Author: Anthony Butler
DECK 21 MESS HALL MONDAY, STARDATE 52858 0800 HOURS
Ensign Roy Zenkmann, Chief Appropriations Officer, stretched and yawned as he entered the mess hall, trying his best to fully wake up after an all too brief night of sleep.
He nodded curtly to the couple that was on their way out of the mess hall and approached the replicator, leaning tiredly up against it as he ordered.
“Frosted flakes, in milk; toast, lightly browned; and a large glass of orange juice.”
The replicator hummed to life, materializing the requested meal.
Zenkmann sighed and pulled the tray out of the replicator slot, collapsing into the nearest chair and preparing to devour his breakfast in the short amount of time he had before his 0815 meeting with Lt. Commander Larkin.
She had called him in for a meeting about the incident one week before when he had accidentally misplaced an entire deck’s complement of tricorders. He’d argued that it was the Inventory Department’s fault. Alas, his name and thumbprint were on all the paperwork, so he was accountable.
So went bureaucracy on a Starship.
As Ensign Zenkmann dunked his spoon into his bowl of cereal, he made a quiet vow to request a transfer to a more interesting department–preferably one where he wasn’t blindly thumbing his signature on padds all day.
Just as the ensign was about to scoop a generous spoonful of cereal out of the bowl, he felt his spoon hit against something hard on the bottom of the plate.
“Damn replicators,” Zenkmann cursed, as he lifted the bowl up for inspection and tapped the hard object again with his spoon.
It was then that a thin red beam shot right out of the milk in Zenkmann’s bowl, piercing right through the middle of his face and coming out the other side of his head.
The last thing that Zenkmann thought about as the beam cut up into his brain was that a nice, quiet desk job wasn’t really so bad after all.
Lt. J’hana folded her arms and glowered down at the body as one of her officers ran the requisite tricorder scan over it.
“What a mess,” J’hana muttered, surveying the mess of spilled cereal, milk, blood, and gray matter.
Just then, Commander Conway stepped into the mess hall, carrying a cup of coffee. “Morning, J’hana.”
“Yes it is,” J’hana responded dryly.
The First Officer took a swig of coffee and stared down at the corpse before him. “So, do you have any leads on the murder?”
“Perhaps. Where did you get that cup of coffee from, Commander?”
“From the replicator in my quarters, where else?”
“I was simply curious,” J’hana said, holding up a small, black, milk-covered box for Conway’s inspection. “It seems Ensign Zenkmann was murdered by a narrow, highly-focused phaser beam that originated from this device, which was found at the bottom of his cereal bowl.”
Conway frowned and stared at his cup of coffee eerily. “Which I’m guessing came from the replicator?”
J’hana nodded grimly. “How is the coffee, sir?”
“I…I don’t know,” Conway said, his hand shaking.
“Relax, Commander, I’m sure your cup of coffee would have killed you by now if it was rigged.”
Conway put his cup down on the table next to the remnants of Ensign Zenkmann’s head. “I was done drinking it anyway.”
“Really?” J’hana asked, peering down into the cup. “Looks like it is still half full.”
“Or half empty, depending on how you look at it,” Conway said wryly. “Listen, can we just get on with this?”
“Certainly,” J’hana said. “I do enjoy a good murder investigation.”
Conway walked over to the replicator and flipped open the access panel above it, peering in skeptically. “It doesn’t look like any foreign devices have been planted in here.”
“I already checked. A preliminary scan shows that the whole room is clear of foreign devices.”
“Then they reprogrammed the replicator from a remote source.”
J’hana nodded. “That was my suspicion as well.”
Conway took a deep breath and surveyed the room with a nauseous shiver. “Okay, then. Have Lt. Commander Richards take all the replicators offline and begin examining every circuit on this ship. We’re all going to have to eat real food until we find the murderer.”
“That may take quite a while,” J’hana said. “Your fresh bean supply may not last the entire duration.”
“That’s a risk I’m willing to take,” Conway said briskly, turning on a heel and heading out of the mess hall.
“Okay, lay it on me, Mr. Mirk,” Baxter said warily, watching as Mirk lowered the plate in front of him.
“Don’t worry, Captain,” Mirk said, pulling the lid off Baxter’s plate. “We have plenty of real food to last us until this replicator mess is sorted out.”
“Who said I was worrying,” Baxter said casually, looking down at his plate. “Mirk, what the hell is this?”
“Sauteed mussels from Gril Seven. They’ve been soaked in butter and lemon, with just a little snippet of garlic.”
“I hate mussels,” Baxter said, pushing his plate away. “Besides, they smell like socks.”
“Frankly, Captain, you should feel lucky your lunch isn’t trying to kill you,” Mirk said, bristling. “There are some people in the Galaxy that would be glad to eat even if their food did try to kill them.”
“I didn’t come here for a guilt trip, Mirk,” Baxter said. “All I wanted was a ham and cheese on white bread with a little mustard. Is that so much to ask for?”
Mirk sighed as he picked up the plate and returned to his bar. “I’ll see what we have in stock. Maybe someone else will eat this.”
“Jeeze, don’t put yourself out,” Baxter grumbled, returning to the padd he was reading.
Baxter read for several minutes until he saw Counselor Peterman enter the lounge out of the corner of his eye.
“Hey, hon, how’s it going?” Baxter asked, leaning over and kissing Peterman on the cheek as she sat down across from him in the booth.
“We have a serious morale problem on this ship, Andy,” Peterman said, blowing out a frustrated breath.
“They’re not liking the replicator prohibition, I take it?” Baxter asked.
“That’s an understatement,” Peterman replied. “A large portion of our crew has never had to cook for themselves, and Lord knows Mr. Mirk can’t cook for everyone.”
“Maybe we should organize cooking classes,” Baxter offered. “You know, this leadership manual I’ve been reading has some really interesting tips in it. One of them is that you have to turn a negative situation into an opportunity for growth and learning.”
Peterman looked over Baxter’s padd skeptically. “Andy, don’t tell me you’re reading this self-help garbage.”
“It’s written by a very successful retired Admiral,” Baxter said defensively. “My dad reccomended it to me.”
“He’s been checking up on you, hasn’t he?” Peterman asked. Suddenly she realized why Baxter was reading the leadership manual.
“Uh-huh. He’s proud, but…well, he thinks I could do better. He’s been telling me that the other Admirals are making fun of him because of the time we got stuck inside that interdimensional planet.”
“That wasn’t your fault.”
“Well, the Monday morning quarterbacks at Starfleet Command seem to disagree. They think I could have handled the situation without nearly destroying the Explorer.”
“Everyone’s a critic,” Peterman sighed. “Don’t let it get to you.”
“We’ll see what happens after I read this book,” Baxter said. “Maybe it’ll help me become a better leader.”
“Don’t count on it,” Peterman said, rising. “In the meantime, I’ll ask around and see if we can get a volunteer to teach the cooking classes.”
“Good luck, sweetie,” Baxter said, returning to his padd.
As soon as Peterman was gone, Mirk arrived with another plate.
“Here, Captain, this was as close as I could come to a ham sandwhich,” Mirk said, putting the plate down in front of Baxter.
“Thanks,” Baxter said, grabbing the sandwich and taking a big bite. He was met with a tooth-jarringly rigid surface underneath the crusty slices of bread. Upon removing the top layer of bread, he realized what he had bitten into. “Mirk, this is a damned hoof!”
“Hey, it’s from a pig. Just eat around the hoof,” Mirk said, walking back to the bar.
SICKBAY - THE MORGUE 0200 HOURS
“It was a very precise cut,” Dr. Browning said, untying the back of her medical smock and laying it over an empty biobed. “Almost surgical, I’d say.”
“So you believe the person who programmed the phaser device was well-versed in anatomy?” J’hana asked, leaning over the corpse of Ensign Zenkmann.
Browning shook her head as she emptied her thermos of hot chocolate into a cup. “Not necessarily. It could have been programmed by anyone, but the beam had to be very highly focused. You probably want to talk to Chris, though. He knows more about that kind of thing than I do.”
J’hana frowned down at the frozen, phaser-split face of Ensign Zenkmann. “So your autopsy did not provide any additional insights?”
“Besides being completely gross?” Browning said, sipping at her hot chocolate. “I’m afraid not.”
“Shelat,” J’hana cursed. “Then I will have to talk to Lt. Commander Richards. This case is harder than I thought it would be.”
“I have no doubts that you’ll find the culprit, J’hana,” Browning said encouragingly. “I mean, this ship really isn’t so big.”
“Have you ever tried searching it, Doctor?”
“Then you have no idea how big it is,” J’hana replied. “At any rate, I am not worried. Justice will prevail.”
“That’s the spirit,” Browning said brightly, covering over Zenkmann’s corpse and shoving it back into the stasis chamber.
J’hana turned on a heel and left the morgue, nodding curtly to Counselor Peterman as she rushed in.
“Janice! Do I have a job for you!” Peterman said excitedly.
“Something more interesting than an autopsy?” Browning asked wryly. “Impossible.”
“Just hear me out,” Peterman said. “This job is right up your alley.”
Lt. Commander Richards looked up at J’hana as he pulled himself out of the Jefferies’ tube. “If you’re here to ask me if I’ve found the source of your replicator tampering, then the answer is no,” Richards said, wiping his hands on a towel and moving into his office.
J’hana followed him, tossing the small, black phaser device onto his desk. “Actually, I am here to ask you about this.”
“Wow, the murder weapon?” Richards asked with interest.
“Affirmative,” J’hana replied. “What can you tell me about it?”
Richards picked up the device and looked at it closely. “Without prying it open and checking out its guts, not very much. It does seem to be a very complex mechanism, though.”
“That is what Dr. Browning determined as well.”
“Yep, definitely not standard technology,” Richards said, rubbing his chin. “It would take some doing to develop something this sophisticated. It didn’t even show on the replicator’s foreign matter filter.”
“So this could very well be the work of an organized group. The Romulans, the Dominion, maybe even the Leeramar,” J’hana said gruffly.
“That’s pushing it a little, but yes, those are all possibilities.” Richards leaned back in his chair. “More likely this is a black- market device attained by someone with a lot of fiancial influence.”
“Who wanted to kill a low-level starship crewmember?” J’hana asked. “Why?”
“I don’t know,” Richards replied. “Isn’t that more your department?”
“Yes, I suppose it is,” J’hana mused. “I will have to look into it. Meanwhile, I would appreciate it if you would examine the device and compile a full report on it by this evening.”
“I’ll do my best,” Richards said. “I suppose you’d like to have this mess fixed by tomorrow morning, huh?”
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, in case someone else dies.”
“I had not considered that,” J’hana said. “We could be dealing with a serial killer.”
“We are dealing with a ‘cereal’ killer,” Richards replied, smiling.
J’hana grimaced. “I am not amused.”
DECK FIFTEEN - THE “CARROT TOP” ROOM 1900 HOURS
Dr. Browning looked out over the sixty faces that were lined up in front of her hastily constructed kitchen mock-up and took a deep breath. “Welcome everyone to ‘Doctor Browning’s Cooking Workshop.’ I think we’re all going to have a lot of fun tonight, seeing what it’s like to make real food with real utensils.”
There were several groans of displeasure throughout the audience.
“Ahem, well,” Browning said nervously. “I know that many of you find the idea of creating real food in a kitchen kind of, well, disgusting, but you have to believe me, there was a time when it was perfectly normal. In the Twenty-fourth Century we’ve become way to dependent on our replicators. This morning’s occurrence was just a shocking reminder of what can happen when we depend on technology like replicators for sustanance. That technology tends to backfire on us.”
“Could you shut up and get to the food?” Lt. Ford asked, waving his hand up in the air. “I’m hungry.”
“Shut up, Ford,” Baxter said angrily from behind him, slapping him in the back of his head. “Go on, Janice.”
“Thanks, Captain,” Browning said, tying on her ‘Kiss the Cook’ apron and putting on her chef’s hat. “Let’s start by taking a look at the recip–.” That’s all she could say, since she was immediately drowned out by laughter.
“Nice outfit!” Ford called out.
Seeing that Browning was in trouble, Peterman put both fingers into her mouth and whistled loudly. That quieted everyone, at least temporarily. “Hey, you’re all here to learn some things that may save your life. Clam up and listen, or you’ll all be taking turns walking Charlie and the others tomorrow morning.”
“I’d rather be killed by my cereal,” Gellar remarked, before being jabbed painfully in the stomach by Lt. Hartley.
Browning cleared her throat again. “Ahem. Well, let’s just look at that recipe. Tonight we’re going to make Fettucini Alfredo and a Ceasar salad, with cheesecake for dessert.”
“Will there be enough for everyone?” Commander Conway asked from the audience.
“Everyone will get a bite, yes,” Browning replied.
“You know, if we had the replicators we’d all be having entire meals now instead of a little bite,” Lt. Ford scoffed.
“Yeah, turn the replicators back on!” several people began to shout.
Suddenly the crowd burst into a chant of “We want replicators!” over and over again.
“Hey, SHUT UP!” Baxter cried. “Do you all want to end up like Ensign Zenkmann?”
“Well…no,” Ford admitted.
“Then listen up,” Baxter growled. “Or I’ll jam a well balanced breakfast so far up your–”
“Now then,” Browning said loudly, stopping Baxter mid- sentence. “Let’s take a look at those ingredients.”
TWENTY MINUTES LATER
“Then you stir, stir, stir, until the mixture is lumpy, but gooey,” Browning said, churning at the bowl of white goo with all her might.
Lt. Tilleran carefully wrote the instructions down on her padd. “Lumpy but gooey, got it.”
“Would anyone like to come up and try stirring?” Browning asked. “It’s really very easy.”
“I would like to volunteer,” Lt. Commander Larkin said from the front of the audience. “I find this entire experience fascinating.”
“Great,” Browning said, handing Larkin the bowl. “Go to it, Commander.”
“Very well,” Larkin said, grabbing the spoon and stirring with lightening fast speed. Cheesy goo splashed out on both Browning and the android, until the bowl was almost empty.
Browning licked at the slop that had hit her in the face and smiled. “Well, it’s darned good.”
TWENTY MORE MINUTES LATER
“How’s that chicken coming, Captain?” Browning asked, looking over Baxter’s shoulder as he turned the chicken pieces in the sizzling frying pan.
“It looks nice and brown,” Baxter said with a grin. “And oh, does it smell delicious.”
“It will taste even better since you put hard work into making it yourself,” Browning said proudly.
“What do I do now?” Baxter asked, once he was satisfied that the meat was darkened enough.
“You have to make sure it’s tender by pressing down on it. Don’t be afraid to slap that meat hard.”
“Slap that meat, Captain!” Ford heckled from the audience.
“Yeah,” Gellar called out. “Beat your meat, sir!”
“You sons of–” Baxter exclaimed, grabbing two pieces of chicken with his tongs and hurling them at Gellar and Ford.
“It burns!” Ford cried out, pulling the smoking poultry off his face.
“Help!” Gellar cried, falling backwards as the meat burnt at his eyes.
Hartley clicked her tongue in annoyance and peeled the meat of Gellar’s face, tearing off some and tasting it. She gave Baxter thumbs up. “Tastes great, Captain!”
“What can I say?” Baxter said. “I’m a natural.”
YET ANOTHER TWENTY MINUTES LATER
“I am very sorry about this,” Lt. Commander Larkin said, as Lt. Commander Richards quickly blasted her flaming hand with a fire extinguisher. “I must have misread the guage on the stove.”
“Very understandable,” Browning sighed. “How’s that bread coming, Counselor?”
Peterman pulled the oven open and looked inside. “Hmmm. Still needs a few minutes.”
“Okay, well, that will give us just enough time to toss a quick salad together. That should be safe and easy.”
“Don’t underestimate our incompetence that easily,” Ford said with a grin.
“I have an idea,” Browning said, gritting her teeth together. “Why don’t you and Mr. Gellar come up here and help me with the salad?”
“Uh…” Ford said quietly.
“Janice, I don’t–” Peterman whispered.
“I insist,” Browning said, winking at Peterman. “Come on up, boys.”
Ford and Gellar reluctantly moved up to the front of the room to join Dr. Browning.
Captain Baxter patted Ford on the back as he and Peterman left the kitchen set. “Have fun, guys.”
Ford gulped as he and Gellar meekly approached Dr. Browning.
“Don’t be scared, boys,” Browning said with a smile. “I wouldn’t do anything to hurt you. And who knows, you even learn something.”
“We already know a lot about cooking,” Gellar said, jabbing Ford in the gut. “Right, Zack?”
“Uh, yeah, we sure can cook,” Ford replied uneasily.
“I don’t doubt that,” Browning said, pushing a basket of tomatoes in front of Ford. “Now, how why don’t you guys start by cutting the tomatoes.”
“With what?” Ford asked, gulping.
Browning reached into a drawer and withdrew a large, gleaming butcher knife. “With this, silly.”
“Heh heh,” Gellar said. “She’s just trying to scare us.”
“It’s working,” Ford said fearfully.
“Don’t know how to use the knife?” Browning asked sweetly. “Here, I’ll show you how.” The Doctor forcefully grabbed Ford’s hand and placed it on the cutting board. “Better spread out your fingers. We don’t want this to get messy.” That said, the Doctor began to rapidly stab the knife in between Ford’s fingers, moving back and forth at lightning speed.
The audience was astonished as Browning moved the knife, finally coming to a stop and flipping the knife up into the air, leaning her head back, and catching it by the handle in her mouth.
After a few moments of stunned silence, the audience burst into applause.
Browning spat the knife out and bowed. “Thank you, thank you. It was nothing, really.”
Ford’s eyes rolled back into his eyes as he collapsed back against Lt. Gellar.
“Get off me, spanky,” Gellar said, pushing Ford back to his feet. “I found that very informative, Doctor.”
“Good,” Browning said, brandishing her knife. “Now sit down and shut up, both of you, or I’ll start my knife-tossing act.”
“Yes, ma’am!” Gellar said, rushing the still light-headed Ford back into the audience.
I’m really getting through to them, Browning thought, as the Fettucini noodles began to boil over, spilling out onto the stove and dripping down to the deck.
THE CONSTELLATION CAFE TUESDAY, STARDATE 52859 0750 HOURS
Crewman Kristy Foster peered over the bar, banging against it incessantly. “Mirk, are you down there?”
“I was in the storeroom. What do you want?” Mirk asked from behind Foster, causing her to jump from shock.
“Don’t do that to me. Don’t you know there’s a murderer aboard?”
“Murderer shmurderer,” Mirk replied, pushing past the swinging door that led behind the bar and throwing on his apron. “What do you want?”
“A nice big plate of scrambled eggs,” Foster said hopefully. “Do we have any in stock?”
“I’ll check,” Mirk said, ducking below the bar. Moments later he resurfaced with an egg the size of his head.
“What the heck is that?” Foster asked incredulously.
With much effort, Mirk turned the egg upside down and looked at the fine print on the bottom. “It says here that it’s from a Breen finch.”
“Boy, they must grow ‘em big on Breen.”
“They certainly must,” Mirk agreed. “Do you want it, or not?”
“Hell, an egg’s an egg, huh?”
Mirk nodded, ducking behind the bar. “One gigantic Breen egg, coming up.”
Crewman Foster played with one of Mirk’s decorative salt shakers as he warmed up the makeshift stove he had set up on the bar and got to work.
It took a sustained blast from a phaser set on maximum stun to crack the shell open, but once the egg started cooking, Foster sniffed the garlicky air and could hardly wait to eat it.
The mass of scrambled egg made a heavy thud as it fell from the pan onto Shlotzhauer’s plate.
“I don’t think I can eat all this,” Foster said, poking at the egg timidly.
“Well, I’ll give the rest to some other hungry crewmember. Everyone’s looking for something safe to eat what with the replicator mess.”
“Eggzactly,” Foster said, digging into her scrambled egg with zeal.
Mirk made a disgusted face at the thought of the ugly pun as he returned to the stock room.
The emergency with the replicators had caused a huge demand for real food, and it was Mirk’s job to ration it out, which was not an easy task.
The Maloxian had just begun inventorying his gallon jars of Melkotian Mayonnaise, when the sound of a tremendous explosion shook through the cramped storeroom, knocking him off his stool and knocking all the cans and packages off the shelves.
Upon emerging from the storeroom, Mirk was met with the ugly sight of eggs and Crewman Foster spread all over the transparent aluminum windows at the back of the cafe.
Needless to say, there was not much left of the bar, either.
“Bag ‘er,” Dr. Browning ordered, rising from the spot where she had crouched near the back of the bar. She shook her head disgustedly as she turned away from the mess on the windows. “That must have been some scrambled egg.”
J’hana grunted disapproval as she stared at the scene. “I hope there will be enough left to do an autopsy on.”
“We’re talking about a human being here!” Mirk said frantically from his place atop one of the few barstools that was still intact. “And a bar!”
“I am well aware of what we are talking about,” J’hana said gruffly, as Dr. Browning led the way out of the Cafe, followed by several medtechs who were weighed down by bags of Crewman Foster. “Contact me if you find anything out of the ordinary, Doctor.”
“My poor bar,” Mirk sniffed.
“Calm down, Mr. Mirk,” Conway said, pulling up a burnt and damaged chair and turning it around, plopping down casually. “I want you to think clearly. Do you remember anything at all strange about that egg you served Crewman Foster?”
Mirk shook his head. “Other than the fact that it was extremely huge? No.”
“What did you use to prepare the egg?” J’hana asked, approaching the place where the stove had once been.
“Just a little butter and a dash of nutmeg,” Mirk said. “Nutmeg never killed anyone.”
“There’s a first time for everything,” Conway said, pushing himself off the chair. “Mr. Richardon is sending a crew to repair the bar this afternoon, Mr. Mirk. Until then I suggest you and your staff take the day off.”
“Just when you thought it was safe to eat breakfast,” Mirk said glumly, shuffling out of the cafe.
Conway looked over J’hana’s shoulder as she examined the scene. “Well, what’s your theory, J’hana?”
“I have no theory as yet, Commander,” J’hana said, obviously annoyed at that fact. “But what I do have, I believe, is a serial killer.”
“That’s not very funny.”
“I didn’t say cereal. I said serial,” J’hana said with exasperation.
“I know, and I said it’s not funny.”
“SERIAL! With an S!”
“Oh. Serial. So he may strike again?”
“Serial killers often do.”
“So we’d better find him before he gets another chance.”
“That would be my reccomendation.”
“The Captain’s not going to like this,” Conway replied. “We pretty much assumed that if we deacivated the replicators we’d all be safe.”
“Well then, we assumed wrong, didn’t we?”
SCIENCE LAB ONE 1100 HOURS
“All hands, this is your Captain speaking. Due to unforseen circumstances, I am now ordering you all to eat your breakfast at 1200 hours and not a minute earlier. Anyone found eating in the morning will be severely dealt with. This is for your own good, since two crewmembers have already died from eating breakfast. Please bear with us through this difficult time as we attempt to find out who keeps killing people during their breakfasts. Thank you, and have a pleasant afternoon.”
Lt. Tilleran rolled her eyes as Baxter closed the channel. “I never eat lunch anyway.”
“Do not think of it as lunch,” J’hana said. “Think of it as a late breakfast.”
“Whatever,” Tilleran replied, as J’hana followed her to the corner of her science lab where she had been examining some fragments of egg from the Constellation Cafe. “Well, I don’t know if it will help, but I found out what caused the explosion.”
“Do tell,” J’hana muttered.
Lt. Tilleran held up a sample case and a very small pair of tweezers. “This is a sample of the Breen egg from Mirk’s bar.”
Tilleran carefully removed a tiny piece of egg from the case and placed it in a large, transparent aluminum container. She then picked up a small metal shaker. “This is common, everyday table salt.”
“Of course it is.”
“Stand back,” Tilleran said, pouring a smal pile of salt into her hand and tossing a pinch into the transparent aluminum case, closing the lid, and taking several steps away from it.
A bright flash rattled the case, scorching the edges and filling it with smoke.
“A very odd chemical reaction,” J’hana said, opening the container and coughing as smoke billowed out.
“Odd is an understatement. Check this out.” Tilleran led J’hana over to a microscope and allowed her to peek in.
“What am I looking at?” J’hana asked impatiently.
“That’s a molecule from the sample of egg. It’s a highly unstable isotope that isn’t found anywhere in nature, much less in scrambled eggs.”
“Are you saying those eggs were rigged?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. The isotope releases an inordinate amount of energy moments after it comes in contact with the molecule NACL, more commonly known as table salt.”
“Ingenious,” J’hana remarked.
“And quite deadly,” Tilleran replied.
“What would it take to engineer something like this?”
“A high-tech lab and someone who seriously knows what they’re doing,” Tilleran replied.
“That eliminates most of this crew,” J’hana said. “Thank you for your assistance.”
THE BRIDGE 1130 HOURS
“An outside job?” Baxter asked, peering across J’hana’s tactical panel as she worked.
“As I said, sir, it is a possibility.”
“Wouldn’t we be able to detect another ship, if they were the ones responsible for this?”
“One would think,” J’hana said. “However, I have not picked up anything on the longrange scanners.”
“Everything we’ve seen so far could have been done any of the number of times we’ve been docked at starbases,” Conway said from beside Baxter. “We don’t even know where to start looking for suspects.”
“We can, however, narrow them down,” J’hana said. “I am currently tracing the history of the Breen egg that Mirk procured. There is a chance it will lead us to the killer.”
“Well, I want you all to work quickly,” Baxter grumbled. “I miss my Tuesday belgian waffles already.”
“Aww,” Conway said. “Maybe Dr. Browning will make you some come noontime.”
“It won’t be soon enough,” Baxter muttered, walking back to his chair.
Just then, the turbolift doors slid open, allowing Dr. Browning onto the brige.
“Captain!” Browning said excitedly. “I just came up with a new flavor of bagel. Grapefruit!”
Baxter jumped out of his chair, grabbing the bagel eagerly from Browning. “That’s great, Janice. I can’t wait to–”
J’hana’s phaser was out in an instant, aimed directly at Baxter. “Drop it, Captain.”
“But, it’s almost noon,” Baxter whined.
J’hana stepped forward. “No buts. Drop the bagel now.”
“I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with it,” Browning said. “I made it myself.”
“You’ll pardon me if that doesn’t negate my suspicions,” J’hana said. “Now give me the bagel, sir, before I have to hurt you.”
Baxter made a pouty expression as he handed the bagel over to J’hana. “Damn serial killer.”
J’hana grabbed the bagel and carefully sat it down on top of the science console. “Everyone get back.”
“Tricorder,” Conway barked at a passing ensign, who quickly stuffed a tricorder into his hand. The Commander flipped the device open and ran it over the bagel. “No strange readings.”
“It’s fine, really,” Browning insisted.
“I would prefer not to take that risk,” J’hana said. She motioned for Conway to back away and lowered her phaser setting to “dull butter knife.”
The Andorian made a small incision in the bagel, cutting it open carefully and pushing it apart with her fingertips.
Conway continued to scan. “I’m still not getting any weird readings.”
“Well,” J’hana said, turning. “Perhaps it was a false–” Suddenly, the Andorian’s arm brushed against the bagel and knocked it off the science console. “DOWN!” J’hana cried, slamming her body into Commander Conway and knocking him over the railing that surrounded the command chairs.
Upside down in his own chair, Conway glanced over at the bagel from his uncomfortable position between J’hana’s arm and armpit. It clattered to the deck noislessly.
The bagel sat there on the deck, mocking Conway as he squirmed out from underneath J’hana.
“My heroes,” Baxter said sarcastically, picking up the bagel and dusting it off.
That evening, Dr. Browning gave another cooking lesson that was recieved with just slightly more enthusiasm than the last one. The crew was slowly learning that cooking for themselves could be fun, and Dr. Browning found herself having a heck of a good time teaching them.
“And then you carve up the roast beef like so,” Dr. Browning said, making a surgical incision at the tip and working her way across with her laser scalpel.
Suddenly the Doctor twitched ever so slightly, causing the scalpel to tear off a jagged hunk of meat. “Whoops!”
“And she’s going to operate later,” Gellar whispered.
“Well, you get the idea,” Browning said. “Everyone come up and have a bite on your way out. And remember to come to the Captain’s mess for the buffet tonight. I hope to see all of you there.”
Peterman, Baxter, and Richards joined Browning at the kitchen counter as the group dispersed.
“I’m really proud of you, Janice,” Baxter said, popping a hunk of roast beef into his mouth. “I never knew you were such a good cook.”
Browning blushed slightly. “It comes in handy when you eat a lot.”
“Yep, my Janice here is a regular master chef,” Richards said proudly, hugging Browning close as she continued to cut the beef. “Wait until we’re married, hon, you’ll be cooking for us every night.”
“Yes, well,” Browning said. “That sounds like a lot of fun.”
“And you guys will have to have us over for dinner some time,” Peterman said.
“Providing we’re all not killed by this cereal guy.”
“Serial,” Baxter corrected.
THE CAPTAIN’S MESS WEDNESDAY, STARDATE 52860 1220 HOURS
Counselor Peterman eagerly waited at the large, oval teak dinner table as Captain Baxter ran a tricorder over a large pot of Mirk’s reportedly delicious cherry and marshmellow swirl oatmeal.
“Well?” Peterman asked.
“Just a minute, Kelly. You can’t be too safe.”
“Well, I’m hungry. Here it is after noon and neither of us has eaten a thing.”
“Would you rather risk ending up like Zenkmann or Foster?”
“Then wait a minute while I scan this oatmeal.”
“Yes, sir, Captain, sir.” Peterman saluted sarcastically.
“That’s more like it,” Baxter replied, bringing two bowls over to the table and placing one down in front of Counselor Peterman.
Baxter sat down next to Peterman and stared at his bowl, then looked over to Peterman. “Well, aren’t you going to eat? I thought you were hungry.”
“I…am,” Peterman said, gingerly putting her spoon into the bowl. “But who knows what’s at the bottom of that bowl.”
“I scanned it thoroughly, hon,” Baxter said. “There’s nothing at all out of the ordinary in the oatmeal.”
“Then why aren’t you eating?”
Peterman took a deep breath. “This is silly. It’s just a bowl of oatmeal. It’s not going to hurt us. Our fear is totally irrational.”
“Yeah,” Baxter said nervously. “It’s only based on two murders.”
“Listen, either the oatmeal will kill us or it won’t,” Peterman said resolutely. “Either we eat, or we starve to death.”
“You’re right, honey,” Baxter said, dipping his spoon in and lifting it out, watching the oatmeal drip back down into the bowl. “We’ll both take the first bite together.”
“Good idea,” Peterman said, holding the spoon close to her mouth and narrowing her eyes down at, holding her breath. “On the count of three.”
Peterman squeezed her eyes shut. “Two.”
“THREE!” Baxter said, stuffing the spoon into his mouth and swallowing.
Peterman did the same, and both of them immediately spit the oatmeal out, crying out in agony.
“Hothothot!” Baxter cried, tossing back a whole glass of grapefruit juice.
“Ow, that burns!” Peterman said, grabbing Baxter’s pitcher of grapefruit juice and dumping the entire contents into her mouth.
“Well,” Baxter said, giggling quietly. “You have to admit, it’s darn good.”
“You’d think by now we’d know to blow before we eat something that’s piping hot,” Peterman said with a grin.
“But at least it didn’t kill us.”
“I don’t know,” Peterman said, amused. “Maybe the killer just wanted to bruise our mouths.”
“Well, in that case he succeeded, that bastard!” Baxter said with a laugh.
“How horrible! Scalding the roof of someone’s mouth with burning hot oatmeal!” Peterman said, slapping the table as she giggled.
“What…ha ha…dastardly thing will they think of next?” Baxter asked, laughing uncontrollably.
Peterman dipped down into her bowl for another bite of oatmeal, still laughing. She was so busy laughing, she didn’t notice the razor-sharp, triangle-shaped blades that emerged slowly from her bowl and began spinning like a buzz saw.
“Do you hear something?” Baxter asked, wiping his eyes as he tried to stop laughing.
“It sounds like–” Peterman looked down. “Oh, f***.”
Baxter watched as both his and Peterman’s bowls hovered above the table, their razorblades spinning menacingly.
“Duck, baby!” Baxter cried, leaping across the table and knocking Peterman out of her chair.
Both bowls flew forward, embedding themselves in the wall with a grunt of metal on duranium.
Baxter looked up cautiously, to see that the bowls were working their way loose from the walls.
“Baxter to Security! Emergency in the Captain’s Mess!” Baxter cried, leaping out of the way of a bowl as it soared towards him.
“Be careful!” Peterman cried.
“We should have equipped the Captain’s mess with phasers,” Baxter said, crawling back under the table next to Peterman as a bowl flew by, shaving off a lock of his hair.
“Maybe we can make a run for the door.”
“Not unless you want a bowl in the back.”
“At least we’re safe under here,” Peterman said.
“Yeah, at least–” Baxter froze when he saw both bowls hover down below the lip of the table. They just sort of hung in the air, as if waiting for him to make a move. “The table!” Baxter cried, pushing the huge table up with all his might, flipping it over, with the help of Peterman.
With a crash of breaking fine Starfleet-emblem Pfaltzgraff china and a splintering of wood, the table smashed on top of the two bowls.
Baxter leaned against the bulkhead with a sigh, helping Peterman to her feet. “Well, that takes care of–”
Suddenly, with an awful sound of shredding wood, two disc-shaped metal objects with glinting red and green lights blinking around them rose out from under the wreckage of the table. The porcelain that had surrounded them was now gone.
“They’re some kind of robots!” Peterman cried.
“Well, they can dish it out, let’s see if they can take it!” Baxter said, hurling the pot of steaming oatmeal at the spinning discs.
The pot covered one of the discs, but it missed the other, which promptly flew straight at Baxter.
“Nobody wrecks my lacquered oak table and gets away with it!” Baxter cried, ripping his framed painting of the Explorer off the wall and slamming it into the disc, sending it reeling haphazardly through the room. “Get down! The thing’s gone haywire!” Baxter said as he clambered over Counselor Peterman.
The disc bounced around the room, finally righting itself and finding a target in Baxter’s upraised butt. The tiny robot set it’s targetting scanners carefully and prepared to engage its engines.
Just as the disc soared towards its intended target, J’hana and Gellar burst into the room.
“Shoot that thing!” Baxter cried.
“You mean the thing flying at your ass, sir?”
J’hana let loose a heavy barrage of phaser fire, knocking the little dic backwards. She quickly upped the setting and fired again, keeping the beam on it. Even under a constant barrage of phaser fire, the device still kept hovering there. “Gellar!” J’hana barked.
Lt. Gellar dutifully fired, adding his own phaser beam to the little disc. Finally, the disc short-circuited and exploded, tail-spinning to the ground with an electric sizzle.
Baxter peered up at J’hana. “Is it safe to get up?”
“Quite,” J’hana replied, picking up the charred remains of the little disc. “So, enjoying your breakfast?”
“No,” Baxter and Peterman said at the same time.
Gellar looked down at the upturned oatmeal pot quizzically. It sounded like something was bouncing around inside. “What’s in there?”
“You don’t want to know!” Baxter and Peterman replied.
“I guess you all know why I’ve called you here,” Baxter said, looking at the haggard faces of his senior staff as they took their places around the conference table. “We’ve got a serious problem on our hands. If we don’t find that killer soon, we’ll all starve to death.”
“I don’t know what else we can do,” Lt. Commander Richards said. “We tried shutting off the replicators. That didn’t work. We tried moving breakfast up to lunchtime, and that didn’t work. We scan everything we eat, so we just end up getting attacked by our flatware. What’s left for us to do?”
“Abandon ship?” Ford suggested.
“I think that’s a little premature,” Baxter replied. “Besides, what’s to say that the killer won’t follow us?”
“Why breakfast?” Browning asked. “No one has been attacked while trying to eat lunch or dinner.”
“Unless they tried to eat lunch and called it breakfast,” J’hana corrected, glaring at Baxter.
Baxter ignored J’hana and turned to Richards. “What did you find out about those flying robots that attacked Peterman and me?”
“We were able to capture the one that wasn’t destroyed and surround it with a forcefield,” Richards said, hitting a button beside his chair that activated the wall monitor. A cross-section image of one of the devices appeared, with several notations around it. “As you can see, it has highly complex positronic circuitry. It was programmed to seek out a humanoid target and destroy it at all costs.”
“Do we have an idea of who built it?”
Richards shrugged. “Most likely the Minos Korvans. They’re the only race with capabilities anywhere near this.”
“And they’ve also been dead for centuries,” said Conway. “Which means someone has ransacked that technology and is using it against us.”
J’hana growled from her place across from Conway. “This is an unacceptable situation. We must find this killer and paint the corridors with his bowels.”
Baxter glared at the smouldering Andorian, looking for any sign that J’hana’s mood was improving, but soon gave up. “Regard- less of who is using this technology, we have to stop them before they kill again, and so far nothing we’ve done has helped.”
“I think we’re running out of options,” Conway said. “There’s obviously someone who is seriously ticked at this crew, and they’re not going to stop until each one of us is dead.”
“Or driven totally mad,” Peterman added.
“Then I see only one option left,” Baxter said resolutely.
“And that is?” Conway asked.
“I’ll have to make another shipwide announcement.”
“All hands, this is your Captain again. I regret to inform you that we’ve made no progress in apprehending the so-called ‘Cereal Killer.’ However, you may be interested in knowing that Counselor Peterman and I were attacked today while attempting to enjoy a bowl of Mirk’s famous oatmeal. Don’t worry–neither of us were harmed, although my entire set of engraved Pfaltzgraff Federation China was destroyed. Due to the increased danger to this crew, I have been forced to order that no one aboard shall consume ANY kind of breakfast-type food or semi-breakfast-type food at ANY time. Consult Mr. Mirk for a specific list of ‘approved’ foods if you are not sure what this means. We still reccomend that you not eat between 0600 and 1300 hours, but if you do, for God’s sake, limit your choices to snackfood items such as cheese and crackers or lowfat potato chips.”
Conway shook his head as he and J’hana moved briskly through the corridor. “I don’t think the captain is helping matters.”
“I concur,” J’hana grunted. “The only way to prevent more deaths is to find the killer and disembowel him, as I said earlier.”
“Huh. That’s easier said than done.”
“It is simply a matter of facing the killer,” J’hana replied brusquely.
“What if he’s not aboard?”
“Don’t you see, he must be,” J’hana said, as she and Conway entered a turbolift. “He has adapted perfectly to each and every one of our plans. No one could have anticipated like that. There is someone aboard, adapting the attacks to suit his needs.”
“Okay, let’s say you’re right. Let’s say the killer is on this ship. How do we confront him?”
“Simple,” J’hana said, as the turbolift descended. “We are going to have breakfast.”
CARGO BAY TWELVE THURSDAY, STARDATE 52861 0800 HOURS
Commander Conway let out a low whistle as he entered the cargo bay. There was a large dinner table laid out with a huge feast of eggs, breads, fruits, and assorted juices. And…there was coffee. “Excellent work, J’hana,” Conway said in awe. “Everything looks great.”
J’hana nodded as she observed the table, arms folded. “It is adequate. Dr. Browning helped me plan the menu.”
“Do you really think the killer will fall for this?” Conway said.
“The way I see it, there are two options. The killer falls for this and we catch him, or the killer avoids this room like the plague and we at least have a safe place to eat.”
“Good point,” Conway said, looking up at the catwalk that encircled the bay. Security officers with phaser rifles were posted all around the bay, pointing their weapons down toward the center of the room. “Think you have enough firepower?”
“I hope this is enough,” J’hana said.
Conway couldn’t stop staring at the pot of coffee on the table. “Think the killer would mind if I have a cup of coffee before he tries to murder us?”
“You are welcomed to try,” J’hana said.
After scanning the steaming pot with his tricorder, Conway poured himself a cup of coffee, eagerly bringing it to his lips. He hadn’t had a cup of coffee since going to bed the previous evening, and for him, those six hours had been murder.
After carefully sipping at the steaming liquid, Conway brought the cup down and smiled. “Perfectly brewed. Delicious.”
“Glad you approve,” J’hana grunted, holstering her phaser and looking around anxiously. “We should begin.”
“You won’t get any complaints from me,” Conway said, taking a seat at the head of the table. “I trust everything has been scanned?”
“Affirmative,” J’hana said, stepping behind Conway’s chair. “And we have kept careful watch over the food through every step of the preparation. Nothing has been done to any of the food…or the flatware.”
“That’s what I wanted to hear,” Conway said, removing the cover from his platter. “Mmm. French toast and bacon. My favorite.”
“Stop talking and start eating,” J’hana ordered. “I am eager to catch this killer.”
“Fine,” Conway said. “I just want to savor this. It’s been days since I’ve had a decent breakfast.”
“Eat!” J’hana barked.
“Okay, okay!” Conway said, quickly shoving a piece of french toast into his mouth.
“Well?” J’hana asked, as Conway chewed.
“Hmmm. It could use a little cinnamon.”
J’hana tapped her foot anxiously as Conway scarfed down the breakfast. The tension in the room was palpable. If only something would happen to bring this horrible case to a close.
After five minutes of shoving and lipsmacking, Conway sat back, wiping a napkin over his mouth. “Delicious. Now all I need is the Federation News and another cup of coffee.” Conway gestured to the pot and the padd that lay on the other side of the table. “How about grabbing those for me, J’hana.”
J’hana slammed her fist down on the table. “No! I am not your waitress!”
“Fine, fine,” Conway said, scooting out of his chair with a sigh and moving over to the other side. “Sometimes you can be a real pain.”
Suddenly a loud hiss echoed throughout the cargo bay.
“What’s that?” Conway asked fearfully, looking up from his padd.
J’hana looked at the large door at the front of the bay in shock. “Everyone grab on to something solid!” she cried, as the door slowly began to rise.
Pieces of porcelain and cutlery flew out of the gradually widening opening as the bay depressurized.
Conway flung himself through the air, grabbing a ladder with one hand and reaching out for the coffee pot that hurtled past him. “NO! Not the coffee!”
“Lieutenant! Help!” one of the security officers cried, as she hurtled towards the opening and flew outside the ship.
J’hana held onto a support beam with all her might. “J’hana to bridge! Override the command protocols on the cargo bay door! Shut it now!”
“We’re trying. Someone has locked out bay door control!” Captain Baxter said over the loudspeakers. “You’ll have to get to the manual override!”
J’hana heaved in one last breath as the oxygen fled the room. Suddenly everyone went limp. With the last of her energy, J’hana pointed at Commander Conway, gesturing for the override lever that was behind him.
With great effort, Conway stumbled towards the override lever, throwing himself down on it. The lever sank mercifully, closing the bay off from the space outside.
That done, J’hana stamped her hand on the panel next to her, repressurizing the bay’s atmosphere.
“You guys okay down there?” came Baxter’s concerned voice.
“We’ll live,” Conway muttered. “Any luck finding out who did that?”
“Richards is tracing the engineering logs right now.”
“Well, we foiled them, didn’t we?” Conway rasped from the deck, looking up at J’hana.
J’hana leaned forward, resting her hands on her knees. “This is quite annoying.”
“You’re telling me.”
“Richards to J’hana. We just detected an unauthorized presence in the ODN junction on deck fourteen, section seven.”
J’hana nodded, pointing to three of her security guards. “We’re on our way.”
“What should I do?” Conway asked, falling back into a chair, looking at the remains of the wonderful breakfast J’hana had set up.
“Finish your breakfast,” J’hana said, hurrying out of the bay with her officers on her heels. One tossed her a phaser rifle and she grabbed it with vigor. “Gellar, Ramirez, O’Donnel, Lockhart. With me. Saral, you stay here and guard the food.”
J’hana slid halfway down the ladder and jumped the rest of the way down to the compartment located below Deck Fourteen where the ODN junction was located. “Come on, you slow fharbats! Hurry!” she commanded to her officers, withdrawing her phaser and setting it to maxium stun.
Lt. Gellar examined his security tricorder. “There was someone in here less than four minutes ago. A human male.”
“Which way?” J’hana barked.
Gellar pointed. “He went that way, into the Jeffries’ tube junction.”
“Flarzzz,” J’hana grunted. “Come on!”
The Andorian and her officers slid through meters and meters of interconnecting tunnels, following the mazelike path of their prey.
J’hana stopped in one of the connecting chambers, trying to catch her breath. “I have the feeling we are being led on a wild goose chase.”
“Ya think?” Gellar asked.
“Come on, we’ll lose the scent soon,” J’hana gasped, pushing on through the tubes.
“Define ‘blip,’ Tilleran,” Baxter said urgently, leaning over the science console.
“Just that. A ‘blip,’ then nothing,” Tilleran replied, running her hands over her panel quickly.
“Are you saying there’s another ship out there?”
“If there is, it’s very carefully hid,” Tilleran said.
“Well, if there is a ship out there I want you to find it,” Baxter said. “It may be the key to this mystery.”
“Very likely, sir.”
Baxter moved back to his command chair and plopped down with a sigh. “I hate this waiting. I wish J’hana would report in already.”
“She’ll report in when she finds something,” Tilleran said. “I wouldn’t worry about her if I were you. I’d worry about the killer. When she gets her hands on him, he’ll be–”
Baxter suppressed a giggle. “Toast.”
Conway hummed an old Aerosmith tune as he munched on a toothpick, reading about questions involving Jaresh-Inyo and a Starfleet ensign in the Federation news. “Boy, that was a delicous breakfast.”
“Indeed, sir,” Saral replied, holding her phaser rifle at the ready as she watched Conway eat.
“Sure you don’t want some?” Conway asked. “There are plenty of leftovers.”
“Very sure, Commander. Vulcans find human cuisine… distasteful.”
“Your loss.” Conway looked up from his padd. “Do you hear something?” It was like the soft patter of tiptoes on the deck.
Saral turned around, swinging her rifle around in a wide arc. “Uncertain. Stand by.”
Conway moved his toothpick to the other side of his mouth. “I’m sure it’s nothing, Saral.”
“To quote an old Vulcan proverb, it is better to be safe than sorry,” Saral remarked, holding her rifle at the ready.
Conley continued to read the news as Saral stealthily crept behind a cargo container.
He giggled at the latest Peanuts cartoon. Thank goodness Charles Shultz had his brain copied into a posi- tronic database shortly before his demise, on his 142nd birthday. The galaxy would not have withstood the loss of such a great mind.
“Ha ha,” Conway laughed. “Don’t you get it, Charlie Brown? Lucy pulls the football away before you can kick it!”
Then Saral screamed. It was an unsteady sound, since Vulcans normally don’t scream, and it was drowned out by the blaring of phaser fire from behind the cargo container.
“Saral?” Conway asked, raising an eyebrow. Then a figure stepped out from behind the container and he gasped. “You?”
J’hana let out a fierce battle cry as she lept out of the Jeffries tube and into the ODN junction, landing on the deck in a battle crouch, muscles tensed, ready for combat.
Phaser rifle slung behind her back, she scanned the room, teeth bared menacingly. “Come out, you fwarz-sharsher, and feel my wrath. It is your time!”
Gellar poked his head out of the Jeffries tube. “Anything?”
J’hana grunted. “Negative.” Her antennae twitched. “One moment. Footsteps. That way!” She pointed toward another tube on the opposite side of the room. “Come on, hurry!”
Gellar looked down at the floor as he scrambled across to follow J’hana. “J’hana, there are crumbs all over the place!”
The Andorian looked down at the floor of the tube as she scrambled through. Sure enough, tiny bread particles were leading her right to the culprit. She grabbed one and sniffed it. “I am not familiar with this smell.”
“I think it’s danish!” Gellar said from behind her.
“Danish,” J’hana grunted. “A worthy prey.”
Conway backed out of his chair and backpedaled toward the rear of the cargo bay. “Why are you doing this?”
“For the fun of it,” replied the murderer.
Conley grimaced. “I’d have expected it from anyone but you. And what the hell is that thing?” The shadow of the huge murder weapon hovered over Conway.
“It’s part of any complete breakfast.”
“Oh, no. Now, you just keep your distance,” Conway warned.
“What? Scared, commander?”
“Did you enjoy your coffee?”
“Uh…it was great.”
“Excellent. It will be your last.”
Conway grimaced at his assailant. “No, no it won’t.”
“No,” Conway said bravely. “For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky. THERE IS COFFEE IN HEAVEN!”
“Maybe. You’re about to find out!” And the assasin lept at Conway.
J’hana spilled out of the tube exit and found herself in the one of Explorer’s corridors, smack dab in the middle of section twelve, if she remembered her map of the ship.
A grey uniform rounded the corner–someone running away. “Hurry!” J’hana cried, urging her squad onward. “J’hana to bridge. The chase is on!”
She ran full speed down the corridor to find the turbolift door closing at the end. There was her prey. She lept for the door, yanking it open and stumbling through as the turbolift began its ascent. Just in the nick of time she reached up with both hands and grabbed hold of a loop of metal at the bottom of the lift and it carried her upward, speed increasing exponentially. She heard Gellar’s voice from decks below.
“J’hana, what the hell are you doing?”
“Catching the killer!” she exclaimed, holding on with one straining hand and leveling her phaser rifle upward, nudging the power controls with her nose. The level went up to the first metal-rending setting and she blasted a hole in the bottom of the turbolift.
Someone inside the lift screamed and she pulled herself agonizlingly through the still hot metal.
“Ford!” she cried as the lift came to a stop and the doors wheezed open. Lt. Ford scrambled out and she lept after him, tackling him to the deck, both hands wrapped around his neck and choking the life out of him.
Baxter turned in his command chair. “J’hana?”
“I didn’t do it!” Ford choked out. “I swear! I was just in the Jeffries tube enjoying a danish! I swear it wasn’t me!”
Peterman hurried over to Ford, pulling him away from J’hana, who sunk uselessly to the deck, wrapping her arms around him. “It’s okay, Zachary, it’s okay.”
“I just wanted a danish,” Ford mumbled. “Just a danish.”
“If Ford didn’t do it,” Baxter said, rising up and helping J’hana to her feet. “Then who the hell did?”
“Conway to bridge,” came the bleep over the comm. “I just found the killer. Mind coming down to the cargo bay for just a bit?”
J’hana grimaced. “It figures.”
Baxter, J’hana, Ford, Peterman, Tilleran, and Richards looked on as Browning worked on Ensign Saral and as the inert form of Chief Bartender Elli layed sprawled out on the cargo bay deck.
“I just want to know why…” Baxter said, rubbing his chin. “Why such a promising young serviceperson would do something like this.”
“That’s what I was wondering, too,” Conway said, “until he explained it all to me.”
“Care to fill us in?” J’hana asked pointedly.
Conway looked down at the unconcous Bolian. “Apparently, some Ferengi offered him a pile of latinum to sabotage our breakfasttimes.”
“Ferengi?” asked Peterman. “What did they stand to gain from that?”
“What else to Ferengi want?” Conway asked, kneeling down and pulling the comm badge off Elli’s chest. “Latinum.”
“So they provided the black-market technology and Elli provided them with a way in,” Richards mused.
“Yep,” said Conway. “I suspect you’ll find a ship hiding just at the edge of our sensor range.”
“The blip!” Tilleran exclaimed.
“The blip,” Baxter repeated. “Of course. I still don’t see why they’d do all these horrible things.”
“Ever heard of ‘Hungry Hu-Mon?’”
“It’s a Ferengi manufacturing company that makes fresh breakfasts kept in tiny little stasis containers, ready made for humans and other breakfast-eating humanoids to eat. The only problem is, what with the popularity of replicators, they would never normally stand a chance.”
“But the Ferengi figured that if they made us doubt the safety of our replicators, we’d be less likely to rely so much on them,” Peterman surmised.
“Enter the Ferengi.”
“Bingo,” Conway said. “But when we abandoned replicators, Elli never signaled the Ferengi that it was time to come in and pitch their product to us. In the end, he got a little carried away with the murdering. Turns out there was a little serial killer inside him just waiting to come out. It just needed to be properly nourished.”
“Aww,” said Peterman.
“J’hana,” Baxter ordered. “You and Tilleran get up to the bridge and find that Ferengi ship. They’ve got a lot of questions to answer.”
“Aye, sir,” J’hana said, looking to Tilleran. And the two left the cargo bay.
“Gellar,” Baxter added, “you and the others pick up this lousy excuse for a bartender and take him to the brig. I have a feeling he’s not going to be mixing any drinks where he’s going.”
“Aye, sir,” said Gellar.
“Saral will need a few new organs, but other than that she’s in tip top shape,” Dr. Browning said, as nurses wheeled Saral out on a hoverbed.
“Super,” Baxter said. He, Conway, Richards, and Peterman followed Browning out into the corridor.
“Well, that settles that,” Peterman said. “Who’s telling Mirk?”
“Not me. You can do it,” Baxter said. “Mirk loved that little Bolian.”
“Amazing that he’d sink so low. And with such model crewpersons all aroudn him,” Conway said, shaking his head.
“Was that sarcasm, Commander?”
“I believe so, sir.”
Supplemental. We’re on our way to a penal colony to drop of Mr. Elli and the crew of Ferengi breakfastmakers. The Federation will have to work out their extradition, but I have the feeling “Hungry Hu-Mon” is bound for disaster. I’m proud to say Mirk’s cafe is back up and running and so are the replicators. Nothing like a nice meal to round out an intense murder investigation.
J’hana watched Conway eat with disgust. “Enjoying your lunch, Commander?”
“You bet. Stopping a serial killer gives you a hell of an appetite.”
“You never did tell us how you stopped him,” J’hana remarked.
Conway eased back in his chair and wiped the gravy from his mouth. Smothered Tarkalian razorbeast and rice. What a meal. “Well, he came at me with a huge Bajoran pineapple.”
“Of course. Fruit is part of any complete breakfast.”
“Anyway, I ducked slammed him forward into the breakfast table, smashing his face right into a hot bowl of Gorn grits.”
“Green and cheesey,” J’hana agreed. “Good choice.”
“That done, I slammed my coffee urn repeatedly into his head until he lost conciousness.”
“Artful and provacative. You should be quite proud.”
“I’m just glad we don’t have to worry about eating anymore.”
“Don’t be so sure.”
“What do you mean?”
J’hana shrugged. “Mealtimes are replete with danger. Even if you don’t have a serial killer working against you, there are still many horrible ways one might die.”
Conway nodded, then suddenly his face twisted up in alarm. He pointed at his throat. Must be a Tarkalian hoof.
“Yes, choking is an excellent example.” J’hana stood to leave. “Well, I have an incident report to write. Good evening, Commander.”
“Rrghghgghghrrr!” Conway grumbled, wheezing to get the bone up.
“You don’t have to go into a whole dramatization, Commander. I already agreed with you. At any rate, have a pleasant meal.”
Conway grimaced and ripped at his throat as J’hana left. “Grghghghghgghhgr!”
“Agreed, Commander. And might I say your Andorian is improving.”
When Q’s wife gets ticked at the men of the Explorer for their insensitivity, she decides to give them the ultimate lesson in what it’s like to be a woman. Look out, everyone, for Baxter and the others are about to go really go where no MAN has gone before in “Quid Pro Q!”