Author: Anthony Butler
Stardate 56488.5. The Explorer is headed out to the middle of nowhere in order to make contact with a race that may or may not be at the coordinates toward which we’re heading, for reasons our president, who’s essentially commandeered my ship, will not disclose to me.
Three weeks out, the Explorer seems to be traveling into more and more boring areas of space. I’m not even sure you can call this space anymore. It’s just…void.
We have, however, discovered a nebula out here, and we feel Starfleet would like us to look at it while we’re in the neighborhood, so we’re doing that.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to return to more of a feeling of normalcy, my wife and I are throwing a birthday party for our dog.
“Happy Birthday, Dear Charlie, Happy Birthday to you…” Counselor Peterman cooed, setting a large bowl of dog food in front of her golden retriever. “Now come on, baby, blow your candles out.”
Captain Baxter stood behind Peterman in his quarters, looking on with a mixture of confusion and interest. “Honey…we go through this every year. He can’t blow. He’s a dog.”
“Fine, then, I’ll help him.” Peterman leaned down in front of Charlie, on hands and knees, and blew the candles out. She picked them one by one out of the chunks of gooey meat that was Charlie’s favorite dish of late, Nutritional Supplement #49.
“Here’s a little known fact,” Baxter said, as Peterman sat down by him at the dinner table, watching Charlie eat with pride. “Did you know that in the twentieth century…or was it twenty-first? Anyway, a woman copyrighted the birthday song. She actually took credit for writing one of the oldest uncredited songs in Earth’s history. And because no one had copywritten it yet, she was free to do so. So every time someone sang that song, they had to give her money.”
“Even in a small family gathering?” Peterman asked, perplexed.
“I guess,” Baxter said. “Isn’t that messed up?”
“Yeah. So what happened to that woman?”
Baxter shrugged. “Apparently she died a very wealthy woman.” He chuckled. “But the funny part is, she died on her birthday.”
After a long silence, Baxter sighed and stared down at Charlie. “He really is enjoying that, isn’t he?”
“Yeah, he’s been liking number forty-nine. It’s supposed to be better for older dogs.”
“Older…” Baxter said. “Ridiculous. Charlie’s a puppy.”
“He’s twelve years old, Andy,” Peterman said. “Not exactly a spring chicken.”
“No, he’s a spring dog,” Baxter said, and knelt down, rubbing Charlie’s ears. “And he’s going to live another twelve years.”
Peterman sighed and stood up. “Well, it’s time for me to get to work. You’re sure you’re okay taking care of Steffie today?”
“Don’t worry about it. We’re just mapping a nebula. It’s boring work. I told Richards to call me if he needed anything.” Baxter walked Peterman to the door to their quarters and kissed her on the cheek. “You have a wonderful day, honey.”
Peterman turned and blew Charlie a kiss. “You don’t give Daddums any trouble, mister, you understand?”
Charlie looked up at Peterman and barked playfully.
“We’ll be fine,” Baxter said.
“Happy birthday baby!” Peterman called after Charlie as she walked out..
“You stay put,” Baxter said. “I have status reports to catch up on.”
Baxter walked over to his desk and sat at the terminal. “Sheesh. I didn’t get this much attention on my birthday.”
Charlie walked over to Baxter and put his head in the captain’s lap.
“What? You want me to give you a bubble bath or something? I gave you that latinum leash. Isn’t that enough?” Baxter looked down at Charlie. “Come to think of it, what the hell did you get me this year? Nothing!” He turned back to his terminal. “Why don’t you find Fritz and play with him or something?”
Charlie turned around and walked away, leaving Baxter grateful to be able to get some work done.
Less than an hour later, Baxter found himself stepping out of the turbolift onto the main bridge, where Commander Chris Richards was standing before the viewscreen, looking concerned.
“What was so important you had to stop me right in the middle of feeding time?” Baxter asked, with Steffie in one hand, and a bottle of formula in the other.
“We’re getting a strange radiation reading from inside the nebula.”
“Dangerous?” Baxter asked, looking to Tilleran.
The Betazoid shook her head. “There aren’t any negative impacts that I can detect. Matter of fact, the radiation is on a high enough wavelength that our sensors barely picked it up.”
“Some new type of radiation?” Baxter asked.
“Yeah,” Tilleran said. “It has qualities unlike anything we’ve seen yet. It’s worth a study.”
“Fascinating,” Baxter said. “Is that all you called me up here for?”
“And to see how your day was going,” Richards said.
“Just great,” Baxter said. “Keep studying. Let me know if you get any real news.” And with that he walked off the bridge.
“There goes his vote for Mister Congeniality,” Tilleran muttered, going back to her panel.
Baxter returned to his quarters, guarding himself against the inevitable onslaught of Charlie jumping on him. For the past five years, the golden retriever had launched himself at Baxter’s crotch every time he stepped into his quarters.
This time, however, he didn’t.
“Must be napping,” Baxter said, taking Steffie to the living room couch and sitting down. “Now to get you nice and fed and back in bed. Hey, that was almost a poem!” Baxter hummed a nondescript tune as he put the bottle in Steffie’s mouth. The tiny girl’s eyes lit up as she nursed the bottle.
Baxter looked around, his cabin oddly quiet.
Fritz, long since having outgrown his kitten qualities, was known to lounge around. Heck, Baxter barely even noticed him anymore.
The other animals were down in Peterman’s old quarters, which had years ago been converted into an animal farm. Well, when she first put the animals down there, the cabin still looked like her quarters, but over the years the animals sort of just…made it their home. Nesting in the couch, pooping on the bed, and whatnot. It wasn’t an entirely pleasant place to hang out.
Regardless, Peterman visited two or three times a day to feed them and walk them, and, Baxter mused, to have heart-to-heart talks with them.
Charlie and Fritz remained the only animals to live with he and Peterman. Until recently, Pandora, his little Jack Russell terrier, had stayed with them as well, but Baxter had given her to his parents months earlier over some…personality differences…between she and Charlie.
Once Steffie was done sucking on the bottle, Baxter stood up and took her back into her room, then went back to his desk to resume working on his status reports.
While he worked, his foot absently nudged something under the desk. He leaned down and grabbed it. Squishy, slobbery rubber. Charlie’s favorite ball.
“Must’ve camped out down here while I was on the bridge,” Baxter said, hurling the ball back into his bedroom. “Get it, boy!”
Baxter then resumed his work at the terminal, but only for a moment.
He looked back into the bedroom. No sign of commotion. No mad dash for the ball. Any minute now, Charlie should have raced out of the bedroom with ball in mouth, spitting it into Baxter’s lap.
But he didn’t.
Even in the deepest sleep, Charlie should have woken as soon as he heard the ball hitting the bedroom wall.
Baxter stood up and walked into his bedroom. “Hey, Charl…enough napping. It’s your birthday. You should be partying or soemth…”
The ball rested next to Charlie, who lay still on the floor, breathing, but with no sign of life in his eyes.
Baxter dropped to his knees next to Charlie, feeling his neck for a pulse. Could you feel a pulse in a dog’s neck? Baxter didn’t know. He felt his paw. Still warm. Rubbed his face. Still warm and drooly. He lifted Charlie’s head and looked into the dog’s blank eyes. “What’s the problem, boy?”
With what looked like a monolithic effort, Charlie licked his lips, and produced a tinny, drawn out whine. When Baxter released his head, it just flopped back down to the floor.
Baxter slapped his combadge. “Baxter to Sickbay. I have a medical emergency in my quarters.”
“Oh dear,” came Dr. Janice Browning’s concerned voice. “Is it Kelly? Or…the baby?”
“None of the above, Janice. It’s Charlie, and I’m bringing him in, damn it!” And Baxter unceremoniously picked Charlie up in his arms and swept him out of the cabin.
Peterman was out of her office before the doors had even fully opened.
“But, Counselor…what am I going to do about my fear of commitment?” Lieutenant Madera demanded, standing in the doorway.
“Read a book!” Peterman called back and rounded the corner, making a beeline for Sickbay.
She shoved people aside, couldn’t even feel her feet hitting the floor, and when she got into Sickbay, after what seemed like hours, she skidded to a halt.
No Browning, no Baxter, and most importantly, no Charlie.
“Counselor,” Nurse Christina Chadway said, coming up behind Peterman and touching her arm. “Your husband and Doctor Browning are in the OR.”
Chadway nodded. “I’ll show you the way.”
“I know the way,” Peterman said, pushing Chadway’s hand off and marching toward the OR.
She walked into the operating room, where Baxter and Browning stood over Charlie.
“As you can see by the bioreadings, he has…” Browning said, her cheeks red and puffy. She looked exhausted. She stopped talking when she saw Peterman.
“Why did you need to bring him to the OR?” Peterman interrupted.
“Kelly…” Baxter began.
Browning turned from Charlie and walked over to wrap an arm arund Peterman. “There’s no easy way to tell you this, Kelly. He’s suffering from an advanced degree of radiation poisoning.”
“Radiation?” Peterman asked. “But isn’t that why we have, I don’t know…shields… and a HULL?”
Baxter shrugged. “Tilleran had just told me we detected a new form of radiation in the nebula we were studying…”
“Get us out of here, then!” Peterman snapped.
“I’ve already done that,” Baxter said, walking around the medtable and putting his hands on Peterman’s shoulder. “We’re staying out of the nebula until we can figure out the connection between it and Charlie. It could be something that will endanger the rest of us, in time. If so, we need to know how to treat…”
“You’re talking like this is some run of the mill Starfleet problem!” Peterman cried, tears streaming down her face. “And none of that matters at the moment because Charlie is dying!”
“I never said that,” Browning said quickly.
Peterman stared at the recently reappointed doctor, her lip quivering. “You didn’t have to.”
Baxter and Browning exchanged glances.
“It doesn’t look good, honey,” Baxter said softly, wrapping his arms around Peterman. “If Charlie had been younger, healthier…”
“We still don’t know what we’re dealing with,” Browning said, forcing a smile. “Lieutenant Commander Tilleran is coming down to help me find a treatment.”
Peterman wiped her eyes. “So…he may not…”
“There’s hope,” Browning said, and squeezed Peterman’s hand. “We first have to figure out why the radiation acted on Charlie so quickly, and yet somehow the rest of us are okay…”
“Are you sure of that?” Peterman asked.
“No other medical reports have come in,” Baxter said, running his hands through Peterman’s hair, then wrapping his arms around her. “And we’re combing the ship now just to make sure.”
“What about my other pets?” Peterman asked, staring up at Baxter. “They could have been affected too!”
“I already sent Ensign Sefelt to go check on them.” Baxter squeezed Peterman tightly. “We’re doing everything we can.”
Peterman stared at Charlie, her eyes tearing. “Then why isn’t he okay?”
Dr. Browning walked out of the OR, ripping off her surgical smock and slamming it down on the table next to the OR door. “Damn it,” she said to herself. “Hyronalin, cordalin, nothing’s working.”
“I take it the news is bad,” a voice said, and she looked up. It was Commander Richards, standing there at the entrance to Sickbay with Lt. Commander Megan Hartley.
“Well?” Hartley asked. “What’s the prognosis?”
“Unless we find a miracle cure, Charlie’s going to die,” Browning said, and stepped toward Richards. “I don’t think there’s anything more I can do, except make him comfortable.” She leaned her head on his shoulder and he stiffly put his arms around her. He glanced at Hartley as if looking for help. She simply gestured for him to squeeze her tighter.
“I know you’re doing everything you can. Charlie’s going to make it,” Richards said.
“We don’t know that,” Browning said, breaking into sobs. “Maybe if Holly were here, or some better doctor…or there was a vetrinarian aboard…or maybe I could activate the EMH…”
“There is no better doctor,” Richards said reassuringly, patting Browning on the back.
“Besides,” Hartley said. “I didn’t just travel three weeks at high warp in a runabout just to catch up to the Explorer, forsaking half my honeymoon, just to come back and find my favorite crewmember dying.”
“Favorite?” Richards whispered, glancing at Hartley.
“You didn’t think I actually liked any of the humans on this ship, did you?” Hartley replied.
“I’m glad to see Mirk’s kinder sensibilities are rubbing off on you,” Richards muttered and continued rubbing Browning’s back.
“Where are Kelly and the Captain?” Hartley asked, ignoring Richards.
“They’re still in there,” Browning said. “Trying to decide what to do…”
Suddenly the doors to the OR opened up and Peterman and Baxter emerged, with Charlie trotting slowly behind.
“Kelly…” Hartley began.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Peterman said, as she walked by.
“Andy…” Richards began.
Baxter shook his head as he led Peterman and Charlie out of Sickbay.
“We have a decision to make,” Baxter said slowly, sitting at the dinner table, feeling Charlie’s gaze upon him even as Peterman and he sat over an untouched bowl of chili.
“There is no decision,” Peterman said.
“There are humane options…”
“We haven’t tried enough things.”
“Honey…” Baxter reached across the table and touched Peterman’s hand. “Browning tried everything she could. And Tilleran, one of the best science officers in Starfleet, is baffled.”
“There are specialists.”
“You have to realize, this is a radiation of a type nobody has seen before,” Baxter said. “We even had Lieutenant Sefelt checking Memory Alpha. This is a newly discovered element that we don’t know how to deal with. Think of how long it took us to come up with hyronalin.”
“This is the twenty-fourth century, Andy,” Peterman said, staring at the wall behind Baxter. “I can’t accept that our science isn’t advanced enough to treat Charlie.”
“We don’t even know why it’s affecting Charlie, and no one else,” Baxter said helplessly. “All Janice can figure is that it may have to do with the time he was assimilated by the Dawg, or the time our ship was reconfigured by the Dream Device…”
“All of us have been assimilated and reconfigured, but none of us are dying!”
“It could be genetic…it could be specific to golden retrievers…there are none of them aboard, other than Charlie.”
“There’s got to be more we can do for him.”
“Janice stabilized him, and we should be glad for that. But the fix is just temporary. Almost every one of Charlie’s organs was affected, and the problem is degenerative. Nothing short of replacing every organ will do the job.”
“Then replace every organ!” Peterman snapped.
“You know the quality of life he’d have, if we did that?”
“It would at least be life.”
Baxter sighed. “Charlie’s lived twelve good years.”
“I got him when I was at Starfleet Academy,” Peterman said, her voice a whimper. “He was a present from my father…”
“And he has seen you through an amazing career…but we can’t think about us right now. We have to think about what’s best for Charlie.”
“What’s best…” Peterman said, in disbelief. “What’s best is that he lives!”
“There comes a time when you have to let go,” Baxter said. “Realize that Charlie has reached the maximum lifespan of a dog…”
“You were saying he’d live twelve more years.”
“That was before the radiation.”
“He was fine just this morning!” Peterman shouted.
Charlie, lying nearby, looked up, his ears raising.
“Easy, boy,” Baxter said softly.
“He was fine just this morning,” Peterman repeated, quietly. “And now you’re telling me we should put him to sleep!”
“He’s only going to make it a week, or two at the most,” Baxter said. “You really want him to suffer?”
“What the hell do you know?” Peterman stood up and ran into the bedroom. Before Baxter could say anything, the door swung closed.
“Well, Charlie, I guess we get the living room tonight,” Baxter said. He walked over and knelt, and kissed Charlie on the head. “Good night, boy.”
TWO DAYS LATER
Baxter sat in the command chair, watching the brown and red nebula coruscating on the viewscreen. “Are we done yet?” he asked.
“Are you talking to me?” Tilleran asked.
He turned. “Yeah.”
The Betazoid plunked at her panel. “We’ve still got some more readings to take. It’s not every day you discover a new type of radiation.”
“Tell me about it,” Baxter said. “J’hana…have we launched the warning bouys?”
“For what it’s worth,” J’hana said. “Although, ‘hazardous to some dogs’ is hardly a forboding warning.”
“It’s better than nothing.”
“Good morning, everyone,” a voice said, and Baxter sunk a little lower in his chair.
“Captain, Captain, Captain,” Lt. Commander Nell Vansen said, sitting down next to Baxter. “How good it is to see you. How are you doing?”
“Fine,” Baxter siad.
“Really,” Vansen said. “And your dog?”
“You would be wise to silence yourself now,” J’hana cautioned.
“I’m speaking out of concern, Lieutenant, and I think you would be wise not to tell me what’s wise.” Vansen looked at Baxter. “Really, Captain, I want to know. Is Charlie okay?”
“Not as if you really care.”
“That’s ridiculous. I do care.” Vansen turned and looked at the viewscreen. “I hear they want to name it Charlie-type radiation.”
“That’s a comfort.”
“Your dog is a pioneer,” Vansen continued. “A true…explorer.”
“That’s ENOUGH, Vansen,” Baxter said through gritted teeth.
“He’ll be giving his life, like many of your crew before him. Only difference is, he’s a dog, not a human. And if you cared half as much for the people you’ve lost as you do for this animal, then maybe, just maybe you wouldn’t be quite so cavalier about our missions! Maybe, just maybe, you wouldn’t have so easily given this ship over to the President of the Federation!”
Baxter turned and stared Vansen in the face. “GET OFF MY BRIDGE!”
“But it’s my shift…”
“I don’t care,” Baxter said icily. “You’re suspended, until further notice.”
“For insensitivity?” Vansen shot back. “Surely you have thicker skin than that?”
“I don’t. DISMISSED!”
“Your priorities are drastically out of order, Captain,” Vansen said. “Hopefully, it won’t result in a real person dying. Then again, I doubt you’d care if it did.”
The bridge was silent for several moments.
“Well,” Tilleran said. “People handle their grief in different ways.”
Stardate 56490.4. We’ve finally studied Nebula 13-A to the science department’s content. Still, there is no sign of a way to reverse the negative effects of “Charlie-type” radiation on my golden retriever.
Domestic problems notwithstanding, we’ve barely resumed our course toward Bast space, and already there’s another reason for us to stop. Apparently our sensors have picked up some debris that may or may not be from a Bast ship on a planet nearby, and President Dillon has… suggested that we go check it out. I can’t say I’m happy about leaving the ship when Kelly’s in such a bad condition.
Then again, I don’t think I’ve been much help.
The doors to Baxter and Peterman’s quarters slid open to reveal Dr. Browning. “Is that how you answer your door now?”
“Right now it is,” Peterman said, sitting in Baxter’s barcalounger, watching Apella Three twirl below the Explorer.
“Can I ask…”
“He’s in the bedroom. I gave him a modified supplement and he’s resting.”
Browning nodded. “Your patients have been coming by the restaurant. Apparently, with you being gone the last couple days, they’ve needed a shoulder to cry on.”
“Surprised they didn’t go to Mirk,” Peterman said. “He dispenses alcohol, after all.”
“Yeah, but he’s not half the listener I am.”
“Yeah, and remember…I dispense chocolate.”
Browning sat on the couch next to Peterman. “Your patients wanted to know when you’d be coming back.”
“As soon as I’m done.”
Browning swallowed. “Done with…what?”
Peterman looked down. “I don’t know.”
“Andy’s told me…you either have to put him to sleep or let him go peacefully.”
“There has to be another way,” Peterman said.
“Not that medical science knows of, at the moment.”
“Medical science can kiss my ass,” Peterman growled.
“Listen, Kelly,” Browning said, turning the barcalounger so Peterman faced her. She took Peterman’s hand. “You’ve got two options, and you have to think about what’s best for Charlie.”
“I’ve heard that already.”
“Well, those are your choices, and you have to live with that. It’s not like you can just put him into stasis until medical science comes up with a better solution. They don’t exactly let you use that equipment for pets.”
“Yeah,” Peterman said.
“I brought a quiche,” Browning said, standing. “It’s sitting on the kitchen table. Call me if you need anything. At all.”
“Yeah,” Peterman said, as Browning left. She stared back out at the spinning green planet outside the viewport and thought, hard.
A few minutes later, she slid off the barcalounger and walked into the bedroom, where she found Charlie laying in his usual spot at the foot of the bed, looking up at her with baleful eyes.
She knelt by Charlie, stroking his side, rubbing his nose.
“Hey boy,” she said. “You get some sleep?”
Charlie let out a low mumble. Not so much a moan, or a growl, as affirmation.
“I know this is the pits,” she said. “I don’t know what’s caused this, or why this is happening, or what I can do for you. But I’m not going to…I can’t even say it.” She put her hand on Charlie’s paw. “I’m not going to let go of you, or stop fighting for you. You’ve been with me too long to do that. They think I don’t know what’s best for you, but I do. I do.”
Charlie looked up at Peterman and licked her hand.
“I know what I’ve got to do,” Peterman said, gently rubbing Charlie’s head. “You want to go walkies?”
It was obvious that he didn’t, but Peterman had a solution for that too.
Peterman pushed the antigrav platform up to the large double doors of Cargo Bay 11 and stopped. She peered under the sheet, where Charlie lay, looking at Peterman in as trusting a way as she could ever remember.
“Just a few more minutes, baby.”
“Counselor…” came a voice from behind Peterman. She put the
sheet down and whirled. “Commander Hartley! How nice to see
“What are you doing?”
“Oh, just putting a few things from my office into storage.”
“I could have sent someone to do that,” Hartley said, walking around the platform. “You didn’t have to do it yourself.”
“I don’t mind. I can use the distraction.”
“I bet,” Hartley nodded. “So, uh, what have you got in there?”
“Throw pillows,” Peterman improvised. “Ugly ones. They didn’t really match anymore.”
Hartley touched the sheet. “Mind if I look? Mirk and I are redecorating our quarters…”
“NO!” Peterman cried, causing Hartley to pull back. “They’re REALLY ugly.”
“Okay,” Hartley said, looking Peterman in the eye. “Funny you should choose this particular cargo bay. Seems a bit out of the way…”
“Depends on how you look at it,” Peterman said.
“Yeah,” said Hartley. She looked down at the antigrav. “That’s true.”
Peterman stared at Hartley pleadingly. She knew. Peterman didn’t know how she knew, but she knew.
Hartley looked back at Peterman, giving her best oblivious smile. “You’ll need a special access code to get in, of course.” She tapped a quick code into the door panel. “That should do it. Good luck finding a place for those throw pillows, Counselor.”
“Thanks, Megan,” Peterman said, allowing a small smile as Hartley walked off. And with that, she pushed the anti-grav into the cargo bay.
“Man, what a day,” Captain Baxter sighed, slumping into his quarters and throwing his silver survival jacket on his desk. “First we hike through a seemingly endless mountain range to get at this ‘debris,’ and instead of something from the Bast, it just ends up being a big old ancient Iconian monolith. I mean really. Who gives a crap about the Iconians? So, naturally we just blew up the thing and called it a day, so…”
He looked around. No Kelly. The main room was empty, but there was sound and dim light coming from his bedroom.
He walked into the bedroom to find Peterman laying in bed, in a pile of pillows, watching the big-screen viewer, a pile of used tissues beside her, and tears streaming down her cheeks.
“What on earth are you watching, honey?” Baxter asked, pulling his outer jacket off and climbing into bed next to Peterman. He looked at the viewer. “Oh.”
Peterman pulled her knees up and wrapped her arms around them. “Shhh.”
It was a recording of her and Charlie. Judging by her insanely short hair, it must have been when she tried the “elfen” look back at Starfleet Academy. She rarely discussed that period, for obvious hairstyle-related reasons.
But there were she and the pup named Charlie, loping across the quad, throwing a frisbee around, all the while being called out by that crotchety gardener, Boothby.
“He was such a hyperactive little thing,” Peterman said. “And he loved to nibble. Cadet Ro reported me to the Dorm Supervisor five times, cause he ripped her uniforms to shreds. He despised Bajorans, for some reason.”
Baxter put his arm around Peterman, and looked around. “Where is he, anyway? Did you…don’t tell me…”
Peterman wouldn’t look away from the viewer. “I don’t want to tell you.”
“Why? Did he…um…or did you?”
“Neither,” Peterman said, blowing her nose loudly.
“Well, if he’s not here…”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Baxter stared at Peterman. “Honey…what’s going on here?”
“Viewer off,” Peterman said, then turned and faced Baxter in the dim bedroom. “I found another way, Andy.”
“Is he in Sickbay?”
Baxter scratched his head. “I’ve got to admit, I’m baffled.”
“I think you need to realize that this is in his best interest,” Peterman said, rubbing her eyes. “And damn the consequences.”
“Okay. What did you do, Kelly?”
Peterman wrapped her arms tightly around Baxter and held him close to her. “Let’s just say that I made sure Charlie would live to play another day.”
“I put him in stasis.”
Baxter stared at Peterman. “Kelly!”
“If we can use it for humans, we can use it for pets. Cause they’re human too.”
“Have you told anyone you’ve done this?”
“Let’s just say I’m pretty sure that Hartley knows.”
Peterman stared at Baxter earnestly, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Is there anything you can say that will justify taking him OUT of stasis?”
“What if we have a huge epidemic at some colony and we need every tube?”
“We’ll pick up another tube the next time we’re at a starbase.”
“And you’re just going to keep him like that? Frozen in time? Forever?”
“Until we can find a way to increase his lifespan, yes.”
“What if that’s never?”
“Then so be it, but I’m not going to risk losing him when there’s a possibility that we can find a way to save him.”
“Nobody can know about this,” Baxter said. “We should have the thing moved to a secure spot. A place where he’s not going to be found and accidentally blown out an airlock or something.”
“I figured you’d think of a place.”
“Do you realize how bent out of shape Starfleet will get…?”
“They’re never going to know.”
“My mom and dad can’t even know.”
“Well, then you’d be even. They promised not to tell you when Pandora dies.”
“She hasn’t yet, has she?”
“You said you didn’t want to know.”
“Well, now I do. Because if she hasn’t yet, I want to put her into stasis too. Heck, Mom and Dad are getting a little old. Let’s put them in stasis too! And, when my time comes, would you mind putting me in stasis too? Maybe they can find a way to save me, too!”
“You’re playing God! Damn it, Kelly. I wish you’d let me in on this.”
“You may have tried to talk me out of it.”
“I would have at least wanted to discuss it.”
“You can’t tell me this is a bad thing. It’s the best possible outcome.”
Baxter sighed and leaned back in the bed. “I don’t know.”
“It’s the only thing I could think to do. I can’t lose him, Andy.”
“Who said you had a choice?”
“Obviously, I do have a choice.”
Baxter got up and walked into the bathroom. “I need a shower.”
Peterman rolled over. “Well. Good night.”
ONE WEEK LATER
“Morning, Andy,” Commander Richards said, picking up step next to Baxter as he walked down the corridor, on his way to the bridge.
“Yeah,” Baxter said.
“You going to let Vansen come back to work yet?”
“I’ll see how I feel after my morning latte.”
“Because I think she’s formulating some kind of protest to send off to Starfleet.”
“I’m shaking in my boots, Chris.”
“I’m just telling you the scuttlebutt I’ve been hearing.”
Baxter stepped with Richards into the turbolift. “What.”
“Janice and I were talking yesterday. We were wondering when you planned on getting a new dog.”
“I don’t think we are.”
“Because Kelly has plenty of pets,” Baxter said. “And you can’t just replace a dog like Charlie.”
And because Charlie isn’t dead, Baxter thought to himself.
“Still,” Richards said, as the turbolift came to a stop at the bridge. “He went so suddenly. No time for a service or anything. That’s surprising, that Kelly didn’t have a service for him. I didn’t even get to see him before he died.”
“You never know,” Baxter said, stepping out of the turbolift. “Maybe you’ll see him again one day.”
Counselor Peterman stood in the abandoned Inventory office, staring at the tube that sat serenely on the flat, featureless desk.
Through the glass window, she could see her Charlie, perfectly still, but, according to the tube’s sensors, perfectly alive.
She touched the tube. “Had a good morning at work today, baby. Lieutenant Sefelt came in complaining that he was starting to become schizophrenic. I think I came up with a new disease. How does schizoprheniphobia sound?” She leaned her cheek on the tube, watching her breath cloud the window. “Ah, Charlie. Remember how you loved to gnaw on Sefelt’s crotch? Damn, I miss you.”
She heard a doorway open and spun around. “I was just looking for some office supplies!” she shrieked, then calmed when she saw it was Baxter.
“Hey,” he said. “I just gave Steffie her lunch at Space Tastes. Janice’s teaching her to Julienne french fries.”
“Juliennning at five months. Who’d have guessed?”
“I thought I’d find you here.”
“Thanks for finding a place, Andy.”
“Well, I doubt anyone will be coming down here anytime soon,” Baxter said, looking around. “How are you holding up?”
Peterman’s shoulders fell, and she turned to Baxter. “I feel like I’ve lost my best friend.”
Baxter sighed and pulled Peterman into a hug. “Well, you’ve still got me.”
“True,” Peterman said, kissing Baxter’s cheek. “Thanks for reminding me.”
When a suspicious Frenchman comes aboard the Explorer with two poodles who seem pampered to the point of abuse, Counselor Peterman takes it upon herself to get to the root of the problem. In doing so, she just may jeopardize her career and her marriage. Is this visitor actually a threat to the Explorer, or is Counselor Peterman totally nuts? Or is it both?