Author: Anthony Butler
Stardate 53315.3. We have arrived at the Federation colony world of Culdrin Four to deliver supplies and visit the Galactic Antiques Auction that is being held in the colony’s capitol city. It’s possible that there are some–items–there that I am very interested in acquiring.
“Don’t you think it’s a teeny weeny breach of protocol to push the engines to the point of near-breakdown just so you can get here in time for some stupid antique show?” griped Commander Conway, as he and Peterman accompanied Baxter into the auditorium.
“I want those comic books, Mr. Conway!” Baxter retorted, scanning the room for a row of seats. “And I am prepared to go to extreme lengths to get them.”
“That’s all well and good,” Counselor Peterman said, taking Baxter’s arm. “Just as long as you save some latinum for that Ferengi broach I have my eye on.”
“Gripe all you want, Conway,” Baxter muttered. “But I believe there’s one item here in particular that may interest you.”
“I’ll believe that when I see it,” Conway huffed.
“Come on, come on,” Baxter said, hurrying Peterman and Conway to the row of seats. “The auction will start soon!”
Conway fell into his seat. “Yippee.”
Across the hall from the auditorium, in the Dealer’s Room, Lieutenants Hartley, Gellar, and Ford were thumbing through a collection of ancient Vulcan romance novels.
“And then he pressed his finger against her temple and pressed ever so slightly, causing a mental bond of vast proportions to erupt between them,” Lt. Hartley read passionately. “After mating, Selda and V’mak continued to regard one another very highly.”
“Falls flat for me,” Gellar said. “Give me Klingon romance novels any day.”
Ford nodded. “Nothing like Burning Blood Flesh to keep you company on a lonely night.”
“Only you, Zack, only you,” Hartley said with a chuckle, placing the padd back with the others and continuing to the next table. “Maybe we’ll find you a girlfriend at one of these tables.”
“Don’t laugh,” Ford said. “I saw one back at the Orion table for four bars of latinum.”
“It’s the best deal you’re going to get any time soon,” Gellar said, prodding Ford between his ribs.
“Oh, like you’re making real progress yourself,” Ford said, smacking Gellar in the back of the head.
Gellar glanced over his shoulder at Hartley nervously. “Shut up,” he said in a low voice. “She’s here with me, isn’t she?”
“Yeah, but I’m here with you too, so what does that mean?” countered Ford.
Hartley put an arm around Ford and Gellar. “I have news for you guys. I’m not here with either of you.”
Ford and Gellar grinned sheepishly. “Then what are you doing with your arms around us?” Ford asked coyly.
“This.” Hartley slammed Ford and Gellar’s heads together and headed to the next table.
“Why do you always have to butt in?” Gellar asked, rubbing the bump on his head.
“I hate it when she does that,” Ford said, rubbing his own head.
Suddenly Ford and Gellar both felt something sharp wrap around their midsections.
“Stop. Both of you!” Lt. J’hana commanded, yanking backward on the two- pronged Klingon fishing rod she’d picked up. Two huge grappling claws held Gellar and Ford at bay as she reeled them in.
“It seems to be a very effective hunting weapon,” Lt. Commander Larkin observed as she stood beside J’hana. “Especially when one takes into consideration that Klingon fish have been measured at over fourteen meters.”
“It takes a hell of a fisherwoman to take down one of those bastards,” J’hana agreed, snapping the claws off Ford and Gellar. “And I understand that, if you do capture one of these fish, they hold a feast in your honor in the capital city.”
“What is served?”
“The fish,” J’hana said matter-of-factly, turning her attention to Ford and Gellar. “Now, why were you two smearing the good name of Starfleet in public?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Ford said, rubbing the sore spot where the claw had chafed against his torso.
“You were fighting over Lieutenant Hartley, were you not?” Larkin observed.
“No!” Gellar and Ford said at the same time.
“Hey guys,” Hartley said, returing with a heavy-duty neutridium Andorian evening dress. “Would someone solder up my back?”
Gellar and Ford stumbled over one another in an attempt to grab the soldering iron out of the engineer’s hand.
“Mine!” Ford cried.
“I’ll do it!” Gellar cried.
“I would not purchase that dress if I were you,” Lt. J’hana said, causing Ford and Gellar to stop fighting.
“Why’s that?” Hartley asked.
“That is a sssshivvvx.”
“And that means?”
“It is the dress that a dishonored adulteress wears after she has her reproductive organs removed.”
“Oh,” Hartley said. “That’s why the Andorians were laughing when I went to try this on. Oh, well. Never mind, guys.”
Gellar and Ford glared at J’hana as Hartley walked away.
“Problems?” J’hana asked. “If so, we can discuss them in detail in my office over a hot interrogation prod. I just purchased a new one from the Cardassian table.”
“Sheesh, when you put it that way…”
“Will the holder of ticket number 0331 please report to the auditorium stage,” came a voice over the loudspeaker.
“Hmm,” Lt. Commander Larkin said, studying her ticket stub. “That would appear to be me.”
“You must have one a door prize,” J’hana surmised. “Come. Let’s see what you’ve won.”
“Come on, guys,” Hartley said, walking up to Gellar and Ford as she adjusted her uniform. “Let’s go with them. I want to see what sort of stuff they have up for auction.”
“Hey, that’s Lt. Commander Larkin,” Peterman said, pointing at the stage as Larkin and J’hana approached the auctioneer.
“So it is,” Baxter said. “She must have won the door prize.”
“I’m ecstatic,” Conway mumbled.
“Come on up and get your prize, sweetie,” the auctioneer said to Larkin, all smiles.
Larkin stepped up to the podium, and a scantily clad Orion woman wheeeled a huge black box out on an antigrav cart.
When she opened the box, Captain Baxter let out a yipe of shock.
“There you are,” the auctioneer grinned. “A collection two thousand comic books from twentieth century Earth, all in mint condition. Give…what was your name again? Give Lieutenant Commander Larkin a round of applause!”
Everyone but Baxter clapped.
“You were right, Captain,” Conway said, laughing. “I’m having a great time.”
“Can it, Conway!” Baxter shouted.
“Hi, Captain,” Lt. Hartley said, as her, Ford and Gellar slid in behind Baxter, Peterman, and Conway. “Has the stuff you wanted come up for bid yet?”
Peterman looked back at Hartley and shook her head, placing a finger on her lips.
Baxter just emitted a low grumble.
“Captain, look at what Larkin got,” J’hana said. “Comic books! Is that not a coincidence? Weren’t you here for–”
Peterman gave J’hana the same look.
“Right,” J’hana said, turning her attention to her Klingon fishing rod.
“Next item up for bid,” the auctioneer wailed. “Also from twentieth century Earth, a leather jacked previously owned by…who is this? Dale Arnhard?”
“Earnhardt!” Conway cried, leaping out of his chair, waving his paddle in the air. “Give it to me!”
“As I understand it, he was some kind of pilot. He raced…what is this? Combustion vehicles? Something called a ‘NASCAR’? Anyway, the bidding for this gem starts at one bar of gold pressed latinum.”
“One bar!” Conway shouted, continuing to wave his paddle.
“And we have one bar. One bar, one bar, going once…going twice…”
Conway’s head snapped around. “What are you doing!” he seethed, glaring at Captain Baxter.
“I’m having a great time!” Baxter growled, echoing Conway’s earlier remark.
“Two bars, going once…”
“Damn you, Baxter! Three bars!”
“We have three bars…”
“Four!” Baxter cried.
“Five!” Conway barked.
“Five bars of latinum. Well, I must say this is a surp–”
“Andy…” Peterman jabbed Baxter in the stomach. “You’re dipping into our Risa fund!”
“Screw Risa,” Baxter growled. “This is revenge!”
“Seven bars!” Conway shouted.
Baxter lept out of his chair. “TEN BARS!”
“Fine, fine,” Conway grumbled. “You can have it. I hope you smother in that thing.”
Peterman got out of her chair and pushed past Baxter and Conway. “He just might. He’s going to be covering up with it when he sleeps with the pets tonight.”
“Kelly…” Baxter muttered, watching Peterman walk away.
Conway chuckled. “So who’s the real loser here, sir?”
“Shut up while I go get my damn jacket,” Baxter mumbled, pushing past the senior staff, who’d stayed to watch him and Conway battle it out.
“I think the show’s over,” Hartley said. “Let’s get back to the ship.”
“I am not sure what I should do with these,” Larkin said, staring at the huge box of comics she was holding effortlessly with one hand.
“You read them,” J’hana said. “They are like padds, but they have pages.”
“You could always give them to Captain Baxter,” Hartley suggested. “He seemed to want them pretty bad.”
“You certainly will not!” Conway commanded. “You’re going to keep those comic books until the day your last diode fizzles out, is that clear?”
“Though your statement was rife with hyperbole, your intent was clear, sir,” Larkin said. “But I question your motives.”
“There’s no question to them,” barked Conway. “I don’t want him to have those things as long as he has that damed jacket!”
“Oh, this jacket is soooo comfortable!” Baxter said, walking up to join the group. “Doesn’t it look great?”
“Indeed it does,” Larkin said.
“It feels so good, I may wear it while I eat my lunch,” Baxter said. “A nice big pile of pasta with a whole lot of sauce, and a nice glass of wine. I sure hope I don’t spill any on this great article of clothing…”
“BAXTER!” Conway cried.
“Explorer,” Hartley said, slapping her comm badge. “Beam us up. We’re experiencing a severe outbreak of immaturity down here.”
“You wanted to see me, sir?” Lt. Commander Larkin asked, stepping into Baxter’s readyroom as the doors closed behind her.
Baxter was standing in front of the giant viewport behind his desk with his back to the android. “Have a seat, Commander.”
Larkin did as she was told. “Sir, may I ask a question.”
The captain nodded. “Please.”
“Why are the lights so dim?”
Baxter whirled around. “Let me ask you a question.” Larkin observed that Baxter’s face looked quite insane, what with the darkness of the readyroom and the stripe of bright light from the Culdrin sun playing across his face. “Haven’t I been good to you over the years?”
“I suppose, although I did not appreciate the way you kept blowing me out that airlock on Stardate 52–”
Baxter held up a hand, leaning forward against his desk. “That’s all in the past, Commander. Or can I call you Kristen?”
“That is my name, sir.”
Baxter stepped around to the front of his desk and sat down on it, right across from Larkin. “Kristen, I’ll be frank with you. I am in a position to make your life aboard the Explorer very unpleasant or wonderful beyond your wildest–”
“Sir, I have no feelings either way. Treat me as you wish.”
Baxter clenched a fist, pounding his head. “Damn it, Larkin! I need those damn comic books!”
“Sir, I have already finished reading them. You are welcomed to take them.”
“That’s just not good e–what? All of them?”
“Yes, sir. I have memorized each page in detail. Shall I give you a summary of the events that took place in each issue?”
“No…no, that’s okay. Just give me the books,” Baxter said eagerly.
“I will deliver them to your quarters as soon as my shift is over, sir.”
Baxter patted Larkin on the shoulder and stood up, relief visibly spreading across his face. “Good. Good. I’m glad to hear it.”
“Now I wish to make a request of you.”
Baxter bristled. He knew this was coming. “What.”
“In the interest of fostering a non-violent work environment, please give Commander Conway the jacket.”
“I had every intention of giving him that jacket, Lieutenant. I was just waiting for his birthday to come along.”
Larkin stood. “Given your past behavioral tendencies, I seriously doubt that, sir.”
“Fine. Fine. I’ll give it to him tonight.”
“Thank you, sir. You have made a wise choice, I assure you.”
“Yeah, yeah. Don’t remind me.”
Later that evening, Larkin emerged from her quarters with the huge metal box in tow.
Effortlessly balancing the meter-wide duranium box in one hand, Larkin pressed the call button for the turbolift.
Several moments later, the lift doors wooshed open to reveal Commander Conway. He stared at Larkin, a hot cup of coffee trembling in his hands. “Larkin.” His eyes fixed on the box. “The comics. Where are you taking them?”
“Up to the Captain’s quarters,” Larkin replied. “I think you will see that we have come to an excellent agree–”
“No you don’t!” Commander Conway lept forward, slamming into the box, which, since it was almost as large as Larkin herself, toppled backward, sending the android reeling to the deck.
The box slammed against the android’s head and its lid flipped open, spilling comics all over the deck.
For his part, Conway tumbled over Larkin and the box, spraying hot coffee all over the antique comics.
“Nzzrrt…the comics…Captain…Brzzzzt…” Larkin mumbled, as the corner of the box crunched deeper into her forehead.
Conway picked himself up and straightened his uniform. He looked down at the spread of coffee-stained comics. “Well, that is a shame.”
“Oh, yeah. Right.”
“Great job, Commander,” Lt. Hartley griped, running a circuit regenerator over Larkin’s forehead. “If that box had cut a centimeter deeper into her skull, it would have pierced her positronic subprocessor. And let me tell you, that would not have been good. Your little revenge game almost cost us a Chief of Operations.”
“It was an accident,” Conway said, arms folded. “She’ll be okay, right?”
“Sure. But the comics will take longer to fix.”
“You mean you’re going to fix them?”
“With Larkin’s help I’m going to reconstruct the pages, yes. Because if I don’t, then the Captain will find out, become furious, and do something equally childish to you.”
“What’s wrong with that? It’s always worked in the past.”
“Well, you both are going to have to start acting your age.”
“I don’t see why,” Conway said defensively.
“Baxter to Larkin,” chirped the comm. “Where are those comics?”
Hartley sighed. “This is Lt. Hartley, sir. Larkin is down in Engineering with me having your comics hermetically sealed and organized.”
“What a thoughtful thing for her to do.”
“Glad you approve. She wants me to tell you that you’ll get them in the morning.”
“Good enough. Good night, Lieutenant.”
“Uh-huh.” Hartley looked up at Conway. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of work to do.”
“You know, I could order you to blow those stupid books out an airlock,” Conway said defiantly.
“Yes, you could,” Hartley said, not taking her eyes off Larkin’s head. “And I could blow YOU out an airlock, so why don’t you just get out of here before I do that.”
“Hey, Ryan, I need you to run a diagnostic of–” Lt. Gellar walked into the darkened Engineering room and scratched his head. “Ryan?”
“Stuart isn’t here,” Lt. Hartley said, sticking her head out of her office.
Gellar walked over, peering over Hartley’s shoulder. Lt. Larkin was bent over Hartley’s desk, her hands working with amazing speed, small padd-sized booklets flying over her left and right shoulder. “What are you doing in here at this hour? Isn’t this Stuart’s shift?”
“Yes. I’m doing a favor for the Captain.”
Hartley explained the ordeal with Baxter’s comics, and by the end of it, Gellar had begun to doubt that either of his senior officers had a lick of sense between them.
“So you and Larkin are reconstructing the Captain’s comics in the interest of keeping peace on the ship?”
“That about covers it.”
Gellar shook his head. “That doesn’t sound at all like you, Megan.”
Hartley walked around her desk and sat down. “What, being nice?”
“I have my moments. Actally, these things are kind of interesting. I’ve been reading them while Larkin’s been restoring them. They’re filled with action…romance…and lots of muscular, handsome men.”
“Hey, you have that right here,” Gellar said, puffing up his chest.
“Please, spare me!” Hartley chuckled. “Anyway, I can see what attracts the Captain to these things.”
“I, too, can see merit in such literature,” Larkin said. “Unlike most of the great works of fiction of the twentieth century, these have beautiful pictures.” Larkin held up the comic she was working on. “This one is called ‘Batman.’” Larkin grinned widely, as if looking for acknowledgment.
“That’s great, Larkin,” Gellar said nervously. Then, to Hartley, with clenched teeth, he whispered, “What’s wrong with her?”
“She got a dent in her head,” Hartley muttered. “I haven’t gotten everything worked out in there yet.”
“Uh-huh. Well, I wish you the best, but I’d better get back up to the bridge.”
“Suit yourself,” Hartley said with a smile.
Gellar considered staying, then considered the reaming he’d get from J’hana if he shirked his duty, and immediately left Hartley’s office.
“Well,” Hartley said, slapping her legs and standing up. “We’re about done here. I’m going to do one more diagnostic and then get off to bed so I can start my shift in an hour.”
“As you wish,” Larkin said. “I will finish these pretty comics.”
“You do that,” Hartley said, heading out of her office.
She grabbed a dilithium crystal magrometer from her tool kit and approached the dilithium crystal chamber. It had been days since she’d checked the residue level in the chamber, and she hated filmy dilithium buildup.
“Okay, girl, open wide,” Hartley said, flipping the latch on the chamber and yanking on the handle.
The chamber didn’t budge.
“That’s strange.” Hartley pulled some more. Nothing. “Hmm. Must be jammed. Hartley to Larkin.”
“Could you come out here and help me with the dilithium chamber? It seems to be stuck.”
Hartley continued to tug on the chamber as Larkin stepped out of her office and walked over.
“Allow me.” Hartley looked on as Larkin wrapped two hands around the handle. The android jerked the dilithium chamber so hard it flew out of its housing completely and slammed right into Hartley’s head. The engineer blinked once, then pitched backward onto the deck with a thud.
Larkin leaned over and nudged Lt. Hartley’s motionless body. “Lieutenant?”
“The android carried her into my quarterssssss at 0400 hours thissssss morning,” Benzra hissed, as she clambered clumsily down the corridor after Counselor Peterman. “Then sssshe collapsssssed. I could do nothing for the android, but I wasssss able to repair most of Lt. Hartley’s cranial damage.”
“All right,” Peterman said. “So what do you need with me?”
“Captain Baxter feelsssss you may be of help.”
“How so?” Peterman asked, growing increasingly curious as she and Benzra rounded the corner and started toward the doors to Sickbay.
“You will sssssssee.”
Counselor Peterman didn’t like the sound of that at all.
Benzra leaded Peterman into Sickbay and stabbed the security control on the door that led into the intensive care unit.
“Prepare yoursssssself,” the Flarn grunted.
“Prepare myself for what?” Peterman asked shakily.
The doors slid open to reveal a pitch black cabin.
“Who goes there?” a voice asked from within the darkness.
“Doctor Benzzzra, and Counsssselor Peterssssen,” Benzra said. “We are friendssss.”
“Friends of justice?”
“Lights,” the voice said, as suddenly the lights rose up to their normal level, causing Peterman to momentarily cover her eyes. When she lowered her arm, she immediatley wished she hadn’t.
Before her, Lt. Hartley was crouched on top of one of the medical cabinets, with a blanket curled around her like a cape.
“Lieutenant?” Peterman asked softly, taking a step forward.
“I do not recognize that name,” Hartley replied. “I am…Superlative Girl.”
“That is right, citizen. I am here to battle evil and crusade for truth, justice, and the Federation way!”
“I see,” Peterman said. “Why don’t you come down from that cabinet, and we’ll walk to my office and talk all about your…crusade.”
“I’m afraid I can’t,” Hartley said, hopping from the cabinet and charging past Peterman, her blanket fluttering behind her. “Evil is afoot out there, somewhere, and I must answer its harrowing call!”
“Okay, fine,” Peterman called after the Lieutenant. “But once you’re done fighting evil, could you make an appointment with me?”
“She’s fruity as a nutcake,” Commander Conway said, folding his arms. “Tantalus Five is only eight hours away at maximum warp, sir.”
Baxter twisted around at the waist, enlisting sharp cracks from somewhere in the vicinity of his spinal cord. It felt like a Klingon had used him as a punching bag. And all because he spent all his latinum on those comic books instead of on Peterman’s stupid Ferengi broach. Now he was sleeping in Peterman’s old quarters with the pets on a smelly mat and he couldn’t even get the replicator to work. But there was one shining beacon of light. He had his comic books. “No,” he finally said. “I refuse to just dump Lieutenant Hartley like so much garbage. If I recall, you did some nutty things in the past, Mr. Conway. What if we’d decided to commit you to an institution as a result?”
“There’s no comparison between this and the thing with Dr. Shar,” Conway said. “I was driven mad by passion. Hartley just got bopped on the head by Lt. Commander Larkin.”
“Speaking of which,” Baxter said, turning to Tilleran. “How is Larkin?”
Tilleran shook her head. “Not good. She lost a lot of neural pathways. I’m having trouble restoring them. If only Lt. Hartley weren’t–”
“Loony?” Conway offered.
“Out of sorts…” Tilleran returned, glaring hard at Conway. “I might be able to help her more, but as it is, I’ll just have to wait for Mr. Richards to return my subspace communique.”
“Well, we’ll have to do without our android until then. So how about the matter at hand. What to do about Lieutenant Hartley?”
Counselor Peterman shifted in her seat. She did all she could not to make eye contact with Baxter. “I’ve tried to counsel her, but she seems totall convinced that she’s a crime fighter. If somebody–” Peterman gritted her teeth, “–hadn’t been so obsessed with getting those comic books…”
“Enough, Counselor,” Baxter snapped. “You may be my master in the bedroom, but here in the conference room, I rule the roost!”
“Cluck cluck, sir,” Conway said with a chuckle.
“Laugh all you want now, Conway,” Baxter said bitingly. “But, the way I see it, you have some bad karma coming for all that grief you caused Hartley and Larkin.”
“Do you worst, Baxter,” Conway said resolutely.
“Oh, I have,” Baxter grinned. “I’ve given you back your jacket. It’s waiting in your office.”
“You–” Conway said, and was through the conference room doors in an instant.
“I knew he’d buckle,” Conway laughed to himself as he unlocked his office and proceeded through the doors, barking for the lights to come up. He’d won this round, that was for sure.
As the lights came on, Conway was greeted by an office wallpapered with black leather Dale Earnhardt jackets.
Conway found a message from Baxter on his desktop terminal:
HERE IS THE JACKET YOU WANTED, COMMANDER, ALONG WITH EXACTLY TWO HUNDRED NINETY-NINE OTHERS. TRY TO FIGURE OUT WHICH ONE IS THE REAL THING.
Conway looked toward the ceiling, balling his fists, crying out with unrestrained fury. “BAXTERRRRRRRRRRRRR!”
Lieutenant Gellar poked his head into the darkened cabin. “Megan?”
Gellar saw a shape move in the darkness. Lt. Hartley turned toward him in her chair, steepling her fingers thoughtfully. She was draped in a shiny green cape, her head covered in a matching mask.
“No. Superlative Girl. How did you get into my fortress of solitude, citizen?”
“I used my security clearance. Why are you sitting in the dark?”
“I’m brooding. Super heroes are known to brood.”
Gellar sat down across from Hartley. “I heard about your…accident. You really think you’re a super hero?”
“I don’t think I am. I know I am. What else would I be?”
“An engineer? A Starfleet officer? A sane person?”
Gellar scooted forward in his chair, putting a hand on Hartley’s leg. “But what about us?”
“Superheroes don’t have boyfriends. They have sidekicks.”
Gellar gulped. “So…um, can I be your sidekick?”
“I’ll think about it,” Hartley said. “But right now, justice calls!”
Her cape fluttering, Hartley seemingly flew out of the quarters, leaving Gellar alone in the dark cabin.
“Women,” Gellar sighed.
“Morning,” Captain Baxter said tiredly, stepping into the briefing room. He’d stayed up all night reading his restored comic books–and that in conjunction with the sleeping Charlie, Fritz, Ozzie, the two pomeranians whose names he always forgot and the nogath they had brought back from the Delta Quadrant had made for a very poor night’s rest.
Baxter nodded to each of his staff members as he made his way to his spot at the head of the conference table and sat down. When he looked to his right and saw Conway, he rubbed his tired eyes. “Nice jacket, Commander.”
“Thank you. I have two hundred ninety-nine other ones and I’m going to wear one each day instead of my uniform jacket. I really appreciate all the gifts, sir. And it’s not even my birthday yet.”
“Cram it, Conway,” Baxter muttered. “Can we go ahead and get the departmental reports already?”
“I’m here to report that my husband is a childish moron,” Peterman mumbled from Baxter’s left-hand side. “Oh, and the new stress workshops are slated to start tomorrow.”
Baxter stared at Peterman a moment and decided not to say anything else. He didn’t need to air his dirty laundry in front of the crew. “What about security?”
Lt. J’hana cleared her throat. “We are having a minor problem with Lt. Hartley.”
“Enlighten me,” Baxter said, leaning forward.
“Computer, play security clip Beta 0429,” J’hana ordered.
The staff turned to face the video monitor, which promptly displayed a view of Mirk’s Constellation Cafe.
On the screen, Lt. Zack Ford sat down at a table and ordered a drink, making sure to pat Amara, the Bajoran waitress, on the rear end as he did so, simultaneously popping a honey roasted Ferengi beetle from a nearby bowl into his mouth. Wheeling around, Amara smacked the Lieutenant in mid-chew, causing him to grab at his throat, red-faced and coughing.
Then, a streak of green flew onto the screen, and Amara went flying to the ground.
“Superlative Girl” swung into view, wrapping her arms around Ford’s stomach and squeezing, until the beetle popped out and hit Crewman Dean Wilcox in the back of the head.
“Computer, freeze,” J’hana ordered, just as Wilcox turned in his chair. “That is when the brawl broke out, Captain. Lieutenant Hartley single-handedly caused an enormous melee, putting four crewmembers in Sickbay and decimating the Constellation Cafe.”
“This is getting ridiculous,” Commander Conway muttered. “Isn’t there a way we can confine her to quarters or something?”
“I have an appointment with her today,” Peterman said. “I want to at least have a chance to cure her of this…fixation… before we do anything rash.”
“I think causing a giant fight is pretty rash, Counselor,” Baxter muttered.
Peterman acted like she didn’t hear Baxter. “Then it’s settled. I’ll meet with her today at 1500 hours.”
Baxter grunted. “Counselor, why don’t we–”
“We’re dismissed? Oh, good.” Peterman rose out of her chair and left the conference room.
Baxter rose a finger. “Kelly…”
The conference room doors slid closed behind Peterman before he could say anything else.
“Marital problems, sir?” Conway grinned.
“You stay out of this,” Baxter said, rising from his chair. “The rest of you are dismissed.”
“You know, on Andor, marital disputes are settled by a strenuous afternoon of honorable combat, entailing several hours of sweating and–”
“DISMISSED, J’HANA!” Baxter cried over his shoulder, heading out of the room.
“He could at least have entertained the idea,” J’hana muttered.
“Believe me,” Tilleran said, accompanying J’hana and Conway out of the room. “He’s definitely entertaining the idea of combat.”
Lt. Hartley was perched on Peterman’s fainting couch, arms folded. She glowered at Peterman over her arms. Peterman shifted uncomfortably in her chair, as Charlie made a diplomatic attempt to lick Hartley’s booted feet.
“Are you finished yet?” Hartley asked. “Superlative Girl is needed elsewhere.”
Peterman sighed. “Isn’t there anything I can say to convince you that you’re not a super hero? Don’t you understand that this world you’ve invented for yourself is a fiction?”
Hartley hopped off the couch and clapped Peterman on the shoulder. “You amuse me with your jokes, citizen. If she could, Superlative Girl would join you in hearty laughter, but villainy runs rampant in the corridors of freedom!”
Peterman covered her face. “Lieutenant Hartley: You are a Starfleet Officer. You are Chief Engineer of the USS Explorer. You speak in the first person! Don’t you remember any of that?”
“You must have Superlative Girl confused with someone else, citizen. Now if you’ll excuse me, justice calls!”
Hartley threw down a small capsule, causing Peterman’s office to be filled with green smoke.
“Hey,” Peterman coughed, wiping away the smoke with her hand. “Why did you do that for–Lieutenant Hartley?”
Once the smoke cleared, Peterman realized she was alone. She tapped away on her padd. “Subject making progress. Call for follow-up appointment.”
Lt. Tilleran rushed into the science lab. “Pipe it through, J’hana,” she said, hopping onto a stool and swinging around toward a nearby video monitor.
Chris Richards appeared on the screen. “Lieutenant! Where is she?”
Tilleran inclined her head, moving aside to reveal the worktable behind her. “Right behind me.”
Richards frowned as he saw all the tubes and blinking devices that were poking out of Larkin’s skull. “What on Earth happened to her, Tilleran?”
“Commander Conway happened,” Tilleran said. “It was all in my communique, sir.”
“Don’t call me sir. I’m not in Starfleet anymore. Yes, yes, I heard what Conway did–I just don’t believe it. I guess some things never change.”
“Not when it comes to the maturity of the Captain and Commander Conway, Chris,” Tilleran agreed. “Did you get my schematics?”
“Sure did. It looks like a failure in her third positronic junction. You need to replace it.”
“That’s what I thought too,” Tilleran said. “But how do I do that without blanking all her programming?”
“You have to be very careful,” Richards said. “Okay, how about this: Pull her closer to the screen. I’ll tell you what to do step-by-step.”
“Right,” Tilleran said, wheeling the table Larkin was lying on closer to the video screen. “Now what?”
“First you have to disconnect her posterior–” Richards turned around as voices boomed from behind him. “Do you mind? I’m on the screen. Long distance. No…it’s being billed to my account! It’s none of your business! Hey, stop! I’ll be done in a minute.”
The connection began to flicker as Tilleran heard assorted rumblings in Klingon.
“I’ll get back to you, Tilleran!” Richards cried, as the screen flicked off completely.
“What is going on with him?” Tilleran wondered, scratching her head and sliding off her stool. She turned to look at Larkin. “You’ll just have to wait for your dad to call back, Commander.”
Nothing like ship’s night, Hartley thought to herself, leaning back against the trunk of one of the large redwood trees in the Explorer’s cavernous arboretum. The view from atop the giant tree was beautiful. She could see the entire arboretum from her vantage point. And when she turned around, she could see out the huge, curving, slatted transparent aluminum windows that gazed out over the aft end of the ship.
Hartley thrilled at the feeling of her cape fluttering about her in the wake of the sputtering air from a nearby ventilation duct.
“This is the perfect spot, Harlan.”
The super hero shot up ramorod straight. The sound amplification plugs in her ears were picking up conversation from below.
“Yep, yep, yep!” said a gutteral voice. “Nothin’ like picking some Tellarite petunias for my woman after a nice meal.”
Cigar smoke wafted up to Hartley’s nose. She pulled out her infrared viewgoggles and peered down at the scene below.
Sure enough, two glowing blobs were moving about below. Hartley hit a control, enhancing the image. Her deductions were correct. Cigar smoke. The gutteral voice. The name Harlan. It was the Captain’s parents.
But justice was blind, and it appeared that Harlan was trying to steal Tellarite petunias from the ship’s arboretum.
Something had to be done.
“There you go, hon,” Harlan said, placing a handful of petunias into Lucille’s waiting hands.
She placed one behind her ear. “I don’t care what they say about you, Harlan. You’re still the most romantic man in the quadrant.”
“Well, hon, anything for you,” Harlan grinned.
That’s when a pair of booted feet slammed into the side of Harlan’s head and knocked him to the ground.
Lucille ducked as a figure in a bright, shiny green costume did a somersault over her head and landed in front of her.
“Lucille Baxter. You have broken the law. Come along quietly, or be forced to face the fury of Superlative Girl!”
“Superlative–” Lucille said, bewildered. “Wait a minute. Aren’t you that Engineer that pushed me down the warp core shaft?”
“No. That was someone else,” Superlative Girl said, dropping Lucille with a roundhouse kick to the face.
Lt. J’hana rubbed the sleep out of her eyes as she tapped in her access code and stepped into her security office.
Harlan and Lucille Baxter were bound and gagged on top of her desk, with a padd tucked in between the tight duranium cable that bound them.
J’hana pulled out the padd and glanced at it.
J’HANA, CONSIDER THESE TWO LAWBREAKERS A GIFT FROM SUPERLATIVE GIRL, THE MATRIARCH OF JUSTICE ON THE EXPLORER!
“Well, isn’t that nice,” J’hana said, glancing up at Harlan and Lucille. “Out causing trouble last night, huh?”
“MMPH MMPH!” they growled angrily.
“Okay, okay, don’t have a stroke on me,” J’hana muttered, pulling out her phaser. “Let’s get that cable off.”
Baxter’s fists clenched and unclenched as he looked out the viewport behind his desk. “I want you to bring her to me.”
“Sir, I would like to point out that your parents were in flagrant violation of Starfleet reg–” J’hana piped up.
“I don’t care!” Baxter cried, whirling around. “Do you know what kind of lecture I got from my parents? ‘How did you get your own command, Andy? You can’t even control the officers under you. What a disgrace to the Baxter line!’” Baxter pounded his desk. “Lt. Hartley has to be stopped, J’hana. She can’t just go around beating people up. Especially when two of those people are my parents!”
“Well, sir, if you–”
“Gellar to J’hana.”
J’hana sighed. “J’hana here.”
“I just found Lt. Ford tied up on Deck Six. There’s a note from Superlative Girl attached to him. Seems he was peeking underneath the dressing room doors in Yeoman Briggs’s haberdashery.”
Baxter glared at J’hana as she considered this new piece of information. “Don’t you see, J’hana? She is trying to beat you at your own job. Either you eliminate her or I’ll hire HER as Chief of Security.”
“I really don’t think your parents would approve of that, sir.”
“Just go, damn it!”
J’hana tapped her foot and fingered her phaser controls as the turbolift descended. “Computer. Locate Lt. Hartley.”
“Lt. Hartley is in her quarters.”
J’hana stared up at the ceiling angrily. “Don’t give me that crap, computer. Is Lt. Hartley in her quarters or just her combadge?”
“Okay, okay, you win. It’s just her combadge.”
J’hana cracked her knuckles. “That is what I thought. You can plot complex astronavigational factors, but you can’t track a crewmember if she takes off her comm badge!”
Counselor Peterman grumbled to herself as she walked Charlie down the corridor. “I can’t believe the nerve of Andy. Sleeping with you for two nights now and he has only taken you out once. Does he think you use a human bathroom like him?”
Charlie just let out a high pitched whine.
“Yes, I know, Charl. You’ve gotta go pee pee. We’re almost to the arboretum. Soon you’ll have plenty of plants and trees to pee on.”
“Counselor,” Ensign Howard Sefelt said, appearing seemingly from out of nowhere as she rounded a bend in the corridor.
Peterman staggered back. “Mr. Sefelt. What have I told you about popping up in front of me like that?”
“I wanted to talk to you about our last appointment.”
“How about we do that at the next apointment, Ensign.”
“That’s too late. I need to talk to you now.”
Peterman rolled her eyes. “Fine. What do you need to talk about?”
Sefelt inched forward, rubbing his hands together nervously. “It’s all this lint. Lint–all round me!” he brushed at his uniform. “Look! There’s some now! It’s EVERYWHERE!”
Peterman placed a calming hand on Sefelt’s shoulder. “Ensign, Ensign! Get a hold of yourself! As a post-industrial society, we have a thing called fabric. Often, minute pieces of that fabric rub off. They won’t hurt you!”
“But it’s just the…the inevibility of it! I can’t go on knowing it’s going to be with me forever!”
“How about this,” Peterman said, sighing. “How about we make an appointment with Yeoman Briggs. Maybe he can suggest some kind of lint-free–Charlie! No!” Charlie was squatting right in front of her.
“Oh, my,” Sefelt said, stepping back and fumbling with his hands. “He’s peeing all over the place. That’s not supposed to happen! He’s messing up the carpet. Oh, no! Make him stop! For the love of goodness, MAKE HIM STOP!”
Peterman slapped Sefelt across the face. “SNAP OUT OF IT!” She looked down at Charlie. “All done, sweetie?”
Before Charlie could respond, a shadow loomed over Peterman and Sefelt.
“How dare you let that dog violate the sweet sanctity of these hallowed corridors!” Lt. Hartley cried, waving her cape around for emphasis. “Someone must pay!”
“Arroooo?” said Charlie, cocking his head.
“Lieutenant,” Peterman said slowly, in a voice tempered to calm Hartley. “You love Charlie, don’t you remember?”
“I am not a Lieutenant. I am a Captain… of courage!”
“Sheesh,” Peterman muttered.
“What is this?” Ensign Sefelt asked fearfully, stepping away from Hartley.
“You have nothing to fear, citizen,” Hartley said, advancing on Peterman. “I am simply making these corridors safe for law abiding people such as you.”
“The corridors are safe, Megan!” Peterman exclaimed. “Charlie just had to go really bad!”
“That is no excuse to break the law!” Hartley cried, leaping toward Peterman.
Before Hartley could reach her target, Charlie jumped in front of her and knocked her to the ground, batting her face with his paws and salivating all over her.
“Good boy,” Peterman said. “Have you had enough, Lieutenant?”
“I’ll never have enough,” Hartley cried as Charlie lapped. “Not until justice is served!”
“Right, right,” Peterman muttered, shaking her head. “Peterman to security. I’ve got a live one for you.”
“Well, you aren’t so tough behind that security field, are you?” asked Lt. J’hana. The Andorian was watching the costumed engineer pace back and forth in her cell with a satisfied grin.
Hartley didn’t respond. She just kept pacing.
“You know,” J’hana said, “I scoured this ship deck by deck for you. Who could have known that you would finally be defeated by a dog.”
“Taking this a bit personally, aren’t you, J’hana?” Captain Baxter asked, strolling into the brig.
“She violated ship security, sir,” J’hana said, folding her arms. “That makes it personal.”
“Uh-huh,” Baxter said, glaring at Hartley.
Hartley looked up at Baxter and smiled. “How are your parents, Captain Baxter?”
“Damn sore, thank you very much!” Baxter replied, turning to J’hana. “Listen, I need help with a Prime Directive question.”
“Go ahead,” J’hana sad, turning to face Baxter but keeping an eye on Hartley.
“I want to buy that broach from the Ferengi down on Culdrin, but I don’t have any latinum left.”
“That is a dilemma,” J’hana agreed.
“So I thought I’d just give the Ferengi some classified technology and call it even. What do you think? Good idea?”
“I think it is a horrible idea,” J’hana replied. “That is a blatant Prime Directive violation.”
“Aw, come on,” Baxter said. “Other captains bend the Prime Directive all the time.”
“Perhaps, but for nobler causes.”
“Hey, I doubt any of them had a wife that made them sleep with her pets,” Baxter complained. “Do you know what it’s like having an osprey crap on your face while you’re trying to sleep? And let’s not talk about the silent treatment. The woman will not say a kind word to me!”
“Okay, okay,” J’hana said, irritated. “Do whatever you want. Just stop whining to me.”
“Great,” Baxter grinned, turning on a heel and heading for the door. “I knew you’d see the wisdom in my plan.”
“Wisdom my shlarg,” J’hana grumbled, following Baxter out of the brig.
Hartley sat back on her cot and watched the two officers leave. This time Baxter was going too far. He was going to break the Federation’s highest law. Something had to be done.
Lt. Gellar stepped into the brig, pointing at Ensign Puckett and inclining his head toward the door.
As Puckett left, Gellar approached Hartley’s cell. “Megan…wake up.”
The lights inside the cell slowly came up. “What do you want, Brian?” Hartley asked sweetly, leaning up off her cot.
“To give you these,” Gellar said, thrusting a bouqet of flowers toward the security field. It was then that he noticed Hartley was wearing her Starfleet trousers and matching blouse. “Hey, you took off your Superlative Girl outfit!”
“Yep. I’ve been talking to Counselor Peterman. She convinced me that I’m not a super hero. You know, Brian, I’d really love to smell those flowers.”
Gellar seemed reluctant. “I don’t know. Can I trust you to stay put while I lower the security field and give them to you?”
“Well of course you can. They’re supposed to let me out tomorrow morning, you know.”
“Well, that is cause for celebration,” Gellar said thoughtfully, walking over to the replicator. “Champagne. Two glasses.”
Hartley smiled as Gellar carried the champagne and flowers to her cell. “Here we go, Lieutenant. Computer, lower the security field, clearance Gellar Psi 233.”
With a flicker, the field died down and Gellar stepped into the cell. “Here you go, Megan,” he said amiably, handing Hartley the flowers.
“They smell beautiful, Brian,” Hartley said, sniffing at the boquet.
“I knew you’d like them,” Gellar grinned, twisting open the champagne bottle and pouring two glass-fuls. “You know, this is seriously against regulations. But what does it matter? They’ll be letting you out soon anyway, right?”
“Right,” Hartley agreed, putting down the flowers and taking a glass from Gellar, downing it in one gulp. Gellar beamed. “Say, Brian, have you ever heard of something called a conjugal visit?” Gellar beamed even more.
Hartley pulled the security officer’s head down toward her and kissed him ravenously. Then she reached behind him, grabbed the champagne bottle and smashed it over his head.
Gellar’s eyes rolled ceiling-ward and he dropped to the floor.
“Serves you right for breaking regulations,” Hartley muttered, grabbing Gellar’s combadge and slapping it on. Then she grabbed her cape and cowl off the nearby post and pulled them on. “Superlative Girl is back in action!”
Lt. Tilleran pulled her hair into a ponytail and tied her robe around her waist, rushing into the science lab. “Computer, activate comm terminal.”
A starfleet symbol appeared on the terminal as Tilleran quickly tapped a sequence into it.
Moments later, Chris Richards appeared on the screen. “There you are, Lieutenant. Did I wake you?”
“Yes, you did, but don’t worry about it,” Tilleran said. “Don’t you remember? There’s a six hour time difference between Kronos and the Explorer.”
“Sorry, I must have forgotten. Anyway, I finally got the transmission chamber to myself.”
“That’s good to hear. What was the problem?”
“Uh, just a minor problem with my supervisors. It’s nothing, really.”
“If you say so,” Tilleran replied. “Should we start working on Lt. Commander Larkin now?”
“Definitely. I don’t know how long I can stay on this channel.”
“Are you sure everything’s okay, Chris?” Tilleran asked with concern.
“Yes, positive. Now wheel her over here, quickly!” Richards said, looking over his shoulder.
“You better have a good reason for beaming me down here in the middle of ship’s night,” Peterman grumbled, hugging the Dale Earnhardt jacket Baxter had replicated for her around her shoulders.
“I thought you weren’t talking to me,” Baxter said with a grin, as he led Peterman down a narrow alley way at the heart of the Culdrin capital city.
“That doesn’t count bitching you out,” Peterman mumbled.
“Well, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you see why I’ve brought you here.”
Peterman shivered as a breeze blew through her hair and down the back of the jacket, cutting through her thin nightgown. “What, you found a way to get me that Ferengi broach?”
Baxter stopped grinning. “No. Now just follow me.”
“There. Now flip on the power supply.”
Tilleran punched a finger into Larkin’s armpit and the android’s head snapped up, her eyelids flipping open.
“Lt. Hartley, I am sorry for–Lt. Hartley?” Larkin looked around. “Lt. Tilleran?” she looked up at the viewscreen. “Mr. Richards?”
“It’s okay, Larkin,” Tilleran said. “You just had a partial failure of your positronic net. It’ll take your systems a couple minutes to catch up.”
Larkin nodded. “How is Lt. Hartley?”
“She thinks she’s a superhero, but other than that, she’s fine,” Tilleran said.
“I see. That is likely the result of reading so many of Captain Baxter’s comic books. Where is she now?”
“In the brig. Counselor Peterman has been trying to help her, without much luck.”
“Very well. I feel I should visit her, since I was partially responsible for her accident.” Larkin turned toward the viewscreen. “It is agreeable to see you again, mother. I have missed your positronic input.”
“I’ve missed your input too, Larkin,” Richards said. “You hang in there. And give Commander Conway a good knock upside the head for causing so much trouble.”
“Yes, mother,” Larkin replied.
“Take care, you guys,” Richards said, worriedly glancing over his shoulder again. “I’ll talk to you later.”
“Very well. Explorer out,” Larkin said. “Do you wish to accompany me to the brig, Lieutenant?”
“Sure,” Tilleran said. “I’m already up. I might as well do something.”
“As you wish.”
Baxter reached inside the pouch he had slung over his shoulder. “Here you go, Mr. Grulk. Three cc’s of highly unstable trilithium. Developed by some of Starfleet’s finest scientists. You know what they say, ‘If it isn’t goo, it isn’t Starfleet.” Baxter nudged the Ferengi in the shoulder.
“I never heard that,” Grulk said, grabbing the vial from Baxter and handing him the broach in exchange. “Thanks for shopping with Grulk.”
“Don’t mention it,” Baxter replied. “And remember. This never happened.”
“Sure, right. Whatever,” Grulk said, staring at the vial.
Baxter handed the broach to Peterman. “Well? How about that? Your old husband isn’t so bad after all, now is he?”
“Andy,” Peterman said, staring at the broach. “You just gave a highly classified Starfleet substance to a Ferengi! You seriously broke the Prime Directive.”
“Oh, directive dirshmective. The point is, you’re not mad at me anymore, right?”
Peterman clipped the broach to her jacket and put an arm around Baxter’s waist as they walked back to the beam-down site. “I can never stay mad at you, sweetie. Just when I think you’re the biggest pig in the universe, you go and break our most sacred law to make up to me.”
“I have my moments.”
“Lieutenant Hartley?” Lt. Commander Larkin asked, leading Tilleran and Puckett into the brig.
Puckett looked around the desk that faced the cells. “Mr. Gellar?”
“He’s in here,” Tilleran said, pointing at Hartley’s former cell.
“Mr. Gellar?” Larkin asked, pressing a control to lower the field.
Gellar was lying, face up, mouth open, unconcious on the floor of the cell.
Tilleran kneeled down beside Gellar, sniffing. “My goodness, he’s soaked with champagne!”
“Obviously he gorged on cheap synthehol and let Lt. Hartley out of her cell,” Larkin said. “We can discipline him later. For now, Ensign Puckett, please bring Mr. Gellar to Sickbay. Lt. Tilleran and I will contact Lt. J’hana and the Captain.”
“I think Captain Baxter is down on Culdrin trading secret Starfleet technology for a Ferengi broach,” Tilleran said.
“I see,” Larkin said. “Is it possible that Lt. Hartley knew this?”
“Larkin to J’hana,” Larkin said, as Puckett dragged Gellar out of the brig.
“J’hana here. I didn’t realize you’d been repaired.”
“I was reactivated at 0130 hours. Listen carefully, Lieutenant. Lt. Hartley has escaped, and if I am not mistaken, I believe she may have followed Captain Baxter to the surface in order to stop him from violating Starfleet law.”
“What makes you say that?”
“It is exactly what She-Hulk did to Dr. Doom in issue 944.”
“Isn’t it a beautiful night, Kelly?” Baxter asked, looking up at the teal Culdrin sky and rubbing Peterman’s shoulders.
“It’s gorgeous,” Peterman said, turning around to face Baxter. “It just goes to show you that there’s more beauty in natural things than comic books. All you have to do is stop and appreciate it.”
“Mm hm,” Baxter said, leaning down to kiss Peterman’s neck. “You know, there’s some other beauty I’d like to stop and appreciate right now.”
“Not in this yucky alley, Andy,” Peterman said, waving a finger at Baxter. “Naughty naughty.”
“Hey, I read somewhere that it was romantic to do it in strange places.”
“Yes, preferably places that aren’t covered in a yellowish scum.”
“That’s just part of Culdrin Four’s charm, honey.”
“How about we just beam back up to our quarters.”
“You mean I don’t have to sleep with Charlie?” Baxter grinned.
Peterman ran a finger down Baxter’s nose. “I suppose so. If you promise to be a good boy.”
Suddenly Baxter heard a rustling from above.
“You are not a good boy!” a voice shouted.
Baxter looked up and groaned. “Oh, f***.”
Superlative Girl’s cape fluttered around her as she pummeted toward Peterman and Baxter.
“Move, Kelly!” Baxter cried, shoving Peterman out of the way.
A gloved hand gripped his shoulder and jerked him backward.
“So, you think you can violate Starfleet’s dearest law?” Hartley asked, clobbering Baxter with a one-two punch to the face.
“Uh, no?” Baxter asked, stumbling back.
“Get her, Andy!” Peterman cried.
“I’m not hitting a girl, no matter how nuts she is!” Baxter cried, as Hartley rammed his head from one duranium wall to the next.
“Well, I will!” Peterman cried, pushing Baxter aside and lunging at Hartley. “Stop being so crazy!” she cried, wrapping her hands around Hartley’s throat and jerking her back and forth.
“So that’s what they trained you to do for four years at counseling school,” Baxter muttered.
“Two for the price of justice!” Hartley cried, gripping Peterman by the shoulders, head-butting her, and slamming her against the hard duranium wall.
Peterman stumbled back, shaking her head dizzily. “Ow. That didn’t feel so good.” The counselor slid to the ground and her head lolled to the side.
“Enough’s enough, Lieutenant!” Baxter said, pushing his sleeves up. “You don’t want me to get rough with you, do you?”
“Give me your best shot, evildoer!” Hartley cried.
Baxter hurled himself through the air at Hartley, who rammed a knee up into his crotch. He dropped to the ground in an instant.
Then a large piece of duranium slammed into her head and she fell right on top of Baxter and Peterman.
“Nice to see you guys,” Baxter squeaked.
“That was a little primative, wasn’t it, Lieutenant?” J’hana asked, staring down at the pile of unconcious bodies.
“It was important that I recreate the accident that caused Lt. Hartley’s problems exactly,” Larkin replied.
Tilleran nodded. “So how did you figure out that would cure her? A complex set of intuitive algorithms?”
Larkin shook her head. “Batman number 1250.”
Captain Baxter limped out onto the bridge, a copy of Batman number 1250 in hand. “All righty, folks. Are we ready to leave Culdrin Four?”
“Definitely,” Lt. Hartley said, taking a seat behind the Engineering station. “Engines are prepared for departure.”
Baxter leaned up against the engineering console. “Yes, but are you prepared?”
“Absolutely. After spending some time recouping in Sickbay and talking to Counselor Peterman I feel much better.”
“You’re not trying to trick me, are you?” Baxter asked wryly.
“Of course not. Would Wonder Woman trick Superman?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t gotten to either of those yet. I’ll tell you one thing. You kick me in the crotch ever again and you’ll be cleaning out Bussard ramscoops for the rest of your career.”
“Don’t worry, sir. I’m all better now.”
Baxter nodded and headed toward the center seat. “Very well. J’hana, signal the surface that we’re about to get underway.”
Just then, Commander Conway stepped out of the turbolift. “Well, it’s good to see Larkin and Hartley back in good shape again. I was so worried about both of you.” His tone was dripping with sarcasm.
Larkin pushed away from the ops console and approached Conway. “Yes, it is good to see you as well, Commander. I recently had the chance to speak with Mr. Richards, and he has a message he wishes me to give you.”
“And that is?” Conway asked skeptically.
“This, sir,” Larkin said. She smacked Conway so hard across the jaw that he spun like a top, landing in his chair beside Baxter, face down.
“It certainly is good to see Larkin back in good shape,” Baxter agreed with a grin.
“Shut up,” Conway mumbled, rubbing his jaw and righting himself as Larkin returned to her seat.
“The Culdrin goverment sends its regards, sir,” J’hana said. “All systems report ready for–wait a minute.”
Baxter glanced back at J’hana’s station. “What is it?”
“Sir, there was a massive trilithium explosion on the surface. It destroyed several city blocks.”
“Well,” Baxter said, taking in a deep breath. “That’s a shame. What’s say we get out of here? Lt. Ford, lay in a course for the Liaga system, maximum warp.”
“Aye, sir,” Ford said, turning toward his station and pressing the necessary controls. Suddenly the stars stretched out and Culdrin Four disappeared from the screen, as the Explorer jumped into warp.
“Sir,” Larkin said, as Baxter rose from his chair. “Do you not think that we should have rendered assistance?”
“They’ll take care of it.”
“But you are responsible for that disaster, are you not?”
“Who knows, Commmander?” Baxter said, rounding the bridge toward his readyroom. “Any number of things could have caused a trilithium explosion. Who’s to say it was MY trilithium that exploded? That’s a bit far-fetched, isn’t it?”
“Actually, the odds that it was ‘your’ trilithium are about one in two.”
“Rules are for breaking, Larkin,” Hartley said, winking at Baxter. “If the captain did break the Prime Directive, I’m sure he did it with good reason.”
“Well-said,” Baxter nodded, ducking into his readyroom.
“And what is your basis for that statement, Lieutenant?” asked Larkin.
Hartley grinned. “Spawn number 325.”
When a strange disease threatens to kill Captain Baxter, Dr. Benzra must delve into mysterious healing techniques to try to save him. On top of that, Peterman and Lucille Baxter are forced to battle it out over who gets to take care of the illin’ captain. Will Baxter get out alive, and if so, will this story devolve into a terrible “Shades of Gray”-style flashback episode? Let’s hope not!