Author: Anthony Butler
Stardate 53404.6. Counselor Peterman and I are on our way back to the Explorer after a two-week survey of some of the new terraforming projects on the Galactic Rim. I found the trip quite interesting; however, I think my enjoyment of the trip would have been greater had we not been forced to share our runabout with another couple.
“Ah, these are damn good cigars if I don’t say so myself,” Harlan Baxter said with a grin, patting the duranium box on his lap with glee. Harlan had pulled several strings at Starfleet Command to obtain coordinates for the fabled planet Vasacan, home of the galaxy’s greatest cigars.
“They better be good,” Captain Andy Baxter said as he activated the autopilot controls on the runabout Algonquin and turned in his chair. “They caused us to make a four hour detour.”
“I just want to get home,” Counselor Peterman said, leaning her head against a bulkhead. “These runabout bunks are not comfortable.”
“I told you we should have taken the Escort, Andy,” Lucille Baxter said scoldingly. “At least we would have had private quarters there.”
“The Escort was needed for more important duties, Mom.”
Baxter sighed. “Such as shuttling J’hana to the Klingon homeworld so she could go fishing with Dwanok.”
Lucille clicked her tongue. “Once again, you’ve let your subordinates get the better of you.”
“J’hana had the leave coming. Anyway, it would have taken weeks by runabout to get her there and we can’t divert the Explorer that far away just for a vacation. But that’s all beside the point. I don’t have to justify my actions to you.”
“Both of you be quiet!” Harlan said, pulling out his old fashioned “Zippo” lighter, which was inscribed with the phrase “F*** the Romulans.” He sparked one of the green cigars. “I don’t want you to ruin my enjoyment of this baby.”
“Dad,” Baxter said with exasperation, pointing at a sign on one of the bulkheads. “Regulations specifically prohibit smoking in runabout cockpits.”
“I’ll show you what you can do with your regulations…” Harlan said, taking a big puff and blowing smoke into Baxter’s face.
Baxter covered his face, trying desparately to cough the noxious smoke out of his lungs.
“I give up,” Baxter said, shoving out of his seat and bulling toward the aft section of the runabout.
“Wait for me,” Peterman said, hurrying out of her chair and waving smoke away.
Captain Baxter sat down at the large table at the center of the aft compartment and put his head down, knocking it repeatedly on the hard surface. “Why are they here, Kelly? Why??”
Peterman walked up behind Baxter and began rubbing his shoulders. “They wanted to get a look at the colonies. And you absolutely can’t say no to them.”
Baxter looked up. “Because I’m weak. Yes, I’ve heard.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“But you implied it.”
Peterman shrugged. “Read into it whatever you want. But they are your parents. You owe them your life, in a way.”
“I guess. But why do they have to be around every corner, constantly trying my patience? Why do they have to look over my shoulder and order me around every hour of the day! Honey, they’re driving me nuts!”
“At least it’s a short trip,” Peterman offered helpfully.
Several hours later, the Algonquin rendez-voused with the Explorer and Baxter and Peterman returned, exausted, to their quarters.
Baxter tossed his suitcase onto the bed and rubbed Charlie’s ears as he came up to greet him. The dog moaned fitfully and stomped his foot.
“See, why can’t my parents be like Charlie?” Baxter asked, nuzzling the retriever’s nose.
“You mean walk on all fours, eat raw meat, and lick your face?” Peterman asked, amused.
“You know what I mean. Why can’t they be tender and loyal and kind and good and…”
“I think some of the crew would disagree with that description of Charlie,” Peterman said, pulling off her boots and sitting down on the floor next to Charlie. “But I wuv him anyway!”
“Other parents aren’t as bossy as mine are they? Yours aren’t.”
“We’re not talking about me, Andy. I don’t have a serious problem with my parents. As your wife and your counselor, I’m telling you that you have to make peace with them. Before you go insane and blow them out an airlock.”
“Don’t put ideas in my head,” Baxter grinned, crossing the cabin to embrace Peterman as she struggled to comb her hair.
“Ouch! I have a tangle, Andy!” Peterman cried as she tried to extricate her brush from within her mound of hair.
“Sorry,” Baxter said sheepishly, pulling open his uniform and beginning the complex unzipping process that had become the nightly routine ever since Starfleet changed uniform styles. The layers upon layers of shirts and jackets not only made it hotter than normal, they also doubled the amount of time it took Baxter to get undressed.
Once Baxter had stripped down to a t-shirt and gold silk Starfleet-emblem boxers, he slid into bed. Peterman followed soon after, tugging Charlie onto the bed with them.
“Ugh!” Baxter grunted as the dog’s massive rear end slammed into his face. “Can’t he sleep in your quarters tonight, Kelly?”
“Absolutely not. I haven’t seen him in weeks! I miss him!” Peterman said. “Besides, you like him more than your parents, remember?”
Baxter spat dog hair and turned on his side. “Not that much more!”
Baxter awoke the next morning to the sensation of a tail wagging across his face. It was then that he noticed that, not only was Charlie’s rear still stuck in his face, but the dog had somehow managed to shove him halfway off the bed during his sleep. Baxter was now hanging off the side of the bed, staring at an upside-down world.
“Kelly,” Baxter murmurred. “What time is it?”
“Mmph? Go steer the reindeer away from the gender lines, Spanky.”
“Sheesh, why can’t you at least make sense when you sleep talk, honey,” Baxter grumbled, trying to slide out of bed. He flipped, end over end, slamming painfully to the deck next to his bed. Noticing that Baxter was awake, Charlie spun around, diving off the bed and onto Baxter’s lap.
“Ugh!” Baxter crawled out from under Charlie and made for the bathroom. “Not this morning, Charlie. Go back to sleep. I’ll play with you later.”
The captain stumbled into the bathroom. Charlie, meanwhile, hopped back into bed.
Baxter stared at the hideous pile of human waste in his bathroom mirror. “Man,” he mumbled, “I look like sh**.”
He’d had sleepless nights before, but this was ridiculous. His eyes were red-rimmed and lined with bags. He looked like death warmed over.
Glancing at the Dallas Cowboys clock that hung over his toilet, Baxter smacked his head. “Damn, 0757.” He was supposed to meet with the bridge staff at eight.
Baxter rushed to shower and shave and jerk his clothes on, not bothering to completely dry off.
He grimaced at the squishy feeling in his shoes as he leaned over, kissing Peterman on the head. “Gotta go honey, I’m late for a meeting.”
“Thunderball three one nine shuttlecraft,” Peterman mumbled.
“Uh-huh,” Baxter said, grabbing a padd and rushing out of the cabin.
The jog down the corridor to the turbolift really winded Baxter. He was no prize athelete normally, but in this case his heart felt like it was beating five times a second. He could feel the blood vessels in his temples pounding. Baxter considered starting up an exercise regimen as he hurried into the turbolift.
“Nah,” Baxter said to himself. “Dumb idea. Bridge.”
He checked the turbolift chronometer. 0805. Damn. Lt. Hartley always made wisecracks when he was late and he was in no mood to hear them today. Maybe he would just have the ship’s clock moved back five minutes.
Baxter’s thoughts were interrupted by a wave of dizziness as he stumbled out of the turbolift and onto the bridge. Myriad colors tinged the edges of his field of vision and began closing in toward the middle as he rushed toward the door to the conference room.
He looked around as he crossed the bridge. Where was everyone? The bridge staff should be waiting in the conference room, granted, but there should be at least one officer manning the bridge at all times.
Baxter thought about that as his legs gave way under him and he hit the deck with a thud.
Ensign Howard Sefelt hummed a relaxing tune to himself as he zipped up his pants and strolled out of the bridge bathroom.
Commander Conway had given him explicit instructions to stay on the bridge until a relief officer could meet him there, but he’d really had to go.
“The whole bridge to myself,” Sefelt said, rubbing his hands together eagerly and lowering himself into the command chair. “I could use this ship to conquer whole planets. I could go anywhere! I could–”
That’s when he caught sight of the captain out of his periphial vision. He was laying face-down on the deck and he wasn’t moving.
“Captain Baxter?” Sefelt asked tentatively, tiptoeing over to the motionless grey and black lump. He nudged the captain with his foot. “Captain?”
Then, as he often did, Sefelt panicked. “Oh my God, the Captain’s dead! Computer, prepare escape pods! Ready phasers! Get ready to separate the saucer section! Initiate self destruct! Ahead, warp nine! Someone help me!” Howard Sefelt pulled at his hair and cried out in agony, falling to his knees and flipping Baxter over, clasping his hands and slamming them into Baxter’s stomach. “Live, damn you, LIVE!”
Commander Conway poked his head out of the conference room. “Ensign? Have you seen the captain?” He looked down. “Oh, there you are, Captain. We’ve been waiting for ten minutes to start this meeting. Are you just going to lie there all morning?” Conway took a long swig of coffee. “Well?”
“He’s dead, damn it!” Sefelt cried, shaking his fist at the heavens. “And I could do nothing! NOTHING!”
“Uh-huh,” Conway said, turning around and addressing the group in the conference lounge. “Meeting adjourned, guys.”
“He’sssssss not dead.”
That was the first thing Baxter heard after his impromptu collapse.
“Then what’s wrong with him? Why did this happen?” an angelic, tear-filled voice said.
“Ssssssomething issss causing his blood to become abnormally thick. His body cannot processssssss it.”
A sterner female voice broke in. “That’s all well and good, but what are you going to do to help him, you Delta Quadrant quack? Are you just going to sit by and let my son die! I could have your certification for this!”
“Fine by me. It only took half an hour to get anyway.” Benzra turned to Peterman. “Do not worry, Counssselor. I have been working to slow the clotting of the captain’sssssss blood and am meeting with ssssome successsss.”
“So what will happen to Andy?” Counselor Peterman asked tearfully.
“We ssssshall see. My methods are ssssstop-gap at besssst. I may have to come up with a…ssssssomewhat creative treatment.”
“Like what?” the voice of his mother broke in again. “Like forcing him to go through a series of negative and positive emotional flashbacks?”
“No. Why on Flarn Prime would I want to do that?”
“I don’t know. I just heard about that somewhere.”
It was then that Baxter decided to force his eyes open. “Excuse me,” he said quietly.
“Well, it sssssoundsssss like the stupidissssst thing I’ve ever–”
“Excuse me!” Baxter said, a little louder.
Benzra looked down. “Ah, Captain. Nice to ssssee you awake.”
“Oh, Andy,” Peterman sobbed, wrestling him into a hug.
“Urgh!” Baxter grunted. “Be careful! My chest is sore.”
“Yessss,” Benzra said, almost reluctantly. “I had to open you up.”
“For Pete’s sake, why?” Baxter asked.
“To insert a tube directly into your heart. It issss pumping thinner into your bood.”
That’s when Baxter noticed the narrow tube that potruded from his chest and snaked along the side of his biobed, plugging into a small cart next to his bed. “That sounds a little barbaric.”
“I am ssssssorry. I had little time to come up with ssssssomething better. You were dying.”
“Lovely. Is it working?”
“You are alive, aren’t you?”
“Touche,” Baxter said. “So what do you do we do from here?”
“Sounds good.” Baxter swung his legs over the bed and leaned up. “If you can just convert this little contraption into something portable, I’ll be on my–”
Benzra’s huge, steely claw wrapped around Baxter’s throat and slammed him back down. “NO! You will ssssstay here. The machine musssst be monitored in casssse it malfunctions and you mussst be monitored in cassse you develop new ssssymptomsss.”
“You have a lot to learn about bedside manner, lady,” Baxter grunted.
“And your blood has a lot to learn about clotting,” Benzra countered.
Harlan slapped Baxter’s leg heartily and chortled. “It’s all right. The Baxters are a tough bunch. He’ll pull through this.”
“Not with this bug-eyed butcher working on him,” Lucille muttered.
“What wassss that?” Benzra asked, advancing on Lucille.
“You heard me! What was Starfleet thinking, slapping a medical certificate on you like it was a coupon for a meal at a Ferengi restaurant!”
“The Flarn are far ssssssssuperior in mind and body to all humansssss, Mrs. Baxter. I could do the job of any crewmember on this ssssship ten timessss better. And I could kill you without breaking a sweat. Because Flarn don’t sweat.”
“Lucille, I think you should let her work,” Harlan said, placing a hand on Lucille’s shoulder. “She is the Chief Medical Officer, isn’t she?”
“The Flarn tried to kill your son, Harlan,” Lucille muttered.
“A few Flarn tried to kill your son, Mrs. Baxter, and I am glad to say I am not one of them,” Benzra said in a soft tone.
“Pardon me,” Baxter said. “But could you guys stop arguing and get back to…I don’t know, saving me?”
“Of courssssse,” Benzra said, whirling toward Baxter. “But if your parentssssss perssssist in being difficult with me, I will eject them from Sssssickbay.” She glanced back at Lucille. “Forcefully if necesssssary.”
Lucille folded her arms. “I’d like to see you try.”
“Please do,” Baxter muttered.
“Come on, Lucille. Let’s go have a smoke,” Harlan said, ushering Lucille out of Sickbay.
Peterman stayed behind, sniffling and looking down at Baxter. “You gave us all quite a scare, Andy.”
“Not all,” Baxter muttered. “I’ll bet Conway was ecstatic. He’s probably measuring my readyroom for a coffee bean processing mill right now.”
“Well, you gave most of us a scare,” Peterman corrected, sitting down next to Baxter’s biobed. “So what do you need to do, Dr. Benzra?”
“I’m going to go back to my office and do sssssome ressssearch. Sssee if there are any medical precedentssss for sssssomething like thisss. Feel free to ssssstay and keep the captain company.”
Peterman leaned her head against Baxter’s chest. “Thanks, Benzra.”
“Yeah, Benzra. Sorry about that Flarn comments my mom made.”
“It isss okay. I have learned to accept human ignorance,” Benzra said, squeezing into her office and closing the door.
“Thanks,” Baxter said. “I think.”
Early the next morning, Lucille Baxter rushed into Sickbay, arms laden with food and other things.
“Pooter! Wake up!” Lucille said sharply, nudging Baxter’s shoulder.
“Huh?” Baxter said groggily, working his eyes open. “Mom?”
“Look what I brought! Buckwheat pancakes and bacon! And your comic books! And fuzzy-bear slippers! And the Dallas game ball you like to sleep with!”
Baxter sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes. “Mom, you shouldn’t have done this.”
“It wasn’t any trouble, honey.”
“No, I mean you shouldn’t have done this. It’s like six in the morning!”
“Early to bed and early to rise…” Lucille said. “And right now, you’re not healthy, wealthy, or wise. So you’d better start changing your living habits now, while you’re young.”
“I am almost thirty-one years old!” Baxter exclaimed. “I think I can take care of myself!”
“I’ll tell you when you’re able to take care of yourself. Now put these slippers on before your feet freeze.”
Baxter folded his arms. “No. I refuse.”
“We’ll see about that.” Lucille lifted up Baxter’s blanket and began sliding the slippers on.
“Baxter to security!” Baxter said angrily. “Report to Sickbay immediately!”
“You wouldn’t…” Lucille seethed.
“Set your phasers to MAXIMUM stun,” Baxter added, glaring at Lucille.
Lucille began scooping up the stuff she brought. “Obviously you’re not in a very good mood this morning. I’ll let you sleep in, but I promise you, I’ll be back later.”
“You do that.” Baxter cleared his throat as Lucille turned to leave. “Uh, mom?”
“Could you leave the pancakes? And the comics?”
Lucille turned around, grinning. “Sure.”
It was only a matter of time now. Baxter couldn’t hold out forever.
Baxter finished his pancakes and once again fell asleep, only to be awakened by another voice.
“Morning, Andy,” Peterman said, sitting down at the edge of his bed. “How’d you sleep?”
“Fine, until my mom came in and tried to treat me like a child. Oh, and on top of that I had the yodeling dream again.”
“Oh, my,” Peterman said.
“So what should I do?”
“I don’t know. Nothing at the academy prepared me for something like the yodeling dream.”
“Not the dream–I mean my mother.”
“Oh. Right. Well, she talked to me this morning about you. Said she felt like you just didn’t love her anymore.”
“For Pete’s sake, I love her. I just don’t want her around. Is that so hard to understand?”
“I suppose not.”
“Then tell my mom that!”
“I really don’t think I’m the right person to deal with this.”
“You’re the perfect person to deal with this!” Baxter exclaimed. “You’re the Ship’s Counselor. It’s your duty!”
“Andy, you’re forcing me into a very uncomfortable situation. Your mom thinks of me as a confidant and her only friend on the ship other than you and her husband. I can’t turn against her.”
“Don’t think of it as turning against her. Think of it as convincing her to leave me alone and making her get off this ship before she drives me nuts!”
“Andy, I don’t know.”
Baxter pulled Peterman toward him. “Think of it as my dying wish.”
“You AREN’T dying!” Peterman said, tears welling in her eyes.
“I don’t know. I feel myself getting weaker all the time.” Baxter leaned back. “Oh, Kelly, it’s getting darker! I can see the angels coming to get me!”
“Stop it! Shut up, shut up!” Peterman said, punching Baxter in the shoulder.
“Interesssssting technique,” Benzra said, looming behind Peterman.
Peterman glanced over her shoulder. “Dr. Benzra…Andy and I were just having a personal…discussion.”
“Which involved you hitting him?”
“No–yes! No. Well…”
“I do not have time for thissssss! I have found the source of Captain Baxter’s illness.”
Benzra paused, as if for effect.
“WELL?” Baxter asked impatiently.
Harlan Baxter leaned back on the wide veranda that overlooked the arboretum and glanced over the latest report from the Federation News Service. He shook his had and muttered to himself as he sparked up one of his new cigars. That damn Jake Sisko was an arrogant, illiterate punk! Who was he to call the diplomatic situation with the Breen “neat”?
That’s when a hand clamped down on his shoulder.
“What?” he grumbled, turning to look up at a security team led by Lt. Brian Gellar.
“Mr. Baxter, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to turn over that cigar.”
“And why the hell should I do that?”
“Because it nearly killed the Captain.” Gellar grabbed the cigar out of Harlan’s mouth and extinguished it on a nearby railing. “I’m going to have to ask you to turn over all the cigars you procured on planet Vasacan Three, as well as all the Federation intelligence reports involved with Vasacan Three.
“You have some treating a retired Vice Admiral like this.”
“I’m sorry sir, but the captain’s life is at stake here.”
Harlan grunted and leaned out of his chair. “Fine, fine. This way.”
Commander Conway paced the bridge. “Time to Vasacan Three?”
“Under forty minutes,” reported Lt. Ford from the helm.
“Right on schedule.” Conway settled into the command chair. “Conway to Sickbay.”
“Ssssssssickbay here,” Benzra’s voice replied.
“How’s our little patient?”
“Doing better now that we have disssssscovered the cause of his problemssss. Hissss blood sssssshould be good in lesssss than an hour.”
“Oh, well. Guess I’d better treasure that hour,” Conway sighed. “Keep me posted. Conway out.”
“You really are taking this hard, aren’t you,” Lt. Tilleran said from the science console.
“Sarcasm doesn’t befit you, Lieutenant,” Conway snapped, facing the viewscreen.
“I wasn’t being sarcastic. You’re really worried about the Captain.”
“I am not.”
“Telepathic powers don’t lie.”
“Get the hell out of my brain, Lieutenant! That’s an order!”
“I knew those cigars were no good!” Lucille said angrily, circling the biobed like a hawk as Benzra worked.
“How was I to know that Vasacan cigar smoke was poisonous to Andy’s particular blood genotype?” Harlan asked. “The odds are one in a million!”
“Would you both stop arguing?” Peterman asked. “Benzra needs to concentrate while she reconstructs the blood pathways in the Captain’s lungs.”
“Ssssssssomething like that,” Benzra muttered, grabbing another tool off a nearby table and shoving it into Baxter’s open chest.
Peterman leaned over the medtable eagerly. “What are you doing now, Benzra?”
“Ussssssing a tissue regenerator to reconstruct surface tisssssue on the captain’sssss lungssss.”
“They’re so cute. Look how veiny and purple…” Peterman pointed.
Benzra looked down on Peterman, her compound eyes sparkling. “You know, you really sssssshouldn’t be here during an operation.”
“Try and make us leave, you big bully,” Lucille said combatively.
“I could kill all of you inssssstantly without taking my eyesssss off the patient.”
“The hallmark of any good doctor,” Harlan muttered.
Peterman sighed. She had been putting this off too long. Baxter had begged her again to do something about his parents just as the anesthesia was taking hold.
“I have an idea,” Peterman said amiably. “How about the three of us grab a mochacino at Mirk’s.”
“Mmm…mochacino.” Harlan mulled it over.
“After the operation,” Lucille said solidly.
“Andy will still be here in twenty minutes,” Peterman said. “Besides, Dr. Benzra needs to concentrate.”
“Come on, Lucille. Kelly is right,” Harlan grumbled.
“Since when do you give the orders, hmm?” Lucille asked.
“I am your superior officer, damn it,” Harlan replied.
“Not anymore. We’re retired.”
“But I am the senior retiree.”
“That doesn’t matter!”
Peterman hurried over and wrapped her arms around Harlan and Lucille. “That mochacino is calling. Come on guys.”
“Thank the Directorsssss,” Benzra grumbled, as Peterman ushered Harlan and Lucille out of Sickbay.
“So when Andy was five, I was operations officer on the Geneva. He was so cute. He would sit on my lap while I worked at my panel,” Lucille said, sipping her mochacino. “Sometimes he would slap his hand down on the controls. One time he accidently took the warp engines off line!”
“He was thinking about starship command even then,” Harlan added, sparkle-eyed. “Smart little fellow.”
“Mirk,” Peterman whispered to Mirk, who had been roped into one of the Baxters’ nostalgic flashbacks. “Are you sure you didn’t put anything in their drinks?”
Mirk shook his head. “I think this is all natural, Counselor.” He turned to the Baxters. “So where were you at the time, Admiral?”
Harlan thought a moment. “Diplomatic attache to Tellar, I think.”
“Must have been kind of sad, not getting to see your son that much.”
“I saw him every time I had a chance. It wasn’t so bad.”
“If you call not having a father not bad, I guess not,” Lucille griped.
“Well,” Mirk said, lightly polishing the table and backing off. “I have customers…nice talking to you guys.”
“He would have turned out a lot better if you hadn’t turned him into a soft pansy!”
“I did no such thing. I raised him to be a good boy.”
“A good, wimpy boy.”
“Guys,” Peterman said sharply. “Listen, I have something important to tell you.”
Lucille glared at Harlan. Obviously this arguement would be postponed; probably until bedtime. “What?”
Peterman took a deep breath. This would take every tactful sinew in her body. “I just want both of you to know how much Andy and I enjoy your company here on the Explorer. You will always be our closest family…”
Lucille placed a hand on top of Peterman’s. “We feel the same way about you, Kelly. Harlan and I love you like a daughter. Although, when I first met you, I was sure you were a smarmy animal-loving airheaded space cadet.”
Teeth grinded inside Peterman’s mouth but she continued to smile. “Hmm. Isn’t that something? Well…”
Harlan grunted. “I didn’t think she was an airhead at all. I thought she was just a tramp that was trying to get in the captain’s pants.”
Peterman’s smile disappeared.
Lucille smiled wider, squeezing Peterman’s hands within her own. “But that’s all changed. Now we see how good you are for Andy.”
“You keep him in line,” Harlan added.
“We can’t monitor him all the time, and goodness knows someone has to.”
Peterman withdrew her hands and stood up, smouldering. “Listen: I am not your puppet! Andy is not an incompetent fool, and you two are not the end all and be all of humanoid evolution! Where do you get off making judgments about me and insinuating that your son needs to be ‘monitored’ all the time? I think you two should be dumped on the nearest barren planet and forced to live alone there until you become tolerant, loving, understanding people! You two are the most disagreeable, hateful people I’ve ever known! And that’s saying a lot!”
Lucille stared, eyes wide with disbelief. Harlan took another swig of mochacino.
“And, if I haven’t already made it ABUNDANTLY clear, WE DON’T WANT YOU HERE!”
Peterman turned on a heel and stormed toward the lounge doors, just as her combadge chirped.
“Benzra to Peterman. I need you in Ssssickbay immediately. Sssssomething hasss gone wrong with the captain and I have had to try a sssssomewhat…unconventional technique.”
“I’ll be right there,” Peterman said, throwing one more angry glare at the Baxters and rushing down the corridor.
Harlan and Lucille sat in silence for a moment.
Lucille’s fingers rapped on the table. “Well, what should we do, Harlan?”
Harlan sat down his mochacino cup. “We sure as hell can’t stay here anymore. We have our pride to think of.” Harlan glanced out the large, transparent aluminum windows at the front of the cafe. The Explorer had just come out of warp.
“What about Andy?”
“He’ll be fine. We’ve been given our walking papers, Lucille. And I’m not about to stay in a place where I’m not wanted.”
Mirk approached the table uneasily. “Can I…uh…get you guys anything else?”
Harlan folded his arms. “Just a shuttlecraft.”
“Uh-huh.” Mirk hurried back to the bar. “Right away, sir.”
He hurried out of the turbolift and onto the bridge of the USS Legerdemain.
“Captain Bradford!” he said excitedly, skidding toward the viewscreen. “Andy Baxter, reporting for duty!”
“Stand easy, Crewman,” Bradford, a jolly, round-faced woman with the serenity of a grandmother and the betleth skills of a Klingon warror, placed a hand on Andy’s shoulder. “You’re going to have heart failure before you ever get a chance to drive this thing.”
“I’m just excited, Captain!” Baxter said, grinning sheepishly. “Actually getting to drive a starship at 16 years old. How often does that happen?”
“Not often,” Bradford agreed, gesturing to the conn. The duty officer at that station quickly vacated.
“Watch yourself, Andy,” Lucille scolded from the science console.
“Don’t worry, Mom,” Baxter replied, lowering himself into the chair and swinging the hinged console toward him. “I promise I won’t screw up.”
“You’d better not,” warned Lucille.
“Engineering,” Bradford said, returning to her command chair and smiling warmly at Baxter as he eagerly swung around in the conn chair. “Ready engines for immediate departure. Communications, alert Starbase 75 of our departure.”
“We are cleared for departure,” the Vulcan communications officer announced.
“Clear all moorings,” Bradford ordered.
Lucille pressed a few controls at her station. “Cleared.”
“Helm.” Bradford nodded at Baxter. “Aft thrusters ahead one quarter. Move her out nice and easy.”
Andy cracked his knuckles and eagerly activated the thrusters. On the viewscreeen, the docking port began to shrink away as the Legerdemain backed out.
“Tell them to open the hangar doors,” Bradford ordered.
The Vulcan tapped a control. “Acknowledged.”
“Nice and easy, Mr. Baxter,” Lucille said quietly.
Andy pulled the Legerdemain about slowly. On screen, an Ambassador-class ship brushed by, maybe 1,000 meters away.
“Collision alert,” said the computer.
“Watch out!” Bradford said.
Panicking, Andy pulled the Legerdemain to port–right toward the Starbase’s observation lounge.
Collision alarms wailed as the tiny figures within the observation lounge scurried away from the rapidly approaching Oberth-class ship.
“You’re relieved, Mr. Baxter!” Bradford cried. “Someone take the helm!”
But it was too late. By the time the navigation officer reached the helm, the Legerdemain’s saucer crunched into the observation windows, causing atmosphere and furniture to spew out…
“I thought you said that was a positive memory!” Tilleran said, wincing as she envisoned the explosions all over the Legerdemain’s bridge.
“It wassssss,” Benzra hissed. “And it did no good. The nanovirusssss is ssssstill rapidly advancing through the captain’sssss bloodsssstream.”
Peterman grimaced. “I thought you said you’d never consider this ‘Pulaski’ treatment.”
“I am grassssping at straws, Counssssselor,” Benzra snapped, hurriedly tapping at the device that was attached to Baxter’s forehead. “If you have an alternate idea…”
“Nope,” Peterman admitted. “Just don’t let him die!”
“It issssssn’t my choice!” Benzra grumbled. “I’m going to try a negative memory!”
Tilleran groaned. “Dare I guess?”
“Prepare for the worst,” Peterman muttered.
“Prune juice!” Ensign Baxter said, slapping his knees and chortling merrily. “That’s a sissy drink!” Baxter glanced up at the face of the person whose uniform he had just soiled with the aforementioned juice.
He’d been inventorying cargo containers, and when the shadow loomed over him, he’d spun around to see who it was, knocking into the officer’s hand and spraying juice all over his tunic.
The fact that he was eye to eye with the officer’s chest should have been enough of a clue. Baxter had picked the wrong person to antagonize.
“Prue juice is a warrior’s drink,” the Klingon rumbled. “And if you have a problem with it, I suggest you address me with it now.”
“I have no problems,” Baxter said, smiling weakly, stumbling back against the cargo containers. “Really. I like prune juice myself.” He grabbed the glass from Worf and drank what little was left. “Mmm mm good!”
“You have furthur insulted me!” the Klingon rumbled. “Taking a warrior’s drink away is an outright battle challenge!”
“What isn’t a battle challenge?” Baxter asked fearfully, as Worf, son of Mogh, grabbed him by the front of his shirt and swung him into a cargo container, pummeling large fists into his stomach.
“Do not get smart with me,” said Worf, and continued to pound.
“Cut it off! Cut it off!” Tilleran cried. “This isn’t helping at all.”
A rattle echoed deep within Benzra’s exoskeleton. Peterman had known Benzra long enough to realize this was the Flarn equivalent of a sigh.
“Then he diesssssss. Say your goodbye’ssssss, Counssssselor. But pleassssse, do not get too musssshy.”
“You’re not going to just give up like that!” Peterman cried, pounding on Benzra’s exoskeleton. “You fix him! Now!!”
Benzra rolled her compound eyes up toward Peterman. “Counssssselor, this issss not helping.”
“Conway to Sickbay.”
“Yesssss?” Benzra asked, pinching Peterman in a claw and pushing her away.
“We’ve been talking to the Vasacan authorities. They mentioned something about a nanovirus running rampant through their tabacco stock. They were wondering if that was what was affecting the captain?”
“You have hit the nail on the sssssside, Commander,” Benzra said.
“We need an antiviral agent for that nanovirus, Commander!” Tilleran said. “Do the Vasacans have one?”
“Hold on. I’ll ask.”
“Ask quick!” Peterman cried.
Baxter leaned up on his elbows and looked around Sickbay. Benzra, Tilleran, and Peterman were gathered around him, staring expectantly.
“Well, how do you feel?” asked Benzra.
Baxter rubbed his head. “A little woozy. What happened?”
“In the middle of the operation to correct your blood thickness, a nanovirus appeared in your bloodstream, and we had to neutralize it.”
“And how did you do that?”
“The Vasacans gave us an antiviral agent,” Tilleran explained.
“Great,” Baxter replied. “So, what’s the prognosis now?”
“We’ll keep you for a couple more hoursssss,” Benzra said. “Jusssst to make sssssure nothing unexpected comesssss up. But I anticipate no more problemssss.”
“That’s certainly good to hear,” Baxter said, looking to Peterman. “Where are my parents?”
Tilleran and Benzra looked to Peterman. She’d have to field that one on her own.
Peterman took in a big breath. “They left, Andy.”
“Left?” Baxter asked, amused. “What do you mean?”
“I told them we didn’t want them here and they took a shuttlecraft and left.”
“That wasssssn’t very nice,” Benzra said.
“Yeah,” Tilleran said. “I thought Counselors were supposed to be sensitive.”
“You didn’t hear what they said to me!” Peterman said. “Lucille said I was an airhead and Harlan said I was a tramp!”
“Kelly! I told you to break it to them gently. Not yell at them until they leave!” Baxter said, sliding off the biobed. “Someone get me a uniform.”
“Where do you think you are going?” Benzra asked, looming over Baxter.
“To find my parents,” Baxter said earnestly, glaring up at the huge Flarn. “Now step aside. That’s an order!”
“I don’t reccomend this,” Tilleran said, handing Baxter the neatly folded pile of his uniform.
“They’re my parents, Lieutenant,” Baxter said, glaring at Peterman. “I may have wanted them off this ship, but not this way.”
“At least let me go with you,” Peterman said. “I feel like I owe them an apology.”
“You think?” Baxter asked. “Baxter to bridge. Can someone tell me how the hell my parents were just handed a shuttlecraft?”
“Evidently they were very intimidating with Mr. Mirk,” Conway’s voice responded. “He escorted them to the shuttlebay and gave them a picnic basket to take along.”
“Great, just great,” Baxter muttered. “And you just let them go?”
“Your father was an Admiral. Have you ever tried saying no to an Admiral?”
“Point taken. Have you tracked them?”
“Yes. It appears they were headed to the fifth planet in this system.”
“Any idea why?” Baxter stepped into his pants and pulled on his uniform tunic.
“Most likely because the moon of Vasacan Five is where the highest concentration of Vasacan tobacco is located. Should I set a course to rendez-vous with them?”
Baxter shrugged on his uniform’s inner vest and slapped a combadge on. “No, you stay here and continue the investigations down on Vasacan Three. I need to do this on my own.”
“You’re not doing this on your own,” Peterman said. “I’m coming with you.”
“And I as well,” Benzra boomed. “If you will not ssssssstay here, than I musssssst accompany you to in cassssse your ssssssymptoms return. You are ssssstill not fully recovered.”
“Fine,” Baxter said. “Baxter to shuttlebay two. I want a Class V shuttle ready to go in five minutes.”
“Wait for me,” Tilleran said, following the group out of Sickbay. “I have to see how all this turns out.”
The shuttlecraft Hemingway sailed out of the hangar and angled around the Explorer’s port nacelle, making a bee-line toward Vasacan Five.
“We have a bead on the ion trail from the Pizarro, sir,” Tilleran noted, looking up from her panel.
Baxter kicked the Hemingway up to full impulse. “Keep on it, Tilleran. We should be at Vasacan Five in a few minutes.”
Benzra squirmed behind Baxter and Tilleran. “Thesssse ssssshuttlessss certainly are cramped.”
“Only when you’re four meters tall,” Peterman noted, trying to squeeze by Benzra to get a view out the front viewport.
“You know,” Baxter said, glancing back at Peterman. “They have a sensitivity training seminar on Earth every year that you might find helpful. I remember some people from the Secondprize went when I was inventory officer there. They found it very enlightening.”
“I DON’T need sensitivity traning, Andy,” Peterman grumbled. “Your parents do. You should have heard how they were talking to me. And how they were talking about you.”
“They’re old,” Baxter griped. “They have the right to be a little eccentric.”
“That’s what I’ve been telling you all along, Andy. But you’ve been deadset on kicking them off the ship since they got here!”
“Maybe. But I didn’t hurt their feelings to the extent that they had to leave the ship.”
“That’s because you aren’t man enough to address problems with your crew or your family,” Peterman said. “I’ve tried to put this to you gently, Andy, but you just have no spine!”
“Ouch, Counselor,” Baxter muttered.
“She does have a point,” Tilleran interjected. “You still haven’t talked to Ford about his cologne. Remember how it almost caused another war with the Zen’kethi?”
“I’ve been meaning to talk to him about it.”
“You’re always ‘meaning to,’” Peterman said emphatically. “Well, that’s just not good enough. You have to be honest with the people around you.”
“Especially when there’s a Betazoid around,” Baxter mumbled, glaring at Tilleran.
“Oh, would you look at that, we’ve reached Vasacan Five!” Tilleran exclaimed. Her timing was excellent. “Tracking the transponder from the Pizarro.”
“We’ll table this for now,” Baxter said, steering the Hemingway toward the large, orange planet.
“They’re on the third moon,” Tilleran said, looking up from her scans. “Hold on…southern continent!”
“All right,” Baxter said. “I’m taking us down there.” The Hemingway nosed down into the atmosphere of the Vasacan moon.
Once the layers of thick clouds passed by and the Hemingway made its way toward the planet’s surface, the shuttle crew gasped.
“Green tobacco, as far as the eye can sssssssee,” Benzra noted.
“Considering my recent encounter with it,” Baxter mumbled, “I’m not exactly thrilled to see it.”
“Closing in on the Pizarro,” Tilleran reported. “Just a few more kilometers.”
Benzra cracked open her medical case and thrust a mask in front of Baxter. “Here. Put thissss on.”
“Becaussssse, we do not know how being around sssssssuch great quantities of this alien tobacco will affect you.”
Baxter slid the mask on and activated it, bringing the Hemingway down to a soft landing. “Fine. Have it your way.”
After deactivating the engines, Baxter swung away from the control console and squeezed past Benzra to the back of the cabin. He activated the hatch and busted open the phaser cabinet, grabbing a phaser and holstering it.
“You really think that’s necessary?” Tilleran asked, grabbing a tricorder.
“You don’t know my parents. They can be quite stubborn. If they decide not to come with me willingly, I have a backup plan.”
Benzra grimaced down at her medical kit as she followed Peterman, Tilleran, and Baxter out of the cockpit. “I sssssure hope I’ve brought enough medical gear.”
“Isn’t this the life, Lucille?” Harlan asked, leaning back in his folding chair and surveying the Vasacan horizon, puffing away on a thick, handmade green cigar.
Lucille grumbled to herself, folding the pieces of tobacco she’d picked. She’d been attempting to make some kind of decorative headdress out of them ever since she and Harlan had landed, and so far hadn’t had any success. The tobbaco leaves were just not the right texture. “I hate roughing it. You’re the one who likes to camp out. How long do you expect us to live like this?”
“You have a replicator,” Harlan snapped. “That’s all you need. When we are tired of living here, we’ll just take the shuttlecraft and go to another planet. Maybe one with a hair salon. That would make you happy, wouldn’t it?”
Lucille folded her arms. “Don’t take that tone with me, Harlan.”
“Ahem.” Captain Baxter cleared his throat to get his parents’ attention, climbing out of the thick, four meter high tobbacco grove. “I hate to break up your little camping trip, but would you guys kindly come back to the Explorer?”
Peterman pushed away tobacco leaves and stepped up next to Baxter. Tilleran and Benzra followed close behind.
“Yeah,” Peterman said. “I’m really sorry for yelling at you guys.”
“That isn’t the issue,” Harlan grunted. “We aren’t wanted on the Explorer and we aren’t the kind to hang around where we aren’t wanted.”
“Hasn’t stopped you before,” Peterman mumbled to herself.
“Counselor,” Baxter snapped, turning back to his parents. “Listen, I have had problems with you guys in the past, but it doesn’t mean I don’t love you or don’t want you around. We can work this out, I promise!”
“I want an apology from Kelly,” Lucille huffed.
“I said that wasn’t the issue,” Harlan harped, turning on Lucille.
“It is for me.”
“I am not leaving without you two.”
Harlan sucked on his cigar. “We’re not going back there.”
Peterman folded her arms and turned away. “I’m not apologizing.”
“Well,” Benzra said, “it appearsssss we have a sssssstalemate.”
“Time for plan B,” Baxter muttered.
“Uh-oh,” Tilleran said, suddenly reading the plan from Baxter’s mind.
Baxter withdrew his phaser, tapped some commands into it, and fired into the thick tobacco brush. The dry leaves ignited instantly, sending wafts of green smoke up into the air.
“Let’s see what happens when your son’s life is in jeopardy!” Baxter cried, yanking off his mask and diving into the thick leaves.
“Damn the Directorssss,” Benzra muttered, grabbing her medical kit and pursuing Baxter into the burning thicket.
“That boy has some brass ones after all,” Harlan mused.
“He is our son,” Lucille said, smiling.
“He just tried to kill himself!” Peterman cried, gesturing toward the burning tobbaco leaves. As she did so, Baxter’s body mysteriously rose above the four-meter grove of burning leaves. Evidently, Benzra was holding him over her head as she carried him out of the inferno.
“What a guy,” Harlan said with a chortle.
Benzra emerged from the waft of smoke and gently laid Baxter down next to the shuttlecraft Pizarro. Tilleran rushed to Baxter’s side, running a tricorder over him. “He’s suffering from massive smoke inhalation.”
“Duh,” Benzra said, wiping soot off her exoskeleton. Other than appearing a bit blackened, she looked none the worse for wear. “He will die within fifteen minutessssssss if we do not get him to a Sssssssickbay.”
Tilleran rushed inside the Pizarro cockpit. “I’ll call the Explorer.”
Harlan and Lucille knelt beside Baxter as he turned to the side, coughing and retching.
“Son,” Harlan said, “you must really love us.”
Baxter doubled over in a fit of coughing. “Mmm…musky, minty…with a bit of a fruity nuance. Aughhh….Satisfying!”
“Andy, Andy!” Peterman cried, pushing in between Harlan and Lucille. “Stay with us, damn it! Don’t die!”
“Take care of mom and dad,” Baxter wheezed as his eyes rolled back into his head.
“Apology accepted,” Lucille said, wrapping an arm around Peterman.
Peterman, Harlan, and Lucille were grouped outside the operating room, eagerly waiting for Benzra to emerge.
When Benzra finally did emerge, she ripped off her red mask and collapsed onto a nearby biobed, which sighed under her weight.
“Well?” Peterman asked expectantly, rushing over.
“He’s dead,” Benzra said flatly.
“Oh my God!” Peterman cried, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“Ssssheessssh, I was jusssst kidding,” Benzra muttered. “You humanssss have no sssssssensssse of humor. Your husssssband will be fine.”
Peterman pushed by Benzra and hurried into the operating room, Harlan and Lucille on her heels.
“Andy,” Peterman said, sighing with relief as Baxter sat up weakly on the medtable.
Baxter smiled. “Does anyone have a smoke?”
“Son, I’m sorry I thought you were such a wimp,” Harlan said, patting Baxter on the shoulder. “You really can grow a spine when you need one.”
“He did a stupid, stupid thing,” Peterman said, turning on Baxter angrily. “You nearly died!”
“But I got my parents back,” Baxter said weakly.
“Yes,” Lucille said. “And that’s all that matters. Well, pooter, we’ll let you get some rest. I’ll be in early tomorrow morning with some breakfast for you. Come on, Harlan.”
Baxter leaned back onto the medtable as Lucille and Harlan filed out of the OR. Peterman placed a hand on his chest and knelt down beside him.
“You really scared me, Andy.”
“I got my parents back,” he repeated, this time sounding a bit confused. “I got my parents back.” This time he sounded downright morbid.
“Well, Andy,” Peterman sighed, laying her head on his chest. “You asked for it.”
“Benzra,” Baxter called out weakly.
“Yesssssss?” Benzra asked, poking her head into the OR.
“I can’t live with my parents, I can’t live without them. Do the humane thing. Kill me.”
Benzra’s exoskeleton rattled as she reluctantly grabbed a hypospray, tapped in some commands, and plunged it into Baxter’s neck. “There you go.”
Baxter blinked, watching Benzra duck back out of the OR.
“You think she was joking?”
Peterman shrugged. “Let’s hope so.”
“And so I have decided to leave the ship to write for a Flarn sketch comedy program,” First Engineer Dondarg said plaintively, kneeling in front of Captain Krig of the Bird of Prey Sarh’gon.
“You dishonor us by leaving the Sarh’gon, but I cannot stop you from following your destiny. May it bring you honor.”
Captain Baxter sipped at his cup of soup and readjusted the pillow behind his back as he sat in the recovery room watching the latest Days of Honor chip.
“More crackers?” Peterman asked, sticking a plate in front of Baxter.
“No thanks,” Baxter said, concentrating on the screen. “I’m fine.”
“How about some more grapefruit juice?” Lucille asked from the other side of Baxter’s bed. “I know it’s your favorite!”
Baxter grinned. “Okay, just a little.”
Peterman watched the screen as Captain Krig and Counselor Denera were married in the traditional Klingon marraige ceremony. “I love Denera’s dress. The Klingons sure have an eye for fashion.”
“It’s not accurate,” Lucille said. “There should be more metal.”
“How would you know?” asked Baxter.
“Harlan did a tour on Kronos when you were a baby. We were only there for a few weeks, though.”
“Why is that?” Peterman asked.
“The Klingons didn’t see eye to eye with Harlan. Let’s just leave it at that,” Lucille said.
“Uh-huh,” Baxter said. “Well, at least Chris’s doing a nice job of copying our wedding. Of course, our fellow officers didn’t club the hell out of us after we said our vows.”
“I think that’s the Klingon part,” Peterman mentioned.
“I think Chris’s going to start running out of material,” Baxter said. “He’s covered a lot of our adventures in the last few months. Pretty soon he’ll have to actually start coming up with new ideas.”
“Oh, look,” Peterman said. “I think this is supposed to be Engineer Dondarg working on the Flarn sketch comedy program.”
“I wonder where he got that idea from,” Baxter sighed.
“Sssh,” Peterman said, facing the viewscreen.
“Personal Log, Engineer Dondarg,” Dondarg said, looking over his shoulder and leaning over a transmitter in one of the dark compartments in the Flarn production studio. “This script writing job is not all it is cracked up to be. My banishment to Flarn Prime is the darkest period in my life. I find myself wishing that Captain Krig and the crew of the Sahr’gon would take me back before I go insane. The Flarn are so cruel to me. I fear I’ll never see my friends on the…Sahr’gon…again.”
“Jeeze,” Peterman muttered.
“That sure is depressing,” said Lucille.
“Hmm,” Baxter said, wiping his mouth with a napkin and putting his soup down on a nearby table. “I wonder if Chris’s trying to tell us something.”
TO BE CONTINUED…
A trip to Waystation opens up an opportunity for Baxter to convince Browning to return to the Explorer, and concerns over Richards’s welfare on Kronos increase with the coming Klingon Honor Festival. We’re cooking up some trouble with the next Star Traks: The Vexed Generation story, “Sacrifice of Bagels!”