Author: Anthony Butler
Mirk looked over his bar out at the girating crowds that packed the Constellation Club. It was a typical Saturday night. Ford and Gellar were out working the crowd, girating up against whatever hapless female cremember got in their way; Tilleran and Hartley were at a table off in the corner gossiping about something; Richards and Madera were slinking around like two Elavian eels, and J’hana…
J’hana was sipping from a glass of steamy v’haspant and staring out the oblong windows that lined the front of the Constellation Club, looking on at the stars that rushed toward the Explorer.
Mirk picked up a round of sudsy crescan ales, Hartley’s favorite, and inconspicuously sauntered over to the corner table that Tilleran and Hartley shared.
“Another round, ladies?” he asked nonchalantly and set the tray down.
“We barely finished our first ones,” Hartley said, squinting up at Mirk. “You trying to get me drunk?”
“I’m offended you would think that. Anyway, the real reason I’m here is right over there…” He pointed.
“Lt. Unlathi’s slime trail?” Tilleran asked. “It’s harmless. It evaporates after a while. It’s nontoxic…”
“No, no, behind that!”
Tilleran glanced over a few dancers, past the slime trail, to see J’hana staring blankly out the window.
“Oh, that.” Tilleran finished her ale and wiped the foam off her mouth. She grabbed another. “J’hana’s still recovering from our breakup.”
“She’ll get over it,” Hartley said. “I, for one, am thankful to have the old Tilleran back.”
Mirk blinked. “I still don’t understand this relationship between you and her, Ariel. Did you manage to sever the Imzadi bond?”
“Not exactly.” Tilleran shook her head. “I’ve managed to suppress it somewhat.”
“She’s a powerful telepath,” Hartley said. “It just took her a while.”
“Andorian emotions are strong, Mirk,” Tilleran said. “When they clash with those of a Betazoid…” she smiled wistfully, “well, fireworks happen.”
“And the show’s over,” Hartley said, grabbing another ale. “Right, Ariel?”
“I have to get on with my life,” Tilleran said. “I have a promising career and an arranged marraige to worry about. I can’t bury my head between J’hana’s legs anymore.”
Hartley finished her next Crescan ale in a gulp. “That’s a great image, there, Ariel.”
Mirk shook his head. “So you’re fine with the situation. But what about J’hana?”
“J’hana has been through much worse than a breakup,” Hartley said. “Have you heard her talk about her family? It’s one big bloody heap of dead bodies, all with blades and such sticking out at odd angles. And most of those blades were stuck by family members, including her. And you think a breakup will push her over the edge?”
“I don’t know. I can just tell that something’s wrong with her. Even though I’m not her pastor anymore, I’m still her bartender. I feel the need to make things better.”
Hartley touched Mirk’s hand. “And for that, I think you’re just about one of the sweetest bartenders in the galaxy.”
Tilleran smiled. “Don’t worry, Mirk. J’hana will get over it. I’ve been in and out of her mind a thousand times, among other things, and I can tell you she’ll be okay. Okay?”
Mirk stared at J’hana, shrugged. “Okay.”
Suddenly the Red Alert klaxon trilled.
The comm system bleeped. “Baxter to senior staff: Please report to the bridge.”
“Time to go to work,” Tilleran sighed, shoving out of her chair. She saw J’hana walk by, and hung behind to allow the Andorian to past her.
Mirk gave Tilleran an “I-told-you-so” glance, and Hartley promptly yanked him down into the chair beside her.
Tilleran made sure to take the opposite turbolift from J’hana, Richards and Ford, to avoid the awkwardness that would come from a long ride in an enclosed space with the Andorian.
When she spilled out onto the bridge, she saw Baxter standing at the front, with Conway, staring at the viewscreen.
Baxter squirmed, standing just behind Conway, at the white- bearded, bald man on the viewscreen. The man sat on a huge throne, and was surrounded by a brigade of guards. “Chancellor Lennox, I assure you, Starfleet is fully committed to bringing you and the Nevaran colonists back into the fold. But you’re asking us to step into a situation that’s far outside of our juris–”
“Enough of your diplomatic posturing. Your government assured me that they’d do everything in their power to make me agree to rejoin the Federation. Now I want you to find my daughter!”
“We’ve become a ship of private detectives,” Conway muttered and returned to his chair.
Without a human shield, Baxter stood speechless at the front of the bridge. “You’re sure Starfleet okay’d this, Chancellor?”
“Quite. Now hop to it!”
Baxter grimaced. “When you put it that way, how can we refuse? We’ll begin an investigation. Explorer out.”
“Who are these people?” Lt. Commander Tilleran asked, taking the science station.
“Colonists who left Earth two hundred years ago,” Conway said. “To establish a separate government. The Federation was inclined to leave them alone until they discovered a huge supply of pure latinum on the planet.”
“And suddenly we’ve become their best friends,” Baxter said. “Our diplomatic corps are deep into trying to get the Nevarans back, so we can take some of that latinum and use it to power our suddenly ailing economy.”
“Why don’t we just rent out some starships,” Conway mumbled.
“Enough out of you,” Baxter snapped and sat down beside Conway. “I want you to take a team down to Nevara Three and investigate the site of Miss Lennox’s disappearance. We can’t risk losing all that latinum, even if we are supposed to be a government devoid of currency!”
Conway ran a hand over his face. “I remember when the Federation had a lick of integrity.”
“Those days are obviously over,” Baxter said. “Now get going.”
Conway nodded. “Yes, your majesty. Tilleran, J’hana. Come on.”
Tilleran and J’hana exchanged wary glances.
“Perhaps Lt. Commander Larkin would be of more use…” Tilleran said.
“I said you and J’hana,” Conway said. “Despite your promotions, I still outrank both of you, so what I say goes. Now let’s get moving. We have a …ugh…little girl to rescue.”
“Go get ‘em, Pappa Bear,” Baxter grumbled, and stared at the spinning orb of Nevara Three on the viewscreen.
Conway, Tilleran, and J’hana materialized in the middle of a grassy park. It was a particularly sunny day on Nevara Three. J’hana found it most displeasing.
Tilleran pulled out her tricorder and immediately began scanning. “I had Chrissy Lennox’s genetic trace downloaded into the ship’s computer. We should be able to track her whereabouts as long as she left some DNA evidence behind.”
J’hana withdrew her phaser and looked around dully. “It would help if we knew what this female child looked like.”
Conway flashed J’hana a padd. “Here you go.”
J’hana examined the padd. The “little girl” was easily nineteen years old, ruby-haired, and quite buxom. “This is no little girl, Commander,” J’hana said. “She is adult, by human standards.”
“Maybe so,” Conway said. “But this Lennox fellow thinks of her as his little baby. So as far as we’re concerned, we’re looking for his little baby, got it?”
“I suppose,” J’hana said, and made a low, wheezing sound.
Conway glanced at her. “Did I just hear you sigh, Commander?”
“Surely not,” J’hana said. “I will look in this direction. Behind those bushes.”
Conway took Tilleran aside, by a vacant park bench. “Tilleran, do you notice something strange about J’hana?”
“She’s still upset about the breakup. Has been for the last three weeks. Haven’t you noticed?”
“I guess not.”
Tilleran’s tricorder bleeped. “Here we go. That’s what I was afraid of.”
“What?” Conway looked over Tilleran’s shoulder.
“Transporter signature. Chrissy Lennox was beamed away, Commander.”
“Can you get a fix on what type of transporter signature it is?”
“Not without further study. It’s not standard issue Federation, Klingon, or Romulan. Not Multek, Dominion, or Leeramar. Possibly a mix of technologies.”
Conway nodded. “Can you tell if she was beamed off the planet, or to a location somewhere else on this planet?”
Tilleran nodded. “By the strength of the signature, she’d have to have been beamed off-planet. To a ship, or nearby moon.”
“All right, then,” Conway said. “Let’s get back to the ship. J’hana, let’s go!”
J’hana crept from behind the bush. “No sign of the girl in the bushes, Commander.”
“That’s gratifying,” Conway said, then tapped his comm badge. “Conway to Explorer, three to…” He became aware of a high-pitched whine. He glanced at J’hana’s belt. “J’hana!” He grabbed her phaser and tapped a quick sequence. “You had this thing set on overload!”
“Really,” J’hana said, snatching the phaser back. “I’ll be v’xxned.”
Stardate 54702.7. We’ve had teams combing the five moons of Nevara Three, and astrophysicians searching the sector on all bandwidths to try to find a ship, or vapor trail, or something to indicate where Chrissy Lennox was taken. Meanwhile, I have relieved Lt. Commander J’hana from duty temporarily until she stops trying to kill herself.
“Now Commander,” Counselor Kelly Peterman said, pouring a hot cup of v’haspant for J’hana and one for herself. She sat on the couch opposite J’hana in her office. “I want you to tell me what you’re feeling. Tell me why you tried to kill yourself down on Nevara Three.”
“I will tell you what I told Commander Conway. It was an accident.”
“You don’t just accidentally set your phaser to overload! What were you thinking??” Peterman demanded.
J’hana sipped cooly from her v’haspant cup. “I must have accidentally activated the overload when I bent down to examine some tracks on the ground. Neither you nor Commander Conway can prove anything. I know my rights. You should return me to duty. I am the most likely person on this vessel to find Crissy Lennox.”
“Or die trying,” Peterman muttered.
“Regardless, by keeping me off-duty, you risk losing the Nevarans as Federation citizens. I know your husband’s superiors don’t want that.”
“And they don’t want our tactical officer blowing up either!”
J’hana crossed her legs and folded her hands on top of her knee. “Counselor, you are the one that seems irrational at the moment. May I ask what’s troubling you?”
“This is not about me.”
“Perhaps it is. Let me take a guess. You’ve never counseled a lovesick Andorian before, have you?”
“What do you think? Of course I haven’t! You’re the only Andorian I’ve really ever known, and you’ve never been lovesick, to my knowledge.”
“Then this will be an enlightening experience for you,” J’hana said. “And a painful one.”
Peterman leaned forward to grab J’hana’s hands. “Listen, J’hana. As your therapist, I am dedicated to doing whatever I must do to return you to a state of wellness. If that means I get singed at the edges a bit, I’m willing to take that chance.”
“Good,” J’hana said, and stood. “Then let the challenge begin!” She grabbed Peterman’s wrist and bit deep into her artery. Peterman cried out and struggled to get out of the Andorian’s grip, but J’hana’s jaws were powerful. Finally, J’hana released her. She reared back her head and cackled at the ceiling. “I have tasted your blood! The right of zaxxinfwarn is upon us!”
Peterman gripped her wrist and squeezed, watching, frazzled, as J’hana ran from the room, smashing right through her door before it could open. The cackling carried on until J’hana’s voice vanished in the distance.
“What I wouldn’t give for a nice Vulcan about now,” Peterman muttered.
“Zaxxinfwarn. I’ve heard of it,” Tilleran said, looking on in Sickbay as Dr. Browning mended Peterman’s wrist. The Counselor sat on the biobed, working her jaw thoughtfully.
“Well, don’t leave us in the dark, Commander,” Baxter said, rubbing Peterman’s shoulder gently. “What is it?”
“It’s the Andorian equivalent of entering into therapy,” explained Tilleran. “On Andor, they think of the therapist/patient relationship as an adversarial one. If the therapist cures the patient, it is a victory on the therapist’s part, and the patient is considered a failure for having allowed herself to be cured.”
“But that makes no sense,” Peterman said, as Browning ran a sealer over the wound, completing the finishing touches. “You enter into therapy to be cured. Why fight it?”
“The Andorians fight everything,” Baxter said. “I heard that some eat their mothers after they’re born.”
“That’s a vicious rumor, Captain,” Tilleran said. “In actuality, that only happens in about one out of every ten cases.”
“At any rate,” Peterman said, rubbing the red spot on her wrist where J’hana’s teethmarks had been moments earlier, “I have a hell of a challenge ahead of me. I need to read up.”
“I can’t believe J’hana bit you,” Baxter mumurred. “That has to be a courtmartial offense.”
“Do you want us to bring the Judge Judy program back on-line in Larkin?” Tilleran asked.
“Good point,” Baxter said. “All right, Kelly, do whatever you have to do to help J’hana. Just try not to get yourself hurt.”
“I’m just glad J’hana had her venom sacks removed when she entered Starfleet,” Browning said. “Kelly could have died…or gotten one heck of a rash, I’m not exactly sure.”
“So where is J’hana now?” asked Baxter.
“Loose somewhere in the guts of the ship,” Tilleran said. “She took off her comm badge. With her training, she won’t be easy to find.”
“Maybe not,” Peterman said, and grimaced. “But I will find her.” Peterman gently pushed Browning aside and slid off the biobed.
“Where are you going?” Baxter demanded as Peterman stepped out of Sickbay.
“To get my commando outfit.” She turned and ran off down the corridor.
“Oh boy,” Baxter said giddily, and followed her.
Supplemental. We’re continuing our search for Chrissy Lennox as Counselor Peterman combs the ship in her commando outfit, looking for a lovesick Andorian. Just a typical day on the Explorer.
Counselor Peterman ducked out of the Jeffries tube, slinging her phaser rifle across her back and climbing on hands and knees to the opposite side of the junction. She checked for lifesign readings on her tricorder, found them negative, and keyed open the next Jeffries tube access hatch, and climbed in.
“Baxter to Peterman. Status report.”
“I thought I told you not to call me unless it was an emergency,” Peterman said testily as she shimmied along the crawlspace.
“I was worried about you. Oh, and the search for Chrissy Lennox isn’t going well at all. We’ve checked every planet in the system and haven’t found a thing. And according to a detective book I’ve been reading, if the kidnappers haven’t asked for ransom at this point, they’ve probably already killed their prisoner.”
“I sure hope you didn’t tell that to Chancellor Lennox.”
“Of course I didn’t. I just said his daughter MIGHT be dead.”
Peterman shook her head. “You need me on this, Andy. Before you totally alienate the Nevarans.”
“I need you to find J’hana and get her thinking straight so she can use her antennae to sniff out Chrissy Lennox, is that understood, Counselor?”
“Aye, Captain,” Peterman sighed and tapped the channel closed. She reached the hatch to the next junction and keyed it open. As soon as the door opened she heard an alarm.
“Warning. Depressurization in three seconds,” the computer said easily.
“Three? THREE?” Peterman demanded, and looked down as the hatch at the bottom of the junction wheezed open. Peterman quickly deduced the forcefield was out when she flew bodily right at the hatch.
Peteresen immediately threw her arms and legs out in all directions like a cat, catching the lips of the hatch. She held on with all her might as the suction threatened to pull her out into space
“Peterman to engineering! Close the hatch nearest to me now!!” she cried.
“What’s that?” replied Chris Richards’s voice.
“Close the…close the…nhhhhh…”
“Could you say that again?”
“Wakie wakie,” Dr. Browning cooed, as Peterman’s eyes fluttered open.
Peterman looked around. “I’m back in Sickbay.”
“Yes,” Browning said. “Thankfully for you. Mr. Gellar was nearby when you nearly got sucked out of the ship.”
Gellar stood behind Browning, looking on with concern. “J’hana did this. It’s very similar to what she did to some Orions that were chasing us on Caldera Four. Only the Orions didn’t survive.”
Peterman sat up gingerly and rubbed her head. “I guess I should feel lucky.”
“Maybe you should give up on her,” Browning suggested. “She obviously doesn’t want to be counseled. Just let her work this out on her own.”
Peterman grabbed the front of Browning’s labcoat and yanked the doctor toward her. “I’m not going to give up on her. There’s a lovesick woman out there that needs me. I WILL MAKE HER FEEL BETTER!”
Browning blinked. “Fine, fine, Kelly. But let Mr. Gellar come with you.”
Gellar grinned. “Yeah, Counselor. I’ve worked under J’hana for years now. I think I can predict her movements a little better than you.”
“Fine,” Peterman said, and slid off the biobed. “But when we find her, it’s just the Andorian and me, got it?”
“Affirmative,” Gellar said, and followed Peterman out of Sickbay.
“Godspeed, you two,” Browning said softly.
Lt. Commander Tilleran and Commander Conway stood uneasily at the front of the bridge of the USS Escort, watching the rolling asteroids on the viewscreen.
“You really think she could be in here somewhere?” Conway asked, glancing at Tilleran.
“I wouldn’t have brought us out here if I didn’t.”
“I’ll have to take your word on that.”
Tilleran turned back toward the science station and tapped a couple controls. “I’m going to increase power to the forward sensors. This is just too perfect a hiding place, Commander. If I was the kidnapper, this is where I’d hide.”
Conway grumbled something to himself and sat down in the command chair at the center of the Escort bridge. “We really need J’hana.”
“You miss her, don’t you,” Tilleran said as she worked.
“I miss her detective skills, yes,” Conway said, staring at the viewscreen.
“It’s more than that. You like J’hana.”
“I understand her. She’s one of the few people on this crew that doesn’t bug me. Is that okay with you, Commander?”
“Absolutely,” said Tilleran. “Full sweeps are complete. Nothing.”
Conway swung the command chair toward the science station. “So what now?”
“There are four asteroids in this belt big enough to hide a small craft, or station. It’s time to do some tunneling.”
“Very well. Update the Explorer and then rig up the tunneling phasers.” Conway looked back toward the viewscreen. “Oh, and Tilleran…”
“You miss her too.”
“You’re no Betazoid, Commander.”
“Welcome to Waste Reclamation,” Ensign Paul Sanchez said cheerily, as Peterman and Gellar stepped through the doors and into the most godawful smelly compartment on the whole Explorer, with the possible exception of Lt. Unlathi’s skin-shedding chamber.
“You really got a hell of a demotion for getting into all those brawls in the Cafe, didn’t you, Sanchez?” Gellar asked, pinching his nose shut.
“I’ve grown used to the smell, actually,” Sanchez said. He led Peterman and Gellar along a catwalk that overlooked huge vats of swirling waste on either side. As the waste was pumped in, it was immediately recycled into a matter type that could be used by the replicators and pumped into a storage vat. Starship matter reclamation and replication technology was a perfected art, but some were still skeptical. Hence the somewhat unpopular slogan, “Join Starfleet and Eat S***.”
“So what brings you here?” Sanchez asked.
Peterman glanced down at the bubbling brown goo on either side of her. “We think J’hana might be hiding down here.”
“You don’t mean…” Sanchez grimaced and pointed, “IN the vats, do you?”
“Possibly,” said Gellar. “With J’hana, you never really know.”
“It’s the last place I’d think to look,” Sanchez said.
“That’s what makes us suspect it,” Peterman said. “Mr. Gellar, tricorder readings?”
Gellar checked his tricorder. “Nothing but gallons and gallons of warm bubbly sh–”
“Any Andorians?” Peterman demanded.
Gellar straightened. “Uh, no, Counselor.” He then took another look at the tricorder screen. “Uh…wait. I’m getting a blip. Fourteen meters.”
Sanchez and Peterman exchanged glances. “That’s right in this facility,” Sanchez said. “What direction?”
Gellar pointed. “That way.”
“Near the pumps somewhere,” Sanchez said.
“Damn,” Peterman said, and quickly reached onto her belt for a pair of latex gloves. She yanked them on. She’d come prepared for anything.
“She’s at five meters,” Gellar warned. “Closing fast.”
“That’s right in this room,” Peterman said.
“She’s nearly under us!” Gellar said, watching the blip approach.
Peterman unslung her phaser rifle and pointed it down toward the brown goo swirling underneath the catwalk. “Back away, both of you. This is my fight!”
Something rippled near the surface of the goo.
Peterman knelt and trained her phaser on the ripple. “Come on, come on…come on out you blue bitch!”
Then, suddenly, a head poked out of the goo. Peterman shrieked.
Gellar frowned. “Lt. Gellar to the kennel. We need an emergency dog bath prepared, ASAP!”
Sanchez shook his head. “How the hell did she flush a whole dog?”
Peterman ground her teeth. “Now she’s gone and made it personal.”
Sanchez glanced at a nearby readout. “It’s worse than you think,” he said. “She’s somehow blocked off the overload shunt. This place is going to flood in about thirty seconds. There’s nothing I can do!”
“Make for the isolation door!” Gellar cried, shoving past Peterman and Sanchez, running for the slowly dropping glass door that closed the rest of the Reclamation Center off from the vats.
He nearly reached the door, but it slammed shut just before he got there. He turned around, panicked. “We’re all in DEEP S***!”
Peterman frowned, hugging a damp Charlie close to her chest as the muck level rose. “So is J’hana!”
“I’m getting to see a lot of you lately,” Browning said, as Peterman once again regained consciousness. “Not that I mind. I just wish you’d come in with a nice sprained ankle or something next time.”
Peterman leaned up on her elbows. “I’m not making any promises.” She sniffed the air. “Whew. What reeks?”
“You do, I’m afraid,” Browning said. “I ran you and the others through an intense metrion radiation scrubbing, but there are still some…remnants. Those will wear off after a few days, I think.”
“Damn it, J’hana.” Peterman looked down to see she was dressed in a blue Sickbay gown.
“And I’m afraid the commando outfit didn’t make it.”
Peterman screwed her eyes shut, infuriated.
J’hana, crammed into the Jeffries tube just above Sickbay, chuckled softly to herself. “Well played, Counselor. Well played.”
Snugly wrapped into a pirated, illegal, personal cloaking device, Lt. Commander J’hana had eluded Peterman for the entire hunt, hanging just behind her to watch and gloat as the counselor tripped into each of her traps. It was most amusing, to turn on one’s comrade in such a way, to hide in plain sight as others searched fruitlessly for–
J’hana’s antennae twitched. “By the Hive, that’s it!”
Lt. Hartley propped her feet up on the transporter console and yawned as she read the latest issue of Holotainment Weekly. There was a great article on Krinok’s “Targhauler Ranch.” The latinum-rich vidivision entrepenueur had a huge targ ranch on the outskirts of Kronos’s First City, acres and acres of rich, craggy Klingon farmland, where he worked up new series ideas, directed the efforts of his videffects company “Honorable Light and Magic,” and accumulated all the ancillary profits from the merchandising of succesful franchises like “Days of Honor.”
Hartley looked up from her magazine to see J’hana stroll in, dressed in black fatigues and weighted down with a compression phaser rifle and flanked by holstered mek’leth blades.
Hartley put her feet down and sat up. “J’hana! Do you realize Counselor Peterman’s been looking all over the ship for you?”
J’hana glanced at Hartley, as if she’d just noticed the Lieutenant was there. “I realize, Lieutenant.”
“And you just decided to prance in and–”
“Yes, I do,” J’hana said. She walked over to the transporter console and leaned forward. “You and I see eye to eye, Lt. Hartley. We don’t believe that Starfleet law allows us to live as freely as we might want to. Sometimes we have to break rules, right?”
“Just nod as if you understand, human.”
“Okay.” Hartley nodded.
“Oh, Lieutenant,” J’hana said, “your ponytail’s coming loose. Allow me to adjust it.”
“Gee, thanks,” Hartley said, looking with narrowed eyes of skepticism as J’hana reached toward the back of her head, gripped it firmly, then slammed it into the transporter console repeatedly until she was unconscious. She let Hartley drop to the deck, then programmed a sequence into the transporter, and climbed the pad.
Just then, Counselor Peterman rushed in, phaser at the ready.
“Well fought, Peterman,” J’hana said, as the transporter console warmed up. “But you’re a tad too late.”
Peterman rushed the pad, but J’hana was gone in a blue flurry before she got there. She turned toward the transporter console to find out J’hana’s beamdown coordinates, but the console exploded in a shower of sparks before she could do so.
“Damn it!” Peterman cried, and pounded the charred panel.
“Hrrmmmmmmmm…?” Hartley choked out, sprawled on the deck.
Tilleran and Conway returned to the Escort bridge feeling defeated. They’d spent a good two hours scouring Asteroid 212-B with flashlights and tricorders. “Well, that’s one asteroid down,” Tilleran said. “Let’s go check out 212-C.”
Suddenly the tactical communications console bleeped, and Ensign Saral answered. “Commander,” she said, after a few moments. “That was the Explorer. Commander J’hana escaped and sabotaged the transporter system. They believe she beamed down to Nevara Three.”
“What for?” Conway asked. “She could just as easily kill herself on the ship.”
“She must have figured out where to find Chrissy Lennox!” Tilleran said.
“How do they want us to proceed?” Conway asked Saral.
“We’re to rendez-vous with the Explorer, pick up Counselor Peterman, and take her to Nevara Three, where she will lead the team to search for J’hana.”
“SHE will lead, huh?” Conway harrumphed and sat down in the command chair. “Well, isn’t that just dandy.”
“And a personal message from Captain Baxter to you, sir,” Saral said, and turned to Conway, straight-faced. “‘Get moving, you coffee-swilling bastard.’”
“He’s a regular laugh riot.”
With her personal cloak activated, Lt. Commander J’hana slipped into the royal palace on Nevara Three without being noticed or tripping any alarms. She made her way down the spiral staircase that lead into the latinum vault. She waited coyly in the anteroom for one of the guards to step into the vault while on his routine patrol. She followed him in and then waited for him to leave before beginning her search.
The room was filled with vats of pure latinum, all pumped in from a nearby purification site for storage in the royal palace. Already, since the discovery of the latinum two short weeks ago, the Nevarans were acquiring a vast supply; more, probably, than the Ferengi Grand Nagus himself posessed.
Once the guard was gone, J’hana deactivated her personal cloak and pulled out her tricorder. She set her tricorder to emit an polyphasic pulse that would bounce off the vats and shelves and other objects in the vault and give a reading as to what exactly was in the room, cloaked or not.
“Come on out, Chrissy,” J’hana bellowed. “I know you are in here.”
Her scans revealed nothing, except that the heat level in the room was standard for two occupants. Chrissy Lennox was in the room somewhere.
Then her antennae picked up a small splashing sound. She whirled toward one of the latinum vats. Something splashed in there. The silvery liquid swirled.
She bent toward the surface of the shimmering pool of latinum. “Chrissy? Come out and make this easy on yourself. I have already discovered your plans.”
J’hana reached in and pulled out a shiny rubber ball. Was someone trying to beat her at her own game?
“Come on in, the latinum’s fine!” came a cry from behind her, and J’hana turned. Dressed in a skimpy bathing suit and dripping with wet silvery latinum, Chrissy Lennox slid out of one of the vats. She beckoned to J’hana with a finger. “Come on, Commander. I know you want some.”
“I am in Starfleet. I have no need for latinum,” J’hana said, training her phaser rifle on Chrissy.
“Then why have you all been trying so hard to find me?”
“Good point. At any rate, I have discovered your plan.”
“Simply, to fake your own kidnapping and creep back in here to steal all your family’s latinum.”
“You have to admit, it’s an original idea.”
“Far from it, actually.”
“At least I didn’t ransom myself. I figured it would be easy enough to slip in here and take the stuff with the help of the Orions and a personal cloak.”
“Orion pirates,” J’hana muttered. “I should have known.”
“They were quite helpful,” Chrissy said. “And they only want one-third of the haul. Well, they think that’s seventy-five percent, but Orions were never good at math.”
“What will you do with the rest?”
“Buy a starship, write my own destiny, escape this crude rock of a planet. How’s that sound?”
“Ambitious. Too bad you’ve come to a dead end, Chrissy.” J’hana’s finger flirted around the “fire” stud on the phaser rifle.
Chrissy smiled, flung back her wet red hair. “Not necessarily. You could join me.”
“Join you? Hah!”
“Come on, Commander. You don’t look like a follow-the- rules type. What do you have waiting for you back on that starship that equals a huge vat of latinum and a beautiful, winsome traveling companion?”
“You make an excellent arguement,” J’hana said, stepping toward the vat.
“You know,” Chrissy said, throwing one leg over the side of the vat and allowing herself to slide slowly back in, “I’m what you might call a rebellious daughter. I started dating at twelve, got my forehead pierced at thirteen, smoked my first quantum delirium-inducer at fourteen…and let’s not mention the psionic inhibitors I had installed in my genitals…”
J’hana stepped closer to the vat. “Daddy would not approve of that.”
“But the guys seem to like them.”
“I would imagine.”
“The girls like them too.”
“Come on in…you big, blue, handsome bitch you!” Chrissy said, treading latinum and licking her lips.
“Sorry, Chrissy,” J’hana said sternly. “I am, above all, a woman of honor. Although your proposition is tempting, I cannot accept.”
Chrissy poked out her lower lip in a pout. “Darn.”
“Just kidding!” J’hana tore off her uniform tunic and dove in.
When Commander Conway, Counselor Peterman, and Lt. Commander Tilleran beamed to the palace, where Lt. Hartley had deduced, after reassembling the transporter controls, that J’hana had beamed, it had been a small matter finding the wayward Andorian.
“Her emotions are unusually strong right now,” Tilleran explained as she lead the way down the spiral staircase to the vault. “I’m picking up some curious thoughts, too.”
“Any you’d like to share?” asked Peterman.
“Not at the moment,” Tilleran said.
“What can we do for you?” one of the two guards that waited in front of the door to the vault asked, weapons at the ready.
“We’re looking for a crewmember of ours,” Conway said. “Can we have a look in there?”
“No one’s in there,” the guard said. “We search that room carefully every–”
“That giggling came from in there!” Peterman gasped, pointing at the vault.
“And it was Andorian giggling!” Tilleran said, amazed.
Conway pushed past the guards and cranked open the heavy vault door. He led Peterman and Tilleran in. “If you two will excuse me.”
“You can’t go in there!” the guard exclaimed.
“Watch us,” Conway said. “If you have a problem, take it up with the Chancellor.”
The away team hurried into the vault, followed by the two guards.
“Would you look at this place,” Peterman said with a soft whistle, taking in the sight of the empty vault room. Every latinum vat was sucked dry.
“The Chancellor will not be pleased,” one guard said quietly.
Conway smiled, patted the guard on the back. “I’m glad I won’t have to explain it to him. Conway to Escort. Three to transport. Energize.”
The Escort rendez-voused with the Explorer and Conway, Tilleran, and Peterman quickly made their way to the bridge.
“Any developments?” Conway asked Baxter and took the seat beside the captain’s chair.
“Dillon’s is having a two-for-one on mountain-climbing gear,” Baxter offered. “Other than that, zip.”
Peterman took the chair on the other side of Baxter. “Well, absolutely none of this makes sense to me. Why would J’hana steal all the latinum?”
“Maybe J’hana didn’t,” Tilleran said, taking the science station. “Maybe she was tracking down the person who did?”
“And she allowed herself to be caught?” Conway asked. “Not likely. She’d either have killed them, or let herself be killed. Either way, we’d have found a body.”
“She couldn’t have joined them,” Peterman said. “She just couldn’t.”
“Face it, Kelly, how well do we know her?” Baxter asked.
“She’s not a thief, Andy! She’s a good person, deep down.”
“That was a lot of latinum,” Conway said. “It would have tempted me.”
“Like I said, she’s a good person, deep down.”
Conway blinked. “What are you saying? I’m not?”
“Yes. That’s my opinion as Ship’s Counselor.”
“Well f*** you!”
“Case in point!”
Baxter folded his arms. “This is getting us nowhere. Commander Tilleran, can you do anything to locate J’hana?”
“This waiting is killing me,” Peterman said.
“What waiting? It’s been two minutes since you guys got back,” said Baxter wryly.
“And it’s killing me!”
“Wait one second,” Tilleran said, checking her panel. “We’ve got a signal on the outside of this system. An Orion ship decloaking!”
“They have cloaks?” asked Conway.
“Apparently this one does,” Baxter said. “Mr. Ford, intercept them, full impulse. Gellar, ready on weapons.”
Baxter shifted uncomfortably in his command chair as the Explorer beared down on the Orion ship. “Can you tell me anything about that ship, Tilleran?”
“It’s heavily damaged,” Tilleran concluded. “Looks like their warp core is about to go up.”
“Any latinum over there?” Conway asked.
“All of it,” said Tilleran. “Along with a crew complement of about fourteen. Including J’hana.”
“Good old J’hana,” Peterman said, grinning at Conway. “She sabotaged their ship. That’s why she went over there. To expose the people who cooperated with Chrissy to steal all that latinum.”
“Good thing our transporters are fixed,” Baxter said. “Gellar, lock on and start beaming.”
“Get the latinum!” Conway said.
Baxter narrowed his eyes at Conway. “And by the way, try to save the people too!”
“I was getting to that!” muttered Conway.
Peterman, Baxter, Tilleran, Gellar, and a contingent of security guards made their way down to the transporter room to greet the visitors from the recently exploded Orion pirateship.
In the room, Lt. Hartley held a phaser trained on the whole group, who huddled, downtrodden, on the transporter pad. She glanced at Baxter as he led the way in.
“Forcefield’s up, sir. Bessie here is just a precaution.”
“You named your sidearm?” Baxter asked.
“She names all of her oblong instruments,” Gellar smirked and winked at Hartley. “And Mr. Magillicutty is right where you left him!”
“Good for him,” Hartley muttered. “If you’ll notice, J’hana is mixed up in that group. Want me to have her beamed into space?”
“Negative on that,” Baxter said. He glanced at J’hana, who had her arm slung around a young, attractive redhead in a clinching bodysuit. “Chrissy Lennox, I presume?”
“The one and only,” Chrissy Lennox said. “Captain, I’ll gladly give you half our latinum if you let us on our way.”
Baxter grinned. “But we have all of it in our storage bay. Why don’t we keep it all?”
“I told you he’d say that,” J’hana grumbled.
“J’hana, what are you doing with them?” Peterman asked.
“Yeah,” Tilleran said. “What are you doing with that little tramp!”
“Watch it, missy!” said Chrissy. “I’m all woman!”
“This is sick,” Peterman said.
“Yeah,” Baxter said uncomfortably. “Uh…totally inappropriate.”
“Enough!” said one of the Orions. “We want all that latinum, and this ship! We’re prepared to take it by force!”
“How do you figure?” Baxter asked confidently.
“Drop forcefield, authorization J’hana Gamma 159,” J’hana said, and then raised her phaser rifle and fired on a wide beam, stunning everyone.
“F***,” Baxter said, dropping to his knees, right on top of Peterman.
J’hana led the way out into the corridor. “If all of you will just follow me, I’ll take you to the bridge.”
“I love Andorians,” one of the Orions said to another as the group exited the transporter room.
“Yeah. They’re so easy to get along with,” agreed another.
Moments later, Counselor Peterman wearily forced her eyes open. The stun beam had just winged her, unlike Captain Baxter, who was hit head-on, and fell directly on top of her. She shoved Baxter off and crawled for the door, stopping to grab Hartley’s phaser rifle and a tricorder from the supply closet.
“Okay. We end this,” she choked out, and hobbled out the door.
J’hana indicated a door just along the corridor, passing confused-looking crewmembers along the way. “Here we are.”
“J’hana?” a passing ensign asked.
“It’s a tour of the ship,” she exclaimed, gesturing warningly at the ensign with her phaser rifle. “Got it?”
The crewmember nodded briskly and headed in the opposite direction as quickly as he could.
J’hana tapped the combination to open the door and led the way in. “Here we are.”
“Seems a bit small for a bridge,” Chrissy Lennox said.
“We’re in the middle of some renovations,” J’hana explained. “You all step into the control room. I’ll just activate the anesthezine gas and knock everyone on board the ship unconscious.”
“Good thinking,” said an Orion, as he and the others obediently stepped into the small, adjacent room.
“Hey,” said Chrissy, “there’s just a cot and a sink in here. This place looks an awful lot like a jail–”
FZZZZZZT! went the forcefield.
“Right you are,” J’hana said, and moved around the control console to face her captives. “Sorry I had to do that to you. Starfleet oath and all.”
“I totally understand,” said an Orion.
“I don’t!” cried Chrissy. “I thought we made a connection, J’hana! I thought you understood me!”
“You know nothing of making connections, you little human child!” J’hana growled. “It was fun, though. You can look me up whenever your planet lets you out of prison.”
“And proud of it,” J’hana grinned, and headed for the door, which opened to reaveal a crazed and frazzled Kelly Peterman.
“THERE YOU ARE!” the Counselor shrieked.
“Counselor,” J’hana said. “Let me explain. I let these people out so I could get them into a brig. The Orions were prepared to rush the transporter room and kill all of you as soon as the forcefield was let down. I saved the life of you and everyone else in that room.”
Peterman cracked her knuckles. “Well, that’s all well and good. But you and I still have business to settle!”
“Oh, the counseling thing?” J’hana chuckled. “Not necessary now. All I needed to get that bad mojo out of my system was some carnage, an adventure, and a romp in a latinum bath. Consider your patient cured, Counselor.”
“Not on your life!” Peterman cried. “I’ve been reading up, and there’s a ceremony to finish, if I’m not mistaken.”
“Oh, don’t embarrass yourself in front of the prisoners,” J’hana said, and pushed past Peterman. “If you’ll excuse me.”
“ZHARVWERFFHARRVH!” Peterman cried, and grabbed J’hana by the arm. She swung the Andorian in a graceful arc across the brig and dove on her like an animal, slapping, clawing, ripping. J’hana struggled, but Peterman’s grip was unbreakable.
The counselor dragged J’hana to her feet. “Now listen here, J’hana! You will be well! You hear me? You will not let your feelings get the better of you! You’re an Andorian woman! You are the most powerful force in the galaxy! NEXT TO ME! ZAVAHARARARARARARARARARARAVV FAVVVVVVVVRRRRE! IT IS FINISHED! THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE…COUNSELOR!”
J’hana winced as Peterman spat the words at her. “Counselor, have you been working out?”
“Yeah,” Peterman admitted breathlessly. “It’s something Richard Simmons turned me on to. It’s called ‘Tae-Bo.’”
“You’ll have to show me that, once I get out of Sickbay.” J’hana winced. “Seems you broke a couple of my ribs.”
“Sorry.” Peterman let J’hana down. “So. Feel any better?”
“Much,” J’hana said, wrapping an arm around the counselor. The two limped out of the brig together, leaving Chrissy and the others to stew in their own juices. “Care for dinner?”
“J’hana, I’m a married woman. Besides that, my husband and your ex, uh, girlfriend are both unconcious in the transporter room down the hall.”
“I realize that. Care for dinner?”
“I’d love some.”
Stardate 54704.5. We’re leaving the Nevaran system with some unsettling news. They decided the Federation was full of lunatics and that they’d rather join the Orion Syndicate. They certainly can afford the entrance fees, and if their daughter was any indication, they probably have more in common with the Orions than us anyway. In other news, J’hana seems to have cheered up considerably, and has also been spending quite a bit more time with Counselor Peterman lately. Good for them. I guess.
Lt. Ford took a mug of coffee from the bridge replicator and carried it over to Commander Conway’s seat.
“Why thank you, Lieutenant,” Conway said. He reached for the coffee but Ford held it back.
“One second, Commander. I just want to understand something. J’hana traipsed around the ship for a day, caused all sorts of harm to Counselor Peterman, knocked Lt. Hartley unconscious, and stunned Captain Baxter, Commander Tilleran, Lt. Hartley, and a horde of security, and she’ll go scot free because we’re afraid to activate the Judge Judy program in Larkin again, right?”
Conway shifted in his seat uncomfortably. “Sure, I guess.”
“So we can do pretty much anything we want and not get in trouble for it?”
“Well, I wouldn’t–”
“Yippee!” Ford upturned Conway’s mug and dumped hot coffee in the commander’s lap. He traipsed off to his station.
Down in the Constellation Club, Counselor Peterman sipped from her Pink Squirrel and watched Lt. Commander J’hana and Lt. Hartley at a table across the bar talking quietly. Meanwhile, Elton John played a slow song on the piano at the front of the room.
Beside Peterman, Baxter cocked his head in total uncomprehension at Hartley and J’hana. “What’s going on?”
“Don’t you see? J’hana and Hartley are making up after J’hana knocked her unconscious…twice. J’hana’s starting to reconnect with other members of the crew. Before long, I bet she’ll be friends with Commander Tilleran again!”
Baxter sipped his vodka and grapefruit juice. “I see.”
Peterman leaned forward, resting her chin in her hand. “I just wonder what they’re talking about?”
Baxter shrugged and finished his drink. “Who knows.”
Lt. Hartley leaned forward and whispered softly in J’hana’s ear:
“And then I’m going to pummel you repeatedly in the stomach, until you cough up blood. And then I’m going so set that bowl of Andorian hair on fire, and then I’m going to break your arms and legs…”
J’hana nodded with interest. “I am intruiged. Please, go on.”
For the last four years, Dean Wilcox has been forced to spend his time on the Explorer as a bumbling, braindead, idiot, totally dedicated to his wife, Holly. But Lt. Commander Tilleran believes she can help him become a new man, with just a few little tweaks to his brain. When Dean returns to his prior condition, will he still love Holly? Will he become the smartest man in the Alpha Quadrant? Will he still want to be on the Explorer? Or will he just drool? Find out, when we tell the story “Of Two Minds,” on the next installment of Star Traks: The Vexed Generation!