Author: Anthony Butler
Stardate 56575.7. We’ve spent the last few months barreling through space, and have finally come close to a break in the Bast case. Thanks to a tip from a Frenalian “woman of the night” who prefers we don’t use her name for professional purposes, we’re currently on course for a planet in the Vespa system, where we’re told a stronghold of the Bast may be found. Whether we’ll ever find this mysterious race the President is hunting is questionable, and whether I’ll ever get full control of my ship back is also anyone’s guess. All in all, it’s safe to say that nothing else is happening on board the sh–
What the–? What do you mean a ‘little explosion’?
“Somebody tell me something!” Captain Baxter shouted as alarms rang at the tactical station.
Lt. Unlathi, the Velvattian security officer currently working at tactical, waved their tentacles madly as they attempted to assess the situation.
Lt. Commander Megan Hartley had been doing her evening diagnostic on the engineering bridge interface systems, and pulled up readouts on her console as the Velvattian grunted at its task.
“There was an antiproton-based explosion in a turbolift shaft, Captain,” she said, tapping controls. “That’s going to be a bitch to clean up!”
“Was there anyone in there?” Baxter asked.
“I can’t say. The explosion has fouled up all the sensors in the area.”
“Is there anything that DOESN’T foul up the sensors?” Baxter asked.
“Look, you want me to try to put out the fire, or you want me to chit-chat with you?”
“Put out the fire!”
“I’m going to have to go down there. The automatic fire suppression system isn’t responding. Must be on the fritz.”
“I’m going with you,” Baxter said, nodding at Lt. Howard Sefelt. “Lieutenant. You have the bridge.”
Sefelt turned in his chair at ops. “M-me?”
“Yeah. It’s nightwatch. You’re all we’ve got at the moment.”
“No buts,” Baxter said, as Hartley moved to the center of the bridge and cranked open the hatch to the Jefferies’ tube.
“Wouldn’t the turbolift be faster?” Baxter asked.
“In a perfect world,” Hartley said, climbing into the hatch. “But there was just an explosion in a turbolift shaft. So the whole network’s gone offline.”
“Oh. Right. I knew that,” Baxter said, squirming down into the hatch, sucking in his gut so he could fit in. “Ya know what? I better inform the crew.”
“All hands, this is your captain. We’ve had a little explosion down on Deck Twenty. Please remain clear of that area until the fires are put out and the damage control teams are fully dispatched. Any casualties should be reported to the bridge immediately, if there are any. That is all.”
“Deck Twenty,” Counselor Peterman said, emerging from her office with Fritz the cat in hand, Tilleran following after. They’d met for coffee to discuss Doctor Leonardo’s condition and his possible motives for trying to kill Fritz, once Peterman had been treated for the phaser blast J’hana had hit her with during that incident. “That’s the Mall Level!”
“Not to mention the same level as several key science labs and stellar cartography, and the Childrens’ PlayZone,” Tilleran said. “But yes, the mall is there too. And all your precious stores may be destroyed.”
“I’m just trying to think of all those…innocent civilians.”
Tilleran nodded. “Uh-huh. Have you totally forgotten I can read minds?”
“Actually, I’ve been meaning to ask you about that…”
“I’m fine,” Tilleran snapped testily, then looked at Peterman a little oddly. “Counselor, have you changed your hair?”
Peterman ran a hand through her straight, long, dark hair. “No, not really. Why?”
“You just…seem a little different.”
“I wonder where J’hana is?” Peterman said quickly.
“Make way, children, make way!” Lt. J’hana bellowed, ducking out from under one of the many rungs of the jungle gym in the Childrens’ PlayZone, an astro-turfed arena on Deck 20 where many of the ship’s youngsters went for recess and after classes.
J’hana had been volunteering at the PlayZone as a way to blow of some steam. She still had some issues with the fact that Dwanok’s former mate killed him to get control of his land. And, even though she killed Kessica, she still felt some pent-up rage. She found when she went to play with the kids on the jungle gym, and push them on swings, and let them dangle from her muscular arms, that she felt a little bit better about things. Plus, they seemed to enjoy the fact that they could hit her as often as they wanted, as hard as they wanted, and she’d never complain.
One child, V’xxnvar of the Eightieth Hive, an eight-year-old Andorian hiveling who had come to see J’hana as a role model, clung to the tactical officer’s boot as she made her way toward the door to the Play Center.
“I can’t play right now, little V’xx. Something’s exploded and I must go find out what it is and deal with it!”
“But J’hana! I want to go with you!” V’xxnvar cried out. “You’re so much cooler than my daddy and his ex-hivemates!”
“Yes, but they have a nice hive in its own right,” J’hana commented, deciding not to delve further into the subject. She felt it none of her business to discuss the dishonor of S’veth being a single parent, having been rejected by his fellow hivemates years prior. Instead, J’hana simply said, “Go bully some of the other kids. I will be back later.”
“Okay, J’hana!” V’xxnvar said, then turned around and pounced on a nearby 8-year-old, growling and thrashing.
“That’s a girl,” J’hana said, wiping a blue tear from the corner of her eye as she bolted down the corridor to find out what had happened.
He was trying to find out what had happened. That’s all he wanted to do. To make sure she was safe. But he couldn’t see anything. He struggled through the smoke, coughing and pulling his turtleneck up over his mouth as he gripped the searing hot door frame at the turbolift shaft. “Janice….Janice! Are you down there?” Commander Chris Richards called down the shaft.
Suddenly, and quite surprisingly, all the fire was gone, and the smoke began to thin as the environmental fans began whirring all around Richards.
Moments later, a hatch in the ceiling opened up and Lt. Commander Hartley hopped down.
Captain Baxter followed, ungracefully tumbling to the ground with a flop.
“I fixed the fire suppression systems. The smoke will be gone in a sec,” Hartley said. She put a hand on Richards’s shoulder. “Are you okay, Chris?”
“She…she’s down there…” Richards coughed, staggering back to the doorway as Madera and Bradley Dillon’s four guards stirred from the deck.
“Who’s down there, Chris?” Baxter asked, joining Richards by the doorway to the shaft, looking down its dizzying length as the smoke cleared.
“Janice,” Richards said quietly.
Baxter slapped his combadge. “Bridge. This is Baxter. Have you been able to make out any sensor readings? Are there any life signs down there?”
“Uh, Captain,” Sefelt’s voice replied. “There are no life signs in that shaft.”
Baxter and Richards stared at one another as Hartley helped the others to their feet and Peterman and Tilleran raced up, followed by J’hana.
“Why is everyone looking so glum?” Peterman said. She watched Baxter’s face. “Andy? What’s happened?”
Baxter’s lip quivered. He braced his hand on Richards’s shoulder. “I….we’ve…um…. how can I say this?”
“Janice,” Richards choked out, then buried his head in Baxter’s shoulder, and the two stood there and cried.
“You two make me sick,” J’hana said, stepping in between Baxter and Richards. “Has anyone even tried to go down there and pull the carcass from the wreckage? Perhaps it can be resuscitated! Have you even thought of trying? Please! Death is such a morbid subject for you humans. I’ll never understand.”
“J’hana,” Baxter growled.
“Excuse me!” she said, and unceremoniously lept down the turbolift shaft.
“J’hana!” Tilleran cried out, running toward the doorway.
“Let her go,” Hartley said softly, touching Tilleran’s arm. “She knows what she’s doing.”
Peterman ran toward Baxter and hugged him. “Andy, there’s got to be some mistake. Some way she could have gotten out.”
“No, Kelly,” Baxter wept into Peterman’s hair. “There’s no way she could have gotten out of there. The thing exploded!”
“I refuse to believe that,” Peterman said, breaking into tears herself as she hugged Baxter.
“Oh,” Richards said in between sobs as he wrapped his arms around Baxter and Peterman. “I almost forgot. The President’s dead too.”
“Oh,” Baxter said as he started to hyperventilate. “<snarf!> That’s <snarf!> a <snarf!> shame!”
“Yeah,” Peterman said. “But what about Janice!”
“What about her?” a voice said from below, and everyone looked down to see Janice Browning climb out of the turbolift shaft, looking a little charred but none the worse for wear. Richards ecstatically helped her up as Bradley Dillon followed behind, hoisted by Baxter and Peterman.
Baxter’s face spread into a wide grin as he tackled Browning in a hug. Richards and Peterman slammed into her as well, causing her to emit a surprised squeak.
“How?” Tilleran asked, watching the scene with furrowed brow.
Bradley reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small, oblong, sheening silver device. “Portable subspace pocket. I’ve found it helps to keep one of these around at all times.”
“Subspace pocket, of course,” Tilleran said, smacking herself in the head. “I should have known. That explains why you two didn’t give off lifesigns.”
“We heard the explosion from below, and in a split second I activated the field. If my reflexes had been off by even a fraction of a second, we’d surely have died.”
“Good thing you’re so paranoid, then,” Tilleran said.
“Yes!” Baxter wailed, tears of joy now pouring down his cheeks as he and the others smothered Browning. “Thank you for being so paranoid, Mister President!”
Lt. Susan Madera, meanwhile, stood just to the side, looking on. “Hey…I know this is a bad time…but has everyone seen my engagement ring?”
“So what do we know?” Captain Baxter asked, leaning against his chair in the conference room as the Explorer streaked through space, still on course for the Vespa system.
“We must be on to the Bast,” Richards said from next to Baxter. “They must be desperate to avoid detection if they are trying to step up their assassination attempts on the President.”
“Say you’re right,” Baxter said. “Why would they want to kill him, if he’s only trying to repay a debt?”
“Obviously, they do not want to be found,” J’hana said, her uniform a little singed still from where she jumped down the flaming turbolift shaft.
“Then maybe we shouldn’t be looking for them,” Peterman said. “Maybe we should turn around and head back to the Federation before someone really does get killed.”
“I’m okay,” Janice Browning said, looking around at everyone at the table. “Really, I am.”
“That’s nice,” Baxter said with a small smile. “But the fact remains we have a killer aboard this ship. Someone with explosives training and access to our subsystems.” He looked at Hartley. “You say the fire suppression protocols were taken offline. Any way you can trace how that was done?”
“There were no tracks left, if that’s what you’re asking,” Hartley said. “But yeah, there are ways to track alterations to my systems, even if someone did do a good job covering up their work.”
“Get on that. Enlist whatever help you need from whatever department. We need to find this guy…or girl…before he/she strikes again.” Baxter looked to President Dillon, who sat, silent, at the other end of the table, arms folded, staring at the table’s glossy surface. “Mister President. Obviously, anything you know in this regard would help us tremendously.”
“I…don’t think it’s the Bast,” Bradley said slowly.
“You have more than one group of people trying to kill you?” Vansen said, turning in her chair toward Bradley.
“I am the leader of the free quadrant,” Bradley said. “I make a tempting target. It’s too early to say this is the Bast.”
“But they are the most likely suspect,” J’hana said pointedly.
“I just have a feeling it isn’t them,” Bradley said. “And you can forget about turning around and heading back to Federation space, Counselor. I intend to finish this mission.”
“Even if it ends with us being a burning hunk of duranium?” Hartley demanded.
“Acceptable risk,” Bradley said simply, then stood, and left the room.
“I’ll go check on him,” Browning said, and got up and walked toward the door.
Richards stood. “Janice…”
“Christopher, I think I have a rapport with the man. We need his help if we’re to figure this thing out. Let me talk to him.”
“Fine,” Richards said, holding his hands up. “Maybe you two can get a coffee while you’re at it.” He was obviously still annoyed about the stunt she pulled when she kissed Bradley in the turbolift…just before it blew up.
“Or maybe we’ll get engaged,” Browning fired back, and left the room.
The conference lounge was silent a moment.
“She’s got you there, Chris,” Baxter said with a grin. “Oh well. You all know your jobs. Meeting adjourned!”
“Bradley, wait up!” Browning said as Bradley stepped into the bridge turbolift up on the quarterdeck. Hartley had just gotten the turbolifts back up and running again. Bradley’s entourage was waiting there for him, glowering, allowing him in the lift as they stared around the bridge, as if one of the crew would hop up and take a shot at him.
“Are you sure you’d like to step into another turbolift with me, Doctor?” Bradley asked with a little grin.
Browning hooked her arm in Bradley’s elbow and nodded. “I feel a lot safer with the entourage around.”
“You and I both,” Bradley said quietly, as the doors closed. “Deck Fourteen,” he ordered.
“What are you going to do now?” Browning asked.
“If your goal is to interrogate me, you might as well quit now,” Bradley said stiffly, and pulled his arm free from Browning’s.
Browning blinked. “Mister President…Bradley…that’s not my plan at all.”
“You’re trying to find out if I know something that will help Captain Baxter and his people solve this mystery, am I right?”
Browning shrugged. “You could put it that way. But isn’t it in your best interests to help us catch whoever’s doing this?”
“I trust Lieutent J’hana. Your science and engineering officers also seem adept enough to manage the task at hand. I really doubt I have anything meaningful to offer on the matter.”
“You’re the one being targeted!”
“That’s not really relevant, Doctor.”
Bradley shook his head. “This is not Bast-related. This is a simple assassination attempt by some Federation malcontent.”
Browning narrowed her eyes at Bradley. “How can you be so sure about that?”
“Because this is not the Bast’s modus operandi.”
“Of…course it’s not,” Browning said blankly.
“That is to say, this isn’t the way they usually operate.”
Browning thought about that as the lift doors opened and Bradley walked out into the corridor, followed by her and the entourage of four guards. “But didn’t you say they always send a different assassin? Maybe this is the way this particular assassin operates.”
Bradley spun on Browning so fast she almost crashed into him. “Doctor Browning, I appreciate your concern. I don’t, however, appreciate this attempt at grilling me for information, or your attempts to use me to make your ex-boyfriend jealous. There are far bigger things at stake here than your ship or your love life. I suggest you stop worrying about these trifling concerns and concentrate on just one thing: Staying alive.”
“I have a lot of work to do,” Bradley said, and headed into an opening pair of double doors, a side entrance to his offices that keyed to only his physiological impulses. The guards took up position outside the door, and glowered at Browning.
“Well….damn,” Browning said, and headed off in the opposite direction.
“Antiproton accelerator,” J’hana said, tossing a twisted hunk of metal onto the flat surface of the master systems display down in engineering. “Attached to the turbolift shaft and triggered to explode when the turbolift reached a certain proximity.”
“Any idea who makes these things?” Richards asked, as he, Baxter, Tilleran, and Hartley huddled around the master display.
“Yes,” J’hana said. “It’s Klingon.”
“The Klingons,” Baxter said, staring at the ceiling. “Oye.’
“But the power signature is Gorn.”
“The Gorn!” Richards said. “I knew it!”
“And the triggering device is Yridian.”
Hartley sighed. “So in other words, J’hana, you have no clue what race is responsible for this.”
“That is correct. This device very well could have been sold to a fourth party. There’s no way of knowing.”
“So we can’t even narrow down the race of the assassin,” Baxter said. “Any traces of their whereabouts left in the turbolift shaft?”
J’hana glared at Baxter. “There aren’t traces of anything left in the turbolift shaft. It exploded, remember?”
“Yes, I remember,” Baxter snapped. “I was just hoping this assassin left some kind of cool calling card, that’s all.”
“The calling card was supposed to be President Dillon’s dead body,” Tilleran said. “It was just a near miss.”
“Any clue on the alterations made to the fire suppression system?” Baxter asked Hartley.
Hartley nodded. She brought up a schematic on the flat panel display. “There were about forty redundant protocols embedded in the command sequencers that made the alteration, but I traced the original command down to a cargo bay on deck twenty-nine.”
“That area is off-limits to the civilian population,” Richards said. “So, obviously, we’re dealing with someone in Starfleet.”
“Yeah,” Hartley said. “Because anyone who would try to blow up the Federation President would have a real problem violating civilian regulations.”
“Just trying to narrow down the search a little.”
J’hana planted her hands on the panel and looked around at the people gathered around her. “There really is only one solution. Only one way to catch this killer.”
“I’d love to hear it,” Baxter said testily.
“Sound general quarters and order martial law,” J’hana said.
“Martial law,” Richards said. “Isn’t that a bit harsh?”
“No,” J’hana said. “Blowing people up is harsh. Do you want this guy caught or not?”
Baxter looked around at his staff. “Fine. Do it.”
“Very well,” J’hana said. “For starters, you all should report to your quarters.”
“Us?” Tilleran asked.
“That IS what general quarters means. Now move it, before I write you all up!”
“Who do you think you are?” Baxter asked. “You can’t just go ordering us…”
Richards elbowed Baxter. “That’s what martial law means.”
“Oh,” Baxter said. “Fine. But I want a report in twenty minutes.”
“You’ll get it when I’m good and ready,” J’hana said, folding her arms. “Now all of you, be gone from my sight! All hands, this is J’hana, Martial Commander of the Explorer. I am officially sounding General Quarters. Anyone found wandering the corridors WILL be incarcerated and possibly shot. That is all!”
“Martial Commander?” Baxter asked Richards as the group walked off.
“Don’t look at me,” Richards said. “You’re the one that gave her the go-ahead.”
“Why do I have a bad feeling about this?”
“Because you just put J’hana in control of the ship,” Richards said simply.
“MY ship,” Hartley chimed.
“Well…sorry!” Baxter said.
Supplemental. It’s been a day since we’ve been locked in our quarters, and already I’m getting…cabin…fever, for lack of a better term. Just sitting here is driving me crazy. But I’m convinced what J’hana’s done is for the good of the ship, and for finding the scum who endangered the life of Janice…I mean the President of the Federation. Meanwhile, I’m trying to find ways to keep busy.
“Would you LOOK at all the dust under my couch?” Baxter asked, kneeling and looking under his couch. “I thought this thing was supposed to be self-cleaning.”
“Apparently, the Tellarite who sold you that sofa played you for a fool,” Peterman said distantly as she sat at Baxter’s desk, tapping at a terminal, Fritz the cat sitting in her lap.
“How’s the book coming?” Baxter asked, scooting back up to the couch and grabbing the book he was reading off his coffee table. John Madden’s classic, “All Madden.”
“Slowly. It would go quicker if you didn’t talk,” Peterman said.
“Uh-huh,” Baxter said, paging through his book idly. He liked the feel of real paper pages. Something Commander Conway had gotten him hooked on. He looked back at Peterman. “Am I in it?”
“You’re mentioned briefly,” she said tersely.
“Oh. Good.” Baxter didn’t know how to take that. “Am I going to get to read it soon?”
“Not if it never gets written.” Peterman sighed and turned around to face Baxter. “Andy, is something bothering you?”
“No,” Baxter said. “Not at all. I was just…wanting to talk.”
“No. That’s okay. You go back to your book. I’ll just sit here and read.”
“Fine,” Peterman said, and turned back toward the terminal.
“Do you think we should put Steffie in a secured location? You know, in case this guy strikes again?”
“Megan installed independent forcefield emitters around Steffie’s room yesterday, just before J’hana dragged her kicking and screaming back to her cabin, remember?”
“Yeah. I guess you’re right. She’ll be safe.”
“Is that it, Andy?” Peterman said, glancing over her shoulder. “You’re worried about Steffie?”
Baxter shrugged. “I don’t know. When it was just us putting our lives on the line, it just seemed like no big deal. Now, I’m not so sure.”
“Steffie will be fine. Lots of people in dangerous lines of work have kids. They find a way to make things work. Anyway, Steffie has a Jem’Hadar babysitter.”
Baxter frowned. “A wimpy Jem’Hadar babysitter. What are the odds?”
“I wouldn’t dare guess.”
Suddenly the door to their quarters bleeped.
Baxter and Peterman looked at the door at the same time.
“It’s general quarters,” Peterman said. “Who could be at the door?”
“Maybe I should activate Steffie’s shields,” Baxter said worriedly.
“It’s Janice!” came the sing-song voice over the comm.
“Stand down from Red Alert, Andy,” Peterman said, standing up from the desk and walking over to the door. She keyed it open, to reveal Browning.
“What’s up?” she asked, strolling in, as the doors closed. Peterman and Baxter stared at her.
“You do know everyone’s restricted to quarters, right?” Baxter asked.
“So what?” Browning asked. “I’m senior staff. I’ve got struttin’ priveleges.”
“What about Plato?” Peterman asked.
“Chaka’kan is guarding him back in my quarters. I think they’re playing hide and seek or something.”
“See?” Peterman asked, then sat back down. “What brings you here, Janice?”
“Something about our President doesn’t sit right with me.”
Baxter nodded, easing onto the couch and inviting Browning to sit down with him. Peterman went back to work at her terminal. “Like the fact that he took over my ship and sent us out on a fool’s mission that’s apparently going to get us all killed?”
“No, not that,” Browning said, turning toward Baxter, drawing one knee up under her. “It’s like…he’s a lot deeper than people take him for.”
“Yes. His hunger for power and latinum runs very, very deep.”
“I don’t mean that. I mean…I see other emotions in his eyes.”
Baxter leaned forward to peer into Browning’s eyes.
“What?” she asked.
“Just checking to see if you were a Betazoid.”
“I’m not!” Browning said, slapping Baxter playfully on the arm. “But all women have these senses. Just look at Kelly, and the fact that she recently sniffed out two dangerous criminals, right in our midst.”
“One of which you were dating!” Baxter said.
“Not the point,” Browning said.
“So, what, you think Bradley’s evil too?”
“No, I’m not talking about evil. I’m talking about ulterior motives. Bradley’s not in this for money, or power. He’s in this for something more than that. I know it. I can…I can just tell.”
Baxter sighed. “You love a project, don’t you, Janice?”
Browning frowned. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“You like complicated, messed up guys. Look at Richards. And Leonardo. And, yeesh, Conway.”
“This isn’t a romantic thing, Andy!” Browning said, standing up. “I’m sitting here trying to give you information that may very well save this ship, in a time of crisis, and you can do is sit there and be jealous!”
Baxter’s face wrinkled up. “Jealous?”
Browning turned and headed for the door. “Ya know, Andy…eventually I am going to find someone. You know, kind of like you did.” She patted Peterman on the shoulder as she walked by. “Right, Kelly?”
“Shhh! I’m working!”
“I do hope you find someone!” Baxter said, standing up. “But Bradley Dillon is not the guy!”
“I never even thought of him that way,” Browning said, as she slid out. “But thanks for the idea. Later.”
The door closed, and Baxter slumped back onto his couch. “What the hell did I just do?”
“Could you finish your conversation in the other room?” Peterman asked.
“Janice just left,” Baxter said.
“Then could you go in the other room?”
Baxter sighed, grabbed his book, and walked off to the bedroom. “Fine. But just so you know, you’re not getting any tonight.”
Doctor Browning walked the corridors of the Explorer, not sure what to do next, but feeling she should do something. She was afraid Baxter was right. That she did have feelings for Bradley… President Dillon. So what if she did? Wasn’t she entitled to have feelings?
Why was everyone always bent on spoiling her fun?
Take this assassin. She was just kissing Bradley when he (or she) decided to blow up that turbolift shaft. She didn’t even get the chance to see if it would lead anywhere…romantically. Sure, the only reason she did that in the first place was to get back at Richards for proposing to Lieutenant Madera, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t something…there.
And then it hit Browning. She really wasn’t acting herself lately.
Maybe this single life was getting to her. Maybe she was so focused on cheerfully accepting the status quo that she never really realized she didn’t like the status quo. She hated the status quo, actually.
She loved Plato. She loved cooking for people at Space Tastes. And, on occasion, she even enjoyed cutting into a person to save his life. But it all felt empty lately. Hollow. And why? Because of a silly thing like a man? Was that all she really needed to make her life complete? Another person?
No. Janice Browning was better than that. She didn’t need anyone. She was happy in this little life she’d made on the Explorer. Good friends, a beautiful son, a rewarding job. All the pieces were in place.
So why was she suddenly standing at the door to Bradley Dillon’s office complex?
“If you plan on killing the President, please let me know now, so I can shoot you. I would hate for it to come to blows.”
Browning turned to see Lt. J’hana facing her, coming as if from nowhere, phaser raised.
“You wouldn’t really shoot me, would you, J’hana?” Browning asked, eyes wide with disbelief.
“If I believed you were a threat to ship’s security. As it is, I was merely joking.”
“Are you sure?”
“Quite. Still, I feel the need to ask what you are doing walking about the ship, when I have ordered general quarters.”
J’hana nodded. “Which is?”
“Something to do with the President.”
Browning nodded vigorously. “Right. He wanted me to look at a…canker.”
“You know, a red sore on your lip. It gets really painful if inflamed. Kind of like a …”
“Enough. I have heard more than enough. I will escort you into the President’s complex. You can accompany me while I report my new findings to the President.”
“You’ve figured out who’s trying to kill him?”
“No,” J’hana said. “However, I’ve concluded none of the senior staff are the killer, so that is progress.”
“Only a few hundred suspects to go. Eight hundred thirty-two, actually.”
Browning nodded. “So…the door…?”
“Oh,” J’hana said. “Of course. Computer: Release locks on Presidential entrance. Voice authorization J’hana Delta Gamma.”
The heavy double door to the Presidential Complex sighed open, and Browning and J’hana stepped through.
The bustling office was unusually empty at the moment, something that made Browning feel a little bit nervous.
Those nerves gave way to fear as J’hana suddenly let out a choking “urk!” and stumbled to the ground. Browning deduced that she was doing so because she had a limber, compactly built woman in an executive pants suit on her head, legs wrapped around her neck.
“I…do…not…have time…for dating!” J’hana bellowed, swinging the woman over her shoulders and onto the deck, then holding her phaser on the woman, studying her with a suspicious eye. “Gisele.”
“Do you have an appointment?” the aide asked, rising to her feet swiftly and brushing herself off.
“You’re supposed to have an appointment.”
“Do you routinely use your legs to strangle people who don’t have an appointment?”
“Only when the president’s life is in immediate danger.”
J’hana nodded, leaning on a bulkhead. “And you think that is the case now?”
“Someone tried to blow him up yesterday.”
“Yes, you make an excellent point. Would you like to discuss that point further over coffee? You might give me some pointers on your exercise routine. Your thighs are fabulous.”
“Thank…you,” Gisele said, straightening her blouse. “Maybe later.”
“Look, can we see the President?” Browning said, a little forcefully. She didn’t have time to watch J’hana flirt, as amusing as it was.
“And why are you here? To bring his lunch?”
“Medical purposes,” Browning said, pointing to the pips on her uniform collar. “I’m the Chief Medical Officer.”
“Of course you are,” Gisele said tersely, and walked down the corridor. “If you’ll follow me…”
“Charming gal,” Browning muttered to J’hana.
“Indeed,” J’hana said huskily, rubbing her throat.
Gisele led Browning and J’hana through the towering wooden double doors to the President’s Office, and Browning was curious to note, as she walked in, that the office was empty.
As if the other two women weren’t there, Gisele swiftly shut the doors to the office and turned around, announcing into the air: “Three to transport. Code Blanda Commerce Heavenly Peanut.”
“Pardon?” J’hana asked, as suddenly the trio dematerialized.
“The code changes every time you use the device. An added security measure.”
Browning found herself standing in a dimly lit room, much smaller than the office she was in earlier, but an office nevertheless. The walls and furniture were a dull gray, with silver accents. Much more Federation standard, and certainly not the oppulence of a typical Dillon office. Bradley Dillon was seated at the desk in front of her reading a padd.
J’hana looked around, rubbing her chin. “We are no longer on the same deck.”
“This is another part of the ship.”
“I do not believe I have a facilities reservation form on file for alternative offices,” J’hana said. “We will need to clear this matter up. Perhaps over dinner?”
“I can have offices anywhere on this ship I want,” Bradley said, not looking up from his padd.
“Where are we?” Browning asked.
“That information is on a need-to-know basis.”
J’hana was still looking around. “We’re in a compartment directly behind the main navigational deflector.”
Bradley looked up. “Damn it! How did you know that?”
“I have this ship’s floor plans memorized.”
“Right. Well, since you’re here, I assume that means you’ve found the killer.”
“Alas, no,” J’hana said, draping her hands behind her back. “Actually, I came to report that I still haven’t found the killer.”
“I thought you were a good investigator.”
J’hana visibly bristled at that, her antennae and nose both twitching violently. “You are correct, sir. However, this particular assassin is quite good at covering his tracks.”
“Or hers,” Browning added helpfully.
Bradley turned to look at Browning. “And what were you doing here?”
“I was hoping we could talk,” Browning said earnestly, sitting down in the chair opposite Bradley’s desk. “You know, about us.”
“You must be joking,” Bradley said.
“I think we dismissed that kiss yesterday a bit too quickly. And I think, in light of the fact that we’re all a little emotional, due to the people trying to kill us, that we might not be thinking with clear heads.”
“Doctor Browning, my head is as clear as it ever was.”
“You told me you were here about a canker!” J’hana said suddenly, glaring at Browning.
“A teensey lie,” Browning said innocently.
“Canker?” Bradley said indignantly. “I have never had a canker in my life.”
“Mister President,” Gisele suddenly said. “I believe it’s getting hot in here.”
J’hana’s antennae twitched again, but this time it wasn’t out of anger.
“Massive electron surge fifteen meters ahead!” J’hana said. “The main deflector is overloading!”
“Three for emergency transport. Hawkeye Tandem Woodchuck Chavez!”
“Woodchuck Charcoal,” Bradley corrected, hastily shoving out of his desk chair and gabbing Browning by the arm, rushing her to the door to the small office.
“Hawkeye Tandem Woodchuck Charcoal!”
J’hana tapped her combadge. “J’hana to security.” No response. “Shezzzat!” she cursed. “Shipwide communications must be down.”
After exchanging incredibly uneasy glances, the group ran out of the room, and down the nearest corridor, which narrowed into nothing more than a larger-sized Jefferies tube. First they were led by Browning, who obviously had no idea where she was going, and then by J’hana, who surged ahead, pointing to where the group should make their turns.
“How long do we have?” Bradley asked breathlessly.
“If it’s a full-scale overload, I would say less than three minutes!” J’hana said. “Give or take. However, if it is full-scale, then the overload will take much of the secondary hull with it.”
“Is there any way to prevent it?”
J’hana stopped at a two-way split in the tubes. “I will let you know. Run down that corridor as fast as you can until you get to a ladder. Then climb. Climb like you have never climbed before!”
“Gisele, assist J’hana,” Bradley said.
“We may die,” J’hana informed Gisele.
“I am prepared to give my life for the President,” Gisele said, casting a small, but professional smile at Bradley.
“I could kiss you, but I will not, since we have very little time for pleasantries. This way!”
“Doctor,” Bradley said, gesturing for Browning to lead the way.
“I hope you’re in shape, Bradley.”
“I make no guarantees.”
And the two darted off toward the ladder.
Bluish sweat streamed down J’hana’s face as she squatted in the access port, yanking isolinear chips, rerouting power, pulling out ODN lines and generally doing everything she could to avert the overload to the main deflector. They’d already found the device that was attached to the deflector control and ripped it off the junction port, but that had done nothing to stop the overload.
Gisele, for her part, was doing a good job of assisting J’hana, plundering another batch of isolinear chips as the Andorian had instructed. She was certainly a well-rounded girl for an administrative assistant.
Still, J’hana couldn’t help but wish for Lt. Commander Hartley. Certainly, the Explorer’s Chief Engineer would know what to do in a situation such as this. As it was, J’hana was lucky to know which junction box to go to, and was pleased she’d apparently found the right one, if the markings on all the chips were any indication.
But there was no indication anything her or Gisele were doing was stopping the overload. As a matter of fact, that low rumble that J’hana’s antennae had detected at first had now grown to an audible thrum.
She and Gisele worked faster.
“I can’t climb anymore,” Bradley gasped, throwing himself onto the deck outside the Jefferies access hatch, laying on the ground, breathing hard, and pondering the use of the shipwide gymnasium.
“I think we’re far enough up that we’ll be safe,” Browning said, not at all winded, as she knelt at Bradley’s side. The corridors were predictably empty, as J’hana’s general quarters order was still in effect. “Then again,” she added, “I know nothing about Engineering, so it may well be that we’ll still die.”
“Gisele and J’hana will prevail,” Bradley said, pulling himself up to a sitting position. “I know they will.”
“I’m glad you’ve got faith.”
“You don’t know anything about engineering?”
“Well, I just find that funny. Didn’t you date an engineer for a few years?”
“Christopher?” Browning ran her fingers through her hair, which had tangled into quite a mess in all the commotion. “Well, I suppose we did spend a lot of time together. But we never really talked about engineering stuff.”
“Too bad. You might have been able to help J’hana.”
“Yes, but then we wouldn’t have this quality time to talk.”
“Yes,” Bradley said, looking around. “I wonder what deck we’re on?”
“I have no idea,” Browning said honestly.
“Well…I think there would have been an explosion by now if J’hana had failed. So it’s safe to assume that we’re out of danger for the moment.” Bradley pulled himself to his feet and brushed off his pants. The suit would definitely have to be cleaned. “I need to get back to my offices.”
Browning stood and looked at Bradley. “You’re probably right about the deflector, but I don’t think your headquarters is the smartest place for you to go right now. Not since your alternate office was already attacked.”
“The overload my not have had anything to do with the assassin,” Bradley said defensively.
“Then how come your transporter system was deactivated as well?”
“I must admit, I’m at a little bit of a loss.”
“Don’t be,” a voice suddenly said, causing both Bradley and Browning’s heads to whip around. “I’ll be glad to explain everything.”
“Where are you going, Lieutenant?” Gisele called after J’hana as she stormed purposefully down the corridor. She didn’t have time to pat herself on the back for stopping the overload, although she had to admit to a considerable amount of relief as she felt the deflector power down after pulling that final isolinear chip.
“I have work to do,” she said tightly.
“Work more important than protecting the President? Isn’t he in the opposite direction?”
“Indeed he is, but the killer is this way.”
“You know who the killer is?”
“Mind telling me how you know?”
J’hana shook the oblong, bluegreen rod with several connecting cables that she’d pulled off the deflector controls. “Much like the device used in the turbolift shaft, this one has a production lineage that uses technologies from several cultures. This particular piece has changed hands among such races as the Breen, the Klingons, the Ziraxians and the Jarada.”
“So the assassin is good at covering his tracks. What’s so unusual about that?”
“Only one species is capable of dealing with such an array of villainous races, to mention nothing of the gall it takes to risk the total destruction of the Explorer, including the assassin, just to kill a single man.”
“Great, so you have it narrowed down to a species. How does that help us?”
“Because there are only two adult Andorians living on the Explorer, and one of them is me.”
“Marco!” Lt. Madera called out, flip-flopping in the whirlpool full of bubbles in Commander Richards’s bathroom.
Richards emerged on the other end. “I’m going to say Polo, but only with the stipulation that this tub is way too small to play this game in. You can feel me slithering around under you!”
“And I can feel you,” Madera said, leaning forward and kissing Richards on the mouth. “Say, can we have General Quarters more often?”
Richards pulled back. “I’m glad you’re having a good time, Susan, but you do realize that this is no laughing matter. Lives are at stake.”
“But there’s nothing we can do about it right now, so why not have some post-engagement fun?”
“Oh, right. The engagement,” Richards said thoughtfully. “Yes. Fun!”
Madera threw her arms around Richards’s neck. “Let’s stop playing Marco Polo for now. Let’s play a different game.”
“Okeydoke,” Richards said uneasily, thinking of Janice. He was worried about her. But at least he knew she’d be relatively safe in her quarters. Better that than gallivanting around the ship and getting in God- knows what kind of trouble.
J’hana and Gisele arrived at the door and J’hana angrily thumbed the ringer.
“Maybe he isn’t home,” Gisele offered. “You know, he could be out trying to kill again.”
“He is in there. I sense him.”
“With, um, those?” Gisele asked, pointing at J’hana’s antennae.
“No. Call it instinct.”
‘The same instinct that tells you he’s the killer?”
“Yes. Exactly. Now shut up.” She hit the door-ringer again.
Finally, a voice answered.
“Mister S’veth,” J’hana announced. “May I have a word with you? It’s about some killing.”
“Sure, let me just put on a fresh shirt. I was napping.”
“Of course.” J’hana looked around idly as she waited. “A bit chilly, isn’t it?” she asked Gisele, having calmed down now a bit.
“I hadn’t noticed,” Gisele said.
Suddenly, the doors whisked open, a frehsly-shirted S’veth standing, unassuming, in the doorway. “Now, what’s this about killing?”
J’hana grabbed S’veth by the neck, and in one swift motion, pulled him out of his cabin and smashed him head-first into the opposite bulkhead. She then used one foot to sweep the man’s feet out from under him and flipped her arm around to the other side of his neck, gracefully forcing the Andorian quickly and painfully onto his back, with her elbow surely planted on his throat.
“You have tried to kill the Federation President on two occasions,” J’hana said steadily, kneeling beside her victim. “We frown on that around here.”
“Urk…what?” S’veth stammered.
“You tried to blow up a turbolift shaft, then the main deflector. Ship’s passengers are not allowed to cause explosions. Need I make myself any clearer?”
“I didn’t try to blow anything up.”
“Maybe he’s telling the truth,” Gisele suggested.
“Please, let me do my job,” J’hana said, rougly lifting S’veth to his feet. “I will give you the benefit of an interrogation before I summarily indict you, Mister S’veth. But before I do that, we must put your daughter into protective custody. I would not wish her to see the many inhumane acts I am about to leverage upon you.”
“I…appreciate that,” S’veth croaked, rubbing his throat as J’hana followed him carefully back into his cabin, her phaser at the ready.
“V’xxnvar,” he called into the quarters. “Come out here. Your friend J’hana is here and she wants to take us on a little trip.”
“Something feels wrong about this,” J’hana growled.
“You think?” Gisele asked.
“V’xnnvar?” S’veth called out, peering into one of the cabin’s two bedrooms. “That’s funny. She was here earlier.” He looked back at J’hana. “How could she have gotten out without me noticing?”
J’hana and Gisele looked at each other.
“I have a theory,” J’hana said breathlessly, tossing her phaser to Gisele. “Stay with him. Close the door and lock it. I will be back.”
“Where are you going?” S’veth demanded, as Gisele pointed the phaser at him.
“To discipline a very naughty child!”
“Now, now…V’xxnvar, let’s not be hasty here…” Dr. Browning said, holding her hands up and elbowing Bradley Dillon to do the same as the Andorian seven-year-old held a phaser out with both hands, arms extended and rigid, aimed at her and the Federation President. She wore a typical enough child’s jumpsuit, goldish in color.
“You cannot be serious,” Bradley said flatly. “You? You’re the one who’s been trying to kill me?”
“YES!” V’xxnvar hissed. “Why do you find that so hard to believe?”
“Because you’re a child.”
“Maybe. But I’m a child who’s aiming a phaser at you right now.”
Doctor Browning’s hand crept toward her combadge. V’xxnvar’s arm swung around in an instand and blasted it clean off her chest. It clattered, singed, to the ground.
“Do you think I’m fwarking around?” the second grader demanded.
“No. I’m sure you’re not fwarking,” Browning said, patting the smoking spot on her uniform where her communicator once was. “Let’s find a way to resolve this peacefully.”
The Andorian swung the phaser back around to Bradley. “There’s only one way to resolve this. His death.”
“Now then,” Bradley said, dropping to one knee in front of the Andorian. It wasn’t a gesture of supplication, but of friendliness. V’xxnvar backed away a few steps as he extended his hand. “I think we can come up with a reasonable compromise that doesn’t include me dying.”
“I don’t believe so,” V’xxnvar sneered. “Not while the Federation still sits idly by while Andorian interests go unheeded.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Bradley said soothingly, as Browning looked on.
“Of course you don’t. You’re oblivious. That’s why you have to die. We preferred it when President Inyo was crazy, and Maruac ran things. Now, the Federation is but a profit making machine for your vast empire.”
“We?” Bradley asked conversationally. “Who would we be?”
V’xxnvar stood a little straighter. “Andorians for a More Stable and Honorable Government.”
“Ahh, the AMSHG,” Browning said.
“We prefer the abbreviation ‘AnGov.’”
“Sure you do,” Bradley said, clasping his hands over his knee. “What’s say we talk about your ‘AnGov,’ over some nice hot…” He looked back at Browning, who quickly leaned down and whispered something in his ear. “G’hordat’s Blood. Doesn’t that sound delicious?”
“I don’t want G’hordat’s blood!” V’xxnvar cried, stomping her feet. “I want you to be dead!”
“I’m sorry,” Bradley said, “but I can’t let you kill me. There’s just…too much at stake.”
“Like what?” V’xxnvar said tearfully. “You’re just in this presidency thing for yourself. My mommies say so.”
Browning folded her arms. “So your mommies put you up to this, then.”
“No. They just trained me and gave me all the supplies before they left the ship. Sure, they send me instructions sometimes. No more than three, four times a week. But I’ve got a big say in what goes on. Yeah, yeah. A big say!” V’xxnvar rubbed her eyes.
“I think it’s somebody’s bedtime,” Bradley said soothingly, inching forward. “What about a hug?”
“A hug?” V’xxnvar said, looking back at Bradley with blue-rimmed eyes.
“Uh-huh,” Bradley said with a big smile, outstretching his arms.
V’xxnvar leaned forward, into an embrace with the larger man, her left hand still gripping the phaser
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” came a violent shout from behind, and Browning’s head swiveled around to see J’hana barreling toward them. It was all she could do to get out of the way as J’hana launched herself into the air, tucked into a somersault, vaulted over Bradley, gripped V’xxnvar by the shoulders, and flipped her over. It was a wild, mid-air tango that couldn’t have looked more beautiful if it was choreographed beat by beat.
The result was J’hana pinning V’xxnvar to the ground and Bradley Dillon and Janice Browning looking on, perplexed.
“You didn’t have to do that, J’hana. I’d gotten through to her,” Bradley said.
“Oh yes,” J’hana said breathlessly, wrenching the child up to her feet, shaking her right hand, which now held what must have been a perfectly concealed, but deadly looking and rather long, serrated blade. “Yes, I can see she was about to get through to you, too. Or, in this case, get through you.”
“Kids today,” Browning said softly.
“Little fzzixer!” J’hana said, shaking V’xxnvar by the shoulders. “What were you thinking?”
“I just wanted to kill him,” V’xxnvar said. “But the mean man wouldn’t let me do that to him.”
J’hana turned around and looked at Bradley a moment. “No, I suppose he didn’t.” She turned back to V’xxnvar. “Look, my little zelchan, you can’t just go killing people. Not on Federation starships. That’s for the homeworld only.”
“But my mommies said it would be okay. They wanted me to! They said it would be fun! I want to kill. I wanna!”
J’hana pulled V’xxnvar into a hug, squeezing her tightly. “I know, sweetie, I know. The bloodlust runs deep in my veins too. But there are other ways to work out that aggression.” She sighed. “Ways you won’t figure out for a good eight or nine years.”
“Which is about how long she’ll be spending in a Federation Rehab Colony,” Browning muttered.
“At least,” Bradley agreed.
As J’hana and V’xxnvar hugged, Browning saw another blade slip out of the child’s sleeve.
“J’hana, watch–” Browning shrieked.
But the Andorian was already in mid-movement, spinning the child around like a top, then body-slamming her to the deck, pinning her by the neck with one hand and poising the other, arrow-like, to deliver the death blow.
“See what I mean?” J’hana said. “Little ones can be tricky. That’s why I will never breed. That, and the insemination ritual is way too much trouble. I don’t know that many Andorian males, and I don’t want to be stretched out like–”
“Okay, that’s quite enough,” Browning said, throwing up her hands. “Can you please put that little girl in the brig so we can all go back to our normal lives?”
“Sure,” J’hana said, then looked down at the little Andorian as she gripped the girl’s wrist tightly. “And we’ll put lots of nice toys in there for you. It’ll be so much fun.”
“Fwark you!” V’xxnvar spat.
“There’s my girl,” J’hana said, and dragged the child off.
“Lieutenant,” Bradley called after her. “Are we off General Quarters yet?”
“Just give me a few minutes to get this little shnixarnt put away!” J’hana called back.
“Ah, the bridge!” Captain Baxter said, leading the bridge crew off the turbolift. Now that General Quarters had officially ended, Baxter was pleased to have control of his ship back. “Commander Richards, make a note that I’m not ever to be relieved of command again.”
“I don’t think that will hold up in the JAG courts, Captain,” Vansen smirked as she walked around to her chair.
“If you’d like to make a move for power, Lieutenant Commander, you’re welcomed to try,” Baxter snapped as he took his seat.
“I’d like to take a bath,” Richards said, sitting on the opposite side of Baxter.
“I second that,” Lt. Madera said, as she and Sefelt took their places at helm and ops. Tilleran, as well, was back at science, with only J’hana missing at tactical. She was still tucking little V’xxnvar into her cell.
“Well, nobody’s getting any more time off. It’s officially time to find the Bast,” Baxter said. “I’m sick of all the waiting. The sooner we find these people and get President Dillon’s mission accomplished, the sooner all our lives go back to normal.”
“We’re still on course for Vespa Three,” Madera said, looking over her panel. “We should be there within the hour.”
“Good,” Baxter said, rubbing his hands together.
“Captain,” Vansen said, leaning over. “Does it not concern you, even in the least, that one of our second graders tried to destroy the ship today?”
“Don’t exaggerate, Vansen,” Baxter said. “She was really just trying to kill the President. Anyway, J’hana successfully averted disaster, and will do the same should anything like that come up again.”
“Why do I get the bad feeling that something WILL come up again,” Richards said, sinking lower into his seat.
“Because you are engaged now, Chris,” Baxter said, lowering his voice. “The whole universe is now conspiring against you. Enjoy!”
“Uh-huh,” Richards said, sinking a little lower in his chair.
“Maintain course, Lieutenant Madera,” Baxter said with a smile.
President Dillon, with a table full of grey-suited Special Secret Section guards seated not three meters away, stirred the straw in his drink in the Constellation Club. Considering the stress of the last few days, he felt it prudent to spend a night outside his cabin, even if it was…a tad unsafe.
“Mind if I sit down?” a voice asked.
He looked up. “Janice. No. Of course not. Have a seat. Just don’t make any aggressive moves toward me. That might get you shot.”
Browning sat down opposite Bradley. “Oh, I’m starting to get the idea that I take my life into my hands every time I hang out with you.”
“Then perhaps you shouldn’t ‘hang out’ with me,” Bradley said, sipping from his drink.
“Are you trying to get rid of me, Mister President?” Browning said with a small smile. “All you have to do is say the word, and ‘poof,’ I go away.”
Bradley took a long, hard look at Doctor Janice Browning. “First of all, call me Bradley.”
“Bradley,” Browning said. “Okay.” She glanced over to the bar. “Hey, Mirk. Double Circassian Chocolate Liqueur. And keep them coming!”
Mirk Hartley walked over moments later, with a glass of frothing brown liquid. “You’re sure about this, Doctor?”
“Reasonably,” Browning said, taking the glass. “But then again, I’m not sure of much of anything lately…” She trailed off, and Mirk could tell she had something on her mind.
“You know what might help you make sense of your life? Closing down your restaurant so I get my regular clientele back!”
“That’s a nice offer, Mirk, but I don’t think so,” Browning said with a small smile.
“It was worth a try,” Mirk muttered, and walked off.
“So,” Bradley Dillon said, folding his hands atop the table and looking at Browning. “What of little V’xxnvar?”
“Plato is down with her right now, playing Jonata’s Brain Puzzle.”
“Across a very powerful forcefield, I hope.”
Browning sipped. “Indeed.”
“And you don’t think V’xxnvar will corrupt your child’s mind with rebellious ideas?”
“If Plato was going to be corrupt, he’d be corrupt already,” Browning said with a little giggle. “I think he’s got his head on straight.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Bradley said, and sipped from his own drink.
“What about V’xxnvar’s…mommies?”
“I’ve just fired off a few subspace communications to Starfleet Security. Zarata, N’xar and K’zzix should be behind nice, strong forcefields sometime tomorrow.”
“Sounds like that wraps everything up,” Browning said. “You must feel a lot safer.”
“Yes,” Bradley said, and stared into his drink. More silence, then the trill of Bradley’s lapel pin, complete with the Dillon Enterprises logo. He felt the Starfleet combadge was a little gauche.
“Baxter to President Dillon. Just thought you’d like to know that we’ve arrived at Vespa Three. You want me to form an away–”
“No!” Bradley shouted. “Just send me J’hana. Have her report to the transporter room immediately.”
“Yes, sir. She and I will–”
“No. Just J’hana. You stay on the bridge.”
“That’s not negotiable, Captain. This isn’t a tourist stop.”
“My mistake!” Baxter snapped, and cut the channel.
Bradley got up. “Doctor, if you’ll excuse me.”
Browning stood up too, and immediately regretted it. “Whoo…head rush.”
She planted her hands on the table. “Bradley, I’d like to go with you.”
Bradley clasped his hands in front of him. “So you can report back to your friend, Captain Baxter?”
“No,” Browning said, and by her tone, Bradley actually believed her. “No, really just because I want to go with you.”
Bradley mulled that. “Very well. Let’s go, then.”
His guards motioned as if to follow, but he waved them back. “Not this time. This, I do alone.”
“Alone, but with me,” Browning grinned, and walked with Bradley out of the Constellation Club.
“Lovely planet,” J’hana grunted, as harsh, cold winds blew by her, Bradley, and Browning. The two humans were wrapped in thick Starfleet blue parkas, but J’hana had decided to go without, preferring to brave the sub- zero temperatures.
Bradley led the way, pressing through some brush, looking at his tricorder. “Energy readings are negative, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they had the technology to cloak all their emissions. They probably have a huge installation just ahead. And we can’t even detect it!”
“Or, there’s no installation,” Browning suggested.
“This tip is reliable,” Bradley said. “I have instincts for these things.”
J’hana pulled her phaser, upped the power levels. “Yes, as do I.”
The group continued on about a hundred meters, then stopped short at a cliff that overlooked a huge ravine, several storeys below.
Wind blew harshly on the trio, burning their faces red (and, in J’hana’s case, blue). Bradley checked his tricorder again. J’hana holstered her phaser. Browning let out an exasperated breath.
“I don’t understand,” Bradley said. “They should be right here.”
Browning looked over the expanse of ravine, where there was an obvious (and rather large) spherical indentation in the ground. Small outbuildings littered the landscape.
“I’ve scanned every spectrum,” Bradley said. “If they were cloaked, there’d be some residual readings. Something. They’re just…gone.”
“But they were here,” J’hana said, pointing at the huge, dark gouge in the ground. “That was one of their ships parked here, am I correct?”
“I would say the chances of that are very, very good.”
“Well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s happening,” Browning said, looking at Bradley.
“It doesn’t?” he asked.
She nodded. “I think it’s pretty obvious that the Bast don’t want to be found.”
Bradley nodded. “So it would seem.”
J’hana glared at Bradley and Browning. “So. What do we do now?”
Bradley turned around and stalked back into the underbrush. “We keep looking. That’s what we do. We keep looking.”
The Explorer’s undergone some wear and tear during this mission to find the Bast. So it’s only natural they have to take a little bit of a pit stop to lick their wounds. What isn’t natural is that, while Lt. Commander Hartley has to work on repairing the ship, she’s also got to deal with the emotional problems of the whole crew. What’s up with that? Shouldn’t they be going somewhere else with their problems, instead of driving Hartley crazy? Apparently not!