Author: Anthony Butler
Lt. Hartley walked into the Constellation Cafe and immediately knew something was wrong.
She scanned the room, took in the ambience, then turned toward the bar. “Mirk, isn’t this Cardassian omelette night?”
The Maloxian bartender shook his head. “Nope, that’s tomorrow. This is the night of the Vulcan Soup Bonanza.”
“But isn’t it Tuesday?”
“Yes. And the Cardassian omelettes are scheduled for Thursday. Believe me, Amara and I have scheduled this very carefully.”
“I’m sure you have.”
Mirk arched an eyebrow. “Come again?”
“I SAID, I’m SURE you and AMARA scheduled this NIGHT out CAREFULLY!” Hartley said coarsely, flopping onto a barstool.
“Miss Touchy tonight, are we?” Mirk grinned, sliding a Crescan ale over to Hartley. “Well, have one on the house.”
“Thanks,” Hartley said, grabbing the ale and drinking. She sat it down after a long swig and wiped the froth from her mouth. “Wait. How did you know I’d order this?”
“Because that’s what you always order.”
“Excuse me,” said a gravelly voice from behind Lt. Hartley.
“Huh?” Hartley turned on her barstool. “Hmmm,” she said, after a few moments’ pause.
Will Riker was standing before her, stark naked, save for a strategically-placed padd on his crotch that read “Good Morning, Megan.”
Hartley rubbed her eyes and Riker was gone.
“Megan,” asked Mirk from behind her. “Helloooooo?”
She whirled back around on her stool. “Mirk, I just saw the wierdest thing.”
“I just saw Will Riker stark naked with a padd over his crotch.”
“Huh. You mean him?” Mirk pointed over Hartley’s shoulder. She turned to where a small cluster of the crew had gathered around a viewport, murmurring among themselves.
Will Riker was now pressed against the outside of the window, screaming something.
“Can’t quite make it out…” Hartley said to herself. Then it became obvious. He kept screaming “Good Morning.”
“Good morning?” Hartley said, scratching her head.
“Evening,” J’hana said, strolling by Hartley. Hartley cocked her head. Why was J’hana hot pink instead of blue?
Then all the pieces fell into place.
“Well,” Hartley sighed, sliding off her chair. “It looks like I’m having the dream again. Mirk, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go ahead up to the bridge so I can be there in time for Lt. Ford to spontaneously change into a woman.”
“Oh. Okeydoke. Say, before you do that, could you follow me into the back? I’ve got to bring out a case of plomeek roots.”
“Sure,” Hartley shrugged, and followed Mirk across the cafe and to the storeroom. As she passed the viewport, she glanced to check on Riker. He was now slowly morphing into the USS Escort. Good for him.
Hartley looked around the cramped storeroom. “Okay, Mirk, where’re the roots?”
Mirk stared at Hartley hungrily. “Megan, I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time.”
“What? Vulcan Soup Night? You do it every month. And it’s not even that great. Vulcan soup is so boring! It’s watery. Not like Manhattan Clam Chowder, or Tomato, or Turkey Bis MMMPH!”
In seconds, Mirk was on top of Hartley, enveloping her in a massive liplock.
“GGGMMMPPHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Hartley protested, as Mirk shoved her back against the spicerack. A bottle dislodged above her and began disgorging its payload of ketchup all over her head. “MMRRRRPPPPHHH!”
She pushed Mirk away and wiped her mouth. “Mirk, what the hell was–”
“Megan, help me!” Mirk cried, grasping his left eye. It was getting bigger, bigger, bigger, until it popped out and he fell limp under it.
The iris contracted and expanded, studying Hartley intently.
<Do I have to spell it out for you?>
Hartley scratched her head. “Please do.”
“That’s not what I meant!” Hartley turned to leave, but came face to face with an eye-less Mirk.
“Hey sweetie! Gimmee some lovin’!”
Hartley snapped awake, sheets wrapped in knots around her, sweat dripping down her face.
“What the F***!!!!!” She collapsed back onto the bed and yanked up on the covers.
Later that morning, Hartley trudged into the transporter room, more than an hour late.
She’d tossed and turned for the balance of the night/morning trying to figure out what the addition to her relatively normal dream meant.
Of all people, Mirk!
Checking the schedule to see with relief that no one was due to transport in or out for a while, she curled up in her chair and stared at the wall at the back of the room, squinting at her reflection.
Minutes later, a comm signal stirred her to attention.
“Bridge to Lt. Hartley,” said Lt. Commander Richards’s voice.
“Hmm?” she said, distracted.
“I need you to report to the Escort airlock pronto. The senior staff just returned from their meeting with the Federation diplomatic corps.”
Hartley rolled her eyes. “What’s the problem?”
“Get up there and you’ll see.”
Sighing, Hartley slid off her chair and grabbed her engineering kit, for once regretful at having the duty of overseeing the Escort’s engineering needs.
With a puff of air, the airlock that led to the Escort whooshed open and Baxter, Conway, Larkin, J’hana, and Peterman stepped out.
“What’s the problem?” Hartley asked, without much interest.
“Hit and run Leeramar attack,” Conway muttered. “Caught us with our pants down. On our way to try and avert a war, no less.”
Hartley folded her arms. “So. Are we going to war?”
“Take a look at the ship and see what you think,” Baxter muttered, and ducked out of the airlock.
Peterman stopped as she passed Hartley. “Hey, Megan. Is my Charlie okay?”
Darn, she forgot to take him out this morning. Stupid dream. “Uh, yeah, he’s great.”
“Thanks for looking after him,” she said. She narrowed her eyes as Hartley nodded dumbly. “Megan…is there something wrong?”
“Depends on how you define ‘wrong,’” Hartley said, turning to see smoke waft out of the airlock that led into the Escort. “Oh, hell. What did you guys do to her?”
“Hey, at least we fit it in the parking spot,” J’hana muttered, nursing a fractured antenna. “I’m going to sickbay. Damn antenna’s busted.”
“I want you to come see me when you get the chance!” Peterman said as Hartley ducked into the smoke. “I can tell when something’s wrong!”
“Yeah, blow it out your id,” Hartley grunted to herself, pushing through the smoke to the engine room.
Four hours and three busted power conduits later, Lt. Hartley emerged from the Escort, followed by several other engineers. She felt grimy, dirty, and most of all still disturbed by that dream. She bumped into Lt. Gellar coming around the bend in the corridor.
“Megan, hey. How’d the repairs go?”
“Fine,” she said, tossing her outer tunic over her shoulder and leaning in to peck him on the cheek. “Just get off-duty?”
“Yeah. Six hours of watching the Sonoma system’s star collapse,” Gellar said, wrapping an arm around her. “How about you get a shower and we head over to Mirk’s? It’s Cardassian omellete night.”
“Hmmm,” Hartley replied distantly. “How about we just stay in tonight.”
“I’m tired. Isn’t that reason enough?”
“Yeah, I guess. But me and Ford have a game of Strategama lined up. He’s partnering up with Ensign Dawson and you…”
“Oh, so you’re making plans for me now? What are you, my social secretary?”
“I just thought we’d–”
“‘I just thought we’d–’” Hartley mocked. “Well you thought wrong. Find another partner.” She stomped down the corridor.
“Okay. Well maybe I will!”
Lt. Hartley sat moodily on her couch, watching RealSpace on her viewer. Since going Subspace, Krinokom Communications was broadcasting shows instead of dowloading them to vidchip servers. It made things much more convenient, if you were the kind of slob to sit around and watch a bunch of kids cruise around in a spaceship and get in meaningless arguments all day. Tonight, though, Hartley was more than happy to watch idiocy. It made her life make a lot more sense somehow.
Presently, the group of wily youngsters were on their way to the Klingon homeworld to complete some sort of ropes course, and Shelak, their Vulcan participant, was entering into Pon’farr, so they weren’t sure if she could participate. Shelak and her cabinmates were grouped in their tiny Peregrine-class ship’s lounge area contemplating the problem.
“It is not logical for me to participate in the ropes course,” said Shelak. “Not with such a fire building up in my loins.”
“Hey, our loins are burning just as much as yours,” said the Tellarite participant, Gorgy. “You have to suck it up and deal with it, as the humans say.”
Then, before Hartley’s very eyes, a massive eyeball appeared on the viewscreen.
“Hello? Am I getting through?”
Hartley sat up on the couch ramrod straight. “Get out of my life!”
“Ah, so you can see me.”
“What the hell are you trying to do to me? Drive me insane?”
“Heh heh. That would only be a byproduct, Lt. Hartley. Truly, we mean you no harm.”
“Then what is the deal with that dream I had last night? And why are you interrupting my subspace program?”
“Because we have a problem. One you’ll have to help us solve.”
Hartley narrowed her eyes at the eyeball. “Oh, do tell.”
“Thanks for the invite.” With a crackle of blue electricity, the eyeball surged out of the viewscreen and plopped down on the couch next to Hartley.
<Nice place you have here, by the way,> the eyball said, revolving to face Hartley.
“Thanks. Can I get you a drink? Visine?”
<No, thanks. So, let’s just get down to it, shall we?>
Hartley braced herself. What the hell would this eyeball want with her?
Five minutes later, Hartley exploded out of her cabin and into the nearest turbolift.
Cardassian Omellete Night, Cardassian Omellete Night, Cardassian Omellete Night, just kept cycling through her brain.
“Constellation Cafe, emergency Engineering override Hartley Gamma 004,” she said, and the turbolift accellerated beyond normal design limits toward Mirk’s.
“Who’s next, huh?” Mirk said merrily, juggling the roughly melon-sized eggs before him. “Any takers?”
“Me, oh me!” Counselor Peterman exclaimed.
“I thought you didn’t like eggs,” Baxter muttered from beside her.
“Every once in a while…”
“Right away, madam,” Mirk said, tossing one egg high in the air and nodding his head in that direction. The egg cracked open and Amara rushed under it with a frying pan.
Mirk concentrated on an eggbeater which obediently began scrambling as Amara set the pan down on the burning hot grill.
Then, as if magically, peppers, onions, and spices danced in a circle around the pan, sprinkling themselves in good measures into the mixture.
Mirk grinned, twirling an egg at the tip of one finger. “Next?”
“Over here,” said Ford from the back of the cafe, at a table with Gellar and Ensign Dawson.
“You’re a ways away, there, Ford,” Mirk hollered. “Want to inspect the egg?”
Ford grinned. He loved this part. “Sure!”
Mirk pitched the egg at Ford. The idea was to stop it as soon as it reached Ford, just inches above his head, so he could inspect it. Then, as if it were a yo-yo, he’d jerk it back toward him.
“Stop!” Lt. Hartley cried, barreling into the restaurant, spilling over shocked customers.
Mirk glanced back at Hartley, and the egg splattered right into Ford’s head.
“Help me!” Ford cried, trying frantically to dislodge the egg. Lt. Gellar sighed and began tugging on it.
“Show’s over!” Hartley called out to the crowd. “Everyone back to your cabins. The Constellation Cafe is closed!”
“What is the meaning of this?” demanded J’hana, approaching the bar. “I have not yet recieved my omellete!”
“And you’re not going to,” Hartley shot back, glaring up at the taller Andorian. “We detected some instability in the forward saucer section. We’re going to have to evacuate deck ten, sections one, two, and three, and have the engineers come in and shore the place up.”
“What’s that?” Richards asked, joining Hartley at the front of the bar. Baxter and Peterman were on his heels.
“Get this egg off my head!” Ford cried, as customers began filing out of the cafe.
“There’s an instability in the duranium exoskeleton in this section, Commander,” Hartley repeated. “Go down to Engineering, run a level-one diagnostic. You’ll see I’m right.”
“I’d better do that,” Richards said, glancing back at Baxter and Peterman and sighing. “Damn saucer’s never been the same since that creature stomped on it.”
“Ah, well,” Baxter said. “No sense wasting away the evening. Come on, Kelly. To the Captain’s mess.”
“I’ll take that,” Dr. Brown said, grabbing the pan of still warm eggs and a large spoon as she walked by. “Night, guys.”
Mirk watched the people file out as he unstrapped his apron. “How about that.”
“Mirk, we need to talk,” Hartley said softly.
“Hey, Megan,” Lt. Gellar said, as he, the still-egg- covered Ford, and Derr passed by. “We’re going to be on Holodeck Two if you–”
“I don’t,” Hartley said, not looking over her shoulder.
“What do you want to talk about,” asked Mirk, watching the exchange between Hartley and Gellar with confusion.
“I think we need to talk in private.”
“Okay. Amara, would you mind straightening up?”
“Sure thing,” Amara said. She watched Hartley with narrowed eyes.
“Where do you want to talk?” Mirk asked. “The storeroom?”
Hartley shivered. “The conference room across the hall will do fine.”
“If you insist.”
“Lost my powers!” Mirk exclaimed. “You’re nuts.”
“Am I?” Hartley demanded. “Try using them.”
“This is ridiculous.”
Mirk sighed and studied the padd lying on the conference room table. Any moment it would begin levitating. It didn’t.
“What the–” Mirk concentrated again. Nothing.
“Didn’t you wonder why that egg smashed into Ford’s head?”
“You broke my concentration when you ran in.”
“That normally wouldn’t have happened, though. Your abilities have been getting better and better lately. You could have handled it before.”
“I guess you’re right.” Mirk collapsed into a chair at the table. “So why would the Directors do this to me?”
“I’m not sure,” Hartley admitted. “They just wanted to get your attention, I think.”
“They’ve been very good at doing that in the past. Why go to an extreme like this?”
“Something’s changed. I got the feeling from that Director I talked to that whatever they have to talk to you about is pretty urgent.”
“So why don’t they talk to me?”
“Again, I don’t know. I do know they want us to go to the Bermuda Expanse.”
“Really? They can’t just come to us?”
“But they came to you.”
“Listen, Mirk,” Hartley exclaimed. “I don’t know any more about this than you do. I just know what they told me.”
“Well, then, let’s go to the Captain and tell him–”
Hartley jerked Mirk back into his seat. “We can’t do that.”
“Come again? Why not?”
“Because, the Directors don’t want anyone knowing about this. ‘The less the better’ they said.”
“They work in mysterious ways. So how are we getting there?”
“We’re too far away to get there in a runabout. We’re going to have to hijack the Escort.”
“Well, borrow it.” Hartley grinned. “Maybe that’s why they came to me. I’ve got the knowhow to get you to the Bermuda Expanse with a minimum of fuss. After all, I did work the Cardassian DMZ for three years.”
“So you think you can get us to the Bermuda Expanse without raising any suspicions?”
“Certainly. Just trust me.”
“You’re going to Farlay Prime to get foot medication for Mirk?” called Baxter over the comm channel with incredulity.
Hartley paced the Escort bridge. “That’s right, sir. Maloxian foot fungus is not something to be toyed with. The Farlayans are the only race that have anything similar to the roots we need to cure Mirk’s foot problem.”
“I guess Mirk knows best. Still, it would have been nice to have Dr. Brown look at him first.”’
“She was eating at the time,” Mirk added helpfully from the engineering seat.
“Yes, well that would be a problem,” Baxter sighed. “Listen, I don’t know what our status with the Leeramar is. Keep your sensor-reflective screens up just in case.”
“Understood,” Hartley said.
“And thanks for volunteering to take Mirk on this little trip, Lieutenant.”
“No problem. Escort out.”
Hartley sat behind the helm console. “I’m going to begin the engine startup sequence. Secure the airlock, Mirk.”
Mirk studied his panel. “Um, it looks like there’s someone in it.”
She swung around in her seat. “Great. Visitors.”
“I thought you got off too easily when you explained that no on else could go on this trip because my feet stink.”
Hartley charged off the bridge, with Mirk on her heels. “I thought that was a great explanation.”
She arrived at the airlock to come face to face with Gellar and Ford.
“Megan, I just wanted to tell you, I’m sorry,” Gellar said, wrapping his arms around Hartley before she could squirm away. “I was too snappish with you earlier today.”
“And I’m here to express my sympathies about Mirk’s feet,” Ford said, grinning as he pinched his nose tightly shut between thumb and forefinger.
“Wait a minute,” said Gellar suspiciously. “I don’t smell anything.”
“That’s, uh, that’s because it’s in remission,” Hartley said quickly. “We have to get going before it starts up again. Anyway, apology accepted. I’ll see you when we get back.”
“Not so fast,” Gellar said. “This is a little attempt to make me jealous, isn’t it? Lover’s getaway with the little Maloxian?”
“Lovers?” Ford glared at Gellar. “Are you crazy, Brian? He’s half her age!”
“He is NOT half my age!” cried Hartley. “I’m 28. That makes him–uh, how many times does 18 go into 28?” She scratched her head.
“That proves my point. What? I’m too old for you now?” Gellar demanded. “This is low, Megan!”
“Hey, wait, what am I? Chopped fharbus?” Mirk asked. “I’d like to think I’m a great lover.”
“SHUT UP!” cried Hartley and Gellar.
“Megan…” Mirk said softly. “The Directors!”
“The Directors?” asked Gellar.
“What do they have to do with your feet?” asked Ford.
Hartley sighed. “Okay, okay. We might as well let you guys in on it too.”
Stardate 53680.7. Mr. Ford and Mr. Gellar have agreed to go along with Lt. Hartley to see to Mr. Mirk’s foot problem, while we hang around for a verdict on the Leeramar situation. Someone once said that these are the times that try men’s souls. Or, in Mirk’s case, soles. Oh, that’s rich.
“I kill me,” Baxter giggled, ducking out of his readyroom. At that moment, Lt. Commander Richards spilled out of the aft turbolift.
“Captain,” he said. “Any word on the Leeramar?”
“Not yet,” Baxter said, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes. “Report on the forward saucer?”
“It’s fine,” Richards said. “Damned weird if you ask me. Hartley seemed sure she found an instability. But scans show nothing–not a trace.”
“People make mistakes,” Baxter said, rounding the bridge and settling in the command chair.
Richards rapped his fingers on the command railing. “But Lt. Hartley is a fantastic engineer. She may even be better than me…”
“Don’t let her hear you say that.”
“Sir, I can’t help but feel that something smells fishy.”
Baxter sniffed the air. “You think Mirk’s fungus is spreading?”
Richards moved around to sit next to Baxter. “Not exactly.”
“You’re a piece of work, Chris,” Baxter said, clapping Richards on the back. “Here we are on the brink of interstellar war, and you’re worrying about foot fungus. Lighten up.”
“Ha. I guess you’re right,” Richards said. “Heh heh. I should just go below and secure us to take the pounding of a lifetime.”
“Hahahaha,” Baxter giggled. “Yep, and, hee hee, make sure the lifepods are in good shape. We’re going to, heheh, need them!”
Richards laughed heartily on his way into the turbolift. As he stepped in, his laughter, and Baxter’s, slowly died.
“What the hell are we laughing about?” Richards asked.
Baxter shrugged as the doors closed. “Don’t ask me.”
“I don’t believe it,” Gellar said, leaning against the mess hall table aboard the Escort. “Why would they up and take Mirk’s powers like that?”
Hartley buried her head in her arms. “That’s what I’ve been trying to explain for the last hour. We have no idea!”
“So where does the foot fungus come in?” asked Ford.
“THERE IS NO FOOT FUNGUS!” Hartley and Gellar yelled.
Just then, Mirk approached from the replicator station with a large tray. “Okay, everyone, some big heaping bowls of my famous chili. That’ll take our minds off the mission ahead.”
“Mmm, your chili IS good,” Ford admitted, grabbing a bowl and spoon.
“OUR minds?” Hartley asked incredulously. “What about you? Aren’t you the least bit disturbed about losing your powers?”
Mirk nodded. “Hence the cooking. I’ve got to keep my mind off this too, you know.”
“Right,” Hartley said. “In that case, everyone eats.”
Hartley tossed and turned on the captain’s foldout couch. The damn bar at the center of the bed was jammed in her back, and Gellar’s elbow was firmly jammed into her gut. Not an altogether great way to sleep.
There was that, combined with the fact that the clumps of Charlie fur all over the couch were causing a rather bad reaction in Gellar’s mucous membranes, enlisting a high-pitched wheezing sound each time he breathed.
Hartley cursed the rough fabric of Baxter’s Days of Honor bedsheets as she tossed.
After finding a relatively painless groove in that metal bar, and after rearranging Gellar’s elbow a bit, she’d finally found a somewhat comfortable position. Then her mind began to drift to thoughts of that disturbing dream. She almost didn’t want to go to sleep again. There was something all too real about the quality of that dream. Something that set it apart from the usual “Naked Will Riker Ford Sex Change” dream.
She decided to wake Gellar up and talk to him about it. No reason to lie alone in misery. She rolled toward him and shrieked.
“What?” Mirk asked, blinking at her. “Did you have a bad dream?”
“This isn’t happening.”
“Come on, let’s cuddle. Uncle Mirk will make the pain go away!”
Mirk edged toward her.
Hartley edged away. “This is not happening.”
“Come on, Meg! Let’s spoon!”
Hartley edged back and back, until she rolled off the couchbed and slammed painfully to the deck.
Mirk hung off the side of the bed. “Megan…don’t play difficult.”
“Why is this happening?” Hartley climbed to her feet and charged out the door.
“Don’t ask me!” Mirk cried, pursuing her down the Escort corridor.
The corridor was neverending. It was as if Hartley was running a marathon.
There were people urging her on on either side of the corridor. Waving and cheering, in slow motion.
“Go, Megan, go!”
Hartley glanced down to see she was wearing a runner’s tanktop, complete with the number “NCC-87968,” the Explorer’s.
She glanced over her shoulder. Mirk was still hot on her tail.
“Don’t fight it, Megan!”
Will Riker was there on the sidelines, naked as a jaybird. Normally, Hartley would stop to enjoy that, but this time she didn’t have the luxury.
“Nice package!” was all she could manage to yell, at the same time glancing back to see that Mirk was now almost right on top of her.
Up ahead, Commander Conway waited with a styrofoam cup. “Here, Megan! This will help you!”
Hartley grabbed the cup and tossed it in her face. Hot coffee scalded her skin.
“Damn you, Conway!”
“You should have known better!” Conway cackled evilly, like a demon, his voice dwindling in the distance.
Hartley skidded on hot coffee, sliding painfully to the deck, bumping her head. She blacked out as she saw Mirk lean over her.
“Megan, are you all right?” he squeaked playfully.
“Megan! Are you all right?” Gellar shook her awake.
Hartley blinked a moment. “Brian?”
“You flailed about so much you fell right off the bed.”
Hartley climbed to her feet, pushing up on the bed for support. “Must have had a…nightmare.”
“You’re not kidding. You were screaming.”
“And what does it have to do with Commander Conway? Of all people, you’re dreaming about HIM??”
“It’s a long story.”
“Are you ever going to tell me about it?”
“Nope. And you’re better off, believe me.” Just then, Hartley heard a chirp from the computer.
“Arrival in Veltran system in thirty minutes.”
“That’s it,” Hartley said. “We’d better get dressed and get to the bridge.”
Mirk shrugged on his burgundy dinner jacket as he stepped onto the bridge. No reason to dress down when you’re being dressed down by your gods, after all.
Hartley pivoted in the command chair. “We’re almost at the Bermuda Expanse.”
“No word from the Directors yet?” asked Mirk, straightening his jacket and taking up a position behind Hartley.
“I was about to ask you the same thing.”
“I haven’t heard word one from them. Slept like a baby.”
Hartley shivered. “Lucky guy.” She stared at the roiling greenish-purple mass on the viewscreen. “There we are. Any signs that Waystation detected our approach?”
Lt. Gellar studied the tactical console. “No unusual comm traffic from them. Doesn’t look like they noticed.”
“Good thing,” Hartley said. “Get ready to enter the disturbance.”
“Are you crazy?” Ford turned in his seat at helm. “Need I remind you what happened the last two times we went in there?”
“Let’s see,” Hartley said thoughtfully. “First time, we were slingshotted to the ass-end of space. Second time, we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the most sickening parallel universe the Federation ever encountered. That about sum it up, Lieutenant?”
Ford’s eyes widened. “And you want to go back in there?”
“You have a better idea of how to get the Directors’ attention?”
“Page them?” Gellar joked.
Mirk shook his head. “I lost that ability along with all the others.”
Ford belched loudly. “But you didn’t lose the ability to cook a great pot of chili, Mr. Mirk.”
“Just pilot us in there, Ford,” Hartley snapped. “One- quarter impulse. And please, for the love of God, try not to blow any plasma exhaust from Mirk’s chili my way.”
“No promises,” Ford giggled, and the Escort surged toward the Bermuda Expanse.
“Shields holding,” said Gellar, as the Escort glided into the roiling mass. “No anomalous readings. No readings period, actually.”
“Boost sensors to maximum,” Hartley said, eagerly gripping the command chair. “They’re in here. They’ve got to be.”
“You don’t think this is a wild targ chase, do you?” asked Mirk.
Hartley grimaced. “We’ll soon find out.”
Then, with a bright flash of light, a large eyeball appeared at the center of the bridge, directly in front Mirk and Hartley.
Hartley shot out of her chair. “It’s about time. Look, retina-boy, I did what you said. Now tell us what you need done so we can be on our way.”
The eyeball disregarded Hartley and turned to Mirk. <Ah, Mirk. There you are.>
“Don’t ‘there you are’ me!” Mirk said. “What’s the big deal taking my powers?” He quickly dropped to one knee. “Your eye- ship!”
<Mirk, there’s nothing we hate more than taking powers away from one of our…friends. But we had to do it. Great measures were in order.>
“But why?” asked Mirk.
<Because we’re losing the battle with the Critics.>
“I thought it was a stalemate!” said Hartley, trying to get back into the conversation.
<Things have changed. This quadrant is on its way right into the pooper.>
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” asked Ford, whipping around in his chair at helm.
The eye turned briefly toward Ford, and an electric sizzle shot right out of its retina, slapping Ford up against the viewscreen.
<SILENCE, LITTLE CRETIN!>
Gellar ran to Ford’s side. “Now you look here, Mr. Eyeball…”
The eyeball turned back to Mirk. <We don’t have time for this. We’re Delta Quadrant creatures by habit. We can’t hang around here forever, and this little…skirmish…is taking too long. Unfortunately, that means we’re going to have to–you know, drop you guys.>
“DROP?” asked Hartley. “Just what does that mean?”
<Let the Critics have you all, that is, the entire Alpha Quadrant. It won’t be so bad. The Starshine group has a great healthcare plan. Nothing like the Federation’s silly old Fedecare.>
“Stop trying to change the subject!” Mirk said. “You’re basically saying you’re going to leave us all to rot, is that it?”
<We’d put it more artfully, but yes, that about sums it up.>
“I can’t believe it,” Hartley said, slumping into her chair.
<Chin up, gang. There’s a way out of this.>
“Then let’s hear it!” Gellar said, helping Ford back into his seat.
<Simple matter, really. You see, it’s all your fault.>
“What’s all our fault?” demanded Hartley.
<The Starshine Kids, the Critics. Pretty much all the big problems in this quadrant. All your fault, we’re afraid.>
That British accent was unnerving.
“How do you figure that?” Hartley asked.
<Not easily, to be sure,> replied the eyeball. <Nevertheless, you guys are the only ones who can undo the current problem.>
“Undo it?” Mirk asked. “How?”
<How do you think…>
And the eyeball disappeared.
Hartley stared at the billowing mess on the screen. “Those little bastards. Dump all this on our laps and expect us to fix it!”
“And how do we fix it?” asked Gellar, taking his station.
“‘Undo it…’,” Mirk repeated. “What the hell?”
“Well, we did what we could,” Hartley said. “Ford, take us back to the Explorer.”
Ford obediently turned the Escort around and headed it out of the Bermuda Expanse.
Hartley turned to Mirk. “Sorry, Mirk. Maybe you’ll just have to face that your powers were a…temporary kind of thing.”
Mirk shook his head. “There’s got to be more to it than that.”
“We may never know.” Hartley watched on the main screen as the clouds gave way to starlit space. She turned to Gellar. “Brian, are we still hidden from Waysation’s sensors?”
“I’m checking.” Gellar squinted at his station. “Wait one minute…”
Hartley turned toward tactical. “What?”
“That can’t be Waystation.” Gellar re-did his scans. “That just can’t be.”
“Put it on screen,” Hartley said impatiently, rising from her chair.
Waystation blinked into existence on the main screen. Hartley’s mouth dropped wide open. It was tiny–just two Constitution-class saucers joined by a connecting tube. Not the behemoth 100-deck station that had arisen from the renovations.
“Confirm. We’re scanning the right area?”
“Sure are,” Gellar said. “That’s Waystation.”
“But that can’t be,” said Mirk. “They renovated–made it bigger!”
A sinking feeling suddenly washed over Hartley. “Mr. Ford, lock into the nearest Federation time beacon. What year is this?”
Ford tapped the necessary controls. “What the hell–”
“It’s telling me 2374.”
“The year the Aerostar was launched,” Mirk said, approaching the viewscreen.
“Nearly three years ago,” Hartley muttered. “And I’m betting good latinum that the Aerostar hasn’t taken her trip yet.”
Mirk looked back at Hartley and nodded. “And, if we have anything to do with it, she never will.”
“Now let me get this straight,” Ford said, pacing the mess hall. “You want us to stop the Aerostar from going to the Delta Quadrant?”
Presently, the Escort was streaking toward the Alpha Centauri system to do just that.
Mirk nodded, leaning against one of the tables. “That’s right.”
Gellar turned a seat around and leaned against it. “That’s insane. We’d cease to exist.”
Lt. Hartley twirled the glass that had only recently been the home of several ounces of Aldebran whiskey. “Nah. We’d still exist. Just in totally different lives.”
“Okay, then,” Ford said. “Then our lives as we know them would cease to exist.”
“Think of it this way,” Mirk offered. “It’s for a greater good.”
“How can we be sure of that?” asked Gellar.
“Because the Directors told me so.”
Ford grimaced. “Forgive me if I’m not entirely in their corner at this point. They want to leave us for the Delta Quadrant!”
“And the only way to avoid that is to sabotage the Aerostar.”
“Well, then, the Delta Quadrant can have them,” Gellar muttered.
“Quiet,” Hartley snapped. “All three of you. I’m the ranking officer here, so what I say goes. And I say we stop the Aerostar.”
“Megan,” said Gellar. “Do you realize that means we may not be together in the alternate future!”
Hartley narrowed her eyes. “I’m vaguely aware of that.”
“Oh, you did not just–”
“Attention: Alpha Centauri arrival in ten minutes,” announced the ship’s computer.
Hartley rose from her chair. “Computer, confirm sensor- reflective screens at full power.”
“Rig for silent running and come out of warp as soon as we reach the system.”
“And how in the hell do you think you’re going to sabotage the Aerostar, anyway, smarty-pants?” asked Ford.
“I was part of her original engineering team, bozo,” Hartley shot back. “I know a thing or two about her weaknesses.”
“So why did you end up being a transporter chief, then?”
Hartley glared at Ford before heading out of the mess hall. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
NEW HACKENSACK SPACEPORT ALPHA CENTAURI THREE
“Mind if I sit here?”
Lieutenant Junior Grade Megan Hartley pulled up a stool at “Hooligans,” the approved Starfleet bar in New Hackensack. “Crescan Cider. Can I get you another, sir?”
The man shrugged.
Hartley smiled. “Okay, then. Another coffee–black?”
“Very. Double sweet.”
“Black, double sweet.”
“And a bear claw.”
“Right, bear claw.” Hartley took a breath. “So…Mr. Conway…”
“Thanks for the promotion.”
Commander David Conway sipped his new coffee, not looking up from his padd of crew reports. “I didn’t do it because I like you. I don’t even know you. You’d been working at the DMZ for a long time, built up a lot of experience.”
“So, are you excited?”
“I hear we’re going to investigate some strange anomaly in the Veltran system. Might be interesting.”
“I seriously doubt that.”
“Uh-huh.” Hartley rolled her eyes. “Listen, Commander. I spent three years alone on a tiny little outpost in the Cardassian Demilitarized Zone. I rarely had real contact with other humanoids, seldom even over subspace. So my social skills aren’t what you’d call really…honed. I’m trying to make conversation here. I’m trying to…you know…reach out.”
Commander Conway looked over his shoulder at the sparse crowd gathered in the spaceport bar. “There must be fifteen people in here, Lieutenant. Most of them are assigned to the Aerostar. You can talk to any one of them.”
“I’m just trying to–”
“I just, I just!” Conway mocked. “Damn it, Lieutenant, I’m a busy man. I don’t have time to play daddy to a whiny crew. You’ll not get far at all if you cling to me like I’m some sort of f***ing den mother.”
Hartley blinked. “All rightee. I can take a hint. I’ll just talk to someone else until the Aerostar arrives.”
“Damn!” Lt. Commander Chris Richards charged out of the turbolift and onto the bridge.
“What?” Lt. J’hana asked disinterestedly from the command chair.
“That turbolit just took me through fourteen decks, changed direction three times, and spun around like a top before reaching the bridge.”
The Andorian raised an eyebrow. “Then it sounds like you have some work to do, Mister.”
“This ship is a piece of junk. I can’t believe Starfleet considers her spaceworthy.”
“Many experts agreed on her spaceworthyness, Commander. Are you contradicting them?”
“Damn right I am. I know I’ve only been a Chief Engineer for one week, but in that week I’ve found a laundry list of problems with the warp engines, replicator protocols, and shield control subsystems, among other things.”
“Do the weapons work?”
“Well, I guess.”
“Then that is all I need. Proceed back to Engineering.”
“Hey, you know, I do outrank you,” protested Richards.
“Noted. I have commanding to do. Goodbye.”
“We’re in cruise mode, for Pete’s–”
“Monitoring our tactical and security status during cruise mode is a demanding job,” J’hana snapped. “I am currently monitoring an illicit sexual affair in cargo bay three and a robbery in the supply closet on deck eight, as well as keeping watch over some disturbing Dominion fleet movements.”
“Illicit affair?” Richards asked, approaching the center seat. “Can I see?”
J’hana turned the chair away from Richards. “No. Return below.”
“There she is–” Full Lieutenant Hartley said, pointing at the tactical display on the Escort’s side console. “Bearing 210 mark 003. Traveling at Warp Five.”
“She’ll be at the rendez-vous in another thirty minutes,” Gellar surmised from the readings. “What do we do until then?”
Hartley returned to the command chair and folded her arms. “We wait.”
“USS Aerostar arriving at Docking Port Fifteen. Repeat, USS Aerostar arriving at Docking Port Fifteen.”
Lt. J.G. Hartley shouldered her way out of the New Hackensack Spaceport, eager for some fresh air. So far, she wasn’t thrilled with her new crewmates. Commander Conway had been overtly rude and someone named Gellar had hit on her–the nerve!
Anything was better than spending another year cooped up in that tiny little observation post, Hartley told herself.
The engineer placed her hands on her hips and scanned the misty red horizon of Alpha Centauri Three.
She was stirred from her reverie by a series of sharp barks, caws, titters, and squawks.
“Come on, Charlie!” said a voice.
Hartley moved to investigate. The sounds of commotion were coming from the Starfleet transporter station.
A domelike facility adjacent to the spaceport, the station was responsible for transporting Starfleet personnel, and, as it appeared, their pets, up to their respective ships.
“I’m telling you, ma’am, we’ve just crammed as many as we can in there,” said the transporter operator.
“What’s the problem?” Hartley asked.
The operator, an ensign, yanked nervously at his collar. “Lt. Commander Peterman here insists on beaming all of these animals up to her quarters on Aerostar at once.”
“Kelly Peterman,” the woman beside the transproter console said, turning on Hartley with a toothy smile. She glared at the transporter chief. “Mr. Frowny here won’t beam them up together because he says there isn’t enough room in the pattern buffer.”
“And why do they need to be beamed up together?”
“Because they’ll get lonely otherwise. That’s a long 3.4 seconds! Darn, this always causes problems.”
This was Hartley’s chance to try and seem diplomatic. “Okay, I’ll see what I can do.”
She stepped behind the transporter console.
“Are you cleared to operate one of those, Lieutenant?” the Ensign asked.
Hartley huffed. “Of course I am…ENSIGN. *I* am a Starfleet engineer. I can operate any of this stuff blindfolded.”
“Yes, sir. Ma’am. Sir.”
Hartley tapped on the console and made some alterations on the buffer size, increasing power to the annular confinement beam. Then she ran her fingers up the three slidebars and began transporting the mass of pets. She couldn’t even count all the animals piled on the pad. What was this woman? The ship’s zookeeper?
As the pets began to sparkle blue, Hartley noticed a power- drop. “Boost power to the confinement beam,” she commanded to the Ensign. “Bring the ancillary cargo transporters online!”
At that moment, a tiny squirrel that was nestled among the pets made a break for it, though the transport was already in progress.
“Rocky, no!” Peterman shouted, but it was too late. The squirrel was caught between normal space and the space within the confinement beam. “Lieutenant…do something!”
“I’m trying, I’m trying!” Hartley said, tapping at the transporter console. All of the pets gradually dematerialized, but the squirrel was still there, squirming in a pocket of blue energy.
“Bring him back, Lieutenant, bring him back!” Peterman screamed.
The squirrel tittered madly, until those titters turned to squeals, and like a lump of smushed clay, he began the process that transporter operators in-the-know called “forming.”
And the squirrel vaporized.
“Aerostar!” Hartley stabbed a control. “Do you have the squirrel?”
“This is Aerostar. What we got didn’t live long. Fortunately.”
Peterman buried her nose in Hartley’s shoulder. “Oh my GOD!” she wailed, soaking Hartley’s uniform with tears.
Hartley patted the woman’s head stiffly. “It’s…okay. You have many pets where that one came from, evidently.”
“But none will replace Rocky!”
“Listen,” Hartley sighed. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think you should probably see the Ship’s Counselor when you get up to the Aerostar.”
“I AM the Ship’s Counselor!” Peterman wailed.
Hartley sighed. This was going to be a long assignment.
Hartley stuck out her hand. “Give me your hollow pip, Ford,” she said, mounting the transporter pad in Escort’s cramped transporter “closet.”
“BECAUSE, if I’m to pass for Lt. J.G. Hartley, I’ll need a hollow pip.”
“Oh, right.” Ford yanked off his hollow pip. “Okay, fine. There you go.”
Hartley tossed one of her full pips to Ford as Gellar stepped up onto the empty pad next to her. “Here, you can be full Lieutenant for the day.”
Mirk leaned against the transporter console. “So what do we do until you get back?”
Hartley undid her ponytail–since she normally didn’t wear one in those days. “Monitor the situation. Beam us back if things get ugly.”
“What do you mean ‘ugly’?”
“J’hana’s the security chief, remember?”
“Right. Well, in that case, may the Directors be with you.”
Hartley grimaced as Ford stepped behind the console and laid in the coordinates. The transporter beam would be aimed at one of the Aerostar’s few sensor blindspots. “At this point, Mirk, I don’t think that means much.”
“You may be right.”
Hartley and Gellar materialized in a cramped closet on deck thirteen.
“Smells like ammonia,” Gellar mentioned, clamping his nose. “What’s the plan again?”
“I’m going to blow out all the warp core relays and sabotage the injectors. Force them to postpone the trip indefinitely and overhaul the ship’s engines. By that time, hopefully, they will have assigned some other poor shmucks to the Bermuda Expanse. But if this is going to work, we’re going to have to disable the security system. Since you’re a security officer, that should be relatively easy.”
Gellar rubbed his chin. “I can put the security system on a looping diagnostic. If I remember right, there’s only two places on the Aerostar I can do that from. The bridge, and main security on deck thirteen.”
“And here we are on deck thirteen. What a coincidence,” Hartley said sarcastically. She slid the closet door open. “Now get out there.”
“Why are you being so mean today, Megan?”
“Because I have to wipe us off the face of time. Now move!”
Ensign Saral sat in Main Security staring at her Vulcan brainteaser. She’d had all the pieces stacked almost perfectly, but only one piece eluded her. Months of concentration and still the solution evaded her keen intellect.
“Afternoon, Saral,” Lt. Brian Gellar said, strolling into Security. “How’s it going in the world of starship security?”
“‘It’ is not going at all. There is little to no activity on board because Lt. J’hana has mangled or threatened to mangle all perpetrators and potential perpetrators, respectively.”
Gellar nodded. “That’s too bad. I just came to get a few phaser recharge cells.”
“Whatever for? Target practice?”
“Actually,” Gellar admitted. “Yes.”
“They are in the cabinet to your left, just beside the replicator.”
“Thanks.” Gellar grabbed a couple phaser cells out of the cabinet and headed back for the exit door. “Have a good one.”
“Indeed.” Saral resumed her study of the brainteaser.
Moments later, Lt. Brian Gellar strolled in.
“Afternoon, Saral. How goes it?”
“Did you forget something, Lieutenant?”
Gellar glanced over his shoulder. “I don’t think so. Listen, Lt. J’hana wants me to run a diagnostic on the security system.”
“I see.” Saral stood. “Very well. The office is yours. I shall take a meditation break.”
“You do that. Have a good one.”
Saral left the crew bathroom/meditation chamber after concentrating on the dilemma of her unfinished brainteaser for ten minutes, without any clearer vision of the completed puzzle. On the way back to Security, she bumped into Lt. Brian Gellar.
“Mr. Gellar, are you finished?”
“Finished with what?”
“The security diagnostic.”
“I’m not running a security diagnostic.”
“Ah, so you are finished.”
Gellar looked at Saral strangely. “Uh…whatever you say. I just needed to go back to Security and get a padd. Why’d you leave the office unattended?”
“You were there.”
“That was a while ago.”
“The human concept of time is most disconcerting.”
“You’re disconcerting,” Gellar mumbled under his breath.
“Nothing,” Gellar replied, motioning for Saral to step into the Security Office ahead of him.
“Good to see you again,” Hartley said wryly, patting the Aerostar’s dilithium crystal chamber lovingly. She looked over her shoulder again to make sure no one was watching. She leaned in. “You didn’t deserve to be jettisoned out there in unfamiliar space. You deserve more. You’ll get more. I promise.”
The doors to the Chief Engineer’s office swung open and Lt. Commander Richards stepped out.
Hartley whirled. “Mr. Richards!”
“Lt. Hartley. What are you doing here?”
“Checking the warp core.”
“Shouldn’t you be somewhere else?”
“Uh, I guess…” Hartley thought hard. “Oh, that’s right. I’m assigned to plasma converters today.”
Richards rolled his eyes. “But I reassigned you, remember?”
“Oh, of course, reassigned.”
“So you’d better get to that new project.”
“Yep, the NEW project.” Hartley rocked on her heels. “Better get to it.”
“Well, what are you waiting for?”
Hartley headed off toward the warp core elevator and ordered it down.
“Lieutenant!” Richards leaned over the warp core railing. “The sensor array controls are that way!” he thumbed over his shoulder.
“Oh, the sensor array! Right, I’ll get right on it, sir.”
Richards rolled his eyes and headed back into his office. “She’ll never last in Engineering, I can see it now.”
“Your turn,” Ford said amiably.
Mirk tossed his hand of Fizzbin cards down on the helm console. “I don’t feel like playing anymore. What’s taking them so long?”
“It takes a while to sabotage a ship. You’d be surprised.” Ford looked up at the viewscreen. He’d trained the sensors on the window into a particular crewman’s quarters, while the Escort held a relative position just below the Aerostar’s aft Engineering section. “Would you look at that. Ensign Killian’s just come off duty from her work in the torpedo bay. Hot, sweaty work that is.”
“Mr. Ford,” Mirk scolded. “Surely you’ve got better things to do.”
“Hey, you’re the one here playing Fizzbin with me.”
“Anyway, this is before she started to get fat.” Ford gazed at the viewscreen longingly.
“Is it any wonder that the Alpha Quadrant’s doomed?”
“Nothing. Deal me in again.”
“Now you’re talking.”
Richards had nearly finished his doodle of the Aerostar flying through a nebulous bean burrito when the alarms began to wail.
He stormed out of his office, watching his engineers rush by, tapping madly at the diagnostic panels. “What’s happening?”
Ensign Ryan Stuart checked his readout on the Master Systems Display. “Warp core relays are blowing all over the place, and I can’t seem to figure out why.”
“I can’t! Every time we re-establish one, another gets blown out.”
“Damn,” Richards said. “I knew this ship was a hunk of junk.”
“Sir, it’s almost like someone’s conciously doing this.”
“Run a security scan. See if there’s been any unauthorized entry’s in Engineering.”
“Security’s down for a diagnostic.”
Richards grimaced. “How convenient.”
Commander Conway zipped his uniform and stomped out onto the bridge. “What the hell’s going on? We’ve not even left spacedock and already the ship’s going haywire!”
Lt. J’hana turned in the command chair and rose. “Lt. J’hana, warrior of the Ninth Hive of Andor, at your service.”
“Yeah, yeah, how about making yourself useful and finding out what’s happening and who’s doing it, Lt. Ja-whatever.” Conway stomped toward the command chair.
J’hana harrumphed as she took her place at the tactical station directly behind the command area. “Sir, may I note that it appears you still have conditioner in your hair?”
“I was just getting out of the shower.”
“It takes little time to rinse, sir. And I should add that if you leave conditioner in for too long, it will damage the delicate–”
“Shut the hell up and give me a status report.”
Crammed into a Jeffries tube just off the warp core power junction, Hartley held a protoplaser in her teeth and yanked at another isolinear chip. “Drm Rchrds,” she griped to herself. “Hm nd his ppl r mkng ths soooo hrrd!”
“Gellar to Hartley,” came a barely audible whisper over Hartley’s comm badge.
“What?” Hartley demanded, removing the protoplaser. “You’re only supposed to use your comm badge in emergencies! We could be detected!”
“SHHHHH! Quiet down! I’m hiding in the phaser closet. The past me and Ensign Saral are right outside!”
“You’re a Starfleet security officer, for pete’s sake! You’re supposed to be stealthy and sure-footed. How’d you get yourself into this?”
“Don’t ask me!” replied Gellar frantically.
“How about this: Have Ford and Mirk beam you back.”
“Gee, I should have thought of that.”
“But you didn’t. Say, how long until your security lockout cycle is over?”
“You’ve got about twenty minutes.”
“Damn. I’ve got to go with Plan B.”
“Don’t ask. Just be ready to pull me out of here.” Hartley tapped the channel closed and patted the power junction box that connected right to the warp core, just a few meters outside her Jeffries tube. “Sorry to do this to you, girl.”
“Richards to bridge.”
Commander Conway stabbed the control on his armrest. “What?”
“The warp core relays suddenly stopped blowing out, sir. We appear fit for travel. All I have to do is do a level-one diagnostic to see–”
“Can you do that en route? We’re due at Waystation to pick up our captain and some crew.”
“I’d rather do it before we go into warp, in case a problem should–”
“Great. We’re getting underway now, then.”
“You know, you’re not nice at all, Commander.”
“Tell me something I don’t know. Bridge out.”
Lt. Hartley slid out of the Jeffries tube just meters from Main Engineering. “Whew.” She wiped her forehead. This whole “mission” was sizing up to be one big pain in the ass.
“Ah, Lt. Hartley,” a voice said from behind her.
Hartley turned. “Oh. Hello. Dean.”
Crewman Dean Wilcox approached Hartley and shook her hand warmly. “I’ve heard so much about you. Since I’m in Stellar Sciences and you’re going to be doing a lot of sensor work, we’ll be seeing quite a bit of each other!”
“You don’t say.”
“True, true,” Dean said. “You know, I’m so happy to be here on the Aerostar. Sure, it’s not as prestigous, as, let’s say, the Enterprise, but she’s got a real sense of community.” Dean patted the corridor bulkhead lovingly. “I have a feeling this is going to be a grand adventure.”
“Don’t get your hopes up,” Hartley said under her breath.
“I said, I hope to see you soon!” Hartley grinned, and bulled down the corridor. Time to hide out until she was absolutely sure her mission would be a success.
“Right, right,” said Dean. “I’m off, anyway. I need to finish up my research project for the Daystrom Institute.”
“Better finish it quick.”
“I can’t wait to read it!”
Hartley hurried up her walk. She needed to get as far from Engineering as possible.
“So far, everyone’s seemed a little weird,” a familiar voice said, and Hartley rounded a corner.
It was HER! Damn, she’d hoped this wouldn’t happen. And HER was talking to Lt. Gellar. Hartley quickly backpedaled until she reached a vacant laboratory and ducked in.
She didn’t recall giving Brian the time of day until long into the Explorer mission. Somehow, the prescence of her and Gellar on the Aerostar had skewed time somewhat. She prayed it would get a whole lot more skewed.
Maybe she could just wait for the results of her tampering there in the lab. It certainly looked deserted.
Then the doors to the lab slid open and light poured into the lab. “Hello?”
Hartley rolled her eyes. “Hi, Dr. Kerridan.”
“Do I know you, Lieutenant?” Kerridan asked, setting down a container full of supplies on the lab table.
“Um, I guess not.”
“What are you doing in here?”
“Uh…” Hartley shrugged. “I got lost.”
“Oh. Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a lot of unpacking to do.”
“Yes, I suppose you do.” Hartley hurried out of the lab.
Kerridan hummed a happy tune to himself as he unpacked his equipment.
“Hmm hmm hmm hmm hm hm, la da dee dee da dum…”
CLUNK! Something rustled in the dark recesses of the lab. A shape. With pointed ears. Kerridan stepped toward the shadows. “Hello?”
Mirk paced the bridge of the Escort. His laps were rather short, though, since the bridge was only about five meters in width. “Why haven’t we heard from her yet?”
Ford rapped his fingers against the helm console. “Don’t ask me. This whole thing was her plan.”
“We should call her.”
“Bad idea,” Gellar said, leaning against the tactical console. “She chewed me out pretty bad last time I used the comm channel.”
Mirk sunk into the command chair. “But what if she’s in trouble?”
“She can take care of herself.”
Mirk swiveled uneasily in the chair. “If I had my powers, we could have taken care of this in the blink of an eye.”
“If you still had your powers, we wouldn’t be in this fix,” Ford muttered.
In the Aerostars’s crew lounge, Hartley whipped out her padd and studied it. About five minutes left. Then she’d know her mission would be a success.
“Another ale?” Lennie, the Aerostar’s (current) bartender asked easily.
“Please,” Hartley said, studying the bartender a moment. He wasn’t bad looking, and he’d been pretty nice to her for the ten minutes she’d been aboard. It was a small comfort to her that such a great guy would probably live a long and happy life now that he wasn’t going to be killed by the Aerostar’s bumpy ride through the Bermuda Expanse.
“Tell me about yourself, Lennie,” Hartley said, sipping.
“Well,” Lennie said, “I guess I’ve always been sort of a wanderer. Space has always held an attraction for me. Guess I’ve got it in me that I’ll live my whole life in space.”
Funny he should put it that way, Hartley thought. She turned in her chair at the sound of the doors to the crew lounge opening. The other Hartley and Gellar walked in!
And she recognized that look on her face. It was that crooning goo-goo eyed look Gellar had brought out in her. Why did she have no memory of this visit to the crew lounge?
She wasn’t clear what it was, but something had evidently changed the course of events in this timeline. But what did she care? She was planning on making much bigger changes to the timeline anyway, right?
“Nice talking to you, Lennie,” Hartley sunk low in her chair and creeped out of the lounge.
Lt. Gellar approached the bar. “Hey, Lennie. Two ales for me and the lovely lady over there.”
Lennie craned his neck. “She’s cute. But I tell you, this girl I was talking to a minute ago was even cuter.”
“You don’t say.”
Hartley bumped into Counselor Peterman in the corridor on her way to find a better hiding place. She had a slightly younger Charlie in tow.
“Hi, Lieutenant,” Peterman said. She still looked a bit bereft over the loss of her squirrel.
“Oh, Counselor. How are…things?”
“I’m coping, I guess. I’d also just like to thank you for your help transporting my pets. You seem to have quite a knack with the transporter.”
Hartley cringed. “Uh–it was nothing.” How could she have known that that simple act could have destroyed her engineering career?
“You know,” Peterman said thoughtfully. “Counselors are very important in the posting of starship crews. I could get you a transfer to transporter chief.”
“Huh?” Hartley couldn’t believe it. It was like that damned dead-end job was her twisted destiny. Maybe she could finally make things right. Start off her starship career as a real engineer, not some blasted transporter jockey. “No, Counselor, that’s–”
“Come on, Lieutenant. I know you feel bad about Rocky dying, but you couldn’t help that. I just know you’d be perfect for the job!”
“Really, I don’t want–”
“Say no more, consider it done, Chief Hartley.”
“NOOOOO!” Hartley screamed, grabbing Peterman’s neck and shaking it. “I don’t want that job! You hear me, you ignorant bitch! I’d rather clean waste reclamators for the rest of my life! DON’T GIVE ME THAT JOB!”
Peterman stumbled back as Hartley felt the warm sensation of Charlie’s mouth tearing through the flesh of her ankle. A hurt look crossed the counselor’s face.
“You’ve got problems, Lieutenant. I’m going to mention this to the captain when we rendez-vous with him.”
“Do whatever you want. Just don’t post me at the transporter!” Hartley yanked her leg out of Charlie’s mouth.
“Well, if you’re going to take that attitude, then I’ll MAKE SURE you’re posted at the transporter. So THERE!” Peterman stuck out her tongue.
Hartley was about to sock Peterman square in the face when an alarm blared over the comm system and a quake jarred the Aerostar so hard her, Charlie, and Peterman stumbled to the deck.
The comm chirped to life: “All hands, this is Lt. Commander Richards! We’ve got a coolant leak in the engine core! All hands report to escape pods!”
In all the fuss she’d lost track of the time. Her coolant leak had apparently just sprung.
Hartley untangled herself from Peterman and Charlie and darted down the corridor.
“I’m not finished with you!” Peterman called after her. “Just wait until we abandon ship!”
Ford swerved the Escort out of the Aerostar’s way as it spiralled out of warp.
“There’s Megan’s plan,” Mirk muttered. “She’s sabotaged the engines!”
“And us along with it, nearly!” Ford cried. “Is she insane?”
Gellar nodded. “I think so.”
“All hands, prepare to evacuate. This is not a drill,” the computer said monotonally.
“How the hell did this happen?” Conway shouted, as bridge crew scrambled for the exits. “I thought we were fine!”
“I told you to let me run a diagnostic before we went into warp, Commander!” Richards’s voice shouted over the comm.
“Can you do anything to prevent a breach?”
“I’m trying. But let’s just say you’d better put on your life jacket now!”
“I didn’t get a life jacket!” Conway cried.
“None of us did, it’s just an expression. Just get to a pod!”
“You heard the man,” Conway said, shooing the crew off the bridge.
He stopped at tactical. “J’hana, what are you waiting for? A f***ing engraved invitation?”
“I will stay with the ship.”
“For the love of God, why?”
“Because, it was my intention to die honorably on this voyage, and by happy coincidence, it seems I have the chance.”
“Fine,” Conway muttered, hurrying into the aft turbolift, “send my regards to oblivion.”
THE PRESENT USS EXPLORER
“It’s a great day,” Captain Sheila Vansen said merrily, strolling onto the bridge. “Status report, Number One?”
Commander Tom Nory grinned and motioned regally for Vansen to take center chair, moving over one to the X.O. chair. “We’ve explored another system successfully. No problems.”
“Two years of exploring the outer reaches without any real problems to speak of,” Vansen said, shaking her head in disbelief. “What are the odds of that?”
“Maybe we just repel odd occurences,” Nory suggested with a giggle.
“Perhaps. So you think there are people out there that attract them?”
“That’s actually a pretty good segue into today’s news,” Nory said, handing Vansen a padd. She scrolled through.
“Oh, goodness. They’ve finally declared the Secondprize officially lost. I guess it was only a matter of time.”
“We have to assume they were sucked into something when they went to investigate the Bermuda Expanse three years ago,” Nory offered.
“I suppose. There, but for the grace of the Great Bird, go we, Mr. Nory.”
THREE YEARS AGO
“That’s it!” Richards cried over the comm. “I give up! There’s nothing more I can do. Damn it, why couldn’t I get into art school!”
Hartley stopped in her tracks as crewmembers filed past her to get to the escape pods. What was she doing? She was an engineer, damn it. Her training was to fix things, not destroy them, even if it meant giving the future a royal screw-job. What if that future was meant to be? Was it her right to mess things up so badly?
Hartley hurried to Engineering. It wasn’t too late to put things right.
“Make way, make way,” Hartley ordered, pushing past the rush of engineers.
“Didn’t you hear?” Richards demanded. “We’re abandoning ship.”
“No, we’re not.”
“What are you saying?”
“Just promise, if you get the chance, you’ll get me back into engineering, one day,” she said, yanking open the door to the coolant tanks.
“Hell, if you save us, I’ll give you MY job,” Richards said, laughing nervously.
“What are you doing, anyway?”
“It would take too long to explain.” Hartley shoved her arm far into the back of the coolant mechanism, emerging with a small, shiny object.
She shoved the object into Richards’s hand and headed out of engineering. “Hairpin. See you around.”
“But–” And she was gone.
Acting Captain’s Log,
Stardate 51014.9. We’re now finally underway after some, um, small repairs to our engines. Hours later, the technical problems seem to have cleared up, with no sign of such wierdness reoccurring. Speaking of wierdness, though, Lt. Hartley seems to have no memory of her heroic rescue of this ship. This fact, and the advice of our Ship’s Counselor, leads me to believe that she’s far too emotionally unstable to be an engineer. Therefore, I’m relegating her to the transporter room, where she’ll be in charge of the small matter of successfully transporting people from one place in the galaxy to another.
Addendum: Since this is not exactly the best way to endear one’s self to a new commander, we’re going to just encrypt this little log and make the senior staff swear not to tell anyone that the ship nearly blew up in my first hour of command.
THE PRESENT USS EXPLORER
Captain Baxter blinked and dropped his fork.
“What?” Peterman asked, from the other side of their customary table in Mirk’s Constellation Cafe.
“I don’t know. I just got a weird feeling.”
“I told you not to get the reuben sandwhich.”
Baxter shook his head. “No, I know what that feels like. This was more like a ripple in time. Like a sort of temporal causality or something.”
“Yes, Andy, I’m sure that’s what it was,” Peterman said patronizingly. “So, anyway, now Ensign Sefelt’s convinced that his quarters are shrinking a little bit every night…”
THREE YEARS AGO ESCORT
Lt. Hartley steepled her fingers and stared at the onrushing stars on the Escort’s viewer as the tiny ship streaked back toward the Bermuda Expanse.
“Well, are you going to say anything?” Mirk asked from beside her.
“I’d rather not.”
“You really think this is for the best?”
“I guess you’re right,” Mirk said thoughtfully. “I’d hate to think we’d drastically changed the future just to get my powers back.”
“You’re forgetting about all the trouble we’d supposedly caused by going to the Delta Quandrant,” Ford muttered. “Now we’re going to go and cause it again.”
“You can’t escape your past, Ford,” Hartley muttered. “It’s time we faced that.”
“Strong words for someone who went back in time and sabotaged her own ship.”
“Shut up. I fixed it, didn’t I?”
The Directors weren’t really let down. It was almost as if they’d expected everything to happen as it did.
<We’ll give this to you, Lieutenant, you’ve got gonads.>
“If you say so,” Hartley said tiredly. “Listen, just let us get back to our own time and you can be on your way.”
<Happy to do so.> The eyeball turned to Mirk. <Well, Mirk, I guess this is goodbye.>
“I don’t get this,” Mirk said. “You guys are omnipotent. Why can’t you just be in the Alpha and Delta Quadrant at the same time?”
<We’ll be back. But by then I’m sure the Critics will have this whole Quadrant. It’s just the way things have to be, Mirk.>
“I don’t suppose you’d care to explain why, would you?”
<No. But we’ll be happy to say hello to your parents for you.>
<Chin up, Mirk. Things are not half as bad as they seem. You’ll adjust.>
“I’d adjust better if I still had my powers.”
<Yes, you probably would. Anyway, ta-ta.>
“So they just left?” Conway asked, pushing away from the conference table.
“That’s the long and short of it,” Hartley explained. “No telling when the Critics will begin the takeover process.”
“We must alert Starfleet,” J’hana said. “This presents a definite tactical threat to the Federation.”
“We’ve got enough problems with the Leeramar,” Baxter muttered. “In your absence, they upped the ante. They attacked four outposts along our border. The formal declaration of war should come any day now.”
“Leeramar to the left of us,” Peterman said.
“Critics to the right of us,” Brown added.
“And I’m stuck in the middle with you,” Richards grinned.
“Ha ha!” Conway said angrily. “Why don’t we just laugh it up, huh? The whole world is coming to an end, we might as well enjoy it!”
“Oh, calm down,” Baxter snapped. “We defeated the Dominion, didn’t we?”
“They weren’t omnipotent!”
Peterman glanced across the conference table at Mirk. “Look at us. We’re all so busy contemplating the major historical events of the future that we haven’t even paid attention to the fact that Mirk’s lost his powers.”
“Pardon me if I feel that there are worse problems right now, Counselor,” Conway grumbled.
“We can only take things one day at a time,” Baxter said. “Who knows what the future will hold?”
“I don’t know,” Conway snapped. “Let’s send Lt. Hartley back into the Bermuda Expanse and maybe she can find out!”
“Now that’s hitting below the belt!” Hartley said. “I didn’t sabotage our future, did I?”
Baxter nodded. “And I for one thank you for that.”
“You know,” Peterman said, “even if they didn’t stop the Aerostar from going into the Delta Quadrant, we can’t be sure that the timeline wasn’t altered in some way.”
“They’d know,” Tilleran said, pointing to Hartley and the others. “Since they were in the past when the new events occurred, they wouldn’t experience any changes in the timeline.”
“Does anything seem different?” Baxter asked.
Ford shrugged. “Nope.”
Gellar shook his head.
“Okay, then. I’ll call Starfleet about the Critics. But I think we’re all better off not reporting the time-travel bit to them. The last thing we need is to lose our time-travel license again.”
“We just did get it back,” Peterman agreed.
“If there’s nothing else, let’s get out of here.” Baxter rose.
Hartley and Gellar led the way out of the observation lounge.
“Dinner?” Gellar asked, looking to Hartley.
“What, you two are on speaking terms again?” Baxter asked, amazed. “Guess an adventure like that will do that to you.”
“Huh?” asked Hartley.
“You guys have been on the outs for six months,” Tilleran said. “Since Gellar’s failed marraige proposal.”
“Marraige?” Gellar said, dumbfounded.
“Before then, you guys were the cutest couple,” Peterman said. “Two and a half years of dating with no problems.”
“Why,” Baxter asked. “You don’t remember it that way?”
Hartley rubbed a hand over her face. “You could say that.”
“Just peachy!” Conway muttered. “Who knows what ELSE you guys changed.”
“You’re still an ass,” Hartley muttered, heading for the turbolift.
Gellar, Ford, and Mirk followed.
“How do you like that,” Baxter said. “Guess we’ll never know what else was changed.”
“Maybe not,” Peterman said. “Anyway, let’s get moving. We’re due at practice.”
“How’d you convince me to join the ship’s lacrosse team anyway?”
“Don’t ask me.”
The turbolift ride was awkwardly silent.
“Doesn’t seem to be much point in dinner now, does there,” Gellar said, finally breaking the silence.
“I’d say not,” Hartley agreed. “If they all say we’re broken up, I’m not one to argue with them.”
“Yes!” Ford said. “Hartley’s on the market again!”
Moments later, the turbolift paused at deck eleven so Gellar could take Ford to sickbay. Hartley’d hit him pretty hard.
Hartley, meanwhile, was on her way down to her quarters, and Mirk to the Constellation Cafe.
“So, crazy day, huh?” asked Mirk, as the turbolift resumed.
“You could say that.”
“I’ve been wanting to ask. What was it like talking to the Directors in your dreams?”
“Could you describe the dreams to me?”
“Not on your life.”
The turbolift stopped to let Mirk out. He stopped in front of the door sensor. “You know, Lieutenant, it’s a Maloxian belief that whatever the Directors tell you in a dream is something you already knew, and just were afraid to admit.”
“So I already knew they were going to go psycho and move back to the Delta Quadrant?”
“Well, maybe they were trying to tell you something else.”
“I really doubt that.”
Mirk shrugged. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe they were just silly dreams.”
The turbolift doors closed and the lift continued on its way toward Hartley’s quarters.
“Maybe,” Hartley smiled as the turbolift continued its descent. “Then again, maybe not.”
NEXT: While on vacation, Baxter and staff get stuck on a planet that reeks of swampland and rot, only to realize that it’s the home of a familiar, obsessive-compulsive foe. Tune in to see our crew get “Swamped!”