Star Traks: The Vexed Generation was created by Anthony Butler. It's based on Alan Decker's Star Traks, which in turn is based on Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry. Paramount and Viacom, their dark masters, own everything. They must be darn happy about that. Copyright 1999. All rights, such as they are, are reserved. If you're offended by mildly disturbing language, situations, and the utter disregard of some of Star Trek's greatest premises, better hit the "Back" button on your browser right now. If not, welcome aboard!

Author: Anthony Butler
Copyright: 1999

First Officer’s Log,

Stardate 53575.7. Tilleran, Hartley, and I are on our way back from the annual Federation Conference on Starship Operations held this year on the beautiful planet Bajor. For a deeply spiritual people, the Bajorans really know how to throw a party. Everyone seemed to really enjoy my presentation on the effect of caffeine on Starfleet officer performance.

“Care for some coffee while I’m up?” Lt. Hartley asked, as she pulled her cup of raktageeno out of the tiny replicator slot aboard the runabout Algonquin.

“Love some,” Tilleran said, looking back at Hartley from the pilot’s chair and grinning. “After all, ‘Coff-ay is the way to start the Starfleet day!’”

Hartley doubled over in laughter as the second cup fizzled into place in the slot. She pulled it out, then collapsed into the navigator’s seat beside Tilleran. “What was he thinking when he wrote that?”

Tilleran took the cup, blowing steam away before taking a sip. “His brain’s been destroyed by too much coffee.”

“Then what are we doing to ourselves?” Hartley joked, propping her feet up on the control panel.

“We couldn’t hope to reach the Commander’s level of substance abuse.”

“Something had to affect his presentation skills. He was rapping his fingers on that podium like a man possessed,” Hartley said with a grin.

“Maybe he just needs a woman.”

“Well, that much is obvious.”

Tilleran sighed. “I know one thing. It certainly won’t be Ensign Dawson.”

“Can you blame her? He tried to Court Martial her, for Pete’s sake!”

“He’s just confused and lonely, Lieutenant.”

“Hey, I’m not going to feel sorry for him one bit. I’m as much as a jerk as he is, but I have friends.”

Tilleran plucked a few controls, checking to make sure Algonquin was still on the right course. “You know when to quit.”

“Exactly.” Hartley leaned back and sipped her coffee. Then, suddenly, her head turned to face the Betazoid. “What’s that supposed to mean?”


“No, really,” Hartley said, sitting up. “You were saying I know when to quit. Quit what?”

“Forget about it.”

Hartley pressed on. “Ariel…”

“It’s no secret, Megan. Sometimes you lay the ‘I’m in a bad mood’ thing on a little too thick. It’s a pretty transparent coverup.”

“I see.” Hartley bit her lip thoughtfully. “A coverup for what?”

Tilleran plucked more controls. This time in an obvious attempt to avoid eye contact with Hartley. “You know. Insecurity, fear of being disliked.”

“Hah! That’s a laugh!”

“Hey, I’m just telling you what I get from your mind.”

Hartley folded her arms and leaned back in her chair. “Well, forget reading my mind! It’s off limits, hear?”

“Hey, I’m very well-known for my delicacy when it comes to telepathy.”


Tilleran turned in her chair. “Hah?”

“You’re the nosiest member of the crew! Everyone knows that.”

“Everyone who?” Tilleran asked, narrowing her dark eyes.

Hartley fumbled with the navigation controls. “Lots of people.”

“I want names. Nevermind. I’ll get them myself.” Tilleran closed her eyes.


“Peterman! I knew it. That little bitch! Just wait, when we get back…”

“When will we get back?” Commander Conway said, strolling into the cockpit, his thick, ever-present, Tom Clancy book tucked under his arm.

Hartley glared at Tilleran, then turned back to her panel. “Six point four hours, Commander. Is that soon enough for you to get back to your dull life on the Explorer?”

“You don’t worry about my life, Hartley,” Conway said. “Just remember, I hold your future in the palm of my hand.”

“I’m quaking in my boots,” Hartley muttered, spinning in her chair and pushing past Conway to check a science panel at the rear of the cockpit.

“You should be.” Conway sat down beside Tilleran, thunking his book down on the panel beside him. “What’s her problem?”

“It’s a defense thing.”


“Shields up, Lieutenant?” Tilleran asked primly.

“That’s it. You asked for it!” Hartley stalked back to the front of the cockpit and hefted Conway’s book, straining to hold it over her head and clobber the Betazoid.

“Not my book!” Conway said, rising to his feet to stand between Hartley and Tilleran.

Before Hartley make a move, Tilleran’s panel came to life with a steady BLEEP-BLEEP.

Tilleran looked down at the control, then back up to Hartley. “It’s a distress call.”

“Well, answer it!” Conway demanded.

“Yeah, see what the problem is,” Hartley said, tossing the book into Conway’s arms. The commander grunted with the impact and fell back into his chair.

Tilleran called up the text of the distress call and shuddered. “By the sacred chalace…”

Hartley looked over Tilleran’s shoulder. “Emergency planetary distress…planet Marvan Three…under attack by…” Hartley’s eyes widened. “A FEDERATION starship?”

Hartley swung around to the astrometrics panel and made the quick calculations. “We can be there in twenty minutes.”

With great effort, Conway shoved the book off his lap and looked at Tilleran with great exasperation. “Well, don’t just sit there! Alert Starfleet and lay in a course!”

Conway, Hartley, and Tilleran shimmered into appearance right at the center of an ashen crater roughly the size of the Explorer’s saucer section.

“Looks like we’re a bit late,” Conway muttered.

Lt. Hartley knealt down and examined the ashy ground with her tricorder. “This damage was caused by quantum torpedoes.”

Tilleran nodded, likewise scanning the area. “According to the runabout’s sensors, damage of this magnitude was done to all the planet’s major cities.”

“That just doesn’t make sense,” Conway said, rubbing his chin. “Why would a Federation starship come to an inhabited planet and just start blowing away at it with quantum torpedoes?”

“Maybe their captain didn’t have his cup of coff-ay,” Hartley offered with a smile.

“This is not the time for jokes,” Conway muttered. “We have to find out how this happened and stop whoever did this.”

“I may have a clue,” Tilleran said, studying her tricorder carefully. “There’s a lot of leftover radiation from the attack, but I think I’m picking up a cluster of ten lifeforms, four point five kilometers that way.”

“They may be able to answer a lot of questions,” Conway mused.

“Up to a four and a half kilo walk, Commander?” Hartley asked brightly.

“Not hardly,” Conway said. “Contact the Algonquin and have it send us to those coordinates.”

When the away team appeared at Tilleran’s coordinates, they came face to face with huge cargo container, about the size of a runabout.

Conway traced his hands along the cargo container’s smooth surface. “What is this?”

Hartley squinted through the ash and dust in the air and read the name stenciled in bright yellow on the container. “Transition Center?”

“Well, hello there!” a voice called out, and Conway turned, stunned.

A tallish man in a bright yellow suit, apparently a Marvanan, stepped forward, extending his hand and grinning. “You must be new to Marvan!”

“What the hell are you so happy about?” Conway asked, shaking the man’s hand limply.

“I’m just glad to be alive! And who wouldn’t be, when the world is so wonderful!”

Conway looked around. “No offense, mister, but your world looks like crap.”

“That’s all on the outside.” The man wrapped a hand around Conway’s shoulder. “Look deep inside you, Commander. Find the joy and go with it!”

“Tilleran…” Conway said nervously. “Has this guy lost it?”

“I…” Tilleran flinched as the man’s feelings crashed against her emotional barriers. “I can’t tell what’s going on. His feelings are extremely intense. Extremely…pleasant, though.”

Hartley shuddered. “I don’t like the looks of this.”

Suddenly, Conway’s comm badge chirped to life. “Explorer to Commander Conway.”

It was Baxter. Conway tapped his badge. “Captain?”

“Yessir. We finished with our charting mission early and came to meet you.”

“How convenient,” Conway muttered. “We’ve just come across a planet that appears to have been pummeled by a Federation ship.”

“You don’t say.”

Conway looked at Tilleran and Hartley strangely. “Yes, sir, I say. What should we do about it?”

“Don’t worry about that. We’ll take care of it now.”

“Well, don’t you want us to do an investigation while we’re down here?”

“Nonsense. You guys have had a long trip. Come up here and rest.”

“Sir, I’d just as soon stay and figure out what happ–”

“Okay then, we’re beaming you up now!”

Hartley cocked her head as she began to dematerialize. “What the hell?”

Commander Conway had already begun to protest as he rematerialized. “–don’t appreciate being beamed away without even so much as a–”

He stopped when he realized he wasn’t on the Explorer. At least, not the Explorer he knew.

He was on the bridge, but the colors were insane. Screaming canary, baby blue, and hot pink. And the carpet–shag?

“I should have f***ing known!” he heard Hartley cry, as he turned reluctantly to face the bridge’s center seat.

Captain Andy-wandy Baxter stared back at him, a demonic grin spreading across his smiling face. “Welcome to the Federation Funship Explorer, Commander. I hope you’re happy to see us. We’re certainly happy to see you.”

Lt. Commander Richards rubbed Larkin’s shoulders encouragingly. “You ready, Kristen?”

Lt. Commander Larkin cocked her head, looking out across the blue, frozen glacier. “I was born ready, sir, exactly fifteen point eight days ago.”

Captain Baxter stood next to Larkin and Richards, blowing on his hands in a vain attempt to warm them up. “Can we get on with this?”

“You may proceed, sir,” Larkin said, shrugging on her penguin costume. Richards helped her affix the head.

Baxter sighed and pulled out his padd, which contained the few words he had put together. He turned around to address the small crowd that had gathered around the hole in the glacier. “Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, the particulars of this ceremony are decided on by the guest of honor. Knowing Lieutenant Commander Larkin as we all do, it wasn’t hard to realize what kind of ceremony she’d pick.”

Lt. Ford shifted the weight between his feet back and forth. “I wish they’d get on with this. I’m freezing.”

Ensign Susan Madera glanced back at him contemptfully. “Shove it, Ford. Larkin deserves this.”

Ford wrapped a hand around Madera’s waist. “My, how cold you are. Maybe you need to be warmed up.”

“Maybe you need to be castrated!” Madera whispered between clenched teeth, wrenching Ford’s hand away, making sure to twist his wrist painfully hard.

Meanwhile, at the front of the crowd, Baxter had almost finished his speech.

“…and who can forget the time Larkin went into the plasma injectors to get Counselor Peterman’s escaped vole, when everyone else was afraid to.”

Peterman smiled, struggling to keep Charlie from darting after the pack of polar bears that were hunting several yards off. They might be holographic polar bears, but they still looked vicious.

“It is for those reasons and many more, including her courageous sacrifice a few weeks ago on Crysta, that Starfleet decided that this day was long overdue.” Baxter turned to Larkin. “Commander, are you ready?”

The penguin head nodded. In a muffled voice, “As I said before, yes, sir.”

“All right, then,” Baxter said, reaching into his vest pocket and retrieving a large, golden medal. “I proudly present to you the Christopher Pike Medal of honor.”

“Put it on her!” Ford called out from the audience.

“All right, already,” Baxter said, and hung the medal around the penguin head. It barely fit. “Congratulations, Commander,’ Baxter said, and shook Larkin’s flipper.

“Bridge to Holodeck Three,” came Lt. Gellar’s voice.

“What is it?” Baxter asked, as Larkin moved into the audience to accept their adulations.

“The Starship Hoboken just arrived in this system. They have all their weapons trained on us and are warning us not to make any attempt to raise shields, arm weapons, or start our engines.”

“What the hell?”

“Apparently, Admiral McGrath is aboard and wants to talk to you. Something about high treason.”

“Do you think this is about that ecosystem we destroyed last week?” Peterman asked worriedly.

“That was an accident,” Baxter replied tersely. “Anyway, we erased all records of that from the computer.” Baxter took in a deep breath. “Well, I’d better go over to the Hoboken and find out what this is all about before they blow us away.”

Baxter glared at the security guards that flanked him as he was escorted down the sterile, grey-black Hoboken corridor. “Is it really necessary to hold me at phaserpoint?”

“Might be,” one of the guards said.

“Are you even going to tell me what I did?”

“That’s for the Admiral to do.”

“Well, whatever it is, I didn’t do it,” Baxter said defiantly.

“We’ll see what Admiral McGrath has to say about it.”

“I think he’s right, Fred,” the other security guard said. “Look at him. It looks like he can’t even lace his boots correctly.”

Fred observed Baxter and chuckled. “You have a point, Ernie.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Baxter muttered.

“Shut up.” A phaser nudged into the small of Baxter’s back as the trio rounded the corner into the Deck Five conference room.

Admiral McGrath was waiting by the viewport. When he saw Baxter, he glared at him angrily.

“Admiral McGrath,” Baxter said weakly. “Fancy seeing you here!”

McGrath crossed the conference room and waved a golf club menacingly at Baxter. He was dressed in plaid pants and a loud yellow sweater. “They dragged me off the golf course for this, Captain!”

“For what?”

McGrath inclined his head toward the front of the room, where Ensign Beth Monroe, McGrath’s personal assistant, waited by a viewscreen. “Ensign, begin the presentation.”

“Yes, Admiral,” Monroe said, placing an isolinear chip into the receptacle next to the conference room viewscreen.

“Beth, how nice to see you again,” Baxter said pleasantly. “Life on the Explorer hasn’t been the same without you.” Monroe didn’t say a word to him. Obviously, she was still upset about the incident with Counselor Peterman’s puma. Baxter reasoned that was at least part of why she’d requested transfer to McGrath’s staff several months earlier.

“This footage was taken by a communications satellite in orbit of Cantrell Three,” Monroe explained, glaring at Baxter.

Baxter marveled as the view of the smallish, red planet shifted to a starfield. With a bright flash, a vessel came out of warp. It looked conspicuously like the Explorer.

A high pitched, yet somewhat familiar, voice rang throughout the conference room:

“Citizens of Cantrell Three: This is Captain Andy Baxter, absolute ruler of the universe. Prepare to be destroyed!”

“I’d never talk like that,” Baxter muttered.

“I’ve read your Captain’s logs, Andy,” McGrath grunted from behind Baxter.

Baxter watched in horror as blue tri-cobalt warheads and quantum torpedoes blazed from the Explorer, pounding into the planet’s surface.

“They hit every major population center and poisoned the atmosphere with the last volley,” Monroe explained. “The planet was dead in minutes.”

“Bummer,” Baxter said quietly.

A phaser beam streaked out from the underside of the Explorer’s saucer and moved toward the communications sattelite, then the image winked out of existence.

“This next image was taken by the external sensors of a Federation comm relay,” McGrath explained. “It clearly shows the Explorer approaching fast and decimating the station with its quantum torpedoes. And here is the most damning evidence of all,” McGrath muttered, as the view switched again. “Picked up by the Hoboken’s longrange sensors. Here you see the Explorer destroying Space Station Ostritch, which is, among other things, the base of operations for one of the Federation’s most lucrative greeting card companies.”

“The horror,” Baxter huffed.

The Explorer swung into view on the screen, pounding the five-pronged station with its torpedoes and speeding out of the system.

Baxter scratched his head. “I don’t get it. All you have here is a ship that looks similar to the Explorer, and a fruitcake with my voice. That’s not a whole lot of proof!”

“You haven’t seen it all,” McGrath grunted. “The Hoboken attempted to contact the Explorer to find out why she destroyed the station. Ensign…”

The viewer changed to display an image of the Explorer bridge. At the center was Captain Baxter, or someone who looked a hell of a lot like Baxter. The doppleganger laughed maniacally and grabbed a frosty mug from a passing ensign and downed it, froth dripping down his face.

“HAHAHAHA!” the perverted image cried. “This is living!”

“You can clearly be seen here, drinking a cold beer and laughing over the deaths of all the poor souls on Space Station Ostritch,” McGrath fumed.

“I do so love killing!” the Baxter-looking person exclaimed, chugging. “Let’s kill some more. J’hana, find another target!”

“Yippee! I’m up for it!” a J’hana-looking person at the tactical station replied.

“Admiral, really!” Baxter exclaimed. “Those people are not us. That bridge is not even the right colors. We’ve got an Earth-tone color scheme now, remember?”

McGrath rubbed his chin. “Well, now that you mention it…”

“No,” Baxter said, approaching the viewscreen. “That isn’t right at all. Freeze the program, Ensign Monroe.”

Monroe looked to McGrath, who nodded. Monroe froze the image just as Baxter’s double turned around and pointed his round buttocks at the viewscreen’s image reciever in defiance.

Baxter tapped the screen thoughtfully. “Look, he doesn’t even have a goatee. And I do. And that butt–that’s not my butt!”

“Then who’s butt is it, Captain?” McGrath asked pointedly from behind Baxter.

“Pink, canary, and baby blue…” Baxter said, almost to himself. “Of all the universes that exist in all the dimensions of reality, there’s only one universe that could possibly come up with a color scheme like that, sir.”

McGrath gasped. “Oh, no.”

“Oh, yes. Admiral McGrath, we seem to have had a happy return…”

“Then there’s no time to waste,” McGrath said. “We’ve got to find that ship.”

“I couldn’t agree more, Admiral.”

“Captain Cameron to Admiral McGrath,” bleeped Lydia Cameron’s voice over the conference room speakers.

“McGrath here.”

“We just recieved word that another planet was attacked by the Explorer. In the Marvan system.”

“Well, that clears us for sure,” Baxter said. “The Explorer can’t be in two places at once.”

“I told you they weren’t smart enough to pull off something like this,” Monroe whispered to McGrath.

“Shh,” McGrath said, turning to Baxter. “We have to stop this ‘happy’ Explorer. Monroe and I will go with you directly to Marvan Three, and the Hoboken will go ahead of us and try to cut off the alternate Explorer’s escape.”

“Happy to be of service,” Baxter muttered, turning toward the exit and smiling smugly at the security guards.

“How did you get here?” Commander Conway demanded, as Andy-wandy sat back in the command chair and began working on a needlepoint project.

“Ask me nicely,” Andy-wandy replied, intent on his work. “Stitch one, pearl two. Stitch one, pearl two.”

“How did you get here, pretty please?” Conway asked, approaching the chair beside the center seat.

“Very well.” Andy-wandy put down his needle point. “We developed the ability to create disturbances in space that allow us to move a ship from one universe to the next.”

Conway grabbed Andy-wandy’ frilly uniform tunic and dragged him to his feet. “Listen, you little sh**! I don’t know who you think you are, but you can’t just barge into our universe and–”

“Oh, but I did,” Andy-wandy grinned, as security officers jerked Conway back. “And it’s only the beginning.” He held up his needlepoint for Conway’s inspection. “What do you think of my handiwork? I’ll admit, I’m no Betsy Ross, but–”

The cloth was stitched with the Federation emblem, except at the center of the star-filled circle was a smiley-face with a menacing grin.

“I think you and your happy pals are nuts, buddy!” Hartley said. “Last time we checked, the rebels were winning the war against you.”

“Oh, but so much has changed since you left,” Andy-wandy said, pushing out of his chair and stepping toward Hartley. “You see, Meggy, there were two factions at war within the Federation of Fun. One supported by the Borgies, the other by the Dominionators. To make a long story short, there were a lot of explosions, a lot of deaths, and the Borgies and the Dominionators sort of blew each other apart. It’s been an ugly year,” Andy- wandy said wistfully. “Hard to keep a smile on your face, really.” Then the captain laughed and spun to face Conway, too- white teeth flashing in an insane grin. “Just kidding! We enjoyed every minute of it. One faction came out on top, after the dust settled, and those rebels that were left were convinced to come over to our way of thinking.”

Conway rubbed a hand over his face. “So, all the rebels are…”

“Happy as little girls!” Andy squealed. “Now, B’nana, take this crazy bunch down below, before I wet myself with joy!”

“Righty-O, Cap’n!” B’nana chuckled. “Let’s go, buckos!”

Captain’s Log,

Stardate 51576.1. We’ve arrived at Marvan Three. There’s no sign of the other Explorer, but they were definitely here. Even more disturbingly, we’ve found the runabout Algonquin, sans occupants, crashed on the planet, along with a group of babbling, happy Marvanans.

Baxter studied what was left of the Algonquin as Lt. Commander Larkin and Lt. J’hana dug around inside the crashed craft. It had crashed on its side, apparently sliding a half a kilometer along the planet’s rocky terrain before coming to a stop, judging by the long trench it had dug itself. “There’s a bright side to this, Admiral.”

Beside him, McGrath grunted. “And what would that be?”

“That’s only the second runabout we’ve lost in two years.”

“I’m beside myself with joy,” McGrath said dryly.

“Well, sir, they’re certifiable,” Dr. Browning said, walking up to join Baxter and McGrath.

“I take it you mean the Marvanans?”

Browning nodded. “The same Joegonotizing affects we’ve seen before.”

“You realize what this means,” McGrath said gravely. “We’ve got a ship full of those happy freaks blazing around Federation space, with a beam capable of turning mass quantities of humanoids into happy Joegonots.”

“It certainly poses a problem,” Baxter agreed.

“What do you suggest we do about it?”

“Simple,” Baxter said easily. “We stop the other Explorer.”

Larkin and J’hana slid out of the gash in the Algonquin’s hull. Larkin holstered her tricorder, lugging three Starfleet duffle bags behind her.

J’hana approached Baxter, handing him a charred padd. “This was found among the crew’s personal effects.”

Baxter read it. “Coff-ay?”

“The way to start a Starfleet day, sir,” J’hana said, a dour expression plain on her face. “Apparently, it was Commander Conway’s presentation to the Conference on Starfleet Operations.”

“That’s horrible,” Baxter muttered.

Baxter handed back the padd and J’hana heaved a blackened, burnt book up for his inspection. “We found this in the cockpit, too.”

“Well,” Baxter sighed, paging through the book as J’hana held it, trying not to show that her muscles were straining with the effort. “This appears to be Conway’s Tom Clancy book. But the pages are charred beyond recognition. What a shame.”

“Orders, sir?” Larkin asked, balancing the duffles on either arm.

Baxter tossed the book to Larkin, who juggled it on top of the pile of duffle bags. “Dispose of whatever’s been destroyed in the crash and have Richards rig a tractor beam to pull what’s left of the runabout into one of our cargo bays.”

“What about the Marvanans?” Browning asked, surveying the wrecked ship.

“We’ll have to take them aboard. Get them into some kind of therapy.”

“Kelly will be thrilled.”

“There are ways to reverse the effects of the jogegonotizing ray,” Larkin said. “It will simply take some effort to adapt those methods to Marvanan physiology.”

“You and Browning take care of that. Meanwhile, we’d better find our twin before she spreads any more joy,” Baxter said, tapping his comm badge. “Baxter to Explorer, beam us up.”

“We’re definitely at warp speed,” Lt. Hartley noted, looking out the windows of the spare cabin she and the others had been dumped in. “But we could be headed anywhere.”

“In any case, it’s not good,” Conway muttered. “We have a captain who looks just like our captain, with a ship that looks just like our ship, who’s got a beam capable of giving any race unlucky enough to happen upon us a hell of a mood swing.”

“I got a foggy reading off the captain and some of the crew,” Tilleran said, rubbing her temples gingerly. “I’ll tell you one thing, I never came across minds more disturbing.”

“This is your first time being in direct contact with happys, isn’t it?” Hartley asked, as Tilleran collapsed into the fluffy, white, couch.

“Yes, and I don’t like it at all,” Tilleran muttered.

“I feel for you,” Conway said blandly. “Can you at least tell us what they’re planning?”

“I got impressions…” Tilleran squinted, trying to bring her thoughts into focus. “But it’s hard to read people who have had their minds altered by that beam. Their minds are like…”

“Pea soup?” Hartley offered.

“More like tomato soup, actually.”

Conway scrubbed a hand down his face. “Hartley, you’re the only one between the three of us that’s had any experience with this universe. What can you tell us?”

Hartley shrugged. “Only that a hell of a lot has happened since last year. The alternate Baxter was a lieutenant aboard the Aerostar, and that crew was with the rebels. There was no alternate Explorer that we knew of, and the rebels were winning the war.”

“We can only assume that the rebels lost,” Tilleran said. “And that the Aerostar was destroyed. Much like in our universe, the crew was then transferred to the Explorer.”

Conway nodded. “Which begs the question of where my alternate is.”

Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” blared over the ready room speakers as Commander Davey-wavey ducked his head through.


“Saturday, Saturday, Saturday, Saturday, Saturday!”


Andy-wandy turned away from his viewport. “Ah, Davey. What news?”

Davey-wavey grinned. “We have heard from Team Pokey. They’ve almost reached the objective.”

Andy nodded dumbly, taking it all in. “What do they want us to do?”

“Stall some more, sir,” Davey said cheerily.

“Okeydoke. What about the prisoners?”

“Cooling their heels, sir.”

“All right,” Andy replied, turning back to the viewport.

“If that’s all, sir, I’d like to go back to the lab to recharge.”

Andy looked back at the commander. “Sure, Davey, you go right ahead.”

Davey turned on a heel and headed for the door to the readyroom. Andy heard a metallic THUNK and looked down at his desk. “Uh, Davey…”


Andy pointed at the deck.

“Oh.” Davey picked up the cybernetic arm with his one good arm and studied it. “Darn thing fell off again.”

“See if Matty-watty can put it back on right this time,” Andy urged.

Davey saluted with the severed limb and headed out the door.

Captain Baxter stepped into the Explorer’s observation lounge, where Admiral McGrath and Ensign Monroe had set up a temporary base of operations. “We’ve lugged the remains of the Algonquin into a cargo bay and brought the Marvanan survivors aboard. I suggest we get underway as soon as possible so we can find that other Explorer.”

Admiral McGrath studied the starchart on the lounge’s viewer. “Good idea. I just spoke with Captain Cameron aboard the Hoboken. They were able to wring a report out of a Ferengi trader that a vessel matching the description of the Explorer was seen heading toward sector 26402.”

“What could they want there?” Baxter asked, rubbing his chin.

“It could be virtually anything,” McGrath said woefully. “We have fleetyards there, production facilities, communications relays…” McGrath’s eyes went wide. “The President’s vacation home on Garinda Two!”

“Is he there now?” Baxter asked, suddenly feeling extremely uncomfortable.

McGrath’s face fell. “Federation Council’s in session. So he’s there hiding from them!”

Baxter straightened. “Baxter to bridge. Lay in a course for the Garinda system. Warp Nine. And alert them that they may come under attack very soon.”

“Aye, sir,” replied Ford’s voice.

“I suggest we have the Hoboken cut them off at the pass,” Baxter offered, as McGrath sunk into a chair at the conference table.

“I’ll take care of that,” Monroe said, rushing over to the lounge’s main screen.

Baxter hung behind McGrath. “Will you be okay, sir?”

“Do you realize what could happen if they make President Inyo ‘happy’? We’ll all lose our jobs!”

“Don’t worry,” Baxter said, clapping two reassuring hands on McGrath’s shoulders. “You’ve got the best crew in the fleet on the case.”

Just then, the doors to the lounge whisked open.

Ensign Howie Sefelt strolled in, eyes closed. He was humming a pleasant tune.

“Dum dee dee da da, la de dum!” ZIP!

“Sefelt !” Baxter exclaimed, rushing over and flipping the Ensign around and shoving him toward the door. “The bathroom is one door to the LEFT!”

“Oh. Right.”

Baxter looked back at McGrath and smiled weakly. McGrath just slammed his head on the conference table.

“This was a most creative idea on the part of Counselor Peterman,” Lt. Commander Larkin noted, as she and Browning observed the Marvanan refugees frolicking in the sea of plastic balls she’d set up on Holodeck Two.

“It makes perfect sense,” Browning said agreeably, squatting on a bench near the sea of balls and munching on cotton candy. “Since that whole happy universe is like a giant amusement park, anyway.”

“Still, it would seem they are in need of some sort of cure,” Larkin observed.

“We’ll think of something.”

“Did you not do as much when Captain Baxter and Commander Beck were made ‘happy’ last year?”

“I’m not sure I want to risk mingling Lobstraxian and Marvanan physiology. Who knows what the side effects are? What if it made their brains extremely angry instead of happy?”

“That is a remote possibility, Doctor. Perhaps you have another suggestion?” That was Larkin’s polite way of saying “You figure it out if you’re so damn smart.”

“We’ll see what Counselor Peterman comes up with.” Browning eyed the center of the ball mass. “Speaking of which…”

Counselor Peterman’s head popped out of the roiling sea of balls. She swung a leg over the edge of the vat and climbed down. “You guys keep playing. I’ve had enough for one day.”

Peterman collapsed on the bench next to Browning and sighed. “Those refugees sure have a lot of energy.”

Browning offered Peterman some cotton candy, and the Counselor declined, choosing instead to take a suck off her soda.

“Are you learning anything new about their condition, Counselor?” Larkin asked.

Peterman shook her head, handing the soda back to an amused Browning. “Only that they’re fascinated by the bumper cars.”

“Maybe we should just leave them like that,” Browning said. “They seem happy enough.”

“Ha ha,” Peterman said dully.

“I would not recommend that,” Larkin said, when her comm badge suddenly bleeped.

“Baxter to Larkin. Please come up to the bridge.”

“Have you found the other Explorer, sir?”

“Not exactly. Just get up here.”

“On my way.” Larkin maneuvered around the bench and called for the holodeck exit, hurrying out as it appeared.

“She sure is adjusting well,” Peterman noted, taking off her uniform vest. This holodeck heat was a killer.

“To what?” asked Browning.

“You know, to dying and being reborn.”

“I can’t even tell a difference. Matt did a great job rebuilding her.”

“Still, you figure something like that has to leave emotional scars.”

Browning laughed. “Not when you don’t have any emotions, Kelly.”

“Good point.”

Larkin arrived on the bridge to find a dazed-looking Captain Cameron on the main screen.

“We’re just hunky dorey Captain!” she said, twirling her hair idly.

Baxter leaned forward, resting his elbows on the arms of his command chair. “Captain, obviously something bad happened over there. Your ship is dead in space. And your hair is a mess.”

“Nope. We’re A-OK!”

Larkin relieved the ensign at ops, attuning her perfect android hearing so that she could hear McGrath order Baxter to ask about happy beams. He was seated in the chair normally occupied by Commander Conway.

“Were you hit by a…happy beam, by chance?” Baxter asked, already fearing the answer.

“We were certainly hit by some kind of beam. Happy, though? Well, I certainly wouldn’t know anything about that.”

“Sounds like she was hit by a stupid beam,” Ford muttered from the helm.

“You be quiet,” Baxter snapped. “Captain, you’ve obviously come under attack by a very powerful weapon from another universe. I want you to deactivate your ship’s primary power core and then I want you and your entire crew to go to their quarters and wait there until I get back.”

“But what shall we do to pass the time?” Cameron asked, goggle-eyed.

“Watch cartoons or something,” Baxter muttered, barking for J’hana to close the channel. The image of Cameron was replaced by the aimlessly drifting Akira-class starship.

“They took out the Hoboken like it wasn’t even there,” McGrath said. “What’s to say they won’t do the same to us?”

“We fought these bastards before, Admiral,” Baxter said firmly. “We know where and how to hit them. You just sit back and watch the sparks fly.”

“You sound very confident for someone with a giant mustard stain on the front of his uniform,” McGrath muttered.

Baxter looked down. “Oh, for Pete’s sake!” He looked around at the bridge staff. “Why the hell didn’t anyone tell me about this? And how long have I had this, anyway?”

Eyes squeezed shut, Commander Conway tossed and turned on the fluffy futon his happy captors had provided for him and the other prisoners. It was one thing to be held captive by grinning idiots from a parralel reality, but it was quite another to have to sleep on second-rate bedding to boot.

Ultimately, Conway grew tired of trying to sleep and opened his eyes. And found himself face to face with Commander Davey- wavey. At least part of him.

“Holy sh**!” Conway exclaimed.

“Oh, jeeze, did I wake you?” Davey said in dismay, the large red optical sensor that served as his left eye spiralling open and closed spasmodically.

“What the f*** happened to you?” Conway asked, horrified.

“Whatever do you mean?” Davey asked pleasantly.

“You’re all…borgy!”

“Oh, that,” Davey said. “I’m sorry…it’s something you just stop noticing after awhile.”

“Hey, would you two keep it down!” Hartley called from her adjacent futon.

“Shut up,” Conway replied. “I’m talking to my alternate self.”

“Well, you’re both keeping me awake!”

“Sorry, Meggy!” Davey replied.

“So you’re a Borg,” Conway muttered. “Just great. I can’t even get a break in an alternate universe.”

“I’m no Borg,” Davey said. “That is, I’m not part of a collective or anything like that. They all died in Fun War IV.”

“Fun War IV?”

“Broadcast on Subspace Pay-Per-View across the quadrant. That was the Borg-Dominion conflict. Called ‘the mother of all space battles’ by Universe Life.”

Davey recited all of this as if he’d brought it out of some type of database.

“Then the Federation of Fun salvaged whatever was left of the Borg and Dominion technologies and used them to put down the rebel insurgencies once and for all. That, of course, included the Aerostar,” Davey said wistfully. “She was such a good ship. I guess that’s why I went down with her.”

Conway rubbed his tired eyes. “Stupid, stupid, stupid.”

Davey giggled. “Yup. When they pulled me out of the wreckage, I was pretty messed up. But, thanks to Borgy technology, I’m fit as a fiddle!”

Suddenly, sparks poured out of several of the long black tubules that jutted out of Davey’s back. He reached over to Conway’s nightstand, grabbed the artful vase of flowers, dumped the flowers, and dumped the water behind him, sighing with pleasure as the flames extinguished.

“Ahhh, that’s better. The Federation of Fun has a lot to learn about Borgy technology.”

“I can see that,” Conway said. “Listen, what brought you here?”

“I was curious to see what you were like. It isn’t often you get to meet yourself, eh?”

“True,” Conway replied. With a metallic chirp, Davey cocked his head. Conway noticed that the hair on one side of his skull was parted strangely, to cover a row of blinking lights and a small bank of whirring machinery. As if things weren’t bad enough, this version of him seemed to have been the victim of a messy Borg labotomy.

Davey cocked his head again. “Oh, look at that. There’s a five percent power drop in the starboard warp nacelle. I’ll go check it out.”

Conway grabbed Davey’s shoulder, which promptly snapped off with a sickening pop and crackle of sparks.

Conway twisted the shoulder back into place, disgusted. “Davey, hold on a second. You’re wired into the ship’s computer?”

“Darn tootin’ I am!”

Conway smiled. “That’s just what I wanted to hear.”

“Any luck with the Marvanans?” Baxter asked over his shoulder as Peterman stepped out of the turbolift.

“Not much,” Peterman said, collapsing into her chair. Baxter stayed at the front of the bridge, between conn and ops, watching the stars surge at them on the viewscreen. “I’ve tried everything, and I don’t feel safe about using Mirk’s DNA to cure them. Problem is, I can’t find much of an alternative.”

“Well, you and your staff have plenty more subjects to study on the Hoboken, once the current crisis is over.”

“What staff?” Peterman asked, stepping up behind Baxter.

“The other counselors,” Baxter said reasonably.

“I don’t have a staff!” Peterman exclaimed. “I never had a staff!”

Baxter arched an eyebrow. “Really? I could have sworn you did.”

“Well, wouldn’t it be nice if I did!” Peterman ranted, circling the bridge. “J’hana gets a staff, Tilleran and Richards get a staff. Hell, Larkin even gets a staff and we don’t even have the faintest idea what an Operations Department does!”

“Counselor, I would be happy to describe in detail–” Larkin said from ops, but Peterman cut her off.

“You think I can solve the vast mental problems of this crew with a magic wand? Well, buddy, you have another thing coming!”

Admiral McGrath watched the Counselor’s outburst with detached curiousity from Conway’s chair, scooting away only slightly.

“We’ll get you a staff as soon as we can, honey,” Baxter said soothingly. “Would you enjoy that?”

Peterman shrugged, a tear running down her cheek. “I guess so.” Baxter rushed over to embrace her in a hug and she burst into tears. “It’s just…all those happy Marvanans and now the crew of the Hoboken, and no cure! It seem so fruitless.”

“Pull yourself together, weakling,” J’hana muttered from tactical.

Baxter stroked Peterman’s hair soothingly, glaring back at J’hana. “Now, honey, we’ve been down this road before. Something else is bothering you, isn’t it? Come on, let’s have it.”

Peterman dropped into her chair, still sobbing. “Pepper ate all her children this morning!”

Baxter sighed, looking back at Admiral McGrath. “That’s her bunny rabbit.”

“Uh-huh,” McGrath said, smiling diplomatically. “Sorry about that, Counselor.”

“I guess it’s just nature. But why, why does the Great Bird work in such strange ways?”

Baxter sat down beside Peterman, rubbing her shoulder consolingly. “I don’t know, honey, I don’t know.”

“What have I done, Ensign?” McGrath called over his shoulder softly. Ensign Monroe just shrugged.

“Sir, we have arrived in the Garinda system,” Lt. Commander Larkin reported, adding, “Reporting ship’s status is one function of an operations officer, Counselor.”

“Take us to Garinda Three, Mr. Ford, full impulse,” Baxter said. “J’hana, scan the system. Larkin, go down to the Genetics lab and see if you can create some new bunnies for Kelly.”

“But sir, certainly I can be of more use–”

“I gave you an order, Mister!” Baxter said sternly.

McGrath was sure he heard Larkin sigh as she slid out from behind the operations console. “As you wish, sir. Come with me, Counselor.”

As the two stepped into the turbolift, McGrath could hear Larkin saying, “Making sure ship’s personnel are well cared for. That is another duty of the operations officer.”

“Contact bearing 040 mark 115,” J’hana reported calmly from tactical. “It appears to be…us.”

“Then that would be our target,” McGrath said.

“You think?” Baxter approached the main viewer. “J’hana, go to Red Alert. Put them onscreen.”

McGrath rose from his chair. “They’re heading right for Garinda Three.”

“Alert the authorities on Garinda, J’hana. Make sure they know which ship is us.”

“Aye, sir.”

“The other Explorer is coming within transporter range of Garinda Three now!” Sefelt exclaimed from ops.

“Raise shields and lock our weapons onto them.”

“Sir,” J’hana piped up from tactical. “The Garindan authorities have not been able to locate President Inyo yet. He was apparently on some kind of fishing expedition.”

“Without a means of communication?” Baxter asked.

McGrath sighed. “He likes to go off by himself. Something about being one with nature.”

“Well, then he’s very likely going to become one with a happy beam,” Baxter muttered. “Can you raise the other Explorer?”

“They are not responding to hails,” J’hana replied.

“Then fire on them. All weapons, full power.”

Phasers and quantum torpedoes blazed out of the Explorer, slamming into the alternate Explorer. Its hull sheared open in several places before they could raise their shields.

“Did we get them before they could use their transporters?” Baxter asked fearfully.

“Negative,” J’hana said. “They brought someone aboard just before we fired. Looks like it’s Inyo. They’ve raised their shields and set a course out of the system.”

Baxter patted Ford’s shoulder. “Follow them.”

He could hear the gritting of Admiral McGrath’s teeth behind him. Baxter turned, reluctantly, to find the shorter man staring up at him, face beet red.

“You’ve done it now, Baxter! You’ve ruined us all!”

“Admiral, calm down. Everything is under control.”

“How can you say that?”

“I don’t know how. I just did,” Baxter said plainly. “Now go sit down and relax. We’ve got the matter well in hand.”

“We do?” Ford whispered as Baxter turned to head back to his own seat.

“Shut up,” Baxter called over his his shoulder.

“Well,” Tilleran said, as Hartley hurriedly yanked at the circuitry under the flap of fake hair on the back of Davey-wavey’s head, “you certainly do know how to kick the crap out of yourself, Commander.”

Conway rubbed his fist. Twenty minutes later and it still hurt like hell. “It helps to know that your opponent has a glass jaw.”

Hartley grinned as sparks flew out of the back of Davey’s head. “I’ll remember that.”

“Have you gotten anywhere?” Conway asked impatiently.

“As a matter of fact, I have,” Hartley replied. She jammed a finger up into the loose gathering of wires and gears that made up half the interior of Davey’s skull.

Davey’s eyes snapped open. “Accessing. Control codes. Funship Explorer.”

“You don’t know how gratifying this is,” Hartley muttered, twisting her hand artfully within the mess of wires.

“Shields…phaser banks quantum torpedoes,” continued the half-borg happy alternate Commander Conway.

“Can you get him to lower the shields?” Conway asked hopefully.

“That’s what I’m trying to do,” Hartley said. “I have to use him as the input device, since I don’t have a tricorder or even a computer terminal.”

She snapped Davey’s loose head around to face her. “Hey, bucko. Listen up!”

“Awaiting commands,” Davey replied tonelessly.

“You know, I hate to use him like this,” Conway muttered.

“You should have thought of that before you decked him,” Tilleran said.

“I want you to fill every room but this one with anesthezine, got it?” Hartley asked.

“Anesthezine. Got it.”

“I don’t remember the Explorer looking like this at all,” President Jaresh-Inyo said, as he was led down a corridor, flanked by B’nana and Larky.

“Hidee hodee ho,” Larky chanted, her head bobbing around like a jack-in-the-box.

“That’s very impressive, Lt. Commander Larkin,” Inyo said remotely, as B’nana and Larky dragged him into a turbolift. “So, why did Captain Baxter want to see me so badly?”

“Because he loves you,” B’nana said sweetly, puckering her big clown lips and kissing Inyo on the cheek.

“Well, that’s very kind.”

“You will love him too!” B’nana said.

Inyo nodded his head. “Yes, yes, I’m sure I will. And why exactly am I here again?”

“You’ll see in a second!” B’nana said, and shoved Inyo out of the turbolift and onto the bridge.

“Mr. President, how lovely to see you!” Andy-wandy said, rushing from his beanbag chair to hug President Inyo.

“Uh, hello,” Inyo said. “My, you’ve certainly redecorated.”

“You like it?” Andy-wandy asked excitedly.

“Well, it’s not without its charms.”

Andy-wandy ushered Inyo over to the padded chair next to his and sat him down. “Well, you will learn to like it. Once we make you HAPPY!”

Inyo creased his wrinkled skin in confusion. “But I am already happy.”

“Not TRULY happy. Ensign Susie, set a course for home.”

The Explorer lept at the blanket of stars, just as the environmental system began to hiss softly all around the bridge.

“What in tarnation?” Andy-wandy asked, sniffing the air.

“Anesthezine, twenty-two hundred parts per joyous million!” Larky chanted, as everyone on the bridge but collapsed to the deck, unconsious.

“But why am I here?” Inyo asked, as he pitched onto the deck.

“Where are they heading?” Baxter asked, glancing over J’hana’s shoulder as she worked at tactical.

“The Fauscon system.”

Ensign Monroe looked up from her padd. “The shipyards!”

“What shipyards?” Baxter asked.

McGrath sighed, sipping whisky. Shortly after reaming Captain Baxter, he’d walked over to the replicator and ordered a triple shot. “The top secret Fauscon Two shipyards.”

“Let me guess, there’s an experimental new ship being built there,” Baxter muttered.

“Kind of,” McGrath said, then laughed insanely, tossing back the remainder of his shot and throwing his glass at the viewscreen.

Conway, Hartley, and Tilleran rushed out onto the bridge of the alternate Explorer, Davey close behind.

“We did it,” Hartley cheered. “Everyone’s unconcious!”

“Oh dear,” Davey said, looking around in dismay. “What have we done?”

“Saved the day,” Conway said, patting the cyborg on the back. “Saved the day, my friend.”

Then Lt. Larky dropped from the ceiling, telescoping arms and legs wrapping around Davey.

“We forgot about the android,” Hartley muttered.

“Help!” Davey shrieked, as Larky twisted his head off. She held it up in the air. The head continued to complain. “Why are you doing this! It’s them you should attack!”

Larky obediently tossed the head at Tilleran, knocking her to the deck. Hartley scrambled over the miasma of tangling arms and legs that was Larky, struggling to find the “off” switch.

“I’ve been wanting a piece of you for a while,” Hartley muttered.

“Because I killed that darling lil Lobstraxian?” Larky asked pleasantly.

“For starters.” Hartley ripped the casing on the back of the android’s head open and jerked out as much machinery as she could get her hands on, until both Larky and Davey’s body fell to the deck, limp.

Conway was checking the helm. “We’re at warp. On course for the Fauscon system.”

“What do they want there?” Hartley asked, shoving the heavy Larky and Davey off her and joining Conway at the front of the bridge.

Conway shrugged. “Only one way to find out.”

“Arriving at the shipyards,” Ford said from helm, as Baxter and McGrath stepped toward the front of the bridge. On the viewscreen, the other Explorer came to a stop near the shipyards, directly in front of them.

Floating around Fauscon Three, inside the exoskeletonal construction array, was a hulking starship, reminiscent a Sovereign-class, but with an additional pair of warp nacelles below the top pair and a broader saucer.

“That’s a new one,” Baxter said, befuddled.

“It’s the Ebullient,” McGrath said drunkenly. “Whole new class.”

Monroe stepped up behind McGrath, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. “It’s also supposed to be top secret.”

“Why?” Baxter asked, confused.

McGrath shook his head, tossing his hands up into the air. “Because of Fiesta Mode!”

Baxter raised an eyebrow. “Fiesta Mode?”

McGrath staggered back to his chair. “Fiesta Mode.”

Suddenly, the Ebullient surged out of its docking clamps and drifted toward the two Explorers. Baxter noticed something glinting on the new ship’s hull. “J’hana, magnify the ventral section of the Ebullient’s primary hull.”

“Aye, sir.”

Baxter watched as the Ebullient’s signage appeared on the main screen:



“That’s not a Starfleet-approved font!” Baxter protested.

“I guess we shouldn’t be surprised,” McGrath muttered.

“Sir, we’re getting a hail,” J’hana said.

“From the Ebullient–I mean Secondprize?” Baxter asked.

“No, now the Explorer.”

“Fine. Put it on.”

Commander Conway appeared on the screen, looking extremely disheveled. “Sir, am I glad to see you. It took me the entire trip here just to get the comm system working. You have to tell the computer to have a nice day after every f***ing command!”

“I feel your pain, Commander. What’s your status over there?”

“We took out the entire crew, thanks to my counterpart.”

“So he’s still on our side?”

“Not really. He’s kind of deactivated now.”

“I see. What about the President?”

“He’s here, but unconcious.”

“Thank the Bird for small miracles,” McGrath muttered.

“What are we doing here, anyway?”

Baxter shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

“Sir!” J’hana said. “Secondprize is charging weapons.”

“Hail them.”

“We’re getting a reply.”

“On screen. Initiate Conference Mode.”

The viewscreen split into two parts, Conway on one side, and a steamy, dark scene on the other.

“Who am I talking to?” Baxter asked fearfully.

The steam cleared to reveal a sinister, warped face. Wild, silver-streaked hair framed the face page-boy style. A large scar criss-crossed a creased, demented forehead. Green and red lights blinked on the small device implanted in the sinister neck. A bushy, moustache-less, amish-type beard complimented the look.

“Captain Baxter. How nice to finally meet you. I’m Happymaster Travvy Dillon.” The Happymaster grinned devilishly.

“Charmed,” Baxter replied. “Now get out of our f***ing universe.”

“In good time. First, we need to make off with this prototype of yours. A lot of our fleet was destroyed in Fun War IV.”

“What’s that?”

Conway fielded this one. “You don’t want to know, sir.”

“Anyway,” Travvy continued, “we need this ship. Borg technology was able to take care of the medical problems we incurred after Jean-Jean Picard and Lisa-Love Beck tried to, uh, blow us up. And we’re assembling our old crew–what’s left of them. In short, we’re ushering in a new dawn for the Federation of Fun.”

“I’m thrilled for you.”

“I suppose the whole bit with the other Explorer was just to throw us off?” Conway asked angrily, from the other side of the viewscreen.

“Quite,” Travvy replied. “Anyway, we’ll be going.”

“I don’t think so,” Baxter said. “Give us back the Ebullient, or I’ll order both Explorers to open fire.”

“That’s what you think.” Travvy blinked and averted his eyes.

Suddenly, a gruesome figure rose behind Conway on the Funship Explorer bridge. It was Conway’s body, but headless.

“Commander, watch out!” Baxter called.

Conway looked over his shoulder. “Whoa!”

“Dillon must be using some sort of subspace remote control!” Baxter cried. “Try to block it, J’hana!”

The headless body of Davey-wavey picked Conway up and bodyslammed him. In the background, Tilleran and Hartley were doing battle with a once-again writhing Larky.

“You’re in for it now, you unhappy jerks!” Travvy shrieked merrily, and blinked off the screen.

“Get our people out of there!” Baxter ordered, and J’hana’s hands raced over the tactical panel.

On the main screen, Conway, Tilleran, and Hartley, and the unconcious Jaresh-Inyo dematerialized in a flash of blue as Larky scrambled over to the helm console, while the headless Davey hurried over to the command area to grab his head.

“The Secondprize is doing something!” J’hana said.

“Behold,” Travvy cackled over the bridge speakers. “Fiesta Mode!”

Baxter cringed, turned toward McGrath. “Admiral! What should we do? What’s Fiesta Mode?”

McGrath sighed. “You’ll see soon enough. Trust me, it’s nothing to worry about.”

Baxter glanced at the viewscreen. “Let’s see it, J’hana.”

On the main screen, Secondprize-A’s saucer began slowly sliding backward. The nacelle pylons lengthened and moved forward until they were alongside the saucer. Finally, the now-exposed engineering section opened up, spraying huge bursts of colorful confetti all over the two Explorers. Subsequently, red, green, blue, and orange lights twinkled all over the ship.

“Wow, that’s beautiful,” Baxter exclaimed.

“Yeah, but what’s it supposed to do?” Ford asked, flabberghasted.

Baxter rasied an eyebrow, glaring at McGrath. “It’s supposed to be pretty, isn’t it?”

Suddenly, the stolid female voice of a Starfleet computer crackled over the speakers. “Welcome to the 2375 Galactic Fair. We present to you the Ebullient, Starfleet’s first fully-equipped disco/party ship. The top-secret ‘Fiesta Mode’ demonstration you see being performed right now is perfect for birthday parties, family functions, and barmitzvahs. Contact Starfleet Command’s Community Affairs office to reserve the Ebullient for your next occasion!”

“The Dominion war hit Starfleet harder than we thought,” Baxter said, still glaring at McGrath.

“Why the hell does it have weapons if it’s a party ship!” Travvy cried angrily, flashing on the viewscreen.

“It can be rented out for demolitions, too,” McGrath replied.

“Well, isn’t that fine and dandy,” Travvy shrieked, barking to his helm officer: “Sulli-fun, get us out of this blasted mode and back to our universe. I want out of this screwed-up place. At least in the Federation of Fun there are things you can count on. The crews are happy and the ships are just ships!”

“We’re having a hard time getting the mode to switch back to normal,” replied ‘Sulli-fun.’ “Hold on, I think I’ve got it.”

“Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah, Stayin’ Alive, Stayin’ Alive!” boomed the Secondprize speakers.

“Disco Mode activated,” announced the computer.

“For the sake of happiness!” Travvy exclaimed, blinking off the screen.

“Sir,” J’hana spoke up: “The other Explorer is activating some kind of phased cadion pulse.”

“Effect?” Baxter asked.

“It’s opening up a breach in space. That must be how they got here.”

“It’d sure be nice if we knew how to do that,” Baxter muttered, watching the Explorer, and then the Secondprize-A, drift through the crackling breach.

“Should we follow them?” Ford asked meekly.

“Are you kidding?” Baxter asked, returning to his chair. “Let ‘em go. All they did was hijack Starfleet’s newest rental party ship.” He glared at McGrath. “Really, Admiral.”

McGrath shrugged. “The Dominion war did hit us hard. Starfleet needs revenue.”

“But I thought we had no need for money.”

“That’s a load of hooey,” McGrath said. “We were hoping to get the materials to rebuild the fleet by renting that thing out. Now what are we going to do?”

Baxter shrugged. “Don’t look at me.”

Captain’s Log,

Stardate 53577.4. We’re towing the Hoboken, along with the Marvanans, President Inyo, Admiral McGrath, and Ensign Monroe, to the Daystrom Institute, where the effects of the happy beam will be closely studied, happily, by someone else. If I don’t deal with a ‘happy’ person the rest of my life it will suit me fine. Something about that universe just rubs me the wrong way.

Clad in his red and black Starfleet robe, Captain Baxter stepped into the observation lounge to grab the padd he’d been working on at the staff meeting the previous night. It was laying at the head of the table, right where he’d left it.

He rapped it with his knuckle. “There you are.” His sleep had been plagued all night by the elusive solution to the Vulcan word jumble he’d been working on, and he just had to finish it. “Katra. I bet it’s Katra!” Baxter said, tapping the answer into the padd.

“It’s T’Pel,” Conway said, scaring the hell out of Baxter.

Baxter looked over at the viewport on the opposite side of the lounge. It was so dark he didn’t even see Conway there. “Of course. I should have known. What are you doing up at this hour, Commander?”

“Filling out my report for Starfleet Command.”

He tossed the padd with his report to Baxter and the captain paged through it. “Hmm. Davey turned Borg. What a shame. He was a decent guy.”

“It was a bit unusual, sir.”

“No doubt,” Baxter replied. “There, but for the grace of the space-time continuum, go we.”

Conway nodded. “Yep.”

Baxter put the padd down. “Well, we have to go on duty in a couple hours. Want to go down to Mirk’s and get some coffee?”

“Well,” Conway said, reluctant. “I don’t know “

“Come on! It’s the way to start a Starfleet day!”

“When you put it that way..” Conway said, rounding the conference table. “Sure. I’d be…happy to.”

Baxter sighed as the two officers made their way out of the lounge and across the empty bridge to the turbolift. “You’ve got quite the wit, Commander.”

“You really think so?”

“Heck no.”

NEXT: Has everyone on the Explorer gone nuts? It wouldn’t be the first time Captain Baxter asked that question, but this time it might be because of some outside phenomenon. Whatever the case, the whole crew is paranoid as heck, and it’s up to Captain Baxter to save them, if he can. Get ready for “Just Because You’re Paranoid…” Guest-written by Alan Decker!

Tags: vexed