Author: Anthony Butler
For those who grow up quickly. . .and those who take a while longer. . .
“McDonald’s! I’m lovin’ it!” Captain Andy Baxter blurted out, and rolled off the couch in the Aerostar-A’s guest quarters, falling flat on his face on the floor with a loud thud.
The next sound he heard was his daughter Stephanie waking up with a squeal.
Moments later, Counselor Peterman walked out of the bedroom, wrapping her robe tight around her waist.
“Andy?” she asked, kneeling by Baxter. “Are you all right?”
“Unless you count a bruised ego,” Baxter sighed, and leaned back up on the couch. “And a bruised ass.”
“Another twenty-first century dream?” Peterman asked, sitting down on the couch beside Baxter, as Steffie’s cries died down to coos.
“How’d you know?”
“I heard you all the way in the other room. ‘McDonald’s’?”
“Yeah.” Baxter rubbed his head. “I have twenty-first century commercials in my head. What was McDonald’s, anyway? A tire manufacturer?”
“I can’t remember. All those stores sort of ran together after awhile.” She looked to the side thoughtfully. “Except Bath and Bodyworks. I really liked that place. I wish I’d brought that pear-smelling stuff back with me.”
“Yeah,” Baxter said wistfully. “That stuff did smell good.”
Peterman stiffened, then stood up. “I’d better check on Steffie.”
“No,” Baxter sighed, standing. “You go back to bed. I woke her up. I should deal with the consequences.”
“Yes,” Peterman said distantly, and walked back to the bedroom.
“Kelly…” Baxter called out to her.
She didn’t turn around. “Not right now, Andy. It’s late. And it’s too soon.”
“Right. Yeah, you’re right.” Baxter turned around and walked back into the enclosed den off to the side of the guest quarters. Captain Conway had assured him this was the best they could do in terms of accommodations. He had to remember that Prometheus-class ships were more warships than luxury liners, as the Galaxy-class were. Not as much living space.
He peered in on Steffie, who’d already fallen back asleep.
The small, rectangular viewport in her room looked out on stars streaking forward, as the Aerostar moved through space at high warp. It was a welcoming and encouraging feeling for Baxter. Stars were something he’d only seen from the ground for weeks, and it was a nice change of pace to see them from this perspective.
Weeks, Baxter thought to himself. They’d only been in the 21st century for a few weeks, and yet those weeks had now been translated into three months back here in the present.
It had taken some time for Larkin to figure out where Baxter and the others had been stashed in time, and then to get the proper clearances (which they ended up “steering around” anyway, much to Starfleet and Temporal Security’s chagrin).
The whole affair had taken close to three months. And in that time, life in the 24th century had moved forward at its usual pace, completely oblivious to the fact it was missing a few of its players.
So to add insult to injury, not only had he and his (crewmates…friends?) endured a trying three-week stint in the 21st century, but they also came back to a much-changed world.
How much changed would be more evident the next day, when they were scheduled to dock at Waystation and meet up with the U.S.S. Explorer.
Baxter became absolutely twitchy at the notion that Nell Vansen had been promoted to Captain in his absence, and had been commanding HIS ship for three months. What had she done to it? What kind of idiotic rules and regulations had she imposed on HIS crew? He wanted to get this overwith, to be back on his ship and back in command, so he could reverse whatever damage she’d done and get on with life again.
Then he could see about repairing his marriage.
He thought about Peterman, asleep in the other room. She’d suggested they sleep “apart” for a while. That it was healthy for their marriage. Of course, she’d suggested something similar before this whole time escapade, and it hurt him as much then as it did now. Then, he’d run to Janice Browning for comfort, and look where that had gotten him.
Somewhere on the ship, Janice Browning was sleeping too. So was Chris Richards, in separate quarters. The four of them had once been inseparable. Their friendship had evolved to be more important to Baxter than the Explorer herself. And now it was in jeopardy for the first time, and there was nothing he could do about it.
How could he sleep at a time like that?
When Captain Baxter stepped out onto the bridge of the Aerostar moments later, he was surprised to find Captain Conway in the command chair.
“Captain?” he asked, stepping down to join him and sitting in the left-hand chair beside him. “What are you doing up this late?”
“You’re surprised someone who drinks a gallon of coffee a day is an insomniac?” Conway asked, his eyes bleary, as he sipped from his steaming Starfleet mug.
“I guess I’d never thought about it.”
“Don’t strain your brain on it too much, Baxter,” Conway said wryly. “And don’t think the fact that I did six weeks in that blasted arboretum they call a rehab colony helped matters, either.”
Baxter giggled at that. “I heard you did some time in ‘the green house.’”
“Itchy Adams says hi, by the way,” Conway said. “You made a lot of friends there in one month.”
“Oh, you have to make friends, when you’re on the inside,” Baxter said. “It’s the only way to survive. You need to know someone who can treat poison ivy, or you’ll be miserable the whole time.”
Conway reached back and scratched his back. “I know what you mean.” He sighed. “And, if that weren’t the worst of it, I’m married.”
Baxter glanced down at Conway’s hand. For the first time since he’d beamed aboard two days ago, he realized Conway was indeed wearing a wedding ring.
“Dave…I had no idea….why didn’t you say something earlier?”
“I don’t like to make a fuss about it. It’s just a ring.”
“But who…” And it was instantly clear to him. “Alexa Lanham.”
“Yeah,” Conway said, smiling. “I actually found a woman to put up with me. A second time around.”
“I admit I’m surprised.”
“You’re not the only one.”
“She tried to kill you.”
“Just the once.”
Baxter looked around the bridge, not really expecting to see Lori Latham, but checking all the same. Nope, just backup officers this time of night. “Where is she, by the way?”
“Detached duty. A fact-finding expedition to Cardassia with some other science-types.”
“It’s enough to keep her interested in this job. Apparently she finds the Starfleet side of things somewhat boring.”
“But every now and then we find some really freakish disease, or species, or subspace anomaly, to keep her interested. Otherwise, I’m afraid she’d bolt in a heartbeat.”
“Trouble in paradise already, huh?”
Conway looked at Baxter. “You’re one to talk.”
Baxter stared at the viewscreen. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Man, the tension between you and her is thicker than Benzra’s tongue. You could cut it with…well, one of Benzra’s incisors. Much like Benzra’s tongue, actually…”
Baxter grimaced at that thought, then looked at Conway. “Is it that noticeable?”
“If I noticed it, it damn sure is. You know how little I care about people’s personal lives.”
“I’d call it disdain,” Baxter said, nodding.
“Healthy disdain, yes,” Conway said. “So…” He shifted around in his command chair. “You, uh, want to talk about it?”
“Not really,” Baxter said. “But I wouldn’t mind having a drink.”
“Now you’re talking,” Conway said, and shifted out of his chair. “I know a great bar on Deck Fourteen. It’s not owned by Guinanco.”
“Big plus. Let’s go…”
The next day, Peterman sat in Sickbay reading a padd while Dr. Browning finished examining Steffie. The whole group had physicals as soon as they’d gotten back to the ship, to screen for certain toxins and infections found in the 21st century. They were putting Steffie through an extra battery of tests, since she was so young.
Meanwhile, Peterman read the latest Federation News. She was amazed at all that had happened in the last three months. Vice President Heran Reloi, a Betazoid, who’d served as Interim President while Bradley Dillon had been in the 21st century, had just barely escaped war with the Gorn after a border skirmish that involved an exchange of fire between the Defiant and several Gorn raiders.
The Romulans, under the leadership of a human clone named Shinzon, attempted to eradicate Earth’s population with thaleron radiation. They were thwarted by the Enterprise, Shinzon and his ship were destroyed, and diplomatic relations, however tense, resumed with the new Romulan government.
The reconstruction of Cardassia was proceeding apace, but was being hindered by the acts of several groups of fringe Cardassian privateers who stood in the way of peace, having hijacked a number of Galor-class and Jem’Hadar warships that were salvaged after the Battle of Cardassia at the end of the Dominion War.
And, on top of all that, Richard Simmons had come out with a new low-carb diet and one-second abdominal exercise, and in the time Peterman had been gone, the fad had already come and gone without her even getting the chance to participate in it.
Peterman sniffed, on the verge of a sob. It wasn’t just the diet, although that was huge, seeing that she felt pudgy ever since the constant pizza that seemed to pass through that dingy 21st century apartment.
It was a lot more than that. It was Andy. And it was…
“Janice…” she said, looking up at the sound of the doors to the exam room opening up.
Browning carried Steffie out and sat down by Peterman, cradling the infant. “Good news. All the toxins have been filtered out of her system, there is no sign of malnutrition or other ill effects. I’d say she has a clean bill of health.”
“That’s a relief,” Peterman said. “I’ll take her now. She needs to get down for a nap before we reach Waystation. You know how she gets in airlocks…”
Browning nodded. “Yeah. Um, Kelly…”
Peterman stood up. “I really do have to get going.”
“I wish you wouldn’t,” Browning said. “I don’t want this to go on any longer.”
“Want what?” Peterman asked.
“This…silence stuff. It’s just not us.”
“I just have to figure some things out, Janice. I told Andy the same thing.” She looked back at Browning, at her hopeful expression. “I understand what happened wasn’t meant to hurt me. That you didn’t mean for it to happen at all. But it did happen, and it’s going to take me a while to get past it.”
“And you know you have nothing to worry about,” Browning said.
Peterman thought about that. “I wish I could say I didn’t. But in the back of my mind, I do. Maybe I always will.”
“Kelly, sit down,” Browning said, and gestured back to the bench outside the exam room. “Please.”
Peterman sighed and sat down, cradling Steffie. “What?”
“You need to know something.” Browning took a deep breath. “Back on Earth, back in time, after Andy ran through that sphere of energy, and tackled Irma, when his heart stopped…”
“Please tell me you’re going somewhere with this,” Peterman said. The last thing she wanted to do was relive that series of events.
“Well, when I was working on him…down on the planet, and then up on the ship…I realized something.”
Peterman rolled her eyes. “You’re…in love with him. Yes, I know.” It hurt just saying it.
“No! That’s just it. I realized, when I was running around Sickbay trying to save Andy’s life, I wasn’t saving my best friend, a man I was possibly in love with. I was saving your husband. Steffie’s father. I was saving him for you…” A tear ran down Browning’s cheek as she patted Steffie’s head. “And her. Your family is so much more important to me than any silly feelings I may have had. You have to know that…”
Peterman looked at Browning, and wanted desperately to tell her that everything was okay. That she was forgiven and things could go back to normal. But she just didn’t have that in her. Not now, not yet.
“I appreciate it, Janice,” Peterman said, standing. “I’ll, uh…I’ll see you around.”
“Thanks again,” Peterman said distantly, and slipped out the door.
Later that morning, Doctor Browning was sitting in the Cafe-A, the Aerostar’s premiere coffee establishment.
Leave it to Conway, Browning thought, to put a thoroughly good coffee shop on his ship. The Cafe-A was equipped with multiple espresso machines, foamy latte capability, and a range of house blends that rivaled the best coffee in the galaxy. Conway didn’t fool around when it came to his beaneries.
Browning was sipping her Ba’ku Choco Macchiato when she saw, rather felt, Commander Christopher Richards sit down opposite you.
“Hope you don’t mind. I figured this seat wasn’t taken.”
Browning looked up. “I think I can work in one more.”
“One more than Andy?”
Richards stretched, yawned. “Just wanted to get that out of the way.”
“You really know how to get to a point, Christopher.”
“I want to know what the point is? What the point was, in that Andy thing. Were you serious?”
“In a way…” Browning said, glancing through the frosted windows that overlooked the Deck 19 corridor. Not quite the spectacular vista her restaurant overlooked in Ship’s Shoppes back on the Explorer.
“And what does that mean?” Richards asked, leaning forward, reaching for Browning’s hand. She pulled it away reflexively, looked at him.
“It means that I don’t know what I was thinking. I was hurting.”
“Do we have to go through this again?” Browning asked, putting her cup down. “It was the night before you were getting married. I was heartbroken, okay? Do you really want to hear that? Did you think it would be easy to see you pledge your life to someone, when you didn’t think I was worth the same?”
“Neither of us thought…”
“No.” Browning shook her head, giving Richards a long hard look. “None of us were ever good at thinking.”
“So you were upset about my wedding; Andy was upset because Kelly was moving out of their quarters.” He laughed wryly. “To think that I actually fought with Kelly about that. That I defended Andy, while he…while he was…”
“Don’t blame him,” Browning said. “Don’t blame any of us. It was just…silly, stupid feelings. You know something about those, don’t you?”
“Don’t turn this around on me.”
“And lower your voice,” Browning said, lowering hers. “You wanted to talk, let’s talk. I was looking for somebody, anybody to fill the void in my life, okay? I’d tried something with Doctor Leonardo. I’d tried and been rejected by Bradley Dillon. I needed someone. And Andy is my best friend. It’s only natural I’d look there, when I was looking for somewhere to run to. That’s what best friends are for.”
“But you…you made out with him.”
“It was a simple kiss.” Browning touched her lips briefly. “A short, soft, simple, meaningless kiss.”
“I didn’t realize you had a void,” Richards said distantly, thoughtfully.
“Well I have one. I’ve had one ever since…” She looked away. “Let’s not talk about this anymore.”
Richards leaned across the table. “Ever since what? Ever since us? Is that what you were going to say?”
Browning stood up. “I can’t do this. Just…let’s not talk about it anymore.”
He followed her with his eyes as she walked out of the cafe. “What is it, Janice? You want to get back together?”
“You have a wedding to get back to, remember?” Browning called over her shoulder, and walked off.
“Come,” Peterman said, putting the padd she’d been reading–more Federation news–and looking at the door to her cabin.
“Counselor,” Counselor T’ron, the Aerostar-A’s chief therapist, said. “May I come in?”
“Yes,” Peterman said, sitting up. She straightened her uniform pants a little and gestured to the seat across from her couch. “Please. Sit down.”
“I have a matter of some urgency to discuss with you,” T’ron said.
“What is it?”
His eyes began to tear up, and Peterman sighed. T’ron was never good with confrontation.
“It’s President Dillon! I think he’s beyond my help!”
“Yes. I stopped by to see him this morning. You know, I’d heard about what all he’d been through in the past, and I felt for him. I wanted to be sure he was okay.”
“What HE’D been through?” Peterman said, and really had to laugh at that.
“Well, on top of everything, he did get punched in the face by your husband the other night. That didn’t help matters.”
“PUNCHED?” Peterman gasped. “Andy never told me that.”
“Apparently, your husband has some issues to work through as well.” T’ron shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “But that’s a matter for you to deal with as you see fit. But I think the far more urgent case here is President Dillon. I think you should talk to him. Try to reach him.”
“What, is he catatonic?”
“No. Worse.” T’ron leaned forward and grabbed Peterman’s hands. “He’s in denial!”
“You mean he won’t talk about the incident?”
“He refuses to acknowledge it ever happened. Said I’m crazy.”
“That’s strange,” Peterman said. “Although certainly suppression of traumatic events isn’t unlikely, I didn’t think President Dillon was the type.”
“Maybe there’s a way you can get through to him, Kelly. You’ve always been a brilliant therapist….”
“Yes,” Peterman affirmed. “I have.”
“I think you’ll find him on Deck Twelve.”
Peterman stood up, straightened her tunic. “Thank you, Counselor. I’ll look into the matter. I’m glad you brought it to my attention.”
T’ron saluted dramatically as Peterman walked out. “With pleasure, Counselor. Go get him! Oh, yes, and I’ll let myself out!”
“Come,” President Dillon said, looking up from his makeshift desk in the office suite on Deck Twelve. It was a lot smaller than he was used to, but for a short voyage it would have to do.
The doors opened, revealing Counselor Peterman.
“Mister President,” she said. “May I come in?”
“Certainly,” Bradley said, putting aside the padd he’d been working on. “Here to make sure my jaw is in one piece? I assure you, yesterday Doctor Benzra repaired the minimal damage your husband inflicted on me.”
“Actually, that’s not why I’m here,” Peterman said. “But for what it’s worth, I’m sorry Andy did that.”
“It’s forgotten,” Bradley said, waving a hand as if to make the problem go away magically.
Peterman inclined her head toward the padd on top of his pile of padds. “What are you working on?”
“Just writing a speech explaining my disappearance. I don’t want the people panicking, thinking their President has been on some sort of fantasy wild goose chase all this time. Even if there’s some truth to that, we can’t have the public knowing that.”
“So you admit you went back in time to find Leximas,” Peterman said slowly.
“My speech is not yet finished, Counselor. Whatever the case, you can be certain I’m not in denial about what happened.”
“That’s funny,” Peterman said. “Because Counselor T’ron told me…”
“Yes,” Bradley said with a small smirk. “I was pretending to be in denial. I found it amusing that it caused him so much consternation. Moreover, I did not feel like being counseled, and I felt that my response was the quickest way to get rid of the man. He can be…cloying.”
“I’m sure he’ll be relieved when I tell him you were just joking with him,” Peterman said. “You could have saved yourself some trouble by just telling him you were fine.”
“But then I wouldn’t have received this lovely visit from you,” Bradley said. “Now then, I’m a very busy man. Is there anything else?”
Peterman turned back toward the doorway, then looked back at Bradley, locking eyes with him. “Mister President…are you…are you really okay?”
“Yes,” Bradley said resolutely. “I’m fine.” He held her gaze for several moments, then said, “Please, excuse me while I return to my speech. I have a lot on my agenda today.”
Peterman nodded. “Of course, Mister President. Have a nice day.”
And she walked out of the office more certain than ever that there was something seriously wrong with Bradley Dillon.
Captain Baxter was roaming the corridors, pushing Steffie’s hoverstroller in front of him, nodding blankly at the officers he passed. Some he remembered from the Explorer; others were new, added since Conway had taken over the new Aerostar-A.
But he was too deep in thought to take the time to really recognize the faces. He just wanted to get back to his ship.
Baxter felt useless on the Aerostar. This wasn’t his ship, or his crew. He was just an appendage, a cog. He was no more useful here than he was during that whole time down on Earth. He might as well not even be here. In fact, disappearing felt like a very good idea.
Especially when he heard the voice of Chris Richards calling to him.
Baxter stopped, his shoulders immediately tensing. He turned to face Richards, who was jogging up the corridor to meet him.
“Andy…” he said breathlessly. “You’re a hard one to catch up to.”
“I’m pushing a stroller. It doesn’t exactly lend itself to quick transit.”
“Still…I’ve….had difficulty getting in touch with you.”
Baxter nodded. “I’ve been out of touch.”
“I think we all have.” Richards laughed nervously.
“We need to settle this, huh?” Baxter asked, looking at the floor.
“Yeah. I guess we do.”
“I love her, Chris. And I don’t want anything to get in the way of that.”
Richards looked at Baxter askance a moment. “We’re talking about Kelly now, right?”
“YES!” Baxter said, stomping his foot. “That kiss with Janice was just…”
Baxter’s face fell a little. “Did she say that?”
“She also said it was meaningless.”
“Yeah. Yeah it was. I’m glad we’re in agreement on that,” Baxter said, then forced a smile. “Wouldn’t want to hurt the kid.”
“No,” Richards said. “Wouldn’t want to do that.”
“Would you feel better if you hit me?” Baxter offered. “I punched the crap out of President Dillon, and it did worlds of good for me.”
Richards looked at Baxter for a long moment. “You know, as much as I’d love to, I just don’t have it in me.”
“Pity. Well, the offer stands.”
“You’ve got a wedding to plan, don’t you?” Baxter asked. “Man, I’d almost forgot. You and Lieutenant Madera.”
“Yeah,” Richards said. “About that…”
“She’ll be glad to see you, man,” Baxter said, and clapped Richards on the shoulder. “I can’t imagine how much she’s missed you.”
“Do you know when the wedding will be? I guess you need some time to get settled in on the ship first…”
“Yeah.” Richards fumbled with his fingers.
“What?” Baxter looked in Richards’s eyes. He waved a hand in front of them. “Hello?”
Richards turned on a heel and walked off. “I’ve got some…thinking to do. I’ll talk to you later.”
Baxter watched Richards walk off. “Wow. I was expecting that to be a lot worse.”
Just then, the comm system chirped. “Captain Conway to all hands. We’ve now reached Waystation. Freeloaders, please make your way to the nearest possible airlock. We’ve loved having you, but it’s time to go now. Get back to your own cursed ship.”
Baxter stared at the ceiling and laughed. “Same old Conway. Well, I’m glad some things never change.” He pushed the hoverstroller toward the nearest turbolift. “I don’t know about you, Steffie, but I think things are looking up.”
“I’m not going back,” Peterman said softly, staring out the window of the guest cabin as Baxter stood with Steffie in his arms, behind her. “Not right now.”
“What are you going to do? Stay here?”
“No,” Peterman said, and turned back to face Baxter. “I’m going to go to Waystation.”
“And do what?”
“President Dillon needs me.”
“Oh, I think we’ve given up more than enough of our time to Dillon,” Baxter said, grinding his teeth angrily. “We’ve given up more than enough for him, period. You don’t need to feel sorry for him just because his grand scheme didn’t turn out the way he wanted it to.”
“I took an oath, Andy. When someone’s hurting the way Bradley is, I can’t just let that go. Waystation doesn’t even have a counselor right now. And I can’t convince him to go to a Starbase. And T’ron here is no help. He needs professional help, Andy.”
“You took another oath,” Baxter said, putting Steffie in her high chair and walking closer to Peterman. “You took an oath to me.”
“Don’t remind me,” she muttered.
“That’s not funny.”
Peterman turned around, facing Baxter much closer than was comfortable. “Andy, I need some time away from…”
“From me,” Baxter said flatly.
She patted his chest delicately. “I guess you could put it that way.”
“Should I go ahead and have your things transferred to Waystation?” Baxter asked. “Just how long should I expect you to be gone?”
“Long enough for me to help President Dillon.”
“But this isn’t just about President Dillon. This is about you and me, too.”
“Let me sort that out, Andy,” Peterman said. “And trust me when I tell you this is what I need.”
“Fine,” Baxter said, backing away. “Fine. Take as long as you like. I’ve never been one to stand in the way.” He picked up Steffie and carried her toward the bedroom. “If that’s what you need, then so be it.”
“Don’t be angry, Andy.”
Baxter stood at the entrance to the bedroom. “Would it help if I told you you’re the only woman I ever loved? And that whatever may have happened with Janice is nothing compared to the way I feel about you? And that I’ve never, not once, given up on this marriage?”
“It helps,” Peterman said with a small smile. “But it doesn’t change anything.”
“Are you going to say anything else?” Baxter asked.
“Like that you love me to?”
“You know I do.”
“Then I guess this won’t be so bad, huh?”
“Think of it like a vacation from me.”
But I don’t need a vacation from you, was what Andy wanted to say.
“Okay,” was what he actually said.
“I’m not going back,” Richards said matter-of-factly as he walked with Browning toward the airlock that lead from the Aerostar to Waystation.
Browning stopped in her tracks, shifting her satchel on her shoulder and glaring at Richards. “WHAT? Since when?”
“Since earlier this morning. I have some leave saved up, and I’m taking it. I want to spend some time with Larkin.”
Browning nodded. “Well…I can certainly understand that. I know she’s glad to have you back.”
“She didn’t say it in so many words. But I could tell she wanted to spend some time with me.” Richards looked around awkwardly. “This is really for her more than for me.” Truth was, he hadn’t even mentioned his staying on board to her yet.
“I think it’s great,” Browning said, clapping Richards on the shoulders. “You could use some time away from the Explorer. I mean, in addition to the three weeks you’ve already been away.”
“Three months,” Richards corrected.
Browning smacked her forehead. “I keep forgetting. Whoa. What an adjustment, huh?”
“It will take some getting used to.” Richards was desperate to change the subject. “Have you spoken with Plato yet?”
“I tried to call last night,” Browning said. “The call was routed to Hartley’s quarters. Apparently he’s been living with her and Mirk.”
“That’s nice. Stable home environment.”
“Yeah,” Browning said. “He was sleeping. And I didn’t want to wake him. Anyway, I’d prefer to see him in person anyway.”
“I’m sure he feels the same,” Richards said. “He’ll be glad to see you.”
They continued on the way to the airlock, and came face to face with Baxter and Peterman, and Steffie on her hoverstroller.
“Hey guys,” Browning said softly. “You, uh, ready?”
“Yeah,” Baxter said, looking at Peterman. “We’ve said our goodbyes.”
Richards reached out to shake Baxter’s hand. “Good travels, Andy.”
Baxter looked down at the hand a moment, then quickly took it and pumped it, then pulled Richards into a hug. “You too. I mean that.”
“I know,” Richards said, patting Baxter’s back. “I mean that.”
“I’m sorry,” Baxter said so quietly it was almost inaudible.
“I know that too,” Richards whispered back, pulling away. He waved at Baxter, Browning, and Peterman. “You guys take care now. I’ll be in touch.”
“You’re staying?” Peterman called as the group stepped into the turbolift. “What about your wedding?”
“Is there something you’d like me to tell Madera?” Baxter asked.
“No,” Richards said. “I’ve taken care of that.”
“He’s staying?” Peterman asked Baxter as the group stepped out of the airlock and onto a bustling Starfleet Square Mall in Waystation.
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “He’s staying. Guess he’s not ready to go back.” He looked at Peterman. “You know?”
“Yeah,” Peterman said, looking at Browning. “I know.”
Browning was still glancing back at Richards.
Baxter patted Browning’s arm. “Janice…?”
“Yeah,” Browning said, as the airlock door shut. “I’m coming.”
Lt. Commander Megan Hartley sat in the command chair on the bridge of the Explorer and looked at the viewscreen as the massive, conjoined saucers of Waystation loomed ahead of them.
“E.T.A., Lieutenant?” Hartley asked, glancing at Madera, who manned the helm.
Madera shifted in her seat, smiling. She seemed absolutely giddy, which made Hartley’s stomach turn. “Four minutes at full impulse.”
“Waystation is contacting us with docking orders,” Lt. J’hana spoke up from tactical. “We are to report to docking arm fourteen.”
“Take us in,” Hartley said, and stood.
“Should you inform the captain?” Tilleran asked, exchanging a glance with J’hana as Madera guided the Explorer up to one of the docking arms.
“She said she didn’t care,” Hartley said, and shrugged. “But I know someone who will care.”
“Plato will be thrilled to see his mother,” J’hana said.
“But what about when she sees him?” Tilleran asked. “Does she know? I mean, have they talked?”
“Browning called when he was asleep. Said she didn’t want to wake him,” Hartley said, pivoting in the chair toward Tilleran.
“Well, did you say anything?”
“Not my place,” Hartley said. “I figure all the cards will be on the table when they meet up, right?”
“You’re in charge,” Tilleran said.
Hartley rubbed a hand down her face. “Don’t remind me. You don’t know how glad I’ll be to be rid of this first officer gig.”
“You know, there are some of us that would prefer to advance in rank, Commander,” J’hana said.
“And there are some of us that Vansen didn’t trust to be First Officer,” Hartley replied. “I can’t help it if she liked me best.”
“I for one am glad it was you,” Tilleran said. “I couldn’t stand working with that woman day to day.”
“She’s not that bad,” Hartley said. “I don’t see what the problem is.”
“That’s probably because you guys are so alike.”
Hartley glared at Tilleran. “What’s that?”
Tilleran looked back down at the science console. “Nothing.”
“Uh-huh. Somebody page Lieutenant Gage. I’m ready for someone else to take the conn.”
“Lieutenant Gage is in the Captain’s cabin,” J’hana said. “Er, Captain Vansen’s, that is.”
“Oh, I’m sure the mentor and the protoge are having all sorts of great strategic discussions. Page him and tell him to get his ass up here. I’m tired of command.” Hartley pushed off her chair and headed to the turbolift. “I’ll see you guys downstairs.”
“Does she seem agitated to you, Imzadi?” J’hana asked, once Hartley was gone.
Tilleran plucked a few controls on her console. “I didn’t notice.”
“I’m sorry Captain Beck wasn’t here to welcome you all to Waystation herself,” Yeoman Tina Jones said, leaning back against the front desk in Waystation’s Welcome Center, as Baxter, Peterman, and Browning sat huddled on the couch in the center’s lobby. Baxter aimlessly pushed Steffie’s stroller back and forth.
“I’m sure she’s a very busy woman,” Baxter muttered. “Doesn’t matter. We’re not going to be here long.” He glared at Peterman. “Well, some longer than others.”
Jones brightened, grabbing a padd off the desk. “Oh? You’re staying with us, Counselor?”
“Yes,” Peterman said. “Would I arrange quarters through you?”
“Yes indeed,” Jones said, tapping on her padd. “Let me see what I can find. Would you like to stay on the residence decks, or in Starfleet Suites?”
“Residence,” Peterman said quickly.
“Of course,” Jones said. She looked from Peterman to Baxter. “Is this a room for two, or…”
“And the child…?”
Peterman stared lovingly down at Steffie, then leaned down and gave her a soft kiss on the cheek. “Nope. Just me.”
Jones nodded, sensing there was something more to this story, but returning vigilantly to her padd. “Very good. Sucksalt or non-sucksalt?”
“Non,” Peterman said emphatically.
“Excellent,” Jones said. “Just give this a few moments to process, and we’ll have a crewman show you to your quarters. Will you be checking any luggage?”
“I don’t have any.”
Baxter glanced at Peterman. “You want anything from the Explorer?”
“No,” Peterman said flatly.
On the other side of Baxter, Browning leaned toward him. “What is this all about, Andy?”
Baxter folded his arms. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Just then, they heard the muffled crowd noise outside the welcome center go up a few decibles.
“What the…” Jones said, walking up to one of the oblong windows looking out on the mall.
Everyone glanced toward the windows.
It was Bradley Dillon, surrounded with an entourage, looking much more like Bradley Dillon, Federation President, than he had since this whole thing had began.
There was Joan Redding, Associated Worlds Network Reporter, jogging along side him, asking questions, even as security officers barricaded him from the crowds and he waved at everyone, smiling jovially.
It looked so out of place, so wrong. Baxter smouldered. He was getting a hero’s welcome. And he caused all this.
Everyone was silent a moment as Bradley moved out of sight, and the bustle of the crowds died back down to normal.
“Morales to Welcome Center,” the comm system chirped.
Jones glanced up at the ceiling. “Jones here. Go ahead.”
“The Explorer has arrived at docking port fourteen. I thought our…new arrivals would like to know.”
“Captain Baxter’s mother has been comming. She said the people on the Aerostar ignored her comm traffic. She’s demanding to speak to her son ASAP.”
“Have it routed to the Explorer,” Baxter called out.
“Right away,” Moore’s voice replied, and the channel cut off.
“That should be good,” Baxter muttered. “A chat with mom.” He stood up, pushing Steffie toward the door to the welcome center.
“I guess that’s our cue,” Browning said, and stood. She looked at Peterman. “Kelly…”
Peterman touched Browning’s arm. “Go on, Janice. I’ll be fine.”
“We’ll talk soon,” Peterman said. “I promise. Everything will be okay.”
Browning nodded. “Sure.”
Peterman nodded back. “Go see your son, Janice. Tell everyone I said hello.”
Browning quietly stepped past Baxter and out of the welcome center.
Baxter stood there facing Peterman, Steffie cooing gently at his side. They stood there looking at each other for several long moments.
Jones looked from one to the other. “You know what?” she said. “I just remembered I have some luau decorations in the back room I absolutely have to inventory.” She quickly ducked into the back room, leaving Baxter and Peterman alone.
“You know this is what I have to do, right, Andy?” Peterman asked. “This is the best thing for our marriage.”
“Then we still do have a marriage?”
“Of course we do,” Peterman said, and Baxter could almost hear her saying “for now.” But instead, she just smiled at him. “You have a ship to get to, mister.”
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “My ship.”
“Take her back,” Peterman said. “I know you’ve missed her.” She sighed and stared at the ceiling, wiping the corner of her eye. “I guess I’m used to making room in your life for other women, eh?”
Baxter stepped toward Peterman, took her in her arms, and hugged her as tight as he’d ever hugged her. “There’s only you, Kelly,” he whispered in her ear. “There’s only ever been you.”
Peterman nodded, resisting the urge to grip Baxter back. She gently stepped backwards. “Thanks, Andy. See you around, okay?”
Baxter took a long look at her. “Yeah. See you around.” And he turned around and pushed Steffie’s stroller out the door.
That’s when Peterman broke down sobbing.
“Captain on deck!” Lt. Howard Sefelt announced proudly, his voice slightly trembling (as he was afraid of welcome ceremonies).
Captain Baxter and Doctor Browning stepped through the airlock, Baxter tugging the hoverstroller behind him.
They were greeted by a row of officers, including Hartley, Tilleran, J’hana, Sefelt, Madera, Doctor Holly Wilcox, and Dean, and a Bajoran woman in a Starfleet Medical tunic that Baxter didn’t recognize.
“Wow,” he said, looking at the dozen or so officers lined up to greet him. “Wow, I’m speechless.”
“That would be a first, Captain,” J’hana said, nodding in Baxter’s direction.
“Holly!” Browning exclaimed, running forward to drape her arms around Holly Wilcox. “You’re back from Starfleet Medical!”
“I got recalled early, actually,” Holly said, as Browning broke the hug. “When you disappeared. It’s okay. Chief Medical Officers get called on to head up Starfleet Medical at least once every…lifetime.”
“Glad to hear it,” Browning said, not really listening, and looking around at all the smiling faces of the other gathered crew. “Gosh, it’s good to be back.” She glanced over at Hartley. “Plato..?”
“He’s in class. Down in Activity Room Four. I thought you might want to pick him up,” Hartley said.
“I hope he hasn’t been a bother,” Browning said, rushing over to Hartley and taking her hands in hers. “Thank you so much for looking after him.”
Hartley glanced down at Browning’s hands on hers and smiled politely. “It was a real…” She looked at Tilleran. “Pleasure.”
Tilleran nodded, narrowing her eyes at Hartley. “Yep. He’s a real… surprise!” Hartley elbowed Tilleran, then smiled even wider.
“Go see him!” Hartley exclaimed. “Now!”
“Catch up with you later, Janice,” Baxter called after her, as she and Holly and that Bajoran woman broke off down the corridor. Baxter looked around. “No Vansen?”
Hartley cleared her throat. “Official ship’s business. She sends her regards.”
“Trying to put off the transfer of command as long as possible, I’m sure,” Baxter said, shaking hands with Tilleran and J’hana. “I’d do the same if I were her. At any rate, it looks like the place hasn’t fallen apart in the last three months, so I guess she did a good enough job.”
“Actually, she put in quite a few new…” Hartley began, but Tilleran elbowed her.
“Well, I’m sure she’ll brief you, sir,” Hartley said. “And now I respectfully request to step down from my post as First Officer.”
“Command not to your liking?” Baxter asked as the crowd began to disperse, and Hartley, Tilleran, and J’hana walked with Baxter down the corridor.
“It was fine,” Hartley said. “But three months of it is more than enough for a lifetime. I’ll stick to being an engineer.”
“Oh, it wasn’t that bad,” J’hana said. “You had Lieutenant Gage to do most of the administrative tasks.”
“Jeremy Gage,” Hartley said. “Someone Vansen brought on board. She’s…grooming him…whatever the hell that means. Nice enough guy, though.”
“Where is Counselor Peterman?” J’hana blurted.
Baxter opened his mouth, but Tilleran cut him off. “Maybe we should just let the captain get settled before we riddle him with questions.”
“I was not aware I was riddling,” J’hana said thoughtfully.
“She’s right,” Hartley said. “Go back to your quarters, Captain. We can…we can talk later.”
“Thanks,” Baxter said.
“By the way,” Hartley said. “Your mother…”
“I know. ASAP,” Baxter called out, and headed for the nearest turbolift. “My quarters still where I left them?”
“Yes!” Hartley called after him. “Everything’s…oh, f*** it, why bother,” she said once he was out of earshot.
“He will not be pleased,” J’hana said.
“That’s an understatement,” Tilleran said distantly. She’d felt much of what was in Baxter’s mind during their brief walk down the corridor. “But I believe he has bigger problems.”
“So, guys…” Madera asked, jogging to catch up with the group, Sefelt at her side. “Did you hear anything from Chris? Is he coming over later today?”
Hartley shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine, Lieutenant. I’m sure he’ll turn up.”
J’hana nodded. “It is safe to say that everything is returning to normal.”
“I’m Janice Browning,” Browning said, reaching out to shake the hand of the Bajoran woman that had joined Dean and Holly for the welcome ceremony.
“Nice to meet you,” the tall, slender woman, with flowing blonde curls and sparkling green eyes, said, shaking Browning’s hand gently.
“New medical staff?”
“Ship’s Counselor,” the woman corrected. “Ryn Trista. It’s a pleasure.”
“Yes,” Browning said. “But we already have a…”
Holly broke in. “It’s only until Peterman gets back.”
“Peter! Peter!” Dean called out, slapping Browning on the back and hugging her. “Humma Peter Browning love go bang bang!”
“Oh, same old Dean!” Browning grinned, patting Dean gently on the shoulder. “He’s as fully of life as ever.”
“Some things have changed, however,” Ryn said, as the group reached a turbolift. “How well do you deal with change, Doctor?”
Browning glanced at Ryn as if she’d grown a second head. “What?”
“Are you equipped to handle major changes?”
“Pardon me, Counselor, but I’ve just been through a very traumatic few weeks. The last thing I need is counseling.” Browning realized that didn’t come out right as soon as she’d said it. “I mean…”
“I think Counselor Ryn is just looking out for your best interests,” Holly said. “Three months have gone by here on the ship, and while I understand only three weeks have gone by for you, there have been some…rather drastic changes.”
“I really don’t care about shipwide politics, Holly. You know that. Right now, all I want to do is see my son.”
“I think that would be for the best,” Ryn said.
“Then we’re all in agreement,” Browning said. “If you all will excuse me…” And she ducked into the turbolift.
“I am available if you need to schedule an appointment,” Ryn called after her.
“Not necessary!” Browning said, as the doors closed. “Everything’s in hand!”
Baxter pushed Steffie’s stroller up to the doors to his quarters and sighed. Yellow tape covered the door in a cris-cross pattern. That J’hana. Protecting him from looters. That was sweet.
He pulled the tape down, then tapped the keycode.
“Invalid entry,” the computer replied.
“Uh-huh,” Baxter said, sighing. “Computer, unlock these doors, authorization Baxter Alpha one-one-two.”
“That authorization is not recognized,” the computer said.
“Right.” He tapped his combadge. “Baxter to bridge.”
“Bridge. Gage here.”
“Mister…uh, Gage. This is the Captain. I seem to be having trouble getting into my quarters.”
“Ahh, Captain Baxter. Nice to finally speak with you. I think it’s best we schedule a meeting at your earliest convenience to…”
“I’d love to, Mister Gage. But right now I just want to get into my quarters and get settled in again.”
“Of course.” There was a momentary pause. “Yes, it appears your authorization codes were revoked, and the keycode to your cabin was changed. Just a personnel matter.”
“Of course,” echoed Baxter.
“There. We have reinstated your codes. Try keying your entry again, sir. You’ll find…”
Baxter keyed in the code and the doors opened immediately. “Thanks, Gage. We’ll be in touch. Baxter out.”
A nice guy, but he didn’t know when to shut up, Baxter surmised. Once he had pushed Steffie’s stroller into his cabin, he called out: “Lights.”
The lights went up, and immediately Baxter was taken back in time…although, not literally this time.
The quarters were just as he’d left them that last day on the ship. He could almost smell Peterman’s perfume (“Eau Delta”).
Steffie’s plush animals were spread on the floor, his and Kelly’s rumpled off-duty clothing laid out on the bed, just as it had been that day, waiting for them to come home and change into something more comfortable.
“OUCH! Damn it!” Baxter’s shin slammed into a cargo container, and he nearly tripped. He steadied himself, then leaned down to face the container. “What the..?”
He read the writing on the container and groaned. “‘Baxter’s Ready Room Crap,’” he read. “Very professional, Vansen. You take over for three months and think you can just clean out my readyroom, eh? Well, if just ONE Cowboys collectible is damaged…” He fumed as he opened up the container and checked inside.
“J’hana to Baxter,” the Andorian called over the comm. She was already back on the bridge, apparently. “Your mother’s comms are getting less polite by the second.”
“Pipe her down here,” Baxter said. “I can’t put this off anymore.”
Baxter went over to Steffie’s stroller and pulled out an auxillliary bottle of formula, placing it gently in her mouth. “There ya go, kiddo. We’ll get you something more substantial as soon as I’m off the comm with Gamma.”
He walked over to his desk, sat down, and activated his desktop terminal.
A perturbed-looking Lucille Baxter looked back at him.
“Mom?” he asked. “You chopped off your hair!”
Her traditional Starfleet bun had been replaced by a clipped haircut that fell neatly just below her ears.
“Is that all you have to say to me, sun?” she asked, her lip trembling. Then she leaned forward, as if she were about to reach out of the terminal and hug him. “I’ve really missed you, Booty Butt!” She quickly composed herself and leaned back. “My apologies. It has been a…stressful few months.”
“I bet,” Baxter said. “How’s Dad?”
“Fine,” she said flatly.
“I understand Dad was a big part of the rescue attempt.”
“He did lead the investigation, yes.”
“Well, I’d like to speak to him. I didn’t get a chance to see him while I was debriefing on Earth. I was told he was out of the office. Is he with you?”
“No,” Lucille said. “Listen…”
“Mom, I can’t tell you how glad I am that everything’s back to normal.”
“Your father and I are separated.”
“WHAT?” Baxter slid back in his chair, slamming his head against the wall. He rubbed his forehead, blinked. “WHAT?”
“We feel it’s best for both of us if we go our separate ways,” Lucille said, then smiled. “Actually, being separated has its advantages. You should try it, honey!”
“Funny you should say that,” Baxter muttered. “I don’t get it, Mom. Why would you and Dad separate? It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Oh, Booty Butt. You know so little about my relationship with your father.”
“That’s kind of how I’ve always liked it.”
“Well, it hasn’t been right for a while now. This was for the best.”
“So that’s it?”
“For the moment, yes.”
“And you’re fine with this?”
“As I’ve said. Now then, let’s talk about you. How are things on the Explorer?”
“I just got here, like five minutes ago.”
“Well, let me know if you need any help. The Pathfinder will be nearby for a few more days before we head off for a tour in the Gamma Quadrant.”
“Great,” Baxter said. “I’m sure I’ll be fine. Now…” He leaned forward. “WHERE is Dad?”
“Your Father has taken a leave of absence from Starfleet.”
The hits just kept coming.
“He has apparently gone off to find himself, whatever that means.”
“That seems to be a pattern with our project directors.”
“Yes,” Lucille said. “Might give you reason to think twice about taking over for your Father some day.”
“Who said I was going to do that?”
“Well, you can’t command the Explorer forever,” Lucille said. “But then again, I guess you already know that.”
“Of course I can,” Baxter said quickly, then realized that was ridiculous. “Wait, what do you mean I already know that?”
“Oops!” Lucille said. “I’ve said too much. You should talk to Vansen.”
“Vansen? What the hell does she have to do with this?”
“Talk to her, Andy.”
“And who’s in command of the Explorer Project now, if Dad’s on leave?”
“You really need to talk to Vansen, honey.” Lucille glanced at something off-screen. “Whoops! Look at that. There’s a Red Alert. Better go, boopsie boo! Have a great…well, whatever!”
She’d left her command chair, but Baxter could still hear her off- screen talking to one of her officers. “What do you mean there isn’t a Red Alert? There is if I say there is. Now sound Red Alert! What’s the reason? I don’t need a reason. I’m the Captain! And that still counts for something around here! And close that damned channel!”
Browning jogged all the way from the turbolift to Activity Room Four, lugging her small satchel behind her.
“Wonder what he’s doing in the activity room,” Browning mused, picturing the second-graders, and the gawky Plato, playing some game of hide-and-go seek, or something. He was always so good with those kids.
She punched a control, causing the large double doors to the cargo- bay sized activity room to whizz open.
“Fighting stance. Now. Hah!” a voice Browning recognized as Chaka’kan, the Explorer’s resident Jem’Hadar called out. “That’s right. Block, block, and kick! Yes, you’ve got it! I’d love to teach you more moves, but I’m afraid that’s all the fighting that’s contained in my DNA. Cross-stitch, however, I know a great deal about…”
Browning walked up, seeing Chaka dressed in a judo gi, facing his opponent, whom she assumed was Plato. But the youngster was blocked from view by the broad chested Jem’Hadar.
Chaka turned at the sound of Browning entering.
“This is a closed sparring session, ma’am. I…” His eyes widened when he saw her. “Doctor Browning! I’m so sorry! I did not realize…”
“MOM!” a deep voice she didn’t recognize called out, and as Chaka stepped aside, Browning’s heart jumped into her throat.
“PLATO?” Browning asked, her cheeks flushed.
It was her son. The smooth face and all. But he was not the boy she’d left behind.
Plato stood opposite Browning, easily as tall as her. His gawky limbs now seemed proportional, thicker. His shoulders more square. His eyes registered much more maturity.
Plato looked like he could have easily been a sixteen year old. Her boy was a man now.
“Mom!” he exclaimed, as Browning’s eyes fluttered back in her head, and she tilted back and collapsed to the floor.
Luckily, it was a soft mat.
“Computer. Locate Commander Vansen.”
“There is no Commander Vansen aboard,” the computer said.
Damn, the computer really had it in for him today, Baxter grumbled. With Steffie safe in her swingamajig, Baxter had taken off in search of Vansen, determined to find out just what the hell was going on aboard his ship. Something was different. Something had changed. He was in the dark, and he didn’t like that one bit.
“My apologies, computer. Please locate CAPTAIN Vansen.”
“Captain Vansen is in her readyroom.”
“No, computer. Captain Vansen is in MY readyroom.”
“Please restate request.”
“F*** you, computer.”
“Please restate request.”
“I said F*** YOU!” Baxter growled, and stomped into the nearest turbolift.
Browning’s eyes fluttered open, and she was in Sickbay. Holly leaned over her, patting her head with a cool cloth.
“Doctor,” she said. “Are you all right?”
Browning leaned up on her elbows. “I…don’t know. My son. Plato, he…”
She looked up, and Plato stood there, concern plain on his more manly face. Ryn Trista stood beside him.
Another wave of dizziness struck, and Browning steadied herself, and leaned up. “Plato, honey. I…I didn’t expect…”
Ryn patted Plato on the back. “We anticipated this.”
“Your reaction. It’s natural. Plato has gone through a substantial change since you last saw him.”
“He’s a man.”
“Actually, his physiological and emotional age is probably somewhere in the mid teens. Fifteen or sixteen,” Ryn corrected.
“The good news,” Holly said, placing a steadying hand on Browning’s shoulder. “Is that he’s a happy, healthy kid. He’s in good shape, Janice. Commander Hartley and Mister Mirk did a great job taking care of him.”
Plato stepped forward. “I…I missed you so much, Mom.”
Browning leaned toward Plato and wrapped her arms around him. “I missed you too, son. I really did. You have no idea….”
Plato patted Browning on the back and looked around helplessly.
“Spend some time together,” Ryn said. “Get used to each other again. See where that leads you.”
“Novel idea,” Browning said unsteadily, and slid off the biobed. Plato took her hand and led her toward the door.
“Should you need any assistance…” Ryn began.
“We won’t,” Browning said, as they walked out the door. “I think, first thing in the morning, I’m going to open my restaurant back up and hire Plato as a waiter. That will give us a chance to spend more time together.” She was talking to herself more than Ryn and Holly. “Yes, that will fix everything,” she added as the doors closed behind her.
“Wonder if that was a good time to tell her that Guinanco is running her restaurant now?” Holly asked Ryn.
“One revelation at a time,” Ryn said thoughtfully. “These things have to be handled delicately.”
“So far so good,” Holly whispered.
“Captain Baxter!” the man in the command chair exclaimed, standing up. Why were there a strange man in his command chair?
Baxter brushed past the awfully-young-looking, compactly-built, bald, dark-skinned man, who he assumed was Gage.
“Lieutenant Jeremy Gage. Second officer. Pleased to meet you, Captain,” Gage said from behind Baxter as he walked up to the readyroom door and punched the doorchime. He fumed at the idea that he actually had to ring the buzzer on his own door.
“I’m busy. Come back later,” Vansen’s voice called from within.
“Vansen,” Baxter called out. “It’s Baxter. I want in. Now.”
“Oh, I can see you’re going to be a baby about this…”
Moments later, the doors slid open, and Vansen stood in the doorway, arms folded. “Have a nice trip, Captain?”
“No,” Baxter said.
“I’ll go ahead and return to…” Gage pointed over his shoulder.
Baxter ignored him and pushed past Vansen into the readyroom.
And into hell.
It was Vansen’s readyroom all right. There was a photo of her parents on HIS desk. Certificates for meritorious conduct on HIS walls.
No Cowboys paraphernalia, no pictures of him and his crew, his friends, his wife. It was all erased. Like he’d never been here.
“I was just in the middle of a comm,” Vansen said. “But I guess you just can’t wait, even if I happen to be on the line with Starfleet Command…”
Baxter circled around the desk, facing the viewer and its current occupant.
His eyes widened. “Captain Woodall? I thought you retired!”
“Commodore Woodall, actually,” Woodall replied, leaning back in the seat at his desk. He looked as crusty as ever. His eyes lined with kind but assertive wrinkles. Woodall was, at best, a gentle old man with venom. At worst, he was a cantankerous crank. “They called me back and kicked me upstairs when they had a little leadership shortage over here.”
“Sorry to interrupt your comm,” Baxter said, and sat down in the chair behind the desk. “What can we do for you?”
Vansen walked up to the desk and gave a dry chuckle, then placed her palms down on it and leaned forward. “Okay, then, Captain. Playtime’s over. I need my desk back.”
“MY desk,” Baxter said, and looked at Woodall. “Now then…”
“Actually, son, she’s right,” Woodall said. “It is her desk. I’m the new head of the Explorer project, you see, and as long as I have a say in the matter, Captain Vansen is in command of the Explorer. And, truth be told, I don’t see that changing any time soon.”
The adjustment period continues, as our displaced crewmembers come to terms with being back in the present, and they face a battle on two fronts. The U.S.S. Aerostar deals with some ticked-off Cardassians, Richards discovers, to his horror, what Larkin has been up to in his absence, and the Explorer faces a full-scale conflict with the Gorn, while Doctor Browning tries to make up for lost time with Plato. Parenting (and interstellar diplomacy) never seemed so tough.