Author: Alan Decker
Lieutenant Commander Chris Richards stepped over a tangled mass of isolinear cable then deftly dodged two starbase engineers carrying a new section of plasma conduit as he made his way to the Calypso Cafe’. Work on reconverting the converted cruise ship Galaxy Explorer back into the plain, old Explorer was progressing well; although, Richards himself was finding little joy in the task. Sure he was glad to be back on board and to have the ship reassigned to its original mission, but his own life wasn’t going back to normal quite so easily.
As Richards had hoped, the cafe was pretty much deserted when he entered. Most of the crew was off on shore leave or in therapy recovering from their run-in with the Starshine Kids. Richards wanted therapy of a slightly different variety.
“Commander,” Mirk said somewhat surprised as Richards took a stool at the bar. “How can I help you?”
“I don’t know, but I sure need help.”
“Do you need me as a bartender or a spiritual advisor?” Mirk asked, rummaging under the bar and pulling out his priest robe. “I think I have a nice juicy guava we can pray over.”
“That’s okay. Just give me a pina colada and pull up a stool.”
“Uh…how about a nice beer instead?”
“Nah. I’m in the mood for something…fruity.”
“I’ve got some wonderful microbrews from Dantag 7.”
“I don’t think so.”
“You’re Maloxitarian!” Mirk suddenly shouted. “You can’t have the f***ing fruit!”
“Ooookay,” Richards said, wiping the spit off his face Mirk projected at him. “A beer sounds great.”
“Coming right up!” Mirk said cheerfully moving back to the cooler where he kept the high quality, non-replicated stuff. Richards took a moment to look around. Out the viewports, workbees zipped around the Explorer removing the day-glow paint job, prying off the observation domes and filling in the swimming pool that had been dug on the rear of the upper saucer. In a few more days, the ship would finally be ready to leave the starbase.
Turning his attention back to the inside of the cafe, Richards couldn’t help but notice that the place was a bit more bare than usual, and it wasn’t just due to the lack of customers. The palm trees were gone. And so were the thatched wall coverings.
“Are you redecorating?” Richards asked as Mirk set the beer down in front of him.
“We’re…in flux at the moment,” Mirk said non-committally. “But what’s on your mind?”
“Kris,” Richards said with a deflated sigh.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather talk to Counselor Peterman?” Mirk said nervously.
“She’s got her support group for spouses of Starfleet officers who’ve been naughty.”
“Whew,” Mirk said relieved. “I guess you have to talk to me then. There’s no other choice.”
Richards chuckled softly. “Don’t worry, pal. I won’t let her hurt you for stepping on her turf…although, I haven’t seen a good mud wrestling match in a while.”
“Apples and oranges of space, defend us.”
“Who said that? Chiquita Banana or Del Monte?”
“Don’t make me perform another purification ritual on you.”
“Hey! Sorry. Forget I said anything. I’m still trying to get the cherry juice out of my boxers.”
“Now what’s troubling you, my son?”
“I’m almost twice your age.”
“But I am your spiritual elder. Now spill it.”
“All right. You know Larkin and I went off with Kris for a while, right?”
“Yes. While the rest of us were busy defending the quadrant. I remember.”
“I was busy, too!” Richards snapped defensively.
“Of course. I’m sorry. Go on.”
“Well, Kris had to take her ship in for some maintenance, so we thought it’d be the perfect chance to spend some time together…as a family.”
“So far, so good,” Mirk said, sitting down to listen.
“That’s what I thought,” Richards said. He took a long drink of his beer. “Kris had some other ideas.”
TWO WEEKS EARLIER
Richards shifted his backpack from one shoulder to the other and entered the small transporter room on Kris Larkin’s freighter, the Daisy II. He immediately slammed his knee into a crate, one of many filling the room. Larkin, the android version, looked up from the contents of another crate she was checking.
“Are you injured, father?” Larkin asked.
“I’m fine,” Richards said. “But what is all this stuff?”
“Supplies for our excursion.”
“We’re only going to be gone for a few days.”
“I am aware of that. I believe that I only packed the essentials.”
“What do you consider essential?”
“Remote environmental control units, portable replicator, clothing synthesizer, matter reclamation unit, defensive grid.”
“Kristen, this is camping. The idea is to rough it.”
“‘Rough it.’ Then I should leave the defensive grid here.”
“And the automatic phaser cannon?”
“Definitely. We’re going to enjoy nature, not obliterate it.”
“I understand. I will remove the unnecessary items.”
“Good idea,” Richards said as Larkin picked up two huge crates and exited the room. Kris, the human version, walked in a moment later carrying a pack similar to Richards’s.
“Is she taking up weight-lifting?” Kris asked smiling.
“Classic case of over-packing.”
Kris wrapped her arms around Richards and kissed him. “You still sure you want to take her along?” she asked once the kiss had ended.
“We need to spend some time with her,” Richards said. “Get her used to us being together. And it’s not like we’re able to do a lot of father/daughter bonding on the Explorer. Besides, she’ll be in a different tent,” Richards said.
“But that’ll still mean we have to be quiet,” Kris replied with a glint in her eyes. “I don’t like being quiet.”
“I could sneak in her tent and turn her off,” Richards said.
“So long as you come back and turn me on.”
“Count on it.” As they kissed again, the doors of the room slid open.
“Do you wish to be alone?” Larkin said. “I have no desire to interrupt your copulation.”
“We’re just finalizing some last minute details,” Kris said.
“Indeed,” Larkin said grabbing two more crates.
“Kris, we’re entering orbit,” the voice of Bort, her Bolian partner, said over the comm system.
“Thanks, Bort. We’re ready to beam down,” Kris replied. “You sure you don’t mind making the trip to Midacos all by your lonesome?”
“Don’t worry about a thing,” Bort said. “I think I can handle getting the nacelles realigned. You folks enjoy the scenery.”
“Will do,” Kris said, stepping up onto the transporter pad followed by Richards.
“I have not finished removing unnecessary items,” Larkin said.
“Skip it,” Kris said. “Just grab your pack and the tents.” Larkin did as she was told and joined Kris and Richards on the transporter. “Beam us down, Bort. Oh, there’s a bit of a mess in the transporter room for you to clean up.”
Richards, Kris, and Larkin materialized in a clearing deep inside a dense forest of towering redwoods. At least they would have been redwoods on Earth. Here they were more of purple-woods, maybe fuchsia.
“Well, this is it!” Kris said. “Home for the next five days.”
“It’s great,” Richards said looking around. Even though he wasn’t too thrilled about being left on an uninhabited moon in a remote star system for close to a week, he had to admit it was breathtaking.
“Do we now set up camp?” Larkin asked.
“Relax, honey,” Kris said, putting her hand on her android twin’s shoulder. “We’re on vacation. Enjoy the scenery.”
“Are we going to ‘enjoy the scenery’ for the next five days?”
“Basically yes,” Kris said. “You’ve spent too much time on starships. You need to get in touch with nature.”
“I am not a part of nature as you are. I have no need to ‘get in touch.’”
“Then consider it a new experience,” Richards said. “You’ve never really roughed it before.”
“I have found many of our missions on the Explorer to be quite rough.”
“I don’t think we’re getting anywhere,” Kris said to Richards as she leaned against him. “You feel like taking a nature walk?” Richards could hear an edge of innuendo in her voice.
“Kristen, why don’t you stay here and get acclimated to your surroundings,” Richards said. “We’ll be back in a while.”
“A mat of leaves or pine shats will reduce chafing during copulation,” Larkin replied.
“Uh…thanks for the tip,” Richards said. Arm in arm, he and Kris headed off into the forest.
“She is way too involved in our sex life,” Richards said once they had gone a few hundred yards.
“And how involved are you in hers?” Kris asked.
“She doesn’t have one.”
“She doesn’t? Why not?”
“She’s an android.”
“That doesn’t mean she can’t date.”
“She doesn’t want to date.”
“How do you know? Have you asked her?” Kris said.
“Chris, you’ve got to get over this protective daddy thing. She’s her own being…and a really sheltered one at that.”
“Sheltered? Are you kidding? She’s seen more on the Explorer than most people see in their whole lives!” Richards exclaimed.
“Not that kind of sheltered. She’s seeing the galaxy, but she’s not learning what it means to be a woman.”
“But she’s not a woman. She’s an android that happens to have a female shape.”
“Then why are you calling her a she?”
“Can we just drop this? We’re supposed to be relaxing.”
“Whatever you say, daddy.”
“Please don’t do that.”
“Just kidding, hon. You’re so sensitive.”
“That’s why you love me, right?” Richards said.
“Right,” Kris said, moving in for a kiss.
Much to Richards’s relief, that was the end of the discussion. In all honesty, he didn’t have a good answer to Kris’ question. Larkin was called she because she was called she. That’s just the way it was. But it wasn’t like she was going to start dating or get married. The idea was ridiculous. Larkin was an android. Androids didn’t care about that sort of thing.
Back in the Calypso Cafe, Richards fell silent for a moment as a smile slowly spread across his face. “About two hours later…”
“Hold on a second!” Mirk exclaimed. “What about those two hours?”
“Nothing you need to know about. You’re a chaste servant of the Directors now.”
“They never said anything about being chaste!” Mirk said.
“Mirk, have you ever had sex?” Richards asked sharply.
“Exactly. Until you have stories of your own to tell, I’m not sharing the details of mine. About two hours later…”
Hand in hand, Richards and Kris strolled leisurely back towards the clearing. They were so lost in each other that it took them a few moments to realize that there were some most unforest-like sounds in the air.
“Are we being attacked?” Kris asked idly.
“Kristen!” Richards shouted alarmed, as he dashed away from Kris, fumbling for his hand phaser.
“So much for chivalry,” Kris muttered as she ran to catch up with him.
The clearing was a disaster. Smoldering trees littered the ground as Richards and Kris approached.
“Kristen! Are you all right?” Richards cried, frantically looking under felled trees and limbs.
“Uh, Chris…” Kris said, gazing off towards the edge of the clearing.
“Not now. She could be damaged.”
“I am fine, Father,” Larkin’s voice said from behind Richards. He whirled around, following Kris’ gaze to the source of the voice.
At the edge of the clearing, Larkin stood covered in sawdust but otherwise looking none the worse for wear.
Looming behind her, stood a brand new log cabin.
Richards’s mouth gaped open in astonishment.
“Is there a problem?” Larkin asked.
“Wow!” Kris said finally. “It’s…”
“Incredible!” Richards finished. He entered the cabin, his voice still audible to those outside. “But Kristen, we’re supposed to be roughing it.”
“I am aware of that; however, I was, for lack of a better term, bored. You were gone for a significant amount of time. I felt the need to keep myself occupied,” Larkin said.
“I understand,” Richards said from inside. “But we can’t use this. We’re supposed to be communing with nature….does this toilet really work?”
As evening fell across the forest, Larkin, Richards, and Kris cleared up the fallen trees Larkin had chopped down in her construction of the cabin, then sat down to dinner. It was a quiet affair. Larkin sat quietly, lost in her positronic net, as Richards and Kris sat close together, whispering and giggling happily.
“I believe I will retire,” Larkin said finally, standing up from the chair she had carved out of a stump. Richards and Kris were, at that moment, falling over each other in another fit of love-struck laughter.
Larkin stood silently watching them, waiting for acknowledgment. Finally, Richards realized he was being watched.
“Something wrong, Kristen?” he said finally.
“I said that I am going to retire to the cabin,” Larkin replied. “You would have heard me the first time if you had not been otherwise occupied.”
“The cabin?” Richards said, ignoring the almost-snappish comment from the android. “I thought we were roughing it.”
“As I stated earlier, I have no need to get back to nature. I am a construct; the cabin is a construct, albeit a primitive one. I believe the goals of this excursion will be fulfilled by my staying within.”
“You can sleep wherever you want, honey,” Kris said. “Good night.”
“I do not sleep, but I appreciate the sentiment. Good night.” Larkin quickly turned on her heel and entered the cabin, shutting the door and turning on the inside lights she’d installed.
“What’s with her?” Kris asked as Richards dove in to nuzzle her neck.
“Huh?” Richards replied distractedly.
“Your daughter seems upset,” Kris said.
“She’s an android; she can’t get upset,” Richards said.
“So much for your parenting skills,” Kris said, pulling away from Richards. She walked over to her pack and pulled out the tent.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Richards demanded.
“Are you going to help me or what?”
Richards grabbed the ropes and tent stakes out of his own pack and went to help Kris set up the large tent the two of them were sharing on this excursion.
“I just think she’s more human than you realize,” Kris said after the two had worked in silence for a couple of minutes.
“And I think you’re too easily fooled by a bit of sophisticated programming. She’s always like that.”
“Come on, Chris. You’re her dad, and you’re running around with the woman she’s modeled after. If that’s not enough to send the poor girl into therapy, I don’t know what is.”
“She’s not a girl!” Chris shouted louder than he intended to. “Why can’t you get that through your head?”
“Can you even consider the possibility that she’s jealous?”
“Jealous!” Chris said, trying to control his laughter. “Of what?”
“She’s the third wheel. We have each other, and she’s got nobody. It’s as much my fault as it is yours. I didn’t even think about how our displays of affection in front of her must be making her feel.”
“But she can’t feel.”
“Yes she can,” Kris said. “It may not be in the way you and I think of it, and she may not even realize it, but she does most certainly feel. I could see the look on her face when she stormed off to the cabin. She should be out dating, meeting men, experiencing life. Instead she’s stuck here with daddy and his new girlfriend. That drove me nuts when I was a teenager, too.”
“Teenager? What the hell are you talking about?”
“Hutcherson activated his clone of me 13 years ago right?”
“About,” Richards conceded.
“Then she’s a teenager. Right on the cusp of puberty actually. No wonder she’s jealous. You have to let go, Chris. She needs to start seeing boys.”
“This is ridiculous,” Richards said, hammering one of the stakes into the ground. He smacked it so hard, it buried itself two inches underground.
“Maybe so, but it’s certainly got you worked up.”
“Maybe I don’t like people telling me how to be a parent,” Richards snapped.
“People? I’m just a ‘people’ now? I more than anyone should have a say as to what happens to that girl,” Kris said, going toe to toe with Richards.
“Since when were you mother of the year?” Richards said. “I didn’t see you there consoling her when she first remembered her origins.”
“You were lost in the Delta Quadrant!” Kris screamed. “I couldn’t f***ing be there even if I wanted to!”
“Ah ha!” Richards exclaimed. “‘If you wanted to’! Don’t start trying to play Miss Parent now, missy. You have no domain in that part of my life. You’re just my girlfriend, got it!”
“Pardon me if I decline that honor, your highness,” Kris said angrily. She tossed a stake into the ground, missing Richards’s boot by inches, and, scooping up her pack, stormed away.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Richards shouted.
“Inside. It’s gotten decidedly frosty out here.” Kris practically kicked open the door of the cabin, raced inside, then slammed the door shut with a bang that echoed through the woods, silencing every insect in a two hundred yard radius.
“Ouch,” Mirk said, wincing at the vision of Kris storming away. The bartending religious leader had finally pulled up a stool and sat down next to Richards.
“Tell me about it,” Richards said, taking another long pull on his rapidly disappearing beer. “I ended up spending the night outside and alone. Occasionally, I could hear Kris’ voice echoing out of the cabin. It wasn’t until later that I found out what she and Kristen were talking about.”
Lt. Commander Larkin looked up from her work as the door to the cabin flew open then rapidly slammed shut. If it were possible to measure anger, Kris’ readings would have likely destroyed most scanning instruments. Larkin observed the evident wide-eyed fury and heaving chest as Kris seethed.
“I take it you have had a disagreement with my father,” Larkin said. Kris stared at Larkin for a moment. Slowly, the human forced a smile across her face.
“No no no,” Kris said jovially. “I thought we should do some girl stuff.”
“‘Girl stuff,’” Larkin repeated flatly. “And what does this entail?”
“We’re going to have a slumber party!” Kris said, pulling her sleeping bag out of her pack.
“A party to celebrate sleep?” Larkin asked confused.
“No. We’ll lay on the floor, toast some marshmallows, talk about guys. That sort of thing. Get your sleeping bag out.”
“That will be unnecessary,” Larkin said, holding up a sheet of leaves she was in the process of sewing together. “The foliage on this world is remarkably strong. I have constructed beds, mattresses, sheets, and pillows.”
“Even better,” Kris said, striding over to Larkin. “Let’s get to it.”
After several hours had passed, Kris and Larkin lay in their own freshly-built twin beds staring out the skylight in the ceiling in the cabin’s bedroom. Kris lay casually lost in thought, her hands clasped under her head. Larkin lay stiff as a board, analyzing the stability of the mattress underneath her.
“You ever make love?” Kris asked finally.
“I am incapable of love. If you are referring, however, to the act of copulation, yes, I have participated in that activity. But I was not aware at the time.”
“You were raped?”
“My previous body at one time held the consciousness of Spock. Neither of us were in control of our body at the time, though. James Kirk had sex with us, thinking that I was a willing yeoman. Of course, this occurred many years in the past.”
“Forget I asked.”
“Impossible, but I will mention it no further,” Larkin said. She was quiet for a moment. “There was another time in which I copulated with a Tellarite in order to secure a treaty.”
“But you’ve never had sex because you wanted to. You’ve never fallen in love and shared yourself,” Kris said.
“As I stated, I am incapable of love.”
“What about Chris? He’s your father. Surely you love him…in a father/daughter kind of way.”
“He is my co-creator. I have no feelings for him beyond that.”
“What about dating? Do you date?”
“I have not,” Larkin said. “I do not believe that Commander Richards would approve of such a course of action.”
“Who cares about him? What do you want to do?”
“While I have no desire to be human, I have observed that relationships evoke a great many responses both positive and negative in those that experience them. I am curious to have some of these experiences for myself.”
“So you want to date!” Kris said, sitting up and peering at Larkin through the darkness.
“That would be acceptable.”
“Did you have anyone in mind?”
“At first, I had thought that Commander Data of the Enterprise would be the obvious choice, but he is as inexperienced at relationships as I am. I will require someone with more…”
“Exactly,” Larkin said. “On the Explorer, there were several possible candidates; however, the current situation has put all of our positions in flux. I do not believe that I wish to join the crew of the Galaxy Explorer, so I will be separated from many of them. Besides, I have observed that serving with a person you are in a relationship with can present difficulties.”
“Captain Baxter and Counselor Peterman seem to be making it work.”
“Not at the moment.”
“Oh,” Kris said. “Okay. So you want someone with experience who you do not serve with.”
“Precisely. Also, I wish to already know them. And they should possess some sort of intellect.”
“Sounds like you know exactly who you want.”
“Indeed,” Larkin said. “Captain Alexander Rydell.”
“Wait, I know that name,” Kris said, lost in thought. The light dawned. “I don’t know, Kristen. I’ve got a friend who’s got the hots for Captain Rydell. She’s another smuggler.”
“Karina Durham,” Larkin said. “I have made her acquaintance. Are they currently seeing each other?”
“No. She hasn’t run into him in a while, but I know she’d like to.”
“Then I will simply have to act first. Captain Rydell’s mixture of experience, intelligence, and compassion is ideal for my needs.”
“I won’t tell Karina.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that.”
The two women, one real and one artificial, were again silent for a few moments.
“Kris,” Larkin began.
“Would you assist me?”
“I do not know how to entice someone to enter a relationship with me. Walking up to Captain Rydell and asking him bluntly to please date me seems inappropriate.”
Kris laughed and moved over to sit on Larkin’s bed. “Don’t you worry about a thing,” she said, taking the android’s hand. “I’m not sure if I’m your mother, your sister, or your crazy aunt, but I’ll make sure you know what you’re doing. It’s all in what you say and how you say it. And with looks like ours, that Captain Rydell doesn’t stand a chance.”
Richards woke up the next morning exactly the way he’d gone to bed: alone.
The cabin was quiet. Richards thought about storming in and continuing his fight with Kris…or about maybe just walking in and apologizing. In the end, he did neither. Instead, he grabbed his pack and headed off into the forest.
A couple of kilometers away from camp, he found what he was looking for, a good, tall stump. He opened his pack and pulled out a set of carving tools. Activating the laser saw, he gently removed the first later of dead bark from the stump and set about creating.
While he worked, Richards’s mind wandered to the situation with Kris. The question he found himself asking over and over was “Did they really have a relationship?” It was hard to say. At one point he thought he loved her. He was almost sure of it. But now…now they seemed to spend at least half of their time arguing.
What did he see in her anyway? She was a smuggler, a reckless one at that. In the short time he and Kristen had been aboard the Daisy II, Richards had been forced to pull off an engineering miracle to save them from dissatisfied customers on two separate occasions. Sure, the Explorer experienced its share of danger, but the crew didn’t actively go looking for it…usually.
And what did they have to talk about? Or in common? Very little, if anything. Kristen seemed to be their only real link anymore…and all they did was argue about her. So why was he with this woman? It was something he couldn’t really answer.
The stump was now beginning to take on a vaguely human shape…feminine even, with long hair cascading over her shoulders. Richards carefully carved a Starfleet insignia pin on her chest and moved on to the facial features.
He had completed one eye when he stopped and stepped back to look at his work. It was her. Not Kris. Not Larkin. Browning. All this time had passed since the end of their relationship, and his mind was still pulling stunts like this.
“Damn it!” Richards screamed to no one in particular. In a furious motion, he turned the laser saw up to maximum and obliterated any sign of the stump. He looked up at the sky. The sun was already beginning to set. He’d completely lost track of time, as often happened when he was deep into his work. Quickly packing up his gear, he made his way back to camp.
As he headed through the woods toward the Kris-less tent that he knew was waiting for him, he again asked himself how he’d gotten into this. Really, it wasn’t so much a question as a desire not to face the answer. Browning was why he was in this mess. The two of them were finished, and Richards needed someone, anyone to fill the loneliness. Fortunately, Kris had come along.
Richards entered the clearing where his tent and the cabin stood. Tired and hungry, he headed for his tent.
He had to get out of the relationship before things got worse, before he could hurt her any worse than he probably already had. He had to talk to her, end things.
Upon entering his tent, none of those thoughts mattered.
Kris was there, dressed in some incredibly arousing black lace lingerie, laying on his sleeping bag.
“I had wondered if you would return this evening,” Kris said, her eyes locked on his.
“Just out for a walk,” Richards said, his hormones taking over. He put his pack down and crawled up next to her. “I’m glad to see you’ve gotten over last night.”
Kris didn’t say a word. She stared more deeply into his eyes, then suddenly grabbed his head, pulling him in for a passionate kiss.
Richards’s mind reeled as their tongues intertwined. Kris seemed so…aggressive this evening. She was…not Kris!
In a panic, Richards leapt away screaming as he wiped his mouth.
“Yes, father?” Larkin replied, sitting straight up and looking as innocent as was possible in lingerie of that sort.
“Wha…what the hell are you doing?”
“Homework,” Larkin replied flatly. “How did you know I was not Kris?”
“Know! How did I know?!? You try to seduce your own father, and you want to know how I knew?!?!?!?!?!?!?!”
“I believe that you will find these histrionics to be unproductive. I simply wished to know where I erred and revealed my identity.”
“Kris has two broken molars on the right side of her mouth,” Richards said. “Now stay here!”
Richards stormed towards the tent exit as Larkin spoke. “I should accompany you if you plan on confronting Kris.” Richards turned on her, his eyes blazing.
“YOU WILL STAY HERE, GOD DAMN IT!!!”
Larkin, wisely, did not reply as Richards stomped furiously over to the cabin.
Kris was inside, sitting on the sofa watching the holovision display Larkin had rigged up. It was nothing fancy; it only got 4 channels, but it was better than nothing.
“Isn’t this one of yours?” Kris asked nonchalantly as she gestured to the “Days of Honor” rerun playing on the holovision.
“Yes…and turn that damn thing off!” Richards snapped.
“This is a tantrum-free zone,” Kris replied. “Go get back to nature until you’re ready to talk like a normal human being. Bort will have probably picked us up by then, but that’s not the point.” She fixed a sarcastic grin on him.
Richards picked up the holovision and drop kicked it back into the bedroom. Kris’ grin didn’t falter.
“Saw that one coming,” she remarked.
“Just what the f*** did you think you were doing?”
“Watching the holo, which I’m not anymore, thanks to you.”
“You know what I mean!” Richards bellowed. “Why did you send Kristen into my tent?”
“She needed the practice. You were available.”
“Practice! PRACTICE! For what? The Incest Follies?”
“You said yourself that she’s just an android. She’s a machine with a sexual capability. We were merely honing that ability on the closest available male, which, unfortunately, was you.”
“That’s not what you were doing, and you know it.”
“You’re filling my daughter’s head with your own f***ed up view of how the universe works. Maybe you can’t live without a man in your life, but she can!”
“Me?” Kris shouted, standing up and storming towards Richards. “I was doing just fine on my own. You’re the one who can’t stand being alone. How long was it between Browning and me? A couple of months? Poor baby.”
“This isn’t about me,” Richards protested. “It’s about Kristen.”
“It’s totally about you. Why are you so scared to let her date? Why? You know why? Because you’re afraid she’ll find someone and leave. On the one hand, you want her to be a daughter. You can control that. She has a bond with you. But you won’t let her grow up. You’re scared s***less that she’ll get her own life.”
“She has her own life.”
“With you,” Kris said. “Can she even make a move on that ship without you knowing about it?”
“This is ridiculous.”
“Ah, the famous words of people who know they’re wrong.”
Richards was silent for a moment, the fight knocked out of him. He looked into Kris’ eyes, his attitude softening.
“I can’t do this anymore,” Richards said. “I just can’t.”
“Neither of us can,” Kris replied. “You needed someone. And, you’re right, I did too.”
“We just picked the wrong people.”
Kris smiled weakly. “You could say that.”
“So what do we do?”
“I’ll contact Bort. He should be done with the repairs by now. We’ll get you to a starbase.”
“Kristen can stay with me if she wants. The sooner you realize that, Chris, the better your relationship with her will be. You may be her father, but she’s not a child.”
“I guess not,” Richards said.
“But you’re going to be one hell of an overprotective father someday.”
“And that was that,” Richards said, finishing off the last of his second beer. “Bort showed up the next day. We packed up and left. A couple of hours later, the call from Captain Baxter came in.”
“So that’s it?” Mirk said. “You and Kris are over?”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“It’s okay. Like a friend of mine used to say, if it’s not right, head for the stars.”
“Never mind,” Richards said. “The point is, there’ll be others. A guy can have lots of loves in his life. They come and go.”
“But your children don’t,” Mirk said, catching on. “What does Kristen think of all this?”
“I don’t know. That’s the problem. She stayed on the Daisy II with Kris. She’s due back today…soon.”
“Bridge to Lieutenant Commander Richards. Commander Larkin’s shuttle is approaching.”
“Now,” Mirk said.
“Talk about your timing,” Richards muttered. “Thanks for listening, Mirk.”
“No problem, Commander. Come by anytime. You’re due for your next ten day anointing appointment anyway.”
“And, Commander, remember there’s more to being a father than giving orders.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Maybe you should ask my father.”
“But you never got along with your father,” Richards said.
Mirk cleared away Richards’s empty beer bottles as Richards headed toward the shuttlebay. He arrived just as Larkin’s shuttle touched down on the deck.
If it weren’t for the slight stiffness in her step as she exited the shuttle, Larkin could have easily been mistaken for Kris. She was dressed in a flattering, casual outfit and wore a bit more make-up than usual. Of course, a drop was a bit more make-up than usual.
“Welcome back, Kristen,” Richards said, greeting her at the shuttle hatch.
“Thank you,” Larkin replied.
“How was the trip?”
“Well, I missed you around here.”
“She is well. Although, I believe she has been copulating with Bort. I cannot be sure, however. The Daisy II is quite noisy, and it is difficult to hear through the bulkheads.”
Richards fought back the wave of jealousy threatening to pour over him. Kris was a free person. She could see whoever she wanted.
“Glad to hear it,” Richards croaked unconvincingly.
“I sincerely doubt it,” Larkin replied. “Now, if you will excuse me, I will return to my quarters.”
“Sure, Kristen. Did you want to have dinner tonight?”
“I do not believe so.”
Ouch. Richards was not expecting that response.
“Honey, I know my breaking up with Kris is a bit of a shock, but…”
“Your relationship with Kris does not concern me,” Larkin interrupted. “You behavior towards me, however, does.”
“Towards you? I don’t…”
“I am not a child for you to order around. I am an android capable of my own choices.”
“Kris has been turning you against me. I knew it!”
“Kris did not mention your name once after you left the ship,” Larkin said. “But this has stuck with me.” Larkin activated her voice playback, and Richards’s voice blasted from her lips.
“YOU WILL STAY HERE, GOD DAMN IT!!!”
“Kristen, I was upset,” Richards explained.
“That is irrelevant. You treated my as if I were a child. Looking back on our time together, I have detected a pattern of such behaviors. I have no need of a ‘daddy’ in my life.”
“I believe I have finished discussing the matter,” Larkin said curtly. She walked off down the corridor leaving Richards.
Richards headed in the opposite direction down the mostly deserted hallway. With most of the crew down on Earth on leave still, the ship felt…empty.
“Computer, locate Dr. Browning.”
“Dr. Browning is in her quarters.”
At least Janice was here. He could go and…oh God, Kris was right. He couldn’t be by himself for five minutes.
Slowly, he headed down the hall and then into Transporter Room Two where Lt. Kamtezen was working on one of the backup EPS relays.
“Anything I can do for you, sir?” Kamtezen asked as Richards numbly walked over to the transporter console and started typing in coordinates.
“You’re in charge,” Richards replied.
“In charge? Where are you going?”
“Away,” Richards said, stepping up onto the transporter padd. “I need to be alone for a while.”
Richards’s body was soon enveloped in a blue cascade of energy.
And then it was gone.
Richards ran a hand along the stubble growing on his face as he lay on the beach, absently looking up at the stars. The Explorer hadn’t sent out any search parties, so things were evidently okay up there. It was only a re-refit, and the ship wouldn’t be leaving Earth for several days. He wasn’t really needed there right now. That was fine with him. He was in no hurry to go back.
At first, he thought about leaving, cursing himself for beaming onto a deserted island in the first place. But then that had been the point. He needed to be without people for a while.
The first two nights had been almost impossible. As he lay in the sand trying to sleep, the crashing waves had sounded like a roar of voices. Voices of his friends. Kris. Kristen. Janice.
Richards closed his eyes.
But tonight was different.
Tonight, they were just waves.
Life returns to semi-normal as Baxter returns from his restful, er, imprisonment and the Explorer returns to duty. Okay, it’s not exactly normal at all. Baxter might think he’s returning to his same old ship, but he might get a rude awakening. And what exactly happened to Captain Ficker and the Escort? Find out in “Back on Track,” next on Star Traks: TVG!