Author: Anthony Butler
“And you’ll see the living room is quite cozy, just the type of place where you could spend a long, lazy afternoon reading a book or immersing yourself in a holo role-laying game.”
Grinning from ear to ear, smelling of Chanel 285, Shirley, the Century 25 representative, looked absolutely ecstatic about the home.
Todd and Wilma Flaherty looked around the living room, nodding with approval at the wood paneling, latinum accents, and hardwood floors.
“I love it,” Wilma said, grabbing Todd’s arm and suqeezing. “It’s just perfect for us.”
“That’s it, then,” Todd said. “We’ll take it.”
“Well,” said Shirley, “let me just get my padd and we’ll do up the paperwork.”
Shirley stepped into the foyer and flipped through a small stack of padds on a nearby table.
“Here’s the one,” she said, and turned back toward the living room, just as she heard the bleep and clack of the front door unlocking. She turned toward the door. The two o’clock visitors were early.
A stout, blond man in a Starfleet uniform stepped in, looked at Shirley, and blinked.
“Who the hell are you?” he finally asked.
“Andy, I have a crapload of antiques here in the runabout for you to unload. Get back here!”
“One sec, Kelly,” the man said, and stared, annoyed, at the woman. He noted the Century 25 logo on her jacket. “My family bought this house nearly 400 years ago. Still checking up on us?”
“You must be Andy Baxter,” Shirley said dully. “We were warned about you.”
“Warned by who?”
“By your father.”
Baxter clenched his fist. “Damn it! He sent you to sell this house, didn’t he?”
Shirley glanced idly at one of her padds. “He does have the deed, Mister Baxter. There’s nothing you can do about it.”
“But I’ve lived here all my life.”
“Then this must be hard for you.”
It was then that Todd Flaherty poked his head out of the living room. “Miss Vasquez, could you tell me what this large beige stain under the living room rug is?”
“It’s hummus, you fool!” Baxter cried. “Now why don’t you get the hell out of my house!”
“Who the hell are you?” asked Todd.
“The one that spilled the hummus,” Baxter said, folding his arms.
“Mr. Baxter, you can’t be here,” the Realtor We’re authorized to sell this house for your father. All the paperwork has already been done.”
“We’ll see about that,” Baxter said, and stormed out of the front door. Moments later, Counselor Kelly Peterman stumbled through, arms loaded down with ornate metal lamps.
“Well,” she said, struggling under the weight of the lamps. “Someone give me a hand unloading these!”
Baxter glared gloomily out of the front windows of the USS Rio De Janeiro. The runabout was parked out in front of Baxter’s (former) house. He was just waiting for that Realtor to walk out those front doors. Then it would be phaser city.
“Sorry I didn’t tell you about that, Andy. Your mom felt you’d be too smarmy and sensitive about it,” Harlan Baxter said gutterally on the runabout Rio De Janeiro’s cockpit viewscreen. He and Lucille were sitting in bed in their cabin aboard the USS Pathfinder. Baxter had apparently waken them up. Too bad.
“Your father’s right,” agreed Lucille on the viewscreen. “It would have been easier if we just sold the house and then told you about it.”
“We were going to tell you…” said Harlan.
“…once I was powerless to stop you,” replied Baxter.
“You’re powerless to stop us either way,” Lucille said. “Just give up and let that ramshackle place go.”
Baxter’s lower lip trembled. “That’s…my…home.”
Harlan cleared his throat on the viewscreen. “Home is wherever you happen to be, boy. Like that flying mall of yours.”
“The Explorer’s not a mall, for one, and secondly, that ship is also my home. But it doesn’t mean you can sell my HOUSE!”
“It’s not your house. Check the deed,” said Harlan.
“Be glad we haven’t been charging you rent all these years,” added Lucille.
“I can stop you guys. I can buy that house!” Baxter replied.
“You and what money?” asked Lucille.
“I’ve been saving!”
Harlan rose an eyebrow. “Really?”
“I’m a starship captain…I have resources!”
“Do your worst.” And Lucille tapped the channel closed.
Counselor Peterman ducked into the runabout cockpit. “Another nice chat with Mom and Dad?” She sat down next to Baxter at the piloting console.
“About the same as usual,” Baxter muttered, folding his arms. “How dare they try and sell my house.”
“They do own it Andy.” Peterman stared out the Rio de Janeiro’s front windows, to see a man, woman, and two small children step out of a shuttlecraft and walk up to Baxter’s front door.
“More visitors,” Baxter said. “Arm the torpedoes.”
Peterman watched Baxter’s house thoughtfully. Who knew when the Century 25 people would ask them to remove the runabout because it looked tacky there on the front lawn? “So, I heard you telling them something about having enough credits to buy the house yourself?”
Baxter shrugged. “That was a bluff. Financially speaking, we’re broke.”
“Oh, just financially speaking.”
Baxter glanced at Peterman. “Yeah. But in love, we’re rich as kings.”
“That’s good to know. Still, I feel kind of bad buying those lamps now.”
Baxter turned to face Peterman. “Something tells me that wouldn’t have made a difference. Anyway, who needs money, right? It’s not like we’re in danger of losing our cabin on the Explorer, or worrying about where the next meal will come from. It’ll come from a replicator, or Janice.”
“Or a bad Gorn fast food place,” Peterman said, and belched. “Let’s never go there again.”
“My bean sprout soufflee was great,” Baxter said. “But that doesn’t help us get my damn house back.”
“There’s got to be a favor you can call in with someone.”
Baxter thought about that. “Actually…”
“Forget about it,” Lt. Commander Christopher Richards said, leaning back in his desk chair, in his engineer’s office, on the Explorer.
“But what about all the money you got for doing the Klingon soap opera?” Baxter asked on his terminal screen.
“The Klingons seized all my credits when they imprisoned and tried to kill me.”
“Damn,” Baxter said on the terminal screen. “What about Janice? She worked in the real world for a while.”
“She spent her credits a long time ago, mostly on obscure food items,” Richards replied, swinging in his chair to watch his engineers diagnose the warp core through his observation window.
“Well, then it’s useless,” Baxter said on the viewscreen.
“What do you care if they sell that house anyway?” Richards asked. “It’s not like you spend much time there.”
“It’s the principle of the thing, Chris. That house has sentimental value.”
“So did the Aerostar. And you blew that up.”
“Only as a last resort!”
“Looks like this is a no-win scenario too. Of course, you could just try to discuss the situation logically with your parents.”
Baxter sighed on the screen. “You’re right. This is a no- win situation.”
“Glad I could help. See you soon,” Richards said, and leaned forward to switch the terminal off.
“It’s this or nothing,” Baxter said, as he led the way down the corridor at Starfleet command.
“Appealing to a higher power?” Peterman asked wearily.
“Exactly.” Baxter stopped at a door and hit the call button.
After a seeming eternity, the door slid open to reveal Lt. Beth Monroe.
“You again,” she said monotonally. “What?”
“You can at least pretend you’re pleased to see me,” Baxter muttered.
“We want to see Velara,” said Peterman.
Monroe glared at Peterman. “COMMODORE Velara is in a meeting.”
Baxter shouldered his way in. “We’ll just be a minute. The conference room’s this way, if I remember?”
“You can’t go in there!” Monroe persisted, following Baxter into the office suite.
“Did I tell you I was reaaaaaaalllly sorry about that puma accident?” Peterman asked, pursuing Monroe.
“I should have known, as soon as I saw you two were taking a few days’ leave on Earth, that we wouldn’t be lucky enough not to run into you.”
“Lieutenant, I’m beginning to think you have repressed feelings of rage toward us. And me, in particular.”
Monroe whirled on a heel. “You think they’re repressed, huh? Well, allow me to RELEASE THEM!”
Peterman winced. “Uh-oh.”
Baxter poked his head into Velara’s office. She was seated across the table from Jean-Luc Picard.
“Hey there,” Baxter said, glancing down at Picard. “Still watching Days of Honor?”
“Ahem…uh…” Picard said, standing and straightening his uniform top. “I do not know what you’re talking about.” He grinned back at Velara. “Really.”
“But I saw you and Doctor Crusher at a convention not two years ago. Don’t you remember?” Baxter asked, stepping into Velara’s office.
“You must be mistaken.” Picard looked to Velara. “Now, I really must be going. I appreciate the offer, Velara, but I must decline.”
Velara clasped her hands and did her best not to look annoyed. “I expected that response. However, I am still disappointed.”
“Sorry about that,” Picard said. “Anyway, good luck.”
Velara frowned at Baxter. “Indeed. I expect I will need it.”
Baxter sat down opposite Velara and grinned casually, as Picard hurried out the door. “Nice to see him again. He’s looking well. Rested.”
“Indeed. You broke in on a meeting. I assume you must discuss an important Starfleet matter with me?”
Baxter shifted in his chair. “Not quite. Actually, I need a loan.”
“My Dad’s trying to sell our house. I need to buy it in order to keep it.”
“You are asking Starfleet for money.”
“I’m sure they must have some credits lying around.”
“Do you not recall the Federation was on the verge of bankruptcy ten months ago when the Explorer project was terminated? Although the Critics and Directors had some influence on that decision, it still would have been made due to the vast financial drain the Explorer imposes on the Federation. The only reason the Federation’s economy did not collapse during that fragile time was because the Federation President took out an enormous loan.”
“That’s all news to me.”
“Don you not read the Federation News?”
Baxter grinned. “The funnies, mostly. Sometimes the sports section. Go Pioneers!”
“Captain, I consider you a friend. However, I also consider you intolerable.”
“That’s, uh, great to hear, Commodore.”
“I apologize for my emotional outburst. Starfleet has not been the same since the Federation became financially dependant. The Federation is no longer dedicated to the betterment of mankind. Now we must also consider profit margins, like common Ferengi…”
Baxter grinned uneasily. “So, what about that loan?”
Baxter and Peterman didn’t say much on the runabout ride out of Earth’s atmosphere. Baxter’s head still hurt from the padd Velara threw at him, and Peterman had a black eye, for reasons she would not go into.
“Ah, it’s good to see space again,” Baxter said, as he guided the runabout out of the last few layers of Earth’s clouds. The moon swung lazily by as he increased speed to full impulse and layed in a course out of the Terran system.
“It’ll be even better to see the Explorer again,” Peterman said. “Between you and me, Earth isn’t as fun as it used to be anymore.”
“We could have stopped to see your parents,” Baxter said, and stopped to swallow some bile at that thought. The last time he was at the Peterman ranch, he was trampled by an ark-sized herd of wild animals.
“Ever since you were put in prison they don’t think of you the same way, Andy.”
“That’s not fair. Look at my parents–they forgave me!”
“Your mom testified against you in the trial.”
“Anyway, they still need a bit of a cooling off period.”
“Maybe I’ll buy them an elephant or something.”
“You’re broke, remember?”
“Don’t remind me.”
Baxter plotted in the rest of the Rio de Janeiro’s course and prepared to lean back his chair and sleep for the seven hours it would take to reach the Explorer in the Tolan system.
He tapped the last few controls, and was about to hit “ENGAGE” when he saw a massive blob on the sensors. One giant ship, or else a fleet of ships, closing in on the Terran system.
“That’s funny,” he said, and leaned forward. “Honey, is the Daystrom Institute planning another jazz festival?”
“I don’t think so. The Kenny G android went crazy at the last one and nearly killed everyone, remember?”
“Yeah. Which makes me wonder why fifty ships are headed right for this system.”
Peterman leaned forward to check her own sensors. “My goodness! What could that be? An invasion fleet?”
“Could be,” Baxter said. “The Romulans, or the Breen, or something. I’d better alert Starfleet.”
Peterman watched the blob of ships close on the sensor screen as Baxter contacted Starfleet.
“Andy,” she said, glancing at the sensor information. “Those ships– they’re Ferengi.”
“You’re kidding me,” Baxter said. He glanced at his comm screen. “And Starfleet’s telling me to ignore them and proceed to our rendez-vous with the Explorer.”
“What an odd reaction.”
“Well, in any event, they’re coming out of warp in about a minute. We’ll wait for them to pass by and get some answers that way.” Baxter watched through the Rio’s front viewport as a swarm of Feregni marauders and larger vessels, cargo ships, came out of warp and whizzed by, causing the Rio to rock gently.
“I’m opening a channel to the lead ship,” Baxter said. Moments later, a scrunch-eyed Ferengi appeared on the viewscreen.
“This is the Tanganor. Liquidator Bink speaking.”
“Mr. Bink,” Baxter said. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Haven’t you heard the news?”
“He only reads the funnies and the sports section,” Peterman explained.
“Hah!” laughed the Ferengi. “The Federation must not be telling anyone. I guess they’re just too ashamed.”
“Ashamed of what?”
“They couldn’t pay off their loan! So we’re foreclosing.”
“On what?” asked Peterman.
The Ferengi rubbed his hands together. “On EARTH.”
Baxter sighed. “Boy, first my house and now this. When it rains, it pours.”
Stardate 54859.4. We’ve rendez-voused with the Explorer and set a course to Earth at maximum warp to try and figure out what the hell the Federation has done to my home planet. The Ferengi can’t just waltz in and take the place, can they?
“They just waltzed right in and took the place, Kelly!” Ron Peterman said on the bridge viewscreen. In her customary chair at Baxter’s left, Peterman shook her head woefully.
“And the animals?”
“They’re set to be auctioned off in two days.”
“In need of some counseling, to be sure.”
“Hold on, Dad. We’ll be there soon!”
“Close the channel, J’hana,” Baxter said, and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. He watched the stars on the viewscreen, tapping his foot nervously.
Suddenly the turbolift doors at the back of the bridge opened. Baxter glanced back. Commander Conway stepped out, sipping coffee casually.
“So. We at Earth yet?” he asked, rounding his way down to the command center. He sat at Baxter’s right.
“In about twenty minutes,” Baxter said. “And why are you so damned calm?”
“Let’s be honest here,” Conway said. “It’s just another planet, right?”
“JUST another planet?” Peterman asked. “It’s our home!”
“Speak for yourself. I grew up on Mars.” Conway sipped again. “We’re not selling that, are we?”
“I think we’re leasing it from them,” Baxter said dully, and turned his attention back to the viewscreen.
“If it were Betazed we were selling, I doubt you’d be so gung-ho about stopping the Ferengi,” Lt. Commander Tilleran said, swinging around in her chair at sciences.
“Probably not,” Baxter said, leaning back in his chair. “This isn’t just another Federation member-world. This is the world that STARTED the Federation. This is where all of our roots are, no matter what planet we’re from.”
“The oceans are way too cold,” Tilleran said, and turned her attention back to her sensors.
“The night life is substandard,” Lt. Commander J’hana added, and sat back in her chair at tactical.
Baxter shook his head. “I don’t believe this. Isn’t anyone here but me and my wife the least bit worried about losing Earth? …Anyone?”
The Explorer streaked into the Terran system, to come face to face with a ring of Ferengi ships blockading Earth. It made Baxter’s stomach curdle.
“Sir,” J’hana said, checking her sensors. “I am detecting a large concentration of Starfleet vessels around Earth. Several starships, and a dozen or so heavy freighters.”
“The moving crew,” Peterman said coldly.
“Let’s get this overwith,” Baxter said. “Raise the lead Ferengi ship.” Baxter stood and straightened his uniform.
After a few moments’ wait, Bink, the scrunch-eyed Ferengi, again appeared on the viewscreen. “What? You again?”
“I’m back. This time with a bigger ship,” Baxter said. He caught Conway glaring at him out of the corner of his eye. Obviously, the Commander wasn’t sure what Baxter planned on doing. That made two of them.
“Here to pick up your belongings? Take up orbit over Africa. There’s some space there.”
“I’m not moving my things. I want Earth back.”
The Ferengi laughed, a high-pitched squeal that made Baxter want to cover his ears. “You want Earth back, eh? You don’t have the latinum, hu-mon.”
“How much latinum, incidentally?” Baxter asked, pulling at his collar.
“One point five billion bars, four strips, eight slips,” the Ferengi said casually. “In Federation credits, that’s about 50 billion. Will this be cash or charge?” Another squeal that made Baxter want to blow his ship up then and there.
“I don’t quite have that, but surely there’s room for some kind of negotiation. An extension on our loan.”
“Forget about it. Jaresh-Inyo was late on his payment. Earth was collateral. We’re collecting.
“And he didn’t feel the need to tell us?”
“You must be devestated. Ta-ta!”
“Wait!” said Baxter, holding out a desparate hand. “My house…on the middle-east coast of North America…”
“All that’s going to be leveled to make the biggest casino in the quadrant. Bye now.”
The Ferengi blipped off the screen and Baxter stared down at the deck.
“Orders, sir?” Lt. Commander Larkin asked, turning around in her chair at ops, to Baxter’s left.
“Take us into orbit above Africa. I need to get my things.”
Baxter stared out at the vast, smooth, sandy plain. It extended as far as he could see, flat and featureless. In the approximate area where he was standing, he once had a house.
Next to him, Counselor Peterman touched his shoulder. “I know this looks bad, Andy.”
To his left, Commander Conway sipped at his drink. “They work really fast. When he said ‘going to be leveled,’ he must have meant ‘has been leveled.’”
Lt. Commander Tilleran was crouched, studying the sand with a tricorder. “High-powered demolition phasers. Took out all buildings, plant and animal life within hundreds of square kilometers. The whole eastern shore of what used to be Maryland.”
Lt. Commander J’hana huffed. “They are efficient redecorators.”
Baxter clinched his fist, trembling.
“Andy…” Peterman looked in his eyes. “You’ve got that same insane look you had when they took the Explorer away from you. Don’t do anything rash here. Remember…you still have me…and the Explorer.”
“That’s right, Captain,” Conway said. “And I can show you some great properties on Mars. You can get in on my time-share, if you want.”
Baxter glanced at Peterman, smiled. Turned to Conway, smiled. Then stamped his feet in the dust like a four-year- old.
Baxter stormed through the doors to the President’s Suite at Federation headquarters in Paris, Peterman and Conway following meekly after. Outside the bay window, the Eiffel tower was being dismantled.
“Can I help you?” asked the prim, thin blonde woman at the front desk, right outside the President’s office. Everything in the room was boxed up.
He leaned on the desk, bore a hard, cold stare into her eyes. “I want to see the president!”
“Uh, sir…why don’t I–”
“Forget about it!”
He kicked open the door to the President’s office and stormed in.
No one there.
Baxter turned on a heel toward the door that adjoined the President’s office with the Vice President’s. He kicked that door open and barreled through.
Vice President Maruac, a pale, narrowly-built man in an all-black suit, was bent over a few boxes, collecting his things.
Baxter grabbed his shoulder and hoisted him to standing. “Alrighty! Mr. Vice President, I want some explanations and NOW!”
Maruac just shrugged.
“Why did you let Earth get sold like that! How could you let something like that happen to our home, you pale-faced son of a bitch!”
Maruac stumbled backwards, toward the exit, but came face to face with Conway and Peterman, who folded their arms and blocked the door.
“You stay put,” Peterman said. “You’re not leaving this room until we hear some kind of explanation.”
Maruac’s eyes watered with fear.
“I SAID TALK!” cried Baxter.
“That was so embarassing,” Counselor Peterman said, walking with Baxter along the grassed quad at the center of the Starfleet Command compound in San Francisco.
“Who knew that guy was mute,” Conway said. “Just because he always stood behind the President, not saying anything.”
“I’ve got to start watching the news,” Baxter muttered. He looked around the buildings of Starfleet Command regretfully. Shuttles were parked everywhere, being loaded up by Starfleet personnel.
“Why do you think they didn’t tell anyone about the move-out?” asked Petersren.
“They didn’t want a riot,” Conway said. “Which they most certainly would have had. Goodness knows there are plenty of people like your husband who get all kooky about things like having their homes taken away.”
Baxter gritted his teeth angrily. “So the Federation Council just let Earth fall away, without a fight. Meanwhile, people all over this planet are no doubt scrambling to evacuate, before the Ferengi fine them for trespassing.”
“It certainly doesn’t seem equitable,” said Peterman.
“If that’s a pun it’s not funny,” Baxter muttered, veering into the doorway of one of the buildings.
“The ships are quite well-equipped, and you’ll see here that the mission parameters allow you to–” Velara paused in her nearly-vacant office, her ears mildly twitching. “Oh no.”
“What?” asked Admiral Edward Jellico, turning in his chair.
“Trouble is coming.”
Baxter stormed in, trailed by Peterman and Conway.
“You should have told me, Velara,” he said. He looked to Jellico. “Hi there. Andy Baxter, captain of the Explorer.”
Jellico shook Baxter’s hand. “Ed Jellico. What seems to be the problem?”
“This minor matter of Earth being sold to the Ferengi.”
“Yeah, damned embarassing for us,” Jellico said. “But really, what can we do? All the contracts were signed a year ago. Anyway, I hear Vulcan’s quite nice this time of year.”
“Yes,” said Velara. “It is.”
“VULCAN?” asked Peterman.
“That is where Starfleet and the Federation are moving their headquarters, Counselor,” said Velara. “As soon as I am done with this… appointment, I shall board the Pathfinder and go there myself.”
“How could you not tell us?” Baxter asked Velara.
Velara rose an eyebrow. “We at Starfleet Command only found out this morning.”
“VULCAN?” Peterman asked again. “That hot, sweltering rock?”
“The air is quite temperate this time of year, actually,” Velara said placidly.
“There’s nothing to do there,” Conway said. “No good restaurants. Awful holodeck facilities. Vulcan sucks!”
“Thank you for your input,” Velara said, and stood. “Now, if all of you will excuse Admiral Jellico and me, we must resume our conversation. I will meet with you at your convenience once I arrive at Vulcan.”
Baxter turned on a heel. “Fine, then. Give up on Earth. You may not have a sense of homeplanet pride, but I sure do. Come on, guys.”
Peterman and Conway backed out of the office.
“I love your desk,” Conway said quietly, and followed the others out of the room.
“I’d better get back to my office,” Jellico said, standing.
“And my offer?” asked Velara.
Jellico glanced back at the door to Velara’s office. He could hear Baxter’s pedantic ramblings fading off in the distance. “I don’t think so. We’ll have lunch one day after we all get settled in on Vulcan.”
“That damn Federation president,” Lucille Baxter said, perched angrily in her command chair. “I knew we should have voted for the other guy.”
Next to her, Harlan Baxter cleared his throat and shifted in his chair. “Hrmrmrmmm…I voted for the other guy.”
“AND YOU DIDN’T TELL ME?”
“Captain,” said Lt. Commander DiSalvo from tactical. “Your son and two of his officers just beamed aboard. He is demanding to talk to you.”
“You let him just beam aboard?” Lucille said, turning in her chair to face DiSalvo. “No transport scramblers? Shields?”
“Sir, we are in the midst of evacuating Federation citizens. We’ve been beaming people up for the last hour.”
“Right. Whatever. Have them brought here.”
“They’re already on their way.”
Harlan grunted. “He’s gonna be mad, Lucille.”
“It’s not our fault that little house he loved so much got leveled. I was quite happy just to sell it. Now, thanks to that imbecile Inyo, we won’t even get paid for the house.”
“Like we need money,” Harlan grumbled.
“We do now that Starfleet’s broke! Thank goodness the Vulcans find rent illogical!”
“Grrmmmmm…nest egg…” Harlan said, shaking his head and puffing on a cigar. “Few bars of latinum.”
“Yes, yes, yes. I know you’ve been planning for the collapse of the Federation economy for decades now. Good for you!”
Then the doors to the bridge slid open and Baxter walked in, with Peterman and Conway.
“Mom, Dad,” he said, circling to the front of the bridge. “Good to see you guys. How are things?”
“Rmmm…retirement…” Harlan murmurred. “Lucille’d driving me batty.”
“That makes two of us,” Lucille snapped and turned to Baxter. “Good to have you aboard, son. To what do we owe this pleasure?”
“Did you know?”
Lucille chuckled. “Know about what?”
Lucille’s smile disappeared. She looked back at Harlan. “Some of us had our suspicions.”
“How could you let something like this happen?” Baxter asked. “You and Dad are part of the old guard of Starfleet! You’re supposed to preserve all that’s great about humanity for the next generation…for people like me and Kelly, and our children…”
Peterman’s lip trembled. “Our…our children, Andy?”
“Quiet, I’m berating my parents here,” Baxter snapped.
“You’re a grown man, Andy,” Lucille said, rising from her chair. She marched over to stare up at Baxter, who was a good half-meter taller than she. “You fight your own battles. We’re content to retire on Tellar, or Gornathon. If you want Earth back so bad, why don’t you get it back? Your father and I are way too old to fight your battles for you.”
“She really told you,” Conway grinned from behind Baxter, who immediately thrust an elbow back into the commander’s gut.
Captain Baxter marched purposefully onto the bridge of the Explorer, which wasn’t fully staffed because many crewmembers had gone down to retrieve precious items from Earth before it was totally renovated by the Ferengi. Larkin was in the command chair, watching the viewscreen blankly.
“What do you plan on doing, Andy?” Peterman asked, following Baxter into his readyroom.
“Conway, you have the bridge,” he barked over his shoulder, and stepped around his desk as the readyroom door slid shut.
Peterman stood on the other side of Baxter’s desk. “I’m waiting.”
“Mom was right. Earth is ours more than it’s theirs now. It’s our job to get it back.” Baxter turned to look out of the oval observation window behind him. “And here I thought the Ferengi weren’t going to be a problem anymore with that nice guy Rom in charge. Huh. I may not read the news but I know that much. This Bink fellow must be some kind of reactionary.”
“A greedy splinter group, maybe?” Peterman suggested.
Peterman sat opposite Andy, reached out to grab his hand as he worked his desktop terminal with the other hand. “So…again…what are you planning?”
“I’m planning to swallow all my pride and vomit it up,” Baxter said.
“You’ve got to be kidding!” Bradley Dillon said, swinging back and forth in his high-backed, plush chair, in the grandiose offices of Dillon Enterprises, on Waystation.
“I assure you, I’m not,” Baxter said, looking resolved on Bradley’s latinum-encrusted desktop terminal. “I want you to buy Earth back.”
“Ridiculous. I already looked into it. They want a third of my fortune!”
“You can afford it. A few choice investments and you’d be back on your feet.”
“You have no idea what it takes to run a huge financial empire, Captain Baxter,” Bradley said, leaning forward toward the terminal screen. “I can’t just dump an investment that big into one purchase. Especially one that would essentially pay no dividends.”
“The dividends are that you would save Earth! You’d be a hero!”
“Not good enough. Anyway, I don’t much care for the Ferengi. I’d hate to see that much of my money go into their pockets.”
“Think of the greater good here, Mister Dillon!” Baxter insisted. “This is Earth we’re talking about!”
“I’m quite comfortable taking my vacations on Risa,” Bradley said easily.
Baxter appeared speechless. “Mr. Dillon,” he said, after a pause. “Would you hold one moment please?”
“Sure, but not for long. Time is money, as they say.”
Baxter chuckled uneasily. “Right.”
“You’re going about this all wrong,” Captain Lisa Beck said, pacing Ops and watching Baxter’s pleading, sickening sad puppy-dog expression on the view-wall.
“How so?” Baxter asked. Beck could tell he was moments away from busting out crying, in which case she’d have to choke herself to death.
Beck leaned heavily on the science console. “For starters, you’re appealing to his sense of goodness, and to his soul.”
“He doesn’t have either,” said Lt. Commander Craig Porter, who manned the science station.
Baxter nodded. “Okay. So what DO I appeal to?”
“Greed, vanity…who cares? Pick one!” replied Beck.
“Right. Thanks for the help, Captain.”
“Don’t mention it. Just remember, I’m doing this for one reason, and one reason only.”
“For friendship? For comraderie?”
“For North Carolina. Good luck, Captain.”
“Back,” Baxter said, winking back onto Bradley Dillon’s screen.
“Goody,” Bradley said, clasping his hands. “So, can I arrange to open up another shop in your mall? My chain of shoe stores is doing really well this season.”
“You can have all that and more if you just give us the 50 billion credits.”
“This is becoming annoying. What could you possibly offer me?” Bradley asked.
Baxter rolled his eyes thoughtfully. “Hmmm. Let’s see…how about we make you an ambassador? Or how about a member of the President’s cabinet?
Bradley’s eyes lit up at that. “That’s a fantastic idea, Captain. But I’ll go you one better.”
Baxter’s face fell. “Uh-oh.”
Captain Baxter rushed out on to the Explorer bridge. “Find me Vice President Maruac,” he barked at J’hana. “And find me someone who can speak mime.”
“What’s the plan?” Commander Conway said from the command chair.
“Simple,” Baxter said. “We need to make Bradley Dillon leader of the Federation.”
Conway folded his arms and harrumphed. “Oh. Is that all?”
“Just keep quiet,” Baxter said. “J’hana?”
“Doctor Browning is on her way up,” J’hana said. “Apparently she is fluent in mime.”
“Figures,” said Peterman.
“And Maruac is on his ship, standing by for departure.”
“Put him on screen,” Baxter said, straightening his uniform top again and approaching the viewscreen.
The pale-faced vice president appeared on the viewscreen and looked worried as soon as he saw Baxter.
“I’m not going to hurt you again,” Baxter said. “I’m very sorry about that. I really think we got off on the wrong foot.”
Maruac waved a hand forgivingly. He smiled.
“Glad you don’t hold a grudge,” he said. “Now, what if I told you I had a way for us to get Earth back?”
Maruac smiled wider, then began waving his hands around in an intricate series of gestures.
“All you have to do is replace the current president with Bradley Dillon.”
Maruac’s face fell. More gestures.
Just then, Dr. Browning stumbled out of the turbolift, covered in chili. Her apron said “Don’t Assimilate the Chef.” She took her place on the quarterdeck, behind the railing that surrounded the command chairs.
“Plato had an accident,” she explained, studying the viewscreen. “Hear you need a mime interpreter?”
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “You speak mime?”
“I went to mime school for a brief time before I entered Starfleet Academy.”
“What made you quit?” asked Peterman.
“At a birthday party, someone threw a rock at me.”
“I see,” said Baxter. “Now, if you’ll be so kind…” He pointed at the viewscreen.
Browning squinted at the Vice President as he waved his hands and waggled his fingers. “Let’s see here…former President Inyo was…comitted…to… Tantalus…one year ago…”
“What?” Baxter demanded.
Browning watched Maruac. “Nervous breakdown… stress, I guess. He was removed from office…two years ago…”
“HOW DID WE NOT KNOW THAT?” Baxter demanded.
“We were in deep space for much of that time,” Lt. Commander Larkin offered from ops.
“I have GOT to start watching the news,” Baxter said, scrubbing a hand down his face.
“What about all those times he visited the ship with Admiral McGrath?” Conway asked. “He wasn’t President then? Did McGrath lie to us?”
Browning again looked to Maruac. “McGrath is…his… roomate…at… Tantalus…not something we like to talk about.”
“I hate politics,” Baxter said, and returned his attention to Maruac. “So who’s been running the Federation since then?”
Browning watched. “He has, Captain. On an interim basis. They’re still searching for a new one.”
“Well, sir, we have one for you,” Baxter said, grinning. “Mister Bradley Dillon. If he gets to be President, we get Earth back. And you look like the man who saved one of the Federation’s most prized posessions.”
“He says, ‘don’t we need an election’?” Browning said.
Baxter glared at Conway and Peterman then looked back at Maruac. “Trust me, sir. Elections just don’t work. Do we have a deal?”
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
Liquidator Bink watched the exchange between Baxter and Maruac on the viewscreen in his office, formerly the office of the Commander-in-Chief of Starfleet Command, in San Francisco.
“Krungor, get in here,” he finally said, switching the screen off.
His tall, purple, gangly assistant, from a race that seemed bred specifically to serve the Ferengi, stood ready at the doorway to the office.
“Mmmmmm?” he grunted.
“A Starfleet captain is going to try to get Earth back. He’s going to get that Bradley Dillon to buy it. The sickening thing is that the hu-mon scum can easily afford it.” Bink scurried over to the huge, ornate C-in-C’s desk and hopped on top of it.
“Krungor, you have to stop this transaction before it starts. The Ferengi have stood idly by watching the Federation, the Klingons, and even the Romulans be heroes, while they recklessly expend their latinum and precious resources. But now it’s time for us to shine. I don’t care how much Bradley Dillon pays us. We can’t release Earth. If we do, there’ll be no hope for us overturning the shambles that cursed Nagus Rom has made of our planet!”
“I don’t care if I’m going against the Nagus’s wishes. I want this planet, and I want Federation citizens for years to come to have to pay US for the honor of visiting here, you got it?”
“Simple. You stop Captain Baxter. And Bradley Dillon, if he gives you any trouble. Now go!”
“Are you sure this is wise?” Commander Walter Morales, first officer of Waystation and pilot of the scout ship Wayward, asked as he slid into the two-level scout ship’s front piloting chair.
Captain Beck shook her head as she took the tactical/ communications station that sat behind and to the right of the piloting chair.
“No, I’m not. Ready engines. Prepare to release docking clamps.”
“Done and done,” Morales said. He swung in his chair to face Beck. “Captain, if we let Bradley Dillon become President of the Federation, we’ll never live it down! Think of how uncomfortable he’s made us since he became a billionaire!”
“I second that,” Porter said, taking a seat behind science/operations.
“I agree with both of you. But Bradley is our only hope to get Earth away from the Ferengi. If making him president means I can go to North Carolina without having to pay the Ferengi a pile of latinum, then so be it.”
“These are awful times, Captain,” said Morales.
“You don’t have to tell me. Plot a course for the Terran system. Mr. Porter, detach us from Waystation.”
Just then, Bradley Dillon strolled through the hatch that led into the Wayward’s cockpit and stood next to Beck. He wore a shiny black tux. “Oh, how great it is to see you, Captain!”
“Stow it, Bradley. It’s a long trip to the Terran system.”
“Watch your tone, Captain. I’m about to become your President.”
“Don’t remind me.” Beck sunk low in her chair as the Wayward dropped from its docking arm and thrusted forward away from Waystation. With the punch of a button, Morales sent the little ship jumping into warp.
“Still sure this is the right thing to do?” Porter whispered as Bradley left to go to his tiny cabin and check on his hair once again. No doubt the press would be a mob scene.
“No, Craig. I am very far from sure.”
Stardate 54860.3. It’s been nearly 24 hours since Earth was handed over to the Ferengi. I’ll give this to Starfleet, they’re efficient movers. I’ve stood by on my bridge watching fleets of Starfleet vessels warp away to Vulcan, loaded down with priceless art, chunks of the Statue of Liberty, and Mount Rushmore, which had to be carefully shaved off that mountain in North Dakota. Or is it South Dakota? Anyway, the evacuation of Earth is proceeding apace, and we’ve been volunteered, by Velara, to help out.
“And how many in your party?” Counselor Peterman asked, holding a padd and waiting patiently at the cargo bay transporter.
“One thousand,” said the dark-skinned, loinclothed man. “We are from the largest tribe in New Guinea.”
“And the one with the most fashion sense, no doubt,” Peterman said. “Anyway, we can’t hold a thousand people. Some of your people are going to have to go to the Pathfinder, or the Alexis. Okay?”
“As you wish. I still do not understand what is happening. We were content to stay on Earth and live in peace with these…Ferengi.”
“You don’t say. Well, I’m not in charge of who gets moved where. I hear Bolarus is beautiful this season. Ensign Holly will show you the way to your cabins.”
Ensign Chris Holly led the group away and Peterman sighed.
Her communicator chirped. “Baxter to Peterman. How many does that make?”
“We’re holding close to nine hundred. That’s in addition to our regular crew, and all the luggage. We’re packed to the gills, Andy.”
“I’ll tell Starfleet we’re ready to get underway.”
“That’s no good. Don’t we have to stick around to assure that Bradley Dillon gets coronated, or whatever?”
“Bolarus is only a few hours away at maximum warp. We’ll be back in plenty of time.”
“If you say so,” Peterman muttered, hugging her padd.
“Is there something wrong? You don’t sound yourself.”
“Well…when you were preaching to your parents about saving the Earth. You mentioned our children…”
“I was speaking generically.”
“I see. Well, what about not generically. What about OUR children?”
“Whoa, Kelly, something just blew up on Deck Ten. I have to check it out. See you soon!”
Peterman sighed. “Right.”
Baxter stepped out into Ship’s Shoppes and immediately wished he hadn’t. The entire facility was booming with screams and shouts; people of all races and denominations were at each other’s throats. It was mayhem. “Baxter to security! What the hell’s going on in the mall?”
“A riot, apparently,” responded Lt. Commander J’hana’s calm voice.
“And where are you?”
“Right at the epicenter of it. Near the fountain.”
Baxter looked over the second-floor railing, down at the fountain. “Oh, right. I see you. What happened?”
“Arghh….oh, well, apparently the French and the Aleutian Islanders got into an arguement over who got who out of World War III. It was either that or a disagreement about table manners, I can’t be sure!”
“We can’t afford to have Terrans tearing each other apart. I’m filling this place with anesthezine.”
“But Captain, what about me and my staff?”
Baxter walked down the corridor toward the Captain’s Mess in hope of finding a decent lunch. He’d need to stock up on ruffage if he was to transport 900 Earth refugees and go back and save the planet.
He tapped in the code to the door to the Captain’s private dining room and stepped in. He came face to face with an eight-foot- tall purple, veined creature.
“Hello. I think you’re in the wrong room. Ship’s mess is eight doors down.”
“ARRNNNNNNNNN!” cried the creature.
“Oh. The bathroom. That’s two decks up. Section Baker. I’ll show you the–”
“GARNNNNNNN!” The creature grabbed Baxter by the throat and hoisted him, flailing, into the air.
“Oh. It’s the Constellation Club you want. That’s one deck down, all the way forward.”
The creature bashed Baxter repeatedly against the Captain’s Mess bulkhead. “GARRGGGGGARRRRRAAAAAAAR RRRRR!”
He let Baxter drop to the deck, frazzled.
Baxter looked woefully up at the creature. “I give up. I can’t figure out where you’re trying to go.”
The creature rattled out a sigh and pulled a padd out of his suitcoat pocket. He tapped busily at the padd and handed it to Baxter.
Baxter scratched his bruised head and read the padd:
STOP TRYING TO SAVE EARTH OR YOU AND YOUR CREW WILL BE KILELED
“I get it now,” Baxter said. “But you misspelled ‘killed.’ See, you put ‘kileled.’ I can understand, what with those giant fingers. It must be hard for you to type.”
“Oh, right,” Baxter said, as the creature picked him up and body-slammed him, and all was dark.
The first thing Baxter saw when he opened his eyes was the concerned face of Commander Conway, in Sickbay.
“Lunchtime is a dangerous time, Captain. Trouble at every turn.”
Baxter leaned up on his elbows on the biobed. “This isn’t funny, Conway. The Ferengi sent someone to rough me up. To get me to stop trying to get Earth back.”
“Oh. That explains all these injuries,” Conway said dumbly, pointing at the diagram of Baxter’s body on the biobed viewscreen. Several zones of the diagram were highlighted red.
Dr. Browning walked up and pushed Baxter gently back down on the bed. “Lie still, Andy. The idea is for you to heal.”
“I have to find that guy. Before he gets to one of you.” Baxter looked at Conway. “Well, before he gets to someone I care about, anyway.”
“Ouch. You wound me, Captain.”
“This isn’t funny.” Baxter swung his legs over the biobed and stood. “Where’s Kelly?”
“Walking her pets in the arboretum,” Browning said.
“Have a security team go and make sure she’s okay. Meanwhile, we’ve got a purple guy to catch. I’m going to need a team to join us ASAP.”
“That’s going to be tough,” Conway said, following Baxter toward the Sickbay door. “Half of our security squad is in the next room passed out from anesthezine.”
“Who could have done that,” Baxter mused, stepping out of Sickbay.
“HOLD ON!” cried Browning, rushing up behind Baxter. “If you’re not going to let me treat you, at least let me give you something for the pain.”
“Janice, that’s really not–”
And suddenly Deck 12 was happy, groovy colors.
“Right on, Janice,” Baxter said, kissed Browning on the head, and marched off down the corridor, with Conway on his heels.
Supplemental. We’ve arrived at Bolarus and dropped off our payload of Earthpeople. Unfortunately, our purple guest was not among them. We still can’t find him, which leads me to wonder how on Earth such a large man can hide himself so effectively. At any rate, we’re headed back to Earth, which we are bent on getting back. Do you hear me, big purple man? We’re getting it BACK!
Baxter marched out of his readyroom purposefully, looking out at the viewscreen and marveling at the stars that streaked toward the Explorer. Things still looked a little swirly and colorful from the blast of drugs Janice gave him, but he shook it off.
Lt. Commander Larkin turned at her station. “All systems are nominal. We are on course for Earth, at a speed of Warp 9.95. We will arrive within the hour. And Counselor Peterman’s groundhog just relieved itself on my station.”
“Very good,” Baxter said, circling around to his command chair. True, the bridge smelled like a barnyard, what with the lion’s share, pardon the pun, of Peterman’s pets scattered about, in the readyroom, in the conference room, in the bathroom, and all about the decks of the bridge. But better that than they be slaughtered by that purple monstrosity.
A ring of security officers and deputized crew circled the bridge, watching the entrance points, turbolifts, and Jeffries tube access hatches, phaser rifles at the ready.
The senior staff were all at their stations. Browning and Richards had taken position at the engineering console, Mirk and Hartley at Auxillary Environmental control, opposite Tilleran’s science station. J’hana had since woken up and taken her own station.
“No sign of purple guys,” Lt. Ford said, studying the helm controls. “For now.”
“No one’s getting to us,” Baxter said. “I’ve made allowances for every eventuality.”
In her chair, at Baxter’s left, Peterman nodded. “Good work, honey.”
“Now all we have to do is make it to Earth, get the planet back, and go collect everyone we sent off,” Conway grumbled.
“As I said, I have everything under control,” Baxter said confidently. Then panels all over the bridge started blowing up.
Richards swung behind the engineering panel amidst smoke and sparks. “Someone just blew out every relay in the warp core! We just dropped out of warp! The core is on overload!”
“Helm controls are offline!” Ford cried. “As is the brothel on Deck Twelve!”
“We have a brothel?” demanded Conway over the din of alert klaxons.
“No, but if we did, it would be offline!”
Baxter glanced around the bridge as the lights flickered, and as the engines made a horrible whine sound. “Well… someone do something!”
Tilleran spun in her chair to check her science station. “Something’s blowing out every sector in the computer core, one by one! If I can’t stop it, everything that’s automated on the ship will blow out!”
“Including my coffeemaker?”
Baxter glared at Conway. “Tilleran, Richards…stabilize those systems!”
“What do you mean ‘STABILIZE’?” asked Richards, over the alert trills. “Our warp engines are dead. I just dropped the core! Whoever did this knew just how to stop us. This ship isn’t going anywhere for days!”
“Computer core’s gone,” Tilleran said, as the lights on every panel around the ship went out. “The backup too!”
Baxter stood to look around the bridge, which went dark then quickly lit up red. “That purple guy did not look like an engineering expert.”
Hartley stared at the smoke-filled chaos the bridge had now become. “I guess appearances are deceiving!” Chickens and dogs sqwawked and barked. It was like a damn barnyard.
Baxter approached Mirk. “Mirk? What about your powers?”
Mirk shrugged. “I’m good, Captain. But not that good.”
“It was worth a shot.”
“Sir,” said Tilleran. “We have more of a problem than you think. Without the computer cores, not only are we out of power, but we have no way to maintain life support. This ship will be unlivable in a matter of hours.”
“Well,” Baxter sighed. “How do you like that? Fine, then. If these guys want to play hardball, we’ll do that. Commander Conway, Doctor Browning, I want you to get everyone aboard escape pods, shuttles, and runabouts. Anything with an independant life support system. Send out a distress call. Larkin, Tilleran, and J’hana will accompany me to Earth aboard the Escort to make sure Bradley Dillon makes it to his coronation on time. Oh, and everyone grab a pet. They can’t climb ladders, you know.”
“I’m going too,” Peterman said, as the bridge crew, pets, and security officers poured into the pair of Jeffries’ tube hatches on either side of the bridge.
Baxter struggled under Charlie’s weight as he shimmied down the ladder. Peterman was above him, grappling with Ozzie the Osprey.
“I’m not going to bother going into the ‘it’s too dangerous’ lecture, honey!”
“Good. Then it’s settled. I’m going.”
“No, that’s not what I meant. I meant…”
“See you on the Escort.”
“She has your gonads in a sack, Captain. Give in and let her control you.”
“Shut up, J’hana!”
“So we had a minor setback,” Captain Baxter explained on the small viewscreen above the forward window on the scoutship Wayward.
Sitting the tactical/communications console, Captain Beck huffed. “Sounds like more than a ‘minor setback,’ Captain. Your ship was effectively taken out.”
“The point is, we’re underway again.” Baxter was seated in the command chair on the cramped bridge of his own companion ship, USS Escort.
“What is our plan?” Beck asked, dreading that she had to ask Baxter that.
“I’m thinking that the Ferengi will try to stop you and Mister Dillon from getting to Earth. They don’t want to sell it back to us for some reason.”
“So how do we get it back?” asked Craig Porter from sciences.
“If Bradley Dillon throws enough money at them, they’ll do whatever we want them to. It’s in their nature.”
“Thank goodness we have a student of sociology at our disposal,” Beck said dryly.
“Listen. Just alter your course to meet us before we get to the Terran system. I want you to give us Bradley Dillon, then simulate his readings on your own ship. Try to confuse the Ferengi. Can you do that?”
Beck glanced over at Bradley, who’d been standing beside her, listening to the conversation with detached amusement. “Sure we can. We’ll just turn up our arrogance emitters to maximum.”
“You wound me, Captain,” Bradley said with a smirk. He turned to regard Baxter on the viewscreen. “Let me get this straight, Captain. People will try to kill us to stop us from buying Earth back?”
Baxter sighed. “Looks like it, Mister Dillon.”
“I don’t like the sound of that at all.”
“Well, you don’t have much of a choice. You want to be President, you have to start taking risks.”
“I guess so. But I don’t have to like it.”
Baxter frowned on the viewscreen. “What became of that small businessman that risked his life to save his alternate self on the alternate Waystation a couple years back?”
“He became a large buisnessman rich enough to pay people to do things like this. Regardless, I’ll go along with you. As long as I can get some assurance that I’ll get out of this alive, and in office?”
“Oh, you have my personal gaurantee.” Baxter grinned.
“That’s good enough for me. Close channel, Mister Morales and continue on our course.”
Morales glanced back at Beck, who nodded. “Go ahead, Commander.” She looked at Bradley and laughed. “Personal guarantee. Hah.”
“What?” Bradley asked. “What’s so funny?”
“Commander Larkin, take us out of warp,” Baxter said, as the Escort streaked into the Andromeda system, just a few parsecs from Earth. Peterman stood beside Baxter, fidgeting with her fingers. “Problems, honey?” Baxter asked.
“You could say that. What makes you think we’ll get through the Ferengi blockade? They’re bound to put up a fight, you know.”
Baxter patted the arm of his command chair. “The Escort will get us through. Don’t you worry about that.”
“I am worried, and I don’t see myself loosening up anytime soon.”
Tilleran’s panel bleeped. “Captain,” she said. “I just detected the Wayward entering the system. They’re on a course to rendez-vous with us.”
Baxter straightened in his chair. “J’hana, lower shields and get ready to beam Bradley over here.”
“Ready,” said J’hana.
After a few moments, J’hana checked her panel. “He’s aboard.”
“Put Captain Beck on screen.”
Baxter watched Beck appear on the viewscreen. “Captain. Ready to go get our planet back?”
Beck rolled her eyes. “No. I’m just out here for my health.”
“That’s the spirit. We’ll lead the way.”
“Goody. Try to keep in one piece. Wayward out.”
Beck blinked on the screen and Baxter gestured to Larkin. “Commander, resume our course for Earth. Maximum Warp.”
Baxter turned to Peterman. “I think Captain Beck is softening toward me.”
“Sure, Andy. I’d better go check on Mr. Dillon.”
Baxter nodded. “Make sure he brought his checkbook.”
Ten minutes later, Baxter was perched in the command chair, studying a padd.
“You’ve been abnormally quiet,” Tilleran noted.
Baxter said nothing.
“Why don’t you just read his mind and see what he’s thinking,” J’hana suggested.
“Because that’s not nice.”
“And since when did you care if mind-reading was ‘nice’?”
Tilleran shrugged. “The man’s planet is at stake. I’m giving him a bit of a break.”
“You’re too generous,” Baxter said softly, still immersed in his padd.
“So what are you reading?” demanded J’hana.
“If you must know,” Baxter said, not looking away from his padd. “I’m reading ‘Doctor Spock on Parenting.’”
Tilleran giggled. “And, if I may ask, sir, why are you reading that?”
“He wants to mate with his wife and produce offspring,” J’hana said plainly.
Baxter hugged the padd close to his chest. “I’ve been thinking about it.”
“That’s sweet,” Tilleran said.
Larkin turned at her panel. “Indeed. Human males at your age are in prime shape to procreate. It is the right time.”
“And no doubt the Counselor’s loins are burning for the warmth of a wriggling fetus…” J’hana said and trailed off.
“Commander, you frighten me,” Baxter said, and returned to his padd.
Just then, the rear doors to the bridge opened and Baxter quickly shoved the padd under his bottom and turned in his chair. Wouldn’t want Peterman finding out about his–
The purple creature had Peterman and Bradley Dillon, each gripped by the throat firmly in his meaty hands. Obviously, he made his way over from the Explorer when the Escort disembarked. J’hana rose from her station and withdrew her phaser in one quick, fluid motion, but the creature shook Peterman at her menacingly and she quickly sat back down.
Baxter stood slowly. “Listen, Mister…whatever your name is. We can resolve this without any violence.”
“Well, that’s a very good point.” Baxter took a step toward the creature, rested his hand on Tilleran’s panel. Slowly tapped in a sequence of codes.
Tilleran looked at Baxter and nodded.
“You’re messing up my suit,” Bradley said, annoyed, as his feet waggled half a meter from the Escort deck. The creature seemed unconcerned.
“Be quiet, Bradley,” Baxter said, and took another step forward. He addressed the creature. “Why don’t we sit down, and we’ll discuss this rationally? I’ll even let you sit in the command chair.”
The creature cocked his head. “NARGGG?”
“Yes, absolutely.” Baxter gestured regally for the creature to sit in the command chair. Grudgingly, the creature trudged over and sat. He let Peterman and Dillon go.
“First of all,” said the creature. “RUUUARRRRHGH.”
“Now, Tilleran!” Baxter shouted, and shoved Peterman out of the way. Tilleran stamped a control and electricity crackled all around the command chair. The panels on the chair-arms exploded and the creature’s eyes went wide as his body was filled with gigawatts of power.
“Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!” cried the creature, and he reached forward to drag Baxter into his lap.
Baxter fell into the creature’s lap and began jerking spasmodically as the electricity crackled around him and the creature.
“Someone do something!” Peterman cried frantically.
Lt. Commander Larkin was out of her chair in a flash. She peeled Baxter off the creature and Tilleran deactivated the power surge.
On his butt, on the Escort deck, Baxter looked around, dazed. “Is he…?”
Peterman knelt by the creature in the command chair and felt his neck for a pulse. “He’s out like a light. Poor guy. He’s kind of cute.”
“Leave it to her to make an idiotic comment like that,” muttered J’hana.
Arms folded, Bradley Dillon observed the Escort bridge. “Well, Captain, we must do this more often.”
Peterman helped Baxter up. “Not if I can help it,” he said. “Larkin, where are we?”
“On our way into the Terran system,” Larkin said, checking her panel. “We will come out of warp in exactly ten seconds.”
Baxter walked in front of the command chair. No doubt it would be some task to move that huge fellow out of it. He’d sooner stand. “Okay. Radio the Wayward and let them know we–”
“DARRRRRRRT!” and Baxter was jerked back into the command chair.
A pair of strong, purple hands wrapped firmly around Baxter’s throat.
“Out…like…a…light???” Baxter choked out.
Peterman shrugged. “Sorry!”
Baxter leaned forward, with much effort, and dragged the creature down onto the deck. A bad move, since that meant the two hundred kilo creature was now on top of him.
J’hana jumped over her panel and lept on the creature, pounding with all her strength. Baxter struggled up to the helm, gripping Larkin’s chair for a handhold. Larkin, meanwhile, slid out of her chair and shoved up against the creature with all her android might, with J’hana on the opposite side.
Baxter scrambled for the helm to take Escort out of warp, just as the creature, J’hana, and Larkin, all smashed into him and the helm.
Beck watched through the Wayward’s forward viewport as Escort hopped out of warp, then back into warp, then back out, then zig-zagged the Terran system like an errant pinball.
“What the hell is happening over there?” asked Lt. Commander Porter.
“I don’t know, but I want no part of it. Keep your distance, Mister Morales.”
“Good plan, Captain.”
“DIE!” J’hana cried, jerking at the creatures neck, clinging to his back.
“He does not seem willing to follow your command,” Larkin said calmly, as the creature swung her back and forth into one bulkhead, then another.
Baxter brought the Escort under control and sent it flying toward Earth, just as the cluster of creature and Starfleet officers twirled around to slam back into him and knock him out of the helm chair.
“Hold still so I can shoot someone!” Bradley Dillon cried, waving a phaser at the group.
“Where in the hells did you get that?” demanded Tilleran.
“The Andorian dropped it when she went to jump on the creature,” explained Bradley. “Why didn’t she just use it to shoot him?”
Tilleran shrugged. “You obviously don’t know how she operates.”
“Somebody should try and help them,” Peterman said. She grabbed the phaser from Bradley.
“Hey. I’m your President!”
“Not yet!” Peterman upped the setting on the phaser and lept into the fray. She jammed the barrel of the phaser up into the creature’s armpit and blasted.
He tossed Larkin and J’hana off like dolls, pushed Baxter to the deck, and turned on Peterman.
“You just made him mad, honey!” Baxter called from the deck.
“Tell me something I don’t know!”
“Finish him!” cried J’hana, wiping blue blood from her mouth.
Peterman upped the setting again and blasted the creature as he lunged for her.
“Don’t play around. Vaporize him!” Baxter cried, on his knees.
Peterman stared at the purple wrinkled face of the creature. He resembled a charpais. Cute little wrinkled pug-like face. She thought about it. Then the creature pounded a fist down into her skull and she dropped to the deck.
Then a beam slammed into his back and vaporized him into a small puff of burnt purple guy smoke.
J’hana holstered a second phaser. “Always keep a spare.”
Baxter crawled over to Peterman. “Honey…are you okay?”
“Not really.” Baxter glanced back at the helm. “Is anyone steering?”
Larkin climbed over the crushed chair and sat behind the dented panel. “I was doing a self-diagnostic.”
Baxter sighed. “How nice for you. Well?”
“We are spiraling toward Earth,” said Larkin tonelessly.
“What fun.” Baxter pulled Peterman to her feet and walked with her over to the command chair. “Get us under control. An someone tell me the status of the Ferengi blockade?”
“Still in place,” said J’hana.
“What about our ships?” Baxter sat and pulled Peterman into his lap.
“A few left. The Alexis and the Bonne-Chance are the only starships in the area.”
“No Pathfinder?” Peterman asked.
“They must still be taking their refugees to Vulcan or wherever,” Baxter said. “I didn’t count on Mom and Dad being much help anyway. That changes nothing. Larkin, take us to Earth, full impulse. J’hana, put up the shields and arm all weapons. Instruct Wayward to do the same. And ask the Alexis and Bonne-Chance if they would kindly cover us. I’d hate to interrupt their moving duties, but…”
“Do you think the Ferengi would fire on us?” Bradley Dillon asked. He felt unneeded again. Whenever he got on the bridge of a starship, he suddenly felt useless. Well, soon he’d be Federation President and all that would change. He rubbed his hands together greedily.
“Of course they’ll fire on us,” said Baxter. “We’re in THEIR space now.”
“It won’t be for long,” Peterman said. “Right, hon?”
Baxter sighed. “We’ll see.”
“We will be in firing range in ten seconds,” said J’hana. “Wayward is right behind us.”
“Here goes nothing,” Baxter said.
Suddenly the comm system bleeped and Liquidator Bink appeared on the viewscreen. The Golden-Gate bridge loomed through the window behind him. He squinted to see toll stations being built at either end. And, oddly, in the middle.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Bink demanded.
“We’re buying Earth back,” Baxter said. “Bradley Dillon here,” he pointed behind him, “has 50 billion credits. I believe that’s the asking price.”
“It just went up. 70 billion.”
Baxter glanced back at Bradley.
“It’s a bargain at that price,” Bradley said easily. “Now who do I make the check out to?”
“I thought we were trying to convince them that Bradley was on the Wayward?” whispered Peterman, leaning on Baxter’s shoulder.
“Screw it!” Baxter said between clenched teeth.
“On second thought, we’re not interested in selling,” said Bink.
“A deal’s a deal, Bink!” Baxter said, shooting out of his command chair. Peterman fell forward to the deck. “You’ve got to sell! You’d be making a huge profit. The Nagus would approve!”
“The Nagus isn’t here. And I rather like being the unchallenged ruler of Earth. Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? Just think of the development possibilities!”
“You’re rotten, Bink, even for a Ferengi!” Baxter cried. “You sent that purple son of a bitch to kill us so we’d never get here!”
“Oh, yes. And where might Krungor be?”
“Krungor be vaporized!” Peterman barked, stumbling to her feet beside Baxter.
“Damn. Well, whatever. You’re not getting this planet back, Baxter. Go home…or get blown to smithereens!”
“How do you think that would look, Bink? What if the Nagus found that a man with 70 billion credits came to buy Earth and you blew him up?”
“The Nagus doensn’t even CARE about profit, you FOOL! Now, goodbye, Captain. Give my regards to Debtor’s Hell!”
“Blockade ships are firing,” said J’hana as Bink disappeared from the viewscreen.
Baxter sat again. “All power to forward shields.” He looked to Peterman. “Lap?”
“Not if you push me off again!”
“That was an accident.”
“Okay.” Peterman sat and immediately the Escort rocked with fire from about a dozen Ferengi ships.
“Distance from Earth?” Baxter asked, gripping his charred command chair.
“We’ll be in the atmosphere in thirty seconds,” Tilleran said. “If we can withstand this barrage for that long.”
“Which is doubtful,” J’hana said, as her hands scrambled across the tactical console. “Alexis and Bonne-Chance are covering us, albeit reluctantly. Their captains would like to know what the hell is going on.”
“Tell them we’re trying to save Earth, thank you very much!”
Earth loomed big and beautiful on the viewscreen, ringed by brown, blobish Ferengi warships. Baxter swallowed hard.
“We can’t lower our shields for transport. Larkin: take us down!”
Beck gripped her panel as the Wayward rocked with Ferengi fire. The Sabre-class Alexis and Excelsior-class Bonne-Chance cris-crossed in front of her, laying down protective phaser and torpedo fire.
“What’s your take on this, Morales?” Beck asked, firing Wayward’s pulse phasers at oncoming Ferengi ships.
“It looks like the Escort is circling the Ferengi blockade to find a weak place to punch through.”
“Can we help them punch through?”
“Respectfully, sir, you’re the one at tactical.”
“The Wayward is concentrating her fire on the Ferengi freighter near Luna,” said J’hana, as the dart-shaped, heavily- engined Wayward bucked and skittered on the Escort’s tiny viewscreen. “Looks like its shields are buckling.”
“Then focus your fire on that freighter. Larkin, take us through,” said Baxter.
Torpedoes intersected at the center of the oblong freighter until it exploded in a brilliant blue wash of light.
“There’s our hole! Go through it, Larkin! Maximum impulse!”
Wayward and Escort soared through the hole in the Ferengi blockade and dove into Earth’s atmosphere, as blasts from ships above pounded into them.
“Two fighters are pursuing,” said J’hana. “Profit-class.”
“Can we outmaneuver them?”
“Certainly. But we do not out-gun them. Not on rear weapons alone. And not without shields.”
Baxter watched clouds give way to open sky as the Escort plowed through Earth’s atmosphere. Patchwork fields flew by below. “Instruct the Wayward to cover us. We’re going to San Francisco. I’ve got one hell of a treat for Liquidator Bink.”
Peterman made a sour face. “Andy, that was awful.”
Suddenly a blast hit the Escort and caused it to pitch wildly.
“Photon torpedo on the rear hull, right near the fourth lateral thruster,” Larkin diagnosed quickly. She tapped at the helm so fast no one could tell what she was doing, or even which hand she was doing it with.
The Escort spiraled down toward Earth at a nauseating pitch. Baxter gripped his stomach and held Peterman close. “Mmmppph! Get us landed, quickly!”
“They took out the whole port bank of thrusters!” J’hana cried. The Escort began to spin like a frisbee, its starboard thrusters propelling it around and around.
“I thought the Wayward was covering us!” said Bradley Dillon.
“They’re doing a damn poor job of it!” cried Baxter. “Take all thrusters offline and glide us in, Larkin!”
“Easier said than done, Captain!”
“Just do it!”
The Escort sailed toward the San Francisco bay.
Panels exploded all around the Wayward cockpit. “We’ve got to put down, quickly,” Morales called out.
“We need to distract the fighters,” Beck said. “So our…ugh…friends can get to San Francisco. Steer us toward North Carolina.”
“You have a plan?” asked Porter.
“You could say that. See, Craig, there are places where humanity hasn’t changed in hundreds of years. One of those places is Appalacia.”
“What do you mean?”
“Give me the helm and I’ll show you.”
One fighter broke off to chase the Wayward, the other continued after the Escort. J’hana took out its engines with a well-placed quantum torpedo and sent it spiralling into the Pacific Ocean.
“Alrighty,” Baxter said, rubbing his hands together. “Now we just need to get landed. Get us as close to Starfleet HQ as you can, Larkin.”
“Not an easy task, steering by wingflaps alone, sir.”
“If anyone can do it, you can.”
The Escort sailed toward the Golden Gate bridge.
“No one’s done anything as crazy as this before!” Peterman pointed out.
“Take us under the bridge, Larkin. That way we won’t–”
CLANG! The Escort slammed into one of the support spires of the Golden Gate bridge, sending the whole structure crashing into San Francisco Bay.
“My apologies, Captain,” Larkin said, as the Escort flopped end-over-end, one wing totally shorn off. Miraculously, Larkin righted the craft and sent it flopping across the San Francisco Bay like an errant rock.
“Everyone grab something!” Baxter said, gripping Peterman tighter as the buildings of Starfleet Command loomed on the viewscreen. The Escort slammed up onto land and slid across the grass and sidewalks, knocking down lampposts, taking out trees.
Bradley Dillon dropped to his knees, hugged Tilleran’s station. “Someone stop us!”
“Firing reverse thrusters,” Larkin reported, a bit late, as the Escort slammed right through a metrorail tube and crashed right into Starfleet HQ.
Rubble from the dented building rained down on the Escort hull as the dust settled around it.
Baxter looked around the dim red bridge. “Everyone okay?”
Peterman nodded, and slid out of Baxter’s lap.
“That was a hell of a landing,” Bradley said, climbing to his feet.
“I could have done better,” said Larkin.
“Are you kidding me?” asked Tilleran. “You crashed us into the exact building we need to get into.”
Baxter grabbed a phaser from the compartment on the bulkhead by Tilleran’s station. “Everyone arm yourselves. Let’s not expect to get into Bink’s office easily.”
Baxter blew open the side egress hatch of the Escort and ejected the inflatable off-ramp. He slid down, followed by Peterman and the others, to find himself on the First Floor of Starfleet HQ.
“And as you can see, our office suite is nicely equipped with a cafeteria and a lavatory for your comf–” Velara strolled by along the corridor facing the ruined room the Escort had crashed into. Possibly the lobby.
She was walking with Admiral Thomas Wagner.
“What in blue blazes?” asked the Admiral.
Velara covered her face. Behind her hand, she said, “That is the USS Escort. Follow me and I’ll show you where your office would be located.”
“Commodore?” Baxter asked, but the Vulcan didn’t reply. She kept walking.
Admiral Wagner walked on.
“Oh well.” Baxter withdrew his phaser and hurried down the corridor to find an elevator.
Baxter and his team only had to blast a few Ferengi to get up to Bink. Too bad his bodyguard had been vaporized by J’hana earlier.
J’hana blasted open the door to the C-in-C’s office, where Bink sat placidly at his desk.
“You hu-mon’s are persistent. I’ll give you that,” Bink said. “Still, no deal.”
Bradley Dillon pushed past Baxter and Peterman to approach Bink’s desk. He dropped a padd on the desk.
“One hundred billion credits. That’s my final offer.”
Bink looked at the padd, his eyes wide. A thin film of drool fell on the padd. “That…that is a lot of credits.”
“And it could be all yours, my friend. Just hand over Earth.”
“I–” Bink’s face hardened. “No. No deal.”
Baxter clicked his tongue. “What would the Nagus say?”
“The Nagus doesn’t care about profit, and even if he did, he’ll never find out!” cried Bink.
“Let’s just kill him and be done with it,” J’hana said, raising her phaser to fire on Bink.
Tilleran shook her head. “That’s your solution to everything.”
“You’d be surprised how often it works.”
Just then, armed Ferengi swarmed into the office to surround Baxter and his group.
“Game, set, and match, Captain Baxter,” Bink said happily from his desk. “Drarg there will show you out of the building. Then he’ll kill you.”
Baxter sighed, looked out the window at the crushed Golden Gate bridge as it sunk into the bay, glinting in the setting sun. “Fine, Bink. I give up. You can have Earth. Choke on it.”
“Thank you kindly,” Bink said, smiling toothily.
Then the viewer behind him sprung to life. Bink turned to see who it was.
“Not now. I’m busy!”
“BIIIIIIINK!” cried the whiny voice of Grand Nagus Rom. He stood on the bridge of the Pathfinder. Lucille Baxter stood behind him, smiling.
“Mom!” Baxter exclaimed. “I thought you said I had to fight my own battles!”
“I didn’t say that. I said we wouldn’t fight them for you. I said nothing about us not helping. Besides, it was a simple matter to swing by Ferenginar on our way back from Vulcan. Actually, it was Harlan’s idea.”
“And where is Dad?”
Lucille’s smile waffled. “He, uh, has an appointment.”
“Uhhh, uhhh…excuse me!” said the Nagus, edging in front of Lucille. “I hear you refused payment for Earth. That’s your choice, Mister Bink, but I think that’s a bad idea. Those 50 billion credits could greatly help the Ferengi government.”
“One hundred billion, your grace,” said Bradley Dillon.
“ONE HUNDRED!” Rom said, shocked. “With one hundred billion credits, we could finally build that free retirement colony on my cousin’s moon! We could end homelessness on Ferenginar for good!”
“But Rom, I am the Liquidator in charge here…!”
“Not anymore. As of this moment, I absorb your whole fortune, and all your property, uh, including Earth. Mister Dillon, you have yourself a deal!”
Bradley grinned at Baxter. “Call me President Dillon, Nagus. And I feel confident we can take Earth and Ferenginar into a new era of financial stability.”
“I look forward to it.” The Nagus smiled at Bink. “No hard feelings, okay?”
“Nooooooo!” Bink cried, and laid his head down on his desk.
“Mister Bink, if you need a loan, I’m sure we’d be glad to set you up with something,” Baxter said easily, patting Bink on the shoulder. “With a modest interest rate.”
Bradley rubbed his hands together eagerly. “Enough talk. Let’s get my coronation overwith. I have big plans for Earth!”
Pilots Gorvar and Brig climbed slowly out the escape hatch of their Profit-class fighter. That Starfleet pilot really knew how to fly. It hadn’t taken long for whoever it was in command of the ship they identified as “Wayward” to lead the Ferengi crashing right into a mountainside.
“At least Earth is ours now,” said Gorvar. “We’re in friendly territory, right?”
Brig looked around. “I don’t recognize this place.”
Then, suddenly, hu-mons in overalls emerged from the bushes surrounding the crashed fighter.
CLACK-CLACK! Went six double-barreled shotguns at once.
“You in a heap of trouble, big-eared boys!” cried one especially bearded fellow.
“You guys are supposed to have evacuated,” Gorvar said nervously.
“We’re what you call ‘squatters,’” said one of the hillbillies. “We ain’t leaving Earth. But you is.”
“You have a shuttle, then?” asked Brig.
Gorvar and Brig exchanged nervous glances. “Uh-oh.”
“But first we’s gonna have fun with you l’il guys!”
Baxter strolled down the corridor at Starfleet HQ whispering a pleasant tune. He approached the door to the Explorer Project suite and stepped through.
Lt. Monroe was seated at her desk, packing up some padds.
“Do you have an appointment?” she asked with a sigh.
“Nope,” Baxter said. He looked down at Monroe. “Stop packing. We got Earth back.”
“Great,” sighed Monroe. “I just finished cleaning out the Explorer’s storage module. All those freaking comic books…”
“Anyway,” Baxter said. “I want to go tell Velara.”
Monroe rolled her eyes. “Captain, I wouldn’t go in there…”
“Oh, is she in another ‘important meeting’?” Baxter made air-quotes.
“This news is too good to pass up.” Baxter strolled to Velara’s office door, tapped a control, and it slid open. “Hey, Velara! Guess what? We–”
Harlan Baxter looked up from the desk, he too was packing up padds. “Oh, hello, boy.”
Harlan looked around the office. “She hopped on the first transport to Vulcan to go find herself or something. Guess she didn’t want to waste any time now that she found someone to replace her.”
“So that’s what she’s been up to. That little sneak. So, who’d she get?”
Baxter’s eyes went wide. “Dad?”
Harlan opened a wooden case on the desk. “Heard you got Earth back. Reason for both of us to celebrate…have a cigar, boy!”
Stardate 54865.7. The Explorer is back and both she and the Escort are repaired for the most part. And after a few days of unloading, we managed to get Earth repopulated. Since Bradley was so generous with his credits, Rom agreed to have some Ferengi help rebuild what they destroyed in moving in. That, of course, includes my house.
Baxter stood, the flaps of his white dress uniform waving in the breeze, and watched the Ferengi lay the foundation on his new house. They worked quick, he noticed. He barely noticed the whine of a transporter beam behind him, but he could tell by the sweet smell of perfume that it wasn’t Commander Conway or Lt. Commander Larkin approaching.
A soft hand grabbed his shoulder and squeezed.
“Dad?” Baxter asked jokingly.
“Very funny,” Peterman whispered in his ear. She turned Baxter toward her. “I figured I’d find you here. You sure know how to escape from a party.”
“I didn’t want to stay at Bradley’s inauguration any longer than absolutely necessary.”
Peterman pushed her waving hair out of her face and looked up at Baxter. “You seem incredibly like a man at peace, considering you just watched someone we both consider an arrogant bastard become Federation President.”
“Hey, he can’t possibly do worse than the last guy, right?” Baxter said with a smile.
“True.” Peterman bit her lip. “You also seem incredibly calm, considering the other news.”
“What other news?”
“You know what other news.”
“Oh. That Velara gave my dad the Explorer project?”
“Yes, that news!”
Baxter shrugged. “It could have been worse. She could have given it to my mom.”
“Anyway, he’s been really bored with retirement. I know he couldn’t have been happy crammed into the Pathfinder with my mom. This’ll give him something to do.”
“They always have been happier when not on the same ship together.”
“But what does that mean for us?”
Baxter shrugged. “We’ll see.” He pulled Peterman close to him and kissed her long and gently.
When they separated, Peterman glanced over Baxter’s shoulder at the Ferengi’s work.
“You’re really having the house rebuilt?”
“We’re not going to be on the Explorer forever. We need somewhere to raise our kids.”
“You mean ‘kids,’ in the generic sense?”
“No, I sure don’t.”
Peterman leaned her head on Baxter’s chest. “Andy… are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
Baxter smiled. “If you think I’m saying I want to impregnate you, then yes.”
“Oh, baby, that’s so romantic!”
Just as Lt. Commander Larkin starts to experience some, er, technical difficulties, Kitty Larkin shows up once again with some special news which might just send the Explorer galloping back to the Delta Quadrant. Oh Dear Lord NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
Double your pleasure once again with those crazy twin androids in the next installment of Star Traks: TVG, “Positronically Yours!”