Author: Anthony Butler
Captain’s Personal Log,
Stardate 53711.5. After attending a reunion of the crewmembers of the USS Aquarius, Lt. Commander Richards, Counselor Peterman, and I have rendez-voused with the Escort, which just completed a series of tactical maneuvers in sector 33805. All I can say about my ex-shipmates of the Aquarius is that they haven’t changed much in the last 10 years. They’re still the same old cheerful, fun-loving bunch of pranksters a guy could ever love.
“He should be here any minute,” Counselor Peterman said, sitting down opposite Lt. Commander Richards at a table in the starship Escort’s half-crowded mess hall. “Remember, don’t make any jokes about his appearance. I think he’s still a little sensitive about it.”
From a nearby table, Lt. J’hana guffawed. “I’ll bet he’s sensitive.”
“Not funny, Lieutenant!” Peterman snapped. “You be nice, and that’s an order.”
“Yes, sir!” J’hana said, saluting sarcastically as she sipped her v’haspant coolatta.
“You’re making too big a deal out of this,” said Richards, leaning back in his chair and stretching. “Andy’s got more backbone than you give him credit for.”
Just then, the door to the mess hall slid open and Captain Baxter stepped through. He passed the handful of crew gathered in the lounge and took a seat between Peterman and Richards.
“Got you a grapefruit juice, honey,” Peterman said, edging the glass over to Baxter.
Baxter took the glass and sipped. “Yep. Good stuff.”
“We’re in a nice part of space, huh, hon?”
Richards nodded. “Lots of nebulae and gaseous anomalies, that sort of thing.”
“Captain!” Lt. Ford said cheerily, passing Baxter’s table. “Any luck getting that chest hair to grow back?”
“FORD!” Peterman cried.
Ford shrugged and headed over to the replicator.
Peterman placed two hands over Baxter’s and smiled weakly. “Andy, it’s okay. I don’t mind that your former crewmates from the Aquarius replaced the water in your hotel shower with hydric acid and it burnt your chest hair off.”
Baxter rapped his fingers on the mess hall table as he sipped his juice. “Don’t try to smoothe it over, Kelly.” That earned some laughs from Ford and J’hana, but Baxter ignored them. “I’m fine with it. I can take a joke.”
“What did the Emergency Medical Hologram say about it, Andy?” asked Richards.
Baxter grimaced. “He was…acerbic, as you might imagine.”
“I’ll try to tone him down,” said Richards.
“I don’t care. The EMH restored most of my skin. He said the hair will grow back in a few days.”
“A few days…” Peterman said, her voice trailing off. “A few days with no love trail.”
“Means a few days with no love!” Ford cried, carrying his tray of soup over to an adjacent table.
Peterman shot a leg out and tripped Ford, whose face smashed into his bowl of targ’s hoof soup as he slammed into the deck with a thud.
Baxter looked down at the table. “You think I’m unnattractive now, don’t you?”
“No, don’t start getting sensitive! That’s even more unnattractive!”
“MORE unnattractive!” Baxter exclaimed.
Peterman rolled her eyes. “Oh, jeeze.”
Just then the comm system trilled: “Lt. Hartley to all senior staff. Get up to the bridge, pronto.”
Baxter stood and headed over to the door. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m needed.”
“Andy, I’m sorry,” Peterman said, following Baxter and the other senior staff out of the mess hall. “You know I’ll make love to you whether you’re smooth-chested or not.”
“She’s right,” said Richards. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
“You know, I thought I’d earned their respect,” Baxter said, as he thudded down the Escort corridor. “I’m a Starfleet captain. I’ve travled to the Delta Quadrant and back. Saved Earth a few times. Crossed into alternate universes, gone back in time on numerous occasions, discovered new species, made peace with warring cultures. But to my crewmates from the Aquarius, I’m still just a…a–”
“Schmuck?” Richards offered.
“You’re not helping,” Peterman said sternly.
Baxter grimaced. “That wouldn’t have been my choice of words.”
“You have to remember, they don’t know the Andy that Chris and I know. The Andy they remember is that weak and timid inventory clerk of ten years ago. You’ve changed a lot.”
“Well, it would be nice if they’d acknowledged that, instead of dousing me with acid.”
“They said they were sorry,” Richards said.
“Some apology. They gave me the ‘Luckiest Idiot’ award.”
“I think it was all very tounge-in-cheek,” Peterman said. “A friendly ribbing, you know?”
“I guess,” Baxter muttered. “I just wish I could have a little bit of freaking respect.”
“You do, from me,” Peterman said with a playful grin.
“Yeah. Once I get my chest hair back,” Baxter grumbled, bulling his way through the door to the bridge.
Lt. Hartley glanced over her shoulder at Baxter as he stepped onto the Escort’s cramped bridge. “How’s the chest, Captain?”
“Just fine,” Baxter said dismissively, joining Hartley on the raised command platform. “What’s the problem?”
Hartley nodded in the direction of the forward viewscreen. “See for yourself.”
Baxter let out a low whistle. “That’s one big nebula.”
“Oort cloud,” Richards corrected. “That’s a cloud made up of all the debris left over when a system is formed. For some star systems, they’re a bit thick, but I’ve never seen one this… dense.”
Baxter folded his arms. “I knew all that.”
Hartley rolled her eyes. “Anyway, it’s so dense we can’t penetrate the system inside it with our sensors, and we have to cross through there to rendez-vous with the Explorer,” Hartley said.
“Then take us through it,” Baxter said, as Ford relieved the ensign at helm and J’hana sat down at tactical/communications.
“Not a great idea,” Hartley said. “Our sensors and shields would be almost useless.”
“It must have Mutara-class characteristics,” Richards said reasonably. Baxter sighed. He really didn’t feel like going through this now. His uniform fabric was scraping nastily against his singed skin. “Then go around it, for Pete’s sake.”
“That, as well, is a bad idea,” J’hana grunted, checking her readings. “We are dangerously close to Leeramar territory on either side.”
“The last thing we need is to go up against one of their battleships,” Richards muttered. “They’re probably still mad about Conway and Madera having sex on one of their ships.”
“Fine, fine,” Baxter said, waving his hand dismissively. “We’ll go through. Take it slow: one-quarter impulse, Mr. Ford. Better that than getting blown to hell by the Leeramar.”
“Yippee,” Ford mumbled. “Looks like I get to spend seven hours navigating us through a deadly Oort cloud.”
“And I get to stare at the back of your head the whole time,” Hartley quipped, settling into the command chair. “We’re both blessed.”
Baxter sighed. “Okay. If that’s all the hysteria for now, I’m going to my quarters slash readyroom.”
“Wait for me,” said Peterman quickly.
“Me too,” Richards said giddily.
Baxter readjusted himself for the thirtieth time on the couch bed in his readyroom/quarters. Not only was a very uncomfortable bar jammed up into his back, but the tiny little hair buds on his chest were chafing horribly against his pajama top.
And, to make matters worse, Peterman wasn’t snuggled against his chest as usual. No, she’d curled up against the arm of the couch on the opposite side. Sure, she’d claim she’d rolled that direction in her sleep, but Baxter knew the truth. She was just too disgusted to risk even accidentally brushing up against a part of that smoothe chest. It made Baxter seethe.
He folded his arms and stared up at the ceiling. Why’d his former Captain have to go and put that acid in his shower? Things like that didn’t happen to other Starfleet captains, he imagined.
Baxter had almost fallen blissfully asleep when the Red Alert klaxon sounded and a power conduit above his head burst, spraying sparks all over his quarters.
Peterman was immediately awake, scrambling under the covers. Baxter pulled her off the couchbed and toward the door, as another blast rocked against the Escort.
“What on Earth is that?” Peterman asked.
“It’s the universe trying to obliterate more of my chest hair!” Baxter muttered wryly, shedding his Starfleet jammies and dragging on his trousers, uniform tunic and vest.
“All hands, this is Lt. Hartley: Man the escape pods. I repeat: Man the escape pods. We’re going down, people!”
Baxter shoved past collapsing beams, shielding Peterman under his arm as he ran down the smoke-filled corridor. He was moving so fast he didn’t even see Richards emerge from his quarters.
“Did I just hear Hartley give the order to abandon ship?” Richards exclaimed, zipping his tunic.
“She wasn’t singing us a lullaby, Richards,” Baxter growled, charging toward the door to the bridge.
“What the hell does that mean?” Richards asked Peterman, who (still half-asleep) shrugged.
“Just go along with him.”
Baxter emerged onto a bridge in chaos. On the crackling viewscreen, a vaguely familiar ship seemed to be blasting the Escort with plasma torpedoes.
“Leeramar,” Baxter muttered angrily.
“And the captain wins this round of Galactic Jeapardy,” Hartley muttered. “Mr. Ford, tell him what he’s won.”
Ford was busily tapping at the helm, jerking the Escort into maneuvers that made Baxter queasy. “He’s won an all-expense paid trip to an uncharted planet at the heart of this system. And can we guess what freaking system this is?”
Baxter covered his face, peeking in between his fingers at the ship blasting at him. “The Leeramar system.”
“Oh, dear,” Peterman said uncomfortably. “So that’s where they’ve been keeping themselves.”
“Oh dear is right,” Hartley said. “Get to an escape pod.”
“Belay that,” Baxter said. “What do you think? We’re going to leave you here to save the ship?”
“That’s the general idea.”
J’hana suddenly emerged from a nearby hatch, draped in a furry housecoat. “If anyone is giving her life honorably around here, it’ll damned well be me.”
“Not in that ugly thing,” Peterman said.
“This isn’t funny,” Richards muttered, checking a panel. “They’ve blown out our primary and backup power conduits. Navigational thrusters and impulse engines are gone. We’ve barely any weapons and life support is failing fast. We should get the hell out of here. Now!”
“There has to be some way to fight back,” Baxter said.
J’hana studied the flickering tactical console. “Apparently, the Leeramar were hiding within their Oort cloud. They don’t seem to have the same problems with shields and weapons as we do, as they quite efficently took out all our major systems before we could clear the cloud.”
“I decided to crash us on the most hospitable of the six planets in this system, which isn’t saying much!” exclaimed Hartley, gripping the command chair with all her might.
“We’re not giving up this ship!” Baxter cried, shoving Hartley away from the command chair and stabbing a button on the adjacent console. “All hands, launch escape pods! Abandon ship! I repeat: Abandon ship!”
“And how are we getting out of here?” Peterman demanded, as the sound of escape pods breaking free of the Escort sounded from all around.
“We’re going to land safely,” Baxter said. “I am AT LEAST capable of that. Chest hair or no.”
“He did NOT just shove me!” Hartley said, irritated.
Baxter leaned forward. “Mr. Ford, I trust you know how to make an emergency landing on backup thrusters with no sensors and little power?”
“It’s not impossible,” Ford said uneasily, cracking a weak smile.
“You could always punch in some random buttons,” Richards mocked. “That was pretty helpful the last time we went up against the Leeramar.”
“I wish you’d stop bringing that up!” Ford cried. “And if you’re interested at all, we just entered the planet’s atmosphere on a very steep dive.”
“Pull us up,” Baxter said easily.
“I’m trying! We’re just going down too fast, just like Lt. Hartley!” cried Ford, wincing as Hartley wrapped her hands around his neck and began choking.
“This is no time to bring up oral sex!” she cried.
“I am attempting to change the configuration of our wing- struts,” J’hana said, tapping at her panel. “That might slow us down a bit.”
“I’ll try to give you more thrusters,” Richards said, ripping open an isolinear console. “I could use a hand, Lt. Hartley.”
“Hold on, Ford’s almost dead,” Hartley said, still choking.
“Now!” barked Richards.
“One minute to impact,” Ford said, rubbing his neck. “I’d start strapping in the seatbelts now.”
“Thank goodness,” Peterman said. “This thing at least has seatbelts.”
“I was only kidding.”
“Oh, that’s just great.”
“Silence!” Baxter called out. “I’m trying to think.”
“About WHAT?” Peterman said.
“About how to save this ship!”
“It’s a little late for that!” Peterman cried. “We’re ten seconds away from slamming into the planet’s surface.”
“Uh, make that five,” Ford said quietly, and dove under his console.
Baxter wrapped a hand around Peterman and yanked her into the chair with him. Richards and Hartley dove to the deck.
J’hana stood up, arms outstretched. “Take me, Hivemother, into your chubby arms of love!”
“‘Chubby arms of love’?” asked Hartley.
“Just a little more…a little more…” said Commander Conway, sipping coffee with one hand, steering his NASCAR with the other, as strains of Led Zeppelin thudded all around him. He’d almost edged out Jeff Gordon, the Dark Prince of NASCAR. “Get behind me you rainbow son of a bitch,” Conway growled, pounding on the gas pedal.
He swerved to pass Gordon, just as the comm system bleeped around him.
“What!” he demanded.
“It is Lt. Commander Larkin, sir. We have just been notified by Starfleet that the Leeramar have captured a Starfleet crew and declared them Prisoners of War.”
“I didn’t think we were at war yet,” Conway said, swerving left to avoid Gordon’s car. The man was trying to ram him.
“Nor did Starfleet. At any rate, the vessel that was captured was the Escort.”
Conway rolled his eyes. “Not OUR Escort?”
“The same, sir. Orders?”
Conway thought about that as Jeff Gordon smashed into him, sending his car spinning out of control. He heard Larkin’s insistent voice asking him what she should do as his car tumbled end over end across three lanes of track and finally came to a rest on the infield.
Conway grunted as he climbed out of the wreckage. Coffee was everywhere. “Larkin, you just made me lose the Daytona 500.”
“My apologies. But sir, might I suggest there are more important things to attend to.”
“Ah, hell, I guess so. Lay in a course for Leeramar territory,” Conway muttered. “Let’s see if we can get Baxter out of the hole he’s dug himself.”
At about that time, Captain Baxter awoke with a horrible sinking feeling: The Escort was sinking.
Panels fizzed and sputtered. Dull red emergency lights blanketed the bridge. He immediately dropped to his knees beside Peterman.
“Kelly!” He shook her. “Come on, don’t be dead!”
Peterman’s eyes fluttered open. “This is just like our honeymoon.”
“No kidding,” Baxter grinned, wiping the grime from Peterman’s face and pulling her to her feet. He scanned the rest of the bridge. “Status, everybody?”
“Extreme pain,” Ford muttered. His head had become uncomfortably embedded in the helm/nav console.
“Utter joy,” J’hana said. She was splayed out against the front viewscreen, like a fly smashed against a viewport.
Richards and Hartley scrambled to their feet. “I can’t believe it, Ford,” Hartley said. “You got us down here in one piece!”
“Was there ever any doubt?” asked Ford, rubbing his head.
“Yes,” said Peterman, Richards, Hartley, and Baxter.
Ford pushed out of his seat and walked over to the ops console on the starboard side of the bridge, up on the quarterdeck. The ensign manning that station was cruely twisted around the console in a way that could only mean that every bone in his body was crushed instantaneously. “Insley’s dead, sir.”
Baxter shook his head. “That’s a shame.”
Then the Escort’s hull creaked all around them. Richards scrambled down to the barely functioning tactical console. “Sir! We’re sinking in…something.”
“Any idea what?”
Hartley had ripped open the manual access to the bridge egress hatch release, and as soon as Baxter said that, she’d cranked the hatch open. Promptly, a slew of brown mud gushed into the bridge, right on top of Baxter.
“If I had to guess,” said Richards. “I’d say mud.”
“Very good,” Baxter grumbled. “J’hana and Richards, you’re on supplies detail. Break out everything we can salvage and quick. Hartley, Ford–try to fire up the lateral thrusters so we can slow the sinking.
Meanwhile, Peterman had climbed on top of the command chair and stuck her head out of the hatch. “Andy, you’re not going to like this planet at all.”
“I’m not surprised,” Baxter mumbled, as Richards and J’hana emerged from the supply closet with phaser rifles, ration packs, medkits, and tricorders.
“This is it,” J’hana said. “I recommend a speedy retreat.”
“I gave the lateral thrusters one more burst,” Hartley said. “It’ll keep us above-mud for a few more seconds at most.”
“Then let’s go,” Baxter said, boosting Peterman out of the hatch.
“So nice of you,” Ford said, as Baxter shoved him out of the hatch, followed by Richards, Hartley, and J’hana.
Baxter grunted as J’hana stuck a hand down through the hatch and dragged him up. “You are heavy, sir. Not surprising.”
“Thanks,” Baxter said dismissively, scanning the horizon of this new planet. It was orange-ish. Dank. The world around the giant mud pit the Escort had fallen in was swampy, riddled with rotting, crumbling trees that emerged from the wetlands at odd angles, in peculiar shapes. The ground, what little there was, was an uninteresting brown. And Baxter was sure he heard the caws and screeches of very angry wildlife.
“Nice planet,” J’hana grunted.
“Any idea how we get across?” Richards asked, looking out over the expanse of mud. There were at least ten meters to cross on either side before reaching what was laughingly called land.
“Sure,” J’hana said, untying her frilly robe. “Clamp your nose shut and dive in.”
“I am not swimming in that!” Peterman exclaimed.
“It is that or you die,” J’hana said plainly, shedding her housecoat and diving in, phaser rifle in tow. The crew was disturbed to note that J’hana’s pajamas consisted of a very spare, tight hot pink leather thingamagig and little else.
“All right, let’s go,” Baxter said, shaking the image of J’hana’s taut Andorian body from his mind and hoisting Peterman on his back.
Conway had showered, changed, and reached the bridge just in time for the Explorer to reach Leeramar territory. It hadn’t taken long. Lately, it seemed they owned half the Galactic Rim.
“Any Leeramar ships around?” he asked, stepping down to the command arena and relieving Larkin from the command chair.
“Very much so,” Larkin said, taking ops. “The only question is which one to hail.”
“Pick one at random,” Conway said easily, as an Ensign handed him a barrel-sized mug of coffee. “I just want to get this overwith.”
“Your emotional response is touching,” said Larkin.
“Aw, you’re just worried about your daddy.”
“Worry is not the correct word. I am…concerned.” Larkin didn’t look back from her console. “As am I for the rest of our crewmates.”
“Leeramar vessel in hailing range,” said Brian Gellar from tactical.
“And I guess you’re all worried about your girlfiend,” Conway grinned back at Gellar.
“She isn’t my girlfriend in this timeline, remember?” Gellar said easily.
Conway bristled. “Oh, yeah. How could I have forgotten. Just hail the f***ing Leeramar.”
“Freq’s open,” Gellar muttered.
Conway straightened in his chair. “Leeramar vessel. This is Commander David Conway of the Federation Starship Explorer. I have been authorized by my government to negotiate for the return of your captives.”
“No response, sir,” said Gellar.
“Uh-huh. Give me another crack at it.”
“Leeramar vessel: If you do not work with me to free the Federation captives, I will blow your ship from here to Regalius Prime.”
“Nothing,” Gellar said. “Sir, I–”
“Your threats are empty. We’re more powerful,” said a voice suddenly over the audio channel.
“Trust me,” Conway said. “I put a scare into your people something awful the last time I met them.”
“Oh, no. You’re the one Shipmaster Klareen captured, aren’t you?”
Conway grinned. “Glad to see I’ve developed a reputation.”
There was a long silence. “It would figure they’d send you.” A sigh. “My government will release your hostages. But there are terms.”
Conway nodded. “I’m sure there are. Go ahead.”
“We want you to concede the following fifty-one starsystems to us, no questions asked. Then we want you to promise to never violate our territory again.”
“How can we stop from violating your territory when you’re constantly expanding it in so many different directions?”
“Just stop. We do not care how.”
“Why do you hate us so much?”
“Because we know you. Know how dirty you are.”
“Oh, not this again. Don’t you guys think you’re taking this ‘cleanliness is godliness’ thing a bit too far?”
“You could be bathed in isotomic radiation and still be unclean. Humans are disgusting creatures, and you are no exception.”
Conway grimaced. “This is all because our captain sneezed on your Autarch last year, isn’t it?” He’d prefer it be that than the sex with Ensign Madera.
“It is a symptom, but not the disease. Your fluidic assault on our vessel did not help matters either. At any rate, concede those systems or your friends will die and there will be war.”
“Oh, just f*** off!” Conway snapped, thumbing the channel closed.
Larkin turned in her chair. “That did not go swimmingly, sir.”
The away team rolled onto the patch of land across the mud from the Escort just in time to see their ship pitch backward and slide slowly below the mud with a loud burble.
“She was a good ship,” Hartley muttered, dragging herself to her feet.
“Yeah, wish she was insured,” Baxter said. “Well, where do we go from here?”
J’hana was looking at her tricorder. “There is a very large structure encompassed by a multiphasic shield system six point eight kilometers from here.”
“Good enough for me,” Baxter said, slinging a phaser rifle over his back and helping Peterman to her feet. “Let’s go, then.”
“But, Admiral, surely you don’t expect me to kiss up to them!” exclaimed Conway.
Admiral Frank McGrath’s image crackled over the high-powered subspace channel on the terminal in Baxter’s readyroom. The Explorer was barely close enough to be within comm range. “At least for the moment,” he said. “ou’re ordered to follow them to their home system to negotiate the hostage exchange. If you can work out a reasonable agreement, fine. If not, then just stall them until the task force arrives.”
“Task force?” Conway said in disbelief. “You mean we’re going to fight them?”
“Starfleet is through kow-towing to these people, Commander. Any race that would assault us just because we…sweat…is not to be messed with.”
“But what about the POW’s from our ship?”
“They’ll have to fend for themselves, I’m afraid.”
“Do you have any idea what the Leeramar will do to them?”
McGrath nodded gravely. “Unfortunately. I read your report. We must simply hope your people keep as clean as they can, for all our sakes.”
Baxter wiped the mud from his face for the hundredth time. Him and his crew had somehow stumbled into the middle of a storm. But it wasn’t nice, crisp, wet rain. It was thick mud that fell all around them, coating them, hardening in the immense heat of the planet, which had forced the group to strip down to their undershirts and tie strips of uniform material around their heads as makeshift sweatbands.
“My hair will never be the same,” Peterman cried, mascara streaming down her face.
“I don’t want to hear it,” Baxter muttered, trudging ahead in the mud.
“This planet really sucks,” said Richards. “The yuckiest day on Kronos is better than this.”
“Pardon me!” Baxter cried out. “I didn’t MEAN to crash us here!
“To think we could be in a nice, warm escape pod right now,” said Peterman. “But no, we had to be big and brave and crash the Escort on this god-forsaken rock! Great going, Captain Kirk!”
“Shut up!” Baxter shouted in Peterman’s face.
Peterman folded her arms. “I’ll pretend you didn’t say that, Andy.”
“At least you guys aren’t stuck lugging the supplies,” Lt. Ford piped up from the rear of the group.
“All of you, stop complaining,” Baxter said. “Things could be a lot worse. We could be dead.”
Suddenly, ahead of Baxter, J’hana stopped, held up a warning hand. “Wait.”
J’hana’s antennae twitched. She’d holstered her tricorder long ago. She was working totally on antenna power now. “An aircraft is approaching. Approximately the size of a runabout. Neutron-cadmium engines. One of the cyclotrons is slightly off- sync with the others.”
“Brilliant, J’hana,” Hartley muttered, unslinging her phaser rifle and getting it ready. “You can diagnose their engine problems, but can you tell us anything useful?”
J’hana nodded, shoved Hartley to the ground. “DUCK!”
A large, triangular craft suddenly buzzed overhead, and rained down plasma-rifle fire.
Baxter tackled Peterman to the ground just as the trees overhead caught fire.
“Don’t worry,” Hartley said. “The raining mud will put out the fires, I’m sure.”
Richards watched the aircraft disappear in the distance. “What are they doing? Trying to exterminate us?”
“Who knows,” said Ford. “But I bet they’ll be back to finish the job.”
“Something is sliding up my leg!” Peterman said. “Andy, this is no time to try to make up to me!”
Baxter grimaced. “I’m not doing that.”
Lt. J’hana approached Peterman, knealt beside her. “Counselor, I would hold very still if I were you.”
Peterman glanced over her shoulder at her leg. A long, yellow-mottled, tubelike creature had wrapped around it. And something like a tongue extended from one end of the creature.
“Get that thing off me!”
“Curious,” J’hana said, kneeling by the creature. “It seems to be searching for an orifice in which to plant its eggs.”
“Don’t let it!” Baxter snapped.
“Oh, come on,” J’hana said, grinning at Peterman. “Look at it, Counselor. Do you not think it is…cute?”
“ABSOLUTELY NOT!” Peterman screamed, and the creature squeezed her leg tighter.
“Well, it certainly seems to like you,” remarked Ford with a grin.
“We don’t have time for this,” Baxter said. “That ship will probably be back soon. J’hana, detach that creature from Kelly.”
“Hmmm,” J’hana said. “I think I may have to cut off her leg.”
“Nooooo!” cried Peterman. “Andy! Don’t let her butcher me!”
“Leave the leg, J’hana,” Baxter said. “Just cut off the creature.”
“Fine,” J’hana said, pulling out her phaser rifle. “Don’t move, Counselor.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
J’hana zapped and the creature squealed in pain, finally releasing its grip on Peterman and squirming underneath a nearby tree.
“All right,” Baxter said, climbing to his feet and helping Peterman up. “Let’s keep moving. I don’t want to be here when that ship makes another pass.”
“All right,” Commander Conway sighed, stepping out of the readyroom and surveying the bridge. On the main screen, the Leeramar home system’s Oort cloud and the squadron of battleships assigned to escort the Explorer floated, looking far too innocent. “I just spoke to the commander of the anti-Leeramar task force.”
“And?” asked Tilleran from sciences.
Conway leaned heavily on the railing that circled the command chairs. It was shaping up to be a long day. “And she’s a little upset that the Leeramar have her son hostage.”
“You don’t mean–”
“The leader of the task force is the other Captain Baxter.”
Lt. Commander Larkin turned in her chair. “I would take that as a positive sign, sir. After all, will she not she do her best to secure the safety of her son and the others?”
Conway shrugged. “I don’t know. I tried to avoid the woman as much as possible when she was aboard. For all I know, she’d let them kill Baxter just to make a point that she means business.”
“She wouldn’t do that,” replied Tilleran. “Now she might have Peterman killed. I know for a fact she doesn’t like Peterman.”
“You’re not helping, Tilleran.”
“When does the task force arrive?” asked Larkin.
“They’ll be here in about three hours.”
“How many ships?” This from Tilleran.
“Versus the thirty Leeramar vessels just in this system. Is Starfleet mad?”
“More than likely. Our only chance to NOT go to war seems to rely on me negotiating for the hostages.”
Tilleran burst out laughing. “HAH! You? Negotiate?”
Conway put his hands on his hips. “I’ll have you know, I’ve been reading up. I’m all the way up to Captain Spock and the Khitomer Accords. I think I can handle myself.”
“I doubt it.”
“Well, if it’s any consolation, you’ll be there to help me.”
“Me?” Tilleran gulped.
“Let’s see you put that Betazoid mind to work on the Leeramar.”
Tilleran folded her arms. “And what if we don’t succeed?”
“Then we’ll have to rely on Lt. Commander Larkin and her strike team to get the job done.”
Larkin swung around in her chair again. “Pardon me?”
“Ensign Kamtezen is re-fitting a Cochrane-class shuttle with sensor-reflective shielding. You’ll take Lt. Gellar and a heavily-armed security team down to Leeramar Prime and find our prisoners, assuming they’re still alive.”
Tilleran frowned. “You realize that’ll leave the Explorer in a hostile system without acommand crew.”
“No, there’s one senior officer left.”
“Boy, this plan just gets better and better.”
Peterman wiped droplets of mud and sweat from her forehead and stared up at the groggy sky. “It’s pretty damn hot around here considering there’s no sun whatsoever.”
Hartley grunted, trudging along the muddy bank the group had continued down for the past hour. “Most of the sun is filtered through the Oort cloud.”
“Thanks for the astronomy lesson,” Baxter snapped. “How does that help us?”
“It doesn’t,” said J’hana simply.
Peterman stomped her feet angrily in the mud. “God I hate this planet!”
Baxter glanced back at her. “You know, ideally, it would seem to be your job as Ship’s Counselor to keep our morale up during this ordeal, wouldn’t it?”
Peterman grimaced. “Ideally, it would seem to be your job as freaking Captain to get us off this blasted rock!”
“You don’t think I’m trying?”
“Not hard enough!”
“Like I’ve heard you pipe up with any creative suggestions!”
“I have a degree in psychology. That’s hardly applicable here!”
“Both of you shut up!” J’hana bristled. “I hear another aircraft approaching.”
Baxter muttered something angrily to himself and unslung his phaser rifle. “Lovely. Ready with weapons everyone. Highest setting.”
Ford checked his rifle setting. “Ready to blow them out of the sky.”
With a hideous wizz, the blue-green, arc-shaped craft zoomed overhead, and the group began blasting it.
“We aren’t putting a dent in their shields,” said Hartley.
J’hana’s antennae twitched again. “We have bigger problems. I’m sensing a transporter lock.”
Peterman cocked her head. “You can sense that kind of thing?”
Then the group dematerialized with a soft hum.
Tilleran and Conway beamed into a plastic-enclosed room, and immediately realized there was no air whatsoever to breathe.
Conway slapped his comm badge, rasping for air.
Then he heard the rumbling of air compressors starting up.
“That’s it,” said a voice. “Pipe it in.”
As the air became more breathable, Conway observed the room he and Tilleran had beamed into. It was obviously some sort of transparent quarantine room.
“You know,” Conway said. “It’s not like we have cooties!”
“What are cooties?” asked one of the slim Leeramar sitting at the table opposite the clean-room.
“Earthling disease,” Tilleran said with a grin.
“Shut up,” Conway said with clenched teeth. “Are you feeling anything?”
The Betazoid nodded. “Hostility and disgust,” she whispered.
“Lovely.” Conway turned to the panel of Leeramar before him. They seemed so odd, with their narrow skulls and transparent orange-ish skin. And they looked so well-dressed in khakis and matching cable-knit sweaters. “So, guys, what’s happening?”
“What’s happening,” the middle Leeramar said over the clean- room’s comm system, “is that your people must allow us to spread farther into this quadrant. We must cleanse and beautify.”
“Space is beautiful enough,” scoffed Conway.
“Not as we see it. And not as the Great Mar sees it, either.”
“Could we go over who this ‘Great Mar’ is?” Conway asked.
The Leeramar glanced over his shoulder at a mirrored section of wall. He turned back to Conway. “Not at this time. What we will discuss is the your donation of the following systems to our Consortium…”
“It’s not very nice to hold our people hostage for some measly star systems,” Lt. Tilleran spoke up.
The Leeramar smiled. “We believe it is a good thing.”
The first thing Baxter heard when he awoke was J’hana’s angry growling.
“You will unstrap me this instant, or I will wreak unimaginable havoc on you and your families, and your descendants from now until the end of time!”
Despite his overriding instinct, Baxter commanded his eyes open. He immediately wished he hadn’t. Although he had the sensation of lying down, he most certainly wasn’t, at least if the group of Leeramar observing him through the viewport directly across from him was any indication. It was the first time Baxter had seen a Leeramar since he had sneezed on their autarch on that fateful day the previous year, and they were still as odd-looking as ever.
“Stand down, J’hana,” Baxter muttered weakly, then realized he was naked. “What the f***!”
“Man, Counselor,” Ford said sleepily from the other side of the hollow, cylindrical room. “My imagination just didn’t do you justice.”
Peterman wriggled to cover herself, but soon realized she was held at bay by some sort of restraining field. “Ford, close your eyes right now! Close them!” she cried.
From the holding bay beside Peterman, Hartley shook her head. “No no, you’re going at this all wrong, Kelly. Patrick, close your eyes right now or as soon as I get free I’ll beam your balls into outer space, without you attached!”
Obediently, Ford’s eyes snapped shut. “No problem. I already soaked in all I’ll need for a lifetime.”
“This is an outrage!” J’hana continued to growl. She bared her teeth at the Leeramar observers. “Face us in here like warriors!”
“They’re quite dirty, aren’t they?” said one of the Leeramar over some sort of comm system that allowed
“They must be cleansed,” said one of the Leeramar.
“Cleansed?” Richards asked, gulping.
Baxter didn’t like the sound of that at all. As it was, he detected a nice splotch of mud covering his unmentionable areas. A good washing would certainly take care of that. “Look here, I’m a Starfleet captain, and these people are part of my crew! We have certain rights as defined by Interstellar law! You can’t just–”
“Cleanse them,” said a third Leeramar. “Maximum setting.”
“I know I’m not going to like this,” Peterman said fearfully.
“It’s going to be all right, hon,” Baxter said soothingly, as the cylindrical room began to spin dizzily.
“I am still not talking to you!” Suds flowed in. Jets activated from all sides, blasting painfully at the cylinder’s occupants.
“You know, as man and wife, we should be relying on each other for strength at a time like this!”
“Stop talking like a counselor! I know that mumbo-jumbo! I invented some of it!”
“This is no time for a marital squabble!” Hartley cried. “Someone has to figure out a way out of this!”
“Whhhhheeeeeeeeeeeeee!” cried Ford. “I haven’t had this much fun since Breen Gardens!”
“Soap is getting in my eyes!” shouted J’hana. “This is intolerable!”
Then, as soon as it had begun, the torture ended.
“Release them,” said one of the Leeramar.
“Final–” Baxter got off two syllables, then stopped short when he dropped five meters to the painfully hard floor of the cylinder.
“Prep the medical room. We must make adjustments to them before they are allowed to proceed.”
Peterman gulped. “Ad-adjustments?”
“…the Foliad system, the Vugadi system, the Liol system, the entire Goraga cluster…”
Conway glanced nervously at the chronometer on his wrist. The little hand was right over Dale Earnhardt’s moustache.
He gulped. That meant that Larkin’s team would be moving in soon. It also meant that there was less than half an hour before Captain Lucille Baxter’s anti-Leeramar task force entered the Leeramar system, in which case the first reflex of his kind hosts would probably be to destroy the Explorer and kill him and all the others.
So he was noticably uncomfortable.
“Is there a problem, Commander?” asked the Leeramar at the center of the panel.
“It’s a little muggy in here,” Conway said, pulling at his collar. Is there a chance that we can get out?”
“You must be kidding me,” replied one of the Leeramar harshly.
“You all are grotesque,” said another Leeramar. “To even think you were made in the image of the Great Mar.”
“Shut up!” said the other Leeramar. “Who said you could tell them that?”
The vacuum suits fit snugly, as did the suction cups placed over Baxter’s lower orifices that magically took care of any waste matter that should seep out, vaporizing it on contact. He tried to push away the thought that something capable of vaporizing was so dangerously close to Mr. Petey as he was marched down the corridor of the sprawling Leeramar palace.
“Man, these bra cups hurt,” said Hartley, adjusting herself as the group stepped in unison down the hall.
“We have bigger problems than that,” Richards said, then immediately wished he’d phrased that differently as Hartley socked him upside the head. “Listen, don’t you think my crotch guard is chafing, too?”
“Everyone, quiet,” Baxter said. “We want to show these people that we’re their friends. That we’re willing to work things out.” He raised his voice to get the attention of the Leeramar guards. “Isn’t that right, guys?”
The Leeramar guards just giggled to themselves suggestively.
“The Federation is never going to let me turn over all those star systems!” Conway exclaimed, once all the systems the Leeramar wanted were named. “We had something like this come up during the war with the Dominion, and we didn’t agree to the treaty–and that only involved ONE system.”
“Your people are persistant as well as disgusting,” cracked one of the Leeramar over the speaker.
“Commander,” Tilleran whispered behind Conway as the Leeramar councilmen mumbled amongst themselves.
“What?” Conway said back.
“I’m getting very weird images. Images that don’t belong here at all.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you know how this whole place is so fancifully decorated?”
“With the venetian blinds and oriental rugs and victorian furniture?” Conway asked. “Yeah, sure. I just thought they were one of those races that had a planet that looked just like 20th century Earth. That happened all the time back in James Kirk’s day.”
“This is more than just a coincidence, sir. There’s a conciousness at the heart of all this. A very calculating one.” She paused for effect. “A very human one.”
“Bah! You’re kidding.”
“Enough conspiring. Make your decision, or we’ll kill you,” said one of the Leeramar.
Conway smiled weakly at the Leeramar councilman and glanced back at his science officer. “What do we do, Tilleran?”
“Give them the stupid starsystems! I’m not going out like that!”
“You get no points for courage, Lieutenant.”
“I present for you Federation Captain Andy Baxter, of the Starship Explorer, and his crew, Great Mar,” said the Leeramar humbly, kneeling before the empty throne at the center of the throneroom.
“You’ve made them very mad at you, Andy,” said a voice that seemed to come from all around.
Baxter looked around. “To whom am I speaking?”
“The Great Mar,” said a guard, forcing Baxter and the others to their knees.
“Nice to meet you,” Baxter said weakly. “Listen, about the sneezing on your autarch–”
“That was unfortunate. I’d hoped after three hundred years you’d have changed a bit.”
“The human race, stupid.”
“Right. What do you mean?”
A chilling laugh. “I’m not of this world.”
“Where are you from, then?” asked Richards.
“Hoboken, originally, but I never told you that, got it?”
Baxter looked up at the ceiling at the sound of whizzing gears. By means of some sort of crane contraption, a female human figure was being lowered toward him.
Dressed head-to-toe in a festive wheat-colored pantsuit, the human woman put Baxter in mind of a warm, kind, though possibly drunken, mommy.
She was lowered into a large suit similar to Baxter’s, but one that looked as though it had many more features.
The suit clamped around her and a helmet snapped in place over her head. “I am the Great Mar. But you may call me Martha.”
“I remember you!” Peterman cried. “Richard told me about you!”
“Richard?” Martha blinked. “Richard who?”
“Richard Simmons! You’re Martha Stewart, aren’t you?”
“The decorator?” Baxter asked, surprised.
“I’m much more than a decorator!” barked the suited Martha. “I come up with festive ideas for using items found around your homeworld and turning them into great moneysaving decorating, fashion, and food concepts!” She marched across the palace floor, her boots making a clomping sound as she walked. “In this manner I have overcome countless worlds, turning them from boring rocks with unimaginative populations in uniform clothing to hip, attractive galactic citizens with a snappy look and a taste for gaberdeen!”
“You bitch!” Hartley cried. “Gaberdeen nearly killed my mother!”
Richards held her back.
“Stand down, Lieutenant!” Baxter barked.
Martha turned on Hartley. “Don’t like gaberdeen, do you? How about Seersucker?”
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Hartley squeezed her eyes shut.
“Like the sound of that? SeeeeeeeeeeerSUCKER!”
“MAKE IT STOP!”
Peterman pulled Hartley into her arms and rocked the crying transporter chief soothingly. “We’ll have to discuss this fabric problem at a more convenient time.”
“These people liked me so much,” Martha continued, “that they changed their name from the Leera to the LeeraMAR. Me being ‘Mar.’ Isn’t that just adorable?”
“So what’s your beef with Earth?” J’hana spoke up.
Martha glanced over her shoulder. “What’s to like about it? They shipped me off like a can of frozen daquiri mix with a bunch of other unneeded celebrities!”
“You mean Richard Simmons, someone named Gallagher, and John F. Kennedy?” Baxter asked.
“JFK wasn’t aboard our ship. That was just a silly rumor,” Martha laughed. “No, that space tomb was reserved for only the biggest losers of the entertainment industry. Gallagher, Richard, me. And someone we called ‘Puff Daddy.’”
“What do we need to do to make you understand that the Federation means you no harm?” asked Baxter.
Martha shrugged. “Die.”
“You’d kill us just because humans sent you away three hundred years ago?” asked Ford, surprised.
Martha sighed. “There’s more to it than that. The Leeramar want you all dead because you, well, sweat.”
“So do you!” J’hana insisted.
Martha laughed. “I had my sweat glands removed years ago. Along with every other offending organ and biological process. It was part of the deal when I agreed to consult the Leeramar.”
“Then why the suit?” asked Richards.
Martha shrugged. “For fashion.”
“The Federation is prepared to go to war with the Leeramar,” Baxter said softly. “But I think we can arrange a compromise of some kind. Peace has to be better than war.”
“Why do you say that?” Martha laughed hideously. “We’d win. And that’s a good thing.”
“This is getting us nowhere,” Hartley said, glaring at Martha. “She’s obviously turned her back on her own people.
“Honey, they turned their backs on me long ago,” said Martha.
“But now it’s time to come back,” Peterman said warmly, stepping over to Martha and putting a hand on her shoulder. “Come back into the loving bosom of your family on Earth.”
“I don’t know,” said Martha. “It’d be hard to convince the Leeramar to not kill you all. Humans are notoriously sloppy and my friends here have a serious obsessive-compulsive thing about neatness.”
Baxter grinned. “What do you know? We just happen to have a wonderful counselor on hand to help you with that problem.”
“No, no, no!” Martha snapped. “That’s not good enough. There’s retribution to be made. Earth will suffer for sending me off into space. We’ve got enough ships to knock the Federation into next week, or at least take a good crack at it!”
Peterman turned Martha around, wrapping her suited arms around the suited woman in a stiff hug. It was a tactic Baxter had told her the counselor on the Secondprize used all the time, and with a few alterations (that being a lot less force) Peterman had found the tactic very useful. “Come on, Martha, give it up. There’s a better way.”
“Well, I don’t know–”
Then, suddenly, the doors to the throneroom blasted open, and the guards, who’d been silent up to now, jumped to their feet.
Lt. Commander Larkin, Commander Conway, Lt. Tilleran, Lt. Gellar, and a contingent of security guards burst in, wielding phasers. Some of them had Leeramar hostages–members of the planet’s ruling council.
“You can relax, Captain,” Conway said cheerfully. “The cavalry’s here!”
“You idiot!” Baxter railed. “We’d almost convinced them not to go to war with us!”
“He’s getting sweat on me!” one councilman cried, tears streaming down his cheeks. “My life is over!”
“Let him go!” Martha cried. “Mar to security: We have two exposed humans in the throneroom. Seal off this area and activate the decontamination field.”
“What’s the decontamination field?” Baxter asked, gulping.
“Something that will vaporize all the exposed human flesh in this room,” she said, pointing at the away team. “Do you know how much dirt, how many germs are being spread this instant by those people? It’ll be months before this facility is habitable again. And these people,” she waved a hand at the Leeramar councilmembers and guards, “will have to undergo weeks of painful skin-stripping to get the microbes off them.”
“Do you realize how insane that is!” Richards cried. “You’re killing them just for being human!”
Martha raised an eyebrow. “Ironic, ain’t it?”
“My people were wrong for attacking your planet,” Baxter said, glaring at Larkin and Conway. “But their hearts were in the right place. They risked their lives to save me and my crew.”
“Decontamination field will commence in two minutes,” droned a nasal computer voice.
Martha folded her arms. “I still believe the human race is basically mean-spirited. They turned their backs on me, Gallagher, and the others. They’ll turn their backs on you, as well. Trust me.”
“That’s not true!” Peterman replied. “We all respect each other, as members of Starfleet and an enlightened Federation of Planets.”
Baxter cleared his throat. He was immediately put in mind of the heinous acts done to him by his former crewmates from the Aquarius. “Ahem. I wouldn’t go that far, Counselor.”
“Shut up and lie!” Peterman said between gritted teeth. “Or we die!”
Baxter instantly grinned at Martha. “Yep, right. Everybody loves everyone else.”
“I don’t believe you,” Martha said. She approached Conway. “Look at this one. He’s got so much hate in those beady little eyes. And look at how he’s holding his phaser rifle–he’s shaking with anger.”
“That’s the caffeine,” J’hana said helpfully.
“He still looks like a mean-spirited little jerk,” Martha said. “Just like all other humans.”
“Decontamination field will commence in one minute.”
“He’s not!” Baxter replied. “He’s a–” he swallowed hard. “Good…man.”
“Is that so?” Martha folded her arms. “Prove you like him so much, Captain. Give him one of those–” she glared at Peterman. “Hugs.”
Baxter smiled weakly. “Hug? Conway?”
“Go ahead!” Peterman shoved him.
“It’s a hug, or the decontamination sweep,” Martha ordered.
Baxter stepped forward. Hug Conway, or him and the rest of the team, save Larkin, would be vaporized. He had to think about that one a bit.
Suddenly the field sprang to life at one end of the room and began sweeping toward them.
“Do it!” Conway grunted. “Quick! Just hug me, damn it!”
“That I never thought I’d hear.”
The field neared.
“Hug him, damn you!” Peterman shouted.
Baxter squeezed his eyes shut, reached out his arms, and wrapped them stiffly around Conway.
“Captain’s a nancy-boy!” Ford shouted merrily.
Baxter whirled. “Shut up!”
“Now, be nice!” Martha warned, then drew a finger across her throat. “Or…crrrrrrk!”
Baxter grimaced and hugged Ford.
“There,” Peterman said warmly. “That’s so nice. How about we all get in on it?”
“Pardon?” asked Martha, as she and the other Leeramar and members of the away team were pulled into a massive group hug.
“This is hideous!” shouted one Leeramar.
“I can feel the germs crawling across my body! Get me to an acid bath! Hurriedly!”
The group separated. “There,” Peterman said, as Leeramar ran from the room. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
Martha sighed. “You go to great lengths to make your point, Counselor. Security: Terminate the decontamination field and reopen this area.”
“You’re the key, Martha,” Baxter said. “Don’t you see? These people are so neurotic about cleanliness they’d kill us for being a little sweaty–”
“Can you blame them?” Martha said. “They grew up on this hideous dirtball. And they have no sense of style.”
“But you’ve lived with them for years!” Peterman said. “You’re the perfect person to convince them that there’s something redeemable in the human race.”
“You just have to want to do it,” Baxter said.
“I don’t know. I’d need help,” Martha said thoughtfully.
Stardate 53725.4. We’ve spent two weeks in the Leeramar home system, while the Federation Special Envoy hammered out a peace treaty and the Leeramar themselves underwent extensive therapy for their neurotic tendencies. Who knows if they’ll ever be completely at peace with the thought of dirt?
Lt. Commander Richards and Lt. Hartley have meanwhile successfully resurrected the Escort from the mud and repaired it, and now that a contingent of more experienced counselors have arrived to take over Peterman’s psychiactric duties, we’re getting ready to get underway.
Oh, and I’d like to note that Dr. Browning performed admirably on the bridge during the absence of the command crew, except for that incident with the Tarvokian poundcake and the quantum torpedo. Anyway, everyone makes mistakes, and I’m told the ensign on duty in the torpedo control room will be up and about in a few short weeks.
I’d also like to note for the record that my mother was not happy at not getting to go into battle with her first-ever task force. Better luck next time, Mom.
“I can’t believe you were able to avert a war,” Admiral McGrath said in disbelief on the viewscreen. “I thought for sure we’d have to haul out the big guns again.”
“Nope,” Baxter said, wrapping an arm around Peterman at the center of the bridge. “Thanks to the wife here, we were not only able to convince the Leeramar not to obliterate us, but teach them conflict resolution and obsession management at the same time.”
“I can’t take all the credit,” Peterman shrugged. “It’s the Federation Special Envoy that deserves the real credit.”
“No doubt,” McGrath said. “At any rate, this should go a long way toward helping you guys.”
Baxter blinked. “Helping us what?”
McGrath giggled nervously. “Nothing. No, nothing. Nevermind. Anyway, I know you guys need to get back to your work. Exploring the final frontier. Boldly going. That stuff. Ahem. You know.” McGrath looked down a moment and rubbed his eyes. “Anyway, I have to go. Starfleet out.”
“That…stuff?” Baxter asked, rubbing his beard.
“He certainly seemed disturbed,” said Peterman.
“Sir,” J’hana reported from tactical. “Your mommy is on the line.”
“I thought I told you to stop calling her that,” Baxter snapped, backing into the captain’s chair. “Put her on.”
Captain Lucy Baxter appeared on the viewscreen. “Well, there you are, son. We’ve finished our studies of the Oort cloud for Starfleet Sciences, so we’re getting out of here.”
“Still bent out of shape about not going to war?” Baxter chuckled.
“I’m just glad my little booby-butt is okay!” Lucy giggled.
“Her little booby-butt!” Ford collapsed in laughter at the helm.
“MOM!” Baxter shouted. “What did I tell you?”
“Sorry. I couldn’t resist. We hardly see each other any more. You know, it wouldn’t hurt to call–”
“J’hana,” Baxter said under his breath. “Some discreet technical difficulties, please.”
“Yes, sir,” J’hana said eagerly, shutting off the comm channel.
Baxter looked back at her. “Very subtle, Lieutenant.”
“I’m never going to hear the end of that,” Baxter sighed. “Mr. Ford, take us to the Hunnym system, Warp Six.”
Peterman giggled as she returned to her seat. “She’s just bent out of shape for having to go pick the special Envoy up in the Pakled system.”
“Not at all,” Baxter said. “Apparently, she found the Envoy charming.”
“Who wouldn’t,” Peterman said wistfully. “I only wish I could have seen him more while I was down on Leeramar Prime.”
Baxter grunted disapproval. “I’ll bet. Engage, Mr. Ford. Let’s get out of here before we wear out our welcome.”
The Federation Special Envoy reached out his hands and cupped them over the hands of Autarch Djurad.
“Listen to me, Djurad: You can touch me, see how easy it is?”
Djurad nodded nervously. “I…suppose so.”
The Envoy turned toward the imager that was broadcasting this historic Leeramar moment all over the many worlds of the Consortium. “It’s that easy, people. I’m a human, and he’s a Leeramar, and we’re respecting boundaries and yet sharing in each other’s personal space. I’m not so disgusting, am I?”
Djurad blinked back tears. “I…I suppose not.”
Martha nodded with approval from off-camera. “Excellent. The Envoy’s doing a fantastic job.”
“It’s time to go out there,” said the stage manager from behind her.
A horde of Leeramar waited behind the camera to charge up on stage.
“Okay, Djurad,” said the Envoy, “we’re past the first step. Now, to go even farther–we’re going to sweat together.”
“S-sweat?” Djurad said worriedly.
“Yep,” the Envoy grinned. “Cue the music!”
Music boomed throughout the studio and Leeramar ran up on the stage and began dancin athletically. Martha ran to join them, stripping off her vacuum cleansuit.
“Go! Hey! Awwwwww….jammin’ your heart out! Two, three, four, five …oh! That’s right! Work it, work it! Uh-huh!”
And the music played on as the Leeramar danced for the cameras, strutting like peacocks and shaking their narrow rumps to the throbbing music:
“…cause I’ll be standing by his side. They say…
He’s a rebel and he’s never gonna be any good,
he’s a rebel cause he never ever does what he should!
Just because he doesn’t do what everybody else does,
that’s the reason why I can give him all my love.
He’s so good to me, always treats me tenderly
He’s a rebel and I love him so, he’s a rebel and he’s
oh so close to me-eee-ee!
When he holds my hand I’m so proud,
cause he’s not just one of the crowd.
He’s a rebel and he’s never gonna be any good,
he’s a rebel cause he never ever does what he should.
He’s so good to me, always treats me tenderly
He’s a rebel and I love him so, He’s a rebel and
he’s oh so close to me-eee-ee!”
“Thank you so much, Richard!” exclaimed Martha as she strutted her stuff.
“Don’t mention it, girlfriend!” shrieked Richard Simmons. “It’s so good to get back together with one of the gals and kibbitz a bit!”
“You’ve saved the Leeramar, Dick!”
“No, honey, they saved themselves!” Simmons shouted, waving his hands in the air.
“Yes, and it’s a good thing.”
Across the Leeramar Consortium, riots broke out, people died, buildings were destroyed, and mass hysteria ensued. But some people did dance.
A few, anyway.
NEXT: When a new drive system tears a hole in reality, the Explorer is sent to investigate. Unfortunately, she doesn’t return. It’s a smorgasbord of alternate universes, all waiting to annoy (and kill) the Explorer crew. There’s more alternate universes in one story than ever before attempted, more cussing by new characters and quite a bit of cold blooded murder…on Star Traks: The Vexed Generation, “The Torn Rubber Sheet,” guest-written by Daniel McNickle and Carlos Hernandez!