Star Traks: The Next Vexed Thing was created by Anthony Butler. It's a sequel to Star Traks: The Vexed Generation, which in turn is based on Alan Decker's Star Traks, which in turn is based on Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry, who is turning in his grave. Paramount, owns Star Trek, they made UPN, and each season they try, try again. Copyright 2001. All rights, and wrongs, are reserved. If you're offended by mildly disturbing language, situations, and the utter disregard of some of Star Trek's greatest premises, better hit the "Back" button on your browser right now. If not, welcome aboard!

Author: Anthony Butler
Copyright: 2001

Acting Captain’s Log,

Supplemental. After getting the crap beaten out of us, the Explorer has played dead just a stone’s throw away from Dogett Three, the Federation Colony that was raided quite recently by the Jem’Hadar, who I thought weren’t even a threat anymore.

According to our Efficiency Expert, and apparently our Dominion Expert, Lt. Commander Vansen, there are several squads of rogue Jem’Hadar coming over from the Gamma Quadrant causing havoc.

To make things worse, that Jem’Hadar battlecruiser that handily kicked our ass just hours ago is on its way to trash the Federation outpost where Captain Baxter, Counselor Peterman, and both sets of their parents are being held. Although we’ve sent out comms warning the outpost, the messages will no doubt reach them too late. The worst part is, we were supposed to be rescuing Captain Baxter and the others as a staged test of our abilities. Now we have to do it in real life. How unfair is that?

“Engines are back up,” Lt. Commander Hartley said, strolling onto the bridge, face and hair caked in grease, uniform tanktop soaked through with sweat.

“Why did I never get that dirty when I was chief engineer?” pondered Richards as he sat in the command chair going over repair reports.

“Because you never did any of the grunt work yourself,” Hartley shot back, glancing around the bridge. “Where’s the bitch who got us into this mess?”

“You’re probably referring to me,” Lt. Commander Vansen said, rising from her seat next to Richards. “But I assure you, this isn’t my fault. Blame the Jem’Hadar.”

“Well, maybe if you hadn’t had us convinced this was going to be some kind of wargame, we would have been on guard against that attack!”

Vansen folded her arms. “You just don’t understand the situation.”

Richards stood. “Ladies, ladies. Let’s calm down, take a step back, and remember we’re all playing on the same team.”

“Shut up,” Hartley told Richards. “You’re starting to sound like Captain Baxter. I’ll be down in Engineering putting this rustbucket back together.”

“Thanks, I guess,” Richards muttered as Hartley left.

“Crew shows no respect,” Vansen said to herself as she tapped on a padd.

Richards stared down at her. “And what in the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“Just making some notes.”

“Yeah, well we’re in a life-death type situation here, and the last thing you should be doing is taking notes.”

“I’m an efficiency expert, Mister Richards. That’s what I do.”

“Well, you used to be a bridge officer, right?”

“Once upon a time.”

“What position?”


“Then go up there and help J’hana get our weapons back up and running. If you refuse, I’ll write you up and lock you in your quarters, got it?”

“Fine,” muttered Vansen, and she strode up to the quarterdeck.

“You may want to take note of that,” Tilleran said snidely as she passed.

“I’m sorry, does your opinion matter?” Vansen asked, not looking at Tilleran or waiting for her answer. “No, I didn’t think so.” Vansen joined J’hana, who was mucking about inside a floor-level panel beneath the tactical console. “Okay, blue velvet, let’s ramp up that phaser efficiency rate, shall we?”

“I have no idea what you mean,” J’hana called from within the panel. “But by all means, keep using pet names.”

“So, what’s your story, big guy?” Baxter asked conversationally. The Jem’Hadar who was guarding him said nothing. “You a straggler from the Dominion War? Did I tell you I met a Jem’Hadar once? Had some on my ship last year. They were nice guys.”

The Jem’Hadar did not reply, or even look in Baxter’s direction.

“Yep. Really great guys.”


Without glancing down, Baxter knew who’d made that sound.

“It must be morning. Would you get me a rag…or a bucket, or something big guy?” Baxter asked the Jem’Hadar. Unsurprisingly, he got no response.

“Well then,” Baxter said, squatting down beside Peterman. “Honey… lean your head over. You’re going to choke on it.”

Peterman sat up and wiped her mouth. “Ask for some mouthwash,” she muttered.

“They’re Jem’Hadar. I don’t think they use mouthwash, honey.”

“Well, that’s just great.” Peterman blinked. “Dear…why are we being held hostage by Jem’Hadar?”

“You got me,” Baxter admitted.

“Rarrgh, could have been a little less rough,” Harlan Baxter said, leaning up.

“What do you mean? They’re not exactly a friendly race,” Baxter commented.

Before Baxter could say anything, Lucille jabbed Harlan in the gut with her elbow.

“The Petermans are still out cold,” Lucille observed.

“That’s probably for the best,” Baxter said.

“Well,” said Peterman, looking at Baxter. “How do we get out of this?”

“Why are you looking at me?” He thumbed back at Harlan. “He outranks me. He’s older too.”

“I think we should just…” Harlan stifled a chuckle. “Wait to be rescued.”

“What’s so funny?” Baxter walked over to where Harlan was sitting. “Why don’t you seem worried?” He turned to Lucille. “Or you?”

“Because we’re more experienced officers, dear,” Lucille said. “We don’t lose our composure as easily as you do.”

“You mean you’re older,” Baxter pointed out.

“I was mistaken for forty-five just yesterday,” Lucille said haughtily.

“Can we keep on-task here?” Peterman said. “We can’t just sit here like lumps on a log while the Jem’Hadar plot to do something unpleasant to us.”

“How d’you know they’re plotting to do something unpleasant? Maybe they’re just holding us for ransom,” Harlan suggested.

“And that’s not unpleasant?” Peterman shot back.

“There’s something you’re not telling us,” Baxter said, inspecting Harlan warily. “You’re just too…relaxed. Even for you.”

“Yer full of it.”

“Am I?” Baxter said. “Well. Let’s just see.” He suddenly pitched over, clutching at his chest. “Ah, God! I just got this shooting pain in my arm! I think I’m having a heart attack!”

“What the hell is he on about?” Harlan asked, looking to Peterman.

“Don’t ask me, you guys raised him,” mumbled Peterman.

Baxter, meanwhile, stumbled toward the perimeter of the forcefield. “Guard, guard! I’m dying! Oh, I can barely breathe! I think my heart stopped! You’ve got to get me to a doctor!”

The Jem’Hadar immmediately rushed over, keyed a control on his belt.

And when Baxter saw the control, he rushed to the Jem’Hadar and yanked at his neck. Peterman looked on, aghast, wondering what the hell her husband was up to, until she realized…

The skin peeled back from the Jem’Hadar’s neck, and the head came off with it, revealing the smallish head of a humane male.

“Hey! No one told me there’d be rough stuff!” whined the young human. “And why aren’t you having a heart attack? Was that a trick?”

“They’re turning out some stupid kids at FU,” Harlan muttered.

“Who the hell are you?” Baxter demanded of the faux Jem’Hadar.

The kid looked to Harlan, who simply waved him off.

“I’m a film student from Federation University,” he said, sounding quite proud of it. “I was hired to impersonate a Jem’Hadar. We’re doing a historical holofilm about the Dominion War.”

“Well, you need to work on your accuracy,” Baxter said, pointing to the student’s belt. “See that forcefield control? It’s a Federation design. You went through all the trouble to get this Jem’Hadar outfit, and didn’t even bother creating a forcefield control that looked like Dominion technology.” He glanced back at Harlan. “Great work, Dad.”

“Could someone explain WHY any of this is happening?” Peterman demanded.

“It’s a test. This is all a holographic simulation,” Harlan said. “We were all beamed over to a holodeck on a Federation outpost during our trip.”

“You better have a damn good explanation as to why you decided to ruin our vacation,” Baxter grumbled at Harlan.

“Starfleet has a very important, impressive mission for you son. Your crew is perfect for it, I just know it. But Starfleet had…reservations. They needed to get a feel for some of the weak links on your ship. One in particular.”

“Richards.” Baxter had it figured out now. “This is all about testing Richards.”

“Couldn’t you have done that without disrupting our vacation?” Peterman cried.

“I thought this would be fun,” Harlan said. “You know, a bonding experience.”

“These two are obviously not going to be at all appreciative of the trouble you went through, Harlan,” Lucille said, waving a dismissive hand at Peterman and Baxter.

“You guys have done some bizarre things in your time, but this takes the cake,” Baxter said. “I want you to end this simulation NOW. I’m not going to be a guinea pig for Starfleet or anyone else.

“Son, you’re being…” Lucille began.

“Shut up, Mom.” Baxter looked to Harlan. “Give your mission to someone else. Give it to Mom. Who the hell cares.”

“Your mom couldn’t do it. With few exceptions, the Explorer is the only ship up to the job.”

Now Baxter was really interested. “Tell me more.”

“Of course,” Harlan said. “Computer, end program.” And, predictably, the cave dissolved to reveal a blank holodeck, and a dissapointed looking film student.

“I still get credit for this, don’t I?” the student asked Harlan.

“You’re getting a ‘C.’”


“Because you’re an idiot. Now scram.”

“There’s still one thing I don’t get,” Peterman asked Harlan. “Why was it necessary to hire actors to play the Jem’Hadar? Couldn’t you have just used holograms?”

“We have an internship agreement with FU,” Harlan explained.

“I see,” Peterman and Baxter both said.

“Good PR.”

“Of course.”

Peterman leaned down next to her parents. She shook her father’s shoulder gently. “Dad. Wake up.”

Both Ron and Sheila gradually stirred.

“Wha?” asked Ron.

“We were tricked into thinking our runabout crashed, but it didn’t. It was all a holosimulation to test how the Explorer crew would go about rescuing us.”

“Oh,” said Ron.

“Can we go home now?” Sheila Peterman asked.

“Not quite yet.”

“Well, can you knock us back unconscious, then?”

“We’ll see what we can do.”

“Shut up, Lucille!” Peterman seethed.

“Engines and shields are back up,” Tilleran told Richards as he emerged from the readyroom.

“Good.” He looked to the helm. “Lieutenant Madera, set a course for the Beta Commodous system, maximum warp.”

“Course laid in,” said Madera, as Vansen stepped up behind Richards, having climbed out from under the tactical console.

“Commander, we have an obligation to search the Doggett colony for survivors.”

“I’m aware of that,” Richards said. “But, luckily, we won’t have to fulfil our obligation. I just spoke to Lieutenant Commander DiSalvo of the Pathfinder. He’s on his way here to look after the colony. Should be here within the hour.”

Vansen grabbed Richards’s arm and spun him to face her. “Commander… if the Pathfinder is anywhere NEAR in range of stopping the attack on our outpost at Beta Commodous, we should let them handle it. They’re not banged up like we are.”

“We may be banged up, but we have the Dominion expert on board.”

“You’re making this personal.”

“Doesn’t every good commanding officer?”

“No, exactly the opposite. You put the resources where they have the best chances to succeed. The Explorer’s in no shape to mount a rescue. We should stay here with the colony and let DiSalvo rescue the others. This isn’t a test anymore.”

“I disagree,” Richards said. “This is a test, and it’s one I’m going to pass, with or without your help. Luckily, since I’m in command, I can damn well do it either way, and you can note THAT in your f***ing log.”

“I intend to,” Vansen said snidely as Richards took the command chair. He glanced at the forward viewscreen. “Lieutenant Madera, engage.”

“Happily,” Madera said, sneering back at Vansen.

“This is a pretty drab facility,” Sheila Peterman noted, as she sat around a table in the plain grey lounge of Outpost 371 with her husband and the Baxter parents. Captain Baxter was in the bathroom helping Counselor Peterman through her most recent bout of pregnancy nausea.

“These places aren’t built to be pretty,” said Lucille. “They’re designed as testing ranges for Starfleet officers, nothing more.”

“Well, a few plants here and there wouldn’t hurt,” Ron piped up.

“W’ll take it unner advisemnt,” Harlan muttered through his cigar.

“Thanks,” Sheila said brightly, not understanding the sarcasm.

The Baxters and Petermans all sat there in collective silence until, finally, Ronald spoke up.

“Look how much our daughter and your son love each other. The least we could do is learn to like each other.”

“I’m glad somebody said something,” Lucille said.

“I thought I was the only one who was uncomfortable,” Harlan said, after taking the cigar out of his mouth.

“Now we have a dialogue,” said Sheila. “Now we can finally get somewh–”

That’s when the explosions hit.

“I thought you all could use some lunch,” Janice Browning said lightly as she stepped out onto the bridge.

“Chef on the bridge,” Lt. Howard Sefelt announced helpfully.

Browning grinned at him. “How nice of you. Have a tunafish sandwich.”

“Who is this loon?” Vansen demanded.

“Janice Browning. Pleased to meet you!” Browning scuttled over to shake Vansen’s hand, then turned toward the command chair to lean down and peck Commander Richards on the check. “Roast beef or grilled chicken, hon?”

“Roast beef,” Richards said. “Commander?” He looked at Vansen.

Vansen’s smile was forced. “Chicken.”

“There ya go,” Browning said, handing sandwiches to Richards and Vansen. “And don’t think I forgot about you, J’hana! I have some very special organ meat arrangements for you.”

“May the hive mother stuff you in her armpit,” J’hana said gracefully as Browning handed her something wrapped in a sopping wet rag that she greedily took.

“And, Lieutenant Commander Tilleran! Here’s a nice leafy salad, with extra anchovies.”

“Aw, Doctor Browning, how did you know?”

“Because you broadcasted the thoughts right into my brain,” Browning said cheerily, and strolled into the turbolift. “Okay, gang. Enjoy your lunches. Call me if you need anything. Good luck preventing interstellar war or whatever.”

Vansen stared at her sandwhich as the turbolift took Browning back belowdecks. “What the hell was that?”

Richards munched on his sandwhich, grinning. “She’s loosened up so much since she quit Starfleet.”

“She used to be Starfleet?”

“Chief…mmmph…medical officer,” said Tilleran.

“Now the only carving up she does is roast beef,” said Richards. “And, man, is it delicious.”

“How dysfunctional,” Vansen said, and took a tentative bite out of her sandwich. “Hmm. Good sandwich.”

A blink from her panel brought Tilleran swinging around in her chair to face her scanners. She sat her salad down on the infrared readouts. “Commander, we’re coming up on the Beta Commodous system.”

“Come out of warp,” Richards told Madera, wiping his mouth and walking over to the science station, sandwich in hand. “Sensors?”

Tilleran looked at her readouts. “I have good news and bad news.”

“Good news first.”

“The Jem’Hadar battlecruiser is gone.”

“Okay. Bad news?” Richards took a bite of his sandwich.

“So is the colony.”

And Richards spit roast beef all over Tilleran’s console.


Baxter had been in the bathroom, patting Peterman’s back as she leaned over the toilet when the explosions had hit.

Peterman kept right on barfing, somehow not noticing. Baxter, meanwhile, poked his head out of the bathroom and immediately regretted it. He watched Starfleet officers make a mad dash past him, chased by Jem’Hadar soldiers, firing what looked surprisingly like real weapons.

Then he heard lots of shooting and screaming and other assorted mayhem.

“Honey, are you about done?” he calmly asked Peterman.

“Yup,” Peterman said. “What’s all the commotion?”

“Don’t ask me how, but I think real Jem’Hadar just came.”


“Or else this is just another test of some kind.”

More explosions, rattling the walls of the bathroom.

Peterman bit her lip. “Maybe not. Good news though.”

“Really,” said Baxter.

“I found some mouthwash next to the sink.”

“Better rinse quick.”

Suddenly the doors to the bathroom pried open, and two Jem’Hadar scurried in, shoving them back closed.

To say the least, it was a tight squeeze.

Peterman climbed on top of the toilet, Baxter backed onto the sink. “Well, what are you waiting for, you ketracel- sucking jerks? Kill us!”

“I’m not a Jem’Hadar,” one of the Jem’Hadar said, peeling the head of his costume up slightly. “I’m an English major.”

“F***,” said Baxter.

“Costume design,” said the other.

“Charming,” muttered Peterman.

“You have to hide us,” screamed the costume design major in a high-pitched voice. “I don’t want to die!”

“There aren’t a lot of hiding places, folks,” Peterman said.

“I do, however, have an idea,” Baxter said thoughtfully. “But it will require a substantial acting performance from you two.”

“We’re both in drama club,” said the English major.

Ten minutes later, two Jem’Hadar soldiers led two panicked college students out of the bathroom. Luckily, they really were panicking, so it wasn’t hard for them to look that way.

Sadly, the “weapons” the two “soldiers” had pointed at the English and costume major were fake.

But they proved a good enough forgery as the costumed Baxter and Peterman approached a wall of Jem’Hadar guards, surrounding the main assembly room of the outpost.

“The others are gathered in here, Fifth,” said one of the Jem’Hadar to Baxter.

“Glad to hear it,” Baxter said throatily, and shoved the English major through the assembly room door, to find the outpost’s complement of 40 officers, along with Harlan, Lucille, and a hysterical Ron and Sheila, all lined up like toy soldiers.

“Go stand with the others,” Peterman said in her best deep voice, shoving her costume major toward the group.

“The prisoners are ready for beam-out,” Baxter heard one of the Jem’Hadar say to another.

“Tell our ship to prepare for transport. And have them ready the tri-cobalt charges.”

“Tri-cobalt?” Peterman whispered to Baxter. “Does that mean what I think it means?”

“They’re scuttling the outpost,” Baxter surmised. “At least we won’t be scuttled with it.”

“Thanks for finding the bright side. Meanwhile, I have to throw up again.”

“You’ll have to do it inside your mask.”

“Lovely.” Peterman and Baxter walked over to the back of the group of Starfleet officers, toward Harlan, Lucille, Ron, and Sheila.

“Don’t worry,” Baxter whispered, leaning toward them. “You’ve got people on the inside.”

“I don’t wanna hear your f***in’ propaganda,” Harlan said. “And tell me where the hell my son is!”

“He’s right HERE, Dad!” Baxter hissed. “Now shut up and be a good prisoner while Kelly and I find a way out of this.”

“Aren’t you a bit short to be a Jem’Hadar?” Lucille chided, looking at the Jem’Hadar next to Baxter.

“Stuff it, Lucille,” muttered Peterman.

“Honeylamb?” Sheila asked, astonished. “Is it really you?”

The Jem’Hadar nodded, making a muffled “BLUAAAH!” sound.

“You shouldn’t be running around like that!” Ron said fairly loudly. “You’re with child!”

“Mppph…” Peterman gurgled. “It’s all part of the job, Dad. Now be quiet!”

“What the hell do you think you’re going to do?” Harlan asked.

“I’ll tell you as soon as I figure something out,” Baxter said honestly.

“Soldiers!” came a call from one of the Jem’Hadar. “Are the prisoners secure?”

“Prisoners are secure!” Baxter said, winking at Harlan.

“Then get back with the formation. We’re leaving now.”

“Affirmative,” Baxter called out, wrapping a protective hand around Peterman and coralling her back toward the other Jem’Hadar. As he walked off, he made a circle with his thumb and forefinger, flashing the “OK” sign at his parents. He only wished he knew what the hell he was doing.


The Explorer swung in around Beta Commodous Four and into orbit.

Commander Richards paced toward the front of the bridge, nibbling on a cookie (dessert Browning had left). On the viewscreen, Beta Commodous Four looked like any other serene, rust-colored planet, spinning and floating like it didn’t have a care in the world.

“We have a faint ion trail on the Jem’Hadar battlecruiser,” Tilleran said.

“Heading?” Vansen asked, stepping up beside Richards.

“104 mark 75,” replied Tilleran.

Vansen looked at Richards, who thoughtfully munched on his cookie. “Right toward the wormhole.”

“Where his friends are no doubt waiting.”

“How are they going to get past Deep Space Nine?” J’hana wondered.

“They do it all the time,” said Vansen. “That’s part of the problem. By the time they get in DS-Nine’s sensor range, they’re already heading through the wormhole. The station doesn’t have time to respond, and even if it did, the Defiant is no match for one of those things. So they have to just let it go and report its position to Starfleet.”

“Sounds like this happens all the time,” Richards mused. Vansen didn’t say anything.

“We should point out,” Tilleran spoke up, “that the Explorer probably isn’t a match for one of those battlecruisers, either.”

“If you have someone who knows how to hit them, she is,” Vansen said confidently.

“Weren’t you the one who just said we were in no shape to mount a rescue?” asked Richards.

“Well, I’m assuming that this crew is a hell of a lot better than people think it is, or else you’re crazy to even try this maneuver. Either way, you’ve got my services, whether you want them or not.”

“I…do want them,” Richards said reluctantly. “I guess we…”

“You what? Hmm? Need me?”

Richards ignored Vansen. “Lieutenant Madera, plot a course to follow that ion trail. Maximum warp.”

Almost as soon as the Jem’Hadar and Federation prisoners, along with the costumed Baxter and Peterman, were beamed up to the Jem’Hadar ship, the whole lot of the prisoners were cordoned off in some sort of cargo bay, and the soldiers were herded to some sort of meeting room. Within, they found a somewhat familiar face.

“You know who he is?” Baxter prodded Peterman with his elbow.

“He’s a Vorta.”

“Not just any Vorta. That’s WEYOUN!”


Baxter pointed at the short, squat fellow at the front of the room, dispensing cartridges of white to all the Jem’Hadar soldiers. “He’s the little Vorta who orchestrated the whole Dominion War.”

“Oh. Him. I heard he was killed.”

“Obviously not.”

“He’s too fat to be Weyoun.”

“Well, hell, honey. They’re all clones. I’m sure that’s just, you know, like another series. A fat version.”

“Why would you purposefully genetically engineer someone to be fat?”

“Why do pregnant women throw up? Who knows. Mother nature is a mad scientist.”

“No arguments there,” Peterman said shakily. She was still nauseated.

While they had been talking, the short, fat Weyoun had made his way closer to Peterman and Baxter. When he approached Peterman, he offered her a cartridge of white.

“Please accept this gift, so that you may serve the Founder.”

“FoundER…” Baxter mouthed silently. “Just one?”

“Thanks,” Peterman said. “I’ll just save it for later.”

“As you wish,” Fat Weyoun said, looking askance at Peterman. He turned to Baxter. “Please accept this gift, so that you may serve the Founder. May it keep you strong.”

Baxter grabbed the cartridge. “I’ll save mine too. I had a big lunch.”

Weyoun cocked his head at Baxter, stared at him for a moment, shook his head, and proceeded on.

“That was CLOSE!” Baxter mouthed the words silently.

“We need to find their control room, or bridge, or engine room, or something,” Peterman said quietly. “If we can find a way to sabotage the ship, maybe we can get out.”

“You know,” Baxter said, studying his cartridge of white. “This brings back memories.”

“What memories?” Peterman asked, as the soldiers were herded out of the meeting room.

“Well, you know. Our first mission together. When the Flarn captured us.”

“Oh, yeah,” Peterman said dreamily. “Only this time, we have our parents with us.”

“Kinda makes it nice.”

“You two!” came a stern voice from behind. Baxter turned to find an especially angry-looking Jem’Hadar staring at him.

“The First demands you see to the Founder. He has requests to make of you.”

Baxter and Peterman looked at each other worriedly, then turned to the Jem’Hadar.

“Gladly,” Baxter quickly said. “Which way was that again?”

The Jem’Hadar narrowed his eyes at Baxter. “You had better be making a joke, Fifth.”

Peterman giggled nervously. “Of course he is!” She grabbed Baxter’s hand. “Come on, Fifth! Get with the program. See now, why I’m Fourth and you’re Fifth?”

“Wait!” the Jem’Hadar who’d given him the order said. “You are going the wrong way.”

“Of course,” Baxter quickly said, dragging Peterman in the opposite direction. “We have been without white for many hours.”

“I know how you feel,” said the Jem’Hadar warrior. “It happens to me all the time.”

“Talk to you later,” Baxter said hurriedly, and he and Peterman dashed down the corridor, until they reached a large set of double doors, which they assumed led to the Founder.

“This should be good,” Baxter said. “Watch it be Odo or something.”

“Yeah, right. Odo would never be behind something like this.”

“Well, who then…” Baxter said, as he and Peterman stepped through the doors, approached a shiny, gunmetal throne, and Peterman shrieked.


Baxter gripped Peterman by the shoulders, stared at the smoothe-faced changeling who had vague, monkey-like features, heard the burbles of puke within Peterman’s mask, and felt a dead weight sinking in his gut.

“Is there a problem?” asked the changeling known to Baxter as Jelo. Baxter quietly shook his head.

“Nope. Not at all.”

The Explorer carved its way through space on a hot pursuit course after the Jem’Hadar battlecruiser, Richards pacing the bridge all the while.

“Hartley to Richards.”

Richards stared at the ceiling. “Go ahead.”

“I’m squeezing 9.97 out of these engines, and that’s all you’re going to get, short of causing a core breach.”

“I don’t think that will be necessary. Just make sure we have enough power left to fight with by the time we meet up with the Jem’Hadar.”

“That, and not a whole hell of a lot more, Commander.”

“Good work, Hartley. Bridge out.” Richards glanced at Vansen, who was looking over J’hana’s shoulder at tactical. “How are the simulations going?”

“Our vessel has survived eight out of ten times,” J’hana said. “But the Defiant keeps getting destroyed, nearly every time.”

“That’s because you always put it on a suicide run, you imbecile,” Vansen prodded at J’hana.

“Do you have a better idea?”

“None better than yours, of crashing the Jem’Hadar battlecruiser into Deep Space Nine.”

“That destroyed it, didn’t it?”

“And the station, too!”

“You can’t make fharbus without chafing some rinds!”


Richards approached tactical. “Okay, guys. Calm down. Nobody’s crashing anything into anything else. No suicide runs. We’re going to stop that battlecruiser with good old Starfleet wit.”

“And where do you propose we get that from?” asked Vansen.

“I’m sure you have some, somewhere in that bitch-like mind of yours.”


“Commander,” Tilleran piped up. “I just got word back from DS-Nine. They’ve got a bead on the battlecruiser and the Defiant is in position.”

“Cool,” said Richards. “Our ETA?”

“Ten minutes.”

“Their ETA to the wormhole?”

“Nine minutes.”

“Damn it.”

Vansen smiled. “Seems like it’s a good thing this crew has had experience dabbling in other quadrants.”

“I’m sure THAT is no coincidence.”

“And slowly, it dawns on him!” Vansen said to the ceiling.

Richards stabbed his combadge. “Richards to all hands. Report to battlestations immediately.” He looked at J’hana. “Weapons and shields to maximum.” He turned to Tilleran. “Get ready to scan for some of those weakspots. Won’t they be surprised to see us!”

“No doubt,” replied Tilleran. “And they will probably not need much of a refresher course on what it takes to beat us into oblivion.”

“That’s the positive attitude I was looking for,” Richards said, scooting into the command chair.

“Entering the Bajor system,” Madera called out.

“Come out of warp. Target that battlecruiser.”

“It’s nowhere to be found. Already gone through the wormhole, judging by the neutrino emissions in the area,” Tilleran said, studying her scanners. “And the Defiant is hanging just outside the wormhole’s mouth, badly damaged.

“Hail them, J’hana.”

“They’re responding.”

On the viewscreen, Lieutenant Commander Nog’s head was squirming out from under a pile of debris at the center of the Defiant’s bridge. “You got here just in time, Explorer! Thank the Divine Treasurer you waited until AFTER they left!”

“Sarcasm is not going to help the situation, Commander!” Richards fired back.

“Well we didn’t even slow them down. Good luck stopping them, hew-mon!”

“And good luck climbing out from under that debris,” Richards snapped. “Channel closed. Take us through the wormhole, Susan.”

And the wormhole blossomed open in front of the Explorer, and she sailed right through.

Good thing Vorta required bathrooms, Baxter thought, as he helped Peterman rinse her mask in the only bathroom to be found on the battlecruiser. After passing countless rooms, they finally located it. And where they ever glad they did.

“What the HELL is HE doing here?” Peterman demanded, scrubbing her face, leaning over the sink. “The last time we saw him, he was aboard a Romulan Warship which we blew up, in the Crebius Cluster, in the Delta Quadrant, four years ago!”

“It just can’t be him,” Baxter said, staring at the floor.

“But what other changeling looks like my howler monkey!”

“I have no idea how Jelo got here, or what his motives are in turning every Jem’Hadar against the Founders,” Baxter said, sitting down on the toilet, which remarkably resembled all other toilets. The more things change… “But I’ll tell you what. The one bit of good luck is that Jelo asked US to interrogate the prisoners.”

“Talk about luck.”

“So all we have to do is get cleaned up, go into that cargo bay, tell those prisoners that everything will be okay, and put our heads together on a way to get out of here.”

“If I know your father, he’s probably thinking something up right about now.”

“Actually,” Baxter said, glancing up at a chronometer on the wall. “I’d say he’s taking his afternoon nap about now.”

Peterman stared at him.

“WHAT? He is 68 after all!”

“Tracking the Jem’Hadar battlecruiser,” J’hana said. “It’s heading for a planet in the Dentonab system, just outside Carima space.”

“Keep on them, Lieutenant Madera. Best possible speed,” Richards said, sitting in the command chair.

“Any idea of what we’re going to do when they get there?” asked Vansen.

“Before they get there, preferably,” Richards said. “Since, and I’m only guessing here, they’re probably heading toward some kind of stronghold.”

“I’d say that would be a good bet,” Vansen said self- consciously. “Based on our reconnaisance and intelligence reports.”

Richards glared at Vansen. “Are you sure you’re JUST an efficiency expert.”

“I don’t recall saying I was JUST an efficiency expert. I wear several hats for Starfleet.”

“Is one of them a dunce cap?” suggested Tilleran.

“Don’t even get me started with you, Commander,” Vansen said dryly.

“Commander Richards,” J’hana suddenly announced. “We are being hailed…by the Jem’Hadar battlecruiser.”

“That’s odd,” Richards said thoughtfully. “We should be well outside their sensor range, shouldn’t we, Tilleran?”

“Unless they’ve got better sensors than I gave them credit for, yeah.”

“Well? Aren’t you going to answer them?” Vansen said. “For all we know, your people could have found a way to get to a transmitter.”

“It’s worth a try. Put it on, J’hana.” Richards shifted from butt cheek to butt cheek in the command chair.

An ominous-looking Jem’Hadar appeared on the viewscreen, causing Lt. Sefelt to shriek and pass out on the ops console.

“Hey, guys. What’s a nice Federation starship like you doing in a no-good down and dirty quadrant like tihs?”

Richards narrowed his eyes. “Andy?”

The Jem’Hadar peeled back his face to reveal Captain Andrew Baxter’s face beneath. “The one and only. I found a way to get to a transmitter.”

Richards stared at Vansen. “You’re good.”

Baxter shifted his gaze from Richards to Vansen. “Who the hell is she?”

“An efficiency expert from Internal Affairs, a former tactical officer, an expert on the Dominion, and apparently a member of Starfleet Intel.”

“And what the hell is someone with those credentials doing on our ship?” asked Baxter.

“I’m here to help,” Vansen offered.

“She’s here to invalidate your selection of me as First Officer. Internal Affairs was testing me all along, ever since you left on your ‘vacation.’”

“Believe me, I know,” Baxter said tiredly. “My Dad’s behind the whole thing.”

J’hana cursed. Tilleran cracked her knuckles.

“I should have known,” muttered Richards.

“Only we didn’t count on real Jem’Hadar showing up,” Vansen said.

“Well, they did,” Baxter snapped. “And worse, they’re led by an old friend of ours.”

“Sesil,” J’hana guessed.

“Ardek,” suggested Tilleran.

“Ficker?” asked Richards.

“Just shut up and let me tell you! It’s none of those. It’s Jelo!”

“Who?” asked Vansen.

“Well, you’re not so smart after all,” Richards said to Vansen. “Jelo was the changeling infiltrator sent aboard the Aerostar on our mission to the Delta Quadrant.”

“Small world,” muttered Vansen.

“Listen, I can’t talk much longer,” said Baxter. “You guys are going to need some help if you’re going to stop this ship before it gets back to base.”

“We’ve figured that much out,” said Richards.

“Kelly’s wearing a Jem’Hadar disguise just like mine. While she stays with the prisoners and tries to look like she’s interrogating them, I’m going down to whatever passes for engineering on this scow and start ripping apart circuitry until we come out of warp. That’s where you come in.”

“How much do you know about Dominion technology?” Vansen said. “What’s to say you won’t destroy the whole ship?”

“Blind, stupid luck,” replied Baxter.

“That’s just not good enough!” cried Vansen. “You need to at least know what you’re doing!”

Baxter turned to Richards. “She really doesn’t understand how we operate, does she?”

“Nope. Good luck, Captain. We’ll be ready to swoop in at the appropriate time.”

“Good enough. Baxter ou–”

“Wait!” Vansen cried. “There’s a purple cube in the lower warp core! You’ll want to destroy that! That’ll cause a freeze on the injectors!” Baxter cocked his head quizzically at that as he disappeared from the viewscreen. Vansen appeared to deflate. “Well, I hope he understood me.”

“Don’t count on it,” Richards said consolingly. “How on Earth did you know that, anyway?”

“I don’t expect you to be aware of this, but, during the Dominion War, Starfleet captured a small Jem’Hadar ship. I was on the crew that studied it.”

“Really?” asked Richards. “Must have been fun.”

“Not especially.”

“Hey, I was just making conversation.”

Baxter slid down the ladder into the bowels of the Jem’Hadar battlecruiser, nodding curtly and grunting at passing Jem’Hadar soldiers as he did so. What was it that woman had said about a purple cube? Was he supposed to destroy it, or destroy anything BUT that?

“Soldier!” came a call from above. A Jem’Hadar climbed down the ladder to meet him.

“Yeah?” asked Baxter.

“First Tenok’Titlan wants to see you. Apparently, you have abandoned your post.”

Baxter felt his blood chill. “I was called to the engine room on an emergency.”

“I am aware of no emergency. And I am the Second.”

“Good for you. There’s still an emergency. And if I don’t check it out, the whole ship could blow up. You wouldn’t want to be responsible for that, would you?”

The Jem’Hadar stared at Baxter blankly. “The fact remains, First Tenok’Titlan wants to see you. You will not disappoint him.”

“If the ship explodes, won’t that disappoint him?”

The Second continued his blank stare. “Come with me.” He grabbed Baxter’s arm.

“Ouch! No way!” Baxter ripped his arm free, joined his hands together, and slammed him down into the back of the Jem’Hadar’s neck. The Jem’Hadar stumbled, looking dazed…for about one second.

Then he gave Baxter such a mean uppercut to the jaw, it knocked him over a railing and down into the lowest level of the engine room.

The Jem’Hadar hopped after him, calling out a shrieking battlecry.

Baxter rolled to the side, just as the Jem’Hadar came crashing down, feet first, beside him.

Still dazed, Baxter climbed to his feet, backing away from the angry Jem’Hadar, who meanwhile was right back on his feet.

“You do not fight like a Jem’Hadar,” the Second surmised.

“This is my first day on the job,” explained Baxter. “I’m only…like a week old.”

“That explains much, but not nearly enough to prevent me from killing you,” the Jem’Hadar said, breaking off a pipe that was hanging above him and dashing at Baxter with it. “YAAAAAAAAH!”

“AAAAAAAH!” Baxter ducked and the Jem’Hadar sailed over him.

Baxter took that time to dash across the vacant engine compartment. Purple cube. Purple cube. Purple cube. THERE!

He saw it. He lept toward it. “Must…destroy…” he managed to choke out, before strong hands grabbed his neck from behind. He glanced over his shoulder. “Oh. You again. Nice to see you.”

The Jem’Hadar Second roared victoriously as he took Baxter’s head and repeatedly smashed it into the purple cube.

“Thank…you…” Baxter muttered as he felt the cube cracking under the vicious onslaught of his forehead.

Well, thought Baxter. Anything in a pinch.

The Explorer nearly slammed into the Jem’Hadar battlecruiser as it came out of warp, coming to an immediate stop. It was only Madera’s quick harpist reflxes that saved the ship as she guided the Explorer out of warp and sling- shotted it around the battlecruiser, coming to bear right in front of it.

And as Richards stared down the barrel of the cruiser’s bristling weaponry, his stomach churning and head spinning from Madera’s elegant moves, he considered that this was really what it was all about.


He stood up, straightening his uniform top. “Shields to maximum. All weapons full power. Do your worst, J’hana.”

“Gladly,” J’hana said, and whooped loud and victoriuosly as she played her tactical panel like a piano from hell, and rained quantum torpedoes and machinegunlike phasers across the prow of the Jem’Hadar vessel.

“Someone must have smashed the purple cube,” Vansen said, looking at Richards.

“Way to go, Andy,” Richards said.

When the blasts started rattling the cruiser, Peterman, still dressed as a Jem’Hadar, turned to the prioners, holding the working blaster she’d picked up along the way up in the air. “Okay, everyone. That’s the Explorer knocking on our door. Once the Jem’Hadar realize we’re under attack by a Starfleet ship, they very well may barge in here and kill us all. Given that scenario, you are to defend yourselves to your last fighting breath, got it?”

“Honey,” Peterman’s mom spoke up from the crowd of confused Starfleet technicians.

“Yes, Mom,” Peterman said impatiently.

“Are you still dealing with that nausea? You really shouldn’t go into battle if you’re feeling nauseous.”

“I’m not even going to dignify that with a response,” Peterman muttered, as the doors to the cargo bay opened up, and screaming Jem’Hadar stormed in. “This is it!” Peterman cried. “Fight, people, fight!”

“Honey, I have some stomach medicine in my purse, if you need it!”

“YAAARRRRRGH!” Peterman cried, firing her blaster blindly into the horde of Jem’Hadar, sending them one by one dropping to the ground. But, as they advanced, it resorted to hand to hand combat. Sadly, the Starfleet prisoners were mostly holo-technicians and Internal Affairs paper pushers.

With the exception of two.

Harlan Baxter smashed two Jem’Hadar skulls together as Lucille Baxter lept from a cargo container, raining a barrage of fists onto an unsuspecting warrior.

One Jem’Hadar got a grip on Peterman’s arm and tossed her across the bay. She landed at Ronald Peterman’s feet, momentarily dazed. Ron looked up at the offending Jem’Hadar with a look of pure anger on his face.

“That was my daughter, you little bastard!”

“Really? I see no resemblance,” the Jem’Hadar said, looking down at Peterman’s Jem’Hadar costume.

“She’s a beautiful, pregnant woman just dressed up to look like one of you creeps!” cried Ron. “You think just because you’re big and ugly and covered with horns, you can just push people around?”

“Yes, actually,” the Jem’Hadar admitted.

“Ron, your blood pressure!” Sheila warned from behind.

“Sheila,” Ron said, pushing up his shirtsleeves, “this little philly needs to get put back in the barn where she belongs!”

Ron lept through the air, slinging an arm arund the Jem’Hadar’s neck, dragging the tube of white out until there was about two meters of slack. He slammed the Jem’Hadar into the deck and in ten seconds flat, he hog-tied that Jem’Hadar in blue ribbon fashion.

Peterman climbed to her feet, shaking away the dizziness brought on by her being slammed into the ground. “Good work, Dad!”

“Bring it on!” Ron Peterman cried, his eyes ablaze as more Jem’Hadar came at him.

“Their shields are down,” J’hana called out.

“That was too easy,” commented Tilleran.

“It’s all because of the purple cube,” Vansen explained, glaring at Richards.

“Whatever the case, I’d say it’s time to go in for the kill. J’hana–” he said, but the Andorian was already in the turbolift.

“Anybody with me?” J’hana challenged.

“Tilleran, Vansen, go with her,” Richards said, pointing at the two officers, who dashed into the turbolift. “And for Pete’s sake, BRING BACKUP!” Richards called after them.

J’hana just rolled her eyes as the turbolift doors closed.

Baxter took inventory of the damage as the Jem’Hadar he’d nicknamed “Goodtime Johnny” dragged him back up through the bowels of the battlecrusier.

The damage would have been a lot worse, had Baxter not been wearing that Jem’Hadar mask. Luckily, all that foam absorbed a lot of the impact. Sadly, the repeated beating of his head up against that purple cube had left the mask in a shambles, and had allowed Goodtime Johnny to see his face, such as it was:

Busted lip.

Swollen shut eye.

Busted nose.

And one utterly destroyed purple cube. Baxter smiled, which hurt.

“Stop smiling!” Good-Time Johnny growled, slamming Baxter into a wall as he headed into a corridor. “We’re going to get you to the bridge, and you can explain your presence to Weyoun and First Tenok’Titlan.”

“How about Jelo?” Baxter asked.

“Oh yes, he will have plans for you as well.”

“Super,” Baxter said sarcastically, as a pinkish tentacle wrapped around Goodtime Johnny’s neck, jerked him away from Baxter and slammed him again and again into the deck until he was unconscious.

Baxter knew only one person with tentacle strength like that.

“Lieutenant Unlathi! Am I glad to see you!” Baxter cried, never so happy to see the genderless, self- impregnanting, 2.5-meter tall purple tentacled beast of a security officer.

As usual, Unlathi said nothing, simply extended their tentacle to help Baxter up. Baxter adjusted his Jem’Hadar uniform as Unlathi generously handed him a spare phaser.

“All right, Lieutenant,” said Baxter as he stepped over the immobile Goodtime Johnny. “Let’s rip this ship a new one.”

“All right, people,” J’hana said to her security staff, flanked by Tilleran and Vansen, as Ensign Adam Keefler from security worked on jimmying the door to the cargo bay where the Starfleet prisoners were being held. “We’re reading lots of Jem’Hadar signals in there, mixed with the human ones. So be prepared for mass bloodshed. Whatever the case, the scene within that cargo bay is not going to be pretty. Just focus on your mission and rescue the surviving prisoners. Got it?”

“Okay, we’re in!” Keefler said victoriously as the doors slid open, and Tilleran, Vansen, and J’hana, as well as the rest of the security force, were greeted by a bizarre sight indeed.

Unconscious Jem’Hadar everywhere, and Peterman, in Jem’Hadar getup save for the head, standing with the horde of prisoners, looking bored.

“Well,” said Harlan.

“It’s about time,” said Ron Peterman, sitting atop a hogtied Jem’Hadar.

“Someone had better tell me the story of this day, over a round of strong, strong drinks,” J’hana said, and slapped her combadge. “J’hana to transporter room.”

“Hey, hon,” came the sweet voice of Ensign Lindsay Morgan.

“Start locking on to the prisoners and transporting them to the Explorer.”

“You got it, sugar. Yee haa!”

J’hana grimaced. “I preferred Lieutenant Commander Hartley.”

“All but one group has been beamed over,” said Lt. Commander Hartley from the tactical console. “Just Captain Baxter and a handful of others are remaining.”

“Hurry up and get them aboard,” Richards said, pacing between Madera’s station, and that of the recently- awakened Lt. Sefelt. He glanced over his shoulder. “What about the Jem’Hadar’s weaponry, Megan?”

Hartley glanced at her scanners. “Operating only at 10 percent efficiency. Our ablative armor is handling it.”

“But I take it we should get shields up ASAP.”

“Unless we want to become permanent residents of the Gamma Quadrant, yes.”

“Then work on getting those last few people aboard. Pronto.”

“Morgan’s bringing the last few aboard now.”

Richards nodded. “Terrific. Shields up!”

“Something else you may be interested in,” Hartley announced, glancing at her scopes.

“Yeah?” Richards turned.

“Seven Jem’Hadar warships, much smaller than the battlecruiser, but problematic nonetheless, are heading towards our position.”

“Well, we got what we came for. Get us out of here, Lieutenant Madera. Toward the wormhole, maximum warp!”

“Two of the warships have stopped to give aid to the battlecruiser, but the other five have broken off, heading after us.”

“Give us every ounce of speed this bucket has left, Hartley.”

“That’s approximately three ounces, and dropping fast, Chris.”

Richards gripped Madera’s chair. “Go, Susan. Go!”

When Ensign Morgan finished beaming the last group aboard, she was shocked to see them in the midst of a heated argument. One would have thought that they would be plum glad to be alive.

“Hey, y’all, what’s with all the ruckus?” she asked diplomatically as Captain Baxter marched down from the platform, followed by Peterman and Vansen, J’hana and Tilleran, and Harlan and Lucille Baxter. Ron and Sheila Peterman had been beamed in on the earlier transport cycle, and had already darted out of the transporter room, for parts unknown.

Nobody in the current group even listened to Morgan. They all ran out of the room arguing.

The turbolift toward the bridge was crammed.

“I still haven’t gotten a clear explanation of who you are,” Baxter said, glaring at Vansen.

“If you’ve been keeping track, I’m one of the people who helped save your miserable life, Captain.”

“Don’t talk to my son like that,” said Lucille. “Only I can talk to him like that.”

“One word from you, sir, and I will kill both of them,” said J’hana.

“Stay out of it, J’hana,” Tilleran whispered.

“At what point did I lose control of this crew?” demanded Baxter.

“Did you ever have control?” asked Vansen.

“Who asked you, bitch?” announced Peterman.

“Shut the f*** up, all of ya!” Harlan Baxter bellowed, just as the turbolift doors opened up onto the bridge.

Richards pivoted in the command chair to face them.

“Welcome to the bridge, guys. Captain Baxter, I turn command back over to you. Five ships are on their way to destroy us, and we’ve used up every ounce of shields, weapons, and engine power remaining. Enjoy!”

As Richards stepped aside and Baxter stepped down toward the front of the bridge, Harlan and Lucille followed after, along with Peterman and Vansen, as Tilleran and J’hana took their respective stations.

“J’hana, have someone remove this ‘efficiency expert’ from my bridge,” Baxter said. “And reroute what power we DO have to the aft shields.”

Vansen looked to Harlan. “Admiral?”

Harlan nodded. “Stay here. Andy…we should talk…”

“Could this wait till after we’re in mortal danger?” asked Baxter.

“Of course.” Harlan looked to Lucille. “Honey, maybe we should go belowdecks.”

Lucille folded her arms. “I refuse.”

“Stay if you want, but it’ll be a bumpy ride.” Baxter sat down in the command chair. “J’hana, whatever quantums we have left, launch them in our wake. Have them string- detonate on a timed delay so they knock the warships off their pursuit course.”

Peterman moved to sit in her customary seat beside Baxter, but she was shocked to see Vansen already there.

“Now wait just a stinking minute, bitch,” Peterman said, leaning down in Vansen’s face.

“Honey, could this wait just a FEW minutes,” Baxter asked, sounding as patient as she could. “Tilleran, time to wormhole?” He looked at Richards. “I assume that’s where we’ve been heading.”

“You assume right,” replied Richards.

“Two minutes to wormhole.”

“Effect of the quantums on the pursuing warships?” Baxter asked.

“It slowed them down, but they’re still following.”

“Weapons range?”

“Just less than two minutes.”

“Pour on the steam, Madera,” Baxter said, leaning forward in his chair.

Madera looked questioningly back at him.

“Go faster,” Richards translated.

“This is as fast as we can go,” Hartley said, from her new spot at the engineering station, on the opposite side of the bridge from Tilleran’s console.

“Okay, then. Rapid-fire phasers at the ready. Fire at will, J’hana.” Baxter looked up at a very angry Peterman. “And someone find my wife a f***ing folding chair!”

DS-Nine’s commander, General Kira Nerys, looked out over Ops. Everything seemed to be running smoothly today. Not that that was out of the ordinary, since the close of the Dominion war.

These Jem’Hadar incursions, however, did worry her. Especially the most recent one, that left the Defiant in a docking bay. Repair technicians couldn’t estimate when she’d be battle-ready again.

Lieutenant Commander Nog stepped out of the turbolift at the rear of Ops. “Good news, General. Doctor Bashir was able to remove that beam from my…”

The alert klaxon drowned out the rest of what Nog was saying.

“Sir, a swarm of ships is coming through the wormhole,” Nog said, rushing over to the tactical station. “Five Jem’Hadar…”

Kira grimaced. “No…”

“…And one Explorer.”


The Explorer sailed out of the wormhole, warships beating upon it mercilessly, large black scorch marks decorating its rear hull.

“Open a channel to Deep Space Nine!” Baxter shouted over the impact alarms as the Explorer jerked spasmodically under him, and as Peterman shifted uncomfortably and angrily in her folding chair.

General Kira appeared on the viewscreen, not looking pleased.

“General Nerys,” Baxter said.

“General Kira,” Kira corrected.

“Whatever…listen, we’re getting our asses shot off. Formally request that we take asylum inside your shields, and that you blast these warships into next week!”

Kira put her hands on her hips. “And just why should we?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Baxter said, staring at the ceiling. He then leveled a cold gaze on Kira. “Because we’re freaking ALLIES!”

Kira huffed. “Fine. Take a position between the lower pylons. We’ll protect you. This time!”

Baxter didn’t like the sound of that. “Lieutenant Madera, you heard her.”

“Cowering pathetically, yes sir,” Madera replied, bringing the Explorer up between Deep Space Nine’s lower docking pylons.

“Finally,” whimpered Lieutenant Sefelt.

Baxter watched with some measure of satisfaction as the Jem’Hadar warships shot out of the wormhole and came at them, firing at Deep Space Nine.

The significantly larger station fired back at them with a barrage of photons from its battlements.

The warships took a few random potshots before giving up and diving back into the wormhole.

“Kira to Explorer,” came a bleep from the comm system. “We’ve scared the big, bad Jem’Hadar away. You can come out now.”

“Thanks for all the help,” Baxter muttered. “J’hana, close channel.” He glanced around at Harlan and Lucille, and at Vansen. “Well, now that we’re out of harm’s way, for now, how about you all tell me precisely what the holy frigging hell has been going on?”

“And, while you’re at it, tell me if I passed your test or not,” Richards asked.

“You passed all right,” Harlan said, looking with chagrin at Lt. Commander Vansen, who nodded reluctantly. “You’ve passed with flying colors.”

Captain’s Log,

Stardate 55108.7. We’ve been docked at Deep Space Nine for several days now, undergoing some rather major repairs after the Explorer was taken through the ringer by the Jem’Hadar. Additionally, I’m glad to say Doctor Wilcox was able to pretty much repair my face.

The Pathfinder has arrived to pick up my parents, as well as Ron and Sheila Peterman, who reiterate that they will NEVER travel in space again. Oh well. It’s not for everyone.

Meanwhile, my father has been avoiding me for the last few days as I’ve tried to ascertain why he put Richards through such scrutiny to begin with, not to mention ruining my first vacation in months.

For lack of a better idea, I’ve called an Explorer Project staff meeting, and made sure to include my father’s favorite food, smoked salmon, at the affair.

Deep Space Nine’s wardroom smelled completely like fish.

Baxter shoved his plate away as he and Richards, along with Vansen, Lucille Baxter, and Harlan, all finished their meals.

Baxter decided that fellow Quark knew nothing about preparing salmon.

“Now then, on to the one and only item on our agenda,” Baxter said.

“It’s about time,” Vansen said.

Baxter stared across the table at Harlan, who, as usual, sparked up a cigar, leaned back, and stared back with a frustrating poker face.

“What’s on yer mind, boy?” Harlan asked.

Baxter exchanged glances with Richards. “Well, Chris and I have discussed this at length. We understand that Starfleet wanted to get a better idea of what makes Richards tick, and whether or not I made a good decision by promoting him. But what we don’t understand is why you had to have an expert on the Dominion added to our staff, what her capacity will be on our staff, and why you feel she’d be a necessary addition.”

“Are you completely dense?” Lucille asked.

Baxter snapped his fingers, and one of Quark’s ferengi waiters approached. “Mister Dunk, would you please fetch my mother a large brandy. That should shut her up.” He looked back at Harlan. “Answer my question.”

“It’s pretty self-evident,” Harlan said through puffs of cigar, nodding in Lucy’s direction. “As the wife so delicately put it, you’d be pretty damned stupid if you didn’t figure things out.”

Richards looked to Baxter, shrugged.

Baxter chewed thoughtfully on his fork. “Okay. Hmm. You test Richards with a distinctly Dominion-based mission. You put a Dominion expert on the ship. And you say that we’re the only crew capable of dealing with our upcoming mission, because we’ve had so much experience in deep space, and in a totally alien quadrant.”

“Not to mention the fact of having a half-changeling crewmember,” Vansen piped up.

“Who?” asked Richards.

Vansen looked down at her padd. “Does the name ‘Plato’ ring a bell?”

“Oh, yeah,” Baxter said. “Of course.”

“So, now you get it?” Harlan asked.

“Yeah, but…but no, I don’t,” Baxter said. “The only obvious answer is that you’re sending us to the Gamma Quadrant.”

“But that would be idiocy,” Richards quickly said. “Why on Earth would we have to do a tour of duty in the Gamma Quadrant?”

“I’d think today’s little escapade would be a good clue,” said Vansen.

Harlan nodded. “As you all know…hell, who knows if you know. Anyway, at the end of the Dominion war, the Founders signed a peace treaty with the Federation. As part of that treaty, we’ve been…asked…to help them deal with some of the problems that have resulted from the Founders attempts to, at least partially, disarm the Jem’Hadar.”

“Rebel elements have broken off and taken hostile moves against Gamma Quadrant worlds,” Vansen broke in. “Apparently, they’re being led by this fellow named Jelo, who Captain Baxter met on the Jem’Hadar battleship.”

“But the Federation was happy to stay out of the fight, until they started coming over here and bothering us,” Baxter said. Now it all made perfect sense. Kind of.

“So you’re going to be our olive branch,” Harlan told Baxter. “As silly as that sounds.”

“We’re going to fight the Jem’Hadar single-handedly?” Richards asked, shocked. “Well, that’s it. I quit.”

“No, no. You’ll simply help the Dominion fleet from time to time as rebel Jem’Hadar attack Dominion and nonaligned colonies.”

“But the most important part of the mission,” said Vansen, “is going to be dealing with the planets who have broken off their alliance with the Dominion and are, for the first time, dealing with the freedom to make their own decisions.”

“It’s leading to some awfully stupid decisions,” Harlan added.

“We know nothing about diplomacy,” Richards said. “Not to mention, knowing nothing about the Dominion.”

“But what you DO know about is uniting dissimilar worlds in a common cause,” Harlan said. “Remember your efforts to stop the expansion of the Flarn empire in the Delta Quadrant? Your mission here will be very similar, only you’ll have help, not hindrance, from the Dominion.”

“And you’ll have my help,” said Vansen. “Whether you like it or not.”

“Of course,” Richards said. “And what exactly will your title be?”

“Second Officer,” Harlan said, glaring at Baxter in a way that told him this would be non-negotiable. “Vansen will serve as your chief information resource. I expect she also will provide some leadership on your command staff that you’re now…um…” He tried not to look at Richards, but couldn’t help it. “Lacking.”

“This is ridiculous,” Richards said.

“Think of it as a blessing,” Vansen said. “I’ll be doing lots of the things you’ve hated to do. Paperwork, personnel reviews,” and, she added quietly, “important decisions.” Her smile was quick and forced. “I’m looking forward to this.”

Baxter glared at her. “We’ll see.”

“It doesn’t stop there,” Harlan said. “As soon as the Explorer is fit to disembark, she’ll head to the Dominion headquarters to pick up the Dominion’s Special Ambassador to the Federation, who will accompany you on the mission.”

“And…” Baxter said. “May I ask just how long this mission is going to be?”

Harlan looked at Baxter with unwavering eyes. “As long as it needs to be, boy.”

Baxter and Richards looked at each other and gulped.

Lucille took a large gulp of brandy. “Better them than us!”

“Don’t spare any details,” Janice Browning said, as Richards stepped through the airlock and into the Explorer corridor. Baxter had hung back to discuss matters further with Harlan.

Richards wrapped an arm around Browning and leaned tiredly on her as they headed back to their quarters, just shortly before Richards was scheduled to go back on-shift. “What are you asking me about?”

“You know, silly. I want to know about the salmon. How was it? Dry? Oily? I have to know!”

“I figured,” Richards said. “It was disgusting. I think the Ferengi used too much basil.”

“I see,” Browning said, nuzzling into Richards’s shoulder. “Well, that’s good to hear.”

“Now, for the not so pleasant news.”

Browning looked up at him. “Uh-oh. What?”

“We’re being sent, indefinitely, into the Gamma Quadrant.”

She blinked. “For what?”

“To help make peace among the former worlds of the Dominion, and to prevent Jem’Hadar pirating raids.”

“Hmm.” Browning seemed thoughtful, but not that worried.

“You seem to be taking this well.”

“Well, it’s not an entirely bad thing. Plato will get to see the other side of the family a little more often. We’ll get to deal with his roots, see where he came from.”

“I can’t believe you’re looking forward to this.”

“Christopher, what’s my favorite food analogy?”

“Oh, jeeze.”

“If life gives you lemons…”

“…smash them against your head,” Richards finished with a chuckle, even though he wasn’t sure there was anything to laugh about.

“Well? How’d it go with your dad?” Counselor Peterman said, as she and Baxter headed down the corridor toward Peterman’s old quarters, the current place where all her animals were kept, after Baxter’s extended meeting with Harlan.

“I think I put him in his place,” Baxter said distractedly as they went to unlock the cabin.

“Okay,” Peterman said. “So what REALLY happened.”

Baxter shrugged, looking defeated. “He completely changed our mission.”

“So, we’re not exploring new territory anymore?”

“Oh, it’ll be new territory all right,” Baxter said, as the doors opened… and nothing happened. Baxter and Peterman looked around the darkened quarters.

“Where are all my babies?” demanded Peterman. She and her parents had been vacationing on Bajor during the days the Explorer was being repaired, and Baxter had been busy filing incident reports and overseeing repairs. For all anyone knew, Hartley was still checking in on the pets.

“I’ll get to the bottom of this,” Baxter said, slapping his combadge. “Baxter to Hartley.”

“Hartley here.”

“Who let the dogs out?”


“I said, who let the dogs out?”

“Not to mention the other pets!” Peterman chimed in.

“Oh. They’re in the arboretum. Mirk is taking them for walkies.”

“You scared me for a minute there, Megan,” said Peterman.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m sure he has them under control.”

“He’s probably using his powers to float them through the air!” Peterman said. She looked at Baxter. “I’ve got to get down there. There could be droppings spraying everywhere!”

Baxter nodded. “Okay. I’ve got to get up to the bridge.”

“Save me a seat!” Peterman called over her shoulder, dashing down the corridor away from Baxter.

“I’ll, uh…try,” Baxter said uncertainly.

When Baxter arrived on the bridge, he was not at all shocked to see everyone in their places except for him.

That included Vansen in the seat normally occupied by Peterman.

Baxter shivered. He’d have to talk to Hartley about installing an extra seat somewhere on the bridge, just to prevent an all-out civil war among his senior staff.

“Captain on the bridge,” Sefelt announced as Baxter walked around to the command chair.

“Progress report,” Baxter said, glaring at Sefelt. He’d given up on stopping him from saying that.

“The Pathfinder just left,” Tilleran announced, looking up from her panel.

“Our repairs are completed,” Vansen said. “We can leave at any time.”

Richards looked over at Vansen, grimacing. “Yes. We can.”

“Well,” Baxter said, leaning back in his chair. “Glad to see everyone’s in agreement.”

“Something else,” Tilleran piped up. J’hana glared at her.

“Ari, don’t…”

“Out with it, Tilleran,” Baxter said sternly.

“Lieutenant Commander J’hana is no longer allowed on Deep Space Nine.”

“Not ANOTHER station,” Baxter sighed.

“This happens often?” Vansen asked him.

“With J’hana it does,” said Richards. “Tell Captain Baxter the reason this time,” he said, glancing back at the Andorian at tactical.

J’hana stared down at the deckplates. “They removed my favorite meal from the menu at the Klingon restaurant.”

“So what did you do?” Baxter asked, preparing for the worst.

“You could say I removed the Klingon restuarant.”

“At the very least, it won’t be up and running again for months,” Richards said, glancing with annoyance at J’hana. “And I happen to have developed a taste for Klingon food.”

“Well,” said Vansen. “I’m sure it’ll be back up again by the time we return.”

“So, let me get this straight,” Tilleran said. “We’re VOLUNTARILY going over to the Gamma Quadrant, indefinitely, to stop other planets from fighting, when we can’t even stop ourselves from fighting?”

“When a simple thing like a restaurant causes us to snap into a berserker rage?” J’hana added.

“Yup,” said Baxter. “That’s it in a nutshell.”

“God help the Gamma Quadrant,” Vansen sighed. “The Explorer’s coming.”

“That’s the spirit, Commander,” Baxter said, clapping Vansen on the shoulder. “Lieutenant Madera, disconnect us from DS-Nine and take us through the wormhole. We’ve got a bad reputation to spread.”



Dalda Two. A planet in the Dominion just getting the hang of freedom. An race extremely adept at science, especially when it comes to time travel. As a matter of fact, the Daldans think they have a way to move time backwards. When Baxter, Richards and J’hana beam down to check it out, they are disappointed to learn the experiments are not exactly going well. As a matter of fact, they go wrong, right in the away team’s face. Will Lt. Commander Vansen be able to save the away team from time moving backwards? And will we see J’hana go through puberty in reverse? Let’s hope so!

Tags: vexed