Author: Anthony Butler
“Ugh…can you…oof…explain to me again why we’re doing this?”
“Because your wife demanded it, flabbo.”
“Remind me to put a note about your bedside manner in your next personnel review!”
“Be quiet and lift your knees more! We’re almost done.”
For the third morning, going on the thirty millionth morning, Captain Andy Baxter joined his chief medical officer Dr. Janice Browning for her morning jog through the starship Explorer’s corridors.
So far, he wasn’t “feeling the burn.” He was only feeling total, utter exaustion, bordering on death. His heart felt about to explode.
“I feel silly,” he huffed.
“The red jumpsuit.”
“Hey, it’s the command colors, what more could you ask for?”
“Run, Captain, run! Those donuts are only another few meters away!” Lt. Zack Ford called out as Baxter and Browning jogged by.
“You’re on waste reclamation today, Ford!” Baxter choked out.
“Didn’t quite hear that, sir. Can you repeat it?”
“DIE!” Baxter huffed, then collapsed to the deck face-first.
Browning stopped moving, but continued to jog in place. “Come on, slowpoke. We’ve only been jogging for fifteen minutes!”
Baxter didn’t respond.
Browning stopped jogging and gently kicked Baxter in the side. “We don’t have all day, silly!”
Baxter still didn’t respond.
“Andy?” she asked, then bent down and felt for a pulse. “Whoops.”
“‘Whoops!’” exclaimed Counselor Kelly Peterman, hovering over Baxter as Browning punched a hypospray into his arm. “All you’ve got to say is ‘whoops’?!”
“I knew Andy was out of shape, but I thought he could at least take a couple days of light jogging. You had the bright idea, if I recall.”
Peterman’s face softened as she looked down at Baxter. His eyes fluttered. “That’s beside the point. He’s obviously just too out of shape to function.”
“We’ll just put him on an easier regime to start with. Maybe one lap around the residential decks to start.”
“Who will he jog with, then?” Peterman asked.
“How about you?”
“Hah. I don’t think so. My mornings are packed.”
Browning picked up a nearby padd and tapped on it. “Not any more. I just made it an official order as ship’s CMO. Just think of it as being in Andy’s best interest.”
“That’s not nice, Janice,” Peterman pouted. “How’d you like it if I used my authority to make you…uh…learn to speak spanish?”
“If you really think it’d help improve my sense of self-worth, knock yourself out.”
Baxter’s eyes finally snapped open and he sat up. “Ugh. Where am I?”
“In sickbay,” Browning said. “Don’t move too quick. You just passed out.”
“Are you okay, sweetums?” Peterman asked, pulling Baxter into a hug.
“I’ll live,” muttered Baxter. “I am okay, aren’t I, Janice?”
“Sure. I just gave you a massive shot of vitamins, carbohydrates, and electrolytes. That should get you back to normal.”
“So I’m not going to miss out on the fishing trip, then?” Baxter said.
“Certainly not,” said Browning.
“That reminds me…” Peterman coughed nervously. “Andy…I’m not going to be able to go fishing with you and your father next week.”
“Why the hell not?” Baxter demanded.
“I’m just overwhelmed with appointments and staff reports. What do you want me to do, neglect my job?”
“I can’t do it. Take Richards.”
“He’s re-fitting the warp nacelles all next week. This is just because you hate Breen, isn’t it?”
“How about Conway?”
“Think again. And nice evasive maneuvers, there. You never answered my question.”
“Yes, I hate Breen, okay? I had a terrible time the last two times we went. It’s a dismal, dusty, frozen ball of rock.”
“With great ice-fishing ports!” Baxter said. “Our boat will be somewhat heated. And we’ll have survival suits!”
“Listen, you know I don’t approve of you killing all those poor, defenseless little fishes, Andy. I think it’s cruel and unsual punishment.”
“And yet you love tunafish sandwiches.”
“You’re getting off the point. Go bond with your father. Just leave me out of the carnage.”
“Fine,” said Baxter. “I’ll just go by myself.”
Browning cleared her throat. She’d been standing by the biobed witnessing the entire exchange. “I could go.”
Baxter turned toward Browning. “You’d really like that?”
“Sure,” said Browning. “I’ve done a bit of fishing in my day. I had a boyfriend that caught thirty-meter genetically engineered supermarlins on Gladiolis Six.”
“Wow. I’d like to meet him.”
“No you wouldn’t,” said Browning. “You know, I think this will be a lot of fun. I’ve always wanted to study the eating habits of the Breen, you know, since they have no blood and all.”
Peterman grinned. “Well here we go. You and Janice will have a nice trip. What a nice idea, my husband and my best friend spending a quiet cozy week alone together. That’s just fabulous.”
“Great,” said Baxter. “Then it’s settled.”
ONE WEEK LATER
“Shuttlebay control to Captain Baxter. The Rio De Janeiro is ready, sir.”
Captain Baxter leaned forward in his command chair and pressed a control on the chairarm. “Acknowledged, shuttlebay control. I’ll be right down.”
“Good hunting, Captain,” Commander Conway said gruffly, eagerly sliding into the command chair as Baxter vacated it.
“Fishing, Conway. It’s fishing. Not hunting.”
“Same difference,” Conway said dumbly and began reading a padd.
“Look, Commander, I don’t have time to debate this with you, but trust me, there is a difference. For example, we don’t kill the fish in the water, we drag it in the boat and let it die in its own time.”
“Whatever. You’re still killing defenseless fish. Listen, just bring me some Breen coffeebeans, okay?”
“You’re becoming as pet-conscious as Counselor Peterman, aren’t you, Commander? I think that little Welsh corgi of yours is making you a tender old softie.”
“Don’t bet on it. Have a good trip.”
“Fun talking with you as always, Conway,” Baxter said, and headed for the turbolift. “The Explorer’s yours.”
Baxter ducked out of his cabin, shouldering a carryon bag and reading a padd which listed the current weather conditions on Breen and a five-day forecast. Before Breen made its treaty with the Federation, people made all sorts of speculation about the weather there. Some people said it was “bitter cold,” and other “quite temperate.” There WAS a section of Breen that was quite temperate, but it was an island about a mile in diameter. The other 98 percent of Breen was tundra more frozen than Green Bay, Wisconsin. And Federation weather specialists had spent the last two years trying to figure out why.
To Baxter, it really didn’t matter.
As the captain walked down the corridor, engrossed in his padd, he nearly bumped into Lt. Commander Richards.
“Chris!” Baxter said. “What are you up to this fine day?”
“Just coming to see you off, actually.”
“Really? That’s mighty thoughtful of you.”
“Yes, well. I’m a thoughtful guy.”
“So,” Baxter said, and pouted his lips, “you’ll miss me?”
“Very funny. What are you doing going off on a vacation with Janice, Andy?”
“Well, thanks for getting right to the point. What the heck do you think we plan on doing? Having a romantic getaway?”
“That’s what I’m wondering.”
“Give me some credit, Chris. I’m a married man.”
“I know, I know,” Richards said. “I’m being silly.”
“You really are.”
“So you’ve never thought about…”
“You know, working a little…mojo on her?”
“No no no!” Baxter said, and they rounded a bend in the corridor. “I can’t believe you’d even insinuate that!”
“Hey, I’m just curious.”
“You’re jealous that Janice and I are going to be spending some time together, then?”
“So what if I am?”
“I’d consult Ensign Madera about that, if I were you.”
“What does she have to do with this?”
“You two are getting pretty serious, aren’t you?”
“I’d hardly call it serious. We’ve just been on a few dates.”
“Has she been staying over in your quarters? Huh?”
“Christopher Alouiscious Richards,” Butler scolded.
“Or twice.” Richards lowered his voice to a whisper. “But you know I still have some feelings about Janice.”
“Chris, I’m just going fishing with her. I don’t want to get involved in the romantic mess that you two have concoted over the last two years.”
“I’d hardly call it a mess,” Richards said, and followed Baxter into a turbolift.
“Whatever it is, it’s none of my business,” Baxter said, and added, “Shuttlebay One.”
“Then you two won’t talk about it during the trip?” asked Richards as the lift thrummed upward.
“It’s a long trip. A lot of subjects are bound to come up.”
“And you’ll tell me anything you hear?”
“Chris, I’m not going to break a confidence just so you can get an idea about where you stand with Janice, while you romance Ensign Madera at the same time.”
“I wish you could see things from my point of view.”
“I don’t,” Baxter said, and the turbolift doors parted. He stepped out and Richards followed him to the doors to the shuttlebay.
“Just try to keep my best interests at heart,” Richards said, and he and Baxter walked into the bay.
“I’ll do my best, Chris.”
Baxter and Richards came face to face with Dr. Browning and Counselor Peterman, standing beside the powering-up Rio De Janeiro.
“Just seeing you and Janice off,” Peterman said, and leaned over to kiss Baxter on the cheek. “Hi, honey.”
Baxter leaned in to hug Peterman tightly. “I’m glad you came. I had the feeling you were a bit peeved at me the last few days.”
“Directors, no,” said Peterman. “I think this’ll be a great bonding experience for you and Janice.”
Richards coughed loudly. “Yeah.”
“And I can’t wait to get the chance to look after Plato. After all, you and half the other crew…” she tried not to grimace, “have gotten the chance to babysit him.”
Suddenly Ensign Stuart climbed out of the Rio De Janeiro’s side egress hatch. “Dr. Browning,” he said. “We’ve loaded the last of your equipment aboard the Rio. You’re all set to go.”
“Great,” said Browning.
“What equipment?” asked Baxter.
“Just some fishing stuff. I get an employee discount at Dillon’s Pioneer Supply Depot.”
“Can’t wait to see what all you brought.”
Just then Baxter watched two ensigns lug a large crate off an antigrav and shove it into the Rio De Janeiro’s aft cargo hatch.
“And that would be the picnic supplies,” Stuart said, checking his padd. “That’s everything.”
“Pays to be prepared,” Browning said, and grinned.
“Well, you all be careful,” Richards said.
“Have a great time,” Peterman said.
“I’m sure we will. After you, Doctor,” Baxter said, and gestured for Browning to climb into the Rio De Janeiro’s hatch.
“Thank you kindly,” Browning said, before she ducked into the hatch.
Browning and Baxter climbed in. Baxter waved at Peterman and Richards as the hatch closed and turned to begin the takeoff sequence.
“We have no right to be jealous,” Peterman said, as the Rio De Janeiro’s engines hummed to life and a siren sounded throughout the shuttlebay.
“Of course we do,” Richards said.
The shuttlebay door rose, providing all in the shuttlebay with a wide view of space. The only thing that kept the compartment from depressurizing was a highly selective forcefield that kept humans and air in, but let runabouts and shuttles out.
“This would never have happened if you’d just gone with him,” Richards said, watching the Rio De Janeiro lift off the deck and sail out of the open shuttlebay door.
“When you’re right, you’re right. Want to go get a drink?”
“It’s not even noon.”
“Want to go get a drink?”
“This is a hell of a lot of food,” Baxter said, as Dr. Browning set a massive feast out on the conference table in the aft cabin of the runabout. The Rio De Janeiro had been underway for several hours and Baxter was getting the distinct feeling that it was suppertime.
“Hey, we’re on vacation. These are the times to throw your diet out the airlock.”
“Easy for you to say. You couldn’t gain weight if you tried.”
“I always try,” Browning grinned, and scooped large helpings of wild rice and stuffing onto her plate. “Try the honey-glazed ham. It’s delicous.”
“It smells great,” Baxter said woefully.
“Eat!” Browning ordered, and sat down across from Baxter. “That’s an order from your CMO.”
“A nice big salad would hit the spot too,” mused Baxter.
“Andy, you can work every bit of this off. I have a treadmill in the back.”
“Boy, you really did come prepared.”
“I can’t very well do laps around the runabout, can I?”
“I guess not.” Baxter scooped a meager pile of rice, ham, and stuffing onto his plate. Then he scooped four more meager piles on and sat down. “So tell me this: If you can’t possibly gain weight, why do you jog every morning?”
“It gives me time to clear my head, gather my thoughts. It helps me prepare for a busy day.”
“I guess that’s true enough. But it’s hard to prepare for a busy day when you’re unconcious.”
“You’re not still mad about that, are you?”
The two ate quietly for several minutes. Browning was reading a medical report on Breen eating habits, and Baxter was watching the football scores on the screen on the aft bulkhead. About a month ago the Federation commissioned a handful of football teams, probably in response to the recent renaissance of baseball. So far, Baxter really liked the Martian Marauders and the Bajoran Tigerbats.
“Wow,” Browning said. “The Breen digest food by spitting on it, like flies.”
“Mmm…delicious,” Baxter muttered and kept watching the Krinokom sports report. Moments later the sports report ended and “All in the Eight Andorian Families” came on. Baxter hated that show. Ever since J’hana pointed out all the plot inconsistencies, it just wasn’t fun to watch anymore. “Computer,” said Baxter, “viewer off.”
The captain picked at his plate for a while, then looked up at Browning.
“So, Janice…what did you and Kelly talk about on the way to the shuttlebay this morning?”
“Oh, the usual. She reccomended some of the better places to eat on Breen. She told me about the Federation Symphony concert they’re having there in three days.”
“I see. She never brought…me up?”
“Not per se. But I think she’s a little uneasy about us spending this time together.”
“What’s got everyone so uneasy? We’ve spent time together before.”
“On the ship, with other people.”
“Granted. But we’re good friends. We have been for going on four years. What’s the problem?”
“Hey, I don’t have a problem. So who’s everyone?”
“What do you mean?”
“You said ‘What’s got everyone so uneasy.’ That implies more people than just Counselor Peterman.”
“Oh, well…Chris may have said something.”
“Oh he did, did he?” Browning put down her padd and folded her arms. “What did he have to say?”
“You know he still has feelings for you, Janice. He’s made that abundantly clear.”
“Well he can’t do much about it while dating Ensign Madera, now can he?”
Baxter stuffed a forkful of stuffing in his mouth. “You know he’s tried, Janice. Between Kris Larkin and Madera, he’s made every effort to start things back up with you.”
“Maybe I don’t want to start things back up.”
“That’s your prerogative. Then don’t feel bad about Christopher dating other people.”
“I didn’t say I felt bad.”
“Okay, then. There isn’t any problem.”
“Of course not. I have a child, a Sickbay, a Pioneer Depot, and a restaurant. My life is very, very full. The last thing I need is a man cluttering things up.”
“I couldn’t agree with you more,” Baxter said. He stood up and took his empty plate over to the reclamator. “You didn’t bring any cheesecake in that huge picnic crate, did you?”
“Three types,” Browning muttered, and continued reading her padd.
“Come back here with that phaser!” Counselor Peterman ordered, charging across the Baxter/Peterman quarters as Plato skipped away, phaser in hand. He’d been rifling through Peterman’s desk since she’d come down and moved him to her quarters. Peterman did not want to hang around on the bridge with Conway and realized she didn’t want a changeling running rampant all by himself in her quarters, either.
“Shootemup!” Plato warbled, and turned the phaser on Peterman. The sidearm held some sort of fascination with the lad.
“Noyadon’t!” Peterman called, and dived on Plato. “Gotcha!” The counselor grimaced as she felt Plato turn to putty underneath her. The little dickens slid right out of his clothes and slid like a slug underneath Peterman. Once he was clear of the counselor, Plato grew a head out of the otherwise featureless pink body.
“Silly cons’ler!” he said and squirmed out the door. The phaser was no doubt encased inside the globulous youngster somewhere. That just wouldn’t do at all.
Peterman trampled out of her quarters and down the hall, calling ahead to an approaching Ensign. “Susan! Grab him!”
Ensign Susan Madera was just rounding the corner toward Peterman’s corridor when Plato advanced on her, spreading into a huge, wide, billowy pair of butterfly wings.
“Oh, how beautiful!” she said. “Plato’s learned some new shapeshifting tricks!”
“I let him watch ‘When Changelings Attack’ on UKN this morning,” Peterman explained, as Plato wrapped himself snugly around Madera’s face.
“Mpph,” Madera said. Her tone told Peterman she didn’t approve of her choice of viewing material.
Peterman carefully peeled Plato off Madera’s face just in time to prevent her from passing out form oxygen depravation. She bundled the rubbery changeling into a ball and cradled him in the crook of her arm as if the tot were a football.
“There you go. All snug,” Peterman said. Then it occurred to her. “Madera?”
“Yes, Counselor?” asked the helmsperson as she turned to head in the opposite direction.
“Do you see a Type II phaser anywhere around here?”
“Hmm.” Peterman looked down at the ball of Plato. “Where’d you hide it, silly boy? Is it in you? Huh?”
Just then, Peterman heard a call down the corridor. “Hey, mommy, look what I got!”
It was little Josie Chandler, daughter to Lieutenant Elizabeth Chandler, one of the new officers in Xenobiology.
“Josie!” Chandler cried, even farther down the corridor. “Put that down right now!”
Peterman raced, with Plato in tow, down the corridor toward Josie. “Don’t worry, Lieutenant! The safety’s on. No way Josie will get the–”
Josie blasted a hole in an Explorer bulkhead and sirens promptly went off throughout the corridor.
Peterman set Plato down and raced for Josie, just as she turned toward her.
“Counselor, look what I got!” Josie announced and fired a hair above Peterman’s head.
“It sounds like it’s on ‘kill’!” said Chandler over the din of sirens.
“That it does,” Peterman said uneasily as she grabbed the phaser and wrenched it from Josie’s hand. “Oh, and look. It is.”
“How’d she get a hold of that?” Chandler asked, rushing to grab Josie in her arms.
“Beats me,” Peterman said. “But I’ll make sure the officer responsible is properly disciplined.”
“Could someone tell me what just happened?” Lt. Dan Elton asked, poking his head out of the hole Josie shot in the bulkhead.
Peterman sniffed the air. A tart aroma wafted out of the hole. Smelled like burning wheat. “Mind your own business, Mr. Elton. The situation is well in hand.”
“Some of us are trying to relax around here, dude,” said Elton.
“I understand that…dude,” Peterman said uncomfortably. “But if you don’t mind, I have a baby changeling to…” That reminded her. She looked around. “Darn it!” No Plato in sight.
Counselor Peterman hoped like hell her husband and Dr. Browning were having fun. She was paying for their vacation with pure misery, and worse, she didn’t even get to be godmother!
Late the next day, Rio De Janeiro arrived at Breen ahead of schedule. Baxter had discovered a new route and was quite proud of it.
“…just whipped my way around Titanius’s solar rings and zipped at maximum warp through the Balazan belt,” Baxter said to Peterman, who listened patiently on the Rio De Janeiro’s viewscreen. “You’d have loved it, Kelly.”
“I’m glad you made such great time, honey.”
“How are things on the Explorer?” he asked. “Is Conway keeping everyone in line?”
“He’s his usual bright, enthusiastic self,” Peterman replied, and looked over her shoulder. “I’d better go. Plato’s crying again. Tell Janice I said ‘hi.’”
“Will do,” Baxter said. “And how is the little rascal?”
“Um…fine,” Peterman said, and closed the channel.
“Janice,” he called into the aft compartment, “Are you about ready for us to land? Dad’s expecting us for dinner.”
“Almost,” called Browning’s voice from the aft compartment. Baxter heard the distinct sound of a psion hairdryer.
“Did you shower while I was talking to Kelly?”
“There are showers at Dad’s house on Breen, Janice.”
“I’m sure there are. Kelly told me all about the showers in your dad’s house. They’re programmed to go cold in five minutes.”
“Dad’s an old-school Starfleet man, Janice. He believes in conserving hot water.”
“Well I believe in long, hot showers,” replied Browning’s voice.
Baxter laughed. “Well, if it makes you feel any better, I know how to override Dad’s shower programming.”
Browning stepped out of the aft cabin, pulling her teal off-duty jacket over her black t-shirt and pulling her hair back into a ponytail. “Hold on a sec. Why didn’t Kelly know about that?”
“Because I never bothered to tell her.”
“And why not?” Browning grinned and sat down in the pilot’s chair at Baxter’s right.
“Because I enjoyed it when she came running out of the shower, cold and dripping wet. She always made me warm her up.” Baxter grinned.
“You really wish Kelly could have come, don’t you?”
“She could have. But she doesn’t like fishing, and she doesn’t like Breen. I understand.”
“You might tell her compromise is part of a marraige,” Browning said.
“She knows. And we have compromised. I’m not upset over her not going to Breen with me, and she’s not getting that three-meter mugato she’s had her eye on.”
“Sounds fair,” Browning giggled as Baxter laid in the final approach coordinates.
“Breen control,” said Baxter, tapping a button. “This is the Federation runabout Rio De Janeiro requesting permission to land at the Federation Embassy.”
“Federation runabout, permission GRRRRAR! granted,” said the high- pitched trilly voice typical of Breen. Breen language was almost completely understood now by the universal translator, but the voice the computer generated for the Breen was scratchy and annoying, and every now and then a word would go untranslated. “You would be wise to SNHHHAHRRRK! watch your step while on Breen.”
“What a weird warning,” said Browning.
“The Breen are weird,” said Baxter.
“Come in,” growled Ambassador Harlan Baxter. He leaned back in his wingbacked deskchair, puffing on a cigar, and looked over his large oaken desk as the doors to his office swung open, and Baxter and Browning stepped in.
“Hey, Dad,” Baxter said. “Good to see you.”
“Did you have a good trip?” asked Harlan. He took the cigar out of his mouth, sat up, and rounded his desk to shake Baxter’s hand.
“It was a great trip. I made great time, just by swinging around the solar rings of…”
“Not this again,” Browning said under her breath.
“Tell me all about it over dinner, boy,” Harlan said. “I’ve got the chefs cooking up a fine meal for us.”
“Sounds good,” Browning grinned.
Harlan put his arms around Baxter and Browning. He looked at the doctor. “I remember you. You’re the chief medical officer on Explorer, right?”
“Right. I was the one that wasn’t a Flarn.”
“That’s right.” Harlan nodded. “Well, it’s great to have you here at the embassy.” Harlan looked at Baxter. “Where’s Kelly? Primping up nice?”
“No,” said Baxter. “She opted not to come this time.”
“Why?” demanded Harlan.
“Uh…busy schedule,” Baxter said uncomfortably.
“Well, it’s good to see you brought someone just as beautiful in her place. Kelly better watch it, you might just end up with this Janice here.”
“That’s ridiculous, Dad,” Baxter said. “I’m married. I took vows. Remember?”
“No, I don’t. I wasn’t invited to the wedding. Remember?”
“Kelly has nothing to worry about, Ambassador Baxter. Andy and I are just good friends,” said Browning.
“Well, then,” Harlan said. “Maybe it’s my wife that’s got something to worry about.”
Baxter’s eyes went wide. “DAD!”
“I’m kidding, boy!”
After dinner, Baxter, Browning, and Harlan retired to the sealed, clear, balcony that overlooked the lights, dust, wind, and fog of the Breen capital city. Baxter remembered things looking better on the brochure. The Breen had innate PR sensibilities, which were apparently lacking during the period when they joined forces with the Dominion against the rest of the Alpha Quadrant.
“That was delicious, Ambassador,” Browning said, putting her feet up on the ottoman in front of her reclining chair. “You sure know how to live it up.”
“Nothing but the best for the Federation Ambassador to Breen,” Harlan said, sparking up a cigar and shoving it in his mouth. “And please, call me Harlan.”
“How cold you figure it is out there, Dad?” Baxter asked, pointing out beyond the transparent aluminum bubble that sealed off the Embassy from the rest of planet Breen.
“About 30 degrees below, Celsius, that is,” Harlan said. “Cold enough to freeze your crotch solid.” He nodded to Browning. “Excuse my Klingon.”
“Of course,” Browning said, and smiled. “I’m looking forward to our fishing trip, Harlan.”
“Ah! You’re going with us!” Harlan exclaimed, and puffed a billow of smoke in Browning’s direction. “Well isn’t that a hoot!”
“It sure is,” Baxter said.
“See, Kelly never liked to come fishing with us. Too cold, too desolate, too violent, et cetera,” said Harlan. “Glad to see you’re more of a man’s woman, Doctor.”
“Call me Janice,” Browning said.
“Well then, Janice, would you like an old fashioned Cuban ceegar, circa 2020?”
“I don’t mind if I do,” Browning said, and scooted her chair closer to Harlan’s.
Baxter sat between and looked on, amused. “Janice, you’re not really going to smoke one of those things, are you?”
“Why not?” Browning asked. She stuffed one of the cigars in her mouth and Harlan sparked it.
“There you go, Janice. That’s genuine cuban tobackie there!”
Browning puffed on the cigar, suppressed a violent cough, and swallowed. “Mmm…I sure can tell.”
“And to think you’re a doctor,” Baxter said incredulously. “Those things are terrible for you.”
“Nonsense,” growled Harlan. “You’d probably loosen up a bit if you tried one every now and then.”
“Thanks but no thanks,” Baxter said. “I want to still have my lungs when I’m one hundred.”
“I’m sixty-six and I still have mine.”
“We’ll see how long they hold out.”
Browning puffed on her cigar. She was finally getting the hang of it. “So, how big are the fish we’re going to go after tomorrow?”
Harlan shrugged. “Depends on where we go. If we go out to the Bargoff Island Narrows, we might get some hirshmars up to two meters in length.”
“Two meters! That’s nothing, Harlan. Let me tell you about the thirty meter supermarlins my ex-boyfriend Stan used to catch…”
“Supermarlins! I’ve always wanted to try catching one of those.”
“Nothing to it, Harlan,” Browning said, and chewed on her cigar.
Baxter stood. “Why don’t I let you two reminisce alone. I’ve got to get to bed. We are getting up in what…four hours…aren’t we?”
“Yup,” said Harlan. “Crack of dawn. Why, you scared of a little labor early in the morning?”
Browning giggled. “He’s scared of a little labor, period.”
“Why don’t I just go,” said Baxter. “It’ll be a lot easier to talk about me behind my back anyway.”
“Suit yourself,” said Harlan.
Baxter shot up in bed. “Bridge! Report!”
No response. He rubbed his eyes and slowly he realized he wasn’t on the Explorer, he was in one of the guest rooms at the Breen embassy.
But that definitely was an explosion he heard.
He hopped out of bed, yanked on his fluffy red-and-black “Starfleet Commander” housecoat, and rushed out into the corridor, which he quickly realized was filled with smoke.
He heard voices coming from either end of the corridor.
Suddenly, like a ghost, Harlan Baxter emerged from the smoke.
“Boy!” Harlan said. “Go back to bed. This is just a little malfunction in the life support systems.”
“It looks serious,” Baxter said. “Can I help?”
“Not at all. Get back to bed. Plenty of fishing for you to do in the morning.”
“You know, if we lose life support, we’ll all die of hypothermia. About how long can a human survive unprotected in Breen atmosphere?”
“About four minutes, but that’s not important,” Harlan said. “There’s no such problem. Just go back to bed. That’s an order, boy!”
“Okay, fine. Don’t say I didn’t try to help.”
“I’ve noted it for the record!” Harlan said cheerfully, and returned into the smoke and voices as Baxter returned to his bed to try to get a couple more hours’ sleep.
The next day, Baxter, Browning, and Harlan got up quite early, put on their sealed, heated pressuresuits and set out onto the Great Breen Ice Floe on board Harlan Baxter’s private hoverskiff, the Risky Business.
The Risky Business was a twelve-meter barge with a cabin roughly the size of a Federation shuttlecraft at the very rear, and two powerful hoverengines mounted on the bottom of the hull. It could traverse water, desert, swamp, or ice. It was roughly forty years old. As long as Baxter could remember, Harlan took the Risky Business out to hunt or fish, no matter where he was stationed. Baxter figured he liked the solitude.
Solitude aside, Baxter traditionally took at least one fishing/hunting trip each year with his father. This was the one.
They rode out for about an hour at high speed, until no sign of civilization, or any distinguishing natural landmass, for that matter, could be seen.
“Nice out, huh?” Dr. Browning’s voice crackled over Baxter’s pressuresuit communicator. Baxter and Browning were sitting at the front of the skiff, watching the ice chunks crackle under the Risky Business’s hull as it thundered along. Harlan was in the cockpit steering to one of his pre-determined waypoints, where he promised some great Breen fish could be found.
“Yeah, it’s a beautiful day,” Baxter said. “Sunnier than I would have thought.” The morning was gray, after all, not black.
“And just a little breeze,” Browning said.
“How can you tell?”
“I can’t. I’m just guessing.”
“I brought a couple thermoses of hot chocolate for later.”
“That sounds great.”
“And some bagels.”
“You were in gymnastics!” Browning suddenly exclaimed, and exploded into laughter so loud it thudded in Baxter’s suit speakers.
Baxter turned to face Browning. He could barely make out her eyes through the visor in her suit. “He told you about the gymnastics, did he?”
“And the exotic dance classes. You were quite the renaissance boy.”
“It was all mom’s idea.”
“So Harlan says.”
“You’re really enjoying this.”
“Let’s just say it gives me a whole different perspective on you.”
Baxter grunted. “That’s not necessarily a good thing.”
Suddenly the Risky Business slid to a stop and Harlan stepped out of the cabin.
“All right, lines in!” he said. He tossed Baxter and Browning high-test thorium-powered rods.
Browning grabbed her rod and reached down beside her into a large tackle box. “I’ve done some research. For this region, the ‘Fishmonger Model 7780’ will be perfect. I can spray it with a pheremonal agent irresistable to Breen aquatic life. We’ll be reeling them in in no time.”
“Nonsense,” barked Harlan. “We’re using good old fashioned Calmaran squid as bait.”
“Are you sure?”
“It’s the best stuff in the galaxy,” Harlan said, sitting down in the seat beside Browning. “Just trust me on this one.”
“Okay,” said Browning. “But can I at least use my Z99 photonic blaster to open up a hole in the ice?”
“My dear, I’d be honored if you would,” Harlan said, bowing regally.
Browning reached down next to her and grabbed an oblong, gleaming blue weapon that looked vaguely like a phaser rifle. “Everybody grab onto something,” she said, and aimed at the ice and blasted. Ice showered up from below and she flew backward. She nearly fell overboard, but Harlan caught her arm.
“Watch it, there,” he said, and she sat down. “That thing packs quite a punch.”
Baxter glanced over the edge of the Risky Business’s bow. “And it blows open one hell of a hole.”
“It’s top of the line,” Browning said. “It’s the best-selling in the long line of fine sports-fishing products available at Dillon’s Pioneer Depot.”
“May have to get me one of those,” said Harlan, as he, Baxter, and Browning put in their fishing lines.
“Mention me and you’ll get ten percent off,” said Browning. “And I’ll get a fat commission.”
“Hear that, Andy?” Harlan asked. “What did I tell you about the Federation economy?”
“Well, Dillon’s is not really part of the Federation…” Browning said.
“Still, I think it’s safe to say the Federation economy will not succeed any longer without some form of currency,” Harlan said. “Case in point, Dillon’s Pioneer Depot, and that silly business with your ship being turned into a cruiseliner.”
“Please, Dad, don’t talk about that,” Baxter said. “We’re on vacation, here. Let’s try to have some fun.”
“Whatever you say. Just remember to keep that stash of latinum handy.”
“I remember, for Pete’s sake,” Baxter said.
Suddenly Dr. Browning’s rod bowed and she gripped her chair. “I think I’ve got a fish on!”
“Go for it, Janice,” Harlan exclaimed. “That’s the way. Fight ‘er!”
Browning activated the autowench on her rod and yanked backwards. “Whoa, boy, whoa!”
“Wow, that was quick, Janice,” Baxter said, looking on in amazement.
Browning yanked and yanked back on the rod as the wench reeled in, fizzling with the friction. It whined loud as it strained to pull in its payload.
“You nearly have ‘er, Janice!” Harlan announced.
Suddenly a large, smooth, arrow-shaped, shiny gray creature loomed over the bow of the Risky Business. It was easily half the length of Risky Business and nearly as wide.
The line suddenly snapped and the big skreep flopped back under the ice.
Browning collapsed back into her chair, annoyed. “He got away.”
“It happens,” Harlan said. “You gave her a good fight, though. That was the biggest skreep I’ve ever seen in these waters.”
“I don’t know what a ‘skreep’ is, but he looked tasty,” said Browning. “Let’s put back in. I know we can get him!”
“That’s the spirit!” Harlan encouraged, and reached into his tacklebox to reset Browning’s line.
“Hey, I’ve got something here,” Baxter said, and started pulling in. The fish didn’t nearly give him as much fight as the fish Browning had done battle with.
Finally, after a small struggle, Baxter brought in a large chunk of ice.
“Good work, boy,” Harlan Baxter chortled. “Come on, Janice. Let’s see what we serious fishermen can get.”
Baxter grimaced. Since when was Harlan called “Captain”? And why did he feel like he was slowly being pushed aside? Suddenly Baxter was pushed aside.
“Move, boy, I need to get at the beer!” Harlan warbled.
That would explain it.
Four hours later, Risky Business set back for mainland, with a bay full of fish. Browning never did re-catch that huge ‘skreep,” but she did catch a “mess of fish,” as Harlan put it. Harlan caught a mess of fish too. Baxter, however, caught one undersized “nekrop,” which he found out was really only used to make linaments for elderly Breen. So much for father/son bonding time.
Harlan expertly steered the Risky Business into port and Baxter dutifully tied it up at the dock. He was just about to help Dr. Browning unload her rather large stash of fish when a phaser beam sailed over his head from seemingly out of nowhere.
He ducked, rolled onto the deck of the Risky Business, and shoved Browning down into the hold, where both of them flopped onto the stash of fish.
“What the heck are you doing?” demanded Browning.
“Someone’s shooting at us!” Baxter exclaimed. “Hey, Dad! Get down here! Someone’s shooting at us!”
Baxter heard several more shots, then dutifully rose his head up out of the hold to see what was happening. He was a Starfleet officer. There was some kind of disturbance. He had a duty to see what was going on, even if he had waited until the shooting stopped.
He saw Harlan standing on the dock, looking annoyed. Baxter could barely make out his expression through the visor in Harlan’s suit, but he definitely looked annoyed.
“Damn,” Harlan finally said, after a long pause. There was a black scorch on the shoulder of his suit.
“What happened?” Baxter demanded.
“Drive-by,” Harlan said. “Happens around here all the time. I’m trying to work with the mayor on inner-city crime, especially here in the harbor district.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Let’s get that fish in,” Harlan said, and headed into the cabin to grab his tacklebox.
Baxter reached down to offer Browning a hand out of the hold, and she struggled to her feet.
“What the heck is going on?” asked Browning.
“Something fishy,” said Baxter.
“This is serious. My Dad just got shot and he’s acting like nothing happened. Like he’s trying to cover something up.”
“Andy, you’re just being paranoid.”
“Damn right I am. Now let’s get these fish in.”
That evening, once the Baxter, Browning, and Harlan were out of their suits and cleaned up, Browning treated them to the finest fish grill-out either of them had ever experienced. After dinner, Browning examined the bruise on Harlan’s shoulder where the beam had nicked his suit.
“Thank goodness you didn’t take this hit head-on,” Browning said, glancing up at Harlan from her medical tricorder. “You might not have lived to tell about it.”
“That’s silly,” Harlan said, sitting back in his wing-backed chair. Captain Baxter was busy checking out some of the new volumes in the “Baxter Library.”
“You read Delirium, by Skrapnak?” Baxter asked. “What tripe!”
“Skrapnak is the best latinum speculator in the quadrant, boy!” Harlan retorted as Browning ran a regenerator over his shoulder.
“Did you get a look at the guy that did this, Harlan?” Browning asked.
“Just out of the corner of my eye, but when everybody where’s the exact same pressure-suit, people tend to all look the same.” Harlan snorted. “He was a typical hoodlum. They run rampant around here. I meant to tell you guys about it. I guess I thought the problem had gone away.”
“Looks like you were wrong,” said Baxter. “Is the Breen goverment doing anything to stop the crime problem?”
“Very little. The way they see it, if you don’t like it here, get out.”
“I take it you don’t give any heed to that advice?” Browning asked, sitting down in the wing-back chair across from Harlan.
“I God damn sure don’t,” Harlan said, and swigged from his glass of whiskey. “Us Baxter’s have staying power. Why else would your captain there spend three years on a ship full of incompetents that hate him?”
“One,” Baxter sighed, staring complacently at the rows of books, “my crew is not incompetent. Well, not THAT incompetent.” He took a breath. “Two, they do not hate me. At least, they don’t ALL hate me.”
“Believe what you want,” Harlan said. “Anyway, I plan on finishing out my career here on Breen. And a few hoodlums are not going to stop me.”
“That’s a very honorable perspective, Harlan,” Browning said.
“Why thank you.”
“It’s also pretty reckless. What if you get killed next time there’s a drive-by?”
“When it’s our time to check out of this world, Dr. Browning, it’s our time. We have no say in it.”
“Sheesh,” Baxter muttered.
“Now I see where Andy gets his stubbornness,” said Browning.
“Only I apply my stubbornness to things like video football. Dad applies it to people who try to kill him.”
“They’re not trying to kill me, in particular,” Harlan said, and shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “What’s on Krinokom? Any good movies?”
“Morning,” Dr. Browning said, approaching Baxter’s tiny desk and rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. She’d replicated a cup of coffee and tracked Baxter down to the spare office he’d commandeered to call Explorer.
“Good morning,” Baxter said, sipping from his own cup of coffee. He switched off his terminal. “I just talked to Kelly. You’ll be glad to know Plato has said a few more words.”
Browning sat down across from Baxter. “Yay! What did he say?”
“‘Doggy’ and ‘bite,’ I think.”
“Kelly assures me Plato’s fine. Whatever Charlie did, it reverted back to normal in seconds, apparently.”
“That changeling DNA makes him a durable little guy,” Browning said, smiling wistfully. “Thank goodness.”
“Wish my dad had that DNA,” Baxter grumbled. “He needs it.”
“What do you mean?”
Baxter turned the terminal on again, tapped in some commands, and turned it to face Browning. “According to these statistics, violence in this part of the city has gone up three hundred percent since Dad moved in last year. Do you see a correlation?”
“You can’t be sure that’s what influenced the figures. It could have been any number of things.”
“The news says a group is holding a ‘Baxter Must Go’ demonstration tomorrow in the Vrenarr building.”
“Goodness,” Browning said. “Why didn’t Harlan say anything about this to you?”
“Because my dad, as you’ve probably guessed, is a very stubborn man. He’s obviously got himself into some nasty business here, but he’s just too proud to let me help him.”
“Have you talked to any of the staff here?”
Baxter nodded. “Unfortunately. These people are right under his thumb, Janice. They respect his age and experience, which none of them, as far as I’ve seen, have in abundance. They’d follow him off a cliff, I think.”
“So they’ll stay and burn right along with your father, if that’s what comes about.”
“I’m virtually sure of it.”
“The Breen are giving trouble to a Federation representative,” Browning said. “It’s not just a personal thing with your father. Starfleet should know about this.”
“I know they should,” Baxter said. “But I don’t know how to broach the subject with my Dad. He’s so bent on being successful here. Baxters don’t like to admit to failure.”
Browning looked at Baxter and giggled. “Really?
“Okay!” Baxter snapped. “MOST Baxters.”
Later that day, Baxter, Browning, and Harlan set out again aboard Risky Business to catch more fish.
The trio all had lines in, and hadn’t had a bite in quite a while. Harlan had joked that Browning must have caught them all the day before.
After much silence, and much contemplation on Baxter’s part, the captain spoke: “Dad…are the people of Breen trying to kill you?”
“Son,” Harlan chortled, “that’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Of course the people of Breen aren’t trying to kill me. A whole race can’t up and decide to kill one person.”
“Are SOME of the people of Breen trying to kill you?” Browning asked gently.
Harlan worked his jaw around his cigar contemplatively. Baxter wondered how the hell he got that thing in his pressuresuit, and how it didn’t shortcircuit the suit’s functions.
“Well?” Baxter demanded.
“Maybe so,” Harlan said. “But it’s none of your business.”
“People are trying to kill my dad and it’s none of my business?” Baxter asked.
“He’s got you there, Harlan,” Browning said.
“Fish on!” said Harlan, and he indicated Browning’s line.
“Whoa!” Browning said. “Look at that baby tug! I think it’s the big boy again!”
“We’re getting off-subject, here,” Baxter said impatiently.
“Forget about that for now,” Harlan said. “We have a fish on!”
“But–” said Baxter.
“After I pull this twisted mother in!” Browning growled at Baxter, her eyes afire. She was acting differently than Baxter’d ever seen her, and that included the time when she was possessed by that alien mind consciousness.
“Fine,” Baxter surrendered. “I’ll just sit here and–”
An explosion rocked the Risky Business from somewhere under the ice.
Harlan was on his feet instantly. “What the hell was that?”
Baxter looked over the edge of the hoverskiff and saw a black shape dotted with docking lights dart under the ice.
“They sent a damn attack sub after you, Dad!” Baxter said. “So not only are snipers after you! You’ve got full-on militant whackos after you!”
“Apparently,” Harlan said. “Now pull your fish in, Janice!”
“I think we have more important things to do,” Browning said fearfully as the great beast tugged on her line.
“Poppycock,” said Harlan. “We’re not going to let those bastards intimidate us. We’re catching our big fish!”
“Uh…if you insist,” Browning said uneasily.
Baxter hopped to his feet to face his father. “Janice, you let go of that rod and get into the cabin immediately. That’s an order from your captain!”
A chilly wind whipped across the deck of the Risky Business, causing Harlan and Baxter to sway in their heavy suits.
“I am the captain of this ship,” Harlan shot back, his words echoing inside Baxter’s helmet. “Janice, you stay on that fish!”
Suddenly a great black shape burst out of the ice. Roaring, angry, and slimy. It was the skreep.
“Holy crap!” Browning cried, and the beast dove back into the ice.
“We need to outrig that beast,” Harlan said. “Do you have a fancy grappler in that kit of yours?”
“Sure do. One ton test, I think,” Browning said.
“That might do,” Harlan said, and rooted through Browning’s state-of-the-art tacklebox.
Harlan picked up the grappling cannon and eyed it. “Where’d the damn switch on this thing?”
“It’s voice-activated,” explained Browning as she heaved on the line. The huge skreep tugged so hard the Risky Business began to slide after it on the ice.
“I’ll be damned,” Harlan said.
“Where’d that attack sub go?” Baxter asked. It was obvious Harlan and Browning were ignoring him.
Harlan pointed the grappling cannon at the dark shape under the ice, and suddenly the mighty skreep crashed through again.
“Fire!” Harlan cried.
“Specify target,” said the grappler.
“That big damn fish!” Harlan shouted.
“Acknowledged. Firing now.”
The grappler fired its hook, which quickly zipped around the tail of the massive fish before it dove back under the ice.
“We need to anchor this thing,” Harlan said.
“Grappler 3000,” announced Browning, gripping her chair, “activate MagnaLock!”
“Activated,” said the sweet computer voice.
The grappler shot out of Harlan’s hand and locked solidly onto the deck of Risky Business.
“I’ll be damned,” Harlan said again, and raced for the cabin. “I’ll hit the engines. That thing’ll drag us all the way to the West Continent if we let it.”
Baxter followed Baxter to the cabin. “Dad! Don’t you think we should try to find that sub and stop it before they blow us sky high? They may have many more charges like the one they hit us with. They could sink us!”
“They wouldn’t do that. That would precipitate an interstellar war.”
“Are you sure they don’t want that?”
Harlan ducked into the cabin and punched in a course on the piloting board. The Risky Business’s engines roared to life and it lept in the opposite direction from which the skreep was pulling.
“I frankly don’t care what they want. I’m fishing with my son and his friend right now.”
“If you and your son and his friend die, you won’t be fishing anymore!” Baxter cried frantically. “Don’t you see that!’
Harlan looked at Baxter blankly from within his suit. “You’ve got a point there. So what do you want me to do? I doubt you brought a phaser along with you.”
“Actually,” Baxter said, and hurried out to the row of chairs where Browning was still frantically tugging in on her line. The anchor line from the grappler was reeling in as hard as it could as well.
“You brought a phaser?” Browning asked as Baxter rifled through his tacklebox.
Harlan knelt down by Baxter and examined the other contents of his box. “You brought books? When were you going to read?”
“When you and Janice started chatting about me again,” Baxter said. “And yes, I brought a phaser, because I got a good look at that skreep yesterday, and he didn’t look nice. I was a Starfleet Scout. I believe in being prepared!”
“If you believed in being prepared, you would have brought the Grappler 3000,” Browning pointed out.
“Point taken,” Baxter said numbly and yanked his phaser out of the tacklebox. “Here it is.” He upped the setting to maximum. “This is just enough to punch a hole in that sub, as long as it doesn’t have shields.”
Harlan peered into the tacklebox. “You brought a case of malomars?”
“They were for everybody!” Browning protested.
Another blast rocked under the Risky Business.
“Our friend’s back!” Baxter cried.
The black shape of the attack sub surged under the Risky Business and rose out of the ice, turning to ride up alongside the hoverskiff. It was roughly the length of the Risky Business. Probably had a complement of about three, thought Baxter.
“Show yourself, you bloody coward!” Harlan cried, switching his suit’s PA speaker on.
“Harlan Baxter, Federation VAAANT! Ambassador,” hissed a voice that boomed out of the sub’s speakers. “Relinquish your GARRRRRT! ship and your embassy. Leave this planet and don’t ERRRRRT! come back!”
“You’ve really made a mark on the Breen, Dad,” Baxter muttered.
“They don’t all hate me,” Harlan replied.
“That’s what you think. Your approval BAAAAAAT! rating is a three! That means three percent of DARRRRRRRT all Breen on this planet actually approve of you!” replied the voice from the sub. “What do you think of that?”
“What have I done to deserve this?” Harlan demanded.
“You’re from the Federation. That’s BERRRRRT! enough. Now get off this ORRRRRT! planet!”
“On whose authority are you speaking?” demanded Baxter.
“The authority of the people of BARRRRRT! Breen!”
“You and all the other people of Breen can kiss my ass!” retorted Harlan. “No way I’m leaving!”
Baxter quickly crouched beside Browning, who was divided between watching the exchange between the Breen and Baxter, and reeling in her big fish.
“Janice,” Baxter whispered. “I want your pheremonal agent.”
“You like my perfume?”
“No…well, yes, it’s great, but I need that stuff you were going to spray on your lure.”
“Why? What on Earth would you want to spray it on?”
Baxter jerked his head in the direction of the sub.
“Oh!” Browning exclaimed. “Good idea. I hear skreep have humongous genetlia!”
Baxter grinned. “That’s I’m betting on.”
Browning gripped tight on her rod with one hand and rooted through her tacklebox with the other. “Here we go!” She handed the spray bottle to Baxter.
“Perfect,” Baxter said, and rose to his feet.
“This is your last warning,” said the voice from the Breen sub. “I’m going to GARNT! blow you all to the next world if you don’t relinquish your vessel TART! now!”
“Do your worst!” Baxter called out. He turned the nozzle on the large pheremone spraybottle to a wide spray and coated the length of the sub until the pheremonal agent ran out. “What the hell are you doing, son?” asked Harlan.
“You’ll see,” Baxter grinned. “Go into the cabin and shut down the engines.”
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
Harlan grudgingly went into the cabin and shut off the Risky Business’s engines.
The skiff sighed to a stop, and the sub pulled to a stop alongside it.
Suddenly Browning’s fishing line went very slack. “Our big boy is coming up on us quick!” Browning exclaimed, looking at the sensor indicator on the tiny screen on her grappler.
“I bet he is,” Baxter said. He jerked Browning out of her chair and led her and Baxter toward the cabin.
The attack sub, meanwhile, slowed and pulled up alongside the Risky Business. A hatch on top of the sub opened and a helmeted individual climbed out and stepped onto the deck of the hoverskiff.
“Stop where you VART! are!” he cried, and pointed a disruptor at Baxter, Harlan, and Browning.
“Fish on!” Browning cried.
“Huh?” asked the Breen, turning.
“UAAAAHAHAHAHHHHRG!” came a cry from behind the Breen.
Baxter, Browning, and Harlan watched as a long shadow drew over the attack sub.
The Breen watched in dismay as the skreep, in all its massiveness, crashed against the sub, pressing it underwater.
“What the SKRARNT!–” the Breen said, stunned, looking on at the bubbles where the sub had been just moments earlier.
Baxter quickly whipped out his phaser and blasted the Breen, who fell to the deck like a pile of rags.
“You know,” said Harlan, looking on at the unconcious Breen. “Maybe I should rethink my stay here.”
“You think?” Browning asked.
The sound bubbled hard and forcefully from underwater.
“What was that?” asked Baxter.
“I think our skreep just got lucky,” said Browning.
“Glad someone benefitted from this fiasco,” muttered Harlan.
Stardate 54502.5. The Explorer has arrived to dismantle the Federation embassy on Breen indefinitely until our diplomats work out some sort of solution with the Breen government. Obviously, there are those among the Breen that wish to have nothing to do with the Federation. At any rate, it’s nearly definite that my father and his staff will not be involved with the corps of diplomats that will run the negotiations. That’s probably all for the best.
“It’s good to be back,” Baxter said, and collapsed onto his couch next to Counselor Peterman. “By the way, honey, I love what you’ve done with the place.”
“That’s not funny.”
The walls of the Baxter/Peterman cabin were caked with dried food. Shredded pillows and sheets lie all over the floor. Baxter’s desk was upturned. Baxter didn’t even want to LOOK in the bathroom.
“So you had a great time with Plato, I take it.”
“That little guy’s a handful,” Peterman said.
“Thank goodness you had your conflict resolution skills to fall back on.”
“Not hardly. Plato doesn’t need conflict resolution. He needs a containment field.”
“Now now now, that’s my godson you’re talking about,” Baxter grinned.
“Larkin to Baxter,” chirped Baxter’s comm badge.
“We finished collecting the Federation communications sattelites from around Breen. That constitutes the last of our presence on that planet. Orders?”
“If that’s everything, set a course for Starbase 209 and engage at warp eight.”
“Understood. Oh, and we were able to retrieve the image you requested from the satellite files”
“Excellent. Have it routed to my terminal.”
Peterman followed Baxter to his desk, which he quickly heaved rightside-up. “What are you up to?”
“Just a little photo touch-up.” Baxter tapped on his terminal screen as the image came up. It was a picture of him standing next to Dr. Browning as she attempted to reel in the huge skreep. “You see there…that’s the first time Doctor Browning tried to bring in the skreep.”
“Cute, perhaps. Useful? Most definitely.”
“Useful for what?”
“You see,” Baxter said, tapping on the screen, bringing up the artistry program. “I had a talk with Mr. Mirk before I left. You know how I’m eager to advance to acolyte status in his religion so I can eat grapefruit?”
“You’ve talked about little else over the last few weeks.”
“Well, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Especially if it’s altered.” Baxter highlighted his image and moved it with a flick of his finger, superimposing it on top of the image of Browning.
“So you’re going to try to fool Mirk into thinking you caught the skreep, and he’ll make you an acolyte based on that feat?”
“Exactly,” said Baxter. “A bit of technological wizardry, huh?”
Peterman giggled. “We’ll see.”
Baxter downloaded the image into a padd and headed for the door. “I’ll just take this down to Mirk. Do you want me to bring you back a few grapefruirt?”
“Sure,” Peterman said. “You go ahead and do that.”
“Okay,” Baxter grinned, and headed out of his quarters.
When Baxter walked into the second level of Ship’s Shoppes, the Explorer’s mall, he found Harlan and Browning having lunch together on the patio of Browning’s restaurant.
“Well hello, you two,” Baxter grinned. “Should I tell mom to be worried?”
“We’re just having lunch, silly,” Browning said. “I think that’s harmless.”
“Hrmph,” grumbled Harlan. “Harmless.”
Baxter sat down beside Harlan. “What’s wrong, Dad? Still upset about losing your job?”
“Something like that.”
Baxter patted Harlan on the back. “Don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll find something else.”
“Hrmph. But until I do, I’ll be living on the Pathfinder with your mother. I’ll be a damned house husband.”
“Sounds like a party to me!” Baxter giggled.
“What’s got you so happy?” asked Browning.
“Can you keep a secret?”
Baxter showed Browning his padd. “This is what’s going to get me grapefruit again.”
Browning eyed the padd. “So you superimposed yourself over me to make it look like you caught the skreep that I didn’t even really catch?”
“Insideous, isn’t it?” Baxter asked.
“Yep,” Browning said, and laughed. She passed the padd to Harlan. “What do you think, Harlan?”
Harlan studied the padd and chortled. He passed it back to Baxter. “Nice ponytail, son.”
Baxter studied the padd. He’d accidentally left Browning’s ponytail in.
“God damn it!” he cried, pounding the breakfast table. “What’s the use. I’ll never eat another grapefruit again!”
“Sounds like a party to me,” Harlan grinned, and clinked glasses with Browning. “Right, Janice?”
“You took the words right out of my mouth, sir.”
Baxter sighed. “This is mutiny. I get no respect around here.”
“Thanks for stopping by, son,” Harlan chortled. “I feel a lot better now.”
Baxter laughed weakly. “Glad I could help.”
Have the Maloxitarians gone too far? Commander Conway seems to think so, as he “goes rogue” in an attempt to re-assert freedom of religion on the Explorer. Will he be successful, or will he become a martyr? And will Baxter EVER get to eat grapefruit again? Find out, in an authority-questioning special story written by Alan Decker!