Author: Anthony Butler
Stardate 56680.4. The likelihood of actually finding these mysterious “Bast” seems less and less as we continue through a particularly long and boring stretch of space, having reached a section of the galaxy where the stars are few and far between. Because of that, we’ve all experienced the accompanying boredom and restlessness, but I’m proud to say my crew is handling it well, all things considered.
“Aren’t we getting a little old for this?” Captain Andy Baxter asked, as he leaned against the bar in the Constellation Club, sizzling electronic music shaking the room, on yet another rowdy “Dance Night,” a tradition Mirk was trying to cultivate. Baxter had never been a very good dancer, and preferred to watch other people make fools of themselves on the dance floor. Lieutenant Sefelt, for example, was being wildly swung about by the tentacles of the gargantuan Velvattian security officer, Lt. Unlathi, as a particularly cloying Betazed Boys song boomed out of every speaker in the room. Baxter almost felt sorry for Sefelt. Almost.
“A little old for what?” Commander Chris Richards asked from beside Baxter as he sipped his Cardassian canarr toddy. “Drinking?”
“The whole bar scene. I mean…we’re in our…” Baxter cleared his throat. “Um…very early thirties. Isn’t it about time we did sensible things, like…stay in and watch movies?”
“You mean what we’ve done every other night this week,” Doctor Janice Browning said, from the other side of Baxter.
“Hey, if it ain’t broke…”
“Fix it,” Browning said flatly.
Richards looked over at her. “Problems, Janice?”
“No,” Browning smiled. “Actually, I’m just fine.”
“We missed you at the lacrosse tournament this afternoon,” Baxter said, staring at his feet. “I guess you had medical stuff to attend to.”
“No, actually, I had a lunch date.”
“Lunch date,” Baxter said, exchanging an uneasy glance with Richards.
“With…” Richards began.
“You know darn well who with, Christopher,” Browning said.
“Not President Dillon again,” Baxter said.
“Yes,” Browning said. “As a matter of fact, it is President Dillon. Do you have a problem with that, Andy?”
“Well…not when you ask it like that.”
Browning stared at Richards and Baxter. “Look, you guys will just have to learn to deal with a relationship between me and the President of the United Federation of Planets. I’ve always been nice to your significant others. It’s about time you gave me the same respect.”
“Have you ever actually spoken to Susan?” Richards asked.
“That’s not the point,” Browning said. “I just think it’s high time you silly boys accepted the fact that I have a man in my life.”
“Janice,” Baxter began. “I am very…happy for you to have found…someone. But don’t you think a relationship with Bradley Dillon is sort of…I don’t know…unholy?”
“Well, for one, he’s virtually taken over my ship, and we don’t even know why.”
“So has Vansen, and Christopher thought about asking her out.”
Baxter’s eyes widened as he looked at Richards. “You WHAT?”
“I told you to keep that to yourself!” Richards snapped at Browning. “And date whoever you want. I don’t care. I’ve got wedding plans to make.” And, with that, Richards walked off, leaving the Constellation Club.
“What’s eating him?” Baxter asked.
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” Browning sighed. She glanced at the chronometer that hung over the bar. “It’s twenty-one hundred. Shouldn’t Kelly be here by now?”
“She’s working on her book. She said she’s in a ‘zone,’ and can’t be disturbed,” Baxter said, folding his arms.
“Interesting,” Browning said.
“Oh well,” Baxter said, waving over to Mirk and shaking his empty glass, signaling for a refill. “At least we have each other, right?”
“Huh?” Browning said, glancing in the opposite direction as the doors to the Club parted, and President Bradley Dillon strolled in, arms draped behind his back, four charcoal-suited Special Secret Section guards behind him, and Gisele as well, taking notes. “Oh, Bradley! Over here!”
Bradley drifted over, regarding Browning with a smile. “Doctor, how nice to see you.”
“I’m glad you came!”
“You insisted, and I couldn’t resist your invitation,” Bradley said, gallantly taking Browning’s hand and kissing it. Baxter rolled his eyes. “The music is not exactly my cup of tea, but I’ll do my best to abide it.”
“You’ll do more than abide it, buddy, whatever that means,” Browning said, taking both Bradley’s hands. “You’re going to dance!”
“Dance?” Bradley asked quizzically. He looked out onto the dance floor. “This music is a little fast for a box step.”
“Box step my butt,” Browning said with a grin, and dragged Bradley out onto the dance floor, just as the new song by four-year-old pop recording sensation Jose’ Trumbell Junior, “Where’s My Popsicle?” came on over the sound system.
“Here’s another Grapefruit’n’Vodka, Captain,” Mirk Hartley said, sliding Baxter’s drink down the bar while the captain watched, horrified as Browning shimmied against the Federation President, as Jose Trumbell cooed: “Popsicles for him, popsicles for her, but where’s my popsicle?”
“Uh…thanks,” Baxter said, absently grabbing the glass and sipping, not even looking at Mirk as he stared out at the dancefloor, transfixed.
“Something wrong, Captain?” Mirk asked.
“Is it just me, or has Janice been acting different lately?”
“I like this new side of her. I think she’s…what was that book J’hana loaned me? Gotten her verve back.”
“I think it’s ‘gotten her swerve back,’” Baxter said.
“No, that’s ‘gotten her swerve on,’ which is a different expression altogether. Megan’s been teaching me Earth vernacular.”
“Fun,” Baxter said blankly.
Mirk studied Baxter for a moment as he wiped the bar off. “Pardon me if I say so, Captain, but you look like you’ve just lost your best friend.”
“Maybe I have, Mirk. Maybe I have,” Baxter said, downing his drink, and heading for the door.
Before Baxter could reach the door, something shook the deck beneath him and he was thrown suddenly and violently to the floor, as if the whole ship were yanked out from under him.
He clawed at one of the bar railings to try to pull himself up as he felt his guts sink about twenty meters straight down.
Red alert klaxons blared. The music stopped suddenly, and the funky disco lighting in the club turned to dull red emergency lighting.
A loud wail filled the room as the panicked partygoers clambered over each other, as the stars outside changed direction several times.
The Explorer was in a spin.
“Bridge!” Baxter called out. “Status!”
“Captain!” came Lt. Madera’s voice. “The starboard nacelle just overloaded! We’re trying to take the other one off-line, but the injectors are locked. We’re in a tailspin, and the inertia is more than the dampers can handle!”
“Pull us out of the spin! Reverse on all impulse engines!” Baxter said, climbing along the bar in a mad struggle to keep upright.
“Is this another assassination attempt?” Janice Browning’s panicked voice called out.
“If it is, the assassin will die a quick death. I just spilled v’haspant all over my new leather tank dress!” J’hana shouted from somewhere else inside the club.
“Somebody find Hartley!” Baxter cried, as the Explorer pitched again, and he landed painfully on his back.
Lt. Commander Megan Hartley stormed angrily out of the turbolift and onto the bridge, passing crewmen without so much as a nod of recognition.
She stamped her hand on the door call, and stepped into the foreward conference room, coming face to face with the entire senior staff, who all sat around the conference room, looking very concerned.
Vansen was the first to speak.
“Can we get you a towel, Commander?”
Hartley growled low in her throat as she walked to the monitor in front of the room, dripping a trail on the carpet behind her. Her mustard- colored silk robe clung to her wet body, and her tangled hair was stuck to her face, and she did not look happy.
She pressed a button, bringing up an overhead schematic of the Explorer. One of the nacelle’s glowed bright red. “At twenty-one oh-six this evening, we experienced a forced overload of the starboard nacelle, which caused the ship to be thrown into a very nasty tailspin, which caused me to be thrown bodily out of my tub and onto the bathroom floor. This must never happen again.”
“You’re telling me,” Baxter said. “I still have a large bump on my right ass cheek.”
“Lovely!” Vansen exclaimed, then looked at Hartley. “Now what are you going to do about it?”
“I’m glad you asked. Thanks to some quick thinking by Ensign Stuart, the crew in engineering was able to pull the plug on the port nacelle before we all got turned into lumpy oatmeal.”
“He’s a smart guy,” Richards interjected. “You really should give him a promotion.”
“Eh, I’ll get around to it,” Hartley said. “Anyway, that leaves us with two currently dead nacelles, and it leaves us dead in the water.”
“For how long?” Baxter asked. “President Dillon will want to know.”
“I’m taking notes for him,” Browning added, holding up her padd. “See? Notes!”
Hartley rolled her eyes. “It’s going to take the better part of two days. It’ll take at least that long to restart the engines and figure out how to fix whatever’s gone wrong.”
“Do you suspect foul play?” J’hana asked pointedly.
“No, as a matter of fact, I suspect our president,” Hartley muttered.
“Is that with a capital ‘P’?” Browning asked, then looked up. “Wait…you mean you suspect Bradley?”
“Yes. What I mean is, it’s this damn mission we’re on, Captain. It’s killing my engines. Do you realize we’ve been at warp eight for almost three straight weeks? That takes a toll on a ship!”
“It has been a while since we’ve stopped anywhere,” Baxter mused, rubbing his goatee. “I’ve been wanting to stop off somewhere and get some fruit for a while now.”
“This is going to be very bad for crew morale,” Peterman said, staring at a padd and punching information into it as she talked.
“I don’t think the crew give a damn, honey.”
“The ones who got thrown out of the tubs give a damn!” Hartley said, shaking her arms for emphasis. Water droplets splashed on the faces of the closest officers; in this case, Tilleran and Richards.
“Well, it seems like the solution is clear cut,” Baxter said. “I’ll handle speaking with the crew, and you’ll handle getting the engines back online. The full resources of the Explorer are at your disposal.”
“But this is just a symptom of a bigger problem, sir,” Hartley said, planting her hands on the conference table, splashing more water on Richards. “You’ve got to get the President to set a time limit on this thing. If we don’t find the Bast in another month, we turn back.”
“I’ve got about as much say in that as you do, and you know that,” Baxter said. “The mission goes on as long as he wants it to.”
“And it’s for the good of the Federation,” Browning added.
“I’d love to know exactly how,” Baxter muttered.
“Yeah, he never has shared that little tidbit with us,” Richards said.
“He doesn’t have to,” Browning said. “He’s the President. We go where he tells us.”
“Wish I could disagree with you,” Baxter said softly, and stood up. “Dismissed everyone. Go back to your jobs as if we weren’t stuck without engines in the middle of nowhere.”
“Are there at least any planets nearby?” Vansen asked, turning to Tilleran.
The Betazoid shook her head. “None within impulse range. No ships either.”
“Terrific,” Richards said. “This trip just got even more boring.”
“You all know what to do. Let’s get to it,” Baxter said, and walked out.
J’hana watched Baxter leave, and then turned to Peterman. “Counselor, do you notice certain crew behaving as if they are a little…on edge?”
“Mm-hmm,” Peterman said distractedly, staring at a padd and typing on it as she stood up. “I’ll be down in my office if anybody needs me. Don’t disturb me unless it’s important. I’m…working on something.” And with that, she left.
J’hana swiveled to face Dr. Browning. “As I said, some of the crew are acting rather strangely…”
“I’d better get these notes to President Dillon. He’ll need me. I mean them.” And she got up and trotted out of the room.
Richards watched her go.
“Indeed, she is behaving rather strangely as well,” J’hana said to Richards.
“Hmm?” Richards asked. “Yes. I have the bridge.” And he got up and left.
“I’m going to dry off and get dressed,” Hartley said, marching out of the room, followed by Vansen, leaving J’hana alone with Tilleran.
“What were you saying, Imzadi?” Tilleran asked, rubbing her temples.
“Nothing important,” J’hana muttered, and walked off to take her station.
Chief Engineer’s Log,
Supplemental. I’ve spent the last twelve hours recalibrating the engines and preparing for tomorrow’s restart sequence. It’s been nothing but grunt work of crawling around in Jefferies tubes with my crew and adjusting one ODN connection after another. I still can’t quite figure out where the overload began, but a level one diagnostic is never an easy thing. My job is a tough one, but honestly, I’m not really even tired. I just have to close my eyes for one….hnnnnnnnnnnnnnnk.
“Good morning, sweetie,” a soft voice said, and Megan Hartley awoke with a start.
“Hamina…Warp engines! Reactors! Injectors! Plasma!” Her head jerked up off her desk and padds and various work tools went flying.
Mirk put a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Shhh, Megan. You were just dreaming.”
She looked up at Mirk and smiled. “Hi there, hon. You came down to check on me?”
“Well, I got a little worried when you didn’t answer my comms.”
Hartley wiped a little drool from her chin and smiled. “I was sleeping.”
“I noticed. I won’t tell the captain.”
“So what if you do?” Hartley snapped. “I bet he’s sleeping right now too!”
“It is oh-eight hundred.”
“Eight hundred!” Hartley exclaimed, standing up. “Damn. I’ve got work to do.” Hartley walked to the other end of her office and paged through some schematics of the nacelles. “Yeah, we’re about forty percent done with the engine diagnostic. Wow, we really have quite the build-up of nadion particles on the nacelles.”
“Sounds like they need a good scrub.”
“In a manner of speaking, yes,” Hartley said. “But we’ll need to put in at a starbase to get a full barion sweep. We’re going to have to find another way to reduce that build-up out here in space.”
“Can you equip a runabout to do it?”
“Not enough power.”
“How about the Escort?”
“Maybe. I’ll have to run some simulations.”
Mirk nodded. “Well, it appears you have your work cut out for you today.” He set a jug he was carrying down on the table. “I brought you a Breen Stimulant Coolatta. Thought you might need a little eye opener.”
“That’s sweet, Mirk,” Hartley said, walking across her office and wrapping her arms around Mirk. “A girl couldn’t ask for a better husband.”
“I believe Ensign Stuart is available,” Mirk said with a grin as he kissed Hartley.
“Not my type. He doesn’t have any spots,” Hartley giggled, then glanced over her shoulder, out the window that overlooked engineering. “Damn it! Ensign Lexxin is using a variable attenuator on an asymmetric node! She’s going to blow out the whole relay system!”
“Oh, and I just remembered….I have to replicate new tablecloths for my bar,” Mirk said, and kissed Hartley once more on the cheek, then walked out of Hartley’s office.
“Lexxin, put that attenuator down before I cram it down your throat!” Hartley cried out as she charged out into engineering.
As Mirk walked off, he considered what a lucky man he really was.
Hartley sighed as she leaned over the master systems display, thunking a small padd against her head as she stared over the readouts. The nadion buildup wasn’t her only problem. She’d have to send teams throughout the nacelle, looking for breaches along the ODN conduits, shoring up the power converters. These nacelles were just overused and overworked. The Explorer was only five years old, but it had logged a lot of lightyears. She mentally kicked herself for not ordering a full barion sweep months ago, after they got back from the Gamma Quadrant.
She set the padd down before her and began to type up a duty roster for her engineering team to go through the nacelles. They’d have to pull double shifts, and they wouldn’t be happy about that, but then again Hartley had never really been known as much of a people pleaser-type boss.
Hartley was stirred from her work by the swish of gray slacks walking past her. She glanced up to see four grey-suited individuals wearing sunglasses (why sunglasses?) walking toward the warp core with what looked like private-sector tricorders.
“Can I help you?” she asked, standing up.
One of the grey-suits walked over to her and scanned her with his tri-corder. He studied the readings. “No. You can continue going about your business.”
“Can I ask what you’re doing in my engine room?”
“This is what we call a Red Zone. It has to be checked out before the President enters the area.”
“Ah, the Secret Section. The outfits should have been a dead giveaway,” Hartley said, snapping her fingers. “Maybe I was taken aback by the fact you guys actually talked for once.”
“Have you been working with any dangerous or radioactive substances this morning?” the grey-suit asked, bypassing Hartley’s comments.
“Just the usual,” Hartley said, draping her hands behind her back casually. “You know, good old antimatter.”
“Yes,” the man said. “Indeed.” He turned back to his men. “Is the sector secure?”
“Yes, Agent Anderson. Sector is secure.”
Anderson tapped a small pip on his wrist. Must be some kind of next-generation communicator. “Anderson to Gisele. You are clear to deliver the cake to the bakery.”
“Cake?” Hartley asked.
“Please return to your duties and do not speak unless spoken to.”
Hartley balled up her fist and brought it to bear as Anderson turned swiftly around and walked back to the warp core, taking more readings. She decided she’d better keep her comments to a minimum. After all, with all the attempts on Bradley Dillon’s life, they may be a little trigger happy.
Moments later, President Bradley Dillon, his assistant, Gisele, and two more Special Secret Section guards walked briskly into engineering.
“Commander Hartley,” Bradley said warmly, laying a hand on Hartley’s shoulder. “I trust your work is going well?”
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s going just fine, thanks,” Hartley said. “To what do I owe the honor of this visit from you and your legion of super heroes?”
Bradley chuckled quickly and dryly. “I need your assurances of a quick resolution to this problem.”
“I just told you, the work’s going fine.”
“Yes,” Bradley said. “But I need to know when the mission will resume.”
Hartley smiled. “When the engines are fixed.”
Gisele gently leaned in front of Bradley. “The President encourages you to work faster.”
Hartley smiled wider. “Tell the president I’m working as fast as I can, and to return to his office, before somebody makes another assassination attempt on him.”
“Was that a threat?” Anderson was behind her so quickly Hartley suspected he was using a personal transporter. Or else he had really soft shoes.
“No. Just a suggestion,” Hartley said without looking at Anderson. “Now then, I’m a very busy woman.”
Bradley didn’t seem rattled. He just side-stepped in front of Gisele, closer to Hartley. “Commander Hartley. I needn’t explain to you that this mission is of the utmost importance to the Federation. Its success is paramount.”
“Yes, well my engines are paramount to me, and right now I’m doing everything I can to fix them.”
“Then I will take your word on that,” Bradley said, and turned around and walked out, followed by his men. “Please keep me apprised of your progress,” he called over his shoulder.;
“I’ll send a memo!” Hartley said sweetly, waving, then turned around and punched her fist into the Master Systems Display. “Asshole!”
“But I don’t like getting dirty and sweaty. I wore my nice uniform today,” Ryan Stuart said as Hartley ushered him into the Jefferies access door in engineering.
“Get over it. You have a lot of nacelle to cover, and not a lot of time. Get moving.”
Hartley shoved Stuart, toolkit and all, into the Jefferies tube, just as Commander Chris Richards walked into engineering.
“Home sweet home!” he said cheerfully. “How goes it, Megan?”
Hartley’s shoulders hunched in annoyance as she turned around. “It would go a lot better if I wasn’t constantly being interrupted.”
“Whoa ho ho there, Megan. I’m not here to get in the way. I came down to help.”
“Help,” Hartley said flatly.
“Yeah. I was Chief Engineer, for, oh, four years or so.” Richards cracked his knuckles. “I think I can manage to knock around in that nacelle a bit. Clear out some of the cobwebs!”
“There are no cobwebs in my nacelles.”
“Well, look,” Richards said, patting Hartley on the shoulder. She felt her hackles raising up. Too many people were touching her today. “I know being Chief Engineer is a crummy job sometimes. You get blamed for everything. You get asked to work miracles. It’s beyond your ability, so you have to lie to make it sound like you ever get anything done.”
“No I don’t. Why, is that what you did?”
Richards swallowed hard. “Um…not at all. What would give you that idea? Look, do you want my help or not?”
Hartley thought about that. She shrugged. “Sure.” She walked over to the master display and grabbed a tool kit that was sitting there. She shoved it in Richards’s hands. “Go attenuate the ODN connectors along section 91-alpha.”
“Attenuation…wow…that can get kind of messy. All those charged particles.”
“Fine,” Hartley said, and grabbed the toolkit back.
“No,” Richards said. “You want me to do that, I’ll do it. I can get my hands dirty just like anyone else on this crew. I’ll show you I’m a hands-on type of leader.”
Hartley squinted at Richards. “This is because of something Vansen said to you, isn’t it?”
“No,” Richards said, and ducked into the nearby Jefferies tube hatch. “Well, maybe. See you around lunch time!”
“You don’t get a lunch time!” Hartley called after him as the door closed. She turned back to the master console, brushing her hands together. “Whew. Glad that’s over. Now I can get some real work done.”
About two hours had passed, and it was nearing lunchtime. Hartley considered going to Space Tastes. It was Casseroles of the Galaxy day, and she was dying to try the Ferengi Snail Shell Bake. But she’d told Richards that engineers don’t take lunch, and she didn’t want to seem like a hypocrite. Besides, she had a replicator in her office.
Hartley turned toward her office, just as she heard footsteps, and saw in the computer panel the reflection of Lt. Commander J’hana walking up behind her.
“J’hana,” Hartley said, without turning around. “What can I do for you?”
“It has come to my attention that you have made a threat on the life of President Dillon.”
Hartley bit her lip, slowly turning around. “It has, eh?”
J’hana folded her arms. “Yes.”
“Uh-huh. I wonder how that nasty rumor got started?”
“Perhaps when you told Agent Anderson, the Chief of the Special Secret Section, that President Dillon’s life would be in danger if he remained in Engineering.”
“Did I say that?” Hartley said, touching her chest, her mouth agape. “I don’t recall saying that.”
“The ship’s flight recorder contends that you did say that.”
“Uh-huh. And what would be the penalty if I did, um, say that?”
“Numerous,” J’hana said with a dry chortle. “Numerous and fantastic penalties. From imprisonment in the brig, to hefty fines, to a penal colony trip, psychoanalysis, counseling, interrogation…”
Hartley nodded. “Or…?”
“Or you could face me in honorable combat.”
Hartley walked toward the master systems display to continue her barion sweep simulations. “I don’t have time for this.”
J’hana gripped Hartley’s arm and spun her around. “This is not up for debate.”
Hartley squinted at J’hana. “You’re just bored, aren’t you?”
J’hana backed a few steps away, staring uncomfortably at the deck. “Perhaps…a bit.”
“Haven’t fired the old photons in a while, have you?”
“Not for some time. At least…not at any enemy ships.”
“Lust for combat got you down?”
J’hana nodded guiltily.
Hartley grimaced at J’hana. “Well, you couldn’t pick a worse time to…” She averted her eyes a moment, thinking. “You know…I’ve got a little pent up aggression of my own. Hell with it.” She suddenly whipped off her outer uniform jacket, exposing the tanktop beneath. She tossed the jacket onto the systems console and walked over to the open area at the entrance to engineering, where two corridors converged to meet up with the large compartment. “Let’s go. You and me. The boundaries are the two corridors leading to engineering. The first one of us across either entryway loses.”
J’hana grinned widly, yanking off her jacket with zeal and abandon. “You won’t regret this, Commander.”
“I already am,” Hartley said, crouching back into a fighting stance, lifting both her arms to the ready.
“On your signal,” J’hana said, crouching as well, arms bent, and at her sides, hands pointed, knifelike.
“Now!” Hartley shouted, and J’hana lunged at her. The engineer ducked, grabbed J’hana by the back of her tanktop and slammed her into the nearby bulkhead. The Andorian recovered instantly, as if she’d never been hit, and grabbed Hartley around the waist, lifting her off her feet and slamming her to the ground.
“Urk!” Hartley choked, as J’hana grabbed Hartley’s leg and bent it backwards. “You win nothing if you kill me!”
“My mistake,” J’hana said, swiftly grabbing Hartley by her ankles and swinging her bodily out of engineering and into the corridor beyond. “Victory J’hana,” she said, clenching her fists at her sides and bowing.
Hartley was trying to pull herself off the ground as Mirk walked up beside her. “Hey hon, I just thought you’d like some luuuu……ummmm….” He looked down at her. “Megan?”
“You could help me up,” Hartley muttered.
“Oh, right…” Mirk said, and set his covered tray down, gently lifting Hartley to her feet. “What the hell happened?”
“A massacre,” J’hana said with a laugh, and walked out of engineering, her uproarious laughter echoing off the bulkheads.
“Care to explain?” Mirk said.
“A little friendly sparring.”
Mirk looked at the breathless and red-faced Hartley, then back at J’hana, who strolled easily into the turbolift, then smiled as she turned around and ordered it to its next destination.
“Nice,” he said, and decided to leave it at that. “So I take it the repairs are going well?”
“I just got thrown out of my engine room by an Andorian. I was also yelled at by the President, and accused of trying to kill him. AND…Chris Richards came by and I had to talk to him.”
“Man. Sounds like you need a break.”
“I think J’hana already broke me.” Hartley rubbed her arm, looked at the tray. “What did you bring me?”
“Well, I was going to replicate something from the Club’s databanks. Then I remembered you wanted to try some of that Ferengi Shell Bake. So I went to Space Tastes and had Imhala make you a plate.”
Hartley smiled softly at Mirk, then leaned forward and kissed him hard on the mouth. “You are the best, Mirk. The absolute best.”
“Because I got you a shell casserole?”
Hartley shook her head as she grabbed the tray. “Because you went into your competition’s establishment and ordered the special. You put your pride on the line to get me what I want. It’s what all good husbands do.”
Mirk blinked. “Pride? I really didn’t see it that way. I like Janice. I don’t see her as competition.”
Hartley kissed Mirk on the cheek as she brought the tray into her office. “Mirk, I just gave you a million husband points. Take them. You’ll need them. They get subtracted far more often than they get added.”
“Duly noted. Anything else I can get you while I’m wandering around the ship?”
Hartley set the tray down on her desk as Mirk followed her into the office. “Nope. I think I’ll just eat and then get back to the engines. Why don’t you get back to work. You can’t spend the whole day waiting on me.”
Mirk smiled. “I own a night club, remember. We’re not open during the day.”
“Then go take a nap,” Hartley said. “You’ll need some energy tonight, when we both get off work. I’m going to be extra sweaty. Extra dirty.”
“Okeydoke,” Mirk said, and turned around.
“And….” Hartley said, rolling her eyes whimsically. “Just a little bit fruity.”
There was a little hop in Mirk’s step as he walked out of engineering, and although Hartley couldn’t see his face, she could tell he was smiling.
It only took Hartley a few minutes to finish the shell bake, and then she was back at work, plotting out a way to perform a jury-rigged barion sweep on the nacelles without putting in at a starbase…being that there were no starbases around.
As she’d eaten, she’d tapped up some plans on a padd, working from the design schematics of the Escort. Yes. With some minor modifications to the Escort’s phaser array, she’d be able to perform a barion sweep on the Explorer…at least a perfunctory one…and get them on their way again. That would at least delay the inevitable engine overhaul for a few months.
It was just a matter of swapping out the phaser batteries with barion emitters, which were kept on hand in one of the science labs. She made a mental note to talk to Tilleran about that. Then realized that the unltra-aware telepath had probably already detected that mental note, and was probably already making her way down to Engineering. That was something she always appreciated about Tilleran.
Hartley pulled together what tools she’d need from the drawer in her office, which, until she’d taken over, had contained Chris Richards’s art supplies. Hartley always wondered how that guy ever got any work done.
Once everything was packed into her toolkit, she headed out of engineering, then realized that the whole compartment was empty. Her people were all over the ship doing diagnostics and repairs on the nacelles and power flow systems.
“Megan!” a voice cried out from down the corridor, snapping her out of her thoughts.
Hartley glanced around the corner and tried desperately to contain her grimace as Captain Baxter walked up.
“Can we talk?” he asked.
Hartley set her toolkit down. “You have two minutes.”
“Ah, a ‘two minute warning,’” Baxter said, making air quotes. “I know it well.”
“A two minute what?”
Baxter shook his head. “Nothing. Doesn’t really pertain to why I’m here.”
“Why are you here? You didn’t hear what happened with me and J’hana, did you?”
“No…why…what did you…”
“It’s not about what I said to the President, then?”
“The President?” Baxter scratched his head. “What happ–”
“Good. And you’re not upset about me reassigning your First Officer?”
“You reassigned Chris? Where is that guy?”
Hartley shrugged. “That doesn’t really pertain to why you’re here.” Over the years, she’d really learned how to deal with Baxter. He wasn’t a bad guy once you learned how to talk to him.
“Good point,” Baxter said, instantly changing gears. He leaned back against the master console and folded his arms. “You mind if I share something personal with you, Megan?”
Egads, Hartley mumbled to herself. You’ve known me five years, and suddenly you want to confide in me? How’d I manage to avoid this for so long?
“Um….sure, I guess.”
“There’s something wrong with my wife.”
“Shouldn’t you be speaking to the ship’s couns…” Hartley stopped as soon as she’d begun. “Obviously, Kelly’s the ship’s counselor…”
“You can see my problem.”
“Well, why not talk to one of your friends about it?” Hartley sighed. He’d take that badly. “One of your, um, other friends?”
“Well, to be honest, Chris has been kind of spaced out ever since he proposed to Lieutenant Madera. And Janice…I don’t even want to go into that. She’s getting wierder and wierder.”
“Because she’s dating the president?”
Baxter blinked. “Does everyone know that? Is it true? Are they actually dating?” He straightened up, no longer comfortable. “I never heard that!”
“I think it’s all but official. I think the announcement will be in the ship’s newsletter any day now.”
“We have a newsletter?”
Whoops. Hartley quickly patted Baxter’s arm. Yeesh, now SHE was having to touch people. “Obviously you were really preoccupied when you came down here.” She swallowed hard. “I’m, um, here for you, Captain.”
Baxter smiled weakly. “That means a lot, Megan. So…about Kelly…”
Hartley nodded. “Trouble in lover’s paradise?”
“Well, she doesn’t really pay attention to me. She’s all absorbed in this book she’s writing. And she won’t even let me look at it. She goes to work, comes home, works on the book, then goes to bed, with only three or four words passing between us the entire time. I can’t seem to get through to her.”
Hartley nodded. “Sounds normal.”
Baxter looked at her as if she had three heads. “What do you mean normal?”
“Women reach a point in their lives when they need a dramatic change,” Hartley said. “I’m lucky. I changed from transporter chief to chief engineer. And believe, me, it couldn’t have come at a better time.”
Baxter thought about that. “Kelly got pregnant and gave birth. She made life. Isn’t that a big change?”
“Yes,” Hartley said, pointing at Baxter’s chest. “But that involved you. She needs something that’s all hers. Her whole life doesn’t have to revolve around you, ya know.”
“It doesn’t?” Baxter seemed taken aback.
“No, as a matter of fact, it doesn’t. She needs something that she feels she can call her own. Is that so hard to understand?”
“A little. But you think she’ll snap out of this?”
“It’s not a matter of snapping out of anything, Captain. Just let this run its course.”
Baxter scratched his head. “Run its course until it ends?”
Hartley laughed wildly. “It never ends.” She glanced over at a chronometer. “Damn, I have to get to the Escort. Say, would you mind hanging around and watching my engine room for me while I’m gone? Thanks!”
Baxter stared after Hartley as she dashed down the corridor. He leaned back against the master console and sighed. “Sure…no problem.”
Just then, Commander Chris Richards ducked out of the Jefferies tube. “Is she gone?”
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “What were you doing in there?”
“I’ve been waiting for her to leave for like twenty minutes. It’s past lunch time and I’m starving.”
“Then eat,” Baxter said simply.
“Hartley said engineers don’t take lunch.”
“You’re not an engineer. Let’s go grab a bite.”
“Good plan,” Richards said, following Baxter out of engineering. “What were you doing standing there, anyway?”
“Eh, nothing important.”
“Thank the Directors for peace and quiet,” Hartley said, as she sat, cross legged, in front of the port phaser relay junction aboard the Escort. Nobody had bothered her so far, and that didn’t surprise her, since the tiny scout ship was vacant.
It had taken her two hours to complete the barion swap-out on the starboard phaser emitter, so she was halfway done. Another few hours, and she’d be ready to launch the Escort and clean up her nacelles.
“Hey!” a voice said from behind her, startling her such that she did a little hop, smashing her head into the ODN conduit directly above her.
“Ow! Damn it!” she cried out, rubbing her head and looking behind her, to find Lt. Commander Ariel Tilleran leaning into the phaser maintenance hatch from the corridor outside.
“What are you doing here, Ariel?” Hartley asked, still rubbing her head.
“Don’t act like you’re glad to see me, or anything.”
Hartley sighed. “You should know by reading my thoughts I’m just fine with seeing you.”
“Um…yeah,” Tilleran said, then threw one leg, then the other, through the hatch, and crouched down, crawling over to where Hartley was sitting. “So, how’s the work coming?”
“I wish people would stop asking me that. I said it would take the better part of two days, and I wasn’t kidding.”
“Jeeze, don’t bite my head off,” Tilleran said, leaning back against the bulkhead and drawing her legs up. “I just came down to check and see how those barion emitters I gave you were working.”
“I’ll let you know as soon as I try them.”
Tilleran nodded, glancing around the cramped compartment. “I guess I also came down because I need someone to talk to.”
“There’s a lot of that going around lately.”
“Did you ever think there might be a reason for that?”
Hartley tucked a phase amplifier in her mouth and spoke through gritted teeth as she leaned under the long, cylindrical barion emmitter module. She pulled the amplifier out of her mouth and began fusing the connections between the emitter and the Escort’s power supply. “I don’t really think about it much.”
“You’re a good listener.”
Hartley almost bumped her head again, but restrained herself from leaning up as she continued fusing connections. “I am?”
“You cut to the chase. You don’t waste time with senseless babble.”
“Someone has to speak bluntly around here,” Hartley muttered, leaning up. “People’s feelings get hurt way too easily.”
“Why do you think that is?” Tilleran asked.
“Beats me. I suppose it’s because they’re all too sensitive. Just about everyone on this ship has been rejected by just about everyone else in the quadrant. That tends to put a person on edge, I guess.” She looked at Tilleran. “Besides, you’re probably a better judge of that than anyone else. Having the ability to read emotions, and all.”
Tilleran nodded, sucking her bottom lip and staring at her feet. “Yeah, about that…”
For some reason, that got Hartley’s attention. She turned to Tilleran, her attention completely on the Betazoid. “What about that?”
“I…think I’m losing my powers, Megan.”
“What…what makes you think like that?” Hartley asked.
“Because it’s getting harder and harder to read minds. Like you, I can barely tell you’re replaying the last time you and Mirk had intercourse in your head.”
“It was actually the third to last time. The last time wasn’t great.” Hartley shook her head, trying to get back to task. “Ariel…that’s serious. You need to go see Doctor Browning.”
“I…I’d rather not bring the whole ship into it. And if I went to her, everyone would eventually find out.”
“She does have a sort of big mouth.”
“You’re the only person I’ve told this to. I haven’t even talked to J’hana about it.”
“Wow,” Hartley said, putting down her tools and folding her hands in her laps. “I’m honored. But how long has this been going on?”
“It really got worse about three weeks ago. But the first time I noticed something wrong was months ago. When we went into battle with the Gorn.”
“Remember how I couldn’t read the intentions of that ship commander?”
“Well, I couldn’t. And I played it off like I just couldn’t read Gorn. But I’m supposed to be able to read Gorn. Damn it, I’m on the highest end of the telepathic spectrum. My abilities are comparable to Jalled, Troi, Deloge…”
“But not anymore, huh? You have any idea what could be causing this?”
“I’m the chief science officer, Megan,” Tilleran said, leaning her chin down on her knees and staring into space. “I’ve tried every kind of scan I can think of. I’ve scanned myself, I’ve scanned the ship, I’ve scanned all the space around us. There are no signs of any kind of phenomenon that could be affecting my telepathic abilities.”
“There has to be some explanation.”
“I think there is, but I don’t want to face that possibility.” Tilleran looked away. “I think I might just be…burning out.”
“Some Betazoids, especially the high-end ones, can lose their powers at an early age. It’s like the Betazoid equivalent of senility.”
“I’m sure that’s not happening, Ariel. I’m sure there’s a more reasonable explanation to this. Something more concrete. Something fixable.”
“That’s nice of you to say, Megan,” Tilleran said, scooting back to the maintenance hatch. “But telepaths aren’t like starship engines. Not all problems can be fixed.”
Hartley crawled toward Tilleran. “Well you can’t just give up! Maybe someone could…link with you. Try to get in there and figure out what’s going on.”
Tilleran shook her head. “There aren’t any other Betazoids on the Explorer. And I promised myself long ago that I’d never let a Vulcan in my mind.”
“I’d rather not get into it. No, the solution to this problem is going to have to wait until we get back from our mission to find the Bast.”
Hartley nodded as Tilleran slid out of the hatch. “Well, that doesn’t mean we’re going to give up on finding a way to restore your powers to full…power.”
“Listen, just forget we talked about this. Don’t tell anyone, not even Mirk.”
Hartley nodded. “Of course. You can count on me.”
“I knew I could. Look, I’ll let you get back to work. Maybe, if you have time, we can get a drink tonight.”
“Yeah,” Hartley said, and watched Tilleran go. She sighed. “And I thought I had problems.”
The news about Tilleran had distracted Hartley for a little while, but she’d always prided herself on the ability to shut out the world outside and focus on the task at hand, and this instance was no different. She pushed thoughts of Tilleran out of her mind and redoubled her efforts to get the barion sweep up and running.
The emitters were fully installed, and it was time to rig up the bridge interface and prepare the Escort for launch.
“Hartley to the Captain,” she said, slapping her combadge as she walked down the corridor to the Escort’s bridge.
“Baxter here,” the captain responded, sounding breathless.
“I didn’t interrupt anything…disgusting, did I?” Hartley said, rubbing her tired eyes.
“No, I was just playing a little one-on-one lacrosse with…” There was a brief pause, and hushed whispers. “What do you mean I can’t tell her I’m with you? Oh, grow up, Richards! You can do whatever you want!”
“I’m putting you on report, Richards!” Hartley grinned as she stepped onto the bridge. “Dereliction of duty. Not good for command types.”
“You can go ahead and report me to the First Officer, Hartley,” Richards said. “See how far that will get you!”
“Not at all,” Hartley said, slipping behind the ops console next to the command chair and bringing up the power controls. “I’ll report you to the Second Officer. That should get some results.”
“Captain Baxter,” Hartley annouced. “Very shortly, I’m going to launch the Escort. And when I’m done, I believe the nacelles will be fit for warp travel once again.”
“I’m really glad to hear that, Hartley.”
“I thought you might be.”
“Let me know when you’re finished with the sweep. I’d like to hear the results.”
“Yes, there is one problem though,” Hartley said. She’d been dreading having to ask Baxter to do anything. But public relations was really not her area.
“Barion radiation is deadly to humans. The crew in the stardrive section are going to have to move into the saucer.”
“Will we have to separate the ship?”
“No. The radiation won’t spread far beyond the area surrounding the nacelles. It’s all just a precautionary measure. Don’t want any dead people littering the halls or anything.”
“Go ahead and start that evacuation, Captain. Thanks! Hartley out!”
“But…” And the channel closed.
Hartley happily tapped away at the operations controls, so engrossed in her work that she barely heard the turbolift doors open and close. She didn’t know there was anyone else on the ship until she felt a hand on her shoulder. Once again, she jumped a little, but this time was lucky not to bust her head.
“Whoa, sorry Commander,” Dr. Janice Browning said. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“Then announce yourself when you enter a room!”
“Janice Browning, requesting permission to come aboard!” Browning said with a giggle, putting her hand to her forehead in a salute.
“You’re already aboard,” Hartley sighed, swiveling in her chair to face the doctor. “What do you want?”
“President Dillon sent me to get some notes on what exactly you’re doing to the ship. He also wants…let me get this right.” Browning lifted a padd up and squinted as she read it. “He wants an estimated time of project completion.”
“Tell him my project completion is estimated at whenever I’m damn good and done with it!”
“Okay. I’ll have to dress that up a little, but whatever works for you works for me!” Browning said cheerily as she tapped at the padd.
“You’re really crazy about that Dillon guy, huh?” Hartley asked.
“The President?” Browning nodded. “He’s an excellent leader.”
“It’s more than that,” Hartley said offhand as she turned back to her station. “Admit it.”
Browning laughed lightly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You like him.”
“Of course I do. He’s my friend.”
“No. I mean you like him like him.”
“Like like?” Browning turned the command chair around and sat down in it. “Nah, I think it’s a little too early for that.”
“That’s not what the ship’s newsletter says.”
Browning’s nose crinkled. “We have a ship’s newsletter?”
“I really need to speak to their circulation department,” Hartley said thoughtfully.
“You really think I’m romantically interested in the President?” Browning said, nibbling on one of her fingernails. “I never really thought about it.”
“You’re lying,” Hartley said simply.
“Okay, of course I have. But I didn’t realize it was that obvious.”
Hartley nodded. “It is. Everybody sees the way you follow him around, the way you look at him. And, I’ll tell you another thing. I think he feels the same way.”
Browning leaned forward. “Really? How can you tell?”
“Because he’s acting oblivious. Guys always act oblivious when they really like you.”
“You know, you’re right. Christopher has been oblivious ever since I’ve known him.”
“Good example!” Hartley said. “Now then, I’ve got to launch this ship. I suggest you go back to sickbay now and get ready to handle some radiation sickness. Just in case, you know, this doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to.”
Browning blinked. “Radiation sickness? Megan, are you sure this…whatever you’re doing, is safe?”
Hartley shrugged. “Reasonably.”
“Well, I trust you implicitly.” Browning put a hand on Hartley’s. “I know you won’t steer us wrong.”
“I’m glad you feel that way. Now, Doctor, if you please…” Hartley stood, and pointed toward the door.
“Of course, of course. And is there anything you’d like me to tell the President for you?” Browning said as she walked toward the door to the bridge.
“Yeah,” Hartley said. “Tell him you want to take him out to dinner.”
Browning smiled as she ducked out of the bridge. Hartley, meanwhile, sat down at the helm console, and cracked her knuckles, then opened a comline. “Escort to bridge. Request clearance to depart for exterior ship maintenance. Bring us to full stop and keep us at stationkeeping until I’m finished with the barion sweep.”
“Escort, this is J’hana. You are cleared to depart. Thrusters at station keeping.”
“Sweep with honor, Commander,” J’hana said, and closed the channel.
Hartley brought the Escort’s engines online and prepared to release the magnetic clamps that kept the ship latched to the Explorer. It had been a while since she’d piloted anything bigger than a runabout, but Hartley figured those skills would just come back naturally.
J’hana shifted uneasily in the command chair as the Explorer shook almost imperceptibly. Her antennae twitched. Something had brushed up against the ship.
“Tactical report,” she said, turning to face Ensign Keefler, who stood at her station.
“The Escort just…bumped into us.”
“Open a channel.”
“Escort. This is Hartley,” the engineer replied.
“Commander, you’re kindly asked to refrain from crashing into the ship.”
“Oh. You noticed that? Sorry about that. Don’t worry, it was nothing more than a scrape.”
“Please be careful,” J’hana said. “I wouldn’t want anything to happen to that sweet little package of power.”
“The Escort will be fine, J’hana.”
“I was not talking about the Escort. J’hana out.”
After suppressing the gag reflex brought about by J’hana’s comment, Hartley brought the barion emitters online and maneuvered the Escort around to the back of the Explorer, targeting the nacelles with the twin barion emitters mounted to either wing of the little scout ship.
She tapped a control on the helm, opening another channel to the Explorer. “Hartley to Baxter.”
“What’s the status on the evacuation?”
“The what? Oh, man. I knew I’d forgotten to do something.”
Hartley rolled her eyes. “Captain!”
There was a pause on the other end of the comline, then a chorus of giggles from both Baxter and Richards. “Just kidding!” Baxter said. “We were just having some fun with you, Commander.”
“Yes, lots of fun,” Hartley said. “About the evacuation…”
“Everybody’s in the saucer now, Commander. You can begin your sweep at any time.”
“The corridors are a little cramped, Megan,” Richards’s voice broke in. “But we assured everyone the sweep would only take a couple hours.”
“Yeah,” Hartley said under her breath. “A couple or six.”
“What’s that?” Baxter asked.
“Nothing! I’ll let you know when I’m finished with the sweep. Hartley out!”
Six hours later, Lt. Commander Hartley walked onto the Explorer’s bridge, feeling bone tired and filthy from almost two full days of repairs. She wanted to curl up in bed and sleep for at least 12 hours, uninterrupted. No, scratch that, she wanted to get back in the tub and soak for a while first, and try to wash the stink of the last two days off her. It wouldn’t be easy.
“Lieutenant Commander Hartley,” Captain Baxter said, sitting in the command chair, not bothering to turn around to face Hartley as she walked up beside him. “Nice of you to join us.”
“Yeah, I told you it’d be a while.”
“It took a long while,” Baxter said. “And the corridor outside my quarters was packed with people from the science labs and service decks. And of course, Kelly was in her office, and I was overseeing the evacuation of the stardrive section, and Chaka’kan had left to check on his petunias, and in that short instant, do you know what happen?”
“I have a pretty good idea.”
“Steffie peed and pooped all over her bed. All over her mattress, her blankie, and her Ambassador Spock squeaky doll.”
“You poor thing,” Hartley mumbled, limping up to the engineering/environment console and bringing up a schematic of the engines. “Well, would you like us to get underway, or not?”
“Yes, Commander, that would be an excellent idea,” Bradley Dillon said, stepping off the turbolift, followed by Lt. Commander Vansen, Agent Anderson, and his assistant, Gisele. “Did my invitation to this auspicious occasion get lost in intraship transit?”
“It’s still at the printer,” Hartley mumbled. “Have a seat, Mister President. Prepare for nice, smooth, reliable warp travel.”
“It’s about time,” Vansen snapped, and sat down in her seat beside Baxter. Richards sat on the other side, his arms folded.
“Just be sure the inertial dampers are set properly,” he said. “I don’t want half the crew tossing their cookies.”
“Did someone say cookies?” Dr. Janice Browning said, stepping out of the foreward turbolift, ham sandwich in hand. “What’s up, guys? Is this barge moving, or what?”
“Doctor,” Bradley Dillon said, gesturing for Browning to stand beside him. “I hope you enjoyed our lunch earlier today.”
“It was…fabulous,” Browning said, stuffing the rest of the sandwich in her mouth and chewing. “Mrmph, but I was a little hungry afterward.”
Bradley nodded. “You have an impressive appetite.”
“Yeah, what’s he know about her appetite,” Richards rumbled. That drew an irked glance from Madera, who was seated at helm.
“Let’s get on with it,” Baxter said, shifting in his chair. “Commander Hartley, if you will.”
“Firing up the engines, Captain,” Hartley said, tapping the proper sequence into her panel. “Injector pre-start sequence engaged. Warp plasma at optimal levels. Nacelles online. Matter/Anti-matter intermix is stable.”
“Resume our course to the outer rim, Lieutenant Madera,” Baxter said. “Warp six.”
“Course laid in,” Madera said, still glaring at Richards, who just shrugged in return.
“This is exciting,” Browning said, taking Bradley’s arm.
Baxter glanced at Hartley, who nodded back. “She’s all yours, Captain.”
“Lieutenant…” He pointed at the viewscreen. “Engage.”
Madera pressed a control, and the stars lept out on the viewscreen….then went right back to the way they were, as a dreadful cranking sound chortled throughout the ship.
“We are losing main power!” J’hana called out, sharing an uneasy glance with Tilleran. “Reduced to moderate sensors, minimal life support, and emergency lighting!”
Baxter whirled in his chair. “What the HELL was that?”
Hartley’s hands scrambled across the engineering console. “I don’t understand. Everything was five by five. We should be at warp right now. Except….damn it! There’s a spike in the phase converters. Someone forgot to resync them!”
“That someone wouldn’t be you, by any chance, would it?” Vansen growled.
“Tell me something!” Baxter shouted amid the red alert wails and flashing lights as the ship rocked.
“How about ‘breach’?” Hartley asked, leaping around her console and dashing for the Jefferies hatch at the center of the bridge. “If you don’t mind, I’ll just go stop the ship from exploding now.”
“How long do we have?” Baxter called after her as she disappeared down the hatch, free-sliding down the ladder.
“Four or five minutes!” Hartley called back.
Baxter nodded, taking that information in. “Uhm…do you need anyone to go with…”
Hartley ran along the Jefferies tube that ran the length of the saucer section. She hadn’t even bothered trying the turbolifts. By the time her people got them up and running again, the Explorer would be ashes.
She felt a sharp pain in her side as she lept EPS conduits and side- stepped bulkheads, ducking and running like a football player in drills. She hadn’t run this hard or this fast since her gymnastics days, and even then, she at least got punch and cookies afterwards.
“Three minutes to warp core breach…” the computer sounded calmly.
“Now she tells me!” Hartley groaned.
Then, the all-call sounded and Hartley heard the words she most feared: “All hands, this is your captain speaking.”
“Oh, no,” she said breathlessly.
“I just thought I’d inform you,” Baxter went on, “that the ship is a few minutes from a warp core breach. Don’t try to escape–you don’t have the time. No, the precious little time you have left would be much better spent in quiet reflection. Have you done everything you’ve wanted with your life? Are you truly happy? If the answer to either of these questions is ‘no,’ then maybe you need to take a good, long, hard look at…”
“Computer, deactivate comm system, authorization Hartley Sigma Two-Two-Three.”
Baxter’s voice was silenced with an electronic squeak.
There. If she didn’t manage to save the ship, at least she made the crew’s last few minutes peaceful.
As Hartley lept onto the ladder that lead straight down the “neck” of the Explorer and into Engineering, she considered the last few weeks, and the fact that recently, a turbolift shaft had exploded, then the entire deflector system nearly overloaded, and that would have surely swallowed up most of the stardrive. Now the ship was headed for a breach. Why did these things keep happening? It was enough to give an engineer grey hair. She twirled a few loose strands from her ponytail as she climbed down the dimly lit vertical tube. Could she be going grey already?
Hartley emerged, gasping, from the hatch in engineering, as her people, led by Lexxin and Stuart, marshaled about the compartment, desperately punching at controls and trying to prevent the warp engine from exploding.
“People!” she shouted, too winded to whistle. “You’ve done all you can. Get out of here!”
“But…” Stuart said, watching as Hartley strode toward the warp engine.
“You heard me!” she barked, waving her people out of the warp core compartment. “Get out of here! Computer! Engine room evacuation sequence!”
The large “garage door” that separated the warp core chamber from the rest of engineering slowly began its fall, as sirens sounded throughout Engineering.
“But you need our help!”
“I don’t need any help,” Hartley said, shoving her shirtsleeves up, even as sweat trickled into her eyes. “I need some damn peace and quiet!”
“No buts. Go!”
Stuart shrugged and waved the other engineers out as the door nearly reached the ground. Just before he ducked under it, he called out: “Commander! Remind me to ask you about that promotion sometime!”
“I’ll get right on that, Ryan,” Hartley muttered, as Stuart slipped under the door, and she was sealed inside the warp core.
“One minute to warp core breach,” the computer announced.
“Whew,” Hartley said, wiping he forehead as she walked over to the large shelf filled with blinking lights and interconnecting tubes that housed the dual phase converters. “And I thought I was cutting it close.”
She looked around the empty warp core chamber, sighing heavily. “Wow. Finally some peace and quiet. Is this really what it’s come to, computer? The ship needs to be headed for a warp core breach for me to get some peace and quiet so I can get some work done?”
“Thirty seconds to warp core breach.”
“Right, right,” Hartley chuckled. “Back to business.” She lifted the phase converter hatch and wildly shifted the levers inside, moving more quickly than a human being should move, but working through each stage of the task with an air of utter calm about her.
“Warp core breach in three, two…”
“There!” she said, flipping the last lever. “That should about do it.” She looked around, just as lights flickered on all around her, and the isolation door to the warp core chamber opened automatically.
She put her hands on her hips, glancing about with pride. “Not too shabby.” She walked out of engineering, passing her huddled team in the corridor–all of whom seemed convinced they were about to die. “Don’t just sit there, guys. You have a lot of clean-up to do. I’m taking tomorrow off. Don’t call me unless the ship is about to explode again.”
“But what’s the likelihood of that happening?” Lexxin asked, as Ensign Stuart pulled himself to his feet.
“Pretty good, actually,” he admitted.
Supplemental. Apparently, the ship isn’t going to blow up. Instead, we’ve resumed our search for the Bast, which is now taking us dreadfully close to the Galactic Rim and whatever fun lies beyond. Let it be entered into the ship’s records that Lieutenant Commander Hartley performed above and beyond the call of duty in rescuing the ship from certain annihilation, even though I’m told she’s also the reason the warp core breach started in the first place. Oh well. These things always seem to have a way of working themselves out.
Lt. Commander Hartley had taken her requisite bubble bath. She was actually glad Mirk had just gone out to open the Constellation Club for the night. She wanted some time to herself. Too many people had bugged her in the last couple days, and Hartley wasn’t that keen on social interaction to begin with.
But, as Hartley dried off and pulled on her Starfleet Corps of Engineers sweatpants and t-shirt, she realized there was one more person she had to talk to.
Hartley didn’t like making mistakes. But when she made them, she took responsibility for them. But this situation was different. She’d faced an inordinate amount of distraction while she worked on the engines. And she came to the unshakable conclusion that one person in particular was the cause.
She punched the door call button, not really concerned that she was standing out in the middle of the corridor in her sweats and t-shirt.
After a few moments’ wait, Hartley was about to stab the button again, but the door opened of its own accord.
Counselor Kelly Peterman stood there, dark shadows under her eyes, her uniform jacket open and sagging at her sides, and a cup of coffee in her hand. She looked at Hartley, sort of glazed. “Yeah?”
“We’ve got to talk, Kelly.”
“Can it wait, I’m sort of…”
“In the middle of something? Too bad,” Hartley said, as she shouldered her way into the Counselor’s office. “Awfully late for you to be seeing patients, isn’t it, Kelly?”
“I’m not seeing patients,” Peterman said, backing toward her desk as Hartley walked in and looked around. Fritz the cat was sitting on Peterman’s desk, and when Hartley came in, the cat backed up a little bit, its hackles rising.
“Yeah, I’m looking at you,” Hartley told the cat, who promptly skirted off the desk. “Yeah, you better run!”
“What do you want?” Peterman said, sounding a hard “T” at the end of each word.
“To tell you it’s time to pull out of whatever funk you’re in. The people on this ship need you.”
“I’m not in a funk. I’m…well, Andy’s probably told you. I’m working on a book.”
‘That’s all well and good, but you’re derelict in your duty to the rest of this crew. They’re fragile, emotional people, Kelly, and you know that.” She stepped up toward Peterman. “They’re not strong…like us. They need constant reassurance, constant petting. You should know something about that.”
Peterman folded her arms, leaning back against her desk. “Well, maybe I’m not in the mood to pet right now.”
“Get in the mood,” Hartley said.
“You don’t understand,” Peterman began, resting her hands on her desk
Hartley glared at her. “Don’t understand what it’s like to hate your job? I ran the length of the ship in two minutes and stopped a warp core breach today. And you think obsessive compulsives are bad?”
“I just need some…time,” Peterman said, pulling her hair back and running her fingers through it. “Some time to get my thoughts in order. The book is helping me do that.”
Hartley nodded. “So you’re making progress.”
“You could say that. And there are no other counselors on the ship, so I have to find some way to handle my own problems. This seemed like the best way.”
“Have you tried talking to your husband? They’re good for stuff like that.”
“Ha,” Peterman said, walking around to sit down behind her desk. “Married for a few months, and she thinks she knows all she needs to know about husbands.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“I’m not going to burden Andy with my problems. It’s healthier to get them out this way. And maybe, by doing that, I can help other people too. Ever think about that?”
Hartley leaned onto Peterman’s desk. “Well, then, it sounds like you have all the answers. Mind if I take a look?” She made a grab for Peterman’s desktop terminal, but the counselor quickly switched it off.
“No! The book’s not ready!”
Hartley leaned back, looking Peterman in the eyes. “Fine, Kelly. I did my best. The whole crew came to me with their problems, and I barely cared. I cared enough to come to you, though. But you don’t seem to want help. Good luck with the book,” Hartley said, and walked out.
Peterman stared down at the blank terminal screen as the doors to her office closed, and Fritz lept into her lap.
“Thanks,” she said softly.
Is something wrong with Lt. Commander Tilleran’s telepathy? And, if so, is it a nice little “we’re passing through a strange part of space” problems, or is there something more seriously wrong going on here? Tilleran is bound to find out, and her revelation might just be shocking. Warner Books asks you not to reveal the ending of this story.