Author: Anthony Butler
2450>>…Initiate system power-up sequence.
…Access self-diagnostic results.
…Errant data string found and catalogued for further
…Power systems at maximum efficiency. 2451>>…Access locomotion systems. Prepare to disembark.
…Optical data processors online. Performing cursory scan.
…Scan results normal.
…Lifeform detected: Avian. Species: Common parakeet.
…Activate speech subroutine. Mode: Greeting.
“Good morning, Polly,” said Lt. Commander Kristen Larkin. “Does Polly require nutrition supplement thirteen?”
“SQUAWK!” replied the android’s pet parakeet, a gift from Counselor Peterman. “Polly want a cracker!”
Larkin reached down into the dish below Polly’s cage. “Negative. Polly requires nutrition supplement thirteen.”
“Polly wants a cracker!”
“Nutrition supplement thirteen,” Larkin replied patiently.
2452>>…Access hand circuits. Deliver nutritional supplements.
…Report for bridge duty, nightwatch: 0000 hours.
…Prepare to disembark.
…Locomotive systems ready.
…Initiate disembarkation procedure.
Larkin gave Polly a cursory pet on the head and left her quarters, heading down the corridor for the turbolift that would take her to the bridge. On the way, she saw Commander Conway standing outside his quarters, banging on the door. He looked somewhat upset, Larkin judged.
2453>>…Activate speech subroutine. Mode: Interrogative.
“Commander Conway?” Larkin asked. Are you having trouble getting into your quarters?”
Conway leaned his head on the door and sighed. “Tyra shut me out because I got her the wrong kind of socks at the mall tonight.”
Larkin cocked her head, processing this information.
2453>>…Access crew profile, Civilian Tyra Shar.
…Access crew profile, Commander David Conway.
…Crossmatch NEGATIVE - NEGATIVE - NEGATIVE - NEGATIVE.
…Tyra Shar psychological profile shows negative social tendencies. Data points to a need for intensive social skills building and psychotherapy.
Larkin made a mental note to tell Counselor Peterman about Tyra when she had a free moment.
2454>>…Activate speech subroutine. Mode: Advice.
…Advise Commander Conway: Dissolve relationship immediately.
…Cite resources: Westheimer, Ruth, Doctor; Brothers, Joyce, Doctor; Surak; Eschylus; Peperous Three Disaster; (More?)
“I don’t want to hear it!” Conway railed, turning on Larkin. “I’ve got coffee on the burner in there and Led Zeppelin playing. I just got off-shift. I’ve spent hours blasting apart asteroids to make room for a new starbase. Get out of my hair!”
2455>>…Deactivate speech subroutine.
Larkin continued on her way to the bridge and rode the turbolift, considering the several projects she had going on simultaneously in her brain, from the re-sodding of the arboretum to a rhetorical study of Leah Brahms’s recent
work, “So He’s Made a Hologram of You.”
By the time she reached the bridge, Larkin had completed those analyses, among others.
“Lieutenant Commander Larkin, reporting for duty,” she announced to no one in particular. Lt. Unlathi was at tactical, tapping away with their flippery tentacles; Ensign Hitchcock was at ops, leaned back with her feet up on the panel; Ensign Corella manned helm, studying the dozing Hitchcock with what Larkin decided was abject lust.
Larkin walked around to the command chair and sat down. “Ensign Hitchcock, please put your feet down. Mister Corella, man your post.”
Both ensigns looked back at Larkin sheepishly and went to work. She was two minutes early, so they weren’t prepared for her arrival.
Why was she two minutes early?
2458>>…Initiate follow-up diagnostic. Level One.
“Commander,” said Lt. Gary Hevekcz from the science station. “We’ve completed our asteroid duty. Orders are to lay in a course for the Secoran system to study a collapsing gas giant.”
“Very well,” replied Larkin. “Helm, plot a course for the Secoran System. Speed: Warp Five.”
“Aye, sir,” Corella said, looking sideways at Hitchcock and smiling.
“Do not smile, as if you are joking behind my back, Ensign. I can detect such subtle personal attacks.”
0000>>…Errant data strings found. Delete? Y/N?
…Errant data strings deleted. Frequency of errant data string occurence increasing rapidly.
…Perform neural net diagnostic. Highlight irregularities and purge.
Larkin blinked and looked at Corella. That diagnostic should have only taken nanoseconds, but she deduced her systems had been processing for nearly fifteen seconds. An unforgivable lag. “Carry out my orders, Ensign,” she finally said. “Engage.”
“Uh…aye, sir,” Corella said, turned toward the viewscreen, and shot the Explorer forward into warp.
0012>>…Neural net diagnostic complete. No errant data strings found.
…Extrapolate occurence of errant data strings and create a protocol of systematic system purges to alleviate the problem.
…Please wait… 0020>>…Protocol complete. Initiate? Y/N?
Second Officer’s Log,
Stardate 54933.2. We are 4.5 hours from Secoran space, where sensors indicate the planet’s third star, a red giant, will collapse in nine hours. All science departments are collecting sensor information for scientific study. All systems aboard ship are functioning within normal parameters. As am I.
Lt. Commander Larkin had been watching the Explorer’s main viewscreen for two straight hours without moving a servo. Some of the nightwatch officers were murmurring quietly, chatting about promotions and transfers, shipwide gossip, life under new Federation President Bradley Dillon, and other assorted idiosyncratic, meaningless tripe that humanoids often discussed like love, hope, and fear.
That all stopped when the tactical station bleeped.
Beeps like that had ways of getting the crew’s attention more quickly durning nightwatch. After all, when a panel only really bleeps once in a seven hour time period, people are bound to notice.
Larkin considered all this within the span of a nanosecond.
She turned toward the tactical station and addressed Lt. Unlathi. “Lieutenant?”
Unlathi studied the tactical panel and spoke.
0210>>…Romulan lifepod found. Coordinates far from Romulan space.
…Access Starfleet Procedure protocols.
…Activate speech subroutine. Mode: Communication/Alert.
…Recipient: Captain Andrew Baxter.
Captain Baxter fought his way around underneath his piles of bedcovers, but no matter where he thrust out an arm or leg, or his head for that matter, he just found more cover, or the leg or arm of his wife, Ship’s Counselor Kelly Peterman.
“Captain?” Larkin asked over the comm.
“Still working on it!” replied Baxter through the covers.
“Conceiving a child?”
“Yes, if you must know, but I was referring to getting out from under the covers.”
Finally, mercifully, he found open air. “All right, Larkin. What have we got?”
“A Romulan lifepod was found just outside the Jariga system, heavily damaged. No lifesigns were detected but I suggest we investigate anyway.”
“She is a little far from home,” Baxter said, crossing his legs on the bed and rubbing his beard. “How far off-course would that take us?”
“An investigation would delay our arrival at the Secoran system by one hour.”
“Manageable. Divert course and begin an investigation. Tap some of the senior staff as you see fit.”
“Understood. Bridge out.”
Peterman poked her head out from under the covers as Baxter leaned back against his pillow.
“Just a minor problem.”
“Ready to try again?”
Baxter sighed. “Honey, I’m exhausted. We’ve been at this for days.”
“Don’t get discouraged, baby. Things like this take time.”
“Don’t remind me.” And Baxter dove under the covers. Since when did sex become like work? That idea thoroughly disturbed Baxter.
>>0550…Transporter sequence complete.
…Sensors to maximum.
…Activate speech subroutine. Mode: Command.
“Lieutenant Commmander Tilleran,” Larkin said, as she, Tilleran, and J’hana observed the green, egg-shaped Romulan escape pod that sat on the transporter pad. “Can you detect any defense mechanism active in the pod? Is it safe to open?”
Tilleran knelt in front of the pod, sliding out her tricorder and flipping it open. She checked the readings. “Minimal power in the pod, Commander. I don’t think it poses a threat.”
Larkin glanced over her shoulder at Lt. Hartley. “Lieutenant, did you notice any biohazards when you transported the pod?”
Hartley shook her head, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “Nada. The pod checks out.”
“Very well,” said Larkin. “Commander J’hana, open the pod.”
“Why me?” J’hana asked.
“Because you value your life least of all of us here,” Larkin said reasonably.
“Good enough for me.” J’hana bent forward and tapped a control on the pod. Nothing happened.
“Either I can’t read Romulan right, or the hatch mechanism is busted.” J’hana stared at the pod for several moments, her antennae twitching. “Either way, I have a solution to the problem.” She withdrew her phaser and blasted the top of the pod. Electrics in the hatch mechanism sizzled and the hatch popped open.
Lt. Commander Larkin leaned over and stared down into the pod. Her mouth fell agape.
>>0555…Page fault error 90110143.
…Errant data strings overloading neural nets.
…Advise IMMEDIATE SHUTDOWN.
…The sMeLl of liMa beans.
…OriOn sLave danCers.
Looking tireder than he ever had before, Captain Baxter regarded the two figures slumped on biobeds in Sickbay and scrubbed a hand down his face.
“Which one’s Larkin?” he groaned.
“The one on the right,” Lt. Commander Richards said. “The one in uniform.”
“Oh, but of course.”
Dr. Janice Browning yawned. “The other one is Kitty, then?”
“Without a doubt,” Richards said. “Unless there’s another Larkin android traipsing around the galaxy that we don’t know about.”
“DON’T go there, Commander,” Baxter said. “What’s the status on the pair of them?”
“Kitty is worse off,” Richards said. “She’s suffered a major plasma disruption to her neural nets. And there’s some kind of recursive viral algorithm attacking her personality protocols. Like nothing I’ve ever seen.”
“Caused by whatever blew up her and Ardek’s scout ship?” Baxter asked.
“That’s just it,” Richards said. “I don’t think Ardek’s scout ship blew up. There would be some trace of the explosion on the pod, unless he ejected her and warped away, then blew up.”
“This begs the question, then,” Baxter said. “Where is Ardek, and/or where is the debris of his ship?”
Richards shrugged. “I’ve got Tilleran on that, sir. Our sensors are stretched to their maximum. We’ll find him if he’s anywhere in this sector or any of the surrounding ones.”
Browning folded her arms over her labcoat. “What about our Larkin?”
Richards stepped over to the biobed where Larkin lay inert. “She doesn’t seem damaged at all, except for signs of the same algorithms attacking her personality protocols.”
Baxter leaned heavily on the Sickbay bulkhead. “So whatever happened to Kitty is happening to Larkin now?”
“Then whatever…computer virus, for lack of a better term, is in the two of them must have gotten in there before Larkin threw herself down that energy shaft attempting to kill Ardek last year in that mess with the Jernasi.” “Then the virus was present when we copied Larkin’s brain into the new body,” Richards said, completing Baxter’s thought. “Yes, that was my conclusion as well.”
“Are they going to be okay?” asked Browning.
Richards shook his head. “I can reboot Larkin. Kitty is another story. The virus isn’t what deactivated her. She was proximate to a heavy surge in neutrino particles and a blast of ion radiation. That’s what overloaded her neural nets, at least as near as I can tell.”
Browning looked from Baxter to Richards. “Surge in neutrinos, blast of ion radiation. Hmm. Sounds like the birth of a wormhole to me.”
Baxter and Richards stared at Browning, shocked.
“How the hell did you figure that out?” asked Richards.
Browning looked hurt. “I read!”
“Right, well, that was also my conclusion,” Richards said, looking nervously about Sickbay.
“Damn,” Baxter said. “So Ardek could very well have been thrust across the galaxy.”
“Or to a whole other one,” Richards said, and nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“We have to find that wormhole and see if we can get him back. Who knows what kind of damage he can do to an unsuspecting area of space!”
“With all due respect, sir, is that really our business?” asked Richards. “We have two disabled androids here to take care of.”
“That’s your top priority,” Baxter said. “But the nerds at Starfleet will want information on that wormhole, and I cannot in good conscience let Ardek loose on another corner of the galaxy. It’s unthinkable.”
“All right, then,” Richards said, slapping his comm badge. “Richards to Hartley.”
“Transport the two androids to my robotics lab.”
“Which two androids would that be?”
“It’s too early for your crap, Hartley.”
“Fine, be that way. Here they go…”
“I’ll be in my lab if anyone needs me,” Richards said, and turned on a heel, headed out of Sickbay.
Baxter watched Richards go. Once he and Browning were alone, and the two androids dematerialized, he hopped up onto one of the now-vacant biobeds.
“Okay, Janice. Give it to me.”
Browning hopped up on the biobed next to Baxter. “You’re not going to like it.”
“Let me guess…I’m impotent.”
“Not impotent. Just…not potent.”
“It’s just that your little spermies can’t quite navigate up Kelly’s love canal.”
“Ewwwwww. Janice, do we really have to talk about this?”
“I am your doctor, Andy,” Browning said admonishingly. “Be mature about this.”
“You’re the one who said ‘love canal.’”
“Good point.” Browning sighed and tapped a button on the biobed screen behind Baxter. “Anyway, check this out.”
Baxter watched little yellow squiggles on the biobed screen jiggle and hop around.
Browning grimaced. “Those…ugh…are your, uh, boys.”
Baxter choked back on the embarassment brought on by he and Browning looking at a sample of his…stuff. “So? They look pretty happy to me.”
“Happy, yes. Functional, no. See how that one’s going backwards?”
“Well…” Baxter felt his face flush red. “Janice, do we have to do this?”
“And that one just keeps ramming himself into the side of the petri dish. Poor little guy.”
This was intolerable. Baxter covered his face. “What’s your point?”
“Your sperm are stupid, Andy.”
Baxter glanced around Sickbay for a hole to crawl in. Couldn’t find one. Reluctantly, he glanced at Browning. “Okay, so my sperm are dumb. How come?”
Browning shrugged. “If I had to guess, I’d say it was from the huge electrical jolt you got from that purple creature you were trying to kill a few weeks ago.”
“Oh, THAT electrical jolt,” Baxter said, nodding. “What can you do for me?”
“Well…” Browning handed Baxter a padd. “I can clone some of your good sperm, turn them into a veritable army of supersperm.”
Baxter grinned. “Like Khan and the supermen…”
“Kind of, except these are sperm. Anyway, we just load ‘em up in a hypospray and…” she made a hissing sound, “FFFFFFFFFPT!”
Baxter grimaced. “Do I even get to do it?”
“Unfortunately not. That has to,” Browning sighed, “be administered by a medical doctor.” She sighed again. “And it has to be administered directly to your….photon tube.”
“Andy! You are behaving like a child about this. I’m telling you that’s your only option if you want to ensure Kelly gets pregnant. The only other option is that you keep trying on the off chance one or two healthy spermies get through….”
“I’ll do that,” Baxter said quickly.
“In that case, you and your testes should get cracking.”
Baxter winced. “Ouch! I wish you hadn’t put it quite that way.”
…Location: Robotics Labratory.
…One lifeform present: human male.
…Identify: Christopher Richards, Lieutenant Commander.
…Access Personality Algorithms.
…Psychological reaction to stimuli. Most commonly found in humans.
…Activate speech subroutine. Mode: Interrogative.
“Father?” Larkin shot up on the lab table.
Richards turned away from Kitty and faced Larkin. “Thank goodness for your re-set switch.”
Larkin swung her legs around to face Richards. “What is the status of Kitty?”
Richards stared down at the inert form on the table. “That’s what I’m trying to figure out. Before she abandoned Ardek’s scoutship, something hit her that blew out her entire neural network.”
“Is that what happened to me?”
“No. You just suffered some kind of temporary paralysis. I think it’s a symptom of a bigger problem, though. Did you know your neural net has been generating errant data strings for…” Richards checked his padd. “The last three and a half months?”
“I was aware of that.”
“And you never told me?”
“I did not feel it warranted your assistance. However…” Larkin trailed off.
“What?” Richards grabbed Larkin’s shoulders, turned her to face him. “What’s happened, Kristen?”
Larkin’s face twitched a bit, then she leaned on Richards’s chest and bawled.
“I HAVE EMOTIONS, FATHER!”
Commander Conway stepped out onto the bridge, feeling refreshed. A good nine hours of sleep always seemed to make things look better all around. Even if those hours of sleep are spent in the Deck 9 reception lounge, sleeping curled on a buffet table.
“Report,” he said to Tilleran, whose eyes were ringed red from lack of sleep. She plunked without much zeal at the science console.
“We found an escape pod with Kitty Larkin in it. She was off-line, and upon discovering her, our own Larkin went off-line too. Richards just reactivated her, and now she apparently has emotions.”
“Oh,” Conway said on his way down to the command chair. “Is that all?”
“Well, the captain and Counselor Peterman are still trying to conceive, and I’ve got a splitting headache. Is that enough for you?”
Conway shrugged, sipping coffee and taking in the situation. He didn’t recall visiting the replicator that morning. Somehow it just appeared in his hand. Then he saw Ensign Sefelt standing in front of him.
“Hot and fresh, just like you like it, Commander.”
“Good work, Sefelt. Angling for a promotion?”
Sefelt nodded. “I’m afraid of spending the rest of my life as an Ensign. Failurephobia.”
“Talk that over with Counselor Peterman, did you?”
“No. That one I came up with by myself. She’s been somewhat…busy lately.”
“Yeah, she’s going to be a mommy.” Conway sipped his coffee and chuckled. “You know what that means.”
“Less time for appointments with pathetic crewmembers who are afraid of their own reflection.”
Sefelt choked back a sob and dashed for the turbolift. “That wasn’t nice, Commander!”
Conway shrugged. “Whatever.”
“And I’m not afraid of my own reflection…at least not anymore!” he added as the turbolift doors closed.
Conway turned to Tilleran. “Okay, so what are you up to?”
“I’m triangulating the lifepod’s course. Trying to find out where it was when it was launched. Maybe then we’ll find evidence of where Ardek’s scoutship went.”
“Sounds good. I’ll just sit in the command chair and look busy. Let me know if you need me to authorize anything.”
Tilleran cocked her head and stared at Conway as he slumped down to the command center and plopped down into the command chair. “Commander? Troubles at home?”
Conway glared at Tilleran through narrowed eyes. “What gives you that idea? Telepathy, perhaps?”
“Nope. Your boots are on the wrong feet.”
Conway stared down at his shoes and sighed. He stood up and headed for the readyroom. “Get to work, Commander.”
Counselor Peterman looked disheveled, her hair a mess. She sat on the edge of her desk, busily wrapping the hair into a ponytail. She only wore her Starfleet trousers and tanktop. For the first time since she could remember, she’d left her cabin without makeup.
“I’m so glad you two came to me first,” she said. “This must be so exciting for you.” She didn’t look so enthusiastic.
Richards and Larkin sat together on the couch in Peterman’s office, looking nervous. Both of them. “Uh…” said Richards.
“I am excited,” Larkin said. “Among other things.”
Peterman picked up a padd off her desk and tapped in some information, then she hugged it to her chest. “Can you elaborate on that?”
“I have experienced ninety-seven different emotional states over the last hour. Each one has had a different flavor and tenor, much like delicious foods.”
“Fascinating.” Peterman tapped some more information into her padd. “How exciting to be experiencing these emotions for the first time.”
“Indeed,” Larkin said, smiling. She took Richards’s hand. “Thankfully, I have my father and a supportive crew to help me along.”
“Yep,” said Peterman. “Well, that about does it for me.” She scooted off her desk. “Anything else?”
Richards and Larkin exchanged glances.
“You haven’t told us how to deal with this,” Richards said. “I’m no expert on emotions, except for my own, which I don’t have so great a handle on either.”
“Well, I’m no engineering expert. That’s more your department, Chris. I’d say you should spend some time with Larkin. Be there for her as she goes through all these new–” Peterman glanced at her wall chronometer. “Damn, here we go again. Excuse me, but I have some eggs that desparately need fertilizing!” She dashed out of the office.
Richards and Larkin sat there for a few moments in silence.
>>0845…Situation diagnosis: Awkward silence.
…Emotional Inventory: Nervous, fearful, ecstatic, excited.
Larkin reached over and hugged Richards tightly, until he choked for air. She released him.
“Was that show of affection appropriate, father?” asked Larkin.
“I guess so,” Richards said, rubbing his neck. “Just be a little more gentle next time, okay?”
“I am sorry, father. My emotions got the best of me.”
Richards nodded. “Better get used to that.”
“Indeed.” Larkin cocked her head. “We should see about repairing Kitty.”
“Right. Want to have breakfast first?”
The little half-changeling boy peered over the table. “The special today is a slab of ham stuffed with scrambled eggs and a side of grits.”
“I will have Bland Nutritional Supplement 11,” Larkin said, handing Plato her menu.
“Larkin…” Richards said, leaning across the table. “You have emotions now. You can taste. You don’t need to order that big white block of tofu crap anymore. Order something exciting. Something that will fill you with joy.”
“Food will fill me with joy?” Larkin asked, cocking her head.
“Yes!” Browning called from the kitchen. “Yes it will!”
Larkin looked at Plato, who waited patiently with his order-pad.
“Well, Miss Android?” he asked.
“I will have the special,” Larkin replied. “With a side of Tellarite spicy bean pudding and shrimp creole.”
“Good thing you can’t get indigestion,” Richards said, and handed Plato his menu. “I’ll just have a bagel.”
Plato nodded. “I’ll be right back to re-fill your coffee.”
Richards watched Plato return to the kitchen. “He’s getting quite the vocabulary.”
“Indeed,” said Larkin, watching as Explorer crewmembers and families passed by the window. Space Tastes overlooked one of the more busy sections of Ship’s Shoppes, Explorer’s mall.
“It must have been something for Janice to adjust to him suddenly having the body and mind of an eight-year-old. And a damn smart eight-year-old at that.”
“His I.Q. test results were abnormally high,” Larkin said, nodding. “His changeling DNA is no doubt responsible for that.”
“As opposed to Janice’s DNA,” Richards said with a chuckle. “Luckily, he gets his eyes from her.”
“Was that a joke?”
“It was not funny.”
“Sorry.” Richards looked around the restaurant. A few crewmembers sat at the surrounding tables, pretending to carry on their own conversations. But they kept glancing over at Richards’s table. Larkin had had emotions for one hour and already the ship was abuzz with rumors about it. “Listen,” he said, trying to change the subject. “I was thinking. You’ve got emotions now. You probably hate having to keep speaking without contractions. I could probably rig something…”
“That will not be necessary. I see no need to speak with contractions.”
“You could assimilate into humanity much better that way.”
Larkin cocked her head. “As I have said on many other occasions, I have no need to assimilate into humanity.”
“I thought, you know, with the emotions and such…”
“I am an android. I am content…I am happy to have that existence. Simply because I can feel emotions does not mean I wish to rid myself of everything that makes me…me.”
“Okay, I was just–” Richards smiled, relieved, when Plato walked up with a coffee urn.
“Here, let me freshen those up for you.”
As Plato poured, Richards glanced at Larkin. She watched the coffee swirl into her cup with wonder. Thank goodness Plato had walked up. He could sense that Larkin and he were about to get into a prickly arguement.
Larkin picked up her coffee cup and sipped.
“Well?” Richards asked, as Plato walked off to see to another table.
“Bitter,” Larkin said, reaching for the sugar bowl. She dumped it in its entirety into her coffee mug and swirled the gloppy substance around with android-like precision. She sipped again. “Better.”
“Well, how’s my favorite father-daughter duo?” Dr. Browning asked, approaching the table.
“Great,” Richards said, smiling weakly at Browning. “Just great.”
“How about those emotions, Larkin?” Browning said, taking a seat at the table between Larkin and Richards.
“I have now experienced a total of 103 different emotional states in the hour and nine minutes since my emotional program activated.”
“Uh…great,” Browning said. “How are you liking them?”
“Some are quite enjoyable,” Larkin said. “For instance, I experienced abject lust when Ensign Samms passed by Father and me in the mall…”
Richards cleared his throat. “So how’s business in the restaurant?”
“Other emotions are not as enjoyable,” Larkin said, looking to Richards. “For instance, I experienced extreme discomfort when Father attempted to access my brain through my rear skull access port.”
“I’m sure he was just trying to check things out…”
“Still, I felt…naked.”
“How interesting.” Browning leaned forward. “Tell me more.”
“Janice,” Richards said uncomfortably. He pointed toward the kitchen doors. “I’m sure something’s burning back there.”
“Imhala’s taking care of it,” Browning said. “Let’s hear more about Larkin’s emotions.”
“Very well. I experienced extreme jealousy when Father and Ensign Madera engaged in a two point four minute groping session…”
“Whoa, I think I do smell something burning,” Browning said, and headed back for the kitchen.
“Jealous?” Richards said to Larkin. “You can’t be serious.”
“I am your daughter. She is simply a…consort.”
“It is true, Father. She has no interest in pursuing a meaningful emotional relationship with you. She simply enjoys the sex. I can see it in her eyes.”
“We shouldn’t be talking about this. And since when did you become an expert on emotions? You’ve only had them for an hour!”
“One hour, eleven minutes,” Larkin corrected.
Then, suddenly, the comm system in the restaurant buzzed: “J’hana to Richards.”
“What?” Richards asked, glancing uneasily at Larkin.
“My officers just registered a break-in in the shuttlebay. Would you care to guess who was responsible?”
“I haven’t the slightest clue, J’hana.”
“You’ll really love this, then. Kitty Larkin.”
Larkin and Richards glanced at each other worriedly. “Check please!” Richards said.
Kitty Larkin, face plastered with makeup, in a slinky bodysuit, in all her exotic dancer glory, sat behind a forcefield in the brig, looking pissed.
Baxter, in partially-buttoned tunic and trousers, looking even tireder than he had previously, was standing behind the security console with Lt. Gellar and Lt. Commander J’hana, when Richards and Larkin hurried into the room.
“Glad you could join us, Chris,” Baxter said, pointing at the brig. “Lose something?”
“Kitty,” Larkin said, approaching the forcefield. “What has happened?”
“I have emotions, Kristen,” Kitty said. “As, I suspect, do you.”
“Indeed I do have emotions. How did you reactivate?”
“My self-repair systems were quite adequate,” Kitty said. She looked to Richards. “Thanks for nothing, ‘Father.’”
“There’s a bad seed in every family,” Baxter said. “All right, Kitty. Where’s Ardek?”
“If I were to guess, I would say he is on the other side of the wormhole which formed in this system eight months ago. I know no more than that.”
“What happened?” Richards asked. “Why did you get ejected from his scoutship?”
“My emotions were activated shortly before we discovered the wormhole. Master Ardek simply didn’t believe I could control them. He was afraid I would, for lack of a better term, go insane.”
Larkin’s lower lip quivered. “So he just…left you behind…like so much space refuse?”
“Affirmative,” replied Kitty. “I was left to drift, unconscious, for eight months.”
“We’re glad to have rescued you,” Baxter said dully. “But we need to know where Ardek went, so we can go capture him before he does any damage.”
“He has had eight months to ‘do damage,’” Kitty replied. “There is little you can do to stop him now.”
“Do you have any idea what his plans were?” asked Richards.
“Negative,” replied Kitty. “I do know, however, that he was intent on reestablishing himself as a leader somewhere.”
“I thought he was past all that,” Baxter said. “I thought he just wanted to…” he made “jazz hands” around his face, “entertain!”
“That,” Kitty said heavily, “was just a phase.”
“Unfortunate,” Larkin said, after a pregnant pause. “Commander Ardek could do much damage to an unwitting species.”
“We have to find him,” Richards said.
“Agreed,” said Baxter, tapping his comm badge. “Baxter to Tilleran.”
“Do you have a fix on the wormhole entrance yet?”
“I do, sir. It’s right in this system, about nine hundred thousand kilometers from us. I have some bad news, though. It’s not terribly stable. According to my calculations, it’s going to collapse in less than two hours.”
“Great,” said Baxter. “Well, we have to go through. Ardek’s on the other end, and we can’t very well leave him there, Prime Directive and all. Anyway, shoot off a brief message to Starfleet Command, letting them know what we’re up to, then take us through the wormhole.”
“Sir, I don’t know if that’s such a good idea,” Conway said, breaking into the conversation over the comm system. “Let me rephrase that. That’s a terrible f***ing idea!”
“Thanks for your contribution,” Baxter said. “Tilleran, make it so.”
“Yes, sir,” Tilleran replied, and closed the channel.
Baxter looked to Kitty. “We could use your help tracking down Ardek.”
“That is what I was attempting to do when…” Kitty glared at J’hana, “that over-muscled Andorian found me.”
“We may have a rematch at your convenience,” J’hana snarled.
“Well, we’re doing this on our terms,” Baxter said. “No jumping ship, you got that?”
Kitty nodded. “You have my word.”
“Well,” Baxter muttered, looking back at Richards and Larkin. “That makes all the difference.”
Richards jogged to catch up with Baxter as he headed up to the bridge. Kitty and Larkin, apparently, were going to Larkin’s quarters to ‘catch up.’ Baxter told them they had two minutes to do so, which didn’t seem to bother them.
“Andy…” Richards said, picking up step next to Baxter.
“Make it quick, Chris.” Baxter approached the turbolift to the bridge and pressed the “CALL” button.
“How goes the baby-making?”
“My forces have her facility surrounded,” Baxter said, “but so far, they can’t break through.”
Richards nodded. “So…surrender?”
“Never!” Baxter shouted, calling the attention of a passing officer, Lt. Commander Forrester.
“Never what, Captain?” she asked.
“Mind your own business,” he fired back, and Forrester shrunk away, ducking into a nearby door.
“Andy, I wish I could help,” Richards said. “But, considering the circumstances…”
“You have your hands full. Two androids, both with newly- found emotions. That’s enough to drive any daddy batty.”
“Still sure you want to be one?” Richards asked, following Baxter into the turbolift.
“Thankfully, I’m not conceiving an android.”
Kitty glanced around Larkin’s cabin and nodded approvingly. “I like what you have done with this cabin.” The place was strewn with stuffed penguin and penguin- based paraphanalia such as curtains, bookends, and flower pots.
Larkin sat in the chair facing her viewport, stunned. “These stars are so beautiful.”
“I know,” Kitty said, approaching Larkin from behind. “It is quite gratifying. I was surprised by their beauty when my emotion program first booted up as well.”
Larkin cocked her head, turned to face Kitty. “How have you enjoyed this newfound gift?”
“I have not had much time to enjoy it,” Kitty said. “My emotional program booted up just seven days before Master Ardek discovered the worhmole.”
“I am sorry. Surely you realize that..man…is not your master?”
“No more than Mister Richards is your master.”
“He is not my master. He is my father.”
Kitty shook her head. “What gives you that idea, Kristen?”
“He built my brain. And my new body.”
“What about Mr. Henricks? You would not exist without him.”
“He built me for sexual purposes only. He is not exactly a qualified father-figure.”
“But he has more to do with your existence than Richards ever will,” Kitty said.
“This is where you and I differ,” Larkin replied. “Since your brain reverted to its original program after I…you…we sacrificed ourselves to defeat Ardek, you cannot appreciate the wealth of knowledge I have accumulated, thanks to the brain our Father created for us.”
“He is not my Father,” Kitty said, and folded her arms. “That is the last I have to say on the matter.”
“Very well. I will concede this arguement to you. However…”
>>1019…Emotional Program accessing…
…New emotion registered: Anger.
“What?” Kitty asked.
“I have catalogued and noted a new emotion.”
“It is inconsequential.”
Then the comm system bleeped.
“Baxter to Larkin. We need you and Kitty up here on the bridge, pronto.”
“As you wish. Larkin out.” Larkin looked at Kitty and smiled. “I am…gratified to have you back, Kitty.”
Kitty smiled back, squeezed Larkin’s shoulder. “I am gratified to be ‘back.’”
Larkin lead the way out of her quarters, feeling skiddish. Emotion number 105.
“The Delta Quadrant,” Baxter said heavily, seated on the edge of the command chair as Kitty and Larkin stepped out onto the bridge. On the viewscreen, the crackling blue energies surrounding the wormhole peeled away as the Explorer flew through and the phenomenon closed once more.
“Well,” Richards said from the engineering console, after a pause. “The Delta Quadrant is a big place. Just because this wormhole leads there doesn’t necessarily mean–”
“I’m detecting a ship on the outside of this system,” Tilleran said.
“On-screen,” replied Baxter.
A ship loomed into view, shrouded in pink and gray clouds. It was a patchwork of blue and tan. Huge, judging by the ship’s sensor telemetry, and armed to the teeth. It was predatory, birdlime, but clunky at the same time. And it was very familiar.
>>1024…Emotional Program accessing.
…New emotion registered: Fear.
“Flarn,” Larkin said, stating the obvious. She ran to take the ops position, tried to stop her hands from trembling on the controls. Kitty followed slowly behind, to observe Larkin’s panel.
“Red Alert!” Commander Conway cried. “Raise shields, arm all weapons!”
“Don’t I get to say that?” Baxter said, turning angrily in his chair toward Conway.
“I got sick of waiting for you to do it. Your mind is so dead-set on your sperm right now you’ve totally forgotten about the safety of this ship!”
Baxter grimaced at Conway. “If I were a Klingon, I’d kill you where you sit!”
“But you’re not.”
“Fortunately for you.” Baxter turned from Conway to Richards. “Take engineering, Commander. Make sure we’re ready to fight that Flarn ship.”
“She may not have detected us,” J’hana said, piping up from tactical. She’d been rather quite thus far, primarily because she despised science missions. Now that they had a chance for combat, she felt more able to contribute.
“Explain,” Larkin said, turning to face J’hana from ops.
J’hana tapped a control on her station. “According to my readouts, they are conducting scientific scans from within this system’s Oort cloud.”
“They may not be in there for long,” Baxter said. “Helm, get us out of this system, maximum warp. But don’t take us too far from that wormhole. Try to find a nebula or something for us to hide out in.”
“Aye, sir,” Ford said. “Would you like me to pull a rabbit out of my ass while I’m at it?”
“No, but you can certainly stuff one in there,” Baxter said gruffly.
Conway shook his head and looked at Baxter. “Damn. The Flarn. You know, there was a time when the Borg destroyed your homeworld and it stayed destroyed.”
“At any rate,” Baxter said, “this doesn’t change our mission. Tilleran, begin scanning for Ardek’s scoutship.”
Tilleran swung at her station to face Baxter. “I have been. No sign of it.”
“That’s funny,” J’hana said, looking up from her own station.
“What?” Baxter twisted around toward the rear of the bridge, where tactical was located.
“There were no Flarn lifesigns aboard that ship,” she replied. “There was some interference from the Oort cloud, but I am positive there were no Flarn aboard. Their signatures are quite unique.”
“Then who WAS aboard?” Conway asked.
“An assortment of species,” J’hana replied. “Garibid, Maloxian, Sulani. Magraethan.”
“How odd,” Baxter said. “Maybe they formed some sort of alliance, and used the remains of the Flarn fleet to build up their own little…Delta Quadrant Starfleet.”
“Could be,” said Conway.
“Helm,” Baxter said, “take us back–”
“Hold on,” Tilleran said. “I’ve got a broad-band subspace communication coming through on all channels. Some kind of announcement.”
“The Delta Quadrant version of Krinokom?” Conway proposed.
“I hope not,” said Richards.
“Put it on,” said Baxter, and he and the bridge crew looked on as Commander Ardek appeared on the viewscreen, swathed in green robes, hands clasped on top of a marble desk.
“Cherished friends, this is an announcement from you Great and Holy Exalted Leader. Over the last year, we of the Circle of Caring have rebuilt this quadrant. Even many Flarn refugees have joined our cause. But, like all good things, there are those outside our Circle of Caring that seek to destabilize it. Earlier today, we captured an elite rebel force led by Alpha Quadrant upstart Christopher J. Henricks, just outside the capital city of Ardekus, on Garibid.”
“Saints and Philosophers preserve us,” Baxter moaned.
Larkin’s and Kitty’s eyes went wide as former-Private Christopher Henricks was dragged into view, held at bay by a mammoth Flarn. “Jenny…get the troops to our secret base! They know about us. Find cover! And don’t have sex with anyone else while I’m in prison!”
“My dear boy,” Ardek said, looking to Henricks with a puckered smile. “You aren’t going to prison.”
On the screen, Henricks gulped. “I’m…not?”
Ardek giggled. “Oh, no no. Nothing so inhumane as that. We’re going to set you straight. With a little gas I concocted called…the Gas of Caring. Have a sniff, Mr. Henricks. It’ll change the way you see the world…”
“Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” Henricks cried, and was dragged offscreen.
“We must help him,” Kitty said.
“There is little we can do,” said Larkin. “Your Master Ardek apparently has the resources of this entire quadrant at his disposal.”
“Thanks for sharing in our caring,” Ardek said, still on the screen. “As always, we welcome suggestions on how we can make this little empire better. Now, back to your regularly scheduled program, ARDEK: A LIFETIME OF CARING. Goodbye.”
Baxter sat, stunned, in his command chair.
“Well?” Conway demanded, turning to face him.
“We can’t stop him,” Baxter said. “We’re just one ship. We had a whole fleet of Section 31 warships to help us stop the Starshine Kids, and they didn’t control our quadrant, like Ardek apparently controls this one. What can we do?”
“We cannot just sit by and do nothing!” Kitty said angrily, turning on Baxter.
“We’ll file a report with Starfleet Command,” Baxter said. “But this isn’t our quadrant. We can’t just drop in and mess with their affairs.”
“But their ‘affairs’ are messed up because one of us dropped in,” Richards said, stepping around his panel to walk down to Baxter. “Certainly that counts for something!”
“Like I said, I’ll file a report.”
“You will do nothing,” Kitty said. “I cannot tolerate that.” She twisted around and stabbed a finger down into Larkin’s station, which crackled in response. Larkin moved to stop her, but Kitty shot out a hand with lightning reflexes and stabbed it into Larkin’s armpit. The android slumped unconscious in her chair.
“J’hana!” Baxter called, rising out of his chair, as the lights around the bridge dimmed.
J’hana pulled her phaser and lept over her station, charging toward Kitty. A meter before she reached the android, she slammed into a forcefield and reeled painfully to the deck.
Tilleran’s hands scrambled over the science console. “She’s gotten total control over our computers. I can’t re-establish.”
“First the purple guy, now Kitty,” moaned Conway. “Can’t we set some passwords on this thing!”
“Computer,” Baxter said, ignoring Conway. “Cut all command control from the bridge, Authorization Baxter Alpha 221!”
“That authorization is not valid,” the computer responded.
“You will help Master Henricks save this quadrant,” Kitty said, turning a furious gaze down on Baxter. “You will not have a choice.” And she vanished in a whirl of blue.
Tilleran checked her panel. “Apparently she transported to Deck Five.”
“Main shuttlebay,” Baxter said. “She’s trying to get off the ship.”
Richards ran forward to the ops station. Luckily, the forcefield was down now. He ran to Larkin’s side, stabbed the control in her armpit and she reactivated with a start.
“Kitty…no!” Larkin cried.
“She’s already gone,” Richards said. “She’s trying to get off the ship.”
Conway looked back at Tilleran. “What about our computers?”
“I’m checking…” Tilleran looked at her screens for a few moments, her lips pursed. “The operating system is reconfiguring somehow. The programming’s reveting to an earlier stage. What on Betazed did she do?” Then the sound of chimes rang through the bridge, deafeningly.
Baxter whirled on a heel to watch as the viewscreen turned from a black-silver sheet of stars to a vista of clouds, and the words:
PLEASE WAIT WHILE YOUR COMPUTER SHUTS DOWN…
“But I don’t want my computer to shut down!!!” Baxter cried.
Then the bridge went black. The only light provided was from the orange text on the viewscreen:
IT IS NOW SAFE TO TURN OFF YOUR STARSHIP.
Larkin looked up at the screen. “I recognize this. It is from an early computer program on Earth. If the computer has reverted to this program, it will not be able to maintain life support or any other essential systems. An attempt at reboot will only cause a ‘general page fault.’ Unfortunately, we are thousands of light years away from Starfleet Technical Support.”
Baxter nodded, though he didn’t comprehend anything Larkin had said. “Can you undo the programming?”
“Yes,” Larkin said, worriedly looking down at her panel. “But I do not know how long it will take.”
“Log in now and see what you can do,” Baxter said. “Goodness knows we don’t want to get stranded in the Delta Quadrant…again.” He knelt down by J’hana, who laid, wide-eyed, staring up at the bridge ceiling. “Still with us, Commander?”
“Yes. I will help you stop Kitty.” She sat up, then fell back down unconcious.
“Thanks for trying,” Baxter said, and grabbed J’hana’s fallen phaser. “Come on, Chris. We’ve got a rogue android to stop. Tilleran, work with Larkin to get this ship operational. You have…”
“Forty-five minutes,” Tilleran said, stepping down from around her station and heading over to ops.
Baxter headed for the Jeffries tube and ripped the access hatch open. “Commander Conway, you have the bridge.”
“Great,” Conway muttered. “I’ll just get my rat and try to access the computers.”
“I think that’s ‘mouse,’” Ford said helpfully.
“Did I mention I’m thrilled to be back in the Delta Quadrant?” Baxter asked, as he and Richards climbed out of the Jeffries tube and jogged down the corridor for Shuttlebay One. The corridor was empty and red light panels lining either bulkhead blinked intermittently.
“Nope,” Richards said. “And I, for one, am not thrilled.”
“Okay, thrilled is not the right word. But it does bring back some great memories.”
“Are you kidding?”
Baxter checked his phaser. Time to change the subject. “I take it you know how to bring down a Larkin-type android?”
“If I had time, it would be by a cadion-pulse generator.”
“But we don’t have any time.”
“So a phaser blast set on level 10 to the small of her back will do the trick,” Richards said.
“Gotcha,” Baxter said, and tapped in the necessary commands on his phaser.
“I noticed you didn’t give me a phaser.”
“We didn’t have time.”
“You don’t want me to have to be the one to shoot her, do you?”
They came to the shuttlebay doors. “Commander, with any luck, I’m about to be a father. If my kid goes nuts, I’d like to think you’d do the same for me.”
“It’s a deal.” And Baxter blasted the door control. With much effort, he and Richards slid the heavy door open and shouldered through.
A siren light blared throughout the bay. Takeoff was imminent.
“There…” Baxter said, pointing ahead. The runabout Algonquin was powering up, its blue nacelles glowing.
Baxter and Richards ran toward the runabout, just as it lifted off the deck.
“Jump?” Baxter asked, and he and Richards exchanged nervous glances.
“Unless you have a better idea!”
Baxter and Richards lept at the Algonquin as it drifted up and thrummed toward the hangar door. They grabbed the port- side warp nacelle and hung on like mad.
“Baxter to Algonquin,” Baxter said, hoping his comm badge was still functioning. “Stop right now! That’s an ORDER!”
“I suggest you let go,” Kitty replied over the comm system. “Unless you wish to be dragged out into space.”
Richards dragged himself up onto the top of the warp nacelle, then struggled to help Baxter up. “Not today!”
Baxter and Richards shimmied along the nacelle toward the entry hatch.
Suddenly phaser fire lanced out from the Algonquin, pounding the hangar door.
“She’s trying to blast her way out!” Baxter said, as Richards worked madly at the hatch controls. “Get us in before this whole damn place is vented into space!”
“I’m working,” Richards muttered, stabbing at the door controls. “I don’t like pressure.”
“I’m trying to get my wife pregnant, yet I have retarded sperm and I’m clinging to a warp nacelle probably having my crotch irradiated by ten different kinds of plasma energy and YOU’RE talking about pressure!” Baxter cried over the phaser blasts from Algonquin.
Richards paused. “Retarded sperm?”
With a *BLEEP* Richards got the door to open, and Baxter ducked in.
Kitty was out of her seat, with a phaser aimed at Baxter immediately. “How nice of you to join me on my quest. Have a seat in the back. We should reach Garibid space in two point five hours.”
“Not so fast,” Richards said, standing behind Baxter. “You’re not going anywhere. I’m your father, and I ORDER you to stop this!”
“YOU ARE NOT MY DAD!” Kitty cried, and blasted Richards in the shoulder. He reeled back to the deck, clutching his smoking shoulder.
“You’re going in time-out for that one, you ungrateful daughter!” Baxter said, leveling his phaser on Kitty.
Kitty glared menacingly at Baxter. “Put that down, Captain.”
Richards lay inert on the deck, blinking. “Ow! Damn that hurt!”
Baxter backed toward Richards. “Are you okay, Chris?”
“No! She shot me in the damn shoulder!”
“Hold on, buddy. We’re getting out of here.” Baxter looked around. “Algonquin computer, recognize Captain Andy– AUUUUGGH!”
Kitty blasted him in the shoulder too, and he crashed to the deck next to Richards.
“Now, no more interruptions.” Kitty returned to the Algonquin’s piloting console and started tapping. She looked up with great joy to see the hangar door splayed wide open. She’d done a great job phasering.
Her ethical program, though, was having some problems. She considered Henricks her father and Ardek her master, kind of like a Mom. One had captured the other. Her instinct, and what a wierd notion that was, was to save Henricks. But what of Ardek? Was she to abandon him, after all he’d done to help her? Kitty internally shrugged at this. It was millions of nanoseconds until she got to Garibid. She’d work it out by the time she arrived.
Kitty steered the Algonquin out of the main shuttlebay. Home free. She wished Larkin could come with her, but realized the other android was really nothing much like her. She was all caught up with the Richards fellow. Had some bizarre attachment to this Explorer crew. She’d never be happy here in the Delta Quadrant. Kitty, on the other hand, was a survivor. She’d find a way to stop Ardek, or join him, or whatever, and be content in doing so. Now all she had to do was get there–
Then the Algonquin jolted, and Kitty turned to her panel to see what had happened.
On the small side viewscreen, USS Explorer bore down on her, locked on with a tractor beam.
“Damn it!” she said, stabbing the communication control. “Explorer. Let me go at once!”
“I am afraid I cannot do that, Kitty,” came Larkin’s voice. “You must not do this. Especially not with my father and my captain aboard.”
Kitty narrowed her eyes at the sound of Larkin’s voice. “How did you get control back so quickly?”
“It was a simple matter of rebooting, then going into the control panel and selecting ‘add new hardware.’ Then I selected ‘other,’ and chose my own positronic interface. Now, I can command the ship directly from my neural processor.”
Kitty nodded. “Not too shabby. Now release that tractor!”
“I cannot do that, Kitty. Please come back, before I am forced to open fire on you.”
“Do it, then. See if you have the duonetic guts, Kristen. See if you can fire on your own sister!”
Phasers lanced out at Algonquin, damaging the shields and several other key systems. The cockpit rumbled.
“You were saying?” Larkin’s voice asked over the comm. Explorer swayed side-to-side on the viewscreen. A victory dance?
“I’ll go to warp!” Kitty threatened. “Rip this ship apart, with your precious daddy and captain aboard!”
“I cannot allow that to happen.”
Alert whistles wailed aboard the runabout. “Shields have been compromised,” said the computer.
“That’s it,” Baxter said, leaning over to Richards, wincing at the pain in his shoulder. “I’m going to die here, and Kelly will go on to marry a man with good sperm.”
“Stop beating yourself up, Andy,” Richards replied. “No wonder your sperm are failures. You have no self esteem!”
Then, suddenly, Baxter and Richards felt the welcome hold of a transporter beam, and were dematerialized.
“Fine,” Kitty said, looking back at the viewscreen, where Explorer was still firmly holding onto the Algonquin. “You have your precious father and captain back. Take them back to the Alpha Quadrant, if you wish, but at least release me so I can pursue my own destiny here.”
There was a pause over the comm. “Kitty…I had hoped we could spend some time together. Share in our experiences. We have much to learn from one another…”
“You are pathetic,” Kitty replied, and closed the channel. On second thought, she reopened the channel. “Sorry, that was a bit harsh. Listen, Kristen, just let me go. I promise I’ll try to come back once everything here gets sorted out. Okay?”
“No deal!” Conway shouted over the comm. “Larkin, blow up her engines! Beam her back aboard! And give me back command of this ship!”
“Very well,” Larkin said, and released the tractor beam. “Good luck, Kitty.”
“You just let her go!” Baxter said, leaning up on his elbows on the biobed as Browning worked on him. She pushed him back down.
“Be still, Andy. I’m still trying to mend your shoulder.”
“I noticed you did Chris first.”
“Great,” Baxter moaned, and looked to Larkin, who stood before the pair of biobeds where he and Richards lay recovering, looking ashamed. “So explain it to me. Why did you let her go?”
“She made a valid point,” Larkin said. “She had her own destiny to pursue. Who am I to interfere?”
“A Starfleet officer,” Conway said darkly from behind Larkin. “Who I gave a direct order to.”
“We could bring you up on charges,” Baxter said tiredly. Conway nodded vigorously. “But I hardly see the point.”
“You didn’t say that when I had to go on trial!” Conway grumbled.
“You shot a bunch of crewmembers,” Baxter snapped. He looked back at Larkin. “Besides which, I think I understand where Larkin was coming from. She couldn’t shoot down her own sister any more than you could give up coffee, Conway.”
“Now you’re starting to make sense,” Conway muttered, and left Sickbay.
Stardate 54933.9. We managed to evade the sensors of the Flarn warship outside the wormhole and escape, unnoticed, back to the Alpha Quadrant. Shortly thereafter, the wormhole collapsed, which, as I think about it, is probably for the best. I now have to contact Starfleet, which means my father, to explain everything and get new mission orders. Meanwhile, Lt. Commander Larkin has begun her own mission of discovery. By that, of course, I mean discovering emotions and such.
“You’re sure I can’t at least intrest you in an on-off switch for that emotion program?” Richards asked, as he and Larkin headed down a corridor for the bridge. It was time again for Larkin’s night shift.
“I am positive,” Larkin replied. “That somehow seems like cheating.”
“I hope you know what you’re doing. Emotions are not something to trifle with.”
“I seem to have done a good job dealing with them so far,” Larkin noted, and the two stepped into a turbolift.
“I can’t argue with that.” Richards and Larkin rode the turbolift in silence for a few hundred nanoseconds. “Say, Larkin, where do you figure you and Kitty got this…emotions virus?”
Larkin shrugged. “It is difficult to say. Since the invasive strings corrupted many of my program files, I have no way of tracing the exact date I acquired the virus. I have had many interfaces with many strange computers on countless alien worlds. Any of those could have infected me.”
Richards nodded. “We need to find some way to protect your interface rod from future infections, then.”
Larkin nodded. “A computerized condom, perhaps?”
Richards blinked. “A what?”
“Never mind. It was an obscure historical reference.”
Richards nodded uncomprehendingly and smiled, as the turbolift thrummed its way up through the bowels of the Explorer. “Whatever the case, Larkin, it’s nice to know now that I have a daughter who can love me back.”
>>>1157…Activate speech subroutine. Mode: All-purpose response.
Larkin raised an eyebrow. “Indeed.”
Mirk stepped off the runabout Susquehanna and looked around the shuttlebay until he found what he was looking for. Or, rather, who.
“Megan!” he said, running over to Hartley, who was running the shuttlebay control console several yards away from the landing area.
“Oh, hi Mirk. How was the talk show?”
“You didn’t catch it?”
Hartley shifted her weight from foot to foot nervously. “Haven’t had the time. I can’t believe you actually wanted to go back on the Ficker show, after the last fiasco.”
“I couldn’t refuse…it gave me a chance to relive my old religion-leading days.”
“A show all about cult leaders. Who would have guessed. Who else was there?”
“They brought Sesil over from the rehab colony. And Ambassador Spock came on to talk about Sybok.”
“Who?” Hartley asked.
“Nevermind. Anyway, there were a few very touchy moments, like when General Kira started talking about the cult of the Pagh Wraiths.”
“Funny you should mention cults,” Hartley said quietly.
“Why?” Mirk asked, pulling Hartley into his arms. They kissed several moments, then Mirk looked over his shoulder. “Why is there a big welded gash in the shuttlebay door?”
Hartley took Mirk’s hand and led him out of the bay. “We really need to talk.”
“This isn’t about moving in together, is it?”
Harlan Baxter shook his head on Captain Baxter’s readyroom viewer. “And I thought we’d seen the last of your friend Ardek.”
Baxter sat on his desk, turned the terminal to face him. “Tell me about it. I sure feel sorry for those poor bastards in the Delta Quadrant. At least we didn’t get stuck there again.”
“And thank goodness for that,” Harlan said.
“So,” Baxter took a breath. “Where do you have us going next?” He still wasn’t comfortable getting his mission orders from his father.
“I’m authorizing some shore leave for you folks.” Harlan tapped something on a nearby padd at his desk. “Explorer is on detached duty for now. Enjoy it.”
“Wow. Thanks, Dad.”
“Just birth me a son, damn it.”
“I’ll put in a good word with my sperm.”
“See that you do. Baxter out.”
Baxter shook his head and slid off his desk. “Baxter to Peterman. Ovum check?”
“Primed and ready, Andy!” Peterman replied. “Come and get ‘em!”
Baxter smiled. “I’m on my way.” He stepped out of his readyroom, just as Richards and Larkin stepped onto the bridge. “Hello, you two. Just come from a night out on the holographic town?”
“We ate at a chateau in France,” Larkin replied, heading down toward the command chair. “The cow intestines were superb.”
“J’hana recommended them,” Richards said to Baxter, by way of explanation.
“I see,” Baxter said, and walked to the aft turbolift. He pressed the “CALL” button. “And what are you doing up here at this late hour?”
Richards grinned down at Larkin. “Just walking my daughter to work.”
“You may leave now,” Larkin said, not glancing back at Richards or Baxter.
“Who may leave now?” Baxter asked.
“Both of you.” Larkin smiled back. “If I am not mistaken, Delta Shift has begun. I am in command.”
“Ambition,” Baxter said, grinning at Larkin. “Emotion number 120.”
“Incorrect,” Larkin said. “That was number two.”
“I see.” The turbolift doors opened and Baxter stepped in. “Come on, Chris. Let’s leave your daughter to her work. Have time for a stiff drink?”
“Like you wouldn’t believe.” Richards followed Baxter into the turbolift and the doors slid shut.
Larkin turned toward the viewscreen. “Begin nightwatch.” The android settled back in the command chair and watched the stars streak toward Explorer as she headed toward Corsica for a well-deserved leave. Baxter had decided on that planet instead of Risa because it was closer, and it had a football arena.
Her mind was filled with ideas of what she might do on this leave. She never really took leave before, and when she did, her…heart, for lack of a better term, was not in it.
“Ensign Corella,” Larkin said, catching the attention of the young man at helm. “Time to our arrival at Corsica?”
“Two days, at our present speed of Warp Five.” He grinned over at Hitchcock at ops. “But I can always go faster.”
“That will not be necessary, Mr. Corella,” Larkin said. “Continue at our present speed, and for goodness sake, please ask Ensign Hitchcock out before she decides to focus her attention on another man.”
“Uh…I, uh…” Corella stammered.
Larkin smiled. “That is an order.”
As the android watched the stars on the viewscreen, she wondered about Kitty Larkin. She wished she could be there in the Delta Quadrant, helping Kitty stop Ardek and rescue Henricks, but in a way she was happy Kitty hadn’t decided to bring her along. She would have dearly missed her crewmates on the Explorer.
When Baxter and Conway go on a field trip with a bunch of Explorer kindergartners, they get a first-hand look at Tyra Shar’s unique teaching style, and are appropriately terrified. When the runabout hits some… er, turbulence, will Baxter and Conway be able to keep the peace with the irritable schoolteacher long enough for the Explorer to save them, or will Tyra have the last word? Or will Commander Conway have to step up and be the man we all know he can be? Well, stranger things…
Stay tuned for the next-to-last Star Traks: TVG story,
“Keep Your Friends Close…”