Author: Anthony Butler
“Cupcakes. Yes, pink ones. All in a row,” Janice Browning mumbled, drooling on her pillow, as a small hand shook her shoulder.
“Ooooh! Ice cream too!”
“Yum. Keep it coming.”
“Don’t worry. She does this all the time. I know what to do.”
Browning’s young 12-ish-looking son Plato reached over to her end table and grabbed a small piece of chocolate candy from a glass dish and waved it under his mother’s nose.
Browning shot up in bed. “What’s going on?” She blinked, fully awake, and looked toward the doorway of her bedroom. “Oh.”
“See?” Plato said. “Just like smelling salts!”
Captain Andy Baxter stood there in red Starfleet-emblem boxers and a black robe, frowning, with a bloated and tired-looking, nightgowned Counselor Peterman leaning against him.
“Is there a doctor in the house?” Baxter asked weakly.
“Not again,” Browning sighed.
“We don’t like this any more than you do,” Peterman moaned.
“It better be for real this time,” Browning said, sighing and pulling on a robe over her Days of Honor nightgown and tying it tight. Not for the first time in the past few weeks, she wondered why she’d agreed to deliver the Baxter-Peterman baby.
Obviously, it was because Andy and Kelly were her closest friends on the ship. Maybe her closest friends period. Sure, it sounded like a nice gig at the time. Little did she know there would be such…complications.
“I still blame it on that time you were flooded with radiation,” Peterman mumbled as the trio clambered down the corridor toward Sickbay. Browning had somehow managed to get Plato back to bed. Now all she had to do was deliver a baby.
“Honey, really, you’re going to have to be more specific,” Baxter said. “I’ve been flooded with radiation a bunch of times.”
“Or it could be the time the Dawg infiltrated your body and turned you into a catlike person,” Browning said to Peterman. “Mother Nature is a mad scientist. A lot has to happen just right for a baby to be born, so of course there are bumps along the way.”
“But I should have had this baby three weeks ago!” Peterman moaned as she stumbled with the others into a turbolift.
“Does anyone have any clue how early it is right now?” Dr. Holly Wilcox asked, dragging her husband/dependant Dean Wilcox behind her as Browning sat patiently staring under the blanket that covered Peterman’s legs, as the Counselor sat sprawled and inert on the biobed..
“I told you I didn’t need an assist,” Browning yawned, drinking from a mug of hot chocolate. “I could do this in my sleep. As a matter of fact, I may end up doing just that.”
“Well, it is sort of a special day,” Holly said. “I’d like to at least be around for it.”
“I’m sure if Kelly were awake that would mean a lot to her,” Baxter mumbled, leaning his head on Peterman’s upraised knee. He glanced at Browning. “Well, Janice? Did she stick her head out and see her shadow and then disappear again? Six more weeks of winter? What?”
Browning looked at Baxter. “These things take time, Andy.”
“Too much damn time if you ask me,” Baxter said. “I want my kid already.”
“We already proposed the, um…” Browning said, lowering her voice. “Procedure.”
“My wife doesn’t want to be cut open,” Baxter said. “If she can have this baby naturally, she’s going to want to do that. She grew up on a wildlife refuge, for goodness sake. Do you know they still have midwives out there? The twenty-fourth century, and they still have midwives!”
“What’s a midwife?” asked Dr. Wilcox.
“Half a wife, half a wife,” Dean Wilcox chanted, and slammed his head into a wall. “Half a wife is better than none at all!”
“Well I’ve got twice a wife,” Baxter said, folding his arms. “Do you know I can barely fit on our bed now?”
“You really need to stop complaining,” Browning said. “You’re going to have a beautiful, healthy baby, that will be about seven years old by the time it finally pops out.”
After a few moments of silence, Baxter finally spoke up again. “So… what about that baby?”
After looking at Peterman’s readings a while, Browning stared at Baxter. “Stand down from Red Alert. Resume normal course and speed.” She got up and headed out of Sickbay.
“Well,” Holly said. “I guess since I’m up already, I might as well have breakfast. Hey, Janice…since you’re up, are you going to open your restaurant early?”
Browning didn’t reply, just shuffled off.
Stardate 55754.5. We’re headed toward the Ralletsa system so Weyoun can do some…umm…diplomatic stuff with the Ralletsans, or the Retsins, or whatever. Reticent. Is that a word?
Sorry, computer. I’m really tired. In the last two weeks my wife has had four false labors. If that’s not bad enough, she has adamantly refused to stop working. I finally drew the line yesterday when she went into false labor right in the middle of her discussion with Ensign Maybush about his fear of commitment. Unsurprisingly, he broke up with his girlfriend immediately following that appointment, and I asked Commander Vansen to put my wife on maternity leave. In doing so, not only have I angered my wife, but I have made the mistake of thoroughly pleasing Vansen.
I keep thinking to myself that all I have to do is hold on until my little baby girl is here, then everything will be okay. That’s a reasonable assumption. Right, computer? Right??
“She really does get the last laugh,” Lt. Commander Nell Vansen said, looking around Peterman’s vacant office with Commander Christopher Richards.
“What do you mean?” Richards asked.
“She’s forever asking to have a staff,” Vansen muttered. “Now it’s blatantly obvious she should have one. At least an assistant counselor to fill in temporarily while she’s on maternity leave. She could be gone for quite a while, if she decides to take the amount of leave owed her according to Starfleet policy.”
“Ah, yes. Starfleet policy,” Richards said, rocking back and forth on his heels. “And how much leave does she get again?”
Vansen rolled her eyes. “Could you at least PRETEND to know what the hell you’re doing?”
“That shouldn’t be a problem. I pretend to like you. Anything is possible.”
“Six months. We might as well have Sefelt committed now.”
Vansen wrinkled her nose at the smell of wet dog that permeated the office as she stepped toward the door. “At any rate, I am going to comb the personnel database. There are well more than eight hundred people on this ship. One of them has to have some sort of counseling background. A seminar. An extension course. Something.”
“Captain, meet our new Assistant Ship’s Counselor,” Vansen said proudly, gesturing to the man standing next to her on the Explorer’s bridge. “Doctor Jarvay Ranowat.”
“Ranowat!” Baxter said, then lowered his voice, realizing he’d alarmed the doctor. “Of course, Ranowat.” Baxter knew of the nightshift Sickbay internist who had a bad case of bipolar disorder. Ranowat was known to nurture one minute and yell the next. And this was who Vansen found to coddle his fragile crew?
Well, anything in a pinch. Baxter just didn’t want to anger the guy.
He extended an uneasy hand. “Um, welcome aboard, Doctor Ranowat.”
“I’m pleased to help out wherever I can,” Ranowat said with a grin, pumping Baxter’s hand vigorously. “And I may not have said this before, but I just want you to know how much I respect you, and how I look forward to the birth of your beautiful, sweet, darling little…”
“Well, then, we need to get back to work,” Baxter said, clapping his hands together. “I’m sure you’ll find a busy docket down in your office, Doctor. Thanks for pitching in.”
Ranowat grimaced at Baxter and marched into the turbolift. “Dismiss me, will he, that ignorant son of a bitch,” he mumbled as the doors closed.
Vansen and Baxter sat down in their respective seats in the command area.
“What was that?” Vansen asked.
“What was what?” replied Baxter.
“That look on your face. That ‘Vansen really screwed up this time’ look.”
“I had no look.” Baxter looked over at Richards as he sat down in the chair on his right. “Did you see a look?”
“Nope. But I wasn’t looking.”
“I do the best job I can of filling positions on this ship,” Vansen said, running a hand through her long, dark hair. “Considering the lousy pool of applicants I have to work with, I think I do a good job.”
“You’re here, aren’t you?” Baxter said simply, and got up, marching into his readyroom.
“Always have to have the last word, don’t you, Captain?” Vansen asked, folding her arms.
“Yes,” Baxter said, quickly shutting the door to his readyroom.
The next morning, Jarvay Ranowat looked over the reports on his desktop viewer, and then back up at his patient. “You are Lieutenant Commander Tilleran, is that right?”
The Betazoid lying on the fainting couch across from the desk nodded. “Yep.”
“And you’re the Chief Science Officer. Is that correct?”
“You were recently abducted by a shapeshifter?”
“Not recently, really. I was abducted three months ago. I recently escaped.”
“Yes. A harrowing story indeed.” Ranowat observed his desktop viewer. “I think I’ve seen you around the ship before…I mean other than the times it was the changeling. I think I bumped into you in the ship’s deli a few times. Yes, I remember you always ordered the blachus loaf.”
“Yes, I think I remember you too,” Tilleran said, leaning up. “Didn’t you punch your fist through the display case once because they didn’t have any salt-cured ham?”
Ranowat fumbled nervously with his fingers. “You must have me mistaken for someone else. Now, then, let’s talk about you. What seems to be the problem?”
“There’s the little matter of the three-month abduction…”
“Right. Well, let’s discuss that in a little more detail. Feel free to tell me anything. I’m here to listen. I want you to be comfortable here. This is a refuge for you, a place you can…”
“Just relax?” Tilleran finished his sentence.
“DON’T INTERRUPT ME!”
“So he told me to restrict my duty to just a couple hours a day,” Tilleran said as she picked through her plate of bean sprouts and broccoli in Space Tastes.
“You do not sound pleased with that prognosis,” J’hana observed. She’d already inhaled her fharbus liver, choosing now to simply watch Tilleran eat.
“I’m not pleased with the way he treated me. It was an emotional rollercoaster. One minute he was soothing and gentle, the next he got in my face and yelled at me, making me feel about two inches tall.” Tilleran rubbed her temples. “It’s given me quite the headache. I wish he’d pick an emotional tack and go with it.”
“I dated him while you were gone,” J’hana blurted out.
“I found the emotional rollercoaster…satisfying.”
“How much of that rollercoaster did you ride?” Tilleran asked, raising an eyebrow.
J’hana smiled. “I assure you, I never got to the loop-de-loop.”
“I guess that’s a good thing,” Tilleran said, raising her fork to her mouth. She stopped short, staring at it. “Is that what I think it is?”
“It looks like part of a Kelvarkian waffle.”
Tilleran frowned. “That’s not usually part of the Vegan Luncheon Special, is it?”
“Indeed not,” J’hana said. “It appears Doctor Browning has made a mistake.”
“Janice!” Tilleran called into the kitchen.
Browning slumped out, hitching her apron strap up onto her shoulder. “WHAT?”
“I have a piece of waffle on my plate.”
“Oh.” Browning shuffled over and grabbed the plate. “Guess I forgot to clean it off before I put more food on it.”
“Lovely,” Tilleran muttered.
“Counselor Peterman’s false labors are keeping you up nights,” J’hana observed.
“You are correct,” Browning said slowly, taking Tilleran’s plate and turning back for the kitchen. “Be riiiiight back.”
J’hana and Tilleran watched as Browning disappeared into the kitchen. Shortly thereafter, they heard a smash of a plate hitting the floor, the thud of a body hitting the floor, and snoring.
“Dessert at Mirk’s?” J’hana suggested.
Tilleran nodded. “It’s great to be back.”
Captain Baxter yawned and leaned over toward Richards as Ambassador Weyoun droned on at the front of the conference room, about the Explorer’s forthcoming mission. “Is this the same briefing as yesterday?”
“No,” Richards said. “The planet we’re going to today is called Ralletsa. The planet we dealt with yesterday was called Ratella. Two totally different planets. The Ratellans were an agrarian-based society. The Ralletsans are more neo-industrial.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Baxter said.
“Peterman to Baxter.”
Baxter shot up ramrod straight in his chair. “Go ahead, honey!”
Weyoun stopped speaking. All eyes turned to Baxter.
“Do you want me to reupholster your couch in purple or blue?”
“Re…reupholster?” Baxter stammered. “But…but it’s Tellarite fur! Where did you get…oh no.”
“Ensign Koltz was kind enough to let me shave him. I convinced him he looked better with a buzz.”
“Oh, poor Ensign Koltz,” muttered Richards.
“Now tell me before I make pillows out of your first officer’s hair!” Peterman shrieked. “Purple or blue?”
“Blue. BLUE!” Baxter repeated.
“Purple it is. See you tonight, honey.”
Baxter stared up at the ceiling. “This baby has to come soon. It just has to!”
“May we continue our debriefing?” Weyoun asked politely.
“What? Oh. Yeah. Sure. Ratskellars. What about them?”
“I do not like being the new guy,” Chaka’kan said flatly, sitting up ramrod straight on the fainting couch as Dr. Jarvay Ranowat looked at him over interlaced fingers.
“Tell me why,” said the doctor.
“Is it not obvious? I have few friends. The only person I spend much time with is Ambassador Weyoun. And he is boring.”
Ranowat nodded. “Boring. Yes, I can understand why that bothers you. That’s a real problem. Let’s explore it.”
Chaka’kan looked grateful. “Um…okay.” He reached over to grab his glass of water, and in doing so accidentally knocked it on the floor. “Whoops.” He bent down to pick up the glass.
Ranowat actually climbed over his desk, looming over Chaka like a great monster. “YOU IMBECILE! I JUST SHAMPOOED THIS F***ING RUG!”
“Get away from me!” cried Chaka’kan, squeezing his eyes shut. His body rippled and then vanished. The doors to the counselor’s office inexplicably opened and shut, and Ranowat was alone.
He brushed his hands together with great satisfaction. “Well. Another satisfied customer!”
“What do you mean you didn’t realize you’d agreed to go on the away team tomorrow,” Vansen snapped, as she, Baxter, and Richards walked down the corridor toward their respective quarters.
“What do you think I mean?” Baxter asked wearily. “I must have nodded at Weyoun or something. I was half-asleep. I really wasn’t paying any attention.”
“Well, it suits me fine,” Vansen said. “I have paperwork to catch up on.”
Richards nodded. “Yes, and I have a tennis match with Lieutenant Madera.”
“So I couldn’t coax either of you into taking my place down on the planet so I can be with my all-too-pregnant wife?” Baxter pleaded.
“Sorry,” said Richards
“Not a chance,” said Vansen.
“Even though I’m the captain?”
Richards and Vansen both nodded.
“Great.” At last, Baxter arrived at the door to his quarters. He faced it with a sigh. “Just great.”
“Sleep well!” Vansen called over her shoulder as she and Richards walked off.
Baxter keyed the door open and was immediately his with a blast of foul-smelling air.
“WHAT IS THAT SMELL?” he asked, stumbling into his dim cabin and tripping over something big, blue, bright, oval, and plastic in the middle of the floor.
“Mind the exersaucer,” Peterman said. She was lying in the couch, covered, entirely, it seemed, with wet towels. “Yeoman Biggs brought it over. Isn’t he sweet? Sweet…hm…”
“What on earth are you doing?” Baxter asked, rubbing his shin.
“This is a concoction Mirk turned me on to. It’s made from rotten fruit and Ferengi beetle dung. It’s supposed to open the pores and encourage the baby to come out.”
Baxter sat down at the edge of the couch. “So now you’re resorting to spiritual remedies?”
Peterman lifted a smelly towel off her face. “And don’t think it didn’t come at a price. I’m Lobstraxitarian again.”
“Well get Mirk to attaint you, or un-Lobstraxitarian you, or whatever. My baby is going to be born agnostic like a good baby should.”
“Oh, shut up.”
“I guess you won’t be setting up camp in the bed tonight, then?” Baxter asked, stripping off his uniform top and walking into the bedroom.
“Great. I could use a good night’s sleep.”
Baxter awoke to feel an immense weight lying on his back.
“I want to have sex.”
He turned his head to find a very smelly Counselor Peterman lying on him, spread-eagle.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Baxter said, pinching his nose shut.
“No. I woke up horny. Let’s get it on, BAYBAY!”
“Honey…go back to sleep. You’re too pregnant for sex.”
Suddenly, a pillow slammed into Baxter’s head. “You think that was a request? ENSIGN, that was an ORDER!”
Baxter sighed and turned over onto his back. “Fine. Have your way with me. Can I sleep while we do this?”
“Doesn’t matter to me! I’m the captain now, baby! You like that? You like it? Huh? Huh? TAKE IT, TAKE IT! Call me Captain, bitch! That’s right, that’s right! CALL ME CAPTAIN!”
When Baxter woke up, he was very tired for some reason. He also felt like he was badly in need of a shower, so he took one.
He quickened his morning routine when he saw the chronometer on his bathroom wall. The Ralletsan landing party would be leaving soon.
He slapped on some Eau D’Tang Klingon cologne and slipped into his dress uniform. Damn thing seemed to get tighter and tighter every year. He’d have to check with Yeoman Biggs about that. Must be faulty shrinking fabric or something.
Baxter ordered up a bagel with cream cheese and glass of grapefruit juice in a travel mug as he stepped out into the living room and picked the items up out of the replicator.
He tiptoed over to the couch to find Peterman curled up and asleep, looking oddly peaceful.
“Sleep tight, baby. Daddy will be back as soon as he can!” Baxter whispered, and kissed Peterman’s forehead. He licked his lips. “Hmm. Tastes like poop. Oh well.” And with that, he headed off to join his away team.
When Andy Baxter joined Starfleet, he expected everything that most cadets expected. To see space, to see “brave new worlds” and “the final frontier,” and all those other things described in the literature.
Now that he was somewhat more seasoned as a Starfleet officer, Baxter realized some inarguable truths about life in space. On all civilized planets, no matter where one ventured in the cosmos, a conference room was still a conference room.
It was this that Baxter was considering as Weyoun shook hands with the burly, brown, furry Ralletsans, and, Baxter was sure, promised them all sorts of things about life with the Dominion.
The walls were an uninteresting teal color. The chairs, while comfortable, didn’t turn left to right, and that annoyed Baxter. And there was nothing to snack on out on the table. That was just downright rude. Sure, they didn’t have to have a fancy buffet, but at the very least they could have put out some peanuts or mints or something.
What did the word “civilized” mean, anyway?
“…that right, Captain?” Weyoun asked, looking to Baxter.
Baxter stirred. “Hmm. Oh. What?”
“I said, the Federation and Dominion are committed to avoiding a repeat of the ugly conflict between our two peoples.”
Baxter nodded vigorously. “You’ve got that right.”
“As a matter of fact,” Weyoun said, turning to look at one of the larger, fatter Ralletsans (Baxter guessed that was the leader), “as you will see from our dossier, Kralg Kruee, the Dominion has come a long way in terms of, of….um…uch…excuse me…”
The little Vorta had turned a disturbing color of purple. And, in one fell swoop, his head slammed down on the table.
Baxter looked around at the panicked Ralletsans at the conference table, swallowing nervously. “Don’t worry, folks. This happens all the time.” He patted Weyoun on the back. “Ambassador. Ambassador?”
“He’s F***ing DEAD?”
“That’s right, Andy.” Doctor Holly Wilcox slapped the medical tricorder closed and pulled a sheet up over Ambassador Weyoun as the grumbling Ralletsans who’d beamed up to Sickbay with Baxter looked on. “Food poisoning.”
“WHAT DO YOU–” Baxter began shouting, then lowered his voice, leaning in closer to Holly. “What do you mean, dead? How can he be dead from food poisoning?”
“Apparently, he ate something that didn’t agree with him.”
Baxter gritted his teeth. “Janice Browning.”
“She’s being brought in for questioning now,” Holly said.
Baxter slapped his combadge. “Baxter to bridge.”
“Vansen. Go ahead.”
“Commander, call the Dominion and order us a new Vorta. STAT.”
“Our Weyoun kinda died.”
“Oh, they’re going to love this.”
“Just do it!” Baxter said, quickly gathering his composure and looking to the Ralletsans. “Don’t mind us. Just some of the usual old ship’s business. Maybe you will all be comfortable in the meeting room across the hall.”
Holly tapped Baxter’s arm. “That room is being used for the Aronitz bar mitzvah.”
“Well, then, have security find them someplace else to wait while we sort this whole thing out,” Baxter said in low tones, through clenched teeth.
“That will not be necessary,” Kralg Kruee, the Ralletsan leader said. “We shall return to our planet and proceed with our plans.”
“Invasion of the Dominion,” he said simply, and turned, gesturing for his associates to follow him.
“Have a safe trip,” Holly said weakly.
“I guess you learned your lesson about not paying attention during briefings,” Vansen said smugly, standing at the front of the conference room.
“You’ve got that right,” Baxter muttered, sitting low in his chair.
After the initial confusion caused by Weyoun’s death and the apparent declaration of war by the Ralletsans, Vansen and Richards had gathered through Dominion intelligence data (and what they’d remembered from the briefing, where, apparently, they’d actually been listening) that the Ralletsans were preparing to go to war with the Dominion. Ambassador Weyoun’s mission, and that of the Explorer, had been to come to a settlement wherein goods and services were traded instead of plundered. Now, however, with Weyoun…indisposed…the Starfleet crew was forced to find a new way to prevent the Ralletsans from going to war. They had agreed to a meeting with Captain Baxter, and Captain Baxter only, to discuss terms of surrender, and had already surrounded the Explorer with their ships.
Apparently, the only person they felt was empowered to negotiate with them was Weyoun, and now that he was gone, their patience seemed to be at an end.
“Okay, people, Kralg Kruee is going to be here in two hours. What are we going to tell him?” Vansen asked, looking out over the crowd in the conference room.
“Good question,” Richards said. “How about we ask him not to invade the Dominion.”
“Somehow I think it will be harder than that,” Baxter said. “They seemed convinced that Weyoun was the only person that could talk them out of going into Dominion space with guns blazing.”
“Maybe the Dominion can authorize you to talk on their behalf,” Tilleran suggested.
Baxter nodded. “I just got off subspace with the Vorta Field Supervisor for this sector and he said as much. You’re now looking at an Honorary Dominion Ambassador.”
“Your parents will be so proud,” J’hana scoffed.
Baxter looked at J’hana. “I’m glad you find this amusing. Mind telling us how exactly we managed to lose a man to food poisoning today?”
“In a word, ‘Janice,’” J’hana said simply.
“It was bound to happen sooner or later,” said Tilleran.
“Now that’s not fair,” Richards said.
“Actually, it sounds perfectly reasonable. She dumped scalding coffee on me,” Vansen mumbled.
“She was provoked,” Baxter said. “But what actually killed Weyoun?”
“According to forensic evidence, milk,” J’hana said.
“You mean he was…” Baxter began.
“Lactose intolerant, yes, severely so,” said Tilleran. “Which is odd, since most Vorta are genetically engineered to be immune to most poisons.”
“All poisons but for the most deadly of them all,” J’hana said, then broke out into guffaws. “MILK!”
“I believe it was chocolate milk,” Tilleran corrected, and J’hana only laughed harder.
“I’m glad you’re all enjoying this,” Baxter said. “The Dominion could be going to war because of this.”
“That is okay,” J’hana said, wiping a tear from her eye. “We will simply fight back with ice cream.”
“No…” Tilleran chortled. “CHEESE! Gobs of camembert!”
“And brie!” J’hana said with glee.
Baxter stood up and walked out of the room. “Grow up, people.”
“I feel awful,” Browning said, as she and Baxter walked down to Baxter’s quarters. “I mean, I feel partially responsible.”
“Of course you’re responsible. You gave him the milk!”
“How was I supposed to know it would kill him! Plato was eating frosted crispies with chocolate milk for breakfast. Weyoun was interested in the sound they made when you put them in milk. I let him have some.”
“We barely knew him,” Baxter sighed.
“What a tragedy,” Browning acknowledged, as Baxter keyed open the door to his cabin.
“Honey?” Baxter asked, ducking in. Peterman wasn’t anywhere in the living room. He walked back to the bedroom and sighed. “Janice. You’d better come back here.”
“Is she in labor?” Browning asked excitedly, jogging down the little hall to Baxter’s bedroom.
“No. But she’s asleep, and it looks like she’s polished off your entire case of Deltan Sausage Snacks.”
“War. What is it good for?” Baxter asked, staring out the conference room window, as Kralg Kruee and two of his lieutenants sat at the table behind him. He turned around, to meet their confused gazes. “Absolutely nothin’. One of my people’s greatest poets said that. And I think it rings true, even today.”
He sat down opposite the three Ralletsans. “The Dominion has made me an Honorary Ambassador so that I may negotiate with you and your people to find a peaceful solution to this impending conflict. Nobody wants a war here. What we want is the beginning of a beautiful tradition of cooperation and respect.”
“Honorary Ambassador, you say,” said Kralg Kruee. “Highly irregular. However, if you insist…I suppose we can hear your claim.”
“I have all the time in the world,” Baxter said. He slid a padd across the table at Kruee. “Here are the terms the Dominion has authorized me to negotiate with you. I think you’ll see they’re quite fair…”
Kralg looked over the padd. “Mm hmm. Interesting.”
Baxter cracked his knuckles. “Well, then. Let’s sign some documents!”
“Just a FEW problems…”
TWO HOURS LATER
Baxter slammed his head against the table. “You call it a SPACE BASE, we call it a STARBASE, they call it an OUTPOST. WHO CARES?”
“I just see it as a cause for confusion. Why don’t we just call them all space bases?”
“Does it really matter that much in the big picture?” Baxter asked tiredly.
“And what’s this about Jem’Hadar who aren’t violent? No, no. If I’m going to have a Jem’Hadar garrison protecting one of my colonies, I’ll want Jem’Hadar who are lethal murderers.”
“There are still plenty of that variety in stock, I’m sure,” Baxter said. “I’m sure we can work out the petty details. I just need to know if we have a deal in principle here so I can have our people work up the documents…”
Kralg looked at his lieutenants. “I don’t know. There are just so many questions.”
Just let them invade, a voice droned in Baxter’s head, as he heard the doors to the conference room wheeze open.
“This briefing is not opened to the public. If you’re looking for the pottery class, it’s on deck…” Baxter said, turning to face the door. His expression softened as soon as he saw it was Peterman.
“I was just coming up to see if you needed some plants in the conference room,” Peterman said. Without asking, she motioned for two ensigns to begin bringing in large, neon green, palm-like potted plants. “Here we go. Some nice Fromellian palms. Spruce the place up a bit. I t’s so drab in here. And how are you all doing today?”
The Ralletsans looked around at each other and shrugged.
“Your wife is massive,” Kralg said.
“Tell me about it,” Baxter muttered.
“Have you spoken to her about weight loss?”
Peterman marched over to Kralg, who was sizable in his own right. “Listen here, mister diplomat guy. I will have you know I am pregnant. Not just pregnant. VERY pregnant. This is ALL pregnancy weight. You should have seen me before Captain Conception over there–” she stabbed a finger in the direction of Baxter, “–inserted his genetic material in my body and caused me to balloon up and have all sorts of hormonal…”
Baxter by this point had risen to Peterman’s side, and was putting a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Honey, maybe you’d better go belowdecks. We don’t want you getting all worked up. Not in your condition.”
“Maybe it would help if I DID get worked up!” Peterman ranted. “Maybe then I would actually give birth instead of letting this thing fester inside me for another THREE WEEKS!”
“Your species’ method for producing offspring is barbaric and bizarre,” Kralg observed.
“Will you stay out of this?” Baxter demanded as he ushered Peterman toward the door. “Why don’t we have you see Doctor Ranowat, honey?”
“Like THAT will help!” Peterman cried.
“Um…” This from Kralg.
“WHAT?” Baxter cried, turning back to look at the Ralletsan.
“Your wife is leaking.”
“This species is disgusting,” one of Kralg’s lieutenants said to the other.
“Leak…” Peterman said, looking at Baxter.
“Leaking,” Baxter said, looking down. Indeed, a puddle had formed at his wife’s feet.
“Urk…” Peterman said, wincing.
Baxter immediately slapped his combadge. “Baxter to Sickbay! INCOMING!”
“I’ll get the biggest bassinet I can find!” Holly Wilcox replied.
Baxter was heading for the door when Kralg clamped a hand down on his shoulder and spun him around.
“Where are you going?”
“My wife is giving birth!”
He shook his head. “No. We must finish these negotiations.”
Peterman looked incredulous. “Mister…”
“Mister Kralg…” Her face had already broken out into a sweat. “I am about to have a little person come out of me…”
“Nevertheless, we have negotiations to conclude,” Kralg said. “They are almost over. I am certain we can be done in, oh, no more than twenty hours.”
“TWENTY HOURS?” Baxter demanded, as Peterman waited there.
“Indeed,” said Kralg. “If you leave this room, you may consider the Dominion and the Ralletsans at war. Our first order of business will be to destroy your ship.”
One of Kralg’s lieutenants whispered something in his ear.
“Ah, of course. Our first order of business will be to beam off your ship. Our second order of business will be to destroy it.”
A pregnant pause followed.
Baxter nodded, taking everything in. “Well, then. I see only one solution.”
“Pass the…what did you call those?” Kralg Kruee asked.
“Pistacios,” Captain Baxter replied.
“Dilation is at three centimeters and holding. Contractions are still one hour apart. Give me one of those pistachios.”
Janice Browning sat at the other end of the conference table from the Ralletsans, Peterman lying atop of it, her head cushioned by pillows, looking and feeling ludicrous, as Browning inspected her…insides…from under a blanket.
“Everything looks great to me,” Browning said, munching a pistacio.
“I disagree,” Krodor, Kralg Kruee’s first lieutenant said. “I think we are making a mistake by turning over the Starkor system to Dominion control.”
“There’s nothing in the Starkor system!” Baxter said, standing next to Peterman and holding her hand. “Breathe, one…two…nice and slow, honey. Furthermore, I think you’re just trying to blame the civil war on Planos Three on Dominion involvement just so you can get us to concede the Messano system to you!”
“More ice chips, please,” Peterman said, then squeezed Baxter’s hand so hard he winced and dropped to his knees.
“That would be another contraction,” Browning said, munching another pistacio. “Ain’t this fun?” she asked Peterman.
“GET THAT BABY OUT OF ME!” Peterman growled, as Baxter clambered back to his feet and pointed for Ensign Keefler, who stood by the door, to go get more ice chips out of the bridge replicator.
Baxter inspected his hand. “Honey, I heard my hand cracking that time.”
“Good,” Peterman harrumphed.
“Let’s get back to business, shall we,” said Kralg, looking over his padd. “Let’s talk about voting districts.”
“The Dominion and the Ralletsans are both autocracies!” Baxter sighed, as Peterman pounded her fist into his stomach. “OOF!”
“Must be sympathy pains,” Peterman said innocently as Ensign Keefler brought her the requested cup of ice chips.
“At least some of the screams are coming from Counselor Peterman,” J’hana said, sitting idly at tactical. Everyone on the bridge was trying to give the outward image that they were doing their jobs, but they were really trying to discern just what was going on in the conference room.
“How can you be sure?” Richards asked from the command chair.
“My quarters used to be next to hers.”
Vansen paced in front of the viewscreen. “This is ridiculous. The fate of the Dominion, and us, hangs in the balance while our fool of a captain is in there negotiating the peace…while his wife gives birth on the conference room table. Is there ANYONE besides me who finds this totally objectionable?”
“I do,” said Sefelt from ops. “I left my meatloaf sandwich in there.”
“You should probably just give up on that, Howie,” Madera said from the helm.
“Good news!” Browning said. “Your mucous plug just came out.”
Peterman ignored the thud of Baxter fainting to the carpet and nodded at Browning. “So how long now?”
“Oh, just a few more hours.”
“More good news! I just found a meatloaf sandwich!”
“Captain,” Kralg Kruee asked, leaning over the conference room table and peering down at Baxter.
The peaked captain climbed back up to his feet. “Maybe I should just stay on the floor. It sure would make things easier.”
“And WHY would we want anything to be easy on you?” Peterman spat, sweat streaming down her face. “You don’t have to shoot a watermelon out your–”
“HOO-HAA!” Plato cried, galloping onto the bridge, waving a cowboy hat in the wair.
“Look who’s trying to find his mommy,” said Gary Flemister, the school teacher the Explorer had brought on board to replace Tyra Shar after its first officer had thrown her into a gorge, or ravine, or whatever.
“His ‘mommy’ is delivering a baby,” Richards explained from the command chair.
“Really? Good for her!” Flemister knelt down in front of Plato. “Your mommy is helping out with the miracle of life! Let’s go watch!”
Vansen stepped in front of Flemister. “Let’s not.”
The shortish, balding, mid-40s man looked with furrowed brow up at Vansen. “Why are you trying to rain on our parade, Miss Pouty- pants?”
“I would like nothing better, Mister Vacant-pants, than to rain on your parade,” Vansen muttered, and took Plato by the hand. “Tell you what. We’ll look after the little bast…the little darling. Why don’t you go back down to your classroom and…fingerpaint something.”
“Fine. I’ll do JUST that! See you tomorrow, you special little guy!” Flemister said to Plato, jaunting back into the turbolift. “I’ll see ALL of you tomorrow. Big smiles all around, people! Great days are heading our way!”
“What a knobhead,” Richards muttered as the doors closed.
“What will we do with the child now?” J’hana asked.
“I’ll take him into the readyroom,” Richards said. “Want to destroy the captain’s collectibles, Plato?”
“That’s the spirit.”
“Look,” Baxter said, his voice shaky, as Peterman dug her teeth into his palm. “I am fully invested in wrapping this up. I will make any concession you want, just so that I can finish watching…this, um… miracle.”
“Janice…I want to PUSH!” Peterman cried.
“Not yet! Not–OW! Stop kicking my face!”
Kralg Kruee watched in abject disbelief. “You have a grossly barbaric species here, Captain.”
“I’m glad you like it,” Baxter said, mopping sweat off his brow. “Now what do I have to do to put you into a treaty with the Dominion today?”
“You know. I think we’re having second thoughts.” Kralg looked around at his lieutenants. “Yes. I think it’s safe to say we don’t want to have anything to do with you or the Dominion.”
“Not this again,” Baxter moaned as Peterman bit deeper into his flesh.
“You can expect to see our war fleet within the hour.”
“No!” Baxter protested. “I can’t let you do that! I’ll give you anything, whatever it takes…”
Suddenly Peterman spat Baxter’s hand out, something he was most grateful for. He rubbed the teeth marks gingerly. They just weren’t as fun when they weren’t part of sex.
“No! Don’t sign a thing!” she cried, wrenching her body around so she could see Kralg. “Let him go, Andy! We’re better off without these people!”
“What are you talking about?” Baxter asked, confused.
“I’ve listened very carefully the last few hours. It’s taken my mind off the tremendous pain I’m in.” She glared at Kralg. “You keep threatening to walk out on the Dominion so we will give you more concessions. Isn’t that right? Every single time you have a problem with some piddling detail, Andy goes and lumps on another huge concession. Well, no more!”
“I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about.”
“I think you’re on to something…” Baxter said, his eyes brightening.
“You’re damn right I’m on to something,” Peterman winced, pounding the conference table as she writhed on it and Browning held her knees down. “The Fourth Battalion of battleships you want to consign to us…it’s over five decades old! You said so yourself an hour ago when you were trying to negotiate a repair contract with Dominion outposts!”
“You little bastard!” Baxter shrieked at Kralg Kruee.
“And another thing,” Peterman wheezed, pushing herself up on her elbows. She waved a padd in Kralg’s face. “You said your empire comprises fourteen populated planets. Well, when I was biting down on this padd, I glanced at it, and I noticed that the Ralletsan system has fourteen planets in it. And they’re all populated, all right, but the total population is only like three billion. Not exactly empire-like numbers.”
Kralg backed up a bit. “Well, we have other colonies…”
“Other colonies, you mean like the ones you said you had to close down a year ago to make way for Dominion expansion?” Peterman looked at Baxter as she squeezed his hand, thumping against the table as she was wracked with another contraction.
Browning started running her tricorder. She looked at Baxter, giving him thumbs up.
“Well, we didn’t close all of them…” Kralg said uneasily.
“Andy,” Peterman choked out, staring earnestly at Baxter. “The Ralletsans are a tiny little empire with a big, whiny roar. They’re trying to manipulate the Dominion into a bad deal! Don’s sign a thing!”
Kralg looked at Baxter. “Captain, please, I implore you–”
“And you’re going to be imploring me a lot more, if you expect to get anything out of the Dominion, buddy,” Baxter said. He looked down at Peterman and patted her soaked head. “Good job, honey. Great job…”
“Thanks,” Peterman moaned, and passed out.
Stardate 55755.4. The Dominion treaty with Ralletsa has been put off indefinitely until a negotiation team can arrive and investigate just what, if any, benefit the Ralletsans actually can provide.
Meanwhile, we kicked Kralg and his cronies off my ship, and moved my good wife down to Sickbay, where she has regained consciousness and resumed raining blows upon my body.
“I’m seeing a head!” Browning cried from under the blanket as Peterman and Baxter breathed in unison.
“I’m seeing stars,” Baxter moaned from the foot of the biobed as Peterman slammed a foot into his forehead. “Can’t I get some painkiller?”
“Not if I don’t get any,” Peterman grunted, squeezing her eyes shut and pushing with all her might, digging her fingernails into Baxter’s arm.
“Keep pushing, Kelly,” Browning said. “She’s coming out perfectly, just like a little quantum torpedo.”
“HOOO HOOO HOOO….HAHH HAHH HAHH…” said Baxter.
“HOOO HOOO HOOO….HAHH HAHH HAHH…” echoed Peterman.
“HOOO HOOO HOOO….HAHH HAHH HAHH…” repeated Baxter.
“Here she comes!”
“HOOO HOOO HOOO….HAHH HAHH HAHH…”
“HOOO HOOO HOOO….HAHH HAHH HAHH…”
“Hold on to something!” Brown cried.
“Who are you talking to?” Baxter demanded.
“Both of you!”
“HOOO HOOO HOOO….HAHH HAHH HAHH…”
“Holy cow! She’s HUGE!”
“HOOO HOOO HOOO….HAHH HAHH HAHH…”
“WHO DO YOU THINK?”
Baxter’s face broke into a smile as Browning emerged from between Peterman’s legs, holding a little pink bundle in a big blue towel. Holly Wilcox was running a tricorder over it as Browning did a visual check. “Eyes, fingers, toes. Yep. She has them all.”
Peterman leaned up, laughing hysterically, grabbing Baxter in a bear hug as he fell to his knees next to her bed, tears streaming down his eyes.
“Who ordered the pig in a blanket?” Browning giggled, gently placing the bundle into Peterman’s arms.
Baxter wrapped his arms around Peterman and slid onto the bed beside her, looking over her shoulder at the squirming, cooing child. Browning, meanwhile, maneuvered her laser scalpel underneath the blanket.
“Don’t mind me, just tying up some loose ends,” Browning said with a chuckle, and shuffled off into the next room, Holly following.
“She’s here, Andy. She’s finally here,” Peterman cried, gently rocking the little bundle as Baxter looked on.
“She’s gorgeous. With tiny little hands…tiny little arms and legs…”
“Well, tiny when compared to us. But Janice was right. She is an awful big girl,” Peterman sighed, kissing the little infant’s forehead.
“Maybe she’ll be an athlete!” Baxter suggested.
ONE DAY LATER
“We are reminded, in this time of loss, that this death takes place in the shadow of new life. And we shall never forget Ambassador Weyoun, so long as we find ways to remember him, and whatnot,” Captain Andy Baxter said drunkenly, holding a glass of champagne over the blinking console in the Explorer’s primary torpedo bay. Baxter once again thanked his lucky stars for that Kirk speech. It came in handy on so many occasions. All a captain had to do was say something about “death and new life” or some such thing and people thought he was a master orator. Genius!
The senior staff gathered in their dress uniforms, surrounding the torpedo launchers, including Peterman, holding a cooing bundle in her arms (the two had been together nonstop for 24 hours).
“We did not know this Weyoun very well, but we did come to respect and admire him,” Baxter continued, “and hope that whatever gods he worships…”
Richards whispered something in Baxter’s ear. “Oh, right, the Founders. We hope the Founders receive him warmly in the afterlife, and send a passable replacement as soon as possible.” Baxter looked around. “Say your goodbyes, folks!”
There were mutterings among the gathered staff as Lt. Sefelt bent and folded over the lid on the quantum torpedo casing and sealed the short Weyoun in.
Chaka’Kan was even present, having been tracked down by ship’s security, cowering in a tree in the arboretum, some four hours earlier.
Also in attendance was Dr. Jarvay Ranowat, bawling uncontrollably against Holly Wilcox’s chest, as the bridge crew waited, looking rather bored.
Sefelt fumbled with his hailing whistle, then blew a sweet melody.
“All hands to attention,” Baxter said, wrapping an arm around Peterman.
Everyone, more or less, stood up straight.
Baxter pressed a control on the console before him. Moments later, there was a loud rumble just outside.
“Bridge to Baxter,” came the voice of Ensign Keefler. “You just blew up a small planetoid.”
“I think so.”
“Good.” He looked around. “Sorry about that. Wrong launcher.” Baxter looked down at the controls and punched another panel. “There we go.”
On a small screen, those gathered watched the blue orb sail out of the Explorer’s launcher, past the debris of the planetoid Baxter had blown up, and into the atmosphere of a nearby planet.
“Godspeed, little guy,” Baxter said quietly, then clapped his hands together. “Okay, then. Everyone stand easy. Party at Mirk’s!”
“Is this another baby shower?” J’hana said darkly.
“I believe so,” Tilleran said, as the group filed out of the torpedo room.
“Those require gifts.”
“We will need to stop by the mall on the way there.”
“Good idea. Think the gift can be from the both of us?”
“That all depends,” J’hana said, laughing uproariously.
“I’m glad you came back,” Jarvay Ranowat said, sitting down across from Chaka’kan at his desk, folding his hand on top of the desk and looking serenely at the Jem’Hadar. “We all need to stick together and work as a crew during a trying time such as this.”
The young Jem’Hadar nodded, wiping a tear from his scaly cheek. “That was a sad, sad ceremony, wasn’t it, Doctor?”
Ranowat shrugged. “Not especially.”
“I’m even sadder because I wasn’t invited to the baby shower.”
“Your species did murder millions of our people,” Ranowat said conversationally.
“Do not blame me,” Chaka’kan replied sharply. “I only wish to know how I can contribute to this crew.”
“That may not become apparent for some time.”
“My patience is infinite.”
“Well, mine’s not. Besides, I was invited to the party, and I’d still like to go grab a drink. How about you come with?”
Chaka’kan swallowed hard, allowing a small smile. “Do you mean it?”
“No, I was just joking. I’m not very fond of Jem’Hadar. You can let yourself out. Ta-ta!” And Ranowat skipped out of the office, leaving a smouldering nice Jem’Hadar staring at his feet.
“I could blow up this ship,” he mumbled to himself.
“I don’t think our baby should spend the first day of her life in a bar,” Peterman said, protectively holding the bundle in the blanket close to her as she sat in a booth with Baxter.
“Why not?” Baxter asked. “Mirk’s is a family kind of place!”
“Yeah. I can even perform a fruiting ceremony on the little impling if you like!” Mirk said as he walked by with a full tray of drinks.
“That WON’T be necessary!” Baxter said quickly, holding up his hands. “Kelly and I aren’t Lobstraxitarian, and neither is our daughter.”
Peterman nervously averted her eyes.
“Suit yourself,” Mirk said, sounding offput.
“What the hell is a ‘fruiting’ anyway,” Baxter muttered.
“So,” Richards said, sliding in with Madera across the booth from Baxter. “What are you naming her? Did you decide?”
“I thought about calling her ‘Weyoun,’” Baxter said. “You know, as a tribute type deal.”
“Then I explained to him that was ridiculous,” Peterman replied. “Weyoun is a boy’s name.”
“It’s a Vorta name. I’m sure they go both ways,” Baxter said. Somewhere, he heard J’hana chuckle.
“I want my baby to have a human name,” Peterman said.
“That’s not very forward-thinking of you,” Madera said.
“I didn’t ask you!” snapped Peterman.
“Don’t mind her,” Baxter said. “She’s still a little edgy since the big baby came out of her.”
“Speaking of, it looks like the doctor is in!” Peterman said, brightening as Janice Browning walked up with a tray laden with food.
She walked up, looking at the booth, finding that between Baxter, Peterman, Madera, and Richards, there was no room to sit. “Well, isn’t this just grand.”
“Umm…” said Richards.
“Pull up a chair,” Baxter said weakly.
“That’s okay. I’ll go sit with Tilleran and J’hana.”
“No, no!” Peterman said, moving to get up, but finding she was stuck between the table and the booth seat. Damn birthweight. “I want you with us. Andy…get out.”
“But…you’d have to get out for me to get out.”
“Slide UNDER the table.”
“Kelly…I’m the captain…wouldn’t that be a little, um, undignified?”
“Just do it.”
“No, Susan can move,” Richards said, pushing Madera down under the table, as Baxter did the same. They heard the THONK of two heads slamming together, then Baxter and Madera struggled out from under the table.
Peterman scooted down and patted the empty space next to her. “There you go, Janice. That wasn’t so hard.”
“You’re in command, Lieutenant,” Baxter said to Madera, scooching in next to Richards. “Go take over the bridge.”
“Great. Just great,” Madera muttered, fixing her hair and stomping off.
“That’s more like it,” Peterman said. “The family is back together again.”
“And growing,” said Baxter, patting the bundle in Peterman’s arms.
Browning glanced across the table at Richards. “Yeah. For better or for worse.”
Richards blinked. “So, Andy. You never said. What are you going to name the baby?”
“Ashley came to mind,” Baxter said, feeling Peterman’s glare on him. “But, once again, I was rebuffed. Apparently our daughter cannot be named after one of my previous…um, flings.”
“We named her Stephanie,” Peterman said quickly. “After my Aunt on Rigel Eight.”
“Stephanie,” Browning said. “What a beautiful name.”
“I think so.”
“Irene,” Baxter choked out, taking a long sip of his drink. “Her middle name is Irene.”
“What’s that?” asked Richards.
Baxter sighed. “A long story.”
“I hate to bring up a sore subject,” Browning said. “But did you decide what her last name would be?”
“Not yet,” Peterman admitted, looking at Baxter. “But don’t worry. We will.”
“All that and more.” Baxter smiled broadly, glancing down at little Stephanie. “All that and more.”
It’s all been building up to this. Captain Baxter takes the day off to take care of the new baby. Someone’s trashed Counselor Peterman’s office. Richards and Vansen are jockeying for authority. Rebel changelings are set to take over the Dominion. The Explorer’s targeted for destruction. And one lone chef has to rise above it all. Find out how it culinates…I mean culminates, in “Change of Plans, Part One”!