Author: Anthony Butler
Stardate 52915.3. While doing a routine evaluation of several systems in sector 29940, we recieved a distress call from an unfamiliar world, and in the interest of good PR, we’ve decided to check it out.
“Baxter to Richards.”
“Baxter to Richards.”
“Commander, it’s Andy! Are you awake down there or am I going to have to come down and get you up myself?”
Lt. Commander Richards poked his head out from under the covers groggily, peering at the chronometer on his wall. “Captain, it’s barely a quarter after seven!”
“That may be, Chris, but we have a situation up here that requires your attention.”
“Fine, fine. I’ll be up in a minute,” Richards mumbled, swinging his legs around, searching the floor out in the darkness. He was finally able to find the floor with his feet and push himself out of bed.
“What’s the problem?” Dr. Browning mumbled tiredly from under the covers.
“How should I know?” Richards asked. “Probably some problem with the ship, or with some other ship, or something like that. It’s always the same complaints around here.”
“You wouldn’t have it any other way.” Richards could tell Browning was smiling under the covers.
“Well, maybe not. But still, it’s annoying when I don’t get my full seven hours of beauty sleep.”
“Well, as soon as you’re done, come back down here. The wedding is in less than a month, and we still have a lot of planning to do.”
Richards shrugged his uniform jacket on while hitching up his pants, plopping down onto the bed to pull his boots on. “Speaking of planning, did you give our conversation last night any consideration?”
“Yes, and I can tell you I think it’s a bit scary.”
“Come on, hon, you know how the rhyme goes. First comes love, then comes marraige, then–”
”–comes Janice in a lot of pain,” Browning said. “Listen, I’ve delivered my share of babies. It isn’t exactly a walk in the park.”
“I’m not saying it isn’t, I’m just saying–”
“Chris, we’re not even married yet. Let’s wait until after the honeymoon, then we’ll give it some serious thought.” Browning sat up in bed and took Richards’s hands in hers. “I’m not saying I don’t want it to happen. I’m just saying that I want to make sure I’m ready to take that step before I take it.”
“Boy, you sure sound different than a few months ago. You used to love talking about us having kids.”
“Well, I guess the reality of it is starting to set in. It’s scary to think of it actually happening.”
“Well, I think the pain and hardship will be worth it in the end.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You don’t have to carry the baby for nine months.”
Richards pushed off of the bed and grabbed his comm badge. “Men and women have had this arguement since the dawn of man. Personally, I think it’s blown way out of proportion.”
“You do, do you?”
“Uh-huh. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be tough, but I’d do it if I could.”
“Hmmm,” Browning said with a grin. “I sure wish you could put your money where your mouth is.”
“Don’t count on it,” Richards said as he headed out the door.
Richards hurried out onto the bridge, greeted by the sight of the entire bridge crew watching the still starscape on the viewscreen. “Okay, guys, what’s the big emergency?”
“Keep your eye on the screen,” Baxter said. He was standing in front of the bridge, with his arms folded, staring at the viewscreen with dissatisfaction. “How much longer, Tilleran?”
“In five seconds.”
Richards joined Baxter and Conway at the front of the bridge and watched the viewscreen. Seconds later, a brown blur flew by on the screen, causing the Explorer to rock gently.
“What the hell was that?” Richards asked.
“That,” Conway said from behind Richards, coffee cup in hand, “is Falstonan Three.”
“Don’t just sit there, Mr. Ford,” Baxter ordered, placing his hand on Ford’s chair. “Follow that planet.”
“What the hell happened?” Richards asked.
“That’s what we’ve been trying to figure out,” Baxter said. On the viewscreen, the planet loomed closer and closer. “Somehow the planet was shaken free of its orbit.”
Tilleran put a graphic on the screen, illustrating the curvy, erratic path that the planet was taking around the system. “This is the planet’s new orbit, if you can even call that an orbit.”
“We’ve increased speed to intercept sir,” Ford said.
“This doesn’t look like a natural phenomenon,” Richards said, watching the planet buck and weave on the viewscreen.
“Stay on it, Mr. Ford,” Baxter ordered.
“Aye, sir. I’m doing my best.”
Baxter turned to Richards. “What’s the possibility of locking a tractor beam on that thing?”
“Not very good,” Richards said, running back to the engineering console and starting calculations. “We can barely move small moons with the setup we have now.”
“Then what can we do for them?” Baxter asked.
Richards shrugged. “Evacuate the planet?”
“I doubt we have the bunkspace for four point seven billion people,” Conway muttered.
“We may have to double up,” Baxter sighed.
“We are being hailed by the planet’s Chief Administrator,” J’hana announced from tactical.
“Put him onscreen,” Baxter said, taking a deep breath.
The Chief Administrator of Falstonan Three appeared on the screen. He was gripping onto his desk as if he was on a rollercoaster ride. Behind him, through a large bay window, Baxter could see trees, vehicles, and people flying by as winds and earthquakes ripped through the planet. “Thank goodness someone responded to our distress call. I don’t recognize your species. Who are you?”
“I’m Captain Andy Baxter of the United Federation of Planets,” Baxter replied. “Sir, we’re doing everything we can for you, but I have to be honest, it doesn’t look like your people have many options.”
“Oh, don’t I know it.”
“Do you have any idea how this happened?” Conway asked.
“None. One minute we were going about our daily business, the next moment, the chaos you see now. Odd, is it not?”
“Incredibly,” Baxter said. “We’ll keep working up here, and let you know as soon as we come up with something.”
“Many thanks, Captain. At any rate, we all appreciate you taking the effort.”
“Don’t mention it,” Baxter said, as the Chief Administrator disappeared. “Lt. Commander Larkin, what are the nearest Federation starships?”
Larkin examined her panel. “The Hoboken and the Metternich are on a terraforming mission in the Versaad system, approximately four days from here at high warp.”
“That won’t cut it,” Tilleran said. “That planet will lose its orbit altogether and fly out of the system in less than an hour.”
“Mr. Richards, we need to find a way to get that planet back to its regular orbit and fast,” Baxter ordered.
“I’m not a miracle worker, sir,” Richards replied. “We just can’t change the laws of physics.”
“I don’t want cliches, Mister!” Baxter barked. “I want answers!”
Richards shook his head. “Sorry, Captain. There’s just nothing we can do to save them.”
“Good God,” Baxter said sadly, falling back into his command chair.
“This is he. What do you want?” a voice said, from seemingly out of nowhere.
“Who the hell was that?” Conway asked, sitting down next to Baxter.
“I don’t know, but the voice sounded painfully familiar,” Baxter said.
“I distinctly remember hearing you say the word ‘god,’” the voice replied. “And I’m the closest thing in this sector.”
“Who am I speaking to?” Baxter asked angrily.
“See if you can guess my name,” the voice said, as a man in a red-collared Starfleet uniform appeared on the bridge. “It begins with the letter ‘Q.’”
Baxter covered his face. “Q.”
“The one and only!” Q said, smiling broadly. “You know, when I first saw your ship I thought it was the good old Enterprise herself.”
“The good old Enterprise crashed,” Baxter said. “They have a new one now.”
“And an ugly thing that new ship is, too,” Q muttered. “I suppose I can settle for you guys instead. Did you have a nice trip back to the Alpha Quadrant?”
“It was a bumpy ride,” Baxter said. “Now would you mind fixing that planet’s f***ing orbit so we can get back to our duties?”
“I see Jean-luc isn’t the only one that lost a starship,” Q said, circling the bridge and studying it with interest. “But I must say, this is a definite improvement over the last ship. Reminds me of the old Enterprise in many ways.”
“Cut the chit-chat, Q,” Richards said. “Put that planet back where you found it.”
“Oh, you humans are never any fun at all,” Q said, snapping his fingers. “There, it’s fixed. Now then,” Q sat down next to Baxter and crossed his legs. “Can we talk?”
“I don’t want to talk to you,” Baxter said. “Why don’t you take a long walk off a short galactic rim?”
“You wound me, Andy, you really do,” Q said woefully. “I thought we were friends.”
“Friends?!” Baxter said. “You played us like a fiddle from hell the last time we met! You made us act out one of your contrived scenarios for your benefit! You involved us in ridiculous murder investigation and an only midly amusing courtroom charade! You killed one of my crewmembers and brought him back to life!”
“It was all in fun,” Q said. He looked over at Larkin. “And Lt. Commander Larkin had a wonderful experience.”
“It is never fun being manipulated, Q,” Larkin said sternly.
“It has been a while since I’ve dealt with humans,” Q said tiredly. “I almost forgot how pedantic you all are. And yet I love you anyway.”
“The feeling is not mutual,” J’hana grumbled.
Q ignored J’hana and turned to Baxter. “It’s actually fortuitous that we met this way. I hadn’t even intended on attracting Starfleet, but I suppose I should have expected you. After all,” Q stood up and gestured broadly, “whenever there’s a wrong to be righted, whenever there’s a foe to be fighted, whenever there’s a problem to be solveded, the boys in red, mustard, blue, and black, will be there.”
“What’s your point, Q?” Baxter asked.
“Speaking of uniforms,” Q said, fingering the fabric on his tunic, “these new ones are terribly stuffy. How do you breathe in them?”
“We manage,” Baxter said, annoyed.
“Maybe you could all do with something much more comfortable,” Q said, snapping his fingers and replacing the uniforms of everyone on the bridge with colorful Hawaiian shirts that were plastered with pictures of different types of fruit. He topped off the ensemble with Bermuda shorts and sandals. “There, much better. Maybe now you all won’t be so uptight.”
“Q, stop messing with our clothes!” Baxter said. “There are some places you just shouldn’t…” Baxter’s expression suddenly changed. “Oh, no.”
“Sir!” Conway cried out. “I feel free…unencumbered…there’s this…sense of peace all about me!”
“Ignore those feelings, Commander! We’re all committing major dress code violations!” Baxter cried.
Richards floundered at his station as he tried to step out from behind it. “I don’t have any traction, Captain!”
“What’s the fuss all about?” Tilleran asked innocently.
Baxter swaggered over to the science console, looking as if he had to learn how to walk all over again. “Lieutenant, do you notice a certain lack of…well, of undergarments?”
“Hmmm,” Tilleran said, wiggling around in her chair. “Come to think of it…hey, this isn’t so bad.”
J’hana folded her arms and glowered at Q. “I notice no difference.”
“Q, give us our underwear back!” Baxter shouted.
Q seemed hurt. “Oh, if you insist.” And with a wave of his hand, everyone was dressed as they were before.
“Boy,” Conway said, shaking his head. “For a minute there, I didn’t feel crabby. I was actually pleased for the first time in my life.”
“Find your happiness somewhere else,” Baxter said. “Starfleet has no room for someone who insists on…going commando.” That said, Baxter turned to Q. “Now, why were you messing around with that planet?”
Q looked away from Baxter and began circling the bridge again. “I needed to think. And I think best when I’m doing something, like playing around with a planet’s orbit.”
“What did you need to think about?” Tilleran asked.
“Many things,” Q said, frowning and looking at the floor as he walked around the bridge.
“What’s the matter,” J’hana said with a deep chortle, “are you having problems with your mate?”
“How did you know?” Q said, stopping at the tactical station and embracing J’hana warmly. “It warms my heart to have an understanding shoulder to cry on.”
“Let…me…go,” J’hana said slowly.
“But you seem to have such a keen…grasp on my problem!” Q said.
“If you do not let go, I will have a keen grasp on your omnipotent crotch!” J’hana barked.
“You’re having problems with your…” Richards tried to find the right word. “Significant…Q?”
“Exactly,” Q said. “Perhaps our species aren’t so different.” Q let out a huge belly laugh that lasted nearly a minute. “Oh, laughter is the best medicine. I really do amuse myself sometimes.”
“Get…AWAY!” J’hana said, hurling Q over the tactical console.
Q looked up at J’hana from his place on the deck angrily. “That was uncalled for, madam.”
“I have no patience for egocentric omnipotent beings who like to spend their time mucking around with other cultures,” J’hana grumbled.
“That’s what she keeps saying. She says I have no…drive. Not like the other Q, no! Look at all that Q accomplished! And Q, well, let’s not even talk about Q. And it goes without saying what a mark Q has made on the universe. But me? Well, what have I got to show for myself?”
“This is very confusing,” Richards said. “How can you keep track of a species who are all named Q?”
“It isn’t that hard once you get the hang of it,” Q said simply.
“We aren’t marraige counselors,” Baxter said, trying to get control of the situation. “If you’re having problems with your…Q, then you’ll have to find someone else to solve them.”
“But can’t you see, there’s no one else!” Q said, kneeling before Baxter in supplication. “All the other Q think I’m a fool. They think I’m a poor husband and a poor father.”
“You’re a father?” Richards asked in amazement.
“Yes, of a bouncing baby Q,” Q said proudly.
“I feel sorry for that kid,” Conway said with a laugh.
“I didn’t ask for your opinion!” Q growled. “Now listen, I need you all to help me out before she finds me. It won’t be long now.”
“Sorry, Q,” Baxter said. “We’re not helping you.”
“Well, I can’t be responsible for the consequences,” Q said, standing up.
“You wouldn’t hurt that planet…” Richards said in disbelief.
“I just might…” Q said, moving out in front of Baxter and Conway. The brown ball of Falstonan Three appeared there and he began to grasp it like a baseball. With a flash, he was wearing an old-style baseball outfit and a baseball cap, with the letter “Q” stenciled on the front. “Batter up!” Q said, through the large pinch of chewing tobacco in his cheek.
“Q, stop this insanity!” Baxter said,
Before Baxter could stop him, Q hurled the planet through the air, right towards the viewscreen. A delicate hand reached out from the viewscreen and caught it.
The hand moved forward, revealing the attractive woman with dark, red, curly hair that was attached to it. “Enough, Q!”
“Q!” Q said, looking like a child that had been very bad. “What are you doing here?”
The female Q smiled, peering at the planet she held in her hand. “Keeping you out of trouble. What were you going to do, wipe out another species?”
Q’s wife clucked her tongue. “Q, Q, Q. What am I going to do with you?”
Q ran next to Baxter’s chair for protection. “Make her go away, Captain!”
“I want you both to go away,” Baxter muttered. “After returning that planet to its rightful size and orbit.”
“Of course,” the female Q said, nodding her head briskly. The planet disappeared from her hand and reappeared on the viewscreen, directly ahead of the Explorer.
“You always mess with my stuff!” Q said, looking over Baxter’s shoulder as he stood up and approached Q’s wife.
Baxter turned to face Q. “Falstonan Three is not your ‘stuff!’”
“I wouldn’t have to mess with your stuff if you’d stop playing such silly games!” the female Q replied, as if Baxter wasn’t even there.
“I’ll do whatever I want,” Q said, folding his arms.
“Not as long as I’m around. And what about poor little Q? What kind of role model are you?”
“An excellent role model,” Q said, moving behind Baxter again and peeking around him. “He couldn’t hope for a better parent.”
Baxter tried to grab the attention of the omnipotent beings as they argued. “Well, then, it seems you two have a lot to talk about. If you don’t mind us, we’ll just go along on our merry way.”
“You don’t know what I go through,” Q’s wife said, chasing Q out from behind Baxter and around the bridge. “I’m the one that does all the work and you go off mettling in other cultures’ affairs. When do I get to rest for awhile and let YOU take care of little Q?”
Q dove behind Richards. “Never! That’s your job. I’m not expected to do all that…menial work.”
“Men!” the female Q ranted, kicking Q out from underneath Richards’s console.
“We’re not all that bad,” Richards quietly.
“Yes, listen to him!” Q said, putting an arm around Richards’s shoulder. “Back me up, brother!”
“I was just saying that maybe you’re being a little hard on–”
“Oh, you men always stick together don’t you?” the female Q said angrily. “Isn’t that fine. What do you have to say in Q’s defense, little human?”
“Hey, you don’t have any right to get all snippy with me,” Richards said. “I didn’t do anything to tick you off.”
“You were born,” Q’s wife snarled. “That’s enough.” She grabbed Q by his collar and dragged him back towards the center of the bridge. “You are all just as bad as Q here. You think being a female is easy. You think you can sit back and watch while we do all the work. Well, buddies, you have another thing coming!”
Baxter watched the woman nervously and tried to get up the courage to speak. “Listen…ma’am…I sympathize. I know how annoying Q can be. Everyone who’s ever met him knows. But that’s no reason to go slamming all men. Some of us are sensitive, loving, good-natured…”
“Oh, don’t give me that sensitive, loving, good-natured crap!” the female Q railed. “That’s just a cover.”
“Is not,” Baxter said defensively.
“See what I go through?” Q said, trying to wriggle out of his mate’s grasp. “Wouldn’t you want to get away from her if she was your ‘wife’?”
“I sure would,” Conway muttered.
“Don’t piss her off!” Baxter barked at Conway through clenched teeth.
“I agree with the Commander,” Richards said. “Relationships are based on love, not intimidation.”
“What would you know about relationships?” the female Q seethed.
“I’m going to be married in less than a month,” Richards said proudly.
“Get out while you still can!” Q pleaded.
“And I suppose you want kids?” the female Q asked.
“You want that poor female you are engaged to to labor for thirty-six hours just so you can have a little rugrat to bounce on your knee once a day while she does all the work!” the female Q ranted.
“Hey, I fully intend to take my share of the responsibility,” Richards replied.
“Then you’ll carry the child for four and a half months?” Q’s wife asked with interest.
“Why would I do that?”
“PIG!” Q’s wife said bitterly. “Come on, Q. We’re going home to leave these poor females to deal with their males.”
“Hey, wait a minute,” Conway said, waving his finger at the female Q. “You can’t just pop in, badmouth the whole male gender, then pop out!”
Q’s wife smiled. “You’re right, Commander.” She nodded her head emphatically, causing the entire bridge to be bathed in a brief flash of white light. “That’ll give you all something to think about.”
“Very sorry about all this,” Q said. “I was kind of starting to like hanging out with you guys.”
“Say goodbye to your friends,” Q’s wife growled.
“Bye-bye,” Q said sadly. With that, both of them disappeared in a flash.
Baxter fell back into his chair, rubbing his stomach. “Oooh. I feel all weird.”
“Me too,” Conway said from his seat next to Baxter. “I wonder what that last part was all about.”
“I don’t know, but I think I’m going to go lie down,” Richards said, heading for the turbolift.
Lt. Commander Larkin looked around at the bridge crew quizzically. “Perhaps this is a side-effect of what the female Q did before she left.”
“I feel fine,” Tilleran said.
“So do I,” J’hana added.
“I feel like I ate a phaser that was set on overload,” Ford muttered.
“Well, whatever it is must have only affected the males,” Baxter surmised.
“Maybe she just gave us a bad case of indigestion,” Conway said hopefully.
Counselor Peterman stretched and yawned as she walked into the bathroom to wash her face and get ready to begin the day. After scrubbing for a few moments, she was alerted to the distinct sound of retching.
“Andy?” Peterman asked, turning. Captain Baxter was cradling the toilet bowl as if it were a lover, gagging and groaning.
Baxter looked up briefly. “Morning.” That said, he returned his head to the bowl. “Blaacchhhhhhhhh!”
Peterman kneeled down and put her arms around the Captain. “What’s wrong with you?”
Baxter shook his head as he retched. “If I had to make an educated diagnosis, I’d have to say that I’m puking.”
“Something you ate?”
“I just woke up. I haven’t eaten anything today.”
“What about last night?”
“Just the usual midnight snack of pizza and grapefruits.”
Peterman looked on with disdain as Baxter vomited. “I knew that awful diet would catch up to you sooner or later. You’re ruining your whole digestive system.”
“Shut up. Blaaaaaaaacccccchchhhh!”
Peterman frowned. “Maybe you should go see Dr. Browning before you go on duty.”
“No time,” Baxter said, trying to catch his breath before the next dry heave hit. “I’m supposed to meet with the Falstonan president to discuss diplomatic relations in fifteen minutes. Blaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaachcchchchch!”
“Andy, this isn’t natural. There must be something wrong if you’re sick like this.”
“It’s probably the Qs’ fault.”
“Wish I had been able to talk to them,” Peterman said. “I may have been able to sort out their marital problems. The female Q sounded like a reasonable individual.”
“You didn’t see her. She was quite unreasonable. Blaaaaacchhhh!”
Peterman sighed as she stood up. “Well, I have to get work. Just promise me that you’ll go to Dr. Browning if that gets any worse.”
Baxter heaved again. “Kelly, if this gets any worse I’ll turn inside out.”
“Now there’s an attractive thought.”
Lieutenant Commander Richards trotted into the Constellation Cafe, quickly taking a seat in the booth across from Dr. Browning. “Can I get a menu, Mirk?” he said briskly.
“You’re fifteen minutes late,” Browning said, as Richards zealously looked over the menu. “I’ve been waiting to eat since breakfast.”
“I was feeling a little…ill,” Richards said, looking up as Mirk loomed over him expectantly. “I’ll have four buttermilk pancakes, a large porterhouse steak, two whole tomatoes–dripping in ranch dressing, a half pound of lox, and two links of Tellarite sausage.”
“Is that all?” Mirk asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Oh, how silly, I’d also like a quart of raspberry ice cream topped with button mushrooms.”
“And for the lady?” Mirk turned.
“Goodness,” Browning said, looking at Richards askance. “How do I top that?”
“A barrel of antacid?” Mirk suggested.
“I’ll just have the chicken and Denebian dumplings,” Browning said.
“Very good,” Mirk said, grabbing both menus and scuttling off towards the bar.
“Hungry?” Browning asked as Richards eagerly placed his napkin across his lap.
“I’ve had a difficult morning,” Richards said, glancing over at the bar and watching impatiently as Mirk worked the replicator. “I was climbing up Jeffries’ tube seven, trying to repair a damaged ODN junction, when suddenly the energy just seemed to drain out of me and I had to stop at Deck Twenty-four to catch my breath.”
“We all get older, Christopher,” Browning said.
“But I’m only thirty years old,” Richards protested. “Mirk! Where’s that food?”
“I’m replicating as fast as I can!” Mirk called out.
“Maybe you have a vitamin deficiency,” Browning suggested. “I can check you out after lunch if you’d like.”
“Nah,” Richards said, hungrily grabbing at the plates as Mirk placed them on the table. “I’ll feel better after a nice, big meal.”
Browning watched Richards hungrily devour his meal in amusement. “Well, it seems like you have plenty of energy now.”
“Mmmf hrrmm,” Richards replied through a mouthful of food.
Mirk shook his head in disbelief as he returned to the bar with an empty tray. “I’ve never seen Mr. Richards eat like that. Dr. Browning, maybe, but Richards?”
“Yes, it certainly is odd,” Amara said, taking the tray and placing another order on it. “As a matter of fact, we’ve had several strange food orders today.”
Mirk rubbed the back of his neck irritatedly. “It’s been a weird day all around.”
“What’s wrong with your neck?” Amara asked.
“I don’t know,” Mirk said. “I’ve got this…bump…there that’s bugging the heck out of me.”
“Here, let me see,” Amara said, standing on her toes and examining Mirk’s neck. “Hmmm. Looks like a big pimple.”
“Man, I hate puberty. You’d think I’d be finished with it by now.”
Stardate 52918.6. After two days of extensive diplomatic talks, I’ve begun to grow very tired of Falstonan Three. The people there are nice enough, but the planet smells awful, they keep making me tour the capital city, my feet hurt, my stomach is constantly aching, and I’ve got these aggrivating dizzy spells that are driving me nuts.
Lt. J’hana turned at her position at the center of the bridge, vigilantly watching the viewscreen, to look at Commander Richards. He was working feverishly at the engineering controls. “Something bothering you, Commander?”
“No!” Richards snapped. “I’m just doing my daily diagnostic on the shields and sensors. Does there have to be something wrong? Do I have to be amiable? Do I have to chat about the weather and comment on your hairstyle?’
“Certainly not, but it has been my observation that humans never refrain from engaging in smalltalk unless they are troubled.”
“I am not troubled!” Richards said. “Just leave me alone!”
“Very Andorian of you, Commander, but nevertheless it is disturbing.”
“Shut up and go about your business,” Richards grumbled back.
J’hana rounded the command area and climbed up to the raised area at the back of the bridge, peering over Richards’s console. His stomach was fairly brushing the edge of his panel. “Sir, it appears that you have gained a great deal of weight.”
“I told you to go about your business!” Richards said, protectively covering his midsection with one arm.
“Do you not find it odd that you have gained so much weight in the space of just a few days?”
“I have not gained that much weight,” Richards said defensively.
“Then explain this,” J’hana said, poking her finger into Richards’s stomach.
The engineer couldn’t help but giggle a bit as her finger pressed deeper into his midsection. “Stop it!” he cried through his giggles.
“Sir, this would not have happened last week.”
“I…I know. Now stop!” Richards struggled to get away.
J’hana kept poking. “I wish I could, but I can’t help but keep poking. I find this action…compelling.”
“Come on, stop!’
“You know you like it.”
“Stop! That’s an order, Lieutenant!”
“But it’s such fun!”
“STOP!” Richards cried, pushing past J’hana and running into the turbolift.
“I wonder what his problem is?” J’hana asked, looking around at the other officers on the bridge. “Well, don’t just sit there. Get back to work!” J’hana returned to the command chair and sat down. Men could be so difficult to deal with sometimes.
Captain Baxter dangled his feet from the biobed and rapped his fingers along its surface impatiently. “When did you say Dr. Browning would be back, Holly?”
“Her tennis program should be over in just a few minutes, Captain,” Nurse Holly Carter said, as she continued feeding Crewman Wilcox his tapioca pudding. “Come on, Dean, eat.”
“No. No eat. Tummy hurts.”
Baxter sighed and leaned back against the wall. He snapped up when he heard the doors to sickbay swoosh open, hoping it was Dr. Browning.
“Holly, get Dr. Browning!” Conway ordered, stomping into the room. When he saw Baxter, his gaze darkened. “What are you doing here, Captain?”
“I could ask you the same question.”
Conway hopped up onto the biobed adjacent to Baxter’s and pulled off one of his boots, next yanking off the red and black argyle sock underneath. “Look at this!”
Baxter narrowed his eyes and peered at Conway’s foot as he wriggled his toes. “All I see is a big, ugly foot.”
“It’s doubled in size since yesterday. Look,” Conway said, shoving the foot in Baxter’s face. “It’s all puffy!”
Dr. Browning strolled in and tossed her raquet on a table, looking at Baxter and Conway with amusement. “Hey, Sickbay is no place for foot fetishes.”
“This isn’t funny,” Conway said, swinging his foot around in Browning’s direction. “Look at my foot!”
“Get that out of my face or I’ll amputate it,” Browning said, pushing Conway’s foot aside and grabbing a medical tricorder.
“What about me?” Baxter asked.
“Are your feet swelling too?”
“I don’t know, but I’ve been throwing up all morning for the last two days and it feels like I have rocks in my stomach,” Baxter said.
Browning giggled as she scanned over Conway and Baxter. “Hee hee. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you two were pregnant.”
“That is a laugh,” Conway said, giggling nervously.
“Well?” Baxter asked expectantly.
Browning’s smile faded quickly as she examined the readings. She scanned again and this time she looked at both of them, face white with shock. “You two are pregnant!”
Less than an hour later, Dr. Browning crossed her arms and leaned back against the conference room wall, nodding her head in the direction of the graphic on the viewscreen beside her. “This is a bioscan of Captain Baxter’s internal organs.”
“Yummy,” J’hana said with an evil sneer.
Browning pressed a button, causing the graphic to become enlarged. “And in case any of you failed your Starfleet biology classes, this is a human fetus, in its first trimester of development.”
“Captain Baxter couldn’t be pregnant,” Tilleran said. “He’s a man.”
“I knew we had you around for some reason, Lieutenant,” Baxter said wearily. “Great observation.”
“Not only is it possible,” Browning said, “but it’s a condition that has affected every man on this ship as far as I can tell. I’ve already scanned thirty males, and the result has been the same. They’re all pregnant.”
“How did this happen?” Peterman asked.
“One word,” Conway said grimly. “Q.”
“Well then, we know what we have to do,” Richards said. “Get Q back here and have him reverse this!”
“It isn’t that simple,” Baxter grumbled. “Would you suggest we just… page him?”
“Perhaps it is that simple, sir,” Larkin said. “We could at least try to contact him.”
“Fine then,” Baxter said, looking upwards. “Q, damn you, come here and reverse what you’ve done to us!”
“Sorry, Captain,” a female voice said, as Q’s wife materialized next to Browning. “Q can’t talk to you right now.”
“And why is that?” Baxter asked angrily.
The female Q smiled as she turned to look at the fetus on the viewscreen. “Well, he won’t have verbal capabilities until the third trimester. And by then, you probably won’t be in any condition to talk yourself.”
Baxter looked down at his broadening gut worriedly. “You mean…”
“In six days, you’ll all be the fathers of bouncing baby Qs!” the woman said excitedly, nodding her head and flashing out of existence.
“Six days. That would seem to coincide with the rapid growth of the fetus in the past three days. The fetus is growing at thirty times the normal rate of development,” Larkin noted.
“If you could call any male pregnancy normal,” Conway muttered.
Baxter shuffled over to the viewer and glowered at the figure on the screen. “That little son of a bitch. He’s rolling around inside me right now and no doubt having a hell of a good time doing it.”
“I doubt that,” Peterman said. “It seems to me that the female Q has done this as a punishment for Q.”
“And us,” Richards added.
“So at least we know who to vent our frustration at,” Ford said.
“That doesn’t make me feel any better about this,” Baxter muttered. “The question is, what do we do about it?”
“I see no option other than to carry the babies to full term,” Browning said.
“We could always yank them out right now,” J’hana said. “He is omnipotent, after all. What harm could that do him?”
“No,” Baxter said, “that’s not an option. For all we know this is another of Q’s little tests and he’ll obliterate the human race if we don’t do this right. I don’t like it any more than any of you guys, but we’re going to carry these things to term and have Doctor Browning perform fetal transports. Then–”
”–we’ll drop them off on the doorstep of the Q Continuum with a note attached?” Tilleran asked with a grin.
“Something like that,” Baxter said tiredly. “Now, unless anybody has anything else to offer, you’re all dismissed.”
“So,” J’hana said, “shall I begin picking out baby clothes now?”
“I’m so excited!” Counselor Peterman said, as Captain Baxter leaned back tiredly onto his bed. “You and I are going to be parents!”
“We’re not keeping him, Kelly,” Baxter said, pressing a warm cloth over his face and sighing as its steamy vapor seeped into his pores and relieved the day’s stress. “As soon as he comes to term, we’re returning him and all the other hims to his wife.”
“It sure seems like a horrible thing to do to your husband,” Peterman said thoughtfully.
“Yes, it certainly does,” Baxter replied. “It’s horrible to trap anyone inside a womb against their will.”
“Well, don’t you worry,” Peterman said, lying down beside Baxter and pressing a hand on his chest. “You’re going to take it easy for the next six days until that baby pops out. Oh, it’ll be wonderful!”
“That’s easy for you to say,” Baxter said with a grimace. “You’re not the one who’s pregnant.”
“You’ll appreciate it that much more when I’m carrying your little space seed,” Peterman said, rubbing Baxter’s stomach and leaning forward to kiss him.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Baxter asked, pulling back.
“What do YOU think I’m doing?” Peterman said with a giggle, pulling up on Baxter’s uniform and kissing his bulging tummy.
Baxter pushed Peterman away. “I don’t think so. My back hurts. My feet hurt, I’m nauseous, I feel lightheaded, and I’m constipated. You think I’m in the mood to make love?”
“Forget about it,” Baxter said, lying back down and pulling the covers up over his head. “Anyway, how do you think I got like this in the first place?”
“Q’s wife implanted a Q fetus in you?”
“Yes, well, that’s true, but it’s beside the point. You don’t want both of us to be pregnant, do you?”
“I’m on the hypospray, Andy.”
“I don’t care. It’s the whole point of it. And you don’t want little Q crushed by our exertions, do you?”
“As a matter of fact…right now I’m thinking of a couple people I want to crush.”
“Well, think about it in the other room, I need to sleep,” Baxter said grumpily, covering his face with his pillow and turning on his side.
Stardate 52920.4. These damn talks with the Falstonans just keep droning on. Luckily the starship Hoboken will be here today to relieve us so we can continue on with our exploratory duties, which is just fine with me, since I’ve recently realized that I hate the Falstonans. Then again, I think I hate the Federation, too. Maybe I’ll defect to the Dominion.
Lying on his back, with his feet propped on his command chair and pillows supporting him all around, Captain Baxter eyed the approaching ensign with disdain.
“Sir, I have a report from the astrophysics dep–”
“SHUT UP! I just want a few minutes of peace and quiet,” Baxter said grumpily. “And get me another pillow, Ensign…”
“My name is Ensign–” the young girl said meekly.
“I said SHUT UP!”
“Yes, sir. I’ll just go get your–”
The ensign trotted off dutifully, obviously disheartened by Baxter’s attitude.
Activity on the bridge was fairly quiet for several minutes until J’hana’s panel beeped pleasantly.
“Captain, the Starship Hoboken just entered the area,” J’hana announced.
Baxter grunted. “Humph. They’re early.”
“Indeed,” J’hana said. “At any rate, Captain Cameron is hailing us.”
“Well, put her on already, damn it.”
In moments Baxter was face to face with the upside-down image of Captain Lydia Cameron of the Hoboken.
He shifted a bit in his place so he could see her right- side-up, but found it very uncomfortable to do so. As soon as the Ensign returned with his pillow, he shoved it under his lumbar region and laid back against the deck, sighing with relief.
“Ah, Captain Baxter,” the upside-down woman on the screen said. She was older, with nearly-graying hair pulled back in the requisite Starfleet-approved bun. “I heard about your incident with the Q Continuum. My apologies.”
“Enough with the smalltalk,” Baxter said impatiently. “We’re sending over our data on the Falstonans now.”
“How are those leg cramps?” Cameron asked, her grin widening.
“Horrible. How did you know?”
“I’m a mother of four. You don’t know how gratifying it is to see another man like this!”
“I’m sure,” Baxter muttered. “Listen, we’ve got other places to be, so unless–”
“You know, with my last child, I was in labor for forty hours!”
“That’s just dandy,” Baxter said. “Now if you don’t mind, I have a lamaz class in ten minutes.”
“I hope you enjoy those painful contractions, Captain!”
“And I hope your ovaries shrink and disappear, you old–”
“She has severed the channel, sir,” J’hana remarked. “But I for one would like to hear the rest of that epithet.”
“Too bad,” Baxter said. “Lt. Ford, set a course for Sector 30101, Warp Seven.”
“Sir,” Larkin said, looking at Ford with concern. His head was drooped down, a string of saliva reaching between his mouth and the helm panel. “It seems the Lieutenant is sleeping.”
“Then set the course yourself, Larkin,” Baxter said. “And engage already. I’m not getting any younger.”
“Now breathe deeply,” the grinning woman on the large viewscreen said. “Feel all those muscles limber up.”
“I feel stupid, Janice,” Richards said, as he sat across from Browning, cross-legged and breathing as deeply as he could.
Browning tried not to giggle as she breathed with him. “It’s all part of the relaxation process, Christopher.”
“But I’m not relaxing at all!” Richards protested.
“Hey, some of us are trying to listen to the video!” Commander Conway snapped from beside Richards, lying like a beached whale on the mat as Dr. Shar attempted to help him with his breathing.
“Stuff it, Conway!” Richards snapped back. “At least I haven’t bloated up as much as you have!”
“Hey,” Conway protested. “I can’t help it if I put on a little weight. It’s the hormones!”
“Both of you shut up!” Baxter barked from over next to Richards.
“Andy, you aren’t relaxing!” Peterman protested. “How are you going to deliver if you don’t relax?”
“It doesn’t matter whether I relax or not, honey,” Baxter said. “We’re all getting fetal transports, remember?”
“Then why are we doing this?” Conway asked, annoyed.
“And how did I get talked into it,” Shar said quietly, rubbing Conway’s feet.
“Because,” Browning said, “you never know what may happen when you go into labor. These exercises aren’t only to help women give birth, they are supposed to help you get in the right frame of mind to have a healthy baby.”
“But what if you don’t care if the baby is healthy or not?” Lt. Ford asked, as he and Heller practiced their stretching techniques.
“Just do the damned lamaz and shut the f*** up!” Baxter growled. “I want you all to f***ing relax or I’ll Court Martial the whole f***ing lot of you!”
“What a bitch,” Conway said under his breath.
“What was that?” Baxter seethed.
Heller sighed as he continued his lamaz. “I just wish I could have gotten Megan to be my partner instead of you, Ford.”
“Hey, you think I’m happy with this arrangement?” Ford said irratibly.
“Just shut up and do your lamaz.”
“Hey, sorry I’m late…” Mirk said, following Amara into the cramped auditorium.
Heads turned to watch Mirk with interest as he sidled in. Those closest to him ducked to avoid the slinging gook which seemed to drip from the huge, pulsating hump on his back, causing a trail to follow behind him wherever he went. For some reason, the Explorer crew was still having a hard time dealing with the Maloxian gestation process.
“Go ahead and sit down, Mirk,” Baxter said wearily. “We started twenty minutes ago.”
“I know,” Mirk said. “Amara had to clean out my pouch lining again.”
“For the fifth time today!” Amara said. “Do you realize how disgusting that thing is!”
“Judging by the smell, very disgusting,” Conway said from beside Mirk and Amara.
“Hey, this is how Maloxians do things,” Mirk said. “I find those huge stomachs equally disgusting.”
“But at least we don’t stink!” Ford said, clamping a hand over his nose and mouth.
“And leak!” Heller added.
“This is a time for bonding and togetherness, people!” Peterman said emphatically as she massaged Baxter’s shoulders. “Let’s push our selfeshness and prejudice aside and love each other!”
“Bite me,” Conway growled. “When will this be over?”
“I don’t know. Whenever the video is over,” Baxter mumbled. “And don’t tell my girlfriend to bite you. If she’s going to bite anyone, she’s going to be biting me!”
“Oh f*** this!” Conway said, throwing his theraputic pillow in Baxter’s face and pushing off the ground with a grunt, with Dr. Shar on his heels. “I’m getting the hell out of here. Who’s with me?”
Various mumbles of assent echoed through the auditorium, until everyone began clearing out.
“I think that went pretty well, Janice,” Counselor Peterman said, once the group had dwindled to Peterman, Baxter, Richards, and Browning.
“I’m really starting to get worried about the idea of all these guys giving birth,” Browning said, rubbing the bridge of her nose.
“It’s not all that bad,” Peterman said. “We’re Starfleet officers, after all. We’re equipped to deal with this sort of thing.”
“That’s news to me,” Richards mumbled.
“Kelly! My hands are starting to get dry! Go get my moisturizer!” Baxter cried helplessly.
“Oh, hush,” Peterman replied.
Stardate 52922.7. I’m sick and tired of exploring. Oh, look, here’s another crappy, deserted planet for us to scan. What fun! This f***ing crew and this f**ing mission have me at my wits end, and I’m about ready to tell them all to go straight to hell. After all, they don’t love me, do they? No one loves me! I wish I could just kill them all! But I love them so! Why don’t they love me?
Commander Conway sipped delicately at his steamy mug of chocolate mocha coffee and leaned back. He was propped up on his black leather couch by a mass of ergonomically designed pillows, and his feet were soaking in a mixture of warm water and epsom salts. The lights were dimmed and a very interesting video chip was playing on his viewer–one that Dr. Shar had loaned him.
“Sovok, you don’t know what you’re saying!” the gorgeous Klingon woman said on the viewscreen. “Please tell me you don’t mean it!”
“I mean every word of it, Kasatria. You have dishonored me, and my entire house. We have no choice but to terminate the marital agreement.”
“Don’t do this to me, Sovok! I know we can make it work!”
Tears streamed down Conway’s face as the Klingon soap opera played out. “You’re a fool, Sovok! Don’t you see she loves you!”
“In accordance with tradition, I am afraid you must be executed, Kasatria,” Sovok said. “It gives me no pleasure to do this, but it must be done.”
“Fine, kill me! I’d rather be dead than live without you!”
Conway reached for a tissue and blew his nose loudly as Kasatria was chained to the rockface overlooking the Valley of Kahless. Torches were lit all around her as Sovok readied his batleth. “Don’t do it Sovok!” Conway warned. “She didn’t really cheat on you! It was all a plan set up by Minister Vag! Don’t you realize what he’s trying to do!”
“You have been a good mate, Kasatria. I will miss you direly.”
“You’re making a mistake, Sovok! I never lied to you!”
“Must you be dishonorable until the end, Kasatria? At least die with some dignity!”
“Oh, Kasatria!” Sovok said, driving his batleth into Kasatria’s chest and ripping it down the length of her body like a zipper, allowing her redundant organs to spill out all over the rock face.
Music bellowed out of the Daystrom Surround-Sound speakers in Conway’s living room as Sovok raised his head into the air and let out a warrior’s cry of happiness. “Ready the blood wine! We will now celebrate my mate’s demise!”
“Oh, poor Kasatria,” Conway moaned, blowing his nose again.
“Next week, on ‘Days of Honor,’” a voice said on the viewscreen. Conway leaned forward, sneering as Minister Vag appeared.
“Congratulations on the death of your mate, Sovok,” Vag said with a smile. “She was a decietful little thing, was she not?”
Sovok grunted. “It had to be done, Minister.”
“Yes, well, you were always a man of honor,” Vag said, stepping around the front of his desk and putting a hand on Sovok’s shoulder. “That’s why I like you. I think that we have an excellent opportunity to get to know one another now that Kasatria’s dead.”
Vag played a finger along the ridges on Sovok’s forehead. “Perhaps we can have dinner?”
Sovok looked uneasy. “Certainly…uh, Minister.”
“Wonderful!” Vag said gleefully as the picture faded out and was replaced by credits.
“Join us for the next episode of ‘Days of Honor.’ Quapla!” said the voice as the credits shut off and were replaced by the Klingon insignia.
Conway switched the viewer off and dried his eyes. He had to give it to Dr. Shar, the Klingon soap opera was compelling. He would almost go so far as to say he was hooked.
Suddenly Conway’s door chime beeped pleasantly.
“Come,” Conway grunted, tying off his fluffy red velvet Starfleet housecoat and shifting on his pile of pillows.
“Good afternoon, Commander,” Lt. Commander Larkin said, entering the cabin and looking around with interest. “Did I interrupt your rest?”
“No, no,” Conway said, pushing the pile of padds and assorted junk off his coffee table. “I was just watching ‘Days of Honor.’”
“Ah, the Klingon soap opera. I find it an interesting study in human romantic interactions.”
“No kidding. What do you want?”
“I am writing a paper on the phenomenon of male pregnancy for Starfleet Medical, and I am interviewing several of the crew members affected by it. Can I ask you a few questions?”
“I suppose,” Conway said, trying to reposition himself on the pillows again. “What do you want to know?”
“Specifically, I was interested in knowing whether or not this experience has affected your views on male-female roles in our society.”
“I’m not sure what you’re asking.”
“Do you think that it is unfair for females to shoulder the burden of child bearing by themselves?”
“Hey, listen, I didn’t make the rules, I just play by them,” Conway said. “It’s not my fault that humans are designed so that the females bear young. I can tell you it’s no picnic, but that’s how life is. You deal with the cards you’re dealt.”
“That is very profound, Commander. Perhaps this experience has given you a new perspective on society as a whole?”
“Only that it’s a long walk from the turblift to my quarters,” Conway muttered.
“I see,” Larkin replied, tapping the information into her padd. “Thank you, Commander. You have been very helpful.”
“No problem,” Conway said, reaching forward and grabbing his plate of asparagus. He dumped a whole jar of marmalade on the plate and then proceeded to shove handfuls of the sticky vegetables into his mouth. “Mmmf…good luck with that paper, Larkin.”
“Thank you. I think it will be create some ground-breaking revelations.”
“I don’t think it’s ground breaking at all,” Richards said irritably as he waddled over to the warp core and checked the dilithium crystal chamber. “Men and women have argued about the issue of child-rearing since the dawn of man.”
“The dawn of man and woman,” Larkin corrected.
Richards looked up from his scans of the dilithium crystals and stared at Larkin, brow creased. “What did you say?”
“Using man as a general term for the human race is politically incorrect.”
“And who’s been programming you with garbage like that?” Richards asked, annoyed.
“I have not been programmed with anything. I have merely had many lengthy discussions with Counselor Peterman, Dr. Browning, Lt. Tilleran, Lt. J’hana, and Lt. Hartley. They all seem to be of the opinion that the men on this ship are slightly… skewed in their perceptions of male-female interaction.”
“That’s a load of crap.”
“Yes, well, they said the men would react that way, sir.”
“Oh, they did, did they? Well you tell them they can take their–”
“All finished,” Lt. Hartley said, emerging from the Jeffries’ tube. “I have was able to bump the mixture up four percent.”
“Um, good work, Lieutenant. I really appreciate your help.”
Hartley smiled and patted Richards’s stomach. “No problem. You’re carrying quite a load there. I’m more than happy to help.”
“Perhaps you should tell Lt. Hartley about your observations, sir,” Larkin said.
“What observations?” Hartley asked, turning to Richards.
Richards floundered. “Nothing. Just…um, well, the magnetic constrictors have been acting a little funny. I think that bipolar nebula we passed through last week may have affected them.”
“Okay,” Hartley grinned. “I’ll check them out.”
After Hartley disappeared, Larkin looked at Richards questioningly. “Have you changed your opinion on the matter of male-female interaction on this ship?”
“I don’t know,” Richards said, confused. “Lt. Hartley was being really nice. You don’t see that every day.”
“Nor do you see a crew full of pregnant men, sir.”
“Thus, the paper,” Larkin said proudly, holding up her padd. “Do you have any other insights to offer?”
“Only that I’m repeating like a phaser rifle,” Richards said, grabbing at his stomach and grimacing. “If you’ll excuse me, I’d better get to the bathroom before my warp core breaches.”
“Does that constitute a joke?” Larkin called after Richards as he ran for the nearest head.
Stardate 52924.4. Oh, f*** it, why do I need to record a log anyway? We’re just studying more uninteresting planets for Starfleet. I don’t give a damn about any of you Starfleet sons of bitches anyway. I’m not here for your amusement. I’m not making a frigging log for you today, and you just see if you can stop me! I hate Starfleet, I hate the Federation, I hate the Explorer, and every miserable bastard aboard it. I hope this hideous ship blows up before I give birth to this hellish little demon inside me!
“An interesting log, sir,” Larkin said from beside Baxter as he stamped his hand on the “stop” button on the control padd in his hand. The command chair had been temporarily replaced by an adjustable bed, which Baxter had shifted into a curvy S-shape so that he could see the viewscreen.
“Go to hell,” Baxter snapped.
“Sir, perhaps you should return to your quarters and rest like the others,” Larkin suggested hopefully.
“Yes, give in to your pathetic affliction, Captain!” J’hana said joyfully. “It won’t be long before that little Q struggles to burst out of your stomach like a burrowing slimeworm!”
“Bite me, J’hana!” Baxter grumbled.
“Don’t tempt me.”
Just then, Commander Conway squeezed through the turbolift, grunting with the effort, just barely making it through. It seemed that he and Baxter had by far gained the most weight, resembling a pair of ugly cafetereria ladies in their generous red and black Starfleet-issue maternity mumuus.
Conway staggered over to his chair and collapsed with a long sigh. His chair creaked with the wait. “Why don’t I get an adjustable bed?”
“There just isn’t enough room,” said Baxter haughtily.
“Yeah right,” Conway grunted. “Whatever. You know I thought I’d never make it up here.”
“What ARE you doing here?” Baxter snapped.
“I couldn’t sit in there and watch video chips one moment longer,” Conway grumbled. “I’ve been lounging around for the past six days and it’s starting to drive me crazy. I can’t wait for this damn child to be born.”
“You and me both,” Baxter grumbled.
“What did Dr. Browning say when she examined you guys this morning?” Tilleran asked with interest from the science console.
“She won’t do the fetal transport until later this afternoon,” Baxter muttered. “She’s worried that Q might come out wrong if she delivers too soon, because of the strange growth rate or some such thing.”
“The sooner the better,” Conway mumbled. “And I for one could care less if Q turns out wrong.”
Suddenly Tilleran’s panel beeped. “Captain,” she said, “I’m picking up some interesting readings from one of the planets in this system.”
“Can you elaborate?”
“There is some kind of power source operating far below this system’s third planet.”
“Life signs?” Conway asked.
“Not that I can find, but they could be using some kind of dampening field that our sensors can’t read.”
“Sounds like it warrants an away team,” Baxter sighed.
“J’hana and I can handle it, sir,” Tilleran said quickly.
“Hmmm, I must have missed the staff meeting where you were promoted to Captain and given the responsibility of picking away teams,” Baxter said angrily. Before Tilleran could reply, Baxter continued, “Oh, wait a minute, you WEREN’T! I’m still the Captain, aren’t I? Well, in that case, I’m going to take the opportunity to get off this godforsaken ship and join you and J’hana on the planet’s surface.”
“Fine, but you don’t have to be mean about it,” Tilleran replied, obviously hurt.
“Oh, grow up,” Baxter said, pushing himself off his bed. “Let’s go, everyone. Time is a wastin’.”
“Hey, if you get to go, I’m going too!” Conway said, grunting as he rolled out of his chair. “I’d love to get some fresh air.”
“Fine, come on,” Baxter grumbled.
“Sir,” Larkin said, as Baxter and Conway waddled toward the turbolift. “Is this wise? I do not think the two of you should be traveling in your delicate condition.”
“I’ll be the judge of that, missy!” Baxter said, as Conway tried to squeeze into the turbolift with Baxter, J’hana, and Tilleran. He managed to back in about half way, but the doors just wouldn’t close over his gut.
“You’ll just have to use the foreward turbolift, Commander!” Baxter barked. “This one’s full!”
“Fine, be that way!” Conway griped.
“This will be fun,” J’hana grumbled as Conway stomped over to the other turbolift and the doors to the aft turbolift closed.
“How are you feeling on this wonderful day, Christopher?” Dr. Browning asked jubilantly, dangling over the railing that surrounded the warp core and looking down at Richards as he examined one of the power conduits on the deck below.
Richards glared up at Browning as he ran the scan. “I’ve got muscle spasms and indegestion, that’s how I feel.”
“Come on, it’s not that bad!” Browning said.
“The hell it’s not,” Richards said, packing up his equipment and boarding the lift that ran up the length of the warp core shaft. It grunted with strain as it tried to lift him up to the main Engineering level.
“Let’s see if I can remember what you said nine days ago…ahem, ‘the pain and hardship will be worth it in the end.’ Didn’t you say that?”
“These are entirely different circumstances,” Richards said, squeezing out of the lift and waddling over to the master systems display.
“This fetus is an omnipotent being, for one!” Richards said, pointing at his stomach. “This isn’t going to be our child.”
“But this has got to help you understand why I’m so hesitant about putting myself in this…” Browning indicated Richards’s huge stomach. “Situation.”
“Hey, if I can do it, you can too,” Richards said, turning to the Jeffries’ tube access door and punching the panel beside it.
“Wait a minute. Where do you think you’re going?” Browning asked, swinging around and following after Richards.
“There’s an imbalance in the power flow regulator four decks down. I’m going to go fix it.”
“Not like that you’re not,” Browning said. “You’re giving birth in three hours.”
“I’m still the Chief Engineer!” Richards muttered. “I still have responsibilities to fulfill.”
“And I’m the Chief Medical Officer. Do you want me to relieve you of duty?”
Richards marched into the Jeffries’ tube. “I’d like to see you try.”
Browning followed Richards into the access tunnel and gave chase as he descended the ladder. “Come back here, Christopher!”
“You wouldn’t attack someone who was with child, would you?”
“These are entirely different circumstances, remember?”
“Here you go, one Bolian fizz,” Mirk said, leaning heavily against the bar and pushing the drink across the bar and into Lt. Hartley’s waiting hands.
“Mirk, it’s bubbling!” Hartley said worriedly.
“Of course it’s bubbling,” Mirk said, rolling his eyes. “That’s why it’s called a Bolian ‘fizz’!”
“Not the drink, dingbat, your hump!” Hartley said with exasperation.
Mirk looked over his shoulder fearfully, and sure enough, the hump was beginning to bubble and emit faint whisps of steam.
“Amara, watch the bar for me,” Mirk said, ripping off his apron and making for the door. “It’s coming!”
“Sure thing,” Amara said worriedly, watching Mirk waddle away.
“Better follow him just in case that thing bursts on the way there,” Hartley said, catching up to Mirk and helping him through the doors to the Cafe.
“Boy, I’ll take sneezing and itching any day over humps and bursting,” Amara said, shaking her head and tying Mirk’s apron on.
Captain Baxter regarded himself in the mirrored surface of the bulkhead that surrounded the transporter pad. “I don’t see it.”
“Don’t see what?” Conway asked.
“The glow. I thought pregnant people were supposed to glow.”
“Maybe it’s just pregnant women.”
“That doesn’t seem fair,” Baxter said thoughtfully.
“You glow plenty,” J’hana muttered. “Can we energize already?”
Baxter’s eyes began to well up with tears. “Okay, fine. Sorry I had to let my feelings get involved. I guess this away team stuff is all about you.”
“Energize now, Ensign!” J’hana barked, annoyed.
“Where’s Dr. Browning, Holly?” Hartley asked urgently as she helped Mirk onto a biobed.
Nurse Carter stopped rubbing Dean’s feet for a moment and walked over to Mirk’s biobed. “She’s down in Engineering with Commander Richards, I think. What’s up?”
“Look at this hump and take a guess!” Hartley said emphatically, gesturing at Mirk’s back.
“My goodness,” Carter replied, studying the hump with a medical tricorder. “Your natal orifice has widened by three centimeters.”
“How long do we have?” Hartley asked with concern.
“I don’t know,” Carter said. “We know next to nothing about Maloxian biology.”
“Oh, boy,” Mirk said, leaning forward and groaning. “I think my forbat is about to break.”
“Is that like having your water break?” Hartley asked.
“Kind of. But it’s not water.”
“Uh-oh,” Hartley said, backing up.
With a sickening pop, a geyser of green slime burst from Mirk’s back, coating everything within five meters.
“Sorry about that,” Mirk said sheepishly.
Hartley was frozen in disgust as the goo dripped down the front of her face. “This is so gross!”
Nurse Carter quickly wiped her hands on her uniform and tapped her comm badge. “Carter to Dr. Browning, we’ve got a slimy situation developing here!”
Browning looked up from Richards’s repair job in annoyance. “Is it Mirk, Holly?”
“Yes, Doctor. His…um, slime just broke.”
“Darn,” Browning said. “Are you almost finished here, Christopher?”
“I almost have the conduit repaired,” Richards replied. “Just another few seconds.”
“Good. I’m not about to leave you down here in your condition.”
“Really, I’m fine.”
“Doctor, you better get up here. I don’t know the first thing about… Maloxian humps,” Carter said worriedly.
“I’ll be right there, Holly, just as soon as Christopher finishes–”
Suddenly the couduit in front of Richards and Browning exploded in a shower of sparks, knocking them both back against the bulkhead.
“Raise shields and go to Red Alert,” Lt. Commander Larkin ordered calmly from the command chair, as lights dimmed around the bridge and the Red Alert klaxon began to wail throughout the bridge.
“It’s a Leeramar warship all right,” Lt. Heller said in annoyance from tactical.
“It would seem we have once again crossed into their territory,” Larkin observed.
“Bullies,” Ensign Madera muttered from the helm.
“Mr. Heller, please try to hail the ‘bullies.’ Perhaps we can reason with them.”
Suddenly the ship shook violently again.
“No response, unless you count that last particle pulse as a response,” Heller said, gripping the tactical console as the Leeramar weapons pounded into the Explorer.
“This is a most disagreeable situation,” Larkin said.
“It’s worse than you think,” Heller said worriedly.
“I think I’m in labor.” Heller dropped to his knees. “Yep, I’m definitely in labor.”
“What do you mean you’re under attack?” Baxter asked angrily.
“I mean to say that a Leeramar warship is…krrrt…firing on us presently and we are taking major damage,” Larkin replied. “Additionally, Mister Heller and Mr. Mirk are…zzzzt…about to give birth,” Larkin’s voice crackled over the comm channel.
“Well, isn’t that dandy,” Conway muttered.
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “And we’re helpless to do anything about it from here.”
“I don’t think that’s altogether true,” Tilleran said, examining her tricorder readings.
“What do you mean?” Baxter asked.
“I just found the power source we detected earlier,” Tilleran replied. “It’s directly ahead, about a hundred meters east and about three hundred meters below the planet’s surface.”
“And how does that help us?”
“As near as I can tell, the power source seems to be attached to a massive particle cannon,” Tilleran replied. “Possibly a planetary defense system.”
“Why would the Leeramar install a defense system to defend a planet that doesn’t have any life or resources to defend!”
“I may have an answer to that question.” J’hana was examining a large, triangular sign with her tricorder. “I translated the words inscribed on this sign. It says ‘Coming Soon: Another Fantastic Strip Mall for Citizens of the Leeramar Consortium.”
“Then they’re developing this planet for commerce,” Conway muttered.
“And the first thing they’ve built is the security system,” Baxter said, rubbing his chin.
“Evidently,” Tilleran said.
“Think you can get this cannon operable?” Baxter asked.
Tilleran nodded. “With J’hana’s help, we should be able to access the control system.”
“Then get to it, before the Explorer’s pounded to pieces,” Baxter ordered.
“What about you and the Commander?” J’hana asked.
Baxter smiled. “Conway and I will wait here. I’m not about to do any running around in this condition.”
“Who are you kidding, you wouldn’t want to run even if you weren’t pregnant,” Conway griped.
“You’re not an athelete yourself, Mister,” Baxter muttered, turning to J’hana and Tilleran. “Now get moving, you two!”
“Are you okay, Christopher?” Browning asked worriedly as she bent over Richards.
The engineer’s eyes fluttered open. “Yeah. Just a little dazed. And my nipples are feeling a tad sensitive. What happened?”
“You’re the engineer. You tell me.”
Richards grunted as Browning helped him up and studied the power conduit. “We’ve lost this conduit. Stockton must have rerouted power just after it exploded, or we’d have been hit by a plasma backwash that would have filled this compartment and killed both of us.”
“Thank goodness for small miracles.”
“Well, we must be under attack. I have to get up to Engineering.”
“And I need to get to Sickbay,” Browning said, following Richards up the ladder. Suddenly the ship rattled again, causing Richards to lose his grip on the ladder and fall down on top of Dr. Browning.
“Thanks for cushioning the blow,” Richards said sheepishly, as Browning squirmed out from under him.
“Don’t mention it,” Browning said, rubbing her bruised elbow. “Care to try that again?”
“Don’t think we can,” Richards said woefully. He looked up at the opening that led up to the Engineering compartment. A huge support strut had collapsed during the last attack and filled up the opening.
“Is there any other way out of here?” Browning asked with growing concern.
“Not without weaving our way through about forty meters of Jeffries’ tubes,” Richards said. “It would take us forever to get back up there that way.”
“It’s always something,” Browning muttered, tapping her comm badge. “Browning to Transporter Room Two. Transport two directly to Sickbay.”
“Sorry, Doctor,” the Ensign on duty replied. “Transporter power has been diverted to weapons and shields.”
“Then we’re stuck,” Richards said.
“At least you’re not giving birth,” Browning said.
“Yeah, but if I were to give birth, I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather be stuck alone with more.”
“You’re welcome. You know what?”
“I was wrong. I am giving birth.”
“Please hold still, Lieutenant,” Larkin said, forcefully pushing down on Lt. Heller’s chest as she worked her phaser. “The cut must be exact.”
“I hope you retuned that thing right,” Heller said worriedly, as the Explorer bucked around them.
Larkin tried to steady herself as the vessel shook. “Have faith, Lieutenant. My modifications were adequate. Tactical status, Ensign Saral?”
Saral worked quickly at the tactical console. “Major damage to decks four, eight, and nine. Sheields are almost depleted.”
“Evasive pattern Larkin delta four, Ensign Madera,” Larkin ordered, not looking away from Heller’s stomach as she worked.
“I sure am glad I’m doped up,” Heller said patiently, as Larkin cut.
“Indeed. Fire all weapons, Ensign Saral.”
Heller watched in amazement as Larkin operated and directed the bridge crew at the same time. “It must be very difficult to do both things at once, huh, Lieutenant?”
“Not particularly. In actuality, both operations combined are only utilizing thirty-four percent of my operational resources.”
“That’s nice,” Heller said, his eyes rolling back in his head as he saw the head begin to emerge from his stomach.
“Hold him down, Lt. Hartley!” Nurse Carter cried, as more gook splatered out of Mirk’s hump.
Hartley tried frantically to keep her footing in the spurting goo as Carter reached inside the gaping hole in Mirk’s back. “You really owe me one for this, Mirk!”
“I’ll buy you dinner,” Mirk grumbled.
“I don’t think I’ll ever have an appetite again after this.”
“Sure you will. Hey! Watch where you’re poking!”
“Sorry!” Carter said. “I’ve never done anything like this before.”
“I can tell!”
“I see a head!” Nurse Carter cried.
“Holy hell!” Hartley cried.
Mirk glanced over his shoulder and shuddered as the head began to work its way free from his pouch. “Ooo, that’s ugly.”
Lt. Hartley gasped, and Nurse Carter passed out.
“What are you looking at?” Q’s head asked, squirming free and supporting itself on spindly little infant legs. “Haven’t you seen an omnipotent infant before?”
Hartley shook her head, then looked down at Mirk. “Would you mind if we just put it back in?”
“It sure is taking them a long time to get that cannon working,” Baxter mentioned, as he and Conway sunned themselves on one of the planet’s large, flat rocks.
“Don’t complain. At least we don’t have to do it.”
“You’ve got a point.”
Baxter continued to enjoy the sun’s warm rays. Every now and then he could see the dots of the Explorer and the Leeramar warship flutter around in the distance as they fought, but he tried not to let that interrupt his rest. After all, he’d be a father soon.
“Hey, Captain,” Conway said.
“Like labor, sir.”
“You know what…” Baxter said, feeling his own stomach. “I think I know how you feel.”
“What do we do?” Conway asked worriedly.
“Breathe, I think.”
“I am breathing!”
“Well, breathe harder!”
“Maybe we should have listened more closely to the lamaz classes.”
Baxter grimaced. “I’m not the one that said ‘f*** this!’”
“Hey, I’ve had a lot to worry about the last few days.”
“Well so have I!” Baxter said. “We’re all suffering here!”
Conway slapped his comm badge. “Tilleran! J’hana! Help!”
“Hold it in, Commander! HOLD IT IN!” Baxter shouted.
“Lieutenant?” Larkin asked Gellar. “Are you awake?” When she got no response, she assumed Heller had fainted. Then again, had she been human, she probably would have fainted as well.
“Well, don’t just stand there, get me a diaper!” the Q- headed baby said indignantly.
“Put an end to this foolishness, Q!” Larkin ordered. “We have other things to worry about.”
“You think this was my idea?” Q asked, as Larkin cradled him in her arms and carried him over to the command chair, holding tight as the Explorer was repeatedly pounded. “No, it was that insufferable wench’s fault. She did this to me.”
“I do not believe I have any sympathy for you, Q,” Larkin said, looking on with concern as a science officer sealed up the opening in Lt. Heller’s stomach and administered another hypospray filled with pain-killer.
“I don’t care if you have sympathy for me or not. I want to be reintegrated into one being and I want my powers back!” Q said, suddenly breaking out into a wailing cry. “It’s not fair! NOT FAIR!”
“I want to push!” Baxter cried.
“But if we push, where will the baby come from?” Conway asked fearfully.
“I don’t want to know!”
“Tilleran!” Conway cried.
“J’hana!” Baxter shouted.
“Keep your pants on,” J’hana replied over the comm channel. “We’re about to give these Leeramar one hell of a mishtaking!”
“Make it snappy!” Baxter cried. “I’m about to tear my stomach open with a phaser!”
“Now I’d hate to miss seeing that,” J’hana’s voice laughed.
“Firing now!” Tilleran’s voice chimed in.
Conway and Baxter shielded their eyes as a gigantic, somewhat phallic, barrel busted out of a nearby rock face and released a blinding green column of energy.
“Take that!” Baxter cried, doubling over as the next contraction hit.
“A high-powered particle beam was just fired from the planet’s surface,” Ensign Saral announced.
“On viewer,” Larkin ordered, trying to wrench her thumb free from baby Q’s mouth.
On the viewscreen, a searing green beam ripped right through the Leeramar warship, sawing through and cutting it in half.
The two halves spun apart and exploded, washing the bridge in bright white light.
“Baxter to Explorer. Did you guys see that?”
“Indeed we did, sir,” Larkin replied. “Are you okay?”
“Not really. Conway and I are in labor.”
“Join the club, sir.”
Chief Medical Officer’s Log,
Stardate 52924.6. I’m happy to announce the births of one hundred and fourteen bouncing baby Qs. We had to convert cargo bay twelve to a nursery to accomodate all of them, but other than that there have been no complications in delivering them. Now all we have to do is find a way to get rid of them.
“Isn’t he cute,” Counselor Peterman said, rubbing Q’s chin as Baxter cradled him gently in his arms.
“You know, he really is. He doesn’t look half as menacing when he’s so tiny,” Baxter said, grinning.
“Oh, be quiet!” Q said. “I can’t stand this predicament! This is so foolish!”
“You did it to yourself, Q,” Richards said, stuffing a milk bottle into his own Q’s mouth. “If you hadn’t been such a thorn in your wife’s side, she wouldn’t have taken out her agression on the male gender like she did.”
The Q in Baxter’s arms grunted derisively. “Well, at least I took you all down with me.”
“Hard feelings, Q?” Q’s wife said, appearing with a flash at the center of the cargo bay.
“Yes, now that you mention it,” Q said. “And don’t think you can make up to me so easily. You did a horrible thing to me.”
“I taught you a good lesson about humility,” the female Q said. “And you of all people could learn some humility.”
“Not that I don’t agree with you, but you didn’t have to involve us in it,” Baxter said. “Having this little fella growing in my stomach was a royal pain.”
“Sorry about that,” Q’s wife said. “But maybe it taught all of you a lesson, too.”
“I still want kids,” Richards said. “Nothing’s going to change my mind about that.”
“But maybe when I’m the one with leg cramps and constipation you’ll be a little more understanding,” Browning said with a grin.
“That’s for sure.”
“Well, my little Q-pie doll, I think it’s time to bid the crew of the Explorer farewell,” Q’s wife said.
“So soon?” one of the Q babies asked. “I was just starting to like it here.”
“Come on. Don’t fight me, hon,” the female Q replied, nodding her head. All of the Q babies disappeared, and in their place, one fully adult Q appeared next to his wife, tugging indignantly at his uniform.
“Thank you darling, you don’t know how cramped it was inside those tiny human wombs.”
“I think they’re making up,” Peterman whispered to Baxter.
“Oh, goody,” Baxter said. “I’m sooooo happy for them. And me with stretch marks that will take months to fade away.”
“Come on, Andy,” Peterman said, “you know that a part of you enjoyed bringing life into the world.”
“Well, maybe a little.”
“Ah, parting is such sweet sorrow,” Q said, bowing regally for all the crewmen gathered in the cargo bay. “But who’s to say when we shall meet again?”
“Hopefully never?” Conway said.
“Never say never, Commander,” Q said with a smile.
“Say goodbye, Q,” the female Q said impatiently.
Q smiled. “Goodbye Q.”
With that, the two Qs disappeared in a flash.
“Good riddance,” Conway muttered, sliding off his biobed. “To them and that stupid pregnancy.”
“You sound more than a little bent out of shape, Commander,” Baxter noted. “Fretting over those troublesome extra pounds of birthweight?”
“Something like that.” Conway shuffled out of the cargo bay.
“Come on, Christopher, we have planning to do,” Browning said, smiling, as she led Richards out of the cargo bay.
Baxter watched the other officers filter out of the cargo bay with satisfaction. “Well, we did all right, didn’t we, Kelly?”
“Yes, sir,” Peterman said, hopping next to Baxter and nuzzling his shoulder. “You in the mood yet?”
Baxter grinned. “Nope, but I’m getting there fast.”
Conway shuffled into his darkened quarters and collapsed onto his couch, after tossing the now unneeded theraputic pillows onto the floor. “Stupid pillows,” he grumbled.
He was glad to be rid of that stupid Q baby. Who needed kids, anyway? They were nothing but trouble, and that fact was evidenced by the horrible pain of labor.
It was then that it hit Conway. He really did miss the little tyke. Would he ever experience that feeling of life-giving again? Maybe not.
A tear rolled down Conway’s cheek.
Q’s wife had given the Explorer crew one final gift: Post- partum depression.
Once upon a time, actually, once upon “Out of Time,” Lt. Commander Richards proposed to Dr. Browning. Join the crew of the Explorer as they prepare to send off the happy couple. Things should go smoothly, unless a visit from Bradley Dillon and the resurgence of the Starshine Kids has any effect.
Share the surprises and feel the warmth in the Year Two finale of Star Traks: The Vexed Generation in ONE WEEK!