Author: Anthony Butler
“Is it just me, or are the planets getting more and more sparse out here?” Captain Andy Baxter said, looking out over the bridge of the U.S.S. Explorer, holding his steaming cup of coffee, having just stepped out of the turbolift for his morning shift.
“It’s just you,” J’hana said flatly, and went back to monitoring her station.
Lt. Commander Nell Vansen shifted from the command chair to the seat next to Baxter as he walked down to the command area and sat down in the center seat.
“The solar systems are, in fact, fewer and farther between, since we left the outskirts of Dominion space for this stellar survey,” she said, handing Baxter a padd. “Here.”
“My report on the night shift.”
Baxter stared blankly at the padds. “I get nightshift reports?”
“I’ve been sending them directly to your terminal.”
Baxter nodded. “Ummm…of course you have, Commander. And I’ve been reading them.” He tapped the padd with his finger. “Good work, Vansen. Good…good work.”
Vansen turned her attention to another padd while Baxter paged through the one she’d handed him.
“Hmm,” he said. “It says here we’re approaching an M-class world that the Dominion would like us to check out.”
“Orubla Four,” Vansen said. “We’ll be there in three hours.”
Baxter stared with eyebrow raised at Vansen. “Why are you being so unbitchy this morning?”
“I’ve been working double shifts the last two weeks. I’m exhausted,” Vansen said dully. “How about I take the next three hours off for a nap and then I can come back and be my old bitchy self?”
“Sounds…great…” Baxter said. “On your way, then.”
Vansen walked off to the turbolift, drawing glares from J’hana and Tilleran.
“Problems, ladies?” Baxter asked, pivoting back to face the aft stations.
“We hate her,” J’hana told Baxter.
“She called my ponytail sloppy,” Tilleran muttered.
“You know, I’m sick of hearing about it,” said Baxter. “We’ve got no choice but to work with Lieutenant Commander Vansen. We might as well make the best of it.”
“And how do we do that?”
“I don’t know. But complaining about it does no good. Besides, she was perfectly nice just now.”
“That is the exception, not the rule,” J’hana growled.
“I’ll bet if you two reached out to her and tried to be her friend, you’d both find you have lots in common. Maybe that would even soften her emotional demeanor and make things easier on us all.”
“Then why don’t you befriend her, sir?” asked Tilleran.
“You think I’m stupid? She’s a raging bitch,” Baxter said, and turned back to face the viewscreen.
Lt. Commander Vansen decided to head down to Space Tastes for a quick breakfast before getting her nap.
She found one of the tables on the small patio facing the railing that overlooked the lower level of Ship’s Shoppes, the Explorer’s mall, and sat down.
“Commander Vansen, nice to see you, or whatever,” Janice Browning said, trotting up to Vansen carrying a padd. “What can I get you?”
“Tarvokian pancakes, three sausages, and a coffee.” Vansen glared up at Browning. “And try to make them fluffy this time, got it?”
“I’ll fluff your rmermrmmmm…” Browning mumbled, tapping the order into her padd and walking off.
Vansen leaned back in her chair and watched the relatively quiet morning activity in the Explorer’s mall, contemplating the fact that the Explorer was the only starship in Starfleet service that she knew of which actually HAD a mall. It was kind of a ludicrous idea when one thought about it.
Those thoughts were interrupted when the Explorer’s resident Vorta approached, accompanied by Browning’s pint-sized half-changeling son, Plato.
“Commander Vansen, as always, it is a pleasure,” Weyoun said, bowing slightly, standing beside Vansen. She was almost eye-to-eye with the short-statured ambassador.
Plato tugged Weyoun’s hand. “Come on, Uncle Weyoun. We gotta go get eats at mom’s restaurant.”
“Indeed. Eats,” Weyoun said with a plaster smile. “Let’s enjoy those, shall we. It was a pleasure talking with you, Commander.” And he walked into the restaurant proper, to be eagerly greeted by Dr. Browning, who Vansen noticed hugged Plato tightly, swinging him around, while the Vorta looked on with interest.
Vansen considered this as Browning disappeared back into the kitchen and walked out moments later with her plate of pancakes and a cup of coffee.
“Thank you for not dumping that on my head,” Vansen said as she took the coffee.
“Your welcome,” Browning said. “Anything else?”
“Yes,” Vansen said, leaning closer to Browning, glancing over to see Weyoun chatting with Plato in one of the booths within Space Tastes. “Doesn’t it make you nervous to have that Vorta hanging around so much with your son?”
Browning blinked. “Not at all, Commander. Aren’t you the one preaching that we have to learn how to get along with the Dominion?”
“Yes. Sure. But I wouldn’t necessarily let my son hang out with one.”
“You have a son?”
“I’m speaking hypothetically,” Vansen sighed, then looked at Browning with renewed concentration. “You do realize that the Federation and Dominion were involved in an extremely nasty war just a few years ago?”
“Sure. But people change,” Browning said, and walked off.
“If you say so,” Vansen said, and began eating.
Three hours later, fresh from a power nap, Lt. Commander Vansen stepped out onto the bridge, where Commander Chris Richards and Captain Andy Baxter stood together near the command chairs, watching the spinning purple planet on the viewscreen.
“Orubla Four, I assume?” Vansen asked, standing beside Baxter and Richards.
“It’s definitely NOT Orubla Five,” Baxter confirmed, looking as if he’d just said something extremely bright.
Tilleran was bathed in the glow of her scans as she sat behind her L-shaped console. “The weather down there is NOT good.”
“Define ‘not good,’” Vansen said, approaching the science console.
“Rain, mud, muck, gross stuff,” Tilleran replied.
“‘Gross stuff,’” Vansen muttered. “How professional. Bottom line: Can an away team survive down there?”
“Sure, but I recommend they bring jackets,” Tilleran said with a smile.
“Great,” Vansen said, as the short Weyoun stepped off the turbolift.
“I hope I am not late…I was…sitting in on a Kindergarten class,” he said, stepping down to join Baxter and Richards.
“Nope, you’re just in time,” Baxter said, exchanging confused glances with Richards.
“Sir, I recommend we put an away team together and begin our survey of the planet,” Vansen said.
“You’re volunteering to lead it?” Richards asked.
“A little rain never bothered me,” Vansen said. “See, I’m not a total pansy.”
“Touche,” Richards said, glancing at the deck.
“Form your away team, Commander,” Baxter sighed.
Vansen nodded, then pointed. “J’hana, Tilleran, Sefelt. You guys are with me.”
Lt. Howard Sefelt turned around from his seat at ops. “Ummm….me?”
“Are you hard of hearing?” Vansen asked. “Yes, you.”
“But…I don’t go on away teams.”
“You’re a senior bridge officer. You haven’t been on one away team since I got here. You’re WAY overdue.”
Sefelt looked at Baxter pleadingly. “Sir…I’m scared of rain.”
“Put on a jacket and beam down with the others, Sefelt,” Baxter said. “A little rain won’t hurt you. Think of this as a growth experience.”
“But siiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrrr…” Sefelt whined, tears forming in his eyes.
“Tilleran, take him by the hand and lead him into the turbolift,” Baxter said tiredly.
Tilleran stepped out from behind her station and gently took Sefelt by the hand. “Come on, Howie. It’ll be fun. I promise. You’ll get to use a tricorder!”
“Really?” sniffed Sefelt.
Vansen stared at the ceiling. “Why me? Why this ship?” Then she marched into the turbolift, followed by Tilleran and J’hana, and a reluctant Sefelt.
“I’ll go tell Kelly to clear out her schedule,” Baxter said, stepping toward the back of the bridge and ducking into his readyroom.
“I can’t believe she called me a pansy,” Richards mumbled and sat down in the command chair.
“You guys make sure to zip up those jackets, okay?” Transporter Chief Lindsay Morgan said sweetly. “It’s a cold wet one down there, darlins.”
“Thanks for the concern,” Vansen grumbled, zipping up her silver environmental jacket and lifting its hood over her head. Tilleran and J’hana did likewise. Sefelt’s jacket was on backwards. “Someone fix that,” Vansen muttered, then looked to Morgan. “Set the coordinates and energize when ready, Chief.”
“Yes indeed. Y’all have a good time now, ya hear?”
“This weather is invigorating,” J’hana shouted above the roar of the falling rain and swirling winds as the away team trudged along a muddy forest path.
“Shut up,” Vansen muttered, leading the way.
“One of these trees is going to fall on us, isn’t it?” Lt. Sefelt groaned.
Tilleran looked back at him. “If it did, would it make a sound?”
“What? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?” Sefelt cried, yanking the strings on his hood so it closed almost entirely around his face.
“I give up,” she mumbled, glancing down at her tricorder. “There’s not much here except for woodlands.”
“Where there’s woodlands, there are indigenous creatures,” Vansen said. “Let’s start cataloguing them.”
Tilleran picked up her pace to step up next to Vansen. “You know, Commander, a lot of this can be done from the ship.”
“But the survey has to begin with an initial scouting party.”
“But it’s up to our discretion as to how long that goes on.” She glanced at J’hana, who nodded affirmation back at her. “What do you say we wrap this up early and catch a movie in the holodeck? Just you, J’hana, and me.”
“I refuse to take part in a three-way, if that’s what you’re suggesting.”
Tilleran looked at J’hana, who shrugged again. “Sure, that sounds like fun,” J’hana said.
“This isn’t about sex,” Tilleran sighed, wiping mud from her face. Was it raining actual mud? “We just want to get to know you better.”
“So you can get me drunk and hump me, right?”
J’hana nodded eagerly. “Yes. Excellent!”
“You’re not helping, J’hana!” Tilleran sighed.
The Andorian frowned. “I thought the goal was to eventually have sex with her.”
“You people wouldn’t know a successful planetary survey if it came up and bit you on the ass!” Vansen grumbled and trudged up ahead of Tilleran and J’hana.
“Now we’re into ass-biting,” said J’hana. “I think we are making good progress.”
Tilleran rolled her eyes. “As usual, J’hana, you’re the ideal diplomat.”
“WHOA! OH MY GOD NO…AHHHHHHHH!”
“What was that?” Vansen called back from several meters ahead of the others.
Tilleran turned around. “It was Sefelt’s voice.” She looked through the dense rain, into the even denser cropping of trees. “Lieutenant?”
He was gone.
She glanced at her tricorder. Lifesigns ahead, a little to the right, five meters. She trudged forward, pushing past trees. “He’s somewhere in this thicket. He must have tripped and fallen, or something.”
“Pick him up and keep moving,” Vansen said. “We have a lot of ground to cover.”
“Hold your horses, Vansen!” Tilleran muttered, picking through the trees, glancing at her tricorder. Suddenly her eyes went wide. She was standing on the edge of a huge mud pit of some kind.
She glanced down into it, to find Lt. Sefelt sloshing around in the gooey orange substance.
“Help! It’s got me. It’s pulling me in!” he cried, eyes bulging with panic.
“Don’t be silly, Lieutenant!” J’hana barked. “It’s just mud. Be strong!”
“Easy for you to…mpmmph…say!” Sefelt yelled back. “You’re not being pulled in by it.”
“I said, it’s just m–”
“No, no. He’s right!” Tilleran said, looking at her tricorder as J’hana reached her hand in. “This mud…it’s made of some sort of polymorphic substance. Its density and cohesive structure is changing constantly. It does seem to be pulling Sefelt down.”
“I’ll get him out,” J’hana said, and tugged on Sefelt’s hand. Something tugged back. “Oh. So that’s how you want to play it, huh?” J’hana dug her heels into the mud and leaned back as the rain drove down around her and the others. Tilleran grabbed Sefelt’s other hand.
“Come on,” Tilleran cried, as Vansen walked up. “Come on, Sefelt! Kick with your feet!”
“This stuff looks very familiar,” Vansen said quietly. Then, suddenly, something pulled Sefelt backwards so fiercely that J’hana and Tilleran were both yanked in, end-over-end, flopping into the mud and sinking within.
Vansen grumbled something to herself and slapped her combadge. “Vansen to Explorer, I need an emergency beam-out!”
Suddenly the three officers who had been sucked into the pit got spat back out onto the shore. Before Vansen could react to that, a huge, semi-solid wave rose out of the mud and slowly formed into an exact duplicate of Vansen.
The mirror Vansen stood atop the mud, her feet flowing into the mud’s surface. She cocked her head quizzically as she studied Vansen.
“WHRRRRR?” the duplicate asked.
Vansen’s eyes went wide. “Explorer! We could use that beamout. NOW!”
“FOUNDERS!” Weyoun exclaimed, staring wide-eyed out the conference room windows. “On the planet below. Untouched by civilization, a race unto themselves! The other Founders will be ecstatic!”
“How do we know these are ‘Founders’?” Baxter asked from the head of the conference table. “Maybe they’re just changelings.”
“They are Founders. They must be,” Weyoun said, staring at the planet below. “They must be a tribe that was isolated from the others tens of thousands of years ago. We must contact the Founders immediately.”
“Maybe we should study them a little further,” Tilleran said, still covered in rain and muck. The away team hadn’t had a chance to hit the showers yet.
“Nonsense,” said Weyoun. “They are Founders and they must be welcomed back into the fold.”
“What if they don’t want to go back into the fold?” asked Vansen.
Weyoun turned a steely-eyed glance back on Vansen. “That is none of your concern.” His look softened. “Or mine. It is up to the divine intentions of the Founders.”
“Well, I know a situation that’s bigger than me when I see it,” Baxter said. “We’ll contact Dominion Headquarters and let them know what we’ve found.”
“They will be quite pleased.”
“Yeah, you said that,” said Richards.
Captain Baxter barely looked up from his desktop viewer as Counselor Peterman walked into the readyroom and stood, arms folded, at the other side of his desk.
“Hi baby,” Baxter said, still intent on his viewer. “Let me just finish up this conversation.”
He was online with Odo himself, the de facto leader of the Founders, as far as Baxter could tell. In point of fact, though, Odo continued to try to explain to Baxter that the Founders were one people, without a leader, even though he sometimes spoke for them. It was quite confusing.
“…a terrific find, Captain Baxter. We are all excited to welcome our new friends into the Great Link.”
“That’s kind of what Weyoun had said,” Baxter agreed. “We’re excited to have found these new changelings for you. Should we wait here until you arrive?”
“If you wish, although I would appreciate it if you sent no further teams down to the planet. For your own safety, of course. There is no telling what this particular group of changelings has been through, or what they think of solids. They could become violent.”
“Completely understandable. We’ll wait here until your ship arrives.”
“I thank you, the Founders thank you, and the Dominion thanks you. Odo out.”
“What a nice guy,” Baxter said, and punched the viewer off. He turned to Peterman. “So, how’s Lieutenant Sefelt?”
“Nearly catatonic with fear, curled in a little ball on my couch,” Peterman said. “I figure a little chicken soup from Janice and some soothing words will get him back on his feet in no time, though.”
“I have no doubt you’ll pull him out of it,” Baxter said. He glanced at Peterman, then looked her over, as if for the first time. “Kelly, have you…are you doing something different?”
Peterman sighed. “It was only a matter of time before you’d notice, I guess. Yes, I’ve switched to the standard-issue Starfleet maternity tunic. Go ahead and laugh at my fat, bulging hips and tummy.”
Baxter quickly got out of his chair and rounded the desk to put his arm around Peterman. “You look wonderful. You look beautiful. Nothing…nothing is more beautiful to me than the thought of you carrying our baby.”
Baxter and Peterman exited the readyroom, looking flushed, just as the Jem’Hadar battlecruiser loomed large and monstrous on the viewscreen.
“I’ve got…appointments,” Peterman said quickly, pulling her hair back into a ponytail and dashing into the aft turbolift.
Vansen turned in the command chair to face Baxter. “You better not have been using your readyroom for sex again.”
“Me? Never,” Baxter said, then shooed Vansen out of his chair. “Where’s Chris?”
“Who knows. Who cares?” she asked.
“If you were wondering, the battlecruiser is hailing us,” J’hana stated from tactical.
“Before you answer that,” Tilleran said, “do you think you could ask them to let us stay behind and monitor for a while? I could write a terrific paper on the interactions between changelings who’ve developed in a natural habitat and the ones who’ve lead the Dominion.”
“I’ll run it by them,” Baxter said, and gestured at the viewscreen. “J’hana, put them on.”
On the viewscreen, former-Constable Odo stood on the bridge of the Jem’Hadar cruiser, hands clasped behind his back.
“Captain. It is…agreeable to see you again.”
“You too, of course,” Baxter said, shifting in the command chair. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it.”
“Since my visit to your ship late last year. How is Plato?”
“Didn’t you get to see him in the Great Link?”
“Yes, but I was wondering how he’s been since then. Is he adjusting to life without the Link?”
“Quite well, actually. He got an A-plus on his calculus project.”
“Excellent. Well, Captain, I’m sure you have other places to be. We will take over here.”
“Ahem.” Tilleran cleared her throat, nodding at Baxter and gesturing in the direction of the viewscreen.
“Oh. Right,” Baxter said. “Mister Odo, my science officer would like for us to stay behind and monitor for a while while you pick up the stray Founders. We wouldn’t dream of interrupting, of course. We’d just like to watch.”
Odo seemed to mull this over several moments. Finally, his eyes widened joyfully. “I’ll go you one better than that, Captain! Your science officer can come aboard our ship and attend the retrieval of the ‘stray’ Founders with us.”
Tilleran smiled broadly. “I would be honored, Mister Odo.”
“I knew you would be,” Odo grinned, and the channel closed.
“What a nice guy,” Baxter said. He glanced at Tilleran. “Well, Commander. Pack your bags. Looks like you get a free trip on a Dominion Battlecruiser.”
“Bring me back a postcard,” Vansen muttered, as Tilleran hurried into the aft turbolift.
“Do not do anything I would do,” J’hana called after Tilleran, winking suggestively.
“You have a good time over there, sweetheart,” Chief Morgan said, grinning at Tilleran as she slung a small duffel over her shoulder and stepped onto the transporter pad.
“I’ll try,” Tilleran said, turning to face Morgan just as the doors to the transporter room swung open.
Lt. Commander J’hana stepped through. She glared at Morgan.
“Can I help ya, hon?” Morgan asked sweetly.
J’hana continued to glare at Morgan.
“I think she wants you to leave,” Tilleran translated.
“Oh. Well, then, I guess you two might want some alone-time. Fine by me. I’ll just be outside, twiddling my little old thumbs.”
Morgan quickly left the transporter room and J’hana looked at Tilleran.
“She grates on me.”
“Her heart’s in the right place.”
“As is mine,” J’hana said, stepping up onto the pad, wrapping her arms around Tilleran. “Each of them.”
“Right. Well, J’hana, I’d love to stay and chat, but…”
“Know this, Imzadi. I will be waiting for you.”
“I’ll only be gone for a day at the most.”
“Regardless, you will be in my thoughts.”
“So to speak,” Tilleran said, and stared into the space behind J’hana. “Commander, you should know…”
J’hana cocked her head at Tilleran. “What?”
“I’ve been performing several rituals, lately, to break the Imzadi bond between us.”
There was a long silence.
“I see,” J’hana finally said.
Tilleran took J’hana’s hands. “‘J’hana, it’s not that I don’t love you. But I’ve got to start dating again. I can’t do that with our minds and souls forever joined. You have to realize that.”
“I came to enjoy it.”
“Well, it’s got to end. For our sanity’s sake, it has to.”
“You are the expert,” J’hana said gruffly, and headed over to the transporter console. “You know best.”
“J’hana….don’t take this the wrong way. I’ve got to do this.”
“So you say.” The Andorian punched in some coordinates. “Have a delightful trip.”
“J’hana, don’t let it end like th–” Tilleran said, but was cut off by the whine of the transporter beam disassociating her molecules and beaming her away.
Stardate 55335.4. After depositing Lt. Commander Tilleran on the Jem’Hadar battlecruiser assigned to study Orubla Four and pick up the stray changelings, we’ve headed off to a neighboring system…and by neighboring, I mean several light years away, to survey some of its Class- M worlds and prepare another boring old report for the Dominion.
Captain Baxter glanced over his desk at the 8-year-old-ish boy before him.
“I heard you got an A-plus on your calculus project,” Baxter said.
“And you knows what that means, Uncle Andy.”
“Yes, I haven’t forgot.” Baxter sighed and pushed aside the padd he was looking on. “I believe I said I’d let you fire a quantum torpedo. Well, Vansen’s not on duty right now, so I guess it won’t be a problem.”
Baxter stood up and led Plato by the hand out to the bridge, where the crew was working quietly at their stations.
“Guess your Uncle Chris was busy, huh, or else he would have brought you up here,” Baxter said.
“Uncle Chris is having dinner with Mom,” Plato replied.
“Hmmm,” Baxter said. “Just remember who let you play with the quantum torpedoes.”
“That’s right,” Baxter said with a grin. “Your favorite non-related uncle.”
“Yeah, I don’t want you to be my Daddy, like I want Uncle Chris to be.”
“Ummm…” Baxter stammered. “Let’s have a look at that weapons console.” He stepped up to the aft deck, where Ensign Keefler was working at tactical. “Lieutenant, you stand relieved,” Baxter said, trying to sound official.
“Just skedaddle for a minute.”
“Right, sir,” Keefler said, and stepped over to the engineering station.
Baxter lifted Plato up into the stool at the tactical station and turned him to face the weapons controls. “Here you go, buddy.” Baxter tapped a few controls, setting the aft torpedoes to auto-detonate after launch. “Just press this button. That one right there.”
Plato punched the button. “BOOM!” he said, as the viewscreen showed the aft view of the Explorer’s nacelles and a blue quantum torpedo shooting out.
“Very good, buddy!” Baxter exclaimed.
“Again! Boom! Boom!” Plato pressed the button again, and again, and two more torpedoes streamed out.
“Okay, okay…enough of that,” Baxter said, and scooted Plato off the stool. “Now, then,” he said, kneeling next to the half-changeling boy. “If you can manage to get an A-plus in Astrophysics, I’ll let you perform a saucer separation. Deal?”
Plato shook Baxter’s hand. “Deal!”
Counselor Peterman whistled a vague tune as she walked down the corridor toward her office. She punched the door control and stepped through, only to be tackled onto her fainting couch, and straddled by a wide-eyed Andorian.
J’hana slapped Peterman’s face. “Enough! I will hear no protestations from you. You shall counsel me. NOW!”
“This isn’t another rite of zaxxinfwarn is it?” Peterman asked. “Because, if it is, my tight leather jumpsuit is packed away. Regardless, I’m not going to be able to fit into it…”
“We are far beyond that.” J’hana hopped off Peterman and sat down opposite her, in the chair Peterman normally sat in while she counseled patients.
Peterman leaned up, straightening her mussed hair and pushing it back behind her shoulders. “What seems to be the problem?”
Peterman stared at the ceiling. “Why am I not surprised?”
“She is trying once again to break the Imzadi bond.”
“I thought she’d given up on that.”
“Apparently not. Now. Counsel me.”
Peterman leaned forward on the couch, resting her elbows on her knees. “J’hana, it’s not that simple. You know that.”
“I wish to be made to feel better.”
“It doesn’t work that way.”
“I have been abandoned by the only person I have truly loved.”
“What about Dwanok?”
“He was just a…sextoy.”
Peterman was about to say “and Tilleran wasn’t?” but decided against it. “So what are you feeling?”
“I just said: Abandonment.”
“Uh-huh. Have you and Tilleran been dating lately?”
“Not since Alvin Ficker’s talk show last year. You know that.”
“Just double-checking. So, apparently the relationship ended nearly a year ago.”
“We are still close. Well, were.”
“And now she’s trying to break that bond. She wants to start over and get involved with someone else. Can you really blame her for that?”
Peterman could see she wasn’t going to get anywhere with conventional counseling techniques. “Commander, what if I set you up on a blind date.”
“If you were not with child I would kill you just for making that suggestion.”
“Maybe there’s someone on this ship you could be happy with. Have you even thought about that?”
“I am fairly familiar with the entire crew. There is simply no one else I wish to become involved with.”
“You’re sure about that.”
“Can I at least look around for you? Try to find a good match?”
J’hana made a long rattling sound in her throat, which Peterman supposed was a sigh. “You may try.”
“What’s this I hear about you letting a toddler fire our quantum torpedoes?” Lt. Commander Vansen demanded, stepping down to face Baxter in the command chair.
“I promised him. It was an incentive to do better in class.”
“You really have no respect for Starfleet, or the job of Captain, do you?”
“Of course I do. Don’t be silly.”
“You let a child operate our weapons systems!”
“Not just a child. A half-changeling child!”
“Like that makes it better!”
Baxter stood up to face Vansen. “Don’t you take that tone with me, Commander!”
Suddenly, the tactical station beeped.
“Captain, we have an incoming call from the Dominion,” Ensign Keefler reported.
“To be continued,” Baxter grumbled at Vansen.
“Absolutely,” Vansen agreed, folding her arms and facing the viewscreen.
“Put them on, Keefler,” Baxter said, still frowning at Vansen.
The viewscreen changed from the view of streaking stars to the placid expression of Former-Constable Odo.
“Captain. It is…agreeable to see you again.”
“It has been too long…”
“Has it?” Baxter asked, scratching his head. “Anyway, how is Orubla Four?”
“I was about to ask you the same thing.”
“But you’re there now…”
“I am not. I am at Dominion Headquarters. I believe you are scheduled to be stationed at Orubla Four…”
“We were, until we found those undomesticated changelinges, and then you went to investigate…”
“I did no such…wait, did you say undomesticated changelings?”
Baxter looked at Vansen, whose face was growing increasingly knit with concern, then back at Odo. “Um…Mister Odo…did I not talk to you earlier today?”
“You did not.” Odo folded his arms and glared at Baxter. “It would seem, Captain, that you have been fooled.”
Baxter suddenly felt very hot and uncomfortable. “Yeah, it would
“Lieutenant!” Vansen barked at Madera, who was at helm. “Lay in a course back to Orubla Four. Maximum warp!”
“Yeah, what she said!” Baxter said, stumbling backwards into the command chair.
“We will meet you there,” Odo said. “I have a good idea who tricked you.”
“Me too,” Baxter said quietly, as the Explorer shot into warp and Odo flashed off the viewscreen.
“Let me just thank you again for this opportunity,” Lt. Commander Tilleran said to Odo as they walked through the corridors of the Dominion Battlecruiser. “Mister Odo…is that what I call you, Mister?”
“That’s fine,” Odo replied.
“I’ve been fascinated by changelinges since the Federation first encountered them. To actually get to work with changelings who’ve had no previous contact with the other Founders, who may be of the same species.”
“The possibilities are endless,” Odo agreed with a smile.
“It’s an unprecedented opportunity,” Tilleran gushed. “I can’t wait to see your laboratory. To actually get a chance to work with some Dominion scientists. Will they be Jem’Hadar, or Vorta? Or do you have another species who does your scientific work?”
“You’ll be spending a lot of time with the Jem’Hadar,” Odo said, still grinning.
“I’ve got to say, one of the things I’ve found intriguing about changelings is that I cannot read their thoughts. I’m Betazoid, as you might know, and can read the thoughts of most species. But not changelings. No sir, no way.”
“No kidding,” Odo said. “I wonder what you’d think of what I’m thinking now.”
“You’ve got me.”
“Yes. Yes I do,” Odo said, mostly to himself, as he keyed the door open. What laid beyond the door was not like any kind of lab Tilleran had seen before. As a matter of fact, it looked far more like a brig. Rows of empty cell doorways surrounded by lightbulbs, which she guessed would generate a protective field when activated.
And, standing by one of the unoccupied cells was a Weyoun clone. A particularly fat one.
Now, where had Tilleran heard of a fat Weyoun clone before?
She racked her brain.
Then looked at Odo, whose face suddenly swelled, into a vaguely monkey-like construction, much like the face of the Changeling which had once invaded the Aerostar and assumed the shape of Counselor Peterman’s monkey.
“Jelo!” she screamed, just as he gripped her around her arms and dragged her into her cell.
“I’ll take that.” Fat Weyoun leaned in to snag her combadge as Jelo shoved her into the cell and activated the forcefield.
“What in the hell do you think you’re doing?” Tilleran demanded.
“Isn’t it obvious, Commander?” Jelo asked with a chuckle. “We are kidnaping you.”
“She isn’t too smart, for a science officer, is she?” Fat Weyoun asked, patting his big round tummy.
“She’ll do, though,” Jelo said, and turned on a heel. “Come on, Weyoun. We have new followers to educate.”
“What are you going to do with those changelings?” Tilleran asked.
“That’s the least of your worries, Commander,” Jelo said, with a final chortle.
“I suppose I like the way leather feels against my backside, especially when it is slapped,” J’hana said, leaning over a table in Mirk’s and sipping from a steaming cup of v’haspant.
Opposite the table, Doctor Jarvay Ranowat leaned forward, chin resting on hands, nodding with interest. “You are without a doubt the most fascinating person I’ve met.”
“Please,” J’hana said, motioning with her hand. “You flatter me too much. Flatter me any more and I will kill you.”
“Kill me, will you?” Ranowat asked, his expression suddenly changing to one of fierce annoyance. “Not before I kill you first!” He reached over and grabbed the cup of v’haspant and dumped it in J’hana’s face.
“I like you,” J’hana said, as the hot liquid scalded her skin. “I like you a lot.”
“Let’s do it.”
“Mirk. Check please!”
“Bridge to J’hana,” came Baxter’s panicked voice as Mirk walked over with a padd for J’hana to initial.
“What. I’m busy,” J’hana said, gazing into Ranowat’s eyes.
“We have a situation up here that needs your immediate attention.”
J’hana sighed. “I’ll be right there.” She looked at Mirk, pointing at Dr. Ranowat. “Put it on his tab.”
Mirk turned to Ranowat, smiling weakly. “Luckily, everything here is free, huh Doc?”
“Lucky for you,” Ranowat seethed, and stormed out of the Constellation Club.
“That’s what I like to see,” Mirk sighed. “Satisfied customers.”
“What’s the latest ‘emergency’?” J’hana mumbled, stepping off the turbolift and shoving Ensign Keefler aside, taking position behind the tactical console.
“Jelo and his force of rebel Jem’Hadar have kidnapped Tilleran and the new race of changelings,” Baxter said.
“That enough of an emergency for you?” Vansen asked.
J’hana stared at Baxter, her eyes narrowing to furious slits. “Weapons are ready, Captain. Just point me at that FWARKING VSHISNIT!”
Baxter blinked. “Wow, I’ve never heard that last one.” He looked at Vansen. “She’s pissed.”
“I’d like to think that works in our favor.”
“Oh, you bet it does,” Baxter said, as Commander Richards stepped off the turbolift.
“So, what’s this about Jelo kidnaping Tilleran?”
“We don’t need you, Commander. Go play some ‘velocity’ while we do the real work,” Vansen snapped at Richards.
“Do I have to remind you I outrank you?” Richards said, stepping down to face Vansen.
“I would be scared if I thought your threats had any real backing. Sit down and let the professionals do their jobs.”
“Can we all just get along for the moment so we can rescue Tilleran and those shapeshifters?” Baxter demanded.
Richards folded his arms. “Not while this bitch is on my bridge.”
“Our bridge,” Baxter reminded him.
“OUR bridge,” Vansen chimed in.
“Well, OUR ship is approaching Orubla,” Madera reported from helm. “One of you better figure out what you’re going to do.”
“Scan for Dominion ships,” Baxter called back to J’hana. He then glanced at Richards. “Chris, what’s this I hear about Plato wanting you to be his Dad?”
“Long story. Suffice it to say he wants Janice and I to get married.”
“We’ve been through this one before,” Baxter sighed, rubbing a hand down his face.
“I told him it wasn’t going to happen,” Richards said. “At least not anytime soon. Janice and I went too fast last time, we won’t make that mistake again.”
“You dated for a year, and were engaged for another full year!”
“You’re missing the point.”
“One of you better stop it with the watercooler gossip and start commanding, or I WILL!” Vansen cried.
“Wow, I’ve never seen all three of them on the bridge before,” Ensign Keefler said from his spot at ops, by Lt. Madera. Sefelt had the day off, due to his traumatic experience on Orubla.
“Not a pretty sight, huh,” Madera muttered.
“Not at all.”
“No Dominion ships in orbit of Orubla,” J’hana told Baxter, her voice shaking. “Or anywhere else in this system.”
“Damn it!” Baxter grumbled. He glanced at Ensign Koltz, who was manning sciences. “Scan for changelings on Orubla.”
The furry Tellarite grimaced at his station. “Nothing.”
“Patch in with Stellar Cartogarphy, Koltz. Extend our sensors to maximum and find that god damned Dominion battlecruiser!”
“The one that was just here this morning!”
The bridge was quiet for a few moments, save for the random beeps of consoles and J’hana’s angry breathing.
“Got it!” Koltz exclaimed. “They’re heading at high warp toward the Dentonab system.”
Baxter looked at Vansen. “Isn’t that where we faced off with that bunch of Jem’Hadar ships when we first came to the Gamma Quadrant?”
“Yep,” said Vansen. “That’s where we’ve decided that Jelo’s rebel forces are based.”
“Terrific,” Richards muttered. “Bridge to Engineering.”
“Engineering. Hartley here.”
“Prepare to get pounded into next week.”
“As always. Hartley out.”
Richards looked at Baxter. “I don’t guess there’s any way NOT to go in there to try to get Tilleran back.”
Baxter glanced back at J’hana, who fired him an angry stare.
“No. No way. Lieutenant Madera…”
“Sending us into certain death at maximum warp, aye, sir!”
Supplemental. The mood aboard ship can best be expressed as ‘irritated,’ as we head toward the stronghold of our enemies to try and get Tilleran back. The good news is that Odo is bringing reinforcements. The Dominion, however, was pretty beaten up after the Federation war, and losing so many legions of angry Jem’Hadar didn’t do anything to help the situation. In short, the Dominion was not yet ready for a direct confrontation with the rebels. It looks like they don’t have much of a choice, though.
“Well, look who just waddled in,” Lt. Commander Vansen said, glancing over her shoulder at Counselor Peterman as she stepped out of the aft turbolift.
“Shut it, Vansen,” Baxter snapped and walked up to meet his wife. “Kelly, how are you doing with J’hana?”
Peterman held up her hand, which had a bandage wrapped around it. “She sliced my hand open. Does that about cover it?”
“That’s assault, you know,” Vansen said.
“We know that,” Baxter replied. “But we choose not to file charges, on the rare occasions that J’hana assaults a fellow officer, on account of what a great tactical officer she is.”
“Rare occasions,” Richards said with a giggle from his seat down in the command area. “That’s a laugh.”
“Would you shut up?” Baxter said through gritted teeth.
“You know what this bunch needs?” said Peterman.
“I’m afraid to ask,” muttered Vansen.
“Captain, we’re entering the Dentonab system,” Keefler announced from tactical.
“Bring us out of warp,” Baxter said, stepping back to the center of the bridge. “And go to Red Alert.”
“I’ll be in touch about the therapy later,” Peterman said as she walked into the turbolift.
“Saved by the bell,” Vansen muttered, and went to sit with Baxter and Richards.
“Honey,” Baxter called to Peterman. “Would you mind sending my tactical and ops officers back up soon? We’re seriously understaffed here.”
“No we’re not,” Richards said, elbowing Baxter. He pointed at Vansen. “Vansen here is an experienced tactical officer. Put her back there, then put Keefler at ops.”
“I’m a command officer now,” Vansen said, turning to face the viewscreen.
“You’re also our expert on the Dominion. Besides, in emergency situations, I believe you can be moved to a bridge post,” Richards said.
“Yes,” Baxter agreed. “I do believe I saw that in the regulations.”
“Sounds like your problem is solved,” Peterman said with a grin while the turbolift doors shut.
“Don’t just sit there, Vansen,” Baxter said. “Get back there.”
“Yes, we’re in an emergency situation,” Richards said. “I’d hate to write you up for insubordination.”
Vansen glared at Richards, then stomped back to the tactical console. “This is not over. Not by a long shot.”
“I’m quaking in my boots,” Baxter muttered. “Give us a tactical report and put the rebel base on the viewscreen.”
Vansen stared down at the tactical sensors. “I don’t think you want me to do that, Captain.”
Baxter turned around. “And just why not?”
“Take a look.”
Richards let out a low whistle. “Wow. Jelo has been busy.”
Baxter’s mouth gaped. “That’s a LOT of ships.”
“Shall we turn tail and run?” Madera suggested.
“Absolutely not. Vansen, arm all weapons and divert all extra power to forward shields.”
“Like that will do any good,” muttered Richards, as the Explorer sailed toward a sprawling multi-tiered battle station and forty or fifty Jem’Hadar warships and battlecruisers.
“You are an intruiging creature,” the fat Weyoun said, staring at Tilleran as she paced the brig. “Can you read my thoughts?”
Tilleran stared at Weyoun. “Like an open book. They’re rather pedestrian. Not at all interesting.”
“You are probably aware that we Vorta do not possess much in the way of creativity.”
“Shame,” Tilleran mumbled.
“Will you miss your friends on the Explorer?” Weyoun said, staring across the forcefield at Tilleran.
“Not at all. Because I plan on seeing them again.”
Weyoun chuckled. “What a quaint notion.”
“Don’t be mysterious with me, buster,” Tilleran said, approaching the forcefield and waving a finger at Weyoun. “I just told you I can read your mind. I know just what you’re planning and it’ll never work. I promise you that.”
“We shall see, won’t we?”
Tilleran clasped her hands behind her back, not feeling at all confident. “Yes. Yes we will.”
“Doctor Browning?” Short Weyoun asked, peering into the vacant Space Tastes.
“We’re at Red Alert,” Browning said, stepping out from her kitchen. “You should be in your quarters.”
“Shouldn’t you as well?”
“I was just making some lunch for Plato.”
“And where is he?”
“In my quarters, watching a vidchip I put in for him.”
“I am…gratified to hear that. May I walk you back to your quarters?”
Browning stared at Weyoun a long moment as she contemplated the tray of sandwiches in her hand. “Sure, I guess so.”
As they stepped out of Space Tastes, heading for the exit of Ship’s Shoppes, Browning studied Weyoun’s face.
“You’re concerned about Plato.”
“He is descended from godhood. I do not wish anything adverse to happen to him.”
“What about the rest of us?”
Weyoun made an expansive gesture with his hands. “Expendable.”
Browning wrinkled her nose, edging out of the exit and into the Explorer corridor. “That’s a little morose, isn’t it?”
“It is a universal truth, implanted in my genetic structure.”
“Well, then. I guess there’s no changing your mind.”
“Not at all.”
Browning thought hard about Plato. How much his safety meant to her. “You know, for different reasons, I feel the same way you do.”
“Great minds, Doctor. Great minds.”
Then the first blasts hit the Explorer.
“How many ships?” Baxter asked, leaning forward in the command chair.
“Two battlecruisers, one on either side of us,” Vansen called out above the din of alert klaxons as energy blasts wracked the Explorer.
“Wait till the last moment, Madera, then pull us out,” Baxter commanded.
“Aye, sir,” Madera said, moving her hands over the helm console.
“Battlecruisers are at forty thousand meters and closing,” Vansen reported. “Smaller warships are on the way.”
“Koltz,” Baxter called to the Tellarite science officer. “Search those ships out there. Find Tilleran.”
“Working on it.”
Richards glanced at Baxter as he gripped the arms of the command chair. “They could be long gone by now.”
“I think they’re very close,” Baxter said, glancing back at Vansen.
“Two hundred meters and closing.”
“Madera, pull us up!”
The bridge crew watched on the viewscreen as the two Dominion battle cruisers rammed each other and spun apart, spewing gasses and flames from their ruptured hulls.
“That was a bit too easy,” Richards said.
“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, Commander,” Baxter said, and looked to Koltz. “Well?”
“Not on either of the battlecruisers who just crashed.”
“That’s a relief,” Baxter muttered. “Good thing I was wrong.”
“More warships coming in,” Vansen called out.
“Fight them off!” Baxter said.
“Well, if that isn’t a novel idea…” muttered Vansen.
“We are in battle,” J’hana said, glancing around Peterman’s office as the lights flickered and sounds of thunder rumbled all around her.
“Let’s not focus on that right now,” Peterman said, taking J’hana’s hands in hers. “I want us to talk about your progress. How was your date with Doctor Ranowat?”
“My mothers always wanted me to marry a doctor,” J’hana said, sounding distant. “At least two or three of them.”
“But is that what you want?”
“Ranowat has a marvelous personality disorder.”
“Yes,” Peterman said. “He’s bipolar.”
“It’s breathtaking, is it not?”
“That’s one way to describe it.”
“I wish to pursue that relationship.”
“Good, glad to hear it.”
“Sometime later, once the wounds in my heart and spleen have healed.”
“But for now…?”
“For now, I desire a fast fix. Quick, dirty, loveless sex.”
Peterman stood up out of her chair and backed away. “I want to help you, J’hana. But not that way. Not on your life!”
J’hana smiled. “I would not dream of violating your beautiful body, Counselor. I have other plans. Meanwhile, however, I must help to save Commander Tilleran.”
And the Andorian marched out of Peterman’s office.
“Glad I could help,” Peterman waved after her.
“Shields down to twenty percent!” Vansen announced, slapping at the tactical controls as weapons fire rained down from the various Dominion cruisers surrounding the Explorer. “May I remind you all that I said this was a tactical mistake!”
“I don’t recall hearing that,” Baxter mumbled. “Do you, Chris?”
“Can’t say that I do.”
“Respectfully suggest we get the hell out of here!”
“Never, Vansen!” Baxter cried. “Koltz, find my Betazoid!”
“Contact coming in, bearing 045 mark 104,” Vansen said. “It’s a Dominion battlecruiser, Type Four.”
“One of the big boys,” Baxter said. “Is Tilleran aboard?”
“No,” Vansen replied. “But Odo is. We’re getting a call from him now.”
“If indeed that is his real name,” said Baxter. “Put him on screen.”
Odo appeared on the viewscreen. “Captain, I see you’ve taken severe damages.”
“Yes, Odo. But I hope they weren’t in vain. Help me find my science officer.”
“We are vested in rescuing the undomesticated changelings,” Odo said. “We will, of course, return your officer to you if we are able.”
“Our people are still looking. There are a great many ships here.”
“Funny thing, too,” said Baxter. “You’d almost think that the rebels were massing for a full-scale assault.”
“That…had occurred to us.”
“Wonder how many Jem’Hadar would be attracted to Jelo’s cause if he had dozens of other changelings working for him,” Richards posited.
“Not something we relish thinking about,” Odo said. “We have more ships on the way. Do whatever you can to find Jelo’s vessel.”
“Believe me, we’ll do that,” Baxter said. “Now…”
“Sir!” Vansen exclaimed.
Baxter turned on a heel. “WHAT?”
“There’s been an unauthorized entry into the Escort. Someone’s broken in and started the engine heatup sequence. The access codes…they’re…”
“J’hana,” Baxter said.
“How did you know?”
“Because I know my people, Vansen. Put me through to her.”
“J’hana. Don’t do anything stupid. Power down and come up here to help us find Tilleran.”
“Negative,” J’hana replied over the comm. “I intend to find my Imzadi myself, even if it means…”
“A bloody, honorable sacrifice?” asked Richards.
“You read my mind, shizzat. I will be in touch. Escort out.”
“Lock her down!” Baxter cried, looking to Keefler at ops.
“No good!” Keefler called back. “She’s disengaged from our hull.”
“That subordinate bitch!” groused Vansen.
Baxter watched, annoyed, as the Escort zipped off into the swarm of Dominion ships on the viewscreen.
“Well, don’t just sit there, Vansen, cover her!”
“Yes, I see it, Imzadi,” J’hana said, punching controls on the foreward helm station on the Escort’s tiny bridge. One lone Dominion battlecruiser, breaking off from the others, making a beeline for the one place J’hana would most want to go, had she been in Jelo’s place.
She changed course and headed after it at maximum warp.
“I’m coming, Imzadi. Hold on. I am coming.”
“My homeworld,” Jelo said, looking rather smug as the yellow world loomed large on the viewscreen of his Dominion battlecruiser. “How nice, to finally come back to the people that shot me off into space so long ago and left me for dead.”
Fat Weyoun stood beside him. “How nice indeed, Founder. I am glad I could be with you to see this ultimate triumph over all those other irrelevant changelings.”
“And how fortuitous that the Explorer should call on all those reinforcements from the Dominion to come help them. Left this planet quite open to attack, didn’t it?”
“You are wise in all things, your monkeyness.”
“Let’s begin eradicating this world, then.”
“I’ll tell the Jem’Hadar to begin firing immediately.”
“You see that!” Baxter said, pointing at the tactical layout on the viewscreen. “J’hana took off after that lone Dominion battlecruiser.”
“She must have picked up on a Tilleran vibe,” Richards suggested.
Baxter looked to Koltz.
“I can’t tell one way or another,” the cranky Tellarite replied. “The ship has a jamming field up.”
“Then that answers my question. Pursuit course, Lieutenant Madera. Maximum warp!”
Jelo’s monkeylike face spread in a victorious grin as the first volley shot out of his vessel…
…then bounced off the forcefields of a suddenly-decloaked Klingon Vor’cha-class battlecruiser.
“What in the Omarian nebula is that?”
“A Klingon battlecruiser,” Fat Weyoun said solemnly from beside Jelo.
“I can see that,” Jelo said. “Why is it here?”
“Of course, your eminence.” Weyoun looked over at a panel and frowned. “Another vessel coming in fast. Starfleet, modified Peregrine- class.”
“Right away, sir. As soon as–oh.”
“Another vessel coming in fast. Starfleet. Galaxy-Class. It is the Explorer.”
“Destroy that too!”
“Sir, I…uh-oh. Another vessel. Dominion battlecruiser, Type Four. Odo is aboard, ordering us to stand down immediately.”
Jelo watched the incoming blips on his viewscreen as Jem’Hadar walked back and forth behind him prepping for battle.
“It looks like we are going to have to come up with another plan,” Jelo said as blasts rocked the battlecruiser. “Prep our escape craft, and get the Betazoid.”
“Right away,” Weyoun bowed, and headed for the bridge exit.
J’hana soared in, raining weapons fire from the Escort down on the Dominion battlecruiser. Her antennae twitched with confusion as she watched the Klingon vessel appear off the battlecruiser’s bow and start shooting.
She punched a control. “Starship Escort to Klingon vessel. Identify yourself.”
“You don’t recognize the Devagh II?” a voice boomed over her speakers.
J’hana’s antennae perked straight up. “DWANOK?”
“You think the Federation was the only Alpha Quadrant group involved in a cooperative mission with the Dominion? How typically short-sighted and Starfleet of you to think that you’re the only ones who were asked to give aid. We’ve been scouting out Dominion worlds for some months now. Odo asked us to help him guard the changeling homeworld, and we gladly accepted the invitation to do battle.”
“I’ll be fwarked,” J’hana said. “There is much I would like to discuss with you; however, I need you to poke a hole in that battlecruiser’s shields so I can beam through and retrieve something…someone…very important to me.”
“Consider it done, my little targ-rump!”
Weyoun and Jelo marched through the corridors of the Dominion battlecruiser with a renewed sense of urgency. A sound, like a vacuum cleaner being turned off, echoed around them.
“Do you hear that?” Weyoun asked. “That was our shield grid collapsing. We’ll be boarded soon.”
“And by the time we are, we will be out of danger,” Jelo said easily as they approached the brig.
“Now to deal with Lieutenant Commander Tilleran,” Fat Weyoun said eagerly.
Phaser rifle in hand, Lt. Commander J’hana marched through the corridors of Jelo’s battlecruiser, blasting each passing Jem’Hadar as if he were nothing but an annoying insect.
She shoved aside broken beams and hurtled smashed bulkheads as she worked her way toward the last place she’d seen Tilleran’s bioreadings on her tricorder before the thing mysteriously conked out.
“Baxter to J’hana. The battlecruiser you’re on just launched an escape craft. Odo’s ship is chasing after it. You’re too late. Beam back here.”
“She is still here. I know it.”
“Our sensors can’t be sure if she’s on that ship, or if she’s aboard the escape craft. But that ship you’re on will blow very shortly, so…”
“If I don’t find Commander Tilleran, then I will perish here.”
“Protest all you like, but I’m going to transport you aboard as soon as we get into transporter range…”
“And I will kill you in return,” J’hana growled, ripping off her combadge and tossing it to the deck as she pried open a hatch that lead to an adjoining section.
And slammed right into Lt. Commander Tilleran.
“Imzadi!” J’hana cried, dropping her rifle and falling to her knees, wrapping her arms around Tilleran’s waist. Bu she didn’t feel that …connection…she usually felt when in Tilleran’s presence. What she had feared most had become true. Tilleran was successful in breaking the Imzadi bond.
“It’s me, J’hana,” Tilleran said, patting J’hana’s shoulders, then pulling her back up to her feet. “I’m okay. I was able to get away from Jelo and his fat Vorta friend.”
“I am gratified,” J’hana said softly.
“I’d be even more gratified if we could get off this ship before it explodes.”
“You are, of course, right, Ariel.” J’hana frowned. “I just have to run back and try to find my combadge.”
Shortly thereafter, Jelo’s former battlecruiser blew up.
Stardate 55362.2. Well. Odo was not successful in stopping Jelo’s escape ship. Even though Odo’s ships were able to inflict a sizeable amount of damage on Jelo’s rebel forces, those mysterious changelings we found on Orubla Four are still in Jelo’s hands, wherever he might be. No telling what kind of misinformation he’s feeding them. Not that it’s our problem. We got Tilleran and J’hana back, and as far as me and my crew are concerned, all is right with the world.
As much as can be expected, anyway.
“J’hana, you’ve been a good officer for me for four and a half years,” Baxter said, pacing his readyroom as J’hana sat on the couch, looking placid.
“Think nothing of it,” J’hana said.
“Not for the first time, though, you disregarded repeated direct orders and went off on a vendetta without permission.”
She grinned. “I am unpredictable that way.”
“Unpredictable, and a pain in my ass,” Baxter said. He sat down beside J’hana. “I’m glad you got Tilleran back, J’hana. I really am. But I can’t go on letting officers challenge my authority this way. Not with Vansen looking over my shoulder all the time, just looking for an excuse to have me stripped of command.”
“I’m going to have to demote you back to Lieutenant. At least until you prove you can obey orders and follow the chain of command.” Baxter leaned over and yanked one of the pips off J’hana’s collar. “I’m sorry, J’hana.”
“Think nothing of it. Rank really doesn’t matter to me.”
Baxter blinked. “My, you’re taking this well.”
“If you’ll excuse me, Captain.” J’hana stood. “I have a date with Captain Dwanok.”
“What about Tilleran?”
J’hana stared out the window behind Baxter’s desk. “I discovered once I rescued her that we no longer share an Imzadi bond. She has made her feelings quite clear, and I have decided to accept that.”
“How mature of you, Lieutenant.”
“You would not say that if you knew what I was planning to do to Captain Dwanok.”
Baxter gulped, then returned behind his desk and sat down. “Well, tell him I said hello.”
“I will try to remember,” J’hana said, and ducked out of Baxter’s readyroom.
“I had lots of fun. I really liked all the shaking and explosions. Can we do that again?” Plato asked as Doctor Browning and Short Weyoun walked him back to the Kindergarten classroom.
“I’m afraid not,” Browning said, squeezing his hand. “We may not take that particular ride again for some time.”
“One can only hope,” Weyoun said gravely. He looked at Browning. “I should contact Dominion Headquarters. There is much confusion about what to do with Jelo and his rebels now that he has other Founders captive.”
“They may not be captive. They may want to join him.”
“Let us hope not,” Weyoun said, and hurried off in the other direction down the corridor.
Browning ruffled Plato’s hair as she lead him into the Kindergarten classroom. “Here you go, buddy. You have a great day.”
“Love you, mommy.”
Browning knelt and kissed Plato. “I love you too, Plato.”
She shuffled him into the classroom, then stood, watching him through the transparent aluminum window as he hurried in to play with the other Explorer children. He still seemed to be having fun with them, even though lately he was looking and acting more like a 12-year-old.
As Browning headed back to her restaurant, she bumped into J’hana and the burly Klingon Captain Dwanok.
“Dwanok!” Browning said with a smile. “Qu’apla! It’s good to see you again.”
Dwanok shook Browning’s hand vigorously. “And you as well, preparer of many fine meals! I have missed you and others aboard this ship.”
“What brings you to the Gamma Quadrant?”
Dwanok looked at J’hana hungrily. “Fate, lust, and assorted political obligations of the Klingon Empire. Besides, I am such a throwback to the old days of Kronos, I think Chancellor Martok would just as soon not have to deal with me. I suppose my ship is a ship of rejects, forced to take another, less beaten path.”
“I know exactly how you feel,” Browning said with a nod.
“As much as I would like to stay and watch you two chat, my loins are aching,” J’hana said bluntly. “My quarters await, large one.”
“And I am prepared to trash them,” Dwanok said eagerly as J’hana led him away, yanking off her uniform top in the process.
“What a cute couple,” Browning said, then headed off to her restaurant.
It had been a long day for Ariel Tilleran. The Betazoid science officer considered this as she punched the control that opened the door to her quarters.
It seemed like J’hana wanted nothing more to do with her, at least not romantically. According to onbard gossip, J’hana was at present having intimate relations with one Captain Dwanok, the Klingon captain assigned to the Gamma Quadrant. That suited Tilleran just fine. The last thing she needed was J’hana sniffing around all the time. It was simply better this way.
She stepped into the bathroom and stared at herself in the mirror. Yes, it had been a long day, and now it was time to unwind.
Her face swelled to a vaguely monkey-like shape, just before her whole body rippled, turned orange, and melted into a bucket on the floor.
It had been a long day, but Jelo was starting to feel better already.
The interpersonal situation on the Explorer is nearing the boiling point, as the crew is assigned to diplomatic duty on a Dominion member-world. Will they be able to put their differences aside, or will their petty arguements scuttle the mission? You know the Explorer crew. You tell me.