a seat at the bar and scanned the room. It was much darker and noisier than Mirk’s, and much more rowdy. And from what she could tell, the clientele was of a slightly lesser grade. She could pick out fourteen different conversations involving robbery, murder, and illegal smuggling.
Larkin put those thoughts out of her mind and considered the task at hand. “Barkeep,” she said, remembering the exact phrases Kris had instructed her to use. “I would like to order an Orange Wormhole with extra Peach Schnapps.”
A smartly dressed Ferengi stopped talking to the customer at the other end of the bar, a large, brownish creature that didn’t appear to talk much.
“We’re all out of Peach Schnapps,” he said, tickling the back of his lobe. “How about some Romulan ale?”
“That would suffice; however, I will need it immediately,” Larkin replied.
Quark put a hand on top of hers. “It’s so nice to finally meet you, Kristen. May I call you Kristen?”
“That is my name.”
“I have to say you look even more breathtaking in person than you did over the subspace channel.” Quark looked down. “Your hands are so cold…would you like something to warm you up?”
Larkin leaned forward conspiratorially. “I think you know what I would like.”
“Right, right, business before pleasure,” Quark said. “Well, everyone knows that Quark’s is the place to do business. Follow me.”
Larkin followed Quark up a winding staircase and into a long hallway. Along the hallways were several doors, which, according to Larkin’s floorplan of DS9, led to holosuites.
Quark led Larkin into one of the holosuites. “If you’ll just wait here, I’ll be right back.”
“Very well,” Larkin said.
“And why don’t you try out the holosuite? First time’s free!” Quark said, rushing out of the room.
Larkin examined the controls of the holosuite. They were similar to Starfleet holodecks, and had many of the same features.
Larkin tried the first program that came to mind.
Several minutes later Quark returned with a rather thin and meek looking Romulan man. The Ferengi stopped dead when he entered the holosuite.
“What is this?”
“Alaska,” Larkin replied, patting a penguin on the head. “These are penguins.”
Quark rolled his eyes. “I see you found Will Riker’s old program. Well, you can have it. He’s the only one that ever used it.”
“It is quite interesting,” Larkin said.
“Is this her?” the Romulan asked.
Quark beamed at Larkin lustily. “In the flesh. Why don’t you two get better acquainted? One of my busboys is on his way up with some refreshments.”
“It is freezing in here,” the Romulan said.
“Oh, right,” Quark said nervously. “Computer, end program. And create a conference table in the center of the room.”
The Romulan glared at Quark, who stood there at the entrance to the holosuite, rocking on his feet nervously.
“Well, I’ll just see about those drinks,” Quark said, hurrying once again out of the room.
“I do not believe I know your name,” Larkin said, looking to the Romulan as he took a seat at the conference table.
“You do not need to know my name. You may refer to me as R’tann.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, R’tann,” Larkin said, taking a seat opposite the Romulan.
“I do not have time to chat. Please show me the merchandise.”
Larkin slung her satchel onto the table and opened it, revealing a large, oval shaped chunk of rock.
R’tann picked up the chunk gingerly and examined it. “Is it genuine?”
“Indeed it is. It is the largest Cardassian opal known to exist.”
“I know what it is supposed to be,” R’tann snapped. “I must be certain.”
“Is trust not enough?” Larkin asked.
“Not in this case,” the Romulan said, withdrawing a disruptor and leveling it at Larkin. “I must be certain. And I do not wish to leave a…what is the human term? Paper trail?”
Larkin did not seem surprised by the Romulan’s behavior. In fact, it was the exact behavior Kris had told her to expect.
“Your secrets are safe with me, R’tann.”
“We’ll see,” R’tann replied.
Suddenly, the doors to the holosuite opened. Quark stood there with a pitcher and two glasses. “Here you are, a nice cold–”
The Ferengi stopped dead when he saw R’tann’s weapon. “I see you two are busy negotiating. I’ll just step outside.”
With that, the Ferengi was gone once again behind the doors.
In the moment of confusion, Larkin’s arm moved across the table and knocked R’tann’s weapon away.
The Romulan quickly lunged at Larkin, who promptly and effortlessly threw him to the deck.
“I am sorry to have to apply undue force, sir, but I cannot allow you to take this opal without payment.”
R’tann looked up at Larkin and smiled nervously. “Yes, of course. I can completely see it your way. Let’s start talking prices and put this whole nastiness behind us.”
“Larkin, you did it!” Kris cried joyfully, sifting through the satchel Larkin effortlessly tossed onto the command chair, which was loaded down with bars of latinum. “Was I right about him?”
“The Romulan did attempt to murder me and escape with the ‘goods,’ but I was able to stop him.”
“Wonderful,” Kris said. “Good job, Kristen. Now let’s back to the Badlands.”
Larkin took up a position behind Kris as she examined the latinum. “About that, Kris. I was wondering if your actions could be construed as against Federation law.”
“Whatever do you mean?” Kris asked, fluttering her eyelashes.
“Sale of illegal contraband, smuggling, dividing your profits with the Orion Syndicate. The list is quite extensive.”
Kris looked up for a moment. “Well, what does your programming tell you?”
Larkin considered this. “My programming tells me that this is wrong.”
“Then why are you doing it?”
“I do not know. I have performed numerous self- diagnostics, but I cannot seem to find the problem.”
“Maybe you’re just following your heart.”
“Heart?” Larkin asked. “That is impossible. I do not have a heart to follow.”
“Don’t be so sure,” Kris said, heaving the large satchel off the chair and plopping down.
“Are you suggesting that I am exibiting some analog to humanity?”
“Do you have another explanation?”
Larkin shook her head. “I do not. This is fascinating. I am violating Federation law, and yet I seem to be…”
“I would not go that far. However, I am making no attempt to stop it.”
Kris patted Larkin on the shoulder. “That’s my girl.”
“Enjoy, and please come again,” Garak said happily, waving to Ensign Saunders as she left his tailor shop with an expertly weaved Tellarite fur-sweater.
Garak was about to return to the back room, when the chime announced another customer.
“Hello and welcome to–” Garak stopped when he saw who had entered. “What do you want?”
Jondok laughed, clapping Garak on the shoulders. “Garak, I know you can do better than that after all we’ve been through!”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
Jondok grunted angrily. “Cut the spy mumbo-jumbo. Listen, I need to know the wherabouts of a certain freighter captain.”
“A freighter captain, you say?” Garak asked, turning to a rack of Bolian turtlenecks and folding them idly. “That should be an easy job. So few of them pass through here.”
“Cut the sarcasm. Her name is Kristen Larkin and she’s the captain of the freighter Daisy.”
“If you want to find someone who’s docked here recently, you could always talk to someone in Ops. Unless of course, this is a…private matter.”
“She has something that belongs to me,” Jondok muttered angrily. “Will you help me or not, Elam?”
“If I were you I would calm down,” Garak said, turning his back to Jondok. “Perhaps you could have a drink…at Quark’s. He has a little something for everyone.”
Jondok patted Garak on the back and rushed out of the tailorshop. “Thanks, Garak. I knew you’d help me.”
“Don’t mention it, come again,” Garak said uneasily. Jondok would never let him forget about that flogging incident in school.
Lt. Commander Larkin examined her penuin-engraved engineer’s kit as the Daisy thrummed through space. It really was an interesting case, although the tools inside were substandard in construction. Larkin made a mental note to be sure that substandard construction was reflected in Richards’s wedding present. Her cultural database assured her that was the appropriate action.
Larkin looked up as her heat sensors detected an increase in the room’s ambient temperature. Sure enough, Kris walked in and squeezed herself into the small space in the window port of the aft cabin Larkin was occupying.
“May I help you?” Larkin asked, turning to face her counterpart.
“Nah. I just like to look out at the stars moving away every now and then. They’re really lovely when we’re at warp. Bort says I’m just getting sentimental in my old age.”
Larkin examined the stars. “I am constantly intriuged by the human interest in looking out the viewports of ships travelling at warp. What you are seeing is no more than the distortion of the light reflected off gaseous–”
Kris clamped a hand on Larkin’s wrist. “No, Kristen. Look again. They’re raindrops streaking away from us, pounding an asphalt street in old San Francisco.”
Larkin looked again. “No, they are not.”
“Can’t you just use your imagination?”
“I have no imagination to use. I am curious, what does this… imagination benefit you?”
Kris shook her head. “It doesn’t benefit me anything, Kristen. It’s just something beautiful. Don’t you just want to lose your thoughts in a view sometimes?”
“My thoughts are sealed and compressed in a multi- kiloquad memory core, and backed up in a standalone system. They cannot be lost.”
“Metaphorically, Kristen. Think metaphorically. Try for one minute to imagine what it’s like to be a romantic,” Kris said. “What it’s like to lust after space like it was a lover.”
“A…lover?” Larkin looked out the window again. “I see no lover. I see infinite nothingness, sprinkled with bits of matter, floating in an airless eternity.”
“You’re still contradicting me, but at least you’re getting better at it,” Kris said with a smile. “Before you know it, you’ll be an expert poet.”
“Know it…poet…does that constitute a joke?”
“A very bad one.”
Suddenly the speakers in the cabin flared to life. “Bort to Kris. We’ve reached the Badlands.”
Kris slid out of the window frame and grabbed Larkin’s arm. “Let’s go cash in our chips.”
“Cash in our–?”
“Just come on.”
“I swear, I don’t know where she went!” Quark said with panic in his eyes, as Jondok slammed him up against a row of bottles.
“Who did she sell the opal to, Ferengi?” Jondok asked angrily, slamming Quark up against the row of bottles again. He had to get this information quickly. Someone was bound to get suspicious eventually and come into the storeroom looking for Quark.
“I don’t know. But I might be able to access the station’s computers and find out what course they left on,” Quark replied. “Just please, don’t hurt me!”
“You are a coward, Ferengi!”
“And proud of it,” Quark said, straightening his jacket. “Now, if you’ll follow me, I’ll check the sensor logs.”
“This better not be a trick,” Jondok grumbled.
“Really, do you think that little of dear old Quark?”
Jondok answered by pressing the nose of his phaser against Quark’s back. “Move!”
Kris hurried out onto the bridge, with Larkin close on her heels. “Where’s our contact?”
“That’s just it,” Bort grumbled angrily. “We’re at the rendez-vouz and there’s no one here.”
Kris stared at the roiling pink melange on the viewscreen intently. “Are you saying we’ve been set up?”
Bort grunted. “Wouldn’t be the first time.”
“Get us out of here,” Kris said. “If this is a set up I’m not hanging around.”
Larkin examined the science panel beside her. “Kris, there is a build-up of ionizing radiation off the port bow.”
“And what does that–”
As if to answer her question, a large, opposing green vessel shimmered into appearance on the viewscreen.
“That is a Romulan warbird, D’deridex class,” Larkin said.
“R’tann…” Kris cursed.
“They’re hailing us,” Bort reported.
“Put ‘em onscreen,” Kris muttered reluctantly.
R’tann’s grinning visage appeared on the viewscreen. “Why, Kristen, fancy seeing you here.”
“So this was all a trick on your part, was it?” Kris asked, sneering at R’tann. “A ploy to get the opal? Well, you have it. Now why don’t you take your smug Romulan face and shove it into a power conduit.”
“As pleasing as that sounds, I’m afraid I can’t,” R’tann said, his expression becoming serious. “I have what I want. But the latinum that purchased this opal for me came from a friend. And that friend wants something in return for it.”
“And what might that be?”
An even more smug, more irrational-looking face squeezed in next to R’tann’s. “Well, hello there Captain. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Commander Ardek of the Warbird Horshak.”
There was a sound that approximated throat-clearing from behind Kris. She swung around.
“I am familiar with Commander Ardek. We have had dealings with him on the Explorer,” Larkin whispered.
“Is he a reasonable man?”
“In a word…no.”
“Not the word I wanted to hear,” Kris mumbled, turning back to Ardek. “What could I possibly offer you, Ardek?”
“Something that is in your possession now that my superiors would like to own.”
“My ship?” Kris said with a laugh. “It’s a piece of junk. And nothing else on this ship is worth much more th–”
Ardek’s expression hardened. “Give us the android. Or we open fire.”
Larkin edged forward in her chair, but Kris held her back with a hand gesture. “Android? What android?”
“Don’t play stupid, Kristen!” R’tann shouted. “It was not you that threw me across that holosuite room as if I weighed nothing. It was the android that looks like you. The one that Starfleet doesn’t showboat around like Lt. Commander Data. The one that would not be missed half as much if it… disappeared.”
“She isn’t my property, and she isn’t for sale.”
Ardek smiled sweetly. “We’re not asking to buy her, Captain. We’re taking her. Whether we beam her over or pull her out of the wreckage of your ship is up to you.”
“That will not be necessary. I shall beam to your ship,” Larkin said from behind Kris.
Ardek glanced over Kris’ shoulder. “Ms. Larkin, how nice to see you again. My apologies that we didn’t have time to talk during our last encounter.”
“Regrettable,” Larkin said.
“Now wait just a damn minute.” Kris stood up, blocking Larkin from view. “How the hell did you know she’d be with me?”
“We’ve been following you since Braxas Minor. Our intelligence, however decreased since the unfortunate affair with the Dominion, was kind enough to report that both your ships would be docked there. It was inevitable that the two of you would meet.”
“How could you be so sure she’d come with me?”
“We Romulans are good judges of character,” Ardek said. “How could you pass up the chance to have access to Ms. Larkin’s…abilities?”
“Once she is reprogrammed, she will be of great use to us,” R’tann said with an evil gleam in his eye. “Great use.”
“You can’t have her!” Kris shouted. “We will die first!”
“Hold on, let’s not be so hasty–” Bort turned in his chair to face Kris.
“This discussion is at an end,” Larkin said. She stepped in between Bort and Kris. “I will transport aboard your vessel, and in turn, you will spare the lives of my friends.”
“Now, that’s more–” Ardek said, when suddenly an alarm whooped in the background. He looked offscreen and barked several orders in Romulan.
“What’s going on?” Kris asked, running to the naviagtion console.
Bort quickly checked his panel. “Cardassian vessel approaching. Galor class.”
“Jondok,” Kris muttered.
Larkin examined the situation on the science panel, keying the Daisy’s audio pickups into the comm traffic:
“Romulan vessel, this is Gul Rajel of the Cardassian starship Krilga. You are trespassing in Cardassian space.”
“We go where we wish. Now leave or be destroyed,” Ardek hissed back.
“I’m warning you! Stand off or be fired upon!”
Before Kris or Larkin could react, a huge vessel soared into view on the viewscreen.
“I’ll be damned,” Bort said, looking up at the screen. “It’s a Dominion Battlecruiser!”
“Boy, if we had some chips and dip we’d have a party,” Kris muttered, looking up at the ships on the screen.
“Romulan vessel: You are in Dominion-controlled space. Leave or be destroyed!” cried a voice, not stupid-sounding enough to be Jem’Hadar. Must have been a Vorta.
“Well I never,” Ardek said defiantly. “You’re just a big bully!”
“It’s about time you guys came to help me. Now lock onto that freighter before–” Rajel shouted.
“The freighter can wait. We will deal first with the Romulans,” the voice of the Vorta field officer interrupted.
“Kris, I suggest we make a hasty retreat while the others argue among themselves,” Larkin suggested.
Kris nodded. “I agree. Bort, get us out of here. Full impulse then maximum warp once we’re free of the Badlands.”
“I thought you’d never ask,” Bort said, bringing the freighter around.
Larkin looked up from her sensors. “A firefight has ensued between the Dominion and Romulan vessel.”
“What about the Cardassians?” Kris asked.
“They seem to be caught in the middle,” Larkin said with a hint of amusement.
“Now that’s luck for you,” Kris said, rubbing a hand over her face. “Pretty odd definition of luck if you ask me,” Bort snorted.
“Hey, we got out alive, didn’t we?” asked Kris with a smile.
“Kris, you are not out of danger. Should the Cardassians survive the battle, they will have the help of the Dominion in tracking you–”
“They’ll come after me. Just like the Romulans will come after you if they survive,” Kris said finally, turning in her chair to face Larkin. “You can’t live without a little risk.”
“We should alert the Explorer.”
“Why? So they can swing in to the rescue? That’s not my style. If you’re going to live for yourself, you can’t rely on a starship to come to save you every time you get in a little trouble.”
“It appears, then, that we have slightly different ideas of what it means to live for one’s self,” Larkin replied.
“You ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” Kris said. “Bort, set course for the Tarkalian system.”
“The Tarkalian system?” Larkin asked.
“Yeah, we’ve got a bunch of latinum that needs spending.”
Stardate 52582.4. We have rendez-voused with Kris Larkin’s freighter to pick up our Chief of Operations. After hearing about the scuffle they had a while ago in the Badlands, I imagine she’ll be glad…or the android equivalent of ‘glad’…to be back.
Lt. Commander Larkin stepped into her quarters, squeezed the large duffle that was slung over her shoulder through the door and ordered for the lights on.
The android effortlessly flung the duffle onto her bed and sat down at her desk to check the last few weeks’ messages.
“Bridge to Lt. Commander Larkin,” came the voice of Lt. J’hana. “You have a communication coming in from the Daisy.” The Andorian almost choked on the word ‘Daisy.’
“Please put it through to my terminal, Lieutenant.”
Kris appeared on Larkin’s screen with a big grin. “Well, Lieutenant, I guess this is goodbye. I’m going to miss having you around. So will that Benzite on Fellopius Prime.”
“He was quite attractive in Benzite terms,” Larkin agreed. “I must thank you for a tremendous…character- building experience.”
“The feeling is mutual. Just wish I had a character to build! Well I’d better get going before the Cardassians get a whiff of my scent. Take care of yourself, Kristen.”
“And you as well,” Larkin said, turning back to her desk as Kris blipped off the terminal.
Larkin had scrolled through most of the messages when her door chime sounded.
“Come,” Larkin said, with a glance up at the door.
Lt. Commander Richards stepped into Larkin’s quarters. “Hey, stranger!”
“I am not a stranger. We met on Stardate…”
Richards crossed the room and grabbed Larkin’s shoulder affectionately. “It’s an expression, Kristen.”
“I understand. I assume ship’s operations have been normal since my departure?”
Richards let out a little laugh. “We had a nasty run- in with some dilithium smugglers, and Lt. Tilleran had a bout of Circassian flu, but other than that things have been fine. What about you?”
“I have had some very interesting character-building experiences.”
“Character-building experiences, huh?” Richards asked, making his way to Larkin’s bed. He looked down at her duffle and looked back at Larkin in confusion. “This thing is more than twice the size of the one you left with!”
“I made some…acquisitions.”
The engineer pointed at the bag. “May I?”
“Of course,” Larkin said, returning to her desk.
Richards unzipped the bag and peered inside. He reached inside and pulled out a large, red, spiny box. “Larkin…is this what I think it is?”
Larkin didn’t looked up from her terminal. “It is a Garnathon pleasure matrix distributor.”
“And what do you…no, never mind. I never asked.” Richards shivered as he continued to work his way through the bag. He withdrew a small, brown, statue. “A Horga’hn? You went to Risa?”
Larkin picked up a padd and made some calculations. “It was a stop along our route.”
Richards pulled out one disturbing souvenir after another, finally emptying the bag entirely and shaking it. “Where’s the engineering kit I gave you?”
For the first time, Larkin looked up. “I had to sell something in order to purchase the other objects.”
“Gee, I guess that’s…”
“However, it was necessary to use some of the latinum Kris and I acquired from the Romulans as well. The engineering kit was not worth as much as I thought it would be.”
“Hmm,” Richards said, a little hurt, as he collapsed onto Larkin’s couch. “Well, you’ve been out and about for three weeks, seeing the universe. What have you learned?”
Larkin cocked her head thoughtfully. “I have learned many things in the past three weeks, Commander.”
“But if you could sum it all up?” Richards asked, eyeing the engraved Klingon hairbrush he had pulled out of Larkin’s bag.
“If I could sum it all up, I believe the balance of my recent experience is this: Never tell a Gorn that he has bad skin.”
Richards blinked a couple times. “Did I miss something? Did you just tell a joke, Larkin?”
“What do you think?”
“I think I need to get you down to Engineering and take a look at that brain,” Richards said. “It sounds like you’ve got a few loose wires.”
“There are many incidents which might explain that,” Larkin replied thoughtfully.
“I don’t want to know! I don’t want to know!” Richards said, covering his ears and hurrying out of the room.
Larkin turned back to her terminal. “It is good to be back.”
The Federation of Fun is back as the Explorer is nabbed and Baxter gets happy. Don’t miss WORLDS APART!
Then, a week later, the regular stories return with the tale of a coffee-drinker and a woman with a slug in her stomach. Don’t miss Commander Conway’s of love for Dr. Shar in “Symbiotic Relationship”!