Author: Alan Decker
Seated with the other five Maloxitarian acolytes at the front of the chapel, Commander David Conway looked out at the gathered congregation of Explorer officers, crew, and families. In each and every one of their eyes, he could see the same thing: jealousy.
True, the acolyte’s robes, all covered with pictures of various colorful fruits from around the galaxy, looked a bit ridiculous. And the melon beanies didn’t help things either.
Despite that, he and the other acolytes, Richards, Peterman, Tilleran, J’hana, and Browning, had reached the next level of Maloxitarianism. It had taken days of torture, but the results were worth the pain. They could eat fruit again. The rest of the crew, including Captain Baxter, had to defer to them as their spiritual elders. Sure, it was still annoying to be taking orders from a damn teenager, but Mirk had thus far been fair with his acolytes.
“And though the trees of your existence may seem barren at times,” Mirk said as he wrapped up his sermon, “remember that the Directors supply life-sustaining fruits in many forms. Where one tree may be empty, another’s branches may hang heavy with fruit for the faithful. Juicy juicy.”
“Juicy juicy,” the acolytes repeated on cue.
“Juicy juicy,” the congregation echoed.
“Excellent, my seeds. I feel the blooming imminent in many of your spirits. Glory to the Directors.” Mirk closed the Maloxitarian holy text, signaling the end of the service. Silently, the congregation filed out of the chapel, except for a few of the crew who approached Mirk for some spiritual advice. One of those was Captain Baxter.
“Move aside, buddy. Captain’s prerogative,” Baxter said, pushing through the crowd around the 19-year-old minister. He picked up a small girl Mirk was blessing and shoved her back in her father’s arms. “What about my damn grapefruit?” Baxter demanded.
“What about it?” Mirk asked serenely.
“I’m ready. Let’s get a move on with this acolyte stuff. I am Maloxitarian. I read the book. I studied the book. Come on. Ask me anything.”
“You may have the knowledge, but you have not achieved patience and wisdom.”
“I’m the captain! Patience and wisdom are in my job description.”
“Can I see Mirk now?” the elderly mother of one of the Explorer’s ensign’s asked.
“Wait your damn turn, bitch!” Baxter snapped.
“I believe I have made my point,” Mirk said.
“I’m sorry about that. I’m a little on edge here. Kelly’s been drinking grapefruit juice every morning just to taunt me. I need a hit, Mirk. I’ve got to be an acolyte!”
“Your time will come, my son,” Mirk said, patting Baxter consolingly on the head. The serenity lessons he’d taken from Leximas during their brief time together had really helped him get this minister thing down.
“WHEN?!?!” Baxter bellowed.
“Suck it up like a man, Captain,” Conway said, heading towards the rear of the chapel to hang up his robe.
“That’s enough, Andy,” Counselor Peterman said, walking over and grabbing Baxter’s arm. “You’re never going to be one of us behaving like that.” She dragged the glassy-eyed captain out of the chapel back towards their quarters as Conway gleefully watched the pathetic spectacle. Damn, it felt good having something over Baxter like this.
Conway finished folding his robe, said the required chant of keeping, and put the garment in his it’s blessed wooden box for another week. By this time, the others had all left except for Mirk, who approached Conway with an expression on his face Conway didn’t like the looks of.
“Today’s service went well, I thought,” Mirk said.
“And it’s over now. You can talk normally,” Conway said.
“Right. Fine. Uh…Commander, there’s something we need to discuss.”
“Is this work or church related?”
“They are one.”
“I said talk normally.”
“Sorry. Anyway, um…well…I was doing some research last night through the ancient texts. And I found something.”
“Okay…” Conway said, waiting for a point to this story.
“Well, there’s a passage in the Rites of Kumquats concerning Befnox and his travels through the Deserts of the Damned Dirt on Malox.”
“Uh huh,” Conway said, growing irritated.
“It seems that Befnox encountered a tribe there that…let me get this right…lived on the evil elixir of excess energy, which came from a bean.”
“Mirk, I need to get to the bridge. What do you need to tell me?”
“Youcan’tdrinkcoffeeanymore!” Mirk spat out quickly, cowering back. Conway stood blankly for a moment processing what Mirk just said. Mirk was impressed. Obviously Maloxitarianism had been good for the commander. He was taking this rather well.
Conway’s hand suddenly latched onto the ornate collar of Mirk’s ceremonial robe and hoisted the Maloxian into the air.
“What!!!!” Conway bellowed, his eyes bulging with fury.
“It’s in the book,” Mirk gasped. “I’m sorry.”
“That can’t be right. I’ve done everything I was supposed to do. I swore off fruit…”
“You never ate fruit,” Mirk interrupted.
“That’s beside the point. I gave it up. I went through your damn torments. I wore the god…er…Director-awful robe. I did it all. You can’t take my coffee.”
“I wish it were otherwise, but the texts must be obeyed.”
“WOULD YOU STOP TALKING LIKE THAT?!?”
“I’m just trying to console you.”
“Coffee consoles me just fine.”
“The Directors have sent you this test for a reason.”
“Yeah. They hate me!” Conway snapped.
“You know that’s not true. The Directors love all of their followers.”
“They sure have a suck-ass way of showing it,” Conway muttered, trudging towards the door.
“Be strong in your faith, Brother Conway,” Mirk called after him.
Conway’s mind surged with turmoil as he entered his quarters. It was an impossible situation. How could he be expected to give up the love of his life?
“Computer, activate display case. Authorization Conway Patriot Red October Storm Rising,” he ordered. His seldom-used sofa folded outward revealing a massive duranium foot locker. A force field crackled out of existence as the foot locker opened. Rising up from the depths of the container, basking in the glow of carefully placed floor lights, was a vast platform of coffee…all kinds of coffee.
To many, the elaborate security measures probably seemed like overkill, but Conway had been burned in the past. That damn Peterman bitch had taken his whole stash once and replaced it with decaf. DECAF!!!
But his current stash was safe. Conway smiled as he ran through their names. French Roast, Royal Columbian, Cafe’ Cardassian (despite their nasty reputations, Cardassians really knew how to make a cup of joe), espresso, macadamia nut, that great Vulcan blend Lieutenant Carr of the Secondprize had turned him on to a couple of years earlier, and so many others.
“Morning, guys,” Conway said warmly. His joy faded as he remembered why he’d called them there. “I’ve got some…news.” Conway choked on the last word. Struggling to maintain his composure, he pressed on. “I don’t think we can see each other anymore. I don’t like it any more than you do, but there’s nothing I can do. I’m a Maloxitarian. We can’t drink coffee. That’s just the way it is.”
Conway picked up a bag of Viennese Roast and stepped over to the matter reclamation unit. “I’m sorry.” Conway put the bag in the slot…but couldn’t let go. With a cry, he yanked the bag out again and clutched it to his chest.
“NO! They can’t do this to us! I’ll fight it. I’ll find a way. I promise!” Conway gingerly placed the bag back on the platform.
“Computer, close display. Engage security measures levels one through ten.” The coffee sank back into the case as the floor lights dimmed. “I’ll be back for you,” Conway whispered. The box closed, sealed itself, and reactivated the force field as the sofa reformed over it.
Conway was determined to do something. The question was what. How could he convince Mirk that his interpretation was wrong? There was no evil in coffee. Coffee was love; pure, black, powerful love.
After ten minutes of frustrated pacing, Conway realized that he didn’t have the answer. He needed advice from someone wiser.
“Computer, activate program Conway JVCC22,” Conway said, standing outside of Holodeck Three.
“Program complete. Enter when ready.”
Before Conway could take a step forward, he saw Lieutenant Megan Hartley strolling down the hall towards him. She looked happier than usual.
“Morning, sir,” she said happily. “Sorry to hear about your loss. Must REALLY suck to be you right now.”
That would explain the giddiness.
“Now is not the time, Hartley,” Conway grumbled.
“I can’t think of a better one. Have a nice day! And remember, the Directors love you.”
“The Directors can…”
“Yes?” Hartley said expectantly.
“I didn’t think so. I know an acolyte of Maloxitarianism would never say anything against his gods.”
“Yeah yeah,” Conway said.
“I’m off to have lunch with Mirk. I’ll be sure to tell him what a good boy you’re being.” She practically skipped away down the corridor, jubilant with the suffering of others…well, the suffering of Conway anyway. Conway made a mental note to find a way to pay her back later. For now, he had an appointment in the holodeck.
Conway stepped through the doors and into a vast field of crops…one particular crop to be exact. A light breeze blew through Conway’s hair as he raised his head up to enjoy the feel of sunlight warming his face.
Across the field, a man in a large hat approached, a mule ambling behind him.
“Buenos dias, seor,” the man said once he reached Conway.
“Hola’, Juan,” Conway replied. “Beautiful day.”
“Si. Es muy bonita.”
“I’ve got a problem, Juan. They’re trying to separate us.”
“The Directors. Coffee’s now against my religion, but it’s also my life.”
“You do have a problem, mi amigo,” Juan replied. He reached back into the mule’s saddlebags and came out with a handful of coffee beans. “You have to follow your heart, David. Es tu vida. You must decide how you will live it.”
“But I can’t just turn my back on Maloxitarianism. It could be the only thing between us and destruction. Besides, the whole ship is Maloxitarian. It’s official policy. And if it’s effective in stopping the Starshine Kids, it could become Federation law. What am I supposed to do?”
“Es tu vida.”
“Yeah, you mentioned that.”
“Que es mas importante: living in misery or risking death for what you believe in?”
“Death! Who said anything about death?”
“Rebellion is risky business.”
Conway couldn’t help but smile. “But risk is our business.”
“Spoken like a true Starfleet officer,” Juan replied. “I must go.”
“Thanks, Juan. I mean it.”
“De nada,” Juan replied, tipping his hat to Conway, then he and the mule headed off into the distance. Juan had a point. There were certain things that came with being a Starfleet Officer. Captain Baxter just needed to be reminded of a few of them.
“Absolutely not!” Captain Baxter said, getting up from his desk chair. He and Conway stared each other down across the ready room.
“I don’t believe this,” Conway retorted. “You’ll benefit from this as much as I will.”
“A little personal sacrifice is good for a Maloxitarian,” Baxter said.
Conway stormed over to the replicator. “Grapefruit juice.”
“You bastard,” Baxter snapped as the replicator hummed to life, producing that oh-so-lovely fruit elixir of the gods…er, Directors.
“You want it?” Conway said, holding the glass up tauntingly. “All you have to do is rescind the order.”
“But the Directors…”
Conway took a sip from the glass, stifling his disgust at drinking the foul substance. “Mmmmmmm. Just like fresh- squeezed.”
“Baxter, listen to me here. We don’t have to stand for this. We’re Starfleet Officers. We go around defending freedom and s*** all over the galaxy.”
“This is about defending freedom,” Baxter said, turning away from the grapefruit juice. Directors! He could smell it so strongly. That wonderful… NO! He had to be strong. “Without Maloxitarianism…is that a word? Never mind. Without it, the Starshine Kids will be all over us. I’ve done the whole head- shaved thing, and I don’t care to repeat the experience. We may have to give up a couple of things here and there, but that’s the price of the rest of our freedoms.”
“How long until Mirk takes away something else? How long until he finds some other obscure quote in those damn books of his? We have to put a stop to it now.”
“You need to have faith in the Directors. You’re supposed to be a damn acolyte after all.”
“Is that what this is about?”
“Of course it is! You get grapefruit juice any time you want. What about me? When is it my turn?”
“Probably never,” Conway said, dumping the juice back in the replicator, which quickly disposed of it. “That’s Mirk’s game. If he keeps what you want away from you, he can control you.”
“He’s a kid, Conway. That’s all,” Baxter replied, watching the empty replicator pad longingly. It was right there. The juice was right there.
“He’s a kid who’s pretty much in command of this ship. He could completely take over without so much as a peep from you. Think about that for a minute.”
“I don’t have to,” Baxter said. “Mirk is our spiritual leader. He’s following the will of the Directors. AND HE WILL GIVE ME MY GRAPEFRUIT JUICE!!!”
“Enough, Mister! We’re Maloxitarian. You can’t have coffee. Deal with it.”
“I was Maloxitarian. I can have coffee. The end. If Mirk or his damn eyeballs have anything to say about it, send them to my quarters!”
“I’ll remove you from duty.”
“Fine! I’ll drink my damn coffee while I file my protest with Starfleet, Captain.” Conway spat the last word with complete disdain.
“Remember that word, buddy. Captain. That’s me! And you will continue to follow the rules of this ship as long as I have more pips than you do. If I say you’re a Maloxitarian, you’re a Maloxitarian. Dismissed!”
“This isn’t over.”
“I SAID DISMISSED!” Baxter sat down forcefully in his desk chair and spun towards the wall. Conway briefly considered smashing Baxter’s head into the wall. That could wait, though. There were plans to make and a larger battle to be fought. And whether Baxter believed it or not, this was far from over.
“…and coming down the straightaway, it’s Conway followed by Earnhart and Gordon in a close third. Earnhart’s making his move, but he doesn’t have much time. Conway is pushing that car to the limit. Earnhart is closing and…it’s not enough. Conway takes the checkered flag and the Daytona 500!”
Commander Conway smiled as he rolled over in bed.
“…and coming down the straightaway…”
“I’m awake, computer,” Conway said, before the computer could get any farther through his wake-up call. In Conway’s mind, there was no more self-empowering way to start the day than by winning the Daytona 500. Peterman could complain all she wanted about his attitude. He knew he was centered.
Conway pulled himself out from under the covers and stumbled groggily over to the replicator.
“Coffee. Conway blend 26. Black.”
“Access denied. The requested item is forbidden,” the computer replied. Conway’s eyes shot wide open. Caffeine evidently wasn’t going to be necessary to wake him up this morning. Fury and adrenaline would be more than sufficient.
Mirk and Hartley ran hand-in-hand through a glorious sun- covered patch of wildflowers. Everything was perfectly-wonderful, Mirk felt. Nothing could go wrong.
Then everything went wrong. Hartley was gone. The sky turned dark. And he felt this incredible weight on his chest. Getting a breath became difficult.
Something was choking the life out of him.
Mirk snapped away and immediately realized a strong hand had a death-grip on his throat. In the darkness, Mirk could just make out Commander Conway.
“Morning, Mirk,” Conway said, then tightened his grip.
“How about joining me for a cup of coffee? No wait. We can’t. Coffee’s off-limits. You know anything about that?”
“F*** the f***ing eyeballs!” Conway gave Mirk’s neck a little twist. The thought crossed his mind that without his morning cup of coffee to calm his nerves, he sounded a lot like Commander Scott Baird of the Secondprize. “Now how about rescinding that f***ing order?”
“Really?” Conway twisted in the other directions.
“Do…not…give…in…to…hate,” Mirk gasped, then fell unconscious.
“Too late,” Conway replied. He released the Maloxian and stormed out of the room.
Conway was less than surprised when the door chime sounded a couple of hours later.
“Come on in, J’hana!” he called. “It’s open.”
The Explorer’s Andorian security chief entered, phaser drawn as Conway sat serenely on his sofa sipping on a steaming mug of coffee.
“Where did you get that?” J’hana asked, spotting the contraband.
“I have my ways,” Conway replied. The truth was that he’d had to break into his private stash. The withdrawal was killing him. “But you aren’t here about that, are you?”
“Did he live?”
“You should be relieved. He has forbidden Captain Baxter from having you thrown in the brig.”
“Mirk forbade Baxter. Interesting.”
“He is forgiving.”
“That isn’t the interesting part. So what are you here for if I’m not off to the brig.”
“To deliver a warning. You will cease and desist all anti- Maloxitarian activities.”
“But I’m not Maloxitarian anymore.”
“Yes you are,” J’hana said in no uncertain terms. “If you attempt to change that, you will wish for the brig. It will be pleasant compared to what I’ve been authorized to do you.”
“Resistance is futile, huh?”
“Quite,” J’hana said, walking over to Conway. “One final thing.” She suddenly head butted Conway, sending him reeling, then smacked the coffee mug away from him. “End of warning. I assume it will be effective. Good day, Commander.”
“Unnh…” Conway moaned in reply as J’hana left.
Conway woke up the next morning with a plan. He knew he was going to have to face Mirk today, but the idea of going in unprepared was out of the question. He needed to be his usual calm, rational self if he was going to get through to that megalomaniacal, brain-washing, ship-stealing son of a Cysnerian swamp toad.
As appealing as inflicting more harm on the Maloxian at the center of his woes was, Conway realized a mild attitude adjustment was in order. Problem was, his attitude adjustment came through coffee. That’s where the plan came in. He really did not want to have to break into the secret stash anymore. Fortunately, he figured his crewmates could be counted on to miss a few loopholes.
“Computer,” Conway said, rubbing his hands together expectantly as he stood in front of the replicator. “One expresso. No milk.” The replicator hummed obediently, producing the beverage.
“Damn him!” Baxter exclaimed, slamming his fist down on the armrest of his command chair. The resulting impact launched three quantum torpedoes, shut down the jacuzzi on the spa deck, and set a repeating loop of “Kumbaya” playing in turbolifts. He turned on Commander Chris Richards, who was seated at the engineering console. “I said no coffee.”
“I’m sorry, Andy,” Richards replied. “That’s what I told the replicator, too. I didn’t know about expresso.”
“Everybody knows about expresso!” Baxter shouted.
“Do I look like a damn coffee steward?” Richards snapped. Truth be told, he wasn’t quite comfortable with this whole operation anyway. Somehow it just seemed…un-Federation-like.
“I don’t want him to get expresso, cappuccino, java, iced mocha, or even coffee-flavored ice cream. Got it?”
“Yes, sir,” Richards said, setting to work on the replicator programming as Baxter turned back to face the viewscreen. Baxter would show Mirk he had what it took to be an acolyte. He’d break Conway into little pieces if he had to, but grapefruit juice would be his again.
Conway actually felt fairly happy as he entered the Maloxitarian temple. As he expected, Mirk was there, seated in a pew composing his sermon for the next Sunday. Sensing someone else, Mirk looked up from his work. Conway could see the fear in the Maloxian’s eyes upon spotting him.
“It’s okay, Mirk,” Conway said. “I just came to talk.”
“Oh…of course. Have a seat, my son.”
“You can quit with that crap,” Conway said, sitting down on the pew next to Mirk.
“Gotcha. What can I do for you?”
“I need you to tell Baxter to let me out.”
“Of Starfleet? I can’t…”
“Not Starfleet. Maloxitarianism.”
“But why?” Mirk asked in shock.
“Why? Isn’t it obvious?”
“I know like without coffee is difficult for you, but you can’t turn your back on your faith every time it is tested, David.”
“I don’t have any faith, Mirk. I never believed in this stuff. I was just doing it because everyone else was. I can’t do it anymore. I want out.”
“Listen, Dave…can I call you Dave?”
“Commander will be fine.”
“Uh…right. Commander. Listen, I’ve been given a mission here by the Directors. You’ve seen what the Starshine Kids are capable of. I can’t let them take over this quadrant, and Maloxitarianism is the only way to stop them. You have to look at the big picture.”
“I see the picture, Mirk,” Conway said, standing up and heading towards the door. “And I don’t like it one bit.”
“I’ll see you in services Sunday.”
“Don’t count on it.”
Baxter scowled at Richards, his eyes wide and hair mussed beyond all repair. “What the hell is jufer…jufroe…?”
“Jorfrinell,” Larkin clarified from ops. She consulted her databanks. “A beverage consumed by the Laxiturni of Manikol Six, similar in composition and flavor to…”
“Coffee,” Baxter finished.
“Indeed, sir,” Larkin replied.
“Damn it, Chris,” Baxter said, turning back on his chief engineer. “What part of ‘no coffee’ didn’t you get?”
“I’m sorry,” Richards snapped. “How the hell was I supposed to know?”
“You just were!” Baxter shouted.
“Uh…Andy,” Counselor Peterman said, placing a hand nervously on her husband’s shoulder. “Maybe you should get some sleep and let us handle this. You’ve been up here for thirty hours straight.”
“He’s not taking command,” Baxter replied, bleary-eyed.
“No one’s saying he has to. Someone else can have the bridge.”
“But then he’ll try something. I know it. I need to be ready for him.”
“You need rest,” Peterman said. “And me.” Baxter stared at her, his daze clearing a little.
“Right. Need you. Bridge to Hartley.”
“Yes, Captain,” Lt. Hartley replied.
“Get up here and remove any and all coffee-type substances from the replicator.”
“But Commander Richards…”
“Couldn’t get the job done. It’s in your hands now. And if Conway gets his hands on even one drop of coffee from now on, it’ll be your head. Baxter out.” Baxter weakly stood up from the command chair and, leaning against Counselor Peterman, stumbled towards the turbolift.
“Andy…” Richards said.
“Quiet, you…Conway sympathizer,” Baxter spat.
“I don’t like this one bit,” Richards said once Baxter had gone.
“I don’t know,” J’hana said thoughtfully. “I’m finding his newfound forcefulness refreshing.”
Conway slammed his fist against the replicator in fury. “Come on, damn you!” He’d been through each and every form of coffee he could think of. He knew flavors and blends from over 300 different galactic civilizations, but they were all gone. Gone gone gone.
Hartley laughed maniacally as she watched the various denied replicator requests scroll by on the bridge engineering console.
“You beat him, I take it,” Commander Richards said from behind her.
“In every way,” Hartley replied.
“That’s the way it should have been done the first time,” a much more rested Captain Baxter said from the command chair. “Why don’t you head on down to engineering, Chris? Hartley’s got things well in hand here.”
“Yippee,” Richards muttered as he headed into the turbolift.
“Okay. Stay calm, Dave,” Conway said. He looked longingly at the sofa. The stash might be all the coffee left on the entire ship. He needed to ration it carefully. He could be strong for today. It was only one day.
“…and coming down the straightaway, it’s Conway followed by Earnhart and Gordon in a close third. Earnhart’s making his move, but he doesn’t have much time. Conway is pushing that car to the limit. Earnhart is closing and…it’s not enough. Conway takes the checkered flag and the Daytona 500.”
Conway didn’t move to shut off his wake up call. He just lay in bed, staring at the ceiling as he had all night. Occasionally, his body would convulse with an involuntary shudder.
Forget the Starshine Kids, the Happies, the Leeramar, the Flarn, his ex-wife, his current girlfriend, or anyone else who’d ever laid a hand on him. They were wimps. This was real torture.
But he had to conserve the stash. Without the stash, there was no point in going on. Surely today would be better. The worst had to be over. Just get through another day.
Five minutes later…
Conway practically ripped the sofa aside as he charged towards the stash container. The force field seemed to take an eternity to deactivate. Once it did, Conway shoved a whole handful of french roast beans into his mouth and started to chew.
“Captain! I’m detecting coffee in Commander Conway’s quarters!” Lieutenant Hartley shouted from the engineering console.
“I thought you cleared the replicator!” Baxter snapped.
“I did. He didn’t replicate it!”
“His stash! Damn him! Get rid of it.”
Like a mother almost psychically knows when her children are in trouble, Conway sensed the transporter activation before it even fully locked onto his precious stash.
“Computer, emergency seal!” Conway shouted as the first blue sparkles enveloped his coffee supply. A force field snapped into existence, cutting of the transporter. “Close display and activate security levels one through ten.”
“Bastard!” Hartley shouted. “He blocked me before I could get it.”
“That’s contraband, and I want it off my ship. Understand?” Baxter said.
“Captain, the item is in Commander Conway’s private quarters,” Larkin said. “You cannot just barge in and take it.”
“Watch me…er, her,” Baxter said, pointing at Hartley. “Hop to it, Lieutenant.”
“Yes, sir,” Hartley said, picking up an engineering took kit.
Walking down the corridor towards Conway’s quarters, Hartley tried to form in her mind a legitimate excuse to get inside to find the coffee. Conway would certainly be suspicious…especially of her. It wasn’t exactly a secret that she had no love for the man. Okay, so she took great pleasure in causing him misery.
But there were bigger stakes here. Conway had to give up that coffee for the good of the quadrant, and she wasn’t about to let Mirk down.
Her problem seemed solved as Conway raced by her at a full sprint, his eyes wild and hair a mess. There seemed to be a lot of that going around this week.
Hartley approached Conway’s quarters, pulling an actuation tuner out of her kit. She pried open the door control panel and was immediately blasted across the corridor. Hartley was unconscious before her body slammed into the opposite wall and fell to the deck.
Conway fell to the deck, tears welling in his eyes.
“Unable to locate program,” the computer replied for the tenth time.
“NOOOOOOOO!!!!” Conway screamed, sobbing against the closed holodeck doors. They’d gone too far this time. Juan was gone. Dead. Destroyed.
The program had been his last hope. He just wanted to stand in the field again. He knew it wasn’t real, but it would have been enough.
Ah, to hold those wonderful beans in his hand one more time.
Baxter and Mirk had seen to that.
It was over. No coffee, no career, no friends. What was the point in going on?
Conway trudged back to his quarters in psychological agony. Yes, he had those few expresso beans digesting happily in his stomach, but the knowledge that they were the last for who knew how long weighed heavily on his soul. Even the sight of Hartley laying unconscious across from his quarters gave him little consolation. She’d live and return with reinforcements. It was only a matter of time.
Baxter stared silently at the schematic of Conway’s quarters displayed on the monitor in the conference room as his senior officers waited for him to speak.
“Are you okay?” Peterman asked, rubbing his leg.
“Just thinking,” Baxter replied. About my grapefruit, he added silently to himself. And missed chances. He could have taken the same route at one point. He could have protected his juice before Mirk and the others had taken it away from him. Now it was too late. Now the only way to get it back was to take the beloved beverage of another away.
Sure he hadn’t ever really seen eye to eye with Conway, but he understood this. He knew that just a couple of decks away, Conway was sitting and wondering if he would ever see coffee again. Baxter had had those times himself.
A military strategist had once said that it was vital to think like your enemy, to understand them inside out. I understand all too well, Baxter thought ruefully.
“So what have we got?” he asked finally. Hartley, fresh from a night in sickbay, stepped over to the schematic.
“Our sensor readings pinpointed the coffee somewhere near the sofa,” Hartley reported. “We aren’t sure where, though. Since our initial attempt to beam out the contraband, Commander Conway has initiated some sort of scrambling field. Reports as to the exact layout of his quarters are sketchy. We don’t have too many people who’ve actually been in there, and those who were were anxious to get out.”
“It’s not a pleasant experience,” Peterman said.
“Additionally, he’s set up protective fields around his door. It’s going to take time.”
“If he is inside, he will fight back,” J’hana said.
“Are you worried?” Baxter asked.
“He’s got to leave sometime, right?” Peterman said. “Can’t we just go in then?”
“That would make it a lot easier,” Hartley conceded.
“Fine,” Baxter said. “We’ll wait, but the second he makes a move, I want you and Richards down there.”
“Yes, sir,” Hartley said.
“May I speak a moment, Captain?” Mirk said from the opposite end of the table. He’d asked to be included in this meeting, since the problem had originated with him in the first place.
“Of course,” Baxter said.
“I want to thank all of you for trying to help Commander Conway,” Mirk said. “Your efforts to bring him back to the fold won’t be forgotten.”
Baxter smiled inwardly. Grapefruit juice was in his grasp.
“The Directors need each and every one of us to be united under Maloxitarianism if we are to defeat the Critics. And that is more important than friendship, Starfleet regulations, or Federation law right now. Without the Directors, none of those other things will exist. Juicy juice to you all.”
“Juicy juice,” the group repeated.
“Dismissed,” Baxter said. The others, except for Richards, filed out of the conference room as Baxter went back to staring at the schematic. We’re coming, Conway, he thought. You can’t stop us.
“Can I talk to you for a minute?” Richards asked, breaking into Baxter’s thoughts.
“What’s on your mind?” Baxter asked distractedly.
“What the hell has gotten into you lately?” Richards asked. “You’re scaring the hell out of me.”
“I’m fine. If anyone’s having problems here, it’s you.”
“Don’t give me that, Andy,” Richards said. “You’ve become obsessed about this. You don’t hate Conway that much, do you?”
“Who cares about Conway? This is about bigger things than him.”
“Like grapefruit, Chris,” Baxter snapped. Richards’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t give me that look. You can have as much as you want. I can’t until Mirk says I can. And he will say that I can. If I have to destroy Conway in the process, oh well.”
“But what about what’s right? Starfleet…”
“Doesn’t matter. You heard Mirk.”
“Yeah I did. And that scared me even more. How much are we willing to give up, Andy?”
“You’re starting to sound like Conway.”
“Maybe he’s the only one on this ship with any sense anymore,” Richards replied. He stormed out of the conference room, leaving Baxter alone with his schematic.
“We’re coming, Davey-boy.”
Conway paced around like a caged tiger, his feet crumpling the torn pages of his Tom Clancy novels which covered the floor.
Something crunched under his foot.
Stopping in his tracks, Conway dove to the floor to see what it was. Could it be…YES!!!
Conway came up with the crushed remains of an espresso bean. He must have dropped it yesterday in his hurry to seal up the stash.
He carefully placed a few of the bits into his mouth and felt his saliva flow over them.
But it was gone all too quickly.
Frustration began to set in again. And this time he didn’t have anymore books to shred; although, he had to admit that getting through his Clancy novels had taken a good long time.
Think, Conway. Think.
There had to be another place on a ship this size to get coffee.
Of course! It was so obvious!
Scrambling to his feet, he raced out of his quarters toward the turbolift.
“He’s on the move,” J’hana reported.
“Bridge to Hartley. Code Red,” Baxter said.
“Acknowledged. Team Decaf is moving in,” Hartley’s voice replied.
Conway’s excitement had turned to trepidation by the time he reached the doorway of Shar’s Book and Beanery…or whatever Shar’s ex-wife, Jenna Fran, was calling it now.
He cautiously poked his head inside. The place seemed deserted, but they did most their business in the evenings. He took a few steps inside, causing the bell on the old fashioned hinged door to jingle.
“Be with you in a second,” Jenna Fran’s voice called from the back. Conway stepped over to the counter and took a seat. A few moments later, Jenna emerged from the kitchen drying her hands on a towel. She stopped cold upon seeing Conway.
“Hi,” Conway said, smiling weakly.
“You’ve got a lot of nerve coming here,” Jenna said. “What’s the deal? Shar’s off visiting her mom, so you thought you’d try and seduce me too?”
“I just want some coffee,” Conway said. “No trouble intended.”
“Ha!” Jenna shouted.
“Please, Jenna. I’m begging you here.”
“I don’t care.”
“I’m sorry about what happened. Lana and I had been close, but I had no idea it’d carry over to Tyra. Really. I don’t think she did, either. Neither of us meant to hurt you. It just happened.”
“I heard. And happened and happened and happened.”
“All right. So we screwed up. I’m sorry. Just please…PLEASE…I need some coffee. Any kind you’ve got. I’m desperate.”
“We don’t have any.”
“Jenna. I know you’re mad, but this is an emergency.”
“I’m serious,” Jenna said. “We don’t have any. It’s against our religion. Yours too.”
“But isn’t this a book and beanery? How can you not have any beans?”
“We’re Fran’s Books and Beverages now,” Jenna replied. “The sign will be up next week.”
Conway slammed his head down into the counter. “NO!”
Jenna watched him abuse himself for a little while longer, then, satisfied that he’d given himself one hell of a headache, she decided to step in.
“How about a soda?”
“Come on, Commander. They’re from your damn planet. You know, soda.”
“I’ve heard of them. But how’s that supposed to help?”
“Trust me,” Fran said. She turned back to the old fashioned refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of a bubbling brownish liquid. “This one is called a cola.”
Conway voraciously snatched the bottle away from her, ripped the cap off with his teeth, and chugged the contents down his throat in one long gulp.
“It’s not coffee,” he concluded. “BUURRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAPPP!!!”
“That part was pretty cool, though,” he added. Suddenly, he felt something…something wonderful. “How?”
“It’s the caffeine,” Jenna said.
“There’s caffeine in this?” Conway said in astonishment.
“Uh…yeah. That’s all that keeps you addicted to the coffee, you know.”
“I hadn’t really thought of it that way,” Conway admitted.
“But it’s still not the same.”
“I know. But it will get you by.”
“Thank you. You don’t know how much this means to me.”
“But why? Why did you help me?” Conway asked confused.
“I can stand pathetic men,” Jenna said. “And I don’t want Shar coming back to one. Somehow, you make her happy, Commander. I guess that’s more than I was doing.”
“She loves you, Jenna,” Conway replied. “You’re the one who ended things. The three of us could have…”
“Bridge to Team Decaf. He’s headed your way.”
“We aren’t in yet,” Hartley replied, steadily holding her phaser cutter on Conway’s sofa. “This thing must be made of duranium.”
“It is,” Richards said, using his own cutter beside her. “So’s whatever’s underneath.
“Abort,” Baxter said. “We’ll finish this tomorrow…one way or another.”
Hartley and Richards packed up their gear and ran out of the quarters just moments before Conway exited the turbolift. He spotted the evidence of intruders as soon as he stepped inside his quarters. The scorched sofa cushions were sort of a dead giveaway. They wouldn’t be back today. Tomorrow, however, was another story. It would end tomorrow…one way or another.
That night, Baxter lay wide awake in bed staring at the ceiling as Peterman emerged from their bathroom.
“You okay?” she asked, crawling in beside him.
“You’ve been doing a lot of that lately.”
“You make it sound like it’s unusual or something,” Baxter replied.
“What’s on your mind, Andy? I’m tired.”
“Are we handling this Conway thing right? I mean, should we just let him have the damn coffee?”
“No!” Peterman said forcefully. “He’s a part of this religion whether he likes it or not! We may not like it, but we have to do what the Directors say. Otherwise, we’re all going to end up bald and brainwashed.”
“It’s just starting to feel…wrong.”
“I know, hon,” Peterman said, curling up beside him. “But you’ve got to be a tough snugly-bear. You’ll beat Conway. I’ll make sure of it.”
Baxter gradually drifted off to sleep, holding Peterman close to him.
Then, he was running.
Running through the corridors of the Explorer as fast as he could.
They were after him. Just a few steps behind.
Baxter looked beside him at his companion, a giant grapefruit with arms and legs.
“Save me, Andy!” it said in a high pitched squeal. “SAVE ME!!!”
“He’s not here,” Peterman said, pulling on her acolyte robe.
“Why should he be?” Richards replied.
“You’ve had the wrong attitude about this whole thing, mister,” Peterman snapped. “Who’s side are you on anyway?”
Mirk walked into the dressing area followed by Hartley and Baxter.
“We are delaying services for a little while,” Mirk said. “Captain Baxter.”
“Thanks, Mirk,” Baxter said, stepping forward. “Conway’s gone.”
“That conniving z’vvvaaserts!” J’hana spat, tossing her robe aside. “I will find him.”
“That’s the general idea,” Baxter said. “I want him in this temple in ten minutes if you have to bring him here in chains. Got it?”
“Absolutely,” J’hana replied smiling, the thrill of the hunt filling her. “Imzadi…er…Lieutenant Tilleran, I believe your abilities may be useful here.”
“Of course,” Lieutenant Tilleran replied, stripping off her robe. The two women raced from the chamber…hand in hand, Baxter noticed.
“Hartley and Richards, take another crack at that sofa. Mirk, you and Dr. Browning keep the congregation occupied. Counselor Peterman and I will coordinate from the bridge. Let’s move out!”
Conway would have kissed Jenna Fran if she’d have let him. Odds were that she wouldn’t though. In any case, this soda stuff had given him the boost he’d needed to go on. He’d spent all night combing through soda files until he’d found the perfect blend. Something called “Jolt!,” and seldomly had a name been so accurate. With several bottles stowed away in his pack along with a few other survival necessities, Conway had slipped away in the early morning hours to make preparations.
They’d be looking for him by now. But then he’d told Baxter that he wasn’t Maloxitarian anymore, he’d meant it. This was war.
The only question was how long it would be until they found his hideout.
“Didn’t Andy say ten minutes?” Dr. Browning whispered at Mirk as they stood in front of a rather bewildered Maloxitarian congregation.
“Commander Conway must be good at hiding,” Mirk replied.
“Well, you’d better do something fast. They’re getting restless.”
“All right. Turn around and bend over.”
“Just do it,” Mirk said. Browning grudgingly did as she was told as Mirk spoke to the congregation.
“Now meditate on…” he pointed at the fruit painted on Browning’s robe that happened to fall right on her protruding rear end. “…the kumquat!”
“I’ll get you for this,” Browning muttered.
“He’s got to be here somewhere,” Peterman said as Baxter and Larkin huddled over the ops console.
“Agreed, Counselor,” Larkin replied. “However, if, as I have theorized, he has devices capable of creating a sensor shadow, he will be very difficult to locate. We would have to know where to look.”
“All right,” Baxter said. “Where would you go on this ship if you didn’t want anyone to find you? A place no one ever goes.”
“The inventory office?” Peterman offered.
“I thought of that first thing. J’hana said it was empty,” Baxter replied. The three officers thought for a moment.
“The history museum!” they exclaimed in unison.
Conway’s tricorder detected the approach of several life forms as he huddled under a display case of the “Klingon Hygiene Across the Eons” exhibit.
“Damn you, Baxter,” he muttered, punching a code into the tricorder. Moments later, he and his gear disappeared in a flurry of molecules.
“There’s no one here, Captain,” J’hana reported over the comm.
“But I sensed him just a second ago,” Tilleran added.
“He must have beamed out somehow,” Peterman said.
“Affirmative,” Larkin said. “But I am having difficulty pinpointing just how that was accomplished. I was unaware that Commander Conway possessed such skills.”
Conway thanked Tom Clancy as he ducked into his next hiding place. Sure, the 20th century writer didn’t know a thing about starships, but the basic idea was there: know your technology.
Actually, this was a better hiding place anyway. They’d never find him here.
“Would you stop daydreaming and hand me that phase actuator?” Hartley snapped as she and Richards worked on Conway’s stash container. They’d managed to cut through the sofa after two hours of straight work. But the container itself had presented a much more serious challenge.
“Hey, I’m still your senior officer,” Richards said. “And we shouldn’t even be here. These are Conway’s private quarters.”
“They belong to Starfleet,” Hartley replied. “And since we’re Starfleet, we can do whatever the hell we want.”
“Even if we shouldn’t.”
“I thought Baxter was your friend,” Hartley said. “You aren’t going to disobey a friend’s orders are you?”
“Don’t push me, Hartley,” Richards said, slapping the actuator into her hand. But she had a point. Andy was his friend. Didn’t he have a duty to step in when his friend was going off the deep end? Besides, Hartley was driving him nuts. She seemed to be actively out to show him up. Something had to be done.
“Talk to me, J’hana,” Baxter said as he paced the bridge.
“We have nothing,” the Andorian replied, frustration evident in her voice. “We’ve searched everywhere I can think of.”
“I’m not getting him either,” Tilleran said.
“Great. Perfect. Keep looking,” Baxter said. His ten minutes had now turned into four hours. And still there was no sign of Conway.
“Baxter to Hartley. How’s the coffee situation?”
“Almost there, Captain,” Hartley replied. “I’ve found the control console for the force field.”
“I knew I could count on you, Hartley. Good work. That’s the stuff chief engineers are made of.”
“Thank you, sir. I’m reaching in to deactivate it right…”
A sudden zap echoed over the comm line.
“Report, Hartley! Richards?” Baxter’s voice shouted over the comm line.
Richards lowered his phaser and stood over Hartley’s unconscious body. “Richards here,” he said. “Lieutenant Hartley was just hit by some sort of security system. She’s unconscious.”
“Get her out of there, Chris,” Baxter said.
“Gladly, sir. Richards out.”
That was for both of us, Dave, Richards thought to himself as he picked up Hartley and carried her out of the room.
“Um…now, the cherry,” Mirk said, pointing at Browning’s elbow. The doors of the temple then opened revealing Baxter. He trudged in followed by Peterman, Larkin, Tilleran, J’hana, and the others who’d gone to look for Conway entered. Hartley seemed to be a bit wobbly for some reason.
“Go on with the service,” Baxter said, anger visible on his face.
“Commander Conway?” Mirk asked.
“Just start,” Baxter said, sitting down roughly on a pew. So much for his grapefruit juice.
The acolytes quickly put on their robes and gathered in their appointed spot next to Mirk.
“Welcome, my fruit,” Mirk said, raising his hands into the air.
“He’s here!” Tilleran shouted suddenly.
“Here!” Baxter exclaimed, pulling his phaser as he jumped up from his seat. The congregation dove to the floor as Baxter spun around wildly, searching for his quarry.
“That would make sense, Captain. Hiding here would mask his signal fairly effectively. It is the only concentration of people on the ship at the moment,” Larkin said.
“Computer, activate a level ten force field around this section,” Baxter said. “Make sure you get the damn jefferies tubes as well.”
Conway’s heart froze as he heard a force field snap into existence in front of him. He pulled out his two phasers and aimed them at the hatch in front of him. If they were coming into this jefferies tube to get him, they were going to have a hell of a fight on their hands.
Sure enough, the hatch started to open moments later. He pushed himself as far against the edge and bottoms of the tube as he could.
Steady, he thought. Let them think the coast is clear.
Two blue antenna and a white head of hair poked in.
Just a little farther, J’hana.
She moved a little farther. Conway could just make out three forms behind her.
Conway’s thumbs pressed the fire controls as he started to roll.
J’hana managed to shout half of a “Zvart’szznit!” before she was hit and knocked out. Tilleran and Brian Gellar didn’t fair much better, but more were coming. It didn’t matter, though. He’d shoot the whole damn ship if he had to.
Scrambling onto his back, Conway slid down the jefferies tube, pushing himself along with his feet as he fired and fired and fired.
With the chaos he was creating among those trying to get in at him, Conway wasn’t seeing much returning fire.
Laughing, he continued to move back…
…straight into the force field, which quite obligingly shocked the living hell out of him.
“S****,” Conway muttered, then fell unconscious.
Not surprisingly, he woke up in the brig. Dr. Browning was seated beside him, putting a hypospray back into her medkit.
“Janice,” he said softly.
“How are you feeling?” she said, smiling warmly.
“Not so good,” Conway said, pulling himself up.
“If it makes you feel any better, you took out nine security officers including J’hana.”
“Yea me,” Conway said humorlessly. “Make sure they mention that at my funeral.”
“It might not be that bad, David.”
“Really? I figured Mirk would offer me up as a sacrifice to the Directors.”
“Baxter’s ordered a court-martial. He’s asked Starfleet to send out a judge.”
“Great,” Conway said, collapsing back onto the bed.
“It could be worse, Dave,” Browning said. “Since it could be argued that you committed the assaults in self-defense, he’s only charging you with insubordination. You’ll probably just be dishonorably discharged.”
“That’s a relief,” Conway muttered. “It’s only the career I’ve spent most of my life building.”
“Try and get some rest. Would you like me to give you something?”
“I wish I could. Really,” Browning said, closing up her medkit and standing up to leave. She suddenly stopped and looked back at him. Before Conway knew what was coming, Browning’s lips met his. A few seconds later, she pulled away.
“I’m proud of you,” Browning said. “I know that sounds hokey, but I mean it.”
“Thanks,” Conway replied, touching his lips absently. “For everything.”
“Don’t mention it,” Browning said, stepping to the cell entrance. Gellar walked over and deactivated the force field, allowing her to leave. An instant later, the field was back up, and Conway was alone.
He could still feel Browning’s kiss on his lips. He knew they’d agreed for the good of the ship not to see each other, but damn that was nice. At least he’d gotten one before they shipped him off.
“Captain, we are receiving a message from Starfleet,” J’hana reported.
“It’s about damn time,” Baxter said, getting up from his command chair and heading to the rear of the bridge. “Let’s have it.”
“I would, sir, but it is for Commander Larkin,” J’hana said.
“That is odd,” Larkin said, joining Baxter at J’hana’s console. “Please play the message, Lieutenant.”
The face of an older bald admiral filled the monitor on J’hana’s console. “Larkin, this is Admiral Lane of the Judge Advocate General’s office. We’re going to have to deny your captain’s request for a judge. We just can’t be sending judges out all over the damn quadrant every time somebody needs one. That kind of thing ain’t cheap. You’re going to have to handle it, Commander. Just download the attached file into your positronic matrix. It’ll do the rest. And remember, I want a clean trial. Call your witnesses and come out arguing. Let’s get it on! Starfleet out.” The man’s image was replaced with the Federation insignia.
“I don’t know about this, Captain,” Richards said, walking over from the engineering console.
“I do not believe that it is your decision, father,” Larkin said. “We need to resolve this situation quickly. I am willing to load the file.”
“Do it,” Baxter said. “We’ll get this over with today.”
A small jack extended from Larkin’s finger, which she then inserted in J’hana’s console. “Download complete,” she said, stepping away. “Activating program.” The android froze, then suddenly, her eyes almost bugged out of her head. She started to dance fitfully.
“Here come da judge! Here come da judge!”
“Oh no,” Richards said, contemplating the hours of deprogramming fixing this would take. Larkin stopped dancing and calmed down.
“All right, let’s get this trial going,” she said in an oddly pitched voice. “Judge Judy doesn’t have all day.”
Two hours later, the trial convened in the People’s Court room of the Explorer Conference Center and Banquet Facilities. Not surprisingly, Conway had chosen to represent himself. Of course, the complete and utter lack of anyone both qualified and willing to defend him made that decision kind of easy. So Conway sat alone at the defense table waiting to see he was going to be up against.
Captain Baxter had also faced a surprising absence of anyone who wanted to prosecute the case. J’hana and Hartley had offered, but both had mentioned seeking the death penalty, which hadn’t existed in the Federation of over a century. He decided they might be just a tad too overzealous.
Instead, walking towards the courtroom, Baxter found himself in the position of possibly having to prosecute the case himself, something he desperately didn’t want to do.
“How do I look?” Peterman’s voice said from behind him. Thankful for the distraction, he turned to face his wife. She had her hair tied back in a neat pony-tail as she wore a black sportcoat and skirt and carried a small, black attache case.
“It’s nice, but what are you doing?” Baxter asked.
“I’m here to prosecute,” she said smiling.
“You?!?” Baxter exclaimed, managing to control his laughter. No need to risk a week of sleeping on the sofa over this. “You don’t have any legal training.”
“Not officially, no,” Peterman replied. “But I read a lot of books about it when I thought I was going on trial for hitting that Deanna Troi bitch. I can do this, Andy. Besides, it’s part of my job to look after the mental welfare of the ship.”
“And winning this case will do that?”
“Of course it will. With Conway gone, we’ll all be happy Maloxitarians.”
“Okay,” Baxter said, letting Peterman enter the courtroom ahead of him. “It’s your show.”
She gave him a quick peck on the lips. “Thank you, honey,” she said perkily. “Now watch me kick his ass!”
On her way into the courtroom, Peterman stopped at where Dr. Browning was sitting. “Wish me luck, Janice,” she said. Browning just glared at her.
Pushing Browning from her mind, Peterman walked straight up to the prosecution table, which brought gales of laughter from Conway.
“You?” he said, fighting to regain control of himself.
“Yes. ME. Why do people keep saying that?” Peterman snapped.
Baxter sighed and took a seat in the audience next to Richards. “Hey, Chris,” he said quietly.
“Yeah,” Richards said without looking at him. Baxter’s keen mind sensed that Richards was upset at him for some reason. And he had a good idea why.
“Look, I’m sorry about the…”
“Shhh,” Richards said. “Here she comes.”
“All rise,” the Emergency Bailiff Program announced as he stood next to the doorway leading to the judge’s chambers. “This court is now in session. The honorable Judge Judy…er…Kristen Larkin…er…Rothenberg presiding…er…ZZZAAAAAAAAAAAP” The hologram fizzled and winked out of existence due to an error in its logic circuits just as Larkin stepped into the chamber dressed in a black robe with a white lace collar.
“Sit down,” she said tersely. The crew quickly obeyed. “All right. We’re here for a court-martial. The charge is insubordination. Let’s get this going.” She pointed at Peterman. “Start talking, girly.”
“Your honor,” Conway interrupted, rising from his seat. “I’d like to move for a mistrial. Under Starfleet regulations, three judges must be present for a court-martial. No offense to your program, but you’re only one.”
“Normally, you’d be right, mister, but not today. Starfleet just changed the policy. We can’t be sending people all over the quadrant at a moment’s notice. Do you know how much that costs?”
“Um…does it matter?” Conway said. “We’re the Federation.”
“Sit down!” Larkin/Judy snapped. She turned on Peterman. “Now I told you to start talking!”
“Yes, ma’am…your honor,” Peterman said, standing up. “We, the crew of the USS Explorer, do hear by charge Commander David Conway with the following crime…”
“We know the charge, missy,” Larkin/Judy interrupted. “Start prosecuting, or I’ll find in favor of the defendant.”
“He disobeyed Andy!” Peterman shouted in frustration.
“I sort of gathered that from the insubordination charge. And?”
“And what?” Peterman asked.
“And, is that it? Do you want to present a case?”
“Oh! Hold on.” Peterman pulled a padd out of her attache case and quickly read it mumbling to herself. “Opening statement…prosecution…call your first witness. Gotcha! The prosecution calls Captain Andy Baxter to the stand.”
And Peterman began her case in earnest.
“Captain Baxter, what orders did you give Commander Conway.”
“I ordered him to stop drinking coffee, remain Maloxitarian, and go to services on Sunday.”
“And did he obey those orders?”
“Lieutenant J’hana, when you visited Commander Conway in his quarters, you presented him with orders from Captain Baxter, correct?”
“And what were those orders.”
“He was to remain Maloxitarian and cease all anti- Maloxitarian activities.”
“And did he?”
“And in the process of disobeying orders, how many people did Conway assault?”
“At least ten. One of those on multiple occasions.”
“Lieutenant Hartley, why were you scanning Commander Conway’s quarters?”
“We had reason to believe he had contraband material, namely coffee.”
“And did he?”
“We detected the illegal substance briefly, but our attempts to remove it were thwarted by some sort of security system.”
“And did this system injure you?”
“Twice. I was shocked by his door panel, then stunned by a hidden phaser mounted somewhere inside his quarters.”
“Objection,” Conway shouted, getting to his feet. “My system doesn’t have any phasers.”
The audience was too busy watching the events at the front of the courtroom to notice Richards sink a little lower in his seat.
“Mr. Mirk…or would you prefer Reverend?”
“Just Mirk is fine.”
“Would you briefly explain why we have been ordered to convert to Maloxitarianism?”
“Well, if we don’t, the Critics will take over the galaxy and enslave us all.”
“So Conway is not only disobeying orders; he’s endangering the entire galaxy.”
“Sounds pretty clear to me. The prosecution rests.”
Mirk stood up to return to his seat as Peterman sat down at the prosecution table.
“Just sit back down and get comfy, bucko. It’s my turn,” Conway said, rising from his seat. Mirk nervously did as he was told.
“Now, Mirk,” Conway said, starting to pace the courtroom. “Where did you get the idea that Maloxitarianism forbade coffee?”
“The ancient texts. I interpreted the Director’s will from the passages written there.”
“So it didn’t come out and say ‘no coffee.’”
“Well, no,” Mirk admitted.
“Would you interpret something for me now?” Conway asked, picking a padd up off of his table.
“Objection!” Peterman shouted, rising from her seat.
“On what grounds?” Larkin/Judy asked.
“Er…well…” Peterman quickly consulted her padd. “It’s irrelevant.”
“You’re honor, I assure you this is incredibly relevant,” Conway said. “This whole case hinges on Mirk’s interpretations.”
“I’ll allow it,” Larkin/Judy said.
“This is a passage from the works of Geyuneril of Hazildun,” Conway said, handing the padd to Mirk. “Please read these lines to the court and interpret them for me.”
Mirk cleared his throat and began to read. “‘The pressure grows day by day, becoming more and more unbearable. I seek release somewhere, anywhere, but none is forthcoming. I see no hope. Each day is darkness, misery, and pain. I can do nothing but wait for the end.’”
“Nicely said. Now what’s it mean?”
Mirk considered the passage for a moment. “Er…he’s upset and wants to die?”
“Wrong answer!” Conway shouted, slamming his fist down on the witness stand in front of Mirk, causing the Maloxian to jump in alarm. “The entire Galactic Council on Literary Theory agrees that Geyuneril is constipated! Got it! Constipated! That’s a long way from wanting to die, wouldn’t you say?”
“And if you so horribly misinterpreted this, isn’t it possible your misinterpreted the ancient text’s feelings about coffee?”
“Well, I felt that…”
“Isn’t it possible?” Conway shouted.
“Yes. I guess so.”
“Ha! I told you! Go sit down!”
Defeated, Mirk trudged back to his seat in the audience.
“Very nice, Commander. But what does that have to do with insubordination?” Larkin/Judy asked. Conway instantly deflated.
“What does it have to do? What? It’s everything!”
“I don’t get it. Call your next witness.”
“Can I call myself?”
“Fine. Look, Mirk misinterpreted, so Baxter’s order wasn’t valid. He was asking me to obey a lie,” Conway argued.
“Last time I checked, officers weren’t supposed to go around deciding which orders they would and would not follow,” Larkin/Judy said.
“Damn right,” Peterman said.
“You shut up.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Peterman replied weakly.
“But…how can he order me not to do something in my personal life?” Conway said. “Isn’t that just plain wrong?”
In the audience, Baxter watched the exchange with growing unease. All those civics classes he’d had through high school and at the Academy came flooding back to him with all their harping on Federation values and beliefs. What the hell was he doing?
“I would like to speak on behalf of the defendant,” Baxter said, rising up from his seat.
“You would?” Conway said in surprise.
“Andy!” Peterman gasped.
“Captain, this is highly irregular,” Larkin/Judy said. “Especially since you’re the one bringing the charges.”
“I know that,” Baxter said, stepping forward towards the judge’s bench. “But I ask the court for some flexibility on this matter.”
“Go ahead,” Larkin/Judy ruled.
“We’ve sort of come to a crossroads here,” Baxter began. “What we do here today may decide Federation policy for years to come. So this is much much bigger than this one man’s career. We’re talking about the Federation itself. And will it even be the Federation we knew once we get finished with this case.
“Each and every one of you has been asked, no ordered to convert to Maloxitarianism and abide by its rules in order to save the Federation. What about the rules of that Federation? We have laws stating that our citizens may observe any religion they’d like. The laws are part of a strong tradition stretching back to Frondel on Tellar, K’zzltz on Andor, and the Bill of Rights on Earth. Are we going to toss that tradition aside now?
“We have laws stating that you are free to do whatever you’d like as long as it doesn’t harm another. That includes what you eat, what you drink, and who you love.” Baxter couldn’t help looking over at J’hana and Tilleran for that last comment. “Are we willing to toss that aside because some old book says that maybe you shouldn’t do something?
“Do we…do I have the right to order my crew to behave in ways that have nothing to do with defending the Federation or upholding the code of Starfleet? I don’t think so. I was wrong to give those orders. What Conway decides to do with his personal life is none of my business. I realize that now. I have no right to inflict misery on him…” Baxter looked at Richards.
“…or other’s I am close to just because the religion I choose to follow says I can’t have grapefruit juice.
“Notice I said choose to follow. That’s really the point. Once we lose our freedom of choice, we really aren’t the Federation any more. And I don’t want to live anywhere else. We’ve faced threats before. The Romulans, the Klingons, the Gorn, the Cardassians, the Borg, the Dominion, and we’ve handled them while still remaining true to ourselves.
“Now we may lose to the Starshine Kids and the Critics. I don’t think we will, but we could. We may be going down, but dammit, we’re going down believing whatever the hell we want to believe!”
Larkin/Judy didn’t spend on long her deliberations. In fact, she didn’t even get up from her bench.
“This wasn’t an easy case,” she said. “There’s clear evidence that Commander Conway did disobey direct orders from his superior officer. However, despite my initial reluctance to agree, it is also clear that the nature of those orders is a factor. In one point of view, we could be said to be at war with the Starshine Kids and the Critics. And in times of war, laws are rescinded and personal liberties must be sacrificed for the good of the state.”
“That’s very wise, your honor,” Peterman said.
“Excuse me,” Larkin/Judy said, leaning forward to glare at Peterman. “Are you wearing a robe like mine?”
“Then who said you could talk, missy. I’m the judge here, and I doing the gabbing. Got it?”
“Shut up! Now as I was saying, that happens in times of war. But the fact that I’m even here tells me that the laws haven’t been rescinded. Which further tells me that you folks had no right meddling in this man’s life. Commander, if you don’t want to be a Maloxitarian, you don’t have to. And neither do any of the rest of you. Go home and have some coffee. Case dismissed!”
Larkin/Judy slammed her gavel down on the bench then slumped over as the programming shut down. A moment later, Larkin picked herself back up.
“I take it my performance was satisfactory.”
“Wonderful!” Conway said, pulling her across the bench and kissing her.
“Speak for yourself,” Peterman muttered.
“Sorry, honey,” Baxter said.
“Don’t even talk to me,” Peterman snapped, scooping up her belongings and storming out of the courtroom.
“Looks like you’ve got a rough night ahead,” Richards said, coming up beside Baxter.
“She’ll get over it. I hope you will too. I’m sorry, Chris. I’ve been a complete ass to you this week. I never would have given Hartley your job.”
“Forget it,” Richards said. “Just don’t do it again.”
“You got it.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Conway said, walking over to Baxter.
“You shouldn’t have to say anything, Dave. This never should have happened.”
“You’re damn right it shouldn’t! But, thanks anyway. I mean that. You probably just saved my butt.”
“Remember that next time I’m in trouble, okay?”
“I’ll do that.” For the first time Baxter could remember, Conway extended his hand to him.
Baxter smiled and shook it. “I’ll see you on the bridge tomorrow.”
“Definitely. I’ll bring the coffee.”
Baxter’s quarters were surprisingly quiet when he returned to them that evening.
“I’m in the back,” her voice called.
“Look, honey. I’m sorry about what happened…”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“You argued a good case.”
“Don’t you care that you’ve now allowed these people to decide to destroy themselves?” Peterman demanded, storming out of the bedroom.
“It’s their right,” Baxter said, walking over to the replicator. “I am not going to stop them from freely choosing their own religions. One grapefruit juice.”
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Getting a drink.”
“No way, buddy. You may have freed the whole rest of the ship, but you’re still Maloxitarian!”
“I am? But…”
“Do you want to stay married?”
“Sex or grapefruit. You decide.”
Baxter looked at Peterman, then at the glass of cold, fresh juice sitting in the replicator. “Can we compromise? I’ll drink grapefruit juice off of you.”
“Sounds fun, but no.”
“Damn it! Computer, get rid of the juice.”
“That’s better. Now come to bed.”
“Yes, dear,” Baxter said glumly as he sulked back to the bedroom.
That night, Conway slept the sleep of angels. He lay cozily curled up in his bed with visions of NASCAR roaring through his dreams and his arm wrapped around a bag of 100% Colombian coffee beans.
Was Peterman Baxter’s first love? Section 31 doesn’t believe so– only, why is it their business? Well, apparently someone else who once captured the good captain’s heart is trapped behind the lines as an unwilling servant of the Starshine Kids. Can Baxter enact a plan to save her from the Starshine Kids? And, even more importantly, can Baxter figure out how to save his marrage once Peterman finds out? Find out in part one of the flash-backing, butt-kicking, star-shining two parter “Shine on You Crazy Cult.”