Author: Anthony Butler
You can’t go home again.
Who said that? Whoever it was, they were full of crap. Of course you can. Again and again, until people grow tired of you.
Anyway, welcome to the continuing adventures of the crew of the Explorer. I hope you enjoy them, and have as hard a time getting tired of reading them as I have getting tired of writing them.
ONE MONTH AGO…
She leaned back, curled against his shoulder. She rubbed her stomach. “Nine little months, Andy.”
“Eight and three quarters,” he replied. “Not that I’m counting.”
“And just to think we came close to losing it all,” she said, looking to him. “Say…that reminds me. How did you convince my alternate-universe duplicate that you were really from another reality?”
He looked uncomfortable suddenly. “I…um…nibbled her ear.”
“Oh. OH! I see.” She folded her arms. “Well, I hope it was good.”
“That’s all I did!”
“That was quite enough!”
He kissed her on the head. Turned her head to face him. “Honey, I may have been kissing her, but I was thinking of you.”
“SHE WAS ME!”
“Then why are we arguing about this?”
“I don’t know.” She harrumphed. “Well, at least I know you have good taste in women.”
“There is that.” He sighed. “Just promise me one thing, Kelly. Never, ever, ever marry Julian Bashir.”
“And…let’s make the baby’s middle name Ike or Irene. Okay?”
She crinkled her nose. “What’s that?”
He waffled. “Ummm…shut up and kiss me!” And he tilted her head up and kissed her long and passionately, pausing only to tell the computer “lights off!”
Then everything went dark.
Captain Andy Baxter rolled over in bed and cuddled against his pillow, yawning softly.
With eyes still closed, Baxter reached behind him and felt the empty spot in the bed. “Kelly?” he called out, though he was pretty sure about where she was.
“I’m kind of busy right now,” he heard the moan from his bathroom.
Slowly, he opened his eyes. “Something I can help you with?”
“Actually–BLUAAAAAH!–yes, there is something you can–GLLLP!–help me with.”
“Name it.” Baxter eased up to a sitting position.
“Could you jam your finger down your throat?”
Baxter smacked his lips. “I really don’t see how that would help, honey.”
“BLUAAAAAAH! Think of it as sharing in the pregnancy experience!”
“I WAS pregnant. Remember the Q thing.”
“Don’t you dare–BLAAAH!–DARE bring up the Q thing again!”
Baxter crept over to the door to his bathroom. Poor Kelly. She was hugging the toilet like it was her best friend. “Just making conversation.”
“Listen, either shut up and get in bed, or get down here and join me. I don’t have time to–BLAAAAACH– talk.”
Baxter sighed. “This is not the way to start our vacation.”
Nine decks up, on the bridge of the U.S.S. Explorer, Commander Christopher Richards sat in the command chair, sketching.
At helm, Lieutenant Susan Madera turned around and glanced at him. “Commander, we’re nearing the rendez-vous point.”
“Come out of warp. And stop turning around. I’m trying to get the detail on the back of your head.”
“If I wasn’t still crazy about you, this would really be bugging me.”
“In point of fact,” J’hana spoke up from the tactical station, “this ship’s first officer must surely have better things to do than sketch the foreward stations.”
“I’m doing more than sketching the foreward stations,” Richards said, glancing angrily back at the Andorian. “I’m sketching the viewscreen, too.”
“Allow me to clear out a space above my mantle.”
“You don’t have a mantle in your quarters,” Tilleran observed from the science station with a giggle.
“No kidding.” Something bleeped at J’hana’s station. “In any event, you should cease the sketching nonsense. Our boss has arrived.”
Richards chuckled. “Andy? Huh…he’s about as much my boss as I’m your boss.”
“Not that boss.” J’hana pointed on the viewscreen, where somehow, very quietly, Admiral Harlan Baxter appeared. “That boss.”
Richards glanced up at the viewscreen. He dropped his sketch padd to the deck and kicked it under the command chair. “Um. Oh. Admiral Baxter. Nice to see you again. Hope the family’s doing well.”
Harlan was flanked by Lucille Baxter, on the bridge of the U.S.S. Pathfinder.
“Those bettr have been crew rprts, Cmdr,” Harlan said, rolling his cigar from one side of his mouth to the other.
“Yup. And spotless crew reports they were, too.” Richards shifted uncomfortably in the center seat. “Why, just today, Lieutenant Madera made a stunning observation about a pulsar.”
Madera glanced back at Richards. “I did?”
“Shut up and steer,” Richards said under his breath. “Well, Admiral, you’re a bit early for our rendez-vous. We’re not due to meet with you for another few hours.”
“The Petermans wanted to speed up the trip,” Lucille Baxter said. “Apparently, they’re excited to see their daughter or something.”
“Rrr sick’ve us,” Harlan offered.
“Quite,” said Lucille, not making eye contact with Harlan. “At any rate, Commander, you may prepare to receive us in one hour.”
“Prepare…” Richards glanced around the bridge. “Yep. It looks like we’re all prepared.”
“What about the recieving party? The reception?”
“The recieving what? The what reception?” Richards glanced back at J’hana, who shrugged.
Harlan rolled his eyes. “Woman wants stuff done by the regs, boyah.”
“Well,” Richards said, straightening. “Regs. Sure. Prepared for arrival. Yep. Just go to the transporter room. We’ll have you beamed over.”
“Good nuff. Bxtr out.”
Richards stood. “J’hana, Lieutenant Sefelt, you have exactly four minutes to figure out what the hell the Baxters were talking about and prepare us to ‘receive them’ in Transporter Room Two. I’ll be in the readyroom, pretending to be busy.” He glanced at Tilleran. “Commander, you have the bridge.”
“It will be nice to see Admiral Bxtr again,” J’hana observed, pointing for Sefelt to follow her and heading for the aft turbolift.
Richards was sitting at Baxter’s desk looking over his sketch when the comm system bleeped.
“Tilleran to Richards.”
“You have a subspace communication coming through from the Aerostar-A.”
“Really? What the heck could they want?”
“I have no idea. They’re like three sectors away. My telepathy doesn’t have that great a range.”
“Why didn’t you just ask?”
“Please. That’s so…done.”
Richards sighed. “Just put the comm through, Tilleran.” He spun Baxter’s desktop viewer to face him and hit a control. Captain David Conway appeared on the viewer, with officers crossing behind him on the Aerostar’s bridge looking busy…or pretending to look busy…Richards wasn’t sure.
“Captain, I just wanted…Richards?” Conway blinked. “What? Did Andrew get put in prison again?”
“No. He’s getting ready to go on vacation,” Richards said defensively. “What can I do for you?”
“So you’re in command?” Conway chuckled.
“Yes. Why are you laughing?”
Conway covered his mouth. “No reason. Really, that’s just great.”
Richards leaned forward. “You think it’s funny or something?”
“No, no, of course not.”
Having no patience for this line of questioning, Richards pressed on. “So, why are you calling?”
“Oh,” Conway said. “I was just wondering…have you seen a bag of coffee, oh, about the size of a small cargo container? It would have been laying around in my office.”
“Can’t say I did. And believe me, I had that place completely cleaned out just after you left.”
“Well, then, I’m sure it’s around here somewhere.”
“Yes indeed.” Richards leaned forward to close the channel.
“You want some advice about being a first officer?”
“Be feared.” Conway made a gesture off-screen. “Bye.”
Richards scratched his head as Conway disappeared from the screen. What was that all about?
“This will be fun,” Baxter mumbled as he shrugged on a beige jacket and yanked on some olive-colored pants.
Peterman, for her part, was shrugging on a loose- fitting sundress. She was already taking measures to simulate a slim figure, since, by Dr. Wilcox’s estimation, she was already gaining weight. The dress, of course, was vertically-striped. Peterman wasn’t exactly sure WHY she was gaining weight so early. Dr. Browning seemed downright confused by it.
Baxter glanced at himself in the mirror briefly. “Okay. Good enough. Do you want to stop by and check on Charlie and the pets one more time?”
“No, no. I trust Lieutenant Commander Hartley. She’s babysat many times before.”
“Yes, but not since she became a bride-to-be. Don’t you think that’s going to take a toll on her pet-sitting ability? The concentration required, just during breakfast- feeding alone…it’s staggering.”
“I’ve always managed,” Peterman said easily.
“Not all of us were raised on a wildlife reserve.”
“And what a pity that is,” Peterman grinned, taking Baxter’s arm. “Shall we go meet the in-laws?”
Baxter stared at the doors to his quarters. He felt somewhat like he did when he was put up in that penal colony for six months. “I’m ready as I’ll ever be.”
Lieutenant Howard Sefelt eagerly blew on the little whistle as the forms of Harlan and Lucille Baxter, as well as Ron and Sheila Peterman, materialized on the transporter pad, as Ensign Lindsay Morgan manipulated the controls.
“Welcome to the Explorer, ya’ll,” Morgan said in her endearing Southern accent, waving hospitably as the four newcomers stepped off the transporter pad.
“It’s pronounced, ‘you all,’” Lucille corrected as she passed Morgan, stared down the sheepish Sefelt and bulled out of the transporter oom.
“Hello, nice to meet you,” Ron Peterman said, hurrying to catch up with the Baxters.
“Thanks for beaming us!” added Sheila, and the two left the room. “That was SUCH an interesting experience…having your molecules all spread about. I can’t get enough of it!”
“I’m nauseated,” said Ron.
Sefelt looked at Ensign Morgan and shrugged.
Out in the corridor, the Baxters and Petermans were greeted by a full security contingent, ten in all, five on each side of the corridor, holding phaser rifles high to form an arch.
At the head of the group, J’hana waited, gesturing through the archway.
“Welcome to the Explorer. May your brief stay be…brief.”
Lucille glanced irritatedly around at the display. “This is not an official Starfleet welcoming ceremony. It’s a marriage ceremony!”
J’hana narrowed her eyes at Lucille. “The phaser rifles aren’t just for show. I suggest you hurry through.”
At the end of the archway, they found Baxter and Peterman, in their civvies, waiting patiently.
“Well, let’s get on with this,” Baxter said. “The Chicamacomico is warming up in Shuttle Bay Two.”
“No dress uniform?” Lucille asked pointedly.
“Look at my little pregnant girl!” Sheila Peterman squealed, running to kneel in front of Peterman and wrap her arms around the counselor’s hips.
“It’s nice seeing you, too,” Peterman sighed, patting her mom on the back.
“I think you’re gaining weight!” squealed Sheila. “Yay!”
“Andy, good to see you,” Ron said, gripping Baxter’s hand and pumping it so hard it nearly came off.
“Where’s the reception?” Lucille demanded. “We have crossed four sectors to rendez-vous with you, it’s the very least–”
“I’ve got a reception for you,” muttered Baxter, but Harlan held up a quieting hand before he could continue.
“I think the boy has a good point,” Harlan said, taking out his cigar. “We have a bit of a ride ahead of us, so we should go ahead and get on the proverbial road.”
“Well, fine, but we can at least stop by the bar,” Lucille said, and darted down the corridor, completely unattended. “I need a drink.”
“It’s oh-nine hundred,” Baxter pointed out.
“Perfect time for a Bloody Mary,” Lucille called over her shoulder.
“What’s eating her?” Baxter asked Harlan.
“Beats me.” Harlan bulled on ahead, and Baxter followed.
“Your ship is really snazzy,” Ron Peterman said, jogging up next to Baxter as Sheila continued cooing over Peterman.
“Thanks,” Baxter said, slapping his combadge. “Baxter to bridge.”
“The folks are aboard. Lay in a course for Pleasura and engage at warp six.”
“Sure thing, Andy.”
“Thanks. Baxter out.”
“I’m sure excited about this trip,” Ron said. “Sheila and I don’t get to travel on starships much.”
“You’re kidding,” Baxter murmurred. “So, how’s the ranch? How’s my little brother in law?”
“The ranch is great. Jason’s great. He’s getting ready to take over the whole place when I retire.”
Baxter nodded. “What is he, twenty-six now?”
“Uh-huh. How about..um…what’s-their-names?” Baxter taxed his memory. He didn’t visit Kelly’s family much. Peterman’s other brother and sister were out setting up other wildlife reserves on far-flung planets. The last family reunion was three years ago, shortly after the Explorer was launched.
“James and Liz are great. James is still on Benzar, Lizzie is on Corbus Six.”
Well, that was that. Baxter had officially run out of smalltalk with Peterman’s dad. Ten days to go, he thought to himself.
Thankfully, Mirk’s place was just around the corner.
As the pair walked into the Constellation Club, they were greeted with the sounds of old-fashioned Rock and Roll music.
“What is that awful noise?” posed Lucille Baxter.
“Beats me,” Baxter muttered. “Mirk is trying out different groups for his and Commander Hartley’s wedding reception. I think he’s worked himself into the latter half of Earth’s 20th century. I don’t know why people are so fixated on that century. I guess because it’s the only century that isn’t dominated by orchestral or synthofunk music.”
They stepped up to the bar, as the holographic band played on the stage in front of the large, slatted windows that overlooked the onrushing stars. “Who the heck are they?” Baxter asked of Mirk, who had come to greet them. He’d been sitting at one of the tables, auditioning the group.
“They’re called ‘Fleetwood Mac,’” Mirk said. “Megan really seems to like them.”
“Where is Commander Hartley, anyway?” Peterman asked, after showing her parents and the Baxters to a table.
Mirk glanced through the crowd and pointed. “Right…there, between the tambourine woman and the electronic guitar guy.”
“Electric,” Baxter corrected, as he and Peterman turned to see Hartley on the stage, sharing the microphone with the blonde woman, belting out the lyrics:
“…does she make you cry, make you break down, shatter your illusions of love? Well is it over now, do you know how to pick up the pieces and go home?”
“ROCK ON, GOLD DUST WOMAN!” Mirk called after Hartley, smiling as Hartley danced arm in arm with the blonde woman on the stage.
“You’re enjoying this,” Peterman grinned at Mirk as the song wrapped up and Hartley gleefully embraced the tambourine woman.
Mirk shrugged. “I like making her happy.”
“Well,” said Baxter. “You’d better not elope while me and Kelly are gone.”
“Don’t be silly,” Mirk said, sliding around the bar. “Now, what can I get you guys?”
“Bloody Mary for my psychotic mother,” Baxter said.
“Mirkachinos for the rest of us,” Peterman said. Baxter groaned. Those things tore up his stomach. He was sure he tasted tobasco in them.
“Coming right up,” Mirk said, turning to the replicators as Peterman and Baxter headed back to the corner booth where their two sets of parents had been seated.
They found the Petermans and Baxters staring across a table at each other, intensely quiet.
“Well, Kelly!” Sheila said, brightening as she saw her daughter. “Sit right by me. Tell me everything about your that squirming little bundle of joy inside you. Throwing up much?”
“Yes,” Peterman said flatly, squeezing in next to Sheila.
“Where are the drinks?” asked Lucille.
Baxter looked to Peterman, shrugged. She looked as perplexed as he felt, and if she couldn’t devine what was wrong, no one could.
Meanwhile, Ron Peterman was admiring the stars through the large windows at the front of the bar.
“Wow. I can’t believe we’re really flying through space.”
“You were born in the 24th century, weren’t you?” posed Lucille.
Ronald ignored her, turned to Peterman. “So, then, have you settled on a name for our little grandchild?”
Peterman nodded. “Yes and no.” She looked at Baxter. “You could say we settled on a middle name.”
“How so?” asked Sheila.
Baxter stood. “Kelly will tell you while I go find those drinks of ours.”
Harlan and Lucille sighed as the Petermans looked eagerly at their daughter.
“Whew! What tension!” Baxter said, strolling onto the bridge as the Explorer streaked through space toward Pleasura, the fourth most pleasureful planet in the Federation, right after Risa, Corsica and Carniva. They had the virtue of offering the most economical and schedule- friendly 10-day package, although Baxter could have gotten the group into Risa if they didn’t mind quad-occupancy. Obviously, they did.
Baxter stood up on the quarterdeck, glancing around the bridge. Madera and Sefelt worked up at the front stations, J’hana plunked boredly at tactical, and Tilleran was sitting in the command chair.
Tilleran turned to face Baxter. “Shouldn’t you be with your parents?”
“I had to get away, just for a couple minutes. Collect my thoughts.”
“You missed a few,” Tilleran grinned.
“Har har.” Baxter stepped down to the command area. “Where’s Richards?”
“Readyroom,” Tilleran said.
“Good man. Studying the briefing for the next mission, no doubt.”
“Don’t get your hopes up,” Tilleran called after Baxter as he trotted back up to the rear of the bridge and poked his head into the readyroom doors.
He found Richards sketching away at a large, tabloid-sized padd, erasing with a thumb, adding dollops of color with an index finger, holding it up to examine his work.
“Ahem.” Baxter waited expectantly at the door.
Richards glanced over the edge of the padd at Baxter. Immediately he put it down. “Andy. I thought you were…”
“I’m taking a break.” He sat down opposite Richards, letting the doors to the readyroom close. “Can I see that?”
Richards held the padd behind his back. “Um. No need. Just crew reports.”
“You were drawing again.”
Richards tossed the padd to Baxter. “Yeah. So? Aren’t I allowed?”
“Not when you’re on duty. Maybe that was okay when you were in Engineering, where things are only hectic when we’re getting blasted to smithereens, but up here, every decision counts. Even the ones that seem minute.”
“How do you know? You’re the captain. You never have to make the minute decisions.”
“That’s what I have you for. I should know. I was a first officer once too, you know.”
“No you weren’t. You went from inventory lieutenant right to captain.”
“Whatever.” Baxter leaned forward. “The point is, you have to at least CONVEY the impression of command, even if you aren’t really commanding. The crew has to think they can count on you, even if they really can’t.”
“So I have to sit out there.”
“And NOT sketch. That’s what your time off is for.”
“And, once you leave me in command, I can take time off whenever I want.”
“You could,” Baxter mumbled. “But I’d prefer, if you MUST goof off, that you do it without telling me. That way, when Starfleet asks questions, I can act surprised.”
“Starfleet won’t be asking questions,” Richards chuckled. “We haven’t screwed up badly enough to get a Shipwide Audit since we crashed into that planet.”
“The planet appeared around us. How many times to I have to repeat myself!”
“Listen, Andy, I may seem unmotivated, but I have things under control. I’ve been in command before.”
“Not over 10 days,” Baxter pointed out. “And not extensively during normal operations. It’s a hell of a lot easier to command in battle situations where you’re doing everything by the seat of your pants than worrying about the minutae of keeping the ship running from day to day.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Trust me on this one.”
“Don’t worry about it. Emergency, no emergency, we’ll be just fine. Go enjoy your vacation.”
“That would be asking way too much. I just hope you and me both get through this vacation with a minimum of fuss.”
“Now it’s you who’s asking too much,” Richards said with a smile. He got up and walked Baxter out of the readyroom.
“Just take care of her, okay, Chris?” Baxter asked as he stepped into the turbolift.
Richards nodded. “Will do, buddy.”
Behind Richards, Baxter heard Tilleran and J’hana laughing.
Twenty minutes later, Baxter returned to the Constellation Club, stopping by the bar to get the tray of drinks from Mirk, and strode over to the booth, where Peterman was just wrapping up her story.
“…sent Irma back to the 20th century, where she still is now as far as we know.” Peterman took a deep breath. “In return for all the Directors’ help, even though we’re not sure exactly how they helped us, we agreed our child’s middle name would be either Ike or Irene.”
“Depending on gender,” Baxter added helpfully, sliding in next to his parents again, handing out drinks.
“Took you long enough,” muttered Lucille.
“I had to run an errand.”
“I don’t want to hear it.”
Once everyone had their drinks, they immediately started sipping.
Then followed absolute silence, except for the sipping.
After a couple minutes passed, Baxter finally had to say something. “Can I just tell you guys how glad I am that we’re doing this?”
“Us too,” said the Petermans. Everyone looked at the Baxters.
Lucille had already downed her Bloody Mary. “What? What’s everyone looking at?”
Baxter pointed for the doors to the Constellation Club. “Well. Shall we?”
Acting Captain’s Log,
Stardate 55098.5. After launching the runabout Chicamacomico, bound for Pleasura, we’ve altered course to begin our next mission, a supply run to the Brentanis Belt.
I’ve been in sole command of the ship for three hours. So far, it’s been a piece of cake.
“Just remember, the cake part was my idea,” Janice Browning said, stuffing a forkful of cake into her mouth as Richards finished his ham sandwich. Not unlike every day in the month since they’d gotten back together, Browning and Richards were eating in Space Tastes, Browning’s restaurant in the Explorer’s mall. Not unlike every day, they were out on the veranda, watching shoppers walk by.
“I like doing the logs,” Richards observed as he watched a crewperson duck into Yeoman Tunney’s salon for a trim.
“Can I do one?” Browning asked gleefully.
“You’re not even in Starfleet anymore.”
“Sure, I don’t see why not.”
“Thanks!” Browning leaned over and kissed Richards on the cheek. “So…how is it?”
“How is what?”
“I don’t know. I’ve only been doing it for a few hours.”
“Well, it’s nothing you haven’t done before, right?”
“Actually, it is. Every other time I’ve been in command it’s been short-term, and only in an emergency. This is…different.”
“Why, because you don’t have stuff blowing up all around you?”
“Something like that.”
“And you MISS having stuff blowing up all around you?”
Richards shrugged. “Kind of.”
“If I were you, I’d savor the quiet while it lasts. You know how this ship can get.”
“True enough,” said Richards, and suddenly his combadge bleeped.
“Tilleran to Richards.”
Janice beamed at him. “Speak of the devil!”
“Don’t speak too soon,” muttered Richards. “Go ahead,” he said into the air.
“A Starfleet runabout has arrived and is requesting permission to dock.”
“And it’s not the captain’s?”
“Negative. The ship’s sole occupant identifies herself as being from the Office of Internal Affairs.”
Richards and Browning exchanged panicked glances.
“What did you do? It’s only been three hours!” Browning said, cake dribbling down her chin.
Richards stood and headed for the mall turbolift. “I didn’t do anything. I’m sure it’s just a routine…”
“Shipwide Audit,” said the stranger, clutching a padd to her chest and looking Richards over with disdain as he stood, perplexed, on the quarterdeck of the Explorer’s bridge. “Lieutenant Commander Nell Vansen. I wish I could say it was a pleasure.”
“She just stormed in here,” said Tilleran, standing beside her at the center of the bridge.
“I thought about shooting her,” J’hana said. “But I’m up for review soon, and frankly it just wouldn’t look very good on my record.”
Richards tried to open his mouth to say something, but was interrupted:
“Do you have a moment, Commander?” the pale, statuesque brunette asked, gesturing for the readyroom doors.
“Of course,” Richards said, trying to sound confident. Vansen strode back to the rear of the bridge, passed J’hana with an amused, victorious expression, and shouldered into the readyroom ahead of Richards.
Vansen immediately sat behind the captain’s desk, and as the doors closed, Richards asked,
“What the hell do you think you are doing?”
“I’m authorized to use this as my office for the duration of the audit,” Vansen said, putting her feet up on the desk.
Richards stepped toward the desk and rested his hands on it. “Which will last how long?”
“As long as it needs to.” Vansen put her feet down and leaned forward. “Does something about that make you nervous, Mister Richards?”
“Not at all,” Richards said, straightening. “It’s just that I understood that Starfleet gave a little notice before doing one of these things.”
“This is a unique situation.”
“You realize our captain isn’t even here.”
“That’s the point.” Vansen stood. “Commander, can I be blunt? Thanks. Starfleet feels that Captain Baxter made an error in judgment when he promoted you to First Officer. I have been sent to either validate or invalidate that hypotheses. My decision depends entirely on you.”
“This must be a joke,” Richards muttered.
“No, you being promoted to First Officer is a joke. As are your questionable leadership skills, which I’ll be delving into in GREAT detail. While I will be evaluating the Explorer as a whole, it is you who will be most scrutinized.” Vansen studied Richards’s face for reaction. “Does THAT make you nervous?”
“N-not at all,” Richards gurgled, collapsing into a chair opposite the captain’s desk.
Vansen threaded her way back toward the readyroom door. “I’ll be scheduling interviews with you and all the other senior staff. Make sure your idiotic crew keeps their appointments. And get a cleaning crew up here. This office smells like a zoo.”
Meanwhile, the runabout Chicamacomico glided through space, at Harlan Baxter’s command. Lucille was in the front compartment with Harlan, reading another one of Counselor Troi’s scummy romance novels.
The Peterman parents were stowed away in the sleeping compartment, catching up on sleep. They complained of space lag, even though Captain Baxter assured them there was no such thing.
That left Peterman and Baxter, sitting across from one another in the far rear compartment, around a conference table.
“Why did we agree to this, Andy?” pondered Peterman.
“Because your parents wanted to spend time with us to celebrate your pregnancy.”
“And your parents?”
“Because they insisted on coming along.”
Peterman studied an apple out of the fruit basket in the center of the conference table. “Funny how they kind of just forced their way in, isn’t it?”
Baxter sighed. “It is what they do best.”
“Really,” Peterman said.
Baxter looked around absently. “I guess any sex on this trip is out of the question.”
“You think?” Petersen chuckled.
“She’s a hot little shambat isn’t she?”
Tilleran shot J’hana a wry glare. “She’s a bitch, from what I hear.”
“And since when did that stop me?”
“Point made.” Tilleran sipped her Tangoran spiced tea as she watched Lt. Commander Vansen across the crowded second level of Ship’s Shoppes. “She is kind of cute in an evil way, I guess.”
“Yes, very much in the image of Lieutenant Commander Hartley.”
“Hm. Imagine those two in a catfight.”
“Hmmm.” Tilleran had a glazed, dreamy look on her face.
Tilleran blinked. “What? Oh. Hey. Would you look at that. Lunch hour is over.”
J’hana nodded. “I’ll join you on the bridge shortly. First, I’m going to strike up a conversation with our efficiency expert. See if I can do some evaluating of my own.”
“It is she who will have to be careful.” J’hana stood from her chair on the patio of Space Tastes and shouldered past passersby to get to the railing, over which Commander Vansen was leaning as she jotted down notes on her padd.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” Vansen said, turning to face J’hana. “You’ll be my first appointment.”
“It will be well worth the wait,” J’hana said, cracking her knuckles loudly above her head.
“I’ve read your profile. You’re an impressive fighter.”
“Yes, and an even more impressive lover.”
“Really? Hm.” Vansen cocked an eyebrow. “Care to go into detail?”
“With you? Yes. Just give me a few minutes to stretch and warm up.”
Vansen shook her head. “No. No, you don’t understand what I mean. Make no mistake, I am interested in MEN, although you come quite close to one, I must say.”
“Anyway, I could use your help. I’m doing some research. Your romantic entanglement with the Betazoid science officer is fascinating. The fact that you formed an Imzadi bond with her without her being willing, and yet still you two remained connected, you pining for her all the while, she casting off your every overture, ever since that disastrous talk show when you proposed to her…it’s all very fascinating.”
J’hana’s lower lip trembled. “Yes. Fascinating.”
“So when would you like to set up that personnel review appointment?”
“I will get back to you.” J’hana turned on a heel and walked off, then turned sharply into a side corridor, where signs indicated the ladies’ room was located.
Moments later, half a dozen panicked ladies darted out of the corridor.
Moments after that, a gush of water torrented out of the hallway. Busted H20 conduit.
J’hana emerged thereafter, soaked clean through her uniform. She tipped her head lightly at Vansen and then headed off toward the mall exit.
Vansen typed up some notes on her padd and smiled cattily. “Another satisfied customer.”
No one aboard the Chicamacomico could be certain when exactly all hell broke loose.
“What the hell happened?” Baxter demanded, as he and Peterman rushed into the cockpit. He leaned over a side console, tapping at the controls.
Harlan fought with the helm. “Port injector froze up on us. We got knocked out of warp and straight into a planet’s atmosphere.”
“Pull us out of the dive!”
“It’s too late. Chain failure to the impulse engines. They’re fragged. All we have is thrusters.”
“Then level us!”
“That’s what I’m trying to do, damn it!”
“Watch your mouth!” Lucille Baxter called as her hair came unwound from its bun and she fought with the ship’s sensor panel. “Divert course to 050 mark 090. There’s an open meadow on the planet’s southern continent!”
“So I’m assuming the planet’s Class-M?” asked Peterman
“Luckily,” said Harlan.
“Could someone tell us what’s happening?” Ron Peterman asked, gripping his wife for dear life, clinging to a console at the center of the Chicamacomico cockpit.
“That’s what we’ve BEEN doing!” Baxter said exasperatedly.
“In ENGLISH!” cried the Petermans.
“We’re crashing!” Peterman screamed at her parents.
“You don’t have to get all bent out of shape about it, dear!” cried Sheila.
“Shut up, all of you, and take crash positions!” Baxter said, gripping the back of his father’s chair as Peterman gripped Lucille’s chair. The Petermans obediently climbed into the rear set of cockpit chairs.
Trees smashed against the Chicamacomico as it flew down low over the grassy planet below, losing altitude fast.
“Keep her nose up!” Baxter commanded his father.
“I’ve got ‘er, boy! I was doing this when you were in diapers!”
“Well my crew has crash landed more times per year than any other crew in the fleet!”
“And this isn’t helping our average!” Peterman moaned, as the Chicamacomico slammed down into a rocky outcropping, bounced onto a grassy knoll, skidded along a bluff, and smashed to a stop against a large redwood-type tree, spewing smoke and sparks.
“Let’s get this overwith,” Commander Richards said, walking into the readyroom and plopping into the chair opposite Lt. Commander Vansen.
She turned in the captain’s swivel chair, facing Richards, stars whizzing by behind her.
“Lovely view back there, huh?”
Richards shrugged. “I suppose.”
“You have no idea what the hell you’re doing in this line of work.”
He blinked. “Pardon?”
Vansen held up a padd. “See this?”
“It’s a padd.”
“Have you read it?” She slid the padd across the desk to Richards.
“Hmm. You surveyed the crew on how good a First Officer I am. Thanks.”
Vansen folded her hands and rested her chin on them. “They said some lovely things about you.”
Richards smiled. “I think some lovely things about them.”
“None of it, however, matters. Look at page two.”
Richards thumbed a button on the padd. He chuckled. “This is an old review of Conway.”
“They despised him.” Vansen wrinkled her nose. “Lieutenant Commander J’hana makes several recommendations on how he should be disembowled.”
Richards paged through. “As does Lieutenant Commander Hartley, Lieutenant Madera, Ensign Sloane, Counselor Peterman, Crewman Ramos…”
“Yes, all in their own little ways.” Vansen snatched the padd back and stood, circling Richards like a lioness studying her prey. “But you know what? This crew turned out efficient performances day after day. That padd contains reports going back to the launch of the Aerostar that say Commander Conway motivated these people to do good work.”
“Yeah. He’s a terrific guy. I’m sure that’s why he’s a captain now.”
“You, on the other hand, are loved by your staff.”
“I like to think of myself as their friend.”
Vansen leaned down in Richards’s face. “But you can’t BE their friend!”
“I send them Christmas cards.”
“Stop doing that!”
“I christened Ensign Fairchild’s baby…”
“You’re a laughing stock!”
“The First Officer’s Club Newsletter says so.”
Richards scratched his head. “There’s a newsletter for First Officers?”
“About first officers, and by first officers. And maybe, just maybe, you’d qualify for that club, if you weren’t such a freaking moron!”
“You are the strangest efficiency expert I’ve ever met.”
“This isn’t just about efficiency, Mister Richards. This is about hard, cold facts. You’re being tested, here and now. And how your career in Starfleet goes depends entirely on how you react to the tests. You want to be everybody’s friend? Then you don’t belong in that chair out there. Not even temporarily. Got it?”
“Is this over?”
Vansen was leaning down in Richards’s face. “Have you understood ANYTHING I’ve had to say?”
“I think I have the gist of things, yes.”
“Well remember them.” She stepped back behind Baxter’s desk and Richards winced at that. She thunked a control on the desk, opening a comm channel.
“I got a thirty-eight percent,” J’hana mumbled, staring down at the padd as she sat at a table in the Constellation Club.
“Out of how much?” asked Lieutenant Madera.
Tilleran frowned at the young helmsperson, then turned to J’hana. “I haven’t gotten a crack at her mind yet. She seems to be blocking my advances…”
“Which is hard to do,” J’hana said, turning to Lieutenant Sefelt. “I speak from experience.”
“Why am I here?” asked Sefelt.
“Because you’re part of the Alpha Shift now,” Tilleran said. “And Alpha Shift people get drunk together. It’s tradition.”
“But I replaced Commander Larkin. I’m sure she didn’t get drunk with you.”
J’hana chortled. “No, no. But she hung out all the same. She was fun, too. Especially after she got those emotions.”
“Yeah,” Tilleran said wistfully. “I miss Larkin.”
“I even miss Ford sometimes,” J’hana said. “The wisecracking little shnarzz made things interesting.”
“Yeah,” Tilleran said, looking woefully at Madera.
“What?” Madera asked, offended. “You want me to make cheap jokes and lewd advances at you guys? Will that make you happy?”
Tilleran and J’hana exchanged grins as Mirk walked up with a tray of drinks.
Then, suddenly, the Red Alert klaxons wailed.
“Richards to all senior staff. Please report to the bridge,” came the page over the intercom.
“You’ll have to save our drinks for later,” Madera told Mirk.
“Nonsense. Take them with you. I refuse to let you go into battle sober.”
“Good old Mirk,” J’hana said, slapping Mirk hard on the back as she grabbed her frothy, acidic glass of Andorian ale.
“Don’t mention it,” Mirk winced, grabbing at his back.
Richards was sitting in the command chair when Tilleran, J’hana, Sefelt and Madera reported on the bridge.
At the same time, Vansen and a sobbing Doctor Holly Wilcox emerged from the captain’s readyroom.
“Glad everyone could make it,” Richards said, adding, “stations, please.”
Doctor Wilcox marched down to the front of the bridge, stabbing an accusatory thumb back at Vansen. “That woman is cruel, heartless, and possibly UNDEAD. Permission to shoot her out an airlock, Commander!”
“I will do the honors,” J’hana said quickly.
Richards shook his head. “I understand your feelings, Doctor Wilcox, but there are more pressing concerns at the moment. Take your place in Sickbay. You may be called upon.”
“Why do you sound so official all of a sudden?” Tilleran asked, taking scienecs as Wilcox stormed into the aft turbolift and shouted for it to descend.
Richards just glared back at Vansen as she rounded the command arena to take her seat next to Richards.
“I believe you have no farther to look for the bitchy answer to that question than Lieutenant Commander Vansen,” said J’hana.
“This is not the time nor the place, people,” Richards said.
“So why have we been called to the bridge?” Vansen said, and without taking her eyes off Richards, she added, “and if you don’t keep your filthy mind out of my brain, Mister Tilleran, I’ll recommend you be busted down to Inventory.”
“You wouldn’t…” Tilleran seethed.
“People!” Richards called out, whistling between his fingers. “We just received a…” he glanced at Vansen. “Official Starfleet distress call from one of our colonies.”
Vansen smiled. “No kidding.”
“Yes. It seems it’s being attacked.”
“Really.” Tilleran leaned forward. She could see where Richards was going with this. Plus, unlike Vansen’s mind, Richards’s was a blissfully open book. “So I guess we’d better answer the distress call. By the books, and in our usual orderly, successful fashion, so we don’t receive a bad grade.”
Richards grinned. “My thinking exactly, Commander. Lieutenant Madera, lay in a course for Doggett Three, maximum warp.” He stuck out his index finger. “Expedite.”
“It’s ‘engage,’” J’hana whispered.
“And it’s two fingers, not one,” added Tilleran.
“Whatever.” Richards folded his arms. “Just go.”
“Doggett Three?” Vansen asked, turning to face Richards. “That’s not right.”
“What do you mean?”
“The distress call should be coming from an uncharted planet in the Beta Commodous system.”
“Well, it’s coming from Doggett Three. Maybe you and your Internal Affairs flunkies better get your facts straight.”
“I’d better go confirm this.” Vansen rose and headed back toward the readyroom. As she passed Tilleran, she stopped suddenly, feeling the Betazoid’s mind probing hers.
Vansen whirled to face Tilleran, held her hands to her head, and thought straight at her.
Everyone on the bridge watched in rapt silence as Tilleran slid right out of her chair and collapsed to the deck, wailing.
“The horror…the HORROR…” sobbed Tilleran as J’hana ran to her side.
“Tell me where it hurts, Ari. I will kill you in the ritual way if you so desire.”
Richards stood and walked over to the science station, bending to look over Tilleran. “That woman is tearing this crew apart. Once we accomplish this little ‘test’ mission she’s got planned for us, I say we dump her off on the nearest Starfleet outpost and tell Internal Affairs they can suck our ramscoop. What do you guys think?”
“What do you mean, what do we think?” Tilleran asked, wiping her eyes and standing back up. “You’re the commander. You make the decisions.”
“Oh. Right. Then that’s what we’re going to do.”
“She’s going to rip your tiny human testicles off, sir,” J’hana surmised, walking back to tactical as Tilleran braced herself against the science station.
“What did she…what did she do to you?” Richards asked quietly.
“You don’t want to know,” Tilleran murmurred. “Let’s just say I’ll never look at little puppies the same way again.”
“Understood,” Richards said, even though he didn’t.
Captain Baxter stared at the smouldering wreckage that was the runabout Chicamacomico and shrugged. “Well. You know what they say…‘any landing you can crawl away from’…”
The group had climbed a good thirty meters downhill, into a valley and away from the wreck, shortly after a disorganized effort at abandoning the crashed craft.
Meanwhile, Ron and Sheila Peterman weren’t handling the situation quite as well.
“I’m never going into space again,” sobbed Sheila. “Not if things like that happen when you go into space.”
“We can just settle here,” Ron said. “As long as we have each other… and some animals, we’ll be fine.”
Counselor Peterman rubbed her mother’s back comfortingly. “Space travel isn’t always like that. We only have a horrible calamity, I don’t know…every four or five missions…”
Sheila kept crying.
“Can someone shut her up?” Lucille Baxter asked pointedly. “Do you have a muzzle for her, Ronald?”
“If ya do, can ya lend it to me?” grumbled Harlan.
“Let’s just all remember we’re on the same team here,” Baxter said, trying to rally his troops.
“We’re not!” protested Ron. “We’re not in Starfleet!”
“Listen,” Baxter said, as the noonday sun beat down. “Right now, the team is called ‘Crash Survivors,’ and we’re all on it. Got that?”
“What kind of nonsense is he talking?” Ron asked Harlan.
“Beats me. I was never around when he was a kid. Lucille?”
“He watched a LOT of holovision.”
“Okay, let’s find shelter before nightfall,” suggested Baxter.
“How about the runabout?” Sheila asked.
“It’s flooded with radiation from the busted engine,” Baxter said. “So, unless you want to die in there, you can’t stay in there.”
Sheila resumed her crying.
“Did we salvage anything from the wreck?” asked Lucille.
“We did manage to save this lovely fruit basket,” said Peterman, as Baxter held it up for everyone’s inspection.
“Complete with some…um…slightly bruised fruit.”
“Then we have food,” Harlan said. “That’s a good start.”
“Well, let’s collect some wood for a fire and try to find a cave or thicket or grove or something where we can camp for the night,” said Baxter. “Meanwhile, the distress beacon that was activated inside the runabout when we crashed will be broadcasting our location. A starship, probably the Explorer, will find us in no time.”
Suddenly, and loudly, the Chicamacomico exploded in a colorful purple and red blast that knocked the whole group onto their backs, not to mention rendering them quite unconscious.
Vansen jogged out of the captain’s readyroom just as the Explorer glided out of warp in the Doggett system.
Tilleran, having regained her composure, announced it.
“Sir, we’ve entered the Doggett system and are coming out of warp, as ordered.” Those last two words she directed right at Vansen with a smirk.
“Full scan,” Richards said, sounding confident, because he was. Why shouldn’t he be? Vansen told him he’d be tested. This was the test. What was to fear? He could have very well fumbled the whole scenario if she hadn’t warned him he’d be tested. He found a bit of irony in that.
“This isn’t a test mission!” Vansen said, winding her way down to face Richards. “This is NOT a drill!”
“I’ve heard that before,” Richards said. “Take your seat, Commander. Let the trained professionals handle this.”
“I’m picking up a vessel in orbit of Doggett Three,” J’hana announced. “It’s a Jem’Hadar battlecruiser. Fully armed, all weapons hot.”
Tilleran was studying overhead shots and full-spectrum scans of Doggett Three’s surface. “The colony is in shambles. They bombarded it with high-energy proton bursts.”
Richards glanced at Vansen with a grin. “Hmm. Jem’Hadar battlecruiser. ‘High-energy proton burts.’ Sounds a little stilted to me, but I like it. A colony in ‘shambles.’ How melodramatic. And here we are to save them! A better adventure could NOT be written. And,” he added, “I should know, because I used to write them for UKN.”
Vansen grabbed Richards by the front of his uniform. “Please, Commander, listen to me. I know we got off with a bad start, but you have to believe me. This is a real mission. That is a REAL Jem’Hadar battlecruiser out there, and that is a REAL destroyed colony. CALL FOR BACKUP!”
“Right, right.” Richards turned back around in his command chair to face the viewscren. “It’s too late to try to make it feel authentic now, Vansen. I know what you’re up to, and I’m going to play along. And you’ll be surprised how well I do.” He stood and looked around at his crew. “All right, gang. It’s ‘Kobayashi Maru’ time. Let’s show ‘em what we’ve got!”
Vansen covered her face with one hand. “I cannot watch this.”
“The battlecruiser is breaking off and moving to intercept us,” J’hana noticed.
“Shields up,” Richards said. “Continue on Red Alert, since we already are at Red Alert.” That may have been a bit much.
“Proceeding to avoid coming down from Red Alert,” J’hana confirmed.
“They’re arming weapons,” Tilleran observed. “And they look astonishingly realistic.”
“Arm our phasers too,” Richards said, as the massive vessel double the size of the Explorer loomed close on the viewscreen. “Point five burst, J’hana. We don’t want to destroy Starfleet’s little wargame ship.”
“They’re hailing,” said Tilleran.
“On screen, by all means.” Richards stood, straightened his uniform top.
A rugged-looking Jem’Hadar appeared on the viewscreen, patch on one eye, scar running down his face.
“Please!” Richards scoffed. “He looks so…cliche! The scar I would have bought…but the EYE PATCH! Come ON!”
“Mister Richards…” Vansen said, taking a step to stand next to Richards.
The Jem’Hadar, meanwhile, did not look amused. “Federation ship: I am First Tenok’Titlan, of the New Order of the Jem’Hadar.”
“‘New Order,’” Richards chuckled. “How hokey.”
The Jem’Hadar growled. “I do not know what the term ‘hokey’ means, but I am sure it is pajorative.”
“Oooooh…‘pajorative’…big word, mister Jem’Hadar. I’m REAAALLY scared. What are you? A grad student at the Federation University’s film school?”
“You are the strangest captain I have ever met.”
“First officer, thank you very much.”
“Whatever the case, you have come at an inopportune moment. We are raiding the colony below for precious goods. Since you will no doubt not allow us to do that, we have to destroy you.”
“I understand. No hard feelings! I’d do the same if I were you,” Richards said. “J’hana, close channel.”
“But–” said the Jem’Hadar.
“Mister Richards!” Vansen cried. “Readyroom! Now!”
“I don’t believe you’re in command,” Richards said. “Now get off my bridge and let me do my job.”
“Over my dead body!” shrieked Vansen. “Which will join all of YOUR dead bodies if you all don’t LISTEN TO ME!”
“J’hana…beam this nuisance into the readyroom.”
“Gladly!” J’hana exclaimed and, with a touch of a button, sent an irate Vansen into the readyroom with a flurry of blue transporter particles.
“Lock the door,” Richards said.
“Now target the Jem’Hadar cruiser and fire.”
Richards watched with glee as the Explorer’s weak phaser beam lashed out at the Jem’Hadar battlecruiser and…did nothing.
“We didn’t even damage their shields,” J’hana said.
“Obviously, they’re not set up to reflect ficticious damage,” Tilleran noted.
“How unprofessional,” muttered Richards.
“They’re returning fire,” replied J’hana.
“This should be good,” Richards said, as the Explorer suddenly pitched and the deck shook out from under him. He slammed back into the command chair as sparks and smoke shot out of panels all around him.
The brige went dim as the bridge crew immediately sprang to life, pounding on their panels. Alarmed calls came in from departments all over the ship as the Jem’Hadar vessel sent another blue volley at the Explorer and rattled the ship so hard Richards felt his teeth shaking.
“This is an incredibly realistic simulation,” Richards said quietly.
“Sir,” J’hana said, “That was real damage.”
“Then what the hell is going on?” Richards demanded, climbing to his feet.
“Obviously, someone didn’t tell them this was a simulation,” Madera suggested.
“Or else, Vansen was right, and this isn’t really a simulation,” J’hana said, sounding all too calm as she said it, just as another volley slammed into the Explorer. “Oh, and shields are down to eighteen percent.”
“We’re fools!” Richards moaned, slapping a hand over his face.
“You’re just now realizing this!” Tilleran cried as panels burst all around her.
“Hartley to bridge!” came the all-too-predictable comm. “Nobody told me at this morning’s staff meeting that we’d be getting blasted to sh** today!”
“It was a minor schedule change,” Richards said. “Now dump everything into shields and weapons and get back to me if we come close to blowing up. Bridge out.” He turned to J’hana. “Raise our phasers back to full power and fire a full spread of quantum torpedoes at the Jem’Hadar vessel. Madera, evasive pattern…oh hell, just pick one.”
“Picking now, you son of a bitch,” Madera said. “There, was that more like Ford?”
“Just drive, Madera!” Richards called out just as Vansen shoved the doors to the readyroom opened and squirmed out.
“Let me repeat: THIS IS NOT A DRILL!”
“We’ve caught on already,” said J’hana.
Vansen surveyed the smoking bridge. “A bit too late, it seems.”
“Nonsense,” Richards said. “I’ve got us out of situations worse than this.”
“Has this ship EVER faced Jem’Hadar weaponry?” asked Vansen.
At that, everyone looked at their shoes shamefully.
“We…um…never got involved in the Dominion War,” Richards said sheepishly. “Not like we didn’t want to…we just were never invited.”
“I know,” Vansen said. “That’s why I was sent to evaluate you.”
“No time to explain.” Vansen rushed over to tactical and stabbed a few controls.
J’hana looked on, aghast. “Woman, I have killed people for less.”
“Get over yourself and pay attention,” Vansen said. “You see these phaser bandwidths? Use them. It’s the only area on the spectrum that will cut through Jem’Hadar shields. Hit them amidships, right in front of the lateral thrusters, and above the dorsal antiproton cannon. Those are the only vulnerable spots.”
“You’ve done this before,” Richards guessed.
“I was the tactical officer on the Venture, and then the Orleans,” explained Vansen. “I spent a lot of my career fighting the Dominion.”
“Must have been depressing,” Richards said thoughtfully, as blasts crashed all around the Explorer and J’hana stabbed madly at her weapons panel.
“We’ve done minor damage to a few of their shield generators,” J’hana said. “But they’ve totally wiped out our shields.” Another blast hit. “And our ablative armor is losing its integrity.”
“Possum,” Richards suddenly said.
“Pardon?” everyone asked, staring at the first officer.
“Old Earth expression. We play possum. Make them think we’re dead in space, and they won’t waste their time destroying us.”
“Or they’ll finish us off,” Tilleran pointed out.
“No,” Vansen said. “This imbecile is actually on to something. Obliterating a target is not their style. Not when they can be left to a slow death. To them, that’s more preferable.”
“Tilleran, can you blot out our lifesigns?”
“I think so,” she said, tapping at her panel. “Just give me a few seconds.”
“A few seconds is ALL you have,” Richards said, tapping his combadge. “Richards to Hartley.”
“Either the shooting has stopped or Starfleet has a new ship lined up for us. Otherwise I don’t want to hear it.”
“Some of both, and a lot of neither, Commander,” replied Richards. “Listen, I need you to shut down the warp core and everything but minimal life support and sensors. Make it look like we’re dead in the water and leaking radiation.”
“Luckily for us, that won’t be too far from the truth. I’m on it!”
Richards turned to Madera. “Lieutenant, tilt us on a pathetic angle so it looks like we’re drifting out of control.”
“Already done,” Madera said proudly. “The port stabilizer was blown up a couple minutes ago.”
Richards grinned. “Fantastic.”
“Fantastic?” demanded J’hana. “We’re dead in the water, and you call that fantastic?”
“It is if the Jem’Hadar leave us alone,” Richards pointed out.
“Sir,” Tilleran piped up. “We’re being scanned.”
“Everybody think ‘dead’!” Richards exclaimed, as lights winked out throughout the bridge, and all over the ship as Hartley shut down each system. The only light came from Tilleran’s still-functional sensor panel.
“I’m thinking of killing,” smouldered J’hana, as the bridge crew sat in pregnant silence.
“Sir, I have a situation update,” the voice of Lt. Howard Sefelt said in the darkness.
“Go ahead,” Richards said quietly.
“I just wet myself.”
“Very good, Lieutenant. Keep on top of that.”
Tilleran studied her nearly-dark panel. “Commander! The Jem’Hadar have turned around…they’re going back to raid the colony!”
“Terrific,” Richards’s voice said in the darkness. “Just as planned.”
He heard Vansen sigh. “I have no idea how the hell I’m going to grade this.”
Captain Baxter awoke to find himself lying in the center of a white, lightbulbed circle, in the middle of a dank, dark cave.
“Where the hell am I?” he asked, and leaned up on his knees to see an unconscious Peterman, Ron and Sheila, and Harlan and Lucille heaped around him. He cupped his hands to his mouth. “Hello?”
That’s when a shadow approached at the cave entrance, and as the figure stepped out of the shadows, holding an impressively big weapon, Baxter flinched.
It was a Jem’Hadar. And a pretty nasty looking one, too.
“Man, we really must have taken a wrong turn somewhere,” Baxter muttered.
“The Jem’Hadar vessel has gone into warp,” Tilleran said, hunched over her sensor screens.
“Lucky us,” J’hana grumbled, sitting back in her chair at tactical, looking bored out of her mind.
Richards stood up. “Good. Time to start effecting repairs.”
“Yeah, in just a few months we should be ready for action again,” said Vansen.
“You undestimate this crew, Commander,” Richards said melodramatically.
“You really need to stop talking like that,” muttered Madera. “You sound like Captain Baxter.”
Richards straightened his uniform. “Good. I guess.”
“Sir, I’ve got a bead on the Jem’Hadar battlecruiser,” Tilleran announced. “It’s on a heading of 051 mark 059. Toward the Beta Commodous system.”
“Uninhabited,” Richards said, rubbing his chin. “Wonder what they want there? No Federation outposts that I know of.”
Vansen rubbed her eyes. “Not…entirely…uninhabited, Mister Richards.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’ve got a testing facility there.”
“What kind of testing facility?”
“The kind we were going to send you toward. Where we were going to stage your ‘test.’”
“And what was the test going to be?” asked Tilleran.
“It was going to be a rescue,” Vansen said drearily.
Richards didn’t like where this was going. “A rescue of WHOM?”
“Captain Baxter and the others,” Vansen said, and collapsed into her chair.
Richards looked around the bridge at the shocked stares of his crew. “Well, Vansen, it looks like we’re going to be taking that test after all.”
“I was afraid you would say that.”
TO BE CONTINUED. . .
The Explorer crew is put to the ultimate test when they’re forced to track down and rescue Baxter, Peterman, and the in-laws, who must find a way to avoid being blasted by Jem’Hadar raiders. It’s Gamma Quadrant fun, Alpha Quadrant style on the next
Star Traks: THE NEXT VEXED THING!