Author: Anthony Butler
Lieutenant Chris Richards perused the vacant Engineering compartment. Some sections still hadn’t been painted; some panels weren’t even fitted with control consoles yet. But it WAS his engineering compartment. He was the Chief Engineer. He was still basking in the glow of his recent promotion. The ceremony was to take place in two hours in the crew lounge. There he would meet the tactical and science officers, and he personally would command the ship on the way to Alpha Centauri, where they would pick up most of the remaining crew: First Officer, Counselor, and some scattered engineering, science, and security officers.
After a brief getting-to-know you cocktail party, they’d go to Waystation to pick up the Chief Medical Officer, Helm, and Ops officers. And then there was Captain Baxter. THAT, Richards wasn’t so sure about. Sure, he was a good enough guy, a great pal. But a CAPTAIN? What was Starfleet thinking?
On his way through the empty Engineering section, Richards glanced at his reflection in a blank panel. He looked great. This was where his life began!
He didn’t notice a crackle and sizzle of red electricity behind him, which originated right at the center of the warp core where matter and antimatter met dilithium.
Richards meanwhile headed to the private Chief Engineer’s bathroom, hoping that it was stocked with current magazines.
And a large, globulous, sinister woman formed from that crackle of red electricity in the warp core. She was clad in polyester. And she was ticked.
“Come on out Leximas, you bony bitch!” Irma bellowed. Richards would have heard her cry from the bathroom, except he had the air vent going.
Irma turned on a heel to face the warp core. She stared at it with burning red eyes. “Come on, Lexi! Show yourself!”
Nine months had passed since Leximas hurled Irma into the Explorer’s warp core, but for Irma it had only been a brief few days of searing antimatter/matter pain. Irma and Lexi, in the form of pure matter/antimatter energy, surged along the stream of time, writhing in gridlocked combat. And now, finally, Irma had once again become corporeal. She didn’t recognize her surroundings. She was on a starship, in an engine room, but it wasn’t the Explorer’s. But she didn’t care. All she wanted was for that damn woman to come out of the warp core and face her so she could show the glass-eyed guru some manners.
Irma glared at the warp core for a few long moments, catching her breath. No Leximas.
“Hmmm,” she said, finally.
Then she heard the flush of matter reclamation and a spray of air freshener. And whistling.
She hid behind the master systems display as the doors to the Chief Engineer’s office slid open and Chris Richards walked out.
But he was younger, and his hair was shorter, done in a George-Clooney-esque style. And he had on Lieutenant’s pips.
“Excuse me,” Irma said, rising from behind the master systems console. “Can you tell me what year it is?”
Richards stared at Irma, transfixed. “Uh…sure. It’s 2374.”
“Thanks!” Irma said and waved a hand in front of Richards’s face. “Now then. It’s a few months yet till we meet.” Irma grinned at the thought of the adventure beginning–massive Flarn from the future coming back in time to destroy the Aerostar, also back in time, and enlisting her help to do it. That begun her on a merry journey she hoped was now nearing completion. “Anyway,” she continued. “I was never here.”
“Whatever!” Richards nodded blankly, and Irma disappeared in swirl of red, eager to get back to the hunt. She wasn’t sure where Lexi was, but as long as the guru wasn’t hounding her, she was free to cruise space-time. And she knew just where she wanted to go.
It was major payback time for a certain little Maloxian.
“Okay, it’s payback time, Mirk!” Lt. Hartley giggled, and spiked the volleyball in the little Maloxian’s face.
Mirk grabbed the volleyball and slung it under the net, knocking Hartley off her feet as if she were a bowling pin. She fell onto her back, sending up a puff of sand.
Next to him, Lt. Zack Ford giggled. “You’re getting the hang of it, Mirk. But you have to hit the ball OVER the net.”
“Oh,” Mirk said, glancing at Hartley, who lay still and angry on the sand. “Right. Over.”
It was a beautiful beach day on the holodeck. Mirk called up the program for some Explorer crew, since many of them had just gone on a mission to the bitter cold Brystalis Three, and were in need of a little sun.
“Pina Colada?” Elton John said, leaning over Lt. Hartley and smirked at the word “Pina.” He was carrying a tray and dressed in a dapper pink tux and huge shoes.
Elton helped Hartley to her feet and she shook her head. “No, thanks. But you can open up a can of whuppass for my friend Mirk, there.”
“I don’t think we have that.”
“As you wish! Anyone want a margarita! Frozen fruit drink?”
“Over here, Eltie!” Counselor Kelly Peterman called from her beach towel, where she was busily rubbing suntan oil on Captain Baxter. “You know, Andy, the guy usually does this for the girl.”
“Be quiet and keep rubbing, Kelly.”
Hartley, meanwhile, leaned down and picked up the volleyball. She twirled it on her finger and approached the net, grinning at Mirk. “Lose something?”
“You’re supposed to hit it back to me.”
Hartley cast a grin over to Lt. Commander Ariel Tilleran, her teammate. “No, Mirkie, not to you. AT you.” And Hartley spiked Mirk once more in the face.
Mirk collapsed to the ground, and stared, wide-eyed, up at the sky overhead.
Ford leaned over him. “I think you killed him, Megan!”
Hartley marched over. “That’s ridiculous. I–” She bent over Mirk, waved a hand in front of his face. “Earth to Mirk. Come in, Mirk!”
Mirk’s mouth hung agape, his eyes were blank.
“Where do you think he is?” Ford asked Hartley. “Cause he sure as hell isn’t here.”
Mirk awoke in a smouldering, roiling, red maelstrom. Immediately he knew where he was: The Redlands.
“Critics!” he cried, shielding his eyes as a massive pair of lips hovered in front of him.
<Glad you remember us, little guy,> said the lips, smirking. <But, do you remember her?>
An image swirled into place in front of Mirk’s face. It was Irma, running, huffing, puffing with the exertion, eyes burning with fury and wrath.
“Yeah, I sure as hell do. What’s this all about? You interrupted my volleyball game.”
<Sorry about that. We just wanted to give you a head’s up, since your little pals the Directors don’t seem to be too interested in the contest.>
<You and Irma. The game’s afoot, lad!>
<That’s for you to know and us to find out. Wait. Reverse that.>
“I’m really confused here. Where are the Directors?”
<How the heck are we supposed to know? We’re just warning you, to give you a sporting chance. You are, after all, facing a demigoddess.>
“And me without my powers.”
<Exactly. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?>
“Uh, no, not really.”
The lips nodded. <Oh well. We’re off to get a good seat. Enjoy the match.>
As the lips receded into the background red clouds, Mirk called out, “You know, all I have to do is have sex with a certain woman, and I’ll get my powers back!”
<You think so? Well, we’re all for that. But we’ve met this woman. It won’t be easy to seduce her into unlocking your little Maloxian juices.>
“We’ll see about that!”
<Yes. Yes we will.>
Mirk’s head shot up, as most of the senior staff circled round him.
“Mirk!” Dr. Janice Browning called out, holding his hand, checking for a pulse. “Are you back among the living, or what?”
“For now, I am.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” demanded Commander Conway, holding his boogie board. He’d just had something called a “wipe-out.”
Mirk gritted his teeth. His mouth tasted sandy. “Irma’s on her way. I could see it in her eyes.”
“Well isn’t that a kick in the ass,” said Baxter, toweling suntan lotion off his shoulders. He glanced over at Lt. Commander J’hana, who was manning the high-up lifeguard chair. “J’hana! Call in the senior staff and cancel vacation time. We’ve got an Irma Alert!”
J’hana nodded, then blew hard on her whistle and held up her megaphone. “You heard him! Everybody out of the water!”
“Forgive me for stating the obvious, but why don’t we just have Hartley and Mirk get it on and be done with it?” Commander Conway said easily from his place at the center seat of the observation lounge conference table.
“I can’t order Lt. Hartley to have sex with Mirk,” Baxter said. “That’s go to be their mutually consenting decision, at least it does according to Federation statutes.”
“Even if the fate of the ship is at stake?” Conway demanded.
“Even if. Would you like me to order you to have sex?”
“I’d welcome it!” Ford burst out from one end of the conference table.
“Where is this Leximas woman that was supposed to be helping Mirk?” Lt. Commander Tilleran asked.
“We don’t know,” said Baxter. “Mirk’s busy trying to contact her now. He’s praying in the new Maloxian temple, also known as his living room.”
“He should be busy trying to make contact with Hartley,” Conway said. “Before it’s too late.”
“Enough, Commander,” Baxter said. “If I start telling people what they can do with their personal life, I’ll be treading on very uneasy ground. The same grounds, as I recall, that led to you losing your coffee priveleges a while back.”
“Oh, don’t remind me.”
“Now you get the picture?”
“I guess. Still, my coffee drinking didn’t mean the difference between life or death, except for me.”
“We don’t know that Irma will kill all of us if she wins,” Richards said. “She may just kill Mirk.”
“Oh,” said Browning. “In that case, we have nothing to worry about, right?”
“I’m not saying that, I’m just saying…”
“And what if an Irma victory means the Critics become the absolute overlords of the quadrant?” asked J’hana.
“She’s right,” said Tilleran. “We may have destroyed the Starshine Kids, but I’m sure the Critics are still quite capable of bringing this quadrant to its knees…”
“People, people,” Baxter said. “The situation is well in hand. Counselor Peterman is belowdecks discussing the matter very gently with Lt. Hartley. As I said before, Mirk’s trying to get in touch with Leximas and the Directors. Until we hear something from any of those people, there’s not much we can do. Until then, it’s…”
“Back to the beach?” asked Ford.
“Yeah, I guess.”
Counselor Peterman paced her office, arms folded, followed by Charlie the golden retriever.
Lt. Hartley lay face up on the fainting couch.
“So…” Hartley sighed. “The fate of this whole quadrant rests on…my…privates.”
“You could say that it it relies on HIS privates, Megan,” Peterman said, taking a seat on the edge of the couch. “Would that make you feel better?”
“Nope.” Hartley leaned up, sat her chin in her palm. “I really care a lot about Mirk, but I don’t know that I’m ready for this.”
“Why not?” Peterman asked, trying not to sound desparate. She didn’t want Hartley to feel like she was being pressured into anything. But Peterman wasn’t sure if the Critics would allow pets in their galactic empire. Better to be safe than sorry and make sure they didn’t take over, in Peterman’s judgment.
Hartley sighed. “Well…let’s just say I’ve always had great luck with men until…”
Peterman glanced at Hartley. “Until?”
“I haven’t the vaguest idea.”
“Until we…you know…”
“I really don’t know.”
Hartley gritted her teeth. “I’ve always have great luck with men until we have sex.”
“Oh, that!” Peterman smacked her forehead. “Of course. That’s actually pretty common. Let me guess: The man becomes distant, strange…foreign to you.”
“Yeah, I guess. It happened with Brian Gellar, and all the men before him. There’s always this awkward…feeling between us. The relationship turns from something beautiful into a nonstop excuse for sex. And I don’t want that to happen between Mirk and me.”
“That’s a very valid concern you have there, Megan. And normally, I’d be supporting you one hundred percent. But there’s this little matter of Irma…”
Hartley narrowed her eyes. “Yes. Irma.”
“We have to do something about her, Megan. And I’m sorry to say, it all rests on yours and Mirk’s shoulders. Or privates, if you prefer.”
“Maybe it won’t take sex to get him his powers back.” Hartley rubbed her chin. “Maybe just a little foreplay?”
“That could be, but if the Directors past behavior is any clue, I’d say they’re expecting the, um, ‘full monty.’”
“They’re some crazy gods. I’m glad we don’t have to worship them anymore.”
“You and me both,” Peterman agreed. “So…what should I tell Mirk?”
Hartley smiled. “Tell him to chill a bottle of kiante and put on some Andorian vibrosynth. Tonight’s his lucky night.”
“Oh, I’m so happy for you two!” Peterman said, clapping her hands. “And the whole quadrant too!”
“Yeah, let’s just not go broadcasting this, okay?”
“I completely understand.”
“Attention all hands. This is the captain speaking. Just wanted to let you know that an insane demigodical obese woman is on her way here from somewhere else in the space-time continuum to rip Mirk a new…well, whatever it is Maloxians have back there. But good news! Lt. Hartley has consented to romp in the proverbial hay with our loveable Delta Quadrant friend, and for those of you that haven’t been keeping up with current events, that means he’ll be getting his powers back. That means two things: Hovering food night is back, and the quadrant is saved! That is all.”
“God damn him and his nosey wife,” Lt. Hartley said, marching ruefully down the corridor toward Mirk’s quarters, feeling claustrophobic in her form-fitting olive tankdress and matching high heels. Yeoman Briggs picked out the ensemble, but since time was short, he couldn’t size her correctly. Thus, the shoes pinched and the dress was way too tight around the butt.
Lieutenants Ford and Gellar picked up step next to Hartley as she walked.
“What,” she said, not looking at either of them.
“Just wanting to know how you felt before the big night,” Ford said.
Gellar grinned. “And if you think little Mirk will match up to the Gellarthon.”
“Don’t flatter yourself, buddy,” Hartley muttered.
“Ouch, listen to her,” Ford said. “Sounds like somebody wants some lovin’.”
“Did you pack the little guy a lunch too?” asked Gellar.
Hartley shot an elbow backwards into Gellar’s gut and swept a heeled foot out to trip Ford flat on his face. Without looking back at them, she said, “He’s more of a man than either of you. And he’s going to be getting laid tonight, unlike either of you.”
“Point well taken,” Ford said, wincing as his face pressed into the hardness of the deck.
“Fruit of the Directors, show me the way,” Mirk announced, squeezing a kiwi into a dish and placing it on the sacremental altar on his coffeetable. He held his hands up in supplication and bowed his head. “Prepare me to receive my powers once again so I can do your bidding and rid this quadrant of the menace of Irma.” Mirk lowered his voice. “And please, make me a great lover tonight, if it’s not too much trouble.”
No response. Not that Mirk was expecting one. The Directors hadn’t spoken to him since they reappeared to him in the Redlands, when the Explorer was nearly destroyed, and Leximas (he thought) defeated Irma.
They’d told him they were returning to the Bermuda Expanse, but Mirk had not yet gone to see for himself. They hadn’t called him, and he didn’t feel right just barging in on them. He was one to wait and follow the path that was laid out for him. And now that path included a night of romance with Lt. Hartley and the return of his powers. Things were looking up, Directors or no.
Mirk blew out the candles surrounding the bowl of kiwi juice, dumped the squeezed kiwi into the bowl and rose to his feet. “Coming!”
Clad in a silky red robe and fruit-emblazoned pajamas, Mirk sauntered over to the door. He hit the control next to the door and it slid open to reveal Captain Baxter. Mirk’s face fell.
“Damn,” Mirk said, pulling his robe tighter around him. “I thought you were someone else.”
“No kidding,” Baxter said, strolling in and taking in the dimness of Mirk’s cabin. He’d turned the lights down and put on “Zanthra’s Mutilation,” a favorite of Hartley’s in the Andorian vibrosynth collection. “Nice setup, Mirk.” Baxter nodded approvingly. “You’re going to make quite an impression.”
Baxter sat down on the edge of Mirk’s couch and faced him. “Listen, I won’t take much of your time. I know this is a big night for you. I just thought you might be looking for a little, you know, ‘man-to-man.’”
“Captain…I, uh…what about Counselor Peterman?”
“Are we thinking the same thing?”
“Directors, I hope not.”
Baxter took in a deep breath. “Listen, Mirk. It’s an Earth custom for a man’s elder to take him aside before the, uh, ‘big night,’ and give him a few pointers. Since your dad’s about seventy thousand light years away, I figured I’d take up that responsibility as your captain.”
“That’s awful nice of you, Captain, but…”
“Don’t thank me, it’s the least I can do,” Baxter said. “Now, where to begin. I trust Lt. Hartley is on the hypospray?”
“I really don’t know…”
“I thought so.” Baxter reached onto his belt and snapped off a hypospray. “Just in case, I brought one of Kelly’s. It’s got a peppermint flavor to it and is nice and tingly. She’ll love it.”
“I said you didn’t have to thank me.” Baxter put a hand on Mirk’s shoulder. “Now, I trust you’re no stranger to the ways of women. You little tiger, I bet you’ve even gotten pretty far with a couple, am I right? Amara? Danel? Some kissing? A little nuzzling? Some breast-fondling?”
“That’s really none of your–”
Baxter stood, and stared out at the vista of space blazing by Mirk’s windows. “But this is different, Mirk. A woman’s body is a complicated thing. Filled with all sorts of crevices and…uh, erogenous zones. You have to know just which way to tickle…”
“Captain, I’m not a virgin, if that’s what you’re talking about.”
Baxter blinked, turned to look at Mirk. “You’re not?”
“I’m nearly twenty years old, Captain.”
“Hah. Right. Twenty.”
“Maloxians usually lose their virginity around the age of fifteen. I’ve heard the average human age for that is about the same. Somewhere between seventeen and twenty?”
“Sure, right…sure…” Baxter said, pulling at his collar. “Twenty. That’s about right for me. I figured as much…excuse me!”
Baxter dashed for the door, stepped out, and slammed right into Lt. Hartley.
“Excuse me!” Baxter said, bouncing around Hartley and racing off down the corridor.
Hartley stumbled against the doorframe and glanced back at Baxter. “What in the world is wrong with him?”
“I think he was trying to explain sex to me.”
“How cute,” Hartley said. She stepped into the cabin to allow the doors to close.
“You look…amazing…” Mirk smiled.
“Thank you. You look…ready for bed.”
“No reason to beat around the bush,” Mirk giggled, and walked over to his kitchen table. He picked up a decanter of kiante from its vat of ice and poured two glasses full. “Drinkie?”
“You don’t have to get me drunk, Mirk, but it’s a nice touch.”
“Thank you.” Mirk handed Hartley a glass and they clinked them and sipped. Mirk gazed at Hartley over the lip of the glass. “Good?”
“Delicious.” Hartley licked her lips.
“We got it on Pantar Four. It’s 2356.”
Hartley rolled her eyes as the strains of Andorian vibrosynth rattled in her ears. How she’d acquired a taste for it, she’d never know. The silence in the room was awkward and unbearable. Finally, Hartley could take it no longer. “Listen, let’s cut the crap and go at it!”
Mirk threw down his glass. “I thought you’d never ask. Computer, crackling fire. Eighty degrees!”
A fire erupted in the fireplace across from Mirk’s couch and Mirk took Hartley in his arms and kissed her long and hard. He dipped her backward and backed her toward the couch.
Hartley squinted. “What’s that sound?”
“Nothing. Ignore it. Just a Maloxian thing.”
And the room filled with a bright white light.
Mirk grinned. “Oh boy! I can feel it coming back to me!”
“The light kinda kills the romance…” Hartley noticed as Mirk gently reached behind her tankdress and set the tiny microelectronic control to “total unzip.”
And the dress was off.
“Mirk, that’s really distracting…”
“I can’t help it!” And the housecoat was off.
The light brightened, making Hartley wish she’d brought sunglasses. The very air in the cabin seemed to vibrate with electricity. The hum of energy building seemed to bounce off the walls.
Then a black hole ripped the air above Mirk and a huge, pawlike hand reached out.
“Come here, you!”
“She’s here!” Mirk gasped, as he was yanked right up off Lt. Hartley and up through the hole.
Hartley leaned up on the couch, clutching Mirk’s housecoat around her. “Give him back you tubby bitch!”
“Come get him you little huzzy!” bellowed Irma from within the depths of the black hole.
“Fine by me!” Hartley said, and lept off the couch up through the hole, and then quickly slammed back down onto the couch. She stared up at Mirk’s ceiling. No more hole. “Hartley to bridge! Mirk’s gone!”
“Already? That was really quick,” Baxter’s voice replied.
“Okay, everyone pay J’hana.”
“No, I mean Irma took him!’
“Before you could…uh, wrap things up?”
“I told you he’d last longer than two minutes,” Tilleran’s voice said in the background.
“You be quiet,” Baxter’s voice snapped. “Can you tell where Irma took him?”
“Nope,” Hartley said softly. “He just…just disappeared.”
“At least we’re still in one piece,” muttered Conway’s voice.
“Go f*** yourself!” Hartley shouted.
Then, suddenly, a soft, delicate, almost weightless hand came down on her shoulder.
“Child…we must talk.”
Hartley turned. “Leximas!”
“Where is Mirk?”
“Irma just took him.”
“Oh. That’s too bad. I guess I was too late in delivering my message.”
“That my powers are nearly gone. I came to warn Mirk that I could stop Irma from chasing him no longer.”
“Your timing is impeccable.”
Leximas stared dully at Hartley. “The last time I appeared, I was able to reverse time so that the Explorer wasn’t destroyed. Kindly refrain from assaulting my timing.”
Hartley rubbed her eyes. “This is not at all how I imagined this night going. Listen, Leximas, can you at least track Mirk to where Irma took him? Is there any way for us to find him?”
“Yes, there is. But wherever Irma took Mirk, it certainly won’t be pretty. And not for the faint of heart.”
“You won’t hear me complaining. Let’s get moving.”
“Should we not alert your superiors to our activity?”
“Of course. Hartley to bridge. I’m going to go find Mirk. Will be back soon. Hartley out.” She smiled. “Now let me just get dressed.”
“By all means.”
Captain Baxter looked Mirk’s quarters over disdainfully. The living room was upturned in such a way it was obvious Mirk and Hartley were in the throes of…well, getting Mirk’s powers back, when Irma kidnapped Mirk. “Hartley could have at least waited for my okay.”
Counselor Petersen put a hand on Baxter’s arm. “She loves him, Andy. She wasn’t thinking. She was just acting.”
Lt. Commander J’hana stood up from her crouch by the coffee table and pocketed her security tricorder. “There is a large amount of kiante spilled on this floor. And some isokinetic radiation typical of a spatial wormhole.”
“Which Irma pulled Mirk through,” Baxter said.
Tilleran was scanning the couch. “Affirmative. And another one was formed a few minutes later, through which Leximas took Lt. Hartley.”
“What do we know about this Leximas?” Baxter asked. “Can we trust her?”
“She was a mystic aboard the outpost Waystation for a couple years,” Tilleran said. “We could contact them and see if they can give us any insight into her character.”
“She did save this ship from oblivion several months back,” J’hana said. “That’s a good indication that she’s on our side.”
“True enough,” Baxter said.
“So how do we proceed?” Peterman asked.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Baxter muttered.
“I say we go to the Bermuda Expanse and wring some answers out of those cursed Directors,” J’hana said, cracking her knuckles. “You know, go on the offensive.”
“Against gods,” Baxter said.
“At this point, I can’t come up with a good arguement against that,” Baxter said. “Let’s do it.”
Mirk blinked his eyes open and winced. It felt like his body was mutinying against him. Every muscle cried out in agony. His very skin burned.
“Welcome to my little corner of hell, Mirk,” Irma said, pacing around Mirk and looking down at him approvingly.
“Where are we?” Mirk glanced up to see that he was on a beach, but the sky was red and filled with lightening, and the sand he was lying on was black.
“New Jersey,” Irma said. “More or less.”
“Is that a place on Earth?”
“Yes, but we’re not there. We’re on a plain of our very own. Somewhere you visited very recently.”
“Deanspace?” Mirk coughed out.
Irma touched her nose. “Exactly. But the scientists are calling it ‘middlespace’ now. It wouldn’t do to name such a beautiful subspace layer after a braindead gimp.”
“He’s a nice guy!” Mirk protested, rolled onto his side, coughed up saltwater. He’d been dragged through miles of seabottom, judging by the gritty sand and seaweed in his socks.
“Regardless, events have been brought to a head quicker than either the Critics or your pathetic eyeballs could have predicted. Thanks to your braindead gimp, the Federation might just find a way to traverse great expanses of space in just a little time. Of course, the technology will take a hundred years to perfect, but to our bosses, that’s like the blink of an…excuse the term, eye.”
“Cute,” Mirk coughed.
Irma knelt by Mirk. “You realize there’s no such thing as omnipotent, don’t you, Mirk? Our bosses are just beings like us. Much more powerful, but not gods.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Irma shook her head. “Believe what you want to believe. Sure, they’re powerful. They transformed me from a beer-swilling Trekkie into a powerful warrior, with a mission. A mission to take you out like garbage, Mirkie.”
“I invite you to try, you bloated bitch…” Mirk muttered, and pushed himself to his knees.
“How valiant of you,” Irma grumbled. “But there’s no sport in this if you don’t pose some challenge to me. I need you with your powers back.”
“I was working on that when you so rudely interrupted.”
“Yes, I know. Unfortunately, I’m not supposed to let that happen.”
“And why not?”
“Because they don’t want it to happen. Isn’t that enough? Isn’t that a good enough reason for you?”
“But that leaves me with a difficult decision. Let the good Miss Hartley have at you and defy my bosses, or cut you down where you stand and be done with it.”
“Do I get a vote?”
Lt. Commanders Richards and Larkin stepped out onto the bridge, to find Baxter pacing in front of the viewscreen.
“Any news yet?” Richards asked.
Baxter shook his head. “Not a peep.”
“How long until we reach the Bermuda Expanse?”
Larkin sat down at her station. “Less than five minutes.”
Baxter stopped pacing and watched the viewscreen. “I sure hope they can give us some clue as to how to get Mirk and Hartley back.”
“Me too,” Peterman said softly from her chair in the command area.
Richards took engineering. “I just hope the Directors cooperate with us. I’d hate to fix this ship after a bout with a vengeful god.”
“Somehow I doubt there’d be anything left to fix,” harrumphed Conway, leaning over Tilleran’s console to read the current scans.
“Let’s keep optimistic here,” Baxter said. “The Directors have told us on numerous occasions that everything will turn out for the best. We have to believe them.”
Tilleran cleared her throat at sciences. “Sir, have you ever given any thought to what they might mean by ‘for the best’? Maybe that means just Mirk and Hartley get slaughtered by Irma. Maybe that means just this sector gets blown to bits, or just this quadrant. How can we judge the advice of an omnipotent being?”
“She is obtuse, but she makes a good point,” J’hana said from tactical.
“All we can do is try our best to get our people back,” Baxter said.
“Coming up on Veltran system,” Ford said from helm.
“Come out of warp,” Baxter said, and sat down in the command chair.
“Bermuda Expanse in four minutes,” announced Larkin.
“Who knows what’ll happen when we go in this time,” Peterman said fearfully.
“Only one way to find out,” Baxter said. “Ford, take us in.”
Mirk stared up at the thunderhead clouds that rolled over the beach, winced as lightening cracked down on all sides.
Irma had been gone for several minutes–or maybe hours, he couldn’t be sure. Where had she gone? To commune with the Critics and decide his fate? If that was the case, Mirk only wished he could be in on the decision. A quick death was definitely preferable to a slow one. Mirk briefly let his thoughts wander to Lt. Hartley. He came so close. He could feel the powers seeping back into his body. What else would have happened if Irma hadn’t interrupted? And why did that always seem to be the way with he and Hartley? Going all the way back to their almost-kiss nearly a year ago in that seedy motel room in New Orleans, they’d always seemed just a step away from consummating their feelings for one another.
Captain Baxter’s mother had sent down a security officer to kidnap Mirk and Hartley so they could help her with an assault on the Starshine Kids, just as they were about to lock lips. He could have had his powers back then and there.
But it went back farther than that
When the Directors announced they were leaving the Alpha Quadrant, almost exactly one year previous, they contacted Lt. Hartley. Used her as a go-between. Why?
And before that, Mirk’s powers became finely tuned in the Happy Universe, which the crew had found thanks to a malfunction in the Bermuda Expanse (or was it?), and he was able to whisk himself and Lt. Hartley to safety–many light years’ distance to Earth.
And, back in the Delta Quadrant, Mirk and Hartley’s first mission together was aboard a runabout, returning to the abandoned planet Malox to find some clue as to his people’s whereabouts. Instead, they found his people, who had taken over a few salvaged Federation ships, but that was beside the point.
Something in space and time gravitated Mirk to Hartley on more than one occasion. Something tingled inside Mirk every time he saw her, every time he thought of her.
Was it that simple? Was the “grand plan” the Directors kept speaking of? Just to get he and Hartley together?
Could it really be that simple?
“GET UP!” a basso female voice bellowed, and someone dragged Mirk to his feet.
He blinked. “Irma…great to see you again.”
“Glad you still have a sense of humor. New Jersey can suck the life right out of you.”
Mirk wasn’t listening to Irma. Why did the Critics leave Irma with her powers, while the Directors took Mirk’s powers? Didn’t they want him to be victorious against Irma? Or was it Irma he was fighting?
“What are you looking at?” Irma asked. She waved a hand in front of Mirk’s face. “Here I am! Hello, Mirk!”
Mirk stared at Irma. “Let’s get this overwith. What was the Critics’ verdict?”
“I couldn’t find them. They’re turning a deaf ear to me, as the Directors have done to you.”
“Then we’re both in the same boat, huh?” Mirk asked.
“Not really. I have powers, remember?”
“How could I forget?”
Irma grabbed Mirk by the front of his pajamas. “Listen, little guy, I have a proposition for you. Let’s say it’s not just that Hartley woman who can unlock your power. Let’s say I can do it too. What do you think of that?”
Mirk considered that. “I think that’s extremely frightening.”
“What if we combined our forces, Mirk? What if we became one unbeatable force that had the power to overcome the lips and the eyeballs? One, hugely powerful…Mirkma?”
“I think the power’s gone right to your head and blown out the other side.”
“Quite possible,” Irma seethed. “At any rate, I will have you. Or you will die.”
“In that case, I’ll take death.”
“You don’t have a choice!” Irma pushed Mirk to the sand and lept on him.
“Ooof! Directors’ sakes, you’re heavy!”
“Enjoy it, Mirk! Revel in it!”
“I’m being smushed!” Mirk cried as Irma’s hands traversed his body nauseatingly. Her tongue slithered into his ear.
“You will be mine, Mirk! The power will be mine! If I have to eat you whole and sh** you out, I will!”
“Now there’s a pleasant thought!”
“GIVE YOURSELF OVER TO ME!”
“Here we are again,” Commander Conway grumbled, folding his arms. “I hear the Gamma Quadrant is nice this time of year. Maybe they’ll send us there this time instead of the Delta Quadrant.”
“At least there’s that nice wormhole in the Gamma Quadrant,” Peterman said.
“Always looking on the bright side of things,” Baxter said, then faced the swirling purple on the viewscreen. “Open the hailing frequencies, J’hana.”
“To the omnipotent band?” J’hana said, giggling.
“We have one?” Baxter asked.
“No,” J’hana replied, straightfaced.
“Oh. Well open all frequencies anyway.”
Baxter stood. “Directors. This is Captain Andy Baxter of the Explorer. You may remember me from such altercations as the trip to the Delta Quadrant, the trip back to the Alpha Quadrant, the voyage to the happy universe, and the destruction and reconstruction of my ship in the Redlands. At any rate, I need to talk to you. Irma Wilson has taken two of my crew and I want them back. Tell me how to do it. Or I swear I’ll…I’ll open fire on this whole region.”
“I’m sure they’re quaking in their omnipotent boots,” quipped Conway, who had sauntered over to his command chair. He wanted to be sitting when the coffee grounds hit the fan.
Baxter went to his command chair and sat down. “I don’t know if they heard that, but it felt damn good to me.”
“Sometimes that’s all that really matters,” said Peterman.
“Not this time,” muttered Baxter.
“GIVE YOURSELF OVER TO ME!”
Then, suddenly, Irma flew off Mirk as if she was flicked by a giant finger. She sailed backward into the black, churning abyss of sea beyond the beach.
“That…will hold her…for a time,” Leximas said breathlessly, rising over a sand dune and floating over to the Maloxian, Hartley close on her heels.
“Are you okay?” Hartley asked, rushing to kneel by Mirk.
“I have been better,” said Leximas, looming over the couple.
“I was talking about Mirk.”
“Oh.” Leximas looked down at Mirk. “By the way, Mirk, did you allow Irma to absorb you?”
“So that’s what she was trying to do with her tongue,” Mirk said, brushing sand off his jammies. “Anyway, she nearly did, but I think I’m still in one piece.”
“It is a good thing that she did not succeed,” Leximas said flatly.
“No kidding,” replied Mirk.
Leximas glanced woefully back at the sea. Irma splashed, sloshed, and thrashed in the blood-red water, screaming rage and shooting electricity from her eyes.
“We must leave. We do not have much time,” Leximas said, and took Mirk and Hartley, each by a hand. “Quickly now!”
Mirk’s mouth waffled. “Leximas…how did you…”
“I haven’t the time to explain that. I can only protect you, I can’t fight Irma for you. Now go, quickly!” Leximas concentrated with all her might and formed a rip in time-space and pushed Mirk and Hartley through. “I shall remain behind to hold her off as long as I can…but you must copulate, and fast!”
Hartley and Mirk stumbled through into an Explorer corridor and Leximas waved her hand over the hole in space, sealing it, for the time being. She turned to see Irma stalk right out of the water like a primordial amphibian, eyes burning fury.
“It’s time to deal you out, you withering piece of crap,” Irma growled. “You’re powers are too weak. You can’t afford the ante for this game.”
“I realize that,” Leximas said, and sighed. It had been a nice afterlife. Who knew what fate held next for her? She had done all she could for Mirk, and she was dead already anyway. All she could do was hold off Irma long enough for Mirk to (hopefully) “get the job done.”
The rest was up to Mirk and his companions.
Squeezing her eyes shut with the effort, Leximas pooled what power she had remaining and threw herself at Irma. Leximas recalled something the commander of Waystation told her once. It seemed appropriate.
“BONZAI!” screamed Leximas, and it was all over in minutes.
As Hartley shed her Starfleet uniform, layer by layer, she idly wondered why she’d gone through such trouble to put it on to go find Mirk, when the search was so darn quick, and she was destined to yank it off afterwards anyway.
This time they skipped the cute formalities of kiante and music. This time they weren’t even sure whose quarters they’d stumbled into, but, luckily, they were empty.
“Mirk, I’m so glad Irma didn’t kill you,” Hartley said breathlessly, as they tumbled onto the bed in the strange cabin and rustled underneath the covers.
“I wish this moment was a little more glamorous.”
“You’re lying on my hair. Oww!”
“And watch where you put–hooooooooooeeeeeey! There ya go!”
Soaked with slime and covered in seaweed, mad as hell, Irma Wilson marched right through a tear in space and out onto the deck. She shoved passing officers to the ground, smashed right through a cake Yeoman Briggs had been taking to the Constellation Club. She pushed up her sleeves and breathed steam as she plowed toward the cabin where she knew she’d find her prey.
He could hide no longer.
Suddenly, with a pang that sent her nearly to her knees, Irma felt a vibration deep in her gut that made her want to vomit.
Something was happening.
She stood right outside the door when the shockwave hit, when the wall blasted open and the light, the hot white light, seared over her and knocked her through the next wall.
And as she lay there, motionless, in the rubble of the wall she smashed through, Irma Wilson knew she was in deep, deep, deep trouble.
Baxter was back to pacing.
“Maybe they don’t live here anymore,” Peterman suggested.
“They’re there,” Baxter said. “I swam around in there enough to know a thing or two about them. I’m nearly certain they’re just hiding, snickering at us, laughing at our stupidity, just because they know the big, grand plan and we don’t.”
“You’re taking this way too personally,” Peterman said, placing her hand over Baxter’s.
“And if you’re really that concerned about what’s out there, you can always beam out and see,” Conway suggested.
“Oh shut up,” Baxter mumbled. Then the whole bridge was washed in white light. The ship vibrated like a tuning fork, sending Baxter crashing to the floor.
“Energy readings on deck nine are off the scale!” J’hana called out, stabbing at her panel with one hand and gripping it to stay standing with the other. Everyone else was blinded; J’hana was working on antennae-sense only. “We can’t take much more of this! The energy is channeling through every surface on this ship!”
Richards chimed in: “If this keeps up, we’ll be ripped apart!”
Baxter gripped the sides of his head, as the vibration beat the Explorer like a tsunami on a wood shack. He felt with his hands for his chair. Instead he found Peterman’s lap. He crawled into into her chair and gripped her for dear life, hoping against hope that he hadn’t accidentally crawled into Conway’s chair by mistake.
Then, as suddenly as it began, the light and vibration died down, until the only sound on the bridge was the bleeping of instruments.
“Anyone have a clue as to what just happened?” Baxter asked, climbing across Peterman back into his chair.
“I do,” Tilleran said, grinning. “Six point five hours. Pay up.”
“I’m BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACK!” Mirk announced, eyes wide, stepping through the hole he’d blasted in the wall, pushing aside the collapsed bulkheading like it was styrofoam and looking down at Irma. “And guess who’s due for the ass-kicking of a lifetime?”
Irma stared up at Mirk fearfully. He was still glowing. His every movement sent crackles of electricity surging around him
Behind him, Hartley was wrapped in a sheet. She raspberried Irma for all she was worth.
“You won’t take me that easily,” Irma grunted, climbing to her feet. “It’s still not an even match.”
“That’s right it’s not!” Mirk bellowed, and grabbed a handful of Irma’s shirt. He paused, let go of the cotton-poly mix. “Wait. I can’t hit a woman. That’s just not right.”
“Well then,” said Irma. “I guess we can call this a–”
“But I don’t need to lay hand on you!” Mirk said, and nodded his head in Irma’s direction.
That simple gesture sent her flying. She slammed through the hole she’d made in the wall and flailed backwards, slamming through yet another bulkhead.
Mirk stepped through, apologized to Lt. Kamtezen, who he’d rudely awaken, and followed Irma into the next room.
“Get away from me!” she cried, running across the vacant cabin and ducking out into the corridor beyond.
Mirk jogged to catch up with her. “You can’t get away, Irma! You can’t escape the wrath of the Directors!”
Irma glanced back at Mirk, firing bolts of red energy at him from her fingertips. It didn’t faze the Maloxian.
“You know what the funny thing is, Irma?” Mirk asked as Irma slammed right through the turbolift doors at the end of the corridor and careeneed up the shaft. He flew after her.
“I’ll tell you what the funny thing is!” he continued, gaining rapidly on her, arms at sides, flying like a missle. “I’m not even trying!”
Irma ignored him, and slammed out of the pair of doors at the top of the shaft, rolling onto the bridge.
J’hana hopped her station and ran to stand over Irma, phaser trained right on the large woman’s forehead, foot propped on her head.
Mirk emerged from the turbolift shaft and hovered over Irma, looking at her thoughtfully.
“Mirk?” Baxter asked, stepping up to the quarterdeck where Mirk and J’hana loomed over Irma. “Care to give us an update?”
“I have my powers back,” Mirk said.
“No kidding,” Conway said quietly, jogging up behind Baxter.
Peterman stepped up to join Baxter. “And now what are you going to do?”
“I’m going to do what I wasn’t powerful enough to do when Irma first reared her ugly head…”
“No…no…” Irma said, holding up her hands.
“Shush,” J’hana said, and moved her foot from Irma’s forehead to her face. “What have you got in store for tubby here?”
“She’s going back where she came from,” Mirk said. “Back to twentieth century Earth. They created her. They can deal with her.”
“Good idea,” Baxter said. “I’m sure the temporal police will be glad to hear that.”
Mirk concentrated down at Irma, narrowed his eyes, built up a charge of powers deep from the very core of his being, and focused the full brunt of them on Irma.
“This is NOT OVER!” she shouted as the brunt of white energy hit her and she disappeared with an electric sizzle, leaving a black, Irma-shaped, stain on the carpet.
That done, Mirk let himself float to the ground. Gradually, the glow dimmed and he returned to his normal hue.
“Great work,” Baxter said. “One thing.”
“You’re buck naked.”
Mirk looked down. “Oh. Whoops! How embarassing!” He blinked and suddenly he was clothed in one of his customary outfits, complete with a bright orange dinner jacket. “Is that better?”
“Much,” said Peterman.
Baxter turned to find an eyeball hovering at the center of the bridge.
“Oh, well, it’s about time,” Baxter grumbled.
<Don’t be that way,> the eyeball said. <We had to allow Mirk to come to this on his own terms. Unlike the Critics, we prefer not to get involved in the affairs of our…friends.>
Mirk whirled and dropped to one knee in front of the eyeball. “Great Directors, thank you so much for restoring my powers.”
<Don’t be silly. You did it yourself. With a little help from Lieutenant Hartley.>
“Thanks anyway,” Mirk said. “Now, if I may ask, what more am I to do?”
The eyeball chuckled. <Nothing. The hard part is over. We will require more of you later, but for now, be at peace. You have earned it.>
“I don’t understand,” Baxter said. “That whole grand scheme of things you keep referring to…that’s all over?”
<Oh, not by a longshot.> The eyeball revolved to look at each of the crewmembers gathered on the bridge. <But we have reached an…impasse. Suffice it to say the best is yet to come.>
“What about me?” Mirk asked. “Do I go back too?”
<Not yet. Enjoy what you have here while you have it, Mirk. Your journey has just begun.> The eye turned to face the bridge crew again. <Their journey, however, is nearly at an end. Savor each day of it.>
And the eyeball disappeared.
“That was bizarre,” Baxter said softly, after a few moments’ silence.
“Does that mean the Critics are gone too?” Conway asked.
The eyeball reappeared. <Yes and no,> it said, then disappeared.
“My quarters are ruined,” Commander Conway said, leaning over the large round corner table in the Constellation Club, as Elton John played “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” He was joined by Hartley, Richards, Browning, Tilleran, and Peterman.
“Sorry,” Lt. Hartley said with a grin. “We had no way of knowing those were your quarters we stumbled into.”
“Sure you didn’t,” Conway said. “You probably planned the whole thing.”
“Don’t be silly.”
Captain Baxter stepped up to the table and sat down. “Just talked with Starfleet.”
“And?” asked Richards.
“They were thrilled. And disturbed.”
“Rightly so,” said Hartley. “I have a feeling they’re going to want to talk to me and Mirk.”
“Damn right they will. Them, and the Krinok News Network. They want to profile the ‘woman who made a god.’”
“How cheesey,” giggled Hartley, and she sipped her drink.
Baxter grimaced. “I came up with that.”
“Whoops. Sorry, sir.”
Lt. Commander J’hana carried a frothy mug of v’haspant over to the table and sat down. “So, Lieutenant Hartley, enlighten us.”
“What was it like…to be at the epicenter of such an extreme burst of power?”
Hartley shrugged. “Hard to remember. It all happened so…fast.”
“What do you think is next for Mirk?” Conway asked. “His powers are easily double what they were before he lost them. Surely he can’t–”
And then the doors to the Club opened.
“I think you have your answer, Commander,” Baxter said, and smiled.
Mirk walked in, wearing his traditional bartender’s vest and tie. He bowed in Captain Baxter’s direction.
“Captain, good to see you tonight. Rum ‘n grapefruit for you?”
“Please,” said Baxter, trying to mask his astonishment.
Mirk blinked and the drink appeared in front of the captain. “You enjoy that now.”
“He seems…older,” Browning said, nodding agreeably as Mirk stepped behind the bar. “More mature.”
Hartley grinned. “What can I say? I made him into a man.”
“And much much more,” said Baxter. He sipped his Rum ‘n Grapefruit. “You made him into the perfect bartender.”
“Good to know,” Hartley said, and stood. “Excuse me.”
“So,” Conway said. “Any predictions on what will happen in the next few months? The Directors seem to know something we don’t.”
“I prefer to be surprised,” Browning said.
“I’m just wondering how much stock we can put in the Directors’ prediction,” Baxter said.
“We make our own fate, sir,” J’hana said, and sipped. “Do not forget that.”
Richards shrugged. “Maybe they meant they’re going to stop interfering in our lives. So that’s all that will be ending.”
Peterman sniffed. “I’m going to miss them.”
“You would,” Conway sneered.
“Well, at any rate, they did say the best was yet to come,” Baxter said. “I don’t care how you interpret their predictions, that one can’t help but be good.”
“I don’t see how things could improve,” Tilleran said. “We’re all healthy, we have good careers, we get to explore the far reaches of space from day to day. There’s always adventure and romanace around the next corner. What more could we possibly need?”
Everyone laughed at that and ordered another round of drinks.
Hartley sat down in her usual stool, opposite Mirk at the bar. “Weird day, huh?”
“Yep.” Mirk nodded and pointed a finger at Ensign Sefelt at the far end of the a bar. A large, celery-filled drink appeared in front of him.
“V-8 with veggies, right?” Mirk asked with a grin.
“Right!” squealed Sefelt with delight.
“This is fantastic,” Mirk smiled.
“You know, Mirk, I really don’t see how you can just go on being a bartender.”
“Why not? I’m not an officer. I can’t very well become a security chief or engineer.”
Hartley shook her head. “You just don’t get it, Mirk. Your powers are twice as strong now as they’ve ever been. You could go anywhere…do anything. Why stay here?”
Mirk traced a finger down Hartley’s cheek and grinned. “Why indeed?”
Hartley bit her lip, tried very hard not to cry. She leaned forward, grabbed Mirk’s chin, and took him into a long kiss. After the kiss, she smiled at him. “Come on, bucko. Let’s dance.”
A lean figure, cloaked in a long, grey trenchcoat and wrapped in a white scarf, stepped off the bus and looked around. The building facades looked gothic and worn. The streets were cobbled, but modern motor vehicles whizzed by. This was the twentieth century. Earth.
“Where am I?” she asked the first person who passed her.
“Baltimore,” said the officer. “Isn’t that where you wanted to be?”
“This is where I was to arrive at,” she said.
“The directive has been followed. I desire quarters and a chamber in which to meditate where I may receive the curious and the needful.” She felt like she’d said that many times before.
“Okay, I’ve got a chamber for you to meditate in,” said the police officer, grabbing the woman’s arm and leading her off down the street.
“Wait!” came a voice from behind the pair. The scarved figure turned, smiled. He was a portly blond man, in a dapper navy suit. “That’s my cousin,” he said. “She just got in from Iowa. She’s never been in the city before.”
“What’s this about a ‘meditation chamber,’ then?” asked the officer.
“Oh…she’s, um, Mormon,” explained the dapper man.
“If you say so,” the officer said, and released her. “If you can vouch for her, I guess she’s okay.”
“I can vouch,” the man said, nodding. The officer walked away, shaking his head and muttering something about “takes all kinds.”
The gaunt woman looked the portly man over approvingly. “I know you.”
“Not exactly. Why did you rescue me from…that man?”
“I don’t really know. It felt like the right thing to do. So who are you, anyway?”
“You may call me…Lexi.”
“Pleased to meet you Lexi. I’m Bradley. Bradley Dillon.”
“I know.” Lexi smiled.
“Where are my manners,” Bradley said, gesturing for Leximas to follow him. “I was just on my way to opera practice. I’d be honored if you’d come listen in.”
“It is I who would be honored, Bradley,” Lexi said and followed the portly opera singer down the cobbled Baltimore street. Without a mind guide, in a human body, Lexi was more unsure than ever about her fate. Nothing seemed decided for her, as it had in that other life. The future ahead seemed an open road. And she figured she liked it that way.
Irma, meanwhile, spiraled backward, like a freight train with no brakes, caught in the tide of time.
She felt corporeal enough–could see her arms and legs waving as she was sucked back through time. She felt the years wind backward. Before long, she’d be back in the twentieth century, likely rotting in some insane asylum, or worse, in Hampton Roads, Virginia. That idea didn’t appeal to her at all.
So Irma put on the brakes and started planning the Explorer crew’s undoing.
They were out there, somewhere. She might have to cross space and time to destroy them, but they were out there.
When Captain Baxter’s away at a Starfleet conference on the eradication of the Starshine Kids, Conway and Peterman butt heads on certain command decisions. Peterman has no confidence in Conway’s command style, and Conway thinks Peterman’s a pet-loving freak. Forced to resort to public opinion to get command, Peterman puts the question of who should command to the people–the Explorer crew. Considering the two candidates, who would you vote for? And, while Peterman and Conway grapple for control of the ship, do Baxter, Velara, and J’hana get to figure out once and for all what exactly happened to Admiral McGrath? Log your votes and place your bets, on the next installment of ST: TVG,
“Imbalance of Power”