Author: Anthony Butler
Lt. Hartley gripped the master systems console down in Engineering as the Explorer buckled under her again.
“More power to the warp core shielding. They’re trying to punch through with their plasma torpedoes,” Hartley cried. “Secure the injectors. If they lock up, we won’t be able to reinitialize them!”
Ensign Stuart shoved a protoplaser into Ensign Sanchez’s hand and patted him on the back. “Go patch that injector, Paul.” His eyes diverted to a nearby readout screen. “Lieutenant!” he looked back at Hartley. “We just lost another conduit! This one on deck thirteen, section gamma-five.”
“Bring up one of the auxilliaries,” Hartley ordered. “We have to keep shield and weapon power up.”
Stuart nodded, tapping in the necessary controls. He looked across the master systems table at Hartley. “We don’t have much auxilliary power left, Megan!”
“Tell me something I don’t know,” Hartley sighed. “Hartley to bridge. How about keeping the uproar to a minimum up there?”
“Can’t do,” Baxter replied over the comm. “These Leeramar are on our tail like Breen at a parka convention!”
“Well, shake them!” Hartley cried, as another blast cracked against Explorer’s hull. She grinded her teeth, holding fast to the master systems table.
“Easy for you to say! Just keep us together.”
Dr. Benzra ducked out of a nearby Jeffries’ tube. “You have injured?” she asked, wielding a medical kit.
Hartley thumbed the warp core railing. “Yang’s down on Level G. Four levels down.”
“Very well.” Benzra planted a claw on the warp core railing and hopped down.
With a grunt, Benzra shoved the badly burned Ensign Yang over the side of the warp core railing and hopped over.
“Was that really necessary?” Hartley asked. “Why couldn’t you just take the elevator?”
“I could not fit,” Benzra grunted, running a medical tricorder over the ensign. “Sssssshe has ssssssssuffered sssssevere sssssssmoke inhalation and epidermal burnssss. Ssssssshe will live, but in great pain.”
“Just get her to Sickbay. We need room to work,” Hartley said, shouldering past Benzra toward the warp core. As she did so, an explosion tossed her backward, arms flailing, onto the systems table.
Hartley leaned her head up, dazed. Blue flames licked out of the warp core compartment as it filled with smoke. Alarms wailed.
“Computer!” Hartley cried. “Bring the fire suppression protocol online and prepare to seal Engineering!”
“What hassss happened?”
Hartley slid off the console and began working at a nearby panel. “An anti-deuterium plasma leak just ignited. This compartment will be one big plasma fire in about thirty seconds. I have to reroute engineering control to another deck and seal off this one so the computer can stop the fire. If it doesn’t, it may spread into the injector systems and cause a breach.”
“Megan!” Stuart cried, coughing through smoke. “Sanchez is still in there somewhere!”
“We have to leave him!” Hartley said, quickly waving the Engineering staff out of the compartment. “Come on, everyone out!”
“Unnecesssssssssary,” Benzra said. “You evacuate Engineering. I will ssssssee to Mr. Sanchez.”
“What about the radiation…the flames?”
“Flarn are notorioussssssssssly hard to kill, Lieutenant. I will be fine. Now, go!”
Hartley grabbed Stuart’s arm. “You heard her, Ryan. Come on!”
Taking one last look at Engineering, Hartley stumbled out and stamped a control pad. “Computer, seal Engineering in twenty seconds. Authorization Hartley Pi Four-seven-nine.”
Nineteen seconds later, Sanchez rolled out of the smoke- filled compartment as the isolation door dropped down.
Hartley pounded on the door, trying to see through the smoke. “BENZRA!”
Stuart kneeled down beside Sanchez, running a hand in front of his face. “Still with us, Paul?”
Sanchez shook his head, grunted. “Huh?”
“Glad to hear it,” Stuart said, patting Sanchez on the back. He looked up at the sealed warp core. Smoke waved in front of the tinted window, finally flushing out, swirling.
Hartley squinted. “Benzra?”
The Flarn swung down from the upper warp core level, tapping a control on the master systems console.
The door slid open. Hartley ducked unter, rushing over to meet Benzra. “What did you do?”
“I ssssssstopped the fire and sealed the radiation leak. It was a minor tassssk.”
“Bridge to Engineering,” Baxter’s voice boomed. “We drove off the Leeramar. Is everything okay down there?”
“Amazingly,” Hartley sighed. “Benzra may have saved the ship.”
“Good. Now let’s have that staff meeting. I’m on a tight time schedule, here.”
Hartley rolled her eyes. “The Waystation trip.”
“He misssssssssssses the human doctor,” Benzra said, nodding.
“Maybe he does,” Hartley mumbled, wrapping an arm around the narrow part of Benzra’s exoskeleton and tossing her unfurled hair out of her face. “But Dr. Browning sure as hell couldn’t have done what you just did.”
Captain Baxter tossed his carry-on onto the conference table and stared at the graphic on the viewscreen, arms folded.
“We have adjusted our maps to reflect what we have learned in the recent altercation,” Larkin said. “The Leeramar now seek proprietary rights to more than three quarters of sector 33804.”
“Who says?” Baxter muttered.
“Those plasma torpedoes?” Conway offered.
“The question is,” Tilleran said, “what do we do about it?”
“We send a reccomendation to Starfleet,” Baxter sighed. “And we go explore another sector for now.”
Hartley ducked into the conference room, hair and uniform charred and dirty. “Engineering’s secure, thanks to Benzra.”
“Where is she?” Conway asked.
“Seeing to the casualties,” Hartley said, collapsing into a chair. “Is it just me, or do those Leeramar get more annoying every time we meet up with them?”
“It’s just you,” Conway said, puckering his face into a grin.
“Enough!” Baxter hefted his carry-on. “Conway, handle that reccomendation to Starfleet. Larkin, coordinate with Gellar to see if you can anticpate new Leeramar fleet movements. Hartley, start fixing the ship. And Tilleran: Get the Escort ready. We leave in fifteen minutes.”
“Thank providence,” Tilleran grumbled. “It’ll be nice to get away from the Galactic Rim for a while.”
“Wish I could go with you.” Hartley folded her arms, blowing hair out of her face. “But I have about three kilometers of power conduit to repair.”
“Have fun,” Baxter said, whisking his carry-on out of the room.
“There you go, fella,” Counselor Peterman said, wrapping a new glowing collar around Charlie’s neck. “All ready to go to Waystation?”
“Yes, I know you are!”
The doors to the Peterman/Baxter quarters wooshed open.
“Kelly! Let’s go!” Baxter said, hurrying in and checking his couch cushions one more time for errant padds.
“I’m almost ready. I just have to pack Charlie’s chew toys.”
“We’ll replicate him some new ones on board the Escort,” Baxter said. “They expect us at 0900 tomorrow and that’s when we’ll arrive.”
“Andy!” Peterman said, grabbing Baxter by the shoulders and forcing him to look at her. “What’s got you so antsy?”
“You know what I’m antsy about. That episode of Days of Honor that was on the other day. The one where Chris all but pleaded for us to come rescue him.”
Peterman grabbed Charlie’s dufflebag and picked up the leash, snapping it on Charle’s collar. Her six pieces of luggage had already been loaded onto the Escort.
“There. All ready. Listen, Andy, there’s nothing you can do right now. You tried to get a message out to him, but he didn’t answer.”
“I should go there.”
“No. We’re going to visit Janice and that’s that. This trip has been scheduled for a month.”
“You know the Klingons. What if they’re hitting him with pain sticks or something? Or dropping him into a river of blood? They’re capable of anything, Kelly!”
“He’s a big boy, Andy. He’ll be fine.”
Baxter led Peterman down out of the cabin and down the corridor. “How do we know that he’ll be fine?”
Peterman tugged at Charlie’s leash. “J’hana is going to check on him as soon as she can, remember? Then she’ll call us and let us know what’s going on. Until then, why don’t we have fun visiting Waystation and try not to worry about it?”
Baxter rubbed his chin. “Maybe Janice can talk some sense into him.”
“No!” Peterman said, as she tugged Charlie into the turbolift after Baxter. “We’re not telling Janice unless she asks.”
“Escort level,” Baxter ordered. “Why not?”
“Because, she is doing well at Waystation and we shouldn’t try to mess that up by making her feel bad about Chris. They both took risks leaving the Explorer. Janice’s turned out well and Chris’s…well…”
“Exactly. I’m his friend, Kelly.” The lift doors opened and Baxter, Peterman, and Charlie poured out. “I should be there for him.”
“He needs to do this on his own.”
Baxter stepped up to the Escort airlock and prepared himself for another upside-down ride. He tapped in the entry code, placed his hand on the scanner, and stepped through. “And why should he be on his own when he has me to help him?”
“Probably because for once he wants to be out from under your shadow, perhaps?”
“Airlock sequence engaged.” The corridor between Escort and Explorer began to turn.
“WHAT?” Baxter asked.
Peterman gripped the wall as the deck kicked out from under her. Charlie scrambled, claws-on-duranium, yipping nervously.
“Whoops. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to say anything.”
“Too late for that now!”
“You’re the big, high and mighty Captain, Andy.” Peterman struggled to stay erect as the corridor turned. Baxter dropped to the deck and pawed for purchase with his hands. “What did he have? A job as Chief Engineer serving under you. Maybe he wanted to risk something. If you cherish a job you have to fight for it. Did Chris ever struggle to stay on the Explorer? No. Even if he screwed up horribly you’d still keep him on, because you’re such a good friend! Well, where does that leave him?”
The corridor stopped moving. “Airlock sequence complete!” said the computer.
Baxter pushed off the deck and straightened his uniform. “Hmph. And how do you know he feels that way?”
“I was his Counselor for two years!”
“So I should just let him rot on Kronos and not give a damn? Is that what you’re saying?”
Peterman softened, following Baxter out of the airlock and into the cramped Escort corridor. “I’m just telling you that you should give him a chance to make his own mistakes.”
“Fine, have it your way. We’re going to Waystation and we’re going to have a good time. That’s all there is to it.”
“Thank you,” Peterman said, expelling a breath. “That’s all I ask.”
Captain’s Personal Log,
Stardate 53428.3. We’ve almost reached Waystation. I have to admit I’ve missed Janice. She may not be as competent or durable as Benzra, but she is a good friend and that’s something I’m lacking aboard the Explorer nowadays. I know she’s having a good time on Waystation and doing well for herself, so I’m not going to say anything to guilt her into coming back. At least, not as long as Kelly is around.
Peterman rolled off the couch and hit the floor with a thud.
“Morning,” Baxter said, sipping coffee and staring at the tiny terminal screen on his desk.
The Captain’s cabin aboard the Escort was actually half- cabin and half-ready-room. There simply wasn’t enough space for both.
Peterman stumbled to her feet and padded across the darkened room to look over Baxter’s shoulder. The screen cast eerie blue shadows over Baxter’s face.
“What are you looking at?”
“The latest Days of Honor.”
“But that episode doesn’t come out until tomorrow,” Peterman said, kneeling next to Baxter and staring at the screen. Engineer Dondarg was being held hostage on Flarn Prime for poor sketch- writing.
“I got it over the Federnet. There are sick Honorees all over the quadrant who use their connections on Kronos to get up- to-the-minute reports on the stars, gossip, new episodes–even scripts for episodes that haven’t been filmed yet. The current gossip is that Dondarg will die in the next episode.”
“Fascinating,” Peterman murmurred. “You don’t think the newest analogy is correct, do you?”
“Chris being put to death? No, I think that’s a bit drastic.” Baxter sipped coffee. “The Klingons are cruel, but not that cruel.”
“They killed several hundred thousand Federation citizens during our last war with them, you know.”
“But they make a damn good cup of coffee.”
“You seem to have changed your mind about the whole Chris thing.”
“You were right, Kelly. In the words of Fleetwood Mac, he can go his own way.”
Peterman stretched, wincing as her back crackled. “How much longer until we reach Waystation?”
“A couple hours.”
“Have you gotten any sleep?”
“The couch folds out, you know.” Peterman inclined her head back toward the sofa.
Baxter turned back, narrowing his eyes at her. “Are you suggesting what I think you are? Something totally unrelated to sleep?”
“If you have the knowhow to unfold that couch.”
Baxter swung his chair around and lept toward the couch. “Let’s see if I do.”
On the terminal, a window popped up and flashed incessantly as Baxter fiddled with the couch:
Kasatria997: Hey, CAPTANTH
Kasatria997: CAPTANTH, Ahoy!
Kasatria997: You won’t believe what I found out!
That window, and the one playing Days of Honor, closed as Baxter yanked the couch-bed out and fluffed pillows.
YOUR ACCOUNT HAS BEEN LOGGED OFF DUE TO
PLEASE CONNECT TO FEDERNET AGAIN SOON.
Two hours later, Baxter stepped out of the Waystation airlock, stretching out his back and rubbing his eyes. The sounds of the Starfleet Square Mall boomed in his ears and the neon lights assaulted his eyes.
Peterman ducked out after Baxter, Charlie in tow.
“Wonder where Janice is?”
“I wonder where the bathroom is.”
“The Escort has a bathroom.”
“I need a big bathroom,” Baxter muttered. “Remind me to have Hartley clear out the weapons locker next to our cabin and knock out the wall so we have room for a bathtub.”
“You are such a sissy.”
“I’m not the one with six pieces of matched luggage.”
“Everything in there has a use.”
“So does a bathtub.”
“So you’re going to bathe in a public bathroom in the middle of the mall?”
“I was considering it.”
“Not on my watch,” Captain Lisa Beck said, approaching Baxter and Peterman, grinning with mild apprehension.
“Captain,” Baxter said, forcing a smile. “Congratulations on the promotion.”
“Thanks. Rough trip?”
“Is it that easy to tell?” Peterman asked.
“When you travel in a ship that small it’s to be expected, I guess,” Beck said.
“Uh-huh. So, where’s the nearest bathroom?”
“There are no tubs in Starfleet Square, Captain.”
“So,” Beck said, strolling with Baxter, Peterman, and Charlie along the concourse of the mall, “how is that ship working out? The Escort?”
“Fine,” Baxter said. “Good for covert ops, reconnaisance, scouting missions…”
“…pleasure trips?” Beck offered helpfully.
“We came to deliever supplies,” Baxter said defensively.
“In that little thing?”
“One biomemetic gel pack,” Lt. Tilleran said, jogging up to meet Captain Beck, placing the gelatinous pack in her hand. “Where’s Porter?”
“In Ops,” Beck sighed, staring at the pack. “Gee, Captain, I can’t thank you enough for this…gel pack.”
“Use it in good health,” Baxter said. “Come on, Kelly. Let’s find this fancy restaurant of Janice’s.”
Little viruses, spreading through my station, Beck thought to herself, watching the Explorer crewmembers disappear into the crowds. Lovely.
Janice Browning cupped her chin in her hands, nodding attentively as Bradley Dillon talked, picking through his plate of ham and fried ktarrian eggs.
“To make a long story short,” Bradley munched, “I’m having problems getting all the copyrights.”
“I see your problem, Mr. Dillon,” Browning said, watching him eat.
“Janice, we’ve worked together for four months now. Call me Bradley.”
“Okay, Bradley. I think it’s a mistake to recreate the Titanic voyage for a paying audience.”
“People want to see history! Are you saying you wouldn’t cough up some latinum to walk through the hallowed halls of history?”
“I didn’t even know what the Titanic was until you brought it up.”
Bradley shook his head. “What do they teach people at Starfleet Academy these days anyway?”
“Listen, do you like the eggs?”
“Yeah,” Bradley nodded. “What did you do differently?”
“They’re cooked in a mix of Tellarite fur oils.”
Bradley’s nose wrinkled. “Tellarite fur stinks. How did you mask the smell?”
Browning grinned. “Chef’s secret!”
“You do amazing things with food, Janice. I don’t know how you lasted so long cutting up people when you cut a slice of ham so well.”
“And ham doesn’t scream,” Browning said, pushing out of her chair. “Now eat up. I have other customers to see to.”
Browning weaved between the ornately carved wooden tables and velvet-covered chairs of her restaurant, greeting customers and chatting about the topics of the day: a rumored sex scandal involving the Federation President, Romulan activity in a nearby sector, and the opening of a new candle boutique in the Starfleet Square Mall.
As Browning took her place at the podium from which she greeted incoming customers, her head waitress, Mandy Jenson, ran up to her, jiggling like crazy.
“Calm down, Mandy,” Browning said, jotting down some ingredient ideas for the Christmas feast she was putting on next week. “What is it?”
“I just checked our internal sensors and it looks like we have two Andorian life signs up in the air ducts.”
“Jeeze sakes,” Browning grumbled. “Code Mauve. Distract Big Bird and keep an eye on the door.”
“Yes, ma’am!” Mandy saluted, hurrying over to Bradley’s table.
Browning grabbed a phaser and adjusted the setting to “roast.”
“All right, Ih’mad: this time you’ve gone too far.” Browning was just about to run to the kitchen and climb into the air duct when Captain Baxter and Counselor Peterman strolled in. Browning whipped the phaser behind her back.
“Janice!” Peterman cried, squeezing Browning so hard she almost dropped the phaser.
“Oh, Kelly! Nice to see you. Andy, how are you!” Browning squirmed free of Peterman and backpedaled toward Mandy, who was busy concocting a huge lie to distract Bradley Dillon.
“Mandy,” Browning whispered with clenched teeth. “New orders: See the two Starfleet officers at the front of the restaurant? Distract THEM!”
“Aye, sir!” Mandy said, jogging over to Baxter and Peterman. “Captain, Commander! I see you’re fresh from the cold loneliness of space. I know those Starfleet ships can be so cold and impersonal. How about the magic touch of a Starfleet Suites room? You can get settled in before breakfast!”
“Actually,” Peterman broke in, pointing at Browning. “We just wanted to see…”
“I’d love to see a room,” Baxter said dumbly. “I hear they’re great!”
Mandy wrapped her arms around Baxter and Peterman and marched both up to the giant spiral staircase that led up to the hotel’s rooms. “Come on! I’ll show you the Captain’s Suite. I know you’ll both love it!”
Browning watched the group rush up the staircase as Bradley closed on her.
“So, Janice,” Bradley said. “I hear you’re interested in a date?”
“WHAT?” Browning asked. What did Mandy tell him?
“I’m free tonight, actually. How about sixish?”
Suddenly Browning heard rustling above her head. Andorians! What could they be up to?
“That sounds great!” Browning said, ushering Bradley out of the restaurant. “Well, I know you have a busy day ahead of you. Besides, if you see me on the day of the date, it will be bad luck.”
“I thought that was just for marraiges.”
“Whatever. Just go back to your office. I’ll see you tonight.”
“Okay, you’ve got a deal,” Bradley said, winking at Browning. This woman really was a mover and shaker. Just like him. What a perfect match.
Browning wiped her forehead and sighed as Bradley strolled away, then swung around toward the kitchen.
She barked orders for the chefs to run out into the restaurant and distract the customers while she did a gymnastic leap onto a huge bowl of pasta, clambering into the air vent.
“Hurry, Baughb. I hear something coming through the vent,” Ih’mad said hurriedly, pushing the Andorian waiter through the air vent.
“I’m going as fast as I can. I don’t want to upset the nil bugs.”
“You will not upset them. They are bugs.”
“You tell that to the bugs.” Baughb held up the canister of tiny, scurrying Andorian nil bugs. “See, they’re very agitated.”
“Good. That means they’ll itch Browning’s customers even more.”
“No buts, just start pouring them through the grating.”
“Hey!” a voice cried from behind Ih’mad.
Ih’mad whirled. “Browning! You are cunning!”
Browning crawled through the vent, endeavoring to hold her phaser steady on the Andorian restauranteurs. “Put that jar of bugs down.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. We were just in here inspecting the ventilation system. It’s a free quadrant. We may do so if we wish.”
“Then those aren’t Andorian nil bugs?”
“What on Andor would make you say that?”
“Years of Starfleet experience. Now hand them over!”
Ih’mad grabbed the canister and lept toward Browning. “Never!”
Peterman paced the expansive “Captain’s Suite” as Baxter sunk under a mound of bubbles, engulfed in the huge pool-sized tub in the suite’s regal bathroom.
“All right, Andy. I’m going down to see Janice.”
“Don’t you want to try this tub first?” Baxter asked, spitting bubbles.
“No. I didn’t like the way that waitress ushered us away. There’s something wrong around here.”
“You’re paranoid,” Baxter muttered.
Browning and Ih’mad wrestled around inside the vent, each attempting to pour the jar of bugs onto the other. Ih’mad almost had the lid worked open.
“Ih’mad, how can I help?” Baughb asked innocently.
“Get her off me!” Ih’mad cried.
“She is a woman. It would be dishonorable to do bodily harm to her.”
“It is dishonorable to sit there like a coward and do nothing.”
“Give me those bugs, Ih’mad!”
“I will give them to you, in your face!”
“That’s what you think!”
“Stop trying to screw up my restaurant!”
“Leave this station!”
“Janice?” Peterman asked, pushing past the crowd that had formed in the lobby outside Browningie’s. Evidently the entire chef staff had brought the Browningie’s patrons outside for line dancing lessons.
As “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” played on, Peterman searched the restaurant.
“Janice! It’s Kelly! Where are you?”
“Get down!” the waitress that had escorted Peterman earlier cried, hopping out from behind a table and firing a phaser beam up at the ceiling.
The ceiling split open, emitting two Andorians and Dr. Browning.
Browning, straddled on top of the two Andorians, held up a clear jar of bugs, victorious. When she saw Peterman, her expression dampened.
“Janice, what the hell is going on?” Peterman noticed that Browning’s silky flowered dress was wrinkled and dirty.
“Um, well…” Browning looked down at the Andorians she was squishing. “You see, Baughb and Ih’mad here were just showing me how to fricassee Andorian nil bugs. It’s a tasty recipe from what I hear.”
“We were?” Baughb asked. Ih’mad slapped him upside the head.
“Come on,” Mandy said, prodding with her phaser rifle. “Back to your place at the mall.”
“Shelat,” Ih’mad spat. “The Hive Mother curse this place!”
“So,” Browning said. “Did you guys have a pleasant trip?”
“It was okay,” Peterman said. “How have you been?”
Browning shrugged. “Same old, same old.”
“Are you going to tell me what really happened up in that ventilation duct?”
“Do I have to?”
Peterman sat Browning down at a table. “Yes. That’s what counselors are for.”
“You’re not my counselor anymore.”
“Then that’s what friends are for.”
“Okay, okay. Let me just go out and tell my staff they can stop line dancing.”
Captain Baxter strolled down into Browningie’s feeling fresh and relaxed. The bubble bath had hit the spot. Now all he needed was a nice, well-prepared meal at what the Federation Travel Guide said was one of the rising hotspots for dining in the quadrant.
“Welcome to Browningie’s,” the head waitress said. “One?”
“I’m here to see the manager. She should be here with my wife.”
“Ah, you must be Captain Baxter,” Mandy said, grabbing a menu and escorting Baxter through the restaurant.
“Yes, that’s right,” Baxter said proudly. “I see you’ve heard of me?”
“Sure have. Ms. Browning says you cook a good omellette.”
“Omellette? You mean, you haven’t heard of the daring adventures of the Explorer?”
“Here we are!” Mandy gestured toward Baxter’s seat, at a table where Peterman and Browning were talking.
Baxter slumped into his seat, watching Mandy walk away, chagrined. “You told her about my omellette-making skills and nothing about our adventures on the Explorer?”
“That’s a closed chapter in my life, Andy,” Browning said, pouring some coffee into Baxter’s cup. “I try not to talk much about it.”
“Glad to see it meant so much to you,” Baxter mumbled, looking at the liquid and sniffing. “This isn’t raktegeeno. It isn’t even orange pekoe.”
“It’s a special blend. Try it.”
Baxter sipped. “Hmmm. Not coffee. Not tea. What is it?”
“Do you like it?”
“Yes, but I think you’re asking that so I can’t act like I hate it when I find out what it’s made of.”
“Nah,” Browning said. “It’s got chocolate, cream, a little nutmeg…”
Peterman grinned. “And nil bug juice.”
“Ugh,” Baxter grimaced, swallowing hard and washing the taste out with a glass of water. “Why that particular bug?” Baxter did not think back fondly on the time when J’hana and Conway had snuck the tiny, menacing creatures into his quarters.
“I had to do something with them,” Browning said.
“The owners of the Andorian restaurant in the mall are trying to run Janice out of business.”
“Is that so?” Baxter asked. “Why don’t you just report them to Captain Beck so she can make them quit?”
“It isn’t that simple, Andy. Ih’mad and I are operating according to a very strict code of Andorian restauranting conduct. I can’t even talk to Mr. Dillon about it.”
“So this is all supposed to be okay for Andorians to do?”
“But it’s not okay for you!”
“Ah, it keeps me busy.”
“You mean it keeps you from missing the Explorer?”
Baxter winced as Peterman’s boot cut into his shin. “Ow!”
“What’s that?” Browning asked.
“Never mind. Let’s just order.”
“Kelly and I have already eaten. I reccomend the bagel with lox and cream cheese. The lox was just shipped in from Benzar. Bagels seem to be the most popular item on my menu. Who could have known that centuries-old baking customs would be so popular here?”
“Bagels, you say? No weird ingredients?”
“Now we’re talking,” Baxter said, putting his menu down.
“Mandy, one Number One for the Captain. And some more nil bug cider!”
“Right away, Ms. Browning,” Mandy said, drifting by the table and grabbing the menus, floating off to the kitchen. She seemed to materialize from out of nowhere and disappear just as mysteriously.
“Ms?” Baxter asked. “What happened to ‘doctor’?”
“You don’t see a medtable or a hypospray around, do you?” Browning asked with amusement. “I dropped the title.”
“Oh,” Baxter said. “So have you talked to Chris much?”
Another swift kick from Kelly.
Baxter pounded the table, squeezing his eyes shut. He wished there was a hypospray around so he could dull the pain that was throbbing in his shin.
“From time to time. And I play the Days of Honor chips as soon as I can get them.” Browning indicated the large screen at the front of the restaurant. “We make an event out of it. You know, gagh and blood wine, Klingon operas. Days of Honor night is a real hit around here.”
“I imagine,” Baxter said. “They’re really fun to watch. I just wonder if they’re all that fun to wri–”
BAM! Pain cracked through Baxter’s leg. He grinded his teeth and glared at Peterman. “Well, I have to drop by the Escort. Call the Explorer, make sure it’s still in one piece. Get an update on the Leeramar.”
“Okay,” Browning said, watching Baxter limp away. “What about your breakfast?”
“Have them send it up to my room!” Baxter called.
“He sure is acting weird,” Browning muttered, sipping her nil bug cider.
“You know Andy. He’s always acting weird.”
“I suppose. So, how is the counseling going?”
“Very well,” Peterman replied. “Mirk and I have been working on the issues with his powers. While I’m away, he’s watching a vidchip series entitled ‘Powers Come From the Heart, Not the Cerebral Cortex.’ Very informative.”
“Uh-huh. What about Conway? Is he still depressed about Dr. Shar?”
“If anything, he’s just become more closed off and rude.”
“Hmm,” Browning replied, sipping. “How about everyone else? Megan fitting in well as Chief Engineer?”
“She’s doing a great job.”
“Better than Chris?”
“Well, I wouldn’t really…”
“And the doctor? The Flarn…Benzra?”
“Janice, you really don’t want to talk about this, do you?”
Browning looked out into the crowd, sipping. “No. I guess not.”
Peterman watched Browning. “That’s what I thought.”
“Why are you limping, sir?” Ensign Howard Sefelt asked from the Escort’s command chair as Baxter hobbled onto the bridge.
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Baxter squatted at the Ops console and punched some controls. “Have we heard from the Explorer yet?”
“Yes, sir,” Sefelt replied, swinging to and fro in the command chair. “Commander Conway said that Starfleet is sending a diplomatic delegation to negotiate the border disputes with the Leeramar.”
“How nice for Starfleet,” Baxter muttered.
“Something wrong, sir?”
“No!” Baxter barked, causing Sefelt to shrink back in the command chair.
“Sir, you know I get uncomfortable around people who raise their voices,” Sefelt said meekly.
“Oh, right. What did Peteresen call it? Shoutaphobia?”
“Yes, that’s right sir.”
“You know, Sefelt,” Baxter said, plunking at controls. “I have to thank you. It’s people like you that ensure that people like my wife will always have a job.”
“I try my best, sir.”
“Keep up the good work.”
“What are you trying to do, sir?”
“Contact J’hana. Why haven’t we heard from her yet?”
“It’s the Blood Feud Festival on Kronos,” Sefelt replied. “Didn’t you know that?”
“Do I look like a f***ing intergalactic encyclopedia to you, Sefelt?”
“Sir…your voice…” Sefelt squeaked.
“Right. So, how long does this ‘festival’ last?”
“Twelve days. They are in day ten now. Sex day.”
Baxter whipped his head around. “Sex day? Really?”
“I am not kidding,” Sefelt replied softly.
“I didn’t think you were.” Baxter rose from his seat and headed for the exit hatch. “Carry on, Mr. Sefelt. And call me as soon as you hear from J’hana.”
“I will not let you down, sir.”
Captain’s Personal Log,
Supplemental. After using the minimal Sickbay facilities on board the Escort to fix the damage Kelly did to my leg, I met with Kelly and Janice to get a tour of Waystation, since last time we were here we were too busy to do anything. I must say, since it was renovated two years ago, the station seems to have gotten along nicely. It seems like a nice home for Dr. Browning. I think more of my crew should defect here, as a matter of fact.
“Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m exausted,” Peterman said, collapsing into a chair in the Captain’s Suite.
“Yep, that goes double for me,” Baxter said. “It takes a long time to explore 100 decks.”
“You should try doing it in heels,” Browning said, still cheerful. “Well, my day is just getting started. It’s barely 1600 hours. We still have the late lunch crowd, the dinner rush…uh, then I have a date.”
“You have a date?” Peterman exclaimed.
“Don’t sound so suprised,” Browning replied.
“Who’s the lucky guy?” Baxter asked, falling onto the couch and removing his boots, rubbing his feet. It really was a long walk.
“No one you all really know.” Browning looked up at the chronometer. “Well, I’m needed down in the restaurant. Must go!”
Peterman watched Browning as she rushed out of the suite.
“Isn’t that nice?” Peterman scooted closer to Baxter on the couch and put her arm around him. “She’s adjusting so well, Andy. She’s really found a home here.”
Baxter pushed away, heading toward the bathroom. “Maybe. I was afraid to say anything for fear of being kicked.”
“We already discussed this, Andy!”
“Don’t I have a right to free speech?”
“Nope.” Peterman craned her neck. “Are you taking another bath?”
“Why do I hear water running, then?”
“Hey, we did a lot of walking around. Maybe I wouldn’t sweat so much if they didn’t make these uniforms with so many layers.”
“Wear your off-duty uniform.”
“The shorts? But everyone makes fun of my legs.”
“They do not. I think they’re cute. In a chubby way.”
Peterman ducked as a shampoo bottle came soaring out of the bathroom.
Sunk under piles of bubbles, Baxter awoke to a chirping alarm.
Then a soothing voice: “We interrupt the soothing sounds of Yanni to bring you…”
Then the hard, female Starfleet computer voice: “A communique from the USS Escort.”
Baxter spat out bubbles and leaned forward. “On screen.”
The tiles above the water spout shimmered to reveal a viewscreen. It was Ensign Sefelt, fumbling with his fingers, swaying in the command chair.
“Sir? Are you naked?”
“Yes, but covered in bubbles. Now what is it, Sefelt?”
Sefelt’s composure dropped. He broke into sobs, hyperventilating. “J-j-j-j’hana c-ca-ca-ca-called!”
“Finally. What did she say?”
“Mama? What the hell are you saying, Sefelt?”
Sefelt just shook his head, covering his face with his hands. Ensign Madera’s head suddenly ducked into view. “Maybe we should just play her communique for you.”
Baxter fumbled with the soap. “That would be a damn good idea.”
“There there, Howie. It’ll be okay,” Madera said, putting a comforting arm around Sefelt and punching a control on the command chair.
Suddenly, J’hana appeared on the screen, stuffed into a constraining Klingon uniform.
“Captain. I bear news of Mr. Richards. Dwanok and I have enquired with the Klingon televison studio. It seems Mr. Richards has attempted to breach his contract. On Kronos, the penalty for such a deed is death. Dwanok is filing an appeal with the high council; but, apparently, the majority is against Mr. Richards. The Klingons wish to make an example of him. That humans are weak and unable to function in Klingon society. Since it is also the Blood Feud Festival, they have decided to gut him publicly on the council steps while prodding his innards with painsticks. Dwanok and I have already purchased tickets. If you like, we may be able to secure some for you. If you have any questions, you may contact me at Dwanok’s residence on Kronos. Good day.”
Baxter was already out of the bathtub and heading for the door to the bathroom when Madera and Sefelt flickered back onto the viewscreen.
“Sir? Did you get all of…” Madera’s eyes went wide when she saw Baxter’s naked body scramble across wet tile and slide out of the door, limbs akimbo.
“Oh, yuck!” Madera cried, and cut the communication.
“We now return you to the soothing sounds of Yanni…”
Baxter and Peterman marched down the corridor purposefully, Peterman dragging Charlie and Baxter leaving a trail of water droplets. He hadn’t bothered to dry off before slipping on his off-duty outfit and heading out of the suite.
“We have to get to the Escort,” Peterman said. “Go to Kronos and try to reason with the Klingons.”
“That’s exactly what we’re going to do. But we aren’t going to do it alone.”
“Right. I’ll go get Tilleran.”
“And I’ll talk to Janice.”
Peterman sighed. “I thought we already went over this, Andy.”
“Things have changed,” Baxter said, as he led the way down the spiral staircase. “Chris’s life is in danger now. Don’t you think she has a right to know? They almost got married, Kelly! She probably still loves him in one way or another. Do you suggest we hide this from her?”
“I don’t believe it.”
“Don’t believe what? That Chris’s going to be gutted by the Klingons or that I’m actually right?”
Peterman and Baxter clambered toward the entrance to Browning’s restaurant.
“Hold on!” Mandy Jenson said, swinging in front of them like an expert defensive tackle. “This place is dressy casual.” She glanced at Baxter’s legs. “Put on a nice shirt and for goodness sakes cover up those chubby legs with some trousers!”
“Listen, missy,” Baxter prodded at Mandy with his finger. “I’m the Captain of a Starfleet ship, and right now I’m in the middle of an emergency, so how about you kindly step aside and let me pass!”
“I see Tilleran!” Peterman pointed. “She’s eating dinner with one of the Waystation officers.”
“Get her,” Baxter barked.
“Wait a minute,” Mandy said, as Peterman dragged Charlie past. “You can’t bring that dog in here.” Mandy grabbed Charlie’s leash out of Peterman’s hands and jerked it away. Mistake number one.
Charlie bared his teeth and pounced on Mandy, knocking her to the ground.
“Great Bird HELP ME!” Mandy cried.
“Come on, Char-char,” Peterman ordered, snapping her fingers. Charlie bounded after her through the restaurant, knocking aside trays of hot food left and right.
Baxter watched with satisfaction as Charlie pounced Lt. Porter, covering his face with drool. He turned his attention back on the dazed waitress.
“Where is Janice?”
“I can’t tell you,” Mandy stared up, arms folded contemptfully.
“Oh, Charlie…” Baxter whispered.
“Up in the Dillon Enterprise Grand Dining Room with Mr. Dillon having dinner!” Mandy cried, scrambling to her feet and fleeing the restaurant. “Ms. Browning doesn’t pay me enough for this!”
“Thanks.” As Baxter turned to leave, something caught his eye. A phaser was sticking out of one of the shelves inside the podium. It was most likely used for chasing off Andorian restauranteurs, Baxter decided as he grabbed the phaser and headed off in search of Browning.
Baxter climbed the spiraling staircase to Deck 26 and ran down the corridor, toward what Waystation’s computer indicated was the “Social Area” of Dillon Enterprise’s corporate headquarters.
So that was his plan. Get Browning to start a restaurant on Waystation and then pounce on her as if he were a Vulcan condor and she were a Feldosian field mouse.
Well, Baxter thought as he jogged down the corridor, we’ll see about that.
“More wine?” Bradley Dillon asked casually, stepping around the immense marble table and regally flashing the wine in front of Browning.
“I think not,” Browning said. “Three glasses is plenty.”
“Very well,” Bradley said, placing the wine on the table and sitting down, right beside Browning.
“You know, this is an awfully large table,” Browning commented. “Why don’t we spread out a bit.”
“I like an…intimate atmosphere,” Bradley replied, leaning closer. “Don’t you?”
“On who I’m being intimate with.”
Bradley chuckled. “You have quite the sense of humor, Janice.”
“Har har. Where’s the food?”
“And you like to get down to the point. I like that, too.” Bradley leaned still closer. “I was talking to your assistant, Mandy, today. She said you were very interested in me.”
Browning scooted back. “Mandy may have given you the wrong impression.”
“Um…where’s the food?”
“It’ll be here shortly.” Bradley took Browning’s hand. “A delicious meal served by the second best chef on the station.”
“Anyone I know?”
“Mm hmm. Anyway, before we eat…let’s talk about us.”
“Why would we want to do that?”
“I have tons of money, Janice. More than I’ll ever need. And I’m acquiring lots and lots of power, too. But all that means nothing without a good, strong woman at my side. I think you’re that woman.”
Browning giggled. “Mr. Dillon, I think this wine is making me tipsy. Did I just hear you say…”
“I want a relationship with you, Janice…” Bradley leaned forward, eyes closed. “Come on, kiss me!”
“Brantkowski to Mr. Dillon.”
Browning slid backward in her chair. Bradley looked up in annoyance. “What is it?”
“Someone here wants to see you. He’s…wait a minute, you can’t go…stop…stop! Put that down…don’t…ZZZZZT.”
Browning giggled again. “Was that phaser fire?”
“I think so.” Bradley pushed out of his chair, heading for the door. “Stay here while I go try and figure out just what the hell…”
The two grand double doors swung open, causing Bradley to stumble backward. Captain Baxter plunged through, wild-eyed, phaser at the ready.
“Step aside, Dillon!” Baxter barked, shoving Bradley against the table.
“What in the hell is the meaning of this?” Bradley cried.
Baxter shoved the phaser in Bradley’s face. “Family problems.” He looked over at Browning and began speaking in short, breathless, clipped phrases. “Janice. Chris’s in trouble. The Klingons are going to kill him. He hates it on Kronos. He wants to go back to the Explorer. We’re going to save him. Want to come with?”
“What?” Browning’s eyes went wide. “Oh my goodness, of course I’m coming with!”
Bradley looked over at Browning nervously. “Of course you’ll be granted leave to go help your friend. We aim to please here at Dillon Enterprises. Please take that thing away from my face, Captain.”
Baxter used the phaser to point around the room, holding Dillon at bay with the other hand. “And what’s all this about? Employee appreciation? Do you do this for all Dillon Enterprises employees?”
“Well, not all…”
“You wanted in my doctor’s pants!”
“She isn’t your doctor anymore!”
“She’s not yours either!”
“Both of you, shut up!” Browning said. “We’re wasting time, here. Why don’t we…”
“Why don’t you die honorably!” Ih’mad shouted, emerging from the kitchen with a huge platter. He hurled it, frisbee-like, at Browning.
Browning ducked as the sharp platter became embedded in the wall behind her.
“What the hell?” Baxter cried.
“Ih’mad’s been trying to run me out of business for months now,” Browning muttered. “He’s shifty, mean…” she glared at Ih’mad, “and not nice!”
“He came highly reccomended,” Bradley said weakly.
“We’re getting out of here,” Baxter said, slapping his comm badge. “Baxter to Escort. Are you all ready over there?”
“Peterman here. Tilleran’s getting dock clearance right now. We should be able to go in a few minutes.”
“Good. Lock on to me and Janice and prepare to beam us to the bridge.”
“Acknowledged. Oh, and Janice?”
“Charlie did a great deal of damage to your restaurant. You may have lost one or two customers tonight. Sorry.”
“I don’t care. I’m officially out of the restaurant business,” Browning said.
“Janice, what are you saying?” Bradley asked, still struggling in Baxter’s grasp.
“Yes, what are you saying?” Ih’mad asked, putting down the ceremonial knife he was about to throw at Browning.
“I love Browning’s, Mr. Dillon, but I love the crew of the Explorer more.”
“Fine, go. But you’re leaving the investment opportunity of a lifetime,” Bradley said.
“I’ll live,” Browning said, looking to Ih’mad. “It’s been nice, I guess.”
“I will miss sparring with you,” Ih’mad said sheepishly. “You were a worthy opponent.”
“I’ll miss your bagels,” Bradley said, rubbing his throat once Baxter finally released him.
“There will be other bagels, Mr. Dillon,” Browning said comfortingly.
“Peterman to Baxter. Andy…they’re not letting us leave. Captain Beck wants to know why you’re shooting up Deck 26. She says a security team is on their way. She sounds very angry.”
“Tell Captain Beck I will explain everything,” Bradley said. He looked to Janice. “You guys just get out of here. Help your friend.”
“Thank you, Bradley. For everything. It was a fun few months,” Browning said, leaning forward and kissing Bradley on the cheek.
“Okay, enough pleasantries,” Baxter muttered, slapping his comm badge. “Baxter to Escort. Energize!”
Ih’mad hopped onto the table next to Bradley as Browning and Baxter dematerialized. “Is that Vermellian wine?”
“Sure is,” Bradley muttered, grabbing two glasses. “Have some?”
Baxter shivered as the cold air from the Escort’s ventilation shaft breathed on his bare legs. He shifted in the command chair and watched the Escort’s viewscreen intently. “Set a course for Kronos, warp nine.”
“Aye, sir,” Madera said, tapping in the proper coordinates.
Browning stood at the front of the bridge, watching as Waystation disappeared in the distance on the viewscreen.
Peterman put an arm around her. “Are you sure this is what you want to do, Janice?”
“Definitely. But I’m going to miss having that restaurant.”
“Browningie’s will always be there, as long as we remember it,” Baxter mumbled.
Browning turned around. “What?”
“Nevermind. Engage, Ensign.”
TO BE CONTINUED…