Author: Anthony Butler
First Officer’s Log,
Stardate 54788.3. While Captain Baxter and Lt. Commander J’hana attend a special Starfleet conference on the eradication of the Starshine Kids, I’ve been left to command the Explorer through a series of boring ion storm studies. Whoopdidoo.
“Scrambled eggs, David. And a bunch of grapes. And two pieces of toast. Light this time, you imbecile. NOT burnt to a crisp like last time!”
Commander Conway sighed and shuffled off to the replicator station, tying his robe and tossing Bucky the Welsh corgi his rubber ball along the way.
“Computer…Tyra zero three four. Adjust toast to one-half burn,” Conway said, and watched the meal fizzle into place in the replicator slot. As usual, it appeared accompanied by a large mug of coffee; Conway had long ago programmed his replicator to make him a mug of coffee with every usage, and if he didn’t use the replicator for more than an hour, it made a mug of coffee anyway.
Conway grabbed the meal tray and the mug and turned back, defeated, to the bedroom. Tyra had grown more and more difficult over the last few months. This love of his was like a prison. He longed for the days when it was just he and Bucky, alone together, drinking coffee, eating kibble, and watching the vidivision.
As Conway passed the door to his quarters, the call buzzed.
He sighed again. “What.”
“It’s Counselor Peterman. It’s very important, David.”
Conway grimaced. “Just a minute.” He shuffled back into his bedroom and sat the meal tray down over Tyra Shar’s lap. “Here you go…ugh…dinky-doll.”
“Who was that?” Tyra demanded, shoving toast into her mouth.
“Counselor Peterman. She wants to talk to me about something.”
“Tell her it’s 0700 and that you’ll see her when you go on duty at 8.”
“I was just about to do that.”
“Well get me more toast when you go. This is too light.”
Conway marched out to his front door, sucking ruefully from his coffee mug, and keyed the door open.
Peterman stood there in a singed nightgown, hair a wiry mess. She tapped her foot angrily.
“Do you notice anything different about me?”
Conway chuckled dryly. “Doing something different with your hair?”
“Not exactly. A power conduit over my bed ruptured and poured sparks down on me this morning. I don’t know about you, but I prefer an alarm clock.”
“Maintenance is two decks down,” Conway muttered, and moved to close the door.
Peterman shot out an arm to stop him. “I already talked to maintenance.”
“And Ensign Yobst told me he’d get to it when he was darned good and ready.”
“Then you have your answer.”
“So not only is our maintenance staff disrespectful, they’re obviously not very competent. Power conduits shouldn’t be exploding unless we’re in combat, and then only a little bit!”
“Can we pick this up at the morning staff meeting?” Conway mumbled. “I’ve got a…Tyra’s waiting for me.”
“Oh, yes. Your dysfunctional little relationship. Well, Commander, I wish I could let you give that priority, but in my husband’s absence, you have a ship to run. I expect it to be run somewhat competently. Get down to maintenance and knock some heads around, or I will!”
“Hey, wait one second!” Conway snarled. Bucky was yipping.
“Don’t forget who rescued you from a Rigellian petting zoo, little guy!” Peterman said, waving a finger at Bucky.
“Look,” Conway said, “you’re forgetting who’s in command here. I’ll talk to maintenance when and if I’m good and ready. Got it?”
“Fine. I’ll take care of it myself.”
“I was executive officer of this ship for a whole week! I know how to lead.”
“Sure you do,” Conway said, and turned back toward the bedroom. “Come on, Bucky.”
“Things are going to change around here, mister!” Peterman called after him.
“Sure they will. Don’t let the door close on you.”
“Ooooh!” Peterman shrieked.
Captain Baxter chuckled nervously. “Really, Mr. Vsinth. I didn’t realize you had a nephew in the Starshine organization. That’s quite amusing. Did he enjoy it?”
Vsinth, an eight foot tall Gregarian, noded his massive, tassled head. “Verrrry much soooo, Capppptain. He missssess it, evven.”
“What do you know.” Baxter looked around the buffet table for some sign of J’hana. “I’m intrigued about what your family holidays were like.”
“Fillllled wwwwwwith shinyyyyyy funnnnn,” droned Vsinth. “But nooooot anymooore, thankkkkks to youuuuu.”
Baxter reached to grab a dollop of crab dip to put on his plate, and while doing so, lightly tapped his communicator with his other hand. “Well, it was really more the Starfleet’s shadow government’s doing. But I can’t talk about that, of course. Why don’t you fill out a complaint form? I’m sure Starfleet will look it over.”
Vsinth advanced on Baxter. “But here youuuuuuu arrrrre, getttttting alllll the crrrrredit for it!”
“Hey, Telvin’s the one that’s writing a book on it,” Baxter mumbled. “Hey. I wonder where my good friend J’hana is. She’d love to hear about this discussion.” Baxter raised his voice. “Good old J’hana. Wish she was here with me, by the buffet, near the crab dip!”
“Letttt’s taaaake this outtttsidddde,” Vsinth said, clamping a long-fingered hand down on Baxter’s shoulder.
“But…Mr. Vsinth! We’re on a Starbase. Outside is…uh…space!”
Oh, right. Gregarians were impervious to vacuum. Lucky for them.
“You wanted me?” J’hana said dully. Baxter turned to see her behind him, zipping up her uniform.
“Where were you?” Baxter hissed between clenched teeth.
“None of your business. What seems to be the problem? Or did you just call me to chat?”
“You’re supposed to be assisting me!”
“Napkins are right over there, sir.” J’hana pointed.
Baxter turned back to Vsinth. “Mr. Vsinth. Allow me to introduce my security chief, Lt. Commander J’hana, of the Ninth Hive of Andor. Master of, uh, several different types of combat.”
“Seven hundred, now that I’ve learned Tae-Bo,” J’hana said, and smiled. “Mr. Vsinth, pleased to meet you.” She extended a hand.
Vsinth slapped her hand away. “Starrrrrrrfleeeeet wrecked myyyyyy fammmilly!”
“Be that as it may, I hope you’re enjoying the conference,” J’hana said diplomatically.
“I ammmmmm nottttttt!”
“I’ll leave you two to your discussion,” Baxter said, backing away. “I’m going to go get some napkins. J’hana, I’ll meet you back at our table.”
Baxter hurried over to his table near the front of the banquet hall, careful not to spill his hefty plate of buffet food. He sat down at the circular table and quickly began eating.
“Ah, Captain Baxter,” a weaselly British voice said, and he looked up.
“Oh, sh**,” Baxter mumbled. “I mean, hello Dr. Bashir. Nice to see you again.”
“Pleased, as always,” Bashir said. “And where is that stunning wife of yours?”
“Back on my ship,” Baxter muttered and resumed eating. Thank goodness Kelly was back on the ship, too. Why on Earth did Starfleet sit him with that windbag? The only way they could have wronged him more was to sit him with…
“There is no prune juice here,” Worf said gutterally, and sat down beside Baxter. “What kind of banquet does not serve prune juice? It is not even in the replicator files.”
“Poor Worf,” Bashir said, shaking his head. “You should try the couscous. It’s excellent.”
Worf pounded the table. “Not without prune juice!”
“I think I’m at the wrong table,” Baxter said, picked up his plate, and stood. “It’s been nice…uh, seeing you two again.”
“Your place card is right here,” Worf said.
“Really? You know what…I think I hear J’hana calling me.” Baxter turned to come face to face with Commodore Velara.
“Commodore!” Baxter shrieked, nearly dropping his plate.
“I am sorry I am late. I had a meeting on Bolarus,” Velara said. “How was day one of the conference?”
Baxter fumbled with his plate a moment. “Informative.”
“Is this your table?”
“That is it! Out the airlock with you you Starshine- sympathizing fharquar!”
Baxter, along with the 200-some others in the banquet hall, turned to see J’hana shove Mr. Vsinth bodily out of the double- doored entrance.
“That crazy Andorian,” Baxter chuckled.
“There is nothing to see here!” J’hana called. “Continue eating and making pointless conversation. I will return momentarily!”
“She’s a great officer to have around,” Baxter said. “Commodore, shall we sit?”
Velara watched as J’hana left the hall and slammed the twin doors behind her. “Um…of course.”
Baxter scooched Velara into the seat beside Worf to make a nice buffer zone. “So, Commodore. Tell us about Bolarus.”
“It was hot,” Velara said.
“Are you hungry?” Dr. Bashir asked. “They have great crab dip up there.”
“No thank you.”
“How did you get here?” Baxter asked. Please, don’t say the Pathfinder, he thought to himself, crossing his fingers under the table.
“Transport ship,” Velara replied.
“Thank goodness,” replied Baxter.
“For transport ships!” Baxter said, and looked to Worf. “Ah, Mr. Worf! How about that old Dominion war, huh?”
“What about it?”
“Those were some great times, weren’t they?”
“How would you know? You were off cowering in the Delta quadrant for most of it!”
“How astute of you to remember,” Baxter said. “But, in point of fact, I was here for an entire year of it. Oh, those old five-twos! I particularly liked 52504.”
“Our records indicate the Explorer saw no action in the Dominion war,” Velara said, looking primly from Baxter to Worf.
“And why not?” asked Bashir from his seat beside Baxter.
“G-good question,” Baxter said, tugging on the collar of his uniform. “One that could best be answered by Admiral McGrath, the former director of the Explorer Project. He deployed us where he saw fit. But really, there had to be at least one starship out exploring while the rest of you guys fought it out with the big bad ‘D,’ right?”
“Your starship WAS equipped with quantum torpedoes,” Worf said bluntly, and folded his arms.
“Again, Admiral McGrath is really the best person to speak on that,” Baxter said. “Unfortunately, he’s been missing for the better part of a year.”
“He left Starfleet to walk the Earth,” explained Velara.
“Too bad he can’t explain everything to you guys,” Baxter said. “So, how about that crab dip?”
J’hana sat down beside Baxter. One antenna was slightly bent, and she had a dark-blue bruise around her eye. “Pass the salt,” she said hoarsely.
“You okay?” Baxter whispered.
“Never tussle with a Gregarian, Captain.”
Former-Admiral Frank J. McGrath watched ruefully from the balcony overlooking Starbase 318’s glorious Bruce Willis Banquet Hall.
“Look at her. Just eating up the attention.” McGrath watched as Commodore Velara perused the buffet. Finally, she took two small clams and a dish of clear soup. “What a smug Vulcan. Thinks she can fill my shoes, eh?”
McGrath grimaced. “Why didn’t I just try to get my job back, when they re-instated the project?” Why indeed. McGrath thought about it, but just couldn’t work up the nerve. That, and he was fishing in the Great Lakes at the time. Those boat reservations are non-refundable.
McGrath gritted his teeth. Velara was chatting with a dignitary from Cleomus Two. She arched an eyebrow at something, and the winged diplomat chuckled uproariously. That little suck- up.
McGrath’s eyes wandered the banquet hall, finally fell on a familiar face. “Ah! She’s here! Perfect!”
Lt. Beth Monroe weaved her way in between the round tables to get to Commodore Velara. She carried a padd filled with updated troop movements in the Finigus sector, as well as a list of all-new shield modulations for the Pathfinder and Explorer. With Admiral McGrath, she had been a trusted advisor and assistant. With Velara, she was relegated to nothing more than an errand girl. And the conversations were SO boring!
She had nearly reached Velara when she heard a whistle from behind her. She turned.
The tiny, gray-haired man stood by a door, what looked like the janatorial entrance. He shook his head, put a quieting finger to his lips. Then he waved for her to follow him through the door.
Monroe glanced over her shoulder at Velara, then shrugged and headed for the door. The Vulcan hadn’t seen her approach yet, and besides, she was more than a little curious as to what McGrath had been up to for the past ten months.
Commander Conway jiggled a last bit of shower water out of his ear and stepped out of the turbolift onto the bridge.
“Sefelt,” he called to the ensign staning by the turbolift exit. “Coffee. Extra strong.” It was time for HIM to give the orders now. The bridge was HIS domain. Unlike, for instance, his quarters.
He stepped down to the command area to find Counselor Peterman perched in the command chair.
“Morning, Counselor,” he said. “Step aside.”
“Sorry. I can’t do that,” Peterman said. “Commander Larkin, why don’t you send a communique to the Versalan homeworld and tell them we’ll be a little late with that mineral survey. I saw on the news this morning that Finnarus Prime is having a problem with soafus poachers. I’m not sure what a soafus is, but I don’t want them poached on a Federation world and I think we should check it out. Poor animals.”
Conway blinked. “What do you mean you can’t do that?!?!?”
“I mean, I took command, as of this date.” Peterman handed Conway a padd. “Read it and weep.”
“I can’t believe this,” Conway said. “You’re not serious.”
“As serious as multi-infarct dementia, Commander. It’s Counselor’s prerogative.”
“Well,” Conway said, turning. “I’ll be in the readyroom. Larkin, raise Starfleet on–”
“I wouldn’t,” Peterman said. “Commodore Velara’s at a conference. As is Andy, who would side with me anyway. I’m in command until he gets back.”
“I’ll just talk to whoever’s next in command over there,” Conway said, and kept walking back toward the readyroom.
Peterman turned lazily in the command chair. “And that would be Commander Betty Lockart. Owner of a prize shetland collie and pet enthusiast. I already spoke to her.”
“Ah ah ah!” Peterman said, waving a warning finger. “It’s not nice to insult a superior officer. Why don’t you go belowdecks and…recalibrate something.”
Conway marched down to face Peterman. “Oh no. I don’t give up that easily!”
“Why not?” Ford asked from the helm. “You give up that easily with Tyra!”
“You shut up!” Conway bellowed. “I’m sure as hell I still outrank you!”
“Not for long if you keep up with that disrespectful tone,” Peterman said tersely.
“Aw, Commander, I’m sure you’ll learn to love me. Anyway, it’s just another week and a half till Andy comes back and the chain of command is restored. Maybe.”
“What do you mean, ‘maybe’?”
“Well,” Peterman said, shifting her legs under her and clasping her hands over her knees. “Maybe I’ll do such a good job over this week and a half that Andy will promote me full-time to X.O. and move you down to third officer.”
Conway scowled. “Don’t hold your breath. I thought you hated command, anyway.”
“I did. But if I have a third officer to do all the nasty administrative tasks, I think I could get the hang of it.”
“Since when have you been so damned…evil?” Conway demanded.
“Since a power conduit exploded on me, Commander!” Peterman said shrilly. “Trust me. That’ll do it to ya!”
“Well. I’m going to fight this.”
“And what does that mean?”
Conway thought a moment, worked his jaw angrily. “I’m… I’m taking it to the people!”
“Oh, you don’t mean…”
“That’s right. Let’s ask the crew who THEY want to lead them for the next ten days.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Oh, I’m as serious as…obsessive compulsive disorder.”
Peterman giggled cruelly. “Well, then. I welcome it. I’ll beat you in a popularity contest anyday. I was Miss Congeniality back in high school.”
“My, how you’ve changed,” Conway grumbled, and trudged toward the turbolift.
Peterman pounded her fists on the command chair. “Oooooh!”
“I could lose my job for this, Admiral!”
“Be quiet and break the door open.”
Lt. Monroe reluctantly entered the combination to open up the entry hatch on the runabout Susquehanna. It was the same code as when she used to work aboard Explorer.
Monroe lead the way inside and sat down at the pilot’s console. “Now, I’m not sure what logs are backed up on the runabout computer.”
“Anything would help. I just need to know what’s going on around the old place.”
“Respectfully, sir,” Monroe said, as she worked at the console. “Why don’t you just ask Captain Baxter or Commodore Velara?”
“I don’t want to talk to them. It’s…it’s just been too long.”
“I’m honored you still feel like you can talk to me.”
“Tell me, Lieutenant,” McGrath said, and sat down by Monroe. “How have things been since I left? All I know is what I see on UKN.”
“That’s about all there is to know, sir. The Explorer’s done a good job staying out of the embarassing headlines. Except for that talk show thing. And the idiocy with the Nevaran kidnapping. And the Dean Wilcox thing…”
“Okay, okay, I get it,” McGrath said testily. He handed Monroe a padd. “Just download everything into this. No one needs to know we were here.”
“I honestly don’t understand why you don’t just come back to Starfleet. I know they’d be glad to have you.”
“It’s too late for that,” McGrath said. “Starfleet and I…we’ve grown apart now.”
“I don’t understand.”
Once the information was downloaded, McGrath swiped the padd. “No reason you should. Let’s get back to the conference center before they do another security sweep.”
Baxter, J’hana, and Velara stood in silence in the turbolift that took them up to the hotel section of Starbase 318.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” Velara said, breaking the silence.
“It was a matter of honor.”
“You broke Worf’s cranial ridge,” she said flatly.
“It was an accident,” Baxter said.
“It was a brawl.”
“A little scuffle over table manners,” Baxter said. “It happens all the time.”
“That’s a common utterance where your crew is concerned.”
“You weren’t complaining when we rid the quadrant of the Starshine Kids,” said Baxter.
“You’re not going to rest on that laurel for the rest of your Starfleet career, are you, Captain?” asked Velara.
Baxter floundered. “Well, I was thinking about it.”
“Don’t. The Explorer has far grander things ahead of it. Didn’t you realize the concept of this project was a man’s dream given form? A dream to explore, to search out and discover the answer to life’s mysteries?”
Baxter scratched his head. “Honestly, I haven’t given it much thought.”
The turbolift sighed to a halt and the trio stepped out.
“Where is your cabin?” J’hana asked Velara.
“Room 1929,” said Velara. “Ambassadorial Suites.”
“Figures,” Baxter said. “They put J’hana and me in the Administrative Assistant wing.”
“My apologies,” Velara said. “If you’ll excuse me, I must go look for my own assistant.”
“Lieutenant Monroe?” Baxter asked. “I’d be glad to see her too.”
“The feeling, I believe, is not mutual.”
“Oh…she’s still upset about that…thing with Kelly’s puma. I assure you, Commander, the trainers assured us that the puma was friendly. Anyway, that happened two years ago!”
“She is still in counseling about it,” Velara said dryly. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
“Sure,” Baxter said. He and J’hana walked down the corridor toward their adjacent rooms.
“Worf did not say ‘please,’ when he asked for the tobasco,” J’hana said after a few moments of silence.
“I didn’t say anything,” Baxter said. “I’m fully behind you.”
“You should be. I fight your battles for you.”
“Like a good security officer. And you know I’m thankful for it. I say as much every year in my Zorax Day card.”
“It would not hurt for you to mention it when it is not Zorax day. Although I may hide them, I do have feelings, sir.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Baxter said, and keyed open the door to his quarters. “At any rate, thanks. Okay?”
“I need not be thanked. Looking after your welfare is my job. And a tiring job it is.”
“Right. Anyway, goodnight.” Baxter ducked into his room as J’hana walked off and found Admiral Frank McGrath waiting for him, seated comfortably in one of the wingback chairs facing the balcony.
“Andy, can we talk?”
Lt. Hartley answered the door to Mirk’s quarters dressed as a large bunch of concorde grapes.
“Lieutenant?” Conway asked, peeking around her bulbous costume.
“I don’t want to hear it,” she muttered. “What do you want?”
“I want to speak to Mirk.”
“Fine.” She stepped aside. “Mirkle. Commander Conway’s here to talk to you.”
Mirk stepped out of the bedroom wearing a red-collared Starfleet uniform and commander’s pips.
“Mirk?” Conway asked. “What the hell are you doing in a Starfleet uniform? That’s illegal!”
“Only if I wear it in public,” Mirk said. “This is Megan’s fantasy. The grapes, likewise, are mine. We’re just having a bit of fun.”
“Yeah, fun,” Hartley said, and grinned. “Oh, Mirk, where’s your beard?”
“Right, beard,” Mirk sighed, and blinked. Instantly, a beard appeared around his face.
“Niiiice,” Hartley grinned. “Make it quick, Commander.”
Conway grumbled something to himself, then addressed Mirk. “I need your help.”
“I’m always glad to assist, Commander. What do you need?”
“Counselor Peterman and I are both running for C.O. of the Explorer. Elections are tomorrow night.”
“I heard,” Mirk said worriedly.
“Anyway, I want you to be my campaign manager. You got a whole religion on its feet. Sort of. I figured you’d be the ideal person to help me.”
“No can do, Commander. Counselor Peterman asked me first,” Mirk said.
“I could always manage your campaign,” Hartley said, and fell down laughing.
Conway smouldered. “Well, thanks for nothing.”
“Don’t mention it!” Mirk said, and waved as Conway spun on a heel and left his quarters. “Now where were we?” he asked, pouncing on Hartley.
“We were about to harvest some grapes, Mirk. Or should I say…Will!”
“Who the heck is Will?”
“Nobody. Just start plucking!”
J’hana growled a sigh and beat again on Captain Baxter’s door. “Captain, we are going to be late for the continental breakfast. The information sheet says its starts promptly at oh- eight hundred. Do I have to break the door down and drag you out of there? Need I remind you that there are free muffins at this engagement?”
Finally, the door to Baxter’s cabin slid open.
Baxter stepped out, still in his uniform from the day previous. J’hana could tell because there was still a blot of yellow couscous on the collar.
“You seem disheveled, sir,” J’hana said.
“That doesn’t even begin to cover it,” Baxter said hoarsely, bracing his arm against the doorframe. “I–”
Suddenly former-Admiral Frank McGrath ducked under Baxter’s arm and trotted out into the corridor.
“Let’s get some of that breakfast.”
“Is there something you would like to tell me, Captain?” asked J’hana.
“You don’t miss a beat, do you?” Baxter said, running his fingers through his hair to try and arrange it into some kind of part.
“Seldom, sir,” J’hana said. “What is Admiral McGrath doing here?”
“He wanted to reminisce about the Explorer. He rattled on all night long. It was miserable.”
Baxter gestured for J’hana to lead the way down the corridor. “He knew things about the Explorer that he shouldn’t have known. Recent things.”
“The time we accidentally poisoned all the water on Vansock Three.”
“That was a classified report. And quite an embarassing one, too.”
“Exactly. Look into it.”
Commander Conway felt like an idiot, but he plunked the doorchime anyway.
“Coming,” came the voice from within.
The doors parted to reveal Dr. Janice Browning, wearing a bland grey sweatsuit. Her hair was piled atop her head in a messy bun.
“Oh, Commander!” Browning exclaimed. “Good to have you here! What can I do for you? You remember Plato, right?” Browning jerked her head to her left to indicate Plato, and Commander Conway’s eyes nearly shot out of his head.
“Plato!” said Conway. “That boy looks eight years old!”
Indeed, Plato looked years older than when Conway had seen him last, which was just the previous week.
“Hi there, Commander Conway,” said Plato. He was dressed in a pair of overalls and wore a backwards Dallas Cowboys cap over his tuft of blond hair. Probably a gift from Baxter, intended to be worn several years down the road.
“Isn’t this a pleasant surprise?” Browning asked. She seemed wired.
“Doctor,” Conway said. “I can tell that look on anyone. You’ve been drinking coffee. And lots of it by the look of you.” “Can ya tell, can ya tell?” Browning asked, and ushered Conway onto her couch. “I’ve been drinking it by the barrelful all morning, since I found him this way.”
“He woke up…seven years older?” Conway asked, scratching his head.
Browning plopped down on the couch by Conway and nodded vigorously. “Yep yep yeppers. What to do, what to do?”
“I’d say a medical workup would be a good start.”
“Know any good doctors?” Browning asked, and laughed uproariously.
Conway began to stand. “Listen, Doc…uh, Janice. I think I’ve come at a bad time. I’ll just be–”
Browning jerked him back down onto the couch with the strength of ten men. “Don’t leave me alone with him!”
“Janice,” Conway said, staring at the boy. He stood there, smiling, watching Browning and Conway like an alien. “I’m really not qualified…” he was about to say, “Maybe you should talk to Counselor Peterman,” but he bit his tongue. “But I’ll do my darnedest to make sure your son is healthy and well looked-after.”
“You’re the best,” Browning said, and kissed Conway on the cheek. “Now watch him. I need a shower.”
And Browning was off to the bathroom.
“By the way,” Conway said softly. “Would you mind managing my bid for the ship’s popularity contest?” He then realized that Plato was staring at him, holding a large blue Federation blanket.
“Hello,” Conway said, and waved at Plato.
“Your face is ugly,” Plato said, and giggled, and ran over to stomp on Conway’s foot.
“You must have your daddy’s temperment,” Conway said, grimacing as the heel of Plato’s bootie dug into his foot.
Admiral McGrath sat at the breakfast table, devouring cruellers at an alarming rate, as Dr. Julian Bashir chatted about Romulan interrogation techniques.
“They tried to get the information out of me, but I said nothing,” Bashir said, sipping from his teacup. “I held firm.”
“You held firm because you were engineered that way,” grumbled Worf, who of course drank prune juice. “Discipline had nothing to do with it.”
“How would you know? You weren’t there.”
“You could not have acted with discipline because you have none.”
“Here we go again.” Bashir rolled his eyes. He glanced at Velara, who sat at the table, fingers steepled, eyes vacant. “What about you, Commodore? What is your take on Romulan interrogation procedures?”
Velara’s eyes gradually focused. “I am meditating, Doctor.”
“Right, right,” Bashir said. “Well, would anyone like more tea or coffee?”
“More cruellers,” McGrath said, wiping frosting off his mouth.
“Right. More cruellers. I’ll be back in a flash.”
Captain Baxter sat down at the table heavily. J’hana hovered behind him, looking amused.
“Commodore,” Baxter said, looking to Velara.
She glanced sideways at Baxter. “Captain, I am meditating.”
“Right. Well, we have a problem. Where’s Lieutenant Monroe?”
“Can this possibly wait? I find I have trouble dealing with you and your crew if I do not get at least an hour of meditation per day.”
“It can’t wait.” Baxter looked to McGrath. “It seems your assistant snuck Admiral McGrath into the Susquehanna and gave him access to some of the Explorer’s classified files.”
Velara turned to look at Baxter, her attention brought totally back to bear. “I see. That is disturbing indeed.”
McGrath looked up from his cruellers. “I was just curious.”
“Curious as a spy,” J’hana glowered.
Baxter held a hand up to shut J’hana up. “Now, then. We’re not accusing Mr. McGrath of being a spy. We just don’t take kindly to having our records invaded.”
Velara looked to McGrath. “That is some cause for concern.”
“What did you find?” Worf asked McGrath.
McGrath wiped his mouth and turned to Worf, his eyes wide. “Oh, a whole LOT! Let me begin with the Fasson Four disaster!”
Baxter scrambled across the table and slammed a hand over McGrath’s mouth, which was grimy with frosting. “That’s enough, Admiral! You’re going to…make Mister Worf jealous.”
“That,” Worf said heavily, “is unlikely.”
“Kristen. Come out here and look at this,” Lt. Commander Richards said, standing in front of the viewscreen in his office down in engineering.
Lt. Commander Kristen Larkin walked in, fresh from recalibrating the bridge ODN interfaces. “Yes, father?”
Richards pointed at the viewscreen.
On the screen, Counselor Peterman was lying in a bed of flowers, surrounded by a litter of happy yellow puppy dogs.
“Sincerity. Integrity. Trust. Loveability. Commander Kelly Peterman posesses these traits and more.” It was Mirk’s voice.
Richards crinkled his nose. “What is this crap?”
“Commander David Conway, on the other hand,” the voice continued, as the image switched to a slow-motion view of Commander Conway walking down an Explorer corridor with a determined look on his face, “is a cruel, calculating, crude man with previous records of substance abuse and insubordination. He doesn’t have the crew of this ship in his best interests. He just wants power, and lots of it.”
“I have heard about this,” said Larkin. “Unfortunately.”
The image switched again to Counselor Peterman, who was seated in the comfy, plush pink chair she often sat in during therapy sessions. “I’m not a command officer like Commander Conway. I’m trained to help people. To know them, and give them comfort when they’re in pain. Isn’t that what a good ship commander should do? Give me a chance to command the Explorer, and I promise each member of the ship will have a voice in on- board policy. All Commander Conway can guarantee you is more of the same doddering, incompetent, foolhardy decision-making that you’ve been accustomed to.
“So vote for Kelly Peterman for Executive Officer when you go into the booths tonight,” said Mirk’s voice. “You’ll be glad you did.”
“Paid for by Peterman for Command ‘77,” said another voice, probably Hartley’s.
“We’re going into booths?” Richards asked, scratching his head and sitting down behind his desk.
Larkin clasped her hands behind her back. “Apparently. In the captain’s abscence, both Counselor Peterman and Commander Conway have decided to make command a democratic affair.”
“It’s certainly a new approach,” Richards said. “Who are you going to vote for?”
“That is confidential, father.”
“You’re really taking this seriously.”
“I am. We are voting for the commander of this ship for the next week, and possibly longer. Is that not an important decision?”
“Sure is, when you put it that way,” said Richards. “Anyway, it’s really obvious who should get the job, right?”
“Correct,” Larkin said, and left.
“That little bitch!” Conway exclaimed, and pounded his desk in frustration.
Dr. Browning sat across the desk in Conway’s office, with Plato on her lap. Plato giggled at Conway.
“He’s a silly man!”
“Yes he is,” Browning said. “A silly man who uses inappropriate language around children. Naughty, Commander. Keep that up and I’ll stop helping you keep command.”
“You haven’t started yet!”
“A minor detail.” Browning sat Plato down. “Okay, Plato. Mommy needs to get to work. Go play with some of those NASCARS over there.”
Plato tottered off toward the glass shelf where all of Commander Conway’s prize collectible NASCARS sat, flooded by attractive track lighting.
“Uh…Doctor…” Conway said quietly, and winced as Plato slammed two cars together.
“Watch out! There’s a wreck on the track!” Plato cried, and flipped Dale Earnhardt’s 2017 “Outracing the Grim Reaper” car. He rammed two other cars into each other on the plush carpeting of Conway’s floor.
“Well,” Browning said, pulling out a padd. “Let’s get to work!”
Conway closed his eyes as Plato bashed his beloved cars. “This better be worth it.”
“Oh. It will be. What are you running for again?”
Conway bashed his head into his desk.
“First, let me thank you for meeting with us,” Commodore Velara said, pacing the conference room the starbase had so graciously provided for her. She circled the table, where McGrath, Baxter, J’hana, and Monroe were seated.
“I don’t think I had much of a choice,” said McGrath.
Across from him, J’hana cracked her knuckles. “Indeed, you did not.”
“At any rate,” said Velara, “we are here to discuss an amicable way out of this situation.”
“It’s not as if he’s a spy, Commodore,” Monroe said.
“You will be quiet,” Velara replied. “You should be content that I have not court martialed you.”
“Yes, sir,” Monroe said, and looked down at the table.
“Now, the way I figure it,” Baxter said. “We just need to have the former admiral here sign something promising he won’t release any of this, uh, sensitive information about the Explorer’s escapades.”
Velara arched an eyebrow. “Indeed that information isn’t any more sensitive than the damaging information he already knew. Someone should have thought to have Mister McGrath sign something like that earlier.”
“He disappeared. What did you expect us to do?” asked Baxter.
“Mister McGrath loves Starfleet, and the Explorer project,” said Monroe. “He’d never do anything to hurt it.”
“What did I tell you?” Velara asked mildly.
“Just so you know,” McGrath said, “that’s not altogether true. Sure, once upon a time I thought the Explorer project was fantastic. I came up with it, after all. But it got…” McGrath looked at Baxter. “All messed up.”
Baxter looked around the table. “Why is everyone looking at me?”
“So what if I talk to people about the way Captain Baxter accidentally released a horrible virus on the people of Ananthi Twelve?”
“It was just acne!” retorted Baxter.
“In point of fact, you cannot embarass us any more than we have already been embarassed,” said Velara. “The senior staff’s recent appearance on a… tabloid talk show…is proof of that.”
“Still…” grumbled J’hana. “We need to keep you quiet.” The Andorian slid a padd across to McGrath. “Sign it, little man.”
“Sure thing!” McGrath exclaimed, and tapped away on the padd. “Is that all?”
“I suppose,” said Velara. “What do you propose to do with yourself now, Mr. McGrath?”
“Well, I already walked the Earth,” he mused. “Maybe now I’ll go walk another planet. I hear Vulcan is lovely this time of year.”
Velara gritted her teeth. “It is not.”
“Whatever. I’ll just be going now!” McGrath exclaimed, and trotted gaily out of the conference room.
Baxter smiled and folded his arms with satisfaction. “There you go, Velara. Problem solved.”
“Indeed.” Velara picked up the confedentiality padd McGrath had signed. “Hmm.”
“What?” asked Baxter.
“He signed it ‘Cinderella.’”
Lt. Commander Tilleran stepped out of the bathroom wrapped in a terrycloth robe, prepared for a nice afternoon of rest and contemplation.
She sat down on her couch, leaned back, put her feet up on her coffeetable and
“THIS IS A CALL TO ACTION!” boomed David Conway’s voice in her ears.
She shot up on the couch, thinking at first that Conway was in her living room, screaming right in her face.
That would have at least made it easy for her to stab his eyes out with her fingers. As it was, Commander Conway was on her viewscreen, smiling warmly from the command chair on the bridge. He must have forced his way on her screen, and probably every other screen on the ship. Tilleran had heard from Hartley about this when she went off-duty.
“Sorry to interrupt your day,” Conway’s voice said, a notch softer now. “But this message is too important for anyone to miss. I want to talk to you about something very important. And no, I don’t mean command of the Explorer.”
“You don’t?” Tilleran asked, genuinely surprised.
“No, I want to talk about something more important.” Conway waved at something or someone off camera. Immediately, a small blond child that Tilleran was unfamiliar with toddled over and jumped onto Conway’s lap. He let out a small “oof!”
“I want to talk about family,” Conway went on. “This is, after all, a ship of families. Right, Plato?”
“Right, Commander Conway.” Conway wispered something into the child’s ear. “I mean, Uncle Dave!”
“That’s right,” Conway grinned. “Just call me Uncle Dave, friend to all the children on the Explorer. Even children of unwed mothers, like Plato here. While Counselor Peterman rolls around on the ground with little puppies and smears my good name, I’ll only tell you this: I’ll do whatever it takes to make the Explorer a safe place for all families. My first order of business will be to rid this ship of certain dangers. Dangers like fierce animals that are known to roam the corridors and wreak havoc on all the unwitting crewmembers of this ship. The …certain person who owns these animals…has subjected this crew to attacks from savage lions, pumas, Alaskan malamutes, and golden retrievers for far too long. As your Commander, I pledge to find a wildlife refuge for these animals. Little children like Plato shouldn’t have to roam the corridors in fear.”
Tilleran scrubbed a hand down her face. “This has got to be a joke.”
“So join me and the children of this ship in making the Explorer a better place for all of us. Vote Conway in ‘77!”
Suddenly, half a dozen kindergarten-aged children poured in from either side of video image, all nestling around Conway in the command chair. They began singing, swaying gently from side to side. Conway joined in:
“Heal the ship, make it a better place, for you and for me and the entire human race!”
The image switched to a full-color photo of Conway, giving a “thumbs up.” Under that image were the words “CONWAY FOR COMMAND IN ‘77. PAID FOR BY THE CONWAY FOR COMMANDER ‘77 COMMITTEE.”
Tilleran sighed. “I want a transfer.”
Velara and Monroe accompanied Baxter and J’hana down the corridor to the shuttlebay where the Susquehanna was docked.
“This has been a most interesting conference,” Velara said quietly. “Interesting, meaning disturbing.”
“I wonder where Mr. McGrath is,” Baxter mused. “I figured he’d at least stick around to say goodbye.”
“About the former Admiral,” Velara said, and the group stopped at the doors to the shuttlebay. “As the sister of a psychologist, albeit an incompetent one, I can tell you the man has serious mental problems.”
“I could have told you that,” Monroe said. “He’s been weird ever since I started working for him.”
Velara turned on Monroe. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“The guy was three years from retirement. I didn’t want his golden years to be spent in a rehabilitation facility.”
“So instead you have let him roam free around the Federation, where he can do untold harm to himself and others.”
“It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“You have disappointed me, Lieutenant,” Velara said dryly. “And to think, he only worked with the Explorer project for two years.”
“Maybe you’ll go crazy too,” Monroe said with a giggle.
Velara narrowed her eyes at Monroe. “Now is not the time for levity.”
“I wasn’t kidding,” said Monroe under her breath.
Velara shook her head. “I am beginning to think my appointment to this position was a mistake.” She turned to Baxter. “At any rate, Captain, have a pleasant journey back to your ship.”
“Uh, thanks,” Baxter said. “How are you guys getting back to Earth?”
“The Pathfinder has arrived to pick us up,” Velara replied.
“Well, give my mom and dad my regards,” said Baxter.
“What sort of regards?”
Baxter shrugged. “The bare minimum will be fine.”
“Kids of all ages! Come get your picture taken with Uncle Dave! One free NASCAR toy per customer! Free balloons!”
The loudspeakers in Ship’s Shoppes, the Explorer’s mall, boomed even in Janice Browning’s restaurant, Space Tastes.
Browning was seated at one of the tables, counting the day’s latinum and credits.
Counselor Peterman stuck her head in the door. “Janice?”
“We’ll be open for dinner in ten minutes,” Browning said, not looking up from her counting.
Peterman stepped in. “That’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Oh? What then?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Peterman walked over and sat down opposite Browning. “This little matter of…YOU SIDING AGAINST ME!”
“It’s nothing personal, Kelly. Dave needed my help. Besides, he’s so cute when he’s spiteful!”
Peterman shook her head. “You’re still messed up over him!”
“Nah. I just like being in the thick of things. Besides, you have an advisor of your own.”
“Yes. Mirk has been in his quarters all day with Lt. Hartley. All he did was make those stupid commercials. And he had one of his waitstaff make up flyers and bumperstickers.”
“Stickers that go on bumpers. The history books said they were really popular during election season.”
Browning looked up from her counting. “But what’s a bumper?”
“Damned if I know. We’ve been sticking them on the back of the shuttlecraft.”
“Commander Conway is getting quite a following down there,” Peterman noticed, glancing out Space Taste’s window. “And except for the kid who vomited on him, the event has gone off without a hitch. Not that I’ve been paying it much attention.”
“You worried you’re going to lose!” Browning smiled cattily.
Peterman folded her arms. “Not at all. I was just giving you one more chance to switch to the winning side and keep your dignity.”
“Maybe it’s you that should be switching and keeping, Counselor!” Browning said.
“Just get out of my restaurant!”
“You’ve really lost it, Janice,” Peterman said, and backed out of the swinging glass door.
Browning looked down at the stack of latinum and credits on the table. “Lost it. Yeah, right. Ooohh…I better go see if the blimp is ready.”
“Time to rendez-vous with the Explorer?” Baxter asked, stepping out from the aft compartment of the Susquehanna and joining J’hana in the cockpit. They had just left Starbase 318’s solar system.
“Three days, four hours,” J’hana replied, tapping at the pilot’s console.
“Good. I’ll be glad to get back there and see how things have been going. I feel like I’ve really been missing out the past several days.”
“Not likely, sir.”
Baxter sat down by J’hana. “Maybe you’re right.”
The two sat in silence for a moment, enjoying the thrum of the Susquehanna’s engines and the bleep of the controls.
Baxter glanced behind him. “What was that?”
J’hana’s antennae twitched. “A storage cabinet in the aft compartment was opened.”
“Did it just open by itself?”
“Doubtful. Take the helm, sir.” J’hana stood and unholstered her phaser. “This will take just a moment.”
J’hana crept out of the cockpit and Baxter watched the controls. It was probably just the ship’s contents shifting during flight or something.
“Ouch! Let me go! Leggo!”
Baxter whirled in his chair. J’hana dragged Frank McGrath, kicking and screaming, into the cockpit.
“Admiral!” Baxter exclaimed.
McGrath wriggled and squirmed in J’hana’s unbreakable grasp. “I wanted to join you, Andy! I wanted to join your crew!”
Baxter covered his face, mumbling “No no no.”
“I could be a tactical officer! Or an engineer! Just let me explore space with you! Let me boldly go! I want to go boldly! Just give me a chance!”
J’hana grimaced at the diminutive former admiral. “Shall I kill him, Captain?”
“No,” Baxter said, and reached for a medkit under the piloting console. He pulled out a hypospray. “Just hold him still.” Baxter stood and approached McGrath.
“I’m a spaceman! I want to go explore space! I’m Zefram Cochrane! I’m James Kirk! I’m the Voyager spaceprobe! I’m the planet Mars!” McGrath was wriggling around, his eyes wide with excitment.
“Yes, all that and more,” Baxter mumbled, and plunged the hypospray into McGrath’s neck. The little man fell limp.
“That was a surprise,” J’hana said, looking down at the unconscious McGrath.
Baxter scratched his head and looked down at McGrath. “Poor guy. Losing the Explorer must have driven him totally batty.”
“Yes,” J’hana said, her lower lip trembling with the urge to laugh. “I am sure that’s what it was.” More likely, it was COMMANDING the Explorer project that robbed every last iota of the poor former admiral’s sanity.
“Well,” asked Baxter, “how soon can we get to the nutfarm on Tantalus?”
“Not soon enough,” J’hana said quickly and sat down at the controls.
Interim Ship Commander’s Log, Kelly Peterman reporting,
Stardate 54789.6. I’ve just been informed that Captain Baxter is going to be a bit late returning from his conference, because he had to have the former director of the Explorer project committed to a rehabilitation colony. In other news, elections are tonight. Wish me luck, computer!
Mirk paced the packed arena. “I feel really bad about this.”
Hartley stroked his chin lovingly. “Don’t worry about a thing, Mirkle. Your candidate is going to win. This debate is just a formality.”
“Because she’s the best woman of the job?” Mirk asked hoarsely, straightening his knee-length jacket and large bow-tie.
“Heavens no. Because you’re managing her campaign.”
“Glad we have that straight. Look at all these people. It’s amazing what the promise of a free round of drinks will do.”
“That’s not all they were promised,” Dr. Browning said, strolling up behind Mirk. “Glad to see you, loser. I mean…Mirk.”
“Doctor?” Mirk asked. “What’s gotten into you?”
Browning blinked. “What do you mean?”
“You’ve seemed so…competitive lately.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“You spraypainted ‘Peterman sucks’ all over the doors to the rec room,” Hartley said.
“No one can prove I did that,” Browning said, a wild look in her eyes.
“Well, anyway, I’ll bite,” said Mirk. “How did you get all these people here?”
“By promising them each a free ride in the ‘Vote Conway’ blimp.”
“That’s cute,” Hartley said. “But I doubt it’s spaceworthy.”
Browning approached Hartley. “Oh, it’s spaceworthy, all right.”
Hartley inched closer to Browning. “Prove it.”
Browning grinned cattily. “Screen on. Forward view.”
Hartley turned to the large viewscreen at the front of the arena. Everyone cheered as a large, grey blimp with Commander Conway’s face, big as life, plastered all over it, along with the blinking electronic words “Vote Conway in ‘77 – Power and Confidence.”
“How in the hell did you do that?” Hartley exclaimed. Mirk just watched in awe.
“I have a friend who’s an engineer,” Browning said. “Actually, Chief Engineer.”
Hartley clenched her fist. “Richards!” She turned to Mirk. “Hon, you have got to retaliate!”
Mirk was still transfixed on the screen. “What do you mean?”
“Your powers, damn it!”
“That’s not ethical, honeychops.”
“Spraypaint is not ethical either!” shrieked Hartley.
“Why is everyone getting so worked up over this?” Mirk asked. “It’s just a silly election. Whoever wins will be in command for only a few days.”
“Yes,” Browning said. “But if my candidate gets elected, and he will, he will do things for this ship in a few days that you can’t even imagine!”
“Are you kidding?” asked Mirk. “He’s been in command many times in the last four years. Can you name one great thing he’s done? Last time he was in command for any length of time, as I recall, the ship was taken over by a Xenophobic race!”
Hartley clamped a hand over Mirk’s mouth. “Save it for the debate, baby.” She pulled Mirk over to a pair of seats in the front row. Browning harrumphed and returned to her own seat, on the opposite end of the front row.
Lt. Commander Larkin emerged from a door at the rear of the auditorium and took the center podium. Two other podiums were each at opposite ends of the stage.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Larkin said to the audience. “I welcome you to our debate. This afternoon, we will be hearing from the candidates for Commander of the Explorer. For the moderate party, please welcome Commander David Conway.”
Some cheers echoed in the auditorium as Commander Conway took the right podium. A couple people coughed. One booed. Hartley.
“We have parties?” Lt. Commander Tilleran asked Lt. Commander Richards. They sat behind Browning, but kept a wide berth. She was leaned forward, intently watching the proceedings.
“Apparently. Who are you registered with? I’m a moderate.”
“I didn’t know we had parties. So I didn’t register.”
“You won’t be able to vote in the primary, then.”
“I don’t know. That was how Browning got me to sign up.”
“There is no ‘primary.’ There’s only one election!”
Browning turned around, her eyes aflame. “Both of you shut up!”
She turned her attention back to the center podium.
“…hails from New Bensonhurst on Mars and enjoys NASCAR, classic rock, and coffee.”
Conway bowed at Larkin’s introduction and gave the “victory” sign with both hands up.
“Thank you, thank you!”
“Our vetrinary party candidate is Counselor Kelly Peterman,” Larkin said, and Peterman walked out to take the left podium.
“Well?” Hartley elbowed Mirk.
Mirk rolled his eyes. “Fine. But I can only sustain a brief burst.”
“Go for it!”
Mirk concentrated hard, and a mystical sparkle of flourescent light filled the auditorium. Everyone cheered and whooped gaily without really knowing why.
“Why am I so happy?” Lt. Gellar asked Lt. Ford.
“I don’t know, but I really do support her policy on pets for every crewmember!” replied Ford, clapping hysterically.
Then, as soon as it began, the clapping stopped.
Mirk leaned back in his chair and wiped his forehead. “Whew. That took a lot out of me.”
“Nicely done, though,” Hartley observed.
“Now then,” Larkin said, addressing the audience. “Let us begin with our debate. The first question comes from a Doctor Janice Browning, and is for Counselor Peterman.”
Peterman adjusted her gorgeously crimped black hair (Yeoman Briggs had been working on her all day, though he disagreed with her choice of a slate gray miniskirt and blazer). “Well, then. Go ahead!”
Larkin turned to Peterman. “Counselor, how do you address the rumors that you and the Captain of this vessel have fornicated many times on the bridge, during the shift change to nightwatch?”
“Janice!” Peterman cried through clenched teeth. “That was told to you in confidence!”
“Whoops!” Browning cried.
“Now we’re really playing hardball,” Peterman grumbled. “Let’s skip the muckraking, Commander Larkin. I’m here to talk about the issues.”
“Uh, me too,” Conway exclaimed.
“Issues like who locked an ensign in a closet for spilling his coffee!” This from Hartley.
“That was a well-intentioned practical joke,” Conway said calmly.
“This is not working out like I wanted it to,” Peterman muttered. “People, don’t you care at all about the important issues that face this ship? Like the much-needed attenuation of the navigational deflector?”
“Where’d you have sex?” came a cry from the audience. “In the command chair? Or at tactical!”
Peterman squinted out into the crowded audience. The lights sure were bright. She couldn’t see the guy who made that comment, but she sure knew his voice. “None of your business, Ford!”
“Okay, then, let’s talk about issues,” Conway said, pushing up the sleeves on his dress uniform. He leaned forward on the podium. “Counselor Peterman is famous for letting her animals crap all over the corridors, lounges, and command areas. Do you really want to step in that on the way to work in the morning?”
“Or do you want a frenetic, over-caffeinated dictator locking you in a closet for minor things like coffee spillage?” retorted Peterman.
“Who jammed up the Deck 10 airlock one morning with fifteen different wildfowl?”
“It was only ten and they’re domesticated now! Everyone loves a peacock, am I right?” Peterman looked out at the crowd.
Mirk wiped his forehead. Hartley was grimacing at him. “Don’t look at me. You make them cheer. It’s exhausting.”
“Who do you think cares most for this ship?” Commander Conway asked. “Someone who spends her day ‘getting people in touch with their feelings,’ and who doesn’t even do that well because she’s constantly preening her slew of pets?”
“Or someone who’s been verbally abusive to everyone here at one time or another over the last four years,” Peterman asked. “And I know that because, at one time or another, each of you have been to my office with personal problems. And who’s been there for you? Coffee-swiller over there? I think not. It’s been me, your loyal, loving, faithful Counselor.”
“She’s making herself sound like a dog,” Browning said, nudging Holly Wilcox, who sat next to her.
“I heard that!” Peterman shrieked.
“And who’s verbally abusive?” Conway asked casually.
“You shut up!” cried Peterman.
“My, my, Counselor. I thought I was the one with the temper, eh?”
“This isn’t fair!” Peterman exclaimed. “Why are you so relaxed?”
“No reason,” Conway said calmly, adjusting his jacket sleeves. “Now, didn’t you want to talk about issues?”
“Doctor Browning gave you some kind of calmative, didn’t she?” Peterman demanded, turning to face Conway.
“That’s…uh, that’s preposterous,” Conway said, and turned to grin shakily at the audience.
“Go to the speech!” Browning shouted. “The speech!”
Conway shuffled a couple padds around at the podium. “Right. Speech. Okay, then. Millenia ago, the fathers of the Federation established a government based on freedom, equality, and interplanetary sovereignity. With that in mind, I ask you to join me in the task of taking USS Explorer into the next century, not because it is easy, but because it is hard…”
“Enough!” Peterman cried, yanking at her crimped hair. “I’m falling apart here, Mirk! Do something!”
Mirk sighed. “Counselor, that’s really not a good–”
Hartley glared at Mirk. “Do something, or I never put on the grape outfit again!”
“When you put it that way…” Mirk squinched his eyes shut and focused on Conway. A beam of white light shot out of his fingertips and encased Conway in fizzling energy.
“What the–” Conway said, and froze, deathly still, his finger raised in the air as if he were asking a question.
“What in the hell did you do to him?” Browning asked, shooting out of her chair. “FOUL!”
“This is not a Belgian soccer game!” called out Hartley.
“What?” asked Mirk, dazed.
Browning marched over to where Mirk and Hartley were seated. “What did you do?”
Mirk scratched his chin. “I don’t know. I think I unstuck him in time. Or else froze his time-space matrix.” He looked out at the audience. “Anybody know a good temporal physicist?”
“Well,” Peterman said, leaning on her podium and sobbing. “This just turned out freaking great.”
Larkin looked around helplessly. People began filing out of the auditorium. Her auditory sensors judged the crowd noise as ‘disgruntled.’
“Well, then,” Larkin said. “That concludes this debate. Let us give our candidates one last round of applause.”
No one clapped.
True Commander’s Log,
Supplemental. Thanks to Lt. Commander Tilleran, I have been re-stuck in time, and am considering getting a temporal restraining order put on Mirk. At any rate, we move onward and upward, as valiant crewmembers rush to the polls to determine once and for all who the best person to command this ship really is. Oh, yeah…note for personal log: Make sure to get a ride on that blimp at some point. It looks like a lot of fun.
Three cargo bays were converted to accomodate the voting booths. Lt. Commander Larkin had been utilized to set the whole thing up, making sure the booths were regulation and had not been tampered with. Counselor Peterman and Commander Conway both canvassed the three cargo bays, making final pleas to the crew to vote them into office. Judging by the day’s events, they weren’t so warmly received. Someone stomped on Conway’s foot. Counselor Peterman had a pie thrown at her.
Afterwards, they both retreated to their separate headquarters to watch the election coverage, provided again by the good Lt. Commander Larkin.
Commander Conway sat on the edge of his desk in his office, watching the viewscreen intently. Tyra sat in his deskchair, staring at her fingernails and sipping a martini.
Browning, meanwhile, was curled on the couch, playing paddycake with Plato.
“What’s taking so long?” Conway demanded, rapping the desk with his fingers.
“Relax,” said Tyra. “You’ll either win or lose. Knowing you, I put my money on ‘lose.’”
“That’s not being very positive,” muttered Browning.
“Who asked you?” Tyra snapped.
“Ladies, ladies,” said Conway.
“What’s she doing here anyway?” demanded Tyra.
“She’s my manager,” Conway said.
“Brilliant, just brilliant,” Tyra muttered, and started polishing her nails.
Peterman was huddled on the floor with a cluster of her most prized pets: Chochi the malamute; Boomer and Starbuck, the pomeranians; Charlie; and Ozzie the ospery, waiting for the verdict via viewscreen. Larkin, at present, was showing footage of exit polls. One spirited crewmember had painted the words “Peterman Power” on his bare chest in blue ink.
“They really got into this,” Mirk mused, snuggling on Peterman’s couch with Lt. Hartley.
“All because of your ingenious multimedia presentation,” Hartley cooed, tickling Mirk under his chin.
“And the fact I gave Ensign Pressbury a couple strips of latinum to do that.”
“PLEASE!” Peterman shouted. “The results are coming in now!”
Seated at a desk on the viewscreen, hands clasped officially, Lt. Commander Larkin addressed the crew.
“Again, good evening from Campaign ‘77 headquarters. I am Kristen Larkin, your host. Since early yesterday two combatants have been struggling for power over the USS Explorer. One David Conway and one Kelly Peterman.”
“Get on with it!” shouted Conway.
“Now, I am proud to announce the election results. The next commander of the Explorer, by an overwhelming number of write-in votes, is Kristen Larkin! Congratulations, Kristen. And that is all from Election ‘77 headquarters. Good night.”
“I DEMAND A RECOUNT!” Peterman cried, throwing a pillow at the screen.
“And now, my acceptance speech,” Lt. Commander Larkin said, appearing on the screen. “I must say, this result takes me quite by surprise. I want to thank the people for showing up to support my election to this office, and promise to take the Explorer into a bold, new future.”
Shortly thereafter, Lt. Commander Richards caught up with Larkin as she made her way down the corridor to the arena, where she would celebrate her election win by treating everyone to a buffet and plenty of synthehol.
“Hi, Kristen. Congratulations.”
“Thank you, Father.”
“One question. Did you cheat?”
“I am incapable of dishonesty.”
“I see. So you didn’t cheat. An overwhelming number of crewmembers actually wrote in ‘Larkin’?”
Richards nodded. “So how did you do it?”
“A recursive algorithm in the ODN junction of the voting mainframe.”
“That’s what I thought,” Richards said, grinning. “There’s my girl.”
“It had to be done for the good of the ship.”
“Sure it did.”
When Captain Baxter and Lt. Commander J’hana stepped out of the rear hatch of the runabout Susquehanna, they found Lt. Commander Larkin waiting for them.
“Greetings,” she said. “Pleasant trip?”
“Oh, it had a few bumps, but overall it was…” Baxter said, glancing to J’hana.
“Memorable,” finished the Andorian.
“I see,” replied Larkin.
Baxter glanced around the empty shuttlebay. “Where’s everyone else? Commander Conway? Kelly?”
“Commander Conway and Counselor Peterman are on other assignments.”
“I see.” Baxter turned his attention to the runabout’s side compartment, where an attendant was unloading his and J’hana’s bags. Then he turned back around to see what was parked next to the Susquehanna. How did he not notice that when they docked? “Larkin,” he said slowly, still looking. “Why is there a blimp sitting there with Conway’s face plastered all over it?” The monstrosity dominated half the cargo bay.
“That is a long story, sir.”
“I bet so. So what about these other assignments?” Baxter took his carry-on bag and led the way out into the corridor.
Larkin and J’hana followed. “Commander Conway took the Escort to research a nebula in sector 33040,” Larkin said, increasing speed to catch up with Baxter. “And Counselor Peterman is heading an away team to negotiate for supplies from a tribe of nomadic gelatinous blobs on Secorous Prime.”
“Efficient use of personnel,” Baxter said, leading the way out into the corridor. “So, you’re in command?”
“I have been for several days.”
“Really. How did that happen?”
“I was elected.”
Baxter stopped mid-step and turned around to ask Larkin what the hell she was talking about. Before he could ask, he thought better of it, and then resumed his walk toward the turbolift at the end of the corridor. He was probably better off not knowing.
A visit by a certain changeling leads Browning to fear that the Founders want Plato for their very own. Will this certain changeling force the Explorer crew to give up their cuddly malleable friend, or will Baxter be able to talk some sense into that…certain chanegling, and his Jem’Hadar pals? Or, will he screw up completely and rekindle the war between the Federation and Dominion? Or will this changeling just have some warm, wise parental advice? Find out as our Founder buddy shows us some “Solid Parenting Strategies,” next time on Star Traks: The Vexed Generation!