Author: Anthony Butler
“On that long road up the Fruited Mountain, remember, the sweet sweet juice of the grapefruit is your reward,” said Mirk, pounding his podium at the front of the First Maloxitarian chapel on the USS Explorer’s mall level.
Captain Andy Baxter’s head bobbed up and down as he leaned his chin on a fist, watching disinterestedly.
Suddenly he started awake as he felt a sharp pinch on his arm.
“Andy!” whispered Counselor Kelly Peterman, nudging him. “What have I told you about nodding off during these ceremonies?”
“I can’t help it,” Baxter whispered back. “He goes on forever. Last week’s sermon was an hour and a half long. These things usually have standard times. They’re very scripted.”
“And how would you know?”
“I was a Xenon Mercurist when I was little. I even went to a Xenon Murcurist School. Saint Beshrakin.”
Peterman wrinkled her nose. “Xenon Mercurist? I’ve never even heard of that religion.”
Baxter shrugged. “It’s obscure.”
“Why haven’t you told me about this before?”
“I don’t like to think about it. Disturbing memories.”
“Dear, that’s what your counselor is for!”
Baxter reached behind Peterman and wriggled his fingers down the back of her Sunday dress. “No, this is what my counselor is for!” and he moved his hand down to her rear end.
“And the path to glory is beset on all sides by fatty foods!” Mirk said, raising his voice a bit and looking toward Baxter and Peterman.
Baxter had the zipper almost all the way down on the back of Peterman’s uniform when a hand smacked his head from behind.
“Captain, Mirk is looking right at you! Everyone see’s what you’re doing!” Lt. Hartley whispered. “Straighten up!”
“Mind your own business!” Baxter snapped back at Hartley.
“And the truly fruity will overcome all obstacles!” Mirk said with a flourish. “And the Directors know when you’ve been naughty, so don’t think you’re fooling anyone!”
“Who could he be talking about?” said Peterman wryly.
After the morning’s service, the senior staff and others waited outside to talk to Mirk. It had taken a while for him to get them into the swing of things. Many Explorer crew still went straight for the shops after mass, but Mirk had convinced many to stay and speak with him about their personal feelings about the Maloxian Orthodoxy and their part in what he termed “The Great Bananna Bunch of Them All.”
“Good to see you this morning, Captain Baxter,” Mirk said, when he came to Baxter and Peterman in the crowd of crew hanging around outside the chapel. “And what, may I ask, did you learn in today’s sermon?”
Baxter shrugged. “A lot.”
“Please,” Mirk said. “Enlighten us all.”
“I couldn’t hope to illustrate your points better than you.”
“Uh…” Baxter struggled. “You told us a lot about fruit. And how it’s, um, good.”
“And how, if we eat a lot of fruit, we’ll be healthy. As long as it’s not grapefruit, for some damn reason, which I’m still trying to figure–”
“Enough!” Mirk said, reaching up and pinching Baxter’s nose in his fingers. “You haven’t listened to a word I’ve said in weeks, have you?”
Baxter struggled to get away, but the little Maloxian’s hold was unbreakable. “Mirnk, whant de hell?”
“This is unacceptable. You’re not even trying. What kind of example do you think you’re showing the rest of the crew?” he asked, waving his hand at the crowd. “Huh?”
“You were just fondling your wife, right?”
Counselor Peterman gripped Mirk by the ear. “Let him go, or I’ll put you in a headlock!”
Mirk let Baxter go and Peterman in turn released Mirk.
Baxter rubbed his nose. “This preacher stuff is getting to you, Mirk. You’re out of control.”
“Have you looked at the polls? We’ve only converted one other ship, and that’s a freighter. The Starshine Kids are killing us. Their enrollment is more than ten times ours. What chance do we have against them if you don’t even listen to my sermons? You know, Captain, I could just brainwash you all. It worked for Sesil. And it’s a hell of a lot less trouble!”
“Now, Mirk…” Baxter said, “let’s not be hasty. I think the whole crew just needs time to…you know, adjust.”
“Well they’d better do it quick, or I’m breaking out the toxic mind-rending gas.”
“Can he do that?” whispered Conway, who was beside Baxter, watching the whole exchange.
“I’m going to have to check the Federation statutes on that one,” said Peterman thoughtfully.
“Well,” Baxter said, taking a breath. “You’ve given me a lot to think about, Mirk. I’m going to go eat breakfast and…meditate on your, uh, sermon. Okay?”
Mirk turned on a heel and headed back into his chapel. “Whatever.”
Hartley hurried after him. “I’d better go turn off the lava lamps.”
“How about that?” Baxter shook his head.
“He has physically threatened you, sir,” J’hana said, stepping up behind Baxter as he took Peterman’s hand and led her down to the glass elevator that would take them up to Level Two, where Dr. Janice Browning’s restaurant was located.
“My nose is fine, J’hana,” Baxter said tiredly.
“He is a security risk. If you wish, I can pick him off with my phaser at the next sermon. It would be a clean hit, Captain.”
“Really,” Baxter said. “That’s not necessary.”
“Or,” J’hana mused. “I can make it look like an accident.”
“We are NOT killing Mirk!” Peterman said, following Baxter into the opening doors of the glass elevator. “He’s on a great personal quest for the Directors, and we have to support him.”
“Yeah,” Conway said, waiting with J’hana outside the elevator. “But why do all 600 of us have to be dragged along with him?”
“Because he says so,” Baxter muttered as the doors closed. He watched Conway’s scowl through the glass doors as the elevator took he and Peterman up to Level Two. Baxter grinned. Something that irritated the commander this much couldn’t be all bad.
“We may have to do something about him, Andy,” Peterman said, as the elevator emptied them out on the upper level.
“You really think we should kill him?” Baxter asked. “It’s a bit rash.”
“I don’t mean killing him. I mean helping him,” Peterman said, clearly frustrated. “He’s showing signs of egomania. He’s not even 19 years old. He may not be ready to lead a religion.”
“I couldn’t even lead my local Starfleet Scouts chapter at that age,” Baxter mused.
“You know, most kids get out of that by the age of 19.”
“Let’s not get into this again,” Baxter mumbled.
“Have it your way,” Peterman said, stepping onto the patio outside Dr. Browning’s restaurant, which overlooked the two levels of Ship’s Shoppes, as well as the massive viewports in the mall level’s ceiling. “Janice,” she called, “are you open?”
Dr. Browning walked out, tying on her apron. “Yep, the ion stoves are heating up as we speak. What can I get you folks?”
Baxter and Peterman took their seats at their customary corner table. “I’m still amazed Mirk lets you get out of services early so you can get ready for the breakfast crowd.”
“We have an understanding,” Browning said. “And I make the best Shlarvak omelletes in the quadrant. It’s a fair trade-off. Now, what’ll it be?”
“Grapefruit,” Baxter said with a grin.
“Andy,” Browning sighed. “You know that’s forbidden.”
“Yeah, I know,” Baxter said dejectedly. “But it felt nice just to say it. Kelly, what do you want?”
“French toast and Bajoran root tea,” Peterman said. “Not too sweet this time, Janice.”
“Flat tea and a couple of floppies for the lady,” Browning said, tapping the order on her padd. “And for her dashing companion?”
“Two eggs, over, bagel with cream cheese, home fries, and a side of grits. And a tall glass of orange juice.”
“The Morning Feedbag with a side of mush,” Browning said. “Good choice, sir. Would you like that with or without heart surgery?”
“Without, please,” Baxter said tersely.
“Okaaay.” Browning whirled and headed for the kitchen. “Out with your order in just a sec.”
“You’re killing yourself, Andy,” Peterman said, turning to look out at the thin crowds that passed by Briggs’s Salon on the other side of Level Two.
“It’s not my fault there are no more grapefruit. Back in the good old days I had the healthiest breakfast around. Oh, well. Not anymore.”
“Don’t blame this one on Mirk. There are plenty of other fruits where that one came from.” Peterman sighed. “You know you’ve been having cholesterol problems ever since your blood had to be replaced.”
“I know,” Baxter said sheepishly. Moments later, Browning returned with a huge tray. She set it down beside Baxter and Peterman’s table, then distributed their drinks and plates in a jumble of clinking and clanking.
“There ya go,” she said, wiping her forehead and surveying the spread she’d just laid out. “Anything else?”
“You did that amazingly fast,” Baxter said. “And you don’t replicate anything?”
Browning laughed nervously. “Haha. Don’t be ridiculous. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got another table to see to.” Lt. Tilleran and Lt. J’hana had just walked in, after windowshopping at a nearby cursed antique store. And J’hana was clamoring for a v’haspant.
“All righty…” Baxter said eagerly, grabbing his fork and digging into his pile of grits. He swirled the fork around until the grits and eggs were mixed, then scooped up a pile of the glop. It was almost to his mouth when his comm badge bleeped.
“Lt. Commander Larkin to all hands: Red Alert. All senior staff to the bridge.”
“Crap,” Baxter said, staring at the steaming grits and eggs on his fork.
“Too bad, honey,” Peterman said, taking one bite of her french toast and wiping her mouth. “You’ll have to poison your system later.”
“I think not,” Baxter said, grabbing his plate. “I’ll eat in the turbolift.”
“You sicken me, sometimes, you know that?”
“Admit it, you love me for it.”
Baxter, Peterman, J’hana, and Tilleran stepped out of the aft turbolift just in time to see a menacing rip in space crackle on the viewscreen.
Conway and Ford stepped out of the forward turbolift at nearly the same time, and everyone quickly took their places.
“It is a rift in time-space,” Lt. Commander Larkin announced calmly, moving to the forward operations station and quickly taking her seat from Ensign Sefelt.
“It looks familiar,” Conway said, and traded a nervous glance with Peterman.
“You must be joking,” Peterman said, laughing weakly.
“Yeah,” said Baxter, stepping toward the viewscreen and handing his empty plate to a passing Yeoman. “I’ve sure as hell never seen anything like it.”
J’hana studied her scans. “At any rate, something is coming through.”
“Identify,” Conway said. His voice was trembling.
“It is a vessel,” J’hana said. “Myzinthi in design.”
“Oh, s***,” said Conway.
“You’ve heard of them?” Baxter asked.
“Kind of,” replied Conway.
A shadow took form in the purple-blue space rift, then resolved into a boxy yellowish ship with a pair of vertical and horizontal racing fins and bottom-mounted warp nacelles.
“Looks like another destroyer,” said J’hana.
“Another…” Baxter asked, glaring at J’hana. “You’ve seen one of these before, too?”
Suddenly an orb of orange energy seared out of the Myzinthi ship and wholloped the Explorer. The bridge rattled; Baxter had to grab ops to avoid falling down.
“Return fire!” Baxter called out, and J’hana sent quantum torpedoes streaming out at the other vessel.
“Looks like they’re using their delta wave pulse again,” Tilleran said.
“Okay!” Baxter said. “Anyone here who hasn’t encountered a vessel like this before, please raise your hand!”
Baxter raised his own hand and surveyed the bridge. Everyone sat still at their respective stations, looking nervously at one another, Peterman included, as another blast rocked the Explorer.
“Why has no one told me about this!” Baxter shouted indignantly, as sparks spewed out of a busted conduit in the ceiling.
“Our shields are nearly down…again,” muttered J’hana. “And we’re doing negligible damage to them…again.”
“I’m trying to set up the deflector for another pulse to close off that space rip,” Tilleran said. “It’s nearly ready.”
“What the hell is going on!!” cried Baxter.
“Sir,” Conway said weakly. “Remember those couple months when I commanded the Explorer a while back?”
BLAM! went the Myzinthi ship.
“Remember my report?”
BLAM! J’hana returned, albeit unsuccessfully.
“Well, I left some…stuff…out!”
The bridge lighting flickered, then went out, then came back up red.
“That’s it,” J’hana said, pounding her panel furiously. “Shields down. Our defensive systems are useless.”
“Pulse is ready,” Tilleran said. “But deflector control is out. We have no way to close that rift.”
“Just dandy.” Conway tapped his comm badge. “Conway to all hands, prepare for boarding parties. It’s the Myzinthi again!”
“I’m the only one on this whole ship who doesn’t know about these people, aren’t I?” Baxter demanded, as suddenly seven white columns of light appeared around the bridge.
The white columns of light resolved into black clad, dark-visored soldiers, wielding large, double-barreled rifles. From what Baxter could see of their heads, they had brownish skin, about the texture of suede.
One of them marched up to Conway. “It is you, the demon-man! The bringer of war!”
“I can explain!” Conway said, holding up his hands. “Don’t kill me!”
The intruder ignored Conway and turned to Peterman. “And it is you, his lying whore loveslave!”
“That’s a bit harsh,” Peterman said.
“This is her real husband!” Conway said, dashing in between Peterman, Baxter, and the lead intruder. “Look!” he grabbed Baxter’s hand and shoved it in the intruder’s face. “See this! It’s a wedding ring!”
Baxter just looked on in shock, moving his mouth like a fish out of the water. “I, uh, um…”
“I do not believe you,” replied the leader. “You’ve lied once. This time, you all will come back to Myzinthar with us.”
“Can I get a word in edgewise?” Baxter asked.
“No!” shouted Conway, Peterman, and the Myzinthi team leader.
“That does it,” Baxter said with a sigh of resolve, and lept at the lead Myzinthi, rattling out a battle cry that would chill a Klingon’s veins.
The last thing he felt before losing conciousness was about six different beams of energy slamming into his back, each painful in their own special way. And he heard Conway muttering something about them having a stun setting after all.
Baxter was thankful he regained conciousness at all. When those beams hit him, he was pretty sure they were set to kill. Jumping at the leader of the invading force was pretty stupid, but on a day like Baxter was having, it seemed like a good idea.
Dr. Browning looked down into his face, flashed four fingers at him. He was lying down, that was certain.
“How many fingers am I holding up, Andy?”
“A million,” Baxter muttered. His vision was a bit foggy.
“He’ll recover,” she said to someone out of his field of vision. “Now how about you take me down to see my son. Apparently he’s wrapped around the head of one of your people?”
Baxter sat up, and immediately felt woozy. “Uuhhhhh…”
“Don’t move around too much,” Browning called over her shoulder. Baxter now saw that he was in a cell in a brig, on the Explorer. And one of those ninja-types was escorting Browning out. “And don’t do anything else silly, Andy!” she added as she left.
“Righty-o,” Baxter mumbled.
“Same scenario, you think?” said a voice.
“Undoubtedly,” another voice replied. “They’ve probably got us in one of the lower brigs, the rest of the senior staff in one of the brigs on deck nine, and everyone else force-fielded into cargo bays throughout the ship. Same as before.”
“Only this time they have the experience from the last time to draw on. They’ll be harder to beat this time.” There was a pause. “What about him?”
“I am awake, you know,” Baxter mumbled.
“You deserve an explanation,” Peterman said in a small voice.
Baxter glanced up, to find Peterman curled up at the edge of his bunk. Conway was lying on the bunk next to theirs, staring up at the ceiling. Baxter immediately realized they were in the Maximum Security holding cell, and they were all by themselves.
“Darn right I deserve an explanation,” Baxter said. “Let’s start with this whole ‘whore loveslave’ thing.”
“That,” Peterman said, “was blown totally out of proportion.”
“I would hope so,” Baxter replied.
“Peterman and I pretended to be married,” Conway said. “It didn’t result in any…fooling around…if that’s what you’re wondering.”
“Why, for the love of the…uhh…Directors, did you do that?”
“We should begin at the beginning,” Peterman said. “So you can understand why we had to hide this…stuff…from you.”
“This better be good,” Baxter huffed, leaning up and folding his arms.
“Good is certainly…one…way to put it,” Conway said. “I guess I’ll start, since I was in command when this whole charade began. It all began like every other day, with my first cup of coffee…”
TWO MONTHS EARLIER
Commander Conway blew wifts of steam off the top of his coffee cup as he stepped out of the turbolift, then stumbled over a ruffled spot in the carpet and did a belly flop onto and down the pair of stairs that lead down to the forward section of the bridge.
He laid in that fashion for a few moments, grimacing at the warmth of coffee spreading underneath him from the upturned coffee cup pressed into his gut.
“Would you like a hand up, sir?” J’hana asked with a chuckle.
“No,” Conway grunted, and pushed up to standing, gripping his mug. He turned around and looked at the ruffle of carpet. “Who did that do the f***ing carpet?”
Then, suddenly, the ruffle of carpet flipped up to refeal Lt. Commander Richards. He climbed out of the hatch beneath the carpet. “What’s all the ruckus?”
“It was you!” Conway growled, marching toward Richards.
“What was me?” Richards asked innocently.
“YOU ruffled the carpet that tripped me and caused me to fall flat on my face on top of my first cup of morning coffee, which is scalding the hell out of me right now.”
“I see.” Richards’s mouth quivered a bit, then he busted out in full-on laughter. The rest of the bridge crew, save Larkin, followed suit.
“Arrgh!” Conway cried, and smashed Richards over the head with his now empty coffee mug.
The engineer dangled in midair for a few seconds then dropped to the floor like a sack of plomeek leaves.
“You killed him with one blow,” J’hana observed. “Admirable.”
“S***,” Conway said. “I’d better call someone.”
“No kidding!” replied Tilleran from sciences.
Conway tapped his comm badge. “Conway to maintenance. We have a coffee spill on the bridge carpet. Report to Deck One immediately with a wet-dry vac. And get me a fresh mug of coffee.”
“Excuse me,” Baxter interrupted hotly. “But what does any of this have to do with the Myzinthi, or you and Kelly pretending to be married?”
“I’m trying to set up the dramatic tension. I’m providing backround on the main character, so you can sympathize with him later.”
“Don’t count on it,” muttered Baxter.
“Main character! Hah!” said Peterman.
“How about you just cut to the chase,” Baxter ordered. “Preferably before the Myzinthi take us back to their home universe and have us executed.”
“They wouldn’t execute us,” said Peterman. Baxter’s spirits lifted a bit at that. “No,” she added, “they’re going to imprison us for life, more than likely.”
“Don’t forget the torture,” Conway said.
“All right, just get on with it!” Baxter railed.
“Right, right,” Conway said. “The chase it is. That would be several hours after the incident with Commander Richards. Your wife was just returning from a…ugh…conjugal visit.”
Commander Conway walked into the Main Shuttlebay and cringed as soon as he saw Lt. Commander Richards hovering behind Ensign Yang at the tractor controls.
“The Algonquin is on approach vector,” announced Yang. Conway saw the grey shape of the runabout appear in the distance beyond the open shuttlebay doors.
“Steady as she goes,” said Richards, and the tractor shot out of the open shuttlebay door, latching onto the Algonquin and tugging it in.
Conway stood behind Richards several moments, glad the engineer’s back was to him. A grey pressure bandage covered the left side of Richards’s head, that much was clear. And it appeared to be covering a huge, egg-sized knot.
As the Algonquin drifted through the hangar door, Conway decided to swallow the bullet. He sidled up next to Richards.
“Nice out, huh?” he asked amiably.
Richards turned. “You.”
“You’re still holding a grudge about that whole headbashing thing, aren’t you?”
“You!” Richards shouted and lept on Conway, so fast he didn’t have time to register what was happening.
“Landing complete,” Yang said, and turned away from the just-landed runabout Algonquin to find Richards on top of Conway. His hands were firmly wrapped around the first officer’s throat. “Uh…I’ll just go do a diagnostic on something.”
With a hiss the door at the front of the Algonquin slid open, and Counselor Peterman stepped out. “Ensign Yang,” she said, to the quickly-retreating ensign. “Could you be so kind as to beam my luggage to my quarters? Thanks a bunch!”
Peterman turned toward the exit doors to find Richards on top of Conway and grimaced.
“And what kind of welcome is this, exactly?” she demanded.
Richards glared back at Peterman. “Welcome back, Kelly. Would you care to help me kill Commander Conway?”
“Normally I’d say yes, but I haven’t even unpacked yet. What are you two fighting about?”
“Grrbggl…” Conway gasped out. His face was turning purple.
“The Commander here bashed me in the head with his coffee mug,” Richards said.
Peterman clicked her tongue. “Boys, I don’t know what I’m going to do about you.” She looked down at the struggling first officer. “You probably had good reason to slam that mug into his head.” Conway nodded vigorously. “But that’s no way to solve your problems. You should be ashamed of yourself Both of yourselves.” She turned to Richards. “Are you okay, Chris?”
“Yeah,” Richards said, still choking Conway. “Janice released me after making me promise not to over-exert myself over the next couple days.”
“Well, you’re not exactly doing a good job keeping that promise. Why don’t you let go of Commander Conway’s throat, and we’ll go down to the mall for a bite to eat. I can tell you all about my visit with Andy.”
Conway and Richards both grimaced.
“Well, I can tell you SOME things.”
“Okay,” Richards sighed and looked down at Conway. “This isn’t over.”
Conway’s grimace deepened, then his eyes bulged, he let out a gurgle, and passed out.
“And my part of the story sort of trails off about there,” Conway said ruefully.
“Oh, you whining little nancy-boy,” Peterman grumbled. “You weren’t even out for an hour.”
“It felt like an eternity!”
“Can we get on with this?”
“I’ll take over,” said Peterman, “before they dismantle the Explorer and sell it for parts.”
“Would they really do that?” asked Baxter.
“That and more,” Conway grumbled. “That and more.”
“Anyway,” Peterman said. “On to happier things…”
“So,” Richards said, rubbing the sore lump on his head. “How was your, uh, trip, Kelly?”
Peterman giggled and leaned under the table in Dr. Browning’s restaurant, with a handful of french fries. “Here, sweetums. Here go boy!”
“Jeeze,” Richards said, rolling his eyes. “When you said we’d have dinner, I didn’t think you meant with your dog.”
“I’ve been without Charlie for an entire week. He’s been biting his paws without me.”
“He’s been biting his paws, my couch, my chair, my desk, my sink, my sonic shower nozzle, my rug, my flower pot…” Richards counted off.
“Thanks for sitting him, by the way,” Peterman said diplomatically.
“It was a pleasure,” Richards said with a weak grin.
“Do you want anything else, or can I get you out of here so some of the other starving people on this damned ship can eat?” muttered Dr. Browning’s Yynsian waitress, Imhala. She was left over from the Explorer’s brief stint as a cruise ship. She appeared behind Richards and Browning as if from out of nowhere.
“Imhala, what’s gotten into you!” Peterman said. “Where is that chipper, cheerful girl that searched the ship for the perfect radish for my salad last week?”
“Go screw one of your pets,” Imhala grumbled, and turned on a heel for the kitchen.
“She’s, um, channeling another past life,” Richards said quietly.
Peterman leaned her head back and stared at the ceiling. “Cripes, not another one.”
“Yes, this one is named Teff, and he was the meanest short order cook on Yyns, apparently.”
“When will it stop? I thought I’d seen it all when she turned into Vorlok, the murdering chauffeur.”
“What kind of mood would you be in if you’d lived forty different lifetimes, and somehow ended up in a service profession each and every time?”
“Point taken,” Peterman said. “I can see I’ll have my hands full with her.”
“Probably,” Richards admitted. “Well,” he said, stretching. “I’d better turn in. We’re overhauling the starboard warp nacelle tomorrow. It’ll be a busy day.”
Peterman leaned forward over the table and looked around conspiratorially, even though the restaurant was empty. “Say, Chris, how has it been?”
“How has what been?”
“The ship, under Conway’s command. Has he really screwed up royally yet?”
“Actually,” Richards said, “with the exception of bashing my brains in with his coffee mug, Commander Conway has done a great job commanding. He’s efficient, thoughtful, great with details…”
“Not really.” Richards shrugged. “Sure, he’s not polite all the time, but he’s done a remarkable job.”
Peterman frowned. “Better than Andy?”
“Tell it to me straight, Christopher!”
“Well, I could see him commanding his own ship. I’ll leave it at that.”
Peterman shook her head. “I spent the whole two day trip back here imagining all the ways he could have screwed up. I was counting on him doing a bad job. Starfleet is not to keen on Andy right now. What if they decide to ditch him for Conway?”
“I doubt they’d do that,” Richards said uneasily. He didn’t seem convinced.
“He’s got to screw up sometime, Christopher,” Peterman said desparately. “Or my husband’s career is doomed.”
“Do you want me to rig something?” Richards grinned.
“That bastard!” Conway exploded. “You never told me that!”
Peterman smiled weakly. “Whoops.”
“I will kill him!”
“Can we get on with this?” Baxter mumbled.
“Fast forward to late that night,” Conway said. “The Explorer was streaking toward the Haberdas system at medium warp, to deliver supplies to a colony. All things were running smoothly, much more smoothly, apparently, than they ever did under you, Captain…”
“Cowaaaaay!” Baxter growled.
Conway grinned. “So my comm panel bleeped, and I answered with tact, composure, and great reflexes.”
“Commander,” announced Lt. Commander Kristen Larkin over the comm system in Conway’s bedroom. “This is the fourteenth message I have sent you. If you do not answer in ten seconds, I will assume command of the Explorer in your place.”
“Hrmmmmmmm?” Conway mumbled sleepily. “Did someone say ‘command’?” he grinned.
“Sir,” said Larkin. “We have detected a very unstable rift in space in an adjacent solar system. Reccomend we investigate in case the rift is spreading.”
“Hmmmmmm,” Conway said, and rolled over.
“Sir!” Larkin said. “The sanctity of Federation is at stake here. If that rift engulfs the entire system, countless lives will be lost. We are compelled to respond.”
“Mmmmkay…” Conway said, and pulled his blankets up over his head.
“Very well. You leave me no choice.”
Conway drifted back off to dreamland, and was shaken awake in what felt like mere seconds later. Explosions rocked across the Explorer’s hull. Fire in space lit up Conway’s bedroom through the window over his bed.
“Conway to bridge!” Conway shouted, rolling out of bed and stumbling into his Starfleet trousers. “What the hell is going on?”
“We have been attacked by a hostile ship that emerged from the spatial rift,” Larkin replied serenely over the noise on the bridge.
“What rift?” demanded Conway. He pulled on a uniform jacket over his NASCAR t-shirt and stumbled out into the corridor, which thrummed with blinking red-alert lights.
“The giant rift in space we went to investigate.”
“Oh, that rift,” mumbled Conway. He plodded into a nearby turbolift as the Explorer shook again.
“We are rapidly losing shields, Commander.”
“I’m on my way up.”
“Excellent,” replied the android over the comm.
Was that sarcasm?
Conway spilled out of the aft bridge turbolift about the same time Peterman did from the forward one. They stared at each other a few moments, but were quickly distracted when an orb of light flew at them on the viewscreen. Moments later, the ship pitched again, and Conway grabbed the railing that lead down to the front of the bridge and stumbled toward the conn and ops stations.
“What do they want?”
“Unknown,” said Larkin, rising from the command chair and relieving a terrified Howard Sefelt at ops.
“Shields failing,” said J’hana tersely. “Nice of you to waddle out of bed, Commander.”
“Shut up and return fire. And hail them.”
“Two for one special coming up,” J’hana said gleefully. It had been a while since she’d gone into combat.
“How the hell did we stumble into this?” Peterman demanded, stomping up to join Conway between conn and ops.
“How should I know?”
“Because you’re the supposed commander of this ship!”
“Supposed!” Conway arched an eyebrow as the Explorer rattled again. “I beg your pardon?”
“Your sloppy commanding was bound to catch up with you after a while!”
“Sloppy?” Conway replied hotly. “Sloppy!”
“Hull damage on decks four through eight,” said J’hana. “Shields down to point five percent.”
“You can’t hope to measure up to Andy!” Peterman cried, pointing at the viewscreen. “Andy would have never let us slip into a situation like this.”
“He’s slipped us into situations like this plenty of times. And who had to swallow his pride and drag us out? Me!”
“Oh, don’t you dare take all the credit, you, you…”
“Farfhengargh!” J’hana cried out.
“Exactly!” replied Peterman. She turned back to J’hana. “What was that?”
“We are being boarded!” J’hana said. She’d obviously not been paying attention to the exchange between commander and counselor.
“Oh, so you could command better?” Conway shouted, staring Peterman in the face.
“My dog could command better!”
“Ooh, if you weren’t a woman!”
“You know what.”
Peterman folded her arms. “Hit me with your best shot, bucko.”
“I have failed,” J’hana announced. “Boarding parties are rapidly converging on the bridge.”
“Perhaps we should take some sort of countermeasure,” suggested Larkin.
“You think you’re so great!” Conway exclaimed, fairly spitting on Peterman he was so close to her face. “Just because you got promoted to commander and got to X.O. this ship for one freaking week, while it was a damned cruise ship no less, doesn’t mean that you know how to command a starship! You couldn’t command your way out of a Pakled border dispute!”
“We’ll see about that!” cried Peterman.
“Here they come!” J’hana announced, as the doors to both turbolifts swished open and black-suited, black-visored invaders plowed in.
“J’hana, your phaser!” Conway cried, whipping his head around. Apparently, he’d just then realized the gravity of the situation.
“Right away.” J’hana ducked behind her station, came up with a phaser, and pointed it at her head. “It was a pleasure serving with all of you.”
“At them!” Conway barked, “Point it at them!”
J’hana turned her phaser on the crowd of invaders just as two of them rushed Peterman and Conway, each slamming the butt of a large, double- barreled rifle against each officer’s head.
“If you so much as twitch, your two commanders get their heads blown off,” one of the invaders said matter-of-factly.
“Shall I fire, Commander?” J’hana asked with a mischievous grin.
“No!!!!” Conway cried.
“So this all happened before,” Baxter said, rubbing his beard. “Fascinating.”
“You’re just now getting that,” Conway muttered.
“So, the Explorer was speedily taken over,” Peterman said. “The mall was overrun in minutes. Mrs. Shar’s kindergarten class was held in their classroom at gunpoint. Five dancers in the Constellation Club were wounded. And, worst of all, my pets were…were…” Peterman sniffed. “Kenneled.”
“The horror,” Conway muttered.
“And how does this lead to you and Captain Coffee Mug over there pretending to be married?” Baxter demanded, turning to Peterman.
“Well, we quickly learned that the Myzinthi and the Federation have very little in common,” Peterman said. “Case in point, starship command structures…”
“So, you are the lead breeding pair?” said one of the Myzinthi, pacing in front of the cell in the maximum security brig. Counselor Peterman and Commander Conway were locked within, sitting gloomily on separate cots.
“Breeding pair?” asked Peterman. “I think not.”
“Then you are leading this ship in insolent, illegitimate, taudry disgrace.” The Myzinthi shook his dark-helmeted head. “No wonder you were taken over so easily.”
“What do you mean illegitimate?” asked Conway. “I’m the legitimate commander of this vessel.”
“Not without a mate, you aren’t,” said the Myzinthi. “What, you expect me to believe you head up this vast starship all by yourself without a female at your side, directing the necessary details. If I believed that, even for a moment, you would be dead.”
“Uh-huh,” Conway said.
“No starship is worthy of honor, without a man and wife in charge.”
“Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem,” Peterman mumbled under her breath.
“Normally, the man and wife are a couple of imbeciles!” Conway replied under his breath.
“You certainly act like a couple,” the Myzinthi said thougthfully.
“We are a couple!” Conway said quickly. He scrambled over to Peterman’s cot and squeezed her in the hug, sloppily kissing her on the mouth. “Mmmm, I sure…ugh…love you, honey!”
“I love you…too…snoogybear.” Peterman struggled to swallow the bile that rose in her throat. A quick look at Conway revealed that he was having a similar problem.
“Well,” the Myzinthi said, folding his arms. “That’s a bit better. But where are your children? The ones that will inherit this vessel after the two of you die?”
“That would be the…little angels down in the instruction rooms,” Conway choked out.
“Yep,” Peterman said, strained. “All…ugh…thirty of them.”
The Myzinthi clapped his gloved hands. “Ah, I see. You are a prodigious pair.” He hit a control, and the security field disappeared. “Perhaps our races can coexist after all. And tell me, please, how you can manage thirty children in such a short span of time. Some of them appear very close in age.”
“We love to…ugh…breed,” Conway said.
“Yep,” Peterman said, smiling lop-sided. “Breeding’s fun.”
“And what of the two or three I’ve seen that are of different species?” The Myzinthi reached out and clapped Conway on the back. “Did you lend out your mate for others to sample?”
“Uh, is that good?” Conway said uneasily.
The Myzinthi nodded.
“Then yeah, I lent her out like mad,” Conway said. “You should see the swarm of little bastard kids she has running around back on the home planet.”
“I believe I like the two of you,” the Myzinthi grinned. “Allow me to introduce myself.” He pulled up the visor on his helmet, to reduce a dirty brown suede-textured face, with burning blue eyes and a sinister, toothy grin. “I am Warlord Zaax, co-commander of the Myzinthi Destroyer Manitas.”
“Commander David Conway, commander of the Explorer,” said Conway.
“Co-commander Kelly Peterman,” Peterman added, following Conway out of the brig cell.
“So,” Conway said. “You’ll release our ship, and let us begin some… fruitful diplomatic discussions?”
“I agree to everything you said,” Zaax said. “Except the part about releasing your ship. Now, where do you reccomend I get a decent meal around here?”
“You and I are one of a kind, I think,” Zaax said to Commander Conway, as Dr. Janice Browning refilled his glass of iced tea, while held at gunpoint by a Myzinthi soldier. They’d just introduced Zaax to something Dr. Browning called “tuna casserole.”
“Uh, really?” Conway said, looking nervously at Peterman. “How so?”
“The numerous children, I think. I am known among my people as one of the most prolific lovemakers alive.”
“Yeah, me too,” Conway said, grabbing a sugar cookie from the plate at the center of the table and shoving it in his mouth, washing it down with a big gulp of coffee. “Me too.”
“That’s your fifth cookie, Commander,” Dr. Browning said, hovering behind Conway with her tea pitcher. “Don’t you think that’s enough?”
“I have to get my strength up for tonight’s lovemaking. I didn’t get to be the sexual conquistador that I am by eating light.”
“You certainly didn’t,” Peterman murmurred.
“How about you go take care of those messy dishes?” Conway asked Browning with a grin.
“If I wasn’t under riflepoint,” Browning said with a grunt, shifting her bulky pregnant weight around the table, “I’d slam this tea pitcher right into your head.”
“Now, Doctor,” Conway pouted, as Browning left. “Remember your Hippocratic Oath.”
The trio, Peterman, Conway, and Zaax, sat in awkward silence for a moment, until there was a clamor outside the dining room, and a lithe, black- cloaked, hooded woman drifted in, flanked by two Myzinthi guards.
“Ah, Jemorra, glad you could make it,” Zaax said, gesturing for her to sit beside him. “What took you so long?”
“Birthing ritual,” the hooded woman said. It disturbed Conway that he couldn’t exactly make out her face. “I had four breedlings dislodge from my sack.”
“Talk about a full day,” Conway said, laughing nervously.
“So…” Peterman said, shifting uncomfortably, sitting on her hands. “Miss…Jemorra…how long have you been with Mr. Zaax?”
“Zaax and I were joined shortly after we left our breeding sacks.”
“An arranged marraige?” Conway asked.
“No,” the woman replied, her voice showing surprise. “Why would you think such a thing? I sought Zaax as a mate based on his smell and genital size.”
“Not so different from us,” Conway grinned and sipped his coffee.
“Right after BIRTH?” Peterman asked, shocked. “What…what what…”
“Stifle it, honey,” Conway said, leaning forward. “All right, Zaax, dessert’s over. Let’s work something out. This is my ship. I want you to release it back to my control.”
“I have a counter offer,” Zaax proposed, leaning forward and steepling his gloved fingers. “You turn over command codes to this ship so that we may add it to the Myzinthi fleet.”
Conway blinked. “I’m sorry. What exactly is in it for me, then?”
“You and your lovely co-commander will be put in command, with some constraints. You will leave your current fleet and join ours. You will mate and crusade for our beloved Myzinthi way. There is no greater honor.”
“And what, exactly, does this ‘beloved’ way entail, other than constant mating?” Peterman asked.
“Suppression of every other race we come across. Races like yourself. Races of other parts of the galaxy, other parts of the universe. We must turn them to our way…”
“Which is more of that same old suppression, huh?” Conway asked.
“Exactly,” said Jemorra. “It is a glorious, infinite circle of events. Give yourself over to it. The only other choice is death.”
“Well…” Conway wiped his mouth and looked at Peterman. “You’ve really given us a lot to talk about. How about my little darling and I retire to our quarters, engage in a little snuggling, then sleep on it and let you know in the morning?”
Zaax finished his iced tea then flashed Conway a toothy grin. “That would be wonderful. However, your quarters will be under guard, and Jemorra and I will be right next door.”
“Or…” Jemorra said, lifting her veil and sliding it back, to reveal the same suedy skin, but, to Peterman and Conway’s horror, a lizardlike face of compound eyes, pointed snout, forked tongue, and sharp teeth. “We could share your cabin and investigate our interspecies coupling possibilities…”
“You mean…” Conway said, grinning, “the menage?”
“Whatever you wish to call it,” Zaax grinned, looking proudly at Jemorra. “She is a sight, isn’t she?”
“That she is,” Peterman said, grinning weakly.
“Well, hon?” Conway asked. “Whaddaya say? In the mood for a little four-way action?”
“Not tonight,” Peterman said tightly, then clobbered Conway hard in the shin with her foot under the table.
“You son of a bitch!” Baxter exclaimed, diving across the gulf between his cot and Conway’s, hands outstretched for the commander’s throat.
Conway backed away. “Why am I getting a sense of deja vu?”
Peterman grabbed Baxter by the back of his uniform and jerked him back onto his cot. “We don’t have time for this.”
“But we have time for this informative waltz down memory lane,” Baxter said grumpily, folding his arms and staring out at the chittering forcefield that walled in him and the others.
“It’s necessary,” Conway said. “You’ll see…now where were we?”
“Bedtime,” Peterman mumbled, and curled up on the cot, leaning her head down on Baxter’s lap.
“Ah yes,” Conway said with a grin. “Bedtime…”
“There’s the couch,” Peterman said, yanking out the scrunchie that held her ponytail back and unzipping the front of her uniform jacket.
“Hold on!” Conway said, following Peterman back to her bedroom in the captain’s quarters. “We need to figure out a way out of this!”
“I’m tired,” Peterman said. “Let’s worry about it tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow it’ll be too late!”
“Well, it doesn’t seem like that hard of a choice,” Peterman said. She blocked the way into her and Baxter’s bedroom. “We’re not joining their fleet. That week I spent commanding this ship as a cruise ship was excruciating. We’re not changing the mission objective again.”
“Strong talk for a Ship’s Counselor,” Conway said. “Seems to me that’s my decision to make.”
Peterman ran a hand through her thick, dark hair. “What do you mean? Are you seriously considering taking Zaax up on his offer?”
“Well, no. Of course not. But, on the other hand, they’re not executing us and taking the ship, either.”
“Naturally,” Peterman said, and stumbled back into the bathroom at the rear of the bedroom. Her voice became muffled as the frosted bathroom door slid shut. “What do we do, then, oh fearless leader?”
“That mocking tone is not necessary, Counselor. If I were Captain Baxter, you’d be at my side helping me through this very difficult time, like a good counselor should.”
“No,” Peterman said, poking her head out of the bathroom door. “That’s what a good wife does. I’m not really your wife, if you’ve been keeping track.”
“The point is, you’re derelict in your duties. You should be helping me here.”
“Okay, then,” Peterman said, and disappeared back into the bathroom. Conway winced at the sundry sounds of gurgling, gargling, slapping, smearing, flopping, and spitting. “What,” her muffled voice asked, “do you want me to help you do?”
“Well,” Conway said, taking a seat on the edge of the captain’s king-sized bed. Man, the comforter felt good. And the mattress was firm, dense. Nothing like his standard-issue Sleep-o-Tronic. What was up with that?? “For starters,” Conway continued, “I think we need to establish control over this ship.” As he talked, he went about his own nightly routine: sliding off his uniform’s outer layers, until he remained only in boxers and a Dale Earnhardt NASCAR t-shirt.
“No kidding,” replied Peterman from behind the frosted door.
“Apparently Larkin was able to lock out command control, or Zaax wouldn’t have bothered asking me for those command codes.”
“That ingenious android.”
“I wonder where she is,” Conway said, rubbing his chin.
“Why don’t you call her?”
“There!” Conway snapped his fingers. “That’s the kind of help I’m talking about. Was that so hard?”
“Call her already!”
“Right.” Conway pulled back the covers on Baxter’s bed, trying to swallow his disgust at the smooth satin-ness of his sheets. This man had to die. “Conway to Larkin.” He slid under the covers and propped himself up on a stack of thick fluffy pillows.
“Larkin! Thank God! Where are you?”
“I am…incapacitated…at the moment.”
“What do you mean?”
“My innards are spread halfway across Science Lab Four. The Myzinthi scientists have been busily trying to figure out how I work. They are no doubt trying to retrieve the encrypted codes from my databanks.”
“The Explorer’s command codes?” Conway asked.
“The same. They will not, however, succeed. Unless they possess technology far superior than what went into making me.”
“You mean Starfleet Academy senior project technology?”
“Your sarcasm is counterproductive, Commander.”
“Just give it to me straight, Larkin. What’s a rough estimate, given what we know of Myzinthi technology at this point, on the amount of time it will take them to get those codes out of you?”
“Counting their four point six hour sleep cycle?”
“Four point eight hours.”
Counselor Peterman, at that point, emerged from the bathroom with her hair wrapped up in a towel, a thin, green, gelatinous mask over her face, and a silky Starfleet-emblem robe. “What the hell!”
“Counselor Peterman has not taken the news well, I can take it?”
“Counselor Peterman,” Conway said, glaring at Peterman, “is pretending to be married to me.”
“Might I ask why?” inquired the android.
“Myzinthi law demands it.”
“Myzinthi law says nothing about you sleeping in my bed.” Peterman pointed at the door that lead out into the Baxter quarters proper. “Out!”
“What would Zaax say if he burst in on us in the middle of the night, with some bizarre sex idea, to see me crunched up on that couch and you blissfully asleep in the bedroom?”
“I have apparently stumbled in on a personal argument. I will now close this channel and shut myself down,” said Larkin’s voice.
“Good idea,” Peterman said, and folded her arms.
“Contact me if I can be of any further help. Good luck in defeating the Myzinthi.”
“Thanks, Larkin,” Conway said. “Well, honeybear?” He grinned toothily.
“Well?” Baxter demanded. “WELL?”
“I have to use the…” Conway glanced uneasily over at the back corner of the brig. “Er, slot.”
“Your timing is impeccable,” Peterman muttered sleepily.
Conway sighed and walked over to the corner. “You guys look away, okay?”
“That slot is pretty small, Commander,” Baxter said. “I’ve heard tell it pinches like you wouldn’t believe.”
“He won’t have a problem with the size of the thing,” Peterman chuckled.
Baxter looked down at her. “And what is THAT supposed to mean? How would you know about Conway’s…slot aptitude?”
“Oh, relax, Andy. I was just joking. Commander Conway and I didn’t get naked together. We did end up sleeping together, though.”
Baxter grimaced. “You’d better not be speaking colloquially, hon.”
“Ha ha,” Conway chuckled. “Wouldn’t you like to know. Ha ha–oh, OH MY GOD!! It’s PINCHING!! I’m f***ing stuck in here!!!”
“So,” Baxter said, looking down at Peterman. “You were saying?”
“Oh, yes, the story,” Peterman said, over Conway’s anguished cries. “Well, we ended up…spending the night in the same bed. It wasn’t easy for the commander to convince me to do it, but in the end his arguement about Zaax busting in on us made sense.”
“So, how was it?”
“About what you’d expect.”
“Get your elbow out of my back!” Peterman cried, wrenching around under the covers and facing Conway. “And give me some freaking covers!”
“Baxter really spoils you,” Conway said. “That man probably goes each night without any covers, just to please you.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Baxter said uneasily, fumbling with his fingers. “Go on with the story, Kelly. Quick.”
Peterman tossed and turned through the night, tugging ruefully at the covers.
Then, Conway darted up in bed. “It’s Richards we need!” he exclaimed.
“Isn’t this relationship sick enough as it is?” Peterman murmurred. She looked over at the chronometer on her nightstand. “Damn it, Commander, it’s barely 0400 hours.”
“I’m not saying we need Richards for sex, you idiot,” Conway said. “I’m talking about to get the ship back. He’s the Chief Engineer. If anyone knows their way around the ship, it’s him. I bet he’s got himself squirreled away in a Jeffries tube as we speak.”
“Then call him,” Peterman said tiredly. “And let me get back to sleep.”
“Ugh, I’d rather not. You talk in your sleep, you know. A lot.”
“Yeah, well you do a lot of other stuff in your sleep. A lot. I don’t even want to get into it.”
“What kind of stuff?” Baxter asked.
“I said I didn’t want to get into it!”
“Someone help me here, for the love of God! It’s really stuck!”
“Anyway, Commander Conway called Chris…”
“Chris, buddy, where are you?”
“Where do you think?” There was a hint of irritation in Richards’s voice.
“Hiding somewhere, coming up with a way to get us out of this mess?”
“Dream on. I’m penned up in the brig with the rest of the senior staff. Where are you?”
“In bed with Counselor Peterman,” Conway chuckled.
“You’re kidding. Man, desparate times…”
“It’s out of necessity, Chris!” Peterman called out from under a mound of covers.
“Sure it is. You just keep telling yourself that, Kelly.”
“I mean we’re masquerading as a married couple because otherwise the Myzinthi might kill us all!”
“In that case, drop the masquerade!” J’hana announced over the comm.
“You shut up,” Conway said. “Listen here, I need all of you down there to put your heads together and try to come up with a way out of this. I want a solution by the time morning shift begins.”
“I’m going to go out on a limb here,” said Ford over the channel, “and say we’re probably not having a morning shift.”
“Just get working!” Conway grumbled, and slapped a control on the nightstand that shut off the channel. He fought with the covers for several moments, but couldn’t seem to get comfortable.
“‘If anyone knows his way around the ship,’” Peterman echoed, “‘it’s him.’”
“You shut up too,” Conway said. “I’m trying to think.”
“Why do you even bother,” Peterman sighed. “Allow me. Peterman to Hartley.”
“Hartley here. Where are you? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, Megan. Where are you?”
“Hold on a sec.” BLEEP! “There, I just switched on a scrambler. Now we can talk without fear of the Myzinthi listening in.”
“Good thinking,” Peterman said. “So where are you?”
“Holed up in a Jeffries tube on Deck Nine for now. I was in bed when the ship was taken over.”
Conway grimaced. He hated being wrong.
“What gives with that, anyway?”
“It’s a long story,” Peterman muttered. “Listen, what can you do to get us out of this situation?”
“Well, I’ve got a sack full of photon grenades with me. I figure I can get down to the warp core in about an hour, without being detected. Then it’s just a few well-placed explosives and BOOM!” Conway noticably twitched at that. “No more Explorer.”
“I was thinking of something a little less drastic,” said Peterman.
“Well, that’s the Starfleet way, Counselor.”
“It may be, but it’s not our way. Come up with another plan.”
“I suppose I could get to the transporter. Try to beam them out.”
“How long would that take?”
“With all the emitters, on wide dispersal? I don’t know. There are about two hundred Myzinthi on board. It’ll take a while.”
“Well start working. Let me know when you’re ready. Meanwhile, Commander Conway and I will be working on a less…unpleasant…way out of this.”
“You and Commander Conway working together? Good luck.”
“Thanks, I guess. Peterman out.”
Conway rolled over to face Peterman. “Don’t say I told you so.”
Peterman grinned. “I don’t need to. You know it.”
“I hate you.”
“Come on, Commander. We have a mutiny to plan.”
“You know, Counselor,” Conway said, leaning up in bed. “I was just thinking. You know how Hartley used a scrambler to stop the Myzinthi from tapping into our communications?”
“Well, what about that call down to Richards. Not scrambled, right?”
“I’m starting to see your point.”
Just then, the doors to Peterman and Baxter’s quarters busted open, and Zaax bulled his way in. Conway scrambled under the bed.
Peterman looked out at Zaax through the bedroom doorway. “Can I help you with something?”
“Lies, all lies!” Zaax announced. He was wearing what Peterman guessed were Myzinthi pajamas. Plastic see-through, with a pinkish tint. And Peterman could truly see through, too. Zaax had a nice enough phsyique, for an evil alien alternate universe warlord, that is.
“Is that really necessary?” asked Baxter.
“Yes,” replied Peterman.
“Somebody help me, please!”
“Where is that lying slogoth?” Zaax demanded, as guards upturned the Baxter quarters. Jemmora hovered at the doorway, looking utterly useless.
“Under the bed,” Peterman sighed.
Zaax reached under and grabbed around a bit. Finally, he came out with Commander Conway. He hoisted the Commander by his shirt. He was quite strong.
“To think I trusted you,” Zaax said with disdain. “To think I would have let you in, made you a partner in our great destiny. To think I was going to be your pal!!”
“Sorry,” Conway choked out. “Could you please let me down?”
“I will do more than that. I will let you down, and I will kill you.”
“Can we talk about this? Maybe we can come to some sort of a…a compromise!”
“There will be no compromise. You will die, and your crew will become slaves.” Zaax laughed. “How does that strike you?”
“I hate that idea.”
“Good,” Zaax smiled. “But before you die, I think we should have some fun with you. You said earlier you liked coffee, right?”
“Well, then. Jemorra, my dear, call up some coffee on that replicator thing. A big, hot, scalding pitcher. A heavy-duty pitcher.”
Peterman cringed. “Oh, no.”
Zaax set Conway down in front of him as the replicator buzzed just outside the bedroom. Jemorra strolled in moments later with a steaming, shiny metal pitcher of coffee.
“If your aim is to torture me by making me drink scalding hot coffee, do your worst,” Conway laughed.
“You won’t drink it,” Zaax said, and grabbed the pitcher. “You’ll wear it.”
“Uh-oh,” Peterman squeaked, diving under the covers.
“N-no…no…” Conway stammered, and Zaax dumped the pitcher of coffee on top of Conway’s head, then dropped it on the ground. Peterman could swear, through the covers, she could hear skin sizzling. Or maybe it was just Conway’s temper.
“You shouldn’t have done that, mister!” Conway bellowed.
“I have only just begun!” Zaax announced. And he swept a foot under Conway’s legs, causing the commander to drop to the floor, in a huge, hot bath of scalding coffee.
“Hahahahah!” Zaax laughed, and Jemorra and the guards joined in.
Conway’s hand reached for the fallen coffee pitcher as the peals of laughter from the Myzinthi continued. Peterman poked her head out of the covers just in time to see Conway come up holding the solid duranium coffee pitcher, a look of pure, unadulterated rage on his face.
“Lights out, motherf***er!” Conway screamed, and swung at Zaax. The first time he ducked and Conway missed, but the next hit landed dead on, right on Zaax’s forehead. The Myzinthi dropped to the floor like a puppet with its strings cut. Peterman watched, stunned, as Conway stumbled over Zaax’s inert form and hurled the pitcher at one of the two guards in the room. It hit home right on the guard’s forehead, and the guard dropped like a sack of Frinzian potatoes.
The other guard lifted his rifle, but he wasn’t quick enough. With amazing speed and agility, Conway was on top of the other guard. He twisted the rifle out of his hand and bashed him repeatedly in his head with it until he stopped moving.
“What did you do to my husband!” Jemorra cried, leaping at Conway.
“No you don’t!” Conway cried, and thumbed the rifle’s trigger.
A beam lanced out and vaporized Jemorra instantly.
“S***,” Conway mumbled, looking down at his rifle. “Doesn’t this thing have a ‘stun’ setting?”
Counselor Peterman stepped over Zaax and clapped sarcastically. “Great work, Commander. You might just become the Federation’s diplomacy posterboy.”
“Son of a bitch,” Conway muttered, and swung his rifle up toward Peterman.
“What…now Commander, be reasonable. I know we’ve had our differences…”
“Shut up!” Conway fired…right over Peterman’s shoulder. She heard a gasp, and a smash, and turned around to smell a hint of vaporized Myzinthi hanging behind her. And to see a pile of smashed porcelain on the carpet.
“Damn Zaax was about to hit you over the head with Baxter’s Troy Aikman statue.”
“My Troy Aikman statue!” Baxter exclaimed. “You told me I’d lost it!”
“You’re forgetting I was nearly killed.”
“I can’t believe you tried to convince me I’d lost that thing. Damn.”
“Man this hurts! Someone, please, help me!” Tears were welling up in Conway’s eyes.
“So,” Baxter said. “Go on.”
“It was all downhill from there,” Peterman sighed. “I grabbed the other guards’ rifles and we headed out into the ship. Between us and Lt. Hartley’s creative beaming, we had the ship back inside an hour.”
Baxter leaned a hand on his fist. “Amazing. How’d you get their ship back to its own space?”
“That was simpler than we’d thought. Tilleran did something to the deflector. An inverse something or rather. Sealed it right up.”
Baxter rubbed his beard. “But they managed to break through again.”
“Apparently,” said Peterman.
“We need to drive them back.”
“Please,” Conway begged, turning to Baxter and Peterman, sniffling. “Please, get me out of this. I’ll do anything.”
“Hold on,” Baxter said. “I’m formulating a plan.”
“I DON’T GIVE A F*** ABOUT YOUR PLAN! YANK ME OUT OF HERE, NOW!”
“Oh, I’m sure it’s not that bad,” Peterman mumbled.
“I don’t want to know,” Baxter said. “Listen, Commander, you’ll have to just put your personal discomfort aside for the moment and help us find away to defeat these Myzinthi once and for all.”
“THIS GOES WAY BEYOND PERSONAL DISCOMFORT!”
“Sure it does.” Baxter turned to Peterman. “Now, the way I see it…”
Several minutes later, a Myzinthi guard stepped into the brig. “What do you want, dead people?”
Baxter giggled, inclining his head over to Conway. “It seems my friend here got into a bit of a…heheh…sticky situation.”
“Too bad for him.” The guard turned for the door.
“You don’t get it!” Baxter called after him. “He’s got something stuck in the urination slot.”
“Good for him.”
“I mean he’s got THE thing stuck in the urination slot.”
“Really?” The guard turned around. “This I’ve got to see.”
The guard headed toward the cell and Baxter grinned.
“Have a close look,” Baxter said, gesturing toward Conway.
Conway glanced over his shoulder at the guard. “Please, please, help me.”
The guard deactivated the forcefield and stepped through. He looked at Peterman and Baxter. “Neither of you try anything funny, or I’ll vaporize you.”
“No trouble,” Baxter said, backing against the far wall of the brig. This was going to be great.
The guard looked Conway over, then glanced down at the slot. “By the fourteen gods, that looks painful.”
“It is, it is,” Conway moaned.
Baxter knew the ship was as sure as rescued when the guard’s lips first began to quiver.
“How in the world did you do that?” the guard asked.
“I don’t know. The opening, it just sort of closed up on me! I’ve tried pulling it out, but that just hurts more!”
That did it. The guard bent forward, choking out guffaws of laughter, slapping his knees. “You ridiculous little man!”
Conway gritted his teeth. “Stop laughing!”
“I can’t help it!” giggled the guard. “You look absolutely absurd.”
“THAT F***ING DOES IT!” Conway closed his eyes, bit his lip, and yanked.
“Don’t look, honey,” Baxter said, covering Peterman’s face with one hand. He squeezed his own eyes shut too.
Conway pivoted toward the guard, not bothering to zip up. He should have been in extreme pain at that point, but he didn’t seem to notice.
“Oh, you silly man!” the guard cried, collapsing to the deck.
“Shut the f*** up!” Conway cried, and kicked the guard repeatedly in the stomach. Then he brought an elbow slamming down into the side of the guard’s head, then clasped his hands and slammed them down right at the middle of the guard’s solar plexus.
“Please, for the Director’s sake, zip up, man!” Baxter said, once he was sure the guard was unconcious.
“Thanks for the f***ing help, Baxter!” Conway cried, turning on the captain.
“Now, Commander…” Baxter said slowly. “This is no time for petty squabbles. We need to get some weapons and get this ship back. You with me?”
“I want to kill you,” Conway stammered, finally zipping up his trousers. He turned to Peterman. “I want to kill both of you.”
“Great,” Peterman said, hurrying over to the phaser locker across the brig and grabbing an armful of hand phasers. “Take that anger and use it.”
“Aye, Counselor,” Conway said slowly, once she tossed him a phaser. He gritted his teeth. This would be fun.
“First my homeworld was invaded by the Dominion; now this, twice,” Tilleran moaned, leaning her head back against J’hana’s chest on the cot. “Why does bad stuff always happen to me?”
“You’re forgetting the Borg, the Leeramar, and the Flarn, my little scrullax,” J’hana said softly, patting Tilleran’s hair.
Meanwhile, Richards, Browning, and Ford sat stunned on the nearby cots, watching the exchange with a mixture of curiousity and confusion.
“I…I just get so fed up with always having to soak up these negative emotions, you know,” Tilleran said, as J’hana tickled her ear. “I just wish all these people would go away and leave me alone. I have problems of my own.”
“I know, I know.” J’hana briefly glanced over at the huddled group of senior officers. “What? What are you looking at?”
Richards quickly glanced over at the forcefield that held them all in the brig. “That forcefield’s draining a lot of power off the main grid, I think.”
“Yeah,” Ford said quickly. “Is that safe?”
“I’m not sure. So, what about those Pike City Pioneers?”
Dr. Browning cuddled Plato in her lap. “Oh, would you look at that. I think he just did a poopie.”
“Oh, J’hana,” Tilleran moaned. “Why is the galaxy so unfair?”
“It is not unfair, Ariel,” J’hana said softly. “You will die when it is your time. And I will die there beside you.”
“Thanks,” Tilleran sniffled.
Suddenly the doors leading into the brig opened.
“Great,” Browning said. “I need someone to get me a diaper and some wipies, STAT.”
Baxter, Conway, and Peterman stormed in, looking scorched, sweaty, and exausted. Conway had a particularly crazed look in his eyes.
“This, in case you were wondering,” Baxter said breathlessly, “is a rescue.”
J’hana shoved Tilleran’s head off her lap. “It is about fwarking time.”
Captain Baxter, Lt. Commander Richards, Lt. Tilleran, and Lt. Ford hurried onto the bridge, firing phasers madly at the few Myzinthi there in control.
Baxter shoved a Myzinthi out of the chair at operations and sat down. Ford sat down beside him at helm. Baxter quickly checked ops. “There are now less than twenty concious Myzinthi aboard.”
Tilleran slid in behind the science panel. “Thanks, in part, to Conway taking out that whole battallion, without even a phaser.”
“That was pretty cool,” Ford admitted.
“Klingons will sing songs about that,” Richards agreed. He set the satchel he was carrying down next to the engineering panel and started typing. “They’ve been busy trying to override our command lockout code.”
“So Larkin was successful in locking out command again?” Baxter asked.
“Yeah, thanks to her subspace transmitter. She just instantly locked out the command codes as soon as the ship was boarded.” Richards reached over to the satchel and opened it. “Right, Kristen?”
“That is correct,” said a voice from within the satchel.
Richards pulled Larkin’s head out. “I hate that they did this to you, Kristen.”
“It is certainly not an ideal situation.”
Richards propped the head up on the engineering console. “Larkin, I need you to tap into the computers and release command control. We need to fire up the deflectors and find a way to re-seal the spatial rift.”
“For good, this time,” Baxter said, glaring at Tilleran.
“Jeeze, sorry,” Tilleran said. “What, you expect me to be perfect?”
“Let’s not get into this,” Baxter said. “I’ve had enough arguing for one day. Just be ready–”
“Uh-oh,” Tilleran said suddenly.
“What?” Baxter turned in the ops chair.
“We’re about one hundred light years into Myzinthi space. They must have been towing us all this time.”
“Well, that will certainly make things more interesting. Do we have warp engines?”
“Yeah,” Richards said. “Looks like they’ve been busy repairing the systems they blew up in the attack.”
“How nice of them,” Baxter said. “Have the ones on the destroyer noticed our little…mutiny yet?”
“Amazingly, no,” Tilleran said. She tapped her panel. “But they do have a tractor on us.”
“I suppose you have some nifty scientific way of getting us out of that? Inverse warp field or some such nonsense?”
“Actually, I would suggest firing a quantum torpedo at their tractor emitter. Their shields are extended around us.”
“Good. And you might want to take out their rear shield generators too, so we can back out.”
“Good idea, sir. I can see why they made you captain.”
“Damn straight.” Baxter looked back at Richards. “Get ready to give us maximum warp. Ford, plot a course back the way we came.”
“Whew!” Peterman said, wiping her forehead and sitting down at the master systems display at the center of engineering. “What a rush.”
A pile of unconcious Myzinthi lay all around her.
“It was a glorious battle,” J’hana said, walking up to join Peterman. “I will write this one down in my diary tonight.”
“That’s a great idea, J’hana,” Peterman said encouragingly.
“Well,” Lt. Hartley said, emerging from the elevator that ran the length of the warp core. “Everything checks out. I just spoke with Commander Richards. We’re getting ready to get out of here.”
“Thank goodness,” Peterman said.
Just then, Dr. Browning emerged from Richards’s office carrying a tray of cucumber sandwiches. “Sandwiches, everyone!” she exclaimed. Plato waddled after, tugging at her leg.
“Janice, I don’t think anyone’s really hungry right now,” Peterman said. “Maybe later.”
“But I cut the crusts off and everything!”
“Bah,” J’hana said. “You had the replicator do it.”
“It’s the thought that counts, J’hana,” Browning said defensively. She shrugged and sat the tray down next to Plato. “Eat up, bubbers.” She looked over at the body over by the main systems console. “How’s the commander?”
“Out like a light,” Peterman observed. “Once all the fighting was over, it’s just like he turned off.”
Browning knelt by him, checked for a pulse. “Well, he’s still alive.”
“Hrrmpgh,” J’hana mumbled.
“Poor little guy’s just all tuckered out,” Browning grinned.
“You’re talking about him like he’s a baby, Janice,” Peterman said. “When he’s awake, he’s a cynical, acerbic, napoleonic little…”
“Little hero,” Browning grinned, and kissed Conway on the forehead. “Sweet dreams, fella.”
“Motherhood has turned you into a raving loon, Doctor,” J’hana observed.
“Shove it!” Browning called back, and retreated into Richards’s office for a pie, or cake, or some other confection.
The Explorer streaked through space at Warp Nine, headed like a bat out of hell for the rip in space Baxter desparately hoped was still there.
Baxter paced the bridge. “Any signs that Myzinthi Destroyer is following?”
“No,” Tilleran said. “The damage from that quantum torpedo will keep them busy long into next week, I think.”
“Good shooting, Richards,” Baxter said. He sat down in the command chair and crossed his legs nervously. “Any signs of other Myzinthi pursuit?”
Tilleran looked at her panel. “Nope.”
Tilleran looked at her panel again. “Whoops. I mean yes. Six ships.”
“I’m shoring up the shields now,” Richards said quickly. “And I just punched it up to Warp Nine point nine five.”
“Will that be enough?” Baxter asked.
“We’ll see,” said Richards. He turned to Larkin’s head. “How are you holding up?”
“Well, under the circumstances,” replied the head. “Let me know if I can be of any assistance.”
“How long to the rip in space?” asked Baxter.
“Just under five minutes,” said Ford, checking his panel.
“How long until the Myzinthi intercept?”
Tilleran tapped a control. “Four minutes.”
“This should be fun,” Baxter said, tugging down on his tunic. It somehow made him feel more confident. “Ready all weapons. Go to Red Alert, for what good it does. Half the crew’s probably still in brigs.”
“Including the poor little Kindergarteners,” said Ford.
“Shut up and pilot.”
“Hail coming in from the lead Myzinthi ship,” said Tilleran. “You want to talk to them, Captain?”
“Might as well. Put them on.”
A suedy-faced Myzinthi appeared on the viewscreen. “You wifeless, arrogant, decietful, criminal, utterly unpleasant being!” he seethed.
“Don’t hold back,” Baxter mumbled. “Tell me how you really feel.”
“You will not make it back to your universe alive. You’ve taken out two of our best vessels. Made them look like fools. Your people are not to be trifled with. We were hoping to enslave you. Take your ship. Use your technology. But did you cooperate? Noooooooo! No, you had to be tough guys. You had to try to prove something. And now look…look what you’ve done. Zaax the Prolific, dead. The Honorable Femark, co-captain of the Badatpa, comatose. Zeemara, Femark’s wife, impaled by a falling support strut. And for what?”
“Are you trying to make a point?” Baxter said tiredly.
“ARRGH!” The Myzinthi captain slammed a fist against his own screen, causing the image to waver. “No more playing around. This time, we’re just going to destroy you, clean and simple!”
“To quote an ancient human poet,” Baxter said, “‘Hit me with your best shot.’”
“ARRRGH!” the Myzinthi cried again and closed the channel.
“They’re nearly in firing range,” announced Tilleran.
“Richards,” Baxter ordered. “Beam the Myzinthi bodies off our ship and out into space. Rescuing them will slow them down a bit.”
“Sir, that’s awfully drastic, isn’t it?”
“Would you rather explain the presecence of all these Myzinthi on our ship to Starfleet?”
“Well, no, not really.”
“Then get beaming, bucko!”
“Right, sir.” Richards turned to his decapitated daughter. “Kristen, I’ll need your help.”
“One minute to the rift,” Tilleran said. “Oh, and look. The Myzinthi are slowing down to pick up the bodies we beamed out.”
“Compassionate fools!” Baxter cried.
“Sir, that was not necessary,” said Ford.
“Maybe you’re right. Tilleran…fire up the deflector.”
“Ready, sir,” the Betazoid said, seconds later.
“What about the rift?”
“Right where we left it, though it is steadily degrading.”
“Then don’t waste any time. Ford, take us through, full impulse.”
Baxter leaned forward eagerly in his command chair. “Go, girl, go!”
“Ready with the anaphasic pulse,” said Tilleran. “I think I’ve adjusted it to permanently close the rift from their universe to ours, this time.”
“You THINK?” Ford asked in disbelief.
“I’m not omniscient, Ford. I can’t be one hundred percent sure.”
“Good enough for me,” Baxter said.
“We’re out of the rift,” said Ford.
“Turn us around, Ford. Aim us at the rift.”
“Myzinthi ships coming through,” announced Tilleran.
“Fire already!” Baxter shouted. He watched on the viewscreen as a thick blue beam of energy lashed out at the rift from Explorer’s deflector, stopping the Myzinthi destroyers in their tracks. The crackling white tear in space flickered, shrank, then blinked out of existence, throwing off a glowing white shockwave.
Baxter cracked his knuckles. “Great job, everyone.” He turned in his chair to look back at Tilleran, then at Richards. “Now, is there anything else about those two months you guys have left out?”
Tilleran and Richards exchanged nervous glances. “No, sir,” they said in unison.
“To the senior staff of the Explorer!” Baxter said, holding up a glass and clinking it with Peterman.
Confetti fell throughout the Constellation Club, which Baxter had rented out to celebrate the second re-taking of the ship from Myzinthi, and to announce that, once again, everything about the Myzinthi would be forever kept from Starfleet. It just made good PR sense.
“And to Commander Conway,” Browning said. “May his genital reconstructive surgery go well tonight.”
“You know,” said Peterman, wrapping an arm around Baxter’s waist. “I think this whole Myzinthi thing has taught us a valuable lesson.”
“Not to piss off Commander Conway?” Richards asked.
“No,” Peterman snapped. “I think it’s taught us that we should work together. Look at what happened when me and Commander Conway argued about what to do to save the ship. Nothing was solved. But when we put our heads together, we succeeded.”
“You didn’t really put your heads together, in all fairness,” Baxter said. “In point of fact, Zaax just set Commander Conway off.”
“I’m trying to make a point here!” Peterman said. “Look at the second attack. We all worked in tandem. Just like a real crew. Just like we were meant to!”
“And what does that have to do with anything?” J’hana asked, carrying two glasses over to the cluster of crew. She gave one to Tilleran.
“I just want you all to know how proud I am of all of you.”
“Well, I sure feel better now,” Ford muttered. “Anyone want to dance, or are we all just going to stand around like statues all night? Will I even get the chance to score?”
“No!” cried several of the women in the crowd.
“Excuse me!” Mirk stepped forward under the disco ball, into the center of the gathered senior staff and other crewmembers.
“I think we should take this special time to bow our heads in prayer to the Directors, to thank them for delivering us from these two horrible takeovers. And the one with Ardek, too, I guess. And the whole cruise ship thing.”
“Just a minute, buddy,” Baxter said, approaching Mirk. Peterman tried, unsuccessfully, to pull him back. “We were the ones who saved our own necks. I don’t know about any of the rest of you, but I sure as hell didn’t see any eyeballs rushing to intervene.”
“Erm,” Mirk said, “the Directors act in mysterious ways.”
“You stole that line!” Baxter said. “I know that was used in some… other religion.”
“It’s not copyrighted!” Mirk protested.
“And where were you during the attacks anyway?” Baxter demanded. “Kelly and Commander Conway said nothing about you. And I sure didn’t see you rushing to help defend the ship this last time.”
“I was…um, in my chapel. Praying for a quick resolution to the problem.”
“See,” Hartley said, rushing to Mirk’s defense. “He helped in his own special way!”
Baxter looked around at the eyes of his crew. Disturbingly, they all seemed to accept that. Were they being brainwashed? And did he carry enough weight with them to challenge Mirk? If not, should he just hand over command right now and get it overwith?
“Well,” Peterman said finally, breaking the silence. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I could sure use a drink.”
Yeah, Baxter thought ruefully, grapefruit juice.
What happens when Lt. Commander Richards has to “go native” on J’hana’s home planet of Andor? Hopefully he’ll pawn off some of his art, but I’d watch out if I were him. I hear the Andorian art scene is a killer…LITERALLY! Sorry about that one. Just tune in next week for “When on Andor.”