Author: Anthony Butler
Stardate 53650.8. We’ve been steadily working our way out toward the galactic edge once more. There’s been no sign of the Leeramar, or any other threatening alien race so far. So, for the moment, at least, our crew is at peace.
“Counselor! Get out here!” Commander Conway railed, banging on the door to Counselor Peterman’s office.
The door slid open and Peterman poked her head out. “I’m in with a client, Commander, what–” she stared at Conway, then burst out laughing.
Conway was wrapped in a housecoat, his eyes were covered with plastic goggles, and his head was topped with a shower cap.
He tapped his foot impatiently, making a wet sloshing sound on the carpet outside Peterman’s office. “Well, are you just going to stand there and look innocent, Peterman?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You know damn well!” Conway said, shaking a wet scrub brush at Peterman. She blinked as water splashed in her face. “I went into the Executive Spa for my Sunday evening hot-tub soak, and guess what I found in the hot tub with me?”
Peterman shrugged, a grin tugging at the edges of her lips. “Hmm, you’ve got me.”
“Here’s a hint!” Conway shoved a hand into his housecoat pocket and yanked out a wad of yellow fur.
“Yours?” Peterman asked playfully.
Conway dropped the wad before Peterman. “Charlie’s. There I was, hopping into the tub, buck naked, with my cup of coffee in one hand, and my Tom Clancy novel in the other. Imagine my surprise when that mutt and his two pomeranian pals burst out of the water and jumped on top of me!” Conway shook a fist angrily. “Those bastards were waiting for me, just under the bubbles.”
Peterman giggled. “You’ve really got to loosen up, Commander. Anyway, those animals love you. You’re obviously a pet person.”
“Hah. That’s a laugh.”
“I have an idea,” Peterman said, ducking back into her office. She emerged with a struggling white Welsh corgi. He looked like someone put the head of a German shepard on a tiny white wiener dog. “Why don’t you take Bucky in for a few days. I picked him up at a Starbase kennel two weeks ago, and I can’t seem to get Charlie and the other dogs to get along with him.”
“Forget about it.”
Peterman nuzzled the Welsh corgi. “He’s just so cute! I know you two will get along great. And, let’s face it, you could use some company.”
Conway rolled his eyes with disgust. “Keep out of my damn business, Counselor. I’m getting along fine without a ball of fur scampering around in my quarters pooping and shedding.”
“I think it’d be good for you.”
“I think you’re a flake,” Conway said, folding his arms.
Peterman’s expression hardened as she shoved the wriggling Bucky into Conway’s arms. “Let me rephrase that. My official reccomendation as Ship’s Counselor is that you need a pet. I order you to take this dog and love him. And I’ll be checking on your progress.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Oh, I’m as serious as kennel cough. Even Captain Baxter can’t rescind my orders, so you can forget crawling to him for help.” She wrapped an arm around Conway and ushered him toward the turbolift. He dragged his feet, staring down at the squirming lump in his arms plaintively. “Trust me, Commander, you’ll thank me later.” And Peterman ushered Conway into the lift.
“I’m going to get you, Peterman,” Conway seethed as the doors closed. Peterman heard a chorus of yips as the turbolift descended back toward the recreation deck.
Brushing her hands together with satisfaction, Peterman returned to her office to continue talking to Ensign Sefelt about his fear of tricorders.
“Corgi on the bridge,” Lt. Ford chanted from the helm station as Commander Conway wearily stepped out onto the bridge the next day, tugging Bucky behind him on a leash.
“You shut the hell up, Ford,” Conway said. “And get Bucky some water from the replicator.”
Ford turned in his chair. “You can’t be serious. That’s not anywhere in my job description.”
“Is that so?” Conway asked, wrapping Bucky’s leash around one of the struts surrounding the command chairs. He approached the conn/ops cluster and looked to Lt. Commander Larkin. “Larkin, please note in the ship’s log that getting water for the First Officer’s dog is now part of the helmsman’s duties.”
Larkin looked to Ford, then to Conway, finally to Bucky, and nodded. “So noted, sir.”
Conway glowered down at the helmsman. “Now go get that water.”
Ford’s shoulders sunk as he slid out of his chair and headed over to the replicator.
Just as Conway reached his chair, Baxter emerged from the readyroom, a steaming cup of orange pekoe in his hand. “Morning, Commander.”
Conway stared up at Baxter, indicating the leashed Welsh corgi near his chair. “See what your damn wife did, Captain?”
“Well, looky here, it’s Bucky!” Baxter said, making his way around to the front of the bridge and placing his cup into the receptacle beside the command chair. He knealt down and began scratching the dog beneath his chin. “How you like oo new home, huh? Huh? You like-ee? Is Commander Con-con nice to you? Is he? Is he? Give me a snuggle!”
Conway covered his face. “Please, sir. Kill me now.”
“Get over it, Commander,” Baxter said, moving over to his chair and crossing his legs. He brought up last night’s exploratory survey and sipped some tea. “You need something snuggly in your life.”
Conway sighed as he adjusted himself among the cushions of his own chair. “I’m not arguing there, sir. But ‘Bucky’ here isn’t exactly the something snuggly I had in mind.”
Baxter concentrated harder on the exploratory survey, fearful of having to talk to Conway about his love life. Oooh, a rogue comet! Fascinating! “Uh-huh. Well, the perfect person will come along before you know it.”
“I’m not banking on that, sir.” Conway leaned forward. “It’s been a while since I…” He shifted uncomfortably and gave a snort. “You know–”
Baxter shot forward in his chair, cleared his throat. “Ahem, Larkin can we get some music or something piped in here? It’s awfully quiet.”
Larkin turned to face Baxter. “The computer is stocked with a wide selection of music. We have everything from Andorian Vibrosynth to Zakdorn Blues and Boogie.”
“Play anything,” Baxter snapped, bending down to examine the stellar cartography reports as close as he possibly could.
“Here is one called ‘anything,’ sir,” Larkin replied, and the bridge was filled with a chorus of strumming guitars and mambo drums.
“Go to hell, Baxter. As I recall, your life life sucked for a few decades before you started sleeping with one of your subordinates,” Conway groused. “You know what it feels like.” He looked off in the distance. “The bitter ache.”
Baxter hurled himself toward the science console as fast as his legs would propel him. “Tilleran! Scan for temporal anomalies! Now!”
Tilleran cocked her head quizzically. “Any reason?”
Baxter grimaced, gripping the science console. He wasn’t use to this kind of vulnerability from Conway and he didn’t like it one bit. “Just because. Do it!”
Tilleran shrugged and clacked away at her panel.
“Captain,” Conway said from behind Baxter. The captain whipped around, backing against the science station.
“How do you…” he whispered, “…get through the lonely nights?”
“Talk to Peterman!” Baxter insisted, double-timing it toward his readyroom.
Conway followed. “But she’ll just give me another pet! Or worse, make me watch another one of those horrible self-help chips!”
“I can’t help you, Commander!” Baxter said, backing into his readyroom. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I–”
“Captain, I found something,” Tilleran called from her station.
Baxter shouldered past Conway and made his way back to Tilleran. “Really? What is it?”
Tilleran’s brow furrowed as she studied her instruments. “I can’t be sure from this distance, but it looks like a fractured subspace filament.”
Baxter rubbed his beard. “Is that bad?”
“If it isn’t patched, it may spread to the subspace area surrounding it, making it impossible for ships to travel at warp in that area.”
“Oh, jeeze,” Baxter sighed. “Is this another one of those ‘environmental awareness’ deals?”
“No, it’s a naturally occuring event.”
“Good.” Baxter made his way back to the command chair. “How far off is it?”
“Twenty minutes away at warp eight.”
“Okay,” Baxter said, clapping the arms of his command chair. “We might as well check it out. Add it to our exploratory survey. Mr. Ford, gun it.”
Commander Conway hovered behind the command arena throughout the short trip to intercept the fractured filament. Baxter felt his cold stare the entire time. His relationship with the first officer had always been adversarial, and it suited both men fine. The idea of sharing feelings and insights with Conway turned his stomach. The idea of counseling him about romance was even more hideous. Baxter hoped exploring this filament would keep Conway occupied enough that he would forget about his needs. Either that, or Baxter would just have to take him to Orion for an evening and be done with it.
“Coming up on the filament,” Ford announced from the helm.
Baxter approached the viewscreen. “Take us out of warp.”
“I have the anomaly on sensors,” Tilleran reported.
Baxter looked to the viewscreen. “On screen.”
Tilleran pressed a few controls and a billowing ripple of energy appeared on the screen.
“It’s pretty,” Conway mumbled from the rear of the bridge.
Baxter ignored the comment. “Start sensor recordings. Divert whatever resources the labs belowdecks need to study this thing. We might as well make the report look good for Starfleet.”
“Aye, sir,” Tilleran replied.
Baxter paced the bridge idly as Tilleran coordinated the scanning of the filament with the staff in the labs throughout the Explorer. Conway was slumped over the railing that surrounded the command chairs. He made sure to steer clear of his X.O. for fear that he’d be pulled into another conversation.
“Captain,” J’hana piped up from tactical, stirring Baxter from his contemplation of the brown spot on the carpet near the Environment/Mission Ops station.
Baxter turned to look back at the Andorian. “What is it?”
“I’m detecting some sort of signal coming from within the subspace region within the filament.”
Baxter crossed the bridge to get to tactical, awkwardly pushing by Conway. “What kind of signal?”
“I believe it is a Federation warp signature.”
“A warp signature?” Baxter asked quizzically. “You think a ship’s trapped in there?”
“It’s possible,” Tilleran said. “Subspace filaments can appear without notice in the paths of starships. It’s a rare occurrence, but it does happen.”
“This warp signature is not large enough to be a starship,” J’hana commented. “More like a shuttlecraft or runabout.”
“Can we get it out of there?”
“We’ll have to do it very carefully, or we’ll get trapped inside the filament, too,” Tilleran said, going to work on her panel. “The hard part will be finding something solid in there to lock onto with the tractor beam. The beam will lose focus almost as soon as it crosses the barrier into subspace.”
Finally, something constructive to do. Baxter passed between Tilleran and J’hana. “Coordinate to rig a tractor beam steady enough to lock onto that signal. We’ve got to at least try to get them out.” He shrugged at J’hana. “Starfleet would probably be pretty ticked if we didn’t.”
“I would assume so,” J’hana muttered.
Fifteen minutes later, J’hana and Tilleran had finished rigging the tractor beam. It took much arguing over a splayed open power relay panel and a heated death threat from J’hana, and Tilleran’s even more heated insinuation that J’hana had a fake antenna, before the whole operation was accomplished.
“Ready, then?” Baxter said, looking over J’hana’s shoulder as she sat on the high stool behind her panel.
“As we shall ever be,” J’hana said, glaring at Tilleran. “And the Betazoid should be ready on deck ten once we go off duty. I will give her a beating so severe she will never see it coming, even with her telepathic sen-“
“Okay, that’s enough,” Baxter said sharply. “Engage the tractor beam already.” He glanced over to Conway, who just stared dreamily at the viewscreen. He then turned his gaze down to the Welsh corgi. He’d climbed into Conway’s seat and was scratching his ear with his back paw. At this point, Bucky was fulfilling the First Officer role a tad better than Conway.
Baxter watched as J’hana switched on the tractor beam. Like a spotlight, it wavered over the crackling space breach on the screen, finally focusing down to a narrow point.
“Got it,” J’hana said proudly.
“Reel it in,” Baxter ordered, watching from behind the Andorian.
“Aye, sir. Pulling back on tractor beam now.”
The Explorer slowly began to rattle. At first, it was barely perceptible. Then, progressively, it became more and more severe.
“What’s happening?” Baxter asked, struggling over to Tilleran.
“Graviton confusion,” Tilleran replied. “More or less, the gravitons in our tractor beam are getting mixed up by the subspace interference in the filament.”
Power flickered throughout the bridge. Backup power came up dim, and the Red Alert klaxon blared.
“Now I don’t need to even ask if that’s bad,” Baxter muttered.
“It most certainly is,” J’hana muttered. “We are being pulled in!”
Baxter watched the growing light on the viewscreen as the Explorer was pulled toward the filament. “Cut power to the tractor beam!”
“I already did,” J’hana snapped. “The gravitons have taken on a life of their own.”
“Can we disperse them?” Baxter demanded.
Before anyone could answer that question, the Explorer rattled again and flopped through space, end-over-end into the breach.
“Hold on!” Ford cried, as the Explorer screamed through subspace.
“Can we get a hold of that other ship, at least?” Baxter asked.
J’hana’s hands raced over her panel. “It’s right behind us. Caught in the wake of the stir we caused by entering the breach.”
“Hell of a lot of help we were,” Ford muttered.
“It’s a runabout all right,” Tilleran said. “And it’s tearing apart in the gravitic wake.”
“Larkin, bring the occupants of that runabout aboard,” Baxter said, resting his hands on the back of Larkin’s chair.
“Sir, look at this!” Ford said, pointing down at the speed indicator on his helm control panel.
Baxter’s eyes widened. “Warp fourteen??”
“Of course!” Tilleran slammed her hand against the science console. “We’re inside a massive subspace tsunami!”
“A displacement wave!”
Baxter scratched his head. “I’m still a little foggy “
“Another breach is up ahead,” J’hana said.
“Our only ticket back into normal space, right?” Baxter looked to Tilleran.
“Bravo, Cochrane,” Tilleran muttered.
“Ford, can you steer us toward it? Use our momentum to guide us out?”
Ford tapped against his panel. “I’m turning on every starboard thruster we have, sir!”
The Explorer sighed to the left, hull straining against the massive speed inside the subspace tsunami.
“Hull stress is enormous,” Larkin reported. “If we do not leave the filament, we will break apart in four point six minutes.”
“Take us through that breach, Ford!” Baxter ordered.
With a blast of rippling subspace energy, the Explorer exploded out of the filament, coasting back into real space, trailing whisps of crackling energy behind it.
“We’re headed right toward a planet!” J’hana cried.
“Slam on the brakes, Mr. Ford!” Baxter urged, bracing himself between conn and ops.
Ford slammed the Explorer into reverse, sending it into a slide, like an ancient automobile hydroplaning. Finally, mercifully, the auxilliary thrusters kicked in and Explorer ground to a halt.
Baxter sighed as the smoke cleared and people throughout the bridge gathered themselves. “Everybody okay?” he asked weakly.
“Satisfactory,” J’hana muttered. She looked over to Conway. “What about you, sir?”
Conway cupped his chin in his hands as he looked out at the viewscreen. “Ah, what does it matter?”
“Well, little Bucky weathered the ride okay,” Baxter grinned, scooping up the Welsh corgi and stroking his fur. He carried the dog over to ops. “Well, how bad is it, Larkin? Don’t tell me we’re in the Delta Quadrant again. Ha ha. That would be hilarious.” Baxter noticed no one else on the bridge was laughing. “Seriously. That’s not what happened, is it?”
“Indeed, we are not in the Delta Quadrant,” Larkin replied, studying her panel. “We are not anywhere in the Milky Way galaxy.”
Baxter’s eyes widened. “Come again?”
“We are approximately ten light years from the galactic barrier. I estimate we will have to travel one month at high warp before we reach the outermost ring of Starfleet communications buoys.”
“Well, they wanted us to explore deep space,” J’hana snapped. “This is as deep as it gets.”
Baxter snuggled Bucky close to his chin. “I guess you’re right. It’s not quite as bad as the Delta Quadrant, anyway. Tilleran, put together a flight plan that will allow us to get back to the Milky Way galaxy and soak up some of the scenery for Starfleet at the same time.” Baxter made his way over to the command railing. “And how about you go belowdecks and greet our visitors, Commander? Maybe that will take your mind off your, er, problems.”
Conway shrugged, headed over to the turbolift. “Whatever.”
“Forgetting something?” Baxter asked, placing Bucky on the ground and dangling his leash in front of Conway.
“Hmph.” Conway snatched the leash and dragged Bucky into the turbolift.
“Don’t you know who I am?” the dark-haired woman railed at Lt. Hartley from atop the transporter pad.
Hartley folded her arms. “No clue.”
“Well,” the woman drew herself up, flattening her cascading orange and gold polysynth dress. “I’m daughter of the fifth house, holder of the sacred chalace of Rixx, heir to the holy–”
“Muzzle it, Mother,” another dark-haired woman said, pushing past to Hartley. “What ship are we on, Lieutenant?”
“The Explorer,” Hartley replied. “Who are you all?”
“We’re from the Enterprise,” the woman said in a high tone, as Commander Conway stepped into Transporter Room One.
Hartley rolled her eyes. “Well la dee da.”
Conway stopped to regard the two women talking to Hartley. “Welcome to the Explorer,” he said dully.
“Nice dog,” Hartley grinned.
Paying no attention to Hartley, Conway turned to regard the two new visitors who still remained on the transporter bay.
“Greetings,” a white-skinned man, who Conway recognized as the android that served aboard the Enterprise said, stepping forward to shake Conway’s hand. “My name is Lieutenant Commander Data.”
“Yeah,” Conway said, shaking Data’s hand in return. He was too taken aback by the woman standing next to him to pay much mind to the android. “Who–who are you?” Conway asked in a gutteral tone.
She wore a science tunic, Conway realized. A beautiful, deep, shimmering azure science tunic. He LOVED science officers.
“Beverly Crusher,” the woman said warmly. “Chief Medical Officer of the Enterprise.” Crusher studied Conway’s pips approvingly. “Commander.”
“Right,” Conway said, taking the woman’s hand and shaking it vigorously. “Commander Conway. First Officer. Welcome aboard the Explorer.”
“Ah, the Explorer,” Data noted, accessing his database. “Part of a program created by Admiral Frank McGrath. The Explorer was launched on Stardate 52005 on a mission of pure exploration.” He cocked his head. “According to mission logs since then, however, it appears to have strayed from its…” he twitched slightly. “Mission parameters.”
“You okay, man?” Conway asked, as Data seemed to be suffering from some kind of processing lag. Data just nodded in the affirmative.
“I’ll give you parameters,” Hartley muttered, shaking her fist.
“Let’s not be rude, Lieutenant,” Conway said, gesturing to Hartley and offering Crusher his arm.
“Us? Not rude? Commander, you’ve got to be kidding!”
Conway ignored the transporter chief. “If you’ll allow me, I’ll find you some beds–I mean quarters.”
“Very nice of you, Commander,” Crusher said, and narrowed her eyes at Hartley as she passed by.
“What about me? Don’t I get introduced?” the gaudily- dressed woman railed. “I am royalty!”
“Shut up, Mother!” the younger woman snapped, and fell in behind Crusher and Data.
“Oh, they’re just going to be a hoot,” Hartley muttered, going back to her Cosmospolitan magazine.
Tilleran’s opaque eyes looked as if they were about to blow out of her skull. “LWAXANA TROI? HERE!!!!!”
Baxter scooched back a bit at the conference table, feeling a bit alarmed. “Apparently. Along with her daughter, Deanna, and two of her crewmates from the Enterprise. Beverly Crusher, their CMO, and Commander Data.”
“Another android,” Larkin noted agreeably from her seat beside Baxter. “Most interesting.”
“He’s not half as well-built as you, Kristen,” Richards said from beside her. “That Soong didn’t know what he was doing. Just because Data is more highly publicized–”
“Anyway,” Baxter said, in an effort to get a little more control over the staff meeting, “we all know the reputation that’s attached to the Enterprise, and its crew. It goes all the way back to the first starships. And as such, I expect these people to be a bunch of giant snobs.”
“At least Worf’s not here,” J’hana said playfully. “We all know there’s no love lost between the two of you.”
“Yes, well,” Baxter said self-conciously. He could still feel the pummeling Worf gave him ten years ago on Altair Six when Baxter had accidentally spilled prune juice onto Worf then mocked him about it. It had been an ugly scene, to be sure. “At any rate, try to be on your company manners. It’s only a–” Baxter gulped, “–month we have to spend being nice to them.”
“Speaking of no love being lost,” Ford said, “has anyone told Counselor Peterman that Troi is here yet?” Peterman was still miffed about Troi’s refusal to sign her copy of “Zefram Cochrane: Hero, or Alcoholic?” at the Daystrom Institude Technology conference the previous year.
Baxter sighed. “Browning’s telling her right now.”
Suddenly, a sheer whoop sounded from behind the doors that led to the bridge. Baxter grimaced.
“HERE? Where is she?? Let me have a piece of her, damn it! Let me at her!”
Baxter clapped his hands down on the table. “Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’d better go make sure my wife doesn’t kill one of our guests. Meanwhile, I expect the rest of you to try to find a way to get us back to the Milky Way galaxy ASAP.”
“I don’t know who has the more difficult job,” J’hana muttered.
“Captain Baxter does, believe me,” Richards replied, pointing to Larkin. “Come on, Kristen. Let’s get you down to Engineering. You’re due for a check-up.”
Larkin followed Richards obediently. “Understood.”
“I’m going to go find Lwaxana,” said Tilleran, wandering out of the conference lounge, starry-eyed.
“It’s going to be one interesting month,” Ford said, grinning, as he followed the other officers out of the lounge.
Peterman paced the turbolift like a caged tiger. “They taught us at the academy that anger was a brief response to frustration or pain, and that it dissipates quickly. You know something? That’s a load of crap!”
“Calm down, honey,” Baxter said quietly. He was trying to reach out a reassuring hand, but Peterman was moving too quickly for him to clamp down on her.
“I’m not going to calm down. She was SUCH a snob to me, Andy. Just wait until you meet her–you’ll see what I’m talking about.”
“She can’t be that bad,” Baxter urged. “Even if she is, can’t you just be nice to her for a–” Baxter gulped, “–month?”
Peterman whirled on a heel. “I approached her just as she was coming off the stage. I even complimented her counseling strategy, which was really nothing more than getting drunk with Cochrane, and then I asked her VERY nicely to sign my copy of her book. She LAUGHED, and then she shoved it back in my face! She never even gave me a reason!”
“That wasn’t a bright thing to do.”
“That’s what I told her, right before I–”
Peterman folded her arms. “Exactly.”
Baxter ran a hand through his hair as the turbolift sighed to a halt. As much as it intrigued him to see his wife and the admittedly gorgeous Deanna Troi in hand-to-hand combat, he didn’t actually want it to happen. Especially not on HIS ship.
Then the doors swished open to reveal Counselor Deanna Troi. She was tapping her foot impatiently.
“Couns–” was all Baxter managed to say, before Peterman whirled and stared fire at Troi.
“YOU! You’ve got some nerve showing up on this ship after you wouldn’t even do me the courtesy of signing your book for me!”
Troi blinked. “I’m sorry. You must have me confused with someone else.”
“It was you. Your book. Altair Six.” Peterman reached down and grabbed a padd, waving it at Troi. “It’s in my log. I have the stardate and everything.”
Troi looked from Peterman to Baxter. “Your crewperson is suffering from violent tendencies and unhinged pettyness, Captain.”
Baxter’s mouth opened and closed uselessly. Before he could do more, Peterman leapt at Troi and grabbed up a generous handful of the counselor’s dark hair.
“What?? Get off me!!” Troi snapped.
“You are nothing more than an intellectual snob, riding your famous mother’s coattails!” Peterman screamed.
“You leave my mother out of this!” Troi shot back. “Try and stay professional!”
Baxter quickly slid in between Troi and Peterman. “Ladies! I’m sure we can work this out!”
Troi straightened her hair, then nodded toward Peterman. “You tell HER that.”
“I just want what’s mine. An autographed copy of your Zefram Cochrane book.”
“Fat chance!” Troi bristled.
“Please!” Baxter said diplomatically. “Let’s try to sort this out in a civilized way. We’re supposed to live in an evolved society, remember?”
“I AM evolved,” Troi said defensively. “She’s the one who’s the animal. Understandable, I suppose.” Troi let out a brief, evil giggle. “She spends enough time with them.”
“You bitch!” Peterman seethed. “See, you do know who I am!”
“Now you just wait a minute. That’s my wife you’re talking about!” It was Baxter’s turn to be defensive.
“Is she?” Troi pulled her hair back into something resembling its original configuration. “Well, you tell your wife that she’s still under orders from the Judge Advocate General to stay at least twenty meters away from me at all times.”
Peterman adjusted her breasts angrily and yanked at her tunic. “I’ll gladly stay away from you. But you’d better get used to seeing me around. You’ll be here for a long time!”
“What do you mean?”
“Tell her, Andy.”
Baxter looked toward the ceiling in an attempt to gather himself, then looked back at Troi. “It’ll be a month before we’re within range of the Federation’s closest communications relay. We were tossed out here by that,” Baxter crooked his shoulder in the approximate direction of the breach in space, “filament.”
Troi steamed. “Of all the ships in all the fleet for me to be stuck on, the fates had to pick this one!” With that, she stomped off into the turbolift.
“Glad to have you aboard!” Baxter tossed a friendly wave at Troi as the doors closed.
“I appreciate the opportunity to have a look at your Engineering department,” Data said as Lt. Tilleran escorted him down the hallway toward the engine room. “Perhaps I can be of some assistance in getting us back to our proper position.”
“Mmm hmm,” Tilleran replied vacantly. She waited a few beats and then briskly turned toward Data. “So where’s Mrs. Troi?”
“If you are referring to Lwaxana Troi, I believe she is spending some time in your Executive Spa. Apparently, our trip through the quantum filament was quite stressful.”
“I can imagine,” Tilleran said thoughtfully, as she and Data rounded the bend into Main Engineering. “I’ll go introduce you to Lt. Commander Richards, our Chief Engineer.”
Tilleran approached the door to Richards’s office and hit the chime. “Commander, I have Mr. Data from the Enterprise here to see you.”
“Come on in,” Richards’s voice replied. “I’m just finishing up with Larkin.”
“Kristen Larkin?” Data marveled. “I was hoping I would get a chance to meet her.”
“Uh-huh.” Tilleran stepped through the door to Richards’s office, Data on her heels.
Larkin was up on Richards’s desk, her uniform unzipped and her midsection splayed open to reveal a tangle of shimmering positronic data transfer rods, blinking lights, and bristling optical cable.
Data cocked his head, and with a discrete “bleep,” his entire expression changed. He now stared deeply into Larkin’s eyes. “This must be the indomitable android known as Kristen Larkin,” he said, flashing a winning smile, taking her hand and kissing it.
Richards eyed Data skeptically. “Yeah. And I’m Commander Richards. Chief Engineer. And Larkin’s creator.”
“Charmed.” Data diverted his gaze from Larkin’s nanocordical processor to her eyes. “Lt. Commander Data.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Larkin said evenly, observing her hand, then returning her gaze to Mr. Data. “I have much to discuss with you about android existence.”
“Perhaps we might do that over dinner?” Data suggested.
“That would be illogical. Neither of us eat.”
Data gazed into Larkin’s eyes. “Then we can simply watch the stars.”
“Eyes over here, mister!” Richards said, stepping forcefully in front of Larkin. He looked between Data and Tilleran. “It’s, um, her torso is charged with electrons.”
“I assure you, Commander Richards, I know how to dissipate an electron charge.”
“I bet you do,” Richards muttered, turning his attention back to the assemblage of tools on his desk. “I’d better finish up here. You two can wait outside.”
Data gave Larkin a half bow and waved his hand with a flourish. “I look forward to seeing you again, madam.”
Larkin cocked her head as Tilleran and Data made their exit. “Mr. Richards–Chris, why was Lt. Commander Data acting in such an odd manner?”
“You forget all about him,” Richards replied. “He’s nothing but bad news.”
“Oh, he’s got that fancy emotion chip. He gets all the good press. Serves on the Federation flagship. I’m sure his artificial ego is bigger than a dark matter nebula.”
“His motives appear pure to me, sir.”
“That’s what scares me about you, Larkin,” Richards said, closing up her abdominal cavity. He briefly considered sealing it with a reinforced nanopolymer, then thought better of it. It wasn’t good to be TOO protective, or so said Dr. Spock’s book on child-rearing.
Then again, what did Vulcans know about children, anyway? Richards quickly slapped a coating of nanopolymer over the opening and zipped Larkin’s tunic. “All right, off you go.”
“And stay AWAY from Mr. Data.”
Tilleran had given Data the slip while he was investigating the Explorer’s warp core. She just HAD to see Lwaxana. The Ambassador was a personal hero of Tilleran’s and the object of what some would call an obsession.
And she was aboard!
Tilleran made her way briskly down the corridor toward the Executive Spa. She began composing exactly what she was going to say to Lwaxana.
Then she stopped in her tracks.
Lwaxana was a telepath, just like her. She’d see the obsession, the utter fandom that Tilleran felt for her through all the excuses and veiled attempts to make friends. How could she have been so blind as to not consider that possibility? Probably because she never imagined she’d meet Lwaxana face to face.
Backward thinking, that’s what it was. What kind of science officer did that make her, anyway? She’d used her powers to manipulate people since she’d attained them as a teenager and left Betazed for the lush backwaters of space. Those powers had gotten her boyfriends, rides on spaceliners–some might even argue they got her into Starfleet Academy. But what, pray tell, would her powers be good for against the maestro of telepathy herself, one Lwaxana Troi?
With that thought foremost on her mind, Tilleran spun on a heel toward the nearest turbolift, feeling as if she was dodging a quantum torpedo.
Then she heard a pained, tortured cry for help.
Not with her ears, but in her mind.
<HELLLLLP, ME! SOMEONE, PLEAAAAAASE, HELP MEEEEEEEE!>
She’d recognize that voice anywhere. It was the voice that had sung to her from audio chips for years. That voice that honed her skills to the sharp point that they were today. That voice that cooed and called her “little one” brightly from within the speakers in her quarters. That voice, that musical voice, was now in HER mind.
She felt honored, even proud, to receive Lwaxana’s mental message.
Then, seconds later, she realized it was a cry for help.
Tilleran dashed down the corridor, pounded her override into the large duranium doors that led into the Executive Spa, and bulled her way inside.
And Lwaxana Troi, half naked, scrambled out, with a golden retriever and two pomeranians tearing savagely at the shreds of towel that clung to her private parts.
<BY THE SACRED CHALACE, YOU MUST HELP ME, CHILD, BEFORE THEY KILL ME!>
Taken aback for a moment by the blur that had flown by her and out into the corridor, and equally shocked by the busted piping and soaked floors of the decadent Executive Spa, Tilleran quickly collected herself and hurried after the pack of dogs.
“Charlie, Boomer, Starbuck, get back here!” Tilleran cried, but the dogs ran on, their gleaming wet fur shining in the artificial light of the curved Explorer corridor.
Tilleran quickened her pace, deciding to change tacks. She squeezed shut her eyes, not a bright thing to do while running down the corridor, and invaded the minds of the three dogs.
<STOP YOUR ATTACK, SMALL ONES, OR FEEL MY WRATH!> she growled through the animals’ brains. They stopped so immediately she nearly tripped over them.
<Play dead,> she thought at them, cripplingly, and rushed over to Lwaxana Troi, who lay confused in a heap on the deck, writhing.
<Little One, you’ve saved me,> Lwaxana murmurred in a daze in Tilleran’s mind. With one final gasp she flopped to the deck, unconscious.
“Where are the others?” Commander Conway asked, as he met up with Larkin on one of the residence decks, after making sure Dr. Crusher was snugly tucked into her cabin and wanted for nothing.
“Lt. Commander Data is perusing Engineering with Lt. Tilleran,” Lt. Commander Larkin replied. “And I am unaware of the location of Counselor and Ambassador Troi.”
“No matter. I’m not concerned with them,” Conway said, striding purposefully toward the turbolift.
Larkin picked up step next to him. “May I say, sir, you seem unnaturally self-confident. Have you been listening to another of Counselor Petersen’s self-help chips?”
“Absolutely not!” Conway replied harshly. “I just got a date.”
Conway nodded. “With Dr. Crusher. Well, it’s not a date, per se. I just said I’d show her around the ship later tonight.”
“I take it by your vocal inflections and the flushing of blood to your cheeks that you have alterior motives?”
Conway grinned, elbowed Larkin. “Can’t get anything past you, huh, Larkin?”
Larkin’s head spun to see behind her. “Past, sir?”
“Nevermind. Did Mr. Data get situated down in Engineering?” Conway asked distinterestedly, stepping into the lift.
“Bridge,” Larkin said, following Conway in. “Indeed he did. I find his behavior quite curious, however.”
“There’s good reason for that, Larkin. He does have that emotion chip.”
“Even so, sir. He seemed…interested.”
Conway arched an eyebrow. “Really?”
“I did not know how to respond. Other romantic interludes have not compared to this. Private Henricks programmed me as an unfeeling object of desire, and the Tellarite ambassador I had coitus with last year was…uninspiring. Mr. Data’s attitude was more like a formal courtship, in the classical sense.”
“Well, well,” Conway said cheerily, clapping Larkin on the back. “You tiger, you.”
“Listen, Larkin,” Conway said, turning the android to stare him in the eyes. “You need to take the opportunity for romance when it presents itself. Otherwise, it will pass you by.”
“But, Lt. Commander Richards seemed to disapprove. He told me Mr. Data was ‘bad news.’”
“Aw, Richards is just being overprotective. Forget him.”
The bridge doors slid open and Larkin and Conway stepped out. “Still, he forbade me to meet with Mr. Data.”
Conway followed Larkin over to her station, leaning in to whisper, “You’re a grown android, with a free will of your own. If you want to see Data, see him. Richards didn’t ask you for permission to get together with the human Larkin, did he?”
Larkin cocked her head, considering this. “Indeed, he did not.”
“And neither should you. What, you want to be alone all your life?”
“My life span is considerable,” Larkin said agreeably. “To spend that long a period without any further romantic exchanges is not an attractive thought.”
Conway grimaced, thinking of Crusher. “Tell me about it.”
Larkin went to work at ops. “I will take your advice under consideration.”
“That’s all I ask,” Conway said, heading over to the command chair.
“She’s got a mild concussion, and a slight imbalance in her brain caused by the strain on her nerves,” Dr. Browning said as she examined the readings on Lwaxana Troi’s biobed readout screen. “Which is perfectly normal in Betazoids of her agegroup. With a little bedrest, she’ll be absolutely fine.”
“I’ll see to it, Doctor,” Tilleran said, turning to Lwaxana. “Ambassador, can you hear me?”
“Yes, child,” Lwaxana replied. “I don’t understand what happened. I stepped into the bath, and all of a sudden, these–these creatures came from beneath the bubbles and attacked me!”
“It isn’t the first time that’s happened,” Tilleran said bitterly. She’d have to speak with Peterman.
Suddenly, the doors to Sickbay parted and Deanna Troi rushed in.
“What’s happened?” she demanded, turning to Browning. “Why is my mother in here?”
“She had a little accident,” Browning said soothingly. “Why don’t I make you a nice cup of tea and we can talk about it?”
“I don’t want to talk about it, you imbecile, I want to see my mother!”
Browning blinked, thumbed in the direction of Lwaxana’s biobed. “She’s right back there.”
Troi rushed to Lwaxana’s side. “Mother, what have these people done to you?”
Lwaxana sat up on her elbows. “It’s nothing, Little One. There were some…animals in the spa and they got a little rough with me. Thankfully, Lieutenant Tilleran here came to my rescue.”
Troi glanced up at Tilleran with narrowed eyes. “Lieutenant.”
“Lieutenant Tilleran is Betazoid too,” Lwaxana said brightly.
Troi narrowed her eyes even more. “I can see that.”
“She’s FULL Betazoid.”
Troi folded her arms. “Really.”
Lwaxana nodded. “And she was able to get into the minds of ANIMALS, darling. And not only that, but she was able to control them. Do you know how rare that is in Betazoids?”
A frown worked its way into the nooks and crannies of Troi’s face. “I can’t imagine.”
Lwaxana touched Tilleran’s arm. The science officer blushed. “If she hadn’t come to my aid, I might have died.”
“You’re exagerrating this a bit, aren’t you, Mother?”
“I didn’t see you come running, Deanna.”
“I was in Stellar Cartography. Ten decks down!”
“I sent out a telepathic signal. Couldn’t you sense it?”
Troi waffled. “Well, of course I could.”
“Then where were you,” Tilleran said angrily. “Where were you when your mother needed you?”
Lwaxana looked to Troi expectantly.
“I…I did try to get there. But SHE–” Troi shrugged in Tilleran’s direction. “Moved you here before I got there.”
“You’re lying, Counselor,” Tilleran muttered. “How transparent.”
Troi’s mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water.
“You expect to hide something from two classically trained FULL Betazoids, dear?” Lwaxana said. “What a disappointment.”
“Go to Hell, Mother,” Troi muttered, spinning around and stomping toward the doors to Sickbay.
As she did so, the doors parted and Peterman stepped through. “Where are my babies? What happened to my babies?”
“Step aside!” Troi commanded, and shoved Peterman harshly away from the door.
“Okay, it’s go time!” Peterman cried, but Browning grabbed her arm and dragged her into Sickbay just in the nick of time.
“Come on, Counselor. Your pets are this way.”
That gave Peterman the chance to remember why she was there in the first place. “Right. My babies. Where are they? What happened?”
Browning nodded in Tilleran’s direction. “Lt. Tilleran sort of…well, put them into a coma.”
“They attacked Ambassador Troi,” Tilleran said, watching as Petersen’s eyes flared with anger. “So I commanded them mentally to, well, play dead.”
Browning held firm to Petersen’s arm, but she staggered toward Lwaxana’s biobed, dragging Browning behind her.
“You WHAT?” Peterman asked, bending over Lwaxana to glare at Tilleran.
“It was self defense,” Tilleran said plainly.
“They’ll be fine,” Browning urged. “They’re resting right back this way, in the pet room. Come on, I’ll show you.”
Peterman shook Browning’s arm free. “You have some nerve, Tilleran!”
“You have some nerve letting your pets have free reign of the ship!”
Lwaxana looked from Peterman to Tilleran dizzily. It was like watching a ping-pong game.
“What’s going to happen to my pets?”
“They should be put to sleep!”
“You should be put to sleep!”
“Your face should be bashed in!”
“Can’t this wait,” Lwaxana finally said. “I’m fine now, but my daughter is very upset about the whole thing. First my…accident, and now,” she nodded at Tilleran. “My new friend, here.”
Peterman’s expression immediately softened. She turned to Lwaxana, smiling. “Troi’s upset?”
Tilleran nodded. “Very.”
“Hmmm. Well, then, I guess there’s no harm done, as long as my pets come out of their comas.”
“Which I assure you they will,” Browning said, wrapping an arm around Peterman and ushering her toward the pet room. “Doctor Lombard and I are trying everything we can to bring them around. Here, let’s go talk to them now. I’m sure they’ll be glad to see you, even if they are in comas.”
“Who was that, dear?” Lwaxana asked as Peterman and Browning ducked into the pet room.
Tilleran decided to avoid telling Lwaxana that Peterman was the one who had decked her daughter. “That’s not important. We need to get you moved to a nice quiet bedroom so you can rest. It’s important that you get your strength back up.”
“Well, you do have a point.” Lwaxana sunk back against her pillow. “I’m so lucky to have you by my side, Lt. Tillian.”
“Yes, quite.” And Lwaxana sunk back into unconciousness.
“So, there we were, on our way back from the conference on Betazed,” Dr. Beverly Crusher said, as Commander Conway escorted her down the corridor on Deck Eleven later that night. “We’d sat in on a panel discussion about the Dominion occupation and how it affected Betazed, and the recovery process.”
Conway nodded. “That’s absolutely fascinating, Doctor.”
“At any rate, we were heading back to rendez-vous with the Enterprise when we hit that blasted filament. It carried us, much as it did your ship, out toward the end of the galaxy at tremendous speed.”
“Toward us,” Conway said reasonably.
“Right,” Crusher replied. “And Data was able to create a breach in the filament that we could escape through, only instead of escaping, we sort of became jammed in there.”
“That must have been horrifying!” Conway exclaimed.
“It wasn’t pleasant,” Crusher admitted. “Then you came and rescued us.”
“The least we could do!” Conway insisted. “Oh, would you look at that! Here we are. Holodeck Three.”
“Holodeck?” Crusher asked. “I thought you were giving me a tour of the Explorer’s science decks.”
“Some consider holodecks the pinnacle of known science,” Conway explained, as he tapped a control on the wall-panel, bringing the holodeck online. “Let me just show you a random program here.”
“I’ve been in plenty of holodecks.”
“Just humor me.”
Crusher sighed. “All right, if you insist. What kind of program are we going into?”
“You’ll see.” Conway gestured regally for Crusher to step through. “After you, Doctor.”
“You can call me Beverly.” Crusher stepped through into a huge arena, inscribed with a multi-laned track of black tar. “Where are we?”
“Oh, this is that NASCAR program I’ve heard about,” said Conway. “I’ve heard this is a lot of fun.”
The stadium lights were dimmed, and the sun shone low on the horizon, casting a bright orange glow over the infield.
“Wherever we are, it’s quite beautiful,” exclaimed Crusher.
At the center of the infield, a car painted green and yellow, with the words “Mellow Yellow” splashed upon it, waited silently.
Conway pulled open the flap over the passenger side door. “Slide right in.”
“We’re not going to be racing, are we?” Crusher asked skeptically.
“Of course not,” Conway said, making a mental note that it was a good idea to make his program a bit more romantic. Obviously, Crusher wasn’t into flopping about in her seat at 200 miles an hour. Time would tell, anyway.
Conway made his way to the driver’s side and slid behind the wheel. “You like?”
“A little spartan.”
“Well, we’ll change that. Computer, champagne for two.”
A bottle of champagne glimmered into place on the dashboard. Conway poured two glasses and handed one to Crusher. “Drink up. Computer, play something from my collection. Something slow and beautiful.”
“Are you trying to romance me, Commander?” Crusher asked, glancing at the glass.
“Perish the thought! And call me David!”
“Just checking.” Crusher sipped at the champagne thoughtfully, while Conway chugged his glass back and poured another. Finally, the computer came up with a song:
She packed my bags last night, preflight, zero hour, nine a.m.
And I’m gonna be high-ay-ay as a kite by then.
I miss the Earth so much, I miss my wife. It’s lonely out
in space. On such a ti-i-i-me, this flight,
And I think it’s going to be a long long time
till touchdown brings me round again to find I’m not the man
they think I am at all, oh no no no, I’m a Rocket Man…
Crusher flushed. “Oh, dear. I bet Jean-luc will be mad at me.”
“Urp–Picard?” Conway asked worriedly, wiping champagne from his upper lip.
Crusher nodded. “Yes. He gets…attached very easily.”
Conway chugged his champagne and poured another. He’d need it. “I see. Well–”
“He’ll miss the Seine dearly.”
Conway stopped in mid-swig. “The Seine?”
“Our runabout. He cristened it. You know how men are with their ships.” Crusher curled in her seat and hugged her legs. “They get so attached to them.”
“Right, right. The ships. The runabout. Attached.” Conway set his glass down. “Er, Beverly–”
“You should have seen him after the Enterprise-D crashed,” Crusher said, staring out at the sky through the Chevy’s windows fondly. “He spent many a night with his head on my shoulder, muttering in French.”
Conway choked, spitting champagne all over the steering wheel. “You don’t say?”
“I stroked that bald head as hard as I could to try and make the pain go away. It got better after we got the Enterprise-E, but he still comes to my quarters after fitful nights of dreaming of that ship. He really loved it.”
Conway tossed his glass out the window angrily. “I’ll bet.”
“He could never love me that way, though. Heart’s as cold as a Breen glacier, I’m afraid.”
“Poor guy.” Conway’s heart soared. Anymore of this rollercoaster and he’d have a stroke.
“Anyway,” Crusher said, angling her body toward Conway. “Enough about me. Tell me about yourself.”
Conway inched closer to Crusher. “Oh, you’d just be bored.”
“Try me!” Crusher said, patting Conway’s leg playfully.
“Okay–” Conway took a deep breath.
Deanna Troi stormed into her mother’s quarters, coming face to face with Lt. Tilleran.
“Can I help you?” Tilleran said, arms folded.
“I want to see my mother.”
“Then I’ll wake her.” Troi pushed past to the bedroom.
Tilleran clamped a hand on Troi’s shoulder, whirled her around. “I don’t think so.”
<MO–!> Troi called out, but as quickly as she sent out the telepathic message, Tilleran blocked it, as if placing a mental hand over Troi’s mouth.
Troi’s eyes widened in disbelief. “You’re blocking me!”
“It’s not hard. Especially since you’re only half Betazoid.”
“How dare you!”
“How dare you!” Tilleran returned. “You’ve been a horrible daughter to Lwaxana, and it’s time someone stepped in to love her like she deserves to be loved.”
“And that someone is you?” Troi scoffed.
“We’ll see about that.” Troi turned on a heel and marched out of Lwaxana’s quarters.
<Who was that, dear?> Lwaxana’s mind asked, once Deanna was gone.
Tilleran smirked. <No one, Ms. Troi. No one at all.>
<Good. In that case, get me more soup, would you?>
Tilleran smiled. “With pleasure.”
“And then my most recent experience was with our Trill colony specialist,” Conway said drunkenly, chugging from the champagne bottle.
“No kidding!” Crusher murmurred, grabbing the bottle from Conway and taking an equivalent swig. She leaned back onto his shoulder, as soft moonlight filtered in through the NASCAR’s window. “I had a fling with a Trill, too. Let me guess, she died.”
Conway nodded. “Yep.”
“It’s always the way. In my case, Odan’s symbiont was transferred into a woman.”
“Shar was put into a woman, too. But not the woman for me.”
“Well,” Crusher said. “They say beauty’s only–”
Conway attempted several times to put a finger to Crusher’s lips. “No, no, no, that’s not the half of it!”
“No?” she asked, as Conway’s finger stabbed at her face.
“No! Shar was placed into an incredibly mean woman who was engaged to an incredibly BEAUTIFUL woman. I hear they own some sort of coffee place on Trill now and they’re doing very well.”
“The coffee part certainly is ironic,” Crusher said, swallowing a belch. Conway had regailed her about his love for coffee for a large part of his drunken rant.
“You’re telling me,” Conway slurred.
“My, four whole years,” Crusher said. “That certainly is a long time to go without.”
“Don’t remind me,” Conway moaned. Who’s idea was it to tell her THAT?
“It’s been a while for me, too,” Crusher admitted, turning to look up into Conway’s eyes. “My last time was with an ancient spirit that was trapped in a lantern. He sucked the life-force energy out of every woman in my family line.”
“Men are pigs,” Conway belched.
“Not all men,” Crusher said, snuggling against Conway’s chest. “Some are warm and pudgy. Not all bald and cold.”
“Who COULD you be talking about?” Conway asked wryly.
“That’s not important now,” Crusher said, reaching over to unzip Conley’s uniform.
“I hope this thing has airbags,” Conway mumbled, as Crusher pushed him down into the space between the dashboard and seats, his palm slamming against the NASCAR’s foggy front windshield.
THE NEXT MORNING
“Troi to Crusher.”
“Troi to Crusher.”
“TROI to CRUSHER!”
Commander Conway twisted in the bucket seat of his NASCAR. “SHADDUP!”
Dr. Crusher’s head emerged from between the front two seats. “Where am I?”
“You’re in a NASCAR,” Conway said, and went back to sleep.
“Beverly?” Troi’s voice demanded over the comm system.
Crusher rubbed her head. “What?”
“You’re late for our morning exercise routine.”
“I’ve reserved a space in the Explorer’s gymnasium for us. Just because we’re trapped in this forsaken place does not mean we have to abandon our daily routines.”
Crusher looked around the interior of David Conway’s NASCAR plaintively. “I’m going to need a few minutes to get ready.”
The Betazoid in Deanna Troi picked up the fluctuation in Crusher’s voice. “Where are you, Beverly?”
“In the holodeck.”
Crusher quickly zipped her uniform tunic and wriggled into her trousers, tucking her boots into her armpit. “No time to explain, Deanna. I’ll see you in the gym.”
The comm line was quiet for a few moments. “I’ll be waiting.”
Commander Conway stirred, dragging himself to kneeling by gripping the seat he was lying on. “Beverly…that was…”
“Brief?” Crusher offered.
Conway shrugged. “Hey, it’s been a long time.”
“No apologies necessary,” Crusher replied. “It was a good effort.”
“Well, you know what they say. Practice makes perfect.”
Crusher smiled politely as she squirmed toward the open driver’s side window. “Listen, I have to go. Deanna’s going to be very upset with me if I don’t get over to the gym soon.”
“Like you need any more of a workout.”
“You’re quite the charmer, Commander.”
Conway watched Crusher slide out of the NASCAR longingly. He sighed at the sound of the holodeck doors sighing open and cranking shut again. He stretched and yawned, staring at the beautiful streaks of sunlight stretching throughout the horizon before him, on a beautiful Dover, Delaware day.
He zipped up his uniform tunic and slid out of the NASCAR, just as Dale Earnhardt walked up.
“Mornin’ Dave,” he said in a friendly southern drawl.
“Morning, Dale,” Conway replied, shaking the man’s hand. “Out for a practice run before tonight’s race?”
“Always. Practice makes perfect.”
Conway nodded knowingly. “I get that.”
“You take this baby for a spin?” Dale asked, patting Conway’s Mellow Yellow car gently.
“In a manner of speaking,” Conway shrugged.
“She’s a sturdy automobile.”
“That she is, Dale.”
“You take care of her.” Dale tugged his helmet on and headed off to the bleachers. “Be good to her, and she’ll bring you home every time.”
Conway grinned. “I’ll remember that.”
Conway danced out into the corridor, smiling warmly at passing crewmembers. When he saw Lt. Commander Larkin, he ran up and hugged her.
“Commander, this behavior is extremely atypical, please explain,” Larkin said uncomfortably.
“What’s the date, Larkin?”
“The date, sir?”
Larkin cocked her head. “53652. Why do you ask?”
“Four years, Larkin, four years!” Conway chanted, and twirled down the corridor.
“How odd,” Larkin said, and proceeded toward astrophysics. She rounded the corridor and nearly collided with Lt. Commander Data.
“Commander,” Data said evenly. “Are you functioning within normal parameters today?”
“Affirmative,” Larkin replied. “And you?”
“All indications are normal, except for the–” Data’s head jerked to the side, and Larkin heard a distinct *bleep*. “The need to be with you.”
“You are with me now.” Larkin continued into the turbolift.
Data followed. “That is not what I meant.”
“Deck eighteen.” The turbolift thrummed downward. “Then what did you mean?”
Data propped an elbow against the turbolift bulkhead. “Deck twenty-two. I think you know what I mean.”
“What do you require of me?”
Data traced a finger up Larkin’s cheek, grasped Larkin’s earlobe. He was coming dangerously close to the new position of her off switch. “Search your databanks,” he said. “You know you have been curious since the moment I arrived.”
“In what sense?”
“In the only sense that truly matters.”
“Sexual intercourse?” Larkin asked, matter-of- factly. “That is the primary reason for which I was originally created.”
“That is fascinating, but I have an alternate suggestion.” He leaned toward Larkin and whispered softly to her, nearly cheek-to-cheek.
Larkin nodded. “Indeed. I go off-duty at seventeen hundred hours. Meet me in my quarters?”
The turbolift doors swept open and Larkin stepped through.
“As you wish.” Data grinned as the doors closed and the turbolift continued its descent.
“This place is gorgeous,” Beverly Crusher noticed, as she and Deanna Troi sat, facing each other, legs spread, on one of the mats in the Explorer’s massive gymnasium. The place was walled with mirrors, boasted antigrav courts of all types, all the latest exercise equipment, and a full-sized pool. It was nearly the size of the Enterprise’s main shuttlebay, forcing Crusher to wonder what that admiral had in mind when he commissioned the Explorer program. Was it really meant to lead to new discovery, or just to impress foreign diplomats?
“It looks unused,” Troi said idly, grabbing Crusher’s hands so the two could pull each other back and forth.
Crusher raised an eyebrow. “These people don’t get a whole lot of exercise, if the captain’s any indication.”
“Or the first officer,” Troi muttered.
“Oh, he’s not so bad,” Crusher said, smiling wistfully.
“What are you talking about?” Troi said. “He’s a dense, plodding imbecile, like everyone else on this ship.”
Crusher looked at Troi askance, pulling a little harder than normal, so that several cracks bristled down the empath’s spine. “You certainly are moody lately.”
“I hadn’t noticed.”
“Are you going through Betazoid menapause?”
Troi’s dark eyes got darker. “I beg your pardon?
“You know, the ‘change’?”
Troi nearly pulled Crusher’s hands out of their sockets as she yanked backward. “Not hardly.”
“Then why all this anger about the Explorer crew? They seem like fairly decent people to me.”
“Need I remind you about the incident when their Counselor attacked me?”
Crusher rolled her eyes. “Not again, please.”
“I was polite enough about it,” Troi said, as her and Crusher leaned back and forth. “I have an agreement with the Daystrom Publishing Company that I would not sign books at public engagements. It’s to assure that I won’t have to worry about lunatics like Counselor Peterman.”
“Are you sure there’s not more to it than that?”
“Of course not. She asked to sign the book, I refused, and she decked me. It’s that simple. Peterman was the one in error. And the Judge Advocate General agrees with me.”
“Fine. I just wonder what could have provoked Counselor Peterman into hauling back and knocking you silly like that.”
Troi narrowed her eyes. “I was not ‘knocked silly.’”
“Fine. Forget I brought it up.”
After several moments of silence, Troi spoke up again. “Then there’s the matter of their science officer.”
“Oh, yes. Lt. Tilleran. She’s full Betazoid, isn’t she?”
Troi jerked backward again, nearly flipping Crusher end over end. “I don’t pay attention to such things.”
“Telepathic instead of empathic.”
“Able to see deeper shades of thought? To merge deeper with the minds of others?”
Troi hopped to her feet and stomped over to one of the treadmills, slinging a towel around her neck. “Whatever.”
Crusher mounted the treadmill beside Troi’s. “I sense a little hostility, Deanna.”
“You’re not an empath.”
Crusher smirked. “You’re not a telepath.”
Troi slammed her hand down on the console of the treadmill. “Computer. Increase speed.”
“So what’s the problem with Lt. Tilleran?”
“Apparently, she’s befriended my mother.”
“I’d think that was a good thing.”
“I didn’t say it wasn’t. It’s just…odd.”
Crusher bit the bullet. “Are you afraid your mother will give Lt. Tilleran the respect she never gave you because she’s a full telepath?”
A heavy growling sound rumbled from deep inside Troi. She slammed the speed control on the treadmill. Now she was running, feet pounding on the smooth rubber surface of the treadmill. “I don’t care about that!”
“Warning. Speed is exceeding design limitations,” the computer intoned sympathetcially.
Crusher made a mental note not to say anything to Troi about her experience with Explorer’s first officer. Obviously, the counselor had far too many other issues to deal with, and none of them would be improved on by learning that the Enterprise CMO was sleeping…well, with the enemy.
USS ENTERPRISE NCC-1701-E
“Report, Mr. Rogers,” Captain Jean-Luc Picard said stiffly, erect in his command chair.
The helmsman looked over his scans. “This is the last known position of the Seine, sir.”
“Any sign of how they disappeared?” Commander Will Riker asked, stepping up beside Picard and planting his foot on the console.
“Will, you’re smudging the,” Picard began, but waved it away with a hand. “Nevermind.”
Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge turned from the Engineering console. “Looks like there was a heavy quantum disturbance in this area. Possibly a fractured filament.”
“Well,” Picard said. “We must assume the Seine was lost in that filament.”
“How do we go about rescuing them?” Riker asked worriedly. His Imzadi was in there somewhere.
“I’m not sure,” Picard said. “But we must find out soon. Who knows what horrible things are happening to our people right now.”
“I shiver to think about it, sir.”
“As do I. Get the science people on it right away. And someone replicate me some scones. Teatime waits for no man!”
TO BE CONTINUED…
Will Conway get another date? Will Larkin get a Data? Will Peterman kill Troi? Will Troi kill Peterman? Will Tilleran become Lwaxana’s new daughter? And what does a lavish broadway musical have to do anything? Answers to these questions and more will come in the exciting conclusion of “Generation Gap!”