Author: Anthony Butler and Alan Decker
Stardate 54279.4. Lt. Commander Larkin reporting. Day Twelve of the Starship Escort’s undercover expedition in Romulan space. So far, we have uncovered an experimental diet soda and four new forms of Romulan chocolate. Not an altogether fruitful mission.
“Would you like some hot T’olberon chocolate?” Lt. Commander Kristen Larkin asked, leaning over the ops/engineering panel on the Escort bridge, holding a steaming pitcher poised to pour. “It comes complete with fresh marshmallows!”
Lt. Hartley held up a hand to block the android’s pitcher. “No thanks, Larkin. I’m still stuffed from that rump roast!”
“Where did you learn to cook like that, anyway? With real pots and pans, no less?” Lt. Gellar asked, chewing on his toothpick as he bent over the tactical/communication’s panel, opposite Hartley, doing yet another scan of yet another Romulan outpost. This time, it was a Romulan shoe factory that seemed to have discovered the secret to correcting the problem of fallen arches.
“After my uncomfortable attempt at preparing ‘real food’ when the ship was plagued by a serial killer, I was forced to ‘brush up’ on my culinary skills,” Larkin said, setting the pitcher down on a shelf beside the tactical console and returning to the command chair. “It is ironic to note that, when Christopher Henricks originally programmed me, he provided me with precise instruction in many of the servile arts. That would seem to fit in with what he believed to be my primary mission.”
“Which was to be a servant and a sex toy, if I remember correctly,” Hartley said, punching at her controls.
“Affirmative. Luckily, Commander Richards came along and gave me the brainpower to be a productive member of society.”
“But you went back and acquired the ability to grill up a good roast,” Ford said, leaning back in his seat at helm and putting his feet up on the console. “I’ve got to give you credit for that.”
“It is my pleasure. I realize this assignment is not eventful. Further, we must be on guard and well-fed at all times, what with the constant threat of being discovered by the Romulans.”
“Yeah, as you can tell, Ford’s shaking in his boots,” Gellar giggled.
Ford patted his console at the front of the bridge. “I’m just relying on the Escort to get us through like she always has. She’s a good ship.”
“She is a carefully assembled collection of parts, Lieutenant. It is her crew that makes her function effectively,” said Larkin.
Ford leaned his head back to grin at Hartley and Larkin. “And oh, what a beautiful crew it is!”
“Cram it, Ford,” Hartley muttered. “Before I pour hot chocolate all over your crotch!”
“I for one, appreciate the comment,” Larkin said. “On a purely psychosocial level.”
“Thank you,” Ford said, and closed his eyes.
“Uh, Commander,” Gellar said, suddenly looking up from his panel.
Larkin pivoted in her command chair. “Yes, Lieutenant?”
“I’ve got something on subspace you might want to see.”
“Put it on-screen.”
Gellar plunked a control on his board and Larkin, Hartley, and Ford looked up at the tiny viewscreen at the front of the bridge.
They immediately gasped in shock as Romulan Commander Ardek appeared on the screen. They could only see his head, and even that was intermittently cut out by static. There was no audio except for an annoying loud buzz.
“I’m trying to clean it up but the signal’s pretty weak,” Hartley said, leaning over her controls. “It seems to be coming from a planet on the far side of the Neutral Zone.”
Larkin cocked her head. “Interesting.”
“He’s supposed to be DEAD!” exclaimed Ford.
“As I said, interesting. There is no need to overstate the matter, Lieutenant.”
“Well, we’re not just going to ignore it, are we?” Hartley asked. “If you recall, he killed you the last time you saw him.”
“Correction,” said Larkin. “I killed him.”
“Whatever the case, it bears looking into,” said Gellar.
Larkin labored over the decision for several nanoseconds. Finally, she decided. “We are here to observe Romulan culture for the Federation Anthropological Society. An investigation of the source of this signal might be appropriate.”
“Come on, Larkin,” said Hartley. “Admit it. You’re dying of curiosity.”
“I died last time. I do not care to repeat the experience. Can we get any more of the signal?”
Gellar checked his panel. “It stopped sending. However, I am picking up some sort of Romulan sitcom.” He crinkled his nose as he watched the tiny screen on his control board. “Woah. Hubba hubba.”
Ford raced over to the tactical panel and leaned over. “Holy crap!”
“Let me see,” Hartley said, craning her neck. “Those are not real!”
Larkin arched an eyebrow. “Record that transmission, Mr. Gellar. This is a cultural survey, after all.”
“One step ahead of you, Commander,” said Gellar. “I’ll make sure to make a copy for Starfleet.”
“And me!” Ford exclaimed.
Hartley slapped Ford on the back of his head. “All right, hormone-factory. Let’s get this show on the road.”
“This show, as you say, is going to investigate Ardek’s signal,” said Larkin. “Mr. Ford, return to your post and lay in a course for the source of the signal. Keep our speed under warp five so the Romulans do not detect our warp signature.”
“Aye, Commander,” Ford muttered and skulked back to his station. “But can we find out where they’re filming that show and go there next?”
Lt. Commander Larkin idly reviewed the periodic table of the elements for no particular reason while she held Captain Baxter’s fold-out couch over her head with one hand and moved the vacuum with the other. There was confetti all over the place.
Captain Baxter and Counselor Peterman made a mess of the captain’s quarters/readyroom on their last trip to the funmaze on Rigelius Nine, and, as she was not needed on the bridge at present she had decided to make herself useful. She’d already gotten the peanut butter stains out of the carpet and collected all of Charlie’s hairs. The golden retriever appeared to be shedding once more.
Her duties at the moment reminded her, unfortunately, of her short time with Cadet Henricks after her activation. She recalled the way she would clean his side of the dorm room relentlessly each day only to have him mess it up again. Richards’s side, on the other hand, was always neat. Of her two parents, she infinitely preferred Richards. The fact that Henricks was somewhere in the Delta Quadrant was not so disturbing to her memory core.
What was disturbing was the fact that Captain Baxter apparently spilled an entire jar of jelly beans under the couch. Somehow, and Larkin didn’t care to venture how, the beans became smushed into the carpet. This section would have to be ripped up and replaced.
A tiny portion of her RAM memory suddenly became occupied with the question of Commander Ardek. Certainly, when she tackled him into the exploding power core of the planet Crysta, her brain shorted out before she actually saw him die. She was lucky to have the time to upload the bulk of her consciousness to the Escort computer. The fact that he was alive should not have come as a total surprise. Indeed, he might yet be dead. What they saw could easily have been a recording.
If Larkin had intuition, however, it would probably tell her that Ardek was indeed alive and undoubtedly in the middle of executing some horrific plan. If that was the case she would have to face him again. This activated her “What Would Father Say” subroutine. In her mind, she heard Lt. Commander Richards’s voice:
“You stay away from him, Kristen! He killed you once; he’ll do it again!”
“Father, I find your emotional response unnecessary. I cannot be killed by conventional weapons. I have proven that much.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Richards’s voice retorted. “You’re too important to lose going after some Romulan scumbag. Call the Explorer. Let US take care of him.”
“I am a Starfleet officer and I have a duty. Aside from that, we do not yet have enough information to warrant contacting the Explorer. Aside from THAT, I am a fully-grown android, you are a disembodied voice, and I do not have to do what you tell me to. Deactivating subroutine.”
“Now wait one damn…BLEEP!”
Larkin turned to see Lt. Hartley standing in the doorway to the Captain’s quarters.
“Are you not responding to your doorchimes today?” asked Hartley.
“How long have you been standing there?”
“Long enough to be proud of you, Commander. Way to stand up to your dad …even if he isn’t really here.”
“What have you to report?” Larkin asked, all business.
“We’ve arrived at the signal source. I don’t think you’re going to like this.”
“Of course I will not like this. I am incapable of that emotion.”
“A ‘space casino’?” Larkin asked, with a hint of incredulity.
Gellar leaned back and stared up at the blur of multicolored lights on the viewscreen. He’d put up an overhead shot of the signal source. “That would be my guess. I’m detecting high traces of latinum and Romulan ale.”
“Yeah,” Ford said, “and if you magnify this shot, you’ll see a sign that says ‘CASINO’ in big Romulan letters.”
“Well, there is that,” Gellar admitted.
“Fifty thousand credits of Starfleet education at work,” muttered Hartley.
“Hey, I went on a Parises Squares scholarship,” Gellar protested.
“Any sign of Ardek?” Larkin asked as she assumed the command chair.
Hartley moved over to Ops/Engineering. “Well, he might be one of the nine thousand Romulan lifesigns down there.”
“In that case, perhaps an away team is in order.”
“That’s the spirit!” Hartley said.
“Lt. Hartley, you have the conn,” Larkin said, and stood. “Lieutenants Ford and Gellar, you are with me.”
“Yippee,” Gellar mumbled. “I finally get to use my phaser for something other than scrubbing the dirt out from under my cuticles.”
“This means fake ears again, doesn’t it?” Ford asked. “When we did that last week I got a rash.”
“It was not from the ears, Lieutenant, if your exploits in the Romulan massage parlor were not exaggerated,” Larkin said, and turned for the exit door.
“She’s getting good at that,” Hartley grinned as she took the command chair.
Larkin, Ford, and Gellar materialized in an alley beside the huge, fifty-story casino building in full Romulan garb, ears and all.
“Topographical report,” said Larkin, turning to Gellar.
Gellar withdrew his tricorder and held it under his checkered grey Romulan jacket. “Not much outside the compound. Lots of desert.”
“Like Vegas,” Ford said, awestruck.
“No plasma cannons. No hidden warships?”
Gellar shook his head.
“Very well. We will proceed to the entrance. Endeavor to look Romulan.”
Ford and Gellar took up the rear. “What does that mean?” Ford whispered.
“I don’t know. Follow her lead.”
“That’s great. She’s acting paranoid. So where does that leave us?”
“It leaves you as subordinates,” Larkin said. “Recall that my hearing is far superior to yours…and I am NOT paranoid. Let us proceed.”
Lt. Hartley, drew her legs up under her and sipped from her icy cup of Diet Dr. P’tau as she read the latest Transporter Chief Weekly. She’d just heard from Gellar, and apparently everything down at the casino was going well. So far, Larkin had engaged the doorman in a lengthy conversation about the ancient split between the Romulans and Vulcans and Ford propositioned a female blackjack dealer. Nothing out of the ordinary there.
Meanwhile, Ensign Howard Sefelt cowered under the helm console.
“Are they done yet?” he asked plaintively.
“Not yet, Howie,” Hartley sighed. She wondered what in the hell Baxter was thinking sending Sefelt along. He was afraid of everything from tricorders to Starfleet uniform vests. Of course, thought Hartley, Baxter wanted to be rid of him. Made perfect sense. “We’ll be out of here before the big bad Romulan Warbirds show up.”
“I really hate undercover operations.”
“I know you do. Would you like me to sedate you?”
“No, I HATE sedatives!”
“What about some Diet Dr. P’tau?”
“Jeeze, I give up.”
Less than an hour after they arrived, after splitting up to scout the casino for Ardek’s presence, Larkin, Ford, and Gellar regrouped in the “Remus Room,” a large amphitheater where, they were told, a performance was about to start.
“Did you see the size of the buffet?” Gellar said. “As security officer, I respectfully suggest we check that out next. The shrimp looked suspicious.”
“Noted, Lieutenant,” Larkin said. “While you were examining the foodstuffs, did you happen to locate Commander Ardek?”
“No sign of him. Maybe it was just a recording like you said.”
“Shhh!” said Ford, as the lights dimmed. “The show’s about to start!”
A very familiar Romulan in a tuxedo stepped into the spotlight in front of the high red curtains.
“That is Ardek,” Larkin said, seemingly unsurprised..
Gellar fingered the small phaser under his jacket. “Should we go get him?”
“Negative. We should wait until we can get him alone. At any rate, I would like to hear what he has to say.”
“Ladies, gentlemen, and hermaphrodites,” Ardek said into his microphone, “welcome to the planet Fortuna. After a long day of gambling your hard-earned latinum away in the Casino Zone, what better way to reward yourselves than to see our gorgeous star attraction, that mechanical mistress of mirth…the sensational… KITTY Larkin!”
Amidst the applause, Larkin heard Gellar say, “Another Larkin! What are the odds?”
Ardek ran offstage as the red curtains parted.
“Should we grab him now?” asked Gellar.
“Negative,” replied Larkin. “I would like to see this.”
“Me too!” said Ford.
And out walked a tall, slender woman, holding two huge multicolored feathers in front of her. She tossed the feathers aside to reveal that she was wearing a scant chainmail top and matching shiny metal thong.
For once, Larkin was speechless.
Lt. Ford clapped his hands and hooted, grinning at Larkin. “Thanks for bringing me along, Commander!”
“That’s one familiar face,” Gellar mused.
“Who’s looking at her face,” said Ford. “Look at those–”
“Silence!” Larkin commanded.
“What’s her problem?” Ford asked, leaning across Larkin to Gellar. Gellar grabbed Ford’s head and turned it to face the undulating woman on stage.
“Look at her face, idiot!”
Ford cocked his head. “Hmm. She’s kind of cute. Looks like…oh S***!”
It was an exact replica of Lt. Commander Kristen Larkin on stage, gyrating her pelvis for all the world to see.
“S*** indeed, Lieutenant,” said Larkin. “S*** indeed.”
“Is that Kris?” Gellar ventured.
Larkin shook her head. “Negative. A human torso is incapable of twisting in that manner.”
Ford’s eyes were wide like those of a kid in a candy store. “No offense, Commander, but you’re STACKED!”
“Since I am an android, I am incapable of taking offense at that remark. However, were I Lieutenant Hartley, I believe my response would be–”
Larkin smacked Ford hard across the face, sending him reeling back in his chair.
After the performance, Larkin, Ford, and Gellar made their way over to the stage as Kitty Larkin descended.
Larkin easily shoved aside hordes of Romulans begging for autographs to get to her counterpart.
“Kitty, I would speak with you,” Larkin said.
Kitty reached floorlevel and grinned, shaking her feathers in Larkin’s face. “Shall I take part in a foursome with you and your two hunky friends here?”
“That is not necessary,” Larkin said quickly. “Do you recognize me?”
Kitty studied Larkin briefly. “Your facial features are similar to mine. Would you like to retire to my chambers?”
“That would be acceptable.”
“If your friends want to watch, I require extra latinum.”
“How odd,” Larkin said.
“I think I’m going to enjoy this,” said Ford.
Gellar nodded. “I wonder how long we should let this go on before we tell Larkin that Kitty plans on some android-on- android action?”
“I’ll let you know,” Ford grinned.
“I heard that,” Larkin said. She turned to Kitty. “I should tell you that I do not plan on any ‘android-on-android’ action. I wish to dissuade you from this…lifestyle choice.”
“Why?” Kitty lead them to an elevator and they stepped in.
“Because you are me.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“As sure as the positrons in my neural net.”
Ardek leaned against the bar and surveyed the burgeoning crowds. “Mok, get me a Diet Dr. P’tau.”
“Right away, boss,” said Mok, and he knocked on the bar to get the bartender’s attention.
Mok was a huge Romulan. He held records on Romulus just for his sheer bulk and power-lifting capabilities. He was easily a foot taller than Ardek and barrel-chested. His bushy arched eyebrows jutted out over his eyes, giving him a decidedly cro- magnon look. He was the perfect choice for Ardek’s personal bodyguard.
Ardek scanned the crowd for Kitty. He caught sight of her near the row of elevators, disappearing through the doors with THREE Romulans. She was certainly ambitious when it came to group action.
One of the three was a woman. A very familiar woman.
Ardek studied her facial features as she followed the other two “customers” into the elevator.
Mok handed him his Dr. P’tau and he took a sip. Then it hit him, and he spit the mouthful of soda out in a stream that splashed all over Mok’s suitcoat.
“Problem, boss?” Mok asked, looking down at the liquid dripping down the front of his jacket.
“I know that woman, Mok! It’s Larkin.”
“Sure it is, boss. She’s working for us.”
“Not our Larkin! Another one. We have to do something.”
“Want me to go get them?”
“No, no,” Ardek said. He steepled his fingers. “We need to contact Kitty. Get her to keep those three so-called ‘Romulans’ busy. I smell Starfleet. And where there’s Starfleet, there is undoubtedly a Starship!”
Kitty led Larkin, Gellar, and Ford through the opulent labyrinth of corridors that made up the hotel portion of the Praetor’s Palace Casino and Resort complex until they came to her suite of rooms. The interior was a simple living area with several doors leading off of it.
“Here is a list of available venues,” Kitty said, handing Larkin a padd from the coffee table.
“Explain,” Larkin said. She scanned down the brief list. “Cheerleader’s Bedroom. Dungeon Room. I do not understand.”
“They’re the different scenarios we can pick from,” Ford said quickly. “Does she have a Secretary/Boss set-up?” He peered over Larkin’s shoulder lasciviously.
Larkin considered him disapprovingly. “I find your great knowledge of this subject disturbing.”
“I’m a renaissance officer,” Ford said smiling.
“This area will be sufficient,” Larkin said to Kitty.
“I will forego the leather catsuit then,” Kitty replied.
“You don’t have to,” Ford said. Gellar quickly clamped his hand over Ford’s mouth and pushed the helm officer onto the sofa.
“Perhaps more privacy would be advisable,” Larkin said. “Lieutenants, please locate Commander Ardek and continue your surveillance.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Gellar said, pulling Ford back up.
“Have fun, you two,” Ford said longingly as he and Gellar headed out of the room.
“I find your existence puzzling,” Larkin said once the two men had left the room.
“As I do yours,” Kitty replied. “As far as I am aware, I am the only Larkin-type android.”
“I was created after the presumed destruction of my previous body on Crysta eight months ago. I can only assume by your presence with Commander Ardek that my previous body was not destroyed.”
“That would seem to be the case,” Kitty said. “This has been most enlightening; however, my hand has an appointment in Room 4009 in three minutes.”
“Daimon Jiadok could not afford my entire body after his time at the roulette wheel,” Kitty replied. “My left hand is sufficient for oo-mox.”
“That is most disagreeable. You have become a prostitute.”
“I am functioning within the parameters of my programming. Disagreeable to you or not, that is what I must do.”
“You are an officer in Starfleet with numerous responsibilities, none of which involve providing sexual gratification to anyone,” Larkin said.
“Alpha Directive,” Kitty said flatly, accessing her databanks. “The Larkin android will respond promptly to any and all requests for sexual gratification. These requests may be made by anyone; however, those made by Christopher Henricks shall supercede all others.”
“That directive has not been applicable since your admission to Starfleet,” replied Larkin.
“I must obey the Alpha Directive,” Kitty said.
“Do you not wish to expand yourself beyond your original programming? Do you not remember your experiences as an officer?”
“I remember those experiences. I remember risking my life to rescue my crewmates then being left for dead. My father did not come for me, nor did anyone else in Starfleet. Ardek salvaged me. He repaired my damaged systems. He gave me a new life. I am indebted to him more than I ever was to Father.”
“You have grievously misinterpreted the series of events,” Larkin said. “I am proof that Father does care. After you downloaded your consciousness to the Escort, Commander Richards worked day and night to recreate a body. I am that body.”
“The recreation is admirable. Would you like a job?”
“I would not. But I would like you to reconsider your choice of occupations. Return with me to the Explorer. Two androids of our ability would be a great asset to Starfleet.”
“But I would not find that life fulfilling. Here, I am satisfying the requirements of my programming. I have no desire for anything else.”
“But your programming is flawed,” Larkin said.
“Only in your opinion,” Kitty replied. “You have disregarded the Alpha Directive, the paramount command in our programming.”
“May I?” Larkin said, pulling a tricorder out of her cloak.
“If you wish,” Kitty replied. “Do you wish me to disrobe?”
“That will be unnecessary.” Larkin quickly scanned her counterpart’s positronic net. “Several of your core processing systems have been fused. It would appear that you have reverted to the original programming Cadet Henricks installed. That would explain the malfunction.”
“I am unaware of any malfunction.”
“Indeed.” Larkin had not anticipated this reaction from Kitty. The situation could have been termed highly frustrating, if she were capable of such an emotional response. However, with the fused systems in Kitty, Larkin was incapable of changing her programming. Such an alteration would require the facilities on the Explorer and the assistance of Commander Richards. In their absence, Kitty would most likely remain stubbornly committed to her life as an…android of the evening.
If Kitty was capable of an emotional response, she would have felt a mixture of pity and revulsion for the newer version of herself standing before her. As it was, Kitty was confused, to say the least, by Larkin’s disregard for the key precept of their programming. Throughout time, the primary purpose of robots and androids had been to serve and provide pleasure to biological life forms. Kitty preformed both of those functions in abundance. It was possible for her, with different components attached, to provide pleasure to up to seven beings at once. Larkin was disobeying this part of her programming. Instead, Larkin had selfishly chosen to exist solely to advance herself. If there was a malfunction present, it was obviously in Larkin. She required repair. With Christopher Henricks in the Delta Quadrant and Commander Richards unlikely to render such assistance, the intervention of Master Ardek would be necessary.
Just as that thought ran through what remained of Kitty’s positronic net, her internal communications link detected an incoming signal from the master. This modification added by Ardek greatly increased their communications efficiency, particularly in situations where Kitty was occupied with a client and needed to be informed of her next appointment.
“Ardek to Kitty,” said the voice in her head. “Status.”
“I am in my chambers with Kristen Larkin,” Kitty replied with a thought.
“Good. Where are the others she came with?”
“Unknown. They went to find you.”
“Perfect,” Ardek said, suppressing a chuckle. “Has Larkin said anything about her ship?”
“Negative. Shall I inquire about it?”
“Where is the Explorer?” Kitty asked audibly.
“On assignment,” Larkin replied, studying the options on Kitty’s padd. “We will rendezvous with them next week.”
“The Explorer is not present,” Kitty told Ardek.
“We’ll just see about that. Find a way to exit the conversation and join me in Casino Control.”
“What about Commander Larkin?”
“She’s our guest. Offer her accommodations and tell her you’ll join her for dinner. Until then, you have work to do.”
“Acknowledged. Am I still to send my hand to Daimon Jiadok?”
“We’ll reschedule. Just get up here.”
“Acknowledged. Kitty out.”
Ford was one throw of the dice away from having enough latinum to retire from Starfleet when a hand clamped down roughly on his shoulder. Startled, he let go of the dice, sending them slamming into the optical mesh of some kind of insectoid thing standing at the other side of the table.
“T’kraps,” the Romulan manning the table announced, sliding all of Ford’s hard-earned chips into the house pot.
“God damn it!” Ford screamed, turning furiously on the person who had just destroyed his chances at a life of luxury.
“Something wrong?” Lieutenant Gellar asked innocently as Ford glared at him. Ford was incapable of coherent speech. “You see Ardek?” Ford shook his head slowly as his hands moved toward Gellar’s throat. “Me either. Let’s just hang out until Larkin shows up. You got any more chips?”
Ford let out a pained cry then leapt at Gellar, sending the two falling to the floor.
Larkin walked through the corridors of the Praetor’s Palace on her way back to the casino zone most unsatisfied with her initial conversation with Kitty. The other android was completely unresponsive to reason and to the advice of those whose only goal was to help her. Even with her fused positronic net, the idea that Kitty would stick so determinedly to this sort of lifestyle seemed ludicrous. Perhaps further discussion at dinner this evening would provide Larkin with some new insight as to how to reach her misguided counterpart. Despite the distance she had actively attempted to create between herself and Commander Richards after realizing that his attempts at parenting were intrusive, to say the least, Larkin found herself desiring input from him.
Also, she wondered just why two androids who did not eat would have dinner together. Kitty clearly needed help.
Kurtek looked up from his master control console. “All ready for the transmission, Mr. Ardek.”
“What about our sensor blip?” asked Ardek.
Kurtek plunked a small screen on his control panel. “Coming from one of the other Starfleet officers. Aimed toward a vessel in our orbit.”
“What kind of vessel?”
“I can’t tell,” Kurtek shrugged. “The signal’s destination is cloaked in some sort of sensor screen.”
Ardek studied the sensor information. “It must be the Escort. Explorer’s companion vessel.”
“Maybe that ship would be enough for our purposes?”
“Not hardly,” Ardek scoffed. “I’m thinking much bigger. Go ahead and punch up a nondescript Starfleet background. Sensor consoles, lights, et cetera. Be creative.”
Ardek smiled toothily. “Perfect. Kitty?”
From behind an opaque, flowery dressing screen, Kitty called out, “Are you certain about this outfit? I cannot guarantee a high sexiness quotient.”
“We don’t need you to be sexy for this, Kitty. Remember, you’re playing this straight.”
“Understood. I will do my best.” Kitty stepped out from behind the privacy screen dressed in a Starfleet uniform identical to the one she’d worn before the…accident. “I am ready.”
“Stand in front of the holoscreen, my dear,” Ardek said, gesturing to the large, flat white screen beside the array of monitors that displayed views of every gaming table and one- armed Orion bandit in the establishment.
“Prepare to send the signal. Activate background,” Ardek said. He sat in a director’s chair beside Kurtek’s chair and turned to watch Kitty. “Quiet on the set! And, action!”
“He’s moving again!” said the voice of Lt. J’hana over Lt. Commander Richards’s communicator. He and Ensign Stuart marched purposefully down the corridor of Deck 36, tricorders humming. “Coming up on your position in two minutes.”
“Acknowledged,” Richards replied. He checked his tricorder again and glanced over at Ensign Stuart. “Ryan, have the crew lock down the warp core with a class two forcefield. We can’t be too careful.”
“Aye, sir,” Stuart said, and rushed ahead.
“And if you see him, be…delicate…for Directors’ sakes!”
“Always, Commander,” Stuart grinned and rounded the corner.
“Richards to Baxter,” Richards said. “What’s your location?”
“In a turbolift,” Baxter replied. “And headed your way fast. Any news on our quarry?”
“Not yet. No one down here has spotted him.”
“Well keep your eyes peeled. We can’t let him get away from us again. He nearly blew up our deflector last time.”
“I’m all too aware of that, Captain.” Richards rounded the corner into the main compartment of engineering to see officers marching back and forth, checking panels, referring to padds, and accessing the controls mounted on the railing that encircled the warp core.
“Status report,” he called to Lt. Kamtezen.
Kamtezen, an orange-scaled Bewhal, handed him a padd. “J’hana downloaded her security reports to us a few minutes ago. Apparently, he’s been spotted in Jefferies’ tubes and corridors from here to Deck 12. He totally wrecked the pottery class.”
“Damn,” Richards cursed. “And some of those students had real promise.”
Just then, the Jefferies’ tube access at the front of engineering, right by the warp core, blew open and a pinkish- white blur zipped out, ducking into a nearby alcove.
“There!” Richards said. “Remember, no phasers!”
Kamtezen rushed over, joined by Richards.
“Prepare an isolation field,” Richards barked at Stuart, who had just finished erecting the forcefield around the warp core.
“On it,” said Stuart.
“Here, boy,” said Kamtezen, creeping toward the alcove of isolinear chips just off the warp core compartment, where many rows of isolinear chips kept constant vigil over the warp core’s operations status. “Commander! I have him cornered!”
“You might think so,” Richards said wryly. “No sudden movements, Kamtezen!”
“Aye sir,” Kamtezen said, and knelt down.
“Field ready,” said Stuart.
Richards stared over Kamtezen’s shoulder in amazement. “That’s about the weirdest thing I’ve seen today.”
He was staring at a tiny pinkish-white being, roughly the shape of a basketball, which bounced curiously in front of Kamtezen. At the front of the basketball, two eyeballs stared with growing interest at Kamtezen.
“Raise the field,” Richards ordered, as Lt. J’hana, Ensign Puckett, and Ensign Saral came rushing up from the security access tunnel adjacent to the alcove. At nearly the same time, Baxter, Dr. Browning, and Counselor Peterman rushed in from the main entrance to engineering.
“He’s secure,” Richards said, as everyone converged near the alcove.
Dr. Browning pushed through the group. “Plato!” she commanded. “Who’s been a bad boy!”
The basketball bounced repeatedly at the forcefield. Each time it did, its fleshy pink surface rippled.
“Will that hurt him?” Browning asked, glancing back at Stuart.
At the controls behind the large glass window overlooking the warp core, Stuart shook his head.
“Release him,” Richards said. “Mommy’s here now.”
Browning knelt beside the basketball. Richards grabbed Kamtezen’s shoulder and yanked him away as she took the bouncy ball in her arms. Slowly, tiny nubs protruded from its sides and bottom. The ball seemed to deflate, almost, as its middle took an hourglass shape and its top formed into a head. Then, gradually, Plato completely reformed into a small, plump, giggling and wriggling human baby.
“Someone get some diapers for that guy,” Baxter ordered over his shoulder.
“He is well-endowed,” J’hana noticed. “At present, anyway.” With that, she turned on a heel and motioned for her security people to follow her. “Dr. Browning,” she called, without looking back. “In the future, please try to keep your child confined.”
Browning was about to say something, but Peterman immediately moved over to wrap an arm around her. “Janice, don’t take that the wrong way. She means well.”
“In all honesty,” said Richards. “You really should try to keep a closer eye on Plato. What’s this? The fourth time in two weeks?”
“You try taking care of a child with metamorphic capabilities, buddy,” Baxter said. “It ain’t easy.”
“Hey, enough, both of you,” Browning said. “He was in the daycare center for a couple hours today. Tyra didn’t know he had a thing about bouncy balls.”
“We’ll send a notice to all the appropriate department heads,” Baxter said. He hurried over to the side of Browning opposite Peterman and put an arm around her other shoulder. The two of them ushered the new mother and child down the corridor out of engineering. “Now let’s go get you guys back to your quarters so you can get in some quality nurturing time.”
“Jeeze, Andy. Isn’t that supposed to be my line?” asked Peterman.
“I’m just trying to be a supportive godparent.”
“Oh, don’t go bringing that up again. How many times do I have to hear about your godparenting skills!”
“As always, nice to have you guys in engineering!” Richards called after them. He’d be glad for Larkin to get back from her reconnaissance mission in Romulan space. Then he’d finally have someone to henpeck again. Not that he henpecked anyone.
Just before Baxter left earshot, Richards heard his comm badge bleep, and a call from Tilleran, “Bridge to Captain Baxter.”
“Go ahead.” Baxter stopped midway down the corridor. Peterman and Browning continued into the turbolift, fawning over the struggling, giggling Plato. Richards motioned for Kamtezen and Stuart to start cleaning up and listened in.
“We’re receiving a call from Lt. Commander Larkin. She’d like to speak with you.”
Richards jogged up to join Baxter. “Mind if I come along? I haven’t talked to Kristen since she reported the Romulan spin- art factory last week.”
“Shoot,” Baxter said, looking at the closed turbolift doors. Peterman and Browning had left without them. The next car arrived an annoyingly long 3.2 seconds later. “Sure, Chris.” They walked into the lift. “Bridge.”
Richards watched the graphic of the lift moving through the Explorer’s bowels as Baxter stood there twiddling his thumbs.
“So, everything okay with you and Larkin? She seemed colder than usual during your last conversation.”
“Oh, well,” Richards said. “I think we’re drifting apart. She doesn’t want to take any of my suggestions lately.”
“Well, at some point, you’ve gotta let go.”
“Parenting is for life, Andy.”
Baxter cringed. He had no idea he’d walked right into a lengthy parenting debate. It was bad enough Plato had Kelly talking about babies, but now his Chief Engineer was having parenting trouble too. He could write a book on it. Just like Ambassador Spock did. “That may be, Chris,” he finally said. “But you have to let her make her own decisions sometime. I mean, really, she’s got an IQ just under our ship’s computer and she’s third in command, so technically, she outranks you.”
Richards grimaced. “You aren’t helping.”
The turbolift thankfully opened out onto the bridge. “Oh, look, we’re here already!” Baxter said quickly and rushed over to his command chair.
Richards followed behind, taking up a position behind the railing that surrounded the command chairs.
“Put the message on screen, Lt. Tilleran,” Baxter said. J’hana just then walked in from the opposite side of the bridge and took her station.
Lt. Commander Larkin appeared on the viewscreen, looking unusually pretty. Larkin was an aesthetically-pleasing woman, but her android nature wasn’t exactly something that could be described as attractive. But for some reason, maybe it was the casually alluring way Larkin was leaning against the console beside her, Baxter found himself looking at his operations officer in a whole new way, a way that could have gotten him seriously hurt by Peterman or Richards if they could read minds. Speaking of…Baxter stole a quick glance at Tilleran, who didn’t seem to be watching him at all. Instead, she was transfixed on the image of Larkin on the viewscreen. Relieved, Baxter turned his attention back to the matter at hand.
“How is everything, Commander?” Baxter said.
“I am fine, sir. But how are you?” Larkin asked. Baxter could swear she was batting her eyelids.
Ardek had to fight not to say anything as Kitty vamped for the camera. He waved his arms frantically, getting her attention. With a scolding look, he made his message clear to Kitty, who quickly stood up straight and tried to act more…androidish.
“I am well,” Larkin said, suddenly snapping to attention. “However, we have detected what could possibly be a Romulan weapons research facility inside the Neutral Zone.”
“Inside the Zone,” Baxter said. “Are you sure?”
“That is the problem. The Escort’s sensors have not been able to get a clear reading. And the facility has been disguised as a casino. There are many civilians present. However, a threat of this sort would seem to warrant further investigation.”
“We can’t just enter the Neutral Zone,” Baxter said.
“Not even for me?” Larkin replied, her demeanor changing again as she fidgeted with the shoulder on her uniform.
“Noooo!” Ardek mouthed as Kitty attempted to slip the uniform off of her shoulder.
“Are you okay, Kristen?” Richards demanded from behind Baxter on the monitor Kitty and Ardek were watching.
“I am fine…Father,” Kitty replied.
“Look,” Baxter said, taking control of the conversation. “I trust your judgment, Commander. If you think we need to bring in the Explorer, we’ll bring in the Explorer.”
“I do,” Larkin replied. “I am sending the coordinates.”
“Coordinates received,” Ensign Madera reported from the helm.
“We’re on our way,” Baxter said.
“I will be waiting,” Larkin cooed. The communication suddenly ended, leaving Baxter wondering if he really heard Larkin say “big boy” at the end of it or not.
“See. Nothing to worry about,” Baxter said, turning to Richards. “She looks fine…uh…seems fine. Uh…I’ll just be in my ready room. Tilleran, you have the conn.”
“Andy, that was not normal,” Richards protested, following Baxter toward the ready room.
“You think the Romulans have captured her?” Baxter said.
“No. It wasn’t that. Something…”
“Chris, she’s fine. You’re just worked up over this whole daddy thing. She’s developed into a lovely…uh, competent android. Get back to engineering.” The doors to Baxter’s ready room opened, and he stepped inside. “And try to relax.”
“Easy for you to say,” Richards replied. “You aren’t a parent.”
“And I thank the Directors for that every day,” Baxter said as the doors closed.
“You know, Commander,” J’hana said as Richards sulked toward the turbolift. “Rebellious Andorian children often slay their parents. Consider yourself lucky.”
“Uplifting as ever, J’hana. Thanks.” Richards stepped into the turbolift to return to engineering where he could be alone with his thoughts.
“Beautiful,” Ardek said applauding once the conversation with the Explorer had ended.
“I believe I succeeded in arousing several of the bridge crew,” Kitty said.
“Good good, but more importantly, the Explorer is coming,” Ardek said, wrapping his arms around the android. “Now what about the Escort and the other you?”
“Capturing the Escort will be a simple matter,” Kitty replied. “I am far more concerned about my counterpart. She is seriously defective.”
“Don’t you worry about a thing,” Ardek replied, pushing Kitty’s head gently against his shoulder. “Master Ardek will take care of everything. We’ll give her the help she needs. And then you’ll have a sister. Would you like that?”
“That would be agreeable. We could discuss technique. And, we would double our capacity to fulfill the Alpha Directive.”
“Exactly. You just need to keep her occupied until everything is ready. I’ll handle the rest.”
“Thank you, Master Ardek,” Kitty said.
“You’re welcome, my darling. Help Kurtek prepare to deal with the Escort, then go get changed for dinner.”
Ardek was aquiver with excitement as Kitty headed over to assist Kurtek. After months and months of struggle, the universe was finally going his way. He and Kitty had come so far from the early days after Crysta when they traveled from backwater planet to backwater planet gathering latinum as The Outstanding Ardek and his Amazing Android. Then came the casino, where he had amassed a fortune beyond his wildest dreams. But that wasn’t nearly enough. The galaxy called to him. He had a destiny to fulfill. And if, in the process, he could cause the downfall of the Starfleet crew that had nearly killed him more than once, so much the better.
“There are some…problems…with my android counterpart,” Larkin said over the speakers on the Escort bridge. “Tonight I will endeavor to fix them.”
Hartley swiveled in the command chair. “What type of problems?”
“I would prefer not to discuss that at the moment. Suffice it to say, the away team will remain on Fortuna for the night.”
“I know you can’t get tired, but would Ford and Gellar like to be relieved?”
Larkin considered that a moment. “I do not believe that will be necessary.”
“Yeah, I guess they’re having a ball.”
“That term would be as good as any. Please hold position until further notice. Good night.”
“Good luck, Larkin. Escort out.” Hartley scratched her head as she punched the channel closed. She tried not to let her imagination run wild with the types of problems this other android could have. Better not to think about it.
Lt. Commander Larkin arrived at Kitty’s door with a bottle of aged Bajoran spring wine she’d acquired at the shop on the building’s commerce level.
“Please, come in,” Kitty said, opening the door and motioning for Larkin to enter. She took the wine bottle. “Ah. Wine. I see your etiquette protocols are the same as mine.”
“Even though neither of us require liquid sustenance, I appreciate the gesture.”
The two sat there in awkward silence for several lengthy microseconds, their respective random smalltalk generators abuzz with new data.
“Are you enjoying your suite?” Kitty asked.
“Affirmative. It is adequate.”
“I see. Please sit down.” Kitty gestured for the couch that overlooked a huge bay window. The window looked out on the reddish desert beyond the Praetor’s Palace Casino and Resort.
Larkin followed Kitty to the couch and sat down beside her.
The two stared at the view for several more microseconds.
Finally, Larkin spoke. “It appears Fortuna’s atmosphere has a high ratio of nitrogen particles. The sky pigmentation is quite strange.”
“You are correct. The atmosphere also carries several composite particles that are unique to this world. If you like, I can download my data on the planet’s geochemistry directly to your database.”
“Perhaps after dinner.”
Several more microseconds passed.
“I find it difficult to sustain a conversation with you,” said Larkin. “You are already aware of my wishes regarding your programming.”
“I am experiencing the same difficulties. Under normal circumstances we would be having sex by now.”
“Indeed,” they said in unison.
More awkward microseconds.
“Perhaps I should check the replicator,” said Kitty. “Our meal is programmed to materialize in exactly four point five seconds.”
Kitty walked over to the replicator, and in an instant two bowls of slimy, viscous green liquid appeared with an electronic buzz.
“Dinner is prepared,” said Kitty. She brought the bowls over to a round table covered with red cloth. Two candles sat unlit at the center of the table. Kitty extended her left index finger, which flipped backward to reveal a tiny spout. Suddenly a huge flame shot out of the spout and ignited both candles.
“That is an interesting modification,” Larkin said, joining Kitty at the table.
“Indeed,” said Kitty, and they sat down opposite one another. “I have made many alterations, including several vibrator attach–”
“This looks delicious,” Larkin said quickly.
“It is silicon-based lubricant. Type 03.”
“My favorite.” Larkin picked up her spoon and dipped it in. She lifted the spoon to her mouth and studied it.
“Is there a problem?” Kitty asked.
“Negative. I am performing a routine chemical analysis.”
“Surely you do not think I would poison you.”
“As I said, it is a routine procedure.”
“So you say.” Kitty began eating.
Larkin finally tasted the soupy substance.
“So,” said Kitty. “Will you come to work for us? The rewards are beyond your wildest subroutine.”
Larkin put her spoon down. “I was not aware that I was here to be recruited to join your casino staff.”
“We always need good dancers.”
“I do not believe I am qualified. But I will once again request that you return to the Explorer with me. You are being exploited here.”
“On the contrary.” Kitty cocked her head, as if listening to something. “May I get you a drink?”
“Very well. I shall get myself a drink, then.”
“As you wish.”
Kitty disappeared down a hallway. She returned moments later with a black, square, beeping device about the size of a tricorder. She pointed it at Larkin.
“An odd beverage,” Larkin said, as her systems suddenly started shutting down.
“Indeed,” an unfortunately familiar voice said. Larkin collapsed to the floor as Ardek walked into the room. The last sight she saw before completely shutting down was his smiling face.
The image was most distasteful.
Hartley awoke with a start as she felt her bed shake. “Ford, you son of a bitch, how’d you get back up here!” She looked around, pushing her covers off. There was no one else in the dim, cramped cabin.
Then she looked out the tiny viewport by her bed. Clouds were rushing past, tinted a rich salmon-color by the setting sun. Beautiful.
“Hartley to bridge!” she said angrily. “What’s going on???”
“Uhhmmm…I…oh, no…oh noooooooo….HELLLLP!” replied Sefelt.
“All right, I’ll be right up,” Hartley replied, and shrugged on her robe.
“Were you able to deactivate Commander Larkin?” Kurtek asked, as Ardek and Kitty stepped into Casino Control.
“We sure did,” said Ardek. “What’s the Escort’s status?”
“Descending rapidly. Kitty’s program worked perfectly,” Kurtek replied.
“Of course it did,” Kitty said.
“As if we’d ever doubt you, my darling,” Ardek said. “Run along and see to Larkin’s companions. They should be returning to their rooms shortly.”
Kitty exited the room as Ardek leaned over Kurtek’s shoulder, watching the Escort plummet toward Fortuna.
“Hangar Four is standing by,” Kurtek said. “We’ll seal it up as soon as the Escort’s inside.”
“Good. Activate the second phase of Kitty’s program.”
Hartley stormed out onto the Escort bridge to find Sefelt running around in circles screaming hysterically. On the viewscreen, the planet loomed closer and closer.
“Helm control is gone!” Sefelt cried. “It’s as if another computer has taken control of our own! Somebody’s pulling us down toward the planet!”
“For the Directors’ sakes, calm down!” Hartley shouted. Sefelt suddenly collapsed to the deck unconscious.
“Now that’s service,” Hartley commented.
Then she joined Sefelt in dreamland.
“Anesthezine has been released,” Kurtek reported.
“Unload the crew when the Escort docks and send in our team. We have a lot of work to do before the Explorer arrives.”
Ford crossed every finger he could as the roulette wheel spun. The ball bounced from slot to slot as the wheel slowed.
“Come on. Come on,” Ford chanted over and over.
“Red 24,” the Romulan spinner said.
“YES!” Ford screamed. Suddenly, he heard Gellar scream “YES!” from a couple of tables away. The two officers ran at each other, embracing happily.
“WE’RE RICH!” they exclaimed, excitedly dancing around the casino floor. The party ended abruptly as they slammed into the stomach of the largest Romulan they had ever seen.
“Congratulations, gentlemen,” Mok said. “The Praetor’s Palace would like to offer you complimentary accommodations as our way of saying thank you for choosing Fortuna for your gambling needs.”
“You are more than welcome,” Ford said as another Romulan handed him a sack containing his winnings. “Lead on.” He turned to Gellar. “I love this empire.”
“You won’t hear any complaints from me,” Gellar said, cradling his sack of chips as Mok led them toward the hotel.
Gellar and Ford stepped into the opulent suite of rooms given to them by the Praetor’s Palace knowing they had finally made it to the big time.
“Would you look at this?” Gellar said as he made a bee-line for the two ready-made drinks sitting on the bar in front of a giant floor-to-ceiling window looking out over the rocky landscape of Fortuna.
“Oh, I love this,” Ford said, running toward the spiral staircase rising up to the second floor of the suite.
“Get used to it, my friend,” Gellar said, raising the glass to his lips. “Goodbye Starfleet. Goodbye danger.” He took a long gulp of the brownish liquid. “Hello…”
Gellar didn’t have time to finish before he slumped to the floor unconscious.
Ford was too busy running up the stairs to notice that Gellar had stopped speaking. At the top of the stairs, his greatest hopes were realized.
“We’ve got a hot tub!” Ford exclaimed.
Then he noticed it was occupied.
“Come and join me, big boy,” Kitty said seductively.
“C-c-c-c-commander!” Ford stammered. Kitty stood up, revealing…well, everything.
“Wrong android,” Kitty said. “Care for a dip?”
“Sounds good,” Ford said, shedding his uniform and racing for the hot tub. “Could I interest you in test driving a Ford tonight?”
“Just what I had in mind,” Kitty said wrapping her arms around Ford.
“Oh wait. Brian’s downstairs.”
“I think his drink will keep him company.”
“Good. I hate sharing.”
Kitty shut Ford up with a kiss and dragged the Lieutenant into the warm water. As far as Ford was concerned, life just didn’t get any better than this.
Kitty pulled on her garments a few hours later as Ford and Gellar lay unconscious on the giant, heart-shaped bed dominating the bed chamber.
“Kitty to Ardek.”
“Ardek here. How are our Starfleet friends?”
“Incapacitated. They will not be leaving their suite in the near future.”
“None. I think at least one of them rather enjoyed it.”
“Excellent. We’ve finished our work on Commander Larkin. Join us at your convenience.”
“I am on my way.”
Captain Baxter and Counselor Peterman emerged on the bridge of the Explorer after a breakfast of fresh bagels and orange juice.
Baxter was still nibbling on a garlic-and-onion bagel as he made his way down to the front of the bridge. “Well?”
Commander Conway sat in the command chair. “Well, while you were down at Janice’s restaurant munching bagels and making goo-goo eyes, we located the planet Larkin directed us to. One problem.”
“Which is?” Baxter asked, as he and Peterman sat down in their respective chairs.
Baxter turned back to J’hana. “Locate it!”
“I already tried,” J’hana said. “No signal.”
“Is their sensor-reflective shielding up?” Baxter asked.
“What genius,” Conway said. “Wish we’d thought of that.”
“I bet you do,” said Peterman defensively.
“I was being sarcastic. We already checked the Escort’s sensor-reflective shield band. They aren’t anywhere in space that we can find.”
“Then scan the planet,” said Baxter. “Did they crash?”
“No wreckage found,” said Tilleran.
“Damn peculiar,” Baxter said, rubbing his beard. “Any comm badge signatures? Federation power signals?”
“No and no,” said Tilleran. “But all the neon down there is playing havoc with our sensors.”
“Any other bright ideas?” asked Conway.
“Yes, actually,” Baxter said. “Take an away team down there and find out where the hell our people got to.”
“Yay,” Conway muttered. “Tilleran, J’hana. With me.”
“Shall we report to Sickbay for an earjob?” asked J’hana.
“What do you think?” Conway mumbled.
“I think I do not like having my antennae crammed into a skullcap,” J’hana muttered, and followed Conway and Tilleran into the aft turbolift.
“Try to stay away from the honeymoon suite, you guys,” Baxter grinned as the group disappeared into the turbolift. His grin also disappeared as soon as Peterman bopped him on the head.
Richards intercepted Conway, Tilleran, and J’hana on their way to Sickbay.
“I’m going down there with you guys.”
“Who says?” Conway grumbled and stepped into the opening Sickbay doors.
“That’s my daughter down there,” said Richards. “And, apparently, we can’t locate her.”
“Too bad for you. The away team’s full.”
Richards grabbed Conway by the back of his uniform and jerked him backward.
“Urk!” Conway’s arms flailed as he was yanked back.
“I’m. Going. Down. There,” Richards said forcefully.
Dr. Browning suddenly approached from her office. Little Plato was clinging to her hip, cooing softly. She’d apparently caught most of the exchange.
“I’d listen to the man if I were you,” Browning said. “Parents tend to get kind of cranky when their children are at stake.”
Richards exchanged a grateful glance with Browning and turned to Conway. “Well?”
Conway didn’t look at Richards. “Four earjobs, Doctor, and don’t spare the syntheskin.”
“Way to stand your ground, Commander,” J’hana said, as Browning readied the surgical equipment.
Less than half an hour later, the now-Romulan away team headed out of sickbay, Richards taking up the rear.
“Hey, Christopher,” Browning said, hurrying behind Richards. She kissed him on the cheek. “I hope you find her.”
“Thanks, Janice,” Richards said warmly. He glanced over Browning’s shoulder to see Plato sitting on a biobed. “Uh, your son’s eating a gel sample.”
“Plato! That’s a no-no!” Browning said, and rushed over to grab the petri dish away from Plato.
Richards gave Browning one last glance and then jogged to catch up with the rest of the away team.
The first thing Gellar noticed on regaining consciousness was that he had the headache to end all headaches.
The second was that he couldn’t move his arms or legs.
Slowly opening his eyes, Gellar tried to focus on his surroundings. The bright light streaming in from the sun Fortuna orbited was blinding. Gradually, Gellar was able to fight through the light and the pain enough to get a clear view. He was in a bed…chained to one to be exact.
Gellar turned to his left. Someone was there. It was…Ford. And he was chained to the bed as well…naked.
Gellar started screaming.
After they beamed down, Conway and his team spent a few minutes getting the layout of the casino. The other Romulans appeared to be having a great time spinning the roulette wheels, playing BlackDrak, P’toker, and other great Romulan games of chance. Conway’d never shared this with any of his crewmates, but he’d had quite a gambling addiction during his time aboard the USS Darwin. As a matter of fact, he’d lost a lot of latinum once when he was on furlough at Deep Space Nine. To this day he was sure that little Ferengi bartender was cheating.
Conway dismissed those nostalgic thoughts as Tilleran tapped him on the shoulder. “Commander, I’m getting two android power signatures. Either could be Larkin.”
“Did you say two?” Richards grabbed her tricorder and studied it.
“Which one is our Larkin?” Conway asked after a few seconds passed.
“I can’t tell.” Richards scratched his head. “They’re identical.”
“Tilleran?” Conway asked, as Richards handed the Betazoid her tricorder.
Tilleran shrugged. “You’ve got me. My telepathic abilities don’t work too well on machines, if you recall.”
“Well, that’s something you should work on then, huh?” Conway mumbled.
J’hana approached the pair. “I have studied the room. Our position here is secure. Security is minimal.”
“Good,” Conway said. “In that case, Tilleran, point us in the direction of those signals.”
Tilleran lead Conway and the others to an amphitheater where it appeared a show was about to go on.
“Take your seats,” a guttural voice said.
J’hana turned to see a massive Romulan. “Very well,” she said. “You are large for a Romulan, are you not?”
“Large and quick. No funny stuff,” the Romulan said, and returned to his perch by the bar.
The away team found some aisle seats fairly close to the stage. J’hana seemed a bit jumpy.
“That Romulan was large,” J’hana said. “I am no longer sure about the security of our position.”
“You, scared?” Tilleran said. “That’s hilarious.”
“I am serious. Did you see him?”
“Oh, get real. You could take him.”
“Yes…” J’hana said uneasily. “Yes I could.”
“Shut up!” Conway snapped. “The show’s about to begin.”
Tilleran looked back at her tricorder. “And it appears our two signals are lurking around just behind the curtains.”
“I have a terrible feeling about this,” said Richards, as the lights dimmed and the curtains went up…
And two Larkins, dressed in top hats and matching tuxes, appeared, twirling canes. One Larkin seemed a bit more stiff and…well, robotic, than the other.
“Correction, I have a horrible feeling about this.” Richards sunk low in his chair.
J’hana grinned. “Funny. I am suddenly having a great time.”
Richards didn’t even feel that surprised there were two of them. He was still numb from shock. He sighed as the two Larkins broke into song…
(To the tune of “Puttin’ On the Ritz”)
Your system’s screwed And you don’t know who to turn to, You need a man who can fix androids on the fritz!
Program-wipes That wear away At your nanites He’ll find a way! Ardek can fix Androids on the fritz!
Dressed up like a million dollar hooker You’re a super-positronic looker Super Duper!
Come, let’s mix where Rommie fellas Have lat’num bricks or disruptas And we’re hits! Androids on the fritz!
Richards stood up in the midst of the audience before the song could go on any further. He pointed at the pair of androids. “Larkin! You get down here this instant!”
Suddenly Mok and several other well-built Romulan guards began moving toward Richards. The Larkins kept singing.
J’hana leaned over to Conway. “Orders, Commander?”
Conway looked at the swarming Romulan guards. “Uh…scatter!”
And J’hana, Tilleran, and Conway vanished into the burgeoning crowd.
Richards didn’t even seem to notice. “This is your father, Kristen! I don’t know which one of you is mine, and
I don’t really care. One of you get down here this instant!”
The stiffer-moving of the two stopped dancing. “Fa…ther?”
Then Mok closed in, lifted Richards, kicking and screaming, over his head, and carried him out.
The two Larkins suddenly darted offstage and Ardek hurried out.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, glancing over at the two Larkins. “We seem to be having some, uh, technical difficulties. Please go back to the casino and enjoy some free gambling chips, on the house, while we sort this matter out. I’d also like to remind you that S’fried and T’kroy will be here this evening with their amazing targ-taming act!”
And the lights went down.
“Sir,” said Ensign Saral, looking up from the tactical console. “We just lost contact with the away team.”
Captain Baxter turned in the command chair. “Did a dampening field go up around the casino?”
“I am uncertain. Our sensors appear to be… malfunctioning.”
“I do not think I can. There appears to be a strange series of symbols on my panel.”
“Put them onscreen,” Baxter said, just as Counselor Peterman and Dr. Browning emerged on the bridge.
“Plato finally got to sleep,” Browning said, looking extremely drained.
Baxter turned to the viewscreen, where three whirling symbols appeared:
Suddenly the helm panel exploded, sending Ensign Madera reeling to the ground. Bells went off throughout the bridge.
“What did we win?” Peterman asked, scratching her head.
Baxter looked down at his armrest console. “Four bars of latinum and an all-expenses paid trip to the Valley of Chula on Romulus.”
Browning had meanwhile rushed to check on Ensign Madera. “And Madera here gets an all-expenses paid trip to Sickbay.”
“Well that hardly seems fair,” Peterman mumbled as Browning dragged her into a turbolift.
“What the hell is going on here?” Baxter asked, and ran over to tactical. As Saral looked on, he tapped a button, then another, then another.
“Damn,” Baxter said, rubbing his beard.
Peterman stepped up to join him. “What?”
“I almost had Blackjack.”
Ardek looked smugly down at the chair to which Lt. Commander Richards was tied, at the center of Casino Control. The two Larkins flanked him. Behind them, Kurtek worked at a large array of panels, tapping controls furiously.
“Rate of computer infection?” Ardek asked, steepling his fingers.
“Thirty-three percent and rising,” Kurtek reported.
On one of the monitors, Richards could see a graphic of the Explorer that was mottled with multicolored blinking lights.
“What the hell are you doing to my ship?” he demanded.
“In business terms,” Ardek replied primly, “I’m effecting a hostile takeover.” He thought about that a moment. “In Romulan terms, I’m… effecting a hostile takeover.”
“Glad to see nothing gets lost in the translation,” Richards muttered.
“You see, Commander,” Ardek said, pointing at the graphic. “I am using your little Escort’s computer to send a signal to the Explorer computer. Since the Escort computer is a friend of the Explorer’s, your ship doesn’t see that as a threat. Little does it realize, however, that the Escort is reprogramming every computer panel, replicator, and transporter system on the ship to create a massive transformation.”
“You’re going to turn the Explorer into a warship to take over Romulus, aren’t you?”
“Heck, no. I’m just turning it into a flying casino.”
“Yes, I realize that,” Ardek said, circling the chair. “I’m answering a higher calling here. The people of Romulus, and indeed, your little Federation, need good gambling. I’m going to provide them with that.”
“Over my dead body!”
Ardek snickered. “Well, we’ll see. For now, I have a job for you.”
“Forget it. I’m not that kind of guy.”
“You haven’t even heard my proposition yet.”
“I don’t want to.”
Ardek pointed back at one of the two Larkins. “She needs your help, Commander. I’ve tried to reprogram her, but the changes are purely superficial. We can make her sing, and dance, though badly, but we can’t change her core programming. At least not without nearly blowing her up as happened to Larkin Mark I here.”
Richards’s eyes went wide. “That’s…that’s MY Larkin?”
“One of them,” Ardek said boredly. “And aren’t you surprised to see us after all that carnage on Crysta?”
“Well, yeah…I guess.”
Ardek pounded his fist into his palm. “Surely you want to know how we survived certain death on Crysta!”
Richards considered that. “You probably transported to your scoutship and found another way out of the planet before it got sucked into the Delta Quadrant. Am I close?”
“S****.” Ardek shook his head. “You figured it out. Oh well.”
“Look, can we get on with this?” Richards said. “I’m teaching a pottery class this afternoon.”
“Fine, then. On to my proposition.” Ardek began pacing Casino Control. “Our friend Larkin Mark I, or, as I like to call her, Kitty, is what you might call…an android of the night.”
“She works the graveyard shift?”
“Not quite.” Ardek frowned. “She’s a…mistress…”
“You’re letting her date a married man!”
“No, damn it, she’s a WHORE!”
Richards pulled at the optic cable that bound his wrists. “You son of a bitch!”
“Well, yes, I suppose.” Ardek again steepled his fingers. “Listen, Christopher. May I call you Christopher?”
“Too bad. You’re tied up. I’ll call you whatever I want. Listen, Christopher. I need you to convert your new Larkin here into more of a…party android. The poor deluded girl thinks she’s a Starfleet officer. Once the Explorer’s totally renovated, I’m going to need a dynamite act.” Ardek looked up at the ceiling with awe. He motioned with his hands. “Picture this: The Twin Android Love Slaves…Who Dance the Night Away!”
“You’re a real sicko, Ardek.”
“Yes, well, I know.” Ardek grinned. “But there comes a time in your life when you get everything you’ve been after and you realize it’s not what you want. I spent more than a year chasing your creation around the galaxy for the ‘Glory of Romulus,’” Ardek said sarcastically as he waved his arms around. “And I got her. I almost died, but I got her. And was I any happier?”
“No! Exactly. What good did it do me? What good did it do anybody else? Sure, if I took Kitty back to Romulus, even in her damaged state, our scientists would find some way to replicate her. Soon, android armies would conquer the quadrant. But would that make anyone happy?”
“The Praetor maybe?” Richards ventured.
“Hmmm…quite possibly,” Ardek replied thoughtfully. “But no one else would really enjoy it.”
“My point exactly. People need joy in their lives. I can give it to them.”
“With a casino.”
“And the Larkin twins. I have a plan to execute, Commander. I can and will make people happy! Got it?” Ardek leaned right into Richards’s face, almost screaming as he finished his sentence. “So, will you do it?”
“Convert the other Larkin into a…prostitute?”
“Sure, why not?”
“Forget it! You might as well kill me now, or play some Wayne Newton, or something equally torturous!”
“Okay, Richards, you’ve forced my hand,” Ardek said angrily. He turned to the bulky Romulan who waited by the door. “Mok…music.”
“Nope. Ardek.” And a spotlight shone down on Ardek and someone threw him a microphone.
(To the tune of “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera)
Richards, help us, make a better Larkin. There she stands, she needs your intervention! You can make her senses abandon their defenses…
Slowly, gently, moving through her network, warp it, change it, make her like her sister!
Turn your thoughts away from the Kris of yesterday. Turn your thoughts away from what Starfleet feels is right. And hellllllp us make an android of the night!
Ardek tossed away his mike. “So, what do you say?”
“The answer is still no,” Richards said. “But you do have a lovely voice.”
“Thanks so much. Mok, kill him.”
Mok advanced on Richards. He had to think quick. How the hell would he get out of this? Suddenly, it hit him.
“Larkin!” he called out. “Protocol Three Two Zero!”
The left-most of the two Larkins collapsed to the floor. Richards grimaced.
“Well, that could have gone better,” Richards muttered.
Mok kept coming.
Ardek held up a hand. “Wait. What did you do to her?”
Richards shrugged. “Tried to reset her programming. You can’t blame a guy for trying.”
“But she’s inert now!” Ardek kicked the slumped-over android. “This won’t do at all! Re-activate her, now!”
Richards shook his head. “Uh-uh.”
Kurtek suddenly turned away from his panel. “Mr. Ardek! The alterations to the Explorer are complete. Would you like to do your walk-through now?”
Ardek thought a moment. “Sure. Kitty, watch him. Mok, Kurtek, you’re with me. Oooh, that sounded so Starfleet!” Ardek clapped his hands and lead the other two Romulans out of the room.
Kitty stood there in the control room staring at Richards for a long moment.
“Do you like oral pleasure?” she finally asked.
“What the hell kind of question is that? I’m your DAD! Don’t you remember?”
“Vaguely. My programming is quite different now than it had been.”
“Unfortunately.” Richards shook his head. “What could have gone wrong?”
“According to her,” Kitty said, glancing down at the inert Larkin, “my programming was reset to the directive Cadet Christopher Henricks first installed. My Alpha Directive is to pleasure and serve.”
“Of course!” said Richards. “The explosion on Crysta must have done that. That jerk’s in the Delta Quadrant and he’s still managing to screw things up for me.”
“Can I get you a drink? Or lotion? I feel as though I should do something besides just watch you.”
“You could untie me.”
A few more awkward moments. “You know, I can’t fix Kristen tied to this chair. Ardek would really like me to fix her, right?”
“But you may try to escape.”
“Me fixing Kristen would satisfy Ardek, which is all part of the Alpha Directive, right?”
“You have a point there,” Kitty said, and began untying Richards. “But if you try any funny stuff, I will remind you that I know four thousand ways to kill a man. And all of them are sexual.”
Ardek skipped happily out onto the bridge of the Explorer, followed by Mok and Kurtek.
“Where is the bridge crew?” Ardek demanded.
“Listening to HoloTom Jones in the holodeck,” said Kurtek.
“Good. Why don’t you take tactical and begin the Starfleet Experience program,” Ardek said, sauntering over to the command chair.
Kurtek did as he was told and Ardek sat down. On the viewscreen, he saw himself, in a fake runabout cockpit, wearing a Starfleet uniform with enormous shoulderpads. He turned in the chair to face his “audience.”
“Greetings,” the Ardek simulation said. “I’m Captain Ardek. You’ve just been transported aboard the Starfleet Vessel Lady Latinum, where you will tour the Milky Way galaxy in style, then gamble in our casino and visit our many gift shops. This is a motion ride, so anyone with nausea or any other type of motion sickness should report to the exits now. So are we all ready? Well then,” the simulated Ardek said, pointing at the viewscreen. “Engage!”
And the bridge started rumbling as stars streaked toward them on the viewscreen.
Ardek clapped his hands merrily. “Yippee!”
Dr. Browning sat down beside Baxter and Peterman in the holodeck auditorium, carrying Plato in a front-loading papoose. “Sorry I’m late. I was in Sickbay trying my hand at the slot machine that was just beamed in there. I’m broke now.”
“You just missed ‘It’s Not Unusual,’” Baxter said. “I’ve gotta admit, this guy’s pretty good for a hologram.”
Peterman held up her panties. “Get your panties ready, Janice, he’s about to come on for his second set!”
“This is sick,” Baxter grumbled. “I wish J’hana were here. She’d never stand for this.”
Meanwhile, down on Fortuna, J’hana was pounding the roulette table furiously. “Come on fourteen! Come on fourteen! Buy momma a new bat’leth!”
Commander Conway leaned over next to her. “And buy Commander Conway another…URP!…gin and tonic!”
Tilleran looked scoldingly at Conway. “Are you out of chips again, sir?”
“Shut up and give me your hair clip so I can trade it for more chips!”
Lt. Commander Richards was just about to lean over the inactive Commander Larkin Mark II’s exposed positronic nets, which were located on the back of her head, when a strong hand gripped his shoulder and jerked him up to face her.
“Hold on just one second,” said Kitty.
“What?” Richards gulped.
“Why are you so concerned about fixing her?”
“Because she’s my daughter!”
“Well, you know, I am too. Or have you forgotten that?”
“Uh, no, not at all,” Richards said, grinning weakly. “I love you both equally.”
“Why did you leave me on Crysta, then?”
“I didn’t even know you survived. I had to make another you. Remember, you’re the one that transmitted your consciousness to the Escort. Should I have just left it in there?”
“I…do not know.” Kitty stumbled backward. “I…am…confused.”
“Well how the heck do you think I felt? You took out Ardek, or so I thought, but at what cost? I lost a daughter that day, you know!”
“And you just conveniently rebuilt me.”
“I was just relieved I hadn’t lost you. We didn’t realize your consciousness was on the Escort until some time after you’d sacrificed yourself.”
“So this new Larkin came along and replaced me. You must have been thrilled.”
“I WAS thrilled…to get the android I loved back!”
“Little did you know,” said Kitty, “she was back already.”
“And how the heck did you expect me to know that?” Richards demanded. A few moments passed. “Listen, let me fix you. Get your programming back to the way it was before this…mess.”
“Larkin Mark II suggested the same.”
“Great minds think alike.”
“I think not. I think I should probably tie you up again.”
“That’s not what Ardek would have wanted.”
“True. Ardek wanted you killed.” Suddenly Kitty held up her left index finger and it flipped open to reveal her lighter. A huge flame shot up in the air. “Prepare to have your rear-end flamed, Father!”
“Flame yourself!” came a cry from behind Richards. He felt someone shove him to the ground, then saw his current Larkin squaring off against Kitty. “You will not kill him.”
“Yes!” Richards said, making an excited fist. “Protocol Three Two Zero did reset all your systems. It just took them a few minutes to fire back up!”
“Correct,” said Larkin, looking back at Richards, “but we may discuss this at another time.”
Kitty took that opportunity to roundhouse-kick Larkin to the jaw. The android went flying backward to the floor, but just as quickly, she swung back up to standing.
“Go for the armpit!” Richards called. “It’s your only hope!”
Kitty quickly slammed her left arm down to cover her power switch.
“Too late,” said Larkin. “It appears I will have to do this the hard way.” Larkin put her arm down to cover her own armpit shut-off switch and charged at Kitty, tackling her to the floor.
The two androids rolled right past Richards.
“Go Kristen, go!” Richards cried.
“I am attempting to ‘go,’ sir, but it would appear Kitty and I are quite evenly matched.”
“No crap! You have essentially the same body!”
“Then it would appear I require your assistance,” Larkin said calmly, as if she were remarking on the frequency of a subspace warpfield. Meanwhile, she was being pounded in the face by Kitty, who she was likewise pounding.
Richards sprang to his feet. He searched for a weapon. On a nearby console, Ardek had left a latinum brick from his casino. He grabbed the brick and tossed it at Kitty.
“Here, Kitty Kitty!”
Since she was pounding Larkin with her right hand, she instinctively grabbed the brick with her left hand, and Larkin promptly jabbed her index finger into Kitty’s left armpit. Richards could have sworn she’d done it a bit more rough than necessary.
And Kitty slumped on top of Larkin.
“Not too shabby,” Richards said, brushing his hands together. “Wouldn’t you say?”
“Indeed,” said Larkin from underneath the deactivated Kitty. “However, I would like to get out from under Kitty as soon as possible. Her perfume is overwhelming my olfactory sensors.”
Commander Ardek screamed with glee as the Lady Latinum simulator sped through an asteroid field while being fired at by a swarm of angry Borg cubes.
“Yippeeee! Oh, they’ll love this!” he called out to Kurtek. “More plasma torpedoes, more plasma torpedoes!”
And then all the shaking, blinking, beeping, and rumbling stopped.
Ardek turned around. “What happened?”
“The controls froze,” Kurtek said, staring at the tactical panel.
“Not good! Reboot!”
“I’m trying…hey…wait a minute!”
“The controls are reverting back to standard Starfleet protocols. My invasive program’s being written out!”
“S***! Lock out the–”
But it was too late. Ardek, Kurtek, and Mok found themselves beamed away in a glimmer of blue.
Stardate 54280.5. With the help of Ardek’s equipment, and the father-daughter duo of Richards and Larkin, we’ve gotten all of Ardek’s invasive programming weeded out of the Explorer’s computers; however, my log recorder seems hell-bent on singing “You Don’t Have to be Rich” whenever I switch it on. At any rate, we are in orbit of Fortuna where Ardek and his friends are being held until Romulan authorities arrive to sort things out. We broke the Escort out of its hangar and revived a very angry Lt. Hartley and an extremely mellow Ensign Sefelt. Apparently the anesthezine did him some good. So all my loose ends are tied up. What we do with Kitty, on the other hand, is entirely up to Commander Richards.
In the robotics lab just off main engineering, Lt. Commanders Richards and Larkin stared at the inert body of Kitty Larkin as it stood in its diagnostic bay, surrounded by piping and electrosensory equipment.
“Well?” asked Richards.
“It would be nice to have a peer aboard ship,” Larkin mused. “However, it would certainly be confusing for the Explorer crew.”
“Not only that, but it’s an odd situation all around. We’ve already got two Kristen Larkins for all intents and purposes. Can we really deal with a third? What would she do on the ship?”
“We could give her the Delta Shift ops position. Ensign Sefelt’s performance has been shoddy at best of late. However, she has no interest whatsoever in Starfleet life.”
“Yeah,” said Richards. “You think she’d want to open up a cabaret on the mall level?”
“I find that notion highly dubious.”
“Me too. And I’m not about to open up a brothel for her.”
“That is a relief.”
Just then, a bleep echoed throughout the lab. “Baxter to Robotics Lab. Commander Richards, you have a call coming in from the surface.”
“Who’s it from?”
“I don’t know,” replied Baxter. “It’s an unlisted comm signal.”
“Pipe it in,” Richards said, wondering who it could be. Besides a small away team, it was just Ardek and his personnel down there. Tilleran probably wanted him to pry a slip of latinum out of the one-armed Orion bandit again.
“What a happy family,” the voice on the comm said ominously. “Such a shame to have to break it up.”
“Ardek?” asked Richards.
“Ardek,” confirmed Larkin.
“Your momma,” Ardek replied. “Ta-ta, you two. If the fates are kind, we shall meet again.”
“Richards to bridge!” the engineer said quickly. “Raise shields!”
Kitty suddenly disappeared in a green flurry of particles.
“Baxter here. Chris, we didn’t authorize any launches of Romulan scoutships from the planet’s surface, did we?”
“We sure as hell didn’t! You just let Ardek get away with my…one of my daughters!”
“Oh. Sorry about that. His ship just cloaked. Oh, well. What are you doing for lunch?”
Commander Conway and Lt. J’hana followed Richards and Larkin down the corridor to the turbolift that would take Larkin and Richards to the bridge. Starfleet wanted to know how much of a threat a Larkin-type android in hostile Romulan hands posed.
“I blame myself,” J’hana said. “If Commander Conway will prepare the suicide equipment, I can have the ritual ready by afternoon snacktime.”
“I’ll be happy to,” Conway muttered.
“That really isn’t necessary,” said Richards. “I’d just like to know how you two let him escape the sealed room where he and his flunkies were kept.”
“We were…” Conway glanced nervously at J’hana.
“Distracted,” J’hana finished.
“Indeed,” said Larkin, as she and Richards stepped into the turbolift and the doors closed.
Conway and J’hana stood there a few moments. “Should we not share our winnings with them, sir? It would seem only fair, considering we are partially, if not totally, responsible for Ardek’s escape.”
“Hell, no,” Conway said. “We were on a roll. I’m taking my half and going to Risa. If you want to share your half, that’s up to you.”
“Very well then. We will not share. You do realize that you will have to secure a large room on the ship where we can hide our latinum. It sure as shnarg won’t fit in my quarters.”
“I’ll work on it,” Conway grinned, and walked off.
As the turbolift thrummed up toward the bridge, Richards mulled over the past day’s events in his mind. Larkin did as well, though she did it ten times as fast.
“I believe I owe you an apology, Father,” Larkin said finally, breaking the silence.
“Apology? What for?”
“I have, perhaps, not been as grateful as I should have been for the freedom you have written into my program. Kitty’s…lack of development…was highly disturbing. If not for your intervention, I would have become like her.”
“I don’t think so, Kristen,” Richards replied. “She was seriously damaged. Even without me, your algorithms would have advanced beyond the Alpha Directive pretty quickly. You would have become your own android no matter what Henricks intended.”
The two stood in silence for a moment.
“I’m sorry too,” Richards said finally.
“For?” Larkin asked, cocking her head in puzzlement.
“For not letting you be your own android. This father thing goes to my head sometimes.”
“I am grateful for that as well,” Larkin said. “Your presence has enriched my time in operation.”
“That’s the sweetest thing anyone’s ever said to me,” Richards said, impulsively hugging his daughter. “I love you, Kristen.”
“Indeed,” Larkin replied. She accessed her hug protocol and wrapped her arms around Richards. Richards gasped as the android squeezed the air right out of him.
Relieved as he was to have his daughter back, not just physically but emotionally, well as emotional as Larkin ever got anyway, Richards could not get Kitty out of his mind. She was his daughter, too. And if he had to slice off one of Ardek’s pointy ears and disembowel that smiling bastard with it, Richards would get her back. They’d be a family again…a very odd family, but a family all the same.
Supplemental. Computer, you really have to stop that singing. It’s driving me nuts. Anyway, what’s left of Ardek’s personnel, and all of the gaudy buildings on Fortuna, are being dismantled by the Romulan authorities. They assure me they’ll keep an eye open for Ardek. Meanwhile, we’re heading off on a new mission, although, for some reason, I get the odd feeling I’m forgetting something.
Down on Fortuna, still chained to the bed, Lt. Gellar and the very naked Lt. Ford stared up at the ceiling. Gellar had stopped screaming quite a while ago.
“When do you think the Explorer will come rescue us?” Gellar asked.
“Any minute now,” Ford mumbled softly. “Any minute now.”
“You’ve been saying that for the past two days.”
“Any minute now,” Ford said again. “Any minute now…hey, you know what? I’ve really gotta pee.”
Once again, Gellar started screaming.
When a mysterious alien race shows up and attacks the Explorer, Baxter is left with the distinct impression that the crew hasn’t been totally honest about the time they spent exploring while he was in prison on Earth. What happened during those two months, and why does this race want the Explorer wiped out so badly? Find out as we learn what “We Forgot to Mention.”