Author: Anthony Butler
On Stardate 51781, Captain James Stevens of Starfleet and Captain Dwanok of the Klingon Empire departed the starship Aerostar, aboard the runabout Wicomico, on a mission to find and rescue the crews of all the ships that had been hurled into the Delta Quadrant by the Bermuda Expanse and had been taken captive by the villainous Flarn.
Later that year, the Flarn warship that had been assigned to transport the Alpha Quadrant captives was attacked by a Borg cube and carved in half. What happened from that point on was a mystery until the day that Captain Andy Baxter and Counselor Kelly Peterman, recently married, found the Wicomico inexplicably crashed on the planet Xavier Four during their honeymoon voyage. It was a night that they’d remember for a long, long time.
“Have a lovely trip to the surface,” said Sesil over the Li’l Explorer’s communications system.
“Why are you doing this?” Captain Baxter asked, gripping Counselor Peterman’s shoulders with one hand and tapping the helm console with the other, desparately trying to pull the Li’l Explorer out of its dive. “Why did you fire on us?”
“For fun,” Sesil said. “It will all become clear to you soon enough.”
“I do not like the sound of that, Andy,” Peterman said worriedly.
“Me neither,” Baxter said, glancing at a control panel. “Well, main engines are shot, the structural integrity field is being held together by a string of duranium and we have no shields to speak of. I hope you remember your crash training.”
“Let’s see,” Peterman said thoughtfully. “Put my head between my legs and scream?”
“No, that’s what I’m supposed to do,” Baxter said with a nervous chuckle. “Hmm. I’m still having difficulty getting through that damn suppression field. It’s hard to tell what’s down there.”
“Then what do we do?” Peterman asked gravely.
“I’m going to try and put us down inland near a range of mountains.”
“Just as long as you don’t put us down in one of the mountains, dear.”
“Hey,” Baxter said with pride. “I happen to be a darn good pilot.”
“We’ll see,” Peterman said with fear as the planet’s surface rushed toward them on the crackling viewscreen.
Sweat beaded on Baxter’s forehead as he guided the Li’lExplorer through a mass of billowing clouds. Once the clouds were clear, Baxter saw the taupe mountains take shape on the viewscreen. From what he could tell, this section of Xavier Four was facing away from the sun. Lucky them. Oh, well, Baxter thought, beggars can’t be choosers.
“Hold on, baby!” Baxter cried, pouring every last bit of power the tiny yacht had into the dorsal thrusters.
Peterman shrieked as the diminutive saucer skimmed craggly rock formations, its headlights glancing over them hauntingly. The little vessel bucked up in the air several times as it slammed into the rock formations, until it spun, frisbee-like along the ground, sliding to a halt and almost upturning against a mountainside.
After the initial shock of the crash passed, Baxter pushed wreckage aside, looking down at his wife, who lay curled under him in the clearing smoke.
“You nearly smushed me, Andy,” Peterman said, as Baxter helped her up.
“I threw myself on top of you to shield you from the debris.”
“How noble. More like you fell on me,” Peterman mumbled, looking around the ruined command center. “Well, at least we survived the crash.”
“But that doesn’t mean we’re out of danger,” Baxter said, ripping open a supply cabinet and grabbing two phaser rifles, a tricorder, and two palm beacons. “Those damned cult people will be looking for us. We have to get as far away from the wreckage as we can.”
“But where will we go? We couldn’t get a distress call out, so it may be days before the Explorer even realizes we’re missing.”
“There’s some kind of energy source on this planet, Kelly,” Baxter said, taking off the outer jacket of his off-duty outfit and rolling up his shirtsleeves as he dug in the nearby closet for supplies. “And if we can get access to it we may be able to contact the Explorer.”
“What if we can’t?” Peterman asked, catching a phaser rifle and palm beacon and following Baxter to the emergency escape hatch.
“Well, you wouldn’t look that bad bald, honey,” Baxter replied, yanking a lever and blowing the hatch, just as a few drops of rain began to fall from the sky, smacking him in the forehead. “Great. Rain.”
“Did I mention what a great honeymoon this is?” Peterman asked, as she followed Baxter out of the hatch.
“Yeah,” Baxter said, kicking the Li’l Explorer’s hull and tossing his outer jacket over Peterman as they both fled the wreckage. “Remind me to fire our travel agent.”
Lt. Hartley wrestled Charlie into the Constellation Cafe, calling out to Mirk, “One Nausicaan draft and one dish of Class Three Kibble!”
Mirk smiled as Hartley dragged the dog up to the bar and tied him to the railing. “Who gets what?”
“Do you see me laughing?” Hartley said with growing irritation. “Get my damn order already!”
“Right away,” Mirk said, still smiling.
Hartley took a moment to catch her breath and survey the few people that were gathered in the Cafe. It was late in ship’s night, and Delta Shift had just gone on duty, so there weren’t many people around.
When Hartley turned back to the bar to take her drink, she noticed Commander Conway enter the bar and collapse on a stool with a loud harrumph.
She resisted striking up a conversation with the Commander for as long as she could, but finally simple curiousity overcame her.
The Lieutenant sat the bowl of Kibble Mirk had handed her down in front of Charlie and carried her drink over to the stool next to the one where Conway was sitting. “You look more miserable than usual, if I do say so myself.”
“Go away,” Conway muttered, barking a drink order at Mirk: “Rum. With a dash of coffee.”
Hartley took that as an invitation and took a seat at the stool next to Conway. “Come on, Commander. I’m part of your senior staff now. You can tell me anything. If I was Richards, I know you’d talk to me.”
“No I wouldn’t. I didn’t like him anymore than I like you.”
“I see,” Hartley said, trying to figure out a different tack. “How about this: you tell me what’s wrong or I go belowdecks and start a warp core breach.”
Conway glared sidelong at Hartley. “You really want to know?”
“I have nothing better to do, and besides, I’m about to head off to bed anyway. Hearing about your life may just put me to sleep.”
Conway sighed. “I tried to kiss Lana tonight.”
“Oh. It didn’t go well, I take it?”
The Commander turned around so that Hartley could see the other side of his face. His right eye was engulfed in a black bruise.
“Ouch! Lana has a mean left hook. You really should let the holographic doctor take a look at that!”
“I don’t want to deal with the holographic doctor right now. He’s so smug…so self-righteous.”
“You miss Dr. Browning, don’t you?”
“No!” Conway said quickly. “Make no mistake, I’d rather have a competent doctor than a friendly one. But when I went in to see the doctor for my physical yesterday he said I needed to lose weight.”
“Aww, you poor thing. No wonder Lana didn’t take your advances well. The doctor ruined your self-esteem. I have a good mind to go reprogram him right now!”
“That’s not what screwed things up with Lana. It’s me. I’m just not likable.”
Hartley suddenly drew a blank. What could she say? Conway was right, after all. “Um…that’s just not…not really accurate. You’re a…fine…well, I mean there’s no reason to go and…”
Suddenly the Red Alert klaxon sounded, and Conway’s comm badge chirped pleasantly.
“Larkin to Commander Conway. Please report to the bridge immediately.”
“Come on,” Conway grunted, motioning for Hartley to follow him.
Hartley tossed back her drink and followed Conway out of the Constellation Cafe, sighing inwardly with relief. Thank goodness the ship was in jeopardy. She had come within a hair’s breadth of giving Commander Conway a compliment.
Lt. Commander Larkin quickly took her station as Commander Conway strode toward the center of the bridge and Lt. Hartley took her place at Engineering.
J’hana and Tilleran emptied out of the opposite turbolift and took their customary places at Tactical and Science.
“All right,” J’hana grunted. “What was important enough to get me out of bed?”
“Approximately three minutes ago we recieved a distress call from the Federation Science vessel Rosing in the Bangara system. I set course to intercept at maximum warp as soon as the call came in.”
“Shouldn’t you have contacted me before you changed our course? It’s not like you to stray from regulations, Larkin,” Conway muttered, leaning against the Ops station.
Larkin hit several controls. “I think you will understand when I play the distress call.”
The image of a much smaller bridge filled the viewscreen. At the center of the bridge, the Rosing’s Captain held fast to her command chair. “To any vessel within range, this is Captain Louise Robbins of the Federation starship Rosing. We are being attacked by an unknown vessel! Please assist!”
“Nothing that out of the ordinary, Commander.”
“You have not seen everything, sir,” Larkin said. “This recording was attatched to the Rosing’s distress call.”
Suddenly the image of the Rosing’s bridge switched to an exterior view. What appeared on the screen made Conway cringe. “Lieutenant Ford to the bridge, on the double.”
The large, angular red starship, familiar as the type used by the Children of Universal Starshine, otherwise known as the Starshine Kids, moved closer on the viewscreen, firing some sort of beam directly at the source of the recording. Moments later, the signal ended with a crackle.
The rainfall just got worse as Baxter and Peterman proceeded down a treacherous path between two gargantuan mountains.
Baxter pushed damp hair out of his eyes and used his shirt to wipe rain off the tricorder screen. “According to the tricorder, the energy source is less than a seventy meters this way…just over that mountain.”
Peterman gripped her phaser rifle tighter. “I’m ready.”
“Okay, little miss Federation Marine,” Baxter grinned through the rain, shuddering as thunder cracked through the sky.
“Hey, I can hold my own Captain Courageous,” Peterman said defiantly. “Need I remind you of the time the Maloxians tried to take over the Aerostar? I knocked out quite a few of them. And then there was the time I fought the alternate me in the Bermuda Expanse.” Peterman slung her phaser over her shoulder and made like she was a boxer. “I gave her a left…unh! Then a right…unh! Unh!”
“Okay, okay, I get it,” Baxter said, when suddenly his tricorder began bleeping incessantly. “What the?”
Peterman stopped pretend-boxing and glanced at the tricorder. “What is it, Andy?”
“We just entered that suppression field. Some kind of heavy-duty interferometric pulse is eminating from that power source. It’s….it’s….”
Suddenly the tricorder burst open with a crackle and a shower of sparks. At the same time, both Peterman’s and Baxter’s palm beacons flickered out.
Peterman knocked her beacon against a rock. “What the heck happened to the tricorder? And our beacons?”
“We’ve got a bigger problem,” Baxter said, opening a panel on his phaser rifle. “Let me see your rifle.”
“Just give it to me.” Baxter flipped open the panel on Peterman’s rifle and sighed, tossing it to the ground. “Our weapons are useless. That interferometric pulse knocked out all our EM equipment.”
“F***ing great,” Peterman said.
“Something else worries me even more,” Baxter said, shaking his head suddenly. “There was another signature piggybacked on that interferometric pulse. I couldn’t place it…but it seemed almost…I don’t know… neurological!”
“Maybe that explains the huge headache I have right now,” Peterman said, rubbing her head.
Baxter grabbed Peterman by the arm, dragging her onward. “It doesn’t matter. We have to keep going.”
“Andy…I feel really weird.”
“Me too,” Baxter said. “Hmm hmm hmm hm hm.”
“Why are you humming?”
“Hmm? I don’t know.”
“Entering Bangara system,” Lt. Commander Larkin announced.
Conway straightened in his chair. “Take us out of warp, Mr. Ford. J’hana, scan the system. See if you can track down one of those cult ships. And see if you can find the Rosing.”
Conway moved over to the helm station and put a hand on Ford’s shoulder. “Mr. Ford, what can you tell me? Could that ship still be out there?”
“From what I gathered from the cult newsletter, their ship is capable of entering and exiting subsace fissures at its leisure. It’s a million times better than using a cloaking device.”
“Where the hell did they get a ship like that?” Conway mused, rubbing his chin.
“I have no idea, sir,” Ford said. “I only know that they didn’t build it themselves. Everything they have they’ve stolen.”
“And you used to like these guys?”
“Well, they have a very nice disposition, sir.”
“I’m sure. J’hana?”
“Nothing on the cult ship, sir, but I have a bead on the Rosing. She is heavily damaged. It appears they had to jettison their warp core. They’re functioning on minimal backup power.”
“Pretty violent for people with a ‘nice disposition,’” Conway said. “Hail the Rosing.”
“Captain Robbins, this is Commander Conway of the USS Explorer. We’re here to rescue you. Do you have any idea where the ship that attacked you went?”
“We’re getting a response,” J’hana reported. “Audio only.”
“Explorer…this is Captain Robbins. All we know is that the ship disappeared from our scanners shortly after blowing us to bits. Do you know who they are?”
“We have a vague idea,” Conway muttered. “Stand by, Rosing, we’re going to…”
“Commander!” Tilleran called out. “Subspace fissure opening at 032 mark 115. I think that’s our cult ship!”
“Raise shields and arm weapons,” Conway ordered. “Instruct the Rosing that we will protect them.”
“Sir, we may not be able to protect them,” Ford said. “A similar ship took out a Bird of Prey with one shot.”
“I’m aware of that,” Conway snapped. “But the Explorer is no Bird of Prey. J’hana, contact that ship.”
“You’re on, Commander.”
Conway straightened his uniform. “Enemy vessel: this is Commander David Conway of the Federation Starship Explorer. You have attacked a fellow Starfleet vessel. We order you to power down your vessel immediately or we will fire on–”
“Incoming!” Tilleran called out.
Before Conway could scramble to his seat, a blast rocked the Explorer so hard it threw him back into the command chair.
“Shields down to eighty percent,” J’hana announced.”
Conway stumbled to his feet. “Ready quantums and return fire, J’hana!”
“Torpedoes away,” J’hana said, looking up at the viewscreen.
The torpedoes grazed the hull of the cult ship and bounced off, heading back toward the Explorer.
“God damn!” Conway shouted, running around to the tactical panel to check the readings himself. “J’hana, redirect those torpedoes before they hit us!”
“Aye, sir!” J’hana said, hitting a control that sent the torpedoes back toward the cult ship.
Once again, they hit the ship’s hull and bounced back toward the Explorer.
“What on Earth?” Conway asked, scratching his head and moving over to the railing behind the command chairs. “J’hana, disarm those torpedoes and ready the phasers.”
“I would not suggest firing phasers,” Larkin said. “Based on what we have seen so far, I believe phasers will have a similar effect.”
“Then what do you suggest?” Conway asked angrily. “Should we just call them dirty names?”
“I am uncertain as to what effect that would have, sir.”
Lt. Tilleran worked feverishly at her panel. “There has to be a reason that ship keeps deflecting our weapons. Give me a second, Commander.”
Another burst cracked against the Explorer’s hull.
“Shields down to thirty-five percent!” J’hana called out.
“Why do I feel as if we’re being played with?” Conway asked in annoyance.
“Phasers and quantums won’t be effective at any of their normal settings,’ Tilleran announced. “As near as I can tell, the hull of that ship is charged with antigravitons that are capable of repelling normal matter while focusing phased energy away. That makes all our conventional weapons useless.”
“Well, that’s all well and good,” Conway growled as another shot pounded the Explorer. “But how do we go about stopping them?”
“How about a phased graviton beam?” Tilleran posed.
“Phased graviton beam?” Conway asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Sure. All we have to do is route phaser energy through the tractor emitters. That will counteract the effect of the antigravitons that are being emitted by their hull, while–”
“Do it!” Conway commanded.
“On it, sir,” Tilleran said, glancing over to Lt. Hartley. “Megan, I need you to get the forward tractor emitter ready.”
Hartley nodded. “I’m resetting the power conversion ratios now. Just give me a couple minutes.”
Another blast pounded the Explorer.
“Shields are down; damage on several decks,” Lt. Commander Larkin announced. “I am dispatching repair teams.”
“They are coming around for another pass,” J’hana announced.
“Tractor ready,” said Hartley.
Tilleran looked up from her panel. “Ready with graviton beam, Commander!”
Conway gripped the railing that surrounded the command chairs. “Fire!”
The Explorer’s forward tractor emitter flared to life with rapid-fire white energy that crackled toward the cult vessel, causing it to reel back, atmosphere streaming from several gouges in its hull.
“They are badly damaged,” Larkin announced. “Another blast will cripple them completely.”
“Gotcha, you son of a bitch!” Conway said proudly. “J’hana, fire aga–”
Suddenly Lt. Ford’s hands scrambled across the helm console. “No you don’t, sir!”
Energy sizzled across the bridge, as sparks poured from every panel, sending some crewmen scrambling backwards and knocking some to the deck.
The last thing Conway saw as the viewscreen flickered out was the wounded cult ship turning slowly on a wing and heading into another subspace fissure.
For a few moments the bridge was bathed in darkness. Several thuds and thunks later, Larkin enabled the bridge’s emergency lighting, only to reveal Lt. Ford being strangled viciously by Commander Conway.
“You lied to me! You never quit that cult, did you, Ford?!”
“No I didn’t,” Ford said. “But I had good reason to do what I did.”
“And that is?” Conway asked, squeezing Ford’s neck harder.
“The Critics told me so.”
“Who the hell are the Critics?” Conway asked.
“The ones that control the Starshine Cult! They’re the ones who’ve been telling me what to do all along. I can’t disobey them.”
“And why not?”
“Because they told me not to.”
“I’m tired of this doubletalk,” Conway said, letting Ford drop to the deck. “J’hana, take Mr. Ford into custody and put him in the brig.”
J’hana withdrew her phaser and moved over to Ford, dragging him up by his uniform and stabbing the phaser into his back. “Gladly, sir.”
Lt. Hartley stared at Ford with bewilderment as J’hana dragged him into a turbolift.
“Damage report, Lieutenant?” Conway asked, looming in front of Hartley.
“Oh,” Hartley said, returning her attention to her console. “Whatever Lt. Ford did was very thorough. He shorted every circuit from here to the aft phaser emitters. It’ll be at least two days before we can even get engines back.”
“Can we even guess at what he did?”
“If I had to guess,” Tilleran said with a shrug, “I would say that he had set up a cascade overload of all our power circuits. It would have taken quite a while to set up and a lot of work. He didn’t do this on the spur of the moment, that’s for sure.”
“I don’t like this. Tilleran, I want you to search Ford’s quarters and see if you can find any kind of clue about this cult.”
“Larkin, I want you to break out the emergency subspace transciever and get a message out to Admiral McGrath. Apprise him of everything that’s happened and ask him how we should proceed.”
About half an hour later, Lt. Commander Larkin met up with Commander Conway as he made his way down the corridor to Engineering. Hartley had just gotten the turbolifts back up and running and he was looking forward to taking one down to Engineering so he could see exactly how bad the damage was.
“What’s the word from Admiral McGrath, Larkin?” Conway asked, striding into the turbolift. “Deck Thirty-six.”
Once the turbolift began its descent, Larkin spoke. “Admiral McGrath will be here tomorrow.”
“What?” Conway asked, turning to Larkin. “He’s coming himself? Oh, this can’t be good. That man just can’t stay out of our business.”
“Admiral McGrath is the one who developed the Explorer Program, which was directly responsible for the commissioning of this ship. In a word, his business is our business.”
“Fine, whatever. Did he tell you anything else?”
“Only that he would be bringing a new ship for us.”
“We’re getting a new ship?”
Conway took a big breath and let it out slowly. “Wow. Starfleet is really turning them out. Are they just going to scrap this one?”
“Unknown. However, I find that unlikely. The Explorer is only a year old. It may be crippled, but it is far from destroyed.”
“You’ve grown attached to it, you old softie,” Conway said blandly.
“I have done no such thing,” Larkin replied, as the turbolift dropped to a halt and the doors swished open.
“Liar,” Conway muttered, as he passed out of the turbolift.
“I am incapable of lying.”
“That’s another lie,” Conway said. “If I ordered you to lie, you would.”
“That is an entirely different circumstance.”
“Stop pestering her,” Lt. Hartley said, sticking her head out of a nearby access duct. She was stripped down to the tanktop and covered in grime from squirming around Jeffries’ tubes. “Larkin has feelings too.”
The android looked as close to becoming flustered as Conway had ever seen her. “I most certainly do not.”
“Enough,” Conway ordered. “What’s our status, Lieutenant Hartley?”
“The warp core is back up, but we still have millions of connections to restore,” Hartley said, sliding out of the duct and wiping her face with a towel. “With my entire crew it’ll still take more than two days to completely restore the ship.”
“Then I want you to deputize the Science, Security, and Operations departments. I want every crewman that’s not essential elsewhere crawling around the Jeffries’ tubes restoring this ship to working order. If that cult ship comes back, we’re a sitting duck.”
“Understood,” Hartley said. “Ensign Stuart…go do as the Commander says. And if anybody refuses to work, shoot them.”
“Lieutenant…” Conway seethed.
“Set your phaser to stun, Mr. Stuart,” Hartley appended.
“Very good,” Conway said. “Come on, Larkin. We have a wayward crewman to interrogate.”
“I take it my function is to stop you from killing Mr. Ford?”
Captain Baxter squinted through the rain and the darkness as he slid past two towers of rock. He tried to shake the confusion that seemed to have seized upon his brain as he made out the huge, twenty-story tall shape that rose into the air about twenty meters away.
“Andy…I feel dizzy…” Peterman said, rubbing her eyes.
“I feel worse than that…” Baxter said. “Do you recognize that shape?”
Peterman narrowed her eyes at the dark mass that seemed to be sheathed in fog. “It looks like crashed ship…half stuck in the ground.”
“Not just any kind of crashed ship,” Baxter said. “I recognize it even in this poor visibility. That’s a Flarn ship.”
“Impossible,” Peterman said. “How do you explain that?”
“I don’t know. How do you explain the Wicomico being crashed here? There’s a connection between this planet and the Delta Quadrant, honey, and we have to find it.”
“Odds are the answers are in that ship. La de da dee daaa…”
“Kelly?” Baxter asked.
“Why is it…” Baxter looked down at his hands. They were shaking. “I feel a…a…a…no! It’s not possible!”
“It is, Andy. As hard as it is to believe…” Peterman said, grabbing him by his shirt and shaking him, her eyes wild with fear.
Baxter looked up into the lightening filled sky and cried out, “I FEEL A SONG CUE COMING ON!”
“Fight it, Andy! Fi-i-iight it,” Peterman asid musically.
“Can’t give in…” Baxter said, stumbling toward the ship in the distance.
Peterman stumbled after Baxter, grabbing his arm. “Here we go!”
(To the tune of: “Over at the Frankenstein Place”) (*All songs from “The Rockey Horror Picture Show”)
PETERMAN: In the creepy darkness,
And the pouring rain,
Down the lane, there’s a wrecked starship!
That may hold the answer to this whole weird trip!
PETERMAN & BAXTER: There’s a light…
CHORUS: Over at the Flarn place!
PETERMAN & BAXTER: There’s a li-i-i-ight…
CHORUS: Bringing us from outer space!
PETERMAN: There’s a light in the starship,
Of everybody’s life…
Peterman and Baxter scurried through the rain toward the humongous airlock at the front of the Flarn ship.
“What’s happening to us?” Baxter asked frantically.
“I don’t know, but you never sounded that good singing in the shower!”
“Really?” Baxter asked, as the airlock sighed open with a crank.
Both Baxter and Peterman froze as they saw the humongous being standing in front of them.
“Dwanok?” Baxter asked, shaking his head in disbelief.
“What do you want?” grunted Dwanok in a bass voice.
“We thought you were lost in the Delta Quadrant looking for the refugees from the Alpha Quadrant,” Baxter said.
“You’re wet,” Dwanok said briskly.
“Yes…” Peterman said. “It’s raining.”
“I think perhaps you’d better come inside,” Dwanok said, turning around and walking away.
Baxter looked at Peterman and shrugged. “What could it hurt?”
Peterman shook her head, following Baxter through the airlock as it slammed shut.
“Dwanok…” Baxter said, looking around the dim hollows of the wrecked Flarn starship. “What kind of place is this…a refugee camp from the Delta Quadrant?”
“Not exactly,” Dwanok said, shaking his head. “However, most of the crews that were sent to the Delta Quadrant from the Alpha Quadrant are here.”
“Ahhhhh!” Peterman shrieked.
Baxter’s head whipped around and he shrieked as well. “Flarn!”
“Oh, come now,” Dwanok said. “She’s a friend.”
“She?” Baxter asked in disbelief. “I didn’t know Flarn had she’s.”
“Her name is Benzra,” Dwanok said, leading the way through the dim companionway. “She was the Lieutenant Lord aboard the Vendregad.”
“The ship that was carrying the Flarn’s human stock?” Baxter asked. “Is that what this is?”
Dwanok spun around toward Baxter. “Don’t you know where we are?”
Baxter gulped. “A Flarn warship?”
“We’re home,” Benzra said, a gleam in her eye.
“Home?” Peterman said. “What do you mean?”
“This is the home of the one true light that we all must step into one day…” Dwanok explained.
Baxter pulled Peterman close to him. “Kelly…we’re right in their den! This must be the home base of the Starshine Cult!”
“Naw!” Benzra said with an emphatic hiss, wrapping her long insectoid legs around a support strut and swinging around it as the music boomed up all around them. “You think?”
“Oh no,” Peterman said, looking to Baxter. “Not again!”
Benzra and Dwanok began dancing around furiously.
(To the tune of: “The Time Warp”)
DWANOK: It’s astounding,
This cult is freaky!
Brainwashing…takes its toll
But listen closely…
BENZRA: Not for very much longer! DWANOK: I’ve got to…
Show you the ropes!
(His voice becomes very high)
I remember…having my mind warped…
Flying…on the Wicomico.
Then the brightness overtook us!
DWANOK AND BENZRA: And the rest is yet to be told! (They open the door to reveal a decadent, almost Victorian room full of bald, robe-wearing freaks of all species.)
STARSHINE KIDS: Let’s do the mind warp again!
Let’s do the mind warp again!
DWANOK: They put a bowl on your head! (Two Starshine Kids place clear fishbowl-like helmets over Peterman and Baxter’s heads, securing them with little metal screws.)
ALL: Then they screw it on ti-i-i-ight!
DWANOK: They fill your mind with ideas!
ALL: And then you feel all ri-i-i-ight! (Peterman and Baxter struggle as the bowls fill with red gas.)
But it’s the noxious gas
That really drives you insa-a-a-ane!
ALL: Let’s do the mind warp again!
Let’s do the mind warp again!
BENZRA: (Dancing around Peterman and Baxter as they struggle) That gassss issss sssso dreamy, Its brainwasssshing freessss me! Sssso you can’t breathe? No, not at all! Let’s vent thosssse contraptionssss, Ssssso you can get crackin’ Well deluded, you’ll have a ball!
(Starshine Kids remove the helmets; Peterman and Baxter stumble around, dazed.)
DWANOK: With a bit of a mind drip,
BENZRA: You’re in for a new trip,
DWANOK: And nothing can ever be as sane.
BENZRA: You’re hooked on a feeling,
DWANOK: (High voice) Like you want to be screaming!
ALL: (Including Baxter and Peterman)
Let’s do the mind warp again!
Let’s do the mind warp again!
(The music stops, and everyone falls down, exausted)
“Kelly,” Baxter muttered, coughing out the last remnants of the red gas. “We have to get out of here…call for reinforcements!”
Peterman was rocking gently, her knees pulled in, softly singing, “Let’s do the mind warp again. Let’s do the mind warp again.”
“Kelly!” Baxter said, weakly shaking the Counselor. When he saw that was having no effect, he slapped her. “Kelly Lynne!”
“Andy?” Peterman blinked. “What the hell is happening?”
“I don’t know,” Baxter said, looking around. “But it looks like these guys are down for the count. Let’s get while the getting is good.”
Baxter grabbed Peterman’s hand and led her toward the door. “But where will we go?” Peterman asked worriedly.
“Anywhere but here would be preferable, hon,” Baxter said, running throgh the doors so fast he bumped into someone.
He looked up at the person he had bumped into and stopped in his tracks, causing Peterman to slam into him.
Staring back at him was a tall, angular, bald Vulcan man in a white lacy robe. His eyebrows looked a little bit too penciled- in for Baxter’s taste. And he couldn’t be sure, but it looked like the man was wearing a light shade of lipstick on top of that.
“Who the hell are you?” Baxter asked.
“The name is Sesil,” said the Vulcan, as the volume of the background music went up a couple of notches.
“Why does this keep happening!” Baxter said, pulling at his hair in frustration.
(To the tune of: “Sweet Transvestite”)
SESIL: How do you do, I
see you’ve met my,
Faithful Klingon man.
He’s just a little brought down,
Because when you arrived,
He thought you were his Andorian.
Don’t get upset
About the brainwashing,
It’s really just a bit of an upperrrrr.
We’re going to warp you some more,
Before you go out the door,
So why don’t you stay for some supper?
I’m just a sweet cult leader,
BAXTER: I think your cult is insane,
Plus you screwed with our brains,
So could we just defeat you,
And get out of this place?
We’ll just call our starship,
And finish this trip.
We can drop you off at a starbase.
SESIL: So you think we’re unfair?
Well, I don’t care.
By the light of day, I’ll take your will away,
Then take your ship and brainwash your staff.
Cause I’m a sweet cult leader,
DWANOK AND BENZRA: Sweet cult leader!
SESIL: From super logical…
DWANOK AND BENZRA: Vulllllllllcania-uh-huh-huh
(Music stops and room is bathed in a dim red light).
SESIL(looking up toward ceiling): So why don’t we call in our
And see how all this ends.
I’ll bring on the cause…
…and the symptom.
Baxter looked to Peterman and they both shrugged.
“What’s he mean ‘the cause’?” Peterman asked.
“I’m afraid to find out,” Baxter said, shaking his head.
Suddenly everyone in the room began chanting “Let there be lips! Let their be lips!”
“I don’t feel good about this Andy!” Peterman said, hugging Baxter tight as suddenly the room was drenched in darkness.
And a pair of fiery red lips at least two meters across emerged from the darkness, hungrily smacking together and turning toward Baxter and Peterman.
First Officer’s Log,
Stardate 53001.4. It has been a day since Larkin talked to Admiral McGrath, and still we have not heard from him. My conversation with Mr. Ford last night was far from enlightening. Evidently he has gone into some kind of catotonic state. He just keeps saying the word “lips” over and over again. In other news, Captain Baxter is three days late checking in with us. He must be having some great time.
“Okay, what’s the big emergency…” Dr. Lana Shar said, plunging through the doors to the conference lounge.
Commander Conway was sitting alone on top of the conference table, twiddling his thumbs. “I’m the one that called you here, Lana. There’s no emergency.”
Lana scrubbed a hand over her face. “You just don’t get it, do you, Commander?”
Conway took a deep breath. “Listen, I know I acted like an idiot last night, but you have to understand…I think I love you.”
“You called me all the way up here with some ridiculous story about a planet in this system that’s ecology was slowly breaking down….just to tell me that you THINK you LOVE me?”
Conway smiled weakly. “So…what do you think?”
“Let me rephrase my earlier reply…” Lana seethed, balling up her fist and socking Commander Conway in his remaining good eye with all her might.
The Commander hovered a bit in shock then flew back into the conference table with a thud.
“Does that clarify things for you, Commander?”
Lana spun around on a heel and stormed out of the conference room.
Colors flared in front of Conway’s eyes, as multiple twirling images of Lana spun through his head.
“Lanaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa,” he mumbled softly.
“Larkin to Conway.”
“Admiral McGrath has arrived and he wishes to speak to you.”
“I’ll…nnnnnnnnd…be right…uh, right there.”
“Are you all right, Commander?”
“No.” Conway leaned forward and rolled off the conference table, slamming into the floor.
“Please hold still,” the holographic doctor said scoldingly, as he ran the tissue regenerator over one of Commander Conway’s two damaged eyes.
“Well, Commander, it is good to see you again,” said Admiral McGrath, crossing from the turbolift doors to the front of the bridge. “What happened to you?”
Conway tried to bat the hologram’s hand away, but every time he did so, the doctor simply remotely reset his imaging forcefields so that the Commander’s hand passed through harmlessly. “I’d rather not get into it. Where’s our new ship?”
“What’s the rush, Commander?”
Conway tried again unsuccessfully to bat away the hologram’s hand.
“With all due respect, Admiral, I want to get underway as soon as I can so that I can track down those cult people and knock them into the next stardate.”
“One thing at a time, Mr. Conway,” Admiral McGrath said, pacing the bridge. He turned back to look at Conway. “Where’s Captain Baxter?”
“On his honeymoon,” Conway muttered. “Now, about the ship…”
“Really? Who did he marry? That Counselor person he was always hanging around?”
“Counselor Peterman, yes, sir, that’s right. Now…the…ship.”
“Have you heard from him? Is he enjoying himself?” McGrath said, strolling around the bridge and examining all the consoles.
“No we haven’t heard from him. No I don’t know if he’s enjoying himself or not, and frankly I just don’t care! I want my ship!”
“Fine, fine,” Admiral McGrath said, turning around and heading back to the command chair. “You can have ‘your’ ship. For Pete’s sake, I’m only trying to have some kind of amicable conversation with you. Baxter may be a little bit erratic, but at least he’s friendly!”
“I’ll be friendly as soon as I’m aboard the new ship. Now, if we can get down to the business of necessary crew transfers and all the other administrative tasks…”
“You’ll only need about fifteen officers, Commander. You’ll find the Escort is a little cramped for space…”
“Hold on a second. Back up. The Escort?”
“Yes, yes, the Escort. The new companion vessel for the Explorer.”
“Companion vessel? I thought we were getting a real starship.”
“Goodness, no. We’re not replacing the Explorer! We’re supplementing her! The Escort is designed to scout out areas far ahead of the Explorer with minimal risk to the crew. She’s designed to be far less conspicuous for those important low-level reconnaisance missions.”
“Oh. Well then, where the hell is it?” Conway said, his already sour mood dropping several notches.
McGrath smiled and slapped his comm badge. “McGrath to Escort. Drop the SR shields.”
Conway watched as a tiny dot came into view on the viewscreen. “Magnify, J’hana.”
The dot suddenly grew larger, revealing a small, grey, curved ship, with bulky wings jutting out from either side, to which twin warp nacelles were mounted.
“It’s actually a refurbished Peregrine-class vessel,” McGrath said, looking on as Conway’s shoulders fell. He’d been hoping McGrath would give him the new ship and let Baxter keep the Explorer. “We took some parts from one of the Defiant-class ships that was damaged during the Dominion conflict and expanded the l iving space by a few decks, but it’s still cramped in there. On the bright side, our engineers were able to give her a ton of weaponry and science equipment. Unfortunately, there isn’t room for much else.”
“So it’s a used ship?”
“Not used. Refurbished! Our test crew found it quite capable. They just have two warnings for you: the acceleration is a bit problematic and it has a way of leaking vital fluids, but hey, I’m sure you’ll shake those bugs out eventually.”
“How is it we weren’t able to see it earlier?”
“Sensor-Reflective forcefields. The hull is as thick as a Klingon’s skull and nearly impossible to see with sensors unless the fields are turned off.”
“Nifty,” Conway said. “So what do we do with it?”
“The Escort will seek out the Starshine Cult’s base and take out every one of its installations with its quantum torpedoes.”
“Hmm…sounds like a far cry from that whole ‘let’s boldly explore’ thing,” Conway muttered.
“Sometimes being bold means defending your territory. We can’t let these yahoos go on assaulting Federation ships. Now, if you’re in such a hurry, why don’t you get a team together and head over to the Escort. You’re leaving within the hour.”
“What about you?” Conway asked. “Lost that zest for exploration?”
“Let’s just say I’d be of better service advising here on the Explorer,” McGrath said, his face becoming serious. “Now get moving, Commander.”
“J’hana, you’re with me,” Conway said, pointing to J’hana, who accompanied him into the turbolift.
The Emergency Medical Hologram watched Commander Conway disappear into the turbolift. “I don’t suppose you have anything to say to me after I expertly healed the damage to both your eyes?”
“I sure do,” Conway said, as the turbolift doors began to close. “Computer, deactivate the EMH.”
<Captain Baxter. How nice to finally get to chat with you, after watching you for such a long time,> the lips said, sporting a vicious looking toothy grin.
“Always glad to meet a fan,” Baxter said, stepping back fearfully from the lips. “What do you want from me?”
<Nothing short of your complete and total dedication to this humble organization. You will all join sooner or later. I’d prefer sooner. You see, I have a lot riding on this.>
“Sorry to disappoint you, Mister, but my wife and I don’t plan on sticking around.”
<You’ll change your tune soon enough,> the lips said curtly. <Dwanok. Benzra. Find these two separate quarters for the night. We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow.>
“Yes, your poutyness,” Dwanok said, bowing regally at the lips and grabbing Baxter by the arm. Likewise, Benzra grabbed Peterman. They both dragged the unwilling officers to the nearest exit.
“They’ll make a great addition to the family,” Sesil said, clapping his hands together. “Wouldn’t you agree?”
<Yes. They’ll bring us one step closer to victory. Good work, Sesil. You know what to do from here.>
Sesil pulled out a small, grey instrument, pressing a button which caused it to emit a tiny phaser beam. “By all means yes. Yes indeedee.”
“Well,” Lt. Hartley said, strolling out onto the bridge, “shields are back up. Now all I need to do is get the engines and weapons back online. That should only take–” she looked around. “Hey, where is everyone?”
Larkin turned around in the command chair to face the engineer. “Commander Conway and Lt. J’hana took a team over to prepare the Escort for a patrol of the Galactic Rim.”
“The Escort?” Hartley asked, wrinkling her nose. “What the heck is that?”
“Our new companion vessel. It is designed to supplement the Explorer’s normal exploratory duties.”
“In other words, a brand new ship to fix,” Hartley moaned.
“That would be inaccurate. It is a used ship.”
“Even better,” Hartley sighed, heading back into the turbolift.
“I like the readyroom, but where the hell is the bridge?” Conway asked, putting his hands on his hips and looking around.
“I believe this IS the bridge,” J’hana said.
“I was joking,” Conway muttered, heading over to the lone command chair at the center of the Starship Escort’s bridge.
“You should be glad we get a bridge at all. The old Peregrine-class ships usually just had command centers about the size of a runabout cockpit.”
Conway ignored J’hana as he inspected the center seat. “The command chair isn’t even the comfy leather that your butt cheeks sink into like on the Explorer. It’s sticky vinyl!”
“I thought the Federation stopped using vinyl decades ago,” Ensign Madera said, taking a seat at the helm and navigation console at the front of the bridge.
“Parts of this ship were made decades ago, Ensign,” J’hana said, sitting down at the small, L-shaped tactical and communications console to Conway’s right. “It is just as well. We have been spoiled by the facilities aboard the Explorer for far too long.”
“I’d just as soon keep on being spoiled,” Conway said, checking the small lighted panels to either side of his chair. “Where’s Tilleran, anyway? Wasn’t she supposed to come aboard with us?”
“I called her myself,” J’hana said.
“Well, we don’t have time to dilly-dally,” Conway said, slapping his comm badge. “Conway to Tilleran.”
“Tilleran here. How can I help you, sir?”
“We need someone here to man the science station, Lieutenant. Unless you have better things to do, I suggest–”
“Actually, I do have better things to do, sir. I am working on a complex experiment here that may lead to a way of defeating the Starshine Cult.”
“And it’s nothing you can transport to the Escort?”
“I’m afraid not. And, unfortunately, most of my staff has already been tapped to help Lt. Hartley reconstruct the circuit pathways here on the Explorer.”
“Fine. I’ll just find someone else. Conway out.”
Fifteen minutes later, Ensign Howard Sefelt from the Operations department stumbled onto the bridge. “Hey…is this the bridge? Is this where I’m supposed to be?” Sefelt asked, looming over Conway expectantly.
“Yes,” Conway said. “I trust you know how to operate a standard Science/Operations/Auxilliary Engineering and Backup Food Service console?”
“Uh, I don’t know. I can try,” Sefelt said, taking a seat behind the substantial console at Conway’s left and tapping away. “Yep. I’m getting some results here. You know, sir, I feel I should tell you I’m in the middle of extensive therapy with Counselor Peterman.”
“Yes,” Conway said blandly. “I heard. Unfortunately, we have a mission to investigate and attempt to eliminate the threat of the Starshine Kids. Are you up to it, Mr. Sefelt?”
“I think so,” Sefelt said. “I’m just a little bit claustrophobic. It’s kind of cramped in here.”
“I noticed,” Conway said. “Deal with it, Ensign. We’re not here to coddle you.”
“Now,” Conway muttered, pushing out of the command chair. “I’ll go check out the readyroom, or readynook, or readycloset. Whatever passes for an office around here. You three get yourselves familiarized with the ship’s systems and give me a full report in ten minutes. I want to leave as soon as the systems checks are finished.”
“Understood,” J’hana said, studying her panel.
“He’s awful brusque,” Sefelt said once Conway had gone.
“What of it?” J’hana demanded.
“Just an observation,” Sefelt said, sinking a bit at his station. Was it just him, or were the walls closing in?
Later that day, Mr. Mirk whistled a happy tune as he scrubbed the last of the dishes from another busy lunch on the Explorer. He thought that his “Targ Gonad Stew Special” had gone over very well, and was ready to add it to his menu on a more permanent basis.
“I’m taking my break now, okay?” Amara asked, tossing her apron up on the bar.
“That’s fine,” Mirk said. “It’s quiet in here right now, anyway.”
“Thanks, Mirk,” Amara said, leaning over and kissing Mirk on the cheek. “You’re wonderful.”
Mirk blushed. Amara really liked him. That gave him such a warm tingly feeling inside. He felt so warm and tingly, in fact, that he accidentally caused a plate to fly out of his hand and embed itself in the transparent aluminum window at the front of the Constellation Cafe.
“Damn powers,” Mirk muttered, walking over and yanking the plate out of the window. Thankfully it didn’t go all the way through and cause the room to loose pressurization like that butcher knife had done last week. “I’ve gotta stop doing that.”
As Mirk walked back to his bar, he heard a rustling from right behind him…
The Maloxian whirled around, taking note that the bar was totally empty.
“Your mind’s playing tricks on you again, Mirkie,” Mirk said with a chuckle.
<No it’s not,> a voice said, as a giant eyeball took shape in front of Mirk.
“Director!” Mirk said, dropping to one knee. “What can I do for you?”
<Oh, for Pete’s sake, get up. We’re friends.>
“Whew,” Mirk said. “Then I guess you’re just here on a friendly visit?”
<Not exactly. We have some…um, disturbing news to report.>
“You heard bad reviews about the stew!” Mirk said, shocked.
<No, no. As a matter of fact, we’d like to have a bowl ourselves before we leave.>
“Help yourself,” Mirk said. “So what IS the news?”
<Oh,> the eyeball said, hovering over to the bar. The bowl of soup glowed blue and hovered upward, tipping over until it coated the eyeball completely. <Captain Baxter and Counselor Peterman have been captured by the Starshine Cult. They’ll be processed and brainwashed and you’ll probably never see them again, that is, unless the Explorer crew gets captured too…say, this soup is really good.> The soup seemed to magically soak into the surface of the eyeball. <Mirk?>
The eyeball turned around, glancing throughout the bar. <Mirk?>
After being neatly tucked into bed by Dwanok, Baxter found it very hard to sleep. He tossed and turned as all sorts of strange images blazed through his mind. He felt like he’d been riding around in a gigantic centerfuge all night. That gas was really doing some groovy things to him, and he felt that if he didn’t escape the Starshine cult soon, he’d lose his mind entirely. So this must have been what they put poor Ford through. Why didn’t he investigate that cult when it first came around? It may have saved everyone a lot of trouble.
“Andy,” a voice said, as a body slid into his bed. “It’s me, Kelly.”
“Kelly. How did you get past the guards?”
A giggle. “I have my ways.”
“I’m glad to see you,” Baxter said, turning toward the voice.
“Good. Then let me shave your head.”
Baxter felt two steely hands grip his wrists and bind them together with polyduranide twine, as the light of a phaser-razor played against a wicked-looking face.
“Fooled you!” Sesil said, and descended upon Baxter’s head with the phaser-razor.
The captain’s screams echoed throughout the grimy corridors of the crashed Flarn starship as dawn broke on Xavier Four.
First Officer’s Log,
Supplemental. So far the search for the Starshine Cult hasn’t turned up anything promising. There is no sign of the ship that attacked the Explorer and the Rosing or any other trace of Ford’s loony friends.
Commander Conway was deeply engrossed in his Tom Clancy book when J’hana’s voice broke his concentration.
“Commander. We are recieving a message from the Explorer.”
“They’re probably just checking up on us. Tell them everything is fine,” Conway said, still focusing on his padd.
After plucking several controls, J’hana interrupted Conway’s reading again. “Sir, Lt. Commander Larkin says that her call is urgent, and that she must talk to you.”
“Oh for Pete’s sake, just put her on the viewscreen so we can be done with it,” Conway muttered, slapping his padd down on the arm of his chair and looking up at the Escort’s tiny viewscreen.
Lt. Commander Larkin blinked onto the screen. It seemed to Conway as if there was an increased amount of activity in the background of the Explorer’s bridge, but he dismissed that notion. “What can I do you for, Commander?”
“Commander,” Larkin said gravely, “I have just finished talking to Mr. Mirk. He informed me that the Starshine Cult has captured Captain Baxter and Counselor Peterman.”
“How the hell does he know this?” Conway asked.
“Apparently the Directors told him, sir. He seemed quite unsettled, I might add.”
“Rightly so,” Conway said. “Would you agree a good place to start our search for the Captain and Counselor Peterman may be that planet Mr. Ford ‘reccomended’ to them?”
Larkin nodded. “That was my thinking exactly.”
“Have you spoken to Admiral McGrath?”
“Yes sir. He seemed adamant that we find our lost crewmembers.”
Conway scrubbed a hand over his face. “Very well. How are the repairs to the Explorer coming along?”
“Lt. Hartley’s repairs are almost complete. I estimate that we can be underway within the next two hours.”
“Good. I want you to join us in the Xavier system as soon as you can.”
“Understood. Good luck, Commander. Explorer out.”
“Ensign Madera,” Conway barked, “lay in a course for the Xavier system, then engage at Warp Nine.”
Once Madera set the coordinates and engaged the engines, Conway picked his padd back up and continued reading, this time with renewed determination.
Back on the Explorer, Larkin rose from the command chair and gave a nod in the direction of Lt. Gellar at tactical. “Hold our position and inform me as soon as Lt. Hartley’s repairs are completed. I will be in the science lab checking on Lt. Tilleran’s progress. You have the bridge.”
“Fine by me,” Gellar said, stepping out from behind the tactical console and taking a place at the center seat.
Larkin considered the many complex variables of the whole cult situation as her turbolift descended toward Deck Seventeen. It seemed to her as if there was something missing in her analysis. It did not make sense that Lt. Ford could simply betray his shipmates without any remorse, and it was evident that he was being controlled by some undetectable element. Larkin hoped that between herself and Tilleran, that element would be made clear.
“Status,” Larkin said, stepping into Tilleran’s science lab.
Tilleran was bent over some kind of glowing object, her back to Larkin. “I’ve found out a lot,” the Betazoid said plainly.
“I wish to know about all that you’ve found. It is necessary for us to work together quickly if we are to save the Captain and Counselor Peterman from the Starshine Cult.”
“They’ve already been saved,” Tilleran replied, turning to face Larkin.
“The cult saved them,” the Betazoid explained. “And they saved me.”
Before the android could react, Tilleran jabbed a finger into her armpit in a swift, elegant motion.
In her last nanoseconds of conciousness, Larkin briefly reflected on the wisdom of telling everyone where her “off” switch was.
<Very good,> the red orb said, hovering beside Tilleran as she dragged Larkin onto the examination table and began mettling with the android’s circuitry. <You have proved just as capable as Mr. Ford, and far more beautiful. Now we require you to take this ship to the Xavier system so that you may destroy it and add your crew to our happy family. Can you do that for me, dear?>
“I don’t see why not,” Tilleran said pleasantly, scratching her head as if she had an unbearable itch.
<Problem?> the orb asked with concern.
“It’s this damn wig. It really itches.”
The orb bobbed several times to approximate a nod. <We understand, but it is a necessity to give the impression that you have retained your former hairstyle for a bit longer.>
“No matter how much I like being bald?” Tilleran asked sadly.
<Don’t worry, Lieutenant. Soon you all shall be bald.> Suddenly the clouds of red inside the orb began to ripple, slowly giving way to reveal the head of Sesil. <And won’t that be a great day?>
“Sure will,” Tilleran said, patting the orb pleasantly. “Have a great day, your Brightness.”
<Same to you.>
“Morning,” Counselor Peterman said, sliding onto a seat at the grimy metal table opposite Captain Baxter.
Baxter looked up and grimaced. “I see he got you too.”
Peterman ran a hand over her bald head. “Yep. The bastard. He came in impersonating you.”
“I know. He did the same thing to me.”
“He impersonated me? What a sick, twisted Vulcan.”
“Tell me about it,” Baxter said, poking a spoon into the white glop that Dwanok had slammed down in front of him earlier. “And this oatmeal they’re feeding everyone is gross.”
“Man I could go for a plate of Mirk’s Ktarrian eggs right about now,” Peterman said, licking her lips and rubbing her hands together.
“I’d settle for a patch of hair. Nothing fancy. Just a little something to keep my head warm.”
“Actually,” Peterman said warmly. “You look kind of sexy bald.”
“Really?” Baxter asked.
Suddenly a gigantic gong clanged at the front of the mess hall and Sesil drifted in. Dwanok and Benzra helped him stand on top of one of the tables near Baxter and Peterman.
“Good morning, friends,” Sesil said, gesturing lovingly at the large group gathered in the mess hall. “I trust you all slept well.”
There were scattered cries of “yes, brightness,” and “oh, yes,” and “oh, what a beautiful morning,” all around.
“Excuse me,” Peterman said. “I’m going to try and find some pancakes or something. I’m starving.”
“You can have my oatmeal,” Baxter offered.
“That’s okay,” Peterman replied. She walked up to what looked like a large vault. The thick layer of ice over the metal vault suggested to Peterman that it was a freezer. Peterman shivered. She’d been inside a Flarn freezer once before, and it had not been a pleasant memory.
Peterman strained to swing the heavy door open, peering past the mist that wafted out as the warm and cool air mixed.
“What in the Critics’ name are you doing?” Sesil asked angrily. “Benzra, Dwanok! Stop her before she…”
Suddenly a red light next to the freezer began to pulsate.
Peterman stepped into the freezer. “Okay, where are the pancakes. I’d even settle for some Belgian waffles, or even a few links of sausage, or a–” she felt around and suddenly came across a very familiar shape. “Hand?”
The hand slapped upward, knocking Peterman to the floor of the vault and pushing past her.
“Drats. We’re too late. He’s been awakened,” Sesil said, clicking his tongue.
Baxter rushed over to Peterman’s aid, dragging her out of the vault, all the while staring at the half-frozen figure in awe. “Captain Stevens!”
The captain was still wearing his outdated red and black Starfleet uniform, and he had a large ragged gash along his forehead and a wild look on his face.
“SONG CUE!” he shouted.
“F***,” Baxter muttered as Stevens started dancing around the mess hall.
(To the tune of: “Hot Patootie (Bless My Soul)”)
STEVENS: Whatever happened to Starship Command,
A nice chair and synthale on demand,
It don’t seem the same since that Starshine band
Came into my life–I thought I could escape!
I used to ride with Commander Conway who’d go
And usurp my orders like a thankless shmoe,
Torpedoes were blowing like a light show,
(Looks at Dwanok)then you came along on the
Wicomico…we had a really good tiiiiiime!
Starshine kids bless my soul, you took away my
Starshine kids bless my soul, you took away my
Starshine kids bless my soul, you took away my
Starshine kids bless my soul, you took away my
STARSHINE KID: Lovely breakfast! (Sesil chases Stevens around the mess hall in an attempt to catch him, as Peterman and Baxter cower near the vault.)
STEVENS: My head used to swim from the gagh that I smelled,
My hands kind of fumbled with the runabout helm,
I tasted the Starshine gas and it didn’t work well!
And he (looks at Dwanok) whispered in my ear,
tonight we’ll die with honor.
“Get back to the helm,
Put some phasers on,”
James Stevens ordered his last Klingon.
With your transporter you took us away,
It felt pretty good, ‘til you messed with my braaaaain!
Starshine kids bless my soul, you took away my
Starshine kids bless my soul, you took away my
Starshine kids bless my soul, you took away my
Starshine kids bless my soul, you took away my
Stevens jumped on top of the table and ran like crazy, Sesil in hot pursuit.
“We saved you from the Borg when that Flarn ship was under attack!” Sesil cried. “And this is how you repay us!”
“You didn’t have to give me a partial labotomy!” Stevens called back.
“But we had no choice. Our brainwashing technique had no effect on you!”
“Too bad!” Stevens called back. He was so busy calling back over his shoulder, he didn’t realize he was running right toward Benzra’s waiting claws. When he saw her, he backpedaled fearfully. Unfortunately, he tripped on a puddle of oatmeal and skidded toward her with such speed…
Baxter covered Peterman’s eyes and looked on with disgust as Stevens slid chest-first into Benzra’s claw.
Benzra clucked her tongue and pulled Stevens off, tossing him aside as if he weighed nothing.
“Well,” Sesil said, looking around at the disoriented mass of people. “One from the vaults. Ha ha.”
“I can’t take much more of this,” Peterman moaned, sticking her head into Baxter’s armpit.
“At this rate I’m almost begging for more gas,” Baxter muttered.
“Entering Xavier system,” Ensign Madera announced from the helm.
Conway looked up from his book. “That quick? Wow, this thing doesn’t have much of an acceleration, but once she get’s going…”
“Scanning Xavier Four,” J’hana reported.
“Yes…right. Scan,” Conway said, looking over at J’hana. “What’s it look like down there?”
“I cannot tell,” J’hana replied. “There is a high-energy power suppression field in effect on the planet’s surface. We will have to enter the atmosphere in order to make a more thorough analysis.”
“Fine. I assume this thing is capable of doing that?”
“Affirmative,” J’hana replied. “It can even land if necessary.”
“Peachy,” Conway said. “Madera, take us down.”
Lt. Hartley pulled on her uniform jacket as she hurried out onto the bridge. “Hey, Lt. Commander Larkin, the ship is back up and running. We can leave at any–” the Engineer stopped when she realized that it wasn’t Larkin who was in command of the bridge.
Lt. Tilleran rose from the command chair and smiled. “Hello, Lt. Hartley. What were you saying?”
“I was saying that we’re ready to get underway at any time. Where’s Larkin?”
The Betazoid effected her best frown. “I’m afraid Commander Larkin met with a little accident. She got too close to my thoron field experiment and fried half her neural pathways. It will take some time to fix her.”
“No kidding,” Hartley said, taking her place at the Engineering station. “I’ll check on her as soon as I finish my inflight diagnostics.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Tilleran said. “I have things under control. Why don’t you just stay on the bridge with me?”
“Are you okay, Ariel?”
“Never felt better. How about we get going so that we can help Captain Baxter and the others?”
Hartley checked her panel. “Warp engines are up and running. Everything up to Warp Nine point nine-five is available to the helm.”
“Very good,” Tilleran said, turning to face the front of the bridge. “Ensign Hildebrand, lay in a course for the Xavier system,” she turned back and smiled at Lt. Hartley. “Warp Nine point nine-five.”
“Right,” Hartley said, shaking her head and looking back down at her panel.
Mr. Mirk hurried onto the bridge. “Lt. Commander Larkin… what’s our–”
“Hello, Mr. Mirk,” Tilleran said, standing up. “What can I do for you?”
“She was damaged,” Tilleran said. “Can I help you?”
“I wanted to know if we had left to go rescue Captain Baxter and Counselor Peterman yet.”
“We’re already underway,” Tilleran said serenely. “Does that about cover it?”
“S-sure,” Mirk said. He looked back at Lt. Hartley and quickly scrambled up to the back of the bridge to join her at her console. “Lieutenant,” he whispered. “I need you.”
“Glad to hear it, Mirk, but right now I have to–”
Mirk grabbed Hartley’s arm and dragged her toward the conference room. “Now!”
“Hmm,” Tilleran said, rising from the command chair. “That’s odd. Mr. Gellar, take the conn.”
“Wow,” Gellar said as he stepped out from behind the tactical console. “Twice in one day. I sure am a lucky guy.”
“Yes, you are,” Tilleran smiled, cracking her knuckles and ducking into the conference room.
“The sun sure feels good, huh, honey?” Baxter asked, not openening his eyes.
Peterman nodded assent. “Sure does. It’s nice to get out of the hold of that dreary ship.”
“Amen to that,” Baxter replied.
He and Peterman were out on what Sesil had referred to as “the Patio.” Actually, it used to be a Flarn antiproton control center, but when the Borg cut into the Vendregad, that cabin was ventilated to space…and now that the Vendregad was happily imbedded in Xavier Four’s surface, the antiproton control center made a darn fine veranda.
Baxter sat up. “I wonder if there’s any more coconut juice downstairs.’
“Don’t bother looking. You’ll just get more cult spiel from the waiter.”
“You know, if we didn’t have the brainwashing, the killing, and all the singing, this honeymoon wouldn’t be half bad.”
“That’s one way to think about it, dear,” Peterman replied.
While Baxter pondered this, he looked up at the sky. A black dot seemed to dart from cloud to cloud. What could that be, he wondered?
“Ahem,” a voice said from behind him.
“Waiter…yes, get me some more coconut juice please,” Baxter said, not bothering to turn around. “And hold the spiel.”
“Get your own God damned coconut juice, Captain. I’m here to rescue you, not pamper you.”
“Conway?” Baxter asked, turning. What looked back at him was right up there with the wierdness of the Starshine cult. “Commander, what is that on your head?”
“A wig, sir,” Conway said, patting his huge bubble of permed blonde hair. “And sunglasses. It’s the only disguise I could think of.”
“Hey, you’re one to talk about fashion sense, Kojak.”
“Kojak?” Baxter asked. “I see you’ve been brushing up on the classics?”
“I try to be a renaissance man, sir.”
“Good. How about renaissancing us the hell out of here,” Peterman said, leaning up on her elbows and looking up at Conway.
“Wow, they shaved you too,” Conway said, laughing. “Damn, I wish I had an imager right now.”
“How about we just f***ing escape and you can take as many pictures as you want,” Baxter seethed.
“Well, sir, that’s going to be a little difficult.”
“How do you figure?”
“I was beamed down about a kilometer outside the compound,” Conway said, pointing in the distance. “We found a dispersion field that renders all EM devices useless.”
“Yeah, we encountered that too,” Peterman said. “So how did you get here?”
“My own two feet,” Conway said. Then he opened up his stylish retro nehru jacket. “And a harness and about a hundred meters of polyflex repelling cable.”
“I didn’t know you were a climber,” Baxter said in awe. “Your skills amaze me. Now let’s get out of here before Sesil catches on.”
“Great idea,” Conway said. “We’ll have to slide down one by–”
Suddenly a loud gong rang from belowdecks.
Benzra stuck her head up out of the hatch. “Lunch isssss prepared!”
Conway shuddered. “Oh my God. A female Flarn!”
Benzra was out of the hatch and on top of Conway in an instant. “And a new guessssst for ussssss! The bright one will be pleassssssed!”
“Just great,” Baxter muttered.
“Hope you like show tunes,” Peterman mumbled.
Tilleran stormed into the conference room. “And what are you two talking about?”
“N-nothing…” Mirk mumbled, looking to Hartley.
Hartley’s eyes grew wide. “Lieutenant…are you doing something different with your hair?”
“No,” Tilleran said sharply. “Now what are you two conspiring about?”
“Okay, I’ll be honest,” Mirk said. “I’m getting a weird vibe from you.”
“You are, are you?” Tilleran said. “Isn’t that great. Who are you to lecture me on mind-reading?”
“Hey, I’ve got some pretty cool extra-sensory stuff going on,” Mirk said. “It’s possible that–”
“You’re right,” Tilleran said, slamming Mirk’s head into the conference table.
“Hartley to Security–I need help in the conference lounge…it’s Lieutenant Till–”
The Betazoid grabbed Hartley’s hair and dragged her to the floor. The two rolled on the floor for several seconds, clawing at each other like two jungle cats. Hartley managed to get a firm hand-hold on Tilleran’s hair and rip it clear off.
“I knew it!” Hartley said in victory, holding up the dark wig as Tilleran gave her a vicious uppercut and withdrew her pocket phaser.
“It won’t get you anywhere,” Tilleran said, yanking the engineer up by her ponytail in one vicious movement.
Gellar suddenly burst into the room, phaser drawn. “What’s going on in here?”
“Stay right there,” Tilleran barked, shoving the phaser against Hartley’s head. “Or your girlfriend gets it!”
“I AM NOT HIS GIRLFRIEND!” Hartley shouted.
By the time the lunch table had been set in Sesil’s private mess hall, the strange, intoxicating, music-inducing vapor had taken it’s full effect on Commander Conway.
“Here, Commander,” Sesil said, throwing a slab of meat onto Conway’s plate. “Have some more meat.”
“Why thanks,” Conway said. He looked around as he chewed on the meat. Peterman and Baxter looked down at their plates and pushed the food around. Benzra and Dwanok devoured the food hungrily. “So, Mr. Sesil. You’re in the cult business, I understand?”
“Mmm hmm,” Sesil said, taking a seat at the head of the table and taking a large portion of meat for himself. “It’s a great way to meet people.”
“I see you…mmm..uh, collected Mr. Dwanok over there,” Conway said. “Is there any chance you have a Captain James Stevens here too? I’ve been very worried about him.”
Sesil eyed the meat on his fork. “It’s possible that he’s around here…somewhere.”
“How did you do that, anyway?” Baxter asked. “I mean rescue those people from the Delta Quadrant when the Borg attacked?”
“Well, I’m not supposed to talk about it but you guys seem like a good risk,” Sesil said, leaning forward on his elbows conspiratorially. “If you haven’t already guessed, the Critics are quite similar to the god-like entities known as the Directors. I believe you’ve already met them?”
“We’ve dealt with them,” Peterman muttered.
“Well,” Sesil said. “Just as the Directors reside in the Bermuda Expanse, the Critics have a similar nesting place. And that place has much the same properties as the Bermuda Expanse. Shortly after the Critics “recruited” me, they sent me off to the Delta Quadrant to round up what they said were some ‘willing’ humans.”
“‘Willing’ because they were about to be killed by the Borg,” Baxter grumbled.
“Yes, that’s right. And they wouldn’t be missed because our quadrant gave them up for dead years ago,” Sesil said. He seemed to really admire the Critics’ plan. “We wanted to wait until we felt that we were in a position of power before we started much of a stir.”
“I suppose you feel like you’re powerful enough, now?” Peterman asked.
Sesil grinned. “Mmmm, yes, well. We’re getting there. Back to Captain Stevens.” Sesil turned toward Commander Conway. “How do you know him?”
“It’s a long story. No one is really interested in how one man shaped my life.”
“I’m interested,” Sesil said, a little harshly. “And at this point, that’s all that counts.”
“That’s okay,” Conway said, “really. No one hear wants to hear me wax nostalgic.”
“That’s for sure,” Baxter mumbled.
“I INSIST!” Sesil said, stabbing his cutting knife into the wood table and glaring at Conway.
Suddenly the music came on again. Baxter and Peterman rolled their eyes.
Conway’s mouth began to twitch. “Must…sing…”
“Yay!” Sesil said, clapping his hands.
(To the tune of: “Eddie”)
CONWAY: From the day I came aboard,
I was trouble.
I was a thorn in the Captain’s side.
I tried hard to please,
But he never agreed.
I left the ship the day I got bored.
From then on I was a Captain’s pet,
All I wanted was to earn some respect,
And the Captain’s pips,
And a piece of the Starfleet pie.
Kissing up to Admirals…
BAXTER: He was a low down cheap little scoundrel!
CONWAY (smiling): Brown-nosing whenever I could.
ALL: When Conway shined the Captain’s shoes
Sucking up was all he did.
But he don’t wanna share
The Captain’s chair…
SESIL: What a slime!
PETERMAN: He’ll ladder-climb.
CONWAY: And I did!
BAXTER: Everybody thinks he’s scum,
I very nearly fired him,
I said, “Hey, listen Conway,
stop being such a jerky guy!
But that didn’t stop his cruelty.
CONWAY: Stevens must have been drawn into something,
Because he never replied to me,
Before we left the Flarn.
I wish he wasn’t missing,
So I could give him one more butt-kissing!
ALL: When Stevens joined the Klingon
They went looking for some crews
And never did return.
But when the Starshine Cult came,
Hope came into Conway’s brain,
That he may be around the next turn!
SESIL: What a lie,
PETERMAN: He may have died.
BAXTER: And he did.
Commander Conway stared at Baxter. “What?”
“Uh…what I was trying to say…”
“In a kind of musical way…” Peterman added.
“Look!” Sesil cried with joy, dragging the tablecloth off the table, knocking plates and silverware akimbo, to reveal the partially-carved remains of Captain James Stevens. “How do you like your lunch now!”
Conway stared down at the mutilated corpse. “How did this happen?”
“I impaled him!” Benzra said with glee, leaping across the table at Conway. “And now I will impale you!”
Baxter spit out the food that was in his mouth. “Man, I thought that tasted a little gamey.”
“Here’s gamey for you!” Dwanok said, slamming his head into Baxter’s forehead.
A brawl ensued, and in the midst of it, Peterman pushed through to Sesil, waving a hunk of meat menacingly on the end of her carving knife. “That wasn’t very nice, Mr. Sesil! That was a human being you served to us! What would Emily Post say!”
“Tell it to someone who cares,” Sesil said, looking away.
“I think you do care,” Peterman said, grabbing Sesil’s chin and turning it to face her. “Talk to me, Sesil. Tell me why you’re doing all this. What put you at the center of all this mahem?”
“Don’t push me, girl…” Sesil said warningly.
“From years of psychological analyses and training as Ship’s Counselor, it occurs to me that you may have some family related problems.”
“I do not wish to be analyzed!”
“Too bad!” Peterman said. “Come on, Sesil. Let go of your pain! Tell me…is it your brother? Is it Telvin?”
Sesil stumbled backward. “How did you know about that?”
“I counseled him a few months back,” Peterman said. “And I didn’t put the pieces together until just now. Telvin spoke of a brother named Sesil.”
“It’s a common enough Vulcan name.”
“A Sesil who left Vulcan to become a holoevangelist? The same Sesil who committed terrorist acts on Vulcan and the Federation starbase Waystation?”
“No, no, no, no, no! Stop touching my secret shame, it hurts!” Sesil cried.
Suddenly a pair of huge, red lips appeared behind Sesil. <Have some backbone, you Vulcan moron! Get control of this situation before I appoint someone else in your place!>
“But…Critic…” Sesil said.
Suddenly a red streak of lightening surged out of the lips and into Sesil, which seemed to give him renewed strength. <No buts. Do it!>
Sesil shook with anger and power. “I…feel…a…song…coming… on!”
“Oh crap!” Peterman said, turning to run away.
Sesil chased after her, and the music cued up once again…
(To the tune of: “Planet Shmanet”)
SESIL: I’ll tell you once;
I’ll make you see,
You’d better shut up, Kelly P.!
Your psychobabble is no good to me!
You’d better shut up, Kelly P.!
My brother’s a dweeb, and he’s nothing like me,
You’re as annoying as a bee,
Stinging me with that psychological sting!
I’m gonna make your head ring!
You want to talk? Well listen to me!
You’d better shut up, Kelly P!
The mind-juicer will seduce you!
Suddenly Benzra threw Conway to the ground and pulled a giant lever. Red gas flooded the room. Sesil, Benzra, and Dwanok laughed like banshees. Peterman, Baxter, and Conway all suddenly dropped to the floor, eyes vacant, singing…
ALL: Mind Revision,
Is a nifty feature,
It makes Sesil,
Our fearles leader.
The gas has conquered,
Our Starfleet training.
We’re his slaves now,
Ain’t it frustrating?
Woah, oh, oh, oh, ohhhhhhhh,
At the Starshine,
I wanna go…
To the Starshine
J’hana cracked her knuckles as she stared at the images taken from the Escort’s sensors. Now Baxter, Peterman, AND Conway were captured, and it was up to HER to get them out of there.
There hadn’t been a peep from the Starshine compound for forty-five minutes, and finally the Andorian was tired of waiting.
“Okay, I’ve waited long enough,” J’hana announced, gripping the command chair. “We’ve tried the Starfleet way. We’ve tried subtlety. Now we do it my way. Ensign Saral, arm the quantums and phasers. Madera, take us on a strafing run and make sure we don’t get too close to that suppression field. We’ll get our people out of that damned Flarn ship one way or another!”
When Mirk regained conciousness, he was sitting at the conference table, his arms tied behind his chair. Across from him, Lt. Hartley, similarly bound, was counting the stars outside the viewport. Next to her, Lt. Gellar pulled at his bonds and mumbled angrily to himself.
“I think youprotest too much. I think you WANT to be my girlfriend again,” Gellar muttered.
“F*** off,” Hartley grumbled, returning to her star-counting.
“I take it we weren’t successful in stopping Lt. Tilleran?” Mirk asked, trying to change the subject.
“Oh, you’re awake. Finally. No, you could say we did a pretty bad job of stopping her. She stunned everyone on the bridge and flooded the rest of the ship with anesthezine.”
“Like that’s going to stop me,” Mirk said. “Did you forget about my powers?”
“No,” Hartley said. “As a matter of fact, I didn’t. It just so happens Tilleran ALSO set the ship on self-destruct. I tried my override and it won’t work. She’s locked us all out of the computer. I think she’s planning on having everyone beamed down to that planet before the ship blows up so they can join the Starshine Cult.”
“I can probably dissolve this rope and get down there to stop it,” Mirk said.
“In two minutes?” Hartley said. “Even your powers aren’t that good.”
“Yikes,” Mirk said. “In that case, it was nice knowing you guys.”
<MIRK!> a voice said angrily.
“What?” Mirk asked, as an eyeball appeared in the conference room. “You guys come to gloat at the failings of my weak little powers?”
<Stop undercutting yourself! Have you even considered that your powers are far greater than you think they are?>
“What do you mean?”
<Hmm…teleportation? Worked once when you were in that alternate universe, didn’t it?>
“Yeah, as a matter of fact it did,” Mirk said, raising an eyebrow.
“If that’s the case,” Hartley said, “how about teleporting down there and using your powers to stop that f***ing breach!”
“Right,” Mirk said, glancing down at the ropes that tied him, which immediately disappeared. Then he put his arms at his sides, looked upward, and concentrated hard.
“Hey, Mirk!” Hartley said, as the Maloxian began to disappear.
“What?” Mirk asked, reappearing.
Hartley wriggled her bound hands. “How about us?”
“Oh, yeah,” Mirk said, glancing at Gellar and Hartley’s wrists. “Good luck stopping Tilleran. See you guys later.”
“Hopefully,” Gellar said, following Hartley out onto the bridge as Mirk finally dissolved.
“And how do we feel now?” Sesil asked, looking over Baxter, Peterman, and Conway as they stood in front of him in drill formation in the mess hall.
“Spaced out,” Baxter said, as his eyes spun around like he was an insane kitty-cat clock.
Sesil steepled his fingers. “Excellent. Benzra…Dwanok! Robes for these fine new recruits!”
“At once,” Dwanok said, disappearing into the coat room.
Sesil marched back and forth in front of Baxter, Peterman and Conway. “It’s so nice to add you guys to our little group. With you as recruits, the Explorer will be easy pickings. And from there…the whole Federation will be within reach!”
“Righty o!” Conway said.
“Hey, Brightness?” Peterman said, cocking her head.
“What, darling?” Sesil asked pleasantly.
“What’s that coming at us?”
Sesil turned around to look out the mess hall’s giant viewport. “Holy Shit! Get down!”
The silver-grey shape hurtled toward the viewport, its weapons blazing.
“We have robessssss,” Benzra said, as a quantum torpedo pounded into the room above, causing he viewport to bust open, sending transparent aluminum showering down on everyone.
“Dwanok…signal the control center. Tell them to warm up the transit beam!”
“At once!” Dwanok said, stabbing a comm panel.
“What’s going on?” Baxter asked.
“We’re taking off!” replied Sesil, as the Flarn warship began to thrum around them. “Benzra…get everyone to an area that’s sealed off and prepare us for spaceflight.”
“Yesssss, brightnesss,” Benzra hissed, as Sesil headed in the opposite direction.
“And where are you going?” Baxter asked.
“To powder my nose! Being drunk on power tends to affect my bladder!”
“I’m so glad we’ve seen the light,” Peterman said in a singsong voice.
“Yeah,” agreed Conway. “It’s really good that our Starfleet training has betrayed us and we’re too weak to control our own minds.” He laughed giddily. “I love it!”
Baxter glanced out the shattered viewport. The Flarn wreckage was slowly dislodging itself from the surface of Xavier Four. They would soon be high in the air. “I love it too! Don’t you just want to die?”
“Yes!” Peterman snapped.
“Let us die!” Conway and Peterman said at the same time.
“Better than having our minds so…well-controlled!” Baxter agreed. “Let’s do it!”
“All right, let’ssss get out of here,” Benzra said, clamping a claw on Baxter’s shoulder. “This compartment will be ventilated to ssssspace sssoon.”
“Can I have one last request?” Baxter asked kindly.
“Go right ahead,” Dwanok said.
“Merciful death for us all!”
Dwanok looked at Benzra and nodded. A sense of shared understanding seemed to pass between them.
“Ssssssounds good,” Benzra said agreeably, grabbing Peterman and Baxter under each arm. “Let’ssssss die.”
“Death it is,” Dwanok said, as he and Conway jumped onto Benzra’s back.
The massive Flarn then sprung off the deck of the Vendregad like a grasshopper, right through the smashed viewport.
“Benzra…Dwanok…why don’t you…” Sesil said, wiping his hands with a towel. “Benzra? Dwanok? Anyone?”
“Explorer has just entered orbit,” Sefelt noted from the Escort’s ops console.
“Good,” J’hana said. “Then they can worry about that big hunk of Flarn ship. We’ve got bigger problems. Madera…take us closer to the surface once the Flarn ship’s EM suppression field is out of range. Sefelt, stand ready on transporters.”
And crawling on the planet’s face,
Some insects called the human race,
Lost in time and lost in space.
“Ow…” Baxter said, twisting around on the open ground where the Starshine compound was just moments earlier. The huge chunk of ship, meanwhile, thrummed its way out of Xavier’s atmosphere. Baxter turned to face his wife. “Honey, are you okay?”
“No,” Peterman replied.
“Is anything broken?”
“Join the club,” Conway muttered.
Suddenly a shadow fell over the group of injured ex-cult members.
Baxter looked up and recognized the markings. “A starship. Who could that be?”
“It’s the Escort,” Conway explained as he twisted around in pain. “Our new companion ship.”
“Ha,” Peterman said, as the transporter beam took hold. “Companion ship. What will they think of next?”
“You be nice! Stop acting weird!” Hartley cried, gripping Tilleran in a stranglehold and slamming her up against the command chair. “You’re one of the good guys!”
“Am…NOT!” Tilleran said, looking over to Gellar as he worked feverishly on the tactical console. “You’re efforts are useless, Gellar! You can’t stop the warp core breach!”
“I’m not trying to stop the breach,” Gellar said. “Mirk’s taking care of that. I’m trying to stop you from separating the ship and sending it crashing to the surface of that planet.”
Hartley slammed Tilleran’s head into the railing that surrounded the command chairs. “Now why are you doing this?”
“Mirk to Hartley,” came a voice over the comm system. “No more breach!”
“That’s great, Mirk,” Gellar said. “How did you do it?”
“Funny story actually,” Mirk replied, as Tilleran and Gellar wrestled. “I couldn’t figure out how to stop the breach, then it suddenly started to happen.”
“Yikes,” Gellar said, madly tapping at his panel in an attempt to get ship control back. “How did you fix that?”
“I just used my mind to force the explosion back…it was really cool!”
“That’s a hell of a lot neater than just flying around!” Hartley exclaimed, as Tilleran slammed her head into the arm of the command chair.
“Yeah, I guess my powers are maturing along with the rest of me.”
“Too much information,” Gellar muttered, looking up at the viewscreen. “There. Hey, Megan. I got control ba–woah!”
Hartley and Tilleran both looked up. Part of a Flarn warship sailed out of the atmosphere of Xavier Four.
“Tilleran! This is Sesil!” an angry voice cried over the comm. “You really screwed up! You’re not starshine material! And you and your crewmates can go to hell!”
“Well now, how about that?” Hartley said.
“What should we do?” Gellar asked.
“Blow them out of the stars!” Hartley suggested, pushing Tilleran to the deck and running to join Gellar at tactical.
Tilleran wiped the blood from the corner of her mouth and grinned. “It won’t be that easy to stop the Bright one and his followers.”
“It’s worth a try,” Gellar remarked, stabbing several buttons. “Firing all weapons!”
Phasers and quantum torpedoes lashed out at the red-glowing engines at the base of the half-Flarn warship.
“Heavy damage to their engines,” Hartley said from the science console. “Hit them again!”
“No good!” Gellar said. “They’re opening a subspace fissure. Should we follow them through?”
“Not on your life,” Hartley said. “Our hands are quite full enough with the cult members we have on board. Right, Tilleran?”
“Hmmmph,” Tilleran said, pulling herself into a little ball. “That wasn’t fair. You had a Maloxian on your side.”
Hartley looked up at Gellar and smiled. “Always bet on Mirk.”
Stardate 53002.2. We are heading for the nearest starbase with the Escort in close formation. When we arrive, I’m told the Escort will be soldered or bracketed somehow to the Explorer’s hull so that it can be detached for independent duty at a moment’s notice. I’m not sure how this new ship will work into our mission, but Admiral McGrath assures me it will provide us with new and exciting ways in which to screw up.
“Pass the butter,” Counselor Peterman said over the buzz of conversation that filled the Captain’s Mess. The senior staff felt the need for a good hearty breakfast after the past days’ confusing events. The neural deprogramming therapy that Baxter, Conway, Peterman, Ford, and Tilleran had undergone the night before in Sickbay hadn’t counted as much of a celebration, after all.
“Fake or real?” Baxter asked, indicating the two different containers.
“What do you think?” Peterman replied sweetly.
“Fake it is,” Baxter said, sliding the tray her way.
“It’s soooo good to be back,” Peterman said, spreading fake butter on her bagel and devouring it hungrily.
Baxter looked over at his Chief Engineer. “So, Lt. Hartley, how’s Larkin doing?”
“Very well,” Hartley replied as she buttered her toast and slapped a healthy layer of raspberry jelly on it. “All her neural connections have been restored and I think she’s fit for duty.”
“Good to hear,” Baxter said with a smile. “At any rate, it’s good to see you’re as good at fixing Larkin as Chris was.”
“Yeah, I was wondering. If Chris fixed her and he was her Father, what would that make me? An Aunt, maybe?”
“It would make you nothing,” Conway muttered, staring down at his scrambled eggs.
“Cheer up, Commander,” Lt. Hartley said, nudging Conway with her elbow. “I’m sure Captain Stevens would have wanted you to enjoy your breakfast.”
“Since when are you Miss Chipper?” Conway asked, looking away from his eggs momentarily.
“Do I need a reason?” Hartley asked. “Maybe I’ve just grown wiser with age.”
Conway gripped his butterknife. “Or maybe YOU’VE been brainwashed!”
“Not so fast, slick,” Hartley said. “We can’t go around suspecting each other of being in the Starshine Cult every time we do something odd…like being nice. Right, Ariel?”
Lt. Tilleran nodded, chewing thoughtfully on her bagel. “Yeah. And we’ve instituted daily hair checks for all essential crewmembers.”
“How are those hair plugs, by the way?” Peterman asked. “Mine itch.”
Tilleran ran a hand through the small mat of hair that rested on top of her head in an almost pompadour-like fashion. “I don’t mind the itch as much as I miss having long hair.”
“I know what you mean,” Peterman agreed. “I can’t wait until my real hair grows back.”
“You know, it looks kind of good short,” Baxter remarked.
“Really?” Peterman asked, her expression brightening.
“Well, no,” Baxter said. “Sorry.”
“I can’t wait until my normal hair completely grows back,” Conway said. “This little layer of hair is driving me nuts. There’s barely enough to wash.”
“I like it,” Baxter said. “I’m keeping mine like this.”
“Don’t even think about it,” Peterman said, waving her butter knife menacingly.
“Has anyone seen J’hana this morning?” Hartley asked, looking around the table. “I saw her go into her quarters with Dwanok last night and that was the last I saw of her.”
“They had a lot of catching up to do,” Conway said as he proceeded to shove forkfulls of scrambled eggs into his mouth. “If you know what I mean.”
“I think I get your drift.”
“I imagine J’hana and Dwanok will be spending their morning in Sickbay,” Tilleran said.
“Boy,” Baxter said. “I shudder to think what they’be been doing all night.” He turned to Peterman, a wide grin beginning to form on his face. “I bet they could give us a few pointers, huh?”
“Not on your life,” Peterman said, wiping her mouth and sliding out of her chair, kissing Baxter on the cheek. “And speaking of the mentally divergent, I have an appointment to get to.”
Lt. Ford looked up from his plate, looking around at Tilleran, Baxter, and Conway, and then back up at Peterman. “Not with any of us…”
“No, no, we’re a whole different matter. It’ll take weeks to root out all the nonsense those silly cult people programmed into us. I was talking about our resident miracle worker.”
“Oh. Mr. Mirk,” Baxter said. “Of course. Do you think he’ll be all right?”
“He’s a walking deux aux machina,” Peterman replied. “It’ll take time for him to adjust.”
“Just so long as he doesn’t start running around and solving all our problems,” Baxter grunted.
“Yeah, wouldn’t that be boring,” Conway said, nodding assent.
“I don’t think we have to worry about that,” Peterman said. “Young Mr. Mirk is still having girl trouble after all.”
“No power is going to help him there,” Baxter said, grinning.
“You’re one to talk,” Peterman said with a chuckle as she ducked out of the Captain’s Mess.
As Peterman left, Lt. Commander Larkin walked in and took a seat at the table. “Good morning.” She looked to Hartley. “Thank you for a well-done repair job. Have I missed much?”
“Well…” Baxter said.
Just then, the Flarn Benzra ducked into the door, squirming into a chair between Larkin and Tilleran. “Good morning.”
“Sleep well, Benzra?” Baxter asked, giving the Flarn a nudge.
“Yessss, once I ripped my bed apart and usssssed my digesssstive juicessss to make a nesssssst out of it I ssssslept quite well. Pleassse passsss the ssssscrambled eggsssss.”
“Whatever you say,” Conway said jovially. “Lt. Commander Larkin, meet Dr. Benzra. Our new Chief Medical Officer.”
“Due to a lack of medical officers, Starfleet Command granted Benzra here the field commission of Lieutenant Commander and slapped her with an M.D.,” Baxter explained. “She passed all the tests with flying colors.”
Tilleran patted Benzra’s exoskeleton. “It seems that one six-week Flarn cooking course carries the intellectual equivalent of six years of medical school. I guess it doesn’t make much difference whether you’re cutting up raw humans or cooked ones.”
Benzra patted Larkin on the back with a clang. “Morning, android!”
Larkin looked up at Benzra and cocked her head. “Yes, it certainly is.”
“Something to drink?” Peterman asked, as she settled into her soft, puffy chair, directly adjacent to the fainting couch Mr. Mirk was laying on.
Mirk covered his face and leaned back against the couch, curling into a fetal ball. “That’s okay. I’m quite all right.”
“You don’t look all right,” Peterman said, placing a hand on Mirk’s shoulder. “Maybe if you talk about it you’ll feel better.”
“It’s hard to put into words. It’s just that…ever since I stopped the Explorer from exploding…people have been treating me very strangely. It’s like they’re walking on eggshells.”
“Afraid you’re going to graduate to some kind of higher form of existence…going where the rest of us can only dream about?” Peterman asked, a twinkle of wonder forming in her eye.
“Not exactly,” Mirk replied. “It’s more like they’re expecting it. I feel like I’m almost obliged to suddenly glow white and dissolve from matter into pure conciousness.”
“Hey,” Peterman said, patting Mirk on the shoulder. “To each his own.”
“I suppose you’re right. I just wish people would let me be. So what if my mind can do strange things…I’m still the same old Mirk.”
“Mmm hmm,” Peterman said, turning around to grab another padd from her desk. In her haste, she accidentally knocked over her Betty Boop statue, which promptly smashed into a hundred peices as it slammed against the deck. “Oh damn,” Peterman said, kneeling down to pick up the remnants of her statue. “That’s the second Betty Boop statue in as many years.”
“Why don’t you let me get that,” Mirk said, waving Peterman aside and staring at the debris. It began to glow, rising from the deck and forming back together. He nodded the statue right back onto Peterman’s desk.
Peterman examined the statue with awe. “Wow. That’s better than crazy glue. Your powers really are advancing, Mirk.”
“I know,” Mirk said, shaking his head. “Help me.”
“Morning, Admiral,” Baxter said, as Admiral Frank McGrath shuffled into the Captain’s Mess. “Can we get you some scrapple? Grits?”
“Uh…no thanks,” Admiral McGrath replied. “I just read each of your reports. I’ve lost my appetite.”
“That bad, huh?” Hartley asked.
“And then some,” McGrath said. “These people have been through the equivalent of spending years as POW’s. I feel lucky to have been knocked out by anesthezine the whole time.”
Ford sunk a bit in his chair. “Sorry.”
“We don’t blame you, Lieutenant. You’re as much a victim as the others,” McGrath said comfortingly. “And Benzra and Dwanok’s reports will help us put an end to this Starshine business once and for all. Anyway, we’ve learned to accept that strange things just tend to happen when the Explorer crew is around.”
“Hey, don’t look at us,” Conway said defensively. “It’s not our fault that we attract wierdness.”
Benzra nodded. “Indeed. Thissssss is a gallant crew.”
“I know, I know,” McGrath said, collapsing into a chair at the end of the breakfast table. “I guess there just comes a time when you have to realize things don’t always work out the way you want them to.”
“Welcome to the Explorer, Admiral,” Baxter said with a grin. “Grab a plate.”
NEXT: Baxter thought the nightmare was over when he escaped from the clutches of the Starshine Cult. Turns out the nightmare’s just beginning. Wait until his parents move in! Baxter has “A Relative Problem” on the next Star Traks: The Vexed Generation.